Saturday, December 15, 2007

Rough Ice

No one likes a tease. You can't tell me that you have been married twice, have gone bankrupt and have had a daughter and just walk away! I haven't heard from you in 24 years. This is all you have to tell me?

It isn't often that you really long to read a book and reach its end. I was hoping that Dorothy Hamill's new autobiography, A Skating Life: My Story, would be that sort of book. She's the famous friend we all long to have. Sadly, everything you've been longing to know won't be found here. A Skating Life will only be palatable to Dorothy's most avid fans and admirers.

During the 1970s, Dorothy was a charismatic figure skater who brought inspiration and delight to all. Her gifted athleticism, combined with delightful style and grace, created a persona that was larger than life. Sighs of amazement would always be heard as she danced on the ice around the world. Dorothy was a living storybook character that we longed to watch.

When her life and career began to cool, Dorothy wrote her first biography, On and Off the Ice (Knopf - 1983.) She captured all the excitement and thrill of being an Olympic champion and the adventure of her worldwide travels. I remember this book fondly. When I heard she had written a new book, I couldn't wait to receive it. Sadly, my anticipation would not bear fruit. This is a chilly and lifeless book. It's not a reflection of someone known for their exuberance and charm. You haven't really become this person, have you Dorothy?

Just presenting the facts creates a lousy read. Dorothy's book certainly brings you up to date with what has occurred in her adult life, but we are left shallow and empty. Her first husband committed adultery and then smashed his fighter jet into a mountain. Dorothy still loves him. Tell me why! Her second husband conned her out of her fortune and also cheated on her. How did you handle it? Her daughter has become her savior and her raison d'etre. What is she like? Tell us about the moments you cherish! Tell us all about your joy!

Reading is an essential skill. You read for basic utility. You read to learn. You read for enjoyment. As a writer, you must always remember this: You may not be standing in a spotlight, with a live audience in front of you, but you are an entertainer. When you decide to write, it is your job to discover 'the good stuff' and bring it forth in the proper context and form to entice your readers to read more! You have to capture the emotions, the aspirations, the pain and the joy. A Skating Life doesn't. Is the title a dark and self-depreciating double entendre?

One thing is particularly puzzling. Dorothy points out her mother's terse disposition, depression, and alcoholism over and over again. Countless times she refers to her mother's habits of "self-medication." Her mother's struggles in life were portrayed so coldly it became like a bitter pill whenever they were mentioned. Without elaboration, these comments became burdensome with an immature tone. The end of the book reveals an illogical twist. Dorothy turns 180 degrees and writes a long passage about how she admires her Mom and thanks her for her dedication. Was this a remarkable revelation in later life or just poor editing?

I hope Dorothy doesn't wait another quarter of a century before writing another book. Although her current biography doesn't capture it, I think she has a lot to say and a lot to share. I'd like to suggest concentrating on the joys of her current life: skating, her daughter and cooking. I'm sure there is a lot of 'good stuff' we would like to hear all about. C'mon! Tell us a good story, Dorothy! I know you can do much better than this. Capture your smiles and enthusiasm on paper. Again, you will be a winner!

Sunday, December 9, 2007


Disney has reached a new maturity. For more than eighty years, the studio has enchanted us with its tales of fantasy and fun. No other source can compare to Disney's quality and consistency to cast a spell and steal our hearts. The world of Disney is a beloved place where we have always found happily-ever-afters. But what if the formula were reversed? What if a beautiful princess, an evil witch and a handsome prince came to visit us? Now we know!

Needless to say, a princess does visit us, and Disney's latest feature, Enchanted, takes us along for her amazing ride. This is not another cookie-cutter princess movie. Enchanted's six reel sojourn is an endlessly clever homage to all of Disneyana. Masterful satire both honors and pokes fun at all that preceded it. You'll delight and savor every minute!

This Disney princess can not only survive a trip to Manhattan, she can thrive there! Just ask Giselle, played effortlessly by Amy Adams. She first appears as a 'toon direct from Disney central casting. Evil Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon) sends her off into peril pushing her into a wishing well that ends in Times Square. Suddenly, Giselle is no longer a 2-D character; she's an innocent 3-D royal lady, fully-costumed, in the middle of Manhattan. Giselle's adventures in The Big Apple are a perfect stage for Amy Adams' comic brilliance. How she kept a straight face throughout these scenes I'll never know, but she should receive an Oscar for her portrayal.

As anyone who has visited a Disney theme park would know, they are experts at glorious enthusiastic parades filled with jubilant characters. This joy has been artfully captured in a masterpiece musical gem, "That's How You Know," staged in New York's Central Park. Hundreds of actors, in brilliant costume, never miss a beat of their complex choreography from location to location. Watch Princess Giselle as she leads her entourage like a Pied Piper. What a magnificent moment in movies!

I won't add spoilers here, but there is a very happy ending! Giselle's devoted (and nutty) Prince Edward (James Marsden) shows off his comedic flair. Wait until you see where he finds his magic mirror! Gray's Anatomy star Patrick Dempsey shines as the straight-man romantic divorce lawyer who doubles as Giselle's knight in shining armor. Watch how he becomes enchanted himself! Susan Sarandon plays a most-wicked queen and a delicious ugly evil witch. Both of her characters should win awards for makeup and effects. You will be running from shiny red apples long after you see her dastardly offering to Princess Giselle.

Speaking of critters, another wonderful musical number, "Happy Working Song," may just change your mind about pigeons, rats and cockroaches. They can sing and dance and clean the nastiest bachelor pad you've ever seen. The cutting-edge computer graphics and special effects are first rate. Enchanted's finale, "Ever, Ever After," provides the backdrop for a perfect ending crooned by hot newcomer Carrie Underwood. The score was written primarily by legendary songsmiths Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. I guarantee you'll be humming long after the final credits end.

Enchanted is an absolute must-see for anyone who loves a Disney flick. Watch it four or five times (and make sure you bring your kids!) Each viewing will reveal more and more nuance and tribute for your delight and discovery! (See if you can pick out the performances of Disney regulars Julie Andrews, Jodi Benson and Paige O'Hara!) It would make a perfect romantic first-date movie, too! My advice: Go now while you can still see it on the big screen. You are certain to fall under its spell!