Friday, July 31, 2020

Summer Under the Stars 2020: Some Thoughts

2019 SCHEDULE - Summer Under the Stars - TCM Message Boards

It's time for Turner Classic Movies annual Summer Under the Stars event, where every August TCM devotes one day to a particular actor/actress with a set of their films.

TCM has a pretty set programming manner when it comes to the SUTS schedule. Among the various luminaries there's usually one or two minority players, a foreign-language player, a silent film player and a few living players. This year we have Sammy Davis, Jr. for the African-American slot, Dolores del Rio for the Hispanic slot, Alain Delon for both foreign and living actors slot, Charlie Chaplin (and it can be argued John Barrymore) for silent films and along with Delon there's Goldie Hawn, Warren Beatty and Eva Marie Saint for the living players.

To be honest, I find this year's slate most disappointing for a variety of reasons. TCM seems to have an aversion to expand its roster beyond mostly "big names": Cary Grant, Bette Davis, Rock Hudson are all household names whom frankly don't need as much promotion as say a S.Z. Sakall or Sylvia Sydney would.

They are also repeating themselves: both John Wayne and Charlton Heston were featured SUTS players in the past five to seven years (Wayne, as well as 2020 SUTS players Cary Grant and Barbara Stanwyck were all SUTS players in 2017). Why would TCM have him back for a whole day of films when they featured them a mere three years ago?

There are probably many actors whom TCM could have chosen, particularly character actors who may not have the cache of a Claudette Colbert or William Powell, but whom I think have just enough of a filmography to allow for a full day of films (those currently living as of this writing in red*):

Isabelle Adjani, Brian Aherne, Jane Alexander, Frank Albertson, Don Ameche, Julie Andrews, Leon Ames, Eve Arden, Pedro Armendariz Sr., Edward Arnold 

Diane Baker, Fay Bainter, Martin Balsam, Anne Bancroft, Ethel Barrymore, Ed Begley Sr., Wallace Beery, Ralph Bellamy, William Bendix, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Charles Bickford, Jacqueline Bisset, Claire Bloom, Ward Bond, Beulah Bondi, Ernest Borgnine, Nigel Bruce, Raymond Burr, Ellen BurstynSpring Byington 

Michael Caine, Louis Calhern, Mario Moreno "Cantinflas", Claudia Cardinale, Leo Carrillo, Leo G. Carroll, Jack Carson, Lon Chaney Jr., Geraldine Chaplin, Cyd Charisse, Julie Christie, Glenn Close, Charles Coburn, Ronald Colman, Sean Connery, Valentina Cortese, Joseph Cotten, Tom Courtenay, Jeanne Craine, Broderick Crawford, Donald Crisp, Peter Cushing 

Linda Darnell, Jane Darwell, Harry Davenport, Arturo De Cordova, Bruce DernCatherine Denueve, Marie Dressler, Richard Dreyfuss, Patty Duke, Margaret Dumont, Robert DuvallFaye Dunaway

Delholm Elliott, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Maria Felix, Jose Ferrer, Sally Field, Albert Finney, Barry Fitzgerald, Rhonda Fleming, Jane Fonda, Joan Fontaine, Jodie FosterWilliam Frawley, Annette Funicello

John Gavin, Mitzi Gaynor, John Gielgud, Lillian Gish, Paulette Goddard, Thomas Gomez, Lee Grant, Sydney Greenstreet, Hugh Griffith, Alec Guinness, Fred Gwynne 

Margaret Hamilton, Gene Hackman, Alan Hale Sr., Cedric Hardwicke, Barbara Harris, Rosemary Harris, Jack Hawkins, Helen Hayes, Van Heflin, Juano Hernandez, Wendy Hiller, Celeste Holm, James Hong, Bob Hope, Anthony Hopkins, Dennis Hopper, Edward Everett Horton, Trevor Howard, Kim Hunter, Tab Hunter, John Hurt 

Sam Jaffe, Glenda JacksonGlynis Johns, Dean Jones, James Earl Jones, Van Johnson, Victor Jory, Louis Jourdan, Katy Jurado, Diane Keaton, Patsy Kelly, Arthur Kennedy, George Kennedy, Deborah Kerr, Guy Kibbee, Tommy Kirk, Klaus Kinski 

Alan Ladd, Diane Ladd, Dorothy Lamour, Elsa Lanchester, Martin Landau, Jessica Lange, Charles Laughton, Piper LauriePeter Lawford, Cloris Leachman, Christopher Lee, Janet Leigh, Jack Lemmon, Norman Lloyd, Gina Lollobrigida, Bela Lugosi, Keye Luke 

Marjorie Main, Anna Magnani, Karl Malden, Steve Martin, James Mason, Victor McLaglen, Burgess Meredith, Torisho Mifune, Vera Miles, John Mills, Carmen Miranda, Thomas Mitchell, Sara Montiel, Roger Moore, Terry Moore, Jeanne Moreau, Frank Morgan, Robert Morley, Chester Morris, Audey Murphy

J. Carrol Naish, Robert Newton, Kim Novak, Jack Oakie, Merle Oberon, Pat O'Brien, Arthur O'Connell, Edna May Oliver, Barbara O'Neil, Maureen O'Sullivan, Peter O'Toole, Maria Ouspenskaya, Geraldine Page, Janet Paige, Eugene Pallette, Irene Papas, John Payne, Brock Peters, Jean Peters, Mary Pickford, Walter Pidgeon, Silvia Pinal, Donald Pleasance, Christopher Plummer, Dick Powell, Eleanor Powell, Robert Preston 

Charlotte Rampling, Basil Rathbone, Ronald Reagan, Lynn Redgrave, Anne Revere, Fernando Rey, Burt Reynolds, Diana Rigg, Thelma Ritter, Jason Robards, Cliff Robertson, Flora Robson, Gilbert Roland, Gena Rowlands, Ann Rutherford, Margaret Rutherford 

Ann Savage, Paul Scofield, George C. Scott, Zachary Scott, Omar Sharif, Robert Shaw, Johnny Sheffield, Maggie Smith, Sissy Spacek, Harry Dean Stanton, Dean Stockwell Lewis Stone, Donald Sutherland, Gloria Swanson, Akim Tamiroff, Robert Taylor

Peter Ustinov, Mamie Van Doren, Max von Sydow, Conrad Veidt, Jon VoightChristopher Walken, Anton Warbrook, H.B. Warner, Clifton Webb, Mae West, James Whitmore, May Whitty, Mary Wickes, Richard Widmark, Cornel Wilde, Gene Wilder, John Williams, Chill Wills, Shelley Winters, Jane WithersJoanne Woodward, Monty Woolley, Keenan Wynn, Loretta Young and Roland Young among many, many choices.

Granted, some were probably SUTS players in the past, though I cannot remember any of the above listed as being featured within the past three to maybe five years; also, some would be stretches to fill a whole day's worth of programming. For Funicello and Gaynor I imagine, they might have to dive into television programs and specials. However, TCM hasn't been shy about using television programs or specials to fill in slots. For the previous Charlton Heston SUTS day a few years back they used the Turner Network Television presentation of A Man for All Seasons. Just this year, they broadcast the miniseries Young Catherine as part of their Wonder Women series focusing on royalty. As such, putting in a television production isn't too outlandish for TCM.

Again, perhaps some films can't be featured due to broadcast rights, but given how TCM is a prestige network, it does seem curious that a producer wouldn't at least entertain the idea of having their film broadcast on "Turner Classic Movies".

There are other issues as well with this year's schedule. Among the living performers, there is an absolute dearth of more contemporary films. The newest film to be shown is for Goldie Hawn: 1996's The First Wives Club (which coincidentally costars the recommended Diane Keaton). That is twenty-four years old, hardly "contemporary". As a side note, it is surprising that they for whatever reason opted to include Protocol but skip over The Sugarland Express, which is considered among Hawn's best work.

Warren Beatty's most recent film is even older: 1990's Bugsy. Granted, a lot of his newer films (Love Affair, Rules Don't Apply) weren't critically adored, but why not include the more favorably praised and merely twenty-two year old Bulworth? For that matter, why not include Love Affair or Rules Don't Apply? One can learn from the artistic misses as well as their hits. I'd love to see Ishtar shown between Bonnie and Clyde and Reds (which coincidentally costars the recommended Diane Keaton).

The network could also have expanded beyond the selections for those players who continued their work long after their most recent Summer Under the Stars film. For Ann Miller, 1957's The Great American Pastime is the "newest" of her films to be shown. Why not opt to show her final film role in David Lynch's 2001 neo-noir Mulholland Drive? Widely regarded as one of the best films of the millennium, it would be a golden opportunity to give it a high-profile showing. However, rather than put anything from this century, we're going to pretend Miller did nothing past The Great American Pastime apart from The Love Boat guest appearances.

For Charlton Heston, his filmography is cut off in 1973 with both Soylent Green and The Three Musketeers. Heston kept working for another thirty years, but such films as the sequel The Four Musketeers, Midway, Tombstone, True Lies, Any Given Sunday and Hamlet are all excluded. To be fair, the remake of Planet of the Apes should be excluded too, but that's neither here nor there. For Eva Marie Saint, her appearance at Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival is part of her day, but they couldn't squeeze in Heston's Private Screenings appearance for his? Why not show the TNT Treasure Island as part of his day in the same way the TNT adaptation of A Man for All Seasons was a few years back?

Sylvia Sydney's most "recent" film is curiously like Heston, also from 1973 (Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams, which coincidentally costars the recommended Joanne Woodward). Why not broadcast one of her many TV movies such as 1980's FDR: The Last Year, 1985's An Early Frost, 1990's Andre's Mother or even, horror of horrors, 1988's Beetlejuice? I'm not advocating that Turner Classic Movies show Mars Attacks!, but the network's insistence of not going into so many of the SUTS players' later work is surprising and a little frustrating.

They may not be "classic". They may not even be "good". However, some of those latter-day films have stood the test of time. They at least would be recognizable to those of us who do love "classic" film but who are not ossified to where we can't enjoy and appreciate a film made within our lifetime.

More examples of TCM's almost pathological insistence that there is a cutoff point to "great" films. 1980 is the cutoff for Burt Lancaster in Atlantic City (whose day surprisingly does not include 1963's The Leopard which could also have been screened for Alain Delon's day). Why not venture towards another Criterion selection: 1983's Local Hero or even his final film, 1989's Field of Dreams?

For Laurence Olivier, films from the 1930's and 1940's dominate his day. Only one film goes past 1960: 1979's A Little Romance. While it would have been nice to see 1981's Clash of the Titans, why skip over some genuine classics he made between 1960 and 1979: Spartacus, Sleuth, Marathon Man, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution or The Boys From Brazil? I'd even enjoy watching him in the atrocious The Jazz Singer remake or the infamous and rarely-if-ever shown Inchon than trod the familiar ground of Hamlet and Henry V again (though curiously neither Richard III or Othello are showing, giving a perhaps incomplete look at his Shakespearean films). It might have been nice to see his television films: 1982's A Voyage Round My Father or 1975's Love Among the Ruins if for anything a chance to explore unfamiliar territory as opposed to keep repeating "the greatest hits".

Bette Davis worked until 1989 with Wicked Stepmother, but one wouldn't know it thanks to TCM's Summer Under the Stars selection for her day. It stops in 1962 for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. One might think that maybe the all-star 1978 Death on the Nile might be worth watching; now that TCM is able to look inside the fabled Disney Vault, such films as Return From Witch Mountain (also from 1978) or 1980's Watcher in the Woods might be available. Even 1989's Wicked Stepmother, where Davis' appearance is smaller, might have been at least more adventurous.

The point of this particular complaint is that Turner Classic Movies seems set in its ways, making this year's Summer Under the Stars schedule a dull, lifeless affair. It could be more exciting, more open to newer or rarer films, newer stars, newer experiences. Instead, it keeps playing it safe, and slipping into doldrums in the process. Again, it's a year of "The Best-Known Names in Their Greatest Hits". Seems strange that a network that delights in introducing both classic film stars and their films isn't apparently that interested in going beyond familiar roads.

It won't explore lesser known actors with large filmographies (sometimes larger than the more well-known actors).

Cary Grant has 77 screen credits. Charles Coburn has 97 screen credits. Eugene Pallette has a whopping 262 screen credits. Granted, Coburn's credits include television work, but that could be included without it being a scandal. There is no reason why Pallette cannot have a Summer Under the Stars day to replace John Wayne, who has appeared twice in four years.

Bette Davis has 123 screen credits. Mary Wickes has 144. Again, Wickes has television work included, primarily series such as The Father Dowling Mysteries. However, if Wickes were featured, it would allow one to appreciate the breath, range and longevity of her career: from 1942's The Man Who Came to Dinner and Now, Voyager (both coincidentally starring Davis) to 1992's Sister Act and 1994's Little Women. Would it be so horrifying if the popular and well-liked Sister Act appeared on the same network that prides itself on showing such lofty fare as Satanis: The Devil's Mass, It's Alive, The Yakuza, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II and Chopping Mall?

It won't explore more obscure films from the "big names" it presents or look into the later work of actors dead or living. Among the living players it features, it keeps them solidly away from anything the casual viewer would know, focusing primarily if not exclusively on work they made before most of us were even alive.

Last year, Shirley MacLaine was a SUTS player. Only TWO films shown for her day were from the 1980's (Terms of Endearment and Steel Magnolias). Not shown were Madame Sousatzka, Postcards from the Edge, The Evening Star (the Terms of Endearment sequel) or Bernie. The most recent film that year for another living SUTS player, Dustin Hoffman, was 1992's Hero (which I found a very bizarre choice). Outbreak, Wag the Dog, and Finding Neverland all apparently not good enough to feature for his day.

I am sure that if Michael Caine were selected one year, TCM would think itself daring by showing Hannah and Her Sisters but to show something like The Cider House Rules, The Quiet American or Children of Men would be laughable, and you can most certainly forget the idea that you'd see films like Youth, Inception, The Prestige, Miss Congeniality or Interstellar. They's sooner show Beyond the Poseidon Adventure than The Dark Knight. If Dean Stockwell were featured, we'd see The Boy With Green Hair but probably not Blue Velvet and especially not Air Force One.

God forbid anything popular show up on TCM.

I'll lay money on this: if Martin Landau were ever a Summer Under the Stars player, Turner Classic Movies would probably NOT include Ed Wood among the programming despite it being his Oscar-winning role. Since it was from 1994 it might be too "recent" to program., It's also probably too "popular", a film many people at least know of and made within at least my lifetime.

It's almost as if Turner Classic Movies does not think films exist past 1980, unless it's for TCM Underground.

Finally, I have a big beef with Dolores del Rio Day. She has a wide variety of Mexican films that could be shown, but Turner Classic Movies has opted to show not one of her Spanish-language features. I'm at a loss as to why TCM has decided that it cannot or perhaps will not feature the Mexican films of the Mexican actress who is the Hispanic player they chose to feature (Rita Hayworth being Hispanic still a subject of debate).

The network featured many Swedish-language films for Liv Ullmann last year and we'll be treated to Alain Delon's French work. That is to be expected. However, for the Latin player, the network that prides itself on its diversity and inclusion, which delights in showing off how progressive they are with their Spotlights On Series cannot be bothered to recognize that del Rio had a career in anything other than English.

In the TCM Universe, Europe and Asia (primarily the Far East) make cinema. Latin America maybe at the very most makes short films or subjects for travelogues.

2020 has been a simply horrible, horrible year. As such, perhaps the dull Summer Under the Stars 2020 schedule fits perfectly to the year's mood.

*Update: Bette Davis and John Wayne have been replaced by Olivia de Havilland and Natalie Wood respectively. De Havilland replacing Davis was done to allow a tribute for Dame Olivia due to her death on July 26 at 104. I am of two minds of replacing Wayne: on one hand it is good to feature another performer, but in these highly charged times I do wonder if Wayne's right-wing views made him unpalatable to the increasingly woke folks at Turner Classic Movies.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

To My Mother on Her 78th Birthday: Observing My Grief

Grief is a process, not an event.

This is a hard day, as yes, if Mom had lived she would have turned 78. I find that a very young age, which perhaps is strange but it is probably because she was so full of life, so joyful, that even now, two months plus since her sudden death, it still feels so strange not to have her here.

I think I know how the day would have gone. We would have gotten a small cake and probably had a quiet celebration, especially given the circumstances. I figure she would have selected something like Olive Garden or Red Lobster, she liked Red Lobster. Applebee's perhaps, or Chili's...she really liked Chili's. For her, those were upmarket places. She definitely had firmly middle-class, WASP tastes, but that's what she liked.

Then again, perhaps she would have surprised me and selected Kentucky Fried Chicken, which was her favorite. We'd have brought it home, and I would have popped in a DVD of something she liked. "A funny movie", she would have asked for, or if she was feeling particularly adventurous an Indiana Jones film. "INDY!" she would squeal with girlish delight. It would be a nice end to a day where she would have received phone calls from her friends, her church sisters and my aunt, her last living sister.

I think this personal reflection would have annoyed her, as she was not one to look back on for the most part. However, perhaps I can get away, with her indulgence, with sharing a few things.

She loved the United States. "I'm the REAL American," she would tell me, "not like you and your father. You two were just BORN here!". She would have been highly troubled by the chaos engulfing the country, horrified at the George Floyd murder but puzzled as to why so many feel the United States is such an awful place. I found an old English workbook she had. In the essay, "Who Am I?" she concluded with "I am a very lucky person because I live in this beautiful country and I am proud to be a citizen here".

That sentiment is not shared by thousands if not millions of Americans. I offer no opinion, just Mom's worldview and how it contrasts with many who "were just born here" and how they have a raging hostility towards a nation my Mom worked hard to become a citizen of. Often, but not always, naturalized citizens see their adopted homeland far differently than native-born citizens.

She was madly in love with Ricky Nelson. I never got the courage to ask her if she named me for him. Perhaps subconsciously she did. She was also passionate about Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif, with Doctor Zhivago being among her very favorite films. She also loved Funny Girl, again because of Omar Sharif, and to her dying day called Barbra Streisand "The Funny Girl". She rarely could remember names of stars.

Mom did, however, remember Sandra Bullock, whom she was a big fan of. She didn't care for Gravity though, and gave what I think is the best review ever given: "Two hours of Sandra Bullock crashing into things! And WHY couldn't she look glamorous? Put on some makeup? Done her hair? SHE'S SANDRA BULLOCK! SHE CAN'T LOOK UGLY!"

My memories of my mother are not as hurtful now as they were on May 6, 2020. Has it really been a little over two months? It's a mixture of joy and sorrow when I remember the last day, the last hours: her reading Scripture while listening to Escape on Sirius XM, dressed in a beautiful blue blouse with frills, her hair all perfectly coiffed. She was smiling when I saw her last, even with the mask I could tell she was smiling.

I am both glad and miserable that God called her on that day. She wanted a quick death, and the Lord granted this to her, a good and faithful servant. However, it left me bereft of her wisdom, her care, her company. It is an awful burden in a year where I have received enough blows.

You never get over the loss of your parent. You go on, you maybe get through it but never over it. One of the last things Mom said was, almost out of the blue, "I still miss my Mother". It's been close to thirty years since my Grandmother died, and yet Mom still missed her. How can I not feel it after just two months, right after the City of El Paso furloughed me and works hard to keep me unemployed?

Pandemics. A virtual revolution. Loss of job. Death of your parent.

The Book of Job has been an outlet for my grief, for I know Job. He speaks for me: a man who is blameless. Not sinless, but blameless, for that's the difference his friends did not understand. God does not cause troubles, but He allows them. We, who did nothing to cause our miseries, now work to not just sort out the chaos but understand that difficult question of why a Loving God allows such awful things.

She loved deeply, whether that was a flaw or virtue I leave to the reader. She was much more generous than I am in terms of time and money. She was a woman of much deeper faith.

I am devastated by so much, all piling on me. Job is my friend.

I will miss Socorro Aragon terribly. There hasn't been a day since May 6, 2020 when she does not enter my mind. I know that I will laugh again, that grief is not forever. It is, however, much harder to handle grief alone, especially with relatives who while loving and helpful are so terrified of the COVID-19 that they insist on wearing double masks or flat-out refuse to set foot in anyone's home. I have to carry this grief alone under awful, awful circumstances and against an openly hostile employer who seems to despise my very existence.

She was a wonderful lady, one who should be remembered. I hope and pray to be allowed to let her legacy live on.

To My Mother, Socorro Aragon, on her 78th Birthday. I Love You, my Dearest Mother, and will until we are reunited. Give a big hug and kiss to my Grandmother, all my aunts and uncles, and all the cousins.

Friday, July 24, 2020

That's No Lady A: Thoughts on Lady Antebellum vs Anita White

Lady Antebellum Takes on Reba McEntire's “Is There Life Out There ...
Will the REAL Lady A please stand up?

I should start my views with this: I am not a Lady Antebellum* fan. I find them firmly in the "pop-country" style, one where their connection to actual country music is tenuous at best. I'm hard-pressed to think anyone would make a techno remix of Wabash Cannonball. Apart from Need You Now, I would not be able to name a Lady Antebellum song, and I heard that song on the rock station.

Nevertheless, Lady Antebellum is billed as a country act but now they have found themselves in a mess of their own making, and they can thank Black Lives Matter for it.

After the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin, many elements of American life were reexamined, reevaluated and purged for any suggestion of racism, sometimes to almost oddball levels. Films like Gone With the Wind were removed from streaming services. An episode of The Golden Girls was similarly pulled after accusations of "blackface" (even though said episode, Mixed Blessings, made it clear it was not blackface but a mud-based beauty treatment and was about interracial marriage). Aunt Jemima was removed as a longtime logo. Statues were being pulled down left right and center, though what exactly Don Quixote author Miguel Cervantes, Union General & President Ulysses S. Grant or Frederick Douglass had to do with white supremacy has not been explained.

Which brings us to the Artist Formerly Known as Lady Antebellum. After Floyd's murder the three members of Lady Antebellum: Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and David Heywood, decided that the word "Antebellum" was "problematic". Despite having performed as "Lady Antebellum" for fourteen years with little controversy and despite having no history of racism or bigotry of any kind, they decided that people would immediately see their name as an endorsement of slavery and see the members themselves as Imperial Wizards of the Ku Klux Klan.

Granted, I'm exaggerating a bit here, but the end result was that the band opted to change their name, in consultation with their "black friends" to disassociate themselves with racism and the "antebellum" South. Thus was born "Lady A".

I am rather cynical about their sudden Great Awokening. First, in those 14 years they apparently never bothered to ask their "black friends" if  the name "Antebellum" bothered them and vice versa. Second, they again have no history of bigotry of any kind, and I think most people (fan and foe alike) would not have attached such things on them. Third, what makes them or their team think people wouldn't connect the "A" with "Antebellum" to begin with? It's not as if they decided the "A" was for "Aragon" or "Arithmetic" or "Amalgamation". It still stands for "Antebellum". Fourth, if Mr. Floyd were still alive they would have kept the name "Lady Antebellum" and no one would have cared.

Their name change, in my view, was a panicked reaction to the unfolding chaos, a textbook example of virtue signaling where they showed they cared about black lives by making a name change, not exactly dropping Woodrow Wilson's name from Princeton University but in a similar vein. Their statement announcing the change reeks with moral self-righteousness and pomposity that is breathless.

"We are deeply sorry for the hurt (the band's name) has caused and for anyone who has felt unsafe, unseen or unvalued" (sic) they waxed poetic before the public that hadn't heard anything from them and perhaps may have escaped attention while statues of St. Junipero Serra were being toppled and people were suggesting The Star-Spangled Banner be replaced as the national anthem with John Lennon's Imagine. I'm not sure any Lady Antebellum fans, even black ones, ever felt "unvalued" while listening to them or paying to see them in concert, but there it is.

Again, the cynic in me thinks that Scott, Kelley and Haywood expected applause and bouquets for their brave and courageous stance, but there was a small hitch to their own statues replacing those of Francis Scott Key. That hitch came in the form of one black female blues singer known as...Lady A.

Singer Anita White calls out Lady A, formerly Lady Antebellum, on ...
Blues singer Anita White had been performing under the stage name "Lady A" for more than twenty years. How then can there be TWO "Lady A" running around?

Here is where things get murky. Lady A, the singer, had been performing under that name for decades, from what I understand longer than Lady A, the band, has been around. Lady A, the band, had the name "Lady A" copyrighted but most fans did not refer to them by "Lady A". That was more a nickname than how they billed themselves. Moreover, despite having the copyright to "Lady A", the band Lady A never enforced that copyright on the singer Lady A. As such, there was never a "cease and desist" notice from Lady A the band to Lady A the singer. Lady A, the band, never promoted itself on tour as "Lady A", while Lady A, the singer, did.

It's all most confusing, and I think would make an interesting copyright case if it should go to trial.

As it stands Lady A, the singer, is asking for $10 million from Lady A, the band. You can argue about this being a case of "greed over need", but I have little sympathy for Scott, Kelley and Haywood. They panicked about being associated with racism or perhaps murder despite absolutely no sense of such things. They also wanted to show they were "woke", in league with the overall Black Lives Matter movement, if perhaps not exactly Black Lives Matter the organization (which are not one and the same).

I figure Lady A, the band, expected plaudits and praise from people who probably have never heard their own music, let alone genuine country music. They were going to show what allies they were, and now they've managed to make a right mess of it. Instead of being "allies", they now come across as bullies, persecuting a black artist whom they probably had never heard of, let alone cared about, just so that they can adopt their "new" name at the expense of her "old" name.

I'm not sure anyone comes across well in this brouhaha. Lady A, the band, comes across as virtue signaling at an almost comical level. Lady A, the singer, comes across as trying to "get rich quick".

This has been a sorry episode all around, one that could have been avoided if Lady A, the band, had opted to just stay "Lady Antebellum". I think only genuine goofballs would think they personally were white supremacists. However, Scott, Kelley and Haywood wanted to show how in tune they were...only to see it blow up in their faces.

Also, frankly who genuinely thinks Lady Antebellum/Lady A/Whatever is either country music or even good music? I suppose to each his/her own...

*As we have a dispute over which is the "real" Lady A, I have to use the former name of Lady Antebellum to distinguish between them and Anita White, who is also Lady A.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez. The Television Documentary


There has been a surprising and sudden rise in interest in the story of New England Patriots tight end and convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez a mere two years after his suicide. At least three documentaries and docudramas have been released chronicling Hernandez's life, alleged crimes, death and postmortem revelations. Reelz Channel has two so far: Aaron Hernandez's Killing Fields and a sequel of sorts, Aaron Hernandez: Jailhouse Lover Tells All. The Oxygen Network has a rival docudrama: Aaron Hernandez: Uncovered. Even the Oprah Winfrey Network got into the act with its three-part series Aaron Hernandez: An ID Murder Mystery.

Not to be outdone, Netflix has its own documentary series. Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez probably gained the most attention due to both coming from a more well-known broadcaster and for the salacious revelations that the disgraced NFL player had a secret homosexual life. The dichotomy of the very macho football player and sexual, perhaps even romantic relationships with other men is something that only Hernandez could give definitive answers to. Killer Inside is surprisingly free of tawdry elements, but after watching all three episodes the entire tragedy of every aspect of Hernandez's life, let alone those who had the misfortune of coming into contact with him, comes into focus.

Killer Inside covers both Hernandez's life and career on and off the field. A football prodigy, Hernandez came from a family of players, until a series of catastrophic events twisted the gridiron hero. There was his father's sudden death when Aaron was 16. There was his mother's affair with a family friend that broke up the marriage. There was the lure of other family members who brought him into contact with unsavory people.

Dennis SanSoucie Claims He Had A Relationship With Aaron Hernandez ...
And then there was his very secret, very private, very hidden homosexual encounters. Killer Inside features Dennis SanSoucie, Hernandez's high school football quarterback who, almost casually, admits that he and Aaron from the 7th grade to their junior year in high school had a sexual relationship. It was part experiment, part physical pleasure, but was it part or wholly love?

Aaron Hernandez kept making poor decision after poor decision, perhaps in part to drown out his deep personal traumas. He went to the University of Florida rather than nearby University of Connecticut, where he could have been with his brother. U of F was more seductive in that there he could indulge in activities both sensual and criminal despite the ostensibly Christian oversight of Gators quarterback Tim Tebow and coach Urban Meyer. Already highly emotionally immature when he graduated early to play for the Florida Gators, U of F exacerbated his violent tendencies.

He next managed to get drafted by perhaps the worst team for him: the New England Patriots, where he could reconnect with the bad company he kept before going to FSU. From that, despite a long-term relationship with high school sweetheart Shayanna Jenkins and fathering a daughter, Hernandez still had various issues that his exceptional football career masked. While drugs were an issue, it was his continuing violence off-the-field that was the most dangerous.

That culminated in the murder of Miss Jenkins' sister's boyfriend Odin Lloyd. Hernandez became the prime suspect, was arrested and quickly dumped by the Patriots. The Lloyd murder was when Hernandez was finally charged with a crime, but soon previous actions including past murders came to light. Convicted of Lloyd's murder, another murder case brought an acquittal. While in the midst of his appeal, he was "outed" on a sports talk show with various crude remarks about "tight ends" and "receivers" on April 17, 2017. On April 19, Aaron Hernandez was found dead.

Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez (2020)Killer Inside builds its case that Aaron Hernandez was a perfect storm of troubled individual and essentially serial killer. Director Geno McDermott does an excellent job weaving the various interviews and archival footage. The episodes end with excellent cliffhangers that keep the viewer both interested and intrigued into both the various crimes and the man himself, troubled and troublemaking.

The factors that drove him to horrifying acts are presented, but Hernandez does not come away as either victim or villain. Instead, Hernandez comes across as a man shaped by elements both external and internal; from the loss of his father to his sense of entitlement, we see the individual with virtues and terrible flaws.

Killer Inside is part mystery, part biography, and to its immense credit it doesn't forget the primary victim of Hernandez: Odin Lloyd. One could argue that the portrait of Lloyd is perhaps rather loving, someone who apparently had no flaws apart from associating with Hernandez, but at least the documentary series recognizes Lloyd's life and death and not treat him as an afterthought.

In the whole tragic, tawdry story of this talented but troubled player, we hear his jailhouse telephone recordings and can see how his family shaped him to where he ended up in. His mother Teri at times seems caring, at other times selfish. On one call, she tells her son "Give me a million dollars and I'm set for life!". His father Dennis pushed him and his brother D.J. to excel but also literally pushed them around violently. His cousin, whose husband ended up having an affair with Teri, stayed loyal to Aaron until her dying day, but also introduced him to criminals who had a hand in his downfall.

Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez (2020)The big reveal, the big shock, is the issue of Aaron Hernandez's sexuality. Only Aaron Hernandez could say whether he was gay or bisexual. He was openly homophobic, and the suggestion that he feared his true sexuality would be exposed is presented as a possible motive for the Lloyd murder (one of a series of murders Hernandez may have committed). Killer Inside also reveals in Episode 3 that he was sexually abused as a child, and that Hernandez feared this "turned" him gay.

Killer Inside, however, cannot answer whether Hernandez could love a man romantically. He may have had sex with other men. He may have desired other men sexually. However, could he love a man? Could he even have loved his longtime girlfriend Jenkins? On matters of the heart versus the body there can be no answer, only speculation.

We hear often from Ryan O'Callahan, a former NFL player who came out as gay shortly after Hernandez's suicide. While it is good that O'Callahan can embrace his identity, his interviews come across as from a whole other subject. We can take SanSoucie's word that he and Hernandez had a long-lasting sexual relationship, but nowhere does the term "love" come up. Hernandez, I would argue, loved his daughter and according to his longtime girlfriend never gave indications that he may have been attracted to other men.

It would be too simple, too pat, to place internalized homophobia as the driving factor in Hernandez's actions. As one of the interviewees states, "The decisions lie with him. The consequences lie with him". Killer Inside allows for the idea that whatever factors internal or external drove him, in the end it was Aaron Hernandez who made those fateful and fatal decisions.

Perhaps the best summation for the saga of Aaron Hernandez is by Hernandez's lifelong friend Stephen Ziogas. "I think the biggest misconception is he was someone who had everything and threw it all away. What is your definition of being happy? From what we know now, can you ever really define that he was happy? Can you ever really define that he was content? He did everything he thought he needed to do to be happy".

We are all on the outside looking in, and as journalist Kevin Armstrong observed, "The why is the story here". Killer Inside is as close to seeing that "why", even though we ultimately will never fully know it. Sharp, insightful and ultimately tragic on so many levels to so many people, Killer Inside is the rare docu-series that one can binge on while learning that not all that glitters is truly golden. 


Saturday, July 4, 2020

Irresistible (2020): A Review (Review #1399)


On the Jeeves & Wooster series, the spoof of British Fascist Sir Oswald Mosley, Sir Roderick Spode, attempts to recruit our valet into his Black Shorts movement by suggesting Jeeves is the perfect man to appeal to "the working masses". Jeeves, nobody's fool, is not amused, rebuffing Spode's offer by stating that he and "the working masses" have barely a nodding acquaintance.

I imagine Jon Stewart, writer/director to the political comedy Irresistible is similarly on barely a nodding acquaintance with the working masses. Judging by the film, Stewart is also on barely a nodding acquaintance with the art of cinema. What Stewart appears to think is a sharp, witty send-up of how money corrupts American politics is in reality not funny, not bright and not worth anyone's time be he/she viewer, cast or crew.

Devastated by his failure to help get a woman who'd been running for President for sixteen years elected President and losing to a moron, Democratic political strategist Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell) thinks he has found the savior of the Democratic Party in as Irresistible puts it on-screen, "Rural America, Heartland USA" (later identified as Deerlaken, Wisconsin). He's retired Colonel Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper), whom Zimmer identifies as "looks conservative, sounds progressive" thanks to Hastings' impassioned speech opposing ID laws for non-citizens.

It's off to the wilds of Wisconsin, where Zimmer must contend with all the yahoos who live there in an effort to convince Colonel Hastings to run for Mayor. His agonies are endless: no Wi-Fi, no locks on the doors, the men having an informal beer club and the women forcing him to drink coffee not to his liking. The potential success of a gun-shooting liberal winning a mayoral race in a red community apparently so alarms Republicans that they soon start flooding longtime Mayor Braun (Brent Sexton) with cash, along with their own master operative Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne). The GOP can't have a candidate described in one of his ads as "A Redder Kind of Blue" winning lest they lose their rural strongholds. As the two battle it out with their swanky fundraisers, Super PAC fronts and general dirty tricks, Hastings and his daughter Diana (Mackenzie Davis) look on with a mix of amusement and puzzlement.

At last, it's Election Day, but alas, it's a case of who's zoomin' who: the entire election was a scheme cooked up by the good folks of Deerlaken to flood their community with millions of campaign dollars to keep their town alive. In the end, Zimmer and Faith see they really do deserve each other.

Jon Stewart's 'Irresistible' Is The Movie We Don't Need Right NowWhat the viewer deserves is a good movie, which Irresistible is not. Its problems start with the characters. I am at a loss to understand why Stewart thinks ridiculing the rural citizens is the same as ridiculing the "swamp" creatures of Zimmer and Faith. The film suggests at the end that the Deerlaken citizens were playing up the stereotypes of rural Americans, but there is an undercurrent of contempt for them in Stewart's script for them. Rather than come across as "dumb as a fox", the Deerlaken residents just came across as tired caricatures.

One in the series of faux-ads for Mayor parodies Republican ads that play on fears of violence and terrorism, but this seems so idiotic to think a small-town mayoral election where Mayor Braun has been elected often would suddenly take on the trappings of a Presidential election. If, perhaps Stewart had opted to make it a House election where there are national repercussions the political commentary he so desperately wants to make might have worked. However, if this took place in reality it is highly unlikely that either national Democratic or Republican operatives would even care about some one-horse hick town.

As a side note, I genuinely wonder if Jon Stewart has even ever been to Wisconsin or thinks, like Zimmer, it's some kind of foreign land where dial-up Internet is still the norm, at least for those who know what the Internet actually is. I went to Wisconsin last year, Appleton to be precise. While I can testify to the friendliness of Wisconsinites I can also say that even rural Wisconsinites are aware of the world. Irresistible is the type of film that thinks "connecting" with rural Wisconsin means listening to Glen Campbell and watching footage of one Green Bay Packers game.

OK, on the last one he's probably right, but I digress. 

The series of ads, made to mock the front organizations that create them, are frankly too dumb to mock. Stewart's suggestion of powerful old men who pay for sleazy campaigns is frankly cringe-inducing. Hasting's sugar daddy Sir Elton Chambers (Bill Irwin) is a ghastly vision: a virtual auto-animatronic figure that looks like it wandered off a Z-level science-fiction film, complete with robotic sing-song voice. Why Stewart thought any of this was hilarious makes one question his very sanity. We get a tiny hint of a Koch-like pair of brothers, completely with scooters, but they were literally there for show.

Jon Stewart movie 'Irresistible' isn't getting great reviews. How ...
The performances are almost equally appalling. The alleged repartee between Carell and Byrne is so forced and fake it they went beyond phoning it in to texting. Carell is so flat at times he looks genuinely bored, unsure or perhaps unwilling to bother making Zimmer a functioning character let alone human. Byrne isn't much better but at least she appeared to enjoy looking foolish. Cooper's main qualifications for being "A Redder Kind of Blue" is being an old white guy, but Hastings never convinced he had a genuine motive for "running" for Mayor even before the jig was up.

Even in his very and mercifully brief appearance, Bill Irwin should be embarrassed.No one is THAT desperate for money, or at least should be.

Surprisingly, Mackenzie Davis is the only one who spares herself any shame with her Diana, a woman who comes across as bright and caring. However, Irresistible suggests there may be a romance with Zimmer despite her saying she's 28 and him being considerably older. There isn't enough chemistry there to make that remotely plausible. Also, in real life Davis is 33 and Carell is 57, making him old enough to be her father. That he bizarrely ends up with Faith despite there being no chemistry between either the characters or actors is another insult to the audience.

Irresistible creates a scheme so outlandish that it doesn't even make sense in its own world, let alone the real one. It certainly thinks its clever in its "takedown" of politics as usual with the fundraisers and talking heads, but it is surprisingly toothless in its critiques. A scene where Hastings attempts to raise funds from a group of liberal elites could have mocked "radical chic". Instead, despite the possibility of evenhanded ridicule Stewart opted to not go for the jugular in spoofing Upper East Side New Yorkers.

To be fair this did have a good moment for Cooper where he quietly condemns them for having to ask for money from outsiders of his community, but that moment is a lost opportunity in a dull political satire that isn't satirical or intelligent but lazy.

Irresistible has a fixation on money in politics, particularly with Super PACs that routinely run campaign ads for a candidate under the guise of not being in cahoots with said candidate. I would recommend Jon Stewart channel his efforts into a documentary versus something as unfunny as Irresistible.