Tuesday, April 15, 2014

April Bits and Pieces

Doesn't it kill you when you are sure you will remember something and you don't?  I used to buy chicken, use some, freeze the rest and I was certain I would remember when I bought it. Now I'm not so sure, so little notes go into the plastic bag before the chicken goes into the freezer.  And as for the folder I must remember to take with me to a meeting, that has to go into the bag the night before, and the bag has to be sitting in front of the door, so I have to move it to get out.  Whatever works, right?

I was writing a note (probably about the chicken) and looked down at the pen and found it was labeled "University of Kentucky Bookstore."  What?  I have never been to Kentucky, the RU Women's basketball team hasn't played Kentucky, so I have no idea how that pen found its way into my collection, alongside pens from law firms I don't use, financial planners I have never met, drugs I have never taken and an organization called "Help You Pay for College.com."  Strange.

I just read a book called “What Alice Forgot.”  Ironically, I kept forgetting the name in the title.  I think the sequel should be called, “What Tina Forgot.”

There are so many potholes on Willow Road near my house that I feel like a moguls skier when I drive down that road, moving from side to side and getting bounced around.  I’m afraid a cop will pull me over for driving erratically as I bob and weave down the road.

Just wondering:  When did World War I become World War I?  I’m guessing it was  when World War II came along.  After all, it would have been foreboding to have it named World War I, implying that there would be a second one, when the first was complete.  And who decided to number global conflicts instead of naming them?  Was there a committee of some sort formed to tackle this issue?  Or was there a groundswell of support via Facebook or Twitter to go for the WW I and WW II names?  Wait, I'm time traveling.

If there is ever a movie made of my life (and the odds on that happening are not good), I think it should be titled, “The Long, Hot Shower.”  I do love a long, hot shower to loosen the muscles and rid my body of that nasty chemical odor from aqua aerobics.

Doesn’t it seem like only yesterday we were fretting over Y2K?  A kid turning 13 this year wasn’t even born when Y2K occurred.  I was on the planning committee for my department at J&J, and people were in a panic that we might not be able to send out a press release if there were no power.  Relax, I told them, no one will be able to get it anyway.  The next time we change centuries, this will be someone else’s problem. 

I wish I had a dime for every time I have noticed the record light on the DVR and thought, “I wonder what I am recording now.”  With all of the TV I watch and movies I see, there is always something being saved for future viewing.

Do you realize that no child growing up today will have ever licked a stamp?  And what market is there for those little spongy things we had in the office?  For that matter, kids today may grow up wondering what actual mail looks like since most of it consists of bills (declining due to electronic distribution), birthday cards (declining due to Facebook and e-mail) and those annoying ads you get reminding you to get your chimney cleaned or encouraging you to replace your windows.  The post office will probably be out of business anyway.

I’ll admit it: I can’t bring myself to use just one space at the end of a sentence.  I was taught to use two spaces, and I will go to my grave using two spaces.  However, that sometimes means that the beginning of a line doesn’t appear flush left with the rest of the paragraph.  Either of those two choices is enough to drive me crazy.  So please, on the tombstone, TWO SPACES!  Thanks.

People, people, people:  I ask your help in eradicating the incorrect use of the word “unique.”  Something is unique if it is different, if it stands out in some way.  There are no qualifiers for the word unique.  Something is either unique or it isn’t.  It cannot be “very” unique.  Someone can be uniquely qualified, but not highly unique.  This is the stuff that drives me crazy, along with the use of single quotes where double quotes are needed.   For example, grammar expert Tina Gordon said, “I feel uniquely qualified to point out that ‘highly unique’ is a phrase that is incorrect.”  The single quote is used within the larger quoted sentence.  I realize that these pet peeves may be unique to me, but let’s work together to stamp them out!

I guess if I want the electric razor to actually shave my legs, changing the batteries more than once a decade helps.  The shaver I was about to throw away now works like a buzz saw, powered by those new AAs.

Just when I think my mind is as sharp as ever, “Jeopardy” throws in “Famous Mathematicians” or “Peninsulas” to remind me of how much I don’t know.

I took four years of French in high school (to go along with four years of Spanish) and never once heard any of the language used by people who swear and then say, “Pardon my French.”  I must have been absent the day they went over those words, which, by the way, don’t sound French at all. 

And speaking of Spanish, I cannot remember why I am standing in front of the pantry, but I can remember all those Spanish dialogs we had to memorize as kids:  “Carumba, se me olvido mi cuaderno.”  “No importa. Yo tengo papel.”  Come on, you know them, too!

I cannot stand that sticky stuff they use to attach coupons to cardboard.  Kohl’s and Macy's use it a lot.  It is tough to get off and it has the texture of snot.  Yuck!

Whenever I have to get an X-ray or some diagnostic test done and the technician says, “Don’t move,” my body feels like it goes into involuntary spasms, making me sure that the image will be nothing but a blur. 

I think when the cleaning service comes to the house, they walk around the house and make all of the pictures on the wall crooked so I’ll think they dusted them.  I think that trick is in the cleaner’s manual.

You know you’re a “fan”atic when you find yourself watching a 2009 women’s basketball game and you’re still thrilled with the ending.

Speaking of basketball, I was one of the lucky Cagers Club “Road Warriors” who used trains, planes and automobiles to follow the Rutgers Women’s Basketball Team as they captured the Women’s National Invitational Tournament Championship Trophy this month.  I calculated that those of us who went to all 3 road games (at Bowling Green, Ohio; the University of South Florida in Tampa and UTEP in El Paso, following 3 games at home), logged nearly 1,200 driving miles and more than 7,000 in the air, with flights from Newark or JFK to Tampa and Albuquerque, stopping and changing planes in Nashville, Chicago and Atlanta.  Eight days, 8 flights, 7 states and 3 victories:  Priceless.  Until the credit card bill arrives, that is.

After watching so much basketball, the slow pace of baseball is, well, kind of boring, I have to admit.

You may remember I recently wrote an essay on my sleeping problems.  After recently  falling asleep on my flights on the way to all those basketball games – once before we even had taxied to the runway (but it was a really EARLY flight) – I have decided to buy myself a seatbelt, strap myself into the recliner, sit in an upright position (and with my tray table up), put the neck pillow under my chin and get a good night’s sleep.  I realize that it might not work if no one is there to wake me and ask if I want a beverage. 

I have been watching “Revenge” since it started a few years ago on ABC, so I cannot abandon it now.  But I wish Emily Thorne would get her revenge already.  This influx of former wives, kids no one knew they had and other secondary characters makes for that “jump the shark” moment that spells doom for most TV shows when they abandon the original premise and cast and expand beyond recognition.  Also, I can’t take the whispering.  In real life, when people fight, we SHOUT.  We do not whisper.  Unintelligibly, at that.

Remember when coupons had expiration dates of two years?  Now I don’t even bother cutting some out because they expire in three weeks.  There goes 50 cents I could have saved.

I fear that in generations to come the name Paul Newman will only be associated with salad dressing and spaghetti sauce and not with the handsome and talented actor who made so many movies I love (“Butch Cassidy,” “The Sting,” “The Young Philadelphians,” “Cool Hand Luke,” among so many others). 

I was recently sick, which means I had to take medicine.  In my weakened state, it was almost impossible to extricate the pills from their stronger-than-steel blister packs.  And have you ever had a pounding headache, only to have to wrestle with the top of the medicine bottle to get it open?  I know these things are supposed to be “childproof,” but I’m telling you, that packaging works all too well on adults. 

And speaking of being sick, this is yet another time when I am happy I live alone.  I was making all kinds of disgusting noises, things that woke me up.  I cannot imagine how someone else could have gotten a decent night’s sleep in this house with that racket going on.

Here’s how to tell that I am really, really sick:  My bed isn’t made.  I faithfully make my bed every day, but, on the rare occasions that I am sick enough to know I’ll be spending the day in it, why bother to make it?  Of course, you could ponder the need to make it every day since you’ll be getting in it again that night, but I make mine anyway.

Don’t you hate it when you open the washing machine lid and see remnants of a tissue all over the dark load?  I live alone, so there is no one to blame for this transgression but me.

Does anyone actually read those inserts that come with the water bill or the PSE&G bill?  It’s not like anyone has ever said to me, “You know, I read a great tip on the insert that came with my sewer bill the other day.”

And who orders all that stuff the Bradford Exchange is always advertising with those annoying magazine inserts (I’m talking to you, TV Guide)?  OK, once I ordered a pair of B&W “I Love Lucy” sneakers – which I actually wear from time to time – but isn’t like I am going to order porcelain figurines of Lucy and Desi any time soon.  Does anyone?

A well-planned escape was thwarted today when I discovered my missing blue sock hiding in the sleeve of my sweatshirt.  Nice try.

YOU may think that blooming daffodils are the sure sign of spring, but when the Dairy Delite soft ice cream place on Hamilton Street in Somerset takes down the plywood covering its windows and puts out the OPEN sign, I KNOW spring has sprung.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Tina's March 2014 Movies

March Madness basketball severely limited my movie watching and delayed this monthly blog entry.  The numbering picks up from the previous month and, as always, movies are rated on a scale of 1-5 cans of tuna, with 5 being the highest rank.  Enjoy.

31.   Election (1999) – A young Reese Witherspoon is perfection as Tracy Flick, an energetic and ambitious high school student with her sights set on being Student Body President.   Matthew Broderick is a teacher in her school and a bit skeptical of her motives, so he persuades a football player (Chris Klein) to run against her.  Various hijinks ensue as this story skewers the brown-noser types like Tracy, high school life in general, laconic teachers, and, most of all, elections.  3 cans.
32.  In the Heat of the Night (1967) – This movie was named Best Picture of 1967, something I would dispute (see next review).  Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) is merely passing through a small Southern town when he is hauled in to the sheriff’s office merely because he is black.  While verifying his identity as a police officer from Philadelphia to local authorities, he is roped into solving the murder of a local businessman.  Tibbs must contend with discrimination and stereotypes while peeling back the layers of the crime, examining aspects that the local yokels have ignored or misunderstood.  Rod Steiger as the sheriff treats him with disdain yet recognizes he needs his expertise.  Tibbs manages to outwit, outplay and outclass everyone.  Nice bits from Lee Grant as the murdered man’s wife, and Poitier and Steiger play their parts with grit and relish.  4 cans.
33.  The Graduate (1967) – This, in my not-so-humble opinion, is the best movie of 1967.  In fact, it is my favorite movie of all-time.  The anti-establishment theme appealed to me as a 17-year old trying to understand the expectations of society for someone just coming of age – and I mean not just Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock, but also me.  “Plastics,” “Oh, no, it’s completely baked,” “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me” are just some of the classic lines from this serious yet extremely funny movie.  It was very contemporary for 1967, and it holds up well after all these years.  Anne Bancroft is the ultimate cougar as Mrs. Robinson and Katherine Ross is the beautiful Elaine, her daughter, who meets Benjamin and gives him a purpose in life.  Kudos to Bancroft for deftly playing the seductress and the mother of Ross when she was only a few years older than Hoffman.  Mike Nichols directed this hit, and it helped establish him and Hoffman as major players in Hollywood.  I love this movie and always will.  5 cans for the film itself and another 5 for its legendary Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack.
34.  Moonstruck (1987) – This irresistible movie is more about moments than plot.  Loretta Castorini (Cher, who won the Oscar for Best Actress)) is a dowdy widow (who cleans up well) resigned to marrying her long-time boyfriend Johnny Cammereri (Danny Aiello) even though she feels she has no luck in love.  When she is told by Johnny to invite his estranged brother Ronny (Nicholas Cage) to the wedding while he flies to his dying mother’s bedside in Palermo, sparks fly between Loretta and Ronny.  There are great scenes with her parents in Brooklyn (Vincent Gardenia and Olympia Dukakis, who my friend Dy will insist to her dying day is miscast despite her Oscar for the role), with her confused grandfather, her aunt and uncle, her father’s secret girlfriend (Anita Gillette) and a would-be lothario professor (John Mahoney).  Why do men chase women?  Because they fear death, we learn.  But Loretta  declares that one day Johnny will die and she’ll come to the funeral wearing a red dress.  Throw in some table slapping, a night at the opera, a little Vicki  Carr music and you have a pastiche of life Italiano, oddly enough written by John Patrick Shanley.  The shot of Cher coming home on the “walk of shame,” kicking a tin can down the street with her red patent leather heels is priceless.  I love every minute.  4½ cans.
35.  Downhill* (2014) – This ESPN documentary focuses on the rise and fall of US Olympic skier Bill Johnson.  The brash Johnson won the US’ first-ever gold medal in the downhill at the 1984 Olympics.  An outsider to the ski team, Johnson was his own man.  When asked what winning the gold meant to him, the 23-year old said, “Millions.”   Alas, his outspokenness and penchant for partying did not sit well with corporations who love to lavish money on the athletes that have the golden image, and his endorsement prospects failed to materialize.  He made personal appearances and continued to ski, but ultimately was forced to find work to support his wife and children.  An ill-conceived comeback in preparation for the Olympics in Salt Lake City nearly killed Johnson, and his health has continued to decline.   Johnson was the golden boy of skiing, but while he was a whiz on the slopes, his real life is a cautionary tale of too much, too soon.  This is a sad story about a guy who could have had it all.  3½ cans.
36.  Indiscreet (1958) – There’s not a lot of substance in this Stanley Donen movie, but the enchanting leads (Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman) make it worth watching.  Bergman’s Anna is an actress in London who falls for diplomat Philip, who confesses he is married.  They are indiscreet anyway, though Anna wonders why he can’s just get a divorce and marry her.  Well, that’s because he isn’t married.  A confirmed bachelor, Philip has lied to the women in his life to avoid a long-term commitment.  In the last third of this stylish show, Anna finds out Philip isn’t married at all and tries to turn the tables on her paramour.  Worth watching just to see the clothes and sets.  Really, has anyone in the movies ever worn a tuxedo better than Cary Grant?  3½ cans.
37.  Apollo 13 (1995) – I think I watch and review this movie every year, and yet it continues to engage me.  So many things went wrong with the 1989 launch of Apollo 13, destined for the moon but crippled by an explosion.  As badly as the flight goes, that is how well the movie goes.  Having recently visited the Johnson Space Center in Houston, I felt even more connected to the story.  And although I know the ending, I still hold my breath until the capsule splashes down.  5 cans.
38.  The Bad & the Beautiful (1958) – Kirk Douglas is bad and Lana Turner is beautiful in this tale of an ambitious Hollywood producer who will ruin lives to achieve success.  In his rise to the top he uses an erratic actress with a drinking problem and cheats a writer who aspires to be a director from making the film he imagined.  Turner is well cast as the troubled actress with minimal acting ability and Douglass is cold as ice as the ruthless producer.  If you like to see Hollywood excoriated, tune in.  3 cans.
39.  About a Boy (2002) – Since I have now watched several episodes of the NBC TV program based on this movie, I thought I should go back and see the original.  The story is more about a man than a boy, a self-centered man who refuses to grow up and commit to anything or anyone.  Hugh Grant is Will, a skirt-chasing bachelor whose path crosses with awkward 12-year old Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), a fatherless child living with a mother who always is on the verge of a breakdown.  Will actually joins a group for single parents just to meet women, and the woman he is dating is friends with Marcus’ mother.  The kid keeps coming around, hoping for an adult friend who can be counted on, but Will’s not that guy.  Still, Marcus doesn’t fit in with the kids his age, and he can sit and watch TV with Will and avoid going home to the house of depression.  Their relationship blooms, and Will teaches Marcus to be more accepted even as Marcus teaches Will to let people become more than a passing part of his life.  Ultimately, Will comes to the rescue when Marcus needs him most.  Grant is at his befuddled and charming best and has never looked better, the kid is off-center but irresistible, and Toni Collette is the mother whose haircut alone would send me into a deep depression.  The TV show is amusing, but the movie is better.  3½ cans.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Stages of Sleep

Stages of Sleep

We all know that there are stages to sleep.  You have to cycle through the first few to get to the heavy-duty REM sleep, which is that blissful state where you are totally relaxed and sleeping deeply.

My sleep patterns are slightly different.

Stage 1:  I fall asleep – eventually, generally in bed, drifting off with the TV on, or after reading a few pages of a book.  This usually takes a fair amount of time, even if I am really tired.  If I am too wound up (as I always am after a Rutgers Women’s Basketball game – win or lose), I can’t fall asleep.  I play mind games, trying to recall all of the players on the 1961 New York Yankees, for example.  I know that telling yourself NOT to think is the best advice, but my switch is lodged permanently in the “on” position.

Stage 2:  Impossible, of course, without Stage 1, but I will be comfortably asleep until around 4 AM, when I wake up and have the nightly debate over whether I am awake because I have to go to the bathroom or whether, since I am awake, I should just get up and go to the bathroom.  There are compelling arguments to be made by each side in this negotiation.  I should just automatically get up and go before the discourse rages within me.  Typically, the getting up option is triumphant, so I take care of business and crawl back into bed, only to be wide awake.  Again, the names and uniform numbers of the Yankees, or the names of magazines swirl around to distract me.  Often the TV goes on again.  I’ll watch “House Hunters” in the middle of the night and fall asleep just as the homeowners are about to reveal their preference. Then I wake up, rewind and start the process over, minus the Yankee roster.

Stage 3:  I’m awake again, having seen the 6th airing of ESPN’s SportsCenter, but I am groggy enough not to know who beat whom.  So now the big decision is where to sleep.  I live alone, so this is a multiple choice question.  In the winter, I like to be bundled up under the covers, but in the summer, I will often flip to the end of the bed, with only a throw blanket on me.  I feel like sleeping on my side, but then my shoulders get sore, so I get on my stomach instead of the original sleeping on my back position, and settle in, asking myself, “Is this a sleeping position?”  If the position is only to allow me to get a better view of the TV, that’s not really accomplishing my goal.  There is yet another option.  I could always sleep in the recliner.  I have one downstairs in my family room and its exact twin resides in my bedroom.  Since I seem to fall asleep quite easily in the chair downstairs, I figure that maybe I can slip into that REM upstairs, too.  Sometimes this works, maybe because by now all of the debating has worn me out – which should help put me to sleep.  At least living alone means I am not disturbing anyone else’s sleep.  There is a chance I inherited this problem from my father, who apparently was all over his bed.  My mother, the late, great Sylvia Gordon, used to say to him the next morning in her inimitable style, “Lester, you were flipping around like a flounder in that bed last night.” 

I have to admit castigating myself for all of this thought processing, and for having no problem whatsoever falling asleep at inappropriate times and places.  Put me in a classroom or at a lecture where I am extremely interested in the subject and I will fall asleep.  On a plane, unless someone is bumping into me as they go down the aisle, I will typically put on headphones, listen to relaxing classical music and fall asleep.  I inevitably fall asleep if I am watching the movie on the plane.  Once, before the movie started and before we even took off, I fell asleep.  Do you suppose anyone would object to my sitting on an airplane at night by myself, just to get some shuteye?

Then there is my penchant for falling asleep at the movies on the ground.  When I watched “The Aviator,” I wondered why I never saw Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn.  Later I realized I had slept through that part.  In the movie “Doubt,” just at the critical moment when Meryl Streep confronts the priest about molesting the students in the Catholic school they run, I fell asleep.  I had my own bout of doubt as a result.  I have also fallen asleep on a tour bus in Paris, at plays – and I mean musicals, not just stage plays – and watching TV with friends.  But in my special “Heavenly Bed?”  No such luck. 

I’ve tried it all.  I have a sound machine, but it seems too loud.  That’s odd, considering that ESPN is pretty loud when they are showing some highlight, and yet that doesn’t help, either.  I have some medication I can take, but if you wake up in the middle of the night, you don’t want to take anything that will make you drowsy all day.

And then there is the dream aspect of sleeping.  How many times I have awakened from a bad dream and have been afraid to go back to sleep for fear of continuing that dream?  (PS – That never happens.)  On the flip side, I’ll awake from having a great dream and try to get back to sleep so I can see how it ends.  Forget it.  Once I wake up, it’s over.  And so is my sleep.

I know this is not just my problem.  How many times have I talked to friends who lament the same pattern:  “I was up at 4 this morning,” one will say.

“You should have called,” I’ll reply.  “I was awake.”

Back when I worked, setting the alarm was obligatory.  Now, I set it but I am almost always up long before it goes off.  And who among us hasn’t noticed that when we know we MUST get up, we could sleep all day, but when you have the day off, you are up at the crack of dawn?

I’ve been playing Words With Friends lately, and normally I check to see if my opponents have taken their turns when I get out of bed.  One morning around 4 AM I was wide awake and turned on my phone.  I noticed that a friend of mine had played, so I took my turn.  Almost immediately I got a message from her:  “Can’t sleep?”

Join the club.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Tina's February 2014 Movies

It's Oscar time, so I tried to see as many Oscar-worthy films and performances as I could in February.  You'll find a few here that won't get that kind of acclaim, but I do have wide-ranging taste.  The numbering picks up from the previous month, and, as always, movies are rated from 1-5 cans of tuna, with 5 being the highest rank.  Enjoy.

18.  Return to Me (2000) – I started February with this romantic charmer.  Bob (David Duchovny) loses his wife in a car accident at the same time that Grace (Minnie Driver) goes into the hospital to have her failing heart replaced.  You’ve already guessed that she ends up with the wife’s heart, right?  While he has trouble recovering from the loss of his wife, Grace is mending quite well.  One day they meet at the Irish pub run by Grace’s grandfather (Carroll O’Connor) and his buddies, but of course neither of them knows about matters of that particular heart – at first.  The relationship between the shy couple is a joy to watch, as each grows in new ways.  I won’t spoil the movie but I will encourage anyone who hasn’t seen it to rent it, buy it, record it – just watch it.  It is a delight.  4 cans.
19.  Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939) –  Mr. Chipping (Robert Donat) is the straitlaced new teacher at the Brooking School, a venerable British boys school during the early 1900s.  He arrives full of hope and promise and is soon overrun by his energetic young charges.  He adopts a strict veneer, which softens over time as he grows close to generations of young students.  Helping soften him is the unexpected arrival of Kathy, played by the beautiful and classy Greer Garson, who immediately ingratiates herself at this all-male institution.  Donat is perfect as the unsure young teacher and later as the friend and mentor to the boys, as he ages 63 years.  If you like action and adventure, don’t even bother to tune into this leisurely tale.  But if heartwarming is your cup of tea, you’ll fit right in.  4 cans.
20.  Enough Said* (2013) – Sadly, there was not enough said – or the time to say it – for actor James Gandolfini, who plays divorced regular guy Albert in this movie opposite Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Eva).  Albert may not seem attractive at first, but get to know him and he has a lot of wit and charm.  He’s a good father and a pretty good boyfriend, but, according to his ex-wife Marianne (Catherine Keener), he was no bargain as a husband.  When Eva starts dating him (unbeknownst to either Eva or Marianne that he is Marianne’s ex), they are both facing the forthcoming departures of their daughters to college.  They fall quickly into a comfortable relationship, but, contrary to the title of this movie, there is way too much said by the ex to Eva, her masseuse/friend, who finally realizes Albert is the man they have in common.  Gandolfini looks like a tough guy but he’s really a mush, and his vulnerability and comfort in himself is very much on display here.  This was the last movie he made before his untimely death, and his performance here makes his loss that much more poignant.  3½ cans.
21.  The Gabby Douglas Story* (2014) – You may recall Gabby Douglass as the exuberant and athletically gifted young gymnast who won the Gold Medal as Best All-Around in the last Olympics.  End of story, right?  Well, this biopic, though as lightweight as young Gabby herself, details the struggles her family – particularly her mother (Regina King) – had to endure and the sacrifices they all made in helping Gabby achieve her dream.  Gymnastics is grueling, and aside from all of the training, there are a lot of costs – travel, outfits, coaches, etc. – that are necessary to get to the top level of the sport.  Just getting the best coaching required young Gabby to leave her mother and siblings and move to Iowa – her choice, mind you.  You already know the end before you see the first frame of this Lifetime biopic, but, particularly in the month of the Winter Olympics, I was impressed with the dazzling talent and sheer determination of this tough and spritely young woman.  No gold medal, but I’ll give the movie the bronze.  2½ cans.
22.  Missing (1982) – Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek are two actors whose work is almost always outstanding, and this political thriller has them at their finest.  Spacek is married to Lemmon’s son Charlie (John Shea) and living in a South American country whose government has just been overthrown.  People are getting arrested at random, there are shootings in the street, and leftist-leaning but politically na├»ve Charlie is caught in the midst of it.  One day he just goes missing and Spacek cannot find him by herself.  Riding in on his white horse, full of skepticism about his son’s capabilities and politics, comes New York businessman Lemmon, certain that with the contacts he has made he can prevail upon local American officials to solve the mystery and bring Charlie home.  The American Consulate there is unfailingly polite but mainly useless, and Lemmon and Spacek are left to do their own investigation.  They butt heads, eventually bonding over the inevitable outcome of their efforts.  Lemmon, much like his performances in “The China Syndrome” and “The Paper Tiger,” starts out a reasonable, establishment guy, but grows increasingly frustrated with the authorities and with the reality that he may not see his son again.  Hats off to Lemmon in particular for the nuances in his performance, and applause for the director (Costa-Gravas) for keeping the situation taut and compelling throughout the movie.  4 cans.
23.  Miracle (2004) – It seemed appropriate in the midst of watching the Winter Olympics to take time out for this dramatization of the 1980 US Men’s Hockey Team, which won the Gold Medal in Lake Placid.  Taciturn coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) picks his players as much for their hearts and minds as their hockey skills.  Over a long training period, his “boys” bond together as a family – even if their bond is partly because they are dubious of Brooks’ methods and madness.  He isn’t there to be their friend.  Having been the last cut on an earlier US Olympic Hockey team, he keeps his eyes firmly on the gold.  We all know the outcome, as a bunch of college hockey players (this was before professionals from the NHL dominated the Olympic teams) take on the all-powerful Russians, with sports and politics all playing a role.  And though we know who wins, it’s still hard not to feel the thrill of Mike Erruzione’s winning goal, or to tear up as goalie Jim Craig scans the stands to find his father.  This movie is one of the best sports films ever in my opinion, as it depicts what might be the defining moment for the US in the Olympics (you cannot nudge Jesse Owens from the top spot).  Do you believe in miracles? Yes!  4 cans.
24.  The Monuments Men* (2014) – Prior to and during World War II, the Nazi regime stole untold pieces of artwork from private collections of Jews and they raided art museums to compile a collection Hitler intended to put on display in the elaborately planned Fuehrer Museum.  “The Rape of Europa” is a documentary that tells the story of the stolen art and the extensive efforts made by art experts, mostly from the US, to find it, authenticate it and get it back to its rightful owners, where possible.  This movie is director/star/producer George Clooney’s attempt to make that story entertaining by introducing a cast of characters (Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, among others) who served as “The Monuments Men,” working with the Allied Forces so they could locate and preserve some of the world’s most prized pieces of art.  The film is earnest and yet has a wry sense of humor as these experts have to peel the layers back on the mystery of what happened to the art.  Clooney makes them look like the heroes they were, yet the movie struck me as a bit self-serving, possibly because I have so much admiration for the documentary, which is one of the finest I have ever seen.  Still, if you don’t know the story, see it and learn something about the importance of art in our lives and the brave and daring mission of men to create and celebrate it.  3½ cans.
25.  The Ides of March (2012) – A better Clooney movie is this scathing look at politics through the eyes of a tough-minded but idealistic young press secretary (Ryan Gosling) who works for a presidential candidate who seems above reproach.  So we know where that’s going, eh?  Clooney is the candidate, the late and lamented Philip Seymour Hoffman is his campaign manager, whose demand for loyalty among the staff comes into play with one decision made by Gosling’s Steven. I really enjoyed this movie when it first was released, probably because I’m so skeptical of all politicians and expect them to have flaws and because Gosling is just so tasty to see on screen.  4 cans.
26.  Crazy. Stupid. Love (2011)  – And speaking of how good Gosling looks on screen, here he is Jacob, a slick talking, confident ladies man who befriends sad sack Cal (Steve Carell), cleans him up and gets him ready for love after Cal’s wife (Julianne Moore) tells him she is having an affair with a co-worker and wants to end their marriage.  To provide more details would spoil the plot, so I’ll just say that the everyone in the movie is terrific, the comedy is funny and Emma Stone does a sensational job as the young woman who is more than just a one-night stand.  Funny, insightful, fresh and with some twists you won’t see coming.  4½ cans.
27.  Dallas Buyers Club* (2013) – This Matthew McConaughey film is based on the true story about Ron Wood, a homophobic AIDS patient in Dallas who takes on the disease and the medical establishment to prolong his life.  McConaughey gives a strong performance, refusing to give in to the disease or to the doctors who insist on promoting AZT trials for AIDS patients.  He builds a business with a transvestite named Rayon (Jared Leto, who is sensational in the part) importing alternative treatments that he provides for members of his Dallas Buyers Club.  Forced to fight the disease and the authorities, Wood withers away right before our eyes.  McConaughey is gaunt to the point of being almost unrecognizable here, but his steely resolve gives him strength and courage to fight his battles.  Jennifer Garner plays a sympathetic doctor.  I always have some hesitation about movies that paint all big business – especially the pharmaceutical business – as evil-doing money grabbers, but, that aside, the real Ron Wood took on a mighty challenge in a battle he was destined to lose.  4 cans.
28.  Random Harvest* (1942) – And now for something completely different.  Charles Rainier (Ronald Colman) is injured in World War I and loses his memory.  He is sent to an asylum, but escapes as the war ends and finds himself in a local bar in Liverpool where he discovers the Beatles – no, I just wanted to see if you were paying attention.  Actually, he discovers Paula (Greer Garson), who takes him in, eventually marrying him, despite his lack of any recollection of his former life.  When he leaves town for a job interview, an accident jars him out of amnesia but he can no longer recall her or that part of his life.  He returns to his original wealthy family and goes on to fame and fortune without her.  Not that the plot is spellbinding, but I don’t want to ruin it.  This film was considered one of the best of the year, and, in my opinion, just seeing Greer Garson, a gracious and gorgeous actress, adds value to any movie.  If you can rise above the corny, this is a good Oscar-month movie to see.  3½ cans.
29.  12 Years a Slave* (2013) – With its various Oscar nominations, this movie was one I felt I must see.  Like the classic TV mini-series “Roots,” the drama – based on a true story – depicts the harrowing lives and inhumane treatment of slaves in the decades leading up to the Civil War.  This story focuses on one black man, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor in an Oscar-worthy performance) of Saratoga, NY, who is kidnapped and sold into slavery.  In addition to the sheer brutality of the men who claim ownership of him, Solomon must hide his education and feign ignorance for fear of being singled out and killed.  Just a wrong glance or a word is enough to provoke a severe whipping.  Solomon, called Pratt by his masters, must fight to maintain his dignity and hope of reuniting with the family he left behind so abruptly and against his will.  He befriends Patsy (Lupita Nyong’o), a young woman who is a particular target of the cruel plantation owner Epps (Michael Fassbender).  What the slaves endure here is difficult to watch and unbearable to endure.  Brad Pitt, one of the producers, gives himself a small but important role as the one white man who believes all men are created equal.  Strong performances and a display of courage make this intense movie worthwhile seeing, though, like Holocaust movies, I know I will never watch it again.  4 cans.
30.  Blue Sky* (1994) – Jessica Lange gets to show off her acting chops and her voluptuous body in this drama about a manic-depressive woman and her military husband (Tommy Lee Jones).  The story is explosive in several ways:  There is the manic Lange, dancing and dressing provocatively as she lusts after the base commander (Powers Boothe) at the post in Alabama where her husband works as an engineer, measuring and determining radiation from nuclear devices.  There is the combustible relationship between Lange and Jones, and there are actual detonations and explosions along the way.  About three quarters of the way through, the movie turns from the relationship between man and wife to an expose of military cover-ups that Jones has discovered, and the tables turn distinctly.  Lange won an Oscar for this showy role in a year when competition was relatively weak (and didn’t include Meryl Streep).  3 cans.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Random Thoughts for February

Random Thoughts for Feb 2014

I get the Summer Olympics.  They run, they jump, they lift heavy objects, they wrestle, they swim.  But the Winter Olympics?  These sports are crazy:  Slope style  something, the race on the sled where you essentially do a plank for the whole time?  Teams of snowboarders?  And 2-hours of cross-country skiing on a team?  Plus, they have so many decals and designs on their uniforms (thank you, curlers) and their helmets that I can not only not figure out what country they are from, I can’t tell who they are or even their gender in many cases.  I get Michael Phelps – little bathing suit, pair of headphones and bathing cap.  But the rest of these athletes confuse me even as they amaze me.  You have to be nuts to jump off a big hill of snow, flip around in the air, land BACKWARDS, and keep on going. 

I don't know what the fox says and I don't care.

I rarely make pasta anymore (too tempting and too hard to control the portions), but, when I do, I always use a jar of pasta sauce. Despite what the purists say about homemade, I figure Paul Newman subjected HIS sauce to great scrutiny and conducted extensive research to make it the best it could be. I can't say the same about mine.  And besides, his is good and FAST – you heat it for minutes instead of cooking for hours. Pass the Paul's, please.

My BFF and I had a serious discussion about the importance of eating healthy foods and getting regular exercise, and how hard we work – though we are far from perfect – at both of these aspects of our lives.  Then she raised a thought-provoking question:  At what age can you abandon those healthy practices and just eat whatever you damn please?  75?  80?  90?  At what point can I renounce my Weight Watchers membership and start ordering desserts, or bring home a box of Entenmanns’s donuts without life-threatening guilt?  Food for thought, huh?

Seriously, how is it that the throw rug next to my bed keeps slipping under the bed when it is on the carpet, not on a bare floor?  I just don’t understand it.

Don’t you hate it when you wake up from a particularly vivid dream – good or bad – and you are sure you will remember it because you will want to share it with someone, and then you go back to sleep and can’t remember it when you get up?

I am relatively new to Sirius radio since it came with my new car. I never thought I'd want it since most of my trips are short, but I now admit I am hooked.  But Sirius, like Pandora, has some questionable algorithms for what songs should be on various channels.  Frank Sinatra recorded thousands of songs, so if I go to "Siriusly Sinatra," I really only want to hear Frank, not Louis Armstrong or other singers.  But other than that, I really love it.  I especially love that the name of the artist and the name of the song come up on the screen.  It is amazing how many songs I know without ever having known their actual names and who sings them!

When I feel like eating clementines, I am forced to buy a box or a bag of them, which gives me way too many for one person to consume.  At least with a bunch of bananas, I can take only as many as I can eat before they spoil, but with clementines, it seems I always end up throwing some away.  I need to find someone with whom to split the box or bag.

I bought Cara Cara oranges the other day, though I had never heard of them.  They are the size of grapefruits and have an reddish/pinkish tinge, like a pink grapefruit.  Supposedly they are less acidic than a regular orange.  I'm just wondering where these have been or whether they just joined the orange family, and, if so, how that happened.  Too much time on my hands, right?

Among the life lessons I would like to impart to my nearly 21-year old nephew is this:  Never, ever slice an English muffin.  Always split it with a fork.  I wonder whether he knows this.  He's at the age where he thinks he knows everything.

And speaking of English muffins, don't you hate it when you are eating a burger – or, in my case, something on a light English muffin – and the bottom of the muffin or roll gets smaller and smaller as you eat it?  Eventually you are left with virtually no bottom and the meaty insides are in your hand.  Sometimes I flip the sandwich over halfway through to even things out.

Maybe it’s just me, but I really enjoy the music they play in the supermarket.  Within recent weeks, I have heard the old song “Jean” by Oliver twice.  I guarantee I would not have heard that forgotten oldie on Sirius radio or on Pandora.  Yeah, OK, it probably IS just me.

I'll say this for actress Melinda Dillon: She didn't work much, but she played the mother in two of the most widely-seen movies of all-time – "A Christmas Story" and "ET."

Don’t you feel stupid when someone stops you for directions and you can’t remember the names of the streets or tell them how to get there, even if it is a place you go or pass by routinely?  We tend to overlook the street names in favor of “make a right at Lisa’s house, then go straight until you hit Shop-Rite,” which doesn’t do the lost traveler much good.  Thank goodness for the GPS and SmartPhones with directions. 

I can kind of understand why TV weather people are forced to stand outside to report on extreme weather conditions (we like to see them almost blow away), but I don't get why they make the sportscasters report from the frozen tundra while there is no game going on.  If the reporter is talking on Tuesday about Sunday's game in Green Bay, can't he just tell us the forecast calls for ridiculously cold temperatures?  Watching his breath emerge as smoke doesn't persuade me to tune into the game.  Back to the comfort of the studio, I say!

Speaking of which, I now get more of my news, sports and weather via social media than I do by watching the news.  Just scrolling through Twitter or Facebook provides me with news and features that are more customized to my interests or that I can click on or scroll past.  That sound you hear is Walter Cronkite spinning in his grave.

The two most overused words in the English language are awesome and amazing.  I think our standards have been lowered, because everything these days is described as amazing.  "That was an amazing blog you wrote last month," someone will say.  Thanks, but does that mean all the rest of my entries are routine and this one was so much better that it surprised you?  Now I can understand the use of the word in some situations:  "Johnny got a perfect score on his SATs, and he cannot even count to 10."  THAT would be awesome and amazing.  But if I merely show up and do what is expected, why should anyone find that amazing?  Not that I don't appreciate or troll for compliments, mind you, but I am amazed by the awesomeness of them sometimes.

Among the things I hate to do is changing the sheets on my bed.  I love clean sheets, but getting that bottom, fitted sheet to fit is like a wrestling match, despite the fact that I buy sheets with really deep corners.  I guess they shrink over time.  I have to exert all the pressure I can to get the sheet to stretch over the bed.  By then I'm exhausted and ready to hit the sheets.

I can no longer tell black from blue.  I compare everything to the black suit hanging in my closet that I am sure is black because it said so on the label when I bought it.  But if I show up wearing black socks with blue pants, or a blue sweater with black pants, please let me know, assuming that this is not a universal affliction.

And why do I not have to us the word "an" in front of "universal" in the previous sentence.  English has some strange rules.

Why is it that I cannot fall asleep or stay asleep in my big, plush "Heavenly Bed," yet put me in a movie theater, sitting upright, and I can't keep my eyes open?

Don’t you hate it when you bite the inside of your cheek?  Every time you chew afterwards you end up biting it again.  It’s like when you have a toothache or lose a filling and you cannot keep your tongue from wandering over to the empty spot.

Recently I happened to watch a documentary on the planning and building of the George Washington Bridge.  I doubt the visionaries whose work made it possible could have imagined the GW becoming a tool used for retribution by politicians.  Is it any wonder why New Jersey is the butt of so many jokes? 

I am in a dilemma.  My lucky socks – that I always wore to Rutgers Women’s basketball games – were on hand for two losses recently, AND one of them got a hole in the toe, so I tossed it out.  The team won with the pair I wore the other day, so do they become my lucky socks now?  I might be better off just not having a lucky pair of anything, so I could just wear any pair of socks and not have to worry about keeping a particular pair clean.  Did I mention I was superstitious?  Believe me, it is never easy being me!