Friday, November 28, 2014

favorite song friday: take me to church

This song by Irish singer Hozier is everywhere right now, but I can't help but get caught up in it too.

Hozier, image from Bedroomdisco

Thursday, November 27, 2014

happy throwback thursday thanksgiving

In 2008 my mom, the kid, and I were in New York for Thanksgiving. We had a blast checking out the parade — the first time I ever saw it live, even after years of living in the city. We dined out on turkey day in a restaurant in Rockefeller Center, and generally just had a good ol' time.

Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving in NYC

Thanksgiving Day parade - Pikachu


Thanksgiving Day parade - Shrek

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

winter wonderland (sorta)

People in Buffalo have been inundated with the white stuff and my heart goes out to them. I remember snow. The spring before we moved down here to Florida we were hit in D.C. with three consecutive blizzards. I can't say I miss it, but last week I had to take the kid to our local "snowfall," and she was thrilled to see the white flakes.

2004, D.C., my car under the first layer of snow

The kid, ready to enjoy blizzard #1

It may not be real snow, but it sure was pretty

Smiles and snowflakes

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

mockingjay, part 1: post-traumatic stress katniss

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 picked up right where the second film, Catching Fire left off, but viewers may still feel like they got caught in a different film franchise, though it is following the original story, written by Suzanne Collins, (who also gets a screen credit for adapting her novel). This film is very deliberately paced, some may even feel slow-moving. But it is a very different story than the first few films, which followed Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) as she tried to survive two Hunger Games, an annual ritual that pits young people from each district in the country of Panem in a fight for survival — only the strong, and the last person standing — make it out alive. But in both instances Katniss thwarted the powers that be, which distinctly upset oligarch President Snow (Donald Sutherland). In her first Hunger Games she managed to also save fellow District 12 resident Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Snow sent the pair and a host of other champions back the following year, trying to kill all of the insurgent birds with one stone. But Katniss destroyed the game zone and was airlifted out with other contestants Finnick (Sam Claflin) and Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), but Peeta was left behind, his whereabouts and fate unknown.

A rose by any other name — President Snow leaves a gift for Katniss

As the new film begins the Hunger Games are no more, and Katniss is bereft. She wakes up in the vast underground bunker of District 13, which had perviously been assumed to have been destroyed by Snow and the Capitol forces. But it has been built into a hidden fortress, led by the steely President Coin (Julianne Moore) with ex-Capitol advisor Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) at her side. Plutarch is convinced that Katniss, as the "Mockingjay" is the symbol they need for a successful revolution. Coin listens to him, but doesn't always agree. Katniss is reunited with her mother and sister Prim, who seem to have (mostly) adjusted to the totalitarian environment, and old pal Gale, who still seem to carry a torch for her, when he isn't busy becoming an uber-soldier for Coin. But Katniss can't connect with much around her, haunted by her guilt over the destruction of her home, District 12, and especially the missing Peeta's and her feelings for him. Mockingjay Part 1 is about war and its after-effects, from Katniss grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder to Snow's attempts to match District 13's rebellion with attacks on all of the country's districts — innocent lives lost to make a point.

The first film in the series to be shot digitally, Mockingjay Part 1 is dark, with much of the action taking place underground in District 13. Also the first not to be released in IMAX, the film didn't bow to the blockbuster de riguer 3D, which it had no need of. But what really sets the film apart is the quality of its cast. It is fascinating to watch Lawrence as Katniss, a raw nerve, and more of a pawn than ever, being buffeted by the political and emotional forces around her. Philip Seymour Hoffman is also a wonder, as always, bringing layers of nuance to his role as the main brain of the war room. The film is dedicated to his memory.

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julianne Moore appear in their fourth film together (Boogie Nights, The Big Lebowski, and Magnolia)

As dark and serious as things are for Katniss, there are also some welcome moments of levity. It is great to see her trainers Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Effie (Elizabeth Banks) again. Both actors have a blast with their fish-out-of water characters, a dried-out Haymitch without his requisite bottle of spirits to help him through the day, and the irrepressible Effie suffering from all the gray-on-gray surrounding her. A big silly cat called Buttercup also brings not just a touch of humor to a few scenes, but provides for a silly, but necessary jolt of action mid-film.

In the land of the drab, Effie makes it work

Is Mockingjay Part 1 a film that can stand on its own? Yes and no. It works well as a set-up for the final installment, due this time next year. Could it work without the greater context of the Hunger Games? Not really, but it wasn't really intended to. This is serial story-telling. It is hard to call it a cash grab, however, as might be said about the bloated approach to The Hobbit taken by Peter Jackson. Mockingjay's themes of war and its aftermath, especially the toll it takes on the young is worthy of exposition. A single film may have had to rush Katniss's experiences in favor of a fiery finale. Mockingjay may not be the blockbuster movie that everyone thought they were going to get, but in this age of televised torture and warfare, it may be the deeply emotional film that we need.

Monday, November 24, 2014

flocks of birds

Seeing a flock of birds always raises my spirits. Apparently seeing birds, or flocks of birds, is also considered to be quite auspicious. So here are some photos I have taken over the past few months (and years). Good luck for everyone!

Gulls and sandpipers on the beach

Turkey buzzards
Gulls and a storm out at sea
Swans and ducks in Spring Lake
New Jersey seagulls
Flamingoes at Lion Country Safari
14 herons
Pelicans in Palm Beach

Friday, November 21, 2014

favorite song friday: uptown funk

Channeling Prince, Outkast, and Funkadelic, producer Mark Ronson and wunderkind Bruno Mars have teamed up on a new song, "Uptown Funk," which is the first single from Ronson's upcoming album, Uptown Special, due to be released on January 27. It's fun, funky, and infectious. The pair, who have worked together before, on “Locked Out of Heaven” and “Gorilla,” are set to perform the song tomorrow on Saturday Night Live.

Ronson and Mars in the studio (Image from USA Today)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

throwback thursday: star trek

I have been enjoying following bird of the galaxy's flickr feed, which highlights some great stills and behind-the-scenes images from the original Star Trek series.

Spock's Beard
Alternate-universe Spock
Dancing with the Stars
Who knew Kirk had rhythm?
Vina Smiles (at her nails)
She almost could be checking her iPhone
A Tribble Walks Into a Bar...

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

what a boob

I had my yearly mammogram the other day. Just about six months later than I was originally scheduled. I just couldn't deal with having it done this summer. I had a lot of things going on, and couldn't seem to find a good time to schedule it. But mostly, I didn't want to do it. You see, I had come off a couple of years of having to be scanned every six months because I have dense breast tissue in my breasts, which would sometimes show some suspicious shadowing. I even had to have at least one sonogram. It was a drag. They never found anything wrong, but it was still one of those things that sort of hang over you. And with all the other stuff and scans I have done in the past year or so I guess I just felt like I had enough.

But I decided to bit the bullet last week and scheduled the mammo. I wasn't really worried, but there isn't any woman I know who goes in there for their appointment with a "Yippee!!!" feeling. The technician was nice, and truly tried to minimize my discomfort as much as anyone could who was mashing your breasts between too very hard and cold surfaces.

My gynecologist's office happens to be right next door. The technician asked me if I was heading over there after the appointment, as some folks combine their mammo with their yearly exam. I wasn't, so she said if I didn't mind waiting, she could have the radiologist look at my results right then and there and if they thought I needed another scan, they could consult immediately with my doctor's office. I said sure, but it was a little tense ten minutes.

She finally came out and said I was free to go and apologized for the wait, but that my scans had looked so different from last year they really wanted to take a close look. That freaked me out for a moment and I asked her what she meant. Apparently my dense breast tissue wasn't so dense anymore. I asked if she minded showing me, and she took me in to look at the scans, from last year and this year, side by side. The 'suspicious" areas were diminished, and some completely gone. Apparently one of the perqs to aging (and having a hysterectomy) is that your hormones are no longer playing such great havoc. By next year they might look even less dense. So there was a "Yippee!!!" feeling, after all.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

only lovers left alive

Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive is an extremely romantic film. It has been dubbed his "vampire movie." but it is less a horror film and more a romance that concerns two vampires. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are Adam and Eve, a (really) old married couple. They live a world away from each other, he in Detroit, and she in Tangier, Morocco, but are inextricably linked.

Hungry, in Tangier
Eve, "Tell me now about entanglement. Einstein's spooky action at a distance. Is it related to quantum theory?" 
Adam, "No. I mean, it's not a theory, it's proven." 
Eve, "How's it go again?" 
Adam, "When you separate an entwined particle and you move both parts away from the other, even at opposite ends of the universe, if you alter or affect one, the other will be identically altered or affected." 
Eve, "Spooky. Even at opposite ends of the universe?" 
Adam, "Yeah."

Neither has preyed directly on humans for ages — they explain that most of the human blood supply is tainted, diseased; but one gets the idea that they have removed themselves from such direct contact, preferring to indulge instead in their favorite pastimes — for Adam music, for Eve, literature. Eve gets her pure supply of blood from another vampire, her old friend Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt). And he is that Marlowe, for fans of Elizabethan drama. Adam has an arrangement with a local doctor (Jeffrey Wright) to keep his pantry stocked. When these vampires do take a sip, it is in gorgeous stemware, and the results are blissful, heady, akin to a drug high.

A photo from the couple's third wedding
The film is gorgeous to look at, with cinematography by Yorick Le Saux. The world of the film only exists as night, naturally, and Jarmusch (Night on Earth) is an excellent director to highlight the shadows and mysteries of sunless streets, cities at night. Vampires don't need to do housekeeping or even comb their hair, and the set and costume design renders their dusty and cluttered surfaces and persons in loving detail. The film moves slowly and elegantly, much like its protagonists — that is, until chaos, in the form of Eve's younger "sister" Ava (Mia Wasikowska) turns up. Ava doesn't exactly subscribe to her older sibling's ideas of the proper way to acquire their sustenance, and she also takes a liking to Adam's quasi- yet unsuspecting Renfield, the dim but likable Ian (Anton Yelchin).

There are so many great details in Only Lovers Left Alive. Adam's love of classic guitars and other instruments, and an ability to construct retro-inspired gadgets, like a view-phone to see Eve when she calls him. The more practical Eve has mastered the iPhone and night flights, in order to get to Detroit and buoy up her lover, who is flirting with ending it all with a wooden-tipped bullet. Jarmusch, with his band Sqürl teaming with Jozef Van Wissem, constructs a moody soundtrack which perfectly captures the essence of Adam and Eve's existence. Also appearing near the end of the film is Lebanese singer Yasmine Hamdan, who enchants the lovers with her song "Hal."

The ever-practical Eve introduces Adam to the blood popsicle
Jarmusch films Adam and Eve like beautiful sculptures. His artistic sensibility carries through the film. Viewers get a glimpse of just how his eye works and his crew and actors help realize his vision in a nice short included on the Blu-ray, "Traveling at Night with Jim Jarmusch," a documentary by Lea Rinaldi, where the director compares the set-up of one actor in a scene to a painting by Mantegna. Besides the beauty, and the at-times unsuspected humor, what really enchants in Only Lovers Left Alive are Swinton and Hiddleston. Their chemistry is palpable and believable, and they manage to invest us in their world and their quest for survival. While everyone else is signing up for a zombie apocalypse, I would be hoping more for Adam and Eve's way, a most stylish and arty way to enjoy eternity.

Monday, November 17, 2014

cinderella, then and now

The kid and I saw Cinderella this weekend.

Waiting for the show to start

It was her second Broadway musical - we saw Shrek the Musical about six years ago on a Thanksgiving trip to NY. This show was lots of fun, a revival of a revival, with a few contemporary and feminist spins to the age-old fairy tale.

Paige Faure and Andy Jones

Kecia Lewis and Paige Faure, photos from Playbill, by Carol Rosegg

I didn't realize that Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella was originally written for television, as a vehicle for Julie Andrews. I saw the 1965 version of the musical on TV when I was a kid in the '70s, with Lesley Ann Warren as Cinderella. As we watched the Broadway tour version the other day I was amazed at how many of the songs had stayed with me: "In My Own Little Corner," "Impossible; It's Possible," "Stepsisters' Lament," and especially "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?"

I'm not sure how much of an impression it made on the kid. She really liked it, especially Kecia Lewis as the Fairy Godmother, but she was a little frustrated that she couldn't see the actors' faces very clearly from where we were sitting. We were't in the nosebleed seats, but it was still a bit of a distance. I guess I may have had a more intimate experience, all those years ago, with the television close-ups and all. But there is something about live theater. The singing gives me goosebumps. You can't really beat that.

Friday, November 14, 2014

favorite song friday: lips are movin'

Meghan Trainor's first hit "All About the Bass" is still topping the charts, and her new song, "Lips are Movin'" proves she's not just a one-hit wonder. She loves a retro sound, and pairing it with girl-power lyrics makes for another winning tune. Keep it coming, girl.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

throwback thursday: moon shots

This photo was taken by my dad, with his 35mm camera attached to his telescope in the late '60s, early '70s. He actually made his telescope himself, even grinding the mirrors.

photo of the moon, c. 1967

These photos were taken by me four years ago, by holding my iPhone up to my telescope's (25mm) lens.



Wednesday, November 12, 2014

how to train your dragon 2

This is a review of the digital version.

Fans of Hiccup and his adorable dragon Toothless will be delighted to learn that their second feature, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is now available as a digital download. The Blu-ray/DVD will be released next week, November 11th. This is a review of the digital version of the film, which viewers may be surprised to learn also includes some great bonus features usually reserved just for Blu-ray and DVD.

The original DreamWorks Animation film, How to Train Your Dragon (2010), was based on the popular series of books by Cressida Cowell. It was not only a financial success, but was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Score. The film followed the adventures of the quirky outsider Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), a young boy struggling to find his place in Viking society. A disappointment to his father, Viking chief Stoick (Gerard Butler), Hiccup meets and befriends a young black Night Fury dragon, who he names Toothless, and the two join forces to teach the Vikings and the dragons how to live together harmoniously.

Hiccup and Toothless are back in action

Between the release of How to Train Your Dragon and its sequel, DreamWorks Animation offered DreamWorks Dragons, an entertaining animated television series that followed Hiccup, Toothless, and their human and dragon friends as they went on new adventures while continuing to try to live peacefully together. This second film, How to Train Your Dragon 2, directed by Dean DeBlois, finds an now older, teenage Hiccup living in an idyllic Berk - until a group of dragon hunters, led by Eret (Kit Harington), who answers to the very evil Drago (Djimon Hounsou), show up and disrupt their peaceful world. ...

Read the complete review on Cinema Sentries.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

happy veterans day

Some of my dad's WW2 destroyer escort shipmates. And puppy.


Monday, November 10, 2014

big hero 6 — beautiful and brainy

There are many reasons to love Big Hero 6, the latest Disney/Marvel animated offering, but the two most obvious ones are the appealing duo of boy genius Hiro and his amazing robot Baymax.

Baymax and Hiro

The movie is (very loosely) based on a Marvel Comic of the same name. In typical Disney fashion, young Hiro (Ryan Potter) must deal with the tragic death of a loved one very early in the film. The melodramatic deck is also stacked, as 14-year-old Hiro  and and his older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) are already orphans when we meet them, and living with their eccentric but loving Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph) in the futuristic hybridized city of San Fransokyo.

Hiro is also surrounded by a lovable team of self-professed science geeks, Tadashi's friends GoGo Tomago (Jamie Chung), Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.), Honey Lemon (Génesis Rodríguez), and Fred (T. J. Miller), who all attend the city's prestigious science and technology school, the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology. Tadashi wants Hiro to apply to the school, and he does, in spectacular fashion, with his invention of microbots, which can be controlled by the mind to take any shape or form. Hiro's microbots catch the interest of the head of the school, Professor Callaghan (James Cromwell), who offers him a place at the school, as well as Alistair Krei (Alan Tudyk), a wealthy owner of a robotics company, who wants to hire Hiro on the spot.

The action ramps up as Hiro meets Baymax (Scott Adsit), a very appealing healthcare/helper robot invented by Tadashi. With a few upgrades to Baymax, and Tadashi's friends on his side, the gang teams up to discover the identity of the mysterious masked figure who has stolen Hiro's microbots.  Hiro is no longer alone in his quest for the truth.

The team, L-R: Wasabi, Honey Lemon, Hiro, Baymax, GoGo, and Fred

Big Hero 6 has a big heart, but it is also great to look at. The mixture of anime and doll-like animation gives it a fresh look, while staying in the style of the day. San Fransokyo, with its soaring buildings and nearness to water suggests its two city inspirations, San Francisco and Tokyo, while becoming something altogether new and exciting. There are also visual and thematic nods to films Blade Runner, Scooby Doo, and Real Steel. Big Hero 6 also works as a superhero origins movie, as each of his friends use their tech wizardry to outfit themselves with special abilities.

The original comic book characters

One of the most appealing aspects of the movie is its love of science, gadgets, and most importantly, school. Tadashi rescues his smart but bored little brother from some tough guys and life on the street and shows him where he and his ingenuity can flourish — at the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology. That burning desire for knowledge, matched with the sincere and loving heart — of a robot — Baymax — makes for a very winning film.

Friday, November 07, 2014

favorite song friday: fashion

The kid has been asking me to play this song lately when we take the dog out for her evening walk. Good taste is hereditary, huh? I forgot how much I liked this song and its noisy guitar work (via guitarist Robert Fripp).

Thursday, November 06, 2014

throwback thursday: november details

I am still in denial about it already being November. How did that happen? I decided to check my flickr photostream and see if I had tagged anything with this penultimate month of the year, and came up some photos of stripes and lines and other appropriately fall-like D.C. details from about four or five years ago.





Wednesday, November 05, 2014

more gorgeous clouds

I'm obsessed with the sky these days.