Film Review: Ford v. Ferrari (2019)

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Well, this film “Ford v. Ferrari” is a very surprising hit that I
never expected. It never crossed my mind that the subject matter would
be of the slightest interest to most of the movie-going population. But
it was the number one grossing film following its weekend debut and
Rotten Tomatoes gave it a very healthy 92% with an audience approval
rating of 98%. So I guess it rates a review by me.
Now, I must tell you before you start that there is no way to review
this film without recalling how the history proceeds, avoiding
recounting the drama that’s most of the film. My version concentrates
on history and that might be a bit lengthy. So find a quiet time when
you’re not doing much else to absorb this review. I think you’ll
find it interesting even if you don’t know a Ferrari from a fuzz-ball.
The film recounts a lot of history between Henry Ford II of Detroit and
Enzo Ferrari in Modena, Italy. Ford’s acolytes, including Lee Iacocca
were looking to expand the brand and got interested in buying Ferrari as
a sports car portion of their brand. Enzo Ferrari had been racing with
Alfa Romero in the 1920s, eventually to start his own car construction
company around 1933, named after him and flying the iconic black
prancing horse, borrowed from an Italian WW I fighter planes’ nose
cone. Enzo Ferrari’s strong personality and controversial management
style became notorious. He poured all of his passion (and money) into
racing, very successfully, especially in the 60s. Only a few Americans
had ever driven for Ferrari, Phil Hill, the only American Ferrari driver
to win the Formula 1 championship in 1961. Mario Andretti was born in
Italy.
However, Ferrari’s business went bankrupt, as the income from his road
cars could not sustain the flood of money into racing for virtually
every category. A 12 cylinder Ferrari 275 would sell for about US$6000
in 1965. They’re worth millions if you can find one now. Henry Ford
figured he could pick up Ferrari for pennies on the dollar and so sent
Iacocca to Italy to make a lowball offer. The old man then went to Fiat,
showed them the Ford offer and negotiated a much better deal including
Ferrari’s continuance in their racing efforts. Ferrari then went out
of his way to insult the entire Ford team, especially Henry II and
Americans in general.
This prompted a furious Henry to get even and he figured the best plan
was to outrun Ferrari in one of the most famous races in the world, the
24 hours of Le Mans, where Ferrari had been dominant for years and
Americans had never put forth much effort. Carroll Shelby, a very
successful American car builder (Cobra cars) became involved and along
with mechanic/driver Ken Miles, designed and constructed a GT racing car
to compete with the very Successful Ferrari 330P at Le Mans in the
mid-60s.
In 1964, Ferrari won Le Mans first, second and third (one of the drivers
Lorenzo Bandini, I’ll discuss later). However, a Shelby Cobra was in
the game, winning 4th place, arriving at the flag before two other
Ferraris. In 1965, the Ferrari contenders all blew head gaskets and
didn’t finish. Porsche took most of the places. In 1966, however and
where most of the film takes place, the American Shelby GT cars took
1,2,3 all arriving at the flag together. The Ferraris blew engines
trying to keep up with the Fords. This was the highlight of the Ford
effort. In 1969, the Ford GT took 1,3,5 but in 1970, Porsche wiped the
field. The American effort essentially fizzled at this point due to the
incredible amounts of money spent that, like Ferrari, threatened to
bankrupt Ford.
Le Mans is the most famous race in the world. It’s the third leg of
the “Triple Crown” (Indianapolis 500, Le Mans and the Monaco Formula
1 Grand Prix). Unlike Formula 1, it’s an endurance race on a mix of
closed public roads and dedicated sections of racing track, in which
racing teams must balance the demands of speed with the cars’ ability to
run for 24 hours without mechanical failure. Of the 60 cars that
qualified for the 2018 race, 41 cars lasted the full duration. There are
many varieties of non-GP cars actually racing at the same time,
including, interestingly, the Austin Healy “Bugeye” Sprite (42
horsepower). The course is 8.5 miles long and in 24 hours, the cars will
traverse over 3100 miles. The infamous Mulsanne Straight was 3.7 miles
in length and in the old days, before it was shortened in the 90s. The
only speed limit for the GT cars was how many RPM they could reach
without the engine blowing up. 240 MPH was not unusual.
In the original race, drivers stood opposite their cars on the opposite
side of the track. When the flag dropped, the drivers ran to their cars,
jumped in, started them up and proceeded onto the track in a big crowd.
Any of you have Porsches; you’ll notice that the key/ignition is on
the left side of the steering wheel (most are on the right). This is
because Porsche figured out a driver could jump in the car and turn the
ignition with the left hand while simultaneously shifting into gear with
the right, conserving a second or two on the start. All Porsches still
have left hand ignition.
In the film and in real life, there was a very angry and pitched
competition between the Fords and Ferraris. In the film, there are a few
cuts of the Ferrari drivers seated in their cars as they fought for
place in the race. The Ferrari drivers appeared very elegant, with
barely a smirk as they passed the Fords. (Who are these posers??). I
suspect these Ferrari drivers are remembrances of Lorenzo Bandini who
Won Le Mans in 1963 and was driving a Ferrari in 1964 when Ford arrived.
He was a very smooth, unflappable driver. Of note, Bandini helped
director John Frankenheimer with his movie ”Grand Prix” (1966) by
recommending an interesting location, the Harbor Chicanes at Monaco, for
a crash scene. This spot would be the site of Bandini’s death in the
Formula 1 race one year later.
The film is very well done, the actors are suburb and the racing scenes
are really exciting, well photographed. There is a real plot to the
film, unlike Steve McQueen’s version in 1971. Those not particularly
interested in the cars would enjoy the progress of the plot. One of the
interesting characterizations was a thought expressed by Carroll Shelby
(Matt Damon), and I paraphrase here, it would be sad if a person never
found meaning in their lives and it was very admirable if a person found
a calling that satisfied them. But some find an overwhelming passion
that saturates everything they do and those persons “must” satisfy
this passion. There is no other option. It saturates their life
completely.
Such a person was driver/mechanic Ken Miles (Christian Bale) who
“became” part of the car they were building, understanding the
smallest minutia of the car, driving and improving every part of it for
hours and days at a time. Ken was directly responsible for the success
of the car and was one of the winning driver team at Le Mans in 1966. He
was killed testing a car at Riverside in August of 1966. The steel roll
cage in the Mk IV mandated as a direct result of Miles’s death probably
saved the life of Mario Andretti, who crashed during the 1967 24 Hours
of Le Mans but escaped injury because of the added structural
protection.
An interesting aside: Keep your eye on the two (consecutive)
wristwatches Matt Damon is wearing. In the early part of the movie,
it’s a white face with two black sub-dials. Later in the movie, it’s
a white face with three black sub-dials. There was some discussion
about this and the preponderance of opinion seems to be that these
timepieces are the Heuer 3647 Carrera white/two black dials (value now
about $3500). Heuer Carrera panda three dial chronograph ($5500) Heuer
didn’t become TAG Heuer untill 1985 (see photos).
So if you’re still with me, I definitely agree with Rotten Tomatoes,
this is an interesting film on every level. They’ve played fast and
loose with real history, but it isn’t really noticeable and most of
the history is accurate. I’ve tried to augment the drama with
historical context.
I give it easily four 7000 RPMs out of five.
Here’s what it looks like to go 220 miles per hour in a Mazda GT (Yes,
Mazda- they did well in these races). It’s fascinating. Probably
1989, pre-shortening of the Mulsanne. Wait a bit till he enters the
Mulsanne to get the proper feel for it. You’ll know when he’s there.

Review: “The Joker” (2019)

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UnknownReview:  “The Joker” (2019)

The DC Comics “Batman” trilogy The Dark Knight” told the full story of the Batman. The first of the trilogy was “Batman Begins” (2005) with an all-star cast including Christian Bale. Later, “The Dark Knight” (2008), starred the late Heath Ledger (Posthumous Academy Award) and “The Dark Knight Rises (2012)” finished off the trilogy, The Joker first appeared in the debut issue of the comic book “Batman” April 25, 1940 and has been a consistent villain, played by various actors including Jack Nicholson and Jared Leto.

“The Joker” (2019) is very different film than you might have expected. This film delves into an intense character study of Arthur, an authentically “mentally Ill” man without any recourse or even remedy. Arthur has been abused in various ways since a small child. He has “never experienced a happy moment in his entire life”. He absorbs brutality as an adult from bullies all around him with no conception of recourse. It’s just a usual part of his life. He attends weekly interviews with some variety of public health nurse who tells Arthur he needs to try harder with no real vision of what may make a difference in his life. She gives him prescriptions for several different drugs and he goes about his life as if on rails.

Then a well meaning friend gives Arthur a gift that he really doesn’t understand at first, but which comes into a clear meaning later during one of the familiar bullying episodes that postmark his life. From then on, mental illness exacerbated by abuse takes on a different vibe. The chronic misery and anguish of brain dysfunction begins to see an outlet never conceived of before, an outlet that taps some previous skill sets previously concealed by shambolic brain wiring.

The previously simple man evolves to a very simple but dangerous man indeed. A nemesis of Batman for 80 years of DC Comics. The performance by Joaquin Phoenix is exceptional. A florid, Pagliacci-like sad clown turned mad-on-a-mission clown. If it’s possible to transmit the emotions of anxiety, depression, pathos and confused life-paths from a screen to humankind in an audience, beware. This film accomplishes that intent extremely accurately via the direction of Todd Phillips (Borat- 2006, War Dogs- 2018), Produced by Bradley Cooper et al and cinematography by Lawrence Sher.  “The Joker” is a vivid connection for Arthur to his expanding universe, brutally shared with the audience.

This examination of the character and life course of the hopeless mentally ill with no real recourse to anything better is truly remarkable as the viewer experiences an evolution to one of the possible, maybe inevitable outcomes that society facilitates.

Interesting aside:  Watch for “White Room” by Cream near the film finale.

I give this film 5 of 5 whiteface makeups.  Requires attention and focus.  Some violence. Adults only. Must see.

 

Some interesting 1960s stuff

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While researching some things for the Pitt class I teach on 60s music appreciation, I picked out a bunch of dead vintage musicians over the past ten years or so. Never mind those that expired in the 1970s. I split them into suicides for those that couldn’t make the transition into the new millennium and, of course the inevitable drug deaths, some accidental using the spectacularly dangerous drug (in amateur hands) Fentanyl.

Then comes a very interesting category, those 60s and 70s rockers that died of “old man diseases”. Now, recall that statistics show that something like 38% of the American population was less than 21 years of age in 1965. This, of course, greatly contributed to how the culture evolved through the 60s, including the psychedelic years. Now, assuming most of these guys were around 21 years old in 1965, do the math. Add (rounded off) 55 years to these guys to the present and most of them exceed the 70 years old range. The range where many of the “old man” diseases start occurring, heart disease, cancers, obesity, diabetes, hypertension and trauma.

To me, if you were a world class rocker in or around 1965, as most of these guys were, 70 is an independent marker of “natural” death once drugs and suicide is ruled out.

Suicide

Butch Trucks (Allman Bros)

Keith Emerson (ELP)

Kurt Cobain (Nirvana)

Brad Delp (Boston)

Richard Manuel (The Band

 

Drugs

Prince

Chris Cornell (Soundgarden)

Tom Petty Heartbreakers)

Bobby Hatfield (Righteous Bros)

Ike Turner (Ike & Tina)

John Entwistle (The Who)

Dee Dee Ramone (Ramones)

Owsley

 

Old age/Old man disease (and their age at death)

Alvin Lee (68)

Ritchie Havens (72)

Lou Reed (72)

Jimi Jamison (72)

Jack Bruce (71)

Dallas Taylor (66)

Percy Sledge (73)

BB King (89)

Cory Wells (74)

David Bowie (69)

Glen Frye (67)

Paul Kantner (74)

Scott McKenzie (73)

Ray Thomas (67)

Danny Kirwan (68)

Marty Balin (76)

Otis Rush (84)

Gregg Allman (69)

Daryl Dragon (76)

Peter Tork (77)

Eddie Money (70)

Rik Ocasek (75)

I have excluded all the 60s rockers that expired in the 70s. On Oct. 4 in 1970, singer Janis Joplin was found dead of a heroin overdose on the floor of a motel room at the age of 27. Janis was the second of a triumvirate of exceptionally talented people that pushed the envelope of a “no rules” life and paid the price of admission they didn’t anticipate.  Jimi Hendrix, age 28 (Sept 1970) and Jim Morrison, age 28 (July 1971). A large number of very talented people found out those consequences the hard way in the late 60s.  Perhaps prior lessons learned from the existential philosophers, most of whom went mad or suffered violent deaths, should have been heeded. Forty years later, Jim remains an example of the fate that awaits those who reach too far for answers unobtainable.

Dave Grohl believes that all music can eventually be traced to a central origin that nurtures and modulates it and he’s working very hard to explore that path. The best way to explain the concept is to postulate the repository of music as an unstable star in the universe of existence, undulating and straining but not ready to explode just yet, waiting for the right stimulus. Back in the 40s, big band music was simple and staid, feeding upon itself. In the 50s, a fundamental instability began with skiffle in England that created the Beatles In the USA, be-bop and rhythm & blues, Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and of course, Elvis. All of this boiled to the surface to bring the star to an explosive point in the early 60s, setting the stage for the cataclysm that occurred in the second half of the 60s when it all literally and metaphorically went electric. A musical revolution never before dreamed of and will probably never be seen again.

The star erupted sending chunks of musical expression out into the abyss. Lets make a quick & dirty list of just a few the blinding chunks flying forth to change the fundamental nature of music. Hendrix, The Animals, the Zombies, The Kinks, Cream, the Doors, Pink Floyd, The Velvet Underground, The Rolling Stones, Frank Zappa, Otis Redding, Creedence Clearwater, The Byrds, Simon & Garfunkle, Janis Joplin, James Brown, Miles Davis, The Who, Sly & the Family Stone, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Buffalo Springfield, Procol Harum, Paul Revere & Raiders, Hollies, Dave Clark Five, Neil Young, Steve Miller Band, The Guess Who, Roy Orbison, Them, Beach Boys, Steppenwolf, the Temptations, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, Marvin Kaye, Jefferson Airplane all at once.

Each of these chunks shone brightly and independently, eclipsing other nuggets in similar situations. But in the end, like real stars, gravity rules and all the chunks were slowly drawn back into the mass of the star by gravitational pull, stabilizing it into a huge mass of encyclopedic, heterogeneous, eclectic sound and tone. There is no more critical mass. The star allows a solar wind to emit from its surface, a temporary swell of unfiltered music that waxes & wanes in time.  Disco, Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, “American Idol”,‘The Voice. They’re all out there wafting around at the whims of the desultory solar mini-eruptions. That’s maybe the new music of the new millennium. Unknown if or when the next big eruption will occur.

Peter Fonda (1949 – 2019). Last of his kind

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Peter Fonda, maybe the last living icon of the 60s idealism he never let go of, is dead at 79. Lung cancer. The 60s officially died with the Manson murders in August, 1969 but the ideal of free spirits taking the cathartic road to find and immerse in the unknown remained in the background with Peter. He is best known for his paean to “On the road” (Jack Kerouac, 1957) riding custom motorcycles instead of cars. It’s said that vision from motorcycle riding is the closest thing to flying.

“Easy Rider (1969).  Two hippies riding custom bikes accumulate a cash stash from a drug deal (Phil Spector) in Southern California, then ride cross-country searching for spiritual truth. On their journey, they experience unexpected bigotry from small-town America and also meet with other travelers, all seeking alternative lifestyles. After a “bad trip” in New Orleans, the two counterculture bikers discover there is no peace and love anywhere in America.

The custom bike Peter rode was a highly modified 1942 Harley-Davidson Police Special. There were actually two made. One for the progress of the film and another to be trashed at the end. The trashed bike was restored and is now on display somewhere in California. The street version disappeared, presumed stolen and now resides in someone’s living room somewhere. It has never been found and probably never will be.

Watching “Easy Rider” is not much of a fun experience anymore. It’s so horribly dated. Virtually all of it ceased to exist many years ago, the film remaining as a hallmark in vintage memorabilia museums somewhere. I have a full size poster, signed by Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson hanging on my den wall. I also have an original “Captain America” leather bike jacket with the full size American flag on the back. You can get the jacket still but not the one with the flag. I wear it out on the road now and then. It always generates remarks. (I have included stock photos of both, as I don’t have actual photos of mine at the moment).

“Easy Rider” was not Fonda’s first reach into filmdom (Generated by the family name). He had somewhat limited success starring in other similar films, most notably “The Wild Angels” (1966) directed by Roger Corman. Wild Angels began the biker forum that persisted into the 70s and introduced the “Hell’s Angels” to film. Wild Angels was a pretty crummy second or third-rate film full of gratuitous sex, violence and notably Harley-Davidson motorcycles (ridden by real Hell’s Angels). The Angels were pointed out as authentically “free spirits”, ignoring convention; riding around all day enjoying whatever came. In fact, dealing with the Angels was a risky proposition as they impossible to control, had virtually no respect for anything or anyone and would start fights for virtually no reason.

There have been books written and documentary films produced about the Angels and they are an interesting culture. Perhaps the best was written by Hunter S. Thompson in 1967:  Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. Here is a representative clip from that volume:

They were a bunch of overgrown adolescents,

stuck in their religious mind-set as a way of life. 

They defined themselves by their opposition to

any and everything.  The strength of their

antagonism was the source of their faith, and

like all holy wars, their greatest enemies and

their greatest source of bloodshed was from

within, battles against rival competing for

bottom of the barrel status.”

 The Angels are still around, still wearing their “colors” but not much noticed any more than any other drug dealing gang in Southern California.  Peter Fonda never lost his interest in immersing into what remained of the counterculture, even far after it passed into obsolescence. Peter is maybe the last of the true 60s riders into the unknown, never finding more than appearing for a few minutes on a Harley as a guest star in “Wild Hogs” (2007):

“Why do you think I don’t wear the colors, Jack?

Why do you think I ride alone? ‘Cause you don’t

know about it anymore. I think you all oughta get

back on your bikes and go out and ride the highway

until you remember what riding’s all about”.

 I suppose his indomitable spirit is out there somewhere doing exactly that.

Peter Henry Fonda (1940 – 2019)

 

 

 

Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) with Jeff Lynn and Dahni Harrison (August 1, Pittsburgh)

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elo_660x360-b7cf1f0f60Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) In Pittsburgh, Thursday evening, Aug 1 with Jeff Lynn and surprise (to me) Dahni Harrison Band opener (yes, George’s son).  ELO started in England in 1970 by songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Jeff Lynn. Their music has from the beginning been Beatlesque rock interfused with classical arrangements and a monster light show. Through its recording and touring career, ELO sold over 50 million records worldwide and collected 19 CRIA, 21 RIAA, and 38 BPI awards. ELO was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017.  They are an authentic supergroup.

They played Thursday night, August 1 here in Pittsburgh and I went out of my way to get good seats through StubHub. A fact of life. If you want regular ticket price, you get regular seats a half mile from the stage. You get what you pay for and I did. I did notice that there were a few seats open in the front rows for US$1600. A little rich for my blood.

Normally, I pay little attention to “opening acts” as most are local and not very good. However, this time I didn’t want to get stuck in a parking dilemma so I arrived pretty early. Hordes of people were descending on the PPG Paints arena, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins- 20,000 seats. At some point in the concert they turned the house lights on for the musicians and every single seat was filled. The acoustics in the arena were world class.

As we were seated, I started picking up on the opening band. I didn’t know who they were but I was increasingly impressed with every number. They played different instruments, electronic keyboards and they were really, really good. World class musicians. The lead singer came up focused on huge TV screens we could see easily and I didn’t recognize him. I checked my phone to see if I could find the band and it turns out it was the “Dhani Harrison” Band. Yes, that Harrison. Jeff had chosen him to open for the entire twenty city tour, of which Pittsburgh was the last. It was an excellent start.

I first saw ELO in the opening year of MTV which would have been 1981. The MTV concert began with a huge flying saucer on stage, pulled up slowly by cables revealing the band that started their set with the saucer hanging over them. This time, there was no saucer, the show started with a huge light show complete with multiple modalities and lasers. It was just about the right number of decibels. Loud enough to push out anything else in your soul but not to do serious hearing damage. Loudness is important to Rock.

That said, there’s something really existential about a real “live” concert as opposed to listening to a record or something off a portable device. I’ve had the dumb luck to play rock music with a great band in front of hundreds of people in venues like “The House of Blues” around the country. I could see what was happening in the crowd from my vantage on the stage and this was the microscopic minor leagues. If you are the proper connection, the vibration of the music from a  20,000-seat auditorium simply fills your soul to the brim. The music grabs you so tightly there is no competition from anything else.

ELO blew the audience away when they hit:

“In this life I’ve seen everything I can see, woman
I’ve seen lovers flying through the air hand in hand
I’ve seen babies dancing in the midnight sun…….”

BUT I…I….I….I NEVER SEEN NOTHING LIKE YOU!”

at full volume with blinding multicolored lights. The aisles were full of dancing people, many my age. The old guy to my right was in tears. Everything  from our youths in the 70s came back in a flood. Unclear how that connection was made but it was absolutely there.

“Twilight” blew me away:

“Twilight, I only meant to stay awhile
Twilight, I gave you time to steal my mind
Away from me”.

At this point, old memories previously forgotten rushed back into me.

Then Jeff introduced his acolyte Dhani Harrison to do a duet of the first song the Travelling Wilburys sang as a group. “Handle With Care”, written in 1988 by George Harrison with specific intent for Roy Orbison to sing a specific section. As the song was being fleshed out in the acoustics of Bob Dylan’s garage, it had no title. Harrison looked around and noticed a label “Handle With Care” on a shelf box and that’s what he named it. The song “Handle With Care” is beautiful and meaningful music.

“I’m so tired of being lonely
I still have some love to give
Won’t you show me that you really care
?”

 “I’ve been uptight and made a mess
But I’ll clean it up myself, I guess
Oh, the sweet smell of success
Handle me with care”

This music has intense meaning to a lot of people. A lot of people. When Dhani came out and ELO began this song, I was immediately in tears. Again, no one has explained the emotional connection but it is intense. I think I can die now. I’ve heard ELO and Dhani Harrison speak to me.

And so it goes, the entire concert was an intense emotional experience, and accordingly, I have provided for you some of the intensity in the form of YouTube clips that will show you some of it.  First is the original Wilburys singing “Handle With Care” back in 1990-I think. Since then Tom Petty, George Harrison and Roy Orbison have passed, leaving Jeff Lynn and Bob Dylan. I think one of the most musically beautiful songs that can be sung by humans. After than, I found a clip of Jeff Lynn and Dhani Harrison reprising the song from this year’s concert. It spoke to me.

After that, I have given you some classic ELO songs that you should all hear and I hope you will as a favor to me.  First is “Roll over Beethoven” from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2017, tribute to Chuck Berry, featuring ELOs magnificent string section. Then “Twilight” and “Do Ya” (The song that made the Pittsburgh crowd absolutely delirious, including my wife who cares nothing about any of this-slapping her knee), both masterpieces of performance art. Please give them a look. You can’t possibly be disappointed.

 

“Handle With Care” (Travelling Wilburys)

 

“Handle With Care” (ELO with Dhani Harrison)

 

“Roll over Beethoven” (ELO)

 

“Do Ya” (ELO)

 

“Twilight” (ELO)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Film review” “Yesterday” (2019)

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What an interesting concept! Think for a minute if no one in the world had ever heard of the Beatles and you were a struggling singer/songwriter no one ever heard of who inadvertently covered “Yesterday” for some friends which was greeted with blank looks. A parallel universe where the Beatles never existed. Slowly it dawns that he has a grasp of the genius and as he passes them off as his own from memory. His fame increases and he inevitably enters the fame/money zone recreating the songs.

This constitutes about the first half of the film, following which the film deteriorates into a seemingly endless sappy, dreary romance putting every diabetic in the house into shock, obliterating the original concept. About the time you think it couldn’t get worse…..it does. The last 30 minutes is so bad all that can be heard in the theater is the clank of jaws dropping.

The protagonist Jack does a yeoman job singing all the selections himself. Kate McKinnon as a shark-like record exec tries to save the film and does a great job but she’s isolated. Toward the end of the film Jack has a meeting with someone interesting that alters his perceptions, a plot diversion completely underdeveloped and just plain silly. The film could have been saved by simply better writing. What would the world have been like post-Beatle influence? How would the state of musicology have changed. I guess how would lives have missed what they never had? None of these interesting ideas were explored, the plot endlessly revolving around when a romance will finally bloom.

The film began with a very interesting image that changed from John Wayne to Ratso Rizzo in the space of a few minutes. I cannot recommend this film. It’s an embarrassing flop. Wait till it comes to HBO. I give this film one Martin D-28 acoustic out of five.

David Crippen, MD, FCCM
Professor Emeritus
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (Ret)

Some notes on current political players 4.8.2019

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Both Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Abdullahi Omar mouthing controversial concepts presumably to get as much publicity for them as possible. Everyone knows there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

But it’s faulty logic and they better stop spouting that nonsense out. They like the sound of their voices and they like to create stirs, none of which will do the Democratic effort any good. It will be harmful when the real players rise to the spotlight, players she won’t be a part of. AOC is a figurehead for the reaction against everything Trump stands for but it’s an overreaction and those that rise to the top for the Democratic nod for 2020 will not buy into any of it.

Mueller. The reality is that (it seems) Mueller’s findings didn’t rise to the level of being criminal. Well, OK. Fair enough. But as numerous pundits have observed, there is a lot of space between criminal and unethical, immoral, amoral, unprincipled, unscrupulous and dishonorable. Things that Trump is famous for. So Mueller said he didn’t did anything criminal but he also said things in the space might be there. Presumably he laid out things that might be there (which I’m sure Barr neglected to point out).

Therefore, the congress and the public have an absolute right to have a look at the pure essence of Mueller. What they (we) got was an “interpretation” by a very loyal Trump flunkie with a history of dissing anything Mueller came up with before he came up with it. I would trust the current Attorney General about as far as I’d trust Charlie Manson. Let’s see it all and let’s explore the space just under “criminal”. If the Republicans like to shout that it’s just politics, that’s fine. Now let’s have a look at all the 400 pages. Particularly the parts about what was in Cohen’s office when they raided it.

No, Trump’s base doesn’t care but it needs to come out anyway. A lot of other people care.  Mueller’s revelations may not make a seismic blast, but they will be noticed. And the more reasonable voters that can be convinced that despite the good economy, Trump is a very, very, very bad person at every level and a totally incompetent leader, the better. Chipping away at his base, the ones that voted for him for reasons they would come to regret, is the best chance of getting rid of him in 2020. Yes, his base has a molten core that applauds all of it and listens only to what comes out the end of his phone. But there are also a lot of voters that voted for him specifically because they thought he could “drain the swamp” as an outsider (very faulty logic indeed) and they hated Hillary more. But since 2016, Trump continues to act out in a fashion that alienates him from more and more potential voters. And Hillary isn’t running anymore.

Remember also that the Republicans have NOTHING resembling a health care plan and they will not be able to construct anything workable by the time primaries roll around. You can definitely take that to the bank and a sniff of the 2018 mid-terms was about health care. You can bet ALL of the primaries for 2020 will be about health care. Republicans moving to kill the ACA, putting over 20 million out of health care and nothing to replace it? Really?

So the combination of Trump acting out, the Republicans continuing to insist of a wall that will be expensive out of proportion to benefit among many other atrocities AND the lack of a health care plan will at least make it a possibility that he will be un-electable. Economists also saying that the bull market won’t last indefinitely. The Democrats have a huge advantage simply by extending Medicare and Medicaid to everyone. Very, very expensive but a game winner since the opposition has nothing.

All the Dems have to do now is come up with a credible candidate that can, unlike all the Republican candidates of 2016, stand up to the withering personal TV blows of Trump. Can Biden do that? Maybe. But Biden has luggage and a lot of it. Plus he’s what they now say is an old white man, no longer much credible in todays world of emerging young women. As an old white man myself, I know exactly how that works.

I think in the end, Biden will fizzle as will Bernie as he did in 2016. What’s going to float to the top is one of those females. Pete Buttigieg is a very smart guy with a lot of interesting things to say. I saw Charlie Rose interview him for a full hour years ago and I was incredibly impressed with him then. Speaks multiple languages, Rhodes Scholar, military history. In another world, he would be a strong candidate but in this world, I doubt a gay candidate can win.

It’s gonna be a female that rises to the top. An anti-Hillary, maybe, and it will be pretty quick. Many of those would-be candidates will disappear very quickly when the money gets tight.

Ha!  Big deal meeting between Sec. Nielsen and Trump April 7 in which virtually every pundit predicted she was out, probably unceremoniously. Terse Twitter thanking her for her service. Unclear whether she was formally fired or allowed to resign.

I remember her for her June explanation of the nastiness involving separation of families at the border and kids in cages. The shit-for-brains press secretary who usually defends shit-for-brains Trump with a perfectly straight face wasn’t having any of that shit and informed the press that Sec. Nielsen was making a special trip by air to explain the shit and she (as press secretary) wasn’t having any part of it. She then walked off the podium as Nielsen took the microphone with a smarmy smile to blame the victims. If they hadn’t shown up at the border, they wouldn’t be separated.

So the experts are saying several things. That Trump is actively searching for yes-men, with emphasis on “men” and the job of homeland security is an impossible one for a human to do. So yes-man will follow yes-man, all with sycophantic bullshit to delay the inevitable. And in the immortal words of sub-human activist Stephen Miller, trump needs “tougher” administrators. Miller is perfect for any trump job. Completely heartless and cruel.

The same pundits, almost without exception exclaimed absolutely no sympathy for her. She tried to be a “yes girl” for Trump but in a job that couldn’t be done by a human. She smiled nervously as he routinely publicly embarrassed her, demanded she do impossible jobs then blamed her when it couldn’t be done. I wonder if she’ll write a letter explaining how she couldn’t meet the requirements of the President and so had to resign.

I’ll give Nielsen the benefit of a small doubt that Trump fired her because she had a molecule of integrity. More likely she was a fawning sycophant that ran to the length of her usefulness to Trump.

4.8.2019

DWC

 

Some notes on Cuban trip December 3-7, 2018

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Only 90 miles or so from Miami but much more a foreign flavor. Only recently opened for foreign visitors by Obama who reversed the Bush embargo in 2009. Embassies appeared in 2015. Any US citizen can attend any professional meeting in Cuba but a visa must be obtained. Unclear what hoops must be jumped through to just be a tourist.

On December 3 – 7, the International symposium on altered consciousness and brain death was held. The very gracious Dr. Calixto Machado hosted us.  We stayed at the Habana Librae, the enormous hotel where the meeting was held. The hotel advertised Internet access but it never became available.

The meeting was interesting. It was mostly about the Jahi McMath situation and brain death. I’ll pass on comments regarding that as Michael Kuiper has summarized the daily activities for CCM-L.

My interest really lay in the awesome collection of vintage automobiles that filled the streets of Havana. Mostly 50s and 60s cars, many converted as taxis to show tourists the city. We did an hour and a half tour in a 1955 Chevy convertible.  It was fascinating (see photos later).

Our aim was to see “old Havana” and we did. Old Havana was named a notable historic city centers by UNESCO in 1982. Restored areas of Old Havana features styles from Baroque and neoclassical to art deco. It reminded me of parts of New Orleans a bit was very scary in some respects. Not terribly safe to walk about. Over 28,000 people currently live in unstable dwellings that could collapse without warning. USA Today recently reported almost 4000 building collapses from 2000 to 2013.  In 2016, Havana has a shortage of over 200,000 dwellings. Havana officials are using mostly tourist revenue to solve these problems.

The people of Havana are exceedingly friendly and helpful to foreigners, including Americans. The food in restaurants is always excellent and there is virtually no violent crime. It’s safe to walk anywhere. There are no guns. Interestingly there are also no McDonalds, Burger King, Wendys or any other fast food place.

However, Americans are discriminated against within the economic system, No one in Cuba accepts any credit or debit card from any American bank. It’s cash and carry. American dollars are subject to a 10% tax when converted to Cuban Pesos, plus a 3% service fee. So converting an American dollar will get you 87 cents. However, one Euro will get you 1.14 Cuban Convertible Pesos, but when you go to convert dollars to Euros, the exchange rate at the airport is awful. I changed 700 dollars and got 550 Euros. So you get stiffed coming and going, exchanging anything.

You know me; I’m always on the lookout for interesting knick-knacks.  One of my wife’s friends begged her to bring back some Cuban cigars for her husband. I could have cared less. All cigars smell like dead cats, but I tagged along to the cigar shop just to see them. On arrival, I noticed a decorative (empty) humidor box with Che Guevara’s likeness (smoking a cigar of course) on it in high-resolution porcelain (see photo below). I looked at it for a long time while my wife purchased a box of ten cigars for what amounted to US$100.  Yes, ten bucks per cigar, and there were much more expensive ones available.

By the time I got back to our room, I was obsessed with it and had to have it. I went back and paid a bundle for it. It now graces my mantle. Note in the video also some female (very female) stick figure single cigar holders. I would have bought the entire collection but I ran out of money and had no way to get any more.

Che’s likeness is everywhere in Cuba, many next to Fidel. Che isn’t really a very high-end role model, but I kept my mouth shut about both him and Fidel.

Now for some interesting history about both Fidel and Che. After it became apparent that Castro was a bull blown “Communist” and was quickly aligning his new society after that of Soviet Russia. After the disastrous “Bay of Pigs invasion in April of 1961, Castro’s paranoia became exponential and he became convinced the Kennedy would follow this attack up with much heavier weapons, including nuclear arms. Castro begged Khrushchev to send arms for the protection of Cuba. Khrushchev saw this as an opportunity to place nuclear weapons in the Western hemisphere, under the nose of Kennedy who he considered a weak sister following the poorly planned and executed Bay of Pigs and the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. Khrushchev didn’t think Kennedy was decisive enough to do anything about it. So off they went, as the Cubans worked to build bases where these weapons could be housed, all quickly spotted by U2 planes. The rest of this is history.

But what isn’t so clear is the nature of Castro’s fervor to revolutionize the world by violent means. Following the Cuban Revolution of 26 July 1959, Che became Castro’s right hand man for the spreading of the gospel of revolution to other Latin countries. Che was actually a physician but never did anything medical after becoming radicalized by witnessing the sorry plight of Latin America at the time. Che trained the Cuban military forces that repelled the Bay of Pigs attack and was central to the negotiations that would have brought nuclear weapons to Cuba. He wrote a seminal manual of guerrilla warfare. Che became convinced that most of the woes of the world were a direct result of Imperialism and capitalism (Americanism) that required a violent world revolution to counter it.

Che left Cuba in 1965 to foment revolution initially (and unsuccessfully) in the Congo but ending up in Bolivia where American CIA quickly captured him assisted Bolivian troops and summarily shot without fanfare.  Following his death, Che rose to the position of a revered and reviled historical world figure and his likeness with the star beret was cited by the Maryland Institute of Art and “the most famous photograph in the world” (pretty doubtful But it’s up there in the top 20 maybe). Time Magazine named him as one of the top 100 most influential people of the 20th century.

However, Che was also an advocate of brutal violence to create a utopian world that would quash any dissent, an anti-imperialist Marxist and outspoken anti-capitalist whose image has been made an idealistic commodity not unlike that of Robin Hood and Don Quixote. Che was involved in hundreds, maybe thousands of executions of those opposing the Revolution in several South American countries. Che openly despised the United States and everything about capitalism and a Republic governing system. He was very interested in starting a nuclear war with the Imperialists (us) and probably would have worked it out had the missiles from the USSR had actually been delivered to Cuba (diverted by Kennedy). The whole point of those missiles were to be used against “enemies”. He was a brutal Communist agitator and all of his history is filled with death.

So for what it’s worth, I have a really interesting portrait of him that continues to fascinate me. I also acquired a pastel painting I’ll frame this week. You’ll see it in the film.

Interesting trip that will become clearer as you watch the video below. A collection of some of the photos I took.

 

Enjoy if you have an interest.

D. Crippen, MD

Film review: “Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

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Difficult to make what amounts to a docudrama about a subject so very much larger than life. Reviews have reflected this fact for the production, but lead player Rami Malik (from Mr. Robot on cable) is getting serious Oscar buzz, and deservedly so. He has Freddy’s moves nailed.

The actual production is getting OK reviews, especially from the Oracle, Rotten Tomatoes. Not bad or even mediocre but “good”. Maybe damned by faint praise. The production is clearly a celebration of the inimitable music of Queen, trying hard to avoid the stigma of just another rocker, felled by various forms of tragic disease.

I’m pretty familiar with the history, having read several books on the subject, and I can assure you that the film does a pretty good job of relating it. But the film belongs to Malik who really brings Freddy to life; the rest of the cast in various supporting roles. There are a lot of flaws in the history that the film glosses over, but like “Catch-22” (1970) it’s far too complex to squeeze into a two-hour movie.

One of the centerpieces of the film is Live Aid, constructed by Bob Geldolf of the Irish group the Boomtown Rats, said at the time to be the largest group of paying customers to a rock concert in history. ~ 100,000. This concert said to be televised to 40% of the world’s population, estimated incoming revenue of eventually 150 million Pounds. Everyone who’s anyone in Rock was there but also some noteable absences (Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel…..)

Rami Malek watched Liza Minelli’s performance in “Cabaret” (1972) as inspiration for Freddy’s moves but a British choreographer actually coached him for many hours. All the music in the film was backing tracks except “Another one bites the dust” is which the movie band actually played their own instruments and sang. Malik’s voice was mixed with the real Freddy and Canadian singer Marc Mertel.

Through his entire life, Freddy proclaimed Mary Austin as the “love of his life” even after she married elsewhere and had a child by another man. She stayed close to him for his entire life. When Freddy died in 1991, he is said to have bequeathed her half his entire fortune. She is said to live in his home in London today.

As of 2005, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, Queen albums have spent a total of twenty-six years on the UK Album Charts, more time than any other musical act. In 2006, Queen’s “greatest Hits” album was the all-time best-selling album in UK Chart history, more copies than its nearest competitor, the Beatles’ “Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band”  album. Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, the band is the only group in which every member has composed more than one chart-topping single, and all four members were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003

Bassest John Decacon left queen immediately after Freddy’s death and never played with the band again. He remained friends with all. Best of my recollection, Brian May is named number 5 by Rolling Stone of the top ten guitarists in the world. Queen went on to play with two lead singers, Paul Rodgers of “Bad Company” for a while and finally ending up in the past few years with Adam Lambert of “American Idol”. They’re considered a nostalgia band now.

The film portrays several songs from Live Aid in 1985, but there is a glaring omission. They missed Freddy singing “Love of my life”, he originally wrote for Mary Austin.  Brian May appears on stage sitting in a chair playing an acoustic guitar and Freddy sings with nothing else but that simple accompaniment. At some point, he finishes a stanza, then stops, looks out into the vast audience and quietly proclaim: “I still love you”, then turns and walks off the stage. The audience want completely nuts.

Watch for the real Freddy and the real band performing during the closing credits.

I think the production is stellar, well photographed and well edited. There are glosses and mistakes in the history, but that’s OK. It isn’t a “real” documentary. The real star of this film is Rami Malek who I think absolutely nailed Freddy as much as is humanly possible.

Recommended by me.

I give it four of five overbites.

 

 

The unfortunate death of Sears & Co

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Sad to chronicle the demise of Sears. Many of you aren’t old enough to remember the Sears glory days, that peaked in the late 1800s leading into the 50s and early 60s. Sears was the 50s equivalent of Amazon.com. They sold absolutely everything except it was through a mail order catalog as thick as the (former) New York City phone book. You just filled out the coupon, sent it in with a check and your purchase arrived later by mail. There were no credit card

Amazon.com also sells absolutely everything but through it’s connections to other companies. Sears had everything in its warehouses. Sears sold kids baseball gloves signed by Ted Williams. Ultimately cars made by the Lincoln car company of Chicago in the early 1900s (No relation to the Ford line). But my current point is that Sears produced a line of motor scooters, branded as “Allstate” in the 50s and my dad had one.

They were a knockoff of the Vespa line made by Piaggio In Italy (Photo 1). They had a two-cycle engine and produced ~ 4.9 horsepower as I recall.  So, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, 13-year-old adolescents could get licensed to own and ride motor scooters powered by less than 5 horsepower. I lived in Albuquerque at the time and I was barely 13 but my father refused to even discuss my acquiring one. However, he decided that his personal use of one was downright practical.

He was the Chief Resident in surgical training at what was technically an off campus site of the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Two hospitals in Albuquerque involved, the VA and the Bernalillo County Indian Hospital. This was a very early training program. The County Indian Hospital was a “residents Hospital”, much like Bellevue, Charity and Cook County. None of the surrounding Indians, mostly Navaho and Pueblo, had any monetary resources and much health care at the time was financed by cash. Those unfortunates were relegated to tax based indigent care and the taxpayers weren’t much interested in financing it so they opted for as cheap a care as could be had. Resident physicians were cheap and they got a lot of experience there.

It was 1957. Our family had only one car and my mother mostly needed use of it. So my dad decided that a motor scooter would be a cheap, practical vehicle to get back and forth to the two hospitals, both near where we lived. The big VA hospital was right next to the Randy Lovelace Clinic where the Mercury astronauts were examined for the first flight into space. This freed up the car for my mother to shop and do housekeeping chores. She also traded with the local Indians for just about everything, which doesn’t happen anymore, especially since the tribes discovered gambling dens.

When my father rounded at the County Indian Hospital on Saturday mornings, I begged and wheedled until he agreed to take me, perched on the tiny rear seating area. So off we went, powered by 4.9 horsepower and a three-speed transmission. Seemed at the time plenty of power. I sat on the scooter for a couple of hours while he rounded, then when he finally came out, he let me ride the scooter by myself around the back parking lot of the hospital, an experience burned into my memory.

The County Indian Hospital was an incredible training experience for housestaff. Indians at the time had lousy living conditions on reservations managed by the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) on a federal shoestring and they had lots of health problems. Many had COPD from inhaling smoke from their teepees or mud dwellings. Indians at the time had very little resistance to ethanol and many had severe liver disease and were the victims of vehicular trauma on Saturday nights when the bars closed. To this day, a car trip out north of Albuquerque will show you billboard after billboard of personal injury lawyers specializing in defending ethanol abuse and drunk driving.

But the really big cultural deal for me was licensure for 4.9 hp scooters, ideal for home to middle school commuting (but not for me- I got the school bus which made me a third-class citizen). The across-the-street mesa from Woodrow Wilson Junior High School was literally filled with scooters owned by kids that could afford them and whose parents acceded. Each cost about US$200 and there were three classifications:

1. Vespas (and Allstates). The working class scooter. Not fancy, no amenities, rather plain in appearance. No class. Riders were pretty much ignored. They wore plain clothes (Photo 2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. The Cushman Eagle (Photo 3). The roughneck’s ride. These were these guys that beat you up and took your lunch money. 4 cycle, suicide clutch putt-putts that sounded as mean as their owner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. The Lambretta (Photo 4). The Italian scooter equivalent of a Ferrari. Lots of curves and a back seat where your girlfriend could sit side saddle and cross her legs. Riders wore striped shirts and scarves. As you might imagine, I was a Lambretta guy. They were all a strong enough influence that I rode two wheels the rest of my adult life.

David Crippen, MD, FCCM
Professor Emeritus
Department of Critical Care
UPMC