Friday, October 21, 2016

Money Monster

Okay, I finally got to see Jodie Foster's film, Money Monster, last night on pay-per-view. I wanted to see it from the time I first saw the trailers at the movies.

Directed by Ms. Foster and produced by George Clooney, Money Monster is a tense drama, riveting to the end. In fact, it was time to feed the dogs, midway through the film. They sat begging at my feet, so I paused the video, got up, fed them, and went right back to watching, foregoing my own meal until after I watched the whole thing.

With an impressive cast and a talented director, this is one to see.

George Clooney stars as Lee Gates, the host of a television show called Money Monster, which uses hip dances and appropriately cheesy pop culture to give the viewers investment tips. Julia Roberts plays Patty Fenn, the longtime director of the program. Dominic West, a talented British import, excellent at playing the wealthy amoral man, plays Walt Camby, the owner of a corporation which lost $800 million dollars literally overnight and bankrupted many of the stockholders. Caitriona Balfe, of Outlander fame, plays his assistant, his mistress, and the one who suspects he was involved in the disappearance of the money. Long time character actor, Giancarlo Esposito, plays the police captain in charge of the SWAT team. Christopher Denham plays Ron Sprecher, whose comic misadventure makes him oblivious to the real danger. Lenny Venito plays Lenny, the cameraman, brave enough to follow all the action.

And last, but certainly not least, Jack O'Connell plays Kyle Budwell, a disgruntled investor who lost all his money by following Gates' advice to buy stock from the company of Dominic West. Wiped out of his meager fortune, he sneaks into the studio as a delivery man while the show is live on the air. He makes it into the studio, pulls out a gun and a vest with a bomb on it. He takes over the studio on live tv and demands Gates put on the vest and explain what happened to his $60,000.

A consummate professional, Patty (Roberts) deftly gives Gates' instructions in his earphone while directing security personnel to call NYPD.

Naturally the situation deteriorates from there with the police wanting to storm the studio and take out Budwell and possibly Gates if the bomb goes off in the melee. Patty starts releasing all nonessential personnel in the background, allowing them to leave the building.

Meanwhile the broadcast is still live. People all over the world are watching and a couple of them are involved. People all over NYC are glued to their devices watching the live drama unfold. When Budwell takes Gates out to the streets, all the while being broadcast by Lenny, the brave cameraman, the situation gets even worse. In the background Diane Lester (Balfe) conducts her own investigation of the stock fall and finds some irregularities. She speaks to people all over the world to find out what really happened.

The film grabs your attention as the people race to find the solution and save Gates.  He understands Budwell and begins to bond with him. Gates has to face some hard facts about himself, learning a painful lesson about his life. Budwell turns out to be a sympathetic character forced by the desperation of his circumstances to act as he has.

The film races to its surprising conclusion and the viewer is left feeling like you've run a marathon...i.e. stunned and drained of energy.

It didn't get great reviews when it was released, but when has that ever stopped me?

This one is a gem filled with good actors, a meticulous director, and a taut script. It also got me thinking about my upcoming inheritance and how NOT to invest it...sigh, reality bites, you know?

Until next time, take care and enjoy our rich and varied pop culture...

Saturday, October 15, 2016

I sold my mother's jewels today

Thirteen years after her death and ten months after my dad's I finally sold my mother's jewelry today. Both of my parents wanted me to have the jewelry. In fact the day after Mom's funeral, Dad trotted it all out, informing me it was mine.  He was happy to do it, even smiling. He didn't understand when I said I didn't want it.

He kept pushing and pushing until I yelled at him. "I want my mother not the blasted jewelry!" His face took on the puzzled expression I would see more frequently as he slipped into dementia.

Knowing he'd just lost his wife and would never understand anyway, I gathered up the jewelry and packed it away for my return trip to Texas.

Thus began the saga of my mother's jewelry. He asked if I wanted him to place her large solitaire diamond ring with a local broker to sell and I agreed. After a few months it sold. So I didn't have to see it or think about it. The rest I plunked in a safe deposit box and ignored. Once I went and got out a couple of rings and a diamond bracelet for a role I was playing in a current production. Other than that, I never wore it.

I probably sound like a brat. Maybe I am, but here's the and the pursuit of it ruined my family. My entire life my parents were all about money. I understand why. They were both children of the depression who grew up in genteel poverty.  Both of my grandfathers worked when others didn't. My mother's father worked construction in Miami at a time when the resort was beginning to boom. My father's father worked in law enforcement, so he always had a job. But he had six children to feed. In my mom's family there were three daughters.

Money or lack thereof was a frequent topic of discussion in their respective homes. They came to think with money they would always be safe and free of fear. Of course they were both taught otherwise frequently as adults but clung to their core belief. It was the only refuge they knew.

As a child I recognized the emptiness of pursuing wealth. I never wanted to drive a new Cadillac every year, sparkle with jewels, or wear dead animals on my back. I grew up to be a hippie. People were more important to me and I ended up in social work. My values were opposite of both my parents. I worked for the poor, the neglected, the abused, and the exploited. I went places law enforcement wouldn't go, at times knowing my life was in danger. But I went anyway because those people needed an advocate.

My parents aged and Dad retired, no longer the "big wheel" he once had been, and smarting from it. They were at a loss in retirement. Dad played golf in his expensive country club neighborhood. My mother, always shy, mostly stayed home, seeing few friends, and drinking more until she got so sick she didn't drink at all. She never connected well with people except by being the richest one in the group. Where they lived their last years everyone was on their economic level, some even higher. Her life crumbled around her. She shrank into herself and into a bourbon or vodka bottle, her diamond rings flashing as she lifted the glass to her lips for another drink.

Bedfast for seven months, gradually she put away all her fancy jewelry, wearing only her wedding rings until the day before she died. She asked Dad to put them away finally.

All of Dad's accoutrements of wealth went the same way during the ten years I was his caregiver. One by one everything slipped away. He was no longer able to physically play golf. He finally agreed to sell his beloved Cadillac, couldn't figure out how to change the time on his Rolex and wore his beloved golf clothes which hung on his much smaller frame. The last time he wore them was the last time he went to the hospital. He was wearing them when they wheeled him into the ER. He stayed there over a week and went to hospice care. The rest of his life he wore pajamas.

He was called before the homeowner's association board for the condition of his yard. He shuffled into the meeting in a stained jacket, one of his golf hats and one of his ensembles for the golf course. He was sadly arrogant, a ghost of the man he had been. He laughed at the board with scorn, saying "you don't know who I am. You can't do anything to me." They gave him a deadline to fix the dollar weed problem or face fines. He walked out of there, the shadow of the international vice president he had been, a satisfied smirk on his face. The next day he had forgotten about it, his own perceived victory vanished into what was left of his mind. I arranged for the treatments to the yard and wrote the checks to pay them.

Their house has long since sold to a new family who did extensive renovations. Dad is buried beside Mom at a local cemetery. All the things which were their benchmark for the success of their lives are dispersed.

I sold a few pieces of Mom's jewelry when we had the estate sale. Someone bought them for his wife. They had an important anniversary coming up. The woman who ran the sale said he was thrilled. I'm glad. I hope she enjoys them.

I didn't sell the rest of her jewelry while Dad was alive. I didn't want to hurt him. He'd lost so much already.

Earlier this week, a local jeweler announced they were setting appointments for buying jewelry. So I made one,drove out there this morning and sold everything I brought. They didn't pay much. I didn't expect them to. For all the baubles, rings, bracelets, a diamond heart shaped pendant, and a Baume & Mercier gold and diamond watch, I got ten cents on the dollar. That's okay. I'll use the money I got to pay expenses for Dad's estate, still not settled.

Our family life was what it was. I accepted it and went my own way, knowing I couldn't change anything.
Today I grieved once more for my lost parents.

Freed of the burden of the jewelry, I thought I'd feel better, but I am numb.

It will pass.

Until next time when I promise another movie review, take care...blessed be.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Westworld - HBO

The original film, Westworld, opened in 1973 taken from work by Michael Crichton, known in those days for his books such as The Andromeda Strain.

After months of advertising and teaser clips, HBO premiered their new much-anticipated limited series. The first episode of the series Westworld aired last night in the coveted time slot True Blood once occupied.

It starts out with background staff of the amusement park known as Westworld investigating some unanticipated malfunctions in the robotic units, known as hosts to the visitors at the park. The action switches to a scene between Ed Harris, playing The Man in Black, Evan Rachel Wood, playing Dolores Abernathy, and James Marsden, playing Teddy Flood.

The scene is a tease. Marsden has been followed by the camera from the beginning, giving the impression he is a visiting guest. The hosts are not able to kill the guests, their guns do not function when pointed at a human being. However in a confrontation with the Man in Black over Dolores Abernathy, Teddy Flood, whose shots were ineffective against his adversary is "murdered." The unaffected Man in Black drags a screaming Dolores into a barn where he shuts the door as the screaming intensifies. Then it's the next morning, Dolores is walking around the town with a smile on her face as she greets Teddy who is all hale, hearty, and also smiling. They have no memory of the night before.

Get the picture? Westworld is an amusement park for the very rich and salacious segment of the human population. When humans come to Westworld, they are free to do whatever they wish to the hosts. The hosts on the other hand may never harm a human. Even the horses, dogs, cows, etc are robotic doubles of biologicals.

Uh huh.  The advertising slogan for the 1970s movie, was "Westworld, where nothing can go worrngg."

In the original, the androids revolted and massacred the guests not only in Westworld, but in two other adjoining parks with similar themes. Two guests, played by Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner, managed to outwit The Man in Black, played by Yul Brynner as a gunfighter in the same all black outfit he'd worn in The Magnificent Seven thirteen years before. He was one of the androids determined to kill the pair. He followed them until he was finally incapacitated and could no longer move, thus allowing their escape. (I fell in love with him when I was six years old and some neighbors took me to see The King and I, the big movie that year. Bless him that man had GRAVITAS...)

From the first episode of the HBO series, I sense this one is going to be much darker, more malevolent than the original.

It's eerie and evocative with lots and lots of completely naked hosts, all shapes, all sizes, all ages. Lots of shots in one scene of unclothed hosts sitting on stools taken from behind, their derrieres unflatteringly displayed. (Just imaging mine displayed that way made me put away the sugar free chocolate!) In the first episode, very little was not shown, particularly on the men. So this probably isn't something for young impressionable children to watch.

There was the usual statement about nudity and sexual situations so trust the disclaimers on this one.

There is also some graphic violence depicted with the "guests" cheering and guffawing as they shoot down the hosts one by one in horrendous, blood spurting gore.

After one particularly brutal scene, I thought "yep, I know where this is going..."

Anthony Hopkins plays Dr. Robert Ford the creator of the citizens of Westworld.  He is seen, an amiable Geppetto, examining one of his creations while he and Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) examine a malfunctioning unit. The host has developed "reveries" or gestures which he was not programmed to do. They decide the gestures may be a precursor to more unlearned behavior, or in other words, trouble.

I have my thoughts on what will happen, but I'll save them for the end of the series. Let's see if I'm correct. Knowing HBO, they'll have some twists in this one, no one expects.

Filmed on location in Utah, the scenery is breathtaking, a true picture of the old west. The wooden town is surrounded on all sides with sand, scrub vegetation and majestic mesas.

Just remember this is the place where nothing can go "worrngg."


Friday, September 23, 2016

The Magnificent Seven

I went to the movies at the local multiplex this morning to make the 10:00 showing of the latest version of The Magnificent Seven.

Okay, I know you may have read or heard some reviews of this remake which were mediocre at best. But you know me. I'm never about tearing down any one's creation. As a classical singer, an actor, a theatrical director, a voice-over artist, and a dancer (in my youth) as well as an author now, I appreciate just how hard everyone has to work to bring together a creation. The result may not be Shakespeare, but if it entertains, it serves it's purpose.

That being said I enjoyed this version, even though the original 1960s film is one of my all-time favorite westerns, right up there with My Darling Clementine, High Noon, and The Gunfight at the OK Corral. I'm not talking Lonesome Dove here...the saga of Texas remains first in my yellow rose Longhorn-loving heart.

This new version of The Magnificent Seven, like the first one, is based on the story lines of Kurosawa's masterpiece The Seven Samurai.

This version has a much more diverse cast than either of its predecessors. The main cast list is as follows:

Denzel Washington as Chisolm - licensed bounty hunter and law enforcement officer
Chris Pratt as Faraday - a card playing gunslinger/lover boy with very fast hands
Ethan Hawke as Goodnight Robicheaux - the greatest sniper for the Confederacy, a legend
Vincent D'Onofrio as Jack Horne - a mountain of a man who is as efficient at killing as Bible quotations
Byung Hun Lee as Billy Rocks - an Asian adept at knives as well as guns (you may remember him as the master assassin in Red 2)
Martin Sensmeier as a Comanche named Red Harvest. (more about him in a bit.)
Haley Bennett as Emma Cullen - the young woman who hires the seven & in this one participates in the final battle
Peter Sarsgaard as Bartholomew Bogue - the wealthy villain of the piece

The cast makes a tight ensemble who work seamlessly together. Each individual fits in so well, they work as a cohesive unit.

The story in brief - A small town in the mountains of California has been overtaken by a robber baron who took over because of the gold in the surrounding mountains. He has built a mine and is reaping profits. Finally, he decides he wants the townsfolk gone. He and his men interrupt a church service. Surrounded by hired bad guys with guns, knives, etc. The town's citizens are mostly cowed. A few stand up to Bogue and are killed in cold blood for their defense of their rights. One of the victim's is Ellen Cullen's husband. The town was there first. Later upon witnessing Chisolm killing a wanted man in the saloon, Ellen Cullen comes to him and asks him to save their little town. He's not interested until she tells him the real villain's name. Chisolm, who has history with Bogue, decides to help her. With Ellen and her brother in tow, they go out and recruit "the seven." Quite a tale in itself.

The actors portraying members of  "the seven" do an excellent job creating their roles. You really root for them. Alas, as in the original script all but three of them are killed in the cataclysmic climax. So all is not happy in the end. Considering the size of the force attacking them, it's amazing any of them survive.

Vincent D'Onofrio, a favorite actor of mine - a method actor, who disappears into his roles, was a standout as a bear of a man.

Also newcomer Martin Sensmeier was a revelation. Descended from Alaskan and Northwestern Native Americans and Irish forefathers, he has a body like a Navy SEAL. In real life he is an advocate for fitness for young people of Native American heritage, as well as an ambassador for Boys and Girls Clubs of the USA. I heard the director interviewed on NPR yesterday. He said when he interviewed Sensmeier for the role of Red Harvest, the actor had long hair. But when he was cast he had cut his hair short. So the director looked up info on the Comanche people (the character he portrayed) and found the men sometimes wore a Mohawk style. So they shaved his head leaving the hair in a shortened version of the famous Mohawk. With his face painted fierce red, black, and white, he was a frightening spectacle, but an honorable man. Also, he was shirtless for the entire film...just sayin' girls.

The worst part of this film was the absurd number of horses thrown, flipped, or made to fall over in this one. Sigh...I don't approve, even if it's realistic, I'm an animal rights' advocate. I looked away from those scenes.

But other than that, this was a fast-moving entertaining film. The only thing missing for me was the incredible theme of the 1960s version.  Well guess what? That's the cover music for the end credits. As we Texans are known to say AWWWWWW RIIIIIGHT!!!

If you are fond of the original film, you'll enjoy this prepared to weep for some of the lost heroes.

Until next time...

Take Her Breath Away - The Lincolnville Mystery Series, Book 4 by Kathryn J. Bain

Romantic suspense noted author, Kathryn J. Bain has released her new novel, entitled Take Her Breath Away. This is the fourth book in her popular Lincolnville Mystery Series. She's done it again with a well-written novel of suspense and intrigue.

This is the story of Rayleene Davenport and her estranged husband, Ty who become embroiled in a world of drugs and danger.

When Ty is shot in the line of duty, Rayleene reluctantly offers to take care of him while he recuperates. Due to his status as an undercover cop, identity which is compromised after his injury, it is imperative for both of them to disappear.

They hide in small town Georgia where they have a cabin unknown to most of their friends. Rayleene takes care of him but doesn't warm to him. She's has evidence he broke the vows of their marriage and cheated on her. Rayleene has her own secret, one that could prove to be deadly for them both. They are each uncomfortable thrown together in such familiar and close quarters.

As they work their way through their damaged relationship, danger comes calling when shots are fired into the cabin. Later she is attacked on the street back in Atlanta and someone she loves is killed.

The peril builds to an exciting climax...

If you like a good mystery, this is the book for you. I devoured it, literally couldn't put it down. Ms. Bain gives us another memorable work, filled with intrigue, danger, and healing, a heady combination.

Check out this great story, available from today.

For the Kindle edition
For the paperback edition

Until next time...

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Award Winning Author!!

First I have to apologize for not writing most of this month. My PC was acting up and then out of commission altogether. But it's back now and so am I.

Forgive me also for sounding my own horn, but I wanted to share with you my big news.

Swept Away, Book 2 in my Touch the Sky series won First Place in the Historical Romance category in the 2016 Heart of Excellence Readers Choice contest.

I am told I can now call myself an "Award Winning Author." Who'd-a-thunk-it?

A novelist's life is a solitary one, at least when we're writing. You sit before your computer in the place you are most comfortable writing and stare at the screen for awhile until you decide how to best say what you want to say...

We all work differently, according to our nature. Some authors plan everything to the last detail before they start writing. Some of us have a vague idea of where we're going with the story, then sit down and start the screen staring bit.

I'm definitely the latter type and my blog posts are completely extemporaneous (or off-the-cuff.) It's fun for me to work this way, keeps me alert and interested.

Oh, there are times when I have to research for the story. For Swept Away, my research included life in Norfolk, Virginia in 1837; Members of the Powatan tribe in those days; a bit of the Powatan language; and literally everything about wooden sailing ships design.  You see, there are several merchant ships figuring in the story, a pirate or two, and a British Royal Navy ship. I had to determine the route taken to Casablanca from London. On the way two of the ships stopped separately off the Iberian Peninsula by a Spanish village of fishermen. Fortunately, I speak passable Spanish, so no research was required there...

All of these things put the pictures of my story in my mind and hopefully in the minds of the readers. It makes the tale vivid. It makes it a movie. Now I grant you there are lots of historical mistakes in most movies, but hopefully not in my novels.

Just when I was confident about my knowledge of merchant ships in those days, steamships were created in 1838-1840. So my upcoming book 3 of the same series, His Wicked Lady has everybody traveling faster because they are traveling by steamships - no more following the prevailing winds and adding months to the trip. Foster Shipping is a most forward-thinking company!

I want to thank the readers of my blog who put up with my nonsense. My following isn't huge like some authors have.  But I am proud to announce I've got over 21,000 views over the life of the blog.

I hope you all keep coming back.

Have a good day, free of politics, and a warring cable company who turned everything on my tv pink today. Don't ask...

I watched dvds on which the color is perfect this morning...Just got season 4 of Longmire, one of my all-time favorite series AND Captain America: Civil War. HooHah!!

For some reason my usual political talk shows just aren't the same in pink...They're hysterical that way, but bother my eyes. I mean I like pink but not so much of it...

Thanks for letting me blather on.  Have a great day, free of tropical storms and pink Donald Trumps.

I need some coffee...

Take care.

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Sea of Trees

Last night I survived Hurricane Hermine with my little dogs. It was the first Florida hurricane in my memory, although I did make it through at least two others in Miami as a small child.  Those storms were so long ago I have no memories of them.

Hermine turned out to be mostly bluster in my part of Jacksonville. We didn't lose power, didn't get much rain, but had lots of wind from midnight until about 10 this morning. Of course the aftermath of the storm still has us with intermittent winds of 20-30 mph with gusts of 45 mph.  Needless to say, I thought about getting out and going somewhere, but common sense prevailed. So I stayed in and searched for a movie to watch on pay-per-view.

Thus, I found "The Sea of Trees", an atmospheric, enigmatic film starring Matthew McConaughey, Ken Watanabe, and Naomi Watts. This one is also in limited release in theaters right now.

It's the story of Arthur Brennan (McConaughey) a science professor at a college in New England.  His wife Joan (Naomi Watts) is constantly sniping at him, disappointed in his lack of ambition. She is a successful realtor and pays most of the bills.

As the story begins, he parks in an airport parking lot, leaves his car unlocked with the keys on the seat, and shuffles into the terminal. Like an automaton he goes through the process of checking in for his flight to Japan. On the plane he refuses anything to eat or drink. On arrival, he takes a taxi to a train station and boards the bullet train. The older Japanese couple sitting across from him watch him with apprehension.  You see this train makes a stop near Aokigahara (The Sea of Trees) - also known as the Suicide Forest.

In case you've missed stories about The Sea of Trees, it is a forest at the foot of Mt. Fuji. For generations, Japanese citizens have gone to those woods to commit suicide. It is reported to be haunted with the souls of those who took their lives there.

When Brennan arrives at the forest entrance, he enters and begins trekking deeper into the woods. He runs across Takumi Nakamura (Watanabe) battered with cuts, bruises, and leaking wrists from a failed suicide attempt. Nakamura has apparently changed his mind. He asks Brennan to help him as he is lost and cannot find his way out. So Brennan bandages Nakamura's wrists and shows him the way.

But something is wrong, Brennan was certain he knew the way out, but he cannot find the path to the exit. While they stumble through the thick forest and the bodies of successful suicides in various states of decomposition, he has flashbacks of his recent life and what led him to The Sea of Trees.

Does this sound like a horror movie to you? I can see where it would, but it isn't. It's a journey of discovery born of loss.

The ending is lovely. What can I say? I'm a sucker for spirituality and the healing it can bring.

The biggest surprise for me in the film is that it was filmed in Massachusetts, even the scenes for The Sea of Trees. They had some long shots of Mt. Fuji, but the rest was made in New England.

I have always loved Ken Watanabe, he is a talented actor capable of playing any part. McConaughy has proven his talent, especially in recent years.  He was incredible in "Dallas Buyers Club." Naomi Watts is a talented actress who has played many different kinds of roles. They form a powerful triumvirate of actors who bring life to these characters.

Maybe I'm coming down off the high of surviving the hurricane with relative ease, who knows? This film affected me more than any film I've seen in the last few months, at least.

Available on pay-per-view, at least on Comcast, and in limited theatrical review, it's worth a bit of work to find it in your area.

This one will stay with you for a while.

Until next time, take care, and avoid big blowhards with fancy French names!!!