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Saturday, February 28, 2009

My Latest Reading...

The weather in Los Angeles has been really beautiful this past week (warm temperatures finally!) and to celebrate I spent hours on the patio devouring “Selected Short Stories of Sinclair Lewis.”

I am ashamed to admit I’d never read anything by Sinclair Lewis before.

All through high school and college I not once remember his name being uttered by one of my English teachers. There was a lot of Jack London, William Shakespeare, and Jackie Collins, but no Sinclair Lewis.

Lewis’ most prolific time for writing was between 1918 and 1930. His stories are about people’s desires and dreams, including relevant issues such as race, women, and the powerlessness of society. Here we are some 80 years later and his work still resonates.

In 1930 he became the first American to be honored with the Novel Peace Prize in Literature “for his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humor, new types of characters.”

Of the thirteen short stories I read my favorites were “The Willow Walk,” “Things”, “Let’s Play King,” “The Kidnaped Memorial,” and “Young Man Axelrod.”

Lewis’ novels include “Elmer Gantry,” “Main Street,” “Babbit,” and “Arrowsmith.” For “Arrowsmith” he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

When you get a moment jump on your bike and pedal as fast as you can to your nearest library and check out some Sinclair Lewis. I did, and I’m glad I did.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Match Point

Once again I’ve been invited - through the extreme generosity of a friend - to the final day of the 2009 BNP Paribas Tennis Open (formerly called the Pacific Life Open) in Indian Wells, CA. It’s March 22nd.

This tournament is the fifth most attended tennis tournament next to the Grand Slams, and it combines both the men and women competitions.
In 2008 over 300,000 people attended the week long event.

My seat location last year was the second row. I could see the sweat on the players’ faces. I could hear the players grunt and groan as they slammed the ball back and forth at speeds that would probably break my arm if I tried returning the ball.

This year I have the same seat. Yeah, I can’t wait.

Note to self: Don’t forget suntan lotion (lots of suntan lotion), a hat, and a digital camera.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Frozen River

Through the magic that is Netflix my Monday mailbox contained the DVD for the audience neglected, yet Oscar nominated “Frozen River” starring Melissa Leo and Misty Upham.
It’s one of those small independent films that has heart, a good story, and even better acting.

“Frozen River” is about two woman, one white and one Mohawk, who live in upstate New York along the Canadian border. They’re both facing desperate situations with no apparent relief in sight. A stolen car brings these women together and from there they become involved in smuggling people from Canada into the United States. The only way they can do this without being stopped at the border is to drive over the frozen St. Lawrence River.


What they’re doing is wrong, but you cannot help but feel compassion for each of these women.

Melissa Leo truly deserved her Oscar nomination. Her performance is powerful; a frightened, desperate mother trying to keep her family provided for after her gambling-addicted husband has taken off with what little money they saved.

Director and screenwriter Courtney Hunt keeps the production simple, avoiding over directing the actors and letting them pull the audience into their world slowly. Bravo.


I would love to meet Courtney Hunt for a cup of java and some conversation. Does anyone know her?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

No Doubt About Streep

I finally saw the movie “Doubt” and all I can say is that Meryl Streep is truly one of the greatest actresses of all time. She could get nominated for an Academy Award for reading the phone book aloud.

In “Doubt” Streep plays Sister Aloysius Beauvier, a nun, who’s the much feared principal of a Catholic school in the Bronx in 1964. She believes in discipline and she believes in the old traditional Catholic ways. She embraces her faith with every ounce of her being.

When Sister James (Amy Adams) confides to Sister Aloysius about Father Flynn’s (Philip Seymour Hoffman) suspicious behavior with the only black student in the school Sister Aloysius sets out to find the truth and expunge Father Flynn from the school and parish. Did Father Flynn have sex with the student? Sister Aloysius has no solid proof, but relies on her instincts to do the right thing.


Streep shines in this role, and with a simple facial expression she conveys what other actresses would need pages of script to do.

I was reared in the Catholic church and while watching this film all my old fears and issues were brought to the surface: mean nuns, strict archaic rules, my years as an altar boy, priests who lie, the hypocrisy of confessionals, and those dreadful Sunday sermons. (I’m a recovering Catholic.)

It’s interesting how this film portends the sex scandals and criminal cover up that would rock the Catholic church in the following decades.

So how does the film end? Father Flynn leaves the parish, but ends up in another church with a better position. Punishment? It’s the Catholic version of priest punishment.

Friday, February 13, 2009

If You Heart Me...

Here’s an interesting tidbit:

Way back in the middle ages love struck folks would celebrate Valentine’s Day by pinning the name of their crush on their sleeve and wear it that way for a week.

Hence the phrase “wearing your heart on your sleeve.”

I bet you feel better now that you know that.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Scrabble

Recently there was an article in The New Yorker about the board game Scrabble and the various Scrabble tournaments around the world. It piqued my interest.
To be honest I’ve never paid much attention to the game before. Sure I’ve played, but never with the enthusiasm that would make me want to play again and again and again. To me it was just a game and a pleasant way to pass some time especially on a stormy night when there was nothing on TV worth watching and going out was not possible.

A few years ago I met a woman who was a Scrabble enthusiast. When she confessed her love of the game to me I was taken aback and the red flags went up thinking she was an unbalanced woman with too much time on her hands. She asked me to play, but I was too scared and politely declined. She would play as often as she could, and I mean daily, sometimes for hours. She eventually participated in some local tournaments. I haven’t seen her in a long time and have no idea if she’s risen in the ranks of Scrabble players.

Did you know the original name for Scrabble was Lexico?

Did you know there is a Braille version of the game?

Did you know Scrabble was invented in 1948 by Alfred Butts, who was never a good player?

Did you know that over 100 million games have been sold in 121 countries around the world?

Did you know that Chuck Woolery hosted the US television version of the Scrabble game show in the 80s and again in the 90s?

Who knew? Certainly not me.

Now that I’ve been re-introduced to the world of Scrabble I’m planning on purchasing the board game and having a Scrabble night. But before I can do that I have to brush up on the 109 permissible two-letter words containing every letter in the alphabet except V, and memorize the word benzoxycamphors (a type of chemical) and do my best to use it along the edges of the Scrabble board to earn a whopping 1970 points.

Maybe I’ll join one of those online Scrabble games and play against people I’ve never met, people from little towns I cannot pronounce from countries I’ve only read about.

Who knows, maybe someday I’ll travel the world and play the International Scrabble circuit and earn the Gold Medal of Scrabble.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

XXY

Recently I had dinner with a friend, and while we were enjoying wine, pasta, and conversation he mentioned a film he’d recently seen that he highly recommended. Pressed further for plot details he would only reveal that the main character was a teenage hermaphrodite. He said that’s all I needed to know. My interest was piqued.

Later that evening I logged on to my Netflix account and ordered “XXY” placing it at the top of my queue.


“XXY” is a 2007 Argentinian film directed and written by Lucia Puenzo, based on the short story “Cinismo” by Sergio Bizzio.

It’s the story of Alex, a 15 year old hermaphrodite from Buenos Aires whose parents move from Argentina to a secluded fishing village in Uruguay in order for her to live a quiet life. Unfortunately Alex has reached a period of sexual awareness and is confronted with her upbringing as a girl and her feelings of being a boy.

The weekend visit of family friends, whose 16 year old son is also going through sexually identity issues, unleashes pent-up feelings for Alex. Together they explore their sexuality and all the frustrations and humiliations of adolescence.

I don’t want to give too much away, but trust me, this deeply rich and moving human drama is beautifully acted and definitely worth seeing.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Swimming in Bong Water

Eight time Olympic Gold Medalist Michael Phelps was caught smoking from a bong.


To squelch a media brouhaha he quickly issued an apology:

I engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment. I'm 23 years old and despite the successes I've had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a manner people have come to expect from me. For this, I am sorry. I promise my fans and the public it will not happen again.

Does anybody believe this was his first and only time? I say no, no, no.

Do you think he really inhaled? I say yes, yes, yes.

Do you think he gets the munchies when he’s stoned? I bet he craves Pringles Potato Chips, onion dip, Hershey’s Kisses, and strippers.

Does anybody believe it won’t happen again? I bet you right now he’s lighting up a joint to ease the pain of being caught.

At least he didn’t try to say it was medicinal.

What a dope.

His Life Changed History. His Courage Changed Lives.

Sean Penn astounds as Harvey Milk. There’s no doubt in my mind that his performance is the best performance by a lead actor, and he truly deserves the Academy Award.

With bio pics many times the actor unfortunately mimics the character rather than being that person, and their performance has that “look at me” and “I’m playing someone you already know and aren’t I doing a great job” glow to it. Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman comes to mind as does Will Smith as Muhammad Ali. Not so with Penn, he immediately draws the audience in and embodies the heart of soul of Milk.

“Milk,” deftly directed by Gus Van Sant, is the story of Harvey Milk, who became the first openly gay man to be voted into public office in America. The film follows Milk’s life as he moves to San Francisco, becomes a business owner, and his subsequent climb to elected politician. Sadly Milk’s life was cut short when in November 1978 he and San Francisco Mayor George Mascone (Victor Garber) were assassinated by fellow politician Dan White (brilliantly played by Josh Brolin).

This is a powerful film with a powerful message.

It’s interesting to note that Dan White’s defense argued that his mental deterioration was exacerbated by his junk food binge prior to the murders. It was quickly dubbed the “Twinkie Defense” by the media. White only served five years in prison for his crime, and two years after his release he committed suicide.

Don’t miss “Milk.”