Sunday, November 11, 2018

Honoring Those Who Have Served on Veterans Day

Honoring Those Who Have Served on Veterans Day

This Veterans Day we mark the the 100th anniversary of the 11th hour of the 11th day in the 11th month of 1918 – the time when an armistice was signed with Germany to end World War I. Though it is always necessary to recognize this date, the century mark reminds us of the abiding significance of the historical day that ended the war after four brutal years of conflict.

Originally known as Armistice Day until it was changed to Veterans Day in 1954, this is a day reserved to honor all those who have served this country in the Armed Forces. Hopefully, you will have an opportunity to go to a parade or thank a veteran if possible.

In my family we always went to the parades because my grandfather and father were veterans of World War I and World War II. Also, both were very active in the local VFW (Veteran of Foreign Wars) post. It is there that I met so many people who served in the major conflicts of the 20th century. I heard their stories and learned to respect what they endured in order for our country to remain free.

My grandfather Fred served on a submarine chaser during World War I. These small, speedy ships were meant to counteract the scourge of the German U boats. These German submarines were devastating to Allied shipping, and thus the submarine chaser played a vital role in limiting the damage they could do.

Pop was never one to brag about his service, but he did explain that life aboard the ship was difficult. Besides being engaged in the dangerous endeavor to sink German subs and remove mines from strategic waterways, living on the small ship involved close quarters for the enlisted men. Added to that was the uncomfortable nature of the bumpy ride, with the men feeling constantly bounced around its small confines.

Luckily, Pop made it home from the war and went on to serve in the New York City Fire Department. He met and married my grandmother and they had three daughters, my mother being the youngest.

Many years later when I was a boy, he taught me his old sailor’s creed: “Red sky at night, sailors’ delight; red sky in morning, sailors take warning.” He talked about his time in the Navy wistfully, but there was a subtle pride as he spoke that made me know how much this time of his life meant to him.

When my mother brought my father home for the first time, Pop delighted in knowing that my father was not only a New York City cop but was also a veteran of World War II. Though Dad served in the Army, they loved sharing stories of their times in uniform, and as a kid listening to them, I couldn’t believe what they had been through and I became in awe of their heroism.

Anyone who has someone who has served in the Armed Forces in the family or knows someone who has served understands the profound debt we all owe them. When they come home, we should show our gratitude to them, and one way to do that is to attend parades on Veterans Day to show support.

All veterans come home with scars – seen or unseen – and it is also necessary for us to support organizations like the VFW, Wounded Warriors, and Paralyzed Veterans of America who are there to help them. Giving generously to these groups is a small sacrifice especially considering that the veterans’ sacrifices go far beyond words.  

So, this year, as is the case every year, I am thinking of Pop and Dad and wishing they were here with me. Their stories linger in my mind, and I can hear the two of them as if they were still sitting there – drinking beers and reminiscing about their time in the service. They never bragged about themselves and what they did, but they spoke of their time during the war with a reverence it deserved.

Thanks for all you did, Pop and Dad, because of your efforts and that of so many of your fellow soldiers and sailors, I can sit here and write this today and my kids and so many other children in this country can go to school, play, and live their lives in freedom.

Last night there was a beautiful red sky at sunset, and I thought about what Pop had taught me so long ago, and I knew today would be a fine one for a parade!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Movie Review: ‘Halloween’ (2018) – The Sequel We Always Wanted

Movie Review: ‘Halloween’ (2018) – The Sequel We Always Wanted

Imagine if all the assorted film sequels that followed John Carpenter’s genre-defining Halloween (1978) never existed. Yeah, I know, that’s like saying there were no Star Wars prequels, but in a galaxy not so far away we could perhaps delete those Halloween sequels and time jump to 2018 and pretend that they never happened. Well, that’s what director and screenplay writer David Gordon Green (with co-writers Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley) does, and it is a dynamic, bloody, and sometimes funny sequel we have waited for these last 40 years.

The premise is that Halloween  (2018) begins right after where we left off in the first film – Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) shoots Michael, he falls off a balcony, and then his body disappears – Michael runs away but gets caught by Deputy Hawkins (Will Patton). In this version of the story Michael gets put away under Dr. Loomis’s care, and his suffering and bloodied sister Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) was supposed to go back to her life and be a normal teenager.

Well, 40 years later we learn that didn’t work out so well. The mature Laurie is twice divorced, alienated from her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), and barely sees her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). This version of Laurie is bitter, hardened, and brutally honest. Curtis inhabits Laurie – the role that made her famous – with such ferocity and intensity that we believe every bit of her story.

Michael – once again played by Nick Castle – has been locked away all these years and has never spoken a word. After Loomis passes away, he comes under the care of Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) whose interest in Michael seems to border on obsession. Of course, as luck would have it, Sartain has been ordered to transfer Michael to another facility on October 30, 2018, the day before the 40th anniversary of the events that occurred in the first film.

I probably don’t even have to tell you that Michael ends up escaping from the transfer bus – allowing dozens of other psychiatric patients to escape as well and wander the night away along a dark highway, and for a moment the eerie scene is reminiscent of something we’d encounter in a zombie film.

The next day back in Haddonfield we see October 31st pretty much unfold as it
did 40 years before. Allyson and her friends are walking to high school passing Halloween decorations on houses just as her grandmother Laurie did so many years before, and it is subtle reminder that many things remain the same in this small town even after all this time. There are teenage rites of passage to be had on this Halloween night, and the characters are, of course, setting themselves up to be right where Michael wants them to be.

We get a look at the dour but determined present day Laurie taking target practice using a crew of ghoulish looking dummies, and we also learn that she has set up her house like a fortress with bright floodlighting and a closet full of weapons. Laurie is ready – has always been ready all these years – for the inevitable day that her brother comes home and tries to finish the job.

Somehow before you can say “Trick or treat” Michael has found another mechanic’s uniform, a huge knife, and the old Shatner mask that turns him into The Shape. Now he is hiding behind tombstones and watching from behind bushes just as he did in the past. Green’s nods to the first film are sometimes subtle and other times hit us over the head – there is even a nice twist to looking over the balcony to discover a missing body – but we can do nothing but enjoy every minute of it.

Michael begins going on a rampage of killing – and you can tell who will be the
victims but that’s part of the fun – and the understanding is that the mask empowers him, enhances the evil in his core, and that there can be no reasoning with something that is pure evil because there is nothing else it can be.

The rest of the way is spoiler territory, but Green does give us some badly needed comic relief. Two deputies talking about the snacks they packed for a stakeout is hilarious, as is Allyson and her boyfriend Cameron (Dylan Arnold) arriving at the high school scare-fest with him dressed as Bonnie and she as Clyde. The funniest moments though are when little Julian (a scene-stealing Jibrail Nantambu) interacts with his babysitter Vicky (Virginia Gardner).

Nevertheless, this story is really all about Laurie and Michael, and any would-be rescuers are going to be taken out in the process. The killer also seeks to kill Karen and Allyson to make it a bloody family trifecta. Laurie’s maternal instincts fuel her desire to confront and finally kill the brother whose memory has tortured her for four decades. Laurie doesn’t just want to defend her family – she needs to destroy that evil once and for all.

Carpenter’s haunting theme music is back and most welcomed, and cinematographer Michael Simmonds gets the mood and tone right in a film that is dark and shadowed in all the right places. The casting is spot-on with even minor characters brilliantly realized, and Andi Matichak stands out as Laurie’s granddaughter.

Halloween (2018) is highly recommended and worth seeing especially at this time of year. Green pays homage to Carpenter’s masterpiece and, while the original is still better, Green’s film comes as close as it can to being Godfather Part One to Carpenter’s Godfather Part Two. 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

A Visit to the American Cemetery in Normandy – Pilgrimage All Americans Should Undertake

I recently visited the American Cemetery in Normandy, France, and as I stood in the middle of a field of white crosses and Stars of David spread out under an American flag flapping in the wind, the enormity of the loss of lives that began during the D-Day invasion – June 6, 1944 – overwhelmed me. I always knew that thousands of soldiers died, but being surrounded by their graves provided an astonishingly powerful perspective.
Anyone who remembers the emotional opening scene of Steven Spielberg’s film Saving Private Ryan will recall the reaction of the aging veteran who walks onto that field and is shaken by the sight of so many graves. As I turned perhaps the same corner and saw the stark white monuments, I started taking tenuous steps forward and felt as if I were holding my deceased father’s hand for comfort and support, just as I did when I was a little boy.
Long ago my father visited the grave of one of his friends – his next-door neighbor – after the war, and took a picture to send home to his friend’s mother. Dad stayed in France until 1946, utilizing his fluent French to work with the forestry service to recover undetonated bombs. He never imagined that the makeshift cemeteries that he saw at that time would become this magnificent tribute to those fellow soldiers who gave their lives.
In part my visit to the cemetery was for Dad, but I also realized how much it was for me. I was fortunate that my father came home, but so many did not, and I wanted to pay my respects to them – to all of them – for my father and for me. Because of those brave souls, the Allied Forces triumphed over an unimaginable evil and saved the world.
The 172.3-acre cemetery overlooks the beaches where the Allied Forces came ashore that fateful day. It would be easy to look across those white sands to the beautiful blue water of the English Channel and forget why I was there; the view was so alluring, but turning around and seeing those graves spanning off in all directions helps to keep things in focus.
Earlier that day I started my pilgrimage on the sands of Omaha Beach, where so many perished that day not only as they stepped off the landing craft but even as they were still on board it. My father was not in the first wave of landings, but as I stood there I wondered what he was thinking as he came off the craft into the chilly water and saw so many of his fellow soldiers dead on the beach and in the surf.
Now children ran in and out of the small waves as I studied the shining war memorial on the beach. Les Braves, created by French sculptor Anilore Banon, depicts three elements: The Wings of Hope, the Rise of Freedom, and the Wings of Fraternity. It is stark and visually interesting, its stainless-steel glistening in the sunshine, and its purpose is to honor “the brave” who came ashore that day to bring freedom back to a continent crushed under the weight of Nazi oppression.
I stood there and closed my eyes, hearing the wind and the children’s laughter, and it seemed that was more than appropriate because those lost on this beach were fighting so that children had something to laugh about and could enjoy life as children should be able to do.
I turned and walked up to the second monument above the beach, my wife and kids following me quietly. This monument commemorates the Allied Forces landing on this shore to liberate Europe. I said a prayer for the dead and felt as if our coming here meant something to those lost. The actual act of visitation is a way of honoring them for their sacrifices for us.
Then we got back in our car and drove to the American Cemetery which is about five minutes away from Omaha Beach. Just walking from the car to the entrance of the visitor’s center gave me a feeling of awe and gratitude. The visitor’s center is a modern facility – opened on June 6, 2007 – that provides exhibitions of related military material and artifacts and displays pictures of some of the 9,386 soldiers killed in the Normandy invasion.
On the lower level there is a theatre and visitors have an opportunity to view films that focus on the D-Day invasion and the soldiers involved in it. The one we watched included the reading of letters home from soldiers who are buried here, and it is virtually impossible not to shed tears as you hear their stories and see their young faces. My children were in awe that the these “men” – many of them 18 – were only a little bit older than they are and were in such a dangerous situation.
Upon leaving the visitor’s center there is a long pathway with the Channel and the sandy beaches visible below. Birds flew above the path and some chirped happily in the trees. It is an idyllic setting that somehow tricked my mind momentarily until the sea of white tombstones came into view, reminding me of why I was there.
The bright white crosses and Stars of David against the meticulously kept green grass provides a stunning sight, and as an American flag rippled in the wind coming off the water, I felt deep gratitude to the men interred beneath my feet but also to France and its people for this sacred place on its soil.
There is also a beautiful chapel in the center of the grounds where we stopped and said a prayer for the dead. A walk down the Central Mall took us to the Memorial and Wall of the Missing – with 1,557 names listed  a stark reminder that there were those lost whose bodies were never recovered after the invasion.
Our visit to the cemetery was emotional, moving, and extremely memorable. My kids will not soon forget the things they saw here, nor will they take for granted their freedom to live life the way that we do. It is a lesson in humility and the nature of sacrifice – so many people pressing forward into a fierce battle so that their loved ones and others could be free.  
Later that day we returned to our hotel in the Bayeux, a lovely little French town not far from the cemetery. That evening we walked the streets, did some shopping, and enjoyed the marvelous cuisine. My daughter remarked that it reminded her of the village from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. There was an air of impossibility in thinking that such a peaceful place had once been scarred by war.  
That night as we all got ready to go to bed, I thought about my Dad and felt he knew we had come there and had paid our respects and was happy that we did. In his later years he had expressed a wish to go back to France but it never happened. I had come to Normandy for him and for me but most of all for my children, because D-Day and the war are long over and many of the men who fought here either died in combat or passed away later on, but their story goes on and we owe it to them to be sure that it is always told.
My children will tell Papa’s story to their children one day and no doubt go back to Normandy with them. All Americans should make it a point to visit the American Cemetery in Normandy at least one time in their lives to show gratitude and pay respects to those lost in the invasion. Because of them we live the lives we live – free to search the Internet, go to school, watch any TV channel we wish, travel wherever we want to go, and think for ourselves. When we see an American flag flying outside our children’s schools, we should remember those soldiers resting in that field in France and thank them because a different flag might be there if they had not done what they did.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Enduring Myth of Endless Summers

As I turned the calendar page to September yesterday, I made a little joke about how it was my favorite month, and my kids reacted predictably with groans of horror and consternation. I told them I was only kidding, but they sulked off to corners of the house to brood as their “free” time period – I count 77 days which is a nice chunk of freedom – is almost over.

When I went upstairs into my son’s room, I noticed that he had turned his Charlie Brown calendar to September. This month features Snoopy, Woodstock, and friends with the caption “Happiness is a new adventure.” I wouldn’t expect Charles M. Schulz to rub salt in my kid’s wounds, but my son had already circled the first day of school in red crayon and gave it an unhappy face.  So much for school being a new adventure I guess.

Ah, how bold my kids were back in the middle of June when their school doors closed and they were unleashed to what at the time seemed an endless summer. School clothes were thrown in heaps and out came shorts and tees and flip-flops. They were hanging loose because it was summer time and the living was easy.

That was then but this is now as they say – their sad faces staring at the word September on the calendar no doubt with images of books, an apple for teacher, and the words Back to School dancing in their heads. Reality – cold, ugly, sadistic as it may be – had hit them like a sucker punch.

Of course, I too bought into the myth of endless summers when I was a kid. I was old enough to enjoy The Beach Boys’ classic album Endless Summer when it debuted, listening to all their great songs like “Surfer Girl,” “Surfin’ Safari,” “Catch a Wave,” “I Get Around” and so many more that could be considered anthems for summer. The album seemed to make the listener think that life was not only a beach but that summer could go on forever.

On the morning of the last day of school, I’d crank up Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” and savor every line, most especially the one about school being out forever. Later that day I’d run home with my mind racing as I thought about what I would do first – or even think about doing nothing at all. That was so enticing and exciting – a notion that nothing needed to get done or be handed in or studied.

When I think back on my summers as a kid, I can recall sitting on the porch in the early mornings reading some great books. I didn’t need an airplane to get away someplace when I had stories that could take me all over the globe or even into outer space or under the sea or to the center of the earth. I treasured those mornings with the wind blowing through the windows and my dog resting against my feet.

The rest of my summer days were filled with the swimming, playing baseball, hanging out with my friends, watching Mets games, and my favorite thing – doing nothing at all. I liked sitting on the beach and just watching the waves, the sun and blue sky above, the seagulls swooping toward the water, and the boats way out near the horizon. I can still feel those moments, so peaceful and precious now, and the best thing was it was before cell phones and laptops and the only thing that connected me to the world was a small radio tuned to my favorite rock station.

Like most myths, endless summer has some basis in truth – we yearn for it and it comes; we hope it never ends, yet we know it always will. Alas, my endless summers always faded. My Mom would turn the calendar page just as I do now, and she would circle the box for the first day of school. I guess I thought it was cruel, but she would draw a smiling face there – unlike my son’s sad one. Actually, Mom loved having us home but also was realistic about things as we were not. I wanted to put off third grade forever, but those thoughts quickly faded as I walked through those school doors so sheepishly – the same ones I had dashed out of so happily months before.

Each school year I can understand how my kids feel because I went through it too. There is still a desire in me now to drag out the summer as long as possible – but now it is because they are home and can be with me the way they cannot be during the school year.

Later in the day as we sat down for lunch yesterday, I reminded my kids of the great summer they had this year. We took a wonderful trip to Europe, and before and after that we had days of going to the pool and beach, attending a great Fourth of July party with fireworks, seeing some of the biggest summer movies, and doing what is still one of my favorite things – simply nothing at all.

One of my best memories this summer was laying on our lounges next to the pool letting the day slip away. My son and I just stared up at the clouds and watched them float slowly by. One was a dragon, another a lion, and so on. 

Then along came a long thin cloud and my son said, “Doesn’t that look like a pencil, Dad?”

I didn’t mention that perhaps that foreshadowed going back to school, but instead I said, “You know what? I think it looks like a snake.”

He studied it and said, “Yeah, it is a snake,” and then his endless summer continued unabated.

This Tuesday the endless summer myth shatters once again, its shards falling silently into the stuff of memories. We will recall all that we did but, as the hectic schedules of work, school, and after school activities commence, it will be easy to forget that happy time as we become subsumed with being on the clock again.

After I go back to work, I will stop myself at some point in time each week and think about our summer. This year I will smile as I picture us walking through Disneyland Paris with my kids’ faces beaming under Mini and Mickey ears. I will remember the scorching heat as we waited on a long line to meet Darth Vader – the Sith Lord from Star Wars who does not give autographs. I will think about sitting in Notre Dame and seeing the kids stare up at the vaulted ceiling in awe. I will remember the reverence they showed at the American Cemetery in Normandy, and the joy as they ate their gelato in the quaint town of Bayeu. I will remember our time on the beach in Cascais, Portugal, and the cool nights walking through Lisbon as if it were a dream. I will think about our watching the Fourth of July fireworks display, going to the beach, swimming in the pool, and watching great flicks. Most of all, I will remember being on that lounge by the pool with my son using our imaginations to make clouds whatever we wanted them to be.

In this way our summer will be endless in our memories, and there is always next summer to dream about. For now, I’m going to listen to “Surfin' Safari” and recall those summers of long ago that still play out in my mind as if they were only yesterday, making them endless summers indeed!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Movie Review: ‘Christopher Robin’ – This “Pooh” Tale’s the Antidote to Growing Up

Christopher Robin, Disney’s new Winnie-the-Pooh reboot, is designed for both adults and kids, providing a cautionary tale for grown-ups and a call to enjoy childhood for all its worth for the children. Director Marc Foster, along with writers Alex Ross Perry and Tom McCarthy, have crafted a film that is faithful to A.A. Milne’s wonderful characters and yet revises them in a clever and entertaining manner that is delightful.
There have been other movies such as Polar Express and Toy Story 3 that have explored the fraying connections between childhood and adulthood, that sad region when dreams start to expire and reality smacks us in the face. It is a most solemn realization that the wonder and imagination that once filled us as kids slowly evaporates, almost to the point that we can no longer recall how we managed to have so much joy from playing.
Foster’s Christopher Robin wisely does not explore the life of the real child, whose father created the most beloved characters of Winnie, Tigger, Piglet, Eyeore, and the rest based on the boy’s stuffed toys. The real-life Christopher’s story includes boarding school and serving during World War II, but afterwards veers off in a direction that would make for a much darker film.
We first see a young Christopher (Orton O’Brien) getting set to attend boarding school. Pooh (Jim Cummings) and the gang are having a party for the boy, and it features a typical round of silliness from the characters, with exquisite CGI making each one seem like realistically stuffed yet magically animated toys. I don’t think it has ever been made more obvious the Pooh and company are toys that come to life.
Once Pooh and Christopher go off together to say true a goodbye to one another, the sad unmistakable feeling of separation hovers over their conversation, and the truth of a parting that is possibly permanent is even suggested by Pooh, who asks if Christopher will forget him. Christopher scoffs at the notion and says, “Silly old bear” in a way that feels more final than it is meant to be.
We then get a flash forward with a cool turning of book pages to indicate Christopher’s move to boarding school, the death of his father, his meeting future wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell), his service during the war, and so on. It is a slick device to bring us up to the present moment in the storyline (which is set in 1950s London) when the now adult Christopher (a terrific Ewan MacGregor) is the efficiency manager of a luggage company and has allowed his work to negatively affect his relationship with Evelyn and daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichel).
During what is insinuated as yet another hard day at the office, Christopher is told that he must work the weekend and find a creative way to save money; otherwise, jobs will be lost and people will suffer. Although Christopher has plans to take his wife and daughter away for the weekend – to the very cottage where the gateway to The Hundred Acre Wood happens to be – he accepts that he must work in order to try to save the people in his department.
This is the first of a series of complications for our protagonist, as his wife and sweet daughter do not accept that Christopher cannot go off for the weekend. When he attempts to explain the situation to Madeline, she tries to understand and asks her father to read a book to her before bed. Christopher thoughtlessly picks up an encyclopedia and begins reading to her to prepare her for her own trip to boarding school, while she disappointedly hides Treasure Island under her pillow.
Once Evelyn and Madeline are off in the car to the cottage, Christopher tackles the task at hand and generates a plan after hours of work. On his way home he sneaks into a park to avoid an annoying neighbor, and here he encounters his childhood friend. Somehow Pooh has traveled from The Hundred Acre Wood through a tree into that London park.
Pooh encounters London with child-like fascination, while Christopher is overcome with emotion and awe that his old toy Pooh was not a long-ago figment of his imagination. MacGregor seamlessly interacts with Pooh and the rest of the gang, and the comic timing he once displayed playing Obi-Wan Kenobi is at the forefront here, and his flair for comedy is one of the highlights of the film.
Of course, MacGregor plays the titular character, but this is still a “Pooh” story, and all the beloved characters get a chance to shine, and brightly at that. Tigger (also voiced by Cummings), Piglet (Nick Mohammed), Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), Kanga (Sophie Okonedo), Roo (Sara Sheen), and Owl (Toby Jones) are all there and are a joy for parents and kids alike, but the most outstanding character is Eyeore (Brad Garrett makes every line a comic gem), the ever-depressed donkey who will make you burst out laughing.
Pooh somehow drags Christopher back to The Hundred Acre Wood in a quest to find his friends. For some reason they are all missing. The Hundred Acre Wood also seems sinister, shrouded in an eerie fog that makes one fear heffalumps or woozles will be hiding behind every tree. Besides being an effective visual, it also indicates the state of Christopher’s mind, clouded up after all these years and making him unable to appreciate life as he once did.
The rest is spoiler territory, and it would be unfair to ruin the fun of experiencing the film. The big questions to be answered are where are Winnie’s friends? Can Christopher help him find them? Will Christopher’s plan save the jobs of the people in his department? And, most importantly, can Christopher repair his relationship with Eveyln and Madeline before it’s too late?
The film makes one thing clearly understood – growing up sucks, but we don’t have to allow that to happen, even though the world seems to be saying “Grow up!” from the moment we are born. As Pooh and company work their magic upon Christopher and the audience, it is difficult not to want to be a kid again.
As someone who grew up loving Winnie-the-Pooh books and then having children who loved them too, Christopher Robin strikes all the right chords, with Pooh and his friends reminding us of what is important in life. I recommend that if you have children that you go see the film with them; the discussions you will have afterwards will make you glad that you did.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Broadway’s 'Pretty Woman: The Musical' – Seems Inappropriate in the #metoo/Time’s Up Era

If you are of a certain age and remember going to see Pretty Woman with the luminous Julia Roberts and falling in love with her like I did, you may have silly notions that a new Broadway musical based on the film would be a good thing; however, 1990 is a long time ago and a good deal has happened since then that makes the idea of a play featuring a prostitute who falls in love with a billionaire (who happens to be her client) more than a bit incongruous considering the current events of the past two years.

Pretty Woman: The Musical stars Samantha Barks in the role that made Roberts famous. I am not sure how faithful the play will be to the Gary Marshall film (based on the reviews I've read it seems that it will be), but the story is that Vivian Ward is a prostitute who meets super rich Edward Lewis (Andy Karl in the play, Richard Gere in the film) and snags an extended job as his sexual partner and companion. It all seemed so simple when I first saw the movie, and the film succeeds due to the chemistry between Roberts and Gere, but now thinking about it there is a salient truth – Lewis pays Vivian for sex and companionship. Since he is paying her she is technically an employee, and Lewis uses that dynamic to take advantage of Vivian physically and emotionally. 

I recall the film being compared to a Cinderella story – as far as I remember Cinderella had to clean, cook, and serve her evil stepmother Lady Tremaine and her stepsisters as an unpaid housekeeper. When she does meet Prince Charming no money exchange occurs, though she does leave a glass slipper behind for him which will be the clue to help him find her.

Other comparisons have been made to Breakfast at Tiffany’s and My Fair Lady (two films starring the incredibly wonderful Audrey Hepburn), but even if you make some connections to the love story in the former and the makeover of Eliza Doolittle in the latter, there is nothing at the heart of those films as ugly as prostitution. Yes, Holly is an “escort” to wealthy men, a New York socialite hoping to snag a rich older man to be her husband, but it is implicitly understood that Holly is more in charge than the men whom she is entertaining.

The problem with Pretty Woman – that Vivian is a hooker and it is a dangerous profession – has always been there, but we drank the critics’ Kool-Aid and went with the notion that this is romance and we were okay with that because in the end Lewis does fall in love with her, brings her flowers on the fire escape, and stares up at her like an older Romeo looking at his Juliet on the cast iron balcony. Audiences bought it then but aren't they too wise to buy it now?

In this era of #metoo and Time’s Up, where women have been sharing their horror stories of men abusing them and sexually harassing or attacking them inside and outside of the workplace, it surprises me that anyone on Broadway thought it was a good idea to develop this musical in the first place. Can you picture the meeting where someone said, “Let’s put on a musical version of Pretty Woman.” What were they thinking?

I know there will be those people who look at the film and the play and evaluate things differently. They will say that Vivian is in the power position, that she chooses her clients and is in charge of her body. No one can tell her what to do or not to do. There will even be others who say prostitution should be legal anyway (as it is in some foreign countries) and what is the big deal?

The problem is that prostitution is a dangerous business; female prostitutes are subject to drug abuse (about 70% use drugs), physical and emotional abuse from customers, obvious health risks, and death (they have a 40% higher death rate than other women). Pretty Woman the movie (and I suspect the play as well) glosses over these glaring problems in favor of making it a comedy and a love story.

So why is this play on Broadway? The answer is obvious – the bottom line is what matters. Judging from generally positive to glowing reviews the play is receiving and the recognition factor of the title and association with warm memories of the film for many people, Pretty Woman: The Musical is probably a lock to be Broadway’s next huge hit. Whatever puts people in those expensive seats, right? The show will also no doubt rack up a slew of Tony Award nominations next year.

I do not plan on seeing the play because it feels inappropriate at this time, and I am certain other people will feel the same way. Unless the show handles Vivian’s back story and highlights the extremely negative effects of being a sex worker, there is no reason to see this play through rose colored glasses that hide the pernicious truth at its core.

In the end the box office will tell the tale, and I have a feeling that Pretty Woman: The Musical will be a huge success. As for me, I’d rather go see Beautiful – a story about a powerful and independent woman named Carole King who was ahead of her time. Now that is a show for this and every other era.    

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Gear Wars – May the Shorts Be with You!

Gear Wars – May the Shorts Be with You!

As a general rule, I wear shorts from the earliest days of spring until the frost is on the pumpkin. This means I can enjoy about an eight to nine-month period of going out in comfort. There is nothing better than going out and feeling an extra spring in my step because I am wearing shorts. Shorts are the best gear for basically everything – walking, running, playing sports, traveling, attending ballgames, and going out to eat.

Unfortunately, I cannot wear shorts to work – most of us cannot – and there is nothing more unbearable than wearing pants on a hot day. There are also those special occasions where shorts will not make the cut. I am going to a beach wedding later this summer, and how I wish that I could get away with shorts and an Hawaiian shirt, but decorum does not allow for that.

If you did not know it, there are objections to people – particularly men – wearing shorts. Writer Fran Lebowitz says, “Men in shorts are disgusting.” It turns out she is not the only one. Apparently, there are a number of other women who have similar feelings.

I have experienced several negative situations about my wearing shorts – incredulously even from a complete stranger. One time I took my son into a children’s clothing store and a shopper who was an older woman looked me up and down and with a sneer asked, “Do I have to see your legs?”

Believe it or not I said, “Oh, I’m sorry.” Later in the day I thought about this incident and became angered at myself for apologizing. Every person should have a right to self-expression, and an important part of that is the clothing that one wears.

What my shorts say about me is that I am in summer mode as much as possible. I like wearing shorts because I connect them to free time, and shorts allow me to have comfort when I want and need it. Of course, I’m not going to wear shorts to the opera at Lincoln Center or a concert at Carnegie Hall, but I certainly wish that I could get away with it.

I do realize that there are some strong feelings about shorts and even a somewhat established etiquette about wearing them. These so-called rules are a bit of a bummer, yet I try to observe them, but feel they stem from a gear wars mentality – why is what someone else is wearing something to fight about? The problem is finely tailored suits are all about rules, while shorts are all about breaking them.

Cargo shorts are my favorites because of what most other guys will agree is their best feature – pockets, lots of pockets! I really do not wish to walk around with my things in a bag and prefer not carrying a backpack. Cargo shorts allow me to put all my stuff in the pockets and walk about with my hands free. The best part is that they have a tech pocket that’s just perfect for my phone.

I know a few people in my family who are not so crazy about my cargo shorts. While I still wear them and withstand their comments, one thing I did take into account was my pair of camouflage shorts. I did like them but they hated them with a passion, so they now languish in the bottom drawer and function as my painting – indoors only – shorts.

Of course, what would summer be without the most essential shorts of all – swim trunks. I love putting them on and heading out to the pool or beach. Absolutely nothing feels like freedom better than that.

I support anyone wearing shorts, and this summer I have seen as many women wearing shorts as men. I don’t know why every man, woman, and child is not wearing them during these scorching hot days.

Everyone should be able to wear shorts everywhere they go, and my great idea that I will send to Invent Help is the Shorts Suit – I’m aware that someone has probably already thought of this, but a guy can dream about spreading the word about shorts freedom and making a little money too. Either way, men and women could go into the office being as comfortable as if they were sitting on a beach and sipping a margarita.  

Come on, America, let’s end these gear wars now. It’s time to throw away your pants and slip on a pair of shorts. Celebrate summer and your freedom from walking around with hot legs. Who cares if people don’t like it when we wear shorts?

It’s summer and the hottest days are yet to come, so go out there in a pair of shorts and enjoy every minute of it.

Oh, and may the shorts be with you!