Saturday, March 4, 2017

Naivete is no excuse: the play "After the Revolution", by Amy Herzog

After the Revolution, a play by Amy Herzog. Directed by Saul Elkin. Seen at the Jewish Repertory Theater, Amherst, NY.

The central premise is about a fervent young, left-wing, Jewish lawyer who learns from her father that her beloved grandfather, who was blacklisted in the 50s, actually passed secrets to the  Soviets. The revelation has a shattering effect on her, and her relationship with her father. She's furious that he didn't tell her when she was younger.

A good cast, good performances. I especially liked Tom Makar's performance as Morty, the wealthy old leftist, who counsels Emma, the young lawyer to hold fast to her ideals and the foundation she started in the name of her grandfather.

I'm not convinced by the central premise. If we are to believe that Emma is a smart lawyer, how is it that she didn't herself question her grandfather's status years ago? There are numerous books on the subject -- we know that dozens of people working inside the US government turned over information to the Soviets. It would seem obvious that Emma would have questioned her grandfather's activities long before the play's action. Furthermore, we are meant to believe that her father, a leftist teacher played well by David Marciniak, actively deceived her all throughout her life. Were there no dinner table conversations in which grandfather was discussed? Of course. The man we see on stage does not seem like a man who would actively deceive his daughter on such an important subject. The family drama scenes therefore struck me as overwrought.

And what's with the annoying rotating stage? The whole thing creaked noisily like some eighteenth century elevator between scenes. I would understand if there were dramatic changes of scenery. But there weren't -- a few chairs were moved around. Was there some message in the rotating stage? Something about the generations changing? I didn't get it.

Saul Elkin directed the play. He was there, and he looks much the same after thirty some years.


Friday, January 13, 2017

Russian spying then and now, and praisworthy traitors: The Secret War, by Max Hastings

The Secret War, by Max Hastings (HarperCollins, 2016). Tells the stories of the opposing intelligence branches of the Allied and Axis armies that fought World War II, their successes and many failures. Contains many detailed and interesting portraits and stories of spies, double agents, traitors, learned code breakers, informants, soldiers and sailors, ordinary citizens. Often, their stories ended badly for them.

In light of the current controversy over Russian hacking of our electoral process, it was interesting reading about the massive efforts that Stalin and his agents invested in penetrating not just the inner circles of the Nazi German military and government, but of  Britain and the United States -- the Soviet Union's allies from 1941 to 1945. Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt, and other moles in Britain's MI5 fed Stalin thousands of secret documents during and after the war. In the United States, Alger Hiss, Harry Dexter White, and dozens of others in the US government sent crucial details about American technological and military secrets to the Soviets, particularly about the atomic bomb, enabling Stalin to build a nuclear weapon years sooner than he otherwise could have. And Stalin was completely briefed on Western intentions and strategies at Yalta. Hastings asserts that the US and Britain did not invest the same clandestine resources against the Soviet Union until long after the war -- after all, they were our allies. Hastings paints an ugly picture of the Soviet spy system and its techniques. Vladimir Putin and his Federal Security Service (FSB) agents appear to be simply carrying on the work of their KGB and NKVD predecessors, perhaps in a milder form.

Codebreaking is not a glamorous pursuit, but Britain's ability to break the German Enigma machine encryption code enabled British and American forces to read thousands of German military orders and documents. It was an invaluable help in defeating Hitler. These sections are not necessarily gripping reading, however, and the sections devoted to the setup and functioning of the Bletchley Park compound outside of London, where Alan Turing, Bill Tutte, and the other puzzle solvers labored, are a bit of a slog. Yet this work was essential to the war effort.

Hastings weaves the story of the "Red Orchestra" through the narrative. This was a group of Germans who spied on Germany and radioed information to the Soviets. Several Red Orchestra members were communists. They were quite successful for a time. I couldn't help but admire these men and women, despite whatever naivete they possessed in regards to Stalin and the Soviet system. They included two married couples, Libertas and Harro Schulze-Boyzen, and Arvid and  Mildred Harnack. They knowingly risked their lives to help defeat Hitler and Nazi Germany. They were traitors to their country -- so how should we regard them? How do modern Germans regard them? The Abwehr (the Wermacht's secret intelligence branch) eventually caught them. They were brutally tortured and executed.

There are dozens of similar narratives, from all the countries involved. One of the vivid achievements of this book is the complicated panorama of the war that Max Hastings has constructed. He conveys the scope of what was happening, of hundreds of different war theaters large and small, of millions of people in all parts of the world, all of them moving to their own separate, often tragic destinies.

By the time I ended this 558 page book I didn't want it to end. I came to trust and like Max Hastings, and wanted it to continue. Soon I'll pick up his book about World War II, Inferno.  




Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Collage New Music -- Edward Cohen Memorial Concert

This concert was at MIT's Killian Hall, Sunday, February 14, 2016. Collage New Music was conducted by David Hoose.

From the program notes, I read that Edward Cohen was a beloved music professor and composer at MIT's Music department. These memorial concerts have been going on for several years. He sounds like a lovely, talented, and inspiring man. His own piece, Elegy, was part of the program, and I enjoyed it. The soprano Nina Guo beautifully sang the lines, from the poems Eurydice and Lyda, by Hilda Doolittle. It must have been difficult to sing these lines, with the notes and pitches doing all those unexpected things, but she did it very well.

I was vaguely aware in college of a poet named "H.D.", but I don't recall much about her work. Re-reading her poems from the concert, I found that they need lots of re-reading. At least for me. I'm not sure I find her accessible, yet I can hear a distinct wistful voice there.

She had an interesting life. Here is a bio on her:

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/h-d

In the program was a suite of songs by Peter Child, based on poems by the British 19th century poet John Clare. I liked the music, and I had an immediate liking for Clare -- I'd like to get some of his poetry. I found his work accessible and moving. Some of his lines have a strange power, such as these from the poem "I Am":

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life's esteems;
And e'en the dearest -- that I loved the best --
Are strange -- nay, rather stranger than the rest.

Wow. Vast shipwreck of my life's esteems. A line like that could upend your day. What a sad life he had. He surely deserves to be read today. So it was good to have both of those poets, and the contrast between them, providing the texts for some of the music of Sunday's concert.

What a wonderful concert that was. With our friends, we talked about some of the oddities of new music, how it was a very academic-looking crowd in Killian Hall. Here we had Collage NEW Music in 2016 conducted by a silver-haired David Hoose, performing music by 19th century and early 20th century poets, for an audience of mostly over 50ish types. I really enjoyed it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Great Fire, by Carl Ureneck -- the story of Asa Jennings and the rescue of Smyrna's refugees

The Great Fire: One American's Mission to Rescue Victims of the 20th Century's First Genocide, by Carl Ureneck (HarperCollins, 2015).

Ureneck's narrative provides a day-by-day account of the Turkish Nationalist army's occupation of Smyrna in September, 1922, and the halting relief effort that eventually rescued over 250,000 Christians (mostly Greeks and Armenians) from the Smyrna quay. The book details the tireless and ingenious efforts of the American Methodist minister Asa Jennings to organize the relief effort and the flotilla of ships that eventually brought the refugees to the Greek islands and mainland, and safety. I could hardly put the book down. And it's also a difficult book to read at times, with many eyewitness accounts of the horrible atrocities committed by the nationalist Turkish soldiers and bands of thugs.

I was first introduced to Reverand Asa Jennings in Giles Milton's fine book about the Smyrna disaster, Paradise Lost. Ureneck gives us much more detail about Jennings, and fills in the man's activities: his searching the choked and dangerous streets for weak and injured refugees, particularly pregnant women, and bringing them to shelters; his efforts, along with other American and European officials, to feed and protect the refugees; his amazing efforts to motivate and bluff American and Greek officials to orchestrate the flotilla of Greek and European ships that eventually saved the traumatized refugees from Smyrna and its environs. All of this done while putting himself in constant danger. I felt inspired by his courage. Given his small physical stature, his mild manner, and the bureaucratic and human obstacles he faced, it would have been easy to turn him into a mythic character, a kind of unapproachable fairy tale character. But Ureneck avoids that, and describes Jennings instead as a fully realized man with strengths and weaknesses who simply was in the right place at the right time to do great work.

There are many interesting stories and side-stories, especially those involving the official American reluctance to get involved with aiding the Christian refugees despite the colossal humanitarian dimensions of the tragedy. Admiral Mark L. Bristol, the U.S. High Commissioner in Constantinople (Istanbul) comes across as being less interested in saving Greek and Armenian lives and more interested in ensuring American financial interests and appeasing the Nationalist Turkish movement headed by Kemal Ataturk -- he wanted America to be on the side of the winner. The American Lt. Commander J.B. Rhodes, on the other hand, is presented as one of the sympathetic figures, a Navy captain who worked with Jennings, and effectively saved people and provided valuable relief to thousands while struggling within the bounds of Bristol's hands-off orders.

Then there are the horrible events. Ureneck uses diary accounts from Jennings himself, Armenian doctor Garabed Hatcherian, Theodora Gravos, a Greek refugee from the interior, and others. They detail scenes of almost unbelievable cruelty. The Greek and Armenian refugees suffered continuous murder, rape, and looting in Smyrna during those weeks in September 1922 (culminating years of atrocities by Nationalist Turks on the Christian populations of Asia Minor). Greeks and Armenians were effectively deported from or exterminated in what is now Turkey.

Here is an excerpt from Ureneck's account of young Theodora Gravos's desparate attempts to escape Smyrna with her family:

At the corner, she saw a girl who was sitting upright on a pile of rocks...Theodora walked closer and saw that there was a piece of wood that had been shoved into her body from behind to her mouth. It was what had kept her in the sitting position.

This and other scenes almost defy credulity. Reading this as a comfortable 21st century Greek-American, who grew up in secure America, it's hard to comprehend the demonic impulse that would compel a human being to do such a thing to a young girl. But the accounts are too many, from this and other books, to not believe them. And they all attest to the same systematic torture and brutality on the part of the Turkish regime. It's not so different from the cruelty exhibited in today's Islamic State killings, live burnings, and beheadings.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Brooklyn, the movie: is Toibin's novel this formulaic?

Brooklyn, a movie directed by John Crowley, starring Saoirse Ronan, about a 21-year old Irish girl in 1952, who comes to live in Brooklyn. Based on a novel by Colm Toibin. Script by Nick Hornby.

The story of Eilis sailing to American, overcoming her homesickness, finding love, and being called back to Ireland by a tragic death in her family is a good story, one that I felt drawn to as a Greek-American. We found good things in the movie, mainly in the actors and their ability to translate the slight plot into bits of suspense, and to generate interesting questions: will Eilis overcome her homesickness? Why did she agree to leave home in the first place? Does she really love Tony the Italian-American plumber? Why doesn't she tell her mother on returning to Ireland that she has married Tony? Why does she lead on that fellow Jim, who courts her in Ireland? The movie stays with me, and I keep thinking of Eilis and the others.

But mixed in are a lot of frustrating bits, and the frustration centers on the characters and their actions being formulaic and sanitized. No doubt there were kindly, knowledgeable Irish priests who miraculously knew what an immigrant girl needed. No doubt there were irascible, stern Irish women who owned boarding houses for girls who had motherly hearts of gold. No doubt there were church dances as chaste and staid as the ones depicted here. No doubt there were Italian American families who ate dinner (the adults with the requisite juice glass of red wine) that were as polite as this one and had as clever a smartaleck younger brother as this one had (as if the actors got their cues from Leave it to Beaver). No doubt there were moments in Brooklyn where the streets were as quiet and suburban looking as those in this Brooklyn. And perhaps on the beach on Coney Island, there were instances where scattered black families sat on the sand mixed in among white families in 1952 (in my memory, beaches were often the scenes of racial conflict). I could go on.

To put all these formulaic characters in one film, without exploring the dark hard-edged realities of life, is risking overt sentimentality, and undercuts the story. The film often has the feel of being made for television (with the slow, thoughtful pace of Masterpiece Theater). The people are well scrubbed, coiffed, and clean shaven, even at the end of the day. The dresses and pants and shirts are perfectly wrinkle-free and clean and stylishly placed. Always. Just as in television.

I did find some scenes that were endearing and moving. I liked Eilis and Jim Farrell (played by Domnhall Gleeson), the young Irishman who courts her. Eilis comes across as a very practical girl who's trying to figure out what she wants. We found ourselves questioning her actions and motives -- and that's great. Except that what we often questioned was the logic of the story and its depictions. I found myself wondering if Toibin's novel had the same formulaic elements.


Monday, December 21, 2015

The Blue Star: Jim the boy is still a boy

The Blue Star, by Tony Earley (Little, Brown and Company: 2008)

After reading Earley's novel Jim the Boy last year, I eagerly wanted to read the continuation of Jim Glass's story. I think he was eight years old in that novel. I liked being with Jim in the little town of Aliceville, North Carolina -- he was innocent, and his life and character reflected a supposedly more innocent time. I liked him, his single mother (his young father had died before Jim was born), and his three good-natured bachelor uncles.

And I wasn't disappointed in The Blue Star, which picks up with Jim as a high school senior, about to fall truly in love with Chrissie, a girl who has a somewhat complicated past (complicated, at least for Jim). The novel focuses on this young-love drama and its small cast of characters. It's really a small family drama, with Uncle Zeno playing an unexpected role. There's longing, innocent and not so innocent, unrequited love, bad luck, and ultimately the incursion of events larger than Aliceville, when Jim is drafted for the army and World War II.

Jim is young, and he loves Chrissie with a pure sense of self-sacrifice and honor. In fact, he's honorable throughout. I think we wouldn't want him any other way. And yet I found myself questioning the book's somewhat sanitary approach to its characters and their actions. Even the intimate scenes (for example, Jim with his former girlfriend in the back seat of a car) have a kind of cleaned up, abstract feeling about them, as if Earley is writing for a young audience that he wants to protect from messy details. The book verges on sentimentality, without actually falling into it. Earley is a good writer, and the narrative has enough real truth in it to present Jim as a real flesh-and-blood young man.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Constantine -- the first Christian emperor, yet disturbingly cruel

Constantine: Unconquered Emperor, Christian Victor, by Paul Stephenson (London: Quercus, 2009)

Stephenson's account of Constantine's life is deep in detail about the ceremonies and rituals of pagan Roman religion, particularly in regards to its employment in the Roman army. Simply put, the religious rituals of pagan life were essential in shaping and expressing a soldier's loyalty to the army. A soldier publicly swore allegiance to his commanders and mates via the scheduled rituals and deity worship. How the focus of this allegiance switched from the Roman gods to Jesus Christ in the course of Constantine's lifetime is a good story. You had to been very brave to be a Christian soldier in the early days, and to ignore the pagan rituals of your unit -- you could be jailed or executed for that. Apparently, many soldiers quietly worshiped Christ in private while publicly attending the army rituals, an expedient that made the spread of Christianity within the army easier.

Stephenson elaborates that it was not necessarily goodness, humility, and peaceful love of mankind that motivated Constantine's devotion to Christ, but victory and conquest. Before the battle of the Milvian Bridge (in a civil war between Constantine and another Roman general, for total control of the empire), Constantine reportedly saw light in the sky in the form of the cross, with the inscription, In Hoc Signo Vinces or "with this sign, you will conquer". And he did conquer -- he emerged victorous over his Roman and barbarian enemies repeatedly. And he apparently credited his victories to his belief in and acceptance of Christ.

Constantine ended the persecution of Christians in the empire, and made possible the spread of Christianity, which no doubt benefited the empire. Yet this saint was also astoundingly cruel. Throughout his career as emperor, he eliminated his political enemies and their families with murderous thoroughness. He erased all traces of his victims. Did he really order the murder of his young wife and his own son? Apparently so. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, we celebrate the day of Constantine and Helen (his mother). Yet, I can't think of him in a noble light after reading this book.

Stephenson is candid about not trusting the various histories and sources -- many were propaganda tracts controlled by Constantine or his allies, or were the opposite, anti-Constantine narratives by pagan historians. Thus, an intimate portrait of the man never emerges in the book. What was he like in conversation? Was he quick to anger? Did he like dogs? Did he like good food? What were his friends like? None of the details are there, and that's pretty frustrating.

This is a meticulous book, and seems excellent if you want to understand how Christianity emerged in the Roman world. It's interesting to read that the Christian practice of attending to the sick and dying during the plague greatly increased Christianity's appeal, partly because of the moral virtues displayed by Christian doctors and aides, and because those helpful Christians who survived built up immunity to the plague, something which their pagan cousins missed out on as they fled the cities (and thus carried the plague with them to their pagan families in other villages and cities). The book might be a bit too deep for some readers in the details of Roman army camp rituals, the significance of the images on minted coins, the meaning of carvings and plaques. I found myself wishing for less of that, and more about the man Constantine, and his reforms and actions.





Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Broken Glass, a play by Henry Miller that could have been left on the shelf

In September, we saw this New Repertory Theater production of Arthur Miller's play, Broken Glass.

A Jewish woman in New York in the late 1930s falls is mysteriously paralyzed. Her doctor, whom she seems to fall in love with, cannot find the cause of her paralysis. Her husband is cold, and seems to hate his own Jewishness. She dwells on the rising harassment and persecution of German Jews, and we get the sense that her paralysis is somehow related.

It had some interesting themes (self-hatred and Jewish identity, being a Jew in a WASP company in 30s New York) but seemed overwrought and a bit long. The characters seemed stereotypical, although the cast (especially the beautiful Anne Gottlieb as Sylvia, and Jeremiah Kissel as Phillip Gellburg gave good performances with some nuance within the limits of the play). The possible affair between Sylvia and her doctor made me wince. The play does seem dated. I wondered what the intention was in reviving it.

I still have never seen Death of a Salesman.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

"The Full Catastrophe" -- James Angelos's fine book about Greece

The Full Catastrophe: Travels Among the New Greek Ruins, by James Angelos (Crown, 2015)
A belated blog post about this fine book. We read it before our recent trip to Greece. Below is a re-working of an email I sent Angelos. 
 
I am grateful that James Angelos wrote his wonderful book, "The Full Catastrophe". He avoided the sentimentality and attractive cliches about the "undying Greek spirit", "the Greek love of life", and all the rest, and wrote about Greeks accurately, as I have always known them. I felt as if I knew everyone in the book. No doubt, he'll get some flak from some Greeks for the disturbing overall portrait that emerges. I've seen other web reviews that call him a "self-hating Greek", which is absurd. Everything in the book struck me as true. If you love Greece, you love it even though so many around you seem to be gleefully conniving, scheming, cheating, and evading.
I was especially happy to read his pages devoted to the Jewish community of Thessaloniki, and the profound ignorance that so many Greeks express in regards to those lost lives. My wife and I visit the Jewish Museum in Thessaloniki on each visit, and we invariably find ourselves the only visitors.

Obviously, I don't know what Greece will be like in five years, but I think "Full Catastrophe" goes a long way in explaining whichever road Greece takes -- slow, agonizing reconstruction, or more agonizing disintegration.
I did have a few minor issues with the book. After reading about the various clerics in the book, non-Greek readers might have the impression, "Whoah, this is, like, a really religious country!" But in my experience, that's not quite true. There are churches and priests everywhere, and almost everyone seems to superficially observe some Orthodox rituals. Yet outside the major holidays, not that many people actually go to church (not even the rabid faithful) and very few people follow the more rigorous church traditions and fasts. You go to a church in Thessaloniki on an average Sunday and you see mostly some pensioners, and a few younger mothers dragging their squirming kids. Of university-educated people, there are almost none. Of the Left, none at all.

So how much influence does the clergy actually have on the population? Perhaps they have a little more influence lately, during this time of crisis when people feel broken. But I think that outside of a core of conservative faithful, their influence is very shaky.

This doesn't take away from Angelos's excellent descriptions of Prokopios and Maximos and the others clerics in the book; it's simply there is this paradox about Greek religious life -- it is more fragile than it would seem. After all, to me it was a sign of the weakness of the church that Golden Dawn and its khafiedes can appropriate the church's symbols and language of national unity. The clergy allowed this to happen.
Regarding the refugee crisis, I thought Angelos was a little hard on ordinary Greeks who are reacting badly to the waves of poor migrants. Even in Athens, many Greeks are essentially from small towns and villages, with a village mentality. They have no real knowledge of or understanding of the Africans and Syrians and Pakistanis showing up in their neighborhoods. They're aghast and terrified. These Greeks have been largely abandoned by their political leaders, and are now trapped in a steerage with people even poorer than they are. People act out in nasty ways when that happens. Angelos was a bit harsh on these people (though I appreciate his outlining the paradoxical xenophobia, bizarre anti-semitism that has always been part of Greek life -- right next to the famous Greek philoxenia).
There are some Greeks that I wish were represented a little more in the book. They are the ones who want to end the shambolic practices all around them, who want a functioning government, who want to start businesses and run them without paying off an endless stream of bureaucrats and political hacks, who want hospitals where relatives don't have to bring daily meals to their relatives, and on and on.There are a lot of these Greeks, and they desperately want to stay in the Euro zone as the only hope. These Greeks were somewhat absent from the book (and if things keep going as they are, these people will soon be absent from Greece as well, as they head to Germany, Australia, and elsewhere to find work).
These are minor issues. None of it reduces my feeling that this book is a great achievement.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Joseph Conrad's "The Nigger of the Narcissus" -- what matters is the captain's orders

The Nigger of the Narcissus, by Joseph Conrad. Published in 1897.

I don't use the word "nigger" except in the context of referring to its use by others, such as in the title of Conrad's novel, published in 1897. Its use in the title raises some issues worth thinking about. I believe the word had pretty much the same connotations back in 1897, when Conrad published this novel about the African sailor, James Wait, on board the Narcissus, a cargo ship sailing from India to England. I get the impression from the narrator (who is not necessarily the author, Conrad himself, but seems to represent Conrad) that he uses the word because it was in common usage then on sailing ships as a coarse insulting description of a black African. The narrator himself doesn't seem to hate Africans, or James Wait. At the very least, the word was commonly used among sailors in that time. And no doubt, Conrad used the word in the title knowing that it would help draw attention to his novel.

After the initial introduction of James Wait to the crew, I don't think the word nigger appears much. After the opening pages, when James Wait first appears to the ship's crew, the other sailors call him "Jim", "Jimmy" or "James", and the narrator refers to him as "Wait". He is a full character, who pulls the sympathy of much of the crew to him when he falls sick. Given the motley characters and their behaviors on this ship, Conrad does not describe James Wait as having any less a soul than the others, or as inferior to them.

As for the novel itself, I liked it, but not that much. Many scenes are over-long, and the mix of characters seem a bit cliched, as if Conrad had to catalog every type of human behavior in this little universe of the Narcissus. The story is a good one -- how to keep a group of people working together despite class divisions and racial divisions, when their lives are in danger. Ultimately, Conrad seems to say you have to bow to the control of a single man, the captain. And that's all that matters.



Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The play "Saving Kitty" -- Jennifer Coolidge makes it work

Saving Kitty, a play by Marisa Smith, at Central Square Theater, Sunday, August 2, 2015. Directed by Lee Mikeska Gardner. Starring Jennifer Coolidge. With Alexander Cook, Lydia Barnett-Mulligan, Lewis D. Wheeler.

A young woman who works as a TV or film producer brings her fiance, a rising evangelical school principle, home to meet her Manhattan parents. They are not happy, the mother is appalled and she works to end the engagement. This is a decent comedy, but the main reason it worked for me is Jennifer Coolidge. We didn't know anything about her film TV work. As the monstrous mother, she imparted a strange magic to her lines and the character. Jokes that really weren't funny became hilarious thanks to her intonation and edge. She was a combination tyrant and vulnerable victim at the same time. It's hard to imagine anybody else doing the role. It was a very good cast, but Coolidge covered over the play's flaws and made it worth seeing.

I have a problem with some of the premises of the play. The young man character (well played by Alexander Cook) is barely realistic as a committed evangelical believer. He gives no sign of actually having any faith, at least none that is much different from the others around  him (which is to say none). But the real problem is the mother, Kate Hartley. We are meant to believe that she lives by the liberal values of wealthy Manhattan. But that's not what we see. We see a bigoted, crass, neurotic blowhard from the very start. That she objects to her daughter's choice of an evangelical believer seems irrelevant -- her reactions and behavior didn't really make sense to me.





The Minions movie -- ten minutes of laughs at the start, then tedium

We saw the movie Minions (produced by Illumination Entertainment) last week, and laughed hard in the first ten minutes or so at the hilarious Minions creation story -- dinosaurs, slapstick armies, courage, fortitude. But sadly, the rest of the film quickly becomes kind of a bore. We have the three cute minions Stuart, Kevin, and Bob, searching for a meaningful life for their Minion tribe. But the level of jokes never goes beyond the Three Stooges, and never quite reaches the Stooges' level of plot and character (which is saying something). A few laughs here and there, but too predictable.

There's something ethnically odd about the yellow minion creatures. Their names -- Stuart, Kevin, Bob. British, or Anglo certainly. They do end up in England, and there are some Britishism jokes (the tea-drinking Bobbies in the absurd chase scenes, British accent jokes). So what is the British connection? And how come all the people in the scenes are basically white? I think the time was 1965, or thereabouts, but even then, I'm sure New York and London must have had lots of Asian and African faces. Is there some message here about the minions that I'm not getting?