Thursday, July 5, 2012

Must See: Silver Linings Playbook

I saw the trailer for Silver Linings Playbook during the screening of Ted, and just loved it. First of all, it stars Bradley Cooper (hot!) and Jennifer Lawrence (brilliant! No really. For those on the fence about her, let me say that if you want to get a true measure of her talent, skip Hunger Games and see Winter's Bone). As for Silver Linings, the movie looks quirky and sweet and just the right balance of serious and funny; like it doesn't take itself too seriously just because it's dealing with a serious subject matter (mental health). Granted this is based on a two-minute trailer, and I could be totally wrong, nonetheless, I'll definitely be buying a ticket when it's released on November 21st.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

T.E.A.L. (Tell Every Amazing Lady)

I recently learned about T.E.A.L. thanks to the local radio station, WFAN, which I listen to each morning while driving in to work; and since the acronym T.E.A.L. stands for "Tell Every Amazing Lady", I thought I'd share what I learned with any and all the amazing ladies that read this humble blog.

Teal is the ribbon color associated with ovarian cancer, and T.E.A.L. or Tell Every Amazing Lady is a non-profit grassroots organization founded by an ovarian cancer survivor, whose mission is to promote awareness of the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, to enable early detection, and to help find the cure for this deadly disease.

Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from gynecologic cancers in the United States and is the fifth leading cause of cancer death among U.S. women. In the United States alone, there will be approximately 22,000 new cases of ovarian cancer each year, and about 15,500 women will die from the disease. Until we have better early detection tools, the best thing you can do for yourself and by extension your loved ones is to be informed so you can guarantee an early diagnosis and successful treatment. Visit the site (link above) and learn the symptoms.

How else can you help? Let me count the ways. First of all, if you live in the tri-state area, why not buy tickets to attend T.E.A.L.'s 1st Ovarian Cancer Awareness Day on July 21, 2012 at Citi Field. Part of the proceeds go to raise funds for research. September is also National Ovarian Cancer awareness month, and T.E.A.L. holds an annual walk every September in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York. The walk is a non-competitive 5K event. Participants include survivors, caregivers, families, and friends coming together to raise awareness of, and promote a cure for ovarian cancer. T.E.A.L. has become NYC's largest Ovarian Cancer Walk with last year's walk raising $75,000 for Ovarian Cancer research!

I've now told some of the amazing ladies in my life. Now you tell yours. And so on. And so on. Until we're all a little more informed, prepared, and ready to fight head on and beat this insidious disease.

Ted

Ted is a new comedy co-written, directed and produced by Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy. At the film's onset we meet John Bennett, a friendless little boy who wishes that his new Christmas gift, a teddy bear he named Ted, would come to life and be his friend for life. After waking up to find that his wish came true, John's life changes as does Teddy's, who temporarily becomes an overnight sensation making it onto all the news stations, as well as a visit to Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show.

Leaping forward close to 30 years, we find that John (Mark Wahlberg) is in a soul-sucking job at a car rental place, deeply in love with his live-in girlfriend of four years, Lori (Mila Kunis), and still best friends with Ted (voiced by Seth MacFarlane), who has since faded into obscurity. Seeing John stuck in a dead-end job and spending way too much time getting stoned with Ted, who's become an irresponsible wastrel who spends his time and money on weed and prostitutes, Lori asks John to change his ways and ask Ted to move out. Torn between his true love and best friend, John realizes he needs to grow up, become a man and leave his little boy teddy behind if he wants to keep the woman he loves, even if it means saying goodbye to his one and only best friend. Fortunately for us, life and Ted have other plans.

Ted is everything you'd expect from the twisted mind of Seth MacFarlane, and so much more; equal parts lewd and lascivious, as well as hilarious and sweet. A perfect balance of romance and bromance with tons of laughs thrown in for good measure, as well as some unexpected drama in the form of a creepy Ted stalker played to perfection by the always brilliant Giovanni Ribisi. A must-see for all fans of Seth MacFarlane and his Family Guy brand of humor.

Into the Darkest Corner

Into the Darkest Corner is the gripping debut novel from British author Elizabeth Haynes. In the novel we meet Catherine Bailey, a pretty twenty-something year old party girl who has seemingly met the man of her dreams in Lee Brightman, a sexy, charismatic and mysterious hottie who quickly wins her heart and that of all of her friends. But while the sex is steamy and all her friends are jealous, dark clouds are suddenly on the horizon when prince charming transforms into a jealous control freak, who questions every outing with friends and every wardrobe decision. When the situation starts to spiral out of control, Catherine turns to her friends for help, only to find they've turned against her. Desperate and afraid for her very life, Catherine begins to plan her escape

Four years later, Lee's in jail and Catherine - now Cathy - is fighting to build a new life, and at times it seems, fighting for her very sanity. When she meets Stuart, her new neighbor, Cathy finally begins to see a glimmer of hope for her future, but her worst fears come to life when she receives a call that Lee has been released from jail. Faced with the realization that it's not a matter of if, but when Lee will come after her, Cathy has to decide whether to run again or instead stand and fight for herself and her future.

Into the Darkest Corner truly lives up to all the quotes on the book jacket. It was sexy, suspenseful and an edge of your seat psychological thriller. The story's chapters alternate from the idyllic start of Catherine's love story with Lee, to the present day Cathy who has healed physically from his abuse but is still coping with the emotional scars left behind including anxiety attacks, OCD, and a life lived in constant fear of what and most importantly who is right around each corner. I loved the juxtaposition of Catherine/Cathy's two very disparate realities; on one page you're sharing in Catherine's giddy excitement at the onset of her relationship with Lee:

November 16, 2003..."The fact that I couldn't decide on anything to say almost made me laugh - normally it was difficult to shut me up. I wanted to ask if he'd enjoyed his swim, but that sounded inane; I wanted to ask if he was single, but that was too direct. I wanted to know if he'd been waiting for me. All of these questions, and, I realized, I already knew the answers. Yes, yes, and yes."
Only to jump in the next page to reading of the nightmares wrought on Cathy's life by the sexy monster:

November 17, 2007..."My weekends are a curious mixture of relaxation and stress. Some weekends are good; others, not so. Certain dates are good. I can only go food shopping on even-numbered days. If the thirteenth falls on a weekend, I can't do anything at all. On odd-numbered days, I can exercise, but only if it's cloudy or raining, not if it's sunny. On odd-numbered days, I can't cook food, I can only eat cold things or heat stuff up. All of this is to keep my brain placated. All of the time, day and night, my brain generates images of things that have happened to me and things that might happen. It's like watching a horror movie over and over again, without ever becoming immune to the terror."
It's that juxtaposition that adds to the suspense. The reader is gripped with a frantic sense of inevitability; it's like knowing an accident is about to happen, but not being able to stop it. You are alternately afraid and horrified, yet equally captivated and hopeful with every page turned.

Into the Darkest Corner is a beautifully crafted and incredibly well-written story that builds momentum like a runaway train. All the more incredible when you consider that it's the author's first novel.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

That's So Me

Summer Reading List


Summer officially arrives next week, so with high hopes of enjoying more than a few lazy days lost in the pages of a book and my own imagination, I hit the net and Amazon to find some prospective gems for my 2012 summer reading list. While it wasn't a conscious decision, you'll note that my list is strictly composed of works of fiction, most of which are spine tingling thrillers, sure to help me battle the prolonged bouts of what I call 'the lazies' aka the heat-induced lethargy that turns me from an inactive couch potato to a near sloth-like creature who prefers expending the merest modicum of effort during the dog days of summer.

This six book list includes some edge of your seat page-turners, as well as hopefully some good laughs such as with Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple, who's written for such shows as Arrested Development, Ellen and Mad About You. Here's my list; hopefully one or two of my selections make your list too.

In Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (to be released August 14, 2012), Bernadette Fox is notorious. A fearlessly opinionated partner to her hubby; a revolutionary architect to design mavens, but to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom. Then Bernadette disappears. To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence--creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter's role in an absurd world. (Sure to be a winner if it's written with Arrested Development-like wit.)

In Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes (released June 5, 2012), Catherine has been enjoying the single life, when she meets Lee who seems almost too perfect to be true. And her friends clearly agree, as each in turn falls under his spell. But there is a darker side to Lee. His erratic, controlling and sometimes frightening behaviour means that Catherine is increasingly isolated. Driven into the darkest corner of her world, and trusting no one, she plans a meticulous escape. Four years later, struggling to overcome her demons, Catherine dares to believe she might be safe from harm. Until one phone call changes everything. This is an edgy and powerful first novel, utterly convincing in its portrayal of obsession, and a tour de force of suspense. (Puts me in mind of "Sleeping with the Enemy.")

In What Comes Next by John Katzenbach (released June 5, 2012), a retired professor witnesses a young woman being kidnapped off the street, and is unsatisfied by the police response so he vows to find her on his own. The pretty teen has been kidnapped and held prisoner by a married couple who have started an exclusive website, named “What Comes Next,” on which viewers can watch, in real time, what befalls their victims. What befalls the pretty teenager at the hands of the depraved couple, as thousands follow every moment of her nightmare, provides one of the most terrifying novels of the year. (Sounds a little twisted, but with tons of potential if it's well written.)

In The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker (to be released June 26, 2012), the world is ending not with a bang so much as a long, drawn-out whimper. And it turns out the whimper can be a lot harder to cope with. The Earth's rotation slows, gradually stretching out days and nights and subtly affecting the planet's gravity. The looming apocalypse parallels the adolescent struggles of 10-year-old Julia, as her comfortable suburban life succumbs to a sort of domestic deterioration. Julia confronts her parents' faltering marriage, illness, the death of a loved one, her first love, and her first heartbreak.

In The Last Victim by Karen Robards (to be released August 7, 2012), Dr. Charlotte Stone sees what others do not..ghosts. A sought-after expert in criminal pathology, Charlie survived a serial killer’s bloodbath in her youth, and because of the information Charlie gave police, the Boardwalk Killer went underground. Years later, knowing her contact with ghosts might undermine her credibility as a psychological expert, Charlie tells no one about the visits she gets from the spirit world. Now all-too-handsome FBI agent Tony Bartoli is telling Charlie that a teenage girl is missing, her family slaughtered. Bartoli suspects that after fifteen years, the Boardwalk Killer—or a sick copycat with his M.O.—is back. Time is running short for an innocent, kidnapped girl, and Bartoli pleads for Charlie’s help. (Robards is sure to deliver the perfect balance of thrills and romance.)

In You Don’t Want to Know by Lisa Jackson (to be released August 1, 2012), Ava's two-year-old son Noah went missing two years ago, and his body has never been found. Ava has spent most of the past two years in and out of Seattle mental institutions, shattered by grief and unable to recall the details of Noah's disappearance. Now she's back at the family estate she once intended to restore to its former grandeur. But as Ava's mind comes back into focus, her suspicions grow. Ava can't shake the feeling that her family and her psychologist know more than they're saying. Unwilling to trust those around her, Ava secretly visits a hypnotist to try and restore her memories. But the strange visions and night terrors keep getting worse. Ava is sure she's heard Noah crying in the nursery, and glimpsed him walking near the dock. Is she losing her mind, or is Noah still alive? Ava won't stop until she gets answers, but the price may be more than she ever thought to pay.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Be Grateful, Be Happy

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” ― Melody Beattie

Chatting with my brother this weekend, he was bemoaning the state of the economy and the general sentiment that it seems we work paycheck to paycheck just to pay bills. I nodded my head in agreement, but quickly reminded him that at least we have that paycheck to paycheck coming in. While I might not be going away for vacation this summer, I’m mindful of the fact that I’m still better off than the man or woman who recently got laid off or who’s been unemployed for months, and I'm grateful. I’m grateful for my job, for the good health that permits me to work, for the roof over my head and the warm bed to sleep in, and I’m grateful for the love of my family and friends who lighten my daily load and bring me so much joy. Gratitude is the key to a life filled with peace and happiness, instead of anxiety and resentment. There will always be someone who has more, but a fact just as easy to remember is that there will always be someone who has less. Count your blessing and let gratitude make what you have enough.

In an article by Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, entitled “Why Gratitude is Good”, Dr. Emmons references a study of more than one thousand people, from ages eight to 80, which found that people who practice gratitude consistently have lower blood pressure, feel less lonely and isolated, and are more optimistic and happy, among countless other physical, psychological and social benefits.

Each day we make lists of bills to pay, things to do and errands to run, today instead make a list of all the blessings, big and small, that touch your life and take a moment to send a big THANK YOU out into the ether or to God or to whichever divine being you believe in. Be grateful for the big things but don’t overlook the little ones. Each day write down in a journal or even on a post-it note all the good things that happened that day; maybe you didn’t hit traffic in your morning commute, or you got the last piece of pie, or someone gave you a compliment. If it brought a smile to your face, if it lightened your step, then it’s not inconsequential. Remember, gratitude is the best attitude.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Soylent Green

Last week was Once Upon A Time’s season finale, so last night I took advantage of the free time to watch the 1970’s sci-fi classic Soylent Green. It starred Charlton Heston and movie great Edward G. Robinson in the tale of a futuristic dystopian society plagued with overcrowding, poverty, pollution, a climate impacted by the greenhouse effect where the heat doesn’t permit anything to grow, and which as such has caused the depletion of all the earth’s natural resources.

It’s 2022 in NYC, electricity and real food are luxuries allotted only to the rich, there isn’t enough housing for the millions of city residents so they live on the streets and sleep on fire escapes and building stairwells. The state run government has set up curfews and scheduled daily food and water distributions. Police detective Robert Thorn (Heston) is assigned to investigate the murder of William R. Simonson, a rich lawyer and member of the Board for the all-powerful Soylent Corporation, the company responsible for producing Soylent Red, Yellow and the all new high-energy plankton, Soylent Green, a food substitute manufactured to feed the masses across the globe. Helping Thorn on the case is his old friend and roommate Sol Roth (Robinson). Sol tracks down information for Thorn from the scarcely found records available, since now even paper is a rarity. Thorn is convinced that the murder is not the result of a staged home invasion, but a more sinister planned assassination. Relying on information shared by Simonson’s live in mistress, Shirl, an escort employed by the luxury apartment building and assigned to satisfy the tenant’s every whim, Thorn begins to question what Simonson knew, and who would kill to keep it quiet.

While the movie was quite ahead of its time in relation to the subject matter of climate change and its effects on the earth’s resources, the special effects – or lack thereof – was all 70’s cinema. Nonetheless, the actors did a good job in conveying the deprivation of and nostalgia for items which we take for granted today such as fresh produce, beef, water, and simple luxuries like a shower and ice cubes. Heston was OK as the weary cop hot on the trail of the truth, but as in all the other movies I’ve seen him in, Robinson steals the show as the old man disillusioned by the present, who reminisces about the ‘good old days’ when people still sucked, but the “world was beautiful.” Simple scenes like when he’s brought to tears by Thorn’s pilfered piece of beef; or the way he savors a single leaf of lettuce as if he’s tasting the world’s sweetest ambrosia, convey the character’s emotions beautifully. Above and beyond the revealed secret at the end of the movie, which most people know by now, for me the pièce de résistance to the entire film was the gut-wrenching and heartbreaking scene when Sol (Robinson) decides “to go home.” Ugh…brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it, especially after finding out that Soylent Green was Robinson’s last film, having succumbed to his fight against cancer only two weeks after the end of filming.

There are countless reasons to watch this movie, from the fact it’s a sci-fi classic, to the very current subject matter, but above all, watch it for Robinson’s performance. Heston looks like a hack next to him when they share the screen. It’s incomprehensible that one of the greatest actors in movie history never won an Oscar. He was to be presented a special honorary Oscar by the Academy, but unfortunately, died before he could accept the well-deserved honor.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Future of Us

In The Future of Us co-authored by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler, the setting is 1996 and Josh and Emma are high school students who had been friends since childhood, up until a few months ago when Josh made the mistake of trying to be more than friends to Emma and had his heart broken. It's been months since they've spoken but knowing Emma just got a new computer from her father, Josh's mom sends him over with an AOL CD they'd received in the mail. Once Emma signs in, she's logged into her Facebook page, the problem is Facebook has yet to be invented, and the page is of her 15 years into the future. At first Emma is sure this is merely a prank by Josh, but he denies her claims. Once they find Josh's page and are convinced this is no hoax but instead a peek into the future, they also quickly realize that the decisions they make today also affect their future selves.

The premise was so original and promising that I read this book, despite the fact that it's a young adult novel. The authors unfortunately waste the story's potential on the two self-centered and oblivious teenage protagonists. The book's chapters alternate between Josh and Emma, neither of which offer any redeeming characteristics which make the reader care about their life now or in the future. Emma is selfish and boy crazy, concerned about nothing and noone but her latest crush. Josh is slightly better, in so much as he at least truly cares about Emma, though he's quick to think with something other than his head or heart when he finds out that his future self is married to the hottest girl in school. Wasted opportunities abound. You get a rare glimpse into the future and all you're concerned about and obsess over is who you marry and where you'll live? Really? I know they're teenagers, but not all teenagers are shallow twits, I'd say most aren't. The books redemption comes in the last couple chapters when miraculously, like the Grinch's heart, their minds grew three sizes that day, and the two protagonist start to think like rational human beings.

The Dictator

In The Dictator, the latest wild ride from Sacha Baron Cohen of Borat fame, he portrays Aladeen, the despot of the small African nation of Wadiya. With the help from his second in command, Tamir (portrayed by the brilliant Ben Kingsley), Aladeen is relentlessly trying to pursue the development of nuclear weapons. When word of his attempts reaches the United Nations, he is threatened with military action unless he speaks to their concerns during a U.N. council speech in New York City. Unbeknownst to Aladeen, Tamir is plotting against him, in an effort to gain direct control over the country's oil fields. Once in New York, Aladeen is betrayed and left penniless, homeless and beardless on the mean streets of New York, where he encounters Zoey (Anna Faris) who mistakes him for a dissident refugee, and offers him a job. There hence Aladeen begins plotting his return to power with a few detours thrown in for good measure.

The movie opens with the message "In loving memory of Kim Jong-Il", so you know you're gonna be in for a bumpy ride from the get go; and boy was it bumpy. As an equal-opportunity offender, Cohen's jokes take aim at everyone from women, Blacks, Jews, America, Chinese and celebrities, to name a few. I'm sure I missed someone. The humor was crude, rude, offensive and relatively funny, though alot of the funnier scenes had already been previewed on the trailer. There are a couple little hidden gems, like the polaroid wall of shame featuring Aladeen's sexual conquests, some of the names were hilarious, and a funny celebrity cameo near the end of the film. A definite scene-stealer for me was the great Bobby Lee from MADtv. He was, as expected, hilariously offensive as Mr Lao, a Chinese diplomat.

I went in with high hopes because I enjoy Cohen's usual hijinks, unfortunately The Dictator wasn't as funny as Borat, though it did have the added benefit of a few less cringe-worthy moments, since this time-around everyone was in on the joke. A tepid recommendation to average movie fans, a resounding 'must-see' if Cohen's brand of over-the-top humor is your cup of tea.

Get Caught Reading

May is officially Get Caught Reading month, a nationwide campaign to remind people of all ages how important and how much fun it is to read. While the organization supporting the campaign, the Association of American Publishers (AAP), undoubtedly has ulterior motives for promoting literacy, like selling books, there is no doubt that this endeavor is a win-win for all involved. The many benefits of reading, especially for children, are indisputable. From stimulating their brain and imagination, to increasing their vocabulary. As the saying goes, reading is to the mind, what exercise is to the body.

The benefits aren't just for children. What's better than leaving all of your stress and worries behind for a couple of hours; travelling to a far off land for a magical adventure, or falling in love with a handsome prince, knowing that 10 times out of 10 it will end with a "and they lived happily ever after." Better yet, read a non-fiction and walk in someone's elses shoes, if only figuratively, and experience their heartache, struggles, triumphs or losses and learn a little empathy to boot. Books are like little magic carpet rides. A little bit of magic that you can take anywhere with you, to bring you joy if you're sad, excitement if you're bored, or maybe just to be a friendly companion if you're lonely.

Children are made readers on the laps of their parents. So read to your child, and foster his/her imagination and curiosity. Read whether you're 5, 40 or 90; read and let your imagination run wild.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Summer Movie Preview


The countdown is on...before we know it summer will be here and the dreaded and inevitable winter weight reveal will be upon us. No longer will we be able to hide behind our bulky sweaters and winter coats. Our rolls will be leavening under the midday sun as we don shorts, t-shirts and bathing suits to cope with hot sticky weather. Don’t despair though, it’s not all frizzy hair and heat rash, summer also means longer days, less rush hour traffic, ice cream, and most importantly the summer movie season in all its over the top blow ‘em up, shoot ‘em up glory. This season features a wide array of films to appeal to every member of the family, including the privileged few which have made my must-see list (see below). Click on each link to view the film’s trailer.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (June 22)
After honest Abe’s beloved mother is killed by one of these vile creatures, he makes it his mission to rid the nation of their kind. I can’t wait to see this movie. It’s based on the book of the same name by Seth Grahame-Smith. Read my book review here.

The Amazing Spider-Man (July 3)
The film features Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker, as well as the always funny and adorable Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy. Looking forward to seeing how Garfield measures up to Tobey Maguire's Spidey of yore.

Ted (July 13)
In this directorial debut from Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, the story centers around John (played by Mark Wahlberg) and his teddy bear (voiced by MacFarlane) who comes to life as a result of a childhood wish. The trailer looks hilarious, if a little foul-mouthed; the ‘thunder’ song alone won me over. Thunder buddies for life.

The Dark Knight Rises (July 20)
This is the third and final installment in Christopher Nolan's Batman film series. Christian Bale returns as Batman with Tom Hardy as the villain Bane, and Anne Hathaway as Catwoman.

The Campaign (August 10)
A film parodying American politics, starring Will Ferrell as Cam Brady, up against Zach Galifianakis as Marty Huggins, in a North Carolina congressional race. Will and Zach…I’m there.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green (August 15)
A young married couple is told they can’t have children, so they fill a box with little notes stipulating the qualities and characteristics their dream child might have and bury it in their garden, only to wake up and find that their hopes came to life in the form of a magical little boy. Looks sappy, but incredibly sweet.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Revolution

This looks very promising and has all the potential to become another Lost-like theorizing obsession. Revolution from Executive Producers J.J. Abrams and Jon Favreau is a new series slated for NBC’s fall lineup, which will air right after The Voice on Monday nights. The sci-fi drama is a post-apocalyptic tale about a world suddenly deprived of all forms of electricity and, in turn, all technology. If this action-packed trailer with a hint of mystery is any indication of what’s to come then we’re headed for quite an adventure. The young female protagonist out to save the world and lead us out of the darkness puts me in mind of Katniss in The Hunger Games, while the single light bulb and cryptic message typed on the computer at the end of the trailer is classic Abrams and Lost. Abrams is always good for a challenge (think Lost or Fringe), so get ready to be kept on your toes and guessing what comes next.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Funday Monday

Ya Gotta Believe


Like the proverbial Little Engine That Could, my New York Mets are disproving all the dire predictions from the so-called experts and naysayers, like renowned know-it-all and Mets / Jets hater, Mike Francesa from WFAN. Granted it's still early in the season, but nonetheless it's great to see that under the veteran leadership of David Wright, who so far is having a monster season, this young group of players has displayed a never-give up attitude, playing full-tilt all nine innings of the game, leading to more than the usual lot of late-inning come from behind wins. We even beat the perennial National League East powers the Philadelphia Phillies. Not bad for a group most people thought would be no more than a misfit bunch of lovable losers.

The Mets are not only playing over .500 ball, they're only 2 games out of first place in the NL East behind the Washington Nationals. Like Tug McGraw said, "Ya Gotta Believe" and I do.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Random Acts of Kindness

I’m in a bit of a rut when it comes to finishing my most recent do-good project, Project Night Night, thanks to a hefty condo assessment which like a sponge has soaked up my expendable income for the month. Luckily there’s no rush or deadline to finish, so I’m going to take my time and not skimp on any of the outstanding items, though I am looking forward to wrapping up and actually assembling the bags. The throws (Hello Kitty, Lightning McQueen, and Winnie the Pooh, to name a few) and books I've already purchased are so adorable (I can't wait to share some photos), so all that's left is to get some soft and fluffy stuffed animals that any little one can snuggle with and make their life-long friend. To finish the bags off with a sweet and fun touch, I’m going to make some cute ID tags for each tote, and plan on laminating them so they’re not too flimsy.

Back to the original subject of my post, since I probably won’t be finishing my project until next month, I was searching for little things I could do in the interim and stumbled upon the site for The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. As the name would suggest, the organization is “founded upon the powerful belief in kindness and dedicated to providing resources and tools that encourage acts of kindness.” The website has tons of simple ideas and stories of small, simple gestures that don’t take a lot of time or money but can make a big difference.

Many of the ideas were too specific for my taste, for example, doing something nice for a co-worker or a family member. Where is the randomness in that? You shouldn’t choose the recipient. I love the idea of leaving it to the fates to decide. Man or woman, black or white, young or old, and most importantly deserving or not, after all who are we to judge someone's worthiness which is what we'd be doing if we were to pick one person over another; because in truth those that deserve it the least, probably are those that need it the most. A little kindness, if not a lot, should touch everyone’s life every day. The world would be a better place if it did. I ended up searching some other sites to help round off my list.

1. Leave quarters at a laundromat.
2. Give a lottery ticket to a stranger.
3. Leave quarters at a pay phone.
4. Give extra coupons to a random shopper or leave at register.
5. At post office leave some extra stamps at the counter or at the stamp machine. .
6. Keep an extra umbrella in your car and give to anyone who needs it.
7. Put change in a row of vending machines.
8. Bring a special treat to work, and put it in a common area for all to share.
9. Leave a book you have already finished somewhere for someone else to read.
10. Become an organ donor.

I even found a cute little calling card to print out and leave for each recipient. Probably not a good idea to use it on #10.


Obviously, above and beyond this list, we can all share a little more kindness with those around us every day; whether it’s holding a door open, saying ‘have a nice day’, letting someone merge into traffic or simply sharing a friendly smile. You never know the burdens or sorrows someone might be carrying and your simple gesture could make a difference in that person’s day. Let’s all do our part, so that maybe each small kindness we share today with a stranger, comes back to us when we need it tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mother's Day

Tomorrow will be mom's third anniversary in heaven. It seems incredible that it's been three years since that Mother's Day afternoon when I kissed her cheek for the last time. 1,096 days since I held her hand, caressed her face, or heard her voice. The numbers are just as painful even when they're smaller...three Christmases without her, three birthdays, three Mother's Day, one grandchild's confirmation. Big and little moments diminished without her. Without her bigger than life presence, her smile, her wit.

A very old picture of Mamá and me (ignore my E.T.-like fingers).
Her presence is still a constant in my life, whether it be through my memories, photos, or mementos, including the gold necklace she gifted me with and which I wear around my neck today and everyday. I can close my eyes and still see her face clearly without a photograph to refresh my mind. The deep creases across her forehead, maybe from all the worrying after raising two at times troublesome sons; or the brown beauty mark located right on the bridge of her nose. Oh, and these two tiny little holes she had exactly on either side of her nose (I think they were just oversized pores), which reminded me of a little bird. I used to joke with her about them all the time. I remember hugging her and her body would fit just so; the top of her head snuggled right underneath my chin; and I'm only 5'2".

Her voice is the only thing that's gone, at least during the waking hours, though I still hear it clearly in my dreams. The first time I realized I'd forgotten, I quickly rummaged through my things, remembering the one place I knew I could find it, my brother's wedding video. I fast-forwarded through the old VHS tape, thanking God I still had my old VCR, and then finally, at 43:42 in the video, my mom. "Hola mija" (a term of endearment or shortened Spanish of 'mi hija', my daughter) were her exact words. It was during the reception. I hadn't seen her for a bit because I was in the wedding party and we'd been kept apart from the wedding guests during the cocktail hour until they officially introduced the wedding party as well as the bride and groom; but I had snuck out and gone down to say hello. She'd been giving the videographer a tight awkward smile, looking anywhere but at the camera, when she'd looked to the side and seen me coming. After all the searching, it seemed perfectly apropos for those to have been her first words on the tape.

Mom was my life for so much of my life; as I've said in the past, she gave my life purpose. I keep myself busy with work and find joy in my family and friends, but as for a life's purpose, I can't say that I've found anything to fill the void she left behind. I volunteer and do countless little 'do good' projects, but in all honesty, it's not the same as knowing you're truly needed by someone. Nonetheless, I hope she's proud.

Some weeks ago I was at Wal-Mart with my brother and the boys. We separated to do some shopping. After I'd finished I was looking for them and couldn't find them, so I started up the aisles, calling out their names in a loud voice. When I finally found them, my brother answered, exasperated and embarassed by my loudness, "we're here...geesh, you're just like mom." In that moment, I remembered all the times she used to do that to me, and I'd used that same exasperated tone. He said the same another time when I was trailing behind as we walked from a field to a car. You know what I say to that, if every day I became a little more like my mother, then I couldn't be prouder because she was pretty amazing.

Lastly, let me take this opportunity to wish all the moms out there a very Happy Mother's Day this Sunday. To my own mom, gone but never forgotten, "feliz dia mi querida mariposa."

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

This is Colossal

It seems like I’m always a day late and dollar short when it comes to the latest hot trends, whether it be fashion, technology or blogs, which brings me to my post. I recently found a great art and design blog, Colossal, which I had to share with each of you, though it's probably old news to most. I’m not an artist or designer, but I’m always awed by the God-given talent of individuals who can move and inspire through their gifts; through the beauty created with either the stroke of a brush, a chisel on marble, or the countless other mediums used to touch each one of us. For those of you previously in the dark like me, know that Colossal offers something to appeal to everyone’s taste:

Street Art
This beautiful piece is from Rome-based visual artist Alice Pasquini.

Sculpture
This is a sculpture made of wire mesh by Korean sculptor Seung Mo Park. To better grasp the skill and effort which goes into each piece, click on the link and view the YouTube video which shows him at work.

Photography
This beautiful macro photograph of a dew-soaked dandelion is from UK photographer Sharon Johnstone.

Watercolor
This is by far one of my favorite pieces to appear on the site. It’s a watercolor from self-taught Italian painter Silvia Pelissero aka Agnes-Cecile. Self-taught! Can you believe it! The painting is so ethereal it truly touches me with its haunting beauty. Clck on the link to view a YouTube video clip of Agnes-Cecile at work.

Lastly, if you doubted art could come in any form, just check out this wall installation by Baptiste Debombourg that utilizes nearly a half million metal staples tacked to a wall. It was inspired by drawings from 16th century engravers Hendrick Goltzius, Jan Harmensz, Cherubino Alberti and took 340 hours to complete.
Visit Colossal for a touch of beauty to brighten your day; it's a true feast for your eyes and soul and sure to both humble and inspire you..

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

At the onset of the novel, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith, we're told that as a young man trying to support his family by working at a five-and-dime store in Rhinebeck, NY, the author was approached with an intriguing proposal by a store regular, Henry. While Henry had always been courteous, unlike many of the condescending weekenders who came into the shop with the oversized cups of coffee yet never spent a dime, they'd never had an in-depth conversation, until the one day Henry questioned why the author had abandoned his writing. While a little annoyed by the question, the author nonetheless gave an honest answer and pointed to his main priorities of wife and kids for putting his life-long dream of being an author on the shelf. One question led to another, each question more personal, and yet he felt compelled for some unknown reason to answer each question. After that strange day, things went back to normal; Henry would come in, exchange polite pleasantries, purchase his goods and leave.

The last time Henry came in, he carried a small package wrapped in brown paper which he placed on the counter and indicated the author should read the note on top of the package first. Unsure of its contents but extremely curious, the author closed the shop a few minutes early and headed to the basement to sneak a cigarette and open the package. The note attached to the package outlined conditions to be agreed to before opening it; including the understanding that the contents where a loan and not a gift, to be protected at all cost, and to be discussed with no one except Henry and the 11 individuals listed on the opposite side of the note. The proposal was that the author would write a manuscript about the contents for which he would be compensated, if it met Henry's approval. If the author could not meet all of the conditions, he was to wait to be contacted for a safe return of the package. If he agreed, he could proceed. As the author states "Well, shit...there was no way I wasn't opening it now." The package contained a bundle of letters and ten leather-bound books of varying sizes, the smallest of which began with "This is the Journal of Abraham Lincoln" and as the author skimmed each book one word kept appearing "Vampire." Convinced Henry was out of his mind and playing a hoax on him, the author gathered the package's contents ready to share a good laugh with his wife about the day's event, only to turn and find:
"Something leaned over me. Its eyes were a pair of black marbles. Its skin a translucent collage of pulsing blue veins. And its mouth -- its mouth could barely contain its wet, glassy fangs. It was Henry. "I'm not going to hurt you", he said. "I just need you to understand."
This book is therefore the author's attempt to finally set the record straight and tell the truth of Honest Abe's life based on those secret journals. A truth not found in any of the 15,000 plus books previously published about his life. The story goes on to relay through journal entries, Lincoln's life-long battle with the forces of darkness, his countless personal sacrifices and sad life of loss, and how those struggles began a war and helped shape a nation.

Wow. I loved this book. A previously vehement detractor of all vampire-related literature, I borrowed this book from a friend out of pure curiosity after seeing the kick-ass trailer for the film which is due for release this Summer. I'm so glad I didn't let my Twilight-related phobia spoil my fun. The book put me in mind of The Da Vinci Code, because like that great book, the storyline in a biographical style was so finely woven and well written that every line becomes almost plausible. A wonderfully original and compelling read, though not for the squeamish or faint of heart.

I've Got Your Number

In I've Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella, Poppy Wyatt has done the unthinkable; while attending a champagne tea function with friends at a hotel, she's lost the heirloom emerald wedding ring which had been in her fiancee, Magnus Tavish's family for three generations. The ring had been safely on her finger for the past three months, but today as Poppy and her friends were swigging down champagne and stuffing their faces with cupcakes, she had basked in their admiration, and let them pass the ring around the table so they could try it on. Unfortunately, during this bit of either momentary insanity or irresponsibility there's a fire drill, and now the ring is nowhere to be found. Of course she's lost the darn thing on the eve of Magnus' parents (both genius professors who constantly make her feel inferior) return from sabbatical in the States. Things go from bad to worse when while standing on the front steps of the hotel trying to get a signal, her phone is literally plucked from her hands and stolen. Her phone is like a vital organ; it's her people, friends and family, her work, and horribly it's her sole connection and source of hope for finding her ring. Poppy's given her number to the hotel staff, to friends, to anyone and everyone she could think of who might find the ring. Freaked out and feeling as if her world is unraveling, Poppy is pacing the hotel lobby when she spots a cell phone dumped in a garbage bin. Eureka! Finders keepers, except that the phone rings, and the man on the other end of the line, Sam Roxton, the phone's owner, has other plans and wants his phone back. After careful negotiations and shameless pleading, a bargain is struck and with it hilarity ensues as Poppy wrecks havoc on Sam's life, and in the process Sam helps Poppy face some surprising truths.

I loved this book! It was funny, and sweet, and romantic. I expected no less from the brilliant Sophie Kinsella. You can always count on Kinsella to deliver a lighthearted romp that delivers both laughs and a few happy tears. As with most Kinsella heroines, Poppy is your typical girl next door, if your girl next door happens to be sweet, funny, smart, and resourceful; her fears and vulnerabilities only make you love her all the more. While at times aspects of the plot are more than a little implausible, the connection between the two main characters, two completely disparate human beings -- one cold and business-like the other unerringly idealistic, feels so real and captivating that you overlook the little details and enjoy the bigger picture. Laughter and love, what could be better?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

God Bless America

Yesterday I bought tickets from the Jacob Burns Film Center for a special screening of writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait’s latest movie God Bless America. The screening will feature a Q&A session with Bobcat, Joel Murray, the lead actor in the film, and NY Times critic Janet Maslin. Those of you familiar with 80’s pop culture might remember Bobcat as the comedian with the high-pitched crazy voice who also appeared in such movies as Police Academy and Scrooged.

God Bless America is described in the LA Times as “An oddball road trip comedy crossed with a furious social critique.” I bought the tickets based purely on the kick-ass trailer (see below). Looks like it will be plenty violent and foul mouthed, but also one helluva ride.

Generosity Simplified

I stumbled upon WebThriftStore.com in a Huffington Post article. Web Thrift Store allows users to shop and/or donate online, with the proceeds from their sale or purchase going towards supporting the work of great nonprofit organizations, like the ASPCA. It’s a win-win for all involved, the charities and you, since you’re not only helping to make a difference but your donations are also tax-deductible.

The site is still very new, so currently there aren’t a lot of charities participating, but the list is growing every day. This is a great opportunity to do some Spring cleaning and support a cause which is close to your heart. Are you an animal lover? Then let your dollars and cents help the ASPCA in their fight against animal cruelty.

While I think NPD Research’s figure that the average US household has $7,000 worth of stuff they don’t want might be slightly (or in my case, very) inflated, all of us undoubtedly have a few items collecting dust around the house. Maybe those “skinny” jeans you’ve been saving for when you lose those last 10 pounds, or that exercise bike or treadmill that’s doing double-duty as a glorified clothes hanger. Hmm…I see a recurring theme here; a subject for another day. Anyway, what are you waiting for? Giving couldn’t be easier. Give today.

NPR's First Listen

Norah Jones’ new album, Little Broken Hearts, which features 10 tracks of her silky smooth voice, will be released on May 1st, but for a limited time NPR Music has generously made the entire album available on their Exclusive First Listen page. My favorite tracks were the breathy “Travelin’ On”, and the sweet, soft melody of “Good Morning.”

I couldn’t find an expiration date on the audio’s availability, so hurry on over to NPR before this sweet opportunity passes you by.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Abducted

In Abducted by T.R. Ragan, Lizzy Gardner is known as the one who got away. Lizzy was a teenager making her way home from a clandestine meeting with her boyfriend when she was taken by a serial killer known as Spiderman. It’s been 14 years since Lizzy planned and executed her escape from the maniac’s clutches, and she’s still dealing with the mental and emotional toll of those two months spent in hell. Now a private detective, Lizzy deals with her own fears and tortured memories by giving self-defense classes to teenage girls, all in an effort to ensure that the same doesn’t happen to another young girl. Making small strides in her life but still mired in the past, Lizzy knows she’ll never have peace until she knows Spiderman is dead. When Lizzy gets a call from the madman himself, and is brought in by her ex-boyfriend, now an FBI agent, to help them with a new kidnapping, she realizes she’s once again being caught in the maniac’s web, but this might be the chance she’s been hoping for to break free from the past and finally heal.

I thought this book was great. All of the characters, not just Lizzy, were well written and developed. As the heroine, Lizzy was a flawed but likable character; damaged but not broken, and in her strength and determination you found hope for her future. The wonderful supporting cast of characters gave you more than one person to root for. I particularly loved Hayley, a hard as nails teenager, who won’t give an inch despite fighting some personal demons. The romantic thread to the storyline was sweet and engaging, without taking over the more important dramatic aspects of the tale. A page-turning thriller which makes you care about each character as much as you care about catching the bad guy.

Friday, April 13, 2012

12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men is a 1957 film starring Henry Fonda which tells the story of a jury deliberating a murder in the first degree trial in which a young immigrant teenager is accused of having stabbed his father to death. At the film's onset, the judge is seen instructing the jurors in the fact that it is their duty to separate facts from fancy and that they must unanimously find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If found guilty, the defendant will face a mandatory death sentence. The twelve men leave the court room and congregate in a cramped and sweltering deliberation room. As they sit around a narrow table, the foreman calls for a preliminary vote sure in the fact that it will be a short afternoon and that they'll be out in time for juror #7 to make the evening's baseball game for which he has tickets. The preliminary vote comes back 11-1 with Henry Fonda's juror #8 being the lone descent vote. Soft-spokenly and calmly Juror #8 explains the importance of this vote that could send a young man to the electric chair and admits that while he can't guarantee his innocence, neither can he positively assert his guilt, and that at the bare minimum a man's life merits further discussion.

The other jurors concede this point and decide to each make a case for why they think the boy is guilty. As each point of evidence is discussed, juror #8 questions each and makes valid points for a not guilty vote due to reasonable doubt. As tempers rise, especially that of angry and belligerent Juror #3, he makes a bold offer. He asks for a second secret vote, stating he will abstain from the vote, and if 11 guilty verdicts come back, he will acquiesce and change his vote. The foreman opens each folded piece of paper, reading guilty verdict, after guilty verdict until...not guilty; and so, the discussions continue. As the temperatures rise and a storm brews outside, the men deliberate each "fact" and with them the fate of a young man.

This was a superb film. Henry Fonda was wonderful as soft-spoken juror #8. His bearing and face conveyed the perfect solemnity for his role as the jury's conscience and/or voice of reason. Even the use of his measured voice as he went point by point over each piece of evidence was compelling. Lee J. Cobb was the perfect counter-balance in his role as the stubborn, irrational and explosive juror #3. The give and take between these two great actors added a palpable tension throughout the film, which left you anxiously sitting on the edge of your seat anticipating what would happen next. The raw drama of the film is a praiseworthy fait accompli when you take into account that almost the entirety of the film, with the exception of the opening and closing scenes, were shot in one small cramped room with just 12 men. No fancy props, no explosions, no special effects. A film which gives credence to the statement, "they just don't make 'em like they used to."

Friday Funnies


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Music & Memory

Music & Memory is a non-profit organization whose mission is to “improve the quality of life for the elderly and infirm through the use of personalized music and digital technology.” Based on the simple premise that through its many therapeutic benefits music can help reach hearts and minds, health care providers and family care givers use iPods and similar technology to try and bridge the gap left by other forms of therapy to reconnect with patients and loved ones, respectively, who were previously unresponsive. By stimulating their minds and transporting them to a happier time in their memories, they help bring peace and joy to lives that otherwise might have been lost forever.

The video found on the site’s homepage of an elderly man named Henry is a compelling demonstration of how music can stir a soul. Henry is at first unresponsive, sitting in his wheelchair with his head hanging low, his chin resting on his chest, but as soon as they place the headphones on, his head lifts, his eyes grow wide and he is alive again. It’s a moving sight to behold.

As soon as I read about Music & Memory I automatically thought of my mom. Unlike Henry, mom wouldn't have needed music for reanimation, but instead for comfort and escape from the life which had been turned upside down overnight. In 2009, when mom suffered a cranial hemorrhage, she developed sudden onset vascular dementia that brought with it severe anxiety whenever I wasn’t by her side. Confined to a wheelchair because she was no longer able to walk on her own, mom would insist on trying to get out of her chair which meant she needed a restraint, a fact that only stoked her frenzy. For reasons beyond me, probably the fact that we'd been closer than two peas in a pod most of my life, my mere presence was stronger than any dose of Xanax or Ativan being doled out during the day by the nursing staff, because while I’d walk into the nursing home to find her yelling and agitated, as soon as she'd see me a sense of peace would come over her - her face, her body language, her whole demeanor would change -- it was a sight to see and oh so humbling. I remember my own anxiety each day as I’d rush from work to the nursing home; desperate to get there as soon as humanly possible, frantic whenever I’d hit traffic because I knew she was dependent on me for her sense of peace and well-being.

Today I wonder if something as simple as music would’ve assuaged her fears and brought her solace during my absences. Would her face have lit up with a smile, transported to a happier time and place? I’ll never know that answer, but I know that I couldn’t pass on this opportunity to help someone else’s mom or dad, brother or sister, son or daughter. How can we help? The organization accepts monetary donations, but they also need donations of iPods, new and old. In fact, they are currently facing a shortage of iPod Shuffles for patients with special needs. I plan on making a donation, won’t you do the same? If you plan on upgrading your iPod soon, consider donating your old device to this great organization. Give the gift of music and touch someone’s life.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Once Upon A Time


It's been tons of fun but sadly our time with the Charmings (Snow, James and Emma) from Once Upon A Time is almost at an end, as the Season 1 finale is scheduled for May 13th. Per some recently published reports, the finale episode is titled "A Land Without Magic." With the excitement and anticipation building until the big day, I couldn't help myself and scoured the net for some spoilers on upcoming episodes, and found a few tidbits I thought I'd share.

Spoiler Alert - STOP - Spoiler Alert. You've been warned.

The press release for Episode 19, The Return, states: "Mr. Gold attempts to uncover August's true identity, and Rumpelstiltskin agrees to let his son find a way to take away his evil powers and turn him back into the loving father he once was." Click here for a sneak peek at episode stills.

TVGuide's description for Episode 20, The Stranger, states: "August tells Emma how to beat Regina and how she can get custody of Henry, while Regina hatches a plot to seduce David now that Mary Margaret is back at work. In the fairy-tale world, a plan to save Snow White and Prince Charming's daughter unfolds and is agreed to by Geppetto, who has his own child's safety in mind." Click here for a sneak peek at episode stills.

TVGuide.com also reported on a number of spoilers revealed at a recent PaleyFest event moderated by TVLine.com, including the fact that Archie (aka Jiminy Cricket) will have two new patients soon, David and Mr. Gold. I can't wait to be a fly in the wall during Mr. Gold's couch time with the good doc. A big reveal which I'm practically salivating over revolves around The Stranger or August Booth. Executive Producer Adam Horowitz stated that "Before we get to the finale, we'll be pretty clear on who he is, what he's doing, why he wants to do it and how he's going to do it." One possible theory considered was that the Stranger is actually a grown up Henry back from the future, but the producers declined to comment on any theories. I doubt that theory because Henry was never in fairytale land. Another theory which has more merit in my mind is that he's Rumplestiltskin's son. Lastly, the sweet hottie we lost earlier in the season, Sheriff Graham aka The Huntsman will reappear in the season finale. At the same PaleyFest event, executive producer Edward Kitsis stated "[He] may have had his heart ripped out in Storybrooke, but he is still very much alive when we go back to fairytale land." Two last bits of news are that Emilie de Ravin will return before the end of the season to reprise her role as Belle, as will Kristin Bauer Van Straten as Maleficent, the queen's frenemy with whom she battled over a curse during a Fall episode.

Even with these sneak peeks, I'll still be eagerly tuning in during the remainder of the season to enjoy some wonderful performances and gain some more insights into these captivating characters I've come to love; each of which has taken root in my imagination and supplanted the previous Disney images for each character which lived there.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Marty

Marty is a 1955 film starring Ernest Borgnine in the titular role of Marty Piletti. Marty is a sweet neighborhood butcher in the Bronx who is constantly harangued by clients and family, especially his Italian mother, about his bachelor status, a state which Marty would gladly change if he could. Disheartened by his lack of luck with the ladies, including a fresh brush off from a girl he'd barely gotten the nerve to call, Marty resigns himself to another Saturday night spent at home and the fact that he'll always be alone, as he tells his mother "Whatever it is that women want, I ain't got it." When during dinner his mother starts harassing him to go to the Stardust Ballroom to try to meet a girl, Marty movingly yells at his ma, voicing his fears and heartache:

"I'm just a fat little man, a fat ugly man. I'm ugly, I'm ugly, I'm ugly. Ma, leave me alone. Ma what do you want from me? What do you want from me? I'm miserable enough as it is. Alright, so I'll go to the Stardust Ballroom. I'll put on a blue suit, and I'll go and you know what I'm going to get for my trouble? Heartache. A big night of heartache."

Marty's hopes (and ours for him) are seemingly answered when having listened to his ma and gone to the Stardust Ballroom with his friend Angie he meets plain and soft-spoken high school teacher Clara. As the night progresses, Marty and Clara share hopes and dreams, and the future seems bright for two lonely hearts in New York, but will Marty step beyond his fears and his family and reach for happiness.

In 1955, Marty won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor. In addition to its success in the U.S., Marty also won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

I absolutely loved this film. It's a simple little film, but truly moving in its portrayal of loneliness and hope. I think I loved it so much because it spoke to my heart and my own fears and hang ups. I saw myself reflected in Marty. I had never seen Ernest Borgnine in another film, but he was wonderful in conveying Marty's emotions. Whether it's the exhuberant joy he feels after having dropped off Clara at home, where his face practically glows with hope, and in his eyes you could almost see his dreams for a future shared with someone. Alone no more. Or the more understated scene in the coffee shop when he tentatively, almost fearfully, shares his dream of buying the butcher shop, and Clara shyly offers her encouragement, and with her simple words offers him the confidence to believe in himself. Truthfully, this has become a new favorite. I had tears in my eyes and a smile on my face when I finished this film.

Must Watch: The Intouchables

Looking forward to seeing this award-winning French film, which is scheduled for release in the U.S. on May 25th.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Poetry Feeds the Soul

April is National Poetry Month so take the time to read a new poem or an old favorite, and let its words motivate and inspire you. Since it just happens to be her birthday today, here's a poem from renowned American author and poet Maya Angelou.

Alone
By Maya Angelou

Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don't believe I'm wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires
With money they can't use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They've got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I'll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
'Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Night Circus

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern tells the story of two illusionists and star crossed lovers, Celia and Marco, whose entire life has been orchestrated by the machinations of each of their respective mentors in a twisted competition that will span a lifetime and can only have one victor. A gentlemen's wager struck between Celia's father, the magician Prospero the Enchanter and the mysterious man in the grey suit or Mr. A. H. when Celia and Marco are mere children shapes their childhood as each hones their skills in preparation for the challenge. Aware of the game yet not the scope of the deadly wager, Celia and Marco act as mere chess pieces in the challenge with Le Cirque des Rêves (The Circus of Dreams) serving as the venue; a traveling circus which functions from sunset to sunrise and where each will practice their magic and bring to life their most breathtaking flights of fancy for the nightly patrons and for each other.

The book is pure poetry in its descriptions of the magic crafted by each opponent; from the Ice Garden created by Marco, where trellises covered in pale roses and frosted peonies are all made of ice; to the Wishing Tree, a tree covered in fire, created by Celia as a complement to Marco's creation. The love story is as fantastical as the magic and even more beautiful. A love where chandeliers break from the energy created by the mere touch of their hands. It's a beautiful story, beautifully written, with beautiful images created with flowery words, but at some point the magic isn't enough and it becomes a bit anti-climactic. The challenge never materializes and instead it becomes a dual exhibition without tension or conflict but with a pretty love story to make up for the fact. So, while I can't say the book is a new favorite, I did enjoy it for many of the reasons listed above.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

PBS' Masterpiece Classic Great Expectations


PBS is airing an adaptation of yet another Charles Dickens classic, Great Expectations. Along with the usual excellence in casting, sets, costumes and production which I’ve come to expect from any Masterpiece production, this piece has the added benefit of a more instant gratification, since it’s only two episodes long. The first episode aired this past Sunday, but you can still watch it online at PBS.org. Episode 2 is scheduled to air this coming Sunday.

In the story, Pip, an orphaned boy living with his cruel older sister and her kind husband Joe, who is a blacksmith, stumbles upon an escaped convict who threatens him with dire repercussions if he doesn’t help him evade the authorities. Frightened, Pip complies and brings the man not only a file to hack off his shackles but, in a simple act of kindness, he also brings him a piece of food. The convict is captured and life goes back to normal for Pip, until he’s volunteered as a playmate to Estella, the adopted daughter of the quite batty yet very rich Miss Havisham, hauntingly portrayed by the beautiful Gillian Anderson. As Pip falls hopelessly in love with the bewitching Estella, he dreams of a bright future far away from the drudgery of the forge. As a simple blacksmith apprentice, his hopes seem all for naught, until a mysterious benefactor presents him with the means to rechart his future and reach for his dreams and his love.

Episode 1 shined thanks to the wonderful performance by its young child lead, Oscar Kennedy, as Pip, whose talent was on par with his adult counterparts. The sets and scenery were amazing, from the sweeping shots of the marshland near the forge at the movie's onset to the decaying Satis House home to the fragile and wraithlike figure of Miss Havisham. Every aspect of the production transports to a time and place far, far away.

Happily Ever After & Hollywood

If you thought only Snow White was getting the movie star treatment in Hollywood, with competing movies about the damsel in distress including Mirror, Mirror with Julia Roberts and the upcoming Snow White and the Huntsman with Kristen Stewart on the big screen, than you'd be wrong. It seems fairy tales are all the rage and there are a couple of innovative takes on some other childhood classics which will be hitting a theater near you.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters won't be released until January 2013, but given the great cast, I think it will be worth the wait. Oscar-nominated Jeremy Renner from The Hurt Locker stars in this modern retelling of what happened to the brother and sister duo when they grew up and became bounty hunters killing witches. Here's a picture of the dynamic duo via EW.


Maleficent, starring the beautiful Angelina Jolie in the titular role, will tell the never before told story of the evil sorceress from Sleeping Beauty. Depending on the script, this film could do for Sleeping Beauty what Wicked did for The Wizard of Oz, and help us look at the story and the character in a whole new light.

Brace yourself for this one. In this new retelling of the children's classic Peter Pan, Captain Hook is a policeman hunting a childlike kidnapper. The film is in pre-production and supposedly will star Aaron Eckhart as Hook, Sean Bean will play Smee, and AnnaSophia Robb from Soul Surfer will play Wendy, who in this adaptation is one of Pan's victims. Freaky!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Proust Questionnaire

The Proust Questionnaire is a questionnaire intended to reveal one's innermost thoughts. Its name is owed to the responses given by the French writer Marcel Proust. Vanity Fair regularly publishes a similar questionnaire on the back page of the magazine with the questions answered by varying celebrities.

Most months I read the Vanity Fair questionnaire online and just love the wide spectrum of answers you'll get from one participant to the next. They are at times insightful, surprisingly candid, and hilarious. For example, while I love and I'm inspired by Ray Charles' response to the question, What is your motto? "God helps those who help themselves." Matt Damon's response to the same question, "Don't be a d-bag" is a close second in my book.

So, here is my Proust Questionnaire. You can answer a questionnaire of your own or share with your friends and family and gain a little insight into their hearts and minds.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
To know you're loved

What is your greatest fear?
Alzheimer’s

Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Mother Teresa

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
My countless fears (heights, public speaking, social functions, roller coasters, etc., etc.)

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Selfishness

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Patience

On what occasion do you lie?
To avoid hurting someone’s feelings

What do you dislike most about your appearance?
I’m OK with all of my flaws, though one less chin would be awfully nice

Which talent would you most like to have?
A beautiful singing voice

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Be braver

What is your most treasured possession?
My family

What is the quality you most like in a man?
Kindness (and height, what can I say, I like tall men)

What is it that you most dislike?
Mean people

How would you like to die?
From old age, with all my faculties, surrounded by those I love

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Citizen Kane

I have a long standing 'must see' list of classic movies which I've been chipping away at slowly. This past Friday I was able to check one of those movies off my list, Citizen Kane, named #1 in the American Film Institute's list of Best American Movies, and revered by many as the greatest picture of all time.

Citizen Kane starred 24-year old Orson Welles in his first feature film in the main role of newspaper publishing tycoon, Charles Foster Kane. The movie opens with a shot of Kane's dark and foreboding palatial estate which sits on a hill. Our first glimpse of Kane is of him on his death bed, holding a snow globe, as he utters his dying word "Rosebud" as the globe slips from his hand and crashes to the floor. Through news reels announcing the death of this at times loved and hated man, we learn of his vast empire, his tragic and turbulent personal life, and some of the exploits surrounding the triumphs and failures in this one man's life. As speculation rises on Kane's mysterious final word, a news reporter is tasked with interviewing key people in Kane's life who might hold the key to unraveling the mystery of Rosebud. It's through these interviews and the use of flashbacks during each that we get a fuller picture of the man; his humble beginnings as he's separated from his beloved mother, his rebellious and idealistic youth as he charts his own path in life, his meteoric rise to fortune and power, and his driving need to be loved.

While I'm not qualified to judge its artistic greatness, I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed this film. The acting, both from Welles in the lead, as well as the supporting cast, including Joseph Cotten as his best friend Jedediah Leland, and Dorothy Comingore as his paramour and later to be second wife, Susan Alexander, was superb. For me, Welles was at his best in the early scenes where his own youthful optimism shined through to his character. Overall, its just a great story. A cautionary tale of the inherent evils found in extreme wealth and power, and a simple reminder that sometimes our greatest treasures in life aren't those bought and paid for with the almighty dollar.

The documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane, which came in the particular boxed set I borrowed from the library, was as compelling as the movie itself. The documentary details the real battle between 24-year old Orson Welles and 76-year old publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst, on whom the movie is supposedly based, over the release of the film. Incensed by the fact that his life had been laid bare on the silver screen for the whole world to see, Hearst did everything within his considerable means both to stop the movie from seeing the light of day, as well as to destroy Welles' future in Hollywood. Geniuses each in his way, the film documents the rise and fall of each man and how their lives intersect over this one film.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Spring Has Sprung

New York began enjoying some unseasonably warm weather even before Spring officially arrived, so Jasmin has been beside herself with joy at her new found freedom. For those not in the know, Jasmin is my cat. Due to my sense of guilt at watching her sit at my kitchen window longingly gazing at the great outdoors all winter long, as soon as the warm weather rolls around, I start letting her go outside.

Once the weather is nice, the daily ritual never deviates. As soon as I walk in the door of my condo after work she greets me at the front door, then runs to the back door which leads to the patio, stands on her hind legs, front paws reaching up towards the doorknob and starts to meow frantically while looking back at me with a look which screams, "Hurry up beyotch, I've been waiting for you all day." Brings to mind a prisoner demanding some "yard time" from the warden. While she's outside, she enjoys some fresh air, watches the birdies and nibbles on a few digestive greens. I stay glued to her side the whole time she's out there, ready to pounce if she dares to make a run for it, which has only happened twice, both times squirrel inspired incidents. She's very zen in her enjoyment of the avian variety of wildlife, but she's got no will power whatsoever when it comes to a bushy tail.

Here are a couple pics of said kitty enjoying an afternoon stroll and basking in the warmth of the sun during a recent weekend.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Diamond in the Rough

Already being labeled the next Susan Boyle, watch this incredible video of Jonathan Antoine, a 17-year old singer who along with his duo partner, Charlotte, appeared on this past weekend's episode of the UK reality show, Britain's Got Talent. Jonathan's backstory of being bullied because of his weight will make you root for this shy and unassuming young man, but it's his amazingly rich and beautiful voice which will make you stand up and cheer.



Don't you just love the look on Simon's face when Jonathan starts to sing? Proof positive that you should never judge a book by its cover. Love it!

The Hunger Games

In The Hunger Games, based on the young adult novel of the same name written by Suzanne Collins, the United States as we've known it has ceased to exist and in its place stands the country of Panem, comprised of 12 poor districts whose sole purpose for existence is to support the Capitol with their local resources. As punishment to its citizens for a past uprising by a since then obliterated 13th district, a lottery known as the Reaping is held annually by the Capitol whereby every district sends two tributes, one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 to 18 to participate in the Hunger Games, a televised competition to the death where there is only one victor. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is a 16-year old girl from District 12 whose bravery and hunting skills have helped her provide for her family since the death of her father in a coal mining accident. When Katniss' fragile younger sister's name, Primrose, is drawn at the Reaping, Katniss quickly volunteers to take her place. Katniss' male partner from District 12 is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the baker's son who helped to feed her family in a not too distant past when her family was desperate and starving. As Katniss and Peeta make their way in opulence to the Hunger Games with their Capitol guide, Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), they're introduced to Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), their drunken mentor who also happens to be a past winner of the Hunger Games. As they navigate the process of being a tribute and their uncertain future, they'll have to trust and rely on one another in order for one of them to make it back home alive.

Thanks to the endless nagging of a dear friend (thank you again!), last Fall I read the entire Hunger Games trilogy (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay), so I was eagerly anticipating this movie, as was half the country. Maybe it was all the hype or my own eager anticipation, but I must say I was slightly disappointed. The movie was good, but not great. Jennifer Lawrence did an admirable job in her role as Katniss, but I expected as much given her gut-wrenching performance in last year's Winter's Bone. My problem lies with the characterization of Peeta in the film, not Hutcherson's acting, but the way his character was adapted for the screen. Whereas in the book, Peeta is a quiet yet charismatic figure who brings equal value to the Katniss and Peeta relationship through his strategizing and ease in charming their sponsors, in the movie he's portrayed as a liability or at worst an albatross Katniss is burdened to care for at the expense of her own safety at times. A simpleton whose sole appeal is the fact that he loves Katniss. Since Peeta is my favorite character from all three books, I found this discrepancy highly frustrating to say the least. Another small issue I had was the fact that the director must have used hand-held cameras during some of the action sequences, because they were downright jumpy and a little dizzying at times.

Overall, if you're a fan of the books, the movie is a must see, if for no other reason than comparison's sake. To be honest, whether you read the books or not, you'll enjoy the film because despite my gripes, the movie still kept me enthralled for the whole two and a half hours. Expect drama, action, blood, and a sprinkling of romance to sweeten the pot.

The Voice Early Favorites

Clockwise from top left: Pip, Juliet Simms, Jordis Unga, Sera Hill

The singers pictured above are four of my early favorites to go to the end during this season of The Voice. The show was a hit last season and one which I thoroughly enjoyed, despite the fact that my favorite (Dia Frampton) didn't win. Nonetheless, I tuned in from the get go, ready to discover some new talent and enjoy some great music, plus I just love that tall drink of water and charming country crooner, Mr. Blake Shelton. Blake is as witty and charming as last season, Cee Lo as quirky and crazy, Adam as sexy and egomaniacal and Christina as annoying, but the four of them together make for some mighty fine TV.

I was downright annoyed with many of the judge's choices during the battle rounds, most notably the selection of Charlotte Sometimes over Lex Land, ugh, what was Blake thinking?! These last few weeks I've had to deal with the added dilemma of two of my favorite shows, The Voice and Dancing with the Stars, going head to head. I've made do as best I can, and seen it as an opportunity to enhance my manual dexterity as I've been dialing for dollars, flipping back and forth from one channel to the other in order to watch both shows Live. For the most part, the TV executives have been extremely accommodating, and many of the times ABC just happens to be running a commercial while one of the singers is performing, and vice versa, NBC has had commercials when my favorite dancers are on the dance floor. The few instances per episode when this is not the case, and I'm faced with this particular Sophie's choice, The Voice has proven to be my favorite child and I've bypassed dancing for singing.

Of the singers pictured above, Pip, a member of Adam's team, has a great voice and performance style but I think he might be a little too Broadway to win it all. Sera Hill from Christina's team, seems to have it all, a great voice, a striking presence on stage, and great marketing potential as a recording artist. I love Cee Lo's Juliet Simms' gritty look and gravelly rocker's voice, but she might be a little too rough around the edges for middle America's voting public. Despite the fact that Jermaine Paul, on Blake's team, has a great voice, I'm going to go out on a limb and go instead with rocker Jordis Unga. Jordis had a horrible battle round performance, but I'm hoping Jordis lives up to her potential and brings it during the Live shows. For those of you unaware, Jordis is no stranger to reality TV, years ago she competed in the singing competition Rock Star: INXS. Watch this YouTube video of Jordis performing Imagine. If she can sing like that, I think she can go far.