Happy Thanksgiving 2014

It has been my custom to share some of my favorite art on Thanksgiving. While the paintings that follow are not Thanksgiving themed, they do take me back to my younger days. As a kid growing up in Huntington, on Long Island, we lived near wooded areas. We also watched TV shows about cowboys, and there were even small forts that were built in those nearby woods. So it is no surprise for thoughts of the west to stay with me all these years later. In those days, a good many films were produced that featured Cowboys and Indians. In fact hiking in the woods has stayed with me even as an adult.

These days, I don’t live in the west except through art. And here in Sarasota, Florida, there are neither hills or forests. We do have some hiking trails and those help somewhat. While I like horses, the last horse I rode was near Shenzhen in China. And it wasn’t that many years ago; maybe in 2008. So you shall see a good number of paintings that include horses. But that’s not all – some of the paintings will take you back to the days of the Old West, or others will be family oriented as is this holiday.

If you can remember the Thanksgiving holiday from when you were a child, you will note that those family gathering have changed. Families do get bigger, but they also get smaller with the passage of time. So thinking about those good old days will be good for the spirit. I have a good many paintings for you, so let’s get started. NOTE: Following the end of the text – there is a link to a video I made of almost all of these images.

I’ll lead with Of Many Paths They’ll Take by Steve Hanks. I don’t think I was this small when I started to navigate pathways. And I didn’t have a small sister either. But doesn’t this painting have an aura of wonder to it. We don’t know where these kids will end up. Nor do they know how their lives will turn out. As a companion to the above painting, Steve Hanks also did one (below) involving a walk down a different path and he called it A Path to Follow.

A Path to Follow Steve Hanks

Speaking of paths, beside those that wend through a forest or the country, there are pathways to people’s hearts. But there are also warpaths.

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Henning Mankell’s Wallender: Season Three – Now on Netflix

So a favorite detective series has ended. At the end he doesn’t walk towards a sunset over the Pacific Ocean, or stare into the bottom of a glass of whiskey. Rather it is a cloudy gray day with a smattering of snow falling on a beach in Ystad, Sweden. Now if you didn’t already know, Ystad is a real town and it is located on Sweden’s southern coast. It is the home base of our dour but brilliant police detective.

The detective’s name is Kurt Wallender, and he is a fictional character created by the author of numerous mystery novels – Henning Mankell. A number of Mankell’s stories have been made into both films or TV series. Four different actors have portrayed Wallender: Rolf Lassgard, Lennart Jahkel, Krister Henriksson, and Kenneth Branagh.

Kristen Henriksson as Wallender

Krister Henriksson as Wallender

Netflix has just posted Season Three of Henning Mankell’s Wallender. There are six episodes of 90 minutes each. Before this batch, I watched the 13 episode Second Season also on Netflix. I believe you can find Season One on DVD or Amazon Instant Video, or Hulu. I should specify that for this post,  I am talking about the ones with Swedish actor Krister Henriksson.

I found the Swedish noir style very impressive. The emphasis is on character and social issues like drugs, immigration, and corruption. This is not to say that there’s no action, or crimes of passion – there are some very violent crimes, but action is not in the forefront.

In this, the last season, the topics are:

Kidnapping & Revenge
A Missing Child
Exploitation of Immigrant Workers
A Cold War Death 20 Years after

Krister Henriksson portrays Kurt Wallender. Wallender is brilliant, and driven, but he distinctly lacks flash. He’s an older detective – late 50’s or early 60’s and he doesn’t take the best care of himself. He drinks too much, often lacks social graces, disagrees with his colleagues – meaning he can be a bit of a dick at times, and in Season Three, he’s kind of slovenly. In interviews Mankell has stated that a key element is that Wallender changes – like the rest us. We age and we change. And the important fact is that these changes are written into the stories.

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I

There’s an irony in me seeing this film today, as I am still reading a book called The Revolution Was Televised by Alan Sepinwall.

As The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I opens we learn that the physical hunger games are no more. The Capitol is still smarting that the folk hero and people’s choice, Katniss Everdeen, is still commanding attention.

A few Districts have been bombed into oblivion by the Capitol, and Everdeen is now residing in the subterranean remains called District 13.

Okay ‘remains’ may not be quite right. District 13’s surface has been made into huge bomb craters, but now it is like an upside down silo, or better yet – a super bomb shelter that has become an underground city with at least forty stories of building space, enough for the remaining population to live, far below the surface and fairly safe from bombing missions.

The main visual take away is that this film is rather dark and gloomy. The thematic take away is that this was a revolution that was televised.

Yes, so there’s a revolution a foot. Join the Fight proclaims the brand new propaganda bit of television made by the folks at District 13. Yes, they are fighting for the hearts and minds. With President Coin (Julianne Moore) rallying the populace, and her trusted media advisor Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) at the helm of the media campaign, they aim to bring down the evil President Snow and those awful folks in The Capitol.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is the face of the revolution. We watch as she’s prepped, and groomed, and trained and rehearsed again and again (Once more Katniss, this time with more energy) for her agitprop to be beamed to the entire nation.

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Face it Dad. You’re doing this, because you’re scared to death, like the rest of us, that you don’t matter. And you know what, you’re right – you don’t.

Saying those words to someone would be an effort on your part to give some one a wake up call. A reality check. On the other hand, when those words are said to you – by your own daughter

– the impact might be crushing.

Especially if once upon a time, you were a major movie star. And the key words in that sentence are – once upon a time. These days you have to field questions from the press that go something like this:

Are you afraid that people will say, you’re doing this play because you’re a washed up comic strip character?

Such is the current situation of one Riggan Thompson, a former swashbuckling film star of the incredibly popular, superhero, comic book character, film franchise known as Birdman. Twenty years ago, Thompson turned down Birdman 4 and following that decision, his career began a slow down hill descent.

These days, Riggan Thompson has mortgaged everything he has to mount a Broadway show that he’s written, while also directing, and starring in. It is an adaption of the Raymond Carver book of short stories called What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

Thompson is played by Michael Keaton. You remember Mr. Keaton, who once upon a time starred in two films that were incredibly popular, and clearly fit into what we call a superhero, comic book character, film franchise. These films were known as Batman.

Woman's Voice yelling at Thompson as he stands  near the edge of the rooftop: Is this for real, or are you shooting a film? Thompson: A film... Woman: You people are full of crap...

Woman’s Voice yelling at Thompson as he stands near the edge of the rooftop:
Is this for real, or are you shooting a film?
Thompson: A film…
Woman: You people are full of crap…

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State of Affairs – New NBC Prime Time Series

State of Affairs premiered on NBC Monday night. Set in the present day, the series stars Katherine Heigl as a CIA analyst tasked with the job of being in charge of the President’s Daily Briefing Book. Reporting to work at 2:00 in the morning, Heigl, called Charleston ‘Charlie’ Tucker, and her staff scour the internet, read all the overnight traffic sent in by CIA station chiefs across the globe, assemble intercepted cell phone chatter, and various news reports. In short, they organize and prioritize a list, for the President every day, of the most urgent and pressing security issues facing the country.

President Constance Payton is played by Alfre Woodard. The Director of the CIA is played by Dennis Boutsikiris. David Harbour, who you all know as Elliot Hirsch on The Newsroom, is on board as David Patrick, the President’s Chief of Staff. There’s a big cast and things move rather quickly on this show. In fact, I’d call the pacing breathless. Which may be a positive because it means less exposition and more action oriented scenes.

In the way of background, Charlie used to date the President’s son Aaron. It was actually more than just dating. They were engaged. But Aaron was killed in Kabul, Afghanistan one year ago. Charlie was also in the same group that was attacked by the terrorists, but she survived.

As the show begins, we learn that Charlie is seeing a shrink (as well as not seeing) and trying to deal with PTSD from that event. She has recurring nightmares of that horrible night, and it isn’t clear if she remembers everything or is suppressing other parts of that night. Charlie deals with the PTSD with occasional binges with alcohol as well as casual sex. Not exactly what the government needs or wants with some one who is in contact with and briefing the President on a daily basis..

So even though Charlie presents a huge security risk, we see her arriving at the White House as a regular part of her job. She’ll walk in and the President says, What do you got for me today? In the pilot we also see Charlie making decisions way above her pay grade. She also been told and warned that she doesn’t make policy, the POTUS does that.

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You’ve seen a version of this film before. But most likely what you saw wasn’t called Whiplash and wasn’t set in a music school. We’d have to go to Fame for that.

In 1973, it was called The Paper Chase. We’re at the Harvard Law School. John Houseman is Professor Charles W. Kingsfield Jr. and Timothy Bottoms is James T. Hart, law student.

Charles W. Kingsfield Jr.: Mr. Hart, here is a dime. Take it, call your mother, and tell her there is serious doubt about you ever becoming a lawyer.
James T. Hart: [pause, as he is leaving the room] You… are a son of a bitch, Kingsfield!
Charles W. Kingsfield Jr.: Mr. Hart! That is the most intelligent thing you’ve said today. You may take your seat.

In 1988 it was called Stand and Deliver. Edward James Olmos as Jaime Escalante – a high school math teacher. Lou Diamond Phillips as Angel Guzman, a likely high school drop out. The subject is calculus.

Jaime Escalante: [to his students] … There will be no free rides, no excuses. You already have two strikes against you: your name and your complexion. Because of those two strikes, there are some people in this world who will assume that you know less than you do. *Math* is the great equalizer… When you go for a job, the person giving you that job will not want to hear your problems; ergo, neither do I. You’re going to work harder here than you’ve ever worked anywhere else. And the only thing I ask from you is *ganas.* *Desire.*

But it isn’t always a teacher or a professor. Sometimes it is a Drill Sergeant.

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The Missing: New Limited Series on Starz

Picture this. A British couple and their six-year-old son are on vacation in the north of France. Their car breaks down near the fictional town of Chalons du Bois. They book a room at a local hotel, the Hotel L’ Eden. It is 2006.

With time on their hands, the car repairs will take at least 24 hours if not more, they have to make a day of it. They visit a park, have ice cream, and then a fateful decision is made. The boy wants to close out the day with a swim in the town pool. The mother stays back at the hotel, and father and son have a terrific time at the pool. They change back into their clothes and Tony, the father, thinks they might have a bite at the local pub where everyone is engrossed in the televised France vs Brazil World Cup soccer match.

The bar is loud, crowded, and raucous. Tony has Oliver’s hand in his, as he attempts to thread his way through the crowd to order the food. In the tight quarters, some how he let’s go of the boy’s hand. As quick as it takes me to write this, Tony realizes he doesn’t have Ollie any more. He makes his way through the crowded bar, but there’s no sign of Oliver.

Ollie !!!!!!!!

Ollie !!!!!!!!

Nor is Ollie outside in the street. Tony is in a panic. He’s lost his son.

Flash forward eight years. Tony has returned to Chalons du Bois.

We quickly see that he has aged, and taken a distinct downhill turn. We also quickly surmise, that he has not recovered from the loss of his son, and is obsessed with finding him.

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The Newsroom Season Three Begins, as Does the Countdown

Hello, I must be going, I cannot stay,
I came to say, I must be going.
I’m glad I came, but just the same,
I must be going.

So said Groucho Marx as Captain Jeffrey T. Spaulding in the film Animal Crackers. Of course Spaulding was a world renown hunter and adventurer. And always on the look out for bigger game. Like Margaret Dumont for example. But he was a man on the move.

As is Aaron Sorkin. Via multiple sources, it has been widely mentioned that Sorkin has confirmed his statements from last May, that he will be stepping away from writing for television. Of course he tosses in the oft said, never say never, as a qualifier. He says he might be back someday…if a new and good idea can be found.

In the mean time he’ll be at the keyboard for his screenplay for Jobs. There’s also talk of his theatrical play, A Few Good Men, being mounted as a theatrical production revival. So Sorkin has a lot on his plate and doesn’t really need the bashing he’s going to take for his Season 3 of The Newsroom, which returned on HBO earlier tonight.

Tonight’s episode was called Boston, and it tied in the real life tragedy of the bombings at the Boston Marathon on April 15th, 2013 with the ACN coverage of the story. Sorkin has stated that it is easier and better to tie his fictional stories to real news events instead of having to use made up news. While I am understanding his reasoning, it didn’t work all that well for me tonight.

I mean we are well versed in what happened at the Marathon and the aftermath, so I felt it difficult to build up any enthusiasm for the dramatic rushing about, and then sitting on the sidelines while they waited for confirmations before going on the air. Margaret Jordan and Elliot Hirsch went up to Boston and the rest of the News Night crew stayed home.

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Cooper: We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and wonder about our place in the dirt.

Cooper: We’re still pioneers, we’ve barely begun. Our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us, cause our destiny lies above us.

Somewhere between those two quotes lies the film Interstellar. Directed by Christopher Nolan and written by Mr Nolan and his brother Jonathan Nolan – this is movie making on a grand scale. Not all of it works, and not all of it is smart, but there’s no denying that this is one helluva entertaining film. With a running length of 169 minutes, it still clocks in at less time than your average Sunday NFL game. But there’s a difference, in this film, there’s no halftime, or intermission, and there’s enough going on that you won’t want to miss a minute of it.

Now Nolan is no stranger to high concepts or deeply layered film making – and so, this is not a film for anyone expecting alien beings or George Lucas Star Wars styled humor. No, most definitely, this film is more in the style of the Stanley Kubrick masterpiece 2001.

In fact, Interstellar borrows quite a lot from 2001. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s set the film up first. The film opens in the not too distant future. The kids have laptops, and dad drives a truck, and people dress in recognizable clothing. Kids still get into fights at school, parents have to meet with teachers, and there’s something else.

For reasons unexplained, the earth has become quite similar to the dust bowl era of the 1930’s. In fact, there’s a world-wide food shortage because of the climate issues and more (again not explained), crops no longer grow, except one – corn. Countries no longer have armies as every cent once spent on military endeavors now must be spent on science to keep the corn crop going.

Matthew McGonaughey plays Cooper, once a test pilot for NASA (one of their best we are told) but now he’s struggling to keep his corn crop growing. He’s a widower, and has a teenage son Tom, and a 10-year-old daughter Murphy (most of the time he calls her Murph). The dust storms come in ever-increasing strength, and ever-increasing regularity. The earth is dying. while there are sunny days, no one is having what could be called fun.

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