Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Tina's August 2015 Movies

I had an eclectic collection of movies this month, but you'll note a bunch of 1980s movies and stories about rock stars.  As always, movies are rated on a scale of 1 (bottom) to 5 (top, natch) cans of tuna, and numbering picks up from previous months.  Movies marked with an asterisk are ones I had not seen previously.

AUGUST
93.  This is Spinal Tap (1984) – It is 1982, and the metal hair band Spinal Tap has fallen on hard times.  Once the kings of arena rock, they are reduced to playing at smaller and smaller venues, ultimately sharing a billing with a puppet show.  Director Rob Reiner creates a new genre of film with this classic “mockumentary” playing director Marty De Bergi, maker of a “rockumentary” about the fictional British band Spinal Tap.  The best thing you can say about the dim-witted band members is that they are loud.  As Nigel (Christopher Guest) explains, they have special amps that go to 11 rather than 10 on the loudness scale because 11 is one more.  Lead singer David St. Hubbens (Michael McKeon, whose face can barely be seen through his flaxen hair) flails away on guitar through such Tap classics as “Big Bottom” and “Sex Farm.”  And check out guitar player Harry Shearer as he tries to pass through airport security and has to remove the “metal object” in his pants.  This clever comedy features a treasure trove of cameos and mocks everything in the music industry and its players on every level, including the Yoko Ono-type girlfriend who overthrows the band’s manager and takes over.  This movie is not for everyone, but I have always found it extremely entertaining.  Kudos to the stars for getting out there on stage in the requisite 80s spandex.  4 cans.
94.  Saturday Night Fever (1977) – Tony Manero (John Travolta) is ill-suited for much in life.  The almost 20-year old Brooklynite hangs out with his friends, has a dead-end job in a paint store and doesn’t have big aspirations for the future – but put him on the floor at the local disco, and he is magic.  Travolta in his iconic white suit, the BeeGees and other disco artists blasting away on the best-selling soundtrack and the woefully miscast Karen Lynn Gorney as his dance partner (she neither sounds like she is from Brooklyn or Manhattan, and she isn’t much of a dancer, for that matter) – these are the things we remember about this classic movie.  Tony lives at home with his ever disapproving parents (his father mocks him when Tony tells him he got a raise, to which Tony counters, “I don’t see them handing out raises at the Unemployment Office”) and his only escape is on the dance floor, where he dominates the disco.  For all his bravado, Tony is actually a sweet soul, trying to understand the world and his place in it.  I distinctly remember seeing this movie for the first time with one of my all-time favorite B-movies, “Lifeguard,” back in the days of the double feature.  Travolta brings a sly, sweet sexiness to the otherwise loutish Tony in the role that launched his career.  Skip the truly horrible sequel, “Staying Alive,” and see the original.  4 cans.
95.  Clara’s Heart (1988) – Before he became the – wait for it – legendary Neil Patrick Harris, the very young NPH played David Hart, a lonely preteen boy in an unhappy family who develops a close bond with the family’s housekeeper, Clara (Whoopi Goldberg).  When David’s baby sister dies suddenly, the relationship between his parents deteriorates, and Clara is his only friend.  She becomes his confidante, advisor and parental figure, exposing him to her world of Jamaican friends, music and the warmth that he lacks at home.  Harris is terrific in the part, and Whoopi is understanding yet authoritative as she tries to guide young David.  The last scene had me in tears.  3 ½ cans.
96.  Gone Girl (2014) – In the Neil Patrick Harris Double Feature here at Gordon Cinema, Patrick has a minor role as a rich man in love with Rosamund Pike’s Amazing Amy Elliot Dunne, the missing and presumed dead wife of Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck).  His part is small, central to the story and not at all like the innocent young man he plays in “Clara’s Heart.”  The Gillian Flynn book on which this movie is based is one you can’t put down, and the suspense of this movie is nearly as good.  Nick and Amy are the ideal couple on the surface, but when she wants out of the marriage to the oblivious and cheating Nick, she plots a clever way to escape and blame her husband for the crime.  I don’t want to give away the plot, but the story is captivating and the twists just keep on coming.  Let’s just say I don’t anticipate a sequel to this love story. 4 cans.
97.  The Rose (1979) – Bette Midler delivers a knockout punch as the title character, a burned out rock star, fueled by booze and drugs, who is disintegrating before our eyes.  Based loosely on the iconic Janis Joplin, the story centers on a woman who seemingly has it all – money, fame, adoring fans – but is lonely, tired and living the lifestyle of the rich and addicted.  Alan Bates is her tough manager and Frederic Forrest is the limousine driver she hijacks who becomes her love.  But all eyes on Midler here, please, as she commands the stage, grabs the mike and attacks the full-length performances with gusto.  I can only hope that they got her in one take for “Stay With Me Baby,” a plaintive wail of a song into which Midler pours every ounce of energy, every muscle twitching and every note a cry of desperation.  Wow!  Midler won a well-deserved Oscar nomination for this bravura performance.  4 cans.
98.  Ricki & the Flash* (2015) – Speaking of rock stars…under the category of “Meryl Can Do Anything,” here actress-icon Streep portrays an aging rocker with family problems.  Her daughter (her real-life daughter, Mamie Gummer) is thinking of killing herself, her son is getting married to an uptight woman and isn’t inviting Mom to the wedding, her other son is coming out of the closet, much to the consternation of his family, her ex-husband (Kevin Kline) has picked up the slack for the much-traveled and largely absentee-Mom “Ricki” (actual name – Linda) for years, and his lovely wife (Audra McDonald) has been the one person to try to keep Ricki’s kids connected to her with a myriad of kindnesses.  But forget the story and think about Meryl rockin’ out with Rick Springfield, a skill she handles with typical Meryl aplomb.  Director Jonathan Demme decided to allow Ricki and her band, the Flash, to perform whole songs, and they do a more than credible job with the likes of Tom Petty, and, in a memorable and most appropriate scene, they take on Bruce Springsteen’s “My Love Will Not Let You Down.”  I liked this movie more than I had anticipated, though I’ll admit that had Demi Moore or Sandra Bullock played the lead, I probably wouldn’t have given it 4 cans.  Rock on, Meryl.  You really can do anything, and you NEVER disappoint.
99.  The Perks of Being a Wallflower* (2012) – I actually couldn’t identify any perks for poor high school freshman Charlie (Logan Lerman).  He has a host of issues in his past and he is quiet, intelligent and overlooked by nearly everyone, until he strikes up a friendship with seniors Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam, half-siblings who have their own issues.  He falls for Sam (Emma Watson) but is saddled with needy Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman), but he really likes Sam.  I’m glad I don’t have to go through high school in today’s world, where kids seem remarkably mean, yet the same time vulnerable, insecure and full of false bravado.  Everyone has their past, but what will the future bring to Charlie and his friends?  This movie is captivating enough that the viewer wants to know the answer.  3½ cans.
100.  Shattered* (2007) —This suspenseful drama had plenty of twists and turns, enough that I cannot provide much detail on the plot.  Maria Bello and Gerard Butler are a handsome couple with a daughter whose world is turned upside down when Pierce Brosnan abducts them and informs them he has kidnapped their daughter.  If they don’t follow his orders, she will be killed.  How far do you go to protect your family?  The couple is put to the test, and he, in particular, has to come up with ways to follow the orders without putting his life or his wife and daughter in more jeopardy.  Brosnan is cold as the perpetrator, and Butler and Bello look suitably scared to death.  I had never even heard of this movie but decided to watch it, and I’m glad I did.  I just took a deep breath from all of the excitement.  4 cans.
101.  Greg Louganis: Back on Board* (2014) – This documentary traces the famed Olympic Gold Medal-winning diver Greg Louganis in his quest for perfection and peace of mind.  Always a bit of a loner, Louganis found solace on the diving board, competing in 3 Olympics and missing a fourth only because the US boycotted the Moscow Games in 1980.  His superb style and technical prowess even as a teenager surely set him apart from other athletes.  The fact that he is a gay man who has lived with HIV for decades also set him apart, and here he recalls the issues around the illness and his attempt to live his life, earn a living and find happiness.  You can’t help but feel for this man, who has faced a myriad of challenges and come undone by trusting the wrong people.  The good news is that his life seems to have settled down as of the time of the film, and he has found that happiness is possible outside of the pool.  3 cans.
102.  Amy* (2015) – Last month I watched the Brian Wilson movie, “Love & Mercy.”  This month I have seen “Spinal Tap,” “Ricki & the Flash” and “The Rose,” so clearly I am on a music-movie kick.  This documentary is about the transcendent talent of British singer Amy Winehouse, a jazz-loving, hard-drinking chanteuse whose short life exploded into fame and misfortune between 2003 and her death less than 10 years later.  Winehouse wrote her own songs and burst on the scene as a teenager, eventually reaching the kind of scary superstardom where cameras flash in your face constantly.  When she moved into her first flat, she aspired to write songs and smoke weed all day, the beginning of the inevitable drug and health problems that plagued her.  She started out so strong, but by the time she hooked up with Blake Fiedler and married him, she was bulimic and began using drugs that included heroin.  Her song “Rehab” was written after the first intervention by family and friends, one that she rejected, but she did finally go to rehab, occasionally stayed clean, but eventually lost her battle.  Her desire to stay out of the spotlight was impossible to achieve once she became so famous so quickly.  And her talent burned bright, albeit briefly.  What a loss for all of us who love real music.  4 cans.
103.  In the Land of Women* (2007) – Carter Webb (Adam Brody) lands in the land of women when his actress girlfriend breaks up with him and he seeks refuge at the home of his grandmother (Olympia Dukakis), an older woman waiting impatiently to die.  Feeling the loss of his relationship and immersed in a desire to write the story he has contemplated since he was a teenager, the 26-year old finds himself establishing new relationships with an attractive neighbor recently diagnosed with cancer (Meg Ryan) and her teenaged, confused daughter (Kristen Stewart).  Carter knows he shouldn’t get involved with either of them, but they are all lonely and confused and drawn to each other.  In the end, they all come to realizations about themselves that help each to grow. Brody is a lanky, charming actor, best known for playing Seth Cohen in the TV show “The OC” years before, and he doesn’t have that much of a stretch here.  Can’t give this one more than 3 cans.
104.  Catch and Release* (2006) – Gray (Jennifer Garner) finds out more about her fiancĂ© after his sudden death right before their wedding than she knew about him while they were engaged.  He had money and a secret life that she needs to reconcile to move on, but instead she moves in – to her fiancĂ©’s house, with his semi-slacker roommates Sam and Dennis (Kevin Smith and Sam Jaeger).  Also staying with them is good friend Fritz (Timothy Olyphant), who provides the perfect vehicle for revenge sex for Gray.  Aside from the fact that I found Kevin Smith to be overacting and and Garner’s lips distracting, I just basically didn’t like the story, so 2 cans is all I can muster here.
105. Date Night (2010) – Date night is not a great night for married couple Claire and Phil Foster (Tina Fey and Steve Carell), who take someone’s reservation at a posh restaurant, only to become the victims of mistaken identity.  It seems “the Tripplehorns” are in trouble, and now the bad guys – who are actually bad cops – are after them.  This is a comedy-action movie, so there are car chases and crashes, shooting (it always amazes me when shooters can obliterate the windshield and yet no one is harmed), a dunk in the river and whatever other mayhem can ensue.  Fey and Carell are just an ordinary New Jersey couple spending an evening in Manhattan, but under some extraordinary circumstances.  I liked this movie better in the movies.  Somehow revisiting it reminded me of how preposterous it was, and how difficult it is for me to suspend my sense of reality.  So, when the airbags went off in the car and then the next scene had them driving it again without them, I found that a little tough to believe. Moderately amusing, and a few great scenes of Mark Wahlberg without his shirt.  3 cans.
106.  Masquerade (1988) – The gorgeous Rob Lowe is Tim Whelan, a young yacht skipper who meets the very wealthy Olivia Lawrence (Meg Tilly) and pursues a relationship with her.  Tim has a bit of a shady past, and he is having an affair with his captain’s wife, but that doesn’t seem to hamper his pursuit of the quiet Olivia.  But this movie, written and directed by Dick Wolf long before he created the “Law & Order” franchise on TV, is full of suspense, as their relationship deepens and you wonder if he really loves her.  Saying more would ruin the plot, but I can recommend this movie, which is nowhere near the level of suspense of a “Gone Girl” but compelling nonetheless.  Tilly is very bland as Olivia, and they have her looking almost matronly, but Rob Lowe in the 1980s was eye candy for sure (and still…).  3½ cans.
107.  St. Elmo’s Fire (1986) – Speaking of Rob Lowe, here he is reprobate Billy, a sax player, recent graduate of Georgetown, and part of a tight group of friends in their early 20s trying to transition between college life and real life.  Billy is the heartbreaker, as Demi Moore’s Jules tells him, because he always lets them down.  Jules has her own issues – a drug and alcohol problem and overspending, sleeping around and waiting for her “Stepmonster” to die.  Alec (Judd Nelson) is the responsible, steady one, who happens to be cheating on his live-in girlfriend Leslie (Ally Sheedy), who knows better than to marry him.  Would-be author Kevin (Andrew McCarthy) is secretly in love with Leslie and won’t pursue other women because of his feelings for her and for his best friend, Alec.  His closest relationship is with the hooker he passes on the street, who, like everyone else, assumes he is gay.  And speaking of unrequited love, Kirby (Emilio Estevez) is head over heels for Dr. Dale, a woman a few years older whom he once took to see a Woody Allen movie.  The final member of the crew is Wendy (Mare Willingham), daughter of a wealthy family and in love with her polar opposite, Billy.  The movie embodied the emergence of Hollywood’s Brat Pack, and these people were in the news and on the screens frequently.  We have all been in that transition period, where we know we have to leave college behind and make our way in this world, yet we cling to the bonds we have made with our college friends, many of which (the bonds, that is) last a lifetime.  And this crowd is probably going to stay together, linked somehow, for life.  The music and the cast make this movie watchable, and I enjoyed a stroll down memory lane.  4 cans.
108.  Nothing In Common (1986) – Continuing my stream of 1980s movies, here we have a little Garry Marshall-Tom Hanks gem.  Hanks has played in many movies I have enjoyed, but this one seems to have been overlooked since I rarely find anyone who is familiar with it.  David Basner (Hanks) is a 30-something ad exec who he loves working with his team and chasing women, and he’s good at both. He’s trying to land an airline account and the exec (Sela Ward) whose father owns the company.  And then one day his mother leaves his father (Eva Maire Saint and Jackie Gleason) and David is forced to face family responsibilities, the truth about the relationship between his parents and how it has affected him.  You’d never know from this description that this movie is equal parts comedy and drama (the advertising scenes in the office draw the most comedy).  David leans on his old high school girlfriend (Bess Armstrong) for emotional support even though they have both moved on.  Gleason is terrific as irascible Max Basner, still trying to sell children’s clothes and ignoring his failing health.  David has to balance his work and family life for the first time.  4 cans.
109.  Sex Tape* (2014) – You have to give Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz props for nearly baring it all this comedy about a couple trying to revive their sex life by recording themselves going at it in every possible way for three hours.  In these days of “the cloud,” the video gets uploaded to a server and the couple make a mad dash to see who is behind the incident and how they can get it back.  This isn’t the kind of movie I generally watch, but it is less prurient than comedic in nature.  Having seen it once, I’ll likely never see it again.  2½ cans.
110.  In the Bedroom (2001) – Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson are Ruth and Matt, a long-married couple leading quiet lives in their Maine community when their world is rocked by the tragic death of their son, Frank.  Frank had been dating Natalie (Marissa Tomei), a not-quite divorced woman with two young children whose nasty husband did not take kindly to the presence of another man.  With Frank’s death, Ruth and Matt’s lives become quietly desperate, as their cope with their grief and the restrictions of the legal system.  This is a slow-moving drama where feelings are sublimated by the main characters as they try to live their lives through their everyday activities and their grief.  The performances by the leads all received Oscar nominations for good reason.  Not cheery, but well done.  3½ cans.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Random Ramblings - Summer, 2015

Whatever happened to Adele?  I mean, one day we were rolling with her in the deep, and then she had a baby, and then something happened to her throat, and then Sam Smith seemed to take her place and then something happened to his throat, so where is Adele?  I need some more Adele music.  And Sam Smith, too, for that matter.

Is there a better song than Brain Wilson’s “God Only Knows?’  Maybe God is the only one who can answer that question.  The lyrics are so beautiful and so timeless.

I’ve said this before but I can’t help repeating myself: Does EVERYONE have to ask you to take a survey?  Kohl’s wastes more paper just by stapling that tiny note to the receipt to ask you to go on-line to take their survey.  I mailed something from the post office and they wanted me to take a survey.  The lab that does my blood work asked me to go on-line and fill one out, and the hospital where I had minor surgery recently sent me a written questionnaire via US mail.  I wonder if the post office asked them to fill out a survey.

You know, Medicare, if I could figure how HOW to enroll on your website “from the comfort of my home or office,” I would do that rather than listen to 30 minutes of bad music and your explanations that you serve 50 million people – all of whom are on line ahead of my call today.  By the way, when I finally spoke to a live human being at SS even he asked me to stay on the line to take a survey.  I figured I’d leave that to one of the 50 million other people they were serving. 

Why do I always have technical issues with my computer or programs when I do that last, late check before bed?  Inevitably, all of my e-mail disappears, or the printer won’t print, or I can’t sign in to something.  And how do machines sense when you are in a hurry?  That’s when they crack under the pressure and shut down, just when you need that last page of the fax to go through.  So annoying.

I no longer think of the newspaper as reading material or something that should be recycled.  I think of it as packing material, as I use it for wrapping as I pack.

Seriously, why is there an expiration date on my bottle of nail polish remover?  Is it so toxic that by July, 2017, it will have disintegrated the bottle?  If I use it that August, what will happen?

I love the Neil Sedaka song (little known) “I Should’ve Never Let You Go,” about a man’s regret about a woman whom he dumps.  But the fact that he sings it as a duet with his daughter kind of creeps me out.

Not that research has been conducted on this topic, but I’m pretty sure than the vast majority of retail clerks who start the transaction by asking you, “How are you today?” actually don’t care how you are today.  Your “Fine, thanks, how are you?” response doesn’t mean you care about them, either.

Why is the abbreviation for pounds “lbs?”  There are no letters L or B in the word pound.  Just another English language oddity, or is there a real reason?  Just wondering.

And why is the nickname for William Bill?  For Jonathan, Jack?  For Elizabeth, Betty?  I don’t get it.

I was driving past Quest Diagnostics, where my blood work is done, when I heard the Taylor Swift song “Bad Blood.”  Irony?  Coincidence?

Have you ever called an 800 number where the menu options had NOT changed?  You are told to listen carefully, as if you actually knew the previous menu options, which, unless you have had lots of problems with this organization and called many times before, you probably don’t know in the first place.  And how many of us actually know our party’s extension and can enter it at this time?

I recently took a long trip and used the map application on my phone because it gave me more route options than the GPS built into the car.  But, because it recognizes traffic, I kept getting a verbal message about traffic and the route being abated, or at least I think that is what the message said.  For the first 2 hours of the trip, I thought she was saying something about rutabagas.   And then she kept switching the route because it would be shorter, but I didn’t want to go the new way, so I went the original way and the rutabagas kept coming up. 

Any time I think to myself that I’ll remember something and I don’t have to write it down I don’t remember it and I wish that I had written it down. 

Speaking of which, I am making a pledge to go shopping with a list instead of wandering around ShopRite, seeing things on sale and buying them IN CASE I need them.  That’s how you end up with 4 boxes of plastic bags and two containers of salt.  Seriously, how often does anyone buy salt?  And I have two.  And don’t tell me to take one back, because I recycled the receipt, responsible person that I am.  So, does anyone need salt?

I’ll admit it: I don’t know the difference between Ice Cube and Ice T.  I also cannot identify which Hemsworth brother is which. And you could hold a gun to my head and I would still not know Mary Kate from Ashley Olson. 

If you wear a FitBit or any of these new devices that track your activity, you would be amazed at how much ground you cover in a day.  On days when I take a 3.5 mile walk, I can cover another few miles just running around the house.  Packing boxes and hauling them up and down the stairs is a big contributor to my mileage these days, too!

Thank God for Tide to Go, which I end up using at home.  Is that legal?

I wonder why we move our left arm forward with our right leg and vice versa when we walk.  Would we tip over if the right leg and arm moved together on the same side?  These are things I think about on my walk.

You know that things are bad when you make your dinner choice based on the expiration date on whatever is in the freezer.  Tonight’s chicken fettucine was running out of time this month, and it’s gone now.  I don’t want to worry about packing/wasting food when I move, so I am trying to eat my way through the food chain here.

I get so sleepy watching TV, but by the time I go upstairs to bed, wash my face, brush my teeth, etc., I am wide awake.  I’m hoping that when I move to a house with the bedroom on the first floor, I’ll get into the habit of getting ready for bed earlier and I can just hop in when I feel my eyes starting to close.  Of course, I’ll be unpacking for 6 months, so there goes at least some sleep.

The way to a man’s heart is through his – lawn.  That’s right.  I have yet to meet a man who didn’t consider a compliment about his grass looking really green as the highest form of flattery.

You have no idea how much useless stuff you own until you start packing it.  I have donated, sold, recycled and discarded a landfill’s worth of stuff, and I still find more to pack or toss.  I am labeling the boxes very specifically because I’m pretty sure a lot of this stuff will never even get UNPACKED, even though I am reluctant to get rid of it now.  Throwing out my grade school report cards was a big deal, but I kept my Douglass diploma.  These days, I wouldn’t be surprised if Rutgers tried to wrest it from me, but that would happen over my dark, cold, lifeless body.







Saturday, August 1, 2015

Tina's July 2015 Movies

I watched a boatload of movies in July, as I anticipate my movie watching time dwindling in the next few months as I move into a new house.  As usual, the numbering picks up from previous months and those movies that are new to me are indicated with an asterisk.  They are rated on a scale of 1-5 cans of tuna, with 5 being the top of the scale. 

77.  The Turning Point (1977) – There are countless decisions we make in life, but only a few that truly set our course.  Here, middle-aged Didi (Shirley Maclaine) is a retired ballerina, raising her family and running a ballet school, when her old ballet company and its principal ballerina (and her erstwhile dear friend) Emma (Anne Bancroft) come to town.  Didi and her husband have a talented daughter, Emelia, who is selected to work with the company in New York (Leslie Browne).  Didi gave up her dream to be a ballet dancer when she married Wayne (Tom Skerritt), and the two friends each envy the other’s life.  Would Didi have been better than Emma?  Should she not have had a child and pursued her artistic dream?  Does Emma, a recognized star, yearn to have a talented daughter like Emilia?  I don’t know much about ballet, but the sequences, especially those which feature Mikhail Baryshnikov, are breathtaking.  Friendship between women can be deep and long-lasting, but so can resentments and drama, and here they boil up to the surface and end up in one of the best catfights ever filmed.  This movie has an excellent cast, a good story and it takes on a burning question – did I make the right choice?  I thought it was time to see this oldie but goodie again.  4 cans and a pair of ballet slippers.
78.  Innocence – “Too much love is as bad as no love at all,” says Claire to her beloved Andreas.  Claire and Andreas were a happy, young couple many years ago but life took them in different directions.  Claire married John, had a son and proceeded to subjugate her life to the needs of others.  Andreas married as well, but by the time he and Claire reunite after 30 plus years, he has been a widower for a long time.  Their once-young love is rekindled but complicated by the scowling presence of Claire’s husband, who has largely ignored her for 30 years and, only when he sees that he may lose her to another man, does he begin to realize that he loves her.  Claire feels that neither man has loved her enough – Andreas, not enough to have fought for her when they were young, and John, neglecting to express his feelings for her.  Now Claire and Andreas have one last chance to be together, and it isn’t the same.  As he tells her, “Every stage of life has its own kind of love.”  Is it companionship, obligation or real, lasting love?  This wonderful movie raises all kinds of questions about relationships, and how we take for granted the people we love.  The story is lovingly portrayed by Julia Blake (who looks like a cross between Jessica Tandy and Barbara Barrie), Charles Tingwell and Terry Norris.   There aren’t many movies about love between mature couples, and this one is worth waiting for.  4 cans.
79.  Niagara* (1953) – Film noir = men wearing fedoras, sometimes filmed in silhouette, with a murder plot and melodramatic music.  This movie fits that definition, with the stunning Marilyn Monroe plotting with her lover to kill her husband (Joseph Cotton), all set at Niagara Falls.  Monroe is all red lips and blonde hair and filmed in a way that accentuates the power of her looks.  The movie is a bit plodding and overly dramatic, but, never having been to Niagara Falls, at least I got a close-up look.  2 cans.
80.  Cinema Paradiso (1989) – There are few movies as heartwarming as this lovely Italian (with subtitles) classic about a young boy who falls in love with the movies by befriending the gruff projectionist at the theater in his Sicilian town, the Cinema Paradiso.  The music is beautiful and haunting, the story sad yet uplifting, the acting authentic and the entire experience is a must-see for those of us who love movies.  I can remember spending many a Saturday at the Cort Theater in Somerville, where, for a dollar, you could buy your ticket (either 35 or 50 cents), get popcorn and a soda and see a double feature.  It is that experience that led me to my love of movies.  I saw this one on Netflix for the first time in many years, and if you haven’t seen it, stop reading this review and watch it now.  4½ bags of popcorn.
81.  Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me* (2013) – And so they did – shoot her, that is, for many hours for this documentary.  Elaine Stritch was a Broadway legend, a tough dame whose singing voice alone would never qualify her for a place in the pantheon of performers on the stage.  It was her attitude, her fearlessness and her dominance of the stage and those around her who made her a star.  She shunned wearing pants – preferring long shirts and tights – and she wore ties and lots of hats, from tams to fedoras, all adding to her unique style, bluster and charm.  A self-confessed alcoholic who battled the bottle and diabetes, she proposed to her husband, whose reply was, “Why not?”  And she commanded a stage.  Anyone who ever saw “Company” remembers her rendition of the Stephen Sondheim song, “Here’s to the Ladies Who Lunch,” which should never be sung by anyone else.  Sondheim was never easy on a singer, with his complex lyrics that tell an intricate tale, and Stritch, at an advanced age, sometimes had trouble remembering them on stage – but she delivers when the house lights go down.  This documentary, filmed when Stritch was about to turn 87, traces Stritch’s career from the movies to the musical memoir that won her the Tony:  “I’m Still Here.”  And don’t we wish she were.  Feisty, profane and yet vulnerable.  One of a kind.  3½ cans.  
82.  Antarctica: A Year on Ice* (2013) – As someone who wears a jacket in the summer because I freeze in the produce section of ShopRite, I picked what seems to be an odd movie for me to watch.  But Anthony Powell’s visually arresting documentary traces the beauty of a continent seen by few people, only those who can brave winters of 80 degrees below zero weather.  They are not just scientists but firefighters, a retail clerk, administrators, and other so-called “normal” people.  Some live there only in the summer, but many brave the long and dark winters, when the sun sets in April and isn’t seen again until August.  No planes can fly in or out during the winter conditions, so supplies must be carefully maintained.  And even personalities change, according to the residents, as they claim to suffer from “T-3” syndrome, where they forget things easily.  The beauty of the nighttime in the dark, when flashes of green light undulate in the black sky, are truly spectacular.  Powell created stabilizers and weather-proofed his cameras so he could record much of the film in time lapse photography, the cameras standing outside like soldiers, braving the conditions.  The result of his work is a collection of footage that tells the story of a unique place and the people who live and work there. Compelling stuff.  3½ cans.
83.  Good Night and Good Luck (2005) – The title of this movie is based on the exit line of CBS news legend Edward R. Murrow (David Straitharn).  This film is a dramatization of CBS’s quest to expose Senator Joseph McCarthy in the early 1950s for his witch-hunt against anyone whom he decided was a Communist sympathizer.  CBS is portrayed as above reproach while McCarthy, shown in extensive clips of his actual hearings, is portrayed as a gadfly who relied on guilt by association, never letting actual facts get in the way of his tirades against people he deemed suspicious.  Murrow has plenty of juice here, having built his reputation as a hard-nosed but fair reporter during WWII, and he uses it to go after McCarthy in a way that contrasts to the Senator’s histrionics.  This is a very insular movie, filmed appropriately in black and white, and confining itself primarily to the smoke-filled newsroom of CBS.  Murrow stakes the reputation of CBS on his crusade to expose the methods and tactics of McCarthy.  George Clooney plays CBS exec Fred Friendly, a devoted Murrow supporter, and he also directed and co-wrote the script.  Straitharn fashions his Murrow with the right amount of quiet indignation, gravitas and an occasionally arched eyebrow, barely visible through the constant cigarette smoke.  This movie is certainly not one of broad appeal, but this account helps us understand the importance of journalistic integrity and getting the facts straight.  4 cans.
84.   No Contract, No Cookies: The Stella D’Oro Story (2011) – Stella D’Oro was a successful family bakery with a plant in the Bronx, where 138 workers from 20 countries made cookies, packed boxes, fixed equipment, and stayed for decades, many becoming close, personal friends.  But when the company, started in 1930, was sold to an investment firm, Brynwood Partners, the new owners demanded cuts in pay and benefits and the workers went on strike.  This documentary shows the worst side of business, with the investment firm portrayed as heartless scoundrels.  The unionized workers showed up every day to picket and demand their jobs – now being done by “scabs” -- back.  Eventually they won their case in court, but in an act of absolute corporate greed and cruelty, Brynwood immediately sold the factory and its assets and moved production to a non-union plant in Ohio.  All 138 workers, many far too old to find jobs, were left unemployed.  I saw this movie once before, and I still find it sad.  The close-ups of the faces of people who loved their jobs and each other, who proudly represent their place of birth – be that Greece or Ecuador, Vietnam or the Dominican Republic or Italy – and the music add even more drama to a heartbreaking situation.  All I know is that I have not bought a package of Stella D’Oro cookies since I first saw this movie and I never will again.  4 cans but no cookies.
85. Cake* (2014) – Jennifer Anniston has never looked worse or acted better than she does in this drama about Claire, a woman suffering chronic pain and trapped in despair and anger.  She is thrown out of her pain support group for her insensitivity when one of the members (Anna Kendrick) commits suicide, and then she is obsessed with learning the details of her death.  She even befriends the grieving husband (Sam Worthington) of the woman.  Anniston walks like she is in pain, like every step puts daggers in her body.  Her physical pain is only part of the issue, as she grapples with a tragic loss and tries to decide whether she wants to continue to live.  She lashes out at everyone and lies to get prescription drugs to dull all of her pain.  The only good thing in her life is her loyal housekeeper, Silvana (Adriana Barraza), who tolerates her behavior as Claire tries to tolerate her pain.  This is hardly the kind of light fare in which we typically see Anniston, and she is up to the challenge, eschewing the good looks of her signature role as Rachel Green in “Friends” and is not afraid to look as bad as we all do when we are going through a crisis.  There is cake, but not until the end of the movie.  3½ cans.
86.  Happy Valley* (2014) – “Happy Valley” – State College, Pennsylvania -- was not such a happy valley in the wake of child molestation charges against retired Penn State Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky.  This documentary skirts the crimes themselves to address the culture of football fervor at Penn State.  The focus shifts from the heinous acts committed by Sandusky to the Penn State administration, including legendary coach Joe Paterno: When did he know and what did he know about Sandusky?  According to a report commissioned by Penn State, “Joe Pa” knew little, but failed to follow up on what he had heard, as did members of the University administration.  The Paterno family is shown suffering a litany of indignities, from having the halo over Paterno’s head painted out of a street mural by the original artist to having his statue removed from the front of the stadium to having the NCAA strip Paterno of all of the wins from 1998 (the date of the first incident) until the end of his career, when he was unceremoniously sacked (he died just months later).  Let’s not forget that it was Sandusky who was the perpetrator of these heinous crimes against children and young men.  The smug Board of Governors seriously underestimated the fury Paterno’s firing would generate among students and alumni, who chanted, flipped over media trucks, tore down street lamps and simply lost their minds.  The movie shows us the considerable fall-out, without the victims, but concentrating on Penn State football fanatics and the Paterno family and how they were deceived by Sandusky and sanctimoniously slapped by Penn State and later by the NCAA.  But this is a place that considered its program above all others, where football is worshipped, and by the end of the movie, the pro-Joe crowd has already bought in to the new coach hired (Bill O’Brien, who has since returned to the NFL) and the fans look eager to get back to the game.  I won’t offer an opinion on the crime and punishment here, but I will say this provocative film had little happiness on display in Happy Valley.  3½ cans.
87.  The Sterile Cuckoo (1969) – Lisa Minelli gives a powerhouse performance as kooky Pookie Adams, a desperately lonely young woman who lives somewhere between madness and euphoria.  Pookie is on her way to college in upstate New York when she encounters Jerry (Wendell Burton), a quiet, buttoned down kind of guy also on his way to his school in upstate New York who is, at first, overwhelmed by her personality.  But they gravitate to each other, with Jerry willing to tolerate Pookie’s disdain for her classmates and society in general.  He reluctantly (at first) continues to see Pookie at school and allows himself to be drawn into her insular world.  They are in love – or so they think – but no one can exist entirely outside the norms of college life forever.  Jerry is very reserved but he has the ability to assimilate into a normal life, while Pookie gets increasingly desperate and clingy.  This is a sad, tender story about a woman who today would have a diagnosis to describe her behavior and who banks her hopes on a relationship that is doomed from the start.  I love the song “Come Saturday Morning.” 3½ cans.
88.  Showrunner* (2014) – It’s not easy being king.  Ask any of the overworked, stressed out “showrunners” in this documentary on the people who are responsible for heading up a TV show.  Most started as writers (and many continue to write scripts for their shows), and others have gone on to direct programs, but there is a collaborative process that results in a program getting – and staying – on air. The showrunners are not generally the only writers on the staff, and sometimes they have help on the management side, but their biggest obstacles are not the stories and the scripts but the TV executives and ratings that can make or break a show.  Renowned showrunner J.J. Abrams has had as many as three shows on TV simultaneously (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” being the best known) and has also gone on to feature films.  There are interviews with “Sopranos” vet Terence Winter, Abrams, Michael Kelly of “Revenge” and many others, all of whom admit that getting started is tough and staying on top is tougher.  If you like the business part of show business, you’ll find this program fascinating.  3½ cans.
89.  Under the Tuscan Sun (2003) – It’s hard not to like this movie about a suddenly divorced book reviewer who travels to Italy and impulsively buys a dilapidated old villa in Tuscany.  Diane Lane stars in this story based on the autobiographical novel of Frances Mayes.  I know that the story is at least semi-true, but it was hard for me to accept the fact that this woman could buy a home, find workers to fix it up, meet the man of her dreams and become part of her new community so easily. In real life, I’ve spent weeks trying to get the window guy to call me back.  But Lane, who is in virtually every scene, is so disarming that the reality/fantasy of the plot becomes plausible.  The men are handsome, the vistas beautiful, the food looks yummy and the movie provides us with a two-hour escape from our own, considerably less interesting lives.  3½ cans.
90.  The Producers (2005) – This is a movie I should love.  It is the musical adaptation of Mel Brooks’ classic comedy with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder about a Broadway producer and his accountant who hatch a scheme to overfund a play destined to flop.  Any movie that brings you a musical number like “Springtime for Hitler” can either be highly hysterical or highly offensive.  I opt for the former.  However, this version, which is the movie version of the smash Broadway hit with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, is played so broadly that the actors seem to be projecting to the last row of the balcony and just doesn’t work as well on the small screen (my 35-inch TV, that is).  Lane and Broderick are just two of the inspired lunatics (Gary Beach, Roger Bart and Will Ferrell also star), and the music and lyrics were written by Brooks himself.  But somehow all of that talent just hammed it up too much for my taste.  I’d rather see the Mostel and Wilder version.  Mel Brooks is a sick, sick man.  3 cans.
91.  Sharknado 3 – Oh, Hell, No* (2015) – Oh, hell, no, is exactly what I kept saying to myself throughout this preposterous movie.  I really thought the first two in this franchise that aired on TV’s ScyFy Channel were campy enough to be amusing, knowing they were so bad that they were good.  But this time around, the stunt casting gets stranger (Mark Cuban is POTUS, brandishing weapons to fight the flying fish in the White House) and our hero, Fin Shepherd (Ian Ziering, Beverly Hills 90120 refuge who is just happy to find work), is put in ever more danger.  In this sequel, he and his father, Gil Shepherd (David Hasselhoff, thank you very much), are launched into space to thwart the sharknado weather pattern and are joined at the last minute by Fin’s pregnant wife, April (the emotionless Tara Reid), because in real life, pretty much anyone can ride a NASA rocket into space at a moment’s notice.  I don’t want to ruin it, but suffice to say that there is a human birth that involves a shark.  And there is the ever-present chain saw that Fin carries around to fend off the flying fish.  The first two were funny-bad. This one was just bad-bad.  And when they come out with Sharknado 4 – which is in production – all I can say is, “Oh, hell, no!”  This may be Sharknado 3, but it only gets 1 can of seafood from me.
92.  Mr. Holmes* (2015) – Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellan) is not the man you think he is.  Elderly and frail, he neither wears a hat nor smokes a pipe, and he cannot live on his own without the help of his housekeeper (Laura Linney, looking determinedly frumpy) and her young son.  His fading memory makes it hard for him to complete a book because he cannot recall the details of a key case.  He’s left to work with his bees and train young Roger to care for them, too.  But there are some moments of clarity for the old sleuth, who can still determine more about someone from a cursory glance than the rest of us can from a detailed examination.  There’s not a lot of action here, as Holmes struggles to recall his unsolved case.  Still, McKellan’s portrayal of the legend of Scotland Yard is so nuanced and yet so prickly that he surely will get an Oscar nod.  I liked it but didn’t love it.  3 cans.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Collected Random Thoughts for June/July

The world’s biggest lies:  The check is in the mail, the service tech will be there between 1-4 and this package contains 14 servings of ice cream.
 
My cleaning lady lends whole new meaning to the term “disposable razor.”  Whenever she spots one in the shower, she throws it away.  Then I can’t find my stash, so I can’t replace it, which means that if my legs look hairier than usual, you will know why.  And why does she also think that my soap is expendable?  A sliver being tossed I understand (although I am frugal enough to use it until there is nothing left), but half a bar of soap?  And what does she do with the dishrag in the sink?  I always have plenty of garbage after the house is cleaned.  Now I know why. 

There’s not much I can’t do with a letter opener or a pair of scissors.  One of my letter openers (yes, I have several) is too dull to actually open a letter (and, yes, I still get letters, but I mostly open bills), but it is perfect to help me put up the storm windows.  Don’t ask.  One night last month I was hot and I realized the storm windows were still down, so I grabbed my trusty letter opener and proceeded to try to pull down the screens and I dropped the letter opener on the roof of the sunroom.  So there I am at 11 PM, pajama-clad, flashlight in hand, long mop at the ready, fishing the letter opener off the sunroom roof.  I knew I would need it and didn’t want it to get away.  Yes, I may be a little crazy. 

I have a collection of black pants that could only be exceeded by those in Johnny Cash’s closet.  But I think they conspire against me.  Sometimes I’ll look for a particular pair and can’t find them.  Are they at the cleaners, I wonder?  And then I go back to the closet the next day and they are there, or I find a pair I don’t even remember having.  I think they step out and sneak back in, and sometimes bring along friends.

I frequently pass a parked truck from Somerset Hills Towing that is emblazoned with the company’s SHT initials.  Somehow, my demented mind always sees the letter I in there.  At least I amuse myself.

I don’t even know what millings are, but every time I pass a handmade sign on Route 206 that says “Free Millings” I am tempted to call the number to find out how I can get some.  The allure of FREE is powerful stuff.

We live in a world where there are little cartoon figures called emojis that people can use to express their feelings instead of using actual words, where the noun “friend” has become a verb (you can “friend” me on Facebook) and where a tradename has also become a verb, “I’ll just Uber to the show.”  My former English teachers are spinning in their graves and lamenting the decline and fall of civilization as we knew it.

So I get into a Town Car recently on the crowded streets of New York and the very nice/nosy driver starts asking me a million questions (long ride, too much time in car).  By the end of the ride I had claimed to be a married woman (28 years) with a 25-year old son and a husband who was responsible for all car maintenance (his car was making a funny noise).  It was easier than explaining that I'm not married because I haven't found the right guy, etc., and no I DON'T have grandchildren.  I get these questions all the time as a "lovely older" woman.  Is everyone just trying to fix me up or are they all that nosy?  So now I have a new life, I guess.

There’s nothing like packing up your house to remind you of stuff you have that you didn’t remember owning (I have a giant glass cake server that I haven’t used in years; I packed it anyway), stuff you don’t want or need (how many mugs do I need when I don’t drink coffee?), stuff you should have gotten rid of long ago (a glass mug from my worst vacation ever, a week on Hilton Head Island when it NEVER STOPPED RAINING), and stuff you don’t need or want but which you cannot bring yourself to throw away (my bunny bowl and dish from when I was a baby; I wonder who might want to take that off my hands as a sentimental reminder of me).  I just wrapped the cake server in a beach towel that is too frayed to use in public and which I have been saving to use for packing.  I have sworn that the towel at least goes right into the trash as soon as I unpack!

Only I could break a nail while I sleep. 

What is a better feeling than looking at your Kohl’s receipt and seeing that you saved more money than you spent?  Is it even possible to pay full-price at Kohl’s?  And for $6.99 (and then with a coupon, even less), I might as well buy a top that I might wear once.  At that price, it’s cheaper than buying lunch!

I may be the only person on Facebook who doesn’t have kids or pets but still likes watching those videos with babies and their dogs.

You know you are a grammar nerd when you want to correct other people’s Facebook posts.  I had a boss once who insisted that man’s greatest needs were food, water and to edit other people’s writing.

Who decided on the whole Initial Caps use thing?  Why do we lower case the smaller words and Initial Cap the rest?  Is the word “the” not worthy of a capital T unless it is the first word?  And which words are appropriate to keep as small letters?  Who makes these rules?  Why Do I Waste Time Thinking About Them?  Should “about” have been lower case?

We all like crunchy things in our food for a little texture, but one little bit of eggshell with my hard-boiled egg is NOT what I had in mind.

In my world, when someone has to undergo a surgical procedure or go for a colonoscopy, I consider the potential weight loss a “silver lining.”

When I put out the recycling, it almost looks like I have gift wrapped it.  Everything is neatly tied up, boxes are cut so the pieces are all the same size, and the magazines and junk mail are placed tidily in their bags.  I can’t help notice that my neighbors don’t seem to take the same measure of care.  I see beer cartons and other boxes just piled up, not broken down or tied.  I see bottles with labels and paper strewn about, sometimes even in plastic bags.  Am I obsessed or are they just lazy?  Or both?

I don’t know how people walk around ShopRite in shorts and tank tops.  I put on a shirt, sweater or sweatshirt as I get out of the car – especially in the summer – so I won’t freeze in the dairy aisle.  And the frozen food section?  I try to steer clear of that one altogether.  And if you have ever entered the section of Costco where they keep the salad, you understand exactly what freezing is.

Why is it that we have to nurture our plants and lawn, feed them, weed them and make sure they are properly watered, and yet weeds are ignored until they are pulled and can grow strong and hardy even between cracks in the sidewalk?

I don’t understand the expression, “Sign on the dotted line.”  I’ve seen the line, and it is not dotted. 

For those of you who follow me on Facebook, you know that I recently marked 15 years since I underwent surgery for colon cancer.  I'm still here, and I use this occasion to urge any of you over age 50 to get a colonoscopy.  Mine saved my life (thank you, Katie Couric, for televising yours).  If I am around, I'll even drive you.  It isn't as bad as you think and you get a lovely rest while under sedation.  Don't put it off.  It could save YOUR life.  And while we are discussing screenings, don’t forget to schedule a mammogram, too, ladies.  Steps off soapbox.

I recently went for my annual mammogram, which is the day you are not allowed to use powder or deodorant after a shower.  I play “Hide the Deodorant,” stashing it somewhere the night before so I cannot routinely grab and use it.  I did it so well that I couldn’t find it the next day.  I’m back to the old routine now.

Life is a journey, and I am still trying to figure everything out.  The only thing I know is that I don’t know everything.  So I am still learning, which is what helps keep me alive. 



Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Tina's June 2015 Movies

June brought a dozen movies to my list, some fun, some charming, and some not really worth seeing.  As always, numbering picks up from the previous month, and movies that I had not seen previously are marked with an asterisk.  Ratings are based on a scale of 1-5 cans of tuna, with 5 being the highest rating.

JUNE
65.  From the Terrace (1960) – Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward star in this melodramatic adaptation of the John O’Hara novel about a wealthy but unhappy married couple.  He is the scion of a modestly wealthy family which doesn’t love him.  She is from a much richer family and he doesn’t really love her, either.  What he loves is his work at an investment bank on Wall Street, a job he “fell into” by rescuing the partner’s grandson.  They become fabulously wealthy and attractive and yet are miserable together, though she lusts after him (and settles for her old boyfriend instead).  He doesn’t even understand how unhappy he is until he meets and falls for a much less complicated, pretty woman (Ina Balin) and her life.  Will he give up everything for the chance of finally achieving happiness?  Tune in and find out.  This movie and “The Young Philadelphians” are two of my favorite Newman movies.  I love Paul Newman!  4 cans.
66.  School of Rock (2003) – I’ll give this fluffy little movie a passing grade mainly because of the A+ performance of Jack Black as the star.  Black plays Dewey, an out-of-work, slacker musician, too obnoxious to remain in the band he started and posing as a substitute teacher under a friend’s name.  He takes on a group of private school students, introduces them to music and his passion for it, and forms them into a credible rock band.  This is where the movie runs off the rails for me, since I have to suspend my sense of reality in watching him get hired as a teacher in the first place, and then get these kids on board.  Still, Black is at his John Belushi best as he wins over the students, the administration (yet another role for Joan Cusack) and the competition.  3 cans. 
67.  Grand Central* (2014) – As a New Jersey native, I have always been relegated to entering New York by train via dreary and perfunctory Penn Station.  Its much more splendid cousin is Grand Central Terminal, the beautiful beaux arts building across town that is both a destination and gateway into the city for millions of people who arrive by train from places all over the country.  This beautifully-restored building represents the confluence of art, architecture and engineering, with its ceiling of the stars, carvings, magnificent arched windows and a state-of-the-art transportation system – after all, it is first and foremost a train station.  But within its airy confines, it is the home of shops, restaurants, markets and multi-million dollar clocks, each made from a single piece of opal and which, collectively, have served as the meeting point for millions of people.  The station had fallen into disarray by the 1970s and there was consideration of knocking it down (the current iteration is the third terminal built on the site).  But the cautionary tale of the destruction of a once-grand Penn Station caused city historians and people who appreciate the value of preservation (including a major role played by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis) to restore the building and enhance its glory.  I followed up the experience of seeing this movie by meeting a dear friend there a week later so we could explore its wonders.  I’m so glad I was inspired by the movie to take a walk from Penn Station to the aptly named Grand Central.  4 cans.
68.  Doc Hollywood (1991) – Manic Michael J. Fox is at his smug Alex P. Keaton best in this fish-out-of-water tale of Dr. Ben Stone, a hotshot doc who is Hollywood-bound when he crashes his sports car into a fence in small town Grady, SC, and is sentenced to community service.  He has to fill in for the grumpy old town doctor and gets to meet the town’s colorful characters – the family who come to him so he can read them letters since they can’t read; the farmer who gives him a pig in lieu of payment; and the attractive ambulance driver.  He’s bound for the big bucks of plastic surgery but falls in love with Lou (Julie Warner), the driver, and the laid-back but warm lifestyle of the locals.  Will he head to the Hollywood Hills? Or will be stick around for the Annual Grady Squash Festival?  Tough one to call.  This movie is a major dose of charm, especially Fox and Warner.  4 cans.
69.  I’ll See You in My Dreams* (2015) – “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” I said to the kid at the ticket counter as I plunked down my $8, “but don’t take it personally.”  But this film is personal.  Carol (Blythe Danner) is a widow of 20 years who lives quietly with her beloved dog Hazel and is very settled in her routine.  She sets the alarm for 6, gets up, reads the paper, does her errands, occasionally plays bridge with her girlfriends, drinks a lot of wine, sits in the house by herself and generally lives a lonely existence.  However, two men enter her life and change things up a bit, making her rediscover the woman she once was.  Lloyd (Martin Starr) is the much younger pool guy (nothing happens beyond a friendship) and Bill (the silver and foxy Sam Elliott) meets her at the retirement community where her friends live and he asks her out.  He turns out to be a really good guy, and she can start to think about changing her life.  But life is not always as we plan it.  This is a heartfelt movie, at times touching and amusing – a far cry from those big-budget blockbusters you can find at the multiplex.  I’d love to hang around with Carol and her old friends (Rhea Pearlman, June Squibb and Mary Kay Place), minus the speed dating sequence.  3½ cans and a couple of large glasses of wine.
70.  Love & Mercy* (2015) – Brian Wilson: Musical genius.  Tortured soul.  As someone with no musical ability, I cannot even imagine what it must be like to have music in your head and try to translate it into a cohesive, complex sound, but that was the genius of the man behind such classic songs as “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Good Vibrations” and “God Only Knows.”  But Wilson, the heart and soul of the Beach Boys, was the victim of abuse – first by his father, who abused him physically and emotionally, and then by the charlatan psychologist, Dr. Eugene Landy, who kept Wilson drugged and firmly under his control for decades, estranged from his family and convinced that he was a paranoid schizophrenic.  If you didn’t know this story was true, you would never believe it.  But Wilson heard music in his head (among other things he heard), and eschewed his early hits about sun, sand and surfing to turn out the iconic “Pet Sounds” and set a new standard for popular music, backed by the power and grace of the famed studio musicians, The Wrecking Crew.  Paul Dano as a younger Wilson and John Cusack as the older version give remarkable performances as a man always on the edge of losing it all.  Elizabeth Banks plays the woman who sees his pain and finally is able to get him freed from the burden of his “caretaker,” Landy.  How Brian Wilson survived his private hell and turned out some of the most memorable music of the century, well, God Only Knows.  4 cans.  
71.  Standing in the Shadows of Motown (2002) – And speaking of back-up bands, the Funk Brothers were to Motown what the Wrecking Crew was to the West Coast sound.  A group of talented, mostly jazz, musicians, the Funk Brothers worked at Berry Gordy’s Motown Studios and created that distinctive Motown groove that appears on every artist’s record from that era, from Smokey Robinson to Marvin Gaye to Martha Reeves.  Most came from the South, and many ended up in Detroit to work in the burgeoning automobile industry, but the veritable assembly line of hits that was Motown in the 1960s was a better fit for them than Chevrolet.  Even the most ardent fan in this documentary can’t name the members of this crew, because they were largely anonymous and ever changing.  But take the bass work of James Jamerson or the beats of Benny Benjamin or the piano of Joe Hunter and let them work and the result is the soundtrack of my youth.  When Gordy abruptly abandoned Detroit for Hollywood in 1972, he left behind these huge contributors to Motown’s success, and the sound was never the same.  Like the recent documentary “20 Feet From Stardom” that focused on the anonymous back-up singers behind so many hit records, this movie looks at these men and their contributions as a group and as individuals.  Several more contemporary artists are paired with them to recreate the songs they made famous.  4 cans.
72.  Back to School (1986) – From the esoteric to the sophomoric, my electric taste in movies covers a lot of territory.  This comedy is my favorite Rodney Dangerfield movie, surpassing even the classic “Caddyshack.”  Dangerfield is plus-size clothing mogul Thornton Melon, a man so rich he gets into his son’s college by writing a big check to build the college’s new business school.  He enrolls to be closer to his son Jason (Keith Gordon), brings along his faithful factotum Lou (Burt Young) and proceeds to take over the school, doling out “Shakespeare for everyone” and remaking the dorm to look like a bachelor pad.  His interest in the professor played by Sally Kellerman is thwarted by her teaching schedule, so he tells her to “call me some time when you have no class.”  The whole movie is filled with Dangerfield witticisms, low-brow comedy that is entertaining nonetheless.  Today’s top box office draw, Robert Downey Jr., plays Jason’s best and only friend in a way that his rise to stardom would never have been predicted.  Adrienne Barbeau is Melon’s wife in the opening sequence, and her appearance, while brief, is memorable.  Not a thinking person’s movie to be sure, but plenty to make me smile.  
3½ cans.
73.  Spy* (2015) – If you can buy Melissa McCarthy as an “action hero” in this comedy, you must be willing to believe she could be an accomplished marksman, able to drive motorcycles and fast cars, fly helicopters and airplanes and run down a street in high heels.  You have to overlook reason and logic in movies like this in order to enjoy them.  Here McCarthy is Susan Cooper, a CIA desk jockey whose mission is to convey information to the master spy played by Jude Law, a man with whom she is in love.  When circumstances at the agency change, Susan goes undercover to catch the bad guys and girls (Rose Byrne, also McCarthy’s co-star in the uproarious “Bridesmaids”).  Rather than try to kill Byrne’s character, Susan should just shave her head and remove the thousand pounds of hair on it.  (There is a funny line about her hair breaking her fall.)  The plot gets very convoluted, but the audience is there mostly to hear McCarthy swear like a sailor, make incredibly complex and hilarious statements about others and keep a legion of stunt women in work.  If you are looking for relatively mindless entertainment, I recommend Spy.  3½ cans.  But not as funny as “Back to School.”
74.  Midnight Run (1988) – Before action comedies started to kill people and blow things up every 30 seconds, there was this version, starring Roberts DeNiro as a bounty hunter who is trying to deliver fugitive accountant Jonathan (Charles Grodin) back to the bail bondsman (Joe Pantoliano) in time for trial.  Jonathan is a genuine pain in the butt, and DeNiro is working this big payday as his last.  There is great chemistry between the two opposite types as they board planes, trains and automobiles in this combination buddy/road comedy.  DeNiro looks great, constantly puffing on cigarettes and being chastised for it by Grodin, whose character has crossed up the Chicago mob boss and stolen his money only to give it away for philanthropy.  There is plenty of adventure and amusement.  4 cans.
75.  Music of the Heart (1999) – Meryl Streep plays real-life music teacher Roberta Guaspari in this story of a woman who teaches elementary school students to play the violin in an inner-city school in East Harlem, NY.  What are the chances these kids from impoverished backgrounds will be interested or able to learn this instrument?  Streep’s teacher conveys such love and affection for the music and the experience for the kids, even as she is tough and demanding of them.  Under the category of “Meryl can do anything,” it sure LOOKS like she is actually playing the violin.  This may not be her greatest work, but if you can get through this movie without goosebumps, a tear in the eye or a lump in the throat, then you have no heart.  Here’s to the importance of the arts in our educational system.  3½ cans.
76.  The Oranges* (2011) – Vanessa and Nina (Alia Shawcat and Leighton Meister) are best friends as kids, but the relationship doesn’t survive through high school.  Their parents, David and Paige (Hugh Laurie and Catherine Keener) and Terry and Cathy (Oliver Platt and Allison Janney), are also best friends, with the men especially close.  So when the prodigal Nina begins an affair with her former friend’s father, all of the relationships are thrown into upheaval.  Never mind that the marriage between David and Paige was on the skids anyway.  This affair is enough to drive Paige into abandoning her Christmas caroling plans!  This is an earnest attempt at comedy/drama, but so lightweight that it never fully succeeds in either.  Mostly, it is just awkward, and the moral dilemma posed by the relationship-shattering affair (and the May-December romance) is never really resolved.  Move along, folks, not much to see here.  2 cans.