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Posts from the ‘Popular Culture’ Category

8
Apr

Furious 7

So, I’ve been telling people I know that I went to the movies yesterday — and when they ask what I saw, I answer, “Furious 7, of course.”

A few months ago, I saw the Furious 7 trailer in the theater, and it JUST LOOKED GREAT!  That made me interested, and I remembered that Vin Diesel is the most graceful actor in movies, and though he’s an icon of masculine cool, his macho guy stuff is more complicated and sensitive than lunkhead.  Diesel is no oaf, and the Furious franchise generally has done a good job of doing the fast cars, action sequence thing, good enough that we’re on SEVEN (about which Diesel has gone on record as saying it will win the Best Picture Oscar — probably not, since action movies typically don’t win the Best Picture Oscar).

Vin Diesel & Jordana Brewster

Vin Diesel & Jordana Brewster

Here’s my summary: Never seen a movie (probably never been a movie) with more moving parts than Furious 7.  We’ve got cars and trucks driving out of planes into the sky (parachutes, think parachutes), cars and trucks in the air because of cliffs, parking garages, tall buildings, and explosions.  We have lots of explosions, gun fights, fist fights, and more things in motion on the screen than I would ever have thought possible.

Last week a read a review in The Village Voice (“Good News! Furious 7 Offers More of the Same Craziness!”) in which Stephanie Zacharek confessed that she’d not only seen every one of the Furious movies, but that she’d enjoyed them all. And then she discussed Furious 7 and why it’s so good — just had to see it.  Wasn’t expecting a classy piece of Art Cinema, wasn’t expecting to be enlightened in any way; just wanted to see all the things flying around on the big screen.

Some bonuses: Michelle Rodriguez co-stars.  That’s Michelle Rodriguez from Girl Fight.  Jason Statham, who’s been making a name for himself in action movies, plays the villain, and does so quite well.  The great Kurt Russell (who’s been in just about everything in the past 30 years, including Escape from New York, Executive Decision, and The Thing), saunters into the movie about 30 minutes in — he makes a spectacular entrance, too — watch for it.

17
Feb

Nadia Bolz-Weber, Sarcastic Lutheran Pastor

I started reading Nadia Bolz-Weber’s blog (Sarcastic Lutheran, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/) ages ago, no doubt put in touch with it by another religious blogger I read, Rachel Held Evans (who wrote Evolving in Monkey Town as well as A Year of Biblical Womanhood).

Hey, what the world needs is a sarcastic Lutheran, maybe more sarcastic Lutherans, Episcopalians, Baptists, and Catholics.  And I enjoy reading her blog, which regularly posts her Sunday sermons, in both a written and audio version (usually takes them to the middle or end of the week to get the Sunday sermon up).

Bolz-Weber is a recovering alcoholic, drug user, biker, and general hoodlum who turned her life around and came to the pastorate somewhat late in life.  She founded the House for All Sinners and Saints in Boulder, Colorado, and writes about her church extensively in her blog and in her book Pastrix (which is the insulting way to refer to a woman pastor, and insult used principally by those who believe that a woman pastor is wrong, is anathema, heretical, non-Biblical, etc.).

Pastrix, the Book

Pastrix, the Book

I loaned her more-recent book, Salvation on the Small Screen, to my friend Sam, and his enthusiasm about it generated this post.  In Salvation on the Small Screen, Nadia sets herself the project of watching 24 hours of Christian television, inviting friends to watch with her, and writing about it without being too snarky (which seem to me a close-synonym to “sarcastic”).  Sam called me up mid-read to enthuse about the book, and told me that he’d like to have a book club at his church do the book.

The conversation led me to recall that I had another Nadia book, Pastrix, and to decide that it was time to re-read it.  Even more excellent than the first time through, Pastrix is a book about a faith journey by someone who might seem unlikely to end up as a Lutheran pastor.  That Nadia ended up as a Lutheran pastor makes me happy; wish she was in my town and that I could go to her church.

5
Jan

Penny Dreadful

The show is called Penny Dreadful, and the name implies that it should be lurid and trashy — “penny dreadfuls” were the little booklets sold on the streets in Victorian England, costing a penny and containing lurid stories of monsters, vampires, adventurers, prostitutes, werewolves, etc.

Or I could just say, EvaGreenisinitiEvaGreenisinitEvaGreenEvaGreen, Dreadfulthe actress about whom film director Bernardo Bertolucci (who directed her in The Dreamers), said “she’s so beautiful it’s obscene.”  Don’t see what’s obscene about it, but she is, indeed, beautiful — enough to be a Bond girl in Casino Royale  and a very good witch named Serefina Pekkala

Eva Green in "The Golden Compass"

Eva Green in “The Golden Compass”

in The Golden Compass.

Green plays Vanessa Ives, who with explorer\adventurer Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton, who played James Bond twice, in The Living Daylights and Licence To Kill) and adventurer Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), fights all sorts of supernatural beings in Victorian London.

I Netflixed a DVD with the first 3 episodes, and was introduced to characters & setting.  The second episode brings in both Dorian Gray and Victor Frankenstein — he’s talking to Murray about the only goal of science being to distinguish between life and death, solve its mystery; later in the episode, having manufactured and re-animated The Creature, he introduces himself to his creation, “My name is Victor Frankenstein.” As said Creature, whom Victor names Proteus, there’s a very nice turn by Rory Kinnear, who must be Roy Kinnear’s son (judging by the resemblance), though he has not Internet Movie Database bio to confirm that.

The third episode, “Resurrection,” gives us rather interesting backstory on Victor Frankenstein.  He’s a 10-year-old boy, being put to bed by his mother.  As they’re talking, a dribble of blood comes out of her mouth, and then she coughs blood all over herself and him.  She’s consumptive, the situation quickly gets worse, and there’s a funeral.  Victor plunges into the obsession with re-animating dead flesh that will consume the rest of his life.

2
Jan

Benedict Cumberbatch

So, an awareness of Benedict Cumberbatch was gradually dawning on me.  I’d not seen him in anything, but the new iteration (or “rebooot,” if you must) of Sherlock Holmes was all over the Internet, with praise for his performance.  And soon it turned out that a lot of the women I know uttered long libidinous sighs when speaking of him — which puzzled me, since I saw the pictures in the newspaper and on the Web, and found him perhaps a little plain, a little odd-looking.

Then the Alan Turning movie came out, The Imitation Game (Turing’s title for the article that introduced what we now call the Turing Test, a test to see if someone has made a computer that most people would think was a person).  I’ve long been fascinated with Turing, Turingwho not only broke the Enigma Code, by which the Nazis sent coded message during WWII, but was instrumental in creating the modern computer.  And he was a major social loser, a first-class weirdo (a genius mathematician); I’m quite the computer geek myself, so interest in Turing’s life was a done deal.  And, perhaps most significantly, Turing was gay at a time when homosexuality in England was a crime, and he was harassed and oppressed for that.

The Imitation Game is excellent, and Cumberbatch is beyond great– he gets inside Turing in ways that are hard to believe.  So the guy is a genius with math, with codes, with highbrow intellectual stuff, but he can barely understand how humans interact.  His colleague Joan Clarke, played in the movie by Keira Knightley, takes the opportunity to explain flirting to him in a pub — her friend is flirting with Hugh, one of Turing’s Enigma Project associates, and poor Alan has no idea what’s happening, no idea how body language and facial expressions are a part of human communication, at least as important as (maybe more so) than words.  She explains to Alan how you make other people like you, and he wonders why someone would do that — “I’m a woman in a man’s field,” she explains, ‘So I have to.”

Intrigued, I Netflixed a Sherlock Holmes DVD, and I very much like the episodes I saw.  This version is not a period piece from Victorian London, but instead takes place in the 21st Century.  Holmes uses both cell phone and computer, has John Watson as his friend\associate, and both helps Inspector Lestrade and has a rivalry with his brother Mycroft Holmes (just as in the original Holmes stories, so the big twist is re-setting the story in the present).

Holmes is as arrogant and dismissive as he’s always been, Sherlockthrough the b\w Basil Rathbone films and all the other versions, but he’s arrogant and dismissive in interesting ways.  Watson, whom he always calls “John,” accuses of him of not caring at all about the people he’s working for, helping– Holmes asks, “If I cared for them, would it help them?”  John wants to know if he actually can help them if he doesn’t care about them; the answer is a quick “Yes.”

As you can see from the picture to the left, Cumberbatch is quite stylish as Holmes and has great hair.  He’s quite the thing onscreen, an actor that I pretty much can’t take my eyes off.  And as Holmes, he has much better hair than as Turing.

Martin Freeman, he of many screen and TV credits, including playing Bilbo in the recent Hobbit movies, is also quite good as Dr. Watson.

I might even go see The Imitation Game again.  It’s stuck with me all week, and I’ve taken every opportunity to talk about it with friends.  G.W. and I had a nice conversation about Turing tonight — he’s very knowledgeable about him.

And it’s such a tragic story; Turing was a war hero, to whom England owed rewards and gratitude.  Instead, he’s convicted for homosexuality and given a choice between “chemical castration” and two years in prison.  He chooses the castration, and it leads to very bad results (which I won’t spoil for you her — go see the movie).

28
Dec

The Shelf Life of New Year’s Resolutions

The topic of New Year’s resolutions has come up a couple of times lately, understandably since New Year’s is in 4 days.  In one of my A.A. meetings it came up, and my friend Hugh said something along the lines of, “A resolution for a whole year!?  I have to make a resolution every day.”

And on the last Friday Five (a set of 5 questions) sent to the Dead Runners’ Society listserv, the poster, Douglas Barry in Ireland, asked if anyone makes New Year’s resolutions, and if so, what?  Most of the respondents pretty much denigrated the notion of resolutions, in that they tend to dissipate much sooner than the year comes to an end.

I was speaking to friends David and John yesterday about this, and I told them I was going to post about the shelf life of New Year’s resolutions.  So I queried the Dead Runners’ Society list, and got responses so far from Charles, Cher, Lynn, JimP, and Martha.  All noted that it’s kinda hard to get any space in the gym right after New Year’s, since many have resoluted (resolved, I mean) to begin an exercise program or to be more faithful to their current exercise program.  So the gyms are full of new people.  (I’ll have to test that at my gym, Gainesville Health and Fitness Center,

Gainesville Health and Fitness Center

Gainesville Health and Fitness Center

on Friday or Saturday (January 2nd & 3rd).

But the new people, who made New Year’s resolutions to exercise, seem to drift away, and by spring it’s a lot easier to get space in the gym.

I’ll have to do an observation about whether or not the population of runners or cyclists seems up on Friday and Saturday as well — I plan a run each day.

I think it’s intuitively obvious that New Year’s resolutions are well-intended but don’t by any means end up observed 100%, all year.

But I’m interested enough to observe the numbers, continue to ask my Dead Runners Society friends about their experiences, and do a little research into the topic.  Perhaps the research will simply come my way in our local newspaper, on Slate.com, or on Buzzflash.com.  Surely the media will cover the phenomenon, as it does every year.

I wonder if the picture below was taken right around the new year?  As for me, I didn’t see greater numbers of runners in my neighborhood when I ran on New Year’s Day, January 2, and January 3 (today).  I did go to the gym yesterday (January 2), though, and at just a random observation it seemed to numbers were up.

A Crowd of Gainesville Health and Fitness Members

A Crowd of Gainesville Health and Fitness Members

14
Dec

Cheryl Strayed a Household Name

And it’s about time, too.  Strayed’s memoir, Wild, is now a movie set to go into wide release and starring Reese Witherspoon, whose presence should guarantee  an audience.  (I saw it yesterday, and it’s an excellent rendering of the book.  Reese Witherspoon is excellent, and Laura Dern, who plays Cheryl’s mother Bobby, is a lock to get an Oscar nomination — she just radiates grace.)

The Internet meme this week was about the contrast between John Kracauer’s Into the Wild and Strayed’s Wild: From Lost To Found On the Pacific Crest Trail, as if they were actually comparable.  In my brain Christoper McCandless of Into the Wild is batshit crazy, not to mention suicidal, whereas Strayed is pretty thoroughly mis-guided but not insane..  Yes, both go into the wild without adequate preparation, but their reasons for doing so are dissimilar — McCandless is unhinged and doesn’t have any idea where he’s going, while Strayed just wants to hike the Pacific Crest trail.

I’m a huge Cheryl Strayed fan — after reading Wild, I read Torch.  As an online reader of The Rumpus (a magazine of literature, interviews, cartoons, etc.), I became part of the Dear Sugar “cult”;  Sugar was the advice columnist at The Rumpus for years, and when her tenure was coming to an end, Sugar was “outed” as being Cheryl Strayed.

Tiny Beautiful Things Cover

Tiny Beautiful Things Cover

There’s a collection of Dear Sugar The Rumpus pieces (seems a little dismissive and inaccurate to call them “columns,” as they’re pretty substantial) titled Tiny Beautiful Things, and it’s on my bedstand, where I’m re-reading it just because it’s so damned good.  Strayed often replies to those writing in for advice by telling interesting stories from her own life, which she maneuvers into answers to the life and love questions asked.

Anyway, Strayed is soon to be a household word, and it’s a good thing, too.  In fact, I was listening to NPR the other day, and they were interviewing her and Steve Almond, who’s a Rumpus editor.  They said there is now going to be “Dear Sugar Radio.”

13
Nov

Somerset Maugham’s “The Razor’s Edge”

I’ve been reading and very much enjoying Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, recommended to me by Jesse Kornbluth, who provides a service called Head Butler (headbutler.com), where he makes weekly recommendations of books, movies, music, and occasionally products ranging from hair dryers to stereos.

Maugham’s book is about the 1920’s, mostly in Europe, a period that’s been interesting me more and more in the last year, which puts me in range of the cultural zeitgeist (another movie version of The Great Gatsby was out recently).  It started when Head Butler sent me  Harold J. Arlen’s Exiles and Amanda Vaill’s Everybody Was So Young.  The latter is a brilliant book, about American expatriates in Europe in the 1920’s, especially Gerald and Sara Murphy, the prototypes for Dick and Nichole Diver  in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book Tender Is the Night (which I read for the first time actually in Paris in 1972 and reread last summer).

The Razor's Edge book cover

The Razor’s Edge book cover

When I mentioned The Razor’s Edge to my friend Doug at lunch yesterday, he noted that it was the film that almost sunk Bill Murray’s career — he was in a weak and not-so-popular remake of it in the 90’s (it was made in 1946 starring Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney).  I can’t remember if I ever saw it — hardly a recommendation if I did.

The novel is about equally divided among Elliott Templeton, his cousin Isabel, and her temporary fiance Larry Darrell.  Elliott is a socialite, a guy who gives great parties, flies from Paris to London when he needs new suits, and would rather die than miss a party where “important” people in society will show up.  I don’t find him very likable, but he’s amazingly generous to his friends.  Isabel is a Mid-Western girl trying to find herself in life, and when Larry and she break up, marries stockbroker Gray Maturin (who manages to lost just about everything in the Crash of 1929.

Larry Darrell is a seeker, something of a mystic, a 1920’s prototype of the hippies we’re more familiar with from the 1960’s.  He has a small income and no inclination to work, instead reading books, studying languages, traveling to India, etc.

Pretty sure I read The Razor’s Edge when I was in college, don’t  much remember doing it, but glad to re-discover it and enjoy how well-written and entertaining it is, even though there have been times I wanted to reach into the pages and slap Larry, or slap Elliott.

6
Oct

Thornebrook Arts Festival

In the medium-sized city in which I live (Gainesville, FL, about 85,000 people, plus 65,000 college students), there are 3 art festivals each year.  The biggest one, the Spring Arts Festival sponsored by Santa Fe College, is difficult for artists to enter (they have to submit slides, and the entry fee is around $200), happens in early March, and typically draws a crowd of around 100,000.  The next-biggest one, the Downtown Arts Festival, happens in the Fall and takes place in the Downtown area, as its name suggests.  Easier to get in for artists, but a very high-quality show, garnering awards from whatever organization rates shows.

The smallest festival, the newest one, and the one I attended yesterday as well as today, is the Thornebrook Arts Festival.  Thornebrook is a collection of shops and restaurants, just a few blocks from my house, and I frequent it a good bit (breakfast at Bageland with my group on Fridays, my framing done by Thornebrook Gallery, ice cream cones from TCBY, etc.).

So I went to the arts festival yesterday.  Here is a picture:

Thornebrook Arts Festival

Thornebrook Arts Festival

There are artists’ booths, live music, food trucks, and lots of people (some of whom I know, some of whom I see once a year at the Thornebrook Arts Festival).  I talked to my friend Julie, with whom I went to grad school and worked with many years at Santa Fe College.  I bought a painting from her at last year’s festival.  She also writes novels, including one in progress that I did some editing on last year.

And I bought a painting from my friend Roxanne, a sample of whose work is here:

 

Green French Woman

Green French Woman

If you look hard at the bottom right, you see a “Sold” sign.  Well, Roxanne sold something on

the order of 20 paintings, an amazing number.  No one sells 20 paintings at a

festival, but somehow she did.  Part of it is that her paintings are fun, but another part of it

is her $25-40 pricing.  Festival-goers wander around looking to buy something, seeing all

sorts of things they’d like to have, but the prices are $250-2,000.  So when they see

something they like for an affordable price, they’re all over it.

 

I’ve worked as a volunteer for the Spring Arts Festival many times over the years, and that’s

what I base the observations above on.   Jewelry makers benefit also from their relatively

low prices — can’t buy that beautiful $800 painting, but I can afford that $75 necklace.

 

Here’s a picture of the Roxanne painting I actually bought, gardenias in a vase, which now graces my

living room.

Gardenias

Gardenias

1
Oct

Program Jargon (Jargon & Buzzwords in General)

I spent much of my teaching career doing Technical Communication, which is a rather non-theoretical discipline — very nuts-and-bolts, the specifics of workplace writing.  The take-home message is, we’re busy people here at BigCorp (for instance), so tell us what you need to tell us clearly and simply, with no extra words.  And please, no buzzwords or jargon.  (We often referred to a book called Why Business People Talk Like Idiots: and How To Stop Them.  There’s a Website by Ranker, here: http://www.ranker.com/list/the-most-annoying-corporate-buzzwords/analise.dubner.)
Why Business People Speak Like Idiots

Why Business People Speak Like Idiots

 On the subject of my longstanding and ongoing war against jargon, a meeting the other day sort of vexed me (SORT OF!  I
   was punching walls and swearing all afternoon, but I got over it.)
   I was vexed because:
     1. We had a speaker, who was good for the first 15-20 minutes but then rambled on for maybe 15-20 more.  I wish people
     who agree to be speakers would have a little respect and prepare themselves.  (This is off the topic of buzzwords and
     jargon, but one important thing about buzzwords and jargon is that it’s lazy to use them, in the sense that the speaker or
     writer can’t be bothered to be clear and speak in a language we all share.  And can’t be bothered to be a good steward of
     other people’s time and attention.
     2. In the discussion that followed (brief — speaker went on too long), the jargon was flying.  For instance, people said “went out,” “picked up,”
      or “took my will back.”  The first two are vague and euphemistic — don’t say “picked up” to me; say, “drank” or “got drunk.”  (I can pick up all
      day, but there’s no problem until I drink it.)
Don’t say “went out”; say “drank,” “got drunk,” or even “relapsed.”
And please please please don’t say “took my will back”;  tell me specifically what happened– “took my will back” could mean about 19 things (maybe 20, maybe 200).
OK, that was the ranting portion of the evening; now it’s time for serenity and compassion.  Yes, I get it why people pick up the jargon of groups they’re a part of — people want to be comfortable, want to be part of something, and using group jargon is a way to achieve those things.  To an extent it’s not deliberate, just automatic — seems as if the group jargon is the way things like, say, drinking or relapsing are expressed.  So it’s not malicious or stupid to use jargon.   However, jargon can move people away from speaking the truth in their own words, which to me is always what we’re looking for in communication.
At last Friday’s Free To Be meeting, a friend of mine told us that she’d had a bad and stressful week, and added, “I drank last Sunday.”  Four words, no jargon (she didn’t “take my will back” or “pick up”); we all knew exactly what she meant.  I was so proud of her.

 

17
Aug

My Chat With Matthew McConaughey

No, not really, just thinking about Richard Linklater’s current movie Boyhood, his earlier movie Dazed and Confused, which featured McConaughey, and my imagined conversation with Matt about his recent Oscar and the huge u-turn in his career.

For years, McConaughey played the same guy, a surfer dude (even made a movie called Surfer, Dude), beach bum, or boat bum — he was charming and went shirtless a lot, and that was pretty much it.  Waste of a lot of talent, but no doubt it kept him in tacos, Cervezas, and BMW’s.

Matthew McConaughey

Matthew McConaughey

Then the turn-around, recently called a McConnaissance (which I’ve heard is his own coined word).  He starred in The Lincoln Lawyer, Killer Joe (directed by The Exorcist and The French Connection genius William Friedkin).  Then appeared in Mud, in which he played not a beach bum but a genuine hermit, on the run from the law and living on an island, discovered by curious kids, and which also starred the great Reese Witherspoon.  He’s the co-star of the current HBO series True Detective, with Woody Harrelson — two state cops, working on a 15-year-old serial murder and turning up other crimes as they go along.  (More on that below.)

The jewel in the crown of the McConnaissance is his Oscar-winning performance last year as real-life AIDS victim ____ in Dallas Buyers Club.

Technically, as I was telling Matt in the conversation I had with him in my head, you win the Oscar for a given performance — but you really win for a series of performances that are notable that your fellow actors shake their heads and say, “gotta give that guy and Oscar soon.”   And maybe they’ll just wait until you play a person with a disease or disability, which seems to be a mortal lock on an Oscar nod.

Take Al Pacino — certainly he deserved the Oscar for Best Actor in The Godfather, or Dog Day Afternoon, etc., but didn’t win until Scent of a Woman, in which he played a blind guy.  Or Dustin Hoffman — should have won for Tootsie (even Ben Kingsley, that year’s winner for Ghandhi, said so).  C’mon, Hoffman played two parts, one of which was a woman (and he’d also won the previous year for Kramer vs.Kramer). The he won again won for Rainman, playing an autistic guy.  Tom Cruise should have won — he played the hard part, he was in every scene, and his character has to actually change (I’ll ask Hoffman if he agrees when I have my chat with him).*** Read more »