Movie review: Gifted

The Wife wanted to see a movie that the three of us could all watch, and Gifted seemed to fit the bill. From the IMDB: “Frank, a single man raising his child prodigy niece Mary, is drawn into a custody battle with his mother.”

This is a subgenre where its success is dependent on certain factors. In this case, one is the mutual love that Frank (Chris Evans, Marvel’s Captain America) and Mary (Mckenna Grace, from the TV show Designated Survivor) have for each other, without the kid being so obnoxious that you can’t stand to see him or her on the screen. On that level, the film succeeds.

Of course, one Frank stops homeschooling Mary so she can have friends her own age – all she has besides Frank is his landlady Roberta (Octavia Spencer) – it becomes obvious to her teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate) that Mary has amazing skills.

Reading the Rotten Tomatoes reviews (64% positive), some critics think that Frank’s mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) is “too vicious to be persuasive, and [writer Tom] Flynn undercuts her morally by stressing her lust for recognition.” That’s not my reading of the woman, as villain. She seems more wounded, estranged from her son, as she had been from her late daughter, and even from her current husband.

Fred, the one-eyed cat also features prominently in the storyline. Yes, it’s all melodramatic, with a courtroom scene, and a Big Reveal, where Frank has to make a tradeoff to resolve the issue.

Gifted is a relatively simple, straightforward film, somewhat formulaic and almost certainly manipulative. But I laughed aloud more than once – to the irritation of the Daughter – and got sucked into the lives of the principals. It’s not a great film, but enjoyable enough on a rainy Sunday afternoon at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany.

Author-Illustrator Day at Giffen

My church has been involved with Giffen Memorial Elementary School in Albany for nearly a decade, primarily with tutoring. City School District of Albany families were invited to the fifth annual Author-Illustrator Day event at Giffen on Saturday, April 29 from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., organized by the school and church. “In addition to presentations by authors and a free continental breakfast, Giffen musicians performed throughout the day,” and they were very good.

The authors and illustrators included:

Sharon Flake, award-winning author of books for children and young adults, including “The Broken Bike Boy and the Queen of 33rd Street” and “You Don’t Even Know Me: Short Stories and Poems About Boys.”

Jerdine Nolen, award-winning author of a dozen books including “Big Jabe,” “Thunder Rose” (a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book), and “Hewitt Anderson’s Great Big Life” (a Bank Street Best Book of the Year), all illustrated by Kadir Nelson.

James Preller, award-winning author of more than 80 children’s books, including the Jigsaw Jones Mystery series. His other titles include “Along Came Spider” and “Ghost Cat and Other Spooky Tales.”

Cheryl Willis Hudson, award-winning author of “AFRO-BETS ABC,” “AFRO-BETS 123,” “Hands Can,” “Good Morning” and several other books for children and young adults. She also is editorial director for Just Us Books, Inc., an independent publishing company whose books feature African-American characters.

Folks from the school and the church set up Friday evening. Then there was a reception, where I got to meet the authors. On Saturday morning, the Wife, the Daughter and I picked up the food supplies. I was supposed to help set up the books. Giffen kids got some for free, and others could buy them at a discounted rate. The Green family pile was very large.

My other specific job was as assistant to an author. I had done this in previous years with Joe Bruchac, and as one of the folks helping Lesa-Cline-Ransome and James Ransome; the Ransomes came to the Friday night reception. On Saturday morning, each author is on hand to sign his or her books, and the assistant’s job is to make sure that the the book to be signed was either purchased or given away, and then to print out the name of the persons who wants the book signed.

This year, I was assigned to James Preller, the only local creator, who had also been there three or four years earlier. He was very engaging with the children. He also kept all the names on the Post-It notes, promising to use some of them in future books.

A total of 23 Giffen and 38 First Pres people helped out. The cleanup was faster than ever before, a sign of the fact that we have done this before.

The driving forces behind this activity were Deb and Eric Fagans from my church, who had also created Wizard’s Wardrobe, “providing a free, after school tutoring program for elementary school students in the South End.” For that accomplishment, they received some award at a SUSU Women’s Club dinner that Saturday night, when I’m sure they were even more tired that we were.

Photos of the t-shirt, Sharon Flake, James Preller and Deb Fagens (center) from City School District of Albany

May rambling #1: Bringing the Invisible to Life


And Jesus Said Unto Paul of Ryan … “Pious Paul interjected, ‘For the Samaritan’s work is unsustainable and sends the wrong message. It teaches travelers to take dangerous roads, knowing that others will rescue them from self-destructive behaviors.”

Strength Through Unity: How To Spot Fascism Before It’s Too Late

American Identity is Based on Alternate History

The Truest, Meanest Jokes that Bombed at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner

The absurd amount of entitlements that go to rich people and Why cutting rich people’s taxes doesn’t create jobs

Jimmy Kimmel’s Radically Simple ‘Jimmy Kimmel Test’

Torching the Modern-Day Library of Alexandria

Jodi Picoult: Are You Sure You’re Not Racist?

Someone wants to know why there was a Civil War and could Andrew Jackson have stopped it?

George Will: This president does not know what it is to know

Much Ado About Religious Liberty

Heineken ad

Is the special relationship ending? (Australia, New Zealand)

Vlogbrothers: Can You Trust Mainstream Media? and The Life Changing Magic of Thumbs Up

Younger Men, Older Women: A Pairing Becomes More Common

WebMD stands for medically deficient

There Is a Fake IDGod, and He Lives in China

The Daredevils Without Landlines — And Why Health Experts Are Tracking Them

Camsing Acquires Stan Lee’s POW! Entertainment

David Brickman review: Neil deGrasse Tyson at Proctors

Man forced to surrender his ‘offensive’ Star Trek license plate

Tony nominations (yes, I watch)

Now I Know: The Google Maps Invasion and Bringing the Invisible to Life and Lighting Up the Switchboards

Good luck (shhh!) and spam wedding

All of a sudden or all of the sudden

Please type your preferred plurals in the comments box: alumnus, apparatus, appendix, aquarium, cactus, crisis, criterion, focus, thesis, forum, fungus, hippopotamus, index, nucleus, octopus, phenomenon, referendum, radius, stadium, syllabus, prospectus, ellipsis, museum, factotum, status

Music

LISTEN TODAY! Bette Midler stars as Dolly Levi in the Tony Award-nominated revival of Hello, Dolly, before album is released May 12.

Saxa of the (English) Beat, R.I.P.

Princess Leia’s Stolen Death Star Plans, a Star Wars/Beatles fan tribute

TEN HOURS of the Cantina Band

Derrick Boudwin’s version of Red just won Best Music Video at the Oxford Film Festival

Top 10 Songs About Elvis Presley, not including Elvis Presley Boulevard – Billy Joel, the only Joel single I own (B-side to Allentown)

Chuck Miller: Wake up, you sleeping lion!

Someday My Prince Will Come – Dave Brubeck Quartet

Photos show the world’s biggest rock stars as tourists in 1970s Japan

Forbes: How The Music Industry Is Putting Itself Out Of Business

The Eagles Sue an Actual Hotel California

R is for the Rheingold Beer Jingle (ABC W)

I was listening to our classical music station early one morning, and I hear the Rheingold beer jingle. OK, it wasn’t, really. But it certainly REMINDED me of it.

I discovered here that the melody I heard was in fact the Estudiantina Valse, Opus 191, No. 4 (The Students’ Waltz), a title I had never heard of.

“The tune was composed by a pair of obscure French composers, the tune itself by Paul Lacome (1838 – 1920); But ironically it is often incorrectly attributed to the man who arranged it in a rollicking Strauss-like arrangement for two pianos — named Emile (“Emil”) Waldteufel (1837 – 1915).

Continue reading

Co-opoly and other games people play

At the conference I attended in Syracuse at the end of April, we were encouraged to bring games to play on that Tuesday evening. This was a new thing, and no one was sure if there would be any interest.

I brought backgammon, which >I described here,
and the word game Taboo, plus a couple decks of cards.

My group ended up playing three games. In Co-opoly. “players start a cooperative (a democratic business or organization). In order to survive as individuals and to strive for the success of their co-op, players make tough choices regarding big and small challenges while putting their teamwork to the test.”

It has elements of charades, Taboo, Monopoly, Life, and other games. Do we buy health insurance or risk going without? How about property insurance? The ending round is the most exciting. It did remind me once again that I CANNOT DRAW to save my life.

I had played Apples to Apples before, but never before was it such uproarious fun. “The object of the game is to win the most rounds by playing a ‘red apple’ card (which generally features a noun) from one’s hand to best ‘match’ that round’s communal ‘green apple’ card (which contains an adjective) as chosen by that round’s judging player.”

At one point there were nine of us, which was a great number for maximum fun. Here are some examples of how it plays out.

Balderdash was last. “One player reads out a question to the others. They each write down a made up, but believable answer and hand it to the person who read the question. This person then reads out the REAL answer and all the made up answers, in random order. The others must guess which is actually correct. You score moves on the board for each player who is conned into believing that your made up answer is the real one, as well as for choosing the real and often unbelievable answer.”

The person who has the REAL answer has to write that down too, and late at night, that sometimes didn’t happen. When we got to the dates category, I realized that not everyone knows them as well as I. For instance, someone read a date in 1946; one bluff was VJ Day, and a couple people were fooled. I had written down the Suez Canal crisis for a date in 1956, which I gather was too vague a reference. When I drew a card, it was for January 19, 1946, which I KNEW was Dolly Parton’s birthday.

Elsewhere, people were playing Cards Against Humanity, which, until it was floated on our listserv the week before, I was not familiar with and still have not played. On the other hand, no poker was played, in a break with tradition.

Life is a pre-existing condition

Interestingly, I’m not especially worked up over the Republicans passing a bill, purportedly to “fix” health care, but in fact stripping the right away from millions of people in order to fund an enormous tax break for the rich.

Maybe it’s because everyone else is SO ticked. If those elephantine members of Congress took heat from their constituents around the time of the March non-vote, I can only imagine how angry those voters are now, well, except for the districts represented by those 20 Republicans who voted against the bill. The anti-GOP ads are already starting.

And target #1 in this area – not my district, but one adjacent – has to be former state legislator and now freshman Congressman John Faso. Endorsed by the local Hearst paper in 2016, and now blasted in same, I know a number of people who are already working for his defeat in 2018.

Some talking head – Dan Senor on CBS This Morning – recently suggested that November 2018 is a long time from now and that this vote won’t define any candidate. I TOTALLY disagree. It’s like what Nancy Pelosi said, their votes all but branded on their foreheads.

The bill that the House Republicans passed is the same sadistic bill they tried to pass weeks ago, and if anything more brutal — opening the door to discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions.

Before the vote, Jimmy Kimmel, FCOL, talked of how quick hospital-style attention saved the life of his infant son, and made the argument to protect those in situations like his child. Some trolls went after him, but the counter thrust was fierce.

Seth Meyers explained how Speaker Paul Ryan of 2017 TOTALLY contradicts Paul Ryan of 2009. I’m not sure I want to say Today, I Hope That There’s a Hell, but if there is, those grinning faces in the White House garden would be heading there.

Stay angry, my friends. Your wrath comforts me. If YOU weren’t ticked, I’D have to be, and I’m TIRED of being enraged ALL of the time.

On the other hand, if you want help unelecting these SOBs, I’m in.

Music, May 1971: Sticky Fingers

More random music recollections based on the book Never A Dull Moment.

The odd thing about Binghamton, NY at the time was that some students started school in February and graduated in January. So when I graduated in January 1971, I looked for a job for six weeks before securing a job at IBM, one of the area’s largest employers.

I usually worked 56 hours a week, from 5:12 pm to 4 a.m. on weekdays, with 48 minutes for lunch, and from noon to 6 on Saturday. So I was exhausted on Sunday. It’d only be on Monday that I might go out and buy some music magazines, and, eventually, more albums, even as I saved money for college.

So I was only vaguely aware that the Rolling Stones had moved to France as a tax haven, and would be recording their next album, Exile on Main Street, there. I WAS aware that they were getting their own imprint, under the aegis of Atlantic Records. And it was impossible not to know that Mick was marrying Bianca from Nicaragua.

I know I bought the current album, Sticky Fingers, later that summer, on the same day I bought Carole King’s Tapestry. I learned only later that the songs “straddled two decades,” with some tracks, such as Brown Sugar and Wild Horses, having been recorded as early as late 1969.

The day of the wedding there were other albums released for which I have specific memories, although not necessarily in that time frame. Paul McCartney’s Ram was a guilty pleasure; he was the uncool one, while Lennon was presumably more profound. There are several articles reexamining the Macca oeuvre of that period. I actually did go out once that summer and heard some cover band do Smile Away, which pleased me.

My parents and I were at the house of our family friends, the Pomeroys, in nearby Vestal. Maybe this was Christmas 1971, but I’m not at all sure. What I DO remember is that my mother was DANCING, and I have no other recollection of that. The CSNY Four-Way Street album, specifically Carry On, was playing. It’s a 4- or 5-minute song on Deja Vu, but 14 minutes on the live album, and about 10 minutes in, Mom was ready to quit.

In the early 1980s, an old girlfriend of mine had remarried, and her new husband, who I had known years before, and I were torturing his young stepsons with our air guitar/drum version of the title song on Jethro Tull’s Aqualung.

Listen to:

Wild Horses – Rolling Stones
Smile Away – Paul McCartney
Carry On (live) – Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young
Aqualung – Jethro Tull
Anticipation – Carly Simon
Hey, Mister, That’s Me Up on the Jukebox – James Taylor
Change Partners – Stephen Stills

Favorites Movies, I Think, meme

Jaquandor saw this making the rounds, so he did it on Facebook. Naturally, I’ll post mine to the blog. I must say that some of the categories I find a bit fuzzy, but if you’re not worried about that, I won’t be either.

Most Hated Movie Of All Time: Fellini Satyricon, which I saw in college
Movie I Think Is Overrated: The Shining
Movie I Think Is Underrated: Her
Movie I Love: Casablanca,, which I saw outdoors
Movie I Secretly Love: Hairspray (the original)

Favorite Action Movie: Men in Black
Favorite Drama: 12 Angry Men, which I saw on TV, then subsequently got the video through some Cheerios coupons
Favorite Horror: Alien
Favorite Comedy: Young Frankenstein
Favorite Romance: Love Actually

Favorite Fantasy: The Wizard of Oz
Favorite Disney Movie: The Incredibles
Favorite Science Fiction Movie: the original Planet of the Apes
Favorite Book to Movie Adaptation: The Shawshank Redemption
Favorite Animated Movie: The Iron Giant

Favorite Superhero Movie: Spider-Man (2002, Tobey Maguire)
Favorite War Movie: The Best Years of Our Lives, which I saw on TV
Favorite Thriller: Rear Window, which I saw in the cinema
Favorite Cop Movie: The Fugitive
Favorite Musical: Fiddler on the Roof

Favorite Chop-Socky: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (I do not know what the category means)
Favorite Documentary: Hoop Dreams
Favorite Bad Movie: Reefer Madness or Howard the Duck
Childhood Favorite: West Side Story
Favorite Franchise: Back to the Future

Best Trilogy: original Star Wars
Guilty Pleasure: Titanic (I don’t really believe in guilty pleasures)
Favorite Director: Woody Allen
Favorite Actor: Tom Hanks
Favorite Actress: Meryl Streep

Favorite Movie This Year So Far: Hidden Figures
Worst Movie So Far This Year: No entry.
Movie I Have Recently Seen: Kedi
What I Thought Of It: I enjoyed it
Favorite Movie Of All Time: Annie Hall

Coffin doors and sales tax on bagels

On the 25th of April, the family stopped at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, NY. It was worthwhile trip, highlighted by seeing several quilts, one signed by over 100 country music artists.

We traveled on to Syracuse and stayed overnight. We had a lovely time at the Onondaga Lake Park on a beautiful Sunday, though I would have felt better had I remembered my sunglasses. Unfortunately, the Salt Museum wasn’t open yet for the season.

Then I was dropped off at the “newly restored” Marriott Syracuse Downtown, originally opened in 1924 as the Hotel Syracuse. It’s true that it had a lot of old structure style, such as elevator design, though I must say they operated much faster to the 10th floor than the elevators on the previous night traveled only a couple levels.

The Daughter was jealous of my view, and my room was only on the third floor. She was particularly fascinated by the coffin doors on many of the rooms. “The doors are unusually thick because they contain an interior space for guests to hang clothes they wished to have washed or dry-cleaned in the hotel’s laundry overnight.

“Guests would open a compartment on the ‘room’ side of the door and hang the clothes they wanted washed. Without disturbing the guests, hotel employees would come around at night and remove the clothes through a compartment on the side of the door facing the hallway.”

I was in Syracuse for the agency annual conference, about the only time during the year I actually see the people for whom our library provides reference services. There were several workshops, almost all of them informative.

The librarians also conducted a session. One talked about business apps, another talked about programmatic issues. I talked about sales tax. Boring, you say? Maybe, but sales tax in New York is weird.

For instance, is a bagel taxable? “Food that is prepared and arranged on a plate or platter by the seller, and that is ready to be eaten is taxable. It doesn’t matter whether the food is sold to be eaten at the store or another place, or whether it’s served hot or cold.” (Times Union, April 28, 2011.) So if a plain, unadorned bagel had been put in a bag, it would NOT be subject to sales tax.

High school, rah rah rah, sis boom bah

My buddy Chuck Miller posted this on Facebook: “Your SENIOR year of high school! The longer ago it was, the more fun the answers will be!!!! Let’s have FUN!” Well, OK, if you say so. Binghamton (NY) Central High School.

1. The year? 1970-1971
2. Did you go to prom? Yes – there are pictures out there. And six months earlier, I went to my then-girlfriend’s prom. The theme of hers was Colour My World. The theme to ours: All Things Must Pass.
3. What kind of car did you drive? I didn’t – I walked to school. It was only 0.8 mile. In fact, I walked almost everywhere.

4. It’s Friday Night Football were you there? Oddly enough, yes – a couple of my friends were the school mascots, and I did grow up with a couple players.
5. What kind of job did you have? I was a page for Binghamton Public Library, helping people put on microfilm, filing old magazines, and shelf reading.
6. Were you a party animal? I’d say no; sometimes parties and lots of people would overwhelm me. Others may view me differently because I had an agreeable facade.

7. Were you considered a jock? Goodness no. I did try out for football but quit before the third or fourth practice. I hated gym, and the sadistic teachers, until we got a decent guy in my senior year.
8. Were you in the Band? No, but I was in the main choir AND the male glee club.
9. Were you a nerd? Political nerd, I suppose. I was in a group called the Contemporary Issues Forum, where we dealt with racism and the war. I was president of student government and the Red Cross club at different points, and I was on stage crew for drama club, with occasional small acting roles.

10. Do you still live in the same school district? No, but in the same state
11. Can you sing the school song? Much of it – “Loyal sons and steadfast daughters… Victory be to BCHS, guard our color blue.” The tune was stolen from “Far Above Cayuga’s Waters“, Cornell University’s alma mater. Ithaca is only 49 miles (79 km) away. THOSE lyrics were “set to the tune of ‘Annie Lisle‘, a popular 1857 ballad by H. S. Thompson about a heroine dying of tuberculosis.”
12. What was your school mascot? Bulldog

13. If you could go back and do it again, would you? Heavens, no, even though I had a reasonably good time there.
14. Are you still in contact with people from high school? I’m still in touch with a few people from KINDERGARTEN, so yes. And Facebook has enhanced that. So has this blog.
15. Do you know where your high school sweetheart is now? Indeed yes. She’s married and living in our hometown. Saw her a few years ago, and my family stayed at her place.

16. What was your favorite subject? Trig, history, choir.
17. Do you still have your High School ring? I never had one. Did they do that sort of thing in my school? I had to check with folks on a Binghamton-based FB page to confirm that we were offered the chance to buy one, gold with a blue stone, naturally.
18. Do you still have your yearbook? Yes, I do. And for the two years previous. I know exactly where they are.