Four Films, Reviewed by Ellen Miller

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Mini-Reviews by Ellen Miller:

I graduated from college in the late 1960’s and majored in sociology. Though my working career focused on political accountability, I’ve learned since my retirement that I never really gave up that early interest of addressing social problems and thinking about how society and institutions work (or don’t work). In fact, these interests drove much of my interest in “politics.” (But I digress)

I also find that the books and films I most enjoy most these days focus on these topics. To wit, the last two films presented by the DC Cinema Club  — Lucky and The Florida Project. Both of these are stunning – five star, must-sees, one-of-a kind, leave-you-stunned-in-your-seat-kind-of-movies. (And, unusually, Richard agrees with my 5 star ratings on both these films.)

The Florida Project***** is set in a budget motel (“The Magic Castle”) outside of Disney World in Florida. This narrative driven film focuses on the chaotic life of a six-year old girl and her rebellious 23-year old mother (played by Bria Vinaite). Although it is a fictionalized recounting of the lives of people living on the edge, it feels at times like a documentary. The acting is genius, particularly that of Willem Dafoe – the caretaker of the hotel –and the young girl Moonee (played by actor Brooklynn Kimberly Price). It is a life that would be hard to imagine any of the children escaping from unscathed, and so it’s also a very sad film. The story is gripping until the very end.

The Florida Project is an accomplished film from director Sean Baker who has produced two other films (Starlet 2012) and Tangerine (2015) which also focus on people most of us don’t know (or often don’t care about). After you see the well-reviewed The Florida Project, you won’t forget the children, the parents, nor the “community” that surrounds them.

Lucky *****is a different sort of film, this one character driven. It is the story of an old man, one who essentially plays himself at age 93, and the quirky characters who live in his desert town.  The performance of Harry Dean Stanton (a long time accomplished actor who died just a few months after the film was complete) is a masterpiece – a tour de force. I’m not sure that Richard and I have ever seen anything quite like it before. One reviewer called it … “at once a love letter to the life and career of Harry Dean Stanton as well as a meditation on morality, loneliness, spirituality, and human connection.”  This is a poignant film that doesn’t overdue its theme.  It is also one that will stay with you.

Columbus***** is another 5-star, award-winning film we have seen in the last month  that is must see. The story sounds kind of wonky: the son of a Korean-American well-known architect (played by John Cho) comes to Columbus, Indiana (a small Midwestern town known for its modern architecture). While waiting for his ailing (and estranged) father to recover from a sudden illness, the son develops a friendship with a young woman (played by Haley Lou Richardson) who is biding her post high-school career working at the local library and still living with her mother who increasingly depends on daughter for emotional support. The story is underpinned by exquisite cinematography and perfect pace. There is much talk of life, independence, architecture, and families. It is a film about the power of intellect and friendship. This is the directorial film debut for Kogonada, and it’s stunning.

All three of the above films are now showing (or will be shortly) in the DC area. Put ’em on your list, and let others know what you think if you get to see them.

A fourth film we’ve seen in recent weeks is Dina*** (Richard ****) which has gotten better reviews than I give it. This is the story of the life of a woman on the autism spectrum, focusing mostly on her relationship with the man she marries. The cinematography is pale and wan which lends the film a sober feeling. As one might expect, Dina’s life is a difficult life – always a bit out of sync with the world, her friends, her community. She is a sympathetic character – at times both funny and sad – without the ability to read nonverbal clues of those in her life. The movie is well-acted, but leaves you feeling a bit dreary. I wouldn’t rush to see this one: Two of my three three stars are for effort. Richard rates it a bit higher, probably because he has worked with a similar population at some points in his career and says, “the depiction of the character is quite true to life.”

Baseball Contest # 4 Winners

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While we await the outcome of the 2017 MLB playoffs to determine the MillersTime contest winners in four of the six contests, I can announce the winner(s) in Contest # 4.

(I previously announced the winner in Contest #5 about the 2017 All Star game.)

Contest # 4:

A. Which MLB team will have the best improvement in their games won over 2016?)

B. Which MLB team will have the biggest decline (most losses compared to 2016)?

What actually happened:

Best Improvement:

1. Minnesota Twins: + 26

2. Arizona Diamondbacks: +24

3. Houston Astros: +17

Biggest Decline:

1. San Francisco Giants: -23

2. Detroit Tigers: -22

3. Texas Rangers & New York Mets: -17

Winners:

No one got both A & B correct.

Ten of you had the Twins with the best improvement – Dawn Wilson, Todd Endo, Rob Higdon, Matt Eisner, Jesse Maniff, Ellen Miller, Tiffiany Lopez, Jeff Friedman, Matt Wax-Krell, Justin Stoyer

Nick Fels was the only one to predict the Giants loss of 23 games.

Since Contest #4 involved getting both right, by the power invested in me by me, I declare the following the Winners:

Todd Endo, Jeff Friedman, Rob Higdon, & Dawn Wilson. They all got A correct and all had the Rangers for B.

and

Meg Gage who had the second place team in A & B – Diamondbacks & Tigers.

So, Todd, Jeff, Rob, Dawn, and Meg, please send me your T-Shirt size, your home address, and your commitment to wear the T-shirt at least once during the 2018 baseball season.

 

Recent Best Reads

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“A Best Friend Is Someone Who Gives Me a Book I’ve Never Read”- A. Lincoln

Not wanting to wait until the end of the year to compile a list of what books MillersTime readers were enjoying this year, in July I posted a list of 205 books that were favorites of 50 different MillersTime readers. If you missed that post, check it out.

Now I just want to remind you that I will again seek your favorite reads at the end of the year and will ask for those at the beginning of December. It takes me quite some time to turn your emails into a readable format, and so I am hopeful that most of you will not wait until my final plea to send in your titles.

Meanwhile, some books I have thoroughly enjoyed recently:

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (F). This historical novel has it all: an intense story, characters you will long remember, descriptions in language that is simply marvelous, American history with which you may be familiar but which will certainly expand your knowledge, and a good deal of wisdom. It’s the story of an Irish immigrant, aged 17, who fled the great famine, came to America, joined the army (1850) and along with a brother-in-arms first fought in the Indian wars and then in the Civil War. I listened to the novel, read by Aidan Kelly, and found his accent along with Sebastian Barry’s language simply mesmerizing. Though it was long listed for the Man Brooker Prize this year, it didn’t make the short list. It should have in my humble opinion. It will certainly will be in contention for one of my favorites of the year.

Lions by Bonnie Nadzam (F) is another audible book that I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s the story of a dying Colorado town and a young man’s and a young woman’s youth there. Though deeply in love, his need to remain and her need to leave create a dilemma that seems unresolvable. Again, wonderful descriptions of the two individuals, the other towns people, the collapsing town itself, and a bit of a mystery too.

The Worst Hard Times by Timothy Egan (NF). Probably my most favorite book of the year (so far). This is the untold story (at least for me) of those who stayed put and didn’t flee the Dust Bowl (like the Joads in Grapes of Wrath). Just as The Warmth of Other Suns was captivating and educating, so too is this story of individuals and families who chose to remain in the High Plains during the late 1920s & 1930s despite the devastation brought by drought and dust. Timothy Egan’s understanding of what happened, why it happened, and to whom it happened is an important part of our history. And he tells it well. Winner of the National Book Award 2006.

Killings by Calvin Trillin (NF). Trillin is a national treasure, and I never tire of reading what he writes. This just released book is a compilation of New Yorker articles he wrote (in the 60s/70s/80s) that all focused on killings in various parts of the U.S, mostly in small towns. Very few ever made the news, but in telling these events, Trillin tells us much about America, and his descriptions of the people involved and the settings is marvelous.

The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse  by Tom Verducci (NF). Usually I leave reading about baseball to the winter months when I am deprived of the joy and pain of following my heroes. But at the suggestion of a son-in-law I read this in July. It tells the behind the scenes story of how Theo Epstein and Joe Madden systematically went about building a team that was able to break the longest drought in sports history, 108 years without a championship. While it is one of the best baseball books I’ve read in many years — and I’ve read many — it’s about vision, building, leading, inspiring and is applicable to other sports and team building as well.

Memories Last Breath: Field Notes on My Dementia by Garda Saunders (NF). At least one in nine of us will at some point be diagnosed with some form of dementia. In this memoir, Garda Saunders chronicles what it’s like to live with the knowledge that one’s brain is betraying her. In the process of losing her mind, she examines the science and literature of dementia as well as her own personal story. Not quite as outstanding as When Breath Become Air, but well worth the read if the topic of dementia is on, or one day will be on, your mind.

The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson (NF). Another book I put in the crowd with The Warmth of Other Suns and The Worst Hard Times. It’s the story of the 1955 lynching of a 14 year old African American boy in Mississippi in 1955. I have some memory of this event, but Timothy Tyson’s narrative is both eye opening, including new evidence from this time in our history, and riveting. I couldn’t stop thinking about parallels to today.

Juniper: The Girl Who Was Born Too Soon by Kelley French and Thomas French (NF). Juniper French was born at 23 weeks’ gestation, weighing one pound and four ounces. Here the father and mother in alternating chapters write openly and honestly about their struggles and the events that led to a successful outcome.

Also, thanks to a MillersTime reader’s insistence, I have now read two books by Frances Itani, Requiem (F) and Deafening (F). Once again I wonder, marvel, at how I could not have known about a writer and her work. These are very different stories, but both are worthy of your consideration. Requiem is the story of the experiences of a Japanese family that is put into a Canadian internment camp in the 1940s, and the story alternates between the experiences of young boy and his visit back to what remains of the camp many years later. Deafening is the story of a young girl made deaf by scarlet fever at the age of five, her coping, her living away from home, and then her living in the hearing world. It is also the story of Jim (a hearing person) whom she marries shortly before he has to leave Canada to be a stretcher bearer in Europe in WWII. It is a lovely and often wrenching story and tender accounting of two individuals that will remain with me. I look forward to reading more of Frances Itani’s writing and story telling.

**          **          **          **          **          **          **          **

On a different note, I want to let you know of a curated listing of best magazine reads every week. The site is Longreads, which you can join at no cost, tho a donation is appreciated. Each week you will get an email on Friday with links to five outstanding articles from a wide variety of publications. Generally the articles take anywhere from 15-30 minutes to read. There is almost one every week of interest to me that I haven’t seen in my own scanning of the Internet as well as one that I have already found on my own. Check it out at Longreads.com. (Scroll to where it says Get Longreads Weekly Email. The sign up is simple.)

Baseball Notes

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New for the 2018 Season:

The 2017 season isn’t over yet, at least for about 10-12 teams, yet there’s news about the 2018 season. It will start earlier, all teams will open their season on March 29, a Thursday, and the season will end Sept. 30 (for all but 10 playoff teams). There will be more off days scheduled, as a result of a collective bargaining agreement between league and the player’s union. More 2018 details.

And, of particular importance to this fan, the Boston Red Sox will come to Washington for a three game series, July 2-4. (For those of you who care about such things, the Yunkees come to DC for two games, May 15th & 16th). Also, as previously announced, the 2018 All Star game is in DC next year!

Cheating Red Sox:

Speaking of my heroes, the Sox have been caught red handed (wristed) using an Apple iWatch to steal and relay catchers’ signals about what pitch is coming, probably using TV to send this illegally gained info from the clubhouse to the dugout to the runner on second and then to the batter. Dustin Pedroia, one of my long time favorite Sox players, was instrumental in this violation of MLB rules (it’s OK to steal signals, say for a runner on second to relay what pitch is coming to a batter, but it’s not OK to use binoculars or electronics to do so).

Pedroia says stealing signals has always been part of the game and is no big deal.

The Sox admitted it when MLB confronted them, following evidence of the Sox perfidy being transmitted from the Yankees to MLB. (The Sox also said the Yankees are doing it, using their YES TV network in the process).

MLB is “reviewing all the evidence” and will announce any action in the near future.

So what do I say to my grandchildren about this when they learn of it and asks me?

Winning and Losing Streaks:

The Cleveland Indians, those bad guys who knocked the Sox out of the playoffs in the ALDS last year, have of this writing won 20 straight games with their complete game win last night by Corey Kluber. Twenty straight is quite a feat. It ties Cleveland for the American League record with the 2002 A’s. Now, if they win tonight, they will tie the 1935 Cubs for the MLB record at 21. (The 1916 New York Giants had a 26 game winning streak, but that was ‘marred by a tie game in a 27 game stretch.)

The Los Angeles Dodgers just barely held on over the Giants last night by striking out the final two batters in the bottom of the 9th with bases loaded. For those of you who don’t follow the West Coast Bums, the Dodgers seemed headed for 115+ wins until the ‘regression to the mean’ struck. They were 91-36 (.716) and had gone 25-5 without losing consecutive games. Then they lost the next 16 out of 17 games. With last night’s ‘win,’ they are currently 93-52 (.642).

And for the really important update, the Sox won last night, the Yankees lost, giving my cheating boys a four game lead over the Bronx cheaters going into the final 18 games.

Isn’t baseball wonderful?

Final Free Nats’ Tickets for the Asking:

Since I will be in Seattle for a wedding of a good friend of more than 50 years, you can benefit from my absence from DC. Let me know if you’re interested in two good seats (free if you take a kid, broadly defined) to the Nationals Sept. 29th game against the Pirates (7:05).

Email me at Samesty84@gmail.com if you’re interested. First shot to anyone who hasn’t used my tickets this year, then to anyone who will take a kid to the game.

Is Identity Politics the Problem?

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It’s hard not to focus simply on the latest tweet, appearance, or action by President Trump, especially if you are opposed to what he is doing. He is a master at grabbing attention and getting into one’s head.

At least that is true for me, a liberal, who I have to admit, is often annoyed by and occasionally disagree with some of the liberal and progressive responses to what President Trump and many Republicans are saying and doing.

So I try to stay in touch with some more conservative types, listening to what they say or write.

Occasionally on this website I post or link to something I’ve read that I think goes beyond just knee-jerk reactions or the ‘party line.’

Recently, David Remnick, editor-in-chief of The New Yorker since 1998, posted an interview he had with Mark Lilla on the issue of identity politics. Lilla is a self-described liberal and a professor, currently in residence at Columbia University.

This interview and Lilla’s views (what he believes liberals need to hear and understand) sent me to his very short book, The Once and Future Liberal.

I found the interview and the 160-page book intriguing and reflective of those with whom I talk who are not surprised by Trump’s victory nor by the loss of Democratic majorities in Congress, in state governor-ships, and in statehouses. Over and over I hear that the Democrats are too focused on identity issues, i.e., woman’s issues, minority issues, gender issues, etc. and fail to understand what has happened economically and personally to many others in this country (many who are not members of these identity groups).

While I am not entirely convinced of everything Lilla believes, some of what he says resonates with me. For example, Lilla urges that rather than call names or accuse others of being racists. etc., we need to “frame (issues) in terms of basic values and principles that we share in order to establish sympathy and empathy and identification with someone else.” And I also agree that we (Democrats) have been too focused on simply winning the White House and have given an open field to Republicans on the state level.

If you can divert for a bit from whatever the current noise is on the political scene, check out the interview: A Conversation with Mark Lilla on His Critique of Identify Politics, by David Remnick, The New Yorker, Aug. 25, 2017.

If you have a couple of hours and want to get Lilla directly, check out his book, The Once and Future Liberal.

If you read either, I would very much like to hear from you and what you think about what Lilla is saying. I urge you to consider responding in the Comment section of this post so that there can be a conversation about the issues Lilla raises.

August Movie Reviews by Ellen Miller

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Summer seems like the worst season for new films, particularly the month of August. We probably saw fewer films this month than any other this year (in part because we were on grandparent watch for two plus weeks), and in part because what there was to see just didn’t appeal. (Big box office hits just aren’t our thing.) But we soldiered on and tried to pick the best out there. We didn’t like The Big Sick, The Trip to Spain, or Tulip Fever. All of these failed in some basic way: narrative, screen play, cinematography, or acting – some of them failed on all four of these criteria.

Enough said about those three somewhat popular films.

Four films did standout, and Richard and I recommend all of them to you. In order that we saw them:

Detroit  (Ellen ****    Richard ****1/2)

This is a stunning film about the Detroit riots of 1967 – a mixture of original news footage and reenactments of the police brutality that aided and abetted the violence. It is a horrific story, and it’s based on facts. It’s a story that didn’t end in Detroit.  It’s a complex film — and it’s not perfect — but we very much recommend it. You will walk  away from it shaken and with a better understanding of the forces at work in Detroit in 1967 and today. The director of this film directed two other dramatic films (The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty), and Detroit is engaging in the same manner.

Wind River  (Ellen ***** Richard ****1/2)

This film tells a gripping story centering around a murder on a Native American reservation in Wyoming. The lead actor (Elizabeth Olson) is a rookie FBI agent sent to investigate the crime. She enters a world of misogynist white men. and the story delves deep into a multitude of prejudices against women and Native Americans. The film keeps you glued to the edge your seat with great story telling, beautiful scenery, and throbbing pace. It’s gorgeously photographed and very well acted. All together it is a very compelling and moving thriller.

Step  (Ellen **** Richard ***1/2)

This film is a close-to-home documentary that focuses on the lives of young Black women in Baltimore who attend a Charter school. The goal for the first graduating class is to have 100% of the students be accepted to college, most of whom would be the first in their families to attend college. In addition to their rigorous classwork, supportive counseling, and many other services and opportunities available to these teens is the “Step Team” — a metaphor for their life. The film is filled with intimate interviews with three of the young women on that Step Team and their families; Step competitions; and the young women’s struggles to succeed. It is straightforward, hopeful reporting.

Columbus  (Ellen *****   Richard *****)

This is a brilliant film, perhaps the best we have seen all summer. It takes place in a small mid-western town (Columbus, Indiana) noted for its architectural diversity, modernity, and excellence. The story is about relationships: a son and his father (a well-known architectural scholar who has fallen ill in this city); a young woman and her mother (the daughter fears leaving this town because of the support she provides her mother); and the unlikely relationship of this son and this daughter.  An overarching theme is what one sees and understands about architecture and how “physical space can affect emotions,” according to one reviewer. The pace is purposely slow and steady, and it unfolds in one beautiful scene after another. The photography is magnificent. The acting is moving, particularly that of Hailey Lu Richardson as Casey, the daughter. From beginning to end Columbus is an entirely satisfying and beautiful film. (Note: this film is a directorial debut for the South Korean based Kogonda, who is also the screenwriter.)

Notes from the Editor:

1. With this post I am pleased to report that Ellen Miller has agreed to become the prime film reviewer for MillersTime. Because of the overwhelming positive reception to an earlier film review posting by Ellen and because I find film reviewing the least enjoyable part of this blog, I am delighted to be relieved of what has become a chore for me. Know that while Ellen and I generally agree about the films we see, there are some differences, though they are not significant (see the star ratings which we give without knowing each other’s rating). Plus, I will no doubt add some thoughts on occasion.

2. If you check out the Rotten Tomatoes‘ scoring of films as one way to judge if a film may have interest for you, I highly recommend the article, Rotten Tomatoes, Explained. I found it quite informative and believe it will change I look at their ratings, both the ones by Critics and by Audiences.

National Book Festival Is This Weekend

The one day National Book Festival is this Saturday, Sept. 2 at the Washington Convention Center. From 9 am until 7:30 PM you can see and hear more than 100 authors, attend events specifically designed for children and teens, get books signed by authors, and purchase books at the Politics & Prose Bookstore at the Festival.

And it’s all free.

From the Politics & Prose website:

For book lovers, the National Book Festival has become an annual literary extravaganza, a star-studded, multi-stage show with authors and events drawing people from near and far for a day of festivities in Washington. This year the festival returns to the Convention Center on Saturday, September 2, with Politics and Prose again serving as the official bookseller.

Organized by the Library of Congress, the NBF has grown from humble origins 17 years ago—when a few dozen authors appeared in tents on the U.S. Capitol’s East Lawn—into one of the largest events on the nation’s literary calendar.

This year’s gathering will offer talks by more than 110 authors, illustrators, and poets, spread among ten stages throughout the day. In addition to book signings, the festival features assorted programs for adults as well as kids, from story times and a hunt for Waldo to a poetry slam and a behind-the-scenes look at the Library of Congress, the nation’s largest library. Family-friendly presentations include trivia sessions, an interactive maze illustration by master maze-maker Joe Wos, and an engaging session with illustrator and veteran New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast.

Before going to the signing lines, fans will be able to purchase books by their favorite authors in the sales area run by P&P. Dozens of our staff members will be on hand to answer questions and offer expert advice and book recommendations.

Here are some of the festival’s many highlights:

  • David McCullough opens the main stage at 10 a.m. with a talk about his latest work, The American Spirit, a collection of his speeches delivered over the past few decades reflecting this veteran historian’s knowledge, humor, and enduring optimism.
  • Other writers scheduled for the main stage include Diana Gabaldon, J.D. Vance, Thomas Friedman, Michael Lewis, Condoleezza Rice, and David Baldacci.
  • The Contemporary Life stage will feature prominent figures in such fields as medicine, space exploration, and culture, including oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee (The Gene) at 11 a.m., former astronaut Leland Melvin (Chasing Space) at 1 p.m., and author and essayist Roxane Gay (Hunger) at 4 p.m. On the Fiction stage will be Elizabeth Strout (Anything is Possible) at 10:20 a.m., Alice McDermott (The Ninth Hour) at 12:10 p.m., Jesmyn Ward (Sing Unburied Sing) at 3 p.m., Claire Messud (Burning Girl) at 4:55 p.m., and Amor Towles (Gentleman in Moscow) at 6:45 p.m.
  • The History & Biography stage will showcase Margot Lee Shetterly (Hidden Figures) at noon, Thomas Oliphant and Curtis Wilkie (The Road to Camelot) at 10 a.m., Sidney Blumenthal (Wrestling With His Angel) at 11 a.m., and Peter Cozzens (The Earth is Weeping) at 4 p.m. The Thrillers & Fantasy stage will present Don Winslow (The Force) at 10 a.m., Scott Turow (Testimony) at 1:40 p.m., and Megan Abbott (You Will Know Me) at 2:35 p.m.
  • On the Poetry and Prose stage at 10 a.m. will be an event dubbed “Poetry Out Loud” intended to encourage young people to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation. And at 6 p.m. on the Teens stage, a youth poetry slam will host top groups from the nation’s capital and around the country.
  • At “A Book That Shaped Me Contest,” fifth- and sixth-grade winners of an essay-writing competition, sponsored by local public library systems in the Mid-Atlantic region, will read their submissions.

This is just a small sampling of what the NBF will be offering. The festival will run from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and is open to the public and free to everyone. For more information, please go to the NBF’s website and start planning your visit now!.

NOTE: If you’re considering attending, know that this event has grown and has become so popular that there are literally throngs of people at the event. But if you plan ahead and see the list of authors and the schedule for the day by spending some time on the Festival’s Website, you can get to the events that most interest you.

Nats’ Tickets Available – Six Sept. Games

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Fortunately and unfortunately I’ll be traveling in September, which means I have some Nats’ tickets available for MillersTime ‘readers.’

The seats are terrific, Sec. 127, Row Z, Seats 1 & 2. They are about 20 rows off the field, between home and first base, closer to home.

As in the past, the two tickets for four of the games are free if you meet the conditions outlined below. Otherwise, one ticket is free and the second will cost you $60.

If you have not used my seats so far this year, you’ll have first shot at them. But don’t let that stop you from requesting them. Also, you can give me two dates/games that would work for you as I will juggle requests.

Let me know your interest by Tuesday, Aug. 29, 7:37 PM.

Available Tickets

Thurs., Sept. 7, 7:05 vs Phillies – Both free if you take a kid, broadly defined.

Sun., Sept. 10, 1:35 vs Phillies – Both free if you take a kid, broadly defined.

Tues., Sept. 12, 7:05 vs Braves – Both free if you take a kid, broadly defined.

Thurs., Sept. 14, 7:05 vs. Braves – Both free if you take a kid, broadly defined.

Fri., Sept. 29, 7:05 vs Pirates – One free. One for $60. (Parking next to stadium available but not necessary. $40.)

Sun., Oct. 1, 3:05 vs Pirates (Final game of the season) – One free. One for $60. (Parking next to stadium available but not necessary. $40.)

Email me – Samesty84@gmail.com – with your requests.

Mother Knows Best

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The results from the Baby Photo Contest are in, and I guess there is no real surprise about the winner.

Samantha and Brooke’s mom, Elizabeth, was the only contestant to correctly identify all 10 of the pictures (reshown and identified below).

I probably should say “Mothers Know Best” as two other mothers, Elizabeth’s sister Annie and sister-in-law Heather, correctly identified 9 out of the 10 pictures. Also, Aunt Janet got 8 out of the 10 correct.

Then came the two fathers, Brandt and his father Chuck, who between them averaged 75% correct identification, correctly identifying 15 of 20.

(Update: 5:48 PM: Upon referee’s review of the ‘father’ outcome, actually the combined score for Brandt and his father was 70% – 14/20.)

Others, Renee – 7/10, Emily G – 6/10, Ping – 6/10, Cousin Abby – 6/10, Sue – 5/10, Cousins Eil and Ryan – 5/10, and Carrie – 5/10. Ray G. said simply they were all beautiful and liked #5 the best, whoever it was. Many other readers made approving comments about the two babies but refused to commit themselves to identifying who was who.

If EACH of you who participated in the contest (those named above) will send me your T-shirt size, which picture you like the best, and your snail mail address, I will send you a T-shirt with that photo. You can substitute the one of the family (Photo #11 below) if you prefer.

Photo # 1: Samantha

Photo #2:  Samantha

Photo #3: Brooke

Photo #4:  Brooke

Photo #5:  Brooke

Photo #6:   Brooke

Photo # 7:  Samantha

Photo #8:  Brooke

Photo #9:  Samantha

Photo #10:  Brooke

Photo # 11: Family Photo

Disaster in Sierra Leone. You Can Help.

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The photos below were sent to me by a friend from Sierra Leone, West Africa, following a mudslide August 14 just outside the capital of Freetown. Warning: they are not easy to take.

Hundreds of dead bodies have been recovered and burial graves are being dug. Four hundred people are known dead and perhaps another thousand have yet to be uncovered. This has only lightly been touched in the US media.

The Sierra Leone friend (he currently lives in the Washington, DC area) who sent me these photos lost his niece, her husband and her two children. At least 18 other members of this friend’s family are still missing, along with many others who had moved to the Freetown area from my friend’s village.

As in many disasters such as this, there are many needs to be met, and a call has gone out for assistance. And of course, this is personal to me as I was in the Peace Corps there in 1965 to 1967.

Here are three possible organizations that I am aware of that are reputable groups providing assistance. If you are able to help, please consider donating to one of these (or any other that you may know of that can responsibly provide assistance to those in need):

Global Giving (Includes 10 different projects that are providing relief in Sierra Leone)

Schools for Salone

Save the Children

Much thanks in advance.

Baby Contest

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As some of you may know, our daughter Elizabeth (Beth) and son-in-law Brandt are the parents for a second time with the birth almost two weeks ago of Brooklyn (Brooke) Shapira Tilis.

Brooke has had a lovely first several weeks, what with adoring grandparents (two sets) around and with various other family and parental friends attending also. Her sister’s (Samantha) most frequent ‘words’ (after ‘mom ma’) are ‘ba ba’ as she refers to this new addition to the family. Whether she understands that Brooke is a permanent addition or not is yet to be determined, but so far, the whole family seems to be adjusting well.

And who does Brooke look like?

See if you can tell.

After the family hospital picture below, you will find 10 photos, of both Brooke and Samantha taken during their first two weeks of life. Do not assume there are five of each. See if you can distinguish between them. The correct answers will appear in the Comment section of this post on Thursday.

Photo # 1:

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Baseball Happenings West of the East Coast

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(Last night another walk off win in the bottom of the 9th)

Have you noticed what’s going on in baseball on the left coast? I know some of you have long ago given up on following Da Bums since they betrayed their Brooklyn fans and left Ebbets Field for LA. That, plus the fact that their games end after much of the country has gone to bed, makes them sometimes an after thought for some of us.

But check them out. Fifty-one games above .500, playing at a .715 win percentage rate, leading their Division by 18.5 games, and clearly on a path to win well over 100 games (115 if they continue at this rate).

Nats’ fans take note.

And then there’s Houston. Yes. Houston. Winning at a rate of .617 (74-46), 12. 5 game ahead of their closest Division rival, and likely headed for a 100 win season at this rate. Last year Houston ended just a bit over .500 and 11 games out.

On a different note, thanks to an email from MillersTime reader and baseball fan LL, something curious is happening in Kansas City too.

         (Could it be because of base running? Photo by Denny Medley, Reuters)

While they are not playing at the level of the Dodgers or the Astros, they nevertheless continue to exceed expectations of virtually every computer projection (last five years). They simply are winning more games than those who love and live by statistics project.

Just what’s going on?

Check out this good article from the WSJ by Jared Diamond:

What’s up in Kansas City? The Baseball Team That Computer Models Can’t Figure Out.

 

Seeing a Total Eclipse

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(Credit Reuters)

I suspect many of you have seen a partial eclipse (of the sun). But most of you probably haven’t seen a full eclipse. I haven’t.

And I hadn’t planned to stay in Kansas City where I am as I write this (‘helping’ my daughter and son-in-law celebrate the birth of their second child). Specifically, my wife and I had planned to return to home to DC on Sunday, having been here a full two weeks by then.

As it turns out, Sunday is the day before the August 21 full eclipse, and the view from the Kansas City area, which, according to NASA, is in “the path of totality.” Still, my own parents had always warned me about over staying one’s welcome.

Then I read Annie Dilliard’s Classic Essay: Total Eclipse, which has just been reprinted in The Atlantic. It was first published in 1986, and she quite convincingly writes that there is no comparison between a partial and a full eclipse. Beyond that, her essay is eyeopening and beautifully written.

I urge you to read it also, while I am in the process of changing my reservations back to DC, where the viewing is decent, but nothing close to what will be possible from here.

Baseball’s Next Big Thing?

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Close observers of baseball all recognize that home runs and strikeout are up, and many say that the two are connected.

But sportswriter (and a favorite of mine) Joe Posnaski thinks that the reason Houston is doing so well is they are going beyond just accepting that ‘baseball wisdom.’

See this recent article. I think he and they are on to something:

Houston’s Awesome Hitting Feat Is Defying Trends, Joe Posnanski, MLB columnist.

Summer Film Reviews by Ellen Miller

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While your ‘trusty’ blogger was away on ‘baby watch’ in Kansas City, Ellen saw a number of films and agreed to write mini-reviews. The bold stars are her ratings, and for the three we had previously seen together, my ratings follow hers:

Maudi *****+

This is a stunning 5*+ movie. Based on a true story of a Nova Scotia folk artist — Maude Lewis  — it’s a memoir about her debilitating physical handicaps, about rejection by her family, and about her art. It’s also about her husband –Everett Lewis’ life of isolation and hardship, and their love in rural Nova Scotia. When they find each other, both of them are lost and unloved (and unlovable) souls in a stark, depressing world. Yet, every element of this film makes you hopeful. It rings first class on all the film values I can think of: acting, production, photography, narrative, pacing, and film writing. Ethan Hawke plays Everett, and Sally Hawkins plays Maude. Both will certainly be nominated for best actor awards. It’s not surprising that this near perfect film is a co-production of Canada and Ireland.

It won’t be playing long or maybe not even where you are, but this is a must-see if you can.

[8/4 Update – Richard ***** – Just saw this and concur on all points above. Ellen did not overstate her praise for this film.]

A City of Ghosts *****

Put this documentary in the category of “what I didn’t know” (ashamedly). By filmmaker Matthew Heineman, it won great acclaim at Sundance, not only telling the story of the horrific violence of ISIS in the Syrian city of Raqqa (which I did know), but how the brave, mostly “citizen journalists” have gotten the word out to the world, in a time when no one was paying attention. The early footage is shot in July 2014 when the Islamic militants took control of Raqqa and contains brutal images of the aftermath. The real-life nightmare that citizens face there has been told with hidden cameras and video. Possibly, the impactful part of the film focuses on the journalists who fled to Turkey and Germany, and who – at great risk to their lives– have found clandestine ways to tell the story of Raqqa to the world.

In the end, this is a deeply sad movie.

Lady Macbeth *****

This is not a film for everyone. It’s tough (and beautiful) to watch. The “Lady Macbeth” in this movie is a young woman in Victorian England, who, in a trade along with some land parcels, is handed off to a much older man. He seems to reject her, and she rejects the conventions of the times. She takes a stable hand as a lover, and then goes to extreme ends to keep her independence. The cinematography is stunning – each scene is exquisitely posed to create the most tension possible. The acting is first rate, and the story line is gripping and stark.

The audience ultimately has the responsibility of how to view “Lady Macbeth’s” ethical choices.

Variety Magazine sums it up well “At one level an extreme, unflinching feminist cautionary tale about the ultimate perils of chauvinistically containing or instructing a woman’s desires and impulses, “Lady Macbeth” also works as a fascinatingly inverted character study — wherein continued abuse and silencing gradually makes an oppressor of a victim.”

The film is based on Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 novella “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk.”

Midwife ***

I will admit right from the start that I saw this film because I wanted to see Catherine Deneuve again, and because I haven’t seen a French film in a very long time.

I was disappointed.

It’s very French in its story: two women attached to one man — the father of Claire (played by Catherine Frot) was the former lover of Beatrice (played by Catherine Deneuve). The two women meet after 30 years, make peace with their pasts and bond together (with some reluctance) over new, compelling circumstances. Both of the characters are sympathetic (Claire is a caring midwife), though not always or at the same time.

I expected a sparkling and crisp performance from Deneuve and was disappointed.

Dunkirk ***** (Richard ****1/2)

This is one of the most extraordinarily extravagant and grand films I’ve seen in years and perhaps one of the greatest stories of “war is hell” ever filmed (or at least the greatest one I have ever seen).

The story centers on the British evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940, and the land, sea, and air efforts mounted in the execution of that task. The production of this film is over the top — you are there in every moment — flying the Allied bombers; in the hulls of the ships transporting the solders; on the beaches at the Germans run their bombing raids; in the flaming water as soldiers are being recused. The tension builds in this film (cued a bit too loudly by the music), and you find yourself gripping the edge of your seat for most of the film.

But as much as this film is about war, it is also about the extraordinary patriotism of British citizens who supported them with a touching story that you will long remember.

See it.

[Richard: I saw this also and was not quite as enthusiastic as Ellen. The extraordinarily loud music bothered me and seemed somewhat out of place, and I couldn’t hear/understand some of the dialogue. Plus the lack of a linear story line had me confused at a number of points. Guess I sound like an old man. But it did send me to learn more about Dunkirk, and the two articles below added to my understanding of the film: one gives you background about the war itself, and one is a thoughtful review of the film.]

What is Dunkirk? Everything You Need to Know about the World War II Battle by

Review of the film by the New Yorker‘s film critic Richard Brody.]

The Exception **** (Richard ****)

If you think of this movie as part spy thriller and part Holocaust fairy tale (yes, that’s an oxymoron), you’ll appreciate, and perhaps even enjoy it, which I did.

A German soldier has been assigned to spy on the Kaiser who living in exile in the Netherlands when he improbably falls in love with the Kaiser’s Jewish housemaid. When the SS shows up, the clashes ensue, and everyone is forced to make some difficult moral choices.

By far the star of this show is Christopher Plummer who is a pleasure to watch as the erasable and unpredictable calculating Kaiser. Honestly, it’s worth seeing the film just to watch him.

Sami Blood **** (Richard ****1/2)

This is an odd little film with beautiful photography, a meaningful story, and very little dialogue.

The time is the 1930s, and the chief protagonist is a 14-year old girl from a remote Swedish ethnic minority known as the Sami people. She leaves her family and their world and attempts to integrate into modern day Sweden. At every turn she is faced with discrimination and racism. It’s a story about Swedish society that I didn’t know. It’s shocking to observe Sami as she struggles to makes her way in the modern world (and through her adolescence), and it’s easy to sympathize with her plight. It’s a quietly profound film. The acting by new comer Lene Cecilia Sparrok is superb.

(Richard: The story is one you’ve seen or read before. What was new for me was the ethnic minority and the setting, Scandinavia and not the Americas.)