Tuesday, July 30, 2013

More on Django Unchained

In my last post about Django Unchained, I neglected to mention how much I enjoyed hearing Jim Croce sing "I've Got a Name."

For one thing, it's a good song.

Secondly, I realized how rarely I've heard Jim Croce songs lately. Jeff was unfamiliar with him. After the movie, I went to youtube to play "I've Got a Name," "Operator,"  and  "Time in a Bottle" for him.

Then I got thinking about the idea of name and identity. How owners imposed their own names on slaves to control their identities. I remember the horrible scene from Roots. (Don't read the comments.)

In Django Unchained, the name Django is a homage to this spaghetti western. I'm not much of a spaghetti western fan, so the allusion was lost on me. I thought the film could be a bio of musician Django Reinhardt.

Schultz was surprised to hear that Django's wife's name was Broomhilda. While her name did not determine Schultz' decision to help Django, it did intrigue him and gave him the idea of how he could approach her owner.

Then there's Calvin Candie, owner of the plantation Candyland. What a lovely name--what could be wrong with that? Pretty much everything, as we soon learn.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Netflix Movie Night: Django Unchained

Django Unchained

Well, I didn't like this movie as much as most of the critics. 

First, it was too long. I admit I'm prejudiced against long movies, except for movies with large source materials (e.g. Gone with the Wind and Lord of the Rings.) But as a general rule, I think long films are self indulgent.

The film is bloody--excessively bloody--like projectile bloodletting. It brought me out of the story many times.

The scene with the KKK-type organization with their misplaced hood eye holes is played for laughs. There's nothing laughable about the Klan or similar vigilante groups.

Another key plot point really bugged me. King Schultz shoots Calvin Candie  because Candie insists on shaking his hand. That was just ridiculous, but without it, how would the bloodbath get started?

On the plus side: the acting was good though I wasn't blown away by Waltz, who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as Schultz.

I liked that the ostensibly smart (i.e. based on his biased society's views) Candie was fooled by Schultz' elaborate con. It's his less powerful sister who sees the attraction between Django and Broomhilda. Then his slave Stephen correctly deduces that Django and Broomhilda are married, figures out the con and alerts Candie.

An interesting film that could have been much better. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

On Coping, Self-Medicating and Writing

I was in one of my funks last Monday: discouraged and dejected. I responded in a few different ways: I went to the gym, I took Spike to the dog park, I had another gin and tonic, and I wrote. 

One of these things is not like the other. Going to the gym and dog park are good for me. They get me out of the house and get me thinking about other things. Exercise is a stress reliever; walking around the dog park with Spike is relaxing.  It's hard to stay angry or depressed when Spike is smiling at me. Just look at him.





Now, about drinking: there's nothing wrong with enjoying cocktails, but there is a danger in self-medicating too much.

That brings me to writing. Most of my writing is in the form of journaling, usually morning pages. Morning pages are a great place to vent. Sometimes (unfortunately rarely) the pages provide some kind of insight.

Several months ago, I decided to write a piece about a woman--Amy--who reluctantly went home for Thanksgiving. Amy didn't want to go home, but felt obligated. There was some kind of family dysfunction, but I didn't determine what it was. Amy left Monday to travel home, but stayed in a hotel for two nights, to avoid dealing with her mother. She self-meditated by drinking, smoking a joint, taking Valium.

Amy was not only going home for Thanksgiving, but also for a family wedding. As I wrote, things happened that I hadn't thought about previously, For example, the wedding was between Amy's cousin and her old boyfriend.

When I opened the file a few weeks ago to continue Amy's story, I didn't have any kind of plan or outline. I just started writing and things happened.

This is one thing I love about writing. Sometimes the piece takes on a life of its own. I still don't know what's going to happen. But I'll continue to write.





Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Seen

The zebra-striped Volkswagen van has returned to Maple Street. It's been over a year since I last saw it. It still has Grateful Dead and peace sign bumper stickers. It also sports a "I heart drama TNT" sticker.

Didn't see the driver this time. I need to snap a picture if there's a next time.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Wild Weekend

This isn't among my favorite Dave Clark Five songs, but I joked to Jeff that Spike and I were going to have a wild weekend when he was away. I wrote about hyperbole here; now it's time for irony.

It was a quiet weekend. For one thing, we were in a seven day heat wave until today. It was easier to stay home.

I took Spike out of course. All week we visited the dog park in the mornings before it got too hot. Yesterday was the first day that it felt comfortable. It was overcast with a cool breeze. I knew it wouldn't last; within a half hour, the sun came out, the breeze dissipated and it got steamy.

It was much nicer today; so Spike and I went to an outdoor arts festival. Spike isn't the best arts festival companion. Usually Jeff is also with us and we can take turns waiting with Spike if necessary while the other checks out the exhibits. It was still a bit warm, so we skipped several of the vendors. We found a cool, shady spot by the Saugatuck River and relaxed for a while. Then we went out to lunch, sitting at an outside table. I had pizza and Spike had a meatball. Spike's a much better dining than festival companion. But, he still managed to charm people in both locations.



Friday, July 19, 2013

Sharknado: Really?

Last night, we caught the last ten minutes of Sharknado on the SyFy network.

I guess this is like Snakes on a Plane; the title explains it all, and it was an Internet "sensation" before anyone saw it.

I was perplexed why people were riding a helicopter in the tornado. I saw the tornado, but not the sharks in it. Then suddenly a shark appeared. Did it eat the woman or did she just fall into its mouth?

Soon the helicopter landed, and it was all up to that guy from the original Beverly Hills 90210 (Ian Ziering). Next, I saw sharks in the tornado--whole bunches of them. Ziering threw some kind of explosive/grenade/something that I guess was the Sharknado equivalent of Chekov's gun and saved the day.

But Ziering wasn't done. He jumped into/was swallowed by a large shark, but don't worry, he had a chain saw. His friends see him squirm around inside the shark and then chainsaw his way out. And he not only saved himself, but also the woman swallowed up in the first scene we saw.

All I can say is that this film makes Plan 9  look like a classic.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What I'm Reading

Eight Men Out by Eliot Asinof

This is one of about ten books I bought a few years ago at various library sales. I had seen the John Sayles movie; the film seems to be faithful to the book (from what I remember.) I intended to re-watch the film before I posted here (alas, I thought I had a copy of the DVD, but didn't.)

The book is thoroughly researched and fascinating. It covers the plan to fix the 1919 World Series as well as the games themselves--describing how the players ensured that the White Sox lost--the investigation, the trial and its aftermath. Asinof couldn't have created a more interesting story or cast of characters.

One of the things I liked best was a vivid description of the post World War I Chicago. It was a beautiful way to set the scene for the Series. Eight Men Out is more than just a baseball story; it's an American tale.

It's Been Hot for Seven Weeks Now

All right, that's a bit of hyperbole. It only feels like seven weeks. We had a week of extreme heat, then two days of moderate temperatures, and are now back in the middle of a heat wave. It's supposed to break on Sunday.

In the meantime, here's a great song that starts with seven weeks of heat.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

For Trayvon

I'm not a leader; I'm not an activist. I sometimes wish I were both, but I don't act upon those feelings.

When I first heard of the shooting and killing of Trayvon Martin, I had no doubt that racism played a major part in Trayvon's death. Racism is deeply embedded in our culture. The fact that it makes us feel so uncomfortable may be the reason we have to need to talk about it.

I watched much of the trial, but missed several key parts of the testimony. I also heard things that the jury didn't. I tried hard to disregard my feelings and beliefs about the case and imagine I were a member of that jury. Regardless, I don't understand how the jury could have acquitted Zimmerman on manslaughter. 

According to the juror interviewed on CNN (disclosure: I only saw part of the interview) the jury seemed to completely believe Zimmerman's version of his "encounter" with Trayvon. I didn't believe his story. Why did they?

The jury also didn't consider race as an issue. Another thing I don't get. As I said, it's embedded.

My heart goes out to the Martin family and friends, and all of us who believe in justice.

Believing in justice reminds me of this.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Is Texas Bizarro World?

Bizarro World is ruled by a Bizarro Code in which everything is the opposite of Earthly things. I learned about this through Elaine's experience on Seinfeld.

Today the Texas legislature had its own Bizarro Code--outlawing tampons while allowing guns. Yes, it's true.

I just don't know what to say. Trying to silence women isn't enough. Let's search women for feminine hygiene products and confiscate those products.

I guess in Texas it's hunting season on women.




Thursday, July 11, 2013

Car 54: Where Are You? A Classic

For one of my birthdays, Jeff got me DVD's of Car 54 Where Are You? Car 54 is apparently a forgotten classic. I wonder if it's because the show only lasted for two seasons. Maybe because the show only became available on DVD in 2011.

We've watched several episodes yesterday and today--finishing the first season and starting the second. The episodes are laugh-out-loud funny. Now we are watching one of our favorites, A Man is not an Ox. It's speculated that Toody and Muldoon have been partners for so long that they share a brain, like two oxen Sultan and Raja.

The acting and comedic timing are incredible. Fred Gwynne's expressions are brilliant. I've seen most of the episodes before, but yesterday, we caught one I've never seen before. It was a joy.

Mets Sweep the World Champs!

I hate when the Mets play night games on the West Coast; unless it's a playoff game, I can't stay up that late.

This morning, I realized that the Mets were on the verge of a sweep. I looked through the schedule. The Mets had the opportunity during the first series of the season (didn't get the rubber game win against the Padres) and then the Mets swept the Yankees at the end of May.

Today the Mets completed the sweep of the World Champion San Francisco Giants. It was the first sweep of the Giants in San Francisco since 1994. It was rookie pitcher Zach Wheeler's best start in the majors; his record is 3-1. The Mets are now eight games under .500 and are playing their best baseball of the season.

Let's go Mets, close out the first half strong.



Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Seen

I saw a car in front of me with a bumper sticker I liked. Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance to take a photo:

No tea for me, thanks.
I prefer progress.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Firefly: Shindig and Safe

We watched two episodes of Firefly yesterday: Shindig and Safe. One of the things I love about this show is the juxtaposition of sci fi and western elements, old-fashioned dancing with spaceflight.

The Shindig in question is a fancy ball that Inara attends with one of her clients. Mal and Kaylee also attend the ball in search of a smuggling lead.

First, I have issues with the way Mal treats Inara. He is condescending and considers his smuggling as superior to her profession, even as he uses it to his advantage to get into areas Serenity couldn't get into on its own. Full disclosure: I didn't mean when Mal's relative morality led him to steal money from slavers. But, the whore calling gets old.

Despite his whore calling, Mal defends Inara by punching out her client when he is about to say something insulting. This leads to a swordfight--the main action of the episode.

For me, the highlight of this episode was Kaylee. Despite being a ship's mechanic, she loves a pink frilly dress that she sees in a window. Mal later gets it so they can attend the ball. She is delighted by the buffet table, especially the fresh strawberries. She attempts to talk to a few people who snub or insult her until Dash Riprock from the Beverly Hillbillies (actor Larry Pennell) comes up to her. Suddenly she is charming a group of older men with her talk of engines and machinery. Kaylee is adorable.

Here is Rhiannon's post on this episode.

In Safe, the crew is taking cattle--the cargo from Shindig--to another planet for sale. Things go wrong; Shepard Book is shot; Simon is kidnapped and River follows. Serenity heads to an Alliance ship for medical assistance. The Alliance personnel originally don't want to help Book. That is, until they see his ident card. What's up with that?

My favorite parts of this episode involve River. We see a flashback of young River and Simon at home. A later flashback shows Simon's realization that River is in danger at the Alliance facility. When Simon's first attempt to save River fails, their father refuses to help in the future. Back in the present, there is a beautiful scene when River encounters a group of musicians and dancers and starts dancing with them. She is so joyful and innocent. I think this is the episode in which I really began to like River.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Top Ten Most Read Books

I was going through my inbox yesterday cleaning out some old emails. I came across a link to this graph. There's more detail to the list here.

I've read five of the books if I count partial reads. Starting with the number one book, I've read various passages of the Bible in Sunday School and church. I also researched passages for a reading at our wedding. At one point, I started reading Genesis but quickly gave up.

I read one of the Harry Potter books, The Chamber of Secrets. I picked it up on the mistaken belief that it was the first book in the series. I enjoyed it and may read the others. The Harry Potter series is ranked third.

The Lord of the Rings is number four. This series is one of my favorites; I've read the books about three times. Middle Earth is a fully realized world, both beautiful and frightening with intriguing characters.

Gone with the Wind, the eighth book, fascinates me from its first line: "Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were." Parts of it are well-written, other parts are difficult to slog through. 

The Diary of Anne Frank ranks tenth. I'm happy to see this book on the list. Holocaust survivors and witnesses are dying while others deny its existence or downplay its severity. Despite her tragic death, Anne's words live on.

 The books I haven't read:

2. The Quotations from the Works of Mao Tse-tung
5. The Alchemist
6. The Da Vinci Code
7. The Twilight Saga
9. Think and Grow Rich

I'll have to find out more about The Alchemist; I haven't heard of it. I doubt it I'll read any of the others.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Netflix Movie Night: Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook

I love this movie! (If I believed in multiple exclamation points, I would add three.) I think this is the first movie since Little Miss Sunshine that I liked so much.

The acting is impeccable. I like Jennifer Lawrence; her performance is no surprise. Bradley Cooper blew me away. I had only seen him in crappy Hangover movies (one and two) I had no idea that he could act. Chris Tucker didn't annoy me. The movie was funny and moving. I loved the soundtrack.

Is there anything to criticize? Well, I would have preferred if they were baseball fans, instead of football fans. But that is a minor quibble.

I love this movie.


Thursday, July 4, 2013

This is Freedom?

Today is Independence Day, a day when we celebrate our freedom, our independence from Great Britain.

What's happened to our freedoms lately?

We've discovered that our government is is spying on us.

The Supreme Court's ruling on the Voting Rights Act threatens the right to vote.

Are you a woman? Your rights to safe, legal medical care are threatened in
TexasNorth CarolinaOhio and--oh hell--everywhere. And we're supposed to remain silent as our rights are being systematically destroyed.

At least this is good news.

Happy Independence Day!

Today, Jeff, Spike and I went over to Mill Hill Historic Park for an Independence Day Celebration. We checked out the Town House (which had an art show) the Fitch Law Office and the Downtown District Schoolhouse.

This is what I saw when I came out of the Schoolhouse:



It was too hot to go on the one-hour walking tour. We picked up hot dogs to go from Nik's and headed home to watch the Mets and Nathan's hot dog eating contest.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Morning Musings at Taylor Farm

Tonight is fireworks night in Norwalk. Taylor Farm is an idea viewing spot, so I wanted to avoid the area in late afternoon/evening. The forecast predicted showers with stray thunderstorms at any time for the third straight day. I took a chance and headed to Taylor Farm with Spike around 9:30 this morning.

It was the right choice: it was pleasant, overcast with a cool breeze. As much as I enjoy socializing with people at the dog park, it's also nice to just be there with Spike. Walking around to the back field and through the woods was almost meditative. I was conscious of the birds singing and the scent of flowers and soil.

In the last two days, I applied for four jobs. My teaching and tutoring workload is abnormally low, even for this time of year. I need to make a change. While I have never stopped looking for other opportunities, I need to ramp things up.

In the meantime, I've been trying to enjoy my free time without stressing. I appreciate that I am able to make a mid-morning visit to the dog park. I need to take advantage of the time that I have.


Monday, July 1, 2013

Firefly: Bushwacked and the Original Broadcast Schedule

Bushwacked was a good episode.We learn more about the crew's main antagonists: the Alliance and the Reavers. The Alliance rep seems decent if a little by-the-book. The Reavers are scary even without being seen.We do see their influence on the sole survivor of one of their attacks and it's horrible.

The episode opens on a fun note with the crew playing basketball. The interrogation scenes are also funny and give a little insight into the crew members. Zoe doesn't want to discuss her marriage--she's a private person. In contrast, her husband Wash talks about being married to a warrior woman. Kaylee is insulted that someone called the ship junk. Jayne just stares at his questioner.

River and Simon hide from the Alliance on the outside of Firefly. River's look of delight as she watches the stars is beautiful.

Rhiannon's post on Bushwhacked is here,

Since my earlier Firefly post, I checked out the TWoP forums and the wikipedia entry. Apparently, Fox in its "wisdom" thought the Mal Reynolds character needed to be jollier and demanded a new pilot be written over a weekend. The original pilot included some back stories for the characters. But the second pilot The Train Job was confusing to many viewers. Oddly enough, Fox promos emphasized the "girl in the box." Too bad, viewers didn't see River in the box after the Serenity pilot (except in the opening credits.) Even if the execs were correct that the pilot was too dark, why not change a few scenes, instead of writing a new episode? Fox ended up showing the pilot after the other Their actions certainly hurt the show.

Thank goodness for Netflix and other services so we can see the show the way it was intended.