Sunday, December 30, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Director:     Stanley Kramer
Writer:        William Rose
Cast:          Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier

What happens when the daughter of a pair of wealthy Caucasians who was raised to be colorblind brings home a Black fiancee?  Guess Who's Coming to Dinner explores the undertones of race in the late Sixties.  

This is a particularly emotional film on many levels.  It's not just the racial tension of the situation, but Spencer Tracy's very ill.  The actors were working from two scripts:  one with Tracy and another without.  Both Kramer and Hepburn offered their salaries as collateral for Tracy finishing the film.  He died two days after filming was completed. Hepburn could never watch the film because it was too tied to her partner's death.

I'm generally not a fan of mostly dialogue films. I need some action and more scene changes than just a drive to the local ice cream shop, but even after many years, I hung on every word.  

I had to ask myself.  Have we improved?  What would happen today under the same circumstances.  

Yes, the situation has gotten somewhat better.  As of February 2012, interracial marriages accounted for one of every twelve marriages in the US.  Don't get me wrong, we need a lot more improvement.  

At the time of the film's conception, racial tensions were high in the US.  Mixed-race marriages were illegal in fourteen states. Just two days after Tracy's death, Chief Justice Earl Warren overturned these laws in the decision for Loving v. Virginia; however, Kramer kept a line in the film which says that mixed-race marriage was illegal. 

One line in the film refers to Reverend Martin Luther King.  Theaters were still showing Guess Who's Coming to Dinner  when Rev. King was assassinated in 1968. The studio contacted theaters and requested that they remove that line.  NOTE:  The version we saw of this film had the line intact.

The second lines that stunned me were as follows.  Note:  Drayton is Spencer Tracy's character and John is Poitier's. 

Drayton: Is that the way Joey feeIs? John: She feeIs that aLL of our children wllI be president of the United States...and they'LL aLL have colorfuI administrations. Well, you made her, Mr. Drayton. I just met her in HawallBut how do you feeI about that probIem? John: Well, frankIy, I think your daughter is a bit optimistic. l'd settIe for secretary of state.

Two bits of irony here.  Joey Drayton and John met in Hawaii seven years after President Barack Obama was born.  And they believe their child could be President.  I definitely smiled at that.  

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, December 2012

Saturday, December 29, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: Rare Exports

Director:  Jalmari Helander
Writer:     Jalmari Helander
Cast:       Jorma Tommila, Peeter Jakobi and Onni Tommila

If you're a fan of Dr. Demento and Twisted Christmas music, it's been awhile since you have had a similar expression in film. Thanks to the Finnish, you've got a macabre, twisted tale of Christmas that you won't soon forget.

The story's set in North Finland where Santa is not precisely such a jolly old elf. Matter of fact, he was so bad the locals killed him and buried him in the hills.

Enter a US anthropology team looking for guess who?  And when the reindeer start disappearing, one local youth is pretty sure they've found the evil Santa.

Pietari, the young male lead, is really strong. Trust the kid to be the one person in the village who's clue-endowed. I don't watch Finnish cinema as a rule, but I'd be watching for this actor if I did. 

NOTE:  This film is in Finnish mostly and subtitled.  Usually, this is a huge issue for me, but Rare Exports was done well enough that the only subtitled bits that gave me trouble were the ones written in white over snow.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, December 2012

Monday, December 24, 2012

COMMENTARY: A Christmas Story

It’s Christmas Eve, Tony and I stopped in at Kroger’s for some last-minute groceries.

As we were leaving, the store help offered us a free poinsettia. I love the flowers, but I had to refuse. They are poison to cats and trust me, Indy will sample anything within his reach.

This brought back a memory:

1984 – 1986 was my favorite job, the Archives and Manuscripts section of the Oklahoma Historical Society. Part of their museum holdings was the Overholser Mansion. Every year, the Chafing Dish Society had a Christmas party at the carriage house.  They festooned the carriage house with poinsettias for that event.

When they were done, they sold the poinsettias to Historical Society staff for $1 a plant. One dollar for a HUGE poinsettia, the largest I have seen.

Yes, I bought several and took them to Mom.

My friend, Joe’s partner had a florist shop and Buzz would always take the scraggliest poinsettias.  He had an indoor pool with a greenhouse type roof on top of it and he’d hang the poinsettias over the pool during the winter. 

By next Christmas, he had gorgeous flowers he could sell back to the Chafing Dish Society.

But, that’s not really the end of the story.  One Christmas, Buzz got an unexpected gift: it seems a pregnant mamacat was living in his backyard. He couldn’t tell that cat there was no room for her at the inn, so he brought her inside and took care of her.

After the New Year,  she had three coal black kittens.  Joe and Buzz were worried about the kittens and the pool, but they thought they had time to make a solution that would keep the kittens from drowning.

Too late!  One of the kittens stepped into the pool.  Dressed in full clothing, Joe prepared to dive in to save it. As he reached the edge of the pool, he saw the kitten dog-paddling.  The little fuzzball who could barely walk swam across the pool.

That started the other two swimming.  

A friend of mine adopted one of those little swimmers and named it Ninja. She raised angel fish and had a beautiful tank full.  Hers were so nice, the local aquarium shop bought from her.

One by one, those fish started to disappear. 

Yes, Ninja not only swam, he was a fisherman. 

The Mama cat remained with Joe and Buzz and got spayed before she could have another litter. She never learned to swim, but she wasn’t above lounging by the side of the pool on one of the chaises. 

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, December 2012

Sunday, December 23, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Directed by:           Peter Jackson
Written by:             Fran Walsh, Phillippa Bowens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo Del Toro (screenplay)  JRR Tolkien (book)

Cast:                      Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage.....

For those who've been living underground, here's the synopsis:  Bilbo Baggins is a happy hobbit who lives among his own kind until he's recruited by the wizard, Gandalf, for an adventure. He's going to help the dwarves reclaim the homeland the dragon Smaug stole from them.

As a certifiable fangirl, I admit I was excited to hear that Peter Jackson was doing The Hobbit.  My interest waned when I learned the film was going to be yet another two-parter. 

While I can think of very few films that are better than the book, Jackson did more than a credible job with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He changed the narrative flow of those three books so the character's timelines were in synch with each other. This is the big reason why I love all three of the films -- I can't say they are better than the books, but they are organized more linearily for me and they are truly beautiful to behold. 

If anything, The Hobbit is even more scenically beautiful. Jackson and his staff pulled out all the stops with the assistance of the almost-unspoiled New Zealand landscape. 

Unfortunately, I think he could have cut about 45 minutes from this film and it wouldn't be missed. While beautifully depicted, sections just dragged.

Yes, I will buy the DVD.  I doubt I will end up with three versions as I did with the LOTR videos, but I will at least have the movie theater version. 

Yes, I see awards for at least the cinematography and possibly the soundtrack.  It's a good film--just not a great one. 

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, December 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: Carol for Another Christmas

Directed by :          Joseph L. Mankiewitz
Written by:             Rod Serling, Charles Dickens
Cast:                      Sterling Hayden, Peter Sellers, Eva Marie Saint, Ben Gazzara, Steve Lawrence

I make it a policy not to review made-for-television movies.  For the most part, I wonder what on Earth we have cable for. It's hundreds of channels full of shopping networks, talking heads, and insulting reality programs.

Then, we find a gem which makes the month's payment worthwhile.  In this case, TCM did the second airing for this amazing film twice this Christmas season. 

Carol for Another Christmas was originally funded by the Xerox Corporation in support of the United Nations.  It aired once December 1964 and hadn't seen the light of day since. 

Pity.  We needed to see this film. 

The essential plot:  Ben Grudge is a wealthy man who lives in isolation after the death of his twenty-two-year-old son Marley on Christmas Eve twenty years before. (WWII)  His choice to block the cultural exchange of a Polish professor from a US university triggers the visitation of three ghosts that Christmas Eve. 

Grudge is the kind of man who believes we should all stay on our own sides of the fence. Every twenty years for a war is more than enough for him.  He doesn't think the United Nations is necessary. Instead, we should build bigger and better bombs and convince the other nations that we're not too chicken to use them. 

Rod Serling of Twilight Zone wrote the script based on Dickens' famous Christmas Carol.  If anyone can scare you and make you think, it is he. I promise you that you will be haunted for years to come by the visitation of these three ghosts. No spoilers, but the Ghost of Christmas Future was far too much like events from our own times. 

The cast is all-star and they pull out all the stops. Peter Sellers' performance as the Individual Me was shocking and outrageous--and led straight into his next more notable acting in Dr. Strangelove. 

I should add all-star for the music, too.  The theme song is by Henry Mancini and is a gorgeous piece of music. 

Sadly, this film is not on DVD.  My hope is that TCM's showings have resurrected this gem enough for someone to produce it.  I will be in line to buy the DVD as soon as they do.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, December 2012

Friday, December 21, 2012

COMMENTARY: Which one was the shooter?

One of the NRA's proposed solutions for gun violence today is a national registry of mentally-disturbed people.  Sounds a lot like the Stasi to me, a bit too "big government" for a conservative group. Besides that, how are they going to determine who is capable of violence?

Determining who's mentally unstable and capable of killing isn't that easy--even for trained professionals.

Just for fun, I am offering a real-life test. About twenty years ago, I worked with two women. Both left the agency under a cloud. One of these two women had the means, motive, and opportunity to shoot her co-workers and she made threats toward several of them.  Yes, I was one of the people she said would be "better off dead." 

See if you can read the twenty-four word bios I've provided and tell me which woman it was.

A.  Single woman in her thirties lived with her cat.  She was  introverted, soft-spoken, and tended to keep conversations work-related. Hobbies:  reading, walking, and crafting.

B.  Married woman in her forties with two sons. No pets. She was highly extroverted and would talk to anyone. Hobbies, drinking, crafts, and bingo.

You can post here or in comments or on my FB page.  I'll reveal the answer on Christmas Eve.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, December 2012

Thursday, December 20, 2012

COMMENTARY: End of the World Playlist

I grew up with a Southern Baptist Mom in the Sixties. Between the church folks talking about the end of days and the socially conscious alarm about the Bomb,  I heard more about the End Days than I care to discuss, but tomorrow we face a prediction by the Mayans which says the world will end. Friends placed a challenge for an end of the world playlist and here's mine--posted a bit early so you can enjoy the music if you choose.

I can't think of a better way to end this world than sending it out with music.  It's man's best invention--and indeed divinely inspired. 

I'm dedicating this playlist to my husband, partner and one of my best friends for over thirty years.  He's believed in me, nurtured me, and just plain put up with me all this time.  So yes, that last night we need to have some champagne and watch the bright blue marble go out together:

The Last Night of the World -- Bruce Cockburn

My second dedication is to the Mayans for staring all this stramash lo so many years ago:

People of the Sun -- Rage Against the Machine

Perhaps many of us are contemplating our lives --whether we believe in the Mayans or not.  Harry Chapin did many years ago when he drove close to a tornado that nearly destroyed a Texas town. His music is a gift--and I give this to you freely:

The Story of a Life -- Harry Chapin

If the Mayan Calendar is correct, we are at the Eve of Destruction.  This is actually the first non-church song I heard about the end:

Eve of Destruction -- Barry McGuire

And, this song goes out to Mom and all the folks reading Revelations with hope in their hearts:

Waiting for the End of the World -- Elvis Costello

How about just one more? I was never crazy about the hymns in Mom's church, but I could go hear Gospel any old time. And this sister has a voice that sounds like hellfire coming down:

Judgement -- Sister Mary Nelson

Let's get started.  In honor of all the bomb drills I had to do as a kid.  Being stuck under a desk getting someone else's gum from the bottom of the desk in your hair definitely warps your sense of humor. 
Kiss your Ass Goodbye -- Alison Steel

The question starts with what ends the world?  Unlike the folks in the Sixties, my feeling has always been that we end the world by destroying the species.  The wholesale slaughter of the buffalo is one key example:

The Last Buffalo -- James McMurtry

Some folks felt like the world ended on this day--when the music died:

American Pie -- Don McLean

This merry little tune was written before I was born:

Merry Minuet -- Chad Mitchell Trio

Continuing the theme of societal comment, The Temptations did this song back in the Sixties, but I chose the Neville Brothers' song for ONE LINE.  Can you find it?

Ball of Confusion -- The Neville Brothers

Love this group and what a start:

Great Waves -- Dirty Three

And no list would be complete without CCR:

Bad Moon Rising -- CCR

There are some artists who are essential to any playlist.  One of the top ten is Queen:

Another One Bites the Dust -- Queen

And Debbie Harry:

End of the Run -- Deborah Harry 

For some perverse reason, known only to me, I think the end of the world is going to be some cosmic mistake:

99 Red Balloons -- Nena

Angels are coming...

Angels at my Gate -- Mannfred Mann

And, of course, the Grim Reaper.  This is the song that scared the snot out of me when I first heard it as a kid.  Love it:

Don't Fear the Reaper -- Procal Harum
I try to not playlist covers, but I like The Goofy Newfies, aka Great Big Sea.  If the world continues tomorrow, all you Celtic music fans will thank me, too:

It's the End of the World -- Great Big Sea

Because the world cannot end without Becker and Fagen and I suspect that Commerce failing is part of the deal:  

Black Friday -- Steely Dan

This song's dedicated to my sister-friend, Belinda Christ, for introducing me to Muse:

Apocalypse, Plase -- Muse

This is a song that I have always thought represented loss and endings.

Fire and Rain -- James Taylor

How about just a bit of humor?  From the author of songs like "Be Prepared," I give you a small chuckle. You may need it by now:

So Long, Mom -- Tom Lehrer

Possibly one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard, it first came out for Hurricane Katrina. It's become an anthem for the grieving:

Requiem -- Eliza Gilkyson

I could think of no finer coda than this:

Hallelujah -- Leonard Cohen

My blessings go out to you, my friends, readers, and thirty-two followers. If the world does not end tomorrow, perhaps we should dedicate the day to good deeds and perhaps make it a better place to be.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, December 2012

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Seven-Year Itch -- SD Skye

There was a time when I couldn't get enough of Robert Ludlum and Thomas Clancy. I loved the fast pace, the secrets, and the heroes defending our country.

But, I had one small problem.  Women were in the background and minority women were few.  I'm pleased to say that S.D. Skye has helped solve those two issues and produced a spy thriller with a strong believable African American heroine.

JJ McCall is an agent for the FBI working to recruit Russian embassy personnel to help us locate spies.  Lately, that hasn't gone well. Codename "Ice Phantom" is selling US secrets -- and if this person isn't stopped, lives could be lost.

The story's as fast-paced and hard to put down as any Clancy or Ludlum. In many ways, JJ's a whole lot more real. At work, she's a minority fighting for status in a man's world.  At home, her former Black Panther Dad wants her to marry -- preferably a man of her own race.

And there's a unique character twist that earned the book its name. JJ bears a family curse that's turned her into a human lie detector. And when someone lies--she's itching like she sat on an anthill.

The Seven Year Itch is currently available on Kindle only, but you can download and read on your computer, phone, or most other readers. If you're a spy thriller junkie like me, you'll want to set aside enough time to finish. Trust me, you will not want to put this book down.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, December 2012

Monday, December 17, 2012


For the two days I knew Lisa, she got little peace. At night, she awakened screaming. In the daytime, she couldn't stop crying. 

Lisa had good reason to cry. Her seventeen-year-old brother shot her in the leg while on an LSD trip.

She was only eight.

All I could do was tell her that she was safe when she woke up screaming and share my radio with her in the daytime so we could have a little music.

I was twelve. I didn't really know what to do but listen--maybe that was the best thing. Lisa's family wasn't with her--I'm not sure why. I know her brother was in jail and Lisa was scared she couldn't go back home.

I can still hear her voice--clogged with tears and mucus, foggy with painkillers and sedatives--terrified and grief-stricken. I can't tell you what she looked like--I was in the hospital with a detached retina so one eye was bandaged and I wasn't supposed to use the other.

I thought I was in heaven when the nurses came to take me out for a wheelchair ride. They got me into the dayroom and then I heard Lisa's screams--and the clatter of something metallic in a pan.

When they finally let me back into my room, I found out from Lisa that the docs dug a fragment of the bullet out of her leg. We both hoped they got it all. She didn't want to go through that again.

They moved her somewhere else after that--I'm not sure where or why....I never saw her again and I didn't realize at the time that our parting was going to be final.

I'd like to say that I thought of Lisa often and sent her as much prayer and good vibes as I could--the truth was, I was going through one of the worst periods in my own life.  My eye surgery wasn't successful--to this day, I can't remember big chunks of those following months. It's a blur of adjustment to no depth perception and the fear that what can happen to one eye could easily happen to the other.

But every instance I read of kids getting shot, I think of Lisa. And, I've read too many instances since Columbine.  Thirty-one in schools, if my count is right.

Many people would call Lisa one of the lucky ones. After all, she survived. Hopefully, she and her family got the help they needed to get past the shooting. But, tragedy is like death--you don't get over it and proceed through the steps of grieving and recovery in a neat diagrammatic fashion. You just get past it. Someday in the future, the memories will hit you and they can be even harder than when you first dealt with the situation. 

I would shut up--if it was just Lisa.  It's not.  Three years later, I met a girl who had to mop up her nine year old sister's blood and brains after she was killed in a family dispute. I could write more than a week's worth of blog entries about the selfish, foolish, and irresponsible behavior of gun owners.

I can also tell you there are many responsible and thoughtful gun owners.  I don't have the solution, but I can see the blood on my own hands for not speaking up sooner and asking cool heads on both sides of this question to sit down and work some solution out that will allow people to send their children to school in safety, to go shopping for Christmas presents without fear of getting shot, to go to a movie without having the on-stage violence turn too real.

This Christmas, like every Christmas, I wish for peace on earth. That starts with each one of us searching our hearts and working on a solution that keeps the Lisas of this world safe.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, December 2012