Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Sequels

One cozy, rainy Sunday afternoon when I lived in Vancouver I was working on my latest, slightly over ambitious craft project.  To pass the time while cutting out little stars on handmade birthday invitations (oh so many stars), I flipped on the TV.  And promptly began my happy dance.  You’ve Got Mail was on!  I settled in to watch, while my wonderful then-husband went out for the afternoon.  When he got back home hours later, I was still watching You’ve Got Mail.  So naturally, he asked, “how is this movie possibly still on?”  To which I had to shamefully (well, not really) admit that TBS was having one of its back to back movie repeats.  And that I was watching it…again.  Add that to the hundred times and counting I’d already seen it.  But that’s what you do when you just plain love a movie.  You love every quote, the whimsical music or the beautiful scenery; the main characters may even like the same books you like (got to love the Pride and Prejudice references in You’ve Got Mail).  So even though you’ve already memorized every precious part, you still want to watch it over and over again. 

Then one day you’re going along with your life and a trailer pops up on TV.  They’re making a sequel!  Huzzah!  Your excitement mounts (well, until you realize you have to wait another six months for it to be released).  In honour of that excitement, I’m dedicating this week’s Top Ten Tuesday to the Top Ten Sequels that most made me giddy in the weeks before their release.  Now, not all are necessarily the most Oscar worthy sequels ever made, but they will make you laugh.  And, of course, warm you up on a rainy, cozy Sunday.

1.      Father of the Bride & Father of the Bride Part II

Starring Steve Martin and the unbelievably lovable Diane Keaton, Father of the Bride and Father of the Bride II rank right up at the top of my family’s MUST WATCH REPEATEDLY list.  Based on the popular 1949 novel by Edward Streeter and the classic 1950s original film, FOTB gives us a glimpse into the serene life of George Banks (Martin); a life thrown into chaos when he reluctantly becomes the father of the bride in the wedding of his only daughter, Annie (Kimberly Williams).  Among the long list of things that endear these films to me is the unconditional love Banks exudes for his children – even when he’s busy losing his shit in the middle of crowded grocery store it’s wonderful to know it all comes from a place of fatherly concern.  And what great father doesn’t go a little nuts when the happiness of his kids is at stake?  As George’s wife Nina, Keaton gives another flawless performance, providing just the right calm to his crazy and giving both films an extra dose of heart, while wedding planner Franck Eggelhoffer (Martin Short) and his barely comprehensible foreign accent provide additional comic relief.  I could go on (obviously), but I think Roger Ebert reviewed it best when he said that FOTB is, simply “just everyday life, warmly observed.”  Well, it certainly warms my heart.

2.      Before Sunrise & Before Sunset

As one of the most graceful and subtle romantic films made in the 1990s, I never would have thought to dream that Before Sunrise would eventually inspire a sequel.  As a relatively unknown film, it just didn’t seem the sort.  But sometimes life sends you very pleasant surprises.  Nine years following its release, its starring actors, Ethan Hawke and Julie Deply, partnered with director Richard Linklater to continue their small labour of love.  After spending a single night together nine years earlier in Vienna, fated lovers Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Deply) come together again, this time in the City of Lights (and this time in the daytime).  In keeping with the original film’s eloquent, dialogue-fueled storyline, we get a refreshingly realistic look of where nine years of adult living can take two people who can’t escape the memory of one another.  Blissfully unadulterated fans of the films, such as myself, will also be happy to know the trio has announced a third installment in the year to come.  So keep on the lookout for trailers people!

3.      Sex and the City & Sex and the City II

There is little need to describe the depth and perfection achieved by the first Sex and the City movie.  If you were elated during its production and waited with bated breath for its release, I find it unlikely you came away from theatres disappointed.  With complex performances by all my favourite SATC regulars, and a few fabulous new faces as well (that’s right, I’m talking about you, Jennifer Hudson), I literally wanted to eat this movie with a spoon and from the moment the credits rolled was ready for seconds.  And although the second course undeniably missed the mark, I still just can’t help myself.  I savour any time spent with Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha, and their gorgeous, over the top couture.  (For fans of the series’ fantastic fashion, tune in to ABC Family on Tuesday nights for Jane by Design, a new show that boasts a cameo by SATC’s famed Costumer Designer, Patricia Field).

4.      My Girl & My Girl 2

My Girl was released in 1991.  I was seven years old and it was, for me, the examination of life and death that I imagine Lean on Me was for my brothers in the 80s.  In small town Pennsylvania in 1972, Vada Margaret Sultenfuss, a quirky and uniquely mature little girl, lives with her distant, undertaker father (Dan Aykroyd).  As charming and funny as this movie is, My Girl radiates a depth that could have easily been minimized and turned to fluff by a sequel.  But the 1992 follow-up did not disappoint as our heroine (because truly that is what Vada is to me) journeys to California to explore the life of her radiant mother, who died shortly after childbirth.  As well as unveiling how magical her mother was and how much she meant in the peculiar lives she touched, Vada discovers the bittersweet disenchantment of growing up and going home.  And, of course, meets a boy.

5.      How to Train Your Dragon & How to Train Your Dragon II

How to Train Your Dragon is probably the most out of place selection on my list because, well, its sequel has actually yet to be released.  It earned its position as number five, however, as a result of my incredibly eager anticipation of its sequel, which I sadly have to wait until June 20, 2014 to see!  The only upside to this long delay is that Finn will finally be old enough to attend movies with Mom and Dad, so yay for that.  Based on a series of young adult novels by British author Cressida Cowell, HTTYD tells the story of Berk, a seaside Viking village plagued by ruthless dragons, and its smallest and most awkward occupant, Hiccup (Jay Baruschel), who somehow manages to befriend the cutest dragon ever put to paper, Toothless.  In my opinion it is the most adorable and accessible animated film for children, while still managing to appeal to the sarcastic sensibilities of us grown-ups (that’s right, I’m counting myself as a grown-up now).  Since HTTYD is designed to be a part of a trilogy, we can only hope Dreamworks doesn’t disappoint in round two!

6.      Bridget Jones’s Diary & Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason

Since this is technically a book based blog and I have been lucky enough to attend a fair few book club meetings with our lovely Atlanta Lady Litwits, I know for a fact that our audience is very familiar with the brilliant novel Bridget Jones’s Diary by author Helen Fielding.  In making the transition from page to screen, BJD was fortunate enough to have lost none of its original charm.  In fact, we simply gain the opportunity to put a hilarious visual to the often unrefined escapades of London girl Bridget Jones and her search for the perfect man, career, and, well, panties.  And although Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason didn’t have quite the perfection of the original, it did include a slap fight between Colin Firth and Hugh Grant, which, if you ask me, was worth the price of admission alone.  The extra silver lining: look out for Bridget Jones’s Baby, appearing in theatres in 2013!

7.      Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants & Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants 2

Another fitting edition to our little book blog, the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants also began as a series of young adult novels.  The actresses chosen to bring to life the four effervescent young woman of SOTTP, could not have been better selected and will no doubt each earn a place of their own on the great list of Hollywood’s most promising up and comers (if Hollywood can get its act together).  America Ferrera, Alexis Bledel, Blake Lively, and Amber Tamblyn play friends from birth Carmen, Lena, Bridget, and Tibby, all very special and all very different.  For the first time in their lives, the foursome find themselves facing a summer apart.  But when they unearth a vintage pair of “magical” jeans that miraculously fit each and every one of them, from the beautifully curvaceous Carmen to the long and lean Bridget, they sudden have a gateway to keep them united across time and distance.

8.      Sleepless in Seattle & You’ve Got Mail

Okay, okay, okay.  You’ve Got Mail is not technically a sequel to the modern classic Sleepless in Seattle.  It does, however, follow a similar storyline (with a modern, updated twist), and was undeniably a carryover of director Nora Ephron’s ongoing professional love story with romantic leads Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.  In Sleepless in Seattle, the charming, but oh so 90s, frumpy Annie (Ryan) finds herself falling for single father Sam (Hanks) when she hears him on a phone-in radio show talking about the loss of his wife.  Five years (and much technological advancement later), Hanks and Ryan find love again in You’ve Got Mail as chat room pen pals Kathleen and Joe, blissfully unaware of each other’s true identities as rivals in the business of selling books.  Now, you can go on ahead and blame my youthfulness, but I actually saw the “sequel” before the original and it has found a place of indelible permanence on my list of favourite movies of all time (as I’m sure you caught on in the intro to this article).  I love everything about this movie.  I love getting to watch New York City move through Summer and Fall into Winter and lush, green Spring.  I love the slightly kitschy musical medley that my high school drama troupe ended up featuring in one of our shows.  I love the butterfly in the subway on his way to Bloomingdales (to buy a hat, of course).  And I love the books, all the books!  Charming.  That’s the only way to describe it…so see it, if you haven’t, and be charmed.

9.      Princess Diaries & Princess Diaries II: Royal Engagement

The Princes Diaries II and its predecessor are the first of two deeply guilty pleasures claiming spots on my list.  As well as being fun and silly (classic Disney, perfect for being re-run on ABC Family), these films marked the entry of Anne Hathaway into film making, where the powers that be thankfully discovered how talented an actress she truly is.  Hathaway stars as the clumsy Mia Thermopolis, hapless enough without the newfound discovery that she is, in fact, secretly the princess of a small European country called Genovia and the only heir to the Genovian throne.  Adding substance to these sweet films is the always royal grace of Julie Andrews who plays Mia’s long-lost grandmother Queen Clarisse Renaldi.

10.   Cheaper by the Dozen & Cheaper by the Dozen 2

Guilty pleasure number two comes with a confession.  I actually do not love the original Cheaper by the Dozen.  But take the crazy family of fourteen, fronted by Bonnie Hunt and Steve Martin as Mom and Dad Baker, on the road and into the woods for lake house fun, and I’m back on board.  Sometimes I ask myself why I like it so much.  Usually, the answer is something in the neighborhood of “I don’t know but Eugene Levy sure is a funny jackass.”  Either way, CBTD makes a good, wholesome treat when you get nostalgic for summer vacations with the family. 

Brooke’s Note:  Thanks so much to Victoria for kidnapping this week’s Top Ten List and morphing it into a fun movies post – always fabulous to add a little variety (spice of life and all).  TTT is hosted by the lovely people at The Broke and the Bookish, so go check out their regularly scheduled postings!

First Book of the New Year!

 

The votes are in and counted!  (Well, not by us, but by the awesome computer software that does the job for us.)  It was a tight race, with three of the four books claiming seven, eight, and nine votes and only one book receiving no votes at all (poor James Herriot).  Nevertheless, we have a winner.  We will be starting out the New Year with The Night Circus, the highly acclaimed current Times Bestseller by Erin Morgenstern.  Obviously we’re no strangers to the circus theme, having read (and watched) Water for Elephants only a few short Litwit months ago.  But The Night Circus seems to be a very different beast altogether, filled with mesmerizing illusions and spectacular feats of magic.  If Water for Elephants was made of dirt and sweat, The Night Circus promises to be made of gossamer and glitter. 

 As one of the nine original Lady Litwits, I was honoured and excited to decide on the list of books for January voting.  My goal was to provide a wide variety of choices and for each book to be one we’d all be enthusiastic to read.  One of the choices, I have to confess, already tops my list of Must Read books.  My relationship with Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God began when it was a mandatory read for my African American history class in university.  In the end, I had the good luck (and good sense) to fall absolutely in love with it.  Hurston’s originally underappreciated novel is one of the most simple, graceful, and soulful books I’ve ever been blessed enough to read.  So when you have the time, and if you have the inclination, read it!  I can almost guarantee you will be glad you did.

 Although I’ve technically never made it all the way through All Creatures Great and Small in one sitting, it’s also a novel I hold close to my heart, my Dad being a Brit himself and having spent a small portion of my childhood in the area about which Herriot writes.  If you love animals, Herriot’s care and tenderness for each creature he treats as a rural veterinarian will be sure to charm you.  All Creatures Great and Small is also one of the most precious and relaxing books on tape you can find, read by a sweet older British man.  I can’t think of a better accent to listen to for hours on end! 

 In making my final choice for January voting, I had to pay homage to my secret lover – Shakespeare.  But I didn’t want to totally bore you with my bordering on nerdy love of the Bard, so I thought A Thousand Acres, a modern Midwestern update on Shakespeare’s King Lear, would be a good compromise.   Written by famed author Jane Smiley, I was fascinated by the complex family relationships that beckoned from her Pulitzer Prize winning novel.  And by the opportunity to finally read King Lear itself.  All said, I hope I provided you with at least one interesting choice for our first 2012 Meetup and that you’re happy with the results of the voting!  We had a bit of a low turnout this voting session so be sure to take part in next month’s poll.  With close calls like this one you can be sure that every vote counts! 

Victoria’s Top Three Halloween Movies

Happy Weekend – Halloween is just around the corner!  In the spirit of the upcoming All Hallows Eve celebrations, I thought I’d blog my top three Halloween movies.  In case you don’t have plans for this wet and chilly Atlanta weekend, these festive films will provide plenty of entertainment.  And since I prefer sweet to scary, my top three are all pretty family friendly.  So make some popcorn, break into that Halloween candy (if you haven’t already), fix a pitcher of margaritas, and get cozy with these three charmers.
 

Hocus Pocus

Starring: Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Thora Birch, and Sean Murray
Released: July 16, 1993
Rated: PG
Running Time: 96 minutes
Favourite Quote: “No, no!  He’s a good zombie!”

 

When I first saw Hocus Pocus I was 9 years old.  It had just come out in theatres and I was beyond pumped to go and see it.  Ever since we learned about Salem, Massachusetts and the history of the witch trials that took place there in the 1600s, I was fascinated with all things bewitching.  So, I dragged my Mom and cousin, Ashley, to go and see it.  It still stands as one of my Mom’s favourite movies.  Ashley, on the other hand, got so scared she ran out of the theatre.  Let me be clear, though.  Hocus Pocus is not a scary movie.  It is a Disney movie.  And Ashley is a chicken.  Eighteen years later she still hasn’t seen it all the way through and needless to say, it has become a bit of a family joke.  On All Hallows Eve in 1663 Salem, three local witches lure a young girl out of the village to their cottage in the woods.  Sisters Mary, Sarah, and Winifred Sanderson (played by Kathy Najimy, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Bette Milder), keep themselves eternally young by sucking the lives out of children.  (I’m making it sound scary again.  I swear it’s not.)  But on this Halloween night, their luck runs out and they are captured by the torch-wielding townspeople and sentenced to hang for their crimes.  As they stand at the gallows, Winifred places a curse on the city of Salem.  On Halloween night, the one night in which spirits can return from the grave.  A virgin will light the magical black flame candle, giving them until dawn to regain their powers.  Amazingly, it takes 300 years for such a virgin to do just that.  And for what reason you might ask?  Oh, you know, to look tough and impress a girl (cause that’s how we roll in 1993).  Max Dennison (Omri Katz), his sister Dani (Thora Birch), and Max’s high school crush Alison (Vinessa Shaw) must keep the children of Salem safe from the witches until dawn’s light can turn the three back into dust.  And since no Halloween movie is complete without a black cat, they are aided by the help of Thackery Binx (NCIS’s Sean Murray), a 17th century Salem boy cursed to live as an adorable talking feline for the rest of eternity.  Although I probably didn’t fully appreciate it at the time (what with being so busy checking out the cute boys), the true star of Hocus Pocus is undeniably Bette Midler.  She sings; she dances; she cracks the best one liners.  Is there anything the woman can’t do?  She is the leader of the terrible coven, the brains behind the operation, allowing Parker and Najimy, in their roles as truly idiotic sidekicks, to provide additional comic relief, which they do well.  Parker, as the boy-crazy youngest sister, also brings a little bit of much needed sex appeal to the group (possibly a good practice round for her role in Sex and the City).  However, as brilliantly funny as Hocus Pocus is, what sticks with me as an adult is the love Max has for his sister and how he is willing to do whatever it takes to protect her.  The great balance seems to strike so well between heart and funny bone is rarely shown better than with Hocus Pocus.

 Casper

Starring: Christina Ricci and Bill Pullman
Released: May 26, 1995
Rated: PG
Running Time: 100 minutes
Favourite Quote: “Cinderella wasn’t 12 years old.”

 

Although I can’t claim to have been a fan of the Casper comic books, or even the cartoons, the 1995 film became an instant classic in my house.  I must have watched it every day for two months the summer before 8th grade – and not just because I had a massive crush on Devon Sawa, who makes a surprise appearance at the end of the movie.  After all these years, Casper is still one of those movies I can watch again and again.  The recently widowed Dr. James Harvey (Bill Pullman) and his teenage daughter Kat (Christina Ricci) travel across the country, moving from city to city where Dr. Harvey works as a psychiatrist for the “living impaired,” hoping one day to discover the ghost of his deceased wife.  After their latest stint in Santé Fe, Dr. Harvey is called to Friendship, Maine where Carrigan Crittenden (Cathy Moriarty), your typical Cruella de Vil style villain, is trying to rid the supremely cool and supremely creepy Whipstaff Manor of its ghostly inhabitants.  Crittenden and her ridiculous assistant Dibbs (played by Monty Python’s own Eric Idle, are desperate to gain entrance to the haunted mansion to search for the treasure supposedly hidden inside.  As resident troublemakers, ghosts Stretch, Stinkie, and Fatso, make it just a little bit difficult for them.  Casper haunts Whipstaff along with his offensive ghostly uncles and, true to form, just wants to make some friends.  Christina Ricci, who performed most of her scenes alone on set, plays the part of Kat wonderfully.  In 1995, when Casper was released, she was undeniably the it-girl of the moment for young adult movies.  I’ve always loved her movies; from the coming of age Now and Then to the lesser known Gold Diggers (don’t worry, it’s not about what it sounds like).  What I think is most remarkable about this modern update is the level of depth the writers, directors, and producers gave to what could have been a mindlessly entertaining storyline.  Casper’s score, composed by James Horner, perfectly reflects the film’s light and dark moments, and we’re surprisingly drawn in by its hauntingly poignancy.  We get more out of the film than just “Casper the friendly ghost.”  We get a sense of what it feels like for him to exist as both a boy and a ghost, long after the death of his parents.  What in the cartoons was his comic search for friends is now a true yearning to be a real boy, able to play and dance and be young.  We also get a realistic view into the loss of a parent and an, albeit lighthearted, understanding of the complexities of death and loss. 

Practical Magic

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Stockard Channing, and Dianne Wiest
Released: October 16, 1998
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 103 minutes
Favourite Quote:  “Since when is being a slut a crime in this family?”

 

Over ten years after its release, Practical Magic still holds its dear place as my favourite movie about witches.  Based on the acclaimed novel by Alice Hoffman, it portrays witches just as I believe they exist in real life – as beautiful and self-reliant women who find strength and power in their inherent femininity.  These witches work in their gardens, eat pancakes and brownies, nurture their loved ones, make homemade lotions, and aren’t afraid of laugh lines.  The intuitive magic they possess is the kind I believe can be found in all women.  Following the death of their parents, sisters Sally and Gillian Owens, played by Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman, are sent to live a strange yet cozy life with their two eccentric Aunts.  In the Aunt’s small seaside Massachusetts town the four live as outcasts, rejected by the townspeople, who for generations have gossiped about the mysterious powers of the Owens women and the tendency of their husbands to meet untimely ends.  It seems that in the throes of heartbreak, Sally and Gilly’s ancestor made a vow never to love again.  Her vow soon turned into a curse that any man loved by an Owen’s woman would die.  The elder Sally (Bullock) lives her life in fear of the curse, afraid to love, and rejects her own powers in an attempt to somehow fit in as normal.  Gillian lusts deeply and passionate, but saves her men by never allowing herself to truly fall.  Although the movie is a romance, the real story is of the unbreakable bond between the sisters and, in a way, between all women.  Aunt Frances, played by the still-spicy Stockard Channing, and Aunt Bridget, played by the always sweet and charming Dianne Wiest, bring much needed humour and light to the story.  Where the Sisters make it complicated, the Aunts make it fun.  I always find myself wishing I could be invited to live with the Aunts, planting herbs and mixing potions (and having midnight margaritas!).  Many of the scenes for Practical Magic were filmed in a breathtaking 1850s style Victorian mansion.  Custom built for the movie’s use, it is a spectacular piece of movie architecture and claims a spot on my (large) list of dream homes (right behind every house ever shown in a Nancy Meyers movie).  Sprinkle in great music by the fittingly bewitching Stevie Nicks and Practical Magic absolutely transforms from special into magical.

The Givers and the Cold War Kids Put On a Show

“ATL! Can this venue run on batteries? Power out, damn. Damn!”

So read the Cold War Kid’s official site when I logged on the morning after their unorthodox, spontaneity filled October 13thconcert.  The power outage, which came promptly as the opening band stepped offstage, will probably be the first thing people mention when asked about how the concert was.  Don’t let that fool you, though.  It was a show filled with memorable moments.

To be truly honest, I have to admit that most of the time when I go to a concert I let my impatience get the best of me.  Especially now, dealing with the recent Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) diagnosis and never knowing how long my energy will last, I’m tempted to get straight to the good stuff when I’m out and about.  No dillydallying here, please.  So when we arrived thirty minutes late for the concert and the opening act had yet to start, I was less than pleased.  I (perhaps pessimistically) worried about being exhausted and ready to go before the main event even began.

It was then that I learned the wonder of the Buckhead Theatre and its staff.  After being stuck in a hospital bed for four days and at home for even longer than that, I really wanted to try and make the effort to make it to the show.  So, I called ahead and asked for information about how the newly renovated theatre accommodates people who aren’t able to stand for a full concert (the small balcony has seating, but the downstairs is an open floor plan – yay, dancing space; boo, Victoria might pass out).  The theatre’s manager called me back very promptly and told me they would do what it took to make sure I wouldn’t miss out.  The balcony and its glorious seating was closed for this particular show.  Images of being plopped down in a chair amidst a throbbing crowd of cheering fans may or may not have popped into my head.  But I ventured out anyway and the kindness of the theatre staff made going out for the first time post-diagnosis into the best experience I could have hoped for.  As soon as we got there, the manager herself led us upstairs to the balcony, which James and I ended up having all to ourselves.  We relaxed.  We got romantic (PG stuff).  It was wonderful.

The Givers, from right to left: Nick Stephan, Taylor Guarisco, Josh LeBlanc, Tiffany Lamson, and Kirby Campbell

Cut back to my annoyance with opening bands.  Onstage walked the Givers, a four guy and a girl quintet from Lafayette, Louisiana.  The band’s energy was instantaneous, fueled primarily by an incredibly complimentary set of girl on guy vocals that delivered pure magic.  The feminist in me was pumped.  Female solo musicians are plentiful and wonderful, but there’s just something exciting about a girl in a band, especially playing alongside a group of guys who give her the room to shine while holding their own as talented and passionate musicians.  The band was first formed by the musical bond between lead vocal stars Taylor Guarisco and Tiffany Lamson during their years at the University of Louisiana in New Orleans.  And damn can they put on a joyful and varied ride.  Lamson herself seems to play everything, from tambourine to ukulele to drums.  Her rich, raspy vocals are the perfect balance to Guarisco’s shout-out-loud bellowing.  The band clearly draws inspiration from its roots and invokes its homeland’s Cajun sound.  Behind a beat and sample heavy rush, the Givers’ music is at once light, airy, and tribal in quality, reminiscent of bands that came before.  Think Rusted Root meets Coldplay’s latest efforts brought to you by the label that handles Mumford and Sons.  There’s also a heaping pile of folksy, indie liveliness, an effervescence that makes it almost impossible to not get up and dance (or sit down and smile, in my case).  The kids of the Givers turn their youth into an asset.  Their childish (but not immature) enthusiasm shines through with an excited, all-over-the-place quality that is nothing short of just plain charming.  Having released their first full length album, “In Light,” in early June, we can only hope they maintain their innovation and joy for many albums to come.  If nothing else, they’ve transformed this girl into an opening band convert.  When the power went out after their set, I could have almost gone home a satisfied customer.  The Givers absolutely stole the show.

The Cold War Kids, in no particular order: Jonnie Russell, Nathan Willett, Matt Maust, and Matt Aveiro

Nevertheless, after a few minutes of darkness, CWK lead singer Nathan Willett himself came onstage and managed to subdue a very excited audience enough to explain that we were just going to have to take the sit tight and pray for light solution to the blackout.  Now, I know the Long Beach based foursome is still a relatively small-scale band.  But there was something very endearing about the fact that they didn’t send a lackey out to do the dirty work.  In the end, the band decided, with the help of back-up generators, to go ahead with a stripped-down version of their usually raucous show.  They played their first three songs by candlelight on plush chairs clustered around the front of the stage.  It was a uniquely cool thing to see.  When the power returned, they even opted to take the time to re-set the stage for their full bells-and-whistles show.  Along with well-known crowd favourites, the Kids played some new ones from their January album, “Mine Is Yours,” and did a particularly sweet and moving cover of the classic soul song “That’s How Strong My Love Is.”  Understandably, having the power return in the middle of the set did give the show a disjointed feeling, but you honestly have to appreciate the effort these boys went to in order to make sure their fans got exactly the experience they expected.  “A” for effort, guys.  Indeed, the hype that has built around the Cold War Kids since their humble inception in 2004 can largely be contributed to the web-buzz regaling the brilliance of their live shows.  Lately though, the band’s media attention has turned more controversial than helpful.  Several critics claim the band’s themes, lyrics, and religious backgrounds blatantly brand them much more Christian than indie.  The dreaded categorization seems to have lost them a little of their early appeal with some fans.  But to me, nothing about the Cold War Kids really screams Christian rock.  And even if it did, what could be more natural than artists exploring their own views on morality and spirituality through their work?  Some artists, such as the quirky and poignant Sufjan Stevens and even the wildly popular Kings of Leon, walk the line between Christian and secular flawlessly, with little judgment and even some acclaim for their exploration of religious concepts.   Not liking a band’s music is absolutely one thing; but discounting their work because of possibly religious ties seems unnecessarily limiting.  I dare you to go to Cold War Kids concert and try to take your eyes off Willett, their at once enigmatic and personable vocalist.  Plus any straight-guy band innovative enough to write a song called “Every Man I Fall For,” sung from the first-person perspective of a woman damaged by her relationships with hurtful men, is just plain down with me.  Catch the intensity of the next Cold War Kids live show and I promise the last thing you’ll be thinking about is whether they spend their Sunday mornings on a pew or a barstool.

Ummm, Yum: Recipe for Seasame and Cilantro Chicken Pasta Salad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, hello delicious food lovers.  During one of the early Litwit meetings I brought a recipe that a few of you requested copies of.  And now we have a blog!  So here it is.  It’s something my wonderful formal boss at the YMCA turned me on to and that I’ve modified a lot since.  (Can I take credit for it now?  Probably not.)  It’s simple to make and definitely one of my favourite dishes.  Eat and enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup seasame seeds
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup light soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons seasame oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 package bowtie pasta (12-16 ounces)
  • 3 cups chicken, cooked and shredded
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • green onion, chopped (optional)

Directions:

  1. Heat a small skillet over medium heat.  Pour in sesame seeds and heat until lightly toasted, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat and set aside.  Alternatively, pre-toasted sesame seeds can be purchased in place of those that are still raw.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add bowtie pasta, and cook for approximately 8 to 10 minutes (until al dente).  Drain pasta and rinse under cold water until cool.
    Transfer into large mixing bowl.
  3. In a jar or container with a tight-fitting lid, combine olive oil, soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, sesame seeds, ginger, and pepper.  Shake until well mixed.
  4. Pour sesame dressing over pasta and toss until evenly coated.  Mix in chicken, cilantro, and green onion (optional).
  5. Great served hot or cold and even better the second day! Buying an already prepared rotisserie chicken and removing all the meat is a great way to simplify this recipe.  One average sized rotisserie should do the trick!

Lydia by Tim Sandlin: A Review

It’s probably only fair to preface my review of Tim Sandlin’s newest novel by admitting that I have read almost all of his brilliantly weird books. Sandlin’s novels have retained their place in my personal library since I was a high school student, searching for any sign that life wasn’t quite as strange as I was beginning to suspect it was. Sandlin’s novels were filled with characters and situations far more abnormal than I could even imagine experiencing.  It was, and still is, a great comfort. A biased reviewer, you say? Well, maybe.

 Lydia is the fourth installment in what was originally intended to be a trilogy of novels centered on the exploits of the slightly hapless (but undeniably lovable) Sam Callahan. The GroVont Books begin with his life as a teenage boy, forging through puberty with only the world’s most what-were-you-thinking inappropriate mother for guidance (enter, Lydia). Thrown into the smaller-than-small town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Sam sits at the center of a constant whirlwind of women whom we come to appreciate for all their beautiful idiosyncrasies over the course of each of the original novels. At the top of the heap is his first love, Maurey, whom he unwittingly impregnates at the ripe age of 14 (enter daughter, Shannon). And by the time we reach Lydia, our favourite characters are all grown up (well, age-wise at least).

Sam and his wife are (quite appropriately) running a home for unwed mothers, Maurey manages a successful ranch, Shannon is giving that whole early mid-life crisis thing the old college try, and Lydia has just been released from prison for just your general run of the mill bit of misconduct (you know, trying to poison Ronald Regan’s dog). Hard as nails feminist that she is, Lydia emerges from prison actually having lost some of her edge. Prison, it seems, may just be the only thing hard enough to expose her soft side. She returns to Jackson Hole the worse for wear (in her own mind, at least) and reluctantly ready to chip away at an almost ungodly amount of community service.  Well, reluctantly may be an understatement. Deeply resenting the aging process that she feels has failed her, Lydia is sentenced, fittingly enough, to record the life story of Jackson Hole’s soon-to-be Centenarian, Oly Pederson. So there we are, all caught up.

Sandlin’s stories, so often based in the sweeping landscapes of Wyoming, always makes me want to do one thing – hop into a truck and drive out west.  Through Oly’s simple and poignant memoirs, Lydia takes on a whole new scale. His life takes us from the disaster of the Great Quake in 1906 San Francisco into the Europe of World War I and beyond. We even get a taste of booze and art-filled Paris in the early 1920s, complete with a fistfight between our hero and Piscasso himself. At first, giving pages away to a new (and at the same time very old) character felt like losing time with the characters I had come to love after so long. The more I read, though, the more I got addicted to Oly’s storytelling. His oral history weaved some of the richest parts of the novel. Suffice it to say I will never look at a nursing home resident, sitting peacefully in their chair, in the same way again.

What I love most about Sandlin’s novels is the accessibility of his characters.  As unique as they are identifiable, his characters are real and gross and sweet and we get the chance to see them in all their shining craziness. As a reader you almost get the sense that Sam’s flaws and thoughts are really straight from the truest parts of Sandlin himself, which in some cases could be a flaw in the narrative but in this case feels like a unique opportunity to gain insight into charming author himself. And Sandlin, as an author and a person, is accessible. Just look him up online. You’ll easily stumble upon a plethora of Sandlin material; a short journal he wrote during his 1997 book tour, a website for the Jackson Hole Writer’s Conference that he helped to found almost 20 years ago. Hell, he even has his own WordPress blog. Happily, I’m no stranger to being able to access the man behind the curtain. Three years ago I began to harbor my own dreams of flying off to Jackson Hole for the writer’s conference held there each June. When I called to get more information, I was surprised to receive a return call from a very chilled-out guy calling himself Tim. I loved that even as a fairly successful author he wasn’t above doing the foot work for a project he was passionate about, inspiring possible authors to write, write, write. During our brief conversation, I swear I held it together (for the most part) and came away from the conversation sounding relatively calm, aside from one or two mumblings of “I really am a big fan of your work.” (Resisting the urge to tell him I’d be more than glad to have his literary babies despite the age difference, of course.)  Either way, he was kind and encouraging and talking to him while in my backyard dressed in pajamas was a surreal and wonderful moment. Something I hold dear, along with his novels and their many lovable and hapless characters. Although I must admit Lydia is not my favourite book in the expanded GroVont series, I definitely needed a new Sandlin book in my life. Sandlin’s self-proclaimed “four-book trilogy” finally feels finished with this surprising last addition. Not overplayed, just a chapter ready to close.

Tim Sandlin

When it comes to Sandlin’s newest novel, the verdict is simple. Read it. Read them all. Maybe you will rediscover as I did that we are all both hopelessly flawed and impossibly optimistic.