FLICKS: Ghostbusters, The Secret Life of Pets, Hillary’s America

Posted on 28 July 2016 by LeslieM

By Dave Montalbano

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

It has been a 27 year wait, but Ghostbusters finally appeared on the big screen full of big screen special effects. Despite the endorsement of the original cast-mates (Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Bill Murray, Annie Potts and Ernie Hudson) and mass marketing, the rebooted film failed to secure first place in its opening weekend, losing out to The Secret Life of Pets.

The reviews have been split evenly and decisively, with 50 percent (mostly female) feeling inspired by the film, while the other 50 percent (mostly male) feeling their childhood has been betrayed. It is true that the Ghostbusters reboot lacks the freshness of Aykroyd’s, and the late Harold Ramis’ vision; however, director and co-writer Paul Feig has created new characters that are both quirky and charming.

Professor Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is about to achieve tenure at Columbia University when an academic skeleton comes out of her past. Erin wrote a book about the paranormal with her old friend, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), who now works at a low budget institute with techno-nerd Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). After a series of mishaps involving vomiting ghosts, the three ladies form a unique business partnership.

As the paranormal activities increase, this new enterprise hires a beefcake secretary who can’t type (Chris Hemsworth) and Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), a streetwise cabbie whose uncle (Ernie Hudson) owns a Hearst business. Together, these five individuals confront the cause of all evil in New York City.

The five main characters are the heart and the humor of the film. Kate McKinnon is the most committed to her role and often steals scenes by doing absolutely nothing. Chris Hemsworth is the most broad character. His dancing during the closing credits will keep Chippendale fans in the theater for the final frames.

Like Ghostbusters, The Secret Life of Pets is set in Manhattan. Told from the perspective of domesticated dogs and cats, the audience learns the untold adventures these animated creatures face during the daytime. This film has been the box office champion two weeks in a row. Combined with the much superior Finding Dory, animated talking animals have been the box office monarch for the Summer of 2016.

Twelve years ago, Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 was released with much hype and remains the biggest grossing documentary ever made. Four years ago, Dinesh D’Souza’s 2016 Obama’s America was released with far less hype and became the fifth highest grossing documentary of all time.

Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party is D’Souzas’s look at the next chapter of American presidential history. After four years of increasing terrorist violence in America and abroad, we learn that D’Souza served jail time for making an illegal campaign contribution. While serving his sentence with murderers and thieves, D’Souza becomes more street smart and learns the rules of the con. D’Souza compares and contrasts the “street con” with the Democratic political machine and presents many similarities.

Like a good history teacher, D’Souza raises many questions. He asks why the Republican Party that was founded on an antislavery platform became perceived as the party of racist, rich, white men?

The first President of the Democratic Party was Andrew Jackson, slave owner. Abe Lincoln’s Republican Party opposed slavery. For almost a century, the Democratic Party opposed the civil rights of African American Individuals through the Jim Crow laws.

When the Civil Rights Act was created 52 years ago, it did so with a majority of Republican congressmen, though it was signed into law by President Lyndon Baines Johnson, a Democrat. This historical fact is downplayed in the recent HBO drama – All the Way starring Bryan Cranston as LBJ. From this point of American History, we learn that young Hillary Rodham was a “Goldwater Girl,” the presidential alternative to President Johnson’s reelection efforts in 1964.

Writing graduate papers about abortion-advocate Margaret Sanger and becoming streetwise thanks to the writings of Saul Alinsky, the story of Hillary Rodham-Clinton is simply told. Unfortunately, the simplicity of Hillary’s America mars the journalistic impact of the thesis. Though valid, the historical recreations featuring Ida B. Wells, President Woodrow Wilson, and Bill Clinton feel as broad as a Saturday Night Live skit.

Tonight Hillary Clinton accepts her nomination to be the first female President of the United States. Take the time to see Hillary’s America for an alternative point of view. Pay attention to the upcoming Presidential debates and then vote your conscience.

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FLICKS: Ghostbusters & The Secret Life of Pets

Posted on 21 July 2016 by LeslieM

flicks072116

Dave and Ernie Hudson

By “Cinema” Dave

www.cinemadave.livejournal.com

It has been a 27 year wait, but Ghostbusters finally appeared on the big screen full of big screen special effects. Despite the endorsement of the original cast-mates (Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Bill Murray, Annie Potts and Ernie Hudson) and mass marketing, the rebooted film failed to secure first place in its opening weekend, losing out to The Secret Life of Pets.

The reviews have been split evenly and decisively, with 50 percent (mostly female) feeling inspired by the film, while the other 50 percent (mostly male) feeling their childhood has been betrayed. It is true that the Ghostbusters reboot lacks the freshness of Aykroyd’s, and the late Harold Ramis’ vision; however, director and co-writer Paul Feig has created new characters that are both quirky and charming. 

Professor Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is about to achieve tenure at Columbia University when an academic skeleton comes out of her past. Erin wrote a book about the paranormal with her old friend, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), who now works at a low budget institute with techno-nerd Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). After a series of mishaps involving vomiting ghosts, the three ladies form a unique business partnership.   

As the paranormal activities increase, this new enterprise hires a beefcake secretary who can’t type (Chris Hemsworth) and Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), a streetwise cabbie whose uncle (Ernie Hudson) owns a Hearst business. Together, these five individuals confront the cause of all evil in New York City.
The five main characters are the heart and the humor of the film. Kate McKinnon is the most committed to her role and often steals scenes by doing absolutely nothing. Chris Hemsworth is the most broad character. His dancing during the closing credits will keep Chippendale fans in the theater for the final frames.   

Like Ghostbusters, The Secret Life of Pets is set in Manhattan. Told from the perspective of domesticated dogs and cats, the audience learns the untold adventures these animated creatures face during the daytime. This film has been the box office champion two weeks in a row. Combined with the much superior Finding Dory, animated talking animals have been the box office monarch for the Summer of 2016.

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FLICKS: The Innocents & The Shallows

Posted on 15 July 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

An entertaining big screen epic with efficient storytelling, Hunt for the Wilderpeople expands distribution this weekend. This film is an old-fashioned summer movie that deserves to be seen on the big screen. With his fourth movie under his belt, director Taika Waititi has proven his mettle and will be directing the next Disney/Marvel Superhero movie, Thor Ragnarok.

With a far more somber tone, The Innocents opens tomorrow. An official selection from the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, this film is a European drama told with English subtitles. Whereas Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an outdoor Disney-style family epic, The Innocents feels like an acclaimed Ingmar Bergman drama with deep themes. It is set in Warsaw, Poland in December of 1945.

While performing their morning prayers, a Polish nun slips out of the cloister and seeks medical assistance. After receiving directions from some street kids, the nun enters a Red Cross M.A.S.H. unit and asks Mathilde (Lou de Laage), a French female doctor, for assistance. The French doctor refuses, but later spies the Polish nun on her knees praying in the snow.

Dr. Mathile visits the nunnery and uncovers many secrets under the cloth. The brutality of the soldiers are a given, but the Head of the Cloister hides many secrets that are both hypocritical and life-affirming.

While our local weather has been beach friendly, The Shallows will make one question if it is safe to go to the beach. A modest mainstream box-office success, this film is the spiritual sequel to Jaws that audiences always wanted.

While escaping the grief of losing her mother, Nancy goes to a secluded Mexican beach to surf. While waiting for one last wave to take her into shore, she spots a dead whale. She investigates and runs afoul a man-eating shark. With echoes of The Old Man and the Sea, All is Lost and The Deep, The Shallows presents a showdown between an intelligent protagonist and a primal antagonist.

At one hour and 25 minutes, The Shallows is a simple story with enough visualization to feel like an epic experience. Director Jaume Collet-Serra provides visual clarity with sly use of special effects. As the main protagonist, Blake Lively gives a low-key performance full of intelligence and fear. The director is smart enough to slow down the film’s pace to simply allow his leading lady moments to sit and think. This film is better experienced because of these directorial choices.

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FLICKS: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Posted on 07 July 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

The recent 4th of July weekend was full of outdoor activity. While the motion picture industry posted a modest weekend with Finding Dory, being the weekend champion for three weeks in a row. The BFG earned less than $19 million, despite being the first Walt Disney Movie directed by Steven Spielberg.

Spielberg and his colleague George Lucas [supposedly] predicted this Hollywood box office implosion approximately three years ago. This implosion is very similar to the 1960s, in which major Hollywood Studios were losing money producing movies like Hello Dolly and Cleopatra, while young independent cinema earned larger profit margins with films like Easy Rider, Midnight Cowboy and American Graffiti. Everything old is new again.

Opening this weekend in neighborhood cinemas is Hunt for the Wilderpeople, an independent film from New Zealand. The most recognizable face is that of Sam Neill of Jurassic Park and The Piano fame. The most talked about actor from this wild independent film will be that of young Julian Dennison, who portrays the misfit Bobby.

Told in multiple chapters, this film opens with Ricky being deposited on a farm by a social worker. The troubled boy is treated warmly by the matriarch of the house, but he is kept at a distance by the curmudgeon Hec ( Neill). For a few idyllic months, Ricky is treated like a little boy, until the mother figure dies unexpectedly.

Not wanting to return to the cement jungle of his younger days, Ricky fakes his death to go live in the forest. Given that his bravado was formed by absorbing too much American pop culture, Ricky confuses fantasy with reality and is rescued by Hec.

While Hunt for the Wilderpeople has several serious scenes, this film is full of confrontational humor. When Hec first rescues Ricky, the hungry boy hallucinates that he is talking to a giant hamburger. Throughout this rites of passage film, we see the growth of two disparate people who grow to genuinely love and respect each other.

While there has been much good word of mouth for The Secret Life of Pets, which opens this weekend with full Hollywood marketing hype, the Hunt for the Wilderpeople is not as visible but is worthy of seeking out. Director (and co writer) Taika Waititi will be a name to reckon with in the box office future.

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FLICKS: The BFG & Independence Day: Resurgence

Posted on 30 June 2016 by LeslieM

flicks063016By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

It has been 34 years since director Steven Spielberg released his 6th motion picture, E.T. the Extraterrestrial, whose box office gross made him the King of Summer blockbusters. At the time, Harrison Ford was dating Melissa Mathison, who wrote the screenplay for E.T. When Mathison fell ill, Spielberg reviewed some of her screenplays and was impressed by her adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The BFG, which was published in 1982, the same year that E.T. the Extraterrestial was released. While best known for his dark children’s novels like James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dahl’s The BFG confronted an emotion he was unfamiliar with — sentimentality. The diverse collaboration between Dahl, Mathison and Spielberg has created a fine motion picture based on a book.

Sophie (Rudy Barnhill) is an orphan with insomnia. One night, she spots a giant (Mark Rylance) roaming the streets of London. Fearing reprisals from humans, the giant abducts Sophie and takes her to his hovel. Fearful at first, Sophie develops a kinship with the giant, who she names “BFG” — short for Big Friendly Giant.

Sophie learns that BFG is actually the runt of the giants and that he is frequently bullied by his brethren. When the mean giants get too aggressive, BFG plans to return Sophie to the orphanage. However, Sophie has another idea and it involves meeting the Queen of England.

Being Spielberg’s first Walt Disney movie, The BFG is pure family entertainment. There is fantastic cinematography that is spiritually enhanced by John Williams’ musical score. There are scary moments, but not scary enough to induce nightmares. There are subtle moments of humor, with a whizzpopping belly laugh that builds to absurd levels. The BFG is a good afternoon escape from the summer heat.

A sequel 20 years in the making, Independence Day:Resurgence opened last weekend with disappointing box office. While the sequel does provide the science fiction community their jollies, the film is not as good as the predecessor.

With reference to the fictional events of 1996, Jeff Goldblum and Madame President (Sela Ward) learn that the aliens are planning a counterattack. They recruit the children of the heroes from the first movie to fly into danger. Things go wrong when the aliens unleash a secret weapon. Cliches abound. One cliche involves sacrificial death. With a swelling musical score, this dramatic scene feels false; the sacrificial death proves meaningless.

The best part of this film features Goldblum and Judd Hirsch’s kvetching father. The bantering between the two feels real with much humor and humanity.

Happy 4th of July!

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FLICKS: The Music of Strangers & Finding Dory

Posted on 23 June 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

There is a strong disconnect from what I see on television news and what I am witnessing at the local movie theaters. While headline news is simply atrocious with rhetoric that can be found in either The Book of Amos or The Book of Revelations, at the cinemas, I see happy people attending happy movies.

Opening tomorrow, The Music of Strangers features cellist Yo Yo Ma assembling his “Silk Road Ensemble,” a collection of international musicians who bring forth their own cultural artistry. Formed in the year 2000, the subject of the 9/11 terrorist attacks is presented, but this tragedy is not exploited. This film talks about cultural understanding through the international language of music.

In this 15 year artistic odyssey, Yo Yo Ma travels through China, Iran and Spain, countries that introduced Western Civilization to Asian culture in the 15th Century. After this cross cultural exchange of goods and services, “Silk Road Ensemble” is an appropriate name for Yo Yo Ma’s band of musicians. We watch and listen to these fine craftsman express themselves with familiar instruments like a cello, banjo or a clarinet. Yet, we are also introduced to the indigenous sounds of instruments like the Chinese pipa and the Persian kamancheh. After watching these individuals perform and party backstage, you may feel better about the world.

When Finding Nemo was released 13 years ago, I was told that a mother was upset at the violence that Nemo and his father endured in the film’s opening. Now that the child is college age, I wonder how that individual is now holding up.  Unlike Finding Nemo, Finding Dory does not open with the death of a parent, but this sweet movie does provide some scary moment about loneliness and alienation.

This new Walt Disney Pixar motion picture opens with a close-up of big-eyed baby Dory, who announces her name and that “she has a short-term memory problem.” We are then introduced to Dory’s loving parents (voiced by Kate McKinnon and Bill Hader), who are teaching their special needs child. Dory becomes lost and spends the rest of the movie trying to remember why her parents are so important.

Finding Dory is that simple of a movie. Yet the film is rich with character development and emotional resonance. Dory (perfectly voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) is such a vulnerable character, yet one is surprised by the strength she has gained through listening to her inner voice.

Dory’s charm forges a relationship with Hank the Octopi (Ed O’Neil), a streetwise curmudgeon with three hearts of gold. Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (voiced by a new child actor) both return in supporting roles.

What is so unique about the documentary The Music of Strangers and the animated film Finding Dory is the lack of villains in both movies. In today’s popular entertainment culture, it is refreshing to see individuals overcoming challenges by simply being themselves.

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FLICKS: Wedding Doll, Genius & The Conjuring 2

Posted on 16 June 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

Spoken in Hebrew with English subtitles, Wedding Doll opens tomorrow in local cinema. It is a quirky drama about growth that is both tragic and humorous. Hagit is a young woman with learning disabilities who works in a toilet paper factory. She is courted by the boss’s son, much to Hagit’s mother’s disapproval. Filmed in Israel with cinematography echoes of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, Wedding Doll is a dry movie with a lively performance from Moran Rosenblatt as Hagit.

Genius opens tomorrow with Colin Firth headlining an all star cast as Max Perkins, the famed book editor of Scribner’s Publishers. Jude Law portrays Thomas Wolfe, a frail genius in the mode of Max Perkins’ previous clients: Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce).

To the shock of many box office experts, the relatively low budgeted The Conjuring 2 was extremely successful last weekend. A worthy follow up to the original film, this sequel presents the further adventures of Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga), a paraprofessional married couple in league with the Roman Catholic Church.

After wrapping up their investigation of the Amityville Horror in Long Island, Lorraine has a vision about her husband’s death. Feeling apprehensive, Lorraine wants to avoid getting involved with any future exorcisms. However, when the Hodgson family in London encounter an old man poltergeist, the Roman Catholic Church recruit the reluctant Warren family to investigate.

Due to their father’s departure, the Hodgson family recently moved into this London flat. Daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe) is taking it the hardest. She sleepwalks, is frequently ill and has nightmares. At first, Mother Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) dismisses Janet’s problems, until she witnesses paranormal activity in her other children.

Director James Wan knows how to tell a story. With a minuscule budget, Wan helped create the Saw and Insidious series of movies, terror tales that feature a dose of human compassion. Including The Conjuring series, Wan’s movies rely on tried and true suspense techniques. Each film builds to successful payoff, one that does not rely on blood explosions induced by computerized special effects.

With a confident hand, Wan directs a scene with Patrick Wilson that could have become maudlin. Learning that the family used to enjoy listening to Elvis Presley albums, the Warrens purchase the Blue Hawaii soundtrack. Given the poltergeist’s tampering with the electronics, Ed Warren picks up an acoustic guitar and entertains the family. Between the previous scares and future shocks, this musical scene creates an intimate moment between the family and the human audience.

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FLICKS: L’Attesa (The Wait) & Alice Through the Looking Glass

Posted on 09 June 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

L’Attesa (The Wait) opens tomorrow at the Living Room Theater on the FAU campus. Purely an art house drama with serious themes, L’Attesa is based on a play and a short story written by Sicilian legend Luigi Pirandello. The film stars Juliette Binoche as the matriarch of a mansion by the sea.

The film opens with Anna (Binoche) attending a funeral and returning to her lonely mansion. The phone rings and echoes through the halls. It is Jeanne (Lou de Laage), the girl friend of Anna’s son, Guiseppe. Jeanne and Guiseppe made plans to meet at Anna’s mansion for the Easter holiday.

The film is a slow paced mystery, full of haunted imagery. Owing a debt to Classic Neorealism of Italian cinema, director Piero Messina melds a modern interpretation of a Pirandello tragedy. The experienced craft of Binoche and fresh talent of Laage form a strong working partnership. See L’Attesa with a friend and discuss the film over a glass of red wine.

Grief is a hard sale for the summer box office season, especially when it is based on classic children’s literature, which might explain why Alice Through the Looking Glass is tanking at the box office. Throw in bad publicity from a cast mate and this has already become Walt Disney Studio’s biggest bomb of 2016. Sadly, it is a superior sequel to the origin film six years ago.

Alice (Mia Wasikowska) has become a successful sea captain because she believes the only way to accomplish the impossible is to believe it is possible. However, when Alice returns home, she learns that her mother is in financial distress. Realizing that her mother’s dilemma was caused by her actions in the previous movie, Alice follows a blue butterfly (voiced by the late Alan Rickman) into a mirror, which is a portal to Wonderland.

Once in Wonderland, Alice learns that her best friend Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) suffers from melancholia. With the aid of the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), Tweedledee & Tweedledum (Matt Lucas), the Dormouse and the White Rabbit, Alice must steal from Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) and battle the vengeful Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). This imaginative flight of fancy will amuse art patrons who enjoy Impressionism and Surrealism with Steampunk motifs.

While dealing with darker themes, Alice Through the Looking Glass is an entertaining motion picture that I wished I saw on the IMAX’s five-storey screen. Stick around for the end credits in which a loving tribute is provided to the late Alan Rickman.

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FLICKS: To Life! and X-Men: Apocalypse

Posted on 02 June 2016 by LeslieM

By Dave Montalbano

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

To Life! opens tomorrow in neighborhood theaters. A German movie (Auf das leben!) with English subtitles, To Life! is about two misfits who are separated by generational gaps, but united by personal pain and loss.

Ruth (Hannelore Elsner) is a troubled senior with a past. A victim of the Nazi Holocaust, Ruth was a popular cabaret singer in post-war Berlin. After a rocky start, Ruth befriends Jonas (Max Riemelt), a troubled man on the run. As these two lost souls confront their problems, both individuals find simple healing.

At 86 minutes, To Life! feels epic, especially during some clever flashback scenes featuring young Ruth (Sharon Brauner). Once the climax is reached, the film wraps up with sweet denouement that will make one toast “L’Chaim!”

It has been 16 years since Bryan Singer directed the first X-Men movie, a film hailed as the most realistic comic book movie of all time. Now Singer has closed out the second X-Men trilogy, and there is a sense of diminishing returns.

There is an attempt to make X-Men: Apocalypse a stand-alone movie, but the weight of five X-Men movies, two Wolverine movies and one Deadpool film constricts the narrative momentum. With X-Men: Apocalypse, the production staff reaches back to Biblical times to create a villain, En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), an ancient one who recruits the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Of course, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are mutants, most notably former X-Men teammates Storm (Alexandra Shipp, replacing Halle Berry) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender).

While running the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters, wheelchair bound Professor X (James McAvoy) attempts to prevent the end of the world in 1983. Professor X reunites with Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), who served on the X-Men team during the Cuban Missile crisis and end of the Vietnam War.

With Hugh Jackman providing a cameo to set up his final Wolverine movie, X-Men: Apocalypse is a montage of superheroes performing their own unique talents: Mystique is a chameleon, Magneto controls metal and Professor X thinks.

Despite a critical drubbing, this film was the Memorial Day weekend box office champion. It is not a bad film, but it simply feels tired.

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FLICKS: Ma Ma, Weiner & PBS Memorial Day Concert

Posted on 26 May 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

With The Voice and Dancing with the Stars ending their respective seasons this week, only the NBA Basketball and NHL Hockey playoffs are providing reality television competition. Alice Through the Looking Glass and X-Men: Apocalypse will fill the big screens this weekend; however, two distinct and intimate movies are opening tomorrow with less promotion: the documentary Weiner and the Spanish movie Ma Ma.

Penelope Cruz gives a charismatic, truthful and fully naked performance as Magda, the protagonist of Ma Ma. In fact, the actress is seen topless receiving a routine breast examination. When the gynecologist (Asier Etxeandia ) orders more tests, we learn that Magda has cancer in her right breast.

Magda accepts the results with courage; she is busy dealing with the recent separation from her husband while taking her son, Dani (Teo Planell) to soccer matches. Between bus rides to her chemotherapy treatments, Magda meets Arturo (Luis Tosar), a man of constant sorrow.

With such a plot synopsis, Ma Ma might seem like a stereotypical Spanish melodrama. However, writer/director Julio Medem has created a movie that promotes the culture of life. These dark themes are offset by beautiful cinematography and Penelope Cruz’s life-affirming performance. This beautiful actress allows herself to look weather-beaten; yet, her eyes radiate a spiritual value beyond the physical.

Former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner deserves no award, as witnessed in the documentary Weiner, which also opens tomorrow in local cinemas.

Anthony Weiner was disgraced when he Tweeted a sexually explicit photo of himself to an adult female Twitter follower. The Tweet went viral, scandal ensued and Weiner resigned from Congress.

Perhaps the scandal would have faded as a political footnote, but he decided to run for Mayor of New York. Inviting a documentary camera crew along with him, Weiner faces additional political bombshells as more is revealed about his repeated exhibitionist behavior. Weiner is a case study of political narcissism, with cameos from Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

If today’s political climate is too depressing to watch, take time to watch the PBS National Memorial Day Concert hosted by Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinise. It features entertainment provided by The Beach Boys, Trace Adkins and Renée Fleming, who gladly play second fiddle to the American Military Veterans. Thank a Veteran this Memorial Day Weekend!

 

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