Tuesday, January 31, 2012

the fantastic flying books of mr. morris lessmore

The wonderful short film The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg is available in its entirety on YouTube. It is most deservedly nominated for an Academy Award for Short Film (Animated). What is wonderful about the internet is that we can access gems like this that we might othrwise not have the opportunity to see.

Elements of The Wizard of Oz, Up, classic cartoons, silent movies featuring Buster Keaton, and just a deep and abiding love for books makes The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore very special. iTunes also offers a book version/app for the iPad.

Happily, the other nominated films in the category can at least be previewed:

Dimanche (Sunday) - Patrick Doyon

La Luna - Enrico Casarosa

A Morning Stroll - Grant Orchard and Sue Goffe

Wild Life - Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby

Happy viewing!
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Monday, January 30, 2012

the artist — silence is indeed golden

The Artist is delightful, delectable, delicious, delovely. It's also a mish-mash of Singin' In the Rain, A Song is Born and every Fred and Ginger movie ever made. Somehow it shines up its tropes and old Hollywood plot cliches in such a way that, although not new, come off as fresh and enjoyable.

Valentin meets his #1 fan Peppy

The movie, directed by Michel Hazanavicius, begins in 1927 and spans the crash and burn of the country's assets and the transition of Hollywood from silent to talking films. George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a silent film superstar. He can do it all — romance, adventure, drama. At his screenings he also exhibits a flair for comedy with his constant companion, his little Jack Russell terrier Jack (Uggie). Valentin jump-starts the career of his biggest fan and screen hopeful Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) when he poses with her outside of a screening and the newspapers play it up with headlines asking, "Who's That Girl?" He later also helps her get a small part in his latest film, and gives her some career advice, via an eyebrow pencil and a well-placed mole and a title card, "If you want to be an actress, you need to have something others don't." The two are very attracted to one another, but Valentin is (unhappily) married, so they don't pursue a romance.

There has been some rumbling about the use of Bernard Hermann's well-known theme from Vertigo in the last quarter of the film. It may be a bit distracting for the movie buffs who recognized it, but the film also used another recognizable song that has been heavily used in other films, too — Pennies from Heaven. This is all just part of The Artist being a movie about movies.

A man's best friend is his Uggie

The Artist follows Peppy's rise as talkies are introduced and "fresh, young talent" is what the studios want, and Valentin's fall as his career, finances, and marriage hit the skids. Valentin just can't seem to make the adjustment from silence. He begins to hate his life and even his own reflection in  the mirror, "Look at what you've become. You've become proud! You've become stupid!" But the familiar plot isn't really what the movie is about. The Artist takes pure delight in both film and nostalgia. Its reflexive nature is what makes The Artist so much fun to watch. The dog Uggie completely steals every scene he is in, but it is clear that he was encouraged and the filmmakers expected him to do exactly that. This sense of good humor permeates every scene, even through the more melodramatic turns of the plot.

There are nice cameos by James Cromwell as Valentin's faithful chauffeur Clifton, Penelope Ann Miller as Valentin's bored wife who enjoys defacing all of his publicity images, and John Goodman as nervous movie mogul Zimmer. The script calls for everyone to be amazed by Bejo and her rise to the top (and she is appealing), but it is Dujardin's movie from start to finish. He has true movie star charisma. When we do get to hear him speak one line at the end of the film (with a très très French accent) it makes us want to see him do many more films.

Two stars are born

I'm not sure The Artist will ever be more than a gimmick — silent films aren't exactly "back." But it might get folks to pay a little more attention to other silent classics. My daughter has been enjoying Buster Keaton and Fatty Arbuckle movies that TCM has been showing recently, so she wasn't put off by the silence or the B&W. I grew up watching Chaplin and Keaton and even Garbo silent movies with my dad, so I quickly settled in and enjoyed it immensely. What The Artist does prove is that a movie, no matter what the format, if it's good, is going to make a hit with the audience. Vive L'Artiste.
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Sunday, January 29, 2012

it's a cat's life





Saturday, January 28, 2012

have you tried pinterest yet?

As stated on the site,
"Pinterest is a virtual pinboard. Pinterest allows you to organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web. You can browse pinboards created by other people to discover new things and get inspiration from people who share your interests."

Basically, Pinterest is a collection space. You can collect and share all sorts of things — beautiful images, recipes, links to websites, links to your blog, book and movie reviews — just about anythng you can think of or run across. It's like having a multi-themed tumblelog.

It is also completely addictive.

I have just created a few boards so far, but I think this is only the tip of the iceberg. Not only is it fun creating your own collections of things, but checking out what everyone else has pinned and then liking or re-pinning it to one of your own boards is a great feature, too. It can very quickly become a six degrees of Kevin Bacon of tastes and desires.

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Friday, January 27, 2012

my favorite idiot — karl pilkington — is back!

Ricky Gervais's and Stephen Merchant's social experiment series is back, An Idiot Abroad: Bucket List. Their semi-willing victim and presenter is Karl Pilkington, he of the interminable (but often hilarious) complaints, and perfectly round head.

Last time we saw Karl, Ricky and Stephen were sending him all around the globe, testing his limits and reaping the  rewards. Karl never disappointed in An Idiot Abroad, whether he was at the Great Wall of China (complaining about how far it was to walk), the Pyramids (moaning about how big the stones the Great Pyramid of Giza were to climb), Machu Picchu (complaining about how far up it was to the top.)

In season 2, the first episode has Karl being sent to a desert island (Vanuatu, in the South Pacific), but not before Ricky and Steve present him with some other challenges on the way — bungee jumping in New Zealand and "dirt jumping" with a Vanuatu tribe that worships Prince Philip of England. Karl's trademark witticisms are still evident. This season is destined to be another winner.

Future episodes will see Karl traveling on the Trans-Siberian Express and swimming with dolphins (and sharks — thanks, Ricky). The show airs Saturdays at 10 p.m. on the Science Channel, and is a bona-fide hit, already garnering even greater ratings for the second season than its impressive debut last year.

Karl discovers that the desert island doesn't have much of a beach, or even sand.
For all of Karl's complaining, he does get into the spirit of things, going "arse-boarding," which is essentially sliding down he side of a volcano on little more than your arse, and donning a grass skirt and dancing with his host tribe before he sets off in a dugout canoe for his Robinson Crusoe experience. I'm not sure how many more challenges and torture chambers Merchant and Gervais can devise for Karl, but I hope they try, as it makes for extremely entertaining viewing.
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Thursday, January 26, 2012

not a cinderella story

A story that as been all over the internet is haunting me. Baraa Melhem, a 20 year-old Palestinian girl was locked in her bathroom or other small rooms by her father for ten years. An Associated Press story, "Palestinian woman escapes father's dark captivity," by Diaa Hadid, catalogued the atrocities Baraa was forced to endure at the hands of her father Hassan Melhem and her stepmother, including beatings, threatens of rape and impregnation, and starvation. The pair also gave her a razor blade, encouraging her to kill herself.

AP Photo by Maya Levin
"She survived the ordeal by listening to the radio, dreaming of seeing sunshine again and finding small pleasure in an apple she was fed each day."
Baraa's aunt finally alerted police and she was freed last Saturday. She is now living with her mother, who had tried to see her over the years since she had divorced Baraa's father. He always denied her access to the girl, and was told her daughter wasn't available. It is wonderful that this young woman is finally free, but it is also so tragic to think of a future that may be just as scarred as her childhood.
"When asked if she hoped to marry, Melhem was visibly upset. 'If the violence I experienced was between a father and a daughter, what happens between a man and a wife? No, I never want to marry,' she said."
Baraa's story also bears disturbing similarities to the a story we have all grown up with, the Cinderella fairytale. Her father and stepmother kept her dressed in rags and would only let her out of the small bathroom at night — to clean the house.

There is a ray of hope. Baraa seems to have kept her mind active while listening to radio programs, many of them about mental health. It's hard to imagine how starved her mind must be, as she has not been in school since she was ten years old.
"Although she has nothing more than an elementary school education, she said she hopes to study psychology and one day treat people who had similar fates."
Hopefully she will be able to attend school and see the sun and eat candy and indulge in all of the day-to-day things that she wasn't able to enjoy during her years of captivity and that children all take for granted. I also hope that after the shock value of what happened to Baraa passes, the story isn't lost. I'd like to be able to keep up with her story. I'm curious as to how Palestinian law will treat her horrible father and stepmother. I'd like to know how Baraa does in the future. If she is able to reach out to others successfully. That would be the real happy ending.
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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

it's hard getting old — about schmidt and everybody's fine

I recently watched two very similarly-themed movies that feature older, recently widowed men and their tenuous attachments to their families, About Schmidt and Everybody's Fine. Both feature great actors getting to play something very rare in Hollywood movies — their age.

In About Schmidt, from 2002, Jack Nicholson is wonderful as Warren Schmidt, a man who has kept life at a distance. As the movie opens he is retiring from a job as an insurance actuary. The opening shots of Omaha's Woodmen of the World building, where Schmidt worked, are fantastic and set the tone for this "life viewed from a distance" film. Schmidt himself has lived most of his life at a distance, void of emotion.  He may or may not have liked his job, but he has certainly spent most of his time involved with it rather than his wife and daughter. A few days into his retirement he is already bored and resenting all of his wife's routines and tics. But almost as soon as he starts to catalogue her faults, she dies, suddenly. His daughter Jeannie, played by Hope Davis, comes for the funeral, but she clearly doesn't care much for him and can't wait to get back to her life in Denver and planning her upcoming wedding.

Awkward airport goodbyes, L-R: Dermot Mulroney, Hope Davis and Jack Nicholson
Schmidt isn't sure what it's all about anymore.
Schmidt, "I know we're all pretty small in the big scheme of things, and I suppose the most you can hope for is to make some kind of difference, but what kind of difference have I made? What in the world is better because of me?"
Schmidt decides to sponsor a child from Tanzania, Ndugu, and the film includes voiceover narration of his informative and inappropriate letters to the young boy. As he tells Ndugu, Schmidt strongly disapproves of Jeannie's fiance, waterbed salesman Randall (Dermot Mulroney). But she won't listen  to him and has no desire to come home to Omaha and take care of him. Scenes of Schmidt rambling around his house and life after his wife has died couldn't help but remind me of my dad after my parents' divorce. Whether he was happy in his marriage or not, Schmidt clearly feels rudderless without his wife around.

Kathy Bates is hysterical as Randall's randy mom, Roberta.

In the hot tub with Kathy Bates
Roberta, "You already know how famously they get along as friends, but did you know that their sex life is positively white hot? The main reason both of my marriages failed was sexual. I'm an extremely sexual person, I can't help it, it just how I'm wired, you know, even when I was a little girl. I had my first orgasm when I was six in ballet class. Anyway, the point is that I have been always very easily aroused and very orgasmic, Jeannie and I have a lot in common that way. Clifford and Larry, they were nice guys, but they just could not keep up with me. Anyway, I don't want to betray Jeannie's confidence, but let me just assure you that whatever problems those two kids may run into along the way, they will always be able to count on what happens between the sheets to keep them together. More soup?" 
Schmidt, "Eh... no, I think I'm fine now."
And Nicholson is fine as Schmidt. The camera spends a lot of time on his face, and we get to suffer along with him as he travels the open road, trying to connect with his daughter, with life.

Robert De Niro takes a road trip to visit his kids
Robert De Niro plays a similar character, Frank Goode, in Everybody's Fine, which came out in 2009. It's a remake of an Italian film, Giuseppe Tornatore's Stanno Tutti Bene, which I haven't seen. Frank has four children, and none of them want to visit him after their mother dies. One by one, he tries to pay each a visit, some interactions more successful than others. Frank realizes that his kids were able to tell his wife anything, and that now it is easier for them to lie to him. Three of the grown kids, Robert (Sam Rockwell), Rosie (Drew Barrymore), and Amy (Kate Beckinsale) are equal parts suspicious of his motives and grief-stricken. Each has some substantial issues or secrets to work out with their father, but they aren't as disconnected from Frank as Schmidt's daughter Jeannie is in About Schmidt.
Rosie, "We could just talk to mom."
Frank, "Oh, but you couldn't just talk to me?"
Rosie, "Well she was a good listener, you were a good talker."
Frank, "Well so that's good, we made a good team."
De Niro and Drew Barrymore
Everybody's Fine doesn't strike as deep a chord as About Schmidt does, but it is still a nice little film. There is some added drama, as De Niro's Frank has a heart condition and spends most of the movie without some of his necessary medicine, but viewers only have to look to the title to be reassured of the outcome.

As much as aging is depicted as difficult — it's always hard to be on the other side of youth and promise — both men in these films are doing the best they can and are trying to live their lives with dignity. Both films are ultimately uplifting, and definitely worth a look.
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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

the long and the short of it — hair, that is

I just got a very short haircut, very similar to how I wore it in college, and I feel so free. Like a ton of weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I am getting lots of compliments and even shock, at my "bravery" to cut my hair. It got me thinking about different hair lengths that I have had through the years.

Sitting in the playground watching my daughter swing (with her luxurious long locks) I see that she is also free, and soars. But maintaining her hair, keeping it free from tangles, is admittedly, a chore. As I look around at the other women, moms, in the area, every single one of them has shoulder-length or longer hair. And every single one of of them also has their hair tied back in a ponytail or a twist or some other way to keep the hair out of the way, out of their face.

New do
"Of course, the only people who like it are gay men and my girlfriends. Straight men across the board are not into this hair!" Michelle Williams, who embodies the modern pixie cut, (Huffington Post, "Do Most Men Prefer Long Hair On Women?") 
Long hair is so tied to ideas of femininity. I got my haircut last week, after thinking about it for quite a while (I had a '20s-style bob, with long locks in the front, shorter in back, but still far above the shoulders. It's been quite a few years since I've had really long hair.) I wanted a change, a noticeable change. When I picked my daughter up from school after the salon visit, she didn't hide her disapproval of my new look. Normally I'm her idea of perfect (I'm going to enjoy this state of being for as long as it lasts), so I have to admit I was a little hurt at first. When I asked her why she didn't like my new 'do she said she liked my hair better long. Why? She couldn't really answer.

Halle Berry and Charlize Theron
It's hard not to relate her reluctance to see her mom with a short hairstyle as something she has been programmed not to like. Although I have avoided spoon-feeding her Disney princesses, Ariel's long red locks are pretty hard to avoid. She barely remembers when she had an adorable pixie haircut a few years ago (she's almost eight years old), but she hasn't wanted to have short hair since.
Only Snow White has "short" hair
When I was pregnant and had very long hair one of my friends predicted I would chop it all off as soon as I had my kid. I resented the implication that being a mom would mean that I had to change everything. I had already made some hairstyle sacrifices, not dyeing or highlighting my hair for nine months. Did she expect me to start shopping for mom jeans immediately, too? I actually kept my longer locks for quite while, and since my daughter was born, have experimented with different looks, lengths, and styles. My recent chop has more to do with my Florida lifestyle and desire for a change. I love being outdoors, walking on the beach, and I was tired of tying it back or brushing it out of my face. Now it's no muss, no fuss.

Emma Watson and Audrey Hepburn
An ex-boyfriend once told me with authority that I looked best with shoulder-length hair. You can guess what length it hovered around throughout most of our relationship. Do men really prefer long hair? Are long-haired women sexier? Is it a biological preference as some have said, that longer hair, because it takes longer to grow, somehow imparts the message that a woman has better health (might be a better mate)? Or is it all the centerfolds viewed since boyhood featuring long-haired beauties that cause men to think long hair is where it's at? Women and men seem to want long hair on our heads, but nowhere else on our bodies.
Hair is time. Women with short hair always look as if they have somewhere else to go. Women with long hair tend to look as if they belong where they are, especially in California. Short hair takes a short time. Long hair takes a long time. Long hair moves faster than short hair. Long hair tells men that you are all woman, or a real woman, or at the very least a girl. Short hair always makes them wonder. Short hair makes children ask each other — usually at the school-yard gate, when parents are late — "Are you a boy or girl?" Men married to women with short hair should not have affairs with women who have long hair kept up with many little pins and combs. Once you have cut your hair you have to remember to wear lipstick, but you can put away the brush, elastics, and the black barrettes in the form of shiny leaves with rhinestone hearts. When you cut your hair you lose a nose and gain a neck. A neck is generally better than a nose. It does not need to be powdered, except on extreme occasions. It does, however, need to be washed more often. Joan Juliet Buck, ON SHORT HAIR (c1988)
Michelle Williams and Marion Cotillard
There are tons of pop culture examples of short-haired beauties, but the tyranny of long hair remains. I don't know if I will get the urge to grow it out again after having it short for a while. But I don't feel I need to have it any particular length to feel pretty. If anything, I feel even more feminine. People can really see my face now. I like my new hair. It's fun and flirty.

Since my initial shock at the kid's lackluster reaction, she has gone around telling everyone we know, "My mom got her hair cut!" It's not exactly an endorsement, but she is at least enjoying celebrating and advertising the change, if not the style.
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Monday, January 23, 2012

best movies ever — rear window

I've always been a huge fan of Alfred Hitchcock's movies. Vertigo is probably the ultimate expression of his recurring themes of mistaken identity and the ultimate unattainable female. The Birds and Psycho are both terrific horror movies, depicting monsters from without and within. But Rear Window is not only a great artistic achievement, but it is also one of his most entertaining films.

Thelma Ritter, Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart look out the window, "I'm not much on rear window ethics."

The blatant voyeurism in Rear Window is the perfect metaphor for what it is to go to the movies. Hitchcock's hero, Jimmy Stewart, plays L. B. "Jeff" Jeffries, a photographer who specializes in far-flung travel and exciting assignments — the more remote and dangerous the better. But after deciding to shoot a high-speed auto race from within the track (and being hit by a race car and sidelined with a broken leg), the itinerant photographer is stuck, going stir crazy in his New York City one-bedroom apartment, during a long hot summer with nothing to do. He begins passing his time by spying on his neighbors for entertainment, through the zoom lens on his camera.

His visiting nurse Stella, played by Thelma Ritter, tells Jeff, "We've become a race of Peeping Toms." She is initially bothered by Jeff's curiosity, but luckily for the audience her own desire to know what's happening across Jeff's courtyard matches ours. She joins Jeff in watching the neighbors and even gives them nicknames, like "Miss Torso" and "Miss Lonelyhearts". Tuned in regularly to everyone's daily routines, Jeff begins to notice that one of the couples, a middle-aged husband and his bedridden wife, may be acting in a peculiar manner. "I've seen bickering and family quarrels and mysterious trips at night, and knives and saws and ropes, and now since last evening, not a sign of the wife. How do you explain that?"

Miss Lonelyhearts is an unhappy single woman who Jeff watches go on unsuccessful dates

Miss Torso

Stella and Jeff's girlfriend, Lisa Fremont, played to the hilt of 1950s allure by Grace Kelly, at first try to persuade Jeff that he is imagining things, but they can't help looking and getting caught up in all of the rear window dramas. It's all fun for Jeff, Lisa and Stella to play a guessing game of unraveling the mysteries of their neighbor's lives — until they realize that they have stumbled upon a murder, and then the game becomes deadly serious.

Middle-aged couple with dog they treat like a child

Middle-aged couple without dog or child - the Thorwalds

Hitchcock captures the close quarters that come with city living - the proximity, the curiosity, and the assumptions we make about our neighbors - the feeling that we "know" people that we have never spoken to simply because we see them every day. He created the entire apartment complex in a single set, complete with action on the street beyond Jeff's camera's line of sight. It's an amazing achievement. As he told François Truffaut, "It was a possibility of doing a purely cinematic film. You have an immobilized man looking out. That's one part of the film. The second part shows what he sees and the third part shows how he reacts. This is actually the purest expression of a cinematic idea."

Jeff's summer is spent sweltering while he watches his neighbors in the heat and intimacy of their lives. Lisa gently presses him to heat up their own relationship, while he continues to push her away, afraid of commitment and losing his life of adventure. In Jeff's eyes Lisa and he are completely mis-matched. Anyone looking out their rear window and in at them would see that she is perfect for him. Stewart and Kelly have wonderful chemistry.

The Composer (with Hitchcock making his cameo, winding a clock)
The Sculptor
The movie could be viewed as simply a suspense thriller with a romantic subplot and it would still be top-notch. But I see Rear Window as an elaborate mating ritual between Lisa and Jeff, with the emphasis on their romance and Jeff's fears about their future. I think Hitchcock is most interested in the interplay between all the couples, with the thriller plot a perfect structure to tell their stories of loneliness and search for love. Jeff is not only watching his neighbors from his window but trying on each of their identities as a possible outcome with Lisa.

"Miss Torso" and "Miss Lonelyhearts" are two extremes of the lives led by single women. A male songwriter and a female sculptor are each channeling their romantic energies into their art. There are three couples - the young sex-crazed newlyweds; a couple, not far from the age of Jeff and Lisa, but whose lives are distinctly less glamorous, with a dog they treat as their baby; and Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr) and his nagging, bedridden wife - the couple no one would want to become but Jeff fears he and Lisa might.

The Newlyweds
As Jeff tries to decide which of these scenarios best fit his romance with Lisa, she decides to toss out all of Jeff's potential relationship stereotypes, and goes into action. She enters his view by leaving the apartment and their theorizing behind and crossing the courtyard to actually investigate. "Why would Thorwald want to kill a little dog? Because it knew too much?" She proves herself as adventurous and risk-taking (if not more so) than Jeff, by sneaking into Thorwald's apartment and stealing Mrs. Thorwald's wedding ring, helping to prove Jeff's theories about the woman's murder and symbolically securing a ring for herself and Jeff.

Jeff becomes so wrapped up in watching the drama being played out, so excited by her audacity, that even when Lisa puts herself in an extremely dangerous situation, he can't keep himself from looking. And neither can we. The only thing that finally breaks his view out the window is when Thorwald himself comes over for a visit ...

Rear Window is just as thrilling to watch today as it must have been when it was initially released in 1954. Hitchcock uses the murder mystery format to tell deeper stories about loneliness, city life, fears of intimacy, and the good and bad places where love might lead. No matter what your views are on "rear window ethics" as Lisa refers to them, the viewer will be immensely grateful that Alfred Hitchcock created this glimpse into others' lives, before the neighbors got wise and pulled the curtains.

François Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock, Helen G. Scott, "Hitchcock", Google Books

This is the another in a series on some of my all-time favorite movies. Feel free to comment or share some of your favorites in the comments.
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Sunday, January 22, 2012

surf's up ... and so's dinner

There have been a ton of gulls lining the edge of the water every morning lately. Must be some good things running through the waves. Today's special? Jellyfish. Mmmm ...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

poetry in motion

Fred and Ginger, from CarolineAlice

Friday, January 20, 2012

stephen king's duma key

I've been reading a bit of Stephen King lately and picked up Duma Key because it was about an artist (I was a painting major in college) who relocates to Florida (I live in Florida) with some supernaturally creepy results. Duma Key started off slow, picked up a bit, and then started to slow down again. It's clear that King was more interested in the trials of the artist, which are the best part, the central section, of the book. When the bodies started to pile up in the last third of the novel it became a less compelling read. I began to wish that he had an editor who wasn't afraid to wield a red pencil — and get bloody with it. I didn't want to abandon the book. I wanted to finish it and see how things came out, but I have to admit that it got tough at times to hang in there.
"How to Draw a Picture. Start with a blank surface. It doesn't have to be paper or canvas, but I feel it should be white. We call it white because we need a word, but its true name is nothing. Black is the absence of light, but white is the absence of memory, the color of can't remember."
Cover art by Mark Stutzman
Duma Key evokes The Flying Dutchman and King's own The Shining, as it follows protagonist Edgar Freemantle as he tries to recover from a devastating on-the-job accident — the loss of his right arm and a head injury — and nurture his artistic talent by relocating to a remote location, Duma Key, off the west coast of Florida, near Sarasota.

Stephen King's writing always evokes a wonderful sense of place. He can write about a location, a house, an atmosphere, so well that no matter how creepy it may turn out to be, you still want to be there with the characters. This is not touristy Florida, but an old-world, isolated, overgrown with vegetation, Florida. Edgar's house, "Big Pink," in Duma Key may be the port of call for all sorts of not-so-nice psychic energy, but I still got into its relaxed, beachy vibe.

The more Edgar paints, the more he gets in touch with the supernatural forces that seem to surround Duma Key. He discovers that his inspiration to paint is tied directly to his missing right arm when he experiences a phantom limb sensation whenever he is working. His paintings begin to tell him things about people, and  by painting specific objects and scenes he finds he can affect people's lives. His paintings pack such power that just owning them may be dangerous.

King does a wonderful job describing Edgar's work process and his body of work. In fact he describes Edgar's surrealist Dali-influenced paintings and drawings so well that the reader can see the Edgar's step-by-step progress and visualize the finished artwork. We even get wrapped up in his first art show and crowning as the next great thing to hit the Sarasota art scene.

Edgar befriends former lawyer Jerome Wireman, the caretaker of an elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer's disease, Elizabeth Eastlake, who also happens to own most of the real estate on the island. The three are all linked inextricably to Duma Key, which has a special attraction and affection for damaged goods. They are three people who have escaped death by receiving some sort of head injury, and have been granted psychic powers.
“I felt it and knew: the three of us were here because something wanted us here.”
Edgar's injuries are never far from the surface of the story or King's mind. It is hard not to relate Edgar's struggles to King's own long road to recovery after being horribly injured when he was hit by a van in 1999. His exploration of mind and memory also resonates. As the daughter of someone with dementia (who also was a painter who dealt with primarily Florida-themed subject matter), I found it difficult to read about Elizabeth's failing health as she slipped further and further into her disease. King has either done his research here, or been directly affected by someone he loves with memory issues.

As much good as there is in the novel, it also had some disappointments. There is so much foreshadowing of both past and future spooky events, that the secrets as ultimately revealed, and the monster, feel rushed and disappointing. When Edgar, like in a classic Twilight Zone episode, finds whatever he paints he can make happen, I immediately began to wonder why he didn't start to manipulate his talent more. He is able to help one character who is near and dear to him by painting their portrait, so why doesn't he try to help another who is very much in need of help? Why does he seem in control of his gift at some times, and at others his talent is just a tool, a conduit for some evil force?

I can't say that I loved the ending. It may have worked, fit the road that the book was relentlessly following, but I still wasn't satisfied with what happened to many of the characters. But despite its problems, there is a lot to enjoy in Duma Key, especially the description of Edgar's process and the obsession of the artist. Edgar's paintings are so vividly described that it is a shame to realize that we can only attend his grand art opening and visit his painting studio in our minds.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

joyful noise

What is it about Queen Latifah? She has such a warm, pleasant screen presence. She plays against that natural glow a bit in Joyful Noise, as she plays a harried and cranky single mother, Vi Rose — single by circumstance, as her husband (Jesse L. Martin) has re-upped in the Army to escape a bad economy and his own guilty feelings at not being able to provide for his family.

Queen Latifah shines
Most of the internet chatter about this movie has been of the guilty pleasure variety. Critics have claimed to not want to like it. The plot is predictable, but then they admit to being swept away by the great music. And the movie is 75% music. Joyful Noise may be predictable, but most underdog movies are. Whether they are about high school football or basketball teams (The Replacements, Hoosiers), cheerleading squads (Bring It On), or church choirs — the protagonists will either win their competition or not. Either way lessons will be learned and romances will bloom.

My major hesitation in seeing this movie was Dolly Parton, who has been fighting gravity and age and anything resembling reality for a long time. But Dolly and the scriptwriters seemed well aware of such hesitations, and even worked it into her character, G.G., who is the only one in the choir who has her robes tailored to fit her voluptuous figure, and wears mile-high wigs and more make-up than the entire combined county population. She jokes about it herself, "Who cares if I've had a few little nips and tucks? God didn't make plastic surgeons so they could starve!" G.G. (and Dolly) may have had their faces lifted too many times to remember, but that's part of who they are, and they do it with such verve and humor it's hard to protest for long. Dolly did seem a little disconnected onscreen when she was in a scene where she was just one of the members of the chorus, but when she was the featured singer, her voice is as beautiful and affecting as ever.

Dolly Parton and Kris Kristofferson
Beneath all the crazy Dolly glitz and sentiment (a scene featuring a waltz with her deceased husband Kris Kristofferson was equal parts sweet and weird) there is, not surprisingly, a lot of heart and some great music. The pop tunes chosen for a much-needed update to the staid choir's repertoire are still appropriately inspirational (Michael Jackson's Man in the Mirror and Sly and the Family Stone's I Want to Take You Higher). Both Dolly and Queen Latifah are in magnificent voice, as are the supporting players. There is young romance provided by Vi Rose's daughter Olivia (Keke Palmer) and Dolly's nephew Randy (Jeremy Jordan). The pre-requisitely quirky choir members also each get moments to shine.

The movie's characters seem a little more real than we are used to seeing in movies. Besides Dolly, the make-up is appropriately subdued for small-town folk. The town where they live, like towns where many of us live, have a lot of closed and bankrupt businesses. Vi Rose's son Walter (Dexter Darden) has Asperger's syndrome. Nothing gets too heavy, because it's main purpose is fun, and it's all about the music. But Joyful Noise does seem less crass than its cinematic predecessor (which is also an enjoyable guilty pleasure) Sister Act.

By the time the last note is sung it is impossible not to smile. Joyful Noise is just that. You may not have been a fan of gospel or church music when you walked into the theater, but Queen Latifah and company will surely have you tapping and humming along to the music on the way out.
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Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Today is a good day to be a Luddite.

Will you be taking part in Internet Blackout Day to protest the proposed SOPA/PIPA legislation?

p.s. I scheduled this post yesterday. See you tomorrow.
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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

the zen of Steve Jobs

Article first published as Graphic Novel Review: The Zen of Steve Jobsby Caleb Melby, Forbes LLC and JESS3 on Blogcritics.

The Zen of Steve Jobs is a graphic novel that presents a possible history. It depicts Steve Jobs's friendship with Zen Buddhist priest Kobun Chino Otogawa in different periods of his life, and how that may have had a direct influence on Apple product design. The comic presents different key moments in both men's lives, including:

- A teenage Jobs and Kobun meeting in Los Altos, California in 1971;

- Jobs in 1997, after his return to Apple, and his changing its course by simplifying its approach to its products;

- Jobs In 1986, in a one-on-one session with Kobun at the Tassajara Zen Center discussing calligraphy and the space around things;

- Kobun teaching Jobs the walking meditation kinhin, its circular simplicity a direct correlation to Apple design, such as the iPod's circular navigation.

The design of The Zen of Steve Jobs reflects its subject matter. The drawings are streamlined, sometimes even suggesting calligraphy. The color palette is limited to muted greens, blues and purples, printed in two colors on a cream stock. It's an attractive piece.

Jobs is presented as both visionary and prickly, two aspects of his personality that the public has become familiar with through biographies and apocryphal accounts. The book has come out posthumously, but it doesn't eulogize Jobs. It keeps things clean and simple. It packs its most emotional punch in its depiction of Kobun, who, like Jobs was a bit of a rebel, and who tragically, drowned while trying to save his five year-old daughter (who also drowned) in Switzerland in 2002.

There is a nice "making of" section in the back of the book, which includes storyboards and potential cover artwork, as well as short biographical material on Steve Jobs and Kobun Chino Otogawa.

A collaboration between Forbes Publishing and creative agency JESS3, The Zen of Steve Jobs will have its biggest appeal for Apple fans, but anyone interested in computers or intellectual and spiritual approaches to deign will also enjoy it. It's a fitting tribute to Steve Jobs and a nice introduction to a man who may have influenced Jobs (Jobs named Kobun NeXT's spiritual guru) and the products many of us can't live without today.
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