British author Ian McEwan has hit many bestseller lists and won many awards for his novels such as Atonement, Solar, Enduring Love, The Child In Time, and my personal favourite Amsterdam.
McEwan is one of those artsy literary Brit writers who have crossed over and gotten some commercial success and mainstream appeal.
His new novel is The Children Act and it took my breath away.
There have been a fair number of great reads this year, however I gotta say that this one is my absolute fave so far... it is fast and touching and smart and thought-provoking.
This slim novel is about Fiona Maye, a British family court judge whose long-time marriage is disintegrating at the same time a new case shakes her core values, and the intersection of these two prove to be life changing.
Much to her surprise, one night Fiona's husband of 35 years tells her he still loves her but wants to have an affair.
Then later that same night a call comes -- a hospital requests an emergency hearing to force a blood transfusion on a 17-year-old leukemia patient who is refusing the blood that could save his life. Adam and his family are Jehovah's Witnesses and believe the Bible expressly forbids 'mixing your own blood with the blood of an animal or another human being.'
While I think its clear where the author lands on this issue, this is fast-paced, efficient, non-emotional non-preachy writing, and Adam and his parents are not depicted as ignorant bible thumpers; Fiona finds value in them, sees their doctor as condescending, and finds the boy innocent and fascinating.
The Children Act is not really about faith or religious controversy; it is about Fiona's well-ordered quiet life being shaken by young passion and old betrayal.
Fiona is caring, compassionate, fiercely intelligent; she is struggling to do the right thing for a sick boy while struggling with the confusion and humiliation of her husband's betrayal. The crisis at home throws off her emotional balance, and as she is moved by Adam's buoyant spirit, she realizes her next moves could save or sink them both.
While there probably can be no happy endings in a serious novel on this topic, there is truth and humanity here, and yes some unexpected twists. This is an emotional and intense read from one of the greatest writers today ----- read it.
Sometimes scanning the real or virtual stacks at the library yields unexpected treasures... last week while looking for something on audio to listen to during six hours of driving in two days, I found You Had Me At Woof by Julie Klam, a book I had never heard of by a writer I had never heard of, and wow, what a find! I chose it strictly because of the cute Boston Terrier on the cover:
Woof is the true story of Klam's love affair with dogs, specifically Boston Terriers. I listened in my car alone over about five hours, and was enchanted -- laughed, shed a tear, and cannot recommend it highly enough. This is a book for dog people by a dog person. At age 30, living alone in New York, single and career bored, Klam adopted Otto, a Boston Terrier she had dreamed about. Their loving and codependent relationship charmed me, and taught her about love and relationships... it was to that point "the best relationship I'd ever been in." I totally get it... that was Alfred coming into my life at just the right time. Klam later marries, has a child, and joins a Boston Terrier rescue group. Her stories of their work inspired me. Through them she works with good and bad pet owners, finds new homes for rescue dogs, and fosters some herself. Klam now describes herself a moderate, “between the crazy animal people and the people who saw pets as disposable.” The author calls this book a "dog-oir"; I would compare it to Marley and Me, with this one being more substantive, and about more than one dog... with a taste of the ugly side of bad pet owners (no abuse is detailed here). While this book has adorable dog stories, it is not cutesy; the subtitle is “How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets of Happiness.” Chapters have self-help titles like “How to Listen to That Still, Small Voice.” Klam adopted Otto 15 years ago, so (spoiler alert) he has since died, and that is heartbreaking to her and the reader. But dogs have shorter lives than we do, and other dogs come in and out of her home, sometimes as brief foster care pets, sometimes as family member --- we meet Otto and Moses and Sherlock and the surprising Dahlia, as well as Wisteria and Fiorello, mutts named by Klam's young daughter, who comes to view the dogs as siblings, to love and fight with and be jealous of. You Had Me At Woof has many amusing and some harrowing dog tales, and is a tribute to dog love for all dog people... and I loved every minute of it. Check it out.
I've always loved super-talented actress Annette Bening, but since her high profile multi- Oscar nominated streak some twenty years ago with movies like The Grifters, Bugsy and American Beauty, we haven't seen that much of her. While Bening married Warren Beatty and raised their kids, she worked less... and with the exception of Meryl Streep we don't see much of actresses over 50 anyway, unless they reinvent themselves on TV like Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates have. Bening resurfaces once in a while, like with 2010's terrific The Kids Are Alright, but we don't see her very often, so it was a pleasure to discover on Netflix a Bening movie I had never heard of, 2013's romantic drama The Face Of Love. This flick was shown at festivals and a few independent theatres before quickly going to video on demand; but that doesn't mean its crap... if you want to see Bening in crap, look for her and Kristen Wiig in Girl Most Likely. In this case the low profile means it's low budget and somewhat artsy and slower paced.. In The Face Of Love, Bening loses her beloved husband, played by Ed Harris, in a drowning accident while they are on vacation in Mexico; we skip ahead five years, and she is still in mourning and her life is basically paralyzed while her grown daughter, played by The Good Wife's Jess Weixler, and infatuated neighbour, played by Robin Williams, worry about her. Bening's character Nikki then meets and romances Tom, an artist who looks just like her husband, also played by Harris. She keeps the resemblance secret from him, and the romance secret from everyone in her life. And Tom keeps his heart condition a secret. Nikki is lonely and emotionally suffocating to the point of imbalance, and Bening makes her sympathetic while we also see she is too far gone. It all comes to a head when her daughter Summer, who was pleased about her mother finding a new love, lays eyes on Tom, which sends her into a rage. Tom, surprised by that reaction, accepts when Nikki asks him to run off to Mexico with him... where he learns about her husband. And then... okay I will stop there, you gotta see this one. The story is unusual, the acting is amazing. See The Face Of Love.
Actor Neil Patrick Harris, the Emmy-winning, Tony-winning, former child star and future Oscar host, has just published his autobiography, and I whipped through it.
Choose Your Own Autobiography is a fun read, mostly because of Harris (aka NPH) himself, with his warm semi-edgy humour and charming storytelling; not sure if he wrote it with or without a ghostwriter, but it sure sounds like him.
Best known for Doogie Howser MD and How I Met Your Mother, even at the relatively young age of 40 NPH has lived a crazy busy yet somehow still sane life and has stories to tell -- of TV and movies, family and travel, anonymous sex and hash brownies.
NPH came out as a gay man about seven years ago, and while it was not a shock to those of us who assumed he -- and most every other celebrity - is gay, it was a brave act and great conversation starter; I think it's always a good thing when famous people come out, as every person coming out helps 'normalize' gay for people who think they don't know any gay people.
The book's format, inspired by the page-jumping kids' book series Choose Your Own Adventure, whichis told in second person ('you do this, then you do that'), lost its charm on me after a while, and I just read straight through. On the upside, the format makes for entertaining bite-size stories from his personal and professional lives.
NPH drops names, not in an especially malicious way, but let's just say that Kelsey Grammar, Madonna, Anne Heche, Patti LuPone and Rupert Everett will not be buying copies to give out as Christmas presents. Elton John will... if there is a version packaged as a bedazzled yacht.
His story about coming out to himself, his family, his TV audience and the world, is honest and touching. And funny... possible (funny, untrue) sources of NPH being gay are naively going back to magician Penn Jillette's apartment late one night, and or a full-on man kiss from 80s era Burt Reynolds. Okay, neither of those work for me, but who are we to judge?
Tossed in for your entertainment are recipes, magic tricks, songs, mini adventures written by friends like Kelly Ripa and Whoopi Goldberg, and a really fun chapter that is copy-edited (and fact checked) by his husband.
The book reads like Harris is sitting around telling stories from his life to his pals, and it works. And then it gets really sweet as it wraps up with a love letter to his kids and husband David Burtka.
Like this guy, and like this book... put Choose Your Own Autobiography on your fall reading list.
This week an unmarried middle-aged man who millions suspected/assumed was gay came out and said Yep,I'm Gay, shocking no one and yet surprising a lot of people... and very possibly changing the world. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, the most valuable company (by market value) in America, came out as a gay man this week. In an essay for Bloomberg Businessweek, Cook announced that he is gay... and that statement makes him the first openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 Company. From his essay (link below to full post):
For years, I’ve been open with many people about my sexual orientation. Plenty of colleagues at Apple know I’m gay, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference in the way they treat me. Of course, I’ve had the good fortune to work at a company that loves creativity and innovation and knows it can only flourish when you embrace people’s differences. Not everyone is so lucky.
While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either, until now. So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.
Cook goes on to say that he knows visibility counts, and he hopes his coming out will help others. And that discrimination is simply bad for business.
That this happened is so cool -- and then that there was not a huge social uproar, and no impact on Apple's stock price, tells us how far we have come. Although a member of Russia's parliament did call for Cook to be banned from Russia for life. Hateful Putin bigot.
And there is still far to go... in 29 states Cook could have been fired for being gay, and in many parts of the world there would be legal and or violent ramifications.
In many important ways, Tim Cook has just stepped out from Steve Jobs' huge shadow.
Being gay has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the minority and provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with every day. It’s made me more empathetic, which has led to a richer life. It’s been tough and uncomfortable at times, but it has given me the confidence to be myself, to follow my own path, and to rise above adversity and bigotry. It’s also given me the skin of a rhinoceros, which comes in handy when you’re the CEO of Apple.
Some in the media are criticizing Cook for not coming out sooner, and I totally get that... maybe if he had we all would have gotten a free Jennifer Hudson or Beyonce album on iTunes rather than that damn boring U2 one.... When I arrive in my office each morning, I’m greeted by framed photos of Dr. King and Robert F. Kennedy. I don’t pretend that writing this puts me in their league. All it does is allow me to look at those pictures and know that I’m doing my part, however small, to help others. We pave the sunlit path toward justice together, brick by brick. This is my brick. iProud.
Yes! This may be my new all-time favourite twitter war....! Sure I find O'Brien fast and funny, but who knew Albright was this quick? Hopefully she can bring some of that zing to the new TV show Madame Secretary, which she consults on...
Last week Oscar-winninger actress and Bridget Jones star Renee Zellweger stepped out on the red carpet for the first time in years, and the twitter-verse exploded. Zellweger looked different, noticeably visibly different. Did she have work done? Was it just age and time and a different outlook? As the story blew up, Zellweger issued a statement which addresses the issue but doesn't give specifics, saying "I'm glad folks think I look different! I'm living a different, happy, more fulfilling life, and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows... I am healthy." Every other fame-seeking plastic surgeon was on TMZ or ET or wherever speculating what work she had done... and all of a sudden it felt icky. Did she have work done? Sure is possible. Should we care? Sure it's interesting and somewhat salacious and we are curious, but this is no Kenny Rogers or Meg Ryan episode of Botched... it is a middle aged adult in a looks-oriented business doing what she wants to.
Amid all the chatter, I loved what actor Zachary Quinto had to say about the discussion...
"I thought [the Internet response] was completely bizarre and really aggressive, and it infiltrated the zeitgeist in such a powerful way in such a short amount of time — and she looks amazing, first of all. Second of all, she acknowledged her position, and I thought she did it in an intelligent and classy way. And third of all, so what? You know what I mean? Who’s not getting work done? Who’s not trying to bend to the unrealistic expectations of women when they’re young, let alone when they’re older? I thought she did it in a really bold and beautiful way. I think she looks amazing and if she’s happy, then shut the fuck up, everybody.”
Acclaimed and outspoken TV writer and producer Shonda Rhimes, she of Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, and the new series How To Get Away With Murder, is famous for not only being talented and successful, but for putting women front and centre, and for mixing in characters of different ethnicity and sexual orientations and not making that their main storyline.
I love this woman, and not just for her spirit and politics... while I don't watch Grey's as much as I used to, I am totally hooked on Scandal and Murder. They are fun fast entertaining addictive soaps.
The new How To Get Away With Murder, which mixes high drama and high camp, stars Oscar nominee Viola Davis as a mysterious law professor. It has been controversial because of its aggressive gay character and his sex life shown on screen -- well shown as much as you can on network television, and no more than you would see with straight TV characters on a 10 PM drama...
From last week:
One (soon to be dead) male character said of another: "He did things to my ass that made my eyes water."
One woman to another: "If that were my husband, I would be able to walk straight."
Okay so the sexes are even here...
Then this weekend in twitter land someone challenged producer Rhimes on 'the gay scenes'... and her comeback made me love her even more... #oneLOVE:
Actress, comedienne, writer, TV host, Playboy centrefold, and general all around annoying person Jenny McCarthy is sticking her foot in it again. The former View host, best known for dangerous anti-doctor anti-vaccine campaign, and for making Sherri Shepherd look less dim during her one season on The View, is known for over sharing regarding her sex life, but that is not the issue now. The blonde bombshell gave an interview last week where -- likely with the best of intentions -- she came across as at best naive and uninformed. Talking about her guest shot on the sitcom Just Shoot Me as a transgender woman, she told PrideSource: “I feel like that inside. I always felt like one of the guys wearing, like, a Playboy bunny outfit. I was David Spade’s buddy to begin with, so I was a natural fit, and I always felt like his brother." So she thinks cross dressing is the same as transgender... and is totally missing the whole point of someone who is truly trans, i.e. their assigned gender does not match their expression or behaviour, often resulting in violence and discrimination towards them. And when asked how she'd feel if her son came out as gay, she said: “Oh my god, I would be so excited. We can shop! Do my hair!” Yep, no stereotypes there...! When asked about these comments, a spokesperson for the Centre for Transgender Equality simply noted this was not the worst thing McCarthy has said about trans people. So that's not good... I'm not sure what McCarthy has been doing since The View wisely dumped her last season, but maybe she should read a book or watch the news?
Producers announced today that Emmy and Tony winner Neil Patrick Harris will host the 2015 Academy Awards next February.
This is a great choice -- Harris is fast and funny, sings and dances, and does the occasional magic trick.
Long rumoured to be a contender for this high profile gig, Harris is an experienced host, having done the job at the Emmys and Tonys multiple times to great acclaim.
A TV star since childhood as Doogie Howser, Harris became a major star as womanizer Barney on the sitcom How I Met Your Mother, and when that ended earlier this year headed straight to Broadway, winning a Tony for Hedwig And The Angry Inch. He is currently on view in a creepy supporting role in Gone Girl.
Harris is also a gay role model and activist, having been out for many years; he recently married his boyfriend of ten years, David Burtka, with whom he has 4-year-old twins.
Often referred to as 'the gay Superbowl' because of its audience (hey, I watch) the producers are living up to the name, as last year Ellen DeGeneres hosted to great reviews and ratings... so who's next, Rosie O'Donnell or Matt Bomer?
This is a big week for NPH -- whose funny twitter feed is at @actuallyNPH - in addition to the Oscar gig, he published his first book, a creative twist on his own story called Choose Your OwnAutobiography on Tuesday; I just started reading it.
If you have missed his hosting gigs, here are two samples of NPH at work....
Ok, forget the others... for 2016 bring on Fey and Poehler!
Sometimes you discover a totally unknown movie on Netflix or on demand, and it's a treat... okay more often it's a black hole time suck that you regret, but sometimes it is a real treat.
We discovered one of those treats this week; it's a Danish film called Love Is All You Need, a 2013 multi-lingual romantic comedy about and for grown-up's.
Love Is All You Need stars Pierce Brosnan as Philip, an angry widowed career-obsessed executive who goes to Italy for his son's impromptu wedding, where he falls for Trine Dyrholm as Ida, the mother of the bride, who happens to be going through a marital split and chemotherapy at the same time.
Her husband brings his young girlfriend to the wedding, the young bride and groom encounter some hurdles, and while Philip blames the world for his wife's death, Ida is trying not to be a victim of either her cheating husband or her cancer.
You will see the ending coming, however you won't see all how we get there in this feel good movie with depth.
I have some minor quibbles - the generic title, that the Brosnan character doesn't speak Danish but seems to understand it, that we hear That's Amore way too often - but they are minor in a really charming heartfelt movie.
This one is a quiet winner... the characters are intriguing, the plot has some twists, and the scenery is breathtaking... I was entertained and touched. Hell, I put the laptop away and just watched it old-fashioned like... now that is high praise. Check out Love Is All You Need ... or look for it by its way better Danish title, The Bald Hairdresser.
We are in fall TV premiere season, and tonight ABC will air the third episode of its acclaimed new comedy Black-ish, starring Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Laurence Fishburne.
The show focuses on an upper middle class black family, where just as he is promoted to the highest ranking back man in his white company, the father worries that his kids are not culturally black enough. So he interferes and bumbles as he tries to make them more culturally black. The dad is goofy, the mom is sweet, the kids are snarky... so a typical sitcom.... inside of 22 minutes, insight and comedy ensue.
The first episode, which focused on the dad's promotion while his son decided he wanted a Bar Mtizvah despite not being Jewish, was smart and funny.
This weekend while on the treadmill I caught the second episode on demand, and was surprised.
While ABC has put Black-ish in a prime spot, between two hits, the super-gay Modern Family and the gay-ish Nashville, Black-ish is not gay friendly.
In episode two, the dad is approaching the son to have the sex talk, and finds him stretching... and says of the stretching that "it looks a little gay" ... so gay like lame? Or gay like stupid? Or gay like gay?
Later in the show, when the dad is shirtless, his son takes off his shirt to mimic, and the dad says "two shirtless dudes standing around starts to look weird"... so 'weird' means gay, right? Gay is weird?
At best that is lazy outdated writing. More likely it is casual homophobia. Either way it's not good enough, TV people.
Sure these are just two quick lines, but they went through the writing and rewriting and filming and editing and whatever else those network people do... and made it through.
Much as I like TV, and crappy TV, I won't be going back to Black-ish which I now file away with Ducky Dynasty and Tim Allen... bye bye.
Legendary singer Aretha Franklin has a new album coming out, and last week was on Letterman to promote it.
Franklin's voice is iconic and undeniable, though her choice in songs has ranged from classic (Think, Natural Woman) to fun (Freeway Of Love, Jump To It), to utterly forgettable (the last twenty years).
This new album sounds like it has potential -- Aretha Sings The Great Diva Classics includes covers of great songs like Midnight Train To Georgia, At Last, I Will Survive, and Nothing Compares To You.
Check out the Letterman clip below, where Aretha performs her take on Adele's Rolling In The Deep. I love this song, though it may be too soon to call it a 'diva classic'... and I'm not sure how I feel about this take on it. She may be overdoing it, I may have issues. And I do have many, many issues with the dress.
Especially check out the surly background singer throwing shade... that is Cissy Houston, Whitney's mom, in one of the most bizarre performances of the year. She is out of sync with the moves, looks both angry and bored, and then seems like she doesn't even know the words... rolling her eyes as she judges Aretha, the audience, and everyone. Nasty.
Boy meets boy... Boy falls in love with boy... Boy gets drunk, does stupid shit and loses boy... Two years later at the wedding of his adopted interracial sister, now-sober boy meets same boy again, who is traveling with his pretend new boyfriend... Now sober-boy falls for his ex's fake boyfriend.. Romance and comedy ensue.
Okay it's more of a modern story.
In The Perfect Wedding, now on Netflix, the budget is low and it shows, the acting is earnest rather than experienced, and the script is not subtle at all, and yet the whole thing works.
What I liked about this flick was its sweetness, and that in this family and circle of friends, being gay or straight, black or white, is all normal and not even mentioned... there are no closets, there are no stereotypes.
These friends and family love and laugh, they care, they stare into their loved ones' eyes, they try not to hurt each other so they lie and hurt each other... and then it all comes together into a happy ending.
The message is the same as any other romantic comedy: life is better when you take that risk and open yourself up to finding that one special person to walk through life with. True in this film, and just true.
Oh... also discovered here... the gays love ABBA. In case that was a secret...
Actor/activist George Clooney is back in the headlines this weekend for his Venice wedding to human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin... not that he has been out of the headlines for the last decade or two. Long one of Hollywood's "confirmed bachelors" despite a string of starlet and model girlfriends, there were gay rumours that circulated around his apparent refusal to marry. Clooney took part in the marriage equality play 8 in 2012, and his he took on those rumours at the same time. His answer was awesome....
The gay rumor has followed you for years. I think it’s funny, but the last thing you’ll ever see me do is jump up and down, saying, “These are lies!” That would be unfair and unkind to my good friends in the gay community. I’m not going to let anyone make it seem like being gay is a bad thing. My private life is private, and I’m very happy in it. Who does it hurt if someone thinks I’m gay? I’ll be long dead and there will still be people who say I was gay. I don’t give a shit. When did you decide to get involved in the fight for marriage equality? It’s always been this albatross that stood out to me as the final leg of the civil rights movement. It really came to a head during the 2004 elections, when it was used as a wedge issue, and it was a very effective tool to keep the Republicans in office and to avoid talking about other issues. Well before Prop. 8, I’ve made the point that every time we’ve stood against equality, we’ve been on the wrong side of history. It’s the same kind of argument they made when they didn’t want blacks to serve in the military, or when they didn’t want blacks to marry whites. One day the marriage equality fight will look as archaic as George Wallace standing on the University of Alabama steps keeping James Hood from attending college because he was black. People will be embarrassed to have been on the wrong side. So it’s encouraging to know that this too will seem like such a silly argument to our next generation. There are even a lot of young conservatives today for whom marriage equality isn’t an issue. It always takes government an extra generation to catch up to the people.
What can we say? Smart, talented, started on The Facts of Life, works to make the world a better place... YAY George!