Renee Zellweger is superb in “Judy”

My wife and I saw the marvelous movie about the a brief period in the career of Judy Garland simply called “Judy.” Renee Zellweger plays the part so well, you believe she is Judy. I encourage you to go see it, but do take some tissue.

The movie does a nice job of flipping back to past moments in Garland’s life to provide some context. It adds a great deal to the film and makes you pull for the adult Judy even more, in spite of her challenges.

The movie is directed by Rupert Goold and is based on the broadway play called “End of the Rainbow,” by Peter Quilter. Quilter and Tom Edge wrote the movie screenplay. Darci Shaw plays the young Judy, while key parts are played by Jessie Buckley who caretakes Judy while in London, Finn Wittrock who plays a young beau, Michael Gambon who plays the producer of the London show, Rufus Sewell who plays Sidney Luft (the father of two of her children), and Royce Pierreson who plays the pianist/ conductor. Her two girls are played by Gemma-Leah Devereaux (Liza Minelli) and Bella Ramsey (Lorna Luft). A key role is played by Andy Nyman as a Judy fan in London.

But, this is Zellweger’s movie to shine as Judy. We knew she could sing from “Chicago,” but she adds flavor to Judy’s older voice lessened some by smoking, drinking and other issues. The movie covers a five week period when she ventures to London for a series of performances at a large club venue. I will leave off the rationale and mission of the gig, as that is an important part of the movie.

Go see it and tell me what you think. For spoiler alerts, I will ask future readers to not read the comments.

“In her shoes” is punctuated by an ee cummings poem

My wife and I caught a movie from 2005 on HBO this week that was moving. The movie is called “In her shoes,” and stars Cameron Diaz and Toni Collete as sisters, with Ken Howard and Shirley MacLaine as their father and grandmother. Mark Feuerstein plays a great role as Collette’s fiancé. The movie is directed by Curtis Hanson and the screenplay was written by Jennifer Weiner and Susannah Grant

The movie is accentuated by a poem that was read by Diaz’ character at her sister’s wedding just before the vows. We learn during the movie, Diaz is dyslexic, so reading does not come easily. She is coached by a retired, blind professor ably played by actor Norman Lloyd, who you might remember as the regimented headmaster in “Dead’s Poet Society.” The poem is by ee cummings and is apropos. Here it is in all of its cummings’ intentional lack of punctuation glory:

I carry your heart

I carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
not fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

e. e. cummings

The poem is breathtakingly poignant. I have included one spoiler above with the wedding reference, but will leave it at that. MacLaine’s role is vital in the movie and she is at her best. If you have a chance, give it a look. You may need a tissue.

Around the world on the small screen

My wife and I enjoy watching TV shows that tend to have more dialogue and plot, so we spend a lot of time watching shows produced outside of the US. This is not to say there are not good shows produced here as we watch several. But when these foreign shows are aired on PBS, they are sans commercials and can be focused on. You may not care for these or have not given them a try, so here is a taste of a few.

800 Words – is an Australian produced show about a unique coastal town in New Zealand called Weld, a made up name. In short, a columnist father moves his two teen children from Sydney after his wife dies suddenly, to a town called Weld he visited as a child. The town is replete with unique people and he captures this on a column he writes online called “800 Words.” It is not unlike “Northern Exposure” made in the US a few years ago.

A Place to Call Home – is another Australia based series which follows the travails of one family whose widowed head of household falls for a Jewish woman. The show is set in the 1950s, so there are lingering biases toward some Italian descendents as well as recurring prejudice toward this woman. There is enough machinations going on to keep people interested, with a power hungry women trying to upset everything and the head of household’s mother who has the best part to play.

Two other Australian shows which we have enjoyed are Doctor Blake Mysteries and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. The former is about a forensic doctor who had been in special forces during the second world war, while the latter is about an avant garde woman in the 1920s who is a clever mystery solver. It also has one of the best theme songs around.

From the UK, we have several we watch and none are Downtown Abbey, which we have seen a few of, but caught on too late.

Endeavour – is a police detective series set in the late 1960s and 70s. It focuses on the camaraderie of an older and younger detective team (Inspectors Thursday and Morse), but there is a close knit team that abets their efforts. The shows are 90 minutes long, so require a little more investment of time.

Call the Midwife  it started out tracing the diaries of a midwife in England from the late 1950s over four years, but has continued well beyond into the 1960s. The issues, the attire, the lower middle class and poverty are all well researched and presented. They covered the Thalidomide babies who were born with severe deformities, abortion, unwed mothers, rape, disease, and environmental toxins.

Other shows we enjoy are Father Brown, about a crime solving Catholic priest and Grantchester, about the friendship of a Church of England vicar and police officer who solve crimes together. Both are set in different time periods which add to the nostalgia. We also watch Midsomer Murders and Doc Martin. 

A limited series show from the UK is called “Unforgotten,” is about a team that digs into old cases when a body is discovered years later. It is very somber, but well done, as the detectives have their own problems as they explore those of others.

Finally, a Canadian show is of interet called “Burden of Proof.” It features the relationship between a very capable, but disillusioned attorney who left her father’s firm and a small town attorney who continues to surprise her with his capabilities and due diligence.

Let me know what you think. Do you like these? Do you have others you prefer?

Pieces of April

A long time favorite band of mine is Three Dog Night. The three singers who took turn as lead and harmonized so well are Danny Hutton, Cory Wells and Chuck Negron. They had a huge number of hits singing songs written by great songwriters like Randy Newman, Paul Williams and Leo Sayer, to name a few.

A favorite and timely song comes to mind as we head into Spring. “Pieces of April” was written by David Loggin.

April gave us springtime and the promise of the flowers
And the feeling that we both shared and the love that we called ours
We knew no time for sadness, that’s a road we each had crossed
We were living a time meant for us, and even when it would rain
we would laugh it off.

I’ve got pieces of April, I keep them in a memory bouquet
I’ve got pieces of April, it’s a morning in May

We stood on the crest of summer, beneath an oak that blossomed green
Feeling as I did in April, not really knowing what it means
But it must be then that you stand beside me now to make me feel this way
Just as I did in April, but it’s a morning in May.

I’ve got pieces of April, I keep them in a memory bouquet
I’ve got pieces of April, but it’s a morning in May

I’ve got pieces of April, I keep them in a memory bouquet
I’ve got pieces of April, but it’s a morning in May

This song is one of melancholy and love lost. I love the reference to the wonderful time together in April, but it is now May. This is a metaphor that simplifies a longer break-up to just two months, but even if it were that short, it is impactful.

If you want great traveling music with your family, download or access a greatest hits CD and just sing along. Just a few of the many hits include “One,” “Mama told me not to come,” “Eli’s coming,” “Easy to be hard (from Hair),” “Black and white,” “Just an old fashioned love song,” and “Shambala.” Our kids would ask for this one.

For those interested in how they got their name, a girlfriend of Danny Hutton’s described that the indigenous Australians would sleep with three dingos on a very cold night. Three Dog Night gives us all great comfort.

Walk away Renee and other female titled songs

As I travel by car, the radio is my companion. When a song comes on with a female name like the above, I have speculated if there is a similar song for each letter of the alphabet. So, in this spirit and after a little bit of research into odd letters, here is my rendering:

A – Alison by Elvis Costello; Amanda by Boston

B – Bernadette by the Four Tops; Barbara Ann by the Beach Boys

C – Carrie Ann by The Hollies; Cecilia by Simon and Garfunkel

D – Diana by Paul Anka; Oh Donna by Ritchie Valens

E – Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles; Evangeline by Emmy Lou Harris

F – Fannie (be tender with my love) by The Bee Gees

G – Gloria by Van Morrison; Gloria by Laura Branigan (different Gloria)

H – Holly Ann by Boston; Henrietta by The Fratellis

i – Good night Irene by The Weavers

J – Jolene by Dolly Parton

K – Kara Jane by The Vines; Kristi by Soundgarden

L – Layla by Eric Clapton

M – Maybellene by Chuck Berry; Melissa by The Allman Brothers

N – Natalie by Bruno Mars

O – Ophelia by The Band

P – Hey Paula by Paul and Paula

Q – Quinn the Eskimo by Manfred Mann and written by Bob Dylan (who said Quinn had to be a man?)

R – Roxanne by The Police; Walk away Renee by Left Banke

S – Sarah Smile by Hall and Oates

T – Tracy by The Cufflinks; Tammy by Debbie Reynolds

U – Uma Thurman by Fall Out Boys; Uptown Girl by Billy Joel (think Christie Brinkly his second wife)

V – Valerie by Steve Winwood; Veronica by Elvis Costello

W – Wendy by The Association

X – Theme song for Xena arranged by Joseph LoDuca from a Bulgarian song Kaval Sviri

Y – Yolanda by Bobby Blue Bland

Z – Zoe Jane by Staind

As you review the list, I am certain I left off one of your favorites. As with any list, opinions will vary. Please offer additions and comments on the list below.

We bought a zoo – worth the watch

Our blogging friend Holly posted a poem about being courageous, which reminded me of a quote from the movie “We bought a zoo.” The quote is from the father, played by Matt Damon, when he passed on this piece of wisdom to his children, “All you need is twenty seconds of courage.”

But, I am getting ahead of myself. The movie also stars Scarlett Johansson, Elle Fanning, Thomas Haden Church, Colin Ford, Stephanie Szostak and a host of others. It is about the true story of a widowed father buying a run down, small zoo in a bold attempt to reconnect with his kids after they lost their mother.

It is a feel good movie about relationships between families, friends, colleagues and animals. It is peppered with poignant scenes, which I will forego to avoid spoiling it for others.

It is one of those movies I could watch again as there are multitude of interesting characters. The brother, played by Thomas Hayden Church, is the appointed steward of his brother’s wife’s money, as she knew of her husband impulsive behavior. Hayden Smith usually plays a comic foil, so it is a different kind of role for him as he is a conscience to Damon’s character.

Twenty seconds of courage plays a pivotal role in the movie. In essence, the key to making any kind of change is summoning up twenty seconds to act on it. If you can do that, the path forward will open or you will at least have an answer if it does not.

Give it a chance if you have not seen in it. If you have, let me know what you think. For those who have not, you may want to steer clear of the comments to avoid plot reveals.

Singin’ in the Rain

It has rained each of the last five days and we expect five more ahead. In the middle of this sogginess, it is easy to reflect on the various emotions portrayed within songs about the rain.

Arguably the most famous is the title song from Gene Kelly’s movie “Singin’ in the Rain.” Here are the opening lines in this playfully happy song, exceeded only by Kelly’s wonderful dancing:

“I’m singin’ in the rain, just singin’ in the rain. What a glorious feeling, I’m happy again.”

This is only the first few of many raindrops in song. One of my favorites is one of two great songs by Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Have you ever seen the rain?” The other is also good, “Who’ll stop the rain?” Here is an excerpt from the first song noted:

“Someone told me long ago
There’s a calm before the storm
I know it’s been comin’ for some time
When it’s over so they say
It’ll rain a sunny day
I know shinin’ down like water.”

One of the best voices to sing about the rain is Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics in “Here comes the rain again.” She sings of wanting to be with a lover while it storms, as noted in this splash of lyrics:

“Here comes the rain again
Falling on my head like a memory
Falling on my head like a new emotion
I want to walk in the open wind
I want to talk like lovers do
I want to dive into your ocean
Is it raining with you.”

The emotions range in these and other songs from melancholy to happiness, from love to lust and from worry to fear. Eric Clapton’s “Let it rain” has a wonderful guitar lick which seasons this great song which is about just letting the rain wash over us. Two pop songs from the 1970s that sold millions were on the opposite ends of emotions – “Raindrops are falling on my head” by Burt Bacharach and “Rainy days and Mondays” by The Carpenters.

An older song which is about sadness is Brook Benton’s “Rainy night in Georgia” who “feels it must be raining all over the world.” Others include Bob Dylan’s “A hard rain’s gonna fall, Adele’s “Set fire to the rain,” and “Rain” by The Beatles.

Let me close with the most colorful title by a colorful, talented and enigmatic performer named Prince. His movie title song of “Purple Rain” truly brings the house down as he comes to terms with a father’s suicide attempt and his anger that pushes his lover away. Here is an excerpt:

“I never meant to cause you any sorrow
I never meant to cause you any pain
I only wanted to one time to see you laughing
I only wanted to see you
Laughing in the purple rain.”

Any list of rainy songs will leave off a number of others. Let me know some of your favorites. As CCR sang “who’ll stop the rain.”