I Am Ali

I met Muhammad Ali for about five seconds. I kissed him on the cheek.

In the 1990s, I saw a crowd at the entrance to Chicago’s Palmer House. An orderly group had lined up to shake the hand of Muhammad Ali. In ill health, he was still huge and handsome, but hunched and silent, and his eyes were blank. When my turn came, how could I have only shaken the hand of that beautiful man?

In 2014 the documentary “I Am Ali” was released. It started with the story of a 12-year-old in Louisville, Kentucky who discovered that his bicycle was stolen. He met Joe Martin, a police officer and boxing coach, who told the angry boy that if he wanted to fight the thief, he’d better learn how to fight. Then there was no stopping the 87-pounder, who arrived early and left late every day learning and practicing.

In 1960, Cassius Marcellus Clay won the light heavyweight Olympics in Rome. Returning home, he trained with Angelo Dundee, who worked with him for years. Clay was his own publicity agent, known as the “Louisville Lip.” “I am the greatest…I’m not conceited. I’m just convinced.”

Clay wore a crown to the ring for a fight in England with the popular Henry Cooper, saying, “I’ll beat him in five.” And he did. In 1964 Clay famously went against undefeated Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship of the world. He was the 7 to 1 underdog. He said he’d beat him in eight. He became the new champion — in eight.

Twenty-four hours after the Liston fight, Clay announced that his name was now Muhammad Ali, the name given to him by his leading teacher, the honorable Elijah Muhammad. He will no longer be known as Cassius Clay, his slave name. Ali subsequently refused the draft for Vietnam, claiming exemption as a minister of the Black Muslim faith. He said that this was an unjust and unholy war, and he would not go 10,000 miles to shoot at brown people who had not done anything against us. As a result, Ali lost his heavyweight title, was fined $10,000 and faced a five-year prison sentence.

Ali was invited to lecture at colleges including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, and the University of Pennsylvania. “I’m very flattered in coming here,” he said, “because you never could have made me believe it years ago when I got out of high school with a D minus average. And they gave me the ‘minus’ because I won the Olympics.”

In April 1968, advertising man George Lois thought of Muhammad Ali as “martyr,” and dreamed up a St. Sebastian-type cover. Since this was a Christian, it was necessary for Lois to talk to Elijah Muhammad, who agreed to the idea. George Lois has said the cover, with the subhead The Passion of Muhammad Ali, had a huge impact.

In 1971 the Supreme Court overturned Ali’s prison conviction by unanimous vote.
In 1974, Ali met George Foreman, heavyweight champion of the world and seven years younger, in Zaire, Africa, to regain his title in “The Rumble in the Jungle.” The undefeated Foreman was said to be wildly strong and a bully. Ali said he’d go down in the eighth round. Ali got the title back, at age 32, in the eighth round.
In 1978, Ali lost the title to 25-year-old Leon Spinks in a 15-round split decision, but won it back seven months back in a unanimous 15-round decision. Despite a 1979 announcement of retiring from boxing, there were two more ill-fated fights. He was beaten by Larry Holmes in 1980 and Trevor Berbick in 1981. Ali’s record is an astounding 56 wins, five losses and 37 knockouts.

In 1984, Ali was revealed to have Parkinson’s disease. The documentary includes recordings of him with his children, telling them the importance of these tapes, because they’ll want to play them when they’re all grown up. How right he was. Ali was married four times and had seven daughters and two sons.

Muhammad Ali died on June 3, 2016. I never cried at a documentary before.
Rest in peace, Butterfly and Bee.

Gloria Steinem – My Life On The Road

Gloria Steinem will do a much better job writing this article than I can, so it will consist of her words.

“I always thought of my road life as temporary, assuming that one day I would grow up and settle down. Now I realized that for me, the road was permanent, and settling down was temporary. Traveling had created my nonroad life, not the other way around.

“Like Sky Masterson, the wandering gambler in Damon Runyon stories, I’ve been in more hotel rooms than the Gideon Bible – and he didn’t wash his hair with hotel soap, eat from vending machines, or sit up late organizing with the hotel maids. After my first two decades traveling as an organizer, I realized that the longest stretch I’d spent at home was eight days.”

“Every author also creates a world of her or his own. I watched Bette Midler signing every last book for her hundreds of fans lined up around the block, all the while wearing a perky hat made to look like a piano … Ai-jen Poo, who won a MacArthur “genius” award for her organizing of domestic workers, turned book signings into rallies. No one left one of her events without knowing that living longer is not a crisis, it’s a blessing, that the twelve million Americans over eighty-five will double in number by 2035, that many more home care workers will be needed, and that these workers deserve the same legal rights as workers anywhere else.

“Altogether, I can’t imagine technology replacing bookstores completely, any more than movies about a country replace going there. Wherever I go, bookstores are still the closest thing to a town square.”

[About the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment:] “This long, hard, humorous, educational, angering, unifying, improvised, and exhausting two-year process probably shortened all our lives.

“Across town, a right-wing and religious counterconference – led by Phyllis Schlafly – was getting equal media coverage for accusing the National Women’s Conference of being antifamily, anti-God, and otherwise unrepresentative; never mind that those counterconference participants had been elected by no one.”

Gloria Steinem is a writer, lecturer, editor, and activist. She has received national and international journalism awards, the Society of Writers Award from the United Nations, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. At age 81, she still spends fifty percent of her time traveling.

 

The 2016 Academy Awards

The nominated movies of 2015 were a strange mix and pretty downbeat, so why shouldn’t the Oscars be weird? It’s fun when there’s a little mystery involved with the awards, there’s a mix, and we don’t have a whole sweep. That gets boring.

Chris Rock was an excellent host. He came right out and kicked #OscarsSoWhite right in the teeth. (Is that why he wore a white dinner jacket in February?)

“I’m here at the Oscars, otherwise known as the White People’s Choice Awards. If they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even be here right now. Y’all would be watching Neil Patrick Harris.”

If it sounded loud, looked amazing and was put together in a great and weird way, it was one of six Oscars for Mad Max: Fury Road. That film was the only one that came close to a sweep.

Mark Rylance won a somewhat surprising Supporting Actor for Bridge of Spies after many expected a Sylvester Stallone win for Creed. Alicia Vikander won for Supporting Actress in The Danish Girl.

Brie Larson followed through the awards season with an expected Best Actress win for Room. Leonardo DiCaprio did the same, winning Best Actor for The Revenant after six previous nominations. He made an impassioned speech about the environment without becoming political.

Best Director went to Alejandro G. Iñárritu for The Revenant. It was his fourth win and his second in a row.

Best Picture went to Spotlight. (Yay, it was the one I was rooting for!)

In 2015 there were not exactly feel-good movies. Come on, Hollywood, laugh a little!

“I’ll See You In My Dreams”

Time Magazine recently published its list of their best 2015 movies. There was one I hadn’t heard of at all. Released in May, it starred Blythe Danner and Sam Elliott. How had I missed this?

We meet Carol, watching TV at bedtime with her dog Hazel on the bed. Hazel’s not doing well at all, and soon we see that Carol has to put him down. (Yes, him.) Oh, is this movie going to be a downer?

We then see Carol with her bridge-playing friends (an inspired acting group consisting of Rhea Perlman, Mary Kay Place, and June Squibb, covering the 60s, 70s, and 80s). Director and co-writer Brett Haley said there was not enough attention given to older actors, these were anything but little old ladies, and he was fortunate that everyone he dreamed up for casting said yes.

Carol’s friends want her to get out there – after all, her husband died twenty years ago – but she likes things the way they are. They drag her to speed dating, which is disastrous for her but hilarious for the audience. Carol happens to see a man looking her way, a man who complimented her in a store recently, who’s far more interesting than the pathetic speed daters. Why not, he’s Sam Elliott!

At 72, Blythe Danner is absolutely gorgeous (her daughter Gwyneth Paltrow will never be as beautiful as her mother), and Sam Elliott remains that silver-haired, mustachioed, wickedly smiling rascal who has never stopped winning us over.

The first words she hears from him are “I want to have lunch with you. What’s your name?” That’s a new one. His name is Bill. So was her husband’s.

But another strange thing is happening in Carol’s ordinary life. She has a new pool man, Lloyd (Martin Starr). He discovers her sleeping out on the patio because she discovered a rat in the house. He looks everywhere as a favor to her, then hangs out for a while drinking wine and talking about her past singing career. An unlikely duo, they hit a karaoke bar a few nights later, when she brings down the house with “Cry Me A River.” Lloyd looks awestruck. He sings too. Badly.

More changes are occurring to Carol, as if in small helpings. Her daughter is visiting and trying to be close to her. A tragedy occurs. There’s just a lot to handle.

“I’ll See You In My Dreams” opened at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and was released by Bleecker Street in May in a limited release. (Why?) Oh, that’s how I missed it.

Spotlight

In Irish Catholic Boston, priests were molesting young boys. It was going on for a long time, and it was ignored. Then four people who worked for The Boston Globe did something about it.

In 2001, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) joined The Boston Globe as a new editor. He discovered a small mention about a pedophile priest, John Geoghan, and a lawyer who said that the Archbishop of Boston, ironically named Cardinal Law, knew the priest was sexually abusing boys and doing nothing about it.

Baron met with Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), in charge of the “Spotlight” team, investigative reporters, along with him a total of four: Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and researcher Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James). This was a story for the team.

But they were cautious. This looked like taking on the Boston Archdiocese. Their deputy managing editor Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery) also was skeptical. (His father, Ben Bradlee, had gone pretty far out on a limb at the Washington Post on the Watergate coverage.)

Starting out following one priest who moved from parish to parish, the team discovered sexual abuse of children by priests in Massachusetts and a Boston cover-up. The search grew to thirteen priests. Then ninety. They continued researching, finding people who would actually talk, and came up with a list of 87 names. Then September 11, 2001 happened. The story lost priority.

They later found documents that proved Cardinal Law (Len Cariou) knew about the growing situation and ignored it. They began to publish the story in early 2002.

When a story was printed with a telephone number requesting victims to come forward, phone calls flooded in.

The series of stories won a Pulitzer Prize for civil service. The film ends with a list of cities all over the world where sexual abuse was made public.

Cardinal Bernard Law was reassigned to a senior position of honor in Rome.

The Golden Globe Awards

Award season is improving already. The Golden Globes are a step above the People’s Choice Awards. Then we have the Screen Actors Guild, Grammys … all leading up to the Academy Awards. They’re the ones that count.

Ricky Gervais hosted the Golden Globes. He had done a series of “be very afraid” commercials. He arrived at the podium with a glass of beer, saying “I’m going to do this monologue and then go into hiding, OK. Not even Sean Penn will find me … (sip) … snitch.” He reappeared occasionally, once with a great introduction for America Ferrera and Eva Longoria: “two people who your future president, Donald Trump, can’t wait to deport.”

Matt Damon won as Best Actor in a Comedy for Martian. Comedy? (Will this lead to an Oscar? It wasn’t an Oscar performance.)

Sylvester Stallone brought down the house when he won a Best Supporting Actor award for Creed, 40 years after Rocky was an unexpected Oscar winner. It even had some critical pans. Along with his family, Stallone thanked his imaginary friend, Rocky Balboa, for being the best friend he ever had.

lady gaga gown golden globes 2016Lady Gaga accepted an award for American Horror Story – Hotel on TV. She thanked everyone but her fiancé, Taylor Kinney. There’s no more Fashion Police, but Lady Gaga was the best dressed woman at the Golden Globes, wearing black velvet Versace and covering all her tattoos.

Denzel Washington won the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award, introduced with several film clips by Tom Hanks. He brought up his family and forgot his glasses, so his speech was short. Keep making movies, Denzel.

The Revenant, a movie that was hard to make and looks as if it’s hard to watch, won a Best Actor award for Leonardo DiCaprio and Best Director for Alejandro G. Inarritu (who’s also the writer and producer), as well as Best motion picture drama.

Brie Larson won Best Actress for The Room, also not a walk in the park.

Jennifer Lawrence won Best Actress in a motion picture comedy for Joy.

Then The Martian won for best comedy. Again, comedy?

Taraji P. Henson won Best Actress in a TV drama series. When she reached the stage she growled, “Get off my train.” When music started to play her off she said “I’ve waited 20 years for this!” Maybe playing Cookie on Empire isn’t too much of a stretch?

Here’s a list of the nominees and winners. More awards and award shows to come. I have to go to the movies.

 

The People’s Choice Awards

The 2016 award season starts from the bottom up. We sit through countless winners repeating the phrase “living my dream!” We find there’s a reason the awards are not given to the best, but to the “favorite.” And they’re oh, so important, because they’re voted on by the people. Well, the people often miss the mark.

THE GOOD

It’s seldom that we see Johnny Depp on award shows. He won favorite male dramatic actor and said he was very appreciative “that you’ve stuck with me.” He showed guts being bald in Black Mass.

The best part of the evening was a presentation to Ellen DeGeneres of Favorite Humanitarian. (This, of course, is where the favorite designation gets ridiculous.) She’s given millions for causes including children, the environment, animal causes and health issues. All she wanted was to make people laugh and get very, very rich.

THE BAD

Jane Lynch was a great choice for host, but her humor was wasted on bad writing, and her costumes were not flattering. They were only a step above the track suits she used to wear on Glee.

Favorite network TV drama – Grey’s Anatomy, which long ago outlived its usefulness. Over How To Get Away With Murder? Even worse, over Scandal, arguably the best show on TV? (As the cast goes to the stage, it’s announced that Ellen Pompeo won favorite dramatic TV actress. They save one speech.)

Favorite network TV comedy – The Big Bang Theory, over Modern Family? They’re both great; they’re neck and neck. But Modern Family should still win. Once again, we’re spared one speech. Jim Parsons also won favorite comedic TV actor.

THE UGLY

 It becomes the worst moment of the night when an award is given for a mediocre performance in an uninspired movie based on a truly awful book. Dakota Johnson won favorite dramatic movie actress for Fifty Shades of Grey, based on the book written by E.L. James, who would have gotten an F in Mrs. Feeney’s 11th grade creative writing class. (But it was a smash!! Because of the people!)

Here are all the nominees and winners. Don’t worry. Award season will get better.