Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Watched the engaging and funny Sandra Bullock vehicle, The Proposal, and found it surprisingly enjoyable. Yes, it is unbelievable, and the ending contrived, but I really enjoyed the chemistry between Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. Most of the cast is very good. The latin stripper/shopowner/minister has some excellent parts. This is not heavy fare, but a enjoyable romp.


Carlos Ruiz Zafon has delivered another interesting tale of 1920s Barcelona in The Angel's Game. Not quite as engaging or crisp a page-turner as his previous Shadow of the Wind, he returns to familiar haunts to unfold the story of a young writer who advances from assistant at a local newspaper to become author (writing under a pseudonym) of a series of popular penny thrillers, with the help of a wealthy and guilt-ridden patron, when he is approached by a mysterious Parisian published to write a fable (that will promote a new religion). Although it is unspoken, and I initially thought I might be reading a vampire story, the villian appears to by a fallen angel or even Lucifer himself. What is clear is that the protagonist is beset with misgivings and then fear, and then becomes something of a Typhoid Mary, whose activities and investigations inevitably lead to unfortunate events befalling those around him. His heart belongs to a young woman whose marriage (I will not reveal to whom) teras him apart. I think the strongest part of the story is his relationship with a young aspiring writer who insinuates herself into his life; his manueverings to introduce her to a potential husband are precious. Overall, though, Zafron sems to lose control of this novel. It does not hang together well. Perhaps his editor should have been tougher. Still, it is better than most of the fiction I have read recently.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Took another trip into foreign films last night. Obvioulsy, much is lost on the American viewer in most cases, but I think I was able to figure things out fairly well. I think.

Dubia: Kiss Me Not on My Eyes is an Egyptian movie about a young woman seeking out the meaning of love in literature, dance, and the real life, within the constraints of Muslim society. The main character, played by the very lovely Hanan Turk, is an intelligent and educated woman, who wants to learn the skill of traditional dance (her mother was a well-known belly dancer) and is selected to learn from a local master. Turk can really dance and has gorgeous dark eyes and beautiful full hair. The dancing is often quite enticing, but the underlying storylines are more important about the constraints put on women through religion and culture (including the terrible practice of female circumcision). She also continues her studies into classical love poetry as a disciple of a controversial professor amongst the more conservative scholars, who seeks to protect the publication of Thousand and One Nights. I thought that it was pretty good, and opens some windows into Egyptian culture.

I also caught Them (I do not know if it was Romanian or French, though the action occurs in Romania), in which a Freench teacher and her writer boyfriend fend off an attack by a gang of hooded youngsters. At times chilling and scary, it is not the greatest horror film, but it is still interesting. Olivia Bonamy is good in the role of Clem.

Friday, December 25, 2009


Took the boys to see Avatar yesterday. It was a visually impressive movie, though the story is a bit heavy handed (and will surely provoke criticism after the initial awe wears off). Yes, we know the terrible whites destroyed Native American culture, and that we are rapidly destroying our environment, but I found it a bit hard to believe that humans haven't learned anything by the time we get to that level of advanced space travel. Kind of like Dances With Wolves meets Starshop Troopers. There is no reason the story couldn't have included these messages, but the writing could have been much more stellar: I guess they sacrificed that for technical advnaces. Both boys really enjoyed it, though, and I did too for the most part. I am a bit tired of having to pay extra money to see movies (nearly $30 for the three of us, and we went to the matinee). In fact, I am not all that enamored with 3-D. I think I will enjoy it just as much when it is in HD on dvd.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

EXOTICA & Disney

Watched an interesting, though somewhat unsatisfying, movie (Exotica) about a upscale strip club and its employees, and one special customer maintaining a fictional life that soothes a terrible loss and disrupted life. Two of the employees of the club are intertwined in his tragic history, hinted throughout, and a newcomer is recruited by the protagonist to discover why he was thrown out of the club. Some of the scenes are erotic, but several subplots are left hanging and do not seem to fit well with the main story (which is somewhat compelling, and one has to wait until the last scenes to discover just how several of the characters' stories mesh). The storylines of the rare bird egg smuggler/unsure homosexual and the baby by contract do not fit well with the primary story and are basically left hanging.

Earlier in the day I watched Disney's Igor with the boys. Surprisingly, it was pretty good, with plenty of trademark puns to keep me chuckling. Not the greatest Disney film, though the animation was very good, and I would recommend it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


I got my fill of depressing movies today. Well done movies, with strong acting and compelling stories, but downers nonetheless. Sometimes you can tell right off the bat that there isn't going to be much of a happy ending. In the case of one movie, The Road, I knew that if they stayed true to the book by Cormac Mccarthy, that it wasn't going to be a fun ride; in the case of Crossing Over, starring Harrison Ford, several story lines are clearly going to end badly, though not quite as badly as the earlier movie. Still, both are definitely worth watching.

Even as disturbing and well written as McCarthy's book was, and I really enjoyed it, I was apprehensive about how the movie would come out; however, I was not disappointed, as I feel the makers stayed fairly true to the original. They cut out a few scenes, but overall it was well done. Vigo Mortinson was excellent in the role of the father, and the rest of the cast was great too. Where they found all the locations to shoot this thing is beyond me. The film version is not as hard edged as the written one, but I suspect McCarthy was probably satisfied with the treatment. In combination with his No Country For No Men, I am anxious to see what he comes up with next.

Crossing Over touches on many themes relating to illegal immigration and the desperate attempts some make to earn their green cards. As they say on television, the story was "ripped from the headlines." Ford plays a large-hearted immigration cop, who tries to remain humane while doing his job. His partner, an Iranian American, looks the other way when his over zealous father pushes one son to the edge, resulting in the murder of their too-Americanized sister and her lover (this storyline bothered me a bit, because if I rememebr correctly, in the real case it was not one son losing his temper at teh alst moment, but an orchestrated hit by the family). A Mexican mother pays a heavy price tryig to regain entry after she has been deported because she was forced to leave her young son behind; an Asian boy, on the cusp of naturalization, is coerced into joining a robbery attempt; a little Nigerian girl, soon to be orphaned, is the object of concern by a immigration lawyer, whose bureaucratic husband uses his position in INS to bed an Australian starlet trying to stay in the country; a Jewish immigrant gets a lot of help (and there is a message there about the power of some groups to more readily be able to by pass the system) in earning his status; and a young, devout Muslim girl, who espouses an unpopular theme in class soon finds her family ripped apart by also-zealous Homeland Security types. The movie is clearly sympathetic to the immigrants and also shows well the meaning naturalization holds for many new citizens. There is a lot of emotion here: guilt, compassion, humaneness, paranoia, racism, intolerance, forgiveness. It is definitely worth watching.

Friday, December 18, 2009


I here admit that I loved disco, and still do. In fact, I actively warp my children's minds by subjecting them to a healthy dose of disco; they both know all the words to Fire and several other popular songs from that era (and they know the difference between disoc and funk). Hey, I'm Dad, and I can do that! :) Yes, I liked the clubs and dancing and the music, for the most part, though unlike so many of that time I managed to avoid the drugs, diseases, and other forms of disaster. I liked the clothes and the atmosphere. It was a carefree time. So there, I admit it. In honor of this admission, I watched The Last Days of Disco tonight. Put out in 1998, it chronicles the interrelationships of a group of young New Yorkers who enjoy going to a popular disco (loosely based upon Studio 54, I think). The movie brought back some memories, though for the most part I don't remember the conversations going quite along the lines this group did (then again, I didn't attend Harvard or any similar school). I was overly thrilled with the acting, but it was a decent film. The most recognizable actor is Kate Beckinsale, way before her current buffness in the Underworld series. Her character is not appealing though. in fact, all of them seem a bit shallow. I think the dancing was a bit weak too; we had a lot more fun on the dance floor.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Last night, after the boys were sent to bed, I watched a Korean vampire movie titled Thirst. It was interesting and a little bit sad, about a humane priest who volunteers for a special experiment to develop a vaccine against some strange virus and is turned instead into a vampire (and whose survival makes people think he is a saint capable of healing), but who resists hurting any humans in his new manifestation. He begins having carnal thoughts and then falls in love with a woman he later makes into a vampire, but she complicates his life by refusing to follow his direction. At times the acting is a bit wooden, although I though the woman who plays the lady who raised the girl (and whose idiot son has married her) was good. Ok-bin Kim is wicked and cute in her role. The special effects are second rate.

Friday, December 11, 2009


While the world's eyes most often rivet to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or to the unrest in North Korea or Tibet, often overlooked is the political oppression placed upon the people of Burma, by a military regime that some think is one of the worst on the globe. The massacres and killing of students in Tianamen Square and Tehran gained worldwide attention, but the crackdowns in what is now known as Myanmar have garned far less notice, although the continued house arrest of pro-democracy leader and Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kii does get some media play, especially after the recent incident with the crazy American who decided he was going to swim to her house. The movie Beyond Rangoon, starring Patricia Arquette (who I just can't keep from thinking looked like Molly Ringwald), tackles the issue and tries to show the world what happened there. Some of the photography is absolutely beautiful, although the movie was filmed in Malaysia. The acting and overall production was more akin to that one would see in a made-for-television movie, but it is generally entertaining an informative. Some of the acting was simply lifeless. I thought one of the best performaces was by the young man who helped Arquette on their bamboo raft trip. I probably would not have been happy had I paid to see the movie, but as a dvd selection, it is not too bad.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Keeping in the Native American theme, I watched the documentary Chiefs last night, a film that covers two seasons of basketball played mostly by Arapaho boys attending the Wyoming Indian High School on the Wind River Reservation. Basketball is wildly popular on American reservations, a fact noted by many writers, such as Sherman Alexie. The other popular sport for boys seems to be rodeo. The school has a long history of success on the court, and players are obviously revered in the community. The film concentrates on several players and has underlying themes that touch on reservation life, drugs (mostly marijuana), academics, poverty, and boredom. The has a straightforward moral message: talent without determination and hard work (several players in the first season had impressive physical tools, but were lazy, indulged in weed, performed poorly in the classroom, and basically enjoyed hanging out with their buddies) results in squandered opportunities. A lesser talented team that played hard and togeher with focus and determination achieves its goals. At times the photography is awkward, but the film captures the beauty and despair to be found on the reservation. I think it well shows the desire of parents, especially mothers, for their sons, especially, to find worthwhile goals and to face a broader world, to even leave the area if possible. You could just feel the mothers’ frustrations at times. The story buttresses familiar arguments about two-parent families providing stability and focus (in one case, supplemented by an uncle who is also a coach). There are many instances of racism exhibited by rivals toward the boys, though I wondered if editing overplayed this angle. Depending on one’s perspective, a viewer can come away from the film with positive feelings of hope and achievement, or can focus on the failures and roadblocks. This movie would be a good one to show highschoolers in order to stimulate discussion on a wide range of topics facing kids today.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Sherman Alexie is one of my favorite authors. I enjoy his novels and for the most part liked his short stories. His most recent collection of short pieces and poetry, War Dances, however, did not live up to my expectations. I almost had the feeling that this effort was one in which the publisher or agent called and said, "Come on, Shermie baby, it's been a while since you've published anything. How about whipping something up. The account's getting a little bare." And Alexie rifled through his papers and pulled out a few pieces and they were bundled off. None of the storis or poems are all that impressive, though a few are decent. The best stories, in my estimation, were "War Dances," and "The Ballad of Paul Nonetheless" (although the treatment of his wife made me feel very sad and a little bit angry). "The Senator's Son" was ok. The pieces just didn't seem to have the same edge as he managed in The Toughest Indian in the World and The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. There was some of his typical humor, which I enjoy, just not enough of it. If you have never tried Alexie, don't start with this effort; try Reservation Blues first.

Monday, December 7, 2009


My weekend---and pretty much all of the weeknights preceding---was taken up with driving the boy to practice, rehearsal, and presentation of Columbia Classical Ballet’s annual Nutcracker at the Koger Center for the Arts. I sat through both rehearsals and was present in some capacity at all five shows. I still am hearing sections of music playing in my head. My son danced in three roles this year, a much larger part than he has undertaken before. Of course, Radenko’s company worked on the ballet for about two months.

This time I did not confine myself solely to behind-the-scenes duties (such as serving as den father to the younger guys back in the dressing rooms), but took the opportunity to catch at least three full performances, in addition to portions of others, and I got to watch from the wings as well as in the audience. I even contributed a tiny bit by cutting the round felt spots that went on the dancers’ cheeks (soldiers and bon-bons) in several scenes. Not only did I get to enjoy the pageantry and beauty as a spectator, but I got an extended peek into the backstage world. My focus, naturally, was on my son, but I managed to concentrate a little on the work of those dancers whom I have come to know and like, particularly those I count as friends. Although I am largely unschooled in the nuances of ballet, I am learning. I will record observations, wrong or right, of things I saw and experienced during the weekend. One thing I found was that each show has a different dynamic, even when all the dancers are the same--- there are subtle shifts in delivery and attitude, in spirit and showmanship, in enthusiasm and enjoyment.

Firstly. . .my son. Joey danced wonderfully. He was the star! Well, for me at least. He reprises his usual role as one of the party boys, which he has been for about five years now. He was so handsome. You can tell when he is on the stage, because his posture improves and that rare smile sneaks across his face. He loves the part when he gets to run through the party scene with his saber held aloft. He then served as a member of the troops during the battle scene with the mice. They marched and danced and fought. All of them looked great in their red uniforms. I marveled at their precision on stage, fraught as it is with potential collisions and such (especially as the fog got quite thick at times), even more so this year as it seemed there was a larger group of young dancers involved, but it was colorful and flashy and the group carried it off in fine fashion. Then he was a bon-bon in the second half, dressed in shiny black and white; he tumbled and danced with the best of them. Unfortunately, he and most of that crew were not afforded much of a curtain call, but I knew he was there, standing to the rear, and I was so proud and happy for him. He really loves the Nutcracker.

I must say that the children and younger dancers were quite professional and efficient backstage. I was surprised how well-behaved they were. Much credit for this preparation and behavior should go to Renata, as well as to the parents and volunteers who managed the miniature hoard. Although there were typical mishaps (a broken hat, a wig malfunction, a lost shoe), they were quickly repaired and unneeded drama was kept to a minimum. And the kids seemed to have more activity on stage, which was nice. Both Claras (Ella Shealy and Dylan DeJames) danced wonderfully and were quite impressive. Vision is following in the steps of his older brother. DeeDee, one of the professional corps, danced as Louisa and was good in the role.

The women of the professional troupe were stunning (as always) and the guys were handsome. It is truly special to be able to see them performing up close. Despite being shorthanded due to unexpected visa problems for two male dancers, the men carried it off splendidly, though at times you could clearly see that they were weary (especially during the Friday night performance). There were some missteps that normally I would not notice, but after seeing it over and over, you start to catch things. A few dancers slipped on the snow and I thought one was going to fall, but she caught herself as she slid a foot or so. Another dancer somehow got himself turned around in one scene and was clearly out of position. It was interesting to watch the dancers come off stage---sweating, grimacing, and breathing hard---and talking to each other about how they thought things had gone. Afetr one of the snow scenes (that I thought had been crisply and cleanly performed), a ballerina came off muttering: "That was crap, crap, crap!" At least she didn't throw anything. When one thinks about the physical effort and precision required, I am surprised there are not more mishaps; no doubt as artists they are always striving for perfection, seldom reached. For me, however, I thought almost all of the dancing was lovely (well, except for the giant foam heads in the nightmare scene).

Zolton Boros was a good Drosselmeyer, and I was so happy they dispensed with that awful grey wig. The leading man of the troupe is now Journy Wilkes-Davis, who was featured prominently, which is quite an advance since he is one of the newer members. He did a very nice job and I predict a bright future for him. The other guys also were excllent. Lauren Frere is gorgeous, with long lines and precise movement, and her dancing was wonderful, especially in her role as the Arabian princess (danced in tandem with Journy). I bet the guys were lining up to take pictures with her during the meet-and-greet. I could go down the line and praise all the dancers, because they all looked great and danced splendidly. They didn’t seem to have as much time to relax as they have had in past performances, and they were kept constantly running in order to make quick changes and get back on the stage.

What a pleasure it was to see my friends Renata Franco and Waldilei Goncalves dance, not once but several times, together on the stage. They are such a wonderfully nice couple (my neighbors for several years, as well). My only complaint about their Devil Dog scene. . .was that it was too short! I wanted them to keep on dancing. They also were paired in the Spanish scene. Waldilei was also one of the Cossacks, always a crowd pleaser. No doubt Renata must have been worn out this weekend, because she served not only as the ballet mistress, but she appeared in most major scenes with the corps.

My favorite dancers, the three Japanese ballerinas, were fabulous. Kaori Yanagida was a beautiful and excellent Columbine (dancing alongside Kazuki Ichihashi). I also liked her Sugarplum fairy, though on one occasion my heart was in my throat when she almost hit the deck; thankfully she was caught at the last moment. You really have to admire the bravery and confidence these women have that the guys will always catch them. When you think about all the practice time involved, it is a wonder more are not injured. The lithe and alluring Akari Manabe, who always has a beaming smile when she performs (and in real life too), stands out with her long delicate features and graceful dancing. The newest member, Riiko Kitayama, did well in several roles (Nanny, Rat, Chinese dancer); it was nice to meet her mother, who came all the way from Japan to watch her dance.

The Koger needs to get new smoke machines. . .one spewed as if it were a 1940s bus and a few times it was so thick one might have thought the cast was in San Francisco. They should also retire Edward's wig. . .quite often by halfway through each Marzipan segment he looked as if he had just woken up and was having a very bad hair day.