Friday, May 30, 2014

favorite song friday: who is this ed sheeran guy, anyway?

Ed Sheeran has been all over the charts in recent years, but it's highly possible that he is still an unfamiliar face to many. He has written hit songs for One Direction ("Moments," "Little Things") and dueted with Taylor Swift ("Everything Has Changed") and even seen his own songs do well ("The A Team," "Lego House"). But who is this ginger-haired, somewhat unassuming Brit? Only 23, he has been performing since 2005 (you do the math). His latest song, "Sing," seems at first a bit out of character, as it could easily become a dance club hit, but Sheeran's recent rendition of it with a more acoustic approach on The Voice stayed true to his singer-songwriter roots and proved that under all of the production, it is just a really good song.

The official video is pretty humorous, too, and plays with the idea of his known/unknown status. Plus, the mid-way appearance of Pharrell explains the more groovy aspects:

Here's his more acoustic take on The Voice:

Thursday, May 29, 2014

back to the '70s with the x-men: days of future past

I have been a casual watcher of the X-Men films through the years. I really liked the first one, which came out in 2000, directed by Bryan Singer, and starring and launching the film career of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Wolverine was the anchor for a story that helped introduce to non-comic book fans like myself a host of interesting characters: Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen), Mystique (Rebecca Romijn), Storm (Halle Berry), Rogue (Anna Paquin), etc. The idea of "mutants" who have special powers that set them apart from humans resonated - as do most outsider, misfit tales. And let's face it, a lot of what the mutants could do was pretty cool. Professor X can read minds, Magneto can control anything made of metal, Mystique can shape-shift into anyone at any time, Wolverine is seemingly invulnerable and he has those pesky adamantine steel claws.

The Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Professor X (James McAvoy), and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) in front of Cerebro

The second and third films of that first set were not quite as good, although X2 (2003) featured Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler, who was super-cool and fun to watch. What came as a real surprise after the rather dismal X3 (2006) was a really fun and decent reboot, X-Men: First Class, in 2011. All of the main characters were brought back in an origins story that told how Professor X (James McAvoy) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and friends came to be. So what would be better than another story based on that timeline with that cast? Well, how about mixing both together, with Jackman's ever-popular Wolverine (who in the meantime had starred in two off-shoots of his own, 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine and 2013's The Wolverine) as an anchor?

Something that must have sounded crazy but brilliant (money-wise) on paper turned out to be crazy but fun to watch at the theater. For X-Men: Days of Future Past original X-Men director Bryan Singer came back, and it was great to see a lot of the old gang back together again, especially the recent internet-sensational bromance of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. The story starts, like so many sci-fi/fantasy epics do these days, with a post-apocalyptic future. Creepy shape-shifting robots called Sentinels are flying around the world, charged with hunting down and killing off all the mutants. Professor X and a few key mutants (recognizable to comic book geeks, but unfortunately not really introduced properly to the rest of us) are holed up and trying to come up with a plan to stop this war on mutants before they all perish. It's a shame we don't really get to see who's who, because Ellen Page seems to have a fairly big job to do, being able to send Wolverine back in time, but only in the credits or online did I identify her as a mutant named Kitty Pryde. I did recognize Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), and his ice-making ability, from the earlier films.

Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage, above) learns a valuable lesson: don't mess with Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence)

But back to the plot. The assignment? Stop Mystique from killing Sentinel inventor Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) in 1973, which seems to be the jump-start event of their current perilous situation. And who better to go back in time than Logan, or as we know him, Wolverine, with his whole invulnerable situation.

The X-Men and their movies have always had a sense of humor, so things get off to a good start by plonking the surly Wolverine in the middle of brightly-colored, toe-tapping '70s background soundtrack. I couldn't help but be instantly reminded of Austin Powers's similar journey in his Goldmember film, and wished that some of the time-bending humor was able to be sustained until the oh-so-serious  film finish. As usual, a lot of the exploding buildings and robots leave one on the cold (and bored) side, including an inexplicable and tedious CGI sequence of Michael Fassbender lifting and moving a baseball stadium. Doesn't (young) Magneto have better ways to terrorize? But there are some pretty wonderful things happening too, especially concerning a young and super-fast moving mutant (Evan Peters) enlisted by Wolverine to help break Magneto out of the Pentagon. I checked online later and learned he in named Quicksilver. All I know is his character was great and I'm sure will be back for the next one, X-Men: Apocalypse, which is due in 2016 and supposed to take place in the 1980s. Cue up the Prince, punk, and new wave soundtrack in 3, 2, 1 ...

Quicksilver (Evan Peters) steals every scene he is in, super-speed or not

Folks who lived through the '70s or love the decade will be rewarded with clever cultural reference points. The Kennedy assassination - did Magneto curve the bullet trajectory? Richard Nixon's White House. Mystique pulls off a mutant rescue-op in war-torn Saigon. Fans of the entire series will be happy to catch a glimpse of some of their favorite mutants (and villains) from earlier films. Peter Dinklage's villain was interesting - not your typical comic book mad scientist. Surely he's a bad guy for experimenting on mutants, but does he really want to wipe them all out? Or maybe rather to become one? Maybe a comic book fan could help answer that question.

Although I found it hard to connect with the dystopian future scenes, and I suspect, like most movie-goers, enjoyed the time travel to the past far more entertaining, X-Men: Days of Future Past did keep its focus primarily on the characters, the X-Men, and the appealing actors who portray them. And that's who we really all came to see, no matter what decade.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

bachelor flat

Bachelor Flat is one of those breezy, zany, battle-of the-sexes farces that were cranked out a lot in the 1960s. Although the cast is headed by actress Tuesday Weld, the film belongs to British comedian Terry-Thomas, in a role that seems styled after similar parts played by fellow-Brit David Niven. Thomas plays anthropology Professor Bruce Patterson, teaching at a California university, who is the object of mad crushes by just about every female who lays eyes on him, young and old. Is it his British charm or exotic (to the California girls) accent? Even his neighbor's dog, Jessica the dachshund, is smitten.


Weld and others spend a lot of time hiding under Terry-Thomas's bed (Image from Supposed Aura)

Although Tuesday Weld may have been star of the film, her character is shrill and annoying. In a much smaller part, as one of Mike's girlfriends (and one of the professor's legion of admirers), Gladys, Francesca Bellini is almost a cartoon in the scenes she appears in, but she is quite funny. Film buffs will also recognize a certain garment - the iconic white pleated dress worn by Marilyn Monroe over a subway grate in The Seven Year Itch. Here actress Roxanne Arlen appears in the same dress, sporting a similar blonde hairdo, but without Marilyn's something extra. Of all the ladies that faint and fawn over Terry Thomas in Bachelor Flat, Jessica the dachshund is pretty much the film's most appealing character. Her scenes involving an over-sized dinosaur bone on Malibu Beach, as well as Terry-Thomas's attempts to steer clear of his female fans, provide the real laughs.

You can read my complete review on Cinema Sentries.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

bogart: in search of my father by stephen bogart

If anyone thought that being the child of famous parents was a walk in the park, they need go no further than read Stephen Bogart's memoir, Bogart: In Search of My Father. The book is half memories and anecdotes about his father, and half spiritual quest to quash, once and for all, his personal demons about spending his life in his father's shadow.

Stephen holds his dad's Oscar for Best Actor in The African Queen

Actor Humphrey Bogart was 44 when he met 19 year-old Lauren Bacall while filming To Have and Have Not in 1944. They fell in love while making the iconic film, but Bogie and Baby couldn't be together right away, as Bogart was still married to his third wife, Mayo Methot. He filed for divorce the following year, and Bogie and Bacall were married on May 21, 1945. Four years later their first child was born, a son, Stephen, named after Bogart's character's nickname in To Have and Have Not. A few years later, in 1952, Bacall gave birth to a daughter, Leslie, named after Bogart's friend Leslie Howard, who helped jump-start his film career to more serious roles by insisting he play in the film the role he created on the New York stage, of Duke Mantee, in The Petrified Forest.

Stephen was only eight when his father passed away from esophageal cancer. He does have memories of his father, but he fills in his kaleidoscopic portrait with great anecdotes from family friends like Katharine Hepburn: like his dad's notorious drinking (which helped both The Rat Pack), his early life, his marriages, his long and winding road to success as an actor, his iconic outsider role of Rick Blaine in the film classic Casablanca.

He also quotes his mother and echoes much of the biographical information she provided in her memoir, By Myself. As much as Bogart spent much of his life railing against being only known as "Bogie's son," one senses that the parent he really has issues with is his mother. In a terse but emotional passage he describes how his parents left him, at the age of two, to go on safari to Africa and film The African Queen. As Stephen waved goodbye to them as their plane took off, his nurse holding him actually suffered from a cerebral hemorrhage and died, right there, on the tarmac. And, as Bogart tells his readers, once she was informed, his mother didn't come back. She continued on with the trip. It's clear he has never forgiven her.

The most heart-rending section of the book comes at the end, as he details his father's failing health, bout with cancer, surgery, and eventual death. Tough guy Bogie ended up frail and unable to walk downstairs, but he still met daily with friends like Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Judy Garland, and Frank Sinatra. He kept his trademark "needling" humor intact, "Put me in the dumbwaiter and I'll ride down to the first floor in style." Neither Bogie nor Bacall ever talked about his impending death, to their friends, each other, or the kids, but the man himself knew, as Hepburn told his son, "Spence patted him on the shoulder and said, 'Goodnight, Bogie.' Bogie turned his eyes to Spence very quietly and with a sweet smile covered Spence's hand with his own and said, 'Goodbye, Spence.' Spence's heart stood still. He understood.'

In Bogart: In Search of My Father, the reader learns about Bogie along with his son. Bogart also includes stories about his youth post-Bogie, his rebellion, troubles with drugs and relationships. He tries to draw parallels to their lives, some of which stick, some don't. He had a major chip on his shoulder soon after his father passed away, "One day a kid said to me, 'Too bad about your father,' and I slugged him." It may have been a tough road for Bogart to accept his roots and learn about his dad's life. maybe even hardest to accept was how so many people loved his father, wanted to share his memory. But now Bogart has not only faced his demons and accepted his father's legacy, but he has embraced it. As the head of the Humphrey Bogart website and the driving force behind the now annual Humphrey Bogart Film Festival, he works hard to preserve and promote his father's legacy. He has come a long way.

Monday, May 26, 2014

happy memorial day

I usually post a photo of my dad or another family member who served our country — and there are some wonderful shots in my flickr photo album, Soldier Boys and Girls.

But today I am thinking of someone else I lost on Memorial Day, four year ago — my beautiful cousin Ann. She was smart and talented and funny, and not just family, but my dearest friend. She is why I moved to Washington, D.C.  Twice. I know she is always with me, but some days, like today, I really miss her voice.




Hanging out with Ann

At the beach with Ann, Spring Lake

Friday, May 23, 2014

favorite song friday: not that iggy ...

Pop culture likes to seize on something new and then shove it down everyone's throat until they like it. At least that is how it seems sometimes, with this or that hot new actor or actress appearing in seemingly every movie (Jessica Chastain, anyone?) until the collective audience either gobbles them up or spits them back. This week's omnipresent voice in pop music is Iggy Azalea, an Australian rapper/singer whose birth name is Amethyst Amelia Kelly. What, no one thought Amethyst was an interesting enough name?

I have to admit that her current pop hit "Fancy" is extremely catchy. And how could you not like a video that spoofs the classic comedy (and a personal fave) Clueless? I like that she is a female rapper, with just as much attitude as the boys' club. But I also must confess that I'm a bit disappointed that the singing part of the song, the "I'm so fancy" chorus, is not sung by Azalea, but by Charli XCX (who sounds a lot like Gwen Stefani).

Azalea also shows up on another current chart climber, Ariana Grande's debut single, "Problem." That is also an incredibly catchy song, but I find Grande's voice high, monotone, and chalkboard-scratchy. Listen at your own risk.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

the playful side of game of thrones

The kid likes to collect My Little Pony mini-figures and the same company happens to make Game of Thrones figurines, too. I'm not sure if I'm collecting them or she is. Although she's never seen an episode, she is well aware of my love of Dinklage and has been able to identify quite a few of the characters just from ads and a general exposure to pop culture.

The gang's all here - Tyrion, Arya, Jon Snow, Ned Stark, Joffrey, even dragons and dire wolves 
Tyrion and Arya are wondering who is that tall guy in the back row ...

White Walkers, too!

One even glows in the dark

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

peter dinklage sums up game of thrones in 45 seconds

“Stabby, stabby, stabby, sexy, sexy, sexy ..."

Pretty much sums it up, doesn't it? Talk about must-see TV  ; )

Dinklage had another great scene in last Sunday's episode, "Mockingbird," with Prince Oberyn (Pedro Pascal). Their interchange not only propelled the show forward into a confrontation we will all be looking forward to (Oberyn volunteered to be Tyrion's champion), but it filled in blanks about just how awful Tyrion's childhood must have been with a sister like Cersei, who despised him from birth. Great acting and storytelling are making this season Game of Thrones' best yet.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

vb6, by mark bittman

The latest "alternative cookbook" that I have checked out recently is VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health . . . for Good by Marl Bittman. Bittman is the well-known New York Times food writer, and author of the very popular How to Cook Everything series. Bittman has spent his life loving and eating food, so it must have come as a blow to him when his doctor suggested that he change his diet to a vegan one, if he wanted to avoid developing diabetes and heart disease:
"He’d laid out the depressing facts for me: “Your blood numbers have always been fine but now they’re not. You weigh 40 pounds more than you should. You’re complaining of sleep apnea. You’re talking about knee surgery, which is a direct result of your being overweight. Your cholesterol, which has always been normal up until now, isn’t. Same with your blood sugar; it’s moved into the danger zone.” 
A more conventional doc would’ve simply put me on a drug like Lipitor, and maybe a low-fat diet. But Lipitor, one of the statin drugs that lowers cholesterol, is a permanent drug: Once you start taking it, you don’t stop. I didn’t like the idea of that. Furthermore, its effectiveness in healthy people has never been established, and it’s also been implicated in memory loss and other cognitive complications; I didn’t like the idea of any of that, either. And at this point, low-fat and low-carbohydrate diets have essentially been discredited: They might help you lose weight, but they’re not effective for maintaining that loss in the long term, and they may even wreak havoc on your system. 
But becoming a vegan? A person who eats no animal products at all? Calling that a radical change to my lifestyle was more than a bit of an understatement. Yet it was clear that something had to be done. I asked Sid, “Is a compromise possible? Any other ideas?” 
“You’re a smart guy,” he said. “Figure something out.”

Bittman did just that. He developed a diet, or more correctly, a way of eating, that would benefit his long-term health but also allow him to continue to enjoy the foods he craved and loved. The basic idea of VB^6, or Vegan Before 6pm, is pretty straightforward. Eat fruits and vegetables in abundance all day and after 6pm you can eat whatever you like. Of course he advises one to indulge sparingly. One should start thinking of meat as a condiment, not a centerpiece of a meal.

There is also a lot of information - about how foods are absorbed and processed in our bodies, if one is interested in the science of food, too. And Bittman is always an engaging and interesting writer. But I have to admit, I want dot just cut to the chase and get some meal ideas. And he did not disappoint. Bittman includes diet and menu plans for different eating styles - the restaurant regular, home cook, grazer, etc. He also includes pantry-stocking ideas and lays out a broad eating plan:

Before 6 p.m.
Eat as many of these foods as one wanted - vegetables, fruit, condiments (spices)
Eat sparingly - beans, whole grains, calorie dense fruits and vegetables (avocado and coconut), nuts and seeds, oils, sweet condiments, nut milks

After 6 p.m.
Eat these "treats" (sparingly) - meat, dairy, fish, seafood, processed grains, white flour, alcohol, dessert, junk food

VB6 also includes many recipes, all with  nutritional information. A few seems like ones I would like to try: easiest vegetable soup (p.160), falafel and tahini (p.180), vegan "creamsicles" (he substitutes yogurt for silken tofu). There was only one recipe, his homemade cereal, that I felt strong enough about to go pick up a few missing ingredients

Homemade Cold Cereal (p.138) 
3.5 cups rolled oats,
.5 cup mixed chopped nuts and seeds
.5 cup raisins or other chopped dried fruit
.25 cup unsweeteneded grated coconut
.5 tsp cinnamon or cardamom to taste
pinch salt
4 cups soy or other nondairy milk

Combine dry ingredients and store in airtight container in fridge for up to 2 months. To serve, put about 1 cup of cereal in bowl with .5 cup of milk. If you have time, let bowl sit for 5-10 minutes to let oats absorb milk and soften.

There was one recipe that completely put me off. I have to draw the line at his "Eggplant un-Parmesan." What is the point of making a Parmesan without cheese? Just wait until after 6 p.m. to have some mozzarella and parmesan.

For the most part I think VB6 is a good guideline for eating healthfully. You may just lose a little weight while you're at it, too.

Monday, May 19, 2014

paint party

The kid and I attended a fun kid's party yesterday, where each guest got to paint their own version of the subject picked by the birthday girl, a white owl. Everyone had their own spin on things. I'm prejudiced, of course, but I like the kid's choice of a blue background.




Friday, May 16, 2014

favorite song friday: "the big bang"

This song is a little eerie, as the singer's voice really reminds me of the late Amy Winehouse, but I can't help but like it. Will British singer Katy Tiz be more than a one-hit wonder? Only time will tell.

The song was already covered, not too long ago, by Miley Cyrus and Rock Mafia (who wrote the song), in an almost identical arrangement, but Tiz seems to be the one hitting the charts. Maybe timing is everything.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

game of thrones — all dinklage, all the time

O.K., that may be a bit of an exaggeration. There are many fine actors/characters in Game of Thrones. Peter Dinklage, who plays Tyrion Lannister, is just one of them. A main character for sure, but part of an ensemble. But his raging soliloquy at the end of Sunday night's episode, “The Laws of Gods and Men” was so good, so riveting, so emotional — it just made everyone else fade away just a bit.

As usual, there were some other things going on during the episode:

A nice exchange between "Lord" Varys (Conleth Hill, always good) and Prince Oberyn (Pedro Pascal, who just keeps getting better and better), reminding viewers that the politics of Thrones is just as important and frequently more fascinating than all of the blood and guts confrontations.  
A rescue attempt by Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) of her brother Theon (Alfie Allen) found that he had for all intents and purposes disappeared. All that was left was Reek, ripe for the latest mind games from the creepy and evil Ramsay Snow (Iwan Rheon). Or do we have to call him Lord Bolton now?  
Daenerys's (Emilia Clarke) dragons are getting bigger (and cooler-looking) and out of control, and Dany may have made a new adversary or ally in Hizdar zo Loraq (Joel Fry). 
It was also very cool to see Braavos and the Iron Bank (and especially guest star Mark Gatiss), but the Stannis storyline is still as dull as Stannis himself. 

A young goatherd watches a not-so-friendly neighborhood dragon scorch the countryside

But once that was all out of the way we could get down to the meat of the episode — Tyrion's trial and the never-ending drama that is the family Lannister.

Cersei (Lena Headey) was predictably evil condemning her brother. Papa Tywin (Charles Dance), as head judge, tried to appear fair, but clearly wanted to get the trial and Tyrion over with. Tyrion's real words and contempt for Joffrey were cleverly thrown in his face. Undeniable, but hardly evidence of murder. Only big brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) seemed to care about Tyrion, and he finally gave his father what he had been long waiting for — he promised to step down from the Kingsguard and take up residence at Casterly Rock if his father would assure him that Tyrion would not be executed. A ray of hope, but quickly dimmed by the appearance of Shae (Sibel Kekilli), who not only lied about Tyrion and Sansa's involvement in Joffrey's death, but shared intimate details of their relationship with the tittering onlookers. This caused Tyrion to understandably lose it, and gave Dinklage the opportunity to spew forth years of hatred and frustration at how he has been viewed and treated by the world at large, and especially, by his father. It was amazing, and all the awards should just be mailed to his home forthwith.

Tyrion has had enough, with father Tywin watching him, in the background

Just as viewers were trying to catch their breath the screen went black, and now we all have to wait until next week. Even if one is a reader of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire books and have a general idea of what is coming next, show runners David Benioff and Dan Weiss continue to keep adding just a few new scenes or twists on characters to keep us all guessing. It's making this season more fun than could have ever been anticipated. In a recent EW interview, Game of Thrones writer Bryan Cogman hinted at what's still to come in the final episodes of the season, as a result of Tyrion's melt-down, so buckle up Game of Thrones fans, it's going to be a bumpy ride:

"Tywin’s plans, for once, were foiled, and now Tyrion has to deal with this rather rash decision he made. You’re going to see how that plays out. Also, expect the appearance of characters who you did not see this episode. That’s something we’re trying to do more this year too — less cutting back and forth to a lot of places. Do more quality vs. quantity. ... It’s relentless from now on. There’s no going back now for a lot of these characters. The rest of the season is based on the last third of A Storm of Swords, so it’s one big climax."

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

everbody loves spidey

The kid and I caught The Amazing Spider-Man 2 the other day. I have to admit that I would have been fine skipping it, but the kid really wanted to see it. She loves the two main stars, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, and they were certainly the heart of, and the best part of, the movie. But what about the rest? Well, it was a real mess, actually.

I have to preface this with the fact that I am not a comic book geek. I loved the old Spiderman cartoon when I was a kid and can sing the theme song to this day, but I don't really know anything about the character's history. I saw at least the first two Tobey Maguire Spider-man (2002-7) movies, and still find it weird that someone thought it would be a good idea to make another three movies only five years later. Have our memories really gotten so short? Garfield and Stone are appealing, but it was hard not to get confused between the old (James Franco) and new (Dane DeHaan) Harry Osborn story lines. Plus, Garfield and Stone look more like college than high school graduates. Even my 10 year-old was surprised when Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy was making a valedictorian speech at her high school graduation.

Oh what a tangled web ...

I have to say that when I wasn't stone-cold bored during the blow-up-the city-yet-again action sequences, I was more than a little confused. It was not that the plot was intricate - far from it. But why was this movie's best friend of Peter Parker/ Spidey — Harry Osborn — the new Green Goblin, when in the Maguire/Franco version it was Franco's dad? And where was Mary Jane Watson (played by Kirsten Dunst in the Maguire movies), but non-existent in the Garfield ones? Some quick post-movie internet searching showed that neither set of movies really kept completely to the comic book stories. Fair enough. But were the changes improvements?

And what really freaked me out a bit in this latest incarnation was the fact that everyone seemed to be in love with Spidey. There were (too many) scenes between Gwen Stacy and Peter Parker breaking up and making up. The two actors (and off-screen couple) have an undeniable chemistry, but their ping-ponging romance was a bit too much. And considering how the romance plays out at the end of the film - suffice it to say that many folks, including my daughter, walked out of the movie in not a great mood.

My other pet peeve was how the city of New York was portrayed. Admittedly it's been a long time since I lived there, and the city has certainly changed, but there weren't many scenes, except one set in Times Square, that even looked like the city. Gwen Stacy was able to get from one end of town to the other in moments — even during a blackout — and without swinging on a web. The kids' high school had a fancy graduation with a fantastic river view. Uh huh.  She was also supposed to be a genius who was the only person who could figure out a complex electrical grid - which actually consisted of flipping an "off" switch. New York, New York, it's a helluva town.

Unrealistic scenes aside, Gwen wasn't the only one with a Spidey-obssession. Jamie Foxx was given the thankless task of playing uber-geek Max Dillon, a put-upon schlemiel who ends up turning into the monster Electro. Not only was the character a big old cliche, it was completely unnecessary in the movie. Foxx was hidden first under horrible fake false teeth and a wig, and then CGI-ed into a glowing mess. When we first meet him he is having an imaginary conversation with Spider-man in his bedroom. The walls are covered with pictures of his heart-throb, and Max seems to talk to Spidey as less imaginary friend and more lover. When he is face-to-face with the object of his affection in his new incarnation he switches from best pal to arch enemy faster than any woman scorned.

But Max/Electro was hardly the only character besides Gwen who had Spidey on their mind. Harry Osborn is presented as a kid with a horrible father and a horrible prognosis — some only-in-the-movies fatal and disfiguring disease that he believes only Spidey can cure. He becomes obsessed with getting Spidey's blood, and believes that his old pal Peter Parker is the only one who can help him find the webby avenger.

Are they kidding with this make-up? He looks like Evil Ed from the first Fright Night.

All of this Spidey love has Garfield play Peter Parker as a conflicted, tortured teen. He loves Gwen, but has promised to keep her safe, so must push her away. He would like to help his best friend, but is afraid that his radioactive blood might harm, even kill him. He seems as befuddled as the audience as to how Max/Electro fits into all of this. Garfield does have some nice scenes with his Aunt May, played by Sally Field, who is terrific. The 68 year-old Field looks great. She doesn't appear to have succumbed to the omnipresent Hollywood knife, and she brings a real presence and comedy to her scenes with Garfield. There is a germ of a good movie in here, buried under all of the smashing through windows and other de riguer explosions and assorted CGI mayhem. Maybe in another five years someone will want to make an existential Spider-man that will actually be interesting to watch.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

the untethered soul by michael singer

I am continuing my journey to relax and enjoy life more and a friend recently suggested that I read The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself, by Michael Singer. Written in 2007, the book is still profiting from excellent word-of-mouth, and was even profiled recently on Oprah's OWN network.

The book is designed as a guide to helping to suppress one's ego and seek true enlightenment. It is the sort of book that one may want to go back to again, and again. Singer uses easy-to-understand prose to convey deep spiritual concepts, such as opening one's heart and finding one's true self. He begins by discussing the voice inside your head, the one that never shuts up, and narrates the world. The first exercise is to try to still the constant chatter of what he calls "your inner roommate."

"True personal growth is about transcending the part of you that is not okay and needs protection. This is done by constantly remembering that you were the one inside who notices the voice talking."

Another important step is to open your heart, and keep it open. Closing is a habit.

"... Closing your heart does not really protect you from anything; it just cuts you off from your source of energy. In the end it only serves to lock you inside "

Once your heart is open, you can let all things, good and bad, move through you, rather than getting caught up in very little thing that might bother you. He acknowledges that we all still will have things that bug us, from minor to major events, but the key will be not to to hold onto them in future.

"Learn to be centered enough to just watch this stuff come up. Once you sit deeply enough inside to stop fighting the stored energy patterns, they'll come up constantly and pass right through you."

The best thing a person could do is act as their own witness. An impartial observer. Don't listen to your psyche, which are just your fears talking. Be an observer. Take a position behind yourself, behind your fear. Let your fears pass through you.

"People don't understand that fear is a thing. It's just another object in the universe that you are capable of experiencing. You can do one of two things with fear: you can recognize that you have it and work to release it, or you can keep it and try to hide from it."

Singer uses an analogy of the inner thorn. We work so hard to protect ourselves, so that nothing touches our pain or our fears. But we should instead decide to pull out the thorn, or at least to let it work itself free.
"Just keep doing this with all those little things that come up each day. It is a very private thing you do inside yourself. You will soon see that your mind is constantly driving you crazy over nothing. If you don't want to be like that, then stop putting energy into your psyche. That is all there is to it. If you follow this path, the only action you ever take is to relax and release. When you start to see this stuff going on inside, you just relax your shoulders, relax your heart, and fall back behind it. Do not touch it. Do not get involved in it. And do not try to stop it. Simply be aware that you're seeing it. That's how you get out. You just let it go."
I have to say that since I started reading this book I have already felt a lightening, a relaxing. I have made the decision to choose to be happy, and it seems to be making a difference. Singer warns that almost as soon as one chooses to be happy, that the universe will throw you a curve ball. I have to admit that he was right. But when I got a phone call that could have freaked me out, I simply chose not to. It was about something over which I had no control. I have really been trying to just accept things and move on, let them move through me.

This is one of those books that I think everyone should read. If you are open to being open, it is likely to have a profound effect. I borrowed it from the library, but I may have to go pick up my own copy. It would be helpful to pick it up and read a page or two from time to time, as a reminder, as reassurance.

Monday, May 12, 2014

mother's day

Yesterday was Mother's Day and the kid and I celebrated by ordering in from our favorite pan-Asian restaurant and just taking it really easy.


My mom spent the day in bed, where she is likely to be for quite a while. Earlier n the week I got a call that mom had a lump on her back — it turned out to be exactly what I expected, a compression fracture. She has had these before. There were a few zany back-and-forth calls with the nurses, suggesting that she might need to see an orthopedist, which would require hiring an ambulance and some health professional to take her. Luckily, once I spoke with her doctor he shared my feeling that there would be absolutely no point to put her (and me) through something like that. What would be the point? She is very frail. The best you can do in this sort of situation is to brace the injury, try not to move her too much or too strenuously, and let time heal.

All smiles when I was in earlier in the week to hang some of her paintings in her room at the nursing home

She loved seeing her art up on the walls
I love her version of a horse race a la Degas

That may have been more Mother's Day drama than I was looking for, but I have chosen to go with the flow, and not let things I can't change affect me. Mom and I are on our own, separate journeys. As are we all.

Friday, May 09, 2014

favorite song friday: "rude"

I really like this song, "Rude," by the Canadian band MAGIC! It has a real retro-'80s vibe, even down to its low-tech, tell-a-story video.

Canadian band MAGIC!

The band is composed of Nasri Atweh on lead vocals, Mark Pellizzer on guitar, Alex Tanas on drums, and Ben Spivak on bass. Lead singer Nasri has also produced and written songs for Christina Aguilera, David Guetta, Pitbull, Shakira, Jason Derulo, and Michael Bolton.

"Why you gotta be so rude?
Don't you know I'm human too?
Why you gotta be so rude?
I'm gonna marry her anyway
Marry that girl
Marry her anyway
Marry that girl
Yeah, no matter what you say
Marry that girl
And we'll be a family"

— "Rude," written by Nasri Atweh, Adam Messinger, Mark Pellizzer, Ben Spivak, and Alexander Tanasijczuk

Thursday, May 08, 2014

it was littlefinger, all along

Spoilers ...

Whether one has read the books in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, or is just following the drama in Westeros on HBO's Game of Thrones, it must have been apparent from the first season that Petyr Baelish, AKA Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen), was plotting behind the scenes from Day 1. In last Sunday's episode, "First of His Name," it was revealed exactly how far back Littlefinger's plots and schemes have reached.

Sansa - can't the kid get a break?

Poor Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner). She has been forced to witness the steady destruction of her family, either first-hand, or through gleeful reports from now-deceased maniacal young kings. She seemed to be getting away from most of the horror last week when Littlefinger smuggled her out of King's Landing and delivered her to who she thinks may be her only living relative, her Aunt Lysa (Kate Dickie). Sansa had clearly been more than a little suspicious of Littlefinger's motives on their journey (he has said more than once that he was in love with her mother Cat, who she closely resembles), and was palpably relieved to see her mother's sister, who is holed up in the Eyrie, a virtually impregnable castle in the area of Westeros known as the Vale. But lemon cakes aside, Sansa wasn't able to enjoy her respite for long. Because her aunt is completely bonkers, and when she isn't accusing Sansa of sleeping with her beloved Littlefinger, she is planning her niece's nuptials to her infantile son Robin. Despite the fact that Sansa is currently married to Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage).

The happy couple, Lysa and Littlefinger - don't let the Moon Door hit you on the way out

Sansa not only found herself disgusted by her aunt's loud screams (celebrating her instantaneous wedding to Littlefinger — Lysa does not fool around), but defending her husband Tyrion. She may have actually formed some kind feelings for him after all. What Sansa didn't know, and what came as a big reveal to many, was that Lysa had poisoned her husband Jon Arryn at Littlefinger's behest. This is the act that starts the ball rolling in the first novel A Game of Thrones and the first episode of the series. Jon Arryn is killed. Lysa writes to her sister Cat that the Lannisters have murdered him. Cat urges her husband Ned to take Jon's job of Hand of the King that his friend the King Robert Baratheon has just offered (and that Ned has no interest in). Ned's Sherlocking around in King's Landing to find Jon's killer results in his own death, which leads to war, which ends up destroying the Starks and their seat of Winterfell and is well on the way to currently destroying the Lannisters and their hold on King's Landing. And in case you forgot, Littlefinger was the mastermind behind King Joffrey's (Jack Gleeson) death, too.

What does Littlefinger want? Cat is dead. He has Sansa, sort of, but would she be a suitable substitute for his youthful love and rejection? Lysa may have survived the wedding, which is quite an accomplishment, considering how Westeros weddings go these days, but that Moon Door must look pretty tempting ... Does he really see himself as ruling all of Westeros?

Ghost and Jon, together again

As we were all still reeling from Sansa's predicament, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and the Night's Guard shut down Craster's Keep. Jon was reunited with his direwolf Ghost in a great action sequence, which also saw the end of some hateful characters. Go Ghost! Go Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) warging into Hodor (Kristian Nairn)! "Hodor!" Bran had to decide whether he wanted to be rescued by Jon or not, and wisely chose to head onto the freezing unknown instead. I know, that might seem crazy to some, but the kid is on a mission, and he knows he can now transcend his body and do just about anything, which is a superpower as cool as, or even cooler than, Daenerys's (Emilia Clarke) dragons. Hmmm ... Bran ... dragons ... And speaking of Dany, she seems to be just about the only one in this universe who doesn't think she can just rule because she says so. Did you hear me, Stannis? Dany has decided to stay put in Meereen and learn to rule the city she has conquered before unleashing an army and dragons (!) upon Westeros.

But back to Sansa. Next week her hubby Tyrion is going on trial for the murder of the boy king/psychopath Joffrey. I missed Peter Dinklage this week, but he is sure to be front and center in the next episode, "The Laws of Gods and Men." Sorry to say, we are already half-way through this season. Say it isn't so!

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

the happiness project by gretchen rubin

I have been reading a lot of books lately about clearing out the clutter of one's home (and mind), for an easier life. A friend suggested I might want to check out The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin, so I gave it a try. I can't say that there was anything new or startling in its pages, but it was a quick, mostly fun read.

The book begins with Rubin wondering one afternoon if she is really happy, and what that means for her life and for our modern society. The former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is a born researcher — she started reading every book on the subject of happiness and has compiled tons of quotes and distilled theories from great minds through the ages, which she shares here with her readers. After doing a little research of my own I discovered that she also lives in much tonier digs and has a much comfier lifestyle than the "just us folks" tone of her book might suggest.

Gretchen Rubin, happy at home
"... Happiness has four stages. To eke out the most happiness from an experience, we must anticipate it, savor it as it unfolds, express happiness, and recall a happy memory."

Rubin is also a compulsive list-maker and in love with charting and graphing her progress, so she offers ideas about keeping a "happiness chart" and different projects or areas of one's life that could be examined month-by-month for an entire year. The rigid structure of the book left me kind of cold. I like to change things in my day-to-day life — the position of the furniture in a room, what I might eat or drink to see if it has a beneficial effect, but I would tend to feel overburdened if I had to keep a resolution chart to keep tabs on my progress. That would feel like taking a test. I hate the idea of a food diary. It just makes me feel bad if on Monday a turkey sandwich agreed with me and on Wednesday it didn't. But Rubin, as she keeps reminding us ad nauseum throughout The Happiness Project, is addicted to gold stars and recognition for her efforts. She likes writing happiness commandments and setting resolutions. That all seemed a bit gimmicky for me.

So while I might find her a bit overbearing to hang out with on a regular basis (enough about how you live in New York City, and over sharing about the hubby and kiddies, blah, blah, blah), I did enjoy some of the quotes and ideas about happiness that she culled and shared. A quote from the poet William Butler Yeats resonated, "Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth." I like that. Rubin, thankfully, is not all serious, all the time. She can be funny, too, "Love is a funny thing. I'd donate a kidney to Jamie [her husband] without a moment's hesitation, but I was intensely annoyed if he asked me to make a special stop at the drugstore to pick up shaving cream."

The saving grace of the sometimes overly pushy Rubin and her project is that she is human, as the above quote proves. Her happiness project is a work-in-progress, and not a be-all or win situation. It has also turned into a highly lucrative career for her, as the book and its follow-up were both best sellers. It also generated a blog and other associated merchandise. Who's happy now?

So was reading The Happiness Project at all helpful to my own personal journey? I have to say yes. Rubin admits to being an impatient person, but one month she decided to let a bit of that go, and remind herself to give other people some slack. I think that is a helpful reminder on how to deal with that person who cut you off on the road or in line at the grocery store. Instead of your go-to response to curse them out or get ticked or upset or whatever else such bad behavior usually elicits, take a step back and give them some slack. You don't know what their story is, what their hurry is. Yes, the answer may even be that they are a rude jerk, but so what. Let it go. It really doesn't matter, and the foul mood it puts you in simply isn't worth it. Since I read The Happiness Project I have been trying to deal with frustrating people and situations by giving them — and myself — a bit more slack. And I have to admit it helps.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

the maltese falcon on blu-ray

Continuing my Humphrey Bogart film watching ...

The Maltese Falcon has just been released by Warner Home Video on Blu-ray, and Bogie and classic move fans will not be disappointed.

Set in 1941 San Francisco, this classic film noir follows detective Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) who gets mixed up with a group of adventurers who are in search of a treasure - the eponymous Maltese Falcon, which the opening credits tell the audience was "... a Golden Falcon encrusted from beak to claw with rarest jewels ..." On the trail of this priceless and mythical artifact are some wonderful characters: Sydney Greenstreet (in his first screen appearance) as "the Fat Man" Kasper Gutman, Mary Astor as the unforgettably lethal femme fatale Brigid O'Shaughnessy, Peter Lorre as the smelling of gardenias Joel Cairo, and Elisha Cook, Jr. as Gutman's gunsel Wilmer. Character actors Ward Bond and Barton McLane show up as two cops who aren't sure how involved Spade may be in his partner Miles Archer's (Jerome Cowan) demise.

Bogie and "The Black Bird"

John Huston's directorial debut, The Maltese Falcon was made for black and white, and the dramatic lighting and creative camera angles, many of them low-angle, all look great on a high-definition, large scale television screen. The clarity and picture quality is great - you can almost read the title on the spine of a book on Sam Spade's bedside table when the detective takes the call about his partner Miles being found dead. Huston keeps the compositions simple and effective, but includes details like a newspaper clipping tacked to the wall of his apartment and other paraphernalia of Spade's help flesh out his no-nonsense character. But it's Humphrey Bogart's portrayal of Spade that really resonates. It was not only a career-changer, elevating him once and for all into lead parts, but he made Dashiell Hammett's tough-talking private eye his own, a screen classic and the blueprint for movie dicks forever more.
Sam Spade, "When a man's partner is killed, he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you're supposed to do something about it. And it happens we're in the detective business. Well, when one of your organization gets killed, it's ... it's bad business to let the killer get away with it, bad all around, bad for every detective everywhere."
The film is full screen format and has an aspect ratio of 1.37:1 and resolution of 1080p and looks great on a large-scale high-definition television screen. It has a running time of 101 minutes. The Dolby sound (English: DTS-HD High Res Audio and Spanish, German, and Portuguese: Dolby Digital 1.0) is also crisp and clear. Subtitles are available in multiple languages: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Danish, Finnish, Greek, Norwegian, and Swedish.

The Maltese Falcon Blu-ray is on one disc, but it has a host of extras, including:
"Warner Night at the Movies" from 1941: a newsreel, the musical short The Gay Parisian, and cartoons "Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt" and "Meet John Doughboy" 
"The Maltese Falcon: One Magnificent Bird" 
"The Trailers of Humphrey Bogart," featuring TCM's Robert Osborne 
"Breakdowns of 1941," a blooper reel 
Radio show adaptations of The Maltese Falcon: the piece, two with the film's stars, one with Edward G. Robinson 
Commentary by Bogart biographer Eric Lax 
Makeup tests 
Movie trailers for The Maltese Falcon, Sergeant York, and Satan Met a Lady
Sam Spade considers Brigid O'Shaugnessy. Does he love her? Can he believe her?

As much of a tough guy as Bogie is, Sam Spade also has a lot of humor. And fans of Ren and Stimpy will recognize the origin of one of their favorite cartoon characters in Peter Lorre's Joel Cairo, especially when he berates Sidney Greenstreet's Kasper Gutman for letting the Falcon slip through their grasp:
Joel Cairo, "You ... you bungled it. You and your stupid attempt to buy it. Kemedov found out how valuable it was, no wonder we had such an easy time stealing it. You ... you imbecile. You bloated idiot. You stupid fat-head you. [He breaks down crying]."
The Maltese Falcon is the first in a longtime collaboration between the star actor and director, who went on to make Across the Pacific in 1942, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Key Largo in 1948, The African Queen in 1951, and Beat the Devil in 1953. Huston wrote the screenplay, based on Hammet's novel, and the third time must have been the charm for a story that had already been turned into unsuccessful movies twice before (The Maltese Falcon in 1931 and Satan Met a Lady in 1936), as it was nominated for three Academy Awards; Best Picture, Screenplay, and Supporting Actor (Greenstreet). When Huston and Bogart and Astor and the rest of the crew got together it was movie magic. As Sam Spade says at the end of the film, "The stuff dreams are made of."

Monday, May 05, 2014

it's a wrap: humphrey bogart film festival

I just got back from the second annual Humphrey Bogart Film Festival in Key Largo, FL, and like many of my fellow attendees, I am already looking forward to next year's festival. Attendees were treated to a series of events where they could meet and greet festival organizer and son of the actor, Stephen Bogart (host of WXEL's Bogart on Movies) and renowned film critic and historian Leonard Maltin, as well as take in a list of over twenty classic films, all celebrating the theme of "Romance."

I was lucky to be able to see some classic Humphrey Bogart-Lauren Bacall films over the weekend: To Have and Have Not, screened outside under the moon and stars; Key Largo at the nearby Lion's Club which was transformed into Rick's Cafe Americaine; and Casablanca and The Big Sleep for the first time on a big screen. In a panel discussion hosted by Caroline Breder-Watts, film historian and host of WXEL's “Listening to Movies,” she and Bogart and Maltin and the audience engaged in a lively discussion of the diversity of Humphrey Bogart's roles throughout his long career. ...

2014 Humphrey Bogart Film Festival
Leonard Maltin and Stephen Bogart field questions at Sunday's brunch

... The Humphrey Bogart Film Festival is quickly becoming a tradition for film buffs and Bogie enthusiasts. As Leonard Maltin shared at the festival's closing brunch on Sunday, "Movies are meant to be a communal experience. ... they can make difference in your life. [when you see a great one it sounds] a loud gong that doesn't go away."

You can read the complete post at Cinema Sentries.

Friday, May 02, 2014

favorite song friday: "play it once sam, for old time's sake ..."

This song seems an appropriate ear worm for me for this weekend, where I'll be attending the Humphrey Bogart Film Festival in Key Largo.

Ilsa [Ingrid Bergman], "There's still nobody in the world who can play "As Time Goes By" like Sam."

You can here the full song, performed by Dooley Wilson, here.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

here's looking at you, kid — the humphrey bogart film festival

This weekend I will be attending the 2014 Humphrey Bogart Film Festival (May 1-4), and writing about my experiences for Cinema Sentries (and also on this blog). I can't wait! I inherited the love of Bogie and classic films from my dad, and am thrilled to have chance to check out this festival, now in its second year. Put together by Bogart's son Stephen Bogart and the Humphrey Bogart Estate, the festival meets every year in Key Largo, Florida, the setting for the classic John Huston film of the same name that starred Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Claire Trevor, and Edward G. Robinson. Also in Key Largo is another iconic item from a Bogart film, the steamboat the African Queen.

This year Stephen Bogart wants to honor his parents, one of Hollywood's most famous couples, Bogie and Bacall, with the festival them of "Romance." Bogie is reported to have said of Bacall, "She's a real Joe. You'll fall in love with her like everybody else." Who can argue with that? ...

Bogie and Baby, during the filming of To Have and Have Not

I will be trying to fit in as many of the Bogie/Bacall pairings as I can, along with classics like The Big Sleep, Dark Passage, Sabrina, and the amazing Casablanca, which is set to be screened outside on Friday evening. As Bogie said of his first truly romantic role, "I didn't do anything I've never done before, but when the camera moves in on that [Ingrid] Bergman face, and she's saying she loves you, it would make anybody feel romantic." Seeing Casablanca and Bogie and Bergman and Claude Rains and all the rest under the stars should be an experience that is hard to beat ...

Check out my full report on Cinema Sentries.