Weekend Coffee Share

wordswag_15073188796611453091488Weekend Coffee Share is a time for us to take a break out of our lives and enjoy some timely catching up with friends (old and new)!

If we were having coffee in person, we’d wouldn’t be at my favorite Starbucks in the downtown of my town. They closed it. I’m sure it was profitable because it was always busy, but maybe it didn’t make as much money as the more sterile locations. I’m not sure where we’d meet, but now in Illinois eateries and cafés are open as long as they only have 25% occupancy rates.

Life goes on. Most days are like every other day.

I was supposed to go pick up books I’d ordered from the library. They just opened to allow people to check out books. Unfortunately, I was busy working and didn’t remember my appointment on Saturday so I missed out. I had to make a new appointment and this coming Friday was the earliest time. I’ve set an alarm so I don’t lose track of time.

Once I pick up my library items, the sooner I can see some movies. I’ve been watching too much news, though we do need to be aware of what’s going on. I’m reading two good books, but it’s hard to read as much as I like. There’s something about the lockdown that makes

 

Weekend Coffee Share

wordswag_15073188796611453091488Weekend Coffee Share is a time for us to take a break out of our lives and enjoy some timely catching up with friends (old and new)!

If we were having coffee in person, we’d be at a small café called Leonida’s, which now has outside seating. Otherwise, I’d suggest meeting outside as I did with a couple friends. We chatted in the fresh air for an hour or so. It was so nice to see friends without a screen between us.

My family celebrated Father’s Day three times. On Saturday, we had a Zoom with my sisters in Connecticut and Utah and their families. They treated us to a wonderful take out dinner.  To abide by the 10 person government WuFlu guidelines, yesterday my brother in LaGrange and his family came for lunch, which we shared on our patio and my other brother and his family came for a barbecue. So glad we had good weather.

There’s a lot of drama at work and I’m trying to get a transfer. It’s a long shot, but my fingers are crossed.

I’m making good progress reading Proust’s Swann’s Way, the first book of his In Search of Lost Time. The style is beautiful and mesmerizing, so much so that I can only read 15 pages a day to savor it. It’s sad that a small number of hooligans can wreak such havoc.
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I’m gleeful at the prospect of the library opening tomorrow for pick up. It’s been too long. I do still miss being able to select by browsing. One day . . . .

I’m disturbed by the wholesale destruction in parts of the country. If you want to have a piece of public art removed, you can petition your local government or request this at a town hall meeting. Some people see to get high on destruction and they don’t know that some of the statues are of abolitionists and people like Lincoln or Grant who fought to end slavery. Grant sent the national guard to the South to root out the KKK. Yet his statue has been pulled down in San Francisco.

Chicago had a horrendous weekend in terms of violence. Over 100 shot and 13 killed. Some of this is due to the governor releasing prisoners for COVID, but I really can’t explain the rest of it. Lots of theories for the cause (gangs, guns, but few solutions.

In Minneapolis there was a senseless shooting just 2 blocks from my nephew’s apartment. One killed and 12 wounded. I hope they soon find the shooters. I think a lot of the destruction isn’t about justice, it’s about power and evil.

Across 110th St.

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This week I watched the police drama Across 110th St. starring Anthony Quinn as Capt. Mattelli. Made in 1972, Across 110th St. is a look at racial tensions during that era. Quinn plays a middle-aged detective afraid of losing his job to a younger, Black detective named Lt. Pope.

When that movie begins, some mobsters are dividing $300,000 from drug deals when a couple of gangsters dressed as police officers force their way into the apartment the mafia is using. The Black gangsters make off with the cash and the mafia vows to get even. In spite of their icy relationship the police have to get both the mafia and the gangsters behind bars.

Harlem is impoverished with high drug use and other crimes destroying the neighborhood. 

There was a lot of brutal violence, which I couldn’t take. Thus I didn’t enjoy the movie and when much have preferred less violence, and more detective work. The theme of racial tension is significant and worthy of our consideration, but I just couldn’t  take the brutality.

Remembering Tragedy

A well done, concise story on the Tiananmen Square Massacure that culminated in violence 30 years ago today. I’m amazed how China’s government has been able to keep their citizens in the dark about this tragedy.

Above is a longer video, a TED Talk by a Tiananmen Square survivor.

After the Protests

Today some Chicago about 150 citizens* took to the streets during rush hour to bring attention to the problems they face on the Southside. Shootings, school closings, poverty are all serious in Chicago neighborhoods and the mayor isn’t doing enough about it.

A few weeks ago there was another group took to the streets for some of the same reasons.

I think the mayor, Rahm Emmanuel, should hold a televised (local or cable TV) meeting to brainstorm a list of changes that can really make a difference. Representatives of the marchers, representatives of the schools, law enforcement, and other stakeholders should be invited. Show the city what you want and how it can be done.

*This number was reported on Chicago Tonight on August 2, 2018.

Gran Torino

I’m still scratching my head as to why two friends recommended I see this film. They just raved about it. It sure isn’t my cup of tea. Starring Clint Eastwood, who also directed and produced it, Gran Torino shows Walt Kowalski, a tough curmudgeon whose wife has died who’s just a pain in the neck to his two sons and grandkids and neighbors. The person he’s closest with, and he isn’t that close to, is his barber, with whom he trades insults and profanity. There’s young, out-of-step priest who tries to connect with Walt, but the grouch has no patience for this cookie-cutter stereotype.

Next door to Walt live a family of Hmong refugees, whose lives Walt is forced to become involved with. A gang of about 5 Hmong guys terrorize the neighborhood. Walt’s teenage neighbor Thao is a bit wimpy and thus a target for his cousin’s gang. The gang forces Thao to try to steal Walt’s classic 1970s Gran Torino, but Thao is caught. When Walt sees the extent of how Thao gets pushed around by the thugs, the teaches the boy how to “man up.” All this moves to a showdown between Walt and the gang.

I felt all the actors overdid it. There wasn’t one subtle role. Too bad Toshio Mifune’s not around to teach how to be tough and subtle. The only natural performance came from Ahney Her who played Thao’s sister.

Replete with stereotypes and clichés, I couldn’t buy what I was seeing. Except for the end, Walt is in a foul mood about everything. Everything. I’ve seen this sort of grump in bad movies but never in real life.

There’s a good message about sacrifice and breaking through one’s racism, but since few are as biased as Walt, most audience members will just see themselves as better than the hero rather than in the same moral boat. I don’t need that. The Two of Us is a much better movie about racism. Yojimbo is a better film for action and defeating a gang.

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Dodes’ka-den

Kurosawa’s 1970 Dodesu ka-den (どです か でん) was his first color film and the first film he released in five years after going though a rough experience directing a film for 20th Century Fox, a studio that didn’t trust him and spread rumors about him having had a nervous break down. To prove his detractors wrong, Kurosawa brought a collection of short stories to life on film.

Set in a post-war slum, Dodesu ka-den follows a group of beautiful or actually mainly grubby losers, most of whom aren’t regulars at the public bath. The story begins with a boy we’d now consider on the autism spectrum. He begins his day praying with his mother who’s distraught by his behavior. Every day, this boy, who lives out the fantasy that he’s a trolley driver by pantomiming every action of one. The actor’s skill would give Marcel Marceau a run for his money. The boy meticulously follows the rules of trolley service and scolds anyone who’s accidentally sitting on his “tracks.” Of course, he’s the prime target of taunting neighborhood boys.

There’s a group of half a dozen housewives who spend their days overseeing the comings and goings of everyone in the surrounding shanties. They gossip about the two women who’re married to men seemingly competing to be the town drunk and who casually swap their husbands from night to night. These women are little better than their husbands in terms of temperance or temperament.

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Another woman has five children and another on the way. Each child has a different father. She’s selfish and doesn’t care for anyone else. The scene when her current “husband” comforts the kids who’re crying because their pals have told them that each one has a different father and that this good-natured guy is not their “real” dad, was a highlight.

The scenes with the homeless dreamer who has his son beg for food and helps the young boy keep his spirits up by sharing his imagined view of the glorious house they’ll one day have with a English gate, a Scottish living room, and a swimming pool, were poignant and touching.

One of my favorite characters was an engraver who was the one sensible person in the neighborhood. He quietly made the right decision or said the right thing whenever someone was on the brink.

The film doesn’t have a typical story structure where people are facing a defined problem and its resolved by the end. Most of the characters had bleak existences that would make a Dickens character look privileged. Yet the film does offer respect and hope. Sometimes that hope was the charactes’s greatest flaw.

Interviews with North Koreans

A must see. Just incredible to go through these experiences.

Being a woman in North Korea is worse than I thought.

Thank you, Asian Boss, for these outstanding videos.

Badlands

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I’d never envisioned Martin Sheen playing a morally bankrupt adolescent so watching Badlands (1973) was something of a shock. In Badlands Sheen plays Kit an outsider with just enough smarts to be dangerous. I can’t quite make out his percentage of psychosis, but Kit sure has plenty. Evidently the film was based on an actual couple, Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate.

As the film begins, Kit’s bored with his garbage collecting job, which he soon loses by telling off the boss. He finds an odd kind of love when he meets Holly, played by Sissy Spacek. Holly’s an even keel (or flat line?) teen whose mother died a while back. She’s never had a boyfriend or lots of friends at school so hey, Kit’s interested in her so why not stick with him. Her father’s rather taciturn and aloof so she’s morally empty and will go along with anything since nothing in life seems like a big deal to her. She attaches herself to Kit since he’s there and he’s good looking and she doesn’t seem to have the depth to make moral judgments of any sort. Life’s rather boring in her South Dakota town and she’s got no social circle, no village is raising this girl so she goes with whatever comes along.

So we see this ho hum relationship, and both Holly and Kit are more inclined to the ho hum than to passion, flow along until Holly’s father gets wind of it. He forbids Holly to see Kit. Now Kit’s wild with love and can’t live without Holly. He breaks into Holly’s home and confronts the father, who wants him out. Dad won’t listen to Kit. He certainly doesn’t want his only child to settle for an uneducated loser who can’t keep a job. When the father turns his back to Kit to go call the police to get the trespasser out, Kit shoots him in the back. Kit and Holly burn the house down to thwart the authorities who’ll soon want evidence and they take to the road. It is odd, yet compelling to see Holly blithely go off with Kit after he’s murdered her father in cold blood.

Just like Kit, Badlands goes in directions viewers won’t expect. There’s never a police officer who’s determined to catch the pair. This isn’t Bonnie and Clyde, though the bodies start piling up as the story progresses. It’s more of a look at a lost, bored adolescent couple who make some odd and wrong choices, shrug them off and keep going in their way. Because the plot employs few Hollywood conventions and because the leads are compellingly low key and lost, the film works.

Who’d thunk that Jeb Bartlett could play a low key, psychopathic James Dean?

 

 

 

In a Better World

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The Danish film In a Better World caught me by surprise. Compelling and intense, it weaves together the stories of Anton, a doctor who works for an NGO like Doctors without Borders in Africa and his family in Denmark and Christian, a boy who moves to Denmark after his mother dies. Anton’s son Elias is a victim of bullying until Christian defends him. The two boys become friends, but Elias is troubled by Christian’s violent streak. Christian believes might makes right and takes pleasure in revenge and plotting. He doesn’t know when to stop or that the unexpected can make a plot go awry in terrible ways.

Anton lives part of the year in Denmark, where he tries to reconcile with his wife Marianne, and part of the year in war-torn Africa where women are sliced open by a Chieftain called Big Man. Anton is a highly ethical man who tries to live non-violently and to teach his son the same.

Lonely and fascinated by Christian, Elias is too weak to refuse and stop his friend from his escalating violence. The film, which gets dark at times, depicts the consequences of missing fathers.

 

I liked the film’s tone and the opportunity to travel to two new settings, Africa and Denmark. Roger Ebert criticized the film for cutting between the two cultures of Africa and Denmark, however, as someone who splits her time between cultures I found no problem with that choice.