Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Book Review: The Storyteller

Jodi Picoult’s The Storyteller introduces us to Sage Singer, a baker. She works nights hiding her scarred face, her loneliness, and the memory of her mother’s death. In grief counseling group she meets Josef Weber, a 90 year-old man, who becomes a friend. And then he asks her to help him die, because he was a Nazi.
Sage’s journey begins. She meets Leo, a man working for the USA department that deals with Nazi criminals. With Leo, she interviews her own grandmother and hears her tale of a happy life that was destroyed – surviving the concentration camps, enduring brutality, and seeing a best friend shot. Sage had no idea about her Jewish legacy. She questions ” punishment and justice, forgiveness and mercy.”
Cover blurb – In this searingly honest novel, Picoult gracefully explores the lengths we will go in order to protect our families and to keep the past from dictating the future.
It is obvious that Picoult did a lot of research for this book and she indeed presents a brutal yet honest tale with characters that ring true. She treats the subject with respect.
P. 8  “Loss is more than death, and grief is the gray shape-shifter of emotion.”  The Storyteller is a powerful story that moves between the past and present, and brings rich characters to life, even as they face death.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Movie Madness: August: Osage County

August:Osage County is based on Tracy Lett’s play and the movie feels staged. I have a feeling seeing it with live actors would have been better.  However, the movie has a stellar cast and some very good lines. BUT – it’s a truly miserable film about a truly miserable family and it’s two hours of angsty drama. Don’t go see it. There – I’ve saved you from wasting two hours of your life.  

Meryl Streep is nominated for an Oscar as Violet, the drug addled cancer ridden matriarch. I normally like Meryl, but she overacts this over-the-top character. It was quite annoying. Sam Shepard is good as the patriarch and he’s smart to exit the film quickly with a suicide. But his death triggers the family gathering with their spite, anger, and miserable lives. Julia Roberts is good as the eldest daughter, but you always know it is Julia on screen. Ewan McGregor, Juliette Lewis, Chris Cooper, Dermot Mulroney, Benedict Cumberbatch all join in this mess.  

The viewer keeps waiting for something redeeming or nice to happen on screen. Sadly, it doesn’t and I’m not ruining any major plot point here. Some folks and families just wallow in their own nastiness. Life is bleak in August: Osage County 

Friday, January 24, 2014

poem : Movie Snow

 Recent Northeast snow pics courtesy of a sibling. He shall remain anonymous at his request. Like the NSA is tracking this blog..........seriously???

Movie Snow


glistens, pristine white glow

contrasts with nubby tree bark

red scarves wound around necks

blue mittens packing snow balls

muffled hush blankets cars

woodpiles, bikes left outdoors

smothered in crystalline splendor

movie snow frosts panes as

laughter ripples over hot chocolates

fireplace crackle, and winter nap
by Joanne Faries
my sister coined the phrase in an email and I thought it was awesome - Movie Snow never has the grit and grime and after effects..........instead it's just so pretty to look at from a window. Enjoy!


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Book Review: The Cuckoo's Calling

Robert Galbraith’s debut mystery, The Cuckoo’s Calling, gives us a tough detective, Cormoran Strike, investigating a supermodel’s suicide. Strike has one client, he’s living in his office, and his prosthesis (lost a leg in Afghanistan) hurts. He’s a mess, but an old friend seeks to open this suicide case. After initial investigation, Strike agrees that Lulu’s suicide is fishy, and every clue opens new doors to models, rock-star boyfriends, desperate designers, and extended family issues due to adoption.  

p. 6  Journalists wrote that “the decadence of her new life had unhinged an already fragile personality.”

“And then at last, the frenzy wore itself into staleness, and even the journalists had nothing left to say, but that too much had been said already.” 

Strike is quite a character himself, but he is meticulous in his research and thought process. His temporary secretary, Robin, proves to be quite an asset and he’s reluctant to have to let her go. She in turn adds a brightness to each page, and her questions and inventiveness help Strike’s investigation.  There are plenty of twists and turns, and indeed Galbraith surprises us with the conclusion. The reader will stay vested and satisfied with The Cuckoo’s Calling 

In another twist to this book – the debut had decent sales. THEN it was discovered (leaked) that the actual author is J.K.Rowling, of Harry Potter fame. Sure enough, she admitted choosing the Robert Galbraith pseudonym, and sales skyrocketed. Frankly, it’s a well written book, either way. But it does demonstrate in this crazy world of publishing, that a “name” author gets the buzz.  

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Poem: Layered



gray sky

brief blue streak hint

January edgy

pale sunlight gleam
by Joanne Faries     I've been thinking about doing a poem a day - well, that hasn't quite happened, but I'm writing something each week.  My drive to work the other morning inspired this poem.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

There's Nothing on the Telly

View Anything Anywhere Anytime 

I remember the huge Magnovox television set in our living room. It was an imposing piece of furniture, not a light flat screen hung on a wall. You had to walk over and actually push a button for power. Then you had to rotate the knob to your three or four channel choices. Click – kachunk, Click- kachunk, Click – kachunk. And the picture was in a grainy black and white. When “they” talk about the “olden days”, it was not awesome, my friends. It was a vast barren wasteland of old dudes smoking and reading us the news.  

Fast forward to the land of color television, and the remote control, and cable, and…and…and satellite TV and Netflix. Oh, the chorus of angels sing Hallelujah. Flat screens, LCD Display, Plasma, High Definition, Surround sound. Home movie theaters. Download to tablets or your phone! A million choices – but is anything good? 

Well, that’s up to you and there are more and more startups on the internet that offer FREE programming. Yes, you can pay for Netflix streaming, but check out hulu.com for alternate free shows. And wait there’s more. I have not actually watched any of these shows, but I’ve read about them, and as your entertainment writer, I wanted you to be aware of what’s out there on the internet or available as apps for your own creative television hookup. It’s limitless.  

www.crackle.com offers old movies, tv shows, and some new creations – Chosen  and Cleaners.  

www.pivot.tv launched in August 2013 and is geared toward ages 18-34. The goal is to spark conversation, inspire change, and illuminate issues. Check it out and take part. Pivot TV seeks viewers to create and upload content.  Host Joseph Gordon-Levitt of HitRecord on TV encourages creativity, whether it’s short film, animation or music.  Other new content are Take Part Live, Jersey Strong, Teach, and Raising McCain.

www.comediansincarsgettingcoffee.com is Jerry Seinfeld’s foray into new pop culture. He and comedian pals drive around in expensive cars and talk about whatever they want. It’s quite funny. The lineup starting Jan. 2014 is Patton Oswalt, Howard Stern, Jay Leno, Tina Fey, and Louis CK. You can also check out back episodes.

This is only the beginning. I’m sure there are many other sites that offer new programming and creative outlets. I cannot endorse or vouch for family friendly viewing. This is a new frontier. At least there’s always a delete button. Exercise it wisely. And speaking of exercise, maybe I should suggest you set up some of these shows as you walk on a treadmill. Just saying. I know I ate a few too many Christmas cookies.  



Thursday, January 16, 2014

Book Review: Five Days at Memorial

One of my New Year resolutions is to read more nonfiction. I started off with a bang - Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink is a harrowing read. Sheri Fink, a physician and reporter plops us in the middle of Hurricane Katrina's floodwaters as the storm ravaged Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans. We meet the patients and the nurses who struggled to survive amidst chaos.

Floodwaters rose, power failed, heat climbed, and nurses and doctors "chose to designate certain patients for last rescue."  The book "brings the reader into a hospital fighting for its life and into a conversation about health care rationing."  cover blurb

Health professionals faced criminal allegations that they deliberately injected numerous patients with drugs to hasten death.  There were end of life dilemmas and a question of preparedness for large scale disaster.

Sheri Fink writes a thorough and fair portrait of Five Days at Memorial.  I came away in awe of what transpired and satisfied with final conclusions. No doubt others who read this book will have different opinions. This book is a tough but worthwhile read, and I can only imagine conditions at Memorial were even worse than described during those five horrific days ... the stench, the fear, the exhaustion.  Strength of human spirit prevails.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Movie Review Madness: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is based on a short story by James Thurber. Ben Stiller does a good job of playing nerdy and bland. Walter Mitty is in the negative assets division for Life magazine. He works in the basement, culling through photography negatives.  Now that the magazine is moving to on-line only, Walter is left to produce negative 25 from the great photographer played by Sean Penn. Problem is – the negative is missing and the evil transition boss played by Adam Scott is on Mitty’s case.  

Poor Walter tends to zone out. He and is life are beige, but his imagination takes him out of that world. He imagines himself charming the new woman played by Kristen Wiig. He imagines himself as the hero in any situation. Well, when he finally leaves his mind and actually goes on an adventure to find the lost negative, Walter Mitty turns into Technicolor so-to-speak. As he tracks Sean Penn through Iceland, Greenland, and then the far regions of Afghanistan, Mitty grows a beard, becomes more assertive, and does leap from a helicopter to a boat.  

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a sweet charming movie. It’s well acted and has nice moments. It offers a good message, especially in this computer day and age – step out, experience life, and don’t just snap photos. Actually open your eyes and look. Take a breath and look around. Life can surprise you. And that’s not a secret, it’s a truth. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Bad Boys of Broadway

Enjoyed a fun musical revue at Casa Manana (www.casamanana.org) in Fort Worth yesterday. It's good to get out and support regional theater and be uplifted by significant talent. Bad Boys of Broadway highlighted songs sung by the bad, evil, or possibly misunderstood characters on stage. From Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar to the Phantom of the Opera to Jean Valjean in Les Miz (he did steal bread after all) our trio of singers kept us toe tapping or entranced.

The boys were joined by a woman (there's always a bad girl), and Carmen Cusack struck fear, temptation, and killer love in their hearts. What Lola Wants from Damn Yankees and Defying Gravity from Wicked were stellar numbers.

As for these Bad Boys, John Cudia's voice was pure on Bring Him Home and also Music of the Night. John Tower and Jason Wooten brought soul and verve to a variety of tunes. Their harmonies blended and they looked like they were having a blast.

So many great Broadway songs. I couldn't get to New York this weekend, but Fort Worth brought ninety minutes of NYC to me and I'm still humming some devil medleys.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Movie Review Madness: American Hustle

American Hustle kicks butt. Everyone is scamming somebody in this flick. It's just a question of who can outlast the contenders. Christian Bale gained 40 pounds for this role along with a bad combover. He keeps his cons low key until he meets Amy Adams. With those innocent blue eyes, she lures him into bigger money deals and even though his (big) gut says no, he can't help but say yes. Unfortunately Bradley Cooper's FBI character uncovers this duo, arrests them, and sees larger prey in store. 

It's 1978 and the movie is loosely based on the Abscam scandals. Using a fake sheik and a whole lot of potential money, the FBI nabs congressmen, senators, and a lot of greedy folks looking for the quick buck. Bales's wife, played by the incandescent Jennifer Lawrence (what can't she do on screen) knows he has a girlfriend, but she's the one with the ring on the finger. There's some classy (!) Jersey catfights going on. Jeremy Renner is the mayor of Camden. With his pompadour and frank innocence - he gets caught up in the money laundering scheme.  

This is an adult movie full of a lot of nuanced moments. Some folks might think it moves slow. This critic was along for the ride and enjoying every second of the buildup to the final, final con. The soundtrack adds to the cinema experience. Enjoy the disco music, the polyester clothes, the Jersey accents, and the sheer power of David O. Russell's directing. Do the American Hustle. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Berman Museum of Art

Any time you travel, it’s easy to hit the big famous sights. However, if you don’t poke into corners and explore deeper you can miss local gems. On a recent trip to PA, I visited Ursinus College (www.ursinus.edu) in Collegeville. This quaint town brims with culture and amidst the old stone ivy covered buildings is the Phillip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art. A current exhibition  A to Z highlighted the astounding collection of art amassed by the Berman couple.  

Student curators were assigned letters and then set loose to explore and choose appropriate art. What a variety – Warhol represented W, a sculpture by Man Ray for M, U is a difficult letter and the student chose Unknown – three artists renderings of George Washington – one did look like an original Gilbert Stuart, the others were more interpretive. 

Twenty six pieces of art were culled from over two thousand choices, and the final exhibition is a delight at each turn. Wry, somber, witty -  sculpture, oils, watercolors, and even a mobile are displayed in light airy rooms. The Berman Museum is small and personal. The outdoor sculpture garden adds to the campus atmosphere. If you are limited on time, but need an art fix – check out local colleges. You can be surprised.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Book Review: Allegiant

The dystopian world created by Veronica Roth in the Divergent series comes to a satisfying and wow-factor conclusion in Allegiant.  Believe me, you won't believe the end - I had to re-read it to let it sink in. After Divergent and Insurgent, our heroine Tris is trying to keep the worlds from colliding. There are still folks drifting in their groups, and the factionless who align with no one. As expected in a crazy futuristic world (or even today's world) - folks can't seem to get along. War is building, and it's up to Tris to stop it.  

Or wait, is Caleb her brother (whom she doesn't trust) ready to sacrifice himself to destroy the death serum. Are they going to be able to give folks a memory erase and start over?  Roth creates a believable future and the choices are scary. But we've trusted Tris and Four (Tobias) so far - we have to count on them to make the right choices.  

Allegiant is a powerful page-turner and I can't give any more away. I'm blown away by the writing and characters and now I can't wait to see Divergent on the big screen in March 2014.  

p. 125 "I thought that Divergent explained everything that I am and everything I could be. Maybe I was wrong".

p. 181 "There is a kind of inevitability in the sky, like it has always been waiting for me, maybe because I relish height while others fear it, or maybe because once you have seen the things that I have seen, there is only one frontier left to explore, and it is above." 

Start reading the series now, and be prepared to be enthralled

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Movie Review Madness: Saving Mr. Banks

Saving Mr. Banks is a PG-13 Disney film. Do not take young kids. P.L. Travers wrote Mary Poppins, a book beloved by children and parents alike. This was her baby and she refused Walt Disney's request for rights for 20 years. However in 1961, she needed money to maintain her life. Thus Mrs. Travers (played by the impeccable Emma Thompson) crosses the Atlantic to discuss the Mary Poppins movie. She insists on no animation, no cavorting penguins, no songs, etc. Let's just say the meetings don't go well.  

Slowly Walt (Tom Hanks) has to figure out her angle. What's the real scoop behind Mary Poppins, the flying nanny? In a series of flashbacks, we see the child, Helen, interact with her charming but alcoholic father (Colin Farrell). Ultimately who arrives to save him, the kids, the mother, and the father? In peeking behind the scenes, we see Mrs. Travers' vulnerability. As she stiffens her lip and refuses to sign over rights, Mr.Disney works harder to penetrate her emotions.  

Hanks and Thompson are actors beyond peer. The give and take banter is superb, and ultimately the Sherman brothers' song "Let's Go Fly a Kite" melts her heart. For all of us who know the beloved Mary Poppins movie - this Saving Mr. Banks is a gem. For anyone who appreciates writing, this movie shows the depth of love for a created character.  

Stay through the credits and you will hear actual taped conversation of P.L. Travers at the Mary Poppins meeting. It is uncanny. Emma Thompson absolutely nailed the character. This is an example of the power of film and storytelling.  Huge thumbs up for adults who love Disney. Get a babysitter for your kids.  

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year - 2014

Happy New Year!   New blank page to fill. I plan to finish my 2nd humorous memoir - Athletic Antics - hope it brings chuckles to readers. Meanwhile here are some highlight photos from 2013.  Abby - age 9 and Makyla - age 5 were happy at Kevin's ranch.
 Can't beat the Dallas Arboretum in the spring....or summer....or fall....or anytime.
 Ray and I zipped to Vegas for a long weekend and had a blast. We loved the waterwall at the Aria hotel.
 Blustery Quebec - long weekend with friends from junior high, high school, and college. We all celebrated our double nickel birthday this year. Yikes!
And I did publish my Wordsplash Poetry Puddle trilogy - Nature, Hazy Memory, and
Tread Water. I hope folks stocked up and handed them out as Christmas presents. No doubt, I shall submit more poetry to my favorite journals, and I love the flash fiction on Doorknobs & Bodypaint.

Keep writing and reading in 2014. Let's enjoy the yearlong adventure together.