Saturday, May 31, 2014

Movie Review Madness: X-Men: Days of Future Past

X-Men: Days of Future Past is an excellent summer blockbuster movie. As bad as Godzilla was, this X-Men is that good and more. It has a smart story and ties in time travel with thought process. The world is bleak for mutants and humans and something has to be done. It’s determined that Wolverine/Logan (Hugh Jackman) needs to go back to the 1970s to bring Patrick Stewart’s Xavier (young James McAvoy) and Ian McKellen’s Magneto (young Michael Fassbender) together to stop Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing a professor. It sounds convoluted but it works.  

Very humorous when Logan wakes up on a waterbed and realizes the time travel worked. It’s smart and funny and it’s all in sync. The biggest kick to the movie is using Quicksilver (Evan Peters) to help stop time. There is an awesome kitchen scene where he rearranges some people and when the scene turns to action, the final shots and escape are brilliant.  

As per EW’s review, “just because a movie is huge doesn’t mean  you have to ham it up – that it’s possible to make a superhero flick feel as intimate as a piece of theater.” Thanks to superb acting, clever filmmaking, and a real story, X-Men: Days of Future Past is satisfying and entertaining. It’s fresh and resonates in our own world where folks are different and yet seeking the same truths in life.  We are all mutants in our own way. We are all human. Can’t we just get along?


Friday, May 30, 2014

Movie Review Madness: What I Don't Plan to See

Movies I Won’t Be Seeing in the Theater 

Here are blurbs for current movies in the theater that this critic does not plan to see. These are totally biased, non-substantiated comments. Use a coin toss to decide if you shall wait for DVD or Netflix streaming 
I still need to review the new X-Men - big thumbs up. And I want to see Maleficent, Million Ways to Die in the West, Chef, and Railway Man.

The Amazing Spider Man – a co-worker, Jeremy, who is the target audience said, “Wait for DVD. It’s rather slow and boring.” Okay. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are likeable, but I feel as if they keep rehashing the same story over and over. Jeremy agreed. I’m sure if you are a Spidey fan, you could find some amusement. 

Brick Mansions – Poor Paul Walker. He died and now this is his last movie without the Fast and Furious gang. Apparently it’s a cop thriller in future Detroit. Guess the plot was lame according to most critics.  

Draft Day – this looks amusing and I could still see it. Kevin Costner is an NFL general manager going through a crazy draft. It actually has gotten B+ reviews.  

Heaven is for Real – based on a true story about a kid who died and basically came back to life. In doing so, he is able to report on people he saw in heaven. He was touched and now is a bit of an angel that brings comfort to folks.  I’ve heard this is good. Just not my cup of tea.  

Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return – apparently this animated movie is horrible. Do not take your kids. It’s a shame to ruin Oz.  

Mom’s Night Out – supposed to be hilarious. Not.  

Neighbors  - Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne are the “old” married couple with a baby. They are not happy when a frat house moves next door. Highlights include a lot of shirtless Zac Ephron. But that can only go so far. If you want classic frat – watch Animal House for real laughs.  

Noah – Russell Crowe is supposed to do a credible job of gathering creatures two by two and saving humanity. Of course there are complaints about the storytelling, but I heard the effects are great.  

The Other Woman – Cameron Diaz can be so funny. She needs better scripts. I guess she and Lesley Mann do a great job and are amusing until the young beauty shows up. Kate Upton – shut your mouth. You can’t act. Just be lovely.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Cover Reveal

I am very pleased to participate in the cover reveal for Annalisa Crawford's new story collection. I met her through an A to Z Blog Challenge, and have enjoyed her blog. I'm also a fan of her first collection That Sadie Thing and also her book Cat and the Dreamer.
So without further ado..........drum roll please..........
Title: Our Beautiful Child

Author: Annalisa Crawford

Release date: 10th June 2014

Publisher: Battered Suitcase Press 

“The Boathouse collects misfits. Strange solitary creatures that yearn for contact with the outside world, but not too much. They sit, glass in hand, either staring at the table in front of them, or at some distant point on the horizon.”

… so says the narrator of Our Beautiful Child. And he’s been around long enough to know.
People end up in this town almost by accident. Ella is running away from her nightmares, Sally is running away from the memories of previous boyfriends and Rona is running away from university. Each of them seek sanctuary in the 18th century pub, The Boathouse; but in fact, that’s where their troubles begin.
Ella finds love, a moment too late; Rona discovers a beautiful ability which needs refining before she gets hurt; and Sally meets the captivating Murray, who threatens to ruin everything.

Three women. Three stories. One pub.



I live in Cornwall UK, with a good supply of beaches and moorland right on my doorstep to keep me inspired. I live with my husband, two sons, a dog and a cat.
Despite my location, I neither surf nor sail, and have never had any inclination to try. I much prefer walking along a deserted beach and listening to the waves crashing over rocks. For this reason, I really love the beach in the winter!


Thanks Annalisa for letting me in on the sneak peek. All the best to you, and let's support this talented writer.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Book Review: This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett is “an examination of things she is committed to – the art and craft of writing, the depths of friendship, an elderly dog, and one spectacular nun.” (cover blurb). Her writing is sublime (See State of Wonder, Patron Saint of Liars, and Bel Canto – all great fiction) and she exudes compassion as she tells her tales in essay form.  This book is a mix of life and philosophy all told with humor and a smooth command of language.  

Patchett began as a nonfiction writer for magazines. She eked out a living and was able to turn to fiction. She always knew she was going to be a writer and stayed focused in learning the craft. 
P. 21 “ We all have ideas, sometimes good ones. …The story is in us, and all we have to do is sit there and write it down. But it’s right there…that things fall apart.”  She goes on to discuss the actual writing and how difficult it is to commit to paper.  “The book I have not written yet is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patter, piercing in its color, so wild and loyal…it is the single perfect joy in my life.  But to go from three dimensional to the flat page is to have a dry husk of a friend, the broken body chipped, dismantled and poorly reassembled. Dead. That is my book.” 

She is being modest. Her “dead book” is generally a well-received, well written tome. But the writing process is not easy and if you do any writing at all, you will chuckle at her descriptions.

This collection of essays has her dating, divorcing, and finding true love. It has her on book tours, and opening her own book store just when the world says independent book stores are doomed. (NOT) It has her dealing with her elderly grandmother with quiet exasperation. All in all, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage is a visit with Ann Patchett. So, pour a cup of tea and settle in with an old friend. You’ll be a fan for life.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Movie Review Madness: Captain America - The Winter Soldier

Due to April's A to Z Challenge, I'm behind on presenting movies from April. So this is a tad late, but what the heck. I hope to catch the new X-Men movie this weekend. That will be a current review.  
Captain America: Winter Soldier is another Marvel comic movie and it’s quite good. Chris Evans is so stalwart and good looking – he is the embodiment of a hero. And if you watched the tv show Marvel Agents of Shield, you get story tie-ins and further links to the tale. All in all, this is a fun series with well written action, dialogue, and humor. At times tongue in cheek, Marvel can make fun of itself.

So, Hydra rears its ugly head – this was an offshoot from Nazi Germany. Who is involved in this? Robert Redford is a bigwig who appears dirty. He’s such a great actor. When he and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) face each other, it is a master acting class.  

Who kills Fury? Is he really dead? Who is this Winter Soldier dude who, at times, is more powerful than Captain America? Poor Steve Rogers keeps trying to figure out who’s good and who’s bad. He’s fortunate to have The Black Widow (steamy Scarlett Johansson) by his side and newcomer, Sam – the Falcon. It’s a race against time to replace some computer cards in the new Shield planes. They appear to be corrupted by Hydra and set to blast tons of American targets.

The plot is convoluted. Just know that it is good versus evil, and a time crunch to save the world. You have to root for Captain America and the Marvel entertainment machine. They keep big blockbuster movies challenging and set the bar high. Stay for the final credits and a sneak peek into the Marvel future.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Flap (A True Story from me - the author of My Zoo World)

A late Thursday afternoon, 4ish, and I was finished with my writing for the day. Time to step outside for some fresh air – sit on the patio, read a book, and relax. I cranked the umbrella, plopped in my chair, and checked my phone for any messages. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw dark movement at the umbrella fringe. Frowning, I turned and saw a tiny creature cowering and no doubt thinking, “What just happened?”  It took me a split second to realize, “Oh no, it’s a bat.”  Then, louder in my head as it actually looked at me and opened its little bat mouth with teeth in a teeny bat scream, “OH NO, THAT IS A BAT.” 

I gathered my book and phone and fled the scene. As it took flight, flapping wildly about the patio, I flew into the house and slammed the door shut. (I did not know that I could fly too). I peered through our window slats. The bat careened this way and that, fumbling to position itself. I saw it land on a shaded patio wall. It slowly inched its way behind a hanging picture of flip-flops. This bright cheery scene hid a potential Dracula.  I watched but nothing moved, nor did the creature reappear.  

I texted my husband a long scream and warned him of what awaited his arrival home. He was thrilled. I peered back out and decided it was safe to return to my chair. After all, the goal was sunshine and relaxation. I did not turn my back to the picture and was prepared to flap back into the house again. However, not a creature was stirring. No doubt, the bat felt secure in his new dark slumber, and I had calmed down enough to enjoy the pretty day.  

Ray arrived home and sang the Batman TV show theme song. That was fine. He could have his chuckles as long as he had a plan. Our goal was dinner first and that included Ray grilling hamburgers. No movement from the picture wall opposite the grill area. We ate dinner indoors.  As I cleaned up, I gave Ray his assignment. “Don the Bat cape or cowl, and rid us of our bat.”  Ray approached the picture and carefully lifted it. Yep – the bat was there and not budging. Hmm. I said, “Get the broom and nudge him.” Ray followed my instructions and persuaded the bat to leave. The bat did not circle the patio or initiate combat. He spread his wings and flew off beyond the neighbor’s trees.  

So, we are rabies free, do not have to eat garlic, and I only had to endure the Batman theme song one more day.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Movie Review Madness: Godzilla

Godzilla has been and will always be cheesy. This 2014 version brings really neat effects, plenty of roaring sound, and a blank canvas of humanity. Do not get attached to the humans. Buildings are crushed, they are killed, and perhaps the folks left should be trampled for bad acting. Don’t get me wrong – I was actually amused by Godzilla and I got my $4.25 worth when he roared flames. I went with low expectations and they were met. I’ve heard outcry about how bad this movie is and I think “Really, you expected more?  It’s Godzilla, for goodness sake.” 

This is a creature fueled by radiation. ‘Nuff said. Bryan Cranston who shall forever be Walter White from Breaking Bad is trying to make the foray back into film. Make better choices, Bryan. He’s okay – he’s the mad scientist who’s been predicting disaster ever since a nuclear plant disaster in Japan killed his wife (a wise Juliette Binoche. She escaped this film early).  Now he’s trying to tell his son and others that “there’s something amiss.” The son has the blankest expression I’ve seen on a young good looking “actor”.  Ken Watanabe, normally decent, acts with his mouth open in dismay.  

The plot is stupid as MUTO creatures that look like alien praying mantis are seeking each other and a nest in San Francisco to raise new mutants. Godzilla’s job is to thwart them in a monster showdown. And David Straithairn as The Admiral keeps saying, “Millions of lives are at stake.”
Godzilla is so bad it’s almost good. Do not spend a fortune to see this movie. Go with low expectations. If you are tired of spring yard work, here’s a chance to sit and laugh. Enjoy the cheese.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Book Review: Aimless Love by Billy Collins

Two term Poet Laureate, Billy Collins writes poetry that is sublime. It is plain and yet descriptive. Humor shines through, and each poem paints a slice of life. I like to think I write some poetry, but Mr. Collins's collection humbles me in its simplicity.

cover blurb: By turns playful, ironic, and serious, Collins's poetry captures the nuances of everyday life while leading the reader into zones of inspired wonder.

He often writes about writing poetry, as if he can't believe this is his "job".

Here is the opening of "Velocity" by Billy Collins:
In the club car that morning I had my notebook
open on my lap and my pen uncapped
looking every inch the writer
right down to the little writer's frown on my face

but there was nothing to write about
except life and death
and the low warning sound of the train whistle

He continues to meander with the train, tells a story, and it's so smooth. You don't think "Gosh I'm slogging through a poem." The whole book is full of these short poems disguised as tales of life.

I laughed out loud at the poem "Hangover".  The words Marco Polo        Marco Polo as spaced on the page are genius.

Aimless Love by Billy Collins will convert you into a poetry lover.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Not the Zoo

no lions 

in the park today 

mother pushing stroller

reassured blond toddler

her clipped british tone

kept tiger’s stalk

panther’s pounce

gorilla growl at bay
by Joanne Faries
(On Good Friday, at the Dallas Arboretum, I heard those words from a mother pushing a stroller. Obviously the little boy had asked the lion question thinking of past trips to a zoo. My friend and I chuckled - we reviewed our flowery stroll and indeed had been safe from wild animals. )

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Movie Review Madness: The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a Wes Anderson creation, and that can spell weird or wonderful. In this case, you are in for a wonderful  filmmaking treat. The cinematography is cotton candy pastel pretty. You enter a magical world and it transcends a level of shine. The cast is impeccable and the story is all encompassing. Basically a writer, played by Jude Law, meets a man who owns the Grand Budapest (now a bit of a fallen gem).  He dines with the owner (F. Murray Abraham) and hears the story of the past and how he came to own the hotel. It’s quite a fanciful story and you’ll embrace every second.  

Ralph Fiennes plays M. Gustave the premier concierge. Oh he gives service all right – to every golden haired senior lady around. He captivates Tilda Swinton, and she leaves him a painting in her will. Now the family is up in arms. Ralph must flee and he takes the lobby boy with him (that’s the F.M. Abraham character). Are you following? There’s a wild chase all over Europe as love, treachery, theft, loyalty, and service play out.  You’ll need a cheat sheet to identify all of the characters and actors involved. It’s a treat. There’s a prison breakout, a crazy snow chase, and every hotelier around is involved.  

Anderson’s world is magical and you’ll chuckle at every twist and turn in the plot. Ralph Fiennes, often so stodgy, is a comic genius. This is an indie film worth discovering. You’ll want to check in with the lobby boy and stay awhile. Enjoy!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Book Review: Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

I am a fan of author Emma Donoghue. Her book Room is stellar and has stayed on my list of favorites. Now with Frog Music she fictionalizes a real unsolved murder from 1870s San Francisco. You can tell her research went deep, and her writing brings to life the raunchy, rough world of "entertainer" Blanche Meunon, her lover gambler Arthur, and the frog catcher gal in pants - Jenny Bonnet.

From the cover blurb: Blanche struggles to piece together a tale of free-love bohemians, desperate paupers, arrogant millionaires, jealous men, icy women, and damaged children. It's the secret life of Jenny herself, a notorious character who breaks the law every morning by getting dressed: a charmer as slippery as the frogs she hunts.

Emma Donoghue's writing is lyrical, and she charms with Blanche's immigrant French flair for life and survival. Jenny's American common sense shines and you'll want her murder solved too. Frog Music leaps into a bawdy San Francisco, and as the reader you'll croak with surprise at the tale.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Sunday Salute to Mom

Happy Mother's Day in memory of Juanita Crowther
Gone too soon at age 60
22 years ago

Friday, May 9, 2014

Flowery Friday

spring snowballs 

delicate white petals

bundled in full bloom

reminiscent of winter

no mittens required
photo and poem by Joanne Faries

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Book Review: One More Thing - Stories and Other Stories

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak is a rather bizarre collection of tales.  Novak is known as a comedian, an actor from The Office, and as a writer. The stories in this book are short (one is two sentences long) and quirky. Newly arrived in Heaven, a man is overwhelmed with the options of fun and things to do. Thus he puts off seeing his beloved grandmother. In another story, a vengeance-minded hare is obsessed with a rematch with the tortoise. And in another story we learn why the stock market is sometimes just down.  

From the cover blurb: Finding inspiration in questions from the nature of perfection to the icing on carrot cake, One More Thing encompasses love, fear, hope, ambition, and the inner stirring for the one elusive element that just might make a person complete.  

I laughed out loud at times, and then skimmed sometimes. That’s the nice thing about short stories – you can make snap judgments. All in all, I liked B.J. Novak’s humor and cleverness. He certainly views the world in a skewed vein. If you are looking for something different to read, I recommend One More Thing.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Movie Review Madness: Bad Words

Bad Words is rudely funny. It’s rated R and not for kids even though it is about the national spelling bee designed for middle school age kids. However, Guy Trilby (the irrepressible Jason Bateman) at age forty has figured out a loophole that allows him to participate in the spelling bee. He wins his regional and is onward to the national spelling bee much to the chagrin of the directors played by Allison Janney and Phillip Baker Hall.  Kathryn Hahn is the reporter following Guy and trying to figure out his motive. What’s his mission? 

Trilby hurls insults at kids and parents alike. He appears to be a miserable soul with an axe to grind. But this makes for a hilarious movie with plenty of cringe worthy scenes and laugh out loud moments. And he’s winning. Guy’s biggest competition comes from the ten year old played by Rohan Chand. This kid with his liquid brown eyes, slight cowlick, joyous smile, and infectious chatter seeks out Guy as his best new friend. Guy in turn can’t help but fall for the kid. He treats him to dinner, wrongly gives him some whiskey, and takes him for a wild spin in his car. Both are perhaps pulling a con over the other one, but it’s zany to watch.  

Over three days, the clock ticks, the syllables are sounded out, and competitors are dinged by the failure bell. But not Guy or Rohan. What the  (bleep) is going to happen? Bad Words is not for delicate ears, but it truly works as a ninety minute comedy.  Jason Bateman is spot on, and Rohan Chand steals the show. You’ll come out of the theater or finish streaming -  spelling, smiling and shaking your head.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Book Review: Monuments Men

I reviewed the movie The Monuments Men in an earlier issue of The Little Paper. I liked the movie, but felt it was a tad glib. I could tell there was more to the story, and indeed, the book The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter is stellar.  It is the nonfiction story of WWII heroes who saved hundreds of thousands of pieces of art work from destruction. We meet the soldiers, art historians,  and scholars who, thanks to General Eisenhower, became a very small group saddled with a large mission near the end of the war. 

Hitler’s Nazis had plundered museums, churches, and private collections throughout France, Belgium, Poland, Italy, et al.  Hitler had dreams of creating a huge museum someday in his hometown of Linz, Austria. Thus, massive amounts of paintings, sculptures, stained glass windows, jewelry, gold, ornamental pieces, and manuscripts were hidden in castles, salt mines, and even in private homes. Like detectives solving crimes, the Monuments Men worked to uncover the lost art and save it from being destroyed (the Germans rigged explosives in key spots). The Men were also racing against time as the Russians moved westward to claim territory and artwork.  

This nonfiction book is fascinating. You get history, art, and personal stories mingled against the backdrop of the Alps and the horror of war.  Here is one listing of finds from a salt mine at Altaussee on May 21, 1945
6577 paintings, 230 drawings or watercolors, 954 prints, 137 sculptures, 129 pieces of armor, 79 baskets of objects, 484 cases of archives, 78 pieces of furniture, 122 tapestries, 181 cases of books, 1200-1700 cases of book and papers, 283 cases of unknown content.  (p 384)    Wow! And that was just one of many hidden places.
I recommend The Monuments Men as a great exciting read, as a history book, and as a plea to save the arts. This book will stun you with the enormity of what occurred.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Art Weekend

Saturday, May 3rd I helped with the Sam's Bike MS event. No, I did not ride the 100 mile or so route from Plano to the Texas Motor Speedway. (I'm not crazy).  I did help in the children's area doing arts and crafts - Marbles for MS.

 Basically we had flat boxes with white paper inside it. Kids got to scoop out marbles from six acrylic colors and place them in the box. Then we closed the box and they shook 'em up - backwards, forwards, upside down. Open the box and voila!  original art work - the marbles create swooshy patterns. It's very cool, easy to do, and the kids are delighted. We stayed busy from 1 to 4 pm.

Home to shower, spruce up, and head to the Bath House Cultural Center off White Rock Lake in Dallas for more art.  I had never been there and it was delightful. Lovely sunset with sailboats and downtown Dallas in the distance. Inside, was a special art exhibit created by members of the Asian community. I was there with friends supporting their friend, Sunny Jacquet.
She paints pears. Unique pears that pop off the wall in bright green. Water drops glisten on some. There's a red string involved, and clever titles.
All in all, these artists explore the world in drawings, paintings, textile art, and mixed media. It was an enlightening, inspirational reception.

Friday, May 2, 2014

OK - What Did You Miss in April?

It is May, but since I did A to Z Challenge (FUN!) you missed some good April stuff. I went to one of the best places on earth on Good Friday - the Dallas Arboretum. Check out the gloriousness
 Yes, Peacock in flowers.
 New water feature
I love this place.  And what the heck - do you still have a few jelly beans that fell into the couch? Or half of a chocolate bunny left because you ate the ears? Well - it's late but here is my Easter poem for 2014

Easter candy 

signals spring
fluorescent jelly beans
tangy mango surprise
familiar Hershey kisses
wrapped in pastel foils
melt memories of Christmas reds and greens
malted robin egg renewal
herald chirps outside
harsh winter grays fade to
blue sky dappled with marshmallow clouds 

we arise

Thursday, May 1, 2014