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

Are You Not Entertained?

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I was. Here continues a monthly series featuring the music, the books, and the movies that occupied my time.  

MUSIC

Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos epitomized the Baroque period. Introduced to them twenty years ago, and despite my leaning toward the passionate Russian romantics, I learned to appreciate the symmetrical beauty of Bach’s piano works. In the 1950s and 60s, no one denied Glenn Gould the title of genius when performing them. A quirky man in a world of his own, humming on his own recordings, I highly recommend the unusual, artistic film of 32 vignettes by Director François Girard (The Red Violin) and Colm Feore starring as Gould.

And then, for a musical treat, I got a kick out watching an old television program which featured some fabulous icons–Leonard Bernstein, Glenn Gould, and Russian composer, Igor Stravinsky. You can watch Glenn Gould play around the 18:00-minute mark.

BOOKS 

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It’s been all about Steve McQueen in my house this past month. For the winter project, I’ve immersed myself in Marshall Terrill’s biography. As a cultural icon of the 1960s and 70s, I was reminded how free-flowing the sex, drugs, fast cars, and fashion mattered. McQueen loved it all and was an international star, commanding at his zenith almost a million dollars a film. In 1980, he died at the age of 50 of Mesothelioma from his days as a Marine, scraping asbestos off the walls of a ship. Did I like Steve McQueen after reading all about him? Not particularly, but he was cool to watch on the screen, and the biography was fast and fun, just like the man. 4/5.

MOVIES (TV)

st-vinyl-vol-1-front-cover_3000Stranger Things, the Netflix series starred a shrilled, hyperventilating Winona Rider, an ensemble of geeky pre-teens, stereotypical high schoolers, and two actors whose characters were interesting: Chief Hopper (David Harbour) and the fantastic Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) who reminded me of a young Natalie Portman. Nostalgic, dripping with Steven Spielberg tricks, it is my new guilty pleasure. 4/5

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Controversial director, Roman Polanski, has a gift for making beautiful films, and this political thriller is no exception. You may think you are on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, but not so. The sand dunes, bulbous gray clouds, and windy spray was located on the North Sea island of Sylt. The Ghost Writer matched style with substance. Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan lead a fine ensemble cast with enough twists and turns to keep you engaged. And that closing shot is one of the best I’ve seen in a while.   4/5.

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Quiz Show(1994). Directed by Robert Redford. Stars Ralph Fiennes, John Turturro, Rob Morrow, and Paul Scofield. It’s funny. It’s smart. Based on true events, Ralph Fiennes plays Charlie Van Dorena WASP, a professor of literature, whose ivy-league-Brahmin-of-a-father has basked in fame and respect for decades and junior sets out to make a name for himself. Unfortunately, his moral dilemma piques the journalistic interest of a brilliant investigative reporter played by Rob Morrow. The acting is outstanding and Paul Attanasio‘s adapted screenplay is an English major’s dream. Who wouldn’t want to sit at the family picnic table with academian greats and listen to them recite Hawthorne and Shakespeare while munching on corn on the cob? Okay, well, I would. Robert Redford warns us of television’s manipulative power, run by executives, who will do anything for ratings. Sound familiar?  Mark Van Doren: Cheating on a quiz show? That’s sort of like plagiarizing a comic strip.”  4.5/5. 

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For the Love of Spock (2016). Even if you aren’t a Star Trek fan, I forgive you; everyone should watch this outstanding documentary for the cultural-historical relevance (breaking television boundaries with interracial mixing and science fiction influencing the leading scientists of today) and insight as to why Star Trek fans are a loyal bunch. On Netflix, it’s perfect entertainment during a work week evening when you are loafing on the couch with not much going on. Nimoy’s son chronicles his father’s life with balance and grace. I vividly remember as a girl lying on the floor in front of the TV mesmerized during all 79 episodes. Then came the movies. That’s a lot of emotional bonding and why creator Gene Roddenberry and Leonard Nimoy are tops in my book. 4.5/5 

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The Innocents (2016). At first, I wondered if this was a remake of the 1961 Jack Clayton film with the same title starring Deborah Kerr during Victorian England. Looks great! However, this is not the case. This French film directed by Anna Fontaine is about a young French Red Cross doctor (Lou de Laâge) who is sent in 1945 Poland to assist the survivors of the German camps and discovers several nuns in advanced states of pregnancy during a visit to a nearby convent. It is a fantastic based-on-true-events effort by Fontaine.  My only criticism is the space between the doctor and the nuns. The nuns remain “others” and in spite of the intimacy of delivering baby after baby; the nuns remain foreign entities other than a couple of brief conversations. On the plus side, I thought it a good call in the script to avoid flashbacks of the rapes. 4/5.

 A Man Called Ove (2016) This Swedish gem directed by Hannes Holms and his screenplay adapted from Fredrik Backman‘s novel of the same name was a surprise treat. This dark comedy affected me to tears which I wasn’t expecting. The grumpy old man, Ove, (Rolf Lassgård) who can’t come to terms with his wife’s death, discovers there’s still meaning in life. He seems like the dull model of mediocrity, but his love story told through flashbacks about his beautiful wife Sonja (Ida Engvoll) provides depth and surprises. The grumpy old man stereotype turns into a complex character when the people in his present like the Middle Eastern young wife (Bahar Pars) who helps him realize that life has a purpose even when you think you’re done with it. Touching and beautiful. 4.5/5.

 

Are You Not Entertained?

Here continues a monthly series featuring the music, the books, and the movies that occupied my time.  

MUSIC

For anyone who likes 60s Rock and Roll music and music history in general, check out the 2008 documentary, The Wrecking Crew.  On Netflix,  it is easy to be absorbed with a unique story about the Los Angeles entourage of approximately fifteen session musicians who made groups and singers like The Mama and the Papas, Elvis, and The Beach Boys sound great. Their names didn’t make it on the album, but for fifteen-odd years, they played on hundreds of albums and created the iconic sounds we take for granted today. 4.5/5.

BOOKS 

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Margaret Atwood, The Robber Bride

What does Margaret do best? She creates a cast of characters, rich with dimension, and stages each with a different perspective about the world around them. First published in 1993, Atwood adapts the Brothers Grimm story, “The Robber Bridegroom.” Three friends are connected by Zenia, who rises to monstrous proportions and wreaks havoc on their lives. My favorite character is Tony, a professor of military history who sees the world via tactical advances and retreats. Tony plays word games by spelling them backward and noticing the how the spin transforms the word into a new connotation thus expanding her vocabulary in an atypical way. This is a clever example of how Atwood drapes details around her characters to breathe originality into her creations. If you appreciate character-driven stories, you’d like this one. 4/5.

MOVIES

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After watching director David Mackenzie’s efforts in Hell or High Water (2016), I want to see his British prison film, Starred Up (2013)Taylor Sheridan has an authentic, dialogue-rich script on his hands. As regionalist American writer William Faulkner was famous for revealing the death and disillusionment of the deep south in the early twentieth century, Sheridan and Mackenzie paint a gloomy, desperate rural Texas. Add the outstanding acting by Ben Foster and Chris Pine, brothers who are a believable team, and Jeff Bridges who reprises his guttural mutterings from True Grit to play the smart, irascible Texas Ranger, Marcus. His friendship with his Mestizo partner, Alberto (Gil Birmingham) is endearing. 4.5/5

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Hunt for the Wilderpeople(2016). The first third of the film was great. However, as the plot devolved into the ridiculous, I wondered what I was watching. Was it made for a young adult audience? The over-the-top she-cop (Rima Te Wiatta) made sense then. Was it a dark comedy for adults along the lines of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom? The violence of the animal hacking and skinning and the themes of death and hopelessness made sense then. Sam Neill performed well as the hairy, grieving misanthrope and Ricky (Julian Dennison) was at times annoying to watch with alternating moments of flatness and sincerity. The lush New Zealand landscape was a plus. 3.5/5. 

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Dr. Strange (2016). I’ve read a lot of varying reviews regarding this new addition to the Marvel galaxy. Benedict Cumberbatch, who did his best to sound just like Harrison Ford, becomes the protegee under the marvelous sorceress, Tilda Swinton. I enjoyed the relationship between Stephen and Christine (Rachel McAdams), and appreciated the new spin on Inception/The Matrix borrowings of dimensional shifting and appearance vs. reality. The time-moving-backward scene was brilliant. I was less enamored with the talk and the trap of the golem. I loved the red cape that functioned as a cool suit of armor. Overall, it worked for me. 4/5.

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Congratulations, Viggo Mortensen, on another great performance. Wouldn’t it be cool if your brilliant parents hid you out in the middle of the woods, gave you lots of siblings, and you all grew up in harmony as a cult of the Übermensch? Captain Fantastic is a heartwarming tale that satirizes everything wrong with modern society. In the end, the individual vs. society argument ends with a compromise. The freak must conform to find happiness. The conformist must break free of materialism and live pro-actively. Far-leftists and homeschooling parents will love Captain Fantastic. Survivalists and naturalists will love Captain Fantastic. There is a lot to think about with this dark comedy. Let’s all turn off the television and pick up a book. I’ll start with Chomsky. 4.5/5  

mv5bmtyxmjk0ndg4ml5bml5banbnxkftztgwodcynja5ote-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_ Manchester by the Sea (2016)Yes, I agree with everyone that Casey Affleck gave an outstanding performance as the passive-aggressive janitor Lee Chandler. He wasn’t the only one. His ex-wife Randi played by Michelle Williams was outstanding.  Lucas Hedges played the tossed around nephew, Patrick, yet he annoyed the heck out of me. Many people know Matt Damon produced the film and indeed, writer and director Kenneth Lonergan, created a realistic, Bostonian culture with all the profanity that you’d expect. When the reason for Lee Chandler’s despair was exposed, I wept all over my buttered-popcorn stained napkin. I am not suggesting there should have been a happy ending, but I hoped for some type of resolution or redemption. Instead, this is a tale of a man who is lost and finds no solution to his guilt. It’s one of the more depressing films I’ve seen in ages. 4/5.  

The Wrong Man(1956) This American docudrama film directed by Alfred Hitchcock starred Henry Fonda as Manny, a poor musician from New York, who is in love with his wife Rose and his two sons. He is a sincere man, who cooperates with detectives who claim he has held up various stores and an insurance company. His wife, Rose (Vera Miles), cannot handle the scandal and upheaval of her life. Bernard Herrmann‘s score is a chisel to the brain. Hitchcock includes ingenious camera angles like the simulation of Manny’s panic in his cell by shaking the camera in a circle or the appearance of the real thief transposed over Fonda’s face. I expected something more from Fonda who felt wooden to me. Did you think it was suspenseful? 3.5/5.

 

Are you not entertained?

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Here continues a monthly series of the music, books, and movies that have occupied my time. 

MUSIC

Spoon

My son suggested I’d like the Indie rock band, Spoon. From Austin, TX, Spoon has been around since the millennium, but I wasn’t listening to them. I’ve been catching up and like their easy beats, clever harmonies, and rhythms that keep you in a good mood. Need background music at a party? They are your band.

Check out this top ten list with more videos by the music pros at CONSEQUENCE OF SOUND

BOOKS 

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A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007). Depressing and insightful. Four stories weave around the political dynamics of Afghanistan from the 1960s to the present. A fast, informative read. Khaled Hosseini writes with a graceful style. If you liked The Kite Runner, you will like this story, too. Though depressing throughout, at least the ending is uplifting. Highly recommend. 4.5/5

 

FILMS 

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Love and Friendship (2016)Sorry, period film fans. I was bored. The great costumes and gorgeous manorial setting couldn’t lift my dislike for the principal character, Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale). Maybe if she didn’t treat her daughter like a pawn and wasn’t so shallow and manipulative, I would have laughed at the jokes. Sir James Martin’s character was so idiotic, it was hard to root for anyone except for the daughter, Frederica. I’m in the minority, here.  3/5.  

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Sully (2016) In the last decade, Clint Eastwood has rebounded with a formula that works:  he finds quiet protagonists who possess old-fashioned virtues like fortitude, honesty, optimism, perseverance, and fairness; with calm dispositions and a dry wit, they save the rest of us without asking for applause. They are modern heroes. Sully is no different. It’s an entertaining tale analyzing the five-minute flight and emergency landing through many perspectives. I can’t help but feel Clint is trying to tell us something before his curtain closes in Hollywood. How to behave? How best to live? In Sully, humans, not technology, win the day. I sure love the positive message. 3.5/5.  

Good Ol’ Freda (2013)Whether you are a die-hard or casual fan of The Beatles, there are lots of new details to learn from the perspective of Freda, the Beatles secretary, who politely and loyally provides fun insights about the colossal band without blemishing any of them. A great way to spend the evening. 5/5.

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Son of Saul (2015). This academy award winner for the Best Foreign film from Hungary is unique. Director László Nemes’s interesting cinematography confines the audience alongside a prisoner at Auschwitz who is Sonderkommando, forced to work in the gas chambers, when a boy who survives the Zyklon B assault, the clean-up worker, played by Géza Röhrig, devotes his remaining time trying to find a Rabbi who will give the boy a proper burial. Happenings and people are out-of-focus except for Géza Röhrig. The effect places the audience inside the death camp unable to escape. There are no transitions, no time to digest or refocus. Holocaust films are painful to watch. This was painful but beautiful in its message and the heroic attempt by the worker who salvaged his humanity. Once is enough. 4/5. 

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A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014). This was my pick for Halloween. I had heard that this Iranian vampire movie was a cult sensation. Set in a worn-down Iranian community which has the flavor of a forgotten Texas oil town, a skateboarding vampire (Sheila Vand) preys on men who disrespect women. Female writer and director Ana Lily Amirpour created unique characters and handles the camera with style. Perfect for Halloween. 4/5 

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Swiss Army Man (2016)I’m a sucker for ironies, and there’re so many clever aspects about this crazy film, I fell for the magical realism. I think Paul Dano is on fire–he impresses me every time he’s on the screen. It was great to see Daniel Ratcliffe pull off playing a corpse who teaches the hopeless Hank how to live. The script is superb. 4.5/5

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In 1948, Jack Cardiff won an Oscar for “creating color with the camera” for his innovations with technicolor. Narcissus is a beautiful, sensory masterpiece about five British nuns at a Himalayan convent who waver in the exotic setting. Light and color are used to express emotion. If you enjoy the technical aspects of filmmaking, I learned a lot about the process of technicolor and the behind-the-scenes story of Narcissus in the documentary below. First, if you want a scrumptious classic to watch, you won’t be disappointed with the cast: Deborah Kerr, Kathleen Byron, Jean Simmons, and David Farrar.  Perfection!  5/5.

Are You Not Entertained?

How many times a day do you seek to be entertained? It is elusive. It is dangerous. The rush of stimulus bombards us. The mob mentality of pop culture is easily distracting and much is nonsense. Yet, I love music and books and movies and have no intention of stopping my search for fine entertainment. Here continues a monthly series of the entertainment that has occupied my time, for better or worse.

MUSIC 

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Former member Don Felder, who complained about his place in the hierarchy as an Eagle, including this documentary from 2013 in which he co-starred, was a constant thorn in the side of Glenn Frey, but that’s only one element of the long, complicated marriage, divorce, and reconciliation of the 1970s band, The Eagles, explained by everyone in the band. The birth of classic rock stations erupted to carry their songs forward after The Eagles disbanded in 1980, and when they reunited in 1994 for their Hell Freezes Over tour, fans were ecstatic. Even if you don’t care for their harmonies or musicianship (Really?), I find it hard to think about the 1970s without them. In the 1980s, Glenn Frey and Don Henley pursued single careers, but I respect their work more as group members of The Eagles whose success and influence in the history of Rock and Roll are undeniable. We’ve all heard “Hotel California” probably 300 times, but when I’m alone in my car with the windows down, and the sun is thinking about setting, the guitar harmonies of Joe Walsh and Felder still resonate and transport me back to the pleasure and pain of younger days. I highly recommend it for those who know little about them, forgot a little, or have loved them for decades. RIP Glenn. What a collection of beloved celebrities who have passed in 2016!  5/5.

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As an American history buff, I love social history, so what could be more fun than looking at our great-grandparents values and feelings through the lens of music? Therefore, The Winding Stream: The Carters, The Cashes and the Course of Country Music captured my imagination. Many are aware that Rock and Roll has been heavily influenced by Gospel and Country, which fused the chords and set the seeds to influence future giants like Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and a host of British invaders who appreciated the musicianship and heartfelt songs. I can’t say I’m a big country music fan, but I respect its place, its singers, and I admire the pluck of “Big Daddy” Brinkley who created a national audience from a “border town of Del Rio, Texas, (and) set up a new radio station across the river in Mexico. With 500 kilowatts of broadcasting power, XERA was ten times as powerful as the biggest American stations, which were forced to live within the federal ceiling of 50 kilowatts. Its signal easily reached all forty-eight states, not to mention much of Canada, and within a few years spawned a slew of copycat border stations.” Read more about the Carter Family and XERA found here:  PBS.ORG, THE CARTER FAMILY

Or, rent and watch Beth Harrington‘s 2014 informative documentary.  4/5. 

Speaking of Documentaries…

People criticize the attention and profits made by the discovery of photographer, Vivian Maier. The questions raised in the 2014 documentary Finding Vivian Maier cannot compete with the woman and her captivating photography. There is a mystery surrounding this nanny-recluse who played a life-long game as a secret observer of people and treasure hoarder. When she died in 2009, obscure and alone in Chicago, director John Maloof and Charlie Siskel pulled the threads and discovered an amazing story about this 20th Century version of Emily Dickinson. Both were shy, atypical, prolific artists caught in the moment of creating poems and pictures than selling themselves. Posthumously, their art soared in popularity. In Vivian’s case, right or wrong, her work is admired around the world. It’s the complexity of Vivian that makes the documentary compelling. I disliked the directors filming themselves in the narrative. Their inclusion was offputting. The people who employed her and the children she nannied have warm as well as alarming stories that create a haunting portrayal of a very talented woman who was fiercely independent and bizarre. Would she mind the hoopla surrounding her work? She lives through her work as a ghost, garnering admiration without intimacy, and somehow I think she would like that.  4.5/5 

Check out her photography at http://www.vivianmaier.com

BOOKS 

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David McCullough‘s easy style is graceful, well-researched, and entertaining. He’s my go-to historian regarding all things U.S. History. The Wright Brothers(2015) continues Professor McCullough’s elite reputation for portraying the human side of famous Americans. Orville and Wilbur are two boys from Ohio who are armchair scholars and possessed a drive to achieve flight. Their family helped shape them. Their father was a minister and their sister a Latin teacher. They shared the same house, and they shared the trait of inquisitiveness. All were all productive and supportive. It’s the Wright Brothers who attain the fame and the patents. Their trials at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, surviving mosquito swarms, and wind storms while they practiced their contraptions was my favorite section. Once they flew, you would think the story was over. But their involvement with the French and the U.S. military adds depth to their plane story as it gave flight to the First World War. 4/5

TELEVISION 

Game of Thrones Seasons 1 – 4. 

(Spoilers) Now here’s  a guilty pleasure. I love the cinematography and the developed characters. I love the Magical Realism. Yay for Giants and three-eyed crows. Was I glad when Joffrey died? You bet. Was I troubled when Khaleesi frees the slaves only to chain up her dragons? Yep. Was I sad John Snow’s red-headed wildling died in battle? Yes!  If I had a broadsword would I stab Ramsey Bolton for torturing Theon? In a second. I will miss The Hound. Which character would I be in the series?  Gwendoline Christy’s Brienne of Tarth. I love everything about her.  Obviously, I’m hooked with the Medieval soap-opera which must find room to show a bum and boob in every episode. Thankfully, they have also included chunks of dialogue to develop the characters (i.e., brothers Jaime & Tyrion in the cell, bonding over the simpleton who beat the beetles). They all have good qualities and disgusting qualities which make them very human. Tyrion is an original character you don’t often get to see on television. His smarts and kindness and retribution are very interesting to watch. What’s there not to like? Probably the violence. And if you have something against boobs and buns. However, it’s more than a junior high video game. It’s wonderfully done with characters I care about and root for. Now on to season 5. Don’t tell me what happens. 4.5/5  

Are You Not Entertained?

How many times a day do you seek to be entertained? It is elusive. It is dangerous. The rush of stimulus bombards us. The mob mentality of pop culture is easily distracting. Yet, I love music and books and movies and have no intention of stopping my search for fine entertainment. Here continues a monthly series of the entertainment that has occupied my time, for better or worse.

MUSIC

Tedeschi Trucks Band is a modern Blues band featuring the husband-wife duo Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks. She sounds like Bonnie Raitt and he plays like Gregg Allman. When I’m shooting free pool on Thursday nights, I play their songs in the satellite jukebox and relax. They have released a new album this year, Let Me Get By. Want to hear more? Check out their music videos on the Tedeschi Trucks Band  website. Try listening to this fine example of their talents in “Midnight in Harlem”.

BOOKS 

The Joy Luck Club was published by Amy Tan in 1989 followed by her adapted screenplay in 1993. I’ve seen this classic lying on desks and stuffed in lockers for years. I never got around to reading it. So I borrowed a copy from our school bookstore this summer and fell in love with Tan’s imagery and her parables and stories of four Chinese immigrant mothers and their daughters. It is an elegant book about the universal worry of the older generation who wonders if the younger one will forget the history of their people, the traditions of their ethnicity, and the fear they will be forgotten. 4.5/5.

I haven’t seen the film version. Have you?

The Road by Cormac McCarthy 

For the Lucky 13 Film Club, I chose Cormac McCarthy as an author whose novels become films. I heard how depressing this post-apocalyptic book and the film was, and perhaps that’s why I put off reading it. Actually, I wasn’t depressed at all with either. In gray surroundings, love shines brightly. Even with the horrific elements thrown in to spike your heartbeat, I thought it was a beautiful tribute of the love between a father and son. Viggo Mortensen carries the weight of the world convincingly. McCarthy typically stages the good vs. the bad in his stories and the good son (Kodi Smit-McPhee )is a beacon and reminder to us all for which side to strive. When the world has come to the end, will you run or embrace your fellow-man? I highly recommend both versions. 4.5/5.

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Now here is a clever retell of the classic story, Snow White. It’s a Spanish silent film and beautifully executed by Pablo Berger. Rescued from her evil stepmother (Maribel Verdú) by dwarves, a young woman (Macarena García) becomes a bullfighter like her late father. You might think a silent film would be difficult to stay with today, but not so. It’s engaging to the last frame. 5/5

The-Way-Back-Poster

I enjoyed the background article on this human endurance story found here Is it a true story?Director Peter Weir has half the world at his disposal for great cinematography and Mother Nature doesn’t disappoint. From a Russian Gulag in 1939, a group of escapees journey 4,000 miles from Stalingrad to India. What could go wrong?

The natural settings are jaw-dropping, but if the elements cause the characters to become invisible behind scarves, masks, facial hair or sunburns, it becomes a challenge to remain vested in the characters. That is, the personalities need to come forth to compensate falling into the obscurity of a group. How about a little scene chewing? The only two characters who show a personality are a knife-swinging thief Valka (Colin Farrell) and lying, charming Irena (Saoirse Ronan). All the other characters could have been interchanged with any actor out there. This is too bad for Jim Sturgess who is the central protagonist and gives a lackluster performance. Ed Harris as the cynical, iron-faced wise one softens and mixes well with Irena as the daughter-figure. It’s too bad Irena didn’t have more screen time to coax out the rest of the group more. Their personalities finally rose to the surface like mud in the Gobi desert. I like a good endurance story, and this one covered the extremes nature can offer, so it was good entertainment. 3.5/5.

Hector and the Search for Happiness (2014)I love Simon Pegg. He plays the Everyman with perfect comedic timing and can turn ridiculous plots into fun adventures. While this story is lame, the lessons are always worth reviewing, for I forget where I put the keys to happiness. I preferred The Life of Walter Mitty (4/5) much more.  HSH:  2.5/5.

Being Jane (2007) I watched this one because I chose Jane Austen as a writer whose stories become films. Pride and Prejudice is a gem and this film suggests how the spinster had it in her to portray the complexities of love. It’s a nice twist on an idea. Being Jane was loyal to the period costumes and settings and the overall feel of the 18th century, but the principal members were miscast and disappointing except for Julie Walters who captured Mrs. Austen perfectly. What’s the moral of the story? Jane Austen learned that love has a happy ending if it’s fictionalized. For everyone who has lost love or realized an affair of the heart in another time or place would have worked, well, that’s Jane Austen’s specialty. In her novels, at least, the lady gets her man. 2.5/5. 

Agora-Poster (1)

Agora (2009) Roman Egypt. The Library of Alexandria. Rachel Weisz and Oscar Isaac. I’m interested! What a great opportunity for director/writer Alejandro Amenábar to highlight the female mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher, Hypatia. Science and religion are at war. Fanatical Christians are the aggressors against the pagan elites. Ptolemaic vs. Heliocentric explanations are debated. In this film, Hypatia suggests in the 4th century what will be advanced a thousand years later. Meanwhile, two men adore her, but she is an independent woman and not about to succumb to a man’s authority. Guess what happens? 3/5.

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