Strong Girls Photography Exhibit by Monica Estabrook

If you live in the Bloomington-Normal area, I urge you to attend Monica Estabrook’s Strong Girls photography exhibit.  The event will be held at Heartland Community College in Normal, IL.  According to their website, “Estabrook describes Strong Girls as a series that confronts gender biases through black and white photography.  The photos portray Estabrook’s former art students from Stevenson Elementary School in Bloomington. Each girl demonstrates unique strengths and individual character.”

Estabrook is a talented artist and teacher deserving of your recognition.  You can attend the exhibit’s debut and the artist’s reception on March 31 from 4:00 to 5:30 p.m. in the Instructional Commons Building Room 2501.  They will even have a free drawing activity for kids!

Gain more information at the following links …

Monica Estabrook

Facebook Event Page

Heartland Community College

See you there!

Copyright 2015 Monica Estabrook

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Birdman – A Movie Review

In my mind, there are two iconic actors who represent the performances when it comes to film super heroes – Christopher Reeve and Michael Keaton.  So when I heard the premise of Birdman, I had to chuckle a bit to myself.

If you’re not familiar with the plot, Keaton’s character once played the world’s most famous cinematic super hero – Birdman.  And then, at the height of the Birdman craze, Keaton’s character walked away from it all.  Set in the present, Keaton’s character, Riggan, is trying desperately to star in a play he both wrote and is directing based on a work by the master of the short story, Raymond Carver.  For the past twenty years, his career has not achieved anywhere near the success of Birdman, his life has fallen apart, and he needs to prove to himself that he’s a “real” actor.  He must convince himself that he made the right decision so long ago.

Riggan has given this play everything, and we get to witness his odyssey as it unfolds a few days before opening night.  But even as Riggan tries so hard to make the play a success, he also must deal with his wayward daughter played by Emma Stone, a pretentious supporting actor played by Edward Norton, his ex-wife, his attorney who is also producing the play, his actresses, and the nagging voice of Birdman who regularly accosts Riggan for walking away from a multi-million dollar film franchise.

If it sounds like there is a lot going on in this film, there is.  Yet, by and large, the movie rarely leaves the theater in which the play is being produced.  The camera follows the actors as they weave their way through a labyrinth of backstage halls and rooms, and it is mesmerizing.  From a technical standpoint, Birdman is amazing.  I don’t know much about cinematography, but even I recognized the intricacy involved in the filming.

Quite honestly, though, when thinking only about this film’s story, it fell a little flat with me.  It’s not really a comedy, but it’s also not truly a drama.  It’s not satire, yet it’s also not critical commentary.  Does it hate social media, or does it love social media?  Is it parody?  It definitely isn’t farce.  For me, consequently, the film dabbled in all of these ideas.  Now I’m the first person to cheer any work that defies genre, but Birdman never felt quite comfortable in its own skin to me nor did it ever take a firm stance in terms of identity.  Later we’ll explore if this is meant to reflect Riggan himself.

Birdman regularly ridiculed comic book movies, which is fine, yet it stars the biggest comic book movie actor still living, as well as one who got dismissed from the Marvel franchise and one who very much stole the show from a certain web-slinger.  It touted what serious acting should be, yet the “serious” characters in the movie were moronic.  The movie fought hard to revel in contradictions, yet it never struck me as more than simply indecisive.  There is a subtle mania to Birdman, but I’m not positive it existed purposely.

In my opinion, the movie best shined when we got in Riggan’s head and heard the schizophrenic Birdman relentlessly browbeating him.  Keaton still has great range, and I hope Birdman serves as a launching pad to a renewed career for him.  The gravelly voice of the profane Birdman proved both disturbing and hilarious, and those were the moments when we got a profound sense of Riggan’s uncertainty pertaining to both his life and career decisions.  When Birdman literally hovered over Riggan’s shoulder, all of the film’s paradoxical issues were all the more potent and, most importantly, worthwhile.

There are moments in the film when Riggan physically displays the powers of Birdman, yet it’s fairly clear those moments exist only within his own imagination.  However, the last act of the film relies completely on these “power” sequences, and, as one of my friends put it, everything finishes on a rather vague note.  I absolutely believe the ending was meant to be thought-provoking, although, for me, it wasn’t.  It was merely erratic.

We could easily make an argument about the subversive message of the film.  I  could write a hell of a paper about how Birdman reflects the discomposed nature of Riggan himself.  We could debate how struggling to perfect the Raymond Carver play is in fact the plight of Riggan to ultimately make peace with himself, and, when he realizes he is doomed to fail, he must “suffer” for his art in order to prove to the world he is a serious actor, as though the perception of an actor is more important than the actor’s own self-image, but that feels like a real reach on my part, especially because I get no sense the filmmakers purposefully intended such meaning.  I’ve developed an elaborate theory as to Riggan’s fate, his Birdman persona, and the film’s literal ending in contrast with the figurative ending, but I’m not convinced the filmmakers made any such theory valid.  In fact, I feel like I’m working pretty hard to make sense of the ending.  Elements lead me to my conclusion, but they were only fragments, nothing comprehensive.

Of course, this sounds like I didn’t like the movie.  I actually did enjoy it quite a bit.  I’ll watch anything with Michael Keaton, and it is an interesting, well-made film.  It’s not something I consider a stroke of genius or even terribly original, but that could perhaps just be me.  It did win “Best Picture,” after all.  It certainly seems to appeal to those in theater and cinema more so than the average person, which may be the most telling thing about it of all.

 

Foxcatcher – A Movie Review

My wife and I watched Foxcatcher last night on DVD, and neither of us could look away from the screen.  This movie is haunting, intense, disturbing, and riveting.  Steve Carell is virtually unrecognizable as he plays John du Pont.  I honestly did not think Carell could capably play such a creepy character, such an emotionally devoid human being, yet he did, and I truly think it’s one of the best performances I’ve seen in a movie.

As you may know, it’s loosely based on a true story in which du Pont volunteered his Foxcatcher estate to house and train the US Olympic team.  He befriends Mark and Dave Schultz, two championship wrestlers as they strive to make the Olympics again.  Yet, du Pont’s intentions are not entirely philanthropic, and as the movie progresses, you realize the Schultz’s have accepted the help of a very unsettled man.

While the movie centers upon Olympic-level wrestling, it is absolutely a character driven movie.  There is ample wrestling, but it’s not distracting and, for those who do not appreciate the sport, it only amplifies the overall story – it in no way detracts from it.

Mark Ruffalo plays David Schultz, older brother to Mark Schultz.  Yes, he’s likable as Ruffalo typically is, but not conventionality so.  He loves his little brother, he loves his wife and children, he loves his sport, and du Pont has offered a way for him to provide a stable environment for all of his loves.  Of course, the irony is that he must deal with an unstable man in order to do so.  We identify with David.  We root for him as he does what he has to for his family, and even though we know he shouldn’t deal with du Pont, Ruffalo reflects our own willingness to do what it takes to take care of our loved ones.

Channing Tatum holds his own with Carell and Ruffalo.  His Mark Schultz has little to say, broods a lot, and tends to stare off into nothingness, yet Tatum plays Schultz almost as strange as Carell does du Pont.  Tatum makes Mark seem as though there is rage beneath the silent surface, and we’re never quite sure where Mark stands or what he’s capable of doing.

No matter what your feelings are about Olympic style wrestling, I urge you to watch Foxcatcher.  It simmers throughout, and when tragedy finally strikes, it will break your heart.  It’s absolutely one of the best movies I’ve seen in quite some time and Carell will captivate you with his subtle, ominous performance.

Do You Like Jewelry? Check Out Steampunk Mamas!

Jewelry is not something I ordinarily write about, but my aunt and cousin have created a brand of jewelry all their own, and I implore you to check them out!

They call their brand Steampunk Mamas and it is obviously meant to appeal to the steampunk fan.  If you’re unfamiliar, steampunk is a genre largely imagining complex science fiction during the Victorian era.

I’ve taken a look at their various websites and it’s pretty cool jewelry!  This mother and daughter team are musicians, artists, craftswomen, as well as jewelry makers.  They make a creative duo!

You can find them at the following links …

Facebook

Artfire

Etsy

Here’s a picture of one of my favorite items that they’ve created …

Dragonfly Necklace with gears and black beading on gold colored chain

I do hope you’ll pay them a visit!

Injustice by Tom Taylor – A Book Review

I’m not a gamer, but I heard the DC series titled Injustice, which serves as an introduction to the video game, regularly impressed readers.  When I happened across it at my local library, I knew I had to give it a read.

Wow.  I’m glad I did.

If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, the Joker manipulates Superman into killing his wife, Lois Lane.  Superman loses it, punches Joker through the chest, and then promptly establishes a new world order in which all countries must be peaceful or suffer his wrath.

But this is not a maniacal Superman.  Taylor is brilliant in that it is still largely the Superman we know and love, but it’s a Superman who, little by little, loses his famous sense of morality.  Like all the best villains, he firmly believes he is in the right, and when things go wrong, it’s never his fault.

Of course, Batman has no wavering morality issues, which puts he and Superman squarely at odds.  Batman forms a team to challenge Superman’s Justice League which is comprised of Wonder Woman, Shazam, Green Lantern, Flash, Cyborg, and others.

Anything goes in this title, and no one is ever safe.  That sort of climate makes it an exciting, unpredictable read, which is something mainstream super hero titles need.

Consequently, many of the characters are, well, out of character, particularly the Flash.  I’m glad that Taylor makes Flash the most hesitant of Superman’s acolytes, the one who questions their actions, but, in the end, I realize this book is a different take on our beloved heroes and so I’m willing to accept heroes like Wonder Woman and Cyborg acting harsher than usual.

If you’ve seen the video game, you know how radical some of the costumes are.  Batman’s works very well in this comic book, others, such as Catwoman’s, falls very flat.  Most of them are interesting variations on an already established theme, such as with Nightwing, Robin, and Green Arrow.

If you’re a DC super hero fan, I think you’ll enjoy this title.  Sure, it explores ideas already established by titles such as Kingdom Come and Red Son, but it does so more deeply and at a much more satisfying pace.  In fact, that’s how I would describe this title – very satisfying.

I cannot wait to check out the rest of this series’ installments.

Concerning Star Wars: Rebels

Before I begin, it should be noted I’m thirty-eight years old – born in 1977.  I grew up watching the original Star Wars movies.  I clearly remember seeing Return Of the Jedi in the movie theater.  My older brother, best friend, and I loved the action figures, vehicles, and sets.  I had lunch boxes, masks, we’d make our own lightsabers out of wrapping paper rolls … you get the idea.

When Lucas unveiled the second set of films with The Phantom Menace, I was in my early twenties and, well, it just didn’t quite feel the same.  Maybe it was because I was older, maybe it’s because the films lacked some of the magic … it was probably a combination of the two.

I thought The Clone Wars cartoons were neat, but they didn’t really capture my interest and demand my loyalty.  Again, perhaps it was because of my ever-increasing age, but I think it also had to do with the fact that Anakin Skywalker didnt’ really interest me.  Darth Vader interests me – does even to this day – but not Anakin.  In my mind, Anakin was backstory, and it wasn’t until he began to turn in Revenge Of the Sith that he really started to grow on me.  I knew The Clone Wars cartoons dealt primarily with Anakin before the turn, so I wasn’t all that into it.

So here we are.  I started seeing commercials for Star Wars: Rebels during my own kids’ cartoons and I thought they looked interesting, mainly because of the astro droid, Chopper.  He cracked me up in the little commercials.  Unfortunately, I never made the time to check an episode out.

Until last week.

I decided to watch the first episode last week, and it hooked me right off the bat.  I can absolutely tell you why – it all looks familiar.  For better or worse, this is my Star Wars.  I see the creatures from my Star Wars, I see the vehicle designs, I see my Stormtroopers, I see the retro/funky hairstyles and facial hair, I see the weird tattered clothing mixed with armor and technology, I see the weapons, the architecture.  It’s amazing.

And though the main characters are new, they are extremely likable and charismatic.  Ezra is our orphan runaway, Kanan is our space cowboy, Zeb is our rough monster with the heart of gold, Sabine is our graffiti and explosives artist with the Boba Fett helmet, Hera is our cool-under-pressure pilot, and Chopper is our malcontent, possibly demented, droid.  When we learn that Kanan is a surviving Jedi, and Ezra has potential as his apprentice, it ups the coolness even more.  For example, I grinned from ear to ear the episode Ezra earned his lightsaber.

Plus, though the stories focus on this group of rebels, we get plenty of cameos from old favorites such as Lando, C-P30, R2-D2, wookies, Grand Moff Tarkin, and Senator Organa.

There’s also a new Sith known as the Inquisitor, and he’s awesome.  It’s like they combined Darth Vader and Darth Maul to come up with him.  I’m not complaining – I love the guy.  I hope he lasts a long while.

The story takes place five years before Star Wars: A New Hope, and even though it’s a cartoon, if you’re an old fan like me, you’ll love it.  It’s just flat-out fun.

I hope you’ll give it a try, especially because if you stick it out to the last episode, you will be handsomely rewarded with the greatest Star Wars character of all time.

 

Son by Lois Lowry – A Book Review

I read The Giver in high school and adored it.  I loved its abstract nature while still rooting itself mostly in reality.  I recently watched the film adaptation, and doing so inspired me to revisit the book.  Because three companion pieces came out between the time I read the original work and the movie, I felt compelled to read the entire quartet.

Gathering Blue and The Messenger proved to be a rather large departure from The Giver, happening in the same “universe” but still only loosely related.  Both of those books leaned far more into the realm of fantasy than science fiction, and I frankly had trouble connecting to the ambiguous morality tale they assumed.

Son, however, offered the best of both worlds.  It begins in The Giver’s community, but it ends in the village of the other two books.  As most will agree, Son is a direct companion piece to The Giver as it initially occurs parallel to Jonas’ story.  It follows Claire’s story, a birth-mother who doesn’t last long at her assignment.  She yearns to be with her only child, which is a rarity in the community, and takes drastic action to do so.  However, she’s beaten to the punch by Jonas, and it becomes fairly obvious rather quickly that Claire is Gabe’s mother.  It seems Gabe was destined to live as it is revealed he had two protectors all along.

Once Gabe is taken, Claire decides to do anything to be with her son.  Through a series of hardships and obstacles, and though it takes years, she eventually makes her way to The Messenger’s village where Gabe is now a hearty young man.  Claire, unfortunately, is now unrecognizable thanks to a vicious evil, an evil which Jonas declares Gabe must eradicate.

When I initially read The Giver, I related to Jonas as he was similar in age and temperament.  Interestingly enough, I now relate to Claire as I am the father of two children myself.  I understand her innate need to be with her child, to love her child, to protect her child at all costs.

Son utilizes both science fiction and fantasy as it begins heavily with the former and ends almost exclusively with the latter.  I personally found it ended more akin to a fable than anything, and I honestly felt disappointment as Claire took a backseat to Gabe when the story became his.  I cannot argue, though, that it ties the previous three books together nicely and answers some frustrating questions introduced in The Messenger.

Son is a worthy conclusion to The Giver even if it is a departure in both tone and theme.  I am so glad to know Jonas and Gabe’s fate, and Claire cemented herself as a pinnacle character in the series as well.  I have no doubt young adults will particularly relish Lowry’s tale of overcoming evil, the enduring love of family, and the call of morality we all should heed.