movie: Stand Up Guys

stand upNot nearly as important as that movie I reviewed the other day; but fun.

Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin are three retired gangsters who reunite in their old age. Val (Pacino) has just gotten out of prison after twenty-eight years when Doc (Walken) goes to pick him up; they later liberate Hirsch (Arkin) from a nursing home and go out on the town, raise a little hell, do a little bad-guy justice. The whole movie covers about 24 hours, in which we enjoy jokes, gruff man-love, joy and death: it’s about what you’d expect from the cast.

Predictable though it may be, I found this sentimental, elegiac, man’s-man end-of-life tale to be thoroughly entertaining. I was reminded of Tarantino: the script is equally, self-consciously funny (hello, Viagra jokes) and off-color, and violent. Not quite so quotable, though, and indeed, Tarantino does not appear to have been involved (though according to the Google, I was not the first one to wonder). For Tarantino fans – or fans of Walken et al! – I think Stand Up Guys is good fun.


Rating: 6 steaks.

movie: She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry


I’m really pleased to have gone to see this movie locally with my dad. It was so good that I went back a few days later to see it again with my mom, so now it’s a family affair (as these things should be). She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry is a recently produced history of the women’s movement of the 1960’s and 70’s. It was nice to see it with my parents, who were there, and involved.

The movie includes historical footage of protests, speeches, news media, and interviews; contemporary interviews of activists who were involved in that history; the odd performances by actors; and reenactments. So many things struck me, and I’d like to point out that while I was often shocked by the horror, and the bravery, I was not surprised. Does that make sense? For example, the divisiveness of the movements – civil rights, women’s rights, peace – is unsurprising but will shock and dismay me every time. When a woman leader got up to speak in front of a crowd of “New Left” men, and they booed and catcalled her, I was (sadly) unsurprised, but astounded nonetheless. When the women’s movement ostracized its lesbian members, likewise.

"Lavender Menace," photo credit: Diana Davies, accessed here

“Lavender Menace,” photo credit: Diana Davies, accessed here

I enjoyed learning for the first time about the “Lavender Menace” action at the Second Congress to Unite Women in New York City on May 1, 1970. The need was unfortunate, but the demonstration was great fun, gave me joy. For that matter, another of the revelations of this film, for me, was the sense of fun associated with certain direct actions throughout the movement: that’s a part of the story that I hadn’t heard before, I don’t think. I also didn’t know how close we had gotten to having legislation passed supporting universal child care (thank you Nixon for this among other criminal shortcomings).

The first night I saw the movie, it was followed by a panel discussion with faculty members from local Western Washington University. These women were younger than I’d expected, in their thirties and forties, and the theatre was sold out – all good signs. We touched on the movie’s title: a criticism of the patronizing statement that we’re cute when we’re mad? or a sincere celebration of every woman’s beauty as she pursues right? (I think it’s both.)

I’m glad to have been reminded of that slogan of the women’s movement, that “the personal is political.” I’ve used some variation on this myself, because it makes so much sense: when politicians talk about forcing ultrasounds, we are quite literally talking about the inside of my reproductive organs; what could possibly be more personal? And I’m sure I knew on some level that I was citing my parents and their fellows, but I’m glad to have been reminded.

I cried when the movie got to present-day Texas, all those women in the capital protesting Senate Bill 5. I’m sorry I wasn’t there; I should have been there. Other interesting or affecting points in the film: the portrayal of our rage as a good thing (when emotion has come to be something we’re supposed to be ashamed of); and the excellent statement that the United States doesn’t like to credit radical movements with positive change in our history. Of course this only makes sense: it doesn’t behoove the powers to acknowledge that protest and civil disobedience do good. But revision of our history is a vile and insidious weapon being used all around us, and it bears noting (over and over again). Another statement of the film – I forget who made it – is that merely speaking truth aloud is a revolutionary and powerful act. Let’s not forget it.

"8-26-1970 March," photo credit: Diana Davies, accessed here

“8-26-1970 March,” photo credit: Diana Davies, accessed here


Thanks, ladies. I owe you.

Rating: 9 consciousness-raising groups.

The Neighborhood Playhouse presents A Year With Frog and Toad

the first book

the first book

You know I love to go to the theatre. I noticed a poster around Christmas for this production, which is based on a series of children’s books I remember, the Frog and Toad adventures written & illustrated by Arnold Lobel. I loved the idea of a play built on these sweet, simple stories, and the price was right. When I had time to think of it a little more, I wondered if “children’s theatre” was really something I wanted to see; but they did bill it as being fun for adults, too. Shrug. My parents and I went on a Sunday afternoon… and I’m so glad we did!

frog and toadFrog and Toad’s adventures have made it to musical theatre, and only five actors play all the roles: Frog and Toad, of course, are joined by a menagerie of birds, moles, turtle, lizard, snail and squirrel, which roles are shared between the other three. We thought the musical format was “inspired” (my dad’s word), but it turns out to be the inspired choice not of The Neighborhood Playhouse but of Lobel’s daughter, who commissioned the piece in 2000, according to Wikipedia, which also points out that this is a popular choice for community theatre groups, as we saw here. It is really sweet, and cute – in the spirit of the original books. Frog and Toad are neighbors and good friends, and share an entirely good-hearted, caring day-to-day life. They interact with the other woodland creatures in good-hearted ways; it is positively heartwarming (cynics beware), and in musical form, both hilarious and charming. I found it ran a little long for the age group that formed the audience, at nearly two hours. But the performances – singing, dancing and acting – were quite seriously good, far better than the under-10-years crowd would have required, I suppose, and plenty impressive to those of us adults unaccompanied by babes. My favorite character was Snail.

I think it’s great that TNP is out there producing such quality, affordable theatre; and I liked the venue, the Bellingham Theatre Guild, an intimate setting in a former church. I will be looking for more. Hooray for the new hometown!

writing about the visual arts, in Travels in Vermeer by Michael White

travelsWhen I read about the visual arts in My Grandfather’s Gallery or Lisette’s List or Hell and Good Company, I can always tell that the writer is well-intentioned, but I can rarely recognize the painting being described after having read the description. And these words leave me with the impression that I can’t even begin to appreciate the art without knowing a great deal beforehand. When I encounter really good writing-about-art, as here in Travels in Vermeer, I do find my enjoyment is increased by what I know, it’s true. But I chafe at the idea that these High Arts (as Spiegelman called them) are inaccessible to me without my having a background in art history, art criticism, what have you. It seems so snotty, exclusionary, elitist. Surely not what Picasso et al intended? (Do I care what they intended?) This is the first writing-about-art I’ve encountered that both amplifies the art, and leaves me free to love it from my beginning point of plebeian ignorance. Maybe White – a poet – is the right one to introduce me to poetry, too, another form I often find intimidating and opaque.

Look out for this book. It’s a special one – for reasons beyond those I’ve just named.

Bellingham Circus Guild: Aerial Showcase

On December 5, Husband and I joined my parents for a performance of the Bellingham Circus Guild, apparently a well-respected local venue for regular people to learn juggling, acrobats, and the like. This was the annual Aerial Showcase, a big deal (we’re told) because all the rigging required for aerial performances means they rarely get to do much of it at one event (or at all).

The 9-10 acts we saw took place in a warehouse in the southern part of town, a nice big space clearly purpose-rigged with all kinds of equipment (not just for aerials) and big roll-top doors and giant skylights that I bet are lovely in daylight. We paid $15 a head to get in, which I am happy to pay considering all the gear and overhead – and all the skill exhibited.

What the heck is this aerial stuff? It was mostly women, in mostly tight clothes (leotards and the like, with sequins etc.), on a variety of rigs, including your more “standard” aerial silks:


…a big steel hoop:

…a single rope:

…again a more “standard” trapeze:

…and chains and hammocks. (Not all of the above pictures come from Bellingham, and none are mine. See links for sources.) It was wild. Acts began with the more basic – newer members of the Guild – but they were absolutely super impressive. I liked feeling like these were real people, like I could do this (with a LOT of work). And they got more and more intense, with these women (there was only one man, half of a couple-act) releasing the silks (or whatnot) to fall and be caught in their own web – clearly one needs to be very confident that one has arranged the silks properly!! Wow. I was exhausted, and in fact the last 2 (or so) acts were kind of lost on me, after being so emotionally involved, excited, and frightened for these impressive performers – I didn’t have any energy left for the last few! It was really something, some of the best stuff I’ve seen. Very athletic, obviously – all core strength (think about the rings that the male gymnasts do in the Olympics), and often sexual or at least sensual in nature, too. Beautiful, strong, athletic people, with grace and rhythm, and definite showmanship. Remarkable, memorable, incomparable. And again, inspirational: anybody (you or I!) could sign up to learn this stuff, although slowly & with much effort, obviously. I was over the moon. Cirque du Soleil was everything even more – more flexible, more outrageous – but you know, not more impressive. If anything, this was more awesome, because it was so intimate – in such a smaller, informal space, but also intimate in that I felt like these were just regular people I could bump into at the grocery store. And I sure hope I do.

2014: A Year in Review

I’ve reviewed a few years now (2013; 2012; 2011), so we can do some comparisons.

Of the 135 books I read in 2014…

  • 44% were nonfiction (45% last year)
  • 44% were by female authors (48% last year)
  • of the 75 novels I read, 33% were historical fiction, 20% were mysteries or thrillers, 24% were miscellaneous fiction, and 15% were fantasy. (Last year 37% were mysteries, 10% were historical fiction and the rest included classics and misc.)
  • only 13% were audiobooks. (23% last year)
  • 20% of the books I read came from the library, and a whopping 71% were review copies; the few remainders were either ones I already owned or were gifts. (Last year, 35% of the books I read came from the library, 43% were review copies, and 14% came from my personal collection.)
  • I read 135 books this year, compared to 116 last year.

For the very *best* books I’ve read this year, see New Year’s Eve’s post.

How have my reading habits changed? Well, perhaps the biggest change is in all those books I read for review, over 70%. I did this on purpose, as part of my plan to quit my day job and move across the country (!). This trend will likely continue in the foreseeable future. It’s been a little tiring at a few moments, but overall is nothing I regret: I mostly get to read and review really good books, and I still love my job. I do regret the books I haven’t read yet, though. Currently begging for attention, for example, are Hemingway’s True at First Light and The Fifth Column; the remainder of Snyder’s Practice of the Wild; a fuller version of Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac; and all these:

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)


(and more). Sigh.

Also, you’ll see that I listened to fewer audiobooks. I spent my working year of 2014 taking the train to work rather than driving (hooray!), which let me read or listen; I can only guess that accounted for a lot of this change. I quit my job in October, too, which has left me with almost no audiobook time: just cleaning & gym time, is about it, since I don’t spend any time commuting any more. I miss my audiobooks, and have so many good ones loaded, too. I guess I should put in more gym time? New Year’s resolutions…

And, my fiction choices seem to have moved away from mystery/thrillers, in favor of historical fiction. I can’t quite explain the shift to hist fict, but I have made a conscious effort to read fewer mysteries. Aside from the outstanding ones (ahem), they can all begin to really sound alike.

What about you? How has 2014 stood up to your reading years in the past; and what do you foresee in the near future?

Whatever that may be, I wish you a happy new year, and happy reading!

best books of 2014

My year-in-review post is coming, but first, as the year ends, let’s take a look at the very BEST books I read in 2014. As usual, these were not necessarily published in 2014 (although several were).

(* are audiobooks.)

Those that received a rating of 10:

Those that received a rating of 9:

There were lots of 8s, too – it’s been a great year. I had a very hard time choosing a short list of examples for you, so please be satisfied with The Drunken Botanist*, Euphoria, Wayfaring Stranger, The Fish in the Forest, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, The Kind Worth Killing (by Peter Swanson, review to come)…

What did YOU read this year that’s blown you away?

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