Sunday, May 1, 2016

Tina's April 2016 Movies

April was certainly not the cruelest month when it came to movies.  I really enjoyed a few new ones (denoted with an asterisk*) and I revisited some movies I had seen previously.  I actually stopped watching a few that just were not my cup of tea (for instance, the Robert Redford and Nick Nolte movie "A Walk in the Woods" was awful).  Movies are rated on a scale from 1-5, with 5 being the best.  Numbering picks up from the previous month.

34.  Hello My Name is Doris* (2016) – Sally Field brings strength and a little sass to practically any role in any movie (think “Norma Rae,” and “Places of the Heart,” her two Oscar-winning roles).  Here she is a quirky, lonely, possibly mentally ill woman of a certain age whose mother has died, leaving her in their hoarder-type house by herself.  Each day she takes the ferry to work in Manhattan from Staten Island, collecting broken lamps and other people’s discarded junk along the way.  At the office she is tolerated by her colleagues, thought of as odd and largely left alone.  But one day John (Max Greenfield) starts working at her company, on her floor, and dear old Doris is suddenly smitten with the much younger, handsome and charming young man.  She fantasizes about him, but then fantasy starts to become reality (and starts to become stalking) when they become friends.  Doris’ usual outlandish outfits are considered trendy by his hipster friends, and Doris finds herself out on the town, making new friends and coming out of her shell.  I chuckled often during this movie, even though I knew some of the things Doris thought and did would become disastrous for her.  Still, the charm of the story and accepting and friendly attitude of Doris’ crush John were delightful to see on screen.  4 cans.
35.   Bill Cunningham New York* (2010) – “It’s about the clothes.” That’s the credo of Bill Cunningham, fashion expert and chronicler for The New York Times.  A cheerful man who lives so modestly in comparison to the fashion icons he knows and photographs, Bill can be found bicycling around the streets of New York in search of fashion.  For him, the street is at least as important as the runway, as he and his camera capture things that he spots in his travels, from plaid to fanny packs.  His inherent sense of style made him the ideal choice for The New York Times' Style section, and his “On the Street” photo essays show exactly what is happening in fashion.  Everyone in the fashion industry knows Bill, and, as an octogenarian, he has had time to meet every significant force in fashion for decades.  But he is not like the paparazzi.  He eschews the famous faces for the clothes they wear. This was a fascinating documentary about a man whose joy can be found on the streets of New York.  4 cans.
36.  Joan Rivers – Exit Laughing* (2016) – Abrasive, acerbic and hilariously funny, the late Joan Rivers was nothing if not resilient.  Her career in comedy spanned the little New York clubs and the esteemed Second City in Chicago to Vegas and a stint as the main substitute host on the measuring stick of success for all comedians, Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.”  She reinvented herself by delivering her humor in a way that reflected social commentary.  She could be a polarizing figure, as her barbs on modern celebrity engendered vitriol from some people who didn’t get the joke.  But to her peers and today’s new comedians, she remained relevant and as funny as ever until the day she died in 2014.  This loving tribute features plenty of clips of Joan on the stage and from interviews with her as well as comments from the comics who considered her a ground-breaking figure.  While the PBS documentary traces her career, it focuses more on the ways she inspired new generations of comedians, who lovingly acknowledge her influence.  She just wanted to be the funniest person who ever performed, and many would say she achieved that goal.  3½ cans.
37.  Trainwreck* (2015) – Amy Schumer is in-your-face funny.  Blunt, unafraid of saying or doing anything, she has become the symbol of women in charge of their lives, their sexuality and their sex lives.  I admire that approach and her assertiveness, but I can’t say I like it, particularly in this movie, which she wrote (so she bears the brunt of the criticism).  Here she plays a writer for a magazine that seeks sensational stories.  When she has the chance to interview a renowned sports orthopedic surgeon (Bill Hader), the last thing she expects is to fall in love.  If a man is called a womanizer, I guess we can refer to this character as a “manizer,” since Amy flits from one sexual conquest to another, eschewing intimacy in favor of sex – and she is not afraid to tell them what she wants and then kick them out when she’s done.  She drinks too much, says only outrageous and inappropriate things and belittles her married sister (Brie Larson) for having a more conventional life.  We also see her spending time with her ill father (Colin Quinn), the only time she seems like a “normal” person.  Don’t get me wrong – I love some raunchy humor, and I thoroughly enjoyed the gross “Bridesmaids” – but this movie was just too over the top for me. I’m glad I waited to see it until I could watch it for free on HBO (I know, not exactly “free”).  I’ll be eager to see where Amy’s career takes her, and whether she sticks to this kind of low-brow “entertainment.”  2 cans.
38.  Nothing Left Unsaid* (2016) – If Gloria Vanderbilt had not existed in real life, you could never have created her as a fictional character.  This HBO documentary examines her extraordinary life through interviews with her journalist son, Anderson Cooper.  In the spotlight even as a baby (when her immensely rich father, Reginald Vanderbilt, passed away), Gloria first gained fame as the “Poor Little Rich Girl,” the subject of an epic custody battle between her young mother and her grandmother and aunts on the Vanderbilt side.  She married men much older, dated such famous men as Frank Sinatra, partied with Truman Capote, and placed her name on the backside of millions of pairs of jeans.  In between, she was an artist, a model, an actress and an author – and possibly the first woman who was famous just for being famous.  She comes across here as a true survivor, and as a mother connected to her son Anderson, especially after having been on hand as Anderson’s older brother committed suicide by leaping out a window of the family mansion.  She has led many lives, and all of them have been voyeuristically interesting.  4 cans.
39.  Jackie Robinson* (2016) – The legendary Jack Roosevelt Robinson gets the Ken Burns treatment in this PBS documentary.  Burns uses meticulous research, rare footage and photos and interviews with players, writers and, most important, Robinson’s extraordinary wife Rachel to tell the story of the man who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947.  It is hard to imagine a segregated team in baseball now, but in the 1940’s, the US was still full of blatant discrimination.  Robinson couldn’t use public restrooms unless they were designated for “Coloreds,” and was expected to ride in the back of the bus.  This intricate biography traces his life as a man, an athlete and a symbol, someone who had to subjugate his own views to be the pioneer in his sport.  Even before he retired, he was a major voice in the Civil Rights movement, a highly respected and intelligent thought leader.  It is a moving story, and, like all of Burns’ work, well told.  4 cans.
40.  Ricki and the Flash (2015) – I saw this movie last year and really enjoyed it, and nothing’s changed.  Meryl Streep (of all people) plays a washed up rocker who is estranged from her kids but reenters their lives when her daughter suffers from deep depression.  Meryl can shred some mean guitar AND be a way cool Mom.  I’ll say it again:  Meryl never disappoints!  4 cans, partially for Meryl and the music above the story itself.
41.  Confirmation* (2016) –Based on the actual case, Kerry Washington plays law professor Anita Hill, who is called on to testify about the sexual harassment she suffered while working for Judge Clarence Thomas (Wendell Pierce) as he is nominated as the first African American to the Supreme Court.  This movie affirmed several things to me:  1. Women are harassed more often that you can imagine and don’t take action because they fear they either won’t be believed (the “he said, she said” syndrome) or they will be attacked for their claim.  2.  I detest politics.  In this dramatization of the Thomas confirmation hearings, few people in the Senate care about what is right or wrong because they are determined only to get the votes to get their guy confirmed.  Hill came forward only after staffers found out about her experience and she was forced to testify.  Thomas claimed the confirmation hearings was a “high tech lynching,” as he vehemently denied claims against him.  Of course, he was confirmed and 20 years later remains on the Supreme Court, where, in my memory, he has rarely been heard from since.  This story is a sad commentary on our political system, and, frankly, not nearly as gripping as the actual events – albeit it, thankfully truncated.  Washington aptly lends a quiet dignity to her portrayal of Hill.  And, for what it is worth, I believed Hill then and believe her today.  At the very least, her testimony defined sexual harassment for women everywhere, and bringing the subject to light was worth it for the country, if not for Hill herself.  3½ cans.
42.  Kissing Jessica Stein (2002) – Long before the days of Tinder, and J-date, people used “the personals” to meet prospective mates.  Here Jessica (Jessica Westveldt), a neurotic New Yorker, is intrigued by an ad read by one of her co-workers, despite the fact that she is straight and the ad is from the “Women Seeking Women” section.  She meets Helen (Heather Juergensen, who co-authored the screenplay with Westveldt), who is pretty sure of her own sexuality, and they proceed to bond as friends and eventually build a romantic relationship, much to the surprise of Jessica’s inner circle and herself.  This movie exudes charm, as the slightly crazed Jess allows herself to be open to new experiences, not an easy thing for the buttoned up artist.  But will there be a happy ending?  You’ll have to watch the movie to find out.  4 cans.
43.  Eye In the Sky* (2016) – Let’s begin with the premise that war is hell.  And no amount of high tech weaponry can make it better.  The remarkable gadgets in this movie enable the military folks to see into windows and blow things up thousands of miles away.  But this tense drama isn’t just about the technology.  It takes the distinct human toll of battle into consideration, as one decision-maker after another avoids making the call that will lead to “collateral damage.”  Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman are the military leaders, their respective staffs located all over the globe.  This movie was not my kind of entertainment, but it was very thought-provoking and well done.  But war IS hell.  3 cans.
44.  Finding the Funk* (2014) – To find the funk, you start with James Brown and his bass player, Bootsy Collins, and work your way through George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelics, past Sly and the Family Stone and head straight to Prince.  The driving, heavy beat of funk, amplified by some cool bass guitar, pervaded music from the 1960s on, running through Chic, Earth, Wind and Fire and today’s artists, like D’Angelo.  I enjoyed this musical history that included groups I never thought of as associated with the funk sound, like the Ohio Players.  3½ cans.
45.  A Few Good Men (1992) – Let the testosterone flow in this classic from writer Aaron Sorkin and director Rob Reiner.  Smug actor Tom Cruise is the perfect Lt. Daniel Kaffey, a smug military attorney who is charged with defending two young Marines accused of murdering someone in their troop.  Kaffee typically avoids court by entering in a plea bargain, but the two defendants are insistent on their innocence.  The case hangs on whether they were ordered to impose a “Code Red” on a recalcitrant cohort for not being a cooperative and willing part of the squad.  The Commander, played by a stern and fiery Jack Nicholson, declares in the most quoted scene that Kaffee can’t handle the truth he is demanding.  Who is to blame for the young man’s death?  Cruise has carved a career out of playing similar characters – never wrong, rarely doubting themselves, and always the hero.  Still, Sorkin writes a good script.  3½ cans.
46.  The Rainmaker (1997) – Matt Damon is inexperienced lawyer Rudy Baylor, who hooks up with a shady law firm in Memphis to get his career started.  But Rudy brings with him a promising case:  A woman whose son is dying wants to sue the insurance company that refuses to pay for his treatment, claiming it is “experimental.”  Rudy is clearly in way over his head – as his opponent (Jon Voight) and even the judge point out.  Helped out by a shrewd lawyer (Danny DeVito) who hasn’t been able to pass the bar, Rudy has a genuinely human touch.  Will the callous law firm stonewall him or will Rudy be able to overcome his naiveté and save the day?  Along the way, he falls for abused wife Kelly (Claire Danes), giving him yet another way to demonstrate his humanity.  Based on a John Grisham novel and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, this story is arresting yet warm.  My only complaint is that the bad guys look cartoonishly BAD, and Rudy is a little too much like “Rudy,” the completely earnest football player in the classic sports film.  3½ cans.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Abstract April Thoughts

I just found out that the development where I live has a kiln in the arts & crafts room.  Quick, someone warn Fern Leibowitz!  (And if you don’t get that reference, we may not be able to continue our friendship; it’s from “Animal House.”)

I’m looking forward to summer at my new digs.  For the first time in 8 years, I won’t be the one dragging 50-pound containers of chlorine to throw into the pool (the chlorine, not the containers).  At least I don’t think they will make me do that here!

I’m happy to live in an area where there are public parks and libraries, community theater and other amenities.  I just have to take advantage of these local perks.

On the day you go to the dentist, don’t you brush your teeth as if your life depended on it?  And then you come up with the fabrication about your daily flossing ritual.

I think nothing of blowing $100 on something that I want, or treating friends to movies or manicures, but I will squeeze the last bit of toothpaste out of that tube until it screams.

In just a few weeks, on April 28, Douglass alum Mary Norris ’74 will be delivering the Zagoren Lecture on campus as part of the AADC series.  Mary is the author of “Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen.”  As a punctuation enthusiast (who knew people had this interest?), I found her book highly entertaining.  I hope my Word Nerd friends will come out and enjoy this free and special evening with the author.

As much as I am a fan of technology – and dependent upon it in so many ways –I am puzzled by the random things that happen.  Losing the phone connection is probably the most common issue, but getting Netflix to load without the spinning wheel, having the wifi connection in the house suddenly disconnect itself, and pairing the phone and headset are just three examples of the problematic issues that we all seem to experience.  But the idea of being able to converse with someone via Facetime or Skype, to connect with family and friends and even to order things on Amazon in the middle of the night without human intervention make the problems seem small.  Unless you are in the middle of House of Cards and that damn Netflix keeps “loading.”

Entertainment has dramatically changed in my lifetime thanks to all of these electronic advancements.  Now I can watch Netflix (when it isn’t “LOADING”), stream movies on Amazon video for “free” (a privilege accorded to paid Prime members, and well worth the annual fee), watch things on demand AND see any of these things plus televised sports on my TV, tablet or phone.  Still, so often I think, “There’s nothing on.”

What IS on, and often on, are reruns of the “Gilmore Girls,” a delightful show about the special bond between a mother and daughter that I was “persuaded” to watch (arm-twisted) by my young Douglass alumnae friends.  Watching seven seasons of anything is a COMMITMENT, but I enjoyed it so much that every morning and evening when I am home I have the TV tuned to one of the two channels that airs reruns.  I keep it on in the background as I get ready for my day or make dinner.  The problem is that the two channels are on different seasons.  One evening last week I saw the episode where the great grandmother dies and then in the next morning's episode the great grandmother arrives for a visit.  I felt like a time traveler.  But it is so worth it.

I must admit that although Paul McCartney was my favorite Beatle, I have never liked any of the music he did with Wings.

Here’s the thing about doing housework: There is no reward in it.  You do a great job and it’s not like you can rest on your laurels, because before you know it, you have to do it again.  NOTE TO SELF:  Must find cleaning service…

I can easily do a 3.2 mile walk, but when I tried the elliptical machine for the first time recently, my thighs were BURNING after two minutes.  Just when I think I’m making progress, I realize that I have a long way to go.

My beloved nephew, Brandon, just turned 23 and lives in Chicago, where he works for Amazon.  Recently he said something to his mother that he has never said before:  “I have a conference call at noon.”  Can’t describe how proud I am.  Oh, and he bought his own Keurig coffee maker recently and his mother sent him a selection of coffees.  My little man is growing up.

I wonder at what point I’ll have to change the listing of my hair color on my driver’s license from brown to gray.  Not that I need to right now, but someday.  Do people do that?  What if you go from brown to blond and then back to brown again and then gray?  Does Uncle Sam care about your myriad of hair colors?  So much to ponder.

My house is always at its cleanest either when company is coming (apparently, just having me here is not incentive enough to clean) or when I have been on the phone for a long period of time.  That’s when the stove, the counters and the refrigerator get swabbed down.  If only I could vacuum while talking.

If you looked at my March Madness brackets for men and women in this year’s NCAA Tournaments, you would have to conclude that I know nothing about basketball.  I barely got any games right.  I should have bet money on UConn winning, because that probably would have resulted in a loss.

I’m confused about the way stores and companies describe things.  If you want a soda, you have to determine which name actually goes with the smallest serving.  Is it a “small?”  A “regular?”  In some places small is, in fact, NOT the smallest size.  I think that even applies to the great ice cream stand, Polar Cub, where you can order a “baby size,” which, by the way, is large enough to be a small.  Get it?

The same logic applied to my recent trip to the nail salon with my BFF.  I just want a regular pedicure, I explained to the technician, hopeful that the language barrier wouldn’t result in an upcharge.  “No,” cautioned the BFF, “you want express.”  I do?  It turns out that the express is one rung below the regular in cost and in time, meaning that they barely touch your cuticles, slap on some polish and get you on your way.  It also turns out that it was the worst manicure I have ever had.  I swear it started chipping as we drove home (the pedicure was passable).  So, next time, I’m going to upgrade to a regular.

Finally on this subject, the place where the description correctly reflects the end product is in the “Tiny Houses” programs I watch on HGTV.  The clients insist they are ready to downsize or to “rightsize” so they can drag their homes behind them by truck.  They are certain that a home no bigger than a garage will offer them plenty of space if organized properly.  They are certain of this until they first step into a tiny house, whereupon they take a look and admit, “This is really small.”  And this comes as a surprise to you, I ask?  I’m sure I have mentioned this before, but I just wanted to see if you were paying attention.

I just had a new passport picture taken.  In the pantheon of poor pictures, this one rates only slightly above Nick Nolte's mug shot.  The photographer wouldn’t let me smile and insisted I take off my glasses and raise my chin.  My eyes look red and I have no color at all.  This is what I am guessing the people in “The Walking Dead” look like.

It annoys me that we have to pay more to get people to do their jobs correctly.  I had to mail off my passport (along with the lovely new picture) and I decided I had better send it Priority Mail and with a return receipt just to make sure the Post Office is doing its job.  The last time I renewed my passport, I paid extra to expedite it, which is like saying “we’re not going to do the job you expected, so you need to pay extra to be sure we do.”  Recently a friend posted on social media about getting a bid from a contractor for some work.  He quoted her $1500 for the job, and about double that amount if she wanted him to stand behind his work.  Really?  So he can do a shitty job for $1500 and a good job for $2500?  Needless to say, she didn’t use him.  Where’s our pride in getting it done?  Even the big ticket items we buy are offered with warranty plans at an extra charge so when they fall apart, we will be covered.  How about making them so they work in the first place?  Remember the old Maytag repairman?  That’s the kind of quality we want, where the item never has to be repaired!

Passover is approaching and I just found matzo that is dipped in chocolate in ShopRite.  This is something I did NOT need to discover.  I won’t even walk down that aisle now.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Tina's March 2016 Movies

March Madness had its usual negative effect on my movie watching, so there are only 9 movies to report on this month. However, all of them were movies I had not seen previously (as indicated by the *).  Numbering picks up from previous months, and all films are rated on a scale of 1-5 cans of tuna, with 5 being the top.

25.  The Magic of Belle Isle* (2013) – Let’s start with the fact that I could listen to Morgan Freeman read the phone book and be entranced.  In this quiet film, he is Monty Wildhorn, a wheelchair-bound author whose inspiration for creating memorable characters died along with his wife.  Now he is content to live out his days doing the one thing that he loves, drinking, which he considers a full-time job.  When a relative takes him to vacation at the empty home of a friend, hoping to help him reconnect with his literary roots, he meets the divorced woman next door and her three daughters, who slowly become central to his life.  He and the mother (Virginia Madsen), have a growing friendship that is unfailingly polite, not even using each other’s first names.  They live in a quiet little town on a lake, where the kids are only minimally connected to social media and are encouraged to spend time outdoors and using their imagination.  Without realizing it, this is exactly what Monty needs to regain his spirit.  This movie was directed by Rob Reiner, who is behind some other lovely, languid movies, though best known for rom-com “When Harry Met Sally.”  Freeman is perfection, his character completely true to his roots. Catch this one on Netflix if you can.  3½ cans.
26.  Take Me Home* (2011) – Road or buddy movies are seldom like this one, a quiet, introspective journey across country by a woman seeking to visit her ailing father (and escape her failing marriage) and a man driving an unregistered cab who picks her up in New York City and agrees to her command to “just drive.”  Maybe it helps that the leads – Sam Jaeger and Amber Jaeger – are married in real life, or that Sam wrote and directed the movie.  He employs the right amount of light humor and desperation as you see a budding friendship you can only hope will develop into something more.  Worth a trip.  3½ cans.
27.  Elsa and Fred* (2014) – The filmmakers trotted out old veterans for this movie about love in later life, with Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer playing the leads.  He is a recent widower whose daughter has dumped him into an apartment building with a health care worker he doesn’t need – especially since his intent is simply to stay in bed all day, every day.  But the woman across the hall has other ideas.  Call her eccentric – call her overbearing and obnoxious, to be more accurate – but Elsa is game for living life to the max.  It turns out that Fred needs her kind of care to improve his health.  She is obsessed by the movie “La Dolce Vita,” and would like nothing more than having a sweet life – with Fred as her partner.  Fred seems to relish the attention, and before you know it, the two are having expensive dinners and skipping out on the check – and that’s just the beginning.  MacLaine can play eccentric in her sleep (see “Steel Magnolias” and “Terms of Endearment”), and Plummer is not in the Alps anymore.  Good cast, not a bad story, but I couldn’t warm up enough to Elsa to really enjoy this movie.  3 cans.
28.  Whiskey Tango Foxtrot* (2016) – Suppose you were in the news biz but stuck in a desk job with nothing much about to get you elevated to the next level.  Would your solution to this problem be to get yourself imbedded in a combat unit in Afghanistan?  That’s what Tina Fey’s character, Kim Barker, does in this movie (based on a real story), billed as a comedy/drama largely because of Fey’s rep as a funny woman/writer.  But war is generally hell, not comedy, and this one bears that out.  Kim dodges bullets and the advances of the people she has to interview for stories, all the while living in a dumpy apartment, drinking to excess and looking for the big “get” – interviews with the newsmakers of note.  I found the story different from other “war” movies but repetitive, as we follow Kim’s exploits for several years.  During that time she may have become older and wiser, but her situation remains dodgy and dangerous.  Will she survive?  Will she be a war correspondent forever?  Stay tuned.  Lots of violence, drinking and questionable behavior.  3 cans.
29.  Before We Go* (2014) – Chris Evans forsakes his superhero persona to play a street musician in this sweet movie about two souls who meet and share a long night of adventure in New York.  Brooke (Alice Eve, an actress who reminded me of Elisabeth Shue) is trying to get home to Boston but her purse and money have been stolen.  As she runs through Grand Central Station, she encounters Nick, a former med school student turned musician, who is a nice guy just trying to return the cell phone she dropped while racing by him and his trumpet.  He sees that she is desperate and decides to be gallant and help her.  If you have seen “After Sunset” or “Before Sunrise,” you’ll feel that you have seen this movie before, although it is considerably less preachy and more charming than those Ethan Hawk-Julie Delphy movies.  Nick leads them around New York, trying to round up money to get Brooke to Boston by plane, train or automobile.  Their adventure leads to sharing information about their lives and failed relationships.  It isn’t exactly love at first sight, but you can feel the chemistry between them.  The characters – especially Nick – are charming and seem entirely human, even if they rarely have to take a bathroom break in the after-hours journey.  Evans also directed the movie.  3½ cans.
30.  Everything Is Copy* (2016) – This HBO documentary is Jacob Bernstein’s tribute to his late mother, author/journalist/screenwriter/director Nora Ephron.  Known for her humor as much as her acerbic wit and penchant to control everything, Ephron is best known for writing “When Harry Met Sally,” a rom/com that is in my Top 10 favorite movies.  One of four daughters of screenwriter parents, Nora was born to the business, growing up in Beverly Hills.  She immediately started a career as a writer after college, mainly doing magazine essays but also venturing into daily journalism under publisher Dorothy Schiff of The New York Post.  She drew largely on her own life and probed her contemporaries for their take on relationships of all kinds.  She turned her disastrous marriage to Watergate’s Pulitizer-Prize winning journalist Carl Bernstein into a book and then a movie, “Heartburn,” starring no less than Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson.  She worked for esteemed director Mike Nichols on the screenplay for “Silkwood,” also starring Streep.  This love letter to Nora is propelled by her many erudite friends (as well as former husbands) who knew her well and shared much about her as a friend, colleague and character.  I highly recommend this movie if you have ever seen Nora’s work, or, if, like Nora Ephron, you also hate your neck.  4 cans.
31.  The Program* (2016) – I think it is safe to assume that by now everyone knows the story of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong.  And although I have seen two documentaries on this subject, somehow I was drawn into this new dramatization of events.  Armstrong was the seven-time winner of the Tour De France, cycling’s premiere event.  Cancer survivor, humanitarian (through his “Livestrong Foundation” and raising millions for cancer research), Armstrong was also deceitful, vindictive and fanatical.  To be on his cycling team meant you had to buy in to “the program,” a carefully plotted and managed regimen of using banned performance enhancing drugs.  So many people were in on the fraud, and yet when they were questioned, they rarely spoke against the megalomaniacal leader of the pack, and, when they did, Armstrong did not merely deny the accusations, he took legal action against their claims.  In this drama, journalist David Walsh (Chris O’Dowd) notices early on that Armstrong’s times have improved in a way that seems impossible, and he suspects drug use.  Getting anyone to go up against the face of the sport, the hero who overcame testicular cancer, was next to impossible for Walsh – until the whole scheme ultimately fell apart.  The pat Armstrong answer that he “has never tested positive for performance enhancing drugs” is shown to be untrue. The fall from grace for Armstrong was steep.  The rise to respectability for Walsh was not quite as dramatic.  We live in an age of deniability, where no one seems willing to take responsibility and own up to their actions.  The defense that “everyone else is doing it” is not enough – in my mind – to justify Armstrong and not only what he did but how he treated people in his inner circle, as he built his own image.  Kudos to actor Ben Foster, who must have dropped his body fat number to zero to play Armstrong, and to the rest of the cast.  Karma is a bitch, and it gets you in the end.  3½ cans.
32.  You’re Not You* (2014) – This Hilary Swank movie is about Kate, a talented pianist who contracts ALS, rendering her increasingly immobile and dependent on others for her care.  She and her husband Evan (Josh Duhamel) get by for a while, but as she needs more care, they hire Bec (Emmy Rossum), a wild child college student who stays out late, shows up late and seems exactly what the straight-laced Kate doesn’t need.  But somehow Bec survives her first few weeks, and as Kate’s condition worsens, Bec’s skills improve.  They form a close bond that grows stronger even as Kate’s abilities wane.  ALS is an insidious disease, and when Kate’s friends early on tell her she’s “just tired” and will get stronger, she has to correct them because that is not the progression.  This movie sometimes feels like a Lifetime Movie of the Week, but the acting is too good for the run-of-the-mill tearjerker.  I loved the growing friendship and trust between the young caretaker and the uptight patient, and I appreciated Kate’s sense of guilt for “doing this” to her vibrant husband, who betrays her.  3½ cans.
33.  Georgia O’Keefe: A Woman on Paper* (2016) – This PBS documentary examines the life and work of the famous American artist O’Keefe, whose charcoal sketches first attracted attention in the 1915 timeframe.  O’Keefe was the mother of modernism among female artists and was influenced by the famous photographer Alfred Stieglitz, whom she later married.  He was the first person to show her work in his gallery.  To look at the color and richness of her work, which shines with simplicity, is to see the evolution of a modern, independent woman.  I have a photograph that I took at the Presby Memorial Iris Garden in Montclair that I always refer to as “my Georgia O’Keefe” because it gets up close and personal with a white flower.  O’Keefe’s style is instantly recognizable, and her influence, even 100 years after she began her career, is undeniable.  I loved watching this movie and seeing so much of her work from her ultimate home, New Mexico.  Her paintings enhanced the beauty of the landscapes that inspired her.  4 cans. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

More of My Meandering Mind

Oprah, stop talking about eating that damn bread.  I’m on Weight Watchers, too, and you’re making me hungry!

No matter which button I press on the refrigerator, I always get crushed ice – unless those are supposed to be mini-cubes.

I don’t know why I bother to watch the Food Network.  It is filled with things I either can’t or won’t eat and that I would never be able to cook anyway.

I don’t mind meal prep and cooking, but clean-up?  I’m sick of it.  I know I can use paper plates, but I really need disposable pots and pans.

If Facebook eliminated posts showing cute animals and babies, or stopped people from political rants, there wouldn’t be much left.  That would be fine with me.

What is “same difference” supposed to mean?  Things are either the same or they are different.  And “I could care less” must mean you actually DO care, since you could lower the care level.  Strange language, this English.

Why do people just assume that you are interested in whatever they are interested in?  And why do people assume you know what they are talking about?  She says: “You know, my brother's job in the circus…”  Me, thinking to myself:  “She has a brother?”  “What circus?”  I once had an entire conversation with someone about paint, a subject about which my entire knowledge includes a roller or a brush.  I try never to assume anything, including the fact that someone I seldom see or only met once even knows my name.

Can someone explain why the local Spanish Restaurant, named “Spain 92” (I get that it is a Spanish restaurant, but I’m not sure of the 92 part; it must be the year it started) is featuring an “Irish Fiesta?” I’m so confused.

There is a local restaurant that has been out of business for about two years.  Yet the sign on the marquee says, “Thanks for your support.”  Is that supposed to be sarcastic?  Because if enough people supported the business, wouldn’t the restaurant still be open?  Just wondering.

I still use the word “Yikes.”  Is it just me?

You know you are sick when you stick a thermometer in your mouth to take your temperature and it feels refreshingly cool.

Why do they make the blister packs with pills so hard to open (I know, I know, TYLENOL poisonings and all that)?  Seriously, I need a hacksaw to pop some pills.  And when you feel as sick as I did recently, everything is too tough to handle. 

Sometimes I think of stop signs as just suggestions.  I doubt that explanation would fly with a cop.

I really don’t understand why UFC fighting is considered a sport.  Isn’t it just two people beating the crap out of each other?  Why is that a sport?  And why (money aside) would anyone want to do this?

This getting old is not easy.  I’ll be walking along and suddenly, for no apparent reason, my ankle will start to hurt.  Or I get out of bed in the morning and some random body part hurts for no specific reason.  That’s when I reach for the Motrin and think that getting old is a bitch.

My fingers have been so dry and cracked this winter that if I got arrested, I doubt that the authorities would be able to get a good fingerprint.

I find it ironic that when people drive to the gym, they fight to park as close as possible to the entrance.  Isn’t the whole point of going to get exercise?  So walk a little more!

There is an ice cream stand on Hamilton Street in Somerset that I passed every day on my way to work for years when I first lived in town.  To me, winter officially began when the windows would be boarded up, and the harbinger of spring was always when the place opened up again. So I was horrified when I drove past it recently and saw a large “For Sale” sign in front.  Now the place is open, but will it stay that way?  How will I define the seasons if it goes out of business?  Such problems!

Have you ever had a manicure and while your nails are being polished, you already know you hate the color you picked?  But then you feel badly saying something.  A friend of mine once left the salon, drove down the street, entered another salon and asked for just a “color change.”  I didn’t really like the color I selected the last time (that’s the bad news), but it was probably the worst manicure I have ever had, because it was chipped by the next day (the good news?) and less than a week later, I’m taking what little remains off my hands – so to speak. 

Oreo cookies now come in mega stuff, double stuff, thin, minis, vanilla, chocolate, mint, peanut butter, lemon, red velvet and even root beer (I hear).  These are NOT my mother's Oreos.  My mother wrote to Nabisco to suggest using a box instead of the old cellophane wrapper and she always took credit for the idea when Oreos showed up in a box.  I wonder what she would think of today's wide variety.

I have lived in this house for 6 months now and I still turn the wrong way when I reach for the light switches when entering a room. 

I’m going to end this month’s edition on a serious note.  Recently I lost a very dear friend, John Graf, who was a well-known character and friend to so many people in this area.  John’s death was sudden and unexpected, which makes his loss even harder to accept.  A former President of both the United Way of Somerset County and of the Cagers Club (the fan club for Rutgers Women’s Basketball), John was a loyal and enthusiastic basketball fan who attended home and away games.  He recruited me to join the Cagers Club, and I relished becoming part of that special family.  Our trip around the country in 2014 for the Women’s National Invitational Tournament – won by Rutgers – was a great experience.  John was also a gifted singer who often performed the National Anthem before Rutgers games, and I remember him performing at Madison Square Garden at a New York Liberty game.  He had legions of friends in politics, philanthropy (where he raised enormous amounts of money for countless charities) and within the local theater community.  As a non-denominational minister, he performed thousands of weddings, baptisms and funerals.  He was there at so many significant moments for the people he loved and he made such a difference in their lives.  Now he is cheering from the best seats in the house.  I picture my late friend and fellow fan Rose spotting John entering the pearly gates and saying to him, “What are YOU doing here?”  He is gone way too soon, and the RAC in particular and life in general will be an emptier place without him.  Goodbye, my friend. 

Monday, February 29, 2016

Tina's February 2016 Movies

Despite the extra day in February, I still only managed to see a dozen movies in the nmonth.  Let's hope March has a better crop.  Movies are rated on a scale of 1 to 5 cans of tuna, with 5 being the top rating.  Numbering picks up from the previous month and movies marked with an asterisk are ones I have not seen previously.  

13.  Grease Live!* (2016) – February started with a bang as Fox TV showcased the boys and girls of Rydell High in a LIVE production of the musical “Grease.”  It is impossible not to bop along with the sounds and dancing of “Hand Jive,” “You’re the One That I Want” and “Beauty School Dropout.”  Although the entire cast looked a little long-in-the-tooth to be actual high schoolers, they all brought exuberance to their parts, led by Aaron Tviet as Danny Zuko, ersatz head greaser, and his blonde, blue-eyed innocent girlfriend Sandy (Julianne Hough).  The fact that the performance was live added excitement to the proceedings, and kudos to the director and technical team for the staggering variety of cameras, sets and scenery.  Kudos, too, for the live audience, which was an element sorely lacking from NBC’s wooden live production of “The Sound of Music” a few years back.  I must admit that I remember those late-50s ducktail hairstyles for the “greaser” guys.  I’m already craving this kind of treatment for “Footloose,” in case anyone’s listening.  4 cans.
14.  Madoff* (2016) – After seeing “The Big Short” last month and now this dramatization of the case of financial fraud Bernie Madoff, I feel like I am going after a graduate degree in economics.  If you didn’t know what a Ponzi scheme was, you would get it completely after seeing this movie.  Madoff ran a huge investment firm, and his investors reaped huge profits, consistently out-performing Wall Street because of one simple difference: Madoff never invested their money.  He kept it in a big fund, and his payouts were financed by money coming in from new investors.  It was nothing more than a very successful Ponzi scheme.  Investors begged Bernie to take their money, which he did gladly.  When Wall Street collapsed in 2008 and Madoff couldn’t pay off the people who wanted their money back, the elaborate ruse fell apart and he ended up in jail.  His actions ruined many lives, families (including his own), charities and others who had felt privileged that he allowed them to invest in his fund.  You can’t make this stuff up, and if something seems to be too good to be true, well, you know the rest.  Richard Dreyfuss, who has not aged well, was a good choice for the Madoff role, and as his wife Ruth, Blythe Danner does a fine job.  Look before you leap.  3 cans.
15. Notting Hill (1999) – This movie is Hugh Grant at his most unassuming, blithering best.  He is William Thatcher, London owner of a small bookstore for travel books only.  What are the chances a major Hollywood star will happen to come into his store?  Ana (Julia Roberts) does just that one day, and she comes into his life.  She is tired of being famous, tired of being hounded by paparazzi for every move she makes, and certain that relationships with people outside show business never work.  Oh, and she has a star boyfriend (very brief scene with Alec Baldwin as a typical Hollywood prick).  So, can this relationship work?  Grant and Roberts are surrounded by an interesting cast of characters, all of whom add to the charm and whimsy of this movie.  I loved it after not having seen it for long time.  4 cans.
16.  Like Sunday, Like Rain* (2014) – Two lonely souls form a bond in this lovely movie.  Eleanor (Leighton Meester) is a 20-something who has just dumped her boyfriend and lost her job and her apartment when she is hired to be a nanny to 12-year old Reggie (Julian Shatkin), a cello prodigy wise beyond his years but with virtually no friends and a mother who abandons him to jet off.  Reggie lives in a New York mansion, but while his material needs are satisfied, his emotional ones are neglected.  He is brilliant, reads voraciously, composes beautiful music and plays the cello.  Eleanor tries her best to be his babysitter but soon becomes his friend and confidant, as he does hers.  (Thank God this relationship did not go beyond that.)  It turns out that she was a musician who had to pass on Julliard because she couldn’t afford the tuition and even had to sell her cornet.  So their bond becomes strong, if unusual and, ultimately, it must end.  Shatkin could have come off as smug, but despite his way of handling situations better than most adults, he is still a vulnerable and lonely kid.  Eleanor needs his friendship and support as much as he does hers.  3½ cans.
17.  Murphy’s Law (1985) – James Garner and Sally Field strike up a friendship in a quiet little Texas town.  He’s a widower who runs the town drug store and she is a feisty divorced woman with a child (Corey Haim), trying to fend off her ne’er-do-well ex-husband.  The romantic relationship between the druggist and the newcomer is in slow-cook mode for much of the movie, as they build a strong and endearing friendship.  Garner is at his best and Field, well, I really, really like her.  And this movie.  “How do you like your eggs?”  4½ cans.
18.  Room* (2015) – Had I seen this movie last year, it would have been high on my list of best movies.  Kudos to director Lenny Abrahamson for delivering a warm yet intense story about Joy (Brie Larson in an Oscar-winning role), a young mother, and her five-year old son (the remarkable Jacob Tremblay), who are held captive in a garden shed.  How you coax a performance like this one out of a very young actor is astonishing to me.  Their only view of the world is through a skylight on the top of the tiny building where they are kept.  Their supplies are provided grudgingly by their captor, who lured Joy off the street seven years earlier and is the boy’s father.  The child’s only frame of reference is “Room,” as they call their living quarters, which is locked electronically.  The boy has never been outside and has no sense of the world outside his prison.  The mother teaches the bright boy, and somehow they manage to exist and endure under horrifying conditions.  To say more would spoil the plot, so I will refrain.  Let’s just say the movie was captivating, and that you can build a world no matter what your circumstances.  Powerful stuff.  4 cans.
19.  The Lady in the Van* (2016) – This movie, billed as “mostly true,” is the quirky tale of a feisty woman named Mary or Margaret (Maggie Smith) who parks her van and her life on the street in front of the home of writer Alan Bennett(who plays himself) and stays there – for two decades.  Mary is feisty and odiferous, living in squalor and refusing assistance from professionals.  A former nun and pianist, Mary is nothing if not determined to guide her own fate, and she is demanding and overbearing.  Her bright yellow van eventually becomes a staple in the driveway of Bennett’s home.  The neighbors think of her as a blight on their community, yet they are oddly curious about her.  As much as he abhors the idea of having her around, Bennett feels responsible and cares for her – at arm’s length.  This is one strange story, uplifted by Maggie Smith as the willful and unkempt woman. It’s worth taking a ride to the movies to see the lady in the van.  3½ cans.
20.  Paper Clips (2004) – If you can watch this moving documentary without either a giant lump in your throat or crying, you have no heart.  This is the true story of a middle school in Whitwell, Tennessee, where the students undertook a project to study the Holocaust.  The very white, very Baptist community was lacking diversity of any kind, but one of the teachers suggested they study the extermination of Jews during World War II.  The students could not grasp the concept of 6 million people losing their lives, so they decided to reach out to ask people to send them paper clips, each of which would represent a life lost.  When two journalists picked up the story, the project became widely known.  But the collection of paper clips was just the beginning.  This is a warm and inspiring story, profound in its lessons, unlikely in its origin and it touches my heart in the way few things can do.  This story is not about death.  It is about life.  5 cans.  
21.  Radio Flyer* (1992) – This is a great movie if you are into fantasy and child abuse.  I am not a fan of either.  Little Bobby is beaten on a regular basis by his cruel stepfather with his incredibly neglectful mother completely oblivious to the bruises inflicted on the poor boy by her alcoholic husband (whose face we never really see).  He and his older brother Mike (Elijah Wood, with his huge eyes, and voiceover by Tom Hanks) do whatever they can to avoid interacting with the evil stepfather.  Their dream is to build a plane that young Bobby can fly to make his getaway.  I don’t want to spoil the plot (though I don’t recommend you see the movie), but the whole notion of two kids tinkering in a garage and making an airplane out of spare parts I found preposterous.  The relationship between the two boys is sweet, but we never know why the younger one is the only target for the abuse, and I certainly didn’t get how the mother completely missed the signs.  This movie was recommended by a friend, but it is clear to me that we don’t have the same taste in movies.  Sorry.  2 cans.
22. The Shawshank Redemption (1984) – Get busy living or get busy dying.  On the surface, there is nothing cheery about men incarcerated in a dreary Maine prison, yet the story is so powerful, extolling the virtues of establishing bonds, looking out for each other, believing in hope, and humanizing an otherwise inhuman place and experience.  The writing (based on a Stephen King story), the direction, the acting, the characters – all combine to make this film a memorable movie experience.  Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman head the cast, two men whose only common bond is that they are convicted murderers (although everyone at the prison claims to be innocent) but they build an unbreakable friendship built on respect, loyalty and hope.  They appear to be doomed to live out the rest of their days in this morose and lonely place.  But Robbins’ Andy Dufresne brings light and humanity into their mostly harrowing existence.  He manages to expand the prison library, to encourage the inmates to pursue education, he gets the guards to serve them beer as the crew works at tarring a roof, and, in one unforgettable scene, he locks himself in the warden’s office and blasts opera music into the prison yard, all while sitting back with a satisfied smile on his face.  I was in the hospital back in 2000, recovering from pretty significant surgery and hoping to be released the next day.  I was very anxious; nothing could ease my mind.  And then this movie started airing on the tiny TV above my bed, like a visit from an old friend.  It helped me get through the night.  If you have never seen Shawshank, do yourself a favor and watch it – not just once, but several times.  It is beautiful.  5 cans.
23.  Moonstruck (1987) – It must be my month for old favorites, and this Cher-starrer is high on my list.  She is Loretta Castorini, a widowed woman from a strong Italian family who agrees to marry Johnny Camararie (Danny), a man with whom she is not in love. But when she meets Johnny’s younger brother, Ronnie (Nicholas Cage), the passion boils over between them.  Cher won the Oscar for her performance.  This is a warm, funny and utterly enjoyable movie, enhanced by a thousand details about being Italian (I’m not, but my best friends are) and lit by a brilliant moon.  Ciao, bella.  4½ cans.
24.  The Face of Love* (2013) – Generally speaking, I associate Annette Bening with intelligent roles but in fairly light movies.  This one does not fit that genre.  Here she is Nikki, who is completely in love with her husband, Garrett (Ed Harris, a favorite of mine).  But Garrett drowns while they are on vacation, and she rids the house of his things even as she copes with the tragedy of his loss.  Fast forward five years, and she happens upon a man named Tom, an art instructor and artist who is an absolute doppelganger for the late Garrett.  She is immediately enamored and determined to have a relationship with this man based solely on his resemblance to Garrett.  I have to say the movie is a little creepy, and it veers into fantasy (not my genre at all), as Nikki herself looks like she is drowning in the deep end of the gene pool.  Still, it is nice to see women of a certain age get to play vibrant – if a little crazed – women with sex lives, proving that they’re not dead after age 50.  3 cans.