“My Top 10 Movies for 2015”

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With 2015 coming to an end, I wanted to take a look back at the movie reviews I wrote this year.  When I counted the reviews I have written this year (=24), I wanted to see what would be my top ten favorites.  It was a bit easier to make a “listicle” than in past years, since I did not think this year’s output was as stunning. No film in the same league as “Imitation Game” or “The Theory of Everything”.

With the Golden Globe Awards now announced, I have taken a look back at the movie reviews I have written over the past year, not only this year’s releases. Both television and cinema have continued to produce phenomenal story-telling, but this year did not reach 2014’s pinnacle in my opinion.

The following list is not ranked –only grouped by genre. [Full disclosure: I have not yet seen several being considered for Academy Award nominations –Room, Carol, Brooklyn, Danish Girl, The Revenant, Concussion, and Steve Jobs.)]

INDIES and FOREIGN CINEMA

1) Headhunters (January 25 review)– Based on the  2008 bestseller by Scandinavian novelist Jo Nesbø, “Headhunters”  is a crime thriller with more twists and turns than any similar film I’ve seen in the last ten years.

2) Wild Tales (March 2 review) Grudges, minor insults, infidelity, and heinous crimes all lead to mayhem, revenge, and murder on a cataclysmic, sometimes savage scale.

3) Woman in Gold (September 6 review) An appealing film on several levels: as history, narrative, and as emotional gratification that retribution does happen sometimes. Maria’s story is also a poignant one, of memory, family ties, and growing old.

 

COMEDIES

4) Trainwreck (July 16 review) This is the best and funniest rom-com since “Bridesmaids”, another hilarious feminist film by Judd Apatow. The scenes that are the most memorable and vivid, however, are comic fireworks. Written and starring Amy Schumer, “Trainwreck’s” humor is raunchy, pushes the boundaries of conventional one-liners, and is as sexually explicit as Schumer’s Comedy Central TV series.

 BIG STUDIO MOVIES:

Political and Sociological

5)  Bridge of Spies – To be reviewed on January 4, 2016.

6) Spotlight To be reviewed on January 10, 2016.

7) Southpaw (September 13 review) Neatly fitting into the mold of Raging Bull, Rocky, Million Dollar Baby, “Southpaw” nevertheless has some interesting surprises, not just a re-tread of previous boxing blockbusters.

INDEPENDENT:

Musical biopics

 8) Muscle Shoals (July 9 review) “Muscle Shoals” is the love story of American music roots in the Deep South. The movie gives the impression that the principals of FAME, the iconic recording studio, were unaware of the significance of their race-neutral music production.

 9) Love and Mercy (July 12 review) Based on Brian Wilson’s biography, “Love and Mercy’ tells the horrific tale of a pioneering musician and the wounds which seemed never to heal.

 10) Straight Outta Compton (August 30 review) Chronicling the rise of N.W.A. (”niggers with attitude”), this biopic of music pioneers belongs in the company of “Ray”, “Walk the Line”, “8 Mile” “Love and Mercy”  and “Muscle Shoals”.

“The Big Short”—We Were All Duped

The Big Short
The Big Short

“The Big Short”, based on Michael Lewis’s book, is a film that wildly fluctuates between comedy and deadly serious criticism of Wall Street.

The producers, shouting out “Finance For Dummies”, follow a group of outlier financial analysts who predicted and bet on the fall of the U.S. housing market. 2011’s “Margin Call” told a similar story. “Wolf of Wall Street” also focused on investment banking as one excessive party, with attempts at humor.

The Big Short, a true story, feels like a lecture with subtitled definitions of arcane financial acronyms like CDO in PowerPoint slides. The tone becomes wearying, even nonsensical. For example, placing the beautiful Margot Robbie of “Wolf on Wall Street” in a bubble bath to explain what a “subprime” loan is. Laughable?

More a powerful expose of the securities market and how Wall Street bet against the ignorance of the average investor, “The Big Short” sometimes does entertain the viewer as we laugh at ourselves for our guileless trust in those folks who duped us out of billions of dollars of our hard-earned money. We feel the horror of understanding that on Wall Street greed trumps common sense. The film shines light on the backrooms of the financial meltdown and collapse, bringing self-interest and corruption into the stark light of the banking and financial world.

The cast, particularly Steve Carell and Christian Bale, own “The Big Short”, channeling the “Boiler Room” and “Glengarry Glen Ross” as whistleblowers who realize that gaming the system can’t last. Playing a changed man whose brother paid the ultimate sacrifice in Wall Street battles, Mark Baum (Carell) vows to uncover the corruption that allowed the system to become rogue.

Bale’s Michael Burry, a doctor turned broker, has an analytical brilliance about the pending financial doom which goes unrecognized, even thwarted, when his bosses are threatened. Annoyingly, his character beats on drums in his basement while projecting when the housing market will crash.  Reflecting  on subprime loans and duplicitous securities created to bundle high-risk mortgages in such a complicated way, Burry understands  that professionals as well as the average investor have no clue what the mortgages represent or who owns them.

As the debacle is in free-fall, Baum is incredulous that his team has bet against their own umbrella entity, Morgan Stanley. The imploding financial system caused by corporate greed and deceit has even fooled him.

Both Carell and Bale give some of the best performances of their careers. Yet cinematic clips jump from one scene to the next, attempting to evoke the financial crisis of 2008, with rap and other distracting scenes overlying the depressing subject of capitalism gone amuck. Ryan Gosling narrates by talking directly to the camera a la Kevin Spacey in “House of Cards”, one of my least favorite film conceits.

The demented and corrupt circus of Wall Street can only exist based upon a society which blindingly trusts them. Even the “good guys” (Baum and Burry) are ultimately motivated by making obscene amounts of money. Isn’t that what society tells us we have to do, in order to be valued? It’s sick and the whole thing has started up again, “The Big Short” informs us before the ending credits. Neither regulators, nor banks, nor the public seem to care enough about the damage of a cycle of boom and bust to really do anything about it. They – we – smell money. Ultimately a bleak repeat of history.

Not as good as “Wolf on Wall Street” or the superior “Margin Call” but we need reminding: we are all being duped.

 

“Fargo”: Season 2—Still Far to Go

 

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Season 2 of the award-winning Fargo mini-series is a stunning repeat performance not only of the Coen brothers’ iconic movie by the same name but also in its succession to Season 1. The season finale of Fargo was broadcast this week.

Comedy meets tragedy. Humor meets violence. Surreal meets the real with an infusion of the main theme: the loss of innocence. Hell descends, though the characters are ill-prepared, and now there is no turning back. Their unexpected dark side grows like a cancer. [And the ferocious transformation of characters is not unlike Walter White in “Breaking Bad”.]

Welcome to the world of Fargo, where wisecracks about food sit comfortably next to corpses in bloody scene after bloody scene. Season 2 is planted firmly in 1979, when the tensions of the Vietnam War have left their scars, when women’s changing roles and race relations are in the average American’s consciousness. Even in North Dakota and Minnesota, there is no escape. Social change will be traumatic for some, even in this isolated enclave where Lutheran pragmatism dictates avoiding self-expression and standing out from one’s family and community.

The ensemble cast is remarkable: Ted Danson, Patrick Wilson, Jesse Plemons (from “Breaking Bad”) and most of all Jean Smart and Kirsten Dunst. Jean Smart’s performance as Floyd Gerhart, matriarch of a small-town family syndicate, is a standout. Kirsten Dunst, in her first major television role, as Peggy, is stunning as the quiet beautician wanting to make her dream– “I just wanted to be someone”– come true. Echoes of perhaps the most famous quote in “On the Waterfront” (1954) by another dreamer, Terry (Marlon Brando): “I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody.”  Flash-forward twenty-five years and Peggy is yearning for the same thing.

Their 1970’s North Dakota and Minnesota is populated with UFO’s (a sighting in Fargo was reported in 1975), crystals, “self-actualization” EST seminars , sideburns and bell bottoms. Peggy is so self-absorbed in becoming a new person, that in perhaps the most bizarre of the episodes , [Spoiler Alert!!] she is nonplussed when a UFO descends in the midst of a shoot-out. “It’s just a UFO, Ed. We gotta go”. Both startling and silly, the scene nonetheless epitomizes Fargo, North Dakota and its residents at that time.

The wonder of wonders is that this season marks the repeat of a new trend in mini-series: a continuation of the mini-series with a completely new story and cast, a trend started by “True Detective”. With far more sophistication and complex plot devices, the creators of Season 2 (notably Noah Hawley) leave no question in the viewer’s mind that this is indeed Coen territory. Fargo pays homage to Season 1, with the same characters (different actors) in a flash-forward to their older selves.

Although this season can stand on its own (for those who haven’t seen Season 1), tying in the principal characters from the first season into Season 2 is masterfully crafted. Moreover, I’m hoping some of the new characters added to the story will undoubtedly also be reborn in Season 3, whether as a flash-forward or as backstory. There is still far to go in this anthology in the Coen spirit. Season 3 of Fargo is now underway. The surprise and intrigue continue!

“Trouble with the Curve”—Catching the Unexpected

Trouble with the Curve
Trouble with the Curve

This 2012 film is another  Clint Eastwood sports movie. That being said, “Trouble with the Curve” is not so much about sports as it is about a father-daughter relationship. It also touches on how the human element (and an “old-school” methodology) cannot be discounted in favor of technology. (Think: “Money Ball” as its opposite!)

In the opening scene Gus Lobel (Clint Eastwood) is attempting to hide his macular degeneration from the execs at the Atlanta Braves, because, as one of their top scouts, he must be able to spot the next star. But crusty, aging Gus is more than a pair of eyes with over forty years of experience. He can tell a pitch by the crack of the bat and now must fight for the career that defines him. Gus’s daughter Mickey (Amy Adams), a high-powered lawyer on the partner track, has also gained an astonishing knowledge of the sport. But father and daughter are estranged and rarely see each other.

Forced to be together for the first time in years, Mickey and her father travel to North Carolina to look at the slate of possible rookies. Mickey risks her own career to do this. A classic double-bind plot device.

In a surprise supporting role Justin Timberlake plays an aspiring recruiter and former baseball rookie, who tries to woo Mickey even though she is reluctant to become involved.

Even if you are not a baseball fan, you will enjoy this movie. A thoroughly entertaining, feel-good film with some humorous dialogue and some totally predictable scenes. The family secret for the estrangement between father and daughter is one curve this viewer did not expect. A good movie for both adult and teen audiences!

“Mr. Holmes”—Not the Sherlock We All Know

 

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“Mr. Holmes” is an imaginary and revisionist take on Sherlock Holmes as a 93-year old dispirited and retired detective, featuring the incomparable Ian McKellen in the title role. This 2015 British-American film , based on Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind, takes place in Sussex two years after the end of the Second World War. This interpretation, among the many Sherlock Holmes we have seen, focuses on the lonely and contemplative man struggling to remember his last case, not the analytical mind associated with the world’s most famous fictional detective.

Holmes, in the first stages of dementia, retires to his remote country home in a Sussex village with his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (the superb Laura Linney) and young son, Roger (played by the astonishing newcomer, Milo Parker, who is a standout in every scene with McKellen). The young boy and his dour mother are the only human contacts Holmes now has. Holmes’ memory isn’t what it used to be.

Soon we see that Holmes has forgotten much of his last case’s details as he tries to become accustomed to retirement. Holmes only remembers fragments of the case: a confrontation with a worried husband, a secret with his beautiful but unstable wife, and a puzzling side story about the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and a Japanese family. Having returned from a journey to Japan where, in search of a rare plant for dementia, Holmes has witnessed the devastation of nuclear warfare and seems visibly shaken. The little boy Roger gradually becomes his closest confidante and assistant in recollecting what happened to the woman in his final detective assignment.

What I loved about this film? It captures the nuances of aging, of losing the identity most treasured but now diminishing as dementia sets in. The pace, unfortunately, can be painfully slow , even for BBC. Multiple flashbacks do not help either, leaving the viewer to guess why these scenes are important, but often frustrating with plot holes (especially the Japanese subplot).

Although “Mr. Holmes” is not fast-paced and not to all tastes, it is a niche movie for those who like character-driven stories as the main plot. The layering effect of the years and lives and incidents in the story require close attention. “Mr. Holmes” is an introspective journey—into the rabbit hole of the mysteries of life and love, before it is too late to remember.

“The Humans” –A Family Thanksgiving for a Fearful Middle Class

 

 

Ticket to "The Humans"It starts as just another family drama on Thanksgiving. But family Thanksgivings can be horrific, chilling celebrative occasions for some of us. “The Humans” written by the Pulitzer Prize finalist Stephen Karam is just that. The aging dad worries about money, one daughter moans about her student debt, the other is heartbroken by her breakup with her lover, the mother’s Catholic values needle both of them: the younger daughter on the benefits of marriage instead of living with her boyfriend and the older daughter’s evil lesbian life. And we can’t forget Granny — called Momo – who has dementia and will probably not survive another Thanksgiving. This Off-Broadway play interweaves wit, tenderness and blistering brutality in the voices of six emotionally and physically damaged family members at the edge of the abyss.

The sixty-year old father and his wife are taking care of his elderly mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Though lower middle class, the parents have managed to provide a law school education for their older daughter and a pre-Ph.D. musical composer in their younger. Autobiographical bile gets ejected from all family members.

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With a two-floor set design where we see at least two characters at the above level secretly engaged in gossip about the family members below, we clearly understand the troubles beneath the surface, the lower level metaphorically representing things unsaid, a family’s dark underbelly. Feelings shift and the upper level is just as unsettling and fractured. Nothing is as it seems. In the final scene the lights go out completely.

“The Humans” has searing emotional scenes — Aimee’s sorrowful phone call with her ex, eavesdropped by her father; a dinner-table reading of an email from Momo, written when she is aware of the early signs of Alzheimer’s; the mother fighting for dignity at her daughter’s belittling of her interest in a scientific article. There’s also comic relief: when Momo sings Irish lyrics in her solitary fog. It’s tremendously moving: the momentary illusion that they can still experience joy as a family.  Karam distinguishes himself in portraying this dysfunctional family.   This family  really is not so different, after all, from any ordinary family with its difficulties and setbacks. With warmth and compassion, even tenderness, the casual cruelty of some of the dialogue is funny, not because the words convey jokes but because the characters are communicating unimpeachable truths.  Cutting through a history of friction, misunderstanding, and support, every facial expression, non-verbal gesture, as well as dialogue, points to how much they need one another or think they do.

These are all themes and subplots I am fascinated with and also explored in my debut novel, Things Unsaid.

Note: The title of this post is taken verbatim from Charles Isherwood’s review of “The Humans”, NYT, Oct. 25, 2015. His title says it all.  “The Humans” moves from Off-Broadway to Broadway in January 2016 with the same cast.  The script is available on Amazon.

“Master of None”—But Loads of Fun

 

Master of None

Could there be any comedic boundaries left following Amy Schumer and Louie CK? The answer is yes! Master of None, in ten half-hour episodes (a Netflix original), we see an extraordinary depiction of New York life created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang (both from “Parks and Recreations”). , I’ve only seen two episodes so far (the series premiered on November 6), and I’m hooked.

Dev (Ansari’s character) is a wannabe actor relegated to trying out for commercials. His friends are also grappling with jobs, love life, and trying not to be losers. In raw yet disarming dialogue, Master of None begins to eviscerate the vision of New York life for a thirty-something single guy of color.

In Episode One Dev and his meet-up, someone he barely knows, are Googling on their cell phones, to learn what to do since his condom broke. So much for the romance of the moment. Impressive in conveying anxiety, lack of experience, and decency, Dev and the girl friend, Rachel (the charming Noel Wells), navigate the awkwardness of the moment with an endearing concern for each other. Nobility of character—in a comedy.

Episode Two raises the question:   Do we ever really know our parents? As immigrants, the parents are even further removed: not only by age but by culture. But this episode is not just another “adult children think their immigrant parents are old codgers from the old country” story. In a touching, but not maudlin, restaurant scene we see, in self-assured writing, the Taiwanese parents’ of Brian, Dev’s friend, connecting with Dev’s Indian parents  (played by Ansari’s father and mother). Dev and Brian are incredulous at seeing this side of their parents.

In a series of flashbacks we see the hardships of the immigrant parents’ childhood contrasted in raw and unsparing scenes with their privileged sons’ New York lifestyle. These scenes are deeply affecting, not only for the first-generation/second generation experience but for how we all, in some way, are strangers to each other. And knowing that Ansari’s parents are playing the roles of Dev’s father and mother makes these scenes even more intimate and moving.

Not only immigration, but race, impacts the two friends’ daily lives. There is no beating around the bush. Ansari is particularly scathing about racial stereotyping.   And turns it on its head. In the first episode, when Dev meets Rachel’s grandmother, he is expecting her to be put off because he is of Indian descent.  She isn’t. When Ansari seems a bit surprised, the grandmother retorts: “You think because I’m an old white lady, I’m racist?!”

And “Master of None” continues being a lot of fun…without sermonizing but without letting us off the hook either.

Now on to Episode Three.

 

 

“Photograph 51”—Rosalind Franklin: Double Helix and Double Crossed

 

Nicole Kidman
Nicole Kidman

The critically acclaimed play, “Photograph 51”, currently in London, and written by Anna Ziegler, exposes the obscurity of a brilliant crystallographer, Rosalind Franklin, who identified the chemical structure needed for understanding the molecular composition of DNA as well as raising the question: Are women still sidelined in the scientific world?

Kidman Photo51Most people familiar with the double helix have probably associated it with Nobel Prize winners Francis Crick and James Watson. The critical scientific role Rosalind Franklin played at King’s College London is still, to a great extent, sadly overlooked.

Photograph 51 refers to the pioneering Xray-diffraction image of the DNA double helix, the elegant result of Franklin’s pioneering crystallography technique. Together with a seminal research paper, Photograph 51 was given by one of her graduate students to Maurice Wilkins, her laboratory supervisor, without her knowledge. Passed on to Watson and Crick who were racing for the Nobel Prize before Johannes Salk (also researching DNA), Franklin’s Photograph 51 was not acknowledged until decades later by other scientists. (She had died four years earlier from ovarian cancer at the age of 37.) None of the Nobel Prize winners paid tribute to Rosalind Franklin’s pioneering work. (Watson was later to portray Franklin negatively in his book on the history of his research, the best-selling The Double Helix, which ironically started a deeper investigation into her contributions.)

Nicole Kidman’s powerful and commanding performance as Rosalind Franklin, avoids stereotypes of a female intellectual without social skills. Rosalind Franklin had a reserved personality, often bristly and uncompromising, which compounded her distance from her colleagues’ sexism, petty academic jealousies, and anti-Semitism. Kidman’s Franklin reveals subtle layers of vulnerability underneath the hostility to colleagues who had promised her a laboratory of her own but relegated her to assisting Wilkins. Later, Wilkins would be the conduit who robbed Franklin of her place in the history of science. Kidman, as Franklin, reveals through her stillness and her posture, her backstory with her parents. She retreats into her own world, a quiet determination to prove her hypothesis about DNA, and the tentativeness of women not to make mistakes or take risks in a male-dominant profession or be sanctioned for life.

Kidman’s performance captures not only the complexities of Franklin’s personality but also luminous intensity as the scientist absorbed by the findings of photograph 51. It is a fine performance, and a subtle one, in which Kidman reminds us that the scientific life can be informed by private passion but at great personal sacrifice. Her gaze both chills and fascinates, radiating and demanding, in a singularly self-possessed presence. At curtain call, I noticed a flick of tears from Kidman’s cheek after a particularly moving finale.

Photograph 51’s stage design sets the tone: a bombed-out Gothic university laboratory evokes a tomb, the death of Franklin’s prospects for scientific recognition. My only complaint is that, given the title and the complex scientific theory, there was not even one projection of photograph 51 on a screen so the audience could see the visual image of Franklin’s ideas.

Note: Kidman is in discussion for a possible Broadway production.

 

 

 

Bletchley Park—An Enigmatic Exploration

 

Bletchley Park is a modest museum which makes the visitor walk back in time to the astonishing world of espionage and code-breaking. After seeing the BBC series, “The Bletchley Circle,” and the movie “The Imitation Game,” (January 15, -2015 review) I had the opportunity to visit Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, approximately a thirty-minute train ride from London.

Enigma
Enigma

Once Britain’s best-kept secret, today Bletchley Park is a unique heritage site and tourist attraction, as well as an educational resource and memorial to the scientists and mathematicians of the pivotal Enigma project. Bletchley Park exemplifies the feat of organization and mobilization to tackle the difficulty of the German Enigma code as well as to guard the top-level secrecy required of their covert operation.

Members of MI6 and the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) were assigned the job of cracking the Enigma code, the masterful and complex cipher system that changed at least once a day with 159 million possible settings produced by the Enigma machine.

The Bombe
The Bombe

The process of breaking Enigma was aided considerably by a complex electromechanical device, designed by Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman, called the Bombe. Both an original Enigma and the Bombe are on display at the park. The Bombe ran through all the possible Enigma wheel configurations in order to reduce the possible number of permutations. Bombe machines were operated by Wrens (=the women codebreakers), whose work sped up the solution to breaking the Enigma.

As the project grew to over 12,000 (more than 75% women), the clandestine project had to build large pre-fabricated wooden huts set up on the lawns of the Park. Not unexpectedly, the women’s huts were crammed with twice as many lodgers in smaller rooms than the men’s. It was disturbing to see how small the rooms were (eight double-bunks to a 9’ x 9’ room) for such brutal all-night intelligence and computational sessions. It was not all grim, however. The women billeted in huts could join in the nightly concerts, lectures, dances and choirs at the adjacent Edwardian mansion.

Edwardian mansion

Much of Bletchley’s equipment and documents were destroyed at the end of the war and the secrecy imposed on the former Bletchley workforce remained a government policy until 1974. And, it wasn’t until July 2009 that the British government announced that Bletchley personnel would be recognized with a commemorative badge

 It was decades before the outside world learned anything of what went on in  a warren of dilapidated huts surrounding the Edwardian mansion in Buckinghamshire. The estate has been restored, thanks to the Bletchley Park Trust. The visitor center was built in 2011 with funds the Trust raised. Formed in 1992 to preserve the spirit of Bletchley, the Trust rescued the site from a proposed housing development. Interestingly, it was private funds that secured the future of the site and helped to restore the decaying huts in which many of the codebreakers worked. A video documents the deplorable condition of the facility before restoration.

The main museum collection focuses on the wartime code-breaking efforts, including the Bombe and the Enigma machines, as well as extensive displays related to wartime code-breaking and espionage. Some quirky features of the museum are a “pigeons of war” exhibit on the important role of the 250,000 homing pigeons used in Great Britain, and the children’s corner where hands-on displays attempt to illustrate the laws of probability in computing possible letter/number arrangements on the Enigma.

 

 Note: An excellent online tour can be viewed at: http://www.codesandciphers.org.uk/bletchleypark/

 

Things Unsaid–My Debut Novel’s Book Launch

 

I’m so excited Things Unsaid is now available at Amazon in paperback and e-book formats as well as at your local indie bookstore. Published by She Writes Press, a small indie press devoted to women authors, Things Unsaid is my writer’s journey into fiction, a journey that has taken almost three years.

Things Unsaid
Things Unsaid

If you are in Northern California, please check out three local book events happening over the next two weeks. I would LOVE to have you join me!

1) This Sunday, October 18, 3:00-4:30 Folio Books, SF (Noe Valley)– Tea and cookies will be served.

2) Friday, October 23, 4:00-6:00 McIntyre Wine Tasting Room,  The Crossroads Shopping Center, Carmel–Complimentary glass of wine to all who RSVP!

A second glass of a different wine, if you bring your copy of Things Unsaid or purchase a copy onsite for signing. E-book receipts are also included.  There will be a raffle!

3) Friday, October 30, 5:00-7:00, Green Chalk Contemporary Art Gallery, Monterey–Sponsored by Crystal Fish Sushi. Seiko Atsuko Purdue’s art will also be on exhibit!

Here are what people are saying about Things Unsaid:

1)… In a carefully crafted cautionary tale, Diana Paul writes a story of a family that could be anyone’s family…Family ties are stressed to the breaking point. … Moral dilemmas, emotional roller-coasters, sacrifice and duty abound in this tense novel that exposes raw human emotion—sparing no one the pain that comes with such issues.  [StoryCircleBookReviews]

2) … Family is never easy to deal with, elderly family is even more difficult. “Things Unsaid” tells of the tightrope act that is fulfilling familial duty and obligation. [BlackDogSpeaks]

3) …. Her novel, Things Unsaid, dissects family and generational relationships not only from the traditional storytelling perspective – and she tells a compelling story – but also from the wellspring of her philosophical beliefs. [SnowflakesArise]

4) I have to say I was hooked on the story as it unfolded and found it hard to put down. It’s well-written for a start with plenty of attention to detail and a strong sense of place. The characters are amazingly well-drawn. It’s almost as though Diana has written about people she knows, she gets into their innermost thoughts and feelings so well” [BookBlogforBooksworms.com–UK]

5) This story was almost hard to digest, because it speaks of a family in such dysfunction that it is painstaking to read. But, that is exactly what makes this story so wonderful and different. [Goodreads]

6) Things Unsaid, a provocative read, asks us to consider what children owe their aging parents and siblings… As we come to know this dysfunctional family — a narcissistic mother, a shadow-like father, and two calculating siblings — we watch as Jules struggles financially and emotionally to meet their needs.  [Amazon]

Come to one book event, if you can, or more than one! Let’s party!

 

Note: To learn more about Things Unsaid, recent press, and articles I am currently writing for a range of online and print media, please visit my author website at: www.dianaypaul.com or click the tab above, “My Author Site” for more information.

The House of Eliott –Fashion Haute Couture

House of Eliott
House of Eliott

This BBC television series broadcast between 1991 and 1994 is a sleeper, dramatizing feminism immediately after the First World War. A consistent theme throughout “The House of Eliott” is the struggle of women in the 1920s to live fulfilling and independent lives. Created by Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins, who had previously devised “Upstairs, Downstairs,” this is a period drama focused on the same era as “Downton Abbey”.

Two sisters, Evangeline and Beatrice Eliott establish a fashion house designing haute couture after they are forced to be on their own by the sudden death of their father. Left almost destitute and without any education, the sisters are forced to sell the family home. Refusing to accept the extremely low wages paid by prominent fashion houses, they decide to establish their own business at a time when women were not allowed control their own finances, when women could not obtain bank loans, and when working was considered an oddity and a scandal, except for the poor. On the cusp of the women’s suffrage movement, Bea and Evangeline have to carve out their own destiny in a man’s world of fashion.

“The House of Eliott” charts the two young women’s struggle to assert their newly discovered independence and establish a successful fashion house as well as confront those who try to interfere with their business plans. The sisters’ personal and professional breakthroughs are aided by a fun-loving photographer, Jack Maddox, who encourages them at the same time he pampers the vanity of the wealthy women who become the Eliott sisters’ customers.

This is an entertaining BBC series, but the paced is slow as is common in the nineties. Marsh and Atkins have written endearing and intriguing characters. The clothing– beautiful yet controversial in design– could almost be considered a stand-in for the freedom and independence of women.   As the clothes become more comfortable and less confining so do the Eliott sisters.  Fans of “Downton Abbey” will be in for a treat with “The House of Eliott”.

 

 

“Will you be called Grandma, Granny, Grandpa, Gramps, Granddad, Papa or Nana?”

Grandparents MonthFor all of you who remember your grandparents fondly, are grandparents yourself, or look forward to being a grandparent in the future, this guest post is to celebrate Grandparents Day (September 13) and Grandparents Month (September).

Guest blogger, Jane Hanser, author of Dogs Don’t Look Both Ways {Abbreviated from the original with the author’s permission]

It’s an exciting time when the first grandchild appears in this world and the family negotiates which grandparent will carry which name. With divorce and remarriage there can be three or more sets of grandparents! And that makes the naming game even more of a challenge! The proportion of grandparents raising the children of their children is on the rise, too. These grandparents, who have needs of their own, step in to raise their grandchildren usually under difficult circumstances and with little preparation or warning.

My mother’s mother was the only grandparent I knew, the only grandparent who was alive in my lifetime. I remember the smell of her fresh sausage, and her snoring when, at a young age, I shared my bed with her when she stayed overnight. But Granny didn’t reach out much to me. I would have loved it if she had. But that wasn’t her.

Ida, my paternal grandmother, is the one I feel the deepest connection to. But that didn’t happen until well into my adulthood. I sought out her grave, and discovered her given name wasn’t Ida at all! Her European name Chana Henye bore testimony to both Hebrew and Yiddish roots, but was replaced upon reaching the New World. Ida, in casting off her old world name, may have been trying to create something new while I, in reaching back to her generation, am trying to grasp, understand, and hold on to the beautiful things about my ancestors, their lives, personalities and values I tried for years to locate even one photo of her. The closest I came was a photo of her sister as a young married woman and which I have prominently displayed in my office.

Not all grandparents revel in their grandkids. My husband remembers his maternal grandfather saying to him and his brother, “Wassa matter mit you”? and yell or turn away. I, Nana, however, am waiting eagerly for the first time we’ll be called upon to babysit our three grandkids. We don’t expect we will have them in their beds quite at their regular bedtime, we don’t even promise that they’ll fall asleep before we do! But we do promise that it’ll be a night to remember!