Tuesday 31 December 2013

Movie Review: Nebraska

What an intimate portrait of Americana. It is charming. It is engrossing. And I laughed out loud. Oh yes, I laughed because I myself have lived bits and pieces of this story. I recognised the people, the everyday life of a small town. This is anything but life in the fast lane. This is life as seen by the majority of Americans: nothing fancy, nothing big-time here; the day to day struggle to make ends meet and enjoy a cold one in front of the idiot box. The film was quite rightly shot in black and white. It adds to the ambiance.

Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is on a quixotic mission to get his million dollars. He has a scam advertising letter from a publishing company stating he's won the big prize only if his number has come up and in the meantime would he like to subscribe to some magazines? Woody seems to be naively hopeful or demonstrating the first signs of dementia but whatever the case, son number two David (Will Forte) decides to take pop on a road trip to fulfil his request to personally visit the prize office to collect his loot. What entails is a both sad and comedic look at a life in the twilight years, a life wasted with alcohol.

Bruce Dern is 77 years old and he is every bit the part. He's not playing the part; he is the part. What a fabulous performance. Will Forte, best known as a cast member of Saturday Night Live, does a good turn as his dad's foil. The rest of the cast consists of a colourful group of characters that so aptly represents Middle America and any number of people we all have known at one time or another.

Woody and David show up at a relative's house to stay the weekend. It is revealed they haven't visited these people in years. They come into the house and everybody is watching TV. Nobody turns off the TV; nobody stops watches TV. Periodically, one of the people asks a succinct question or gives a succinct answer but for the most part, nobody stops watching the boob tube. I found this hilarious as I've had this happen to me. Thank you for being so overjoyed to see me. Excuse me for interrupting your television viewing pleasure.

I didn't recognise the name of the director Alexander Payne so I looked him up. Ah, this is a man whose work I like: About Schmidt (2002), Sideways (2004), and The Descendants (2011). This is a man who makes films which are small, personal, close-up examinations of the human condition.

Final Word
This is a terrific film. Imagine, the budget is only $12 million but the quality of the final product is stunning. I thoroughly enjoyed this slice of life. It isn't a grand life; it isn't a famous life; it is a small, nondescript, run of the mill life played out across the country in millions of homes. But within that context are many hues: not flamboyant colours but subtle variations of a theme. It is sometimes surprising how the ordinary can be quite fascinating.


Rotten Tomatoes: Nebraska: 92%
Elegant in its simplicity and poetic in its message, Nebraska adds another stirringly resonant chapter to Alexander Payne's remarkable filmography.

Wikipedia: Nebraska (film)
Nebraska is a 2013 American comedy-drama film starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte. It is directed by Alexander Payne. It was released on November 15, 2013. It was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, where Bruce Dern won the Best Actor Award.

official movie web site: Nebraska

Nebraska Movie CLIP - A Million Dollars

Nebraska Movie CLIP - Having Kids


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Monday 30 December 2013

Divorce: I am never getting married again

Back in September, I wrote to a business acquaintance a few days before his second marriage.

Good luck on Sunday. Despite my divorce, I will tell you that getting married was a joy and being married was a wonderful experience. There is a certain feeling which comes from being connected to another human being. I felt a little stronger, a little more rooted, and a little happier knowing there was a place to go home to which wasn't empty. Home was alive. All the best to you (two) in your world.

After such a testimonial about the union of two human beings, I'm sure you would wonder why I'm saying I will never do it again. I suppose I could answer with something flippant, such as, "Been there; done that." Or I could say something about how you can only fit so much into one lifetime despite people like Elizabeth Taylor having been married eight times, twice to the same man.

My Story
One of my fellow bloggers privately asked me the following:

Something I've realized about you, you never share your story...marriage and divorce. Why is that?

I responded:

I do share my story, but indirectly, in snippets. Divorce is a traumatic experience and I am sure everyone involved isn't at their best. I wasn't. My ex-wife is a good woman. I am sorry this happened and I regret we were unable to deal with it. But she still is a good woman.

Back in 2010, I discovered blogging: oh wow the perfect outlet for a narcissistic self-absorbed egotist with an inferiority complex.

"A writer is an egomaniac with low self-esteem".

Admittedly, in the beginning of the divorce process, I got the idea of writing my story. I read other bloggers (mostly women) and a Kindle book (a woman) where the authors detailed their journey through the emotional, financial, and legal trials and tribulations of disentangling two lives. We seem to look for similar stories to validate our own experience. We will now hold hands and sing Kumbaya.

But I hesitated. I talked with a therapist and therefore had an outlet, a professional outlet I might add, for whatever idle thoughts I had during the process. I had promised myself to never discuss any details with family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, or the girl behind the counter at Starbucks. Over the years, I had heard stories of people becoming obsessed with their big D to the point of alienating people around them and I didn't want to fall into the same trap. Yes, it is one of the most momentous events in anyone's life but that doesn't mean everybody within earshot wants to hear about it... for the twentieth time.

But more importantly, there was one person on this planet who could make the connection between this nom de plume and the real me. (I blog anonymously.) My lawyer warned me to not communicate with anybody and jeopardise the negotiations. Along with this legal opinion, I wondered what risks I ran by being outed to my job. I had written about a number of bloggers who remain anonymous to avoid conflict in their real lives and a number of bloggers who were fired from their jobs when their literary activities became public knowledge. Put all this together and you have some compelling reasons to keep quiet. (my blog: On-line, oh so not private and busted)

But there is more.

I wrote about a couple of high profile divorce cases which transpired in part on the Internet. The pettiness, the bickering, and the attempts at public humiliation struck me as quite embarrassing and completely lacking in maturity. The authors, while attempting to vilify the target of their hatred, portrayed themselves as something of an out of control, childish lunatic. I didn't think that was representative of myself and I certainly didn't think anybody else involved in the big D deserved such treatment. Let's agree to disagree and remain calm as we rationally and objectively go through the process. (my blog: The Psycho Ex Wife: ex bashing taken to the next level; my blog: Tricia Walsh: Let's divorce on YouTube!)

Man up
I have written in this blog about the idea that we are products of our society. "Women are emotional and men are logical." "Women want a prince and men want a porn star." "Women are taught to suppress their sexuality and men are taught to suppress their sensuality." We all come to the table with expectations and yet we have no idea where those expectations come from and if those expectations are valid. I am convinced more and more that we have no idea this is going on or just what it means. Somehow, we have ingrained in all of us this ideal of a suburban home with a white picket fence, two point five children, and a blissful monogamous picture-perfect marriage in the style of Ward and June Cleaver from the 1950s black and white television series Leave It To Beaver. I don't think we are consciously aware of it. Does a goldfish know it's living in a fishbowl?

The other day, I ran across a video clip taken from the 2001 movie Training Day starring Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke. Washington the experienced cop wants Hawke the rookie to do something, to change his approach to conducting business and succinctly tells his partner to "man the f**k up." I'm not mentioning this movie because I think there's a connection to divorce; I am bringing it up as to how one man would advise another about any critical issue, including divorce.

I'm not going to cry over spilt milk. I'm not going to whine over my losses. I'm not going to emotionally blubber on about the past. I get my hand caught in a woodchipper and have my entire arm ripped off. I will be an amputee for the rest of my life. With Zen-like wisdom, I am going accept my fate and not be bitter. I'm not saying that is always an easy thing to do; I'm just saying I recognise it's the correct course of action. I am going to man up. I am going to move forward. Look behind you and you turn into a pillar of salt. (Genesis 19:26) Look forward and there is hope. At least, there's the anticipation of what's around the next corner. You may now recite the Serenity Prayer; blah, blah, blah.

Once in a while somebody says that cliché, "You're such a pessimist," to which I reply, "No, I am a realist." Sometimes life sucks and you have to accept that. But in accepting life as is, in accepting my life as is, I have to look down once in a while. Looking down gives me a truer picture of my own circumstances.

In 2012, I suffered the worst sports injury of my entire life having traumatised the upper left quadrant of my body, stopping just short of tearing my rotator cuff and leaving me with a slightly herniated C6 cervical disc. I spent almost five months locked up in my apartment in pain twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I had only about 15% use of my left arm. I couldn't walk more than 30 feet without pain. All of my waking moments were dedicated to pain management and in a nutshell, my quality of life had gone from a hundred percent to about twenty. Life sucked and I mean royally.

It's eighteen months later. That's eighteen months of doctors, x-rays, MRI's, therapy, countless sessions in my apartment doing isometric exercises and resistance band training, and visits to a gym. Am I back one hundred percent? Not quite. I realise I am going to be dealing with certain discomforts and physical limitations for the rest of my life.

But, I look down. I've talked with other people.

Years after their original injury, some people are still taking pain medication. I only had to take it for four months and a bit. People have required surgery to correct their problem. I didn't need it. Some people have had to have one or more vertebrae fused. While the option was brought up in my case, it turns out my body managed to heal itself.

How tough was my divorce? I have listened to the stories of others. "There but for the grace of God..." If ever I start rambling on to myself about what happened I force myself to stop and think carefully about what could have happened. Think about that: what happened versus what could have happened. I remember watching a video of the 2011 Japanese tsunami in which a couple point into a valley where their home used to be. Everything, absolutely everything in their lives was gone, swept out to sea. Was it fair? Was it just? The man turns to the camera and says, "We are lucky to be alive."

"The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must."
-Thucydides (460–395 BC), Greek historian, general (The Peloponnesian War)

What are you going to do about it? A tsunami washes away your life. "The weak suffer what they must." It would seem that all of us at one point or another are weak. Who can stand up to a tsunami or a tornado or lightning? But, of course, the point is to apply that concept to other issues such as employment, health, or divorce. Sometimes sh*t happens. There may not be one specific person who can be held accountable; issues can arise out of circumstances. And even if there is a specific person, that doesn't necessarily mean that person can or will be held accountable. It may very well be that they "should not" be held accountable. A tsunami "is". We can't stop it; we can't change its course; we can only try to stay out of its way. Afterwards, we must figure out what we're going to do about it.

Getting married was a joy. Being married was wonderful. Getting a divorce sucks. Despite the negotiations, despite the battles both emotional and legal, there is no winner in the process. Everybody loses. Yes, you heard me. Nobody, absolutely nobody wins. Everybody involved is going to be carrying around a little souvenir for the rest of their lives, an emotional scar.

But aphorisms abound. What's fair isn't always equal. For every door that closes, another opens. Ad infinitum. Or ad nauseum. You come out the other side and like the victim of the Japanese tsunami, you're alive. Sh*t happens.

Never Again
I'll never get married again. Why? Am I angry? Am I bitter? Am I making a silly promise out of spite? Admittedly, sometimes yes, I still have my moments, but the real answer is far more practical.

I can only afford one divorce in my life. I no longer have the financial resources to pay for another one. Pessimism? Or realism? The aphorism about gambling is that you only bet what you can afford to lose. I can't afford to lose a second time; therefore I've decided not to bet again. Yes, yes, if you don't buy a ticket, you can't win, but let's not forget that for every millionaire, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine people lost.

"If you want to be happy, never get married or never get divorced."

Now anybody could smile slyly and say to me, "Never say never." I will smile back and counter with, "I am a man of my word."

"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
-Rita Mae Brown, author (misattributed to Albert Einstein)

As an aside, I am not writing about you; I am writing about me. This isn't your story; this is my story. If there is one thing I have learned out of all of this, everyone is different and everyone's story is particular to them and their circumstances. Yes, there may be general rules; yes, there may be commonalities, but every situation is slightly different if for no other reason than it's our situation and we all are, at one point or another, caught up in the need to tell it to the world. And all this in spite of the fact that there is nothing new under the sun.

"Divorce: You don't get over it, you get used to it."

Hope springs eternal. It is probably the biggest foible of the human animal and its biggest motivator.

my blog: Optimism: we are hardwired to ignore defeat
[Tali Sharot (University College London) points out that] this tendency towards optimism is both good and bad. Good in the sense it helps us to continue. Bad in that we tend to overlook the obvious signals of failure. She amusingly points out that we can hear a success story like Mark Zuckerberg's of Facebook and imagine ourselves being rich one day and yet, upon hearing that the odds of divorce are almost 1 in 2, we can't imagine our own marriages ever failing.

People in successful relationships love to tell everybody else about how they are successful all without considering how many factors go into success like having the right partner. Yes, let me repeat that: having the "right" partner. If you like to dance the waltz and know how to do it and you find a partner who likes to dance the waltz and knows how to do it, I would say there is an excellent chance the two of you are going to dance the waltz and have a good time doing so. Open and honest? Planned romantic moments? Following a ten step plan to a successful relationship? Pshaw. When you're on the same wavelength, everything clicks and your relationship works. Period. Your focus is on the other person; your focus is on the relationship. There is nothing magical there. I now see that it's when you're not on the same wavelength that you have the true test of your mettle.

How you react says a lot about you. Let me repeat that statement. Yes, we may face a bad situation, maybe a really really bad situation but how we react to the situation is reflective of the true us. How we deal with the situation shows just who we are and what we're made of. In my experience, happy people are kind, generous, and sympathetic if not empathetic. Unhappy people are angry, mean spirited, and critical of anybody other than themselves. Yes, divorce may be the biggest freak-out of our lives but how are you going to deal with it?

Where to go from here
It's been three years. No dates, no dinners, not even a coffee. Certainly no sex. Why? I'm busy. And maybe being busy with my stuff makes me a narcissist. I hear the word bandied about so much, I can no longer tell the difference between narcissism and self-interest.

"The definition of an egoist: Somebody who doesn't think of me."

I am trying to put my life back together. I am trying to deal with post-divorce financial matters. (At the age of 61, I spend more time than most people wondering about how I'm going to deal with retirement.) I am trying to redefine myself as an individual. In other words, I'm not ready. I'm so busy right now dealing with "me", I'm not sure I would have the necessary focus to deal with an "us".

Leaving it behind
Somebody asked if I would be willing to commit to writing two articles a month about divorce from a man's perspective. It was nice that she would think of me, but I politely declined. I am too busy elsewhere to make such a commitment.

However, there was a second reason I didn't mention. (She may read this. Sorry.) I don't want to dwell on my divorce. I don't want to think about divorce. I want to move on. I want to get on with the rest of my life. I want to focus on the future and I don't want to rehash the past.

my blog: Divorced: It's over. Or is it?
I'm browsing around the Net. One link leads to another and I end up at a blog posting about divorce written by a woman. She offers some interesting perspectives, some good tips, some personal stories and some painful memories. I look at the About to find out a little more about the author and discover that she has been divorced for over 12 years. I look back at the posting. As I was reading it, I had the impression the woman had only recently been divorced. 12 years? She was writing like it was yesterday.

Look behind you and you turn into a pillar of salt. (Genesis 19:26)

To all those who continue to fight the good fight, I salute you. To those who are about to jump into the deep end of the pool, I wish you the best of luck. But personally, I would like look ahead to the future. It may be a stupid idea, maybe not, but I've heard say that for every door that closes another opens. Everything supposedly happens for a reason so while getting my arm ripped off in a woodchipper is an extremely painful experience, there is a reason why I'm an amputee. Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Corny, clichéd, but there's something in that saying.

I am 61 years old. Statistically speaking, my life expectancy is 80 years. That means I have another nineteen years. A comedian said, "If you hang in there long enough, you'll grow old and die." Ha, ha.

It's been a few years now, but I remember the last thing I wrote to my now divorced family.

This whole mess is regrettable. I hope that everybody involved will be able to get on with the rest of their lives without suffering any lasting trauma. Believe it or not, I would like to see everyone happy, successful and at peace with themselves and the rest of the world.

My prediction about the future
So if I'm not going to remarry, just what am I going to do? Date? Maybe. But admittedly, I don't consider it to be a priority. If I do at some point, I see it as two people who are financially (and emotionally) independent sharing some time together. I found this to be an interesting assessment of the situation.

Wikipedia: Remarriage: Differences in desire to repartner
The most frequent reasons older adults give for remaining without a partner after losing a spouse are gender-specific. While the common myth is "women grieve, men replace," research does not support this pattern. Rather, widows are more likely to report that they are reluctant to give up newfound freedom and independence. Many widows perceive a sense of liberation no longer having to take care of another person, and value this more than additional companionship. Widowers, on the other hand, tend to report that they have not repartnered because they are concerned about being undesirable partners due to older age and ill health.

On the one hand, when I think of last year's sports injury, I see the part about widowers: "undesirable due to older age and ill health." On the other hand, I can see the part about widows: "reluctant to give up newfound freedom and independence."

I want to be clear about one thing.

"Never regret anything because at one time it was exactly what you wanted."

I do not regret getting married. It was a wonderful experience. On the other hand, getting a divorce is not an experience I have any intention of ever repeating. How to reconcile those two ideas?

When I was 10 years old, my parents packed up the family for a 7,000 kilometres (4,500 mile) car trip. It was the epic of all journeys: the prairies, the Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone National Park, and a myriad of unknown places and far-flung relatives. I'm no longer 10 years old. My parents have been dead for years. In other words, the circumstances of that journey are now impossible to recreate. Sure I can hop in my car but it will never be the same. I have my memories and even those memories have faded and possibly morphed into more of a fantasy journey than the real thing. In other words, what was can never be repeated. Things change. My circumstances change. I have my memories but I must remember that things change irrevocably.

I must be careful to not romanticise the past. Yes, there is the good, but there is also reality. Spending monotonous days of driving and driving and driving? Getting overtired? Getting cranky? Having to go pee but unable to find a rest stop? Things change. Let's not do that again. But to those of you who have never taken an epic car journey and are getting ready to embark on that once in a lifetime experience, I wish you the best of luck. For me, there are other mountains to climb.

Final Word
I have been mulling this article over for a couple of months. What do I say? What do I not say? Based on what I've read in the comments on other articles, both mine and others', I'm sure some people are going to do their best amateur psycho-analysis and jump to all sorts of conclusions. Good luck with that. Others are going to be looking for advice, looking for common points in my story, and certainly looking for a glimmer of hope that things will eventually get better. Things will but I would advise those people to work on accepting their loss of a limb.

"We all go through life once. We can go through it kicking and screaming, but we're going to go through it once."

Life has been an adventure. Sometimes I've tripped and skinned my knee. Sometimes I've slipped and cut myself. But I'm still here and I am still able to continue the adventure. (I survived the tsunami and all I got was this t-shirt.) What that adventure will be exactly, I don't know, but I'm curious enough to go around the next corner and see what I'm going to see. Life is precious. Let us all value our time here as it will all be over far too quickly. I'm going to do my best to make this a good one.

All the best to all of you in your worlds.


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Sunday 29 December 2013

Carlos Garde: Por una cabeza

Al Pacino won an Oscar for his portrayal of Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade, an irascible, blind, retired Army officer who has decided to end it all after one big night on the town. With the assistance of Charlie Simms (Chris O'Donnell), a weekend "babysitter", Slade has a poignant moment in a hotel restaurant when he asks a young lady, Donna (Gabrielle Anwar), to dance a tango with him. Every eye in the room is on the two of them and quite rightly so. Slade and Donna make for a nice couple and certainly, on an amateur level, do the tango justice.

This scene was filmed at the Pierre Hotel, Fifth Avenue & 61st Street, Manhattan, New York. The tango is performed by the "The Tango Project", consisting of William Schimmel (accordion), Michael Sahl (piano) and Stan Kurtis (violin), who actually appear in the dancing scene starring Al Pacino (the recording used is available on one of their CD albums).

This 1935 song has remained popular throughout the years and has been a favourite in film.

Tango scenes with "Por una Cabeza" appear in Delicatessen (1991), Scent of a Woman (1992), Schindler's List (1993) - where it plays well to the subtext of the film's protagonist's "addiction" to women, True Lies (1994), Titanic (1996), Bad Santa (Uncut Version, 2003), All the King's Men (2006), Planet 51 (2009), episode 37 of Nip/Tuck (2003–2010), episode 9 of South Korean drama series Sweet Spy (2005–08), the beginning and ending credits of the South Korean drama broadcast I'm Sorry, I Love You (2004), and the CSI: NY episode "Down the Rabbit Hole" (2007). (Wikipedia)


Published on Jun 16, 2011 by movieclips

Wikipedia: Por una Cabeza
"Por una Cabeza" is an tango song with music and lyrics written in 1935 by Carlos Gardel and Alfredo Le Pera respectively. ... Le Pera and Gardel died in an airplane crash in Medellín, (Colombia), on June 24, 1935.

Wikipedia: Scent of a Woman (1992 film)
cent of a Woman is a 1992 American drama directed and produced by Martin Brest that tells the story of a preparatory school student who takes a job as an assistant to an irascible, blind, medically retired Army officer. The film stars Al Pacino, Chris O'Donnell, James Rebhorn, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Gabrielle Anwar. It is a remake of Dino Risi's 1974 Italian film Profumo di donna.

Published on Apr 29, 2012 by Ashraf Medhat
YouTube: The Tango Project - Por Una Cabeza (Scent Of A Woman)
Music from the film; no dialogue.


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Saturday 28 December 2013

Movie Review: Saving Mr. Banks

What a wonderful story. What a wonderful film. Don't tell me you don't have a tear welling in your eye during the final scene. It's 1961 and P. L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins, travels to California to negotiate with Walt Disney for the rights to make the 1964 film. This is a fascinating story interwoven with the childhood of Travers which explains the woman's eccentric and sometimes outrageous behaviour. Tom Hanks plays Disney and Emma Thompson plays Travers and these two are absolutely superb.

There is no doubt that the film Mary Poppins is a landmark. It is a staple of every childhood. Who knew, though, that the back story to the film and the books (yes, there is more than one) would provide such a captivating and emotional story? If Travers was loathe to give up the rights to her character because "Mary is family" (she hated Disney and his films), it turns out that Mary was actually part of Travers' childhood. It would seem that creating Mary was some sort of personal catharsis for the author.

According to the movie, Disney's children loved Mary Poppins and he had promised them to make the story into a film. He apparently contacted Travers every year for twenty years before the author finally relented and signed over the rights. From my research, the books are described as darker and less fun than the film. The author's childhood as depicted in the film was traumatic. Leave it to Disney to see the fun side?

Who is Mr. Banks?
This gentleman is the father of the London family in the Mary Poppins books. Hauling out some Freudian analysis, we see that this figure represents the author's father who didn't have a stellar life and died at the age of 43. The "saving", as per the film, was Travers insisting on Mary saving the father she lost.

For further details on the life of P. L. Travers, I would recommend History Hollywood: Saving Mr. Banks. If Mrs. Travers' childhood wasn't so good, her life as an adult wasn't smooth sailing either.

Final Word
I was a little surprised. The film turned out to be much richer than I was expecting and got me thoroughly involved in the story. Making the connection between the author's unfortunate childhood and the character Mary Poppins made for a finale that kind of choked me up. I couldn't help thinking of how the things of our childhood shape us and will be what we carry around with us for the rest of our lives. Let's hope those things are good not bad.

I would recommend this film. After all, doesn't everybody like Tom Hanks? When I was a kid, everybody liked Walt Disney.


FYI: Here I was thinking Mrs. Travers cried at the premiere of the film Mary Poppins because she was having an emotional moment. It turns out that she hated the film and stipulated for the rest of her life, even in her after life via her will, that Disney should never again have any rights to her books. As I said, Travers had a tough childhood. She may not have been the nicest of adults.

Rotten Tomatoes: Saving Mr. Banks: 81%
Aggressively likable and sentimental to a fault, Saving Mr. Banks pays tribute to the Disney legacy with excellent performances and sweet, high-spirited charm.

Wikipedia: Saving Mr. Banks
Saving Mr. Banks is a 2013 American-British-Australian historical comedy-drama film directed by John Lee Hancock from a screenplay written by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith. Centered on the development of the 1964 Walt Disney Studios film Mary Poppins, the film stars Emma Thompson as author P. L. Travers and Tom Hanks as filmmaker Walt Disney, with supporting roles from Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, Ruth Wilson, and Colin Farrell. Taking its title from the father in Travers' story, the film depicts the author's fortnight-long briefing in 1961 Los Angeles as she is persuaded by Disney, in his attempts to obtain the screen rights to her novels.

History Hollywood: Saving Mr. Banks
* Shows photographs of each actor beside their real-life counterpart.
* Has a fascinating in-depth analysis of the film, the author P. L. Travers and her childhood and life. This article is well worth reading.

The Guardian - Dec 7/2013
What Saving Mr Banks tells us about the original Mary Poppins by Kathryn Hughes
A fan of Disney's Mary Poppins as an eight-year-old, Kathryn Hughes was given PL Travers's book. But she found it dull, odd and severely lacking in dancing penguins. As Saving Mr Banks arrives in cinemas, she re-encounters a classic story.


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Friday 27 December 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013 and some thoughts about writing

In 2011, my first time doing this self-inflected literary marathon saw me cross the finish line of fifty thousand in eighteen days. My second time in 2012 had me completing my 50 grand in 26 days. 2013? I started at 9am on Friday, November 1 (I took that particular day off work) and finished on Monday, November 11 at approximately 10:30pm. That worked out to an average of 4,552 words per day for eleven days. In the few days before I finished, I got another idea. So, I goofed off for a week then started another separate fifty. But, admittedly, my heart wasn't completely in it and I only did ten thousand. After all, I had already completed the marathon, why do a second one?

NaNoWriMo 2013: By the numbers
* 310,095 participants
* 3,520,123,164 total words
* 11,352 words per person (on average)
* 42,221 winners (14%)

Okay, as a personal challenge - Bingo! - way to go me. But in the grand scheme of things? Let's be honest now, it ain't worth diddly-squat.

It ain't worth diddly-squat? Then what's the point? It's interesting to see if you can be disciplined enough to sit down and do what's required every day until you finish. As I said last year, if I go out to run the marathon, my goal is to complete it. Let's face it; fat chance (Or is it FFC?) I'm going to come in first. And like a lot of things we do in life, the goal is to finish, not necessarily be number one. Wait. I am number one in the room where I'm currently typing this. Any need to add I'm all by myself? I'm a legend in my own mind.

Now what?
Do you have any idea of how many people are out there writing and publishing stuff? Holy cow. There are zillions and I mean zillions. I've been mulling this over for quite some time now trying to figure out what the next step could and should be. Write? You mean like write stuff down and other people read it? Hey, how odd is that?

I guess that's the attraction of writing a blog. It's instant gratification for anybody with that strange urge to jot down their thoughts and share them with the world. (Narcissism, anyone?) Then again, if you're curious like me, you take a peek once in a while at the number of pageviews and come to the (realistic) conclusion that the one person who stayed on a page longer than ten seconds was probably your mother. How do you spell bounce rate? (my blog: Blogging: What the heck are we all doing?)

Geesh, do we all have some starry eyed dream of making the New York Times best seller list? The author Elizabeth Gilbert was a guest recently on The Colbert Report. Her book Eat, Pray, Love has sold over ten million copies. The other week, I talked with the author of several self-published eBooks and she told me she has sold a thousand copies. What chance does anybody have? We pick up the newspaper and read in the headlines of how somebody won a million bucks in the lottery. Great. Terrific. However, I can't help thinking that nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine people lost. For every successful author with millions of sales, how many authors publish out of a labour of love and never recoup their expenses?

Why would anybody read anything I write?
Seriously. There are now over seven billion people on the planet and a lot of them, and oh I do so mean a lot of them, are writing and directly or indirectly vying for my attention. How do I select what I read? There is the randomness factor: what pops up in Facebook or Twitter; something I may see on TV or see in a newspaper; or a recommendation from family or friend. Nevertheless there is oh so much I just ignore. I have no idea of who the author is of a blog, an article, or a book. I don't have the time. I can't read everything so I try, I desperately try to weed things down to a manageable list of potentially good reads. I only have one life with a finite amount of time so I should darn well try to make every moment count.

In the past year, I read Deception Point by Dan Brown and The Camel Club by David Baldacci, both books read (Ah, how do I put this delicately?) within the confines of the bathroom. Why those books? Respected authors. Recommended by colleagues at work. The type of storyline (mystery, action-adventure) which seems to appeal to my sensibilities. And of course, while electronic publications are good while sitting at my computer, a paper book retains the characteristic of portability. Hmmm, I suppose I could take my laptop to the can. Oh, I'm sorry. TMI? (Back in 2011, the blogger Pauline Gaines asked some of her fellow bloggers to reveal their "blogger space." I sent a picture of my laptop balanced on the toilet seat. I have a weird sense of humour.

What else? In the fall of 2012, I bought a copy of 50 Shades of Grey. I got about a third of the way into it and couldn't finish it. I started off determined to read the whole book to find out what the hubbub was all about then got completely bored with the whole thing. It wasn't the sex or erotica; I have read some of the greats. It wasn't the BDSM; I have also read some of the best. It failed quite simply to capture my imagination. I find it odd to think that E. L. James doesn't strike me (or the critics) as being a very good writer and yet, at last count, the series has sold over 90 million copies and been translated into 52 languages. Go figure. I am reminded of an interview conducted by Time Magazine with the author James Patterson. (see my blog: Writing: James Patterson)

Q: What do you say to critics like author Stephen King who say you are not a great prose stylist?

A: I am not a great prose stylist. I'm a storyteller. There are thousands of people who don't like what I do. Fortunately, there are millions who do.

Nuff said. At the end of the day, the question is whether you have an audience or not. Quality will determine if your work is valued hundreds of years from now (Shakespeare? Bach?), but for the moment 90 million copies would be good for one's pocketbook.

Being recognised
Heather Thompson of the web site Dooce.Com is one of the more popular "mommy bloggers" of the Net. Her target audience is moms with kids and therefore, I do not "get her". Alexa summarizes the site with: Talking a lot about poop, boobs, her dog, and her daughter. She must be doing something right as her Alexa score currently sits at 28,632. Mine is at just under four million but has been hovering around five and a half million. As you can see, I'm not that popular. The social media pundits could rattle off a list of things I could do to increase my score but I think the big thing is that I don't really have a name for myself; I don't have a brand.

How to develop my name? How to create a brand?

Early in 2013, I set myself a goal: publish a book in 2014. Originally, my goal was to do this by the time I turned 65 (2017), but I decided to take a stab at it now.


But I realised from my own reading habits, nobody is going to buy my book. Why? Who cares? My name is completely unknown and why would anybody bother to take a chance on an unknown when there are so many well known writers? And good ones I might add.

Aside: This is completely ignoring whether what I write is any good. Heck, some of the best authors in the world have toiled in obscurity and died unknown. Quality isn't necessarily a measure of financial success.

I have written a number of short stories over the past few years. It occurred to me that if I could get them published in a magazine (print or online), it would be a way of getting my name out there. I started researching this and created a list of publications. I made some submissions. Rejection. Rejection again. But, I wasn't going to give up. I had read the book "On Writing" by Stephen King in which he discusses his career and the craft of writing. I've never forgotten how he said he had so many rejection slips pinned up on a board that he finally had to stop using a pin and started using a knife.

Consequently, I steeled myself to be rejected and wasn't going to get disappointed early. I like this old saying: "If you throw enough Jell-o, eventually some of it will stick to the wall."

I also remembered some good advice to writers submitting work: always be polite. Consequently, for every rejection, I always write back to the editor: "Thank you for taking the time to both read and respond. All the best to you in your world."

The advice was never lose your cool and burn your bridges. Besides, what one editor hates, the next one may like.

Here's a funny or odd story. I send a story to two magazines. The first editor rejects my story and says there isn't enough charactisation. The second editor rejects the story and says that there is too much characterisation and not enough action. What? And now, the story is published in a third online magazine. Go figure. I am realising that an editor is just another reader. E. L. James has sold 90 million copies of her books and yet many people haven't read the books and even though those who have don't like them. The lesson I took away from the above situation with the two editors is to not give up.

After a number of rejections, I decided to try having somebody edit my stories. Maybe my stories could use a little polishing; maybe this person could give me some suggestions. I had read that the greats use editors as an unbiased third party, somebody who will see things the author doesn't. So, I paid somebody to edit my stories. Good? Bad? The rejections continued.

I find this curious. At first, I thought the editor of a magazine would edit my work. It seems that a magazine is expecting my story to be in its best shape, meaning it has already been edited. I now wonder if my early rejections could have been avoided if I had gotten my stories edited from the beginning. However, I now have had three stories published which were not edited before I sent them and in looking at the published version, were untouched by the magazine's editor. Does this mean my stories didn't need editing? Does this mean the editor of the magazine doesn't do editing or doesn't care or is sloppy? I don't know. But in reviewing the edits, I can say that the process is a good idea. I'm not perfect and an unbiased eye does see things I don't. I get a little cross-eyed re-reading my own work over and over again.

Finally, somebody accepted one of my stories. They sent me a contract. (Most do not.) I read it over and was surprised. I had done my homework and magazines generally want first serial rights. This means the author gives the magazine the rights to exclusively publish the story for a set period of time, three months or six months, or possibly a year. After this period, all rights revert back to the author.

This oddball contract wanted me to assign full rights to my story to them in perpetuity. I said no. I'm not that desperate to be published. I have heard stories of people giving up the rights to their own work then watching somebody else profit from their labour. There's no way I'm doing that.

Something Published
I continued submitting and finally, the magic day came. An online publication accepted one of my stories. Woo-hoo! Break out the champagne. Okay, maybe not. After all, what did it mean exactly? A little exposure, certainly no money, and another step to who knows where. I still had a lot of stories to submit and I was sure there were still a lot of magazines to submit to.

In October, in order to compile a bigger list of target magazines, I paid the $50 annual fee to join Duotrope.com, a web site devoted to publishing.

Wikipedia: Duotrope
Duotrope is an online resource for writers. It provides a searchable database of more than 4,700 writer's markets and provides writers with a personal database on which they can list their stories, submissions, and sales. ... Beginning January 1, 2013, Duotrope became a subscription-based service, at a rate of $5.00 per month or $50.00 per year.

Where am I? I have a spreadsheet where I track all of this. Right at the moment, I have made 109 submissions with 83 responses; 26 still outstanding. Out of the 83 responses, there are 67 rejections (81%), 16 acceptances (19%); and out of the 16 acceptances, 7 are currently published and online. (my blog: Publications)

Am I bragging? Sort of. An independent 3rd party thought my work was good enough to be published. All right! *fist pump* But I'm being realistic about this. I didn't make any money as most of these publications are free and offer no payment to writers. I have to consider this as a lost leader: the first tentative steps to developing a name for myself. Of course, there are zillions of names out there so even this is a bit of a crap shoot. Even though I have checked the Alexa score of each online publication site, I know that they're not generating the same number of pageviews as the big name sites. Even here, this is a baby step. Getting a story accepted by The New Yorker Magazine or The Atlantic would be a feather in one's cap but fat chance of that happening. I have submitted to the big-name science fiction magazines like Asimov and Strange Horizons and can at least say I've been rejected by the greats.

Oh, and one important point about submitting a story. You have to be patient. Like really really patient. It can take months for an editor to get back to you and ofttimes all you get is something like, "Thank you for your submission but it doesn't match our needs at this time." Seldom do you get any comments, just a polite no. I have, however, gotten a few comments but have found them to not necessarily be insightful. Too much characterisation? Too little characterisation? It's all a great mystery as to what strikes one person's fancy but leaves the next person cold.

Where to go from here?
I realise I have more than enough short stories for not one but a couple of compilations. However, I keep coming back to the question: Who would buy my book? I am completely unknown. I'm not offended by this and I'm not disappointed. I think of my own reading habits and I admit quite readily that if I pick up an unknown book by an unknown author it is only be pure chance. Getting somebody to buy a book has to have a better marketing campaign than "pure chance".

As I said, I have done NaNoWriMo for the third time in a row. For some odd reason, this year's effort ended up more complete than the two previous efforts. I found myself an editor and I am paying her to go over the manuscript. Will I publish it? Beats me. But doing so now would be the equivalent of buying a lottery ticket. I have no name. I see no reason why anybody would buy anything I write. I need to get my name out there and that seems like it will be a slow process.

Slow? I know the old saying "slow and steady wins the race" and maybe I'm being impatient, but this sometimes seems to be glacial, not slow. Should I do something that might hopefully go viral? Like Anthony Weiner, I could tweet a picture of my junk. Nah, I should do something considered good not bad. Donate a kidney to a person in need? Hmmm, what do I do if they need another organ like a heart?

In any case, it's all an adventure. I just have to be realistic. Besides, I may set the whole thing aside tomorrow to go off on another tangent. I've been thinking of shaving my head and becoming a monk in Thailand. (Not)


my blog: Publications

my blog: NaNoWriMo 2012: 50 in 26. Now what? - Dec 3/2013
The biggest and I mean the biggest stumbling block: Not enough time? Fingers cramped? Your spouse is threatening divorce if you don't stop this nonsense? No, it's something a tad more fundamental. It's losing faith in what you're doing. Why am I writing something that nobody is going to read? Why am I doing something that nobody cares about? Hell, I don't care about it.

my blog: Dean Wesley Smith: Dean of Star Trek - Mar 9/2011
This gentleman is a professional writer. You might not recognise his name, but he earns his living from writing. I read a number of his blog postings on writing before I attempted NaNoWriMo the first time and I must say that this guy knows his stuff. For anybody making a foray into writing, this guy is a must read.

my blog: Book Review: On Writing by Stephen King - Dec 27/2010
[This book] is a work in three parts: his early formative years when he first got started in writing, his advice on writing and finally, his accident, its outcome and how the future looks for one Stephen King, author.


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Thursday 26 December 2013

Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

Ha, ha. This was great! I thoroughly enjoyed this film. It is nonstop entertainment. When I saw a running time of 179 minutes (nearly 3 hours!), I was thinking the movie might drag on but I didn't look at my watch once; I was that absorbed.

The story is based on the memoir of Jordan Belfort, a New York stockbroker who spent 22 months in prison convicted of fraud relating to stock market manipulation and running a penny stock boiler room. This is a fascinating portrayal of the high living of Wall Street: the quick buck, booze, drugs, and sex. Oh, did I mention drugs? Jordan is one colourful character and this is one long story of excess after excess. All the way is not far enough. Ha, ha.

Belfort's rise to fame - Or is it infamy? - and his fall occurred in the 1990s but this is very much a tale of the Wall Street of the crash of 2008. There is a telling moment in the beginning of the film when Belfort discovers how much money he can make by bending the rules and he says, "We don't make anything." That's the odd part of this story and the story of 2008. These people don't make anything. They are not making products which add to the economy; they are basically moving money around, nothing else. They take money from one pocket and put it in another pocket however the pocket they are taking from is our pocket and the pocket they are putting it in is theirs. (see below in References for some real life stories of the victims of Belfort's fraud)

If somebody produces a product, there is the product, a thing which has value. By trading stocks, inflating the prices, etc., what is produced only has value if the next person thinks it has value and wants it. If nobody believes it has value and nobody wants it, that thing is worthless. In a way, it's one giant Ponzi scheme. Like the film American Hustle, the main character is profiting from the naive greed of the common folk hoping to get rich quick. As I like to point out, for every million dollar winner of the lottery, there are nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine losers.

While the film had me laughing out loud at the craziness of a bunch of drug-addled stockbrokers defrauding suckers left, right, and center, I found it to be a cautionary tale of just how unregulated greed can damage us all. I have to chuckle when I hear the far right demand less government regulation for it is precisely regulations which keeps the bad boys in check. The economy is one complex beast. Greed can breed greed and it can quickly spiral out of control. Apple is one of the richest and most important corporations in America because they make a product. You can look at it; you can touch it. It is a tangible thing which has value. J.P. Morgan like many other firms is pushing paper around taking stuff from one pocket and putting it in another pocket. In May 2012, the firm announced $2 billion in losses. Oops. (my blog: Dear JPMorgan: The speed limit is 60 mph - May 21/2012)

A curious footnote
Jordan Belfort spent 22 months in prison. His cellmate was Tommy Chong, better known as half of the comedy team Cheech & Chong. Chong was serving time related to charges of distributing drug paraphernalia. It seems that Chong was instrumental in convincing Belfort to write his memoir upon which this film is based.

Final Word
Martin Scorsese has directed a wonderful film. Leonardo DiCaprio gives a great performance as our colorful protagonist. Together, they offer us a fabulous piece of entertainment. The film is great. Go see this. You won't be disappointed. Oh God, the scene when the ludes kick in; DiCaprio is just hilarious. Ha, ha. As I said, you won't be disappointed.


Rotten Tomatoes: The Wolf of Wall Street: 79%
Funny, self-referential, and irreverent to a fault, The Wolf of Wall Street finds Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio at their most infectiously dynamic.

Wikipedia: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013 film)
The Wolf of Wall Street is a 2013 American biographical black comedy film directed by Martin Scorsese, based on Jordan Belfort's memoir of the same name.

Wikipedia: Jordan Belfort
Jordan Belfort (born July 9, 1962) is an American author and motivational speaker, who was convicted of fraud crimes related to stock market manipulation and running a penny stock boiler room for which he spent 22 months in prison.

Wikipedia: Boiler room (business)
In business, the term boiler room refers to an outbound call centre selling questionable investments by telephone. ... The name came from all the telephone lines being pipelines going outside the room, similar to how a real boiler room has lots of pipes going outside the room.

LA Weekly - Dec 16/2013
How the "Wolf of Wall Street" Is Still Screwing His Real-Life Victims By Paul Teetor
Robert Shearin of Manhattan Beach is planning to see Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street when it comes out next week.But it's not because of the felonies-are-fun billboards or the total-testosterone trailers inviting moviegoers to join Leonardo DiCaprio on a rollicking ride of wild sex, pharmaceutical-pure drugs and stock-we-stole.

No, Shearin, 66, is going to see The Wolf of Wall Street because he lived through it - as vulnerable prey of the real-life Wolf, Jordan Belfort. Belfort still owes Shearin and more than 1,000 other victims millions of dollars -- even as he's making money as a motivational speaker and living high on the hog in pricey Hermosa Beach.

LA Weekly - Dec 17/2013
10 Reasons the Real-Life "Wolf of Wall Street" Is a Schmuck Who Shouldn't Be Glamorized By Paul Teetor
These days, Jordan Belfort is flying high again. Not only is the real-life "Wolf of Wall Street" living high on the hog in beautiful Hermosa Beach, he's making money as a motivational speaker -- a business that will surely only increase in light of the new Martin Scorsese movie based on his life, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. But as the Weekly reported yesterday, Belfort is hardly penitent -- in fact, lawyers and prosecutors say he's continued to screw his victims, only repaying pennies on the dollar of the millions he swindled from them.

LA Weekly - Dec 26/2013
An Open Letter to the Makers of The Wolf of Wall Street, and the Wolf Himself by Christina McDowell
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, dear Kings of Hollywood, but you have been conned. Let me introduce myself. My name is Christina McDowell, formerly Christina Prousalis. I am the daughter of Tom Prousalis, a man the Washington Post described as "just some guy on trial for penny-stock fraud."
And you, Jordan Belfort, Wall Street's self-described Wolf: You remember my father, right?


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Wednesday 25 December 2013

Christmas 2013: I have options

Usually around Christmas, all of us probably sent out emails or cards to people we may not see on a regular basis. It is our opportunity to reconnect.

Yesterday, I put together a short and hopefully amusing retelling of the ice storm and how I had been without electricity for 3 days. I fire this off to various friends and relatives. I like to shoot for a little commiseration and a few chuckles.

A friend I don't see all that often, maybe once a year, writes back that it's good to hear from me and has 2013 been quite the year for him and his wife. He says there have been ups and downs such as his son losing his wife. I look at the word "losing". Oh, oh. This isn't good. I ask if he's talking about divorce or death. He writes back death. Apparently this woman accidentally clipped a pickup truck on the highway, lost control, and went straight into a pole. She died instantly. I wrote to my friend that I was very, very sorry about his daughter-in-law then added in the grand schemes of things, I had nothing to complain about.

The area gets hit by an ice storm and I go without power for now, going on four days. My office is a few blocks from where I live and the building has never been without power. I sleep at my apartment but I spend my time at the office with a frig of my food, a micro-wave, and Internet access. I can shower at the gym around the corner. I am without power but I have options.

Last year, I suffer the worst physical injury of my life that saw me locked up in my apartment for almost five months in pain twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. It's eighteen months later and I'm much, much better thank you very much but I realise I'm going to have to contend with certain limitations for the rest of my life. However, I've talked with other people.

Years after their original injury, some people are still taking pain medication. I only had to take it for four months and a bit. People have required surgery to correct their problem. I didn't need it. Some people have had to have one or more vertebrae fused. While the option was brought up in my case, it turns out my body managed to heal itself.

Today, I keep a regular schedule of working out every two days at a gym. I'm not 20-years-old but I am determined to be the best I can be. I have options.

An acquaintance who is self-employed writes about the precariousness of her financial situation. I have a full-time job. I have options.

A member of my family tells me about the mortgage on his house and how it is sometimes difficult to make ends meet. I rent an apartment, a monthly amount which is a fraction of his mortgage. I have options.

As I come up to the end of the year, I make a series of charitable donations: The United Way, The Cancer Society, and The Daily Bread Foodbank. Yes, I get a tax receipt which counts for something but I am donating and that counts for something. I can afford to do this. I can afford to give something back. I have options.

As I write this, I am sitting in my office. It is day four of being without power. Okay, this may seem like an odd way of spending Christmas, but this has become my new norm for Christmas day: by myself. (Year #4 post divorce) Time to reflect, write, and catch up on things. This afternoon, I'm planning to work out at the gym (Wow, even they are open today) and this evening, I'm going to the flicks. I'm alone but I'm not lonely.

I have options.


my blog: The Great Ice Storm of 2013
Merry Christmas. Ho, ho, ho. Or is that ha, ha, ha? Never mind a white Christmas; it looks like we're going to have a black Christmas or at least a dark one.

my blog: Christmas 2012: Home Alone 3 - Dec 25/2012
Traditions change: death and divorce. ... Christmas number three represents my new tradition: another day devoted to me... Sound sad? It's not. As odd as it seems, I am enjoying the peace and quiet. I have at times enjoyed the holiday hubbub but right now I'm enjoying the freedom from tradition. Yes, I sometimes get nostalgic but one has to come back to that Zen master stuff (or is it bulls**t?) and move on. You have to enjoy life right now as it is, for what it is. After all, what else exists? Is the glass half full or is it half empty? Heck, it's the only glass I got!

my blog: Health: One Year Later, One Year Lost - Apr 18/2013
April 7, 2012, this is the red letter day in my personal annals marking the worst physical injury of my entire life. At the one year anniversary, I am much much better, thank you very much, but I am still trying to climb out of the hole and still have a way to go.

my blog: Edge what walk are you crazy? - Sep 28/2012

my blog: Jet Pack: Move Over James Bond - Jul 12/2013

my blog: My bungee jump in two words: Oh... my... God... - Oct 12/2013


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Tuesday 24 December 2013

Movie Review: 12 Years a Slave

Nightmare on Elm Street? Halloween? No, this is a horror story, a true horror story. This isn't a deliberate attempt to scare you with the special effects of blood, gore and guts all designed to make the squeamish jump in their seat. No, this is real life. This was the real life of a slave in a most embarrassing and humilitating chapter of American history. I remain stunned by our ability to inflict pain and suffering on other human beings. But the film gives a very good clue as to how we manage to rationalise our behaviour.

A plantation owner whips a slave. He whips her until her back is a mass of sliced skin with exposed muscle. I found it horrifying. I found it sickening. I actually looked away for a moment twisting uncomfortably in my seat. Then the owner explains everything by saying, "She is my property and I will do with my property what I will." That's how we do it. These other people are not human beings, they are something else. They are less than human. They are animals. They are chattel and we can do whatever we want with them.

This is a magnificent film deserving its rating on 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. However, it is at times a disturbing film. As a theatre goer, you may look upon it as another film, another two hours of entertainment, but I come back to this being a slice of real life. The film is based on a 1853 memoir by Solomon Northrup, a free-born African American from Saratoga Springs, New York. He was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841 and apparently, he was one of the few in similar circumstances who managed to regain their freedom. It is an inside look at the brutality carried out against slaves as the labour force driving the economy of the Southern states. Why does racism exist? This is it. This is why.

The entire film is excellent: great story, good cinematography, and superb acting. Chiwetel Ejiofor in the title role is terrific. In fact, the whole cast does a marvelous job. (There is a surprise bit part for Brad Pitt who was one of the film's producers.) We can all look for this film at the Oscars next year.

Final Word
This is a fabulous film. However, it is less a piece of entertainment and more a horrifying look at history. It is a must see. I wouldn't call it a date film. It is more of a think film. Never mind the regular so-called horror films; this is about as horrifying as it gets. This is real. I would highly recommend it.


Rotten Tomatoes: 12 Years a Slave (2013): 96%
It's far from comfortable viewing, but 12 Years a Slave's unflinchingly brutal look at American slavery is also brilliant -- and quite possibly essential -- cinema.

Wikipedia: 12 Years a Slave (film)
12 Years a Slave is a 2013 British-American epic historical drama film and an adaptation of the eponymous 1853 autobiography by Solomon Northup, a New York State-born free negro who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C. in 1841 and sold into slavery. He worked on plantations in the state of Louisiana for twelve years before his release. The first scholarly edition of Northup's memoir, co-edited in 1968 by Sue Eakin and Joseph Logsdon, carefully retraced and validated the account and concluded it to be remarkably accurate.

Wikipedia: Twelve Years a Slave (book)
Twelve Years a Slave (1853; sub-title: Narrative of Solomon Northup, citizen of New-York, kidnapped in Washington city in 1841, and rescued in 1853, from a cotton plantation near the Red River in Louisiana), by Solomon Northup as told to David Wilson, is a memoir and slave narrative of an African American who was born free in New York State but kidnapped in Washington, D.C., sold into slavery, and kept in bondage for 12 years in Louisiana before the American Civil War. He provided details of slave markets in Washington, D.C. and New Orleans, as well as described at length cotton and sugar cultivation on major plantations in Louisiana.

Wikipedia: Solomon Northup
Solomon Northup (July 1808 – after 1857) was a free-born African American from Saratoga Springs, New York.

Published on Sep 4, 2013 by MOVIES Coming Soon
12 Years A Slave Featurette - Solomon Northup (2013)


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Monday 23 December 2013

Gotan Project: Santa Maria (Del Buen Ayre)

While this 2004 film wasn't great, it did offer a few interesting tidbits about life, love, and dancing. John Clark (Richard Gere), a lawyer, is missing something in his life and signs up for ballroom dance lessons. He does so in secret and eventually his wife (Susan Sarandon) hires a detective to find out what's going on. Instead of falling in love with his dance teacher (Jennifer Lopez), John has fallen in love with dancing. I'm not sure it is ever adequately explained why he felt he had to hide this from his wife, but a little tension in the plot makes for a good build-up.

In the following scene, Jennifer Lopez shows Richard Gere the tango. Hot, hot, hot and wouldn't anybody think the dance would end with a kiss?

Hay milonga de amor
hay temblor de gotán
este tango es para vos
Hay milonga de amor
hay temblor de gotán
Hay milonga de amor
Este tango es para vos
Hay milonga de amor
hay temblor de gotán
este tango es para vos

If I may, I would recommend having a look at my blog "Marriage: Having our lives witnessed" for the movie's take on why we fall in love and pair up.


Uploaded on Aug 16, 2010 by Aboutmyjourney

"Santa Maria (del Buen Ayre)" from the 2001 album La Revancha del Tango by Gotan Project

Wikipedia: La Revancha del Tango
La Revancha del Tango is the debut album of Gotan Project, released in 2001. In October 2010 the album was certified Gold by the BPI for sales of 100,000+ in the UK.

Wikipedia: Gotan Project
Gotan Project is a musical group based in Paris, consisting of musicians Eduardo Makaroff (Argentine), Philippe Cohen Solal (French) and Christoph H. Müller (Swiss, former member of Touch El Arab).

Rotten Tomatoes: Shall We Dance: 46%
The cast is warmly appealing, but with the loss of cultural context and addition of big-name celebrities, this American version loses the nuances of the original.

Wikipedia: Shall We Dance? (2004 film)
Shall We Dance? is a 2004 American film that is a remake of the award-winning 1996 Japanese film of the same title, written and directed by Masayuki Suo.

my blog: Marriage: Having our lives witnessed - Dec 3/2010
I now arrive at the point of all this. There is a scene in the movie where Susan Sarandon meets the private detective in a bar who investigates her husband.

Beverley: All these promises that we make and we break. Why is it, do you think, that people get married?

Detective: Passion.

Beverley: No.

Detective: Interesting because I would have taken you for a romantic. Why then?

Beverley: Because we need a witness to our lives. There's a billion people on the planet. I mean what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you're promising to care about everything: the good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things. All of it, all the time, everyday. You're saying your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness.

Uploaded on Aug 22, 2007 by hudash86
YouTube: Gotan Project - Santa Maria (Del Buen Ayre)
Fabulous sound

Uploaded on Jan 23, 2009 by Cesar Vulcano
Gotan Project Live - Santa Maria (del Buen Ayre) DVD
Gotan Project Live - Santa Maria (del Buen Ayre) La revancha del tango LIVE DVD


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Sunday 22 December 2013

The Great Ice Storm of 2013: Dec 22-28

Update: Monday, December 23/2013; Tuesday, December 24

Sunday, December 22, 2013
Merry Christmas. Ho, ho, ho. Or is that ha, ha, ha? Never mind a white Christmas; it looks like we're going to have a black Christmas or at least a dark one.

From central Canada to the Atlantic Provinces, a major ice storm has left many without power and hydro companies are saying it may take up to 72 hours to get everybody plugged back in. And no wonder. Stroll around the streets and you see a thick coating of ice on everything. Branches have cracked off of trees and in cases, brought down power lines. Pictures are being posted online of hapless homeowners who have had their castles invaded by toppling trees. You can see a few crushed cars to boot.

My (funny) story
My power went off last night and as of this writing, 6pm, it is still off. An apartment is kind of dark and cold without power. Not the most hospitable of places.

But, am I the luckiest guy on the planet?

I live four blocks from where I work. Great for commuting; just a ten minute walk.

For some inexplicable reason, the 17-story building has power. Everything north for about ten blocks is out and everything south for about a kilometre including my apartment building is out. What's a guy to do? Well, move into his office, of course. I brought everything out of the refrigerator and the freezer and brought it to work. The lunchroom has a frig with a freezer and a microwave oven. And the company offers free coffee from one of those fancy single brew machines. I've got power, lights, and a functioning Internet connection. Heck, I've even got a four thousand dollar high speed printer and scanner if I need it. Tonight I am going to cook myself dinner at the office and catch up on this past week's episodes of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Ice storm? Shmice storm. Yes, I had to get out of bed, get dressed, then walk four blocks to get a cup of coffee but I did end up with my morning coffee. (Do not speak to me until I've had at least a half a cup.)

I'm guessing the majority of people without power are cautiously trying not to set their places on fire or are scurrying around looking for as many batteries as they can find. Me? I'm toughing it out at the office. Yes, yes, I work here and who the heck wants to spend their weekend at their place of employment but it sure beats sitting at home in the darkness without the Internet. Please, dear Lord, take anything but my Internet! Hell, you don't expect me to occupy myself with something like (Gasp!) reading a book?

If it's true that it may take up to 72 hours for power to be restored, I can't help thinking of the Northeast blackout of 2003. I live in a big city and as to be expected in any metropolitan centre, there is a lot of ambient light, so much so that you can only see some of the stars. The only time I saw the Milky Way was went I left civilisation behind to rough it at a cottage. Imagine my wonderment when I went out for as walk in 2003 and could see the Milky Way downtown. It was truly amazing. It almost made up for the widespread looting. Ha ha. I made that up. Actually, there were a lot of stories of people helping one another out during the blackout. I remember videos of citizens taking it upon themselves to play traffic cop at an intersection. See? When we work together we can bring order to the chaos.

Today is laundry day and unfortunately, without power, I will have to contend with that later. (A Christmas day gift? Power and ability to do laundry?) I do have power here at the office so my Internet addiction can continue unabated. Addiction? Ah, I can be hyperbolic at times for effect. It is my connection to the outside world: email, blogging, research, and TV. Yes, I don't own a television set and I don't pay for cable.

Update: Monday, December 23, 2013 at 9am
I have now been out of power for 36 hours. While I spent the entire day at the office yesterday, I did go home at midnight to sleep. There is no hot water, no heat, and no lights obviously. I always shower before going to bed and was considering taking a "cold shower", but opted out.

FYI: Cold Shower
This is where you go under the nozzle just enough to get yourself wet then you turn off the water. You soap yourself down then turn the water back on to rinse yourself off. Since this is cold water, you do your best to not spend any unnecessary time under the nozzle. It's cold!!!

I'm back at my desk at work. This morning's news reports state that crews are out doing their best but apparently it's quite a mess. It's not just a question of getting power back on, it's that downed trees have to be removed to get the lines back up. The CEO of Toronto Hydro came out and said that some people may not get their power back until after Christmas. I look out my office window and I can see where my apartment building is. Great swaths of houses are dark. What to do tonight? Sleep at the office? Heck, when do I get a shower?

I just walked over my apartment building. There are more blocks with lights on but there are still a number without. Guess what? I go down the row of buildings all lit up only to discover mine is still dark. I must be on another grid. Damn. Night number two without heat. Somebody at the office mentioned my gym is back up and running so I think I'll mosey over there for a shower. At least I have options. This is a promising sign that tomorrow, I'll be back in business.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013 at 8am
Last night, I had a wonderful shower at my gym around the corner. They got their power back and were open for business. I came back to the office for a snack and an herbal tea before going to my apartment. It's getting cold. Like pipe freezing cold. How many days before the super has to contend with bursting pipes?

Once I get into bed and shiver from the cold sheets, I settle in and get quite toasty. That is one fine duvet I have. Of course, getting out of bed in the morning means moving as fast as possible. It's cold! It is also testimony of how fast I can move in the morning. Ha, ha. Usually I like to get out of bed bleary eyed and nurse a cup of coffee before I in any way resemble something civilised. This morning, I was up, dressed, shaved, and out the door in less than ten minutes. Of course, what's the carrot at the end of the stick? What's the motivating factor? A cup of coffee at the office!

I have my fingers crossed that today the power comes back on and I can get back to normal. But, I still have Plan B: my office. And if it gets too cold, there's a cot here where I can sleep. I have options.

The super of my building just called to let me know they got the heat turned back on in my building. There's still no electricity but at least I won't freeze tonight when I go to bed.

I visited my apartment. Still no power, but along with heat I have hot water. Woo-hoo! *fist pump* I can take a shower. It seems management succeeded in running a cable from the building next door with electricity to power up the heat and hot water. All right! I'm guessing it will be another night without power.

FYI: It is a beautiful sunny afternoon; cold, but pretty. When I look out the office window over the residential neighbourhoods, it is like I am looking at crystal trees. The ice is lit up by the sun which makes for a beautiful landscape.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013 at 8am
Merry Christmas. Ho, ho, ho. Still no power and I'm back sitting in my office. Will today be the day? Last night, I made my first step in plan B: I rinsed out some socks and underwear. I have clean clothes to the end of the week, but if I don't have power back by Friday, I better go out and find a functioning laundromat.

FYI: You're going to ask. Christmas by yourself? My relatives live in another city and I am scheduled to rent a car and drive out of town this coming Sunday. Christmas for me is spent by myself: a day of reflection and writing. And this year without electricity. Ha.

Thursday, December 26, 2013 at 8am
Here we go: day #5. At least I have heat and hot water. But I stumble out of bed, get dressed, and immediately walk to the office to get a cup of coffee. No lounging around in my bathrobe. Ha, ha. I go to the movies last night and tell the lady at the ticket counter of my plight. She says that she's living in a hotel. Oh wow. I am lucky. As a walked home through darkened neighbourhoods, I couldn't help wondering how many are going to have to contend with burst pipes. According to this morning news, there are still nearly 55,000 in Toronto without power.

Friday, December 27, 2013 at 9am
Night #5 without power and now the start of day #6. I've asked management if they would let me into the building next door with power to do some laundry. In the meantime, it's back to the office where I have power and Internet access.

This is going to be night #7. Judging by the fallen trees in the neighbourhood, I'm guessing my power will be out for the entire weekend.

Saturday, December 28, 2013 at 7am
The power came back on at 12:50am. I've come back to the office to pick up all my things and move back to my apartment. I'll be curious to stroll around the adjacent neighbourhoods. I wonder how long others may be without power. I'm considering myself lucky. As I've said, I had options. How many people spent the week with a candle?


I brazenly stole the above photo I found in Google image search. But, credit where credit is due: Photo by joannabananaface.

Above, I wrote "ice storm shmice storm" and forever curious, I found an entry on this construction of derision.

Wikipedia: Shm-reduplication
Shm-reduplication is a form of reduplication in which the original word or its first syllable (the base) is repeated with the copy (the reduplicant) beginning with shm- (sometimes schm-), pronounced /ʃm/. The construction is generally used to indicate irony, derision or skepticism with respect to comments about the discussed object:

He's just a baby!

"Baby-shmaby". He's already 5 years old!

CBC - Dec 22/2013
Ice, snow storm hits Central and Atlantic Canada
The top priority is restoring power to the two hospitals and the city's water system, all of which are running on back-up power. Crews will then focus on outages that are affecting a large number of customers before moving on to smaller outages.

Wikipedia: Northeast blackout of 2003
The Northeast blackout of 2003 was a widespread power outage that occurred throughout parts of the Northeastern and Midwestern United States and the Canadian province of Ontario on Thursday, August 14, 2003, just before 4:10 p.m. EDT.


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