JC’s Confessions #22

In the first few seasons of The Late Show, Stephen Colbert did a recurring skit, now a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.

JC

I have never seen any of The Godfather movies and hope I never do.

I have seen (more) clips (than I care to) enough to know that it is way, way, way beyond my level of tolerance for violence.

As an Italian-American on my mother’s side, I shudder at the stereotyping of being part of the Mafia when that is such a small segment of the Italian-American experience, certainly totally divorced from my family’s life in rural New England.

Because this is the fiftieth anniversary of the first film in the trilogy, there have been pieces in the media galore about the significance of the films, the references that have become part of modern parlance, and, surprisingly, a lot of people claiming that they understood what it was to become an adult because of The Godfather.

I think I managed that last part on my own without the movie, thank you very much.

I know that love and commitment to family are eminently possible without violence and that threatening or injuring or killing someone is not the way to solve problems.

In the movie You’ve Got Mail, Tom Hanks’s character, in trying to coach Meg Ryan’s character about business, quotes lessons from The Godfather frequently, including “It’s not personal – it’s business.”

And maybe that is the root of the problem for me – and perhaps the reason I would not make it in the business world. To me, everything is personal. If I’m going to watch a movie, it will affect me personally and violence, especially fictionalized violence, is not something I want to let rattle around in my mind.

So, perhaps, I have broken my own JC’s Confessions rule in that I don’t actually feel bad about not having seen The Godfather. Let’s just consider it my own tiny, countercultural protest.

(Cue dramatic music)

Review: Encanto

When we went to the UK to visit our family for the holidays, four-year-old granddaughter ABC watched the Disney film Encanto frequently. I was impressed with it but hadn’t realized how popular it had become until after we returned to the US and it seems that I run into commentary on it several times a week, including news that the soundtrack and individual songs from Encanto have been appearing in high positions in the Billboard charts.

For the few of you who may not know, Encanto tells the story of the Madrigal family from Columbia who use their magical gifts to help their community. Granddaughter Mirabel appears not to have been given a magical gift but her strong love for her family and their home powers the story.

Much of the commentary that I’ve seen concentrates on how important it is to have this portrayal of a Latinx family and story, along with inclusion of Spanish in the dialogue and songs. I agree with this point but want to note some other ways that this film feels inclusive to me. As someone whose family is racially diverse, I appreciate that the Madrigals have Indigenous and Black roots, as well as (presumably) European. As someone who wore glasses from a young age, I love that Mirabel wears glasses. I could get all metaphorical about clarity of vision, but I won’t. It’s just nice to see a positive portrayal of a girl who wears glasses in an animated movie.

The biggest point of inclusivity for me is the complexities of the family relationship. The most popular song in the soundtrack, the ensemble piece “We Don’t Talk about Bruno”, reminds me that my own family had an uncle that was seldom mentioned for mysterious reasons. We see Mirabel and her non-magical father struggle with finding their place within the family, which is a familiar issue in many families, for example, when a very sports-oriented family has a member who would rather be singing in the chorus than out on the field with a ball.

We also see the double-edged sword of trying to live up to family expectations. While it’s admirable that members of the family want to use their gifts to serve the family and the community, it’s all too easy to see each only for that one gift and not for the complex being that they are. This leads to feeling that it is only that gift that makes you valuable or loved. The clearest expression of this is “Surface Pressure”, the song that Mirabel’s sister Luisa sings. Luisa’s gift is that she is very strong, so she is much in demand at home and in the village. The song shows how difficult it is to deal with the pressure of those demands and her own worries and insecurities. She sings, “Under the surface/I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service.” Ouch. How often in our families do we pigeonhole someone in a specific role, overlooking other attributes and gifts they bring? How often do we take for granted the work that someone does or make it seem that they are only valuable in what they can do, not in who they are as a person?

To me, among Mirabel’s gifts are love, thoughtfulness, insight, curiosity, caring, and truthfulness. None of them are “magical” but the results of them can be miraculous.

They can be for our own families and communities, too, if we honor those gifts and each other as Mirabel does.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/01/21/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-21st-2022/

Review: A Secret Love

I grew up in a rural area where television was purely by antenna, although we received NBC, ABC, and CBS, the three major networks at the time, which was a luxury. I’ve never been able to keep up with the increasingly complicated media landscape of cable, premium channels, satellite, and streaming options. I’ve gotten used to reading lists of Emmy nominees of shows I have never seen and to which I don’t have access. I usually can’t even keep track of what show or movie is being offered on which platform.

I do occasionally happen upon a recommendation that I can follow through on viewing. I was reading a list of awards geared for older adults from AARP which included the 2020 documentary A Secret Love. It is available through Netflix, the one streaming service to which we are currently subscribed, so spouse B, daughter T, and I settled in one evening to watch it.

A Secret Love is the story of Pat Henschel and Terry Donohue, two Canadian women who fell in love and made a life together in the United States where Terry had played baseball with the Peoria Redwings of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. While family back in Canada knew the two were close friends who shared a home, they did not know that they were life partners for many decades. While the film does give us their remarkable personal history, the documentary concentrates on their later years, as they face Pat’s illness and decisions about where to live.

Having dealt with the issues of serious illness, financial and legal complications, and housing decisions with B and my parents, I found much of what Pat and Terry were facing relatable. The complexity of the family dynamic, the cross-border legal issues, and the fact that, while Pat and Terry had been a couple since 1947, they did not have the protection of marriage when it came to things like hospital visitation added even more poignancy to an already daunting situation.

What comes through most clearly, though, is the depth of their love for one another. I am always moved by couples whose bond is so strong that it weathers decades of life together and Pat and Terry’s story is such a beautiful example of that. I will warn you that if you, like me, are inclined to teariness, you may want to have your handkerchief handy.

I will also say that, while the story is about elders, it also holds meaning for younger adults. T loved the film as much as I.

Ocean and Snowman

This evening, while watching television, I happened to see the last part of the movie Moana followed by the beginning of Frozen.

When daughter E and granddaughter ABC lived with us before E’s spousal visa came through for their big move to London, ABC, at two, was just starting to be entranced with watching (parts of) movies. These were two of her favorites, which she called “Ocean” and “Snowman”.

Both movies celebrate love of family, intergenerationally in Moana and between sisters in Frozen. Seeing them tonight reminds me of how desperately I miss seeing E and ABC and how much I want to meet new granddaughter JG.

When E and ABC left for London almost a year ago, we had assumed that we would be able to visit several times a year. My spouse B, younger daughter T, and I did visit in December. (There are posts about the trip that you can find in the archive in late January into March. It took a long time to get the posts together.) We had hoped to visit again in the spring and then in the summer when the baby was due to arrive, but COVID intervened, so we haven’t seen them yet in 2020, other than on screen.

Most days, I can manage the distance, but, tonight, I could hear the echoes of ABC asking for Ocean or singing about building a snowman and I’m sad.

We do have a visit planned in November, beginning with two weeks in quarantine to be followed by two weeks for visiting under whatever the current UK restrictions are for group size. We are hoping that JG’s baptism will be able to take place while we are there.

Plans are in place, but I’m nervous that travel protocols might change and keep us from seeing them. Meanwhile, we are hoping that people in the US and the UK will be careful about following pandemic control measures so that virus rates stay down and our visit can go forward.

And, people in other countries, I hope you will stay safe, too.

Harry Potter Studio Tour!

When we visited London in December, E got tickets for us to go to the Warner Brothers Studio – The Making of Harry Potter tour! The Harry Potter books and films were very important to our family, so we were thrilled to be able to go. We went on a weekday when our son-in-law had to be at work, so we were a party of five – my spouse B, our daughters E and T, our granddaughter ABC, and me. E was the only one who had been there before.

The Studios are outside London, so we needed to use trains and buses to get there. The last segment is on special studio buses. One of the first things you see after entering is a very large dragon in flight. We weren’t sure how ABC, at two and a half, would react to such things, but she loves dinosaurs and accepted dragons as a dinosaur-variant. (T is holding ABC in the foreground.)
HP flying dragon

Because so many people visit, the start times of the tour are staggered throughout the day. There are some introductory remarks from tour guides and a short film before your group is ushered into the Great Hall. Because we were there in December, everything was decorated for Christmas, including, of course, Christmas crackers at each place at the table.
Great Hall

You can see little details of the set, like the tree-toppers with flying witches…
HP XMas tree-topper

and the wreath around the crest on the fireplace.
Great Hall fireplace

After the Great Hall, the rest of the tour is self-guided, laid out in a uni-directional way. There are lots of sets, like Harry’s Gryffindor bedroom,
Harry's bedroom

costumes, like these from the Yule Ball,
HP costumes Yule Ball

and props, like this display of wands.
HP wands

There were certain displays that ABC did not like, such as these disembodied hairpieces.
HP wigs

Sometimes, context mattered. For example, we rushed ABC out of the dark Forbidden Forest Set with its spiders because she was not a fan, but, later, when we saw the huge model of Aragog, Hagrid’s former pet giant spider, which was several meters wide, mounted on a wall, ABC decided to sing “The Eensy, Weensy Spider” to it.

As a big fan of trains, ABC enjoyed the Hogwarts Express.
Hogwart's Express

Even better, we got to walk through the train cars!
Ada on the Hogwart's Express

For some reason, I had to rush ABC through the grand Gringotts Bank set, because she did not approve.
Gringotts

The destroyed Gringotts was much more to her liking! She insisted on watching the scene multiple times. It must have been the attraction of the dragon…

The last part of the display before the obligatory exit-through-the giftshop was the model of Hogwarts used for the external shots. ABC was a big fan!
J and Ada at Hogwarts model

It was a beautiful model. Because it was winter, we got to see it with snow which made it look even more magical!
Hogwarts model

We all had a lovely time. I hope we will be able to visit again in the coming years. It will be fun to see how ABC reacts over time. Warner Brothers also continues to add new displays, as well as having various limited time features, so there will be new things to see each time.

Eventually, ABC – and any future siblings – will be able to read the Harry Potter books and see the films. Perhaps, E and L will embark on our family tradition of reading each book aloud as a family.

Maybe, B and I will be able to join in via videochat…

SoCS: a “hidden figure”

Over these last days, we have been hearing a lot in the media about Katherine Johnson, who recently died at the age of 101.

She was one of the women portrayed in the film Hidden Figures. She worked for NASA (the US space agency) as a human computer. Before the advent of the digital age, being a computer was a job, not a piece of equipment, and Katherine Johnson and her colleagues were the ones doing the computations involved to figure out trajectories for missions for satellites and manned spacecraft.

The women in Katherine Johnson’s computation department were, like her, African-American. And they were all women. Men, predominantly if not exclusively, worked in other departments where they were considered professional and paid more. The women who worked as human computers were not considered as professional by the government standards in place at the time and earned much less.

Katherine was a very accomplished mathematician. Her skills were noticed and she had the opportunity to work with the professional men on the first attempts to put astronauts into orbit. The work was going on in Virginia, which, at that time still had segregation laws in effect. One of the scenes in the movie that drove home what this meant was showing Katherine running across swaths of the NASA campus to get back to the building in which she had originally worked in order to use the “colored women” bathroom. She was eventually allowed to use a restroom close to her new workspace, but it was a stark reminder to me that this kind of discrimination was so overt during my lifetime.

Katherine encountered lots of sexist and racist discrimination, but persevered and triumphed. John Glenn trusted her work so much that he would not board his capsule for the first attempt at going into orbit by a US astronaut until she had personally verified all the figures.

After a long and distinguished career at NASA, Katherine Johnson was honored in a number of ways. There were NASA buildings named in her honor. President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the highest civilian honor in the country. At the time of the Hidden Figures movie, she appeared on stage with the stars of the film during the award season.

I’m grateful that her story has received more notice so that she is no longer a “hidden figure” but an inspiration to new generations of women and of people of color to reach for the stars in their own lives, despite the racist and sexist attitudes that still, unfortunately, plague us.

Rest in peace, Katherine Johnson.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “figure.”  Join us! Find out how here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/03/06/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-march-7-2020

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley! https://www.quaintrevival.com/

SoCS: cheek to cheek

“Heaven. I’m in heaven and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak, and I seem to find the happiness I seek, when we’re out together dancing cheek to cheek.”

This has been running through my head every since I read Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week. [Note: Given that this is running through my head, I may have made a mistake in the text. I also am not sure of the composer and lyricist, but it is one of the Great American Songbook sort.]

I also have a black-and-white movie version of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing around in my head. Again, I’m not sure if there is a movie that meets this description. I don’t know if this is memory or imagination.

It reminds me that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, backwards and in heels. Somehow, he gets more credit than she, though.

I wonder if, now that I have written this, the song and dance in my head will stop…
*****
In case you didn’t guess, Linda’s prompt this week is “cheek.” Follow this link: https://lindaghill.com/2020/02/14/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-feb-15-2020/ to learn more and join us!

 

 

SoCS: Just Mercy

(I reviewed Just Mercy earlier this week, in case you want to check it out.)

When I hear the phrase “just mercy”, I think of Pope Francis. Pope Francis called a Jubilee year dedicated to mercy a few years ago and the spirituality study group that I facilitate was learning about and discussing mercy. Many people think of “mercy” in relationship to forgiveness. For example, many Christian churches say, “Lord, have mercy.” as part of their penitential rite. Francis, though, includes a broader understanding – mercy in the sense of lovingkindness. (For Catholics, this is more the sense of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, which includes actions like feeding the hungry and burying the dead and acts of compassion like offering consolation.) I appreciate the sense of mercy as lovingkindness, as a counterweight to forgiveness in that mercy is expanded to everyone, not just those who have done something wrong.

This, to me, ties into the way we use the word justice currently in the United States. Many people equate justice with vengeance. We use phrases like “criminal justice” in a context of punishment. I think of justice as the restoration of right relationship. This is the sense of justice in phrases like “social justice” and “environmental justice.” In this context, justice is tied to care and concern for people and for all created things. This is also evident in the term “economic justice”, recognizing that it is wrong for employers to enrich themselves at the expense of their employees who are not paid a living wage.

I will end this homilette before everyone’s eyes glaze over, although I may be too late…

It’s what can happen when I am writing off the top of my mind.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is to base the post on the title of the last movie that we saw. If you would like to join in with Stream of Consciousness Saturday and/or Just Jot It January, you can get all the details here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/17/the-friday-reminder-for-socs-jusjojan-2020-daily-prompt-jan-18th/

Review: Just Mercy

Knowing that a film is portraying real people and the situations they face immediately increases its impact for me. Just Mercy is based on a book by lawyer and social justice activist Bryan Stevenson, who, after graduating from Harvard Law School moved to Alabama to offer legal defense to those who could not afford representation and to those wrongly convicted.

One of his early cases involved Walter “Johnny D” McMillian, movingly portrayed by Jamie Foxx, who was on death row for a murder that he did not commit. Having just arrived in Alabama, Bryan Stevenson, played earnestly by Michael B. Jordan, delves into the case and finds ample evidence that shows Johnny D could not have murdered the 18-year-old young woman. It also quickly becomes apparent that race was a huge factor in McMillian’s conviction. The victim was white and McMillian is black.

It also quickly becomes apparent that Attorney Stevenson, who is also black, will encounter racial obstacles in his professional life and harassment by law enforcement officers and the legal establishment, but he continues to do all he can to seek justice for his clients, their families, and their community.

I have long been opposed to the death penalty. I remember writing an essay against it when I was still in grammar school. While my opposition centered around the moral belief that killing a person is wrong and the Constitutional grounds that the death penalty constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment,” this film illustrates some of the other reasons to oppose the death penalty, such as systemic racism in the legal system, incompetent defense attorneys, and lack of recognition and treatment of mental illness.  There is also the horrible possibility of executing an innocent person.

One of the most moving things about the film for me was the support that the men on death row gave one another. Even though they couldn’t often see each other because the walls between them were solid, they would shout to each other to exchange information and offer words of comfort. They would use the bars at the front of the cell and a metal cup to let another man know they are thinking about him.

The film is rated PG-13 and would be too emotionally difficult for children. There are sequences that I found emotionally difficult, especially the one execution that is shown. While the execution itself is not shown on screen, the lead-up to it is heartbreaking.

I always stay to watch the credits of films. Even if you usually do not, you will want to stay through the first part of the credits which gives updates on the people that we meet during the film. It is a final reminder that we are dealing with the lives of real people, what happened to them, and the implications of those events that continue into our present and future as a country.

A note from Joanne:  This is the fifth(!) film I have seen this month. I have never been to a theater so many times in a two week-period. Those of you who are new to Top of JC’s Mind should know that this is not usually a movie review blog. You just happened to catch me at a time when movies are swirling in my mind.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/14/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-14th-2020/

Review: Bombshell

As part of the mini-sabbatical I am taking, I decided to see three movies:  Little Women, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and Bombshell.

One of these things is not like the others.

I don’t often go to R-rated movies. Usually, it is because they are too violent or scary and I am prone to nightmares. Bombshell, however, is R-rated due to language and sexual harassment, both real-life things with which I am acquainted.

Bombshell is based on the story of how Roger Ailes, then chairman and CEO of Fox News, was forced to step down after a lawsuit filed against him for sexual harassment by Gretchen Carlson, who had been a host on the network, unleashed similar claims from other women who worked with Ailes over a span of decades. Many of the characters portrayed in the movie are real people who worked at Fox News, although conversations and some other characters are fictionalized.

The movie employs archival clips of Fox News footage within the movie. It is stunning how much Nicole Kidman, as Gretchen Carlson, and Charlize Theron, as Megyn Kelly, sound like the women they portray. They also resemble them physically, but, as anyone familiar with Fox News knows, most of the women on-air at the network are young, blond, and wearing skirts, so that viewers can see their legs. Ailes’s emphasis on women’s looks was often the first shot in his sexual harassment campaign. It appears that he went on to use his control over these women’s careers as leverage to get them to engage with him sexually.

John Lithgow, who portrays Ailes, is transformed to look like him. As a woman watching the film, I was repulsed by his creepiness and his manipulative behavior. Lithgow makes the real threat Ailes posed to women unmistakeable, while also showing him to be perplexed about how his behavior was wrong. While the incidents in the film took place before the #MeToo movement became well-known, we have often seen this pattern when powerful men are forced to accept responsibility for their harassing behavior. They seem to feel that they are entitled to demand sexual favors from women and that these women are freely choosing to engage with them, rather than seeing how they are using their positions of power to manipulate women who are afraid of losing their careers. In the film, we see how Gretchen Carlson was demoted and, finally, fired from Fox News when she rejected Ailes’s advances.

The film also portrays the culture at Fox News as one of misogyny. Many of the other men at the network are shown to be dismissive of women. Others, in the aftermath of Ailes’s departure, also are forced to resign due to covering up for Ailes or for their own harassment of women on their staffs.

Some of the women around Ailes come to his defense. Some, such as Ailes’s wife, don’t want to believe he is capable of such despicable behavior. Some may have been motivated by self-interest, not wanting to see their own careers derailed by opposing their powerful boss.

Because the women who worked at Fox News all had to sign non-disclosure agreements and binding arbitration, we may never know the full story of what happened to them. Gretchen Carlson was only able to file suit against Roger Ailes because a state law in New Jersey allowed her to sue Ailes personally, rather than having to sue Fox News, which was impossible due to the arbitration clause. She is currently fighting to be released from the non-disclosure agreement so that she can publicly tell the specifics of what happened to her.

There is an unknown number of women who had their lives and careers damaged by Roger Ailes. Bombshell tells part of that story, although other parts had to be fictionalized. Perhaps someday, the non-disclosure agreements will be overturned so that all these women can tell the truth about what they experienced.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/13/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-13th-2020/

 

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