Saturday, August 31, 2013

florida clouds

Florida does have the best clouds. Perfect sky for a three-day weekend.


Friday, August 30, 2013

apple tv, one week later

Talk about timing. Apple TV just added a few more channels this week - we ended up checking out some cool stuff on Smithsonian TV, but got stuck on Vevo, which streamed tons of videos, both U.S. and international. Some of the videos were so compelling they reminded me of hanging out at a friend's house a million years ago to check out that new cable channel, MTV ... especially this song, "Papaoutai," by Belgian artist Stromae:

Also fun and strange was "La La La" by British artist Naughty Boy (ft. Sam Smith):

The kid was also happy to find videos by some of her tween favorites like One Direction and Taylor Swift. So everybody's happy. Of course we've been watching plenty of movies and television shows, too, but I'll have to cover those in another post.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, August 29, 2013

i'm all for girl power, but ...

Katy Perry's new song "Roar" is less of a roar, a call to arms, and more of a yodel. Of course, as I think about her other hits yodeling does appear to be her go-to mode of singing ("California Gurls," "The One That Got Away"). Being the mom of a nine-year-old who loves "girl music," I tend to pay a little bit more attention to some of the latest pop anthems than I might ordinarily.

So many of Katy's recent songs trumpet her new freedom, not-too-subtly referencing her recent divorce from Russell Brand ("Part of Me," "Wide Awake"). The couple always seemed a mismatch, but it should be noted that at least in personal matters, the outspoken and frequently outrageous Brand has been notably quiet about Perry, before, during, and after the divorce.

But back to "Roar," which seems less an empowerment anthem and more of a competition to see how many clichés to fit into a pop song:

I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath
Scared to rock the boat and make a mess
So I sat quietly, agreed politely
I guess that I forgot I had a choice
I let you push me past the breaking point
I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything

You held me down, but I got up
Already brushing off the dust
You hear my voice, you hear that sound
Like thunder, gonna shake the ground
You held me down, but I got up
Get ready cause I’ve had enough
I see it all, I see it now

I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire
Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me ROAR
Louder, louder than a lion
Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me ROAR
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
You’re gonna hear me roar

Now I’m floating like a butterfly
Stinging like a bee I earned my stripes
I went from zero, to my own hero

You held me down, but I got up
Already brushing off the dust
You hear my voice, you hear that sound
Like thunder, gonna shake the ground
You held me down, but I got up
Get ready ’cause I’ve had enough
I see it all, I see it now

And then the chorus and the yodeling repeats and repeats.

It actually took five people to string all of those clichés together: Katy Perry, Lukasz Gottwald, Max Martin, Bonnie McKee, and Henry Walter are all credited as writers on the song. "Roar" has also been accused of being extremely similar to Sara Bareilles's song Brave. They are both in current frequent rotation on pop radio. Bareilles doesn't roar in her song, but she doesn't yodel, either.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

you're getting to be a hobbit ...

Peter Jackson just can't help himself, I guess.

I finally watched the first installment of The Hobbit. I didn't watch it in the movie theater when it first came out. I was under protest. I couldn't understand why a single book, especially one that was not as epic as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, would have to be divided into three films. After viewing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey I still don't. The landscape in New Zealand is gorgeous, and there are certainly a lot of overhead shots of Bilbo Baggins and his companions running to and fro across the hillsides ... Sorry, I drifted off there for a moment.

Everyone in The Hobbit is always running
Martin Freeman was fine as Bilbo, and it's always great to see Ian McKellan as Gandalf, but the movie had no real oomph. The dwarves, led by Thorin (Richard Armitage) want to get back into their homeland, from which they were ejected. The Orcs are still ugly. Ugly is bad. Why the Orcs are fighting the dwarves or just about anyone is unclear. Why are there no females of any account in Middle Earth, except for Galadriel, who seems to enjoy mind-flirting with Gandalf? Why ask why?

The only thing that might get me into the theater for the second installment is that it seems elf-centered, and I've always liked Legolas (Orlando Bloom). Plus, Benedict Cumberbatch. But seriously, Peter Jackson. Do you have any other interests besides Tolkien you'd like to share?
Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

how was miley's performance so different ...

... from so many other "sexy" VMA performances?

Isn't that the point of the VMAs (and rock 'n' roll)? To be "outrageous?" It may have been in poor taste, and I don't want my 9 year-old daughter to check it out, but the internet outrage, aimed squarely at Billy Ray Cyrus's little girl, who isn't a little girl anymore (news flash), seems way off balance. What about her partner-in-crime, Robin Thicke? It was his song, and he and Miley obviously rehearsed their gyrations.

She's just following in the footsteps of her fellow songstresses ...

What Miley does shares with these other ladies and their performances through the years is being in charge of how she wants to present her sexuality onstage. It might not be your cup of tea — I'm not sure what all the Gene Simmons-like tongue action was about — but Miley was in charge. She and her back-up dancers at least looked like they were having fun, as opposed to the robot-like, typical, objectified dancers and strutters in skimpy spandex who joined Thicke & Co. after Miley twerked herself off into the distance. Best VMA performance ever? Worst? Hardly, either, but it achieved its primary objective. It got everyone talking. And tweeting.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Monday, August 26, 2013


Jobs, starring Ashton Kutcher as the enigmatic Apple co-founder, has been getting a lot of negative critical reaction. The film may not be a Hollywood blockbuster with explosions and comic book heroes, like many other of this summer's film offerings, but it isn't a slanted pseudo-hagiography, either. Directed by Joshua Michael Stern (Neverwas, Swing Vote), Jobs is more a collage of scenes from the life of Steve Jobs. Kutcher does a pretty good job of looking and sounding and walking like his subject. Where the film falters is in its cut-and-paste approach to Jobs's life and career trajectory. There is a lot of time spent on his interoffice and personal bad behavior — the viewer walks away with the impression that Jobs was a dick - a brilliant dick, but nonetheless, a real dick to be around, whether at work or at home. And then, he gets fired from Apple and flash forward, he's not such a dick anymore.

Ashton Kutcher (top) and his doppelgänger, Steve Jobs, below
It's probably impossible to compress the life of someone like Jobs, or the beginnings of a company like Apple, into a two-hour film. It would have probably been better to make a mini-series. Notably missing are scenes depicting what led to Jobs's triumphant return to Apple in 1996 — his founding of NeXT Computer (which provided the OS X platform for the next wave of Apple computers) and Pixar, which revolutionized the film industry.
"I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life. 
During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the world's first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple's current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together."
Although a film like Jobs can only really skim the surface of someone who has made such an impact on modern technology and the way we live today, it does manage to highlight some interesting aspects of Jobs's life. From his time at Reed College in the early 1970s he was driven, but not to follow a traditional path — he dropped out of school and chose to audit classes.

"... After six months, I couldn't see the value in it [attending Reed College]. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.
... If I had never dropped in on that single calligraphy course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. ...If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do."
He brought his original way of thinking to his job at Atari, but couldn't really mesh with the other employees. Jobs was an idea man, a true visionary, but lacked empathy. Although there are too many scenes devoted to the early days of Apple, centered around work cubicles, Josh Gad does a great job portraying Woz, Steve Wozniak, the inventor of the Apple I computer and the co-founder of Apple with Steve.

The Steves, Wozniak and Jobs
"Welcome to Apple Computer."
Jobs ends with Steve Jobs introducing the iPod. There isn't a person in the audience, Apple groupie or not, who will feel that is not too abrupt a place to stop telling the story. Photographed by Russell Carpenter (and for a few scenes shot in India, Aseem Bajaj), Jobs is a good-looking film. The camera gets in close, trying to get inside Jobs's head. It may not completely succeed, but it does leave the viewer wanting to know more about the man.
"Death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true. 
Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."
Quotes from Stanford University Commencement address, delivered by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, on June 12, 2005
Enhanced by Zemanta

Sunday, August 25, 2013

palm beach pink

This is a real sunset from the other night.


Saturday, August 24, 2013

how did we get here?

Sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's hard — visiting my mom at the nursing home. The fact that she seems happy there, and even happier to see us, is great. But some of the "ambiance," and the lessening ability to understand what she's saying, can be difficult. But we have to focus on the good things. Like her friendship with one of her fellow residents, and how they smile and really seem to enjoy each other. They make each other laugh, even though their words are frequently unintelligible. Like how mom just looking at her granddaughter seems to bring her great joy. Like the gorgeous view outside the common room window, and how she enjoys watching all that's going on outside. She is still interested in life. And for that I'm truly thankful.

Add caption
Enhanced by Zemanta

Friday, August 23, 2013

standing up

Arc Entertainment releases the family-friendly, Standing Up Aug. 20, 2013 on DVD & Blu-ray exclusively at Walmart. The movies tells the story of Grace (Annalise Basso), 12, and Howie (Chandler Canterbury), 11, both victims of a nasty prank at summer camp. Grace is at first shell-shocked and humiliated by the bullying episode, but with Howie’s help, she slowly regains her confidence as the two refuse to be victims and instead embark on a three-day adventure.

The film is based on the popular children’s book The Goats by Brock Cole. The movie starts off in the middle of the action, with a hazing at night, which leaves the two young outcasts, “the goats,” naked and scared on an island near camp. But instead of remaining for further ogling and humiliation by their tormentors, the two escape, and take off through the surrounding woods, hoping to delay their return to camp until Parents Weekend, when Grace’s mom (Radha Mitchell) will arrive.

Grace (Annalise Basso) and Howie (Chandler Canterbury) on the run

Standing Up shares some similarities with Moonrise Kingdom, which also featured two misunderstood kids taking off on their own to have an adventure. But where Moonrise Kingdom was more of a quirky romance, Standing Up is focused on the kids facing their fears and getting past their bullying experience. Val Kilmer shows up along the way, as a local sheriff who may or may not be there to help them.

Director D.J. Caruso (I Am Number Four, Taking Lives, The Salton Sea), who also wrote the screenplay, keeps things simple, concentrating on the kids and the environment in which they find themselves. The kids are quite engaging, with Chandler Canterbury especially a stand-out as the clever and enterprising young Howie. The night scenes look a little dark at times, but the exterior daytime scenes featuring their trek through the woods and in town look great on a large-scale high-definition television. The film has an aspect ratio of 16×9, with Dolby Digital 5.1 and a 90-minute running time. Extras include a behind-the-scenes feature on the making of the movie, and the theatrical trailer.

Standing Up should be popular with kids and adults alike. Although it takes a tough stand against bullying, it does it with humor and ingenuity. Kids will love the journey that Grace and Howie take, and parents and teachers should like how they resolve their problems and grow up along the way. A true coming-of-age film with a heart, Standing Up hits all the right notes.

Article first published on Blogcritics: DVD Review: ‘Standing Up’
Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, August 22, 2013

hitchcock's true romance

Last week was Alfred Hitchcock's birthday. One of my all-time favorite filmmakers, Hitchcock was funny, talented, and more than a little bit quirky. This past year two films attempted to tell behind-the-scenes stories of the man and his films. A made-for-cable movie, The Girl, premiered on HBO and focused on Hitch's obsession with actress Tippi Hedren during the filming of The Birds. Not to diminish what Hitch may have put Ms. Hedren through, but it was not a great film, focusing on hearsay of the most prurient kind. Also released this year was Hitchcock, based on Stephen Rebello's book, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. The film does include some fun peeks into the making of the famous horror film, but the true center of the story is the relationship between Hitch (Anthony Hopkins) and his wife, screenwriter and editor Alma Reville (Helen Mirren).

Alma Reville
Helen Mirren as Alma
Hitchcock is a far better film than The Girl (which isn't really saying much). But true Hitchophiles may wish for a bit more "making of" footage than the filmmaker's inserted dream sequences, where the great director talks to Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein, the inspiration for the book by Robert Bloch and the film. Film buffs will enjoy being reminded how completely unusual Psycho was for its time. Because of its graphic subject matter, Hitch's studio, Paramount, wouldn't finance the film, so the director (and his wife) had to put up the money. Hitchcock used his television crew from Alfred Hitchcock Presents to film Psycho. When the studio would only releas the film to a very limited amount of theaters, Hitchcock countered with some brilliant publicity gimmicks — buying up all copies of the Bloch book, so that no one would know how the story ended, and by decreeing that absolutely no one would be allowed into the theater after the movie had started.

Hitch swears the cast and crew to secrecy on the set of Psycho - L-R: Jessica Biel as Vera Miles, Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, and James D'Arcy as Anthony Perkins
Hopkins may not look exactly like Hitch, but he does a great job with his voice, especially his over-enunciated speech. He could have slowed down some of his phrasing even more. Mirren gives a wonderful, acerbic performance as Alma. She may not closely resemble Mrs. Hitchcock, but she captures the frustrations involved in being married to a man who always had to have a "Hitchcock blonde" standing by. The pair bicker and try to one-up each other throughout the film, but they also manage to convey their great love for one another. Alfred Hitchcock and Alma Reville were married 54 years, from 1926–1980, when Hitch died. Alma died two years later, in 1982.

Hitchcock and Alma on vacation
Alma (Mirren) helps Hitch (Hopkins) edit Psycho
Hitchcock tries to amp up the drama by having Alma indulge in a flirtation with fellow screen writer Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston) who wrote Stage Fright and Strangers on a Train. Their collaboration on a new project while Hitch is working on HIS film inflames Hitch's jealousy and inspires his rage, which he channels into the famous shower scene. Maybe. It's pretty well-known that the shower scene was completely story-boarded and not a spontaneous expression of Hitch's personal rage on the set. What the film does do is underline how essential Alma was to Hitch and his films. It may slightly overplay her contributions to Psycho, but it does show how her discerning eye and opinion was Hitch's absolute first and last stop during his creative process.

Although the film and romance belongs to Hopkins and Mirren, the supporting cast does a good job with their interpretations of well-known actors. Jessica Biel especially stands out as Vera Miles, a woman, who like Tippi Hedren, was being groomed to be a star, a Hitchcock blonde, but who fell out with the director after becoming pregnant prior to his starring her in Vertigo (the part then went to Kim Novak). James D'Arcy is an uncanny Anthony Perkins. Scarlett Johannsson tries to charm as Janet Leigh, but apart from her figure, doesn't really suggest the actress or the era.

Janet Leigh (Johansson) and Vera Miles (Biel)
Quibbles aside, Hitchcock is an entertaining peek into the relationship between Hitch and Alma and Hollywood's first slasher film. After viewing this biopic one might want to screen the original and reflect on all that went into making this black and white horror classic.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

a new way (for me) to watch tv

After yesterday's post of bemoaning the current state of television, and with a little prompting and encouragement from friends far and near, I put my money where my mouth was, and dumped my cable. At least most of it. I am still using Comcast for my internet and streaming and HD box for my tv at the moment, but I am no longer a premium cable subscriber. For the first time in a long time.

Right off the bat I am saving $66 a month, and if I swap out the box I have now for a just-HD box, I will save another $7.00. So what will I be watching, you might ask? I currently have a free month-long subscription to Netflix and free week-long subscription to Hulu Plus (Can't wait to start watching obscure Britcoms!). They are each 7.99 a month, so after the try-out, I can decide to do either/or or just go for both of them. I could add just HBO for another $15 a month, but since Game of Thrones won't be back for a while, I feel no immediate need for that. But when Dinklage season returns, so may I, for a few months at least.

After a lot of internet and Best Buy research I decided to implement all of this with Apple TV. It took two minutes to set up and instantly started streaming my iPhone, Flickr, and other content from the Cloud to the tv. Welcome to the future. And thanks again friends. You know who you are.
: )
Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

here's what's wrong with television today

So, so many things. But the latest depressing news is that the delightful Bunheads, starring Broadway baby Sutton Foster and Kelly Bishop has been cancelled after two seasons. God forbid that a wittily scripted show (by Gilmore Girls' Amy Palladino) should survive on a television landscape where battling "real" housewives and other such creatures can thrive. Sigh.

Monday, August 19, 2013

first day of school — fourth grade!

Walking to school ...



Sunday, August 18, 2013

back to school shopping

Target was an absolute mess, but we miraculously were able to find a new pair of sneakers and all of the other school supplies that the kid needs for Monday. That's tomorrow, right? Yikes.

And so it — fourth grade — begins.


Saturday, August 17, 2013

walter mitty redux

As much as I love Danny Kaye, this trailer for Ben Stiller's take on The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has me excited. Fingers crossed the film is as good as it looks.

Friday, August 16, 2013

the fairest of them all

Fairy tales have been always been popular with old and young, but recently they have been enjoying a pop culture resurgence, with television programs like Once Upon A Time and films like Snow White and the Huntsman, Mirror, Mirror, and Tangled. Fairy tales are designed to be spun and embellished — there are no definitive versions. At least that is the concept behind The Fairest of Them All, the latest book by Carolyn Turgeon. Turgeon's dark romantic fantasy poses the intriguing question — what if Snow White’s evil stepmother turned out to be another familiar fairytale heroine, like Rapunzel?

Clearly a tale like Snow White's or Rapunzel's is still ripe for retelling, and Turgeon is comfortable in the world of fairy tales, with two previous novels re-imagining favorite heroines Cinderella and the Little Mermaid, in Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story (2009), and Mermaid (2011). In The Fairest of Them All she writes from Rapunzel's point of view. Rapunzel still lives in a tower in the middle of an enchanted forest, and she has that long, luxurious hair, but she is also a 17 year-old witch-in-training who has not much knowledge of the outside world — especially the ways of men.

Carolyn Turgeon
Rapunzel lives with her guardian, the witch Mathena, who seems to be a more sympathetic creature than the old woman who kidnapped the young Rapunzel from her radish-eating mother in previous versions of the tale. Part feminist, part cautionary tale, The Fairest of Them All examines how Rapunzel's world changes radically when she catches the ear and eye of the handsome prince Josef. But what happens when Rapunzel, with the help of her beauty and more than a little magic, is able to realize her dreams of winning Josef's love and becoming his queen? And it's a package deal, as widower Josef has a beautiful young daughter, named Snow White. Complicating matters, and Rapunzel's world view, is Mathena's wedding gift — a magic mirror.

Turgeon manages to makes all of her heroines' stories engaging, even when they are doing and thinking things they oughtn't. Although the author is clearly familiar with the Brothers Grimm and Disney, The Fairest of Them All is a distinctly adult spin on some classic stories. The lush prose pulls the reader in, as the story takes Rapunzel and then Snow White for some unexpected twists and turns that will still surprise the most avid fan of folklore. Turgeon proves that there are still exciting stories to tell and retell, featuring beloved fictional characters.

Originally published as Book Review: ‘The Fairest of Them All’ by Carolyn Turgeon on Blogcritics

Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, August 15, 2013

grannie endora

When I was a kid my favorite television show was Bewitched. Mostly because I wanted to be as cute and hip as Samantha, and be able to twitch my nose and make magical things happen. But there was also something else about the show that I liked. Endora. She was the ultimate nosy mother-in-law, and the bane of Darrin (Derwood, Darwin)'s existence. But she also represented a different kind of grandmother image. And I needed that.

A disapproving Endora (Agnes Moorehead) considers her daughter Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery).

Endora loves her granddaughter Tabitha (Erin Moran).

My dad's mom, my Italian grandmother, was everything we are brought up to expect a grandmother should be. She was a great babysitter when my parents needed her, and an even greater cook. She may not have baked cookies, but she made amazing southern Italian dishes — from caponata to pasta and beyond. She also made delicious coffee cakes.

Grandma and me. She also made the dress I'm wearing.
exotic Mariette
Glamorous Gran'mere, on vacation in Hawaii.
But my mother's mother, "Gran'mere," as we were encouraged to call her, was a different kind of grandmother entirely. She was exotic and glamorous. She was a world traveler who we would only get to see when she made it to our neck of the woods in New Jersey. She was also very loving, much like the eccentric Endora was to little Tabitha on Bewitched. Could a grannie dress in such a fancy way and still be your grannie? Thanks to a pop culture sitcom, I felt that she could.

Neither Endora nor my Gran'mere Mariette ever baked any chocolate chip cookies that I know of. But I bet if either Tabitha or I wanted some, Endora would have produced them with an elegant wave of her hand, and my grandmother would have surely taken us out, dressed to the nines, for some delicious dessert.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

a nice visit

John's visit

John's visit

And the food was pretty good, too.

John's visit

John's visit

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

happy birthday, alfred hitchcock

The master of suspense — and twisted humor, too.

A promo for my favorite film of his, The Birds