Straighten up and fly right into the Year of the Monkey with these movies

Celebrate the Year of the Monkey by considering the monkey in the movies and television and even take some music as inspiration. Although 2016 started out with the sad news of Natalie Cole’s death, one can remember by using the song that her famous father Nat King Cole wrote with Irving Miles, “Straighten Up and Fly Right.”

That song about a buzzard who has been providing a dodgy flying service for innocent animals only to eat them after he lets them fall to their deathes. When the monkey gets on the buzzard’s back, the monkey wraps his tail around the buzzard’s neck and the buzzard can’t shake him off. That 1943 song became an anthem for the Tuskegee Airmen as they battled Germans in Europe and racism in America.

In the 1960s, there was a group of singers who did some monkeying around and made music: The Monkees. Fittingly, the surviving three members are putting out an album this year: “Good Times!” Of course there are also real monkeys and apes and both humorous and serious issues surrounding them.

  1. Among the Wild Chimpanzees” (1984): A documentary about Jane Goodall and her work with chimpanzees by National Geographic
  2. “Curious George”: A  TV series on PBS Kids based on the books by Margret and Hans A. Rey for preschoolers.
  3. “Gorillas in the Mist” (1988): A biopic about Dian Fossey and her fight to save the mountain gorillas in Rwanda.
  4. “The Jungle Book” (1967): The boy Mowgli meets with orangutans because of King Louie (Louis Prima) wants to be like humans (“I Wan’na Be like You”).
  5. “The Monkees” (1966-1968): A TV series about a rock band in Los Angeles, struggling to find fame and fortune while having a variety of adventures. The series won Emmys for Outstanding Comedy Series and for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy. This year the surviving Monkees are putting out a new album “Good Times!”.
  6. “Monkey King: Hero Is Back” (2015): A Chinese animated feature.
  7. “The Monkey’s Uncle” (1965): A silly movie with Tommy Kirk as geek genius college student Merlin Jones and Annette Funicello as his girlfriend. Merlin’s nephew is Stanley, a chimp being raised as a human.
  8. “Planet of the Apes” (1968): Charlton Heston stars as the American astronaut who lands on a strange planet where the Apes rule. He makes a friend of two chimpanzee scientists Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy McDowall)>
  9. Project Nim” (2011): A British documentary that mixes re-enactments with live footage of Nim Chimpsky, a chimp that was taught sign language. After the experiment was finished, Nim lived on, but was not always so well treated, falling from pampered pet to medical experiment subject.
  10. “The Tuskegee Airmen” (1995): A 1995 HBO TV movie about the first African American combat pilots during World War II. The movie stars Laurence Fishburne, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Malcolm-Jamal Warner.

Y.C. Hong: Advocate for Chinese-American Inclusion at the Huntington

You might not know Y.C. Hong, but people in Los Angeles Chinatown do. If you visit Chinatown, you may not know, but you’ll see his influence. Hong was a disabled man, a minority and an attorney. It’s easy to say bad things about all three of those labels although now it is only politically correct to make pejorative statements about lawyers. Yet during a time when the New York Times can stir up controversy with an opinion piece entitled “Anti-Muslim is Anti-American,” it might be just the right time to remember when the United States was anti-Asian and see the exhibition, “Y.C. Hong: Advocate for Chinese-American Inclusion” at the Huntington Library which is open until March 21, 2016.

There are in contemporary time jokes about the Asian Invasion. Some people make comment by explaining that UCLA stands for the University of Caucasians Lost Amongst Asians. UCLA is 33.5 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, 27 percent Caucasian and 19 percent Latino.

The city of Los Angeles, however, is 47 percent Latino, 41 percent Caucasian (only 29 percent non-Latino white), 10 percent Asian and 9.8 percent black. That differs from the San Gabriel Valley where the Asian population makes up 26 percent of the population and the Latino population is 45 percent. The white population is 25 percent and the black only 3 percent.  There are some cities where ethnic Asians are the majority. That might be disconcerting for some, but the number of Asians might have been higher sooner had the government not made racist rules about immigration.

What kept the immigration numbers down were a series of exclusion acts. The Page Act of 1875 prohibited the immigration from Asia of forced laborers, women who would be prostitutes and anyone who would be considered a convict in his/her country.

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first federal immigration law to target a specific ethnic group.  With slavery abolished, people looked for a means of cheap labor on large projects.  The California gold rush of 1848 to 1855 brought a large number of people to the California, including Chinese immigrants trying their luck, but large building projects like the Transcontinental Railroad used Chinese laborers to do hard and often dangerous work.

While lynchings are commonly associated with prejudice toward blacks, in Los Angeles there were few blacks, but Chinese immigrants had come over looking for gold and later worked on the railroads.

One of the largest mass lynchings in American history was the Chinese massacre of 1871 in which an October riot ended with about 500 white men torturing and hanging 18 Chinese immigrants in Los Angeles. The police had, at times, been willing to assist Chinese gangs and others who offered rewards for the Chinese women they enslaved as prostitutes. Yet in this case, the police looked the other way and the Chinese could not testify against white men.

During Hong’s lifetime, laws eventually changed. Hong was born in 1898 in the San Francisco area and lived until 1977. During his lifetime, he worked on at least 7,000 immigration cases.

To fight the racist laws, Hong helped with various strategies that included maps and interview strategies for the “paper” sons who came to the United States, circumventing the immigration exclusion acts by pretending to be the sons of men who had already immigrated and were therefore already grandfathered in. This small exhibition draws from the Huntington’s You Chung Hong Family Papers that were acquired in 2006 and is divided into six sections.  Though the 75 items on display which include historical documents, correspondence, photographs, maps, and ledgers, the exhibition shows the early history of Chinese immigrants in California. That includes Chinese gold miners and railroad laborers and Hong’s childhood in San Francisco and finally his career as an immigration lawyer. Hong also served as a president for the Chinese American Citizens Alliance during which time he met with then-governor Ronald Reagan as well as Soong May-ling, the wife of Chiang Kai Shek.  Hong was also one of the founders of the New Chinatown that was raised after the Old Chinatown was torn down to make way for Union Station.

While nationwide people are celebrating the Chinese New Year, it is important to remember how unwelcome the Chinese were and that even in California Yellow Perilism was not just words, but actual legislation at the state and federal level. It’s hard now to imagine California without the East Asian influence and now that influence continues to grow in the San Gabriel Valley area. After you’ve enjoyed Chinese food at one of the many San Gabriel restaurants, take time to remember a man who helped build up the Chinese community in Southern California.


Ms. Geek Speaks: CDC, What is good for the goose…

The CDC recently advised women of child-bearing ages not to drink alcohol unless they were on birth control. Ms. Geek doesn’t drink alcohol or smoke for a variety of reasons including allergies and, gasp, religion, but she takes umbrage to the attitude of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It does take two to tango, even when there’s a test tube involved.

Sperm donors know that they can’t be over 40 and have to watch the amount of alcohol they are drinking. So it has been known for years that the consumption of alcohol and tobacco have an effect on the production of sperm. The British website DrinkAware notes that not only does alcohol affect female fertility, it also affects male fertility. “Alcohol is to the testes. This can harm sperm when they’re produced and stop them developing properly or reaching the egg.”

In a Danish study, researchers found that in men who drank 40 or more units in a week “total sperm counts were 33% lower, and the proportion of normal-looking sperm was 51% lower, compared with men who only drank one to five units.” Another study suggests that only five drinks a week can have an effect on the quality of sperm.

In 1991, the New York Times published an article noting that research on birth defects had shifted from the mothers to the fathers. “The new research, much of it in early stages, suggests that certain substances can cause genetic mutations or other alterations in sperm that lead to permanent defects in children. These include familiar birth defects like heart abnormalities and mental retardation as well as less familiar ones like childhood cancer and learning disorders.”

A study published in “Animal Cells and Systems” in 2014 indicated that “The authors believe alcohol consumption affects genes in sperm which are responsible for normal fetal development.” That is to say, fathers are also accountable for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome that included “retarded intellect, stunted growth and nervous system abnormalities, social problems and isolation.”

The old way of thinking blamed the woman from everything from conception to the sex of the child (Think King Henry VIII). More recently, there’s been the concept of the macho active sperm swimming to the drifting passive egg. This meant that only the fittest of sperm would be able to make the journey and unite with an egg. This isn’t so.

The CDC, which is directed since 2009 by Thomas R. Frieden, continues to hold women accountable for the health of the baby because women will be pregnant for nine months. A woman is born with a finite set of eggs. Men begin producing sperm when they reach puberty and continue to produce sperm until they are dead or sterilized. For this reason, the health of the male and the chemical exposure of the male is actually more important.

Instead of just advising the “3 million US women are at risk of exposing their developing baby to alcohol because they are drinking, having sex, and not using birth control to prevent pregnancy” the CDC should also all boys who have reached puberty and all men who have not had a vasectomy or been sterilized. Until men and boys are asked to take responsibility then that 100 percent of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders will not be completely preventable. The CDC must turn away from the macho sperm theories and remember that what is good for women is also good for men and since men are generally continually producing sperm and fertile 24/7 throughout the month, the measures taken should be doubly important for men and their genetic material.


‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ is a yes for fashion and a no for science

Living in Los Angeles, 30-minutes away from Disneyland, and an hour away from the Disney Company Studios, it’s really easy to jump into the cyber and sidewalk cyclone that is the Disney PR machine behind “The Force Awakens.” This year I hope to debut Star Wars costume with an appropriate twist, but that doesn’t mean I’m a fan of the actual movie. The fashion is a yes, but the science  is a no for a variety of reasons.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to recognize there are problems. Any golfer who’s been in sand trap hell already knows that smooth spherical surfaces don’t do well in sand, particularly going up hill. I don’t golf, but I’ve walked through sand dunes. Over the last few weeks as I tried to figure out how one would make a BB-8 inspired ring (the best one I’ve seen is a spinner ring by Paul Michael Design on Etsy for $999), I know that a magnet would help keep the head attached to the body and a smooth surface would help the spin of the body, but only the Force could help a smooth sphere overcome the constant slip-sliding away in the sand. One would also need the Force to prevent sudden impacts from sending the seemingly floating head piece off like an overly ornate hockey puck. From others, I’ve learned that (Sphero) BB-8’s worst enemy are cats.

Then there’s that choice of weaponry. When Finn decides to use the lightsaber, I couldn’t help but think: “Finn has brought a lightsaber to a blaster fight. Why is he still alive?” In my mind, I’m seeing Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. One can argue that in that galaxy, far, far away, target practice isn’t high on the list of training skills for the Empire.  My husband remembers how the Stormtroopers couldn’t hit Chewbacca while chasing our heroes in a hallway. I laughingly argue that all that hair masks a very thin body.

Choice of weaponry and practical training are more good sense than science, but when I finally saw Kylo Ren, I thought, “Son of Severus Snape.” (RIP Alan Rickman) Han Solo might want a paternity test.

My husband and I also argued about Kylo Ren’s lightsaber. I wondered why does Kylo Ren still have thumbs and in close combat if his nose wouldn’t be endangered by every swish. My husband says that style goes back to European swords and cross guards where one would use 1.5 hand fighting, but you can’t actually handle Kylo Ren’s sword the same since you can’t touch Kylo Ren’s lightsaber’s cross guards because you’d lose a finger or your whole hand in the process. Elsewhere, on Facebook, the debate rages. One person commented that with real cross guards, the metal isn’t sharpened to kill. Some, like me conclude that while cross guards might prevent that Jedi Knight occupational hazard of limbs being cut off during a fight, now Kylo Ren can cut off his own arms.

And then I hear Edna Mode screaming in my brain: “No capes! ” I imagine Kylo Ren’s cape would be shredded by his lightsaber. When I dressed up for the Star Wars screening, my Kylo Ren was in a black duster coat (and I do own capes because Edna Mode didn’t dress gothic romance heroines).

When it comes to science fiction, husband, a real scientist, goes total science geek. While he had appreciated the science behind “Interstellar” and “The Martian,”  my husband commented that the following aspect of the “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” has his fellow scientists laughing:

So the starkiller base is supposed work by sucking the power of a star and shooting at one or more planets.

It appears that there is only one point that the energy from the star is sucked in.  Which means that the planet must stop/slow itself to charge up.  Doing that would throw everything on the surface off the planet.  For example if the earth stopped things at the equator would fly off at over 1000 mph.

In sucking the star’s energy, its trail of solar plasma is pulled in.  When that plume hits the planet’s atmosphere it would spread across the planet’s surface and consume planet in fire.

Assuming that didn’t happen, the heat from the solar plume as it entered the storage conduit would incinerate the trees and vaporize the snow for miles around.

Assuming that didn’t happen you have to find a way to store the mass of a star.  Consider the mass of our sun is 333000 times the mass of the earth.

When firing at planets in another star system it would take years for the beam to hit them.

So if you have a device that could eat a sun why not just consume the star of the planets you want to destroy

Also when it first fired destroy five planets, which star did it consume, someone would have noticed that a star disappeared.

Lastly if it blew up with the stored power of a star, it would have exploded like a supernova.

As we both come from earthquake country, the deus ex machina earth splitting was more side-splitting for us. Yes, my husband is still bothered that there is sound in space. He is Star Trek over Star Wars, and we both believe that Han Solo shot first, but my husband has been convinced to try a new Star Wars costume I’m making. What the people behind Star Wars know even without Edna Mode and what Star Trek has failed to grasp is that we all want to look cool and that costumes can make the mania.



‘Mercy Street’ brings medical history and Civil War drama to PBS

Mercy Street” is a new PBS medical drama television series set in the American Civil War that follows two volunteer nurses at a what was once a luxury hotel in Alexandria, Virginia.  This the first PBS American drama in almost a decade and there’s plenty of history, scandal and scheming. That might sound soapy, but this drama strikes a good balance between the rich and poor and the free whites and the enslaved and free blacks so viewers have a chance to consider all sides of the Civil War experience.

As a PBS program, “Mercy Street” strives to be authentic and educational. The “Mercy Street” website offers links to additional historical information as well as the actual locations.

Alexandria, is just outside of Washington, D.C.  By 1862, it was occupied by the Union. “Mercy Street” is set in the historic Carlyle House and the adjacent Mansion House Hotel. The owner of both the house and the hotel was James Green, who was, according to the PBS website, “one of the richest men in town and made a deep historical footprint on Alexandria.”

Nursing was a relatively new vocation. Florence Nightingale had been sent to the Crimean War on Oct. 21, 1854 with a staff of 38 women which included 15 Catholic nuns. She arrived in November of 1854. The Crimean War (1853-1856) was a conflict between the Russian Empire against the Ottoman Empire, France, the British Empire and Sardinia. Besides giving birth to the Lady of the Lamp, the war also gave rise to the military legend of Charge of the Light Brigade.

In “Mercy Street,” the first episode begins with Mary Phinney (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) getting an assignment from Dorothy Dix. Dorothea Dix (1802-1887) was born in Maine, but was moved to Boston at age 12 and later went to Worcester, Massachusetts, in both cases to live with relatives.  She began teaching school at 14 and eventually returned to Boston and founded a school for girls. By the time of the American Civil War, she had already gone to court to get improved living conditions for prisoners in the East Cambridge Jail, researched the conditions in other jails and asylums across the nation and lobbied for better conditions for the mentally ill. After a setback to her efforts in the U.S., she went to Europe and looked at the conditions in public and private hospitals.  She returned to the U.S. in 1856 and when the war began in 1861, she was named the superintendent of nurses. She was responsible for setting up field hospitals, recruiting nurses and setting up training programs. She was by the time of the Civil War a formidable woman with connections in Washington, D.C. Dix was the first woman to serve in such a high federally appointed role, but her time in that position was short-lived.

In “Mercy Street,” Mary Phinney stands up to Dix on the subject of abolition, a socio-political movement that was strong in the Boston area. That seems to be the decisive moment and Dix assigns her to Alexandria. Once at the Green hotel, Mary finds herself neither welcome nor well experienced. She had nursed a few relations and her dying aristocratic husband, but she had never seen a large number of amputations. Phinney was an actual person whose full name was Mary Phinney von Olnhausen (1818-1902) who wrote diaries. The diaries were published posthumously as “Adventures of an Army Nurse in Two Wars.”

Emma Green (Hannah James) is the other new nurse. Her father, James Green, Sr. (Gary Cole), was the owner of the hotel. The historical Emma Green was a Confederate sympathizer and the sweetheart of a Confederate spy, Benjamin Franklin “Frank” Stringfellow (Jack Falahee).  The real Emma Green did not become a nurse, but bringing Emma into the hospital adds to the North-South, Union versus Confederate conflict.

Like Emma, her younger sister Jane (Anna Sophia Robb) must put away childish things to deal with the war that surrounds them. Jane is in love with Tom Fairfax. Emma discovers him in the hospital and hides this from her sister partially due to his troubled mental state.

If Mary and Emma are new nurses, then Anne Hastings (Tara Summers) is an old nurse. Hastings worked with Florence Nightingale and always talks about their achievements as if she were on an equal level as Nightingale. One soon realizes why Dix didn’t make Hastings the head nurse. Dix was concerned with the moral rectitude of her nurses, concerned about the reputation of this new profession. Hastings is a schemer and intriguer. She is having an affair with Dr. Hale and is determined to undermine Mary’s authority. She also flirts with Dr. Foster.

Matron Brannan (Suzanne Bertish) is also an old nurse. She is on to Anne Hastings and Dr. Hale’s secret liaison and she’s practical. As an older woman, she seems alone, but she has a sense of humor and speaks her mind. She sees through the pretensions of Anne Hastings and Emma Green and the inexperience of Mary Phinney. Yet we sense she is more likely an ally of Mary Phinney.

Dr. Byron Hale (Norbert Leo Butz) is an old-school army surgeon who is resistant to the new concepts and methods of Dr. Jed Foster (Josh Radnor). Foster has his own problems. He is only a civilian contract surgeon and he grew up in a slave-owning Maryland household. His wife wants to go West and leave the war behind while Foster feels that the war presents an opportunity to learn, research and make medical advancements. Managing both men is Dr. Alfred Summers (Peter Gerety), a career Army surgeon who has the rank of major.

There is a third covert doctor, a black laborer named Samuel Diggs (McKinley Belcher III). He was formerly a servant in a doctor’s household and learned about medical practices of the day. African American doctors weren’t allowed to practice in Union hospitals until after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 (Jan. 1).  He is attracted to an escaped slave who works as a laundress, Aurelia (Shalita Grant). Aurelia is, however, being raped by white men including the corrupt hospital steward, Silas Bullen (Wade Williams). Silas promises to help Aurelia’s family, but he doesn’t even pretend to be a gentleman or an honorable man when confronted by  Mary Phinney.

Lisa Wolfinger and David Zabel created the series, using the memoirs and letters of the actual doctors and nurses at the Mansion House Hospital and consulting with historical and medical experts (e.g. James M. McPherson and Dr. Stanley Burns).

The second episode, “The Haversack,” concerns the small sturdy bag of a Confederate soldier and how its discovery changes things for members of the Green family.  The question of loyalty to people and causes comes up for all the main characters.

To better understand some of the medical practices of that time and even later, watch “American Experience: Murder of a President.”

“Mercy Street” is broadcast on Sundays 10/9c, but check local listings. After the initial broadcast, the episodes of this six-part series are available online.





‘American Experience: Murder of a President’: Insanity and the death of Garfield

James A. Garfield was the second U.S. president to be shot while in office, but his death was a matter of malpractice. “American Experience: Murder of a President” is based on Candice Millard’s best-selling book, “Destiny of the Republic,” and argues that it was not the man who shot Garfield who eventually killed him.

Perhaps what is most shocking for modern audiences is that after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, the president did not have a regular bodyguard. Garfield was the 20th president (Lincoln was the 16th). He took office in March of 1881, but was shot on July 2, 1881 by someone whom he had previously met and who had frequented the White House. His assassin, Charles Guiteau,  was an attorney who had done some minor campaigning for Garfield and felt that he deserved a presidential appointment, specifically an ambassadorship to Paris.

Guiteau had opportunities prior to the shooting, including once when he declined to shoot Garfield in front of his wife, Lucretia, who was recovering from an illness. When he finally did get the opportunity, Guiteau shot Garfield twice. Although there was a doctor almost immediately at the scene, the medical practices of the time put Garfield at risk. The concept of sanitary methods were not accepted by the initial doctors resulting in the wound in Garfield’s back being probed by unwashed fingers and medical instruments. Far worse, an acquaintance of Garfield’s, Dr. Doctor Bliss, took over as Garfield’s personal physician and in increasingly desperate actions, gave Garfield treatment that was considered subpar for that time.

Directed by Rob Rapley, the documentary features re-enactments with Shuler Hensley as Garfield, Kathryn Erbe as his wife and Will Janowitz as Guiteau as well as archival materials. Millard also appears along with Kenneth D. Ackerman (author of “Dark Horse: The Surprise Election and Political Murder of President James A. Garfield”), chief of interpretation and education at the James A. Garfield National Historic Site, Todd Arrington; historian Kathryn Allamong Jacob (“Capital Elites: High Society in Washington, D.C., After the Civil War”); park ranger at the James A. Garfield National Historic Site Mary Lintern; Professor of History at Boston College Heather Cox Richardson (“To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party”) and Professor of History at Stony Brook University Nancy Tomes (“The Gospel of Germs: Men, Women, and the Microbe in American Life”).

One aspect of this “American Experience” episode is that the medical history portion helps inform viewers of another PBS program: “Mercy Street.” The concepts of germs was not accepted during the Civil War and for some time after.

While many scholars believe that Guiteau was insane, either schizophrenic or suffering from syphilis, he did make an accurate statement during his trial, saying, “The doctors killed Garfield, I just shot him.” Watching “American Experience: Murder of a President” will make you thankful for the progress we’ve made in healthcare.

The two-hour “American Experience: Murder of a President” premieres on Feb. 2, 2016 at 9 p.m. on PBS (Check local listings). Afterward, it will be available online at


‘Downton Abbey Season 6 Episode 5: Dining disaster, a dowager downed and dating daughters

The month of May is still with us in Episode 5 of Series/Season 6 of “Downton Abbey.” Nothing guarantees a dining disaster better than using a meal as a stage for a verbal battle. The dowager doesn’t need claws to get the Minister of Health over to Downton Abbey. Sometimes, being old doesn’t make one wise, but it can give one another type of intelligence.  Yet things go off even worse than anyone could have planned and the dowager is downed by an unexpected event that has Cora taking her gloves off and Mary being dubbed “Queen Mary” by Tom. Then there’s the matter of love and its winding path and other types of queens.

The episode begins with Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Tom (Allen Leech) talking about Mr. Mason (Thomas Howes).

Tom asks, “Are you annoyed we’ve given Yew Tree Farm to Mr Mason?”

Mary explains, “I’m annoyed you fixed it while I was in London, but no, he’s a good man. And I hear pigs are his speciality.”

Tom comments, “No wonder you were convinced.”

Mary wonders, “So now that you’ve settled in, have you decided what your next task will be?”

Tom has an idea, commenting, “You haven’t done much about the repair shop while I was away, so I’ll start with that. I had an idea to put it on the edge of the estate with access to the village.”

Mary then replies, “For passing trade? Why not? Is Papa ready for that?”

Downstairs, Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) is talking with Daisy (Sophie McShera). “When does Mr Mason move in?”

Daisy replies, “His equipment’s already there. And the Drewes leave on Wednesday, so there’s no point in waiting.”

“And what about his old farm?,” Mrs. Patmore asks.

Daisy explains, “Mr Henderson’s taken over the land. He’s going to move his uncle into the house, much good may it do him.”

Mrs. Patmore comments, “Nay. There’s no need for bitterness now. Things have worked out well.”

Daisy calms down a bit and says, “You’re right.”

Mrs. Patmore has an idea, “Oh, I tell you what. Why don’t we go over on the day? We’ll take a picnic tea and lend him a hand.”

Andy (Michael Fox) happens by and volunteers, “I could come, too. Another pair of hands.” So it becomes a welcome party of three.

Upstairs, Edith (Laura Carmichael) is talking with her father, Robert (Hugh Bonneville). She’s had a message from Bertie (Harry Hadden-Paton) who wants to meet her in London.  Violet (Maggie Smith) comes in and begins plotting,  “Is Cora about?”

Robert admits, “Er, no, she’s got some charity thing in the village.”

Violet, then proceeds, “Oh, good.”

Robert is worried, saying, “Why don’t I like the sound of that?”

Edith wisely gets out while she can, saying, “I’ll leave you.”

Violet confides, “The Minister of Health is paying us a visit.”

Robert hasn’t heard anything about that and replies, “Mr Chamberlain? I don’t think so.”

Violet explains, “Now, listen. He’s on an inspection tour of the north. He wants to see what’s been happening since the war.”

Of course, that seems normal, and while Robert says, that “seems very sensible” he hasn’t either invited nor received news from the Minister of Health.

Violet gets to the point, “And I want him to come here. I want him to listen to our arguments against the York Hospital’s plans.”

Robert can only ask, “Mama, what is the point? Don’t be jejune.” The word “jejune” (jejunely and jejuneness) means lacking in nutritive value or devoid of significance or interest.

Violet explains, “You know very well, one word from Westminster and the scheme would be abandoned.”

Still Robert wonders, “But why would he say the word, and why would he ever come to Downton?”

Yet Violet knows something that Robert does not. “You know, Neville Chamberlain’s wife was born Anne de Vere Cole. Guess who was her godfather.”

Robert doesn’t want to play any games with his mother. “You guess for me.”

Violet replies, “Your late papa, the sixth Earl of Grantham. He and her father served in the Crimea together when they were young. I have known her since she was born.”

Robert is not convinced. “I admit I am quite interested, but when it comes to getting him here, I would say you have no more chance than a cat in hell without claws.” But Violet is a cat in hell with a sharp intelligence and that works well enough. Violet sends Isobel with a message that the Health Minister will be dining at Downton Abbey on Friday. Cora then asks that Dr. Clarkson (David Robb), Lord Merton (Douglas Reith) and Isobel (Penelope Wilton) come to the meal to support Cora. Isobel says, “Aye aye, captain.”

Downstairs, Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Anna (Joanne Froggatt) learn why Andy is avoiding Mr. Barrow (Rob James-Collier). Andy admits, “And he was good to me when I first arrived. Well, since I’ve come, I’ve got to know a bit more about him. I don’t like to say with a lady present. The point is, I wouldn’t want to give him any wrong ideas…Fair or not, I think it’s better if he knows what’s what. I bear him no ill will, mind you.” Andy doesn’t want a boyfriend so he can’t be a friend.

This particular evening, Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) has decided that he and his wife will be dining at home. Mrs. Patmore has made a basket with leftover paté and some chops. Mrs. Hughes/Carson (Phyllis Logan) is grateful for the basket, but Mr. Carson is not. Carson is only slightly perturbed that his wife has told Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle) he can go with Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) on Wednesday morning to support her because Sergeant Willis “needs her help.”

Carson is indirectly critical of the meal, but he notes, “This plate’s cold which is a pity.” He’s not totally pleased with bubble and squeak as a vegetable with lamb, but Mrs. Carson says, “I like it with lamb.” Then Mr. Carson notes, “This knife could do with sharpening.” For those who don’t know bubble and squeak is shallow-fried leftover vegetables, usually potato and cabbage with other vegetables such as carrots, peas and other left over vegetables added. One guesses that bubble and squeak aren’t on the menu at Downton Abbey.

If the dowager means to stir things up upstairs, things are also getting stirred up downstairs. Violet has learned that Doctor Clarkson no longer supports local control of their hospital. Denker tells Spratt, “He doesn’t want to support her ladyship any more. What cheek!”

Spratt (Jeremy Swift) warns her, “Don’t go working yourself up.”

Denker (Sue Johnston) won’t let it go, continuing, “Who does he think he is? Jumped up little saw-bones.”

Spratt cautions her, “I should steer clear.”

Denker, always feeling she is the wiser, replies, “No doubt. But you and I don’t think alike, do we, Mr Spratt? On this or any other subject.”

The next day, Denker happens to meet the good doctor. Does anyone believe this is a coincidence?

The doctor gives the kind of greeting one would expect, “Good day to you.”

Denker launches into her tirade, “Good day? A wonder you’ve got the nerve to speak to me.”

The doctor is mystified, saying,  “I beg your pardon?”

Now Denker explains herself, “Throwing over my lady, when she’s been running this village since you were eating porridge in the glen with your mummy.”

The doctor continues, “I don’t believe I am required to justify my actions to you.”

Denker goes on, “Because you can’t. Tell me, what would you call it? Gratitude? Because I’d call it treason.”

The doctor replies, “Would you? Well, I call it impertinence, to a degree that is not acceptable.”

Denker doesn’t back down, replying, “And I’m afraid you haven’t heard the last of this.” And neither have we.

The downstairs staff at Downton Abbey are concerned with being kind. Mrs. Patmore and Daisy are preparing a nice basket to welcome Mr. Mason to the farm. Andy is joining them. Mr. Molesley and Baxter are being taken to the trial by Sergeant Willis so that Miss Baxter can testify against the man who ruined her life as a character witness.

At the trial, the defendant changes his plea. Miss Baxter meets Mr. Moseley outside of the courtroom as the sergeant fetches the car.

Moseley comments, “I expect when he heard that you turned up, he must’ve known it was pointless.”

Baxter replies, “So I’ve been spared.” Remember, it was Moseley who convinced her to testify and Baxter wasn’t eager to do so originally. “In one way, I feel relieved, of course. The newspapers won’t find me and there’ll be no repercussions.  I suppose I’d worked myself up into facing him across courtroom, this man who ruined my life, and now it feels a bit anticlimactic.”

Moseley attempts to lighten her mood and asks, “Shall I go back in and ask him to plead not guilty after all?”

Elsewhere, Tom and Mary are making a day of racing cars and pigs. First they are deciding upon a spot for the repair shop. Afterward, they will join Henry Talbot who is coming down to look at a car.

Mary says, “It’s good of you to come with me today.”

Tom smiles, but replies, “Glad to, but he won’t want me there.”

Mary denies that, “Nonsense. You have far more in common with him than I do.”

Tom understands that he is some sort of a chaperone and asks, “Is it serious?”

Mary won’t commit to this relationships, confessing, “He’s attractive and nice, and it’s good to remember I’m a youngish woman again. But that’s all.”

Tom doesn’t believe her, “Youngish?”

Now we get an explanation from Mary, “I don’t mean to sound snobbish, but I won’t marry down.” Isn’t that always a concern for women?

Tom doesn’t buy her reply, asking, “Was Mr Matthew Crawley so very special in that way?”

Ah, and remember how long it took for Mary and Matthew to get together? Mary replies, “Matthew was the heir to the earldom and estate. I don’t want to be grander than my husband.”

Tom can’t help adding, “Or richer.” He has more advice on the topic though and continues, “It may surprise you, but I agree it’s important to be balanced, that one should not be far stronger than the other. I just don’t think it has much to do with money or position.”

Mary asks, “Is that how you felt about Sybil?”

Tom explains, “To all of you, she had everything and I had nothing. She was the great lady, and I the man who drove the cars, but that wasn’t true for us. We were evenly matched, Sybil and I. She was strong in her beliefs, so was I. We were a marriage of equals. We were very happy.”

Mary admits, “I think we see that now. The family, I mean. Not at first, you’re right.”

At the Yew Tree Farm, Mrs. Patmore, Andy and Daisy are helping Mr. Mason.

Mr. Mason says, “It does me good to see a friendly woman bustling about a kitchen.”

Mrs. Patmore explains, “I’ve got tea for all of us, and a snack for you later on.”

Mr. Mason tells her, “You’re an angel of mercy.”

At this point, Tom and Mary arrive. Mary asks, “Are we interrupting?  We had just wanted to look in to see how you were doing. Daisy can tell you where to find our office.”

Mr. Mason replies, “Daisy will be a great help to me.”

Yet they must get down to business, Mary explains, “We wanted to discuss the pigs. Shall we go outside?

Mr. Mason tells her, “We can talk here, m’lady. There’s nothing private about it.”

Mary then begins, “Very well. Of course, I understand you have a lot of experience.”

Mr. Mason assures her, “A great deal. I’m top at pigs.”

Tom interjects, “But Lady Mary is a little worried about the physical side of it.” For those city slickers watching, he gets more specific, saying, “Prising a boar off a sow or taking the piglets from their mother.”

Mr. Mason understands and reacts to the ageism, “Is this because I’m older than I was?”

Ever the peacemaker, Tom adds a hint, “Of course, you may have already chosen a farm hand to help you.”

Suddenly Andy reveals his hand, “We’ve discussed it, Mr Mason and I. He’ll give me warning when there’s any chance of a bit of strong arm and I’ll walk down from the house.”

Tom attempts to be specific, “So you’ll be there for the servicing, and the separating and the rest of it?”

Andy replies, “We’ll plan it round when Mr Carson can release me. It’s not every day.”

Mary adds, “That’s very good of you, Andrew.”

Andy explains, “I want to train in the care of pigs, m’lady. I want to learn as much as I can about farming.”
Mary and Tom then take their leave, saying, “We’re on our way to Catterick and we’re late.” Once they are gone, Andy tells Mr. Mason that he wasn’t lying. He really does want to learn about pigs. “Well, I do want to train.
I do want to learn. It were no word of a lie.”

In London, Edith making arrangement to meet Bertie in the evening. He tells her more about his cousin. Edith asks, “Why does Lord Hexham spend so much time in Tangier?”

Bertie  explains, “I suppose he likes it there.”

Edith asks, “If I had Brancaster Castle, I’m not sure I’d ever want to leave.”

Bertie says, “I agree. He’s not really a country type. More arty than sporty, if you know what I mean.”

Edith asks, “He doesn’t hunt or shoot?”

Bertie replies, “Hardly. He paints.”

Edith asks, “What does he paint?”

Now we get to the gist of things that the Lord is perhaps a different type of queen as Bertie replies, “The young men of Tangier, mainly. You know, scenes of local life.”

Edith asks, “And he’s never wanted to marry?”

Bertie explains, “I wouldn’t quite say that. It’s always been sort of understood that he and his cousin, Adela Graham, will marry eventually.”

Edith asks, “Understood by whom?”

Bertie replies, “By the two sets of parents.” If Edith was really up on the downstairs then she’d think of introducing the Lord to Mr. Barrow.  Barrow once had an affair with the Duke of Crowborough (Charlie Cox) while the Crawleys were in London during the summer. This conversation might some of another wildly popular British series, “Brideshead Revisited.”  In the novel, Lord Sebastian Flyte  (played by in Jeremy Irons in the 1981 serialization) is the younger son of  the Marquis of Marchmain and his estranged wife and ends his life an alcoholic in Morocco.

Edith extends a “racy” invitation to Bertie to meet her at her London flat because she wants his opinion and then the scene switches to actual racing: Tom and Mary watch Henry race his friend Charlie. Mary doesn’t like the risks they take. And that is the critical point: “But they take such risks. I hate it. I just hate it.”

Tom gently comments, “There’s no such thing as slow motor racing. And there’s no such thing as safe love.
Real love means giving someone the power to hurt you.”

Mary admits, “Which I won’t concede easily.” Henry does win and wants to celebrate at a pub in Catterick. Charlie must go home, but Henry invites Mary and Tom, saying, “Just let me get changed.”

“Help him to enjoy it. You don’t have to marry him, but you do have to let him enjoy this moment,” Tom says. Catterick is a village in North Yorkshire.  While Henry changes and he and Mary and Tom travel to Catterick, we go back to Yew Tree Farm.

Andy is definitely not allowed to enjoy the moment because Mr. Mason asserts that “I’ll make a pig man of you yet” but adds, “I’ll lend you some books when we go inside. On pig breeding and care. You need to know the theory of it. You’ll be glad of the knowledge. It makes the work more logical.”

In Catterick, Henry asks, “Oh, you don’t know the place?”

Mary explains, “You’ll laugh at me, but I’ve hardly ever been in a public house. Matthew wasn’t really a pub man and Papa goes into the Grantham Arms about once a year to have a drink with the tenants.”

Henry replies, “Well, I’m afraid my life is an altogether rougher affair.”

Mary smoothly replies, “Consider me warned.”

Tom is really glad to be there and asks, “So the car’s a success?”

Henry responds, “Well, I wasn’t convinced it would be, but it is. You must have a go sometime.”

Tom quickly responds, “I hope that’s a real offer.”

Henry replies, “You know, I didn’t realize you were so keen, Tom. Blast! You could have driven her today.”

In case you forgot, Tom reminds us all, “You know I came to Downton as a chauffeur?”

Henry explains, “Oh, Mary told me. But then, not every chauffeur has a real love of cars.”

Tom replies, “That’s true enough.”

Then the talk turns to Mary as Henry comments, “Oh, I’ll tell you who was talking about you the other day. Evelyn Napier.”

Mary coolly asks, “Oh, how is he?”

Henry replies, “He’s well. Still single, of course, and, I suspect, still pining for you.”

Mary says, “He will pine in vain, but I’m very fond of him.”

Henry sums up the situation as “La Belle Dame sans Merci.”

Not knowing French, Tom asks, “What does that mean?”

Henry replies, “It means Lady Mary knows what she’s about.”

Tom can’t help but be amused by the rules of this upper class courtship. Henry says to Mary, “Tell you what, next time you’re down south, why don’t we all have dinner?”

Mary naturally responds, “I’d love that.”

Tom comments, “You are funny. The way you have to keep making reasons for why you’ll meet. You to watch him drive cars, you to have dinner with a friend. Why can’t you just say, ‘I’d love to spend more time with you. When can we do it?'”

Mary looks at Henry and says, “You see? He may have assimilated in some ways, but he still fights playing by the rules.”

The phrase “La belle dame sans merci” means the beautiful woman without mercy. Evelyn Napier (Brendan Patricks) was indirectly the cause of much grief for Mary. After her fiancée Patrick died on the Titanic, Napier writes to marry to give his condolences. Lady and Lord Grantham discussed him with the Dowager Countess Violet. All agree that Napier would be a good match for Mary. Napier was invited to a hunt and Mary rode with him, but Napier brought his friend Kemal Pamuk (Theo James) with him. Kemal Pamuk and Mary have a one-nighter with Kemal dying in her bed. Mary attempts to avoid scandal by taking him back to his guest room with the help of her mother Cora and the then-head housemaid Anna.

Much later, Napier informs Mary that there’s a rumor circulating about her and Pamuk after Pamuk’s death. He’s the one that discovered that Edith is the source of those rumors because she wrote a letter to the Turkish ambassador. Napier himself declines to court Mary because he knows he bores her and he feels that while he isn’t the most interesting person, his wife at least should find him interesting. Her fling with Pamuk is another obstacle between Mary and Matthew when she can’t bring herself to tell him about it.

Napier also requests to come to Downton Abbey after he is wounded in World War I so that he may recover. During Series/Season 4, after Matthew has left Mary a widow,  he and his boss, Charles Blake, are involved in a government project that assesses the estates and their chances of continuing as well as other factors related to the rural economy.

In London, Edith finds a new female editor, one who was born in the very same year that she was. They even decide upon a topic to pursue: Victorian babies grown into modern women.

Back at Yew Tree Farm, Mr. Mason has asked Daisy to come live at the farm. It would only be a 20-minute walk to the big house where she would continue to work. Andy comments, “This place is like heaven to me.” Andy was a city boy and when Mrs. Patmore notes, “You never set foot off a pavement for 18 years, and now it’s all harvests and pig farming,” he explains, “Well, not everyone’s right for what they’re born to.”

Mr. Mason gives him five books which he takes back to Downton and he isn’t exactly happy. He looks at them glumly alone downstairs when Mr. Barrow comes in. Andy says, “Mr Mason’s lent me some books on pig-rearing and farming, generally. I’m going to help with the pigs.”

Mr. Barrow is cautious, saying only, “Oh, I see. Which will you start with?”

Andy replies, “The red one, I think.”

Mr. Barrow then repeats, “The ‘red’ one. Who’s it by?” When Andy doesn’t reply, Barrow notes,  “FJ Connell.”

Daisy isn’t either.  When Mrs. Patmore comments that he must be lonely, she defensively says, “He’s not lonely.He’s lived on his own for years. He’s used to it. He was just being polite. I expect he was longing for us to go.”

Mrs. Hughes kindly comments, “You mustn’t mind when Mr Mason makes new friends, Daisy, now that he’s here among us.”

Later that evening in the servants quarters, there’s a crash. Mr. Barrow looks in on Andy who is alone and picking up the lamp. Mr. Barrow asks, “How did that happen?”

Andy explains, “I threw a book and it caught it.”

Mr. Barrow replies, “Oh, yes. The red one. Why did you throw it? Why did you throw the book, Andy? You can’t read, can you?”

Andy admits, “No. I can’t bloody read! Go on! Have a good laugh about it!”

Yet Mr. Barrow remains calm, saying, “I’m not laughing. You’ve been good at hiding it. I must say that. Flicking through your magazines.”

Andy confesses, “I only look at the pictures.”

Mr. Barrow asks what we’re all wondering, “Why did you not learn at school?”

Andy gives a warning to all young students, “I fooled around until it was too late. I learned how to sign my name, which was all I needed in service.”

Mr. Barrow then realizes, “But now you want to be a farmer.”

Andy says, “I could be a farm laborer, but I want more than that. And if I can’t read, then it won’t be possible.
So another dream goes west.”

Mr. Barrow then carefully says, “It doesn’t have to. I’ll teach you to read and write, too, if you want.”

Andy isn’t convinced, “I must be too stupid. I’ve never picked it up so far, and I would have if I had half a brain.”

Mr. Barrow kindly states, “That’s not true. You’re a clever lad. You will get the hang of it. Trust me.”

Andy worries that his secret will be out, “But what would the others say?”

Mr. Barrow says, “We won’t tell them. We’ll talk about it in the morning, all right?”

Before Mr. Barrow can leave his room, Andy confesses, “Mr Barrow. I’ve not behaved well towards you. And I’m sorry for it.”

Mr. Barrow admits, “I’ve known worse.”

Elsewhere, Mr. Carson is grateful for the dinner Mrs. Patmore provided, but asks, “But another time, I wonder if you might go through the cooking of it with Mrs Hughes. It’s been a while since she’s played with her patty pans, and she’s got some catching-up to do.” He then asks his wife, “You’d be glad of the help, wouldn’t you?”

With the dowager Countess on the war path, Robert is feeling queasy that he’s caught in between his mother and his wife. Violet’s lady’s maid Denker has outrageously confronted the doctor in broad daylight and while Violet has been entertaining Isobel, Violet gets a written account from the doctor.

Denker explains herself to the dowager countess, saying, “I just thought he’d behaved very badly towards your ladyship.”

Violet states, “It is not your place even to have opinions of my acquaintance. Let alone express them.”

Denker doesn’t know when to leave well enough alone and continues, “He can’t claim your friendship now,  not when he’s turned against you.”

Violet replies, “If I withdrew my friendship from everyone who had spoken ill of me, my address book would be empty.  For a lady’s maid to insult a physician in the open street! You’ve read too many novels, Denker. You’ve seen too many moving pictures.”

Denker is still without remorse, saying, “I was sticking up for you” as if Violet needed someone to defend her.

Violet replies, “And for that, I will write a tepid character, which may enable you to find employment elsewhere.
But from this house, you must go, forthwith.”

Isobel asks, “Are you sure? I can’t believe Doctor Clarkson could wish her to lose her position.”

Violet calmly replies, “Then he shouldn’t have sent it. When we unleash the dogs of war, we must go where they take us.”

Denker isn’t quite done works on Spratt. If you recall, Spratt gave shelter to his convict nephew in the garden shed. Denker warns Spratt that if she loses her job, then Spratt will go down as well. When “Downton Abbey” first started Barrow had been a footman who hoped to become the valet of Lord Grantham. That plan was thwarted when John Bates was hired. Barrow and Lady Grantham’s lady’s maid Sarah O’Brien plotted together to bring Bates down. Mr. Barrow had made a pass at Kemal and it was Barrow who under threat by Kemal, revealed where Mary Crawley’s room was. He knew that Kemal had been to Mary’s room and yet he discovered Kemal’s dead body back in the room where Kemal had been sleeping. During that first season, Daisy had a crush on Barrow.

Spratt gives good advice and is more likable now then when he was sabotaging poor Mr. Moseley. He tells Denker, “I told her your crime was an excess of loyalty, that your devotion to her had made you blind.” Violet is willing to give Denker one more chance.

Violet’s machinations are also causing concern at Downton Abbey. Cora and Robert are not looking forward to this dinner they are hosting. Robert warns, “Mama is not a good loser. She’s had so little experience.” He then asks his wife, “You couldn’t just back off and let the cards fall as they may.”

Cora will have none of it. She replies, “Robert, for 30 years, I’ve striven to let your mother have her own way but this is too important.”

On the day of the dinner, Violet is in rare form. She tells Neville Chamberlain she recalls his wife Anne saying, “You know, I remember so well when you and she were young and carefree, looking for fun wherever you could find it.”

Chamberlain replies, “I know you do.”

Violet replies, “Yes, well, but I always say, let the past stay in the past.”

Tom comes to Chamberlain’s rescue by asking him if he wants a drink and tells him, “I thought you needed rescuing. Our own scrapes are bad enough without being dragged into other people’s.” He then warns him, “I’m afraid you’re in for some rigorous debate.”

At the meal, Violet is on the attack. Chamberlain comments, “I thought I was here to be lectured by a united group, not to witness a battle royal.”

Violet is surprised and asks, “Oh! Don’t you enjoy a good fight?”

Chamberlain admits, “I’m not sure I do, really.”

Cora comments, “My mother-in-law has a certain myopia when it comes to anyone else’s point of view.”

Violet shoots back, “On the contrary, I have a clarity of vision that allows me to resist a housemaid’s trap of sentimentality.”

Robert interrupts in a literally bloody manner. His ulcer has burst and an ambulance is called. Cora takes command while Robert tells her “If this is it, just know I have loved you very, very much.”

Cora tells Violet, “Don’t reprimand me, Mama, I think the new system will be better and I haven’t got time to be diplomatic.” She also adds, “There’ve been too many secrets. Let’s have no more of them.”

Violet can only say, “If you mean Marigold, that’s settled and you know I am sorry.” Edith originally confided in Rosamund and Violet about Marigold. Yet this remark strikes Mary as odd and she wonders about it after her father and mother leave for the hospital. At this point, Mr. Drewe, Rosamund, Violet, Rosamund and Thomas know about Marigold.

Downstairs, the servants hurry about, getting coats for the ladies. Mr. Carson is quite shaken and Mr. Barrow is surprised that he is relieved that his lordship will pull through.

As the only one left at Downton, Tom bids Chamberlain good-bye, but finds out that it was a youthful prank that Violet knew about that brought him to Downton.

Chamberlain explains, “My wife has a brother called Horace de Vere Cole. You may have heard of him.”

Tom says, “The prankster? Didn’t he board a warship pretending to be the leader of a Turkish delegation?”

Chamberlain corrects him, “Abyssinian, but yes. He was always doing that sort of thing. Some years ago, he and a few friends dug a trench across Piccadilly and London was thrown into total chaos. I was one of the chaps responsible. We dressed as workmen and no one stopped us. And by the time we’d finished every road was jammed from the East End to Belgrave Square.”

Now Tom understands, “And old Lady Grantham threatened to give you away?”

Chamberlain admits, “It was long ago now, but the papers would be sure to make it look as bad as possible and a dinner seemed a price worth paying to avert it.”

After her father’s gastrectomy, Mary returns home and she tells Tom that from now on they will be in charge of the estate because her father needs to have less tress, but concedes, “We’ll involve him in the big decisions of course, but he mustn’t have any more worry.”

Tom says, “So long live our own Queen Mary.” Cora now takes over as head of the Grantham family, but Mary will rule the estate as Edith attempts not to “dawdle in Mary’s wake” by finding a purpose in her magazine and a possible future with Bertie now that they have shared a kiss.

“Downton Abbey” Series/Season 6 Episode 5 aired on PBS on Jan. 31, 2016 and is now available online.



Old-fashioned heroics by real men in ‘The Finest Hours’

With super hero films getting bigger, but not necessarily better, it is nice to step out of the Marvel-verse and become immersed in a true story of true heroics. The hero wears a uniform that is far from spiffy and when he gets wet and cold, he doesn’t look dapper but damper. “The Finest Hours” is an old-fashioned tale about a disaster and a humble hero who also will get the girl.

If you really want to go in totally uninformed, stop reading here. Based on the Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman book, “The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue,” you know that there were survivors, but not necessarily who and how.

The movie begins the year before the rescue. Boatswains Mate First Class Bernard Webber (Chris Pine) is out of uniform and on a double date with his best friend and fellow coast guard Mel Gouthro (Beau Knapp). Bernard is at a diner for the first time meeting face-to-face with the woman he has been talking to over the phone for weeks, Miriam (Holliday Grainger). According to the production notes, Miriam was a telephone operator and listened in on one of his calls “where he politely cancelled a date due to a flat tire.” She contacted him and they “dated” by telephone. In the movie, they finally meet and things go well except that Miriam is afraid of the water and Bernie has two burdens that makes him reluctant to fully commit to Miriam, even when she asks him to marry her at a dance in February 1952. He agrees, but tells her he must ask his supervisor. She already has a date in mind, April 16, 1952.

Just a year before, Webber had led a rescue attempt for a fishing boat, the William J. Landry. The Bedford, Massachusetts boat was trapped at sea during a major storm. Three attempts were made to rescue the fishermen, but the boat was destroyed and the bodies of the fishermen lost at sea and never found. This time, two large oil tankers are split in two and sinking. The station chief, Warren Cluff, (Eric Bana) a non-local, sends his more-experienced men to assist the SS Fort Mercer, but when they realize that it is not one, but two ships sinking, he sends a four-man crew of Webber, Engine Third Class Andrew Fitzgerald (Kyle Galiner), Seaman Richard Livesay  (Ben Foster) and Seaman Ervin Maske (John Magaro) to the aid of the SS Pendleton. It is essentially a suicide mission because the other crew determined it was impossible to cross Chatham Bar during the storm and have gone around it. Webber only can say, “You gotta go out, but they don’t say you gotta come back in.” The boat seems small compared to the waves they must navigate over and sometimes under. Their Coast Guard Motor Lifeboat DG 36500  is only mean to carry a total of 12 men, including the four-man crew.

The Fort Mercer was able to get out a distress call, however,  the Pendleton did not. Only a visual confirmation brings that information to the Chatham-based Coast Guard station. The ship’s bow sank before a distress call could be made, but along with the radio room, all of the officers aboard the SS Pendleton were on that side. On the Pendleton stern half, without any officers, a mid-level crew member, Raymond Sybert (Casey Affleck), must suddenly become a leader. Like the shy, self-effacing by-the-book Webber, he isn’t your typical hero. Sybert isn’t well-liked by the men. He’s not outspoken, but he is smart and thoughtful. He realizes that the wooden lifeboats would be doomed in these rough seas. Instead, he proposes a way of stalling the sinking of their half of the ship by running it into a shoal and the 33 survivor work together despite disagreements.

As Webber, Pine convincingly loses the swagger and brash charm that has gotten him through the role of James T. Kirk in the “Star Trek” re-boot series as well as the singing Prince in the musical “Into the Woods.” His Webber is a conscientious man, almost afraid to vary from the rules. Yet he wins over his greatest doubter, Livesay.

Grainger’s Miriam is a woman determined to be married, but not really sure of what being the wife of a Coast Guard means and the uncertainty that plagues the families of all the seamen, fishermen and Coast Guards.

The screenplay by Eric Johnson, Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy gets us to a happy ending although not all of the crew are saved. Javier Aguirresarobe’s cinematography gives us the idea of motion, but doesn’t have the kind of shaky cam swirling that will induce motion sickness (e.g. “The Blair Witch Project”).  The scenes, however, are threatening enough to qualify it for a PG-13 rating and make one think twice about working at sea or even taking a cruise.

Director Craig Gillespie (“Million Dollar Arm”) contrasts the warm social comfort of the 1950s on land with the frighteningly poor technology that allowed the seams of two oil tankers to burst and set two different ships adrift as imperfect halves of a tragic puzzle. Even the snowy night with people driving in cars  doesn’t seem more threatening than “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” The rescue by Webber’s crew was so spectacular that is overshadowed the other Coast Guard rescue efforts that day. All four men were awarded the Coast Guard’s Gold Lifesaving Medal.

Under the sunny skies of Southern California, it is easy to view the wintery weather and feel safe and secure that the problems one will face on the freeway have little to do with the weather.  It’s hard to say if people will want to travel through the blizzard of 2016 in other areas to see this wintry tale about the blizzard of 1952, but it is a solid, old-fashioned movie about  men rising to extraordinary challenges.  According to the film, this incident is still considered the greatest small-boat rescue in Coast Guard history.

‘American Experience: Bonnie and Clyde’: Demythologizing the duo

For movie buffs, Bonnie and Clyde are the five-foot-seven Faye Dunaway and the six-foot-two Warren Beatty from the 1967 movie “Bonnie and Clyde,” but “American Experience: Bonnie and Clyde” reminds us of the reality.

Beatty was 29 when he produced and starred in the movie. Dunaway was 26. Bonnie Elizabeth Parker was almost 24 when she died. Clyde Chestnut Barrow was 25 and only a slight five-foot-four.  Bonnie was about 90 lbs. and just under five feet. As boyish as Beatty looked in the movie, he can’t project the vulnerability of a small man in a touchy situation, one whose power was in the guns he had outside of prison and who would have been a target to much physical and mental abuse in prison.  According to the program, Barrow was repeatedly raped in the Eastham Prison Farm where he was from 1930-1932 and his first murder was one of self-defense against his rapist tormentor. As a fellow inmate at Eastham Prison Farm puts it, Barrow changed “from a schoolboy to a rattlesnake.”

After he got out, he continued to rob gas stations, grocery stores and bank. Yet he was determined to avoid more jail time. While they did have a gang, they were nowhere near as organized as a mafia. What made these two criminals capture the American public’s imagination were the images they left behind after one of their escapes from the law. Undeveloped film was processed and the photos published. Bonnie and Clyde are seen clowning around with guns and posing with their car. In one, Bonnie, who reportedly chained smoked cigarettes, is seen holding a cigar.

Image is everything and the local curiosities, the small-town robbers, became the ill-fated lovers of the Depression era. “American Experience” uses archival footage and expert commentary to demythologize the two from their childhoods to their betrayal and bloody deaths, but also provides a sympathetic portrayal of the two outlaws.  “American Experience: Bonnie and Clyde” can be viewed online at PBS American Experience.

Ms. Geek Speaks: JLaw and how one responds to rudeness

The Jennifer Lawrence incident at the Golden Globes has a message for all cellphone and iPad owners as well as men and women everywhere.

The Golden Globes are a goofy kind of place where an honoree like Denzel Washington would show up without his speech and have nothing to say and where reporters might ask weird questions like “If you could have an extra body part, what would you choose?”

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association only has ninety-odd members, none of whom I currently know personally. The organization has managed to pull together awards 73 times. Last year, there was a hashtag campaign to #AskHerMore and a refusal to submit to the mani-cam. This year, the Twitter-verse has seemed adverse to Jennifer Lawrence’s comment to a foreign reporter.

The #AskHerMore campaign focused on asking substantive questions of the women nominated and the women winners, things beyond dress, hair, jewelry and designers. This year there was #SmartGirlsAsk and in the case of Jennifer Lawrence, she came back with smart replies that were criticized by some as rude.

It is worth asking the question if the exchange was only considered rude because an attractive white woman was saying it to a man. Would the same exchange be considered rude if Matthew McConaughey had made them to another man? Or if a black woman had made them to a white man or a black man? Although this didn’t happen, surely it is time to question sexist dynamics in language.

According to Peggy Post, being polite doesn’t mean you are a pushover, smiling and accepting whatever another may dish out. In an article for Good Housekeeping, she wrote that when faced with rude behavior:

  1. Stay calm.
  2. Give the offender the benefit of the doubt
  3. Offer empathy.
  4. Encourage a positive response.
  5. Use humor when you can.
  6. Take it to a higher level.

At the Golden Globes, Lawrence was asked a humorous question: “If you could have an extra body part what would it be?” She replied, “I really want to think about this one. I guess extra arms would come in handy. I am left-handed and what if I ask for an extra body part and I get a right hand? Well, that one is useless.”

This is when, the Spanish-speaking reporter (Juan Pablo Fernández-Feo) asked his question, “How did you see yourself…”

Lawrence responded using Peggy Post’s number five option, saying, “You can’t live your whole life behind your phone, bro. You got to live in the now.”

The reporter laughed and finished his question and got an equally humorous reply. In both cases, other reporters chuckled. There were no gasps of indignation or horror.

Emily Post Institute in its “The Etiquette Advantage in Business”  has a whole chapter called “The Smartphone” and notes:

“One of the ways we demonstrate our respect for others is by giving them our full attention. Divide your attention between people and a device—even for work-related reasons—and you run the risk of those around you perceiving that you have diminished your respect for them too.”

In another chapter, about “The Good Conversationalist,” the institute reminds us that “Looking into the other person’s eyes shows your interest in the conversation.”

That’s something we can all consider: Putting down on cellphones and having an experience instead of recording it. Being courteous in our cellphone and iPad/tablet usage. Conversations online make one wonder if the way one interprets an incident really has more to do with one’s perception of the world. Are you a kind person? Are you a meanie with often ill-intentioned actions looking to find fault with someone. How do you perceive the roles of men and women. If Jennifer had said the same thing and smiled, would it had been better or less effective? If she had apologized profusely for making the request, would that have been deemed politer or more womanly?

Posing the Matthew McConaughey scenario or even the imagining Viola Davis saying the same thing (and giving the hand signal for stop) can be a telling indication of how a person sees women and their role in society. From our House of Geek, Jennifer Lawrence’s comment didn’t raise an eyebrow (Spocks or Lady Mary Crawley’s).

Previous Older Entries


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 621 other followers