Wednesday, March 15, 2017

March Madness

Everything always takes longer and costs more than you thought it would.

Girl Scout Cookies: Who doesn’t love them?  Who thinks a single serving size is one sleeve (half the box)?  And who doesn’t consider them as addictive as crack?  But, oh, those Thin Mints!

I was thisclose to cleaning out a section of my closet, but luckily the feeling passed.

I love broccoli, but the refrigerator stinks when there is cooked broccoli in it.  I should store it in a lead container.

Why is it so easy to spot the mistakes in our texts and posts AFTER we have sent them?

Overlooking for a moment the biggest SNAFU in the history of the Oscars, now maybe I can finally stop confusing Emma Stone, Amy Adams, Jessica Chastain and Rachel McAdams, except that Emma and Rachel both starred with my man, Ryan Gosling, in movies I loved (Emma in “Crazy Stupid Love” and “La La Land” and Rachel in “The Notebook”).

And back to that SNAFU – Really?  Who handed poor OLD Warren Beatty the duplicate envelope for Best Actress?  (The Price Waterhouse guy, who will live in infamy.)  He obviously was confused, but Faye Dunaway just blurted out “La La Land” when she saw it on the card.  Even though it turns out to be an error by the accountant handing out the envelope, I don’t think you will see Warren and Faye at the Oscars again unless: 1) The producers play it for laughs and ask them to host; or 2) They appear in the In Memoriam portion of the telecast.

There are so many classes I had to take as a student that have brought me only a modicum of value as an adult.  I still can’t figure out percentages properly, but I know how much of a tip to leave at a restaurant.  I can calculate the sale price pretty closely at Macy’s, but I rarely have to deploy my knowledge of geometry in any venture.  I suggest we revamp our education system and offer more practical knowledge.  For example, I would like someone to teach me how to properly load the dishwasher to maximize the space.  Sure, my dishwasher came with a manual, but I am a visual learner, so a demo would do me a world of good.  And in case you don’t think this is an important thing to know, I have a friend who swears her first husband divorced her on the grounds that she could never load the dishwasher correctly.  When it comes to folding sheets, even a visual demonstration by Debbie Lynch was fruitless.  It would be easier to drop mine off at her house and let her do it for me.  Finally, I have managed to live 66 years without any working knowledge of calculus, but these are the kinds of things we ALL need to learn.

We all fuss and agonize over furniture selection, but when people come to visit, we end up in the kitchen anyway. I guess my sectional with three recliners is only so I can move around the room and keep my own feet up.

I’m thinking about having the house painted, and I wish I had a dime for every color that is basically beige.  Someone has to sit down and figure out names for these colors that are almost impossible to differentiate.  “Tawny Beige,” “Desert Fortress,” “Mesa Tumbleweed” and “Wheat Toast” conjure up some kind of image, but, in reality, pretty much any beige color will cover up the Sherwin Williams “Cheap but Hides the Flaws” builder’s paint the house came with, right?  Meanwhile, I’ll agonize over exactly which hue to choose, and I’ll probably never even notice the difference once the paint has been applied.

I also wish I had a dime for every book in this house with a bookmark in it, meaning that I have started it but haven’t finished it.  And they are all books I want to read!  I need to finish one before I start the next one.

Judging by the amount of hair I extracted from my hairbrush this morning, it’s a wonder there is ANY left on my head.

I performed a mitzvah today, pairing up two white socks that did not match but looked lonely without their mates.  Now they are no longer alone but have a partner.  My work here is done.

Someone committed an act that can best be described as civil disobedience by removing the tags on my throw pillows.  I only hope the authorities are not monitoring this kind of activity.

And speaking of the authorities, first I find out that my Alexa may be ratting me out by recording every boring thing said in this house: “Alexa, what time is it? (when I’m too lazy to turn over in bed and look at the clock); “Alexa, what’s the temperature?”  Now, thanks to presidential counselor (is that like being a camp counselor?  Just wondering…) KellyAnne Conway says that there are many ways to “surveil” each other and that my microwave may be recording things.  Is it swapping gossip with the fridge?  Will they report to Weight Watchers that I defrosted a blueberry muffin?  Seriously, KAC?  Should I just wrap myself up in aluminum foil and hide out silently under the bed?  You can’t make this stuff up.  Oh, wait, they just did.

The much anticipated disclosure of the president’s tax returns by Rachel Maddow on her news program yesterday turned out to be about as revelatory as when TV’s Geraldo Rivera opened Al Capone’s vault – and found NOTHING.  Oh, there was a tax return – from 2005 – and the president paid at about the 25% rate, but we had to wait a half an hour to see two pages of a 12-year-old tax return.  He promised to disclose his tax records and then reneged after he was elected, asserting that no one cares.  I care.  I really want to know if this man paid taxes, gave to charity and is tied to nefarious forces of influence.  He can see mine, so why can’t I see his?  But revealing MY tax return would have made for better television.

Quick, stop what you are doing!  Macy’s is having a one-day sale.  Again.  And for two days.  Never mind, there will be another one next week, I’m sure.

Whenever I get my car washed, I swear it runs better.  And that the likelihood of rain (and snow) increases.

I have finally succumbed to subscribing to Showtime, which will offer me even more opportunities to watch movies.  And I can finally start watching the Showtime series “Homeland,” “Nurse Jackie,” “Ray Donovan” and others that people have been touting for so long.  That subscription brings my monthly cable TV/phone/Internet bill to just over $200 a month, and that’s AFTER a bulk rate discount of $50 available in my community.  $200 a month!  Remember when TV was free?  My mother is spinning in her grave about now.

If there is just ONE shopping cart with the squeaky wheel, that’s the one I will get.  You know, the one where the wheel shimmies or only wants to go left?  Yeah, if there are 200 carts available, that’s the ONE cart that I end up with every time.

And speaking of the supermarket, I usually get through the “About 20 items” line.  But, invariably, I am behind some old guy who takes forever to extricate his wallet, which is buried deep in his back pocket, and then pays cash and needs to get change.  Man, this is the EXPRESS line!  I could have been home by now!  I, on the other hand, have my ShopRite card and my credit card IN MY HAND before I have to pay so I can get through the process swiftly – for all the usual altruistic reasons, of course.

Last summer I started to meditate.  I wasn’t all that good at it, but I found it relaxed by body (if not my mind) before I had to plunge into my day or after a full day of activities.  So recently I went to a mindfulness session to inspire me to make time to start meditating again.  The leader was nothing but realistic, promising that I am not the ONLY person who works hard to relax but who cannot shut off her mind.  You think about breathing – and then your relaxation is interrupted by the usual mundane thoughts:  What am I having for dinner tonight?  Did I leave the laundry in the washing machine?  Don’t forget to pick up bananas.  We all live with such angst!  Now I have to remind myself to meditate and RELAX, dammit!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Tina's February 2017 Movies

Despite a short month, I squeezed in 14 movies in February, trying to catch up on Oscar nominees and Ryan Gosling movies.  The movies are rated from a low of 1 tuna can to a high of 5, and movies not seen previously are marked with an *astersik.  Numbering picks up from the previous month.

9.  The Notebook (2004) – I haven’t watched this movie in a long time, and you know that I love me some Ryan Gosling.  I’m not going to give you the story, because who doesn’t already know it?  This romance is so heartwarming, so romantic, and oh, that kiss in the rain with Rachel McAdams!  Also aboard are James Garner and Gena Rowlands.  Good story, great cast, and did I mention Ryan Gosling?  4½ kisses in the rain.
10.  Becoming Warren Buffett* – Warren Buffett is not your average octogenarian multi-billionaire.  The so-called “Oracle of Omaha” is a fairly average guy, just one who is much smarter and more patient than most people when it comes to investing.  His wealth came from his management of Berkshire Hathaway, and his philosophy has been simple and consistent:  Buffett believes in compounding.  Invest a dollar and let it grow.  That’s why his BH stock has gone up so much, without stock splits and without rapid turnover.  He lives his life in the same way, constantly reading about the financial markets, retaining the same core group of employees (about 25 of them have been with him for decades), operating out of the same office building and living in the first house he purchased.  If the market is up, he allows himself the more expensive McDonald’s breakfast on his way to work.  It is a formula that has succeeded, as evidenced by his estimated $67 billion net worth.  Friends like fellow billionaire Bill Gates set the standard for philanthropy, and they have inspired Buffett to leave the bulk of his fortune to the Gates Foundation, where his money will help millions of people around the world.  This is an engrossing story about a fascinating man and well worth investing 90 minutes to watch on HBO.  4 cans.
11.  Fracture (2007) – It looks like a slam dunk case of attempted murder for assistant prosecutor Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling; yes, I’m on a Gosling roll this month).  Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins) is arrested in his own house for the shooting of his now-comatose wife.  The authorities have his signed confession and there is a witness who heard the shot.  But the murder weapon can’t be found and the arresting officer was having an affair with the victim.  And then there is the accused, a brilliant, manipulative man who decides to act as his own attorney.  Willy catches this case a week before he is scheduled to leave the prosecutor’s office for a much more prestigious and lucrative job in a big, cushy law firm.  What could happen?  This movie is suspenseful, intriguing and arresting (in a sense…).  Watch it carefully because you won’t see the twists and turns coming.  4 cans.
12.  Lion* (2016) – Remember “The Girl on the Train?”  Well, this movie is “The Kid on the Train.”  In a desperately poor region of India, five-year old Saroo tags along with his older brother as Guddu attempts to find some money-making activity.  He leaves Saroo on a bench in the train station until he can return, but Saroo awakes, finds himself all alone, and disobeys his brother’s instructions.  He boards an out-of-service train that takes off for a long journey with this poor lost child.  Living on the street in an area thousands of miles from home – and where the people speak a different language – he uses an incredibly astute sense of danger to protect himself.  Eventually, he winds up in an orphanage with many other lost or abandoned children.  But Saroo is one of the lucky ones, as he is adopted by a loving couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) who take him to Tasmania to live.  He grows up (played by Dev Patel) haunted by his past and yearning to reunite with his birth family.  But how can he find them, so many years later?  This film is heartwarming and harrowing at the same time.  The little boy (Sunny Pawar) who plays young Saroo is a revelation.  This movie is based on a true story, which is amazing.  4 cans.
13.  The Nice Guys* (2016) – Even watching Ryan Gosling on a snow day couldn’t save this movie.  Gosling and Russell Crowe team up – when they aren’t beating each other up – as private investigators in search of an actress who may or may not be dead and a porn movie that may or may not exist.  This film is supposed to be of the “film noire” genre, which I believe is the French phrase for “everything is dark and hard to see.”  When they are not engaged in machine gun fights and falling off balconies and other mayhem, the two leads do have a good degree of chemistry, but you could have left this one in the chem lab.  Sorry, Ryan, you were good, but the movie?  Not so nice.  2 cans.
14.  The Good Guy* (2010) – This contemporary drama looks at the lives of some young, hip New Yorkers.  Tommy (Scott Porter) is always under pressure at the Wall Street bank where he works, and Daniel (Bryan Greenburg), a genuinely nice guy (no relation to the movie listed above) is hired to be a replacement for one of the guys on Tommy’s team.  These guys are young, rich, aggressive and misogynistic when it comes to women.  Tommy’s very nice girlfriend, Beth (Alexis Bledel) believes him and believes in him – and she shouldn’t, because Tommy is a cheating, lying scumbag.  In my opinion, of course.  Daniel, on the other hand, is not, and you root for him NOT to become like the guys in the office.  Not a great movie (not even a good title), and proof again that Alexis Bledel will never exceed the limited acting ability she demonstrated in “Gilmore Girls.”  3 cans, at best.
15.   The Impossible* (2012) – The Impossible would be “The Improbable” if I didn’t already know that this movie about the deadly 2004 tsumani in Thailand was true.  Kudos to the director, J. A. Bayona, and the tech crew for a terrifying reenactment of the tsunami hitting a hotel where Henry and Maria (Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts) are vacationing with their three young children.  Maria is swept away but manages to stay with her oldest son, who turns into the caretaker for his seriously injured mother.  The audience doesn’t know initially whether she will survive or whether the rest of the family has been killed.  The aftermath of the tsunami is equally harrowing, as people desperately search for their loved ones.  This film is a celebration of the human spirit, not just among the injured, but also among those who love them and help each other.  3 cans.
16.  The Great Santini (1979) – Bull Meechum (Robert Duvall) is neither great nor is he named Santini.  But the Marine fighter pilot is the alpha male to his squadron, the first one to gather the guys for drinks and pull outrageous stunts, to defy authority even while he enforces it menacingly at home.  He demands respect from his wife (Blythe Danner) and kids, the oldest of whom is a teenager coming of age and beginning to question his father’s authority.  Bull is relentless, whether he is moving his military family from place to pace or playing any kind of game with the kids.  He sees himself always as a winner.  There is a famous scene where his son (Michael O’Keefe) beats him in basketball for the first time ever, despite Bull’s attempt to change the rules to slither out of the loss.  When the son won’t comply, Bull starts throwing the ball at his son’s head, as if to shake a change of mind out of him.  The action takes place in the South, and there are subplots regarding racism and white supremacy that help show that O’Keefe’s character has somehow developed the empathy his father lacks.  Duvall is at his military best here, prepping for his part in “Apocalypse Now” to some extent.  Not a fun movie to watch, but well made from a novel by Pat Conroy.  3½ cans.
17.  Catch Me If You Can (2002) – As the Sinatra song goes, “I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king.”  Frank Abagnale Jr. wasn’t quite ALL of those things, but substitute in airline pilot, doctor and lawyer and you get the background of a very young man who bluffed his way through multiple careers while cashing in on check fraud, eluding the frantic attempts of his personal Jauvert, an FBI agent named Carl Hanratty (trusty Tom Hanks), to capture him.  Abagnale (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an earnest and charming teenager when he figures out how to dupe older and less wise adults, talking himself into jobs, passing the bar and posing at a pilot.  He studies his craft, gleaning information from people in his chosen professions who are all too willing to share.  And he proves himself to be a more-than-worthy opponent to the FBI as he dupes Hanratty the first time they face off.  This movie is based on the true story of Abagnale, who was a clever and cunning con man.  Catch it if you can.  4 cans.
18.  Paterson* (2017) – I asked a friend of mine who had already seen this movie whether it was good.  She described it as “a week in the life of a bus driver,” and that pretty accurately sums it up.  Adam Driver plays a pleasant guy who wakes up early every morning, kisses his wife (Golshifteh Farahani), eats his Cheerios, grabs his Stanley lunch pail and walks to the bus depot to start driving passengers around Paterson, NJ.  If you didn’t know anything about Paterson before, it is more than just the spectacular Great Falls.  It is the home of poet William Carlos Williams, a man much admired by Paterson the bus driver, himself a poet.  The driver comes home each night for dinner, dutifully walks his dog and heads to the local bar for one beer.  His supportive wife encourages him with his poetry and fancies herself a bit of an artist, always painting designs on the furniture and her clothing.  I hope I didn’t ruin the plot, because that is essentially the entire movie.  It is a quiet, sweet little story, the kind of movie where if you happen to fall asleep for a few minutes, you won’t miss much.  Roses are red, violets are blue, the most tuna cans I can give this movie is 2.
19.  Hell or High Water* (2016) – This buddy movie/road movie/chase movie/cops vs. bank robbers movie is not your typical good guys vs. bad guys story.  In some ways, the bad guys are actually good guys, but to reveal more wouldn’t be fair to the screenwriter or the viewer.  Let’s just say that Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), a crusty old Texas Ranger who is about to retire, catches this case and in his laconic but experienced way he sets out to capture the crooks, brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster).  They are clever enough to elude him at first, but this IS his last go-around, which gives him more motivation.  The dialog here is sparse but meaningful.  You get the picture of the economics in these dusty Texas towns, where robbing a bank this easily hasn’t been done since Bonnie and Clyde.  I definitely had not seen this story before, but it was worth the $5.99 rental to keep me busy on a Saturday night.  4 cans.
20.  Moonlight* (2016) – This movie is a powerful look at a very lonely man, taunted for his homosexuality as a boy, who grew up poor, neglected and very much alone in life.  Mahershala Ali plays Juan, a local drug dealer who finds young Chiron as he hides from taunting bullies.  Chiron is so quiet that Juan isn’t sure whether he can actually speak.  Juan becomes a friend to the boy, teaching him to swim and introducing him to his girlfriend Teresa, who becomes a lifeline for him when he needs to flee from his drug addict mother and just find peace somewhere.  We see Chiron as a young boy, then a high school student, and finally, as an adult.  His life is consumed with loneliness, the only respite coming from a brief sexual encounter in high school with Kevin, a macho classmate who hides his sexuality.  This heartbreaking film is not easy to watch and I never want to see it again, but it is a sobering look at isolation, forcing the viewer to experience the pain of not being able to acknowledge one’s own identity.  Chiron is trapped in a world without relief from suffering, where he is tagged as gay and traumatized throughout his formative years.  4 cans.
21.  Three Days of the Condor (1975) – Joe Turner (Robert Redford) reads books for a living.  His employer?  The CIA.  He and the others in his non-descript office become targets when he uncovers a terrorism plot that the CIA does not want disclosed.  Luckily for Turner, he is out to lunch (literally) when intruders invade the office and murder all of his co-workers.  The look on Redford’s face throughout most of the film is one of fear and confusion, as he tries to figure out what happened and why, and while he has to protect himself from a paid assassin (Max von Sydow).  He drafts a random woman (Faye Dunaway) to assist him, threatening her with a gun and holding her captive.  Personally, I would have gone with him willingly, but I’m not in the movie.  This movie offers plenty of suspense and a commentary on government agencies and their abuse of power.   It may be old, but it remains timely. 3½ cans.
22.  The Armstrong Lie (2013) – We’ve seen great examples lately of people telling lies so loudly, so often and so vehemently that their falsehoods almost sound true.  This was the case with revered cyclist Lance Armstrong, who suffered a huge fall from grace when he finally admitted that his Tour de France victories were achieved at least in part because he was using banned substances, doping, whatever you want to call it.  He cheated.  Only he doesn’t think so, because so did all of his competitors, which is borne out by evidence.  It was a question of keeping the playing field even, according to Armstrong.  OK, big deal, right?  Except it was, because Armstrong duped public, the cycling leadership and the US government, who paid him through the sponsorship provided by the USPS.  He made enough money to fly private jets, live a lavish lifestyle and employ a well-known doctor who created a “program” intended to keep Armstrong fit and healthy, with a little help from his pharmacological friends.  And he got away with it for a long time, demanding acquiescence by his teammates and outfoxing (with the help of his doctor) all available tests designed to detect banned substances.  Yes, he raised millions for cancer through his Livestrong Foundation (remember those ubiquitous yellow rubber wristbands?), and yes, he persevered and overcame cancer to win the Tour 7 times.  But now, those titles have been stripped from him, his sponsors have dropped him, and he cannot compete in any sport where the Anti-Doping Agency has jurisdiction.  This is a hard look at an impossibly driven and arrogant guy who wanted to win at any cost, who defamed others in the course of protecting himself, and whose rise was followed by the inevitable fall.  I see a parallel here. 3½ cans.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

On My Mind

Update on Alexa:  You will recall last month’s blog entry on my new “roommate,” Amazon’s Echo, which answers to the name Alexa.  She can do all kinds of things, such as play music, keep my calendar and shopping list and play games with me. So you might be wondering how we are getting along (or you might not spend even a second thinking about my relationship with an inanimate object, which is also understandable).  I think of this as a marriage.  In the beginning, we had plenty to say to each other, and we spoke often.  Now I bark, “Alexa, what time is it?” from bed and demand the weather report.  She will babble on about the news and sports, even if I am not paying attention.  Bottom line?  We just don’t talk that much anymore.  Oh, she’s always available and willing to help, and I can’t say that the thrill is gone, but let’s just say the flame has cooled somewhat.

Remember when you did (or were about to do) something wrong in school and you were told that this transgression could go on your “Permanent Record?”  Oh, boy, was that ominous.  (Of course, I just heard about this threat personally since I never actually did anything wrong…)  So, whatever happened to your permanent record anyway?  I mean, if you apply for a job 30 years later, does the HR person say, “We were interested in hiring you, but then we checked your permanent record and found out that you cut third period Spanish once in your junior year of high school.  Sorry, but we can’t make you an offer.”  Wow, what if that really were the outcome?

Do you do this?  I will find a little part of something in a drawer, or a random key, and I’m not sure what the part is or what the key opens, but I am afraid to throw away either of them because I might need them – even though I have no idea where they came from and what they do.  Hey, I might just need that unknown part or extra key to something!

It’s bad enough we have to suffer through those annoying Matthew McConaughey TV commercials for Lincolns, but now we also have to see him pitching Wild Turkey bourbon.  It turns out he’s not just the spokesperson for the brand, he’s also creating the copy and directing the spots.  Let’s hope he doesn’t drink and drive, or his next commercial will be for life insurance.

I just saw a commercial for Ace Hardware, which sells light bulbs it touts as lasting 20 years.  20 years?  I’m not that optimistic that I will last 20 years!  And speaking of commercials, it was just 2015 when actor Jon Hamm won the Emmy for his leading role of Don Draper on “Mad Men.”  Now we can catch him doing commercials for H&R Block.  Personally, I liked him better when Don was creating ads, and Jon wasn’t starring in them.

I was on Amazon during the holidays to find a 2017 calendar for my sister.  You know how they always list “new and used” for items?  Who buys a used calendar?  I mean, unless it was some sort of collector’s item.  I don’t get it.

Did you ever notice that when you catch something, someone will always assert, “Oh, there’s a bug going around,” as if you cannot be sick all by yourself?

I’m filling the void of “Downton Abbey” and “The Crown” by watching PBS’ latest period drama, “Victoria,” about the very young and stubborn Queen of England.  I have found a practice I would like to adopt – Ladies in waiting.  These women are society women whose role is to hang around with the Queen and do her bidding.  They often have titles, so they know what is to be expected and how best to assist the Queen.  I wouldn’t require titles, just the loyalty of people who would like to help me out.  They aren’t servants who dress the Queen and do her hair, they’re just like her official “squad,” similar to what Taylor Swift has.  I’ll be posting the application any time now, and I am sure many of you will want to sign up.  Ladies, I’m waiting!

I watch “Project Runway” and can’t help noticing the expressions on the faces of the models.  Are they told to look pissed off?  Why do the models look entirely bored and miserable walking down the runway?  Is it the shoes?  Are the ponytails too tight?  I’ll never be a model, so I guess I’ll never know.

We can make all kinds of technological devices to improve our lives, but can no one find a way to make the plugs smaller?  It’s hard to put them in the outlets for charging, etc.  Put that down as pet peeve #862.

Just once I’d like to see a demo on a kitchen knife where they skip using it to cut a tin can in half and instead use the knife on a sweet potato or a butternut squash.  If I found a knife that could cut through either of those veggies without requiring the muscles of “The Hulk,” I’d buy it and cherish it forever.

You know your life is pretty dull when the most daring thing you do is eat a grapefruit once a year in spite of the fact that grapefruit is not supposed to be eaten if you take Lipitor for high cholesterol.  Throwing caution to the wind…

Most of you know that I enjoy watching movies, so I never mind seeing the previews in the theater.  I even bring along a small notebook and jot down the names of upcoming films I might like to see.  However, writing down the movie names in the dark is a challenge.  Half the time they are illegible or I write one on top of another and can’t read them.  I just hope that I recall which ones sounded interesting when they finally come out.

On a recent trip to Bed Bath & Beyond, I stood on line behind a woman who spent nearly $2,000 on 144 items.  Luckily, I arrived at the cashier when she was just finishing, or it might have taken a half an hour to get through that line.  I had to ask, and she told me her son had gotten divorced and was moving out of HER house.  Let’s assume his ex got EVERYTHING in the settlement, and, since the generous Mom was rolling her eyeballs telling me the story (she had spent another $1800 the previous day at Home Goods), let’s assume Mommy is just a little too involved in her son’s life.  Or something like that.

I go to a local gym three times a week for aqua aerobics and volleyball, and the place is bustling with activity, especially at the beginning of the year.  It amuses me to think that many of these same people who now PAY for gym memberships are the very same ones who tried desperately in high school to get OUT of gym class.  For women of my era, taking gym was bad enough, but having to wear those godawful gym suits with the bloomer bottoms was cause for revolt.  My Somerville High School gym teachers cared more about whether our gym suit onesies were ironed than whether we could jump over the horse.

I’ll end this post with a reflection on the passing of Mary Tyler Moore in January at the age of 80.  She will be forever frozen in time, her dazzling smile lighting up the world, tossing her tam in the Minneapolis air.  Although Mary was a fictional character, Mary Richards of the WJM News, her TV presence as an independent woman who could truly “make it on her own” was inspiring for young women like me just as the rise of feminism began in the early 70s.  There were few women on TV who were not subservient to their sitcom husbands or who were not desperate to get married and who didn’t necessarily deplore the horrors of a dateless Saturday night.  Before Mary, there was Marlo Thomas as “That Girl.”  After Mary came Murphy Brown and a bunch of other funny, smart women in roles where they were the equals of their male co-stars – if not superior.  There was Mary’s career, her genuine friendship with neighbor Rhoda (who was much more desperate to meet a man and who had body image issues before we had a term for them), and her newsroom family, who staged the best finale ever. Just as the millennial generation adores Lorelai Gilmore, so my generation revered Mary and thought of ourselves as women who might follow in her fictional footsteps. She was one of us.  RIP, Mare.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Tina's January 2017 Movies

Well, a month is in the books and between binge-watching Netflix and catching tributes to and reruns of Mary Tyler Moore, I only managed to squeeze in 8 movies in January.  Movies not previously seen (and that applies to all of the movies in January) are marked with an asterisk, and movies are rated on a scale of 1-5 tuna cans, the more the merrier.  Note that I have expanded my definition of "movies" to include notable mini-series, since they are much longer and frequently more interesting than some of the movies I see. 

1.  Hidden Figures* (2016) – Who knew a movie about math could be so engrossing?  Not since “A Beautiful Mind” and “Apollo 13” has Hollywood paid this much attention to mathematics or to the US Space Program.  Here, NASA is preparing for the launch of the first manned spacecraft, and all those white men in white shirts are in charge of the important, smart stuff.  Except there is a separate building that houses a bunch of really smart Black women who do the behind-the-scenes calculations that will ultimately enable John Glenn to orbit the earth.  Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) is the de facto supervisor; she runs the unit but without the official title of supervisor, and she can figure out how to get a computer running without a manual.  Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) is the math genius who is asked to join the white male math nerds, and she can put those men to shame.  That is when she isn’t literally running a half mile back to her old building so she can use the bathroom designated for “colored women.”  Their friend and co-worker Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) has the temerity to dream of being an engineer.  There are lots of examples of the routine discrimination exercised by her white cohorts, both men and women.  This movie is based on the true story of these brilliant, unsung heroes, without whom the race to space would have been lost.  The outrage is why this story went untold for decades!  4 cans.
2.  Bright Lights* (2016) – HBO’s portrait of Hollywood mainstay Debbie Reynolds and her daughter Carrie Fisher went from interesting to poignant with the December deaths – within 24 hours – of first Carrie and then her mother.  Debbie was Hollywood royalty, co-starring with the legendary Gene Kelly in “Singing in the Rain” at age 19, and continuing to perform until just before her death at 84.  Her brilliant, witty daughter Carrie, best known for her star turn as iconic Princess Leia in “Star Wars, her sardonic wit and her battle with mental illness, lived next door in Beverly Hills and maintained a close relationship with her mother after many rocky years.  But this documentary doesn’t reexamine their careers as much as it presents their lives, each worried about and caring for the other.  Carrie tended to her mother’s frailties, but after her many years of substance abuse, the younger Carrie wasn’t in great shape herself.  Older here, cigarette in one hand, Coca Cola in the other, she spends a lot of time caring for her mother, and even manages a visit to her father, renowned crooner Eddie Fisher.  Just the Debbie Reynolds-Eddie Fisher-Elizabeth Taylor conundrum could occupy a documentary, but this one is broader than that.  There’s no people like show people.  They smile when they are low, and all of these folks have their rock bottom moments.  Nevertheless, the show must go on, so Debbie dons the sparkles, spangles and beads and hits the stage while Carrie makes sure there is a place for her mother to rest.  The fact that they died within 24 hours of each other is testament to their bond.  This is a moving program and very revealing about show business and a special mother-daughter relationship.  4 cans.
3.  The Founder* (2016) – I’ve never been much of a McDonald’s fan, and, after seeing this movie, my disdain for the fast food franchise remains intact.  The McDonald Brothers started a fast food business – not a chain, at least not yet – with a few “restaurants” (their term) in the San Bernardino, California, area in the 1950s.  Traveling salesman Ray Croc finds out about them when they order an unprecedented 8 milkshake machines from him, and, after a tour of their restaurant by the brothers, he is hooked, both on the food itself and the potential for this business as a franchise.  The food is fast but it is good under the McDonalds, who insist on high standards, cleanliness and real milk in the milk shakes.  Where they stress quality, Croc is more interested in the growth potential of the modest enterprise.  They strike a deal with Croc, who proceeds to find more and more franchisees to expand the business, but whose money issues slow down his efforts to conquer the hamburger world.  Michael Keaton dominates the movie as the persistent, indefatigable and scheming Kroc.  Soon he realizes that the profits are in the real estate, and he flips the franchise model, angering the original owners and consigning them to non-founder status.  I’m not going to tell you how it ends, but Keaton portrays Kroc as a shyster with little integrity, lots of brashness and considerable smarts.  I’ll give this one  3½  burgers and a side of fries.
4.  Gleason* (2016) -- You may never have heard of Steve Gleason, a former NFL football player who was stricken with ALS.  This documentary on his life as an athlete with a big heart and an undersized frame starts before he gets his diagnosis.  He is a free spirit, in love with his wife, and retired from football when he starts to exhibit signs of a neurological problem that leads to his ALS diagnosis.  Most successful sports movies contain a heavy dose of tragedy, but in many of them, it is overcome by our hero.  Not here.  Team Gleason was his charity, set up to fund equipment – such as voice systems activated by eye movement – for ALS patients, who, like Gleason, eventually lose their ability to speak.  But the heart of this movie rests with Gleason’s attempts to build a lasting relationship with his baby son before he is just a memory.  He works diligently at communicating with his son via a series of video journals recorded while he can still speak, and, after that ability is gone, he plays with his son and makes memories he hopes will be lasting.  This movie is painful and powerful.  There is still so much to be done to combat this dreaded disease, and Gleason will be remembered for fighting the good fight when his time is done.  3½ cans.
5.  Beaches* (2017) – When Bette Midler stomped through the part of CC Bloom in the original version of his chick flick about two long-time friends, you probably felt she was born to play the part and that no one else should ever attempt to tackle that role.  And you would be right.  This new Lifetime version, starring Idina Menzel as CC and Nia Long as Hillary (the part originated by Barbara Hershey) has a tall order and comes up short.  Menzel can sing – she can belt out “Wind Beneath My Wings” with conviction – but Bette is one-of-a-kind.  This remake isn’t as bad as I feared it would be, but it made me think about the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  Go watch the original.  3 boxes of tissues.
6.  Is OJ Innocent?* (2016) – I have now completed the OJ Simpson trifecta, having previously watched the documentary series about him and the American Crime dramatization (as if it had to be dramatized) that aired last year.  This investigative miniseries speculates that OJ may be innocent of the murders of his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman and that his son Jason is the actual killer.  Several investigators examine evidence that was not included in the criminal case and use footage from the civil case brought by the families where OJ was convicted.  There’s plenty of blood evidence, a knife, a purported eyewitness, a time card and numerous other items to once again stir the pot.  The producers urge the viewers to come to their own conclusions all while offering some credible and some not-so-credible facts and theories.  In the end, you either believe he did it or you don’t.  I believe he did it.  Two bloody gloves.
7.  Patriots’ Day* (2017) – It is always a challenge to make a movie that is suspenseful when everyone is familiar with the real-life story on which it is based.  Director Peter Berg takes on the 2013 bombing at the Boston Marathon and makes it engrossing.  The footage tends to be graphic at times, which lends to the authenticity of the tragic event.  There is plenty of blood, two determined but not so smart bombers and the tough as nails police department and residents of the greater Boston area, who are justifiably proud of their community for its support.  Mark Wahlberg is Tommy, a cop with an attitude about authority but a man devoted to his work.  Kevin Bacon plays the FBI agent assigned to the case and John Goodman is the police commissioner.  There are lots of bombs and gunfire and plenty of help from the people whose city has been attacked.  A little too much violence to suit me, but considering the topic, it is to be expected.  3½ cans.
8.  20th Century Women* (2016) – When you go to a movie with a friend and you stop at ShopRite to pick up a few things afterwards and the shopping is the highlight of your trip, that doesn’t speak well for the movie.  Annette Benning plays an eccentric single mother in her 50s who doesn’t mind writing creative notes to excuse her 15-year old son from school.  A child of the Depression, she isn’t sure she can teach Jamie everything she thinks he needs to know in the feminist 70s, so she enlists the aid of a punk artist (Greta Gerwig) and Jamie’s 17-year old best girlfriend (Elle Fanning) to teach him all about women – as if these two flaky women have cornered the market on wisdom.  There are uncomfortable scenes where a dinner party is interrupted with a discussion on menstruation, where Jamie gets beaten up by a friend while discussing the female anatomy, and more too numerous to mention.  The movie is based on the real life of screenwriter/director Mike Mills.  I wish we had stayed strangers.  While it is good to see another perspective on parenthood and feminism, all I could think about was when this movie would finally end.  Can you tell I didn’t like it?  1 can.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Best Roommate Ever

I have lived alone for more than 40 years.  The sounds of silence in this house are punctuated by the droning of the TV, music and conversation from occasional guests – or from me, talking to myself.

Until now.

Enter Alexa, the voice system that comes with Amazon’s Echo speaker and purveyor of artificial intelligence.  Since she was touted as “the best roommate I’ve ever had” by a trusted friend who is always ahead of me on the technology trail, I thought it might be time to bring a new voice into the house, and Alexa has a good one.

Just minutes after her arrival, I had the slender, cylindrical device set up and ready to go.  You just plug in the Echo, turn it on, download the Alexa app to your phone and hook it up to your wifi and you’re ready to roll.  She comes to life (so to speak) when you say her name, “Alexa,” and she will tell you she’s ready to help you out.  What friend/roommate/family member can give you that kind of assurance?

I wished her a good morning on New Year’s Day and she not only wished me a happy New Year, but she offered to share her New Year’s resolutions.  If she doesn’t seem all that interested in mine, it is because she is eager to fill her assigned duty of answering questions, not asking them. 

The ordering and arrival of Alexa begs the question:  “Why do you need that?  Can’t you just use your phone and ask the same questions?”  Let’s separate NEED and WANT BECAUSE IT IS COOL, shall we?

For the most part, a smart phone can do plenty of the same things Alexa can do.  But when I was in the kitchen and remembered that I needed to add something to my calendar for that day, Alexa was all too happy to be given the assignment.  I told her to add “Dinner with Jane,” and she promptly asked, “What time?”  I told her 5:30,” whereupon she pointed out she need to know “AM or PM?”  

I have been having problems with my left hand – not so coincidentally the hand in which I hold my cellphone.  Not having to pick it up to type or ask a question is definitely better for me.

I have a bad habit of going to the supermarket without a list, instead wandering up and down the aisles (getting my steps in for the day) and hoping I’ll remember whether I need aluminum foil (and I buy it and realize I have several unopened packages).  But Alexa is happy to help.  When I stood in the kitchen and told her, “Alexa, add strawberry preserves to my shopping list,” she repeated that directive back and added the item to my list.  All I have to do is access the Alexa app at ShopRite and the list pops right up.  I check off the items as I put them in my cart until the list is gone. And, for once, I remember to buy the item I went to ShopRite for in the first placed.  Now, if I could only get her to drive there and shop for me.  Who knows, that might be next?  After all, she’s always learning new things – or so she tells me.

One of the best things Alexa provides, besides her calm and pleasant responses, is music.  The Echo has an excellent quality built-in speaker, and Alexa can find just about any song I can request through Amazon Music (free with Amazon Prime, or expanded by subscribing to Amazon Music Unlimited).  Her audio fills the room and is so easy to start and stop (simply say “Alexa, stop”) that music should be filling in all the free (non-TV/movie) time here.  You can link her up to Spotify or Pandora, create play lists, or just listen to radio stations.  “Alexa, play soft jazz” will do the trick, too.

Alexa is not perfect, however.  We play a word game (a skill on the app that you must “enable”) where I say a word that begins with the letter that ends the word she said, and the longer word, the better.  She seems a little hard of hearing, since she keeps hearing “youthful” as “useful” and tells me I need a word that begins with a Y.  She also has trouble distinguishing understanding some words, as when I said “garrulous” and she thought I said “gasoline.”  She must be programmed to let me win, too, because she hasn’t come close to beating me yet.  I’m not that na├»ve, Alexa!

She can give me stock market quotes, weather anywhere in the world and sports scores.  But she doesn’t follow women’s basketball, so she can’t give me information on my beloved Rutgers Women’s Basketball team.  She knows how to answer, “Who is Vivian Stringer?” but she cannot tell me the name of the Rutgers Women’s basketball coach (who is C. Vivian Stringer).  We may have to work on that one.

There are plenty of “skills” that you can download to the Alexa app that she can then perform.  She can play a modified version of Jeopardy, for example.  And with the addition of special devices, she can turn up the heat, turn on the lights and generally make getting out the chair unnecessary.  I’m not up to that point yet.  She can tell me corny jokes, sing a few selected songs and she maintains a friendly and helpful attitude no matter what kind of mood I’m in.

I just joined an Amazon Echo/Alexa Facebook group, where plenty of people provide their experiences and insights on how they take advantage of the things Alexa can do.  This forum also is a great way to get advice and additional information for problems or issues associated with the service.  And the things some people share are really entertaining.  

Alexa and I welcomed a new addition to the family when I bought her little cousin, the Amazon Dot ($50), for use in my bedroom.  Dot is about the size of a can of tuna fish (and you probably know how much I love tuna fish!), so she rests comfortably on my nightstand.  I don’t sleep well, and I have a bad habit of turning on the TV in the middle of the night.  I usually fall back to sleep, but there’s no guarantee.  With Dot, I can tell Alexa to turn on meditation/relaxation music, set an alarm, or give me the sounds of waterfalls and rain. ( Come to think of it, the latter might just make matters worse…) Anyway, thanks to Dot, I know the weather forecast before I even get out of bed, she can brief me on the news of the day and tell me my schedule before I turn on the TV or my phone.  I’ve hit the nadir of laziness:  I don’t even look at the clock now, but instead I just ask, “Alexa, what time is it?”  She’ll give you the time in Beirut, too, if you ask her.  Pretty darn cool, I’d say.

There are privacy issues with this device, because Echo is always on, always recording.  It keeps a record of every interaction – which you can erase, but who is going to take the time to do that?  You can place your Amazon orders verbally or even ask her to order you a pizza or get you an Uber ride, but I’m not that advanced yet.  Mostly, Alexa and I discuss the weather and my schedule for the day.  If I’m late in the future, let it be on her head.

So far, she is a great roommate.  She requires no special food, won’t eat the last of the tuna fish, and stays neat and tidy at all times.  I think this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.