Favorite Beatles Songs
Published on May 31, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I list my favorite Beatles songs.

Here they are.

Watching "The Angels' Share" and "Upstream Color"
Published on May 29, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about the new Ken Loach film "The Angels' Share," and the new Shane Carruth film "Upstream Color," which I loved.

Here's an excerpt:

"I don’t expect comedy or goofy hijinks from the films of Ken Loach, the British director whose often grim filmography focuses on the struggles of the working class.

But his latest, 'The Angels’ Share,' is a gentle human comedy about hope, redemption and whisky. It opens with a very funny montage of troubled young Glasgow residents being sentenced to community service for crimes such as shoplifting birds from a pet store and drunkenly defacing public monuments. The final offender to go before the judge is Robbie (Paul Brannigan), whose crime is more serious: He beat up a couple guys with whom he has a bit of a history, inflicting serious harm. But the judge is lenient, as Robbie did not initiate the incident and has an otherwise decent record.

Robbie and the other offenders find themselves under the tutelage of Harry (John Henshaw), who puts them to work painting a building. Harry eventually becomes something of a mentor for Robbie, accompanying the young man to the hospital after his girlfriend has given birth to his son, and introducing him to the pleasure of drinking high-quality whisky. One Saturday, Harry takes the offenders to a distillery, and Robbie discovers that he has an exceptional nose and is capable of identifying a whisky’s more subtle flavors."

Click here to read the whole thing.

The "Star Wars" Naysayers
Published on May 28, 2013 by Sara Foss

This is from a few weeks ago, but I greatly enjoyed this piece by Devin Faraci at Badass Digest about how "Star Wars" is the most overrated movie franchise ever.

Faraci writes, "The reality here is simply mathematical. Out of six Star Wars films two qualify as good. That leaves four poor-to-terrible movies, an overwhelming majority of the series. If you picked a Star Wars film out of a hat odds are it would be garbage. It’s hard to think of a franchise with the pop culture weight of Star Wars that’s so generally miss rather than hit. Let's put it this way: the Fast and the Furious franchise has a better ratio of good entries to bad entries. A way better ratio."

Now, I like the "Star Wars" films - even the later films. But I think the hype surrounding them is a little insane. I mean, there's plenty of other good movies out there.

Around the time Faraci's piece ran, film critic Matt Singer wrote about how his wife recently watched "Star Wars" for the first time. I think the title of the piece - "Why Is This Movie Famous Again?" - provides a sense of how a rational adult with no exposure to the franchise might regard the film.

And if you're interested in some fun alternatives to the increasingly ponderous "Star Wars" films, J.K. Eisen has some suggestions in this old Rule of Thumb post.

Into the Garden
Published on May 28, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about how gardening is still a few weeks away in her weekly column Greenpoint.

Here's an excerpt:

"Riding up an elevator at Albany Med last week, I noticed my traveling companion had a jar full of garden flowers.

'Where do you live?' I asked her. 'Nothing is blooming up my way.'

That’s not exactly true. The daffodils are done and the lilacs and flowering crab apples are blooming. But lilacs are a little overpowering for a hospital room, and the crabs are at my neighbor’s house. My elevator companion was from Guilderland, and her bouquet was mostly flowering herbs, purple chive flowers and wild tarragon.

The chives in my garden are still in bud, but I picked some anyway last weekend, to dress out a tiny bouquet of purple catmint and the two last daffodils. I put them all in a little creamer for my dad, who is laid up with some broken ribs. I was hoping the chives would open before the daffodils faded, but the daffodils went first.

I’ve got bleeding hearts, pink and white, just starting to blossom in the garden in front of the house, and lots of irises getting ready to bud. I wish I had more flowers to bring to my dad, but I wish more that he’d get out of the hospital before everything is in bloom up north where I live."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Reading "Super Sad True Love Story"
Published on May 28, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about the comic dystopian novel "Super Sad True Love Story" by Gary Shteyngart.

Click here to read more.

Graduations: Dull, But Exciting
Published on May 28, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I reflect upon graduations, and the value of education.

Here's an excerpt:

"I think we can all agree that graduations are generally pretty boring.

Occasionally there’s a decent speaker, but there’s no getting around the fact that a long list of names must be read, and a big stack of degrees handed out. This process will ultimately turn even the most interesting graduation into a long slog. Just thinking about sitting through a graduation makes me feel sleepy.

But when my friend Bruce invited me to attend his commencement at Hudson Valley Community College, I responded as if he’d offered to treat me to a trip to Europe. Of course I wanted to go to his commencement. In fact, I was honored to be invited!

I’ve always taken my own graduations for granted.

It was never really in doubt that I would graduate from high school and attend college.

My parents are college graduates, as are most of my relatives. And I was fascinated by the idea of college from an early age. My parents brought me to one of their college reunions when I was in elementary school, and I loved roaming around the campus and participating in organized group activities with the other kids who were there." 

Click here to read the whole thing.

Gypsy Beer
Published on May 23, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about a new kind of beer I'd never heard of before - so-called gypsy-brewed beer.

Click here to learn more.

Don't Ask People To Sing the Lord's Praises
Published on May 22, 2013 by Sara Foss

Big time journalists do all kinds of things I would never think to do.

The latest example: When interviewing a young woman who survived the Oklahoma City tornado, CNN's Wolf Blitzer said, "I guess you got to thank the Lord, right?" and then, when the woman didn't immediately answer yes, he asked, "Do you thank the Lord? For that split second decision?" And the woman replied, no, because she is an atheist.

You know, I've interviewed tornado survivors in Alabama, and they were not shy about talking about God. If people want to thank the Lord, they will. You don't have to shove the idea of God down their throat. It's perfectly reasonable to have a conversation, and try to understand the person's outlook, and how their belief system might be playing a role in how they're reacting to the disaster. That's fine. What's not fine is imposing some sort of idea of how a tornado victim is supposed to act and think upon them.

Journalists are supposed to be smart and observant. They're not supposed to bring mawkish God talk into every story that involves a natural disaster or human tragedy. If people want to talk about God, they will. But you shouldn't try to make them.

Here's Slate's Mark Joseph Stern on why Blitzer was out of line.

Watching "Iron Man 3"
Published on May 22, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the movie "Iron Man 3."

Here's an excerpt:

"Watching 'Iron Man 3' is a bit like dropping in on old friends who are decent enough company, even though you’ve kind of grown apart.

The film is fun and exciting, with a lively sense of humor and sharp, clever dialogue — of all the superhero franchises, the 'Iron Man' films most resemble the frothy screwball comedies of an earlier era. In fact, the most interesting thing about 'Iron Man 3' is the interaction between Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), who began the series as Stark’s assistant and is now his girlfriend. Watching these two bicker and banter is easily the highlight of the film. Sure, the special effects are cool, and there are some dynamic action sequences, but the basic storyline — evil supervillian genius seeks to control the world and Tony Stark AKA Iron Man must stop him — is nothing new. What makes 'Iron Man 3' worth watching is the same thing that made 'Iron Man' and 'Iron Man 2' worth watching: character and heart."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Recent Viewing: Films
Published on May 22, 2013 by Sara Foss

Our Nixon (2013) ***1/2

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996) ***1/2

The Dark Crystal (1982) ***

A Good Day to Be Black and Sexy (2007) **1/2

F/X (1986) ***

Scrooge (1935) ***

Mud (2013) ***1/2

Play Misty For Me (1971) ***

Ne Change Rien (2009) ***1/2

Lebanon (2009) **1/2


My Five Favorite Movies
Published on May 21, 2013 by guest author: Steve LeBlanc

These are my five favorite movies and why:

5.  Wild Strawberries (1982, Ingmar Bergman)

 It would be  difficult for me to not include at least one Bergman film.  The question is, which film?  Other strong candidates are "The Seventh Seal," "Through A Glass Darkly," "The Silence," "Shame," "Fanny & Alexander." Bergman was an amazing filmmaker in multiple ways. He dealt with deep religious and philosophical questions head-on. He was great at exploring daily life and personal relationships. He demonstrated a deft comedic touch. As strong as he was as a scriptwriter, his films at the same time are remarkable for their striking cinematography. He was a tremendous director of actors and actresses (he was very involved in Swedish theater). He filmed the acting of actors and actresses as well as any director I have ever seen (refer to "Scenes from a Marriage"). Most importantly, his films are machines through which we can consider the questions most fundamental to human existence.

I settled on "Wild Strawberries" as my favorite Bergman film. Why?  Because it works so well as a cohesive whole, yet at the same time offers a sampler of the Bergman goods. It includes surreal scenes brimming with symbolism. It includes realistic scenes of the affairs of everyday life. It is a beautifully shot film, with a variety of locales and imagery. And it is a moving story of an old man attempting to reconcile himself to both his past life and his future death.

 4.  War and Peace (1967, Sergei Bondarchuk)

 How do you film an adequate adaptation of the great and immense novel War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy? With the full support and cooperation of the entire Soviet state, that’s how. While it is difficult to obtain precise budget figures, at the time of its release it was certainly one of the most expensive movies ever produced, if not the most expensive. Bondarchuk was granted access to all of the historical sites/artifacts necessary for the telling. When you see icons, emperor’s crowns and churches in the movie, they are likely the same icons, emperor’s crowns, and churches utilized by the real protagonists of the acutal war against Napoleon.

This all helped to make the adaptation adequate. Bondarchuk went further and made a magnificent film. In large part this is a result of the fact that his directorial impulse was to utilize all these resources to create a film that was as true to the original novel as humanly possible. Now this is something that is almost never done. Read any great book and watch a filmed version of it, and you almost always can find multiple instances where the director has taken liberties. This film however treats Tolstoy’s novel as absolute gospel, as if it is worried that knowledgeable Russian readers will revolt at the slightest deviance. Only it doesn’t feel like a forced limitation. Rather, the film rejoices in illuminating the great stories, truths, and moments found in Tolstoy’s seminal work. Specific areas to praise: the acting is fantastic, the slightly hazy feel of the film is intoxicating, and the battle scenes are perhaps the most amazing I have ever seen (it is incredible what a master director can do with an unlimited budget and tens of thousands of extras…). To give this film the highest praise, for me watching it provides the same intellectual and emotional sensations as reading the novel it is based on.



NBA Picks, Conference Finals
Published on May 20, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I make my NBA conference finals picks.

Click here to read them.

Stress in Stressful Times
Published on May 20, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about stress.

Here's an excerpt:

"When I have a headache, I often tap into the bottle of pain relievers that a colleague of mine keeps on her desk.

Usually the bottle contains ibuprofen, which works well enough.

But when an article in the journal Psychological Science reported that Tylenol has been found to reduce anxiety associated with 'thoughts of existential uncertainty and death,' I suggested we make a switch.

'Let’s get Tylenol,' I said. 'It will make us feel better about life.'

I’m always looking for ways to reduce stress and always feeling stymied in my efforts.

I take vacations. I swim. I walk. I set aside time for leisure and enjoying the company of my friends. I climb mountains. I own pets.

Occasionally, I splurge on a massage. I did this a few weeks ago, partly because I was experiencing some tightness in my neck and shoulders and partly because I thought it would help me relax. Ideally, a good massage contributes to an overall feeling of calm and well being that lasts for a little while.
However, my most recent massage simply did not work.

And it wasn’t the fault of the massage therapist."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Back to the Garden
Published on May 16, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about returning to the garden.

Here's an excerpt:

"My landlord and I have decided to give gardening another go.

Last year we were first-time gardeners, and I’d probably give us a C-plus ... if I was grading on a curve. We did OK until about August, and then things sort of fell apart. We were both away a lot, and it was extremely dry. By September, our community garden plot was a wild, jungly tangle of weeds, tomato plants and zucchini. I kind of enjoyed finding new ways to use the zucchini, like making zucchini bread, but my landlord was less enthused. 'I’ve had enough zucchini,' she said."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Watching "Mud"
Published on May 15, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new Jeff Nichols movie "Mud."

Here's an excerpt:

"The new movie 'Mud' is a boys’ adventure story in the same mold as 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' and cinematic coming-of-age quest stories, such as the great film 'Stand By Me.'

Directed by Arkansas native Jeff Nichols, the film tells the story of two 14-year-old boys who befriend an outlaw living in a boat on an island off the Mississippi River; because Nichols has a gift for striking, memorable images, the boat is lodged high into a tree, and the boys see it as a treehouse and hideaway. Instead, they find themselves running errands for the man who lives there, who goes by the nickname Mud, and bringing him food and other supplies. Mud (Matthew McConaughey, continuing his career renaissance with another eye-opening role) explains that he is waiting for his true love, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), and that he recently killed the man she was involved with, because he was abusing her.

The boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), both come from troubled homes, which might explain why they gravitate toward this mysterious older man: Ellis’ parents are breaking up and Neckbone lives with his uncle and his little memory of his parents. Another crucial character is a weathered old man named Tom Blankenship (Sam Shepard) who lives in the river house across from Ellis’, and is one of the few people Mud trusts. We are informed that he was once a sniper, and you can bet that this is the sort of movie where he’ll have the opportunity to demonstrate his skills.

What makes 'Mud' immediately compelling is its sense of place. Nichols knows this territory well. He understands the people who live there, and the appeal, as well as the challenge, of living in a rural community where earning a decent living is becoming harder and harder. Ellis loves his house on the river, and the beauty and sense of freedom it offers; when faced with the prospect of moving into town, he yells, 'I ain’t no townie!' This is a corner of America that has seen some hard times, and Nichols portrays his characters with the compassion and complexity they deserve; 'Mud' might be a fable, but it always feels real."

Click here to read the whole thing.

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