Archive for September, 2014

Map Reading

In February of 1942, Franklin Delano Roosevelt asked all U.S. citizens to go out and buy a durable map in preparation for his first address to the nation following the attack on Pearl Harbor. He wanted to speak to the nation about the challenges facing it just after the U.S. had entered World War II. As he talked in positive, upbeat tones about the victory that was certain to come, a victory that was far from assured at the time, he let us know that we would also face innumerable challenges that would require sacrifice.

Millions went out and bought maps in advance of what became known as the Fireside Chats, and 63 million adults tuned in February 23rd to listen to the president. What interests me is the way FDR was able to capture the imagination of the public and galvanize our citizens into action. Automobile assembly lines were retrofitted and made into naval battleship and armaments factories, women went to work, men enlisted, and the vast majority of the adult population tuned in to hear what FDR had to say to the nation.

It’s unfortunate that it took a war of such great consequence to bring U.S. citizens together, and I certainly wouldn’t wish for any more major conflicts, but I have to confess I can’t imagine anything, even events as momentous as an entanglement in the Middle East, bringing us together in the same way. I see, in my mind’s eye, U.S. citizens, sitting down as a family in front of the ubiquitous radio to listen to FDR, and I imagine the support he enjoyed by the average man. I just don’t see our nation rallying together in support of any cause, and we, I fear, have become rather isolationistic in regard to our interactions with each other.

Leave well enough alone seems to be the motto these days, and I find myself, on this early autumn afternoon, wishing there would once again be more to unite us than divide us.


The Trip to Italy

No indeed, I have not been to Italy yet, though I hope to remedy that in the coming few years, but I recently saw the film “The Trip to Italy,” starring Steve Coogan from “Philomena” and British humorist Rob Brydon. I have not seen the original movie, “The Trip,” on which this sequel is based, but one key element to any successful story is whether you would want to spend two hours in the company of the main characters, and in this case, I can answer with a resounding, “yes.” Their impressions of actors Christian Bale, Al Pacino, the Godfather Marlon Brando, and Robert DeNiro are spot on target. I have heard, however, that many of the impressions are retreads of those done in the original movie and they might not seem as fresh the second time around, and also, there is not enough plot. We learn about the main characters’ individual penchants and foibles, but much of the screen time simply follows them aimlessly around. In some ways, it’s meant to be a meditation on life and death, and a crucial scene takes place when Coogan’s character meets his son and a woman who join them on their journey at a burial site, attendant with shrunken heads, and references to Hamlet.

I was also not particularly taken with the anti-gay slur/attempt at humor in the first few minutes of the film, and found it off-putting. I don’t think two men should feel compelled to justify spending time together or taking a trip together without first establishing that they are clearly heterosexual.

Maybe I’ve read too many plot driven narratives lately–I’ve been immersing myself in murder mysteries as I prepare to write one–but this movie came up short in terms of a compelling storyline. One of the main plot points is that Brydon’s character, doing his best Godfather impersonation, lets Steve know he really, really wants to go to Sicily, yet he abandons this interest abruptly when Steve’s son promises to fly overseas for a familial reunion.

I have to admit, though, that in terms of tone, “The Trip to Italy” succeeds brilliantly, and reminded me a bit of the “Before Midnight” film series, starring Ethan Hawke, only more humorous. It’s worth two hours of time to be entertained by these two engaging characters, but I wish they had drawn more conclusions about what it means to suffer with existential angst.