Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Movie Review, This is Where I Leave You

Jane Fonda is like the energizer bunny, she keeps going and going and going. And with two Oscars and such well known films such as "Barefoot in the Park", "The China Syndrome", "Nine to Five", "On Golden Pond", "Coming Home" and "Klute" at 77, one would think she would rest on her laurels, that would be a "No".   In addition to Fonda, are Tina Fey, Justine Bateman, and Adam Driver to name a few. 

In This is Where I Leave You, she plays the matriarch of a family of 4 children, who are so completely different, yet so bonded in different ways. The film opens with the father dying. Hillary, the mother, (Fonda) declares at the funeral that one of their father's (who apparently was an atheist) last wishes was that his family all sit Shiva for him. (A week long period of mourning when the entire family literally sits, grieves, and receives guests.) With the children come their spouses, significant others, wannabes, could have been's, etc. It gets complicated from the get go. 

This could have spiraled into a mad cap comedy, not unlike the British funeral film, "Death at a Funeral". But, to the screenwriters credit, it doesn't. The family is dysfunctional (as we all tend to be these days.) The mother has written a best selling book about the children revealing all their sexual tenancies from the boys' childhood fascinations with their penises to the daughter's first sexual encounter. And she is quick to talk about it should anyone bring it up, much to the dismay and humiliation of her children. 

All of the children bring issues home with them - marital problems, conception issues, and child hood relationships. There is humor, chaos, tender moments, and redemption. And, if you don't leave the theater saying to yourself, "Boy, maybe our family is not the only one . . .", perhaps you should do some soul searching. 

I recommend this 103 minutes. It is enjoyable, funny at time, hysterical at times, sad at times, but most of all, deep down, a little close to home. See it.

Movie Review, The Judge

What happens when you put two larger than life actors, Robert Duvall and Robert Downey, Jr, with one Oscar and six nominations between them,  in the same film? Contrary to the laws of nature you get a story of two strong characters with flaws played by two extremely talented actors, who allow the story to unfold and the audience to enjoy their genuis and well honed craft.

The Judge takes place in Indiana, the heartland, the corn belt of the country where everyday Americans live and go about life in a normal (whatever that is any more) way. Duvall plays The Judge (as he is referred to) who has been on the town's bench for 42 years. Downey plays his son, Hank, a hard nose defense attorney in Chicago who takes no prisoners; who felons want on their side (if they can afford him) so they will not be one. 

The film opens with The Judge's wife, Hank's mother, dying and the family coming together for the funeral. It is clear in the first 15 minutes that not only has Hank not been home in a while, it isn't something he has consciously missed. Driving through the cornfields as he makes his way back to his hometown is almost like crossing the great divide from his life in Chicago with his successful practice and marriage that has fallen to pieces and his estranged past he has spent years running from. The one thing that does connect all the pieces are his young daughter, whom he adores and seems to keep him grounded. (We all need the innocence and unfiltered truth of a child to keep us on the right path.)

No spoiler here, if you have seen the trailers, the story involves Hank's relationship with his father, which is acrimonious at best, his brothers, and his past. He ends up defending his father in a murder trial. I'll stop there. The 141 minutes made me pause before choosing this film but it could not have been done is less time and the story never lagged. (There was not a scene I thought they could have scrapped in the essence of time.)

IMDB gave it a rating 7.8 out of 10. I would give it a good 9 out of 10. The casting is outstanding, the story is strong, the screenplay is well written, and the story is not predictable. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Art and the Rabbit Hole

Before the county fair this year I received an email from another local photographer concerning another matter. I took the opportunity to ask him if he knew any details about the Art Competition at this year's county fair. This is when I fell down the rabbit hole.

What followed was a rant about the powers that be at the County Fair deciding that they did not need the local Arts Council to assist them in registration. This gentleman I was corresponding with happened to be an officer in said Arts Council. I had to hear (read) about how the fair people did not know what they were doing, and had hired someone who was totally ignorant of the process. He predicted the whole thing to be a debacle. 

Personally (and I held my thoughts to myself - thank God) I could not imagine the Art's Exhibit and Competition being any more confusing and more unorganized than it had been in the past. But who was I to question this? I was only an exhibitor - you know the citizen they were serving. Thoughts of the bad experience I had had in the past came to mind.  That varmit (yes that unbecoming description I gave the lady) who ran the Arts Exhibit for years came to mind. The one who never returned my phone calls, even though her number was given as the contact. The one who showed up for the registration with one pencil and a notebook for all the artists to record their work in.

Several days later I received another unsolicited email from this photographer telling me the Arts Council had met and they had voted unanimously not to participate in the county fair at all. He just wanted me to know the state of affairs. As an aside he commented that they planned to exhibit at the State Fair this year. He said this as if I was not even aware there was a State Fair. (I had delivered my two entries to the State Fair just that afternoon.) Then, as always, he signed off with "In sweet Jesus' name".

With the "varmit" gone, unlike the Art's Council, I was encouraged. And I was not disappointed. The registration process was well organized. When I asked about picking up my photographs after the fair ended, the young lady now tasked with running the Arts Exhibit and Competition, offered to keep them at her home if I could not be there that final day. (This was much different than the threatening phone call I had received from one of the varmit's minons last year.) 

I complimented her on the ease of the process and thanked her for her service. She just smiled very shyly. "Well it has not been smooth sailing. The first thing I ran into was the Arts Council who got upset that they would not be running the exhibit this year. Well, let me correct myself. I say running. They did register all the work and provide a judge - usually one of their members, but never had someone stay with the exhibit like the fair requests."

"So in other words," I said, "this year they took their marbles and went home."

"Pretty much." 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Art and Nonfiction

I often get asked what my next book will be about. My answer is generally, "What next book?" However after the happenings of the past week or two, I may have the next topic. The working title is "Art and the Third Reich in a Small Southern Town." Of course I will either have to move or wait until the characters die before I can publish it. Oh, the down side of southern nonfiction - so much to say about so many people who are still alive.

One would not think our fair town of 13,891 (as of 2013) could have a thriving art community. Well we have plenty of talented people. However there are more people concerned about running the show than being in it. My Daddy always said, "Blessed are the the big wheels for they shall always run in small circles." Folks, we are not talking about MOMA,  Antibes, or Montmartre. And, to be honest, I am not sure some of these people even know what I am referring to. 

It all started with the county fair. What can I say? How relevant can something be if the issue started with the county fair? Seriously?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Kitty Litter Issue

Every once in awhile I find something I must share with you - simply for entertainment purposes. This is an Amazon customer review (1 Star) for the Scoop Free Self Cleaning Litter Box. And, no, we do not have cats, are not in the market for cats, and to explain how I came about this is way too complicated to bore you with.

These are poor Matt's thoughts on this product. 

Maybe I'm just doing something wrong, but honestly, I can't understand all the rave reviews. I have a 4-month-old kitten and I am well aware that kittens will use up litter much faster than adult cats, but we're still talking ONE CAT and I am only on day 5 of a fresh cartridge and the smell is already so intolerable that I can't be within 5 feet of the box without retching. It literally smells like someone peed in a leather boot filled with oatmeal and then microwaved it for 15 minutes. Anyone that says they manage with one cartridge for 30 days is either a liar, criminally insane or lost their sense of smell in some freak, manure-huffing accident. To contrast, I had no odor problems with the scooping litter I was originally using (I'm talking a post-poopfest, pre-scoop, completely-thrashed litter box too). Also, even with the hood and the carpet (yes - I'm the sucker that bought all the accessories), the crystals get EVERYWHERE. Then there's the price of the refills. $51.99 for three, or $99.99 for six. The audacity to charge over 15 dollars for a piece of cardboard and a pound of litter is breathtakingly criminal, and that's even if they lasted as long as the company advertises. I bought a 3-pack of litter cartridges. With these, along with the one that comes with the box, I thought I would be set for 4 months of scoop-free bliss... how sorely mistaken I was. I am already on the third cartridge and I'm already about to toss it and pop in the last one.

On to the rake system: I will admit that it's a rather ingenious design and I'm sure it's a vast improvement over other automatic liter boxes (I really wouldn't know), but I still think those boys from MIT need to go back to the drawing board. Maybe my threshold for noise is different than others, but I find this box intolerably loud and annoying. The raking itself is loud, but then at the mid point of its direction change, the rake pivots and falls to the other side making a very loud clunking noise. This, of course, is endlessly fascinating for a kitten and he will promptly investigate the noise and end up going inside the box again, setting off the infrared mechanism, ensuring that the cleaning cycle will happen 20 minutes later. I can't really fault the manufacturer for a kitten's curiosity, but I do believe it's something kitten owners should be aware of. In addition to the noise, the rake spacing is still rather wide which will invariably lead to cat poop getting behind, and thusly out of the reach of, the rake system. Sorry, but I never had to scrape crap out of my old litter box with a butter knife. Just let that imagery float around in your head for a couple minutes. I haven't had any problems with urine leaking through the bottom of the trays, but then again, I haven't had a tray in the box for more than a week. However, I did notice that the corners to the tops of every box were broken at the seams; though I don't know if this is from how they were shipped, or a manufacturing defect. Anyway, long story short: I'm switching back to the old box once I use the last refill cartridge... so that should be in about 6 days.

Edit (1/27/08): After browsing around for a solution to the smell, I tried one of the suggestions which is to mix the litter around manually and that definitely seemed to help, though ScoopFree recommends you just leave the box alone and let it do its thing (that's what I had been doing). Someone else recommended using a small amount of baking soda on the bottom of the tray before pouring in the crystals. I'll give that a shot on the next cartridge. Anyway, taking 15 seconds out of your day to mix around the crystals isn't a big deal and if I can squeeze at least 2 weeks of use out of the cartridge, I'll definitely bump up the rating.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Closing That was to Be

The nightmare continues. You can only have so many moving parts before a wheel or two comes off the wagon. When you have a home in one state owned by two people who live in two separate states being sold to a third party who in turn lives in a third state, three time zones away - are you getting the picture? Now let's add a closing that will take 2 days because part of it is being done via FedEx and a large national bank. 

Well the closing that was orginally scheduled for Wednesday was "temporarily" rescheduled for Thursday. However given on Wednesday no one had a time or place for the closing the following day, not to mention no one had not heard from the bank - it did not look god for the home team. So Thursday morning there was a flurry of emails between all the parties - by this time, we have 2 sellers, a buyer, 2 realtors, an attorney, and a non-responsive bank. No closing on Thursday.

Later I learned that the closing package had been assigned to an incompetent loan officer at the bank - that was bad. He had been fired this week due to his incompetency - that was good. A new person had been hired in his place - that was encouraging. However she would have to figure out where everything stood before anything could be done with the loan package - that was bad. It looked like everything could start moving again on Friday (ie the papers be sent to California and returned) for a closing on Monday - this was good. Monday (naturally) is a federal holiday - this was bad.

Our best guess is Tuesday. And only then if the new loan officer figures it all out, Fedex does not have a stoppage, all the parties can be in one place (with the exception of the buyer whose papers will be sent in ahead of the actual closing), the numbers are correct on the HUD form, and Jupiter aligns with Mars  - will this happen. But like an old car salesman once told me, "Honey it ain't over until the bumper crosses the curb and the check clears the bank."

The fat lady hasn't sung yet. In fact the fat lady hasn't even gotten to the theater. I just hope we have the correct theater and have a fat lady to sing. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Realtor's Dream and Our Nightmare

When my mother died two years ago she owned a house in the North Carolina mountains. Anyone who knew my mother knew she went through mountain houses like most women go through winter coats - when they no longer fit , get rid of them and buy another. She was a realtor's dream. When she made up her mind she wanted another mountain house, it was not unlike her to find a realtor, list the current house, and expect him to spend the day showing her "new" houses that she would like to close on by the following week. She always paid cash. 

She started with our mountain farm and the house on it in Hendersonville, NC - that after 30 something years was never finished. In the divorce, that great unpleasantness we endured, she demanded (in a drunken stupor) the 200 acre cattle and horse farm. My brother and I tried to explain to her that given the annual upkeep and headaches (even though there was an overseer) that did not make a lick of sense. However, who were we to tell her anything. Several years later, when she had sobered up she realized that she indeed had no business with the farm and in true form found a realtor who marketed it.  In a week or two he had found a family who were looking for a farm for their Arabian horses and were willing to pay her asking price. 

By this time she was already settled in her new very large condo about 40 miles south west of the farm near Lake Toxaway. This gave her lovely views of the Jocassee Gorge. However after several years she decided perhaps this was a little large for her and maybe she needed to scale down a bit. Well this and her continual war with the manager/developer of the condominiums was enough reason for her to move on. Once again the condo was put on the market and within a matter of weeks, sold at her asking price.

Of course by then she had decided that maybe she would do better in a resort, so she purchased a small home in Cashiers, NC about 30 minutes or so south west from Toxaway. She was very happy. The place was small and neat and very low in maintenance.

The years went by and she was getting up in age, but not slowing down. She had a habit of deciding to go up to her mountain house and back in a day. (My brother swore he thought she went up there just to water her flowers.) Most of her friends now had houses in the Saluda - Tryon area which just happened to be an hour closer to home. So once again her realtor was summoned, the house was put on the market, and she was in Saluda house hunting.

This is where we get to today. She bought a house the first day she started looking, which was her MO. Now I never saw the house until after she died - which was a major bone of contention with her. But my brother kept telling me it was ugly. In fact he said, "There are so many lovely homes in Saluda, but I swear to God, she went and found the ugliest one and bought it." I found that hard to believe having seen her condo and house in Cashiers (the house on the farm being an exception but that had sentimental value). They were all very nice and extremely attractive. 

She wanted to be in a neighborhood so that she would have permanent residents as neighbors who could watch the house. Also, if something happened when she was up there, they would be there if she needed them. This made perfect sense to me. I did not expect some resort property or fancy condo. Months after her death, I finally went to Saluda to meet my brother and look at some furniture in the house. My brother was generous in his comments at best. The house is the most hideous, God awful single family dwelling I have ever seen. 

Now we have to sell this ranch style brick home that sits on a corner lot next to a busy street. The interior is in poor shape and has not been updated in the past 20 years or so. What is there reeks of the 60's and 70's. Oh no, she could not have left us a tony condo or cute mountain cabin to sell, she left this beauty. We found a realtor, held our breath, and prayed.

There is a God. After a year or so on the market, we received several offers that expected us to do a tremendous amount of work before they would buy or offered an unreasonable price. Finally my brother called to tell me we had an offer that was very close to our asking price. After a few counter offers which only dropped the price by a thousand or so, we had a firm offer and a contract. I asked my brother, "Is this buyer blind or what?"

"Better than that, he is from California, is buying the house over the internet, and has never seen it."

For days I have waited to either wake up and realize this was a dream and in fact the house was still on the market or have the phone ring at any moment saying the deal was off (for some unknown reason.) But a closing date was set for this week. When I spoke with the real estate attorney about the details of the closing he commented that the buyer would not be at the closing. He was handling all the documents via Fed Ex. I told the attorney that was great because the buyer had yet to see the house and it suited me fine to have his signature on the documents and money in the bank before he did.

"Oh, it can't be that bad. And even if it is, he's from California. With the real estate prices out there he probably thinks he is getting a deal and is going to spend money fixing it up."

"Sweetheart", I added, "You cannot put that much lipstick on this pig."

Yesterday I got word from the attorney that the date for the closing is not final. It may change. I hope I am not about to wake up.  

Monday, October 6, 2014

Lost Causes, Desperate Measures, and Feast Days

Granted I am not Catholic, that is an understatement given my deep Scottish Presbyterian roots, and I know little about the saints. I just learned that St. Jude is the patron saint of desperate measures and lost causes. He was also the brother of St. James the less, who knew? 

October 28th is the day of the feast of St. Jude. Now generally one thinks of hospitals and health care workers when they think of St. Jude for generally he is their patron saint. Like most causes, occupations, illnesses, ages, and items there is a Patron Saint - one to gently look over one's shoulder and quietly guide the lost sheep back into the fold. 

And, oh, the list is long. Causes such as the Abandoned (St. Luigi Orion ), Sharing (St. Finnian of Clonnard) and Volcanic Eruptions (St. Januarius) are taken care of. Occupations  including Candlemakers (St. Ambrose), Funeral Directors (St. Joseph of Arimathea), and Pastry Chefs (St. Philip the Apostle) are watched over. Illnesses from Birdflu (St. Rocco) to Dysentery (St. Polycorp of Smyrna) to Paralysis (St. Wolfgang) are covered. 

Even times of our lives, for instance Bachelors (St. Casimer of Poland), College Students (St Gabriell Possenti), and Widows (St. Bridget of Sweden) are comforted. The church even provided saints to bless and watch over items such as Computers (St. Isidore of Seville), Television (St. Clare of Assisi), and Black Birds (St. Kevin).

Never have so many taken up so many causes for the masses. Each with a feast day - although with over 10,000 saints now, there are many saints per feast day - so much for exclusivity. I am sure there are saints clamoring for causes - just an ignorant assumption on my part. I digress

In my case if I ever need a patron saint, I will pass on St. Lucia of Syracuse  (Patron Saint of Writers) or St. Catherine of Bologna (Patron Saint of Liberal Arts) or  St. John the Baptist (Patron Saint of Auto Routes) or even St. Veronica (Patron Saint of Photographers). I will pledge myself to St. Jude of desperate measures and lost causes. I never knew the Holy See's tent was so big.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Circus Comes to Town

Finally the circus show is here. The Photography and Art show entitled "Here Comes the Circus" I am doing with my good friend Cliff Emery at the Orangeburg Fine Arts Center opens this evening. We hung the show yesterday. The reception is this evening from 5 until 7pm - and you all are cordially invited.

The past several months of gathering images, editing, cropping them then having the images printed, and framed is finally over. Cliff and I brought our selected work to the art center yesterday and spent two and a half hours organizing the different pieces then deciding which pieces needed to go where. After that it was a matter of hanging each piece and making sure they were level and correctly spaced.

By 4 o'clock the show was "hung" and our work was done. I must say, I am happy with it. The show will be open to the public for the month of October. The reception this evening is just the traditional "opening" night. We are not talking red carpet or even coat and tie. I am happy for warm bodies who are willing to take the time to come by and view our work.

I had a sense of relief. Of course that was short lived when I started worrying about who was coming (or rather not coming) to the reception. Cliff and I both sent out postcards to a mailing list of family and friends. The Arts Center sent the information about the show in their monthly newsletter. The local paper is (supposedly) going to do a piece today about it. A day or so ago I sent a "blast" email out to 160 folks from my address list, just telling them about the show and inviting them to reception. Obviously I did not ask for a reply, nor did I expect one. I did receive 24 replies, which surprised me. However, given 23 of those 24 responses were folks saying they would not be able to attend and one who would "try" to stop by. I am not encouraged.

Send in the clowns.