October 23, 2016

Movie Review: Aquarius **1/2

Aquarius never gives us a compelling reason for Clara's refusal to leave her apartment in the face of pressure all around her. And that's the entire plot of this film.
I wanted to be on her side, but what was her motivation? Sentiment? Stubbornness? Principle? We never know.
This is a very long movie - 2 hours 22 minutes - and there's a lot happening but most of it seems to have no purpose.
I wanted to care but unfortunately never found a reason to.
2-1/2 stars for Aquarius, but only that many because I love Sonia Braga.

October 11, 2016

Theatre Review: Hamilton *****

First question everyone asks: Does Hamilton live up to the hype?
The answer: Unequivocally,  yes. And beyond.
How did Lin Manuel-Miranda ever come up with the concept of doing a musical about Alexander Hamilton, who certainly was not our most famous president?
And then, once he thought of it, how did he come up with the idea of doing it in hip-hop?
And what made him choose all races and ethnicities to play these mostly-white parts?
How did he decide to add amazing choreography?
The answer: Who knows?
But it's genius.
This show a phenomenon. It's clever and smart with perfect direction and amazing actors who all have great voices and dancing abilities, and it brings to life a time in our history that we all need to remember.
There are a few current-day terms sprinkled in ("Awesome!" "Wassup!") that work in the context, but are surprising, and so funny.
And then there are the ditties sung in a sulky way by King George to his errant subjects in the new world. He's a hoot. Here's a sample from his first song, You'll Be Back:
You’ll be back, soon you’ll see
You’ll remember you belong to me
You’ll be back, time will tell
You’ll remember that I served you well
Oceans rise, empires fall
We have seen each other through it all
And when push comes to shove
I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love!
This show lives up to everything you expect in a Broadway smash.
Five of five stars for Hamilton.

October 8, 2016

Theatre Review: Scarcity at Redtiwst Theatre *

The only word that comes to mind when trying to describe the play Scarcity, now showing at the Redtwist Theatre, is ick.
Here's the premise: There's Martha, an enabling, trash-talking woman who's married to a jobless drunk who lusts after his own 12 year old daughter. This delightful couple also has another child,  Billy, 16, who's supposedly very bright and who's lusted after by his young teacher. White trash mom encourages this relationship so that sweet little Billy can get ahead.
Oh, and if that's not enough Martha's bad-cop cousin lusts after her, though of course he has his own wife, who's pretty disgusting herself, so no wonder he wants to get it on with Martha.
There's not a hint of likeability or vulnerability or any redeeming quality in any of these characters, so no reason to care about them.
There's nothing believable in the dialogue or the characters or the situation. The reliable Jacqueline Grandt is good as Martha (although sometimes she stares off into space while action is going on around her) but the other performances are pretty uneven. Some of them sound as if they're reading directly from the script. It's a wonder that this play by Lucy Thurber has ever gone into production.
One of five stars for Scarcity, which doesn't really even deserve that. One of the down sides of a very small theater is that you'd have to walk across the set to leave in the middle of the play, otherwise we would have done it. Thankfully, it's short.

October 1, 2016

Movie Review: Deepwater Horizon ***

Deepwater Horizon is a heart-wrenching film to watch, knowing that some semblance of it happened - possibly not in the way it's depicted on the screen, it's not a documentary after all, but surely equally horrific. We know what's going to happen going in - most of us were aware of it when it happened - but we didn't know the faces behind the story, and the families who loved them and feared for them.
There are a lot of explosions in this film, debris flying about, bodies being blasted from one end to the other, blood, fire, brimstone - a little too much for my taste.
The first hour is the set-up to the disaster, and BP officials' responsibility for the failure to follow safety measures. That's a little long for set-up.
The second act is the disaster, and I watched in horror and dread, but that act is a little too long as well, carnage that goes on and on and on.
And the final act is just about right, showing these guys trying to get off the rig, looking after each other, the rescue effort, and then some of the families reuniting with their loved ones.
Eleven men died, and their pictures are shown before the credits, and that's very poignant.
All in all, it could have been better but much of it was very gripping.
Three of five stars for Deepwater Horizon.

September 30, 2016

People DO Judge a Book by its Cover

I just read an article by Catherine McKenzie titled Why Do Books Written by Women Get Such Audience-Limiting Covers?

I am the choir on this topic, and she's preaching to it.
I have never publicly expressed dislike for the cover of my debut novel, What More Could You Wish For. I didn't want to seem ungrateful. I am thrilled beyond imagining that St. Martin's Press published my book. I loved working with them and had an awesome editor. But I had an issue with my cover. When the book was going to the design department I was asked to send images of covers that I liked, and I did - six or seven of them. The cover I got had not the remotest resemblance to any of the ones I sent.
My book is about a 
woman turning 50. She's at a crossroads in her life and a family tragedy motivates her to reevaluate decisions and change the direction of her future. 

The cover I got was all sweetness and light – pastel colors, with my name in pink (pink!) and a picture of a cupcake with a gazillion candles. Cute? Yes. Perfect for a YA novel. There’s not a cupcake to be found anywhere in the book. I worked to get it changed to something more sophisticated; something that would reflect the seriousness of the story, and the only concession I got was that my name was changed to blue. I believe the cover limited the audience of my book. There could be many reasons it didn’t sell well; lack of promotion, unknown author, bad writing (I hope not!), etc. It’s tough for a debut author unless you get very lucky. I knew that. I never expected it to make the best seller list (though I did imagine that). But I know that that cover didn’t help.

When the book was translated into German it got a whole new cover, which I loved, and especially appreciated because Germans are not known for their sense of humor. (Now don't get all huffy if you're German. I love German people... but you have to admit...)

Anyway, back to Catherine McKenzie's question: why do books written by women get such audience-limiting covers?

Anna Quindlen had a book published the same time I did and her cover was a sparkler, for Pete’s sake! Elizabeth Berg had a book come out the same time also, and she got a teacup! Frilly, lightweight covers. But they’re well-known so I’m sure those covers didn’t affect their sales.

Still…why not let the cover reflect the interior?  People DO judge a book by its cover.

Why Do Books Written by Women Get Such Audience-Limiting Covers?

by Catherine McKenzie

September 21, 2016

Book Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog

A story told from the POV of a dog? What a silly concept!
I would never read something like that. But then a friend whose opinion I trust recommended it, so I got the Kindle sample and immediately upon finishing the sample, I ordered the book and just kept on reading. I couldn't put it down and didn't want it to end.
It's a touching, sweet story with Enzo, the sensitive and perceptive dog, as a reliable and engaging narrator. What a creative device!
Beautifully written, characters you root for, and a dog you want to take home. Even if you're not a dog lover.
Read this book!

September 7, 2016

Facebook: When is Enough Enough?

I recently got an email from a friend, regarding my Facebook posts, saying, "...enough photos of your view!"
If you're a Facebook friend of mine you've undoubtedly seen them because, yes, I've moved to a new apartment that looks out on the lakefront and Michigan Avenue, and I'm enamored of the view, so I post early and often. (Just in case you're not a FB friend, here's a sampling.)
Facebook is an interesting phenomenon; it's a place where you can post most anything you want; pictures of your kids, your food, your pets, your new job, the house you're trying to sell, your vacation, your feet on vacation...
You can rant about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or taxes or the CTA; you can state your political leanings where the whole Facebook world can see; you can laud someone's accomplishment, or tell us how humbled you are to win a big award; you can insult someone you disagree with, you can give us daily updates on your dying pet's treatments, and on and on.
I have friends who make incendiary remarks about the President, calling for impeachment. I don't think that has any place on FB. I have others who post nothing but pictures of themselves. I admit, I don't understand the fascination with one's own image, but...whatever. And then there are the ones who post daily updates on their medical conditions.
I don't necessarily want to read/see these things but we are all the arbiters of what's appropriate on our own Facebook page.
Some years ago, when my first book was published, I posted a lot about that on FB; talking about book signings and other events I was doing, posting links to good reviews, telling people about radio or TV (local cable) interviews, letting them know when it was on sale on Amazon...
People may have thought it was too much back then; too much about the same thing. Being published was a very big deal to me, but even I thought all that posting was excessive. It embarrassed me to do that kind of self-promotion, but the thing is, if you're lucky enough to have a traditional publisher, they expect that of you (unless you're JK Rowling or Nicholas Sparks, and then they'll do it for you). And if you self-publish, you'd better do it, because no one else will.
Back then a friend of mine, someone I considered my best friend, someone I'd known for 50 years, thought it was too much about me and my book. Hubris, she called it. She could have unfriended me on FB, or just ignored my posts, but instead she unfriended me in real life; ended our relationship. Of 50 years. Over Facebook.
That was devastating to me, and unfathomable.
Yes, that's extreme, but it's a choice. There are others: you can "hide" those posts that you feel are redundant, you can "unfriend" those people, or you can simply scroll past the things you're tired of looking at or reading.
We all get to decide when enough is enough.
That said, when I wake up in the morning and see the view outside my window I'm enthralled. Every day I tell myself I'm not going to post another photo of my view, but then I see this miracle outside my window and every day it's another version of spectacular, and I can't help myself.
So, if you're tired of seeing my pictures, I get that. It's new for me so maybe at some point I'll stop. But if you get tired of it before I do, just scroll past.
Unfriend me, if it really bothers you, but don't break up with me in real life. Over Facebook.