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My most recent single release - "My True North" - is now available on Bandcamp. Open my profile and click on "audio clip".

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Recommended (Despite Slipping Film Bona Fides)

Back when there were just five, it was a point of pride for this movie buff to say he'd seen all the films nominated for an Academy Award before the February ceremonies. But beginning in 2010 - when the number of nominees increased to nine or ten films - I started falling behind regularly. How can I claim to be an aficionado in mid-July if there's still a 2023 nominee (Zone of Interest) I haven't seen? Worse, there are a few still-unseen nominees from 2010-2022 continually reminding me of my slipping film bona fides. The horror. (Get it?)

Despite my fall from grace, I remain confident recommending Anatomy of a Fall as a movie you don't want to miss. Although it earned a well-deserved Oscar for best original screenplay, I'll stake my claim as a cinephile - albeit a recently truant one - and say that end to end it is a better film end than 2023's winner (Oppenheimer). Every pause in Anatomy ... is beautifully modulated, every moment of silence fully earned, every screenplay cliche - including a final twist - averted. It is a 10. (There I go again.)    

About the other 2023 nominees. I'll pass commenting on Barbie. American Fiction is as ambitious as The Holdovers is modest. Both films succeed, though - good as they are - I suspect neither would have gotten a nomination when only five movies got that nod. Poor Things is so over-the-top it defies description. For my money, among the nine nominees I've seen, only Past Lives approaches the subtle mastery of Anatomy of a Fall, both in sharp contrast to the bombast of the two over-hyped marquee messes I wrote about in late January. 

Don't want to disappoint anyone waiting for a film reference at the end of this post. How's this? The geek abides.               

Reflections From The Bell Curve: A Decade of Crabbing

Saturday, July 13, 2024

Two Pieces of Mind

Grateful and weary; energized and tortured; inspired and demoralized. 

My fluctuating posture toward the everyday; my ever-toggling thoughts about my creative output; my varying reaction to artistic brilliance, moment dependent.   

Necessary and self-indulgent.

Today's reflection from the bell curve. Anyone?  


Wednesday, July 10, 2024

The Gloves Are Off

Over thirteen years and almost 2400 blog posts, I've exercised superhuman restraint with respect to how often I've bragged here about my daughter's professional accomplishments. Today the gloves are off. Feel free to tune out right now if two short paragraphs of effusive gushing about her strikes you as unseemly. But before doing so, ask yourself these questions: Have you ever met a parent who wasn't proud of their kids? Would you want anything to do with such a parent?

As much as her move to Los Angeles last July pained me, it appears that my daughter's professional instinct about the need to be closer to the epicenter of show business - her chosen field since the 5th grade - was wise. Damn it, anyway. In less than a year, her career as a writer and director has rocketed to a new level. Aside from two feature-length films in development, including one she created and co-wrote with her writing/directing partner, her current contracted gig represents the culmination of more than ten years of hard work trying to break through in the wacky industry she chose. 

My daughter and her partner - collectively called BONABART- are presently part of a team of seven in what's called a writer's room, all of them at work on a TV series that features two marquee actors. I'd name the actors but my daughter wouldn't be happy with me publicly crossing that line until after the series has its debut. All the better: You'll have to check back in for my next round of gushing. 

ALISON BARTON (hialisonbarton.com)

Sunday, July 7, 2024

Science and Faith

How do science and faith overlap in your life

If you're interested in exploring that question via a novel, I suggest you pick up Transcendent Kingdom (2020). Using the intersection of neuroscience, addiction, and depression, Yaa Gyasi tells a memoir-like family tale which gently prodded me to consider how faith and science are not as mutually exclusive as I've often made them. 

I don't know about you, but this long-lapsed Catholic, sometimes Unitarian, aspiring Buddhist struggles to square a strong belief in science with the many unexplainable miracles of the natural world and the unending mystery of bad choices we all make on occasion. Gyasi's protagonist faces those challenges and others, pushing her to question her rejection of her mother's unswerving faith. As the reader tags along with this talented young author, it's clear the novel's central dilemma has no solution. And that tantalizing ambiguity - carried through to the final sentences - prompted me to re-examine my scientific lens even more intensely. I need more than science to help me deal with the randomness of life. How about you?  

Any book that guides me away from being reflexively skeptical is a book I can endorse. Transcendent Kingdom is that kind of book.  

Thursday, July 4, 2024

Declarations on Independence Day

As someone prone to criticize but slow to praise the United States, today seems an ideal day to reverse that paradigm. Taking anything for granted, even a country, is short sighted. Join me. What are your declarations on Independence Day?

* I'm proud of the bill of rights and especially partial to the first amendment declaring freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly. For all our arguments, where would we be without those freedoms?

* While on the Constitution, I'm real fond of the checks and balances established there. Anytime one of the three branches lets me down or oversteps its bounds, it's nice to know the other two are there to provide ballast. It's a pretty cool set-up, don't you think?

* Though I know it's hokey and, I'm also aware lots of people were dragged here against their will, I'm proud of how the U.S. continues to (mostly) welcome people from all over the world. Lots of challenges go with that "give us your tired..." motto, but July 4th reminds me how this country has made that work as well as most.

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

A Wonderful & Surprising Re-Entry

There's no question that growing up with the Temptations music helped to make Ain't Too Proud To Beg a peak Broadway experience. If Covid hadn't shut down the world soon after I saw it in February 2020, it's possible I would have made my first-ever return visit to a show. 

Because my exposure to Alicia Keys's music has been quite limited, my enthusiasm about seeing Hell's Kitchen was muted. But I'm always up for hearing new music and I'd been blown away recently when a friend introduced me to an all-vocal version of Empire State of Mind featuring just Keys. Still, my last Broadway show had been over four years ago and that one had me reliving my early musical life with the Temps.  

My ambivalence dissipated the moment Hell's Kitchen began. If jukebox musicals are your jam, this is a show to see. Anchored by Keys's infectious music, the dynamic singing and electrifying choreography brought new life to an oft-told story of a young person finding herself. I was never out of the spell and moved several times, first by the Act One closer - Perfect Way to Die. The penultimate song - No One - re-purposed as a mother/daughter duet, and the rousing finale, Empire State of Mind, were unimprovable.  My new experiences with the latter have catapulted it into the musical stratosphere alongside some of my all-time favorites. 

I'd enjoy hearing your reaction if/when you see Hell's Kitchen. What a wonderful and surprising re-entry to the Great White Way this was for me.  

Friday, June 28, 2024

Conversational Hell

For those of us who do not live alone in a cave, an occasional visit to conversational hell is an unavoidable fact of life. What are your strategies when you've found yourself unable to escape a conversational situation that has you involuntarily grinding your teeth?

I'm not asking about the far-too-frequent political garbage all of us routinely face in our contentious present. Instead, I'm curious what you do when you've been trapped by one or more of the following types:

* the over-explainer
* the know-it-all
* the clueless, aka "I'll fill every available conversational space with jabbering, mostly about me"

My visits to conversational hell have been infrequent enough to be tolerable. But some recent experiences were so egregious I was desperately searching for a new way to escape, short of bolting from my seat screaming. In what was supposed to be a book discussion - for at least twenty painful minutes - I worked on a flat affect look in a vain attempt to hide my disbelief at the incessant rambling of a clueless prattler. Then just a few days later, as a prelude that went nowhere, an over-explainer launched into an extended dissertation about the merits of rap. Because of where I was seated, unnoticeable egress was not an option. I put my head down - the flat affect approach was impossible - and wrote in my journal. I filled three pages; he was still obtusely pontificating.  

Now about the know-it-all. I suspect there have been instances when others may have felt they were in conversational hell with know-it-all Pat. Mea culpa. And perhaps because I've worn that hat, it's possible my radar is oversensitive to other types who occasionally corner each of us. In the end, the many hours I've spent in conversational heaven - and my own work mitigating the know-it-all to ensure people enjoy conversing with me - make me grateful for 99.5% of my conversations. Hell can be hot but it's preferable to a cave.               

Monday, June 24, 2024

Miracles of the Natural World

I'm still buzzing from the thrill of having a butterfly land on my nose during a recent visit to the vivarium at the Museum of Natural History. Thanks to magnifying glasses located all around this magical place, I was able to closely examine the delicate lines of several species of butterflies, a new experience for me. Many of those lines looked as though they'd been painted on with a fine brush. And my favorite part? The awe in the eyes of every giggling child roaming around that room. Never been to a vivarium? I encourage you to add it your list. You will not be disappointed.
My vivarium experience also delivered an unexpected bonus. It deepened my appreciation for my wife's unflagging evangelism about the critical role native plants play in any local ecology. Gardens full of native plants - like the one in front of our home - help ensure butterfly populations thrive. Does anyone object to more butterflies? Standing still in my wife's garden or watching enchanted children covered in butterflies in a vivarium are two excellent reminders of miracles the natural world bestows on all who willingly embrace them.