Friday, January 30, 2015

Movie Review Madness: American Sniper

Pennsylvania boy Bradley Cooper and English rose Sienna Miller are darn good actors. They pull off Texan in American Sniper without a fake drawl. Number one in the nation, this movie directed by Clint Eastwood deserves its Oscar nomination and perhaps has a chance to win. It’s sneaking up in the opinion polls. This is based on a true story, and the book of the same name.  

Chris Kyle, an all American Texas boy, had a good eye as a hunter under his father’s direction. Then as a Navy Seal, under Uncle Sam’s eye, Chris Kyle is credited with the most kills of any sniper in history. His four tours in Iraq are a portrait in heroism, and, as the movie shows, a portrait of a very human mortal man. Clint Eastwood guides this movie in an objective fashion – no obvious agenda shows. We have a lot of reasons to admire Chris Kyle, and a lot of reasons to say, “Time to say stop, time to go home to your wife and kids. It’s okay.” Eastwood shows the pressure on soldiers, and the effects of battle.  

Bradley Cooper is fantastic and very worthy of his Oscar nomination. He’s a gung-ho young man who matures before our eyes, and ages into a weary wary man. From what I understand, he captured the essence of the real Chris Kyle. American Sniper is superbly filmed, and keeps you on the edge of your seat. You inhale and exhale with Kyle, and you pray that a kid does not pick up a rocket launcher. The tension is palpable and the movie audiences are quiet, totally absorbed in the action. The performances are all nuanced, not stereotypes. This is a rich film, and a snippet of history.  

American Sniper is very worthy of the big screen. You’ll come away with your own opinions of war and its human aftermath, etc. But you won’t question the powerful movie you saw and the excellence of Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper. You will exhale slowly as you exit the cinema.  

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Wordless Wednesday (Almost)

King of the Hill

proud to climb to the top
gleeful smile says it all
he ran all afternoon

powered by sunshine

Joanne Faries

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Book Review: 41 A Portrait of My Father by George W. Bush

41: A Portrait of my Father by George W. Bush is unique in that a former president (43) is writing about his father (41), a former president. This is a look into history and a love story of a strong family, a dynamic admirable man, and a salute to a true American hero. It’s also not overly gushy, and does have some minor comments or criticisms that hindsight 20/20 vision does give. I, personally, was hesitant to read the book since I wasn’t overly fond of George Jr., as president. (I think he’s a decent man and is doing a lot of good work as an ex-president). I am, however, very interested in George, Sr. and excerpts of the book intrigued me.  

Sure enough, 41: A Portrait of My Father is well written and has plenty of “Wow, I didn’t know that moments.”  George H.W. Bush was born into privilege but never overly took advantage of it. Graduated from high school, he volunteered to join the Navy in WWII and was the youngest torpedo bomber pilot. He returned home to marry Barbara Pierce, graduate from Yale, and then turning down lucrative Wall Street offers, headed west to Midland Texas to make a name for himself. After much success, he moved on to public service. There he encountered defeats, successes, and a long career in politics, diplomatic service to China, CIA director, and Vice President under Ronald Reagan. Then he earned his own presidency in 1988.  In one term, he oversaw the end of the Cold War, oversaw liberation of Panama and Kuwait, and guided the country through some tough economic times. Tax decisions cost him another term, but probably set the path for Bill Clinton’s economic successes.  

The key to the book is the man behind the accomplishments. George Sr. kept old friends, made new friends, shook hands across the aisle, wrote personal letters, stayed true to commitments and loyalty, valued America but was interested in the world, and is flat out a decent man with an excellent sense of humor. That is what shines through this book. He took pride in family and gave steady support to his wife and kids. From the cover – George H.W. Bush is one of the most beloved statesmen of the twenty first century. 41 is a stirring tribute to an inspiring father and great American 

I highly recommend this book for a glimpse into history and the Bush family. It’s a quick smooth read, and a powerful portrait of George H.W. Bush (forever 41). He’s now 90 + and in frail health, but still took his parachute jump in 2014. After finishing the book, you shall root for that jump at 95 and 100.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Making of Gone With the Wind Exhibit

 On our way to San Antonio on 12/26, Ray and I stopped in Austin. At the Harry Ransom Center (UT-Austin), we visited the Making of Gone With the Wind exhibit.   Wow!
 GWTW was my mother's favorite movie and this exhibit brought a flood of memories for me. Reading the book she gave me. Watching the movie with her as it was re-released. Sniffling for Rhett has he mourned his daughter. Rooting for Scarlett to "Never be hungry again."  Loving those swelling strings of "Tara's Theme".
 Remember this gown? Scarlett tries to gussy up for Rhett - to show she's not so poor. But this is drapery material from Tara. Carol Burnett did an excellent send-up spoof complete with the curtain rods still in the dress
 Oh the richness. The exhibit featured all of the telegrams and correspondence as the search for Scarlett took over a year. Screen tests showed how awful it could have been if Vivien Leigh had not been picked. Other correspondence showed the race issues involved, and other concerns for decency issues back in the late 1930s. Embroiled in controversy was an understatement.
However, in 1939, when Gone With the Wind premiered in Atlanta, all of the struggles for casting, going through two directors, etc. faded in the success of such a film. Margaret Mitchell's vision was brought to the silver screen, and lives in Technicolor glory today 75 years after its release.

"Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn" - one of the greatest film lines ever uttered. This exhibit was GWTW fan heaven.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Book Review: Hilary Mantel

Shocking title, isn't it?

From the cover blurb - Cutting to the core of human experience, Hilary Mantel brutally and acutely writes about marriage, class, family, and sex. Unpredictable, diverse, and sometimes shocking, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher displays a magnificent writer at the peak of her powers.

This two time winner of the Man Booker Prize excels in this collection of short stories. I shall give some examples of superb writing, and then say "Go read the book as a master class of character, story arc, and unsettling brilliance."

p.47 There was a dull roasting sensation deep inside your limbs, but no sensation as you peeled yourself like a vegetable. You were sent to bed when you were sleepy, but as the heat of the bedclothes fretted your skin you woke again

p.143 Eccles House, was on a stifling scale of its own. I stood and breathed in- because one must breathe- tar of ten thousand cigarettes, fat of ten thousand breakfasts, the leaking metal seep of a thousand shaving cuts, and the horse chestnut whiff of nocturnal emissions

p.198 Render me the texture of flesh. Pick me what it is, in the timbre of voice, that marks out the living from the dead

p.201  I am willing, though, to tear up the timetable and take some new routes; and I know I shall find, at some unlikely terminus, a hand that is meant to rest in mine.

Gosh, I wish I had written that last line

Monday, January 19, 2015

Dream Big



There should be no other labels attached to these words.  No race, creed, etc.

Martin Luther King Day - make it a worthy one

Friday, January 16, 2015

Into the Fire (Pit)

 Friday evening in Texas. Perfect temp - not too hot, not too cold. I flunked Brownies - never made it to girl scouts, but with a gallon of lighter fluid I actually got my fire pit on FIRE.  It was 5:15 pm. Yes, I started early because I wanted to sit with our waterfall gushing and the fire pit roaring - all before it got too late and I was sleepy.
 some pics as the sky slowly turned to twilight.  I could read a bit by the fire. Poor Ray wasn't home yet - traffic was horrible.  He made it around 6:15 pm
 time for contemplation
nothing else to be said.  Happy Weekend, Everyone!

Movie Review Madness: Into the Woods

It had been a long time since I saw the stage musical “Into the Woods”, but I have fond memories of its magic. Now the movie directed by Rob Marshall is on screen and it’s a lush production. Into the Woods has  a great cast and is faithful to the story as  a childless couple seek to end a witch’s curse.  However, it seemed really long despite just two hour running time. And Stephen Sondheim music is tricky – it’s not hummable, but it does tell the tale. If sing-talk annoys you, then stop reading now.  

Emily Blunt (baker’s wife) has a lovely voice. I liked her best. James Corden (baker) is pleasant. Johnny Depp as the Big Bad Wolf is amusing. The young lady playing Red Riding Hood has a nice set of pipes, and the boy Jack (of Jack and the Beanstalk) took his part well.  Anna Kendrick (Cinderella) is decent but a tad shrieky on high notes. Chris Pine (the Prince) is dashing and he says, “I was raised to be charming, not sincere.” He appeared to have fun in his role and could sing just fine. The star is the witch and Meryl Streep can certainly act -  but to me, she is only an adequate singer. Critics are suggesting Oscar nomination – I say no.  

All of these characters converge in the woods and all seek different things. The Bakers want a child and must gather four items – a red hood, a white cow, golden hair, and a gold slipper – by the blue moon so the witch can create her potion and lift a curse upon them. Thus encounters with Red Riding Hood, Cinderella escaping the ball, Jack taking his family cow to market, and Rapunzel stuck in a tower are crucial to the success of the Bakers. All must conquer fears, and learn about risks. There are lessons in the songs and the famous song “Children Will Listen” is important.  

All in all, I liked the film okayish (C+, B-) for my $4.50. It kept me warm on a cold day for two hours. However, unlike some musicals (like Rob Marshall’s Chicago) this did not generate audience energy. You did not want to burst into song or tap dance or do jazz hands. However, it makes you think as you go “into the woods”  (i.e. enter your own life challenges) and come out on the other side.  

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Red Trimmed Shoe

And Then There Was One   
by Joanne Faries 

I hate being precious
stuck in a stroller
preppie outfit complete with hat
matching striped socks, and new red trimmed shoes
I hate shoes, but they are a challenge
must begin my campaign with a winner
new parents, rookie mistakes. I have lung power advantage
wail and head shake. Arm flaps
hand slaps hat askew
red faced I sniffle 

Mom straightens hat, but I renew effort
another arm wave whoosh, unencumbered head
Dad surrenders, picks up hat, stuffs it in bag
I giggle, gurgle, drool so Mom bends down to wipe
my mouth and kiss my forehead. She smiles 

oh this is too easy 

we roll along a path in fits and bursts. Camera shots
parents babble, distracted by sights
I wriggle my toes scrunched in these shoes
concentrate on right one
rub against foot rest, it loosens
I jabber, bounce in my seat with glee
kick and catch an edge
right shoe sails on to sidewalk close to grass
stroller rolls onward, oblivious parents discuss lunch
one happy foot 

jailbreak joy


Monday, January 12, 2015

Movie Review Madness: The Imitation Game

Start marking your Oscar ballot. The Imitation Game is why I go to movies. It’s smart, brilliantly acted, well-paced, and just darn great. Alan Turing, was a genius British logician and cryptologist. Hired on to a team, this unique man followed his own path and created the machine that cracked the Enigma Code – the Nazis secret communication device. Who knew that mathematics could be exciting?  Benedict Cumberbatch brings the quirks of Turing to life. This is a man keeping secrets with no social skills whatsoever. He is the smartest man in the room, which does not make friends.  

However, Keira Knightley’s Joan recognizes the man behind the brittle exterior. She too can solve puzzles in minutes and helps him tease out a solution. She is willing to marry him despite his secret (he is a homosexual back when that was against the law), and implores him to consider that they could have an “arrangement”. They are odd ducks in the world. We go back and forth in time – we see Turing under arrest and his tortured life. We see Turing as a hero – however, complicated the issues. Matthew Goode, on the team, is the popular guy who ultimately recognizes Turing’s ridiculous vision and is a key to keeping that vision alive.  

The excitement of solving the Enigma is well done. And then the full measure of that success has issues. Yes, they helped the Allies win the war two years earlier than projected, but lives were still lost so as not to let the Nazis know what they knew. Alan Turing’s life story is tortured, but this is the man who begat computers. He would be astonished at where his vision took us. The Imitation Game is Oscar worthy and just sheer intelligent film entertainment.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Thoughtful Thursday: Ice Flow

 Bedford, Texas - January 8th - 19 degrees F this morning.   Should get up to 38F today
We are not shoveling snow. But this cold blast has given our new backyard waterfall some cool ice formations
 This Yankee girl has been prepared, unlike my guys (age 30s) at work. I've got my pea coat, scarf, mittens, and hat. I have an afghan in my car, just in case. These guys act surprised that it's SO cold. Yes, a majority of the year in Texas it is warm to freakin' hot. But the north wind does blow down from Canada (the politicians haven't managed to build a border fence to stop it), and we have wind chill temps. Brrr.
 I'm not keen on the keening wail of the wind at the office door. Better insulation, please. But, I kinda like the bracing temperatures - the scurry from the car into a warm house.
The water flows and then stops, suspended from rocks in a glistening dream.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Book Review: Harry Quebert Affair

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker annoyed me, but I kept reading. And then it would annoy me more, but I had to know - Who did kill Nola? And when the author finally tied up his mess, I was still annoyed.  This was an international bestseller and my friend Trish bought it based on a booklist rave rating. Later, my Entertainment Weekly magazine listed it as one their bottom five – called it Euro-Pop trash.  So, here’s a quick blurb – read  the book at your own risk. You could love it or be annoyed.  

The book starts out actually quite well. The buildup and characters are interesting. It’s August 1975 and a girl is glimpsed fleeing through the Somerset, NH woods. Nola Kellergan, a fifteen year old lovely young lady – the pastor’s daughter, isn’t seen again until thirty-three years later when her skeleton is dug up on the grounds of Harry Quebert. This cold case turns into  quite a hullaballoo.  

Marcus Goldman, a young successful writer, needs another hit. Faced with writers’ block, he comes to visit his old mentor, Harry Quebert, and ends up launching his own investigation and cinching a three million dollar book deal. Following a trail of clues, he finds that the citizens of Somerset are hiding a lot of secrets. Was there abuse in the pastor’s home? Was Chief Pratt involved? Travis Dawn is sweet on the daughter of the owner of the local diner, who back in the day yearned to have Harry fall for her. Elijah Stern, the richest man in Somerset, has a painting of a naked Nola. How? And why?  

So from the cover blurb – what did happen one misty morning in Somerset, the summer of 1975? And how do you write a book to save someone’s life?  Harry Quebert is vilified and a sad man still mourning a lost love. In flashbacks, we meet Harry as he first becomes the town celebrity – the famous New York writer. Then we see his current day struggles. We get words of wisdom he dispensed to Marcus through the years – “You must give meaning to your life. Two things can make life meaningful: books and love.” 

The first half of the book  is intriguing and decently written. The second half of the book seems rushed. The author throws us red herring after red herring until we are sick of seafood. What should have been a page turner was easily put down. And yet – you seek the truth – you want to know The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair.  Who killed Nola?  Really?  Seriously? 

Now that’s annoying.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Movie Review Madness: Wild

Here’s a winner – Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon.  She is very deserving of an Oscar nomination. I was a huge fan of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild.  The movie is worthy of the book thanks to the Nick Hornsby screenplay and Reese’s acting. Cheryl is a mess – her beloved mother (played in flashback by a radiant Laura Dern) died, she cheated numerous times on her husband, and is now divorced. Alcohol, drugs – she has sunk to the depths. Now what?  

On a bit of a whim, she decides she’s going to walk the Pacific trail – from the far south desert near Mexico to Oregon. Just in Day 1, mile 5 her feet hurt, she’s almost dehydrated, and her boots are too small. Each day proves a challenge, but she perseveres. As she runs across a fox or a deer, she feels the spirit of her mother urging her on. Her journal features “I quit” almost every day, but she trudges on. Chance encounters with other hikers buoy her spirits. She learns about herself, her ability to survive, and appreciates nature.  

The movie is glorious, the scenery spectacular, and the journey of Cheryl Strayed digs deep into the human soul. Reese Witherspoon has always been a smart, spunky actress and this role is perfect for her. She grows in confidence, and you root for her to turn the corner, to know that she’s going to be okay at the end of the trail and beyond. Put on your hiking boots and get to the big screen. Life can be Wild.  

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year

 Post Christmas, Ray and I visited San Antonio, Texas.  Remember the Alamo. This mission is sacred Texas ground. It was beautifully lit and actually the courtyard area had a Christmas tree and lights strung on all the trees. Quite a sight
 San Antonio is known for the Riverwalk and we took the little river boat cruise. This fabulous mosaic mural is tucked on the side of the convention center
 Plenty of Christmas to be had.  Also, restaurants line the area - we ate at County Line BBQ and also at a Tex-Mex place. Yes, Ray did finish his 32 ounce margarita. No he did not fall into the river walking back to the hotel.
 Water is a theme everywhere.  Here's my elf, Ray - we do have a lot of fun
Thanks Ray for my San Antonio Christmas experience

Happy New Year everybody. Here's to an excellent 2015. Peace, health, and good wishes to all