Thursday, May 30, 2013

Movie Review: Mud

Mud might not sound intriguing, but this is one of the best films I've seen this year. It's a coming of age story involving love, a criminal element, and the confusion of being fourteen. Matthew McConaughey (Mud) is a drifter found on a deserted island by two teen boys. He's a charmer who solicits their help in rescuing a boat from a tree so that he can escape with his true love, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon playing white trash well) who's currently ensconced in a local motel. Ellis (Tye Sheridan) wants to believe in love and is eager to help. Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) is suspicious but drawn into the adventure.

The boys motor back and forth to the island with supplies. Meanwhile, Ellis' parents are heading toward to divorce, plus Ellis has fallen for an "older" girl and is quick with his fists these days in regards to love and honor. He's confused on so many levels (that's fourteen), and this movie covers the subject well. Matthew McC. displays deep acting chops in this film. He's getting better and better, and this material is perfect - he's a romantic, he's delusional, and the snake oil he oozes pulls you in. You root for this bad boy, even as bullets are loaded and he's surrounded.

The two boys are superb - guiless, shrewd, sentimental, and working to understand the adult world, even as they maneuver bicycles, scooters, and boats. The setting of makeshift houseboats adds to the uncertainty in their world.

Finally, here's a great line by Mud - "I don't traffic in the truth too often, but I did love her." Mud is a brilliant film with all the right elements - great acting, writing, characters, setting, and emotion. Fourteen just asks for heartbreak. Get too close to love and you'll be snakebit too.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Book Review: Astray by Emma Donoghue

Emma Donoghue's Astray is an intriguing collection based on true stories. After each fictional tale, Donoghue cites her research, whether it's a news article that caught her eye or a chapter in a history book.

From the book cover - A trainer coaxes his beloved elephant onto a ship carrying him to a life of fame. A mother searches for her baby girl, sent away on a train headed west. A teenage soldier wrestles with his conscience far from home. All have gone astray.

Astray guides us through a past in scattered pieces, a moving history for restless times.

Donoghue brings to life interesting characters and brings history alive with her imagination based on fact. I loved her book Room, and like that book, she can paint a scene and draw in the reader.

I liked what she wrote in her Astray Afterword - Writing stories is my way of scratching that itch: my escape from the claustrophobia of individuality. It lets me, at least for awhile, live more than one life, walk more than one path. Reading of course, can do the same.
May the road rise with you.

'Nuff said. Thanks Emma Donoghue.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Bellagio Conservatory

 Who would think you'd go to Las Vegas to see a garden?  Well, the Bellagio Conservatory offers a splash of floral delight.

Ladybugs bring good luck. Indeed if you are looking at these two, then you aren't at a gaming table losing money.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Book Review: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

I loved Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. It's a book to read in huge chunks because you can't get enough of it, and you savor the writing and the characters. And when it ends, you close it reluctantly, relishing an excellent tale.

In 1910, Ursula Todd is born and then she dies. But then in the next section, she's born and lives. As she grows, she also dies, repeatedly and the story moves forward to World War II. I like time travel types of stories and can suspend belief as to how it could happen. From the book blurb - Does Ursula's apparently infinite number of lives give her the power to save the world from its inevitable destiny? And if she can, will she? 

Atkinson's rich writing, her plot twists and turns, and her humor shine through Ursula.

P. 4  It's November 1930. A move rehearsed a hundred times. One shot. Swiftness was all, yet there was a moment, a bubble suspended in time after she had drawn the gun and leveled it at his heart when everything seemed to stop.

P. 7 February 1910  An icy rush of air, a freezing slipstream on the newly exposed skin. She is, with no warning, outside the inside and the familiar wet, tropical world has suddenly evaporated. Exposed to the elements. A pawn peeled, a nut shelled.

No breath. All the world come down to this. One breath. ......
Panic. The drowning girl, the falling bird.

You, the reader, will hold a breath as each chapter unfolds. Will Ursula thrive and move onward? Or will something happen to her, and you start over again? Layers build satisfactorily and you are transported to a sweeping time of history.

Life After Life is a stunning novel.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Bummer Movie Review: The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby is not so great. As a matter of fact, I give it a C+. Read the book by F.Scott Fitzgerald instead - trust me - same use of 2-1/2 hours. I can't explain the problem with the movie except to say it was a lot of flash without substance, and it was trying to be bigger, to have "meaning", and it just didn't get there.

Baz Lurhmann is an interesting director and I liked his Moulin Rouge. The Great Gatsby had the same rich cinematography, eye popping colors, huge cast, dazzling costumes, and decent acting. But, I just was not entranced. As a matter of fact, the theater I was in had a power surge and the movie stopped in the middle for about twenty minutes. I probably could have left without serious remorse. That's not a good sign.

Tobey Maquire narrated as Nick and he did a good job as the wide-eyed observer, protector of his cousin Daisy Buchanan (played by a dewy Carey Mulligan) and in awe of Jay Gatsby (played by Leonardo DeCaprio). Leo has the look, the intensity, and the panache, and yet...a little something was missing in the connection between him and Daisy. They said all the right lines, but I didn't feel scorching heat or intensity of love. Joel Edgerton, as Tom Buchanan, was suitable as the old money brute, carouser, womanizer, and foe to Gatsby.

There just wasn't a natural flow to the movie. We had scenes that were busy and pretty, and yet the tension didn't build at the pace it should have. It was choppy and disconcerting. With the kick-off of summer movie season, there are plenty of other movie competitors for your dollar. If you must see it, wait for The Great Gatsby to hit Netflix. Go see Ironman 3, or new Star Trek:Into Darkness (that's what I plan to see next) in the theater. And play some serious Jazz Age music, not rapper stuff for 1922. That's just wrong.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Water Wall Saturday

 This is sheer poetry. Water cascading down a wall at the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas.
 Sun reflections and variety of flow.
I was mesmerized.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Iconic Photography

It wasn't all food and drink in Vegas. There was a feast for the eyes, too. The Venetian hotel hosted an exhibition of the fifty greatest photographs from National Geographic magazine. Plucked from 125 years of history, these photos and the stories behind the lens were fascinating.
Some of the pictures were taken spur of the moment. Others were planned excursions that yielded magic. This was a cool exhibit - a quiet break from the Las Vegas hubbub.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Waking Up in Vegas

 Let's see - why haven't I written a thing?  Ooops. Too busy waking up in Vegas - not really a la Katy Perry. Ray and I stayed up late, but not too crazy. Nonetheless we stayed at The Paris this weekend and it was a really nice hotel. MMMM  - pastries.
 Las Vegas, Nevada - you have to see it to believe it. Lights, glitz, casinos, carrying drinks on the strip (i.e Las Vegas Blvd), Girls Girls Girls, no clocks, excessive extravaganza, and the smell of money. It is bizarre.
 Yep - zoomed from the Paris to the Venetian. This is how Americans travel. No passport needed. You can go from Paris, France to Venice, Italy to Luxor, Egypt. And every place has spotless bathrooms with cushy toilet paper. (best ladies room - the Bellagio). You can gamble as cocktail waitresses ply you with "free" liquor. Oh it costs you money - even the penny slots are a lure.
 It was a great weekend.  Too much food, too much drink, too much..........and it's desert hot - I don't think we hit 100 F, but it was close. The Stratosphere tower at 1000 feet in the air is way too close to the sun and can fry your brains. We did spend money on observation decks - the Eiffel Tower deck (500 feet) and the Stratosphere at double the height. You can see mountains - they hide silver and gold mines - there's money in them thar hills.
Or just view hotels - here's The Paris. That's entertainment. Each one has a theme, fountains, pools, and bars. They don't want you to leave their premises - that's why they are so freakin' big and you have to walk through their casino to get anywhere. Maybe double bonus poker will call your name or the $5 Blackjack table (hey....Ray....come lose here).  As long as you keep it all in perspective - maintain limits and have fun, but don't bet the mortgage.

I didn't do an official post, but my mother's been gone twenty years. She didn't drink. She didn't gamble. But she did like Elvis. She visited Vegas one time with my dad, my Uncle Rick and Aunt Connie, and another couple.  They had a ton of fun. So - I thought of her on Mother's Day as I celebrated in Vegas.

I stayed respectable, Mom. You raised me "right"........or what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
Pick your own ending to this tale.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Movie Review: Ironman 3 - finally something to see at the theater

Blockbuster season started early - Go See Ironman 3. Huge numbers in Europe and now the USA - all for good reason. This is a really fun number three. Ironman 1 was really good. Ironman 2 was a bit heavyhanded and bulky. Number 3 is just thrilling, clever, and crazy good fun. Get the family, buy the tub of popcorn and the gallon of soda - this kicks off spring/summer and it's our American duty to overindulge.
Robert Downey, Jr. couldn't be better. He's light on his toes, quips galore, and he expresses a vulnerability necessary in our superheroes. He is the whole package. Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper shows guts and dons the Ironman gear briefly. Ironman needs her and she needs him. It's a love story. Don Cheadle is the best buddy and he's so darn good - Rah!!!

Guy Pearce is sleazy evil and I mean that as a compliment. He's always good and this is a role he deserves. He's smart, good looking, and unfortunately he chose the wrong side to exploit. His genius is there for Ironman to destroy. Ooops.

Can't forget Jon Favreau - the hapless sidekick who's mostly in a coma for the film. As a security person, he stinks.

Ben Kingsley is The Mandarin - evil incarnate......or is he?? OMG. What transpires here is too funny and the comment about King Lear is to die for. You have to be a Ben fan and know his work. (Insider jokes galore).
So - plenty of Marvel Superhero jokes - hope you have seen the movies to enjoy the humor. Otherwise, stuff blows up. We're saving the world. Ironman has many backup plans. And this is just so much FUN. Go See It.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Classical Culture on a Sunday

The Old Bedford School presents their Van Cliburn Concert Series, and it is a great way to appreciate classical music. I need to expand my knowledge, and this series has been a joy.

For my third foray into classical music, I heard Mariangela Vacatello this past Sunday, May 5th. She was a Van Cliburn finalist in 2009 and has enjoyed worldwide success. She performed:

Ravel - Ondine from Gaspard de la nuit  I found this to be light and airy. Keep in mind I do not have a professional music vocabulary, but it struck me as vivacious.

Beethoven - Piano Sonata op. 53 and Waldstein (the Dawn) -  with Beethoven I often feel like I know the music. It must show up in movie themes or something. Anyway, this was fairly bright and cheery music.

Chopin - Nocturnes in D flat and Major Borealis     She went from light to dark. This was brooding and the Nocturnes proved to be my favorite. Again it sounded familiar.

Rachmaninov - Piano Sonata n.2 in B flat minor     So dramatic. Russian piano creation at its best

Her fingers flew and she played with feeling and expression. Vacatello is a tiny thing with long dark hair. Her English with the Italian accent was charming and musical as she explained her choices.

This proved to be a delightful afternoon. I'm grateful for culture in my own backyard (truly - just fifteen minutes from my house - not a flight to La Scala).

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Book Review: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer is a panoramic novel about what becomes of early talent, and the roles that art, money, and envy can play even in close friendships. (book cover blurb). It is 1974 and six teens at summer camp embark on a journey of lifelong friendship. Julie (now Jules) Jacobson feels at home with this artsy group of misfits. They declare themselves "interesting" and at fifteen, while self-indulgent, they see a bright future ahead for all of them.

Here are the opening lines of Chapter One - On a warm night in early July of that long evaporated year, the Interestings gathered for the first time. ...Julie Jacobson, an outsider and possibly even a freak, had been invited for obscure reasons, and now she sat in a corner on the unswept floor and attempted to position herself so she would appear unobtrusive yet not pathetic, which was a difficult balance.

Oh, that SO sums up being fifteen or sixteen.

But, as we read and learn more about their lives, the group has its winners and losers. Jules becomes a therapist, not the comic actress she had hoped for. Jonah, a gifted guitarist, becomes a mechanical engineer, after an offshoot time with the Moonies. Ethan, ugly and brilliant, achieves success with a hit animated TV show and franchise. His wife, the lovely Ash, is also successful as a director. They are the perfect pair, and yet despair as a child measures on the autism scale. Cathy and Goodman (Ash's bohemian brother) change their lives forever when she accuses him of rape in college. Lines are drawn, and the perfect friendships fracture.

A lot happens from teen angst, hopes, and dreams to adult maturity, love, marriage, children, family deaths, and illnesses. The Interestings is complex and wide-ranging in scope, yet intimate page-by-page. Jules is our main focus and our flawed heroine. Meg Wolitzer is a solid writer and truly delves deep into her characters and life. The reader will recognize these people, and in turn can judge decisions made or ignored. Life evolves and so does this book. The reader will enjoy the good times, be frustrated at times, and root for this group of friends to just live, laugh, and love.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

500th Blog Post - Movie Review: 42

42 - that's a magic number and it is a very educational/emotional film. Jackie Robinson wore 42 and changed baseball forever. He could blast a ball, catch impossible hits, and steal bases faster than a person could blink. And he was black. Black, African-American, Negro - back when segregation was the norm and blacks played in the Negro Baseball League.

It's quite a story and the movie, 42, handles the "issues" with dignity - no preachiness. Jackie Robinson, as played by Chadwick Boseman (superb) is a man first and a very talented baseball player second. Because he had to rise above ignorance, taunts, and teammates who weren't keen on this "new" baseball - Jackie Robinson was a pillar of strength.

Branch Rickey, who managed the Brooklyn Dodgers, wasn't setting out to create upheaval. He just saw an injustice and wanted it righted. Behind a ton of makeup, Harrison Ford chomps a cigar and sets an example for his team. He chooses Robinson because he saw a very talented player who exuded confidence, calm, and an ability to slowly rally his teammates. Fortunately, Robinson had a strong wife behind him, and the desire to play ball well.
This is a movie about strength of character. It's a movie that makes you, the audience, think about what it took to travel to towns that didn't want you in their hotels or in their ballpark. It makes you think about how much abuse can a person take and not break?

42 is an excellent movie that entertains and makes you think. It is right and cool that every year, players wear 42 on their jerseys and can only hope to live up to the standard that Jackie Robinson set - as a man and a baseball player.