Culver City Observer -

I Met The New Meryl Streep

Smart And Spicy


The new Meryl Streep? At 10 years old? That's right. Her name's Mckenna Grace She's delicious: beautiful, intelligent, funny, and already with a conscience. She's been an actress, or an actor, as she puts it, since 2012. She was seven when she starred in the movie "Gifted," opening this weekend. Mckenna dazzles as Mary. Raised by her Uncle Frank, Mary's a happy child; delightful, funny, irreverent. She's bored in school; any genius would be. Her mother was also a math prodigy; she handed Mary to Frank as an infant, then killed herself. Frank's determined to raise Mary as a normal child, to give her a life like everyone has. Frank lets her have fun, insisting on breaks from the college-level calculus she taught herself. But Mary's grandmother wants to cloister Mary in a secluded life spent with tutors, to nurture Mary's genius. Can you say custody battle? How would you raise her? Would you let her be a regular kid, hoping she'll be a normal adult, particularly given her mother's history? Or would you keep her in an ivory tower, completely isolating her from normal life, to nourish her intelligence for future intellectual glory? Meryl Streep did a television special early in her career where it was predicted she would be an amazing actress. Mckenna's performance is as gifted as the movie's title; watching her, you sense she could become the next Meryl Streep. I wondered how they ever found a child like Mckenna. It turns out she's got more experience than many actresses. She's already piled up a great body of work in movies and television; perhaps you'd recognize her as the daughter of the president in the current hit TV show "Designated Survivor." Mckenna seems unaffected; answering questions at LACMA, she was thoughtful and quite playful. How'd she remember the double-blackboard long equation she wrote out in the film?

She actually turned it into a song to remember (she sings it on Twitter.) Mckenna looked cute in her glittering gold Mary Jane's. She's seen the movie three times. "It was so awesome. I got to look at what I accomplished. I got to work with all these amazing actors, and it really made me feel glad that I'm here, and - thankful." I asked her what she'd learned. "That everyone has a story, and they may look happy on the outside, but they may be hurting on the inside." When I spoke to her mother, she, too, seemed unaffected, hardly a stage mother image. "Gifted" is fun, with a splendid cast: Chris Evans, Lindsay Duncan, Jenny Slate, and Octavia Spencer. It captivates. * * * Want to play a board game played for 3,000 years by half the ancient world? A genius of a different sort was in the garden, showing people how to play before giving a talk at the Getty Villa. He was teaching the game personally. "You can never learn a game from a set of written instructions, " he said. Irving Finkel's show-and-tell was eruditely hilarious. He'd flown to Mailbu straight from his day job in London; his work title: Assistant Keeper, Ancient Mesopotamian script, languages and cultures in the Middle East Department at the British Museum. He told me deciphering cuneiforms is one of his specialties. Looking like a wild genius caricature, he wore a wooly three-piece suit, despite the hot day; he accessorized it perfectly with a wild, bushy beard plus gray-white ponytail, looking pretty elegant for 2017 in Malibu. "Call me Irving," he said. Irving's curious in both senses of the word; he's personally examined 130,000 ancient tablets, not once but three times. From 130,000, he found one; it proved the existence of a board game from literally ages ago, which he traced from India/Pakistan to Iran, Iraq, Egypt. "All the great games in the world started in India," he said. Twists and turns inform the story; including a quick spur-of-the-moment trip to Israel to chase down the only remaining link to the game's survival. On a gorgeous Southern California day would you think a talk about an ancient game, indoors, would be boring? Irving told it with passion; he's a charming speaker. "Conversation depends first and foremost on having someone worth talking to."

The trials he went through getting the British Museum to produce it as a game yield insight. "I know all the major board game inventors in the modern world," he said. Harry Potter even came into it; Irving revealed an amusing story about lending his personal chess game, the only one of its kind in the world, so Harry Potter could play it in the early movie. * * * With all the talk of Brexit, it was fun to hear LA's local European diplomats discussing the Treaty of Rome on its 60th anniversary. When they took a group photo it was the consular heads of every European consulate, in the elegant Italian Cultural Institute in Westwood. "The European Union isn't the United States of Europe," said Sinisa Grgic, Croatia's Consul-General. "We have treaties that give us freedom to cross borders, without losing our ID culturally. The idea of uniting Europe was so we would not repeat the past." Everyone expressed hope that from the disaster that is Brexit, good things will come. There was a sense (forced?) of optimism at being able to renegotiate advancements as a result of issues Brexit opens. "This challenge could bring better opportunity," said Antonio Verde, Italy's Consul General in LA. "The thing here is not to tarnish the British because they decided to have a vote, but to find a way to proceed and have them be a partner for mutual benefit." One thing missing from news reports in the U.S. is that Britain never voted to join the E.U. At least, that's what friends told me. So I took the occasion to ask the experts. "I'm just a poor American wanting information," I said. "My question isn't meant to express any opinion." Then I asked if what I'd heard was true: did the British people ever actually vote to join the E.U.? "No, it was misunderstood. There was never a complete buy-in by the British people." That answer, from Justin Hughes, a Loyola Law School professor. "Actually, no, they didn't vote on this." When you read about Britain leaving the E.U., think: Would you like our military draft, economy, national rules, decided on by an entity you must obey, but which you never actually agreed to join? Would Americans ever permit that? (Why do you think we formed our 'more perfect union' anyway?) How'd it end? "Long Live the E.U." one speaker proposed. The whole audience applauded. * * *

"Somewhere Beautiful" is a love ode to Patagonia, set against the personal story of its director, Albert Kodagolian. Screened at the seriously luxurious Neuehouse, the film lets you look at extreme beauty, both in Patagonia and in LA. It's a sort of poem about landscape, and love, co-written and co-produced by Kodagolian. "It's almost like a jazz ensemble," Kodagolian says. "You take a subject, and the love triangle was only part of it. "I wanted to make a personal film. The initial spark was trivial, a premise in the wind: three people in the middle of nowhere. I'm interested in storytelling as a part of healing. "As a filmmaker you have to start by things that fascinate you, and then you want to help everyone's wisdom." Why Argentina? "The idea was to take a claustrophobic love triangle and put it in a really large space, in this stunning landscape, with a theme most creative people can understand and suffer through." * * * An otherworldly game, the idea of Europe uniting, examining how to hurt or nurture genius, the beauty of Patagonia; effervescent riches to think about; a beautiful and sensitive feast. ______________________________________________©Carole Bell 2017 Carole Bell is a writer interested in everything. You can write to her at:


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