February 20, 2020

The Two Popes – a Netflix original movie

When major film stars agree to appear in films produced by Netflix, you know the movie industry is indeed changing. Witness the redoubtable Sir Anthony Hopkins playing Pope Benedict in The Two Popes. Jonathan Pryce as Pope Francis is no slouch either having worked in films, tv and on stage, most notably to me as The Engineer in the original Miss Saigon on Broadway.

Based on true life, The Two Popes allows the viewer to see the relationship between these two pontiffs. Pope Benedict is the German who loves music but has difficulty connecting with people. Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina asks papal permission to resign from his post. Based on a play by Anthony McCarten, the future Pope Francis admits to dancing the tango and confesses a dark secret to his church boss.

Film director Fernando Meireiles has fashioned a film with intelligent dialogue and tour de force acting moments for both Hopkins and Pryce. You don’t have to be Catholic to enjoy watching these two acting titans verbally joust as they get to know one another.

We all know that Pope Francis followed Benedict to the papacy, but the journey is still entertaining in The Two Popes. Hopkins, Pryce and Meireiles all garnered Oscar nominations for their work.

And if you are not all “poped out,” HBO also features The Young Pope with Jude Law and The New Pope with Chicago acting legend John Malkovich.

What’s next? A papal fashion craze? I want a pair of those red leather shoes.

Our Towns by James and Deborah Fallows – A 100,000 Mile Journey into the Heart of America

Husband and wife team James and Deborah Fallows traversed the United States from 2013 to 2016 to observe how some communities are re-inventing themselves for the 21st century in their travel memoir, Our Towns.

With James piloting a single engine plane, they visited such places as my home town of Sioux Falls, SD, Greenville, SC, Pittsburgh, PA, Fresno, CA, Bend, OR and countless other towns from coast to coast.

They observed thriving places and made a list of 11 signs of civic success. Divisive national politics do not impair local projects. Each locale has its movers and shakers. Things get done when there are partnerships between the private sector and government. People know their town’s story. Their downtown is still viable. Their city is near a research university. Community college classes are available. K-12 schools are doing a good job. Successful towns welcome newcomers, including immigrants. Civic plans like bike trails and parks indicate an effective mayor or town council. Small businesses like craft breweries are encouraged.

This is an uplifting story of innovation and cooperation that the mainstream media seldom highlights. Anyone interested in the true state of our country should read Our Towns. To Lori Lightfoot and all of the presidential candidates: this little book should be on your reading lists!

The Outsider on HBO

The Outsider series currently streaming on HBO joins countless other Stephen King books that have been adapted for movies or television.

Episode one sets the scary tone for this murder mystery that also features some of King’s trademark supernatural creepiness. A seemingly normal man is accused of brutally killing a little boy. Further investigation uncovers similar cases across the country.

Stand-out performers are Ben Mendelsohn as grieving detective Ralph Anderson and Cynthia Erivo as oddball private investigator Holly Gibney. Mendelsohn is Australian and Erivo English but you’d never know it from their believable American accents.

Other notable actors are Justin Bateman (also a producer of the series), Mare Winningham and Julianne Nicholson.

Kudos go to show creator Richard Price for taking viewers on a macabre journey to discover who is killing children and their families. You might not want to watch The Outsider alone.

Rocketman, a film inspired by the life of Sir Elton John

Released last year, Rocketman, the bio pic based on Elton John’s early life, has been currently available on selected streaming sites. In short, Taron Egerton is a wonder as Sir Elton. He justifiably won a Golden Globe as best actor for his performance, but was inexplicably left off the list of this year’s Oscar nominations.

Film credits go to director Dexter Fletcher and screenplay writer Lee Hall for choosing a dramatic arc in John’s life that has great emotional resonance. We see his difficult childhood, his precocity at the Royal Academy of Music in London and his search for a musical path. Enter lyricist, Bernie Taupin, played by actor Jamie Bell, who teams up with Elton to add words to his prolific compositions.

We see his meteoric rise as he conquers British and American music markets and becomes fabulously wealthy. Like a rocket, what goes up, must come down. Along the way, he tries to commit suicide and becomes addicted to alcohol, cocaine, cannabis, shopping and sex. The movie effectivelyly uses his participation in a rehab group as a device to tell the story.

Throughout the film, we hear those iconic hits and are bemused by his journey through ever more outrageous clothing and accessories. Those platform shoes! Those eyeglasses!

Elton John’s journey in this movie feels a little bit like that of Rocky Balboa’s in the Rocky franchise, but that is not a bad thing. We are rooting for him to turn his life around. Stay for the final credits where you get to read about “the rest of the story.”

If you love Elton John’s music, Rocketman is a must, but the film is inspiring enough for those who are less familiar with his work. Fashionistas will have a visual feast, producing both horror and delight.

WNDR Museum in Chicago West Loop

Do you need an indoor idea for fun during our winter weather? Are there any people under 40 you want to impress with your coolness? Look no further than the WNDR Museum in the west Chicago Loop.

Visitors wander from room to room experiencing immersive visual and audio environments. Tech artists have created scenarios where you become part of the art such as in the black box room that places you on a screen and then morphs it into a kaleidoscope of images. A disco room allows you to use LED flooring to paint swirls with your feet.

One of my favorite stops was the Mirror Room by renowned Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Also intriguing was a black and white room with slanted floor. An arm appeared out of a wall cut-out and a voice asked if we wanted a photo taken with our phones. In truth, the whole museum is one big Instagram opportunity.

There are creative rooms where the visitors can explore their artistic muse using old-fashioned paper and materials provided by Wndr. A snack area features curated treats for purchase and a large complimentary cereal bar replete with milk, both cow’s and alternative.

Yes, admission is over-priced and repeat visits might not be forthcoming for most adults, but this is most entertaining for an hour or two. And you just might find a bauble or two in the quirky museum store.

Photo temporarily displayed on the museum walls. Me with husband Paul and Jim Koudelka.

Be forewarned that the museum does not handle cash. All transactions must be done through the internet or with a credit card.

By all means, bring your phone. Selfies encouraged.

wndrmuseum.com

EggLife Wraps without flour or dairy

Hurrah! I finally found a wrap without grain, gluten, flour or dairy that actually tastes good.

EggLife Wraps are rather like little tortillas and come in four different flavors, the plain original, Italian Style, Rye Style and Southwest Style.

The web site says they are 95% egg whites, only 30 calories apiece and contain only 1 gram of carbs and a decent 5 grams of protein.

I have filled them with turkey bacon, ground chicken, veggies, hummus and salsa. They make a good savory breakfast option or a quick and easy lunch. I pop them into my toaster oven or microwave briefly to warm them up, but they are ready to eat from the bag.

You will find EggLife Wraps in the refrigerated section of your grocery. The web site says Mariano’s, Jewel and Sunset Foods are carrying the product in the Chicago area. Be persistent because some clerks are not yet familiar with the product or where it might be hiding in the store.

https://egglifefoods.com/our-wraps/

Andy Warhol – From A to B and Back Again at AIC

The Art Institute is presenting a major retrospective of the varied works of Andy Warhol. The exhibition features not only his large canvas works, but his early ad work, his drawings, his films, his television presentations, his sculpture and his collaborative art with the much younger artist, Basquiat. This is indeed a comprehensive look at his entire career.

Although he is best known for his brightly colored photo portraits of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Liza Minnelli, Muhammed Ali, Elvis, Elizabeth Taylor and Mao, it is perhaps his ”Death and Disaster” images that I found the most disturbing and thought-provoking. Car crashes, race riots, electric chairs and images of a widowed Jackie Kennedy seem to reflect how Warhol saw the turbulent mid-1960s.

As for the exhibition design, I love how the AIC has made wall cut-outs that let the observer see into other rooms, provided a mini-movie theater to view Warhol films and installed several small screens to view his television shows. The exhibit vestibule featuring his photos of famous people is a fitting beginning and ending to this homage to Andy Warhol.

A painter friend sniffed that using a print of DaVinci’s Last Supper and placing camouflage over it is hardly art, but nonetheless, Warhol has certainly had much more than the proverbial “15 minutes of fame”.

Art Institute of Chicago
111 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60603

https://www.artic.edu/exhibitions/2937/andy-warhol-from-a-to-b-and-back-again

Through January 26, 2020

Where the Crawdads Sing by author Delia Owens

My book club-loving neighbor passed me another fiction gem recently, the New York Times #1 best-seller, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.

Set in the marshlands of North Carolina, the principal character is Kya Clark, a girl who lives alone in a coastal shack and is nick-named “the Marsh Girl” by the suspicious locals.

Part murder mystery and romance, Kya gets caught up in the unexplained death of rich and handsome Chase Andrews. With a nod to the famed novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, Kya ends up in a murder trial.

What adds another literary layer to this engaging book is the writing of Delia Owens. A former wildlife scientist in Africa, she is an expert on animal behavior and an ardent observer of nature. Her prose beautifully captures the outdoors with poetic descriptions of weather, birds, plants and all Kya sees in her rustic life.

A selection for Reese’s Book Club, Where the Crawdads Sing has all of the earmarks of a dramatic movie plot for Ms. Witherspoon’s production company.

Here’s hoping Owens’ debut novel is the first of many to come.

The Vertical Line on MHZ – Italian tv series

MHZ Choice, the tv streaming service, continues to introduce me to European television programs that I can’t find other places. The Vertical Line, an 8 episode dramedy from Italy is the freshest series I have seen in quite a while.

The cancer ward of an Italian public hospital seems like an unlikely place for a television show meant as entertainment, but each brief episode packs a punch of deep emotional truths and yes, comedy.

The main character, Luigi, played by the expressive-eyed Valerio Mastrandrea, is a devoted fortyish husband and father of a young child with a baby on the way. He tragically finds out he has a cancerous tumor that must be surgically removed.

He becomes part of an oncology ward where he encounters quirky patients, blasé doctors, aggressive nurses and med-techs and a morose hospital chaplain.

The show is semi-autobiographical in that the creator, Mattia Torre passed away on July 2019 at the age of 47 after experiences with the Italian medical establishment. As his tv swan song, Torre depicts joy and humor in The Vertical Line, as well as sadness in this excellent limited-run series.

If you want something completely different from American medical shows, check out The Vertical Line currently streaming on MHZ Choice. As a reminder, you can add MHZ Choice to your Amazon Prime Video package or sign up for the stand-alone app. It is worth every penny of the monthly $7.99 or $89.99 for the year.

https://watch.mhzchoice.com/

Cafe Sabarsky/Neue Galerie in NYC: A Little History

Although I have not yet visited Cafe Sabarsky and the Neue Galerie on New York City’s Upper East Side, I did a little research on this storied venue.

Art dealer and museum organizer Serge Sabarsky and entrepreneur, philanthropist and art collector Ronald S. Lauder discovered a common interest in German and Austrian art and culture of the early 1900s. After Sabarsky’s death, Lauder created Neue Galerie in 2001 to honor his friend.

Located on New York’s Museum Mile, 5th Avenue from 83rd Street to 105th, Neue Galerie is the former William Starr Miller mansion at 86th Street.

The second floor is dedicated to Austrian work of the early 1900s from the Wiener Wekstätte movement and by luminaries such as Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele. Third floor contains work from the same time period by the Bauhaus movement and artists that include Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Lyone Feininger, Otto Dis and George Grosz.

The museum campus includes a bookstore, a design shop and two Viennese restaurants, Cafe Sabarsky and Cafe Fledermaus.

Cafe Sabarsky features light fixtures by Josef Hoffmann, furniture by Adolf Loos and banquettes upholstered with a 1912 Otto Wagner fabric. Periodic cabaret evenings and chamber music concerts benefit from the on-site Bösendorfer grand piano.

Here is a link for Cafe Sabarsky:

kurtgutenbrunner.com/restaurants/cafe-sabarsky/

For more info on the Neue Galerie:

https://www.neuegalerie.org/