Tea With the Dames

When a man is knighted, he is a "Sir." The female equivalent is a "Dame." Some very smart theatre-loving individual got the bright idea to encourage four "Dames" to sit together and reminisce. What memories they have!

Director Roger Michell ("Notting Hill") has created this wonderful documentary by joining these much adored, highly honored, perennial stars and turning on the camera. He has also dredged up an absolute treasure of film clips from waaaay back when. This is a theatre lover's nirvana and a valued piece of show business history.

We join:
  • Eileen Atkins ("The Crown," "Doc Martin") relates a story about overhearing two men as they evaluate her potential. They agree that she isn't pretty, but one points out that she IS sexy! And according to those clips, she was saucy, too! Her mother wanted her to be a dancer and she wore the school logo on her tutu, "KY" and wondered why the men snickered.
  • Judi Dench ("Skyfall," "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel") has a LOT of inside stories (with 134 movie credits), but is self effacing and shy, unless directors talk over her or disregard her, then LOOK OUT! She described her character Cleopatra as a post-menopausal dwarf!
  • Joan Plowright ("Tea With Mussolini," "Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont") is the widow of Laurence Olivier. I already loved her before I learned that. She is blind now, but still loves a good joke (and a glass of champagne).
  • Maggie Smith ("Downton Abbey," "Lady in the Van") has already won two Oscars and is still going strong. We forget what a babe she was back in the day. Take a look! She was in one play called "Listen to the Wind" which she called, "Hark, Hark, the Fart!"
Needless to say, these women are blunt, smart, and sharp-tongued...to our delight. In the theater where I saw this film, the audience laughed out loud as much as I did. What a joy!
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You can see why I depended on Closed Captions:
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Bisbee '17

When I was growing up in Bisbee, we called it "The Deportation." Even then, it was history, and like all history, there were two very different takes on the event. (1,186 men were deported, rousted out of their homes by approximately 2,000 rifle-toting "deputies," loaded into cattle cars and shipped to a railroad siding in New Mexico.) I have had Robert Houston's novel, "Bisbee '17" on my shelves since 1980, but I had never realized that the miners deported were primarily immigrants; this anti-immigrant activity was part of a national trend. In fact, Bisbee's population included immigrants from over 30 countries, e.g., the U.K., Serbia, Croatia, Mexico, Germany, Italy and even Texas! ...smile... This was true of most American blue-collar towns in those years.

This award-winning documentary (Best Documentary - Athens Film Festival) celebrates the activities of a group of involved citizens who realize that almost 100 years have passed since this infamous event (July, 1917) and it deserves a reenactment. After all, Tombstone (25 miles away) reenacts The Gunfight at OK Corral regularly! To the people in Bisbee, Tombstone's is "fake" history, Bisbee's will be real. And they must be ready by July, 2017.

Director/writer Robert Greene first shows us how reenactments develop and how the public responds to them (we love them), then we become acquainted with the town of Bisbee, Arizona and its history. It was once one of the richest mining towns in the U.S.; it is located seven miles north of Mexico; Warren Ballpark was built in 1909 and is the oldest ballpark in continuous use in the country; Bisbee is still sitting on a huge stockpile of copper ore.

I enjoyed seeing:
  • The Iron Man - a heroic statue of a copper miner at the lower end of Tombstone Canyon
  • The Copper Queen Hotel - an old treasure which boasts its own ghosts
  • The Queen Mine Tour - used for interior and exterior shots of mines
  • St. Elmo's Bar - a Brewery Gulch tradition
  • The Lyric Theater - now derelict and dusty
  • The Loma Linda Lodge - the home of Walter Douglas, an official for the mining corporation
  • The "New" High School - first occupied in 1957
  • The little amphitheater in Brewery Gulch near Central School
  • Lavender Pit and "the dump"
  • Evergreen Cemetery
  • Warren Ball Park - the place the strikers were loaded into cattle cars.
Mother Jones is referred to as a Wobblie (Industrial Workers of the World) organizer in an on-screen pamphlet, which says that by interrupting the production of vital war materials (copper being one of them), they can strengthen the anti-war effort (Corporate America was focused on a run-up to our involvement in WWI). Strong objections were raised when union members sang one of their songs to the tune of The Battle Hymn of the Republic; over 50% of the miners went out on strike.

It was fun to watch the local citizens who were cast (one as his own grandfather!) and see each internalize the rationale which that person must have felt in order to take the stand he took in 1917.

This was like watching an enhanced home movie. It absolutely requires that you suspend disbelief (e.g., paved roads, a white stretch limo that carries an armed Sheriff Wheeler alongside the miners to the ballpark; electrical cords in homes), and remind yourself that this is a community effort that would never have come to pass without a lot of good people to make it happen.

This will enjoy a limited release, but I fully intend to add the DVD to my personal collection.
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No trailer, sorry
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A Star is Born - 2018

Maybe things ARE better the fourth time around. We watch this timeless tale of a star whose shelf life is nearing its expiration date, as he mentors a fresh young talent. It IS a compelling tale. This current version is nearly as good as the 1937 version with Janet Gaynor; and that one had the advantage of discovery, it was brand new to us. Plus it is always satisfying to watch an awkward young performer learn the ropes and gain professional polish.

In my opinion, first-time director Bradley Cooper shows a deft hand at the helm, in fact it's the best I've seen since the 2006 version of "Tell No One" directed by Guillaume Canet (which I highly recommend, by the way). Scenes have depth: extras act like people, not extras. Cooper manages to avoid most of the clichés this one begs for, although that one tear was hard to forgive.

Let's look at the cast;
  • Bradley Cooper ("American Sniper," and "Silver Linings Playbook") is Jack, an Arizona-born star who fills stadiums with devoted fans and hopeful camp followers. After a successful appearance, he stumbles into a gay bar where an unknown singer impresses him. One drag queen tells him, "I don't care what you play, just look at me when you do it."
  • Lady Gaga ("American Horror Story," and "Muppet's Most Wanted") Ally is a hard-working, no-nonsense gal who walks out on an abusive boss and accepts Jack's invitation to his next concert, little realizing it will include a trip on a private jet.
  • Anthony Ramos ("Will & Grace") Her pal Ramon comes along to offer her some necessary moral support.
  • Sam Elliott ("The Hero," and "The Ranch") Bobby might be Jack's uncle. The theater I was in had no closed caption devices; as a result, I missed a lot of their backstory, sorry.
  • Rafi Gavron ("Snitch") Rez is Ally's straight-talking manager, who lays out the truth for Jack.
  • Dave Chappelle ("Chi-Raq") "Noodles" is Jack's driver, a considerate and wise man.
Many other actors were given their moment to shine, but time and space...you know... I must hasten to warn you, I thought I was in Samuel L. Jackson country with the countless F-bombs that were lobbed around, but I quickly became unaware of them. Suffice it to say, the R rating is richly deserved (alcohol and drugs) but we can watch for this one at the Academy Awards.
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Please take a look:
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The Bookshop

It's 1959. Our heroine has been a widow for 17 years. She has decided to open a bookshop in a tiny Anglian town, despite disapproval by a deceptively polite town leadership. The town recluse asks her to send him a few books...no poetry or complicated plots, no Brontès, more Bradbury. If you are a book lover, you will be peeking at the covers to spot old friends, and the popularity of "Lolita" is acknowledged but the film goer must provide the context.

Writer/director Isabel Coixet ("Learning to Drive"), working from the wonderful novel by Penelope Fitzgerald, has crafted a gentle, deeply felt little PG-rated drama, no raised voices, no gunshots, no armies or Computer Generated Imaging, just a solid story interpreted by a brilliant cast.

We watch:
  • Emily Mortimer ("Match Point," "Dear Frankie," "Lars and the Real Girl") is Florence, a solitary book lover who is quietly positive that there is a place in this town for a nice bookshop. The building may be old and rundown, but those Sea Scouts have stepped up to help.
  • Bill Nighy ("Their Finest," "Blow Dry," "Love, Actually") Edmund is the town legend and that town legend changes as time passes. It doesn't concern him. I pegged him for an agoraphobe, but he does come out when he deems it necessary.
  • Patricia Clarkson ("The Station Agent," "Easy A," "Maze Runner") Violet has been the arbiter of good taste and genteel manners for decades. She is positive the town needs an Arts Center...and that building the new bookshop occupies is perfect. She controls everything.
  • Honor Kneafsey ("Miss You Already") Christine doesn't like to read, but she would like to work in the bookshop, just the same. She finds boys repulsive.
  • James Lance ("Marie Antoinette") Milo seems to have a lot of spare time on his hands. He tells Florence that writers will go anywhere there are free drinks.
There were moments in this film I was awestruck by the quality of the acting. There was a scene with Nighy and Clarkson that took my breath away. There were no histrionics, everything was understated, but you could WATCH their characters think.

I've preordered my DVD, in case you wondered.
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Check out this preview:
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