Posted in Entertainment, Reviews

Book Review: “Born To Run” – Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography “Born To Run” clearly identifies the man behind the music.

Noteworthy for being a rather private person, Springsteen opens up to his readers in this 500-plus page tale of barely surviving to living large with everything in between.

Although he has prevailed a lot in his nearly seventy years, Bruce has also been able to do the only thing he ever set out to do:  create music.

The reader starts off being exposed to Springsteen’s early New Jersey life, growing up in an Irish-Italian household with a life-loving mother and a moody, bi-polar, hard-working alcoholic father.  The oldest of three, Bruce writes about life with his parents, siblings and grandparents during his early years. Once his immediate family moved out of his grandmother’s house, Bruce often returned to stay with his grandparents, particularly his grandmother, whom he talks about as being his sanctuary from his parental household.

Springsteen talks of his love-hate relationship with his father Doug and how he gained his love of music from his mother, Adele.  The love and attention Bruce lacked from his father he received from his mother.  He talks of his mother always “having his back”.  She was there for Bruce, whether it was attending one of his baseball games or renting his first electric guitar, after Bruce’s witnessing Elvis Presley on “Ed Sullivan”.

Following the American breakthrough of the Beatles and his decision to teach himself Keith Richards’s guitar solo to “It’s All Over Now”, because he was determined to play lead guitar, Bruce became a member of his first band, the Castiles.  He followed that band up with Steel Mill.  In between bands and traveling the Jersey shore or cross country performing gigs, Springsteen would gradually cross paths with the other musicians who would eventually form the E Street Band.

Throughout the book Springsteen touches on certain events that affected him one way or another:  his legal disputes with former manager Mike Appel; his introduction to Jon Landau, the man who would eventually turn his career around; his parents’ move from New Jersey to California; his depression and subsequent treatment of; his first marriage to actress Julianne Phillips and his second marriage to E Street singer Patti Scialfa, with whom he has three children.

The author delves into each of his albums, speaking about the particular songs on each that broke the musical barrier for him.  One such album Springsteen writes about is “The Ghost of Tom Joad”.  In writing about this album, he resonates with the present times as he states:  “ ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ chronicled the effects of the increasing economic division of the eighties and nineties, the hard times and consequences that befell many of the people whose work and sacrifice created America and whose labor is essential to our everyday lives.  We are a nation of immigrants and no one knows who’s coming across our borders today, whose story might add a significant page to our American story.  Here in the early years of our new century, as at the turn of the last, we are once again at war with our “new Americans”.  As in the last, people will come, will suffer hardship and prejudice, will do battle with the most reactionary forces and hardest hearts of their adopted home and will prove resilient and victorious”.

“Born To Run” is a lengthy but worthy read.  Considering the twenty Grammy Awards, the Academy Award and many other accolades he’s achieved over the years, Bruce Springsteen has lived and still lives a full life and has a lot to say about it.

Posted in Entertainment, movies, Reviews, writing

REVIEW: “The Circle”

Emma Watson plays Mae Holland, a savvy, young customer-service oriented employee who is seeking a better paying and more rewarding job.  With the help of her friend Annie, she lands a gig at The Circle, the world’s most powerful technology and social media company.

To understand what working at The Circle is like:  combine the work environments of Google and Microsoft with Facebook and Twitter, add steroids and you have The Circle.  People who work at The Circle never leave The Circle.  They live there.

When we’re first introduced to The Circle founder Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), he’s discussing in one of the weekly company-wide meetings how they have placed tiny hidden cameras all over the world to see everything that’s going on all the time. With everyone.

It soon becomes quite clear that one of the main goals of The Circle is to invade everyone’s privacy.  Eventually Bailey and his sidekick/CEO Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt) take Mae under their wing and in a move where the viewer cannot help to wonder if Mae has been brainwashed, she decides to go transparent, allowing people all over the world to monitor and comment on her every move.  Think of it like a Periscope or Facebook Live feed that never stops.  By this time in the movie Mae is fully enjoying her time at The Circle, including the healthcare coverage she receives for her parents.  This comes in very handy especially for her father Vinnie (played by Bill Paxton in his final role), as he is inflicted with Multiple Sclerosis.

Although things on the surface seem great, Mae has lost touch with her good friend Mercer, has alienated her friend Annie and has embarrassed herself and her parents when she accidentally streams in on a private moment between them, letting the world have a sneak peek at her parent’s sex life.

Then, along with Bailey and Tom, Mae introduces The Circle world to “soul searching”, a feature which allows anyone to find anyone in twenty minutes or less.  In the initial test they search for a wanted killer who has been on the lam for years.  Within ten minutes they find her and she is apprehended.  Suddenly it looks like this could be a helpful tool.  Then Mae suggests they try finding a regular citizen, a non-criminal.  The crowd suggests she try to find Mercer.  Though hesitant, Mae agrees.  The next thing we see two individuals merging on Mercer’s property, knocking on his door, their cellphones in hand, recording the entire event for the world to see.  We watch as Mercer runs from his residence, hops in his truck and drives away, only to be pursued by several cars and a drone.  The drone crashes into Mercer’s truck, causing him to crash off a bridge and die.

The death of her friend Mercer is a turning point for Mae.  She knows what she needs to do and upon her return to work at The Circle, she does it, causing Bailey to mutter to Tom “we are so fucked”.

Though entertaining enough “The Circle” does lack in providing background on many of the characters.  Watson is a fine actress, who has certainly come into her own but I feel what “The Circle” really needed was more Hanks.

 

 

Posted in Entertainment, Movie Icons, movies, Reviews

Review: “Going In Style”

Take three elderly friends, rip their pensions out from underneath them, add in a plan to rob a bank to, in essence, get their pensions back, and what do you get?  “Going In Style”.

The Zach Braff-directed film stars iconic actors Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin as best buddies/co-workers Willie, Joe and Albert, respectively.

After being told the company they work for is moving operations to Vietnam and is taking their pensions with them, the three friends decide to fight back.  Having witnessed a bank heist at the very bank that holds their pensions, Joe approaches Willie and Albert with the idea of doing the very same thing.  All they will take is what their pensions would be for the next several years.  Anything extra they will donate.  Justice will be served.

With some guidance from a shady acquaintance of Joe’s ex-son-in-law, the three pals are able to pull it off.  Their cover is almost blown when Willie, a dialysis patient, semi-collapses during the robbery after he approaches a little girl who tells him he can take her doll.

When Lieutenant Hamer (played by Matt Dillon) has the little girl look at a line-up of potential suspects, including Willie, Joe and Albert, the viewer feels this is it for the guys.  The beauty of the moment is how the little girl ends up sticking it to Hamer and the guys are saved.

This film was far from disappointing.  It had it all:  a plausible storyline, comedy and suspense.  A pleasant comedic addition was several scenes featuring a scatter-brained Milton (played by Christopher Lloyd) and a nice love interest was added for Albert with Ann-Margret’s character of Annie

If you’re not into the current Disney remakes or kiddie cartoons and are longing for classic acting from Hollywood icons, “Going In Style” may suit your style.

Posted in movies, Reviews

Review: “Sing”

“Don’t let fear stop you from doing the thing you love”.

This quote should be the motto for this film from Illumination which stars the voices of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon and Seth McFarlane, among other talent.  I saw a lot of animated films in 2016 but this one stands out from the rest.  No wonder it’s been nominated for so many awards.  The music alone is worth seeing the film.

Buster Moon (McConaughey) is a savvy, conning theater-owning koala.  Buster’s main problem is that the theater is failing and it’s his dream to keep it alive.  So he drums up a great idea of holding a singing contest for publicity.  Unfortunately Buster doesn’t have much to offer for prize money but he figures he can scrounge up $1,000.

Unbeknownst to him his incompetent assistant Miss Crawly (Garth Jennings) inadvertently adds two zeros to the amount of the prize money when creating the fliers.  Before Buster can even review what she’s printed, the fliers are blown out a window and scattered all over the city.

Before he knows it Buster is faced with auditioning everything from frogs to elephants.  We meet Rosita (Witherspoon), an overworked pig housewife and mother of twenty-five piglets.  There is Gunther, a German pig and dancer-wanna-be.  Ash (Scarlett Johansson) is a temperamental guitar-swinging teen-age porcupine.  Mike (McFarlane) is a shady Sinatra-like mouse.  Johnny (Taron Egerton) is a young gorilla with a beautiful set of pipes stuck between a rock and a hard place.  And Meena (Tori Kelly) is a teen elephant who doesn’t realize beauty of her own voice.

Throughout the rehearsal process each contestant is met with their own obstacles:  boyfriend break-ups, problems with getting a sitter and trying to figure out how to be at rehearsal and also help dad with his next crime.  In addition Buster ends up facing his own issues with the old theater, possible foreclosure and eventually the revelation to his contestants that there is not $100,000 up for grabs.  Barely $1,000.

Without giving away too much, the film concludes with a joyous celebration of success for all.

Not to be missed in this movie is the great music, particularly Stevie Wonder’s “Faith”, Rosita and Gunther singing “Shake It Off” and Johnny’s version of Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing”.  Ironically three songs are heard in the movie from artists we lost in 2016:  “Wake Me Up (Before You Go-Go)” is briefly heard when Eddie (Buster’s friend) answers his phone; “Under Pressure” is heard during a montage scene and Tori Kelly sings a spine-tinging rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.

With winter upon us and the holidays over, if you’re searching for a good family film to see, “Sing” would be a perfect fit.

Appropriately, I give it five:

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