Seven Quick Takes No. 69

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I.

Welcome, y’all, to another edition of Quick Takes, brought to you by coffee, coffee and coffee. 🙂

II.

It’s not that I’m tired, it’s cold. Yeah. We had some fake outs earlier this week but I think it’s 0 outside right now. But this weekend it’ll be warmer! Rejoice! I just sort of want it to stay around, oh, 30? Could we do that, weather? 30 would be good!

So anyway….coffee. 🙂

III.

The Oscars came and went, and I was right about Birdman winning Best Picture, but wrong about Michael Keaton. I’m OK with that because I love Eddie Redmayne and he did a great job in his movie. Also, if you haven’t seen Big Hero 6, do it. It’s  really cute, touching, and the animation? BAZINGA, people. The colors are amazing.

IV.

Last night I was playing an ancient dice game called Kismet with my mom. This game is a perennial favorite in our house, because you can play it with anywhere from 2 to…I guess 8 or so players (probably more), and my hyper-competitive self doesn’t mind losing so much, because, as the name attests, you get what you get when you roll the dice. You can’t really strategize your way to victory.

So, this game has been in the household since my parents first got married in 1979. Last night, mom and I were rifling through old score cards and found several of note: one from my dad’s best friend, dated Dec. ’82; one from my Aunt and Uncle who were dating when they were playing (they were dated pre-wedding); several from when me and my siblings were kids; and one that says “Mickey {my mom} and Baby, Feb. ’82”.

Yeah, the baby is me. 🙂

So basically I’ve been playing this game since I was in-utero. 🙂

(If you’ve never played it, it’s fun. Give it a try.)

V.

I finally saw the movie Watership Down this week. No, I wasn’t traumatized unduly, but I bet if I was a wee child watching it, the sight of bunnies clawing each other and blood-drenched fields might have put me off sleep for a few nights. As a kid, the movies that scared me the most were Snow White (that witch. Holy cow.) and Pinnochio (the whole kids turning into asses? Yeah, not so much. TERRIFIED me. And then, oh, let’s throw in an enormous whale that wants to eat us!).

However, the moral was pretty clear, in both cases: Don’t take apples from strangers, and DO NOT SKIP SCHOOL.

(Wizard of Oz didn’t scare me until I got a bit older, around 7 or so, and then it was Auntie Em turning into the Witch in the crystal ball. Then I’d just excuse myself and come back when that part was over.)

VI.

I’m also finding myself hard-pressed to read any new books so I’m re-reading Outlander. Yes. Again. I’m on Fiery Cross. I’m also re-reading a variety of other books, but that changes from hour to hour. Outlander is pretty consistent, though. 🙂

VII.

Speaking of books, I’m about to do some nitty-picky editing on the manuscript, as one of my March goals. I need to go through and do a timeline and general note taking about what I’ve included already and how things are structured. No point in writing good bits if they don’t make sense, oui? 

Oscars 2014: The Theory of Everything

Felicity Jones as Jane Wilde and Eddie Redmayne and Stephen Hawking.

Felicity Jones as Jane Wilde and Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking.

When I first heard that this was going to be a movie, I got pretty excited. I love both Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne, and the concept seemed pretty awesome: the life of Jane and Stephen Hawking. Most people know of Stephen Hawking (if only from his Simpsons and Big Bang Theory appearances), but a “major motion picture” (as they like to say) about his life and his wife? Sounds good to me. (There were other movies before, notably the BBC’s Hawking, where Benedict Cumberbatch played the physicist.)

The film is based on Jane Hawking’s Traveling to Infinity: My life with Stephen. Jane is an accomplished academic in her own right, having earned her PhD in Spanish poetry while she was married to Hawking. When she met Stephen he was at Cambridge working on his PhD. In real life, she knew about Stephen’s ALS before they started dating; in the movie, she doesn’t (Stephen doesn’t know either–it’s diagnosed later).

The one flaw this film has is that it’s pretty abrupt. It has a two hour running time, and I think it could’ve been longer, if only for the sake of exposition. We move from scene to scene pretty quickly, and there are montages of time passing that are treated to look like 60s “home movies”, where important plot points speed by: the Hawkings’ wedding, the birth of their first two children, family vacations, etc. I’m not saying we needed to spend endless time on these things, since the point of the movie is his relationship with Jane, but I would’ve liked to have seen more about their early married life, especially the birth of their first child, in order to lay the ground work for what comes later.

The early scenes are very well done. Redmayne plays Hawking as a sort of dashing, witty nerd, which is very close to Jane’s description of him in the memoir. Jane falls in love with him pretty quickly, and even though he tries to push her away after the diagnosis of motor neuron disease (it wasn’t called ALS in the 60s, apparently), she is persistent.

The movie speeds through their early married years, then focuses on Stephen earning his PhD and some of his work with his doctoral advisor (played winningly by David Thewlis of Harry Potter and The Lady). There’s a dinner party, celebrating his work, with his friends in attendance, but where Hawking’s feelings of isolation and disability becomes quite apparent.

It’s at this point that Jane determines she needs help–she can’t handle three children and Stephen. Her mother suggests she get out of the house and join the church choir. Well, the choir director, Jonathan Jones (a great Charlie Cox), is willing to give piano lessons to Robbie (their eldest–their children are Robbie, Lucy, and Timothy),and Jane invites him over to dinner. Stephen gives his assent to having Jonathan help around the house. Eventually he becomes almost another member of the family–going on vacations with them, helping Stephen in just about every capacity, etc.

Of course, people start to talk. At Tim’s christening, Mrs. Hawking corners Jane in the kitchen and asks whose son Tim is. Jonathan overhears this, and leaves the house–after confessing to Jane that he has feelings for her, and Jane telling him that she has them as well.

At this point, Stephen is confined to a wheelchair, but he’s giving lectures, winning prizes, and is traveling quite a bit. Stephen’s work is only briefly explained, and there are two scenes of him giving lectures. If you’re interested in his work, you’re going to have to go elsewhere–this isn’t A Beautiful Mind, where the work is explained in some detail, with fun images (like the women in the bar, in that movie). It’s only briefly sketched.

The turning point in the movie is when Stephen takes ill during a trip to Bordeaux. He’s gone with some students to see an opera (he’s a huge opera buff, particularly Wagner), and Jane and Jonathan are taking the kids camping in the same area, Jane still obviously wrestling with her feelings for Jonathan. Stephen is rushed to the hospital during a performance and is diagnosed with pneumonia. A ridiculous French doctor asks her if she should just let him die. Jane fiercely resists this, and says he will be transferred to England, where he receives the tracheotomy that removes his ability to speak.

The scene after the procedure, where Jane is trying to teach Stephen how to use an alphabet board, is amazingly good acting. From this point on, Redmayne doesn’t use his voice at all. Everything is conveyed in his face and posture. It’s really brilliant work. You can feel the agony he’s in at having his voice taken from him, at the existence he’s now living, and you can also see how much it tears Jane apart, to have done this to him, although she knows her husband wants to live.It’s a really crushingly emotional scene (and probably more so for me, because I have a huge thing about trachs. I never ever want one unless I absolutely have to have one. So I totally sympathized here.)

This brings in the introduction of the computer that becomes Stephen’s voice to the world, and also his nurse/second wife, Elaine. This is where I got a bit muddled. It is obviously that Jane is jealous of Elaine. It’s obvious she still has feelings for Stephen. But yet she doesn’t…I don’t know. Try to stop the relationship? I don’t know if she could, really. She might have been so emotionally drained. But when Stephen tells her than Elaine is traveling with him to America, Jane starts to cry. It’s as if she knows that their relationship is over (and in actuality, Stephen did ask Jane for a divorce and married Elaine, whom he also later divorced).  The scene is well done, but it muddled me and made me sad, because obviously these two still have deep feelings for each other. But I guess that wasn’t enough.

The movie ends with Jane, Stephen, and their children at Buckingham Palace, where Stephen has received an honor from the queen (He does refuse a knighthood). At the end of the movie, they watch their children play in the gardens, and Stephen tells Jane: “Look what we made.”

Jane does marry Jonathan, and is still married to him. She and Stephen have three grandchildren and remain good friends.

The movie itself has a lot of strong points, the biggest being the performances of Redmayne, Jones, Cox, and Thewlis. But like I said above, I wished we’d have had more actual scenes, instead of montages, to depict Jane and Stephen’s relationship. I think that’s why I don’t think it will win Best Picture, because there are a few flaws in the storytelling. But the acting is just gorgeous (as are the costumes, lighting, and set design).

Redmayne does a tremendous job showing emotion without saying anything in the latter bits of the movie. You can tell he’s still the same Stephen, even though he can’t talk: his humor, intelligence, wit, etc. are all still in tact. The scene where he’s essentially ending his marriage to Jane is done without him saying anything (his computer does the talking), but you can just tell from his face how hard this is for him. Actors are often told to use their entire body to portray a character (I know directors who are fond of saying that emotion doesn’t stop at the neck), and this is a master class in it.

Felicity Jones truly deserves Best Actress for her work here. She’s stubborn, fiery, massively intelligent, and loves her husband fiercely. This is a great role for her and she inhabits it fully. She does justice to Jane Hawking. Charlie Cox is just a fantastically warm and sympathetic actor.  And Thewlis is just great in everything I see him in.

So we bring the Best Actor race back: I really think it’s a coin toss. The Academy loves to reward actors who change their physicality for a role (Nicole Kidman in The Hours, etc.) But Keaton has been in the business a long time, he’s never been nominated for an Oscar, and he never may be, again. So there may be that in consideration, as well. Eddie Redmayne is my age (yes, we’re in our early thirties), and he’s going to do more things–we hope. 🙂 (I hope!). I’m not saying this is a good way to give Oscars, but it’s often done. Jimmy Stewart won his Oscar for The Philadelphia Story, when it wasn’t really his strongest performance. The ways of the Acting Oscars are strange, indeed.

Both actors give strong, textured, impressive performances. Either one would be a well-deserved winner. I’m going to bet that Keaton wins, though, because of the above. But if I’m wrong, I’d be OK with that. (Assuming Redmayne wins. 🙂 ).

Oscars 2014: Birdman

Birdman_poster

So, the first Best Picture nominee I’ve seen thus far: Birdman.

I was predisposed to like this, because of Michael Keaton. He’s from Pittsburgh (a suburb near my dad’s hometown, actually), and he did sit next to my mom in church one time (so I’m, what, two degrees from Michael Keaton?). And Mr. Mom is one of my favorite movies, ever.

But the concept of this film was sort of evading me until I saw it.

Birdman is the story of actor Riggan Thompson (Keaton), who was the face of a (apparently?) very successful action movie franchise called Birdman. But since the end of the movies, his career has petered out, and he wants to revive it and bring some gravitas to it by directing, writing, and starring in a Broadway play based on a Raymond Chandler novel. When the movie begins, the play is just about to go into previews, and things are sort of falling apart. His ex-wife is in town, he’s having problems with his fresh-out-of-rehab daughter (Emma Stone), there’s no money, and one of the other actors (Edward Norton) is making his life very difficult with his constant “improvements” to the play (including changing lines, trashing the set during a preview performance, and attempting to have sex with his wife (Naomi Watts) onstage before the play’s climax [while the characters are supposed to be ‘in bed’ with each other, they’re not supposed to, um…well, you know]).

The play was shot on location at the St. James Theater, which is right across from the Majestic, where Phantom has been playing for 25+ years, so I enjoyed all the exterior shots. I also enjoyed the inside look at a Broadway theater, because I’m a theater nerd like that. The movie itself has great cinematography–the much-lauded “one shot” idea (meaning there are very few obvious scene cuts, like there are in other movies)–and production values.

Michael Keaton and Edward Norton give the best performances here. They play off each other really well and their scenes are fun to watch. Norton is a cliche of the actor who wants to give the audience “real life”, who lives entirely for the stage, and, in the process, really screws up his off-stage life. Keaton’s Riggan is trying to keep it all together, and isn’t doing it very well. We can see the frayed edges of his character get even more tattered as the movie progresses.

Keaton does a great job with the character, creating a desperate, Hollywood -has-been who’s trying desperately to reinvent himself, while shunning overt manifestations of that idea (his daughter shouts at him, “You don’t even have a Facebook page!”).  The play, to him, is truly THE THING: if the play is a success, then Riggan can remake his life. If it’s not, then his life is over.  There’s so much riding on this show, it’s crazy.

The movie is hard to talk about since it’s pretty unconventional. It really needs to be seen. As far as the Oscars go, conventional wisdom is saying that it will probably upset Boyhood for best picture, and I wouldn’t say it’s undeserved. It’s about actors being actors, doing Broadway, so it has a built-in cache anyway (A movie about actors acting? Sure!). There’s a nice mix of comedy and pathos happening, it’s an unconventional film style (but not as much as Boyhood)  and it has a strong plot that is nicely brought to life by a dedicated cast. Edward Norton certainly deserves to win Best Supporting Actor for his work here.

The Best Actor category is hard for me, because I like both Michael Keaton and Eddie Redmayne (and I’ve also seen The Theory of Everything, which I’ll talk about next). So I’ll write more about that race in the next entry. One of the big things, though, is that Keaton is creating a character out of whole cloth. He doesn’t have anything to model Riggan on, like Redmayne had Stephen Hawking. And yet you root for Riggan. You want the play to do well. You want him to have a good relationship with his daughter and current girlfriend. You basically want him to get his life together and be better. So that’s strongly in Keaton’s favor.

Seven Quick Takes Friday No. 65

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I.

Happy Friday again, y’all!

Here’s a quick wrap-up of some of this week’s posts, in case you missed them: Daybook, Yarn Along, The Open Guitar Case, Contemplation, How a Dominican Friar Prays (who happens to be one of my BFFs).

II.

There was also this special post. I am so happy. Editing this manuscript went pretty well, except for some parts that made me think why did I write this DRECK?! But that’s what editing is for….getting out all the crap. There are some entire sections that need to be seriously trashed and re-written, and the prospect there is sort of daunting. But first I’m working on adding a more solid ending, which was one of the big problems in the first go-round. One thing at a time, right? But for January, my goal was to just edit the firs two parts of the book, not the whole thing. So I am lightyears ahead there!

III.

Quick Oscar movie posts: I saw Gone Girl and How to Train Your Dragon 2. Gone Girl has one nomination (best actress for Rosamund Pike, who plays Amy), and How to Train Your Dragon 2 is nominated for Best Animated Feature.

I wasn’t really impressed with Pike in Gone Girl. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a good actress, but I don’t think she was quite as creepy as the role requires her to be. I’m also not sure if that’s a fault of the writing/medium. In the book, she’s just so creepy. In the movie she’s borderline creepy. Also, the movie doesn’t do as good of a job fleshing out Amy and Nick’s before.” I know, movies are different than books, but in this case it just didn’t translate well. And with the competition in the best actress category, I don’t think Pike will win.

As far as HTTYD2, I thought it was very well done, just as good as its predecessor. Gorgeous animation, great story. I’d need to see more of this category to predict, however.

IV.

If you’re looking for a great Lenten e-retreat, as it were, ladies, I give you this:

RESTORE.

I did this last year, and it was amazing. Please consider gifting this to yourself. It’s amazing.

V.

And yes, Lent. It’s coming soon, peeps. It’s early this year. May I direct you to my Lent series? 🙂

VI.

And to round this out, some Christmas pics:

Me and my cousin Paige (who, incidentally, also asked me to be her Confirmation sponsor.)

Me and my cousin Paige (who, incidentally, also asked me to be her Confirmation sponsor.)

VII.

My cousin Kelly, and another cousin, Justin. These guys kill me.

My cousin Kelly, and another cousin, Justin. These guys kill me.

Seven Quick Takes No. 64

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I.

Happy Friday! This week was short, and also long. If that can happen. Monday was long because, seriously, when you can’t eat anything but jello, it’s a long day. Tuesday was short because you know, fun drugs. 🙂

II.

Monday was also long because of waiting for the OSU game. Normally I’m not a huge OSU fan–my parents didn’t grow up here, so we weren’t really into it–but when it’s the National Championship, you can get swept up in it. I’m glad they won. I’m not glad that they scheduled their celebration for the same weekend as the NHL All Star Weekend, which is also here in Columbus.

Seriously, this is my big beef with OSU sports. It’s college sports, but this town treats them like they’re the end-all and be-all of sporting events. All-Star weekend is a big deal, and we have to compete with freaking OSU again?

When my parents moved here from Pittsburgh, one of the things they didn’t understand was this OSU insanity mentality. My Dad is a Pitt alum, and the year Pitt won the National Championship, it was minor, because the city’s major league teams were winning things like the World Series and the Super Bowl. He couldn’t understand how a college team could garner so much press and devotion. And honestly, I still don’t understand it. I realize it’s “all we have”–but that’s not true anymore. We have two major league sports teams. They do not get nearly as much love as the Jackets. It’s sad and irritating.

III.

 The colonoscopy on Tuesday was OK. My doctor was sort of a jerk. He kept us waiting for over an hour and when I got into the procedure room he was playing around with his phone! Seriously? Hint to my doctor friends: don’t do that.

IV.

Here’s the wrap up of  my “big six” Oscar categories from yesterday. I’m looking forward to seeing American Sniper this weekend. Boyhood, Grand Budapest Hotel, and How to Train Your Dragon 2 are on DVD now, so I could catch up with those if I felt so inclined. (I probably won’t do Grand Budapest. That just looks….strange.) The Best Actor race is going to be insane. I think the two contenders are Keaton and Redmayne, since they won the Golden Globes in this category. I love both those actors. I’ll be happy either way, but I’d really like to see Michael Keaton win. As far as Best Actress, Julianne Moore has never won an Oscar, so this would be a first for her, and I’ve been hearing great things about her work in Alice. I’d really like Felicity Jones to win, though. All the acting categories are just chock-full of great names (for the most part), although I think Meryl Streep’s was sort of a…I dunno. Not a throw-away, but something akin? I mean, she’s Meryl Streep. She’s won how many Oscars at this point.

My theater is currently showing Sniper, Imitation Game, Big Hero 6, and Selma, so those are the ones I could see in the theaters right now. I’m hoping Theory and Birdman will swing by.

V.

Reading: Just finished the Big Stone Gap  series, and I should finish Own Your Life today. I really need to get back into The Artist’s Way. I’mw wondering if I should just start over in that regard.

VI.

I have finally joined the masses and watched House of Cards. Wow. What a show. Now, of course, some of that stuff wouldn’t happen in “real life”, but politics is a mean business. It just is. I was talking to my brother about it, and I had the good fortune to work for/with some politicians that were truly servant minded. They wanted to be servant leaders and do the best things for both their employees and the citizens of Ohio. (This is especially true of the Senate President I worked under when I had my transplant. Such a good man.) However, they are not, sadly, all that way. I’m interested to see where season III goes, now that Frank is (SPOILER) President, and I’m interested to see if characters like Linda stick around and work for him.

And, like many others, I want Claire Underwood’s clothes. Not her haircut. I don’t look good with severely short hair. But the clothes!

VII.

Weekend plans: Spending time with a friend tonight; Mass tomorrow; American Sniper with my brother on Sunday, after I teach CCD.

Oscar Special!

OK I love the Oscars. I love movies. I really do. This year, however, I’ve been so bad, and I haven’t seen any of the best picture nominees! I’m hoping to rectify that this weekend by seeing American Sniper with my brother. But anyway, in the spirit of Oscar awesome, I share the top five categories:

Best Picture:

Boyhood
Birdman
Selma
Theory of Everything
Imitation Game
Grand Budapest Hotel
American Sniper
Whiplash

Best Actress (*=they have won an Oscar previously)
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild *
Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night *

Best Actor
Michael Keaton, “Birdman”
Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”
Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game”
Steve Carell, “The Foxcatcher”
Bradley Cooper, “American Sniper”

Best Supporting Actor
Robert Duvall, “The Judge”
Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”
Edward Norton, “Birdman”
Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”
J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”

Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”
Laura Dern, “Wild”
Keira Knightley, “The Imitation Game”
Emma Stone, “Birdman”
Meryl Streep, “Into the Woods” *

Best Director
Alejandro González Iñárritu, “Birdman”
Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”
Bennett Miller, “Foxcatcher”
Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Morten Tyldum, “The Imitation Game”

Best Animated Feature

“Big Hero 6″
“The Boxtrolls”
“How to Train Your Dragon 2″
“Song of the Sea”
“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya”

So I am woefully behind in my movie watching. American Sniper comes out this weekend and I’m liking the buzz for it. In the  best actor category I am so torn–Michael Keaton grew up near my dad (true story–my mom sat next to him in church one time); I love Eddie Redmayne. Both he and Keaton won Golden Globes for Best actor in a comedy and drama, respectively. This makes Bradley Cooper’s third Oscar nomination in as many years (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle).

So I need to see some movies, stat. 🙂 And then report back!

Catholic Women’s Almanac No. 23

Outside my window::

It’s sunny and breezy. I want spring. Now. 🙂 Today is sort of obliging.

I am wearing::

a kelly green boatneck top and a full skirt with a lemon print on a cream background. Talbot’s makes the best full skirts. I had on brown flats earlier but they’re off now. 🙂

In the CD Player::

Adele’s 19

Reading::

I read a lot last week. I finished Life of Christ, and I have to say, it was a slog. It’s long, it’s dull. There are much better books to read. Happily, Above All Things was one of them: it’s a wonderful novel about George Mallory, famous Everest fanatic, and his wife, Ruth. A great, great read. When you finish that, go read Into Thin Air. And then be glad you don’t live in the mountains. (Like, the high mountains…)

Creating::

I’m working on a new piece that’s really compelling me to write it–I have no idea where it’s going to go, beyond a few set scenes. We’ll see!

Around the house::

I cleared bathroom drains this weekend. Isn’t that exciting? 🙂 I have to mop the kitchen floor and vacuum, and empty the upstairs trash.

In the kitchen::

Tonight eating out with T, but tomorrow PW mac and cheese, and then I want to try a (healthier) version of chicken-fried steak (if there is such a thing…) with mashed potatoes. I need to come up with a meal for Thursday…so I’m on the prowl. 🙂

Praying for::

Margaret and her family

The Pope

The cardinals

Lent::

The getting up earlier thing IS WORKING! Yay!!!! 🙂 🙂 Fish Fry No. 2 this week on Friday.

Plans for the week::

Lunch w/ dad on Thursday and Friday; Symphony with mom and dad this weekend (my dad has never been to the Symphony. I am nice and chose a very easy program for him. We also got a steal on the tickets!)

CSO Program is:

BEETHOVEN Concerto No. 4 in G Major for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 58
FRAZELLE Elegy for Strings
MENDELSSOHN Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 56, Scottish

I love Beethoven and Mendelssohn, so score for me. 🙂

 

And, just for today: Oscar thoughts::

Glad Jennifer Lawrence won Best Actress. She’s just a great, down-to-earth seeming person. Daniel Day Lewis wins again. No surprise re: Anne. Christoph apparently wins Oscars for playing bad guys: first a Nazi, and then a slave hunter. Nice! My dad saw Argo; I haven’t yet, but it’ s in the queue now.