Friday, July 29, 2011

Fast Five Friday: Sad Movies

Thanks again to Squilla's Aunt for guest posting on Tuesday. Her post got me thinking about some of my favorite moments in movies, those moments that make me feel.....something. Judging by the comments left for Squilla, a lot of those movie moments make us sad.

Then on Wednesday, I saw something on Twitter about the saddest movie of all time. Apparently there has been actual research conducted to determine the saddest scene in film history, and that scene is the ending of Franco Zeffirelli's The Champ. Embedding was disabled, but here's the link if you want to check it out.

Sometimes a sad movie is just what we need, a form of catharsis if you will. There are a lot of great sad movies, but these are my top five.

5) Marley and Me: I had no intention of ever watching this movie, but Meg and I came across it on cable one night. It was one of those nights when we couldn't find anything else, so we settled. I'm glad we did. This is one of those movies that took me by complete surprise. I've lived with dogs most of my life, and this movie reminded me that dogs truly are members of the family.

4) Ordinary People: This is a devastating movie. Timothy Hutton was perfect, but OP was really the Mary Tyler Moore Show (sorry, couldn't help myself). Maybe the best performance by an actress of all-time.

3) Up: I know this is an animated movie, but I wouldn't call it a kids' movie. This is filmmaking at its finest. There are two scenes in Up that get me every time: the married life montage in the beginning and the scene near the end when Carl is flipping through Ellie's adventure book. Simply beautiful.

2) Mask: We all knew how this one was going to end, but it was inspiring to see how Rocky Dennis made the most of his life.

1) Life is Beautiful: There are many great films about World War II and the Holocaust in particular, but this is my favorite. Roberto Benigni is brilliant as the father who convinces his son they are playing a game while being held prisoner in a concentration camp. This movie proves that there are few things more beautiful than a parent's love for their child.

Man, I get verklempt just thinking about these movies. Let me know what you think about my choices, and I hope you share some of your favorite sad movies as well.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Harry Potter and Movie Moments

Earlier this summer I put out a request for guest bloggers, and three kind souls answered the call. If you haven't read the two previous guest posts from David and Munk, they are definitely worth a look. Today's guest is known on the blog as Squilla's Aunt. She doesn't have her own blog, so she is really putting herself out there with this post. Let's give her some love in the comments.

I went to see Harry Potter 7, Part 2 opening weekend. I read all the books, saw all the movies, and was really anticipating this one. So much so, in fact, that I brought a pack of Kleenexes. The book gets me every time, in two specific places (and these shouldn’t be spoilers to anyone, should they? Consider yourself duly warned, if you haven’t finished reading Book 7: SPOILERS AHEAD, for the book and the movie.): first, when Harry is walking to meet Voldemort in the forest, and his parents and Sirius appear to him. Second, when Book 7 ends, with Harry as an adult, waving at his kids on the Hogwarts train.

The forest scene was so unexpected for me and was so touching – the parents coming to support their son, to give him courage when he needed it most. Isn’t that what we all want at the end? The knowledge that we are loved and not alone?

And then there’s the train station scene. It was the end of all of it, the final goodbye, and a wave of grief just rose up in me reading through it. When the last words were read, it couldn’t be undone. All those of you who have loved a book, loved a character, loved the world that was created within the book – you know what I’m talking about.

So back to the Kleenexes. I was prepared for those two scenes – prepared for them to move me to tears, to see and feel them in all their visual glory on the big screen. But one of the things I love most about books and movies is when out of nowhere, there’s a moment, and it just ambushes you.

For me, watching the movie, the moment was when the professors began to use all their experience, knowledge and strength to cast a protective web around Hogwarts. There was something so powerful about it – when those who had bided their time under evil began to step out and fight. And then the students joined in, taking up their own wands and standing side-by-side with their elders, as full partners in the fight.

Doesn’t sound like much, I know. I’m not going to be able to describe what it did in me or do it justice. I don’t even expect that it will be “the moment” for anyone else. But for me, that was when the Kleenexes came out, that’s when it all came alive for me, that’s what will stick.

What was one of your ‘moments’? What book, what film, had a moment that ambushed you, that sticks with you even now?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Fast Five Friday: To Tweet Or Not To Tweet

When I first heard about Twitter, it just sounded like a bunch of people sharing way too much information. I doubted any meaningful communication could happen in 140 characters or less.

I started an account just to see what it was all about, but my account sat idle for months. Things changed last summer when a friend of mine told me I should be using Twitter to promote the blog. For the last year or so, I’ve been Tweeting when I have a new post on the blog, and I can see on Blogger stats that quite a few people link to the blog from Twitter.

Along the way, I’ve been Tweeting more frequently, just random things about reading, sports, music, whatnot. My new phone has a Twitter app, and I have to admit, I dig it.

There’s a lot of crap on Twitter to be sure, but that’s life isn’t it. We learn how to filter out the crap and focus on what we like. Turns out, there’s a lot I like on Twitter. If you do Twitter, here are 5 Voices From the Stream worth following.

5) Walter Kirn/@walterkirn: If you like your social media with a dose of skepticism, Kirn is your man. Walter’s tweets (and his blog) are often glorious rants. He is concerned about the evils of social media even as he proves himself to be a master of using it.

4) Ayelet Waldman/@ayeletw: Waldman is a writer and a serial tweeter. She might fall into the category of TMI for some people, and her politics are way to the left, but I find her funny and insightful. Her tweets often contain links to interesting articles.

3) Peter King/@SI_PeterKing: This is my sports fix. King reports on the NFL, but he comments on all sports like an average fan. He responds to questions and comments from followers.

2) Katie Rosman/@katierosman: I have a Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon type connection to Rosman, but I think I’d follow her anyway. She writes a lifestyle column for the Wall Street Journal and her tweets are frequent and funny.

1) Roger Ebert/@ebertchicago: I grew up watching Siskel and Ebert, and I’ve always respected Ebert’s opinion when it comes to movies. He’s much more than a movie critic on Twitter; his thoughts cover a wide range of topics. Ebert may tweet more than anyone on the planet.

I’ve connected with a few people from the blog on Twitter, and if you’re interested, my Twitter handle is @triles.

Have you embraced Twitter or do you detest it with all your heart? If you know of some cool Tweeters to follow, feel free to mention them in the comments.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Beginning of the End?

I’m sure most of you have heard that Borders is going out of business. The news broke Monday afternoon, and it got me thinking about the future of books. My last post highlighted five great independent bookstores, and a number of people added their favorites in the comments (thank you very much by the way). I know there are a lot of great bookstores still out there, but I can’t help wondering if the fall of Borders is the beginning of the end for brick and mortar bookstores.

For the record, I’ve bought a lot of books at Borders over the years. My daughters love the place. Going to Borders was one of those things we did together, and those are memories I’ll always cherish. I know I just wrote about my love of independent bookstores and all, but I have to admit, I’m going to miss Borders.

Borders isn’t the first casualty of the digital revolution, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Barnes and Noble may stick around for a while, but eventually it too will be steamrolled by the ebook. My guess is that some of the independents will survive for people who still want to read books the old-fashioned way.

As much as I love a great bookstore, I wonder if I’ll be one of those people. The thing is, I think I might be falling in love with ebooks. I got this fancy new smart phone this summer, and it came with an Amazon Kindle app. I got an Amazon gift card for my birthday, and I bought a couple books, just to check out what all the fuss is about. I recently finished reading the first one, and I have to say, it was an enjoyable reading experience.

So while it’s sad to think that Borders is just the beginning of the end for brick and mortar bookstores, I can’t deny the appeal of ebooks. I will continue to buy physical books, supporting independent bookstores as long as they’re around. I will also continue to buy more digital books, embracing the future despite longing for the past.

Have you embraced ebooks, or are you deadest against them? Do you think bookstores can stay viable in a digital world?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Fast Five Friday: Independent Spirit

One of the highlights of our summer trip is going to the bookstore in Copper Harbor, Michigan. The store is called Grandpa’s Barn, but it’s really more of a quaint little log cabin. The woman who operates the store does a great job of selecting books. We spend a lot of time in bookstores throughout the year, but without fail, we find hidden gems at Grandpa’s Barn. We never leave without making a dent in the inventory, doing our best to help the store’s bottom line.

Driving back from Grandpa’s Barn the other day, I got to thinking about independent bookstores. There’s a lot of talk in our digital times about the demise of bookstores, but I have to believe there will always be a place for well-run independents. Here are five great independent bookstores that I hope are around for a very long time.

5) Antigone – Tucson, AZ: This store is located on 4th Avenue in the heart of the University of Arizona campus. I don’t get down there as much as I should, but every time I do, I find great books. My wife once showed up to a Barbara Kingsolver reading so early she was afraid the store’s employees might think she was stalking Kingsolver.

4) Powell’s Books – Portland, OR: I’ve been to Portland twice in my life, which means I’ve been to Powell’s twice in my life. Powell’s is huge, occupying an entire city block in downtown Portland. Without the benefit of any data, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Powell’s is the most successful independent bookstore in the country. If it’s not, I’d like to see the independent bookstore that’s doing better.

3) The Wild Rumpus – Minneapolis, MN: You have to love a place that takes its name from Where the Wild Things Are. The Wild Rumpus is a children’s bookstore, complete with all kinds of animals running around and on display. The store has an iconic entrance, a door within a door for the kiddos.

2) Grandpa’s Barn - Copper Harbor, MI: A Keweenaw Peninsula treasure.

1) Singing Wind Bookshop – Benson, AZ: This one is WAY off the beaten path. Benson is about 30 miles east of Tucson, and Singing Wind is located on the outskirts, down a long private dirt road. When you get to the end of the road, you’ll find a fully functional cattle ranch. The bookstore itself is a series of rooms in Winn Bundy's home, and she will gladly show you around. Winn specializes in all things Southwestern, but her interests are diverse, and you’re sure to find a book you need to have. Singing Wind has been written up in the New York Times, and people from all over the world have purchased books at this truly unique place.

The independent spirit is still alive and kicking at these amazing bookstores. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, make sure you stop in and spend a little money. You’ll be richer for the experience.

If you know of any other great independent bookstores, be sure to tell us about them in the comments.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

You Gotta Have GUTS!

The Rileys attended the 54th Annual International GUTS Frisbee Tournament this past weekend in Calumet, Michigan. I’ll do my best to describe the action, but if you really want to know more about GUTS Frisbee, give it a Google.

GUTS (not an acronym-the caps are simply a sign of respect) is a team game. There are 5 players on a team (2 subs rotate in). Each team stands in a straight line, an arm’s length apart. 15 yards separate the teams, and a point is scored if the Frisbee makes it through the opposing team’s defenses. 15 yards isn’t that far, and let me tell ya, a well-thrown Frisbee is seriously moving. Defenders can only use one hand to grab the Frisbee, thus blocking the other team from scoring. If you’ve got some serious hand-eye coordination, you can snatch the Frisbee out of mid-air, but a lot of the time, someone simply bats the Frisbee in the air, hoping someone else on the team will then be able to grab it. It’s not uncommon for the Frisbee to be batted around numerous times until it’s tame enough to be firmly grasped. There’s more to it of course, but that’s the general idea: people throwing Frisbees at each other-really hard.

Apparently the game has become quite big in Japan, and two of the top Japanese teams played in this year’s tournament. One of the Japanese teams was selling their club Frisbee to raise money for tsunami relief back home. We bought one and all the members of the team signed it for us. The only female competitor was one of the Japanese players, and she kindly took a few pictures with the kids.

Back in the 60s, my father-in-law and a bunch of his buddies in Michigan’s UP created GUTS. In fact, we found out that he’s in the USGPA GUTS Frisbee Hall of Fame for his role in the birth of the game. He’ll tell you the game is a lot different now, but then again, aren’t they all. GUTS is a niche sport, to say the least, but more than 50 years later, they’re still throwing Frisbees at each other in the UP and beyond.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Fast Five Friday: Munk Style

I am pleased to introduce today's guest blogger, Munk Davis. I can't remember when I first came across Munk's blog, but I knew right away he was an original, a blogging maverick if you will. If you aren't following Munk already, check him out and become a follower today. Without further ado, here's the man himself.

Hi y’all,

My name is Munk and I am guest posting for Tim this week. Buckle up; you may be in for a bumpy ride.

I often find documentaries more entertaining than feature films. They make me uncomfortable, they inspire me, and they make me think. Rather than listing just five, I’m breaking the rules and shot-gunning as many favorites as I can think of. If you are not a regular doc-watcher and don’t know where to start, have no fear, I will **star** a few that I think exemplify the art.

**Surfwise (2007): The story of the surfing Paskowitzs’ and their alternative lifestyle deserves every inch of its R-rating and all of your attention. I once described it as 45-minutes of “Why can’t I just quit my job and live like that?” and 45-minutes of “holy-s—t, that’s why.”

**The Times of Harvey Milk (1984): The story of Harvey Milk told through interviews and images of the day. I found it more affecting than “Milk”. I first saw this film in 1985 and the river of candles, near the end of the film, still chokes me up today.

**Tyson (2008): Love him or hate him, this bio-doc will help you understand him. A truly sensational work of editing proves the man’s dominance in the ring, both psychologically and physically.

**The Fog of War (2005): A riveting view through the unblinking eyes of Robert McNamara. He is aging; he is brilliant, at times he is detached and scary, as one of the “Harvard whiz-kids” he was hired by Kennedy as the U.S. Secretary of Defense. He was good at his job.

**Exit through the Gift Shop (2010): Take a spin through the world of guerrilla street art and hypocrisy. One hour of, “hey that’s cool,” and 30-minutes of, “You have got to be f’ing kidding me!” Banksy’s comments are brilliant.

*My Architect (2003): A brilliant expose on Louis Kahn and his architecture. You will come away enlightened.

Visual Acoustics: the Modernism of Julian Shulman (2008): If you enjoy the modern architecture movement of the late 50’s and 60’s you must love Julian Shulman.

*Dust to Glory (2005) and Step into Liquid (2003): Two very fun, high-action documentaries that even the kids might like (but you’ll want to check the language ratings). Dana Brown wrote and directed both (Dana is the son of Bruce Brown, the documentarian famous for On any Sunday and The Endless Summer… ). These are sports movies for the casual fan.

It Might Get Loud (2008): What happens when you put Jimmy Page, Jack White, and The Edge in a London warehouse with amplifiers and axes? It might get loud… a pure joy to watch.

Food Inc. (2008): Michael Pollan in your living room.

King Corn (2007): Inspiration for my book.

Clear Cut: The Story of Philomath, Oregon (2006): A story about my little town, the logging industry, talking to God, and the cost of higher education (this one might be tough for you to find, but worth it).

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage (2010): Three nerdy Canucks, a whole lot of music, and one great movie.

Man on Wire (2008): Phillippe Petit strings tight ropes between really high things and then walks across them. This movie made the backs of my knees tingle. Come down from there you idiot, before somebody gets hurt.

*The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002): The story of Paramount’s legendary producer Robert Evans. This very engaging bio-doc was one of the first to manipulate still pictures to create visual depth.

*No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (2005): Just when you thought you couldn't like Bob Dylan more.

Honorable mentions: Spellbound, Mad Hot Ballroom, Word Wars, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, Super Size Me, Little Dieter needs to Fly, Jesus Camp, The Civil War, and Baseball.

Do you have any favorites?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Guest Post: A Brit at life of riles

Hope everyone had a great Fourth of July. Last week I put out an open call for guest bloggers, and I'll be running posts from the kind souls who took me up on the offer the next couple of weeks. There's still time to get in on the guest posting thing if you're interested, so don't be shy.

My first guest is David Macaulay from Brits in the USA. David is one of the first bloggers I followed way back when I started hanging out in BlogWorld. His writing is funny, insightful, and quite often poetic. If you aren't following David, stop by his blog and become a follower as soon as possible. David sent along something that he had previously posted that fits nicely with my last Fast Five about moments from the road. Feel free to leave David a comment and maybe share some of the quirky places you've come across in your travels.

I always love to find a naff tourist attraction so imagine my joy on the way to Williamsburg today when I took a wrong turn and found Presidents Park.

The site of a collection of gigantic white heads in a wooded glade was enough for me to cut across a few lanes of traffic clutching my camera, almost causing a six vehicle pile up.

Presidents Park closed down last September when it ran out of money. I assumed it had been there for decades but apparently it only opened up as a tourist attraction in 2006.

In presidential terms it would be William Henry Harrison, the ninth president of the United States who decided not to wear a coat or hat when he took the oath of office on a rainy day and made a two hour speech. A month later he died of pneumonia.

On a sunny March day the heads were quietly gathering mold and bird droppings in silence while the fence around them was steadily rusting away. Nobody cared about these big old presidents gathered in beffudlement under the trees. I was amazed by the size of the busts but less so by their craftsmanship.

As one reader rather drily described Presidents Park beneath an article describing its demise it was like "Easter Island for the lame."

Apparently there are 43 giant busts in the park and that of the 44th president lies unfinished in a workshop somewhere.

Owners of the park said failure to secure the 44th bust was a tipping point, and the Obama statue, would have been a huge boon to the business, possibly even saving the park.

Oh really. It's not as if Barack Obama is ever on TV is it?

The mind boggles about what the park's owners are going to do with these giant busts. It's not your average member of the public who will say: "Forget the garden gnome Mavis. Let's get a 20 foot high bust of James Polk for the rockery."

Ever since the Griswalds went on the hunt for the world's largest ball of string, I've been somewhat fascinated by America's strangest and naffest tourist attractions, not to the point of obsessing at 4 a.m. or anything.

The string ball was fiction but apparently the world's largest twine ball can be seen in Darwin, Minnesota. When in Minnesota and all that, I guess.

More correctly it's known as the "World's Largest Twine Ball Rolled By One Man" because a rival twine ball in Cawker City, Kansas, is regularly added-to by visitors and townspeople. Darwin feels that this is cheating.

Someone should perhaps have told twine man to get a life. But obviously he didn't. Apparently the creator died of emphysema, and the townsfolk figured 30 years of exposure to twine dust, did for him.

Other gems are contained in a website of the worst tourist attractions in America. They include Seattle's wall of brightly colored chewing gum, the world's largest ball of paint (sadly the world's largest hairball disintegrated, after choking a few dozen cats), The Barbed Wire Museum in Texas, The National Museum of Funeral History (another naff Texas museum), and South Dakota's Corn Palace which looks like a mosque but is a veritable shrine to corn.

You have to be a special kind of person to want to visit these places, either that or you have to live in somewhere like South Dakota.

All of which makes those busts of presidents or the tedious model villages I used to be dragged around back in England as a kid, suddenly seem like a great day out.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Fast Five Friday: On the Road

I was on the road most of this week with my father-in-law and my dog. We left Tucson Monday morning and pulled into Minneapolis Thursday afternoon. There are certain things that stood out, fresh memories to add to the slide show in my mind, one big road trip continually building on itself.

Here are my top five memories from my week on the road:

5) Mexican Hat: This is a little town in Utah, one of those blink and you miss it kind of places. The town is named after a rock formation that does indeed bare a strong resemblance to a sombrero.

4) Cornfields in Iowa: Maybe it’s my Midwestern upbringing, but there’s just something about the sight of cornfields stretching to the horizon that stirs my soul.

3) Elk: We saw a number of elk while driving through the Rockies, but the highlight was a mother and her calf that we saw while visiting my father-in-law’s friends in Estes Park.

2) Snow in June:  There was quite a bit of snow in the upper elevations of the Rockies. The girls had given me strict orders to take a picture of the dog in snow, and thankfully, mission accomplished.

1) Grass:  This one took me by surprise. I was walking the dog at a rest stop in Iowa. As I walked through the grass in my sandals, I could feel the dew on my feet. The sensation triggered memories of early mornings from my youth, the promise of good things to come.

What are some of your favorite memories from recent travels?