Just Giblets

Little Seen Film of the Day – Blues for Willadean

5th May 2014
by Michael

Little Seen Film of the Day – Blues for Willadean

Blues for WilladeanBLUES FOR WILLADEAN is not a perfect film – far from it.  However it’s got heart, it tells an important story that will resonate strongly with some, and it features amazing performances from three spectacular women that make a viewing worthwhile no matter what you think of the film as a whole.   Beth Grant is a fantastic character actor known for her comedic appearances in such films as DONNIE DARKO, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE and most recently on the television show, “The Mindy Project.”  It’s incredibly rare to see Beth in a leading role, and a dramatic leading role to top things off.  And it’s wonderful to see.  Beth is a real talent, and she gets to show her stuff in this tough role for which she won all sorts of awards on stage.  Backed by Octavia Spencer and Dale Dickey, this is one power trio that knows how to infuse a movie with heart and soul.

Willadean is the wife of a blue collar truck driver, who attempts to escape the abusive prison she is trapped in.   She dreams of one day getting a job, supporting herself and reuniting with her son who has escaped to live his own life.  Her neighbor and best friend LaSonia does what she can, but as is often the case with domestic abuse, it is difficult to interfere, but with her own experiences with domestic violence driving her, LaSonia can’t stand by and do nothing.  Then there is new neighbor, Rayleen, who is the catalyst for Willadean’s final rebellion.  The three women, as well as Willadean’s husband, J.D. portray the different aspects of abuse with chilling truth.  But Shores wisely infuses the dark tale with plenty of humor, and it is those scenes of humor, that also show the women bonding, that are really powerful stuff.

posted in Beth Grant, Friends, Memes, Movies | at 6:16 am | 0 Comments
8th January 2013
by Michael

Favorite Books Read in 2012 – #’s 7 & 8

It’s nerve-wracking being friends with published authors.  I always worry I’m not going to like their books!  Fortunately, that rarely happens, and I have found being completely honest usually serves very well.  This pair of books both took me by surprise.  One I didn’t expect to like, and the other I grew to like more and more after I completed it and time passed.

The Night Circus

#8 - The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I was a slow convert despite the hype. Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is an exquisitely crafted fantasy/romance/historical mash-up that, like the circus it describes, contains ever-increasing wonders as each page turns. Celia and Marco are bound by their father/mentor respectively to spend much of their lives preparing for, then competing in a mystical challenge. This particular challenge has been repeated for centuries with very little variance in

the outcome: one participant wins, the other is no more. The problem is, Celia and Marco meet and fall in love, despite the challenge, which they are bound to and upon which they are unable to turn their backs.

This bizarre challenge/romance takes place against the backdrop of Le Cirque des Rêves a glorious circus that appears in different cities during the cover of darkness and is only open at night. Morgenstern’s debut is intricately layered and filled with a rich and fascinating cast of characters. But best of all, she manages to continuously convey the wonder of the magical circus tents throughout at 400-page book, without repeating herself, or resorting to cliche. It’s a magnificent effort, and a joy to read.

The Paternity Test#7 – The Paternity Test by Michael Lowenthal

For a novel, that on the one hand, appears as a slightly sudsy melodrama about a gay couple desiring a child, Michael Lowenthal’s The Paternity Test challenged me the way few books do.  Here is my best attempt to convey the complexity of emotions I felt throughout my reading it. At first The Paternity Test seemed like it was going to be a fairly straight-forward story; gay couple, together for a while and facing a turning point, decide to leave the big city, move to Cape Cod and have a child by using a surrogate. There would be the typical dramatic moments exploring issues such as having a child to save a relationship; difficulty with the surrogate, that kind of thing. In fact, I wasn’t all that interested in the subject matter, and wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy it. But when you get an advanced copy from the author himself, you make a point of reading it. 

The first thing I noticed was how compelling it was. I couldn’t put the book down and read it in record time. That said, it was a very tough read for me, stirring up all sorts of conflicting emotions. For much of the book I wasn’t sure I was enjoying it, and had particular trouble with the lead character, Pat. Often I was worried about the direction the book was headed in. Sometimes I had the distinct feeling that I was reading a novelization of “Days of our Lives.” But by the end of the book, I was excited by the journey it took me on, the very fact that I was all over the place emotionally with the characters, yet ultimately having it be a really satisfying reading experience for me. Like parenthood, like relationships, like family, there is nothing simple about The Paternity Test; there are ups and downs, moments of melodrama, laughter, tears, anger… all the things that make a wonderful novel.

 

 

7th January 2013
by Michael

Favorite Books Read in 2012 – #’s 9 & 10

All of the books on this list are great, but it’s a sure sign of a bumper crop year when a new Alice Munro is down at #9!

#10 – All This Talk of Love by Christopher Castellani

Christopher Castellani’s third novel is a beautifully evocative examination of a family greatly affected by a past tragedy and their ethnic culture. Antonio and Maddalena Grasso came to America from Santa Cecila, Italy fifty years ago. Together they had three children, but lost one tragically years ago. Now their remaining children and grandchildren have each formed a family construct based on their individual experiences, while Antonio and Maddalena each deal with their personal grief in solitary ways.

The novel examines the complicated ways people love, as stated in the book, from the heart, from the head and from the soul. With Maddalena, who was in love with another boy before Antonio and Maddalena’s father arranged their marriage, love is compartmentalized, coupled with a need to cut herself off completely from her heritage, ignoring letters and calls to her family back in Italy. When her daughter Prima tries to arrange a trip for the entire family to travel back to Santa Cecila, all are taken aback by the ferocity of Maddalena’s refusal. Youngest son Frankie has moved from the family’s Delaware roots to write his thesis at Boston College. He is a lost soul, eschewing maturity for a dysfunctional sexual relationship with his adviser, and a relationship with his mother that can’t move past childhood.

Couple all of these mini family dramas with Maddalena’s health challenges and you’d think All This Talk of Love would echo the soap opera that Frankie and Maddalena discuss every day. But Castellani’s exploration lifts the story above melodramatics and creates flawed and real characters struggling with long ago grief and the complicated love of family.

#9 – Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro

Alice Munro, the master of the modern short story, continues to show her prodigious talent in her latest collection entitled Dear Life. Each story illuminates a life at a pivotal moment and who this moment affects its subject. Dear Life also includes a series of four memories from the author life; structured as short stories, they are mini-memoirs, colored by memory and creativity, yet illuminating the way each of her stories are.

Many of the stories in Dear Life are set in the post WWII era of Canada, and the memory of the way and the Depression infuse them. One story in particular, “Leaving Maverley,” highlights the power of Munro’s storytelling, where with a simple sentence; a reflection of what has gone on before, Munro is able to bring the reader to tears.

 

4th January 2013
by Michael

Favorite Books Read in 2012 – #’s 16 & 15

As I mentioned previously, it was a good year for books.  I read a lot of really good books last year, and I couldn’t quite stop at a top 15… I had to squeeze one more on there.  So here we go, #’s 16 & 15 of my favorite books read in 2012!  And what do they have in common?  They’re both geared toward teen readers.  #16 is a newcomer to this list, and #15 made the list last year at #10.

#16 – Will Grayson Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

I read two teen novels with gay characters/themes in them, and while I enjoyed them both, both had flaws as well.  Will Grayson Will Grayson‘s conceit about two characters named Will Grayson, one straight, and one gay, written by two authors handling alternating chapters is both a strength and a weakness.  The two writers have noticeably different writing styles, which I found distracting.  There is also an element of over-simplification that can often mars feel-good novels.  However the book is hilarious, unabashedly moving, and a nice look at the variety of personalities embodying high school life today.

 

 

#15 – Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow

Cory’s latest book tackles a subject he is passionate about: copyright and the internet. In Pirate Cinema, a boy runs away to London after his cinema mash-ups cause his family to lose internet access for a month. While living on the streets, he hooks up with a Dickensian band of pals who show him how to live on his own and educate him about the draconian nature of the laws created by big entertainment industry that struggle to hang on to the establishment, but stifle the artistic creativity of a new generation. (He also finds a pretty amazing girlfriend.)  While the novelty of this book for me was seeing my husband’s name appear throughout in a very pivotal role (Scot won naming rights at an auction) about halfway through  Cory had hooked me with a compelling read, strong characters, and a message that is so relevant to the world we live in today.  Cory’s last novel, the epic For the Win was my #10 favorite book read in 2011.

26th March 2012
by Michael

In NYC, we saw…

Carrie: The Musical

Goodbye

Death of a Salesman

Death of a Salesman

Now. Here. This.

Now. Here. This.

Susan Blackwell

Susan Blackwell

10th July 2009
by Scot

Forever Plaid, Not So Bad. (Not so hot, either.)

Forever PlaidThanks to Chris Caggiano and some lady at NCM Fathom (a division of National CineMedia), Michael and I were able to see the one-time-only 20th Anniversary Special “cinecast” of Forever Plaid. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it. It’s a four person musical that opened Off-Broadway in 1990 and ran for many years. (The 20th anniversary, presumably, celebrates one of its pre-New York limited runs in smaller theaters.)

The premise of the show is that a quartet of clean-cut young men, on their way to pick up snazzy plaid tuxedos to top off their burgeoning swing/jazz vocal career, are killed when their Mercury crashes into a busload of Catholic schoolgirls who were headed to watch the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. We are able to watch them perform the show they always meant to do because they have one tiny reprieve from the afterlife. That’s about it for the plot and it always has been. It’s basically a cute excuse to perform a lot of nice 50′s and 60′s tight harmony numbers well, with a wink and a nudge.

The show is now pretty much a staple of regional dinner theatres, and truth be told, that’s probably where it should stay. It’s a cute show and with the right voices, makes for a satisfying dessert. My 86-year-old (I think that’s right) father-in-law would love it. My grandma would have loved it too, if I’d taken her twenty years ago. But alas, she passed several years ago. I was really hoping to love it too because I really dig the sounds of The Hi-Lo’s, who I consider the masters of this kind of tight harmony vocal acrobatics. But in the end, the film and associated live-broadcast performance left me feeling like I’d watched a fun HBO theatre special from 1980, like Annette O’Toole in Vanities or Margot Kidder in Bus Stop — an amusing two hours, but kinda like “donuts for dinner.”

So here I sit, wanting something a little meteor meatier. Why? The voices were just fine. The guys were mostly coming across very sincere, so the jokes played just fine. Some jokes were pretty lame, and the constant bumbling was a bit much to stomach outside of a dinner theatre setting, but I’m not one to quibble about that.

But first of all, the evening was presented as if it were going to be a live broadcast of the stage show. At least, that’s what I thought from the trailer we saw Tuesday at the Harvard Square Lowes. Instead, what we got was a live introduction from Fred Willard at some unknown theater in Los Angeles rambling on about how awesome it was that this was being broadcast in 500 cinemas in the U.S. and Canada. Then they showed a movie. A movie staged and shot months before. Then, the live broadcast returned to Fred Willard’s theater and — to their credit — the cast members performed some live numbers.

Second, the voices were lovely, but they did not have the energy or punch of The Hi-Lo’s. That’s just me, I know, raising my expectations based on a really high bar. The Hi-Lo’s were named that for a reason: a really, really wide range of pitch, including a first tenor that sounded like a freaking coronet. (If you haven’t heard them, lemme play you a few tracks.) Besides a few bass-heavy numbers, the Plaids were more like The Four Freshmen or … I dunno, the Ink Spots. More suited for recordings or concerts than dynamic theatre. In fact, it wasn’t until the after-film live numbers that I could even hear the high tenor wail and then I think it wore on him cause he started to crack or go flat after the first couple numbers.

Third, the direction of the film was just awful. Sorry, but you know how I said it was like an 80′s HBO theatre special? Let me amend that by saying it was like an 80′s HBO theatre special run through Adobe After Effects. Someone didn’t trust the actors to keep our attention and insisted on inserting all kinds of graphics and animation over the performers. Particularly distracting was the sheet music frame around the Scottish number and the floating business cards around their event-related medley. Ick. But what do you expect? The director was Stuart Ross, the man who conceived, wrote, and directed the stage show. All he’s credited with directing on IMDB are this film, one episode of Frasier, and one episode of Veronica’s Closet. It looks like Dad ran Baby’s first birthday through some cheesy iMovie effects.

And finally, the film boasts that it has original cast members from the stage show. Well, David Engel, who plays the bass vocalist Smudge is pretty cool. He’s my favorite performer, all told, in the film. He’s adorably goofy, but not too annoying, and gets an awesome “stud moment” late in the show. But Stan Chandler, who plays the first tenor Jinx is looking… well, like he should be 20 years younger. Oddly, so does Larry Raben, who plays Sparky, the “cut up” of the group. I’m not sure why he was cast, since he was not in the original cast and he’s playing the role created by one of my favorites — Jason Graae. Not sure what Jason’s been up to lately. He must be lying low. The fourth member, Frankie was played by Daniel Reichard of Jersey Boys fame. He was pretty good, but I can’t say I have the same attraction to him that Chris does. He’s a little too pretty.

The evening was not bad by any means, however. There is a singalong component to Forever Plaid, which I love under most contexts. I was singing my lungs out to “Matilda” along with a few others in the audience. And the after-film performance had a bit of that too. It was kind of difficult, since there were only 17 people in our audience at the Fenway 13 cinema (including the four of us who got in on Chris’s press comps), and the live performance tried to divide us into four-part harmony. But WTF. I took the high road and sang the first tenor in falsetto because there were so few people there to be embarrassed in front of.

But there were two really special parts of the evening. In the post-film performance, the Plaids trot out — OMG — Carol Effing Channing!!! She sings “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend,” admonishing the audience for applauding after the first verse because “I’m not DZHUN yeyat!” And then the Plaids try to get her to teach “us” how to sing “Sh-boom, Sh-boom. Ya-da-da-da-da, Ya-da-da-da.” But she’s unsure if she’s singing the right number of “Ya-da-da’s.” Priceless. And God knows, this may be the closest I get to seeing her live before she leaves us!

The other special part was getting to meet Chris and his friend Victor, who he knows from the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus. Such charismatic men, both! At one point, I turned to Michael to explain that Forever Plaid was a bit like Nunsense, but since it had very little plot, it was more like Oil City Symphony. Chris grabbed my hand and said, “You just said Oil City Symphony. We are going to get on just fine.” Or something like that. My heart melted in a totally non-adulturous way.

Here’s to the power of digital media. It can stream Fred Willard live to 17 people in Boston. Or it can make really awesome friends.

posted in 1980s, Friends, Movies, Musicals, Reviews, Theatre, Web | at 1:35 am | 3 Comments
7th May 2009
by Scot

Visit from the Golden Pony

Last night, the golden pony came to Springfield, MA and pooped out a lovely evening for Michael and  I  me. (Thanks, Max.) We’re here for the Massachusetts Library Association annual conference and Michael, being Michael, lined up a truly stupendous array of guests to speak. So, last night we spent the late night hours closing down the hotel bar with:

I am so lucky that my husband is so fearless and is such a big dreamer. He gave me the wonderful gift of the opportunity to chat with Lynda and Thrity about menopause and to smoke with Talia and Michael Cunningham in the rain. Does that rock or what?

27th November 2008
by Michael

Gratitude

I usually don’t go for these holiday inspired blog posts… oh, it’s thanksgiving, what am I thankful for, but this morning, I guess I’m in a reflective mood.  I don’t often stop and think about what I am truly thankful for in my life and that’s probably not a good thing.  It’s so easy to take the blessings in one’s life for granted, and today, I’m going to take a step back and acknowledge the things I am most thankful for.

When you’re healthy, it’s so easy to take your health for granted.  I have been fortunate enough to be pretty healthy my entire life.  Sure, as a fortysomething-year-old man I should lose a few pounds, eat better, be more active, etc.  But I did quit smoking this year (last January) and I feel really thankful about that!

Friends and Family are such a blessing.  My family is happy and healthy.  Everyone is doing well.  I am especially thankful that my parents, both in their mid-eighties, are doing so well.  And as a gay man, friends are so important, and I’ve got great friends from so many different areas of my life.

Six months ago, my friends and family would be shocked to hear me give thanks to my job… but it’s true.  Of course, in this economic climate I’m thankful to have a job at all, but never in my wildest dreams since becoming a librarian did I think I would ever have this big a job.  And for the first time since I started this job, things are really looking up.  A new leader has really rejuventated by interest in my career, and although things are still pretty difficult in many ways, I’m so hopeful for the future.

Having been a homeowner for a couple of years now, I have to say I am grateful that we’ve got such a comfortable home and great condo-mates.  As Scot often reminds me, we could definitely spend a little more time focused on our home, and that’s something I think I’d like to try and do in the coming year.

In that home I have to give thanks to our kitties, Gertrudis and Parker.  The joy these cats bring me is sometimes astounding.  Gertrudis has been with me for over 14 years, and she is truly part of my family.  And I’m so thankful that we were able to provide a home for Parker and that he seems to have alleviated some of Gertrudis’ anxiety about being the only cat in the house (when she remembers to stop fighting with him.)

Finally, and most importantly, I am so thankful for my husband, Scot.  First that here in Massachusetts I can actually have a husband, and secondly, but more importantly, that he’s someone as kind, understanding, complex, and beautiful as Scot.  I don’t tell him this nearly enough, but it comes from my heart… I love you, Scottie, and I am so grateful that you are a part of my life.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

posted in Family, Friends, Gooey Stuff, Holidays, Personal | at 9:46 am | 0 Comments
23rd April 2008
by Michael

My Friend, the Rock Star!

Colin, Chriso and PeterHey, remember just the other day I posted about my trip to San Francisco and meeting my new pal Chriso? Well I believe I also mentioned that he’s the drummer in a pretty nifty rock band, ex-boyfriends. Well take a peek at their brand-spanking new music video for the song, “Situation.” It’s damn cool, is incredibly professional, and I think it’s the first time a friend of mine has been featured in a music video!

A bit of trivia: the video shoot was done in the basement of the Armory Building in Mission District of San Francisco. I had the pleasure of seeing the space, and it’s pretty wild. There’s actually a river flowing through the basement!

posted in Friends, Music | at 2:07 pm | 2 Comments
20th April 2008
by Michael

Taking a Moment to Breathe

Hi. It’s Michael. Yeah, it’s been awhile. I’m the kind of person who sometimes forgets to take a moment and enjoy life because I’m too busy living it. There are pros and cons to that, but here, on a lovely spring day in Wellfleet (home of the famous Wellfleet oyster) I’ve decided to reflect upon the past month or so and say hello. It has been a particularly hectic few weeks and there’s more to come in the rest of April and May.

Award WinnersThe craze began with the lead up to the 14th Annual Chlotrudis Awards. If you’re reading this, I trust you know about the Chlotrudis Society for Independent Film. For those of you who don’t, you just need to know that it’s a film society that I started up about 14 years ago to teach audiences to view films actively. This past March 30 we celebrated out 14th annual awards ceremony at the Brattle Theatre with special guest Alberta Watson in attendance. We presented Alberta with an award for her career-so-far, and she was a delightful guest. Lots of fun to hang out with, very down-to-earth, passionate about the Chlotrudis-cause, and she gave a moving and heartfelt speech to boot. We gave out a host of awards, including Best Movie to ONCE, Best Short Film to Maria Gigante for GIRLS ROOM, and our own very special Buried Treasure Award (for a film that made less than $250,000 at the domestic box office and we feel deserves another look) to 12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST. Also receiving a new awards called The Cat’s Meow, was board member extraordinnaire, Bruce Kingsley, without whom Chlotrudis might have dissolved during difficult times last year. (Maria, Alberta, and Bruce are pictured left). And on top of all that, we performed not one, but two fabulous musical numbers. Hopefully they will be online soon, as will pictures from the awards.

Preparing for the awards is a massive undertaking, and one that pretty much consumes my life for weeks prior to the event. Fortunately, in recent years, friends and fellow Board members have stepped up and removed much of the burden from me. Beth, Allison, Scot… there’s no way this thing would happen without you.

Shifting into work mode, anyone who has read the paper or listened to WBUR in the past six months or so know that there are big, disruptive things afoot at the Boston Public Library. This is not my forum to talk about work, but let me just say about the BPL in general, it takes up a lot of my time, both actual and mental. On the broader subject of librarianship and careers, let me mention last week’s trip to San Francisco to attend the annual spring meeting of the International Coalition of Library Consortia (ICOLC). This was my first trip to ICOLC, which has been meeting for about 15 years, and for my job as Regional Administrator of the Boston Regional Library System, ICOLC is actually pretty relevant. Like any conference, there are moments where you wonder why you’re there, but overall, I learned some stuff, networked with a lot of great people, and really gained a valuable perspective about possibilities in my job. So while there was an emphasis on negotiating with vendors for consortial database licensing, I did get to generate some lively discussion on my favorite library topic du jour, using open source solutions in libraries. I’m still amazed at the resistance to even consider this among librarians, but it’s changing.

Chriso and meThe trip to San Francisco wasn’t all work however, as I got to meet an online pal for the first time. Chriso is one nifty fella. He’s the drummer for a very hip band; he’s a total superhero comic book geek; he’s warm, friendly and a super host; and he’s adorable as all get out. We got together a couple of times and he showed me some different SF neighborhoods, including the Armory building where he works, the Mission District, the Castro, Moby Dick, and a couple of cool comic book stores where we spent a lot of money. We also shared some way fun conversation about the high points of the Legion of Superheroes (where I discovered that he’s my long lost comic-twin) and muxtape. Hey, you nice boys out in SF… he’s single. (I used the picture Chris took of of us because it came out better than the ones I took.)

Sarah, Gianna and Scottie on Commercial St.Of course, when you’re out for nearly a week, returning to work can be hellish; and it was, but only for one day before I conveniently took off for a long weekend with my peeps (that’s hubby Scottie, and our best friends Gianna and Sarah) to Wellfleet on Cape Cod. Those of you who know me well know that the Cape (and particularly Provincetown) has been taking on a great significance in my life and may have a great impact on my future plans. Any chance to go to the Cape is a welcome one, so when a friend of Gianna’s offered us her vacation condo, we jumped at the chance. The four of us travel incredibly well together, and we’ve got a beautiful weekend to do it. True, we did spend a frightful 40 minutes or so meandering along backroads in South Shore suburbs after getting a little lost trying to find Route 93, Me and Gianna at Herring Cove Beachbut we took care of that and made our way to Wellfleet on Friday night. Saturday was a beautiful day, where we remarked on that oh-so Cape quality of light. It’s unique and just stunning. We spent the afternoon in P-Town, grabbing lunch, strolling and doing some shopping (both couples making some fun impulse puchases at M.G. Leather. Then we sent some time on Herring Cove Beach (we were not nude, as it was not nude sunbathing weather!) before returning home for tacos and a mini-David Lynch film festival. (We watched the European pilot for ‘Twin Peaks,’ which was pretty lame in our opinion, and Mulholland Drive.) And now it’s Sunday. What will we do today? It’s another beautiful day. We’ve got lots of movies to watch (like GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA and FOUL PLAY!) and an extra day off tomorrow. Of course, Gianna and Sarah aren’t awake yet, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

Then it’s back home and the next couple of big events. Next week is the Independent Film Festival of Boston, which happens to coincide with both my mother’s birthday and my friend Mameve’s book release, just to make things even more hectic. And the week after that is the Massachusetts Library Association’s annual conference, which Gianna and I run. Maybe I’ll be able to take another moment to relax when that’s over.

posted in Comics, Friends, Libraries, Personal, Travel | at 8:40 am | 1 Comment
Subscribe
RSS 2.0 Feed
Comments Feed
  • Archives

    open all | close all