The Wild Bunch

I don’t think I grasped the true meaning of the phrase “Wild West” until I saw the film The Wild Bunch a few weeks ago.

This film holds the 80th place on AFI’s top 100 list. AFI also deemed it the sixth-best Western of all time.

When a slew of innocent bystanders were riddled with bullets within the first 10 minutes of the film, I knew it was going to be a violent ride. The Wild Bunch is a group of outlaws, some of them retirement age, who are ready to retire after one last robbery in Texas. Unfortunately they’re duped and they head to Mexico for refuge. They make a deal with a corrupt Mexican general to steal a shipment of U.S. guns for him in exchange for money. To make a long story short, it doesn’t end well at all.

I would bet money that Quentin Tarantino was inspired by this film…

The Wild Bunch
Courtesy of

Eighteen Years Later…

It was 1998. I had been working in London for six months through a work abroad program, and I had a few weeks left. I had read somewhere that the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields would be performing Mozart’s Requiem.

I could barely contain my excitement as I called the box office. It was a dream come true! I knew nothing about the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields except for the fact that it had performed the soundtrack of the movie Amadeus. I’m pretty sure that I discovered Amadeus in high school. I was immediately smitten with Tom Hulce’s Mozart, even though he was a hot mess. But he was a hot mess who happened to be a musical genius!

I bought the movie and soundtrack and would watch and listen to them throughout college. I wasn’t the type to daydream about getting married, but I decided that if I did walk down the aisle, it would be to a performance of the third movement of Mozart’s Serenade for Winds.

OK, back to 1998. I called the box office. All of the performances occurring before I headed home were sold out. AUGGHHH.

Fast forward to 2015. I’m flipping through the Celebrity Series catalog, and I read that the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields is coming to Boston with its musical director, Joshua Bell, as a soloist. Mozart was not in the program, but that was OK! Eighteen years later, I had my chance to see the famous chamber orchestra.

Celebrity Series of Boston










I was looking forward to hearing Joshua Bell, too. He and the orchestra performed a Prokofiev symphony, a Beethoven symphony, and another piece that I don’t recall (a fellow soloist canceled, so they substituted another piece). It was a wonderful concert and Joshua Bell was masterful.

Maybe I will be lucky enough to see the Academy perform Mozart’s Requiem someday. Until then, I’m happy with my Amadeus soundtrack.

So my birthday is less than a month away now. I have nine things left to do. That sounds a little daunting, but I have it under control. As you can see by the date of the concert (March 20), I am way behind in my reporting, but I will catch up somehow. Next up is a discussion about mortality and end of life…


Give Me a Child until He Is Seven

…and I will give you the man.

This is the premise of the British documentary series known as the “Up Series.”

In 1964, an English television director chose fourteen 7-year-olds from different socioeconomic groups and different geographical areas of England and filmed them, intending to introduce people to the future laborers and executives of the year 2000.

What started as a one-off program became a series. Every seven years, those who wish to participate are filmed, which means there are currently eight films. The last film, 56 Up, was released in the States in 2013.

I don’t remember when I watched the first one; it may have been Christmastime, because I was at my mom’s house. As I watched it, I remember thinking that I wasn’t going to make it through all of them because I could barely understand what those 7-year-old munchkins were saying! All of the different accents: the children were from London’s East End, wealthy parts of London, Liverpool, the Yorkshire Dales. They were all adorable and most of them were talking very fast.

I stuck with it, though, and I’m so glad that I did. There was something fascinating about watching them go through all of the stages of life. Carefree and thoughtful children, awkward teenagers, young adults, middle age. None of their stories are remarkable: almost all of them get married by 21 or 28, have kids by 35, bury parents by 42 or 49. Many of them get divorced and remarry. But as Nick said in 56 Up, “It isn’t a picture really of the essence of Nick or Suzy; it’s a picture of everyman.”

As filming continued, the director wanted to frame the story in a political way, showing the difference in the high and low classes. But that angle fell away at some point and the focus shifted to everyone’s personal stories. It was apparent, though, that the wealthier people were more reticent about being filmed and tended to stay married. That being said, most of the lower to middle class people seemed perfectly content with their lives.

Even though many of the participants weren’t entirely keen on being filmed and becoming “celebrities,” ten out of fourteen of them have participated in all eight films. None of them initially “volunteered” to be filmed; it was their parents or their teachers who signed them up to participate. Thank you, Bruce, Andrew, John, Lynn, Jackie, Sue, Symon, Paul, Nick, Suzy, Peter, Neil, Tony, and Charles, for sharing your life with the world.

If you enjoy watching documentaries, these are a must. Roger Ebert included them in his top ten greatest films of all time list, for goodness’ sake!

Up Series
Courtesy of

Two Different Worlds

I discovered English author Evelyn Waugh in graduate school. I don’t think I’ve read any of his books since then…even though I own a few! So I was delighted to find that a few of his books are on the Modern Library’s top 100 novels list.

I recently read A Handful of Dust. What I enjoy most about Waugh’s writing is the way that he subtly mocks upperclass Brits. This particular novel is about Tony Last, who has inherited a large country estate. He is married with a child and his life pretty much falls apart. He ends up accompanying a kooky explorer on an exotic exhibition to Brazil and…well, I won’t spoil it for you.

So I left the world of 1930s England for 1970s New York City when I watched Goodfellas soon after finishing Waugh’s novel. Goodfellas is #92 on the AFI top 100 films list and was nominated for six Academy awards.

The cast is top-notch: Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco, Robert DeNiro, and Joe Pesci play the leads. It is an immersive look into the world of the mob. Robberies, homicides, drugs, infidelity, more homicides. Ray Liotta’s character grows up in the “family” and when he is caught running drugs in the late ’70s…well, I won’t spoil it for you. I liked that it is based on a true story. Truth is often stranger than fiction, as they say…

It’s April 1, which means I have two months left to accomplish 12 things. Let the games begin!

She Has Moxie

I live near an awesome movie theater. It’s so awesome that living legends such as Meryl Streep have paid it a visit to accept its annual award.

None other than Jane Fonda was this year’s award recipient. My friend and I were in attendance a couple of weeks ago when she introduced a screening of her latest film, Youth, (in which she plays a minor role)* and did a Q and A afterward.

Introducing the film
Introducing the film











She was witty, gracious, and so youthful! She could pass for someone decades younger…seriously. I felt blessed to be in the same room with her. Add her to list of people whose autobiographies I want to read.

Jane has “moxie.”

Did you know that there is a 100+-year-old drink called Moxie? I didn’t…until I saw it on a grocery store shelf. I knew of the word “moxie,” believing it to mean “vivacious,” someone who has “nerve,” etc.










Well, I bought a bottle and looked it up when I got home from the grocery store. It turns out that it’s a local drink, founded in New England. I quite enjoyed reading about its history…its story is told in a cheeky tone that made me chuckle.

It has a fan club of Moxie lovers and Moxie haters…yes, it’s one of those products that one either loves or hates. It’s an “acquired taste.”

Gentian root is what gives it its taste (I think). I find it slightly medicinal in taste but not enough that it’s totally off-putting. At first slug, it tastes like a Coke…but then, suddenly, it’s not a Coke. Will I buy it regularly? No…but I would buy it again on impulse someday.

So that brings us to 29 list items left…almost a third of the way there.



* Short film review: Visually stunning, intellectual, quiet, haunting, brings one to tears at the closing scene. Paolo Sorrentino’s other film, The Great Beauty, had the same exact effect on me.