Monday, August 31, 2015

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

For its August selection, my book club chose The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. It is a sad story with an ending that is, ultimately, very uplifting. Harold Fry, recently retired, is is in a loveless marriage, is estranged from his adult son, and is filled with regret about his mundane life and his many missed opportunities. Out of the blue, he receives a goodbye letter from Queenie Hennessy, a former colleague who is dying of cancer. He immediately writes a response and, while on his way to post the letter, he makes the irrational decision to take the letter to her in person by walking more than 500 miles from his home in Kingsbridge to her hospice in Berwick Upon Tweed.  He is ill prepared for this journey (he is out of shape, is wearing inappropriate footwear, and left his phone at home) but he becomes convinced that he can save Queenie if she can just hold on until he gets there. As he walks, he encounters many different people from whom he learns important life lessons and the walk becomes less about Queenie and more about Harold finding his way back to himself and to his wife, Maureen, with every passing step. The writing is beautiful and evocative and there were many times when I felt such profound sadness for Harold.  I really loved his character and I found Maureen to be an absolute shrew until an unraveling of past events, little by little, reveals the reason for her bitterness.  In fact, Maureen goes on a metaphorical journey of her own living without Harold, eventually finding her way back to him.  It makes their eventual reconciliation all the more powerful. I must admit that I cried during some of the final scenes.  I did start to lose interest as the journey dragged on and on and became rather predictable but it is worth it to push through because the message that it is never too late to begin again is absolutely lovely! I definitely recommend it.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Mistress America

There are three films that I want to see at the Broadway this week (and another opening next week).  Last night I went there fully intending to see the documentary Meru, which was at the top of my list, but it was completely sold out because Jimmy Chin, one of the co-directors, was giving a Q&A after the screening.  I quickly defaulted to Mistress America, the second film on my list.  It is absolutely hilarious!  It is a madcap screwball comedy where eccentric characters find themselves in crazy situations with lots of fast paced dialogue.  I laughed and laughed!  Tracy (Lola Kirke) is a lonely college freshman who is finding her first semester to be a disappointment, especially when she is rejected by the literary magazine.  Her mother suggests that she call her soon-to-be stepsister, Brooke (Greta Gerwig), and she immediately finds herself in Brooke's orbit.  Tracy is enchanted by the free-spirited and flamboyant Brooke but eventually realizes that she is full of plans and ideas which never come to fruition, such as running a restaurant/hair salon.  Tracy writes a short story about Brooke's life (titled Mistress America after a superhero character created by Brooke), which is finally accepted by the literary magazine, but it causes a rift in their relationship.  Gerwig gives a fantastic performance, playing Brooke with a frenetic energy that is fun to watch.  The film is full of witty dialogue, giving Gerwig, who co-wrote the screenplay, the opportunity to display her almost perfect comedic timing (my favorite line is, "He's one of those people that I hate, except that I'm in love with him.")  The supporting characters are also a lot of fun, especially Mamie-Claire (Heather Lind), Brooke's arch-nemesis and former best friend who stole one of her ideas (and her fiance).  This is the perfect film for a fun night out with friends and I really enjoyed it.

Friday, August 28, 2015

It Was The Best Of Times, It Was The Worst Of Times

This week I had a really big setback with the sale of my house which put the purchase of my new house in jeopardy.  It was beyond frustrating to me because we were ready to close next week.  I packed up my entire house and was in the process of getting ready to move everything to storage until I could close on the new house the following week.  I shed quite a few tears!  Thankfully everything has been resolved with my house (and it looks like I will probably be able to move forward with the new house) but the timeline has been pushed back three weeks.  Of course, I am so grateful that I don't have to start the entire process all over again but it hasn't been a lot of fun living with everything I own in boxes this week and I certainly do not relish the thought of another three weeks of this!  It is hard to come home to empty rooms!  My only solace has been school (solace was a vocabulary word this week).  I absolutely love my classes!  My sophomores have started a short story unit and my seniors have started reading Beowulf and we have already had some amazing discussions.  Also, my officers are just so much fun to work with.  We have already been so busy and we've spent a lot of time this week getting ready for Homecoming, staying late at school for several nights working on a banner.  They keep me laughing all the time so I don't have time to dwell on my real estate woes!
I think they did an amazing job on the banner (the moon was made with chalk) and they have received a lot of really positive feedback from students (and teachers) so they are very excited.  I don't think I will look back on selling my house with any particular fondness but I always want to remember what a great start I had to the 2015-2016 school year!

Monday, August 24, 2015

The End of the Tour

This weekend my sister and I packed up my entire house!  This included 18 medium boxes of paperback books and 14 large boxes of hardbound books!  Why do I have so many books?  By the time Sunday rolled around, not only did every muscle in my body hurt, but I was in serious need of a distraction.  I ended up at the Broadway, my usual Sunday night destination (although I went to the early show because I am now in school), to see yet another movie that I tried, unsuccessfully, to see at Sundance.  I had heard so many great things about The End of the Tour so I was very eager to see it.  David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) is assigned to write a profile of the author David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) for Rolling Stone.  He joins Wallace for the last five days of his 1996 book tour for the epic novel Infinite Jest (which I tried, unsuccessfully, to read several years ago) and records their conversations.  The movie opens 12 years later with Lipsky hearing the news that Wallace has killed himself and then flashes back to the tour as Lipsky listens to the tapes.  Believe it or not, this film is quite riveting, despite the fact that much of it involves two men talking, because the two men are so complicated.  Wallace just wants to be an ordinary guy and worries that fame will turn him into the very thing he criticizes in his novels.  Lipsky is an ordinary guy and wants nothing more than to be a famous writer.  He is in awe of Wallace but Wallace knows that it it is only the persona of "famous writer" that he admires.  Both men are desperately lonely and are immediately drawn to each other, bonding over junk food, but they inevitably become combative in their roles as "interviewer" and "interviewee."  It is an intense examination of loneliness, fame, depression, and popular culture and I couldn't look away from the screen!  Both Segel and Eisenberg give extraordinary performances.  I was particularly impressed with Segel because I am not a fan of much of his previous work (I am an absolute snob when it comes to TV) and I underestimated him!   I sometimes grow weary of Eisenberg's twitchy-talk-as-fast-as-you-can-in-a-monotone-voice characterization but it works in this role. The soundtrack is fabulous and features a score by Danny Elfman and songs by R.E.M.  (I think all soundtracks should feature R.E.M.).  I'm not sure that this movie is for everyone, but I found it fascinating!

Note:  After I see Meru and Mistress America, which both come out next weekend at the Broadway, I think I will have checked off everything on my Sundance wish list!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Welcome to Hunter

On Friday the SBOs and Class Officers sponsored the Welcome Assembly.  We now have the ninth graders at HHS so our studentbody is quite a bit bigger.  The administration thought it would be better to have the assembly in the afternoon because some students would naturally go home early.  I was afraid that everyone would go home early!  I needn't have worried because the gym was packed with an enthusiastic crowd and it was a lot of fun!  The assembly was a huge success (after only three days to prepare!) and I am so proud of the officers!  We had all of the performing arts groups involved and the officers had some fun games.
My favorite part of the assembly was the Spirit Can.  The officers asked me if I could get them a galvanized metal garbage can and, since that sounded perfectly reasonable, I found one at Home Depot.  They spent an afternoon painting it and we filled it with Hunter shirts, candy, and other prizes.  Whenever there were any transitions or set-ups during the assembly, the officers would take the Spirit Can to a section of the gym, raise the lid to get the crowd cheering, and throw out the items into the crowd.  It was a huge hit.  Even our principal commented on what a good idea it was and offered to order more Hunter gear to fill it.  We plan to use it throughout the year at assemblies and games!
I am usually a bit stressed out about assemblies but I was very relaxed about this one.  The officers were so pumped up all day and very enthusiastic about what they had planned and I guess it rubbed off on me!  They all have more personality than they know what to do with and they keep me laughing all the time!  The first week of school is usually a bit difficult getting everything ready and adapting to new schedules and classes but I have had so much fun with this group and I am excited for the coming year!  Now bring on Homecoming (in three weeks!)

Note:  I am not a hugger but after the assembly we were all so happy about how it went that a spontaneous group hug happened.  Our principal caught the moment and I'm kind of glad he did!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Oklahoma!

Wednesday night I saw Hale Theatre's production of the classic musical Oklahoma!  Every song is instantly recognizable: "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," "The Surrey With The Fringe On Top," "Kansas City," "People Will Say We're In Love," "The Farmer and the Cowman," and, of course, "Oklahoma!" I've seen this show many, many times and I was quite impressed with what Hale was able to do on such a small and intimate stage. The choreography was absolutely amazing and I especially loved the rope tricks by Will Parker (Jack David Shapiro) in "Kansas City." The Dream Sequence was extremely well done. I think having Laurey (Elise Groves) and Curly (Derek Smith) as children and then adolescents together was very effective at showing their relationship and it was very impressive that Groves and Smith danced their own parts (most productions have a Dream Laurey and Dream Curly). I also think the Dream Sequence was very bold in its depiction of Jud (Jacob Theo Squire).  He is truly menacing and he literally made my skin crawl during this number. I always think Jud is a difficult character. Usually I have some sympathy for him and I feel a little bit unsettled by the exuberant happy ending after his death.  But in this production, I did not like Jud at any point. Director David Tinney made a bold choice to portray Jud as Native American and, at first I didn't like this characterization because it made me feel guilty about not liking him. However, I think Jud is supposed to be a polarizing figure who makes everyone uneasy so, after thinking about it, I feel it was very apt! I also thought it was quite interesting that Tinney chose to have Aunt Eller (Lizanne Chapman) break down in tears alone on the stage following the trial. As I mentioned, I've never been comfortable with such a happy ending after the death of another, however reprehensible that person might be. All of the actors have wonderful voices and seem to have a lot of fun with their characters, particularly Heather McDonald as Ado Annie and Andrew Hansen as Ali Hakim. My only complaint is that I sometimes couldn't hear Aunt Eller but that may have been a technical issue. Set designer Kacey Udy continues to amaze me with what he is able to build on such a small stage. This time he created a full size wooden windmill tower!  Quite impressive!  I would highly recommend this production because it contains all of the familiar and well-loved musical numbers but the story is presented in a completely new way! It runs until Oct. 3 and you can purchase tickets here (but get them quickly because many shows are sold out).

Note:  When I bought my season tickets last year, I had no idea that this show would fall on the first day of school.  It was a long day...

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Off to a Great Start

Yesterday was the first day of school and my officers definitely hit the ground running!  We had to plan an assembly for Friday (tomorrow!) and Homecoming is in three weeks!  I have to admit that I am a little bit stressed out about Homecoming because of everything that I have going on in my life right now but I am just so excited to work with this group of students!  They have so many great ideas!  I am particularly excited about one idea for the assembly (it involved a trip to Home Depot to buy a galvanized metal garbage can!) and I'm also pretty excited about their theme for Homecoming (Into the Woods).  They have been hard at work for the past several weeks to make sure that the 2015-2016 school year is a success and I am very proud of them!
They came in on Tuesday (their last day of summer vacation) to make this amazing banner to welcome the students.  They are so artistic!  One of the officers drew those giant letters freehand and cut them out of paper!  They also went around the building helping teachers set up their classrooms.  Hunter High has had a lot of construction and painting going on over the summer and many teachers were not able to have access to their classrooms until Tuesday which was stressful, to say the least!  I know the teachers really appreciated their help (I certainly appreciated them moving my heavy filing cabinets for me).
Last week they sponsored an orientation for the incoming sophomores and freshmen (we have freshmen at HHS for the first time this year and they are so little) and they did such a great job!  We planned this quite a while ago but I've been so distracted that I didn't really touch base with them until that day.  They followed through with everything we had planned and were completely ready to go!  I can't tell you how much I appreciated that!
Several weeks ago they sponsored a blood drive with the American Red Cross.  Not only is this an incredible amount of work to organize, but they gave up an entire day of their summer to run it!  I am so lucky to get to work with such wonderful students!  It's going to be a great year!

2014
2013

Monday, August 17, 2015

Ten Thousand Saints

Last night I had my final late night excursion to the Broadway Theatre before school starts and the film I chose to see was Ten Thousand Saints.  It generated a lot of buzz at Sundance this year and I tried, unsuccessfully, to get tickets.  I didn't worry because I knew that it would eventually be screened at the Broadway (like The End of the Tour, another film I really wanted to see, which opens next weekend).  This film is partly a bittersweet coming-of-age story about three troubled teenagers and partly a love letter to a New York City that doesn't exist any more and I loved it!   The plot revolves around a boy named Teddy (Avan Jogia) who ODs on cocaine on New Year's Eve and how his death affects his best friend Jude (Asa Butterfield), his brother Johnny (Emile Hirsch), a lead singer in a hardcore punk band, and Eliza (Hailee Steinfeld), a girl with whom he had a one night stand and is now pregnant with his baby.  They come together in the East Village during the late 80s, when writers, artists, musicians, drug dealers, and squatters all inhabited the iconic neighborhood before the yuppies invaded (in fact, a pivotal scene takes place during the Tompkins Square Park Riot when police used force to remove the homeless), to form a surrogate family for Eliza's baby.  Ethan Hawke plays Les, Jude's drug-dealing father, and Emily Mortimer plays Diane, Eliza's uptight prima ballerina mother who happens to be Les' girlfriend.  Les is a character similar to the one Hawke played in Boyhood but it doesn't matter because he is just so good at it!  He has some of the best lines in the film and I laughed and laughed when his ex-wife calls to see where Jude is and then Diane calls on the other line to see where Eliza is and, since neither one is there, he simply hangs up the phone!   All of the actors give wonderful performances, particularly Hailee Steinfeld.  She is something else!  I loved how the filmmakers painstakingly reproduced the East Village of the late 80s, especially a scene of Johnny's band playing at CBGB, a night club where the Ramones, Blondie, and Talking Heads once played.  I also really loved the scenes in the Krishna Temple!  I sometimes attend the SLC Krishna Temple and these scenes just made me happy.  Finally, the soundtrack is amazing, filled with atmospheric music from the 80s such as "Sixteen Blue" (sigh) from The Replacements and "Talk About the Passion" from R.E.M.  Good stuff!  It is a wonderfully nostalgic movie that will make all of my fellow Gen Xers laugh and cry!

Note:  Emile Hirsch got into a bit of trouble while he was in Park City promoting this film at Sundance!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

She's Still The One

Country is my least favorite genre of music so many people are surprised when they learn that I am a huge fan of  Shania Twain.  I really love the album Up! and, when I saw the Up! tour in 2003, I started listening to her other music because she put on such an amazing show!  When I heard that she would be bringing her Rock This Country tour to SLC after an absence of over a decade, I was thrilled!  Last night I joined a crowd of all ages for an evening of her biggest hits.  She came up from the floor on a platform and rose high above the arena wearing a sparkly mini-dress, a black leather jacket with fringe, thigh-high leather boots, and red-tinted sunglasses to sing, appropriately, "Rock This Country."  After that it was one spectacle after another with lasers, pyrotechnics, giant video screens, multiple costume changes, and several forays into the crowd (one of which was on a mechanical bull that circled the arena on a crane).  I loved it!  Twain does not have the voice she did in her heyday but no one, including me, seemed to care and we all sang every word to every song along with her.  She had plenty of swagger and sass to make up for it!  She played for over two hours, dividing the show into three sets.  The first included "Honey, I'm Home," "You Win My Love," "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?," "I Ain't No Quitter," "Love Gets Me Every Time," "Don't Be Stupid (You Know I Love You)," and "Any Man Of Mine."  She started the second set with "I'm Gonna Getcha Good!" and "Come On Over."  Then she sang "Party for Two" with Gavin Degraw, who opened for her.  That was one of my favorite moments.  She continued with my favorite song, "Up!," and then toned things down with some acoustic versions of "Today Is Your Day," "No One Needs to Know," and "You're Still The One."  In my opinion, her voice was at its best during these songs and I was quite impressed to see her playing the guitar.  She began the third set with a powerful version of "From This Moment On" and finished with "That Don't Impress Me Much" and "(If You're Not in It for Love) I'm Outta Here."  For the encore, she sang a fun and rowdy version of "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!"  I loved this concert!  Shania definitely rocked the ESA last night!

Note:  The teenage girls sitting in front of me took about 812 (a conservative estimate) selfies during the concert...

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Man from U.N.C.L.E

I am too young to remember the television series (I sometimes lament the fact that I didn't grow up in the 1960s), but I have long been looking forward to the film adaptation of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.  I had a chance to see it last night and it is fantastic!  During the height of the Cold War, an Italian crime family led by Victoria Vinciguero (Elizabeth Debicki) has enlisted (coerced?) the services of a German scientist to create a nuclear weapon.  Both the United States and the Soviet Union want to prevent this from happening (and possibly steal the technology for their own use) so they join forces and send CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) to Rome to stop them.  Their only lead is the scientist's daughter Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), whom they rescue from East Berlin, but she may or may not be all that she appears.  Can the two enemy agents cooperate long enough to save the world from destruction?  Guy Ritchie is known for very stylized action scenes with pulse-pounding music underneath them and this film certainly delivers.  It is just so much fun to watch and I particularly enjoyed the car chase through East Berlin.  Hammer is not my favorite actor (Don't even get me started on The Lone Ranger!) but he is great in this role.  The chemistry between Hammer and Cavill is one of the highlights of the film.  Their quick and witty back-and-forth banter (another hallmark of a Guy Ritchie film) is hilarious and I loved it whenever they tried to one up each other with their spycraft and gadgets.  This is not one of Vikander's best performances (see here and here) but it hardly matters because she wears fabulous clothes and accessories (the sunglasses!) and has a few great stunts.  Speaking of clothes and accessories, I loved the 1960s aesthetic of the film: suave, stylish, and super cool.  It is well worth the price of admission just to see Henry Cavill cavort in, shall we say, some very well-tailored suits!  Even though the story is a familiar one, I thought it was wildly entertaining and, given the many allusions to the backstories of all of the characters and the montage of their dossiers in the end credits, I predict a sequel (although there is no end of credits scene).  Go see it!

Note:  It is worth mentioning that I am a huge fan of spy movies (I read too many Le Carre, Forsyth, and Ludlum novels in high school) so it is not surprising that I would enjoy The Man from U.N.C.L.E.  I loved the recent Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation and I cannot wait for the latest Bond installment, Spectre, in the fall.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Time for Three With the Utah Symphony

Last night, after a long day at school in which I accomplished very little, I went to a concert featuring a string trio called Time for Three with the Utah Symphony under the baton of Maestro Jerry Steichen (always a treat).  I was tired and a little bit stressed but I knew that I would enjoy myself listening to the Utah Symphony under the starts at the Red Butte Garden Amphitheater.  What I didn't realize was that violinist Zach De Pue, violinist Nick Kendall, and double-bassist Ranaan Meyer would absolutely blow my mind.  Clad in black jeans, they looked more like rock stars rather than classically trained musicians (which they are) and they played everything from bluegrass to rock and roll and every genre in between.  I loved it!  The orchestra began the concert with a piece composed by Zach De Peu called "In the Dressing Room" which was just lovely and then Time for Three played a medley of "Eleanor Rigby" and "Blackbird" by the Beatles.  It was at this point that I knew I was in for an extraordinary evening.  They also played a lovely version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and a rousing rendition of Billy Joel's "Angry Young Man."  I especially enjoyed all of the mash-ups of contemporary songs and classical pieces such as "Cry Me a River " by Justin Timberlake with Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, "Firework" by Katy Perry with The Firebird by Igor Stravinsky, and "Gallows Pole" by Led Zeppelin with Beethoven's Eroica Symphony.  Genius!  And then, lest the audience doubt their classical background, they played "Winter" and "Summer" from Vivaldi's Four Seasons much to the delight of the crowd!  They ended the concert with "Little Lion Man" by Mumford & Sons (even singing along with some of the lyrics) and then played a highly amusing version of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" by the Charlie Daniels Band for the encore.  They substituted their own lyrics lamenting the fact that, despite their classical training, this is the only song people want to hear on the fiddle!  It could not have been a more amazing night!  If you have the chance to see Time for Three, I highly suggest you take advantage of it!

Note:  After the concert, a man sitting behind me told his wife that it was much better than he expected!  I love listening to the Utah Symphony but this concert was better than I expected, too!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Let Your Freak Flag Fly

While I was sitting in a meeting at school yesterday morning (I officially go back to school tomorrow), my sister sent me a text suggesting that we take Sean and Tashena to see Shrek: The Musical at the Sandy Amphitheater later that night.  I thought that was a great idea and immediately said, "Yes!"  I love being spontaneous and when spontaneity involves an outdoor performance, it is even better!  This production by the Sandy Arts Guild was either absolutely incredible or I was in the mood to be charmed because Shrek is not my favorite musical.  However, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and laughed out loud every time Farquaad (Chad McBride) was on stage.  Maybe it was a little bit of both or maybe it was because I always love watching Sean and Tashena experience the magic of theatre.  I think Tashena enjoyed last year's production of Footloose a little more but she loved how sassy Fiona (Ashley Stonebraker) was and she thought the Dragon (Mindy Peck) had an amazing voice.  Sean really liked Shrek (Shelby Maughan) and enjoyed the song "I Think I Got You Beat."  What ten year old boy wouldn't like that song?  It got a little bit long for him but he did really well (his first show was Elf: The Musical several years ago).  I really enjoyed "Freak Flag" with all of the fairy tale characters but, in my opinion, McBride stole the show as Farquaad.  "Welcome to Duloc" and "The Ballad of Farquaad" are absolutely hilarious.  The sets are quite elaborate and the costumes are fabulous, especially Farquaad's short little legs!  Such a fun night!  This is a great show for kids and it runs at the Sandy Amphitheater until Aug 15.  Go here for more information and to purchase tickets.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Irrational Man

I am not a huge fan of Woody Allen (other than Midnight in Paris, which is one of my all-time favorites) but the previews for Irrational Man intrigued me so I decided to see it last night (I fear my late night Sunday excursions to the Broadway Theatre are numbered).  Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) arrives as a new philosophy professor at a small New England college suffering from existential ennui.  He eventually begins an empty affair with a married chemistry professor (Parker Posey) and a romance with Jill (Emma Stone), a student infatuated with his dark side.  He quotes Dostoevsky in the classroom and keeps a copy of Crime and Punishment, with passages highlighted, on his desk.  Like Raskolnikov, the protagonist of Crime and Punishment, Abe decides to murder a complete stranger because he feels that it would be to the greater good and the petty rules of middle class society do not apply to him.  Unlike Raskolnikov, who is tormented by what he has done, Abe finds renewed meaning in life and comes alive.  Jill eventually figures out what Abe has done and, like Sonya in Crime and Punishment, she becomes Abe's conscience when she urges him to confess.  Will Abe find redemption as Raskolnikov does?  The story is definitely interesting and the themes are thought-provoking (I was reminded of an intense discussion with a group of friends at a bar in downtown Denver about situational ethics where I said something very similar to what Jill says to Abe as she confronts him) but I don't think Allen quite pulls it off.  The dialogue (and there is a lot of dialogue, particularly when characters are walking from one place to another) is extremely stilted and contrived.  Even philosophy majors (and I know a few!) don't quote Heidegger, Kierkegaard, and Kant constantly in everyday life.  Phoenix and Stone do the best they can with the material but it still feels like they are reading pages of script with grim faces and I found it hard to care about them.  I found the students to be incredibly naive, especially in the Russian roulette scene, and the acting from the minor characters is, at times, completely laughable (they are trying so hard to be earnest).  The murder mystery also seems a bit implausible.  Jill figures out the entire complicated scenario during a conversation at dinner and then just happens to run into people who can give her proof.  Even the twist at the end of the movie felt a bit hokey rather than dramatic.  I found the relationship between a college professor and a student to be somewhat troubling.  Abe and Jill conduct their affair quite openly and I can tell you unequivocally, having taught on the college level, that it certainly wouldn't be condoned on campus and I can't imagine any parents who would be as accepting as Jill's (they invite him over for dinner!).  Clearly, Allen has no concept of appropriate boundaries in light of his own personal life.  The premise of Irrational Man is note-worthy but the execution of it is not.  Read Crime and Punishment instead and, if you want to watch an excellent Woody Allen film, find a copy of Midnight in Paris.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Brunch at Eva's Bakery

I always begin summer vacation with a list of new things I want to do, new places I want to see, and new restaurants I want to try and this year was no exception.  Now that school is about to start, I realize that I haven't accomplished anything on my list.  What have I been doing with all of my free time?  Yesterday I had to wake up early (on a Saturday!) and vacate my house for several hours for an inspection.  Eva's Bakery in downtown SLC has been on my list for quite a while so I decided to have brunch there so I can check at least one thing off!  I was in absolute heaven!  Eva's Bakery is a little slice of Paris right on Main Street.  Paris is my favorite city in the world and when I spent a semester abroad there, I loved to wander the streets and find an out-of-the-way cafe in which while away an afternoon.  When I walked into Eva's Bakery, the aroma and ambiance immediately transported me back to that time and place!  Why have I never been there before?
Eva's Bakery has a breakfast and lunch menu with many traditional French dishes.  I had the Stuffed French Toast with lemon cream cheese filling and blueberry compote ($8.00).  The lemon and blueberry flavors really complemented one another and it was cooked to a crispy perfection.  I loved every bite!  Next time, I want to try the lunch menu.  I love French onion soup and I haven't had a good Croque Madame since I was in Paris!  Eva's Bakery is located on 155 S. Main Street in SLC and is open for breakfast and lunch Monday - Saturday from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm and for brunch on Sunday from  9:00 am to 3:00 pm.  All of the items on the menu are reasonably priced from $8.00 - $11.00.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Stanford Prison Experiment

I feel like all I've done this summer is watch movies (and pack) but, since I love movies, it's kind of a good thing!  Last night I went to The Stanford Prison Experiment which is a film that I tried, unsuccessfully, to see at Sundance this year.  It is absolutely riveting in an intense and disturbing sort of way but I still can't stop thinking about it!  Based on an actual experiment conducted at Stanford University in 1971 by psychology professor Philip Zimbardo, it tells the story of a simulation in which college students act as prisoners and guards to determine the cause of abusive behavior.   At first the students randomly selected to be guards are self-conscious and read from a provided script while stifling their laughter but they quickly become very abusive to the prisoners and take delight in humiliating them, especially a guard (Michael Angarano) who adopts the persona of a character from the movie Cool Hand Luke.  The prisoners, after a few attempts at rebellion by 8612 (Ezra Miller), eventually become docile and perform any degrading task required of them without question.  It is difficult to watch, particularly when Zimbardo (Billy Crudup) takes pleasure in what he is seeing on his monitors and refuses to intervene for the sake of his research.  His girlfriend Christina (Olivia Thirlby) accuses him of losing perspective and he eventually calls an end to the experiment after only six days.  The set of the make-shift prison in the hallway of the psychology building is extremely claustrophobic as are the tight steadicam shots which make you feel as if you are a part of the action.  The young and relatively unknown cast of guards and prisoners is excellent but, while the dehumanization of the students is the point of the experiment, I found it difficult to keep track of the characters because the prisoners are only referred to by number and the guards are all dressed the same.  The score is incredibly ominous and heightens the tension so much that it almost becomes unbearable to watch.  It is exhausting and uncomfortable but it is one of the most provocative films I've seen in a long time.  It certainly led to some interesting discussions in the lobby after my screening!  I definitely wouldn't recommend it for everyone but I found it to be fascinating.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Infinitely Polar Bear

This summer I've gotten into the habit of going to a late night movie on Sunday.  I love sitting in a darkened theatre with a group of total strangers watching images on a giant screen and after the movie I love driving in an almost abandoned city in the wee hours of the morning knowing that, unlike most everyone else, I don't have to wake up in a few hours.  Sadly, this practice must come to an end in a few weeks when I go back to school.  (Not surprisingly, very few people  are willing to commiserate with me on this sad turn of events!)   I've seen some wonderful movies on my late night excursions (go here, here, here, here, and here to check them out) and last Sunday I decided to see Infinitely Polar Bear which is also wonderful.  Cameron Stuart (Mark Ruffalo) is a manic-depressive member of a wealthy and aristocratic Boston family.  The matriarch of the family gives him just enough money to survive but refuses to support his family.  His wife Maggie (Zoe Saldana) is accepted to the MBA program at Columbia and makes the difficult decision to move to New York because it is the only way to improve her family's financial circumstances.  She leaves her young daughters in Cameron's care which results in some comedic and well as heartbreaking situations.  Ultimately, Maggie realizes that the girls are better off with Cameron because he is always there for them in a way that she cannot be.  It is writer/director Maya Forbes' own touching autobiographical story of her experiences with her father.  Her daughter, Imogene Wolodarsky, plays the fictionalized version of her and gives an incredible performance.  I have always been a fan of Mark Ruffalo and he is brilliant in this role.  He is both charming and belligerent and there were times when I was moved to tears over how he was treating his daughters and times when I laughed out loud at his antics, especially when he makes a flamenco skirt for a talent show.  I absolutely loved this movie and I highly recommend it!

Monday, August 3, 2015

We're Off to See the Wizard

One of my favorite summer traditions is going to the Sundance Mountain Resort to see a musical performed in conjunction with Utah Valley University.  Marilyn and I have seen The Sound of Music, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Annie Get Your Gun, Fiddler on the Roof, and Saturday night we added The Wizard of Oz to that list.  It was an absolutely beautiful night up in the mountains, with just a hint of fall in the air.  I really can't explain why I love watching performances outside under the stars but it makes me so happy!  This production of The Wizard of Oz is so charming.  I was actually singing along until Marilyn gave me "the look" but then, just a few minutes later, I caught her singing so I took that as free reign to continue!   Just like in the movie, all of the scenery and costumes in the first act are in very muted tones and then there is a color explosion once Dorothy (Hannah Pyper) gets to Oz.  I think this is the most ambitious set I've ever seen at Sundance, with a yellow brick road on a turntable that is most effective.  The costumes are phenomenal!  I especially loved the Munchkins because the actors are on their knees and their costumes featured legs which could be manipulated.  So funny!  The Scarecrow (Cleveland McKay Nicoll), Tin Man (Maxwell Higbee) and the Cowardly Lion (Wade Robert Johnson) are all fabulous dancers and the choreography is very innovative, particularly in the scene with the poppies.  Pyper has an excellent voice and does a great job with the role of Dorothy.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself and would definitely recommend getting tickets (go here for tickets and more information).  The show runs until August 15 at the Sundance Resort.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Go Rogue

I absolutely love the Mission: Impossible franchise!  Friday night I was able to see the fifth installment, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, and it is fantastic!  I loved everything about it!  CIA Director Hunley (Alec Baldwin) disbands the IMF just when agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is convinced he can prove the existence of the Syndicate, a sinister criminal organization led by a disavowed MI6 agent who has gone rogue named Solomon Lane (Sean Harris).  In Lane, Hunt has definitely met his match but he is aided by Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), an MI6 agent who has infiltrated the Syndicate but her loyalties are often suspect.  Eventually the other IMF agents, Benji (Simon Pegg), Brandt (Jeremy Renner), and Luther (Ving Rhames), secretly come to Hunt's aid but he is always one step behind Lane until it comes down to a final confrontation between two worthy adversaries.  The action sequences in this movie are amazing!  Hunt must foil an assassination attempt during a performance of Turandot at the Vienna Opera House and the fight on the lights above the stage is unbelievable.  The juxtaposition of the music with the action definitely heightens the tension and I loved these scenes because Turandot is one of my favorite operas.  There is also an epic motorcycle chase through the streets of Casablanca and then the Atlas Mountains.  I was on the edge of my seat!  There are a few twists and turns, especially involving the British Prime Minister (Tom Hollander, who played Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice), the Director of MI6 (Simon McBurney), and CIA Director Hunley, so you are never quite sure what is going to happen next. The final resolution between Hunt and Lane is so absolutely perfect that I actually cheered out loud (I wasn't alone).  I loved watching all of the actors having fun with their characters, especially Pegg as Benji, and Furgason is totally badass!  If you are a fan of Mission: Impossible, I think this may be the best movie in the franchise and I highly recommend it!

Note:  Tom Cruise is not my favorite actor (I think he's kind of a weirdo) but you've got to give the dude credit for all of the awesome stunts he does.  Dangling from Dead Horse Point and scaling the Burj Khalifa are amazing but hanging on to a moving airplane?  Mind blown!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Hello

Thursday night I had the opportunity to see the musical The Book of Mormon.  I have wanted to see it for a long time and it certainly didn't disappoint.  It is the funniest show I have ever seen!  Two Mormon missionaries, Elder Price (Billy Harrigan Tighe) and Elder Cunningham (A.J. Holmes), are sent to a remote village in northern Uganda to convert the natives to the church.  However, the natives are much more concerned about famine, poverty, AIDS, and a violent overlord than in hearing their message.  The devout Elder Price is discouraged and wishes that he had been called on a mission to Orlando but Elder Cunningham, who has never read the Book Of Mormon "because it is just so boring," starts embellishing the message with references to Star Wars, Star Trek, and Lord of the Rings to make it relevant to their lives.  He begins to convert the natives after he baptizes Nabulungi (Alexandra Ncube), the chief's daughter who dreams of a better life in Salt Lake City.  The elders eventually get in trouble for their false teachings but they realize that they have made the lives of the natives better and eventually convert the overlord.  The musical numbers and choreography are absolutely incredible and I especially loved the songs "You and Me (But Mostly Me)," "Turn It Off," "Man Up," "Baptize Me," and "I Am Africa."  The crowd cheered during the song "Sal Tlay Ka Siti."  In fact, the crowd laughed and cheered throughout the entire show because many of the lines are just hilarious!  I was laughing so hard that I had tears coming out of my eyes.  The line that got the biggest laugh is when one of the villagers tells Nabulungi that Salt Lake City isn't a real place because it's just a metaphor!  There is a lot of swearing in this show and many people might be offended by the subject matter, but if you understand going in that it is a satire, you will have a really fun night out.  The Book of Mormon is sold out for its entire run at Capitol Theatre but you can line up 2 1/2 hours before the show each night to be entered into a lottery for 20 available tickets.  It's worth the effort!

Note:  I have never seen a more enthusiastic crowd for a show in SLC, Wicked and Lion King included.  The energy in the crowd was palpable and it made watching the show so much fun!
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