Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Movie SnapShots

Chef is a nice story about a divorced man and his son. It could be clich├ęd, and it probably is, but this is a coming of age movie that I enjoyed watching.

The Fault in Our Stars is a nice story about a young couple, both of whom are facing cancer. It’s the Love Story retold for a new generation, but it’s sweet, predictable, and a good kleenex and popcorn movie.

Jersey Boys is the stage production on film, with added scenes to fill in the back story of Frankie Valli and his three friends who comprise The Four Seasons. I loved the stage production for the almost non-stop music held together with some back story; I loved the touring group, Under the Streetlamp, for the non-stop music that didn’t pretend to be anything more than a quartet doing Four Seasons hits; and I enjoyed the movie for filling in the back story and making the production into a complete whole. Of course, if you don’t like the music, the artists, or the story – you won’t appreciate any of the venues I’ve enjoyed!

Maleficent is magnificent! The bond between actors and animation is seamless and totally believable. The story is a good one told well. The rocks coming alive and morphing into giants has been done in about three other films recently, so that part was worth an out-loud giggle, but it was the only time during the film that I “broke character.” (I wonder if it's the same animated rock creatures loaned out to various studios who want to use them?) Angelina Jolie is unbelievably good in her role as Maleficent, and her little daughter, Vivienne, who has a bit part, is the spitting image of her handsome father.

So far, it’s a good summer for movies, so dig into the change jar, grab a handful of play money, and pony up for a ticket and some fresh popcorn. What a nice way to spend a slow summer day.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Life's Journey

Here’s where it is today, hiding inside a pensive mood that borders on depression. The seven stages of … life, updated from The Bard, who named them thus:

1. Infancy: In this stage he is a helpless baby and knows little.
2. Whining schoolboy: It is in that stage of life that he begins to go to school. He is unwilling to leave the protected environment of his home as he is still not confident enough to exercise his own discretion.
3. The lover: In this stage he is always maudlin, expressing his love in a fatuous manner. He makes himself ridiculous in trying to express his feelings.
4. The soldier: He is very easily aroused and is hot headed. He is always working towards making a reputation for himself, however short-lived it may be, even at the cost of foolish risks.
5. The justice: In this stage he thinks he has acquired wisdom through the many experiences he has had in life, and is likely to impart it. He has reached a stage where he has gained prosperity and social status. He becomes vain and begins to enjoy the finer things of life.
6. Old Age: He is a shell of his former self — both physically and mentally. He begins to become the butt of others' jokes. He loses his firmness and assertiveness, and shrinks in stature and personality.
7. Second childishness: Senility; dependence on others. (Thanks, Wikipedia)

I’m at the stage where I’ve done my childhood, been the schoolgirl, fancied myself a lover, became a soldier working in the marketplace to carve a name for myself, and had a few hands of being the wise, learned justice. I’ve oft quoted my mother’s wisdom that no one can put an old head onto young shoulders, capturing the spirit of it takes time to become wise. But I'd truly like to put this old head onto new shoulders and have a chance to live my life ... differently. I cannot say "better" or "worse," because different can mean an entire timeline of change, but I'd like to do some things differently, knowing what I know now, rather than living with what I didn't know then and continue to relive now. I’m floundering through stage 6, the “old age” stage that is reality no matter how often anyone thinks that 50 is the new 40 and 60 is the new 50. I’m looking at another zero birthday headed my way, the big 7-0, and that is “old” age regardless of what to the contrary anyone wants to believe.

It takes energy and perseverance to make it through the first 5 stages, to grow and flourish through youth into middle age, working one way or another to achieve both status and recognition. Some pathways are unfettered and form a positive memory as one retires and seeks to re-establish a sense of identity that is apart from what one once was, but no longer is. If I grant that I was the best teacher I knew how to be, I should be able to remember all the positive experiences, as well as people, but the ones who stick in the memory are events/incidences that I didn’t handle well and/or the students who caused major problems. If it were possible to go backward, to revisit a time and a place that could have been handled better, I’d use that button and ask for a redo with a different outcome. But we all have to live with what is, not with what we wanted life to be and either we failed life or life failed us. “Shoulda, woulda, coulda” is a good way to look at life, but it's a tagline that is always followed by “But didn’t.” Our legacy is pretty well set by the time we enter Age 6 and become a shell of our former selves, losing firmness and assertiveness, and shrinking in stature and personality. We can see it in the eyes of our social contacts, as they begin to glaze over as we recall and relive in our mind’s eye times, places, and people from what is now a long-ago past, but instantly in front of us again and again as we strain to change the outcome or merely glory in what’s past.

This is where I am today, my mind wandering through the times of my life, wishing I could go back and have a do-over, whether to change the outcome or improve the process of arriving at a desired outcome. I know I did the best I could, but sometimes one’s best truly is not good enough, or often enough, or on-point. Life becomes the time period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when all of the children are on their extra-special good behavior to enhance the quality and quantity of gifts Santa will leave under the tree. It’s as if we don’t quite remember that we are the sum of all our months of behavior, not just the few weeks in which we want to make a good impression. Why can’t I, now that I am facing mortality, become the person I 100% want to be, rather than the person I’ve 100% become during the first five ages of my life? It’s depressing to read the obits and have to accept that the ages at death are not just where I am, but include far too many who didn’t have the opportunity to live as long as I have lived. I’m wanting a do-over, but sometimes, today is not the first day of the rest of anyone’s life, but the last day of life period.

There will come one day when it’s the last day, ready or not, and the only part of me that stays behind is a small fragment of the time spent with others who came into and then moved out of my life. My life picture will be thousands of these small fragments, each piece of which will somehow be made into a larger, complete portrait by the individual who holds the fragment. The only good news is that I'll again be that "mewling and puking infant" of old age, the second childhood during which others must provide the care to me that I no longer can provide for myself, and none of it will matter a whit to me.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

News Flash

According to a local news reader, “Classes are canceled today at the University of California in Santa Barbara for the victims of the mass murders.” Not to put too fine a point to the message, but classes are canceled for all the rest of the UCSB students because “the victims of the mass murders” are no longer alive whether classes are canceled or not.

Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

A Tangled Web of Storytelling

My movie buddy and I went to the new Spiderman movie as we both enjoy an action flick, as well as the first Spiderman movie with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone in the starring roles. At the midway point of this newest release, however, we were ready to bow out gracefully as the movie became a tangled web of 6 separate stories that would literally stop, then begin another plotline, creating mini-episodes rather than a cohesive plot. The movie slams its way to an ending that serves the purpose only of leaving room for another sequel by introducing yet another character that Spiderman has to handle.

The first plot focuses on Spiderman’s relationship with Gwen Stacy, played by Emma Stone. They get more serious and seem to be moving toward a real relationship when shazaam! Another story takes off in a different direction, this time focused on Peter Parker’s father’s role in genetic engineering of spiders and hidden venom that could save the life of Harry Osborne, played by Dane DeHaan, who is dying of the same disease that takes his father’s life in the beginning of the plot line. Then there’s the move by the board of OsCorp to take control of the company away from Harry. Zap! Onto a fourth plot line, this time featuring Max Dillon (played by Jamie Foxx), who morphs into Electro and throws electrical charges at people and places, shutting down New York’s power grid, but that’s okay because that storyline would have us believe that Gwen Stacy, Peter’s girlfriend, knows how to restart the entire power grid of New York City! The next plot begins with yet another Spiderman nemesis coming after Peter Parker, but I cannot tell you which one of the villains this is until I see the next Spiderman movie installment.

The last storyline is the deepening love between Peter and Gwen, but SPOILER ALERT Gwen dies and I did not see that coming, especially not based on the movie subplot about their relationship, which led me and my buddy to believe that they would be together, forever, rama rama ding dong!

No, I did not like this movie primarily because whoever was in charge of editing it did a poor job of deciding what to include and what to delete. I almost felt as if I had picked up six different comic issues of the Spiderman series and had to read them all at the same time and make sense of all of them at the same time. I go to movies to be entertained, not irritated!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Soundbite of History

It is a large book of non-fiction, 480 pages including the 13 pages of sources used, hardly a tome most people would characterize as a page-turner, but it is. Bill Bryson, who is one of America’s finest modern writers, takes a look at One Summer (the title of the book), the summer of 1927, and presents a confluence of people, places, and events that forever changed America, and, by extension, the rest of the world. There are people’s names that will ring a bell in the reader’s memory, such as Babe Ruth, Charles Lindbergh, and Al Capone, and other important people whose names are not so well-known, such as Charles Francis Jenkins, Robert G. Elliott, and Willis Blakely.

Charles Lindbergh did more to advance aviation in 1927 than any other pilot, and, yes, there were other pilots, as well as regularly-scheduled flights between major cities in Europe. I had always pictured the Wright brothers initial flight as a “one of,” but was surprised to know that Europe was well ahead of the United States in the development of aviation. Lindbergh’s contribution stemmed from crossing the Atlantic Ocean, thus validating inter-continental flight development. His relentless publicity tour of the United States following his memorable flight across the Atlantic forever linked Lindbergh’s name to the development of aviation, but what he primarily accomplished was publicizing aviation, not creating it.

Also during the summer of 1927, the name of Alfred Ponzi, perhaps only known for what became a Ponzi scheme, made his name forever synonymous with generating huge amounts of money on the backs of hapless investors who lost everything they put into Ponzi’s investment schemes. The motion picture industry thrived with the advent of talking films, wherein the soundtrack was invented that would allow characters to talk and actions to have appropriate noises. Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly climbed a flagpole on top of a building and spent 49 days sitting there. Mount Rushmore began to take shape, but its sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, did not live to see it completed. Most interestingly to me, this is also the summer when four financiers met in secret to formulate financial plans that led directly to the stockmarket crash and the Great Depression of 1929.

Bryson’s work is a study in American history and should be required reading for every student in the United States school system, whether at the high school level or under-graduate degree programs at community colleges, as well as universities. The narration is easy to read while also being content rich. The strands of the story, from May through September 1927, are woven carefully to form a cohesive over-view of what it was like both in America and the world during this time, and forms the significance of people, places and events in a way that brings the story alive. The twelve pages of bibliography, in a very small typeface, as well as the end notes, also prove to any student that there are sources available to tell any story – if the writer cares enough about the subject matter to research it.