Friday, February 29, 2008

Cool Chick: Reese Witherspoon


Reese Witherspoon's production comapny, Type A films, reflects a truth about this blonde dynamo many of us know. She will not, cannot fail. She won't give up. She has two kids that she manages to be raising in a mostly-sane way in an insane environment, she doesn't appear to rely too heavily on nannies, bodyguards, or a huge entourage, and she's charming and gracious. That's a Steel Magnolia for you (born in Louisiana, raised in Tennessee).

I don't think I've ever seen a bad picture of her--she's always impeccably dressed--but you don't hate her for it. It's probably that sunny smile of hers. Who elese could make Elle Woods so endearing, Becky Sharp so sympathetic, or June Carter Cash so human?

Oh, and go see Penelope. She's adorable in it, and the girl-power theme of this fairy tale will leave you smiling. Plus, James McAvoy is h.o.t.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Books and Cooks: False Impression



This is the second Archer page-turner we've selected--the first being Kane and Abel--and it was a snack of a book. I ate it in a few hours, actually. It's extremely fast-paced. The entire action takes place in the week or so following the September 11 attack. The heroine, Anna Petrescu, is a Czech refugee all grown up to be an art historian working for a slimeball. Said slimeball is working a scheme to cheat (and murder, if necessary) an English Lady out of priceless Van Gogh. When the towers come down, Anna uses the temporary chaos to cover her tracks and help the Lady save her Van Gogh and her estate. Too bad the FBI thinks she's a crook, and that slimeball is sending a trained knife-wielding assassin after her.

It's a fun read, and you pick up quite a bit of information about the international art world as you go. Seeing some Van Goghs up close at MOMA after finishing this book was a nice grace note. The writing isn't the cleanest or best, but if you're looking for entertainmnent, it'll fill the bill. For real meat about the art world, dust off your copy of Janson and have at it.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

NYC Saturday: Theater Gal

Aside from the fact that my boots are not made for walkin'--at least, not on all this concrete all the time (the things we do to keep warm and stay marginally in fashion)--I am loving this trip to New York.

Tonight was special for another reason, since I got the chance to hook up with a former student of mine. He's the stage manager for the Take Wings and Soar production of Medea, presented at the National Black Theatre in Harlem. So, workshop day, ride the subway, chat and have some terrific soul food on MLK, Jr. Blvd. in Harlem, and a really good live stage show. Not bad for a whirlwind trip, I must say!

Home tomorrow. Can't say I'll miss the cold, though. I may have to break down and buy a $5 pashmina from a street vendor, assuming I can find one when I'm ready to buy. Slippery suckers are never around when you're looking for them.

Friday, February 22, 2008

NYC Friday: Night at the Museum

Today was an awesome day in the Big Apple! First, we woke up to three inches of snow on the ground! Pretty cool stuff for this Florida gal. I haven't been in serious snow for years. All the natives were probably annoyed at the snow-eating grin on my face. Got some nice pix, so that was good.

Props to my favorite French store, Targét, for sponsoring free Friday night at the Museum of Modern Art. This is my fourth trip to New York, but I've never been able to get to MOMA until now. Thank you, thank you for the opportunity to see this up close:

And this:

(If for no other reason than Ian Falconer excerpted it in Olivia, one of DD's favorite books)

And this:

(Because Wyeth freakin' rocks, and he did this in egg tempera, which is dastardly tricky to use, and it's so detailed you could stare at it for an hour and still find something new to be awed about.)

Plus, they have a Slinky and Legos in the design collection. That is one cool museum. Must go back.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Big Apple Bound!

Off in the a.m. for a three-day workshop in NYC (oh, the agony). Loose on a weekend with no kids--just adult conversation, museums, theater, etc. I suppose I'll muddle through somehow. I'll admit, though, it would be more fun to bring along DH, but he'll have to wait for next time. :-(

I'll post some pics when I get back. Off to pack!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Classy Dame: Judi Dench


Like Helen Mirren, Dame Judi is a Dame (Order of the British Empire). Hugely talented, gets nominated for Oscars about as often as I sneeze, a real hoot. She was married to Michael Williams for 30 years, until his death, and said "We were just happy to be in the room together." (Don't you want to be able to say that about your marriage?) Love the fact that she's the new 'M' in James Bond movies. And she's petite. If her personality is anything like Mrs. Laura Henderson in Mrs. Henderson Presents, I totally want to hang out in a pub with this woman. Nah. I totally want to hang out with her anyway.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Phyllis Whitney, RIP

I was surprised to read in today's RWA eNotes that longtime author Phyllis A. Whitney--she retired from writing at 94!--died last Thursday, February 8, at age 104 (read the NYT obit here). Ms. Whitney's Guide to Fiction Writing--out of print, but available on the resale market--was one of the first useful writing reference books I ever read. (As an aside, the first writing reference book I ever bought was Dwight Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer, which I found about as helpful and palatable as styrofoam packing peanuts.)

If you love a good ol' Gothic romance, complete with a heroine-in-peril, a creepy house, and an inscrutable male who may be the hero but is as likely to be the villain, then you owe it to yourself to pick up a Whitney. What I respect about her books is the incredible sense of place she creates in each one. Ms. Whitney was born in Japan and grew up overseas in her early years, and she traveled throughout her life. Every new place she went, she set a book that fairly breathed the environment. Check out Sedona's red rocks in Vermilion or Palm Beach's famed Mar-a-Lago in Poinciana to see what I mean. I also learned a lot about little things from her books. Like Dick Francis (another favorite), Whitney had the ability to slip in research about a mind-boggling range of subjects without your ever feeling that you were reading boring encyclopedic prose.

What I ended up liking most about her, though was her optimism and cheerful spirit regarding the writing life. Whitney's Guide is stuffed with practical information, well-seasoned with nudges any aspiring author would appreciate.
“Never mind the rejections, the discouragement, the voices of ridicule (there can be those too),” she wrote in Guide to Fiction Writing. “Work and wait and learn, and that train will come by. If you give up, you’ll never have a chance to climb aboard.” (quote from the NYT obit)

I'm still waiting for the train. Thanks for the reminder that I have a ticket.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Best Romantic Movies

It's only fair that if I crack on the worst romantic movies of all time, I have to cough up a list of the best. Presented for your approval, my selected list. For now. I know there's something I've left off.
  • Notting Hill - Just about pitch perfect. How can you not love a soundtrack that starts off with Elvis Costello? Hugh Grant is at his stammering best as William, the owner of an unsuccessful travel bookshop, and Julia Roberts plays the most famous actress in the world (for once, not a stretch for her). Great chemistry, fun screenplay, excellent secondary characters. Run go get it.
  • Dave - Kevin Kline showing off his amazing comic gifts and Sigourney Weaver playing the straight woman with a terrible voice. Plus, Ving Rhames and his impeccable one-liner timing. I love love and I love politics, so this one is great fun.
  • The American President - This is a terrific screenplay chock full of great lines (check the memorable quotes on IMDb--too many to list here; I could go on all day)--thank you, Aaron Sorkin! Michael Douglas and Annette Bening are the Chief Executive and his new girlfiend. Let's just say sleepovers are a completely different thing when you're talking about the President's bedroom.
  • Amélie - Magical realism meets true love. Audrey Tatou is adorable as a matchmaking café waitress who yearns for a love of her own. This is also the inspiration for Travelocity's gnome, but don't worry--it's cute.
  • When Harry Met Sally - Yes, you can be friends, and no, the sex doesn't have to ruin things. Director Rob Reiner's mom utters the most classic line: "I'll have what she's having." The gold standard for 80s romantic comedies.
  • Romancing the Stone - Normally I loathe the term "bodice-ripper," but it's okay here--this is a bodice-ripper with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Kathleen Turner is Joan Wilder, a romance novelist who's scared of her own shadow. Then the disappearance of her sister forces her into a plotline worthy of her bestselling, pot-boiling books. Michael Douglas is the cad who turns out to be a hero. A favorite of most romance writers for so many reasons.
  • The Notebook - Giving credit where it's due, this man-romance by Nicholas Sparks is a wonderful tale about the healing and transformative power of love. James Garner walks into a hospital room and begins telling a tale of true love to Gena Rowlands. Have that box of tissues ready.
  • Love, Actually - Love in its many messy forms. Lust, marriage, family, unrequited, porn (trust me, there's love there), first crushes, finding a new love after heartbreak. Plus, the Prime Minister dancing around to the Pointer Sisters. Fabulous.
  • Must Love Dogs - A love story for grownups! New love can bloom even if you're over 40 and have your quirks. Like a 150-lb. Newfoundland. John Cusack is still the guy we swoon over (I could put Say Anything and High Fidelity on the list, too), Diane Lane the luminous fortysomething we women of a certain age aspire to be.
  • Pride and Prejudice - Watch the A&E version for fidelity and the new Joe Wright film for the swoon factor. Colin Firth is the ultimate Mr. Darcy, but Matthew MacFadyen in the new film does a beautiful job showing his uncontrollable reaction to the inimitable Elizabeth Bennet. The ladies (Jennifer Ehle and Kiera Knightley) aren't bad, either.
  • Chocolat - Johnny Depp. France. Seduction. Chocolate. Anything more you need to know?
  • Music and Lyrics - Hilarious if you grew up in the 80s, and charming and sweet even if you didn't. Hugh Grant plays the forgotten member of a superstar 80s group (think Andrew Ridgeley of Wham!) who's been picked by the tartlet du jour to pen her a hit song. Trouble is, he's a terrible lyricist. Enter Drew Barrymore, cute, flaky, and a genius with pop lyrics. Great soundtrack of singable tunes. Adorable!
  • The Princess Bride - I just realized I have three Rob Reiner films on the list, and this is the best of a very good bunch (he also directed The American President and When Harry Met Sally). "Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles..." That, and the kiss that leaves them all behind. Everyone at my house adores this movie.
I know I've left a multitude of classics out, like It Happened One Night and My Man Godfrey and The African Queen and Casablanca and Sabrina and Roman Holiday and The Philadelphia Story and and and...but this is a limited, off the top of my head list. (Thanks to cigi and the Puffs for their suggestions!) So, which ones did I forget?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Worst Romantic Movies?

I have to admit to several giggles when reading Kim Morgan's "Loathe, Actually"--a rundown of the 10 most disappointing, yet still beloved, "classic" romantic comedies. Now I'm not saying I haven't seen all of these (I have) or fallen for them (yep, cried buckets at several), or don't own (I taped, bought, or was given half this list), but Ms. Morgan made some valid points about some of them with which I concur. You'll have to read the whole article for all the reasons why these are Ms. Morgan's bottom ten, but here's my take on these titles:
  • Pretty Woman - Like nearly everyone in the world at the time, I really enjoyed this movie. Originally, this had a much darker ending, but Garry Marshall doesn't do drama, so there you go. But seriously--a tycoon falling in love with the prostitute? I think not. And that last line--"She rescues him right back"--is one of the worst in the history of screenplays.
  • The Way We Were - I'm sorry, there is no circumstance in which I can buy Barbra Streisand as a romantic lead. She pretty much ruined The Prince of Tides for me, too, and I adore that book.
  • Sleepless in Seattle - I liked this one, but I have to agree with Kim Morgan about the An Affair to Remember effect--that is not a universal female response. I've seen AATR, and I didn't cry at the end. Not one single drop, and I'm usually a drippy wuss-bag at the end of rom-coms.
  • You've Got Mail - Ms. Morgan forgot to mention that this is a modern adaptation of The Shop Around the Corner starring Margaret Sullavan and Jimmy Stewart. Some things should just be left alone, and in black and white.
  • Ghost - Cried my eyes out over this one (redemption themes usually get me), but I have to agree that the famous pottery scene was way over the top. If they can spoof it in a Naked Gun movie, it's probably a bit much. They should have taken the writing advice to kill that darling, and quick.
  • Love Story - Blech. Blech, blech, blech. Read the book, and it was blech, too. But it's adored, probably in the way The Bridges of Madison County and the entire Nicholas Sparks catalog are: it's heartbreaking (she dies), but a man wrote it, so it's romaaaaaaaantic. Puh-leeze.
  • While You Were Sleeping - I like this one. Probably because it's the first rom-com ever where Bill Pullman gets the girl. I'm a sucker for the underdog.
  • My Big Fat Greek Wedding - Like this one, too, as anyone with a seriously weird family can attest. Yes, it's clichéd, but did it occur to Ms. Morgan that it's supposed to be a farce? Does the word hyperbole mean anything to you?
  • Four Weddings and a Funeral - The best relationship in this one is Gareth and Matthew, and the most touching moment is the funeral. I kinda like Andie MacDowell--girl's got spunk, even if she couldn't act her way out of a paper bag--but her line reading of "Is it raining? I hadn't noticed." is one of the worst in the history of acting.
  • Dirty Dancing - Escapist fare for all of us who were the awkward girls at the school dance, but it's okay if you put Baby in the corner. She's kind of a brat.
I'd add a few others to the list. Which ones would you pick?

Saturday, February 09, 2008

A Little About Talent

One of my favorite cartoons used to be Kudzu, drawn by the wonderful and infuriating Doug Marlette. Marlette, who died in a car crash last year, had a gift for pissing nearly everyone off with his political cartoons, which means that he got it. I was perusing his website yesterday, doing some research for my AP class, and came across this breathtaking bit of wisdom regarding creativity:
Practice, practice, practice. It's hard to get worse at something if you practice. But talent is not enough. Talent is not creativity, just as a seed is not a crop. you have to till the soil, plant the seed, work it, water it, harvest it. Creativity is hard work.
Yep. That stings. Okay, I admit it. Admit to the talent, and admit to neglecting it. Talent won't bloom if it's kept in the dark without air or water. And it's a crime to neglect talent--why would anyone neglect one of God's gifts?

Guess I'd better get to it, then.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Deep In the Mines

I'm always behind in my reading. Always. I finally get around to reading the hot popular thing a couple of years late, when it's no longer hot and or quite so popular. Harry was staring into the Goblet of Fire when I finally read about the Sorcerer's Stone, for instance.

So of course it's long past the publication date by the time I crack the cover of Barbara Samuel's No Place Like Home. Last night before bed, actually. Just finished tonight, in a straight reading session that started when the boys went off to baseball practice after school this afternoon. And let me just say that Kirkland brand paper towels from Costco are not the best for a tear-ravaged face.

My God. I'm not really sure I can adequately respond to this book--not just as a book, but as the product of a truly amazing writer. Barbara Samuel gets it. The tiny details she picks up--the thread of silver in an old man's hair, the slice of wrist under a shirt cuff, the curled vine of a new plant--speak volumes. And so you wonder: Are these observances something that arises in the initial draft, diamonds on a sandy beach, or something that has been hewn from the rock and cut and polished to brilliance? Her work seethes with love for people, family, food, place. You can't read this woman's work and not know that she loves, truly loves, Colorado.

As a reader, I'm blessed. As a writer, I'm challenged. I have a pile of rocks. When I hew and cut and polish, will they be diamond? Or is all they'll ever be just rocks?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Gutsy Broad: Angelina Jolie


Let's just get it out of the way, shall we? Angelina Jolie is not-to-be-believed gorgeous. And outspoken. And bold. Tattoos, vials of blood, marriages, leather clothes, Goth-girl-gone bad and everything. She's like that girl from high school you just knew would end up in jail. Or pregnant. Or both.

And yet, she's also the cool girl you wish you had the cojones to become. The one who takes flying lessons, who works as a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador, who adopts children from some of the most ravaged places on earth and makes them beloved. She makes ridiculous money and has a sensible approach to dealing with it: save 1/3, spend 1/3, donate 1/3. She's not afraid to get her hands dirty. She married Billy Bob Thornton, didn't she?

And ended up, happy, with Brad Pitt, in what looks to be one of the best relationships in Hollywood. Let's face it. Jennifer Aniston didn't stand a chance.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

10 Things to Do Instead of Watch TV

Hey, I love this topic. DH and I actually had our cable cut off a couple of years ago (long story). We went through withdrawal for about three weeks ("What! No CSI reruns on Spike every night?"). Then we got over ourselves. There's actually plenty to do instead of watch TV. Some choices:
1. Read. The best choice, after all, Feeds the brain and the soul. Put away the remote and wail away at the TBR pile.

2. Needlecrafts. Needlepoint, embroidery, knitting, or crochet--all of the women in my family could do at least one, but these are a dying art. Customize your home with something beautiful you can't buy at Pottery Barn, why dontcha?

3. Listen to music. Rediscover some old favorites in the CD collection and remember what it was like to start getting ready to go out at 9:30 instead of collapsing into bed. For those of you who play an instrument, make some music.

4. Cook. Finally master baking bread, or your grandmother's pound cake recipe, or Rice Krispie treats.

5. Plan and serve a romantic dinner. Why save the good china for relatives? Treat yourself and your loved one to the very best. Make a favorite, pour some wine, and try #6.

6. Talk. If you can't find anything to talk about, you really need to turn off that damned TV more often!

7. Housework. Just kidding. Scratch that.

7. (for real) Sit on the porch. Porches make Southern houses homes. Remember your best outdoor room. Fix yourself an iced tea and wave howdy to the neighbors.

8. Write! What a concept! Imagine how your page count would grow if you chucked American Idol for your American novel! It can be done. It's not like choosing the next Idol will bring peace to the Middle East, solve world hunger, or end the conflict in Darfur, for Pete's sake.

9. Wrestle. Roll around and cuddle with your kids. They'll follow you around like puppies for the rest of the night, but in a good way.

10. Wrestle naked. Choose the appropriate adult, strip down, and have at it. Much more fun than heavy breathing on the small screen.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Building the Perfect Beast

DH and I got into an interesting conversation on our way home from work yesterday. If you could build the perfect president by choosing one quality held by each of the presidents who have been in office since you've been alive, which qualities would you pick? I like the question because it takes real thought and discernment to answer. No vilifying of any of the presidents because you don't like them, even if they deserve it. Here's my list, starting with Eisenhower since DH was born in 1960.

Eisenhower: Military knowledge. Key info to have, given the state of things in Iraq and Afghanistan these days.

Kennedy: Charisma. Americans are a squirrelly bunch. The "it" factor goes a long way toward getting us moving in the same direction.

Johnson: Pragmatism. A good president has to make the decisions that need to made, even if the country balks at the idea in question. See: civil rights legislation.

Nixon: Willingness to be unpopular. We're not voting for Homecoming Queen, folks.

Ford: Integrity. We'll all feel better if we have a President we think is honest and forthright.

Carter: Diplomacy. Carter, more than any of the others, was good at and committed to bringing opposing sides together. We could use a bit more diplomacy and a tad less sabre-rattling.

Reagan: Communication skills. Reagan had a brilliant speechwriter in Peggy Noonan, but his ability to connect with everyone made her words sing and kept us all listening.

Bush I: Foreign policy knowledge. The man was the director of the CIA. Our new president will need to know how to gather and apply information if we're going to emerge from our current quagmire with our national dignity intact.

The common touch. The race for the presidency has devolved into a contest where very wealthy people vie against other very wealthy people for the job, which leaves 98% of us out. Clinton grew up poor and remembered what it was like to buy socks at Wal-Mart. Given the state of the economy lately, that kind of budgetary knowledge would come in handy.

Bush II: Strength of will. Love him or hate him, you have to admit that W knows how to stick to his guns. Spineless weenies need not apply at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

So, military knowledge, charisma, pragmatism, willingness to be unpopular, integrity, diplomacy, communication skills, foreign policy knowledge, the common touch, and strength of will. Pretty tall order, and that's not including the historical seasoning of Washington's boldness, Jefferson's intelligence, Lincoln's compassion, TR's environmentalism, and FDR's economic savvy.

Are you listening, front-runners? Good. Let the best (wo)man win!

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