Saturday, December 21, 2013
Nebraska (the movie)-- directed by Alexander Payne/ starring Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk/screenplay by Bob Nelson/rated R/115 minutes
Bifocal Review written by Ageless1der, Barbara Rich & The Other Guy
for L&L Magazine and
(BR) Thank God for June Squibb; she is the only performance that made this seemingly endless field of nothing worthwhile. If not for her, I would have fallen asleep. I might add that the gentleman sitting in front of me, did indeed fall asleep and snored lightly. How long does one have to drive through barren lands and sit in a living room with comatose aging men to get that in some towns, states and regions nothing interesting ever happens? Will Forte’s presence in those rooms and scenes made me feel, at times like I was watching a Saturday Night Live skit, so someone might say something funny any minute, but they never did. It is not impossible to have a sparsely populated screen keep my attention, if other conditions are met. Even films as simply plotted as About Schmidt starring Jack Nicholson, was very entertaining. Movies without the large budgets for costumes and special effects can be great. This one just isn’t. I give this film one binocular, mainly because of June Squibb. She dominated every scene she was in, I missed her when she wasn’t present.
(OG) I really wanted to like this movie. I love going to the movies and I almost always find something positive to say, even if it is only a about the way a line was delivered or the editor did a great job putting the scenes in the proper order. There is rarely a movie that I feel, after watching it, that the time was wasted. Sadly, that is how I feel about Nebraska. This film is nearly two hours, but it seemed MUCH longer. Why? Because, nothing happens! I was reminded of the classic Seinfeld episode where George is trying to sell television executives on the idea of a show where nothing happens, but that was television. Nebraska is not a tv sitcom. Even on television, when there is no plot per se, at least there are funny lines, gags and bits to fill the time. This is a movie, a film that we paid money to see, and all I can remember is that nothing happens. There is no suspense, no mystery, no emotional development of characters, no interesting dialogue, no real resolution of plotlines or themes. There is nothing, for two hours, except, as Barbara said June Squibb lifting her dress to flash someone buried in a cemetery. I don’t really know who she was flashing or why, but at least I remember the scene. One binocular seems fair and for the same reason stated above.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
It is with a heavy heart that we tell you, Tom Laughlin died on Thursday, at the age of 82. Known by the character persona of Billy Jack, a character he created, Laughlin was a unique link in the timeline of martial arts movies, as we transitioned away from a narrow, Asian-centered view of the warrior philosophy, toward a more realistic and broad view that honors indigenous cultures from around the globe, people who have traditionally governed themselves according to Core Human Values, Traits and Conditions as outlined in the Five Principles of Everything. In fact, in that book I tell a story about a young man whose interest in Billy Jack helped to open his eyes to a healthy life, which had eluded him in his earlier years. The following--in memory of Laughlin’s passing and to express how important his contribution was to many-- is an excerpt from The Five Principles, where Billy Jack was referenced:
Movement and stillness, tension and relaxation, thinking and feeling all have appropriate times and places. Human beings, exercising a proper responsibility to all the forces that surround them, learn to balance their lives with these contradictory forces, so that they can receive the benefits of all.
The definition of “beneficial” is also always subject to the peculiarities of the time, place and situation (as we've seen in a previous chapter). Again, we never know when a piece of information is going to be of use to us. Likewise, we never know how our actions or words are going to affect others. I often tell the following story to my students: Before I worked as a teacher in L.A. County Jails, I worked with emotionally disturbed children at a facility called Hathaway. During my close to seven years there, I worked with hundreds of kids and learned a lot from each of them. During this time, I was working on obtaining my Master of Arts degree and on my first black belt. Part of the job was that we lived in a house with about twenty kids for two and a half days each week. Staff was rotated so that there were always two “house parents” on duty at all times. While living in the house for my shift, I had to practice martial arts while the children were asleep. One boy, about ten years of age, sneaked out to watch me while I practiced and we formed a strong bond. The reason I let him hedge on his bedtime and his unusual attachment to me was that he was a half white/half Indian kid who had formed a strong bond to a character in the movie, BILLY JACK. This character was also half-white and half-Indian, a Viet Nam War vet who had returned to the reservation to save an Indian School from local evils. The local evil took the form of unscrupulous white ranchers who were illegally hunting and capturing wild horses for the dog food trade and who also hated anything related to Native Americans or hippies. Billy Jack's tools for keeping the kids safe were his hands and feet and “Green Beret tricks” he'd learned while serving in Viet Nam. Oh, I forgot to mention that Billy Jack had a signature black, round-topped, flat brimmed hat. The boy who wanted to watch me at night-we'll call him Little Billy--also wore one of these hats. Little Billy had been badly abused by adults growing up, I was told, and when I made the connection between Little Billy's heritage and his association with the Billy Jack character, I realized that it made him feel safer to know that someone was practicing martial arts in the same house where he slept, just as wearing the Billy Jack hat made him feel less vulnerable. I also encouraged Little Billy to be proud of his Native heritage and told him about some of my teachers and of the great heroes of the American past who were his ancient relatives. We shared some good moments together and eventually he was removed from the therapeutic environment of the Village.
Now, we need to flash-forward about 20 years. I was teaching ESL, GED preparation, drug and alcohol abuse prevention and high school diploma subjects within the L.A. County Jails to the inmates, sitting in my classroom with about 50 inmate-students when the phone rang. This was a little unusual, in itself, since I got very few calls in jail. However, what was stranger was when I picked up the receiver and a voice at the other end said, “Hello sir. I'm looking for Gordon Richiusa, sir.” Immediately there was recognition.
“Little Billy? Is that you?”
“Yes, sir. I didn't think you'd remember me sir.”
“Billy,” I said, interrupting. “Have you been in the service?”
“Yes, Sir,” he responded. “How did you know, sir?”
“Billy, you can stop calling me Sir,” I said, and then quickly added. “I can't believe this. How did you get through on this line? How did you find me? Why are you calling?”
Billy told me that he had left the home where I worked with him, had gotten his high school diploma and his black belt and then joined the service. He had served honorably and was discharged after which he had pursued him heritage and found his maternal grandfather on the Piute Reservation in Nevada. His grandfather was a medicine man in the tribe and had agreed to teach Billy the old ways.
“Congratulations,” I told him. “But, why are you calling me now?”
“I was in a ceremony recently and I had a vision of you telling me the one thing that had changed my life for the better. I just wanted to let you know and to thank you.”
For some reason I was stunned. Billy told me that he had been hunting for me for a couple of weeks, going back to Hathaway then following leads until finally finding out that I was working in jail. He then had to get the education department's phone number and convince a few receptionists to put him through to the phone I was talking on, all because I had finally said something memorable that had benefited someone's life in a profound way. I couldn't wait to hear what these words were that had affected him so much that he felt he had to find me.
“So what did I say?”
“You told me that there are two ways to breathe.”
I admit that I was a little deflated. This did not seem profound at any level and I did not immediately remember the context in which I had imparted this questionable wisdom. “Could you please explain?” I asked.
Billy went on to remind me that often the children in our care would have what we lovingly referred to as, “freak outs.” These were emotional displays, tantrums of monumental proportions in some cases. Billy was legendary in his writhing, howling and frothing exhibitions, so much so that during one episode four grown adults where holding him down in a panic shouting directions such as “Calm down! CALM DOWN!”
When I saw what was happening, I lay down on the floor next to Billy's head, with my face next to his and said, “I know this is going to be hard Billy, but these staff members are not going to let you go until you calm down. When you calm down, they will calm down. I want you to try something. Just notice the way you are breathing.” He was near hyperventilating, rapidly panting between growls. Try thinking about nothing else except your breathing. If you can slow your breathing, you will relax. When you relax, they will let you go.”
Billy said that not only did it work in this situation, but also it was probably the most significant piece of information in his later successes. You never know what affect your words or actions are going to have on others. The best we can do is to deal with every situation honestly, honorably and with respect that each action may be of far greater significance that we realize in the heat of the moment. As a person who calls himself a teacher, it's a big responsibility that I take more seriously now. I thanked Billy for calling me and got his permission to tell this story to others.
Remember: The Gradual Diet, by Barbara Rich is included as one of fifteen bonus essays, by notable experts about how they use the five principles to achieve success.
Below is a theatrical trailer for the movie Billy Jack, which basically tells the story in brief:
Monday, December 2, 2013
Last Vegas--Directed by Jon Turteltaub/ starring Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, Mary Steenburgen/ written by Dan Fogelman/1hr 43min/rated PG-13
Bifocal Reviews written by Ageless1der Barbara Rich & The Other Guy
(BR) It is virtually impossible not to be entertained when four masters of their craft, Oscar winners all, appear in a film. I was just in the mood for a no-brainer and a few laughs. Last Vegas, proved to be just that, a story about childhood friends who are now seniors, getting together for a wedding in Las Vegas. The wedding is for the character played by Michael Douglas, who is planning to wed a girl more than thirty years younger. Each of the actors has their own brand of misery that comes with age. What ensues provides chuckles, as the legendary four let loose in Vegas. This comedy is not Oscar bound, but if you want to be purely entertained, then I recommend Last Vegas, especially if you are a viewer of a certain age. I award this movie 3 binoculars (on our new scale of five).
(OG) I don’t know what took us so long to get this review “to the presses” but there is really no rush, I suppose. All the actors are legendary at their craft and if you are looking for a fun time, then this is a good bet. I won’t go on with comparisons to other Vegas films that center around the weekend before the wedding scenario. This one is worth a look for no other reason except seeing DiNiro, Douglas, Freeman, Kline, and Steenburgen in one place. If you are looking for a few giggles, nothing more, this is for you. I give it 2 ½ binoculars.
Dallas Buyers Club—Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée/ Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Steve Zahn/ screenplay by Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack/117 minutes/rated R
Bifocal Reviews by Ageless1der, Barbara Rich & The Other Guy
(BR) Matt McConaughey’s comes out blazing in Dallas Buyers Club. He is on fire as he portrays Ron Woodroof, a fearless hell-raisin’, bronco-bustin’, homophobe who lives on the edge, and then some. The protagonist (Matt’s character) gets a big surprise to his narrow-minded belief system, when he learns he has HIV and is given only 30 days to live. This explains Matt McConaughey’s emaciated appearance off the set, after losing almost 50 lbs. for this role. His character’s development is only part of a growing change for Matt as he leaves the romantic comedies and introduces us to more compelling parts as he did in Lincoln Lawyer and Mud, with more to come this year! The deck is certainly stacked in his favor for this to be his year for awards. A supporting role, portrayed by actor Jared Leto is also award worthy. Leto plays a transgender as if that’s all he has ever been. It is just brilliant. This could make for an interesting supporting actor category at the Oscars, as Matt McConaughey’s title character in Mud is being called a supporting role, as well. If I were to criticize any performance, it would be that of Jennifer Garner. She just doesn’t react with enough emotion for my tastes. I believe she was miscast, but I’m not privy to the inner workings of production casting. This movie offers tears and many laughs on Ron’s journey as he becomes more sensitive to those suffering from the same disease For me, this was an actor’s movie and my binocular tally was easy: Five Binoculars!
(OG) I agree with Barbara. This is going to be Matt McConaughey’s year for an Oscar, but this may not be the movie that earns it for him, and it’s not because his acting wasn’t great in this film. As you may recall, I LOVED Matt in the movie Mud. In fact, his performance is raised up a notch or two by his costars. So, what does that mean? There is a possibility that one of his roles--up to four films may be under consideration for awards-- may end up in the unenviable position of having to compete with itself for awards, this year! That’s right, Matt McConoaughey might be nominated for best actor for more than one film. Mathematically, he could also be nominated against himself in more than one category! It is possible that he would be considered a supporting actor, for his work in Mud and (fill in this blank with one of the other two movies he’ll be appearing in besides Dallas Buyers Club) and then get a Best Man nomination for Dallas. In fact, he may have to compete with his own supporting actor (Jared Leto) if he gets a supporting actor nomination for one of the other films. You see where this is going? It’s going to make for some interesting rangling come this next awards season. However, for Dallas Buyers Club I personally think Matt and Jared were a great team, character-wise and acting ability-wise. Jennifer Garner, while beautiful, did not convince me that there was any real emotional connection to her character. All in all, Dallas Buyers club still gets four binoculars from me.