Friday, August 30, 2013

Movie Review Madness: Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine is Cate Blanchett's ticket for an Oscar nomination. She is Jasmine and she's a blue, depressed fascinating mess. Woody Allen wrote and directed this film and like Midnight in Paris, he's on top of his game. He can write funny angst and elicits superb performances from his cast.

Jasmine is forced to move into her sister's apartment, since her husband (Alec Baldwin) committed financial fraud. In flashback we see the glorious life she had - fancy homes, the Hamptons, jewels, charity work. She was in New York society, and certainly had no time for her sister (Sally Hawkins). Now Jasmine is popping pills and still can't face reality. She finds her sister's current boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Canavale), appalling and she thought the ex - Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) was a loser too. Unfortunately, as seen on the screen, the real loser was Alec Baldwin - a shyster, schemer, cheater.

The sister is in love, is happy, supports her boys, and is fine with her life until she starts looking at it through Jasmine's eyes. For a brief period, she questions her decisions, but fortunately has enough common sense to appreciate what she has. Meanwhile, Jasmine has no clue about real work, real dating, and she's haunted by her past - thus often found talking to herself in public.

This is a character study and Cate Blanchett gives a tour de force performance. The ups and downs are cringeworthy. Great lines and great acting from all concerned. Woody Allen creates slice of life and exposes the good and the bad in human beings. And it's sad. And it's funny. Blue Jasmine is a great early kick-off for fall movie season. Get your ticket and run with it.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What's in Your Queue?

Plenty to watch from Netflix -

Promised Land stars Matt Damon and Frances McDormand. Their job is to get folks to sign over natural gas rights for money. It's a poor town and of course divided. There are folks concerned with fracking and environmental issues. And there are folks eager for some extra income. What's right? Who's right? Does Matt gain a conscience on the issue? The movie is entertaining as it covers a hot current topic.

Olympus Has Fallen - this is the not Channing Tatum/Jamie Foxx White House collapse movie. It's the other one that came out first. Gerard Butler is the Secret Service dude and Aaron Eckhardt is the President. Korean nationals manage to invade and infiltrate the White House, the bunker, computers, and security. They are holding the President, VP,etc. hostage. But they were not prepared to contend with Gerard. He's a one man army/navy/marines commando. This was a good Saturday night flick - no brainer, lots of explosions, and root for America to prevail.

Argo - I reviewed this Academy Award winner when it was out in the theaters. Now available for rental, it is a taut thriller based on the real life story of Americans during the fall of Iran. They escape to the Canadian embassy and then American agent Tony Mendez manages to get them out of Iran. Lots of twists and turns and hold your breath moments. I knew what was going to happen, and I was still engaged in the story. Whew! Great job by Ben Affleck, John Goodman, and Alan Arkin.

Three Stars - like to cook? Follow high profile chefs as they detail the hard work in attaining and keeping Michelin Guide three star reviews. This documentary is fascinating. It's a passion, not a job.

First Position - another little documentary. Here we follow kids of various ages as they compete in New York for prestigious placements in ballet companies. We see their hard work, or the pushy parent behind them. We cheer for the winners, and cry for those who just don't have that magic spring in their step. Some of these kids have that extra oomph and it's exhiliarating to watch their skill as they soar.

That Guy ...Who Was in That Thing - funny documentary on the actors who are in a zillion shows or movies, but you don't know their name. They aren't the pretty boys. They have the mugs for police work, lawyers, general character actors. They are always good, and they make a decent living in Hollywood. And all of them said they had a role in the Star Trek series. Apparently sooner or later, that was a key stepping stone. You'll get a kick out of this 1-1/2 hour flick.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Book Review: The English Girl

The English Girl by Daniel Silva is another in the Gabriel Allon series. The brooding Israeli spy, who's master skill is art restoration, is reluctantly pulled back into service when an up and coming English girl is kidnapped. She's not just any young lady - she's the mistress of the Prime Minister. That throws a monkey wrench into the proceedings, not to mention other complications from Russian oil contracts. The story appears convoluted, but Silva leads us from the Corsican criminal underworld to the mountains of Provence, and then to Moscow with masterful writing, strong characters, and foreign intrigue.

What were the true motives behind Madeline Hart's disappearance? As per the cover blurb - "It is a timely reminder that, in today's world, money often matters more than ideology."

Friday, August 23, 2013

Morning Mexican Petunia Goes Mayhem

Ray snapped this picture the other morning around 7 am. The Mexican petunia is berserk. I think this is the most blooms ever. They pop out in the morning and then drop off by afternoon. Truly, they shed in the mega heat of the day. Overnight, they think about it and create new blooms. Gorgeous color and low maintenance. They bake in the sun against a brick backdrop.

Hard to believe children start school on Monday and then it's Labor Day/September in a week. The summer has flown by.

Happy Weekend!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Movie Review: Elysium

2159 is brutal. Earth is a teeming mass of poverty. But folks can look up and see a giant gleaming spoke in the sky - Elysium - mecca. Indeed rich folks live lives with no disease, no worries. For the masses, how can they achieve a trip to this better life?

Elysium, directed by Neill Blomkamp, is another bleak futuristic film like his District 9. Washed out colors surround Max (Matt Damon) and he goes through the motions until he's involved in a radiation accident at work. Then, with only five days to live, he visits Spider, a computer technical mastermind who might have a solution for Max. Implanted computer chips and a new exo-skeleton empower Max. His goal is to download the brain secrets of the head of Armadyne. With that information given to Spider, Max has a free ride to Elysium to be cured and live a free life.

However, this is a dangerous mission and the Secretary of Defense of Elysium, Jodie Foster, is not about to have her world destroyed or invaded. She intends a coup to place herself in power. Soon there are many factions eager to destroy Max and his newfound knowledge. Particularly scary is Kruger, Sharlto Copley - a massive man with firepower to burn.

Elysium is very violent but well done. Of course, there's a love interest only it's complicated for Max. Underlying issues of immigration, power, money, etc. are given a unique spin by this South African director. Blomkamp does interesting work. Matt Damon is sharp as always. Jodie Foster is scary evil as her blue eyes flash and she delivers orders in a clipped tone. Is Elysium attainable or are we doomed to stay on Earth? 2159 is not that far away.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Union Pacific Big Boy No. 4018

Union Pacific Big Boy No. 4018, the world's largest steam locomotive, is on the move from Fair Park in Dallas to a new home at Frisco's train museum. Ray and I saw it Saturday in Dallas as worker bees completed final checks and polishing for its 55 mile ride.
 1.2 million pounds and 133 feet long, this train was built in the 1940s. It is a 7,000 horsepower locomotive - built to move heavy loads over the Continental Divide. According to the Dallas Morning News (8/19/13), only eight exist in museums today.
 The move was a massive undertaking and as of late Monday, it was held up on a track, as folks reconsidered its weight and rail conditions.
Old trains like this are rather mystical - history, romance, and adventure abound as a train chugs along. Clackety clack.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Trinity River Audubon Center

Under 100 degrees in August in Dallas - the natives go crazy. It's time for adventure, so Ray and I headed to southeast Dallas to the Trinity River Audubon Center for a hike.
 We took advantage of the special Dollar Days admission and acquainted ourselves with the Trinity River Water Basin at the welcome center. They had interesting maps and displays concerning the flood plains and wildlife. Then we set off down the first path to the Trinity River vista. This forested canopy does not look like Dallas at all. Cool breeze, shade, and nature humming and buzzing around us.
 It's not the mighty Mississippi but the Trinity River keeps the Dallas/Fort Worth area and beyond in business.
 A teensy splash of color peeked out along the forested and prairie grass path. The variety of plants and greenery was astonishing. Someone reported they saw a copperhead snake earlier on a path - I'm fine with NOT running into that bad boy.
This little fellow was sunning himself on a bridge railing. As we passed he leaped to this frond. Ray was careful, inched closer, and snapped the pic. No autograph given. I can report we also saw a white heron and a blue heron soar over the ponds. All in all, the Trinity River Audubon Center was a delightful discovery on a "cool" (i.e. under 100 degrees) August day.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Ted's Story - Alimony Extra

I met Ted Ashley at Trinity Writers' Workshop. He wandered in, joined, and began to read his work for critique. His unique Texas voice and characters had me howling, and now his first story is on sale in Amazon Kindle.

Meet Old WhatsHisName and his long suffering wife Darlene. Ever the schemer, our hero's goal is to get rich and for awhile it looks like his new business could work. Read Alimony Extra to find out why poison ivy and counting on relatives is a bad combination.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Cool Quebec

 Let's stroll some more along the streets of Quebec
 Or stop and eat crepes at this charming little cafe. My strawberry ones (with whipped cream, of course) were delicious.
 Mind your step, but always stop to look up.
And on Canada Day, we toured Parliament for free. Interesting tour and an appreciation for Quebec.

Je me souviens - I will remember

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Movie Review Madness: Fruitvale Station

In the wake of the Trayvon Martin saga, Fruitvale Station is a timely little film. Oscar Grant was a twenty-two year black male with a live-in girlfriend and a toddler girl. He was truly trying to get his act together. Yes, he did prison time. Yes, he lost his job due to being late. And yes, he sold drugs to keep money flowing. But, on New Year's Eve 2009, he vowed to make it a better year. The film covers a twenty-four hour period and with Michael B.Jordan's performance, we feel like we know Oscar and we really want him to succeed. He's been a kid, but realizes its time to be a man and take responsibility.

His strong family influence is obvious. His grandmother and mother (the brilliant Octavia Spencer with such soulful eyes) love him dearly, along with his siblings. He has a foundation. So after celebrating his mother's birthday, he and his girlfriend head to San Francisco to see fireworks and party a bit. His mom suggested he take the train to avoid driving and alcohol issues. He heeds her advice. He and friends have a good time, but the return trip home proves pivotal.

Crowded train, alcohol fueled crowd, sadly Oscar's past catches up to him. Words exchanged, a scuffle, and soon the train is stopped. Security arrives. Oscar and friends are handcuffed, trying to explain. Folks are using phones to film the action. Folks are shouting to release Oscar and friends who actually did not start the trouble. And sadly an officer's gun goes off, and a young man with the promise of a new year dies.

Well written, well acted - Fruitvale Station is a tale of hope, redemption, and loss. Can any lessons be learned? Perhaps someday.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Book Review: The Astronauts Wives Club

The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel is a non-fiction, behind the scenes look at the women behind the men on the moon. It is fascinating. The Mercury Seven astronauts were defying death, but on earth the young wives were "transformed from military spouses to American royalty." (cover blurb). Annie Glenn, Rene Carpenter, Trudy Cooper, and the others provided support, friendship, and dealt with the media. They were in a unique situation and had to improvise as the missions moved forward.

"We really felt this enormous loyalty to the guys. You just don't see what you don't want to see. But the press didn't help matters. They tried to make them like perfect American boys. Well, in most respects they were, but they were human, too, just like the rest of us. Astronauts get along so well because they don't talk. Women of course have to talk." p. 263

The Astronaut Wives Club opens the door to life on earth as an astronaut's wife - building new homes, raising kids, meeting Jackie Kennedy, and home to do laundry, or sadly attend a funeral. It included dealing with affairs and opening your home to media attention. This was the Wild West time for Space Exploration. Enter the capsule, read, and enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Presidential Library at SMU

George W. Bush Presidential Library

Thursday August 1st, Ray and I trekked over to the SMU campus in Dallas - lovely area. There we visited the new presidential library - a pleasant building landscaped with native Texas grasses. The atrium 360 degree theater gives an impressive start to the day. The short film overhead shows America - scenery and variety of people. It's very cool and well done.

Then we headed into the galleries. I do think that more time is needed to gain perspective on Bush's presidency. However, the various displays are interesting. The 9/11 section is difficult. I have trouble watching that footage and remembering that day. I noticed I was not the only person blinking back tears.

The gallery sections are titled: A Charge to Keep, Creating Opportunity, Responding to September 11, Defending Freedom, Acting with Compassion, Leading on Issues, and a New Call to Service. Plus there is a replica of the Oval Office and displays showing Life in the White House. We stepped out in the Texas Rose Garden - sweltering heat. 

All in all, we spent about two hours in the museum. The films and artifacts capture history and I'd like to visit the Bush senior library at A&M.  Afterwards, we headed over to the Highland Park shopping center to enjoy Italian food at Patrizio's. Well worth the trek.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Movie Review Madness: The Way Way Back

The Way Way Back takes place in current times, but it has an old fashioned feel to it and that's a good thing. Nothing blows up except a concerned passionate teenager. Newcomer, Liam James, is superb as Duncan. He's a fourteen year old kid stuck in the way way back of his mom's boyfriend's restored station wagon. They are headed to a beach house to play "family". The mom, Toni Collette, is trying to blend in but can tell there are issues lurking in her relationship. The boyfriend, played by Steve Carell, appears to be trying to get along with Duncan, but the man's a jerk. Carell is the perfect mix of decent looking, upstanding, ass. His daughter is equally as condescending.

At the beach, Duncan squirms at the adult behavior and ultimately flees on an old girls bike he finds in the shed. His pedaling brings him to Water Whizz park, and there he finds some happiness as an employee. Sam Rockwell is excellent as the park manager and he brings out the true Duncan - smart, sweet kid. Duncan also bonds with the neighbor girl next door who is tired of the fake shallowness of the other girls. She recognizes Duncan's humor and depth.

All in all, The Way Way Back is a coming of age story and you will root for Duncan the whole way. You will remember the awkwardness of fourteen. The directors capture it perfectly, as well as the feel of small town beach vacation. Sam Rockwell has finally been cast well and his underutilized acting skills are on full power in this film. Toni Collette always brings her game. Allison Janney is cringeworthy as the drunk neighbor with low esteem. Carell is chilling. But it's Liam James who carries this film and he's a joy. From a mumbling, bumbling nerd to a new found confident nerd, the kid can sit up straight in the way way back.

Smart acting, smart writing, and just a smart little film for the summer - a fresh ocean breeze at the theater.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Movie Review Madness: Despicable Me 2

Despicable Me 2 is a decent sequel to the highly successful Despicable Me, and once again we all want minions. The original film was quite clever and had a bit more edge since, indeed, Gru was a villain trying to steal the moon. In round 2, he's gone totally honest and is quite domestic. Raising three girls, he'll do anything for them including running a business of jams and jellies. They taste horrible, but he's trying. Steve Carrell, in his wacky high pitched Eastern European accent has a ball with his character.

Lucy, voiced by Kristen Wiig, shows up to recruit Gru for the Anti-Villain league. There's a rumor that a villain is ensconced at the mall and is preparing to unleash evil. It's Gru's job to try to identify this undercover evil fiend. He suspects the dude running the Mexican restaurant, but the FBI and CIA disagree. Ooops. Minions are kidnapped. Lucy is kidnapped and Gru has fallen in love with her. Will he be able to save the day? Does his horrible jelly recipe prove to be a winner? And do the girls get a mother after all?

Despicable Me 2 is fun and the animation, while not Pixar level, is still high quality. This is entertainment for the whole family. Kids will giggle at the silliness, and adults will enjoy a lot of the lines. Plus you'll want minions.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Happy Birthday Ray

Happy Birthday my sweetheart
We'll celebrate all day
August 1st is always freakin' hot
But you are cool, I say

happy wishes and dreams come true
today, tomorrow, and all year through

Happy Birthday, Ray!!