Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson

"There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries." (Julius Caesar; Act 4, Scene 3).

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Magritte Exhibit at Chicago Art Institute Brings the Surreal to the Windy City

P1030906Surrealism, to me, always meant Salvador Dali. I was blithely unaware of Magritte, the Belgian surrealist, until the movie “The Faith in Our Stars” screened and Shailene Woodley showed up in it wearing a tee shirt with the legend “A Pipe Is Not A Pipe” (in French). It was about this time that I noticed many large ads for a Magritte exhibit at the Art Institute and decided it would be a good chance to kill two birds with one stone: learn about Magritte and visit the exhibit.

 

Of course, there are so many things to do in Chicago that a trip to the Mercury Theater to see “Avenue Q” (for the third time) was also in the cards, dinner at Tango Sur and Banderos (535 N. Michigan), and taking in the movie “Get On Up,” the James Brown bio-pic. I think the performance by Chadwick Boseman is the first Oscar-worthy performance of this season and his dancing was phenomenal.] It turned out to be the 100th performance by the talented troupe and I highly recommend this version of the show, having seen it now in Las Vegas, downtown Chicago and on the north side of Chicago.

Aside from an accident on the way back to the Quad Cities that had us sitting, immobile, on I80 for nearly an hour, it was a weekend that ran nearly flawlessly with lots of good food and  fun.

The gentleman shown painting the Magritte scene is Magritte himself and the small cover he painted for a surrealistic magazine speaks for itself (almost).P1030900

Magritte.

Magritte.

Magritte doing Magritte.

Magritte doing Magritte.

 

Magritte.

Magritte.

 

New Book Trailer for “The Christmas Cats Chase Christmas Rats”

“The Christmas Cats Chase Christmas Rats” Will Be At Book World on November 2, 2013

The_Christmas_Cats_C_Cover_for_Kindle
In 2011, the first book in “The Christmas Cats” series of stories for young readers (ages 3 to 10) was released. It contained artwork by Andrew Weinert and Emily Marquez and conveyed the message, through the antics of “The Christmas Cats in Silly Hats” that children should learn to get along in life.

The journey of the first book was rocky. It was begun when young Andy Weinert was in high school. I promised him that, if he drew me some cats in silly hats, this book WOULD see the light of day. And then AuthorHouse lost his original drawings. I was so upset that I tracked the President of AuthorHouse down and received the promise of a “free” make good book. But, really, who wants more of a bad deal? I put the book in a drawer and there it moldered for 7 or 8 years.

While working on my movie book (“It Came from the 70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now”) I mentioned the cat book project to layout man Donnie Light. Donnie thought he might be able to make the pixels in the scans of the cats suitable, as computers had progressed quite a bit since Andy drew the originals. However, I also wanted to turn the book into a Christmas present, so I needed an artist to make that happen, and Andy was not available.

The girls’ nanny, Emily Marquez of Venezuela stepped in and helped out. Emily is not a professional artist, but she loves to draw and she did a credible job of both finishing the drawings and helping promote the book.

I did not publish a book in 2012, as Andy was unavailable to help with illustrations, but, as the twins for whom I wrote the first book are now 4, I looked long and hard for just the right artist to assist me with this project and found Gary McCluskey of Rhode Island.

Four-year-old twin granddaughters Elise (left) and Ava (right) Wilson, to whom the book is dedicated. (They'll be helping me write them, from now on.)

Four-year-old twin granddaughters Elise (left) and Ava (right) Wilson, to whom the book is dedicated. (They’ll be helping me write them, from now on.)

Gary’s drawings were (and are) so good and clever and colorful that Donnie said, “This guy ought to be working for Disney!” I suggested drawings for the short rhyming tale of the Christmas Cats in Silly Hats, who are called in by scientists and asked to help round up escaped white lab rats. The drawings were (and are) darling, and the books are on their way to me now (expedited shipping) so that I can have them by November 2nd at the book signing at SouthPark Mall’s Book World. (At least, they are supposed to be here.)

The basic message of this book is that we should not be prejudiced, but should learn to judge individuals on their own merits. The Christmas Cats are still in evidence (and wearing their characteristic silly hats) but, this time, there are little white rats involved and the short book (32 pages) is a fun, colorful, creative read for anybody’s child or grandchild.

I will be signing copies of Book #2, “The Christmas Cats Chase Christmas Rats” at SouthPark Mall from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, November 2nd. While supplies last, if you purchase Book #2 in paperback, you can receive a free copy of Book #1. Don’t miss this opportunity to receive 2 books for the price of one!

The book is also available in Kindle format and in paperback at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords outlets, but, if you want a signed copy, come visit me at Book World in South Park this coming Saturday, from 1 to 4 p.m.

Real, Actual, ComCast Service Call: Hilarious!

DSC_0195
I just got off an internet chat session from Comcast support… this is the actual exchange (I just cut and pasted here)… I found it kind of humorous:

Maria: Hello Scott, Thank you for contacting Comcast Live Chat Support. My name is Maria. Please give me one moment to review your information.
analyst Maria has entered room
Scott: My Issue: Regarding Ticket #017527451, I keep getting contacted from a collection agency even though Comcast has confirmed the charges are incorrect. Can you please contact the collection agency and inform them?
Maria: I appreciate you taking the time to chat with us. I hope your day went well.
Scott: sure
Maria: Thank you.
Scott: There is an incorrect charge owed of $89.74 on my account.
Maria: I understand that you are having a hard time connecting to Collections Department and would want me to contact them on your behalf, Scott.
Scott: These charges against me occurred AFTER I disconnected service
Scott: Not the collections department
Scott: n outside third party who does the collections for Comcast
Scott: (an)
Maria: Oh, I can perfectly understand your concern on this matter, Scott. No worries, I can definitely check the status of your ticket # you have provided.
Scott: thanks
Maria: You are most welcome.
Maria: Would you mind giving me one moment to pull up your account?
Scott: sure
Maria: Thank you.
Maria: I am now pulling up your old account.
Scott: taking a long time
Maria: Thank you so much for patiently waiting. I have now pulled up your account.
Maria: To protect your account I will need to verify some additional information. Would you please provide me with the last 4 digits of your social security number?
Scott: 1234
Maria: Excellent!
Maria: Thank you so much for verifying your account.
Maria: Great news!
Scott: sure
Maria: I am seeing here that your current balance is $0.00.
Maria: The $89.74 has already been adjusted on your account.
Maria: Isn’t it great?
Scott: great. Can you officially inform the collection agency then so they stop calling me?
Scott: And confirm to me that they were contacted?
Scott: I can even provide you with their phone number
Scott: Isn’t that great!
Maria: Oh, I can definitely note this on your account so the collections department would be able to see the updates on your balance.
Maria: Oh, Sure thing, that would be great!
Scott: great!
Scott: Would you mind giving me one moment to pull up the number?
Maria: Oh, please take your time, Scott.
Scott: great!
Scott: (elevator music)
Maria: That’s a good one!
Scott: great! glad you liked it
Scott: please continue to hold while I pull that up
Maria: Oh, sure thing, I am just right here waiting for you.
Maria: Scott, just to let you know, at the end of this chat there will be a short survey.
Scott: great!
Maria: I would greatly appreciate if you grant my simple request to spare few seconds of your time to complete a short survey on how well I have assisted you.
Scott: great! a survey
Scott: I love surveys
Maria: Yes, a survey, Scott.
Maria: Oh, I love to know that you love taking surveys! thank you so much for your cooperation. Your comments and suggestions means a lot to me.
Scott: The collections agency phone is 877-236-5791
Maria: Perfect!
Scott: Yes!
Scott: Amazing!
Maria: One moment please as I note the number down for you.
Scott: Oh, sure thing, I am just right here waiting for you.
Maria: Wow! thank you so much for your patience.
Scott: Snap! No worries!
Maria: Great news! I have already taken cared everything for you.
Maria: Thank you.
Scott: Great! What is it that you have taken care of? Contacted the agency and informed them?
Maria: Oh, I have noted everything that we have discussed here today and that includes the number you have provided to be called (Collections – third party #).
Scott: Oh, great!
Scott: Is there anything else I can do for you?
Maria: Sure thing it is!
Scott: Have a great day! Oh… and a great evening!
Maria: Oh, I should be the one asking you that, Scott. Sure thing you have a sense of humor!
Maria: Oh you too! Have a blessed evening!
Maria: Would there be anything else before we end?
Scott: Right back at ya!
Scott: (boomerang style)
Maria: Oh! I am so happy I was able to resolved and help you with your issue today by giving you the assurance that the $89.74 has already been adjusted on your account.
Maria: Oh! that’s a good one!
Maria: I have also noted everything on your account for Collection’s reference before contacting you back again.
Scott: Not as happy as I! After all, it is my $89.74 we are both excited about!
Scott: Goodbye Maria!
Maria: I am so happy that you don’t need to pay $89.74 anymore!
Maria: Good bye to you too, Scott.
Maria: That pretty much covers everything, Scott. Once again, thank you for contacting Comcast chat support. It has been a pleasure assisting you today. We thank you for choosing Comcast as your provider, remember it is our guarantee to be available to answer questions at your convenience, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Scott: (or is that your “XFINITY Chat” name?)
Scott: Wow, you typed that fast!
Maria: Yes, Maria is my real name and chat name at the same time.
Scott: nimble!
Scott: Great!
Maria: Thank you! I am glad to hear that.
Scott: Me too!
Scott: Now go out there and give XFINITY your best today!
Maria: Sure thing I will, Scott!
Scott: Oh, one other thing while you are here “Maria”…
Maria: Sure thing, go ahead please.
Scott: Any chance you can reduce my cable bill costs… by as much as 50%… without any loss of service?
Maria: Oh, I can definitely understand that you would want to save and keep your current services at the same time, Scott.
Maria: No worries we still have a solution for this.
Scott: Great!
Scott: Does it involve others paying my bill?
Maria: For more promo options and offers, you may contact our Customer’s Solutions. They will have access to more promotions available specifically to retain loyal customers like you. They can be reached at #1-800-934-6489 and is available from Mondays to Saturdays at 8am-6pm.
Scott: Again… you are a fast typist!
Maria: May I ask if what do you mean by that?
Maria: Oh, thank you!
Scott: Sure! means I think you are a fast typist!
Maria: Oh! thank you for the compliment, Scott!
Scott: You typed that paragraph in like 2.7 seconds!
Maria: Wow!
Scott: Zoinks!
Maria: Oh, before I forgot, that is eastern standard time.
Scott: Well “Maria”… it’s been great… I’m exhausted… I don’t know if I ‘ll have enough energy for that “survey” your gonna throw at me
Scott: Sounds a lot like an ACT or something
Maria: Oh, that is alright.
Scott: Will I be graded?
Maria: That’s a good one, Scott!
Maria: It’s alright. No worries.
Scott: Can you take the survey for me?
Scott: Just enter the name “Scott” instead of Maria
Maria: Oh, I am saddened that I can’t.
Scott: I am more saddened that you can’t
Maria: Oh!
Scott: Ok then… get those nimble fingers back to work… at this rate you only end up assisting 3.4 customers per day
Maria: Surveys are optional. It’s perfectly fine if you are unable to participate.
Scott: I’ll think about it during the next music interlude
Scott: Ok.. bye “Maria”!
Maria: Perfect!
Maria: Good bye now, Scott!
Maria: I enjoyed assisting you today!
Maria: Have a blessed evening!
Scott: what do you mean by that?
Scott: Oh! I enjoyed you assisting me as well!
Scott: Good by now, “Maria”!
Maria: Oh, I mean, I enjoyed the chat conversation.
Scott: Oh! Great!
Scott: Bye!
Maria: Good bye now scott!
Maria: Please click on “Exit Chat“ or `Close Chat` button to properly close this chat and to take the survey. Thank you for contacting Comcast and have a great day.
Scott: Oh!
Scott: One last thing “Maria”
Maria: Oh, that’s alright if you just click exit and not take the survey.
Maria: Sure thing.
Scott: Will I indeed receive a confirmation once the collection agency is contacted?
Maria: Yes, you will be.
Scott: Great!
Scott: Take care!
Maria: You too, take care!

Apex Reviews “Above the Fold” Interview

Apex Reviews has this in-depth interview up now at this link:
http://apexreviews.net/Above_The_Fold_-_9_4_13.html

Australia Trip Down Under

Stateroom, Room #1075.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013: First day on the ship. We do not sail until tomorrow. We ended up sitting out by the pool, but Dad’s suitcase did not come very promptly, so he did not get to get in the hot tub with us. Our evening meal was shrimp cocktail, prime rib, mushroom soup and profiterole with pecan ice cream and chocolate sauce. Scrumptious.

Stacey & Craig with Sydney Harbour Bridge in background

, January 17, 2013: Second day actually ON the ship and setting sail at 6:30 p.m. for Melbourne. We had dragged our suitcases from the Holiday Inn in the old part of Sydney down to the cruise ship (Celebrity Solstice) without benefit of a cab. Today, we did not sail until the evening, so we went ashore and took a Jet Ski boat trip that was quite wet. It was my pick and cost $60 per person. We put on red ponchos, but that didn’t help much. We got our seat assignment changed from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and, tonight, we met Dom and Kath, who were from Manchester. Tomorrow we are going to take part in a wine tasting onboard ship. Dom and Kath are newlyweds and seem quite nice. Tomorrow is the “dressy night” in the dining room.

Sydney Opera House.

Sydney Harbour.

Friday, January 18, 2013: Third day. At sea. After our late dinner seating, everyone was so tired that the movie Stacey selected (“Jeff, Who Lives At Home”) was incomplete when we turned it off and retired at midnight. At that point, I was the only one awake, and I wasn’t watching the film at all, as I saw it at the Chicago Film Festival year before this (2011) with the Director present to answer questions. So I continued reading my selection (“Odd Thomas: The Apocalypse” by Dean Koontz), obtained from the free onboard Library. (I had planned to take John Irving’s latest, but I didn’t grab it in time and it was gone.) You can just take a book and you are simply asked to return it at the end of the cruise. Sort of the honor system. Someone topside was reading a book that had, in big letters, WILSON, and I commented that it was too bad it wasn’t one of MY books, but it underscores the prevalence of the surname “Wilson” in the world of literature (or anything else.) At breakfast today, the Captain came on and announced that we had traveled 270 nautical miles and had about 285 nautical miles to go, i.e., we are roughly halfway to Melbourne, which is, according to Stacey, about a 9 hour drive by car. We are traveling at 18 knots. It is 70 degrees Fahrenheit and the water temperature is 68 degrees Fahrenheit. There are 20 to 25 mph winds and we will arrive in port around 3 am. There are reports from the Melbourne area of forest fires raging out of control. The town of Toongabbi reported a temperature of 43 Celsius (about 110 degrees) and Shane Fitzsimmons of some authority reported on our in-room TV that the Newell Highway was closed in both directions. We were told all this on the elevator by an Aussie couple and Craig responded, “I guess I’ll have to look for smoke,” which convulsed them with laughter as they departed the elevator, since we are roughly 300 miles away. The Captain’s quote (Words of Wisdom, he called them): “Borrow money from a pessimist; he won’t expect it back.” Not sure what that has to do with anything, but, at 2 p.m., we are scheduled to go to wine tasting with our old friends Dom and Kath also in attendance ($23 per person). Stacey and I purchased the Coca Cola plan, which allows you unlimited Coke products, as long as you only take one at a time. It costs $8 per person, per day, and we definitely have been getting our money’s worth, as the cost, per Coca Cola, is about $3 otherwise. This is an American boat, which means that all my pluggable items (hair dryer, curling iron, electric rollers) work. Stacey is the one who needs an “adaptor.” This will all change when we return to Sydney for 2 weeks, at which time we will need all the adaptors we can get out hands on. They sell for about $12 per adaptor down here in stores near The Rocks, but the Holiday Inn put a $32 charge on our bill until we returned a borrowed one. I also posted one time, from our hotel room, and I had to sign on and got kicked off quite late. Rather than purchase 24 hours (for $22.95), I purchased one hour for $10 and, later, after we watched Stacey’s friends plan at the bar, $10 for another hour. Unfortunately, with 5 minutes left in my hour, the machine kicked me off. I thought, “Oh, well,” and signed on for (yet another) $10 hour, but the computer would not allow me access. Therefore, Craig had to argue about taking the charge for $10 off for the last hour (which I did not use, it being close to 1:30 a.m. at the time). We did succeed in getting the $35 in bogus charges removed, and the hotel was so close that we could walk to the boat pulling our luggage. I thought I would be unhappy that I had taken my computer AND the normal 2 bags I travel to Cancun with (one for clothes, one for make-up) but, so far, I have been very happy with my choice of garments, which ignored all the “It’s hot” stuff and brought lightweight sweaters, etc. to wear with lighter-weight garments. I am wearing my sleeveless blue-with-silver dress now and I found a blue top that compliments it (but not the one bought to go with it, which I could not find). We ate breakfast a few minutes ago, and it was a huge buffet with most things one would expect at breakfast. (eggs, sausages, bacon, hash browns, corned beef hash, fruit, etc.). Only the orange juice was sub-par. Apparently, it is made from concentrate and the concentrate had run out in our dispenser, leaving us with water. I drank a fruit juice (like Hawaiian punch) that was like that given us as we boarded. In order to board after disembarking, we have to show our key card, which has a picture attached to it. They are very particular about NOT bringing booze onto the ship. They put your luggage through a metal detector and, if booze is found, they confiscate it and store it in the duty-free room until after the cruise. I am happy because, being an American ship out of Miami, the cruise offers Berenger’s white zinfandel by the glass, which almost no one in Australia has, according to Stacey. We will sample various wines at 2 pm today, and then, tonight, is the Captain’s Welcome with fancy clothes. I plan to wear a fancy black jacket with white cuffs and a sparkly clasp and a long black velour skirt. Tomorrow’s temperature is going to be only 72 Fahrenheit, so my outfits will be fine, although Stacey, who started her sojourn in Melbourne, says there isn’t that much “tourist-y” to do in that city. I’m not paying for Internet on this cruise, since it is slow and unreliable and extremely pricey.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Downtown Melbourne, Australia.

We arrived in Melbourne today. I got up at 8:30 a.m. , showered (no bathtub, unless you forked out an additional $4,000) and we set off for Melbourne. I knew little to nothing about Melbourne. We found out that the Australian Open Tennis Tournament was going on about 2 miles from where we were. We walked up and down Swanston Street and had a drink at an outdoor café. (I ordered a lemonade from Schwappes, and it tasted like 7-Up). Here, they call “McDonald’s” Maccas. One Krispy Kreme donut was $2.50. At home, you could probably buy a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts for $2.50! We tried to go to the Aquarium, but the line was horrendously long, so we got out of line and went to an Internet Café, instead. I got a nice note from Pam, at home, and a note from Pan, my friend in Minneapolis, saying her account had been hacked and not to open any mail from her. My impression(s) of Melbourne were that it was not much different than many seaport towns: nothing architecturally interesting, etc. The homes we saw along the trolley route reminded me of the homes in Mesa, AZ in that they didn’t have any basements and were relatively alike. The park (and hotel near it) were kind of grubby and flat. It wasn’t my favorite Australian city by a long shot. (Of course, it’s only the second one, and I’m not likely to visit many others.)

Sunday, January 20
We danced to Beatles music in the main area after dinner. Stacey had a Swedish massage. I had a facial. We were at sea. I watched “The Exotic Marigold Hotel.”

Monday, January 21

Milford Sound, Dusky Sound, Doubtful Sound, New Zealand (Dusky is only reachable by boat.)

Dr. Jose (Hernandez?) from Mexico told me about the Alaskan cruise involving a helicopter ride. Tomorrow, the Milford Sound stop where only 120 people live but over a million people a year visit. One of the wettest places on Earth. Sand Fly Point is mentioned for the end of a 6 hour run to that point. Different things to see coming in to Milford Sound: waterfalls—some of them are fed by moss—so thick that it can absorb water and hold it for day and feeds the waterfalls for days afterwards. Water falls over one kilometer (over one mile). With the very high falls, they don’t actually get to touch the water of Milford Sound, which gets blown away. Mitre Peak is named after the 5 peaks of a Bishop’s mitre. Rock faces all the way around. Rain forest going all the way around. The Elephant and The Lion are the most famous peaks. We pull in at 7 a.m. tomorrow. Mitre Peak, The Elephant and the Lion are the 3 we will see upboard on deck. Mitre Peak is 1700 meters out of the water and one of the most photographed peaks of N.Z. The top is often shrouded in mist and clouds. We should be able to see at least a portion of that big mountain. New Zealand is a hiking center. “No worries.” It’s possible to climb Mitre Peak if you have overnight and don’t mind falling. I0 hours one way. Below the water, it is a similar temperature in winter and summer: cold all the time. The water flows down the cliffs and gets soaked by the tannens from the plants and creates a unique sea water barrier that blocks the light. With that light being blocked by the tannic water, black coral and other weird sea life forms are fostered. Black coral usually lives 500 meters below the surface, but you can see it only 10 meters below the surface. It is a popular dive site. The temperature can be challenging for a beginning diver because of the tannic water, you can’t see much.

Tuesday, January 24, 2013

Dunedin, New Zealand, just opposite our private deck, on the hill.

Today, we sailed into Milford Sound. It is rocky with mountains with fog on top. Stacey and Craig went upstairs to take pictures. I followed along, but not until about 10 a.m., at which point the boat had sailed in, turned around 360 degrees, and was sailing out. We will sail into Doubtful Sound at 1 p.m. It is now 11:30 a.m. Stacey has (apparently) lost our TV control, so we now cannot watch anything on our in-room TV, which sucks. It was cold on the deck, and I could never find Stacey and Craig. I eventually went into the dining room and had a roll, some fruit, and some juice and talked to a couple from Dallas/Fort Worth area. If we can relocate Stacey, we may be able to relocate our TV control, but, otherwise, we are screwed. We have several channels and free movies IF we can find our TV control to use our TV.
My shots from the on-ship doctor seem to have left little “bumps” at each side of my mouth. I wonder if the Pearline is suppose to disperse downward over time? Otherwise, I have 2 little “gopher pouches” on each side of my mouth, which is interesting, to say the least, but not quite what I thought was the desired effect. At least it was not as painful as Restylane in Cancun, with just an ice cube.

Wednesday, January 25, 2013
Spent the day in Dunedin (Port Chalmers) New Zealand and took a train ride, which I hope to illustrate with photos.

“The Master” Limns “The Church of What’s Happening Now” with Philip Seymour Hoffman & Joaquin Phoenix

Director Paul Thomas Anderson

Paul Thomas Anderson’s sixth film—his first in 5 years—is garnering major Oscar buzz for the  performances of its ensemble cast, especially Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lancaster Dodd, a charismatic cult leader some say is based on L Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology.

As the film opens, World War II is ending and with it the shipboard career of able seaman Freddie (Joaquin). Freddie is shown making home brew to celebrate. This is one of Freddie’s chief talents and favorite pursuits. The secret ingredient (paint thinner) lays the crew low. They are shown in an aerial shot suffering the after-effects of having ingested Freddie’s powerful elixir. Indeed, when Freddie eventually meets Lancaster Dodd aboard ship, there is talk of whether he can concoct more of his potent booze to share with the loyal members of the cult known as The Cause, which Lancaster Dodd has founded and leads.

Reviewers around the world are universally hailing the intense performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Some in foreign countries (most notably England) are seeing political parallels for this time in our nation’s history which U.S. film-goers may (or may not) find relevant.

Joaquin Phoenix

This is the first film since Joaquin Phoenix made bizarre appearances on talk shows like David Letterman’s “Late Night.” Bearded and touting a documentary entitled “I’m Still Here,” Phoenix announced his retirement from show business and his possible entry into a career in music. No one bought it then. Nobody is buying it now. Especially since he’s back on the big screen as the “go to” guy to play neurotic leading men.

Former actors who (in years of yore) used to be called on to play psychos (and always did so brilliantly) were Bruce Dern (“Black Sunday” comes to mind), William DeVane (“Rolling Thunder”) and Steve Buscemi in pretty much anything, prior to “Boardwalk Empire.” In today’s cinema, Joaquin Phoenix is the real deal. Rambling. Incoherent.  Seemingly ready to become violent instantaneously. A younger version of Crispin Glover.

Some of the things Phoenix does in this film, in fact, were improvised, such as destroying a toilet in a jail cell (which the “New York Times” reports he didn’t even know was possible before it happened) or getting into a bizarre fight in a department store with a portly middle-aged photographic subject. This is a tour de force whacko-gone-nuts scene in a film where Phoenix is described as “profoundly unnerving,” and “hunched over insecurely in a display of surprising weirdness.”

My thought on that remark: What’s surprising about it? Joaquin Phoenix seems to have perfected portraying the high-voltage nut case who could go ballistic at any minute. In this role, as Director Paul Thomas Anderson told the “Huffington Post’s” Mike Hogan on September 11, 2012:  “There were a number of opportunities for him (Phoenix) to hurt himself and I think he did, you know?  But that’s kind of what you want, hopefully, within reason.”  It doesn’t surprise us at all to learn that the fictional character Joaquin plays has a mother in an insane asylum, is an alcoholic, is not too bright, and is obsessively fixated on sex and most primitive things. (Farting comes to mind)

The movie opens with young boys making an anatomically correct sand sculpture female form on a beach. Freddie ends up curled up next to it, arm thrown over the sand sculpture’s mid-section. When Quell is given a Rorschach test upon dismissal from the Navy, every single ink blot reminds him of something sexual. Freddie’s idea of a snappy come-on to a potential sexual mate: he holds up a sign that says, “Want to fuck?” with a happy face drawn below it.

That occurs when Freddie has found his way to Lancaster Dodd’s (Hoffman’s) ship, where, it should be noted, he is a stow-away as he runs for his life from migrant workers who think he has poisoned an old man with his home brew. An interesting comment he makes about the old man is, “You remind me of my father,” just before all hell breaks loose regarding the old man’s condition. Food for thought.

Much has been made of the cinematic change of colors as Freddie moves from his initial post-war job as a photographer in a ritzy department store to fruit-picker with other migrant workers. Salinas, California is mentioned, and Anderson admits that he used some stories of Steinbeck’s life in writing the film, which was shot with 70 mm film using an old Panavision Super 70 Camera. (The cinematography by Mihai Malaimareh, Jr. is Oscar-worthy. Anderson usually works with Robert Elswit, but Elswit was involved in shooting “The Bourne Legacy.”)

An original score by Jonny Greenwood (“Radiohead) adds what sounds like a ticking clock (during an auditing session) and the music fits the material, although I’ll never hear the song “Slow Boat to China” again without thinking of the scene where Hoffman sings it to Phoenix, much as I can’t hear “Singin’ in the Rain” without thinking of Malcolm McDowell kicking the crap out of an elderly couple in “A Clockwork Orange.” [My mother always told me that that was the song playing on the radio when her younger brother Cliff came home from World War II, so it has a special place in my memory bank. And hers, were she still alive.] The period music and costumes are authentic and lovingly photographed. The supporting performances by Amy Adams as Mrs. Dodd and Jesse Plemons as Val Dodd, his son, are excellent. (For fans of AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” Plemons is Walt’s new blonde replacement for Jesse Pinkman.)

The film has elicited plaudits like this one from Todd McCarly on 9/1 in Venice Review (the film opened the Venice Film Festival):  “A bold, challenging, brilliantly acted drama that is a must for serious audiences.” Paul Thomas Anderson admitted to the “Huffington Post” that he was still trying to work out what it all means. This successor to Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood” and “Magnolia” caused Toronto Film Festival patrons to leave muttering, “Whoa! I’m going to need to see that again.”

For me, it came at a great time, as I had just read Paul Haggis’ 26-page interview with “The New Yorker” entitled “Paul Haggis vs. The Church of Scientology.” (February 14, 2011.)_ Haggis is a former believer who has fallen away with a vengeance. Then came “Vanity Fair’s” October, 2012 issue with the article:  “What Katie Didn’t Know: Marriage, Scientology-Style.” Although Anderson pleads that “The Master” is not necessarily based on L. Ron Hubbard (founder of the Scientology religion that claims to have 8 million followers, when 40,000 is closer to the truth), the parallels are unmistakable. Anderson cites Dyanetics from the 50s.

Here is a passage about the process of  “auditing” that the Church of Scientology uses on its practitioners, from “Vanity Fair.”(p. 224) “We used hidden cameras behind mirrors, in picture frames, in alarm clocks.  I know every single covert camera made. I installed hundreds and hundreds of them” This according to Marty Rathbun, another fallen-away former Scientology church member. Rathbun described members being “audited” where they would hold what looked like 2 soup cans and be asked questions about their early lives, which they were to answer honestly or the meter would detect their duplicity.  David Miscavige, the Church’s current head man (and Best Man at Tom Cruise’s wedding to Katie Holmes) “used those frailties and weaknesses in order to manipulate.”

Philip Seymour Hoffman as “The Master”

Rathbun reported that Miscavige eagerly awaited the tapes of the famous at the Gold Base headquarters in Helmet and liked to read them aloud to entertain others. Claire Headley (a former member of the sect) said, “I know he did it with the reports of Lisa Marie Presley back in ’95, when she was married to Michael Jackson, and I know he (Miscavige) did it a number of times with Kirstie Alley. I saw and heard him.” Miscavige’s close aide Tom DeVocht said, “He loved to dish about celebrities. He’d whip out a bottle of Macallan scotch at 2 or 3 in the morning in the Officers’ Lounge (of the sect’s floating ship), play backgammon, and read Cruise’s reports with a running commentary, usually reports dealing with Cruise’s sex life. “He’s probably got a lot of embarrassing material,” said DeVocht.

The manipulation of Joaquin Phoenix’s character using his auditing sessions, (which are called “recordings” in the movie, is obvious.) Even Freddie begins to use the manipulative system on others by the time the film comes to an unsatisfying close. The questions asked of the faithful were exactly what these recent articles have described as being asked in Scientology auditing sessions:  “Do you have muscle spasms?  Do your past failures bother you?  Is your life a struggle? Is your behavior erratic? Are you consumed by envy?” All these (and more) are asked of Phoenix in the context of Lancaster Dodd’s (Hoffman’s) appraisal of Freddie Quell (Phoenix), including the use of various games that seem senseless (Don’t blink while truthfully answering the questions. Pick a point and drive to it as fast as you can). Freddie even asks outright, “How is this helping?” and is told “You’ll see.” (I’m not sure Freddie ever did see; Paul Haggis definitely did not.)

The “Vanity Fair” article tells us that L Ron Hubbard’s belief was that 75 million years ago a galactic emperor named Xenu sent millions of frozen souls on spaceships from his overpopulated kingdom to the bases of volcanoes on Earth. The volcanoes were hydrogen-bombed and today the scattered and reincarnated spiritual beings or “thetans” pick up human bodies as “containers” to inhabit. [Perhaps some of you even remember the 2000 John Travolta vehicle “Battlefield Earth,” which owed a great deal to the deceased L. Ron Hubbard. (What poor Barry Pepper and Forest Whitaker were doing in the movie is a mystery.)]

Some of you may be better informed about the Republican candidate for President of the United States’ religious beliefs and realize that Mormons believe all people existed as spirits or intelligences of God and that life on earth is just a stepping point, with a privilege to advance like Him. The spirits were free to accept or reject this plan. [Only Satan’s 1/3 rejected it.] The rest came to Earth and received bodies, which exposed them to suffering. In the Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints afterlife, there are 3 degrees of glory and a hell often called Spirit Prison: the Celestial Kingdom, the Terrestrial Kingdom and the Telestral Kingdom, or Outer Darkness. The current presidential campaign involving a Mormon may be why reviewers in England point to the movie as having a particularly relevant historical referent at this time in United States history.

The mention of John Travolta (“Battleship Earth”) brings to mind another whispered tenet of Scientology, alluded to in the plot of “The Master:” the presence of some famous alleged homosexual members within the church. The rumors reached such epidemic proportions that television’s “Southpark” even did an episode involving the rumor. In “The Master,” (just as many saw a homoerotic subtext in “Blue Thunder,”) the attraction between the educated, urbane, charismatic Lancaster Dodd and the down-and-out, seedy, violent, alcoholic Freddie Quell is somewhat inexplicable. Perhaps the scene in jail, when both Lancaster (Hoffman) and Freddie (Phoenix) have been arrested is the most revealing. By now, Dodd’s own son (Val, played by Jesse Plume) has told Freddie: “He’s making all this up as he goes along. You don’t see that?” This earns Val a beat-down at the hands of the always violent Freddie, who will pummel any nay-sayers, without specific orders from the Man himself.

Lancaster will not countenance any questioning of his cult.  When he is corrected by a listener named John Moore about the age of the Earth (Lancaster says trillions, while More comments that it is only billions), he barks, “You seem to know the answers to your questions; then why do you ask?” At three o’clock that morning: Beat-down for Moore at the hands of Freddie. When a former proofreader for Dodd’s first book tells Freddie, candidly, that he thinks Dodd’s second book “stinks” and should be reduced to a 3-page handout: a beating again, from the ever-faithful Freddie, Dodd’s self-appointed enforcer.

Only when the duo are carted off to jail (stemming from Lancaster’s assertions that he can “cure” certain forms of leukemia and, later, insanity) for illegal withdrawal of funds from the Philadelphia-based Mildred Drummond Foundation (plus another $1,500 for damages to Ms. Drummond’s sailing yacht) do we see the two men, side-by-side, within their respective jail cells. Lancaster Dodd is quite composed and urbane. Freddie Quell is like a caged animal, stripped of his shirt, destroying everything in his path, full of violent fury. Freddie yells at Lancaster, through the bars, “Shut the fuck up!” Lancaster shouts back, “You’re a lazy-ass piece of shit. Who likes you except me?  I’m the only one that likes you. The only one. You’re a fucking drunk and I’m done with you.”

Except he’s not. The two are reunited not once, but twice more during the film, with a particularly fond reunion after their mutual imprisonment. Freddie makes a trip back to try to find the girl of his dreams (Doris), 7 years after he received a letter from her overseas. He learns that time has marched on. She is married with two children and living in Florida. Freddie goes to a neighborhood movie theater. He is watching “Casper, the Friendly Ghost” (The film’s overheard line is:  “The Captain never leaves the ship.”) Somehow, Lancaster knows Freddie is in the theater (we never learn how). An usher brings an old-style black rotary-dial telephone to Freddie.  “I have a matter of such urgency,” says Lancaster to Freddie.  “I miss you. Come to England. We have a school here now and we have a way to cure the insane.”

More symbolic water shots as Freddie heads for England. Freddie shows up looking like the wrath of God. He is unkempt, unshaven, thin, and looks like a man in his late fifties, rather than someone a decade younger.  Lancaster’s wife (Amy Adams as Peggy), seeing Freddie, says, “This is something you do for a billion years or not at all.  This is pointless. He isn’t interested in getting better.” At least Mrs. Dodd is perceptive enough to realize this about Freddie, “You can’t take life straight, can you?” When Freddie asks about the children, Lancaster responds “DCF.” (Department of Children and Families.)

The singing scene (“Slow Boat to China”) follows, causing one reviewer to declare this and later scenes “a finale unworthy of so much that has come before.” Noting the power, mystery and dangerous unpredictability of the plot (primarily due to the personality of Joaquin Phoenix in real life), some critics were not happy with the film’s finale. I fall into that category.

 Director Paul Thomas Anderson told the “Huffington Post’s” Mike Hogan), “That attraction the Master has for Freddie—absolute sheer excitement and the thrill of the possibility that he may leave or do something crazy at any moment.” (Right actor for THAT job description!)  Anderson also said, “The homoerotic thing—you know, you can consider it that way, sure, but I think of the characters as stand-ins for any relationship story.”

There will be many interpretations, some opting for Freddie to represent pure carnal desire and primitive urges, while Lancaster Dodd represents civilizing influences. This is underscored when Lancaster says, “We are not ruled by our emotions.  Do away with all negative impulses” and tells Freddie, “You’re aberrated. You’ve wandered from the proper path.”

A thought-provoking film in the same vein as “Tree of Life” (or “There Will Be Blood”) that will definitely be prominent at Oscar time, especially for its fine acting.

New Review of “The Color of Evil” (July 4, 2012)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Review – The Color of Evil

Tad McGreevy has a power that he has never revealed, not even to his life-long best friend, Stevie Scranton. When Tad looks at others, he sees colors. These auras tell Tad whether a person is good or evil. At night, Tad dreams about the evil-doers, reliving their crimes in horrifingly vivid detail. But Tad doesn’t know if the evil acts he witnesses in his nightmares are happening now, are already over, or are going to occur in the future. He has no control over the horrifying visions. He has been told never to speak of his power. All Tad knows is that he wants to protect those he loves. And he wants the bad dreams to stop. At Tad’s 8th birthday party (April 1, 1995) in Cedar Falls, Iowa, the clown his parents hire to entertain Tad’s third-grade classmates is one of the bad people. Pogo, the Killer Clown (aka Michael Clay) is a serial killer. So begins 53 nights of terror as Tad relives Pogo’s crime, awakens screaming, and recites the terrifying details to his disbelieving family. The situation becomes so dire that Tad is hospitalized in a private institution under the care of a psychiatrist—who also does not believe the small boy’s stories. And then the police arrest Pogo, the Killer Clown. Flash forward to the beginning of Tad’s junior year in high school, 8 years later. Tad is 16 and recovered from the spring of hi third-grade year. When Michael Clay was caught and imprisoned, the crime spree ended and so did Tad’s bad dreams. Until now, in the year of our Lord 2003, when evil once again stalks the land. This is a terrifying, intense story of the dark people and places that lurk just beneath the surface of seemingly normal small-town America. As one reviewer says, “Wilson nails the darkness beneath the surface of small-town rural America.”
*-*-*-*-* My review:
This was a good suspense novel. The characters were believable and you could really picture them. They were also well developed with a sense of history and background to them. You really see a lot of the small town characters and how an event can happen that affects the entire town.
This story itself is not an easy read if you are looking for something light in the small town vein. It is not a light read by any means. But it is a good story which pulls you in and keeps you reading to find out what happens.
My only issues were minor. I am not a fan of the cover. And there were some parts of the book that seemed a bit repetitive and awkward. But they were not enough to make me want to stop reading. And I am looking forward to seeing what she has in store for these characters next. If you are looking for a suspense novel with twists and turns and am interesting mix of characters you should definitely be checking this one out.

“American Idol” of April 4, 2012: Who Will Go Home Tomorrow Night?

Jessica Sanchez: Still A Front-Runner on “American Idol”

Wednesday, April 4, 2012, 8 p.m. (ET) “American Idol” contestants Jessica Sanchez and Joshua Ledet sang a duet (“The River Was Deep”) on the show tonight. The judges’ remarks echoed the feeling that these two are the front-runners. Randy Jackson, in particular, said, “Two of the greatest singers to ever hit this stage,” and Steven Tyler agreed: “That was so fine.”

 

In addition to their duet, their individual performances were outstanding, eliciting comments like, “Your voice is so fantastic!” for Jessica and “Lordy!” and “Crazy” for Joshua. He was praised for his “powerhouse performance” as was Jessica, when she sang “How Will I Know?” attired in a blue jeans jacket.

PHILLIP PHILLIPS

Also doing well tonight was Phillip Phillips with a Genesis song, “That’s All.” Comments included, “That was pretty great. Another great performance. Great song choice.”

SKYLAR LAINE & DeANDRE BRACKENSICK
Skylar and DeAndre also had good nights, with Skylar closing out the program with her version of “Wind Beneath My Wings” and DeAndre singing a DeBarge song, “I Like It.”  Jennifer Lopez singled DeAndre out for praise.

Skylar looked particularly good this night, in a long, deep rose-colored gown, with a few streaks in her hair dyed the same shade. Since she looked pretty rough at rehearsal and has dressed in less-than-flattering outfits on other nights, her make-over deserves special mention.  Randy, besides commenting on how well she sang, also commented on how nice she looked. Skylar got a standing ovation.

The two that are definitely in trouble are Hollie Cavanagh, who sang “What A Feeling” from the movie “FlashDance” and Elise Testone, who sang a Foreigner song, “I Wanna’ Know What Love Is.”  Both were criticized for being “out of tune everywhere, for me” (Randy). Steven said, “I’m not sure that was the right song for you tonight,” referencing Elise’s choice of songs. Randy also said, “It was pretty pitchy till the end.”

Who, besides these two girls, might end up with the lowest number of votes?

COLTON DIXON

For me, it would be Colton Dixon, who sang “Time After Time,” but the girls who vote seem to like Colton. His drummer (Rex) received rave reviews for the up-tempo arrangement Colton chose. It is also true that DeAndre has been in the bottom three more than almost anyone else, but he did very well tonight.

 

DUETS & COACHES

Other pairings that entertained were Skylar and Colton singing “Islands in the Stream” and Hollie and DeAndre dueting on “I’m So Excited,” and Phillip Phillips and Elise singing Tom Petty’s “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” receiving rave reviews like, “Beautiful” (Randy) and “As good as it gets.” (Stephen Tyler)

Tonight’s celebrity coaches were “No Doubt” band members, led by Gwen Stefani, as the contestants performed songs from the 80s.

 

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