Friday, July 25, 2014

Speeding Through Spotlights: From 'Boyhood' to the Hall of Fame, Some Things Worth Noting

Rather than devoting a full blog post to any or all of the following topics, I thought I would cover them in a collective piece. 

Hence, these are not meant as abridged reviews or profiles, but simply an opportunity to provide some illumination on worthy subjects of recent exploration or thought. 


Boyhood (movie) - directed by Richard Linklater

If prompted to consider the best contemporary movie directors, I likely would not readily think of Richard Linklater among names like the Coen Brothers, David Fincher, Darren Aronofsky, Quentin Tarantino, David O. Russell, Steven Soderbergh, Ang Lee, Alexander Payne and others.

But I certainly should.

Though he has never been Oscar-nominated for Best Director, since coming to attention with 1991's Slacker the Austin-based Linklater has made a whole bunch of movies I've really enjoyed, including Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight, Bernie, Me & Orson Welles and School of Rock.

And with Boyhood, he has likely made his best film yet; certainly his most novel, if not in subject matter then in the creation process. Filmed with the same actors over a period stretching from 2002 to 2013, Linklater has brilliantly documented--though this is a narrative film--the maturation of a boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane), his sister Samantha (Linklater's daughter Lorelei), their mother (Patricia Arquette) and father (Ethan Hawke).

The way Boyhood works as a cohesive film is fairly astonishing--credit must also be given to editor Sandra Adair--and while I may have been expecting greater crisis and consequence at various stages of Mason's development, Linklater shrewdly avoids overt twists and easy coming-of-age melodrama.

That he parallels--in screen time and seeming importance--theoretically major life moments with more mundane ones makes Boyhood feel more real than most Hollywood films, as it imparts that much of what forms us isn't always so obvious.

Playing Mason from about age 6 to 18, Coltrane is terrific, as is the entire cast. I think I may have liked Boyhood slightly less than the Polish masterpiece Ida, but it is an amazing accomplishment, clearly worth investing 2 hours & 45 minutes and by far the best new American narrative film I've seen this year.

Chicago's Hall of Fame Duo
Frank Thomas and Greg Maddux

This Sunday, two of the very best baseball players to spend considerable portions of their careers in Chicago uniforms will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Frank Thomas--who spent 16 seasons with the White Sox, is the best hitter the team ever had and, in his prime, perhaps the best hitter I've ever seen--was a first-ballot selection, as was 355-game winner Greg Maddux, who began his career with the Cubs, won his first Cy Young Award here, returned late in his career (after going to Atlanta in 1993) and, at his best, may be the best pitcher I ever saw.

It's also rather notable that, playing through an era riddled by the use of steroids and other PEDs, the Big Hurt and the Mad Dog are presumed to have always played clean.

Certainly, it's too bad the Cubs foolishly let Maddux get away in his prime--he would win 3 more consecutive Cy Young's with the Braves--and at times Thomas mitigated his greatness with grating petulance, but this is a weekend to celebrate their legendary careers.

Chicago, and baseball fans everywhere, should be proud.

Also being inducted on Sunday are Maddux' fellow Braves' ace Tom Glavine, their manager Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, who managed the Yankees to four World Championships and Tony La Russa, who successfully managed the White Sox, A's and Cardinals.

It's a pretty classy group, and though I'm not a huge fan of La Russa's, not only does he add to the Chicago contingent, he was the manager of the first winning team I ever rooted for (the 1983 White Sox).

A tip of my caps to all, but especially Thomas and Maddux.


Bring on the Blues at Glenview Public Library - featuring Donna Herula and Dave Ricks
Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I like the the unlikely, or perhaps more accurately, the unsuspected.

Having seen Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials there previously, I already knew of the Glenview Public Library as a venue that occasional presents live blues performances indoors, however atypically.

But if you had asked me to "pick out the blues singer" among everyone within the library Tuesday night, I likely would not have guessed it was Donna Herula.

And even after hearing an hour's worth of deep and early blues, covering the likes of Muddy Waters, Robert Nighthawk, Bessie Smith, Son House and others, with Herula singing and playing impressive guitar (including much slide guitar, on classic instruments dating back to 1935) accompanied at times by a harmonica player I believe is named Dave Ricks, I couldn't help think many co-workers at her daytime job--I was told she has one--were likely oblivious to this petite white woman being a such a terrific and decorated blues player (and clearly, a devoted historian).

Herula's performance was even more impressive considering that the program was originally scheduled to have her play on Wednesday in tandem with her husband, Tony Nardiello, but a mix-up in the library's promotion meant he was unavailable on Tuesday. We were told that Herula did a lot of shuffling just to show up for an auditorium mostly filled by seniors--who sang along quite enthusiastically--and even brought along Ricks.

I'm glad she made it, and that I--with my friend Ken in tow--did too.


Gee's Bend - a play by Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder
Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre, Evanston, IL - Thru July 27

Last month I wrote about seeing my first play presented by the Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre--Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years--despite the Evanston company now celebrating its 35th year.

I have now seen my second, Gee's Bend, which sheds light on a rather geographically-isolated Alabama community of the same name, in which descendents of slaves have become noted for their beautiful quilt making.

Far more than an explication on textiles, the 80-minute drama is a story about humanity, perseverance, grit and dignity revolving around four women (two are played by the same actress) and the husband of one of them.

Cat Davidson, Elana Elyce, Nicholia Q. Aguirre and Sean Blake all give strong performances under the direction of Tim Rhoze, and the set design includes a number of lovely quilts. The brief run of Gee's Bend ends this weekend with shows Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. Tickets can be found here.


Eataly - 43 E. Ohio, Chicago - Prime Rib Sandwich from Roticceria

This Italian food emporium created by chef Mario Batali opened its Chicago location with much fanfare late last fall.

I hadn't been compelled to Eataly's cacophony of restaurants, food stands and markets until my friend Paolo recently posted a photo of a Prime Rib Sandwich he had gotten from Roticceria (rotisserie) counter.

It looked terrific, and having stopped en route to a Millennium Park concerts, I can affirm that it is.

While I loved the sandwich, and subsequently a brioche with Nutella, the IKEAesque Eataly isn't somewhere I'm likely to frequent, even notwithstanding the not-so-convenient location and not-insubstantial cost (though $11.80 for the generous sandwich was actually rather reasonable).

There was a small standing-but-no-seating section near the 2nd floor rotisserie station, which had a few available side dishes (I opted for roasted potatoes) but no beverages. I wound up finding a table near a first floor coffee bar, then had to walk across the entire store to find an overpriced Italian cola (no Coke or Pepsi products were to be found anywhere). After finishing my sandwich, I wandered to the nearby Nutella stand only to have my half-full beverage cleared away. Though I was given another one, my entire dining experience--and the establishment itself--felt more pretentious than may natural preference.

But if anyone ever wants to bring me another Prime Rib Sandwich...


Curt's Cafe - 2922 Central St., Evanston

Much more attuned to my sensibilities is this charming breakfast and lunch cafe amidst Central Street's western shopping strip.

Though the menu isn't vast, it's appealing. I had a wonderful breakfast menu concoction called The Berry Patch, which was a warm tortilla filled with strawberries, Nutella and toasted almonds. And a White Chocolate Apricot Scone. Yum!

But even better than the food at Curt's Cafe is the mission: "To equip at-risk youth (15 to 22 years old) with job and life skills through training, career coaching and mentoring."

It is a 501(c)3 non-profit that hires young people in hopes of helping them move forward from difficult pasts, rather similar to the aims of Youth Build Lake County, for whom I developed marketing messages and strategies through the Taproot Foundation last year.

I don't know how long Curt's Cafe has been where it is, but am glad I discovered it and look forward to going back. The interior is spacious and welcoming, with appealing art and photos lining the walls. Open Mon.-Fri. 7:30a-5:00p, Saturday 8:00a-4:00p, with food service until 3:00.


Baby Boom or Bust!
Display at the South Shore Arts Gallery, Munster, IN

Last Sunday, I attended a world premiere production of The Beverly Hillbillies: The Musical--which I reviewed here--at Theatre at the Center in Munster.

This was pleasurable in itself, but my mom and I made a point of arriving early at the Center for Visual and Performing Arts because we've long-known the Munster venue to have appealing displays within its South Shore Arts Gallery. We also like the adjoining Gift Shop, which does some of the best and most unique product procurement I've come across, and thus is always fun to peruse.

We didn't buy anything, this time, but enjoyed the Baby Boom or Bust! display curated by John Cain. Featuring "Memorabilia from an Atomic Childhood," it had fun collectibles such as one might expect: Beatles, Howdy Doody, Flintstones, Casper the Friendly Ghost, etc., even a Beverly Hillbillies lunch box.

But along with some paint-by-numbers artwork, the walls were adorned by original oil paintings from Champaign-based artist Brian Sullivan that were vibrant and engaging through their mash-ups of iconic imagery celebrating the same era as the Baby Boomer memorabilia.


Jose Abreu and Anthony Rizzo - The Two Most Powerful Men in Chicago

2014 will not go down as a great season for either the Cubs or White Sox, but history may reveal it to be a key turning point, in part because of the arrival of Jose Abreu and Anthony Rizzo--literally and figuratively, respectively.

The two slugging first-basemen are currently leading their leagues in home runs; 29 for the Cuban Abreu, who at age 27 is having a monster rookie season for the White Sox after being a star in his native country, and 25 for the 24-year-old Rizzo, who hit 23 all last season but has even more impressively improved his batting average and OPS.

It's possible that both stars may be the only (or one of few) position players remaining on their teams the next time either plays a postseason game.


Final Say - a cover band seen in Lake Bluff, July 6
playing today in Lincolnwood at 5:30

A few Sundays ago, in search of a well-reviewed restaurant on Yelp that turned out to be more of a store, I wound up in downtown Lake Bluff.

I found somewhere else to eat, and--about to leave--noticed people setting up chairs on a patch of grass containing a gazebo.

Picking up on a free Sunday Night concert at part of the town's Bluffinia Concert Series--their answer to Ravinia--I pulled my sling chair out of my trunk and stuck around to hear a band called Final Say.

I found them to be rather enjoyable, with excellent male and female lead vocalists covering a nice array of new and old, rock, pop, R&B and more.

In looking up Final Say just now on Facebook, I noticed that they will be performing today at 5:30 at Lincolnwood Fest in Proesel Park. I'm likely to go, especially as they will be preceding the always-enjoyable Tributosaurus doing the music of Stevie Ray Vaughan.


Grosse Point Lighthouse, Trail, Park and Beach - Evanston, IL

The lighthouse where Central Street hits Sheridan Road in Evanston (shown atop this post) has been familiar to me my whole life, but only yesterday did I take a thorough walk around it, noticing a wildflower nature trail leading to the beach behind it, in addition to a small sculpture display in front of the Evanston Art Center, with which I was already aware. 

The beach has a daily admission of $8.00, which wouldn't be bad on the right day, but I contented myself with doing some reading on a bench overlooking the lake in an adjoining park.


Opera in Focus Puppet Opera
Rolling Meadows, IL

Last year I went to a puppet opera presented in a Rolling Meadows park district building by an entity known as Opera in Focus. On multiple levels, I found it to be phenomenal.

Tomorrow afternoon, with my mom and sister, I will be going again. 

The program will include artfully costumed, wooden rod-puppets performing to recordings of songs from Tosca and other operas, as well as The Wizard of Oz, West Side Story and The Sound of Music.

I expect it to be wonderful and recommend it  highly. For more details and tickets, click here.

No comments: