Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Lovers

Yesterday was the first official day of summer vacation and I spent it doing all of the things I love to do when I have free time:  I slept in scandalously late, I spent most of the afternoon reading, and I went to a late movie.  The movie I chose to see was an indie at my favorite art house theater called The Lovers.  It was an interesting exploration of marriage anchored by great performances by Debra Winger and Tracy Letts.  Mary (Winger) and Michael (Letts) are a middle-aged couple whose marriage has become stale.  They are both involved in long-term affairs, Mary with an uptight poet (Aidan Gillen) and Michael with a neurotic ballerina (Melora Walters), and both of their lovers are pushing them to end the marriage to be with them.  Just when they are on the verge of divorce, they suddenly become physically attracted to each other all over again and, ostensibly, cheat on their lovers.  They actually sneak around to be with each other and lie to their lovers about what they are doing in some highly amusing scenes.  I especially liked a scene when they are with their lovers but surreptitiously texting each other.  I really enjoyed this movie because it explored familiar themes about the break-up of a marriage in a new and interesting way and the ending surprised me.  Neither character is particularly likable but, somehow, I was drawn into their relationship without a lot of tedious exposition.  I haven't seen Debra Winger in a movie for a long time and it was good to see her in such a great role.  Both WInger and Letts have great chemistry (in some pretty steamy scenes) and I laughed out loud several times.  I recommend The Lovers to people who like intelligent movies about relationships.

Note:  I hope to repeat this day often this summer!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Two Tries!

Once again Marilyn, my Mom, and I went to see Sean play rugby last Saturday and this time we actually got to see him play!  Just so you know rugby is incomprehensible (although I understand it better after watching a few games) and Sean is very good at it!  Bountiful played Copper Hills, West Lake, and Taylorsville and they won the game against West Lake!  Sean and two other kids on the team are over the height and weight limits for his age group so, unless the team they play is physically matched with them, they cannot tackle but can only touch the other players.  I think this is a little bit frustrating for Sean because, when he had the opportunity to tackle against West Lake because they were similar in size, he let loose.  At first he was a bit timid but then he started knocking kids to the ground!  He was always involved in the action and he was able to run the ball the entire length of the field for a try two different times!  It was so fun to watch and the three of us just about lost our minds cheering for him!  By the way, a try is a point in rugby which I think is dumb because he didn't just try to score, he actually scored!  One of the things I really like about rugby is at the end of the game all of the players link arms and bow to the crowd!  That is cool!  Here are some pictures of Sean in action!
This is the scrum.  It is used to determine who gets the ball (kind of like a jump ball in basketball).  Sean is always in the middle of the scrum!
Sean had this amazing tackle right in front of me so I was able to capture it!
The teams bowing to the crowd at the end of the game!
He was all smailes after his big win!
I sure do love watching him play!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Dead Men Tell No Tales

Last Thursday I went see Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and I thought it was a lot of fun.  I loved Curse of the Black Pearl but I liked each successive sequel less and less (I hated On Stranger Tides) so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this latest entry in the franchise.  Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) is searching for the Trident of Poseidon as a way to break the curse that binds his father Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) to The Flying Dutchman.  He is helped by Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), an astronomer (who is periodically accused of being a witch) who has a map that can locate the Trident.  The two of them encounter Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), as he is trying to rob a bank, and the three join forces.  Meanwhile, Salazar (Javier Bardem), an undead captain in the Spanish Armada who was trapped in the Devil's Triangle by Jack Sparrow, vows revenge against him and enlists the help of Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to find him.  They all meet up for an epic confrontation on the sea for control of the Trident.  The story is kind of all over the place and there are a lot of characters to keep track of (every captain has a large crew and the British Royal Navy makes an appearance) but it has a similar tone and feel as the first movie in the franchise.  I loved all of the swashbuckling action sequences on land, especially one involving Jack Sparrow and a guillotine, and the sea battles are also pretty spectacular (although the sequence involving the Trident of Poseidon drags on a bit).  Javier Bardem is a great villain (I loved his hair) and Johnny Depp is always highly amusing as Sparrow.  I also enjoyed the (very brief) return of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley as Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann and I squealed with delight at the cameo of Paul McCartney as Jack's uncle (I guess Keith Richards and Paul McCartney are brothers?).  This movie is definitely not a masterpiece but it is a great summer blockbuster and it was a fun way for me to start my summer vacation.  If you are a fan of the franchise, then I suspect you will enjoy it.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Rite of Spring

Last night's Utah Symphony concert was the final one of the 2016-2017 season.  In my opinion it has been an outstanding season as it has featured so many incredible performances of some of my favorite pieces.  Last night was no exception.  The orchestra began with a piece by Tchaikovsky called Souvenir d'un lieu cher (Memory of a dear place).  It consists of three little vignettes which were originally intended for a violin concerto but they were abandoned and later orchestrated by Alexander Glazunov.  I thought all three of them were beautiful with a lovely performance by soloist Simone Porter on violin.  Next the orchestra played Ameriques by Edgard Varese and it was quite spectacular.  This piece was written when Varese moved to New York City after World War I.  He wanted to capture the cacophony of industrialization and one of the main themes involved a siren!  I was very impressed by the sheer number of musicians on the stage (there were 15 musicians on percussion instruments alone!).  After the intermission the orchestra concluded the concert with The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky and it was amazing.  This piece, as the same implies, is about a pagan ritual celebrating the advent of spring and I think it is wild and exuberant.  I really loved all of the themes played by the brass and the timpani and I could definitely see young girls dancing with abandon as I listened.  I really enjoyed this concert (especially since I am now officially on summer vacation) and I recommend getting a ticket to tonight's concert featuring the same program (go here).

Note:  The Utah Symphony will be performing concerts at various outdoor venues during the summer.  I am particularly looking forward to La La Land performed in concert at the Usana Amphitheater and to Leslie Odom, Jr. (from the original cast of Hamilton) with the Utah Symphony at the Deer Valley Amphitheater.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Summer Reading 2017

Today is the last day of school and you know what that means:  uninterrupted time for reading!  My summer reading list is back by popular demand (okay one person asked me about it).  This year's selections come from a list of the most popular fiction of 2016 (found here) and I think it includes an eclectic mix by authors I enjoy.  I'm looking forward to all of them!  I will be reading Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty, Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult, My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout, The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney, The Girls by Emma Cline, Nutshell by Ian McEwan, Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley, All The Ugly And Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood, Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld, and Commonwealth by Ann Patchett.  Like last year, I will review each of these selections here every Friday.  I hope you will join me and tell me what you think in the comments!  Yay for summer reading!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

What I Want To Remember

Last week our principal took me and all of the SBOs to lunch at Little America, as he does every year, and it was a lovely afternoon.  It is always nice to be able to leave school for a few hours and go downtown for lunch at a fancy restaurant (the food at Little America is fabulous, especially the desserts).  Our principal had the officers talk about their favorite memories and that made me really happy.  We have had quite a bit of drama in student government this year and I've been feeling a bit negative about the year.  I'm glad I had the chance to be reminded of all of the good things that happened this year.  These are the things I want to remember.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Norman

On Monday night I went to see the dark comedy Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer.  Richard Gere gives an incredible performance (possibly the best of his career) as Norman Oppenheimer, a small-time hustler in New York City who does an enormous favor for Micha Eschel (Lior Ashkenazi), a low-level diplomat in the Israeli government, in order to get an invitation to a dinner thrown by Arthur Taub (Josh Charles), a high profile financier (the exchange between Norman and Taub is one of the most cringe-worthy scenes I've ever seen).  Norman's prospects change when, three years later, Eschel becomes the Prime Minister of Israel.  He does a few more favors for Eschel, such as getting his son into Harvard, and then attempts to use this connection to his advantage.  Will he pull off the biggest deals of his life or will it all come crashing down around him?   I enjoyed this often slow-moving film because of Richard Gere's sympathetic portrayal of a character who is pretty annoying, especially when he tries to hustle a woman on a train, but somehow you can't help rooting for him to succeed.  There is an especially poignant scene where Eschel essentially throws him under the bus to save his political career and it almost brought me to tears.  I liked how many of the phone conversations are portrayed as if the two people talking are side-by-side (there are many phone conversations because Norman is always hustling).  Finally, I also really liked the supporting cast:  Michael Sheen as Norman's much beleaguered nephew, Dan Stevens (who seems to be everywhere these days) as a financier, and Steve Buscemi as a rabbi.  This film is quite dark in tone so is not for everybody but I recommend it to those who like character-driven films about interesting people.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Smokey and the Bandit

Sunday afternoon I went to see the 1977 movie Smokey and the Bandit on the big screen thanks to the free tickets I won from Classic Movie Hub.  I actually remember watching it on the big screen when I was a kid, fueling an obsession with my Dad's CB radio (his handle was Grapevine) and warning fellow motorists about the smokeys on the highway.  It was so much fun to see it again!  The premise of this movie is that a wealthy Texas businessman (Pat McCormick) and his son (Paul Williams) want to serve Coors beer at one of their events in Georgia but it is illegal to sell it east of the Mississippi River.  They offer trucker Bo "Bandit" Darville (Burt Reynolds) $80,000 to haul 400 cases of Coors from Texas back to Georgia in 28 hours.  He accepts the challenge and recruits his partner Cledus "Snowman" Snow (Jerry Reid) to drive the truck while he drives the "blocker" (a sweet black Trans Am) to divert attention away from the truck.  On the way back to Georgia, Bandit stops to pick up a runaway bride (Sally Field) and, in doing so, he attracts the attention of Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason), a sheriff in Texas and the father of the groom, who pursues him all the way to Georgia.  There are epic car chases and crashes as Justice's police cruiser gets more and more banged up.  This movie is incredibly dated (with hilarious costumes and hairstyles from the 1970s) and the acting is a bit over-the-top, but I thought it was an absolute hoot and I enjoyed hearing all of the CB jargon from my youth.  I laughed out loud so many times (at just about everything Jackie Gleason said) as did everyone in the theater.  It is being screened for its 40th Anniversary in select theaters as part of the TCM Big Screen Classics series and I recommend it to anyone who remembers it fondly.

Monday, May 22, 2017

State Champion

On Saturday my niece competed at the Utah State Track & Field Championships in discus.  She has struggled a little bit this year but that only made her more determined to succeed.  After failing to make the finals at the BYU Invitational, she started working with a private coach and all of her hard work paid off!  With a 126' throw, she became the 2017 4A State Champion!  I am so proud of her, not only because she won, but because she didn't give up and she used adversity to become even better!  Her whole life has been about overcoming adversity and I truly believe that she can do anything she wants if she sets her mind to it!  Good job, Tashena!

Note:  She is the only sophomore on that podium!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Rugby Is Crazy!

Yesterday my Mom, Marilyn, and I got up early to watch Sean's first rugby games of the season but it was kind of a bust.  Copper Hills forfeited the first game so we didn't get to see him play and then the games got so far behind that we had to leave before Bountiful could play Davis.  But Sean was really happy that we were there and we did get to see a few other games, including the team from Hunter who beat Herriman, so I know a little bit more about rugby.  It is really fast and physical and it is a lot of fun to watch.  I look forward to the rest of the season (and actually seeing Sean play).

Note:  Several of the teams have girls and they are tough.  One girl got hit really hard and fell to the ground for a few minutes and then got right back up and tackled a player.  In football there would have been a 5 minute timeout!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Utah Opera's Don Giovanni

Mozart's Don Giovanni is my very favorite opera.  I've seen it several times and I had the opportunity to see Utah Opera's production last night.  Don Giovanni (Joshua Hopkins) is a rake who spends most of his time trying to add to his considerable list of conquests with the help of his loyal servant, Leporello (Matthew Burns).  The opera opens with the attempted rape of Donna Anna (Melinda Whittington) by Giovanni.  Her father, the Commentadore (Richard Wiegold), challenges him and, in a struggle, Giovanni kills him.  Anna begs her fiancĂ©, Don Ottavio (Aaron Blake) to avenge her honor and her father's death.  Next, Giovanni and Leporello observe Donna Elvira (Caitlin Lynch) lamenting the fact that her lover has abandoned her and, realizing that she is talking about him, Giovanni mocks her mercilessly.  She vows revenge.  Finally, Giovanni openly attempts to seduce Zerlina (Sarah Coit) during her wedding, enraging the groom Masetto (Markel Reed) who also vows revenge.  As all of these characters attempt to exact justice, Giovanni is somehow able to elude them, most notably by having Leporello impersonate him while he attempts to seduce Elvira's maid.  Giovanni can't hide forever as the ghost of the Commentadore returns from the dead to accuse him and send him to hell.  The music of this opera is absolutely beautiful (Oh, how I love Mozart) and the Utah Symphony performs it brilliantly, from the dramatic opening notes of the Overture to the shattering conclusion.  All of the actors sing their roles with so much passion and I was especially impressed with Wiegold, who is quite terrifying in the final scene.  Director Kristine McIntyre, in an attempt to make this opera more accessible to audiences, modernized the setting and gave the production a film noir treatment.  The color palette is entirely black and white with very low lighting.  The action takes place on the streets of a big city and the men are portrayed as gangsters in dark suits, trench coats, and fedoras and the women are either victims or femme fatales in elegant dresses with full skirts.  Without a doubt, this is an amazing production which I highly recommend (there is only one performance left!) but, to be honest, I missed the grandeur of the original setting and I found the alternate ending to be a bit anticlimactic.  I sometimes think that directors underestimate their audience.  We don't necessarily need to have the material  dumbed down made more accessible to understand and enjoy the libretto.  But, what do I know?  My favorite staging of this opera is the Twyla Tharp version in the movie Amadeus.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Alien: Covenant

I walked into the theater last night with a little bit of trepidation.  I love the 1979 classic Alien because it scared me (I actually screamed out loud while watching it on TV) but I didn't especially like the 2012 installment Prometheus because it confused me and left too many questions unanswered.  Alien: Covenant skillfully combines elements from both movies and it was better than I expected.   Ten years after the events of Prometheus (and eighteen years before the events of Alien) a spaceship is traveling to the remote planet Origae-6 with thousands of colonists in stasis when the ship is damaged by a flare.  A synthetic android named Walter (Michael Fassbender) wakes up the crew but the captain is killed in the incident.  After the ship is stabilized, the crew picks up a radio transmission from a planet compatible with life that is much closer than Origae-6.  Acting Captain Oram (Billy Crudup) makes the decision to make a detour to the planet to investigate against the objections of Daniels (Katherine Waterston).  As they explore the planet, two crewmembers are "infected" with a spore resulting in aliens exploding from their chests which attack the rest of the crew.  They are rescued by the android David (Michael Fassbender) who has been living on the planet since the events of Prometheus.  There are scenes which expand upon the mythology of Prometheus but it ultimately becomes an intense, exciting, and bloody chase as the expendable crewmembers succumb one by one to the aliens until an epic confrontation aboard the ship.  Fassbender gives a brilliant performance as both of the androids because he imbues each character with subtle differences and some of the best scenes in the movie feature interactions between the two.  I'm not a huge fan of Waterston but she also delivers in this role.  The scenery on the planet is incredible (It was filmed at Milford Sound in New Zealand just weeks before I visited).  I liked the special effects with the aliens and the score is very effective at conveying a mood of terror.  It has flaws (there are still a lot of unanswered questions) but I think it is the best movie since the original and I definitely recommend it to fans of the franchise.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Will Rogers Follies at PTC

Because I have a rush pass to Pioneer Theatre, I can see the current production any time I want.  I planned to see The Will Rogers Follies on four different occasions but something always came up to change my plans (mostly spontaneous invitations to do other things).  I finally made it to the show last night and it was just delightful.  This extravagant musical tells the life story of Will Rogers (David M. Lutken), America's favorite humorist, as if it were a big song and dance production by Florenz Ziegfeld.  Rogers performs rope tricks, has a little bit of fun with politics (it is rather eerie how much the political situation today resembles that of Herbert Hoover), and sings and dances with a bevy of high-kicking showgirls.  Of course there are a few occasional comments from Mr. Ziegfeld himself (the voice of Donny Osmond) with suggestions to make the show more interesting for the audience, such as moving his wedding to Betty Blake (Lisa Brescia) to the end of Act 1 even though they had four children by this point in the story!  Lutken does an amazing job delivering bits of homespun wisdom (and he's not too shabby with a rope, either).  All of the big song and dance numbers are quite spectacular led by Ziegfeld's Favorite, Chryssie Whitehead, and an incredibly talented ensemble of dancers.  I was especially impressed with "Our Favorite Son."  The wranglers, who are very easy on the eyes, also really impressed me in "Give a Man Enough Rope."  The four children, Kimball Stinger, Ava Hoekstra, Nathan Eliason, and Mila Belle Howells, are absolutely adorable and just about steal every scene they are in.  Finally, the costumes are incredible!  It is worth the price of admission just for the costumes alone; however, there are lots of reasons why you should go see this show and the most important one is that it is just so much fun!  It runs at PTC until Saturday (go here for tickets).

Note:  Kudos to PTC for such a great season!  I have enjoyed every production immensely (I think my favorite would have to be King Charles III) and I am looking forward to next season as well (especially Bright Star).

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Everything, Everything

Last night my friend invited me to an advance screening of the movie Everything, Everything.  Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Nicola Yoon, it tells the story of Maddy Whittier (Amandla Stenberg), a 18-year-old girl with a disease called severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) which means she is never allowed to leave the inside of her house.  She is resigned to her fate and passes her time reading and taking architecture classes online.  One day her life changes when Olly Bright (Nick Robinson) moves next door and tries to befriend her through her window.  They begin communicating and, suddenly, Maddy is no longer content with her confined life inside.  She convinces her nurse to let Olly inside and she learns that he is just as isolated as she is because of an alcoholic father.  They fall in love and Maddy decides to risk her life to be with Olly because love is everything.  Everything.  This movie really works because both of the lead actors are so charismatic and they have great chemistry with each other.  In fact, I found their entire relationship to be incredibly sweet and, more importantly, authentic.  Having the two of them actually speak to each other inside of Maddy's architectural models when they are texting is a very clever and effective device.   I also found the relationship between Maddy and her mother (Anika Noni Rose) to be very compelling and Rose gives an affecting performance as a woman so afraid to lose her daughter that she becomes obsessed with her care.  Sometimes movies about teens with illnesses can be very melodramatic but the filmmakers did everything right in this movie.  I never felt sorry for Maddy because she didn't wallow in self-pity and I loved the scenes of her exploring the outside world for the first time.  Finally, the soundtrack is just about perfect.  I loved this movie and I highly recommend seeing it when it hits theaters on Friday!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Rugby!

This summer, instead of playing baseball, Sean has decided to play rugby!  He has been going to practices for the past few weeks and the season officially starts next Saturday.  I can hardly wait to watch him play because I've heard a rumor that he is fast!
I guess I better learn a little bit about rugby!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Guy Ritchie is a very idiosyncratic director.  All of his movies feature frenetic action sequences with pulse-pounding music underneath them and his protagonists are street-smart wise-cracking hoodlums with a crew of sidekicks.  This worked for me in both of his Sherlock Holmes movies and these elements are what worked for me in his new movie, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.  However, instead of his usual formula which would have made the story of Arthur into an entertaining movie, Ritchie added some strange elements of fantasy which made it into a convoluted and bloated mess.  The movie opens with a bewildering CGI battle sequence featuring giant elephants, under the control of the wizard Mordred, attacking King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana).  We learn that the King's brother Vortigen (Jude Law) is in league with Mordred and when the wizard is ultimately killed, Vortigen takes matters into his own hands and kills Uther himself to seize the throne (gaining power by a blood sacrifice to a strange octopus-like creature).  Uther's young son escapes to Londinium where he is raised in a brothel, becoming the aforementioned wise-cracking thug with his crew of misfits.  Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is eventually reunited with Uther's sword Excalibur, captured by Vortigen, and rescued by a witch who can control animals (Astrid Berges-Frisbey).  Arthur must learn to control Excalibur, in a strange sequence featuring rodent-like creatures, and then face Vortigen (who has made another blood sacrifice to the strange octopus) in an ultimate show-down involving a giant snake.  I really liked the music, the fun interactions between Arthur and his crew (who eventually become the Knights of the Round Table at the end of the movie), the stylized fight sequences between the crew and Vortigen's soldiers (known as blacklegs), and Jude Law's portrayal of Vortigen.  But it seems like Ritchie didn't know what kind of movie he was making with the inclusion of these ridiculous CGI fantasy sequences filled with monsters.  This movie is incredibly disjointed and confusing and I definitely recommend giving it a miss.

Note:  I am 0-2 in my movie selections this weekend.  I find it interesting that aside from Logan and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, I have been very underwhelmed by Hollywood blockbusters this year.  My favorites so far have all been independent films.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Circle

I am so glad it is the weekend!  It has been a rough couple of weeks because I've been trying to tie up some loose ends with student government before I turn everything over to the new advisor and I've been trying to motivate seniors who have completely shut down.  I need a weekend to recharge my batteries!  What I love most about the weekend is sleeping in late, reading until the wee hours of the morning, and seeing as many movies as I can.  This weekend started off with a late night screening of The Circle with my sister.  We both really wanted to see this movie because the premise seemed really intriguing.  Mae Holland (Emma Watson) is hired by an internet company called The Circle through a recommendation by a college friend (Karen Gillam) and soon catches the eye of founder Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) who recruits her for a new project called SeeChange.  Basically, Mae must wear a camera at all times and be transparent to the world about everything she sees and does.  She is warned by Ty Lafitte (John Boyega), the creator of SeeChange who now has reservations about how the data gleaned from the constant monitoring will be used.  At first I was completely engrossed in this movie and I enjoyed watching Mae get sucked in by the charismatic leader.  But then the message about privacy and limiting freedom got completely muddled by some giant plot holes and a bewildering ending.  What was Bailey's motivation for what he was doing in the Circle?  What was he hiding while forcing everyone around him to be transparent?  What was it that Mae exposed when she forced him to become transparent?  What happened to Bailey and the company after Mae exposed him?  What were her true feelings about transparency?  Why did her friend suddenly become disillusioned with the company?  Why did Ty lurk about in the shadows of the campus waiting for someone else to blow the whistle when he had all of the evidence needed to expose Bailey?  There is almost no character development in this movie and neither my sister nor I even understood what happened at the end.  Watson is fine in the role and Hanks gives a great performance as the cult-like leader but most of the other actors are terrible, especially Glenne Headly as Mae's mother.  This is not a very good movie and we were both pretty disappointed because it had so much potential but it was just what I needed to decompress after a long week.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Dinner

Another film on my never-ending list is The Dinner and I was able to cross it off last night.  Paul (Steve Coogan), a former history teacher with a history of mental illness, his long-suffering wife Claire (Laura Linney), his brother Stan (Richard Gere), a successful congressman currently running for governor, and Stan's second wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall) meet each other at an exclusive and unbelievably pretentious restaurant to talk about a family crisis involving their teenage sons.  The dinner is fraught with tension and as each course is elaborately served (and labeled with on-screen titles), a layer is removed revealing their incredibly dysfunctional family dynamic and we learn that their boys have committed a horrific crime and that each of them have differing opinions about how to deal with the situation.  Much of the film involves the characters hashing it out at the dinner table and in various locations within the restaurant but there are also quite a few flashbacks which, for the most part, effectively illustrate how the relationships have become so combative (Chloe Sevigny appears in flashbacks at Stan's first wife).  One of them, however, involving a visit by the two brothers to Gettysburg seemed to go on and on, belaboring the point that a house divided against itself cannot stand.  All of these characters are pretty unlikable, even the one character who advocates that they do the right thing ultimately wavers, but all four actors give incredibly nuanced performances (I was especially impressed by Hall).  The Dinner is not an easy film to watch (at one point I had to turn away while one person in my screening left at that same moment) and the ambiguous ending left me a bit unsettled but, since I haven't been able to stop thinking about it, I highly recommend it as a thought-provoking morality play.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Look at Those Guns!

Last weekend Tashena competed at the BYU Invitational track meet.  As the name implies, only the best of the best are invited to compete at this two-day meet.  Tashena was ranked fifth in the state of Utah, quite a feat for a sophomore.  She had a really rough two days because she failed to advance to the finals in any of her events (discus, shot put, javelin, and long jump).  In discus, her best event, she scratched on her first two throws and had a mediocre distance for her final throw.  I think she was nervous because she puts so much pressure on herself and this was a big meet.  It doesn't matter the outcome, I am still so incredibly proud of this girl!  Her next big competition in the state championship (which she qualified for at her first meet of the season) and I'm sure she will be even more determined than ever to do well!

Note:  Look at those guns!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Their Finest

Yesterday I spent the afternoon watching the charming and delightful film, Their Finest.  I saw this at the Sundance Film Festival this year and I enjoyed it so much I wanted to see it again in wide release.   In 1940 the Ministry of Information, Film Division, is trying to boost morale at home and convince America to enter the war during the London Blitz.  They hear of an inspiring story about two young girls who took their father's boat to rescue soldiers stranded at Dunkirk and decide to make a film about their heroism.  An advertising copywriter named Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is hired to write the "slop," or women's perspective, in the screenplay.  At first the other screenwriters Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) and Raymond Parfitt (Paul Ritter) are resentful of her involvement but they come to rely on her more and more and, of course, Catrin and Tom eventually develop feelings for each other.  There are some really somber scenes as almost every character deals with the effects of the nightly bombing during the Blitz (I don't know how people lived through the terror and uncertainty of the Blitz) but there are also some hilarious scenes when they begin filming on location, especially with the pompous actor Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy).  I have always been a big fan of Nighy but here he is at his most overwrought best.  He pretty much steals every scene he is in.  Both Arterton and Claflin give solid performances and I was very engaged with their romance, even upon a second viewing.  I recommend this film as a pleasant afternoon diversion.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

A Quiet Passion

Last night I went to see A Quiet Passion, an exquisite biopic about the life and work of Emily Dickinson.  We meet Emily as a young girl (played by Emma Bell) rebelling against the strict confines of her school, Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary.  Then she (played hereafter by Cynthia Nixon) returns to her home and family in Amherst, Massachusetts where she lives quietly and channels her overwhelming emotions into her poetry.  The story is told through a series of vignettes, mostly consisting of conversations with her stern father (Keith Carradine), her melancholy mother (Joanna Bacon), her brother Austin (Duncan Duff), her beloved sister Lavinia (Jennifer Ehle), her unconventional friend Vryling Buffum (Catherine Bailey), and her long-suffering sister-in-law Susan (Jodhi May), and a voice-over of Nixon reading Dickinson's poetry.  Because her life was so circumscribed, director Terence Davies imbues every single scene, even the most mundane shot of Emily sitting at her desk, with importance through beautiful composition and lighting.  My favorite moment in the whole film is a 360 degree shot which begins with Emily silently reading then circles the room showing members of her family spending a quiet evening in the drawing room and then returns to Emily in despair.  Nothing much is happening but it is beautifully shot and shows so much emotion.  Most of the film can be described in this way but it is incredibly moving and engrossing because of Nixon's astonishing performance.  She is able to convey all of Dickinson's innermost feelings with just an expression.  I loved this film because I am a fan of Emily Dickinson's poetry and I love character-driven biographies about complicated people but it is definitely not for everyone.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Rhapsody in Blue

It was standing room only at Abravanel Hall last night.  The Utah Symphony and guest conductor Kazuki Yamada performed a wildly entertaining concert featuring two quintessentially American composers as well as a quintessentially Russian one and I really enjoyed it.  The orchestra began with El Salon Mexico by Aaron Copland (which was particularly appropriate for Cinco de Mayo).  This piece is based on Mexican folk music and is meant to represent an imaginary dance hall full of dancing couples.  I thought it was lively, exuberant, and full of whimsy and it was a lot of fun to listen to it.  Next came the popular classical jazz piece Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin with pianist Benyamin Nuss.  A thrill went through the audience as we heard the instantly recognizable glissando from a solo clarinet (I have always thought that Tad Calcara, Utah Symphony's Principal Clarinet, would be right at home in a jazz band from the 1920s) and that feeling continued as the theme was repeated in various forms as the piece progressed.  Nuss was absolutely amazing and I honestly can't tell you what was more interesting to watch:  his fingers flying up and down the keyboard or Yamada hopping about on the podium!  After the intermission the orchestra played Scheherazade by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.  I didn't recognize this piece by name but as soon as I heard the big booming notes from the brass I remembered hearing it before.  I loved it!  I especially loved the beautiful theme repeated by a lone violin (Concertmaster Madeline Adkins played brilliantly) and a harp which is meant to represent Scheherazade beguiling her husband with tales of the Orient.  The various movements correspond, loosely, to The Thousand and One Nights and the music is incredibly dramatic.  When the piece ended, the man sitting next to me exclaimed, "That was beautiful!"  I certainly agree!  If you can get a ticket (there were very few empty seats last night) to tonight's performance of the same program, I highly suggest you do so (go here).

Friday, May 5, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Double Feature

I have been eagerly waiting for this double feature since I bought my ticket over a month ago (it is probably my most anticipated summer movie) and the day finally came yesterday!  I absolutely loved Guardians of the Galaxy and seeing it again on the big screen was so much fun!  I was reminded all over again why I loved it.  I really wanted Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 to be just as good and, in my opinion, it is but for different reasons.  In the first movie all of the characters are so fun and quirky but in the sequel I began to care about them.  Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) are up to their usual shenanigans as they try to save the galaxy yet again but this time all of them have unresolved issues which come into play.  I really enjoyed the character development and, while there are lots of comedic moments (Baby Groot dancing to ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky" just about killed me and Drax has some hilarious lines that made the audience in my packed screening laugh and cheer out loud), this movie is much more emotional and has more depth.  In fact, I think this movie is much more character-driven than plot-driven but it works for me because, like I mentioned, I became so much more invested in the characters.  The main story involves Quill forging a relationship with the father he never knew he had (Kurt Russell) but he eventually discovers that the Guardians are his real family.  I especially enjoyed the story arc with Yondu (Michael Rooker does such a good job in this role) and there were several moments when I had tears in my eyes.  I also really liked the dynamic between Gamora and her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan).  It goes without saying that the special effects are incredible making this movie a visual spectacle that is so much fun to watch and the music is fantastic, especially "The Chain" by Fleetwood Mac and "Come A Little Bit Closer" by Jay & The Americans.  I loved this movie and I had so much fun watching it with a rowdy crowd.

Note:  There are five mid-credits scenes!  The funniest one involves Groot as a teenager.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Utah Lake

In May of 2010 my family went for a camping weekend to Utah Lake State Park.  It is one of my favorite camping trips to date!
Sean posing by the lake (I can't believe how little he is!).
Tashena posing by the lake (she used to like posing for me!).
Hanging around the campsite!
S'mores!
Kayaking on the lake.  I have loved every minute that I have spent camping with my family!  It is so much fun to look back at these pictures when Sean and Tashena were so young!  I hope they have happy memories of camping!
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