Movie Review: Quill (2004) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “Q” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z.  This is the first “Q” documentary I’ve reviewed.

TitleQuill: The Life of A Guide Dog
Release Date: 2004
DirectorYôichi Sai
Production Company: Music Box Films
Summary/Review:

Finding a documentary that begins with Q was a bit of a challenge, but I spotted this Japanese movie about a guide dog while searching through Hoopla Digital’s offerings. Quill is a yellow lab puppy who is selected from his litter as a potential guide dog for the blind.  He spends his first year with a couple who are called “puppy walkers” who raise dogs before their training begins.  Quill departs for a guide dog training center where he learns basic skills.  Then he is paired with the cantankerous  Mitsuru Watanabe, a blind journalist who doesn’t like dogs and isn’t convinced that a guide dog will help him.  Eventually though, Quill and Watanabe grow fond of one another.

I watched this movie for about 30 minutes before I began to notice that the dialogue sounded scripted and that everything was being filmed from multiple camera angles.  In short, this movie wasn’t a documentary at all.  While the first half of the film feels in the documentary style, the later half is clearly more of comic and dramatic set pieces.  So, I goofed!  But I’m leaving this review in my A to Z because it’s a sweet film and apparently was based on a true story.

Spoiler: both Watanabe and Quill die in this movie, so while most of the movie is light and charming, be prepared to cry at the end.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

I’ve learned that just because it’s tagged “documentary” doesn’t mean it’s actually a documentary.  Also, assuming that what’s depicted onscreen is true to life, there’s a lot of neat details about how dogs are trained to guide blind people in Japan.  For example, the handlers train the dogs to respond to English commands rather than Japanese so that they won’t be confused by what passersby may say.  The training center is a fascinating place where sidewalks, city streets, staircases, and ramps are recreated for the dogs and their handlers to practice on.  They even have places for the blind people to stay while learning to work with their guide dogs.

Source:  I watched this movie on Hoopla Digital.
Rating: ***

Movie Review: The Triplets of Belleville


The Triplets of Belleville (2003) has it all. It’s an animated feast for the eyes featuring a bicyclist named Champion, his heroic grandmother Madame Souza, his dog Bruno who barks at trains, the mafia, grotesquely fat people, three swingin’ old ladies, and some groovin’ music. And it has hardly any dialog (yet is about 10,000 times better than the last film I saw with limited dialog, Drawing Restraint 9). I’m so glad I finally saw this film, I think it will be one of my all time favorites.

Check out the opening of the film which is one the great sequences I’ve seen on film in a long time (albeit I’m creeped out by the part where Fred Astaire is eaten by his shoes and Josephine Baker caricature is kind of racist, although it is an attempt to replicate animation of more racist times).

Book Review: The Call of the Wild by Jack London


Believe it or not, I’ve never read The Call of the Wild (1903) by Jack London, which one would think is a requirement of being a kid in America.  And I still haven’t read it, although on a whim I listened to my library’s audiobook copy, albeit not very carefully.  Narrated in an appropriately macho fashion by Frank Muller, The Call of the Wild tells the story of Buck a farm dog who is kidnapped from Northern California and forced to pull sleds for for miners in the Yukon gold rush.  A cushy pet learns to fight for food and compete for leadership of the pack through fighting and violence, and eventually becomes alpha dog in a wild wolf pack after his owner dies.

Yes friends, before I read this book I knew it had something to do with Alaska and dogs, but I had no idea that the entire book is about a dog from a dog’s point of view.  Granted, the book is very symbolic in that we humans sit very tenuously on the edge of civilization and brutality and savageness (and London wrote this before the World Wars, the Holocaust, and all the horrors of the 20th century that tested humanity).  Still, as a book about dogs it’s a very good and accurate look at what may be going on in a dog’s mind.

Notes from the Walk for Hunger


Another successful this Sunday. 43,000 people participated raising a record 3.3-million dollars for 400 emergency food programs in Massachusetts! Of course, with poverty on the rise every one of those $3.3-million and more will be needed. It’s not too late to donate, so drop by my personal walk page and make a secure online donation. Thus far my incredibly generous sponsors have contributed $2600 to Project Bread!

My Walk for Hunger Photo Gallery (all the pictures are of people I don’t know, so if your see yourself, let me know).

This year’s walk was different from previous years. Since Susan is out of town, I walked alone for the first time (if you call being among 43,000 people alone). Susan’s absence probably contributed to my sleeping through my alarm for a whole hour before I finally woke up. Starting an hour later than usual, I noticed the walk route was a lot more crowded. On the plus side there were more performers out serenading the walkers at that time than in my previous experience. Since I’ve had a bum ankle for a while, I also decided to take it slow so while I’m usually finished in the early afternoon, this time I pretty much took the entire day to walk. It’s actually a good idea, because in years’ past my legs felt near-crippled after the walk (especially the day after the walk), but this year I felt no more than an ordinary soreness.

I arrived at Boston Common around 8 am and checked in at the Heart & Sole tent. The volunteers are always wonderfully cheerful and they had Dunkin Donuts and coffee to get me started. The city is doing some restoration work on the Common so all the tents were in different locations this year and it was a bit disorienting. I passed under the start line at 8:15 and I was on my way. The weather was good for walking if a bit on the chilly side, especially when the clouds covered the sun. When the sun was out it warmed up considerably but I never took my jacket off the entire walk, which is unusual for a radiator of heat like myself.

At Kenmore Square, I looked behind me to check out a passing fire truck and there was Brian of Baptized Pagan fame. We walked together for a bit and he told me he had to be in Worcester by 4:30 pm. As noted above, I was taking it slow so I let Brian go ahead and didn’t see him again for the rest of the walk. Further along Beacon Street, a blond, burly guy in a volunteer shirt called out “Hey Liam!” I had no idea who it was, but it turned out to be another Brian with whom I went to high school! I also went to college with Brian’s older brother Rob, and I don’t think I’ve seen Brian in 10 years since Rob’s wedding. He looked so different, but apparently I don’t since he recognized me right away. I met his wife a bit further down the street.

If one demographic dominates the Walk for Hunger, it appears to be teenage girls, although I don’t have statistics to back this up. A lot of the Walk for Hunger promotional material features photos of teenage girls which begs the question: do the ads feature teenage girls because they participate in the walk in great numbers or are teenage girls drawn to the walk in great numbers because of ads targeting them. Anyhow, it was sweet to see girls walking with their arms linked together, something that has retro-Victorian feel. I don’t remember girls walking arm-in-arm when I was in high school. I think they would have been mocked if they had so things are better these days.

I like the Walk for Hunger because it’s such a community event. Volunteers cheer through megaphones, passing cars bleep their horns merrily, kids set up lemonade stands on the route, and everyone is supportive and having fun. Each walker wears a sticker with their number of walks on them, and I’m always impressed by the people who’ve walked 20-30 times. In fact, I saw a lot of people under 20 years old who wore stickers saying this is my 15th walk! It also makes me a little sad. I like to think that I’ll participate in the walk for as long as I can, but on the other hand, the world would be much better if we could finally eliminate the reasons why we walk.

My ankle felt sore from the start, but oddly felt better the more I walked. I took lots of long breaks, especially along the Charles which was just glorious on this day. The strategy seemed to work as I felt pretty good on the home stretch. At around 4 pm I reached the finish line on Boston Common. It was a bit anti-climactic as I didn’t see a place to get my card marked for the final checkpoint, but I did get ice cream, so all was well. I walked over to the Parkman Bandstand and lay in the sun while a reggae band played. I think I may have nodded off a bit. After that I took the T back home, feeling refreshed and happy.

Overheard on the Walk for Hunger

  • Child, as we approac the Mass Av underpass: “When we get in that tunnel, I’m going to scream my lungs out!” (surprisingly she actually did not).
  • At mile 19.5:
    • Woman #1: “This is why they only have the walk once a year.”
    • Woman #2: “How’s that?”
    • Woman #1: “Because you forget how annoying it gets at this point.”
    • Woman #2: “Yeah, just like labor.”

Five Pictures I Wish I’d Taken on the Walk for Hunger

  • Even though it’s prohibited, a lot of people bring their dogs on the walk which I think is a bit hard on the poor pooches’ paws. But one woman had a small dog in a sling across her chest. The dog wore a custom made Walk for Hunger hat and t-shirt.
  • One picture of each of the Brians I met.
  • More pictures of the great volunteers, especially the great people who staff the checkpoints.
  • A sultry chanteuse crooning jazz in front off a restaurant, although another walker captured this pic.

News and Blogs Coverage

  • Boston Globe – “You’re not supposed to be hungry in America,” Crofton said.
  • Boston Globe – “The Walk for Hunger supports a cause that is near and dear to me,” she said. “I can’t bear the thought of children going to bed hungry. Food should be a given.
  • Boston Herald – “It feeds thousands and thousands and thousands of people,” said Ellen Parker, executive director of Project Bread. “It’s an opportunity for everyone in Massachusetts to come out . . . and revive our connections to one another.”
  • Boston Herald – “Kids want to give back,” Rebecca said. “You don’t hear about that a lot. You don’t read about it too much in the paper, but it’s true. They want to make a difference. People need our support and our energy. Besides, it’s fun to do something for other people you may not even know.”
  • Soft Happiness – I can’t read this blog but it has some great photos.
  • Donna’s colorful world – A ton of photo’s from the walk.
  • Cody and Meredith – more folks on the walk.
  • Freshly Brewed – “It would be faster to tell you what doesn’t hurt, like…my eyelashes. Yes, I can safely say that my eyelashes feel smashing.”
  • azulunar – “Since I had already reached the 8th point, which was also about 15 miles, I was like……why not? It’s just 5 more miles. Why stop now? When the goal was close.”
  • johnsmind – “Why are people so cheap when it comes to helping others???”
  • Quite Quite Fantastic! – “I hope my friends didn’t mind a little spam from me, as it was for a good cause.”
  • Allogenes – “The Walk is bigger than the Walkers. It has a life all its own. We may walk the Walk, but at the same time the Walk is carrying us.”
  • don’t eat alone – “The seemingly endless train of people was as diverse as their fashion senses. We saw girls walking arm in arm, sharing the headphones on a single iPod, groups from both urban and suburban schools and churches, parents pushing strollers, families marking a tradition together, and some folks just walking by themselves for the cause.”
  • imagined-community – “Today was lovely; I even got sunburned. Spent the afternoon cheering on the walkers for Project Bread’s 39th Walk for Hunger.”
  • # Open # Happy @_^ Micky *_~ Spaces – Another nice photo album on a page written in a language I cannot read.

So that’s it for this year. Hope to take the whole family out on the walk next year! And you can join me too!

Another Weekend in New York


For Christmas, my mother generously gave Susan and I tickets to see Madama Butterfly performed by the New York City Opera at the New York State Theater in Lincoln Center. My friend Mike M., an Atlanta Braves fan, and I have a tradition of catching a Mets-Braves game at Shea Stadium each spring. Fortuitously, the Mets-Braves series and the opera fell on the same weekend and a plan was hatched!

My photos from the weekend.

We drove down early Saturday morning in Mike’s Truckasaurus. From past experience and the many warning of Mets announcers about the lack of parking at Shea, I was worried we’d be stuck in traffic and have to park in a remote region of Long Island. Despite many bathroom breaks for Mike, we arrived about an hour before game time and got parking close to the stadium, so all that worry was for naught.

We sat in the Upper Deck boxes behind home plate. There was a great family of season ticket holders in front of us. Both the man and woman kept score and compared notes during the game. They were die-hard scorekeepers as the man kept a baseball-shaped pencil sharper on hand for mid-game sharpening. The man didn’t like the Wave at all and I have to agree with him. Twenty years ago fans at Shea did the Wave during a Met rally as a coordinated effort to cheer on the action on the field. Nowadays, the Wave seems to happen when the fans are bored, and it’s a pretty tired activity at that.

It was a big day at Shea. First it was Luggage Tag Day (almost as exciting as Mets Ice Cube Tray Day) as all fans received a classy leather tag upon entering. Next it was Earth Day and volunteers from the EPA made a token appearance to collect recyclable cans and bottles (they didn’t stick around too long after the game though). The best part is that it was Dog Day in the Park and Mets fans walked their pooches around the warning track prior to the game. A lot of cute dogs in Mets bandanas out there. This brought much delight to Susan.

The highlight of the day was the on field action between the Mets and Braves. Young Ollie Perez pitched beautifully, including 20 straight strikes at one point. I got to rib Mike a lot about all the 0-2 counts on the Braves batters. I also got to see the most exciting player in baseball, Jose Reyes, doing what he does best: getting on base and then stealing bases.

The Mets broke the game open with a series of home runs over the 5th & 6th innings. I didn’t see any of these because I was attempting to get money by waiting in line at the slowest ATM in the world, and then waiting again to buy ice cream. I didn’t mind too much because I think I was getting too much sun on a warm April day. Spending so much time packed like a sardine within Shea’s interior makes me appreciate the need for constructing a new stadium with extra wide concourses.

For more on the Mets v. Braves, see my latest baseball post Meet the Mets.

After the game, we spent some time under the elevated tracks with a drink and a snack. I was impressed with how quickly and efficiently most of the other fans were moved away from the park. By the time we were ready to go there was no wait for Mike to drive out of the parking lot nor for us to board the 7 train. We zipped downtown to Times Square and then transfered uptown to our hotel in the Upper West Side. The Hotel Riverside Studios promotes their plaid bedspreads and matching drapes, but something about the corridor makes it look like the kind of place where artists go to shoot heroin. We came up with a slogan for the hotel “You’ll come for our plaid bedspreads, you’ll stay for our shady corridors!” The neighborhood was lovely with lots of colorful, stone-front row houses.

After a nap which I couldn’t shake off right away, we headed out for dinner. An excellent soul band played on the crowded platform at 72 St. Station. The lead vocalist had one of those powerful, throat-shredding voices and the guitarist and drummer offered lovely harmonies. They made the rather crumby Commodores’ song “Easy” sound really, really good. I was a bit thrown by the subway not making local stops, grumpified more as I groggily made along the packed sidewalks near Times Square, and positively mortified when I knocked over a candle and broke a glass as we were seated at the restaurant. I was soothed by the delicious Indian food and the friendly staff at the former Nirvana 54.

We strolled down 5th Avenue to the Empire State Building which Susan wanted to visit on recommendation from our nephew Cassidy. The wait was long though, so we took a pass. It was a nice walk and maybe we’ll return and go up when Cassidy is with us. Back at the hotel Susan searched unsuccessfully for a Tom Hanks movie, her New York tradition. Then we went to sleep.

On Sunday we ate breakfast at a cafe on the corner of 71 St. and Broadway. We strolled down to Lincoln Center, but it was far too early, so we made our way over Central Park to get out of the sun. New Yorkers celebrated the warm weather by taking all their cute babies and dogs to the park. We watched for a long time as a young lad played baseball with his dad, always running the wrong way when he hit the ball. Topping off our park experience, we ate Ferrara’s pastries by the USS Maine monument.

We walked around the Lincoln Center complex which really is an amazing complex. This is what Modernism looks like at it’s very best. I especially like the railings in the New York State Theater which look like Jackson Pollock paintings formed into class. Upon entering the Fourth Ring to find our seats, Susan said “Wow!” which I think sums it up. The couple sitting in front of us seemed more inured to the opera house experience. During intermissions he read a book and she did the Times crossword.

For more on the performance read my post Opera Review: Madama Butterfly.

After the opera we strolled up Amsterdam Avenue to Fred’s Restaurant. This place is pretty much a dog-themed bar based on the story of a female lab named Fred who wasn’t able to work as a guide dog for the blind, but was lovingly adopted by the restaurant owners. The walls are lined with autographed photos of dogs from around the world. Susan loved it. Fred’s appears to be a good place to take your children as the other tables were teaming with adorable young’uns. Come to think of it, I think our entire weekend was dominated by dogs and children. Anyhow, the food and staff at Fred’s are great too.

After that we took a long, hot bus ride home and arrived groggy and grumpy. And that was our weekend.


Speaking of New York City, this online gallery of photos of New York from 1964-1969 contains many great images of the city and its inhabitants by Irwin Klein. While this is a little bit before my time, it’s still nostalgic as the city and the people in the photos remind of New York when I was a child.