The Current Digital Divide–Instant Gratification Anyone?

When a link to my daughter’s online wedding registry was sent to some aunts and uncles, it created some confusion. They had never seen an online registry before and couldn’t figure out how to find the gift list or how to purchase something online. This made me start wondering–what is the digital divide between the young “worker bees” and their parents who have to become tech-savvy on the Internet?

The current trend in wedding planning is creating a website–a sort of mini-Facebook page dedicated to posting photos, registering gifts, mentioning the “Save the Date” and wedding reception site plans, as well as giving “updates”. This is how the betrothed communicates in more detail than merely the conventional wedding announcement by snail-mail (still in vogue), telephone calls and face-to-face communication. Now there is constant digital communication with everyone, provided everyone opts to go online to navigate the website.

Much has been said about social networking as an instant but impersonal connection to friends, associates, and strangers. In other words, being endlessly available but seldom really present. There is even a website –Grubwithus–which lets the Internet user browse through lists of dinners in cities, buy a ticket for a particular night, post a few personal facts, and then join strangers at a restaurant for dinner–all in the hope of meeting someone new. It’s “digital barhopping meets personal dining”. The concept fascinates me–picturing small groups of people drinking, eating around the table, all on smart cell phones tethered to the palm of their hands. Does this avoid striking up a conversation in person–a truly scary situation for the shy, and also the not so shy? Does a pre-arranged dinner date with strangers help force the socially awkward to the ultimate goal– face-to-face interaction, so precious and rare? Or does social networking really decrease opportunities for friendship by reducing everyone on your “friends list” to reading the same “updates” that strangers and mere acquaintances also see online?

Those who stubbornly refuse to play are increasingly isolated, the same way that someone without an answering machine or voice mail is (arrogantly?) announcing “stay away” if you can’t take the time to give me a call until you reach me. A new digital divide has been created– between a generation of Internet users and those who still want to go from store to store to buy their wedding presents, appreciate the teller’s smile at the local bank branch, and like the feel of turning the pages of a “real book”.

The upside of digital communications is that the response and the gratification are instantaneous. Our family and friends can know a lot about our daughter’s wedding, even those who cannot attend or were not invited. This lets them know we want to share our excitement. The downside is we are not sharing this information in a more personal way, but can we really do that except with only a very few? Hurt feelings perhaps are diminished with more electronic messages at the same time that a de-personalization of parts of our lives also is happening. An equilibrium still awaits.

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9 Replies to “The Current Digital Divide–Instant Gratification Anyone?”

  1. It’s a quandary, this internet…
    Being gone from “home” (Monterey) for a month now, I should be feeling a little homesick, I think, but with blogs, facebook, email and skype, I do not feel isolated at all. Saying that, I do still have to be aware that I have to snail mail and phone my 91 year old father to keep him in the loop of things – it would be a lot easier if he had email, but the cell phone is even challenging for him. These things just do not make sense to him, just as the microwave oven didn’t make sense to his father. We need to remember what we have now, appreciate what it brings to us and keep in mind the “old” ways of communication if we want to keep in engaged communication.
    I do miss the immediate contact of my friends in Monterey, tho. . .

    1. I agree wholeheartedly! The irony is that the elderly could really benefit from the Internet, especially if they are homebound. Sometimes you can reconnect with longlost friends and family through email and Facebook. Thanks for your comment!

  2. When I was a child in the Bronx, the women came out in the evenings and sat on milk crates.
    There was no air conditioning and few households had Televisions. All was not great but I
    believe there was less Isolation of the individual. The internet is a marvelous tool but, we should
    remember that it is a tool…

  3. My problem with internet interaction is that it takes too much time. For some reason when I get on the computer I find all sorts of things to look up and play with so that the hours go by and I end up wondering what happened to my day. I connect with friends mostly when I need to. Long conservations by email are not my thing. My kids use the telephone more for connecting with me. That can take hours too. If I want to buy something it seems convenient to look up the variations on the theme I’m looking for, but once again I find I have spent a very long time and with many digressions into areas I hadn’t considered before. It’s sort of like the idea that the computer was supposed to use less paper than before. Nothing of the kind! I use more paper than I ever used before. I haven’t tried twitter. My fingers are too big to tap out the needed letters and numbers on my IPhone. I can’t imagine how long and how many retypings it would take to get those 144 letters to make sense. We live in an interesting time. I don’t want to go back, but it’s hard to keep up. Joanne

  4. The Internet is a wonderul tool for accessing information and the speed of communication via email is wonderful. I like to contact friends and enjoy their immediate replies but often there’s a brevity and shallowness about the communication. At times, my email queries go unanswered and lacking in coherent communication. Personal hand -written letters, although less frequent, were carefully composed and thoughtful by comparison. I’ve been spring cleaning lately and have been reading old letters from 30 years ago with an eye to burning them. The authors of these letters spring into life again as I read and bring me close to events I’d forgotten. I wonder if I’d ever bother to re read old emails to re capture the flavour of the past.
    As for the social network via Facebook, I find it invasive, filled with flippant remarks and opportunities to” grandstand”.

  5. Instant communication can be a wonderful fast solution at times, but it does not leave me with the sense of fullfilment that a face to face communication provides. It lacks the rich fibers of human interactions.
    We are living in a fast developing technological world. The speed does not match the evolution of behaviour ethics. People need to learn when it is appropriate to use these tools.

    Evelyn

  6. It is a quandary. It is necessary because we will be totally left behind if we do not participate. However, it does take way too much time. I tend to get stuck on the computer and not get the rest of my life lived. Finding a balance is difficult. Learning new computer relationship software takes up time that could be spent elsewhere.

    Yet, it does help keep connections open in this increasingly isolated world. I am lonely for human connection, but do not have the time or energy to engage in face to face connections the way I used to in the past. I am searching for a way to find some balance with this issue.

    Cheryl

  7. My $.02:
    Is it really possible to have a balanced discussion about social media while using social media? Anyone who truly objects and chooses to abstain will not be represented here to give their point of view.

    Social media is a tool, not inherently good or evil. It can be used effectively or abused horribly; social media is not a substitute for true time, but it can be a supplement. It helps me keep in touch with those in different parts of the world that otherwise would be lost to me.

    What is true, is our culture is much less physically connected than cultures of the past were. We’re not forced to be in a relationship with folks around us anymore. We don’t need to band together for protection or trade with our neighbors for food staples. When there’s a conflict, we don’t need to resolve it as we really don’t need that person anyway.

    We have become self-sufficient islands. We were islands even before Facebook and Twitter. Social media didn’t cause our disconnectedness… it just allowed us to broadcast it more effectively.

    My one real complaint is that this magic it supplies at my fingertips, where I can view and read about art for hours at a time; but then the time has vanished for me to be actively making, doing, creating art.

“Bridesmaids”–Maid of Dishonor, Never the Bride

This is a female version of “Hangover” but much, much better. “Bridesmaids”, the new movie produced by Judd Apatow of “40 Year Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up” fame, has crisp, brilliant comic writing by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo together with superb comedic timing by Wiig, Maya Rudolph and a perfectly cast team of supporting actresses –a hilarious, knockout performance by Melissa McCarthy especially. McCarthy dominates every scene she’s in with her over-the-top sexual and verbal attacks. For women who enjoy a “girls night out” to roar with snort-laughs that make you cry, and for all men who also enjoy raunchy unexpected gross-out scenes from some of the most talented comediennes today, this movie is for you!

Wiig plays Annie, who has not had much luck –in her love life, her work, her roommates, with her mother or her friends…except for her best friend from childhood, Lillian (delectably played by the winning Maya Rudolph.) The story is a rather simple one rehashed many times before –“girl rivalry”. This time it is the “new girl in town”–Helen (played to perfection by Rose Byrne) who represents change for Annie in terms of who she is and how she identifies herself with relation to her best friend. Comedy and pathos touchingly intermingle as we cringe to see Annie, Lillian’s designated maid of honor, try to compete on unfamiliar turf with Helen: couturier dress selection, fine dining, one-upmanship in gifts, to name only a few of the most hilarious, but also fiercely moving, scenes. The sweet Irish charm of a smitten cop (an endearing role by Chris O’Dowd), only underscores how hurt and out of control Annie really is.

I thought “Bridesmaids” would be silly, maybe even stupid, but the script proved to be brilliant in the most unexpected moments. The screenwriters were astute in not playing only for laughs. The opening sex scene with Kristen Wiig and a wonderfully clueless cad (Jon Hamm) was enough to put this viewer securely on Wiig’s side of the story for the rest of the film, while simultaneously laughing so hard tears rolled down my cheeks so I consequently missed the next set of zingers. Will have to watch this movie a second time to get the full dialogue! The incredibly fast pace of slicing morsels of humor is extraordinary!

This movie is not for everyone. It has vulgar, physical comedy that doesn’t appeal to anyone who cannot channel their “inner teenage self”. However, if you want to see a comedy that heals wounds while making you laugh and watch Kristen Wiig give the performance of her lifetime, then make sure you see this movie. Her brilliant comic talent (and writing) needs to be in more challenging venues than her current long-time gig on “Saturday Night Live”. It’s time for her to move on…to more creative adventures following her debut in this comic gem!

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3 Replies to ““Bridesmaids”–Maid of Dishonor, Never the Bride”

  1. I can sometimes bring up my “inner teenage self”, but I haven’t seen my inner preteen self for a very long time. I thought this movie found itself in that milieu. It wasn’t just vulgar, it was bathroom humor of the 9 to 10-year age group. I was very disappointed.

“Midnight in Paris” – That Was Then, This is Now

Written and directed by Woody Allen, this romantic comedy is vintage Woody Allen. I love Woody Allen, but I don’t really, really, really love Woody Allen to the point that I think everything he does is brilliant and witty. He has had some real dogs. How many people have suffered through “Cassandra’s Dream”, for example, as I have? Nonetheless, there is a lot to like about “Midnight in Paris”.

The story opens with a young couple, Gil Pender (brilliantly played by Owen Wilson), and his fiancée Inez (believably played by Rachel McAdams in an unsympathetic role), traveling to Paris with her parents on a business trip. It is obvious from the outset that the couple is not suited for each other. Gil, a successful but dissatisfied Hollywood screenwriter, hopes to give up his Hollywood gig to write his first novel. Inez does not understand why.

At midnight Gil leaves his fiancée and her family to walk alone on a starry, rainy moonlit night saturated with golden hued tones the camera lovingly lingers onto the City of Light. Gil gets into a vintage 1920s roadster when some friendly partygoers beckon to him and is transported to the golden of cultural icons: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Picasso, Dali, Man Ray to name only a few.

“Midnight in Paris” is, most of all, a comic walk down memory lane, for those viewers who can catch literary and artistic allusions to the period. A few examples: Hemingway speaks in sentence structures characteristic of his prose. Dali and Man Ray are called “not normal” surrealists. Gertrude Stein is the matriarch of a cultural elites’ salon with her lover Alice. Adriana, mistress of Picasso, played by the radiant Marion Cotillard, thrusts the pivotal lunge into the heart of this film when she asks Gil why he loves the 1920s. Gil utters the mantra embedded in all of Woody Allen’s movies–“Maybe the present is a little unsatisfying because life is a little unsatisfying.”

Gil wakes up from his longing for a “golden age” through a series of overdone flashbacks. Like his mediocre movies over the past three decades, Woody Allen doesn’t seem to know when to stop the repetition. Unlike “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”, which I loved, this movie is the old Woody Allen genre, overwrought and lecturing like some old academic who has lost his audience. But this film is much better than most in the last ten years or so, perhaps on a par with “Match Point”–that is to say, good but not great. Owen Wilson, who actually channels Woody Allen’s famously high-pitched whiny voice (if you close your eyes,) should star as Woody Allen’s alter ego in all his future work. Who knew Owen Wilson’s delightful voice in rom-coms is an echo of Allen’s?

What, for me, saves this film is that “Midnight in Paris” is a palpable love letter to Paris, not only cinematic clichés of the Eiffel Tower, the River Seine, and the Louvre, but shots filled with so much affection for narrow street cafes and even the bookstore, Shakespeare & Company. This nostalgic tour of Paris together with some of the literary scene of the 1920s is worth the price of the movie ticket!

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10 Replies to ““Midnight in Paris” – That Was Then, This is Now”

  1. Exactly, it’s a love letter as Manhattan was. The time travel concept was appealing.
    Ernest Hemingway talking of big game hunting, F.S. Fitzgerald calling Gil old sport,
    the reference to Prufrock when meeting T.S. Elliot. It is all amusing fun, worth seeing,
    and – overrated. The French love Woody as much as Woody loves the French.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I would definitely recommend the movie to Woody Allen lovers. Others may be more on the fence about the merits of “Midnight in Paris”!

  2. Great review Diana~ I totally agree with your commentary! The thing is, if you don’t have an interest or knowledge of art history it could get a bit boring. I brought my girls and their friends and while they enjoyed it, the first 1/2 hour was challenging because- who are all these people?? But, the romance of Paris completely sunk in and they were prancing around Monterey afterward trying to say Bonjour! and Mais Oui! to each other… completely taken in by the city of lights! Mais oui Cherie.

    1. Glad to hear your girls were good sports about the rather arcane literary and art references. Woody Allen has never been “young at heart” in addressing his love of anything. The City of Lights is mesmerizing, however, and Woody Allen has been a Francophile for a long time. I toast to him for that!

  3. Really liked the film, but really didn’t like Owen Wilson’s Woody Allen imitation. I wished he would have played his character as a unique person, not an obvious imitation. Everything else I really enjoyed.

  4. Yes, Owen is younger, blonder, more handsome and more Gentile than Woody…
    I may have liked the film better if Owen played it closer to his character, an Irish,
    Catholic troublemaker from Dallas, Texas. 😉

  5. I enjoyed your review and agree with you…Paris is the perfect set for any movie…As to Midnight in Paris, I also felt it was typical latter day Woody Allen…He is using the same formula of the doomed relationship and then finding True Love…We are left to wonder if he is writing from his experience with Mia…for those that want the old and very funny Woody Allen I recommend Whatever It Takes starring Larry David…

    1. Hi Eugene, my #1 fan! I already have “Whatever Works” in my Netflix queue and waiting to see it. Thanks for the recommendation. Will move it to the top of my list!

  6. This film was all of the above, but for an old Woody Allen fan it was just fun. Imagine! A film that kept your attention with no guns, no overt sex, no ugliness. It was, I think, Allen making fun of himself. The vocal imitation was just great. But remember “Bananas”? My regret is that we can’t laugh the way we did when we saw that one. Our world has become so grim it’s nice to see something pretty at least.

  7. A nice romantic comedy with some laughs. I have enough background in Hemingway, Fitzgeral, Eliot and Stein to get the jokes, and see them coming. But it’s hardly necessary to have be familiar with these writers. I know nothing about the painters, but I still enjoyed that and got at least some of the jokes.

    Owen Wilson makes a nice stand-in for Woody Allen. He can display all the insecurities of Woody Allen, but he makes a far more better romantic lead than Wood Allen ever did.

    For those looking for the Woody Allen of Bananas, there is one moment ( the fate of the detective spying on Gil ) that ranks with best of the early Woody Allen.

“The Princess of Montpensier”–Where’s the There There?

Based on a 1662 novella, “The Princess of Montpensier” opens with a savage battle scene during the French civil war between Catholics and Protestants (Huguenots) in the year 1562. Marie de Mézières, a beautiful young princess (who looks like a combination of Michelle Pfeiffer and Uma Thurman), reluctantly submits to an arranged marriage to young Prince Philippe, Duc de Montpensier, as dictated by politics and the aristocratic exchange of women for more wealth and power.

Haunted by the handsome lover Henri (Duc de Grise) from her adolescence, the Princess of Montpensier struggles in a romantic drama of duty, passion, religion and war. Romantic love does not exist for her (or for any noblewoman of the period) and the Princess could never hope to marry her lover Henri. But marriage without love encourages love outside marriage. Nonetheless, the princess, at first, struggles to be happy with Prince Philippe.

On their wedding night the young couple have no privacy. In an unsettling scene Marie stands naked in front of her father who inspects her before her husband. Philippe soon leaves for the battlefield, assigning his former tutor and mentor, the Comte de Chabannes, the task of educating Marie in accordance with her new status as a visitor to court. Chabannes is no ordinary tutor. Considered by both Catholics and Huguenots to be a traitor, Chabannes is rescued by the young Prince Philippe and brought to court to tutor the princess. He has rejected war, disgusted with violence in the name of religion. “How can people of the same blood and faith kill each other in the name of Christ?’’ he mourns, recalling his killing of a pregnant woman.

Chabannes falls in love with the intellectually curious young princess as does the Duc d’Anjou, brother to the king and cousin to both the princess and Henri. The Duc d’Anjou is used to taking what he wants and plots a deception worthy of Shakespeare.

From a purely visual perspective, there is exquisite set designs, lighting and costumes which provides rich layers of authenticity of life in mid-16th century Europe. The setting is lush but distant with historical references most of us cannot access: the religious wars, Queen Mother Catherine (who is a Medici) or Catholic theology (references to Gregory Chrysostom, for example). This historical distance demands a story so tightly woven that it can compensate for gaps in knowledge of sixteenth century French history. “The Princess of Montpensier” is intended to be a classic commentary of manners, especially of aristocratic and masculine control over female relatives, draining their souls of love, liberty and hope. However, It’s a subject that other films and television programs have covered to greater effect. To name a few, “The Tudors”, “Rome” and “The Borgias” among historical dramatizations in television and “Elizabeth”, “Mrs. Brown”, and “The Crown Prince” in recent films.

I wanted to like this movie more: to be transfixed, pulled in by the characters, warming to the plight of the princess’s fate. But, the characters never completely develop. Just when this viewer expected the three primary male characters to follow their hearts…or their minds…they contradict their own best interests without explanation as to motive or psychology. I expected to be swept away by the conflict between duty and passion, what Pascal famously asserted less than a century after the novella was written: “The heart has its reasons which reason does not know”. In “The Princess of Montpensier” the evocation of the princess’s heart and the morals of the two dukes, but most notably, Chabannes, are left disjointed and without a pattern consistent with their natures rendered earlier in the film. As the film moves onward, instead of getting better, as I hoped, it unravels, both in terms of character development and in enticing the viewer to understand the sorrows and complexities the story is attempting to unfold.

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  1. This would be a perfect movie for us to see here in Montreal, I think. Dubbed in French, I’m sure. We still haven’t found a movie theater (teatre?) except for the Imax in Old Montreal. Hopefully will find the movies and find this one…

    1. Hi Susie!
      A few of the lines are not dubbed, so we were left to guess what the French dialogue meant. Would be fun for both of you. Also, Carla Bruni Sarkozy has a cameo role and speaks such flawless English. Hope you enjoy movies in Montreal. Recommend some good ones for us!

“Irina Palm”: How Desperate Can You Get?

When I saw the DVD of this movie with the opening menu, I was not quite sure what I was in for. Was this going to be soft porn or an indie film with an unexpected story to tell? As it turned out, “Irina Palm” is so idiosyncratic and original–but not for everyone–that I wasn’t sure if I should recommend it to friends next door who love movies as much as we do. But I did, and they really enjoyed it too!

I’m not quite sure how I found this obscure 2007 movie, but I think it was mentioned in an article I read about legendary rocker Marianne Faithfull (of “As Tears Go By” and Broken English fame) who stars as Maggie, a working-class fifty-or-sixty-something grandmother who is desperate to cover the cost of her critically-ill grandson’s experimental medical operation. Maggie asks for a bank loan but she has no assets to provide as collateral. When denied one loan and prospective job after another, a dejected Maggie resigns herself to exploring the underground sex trade of London and learns to provide “services”. Her no-nonsense boss Miki gives her the “professional” name, “Irina Palm,” the same name as his first girlfriend. Soon men are lining up for Irina, the number-one attraction, so much so that another proprietor offers her an even more generous offer to be his employee at another “salon”.

This movie protrays vividly, without sermonizing, what you will or must do to save the life of someone you truly love. The lack of empathy by those not in such a situation and who cannot imagine what desperation can demand is everywhere–in friends and close relatives. “Irina Palm” presents a range of reactions to Maggie’s work: from her son, his wife, the little boy who knows only that his grandma has a secret, and her close friends. Even a co-worker, who is desperate herself, cannot recognize the degree of desperation that Maggie has encased in every cell of her body.

Co-produced by production companies from five countries (Belgium, Luxembourg, Great Britain, Germany and France), “Irina Palm” premiered, to great acclaim, at the 2007 Berlin International Film Festival. In a controlled performance worthy of international recognition, Marianne Faithfull did receive a Best Actress nomination for her role by the European Film Awards commission.

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“The Conspirator”–Is Anyone Listening?

“The Conspirator” opens with a gripping Civil War battle scene and treats us to incredibly imaginative camera angles, shot in sepia tones to time-travel cinematically to the late 1860’s.

This is a story that sits underneath a story we all know– the history-book narrative of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination by John Wilkes Booth at the Ford Theater. What few of us know is the untold story– of Mary Surratt, (played by Robin Wright), a Southern middle-aged widow who ran the boarding house where Booth and five other conspirators plotted to either kidnap (an important distinction in the movie) or murder not only Abraham Lincoln, but also the vice president (Andrew Johnson), the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of War. Their seditious act was intended to overthrow the government and reinstate the southern states’ hegemony.

Frederick Aiken (superbly played by James McAvoy), is a Union soldier recently recovered from near-fatal wounds at the battle of Appomattox. He is given the insurmountable task of defending Mary Surratt, a civilian, in a trial before a military tribunal, instead of in a civil trial before her peers. Aiken’s revulsion at defending Surratt is palpable. His friends and fiancée’s revulsion is even stronger.

As her defense attorney, Aiken gradually realizes that a military court is trampling Surratt’s rights in order to draw out her son, John, who has fled the state. The viewer does not know whether Surratt is guilty or not, but the evidence is spuriously argued in what is undoubtedly a kangaroo court, and she is unjustly dealt with.

Mary Surratt became the first white female executed under Federal jurisdiction and was photographed in a white hood hanging from a noose alongside her three co-conspirators. This is a tour-de-force courtroom drama with lessons about the U.S. constitution in a time of national fear and war, lessons yet to be learned today. “In times of war, the law falls silent,” one of the military tribunal commissioners, states matter-of-factly. This film is about the unconstitutional acts Americans do when feeling collectively frightened.

I was surprised to find so many critics sitting on the fence on this one. The New York Times called it a “well-meaning, misbegotten movie”. Other critics considered the director, Robert Redford’s treatment of Surratt’s trial heavy handed, undoubtedly due to the parallels the viewer draws between the fear and vengeance of the post-Civil War days and the Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib events of our current political situation. The iconic canvas bags worn over the heads of the conspirators in the film cannot but remind the viewer of the grim photos of Abu Ghraib. The porous border between travesties of justice from the past and those of the present seems to have irked some of the critics.

Robert Redford, as director, has focused on the tragic deceptions people commit in order to save themselves. He has chosen his cast wisely. Robin Wright is the vulnerable pallid-faced prisoner, stoic and fiercely loyal to her son and daughter. The actress is virtually unrecognizable, practically silent throughout, but riveting in conveying subtle expressions weighed down by the burden of grief and bewilderment. At the heart of “The Conspirator,” is the interface between fear and injustice, the crushing of human rights. Who really is the conspirator and who is listening?

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“The Book of Mormon” and “Avenue Q”–Nothing is Forever

While visiting New York City last week my husband and I had the immense pleasure of seeing two absolutely hilarious musicals, “The Book of Mormon” and “Avenue Q”, the former premiering on Broadway last March,   the latter still enjoying a seven-year run.

“The Book of Mormon” is the hottest play on Broadway right now.  Nominated for 14 Tony awards–one short of the record, it is irreverent, over-the-top, and politically incorrect as only the creators of “South Park”, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, can be.  Yet “The Book of Mormon” is absolutely astonishing for its satire, music, and singing.  Described as “God’s favorite musical,” this show from the co-composer/lyricist of “Avenue Q” features a pair of incompatible Mormon missionary recruits who are sent to Uganda, with a  track record of no converts.   In the course of the show, the two young Mormons gain more insight into themselves as they realize the good nature of the AIDS-plagued, poverty-stricken Ugandan villagers and the deception they are propagating.  Complex moral lessons are sandwiched between outrageously scatological dialogue and raunchy costumes.  If you can laugh at religion’s dark side without feeling wounded, at stereotypes that could be construed as offensive (but no one is exempted), and memorable lyrics in the songs “Turn It Off”, “Man Up”, and “I Believe”, you will find this subversive Broadway show to be amazing.  Its primary comic plot device is the absurdity of religion when it divides and alienates, instead of uniting. Through humor, incredible lyrics, and voices powerful beyond belief, this controversial, heart-stopping musical is a wonder. Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells, the two brilliant young performers playing zealous missionaries, and Nikki James as the young Ugandan woman fervently trying to be open to their missionary message, have mesmerizing, crystal clear voices that are a delight to the ear.  To say more would be to spoil this winner from the  “South Park” creators!

Two days after seeing “The Book of Mormon”, we saw “Avenue Q”, the long-running 2004 Tony award winner, at a small Off-Broadway theater, the New World Stage, for a more intimate performance. Laugh-out-loud funny, this seven year-old musical is far from dated, except perhaps for the Gary Coleman character. “Avenue Q” tells the story of a recent college grad named Princeton who moves into a rundown New York apartment on Avenue Q.  Without the prospects of a job in the near future, (how timely is that?)   Princeton meets Kate (the girl next door), Rod (the Republican), Trekkie (the internet porn surfer), Lucy the Slut , and other furry characters, all modeled after Sesame Street puppets.

The set design is also straight out of Sesame Street, with the characters sitting on the front stoop singing their tales of woe.  Uniquely designed rooms resembling a large doll house add to the reality/fantasy divide underscored by each actor who holds a Sesame Street-style puppet, manipulating the puppet’s mouth while singing or reciting dialogue.  The dramatic convention is highly original and plays to the major theme: young adults who can’t quite believe they’ve grown up.  They’re no longer  on Sesame Street.

When I saw these two musicals within days of each other, I couldn’t separate them. They felt like two sides of the same story:  Bright-eyed young people hoping for success as defined by their dreams but utterly stunned that their prospects are not what they thought they would be.  In “Avenue Q” the songs “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” and “Schadenfreude” say it all.  The lyrics are mind-blowing for capturing the time of youth through the eyes of this decade!  Puppets make the real world seem like fantasy.  In “The Book of Mormon”, the animation genius of Trey Parker and Matt Stone comes to life on stage with human characters in the familiar dialogue we associate with “South Park”.  One musical mirrors the other, not surprisingly, since the composer for both musicals is Robert Lopez, and the original director of “The Book of Mormon”, Jason Moore, was the award-winning director of “Avenue Q”.  But the similarity of themes in both musicals can be felt viscerally.  “Avenue Q” just left San Francisco, but it may be brought back by popular demand.   I hope you can see both of these musical spectacles!

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“Road Trip”–a short story

My short  story “Road Trip” has just been released in the Spring 2011 issue of  Calliope,   the official publication of the Writers’ Special Interest Group of American Mensa, Ltd. This is a condensed portion of a chapter from my work-in-progress, a novel entitled Things Unsaid.  I really enjoyed writing this “flash fiction” story and hope you enjoy reading it!

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  1. That was a great little read Diana. (The story is an echo of my relationsip with my daughter…and learning how to keep my mouth shut!) I look forword to reading more, that was really nice.

  2. Congratulations on your publication!
    I can relate to your story. We have all been there as moms, so true!
    Evelyn

“Bliss”–A Downward Spiral

A Turkish movie made in 2007,  “Bliss” is anything but.  From the opening scene of the hillside in spectacular cinematography recalling “Woman in the Dunes”, “Bliss”  is a beautifully acted cinematic gem that pits village customs against modern urbanization, religion against secularism, the disenfranchised against a justice system that blames and punishes the victim of the crime, not the criminal.  I found “Bliss” spellbinding.

The story is about three characters.  Meryem, a seventeen-year-old shepherdess, is brutally raped and then ostracized by her community and its leaders.  She is expected to commit suicide or face an “honor killing”.  The male cousin (Cemal), son of the village leader (Meryem’s uncle) is assigned the task of murdering her. A professor they meet (Irfan) gives both Cemal and Meryem shelter.

Meryem’s father and grandmother are inconsolable and powerless in the face of village customs but resigned to accept the tradition of “honor killing”.  Cemal is unaware of the nascent love he is developing for her. Against his own best interests and fundamentalist values, Cemal decides to abandon tradition and go on the run with Meryem, first to the city to see his brother and a friend, then to a distant fishing village. Serendipitously, Cemal and Meryem meet up with Irfan, a generous, exuberant university professor who is embarking on a sailing trip, and needs a crew. Together this unlikely trio sets forth on a journey that will change their lives. In the final half of the film  Meryem, the shy girl who has been almost invisible throughout her life, controlled by others and without a voice of her own,  quietly emerges as a courageous young woman igniting no less than a revolution through her determination to discover happiness, no matter how seemingly inconsequential it may seem to others.

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4 Replies to ““Bliss”–A Downward Spiral”

  1. after reading your in depth review we ordered it…
    it was fabulous…How about more foreign movie reviews in your blog???

    1. Thanks, Eugene, for all of your comments! Will be doing more movie reviews of independent foreign films in the future!

Celebrate Beer!–Awaken Your Senses!

Last weekend my husband and I went to a class in the Artisan Series  at Montrio Bistro in Monterey.  We found it particularly interesting because, although we love beer and have visited microbreweries, we had not been to a seminar on the art and craft of making beer and studying the different types of brews.

There were two different presentations on beer and its production and distribution.  The first speaker represented English Ales Brewery in Marina, and gave a presentation while we tasted eight different beers they made, each placed on a chart in front of us, so we wouldn’t forget which beer we were drinking.  This was a nice touch, since the beers were quite different.  We  learned about the difference between ale and porter,  two types of yeast cultivation (top-fermenting aerobic ale and bottom-fermenting lager), and a rich vocabulary for describing beer–something we had not been exposed to before.  Now we can say that a beer is “hoppy” (has a bite) or ” malty” (roasted, smoky) , “nutty”, “peppery”, “salty”, and “bitter”.  We also got a chance to touch and smell samples of hops and barley, the hops a lovely dried flower and the barley a nice nutty snack in its own right.

After the English Ales Brewery presentation, a husband-wife team from BeerGeek.com talked about the regional differences in breweries they visited throughout Europe with a planned trip to Asia later to study their beer production processes as well as distribution.  This was an entertaining travelogue which demonstrated that one can plan a trip around visiting breweries and having tastings just as easily and with just as much fun as wine tasting.  A great idea for our next trip!

And finally, we had lunch–an appetizer of Wicked Lizard sausage with a mustard tinged with beer and a small cup of cheddar soup spiked with one of the local beers we tasted (Dragon Slayer IPA).  We then had a wonderful green salad with nuts, cherry tomatoes,  and pickled purple onions.  Our main course was an outstanding lamb shank in a delectable mushroom reduction, on top of a very creamy polenta with tidbits of corn.  For desert there were tiny minced meat pies!   The price is $45 per person and includes lunch.  Feel good about what you eat!

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“Lincoln Lawyer”–More Than an Ambulance Chase

We saw the movie “Lincoln Lawyer” a couple of days ago, and it was a highly engaging–not brilliant–courtroom thriller of a movie in the “Grisham” style. Think the best of the courtroom dramas of the recent past: “Fracture” meets “Presumed Innocent”, for example. This film noir, based on a book written by Michael Connelly, is pure entertainment–with a few twists to keep it original and not the same old courtroom drama we’ve seen done well and also done poorly. Michael “Mick” Haller (Matthew McConaughey in one of his very best performances since “North Star” and “A Time to Kill”) is a slick, charismatic Los Angeles criminal defense attorney who operates out of the back of his Lincoln Town Car sedan–hence, the name “Lincoln Lawyer”.

Having spent most of his career defending down-and-out street criminals, Mick unexpectedly is recommended for the lucrative assignment of representing Louis Roulet (played chillingly by Ryan Phillippe), a spoiled Beverly Hills playboy who is accused of attempted murder. Roulet has been accused of brutally beating a young prostitute he met in a bar. Mick senses there is something incredible about this windfall. If Roulet has unlimited funds and really is innocent, why is he hiring a guy like him, who works out of the back seat of a car? The lawyer has spent all his professional life afraid that he wouldn’t recognize innocence if it stood right in front of him, a caveat from his father. He wonders if he could be staring into the face of evil, not innocence, and is terrified that he doesn’t know the difference.

Fueled by McConaughey’s and Philippe’s bravura, career-reshaping performances, the supporting cast sustains the audience’s attention: Marisa Tomei as Mick’s ex-wife and fellow attorney, Frances Fisher as Roulet’s intimidating mother, and especially William H. Macy, as Mick’s friend and loyal but offbeat private investigator.

McConaughey has brilliantly played the hard-edged law officer before, either as a sheriff or a lawyer with Southern overtones. Returning to that type of role in “Lincoln Lawyer” may indicate that he is heading for a highly acclaimed “Paul Newman”-type of second act (as exemplified by Newman’s Academy Award-nominated performance as a marginal lawyer in “The Verdict”). He effortlessly maneuvers between charm and sleaze as Mick Haller, yet retains some basic human scruples, which will allow him to save his soul. This movie is a delicious two hours’ entertainment, not just another potboiler of ambulance chasers–you won’t be disappointed!

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  1. Encouraged by your positive review we saw ” The Lincoln Lawyer” last night, and were not disappointed. The acting was spot-on, and Ryan Philippe was terrifyingly good. Matthew McConaughey should play only Southern lawyers for the rest of his career…I loved him as much in this movie as I did in “A Time to Kill”. I especially liked the low-level lighting and retro sets, which gave the film a timeless feel. My husband commented ” improbable but entertaining” on the way out, and I agree.

    1. Glad you liked the film too! I forgot to mention the feel of the movie aesthetically and appreciate your mentioning the retro designs and cinematography. Let me know what other films you like. I will try to review some of them on my blog! Thanks again, Alden!

“Swimming with Sharks”–Taking a Dive from the Corporate Ladder

Our son graduated from college about a year ago and has had several internships in the entertainment industry, mainly reality TV and independent movies, while he searches for his next career step. One of his former supervisors recommended “Swimming with Sharks”, for an insider’s view of what working as a low-level assistant for a studio exec is really like. This colleague also stated that the movie did not exaggerate!

While billed as a comedy, this film is anything but funny. Guy (played by Frank Whaley, a vastly underrated TV supporting actor) is a recent college graduate who lands a job as personal assistant–more accurately, “go-fer”–to Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey), an abusive, egomaniacal movie studio exec who withers Guy’s enthusiasm, professional integrity, and most importantly, his self-esteem. Battered by a relentless siege of humiliating and vitriolic attacks, Guy only half-heartedly stands up to Buddy because of his eagerness to climb the ladder of success. This movie is an engrossing but cynical portrait of what soul-selling is required for some individuals to attain their coveted company promotion.

When I first watched “Swimming with Sharks”, the tyranny of Buddy Ackerman was so vile and so over-the-top, that I sympathized entirely with Guy, the poor nebbish trying to please his boss with every cell in his body. Perhaps the most memorable lines are the words of “advice” Buddy gives his young assistant: “I was young too, I felt just like you. Hated authority, hated all my bosses, thought they were full of shit. Look, it’s like they say, if you’re not a rebel by the age of 20, you got no heart, but if you haven’t turned establishment by 30, you’ve got no brains. Because there are no storybook romances, no fairy-tale endings. So before you run out and change the world, ask yourself, ‘What do you really want?'”

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  1. Although, I have not seen Swimming with the Sharks, I can offer a few thoughts on the “Hollywood Dream”… The entertainment industry has found a way to receive free labor (selling of souls, bodies and time) from those people searching for a job in that industry…Instead of having to pay at least the State of California Minimum wage and Overtime. The dream machine sidetracks the law by calling the job seekers interns instead of employees and is free to abuse them. Perhaps one day the Labor Commissioner’s Office will end internship program and the entertainment job seekers will be covered by the Industrial Welfare Commission Order guaranteeing basic employment rights.
    However, the way an employer treats an employee is more of a personal matter. There is no law that an employer has to be nice to someone. Most people are employees at will. Therefore, an employer and employee can end the employment relationship at any time for no reason.