Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Lily gets a bad wrap because she's inhospitable to visitors. I warn her against acquiring a bad reputation. When thinking about this blog post last night, I planned to explain how, when alone with me, Lily is very affectionate. She follows me around and always investigates what I'm doing, misses me when I'm out, greets me at the door with purrs when I return, watches TV by my side, and cuddles with her head against my cheek at night. She does these things in the same way that Michigan J. Frog sings –  when no one else is watching.

Then, this morning while I cleaned her litter box, she decided to attack, swipe, and hiss at me for several minutes without any real cause or reason other than to make the task treacherous and spill litter everywhere. So, I'm going back to my shorter explanation of Lily's attitude: Tiger is in her name for a reason, and I probably should have gone with calling her Sybil instead.

Danger (June 30, 2015)
(Illustration Friday: June 26, 2015)

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


With laps in sight, Simon and Gordon come in for a landing.... Happy summer, everyone!

Airborne (June 16, 2015)
(Illustration Friday: June 5, 2015)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


I just finished reading The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, a new, great novel with an old dragon in it. Don't get any ideas that I read to my cat, but somehow Lily started dreaming about mythical creatures. I don't know if a dragon qualifies as a monster, but maybe a Dragon Kitty would, especially if her name was Lily.

Monster (June 16, 2015)
(Illustration Friday: May 29, 2015)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Buried Giant

Hi everyone,

A few weeks ago, I finished The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, which I had picked up at a book signing event in March at the Sixth and I Synagogue. Before this, I had only read Mr. Ishiguro's first novel, The Remains of the Day, which was a big hit and turned into an equally fantastic movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. (See the movie; read the book!) He's written six other book, including another popular one called Never Let Me Go, which was also turned into a movie starring Keira Knightly. (I didn't read that one because the movie was disturbing enough for me.) I went to that movie not knowing about the book from which it came and left the theater amazed that the same guy who wrote The Remains of the Day wrote this completely different kind of story.

The Buried Giant is Mr. Ishiguro's first novel in 10 years and, again, I'm surprised by his range and imagination. The story takes place after the reign of King Arthur. The Saxons and the Britons are enemies, though not actively at war. Elderly couple Axl and Beatrice have muddled memories, but seem to recall having a son and decide to embark on a journey to his village, where they are pretty sure he is waiting for them. Along the way, they befriend a Saxon warrior named Wistan, an old knight of King Arthur's Court named Gawain, and a Saxon boy named Edwin, who is on the run after the people in his village turn against him, believing that he suffered an ogre bite and is therefore doomed to be possessed.

Snippets of the past are revealed as characters think they remember certain things. A mysterious mist – a spell drawn by Merlin to end the ravages of war – is causing the memory loss inflicted among them, and Wistan is charged with the task of slaying the dragon whose breath is the source. Along the way, Wistan becomes a father figure to Edwin, grooming him to become a warrior like himself. Meanwhile, Gawain finds Axl vaguely familiar, remembering him as a fellow fighter during the fog of war. These days, however, Axl and his wife Beatrice are determined to help Wistan on his mission because they think that restoring their memories will only strengthen their bond. Yet, both sense unclear bad memories and worry that recalling them in full when the mist subsides will be too much to bear.

During the book signing's interview, Mr. Ishiguro shared his curiosity about memory, which motivated the idea behind this book: "How can I move from writing about individual memory to memory of a society, or shared memories, as in a marriage? That's what I've been sort of wondering about for a long time." While waiting in line to get my book signed, I overheard someone who had already read it: "It's very good," she said. "It's very strange but very good." I agree! Some days, though, I couldn't get into reading this book because the setting and language felt too foreign. On other days, I was fully engaged for hours, curious about what would happen next.

The Buried Giant offers an exciting journey, but the best thing about it is the writing. As he did with The Remains of the Day (and I'm sure his other books), Mr. Ishiguro paints a convincing portrait of a time and place in which readers settle. He writes poetically, setting  a measured pace and revealing plot twists and turns in unexpected ways. He focuses so much on relationships and emotions that the setting becomes timeless. With all of his book, he confirmed, "I'm trying to share emotions. I think there's something very valuable in people sharing emotions in music, books, and movies." What became most interesting to me while reading this story was seeing how the characters think, react to situations, and interact with each other. The setting of this book may be ancient and fantastical, but the characters are very real and universally familiar. I love how the mysteries of the past are revealed in this book to offer a full picture of who everyone is. While its ending is open to interpretation, The Buried Giant is a beautifully written, satisfying thinker. Read it and let's discuss!

(If interested, visit The Library to find this and my other book reviews. A link to the new page is located in the menu bar below the Melissa's Kitties banner.)  


Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #48. Into the Woods (2014)

[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details. Visit the Johnny Kitties page for a full list of Johnny Depp's filmography and links to all previous Johnny Kitties blog posts.]

Happy birthday, Johnny!

Johnny on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in early 2015
Here's the latest Johnny Kitties tribute....

The one thing I love about this film is there's so much entertainment. It's so much fun – the joy, the ride of it. – Director Rob Marshall

It's so far beyond anything you could have expected because it is. You know all these characters from your youth in a deep way, but when they come to life in this sense, you get to know more about them, and it's even spookier and it's even funnier and it's even weirder. It's a brilliant idea. It's beautifully put together. – Johnny Depp

Go to the Woods!
In this film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's musical, the fairytale characters that we all know and love come to life and coincide in a new adventure. Cursed by the Witch (Meryl Streep) to remain childless, the Baker (James Corden) and his Wife (Emily Blunt) head into the woods to break her spell by finding four requested items in three days' time: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold. On their journey, they find an indecisive Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), contemplating the prince (Chris Pine) she's met at the ball; Jack (Daniel Huddlestone), to whom they give some magic beans; and Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), who runs into trouble with the sly Wolf (Johnny Depp) on the way to her grandmother's house. The Witch, too, has her own set of problems, including trying to keep her restless daughter Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) safely hidden away in a lonely tower. Directed by Rob Marshall, Into the Woods takes you on a high-spirited, entertaining ride that turns these familiar stories into something modern, fresh, and more relatively realistic. It turns out that happily ever after isn't always how things end. 

If at first you don't succeed...
I first saw Into the Woods in Ohio with my parents just after Christmas. It was my dad's idea, but soon after the lights went out, he fell asleep. My mom stayed awake but her first comment after the movie ended was, "That was a little long." I admit, I felt that was true. But maybe it only seemed long because the screen was small and far away from where we sat; everyone around us in this packed little space had noisy colds, kept fidgeting, and walking in and out of the theater; and dad was snoring. It wasn't the best experience, especially when Johnny showed up 20 minutes into the movie and was finished about 5 minutes later. 

I waited until Into the Woods came out on DVD to see it again in my apartment, where I gave it my full, undivided attention. That's when I discovered that this movie is actually a really good one.  

What's to Love?
Stephen Sondheim with cast members at the
Into the Woods world premiere in December 2014
The music. I was unfamiliar with Into the Woods before I saw this movie, even though it debuted on Broadway in 1987 and has been popular ever since. While I knew it was a musical, I was still surprised by the amount of singing involved. Everyone sings, and they sing together seamlessly, even when they're their scenes take them to different locations to focus on their own life stories and problems. Sixty musicians recorded the songs in a studio with the cast; the recordings were then blasted on set during the scenes while the cast belted the songs out again, singing along to the recorded versions. The extra layer of coolness here is that what they sang on set while filming was also recorded and, for the final product, both versions were mixed together to make the singing match best with whatever is happening in the scene. "When we need the [studio] recordings, we have them; and when it's live and working, we use that as well," producer Marc Platt explains. "What you get is a seamless marriage of the two, but you get performances that are so brilliant." 

These impressive songs are unmistakably Stephen Sondheim's with their fast-paced, clever lyrics and challenging melodies. I loved how they moved the stories along; you really had to listen for that reason. "It's a very lyric-heavy piece, and in those lyrics is the story," Rob Marshall explains. "That's how Stephen Sondheim wrote it. That's how he writes. He writes as if it's a scene. Everything's a scene; it's not a number." Producer John De Luca concurs, "There's relentless intelligence in Stephen Sondheim. The lyrics – every time you listen, you hear something new." 

The direction. Rob Marshall is good at directing musicals, and this one doesn't disappoint. "He's very true to his vision of the author's work. His approach is very pure, and he's out there to make something beautiful, affecting, artistic, emotional," Johnny says. Here, he creates a world and puts you in it. The camera takes you into to the action, like when it follows the jerky movements of the Wolf spying on Little Red Riding Hood through the bushes. It sweeps you along with the music, moving like a dancer to Stephen Sondheim's orchestrations. 

The movie isn't so long as it is packed with stories. At times when story lines conclude, others begin, which left me wondering how this thing was going to end. Yet, from start to finish, you're never bored because Rob Marshall keeps all the pieces moving in an environment that becomes its own key character. "How the woods sounds and feels, the sonic texture of it, was a vital ingredient in bringing the world alive and making it feel vibrant and specific to the story being told at the time," Marc Platt explains. These woods may be intimidating, but plenty goes on in there to keep us well entertained. 

The cast. This all-star cast is impressive. Meryl Streep earned her 19th Oscar nomination for playing the Witch in this movie and it's clear why: she's the best witch out there. In this movie, everyone shines. I particularly liked James Corden and Emily Blunt as a desperate yet determined couple on a mission. Newcomer Lilla Crawford was also fantastic as Little Red Riding Hood. 

It must have been difficult for cast members to take such popular characters and make them modern and uniquely their own, but each is fully realized with gusto. "It's visually fun and emotionally satisfying," Meryl Streep says of the film. "But it also has this other thing that is what engages us as artists and makes us want to bring everything we can to it." They all definitely bring it, but no one stands out and above the rest in my eyes (well, Meryl Streep and Johnny aside). As Rob Marshall says, "It's all about the piece and all about the ensemble – everybody working together to create this magic." 

The Wolf. While short, Johnny's performance as the Wolf is a memorable one. He sings one song, "Hello, Little Girl," while sneakily eyeing his unassuming prey. Who knew Johnny would ever sing another song on film after Sweeney Todd? "I was very excited to do it," Johnny says of the role. "I was honored and somewhat proud that not only Rob [Marshall] and John [De Luca] wanted me to play the Wolf, but Sondheim again believed in me to play the part and to sing his notes. It's one of those moments that you realize you will never in  your life have an opportunity like that again, as an actor or as a musician; it's kind of a joy to approach, even though it's incredibly daunting." 

Before the movie came out, I saw Johnny's costume and immediately thought of the Big Bad Wolf character in the classic Tex Avery cartoons I grew up watching, like this one. It turns out that that's what Johnny was going for: a cool '50s-style wolf in a zoot suit, who could be seen more as a villain than the literal animal. "The idea with the Wolf is that he is the Wolf of Little Red Riding Hood's imagination, so we didn't want to put Johnny in a wolf suit or give him a fur collar," costume designer Colleen Atwood explains. I can really see that cartoon inspiration in Johnny's appearance and performance. He brought that Big Bad Wolf to life, and I love it!

Watch out, Kitties!
Here's Johnny's key scene, becoming acquainted with his next meal (Mini). 

48. Into the Woods (2014) [May 16, 2015]

It's too bad that I couldn't fit my favorite part of this scene in here, when the Wolf sneaks some quick sniffs of the goodies in Red Riding Hood's basket while her gaze is turned, but these lyrics take up a lot of room. Stephen Sondheim's wordy, but in the best way. These lyrics are killer. 

What's next? 
One of my dreams came true when Ewan McGregor signed on to costar with Johnny in Mortdecai. We'll celebrate this dreamy pairing, among other things, next month on July 9th!

Photo credits: All film images © Disney Pictures; photo of Johnny Depp © ABC; cast photo © Kevin Mazur/WireImages.  

Sunday, June 07, 2015


Can you believe that Tyrone hadn't yet seen The Wizard of Oz? While he's been fine in rain, snow, and the sewer, he's adding this movie as evidence for his theories on why most cats think getting wet is the worst.

Melt (June 7, 2015)
(Illustration Friday: May 22, 2015)

Monday, June 01, 2015


Check out this Connolly Family Portrait 2015: Mini, Ashes, Lily, and Tyrone with honorary Golden Retriever Kitty, Polly.

Pet[s] (June 1, 2015)
(Illustration Friday: May 15, 2015)

Polly is a rescue that my sister took in this year. She tried to find another home for her, but it turns out she was already home. She fits right in with Ashes and Mini. In fact, I think she may secretly be a  big cat in disguise, but I'm sure my sister would disagree.