Saturday, January 13, 2018

"I, Tonya"

This is a surprisingly good movie!  Yes, we all remember, if we are of a certain age, the scandal of the Tonya Harding vs Nancy Kerrigan "incident" and its outcome.  Talk about giving the Olympics a black eye!  Breaking a competitor's kneecap wasn't the wholesome facade the Olympic committee wanted. Someone needed to be punished for this outrage!  And that person was Tonya Harding.

She was a feisty person from a very early age but she had to be in order to survive.  What a crappy Mother she had, a terrible home life and her first boyfriend was an idiot who told her she was pretty and then beat her. Tonya had to be gutsy to get through it all and skating was her entire life.  The first person to perform two triple axles in a single competition, she was an incredible skater.  The movie has a few "created for the screen" scenes but for the most part, according to Tonya herself, it is fairly accurate.  You come out shaking your head at the raw deal she received compared to the punishment the idiots who actually committed the crime received.  There are moments in the movie that you have to laugh at the incredibly stupidity of the guys that hatched the plot and carried it out. Then  you feel bad for laughing because in the end it just isn't that funny of a situation. But the director plays it for black comedy at times, so one can justify laughing at someone else's misfortune, at least in a couple of scenes.

Great performances, especially Margot Robbie and huge kudos to Allison Janney for her spot-on acting as the wicked mother. It's worth watching this movie just to see her as a driven, cruel, manipulative parent. This is a good movie, check it out.

Which leads me to this:  I also watched in the theater "Battle of the Sexes," the story of Billy Jean King vs Bobby Riggs major tennis match.  That was also a very good movie but it did poorly at the box office.  I have a feeling "I, Tonya" will suffer the same fate.  For some reason, few viewers want to see a true story of something that isn't a huge spectacle.  Their loss, in both of these movies.

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Friday, January 12, 2018

Homeless and the dead here in Santa Rosa

It appears that some of the bus stops here in SR have been taken over as homesteads by a few homeless folks. Walking Cooper early in the morning it is obvious that two persons are sleeping on the benches at the bus stops.  Then, on our late morning/noon walk those persons are now sitting up but covered, one in a rose colored blanket and another in a silver foil cape-like shroud with nothing showing except a small area where a mouth would be.  In the later afternoon both bodies are gone but their meager belongings, in black garbage bags, are stuffed under the bus benches.  Cooper wants to stop and sniff.  I purposefully yank him away.

About a mile from that bus stop is a rural cemetery, easy to miss if you don't take the shortcut to avoid College Avenue. There is a normal cemetery there as well, one that currently accepts dead people, but the rural one is the best. In cemetery years it is still a newbie, it can't rival those in Europe or even in older cities like Boston or New Orleans, but it has markers from the mid 1800's, so it has some age on it, some credence.  It is lovely to walk through if you like cemeteries, which I do.  Many of the markers and headstones are cracked and crumbling, the grass is not too high but not manicured. But even today there were still Christmas memorials on a few old graves, graves that had dates from the 1920's and 1930's, so not everyone is forgotten. A great Gramma, perhaps, or great great uncle.

Today was sunny, about 65, and everything in the cemetery was green.  It meanders, there are no straight paths. It's a nice place to visit in the early afternoon, it's quiet and I can let Cooper off the leash.  He hunts for squirrels and chases them if he sees them and is totally on alert even if he doesn't. (I can't wait for him to spy a rabbit one day!) I read headstones, he doesn't. Family plots, military graves, lone resting places.  Santa Rosa's first mayor is buried there, died in the 19th century.  One of the "Ripley's Believe It Or Not" creators is also there, with a very shiny and large marble stone. There are no fancy structures like you see in Europe, just granite or marble or plain stone markers.  Very few have words other than the names of the dead. I search for those with an epitaph or a snippet of a poem. I find a few, but not as many as I want.  Everytime we visit, I look for more.  For some reason, anything on the tombstone other than the name and date feels like a small triumph.

Homeless and the dead. So many and not so far apart.

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Paris Sky

The past two morning have been cold and damp and the sky has been a flat, even gray.  Much like the morning skies I have seen so often in Paris. It has been warmer than Paris in the winter but there's a smell that comes with the overcoat of gray sky, and that smell has been here the past two days.  This morning I caught a whiff of diesel fuel; the only thing that would make it better would be the smell of a bakery and that would be perfect. That's the smell of Paris in the early morning: flat gray, diesel and fresh baked bread. Other than fresh cut grass, not a lot of smells grip me like that trifecta.

The first two times I was in Paris it was spring, trees were budding, daffodils and jonquils were blooming. I am fairly certain that every other time I've visited France has been in the late fall or the cold of winter, and gray was the color of the sky, the buildings, the water. Monotone. It makes for a perfect excuse to sit and sip coffee or simply wander the streets with no agenda, hoping the sun never appears, happy to be wrapped in that anonymous gray all day.

Santa Rosa certainly isn't Paris, but it is so lovely to open the door in the morning, see that dull gunmetal gray sky, take a deep breath and smile.

"Saints for All Occasions"

This novel by J. Courtney Sullivan is a sprawling tale of an Irish family in Boston, from the mid 20th century to the present. And guess what?  It has sibling rivalry!  Catholic guilt! Death and depression and drinking! A girl named Bridget and a boy named Patrick!  Nuns! Masses and Confirmation and more drinking!  Recriminations and regrets!

What else would you want in a story about a Catholic family in Boston?  Some underworld crime?  A whispered family secret, more guilt and more penance? Yep, it's all here.

That doesn't mean it's a bad book, quite the contrary. It's a very fine read. This is a book to take on vacation when you want something well written but nothing too taxing, nothing about Snowden or tax codes or Russian interference in elections.  There is nothing in "Saints for All Occasions" that will connect you to today's political mess and that is a blessing, to continue the Catholic theme.  Sullivan writes very nicely about sadness, loss, emptiness and deception and we readers enjoy the story.  And we identify with much of the emotions:  "Maybe she shouldn't need the approval of someone who refused to see her or to let her in. It was easier to forge ahead with your mother's blessing but insane to delay your life waiting for it, if the chances were good that it was never going to come.  Loving and knowing weren't the same."

I liked this novel but get it out of the library. It's a nice story but it won't change your life and once done, you won't be thinking about these characters for very long. 

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Monday, January 8, 2018

Nothin' ain't worth nothin' but it's free......

Kris Kristofferson, born in 1936, has always been one of my favorite songwriters and singers, even with his gravel voice. Tonight I had the pleasure of seeing him here in SR at the Luther Burbank Center.  (My friend Lance Cutler once said that if you think they are dead or close to dying and you find out that they are in town, it is imperative that you see them.  So I did.)  My friend Margaret bought the tickets and there we were.

His voice is even more craggly than I remembered. But he looks pretty good for a guy in his 80's and he doesn't waste time on stage.  He sings, there's not much banter, and (old school) he says "thank you " to the audience after every song.

Kristofferson's songs have been covered by dozens and dozens of singers and he has won many awards for his songwriting. He never hit it big as a singer or as an actor but many of his songs climbed to the top of the charts, sung by Janis Joplin, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and so many others.  He is well known and respected in the industry: to say his name to anyone even remotely cognizant of music means an automatic "Oh, he is amazing" kind of comment.

The concert tonight was very soft and mellow, in a good way. He doesn't have the juice he once had but he doesn't seem to mind that. He played for about 50 minutes, took a 15 minute break and played for another 45 minutes. Sang all the old numbers that won him awards and he sang so many other songs that made him so well-known as a lyrical balladeer.  I am so glad I saw him. 

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Sunday, January 7, 2018

"The Floating World" by C. Morgan Babst

There is a review of this book in today's New York Times and it reminded me that I read it a couple of months ago, an Advance Reader's Copy, uncorrected proof.  The review in the Times is accurate, although it is, once again, a debut novel.  I have read so many debut novels this year (and last) partly because of access to the advance copies and partly because I read so much.  Most of the time I find the debut novels to be good, sometimes even very good, but almost always in need of editing and tightening.

But hey, who am I to say?  Not a paid critic, I am just a regular reader with large opinions.

The above book is a good read, it takes place just after Hurricane Katrina. The waters have mostly receded, homes are still full of mold, decay, sometimes dead bodies. People are displaced,  not just out of their homes but out of New Orleans as well.  The characters are, in turns, angry, depressed, untethered and caring. They are well-drawn and sometimes aggravating and then, on the next page, sympathetic.

The NYT review also mentions "Salvage the Bones" by Jesmyn Ward.  If you have not read this novel about Katrina, I seriously suggest you do so.  It is worth finding a used copy and buying it. I read it 2012 and it remains one of the best books I've read in the past five years.  Yes, reading about Katrina is not always pleasant but neither is life.  This book is powerful and the parallels between what happened in that hurricane and what is still happening between rich, poor, black, white are not to be discounted.

Enjoy your Sunday. It's a nice, gray, dreary day out there, perfect for curling up with a cup of something hot and reading the afternoon away.


Thursday, January 4, 2018

And more books, some good, some mediocre, some junk novels. But who cares?

Lee Childs, another Jack Reacher novel, "The Midnight Line."  Years ago one of my favorite SF Chronicle columnists, Jon Carroll, mentioned this series in one of his columns.  I got one out of the library and that was that. I was hooked on this character.  Jack Reacher has no residence, no drivers license, no luggage, not much money. He owns a toothbrush and a passport. He wears the same clothes for a few days and then buys new ones and tosses the old ones in the trash. Jack Reacher manages to get in at least one nasty fight in the first 30 pages of every book and no matter if he faces 3 or 5 or 7 men, he always wins.

Realistic?  HA! No way, but that is one of the charms of this series. Reacher is a huge guy (not like the wimpy dwarf Tom Cruise who has portrayed Reacher badly in two movies) but more like Liam Neeson, big and attractive but not pretty and very, very sexy in a rough-guy-wearing-jeans kind of way.

So, "The Midnight Line" is the most recent book, got it out of the library (you do not need to EVER buy these books unless you see one used for under $4 and you plan to read it on an airplane or on a beach and leave it behind) and it was better than the previous one.  This one had some secrets, some hidden agendas and a few surprises.  A day read and it was satisfying if a bit (!) contrived but enjoyable in the way a really good (aka bad) burger can be.  Filling, tasty and yet you feel a little bad that you ate the whole thing.

Richard Rothstein: "The Color of Law: The Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America" is a treatise on how the government has systematically segregated this country racially, especially in the area of housing. Allowing places like Levittown to be for whites only and even here in Northern California letting almost all housing developments to forbid anyone except whites from buying in. It's an important historical perspective on the inequality of race for one of the most important of needs: housing.

Along that same line, Thomas Mullen continues to write about the same subject, segregation. In "Lightning Men" he takes on Atlanta, Georgia in the 1950's and focuses on the police department in a small area of the city.  There are a few black cops that are barely tolerated by the white police and the tension is always at a breaking point. It's a really good novel, dense, serious, very clear on how the division between blacks and whites fractures everything.  I would definitely recommend this novel, get it out of the library.

There have been other books I have read in the last couple of weeks but these are the ones worth reading.  Go find them.

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