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Apr 17th
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Left Behind

film_beginnersComing to terms with life and loss with gusto, ‘Beginners’ is downright charming

Coming of age: it's not just for kids any more. At least that's true for the characters in Mike Mills' winsome, yet sneakily affecting comedy-drama, Beginners. On one hand, Mills explores choices (and compromises) made, roads not taken, and baggage inflicted in the course of one's life, along with a residual legacy of sadness passed through the generations. But the film is also a wryly humorous celebration of love in all its guises, friendship, family bonds, and finding oneself, at any age.

Ewan McGregor is wonderful as protagonist Oliver Fields, a 38-year-old graphic designer in Los Angeles whose romantic relationships never work out. Granted, he's had a lot to process in the last five years, since the death of his beloved mother.

The following year, at age 75, his father, Hal (Christopher Plummer) came out as a gay man, a lifestyle he pursued with avid esprit for the next four years, until he died of cancer. Oliver is straight, but as a result of all these departures and revelations, he has a pattern of leaving his relationships with women before they get too serious; life has taught him that marriages are unhappy and doomed to fail, and that those who love inevitably get left behind.

McGregor is the steady presence that grounds the film, as Oliver devotedly shepherds his father through his final years. A little dazed, but never intolerant, he accepts his father's new circle of gay friends—including Andy (the engaging Goran Visnjic), Hal's much younger lover (possibly even younger than Oliver). But the centerpiece of the film is Plummer's Hal, a museum curator and dapper bon vivant who embraces his new identity with gusto. "I don't want to just be theoretically gay," he says, on the day he comes out to his son. "I want to do something about it!"

Hal is dead when the film begins, as a somber Oliver packs up his things and brings home his dog. But their offbeat, yet tender father-son dynamic plays out in flashbacks throughout the film as Oliver attempts to move on with his own life, as do flashbacks of  Oliver as a boy attempting to understand why his wistful, at times deliciosly subversive mother, Georgia (the absolutely terrific Mary Page Keller), seems so unhappy, despite his parents' genuine, if formal, affection for one another.

And all of what Oliver thinks he's learned about love, marriage, regrets, and the way the world works comes into play—and under scrutiny—when he meets Anna (Melanie Laurent) at a party. He mentions in passing that she's an actress, although we never see her at work. What we do find out is that she's a free-spirited type who lives from city to city, one hotel room to the next, and harbors family demons of her own. They meet in disguise, and the moment they reveal themselves to each other is both playful and freighted with symbolism. Against their better judgment, they're drawn to each other. (It's embarrassing," frets Oliver to a friend. "I'm 38 and falling for a girl again," even though he's "lost the instructions...")

Filmmaker Mills (his first film was the sly Thumbsucker), has an eye for telling visual details and an ear for sardonic observations. That Oliver is a graphic artist (as Mills once was) allows the director to insert a lot of Oliver's funny, expositional doodles to further the story (including an insert he designs for a CD by a group called The Sads that becomes an impossibly immense accordion fold-out "History of Sadness"). To understand his personal history, Oliver keeps exploring the cultural, and political history of America in the '50s and '60s (when his parents married, he was born, and his dad was in thefilm_beginnerss closet), and the present, in stream-of-consciousness montages involving advertising images from various eras.

It's almost too much that Mills also throws in an adorable Jack Russell terrier, who communicates with Oliver via subtitles. ("Are we married yet?" he keeps asking Oliver, re: Anna), but the scruffy mutt has so much personality, we're won over. Besides, what pet owner doesn't imagine his animal is observing his life and offering advice? It's one more risky component that pays off in this beautifully acted charmer of a film.

BEGINNERS

★★★ (out of four) Watch film trailer >>>

With Ewan McGregor, Melanie Laurent, and Christopher Plummer. Written and directed by Mike Mills. A Focus Features release. Rated R. 105 minutes.

Opens July 1 at The Nick.

 

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Growing Hope

Campos Seguros combats sexual assault in the Watsonville farmworker community Farm work was a way of life for Rocio Camargo, who grew up in Watsonville as the daughter of Mexican immigrants. Her parents met while working the fields 30 years ago, and her father went on to run Fuentes Berry Farms.

 

Cardinal Grand Cross in the Sky

Following Holy Week (passion, death and burial of the Pisces World Teacher) and Easter Sunday (Resurrection Festival), from April 19 to the 23, the long-awaited and discussed Cardinal Cross of Change appears in the sky, composed of Cardinal signs Aries, Libra, Cancer, and Capricorn, with planets (13-14 degrees) Uranus (in Aries), Jupiter (in Cancer), Mars (in Libra) and Pluto (in Capricorn), an actual geometrical square or cross configuration. Cardinal signs mark the seasons of change, initiating new realities.

 

Sugar: The New Tobacco?

Proposed bill would require warning labels on sugary drinks Will soda and other saccharine libations soon come with a health warning? They will if it’s up to our state senator, Bill Monning (D-Carmel). On Feb. 27, Monning proposed first-of-its-kind legislation that would require a consumer warning label be placed on sugar-sweetened beverages sold in California. SB 1000, also known as the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act, was proposed to provide vital information to consumers about the harmful effects of consuming sugary drinks, such as sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened teas.

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of April 17

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Foodie File: Red Apple Cafe

Breakfast takes center stage at Gracia Krakauer's Red Apple Cafe Before they moved to Aptos, Gracia and her husband Dan Krakauer would visit friends in Santa Cruz County and eat at the Red Apple Café all the time. Then they moved up here from Santa Monica five years ago, and bought the Aptos location (there’s a separate one in Watsonville) from the family who owned it for two decades.

 

How would you feel about a tech industry boom in Santa Cruz?

I feel like it would ruin the small old-town feeling of Santa Cruz. It wouldn’t be the same Surf City kind of vacation town that it is. Antoinette BennettSanta Cruz | Construction Management

 

Best of Santa Cruz County

The 2013 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll and Critics’ Picks It’s our biggest issue of the year, and in it, your votes—more than 6,500 of them—determined the winners of The Best of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll. New to the long list of local restaurants, shops and other notables that captured your interest: Best Beer Selection, Best Locally Owned Business, Best Customer Service and Best Marijuana Dispensary. In the meantime, many readers were ever so chatty online about potential new categories. Some of the suggestions that stood out: Best Teen Program and Best Web Design/Designer. But what about: Dog Park, Church, Hotel, Local Farm, Therapist (I second that!) or Sports Bar—not to be confused with Bra. Our favorite suggestion: Best Act of Kindness—one reader noted Café Gratitude and the free meals it offered to the Santa Cruz Police Department in the aftermath of recent crimes. Perhaps some of these can be woven into next year’s ballot, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the following pages and take note of our Critics’ Picks, too, beginning on page 91. A big thanks for voting—and for reading—and an even bigger congratulations to all of the winners. Enjoy.  -Greg Archer, EditorBest of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll INDEX

 

Trout Gulch Vineyards

Cinsault 2012—la grande plage diurne The most popular wines on store shelves are those most generally known and available—Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which are all superb for sure. But when you come across a more unusual varietal, like Trout Gulch Vineyards’ Cinsault ($18), it opens up a whole new world.