Are You Not Entertained?

BOOKS 

Tom Hanks optioned the rights to Erik Larson’s nonfiction bestseller, In the Garden of Beasts six years ago with intentions of starring in the historical adaptation. Add to that rumors of securing Natalie Portman to the cast with Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) as the director. What’s it all about? Chicago historian William Dodd passes the interview with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and becomes the American ambassador in Berlin in 1932. Dodd thinks it will be a simple job that allows him the time to be with his family and complete his historical research regarding the Old South. Instead, he walks right into the wasp’s nest as Hitler gains momentum and the insipid Nazi agenda poisons Berlin. It’s his beautiful daughter Martha that makes the story fascinating as her sexual promiscuity with Nazi leaders becomes the source of malcontent and disenchantment. I loved Erik Larson‘s The Devil in the White City. This one is just as good, if not better because it focuses on the American family trapped and pawned by leaders on both sides of the Atlantic. Highly recommend. 4.5/5.

MOVIES

Other than a bunch of Gene Hackman films for which I’ll get to posting about soon, these recent films entertained me:

The Shape of Water (2017) It’s an adult fantasy film. Don’t take your kids. Who doesn’t like a love story? Even if it’s with an amphibian? If you love Pan’s Labyrinth, you will probably enjoy the latest contribution by Mexican director/writer Guillermo del Toro Gómez. Set in 1962, the mute Eliza works as a cleaning lady at a hush-hush government facility ruled over by the sinister Strickland played perfectly by Michael Shannon. Eliza comes in contact with “the asset” and their friendship grows into love. Octavia Spencer played her character Zelda with snappy one-liners we all love, but the best acting performance goes to character actor Richard Jenkins as Eliza’s neighbor and closet homosexual. The ending may be predictable, but there’s abundant charm that outweighs the incredible scenes that ask the audience to play along. Magical Realism is fun. With the right mindset, you will enjoy the fable. Best detail: Eliza trails water on a bus window and the water takes shape. The poem at the close of the story is beautiful. 4/5.

The Last Jedi (2017) I liked it because they smartly melted enough of IV into the VIII to feel the roots of the saga. For example, it was nice to see Yoda again. I remember having a crush on Luke Skywalker in 1977 when he stood on that rock and looked at the sunset and his face turned orange with his name song in the background. John Williams, you are still the supreme manipulator of emotions! To see Luke do it again, different rock, a sunset, and his song, well, the 13-year-old in me shed a tear. It took me half the film to decide if the character wearing the foxy brown suit with the purple hair played by Laura Dern was a good guy or a bad guy (lady). I usually like contrasts, but my biggest flaw with all the Star Wars movies is “they” include all the cool technology and high vernacular that only an engineer would understand and then follow up that dialogue with a corny one-liner. It never felt right to me. That, and the puppets now have turned CGI, but they were never convincing. Frog nuns. Hmmm. 4/5

 The Meyerowitz Stories (2017) American comedy-drama film directed and written by Noah Baumbach (Francis Ha and Wes Anderson collaborations). The film stars Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Elizabeth Marvel and Emma Thompson. It’s popular to hate Adam Sandler, but when the man isn’t doing stupid comedy and sticks to dark, he’s very good at it. There’s a lot to love about this movie from Emma Thompson‘s hippy-drunk wife to the perfectly annoying patriarch, Dustin Hoffman, giving a convincing performance and supported by everyone in the cast. Want smart and realistic dysfunctional? You’d like this dark comedy about siblings learning to overcome and tolerate their overbearing father. 4.5/5.

Are You Not Entertained?

Here resumes a monthly recap of better music, books, films, and television that entertained me. 

MUSIC

We’ve had a lot of visiting relatives this past month, and Neil Young seemed to be the background noise for much of it. At one point, I actually got tired of listening to him. But he is a staple in our home, and with healthy intermissions, I enjoy listening to his albums. He’s a fun one to mimic with those notes delivered at the back of the throat. He is a mood-setter. In my world, there’s nothing better than sitting by a fire outdoors or in, with wine and Neil singing in the background. How do you pick a favorite? This love ballad released in 1992 never grows old.

BOOKS 

 

Who was the first woman to obtain a glider pilot’s license? Anne Morrow Lindbergh. That’s understandably overshadowed by her husband’s accolades. The most famous man in the world in 1927, Charles Lindbergh landed his Spirit of St. Louis near Paris and completed the first solo airplane flight across the Atlantic. She was his co-pilot literally and figuratively throughout their 45-year marriage. Author Melanie Benjamin‘s historical fiction account is a refreshing twist showcasing the complicated life of the couple from Anne’s perspective. It is a novel full of intrigue, adventure, and scandal without sounding like a soap opera. Melanie Benjamin keeps the narrative cool enough to avoid melodrama, but close enough for the reader to feel like they’re privy to the introverted couple, and it is easy to care for Anne in her unique position. The Aviator’s Wife is gracefully written, entertaining novel. 4/5.

Edward Rutherford’s books are fun history. New York follows the chronological format as the other novel of his I read, The Princes of Ireland. Rutherford created an epic by placing fictional characters that represented a class or social group and placed them into historical events. My favorite section in New York was the July 1863 New York City draft riots. A husband tried to find his abolitionist wife who faced a mob who wanted to kill the African American orphans at her school. I kept thinking about Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York when I read this part of the novel; not too surprised to realize I liked the book version more. 4/5. 

TELEVISION

I didn’t like it–I loved every episode including the cool intro music and artwork. Why? I’m a fan of 20th Century social history especially of film. Plus, I think it’s peculiar–America’s obsession with movie stars and the interworkings of making a movie. Although Susan Sarandon portrayed Bette Davis and Jessica Lange depicted Joan Crawford with admirable effort, the most convincing performances went to the entire supporting cast notably Stanley Tucci as Jack L. Warner, Alfred Molina as Robert Aldrich, and Jackie Hoffman as Mamasita. The 8 episode series juggled two stories–the actual feud between Davis and Crawford (I love Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? so the drama behind the film attracted me.) The other story was the Hollywood climate surrounding the casting couch and the manipulative power of male movie moguls. By the end of the series, I had an itch to explore director Robert Aldrich’s filmography.

Movies 

I’ve seen a lot of films lately, especially starring Gene Hackman, but for this post, I picked a pair that had me thinking and feeling.

Predestination(2015). This is a mind-bending, science fiction thriller film written and directed by Michael and Peter Spierig with screenplay help by Robert A. Heinlein.  Time travel is an easier concept to play out in books than in films because the price asked for the suspension of disbelief is high. In books, your imagination fills in the holes while not so at the movies. In this story, agent (Ethan Hawke) embarks on a final time-traveling assignment to prevent an elusive criminal from launching an attack that kills thousands of people. A fine performance by Hawke, but the show goes to the creative performance by Sarah Snook. It’s one I’d watch again. 4/5.

Wind River (2017).  It’s a mystery, crime thriller that personifies the cold, spring of Wyoming on an American Indian reservation. A daughter is raped and runs six miles in her bare feet across the winter landscape. A pretty FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) arrives to investigate, ill-suited but determined to solve the mystery, and teams up with wildlife officer Lambert (Jeremy Renner). Despite the somber premise, the movie is moving because the theme of loss permeates all the characters and is allowed to surface in a way that is harmonic with the whispering wind and frozen landscape and a satisfying resolution. It is a strangely beautiful film. Plus, if you want to see a pair from Dances with Wolves, Graham Greene and Tantoo Cardinal were a sight for sore eyes. Actor Gil Birmingham returns from Hell or High Water (2016) to give the best performance of the film as the grieving father. Director and writer Taylor Sheridan is fast becoming a favorite with Sicario (2015), and Hell or High Water (2016) to his credit. He seems to be carrying a freshly-lit torch as writer and director of the post-modern Western. Taylor Sheridan’s ability to make the natural setting an integral part of the plot and his willingness to let an ensemble cast have lines and scenes that foster true characterization are reminiscent of the Coen Brothers. 4.2/5.

IMO: Welcome to My World

There’s a part of me that feels like I’ve cast myself into the tundra, face first into the arctic blast, alone, as I now live inside my head, writing and editing this second novel. On one hand, that’s how much I miss blogging. Denying myself the fun of sharing thoughts about films, culture, books, and camera angles from my side of the world. Who knew your cheery comments and fun conversations would come to mean so much?

The maudlin side of me put aside, like a stashed cigarette secretly smoked, I have secretly read your posts but haven’t commented, but you all seem fine and well.

Das Buch:   Weimar Germany and the depravity of Berlin. The cabarets, the darkness of sin, drugs, and Bessie Smith. Poor George Hero, my anti-hero bordering on an unreliable narrator, has had a rough time of it since WWI.  I’ve been listening to Philip Glass while I write, and I am glad to report this first part of the novel is completed because Philip Glass wears on my nerves and depresses me, but he seems perfect for putting me in the right mood to represent the dark. In contrast, as if emerging from a cave at noon, the next part of the novel takes place in good ‘ole sunny Arizona. Sally is the feisty young copper cutie, a dancer, who dreams of becoming a Ziegfield girl and star on the Hollywood stage.  She will need her chutzpah to survive the invasive force of her mother. She is cast as an extra in a western. She is determined to become indispensable and befriends Zane Grey and Gary Cooper.  She has a needy friendship with Kay the Hopi Indian, who is a chameleon, sometimes seen as female, sometimes as male, sometimes as Apache, and sometimes she hears the whispers of her mother and sisters wanting her to remember the Hopi way. Meanwhile, she is the recipient of the elaborate gold-plated pistol, hollowed and filled, with the means by which she can free herself from her past, present and have a say about any sort of future. To what extreme will George reclaim the pistol from Kay?

As teacher:  After 18 years, I am counting down the final eight so I can retire. I know it’s a sin to wish your life away–just the working part of it. It’s hard not to this time of year. Spring is the time the drama begins. The school year is drawing to a close. State testing has students restless and apathetic.  Juniors are applying to colleges and seniors have emotionally left high school and await graduation. Teachers are tired and resigned what they are trying to sell in the classroom no one is buying. Teachers compete with students’ cell phones, the prom, sport team demands, and being a cast member in the musical. Is it any wonder they don’t care about John F. Kennedy’s involvement in the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and Civil Rights? Gee, if I can’t get them interested in the volatile sixties, this last month of school could be tortuous.

Meanwhile, teachers are grumbling because the new superintendent has shaken things up. The master schedule’s modifications include removing classes with lower sizes to make it equitable across the board. (If one teacher has class sizes of 30 and another only 12, is that fair?)  That means cutting out the advanced and elective classes. Personally, this means all the classes I love teaching have been taken away from me. The gems like AP US History, AP World History, and a big sting, my Holocaust Studies/Recent World History class. Gems because teaching college level courses are the perfect fit for me. I have been struggling with my pride over it. Be a team player. You are a cog in the wheel. Get over yourself. Readjust your attitude. It still hurts, though.

The Vikings and Nationals Baseball: Strangely, I’ve taken a break from watching movies. I’m binging on the television series by the History Channel via Amazon called The Vikings. Man, I love it. When I come home from work, after watering the flowers, one or two episodes with a beer or glass of wine is a great way to relax before starting supper. I’m on series three. I like the monk Athelstan (George Blagden) the best because rarely in films or television do you see the importance of the role of the monk in history, in this case, by preserving the scrolls of Roman England. I’ve been to Ireland and have seen The Book of Kells and love the artistry of the monks’ calligraphy. The character Athelstan straddles the conflict between pagan/Christian religion. Michael Hirst who wrote the series includes Old English and Scandinavian languages when the two worlds collide; it’s delicious to hear the languages spoken.

The culture of the Vikings is complicated. The legends and mythologies have fascinated many for years.

http://www.history.com/shows/vikings/pages/vikings-historians-view

When I’m not watching The Vikings, I am watching the Nationals play baseball. We are off to a great start this year by leading the NL East with 10 wins and 5 losses (.667). My favorite players are Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy. They bat 3, 4 respectively, and the two are hitting powerhouses. Like Lennon and McCartney, their competitiveness inspires the other to do better. Go Nats!

Books: I’m reading Paula McClain’The Paris Wife. It’s about Hadley, Ernest Hemingway’s first wife and their time in Paris during the 1920s. Ernest is trying to become an author and I can’t help but pretend we two are trying to accomplish the same goal. Except he doesn’t have to go and teach teenagers every day. He gets to sit in a Paris cafe and drink all day long while he writes. It didn’t go so well for him in the end, did it? Who knew my students would save me in the end? Ha!

Okay, bye again. Back to the novel.

Love & Friendship,

Cindy

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