Friday, October 13, 2017

9 - AND COUNTING

The countdown continues!


In 9 months, my Beast will be born! Yes, Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge hits bookstores on July 10, 2019.


In the meantime, feast your eyes on my Beast of the Month in this gorgeous illustration of Beauty and the Beast by contemporary artist Toshiaki Kato.


Kato does not apparently have a website of his own, but you can see more of his beauteous illustrations here.


His work is featured in an item called Genshin/Japanese Anime Art Book, which is mostly available on eBay. I have no other information about him.

But Holy Moly, what a cool image!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

BEING HUMAN

Life still mysterious is thoughtful sequel Blade Runner 2049

You don't need an encyclopedic knowledge of the original to enjoy this 30-years-later sequel to Ridley Scott's groundbreaking sci-fi epic.

The new movie tells its own story, with a (mostly) new cast of characters, although the main plot thrust was launched in the original.

But there's enough context to make sense to latecomers, while longtime fans will have lots of new fodder for speculation in how it all plays out.

Incoming director Denis Villeneuve (in close collaboration with exec-producer Scott), sticks to the original theme of the first film and the Philip K. Dick story that inspired it: an existential question of the meaning of life when a breed of super-strong, machine-made androids, called "replicants," have been created to serve the master race of humans.

Ir-replicantable: Rutger Hauer in the original
The movie's two-hours and 43-minutes allow plenty of time to brood over the issue of what constitutes "real" life, and it's worth pondering. Yet, respect for the miracle of life itself, expressed with such aching eloquence in the original film, never feels quite as profound here.

We never feel that urgent sense of loss the renegade replicants felt in the first film, battling for their sense of human identity in the face of extinction.

Still, the movie resonates in its own way as its central mystery evolves — especially when LAPD blade runner Ryan Gosling unearths startling evidence that a replicant has given birth.

And it's great to see Harrison Ford revisiting one of his best signature roles. His testy, cynical ex-blade runner, Deckard, plays well against Gosling's smooth aplomb as they become unexpected allies in pursuit of the truth.
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Sunday, October 8, 2017

DIG IT

Beloved Santa Cruz artist Beth Gripenstraw's creative energy is so boundless, and her wacky muse so insistent, it's not enough for her to produce her gorgeous, hand-painted ceramic plates, bowls, cups, serving platters, jars, cups and earrings.

She also has to create an entire thematic environment in which to show them off at her Open Studio every year. The theme might be an African safari, or an underwater adventure a la 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

One year, it was my personal favorite, Paris in the 1920s. She even served absinthe!  

This year, her extravagant set-up is an archeological dig in the desert. The front door is transformed into a recently opened Egyptian tomb, guarded by a pair of carved 'stone" big-cat sentinels.

The foyer inside is littered with pots — some strewn about, some reduced to shards, but others vibrantly painted and gloriously intact!

Life-sized camels lounge about the walkway leading to the site, er, studio. And inside — room after room of fabulous pottery, often displayed on giant packing crates, ready to be shipped off to museums worldwide.

A trio of Bedouin women, in elaborate costumes and headdresses keep watch in the dining room display.

Thematic designs this year include dragonflies and scarab beetles, reflecting the artist's background in botanical illustration. These are grouped alongside her ever-popular floral, fish, and animal designs.

For refreshment, there are camel-shaped cookies! (As you can see, below, I ate most of mine before I remembered to photograph it!) For the more adventurous, munch on freeze-dried insects, washed down with a Camel's Milk cocktail.

Every Open Studio is an event at Beth's place! Santa Cruz is lucky to have her.

Souvenirs from the site: security pass, camel shard, and half a cookie!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

HIGHER GROUND

Intriguing fantasia on King's last hours in SCAT production The Mountaintop

We all know how the story ends. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. crusader of the civil rights movement, tireless advocate for social justice and racial equality through peaceful protest, inspiration to millions, was shot to death outside his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.

Those are the facts. But what may or may not have occurred on the night of April 3, Dr. King's last night on earth, is a matter of pure conjecture. That's the challenge taken up in The Mountaintop, the award-winning 2009 drama from Memphis-born playwright Katori Hall receiving its local premiere in an intriguing new Santa Cruz Actors' Theatre production at Center Stage.

A Columbia grad who received her MFA from Harvard, then graduated from the playwriting program at Julliard, Hall has the audacity to imagine King's final hours as a dialogue between the road-weary civil rights leader and a pretty young motel maid on her first day on the job.

Hall surprises the audience with a portrait of King that dares to be both laudatory and iconoclastic, viewing him as more human than saint, while celebrating his profound effect on the fight for freedom and justice for which he finally gave his life.

Wills and Cruse: sassy and subversive

The SCAT production, well-directed by local stage veteran Erik Gandolfi, begins with the civil rights leader returning to his motel room after delivering a speech to the striking sanitation workers he's come to town to support. King (played with energetic presence by Avondina Wills), eager to get to work on the next speech he's writing, has sent his roommate, Ralph Abernathy, out to the corner store to buy a pack of the Pall Malls he's trying to quit smoking.

When he calls room service for a cup of coffee, it's delivered by a starstruck young maid called Camae (sassy and ultimately commanding Sarah Cruse). As luck would have it, she has a couple of Pall Malls in her pocket; he persuades her to have a smoke with him, and they bring out the flirt in each other — even though she has to keep apologizing for swearing in front of a preacher whenever her salty street vocabulary slips out.

The stage seems to be set for debate along gender, class, and political lines. And for awhile, that's how it goes, especially when they discuss the violence of the Black Panthers vs. King's allegiance to peaceful protest. But there's a seismic shift when Camae's true nature and her purpose are suddenly revealed. It's too good a plot twist to give away here, but it gives Hall's play its slyly subversive edge as it ramps up toward its moving conclusion.
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Monday, October 2, 2017

NET WORTH

King-Riggs tennis match scores in entertaining Battle of the Sexes

At 29, Billie Jean King was the top-ranked woman tennis player in the world, making waves on the pro circuit by demanding promoters offer women players the same prize money they offered male players.

Bobby Riggs was a 55-year-old former tennis champ, and shameless self-promoting media hustler. When he challenged her to a duel on the tennis court in 1973, the whole world was literally watching.

It was billed as the "Battle of the Sexes," a symbolic milestone in the then-burgeoning women's movement.

And now their match-up comes to the big screen in this thoughtful and entertaining movie about gender, identity, politics, and celebrity at a pivotal cultural moment in American history, written by Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire), and directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (Little Miss Sunshine).

The real Bobby and Billie Jean. Guess who had the muscle?
Emma Stone is poised and terrific as Billie Jean, who starts her own tour with eight other female champions when a smug promoter refuses to pay the women players as much as their male counterparts.

(The other women players are so excited to get their own tour, they each sign on for one dollar.)

The publicity generated by the tour attracts gadfly Bobby (Steve Carell), who, since his heyday in the late 1940s and '50s, has been living off high-profile exhibition matches — and the inherited income of his wealthy wife.

Billie Jean rejects Bobby's first offer. Long-married to her college sweetheart, she's too busy coping with a her sudden, intense attraction to Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough), here portrayed as a hairdresser who comes on tour with the female pros.

Stone and Carell: match point
But when Bobby starts talking a lot of trash about the male being "the superior animal," Billie Jean instructs her manager-husband, "Call the bozo. Tell him it's on."

Carell plays Bobby with gusto, in all his gross excess, and yet there's unexpected charm in his brash exuberance, vowing to "put the show back in chauvinism!"

A vintage soundtrack keeps the action bubbling along, and clothes and hairstyles replicate the era perfectly.

But despite the hi-jinks, the subject of gender inequality (let alone embracing one's sexual orientation) remains serious throughout — and as pertinent now as ever.
(Read more)