Six More Movies to Consider

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Six mini-reviews: three by Ellen and three by Richard

Ellen:

Good movies transport you…. back into history, to stories of unimaginable horrors, or into the every day lives of famous people. This ‘suspend-my-real-life-and take-me-on-a-trip’ quality is why I so enjoy them. Each of these three movies Richard and I have seen in the last couple of weeks all contain the elements most important for my enjoyment — strong narratives, first-class acting (and great characters), and strong screenplays.

Marshall – Ellen **** Richard ****

Marshall is the simple, straightforward retelling of a 1940’s criminal trial in Connecticut early in the career of Thurgood Marshall (Chadwich Boseman). Marshall is representing the NAACP in defending a Black man charged with rape and attempted murder of a white society woman. No local counsel would take the case, so the NAACP stepped in to help, but the Judge outrageously barred Marshall from actually handling the case. So Marshall bullied, cajoled and “stage managed” a local insurance lawyer to be the lead counsel. The hostile environment and characters – and the eventual friendship between the key lawyers, play out along expected lines yet this is a deeply satisfying story of good vs. evil. (No spoiler alert. You’ve got to see it to see who wins the case.)

The story is the strength of this film and the portrayal of Marshall and the local lawyer, the tension of the trial itself make for a compelling drama. (It is based on an actual case in the 1940’s in Bridgeport, Connecticut.) The lawyers’ instinct in understanding how cultural attitudes shape jury selection and their sympathies to their client, and the racial, religious and gender discrimination undertones of the times — add immensely to story of the legal maneuverings.

Note that this is not bio epic of Thurgood Marshall but offers a glimpse into the beginnings of his historic career. This movie isn’t a 5 star, but it’s more than worth seeing!

 

I, Tonya Ellen *****  Richard ****1/2

This film headlined the Philadelphia Film Festival (which we missed), and now I understand why. It’s horrifying and satisfying, breathtaking and sad. The acting, filming, and direction are superb and there’s not a moment of boredom in it. It should be opening soon near you. Go see it.

The film explores the full story of Tonya Harding (figure skating star in the 1990’s) — her highs and her lows — along with accusations of her attacking and disabling a rival skater.

Production and direction is key to this film’s success. In the preparation of the screenplay, the directors (Steven Rogers and Craig Gillespie) interviewed all the major players: Harding herself (Margot Robbie) ; Tonya’s mother (played exquisitely by Allison Janney); Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) and his sidekick Shawn Eckhart (Paul Walter Hauser). The actors act out portions of those interviews throughout the film, and the film cuts back and forth between them and the exposition of Harding’s life, her skating achievements and disappointments, her lifelong abuse from her mother and her husband and her inability to step away from any of it, and her dreams. It also delves deeply into the classism of the figure skating world.

This is a difficult movie to watch at times, but it is a must-see.

 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Ellen ***** Richard*****

Another must-see film. I think it’s one of the best-acted, directed and written films we have seen all year. Ahem. Think best actress for the star (Frances McDormand) and best screen play for the writer/director Martin McDonagh.

The script is both clever, tough, and yes, even funny.

The story unfolds nine months after the murder and rape of Mildred’s Hayes’ (McDormand) daughter. The police are not trying hard enough – the murder or a teenager has no priority for them she claims – and so she takes unusual actions to drive their attention to the case. This small town in rural Missouri is filled with as many interesting characters (the Sherriff is played by Woody Harrelson and one of his deputies is played by Sam Rockwell) as it is by its multiple prejudices. The acting is near perfection.

Three Billboards is not an easy movie to watch. The anger which drives the film is palpable long after the film is over. Don’t miss this one either.

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

And three more mini-reviews, ones I saw while Ellen was out of town.

Richard:

I’m a sucker for a good story, well told, and for me that usually takes precedence over all the other reasons for enjoying and loving a particular movie. Only one of the three below makes it to my top category.

Wonder Richard*****

On the recommendation of three MillersTime readers, I read this novel several years ago, and it became one of my favorite reads that year. Authored by R.J. Palacio, pen name for Raquel Jaramillo, it’s the story of a young boy, severely facially dis-formed at birth, and his ensuing struggle to attend school, which he enters in the fifth grade. Although I generally will choose a nonfiction over a fiction treatment of these type of stories (Ghost Boy, for instance), there is something quite appealing about Wonder. It not only tells the story Auggie, the boy struggling with his physical deformity but also delves into what those around him, his parents, his sister, a number of other fifth graders, their parents, and the school authorities see, experience, and do.

It is rare, I believe, for a film to be equal to or better than a book. However, Wonder, as a film, captured me and despite its ‘tidiness’ (SPOILER: everything eventually works out well, too well?), the screenplay had me choked up at least a dozen times and brought tears a number of times also, not only because of the boy’s struggles but also because of how well it told not only his story but also his sister’s and his parents’ struggles too. The performances, particularly Jacob Tremblay as the boy Auggie, Izabel Vidovic as his sister Via, Julie Roberts as his mother, and Owen Wilson as his father, are just right.

Take your upper primary or middle school child, or, if you’re a grandparent, your grandchild to see it. We did. I saw it a second time with Ellen yesterday and our third and first grade grandchildren. Their ratings – Abby *****, Eli ****, Ellen *****

 

Roman J Israel, Esq. – Richard ***1/2

Despite mixed reviews and a good deal of critical reporting about an unfocused story, I went to see Roman J Israel, Esq., largely because the story still sounded promising, and Denzel Washington, a favorite of mine, played the lead character.

It’s not the Denzel you know from his other performances. In fact, he’s almost not recognizable (which is a positive if you sometimes get distracted watching a familiar actor/actress).

Somehow he inhabits the lead character, and you can’t help but cheer for that character who struggles to maintain his values and his outrage with a world that is often hostile and generally unforgiving to a person with values

If you can put up with a story that doesn’t quite work (though it doesn’t miss by a lot), then Denzel’s performance is worth your time and money.

 

Murder on the Orient Express. Richard ***

I must admit I had never read this wonderful Agatha Christie thriller, nor had I seen the highly praised 1974 Sidney Lumet film. But before seeing this new version by Director Kenneth Branagh, I listened to the audible reading of the mystery by Branagh — a murder on a train and detective Hercule Poirot’s investigation to determine the killer. I was enthralled.

However, in this instance, the film fails to match the book/audiobook. Despite some lovely scenery, both on and from the train, and a cast that includes Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, and Josh Gad, the story is not well told. It’s choppy, hard to follow, and too dominated by Branagh himself who in addition to directing the film, overplays the character of Poirot.

Save your time and money.  It’s just not very good.

In fact, take that time and money and either read the original story, listen to it on tape, or find the 1974 film version starring Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam, Ingrid Bergman, John Gielgud, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, etc.

Calling for Favorite Reads in 2017

Tags

, , , , ,


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

It’s that time of year again — when I request you share with other readers of MillersTime your most favorite books read over the past 12 months.

Here are a few guidelines that may help in drawing your list and in making my compilation easier:

*When I ask for your Most Favorite Reads of 2017, I’m seeking fiction and/or nonfiction books that stood out for you above all you’ve read in the past year. What have been the most enjoyable, the most important, the most thought provoking, the best written, the ones you may go back and read again, the ones you reread this year, and/or the ones you have suggested others read?

* You are welcome to send just one title or as many as are truly favorite reads.

* In order to make my work less cumbersome, please do the following:

* List the title, the author, and indicate whether it is fiction (F) or nonfiction (NF).

* I, and most MillersTime readers, seem particularly interested in why a particular book made it to your list this year. Please write a sentence or two, or more, about why each particular book was a favorite for you this year.

* Don’t be concerned about whether others will have the same book(s) on their lists. If we get a number of similar titles, that’s just an indication of the power of a particular book/author.

* Your books do not have to be ones that were written and/or published in 2017, just ones that you read over the past year. If you participated this year in sending titles of books you enjoyed in the first half of 2017, feel free to include one or more of those if they make it to your list of most favorites in 2017.

*If you have listened to a book(s) in one of the various audio formats, Books on Tape, CDs, Audible, etc., and if they meet your definition of books “you’ve enjoyed the most in 2017,” please include those on your list also, This is in addition to the ones you (may) have listed. Be sure to identify which ‘books’ on your list were ones you enjoyed audibly.

* Send me your list in an email (Samesty84@gmail.com) by Dec. 17th  so I will be able to post the entire list at the end of the year. (If you send me your list sooner, you may be able to avoid my constant email reminders to do so.)

To see previous years’ lists, click on any of these links: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015. 2016.

Seven New Films

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Reviews by Ellen Miler

Given the fact that we traveled for two plus weeks in China this month, we managed to see some very excellent films since our return. All of these are very much worth seeing, with a few caveats included in the reviews. Read carefully!

Call Me by Your Name:  Ellen *****  Richard ****

This is a remarkable two-hour plus drama, set “somewhere” in northern Italy in the long hot summer of 1983. The main character of this story is the precocious 17-year old son of a professor of ancient Greco-Roman culture and his wife. The film focuses on Elio’s (Timothee Chalamet) late adolescence and his experimentation with his sexuality.

What is unusual about the film is the astonishing sensitivity with which it deals with the issues. The relationships between father and son, the mother and son, Elio and his first girlfriend, and ultimately between Elio and his love — the handsome, debonair graduate student (Armie Hammer) who is studying with the professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) -– are tender, emotional, delightful, and fraught with tension. The story is well-told. With perfect pace, you sympathetically watching Elio fall deeply in love with Oliver and watch him suffer the consequences of the affair’s predictable end.

But there is no tragedy here. This is a deeply satisfying film of love and life, which is exquisitely acted by all the main characters, exquisitely paced, filmed, and produced. The film was much heralded at the Toronto Film Festival. Roger Ebert has said that this film is “far and away the best movie of the year.” It’s a must see.

Lady Bird: Ellen *****  Richard ****

Lady Bird is another a coming-of-age story which focuses on the relationship and the natures of the two lead characters. Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan), as she likes to be known, is a high school senior not of the mainstream. She is independent, unpredictable, and thinks she knows ‘it’ all. Her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf), a nurse, knows that her daughter doesn’t. Lady Bird wants to leave her home in Sacramento after she graduates, and her mother – who is responsible for the family’s financial wherewithal (the father has ‘been retired’ by his previous job.) – consistently discourages her ambitions. Their relationship is filled with tension throughout the film. Additionally, there are also several interesting side stories of teenage angst as Lady Bird becomes sexually active.

For me the highlights of this film are the scenes between the mother and daughter (all superbly acted) that are the most instructive. Sometimes you identify with the daughter, sometimes with the mother – and when you do the later, you will cringe about how their relationship and conversations might have at time been similar to ones with your own children. This is a film with finely tuned characters, a terrific screenplay, and pitch perfect acting. It’s a winner on all fronts.

Lady Bird also has been well-heralded nationally, and the audience at our
film club gave it a 96 per cent approval rating.

Faces Places: Ellen ****  Richard ****1/2

This film is a different twist on the coming-of-age story: an 88 year old filmmaker (Agnes Varda) and young photographer JR, known for creating open air photography galleries, come together to document the making of a film. The movie they make is about their road trip throughout southern France as the two of them photograph and display these photographs.

Along the way they meet a variety of people who inspire them and whose stories often develop into individual “projects”. One of my favorite of these is of a woman they meet who is still living in a deserted flat that had once been reserved for miners during a boon time. After hearing this one woman’s story, Agnes and JR find other former residents in the area, and, as a way of celebrating their lives and their dedication to their jobs, they photograph perhaps 50 of these individuals. They then plaster 12-foot high photos (printed out of JR’s truck) on the old flats for everyone to admire.

All of the Agnes’ and JR’s projects involve large-scale photography, which they display in unusual ways — on water towers, sides of buildings, on the sides of huge transportation containers, on rocks, or billboards, etc. — for communities to enjoy.

This is a sweet, quirky little film both about people in local communities and about the relationship between the two artists.

The Square: Ellen ***  Richard **

If you enjoy (and can laugh at cutting edge contemporary art when it is ridiculous),
you will love this film. Otherwise, you might want skip it. I could appreciate it and
dubbed it a “critic’s film” (though it wasn’t universally well-received by the film
elite). But I didn’t really like it. It has its funny moments – even at times LOL funny — but is overdrawn and absurd in others, and because of that it is unsatisfying. (A series of funny gags does not a movie make.) The characters are not likeable; the story line is uneven, but its commentary of the cutting edge of modern art world feels pretty accurate.

Lost somewhere deep in this film are themes raised about modern values which, if explored, could have been a connective theme and perhaps made this movie meaningful. The Swedish writer and director of this film is Ruben Ostlund who also directed Force Majeure that contained many of the same elements and flaws.

Jane: Ellen *****  Richard *****

Over 100 of hours of lost film (tucked apparently away in the files of the National Geographic archives) recording the early work of the then 26 year young Jane Goodall were found and have been crafted to provide a unique insight and overview of her astonishing career.

The photography — most of which was shot in the 1960’s by the man who was to become her husband, Hugo Van Lawick (one of the most renowned photographers of African wildlife)– is captivating, and the first hand views of her initial attempts to study chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park (located in Tanzania) offer unique insights to what she did and how she did it. The film focuses on the early period of her work-life in some detail, including her marriage and the birth and raising of her son.

The film also intersperses the found footage and contemporary interviews with Dr. Goodall and is supported with beautiful music by Philip Glass. The writer and director is the much-acclaimed Brett Morgen from National Geographic Films.

This is a very satisfying and solid documentary. A must see.

Loving Vincent: Ellen ***** – Richard ****1/2

I’ve saved the best for (nearly) last.

Loving Vincent is one of the most creative, fascinating, and mesmerizing films I have
seen in recent times.

Warning: this is an animated film, and thus it may not be for everyone.

It is made up of tens of thousands of carefully painted images that make the animation for the film.

The story is a retelling of Van Gogh’s life and death, using characters from his paintings. The characters and scenes — built off some of his most well-known paintings — are familiar. Think landscapes (The Starry Night, Wheatfield with Crows); the town of Arles (Café Terrance at Night, The Night Cafe); the postman (Postman Joseph Roulin); the doctor (Portrait of Dr. Gachet); Van Gogh’s paint supplier (Portrait of Pere Tanguy); a barmaid (The Barmaid ); along with many others.

The paintings are all brought to life (as is Van Gogh himself –- his self-portraits appear often) as the ‘subjects’ interact with each other. The animation is as fantastical as Van Gogh’s paintings themselves and that is what you come to see. You already know the story and how it ends.

Or, (teaser) maybe you don’t.

Vincent Van Gogh: A New Way of Seeing: Ellen **** – Richard ****1/2

And because we couldn’t get enough, we managed to snag, at special showing (think 10:30 AM! on a Tuesday morning) this wonderful documentary from Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum It was a rich and delicious addition to Living Vincent.

This film also tells the story of his life (and yes, there were some discrepancies between this and Living Vincent) by looking at his paintings and through a series of thoughtful interviews with curators from the museum. The film was workman like, serious, thoughtful, and well-presented, and it further deepened our appreciation of the artist.

Keep your eyes open at your favorite independent theater to see any special
announcements concerning the availability of this film. (Ed. I think the actual public release of Vincent Van Gogh: A New Way of Seeing is currently scheduled for Mrch of 2018.)

China: Thru Ellen’s Lens

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Here are a dozen of Ellen’s photos from our recent trip to China.

If you want to see more, there’s a slide show too, which I highly recommend. Details below.

Ming Sha Shan (Singing Sand Dunes), Dunhuang, Gansu Province

 

Ancient Remains of the Great Wall, Gobi Desert

 

Landscape, countryside, Southern Gansu Province

 

Tibetan Village, Za Ga Na (“Stone Box”), Gansu Province

 

Above the monastery at Langmusi, Gansu Province

 

Waterfall at Guan E Gou (mini-Jiuzhaigou), Gansu Province

 

Apartment Buildings, Chongqing

 

Cable Car to Huangshan Mountain (Yellow Mountain), Anhui Province

 

Pines and Clouds at Lotus Peak, Huangshan Mountain

 

15th Century Village of Hongcun, Anhui Province

 

Baojia Garden, Anhui Province

 

Park Just Steps Away from Forbidden City, Beijing

If you want to see more photos, click on this China Travel slide show link. Then, for the best viewing, click on the tiny, tiny arrow in the very small rectangular box at the top right of the opening page of the link to start the slide show.

See all the photos in the largest size possible format (i.e., use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either).

All the Results from 2017 Baseball Contest

Tags

, , ,

The votes from MilersTime readers are in for the remaining undecided contest.

Contest #2: Make a prediction about something that will happen during the 2017 MLB season.

Three predictions received all the votes:

4. Ryan Zimmerman will be the Comeback Player of the Year. Probably True. He just won the Players’ Choice Award for the NL Comeback Player of the Year. (Mike Moustakis won it in the AL category).

7. Altuve & Correa will combine for a batting average of of over.300. Very Close. Their combined BA was .299 (Altuve -.310 and Correa – .288).

9. The hidden ball trick will be used successfully this season. True. Blue Jays Ryan Goins fooled Yankees Todd Frazier on 2nd. And there may have been others this season.

But the competition was really between Todd Endo’s #4 and Jeff Friedman’s #9.

More of you voted for #9 over #4, so Jeff wins, and his prize is as follows:

He can join me for to see a Nats’ game of his choice in wonderful seats. If he can’t get to the swamp here, he can pass the prize on to someone who can get here, or he can choose one of The 20 Best Books Ever Written About Baseball. (He can also substitute this book I read recently and thought was terrific: The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse by Tom Verducci.)

SUMMARY OF ALL THE WINNERS IN 2017

#1. Pick your favorite team, predict their 2017 record, if they’ll make the plays or not, how far they will go if they do, and what’s the most important factor in determining their season.

Winner: Monica McHugh

Runner-Up: Annie Orgad

 

#2. See above.

Winner: Jeff Friedman

 

Runner up: Todd Endo

 

#3. 10 True False Questions:

Winner: Chris Boutourline

Inter-generational Winner: Brandt Tilis & Samantha Tilis

 

#4. A. Which MLB team will have the best improvement in games won over 2016. B. Which team will show the biggest decline (most losses compared to 2016).

Winners: Todd Endo, Jeff Friedman, Rob Higdon, Dawn Wilson, & Meg Gage

 

#5. Will the AL continue its dominance over the NL in the All Star game in 2017? Tie-Breaker: Name AL & NL players who will get the most votes to play in the All Star game.

Winner: Nicholas Dart

 

#6. Who will be the two teams in the World Series in 2017 and which team will win it all?

Winner: Clare Bolek

Runner Up: Nicholas Lamanna

 

Extra Credit: Make up your own question and then answer it.

No Winner in this category this year. A few good questions but the creator(s) of those questions couldn’t even answer them correctly!

 

For all the winners, please send me your T-shirt size so I can send you the MillersTime Contest Winner T-shirt (not the one pictured at the top of this post).

And if you haven’t already contacted me about your prize, please do so.

China Trip: “Wonderful,” – “Successful” – “Unique” – “Superb”

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

           Map Courtesy of Cartographer Larry Makinson

As Ellen, our two Chinese friends, and I were concluding our recent trip in China, I asked that we all give a one word description that summed up the trip:

Xiaoli – “Wonderful”

Jiang – “Successful”

Ellen – “Unique”

Richard – “Superb”

So what made the trip wonderful, successful, unique, and superb?

First, a bit of background. About 35 years ago we hosted a Chinese student for five days who had just completed her Masters degree at Stanford. She returned to China and worked for the English language newspaper, China Daily. She met a writer from People’s Daily, the main Chinese newspaper, and after they were married, her husband, Jiang, came to Washington as a Visiting Scholar at Johns Hopkins School of International Studies. He lived with us for several months before returning to Beijing. We all kept in touch, and we visited Xiaoli, Jiang, their parents, and their young son several times on other trips to China. When our daughter Annie (who was four when Xiaoli first stayed with us) married, we were very touched that Xiaoli came from China for the wedding.

In 2016, Xiaoli and Jiang returned to the US when their son Kun graduated from a Masters’ program at MIT. They visited us in DC, along with Kun and his girlfriend Xi, and asked us when were returning to China. We said if they planned a trip that included a few places they have always wanted to visit in their country and some places to which they wanted to return, we’d come in 2017.

While Xioali and Jiang were planning this trip, Kun and Xi decided to get married in DC. As their parents could not make the trip for the wedding, Ellen and I stood in as ‘parents’ for Xiaoli and Jiang. What a delightful ‘responsibility’ that was.

That, then, is the background, and also the first answer to what made this trip so special: being able to spend 15 days with Xiaoli and Jiang – friends we had now known for almost 35 years – in their country, and under their ‘supervision.’ Although they are merely ten years younger than we, they treated us a bit like they treat their elderly parents. Ah, there is much to be said for filial piety. We never lacked for conversation nor tired of each other, and when we parted on our final evening back in Beijing, it was with both delight and sadness, along with the beginning of some plans for a future trip to China.

One or two words that describes the four of us together?

Xiaoli – “Harmonious. Comfortable.”

Jiang – “Old friends together again.”

Ellen – “Many shared interests.”

Richard – “Compatible.”

The second answer to what made the trip so successful has to do with the wonderful planning that preceded our arrival in China. The plans that Xiaoli made, with assistance from Jiang, couldn’t have been better. Since Ellen and I had been to most of the usual places visitors go in China, Xiaoli focused on areas of her country that most foreigners have not visited, which also happened to be places that she and Jiang wanted to visit or revisit.

If, as it is often said, the devil is in the details, so too is success in the details, especially for a 15 day trip for four people covering more than 5,000 miles, four flights, parts of five days in a car, a half day on a boat, one six hour a half hour high-speed train ride, hotel reservations, and feeding four people who have high expectations for what they eat (and who have varying tastes). The planning was flawless. And when, just shortly before the trip was to begin, an earthquake closed one of the planned highlights of the trip, Jiuzhaigou Natural Reserve, Xiaoli simply substituted another scenic wonder we took to calling “the mini-Jiuzhaigou. It turned out to be one of our favorite experiences.

And that brings us to the third answer to the question, the itinerary, the heart of the trip, where we went and what we saw and did.

As you can see (especially if you enlarge the map at the top of this post), there were five major cities we visited and used as bases for explorations: Beijing, Dunhuang, Lanzhou, Chongqing, and Huangshan.

On our arrival in Beijing (population 21 million), we stayed overnight with Xiaoli’s parents, now 88, and spent a lovely afternoon and evening with them. We were also able to spend a few hours just leisurely wandering in the delightful Suzhou style garden (Xie Qu Yuan) at the Summer Palace. At the end of our trip, we returned to Beijing for 24 hours and some familiar sites. Plus, we ended our eating adventures with two Peking Duck meals.

We flew first to Dunhuang (population 187,578 in 2000), crossing over deserts and mountain ranges to this former Silk Road crossroads, 1400 miles to the west of Beijing and near the borders of Inner Mongolia and the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Located in Ganzu province — one of China’s poorest — we went to Dunhuang to see the Mogao Grottoes, the Gobi Dessert, and the Ming Sha Shan (Singing Sand Dunes). What a superb start to the trip.

The 1500 year old Mogao Grottoes house thousands of Buddhist sculptures, wall paintings, drawings, art works, and manuscripts throughout the 750 caves and have been described as “the largest, most richly endowed, and longest used treasure house of Buddhist art in the world.” It was fantastic to see.

We spent part of a day driving to and walking on the Gobi Dessert where we saw ancient remains of the end of the Great Wall of China, a very different sight from what you see of the Great Wall near Beijing.

The highlight of this first stop on our explorations was the Ming Sha San (Singing Sand Dunes) and Crescent Lake. One afternoon we took a jeep ride to the top of one of the highest dunes (Jiang led the way on a motor bike) and spent almost two hours awaiting the sunset and trying to absorb what for all of us was unlike anything any of us had experienced elsewhere and certainly one of the most memorable scenic vistas of the trip. Early the next morning we returned to the Sand Dunes and walked leisurely to Crescent Lake, another not to be forgotten landscape.

We then flew an hour and a half southeast to Lanzhou (population 3.6 million) which served as our base for further explorations in rural Ganzu Province. We spent two nights in smaller towns (Die Bu, pop. 52,166 and Dang Chang, pop. 310,000), driving 12 hours over three days through Muslim and Tibetan towns and villages, visiting Buddhist monasteries, and stopping at several landmarks from the Red Army’s Long March (Lazikou).

The two highlights, however, were once again scenic sites. The first was Zha Ga Na (“Stone Box”), a Tibetan village surrounded by rock mountains, for the most part shrouded in fog and clouds. We climbed high above the village and felt as if we were in the midst of a Chinese scroll painting. Jiang met a local villager who offered to have us spend the night in his house. If only we could have done so…how wonderful it would have been to spend time in the village and with a family and then return to the mountains at sunrise…

But we decided to move on, as planned, to Guan E Gou which local people nicknamed the “mini Jiuzhaigou.”  A lovely three hour stroll up a paved mountain path took us by more than 20 waterfalls and spectacular views around every bend. Time spent here made up for not being able to stay at the “Stone Box” or visit Jiuzhaigou Park, as once again we were mesmerized by the stunning beauty of a place we had never even known existed.

Then we flew south to Chongqing, formerly Chungking (population of four million in the central city itself but if you include the four connecting municipalities with the same name, the numbers rise to over 30 million) for a 28 hour visit with family of Xiaoli and Jiang’s daughter-in-law Xi. We were again stunned by what we saw.

Chongqing is one of only four direct-controlled municipalities in China (the others are Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin), which means that this city and region has been able to reinvent itself as directed by the central government. Fortunately, we had a lifelong resident of Chongqing, “Auntie” (Xi’s aunt), to guide us through this multi-level city. (Tip/Warning: under no conditions should a visitor ever attempt to drive in Chongqing, ride a bike there, or even explore the city without a guide. Trust me on that.)

Auntie took us on a whirlwind tour that included historical sites, the largest/deepest escalator in Asia, redeveloped areas of the city, the 100,000 student university, a visit to her home, two unforgettable meals (more on food later in this post), and a lovely morning and early afternoon drive in the hills above the city. We were so entranced, and Auntie was so enthusiastic to show us her city, that we almost missed our next flight.

Next was Huangshan (population 1.5 million), a 1,000 miles almost due east of Chonqqing. This Anhui Province city and the surrounding area was ‘home’ for three days and nights and had everything that draws us to travel: beautiful natural scenery, ancient and modern culture, local cuisine, and the opportunity to experience all of these treasures with the assistance of two residents of Huangshan, long time friends of Jiang’s.

Our first day here was devoted to Yellow Mountain (Huangshan), another one of China’s premier scenic wonders (UNESCO World Heritage site) and the source of many Chinese landscape paintings and poets’ inspiration. We were joined by a friend of Jiang’s who took us on the cable car part way up the mountain and who had access to the highest point of the mountain, Lotus Peak, even though it was closed for regeneration. Most of the mountain was covered in fog and mist for our entire time there, but there were enough bursts of clearing that we were able to begin to understand why this is such a special place with it’s jagged rocks, unusual pines, and ever present mist, fog, and clouds. Our climb was difficult, but as we had the place to ourselves, we were able to walk (and some times crawl) slowly and to allow the mountain to reveal itself to us.

We spent part of another day exploring the rural Anhui countryside with its white peaked houses, its rich agriculture, and its delightful rows of white chrysanthemum tea plants. We spent part of this day strolling through the ancient (15th century) village of Hongcun, another World Heritage site, and had a well-known calligrapher create a Miller family scroll, which now hangs in our DC home.

An artist friend of Jiang’s introduced us to a ‘factory’ that made bars of ink for calligraphers, took us to his ink stone carving studio to proudly show us his work, and directed us to another friend who demonstrated how calligraphy brushes are made (and had us make some ourselves).

We ended this day first around a large table in a local restaurant with Jiang’s two friends, their families, and the four of us with many toasts and expressions of appreciation for each other. Then we went to the apartment of Jiang’s artist friend, had carefully made tea and the opportunity to see his own handiwork and his collection of ink stones, pottery, and art/sculptures.

On our third day we spent three hours on a boat on the Xin An River, because no trip is complete without seeing the country from one of its rivers. I could have stayed on the boat for the entire day to soak in the beauty of the Anhui countryside. But there was more to see and do and not enough time for everything. We strolled all too briefly in the ancient Huizhou City and visited the Tangue Memorial Archways, seven Ming and Qing Dynasty monuments commemorating individuals for their “loyalty, filial piety, moral courage and righteousness.” Then we ended that afternoon with an all too short time wandering through the Baojia Garden where bonsai art and stone edifices are integrated into a Suzhou type setting that I found simply stunning and unforgettable.

We returned to the old part of the town for a bit of shopping — an ink stone, pottery, some gifts for our children and our children’s children, and some dried bamboo (to be consumed at our annual Chinese Thanksgiving celebration back in Washington). The four of us had our final local meal on the second floor of a restaurant overlooking the crowds wandering in this warren of streets and shops of Huangshan, a lovely, lovely end to these three days and to our explorations of another part of this China that was new to us, despite our three previous trips to this country.

The next morning we boarded a high-speed train for our six and a half hour, 800+ mile return to Beijing. On the way, I asked and we all answered some questions about the trip:

What was the most memorable site for you?

Xiaoli – Sand Dunes and Dunhuang as a whole.

Jiang – The waterfalls of Guan E Gou.

Ellen – The “Stone Box” and its Tibetan village.

Richard – Sand Dunes.

What was the best day for you?

Xiaoli – The second day in Huangshan – wandering through the ancient village of Honcun, meeting Jiang’s artist friend, learning about the making of ink, ink stones, calligraphy brushes, and then dinner with everyone that evening..

Jiang – Hard to answer, but I’d choose the first afternoon in Dunhuang at the Mogao Grottoes.

Ellen – Climbing to Lotus Peak on Huangshan Mountain.

Richard – “Stone Box” day.

Three Most Favorite Trip Experiences:

Xiaoli – Guan E Gou waterfalls, Sand Dunes, Huangshan Mountain.

Jiang – Guan E Gou waterfalls, Bhudda Light on Huangshan Mountain, Sand Dunes.

Ellen – Huangshan Mountain, Sand Dunes, Guan E Gou waterfalls.

Richard – Sand Dunes, “Stone Box,” Baojia Garden.

What was the role each of us played (the job taken or ‘assigned’)?

Xiaoli – Chief Planner, Travel Agent.

Jiang – Time/Plan Keeper and Food Guide.

Ellen – Photographer, Trip Recorder/Historian

Richard – Information Gatherer (asked a lot of questions) and Step Counter (we walked anywhere from 12,000 to 20,000 steps a day, 5-8 miles, depending upon the what we were doing on a given day)

And what about the Food?

Certainly for a trip to be in the highly successful category, there has to be good food, especially for this group of four. I’ll spare you a day by day accounting, but largely we focused on local specialties throughout the 15 days.

Breakfasts were primarily in the hotels (excellent accommodations throughout) and consisted of lavish buffets with many tempting offerings from both the east and the west. After the first couple of days, I avoided these enticements, except for an occasional yogurt or bit of fruit and coffee. Ellen did a bit more, and Jiang and Xiaoli fully participated.

For lunches and dinners, Jiang led the way, searching out the best local cuisine in each region we visited.  We ate in places with as few as three or four tables and restaurants filled with festive groups of dinners who checked out what others had ordered and asked for similar dishes. We ate grilled lamb (not so good) in the night market of Dunhuang and in a particularly lively, family run restaurant in the same city (excellent). The beef noodle soups in the western provinces were both simple preparations and universally delicious, inexpensive, and were often our ‘go to meals’ for lunch.

There were two hot pot meals that were memorable. One was in the small town of Dang Chang where the four of us had a lovely evening as we learned about Jiang’s experiences in Inner Mongolia from the age of 16-22 while we kept adding to and subtracting from the mild but favorable hot pot in the middle of the table. The second was with the family in Chongqing at a lovely outdoor setting overlooking the city. There one had a choice of using the inner hot pot (not spicy) or the outer one (beyond spicy) with platter after platter of seafood, various animal parts, and an occasional vegetable. In another Chongqing restaurant, we were served huge platters that consisted largely of red peppers, one dish reportedly had bits of frog, another of chicken, and a third of eel. I loved this restaurant. Ellen loved the setting but seemed to have trouble finding the food hidden among the peppers.

Perhaps our most lavish meal was in a private dining room in a hotel on Yellow Mountain. I had no idea what most of the dishes were, but Jiang and Xiaoli assured us the meal was not just unusual but also delicious. And the group meal mentioned in the Huangshan section above was enjoyable, both for the food and the company.

There were vegetables everywhere we went, many that were new to us (dried bamboo, for example) and Jiang was particularly enthused to find a mushroom that grows on a stone, a local delicacy in Anhui Province. Amongst other adventuresome ‘delights,’ we had “smelly” tofu and “stinky” fish (and both lived up to their names), stone frog and fungus soup, mushrooms unlike any we had ever eaten (or seen) and body parts of animals that were likewise not common dishes for us.

Mostly, our lunches and dinners were simply and freshly prepared and were largely unrecognizable compared to Chinese restaurants in the US. We enjoyed all the food (though Ellen claimed that the first thing she wanted to eat when she returned home was “Nothing.”  I think Xiaoli and Jiang were pleasantly surprised at how well Ellen and I used chop sticks, my dexterity in eating fish with small bones, and my ability to enjoy spicy food. Additionally, they were pleased with how much good food was available (at quite reasonable prices) throughout our trip.

So there you have it. Lots of reasons for why we used the words “Wonderful,” “Successful,” “Unique,” and “Superb” to describe a trip that will long stay with each of us.

And the best is yet to come. China Thru Ellen’s Lens, photos that will be posted within the next few days.

 

 

Veterans Day

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

from Ellen Miller

It’s Veterans Day, not a holiday I am accustomed to celebrating.

As a young adult of the 1960’s I was (mis)lead to believe that soldiers (and veterans) were part of the problem of a warmongering government. My opinions have changed over the years. Some of that is due to maturing political views and a better understanding of the politics of war. But also – after an early infatuation with the literature that came out after the Vietnam War (books like A Bright and Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan, Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes, and Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried) – I’ve learned from my ongoing reading of memoirs, fiction and nonfiction about conflicts around the world and the soldiers who fight in them.

I was recently very much taken with Legend: The Incredible Story of Green Beret Sergeant Roy Benavidez’s Heroic Mission to Rescue a Special Forces Team Caught Behind Enemy Lines by Eric Blehm.

Medal of Honor presentation ceremony for Roy Benavidez in 1981

This is a movingly written nonfiction account of Special Forces staff sergeant Roy Benavidez and his legendary heroism in the Vietnam “theater” (actually in Cambodia) in May of 1968. Benavidez was a man from a tough Texas background who fought for his comrades even when he was close to death. His perseverance in the most devastating conditions was simply unbelievable, and the sacrifices he made for country and his family should be shouted from the rooftops.

A subplot of this story was the initial lack of recognition for his heroism – part of the story that is heartbreaking.

 

A second book I read this year that offered terrific insight is Spoils by Brian Van Reet. This is the author’s first book — a decorated soldier who served as a tank crewman in Iraq. He knows of what he writes.

Spoils Author Brian Van Reet. Photo by Peter Tsai

The setting for this novel is April 2003 in Iraq, and the job is now to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. There are three narrators (each one memorable): A 19-year old woman, Cassandra Wigheard, who like Van Reet, enlisted in the Army looking for something more real real than her uneventful American life; Abu Al-Hool, an emir in the Muslim Brotherhood who disapproves of the emerging tactics of younger Jihadis; and Specialist Private Sleed, a tank gunner who a reluctant player. This well-written read presents a nuanced picture of the dilemmas, and mistakes, our troops have faced.

This engrossing debut novel of a hostage drama was long listed for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence.

I don’t know if either of these books will make the top of my 10 favorite books of the year, but I offer them to you to honor our Veterans on this day.

A Report from the Philadelphia Film Festival

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

For the past few years Ellen and I have been attending the opening weekend of the annual Philadelphia Film Festival with friends from that City of Brotherly Love. Generally, from Thursday’s opening film through Sunday evening we see about a dozen films. We’ve grown fond of that October event, and sadly, we missed it this year as we were on a long planned trip to China (more on that to come soon in other posts).

But thanks to an email from Philly, I post below one person’s reactions to this year’s festival and the films she saw between Oct. 19-29. Although said movie lover was not writing for an audience, she kindly gave us permission to pass on her quick thoughts about the films she saw, many of which will reach your local theaters in the coming year.

Her email:

We thought the Festival was terrific this year. The films I particularly recommend are listed below.  You can look up the descriptions in this Program Guide. 

I, Tonya (p.29) – Great performances. Funny, weird, crazy. Was the Opening Night film.

Faces Places (p.40) – Charming and very well done.

In the Fade (p.41) – German Oscar submission. Superb, Heavy. Amazing performance by Diane Kruger.

Jane (p.42) – Just released. Documentary. Features previously lost footage of Jane Goodall from the 60s.

Borg/McEnroe (p. 47) – Don’t need to be a tennis fan to appreciate this.

A Ciambra (p.50) – Italian Oscar submission.

The Square (p.56) – Just released. Some of the reviews have not been great, but we thought it was well done and very interesting.

Custody (p.63) – Very heavy. Great acting. Remarkably accomplished for a first feature.

In Syria (p.5) – Very well done. Entire film takes place in an apartment. Intense and disturbing.

On Body and Soul (p.55) – Amazing film. Love story takes place in a slaughterhouse.

AlphaGo (p.81) – Documentary. Got a great audience response.

Bobbi Jene (p.74) – Documentary about an American dancer in an Israeli dance group moving back to U.S. Very intimate love story, startling honest. Very impressive.

Django (p. 85) – Docudrama.

Nothing we saw wasn’t worth seeing, but for one reason or another, I did not include the following films, which I also saw: Sweet Country, Thoroughbreds, Bad Lucky Goat, Brimstone and Glory, Most Beautiful Island, Spoor, Montparnasse Bienvenue, Marlin the Murderer in Four Acts, and The Wound.

(Ed. Note: Jane, The Square, and Faces Places are all in the DC area now, and I, Tonya will be here soon.)

You can bet we’ll return to Philly next October. It is easy to get into almost every film you want to see (Opening Night is usually the only totally sold out film – though I noticed this year the wonderful Philadelphia Film Society added additional screenings of that film). The various theaters are generally within walking distance of each other, and the price, especially the package price for a weekend, is beyond reasonable.

If you have seen or see any of the above, please feel free to leave a Comment on this post for others to see.

Predictions That Came True, or Almost Did, in the 2017 MLB Season

Tags

, , ,

How come fortune cookies never say anything about baseball?

Contest #2: Make a prediction about something that will happen during the 2017 MLB season.

Here are the ten best, in my humble opinion, from MillersTime contestants that either came true or came very close to being true.

1. Greinke comes back, wins 20 games, and leads NL in ERA. Mostly true. He won 17 games and was sixth with a 3.2 ERA.

2. Two of the top four MLB home run leaders will come from the NL (last year the top six were from the AL). True. Giancarlo Stanton was first with 59, and JD Martinez was third with 45.

3. Cubs will struggle to make the playoffs. Mostly true. They lead the Brewers in the NL Central by six games, but they won 11 less games than in 2016 (92 vs.103).

4. Ryan Zimmerman will be the Comeback Player of the Year. Probably True. He just won the Players’ Choice Award for the NL Comeback Player of the Year. (Mike Moustakis won it in the AL category).

5. There will be no perfect games thrown in 2017. True. In fact, there was only one no hitter in all of 2017, thrown by Edison Volquez of the Marlins.

6. Andrew Benintendi will win the Rookie of the Year Award in the AL. Close. He’s one of the three finalists in the BWAA list. Altuve won it according the the Player’s Chocie Awards.

7. Altuve & Correa will combine for a batting average of of over.300. Very Close. Their combined BA was .299 (Altuve -.310 and Correa – .288).

8. Freddie Freeman will hit .300 this year. True. His season BA was .307.

9. The hidden ball trick will be used successfully this season. True. Blue Jays Ryan Goins fooled Yankees Todd Frazier on 2nd. And there may have been others this season.

10. The average time of MLB games will be longer than in 2016. True. It rose by 4 1/2 from 3 hours and 42 seconds in 2016 to 3 hours, five minutres, and 11 seconds in 2017.

The Winner of Contest #2 will be chosen by MillersTime readers who vote for which is the best prediction.

Please vote either in the Comment section of this post or by sending your vote to me in an email (Samesty84@gmail.com).

Deadline: One week – Thursday, Nov. 16 at noon.

How Well Do You Know Your Team? Plus, Winner in Contest #1

Tags

, , ,

Fenway Green Monster fans react to a Rafael Devers’ homer, but “a homer” has another meaning too.                     (Photo by Matt Stone)

Contest # 1: Pick your favorite MLB team (or the team you know the most) and answer the following questions to prove whether your just a homer – “someone who shows blind loyalty to a team or organization, typically ignoring any shortcomings or faults they have” – or whether you rally know something about your team and can honestly evaluate its strengths and weaknesses:

a. What will your team’s regular season 162 game record be in 2017?

b. Will they make the playoffs, and if so, how far will they go?

c. What will be the most important factor (hitting, starting pitching, bullpen, an individual’s performance, injuries, etc.) in determining their season?

Conclusion:

There were four teams chosen that had five or more of you predicting their season:

Orioles fans over predicted what their team would accomplish this season. (Once again Chris Eacho, who probably should never be taken seriously, thought the O’s would win over 100 games, would win the WS, and Buck Showalter would win Manager of the Year.)

Red Sox fans also largely over estimated how well they would do, but there were also a number of these wonderfully intelligent and obsessive fans who were very close to exact in their predictions.

Yankee fans largely underestimated how well they would do this year. (David P., however, thought they’d win the WS, which wasn’t as wild a prediction as it seemed at the beginning of the season.)

Nats’ fans were the most accurate in their assessment of their team.

Although the numbers were not significant, fans of the Cubs, Cards, Reds, Giants Braves, Royals, and Mets generally overestimated how their teams would do. Fans of the Pirates, Brewers, and Astros underestimated their teams for 2017. Dodger fans were split between over and under estimating how the Bums would do.

Winner of Contest #1:

There were a number of you who came close, generally faltering on Part B of this question. Included in this category were David Price, Daniel Fishberg, Jesse Maniff, Steve Veltri, Matt Wax-Krell, Ellen Miller, Jeff Friedman, Jon Frank, Nick Nyhart, and Meg Gage.

The two who vied for winning were Monica McHugh and Annie Orgad.

Monica predicted the Nats’ record would be 96-66 (they were 97-65), they would lose in the NLDS (true), and Bryce Harper would be instrumental in their season.

Annie predicted the Red Sox would be 94-68 (they were 93-69), they would lose in the first round of the playoffs (true), and hitting would be a big factor in their season outcome.

Monica McHugh wins this closely ‘fought’ Contest, based on the fact that her submission preceded Annie Orgads’. Monica’s prize is two tickets to a regular season game with her favorite team (details to be negotiated with me).

 

 

More Contest Winner(s) – True/False Questions

Tags

, ,

Not a good showing for MillersTime Baseball contestants in the 10 True/False questions.

Seventy-five per cent of you had six or less correct, and no one got all ten right.

Contest #3: True or False:

A. The Chicago Cubs will follow Joe Maddon’s advice again to “Be a good Cubbie and try not to suck” and will at least go to the World Series in 2017, as they did in 2016. False, largely because they lost to the Dodgers in the NLCS 4 games to 1.

B. The Washington Nationals will NOT lead the NL East Division as they did in 2016. False. They won their division by 20 games (97-65) over the Marlins. In 2016 they won their division by 8 games (95-67) over the Mets.

C. One pitcher will throw two no hitters in 2017. False. There was only one (1) no hitter thrown in all of 2017 (Edinson Volquez for Miami against Arizona, 6/30/17).

D. Bryce Harper will rebound from his 2016 season – BA -.243, HRs – 24, RBIs – 86 and finish in the top five of the MVP voting. Mostly True. In 2017 his line was BA – .319, HRs – 29, RBIs – 87. The Baseball Writers Association of America came out last night with the finalists for various awards, including MVP, but they only listed the top three. Harper didn’t make it into that group but at least one list of the top ten I saw had him number five.

E. A contract at over $400 million will be offered before the end of the 2017 season. False. But maybe in 2018.

F. There will be five or or more Triple Plays in the MLB this year (yearly average has been 4.1). True. The Orioles did it twice.

G. There will be more than three 20 game winners in 2017. False. There were none. (Last year there were three).

H. No pitcher will have an ERA under 2.0 in 2017. True. Kluber best with 2.25. In 2016 Hendricks at 2.13.)

I. At least one MLB batter will strike out 219 times or more in 2017 regular season play. False. The only batter with more than 200 was Aaron Judge (208). Last year Chris Davis struck out 219 times.)

J. One of Grandpapa’s grandchildren will witness in person either a grand slam, a triple play, a no hitter, or Teddy win the President’s race at the Nats’ stadium. False. (Last year I believe Eli saw a no hitter and a grand slam.)

Five of you got eight out of ten: Rob Higdon, Monica McHugh, Brent Schultz, Meg Gage, and Sam Poland, but one person did even better.

The winner is Chris Boutourline who got nine out of ten and wins his choice of one of these books: The 20 Best Books Ever Written About Baseball. Chris also wins a MillersTime Winner T-shirt, tho I think he may have won a contest in the past.

In the inter-generational category (parent-child, grandparent-child, grandparent-grandchild, etc. Brandt Tilis and daughter Samantha (age one at the time of her/their contest submission) are also winners, correctly identifying 8 out of 10 questions. If anyone knows of a good book on baseball for toddlers, please let me know. Of course they will each get the very valuable t-shirts (please send sizes).

And the Winner Is…

Tags

, , , ,

What a World Series that was!

I think in the end the ‘right’ team won, as the Astros were able to separate themselves, just barely, from a very good Dodgers’ team.

While it is a cliche to say that “it’s too bad only one team could win,” it’s only right that at the end there is a winner and a second place team (note I didn’t describe them as losers, tho indeed they lost).

Anyway, the end of the WS makes it possible for me to declare a winner in the MillersTime Baseball Contest #6: Who will be the two teams in the World Series in 2017 and which team will win it all? Tie-Breaker: Name the five teams in each league who will make the playoffs.

Three contestants were in the final consideration:

Nicholas Lamanna (referred by Matt Galati) predicted the Dodgers and the Astros would be in the World Series and the Dodgers would win. He did not predict the Tie-Breaker.

Elizabeth Tilis (formerly Elizabeth Miller, daughter of yours truly) predicted the Mets and the Astros would be in the WS with the Astros winning it. She did not predict the Tie-Breaker.

Clare Bolek predicted the Cubs and the Astros would make it to the WS with the Astros winning it all. She did make a prediction for the Tie-Breaker, getting four of the ten teams who made it to the playoffs.

Each of these three got one half of the primary question right and missed one half it. So the Tie-Breaker settles the winner.

Clare Bolek, the only one of the three to answer the Tie-Breaker question, is the winner of Contest #6 and the prize of one ticket to the 2018 World Series.

Nicholas Lamanna, while he didn’t win the big prize, does get to choose any regular season Washington Nationals’ game he would like to see in 2018 and can bring along Matt Galati who clued him into the contest. Assuming I’m in town for the game Nick chooses, I’ll join him and Matt for the game.

Elizabeth Tilis already got to see a WS game in 2007 when I flew her to Denver to join me for the fourth and final game of the Sox sweep over the Rockies.

And finally, I’d like to thank the 19 of you who wrote in to respond to my request for help in making the above decision (see Comments). Your thoughts were very helpful, even the one by David Stang, who wrote,

No winner if Dodgers don’t take the Series. You some kind of a wimp and want to give losers a prize like participation trophies to Little Leaguers who make errors and strike out? In competitions there are winners and losers. If the highest grade is D+ that doesn’t make the slacker a winner.
Or do you, soft-hearted one, think differently?

Now on to figuring out the winners in Contests #1, 2, 3.

Help Me Determine Contest # 6 Winner

Tags

, , , , ,

 

(The two managers, Dave Roberts & A.J. Hinch, meet prior to the opening of the 2017 WS games.  Photo by Al Tielemans, SI)

It certainly looks as if we have a World Series that is worthy of its name, at least if the first two games are any indication. I know those of you who are Dodger fans would have preferred to have won the second game, but for those of us who aren’t so connected to either team, it’s wonderful to see both teams operating at their best and the outcome in doubt.

In the meantime, I need a bit of help in determining how to think about the winner of MillersTime Contest #6: Who will be the two teams in the World Series in 2017 and which team will win it all? (Tie-Breaker: Name the five teams in each league who will make the playoffs.)

Four of you are in the running to win this contest, the one with the biggest prize of the six contests: One ticket to the 2018 World Series:

N.L. (vis Matt Galati): Picked the Dodgers and the Astros to be in the WS with the Dodgers winning it all.

E.T. Picked the Astros and the Mets with the Astros winning it all.

N.N. picked the Cubs and Astros, with the Cubs winning it alll.

C.B. picked the Astro and the Cubs with the Astros the victors.

Obviously, if the Dodgers win, then N.L. is the winner.

But if the Astros win, I’m not sure which of the above should be declared the winner.

Any advice, left in the Comment section of this post or sent directly to my email (Samesty84@gmail.com) would be definitely welcomed.

Thanx.

PS. I’ve already announced winners in two of the contests. If you missed those posts, see:

Contest #4 Winners

Contest #5 Winner

PPS: Contests 1, 2 & 3 have yet to be decided and will take some time.

Four Films, Reviewed by Ellen Miller

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.”