Sunday, January 31, 2016

Tina's January 2016 Movies

Here we go for another year of watching movies new and old.  Numbering will continue throughout the year.  Movies are rated on a scale of 1 to 5 cans of tuna, with 5 being the top rating.  Movies marked with an asterisk are ones I have not seen previously.

1.  Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine* (2015) – Documentary maker Alex Gibney delves into the life and success for the legendary Steve Jobs, the man behind Apple.  A genius of design and desire, Jobs was able to define consumer needs and create products we never imagined and now cannot live without.  Think Mac computers, the iPhone and the iPad.  In his two stints at Apple – first creating the company along with buddy Steve Wozniak, and later returning as CEO after being ousted by his hand-picked successor – Jobs delivered the goods and was considered God-like by many consumers who flocked to hear him speak or camped out to be the first to buy an Apple product.  But Jobs was not all he tried to portray.  He fathered a daughter whom he denied was his, claiming infertility in court papers (proven wrong by a paternity test).  He eschewed philanthropy and didn’t hesitate to bully employees and industry peers to get his way – and his cut of the money.  But there is no denying that he is at least partially responsible for creating the personal computer and his fertile mind gave life to many iterations of new consumer electronics that affect the way we live.  His impact will live on and probably grow in size as there will likely be no one who can take his place.  4 cans.
2. The Big Short* (2015) – Although it took two trips to the theater to see this movie (my first trip was interrupted by a fire alarm and I didn’t go back until 3 days later), and despite the fact that the topic here was the crash in the mortgage industry that nearly decimated the American economy, still, I found this unlikely source of theatrical entertainment a powerful yet amusing mélange of characters and financial folderol.  Just a few very smart, very analytical people foresaw the inevitable crisis in a mortgage market that was built on a house of cards – people financing homes with little down and little chance to pay off their easily acquired mortgages and betting that the housing boom would continue.  These guys bet against it, or shorted it, and eventually, they were proven prescient.  Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling (be still my heart) and Brad Pitt star as the financial movers and shakers.  I don’t know who decides that a movie about an arcane economic issue should be made – and considered, at least according to the Golden Globes, a comedy – but this is a good story, well told.  Put me down for 3½ cans. 
3.  Selena* (1997) – Selena was a very popular Mexican-American singer bursting with talent and personality who started singing professionally in her family’s band.  After years of working county fairs and less than exciting venues, she finally hit it big and gained immense popularity, until she was tragically shot and killed by the president of her fan club, who was stealing money from her.  Jennifer Lopez brings plenty of energy, charm and talent to the role of the appealing Selena, and, despite the fact that this is a true story and we know how it ends, it was jarring when the tragedy unfolded.  I probably would not have selected this film to see, but it was highly recommended by a friend who loves it.  I can’t say I share her enthusiasm, but I am glad I saw it.  3 cans.
4.  Broadcast News (1987) – Producer/director James L. Brooks is behind some of my favorite movies and TV shows, among them the classic Mary Tyler Moore sitcom and the unforgettable “Terms of Endearment.”  Here he helms the story of one brilliant and feisty TV news producer, Jane (Holly Hunter), who becomes entrapped in a love triangle with solid writer and sardonic wit Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks) and a handsome but vapid news anchor anointed for success by network honchoes, Tom Grunick (William Hurt).  Tom arrives in the Washington Bureau bereft of the gravitas needed to anchor, but his appearance – he looks the part of an anchorman – more than makes up for his lack of experience.  With Jane leading him through a news crisis, he looks like he will succeed in the anchor chair and in winning her heart, despite the fact that she is better suited for the intelligence of Aaron.  Jane has to be in control – she even dictates to DC cab drivers exactly the route she wants them to drive – but she lets her heart almost get in the way of her head.  This movie skewers the news, the values we place on style vs. substance and the running of a news operation.  Holly Hunter even without the others is worth watching, and she has two great co-stars.  4½ cans.
5.  50 Shades of Grey* (2015) – Where do I begin to describe this inane, tortured and thoroughly unentertaining look at a man and his obsessions and a young woman torn between self-respect and fulfilling his every need?  All I know is that lead actress Dakota Johnson must have very embarrassed parents (actors Melanie Griffiths and Don Johnson) if they watched her -- mostly naked and always compromised -- in this awful film version of the book (which I never read).  Jamie Dornan plays billionaire Christian Grey (a man with major mommy issues) in a way that could not be colder or more boring.  Lots of sex, nudity and stuff I don’t even want to describe.  Let’s just say I won’t be watching any possible sequels.  1 can. 
6.  Trophy Kids* (2013) – Watching this HBO documentary on parents obsessed with their kids’ athletic development reminded me of reading tennis great Andre Agassi’s book, where he declares his hatred of his sport.  Badgered and abused by his father, Agassi did go on to excel in his sport, but the kids in this movie are too young for us to know how they eventually will fare.  The film follows two high school freshmen male basketball players, a football player, twin boys who play tennis, and a young girl who plays golf.  All but the tennis twins are subjected to threats, cruelty and verbal abuse by their fathers, all of whom are pushing, pushing, pushing them to excel – even when the athletes themselves seem to have little interest in their sport beyond wanting to please their fathers.  The tennis twins are being raised by their very Zen-like mother, who wants them to “fulfill their essence,” but the other kids are subjected to extra practices at dawn, provided with coaches and trainers, all, it would seem, in an effort to fulfill their parents’ vision of sports careers.  The fathers fancy themselves as experts in the chosen sport and take on the role of erstwhile coach – and bully.  The basketball fathers are particularly distasteful, verbally abusing officials, and, in one case, lobbying to get the coach fired because his kid didn’t play enough.  None of the kids are asked their preferences or whether they want to continue to play.  These parents should be banned from ever having children.  3½ cans (of tennis balls?).
7.  Still Alice (2014) – Julianne Moore won an Oscar for Best Actress last year for her portrayal of the title character in this sobering story of a woman diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.  Alice is an intelligent, charming woman, a linguistics professor at Columbia University, living in New York with her husband and enjoying her life.  Only 50, she is disturbed when she notices a tendency to forget things, and she goes to a neurologist who diagnoses her.  Moore shows every nuance of a vibrant woman who is perplexed, disappointed and confused as she becomes someone she doesn’t recognize.  Alec Baldwin plays her husband, who is also affected deeply by watching his wife deteriorate.  This is not a happy tale, but it certainly sheds light on this horrible disease.  Moore is perfection.  4 ½ cans.
8.  Waitress (2007) – Being a waitress isn’t an easy job, and it is especially hard if you live with an abusive husband who is ready to pounce at any moment.  Keri Russell is Jenna, baker of pies for Joe’s Pie House (and diner) and one of three waitresses there.  She is furious to find out that she is pregnant by her nasty husband Earle (Jeremy Sisto) and falls into a physical relationship with her OB/GYN (Nathan Fillion).  Will she ever serve up the guts to kick her husband out?  Will she keep the baby?  Will she win the pie-baking contest?  This movie is destined for Broadway next season – as a musical – but I wasn’t so thrilled with my second serving of it.  3 cans and a slice of any of the luscious looking pies that co-star. 
9.  The Longest Ride* (2015) – You can count on Nicholas Sparks to deliver the goods in each of the adaptations of his romantic novels.  There are always attractive, white people who are star-crossed lovers, there’s always a scene in the rain or water, and the action – such as it is – takes place in his home territory of North Carolina.  Here, handsome and rugged Scott Eastwood (yes, son of Clint, but better looking) is Luke, a bull-riding cowboy who wants to make enough money to pay off his mother’s ranch despite the risks or his profession.  He meets college student Sophia (Britt Robertson), who is studying art and about to head to New York to pursue her career.  They save an elderly man, Ira (Alan Alda) after he crashes his car and both strike up a friendship with Ira.  Another Sparks device is to have parallel stories about the characters.  In this case, Ira has a treasure trove of letters he wrote to his now-deceased wife, revealing their courtship, marriage and tribulations.  In typical Sparks fashion, everything will eventually be resolved, but there are obstacles to overcome even as love abounds.  Not a terrible movie, but on a scale of “The Notebook” being the best Sparks, this one finishes far behind.  3 cans.
10.  Whiplash (2014) – Talk about intense!  Andy (Miles Teller) is an aspiring jazz drummer who is enrolled in a prestigious New York music school where the band instructor is the intimidating Fletcher (J. K. Simmons, who won Best Supporting Actor in last year’s Oscars and told everyone to talk to their parents; nicely done, sir).  We have all seen movies where the teacher/coach pushes the students to make them achieve their full potential, but this maniacal musician is a bully and tyrant.  He is less interested in them as people and more interested in achieving his own brand of perfection.  Andy is a dedicated student, one who practices on the drums until his hands bleed, and who crawls out from under a car to get to a concert and play while battered and bruised.  But nothing, no amount of effort, is enough to satisfy the tyrannical Fletcher.  I don’t want to give away the plot, but in the end, Andy shows he’s got the right stuff. I wasn’t familiar with Miles Teller before this movie and wondered if he was a musician.  I don’t know much about music, but the speed with which he moves his hands to play the drums to the tempo dictated by the relentless instructor is truly astonishing.  When I first saw this movie, I considered it among the best of the year and I have not changed my mind.  4½ cans.
11.  The Young Philadelphians (1959) – Two words:  Paul Newman.  A young, handsome Paul Newman plays Anthony Judson Lawrence, born into Philadelphia society and determined to earn his way to the top.  If that means postponing his wedding to society deb Joan (Barbara Rush) so that her father can finance his education, he can make that deal.  But as he grows in stature as a lawyer, how many compromises is he willing to make?  Newman is dashing and gorgeous, and he could tell me “Don’t pump it, floor it,” anytime, whether or not it had anything to do with cars.  4 cans.
12.  An Affair to Remember (1957) – Forget Christian Grey and his whips and chains.  If you want to see a real man who can turn you on, check out Cary Grant in a suit or a tux.  Grants plays Nicky Ferrante, erstwhile artist and reformed playboy, who meets the lovely singer Terry McKay (Deborah Kerr) on a transatlantic cruise.  While their flirting is full-on, we never see more than a few fervent kisses.  Because they are both involved with others, the pair agrees to wait six months and meet at the top of the Empire State Building to see if they can have a future together.  Alas, a tragic event prevents them from getting together.  Is there a woman alive over 40 who has never seen this classic weepie?  Grant is totally handsome and appealing, and Kerr oozes charm and quiet resolve.  And the scene where they visit his grandmother (Cathleen Nesbitt, in a small but memorable part) is unforgettable.  This is a Movie to Remember. If for some strange reason you DON’T like/love this movie, please don’t tell me because we cannot possibly be friends.  4½ cans.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Last. Dead Last.

The good news is that we finished.  I have the ribbon to prove it.  The bad news is that I came in last. Absolutely last.  Roll up the sidewalks and shut down the timer last.

Every year for the past 4 years my sister Nancy and I have participated in the New Year’s Day “Resolution Run” in Hillsborough, a 5K run/walk “race” that meanders through the streets of a development adjacent to the Municipal Building.  We layer up – after all, January 1 is customarily COLD – eventually putting on the heavy, nice sweatshirts provided to all entrants, and we line up outside ready to walk.  

Here I should say that walking is a typical activity for each of us.  We both walk often.  In the summer, Nancy walks before work, at lunchtime and, when the days are long enough, she’ll hit the streets for an evening stroll.  I walk, too, though not as often as she does.  But the idea of doing this activity together and starting the year off right was appealing to both of us, so we signed up.

Not that I had high hopes, because, in year one, I finished dead last.  In the next two years, I managed to lower my time a bit, trying to finish in under one hour.  In 2015 I made it by seconds.  That year we finished ahead of the lady with the hula hoop.  Not the lady who comes every year and hoops her way through Hillsborough (who didn’t show up this time around), but the lady with the hula hoop whose husband owns the local ice cream shop.  We were determined to finish ahead of her last year, and we did.  There was an older couple walking behind us, but I was convinced they had a finishing kick, so we rallied to stay ahead of them.

But this year, no such luck.  

The runners, of course, immediately passed us.  By the time we finish, I picture them at home, munching on a protein bar and watching the Rose Parade on TV.  But even the walkers had what I’ll call a leg up on us, and soon we were at the back of the pack.  As everyone passed us, only a very large man trailed us, and he huffed and puffed his way behind us for the first mile.  Since he didn’t keel over, he became bolder and passed us.  And we let him go.

As you walk this 3.2 mile race, the people in the neighborhood come out to greet you, cheer for you, sound cow bells and encourage you.  Not that we don’t appreciate that, but we let them know that their duties have ended when we pass, since we bring up the rear.

Maybe it’s the layering?  

We saw plenty of people in shorts, many in those thin-looking pants they wear for yoga and workouts.  Several not only didn’t wear coats, they wore t-shirts in 40-degree and windy weather (not so windy, but windy enough).  I actually saw goosebumps on the arms of one guy at the starting blocks.  Clearly, he did not have Sylvia Gordon as his mother.  I can still hear her admonish us, “Wear a hat!”  My mother would look out the window and declare the temperature cold.  She made me wear a coat over my Halloween costume!  We always were forced to wear enough layers that the only possible snow activity was to make snow angels.  

We learned our lessons well.  My sister wore 4 layers this year.  I had on long johns under my heaviest sweatpants, one of those long-sleeve dry-fit shirts, a fleece top, a sweatshirt and a jacket.  You couldn’t even see my official number until I unzipped the jacket.  This year we did not need the hand warmers, but my sister – who typically eschews all forms of headwear – broke out the fleece headband.  I donned my official winter walking hat, a 2006 Torino Winter Olympics model issued by Johnson & Johnson.  I particularly favor this one because it has flaps for my ears.  I have been known to put in my headphones, put down the flaps and add earmuffs for the glamourous look I’m after.  Picture it with a hooded sweatshirt and scarf and you’ll get the picture.

So maybe the layering slowed us down.

My sister, who is maybe an inch taller than I am and in much better shape, was perplexed as to why we were last and why we couldn’t move faster.  Usually we look for the sure bets.  One year we saw a woman fall down in the parking lot on the way to registration and we set our sights on beating her.  She passed us.  Another year a man was pushing a baby carriage, and once a father carried his son on his shoulders.

They beat us, too.

But don’t feel sorry for us.  Feel sorry for the people who would like to participate but can’t.  Or those people who won’t try, or who have given up.  We haven’t.  

My contention is this – at least I am doing this.  Before I joined Weight Watchers in 2011, my idea of exercise was getting off the couch and walking to the kitchen for a snack.  At least I am outside, getting some exercise, and exposing about 6 square inches of my body to the sun’s rays for that much-needed Vitamin D.  

For my sister and me, it is just a day when we get to take a walk together, when we can exchange mind-numbingly boring chatter and catch up.  It isn’t about time or speed or beating someone.  It is about starting the new year off right.

So why is she already telling me I had better start training for next year because I am holding her back?  Because she is determined for us NOT to finish last again.  

To help assure that the results will be better, I have embarked on a new campaign of walking by joining a walking class at the Clubhouse in my community.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays you can find me in the ballroom (the snazziest “gym” I have ever seen) watching a DVD exercise program led by the relentlessly cheery walking DVD guru, Leslie Sansone.

Leslie and her cohorts walk, side step, jog, power walk – all inside – for 30-60 minutes, during which time she encourages, cajoles, instructs and talks her way through a series of exercises designed to keep you moving.  She chirps away her instructions without ever getting short of breath – which would be a fatal flaw in an exercise instructor, I suppose.  She talks directly to the audience, almost making me believe she can see me, although if she could, she probably wouldn’t be all that cheery.  She is surrounded by people of all sizes and ages, all of whom look strangely thrilled to be seen in public in their workout clothes.  Some really power through the workout, while some go through the routine moderately.  My heroes.  

Following along with Leslie and co., I realize how uncoordinated I really am.  Move my arms and my legs?  I’m not sure they operate that way.  I am likely to trip over the carpet or knock myself out.  Kick AND reach up?  Whoa, that sounds like a dance routine.  I shudder to think of me attempting Zumba without medical professionals on high alert.

But the point is, I am walking, and working.  After all, Oprah says she could have her best body yet this year, so why not?  

And maybe, just maybe, at the 2017 Resolution Run, my sister and I will NOT finish last.  Dead last.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Tina's December 2015 and My Favorite Movies of 2015

It is that time of year.  I closed out 2015 with a flourish, seeing 17 movies and ending with 144 for the year - or a dirty dozen per month on average.  Below the list of my December movie reviews you will find the ones I liked best in 2015.  The movies marked with an asterisk were ones I had not seen previously, and numbering picks up from previous months.  As always, they are rated on a scale of 1-5 cans of tuna.  And if it seems like a 1, I usually just turn it off and don't bother to review it.  Wishing you all a very happy new year and new movies for us all.

128.  The Martian* (2015) – Those of us who failed to take science and math seriously in school would be doomed to a sure death if left stranded on another planet (as if they could get me to wear one of those astronaut suits…), which is the predicament faced by Mark Watney (Matt Damon) in this gripping movie.  When a sudden storm strikes the crew doing research on Mars, Watney is struck by debris and separated from his fellow astronauts, who assume he is dead and quickly blast off the planet.  When he comes to after the storm, he discovers that the bus has left the station, and he is on his own.  Using his imagination and smarts, Watney, a botanist by background, figures out how to grow food, generate water and use his wits to survive until a rescue mission can come and get him.  The movie has its share of suspense as well as humor, and it reminded me of both “Castaway” and “Apollo 13,” two of my favorite movies, as the hero has to rely on ingenuity to concoct a solution to every problem.  The fact that the music played as I was exiting the theater was Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” only made me like this movie more.  4 cans.
129.  Crossing Delancy (1988) – When I think of Peter Reigert, my mind immediately turns to Boone, his role as a reprobate frat boy in “Animal House,” one of my favorites.  Here he plays Sam, a nice guy who sells pickles on the Lower East Side, and who has been enamored with Isabel (Amy Irving, with a memorable head of hair) for some time.  But Izzy fancies herself above the likes of a pickle man.  She works for an independent bookstore, working with authors on book readings and she thinks of herself as having left the LES to become an Uptown Girl.  The idea of dating the Pickle Man that her Bubbie had a yenta (Sylvia Miles) pick out for her represents everything she is trying to leave behind.  She even sets Sam up with one of her friends.  But he is a good guy, patient and tolerant and clearly right for her.  Has she crossed Delancy permanently?  Will she end up with the Pickle Man?  As the yenta says, “You look, you meet, you try, you see.  Sometimes it fits, sometimes it don’t.”  This fits. 3½ cans.
130.  Apollo 13 (1995) – Having just seen “The Martian,” I couldn’t resist making the head-to-head comparison about two lost-in-space astronaut movies, but I cannot imagine anything of this genre topping Apollo 13.  I have reviewed this movie previously, so I’ll just urge you to see it if you haven’t already.  Ron Howard has made many excellent movies, but this one is truly captivating.  5 cans.
131.  Trumbo* (2015) – Dalton Trumbo was a successful and rich Hollywood screenwriter until his card-carrying Communism got him placed on the “Black List” in the 1940s.  With the end of WWII and the Cold War, patriotism took hold in the US and anyone suspected of “un-American activities” faced the threat or the reality of losing jobs, homes and families.  So much for free speech in this country.  Bryan Cranston probably won himself at least an Oscar nomination for the principled Trumbo, who stares down Congress and gets hauled off to prison along with other members of the Hollywood 10.  When he emerges, he is unemployable, so he writes screenplays for schlocky producers (John Goodman) under aliases.  Two of his screenplays (for “The Brave One” and “Roman Holiday”) won Oscars – and Trumbo and his family watched the ceremonies on their couch in their pajamas since he received no credit.  The age of McCarthyism took place during my lifetime, but I was too young to know anything about it.  Zealots like gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), John Wayne and others felt a need to rid the industry of people they felt were threats to America, and they and other Hollywood types had no compunction about naming names and ruining lives.  The fact that this movie is being released just as we are facing similar political threats about immigrants to this country -- which was founded by immigrants, let’s remember – did not escape my attention.  One of my favorite actresses, Diane Lane, is Trumbo’s wife in a small supporting role.  4 cans.
132.  Bridge of Spies* (2015) – What I usually say about Meryl Streep applies to Tom Hanks as well, since Tom never disappoints (OK, we’re not going to mention “Bachelor Party” with Adrian Zmed…).  Here he is James B. Donovan, a Brooklyn lawyer in a big law firm.  Donovan is drafted by the U.S. government to defend a suspected Soviet spy (Mark Rylance) during the Cold War between the US and Russia in those suspicious post-World War II days when the Soviet Union was no longer an ally of the U.S.  Donovan’s responsibility is to provide the best possible defense for his client, who is reviled and presumed guilty.  When the case is adjudicated and the Russian found guilty, Donovan thinks his job is done – until he is drafted to negotiate a swap of the Russian spy Rudolf Abel for American pilot Francis Gary Powers, shot down while flying at 70,000 feet to get photographs of military installations in Russia.  Can the American attorney, thrust into the negotiator role with minimal direction and support, successfully swap prisoners?  And he has his own demand – he wants to include a young American PhD student arrested in the emerging East German Republic as the Berlin Wall is being constructed.  This suspenseful dramatization of real life events was surprisingly written by the usually oddball Coen Brothers and was tautly directed by Steven Spielberg, a frequent collaborator of Hanks.   I recommend you cross that bridge to see this fine film.  4 cans.
133.  Spotlight* (2015) – This look at the heinous actions of priests in Boston is one of the best movies I have seen this year, despite its disturbing content.  The story follows the dogged “Spotlight” investigative team of the Boston Globe as they delve into misconduct by priests and the cover-up that followed, allowing thousands of young children to be molested.  I don’t know much about Boston, but the city comes across here as very provincial and closely tied to the church.  No one wants to call out the church and the powerful Cardinal (what did he know and when did he know it?), so the crimes are handled outside the usual justice system, settled privately and allowing the criminals to continue preying on new victims as they move from parish to parish.  All of this story is, sadly, true.  The heroes here are the reporters and editors of the Globe, led by Michal Keaton and including Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian Darcy James.  Liev Schreiber shows up early as the new editor of the paper, an outsider not established in the culture of Boston, who encourages his “Spotlight” team to take on the story they have overlooked in the past.  This is the best inside look at the mechanics of reporting since Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford took on the Nixon Administration in “All the President’s Men.”  A common tie is Ben Bradlee, whose son Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery) shows up here as an editor of the Globe.  Eventually, the team identified not only numerous Boston-area priests whose crimes went largely unpunished, but also the denial and dismissal of the culture that allowed priests worldwide to ruin the lives of young people as the church stubbornly refused to acknowledge and deal with the epidemic.  The reporters seem a bit too heroic here, except for the fact that much of the information they eventually uncovered had been available to them years earlier, and they didn’t understand the significance of the story or, as Boston natives, didn’t want to cast aspersions on the church (in fairness, they didn’t know the extent of the problem until they started a deep investigation into the priests and their victims).  But there are no real winners in a story where lives have come undone.  4½ cans.
134.  The Wiz* (2015) – It was a brand new day for NBC, as the network overcame the debacle of last year’s live airing of the musical “Peter Pan” (I bailed after the first number, by the wooden Allison Williams) with a spirited version of the all-black musical.  Drafting heavyweight performers for the key roles made the musical far more compelling to watch, even amid a myriad of commercial breaks (the best of which was seeing Rihanna and Stevie Wonder team up for a Christmas song, sponsored by Apple).  Newcomer Shanice Williams was much more credible in the role of young Dorothy than the much-older Diana Ross, who originated the role in the movie version.  Williams teams up with the surprisingly good David Alan Grier as the Cowardly Lion in easing on down the road to find the Wiz – Queen Latifah herself, complete with tons of ‘tude.  Mary J. Blige is fierce as Wicked Witch Evillene, the original Broadway Dorothy, Stephanie Mills, plays Auntie Em, and contemporary performers Common, Neo and Uzo Aduba have a chance to show their stage chops.  I can’t help comparing this colorful, exciting production with the pallid “The Sound of Music” from 2013 and last year’s “Peter Pan,” both of which seemed staged in an empty theater.  By comparison, this live telecast was bursting with energy, well directed and performed with vigor and fun.  Aside from young Williams, most of the featured players had a single moment to shine, and they did.  As a kid, I would be so excited about the annual airing of “The Wizard of Oz,” even though the Emerald City was black and white on our TV.  I hope NBC will continue to ease on down the road to bring musical theater into our homes every year.  3½ cans.
135.  Creed* (2015) – You have to hand it to Sylvester Stallone.  He created his iconic “Rocky” character nearly 40 years ago and the loveable lug is still paying dividends.  Let’s face it, until he or the writers kill off Rocky, or until Stallone himself leaves this world, Rocky will be part of the fabric of our lives.  In this film, I see a new franchise being born.  Now Rocky is alone and lost without his beloved wife Adrian, running a restaurant named for her in Philadelphia.  He lives modestly and has no regrets.  Then the son of Apollo Creed – first his nemesis and then his friend, and also deceased – tracks him down and asks him for help in his aspiring career as a boxer.  Young Creed goes by the name Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan, looking extremely buff and handsome) because his father was only in his life briefly and he doesn’t want to capitalize on this name.  Rocky reluctantly agrees to train the boxer, and the two quickly develop the same relationship that existed between Rocky and his trainer, Mickey (but without Rocky being gruff).  How can a novice rise through the ranks to fight for a championship?  Rocky’s been there, done that.  The two men have a genuine, caring relationship that will prove essential in helping both of them overcome adversity.  The fight scenes are typically Rockyesque, full of violence, blood and sweat flying all around the ring.  No, Rocky doesn’t fight anymore, but he still comes out as a champ.  Can you say SEQUEL?  4 cans.
136.  Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman* (2105) – Paul Newman, known for deadly blue eyes, an Oscar-winning actor, acclaimed director and beloved philanthropist, was also a talented race car driver.  When Newman starred with Robert Wagner in the story about two auto racing rivals (“Winning” from 1969), his love for the sport was born.  For the next 35 years, Newman led a double life as an actor and as an award-winning race car driver.  He was dedicated to the sport, not just a dilettante who dabbled, but as a serious racer devoted to perfecting his driving and his cars.  He passed along his passion to his co-star in “For Love or Money,” Tom Cruise, who had a brief career on the track.  Although he drove until he was 85, Newman in later years transitioned successfully to being co-owner of Newman-Hass Racing, a team that feature such accomplished drivers as Mario and Michael Andretti.  I’ve never been a fan of a sport where cars drive in circles around a track, but I am a fan of Newman’s, whose poster once adorned my teenaged walls.  Producer-director Adam Carolla provides a winning portrait of Newman, whose passion for life went far beyond racing and acting and included establishing his “Hole in the Wall” camps for sick children and his salad dressing/food empire, the profits from which were all donated to charity.  Naturally, there is plenty of racing in this movie, but despite that, I enjoyed seeing Newman in a role so important to him.  3½ cans.
137.  Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the World* (1982) – I started watching this movie only because of my abiding respect for Eleanor Roosevelt and continued even though it was not the documentary I thought it would be.  “All In the Family’s” Jean Stapleton plays the former First Lady post-FDR, when she is appointed to a commission on the formation of the United Nations.  She is shunted aside by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, but Eleanor is not one to go quietly into that good night, and her dedication and hard work in human rights prove to be essential for the nascent organization.  Not a great move by any means, but just another reason to give props to someone whom my mother held in the highest regard.  2½ cans.
138.  Youth* (2015) – Fred and Mick (Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel) have been friends for decades.  They tell each other only the good things, compare prostate problems and spend time each year in a stunning Swiss resort, contemplating life.  A former conductor and composer, Fred has withdrawn from performing, although music is his life.  Mick is trying to get one last movie produced as director and is counting on his frequent star and muse (Jane Fonda) to play the lead to help him get it made.  In between this non-action plot line, there is fantasy, an actor working on his Hitler imitation, a Miss Universe showing up in their pool naked, Fred’s daughter/manager (Rachel Weisz) and a young prostitute.  I know that youth is supposedly wasted on the young, but in this case it was wasted on me, too.  A bit too bizarre for my taste, though rapturously filmed and well-acted.  2½ cans.
139.  A Christmas Story (1988) – No Christmas would be complete for me without this remembrance by clever monologist/writer Jean Shepherd.  You can have “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  I’ll take Ralphie shooting his eye out by his Red Ryder Rifle any day.  There are so many funny lines, crazy scenes and warm memories.  I know this is not everyone’s favorite, but I look forward to seeing it every year.  4 cans.
140.  Joy* (2015) – The holidays are supposed to be about Joy, right?  This year’s family Christmas movie had to be more cheery than last year’s unrelentingly sober “Unbroken.”  Joy is based on the story of entrepreneur Joy Mangano, she of the Huggable Hangar (see my closet), the Miracle Mop and countless other products we didn’t even know we needed until she came on the shopping networks and told us about them.  But Joy stated out living with her parents and grandparents (and ex-husband) in a lower middle class home.  She was a tough cookie, and when she invented the mop that would prove to be a miracle seller on a TV shopping network, she was in serious debt.  I now know more about how to make a mop than I ever needed to know.  Frankly, without the presence of Jennifer Lawrence in the title role (accompanied by Robert DeNiro, Diane Ladd and Bradley Cooper), the movie would be bereft of any joy.  3½ cans.
141.  Carol* (2015) – Carol (Cate Blanchett) is a wealthy, married woman whose marriage is falling apart because of her infidelity -- she has affairs with other women.  Shopping in a department store, she is instantly attracted to a waif-like clerk (Mara Rooney, looking like a young Audrey Hepburn), and they strike up a relationship that her husband (Kyle Chandler) will use to seek custody of her daughter.  This Todd Haynes movie is not nearly as good as his previous foray into similar territory, “Far From Heaven,” but the dynamic performance of Blanchett as a woman who dominates every situation she is in elevates it.  However, aside from the physical attraction between the two women, there is little dialog between them that would indicate the basis for a relationship that was anything more than lust.  Expect Blanchett to win an Oscar nomination for Carol.  3½ cans.
142.  Pal Joey (1957) – The 100th birthday of Old Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra, was inspiration for me to revisit this classic about a crooner/cad with an eye for the ladies.  Joey Evans is perpetually broke, living above his means and looking for an angle – or a benefactor.  Here she is Mrs. Vera Prentice-Simpson (whenever a character has a name like that she is a very rich woman; if a man has three names, he is an assassin), played as the older woman by the ravishing Rita Hayworth.  She doesn’t need Joey or his attention, but she can buy him off with a promise to fund a “Chez Joey” nightclub that he can run and where he can perform.  One complication: the “mouse” in the chorus, a very fetching Kim Novak, captures his imagination almost as much as Mrs. Prentice-Simpson’s bank account.  Swinging Sinatra croons “The Lady is a Tramp,” among other songs by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart.  Only when Kim Novak sings does the ship sink just a little, but overall, a good story, memorable music, and Sinatra.  I could write a book.  3 ½ cans.
143.  Brooklyn* (2015) – Saorise Ronan is Eilis Lacey, a young woman living in Ireland who knows she must leave her small town to have a life.  She goes to the US, sponsored by a priest to live and work in Brooklyn (as if you couldn’t have figured that one out…) where she pines for her widowed mother and elder sister, until she meets a kind and sweet Italian man.  She blossoms and becomes a woman, changes her wardrobe and comes out of her shell.  This sweet, gentle movie is the anti-Star Wars.  There are no explosions, no big action scenes, just heartfelt emotion and rich depiction of life among the immigrants in Brooklyn in the early 1950s.  Ronan is outstanding as the serious, determined and very shy young lady just trying to find herself in a new world.  4 cans.
144. Iris* (2015) -- Nonagenarian Iris Apfeld is a phenomenon.  The quirky, stylist/artist/educator/interior designer is known for her love of big, bold patterns and layering of colorful accessories.  This documentary explores her life and her flamboyant style, which is much-sought after by younger designers and fashion mavens.  Her gift for composing a “look” has been celebrated by important museums.  She rocks some big-ass Mr. Magoo glasses and her inbred sense of cool gives her leeway to get away with looks that most of us couldn’t compose or carry out.  I enjoyed this loving documentary by 80-something Albert Mayles about a unique talent.  3½ cans.

My Favorite Movies of 2015
Love and Mercy
Still Alice
The Imitation Game

Rikki and the Flash
The Hunting Ground
Bridge of Spies
Finding Vivian Meier
Stop At Nothing/The Armstrong Lie

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Off the Top of My Head

Please note that this blog post is NOT titled, "Off With the Top of My Head."

Whenever someone tells me that what I have done is “amazing,” I worry that their expectations of me were too low.

Don’t you hate it when you send someone a great card that they love and tell you they love it but you can’t remember which card you sent?

Dear Kohl’s – stop being so insecure.  Why else would you ask me to go on-line and complete a survey EVERY TIME I BUY SOMETHING (and that’s a lot of times…)?  If you are asking me if I still love you, I do, but if you keep asking, I might love you a little bit less.

Who would have thought we would have temps in the 60s in December?  I’m feeling sad that I sold my convertible, because it is top-down weather, baby!

Glitter on any kind of card should be illegal.  It looks nice but it gets everywhere.  Just my two cents.

I don’t know much about construction, but I cannot figure out the point of a backhoe going past my house repeatedly every day, moving small amounts of dirt and seemingly accomplishing nothing.  Big boys on big toys, it seems to me.

One of the chores I really hate to do is folding sheets.  I’m not good at it, either.  However, I will fold the pillowcases precisely, grateful that with today’s fabrics I don’t have to dampen them using a water-filled, sprinkle-topped Coke bottle and roll them up in the refrigerator until they can be ironed.  Who remembers doing (or having your mother) that?

If something “goes without saying,” why does the person speaking go ahead and say it anyway?

I’ve reached the age that when my friends and I get together, no one wants to drive at night.  No one sees that well anymore.  And when we watch TV, everyone hits the “Back” button because we don’t catch every word of the dialog.  Are they speaking too fast?  Is the volume too low?  My BFF has a house rule:  She and her husband will replay the scene three times.  If they don’t get the lines within those three chances, they simply move on.

Speaking of TV, I find that I hardly watch anything live anymore.  I record programs on the DVR so I can skip commercials, or I watch them “on demand” or catch the highlights on-line.  I even delay watching shows for 20-30 minutes so I can watch the recording and skip the ads or slow parts.  And my DVR records programs it thinks I will want to see.  This service means that I can watch stuff I missed even if I didn’t know I was missing it.  Truly incredible.  Gone are the days when we watched channels 2-4-5-7-9-11-13 in black and white and changed the channel with a pair of pliers!

There is a restaurant between Hillsborough and Princeton that has had multiple iterations.  Most recently, it was “Tusk,” a fusion place that lasted just a few years.  It has been closed now for quite some time, yet every night the sign out front is lit and there is some lighting inside.  I cannot figure out 1) why this restaurant location continues to fail; and 2) who is paying the lighting bill?

I love Sinatra and I have been listening to his Sirius station more frequently of late since it is his 100th birthday.  But please, with the extensive Sinatra library, can’t they play Frank actually singing rather than playing Perry Como, Nat King Cole and Tony Bennett?  Not that I don’t like the other artists, but it would be like going to a Renoir museum and seeing Monet paintings.  Frank is on about half the time in my unscientific survey.

As you probably know by now, I am a dedicated movie enthusiast.  I have the uncanny knack of knowing in the first 30 seconds of a preview whether or not I would like a movie.  Nearly anything that includes things getting blown up, people being killed or extensive running around and shooting gets an immediate thumbs down from me.  And that’s why you’ll typically find me at the Old Folks Movies (Montgomery Cinema), where they play the less-commercial movies, foreign films and documentaries.  Besides, I like bringing down the average age there.

Someone (thank you, Colleen) sent me an article recently about the prevalence of Yiddish words in our English/American vocabulary, and it made me realize how many of them I know and use.  When I was growing up, if my parents wanted to talk about something that they did not want me to understand, they spoke Yiddish, which had been spoken in their homes when they were growing up.  But I soon figured out some of the words – especially since my mother would use Yiddish expressions frequently.  She used phrases like “meshugener hunt” (crazy dog), or, when she was being loving, she would call me “shana punim” (pretty face).  There are a few Yiddish words that cannot be replicated in English.  My sister often has a troubled look on her face that can only be described by “tsutrugen.”  If you have troubles that lead to the tsutrugen face, you have “tsuris,” and when you are totally and completed lost, you are “ferblunget.”  You can be all choked up, as in “farklempt.”  Crappy clothes are “schmattas,” and everyone knows a “schmuck” or two.  There’s “chutzpah” (nerve or gall), klutz (someone who is clumsy) and we should all aspire to be a “mensch” (genuinely good person).  My mother started many conversations with her BFF with one word: “Nu?” meaning, in today’s vernacular, “Whassup?”  And sometimes things just get all “fercockt,” which I’ll let you figure out.

Somehow, some way, I started getting Vanity Fair magazine again after a very long time.  I swear I don’t remember subscribing, especially since I have been cancelling my magazines, but maybe, just maybe, I sent in the card because the offer was too good to pass up.  All I know is that they have sent me three issues in 4 weeks, and I am starting to feel like Lucy in the candy factory.  Not being able to keep up with reading all those long (and, admittedly, interesting) stories is why I discontinued the subscription in the first place.  Did I forget that?

Do you ever call someone and while waiting for them to answer the phone, you forget whom you called and why?

I’ve been concerned about news reports showing robbers snatching boxes delivered to people’s porches.  Even though I live in a community with a gatehouse, there are still plenty of people accessing this development who could grab something outside my front door.  So today I decided to track a package containing my Christmas cards from Shutterfly.  I’m sure my nephew – who works for Amazon and who majored in Supply Chain Management – could explain to me the circuitous route taken by this order.  So far, it has seen the light of day in Charlotte, North Carolina; Richmond, Virginia; Laurel, Maryland; Tinton Falls, NJ, and Bound Brook, NJ, all on its way to my local (Franklin) post office.  By the time the cards arrive at my house (and presuming they are not snatched off my porch), they will be too exhausted to undertake their next assignment – getting to the homes of my friends!

Recently I attended the funeral for one of our outstanding Douglass women and leaders, Evelyn Field ’49.  Among the speakers was her cousin, who read a letter he had written to her when she entered hospice care.  He expressed his gratitude to her for being such an outstanding role model in word and deed, for always encouraging education and for her devotion to family and community.  His poignant message made me think of the many funerals and even retirement parties I have attended where people learn about the accomplishments of the deceased or the retiree in such glowing terms, and I always wonder:  Did this person KNOW how his/her family/friends/co-workers felt?  Were these feelings expressed during his/her lifetime/career?  The letter was so moving, and I was struck by the fact that he shared his feelings with his cousin so she would know what she meant to him while it mattered to her.  So today’s lesson – without getting too maudlin – is to remember to express our appreciation, admiration and adulation to those who have had a profound impact on us while we still can.  A few well-chosen words of gratitude and love said TO the person is better than saying them ABOUT the person.  Drops mic, leaves stage.  Much love to all.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Tina's November 2015 Movies

It was another month of few movies, but they were good ones.  Numbering picks up from previous months, and movies I have not seen previously are indicated with an asterisk.  Ratings are based on a  scale of 1-5 cans of tuna, with 5 being the top.  Hopefully, I can avail myself of the onslaught of holiday movies and get back into the groove again in December.  

122.  The Hoax (2006) – You have to give author Clifford Irving credit for one thing – he is a creative writer.  This true story centers around Irving’s (Richard Gere) convincing McGraw-Hill to pay him for writing an “autobiography” of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes, but he made it all up.  Since Hughes had disappeared from public view years earlier, it seemed a safe bet to just fabricate interviews without fear that Hughes would come forward to deny the story.  Irving sold the notion of the book to the powers that be at the publishing company, spinning fantastic tales about meetings with the notorious Hughes.  Irving and his colleague Dick (Alfred Molina) did extensive research, and, somehow, managed to replicate Hughes’ handwriting and speech patterns well enough to fool the so-called experts.  Does Irving really get kidnapped by Hughes’ henchmen?  In the face of all evidence to the contrary, does he have the chutzpah to deny his fabrication?  Yes, he surely does.  And when the whole thing blows up, he still has the, ahem, nerve, to write a book called “Hoax” about what and how he did it.  You can’t make this stuff up.  Unless you’re Irving, that is.  3½ cans.
123.  Miss You Already* (2015) – If you hated “Beaches” and “Terms of Endearment,” stay away from this chick flick about best friends, one of whom is sick.  I think any BFF relationship requires strength, understanding, tolerance, commitment, compromise and love-- not to say fun times together, or why would the drama be worth it?  We love our friends, we support them and occasionally we let them down.  Here Drew Barrymore (Jess) and Toni Collette (Millie) are besties who met in elementary school.  Millie is the wilder, more adventurous and, ultimately, needier one, while Jess subjugates her needs and news to support Millie throughout her drama-filled life.  Still, there is something about girlfriends and their unshakeable bonds. We cannot live without each other – or so we swear.  Collette and Barrymore are not on my list of favorite actresses, but their friendship here seems genuine.  It’s hard to say you can enjoy a movie like this, but, as someone who appreciates and thrives on friendships, I did.  3½ cans.
124.  The Ghost and Mrs. Muir* (1947) – It is not often that you’ll find me watching a romantic fantasy, though movies with the word “Ghost” in the title in this genre have proven to be good ones.  This one is no exception, as sexy Rexy Harrison haunts the days and nights of lovely young widow Mrs. Muir (Gene Tierney).  The lonely lady has rented a seaside home once occupied by the virile – though deceased – ship’s captain.  Though he alarms her at first, he wins her over as they “collaborate” on a book.  But when she meets another man and seems destined to marry him, the ghost takes a powder.  This is a charming story, and Harrison shines through as the stalwart sailor.  3 ½ cans.
125.  Learning How to Dance In Ohio* (2015) – Rites of passage like prom are difficult for most teenagers and young adults, but those with autism have special challenges because of their inability to interact with each other.  This earnest documentary follows a group of young people, who, working with each other and psychologists, prepare for months on their social skills -- how to speak with another person, how to interact and, finally, how to dance.  This isn’t a “feel good” movie where every problem is solved, but, rather, a realistic look at the challenges faced by these young people and their families.  What can the families and the therapists do to help them become independent, functioning in the real world?  The dance is just a device that enables them to find ways to participate in the world around them in anticipation of a time when they will have to make their own way.  It is heartwarming and exhilarating at the same time.  3½ cans
126.  My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) – Yes, this movie is about a big, loud, slightly crazy Greek family, but the same story could be told about practically any ethnic group.  Toula (Nia Vardalos) is a 30-something woman who works for her family businesses (a diner and travel agency), but her real purpose in life – according to Papa Gus Portokalos (Michael Constantine) – is to find a Greek husband and have babies.  She bucks the trend and goes to college to learn about computers.  Worse yet, she finds and falls for a very nice guy named Ian Miller (John Corbett), who is not only is NOT Greek, but he won’t even eat meat (her aunt, played by Andrea Martin, looks at him incredulously upon learning of this heresy and says, “It’s OK.  I make you lamb.”  Getting the family – especially Papa – to accept Ian and their love is not an easy task.  This charmer is funny and romantic, as both Toula and Ian face their customs, food and culture of their respective partner’s families. And Lainie Kazan as Toula’s mother always makes me smile.  Pass the Windex.  Opa!  4 cans.
127.  The Hunting Ground* (2015) – This disturbing documentary examines the prevalence of sexual assault and rape on college campuses, a trend that is growing.  The victims of this crime are largely ignored, their stories marginalized and questioned, and their calls for action dismissed.  According to the research displayed on the screen, any number of incidents go unreported while those which are reported rarely result in expulsions of those who have committed the assaults.  A small number of students commit the majority of these assaults, which means they are engaged in multiple acts of violence.  Athletes and fraternities are more often involved than the rest of the student population.  It can take months or years before action is taken even to investigate a crime, and the victims frequently are treated as if they were responsible because of the clothing they wore or questioned about whether they fought off the perpetrator.  Two college students at the University of North Carolina who were sexually assaulted pursued a different path, contacting the Department of Education and bringing up responsibilities related to Title IX, and using social media to rally other victims around the country.  The universities insist they take these matters seriously, yet they are reluctant to dole out punishment to the assailants.  This documentary made me fearful for the young people I know and helped me understand the prevalence of this crime.  It was jarring.  4 cans.