A week’s worth of mail was awaiting me when I returned to my apartment, including a pretty good sized mailer with two rolled up brand new pillows inside from that pillow guy who advertises on TV. MyPillow, it’s called.

I’m quite sure I didn’t order them, but they were addressed to me and here they are.  There was no card inside telling me who the pillows might be from. I’m completely mystified.

Yet Another School Shooting

Conservative pundits say it’s not about guns — the crazy right wing news outlets say it’s an ISIS plot. Progressive pundits say it’s a sickness, particular to our culture, that these mass shootings occur on a regular basis. Political figures say it shouldn’t happen. Children flee in terror. Parents race frantically to the school, trying to find their loved ones. Peers say there were signs. Mental health professionals say you can’t tell ahead of time which ones will go over the edge and actually show up someplace shooting.

And it goes on.

Mano a Mano: Ash Wednesday v. Valentine’s Day

By happenstance, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day were both on Wednesday, February 14th — my travel day. Brother in law Ron sends me all the funny articles about our shared and now very much dated Catholic heritage. Seems the bishops were in a dither that the faithful might eschew sackcloth and ashes and penitence for champagne and chocolates and romantic revelry.

No, no, they exhorted their observant followers. Ash Wednesday beats out Valentine’s Day, and penitence is a must. Celebrate another time.

When I was a kid, I remember lots of people walking around all day with ashes — including the York girls and our mother. Our father was Protestant and got a pass. I always thought — until I was an adult — that the ashes were from dead bodies, and the whole thing creeped me right out. In my defense, the priests used to intone “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” and the reference was to dead people. No one ever intoned “burned up last year’s palm fronds” as they dabbed a black smudge on your forehead.

I was in three very large airports on Wednesday — SeaTac, Chicago, and Boston — and I didn’t see one single soul with ashes, including two foreign looking nuns dressed in habits.

I’m not sure the bishops’ exhortations have much sway any more.

Film Review: Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour had come and gone from Seattle theaters by the time I returned from Panama, but on Sunday evening I bought it on Xfinity and watched. Some films, like Dunkirk, wouldn’t work at all on a small screen, but Darkest Hour did, at least for me.

Gary Olds has been getting rave reviews for his portrayal of Churchill, and those reviews are justified. Olds is up against Daniel Day Lewis, Timothee Chalamet, Denzel Washington, and Daniel Kaluuya for Best Actor in the list of Oscar nominees, and I think Olds will win. Denzel Washington deserved the Oscar last year for Fences and didn’t get it, but Roman J. Israel is not as good a film and not as good a role. Timothee Chalamet was brilliant in Call Me By Your Name, but he’s young. I think Olds’ portrayal of the crusty Prime Minister wins out there. I didn’t see the Kaluuya film, and probably won’t — can’t make a comparison. Daniel Day Lewis is wonderful as always, but Darkest Hour is a better film and Olds has the stronger role.

My, but Churchill was quite the alcoholic. How do people function who start drinking tumblers of Scotch with breakfast, and down bottles of champagne with lunch? And smoke cigars nonstop? It’s a wonder the man could climb stairs, much less deliver a ringing speech in parliament and do so with what sounded like a clear head.

Darkest Hour clearly brings out the historical truth: Churchill saw, more clearly than others, that Hitler was a monster with whom no negotiation was possible. Churchill somehow rallied the British royalty — the current Queen Elizabeth’s father Bertie — a parliament half of whose members were still on the side of Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement strategy, and most importantly of all, the British people. That Japan attacked the U.S. and brought our country into the war clearly helped — could Britain have brought about an Allied victory on its own? Perhaps not.

Churchill was the man for the darkest hour indeed. Wondering who will be that man, or that woman, as Trump continues to devolve? it seems as if history tells us that dark times require a rallying point, a single clear voice, a single rousing message. Churchill was that for Britain. We’ve yet to find ours.

I don’t think Darkest Hour takes Best Picture, which I suspect is a race between Three Billboards and The Shape of Water. Best Picture wins occur in context, and this year’s context is unlikely to be an historical WW II drama that glorifies crusty old white men.

Film Review: I, Tonya

Of the films nominated for Best Picture 2018, I’ve now seen The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Dunkirk, Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird, The Post. I haven’t seen Darkest Hour, Phantom Thread, or Get Out — although I may yet get to see Phantom Thread, which is still playing here. I, Tonya didn’t make that list.

For Lead Actress 2018, I’ve seen all five performances: Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water, Frances McDormand in Three Billboards, Margot Robbie in I, Tonya, Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird, and Meryl Streep in The Post.

I,Tonya is a hard film to watch, unless you’re inured to seeing women smacked around on the big screen, which I’m not. I remember the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan incident in real time, of course. Even the film refers to goons attempting to disable Kerrigan’s 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Competition chances by smacking her in the leg with a police baton as “the incident”.

Tonya Harding had enormous amounts of raw skating talent, a cruel and abusive mother — well played by Allison Janney — an absent father, some great coaches, a minimal education, a working class demeanor that often kept judges from giving her skating marks based on her actual performance, an abusive husband, and a bunch of dumb goons surrounding her. Other than her few moments of skating glory, cut short by her complicity or failure to report that the goons who injured Kerrigan were hired by her husband, Harding seems to have had a miserable life.

All of that is well portrayed by actress Margot Robbie, in the first person voice of Harding. Robbie does play a difficult role and succeeds, I think, in holding center stage for Harding — who struggled to do just that growing up and living out her skating career. People around her and watching her skate were constantly trying to throw her off her game.

It’s hard for me to assess an acting performance when I basically find a film unenjoyable and hard to watch. I did feel empathy for Harding, and that’s a consequence of Robbie’s acting — since the facts of the story have been out there for a long time. The acting didn’t move me the way Sally Hawkins’ tender performance did, or make me want to stand up and cheer the way Frances McDormand’s performance did, or make me remember the long road women executives have had to travel the way Meryl Streep did, or draw me to re-experience the raw emotion of adolescence the way Saoirse Ronan did.

I don’t know who I’d pick among those four for Lead Actress, although I remain partial to McDormand and Hawkins in a tie for #1, but I know I wouldn’t pick Margot Robbie. Maybe that’s the tragedy of Tonya Harding’s life: nobody picked her first, even when by talent and skating performance she clearly was.

Who Watches the Super Bowl?

A lot of fans watch the Super Bowl, whether or not their team is in the game. My apartment building is having a Super Bowl party in the Club Room, open to all. I doubt I’ll go. Neither the game nor the trappings — nachos and beer — are all that enticing.

I’m not a big football fan, although it’s hard to live in Seattle and not be aware of the fortunes of the Seahawks. And my grandson Archie is a huge fan. His big Christmas present was tickets to the final Seahawks game of the season, with Mommy and Daddy. He loved the experience, even though the Seahawks were out of the running.

My #1 sport is the Tour de France, followed by women’s professional basketball. How arcane is that?

I think it has to be increasingly hard, for lovers of the game, to watch guys pound their heads on each other and on the hard ground, knowing what we now know about CTE. You might call it watching brain damage in slow motion.

That said, I have friends who love the game — Louise is one. Athletes continue to seek out pro football careers, and the sport continues to generate huge revenues.

So cheers to everyone for whom Super Bowl Sunday is a long anticipated day. Enjoy the game. I don’t really follow either team, although I gather the pundits predict that the Patriots will win. There’s nothing good on TV on Super Bowl Sunday, so I’ll probably wind up reading a book. 🙂


Film Review: Meryl Streep as Kay Graham in The Post

I suspect that younger women, women my daughter’s age, who see this movie will wonder what was the matter with the very anxious and unsure Katharine Graham, played by Meryl Streep. Graham was the publisher of the Washington Post. Why would an executive in that position be so tentative and hesitant? Why would she dress like a socialite, not a business woman?

Kay Graham was dressed like a socialite because that’s what she was raised to be. She was tentative and uncertain, at least until the moment she gave the order to publish the Pentagon Papers, because she was the lone female executive in a sea of men in dark suits, because her father had given the family business to her husband Phil, not to her — which seemed right to everyone at the time, even to Mrs. Graham. She was tentative because she had no experience running the newspaper until the suicide of her husband landed the paper in her lap. She had no mentors,  no role models, and no female peers. She stood out like a sore thumb in the all male boardrooms and among her all male advisors. She was the pathbreaker Hillary Clinton tried so hard to be, and as we all know, being the pathbreaker can be a lethal role.

But the Washington Post thrived under Katharine Graham, and this Steven Spielberg ode to press freedom is no period piece. The Trump assault on the free press makes the film as relevant today as the actual publication of the Pentagon Papers was in 1971. And one wonders if the ringing defense of a free press in the 6-3 Supreme Court decision could possibly be replicated today, with the likes of Alito and Gorsuch and Thomas on the Court.

Meryl Streep turns in her usual world class performance — as if there is anything “usual” about the number of stellar performances she’s given us over the years. The story is riveting, even when we know the outcome and the basic outlines of the deception around the Viet Nam war that began in the Truman administration and continued through the downfall of Richard Nixon.

The Post is another “don’t miss” — and there isn’t a single one of these leading women who doesn’t deserve the Oscar. What a night that’s going to be.

Moviegoer: The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water had just opened in Seattle when I left for Panama, and I was afraid I’d miss it. To my great joy, the film was still playing at our independent arts theater SIFF, and I dashed out on Sunday afternoon — in the midst of post-travel catch up — to see it.

I’m utterly dazzled at the blockbuster performances coming from lesser known female actors in leading roles, like Sally Hawkins playing Elisa. Who in the world is Sally Hawkins, and where was such talent before it burst into full view in this film? The Oscar list for Actress in a Leading Role is killer competitive this year. The only one I haven’t seen is Margot Robbie in “I,Tonya” — and I still might catch that before the film leaves SIFF.

I’m a big fan of Frances McDormand and of Three Billboards — but essentially Frances  McDormand plays herself whether in Fargo or Three Billboards or in giving her remarks at the Golden Globes. Meryl Streep is an iconic talent, who can convince us she is Katharine Graham or Margaret Thatcher or Julia Child or Karen Silkwood or the trashy mother in August: Osage County seemingly without breaking a sweat. I loved Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn, a little less so in Lady Bird — although that movie won the far higher profile.

Women rock across the board this year — including Octavia Spencer, who plays Elisa’s best friend and ally on the cleaning staff of the facility where “The Asset” is being held. The performance of Richard Jenkins as Giles, Elisa’s gay neighbor and ally as well, fills out the political overtones of this deftly crafted and beautifully filmed fable.

I love going to the movies — have loved doing so ever since I was a kid and went to the Saturday matinee at the Lincoln Theater on Kearny Avenue, where a modest admission price brought popcorn, an introductory newsreel, two features, and sometimes a cartoon in between. People may think that streaming video means that the heyday of Hollywood has passed. But not for me. Not for me.

Donating Your Face

Most of us are aware that the possibility of donating organs upon our death gives a new lease on life to people suffering terribly debilitating conditions. I’m not sure what use my 72 year old organs might be, but I’ve indicated on my driver’s license that I’m willing to be a donor should the circumstances of my death allow.

I just read an article about the possibility of donating your whole face — typically to people caught in fires whose faces have melted, or to random unlucky souls like the woman who was attacked by a chimp, Travis, thought to be the pet of the woman who owned him. Your family gets a high tech 3-D printed reproduction that serves to make you look more or less like yourself and allows for an open casket.

While the ick factor of donating your face feels pretty high, I’m not sure it’s much different from donating an organ from inside your body. I’m not rushing to do it, although I have enormous sympathy for people trying to get through life without a functioning face. How about you? Would you do it?