Divergent Red Carpet Premiere, Atlanta, GA

When I began looking into tickets to the Atlanta screening of Divergent, I never expected media access, and yet that is where I found myself on Monday night – in the packed media pit along the black carpet at Regal Atlantic Station in Midtown. Armed with the Divergent gift bag provided by Summit Entertainment to all the media (a canvas Divergent bag, t-shirt and poster), Herman and I jostled for position with the other news outlets and bloggers. The information provided told us that Shailene Woodley and Theo James would be there, but all in attendance were treated to some surprises: also walking the carpet were Alton Brown (yes, the chef!), and several cast members from The Walking Dead. After stopping for photos and interviews, Shailene and Theo stepped up on the stage for some questions and quickly had the audience in the palms of their hands.

As the celebrities made their way out of the building, all those with tickets to the screening were ushered into theaters for the main event. From the first establishing shot of a weathered, broken-down Chicago to the final scene before the closing credits, Divergent exceeded my expectations.

Yes, some scenes from the book were not included in the film. Yes, some scenes were altered. And yes, there were some added scenes. But the changes came together in a way that allowed the essence of the story to unfold on the screen with the same emotions that I’m sure gripped most of us as we read the book that first time. Over the course of over two hours, those around me cheered, squealed, laughed, and cringed.

But what surprised me most about Divergent was the acting. I’m a big fan of both Shailene Woodley and Theo James, but I initially had trouble seeing them as Tris and Four. After seeing the film, let me assure you – they have those characters down! Both actors have the ability to get emotion across to the audience using only their body language, which is important when portraying these two characters. They seem to embody the characters they're playing to a degree that many young actors just don't have the ability to do. I’ve never disliked Miles Teller before, but he was properly despicable as Peter. Jai Courtney played Eric with a frightening accuracy, Ansel Elgort reminded me of my own big brothers as Caleb, and Ashley Judd shined as Natalie Prior, despite little screentime.

Equally surprising to me was how underwhelmed I was by the performances of Zoe Kravitz (Christina), Ben Lloyd-Hughes (Will), and Maggie Q (Tori). It will take another viewing or two to decide whether it was the acting, or just an organic result from the script itself, that left me wanting more from them. I only hope that whatever it was the seemed to be missing will not have a major effect on the rest of the franchise, as the impact of those three characters linger through the final two books in the series.
Despite the small disappointments, Divergent was a hit. Add the well-developed story to some beautiful cinematography and a great soundtrack and score, and I believe that Divergent will stand as one of the better book-to-film adaptations in recent years.


Just a Girl and Her Horse (or Life on Heartland Ranch)

I was 13 when I touched a horse for the first time.  His name was Snickers. It was a defining, extremely memorable moment.  I petted his nose, and was allowed to feed him half an apple.  Later in the afternoon, I got to brush him for a couple of minutes before the grooms took over.  I remember very little of watching my friend work in the jump ring with Snickers, as my mind was too full of "OMG, I just got to touch a horse!"  Several weeks later, I returned to the same barn and watched my friend and Snickers compete in a few events, but again, my mind was caught up in the fact that I was. Surrounded. By. Horses.

I was raised in the suburbs of Atlanta, in a county that was, for several years running, the fastest growing county in the nation.  The county that was nothing much more than farmland when I moved there in 1979 was a sprawling metropolitan city by the time I was halfway through elementary school.  My parents, though they'd both been raised in small midwestern towns, were not the outdoorsy, farming types, so I lived a very typical city life.  There was no hiking, no romping through the woods, no horseback riding.  Most of my experience with horses and livestock took place on annual trips to the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis, where we'd walk through the pens and buildings, viewing the 4-H and various farm entries.  I have never ridden a horse in my life, and it has once again been several years since I've had the opportunity to even be close to one, but my love, my passion for horses, has not dimmed.  If anything, it has grown.  I simply love horses.

I lived for books as a kid (ok, I still do), and a large majority of the books I read as a pre-teen and young teenager were books about kids and their horse(s).  I read Marguerite Henry (the Misty series) and Walter Farley (the Black Stallion series), I wanted Ashleigh for a sister (the Thoroughbred series), and I visited Portland Meadows in homage to Trish (Golden Filly series).  Kelly Reno was an amazing Alec in The Black Stallion, as was Richard Ian Cox, in the Adventures of The Black Stallion.  I dreamed of riding Thunderhead (son of Flicka) to a win a local track.  I visited Trigger at the former Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum (formerly in Victorville, CA, now closed).  I've watched races live at Churchill Downs, love TVG, memorized stud lines and, as a young teen, knew my way around the Daily Racing Form (and if I'd had access to a bookie, probably could've made thousands betting to show).  I was extremely privileged to be able to participate as a cast member in both the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, but I would have traded that experience for the chance to attend the Games' equestrian events.  My father took me to see a performance of Lipizzaner and Andalusian horses when I was 15 - that was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen! If there was a biography or film on a famous racehorse, jockey, or eventer, a history of a famous stable or stud barn, I've probably read it or watched it.

I never read the Heartland series.

I love Canadian television programming; there's just something about it that the programming here in the US doesn't have.  I may live in the Deep South, but I've grown up a fan of many Canadian shows.

I never watched the series Heartland.

Several months ago, I wanted something new to watch, and came across Heartland among about 300 other titles stored in my Instant Queue on Netflix.  As I was looking specifically for something on the opposite end of the spectrum from the superhero movies I'd been watching recently, Heartland looked like just the ticket.  Cue season one, episode one.

The story begins with 15-year-old Amy Fleming and her mother going out to steal rescue an abused horse from a nearby farm.  An already tragic situation quickly becomes even worse as Amy and Marion are involved in a wreck on the way back home, resulting in Marion's death.

I lost my father seven years ago, and thought my world was ending.  The glue that held my family together was gone, and the result was a family falling apart at the seams.  My mother and I were not equipped to keep both family businesses running, and it wasn't long before we found ourselves floundering in a sea of debt, questioning the decisions we had made and were still making.  Much like the Flemings at Heartland Ranch, we had to make a lot of changes.  And we had to learn how to do it without the person we had relied on for so long, the one who knew how to do what we were only pretending to do.

Over the course of 18 episodes, Heartland Ranch flounders and flourishes, as do the relationships of those involved in its daily schedule. People butt heads and screw up relationships, while also forging new beginnings with the people and places around them.

Heartland is currently in its 7th season on Canadian television (season 6 just began airing in the US this week), and has cemented itself as one of the most popular television shows in Canada. While it tackles tough situations and delves into topics such as abuse (of both the human and animal kind), alcoholism, crime, death, and more, it stays a family show that refrains from crass language, overt sexual behavior, and violence for the sake of violence. It's a show that everyone from a proper Southern grandma to a 5-year-old boy who dreams of being a cowboy can watch and enjoy. And while some situations may be a little over-the-top, Heartland is ultimately a show about the everyman, and provides storylines that almost everyone can relate to in some way.


I am Dauntless

Cover art courtesy of Veronica Roth and
Katherine Tegan books
Amity.  Abnegation.  Candor.  Dauntless.  Erudite.

Kindness.  Selflessness.  Truth.  Bravery.  Knowledge.

If you had to choose one core trait to manifest for the rest of your life, which one would you choose? 
The trait you choose will govern where you live, how you dress and how you act.  Once the choice is made, there is no changing your mind. Will you choose the way your were raised?  Or will you deny your family, and follow an inner pull for something new.

Today, you make the biggest decision of your life.  Today is the Choosing Ceremony. You are sixteen years old.

This is life in the Chicago of the future. Society has been segregated into five factions, and each faction is recognized by the one singular virtue expressed by everyone inside. And in this society, which was designed for the betterment of the human race, is a growing resistance to the values at the heart of the factions, and an animosity that highly resembles the racism that once pervaded our own real-life society.

When readers first meet Tris Prior, the female protagonist in Veronica Roth's debut novel, Divergent, she is a slight, quiet girl who doesn't know where she belongs. As the pages quickly turn, Tris's choices force her to confront her inner feelings (and inner demons), and become a girl vastly different from the one we meet on page 1. Facing violence, separation, love, bullying, and ultimately war, Tris faces a coming-of-age that would give most people nightmares.

The story of Divergent weaves morality and mortality in a way that makes us, as readers, THINK. What choice would I make? What would I do when faced with the consequences of that choice?

My answers to those questions assured me that I am no Tris Prior. Not even close.

Divergent is another book that is making the transition to the big screen. In fact, tickets go on sale next week (on my birthday), and the film hits theaters on March 21. I'll be at the earliest showing I can get tickets to, and will have my response up as soon as possible. From the trailers, I have high expectations.


Standing with the Wallflowers on the Island of Misfit Toys (and the Perks therein)

I was the perennial wallflower. I didn't make friends easily, and when I did go out with the friends I had, I was often the one simply observing what was happening around me instead of being an active participant.

I never imagined there was any reason for my actions outside of typical teenage shyness. I was in my 20's before we discovered there was more to it than I ever imagined - severe depression, general anxiety disorder, and severe social anxiety disorder.

What looks to be a simple coming-of-age tale in a 2-minute preview becomes a full-length film touching on difficult topics in Perks of Being of a Wallflower. This is made evident in the opening scenes as we find main protagonist Charlie in a mental hospital at the ripe-old age of 14.

Over the next couple of hours, we watch Charlie come home, start high school, meet friends and come out of his shell, and then slowly, ever-so-slowly, we watch him spiral back into the darkness that put him in the hospital at the beginning. And ever-so-slowly, the truth is revealed.

Charlie's story resonated with me, because like Charlie, my depression didn't start at the same time that all the bad stuff did. For years, I dealt with various trials and tribulations with a stoic attitude. My history was told in matter-of-fact manner, as if I were teaching a classroom of students.

Like Charlie, it was when the world was looking up, when life seemed to be improving, that the floor dropped out from under my feet.

And like Charlie, it was several years before the root of my depression and anxiety was fully understood. In my effort to cope, I'd buried things deep in the recesses of my mind.

While dealing with very sobering events, Perks is not a depressing film. No, it's a heartwarming tale of family and friendship, wrapping around the struggles of a young man who is trying so desperately to maintain a strong outer armor. The scenes that make you shudder, the scenes that make you wince or cry, are all mixed in with laughter, smiles and cheers.  You will find yourself pulling for Charlie, even when he screws up - which he does, monumentally.

When I started writing this review, I intended to break down scenes and tell you what I though about them. But as I started writing, I realized that I wanted to do things a little differently this time. The above words are all I'm giving you. Want to know more? Go watch Perks of Being a Wallflower. I believe the impact of the movie is made greater when you know as little of the story as possible.


Magic Mike

I'm just going to lay this out there. Yes. Yes, I will be going to see this.

I think I'm speechless.


Cathartic Ramblings....Podcast???

The first thing I do when I'm thinking about buying a DVD is look at the extra/bonus features it contains.  If the movie is only so-so, a lack of extras may keep me from forking out money for a DVD that I'll probably watch only once or twice.  However, a plethora of bonus features could entice me to pay more than I normally would.  I love movie extras: extra/cut scenes, making-of featurettes, behind-the-scenes specials, and especially audio commentaries.

I LOVE audio commentaries.  I've listened to technical commentaries, humorous commentaries, straight-forward commentaries, and I've loved all of them.  Audio commentaries have the ability to give the viewer an incredible insight into the making of that specific film.  In the case of Dune, you can learn what went into creating the world of Arakis, the desert, the worm.  In The Princess Diaries (whether you're listening to Gary or to Dame Julie Andrews and Anne Hathaway), it's a laugh-fest.  Jodie Foster, in The Beaver, talks as a technical director, and explains why scenes are shot the way they are, and how the characters were developed.  I've listened to multiple commentaries on the same movie (The Princess Diaries, The Lord of the Rings trilogy), and have learned something from each one.  To me, audio commentaries add an important element to the movie - once I've listened, I find that I enjoy and appreciate the movie that much more the next time I watch it, and in some ways, it's as if I'm seeing it for the first time all over again.

I love writing reviews and opinions on books and movies, but many times, my brain just moves too fast for my fingers, and I findmyself unable to get my thoughts on paper (or computer screen) before my thoughts race in a difference direction.  So, recently, I've been wondering...

What kind of audio commentary would I make, if I had the chance to record one?  And that's where the idea came from.

Cathartic Ramblings, the podcast.

I'm going to start recording my own audio commentaries on movies and television shows.  Obviously, I can't give a lot of detail on the inner-workings of the filming/production process (except the insight I've gained from watching existing commentaries), but I can talk about what I like and don't like about a particular scene, explain why.  Essentially, I can clue you in to some of the inner-workings of my brain.

But then I ask myself, Why would this interest anyone?  I don't have an answer to that.  I doan't know that anyone WILL be interested in my podcast.  Maybe I (and possibly my family, or one or two close friends) will be the only one to ever listen.  Or maybe I'll become a cult classic.

Either way, the podcast is in the works.  I'll keep you updated, my friends.