Thursday, December 5, 2013
If there's a silver lining to his return to Toronto, it's that he's able to forge a new relationship with his older brother, Nate, to whom Charlie had always felt inferior, and his young nephews, Titus and Quinn. Nate is going through a vicious divorce, and is having trouble adjusting to the fact that his soon-to-be ex-wife has begun living with another man, a man with whom his sons feel comfortable.
At a book festival one weekend, Charlie runs into his first love, Holly, with whom he had a relationship during college. Holly is married and has children of her own, but Charlie can't help but think that she might be interested in starting over again with him. Seeing Holly makes Charlie long for his college days and the intensity of their tumultuous relationship, but it also reopens old wounds, as the two experienced a painful tragedy that affected them in different ways.
As he struggles with the feelingsgood and badthat Holly reignites, Charlie also must deal with his desire to be a good father to Ava. Can he be a presence in her life if he isn't living in Madrid? Can he live in Madrid if his wife is dating someone new? At the same time, Charlie must confront his brother's increasing anger toward his soon-to-be ex-wife, and the way his nephews are handling Nate's erratic behavior. It sparks memories of Charlie and Nate's relationship when they were younger, which is unsettling.
Can you ever really have all that you want, or must you make sacrifices in order to have the things that are most important to you? Can you stop someone you care about from destroying their life and those around them, or do you need to step back and allow them to make their own mistakes?
Dennis Bock does a great job delineating the challenges that come from love, family ties, parental obligations, and powerful memories of friendship in Going Home Again. While nothing truly earth-shattering or surprising happens in the book, it's a well-written and emotionally rich story, and I found myself completely engrossed in the plot very quickly.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
I see a lot of movies, more so than most of my friends. But even I haven't seen many of the movies included in this amazing 2013 trailer mashup from The Sleepy Skunk. (Some haven't come out yet, so I'm not as out-of-date as I could be...)
Check it out, and for a list of all of the movies included in this trailer, visit here.
This is why I love the movies.
I don't know whose brainchild the various daily celebrations of particular food or food groups are, but even though I rarely eat them anymore, I wholeheartedly support National Cookie Day. (Because, after all, "C" is for cookie, and that's good enough for me.)
Pondering the subject of cookies (I walked by a bakery on the way back from an errand), I started thinking about my favorite cookies through the years. While undoubtedly, I'm a fan of homemade cookies of all sorts, there are quite a few packaged cookies that have caught my fancy since childhood.
And you? What were/are your favorite cookies? I could use a glass of milk, some cookies, and a nap about now...
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
If you're a believer in happy endings, in fairy tales, enchanted spells, ghosts that have a purpose, and evil forests, than Tom McNeal's wonderfully magical Far Far Away is a book for you. But if you can't get your head around any of these concepts, this is probably not a book you'll enjoy.
In a land called (of all things) Never Better, Jeremy Johnson Johnson (that's his real name; it's not a typo) is a smart, sensitive boy who keeps to himself. You see, Jeremy hears voicesor, more accurately, one voicethe voice of Jacob Grimm, one half of the famed fairy tale-writing Brothers Grimm. For reasons neither of them can quite understand, Jacob is tasked with protecting Jeremy from the evils that lurk in this world.
But neither Jacob nor Jeremy consider beautiful, mischievous, and athletic Ginger Boultinghouse a threat, not even after she takes a bite of a cake so delicious it's supposedly enchanted with a spell, that causes you to fall in love with the first person on whom you cast your eyes after taking a bite. Naturally, Ginger sees Jeremy first, and finds herself inexplicably enchanted, even though she doesn't believe in such magic. And while Jacob isn't happy that Ginger's attentions are keeping Jeremy from his studies, or that she is somehow convincing him to sneak around late at night and play pranks on residents of their town, Jeremy enjoys the attentionuntil it brings him more trouble than he bargained for.
And that's just the start of Jeremy's problems. Because in addition to his fellow townspeople suddenly shunning him, there's a small problem of his father owing so much money on their small house that they're about to lose it to the bank. Plus his father hasn't left the house in years. Despite constant attention from a sheriff's deputy determined to find Jeremy and Ginger causing trouble, the kindly baker, Sten Blix, befriends the duo when no one else will.
Jacob is a helpful and trusted companion to Jeremy (although not always a welcome one). Yet as devoted as he is to protecting his charge, Jacob is helpless as an unexpected evil in the form of the dreaded Finder of Occasions takes control of Jeremy and Ginger. It is the toughest challenge the duoand the ghosthave ever faced. Will the duo be able to outsmart their nemesis? Can a ghost who can only be heard by Jeremy actually help save him?
Far Far Away is a creative, magical, wonderful book. It's a little bit of an anachronism, in that it feels as if it is set in a place far away and a time long ago, yet there are cars and answering machines and credit cards, and Ginger in particular acts more like a modern teenager than anything else. It was a little hard to get into at first, but once I did, I quickly devoured the rest of the story. I found Ginger's manner of speaking a little grating at times, but I really loved everything else about this book.
Predictable? Sure. But that's the beauty of fairy tales: you know where the story will probably end up, but the journey is tremendously worthwhile. And the journey to Far Far Away is definitely worthwhile.
Monday, December 2, 2013
This is Duncan McAlpine Sennett. Last month Duncan celebrated his Bar Mitzvah at Portland's Congregation Beth Israel.
During his Bar Mitzvah speech, he explained the Torah portion he was reading from, and used it to draw a parallel to an issue he feels pretty strongly aboutnationwide marriage equality.
"In my Torah portion, Jacob works for seven years to earn the right to marry Laban's daughter, his love Rachel. Before marrying Rachel, Jacob is first tricked into marrying her older sister Leah. I find my parsha [Torah portion] interesting because it is a window into what was life was like back in the days of the Torah.Duncan mentioned close family friends who are same-sex couples, who taught him about the importance of marriage equality. He then ended his speech by saying:
"Back then, this seemed to have a perfect definition of what traditional marriage meant for their time, when as time passes we have a completely different definition today. So the question is: how has the definition of traditional marriage changed since the days of the Torah? Just looking at my Torah portion as a proof text, I think it has changed a lot.
"Leah and Rachel had absolutely no say in marrying Jacob — it was like a business deal between Jacob and Laban. Today in the United States, marriage is very different. No longer do the fathers arrange marriages and women can marry whomever they want.
"While studying my Torah portion and comparing and contrasting marriage — past and present — I found it would be irresponsible to exclude the topic of gay marriage. I am a very very strong supporter of equal rights and the freedom of men and women to marry whomever they love.
"People who disagree with me like to quote the Bible and say that traditional marriage should only be between one man and one woman. But after seeing my Torah portion that I've just read, the definition of traditional marriage is nothing like what people think it is today. Jacob married two sisters who were his first cousins."
"My Torah portion taught me that the definition of traditional marriage has changed a lot since the days of Torah. So why can't it change just a little bit more so everybody can marry who they love? And now that I'm a Bar Mitzvah, I will not only continue to support but encourage other people to support equal marriage rights. Shabbat shalom."Here's Duncan's speech:
I'm so blown away by Duncan's maturity and empathy, and his decision to make his Bar Mitzvah more than just a celebration of religious maturity. Clearly, living in a community like Portland and having the opportunity to get to know same-sex couples has helped broaden his understanding and acceptance, but this is still an impressive action, as he paralleled what he learned for his Bar Mitzvah with his awareness of the world around him. (I think my Bar Mitzvah speech rhymed, but that about sums it up, although it was 30 years ago.)
It's so easy to get cynical and pessimistic with so many people in power trying to hold back the tides of equality and choosing to discriminate, but when you see an example like Duncan's, it helps make you feel a little more hopeful about the next generation.
While Sinéad O'Connor first hit the U.S. music scene in the late 1980s with her album, The Lion and the Cobra (which earned her a Best Female Rock Vocal Performance Grammy nomination), it wasn't until she recorded a version of Prince's Nothing Compares 2 U that she achieved stardom.
O'Connor's version of the song, released in 1990, became a worldwide hit, topping charts in 13 countries, including her native Ireland and the United States, where it spent four weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100. It became the third best-selling single of 1990 and the 82nd best-selling single of the 1990s. Rolling Stone ranked it at number 162 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, which contains only two songs of the 1990s ranked higher, and Billboard ranked the song at number 77 on its list of the Greatest Songs of All Time.
Amazingly enough, the song was originally recorded by Prince's funk band The Family in 1985 but it was not released as a single. Following O'Connor's success with the song, Prince performed the song as a live duet with Rosie Gaines, and subsequently released it on his 1993 compilations The Hits/The B-Sides and The Hits 1. Prince also recorded a solo version of the song for his concert film, Rave Un2 the Year 2000, as well as for his 2002 live album, One Nite Alone...Live! (All of that, and I can't find a YouTube video of it.)
The pop duo Capital Cities, which recently topped the Billboard charts with their hit Safe and Sound, recorded a version of Nothing Compares 2 U for their YouTube channel, and its more upbeat twist has received raves.
Here's Capital Cities' version:
And here's Sinéad O'Connor's version:
Check out my previous Cool Cover Songs of the Week:
Borderline by The Counting Crows
How Deep Is Your Love by The Bird and The Bee
Life in a Northern Town by Sugarland, Little Big Town, and Jake Owen
I Don't Want to Talk About It by The Indigo Girls
Only You by Joshua Radin
Pure Imagination by Maroon 5
I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) by Blake Stratton
What a Fool Believes by Neri Per Caso
Poker Face by Daughtry
Back to Black by Ronnie Spector
I Will Survive by Cake
The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face by The Stereophonics
Rolling in the Deep by John Legend
Go Your Own Way by Lissie
Winner Takes it All by McFly
What a Wonderful World by Joey Ramone
Careless Whisper by Seether
I Walk the Line by Live
Dear Prudence by Siouxsie and The Banshees
Smooth Criminal by Alien Ant Farm
Who Wants to Live Forever by Breaking Benjamin
Redemption Song by Chris Cornell and Audioslave
Love Me Tender by Chris Isaak and Brandi Carlile
All You Need is Love by The Flaming Lips
Lovesong by Adele
I Love It by Robin Thicke
Billie Jean by The Civil Wars
Across the Universe by The Scorpions
Can't Hold Us by Pentatonix
Wicked Game by James Vincent McMorrow
Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now) by The Postal Service
Jolene by The White Stripes
Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground) by Justin Timberlake
More Than This by Norah Jones
Royals by Mayer Hawthorne
I Can't Go for That (No Can Do) by The Bird and The Bee
Ain't No Sunshine by Silent Rider
Crazy by Ray Lamontagne
Stairway to Heaven by Heart
Sunday, December 1, 2013
On Anthony's 50th birthday, the pressure of keeping him a secret grew too great for Philomena to bear. (She explained that she was torn between the guilt of having a child out of wedlock and the guilt of not telling anyone about him.) Enter cynical journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), who resigned from his job as a political spokesperson amidst scandal not of his own making, and was struggling with depression and a lack of direction for his future. Although initially the idea of a human interest story is utterly odious to Martin, the more he learns about Philomena's situation, and is charmed by her utter lack of guile and pretense (something he's not quite used to), the more determined he is to help her find out what happened to her son.
The two embark on a journey to uncover the truth, and as you can imagine, both learn some important lessons from the other. (Martin, of course, learns more from Philomena than the reverse, but that's life Hollywood style, isn't it?) The truth is far different than either expected, and more than anything, Philomena is desperate to know whether her son ever thought about her. A devout Catholic, she can't quite reconcile her feelings about what happened to her son and how she was treated by the convent with the fact that she committed a sin in the church's eyes, which Martin cannot understand.
This is a funny, moving film, with two tremendously effective performances from Dench and Coogan. At this point, if you've wondered if there's anything Dame Judi Dench can't do, the answer, as far as I'm concerned, is a resounding no. Her Philomena is both cheery and conflicted, determined to see the best in everything and everyone despite her tribulations, which have affected her life for more than 50 years. (Martin laughs during the film that Philomena has told four different people they're one in a million.) While she may be naive to the world around her, she understands far more than one would expect someone with her background to. While Dench is mentioned as an Oscar contender nearly every year she appears in a film, a nomination is definitely deserved for this film.
I'll admit that I've never really been a Steve Coogan fan, as the few times I've seen him onscreen his performances have grated on me and come across as too smarmy. But he does a terrific job in this filmthe egotistical manner many of his characters tend to have really worked in his portrayal of Martin, and he demonstrated great sensitivity and empathy in addition to his world-weariness. I really enjoyed his character, and was even surprised by him a few times.
I really enjoyed Philomenait was charming and tugged at my emotions without being mawkish. And like Philomena herself, there's more to this film than meets the eye. Definitely one worth seeing.