Friday, June 27, 2014

Third Person, Jersey Boys (and a brief mention of Campaign of Hate: Russia and Gay Propaganda)

              Must Be the (4) Season(s) of the Witch

How about we start with an overall Musical Metaphor for a change, based on this collectively-intended-title for the week’s offerings and the mesmerizing Donovan tune that inspired it, which in its own strange manner has an oblique connection to everything I’m talking about this time.  Take a listen if you like, then read on.  You’ll either find that I’m marvelously insightful in starting you off this way or more hopelessly obscure than usual; either way it'll give you a surge of empowerment.

                                                          Reviews by Ken Burke

[Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ brilliantly insightful reviews.  This is how we write, so as to explore what must be said as art transcends commerce (although if anyone wants to pay us for doing this ...); therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when ready to be transported to—well, wherever we end up.

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I’ve got more than one cinematic contender for your time and money to discuss here, but they’ve really got nothing in common for a fully-integrated-review (except for minor connections between Paul Haggis and Clint Eastwood) so we’ll take them separately, the more obscure one first.
                                                          Third Person
Three stories intertwine but not in the manner that you expect, as different relationships in different cities all run into major problems that are mysteriously connected.
Once again I’ve had the privilege of seeing this film at a press screening prior to its opening so if it’s coming this weekend to your locale (as it is in my home base of the San Francisco Bay Area), then I suggest you heed my spoiler warnings if you want to watch before reading because this one especially offers a surprise ending that I wouldn’t want to spring on you unannounced.  If you’re still here, however, I’ll assume you’ve already seen Third Person (Paul Haggis, 2013, although just now going into domestic release) or are just trying to keep up with current openings without paying for all of them, especially one that’s been lambasted so viciously already by the culture guardians at Rotten Tomatoes (24% positive comments) and Metacritic (33% average score), clearly among the lowest ratings I’ve ever seen from these groups (this gets into the realm of Machete Kills [Robert Rodriquez, 2013] and Winter’s Tale [Akiva Goldsman] from recent months, where I generally agreed with the harsh dismissals although I was a bit kinder to each of them [reviews respectively in our October 16, 2013 and February 24, 2014 postings]).  As has been the case a good bit lately, I’m on the more positive end of the spectrum than most of my fellow critics where Third Person is concerned, although you might have every reason to look as skeptical as character Anna (Olivia Wilde) does in the above photo, wondering if any flowery prose I could offer would possibly justify something so roundly condemned by others.  Well, read on and see—even if it’s after you’ve given the film a chance by having watched it first—because I find this tale of 3 parallel-but-not-too-obviously-intertwined-stories to be fascinating in concept and delivery, although, I admit, a film that could be perceived as a bit overly-facile in conception and revelation; even for me (4 stars and all) it's not as fully satisfying as something equally-intended as a mind-bender such as the multi-layers of consciousness in Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010), which would rise to a higher 4 ½.

In Third Person's press notes Haggis says the title refers to the situation that “In any relationship there is always a third person; perhaps not romantically, perhaps not even consciously, but present in some form,” by which I take him to refer to someone from the past of either or both partners who provides a complication for the present—which proves to be the situation in these 3 narratives as they finally find the commonality that was elusive at best prior to their resolutions—or someone, possibly only in the ideal imagination of either or both, who is again preventing the fullest connection that might exist, even if that someone is just what either or both partners wish the other would transform into so as to enhance reality with dream, hope, desire, fantasy, or even just desperate need.  (This is a situation that I think is also relevant in Third Person when we begin to understand what Haggis has been holding back from us all along, although he says in the second video clip linked to this film far below that he doesn’t want to be too explicit in what he reveals about the situation with these several characters, that he wants us to discuss, even argue, about what we’ve seen, in a manner—to shift into film theory terms for a moment here—more akin to how Realism [we’d have to go with the subcategory of Psychological Realism for Third Person, as with Black Swan [Darren Aronofsky, 2010] forces us to watch carefully, think actively about what we’re encountering, and attempt to fill in some gaps ourselves so as increase our involvement in the [generally] more artistic product rather than how Formalism is focused more on resolving the plot’s questions [which has its place with artistic cinema as well, although its great presence is generally with the more financially-imposing-entertainment vehicles—see Jersey Boys below—that dominate the box-office on a weekly basis]).  In Third Person we have separate—or, are they?—stories set in Paris, Rome, and NYC, with the first one concerning former-Pulitzer Prize-but-now-struggling-author Michael (Liam Neeson) trying to get a more useful inspiration than what’s constantly available to him from cigarettes, pills, wine, and booze.  He’s the one in Paris, having recently left his wife, Elaine (Kim Basinger), trying frantically to get settled into a narrative stream that’s eluding him (he represents another aspect of "third person" as well, taking notes in his journal of encounters but using "he" rather than "I," an indication that his new novel is secretly autobiographical in that he says it's about a writer who can only relate to real people through the characters he creates), trying to overcome what his publisher sees as weakness in his post-Pulitzer-writing, all the while mixing in an torrid affair with the aforementioned Anna, a very cynical, self-centered journalist who has her own ambitions of being a novelist, so whether she truly does care for Michael in those rare moments when she’s not belittling him or just wants to use him for connections to the “higher echelon” of the print industry never is clear (she does say that she distrusts what he calls love), although we never doubt that she has a vicious streak (which he counters at one point by locking her in the hotel hallway while she’s nude—a great shooting day for the film's crew, Wilde notes in the press materials, but she encourages such a scene as a team-bonding-ice-breaker) as well as an even more untrustworthy side, given that she’s also come to Paris to sleep with another man, one that seems to not be known to Michael, as best we can follow the early scenes presented.

On a parallel-level of untrustworthiness we have Scott (Adrien Brody), an American fashion-industry-spy who comes to Rome to steal designer secrets for his knock-off-bosses back home (while portraying the ultimate disgusting foreigner who hates everything about the country he’s visiting—and ripping off).  While there’s not much about him initially to generate feelings of sympathy, we do infer later on that something must have happened to his young child because he keeps calling his answering machine to hear what must be her last message so maybe he’s got a hidden, hurt, decent side after all.  If so, it works against his goal of getting out of Italy as soon as possible because while killing some time in a joint strangely called the Bar Americano (where he expects to find a familiar atmosphere and menu but there’s none such available) he comes across a very attractive, seductive Roma (not Roman; please look up the difference if need be) woman, Monika (Moran Atais), who also has a daughter crisis but hers is based on desperately needing money to
pay off the smuggler who will deliver the child to her in Taranto, a mob-infested small town in southern Italy except that the money that was in her bag disappears after she leaves it in the bar leading to both of them returning the next day (we're not sure of his motivation just yet) with her claim that he stole her money which encourages him to deny the theft (although he was guilty of it, as we find out much later) while countering with the offer of help in accompanying her to the trade-off, as well as providing the missing (then escalating) amount from his Stateside-connections in genuine concern for her not being able to reunite with her child—that is, until he gets the sense that he’s being played for a fool because the smuggler now wants 10,000 rather than 5,000 Euros, then ups it to first 25 then 100K, so that it’s all now looking like just an elaborate scam that will result in her running off with the money leaving Scott with nothing, despite the crazy fact that he’s really getting attracted to her and wants Monika and the daughter to live with him, "anywhere." That is, if she’s really who she says she is and can tamp down her temper a bit as well, given that she’s about as vicious with her commentary as is Anna, although Monika's insults are more course and direct than the sophisticately-snide ones intended to humiliate Michael's fragile ego.

Couple #3 in this sordid collage of relationship-catastrophes reside in NYC but no longer together because once-promising-TV-soap-opera-actress Julia (Mia Kunis, marvelous in Black Swan, a film with natural connections here, as noted above) has lost her career, her marriage, and her son to the harsh accusations from ex-husband, famous-artist (his style is to paint with his hands, indicating a connection to the vital importance of children—mostly in their absence—in each of these stories) Rick (James Franco) that she tried to kill their child by suffocating him with a plastic bag, a charge she vehemently denies (claiming she was just showing him what could happen in such a situation so that he’d never do it to himself) but is having trouble overcoming given her current strapped-financial-situation (which has resulted in her working as a maid in a swanky Manhattan hotel), her inability to prove her innocence of the assumptions about her, and the difficulties that her working-class-obstacles throw at Julia in trying to overcome her reputation of irresponsibility and non-punctuality so that even when she’s able to get an attorney, Theresa (Maria Bello), to help with the custody battle for at least some visitation rights with her son she’s late for her second psychiatric evaluation, leading to Julia throwing herself on the mercy of Rick
who has no interest in ever letting her see the boy again (finally, she seems to admit what he wants to hear—but then we remember that her ace trick as an actress is being able to cry on cue, so her "confession" was improvised for his satisfaction but it backfired on her when she acknowledged her "guilt").  In desperation she grabs the kid and manages to make it to the building’s elevator where she uses the few minutes alone she has with her son to plead for his belief that she loves him and would never harm him.  Needless to say, none of this helps her situation with Rick but it does draw out considerable empathy from his current girlfriend, Sam (Loan Chabanol).  As things begin to fall apart even further for Julia, we find her back at work as a maid taking out her frustration on those flowers we saw in the upper top picture with Anna (sent by Michael in another attempt to make peace with what has become a sparring partner)—except that makes no sense because we know these hotels and characters are an Atlantic Ocean apart.  Even when we see our NYC dysfunctional couple clearly back in justifiable surroundings things still remain tragic for them as Rick finally decides to allow Julia to see their child (through Sam’s intervention) but when he calls to tell her she’s just moved from her apartment so there’s no implication that they’ll ever even connect again, furthering their mutual sorrow.

A few things do emerge as a bit clearer through the active-but-well-orchestrated-intercutting among these 3 stories (reminiscent of the classic jumping around among 4 plotlines—although set in vastly different time periods—from D.W. Griffith’s milestone Intolerance [1916] and the more contemporary melding of multiple-narrative-arcs in the work of Mexico's Alejandro González Iñárritu in Amores perros [2000], 21 Grams [2003], and Babel [2006]) in that there’s a commonality among all of them regarding harm to a child, relationships on the edge of destruction, and inabilities for long-term/potential lovers to overcome the difficulties that are pushing/keeping them apart, along with images that feature water:  Michael has a 50-Euro-cent-coin sitting in a glass, his wife Elaine is often jumping into a large pool at their home and drops her cell phone into the sink, Anna buys him an expensive watch but then tosses it into another sink to ruin it, Monika’s daughter had to cross a stretch of the Mediterranean in order to reunite with her mother, all of which—OK, last Spoiler Alert before you smash (or should I say “crash,” in honor of Haggis’ biggest previous triumph, the film of that same name [2005] that won him Oscars for Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture [as co-producer], a film which he also directed but lost that award to Ang Lee for Brokeback Mountain; Haggis also wrote the adapted screenplay for Million Dollar Baby [Clint Eastwood, 2004], marking a first for back-to-back-Best Picture-Academy Awards penned by the same writer) me for making crucial revelations—plays on Scott’s alienation from his wife, who turns out to be Theresa, Julia's lawyer (which does allow him to commit himself to a new life with Monika and her daughter when their trauma is resolved) because he let his own daughter drown when he took his attention from her briefly to take a phone call, compounded by the foundational-child-death of this whole complex situation, that of Michael’s son drowning in their pool when he didn’t pay attention as the boy asked his Dad to “Watch me!” but instead took a phone call from Anna.  Michael has more secrets also, in that his new novel is going to be about the ongoing sexual relationship of Anna and Daniel (Michael Margotta), her father (the other man in Paris)—which she discovers—but the biggest one of all is that we’re left with the impression that the only thing that’s real here is the death of Michael and Elaine’s son along with his attempt to escape the scene of the tragedy by moving to Paris where he labors over a novel that’s the container for all of these other stories as he tries frantically to find a narrative to help him deal with the terrible death of his child through these various plotlines which start to converge in his mind.  

 Haggis notes that upon a second viewing you’d be able to see character overlaps that you might not notice the first time around—although that's one aspect of this film that wasn't so clear to me when seeing it a second time.  (Or maybe you'll be able to make better sense of ending scenes where characters suddenly disappear from the screen, as in Blow-Up [see the next paragraph for further background on this aspect of Third Person] or suddenly find themselves in Rome, all of which indicate that these differing scenarios are meeting in Michael’s mind in a manner that leaves us wondering if even Anna is real or just another device to manifest the guilt felt by this writer.)  We have to wonder if anything we’ve seen is actual, including Michael's Pulitzer, or if most everything on screen is just from the whirlwind of a tortured imagination where the author has incorporated himself into his own story, in the way in which art and life became hopelessly entangled with Charlie Kaufman’s marvelous elaboration of Susan Orlean’s 1998 non-fiction The Orchid Thief as he transformed it into his marvelously-fanciful-script for Adaptation (Spike Jonze, 2002).

 For some viewers (most especially those critics I noted above), Third Person may or may not work out as well as Haggis hopes that it does, after writing dozens of script drafts over several years until he finally felt that he’d gotten what he was after.  He’s quite at peace with the ambiguity of the ending scenes, making reference in both the press notes for the film and that video interview below his appreciation for Blow-Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966—still one of my all-time Top 10) where events also take unexpected turns with the “resolution” leaving the viewers with considerably more questions than answers.  Whether you’d agree or not, I definitely think that you’d find Third Person to be considerably more intriguing and engaging than the current negative critical consensus would seem to indicate (although ever since I gave 4 stars to The Lone Ranger [Gore Verbinski; review in our July 11, 2013 posting] I haven’t been consistently successful in convincing anyone of the veracity of my opinions) so I encourage you to look into Third Person—even if you do so after having consumed all of my Spoiler revelations, because I still think you’ll find value in the performances and the successful way in which Haggis builds tension here.  Some might find it too precise in its carefully-crafted-plot-situations and implications—“precious” as my marvelous photography teacher, Russell Lee (take a look at his work if you like, at a starter site or the complete Library of Congress site; he was a grand colleague of Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans), used to say about images that were worked on too much or conceptualized with too much intention—just as I felt Crash was overly-coincidental in its construction and a bit too preachy in its messages (plus, I just felt that Brokeback Mountain was a better film that year), but overall Third Person should keep you riveted on what’s happening, what’s plausibly going to happen next (even if it doesn’t), and what’s going on with all of these intriguing characters.  It may seem too Twilight Zone-y when it’s all over, but that just speaks to how difficult it is to transcend a story-style that Rod Serling was so brilliant in creating over 50 years ago in, of all things, a weekly TV format.  Allow yourself to just appreciate what Haggis has delivered with Third Person and I think you’ll be as pleasantly satisfied as I was.  As for a Musical Metaphor, though, I’m coming up empty-handed (more empty-minded to be honest)—except for being silly and plugging in the theme from The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949) at, which I’ll do just to hear that fabulous Anton Karis zither again—but I'll get more appropriate with the music connected to the next review below.

(July 2, 2014—Before the next stop on our "bewitching" tour, though, I'll note that I saw Third Person about a month ago at a press screening but was too preoccupied then to write the review in advance, so I had to depend on memory a lot in constructing the above comments.  By chance I saw it again today which has allowed me to clarify or correct a few of my original statements as well as change my mind on the rating, boosting it up from the original 3 ½ stars to a more-appropriate 4.  This film hasn't gotten much of a release yet—and may not if those many negative reviews from my fellow critics hamper the marketing plans—playing in only 18 theaters nationwide after 2 weeks on screens near very few of you, but if you can find it I now recommend it more than ever, a very-intriguing, marvelously-well-acted experience that deserves serious attention.)

                                                          Jersey Boys
Screen adaptation of the hit Broadway musical celebrating the career successes and problems of the Four Seasons, with lots of hit songs balanced by the serious parts.
Fictionalized versions of Tommy DeVito, Bob Gaudio, Frankie Valli, and Nick Massi
 Just like the smash Broadway hit (beginning in 2005, continuing there today and in London with many other touring companies around the world, won 4 Tony Awards including Best Musical in 2006 as well as London’s Laurence Olivier Award in 2008 for Best New Musical) that spawned this filmic adaptation, directed by the unlikely Clint Eastwood (although many have commented that he has a strong feel for music, demonstrated by his biographic Bird [1988] about jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker’s parallel story of strong ups and even more tragic downs than what Frankie Valli and company encountered), Jersey Boys examines the rise (and continued problems both in the careers and personal lives) of the Four Seasons, a dominant presence on American radio in the 1960s along with the Beach Boys (there was even a single released in 1984 called “East Meets West” featuring both groups but it seems to be an obscurity now [listening to a sample of it I can see why], although you can find it on the 2007 Jersey Beat: The Music of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons 3-CD, 1-DVD-box-set), all of whom remained reasonably relevant even with the rise of Motown and the British Invasion throughout that decade, with lead singer Valli continuing to front various collections of musicians under the corporate name and offering his own hit singles and performances well into the present day.  The current movie follows the structure of the play (stage book and screenplay both by Marshall Brickman [co-screenwriter with Woody Allen for Annie Hall (1977) and Manhattan (1979); both directed by Allen] and Rick Elice), with each member of the group—Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda), and Valli (John Lloyd Young, who also won a Tony in 2006 for Best Performance by a Lead Actor in a Musical)—giving his perspective on the band’s fortunes during his ¼ of the narrative, then each of them making a wrap-up-statement before the entire cast does a largely-a cappella-medley during the closing credits, a reprise of their first national #1 song, “Sherry,” followed by a vocal version of the group’s last big hit, “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)”—which we’d heard an instrumental version of during the opening credits, just as the play opens with a French cover of that song before DeVito starts informing us that he’s got the real story on the group’s saga, given that he’s the one who began it.  (This may be a reasonably-defendable-argument, given that he formed The Variety Trio with his brother Nick DeVito and Massi [originally Macioci], then took in Valli [originally Castelluccio] in 1951, served as self-proclaimed-leader of the group for most of their height-of-fame-years, and agreed to accept Gaudio as an equal partner [to replace his brother] in 1959 [based on Bob’s ability to sing, play instruments, and write—he’d already had a hit with “Short Shorts,” recorded by his Royal Teens group in 1958]; he’s introduced to the others by mutual acquaintance Joey Pesci [Joey Russo], noted more directly in the play as “Yes, that Joe Pesci,” although you’d hardly know it by how quiet he generally is in this film [there is a nice little in-joke at one point where he asks someone, “What’s funny?,” recalling his famous scene in Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)]; Clint gives himself a quick shout-out, though, when there’s a shot of him on a TV screen from his old Rawhide series].)

 However, counter-perspectives from the others are offered while we go through the years (with only 1951, 1959, and the original quartet’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 the only specific signifiers so the rest just has to be worked out by inference) as their partnership with "flamboyant"-but-successful-writer/ producer Bob Crewe leads to a string of best-selling-records, discord within the group based on Tommy’s abrasive personality and habit of piling up huge debts without the others’ knowledge, and problems at home, especially for Massi and Valli because of the constant touring, finally leading to Nick’s departure (both versions of this musical docudrama have that occurring simultaneously with the mob’s banishment of Tommy to Nevada in return for Frankie paying off DeVito's debts over the coming years [doing 200 shows annually to raise the money] but Nick actually left in 1965, Tommy in 1970) and Frankie’s divorce from Mary Delgado, who’s turned bitter and alcoholic because of her husband’s frequent absence, accusing him of nonexistent-infidelities and telling their 3 daughters that her booze is “medicine.”

 Frankie’s portrayed as the good kid among his original wise-guy-wannabe-friends (twice the law lets him off from punishment because they know what time his curfew is, even though both DeVitos and Massi end up in jail for awhile; Mary turns that around when she first makes a play for him—in this photo to your left—instructing Valli to call his mother to tell her he’ll be late tonight), but his troubles with women provide tragedy in his life, first with Mary’s personal deterioration and decision for him to leave; then with his next girlfriend, reporter Lorraine (Erica Piccininni), who’s first hit on by Tommy, then also decides to leave because of the inability of her career to mesh with Frankie's; finally with the devastating death of teenage daughter Francine (Freya Tingley) from a drug overdose as she follows her mother in rebellious behavior against her father’s absence-tainted-success.  Bob’s even more virginal than Frankie when they first meet (literally, Tommy has to hook him up with a vivacious woman at a party during their early success to bring him into what the others consider true “manhood”), but he emerges as the most stable one of the bunch regarding career direction and friendship with Frankie, pushing him to continue on as the front man for a new quartet of backing musicians (hence the name-change to Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons) as the others depart (Gaudio prefers to shift to writing and producing, somewhat paralleling Brian Wilson’s departure from the stage with the Beach Boys but for less-traumatic-reasons in Gaudio’s case), also encouraging him into successful solo performances (especially “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You”) which carries us to the 1990 Hall of Fame reunion where the real guys did sing together again for the first time in decades.  Young does as good a job as possible imitating Valli throughout this movie, with Bergan and Lomenda also Jersey Boys stage alums, although we do get the real thing during the latter part of the final credits with a triple-play of “Sherry,” “Dawn (Go Away),” and “Rag Doll” (many of the Seasons’ signature-tunes are carried quite well throughout the movie by the actors, though, including “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” and many others such as “My Eyes Adored You” [strangely—disturbingly?—used as a father-daughter connection between Frankie and Francine, despite its content as an unrequited-love-song (“Though I never laid a hand on you, My eyes adored you … Playing make believe you’re married to me …”]); I’m sure it was a difficult decision for Eastwood as to whether to just have viable actors—even if they had been on Broadway—lip-sync to the original recordings as was the case with Jamie Foxx in Ray (Taylor Hackford, 2004) or take on the tunes themselves given how iconic those sounds are in our collective memories, but I salute all involved for making the musical aspects of this film just as effective as are the live stage performances (I saw it twice in San Francisco, thoroughly enjoying it both times even with different—but similarly talented—casts).

 Eastwood’s been criticized, though, for taking a more somber, Bird-like approach to this adaptation, dwelling on the off-stage-miseries instead of maintaining the constant movement, energy, and full-renditions of all of the songs that so characterized the success of the live shows that have pulled in huge crowds to revel in this signature American pop music, seemingly reflective of earlier, easier times.  Despite the social upheavals that this upbeat music was consciously trying to counter, just as with the Beach Boys, Beatles, Supremes, etc. during that era; Eastwood never makes reference to the JFK assassination, civil rights and anti-war protests, race riots, and other cultural tsunamis that characterized the period when this escapist music was so popular but he does allow us to remember that these were dark days for the country by reference to the problems of the Four Seasons in their lives out of the spotlight—and in it; I’m surprised they didn’t have their own rumbles on stage given all the tensions that had been growing over the years but apparently they were able to be professionally-tolerant of each other in front of an audience as their touring schedules called for.  (As an aside, I did see them once at an oldies revival concert in NYC in the early 1970s [when it was just Valli from the originals, but I didn’t know that at the time and couldn’t tell in terms of how much they still sounded like the original version—just as the Beach Boys 50th Anniversary tour used other singers to fill in the high harmonies no longer available from Brian and Carl Wilson, even with the elder brother still alive to keep singing as best he can now].)

 I agree that the movie could have found a strategy to be more energetic overall, to better capture the combination of triumph and downfall that worked so well on stage, but I still think it resonates nicely and is worth your time in the movie house (although buying a greatest hits CD isn’t a bad idea either and may be a better long-term-investment—as Tommy would say, “My hand to God”—than a future DVD because the acting here isn’t of Foxx-Ray-Oscar-caliber while the songs are likely to be what really linger with you [still, Christopher Walken has a nice role as Gyp DiCarlo, a local Jersey mobster who serves as occasional guardian angel for Frankie, especially when Tommy’s money problems come to a head]).  So, with built-in Musical Metaphors for Jersey Boys here let’s sample a couple of those songs, beginning with “Sherry” at watch?v=7sJCYeG6be8 (from the 1962 album Sherry & 11 Others—the marketing folks either weren’t so sophisticated back then or they were just being honest about why anyone would buy this LP record given the huge popularity of the primary song, the Four Seasons’ first national release, first #1 hit; Gaudio explains here how he quickly wrote it); we’ll follow that in a sense of closure with “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” at Nq2AQ (from the 1975 album Who Loves You), with footage from the old TV show, The Midnight Special (poor video quality but still a live performance) with Valli taking lead only on the bridge section while new Seasons drummer Gerry Polci does the verses and bassist Don Ciccone hits the high notes, an acknowledgement that even though Valli has been known to the public as the ongoing foundation of the group that there have been times when his voice was no longer the dependable instrument that had always characterized the group's sound.

 To finish up this post, I’ll note (without a true review) that Nina and I were invited by a couple of friends to join them to see a new documentary at Frameline 38, the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival (which wraps up on June 29, 2014, so those of you in the SF Bay Area who still want to catch an offering or 2 should hurry up and contact the folks at Frameline).  This film, Campaign of Hate: Russia and Gay Propaganda, is co-executive-produced and co-directed by Michael Lucas who also had a dialogue with the audience following the screening.  Its content is harsh, depicting the reality of the brutal treatment facing anyone of non-heterosexual identity in Putin’s Russia (just when I started getting Russian readers again for the blog, I’ll bet these comments lead to another quick “disappearance” of such interest), although Lucas, a gay, Jewish, Russian native (I can’t say what order he’d put those descriptors in), American citizen now living in NYC, stirred up some rejection from some members of the audience (one of my co-attendees included, who has gay and lesbian friends in Russia) for the absolutism of his Q & A attitudes as well as his advice that every attempt should be made to prevent any Western money from flowing into Russia along with saying Western campaigns on behalf of global LGBT rights are not helpful because they are just playing into the hands of Russian, African, Muslim, and Asian dictators who use homosexuality as a weapon against “degrading Western corruption” of their countries (to be complete here, I’ll also note that there were a few courteous QUIT—Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism [with which I have no affiliation although I do support a functional 2-state resolution for Israel and Palestine, if such a solution can exist]—protesters outside the theater objecting to Lucas’ presence at the festival for his involvement in pornography and anti-Muslim actions, but nothing was noted inside about such complaints).  Lucas certainly came off as more than a little self-possessed to me but if you want to explore more about him you could start with his official website before searching out more objective commentary.  Whatever you might think of Lucas (and his decision to insert himself in his film so frequently as an interviewer), the documentary itself is a strong condemnation of homophobia in one of the most powerful countries on the planet (with honest statements from men and women who have mostly left Russia after being filmed so they were more willing to really open up on their true feelings, a necessary inclusion to balance out the ignorant statements made by the straights also interviewed, especially legislator Vitaly Milonov) so if you’d like to see it you could look over the film's website for contact information or even just watch the trailer because those couple of minutes give a very effective sense of what you’d see in the full 1:15 running time.

That’s all from me this week but I’ll be back soon with more to snap your synapses.
  If you’d like to know more about Third Person here are some suggested links: (50:33 press conference from the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival—including 2:45 of promos at the beginning—with director/screenwriter Paul Haggis, actors Moran Atias, Liam Neeson,  Olivia Wilde, Mila Kunis, Adrien Brody, Loan Chabanol, producers Michael Nozik and Paul Breuls)

If you’d like to know more about Jersey Boys here are some suggested links: (7:25 of clips from the Broadway production of Jersey Boys to give you a sense of the different energy level from the play than what director Eastwood chose to develop for most of the film; it also shows the more direct correlation between the live performances of musicians in concert and actors on stage vs. the more removed experience of putting any of this on screen in a movie theater; and if that gets you revved up about the play here’s a site at F9A3 where you can get all 22 tracks from the stage soundtrack album [of the 34 from the full show]—just music, though, no visuals)

As noted above, we encourage you to look over our home page (ABOUT THE BLOG), found as the first one in our December 2011 postings, to get more information on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, including our formatting forewarning about inconsistencies among web browser software which we do our best to correct but may still cause some visual problems beyond our extremely-limited-level of technological control.

Please note that to Post a Comment you need to either have a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.


  1. I liked Third Person which recently opened at the San Antonio Bijou. Apparently I join a select few critics including our host Ken Burke, his formidable Bay Area competitor, Mick LaSalle (review published in our paper), and Paris based Variety critic, Peter DeBruge. Yes it is one of those films that bends audience trust while providing a few not so subtle clues as what is really going on. It is an film for adults that features superior acting by many A list personalities, thankfully offered up during the summer drought. The producers will undoubtedly take a bath on this one (only $ 0.8 million so far which is probably one actor's salary), but if Woody Allen had made this, the mainstream critics would be raving. Take someone with you to help analyze the final fade out(s) over a cup of coffee...

  2. Hi rj, Thanks for your comments and useful supportive information. Always good to hear from you. Ken