Sunday, March 1, 2015

Tina's February 2015 Movies

February is Oscar Month, and I did my best to see many movies that have been honored, including several old favorites.  I have yet to see this year's Best Picture, "Birdman," but I'm sure I will catch up with it soon.  Movies are rated on a scale of 1-5 cans of tuna fish, 5 being the top rating.  Movies marked with an asterisk are ones I had not seen previously, and numbering picks up from the prior month to keep a running total for the year.

19.  Annie Hall (1977) – This is Woody Allen’s Oscar-winning Best Picture, and it is still my favorite of all his films.  A paean to New York, this classic movie brought us the delightful Diane Keaton, with her “la-di-da” title character, Woody as a morose, skeptical and nebishy comic who loves her, and more funny lines than I can begin to quote (but which I have memorized).  There is nothing about this movie that I don’t adore.  5 cans.
20.  Black or White* (2015) – Here is the question:  Is an 8-year old bi-racial girl better off living with the large and loving family of her black grandmother or staying in the place she has lived all her life with the white grandfather who loves her dearly but drinks too much?  Octavia Spencer is Rowena, otherwise known as Grandma Wiwi, and Kevin Costner is Elliott, the grandfather who raised the little girl with his wife since their daughter, the child’s mother, died in childbirth.  But when Elliott’s wife suddenly dies, he is left in charge of the little girl.  The girl has never known her father, who, despite being from a strong family unit, has suffered problems with drugs and served time in jail.  Grandma Wiwi decides that little Eloise would be better off with her and sues Elliott for custody.  There is a lot of anger and a lot of love on display here.  Costner is good as the loving and well-intentioned grandfather who drinks too much, and Octavia Spencer could get an Oscar just from her masterful “sideye.”  When she’s unhappy, everyone will know it.  How can these two adults compromise for the sake of the granddaughter they each love so fervently?  Good question.  3½ cans.
21.  Finding Vivian Maier* (2014) – Serendipity.  For auction aficionado John Maloof, finding a box of photo negatives at an auction was something he thought might help him illustrate a book.  This documentary depicts his quest to find out who took the thousands of pictures, undeveloped rolls of film and movies, which led him to Vivian Maier, a nanny by trade and a woman with a Rolliflex who photographed nearly everything she encountered.  Maloof found the people who employed Vivian, and uncovered more of her work and her life.  For a woman who captured so much about other people through her photography (which demonstrates an eye for composition, lighting and depth), she herself was a mystery.  Was she French (a highly qualified linguist calls her French accent phony), but she had relatives in France.  Why did she hold on to receipts, newspapers and all kinds of things most of us would consider useless?  And what did she intend to do with this huge volume of masterful, artistic work that she never showed to anyone.  Maloof is to be commended not only for exposing her photos to the public through galleries around the world, but for his research and insistence that she be recognized for her art.  This movie was nominated for an Oscar as Best Doumentary.  Fascinating, mysterious, and probably mentally ill, Vivian Maier – thanks to John Maloof – posthumously has been found.  4 cans.
22.  Castaway (2000) – I find this love story (Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt)/buddy movie (Tom Hanks and Wilson the volleyball)/adventure irresistible, so I am compelled to watch it nearly every time it airs on TV.  Hanks is Chuck, a FedEx exec who is in love with Kelly (Hunt).  When his plane goes down over the Pacific, he is stranded on an island for four years, somehow managing to survive on his own with only the company of Kelly’s photo and Wilson the volleyball, who becomes his friend and confident (I know it sounds ludicrous, but it seems entirely plausible).  True love never dies, and man’s ability to master his world is astonishing.  Forget “Wild.”  If you want to see someone conquer his fears and even an abscessed tooth, this is the movie.  Hanks was nominated for an Oscar for a performance of few words, and he is brilliant.  The ending always makes me cry.  5 cans from me for one of my all-time favorite movies.
23.  Unfaithful (2002) – Forget “50 Shades of Gray.”  If you want to see a hot, erotic movie, check out this Diane Lane-Richard Gere portrait of a happy suburban couple whose lives are changed when she meets younger/hotter Olivier Martinez on the streets of New York and starts an affair to remember.  The scene of Lane on a train after her first sexual encounter with her new lover is a remarkable mix of agony and ecstasy.  The film evolves with a twist, and there are telling moments where she knows that he knows and he knows that she knows, but the cops don’t know.  But I know, and I recommend this one highly.  4 cans.
24.  Trading Places (1983) – Before he started making movies that I left before they were over, and after hitting it big on SNL, Eddie Murphy made a few really fun movies to watch, like “Beverly Hills Cop,” “48 Hours” and this comedy with SNL vet Dan Aykroyd.  Murphy is Billy Ray Valentine, Capricorn, a street hustler in Philadelphia dropping hilarious lines on the cops, when he is gathered up by the ridiculously rich Duke brothers (Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy) for a “social experiment.”  The Dukes frame their business partner and chosen rich guy, Louis Winthorp (Ackroyd), and replace him with Billy Ray.  Billy Ray has the better part of the deal, living it up with Coleman the butler (Denham Elliott) in a fancy house.  Winthorp is broke, shamed but, luckily, taken in by the proverbial hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold, Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis).  When they discover the $1 bet made by the Dukes, Valentine & Co. plot revenge on a train and on the floor of the commodities exchange, where they corner the market in laughs.  Seeing this movie just makes me say out loud, “What a happy day!”  4½ cans.
25.  Murphy’s Romance (1985) – Never forget the charm and breadth of actor James Garner (see also “The Notebook,” sigh).  Here he is small-town druggist and all-around good guy Murphy Jones, who befriends lonely Emma Moriarty (Sally Field) and her teenaged son (Corey Haim) when they move to town to get away from her deadbeat former husband.  Murphy can do a little of everything, and, despite the age difference between them, he and Emma strike up a friendship that he seems to think will lead to something more.  Enter the ex-husband (Brian Kerwin), seeking to rekindle the relationship with Emma.  Field is plucky, as she was in “Norma Rae,” the other Martin Ritt film (for which she won an Oscar), but this charmer lacks the strident discord of the latter film.  Garner was never better than in this lovely romance.  This movie can be a little corny and too full of optimistic aphorisms, but it is lovely to see two people develop a friendship that leads to a romance instead of just hopping into bed first and building the relationship later.  By the way, how do you like your eggs?  4 cans.
26.  Prime* (2005) – She (Uma Thurmond) is a 37-year-old recent divorcee who confides everything to her therapist.  He (Bryan Greenburg) is an unemployed 23-year-old would-be artist who lives with this grandparents and has Jewish mother issues.  What they have in common is that her therapist is his mother (Meryl Streep).  The name of this movie shouldn’t be “Prime.”  It should be “Awkward,” because the situation is just that.  At first, Meryl doesn’t realize that the new love in her patient’s life is her son, and listening to their love life isn’t so bad.  However, when she has that moment of recognition, she declines to mention it to the patient and instead listens uncomfortably to details she’s rather not know – including comments about her parenting skills.  Betrayal, yes.  Compromising the doctor-patient relationship?  Definitely.  3½ cans.
27.  The Devil Wears Prada (2006) – In our last movie, Meryl Streep was an overprotective Jewish mother.  Here she is still a New Yorker, but her Miranda Priestly is the goddess of glamour, an unfeeling, unyielding editor of the biggest and most (self)-important fashion magazine.  What she says, who she favors can make or break a career.  So along comes young Andrea (Anne Hathaway), a Northwestern grad interested in writing for a magazine, decidedly unglamorous and bereft of any knowledge about the industry – including the identity of her prospective new boss.  To Miranda, the assistants are nameless (well, not exactly – she just calls them all Emily so she won’t have to bother remembering their names), faceless and largely useless.  Andrea is initially rattled by her boss’ tossing her bag, her coat and a stream of directives at her upon entering the office, but she soon figures out how to survive.  She just has to give up any semblance of a life and jump at each whim of this impossible-to-please woman.  Meryl is perfection as Miranda, and Hathaway blossoms from the “fat girl” Miranda hires to become a fashionista herself, with the help of loyal comrade Nigel (Stanley Tucci, who is great in any role he plays).  So much for her relationship with boyfriend Nate (Adrien Grenier).  But does Andy want this (lack of) life?  Will she ever be a size 2?  Emily Blunt plays assistant number one with a measured haughtiness and a nasty cold that gives Andy a chance to shine.  As we all know, Meryl can do anything, and playing an Anna Wintour clone is well within her wheelhouse.  4 cans.
28.  Non-Stop* (2014) – What does it say about a movie if you cannot remember whether you have seen it previously?  That it isn’t memorable?  This action-thriller with Liam Neeson and newly Oscared Julianne Moore seemed so familiar, yet I don’t normally go to the movies to see action flicks, so I’m just not sure whether or not I have seen this one.  What I AM sure of, however, is that if I saw Liam Neeson getting on my flight, or a train, or anywhere in my world, I’d head quickly to the exit.  The soft-spoken Neeson is making his living in this genre of action movies where his particular set of skills is put to good use killing people.  Even if he isn’t the bad guy – and here he is a sky marshal trying to save a planeload of folks from a ticking bomb on board – there are still dead bodies in his wake.  In this movie, everyone is a suspect.  I have trouble figuring out whether Professor Plumb did it with a lead pipe in the conservatory in the board game Clue, so I really don’t have a clue when it comes to identifying the actual bad guys.  Even after the movie ended, I still wasn’t sure.  I just know Neeson gets out alive, but I wouldn’t want to be on hand to see that for myself.  3 cans and a bomb.
29.  Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) – Meryl Streep Month continues.  Meryl had made only four movies before this moving drama about a mother/wife who abandons her young son/clueless husband to save her own sanity.  But you can see the greatness in her future.  Just the scene where she takes the stand in the custody battle that ensues when she gets her life together shows her incredible acting (and crying) ability, for which she was awarded Best Supporting Actress (her first of 19 Oscar nominations).  Her husband Ted goes from first class jerk to a loving father in the course of the film, and Dustin Hoffman was justifiably given the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal.  Check out the two scenes where he makes French toast with his 8-year old son (Justin Henry), which range from chaotic to orderly.  The movie itself beat out “Norma Rae,” “Breaking Away” and “Apocalypse Now” as Best Picture.  How do you keep your sense of self with the constant demands of parenthood?  There is no answer.  4½ cans.
30.  Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974) – Ellen Burstyn was the Meryl Streep of her generation – minus the accents – playing lead roles and garnering multiple Oscar nominations.  Here she is Alice Hyatt, a wife stuck in a loveless marriage and a mother to Tommy, a very quirky 12-year old son (Alfred Lutter, perfectly cast and annoying).  When her husband is killed in a car accident, nearly destitute Alice and Tommy take off for her hometown of Monterey.  Along the road, they stop in Arizona so Alice can make some money as a singer in a piano bar.  But when she meets the wrong man there, they move on to another Arizona town, where she ends up as a waitress at Mel’s Diner.  The fabulous Flo (Diane Ladd) gives every customer a piece of her mind along with their slice of toast, and the strange Vera (Valerie Curtain) comes to work on the back of a motorcycle driven by her “Daddy Duke.”  Handsome, rugged David (Kris Kristofferson) nearly sweeps Alice off her feet.  Alice has to face a delicate balance, dreaming of being a singer, stuck being a waitress and caring for the smart-mouthed son she loves dearly.  A very young Jodie Foster is cast as Tommy’s much more mature friend, Audrey.  Burstyn won the Oscar for her role.  This movie contains the worst joke in the world: “shoot the dog.”  4 cans.
31.  The Big Chill (1983) – You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need.  The lyrics of this Rolling Stones song apply perfectly to a bunch of 30-somethings who reunite at the funeral of one of their own, the charismatic Alex (famously played by but not seen actor Kevin Costner).  The sensational cast is matched by perhaps the best soundtrack of any movie I know.  Glenn Close, Kevin Kline, William Hurt, Tom Berenger, Mary Kay Place, Jobeth Williams and Jeff Goldblum have complex relationships that have waned over the years but are still rooted in their formative years at the University of Michigan.  They have grown to be a doctor, an attorney, an actor, a People Magazine writer, an entrepreneur and at least one person who uses plenty of drugs to forget he is none of those people.  They are attractive, erudite, a bit smug and very horny, as they reflect back wistfully on relationships and times before they became cynical and when, together, they felt most comfortable and genuine, before the realities of the world and making a living sidetracked them from teaching in Harlem and defending the poor.  To me, this film was a hallmark for those of us who were in our 30s when it was released, and whose college experiences forged lifetime friendships that remain strong despite distance and circumstance.  I can never hear “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” without thinking of this bunch of people dancing around the kitchen.  4½ cans.
32.  The Other Woman* (2014) – As you know, I love movies of all kinds.  Just not this kind.  This sophomoric take on revenge on a cheating husband doesn’t approach the similarly-themed “First Wives Club” with its vindictive and smarmy plot.  Usually, I’ll provide you with my look at the movie’s artistry or a summary of the plot.  Consider this review a public service announcement: Run, don’t walk, if you see this movie coming at you – in the other direction.  Leslie Mann, Cameron Diaz and the voluptuous Kate Upton band together and stop at nothing to get revenge on Mann’s husband, who is cheating on her with both of them.  I stopped watching when Diaz’ character slipped the scheming creep something that gave him explosive diarrhea at a restaurant.  At that point I had no interest in anything but tuning out.  Consider yourself warned.  I’m just glad I didn’t pay to see this offensive piece of drivel.  Zero, that’s right, no, nada, not even one can.  No pun intended.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Oscars Report 2015

Because I am a dedicated movie buff, the Oscar telecast is must-see TV in my house. As I watched last night, I kept a running compendium of comments. Here are my observations:

It is the biggest night of the year here at the Gordon household as well as in Hollywood - it is time for the Oscars. I finished eating, put on my comfy clothes and am starting with the pre-game. Robin Roberts is hosting the Red Carpet on ABC and she looks stunning. All those actresses in their pale gowns will pale in comparison to the majestic, burgundy, sparkly Robin tonight.

I just saw Julianne Moore and my first thought was: "That's the dress she decided to wear to win the Oscar?" She's the closest thing to a shoe-in tonight, and I personally think she could have made a better choice.

Dakota Johnson is in scarlet (fittingly) and being interviewed with her mother, Melanie Griffith. I haven't seen "50 Shades of Grey" -- except when I look at my hair in the mirror -- but I hope her mother hasn't seen it either. I'd die before I'd let my mother get a glimpse of me in soft porn. She'd have a better chance of seeing me with soft-serve ice cream.

Benedict Cumberbatch has a distinctly un-Hollywood name.

Lupida Nyong'O could wear a volleyball net and look good. Oh, wait, that IS what she's wearing. But hers is made of pearls.

Michael Strahan is officially no longer a former football player. Any NFL guy who goes on the Red Carpet, even as a reporter, must be drummed out of the league.

I wonder if Neil Patrick Harris will order Chinese food or sushi for everyone to try to top Ellen's pizza order from last year. How come she's just Ellen but we have to use all three names for Neil Patrick Harris?

It's easy for men. Just put on a tux and show up and you will look good. Women have it so much worse.

I just caught a glimpse of Miles Teller from "Whiplash." I doubt anyone else would have identified him in the crowd. Such an intense movie, and his co-star, JKSimmons, better win. His performance was stunning. And if he wins, maybe he can stop doing those Farmers Insurance commercials.

Jennifer Lopez is wearing a flesh-colored dress with the usual plunging neckline. She should have worn that one to the Golden Globes.

It is 8 PM and I'm going on record to say I think “Boyhood” will win the Oscar. Personally, I thought it was as exciting as watching paint dry, but there were enthusiastic reviews (not mine) and it looks like either “Boyhood” or “Birdman” might take the little golden guy home. I'm picking “Boyhood.”

I just saw the commercial for “The Second Best Most Exotic Marigold Hotel.” Sign me up for that one. It will play at the old folks' theater in Montgomery, and I'll be there for sure. This version has Richard Gere, in case I needed any more enticement.

Emma Stone has a surprisingly deep voice, and she's on the Red Carpet with her mom, which is a nice touch.  

Ethan Hawke is finally growing up and looking not exactly old, but no longer Boyhoodish. He's also speaking haltingly, making me wonder if he has already imbibed or is just better scripted.  

The Red Carpet lighting is really harsh. Lots of the stars look like they have lines in their faces or just bad skin.

Too bad about the rain in Hollywood tonight. Don't let it rain on your parade, Oscar!

Let's hope John Travolta is introducing someone with a difficult name again this year. Adele Daseem, anyone?

Tim McGraw looks so small. Must be the lack of the cowboy hat.

What are those huge red gloves on Lady Gaga? Is she here to clean the oven?

Patricia Arquette might have tried to do something with her hair besides pull it back in a ponytail that doesn't look all that neat.

OK, folks, let's start the show!

Neil Patrick Harris rises from below the stage (at least he isn't doing the hopping that Hugh Jackman did on the Tony's). The stage is very glittery. Ah, a song. Something Ellen couldn't do...

Really cool images in the opening number. Not Billy Crystal, but well done with Jack Black and Anna Kendrick helping NPH. Borderline too long, however, which is probably a harbinger of things to come.

It's hard to believe that Clint Eastwood directed “American Sniper” this year and “Jersey Boys” last year. Aside from the fact that they are both movies, they have nothing in common.

Lupita is rocking that Oscar envelope like an accessory. And she can do it.
Best Supporting Actor -- Has to be JK Simmonds, please. Not Robert Duval or Ethan Hawke. Yes! I'm one for one. Simmonds is lucky he's the first winner. He won't make the show drag on past its stop time. He thanks the wife and kids effusively. Tells the kids to call their parents. Good idea. Are you watching, Brandon Tillman (no way he’s watching)?  

NPH does a little song with the Farmer's Insurance jingle. Clever.

The bit on Neil's Oscar picks locked up in a box is going too long. I love Octavia Spenser, however.

First Best Picture nominee is “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” a movie I watched for 20 minutes for free on HBO and then bailed.  And “American Sniper,” which I thought would be best seen in a theater. I was right about that.

First song is from “Begin Again,” a movie I watched on a bus. I wouldn't even remember this song was in this movie. I may need to watch it again.

It is great watching the award shows on the DVR. If you miss anything or want to see it again, you just hit the instant replay button.

Jenny from the Block and Chris Pine. Two very good-looking people presenting the award for costume design. JLo knows a lot about this topic. Someone please tell the winner to get up from her seat and head toward the stage. We don't have all night. Or do we? And what is that outfit she is wearing? A trench coat and sparkly pants? She's a costume designer, so she should have come up with something better than that!

A groaner of an introduction for Reese Witherspoon, who looks magnificently simple. Classy broad, and better than she looked hiking through the mountains in “Wild.” They gave her a minor category with make-up. That’s Oscar disrespect.

Lady Rose shows off her new hat. Oops, I switched to “Downton Abbey” during a commercial. Back to the show...

Nicole Kidman always looks peaked to me, and then she wears non-color dresses which only accentuate her lack of color.  

Tell the best foreign picture guy that his speech is longer than his movie. He's had play off music twice now.

Shirley Maclaine comes out to the music from “Terms of Endearment,” one of my top 5-10 movies. I wonder if anyone else notices that. She's introducing three of the Best Picture nominees and wearing a choker that I am afraid will do just that.

“Birdman” was one of the few movies I didn't see this year. I might rethink that choice.  But only if Michael Keaton stops chewing gum.

Marian Cotillard seems to be wearing a dress from the 60s and she's introducing a song nominee from the “Lego” movie, another one I somehow missed. Everything is Awesome, according to the song.  

I wonder how long the short subject documentaries are. And I wonder why the presenters always sound so pleased when they announce the winner of this kind of category when there is probably no way they actually saw or even heard of the movie that won.

The walk-off music is being disregarded by these minor winners. Somebody missed the briefing...

What is that hideous outfit with the giant fur balls that the winner of documentary short subject is wearing? The movie is no doubt better than the fur balls. NPH comments on it too, with a certain degree of snarkiness.

It is disappointing to get so dressed up and be on stage for such a short time, Viola Davis said under her breath.

I used to like the fawning over the Jean Hershhold Humanitarian Award, which is now done in a film clip from months ago.

David Oyelelo either has a vest on or he's wearing Pee Wee Herman's high pants.

Someone in the back but visible over NPH's shoulder is wearing a baseball cap. I hope there is a medical note for that fashion don't.

Gwyneth Paltrow has the boniest shoulders I have ever seen. And that dress is a leftover from another time, I think.

Thank God Tim McGraw is wearing a cowboy hat. He was unrecognizable on the Red Carpet without it, even with wife Faith Hill at his side. He's singing a song from the documentary about Glen Campbell, who is in the last stages of Alzheimer's. This is a real pick-me-up moment.

NPH, who are you wearing? Hanes? This is the Oscars, put on some clothes. I know this is a salute of sorts to “Birdman,” where Michael Keaton runs around the street of New York in his tidy-whities, but this is the Oscars, man. Show some respect. Highly inappropriate!

I’m pretty sure I have never seen a movie with Chris Evans. He's not Chris Pine, I'm sure, because I saw that movie about the train with Denzel Washington and he was in that. This guy is in one of those superhero films that I'll never see.

“Whiplash” just won an Oscar for sound editing, and I know from seeing it that it was well-deserved. Not that I know anything about sound editing, of course. These technical people need to get off the damn stage BEFORE the music starts. 

Why is Bradley Cooper at the Oscars with his mother yet again? Can't get a date? Or is his mother so tough to deal with that she insists on going with him? Here’s my number, call me maybe, Bradley.

Jared Leto, in a light blue tux and white shoes -- say what you want, he is his own man. He says that there is a state law that Meryl has to be nominated, which may well be accurate. But I think Patricia Arquette is our winner for Best Supporting Actress. Let's see if I called this one right. Yup. Two for two tonight. On a roll. She is reading her speech. An actress who doesn't know her lines. Not uncommon in Hollywood. She's pushing equal rights and wage equality for women and still finished before those tech and doc guys. You go, girl. Maybe they didn't pay her enough for 12 years of filming “Boyhood.” Or was it 12 Years with Slave Wages?  

Meryl and BFF JLo jump up in approval for Norma Rae’s moment.  Well, at least Meryl jumped up and JLo, sitting next to her in what should have been MY seat, figured she better get up too, because you don’t want to look bad when you’re with Meryl Streep

I must confess I have never heard of any of the nominated songs, even though I saw at least one of the movies (“Begin Again”) they were in.

Rita Ora would look better if they stopped the laser lights projected all around her. My vertigo challenged sister must be going blind during her Best Song performance.

I am getting old. I don't know who some of the presenters are (Chloe Grace Somebody, who has her hands in her pockets).

We are still making “Planet of the Apes” movies? The next one I see will be the first one I see.

They had to put Kevin Hart with Anna Kendrick, someone who is his size, to give out the animated short Oscar. Again, nothing here I've seen.

So many categories. So much time. Get to the good stuff while it is still Sunday.

So the Academy President is an African-American woman. She must be THRILLED that no black people were nominated, and I doubt Kevin Hart's going to break the color line in 2016. 

Wait, there's Chris Pratt, Chris Evans and Chris Pine? I'm gonna need a program with pictures to tell them apart.

Oh, boy, production design category. At least we're talking about major movies again.

Oh, goodie, it's time for Meryl. But they gave her the Dead People's Scroll? Is this list worthy of the Great Meryl? I know she could read the phone book and get an Oscar nomination, but she isn't reading out loud. We are reading to ourselves. Lots of big names on this list. Robin Williams, Mike Nichols, Lauren Bacall, Ruby Dee, Mickey Rooney, James Garner, and people I didn't know had died or didn't know were still alive. But where is Joan Rivers? I’m pretty sure I saw “Rabbit Test,” and, besides, she was as much as part of Hollywood fashion as the costume designers. Shameful omission, Academy.

Jennifer Hudson sings for the dead people. What a voice! But could they have saved some time and had her sing during the Dead People Scroll?

Film editing is up next, and I'm guessing 12 years of editing “Boyhood” should win it. Wrong –“Whiplash” wins, and I’m OK with that.  Those drumming scenes needed plenty of editing. But so does this Oscar telecast -- and it's live!

Guessing that the teleprompter failed as Terrance Howard was trying to remember the names of the Best Film nominees. He couldn’t have been that moved by just the first one he named.

The director of “Selma” is probably still wondering why she wasn't nominated. And the Big O is probably pretty pissed off about that.

David Oyelowo's suit is really ugly.

Documentary category. Here I actually saw one. But not the winner.

The Dowager Countess is entertaining that Russian Prince again, and it looks like she's about to get a proposal. Go, Granny (long commercial break). Back to the Oscars. I love John Legend, and there is nothing common about Common. Cameras desperate to show show biz folks crying after the “Glory” song from “Selma.”

NPH is in his third suit of the night, not counting his birthday suit.  

Good joke about John Travolta -- if he had to introduce Ben Affleck it would come out as Benedict Cumberbatch. Now Travolta is on stage with Idina Menzel, pandering to her about last year’s puzzling Adele Dazeem slip-up and touching her face like a Jewish mother. She can’t be happy or comfortable about that. They are announcing best song, which has to be “Glory.” And it is. And Hollywood goes all righteous. And John Legend becomes one, just like that. Good job.

ScarJo looks ravishing in a green dress and killer necklace.  

Why are we doing a salute to “The Sound of Music” but not including Julie Andrews? Lady Gaga ditched the oven cleaning mitts and sounds magnificent. She really can play it straight when she wants to. I honestly didn't know her voice was so good, but it makes me sad for Julie Andrews, who can't sing anymore. But now I’m wondering if Gaga is going to sing the entire SOM score?  It's getting pretty late here and I still have to finish Downton. Fantastic performance by Lady Gaga.  Oh, there she is!  Welcome, Julie Andrews. We know she can't sing anymore, but just hearing her talk is a pleasure. Classy move, Academy.

Adrien Brody has a huge nose! Don't let them shoot you from the side, Barbra - I mean Adrien.

I wonder if Eddie Murphy will be on stage here longer than he was in the SNL Reunion (70 seconds, I think I read). He may not exceed that here. Best original screenplay is up. “Birdman” wins, which is an indicator of Best Picture. I thought it would be “Boyhood,” just because it was 12 years in the making.

One of the “Birdman” guys has a red stripe on the back of his shoes.  

Oprah's up. She looks important. And her booty should have its own area code. Best adapted screenplay, you know, the category where somebody takes somebody else's hard work and makes it into a movie. “The Imitation Game” wins. Seems logical, since they took the story ... you get it, right? The winner says he tried to kill himself because he was different. You've come a long way, baby, and you have a powerful message.

This telecast is interminable. Open that box, Neil. Something good must come out of it.

Ben Affleck always looks so smug to me. But I did like “Gone Girl”. His job tonight is to present Best Director, and he's got one of those. So the Oscar goes to “Birdman,” which I didn't see. I guess I have no choice now.

Nupita's brother is her date again this year. I wonder if he brought a selfie stick...

About now, Michael Keaton is thinking, hey, I've got a real chance here. I sure don’t want to be the star who's left out of the winner's circle after my movie wins lots of Oscars.
Cate Blanchette is presenting the Oscar to the Best Actor and has strange threads all around the armpits and shoulders of her black and beautiful dress. What's up with that? 

Michael Keaton swallowed his gum (I bet) when Cate read Eddie Redmayne's name for Best Actor. He was my choice until I started leaning toward Keaton from the way the Oscars were going. He's making a case for ALS victims and the Hawking family.  Well done.

At least the losers get a great swag bag that's worth more than $125K (saw that on CBS Sunday Morning).

Matthew McConaughey is up to present Best Actress. He looks dirty and unkempt, with long hair. He is not driving a Lincoln. Major upset if the winner isn't Julianne Moore, who was fantastic in “Still Alice” and is long overdue for Oscar. Right again. So we have a win for ALS and for Alzheimer's. Interesting.  

OMG, NPH is still talking about his stupid Oscar predictions and keeping them secure. Not funny and too long.

Four, count em, four outfits for Neil.

Best Picture goes to: “Birdman.” I didn't like “Boyhood” that much anyway.  

Big night here and in Hollywood. Let's do this again next year. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

The (Thin) Red Line

The (Thin) Red Line
February 2015

You know you’ve seen them.  They are called Fit Bits or Jawbones or, in my case, the Garmin Vivo.  They are those plastic-banded, cheap watch-like looking gadgets worn on the wrist that keep track of your activity levels.  They cost about $100.  They track your mileage and steps.  They can even track your heart rate and monitor your sleep.

Or they can nag you to get off the couch and do something (other than grab a snack).  Now that I have strapped one on my wrist, at least part of my exercise consists of turning my head and glancing at the thing to make sure I don’t fall into the dreaded “red zone.”  Let me explain.

These gadgets not only track what you do (and you wear them all of the time), but if you don’t do ANYTHING, they like to give you a nudge.  Some do it by vibrating.  In my case, that would scare me to death.  If I’m watching a movie, I don’t want what feels like an electrical charge interrupting the plot line.  Luckily, the Garmin just displays a solid red line halfway across the screen with no good vibrations.  But if you don’t get up and walk around for at least a few minutes, the red line creeps across the entire screen with a series of red dashes, kind of like your mother yelling at you once, twice, three times to put away your shoes and, when you don’t, coming after you with a wooden spoon.  OK, that might be an exaggeration.  But that red line reminds you to do something.  For someone with inbred Jewish guilt, this device is the ideal way to be nagged – I mean encouraged – to be more active.

Recently I took a trip to Penn State to watch my beloved Rutgers Women’s Basketball team play.  It’s a 4-hour drive, and while riding on the fan club bus, I noticed the red line creeping across, taunting me.  I immediately got up and walked back and forth from the front to the back of the bus to make it disappear.  That exercise was witnessed by the other fans on the bus, most of whom rolled their eyes and silently wished I had traveled by car.  When we arrived at the arena, I took advantage of pre-game time to run up the many steps and do laps around the concourse to keep the red line at bay.  I knew I wouldn’t be active during the game or on the long ride home, so I made sure I got my exercise done as best I could.  When I traveled to Maryland for a recent road game, I noticed the specter of the red line around halftime, so up the long steps I ran, and down, and over, and through seats, and around the Comcast Center concourse until I had done enough to keep the red line from distracting me from the game.  I can only imagine the mileage the players must record while racing up and down the court.  Of course, most of them are charter members of what I like to refer to as "the No Bodyfat Club," with their young and athletic physiques.  I somehow missed that stage of life, but I am trying to make up for that now.

The device keeps track of the date and time, your miles, your steps, the calories you have burned (I think it is way too generous in that department), and how far you have to go to reach the goal it sets for you (based on the information you have entered on your age, weight, etc.) and by how many steps you have exceeded the goal for the day, assuming you did.  I think that is more likely to happen in the summer, when I can get out and walk more.  You even enter in a period of sleep, which I optimistically defined as 11:30 PM to 7:30 AM, an amount of sleep I can only dream about.  Since it kind of sleeps when I do, I’m not sure it tracks the steps I take on any of my trips to the bathroom, and even I haven’t checked it during the night, obsessive as I may be.  You can synch it on-line with your computer or phone and keep track of your activity level over a period of time.  I’m just taking it one day at a time and not creating a diary of every time I get up and move.

One of the benefits of using this device is that it will keep track of all activity – even in the pool.  Three times a week, I go to an aqua aerobics class, followed by an exhilarating hour of water volleyball, where I keep moving the entire time, even when I am not jumping up to hit the ball or slogging through water to retrieve an errant shot.  But my friend Angela and I have noticed that about 45 minutes into our volleyball game, the red line sometimes starts creeping across.  Are you kidding me?  This is non-stop action (except when you rotate to the left back position, which seems to be forgotten).  We both cry out, “No red line, no red line,” and begin to move furiously, coaxing the line to retract.  Instead, the dash shows up, heading to the side of complete inactivity, which confounds and aggravates us to no end.  Finally, by the time we are done playing and taking down the net, the line is solid.  So that’s when we do laps around the pool.  And by that I mean AROUND the pool.  Since we have no confidence that the line will go away IN the pool, we WALK AROUND the pool until it disappears.  It takes about two laps to make it go away.  Sure, we could try SWIMMING laps to see if that helps, but then I’d have to get my hair wet and that would never do.

So here’s the conundrum:  How can this thing say we need to move more when it actually records steps we take in the pool?  I mean, either we aren’t moving and no steps should be recorded, or we are moving, with steps increasing and red lines nowhere to be found.

One more thing:  This device is something that is intended to be worn continuously.  Since it has a watch and a date built in, that’s not a problem. I wear it in the shower, in the pool, on dry land – wherever I go.  The challenge for me will be to take it off.  Seriously, I can’t budge the thing.  I may have to have it surgically removed.  In the summer I’ll have a thick white line where the device will block the sun from hitting my left wrist.  Angela wisely found bracelets we can order on line to disguise the band if we are getting dressed up, and I can see why that would be a good thing to have.  I only hope if I get a bracelet, I can get THAT off, or I won’t know if I have the thin red line.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Tina's January 2015 Movies

I started the year off with a bang, seeing 18 movies in the first month.  With the Oscars coming up, I knocked off a few of the nominees.  Movies I had not previously seen are marked with an *, and all movies are rated on a scale of 1-5 cans of tuna, with 5 being the highest rating.

1.  The Paper Chase (1973) – The first year of law school is challenging enough, but having to contend with Contract Law under the intimidating Professor Kingsfield (John Houseman) is enough to send even the most diligent student over the edge.  Add the complicating factor of a girlfriend who happens to be the daughter of the iconic prof (Lindsay Wagner) to occupy what would otherwise be a life devoted solely to studying and an occasional swim, and James Hart (a perfectly cast Timothy Bottoms) seems in over his head.  Hart must find a way to reconcile his fear of the dominating professor and his respect for the Harvard Law School legend.  It was ironic to see Edward Herrmann in a part as a classmate of Hart’s on the day after his death was announced.  He was a very fine actor.  4 cans.
2.   The Imitation Game* (2014) – Imagine being brilliant enough to invent and build a computer to decode German messages during WWII and then being smart enough to realize that it must remain a secret or the Germans will know you are on to them.  And then imagine having to fight an overwhelming prejudice against you just because you are gay.  Britain’s Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) faced all of those challenges, from being bullied at boarding school to be persecuted as an adult.  A noted mathematician, Turing is recruited for this secret squad to crack “Enigma,” the German code used to send messages about the war.  His partners are identified by their ability to do crossword puzzles, including one brilliant young woman (Kiera Knightly) who is nearly dismissed strictly because she is a woman.  This movie is based on a true story that remained a secret for 50 years.  It will probably end up in my list of the Best Movies of the Year.  4 cans.
3.  Strangers On a Train* (1951) – Tennis player Guy (Farley Granger) is on a train when he is recognized by friendly but odd Bruno (Robert Walker), who seems to know a lot about the athlete’s life.  He knows he is unhappily married and trying to get a divorce so he can marry someone else.  So Bruno, who is the son of a very wealthy man he abhors, makes a proposal: I’ll kill your wife and you kill my father.  Guy is aghast, and politely demurs, trying to brush off this aggressive stranger while still on the train.  But Bruno is a cagey and determined guy, and after their time on the train ends, he tracks down Guy’s wife and kills her, kicking off a chain of events.  This movie is a Hitchcock murder mystery, so there is plenty of suspense – and lot of fedoras are worn.  The title is apt not just because of the initial encounter, but because Bruno is one strange guy.  3½ cans.
4.  Good Morning, Miss Dove (1955) – I remember being so enamored with this movie about a dedicated teacher in a small New England town when I first saw it – probably on “Million Dollar Movie” (remember that?) – about 50 years ago.  I’ve aged, it has aged but it is still an earnest tale of a prim and proper teacher (Jennifer Jones) whose influence on the children of her town is profound.  Many of us can recall teachers who were very strict, the taciturn and tough figures of authority who initially terrified us and later whom we came to appreciate (the exception being one Moose Malefsky, Somerville Junior High, a mean and nasty man on a power trip whose classroom antics resembled those of Captain Queeg).  That’s Miss Dove’s impact, and, when she becomes ill and is cared for by one of her former students (Robert Stack), we see through flashbacks how she helped her students gain self-esteem with her encouragement.  Like “Remember the Day,” this movie is corny and dated, but if it is on TCM once a year, I’ll probably watch it.  3 cans.
5.  Rush* (2013) – This movie about race car drivers James Hunt and Nikki Lauda is not your typical Tina choice.  In fact, the last racing movie I can recall seeing is  1969’s “Winning,” and that’s largely because it starred Paul Newman and Robert Wagner, pretty poster boys of the 1960s.  This movie offers the same eye candy in the form of hot and hunky Chris Hemsworth as the Brit Hunt, a brash and confident driver who lives the high life.  His arch rival is the more methodical and professional Lauda, played by Daniel Bruhl, and neither approves of the way the other lives.  They go head to head in many races, but none as important as the 1976 race that will determine the World Championship of Formula One racing.  The action scenes are heart-stopping and probably would have been even better seen in a movie theater instead of on a 35 inch, non-HD television.  But much of the drama is the relationship between the two drivers and the mutual respect that somehow develops after the initial disdain.  The fact the Ron Howard directed this movie was a factor in my decision to watch it, but it will probably be another 45 years before I watch another movie on this topic.  3½ cans for the movie and 5 for just letting me look at Chris Hemsworth for two hours.
6.  Life Itself* (2014) – It feels a bit ironic to offer a review of a movie about the man who was no doubt one of the two best-known movie critics in this country, Roger Ebert.  I started reading his story in his autobiography of the same name but found it ponderous in detail.  Watching this meticulously made documentary by Steve James, director of “Hoop Dreams” (a film Ebert himself lauded greatly), brought Roger’s story to life.  He was a beautiful writer, taking over as film critic for the Chicago Sun Times while in his early 20s and he won a Pulitzer Prize for his work.  Opinionated – and isn’t that the job of a critic, after all? – a bit full of himself (so says the wife of his late partner, Gene Siskel), but really someone who spoke for the people, Ebert gained national acclaim and celebrity when he teamed with rival critic Siskel first on the PBS series “Sneak Previews” and later in the syndicated series, “Siskel & Ebert at the Movies.”  Both were appointment television for me.  Ebert didn’t hesitate to speak his version of the truth, even when he was disappointed in the work of directors like Marin Scorsese, whom he admired greatly.  The iconic show could make or break a movie and Ebert acknowledged its limitations compared with lengthy critiques offered by print writers (see Corliss, Richard).  This movie covers Ebert’s Chicago background and career, his late marriage and love of his wife Chazz, his relationship with sparring partner Siskel and the bouts of cancer which, in an ironic twist, resulted in surgery that rendered him unable to speak at all.  This is a sad story, but all of us who love movies owe a great debt to Roger Ebert for helping us decide which films to see – whether independent movies or studio spectacles – and which to avoid.  In the end, thumbs up – way up – for Roger Ebert.  4 cans.
7.  The Family Stone* (2005) – Why did it take me 10 years to finally see this movie?  Sarah Jessica Parker is Meredith, a buttoned-up, humorless, self-centered woman who is dragged to the home of her soon to be fiancĂ©, Everett (Dermot Mulrooney) to meet the family at Christmas, and the tension is as tight as the hair pulled back on her head.  The family is a big, laid-back group, headed by mother Sybil (Diane Keaton) and father Kelly (Craig T. Nelson).  Everett’s sister Amy (Rachel McAdams) takes a quick dislike to Meredith, who is clearly the square peg here (extra points to any of you who get THAT reference), but brother Ben (Luke Wilson) wants to help her out.   Complicating matters is the arrival of Meredith’s sister Julie (Clare Danes), the friendly and fun sister of the two, who hits it off bigtime with Everett.  The plot doesn’t thicken as much as it slides toward the inevitable, but it is worth the ride.  Parker is particularly good as the uptight guest.  4 cans.
8.  Begin Again* (2014) – Director John Carney apparently felt that “Once,” his previous movie about singers trying to succeed, was not enough.  Here talented songwriter but reluctant performer Gretta (Keira Knightly, who actually can sign) arrives in New York as her long-time boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine) hits it big.  His success leads him astray, causing Gretta enough angst that she pens a tune and performs it at a club frequented by music producer Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a married man who falls for Gretta’s songs.  The music is good, the romance between Dan and Gretta never gets past first base but there is plenty of chemistry between the two leads, and Levine, in his acting debut, makes a good start.  I liked this movie better than “Once,” which was made in Scotland or Ireland and so I never understood the dialog.  Ruffalo is good in pretty much anything he does and Knightly (see “The Imitation Game” above) is growing on me.  I liked the music, the NYC settings and the story, but not enough to give it more than 3 cans.  Maybe if I hadn’t seen it on a moving bus with a bad sound system I could have enjoyed it a bit more.
9.  Jersey Boys (2014) – I love “The Four Seasons” and really enjoyed this movie when it was released last year despite my hesitation about Clint Eastwood’s role as the director of a musical.  I gave it 4 cans then and I’m sticking to that now.  For the full review, please go to http://randomthoughtsbytina.blogspot.com/2014/07/tinas-july-2014-movies.html.
10.  Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (1969) – If a movie about gunfights and bank robberies can be charming, this is the one.  The ultimate buddy-movie, this George Roy Hill classic pairs the laconically charming Paul Newman with a largely untested but ascendant Robert Redford, and the chemistry is palpable.  Whether Newman is showing off for Katherine Ross on a new-fangled bicycle to “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” or Redford is informing Butch that he can’t swim, the appeal of this pairing more than makes up for long sequences where they are being chased by a posse for once again robbing a train.  The sequence of our boys trying to learn to how to say “This is a robbery” in Spanish so they can succeed in their newly adopted country, Bolivia, is comical.  True confession: A poster of Redford as Sundance hung on the wall of my bedroom even in college.  Loved it then, love it now.  4 cans.
11.  The Theory of Everything* (2014) – This movie is to Eddie Redmayne (who plays renowned real-life physicist Stephen Hawking) what “My Left Foot” was to Daniel Day Lewis – enough to get an Oscar nomination and a chance to take home the statue itself.  Despite being stricken with a severe neurological disease that robs him of his ability to walk and get around without a motorized wheelchair and the help of his devoted wife Jane (Felicity Jones), Hawking nonetheless teaches, writes and expounds on his theories of the origins of the universe.  When he gets pneumonia and has to go through a tracheotomy to emerge from his coma, he is no longer able to speak.  However, with the advent of voice technology, Hawking can use a small device that speaks words for him.  Though confined to a wheelchair with his body contorted, he thinks his family of three children and a wife is perfectly normal, while she is charged with the responsibility of his care until she gets help first from a handsome choir director and later from a paid assistant.  If you think you’re having a bad day and life is too challenging, think about a brilliant mind trapped in a useless body and a man who thinks that those conditions are just another day.  My theory is that with the success of this movie and the popularity of TV’s “The Big Bang Theory,” physicists have become the hot guys in Hollywood.  Redmayne triumphs, as does Hawking.  4 cans.
12.  My Left Foot (1989) – And speaking of actors who give dazzling performances, Daniel Day Lewis won the Oscar for his portrayal of true-life Irish artist and writer Christy Brown.  Brown was born with a severe case of cerebral palsy, and though his large family was so poor that he didn’t have a wheelchair until his late teens, they were a loving lot who treated Christy the same as the rest of the brood, except for the physical care he required.  They loaded him in a cart and let him play in the street with the rest of the neighborhood kids.  Early on they discovered that he could use his left foot to write, paint, draw and later, even type.  He won wide acclaim for his work but he wasn’t an angel.  He drank and cursed and could deftly manipulate others to assist him.  This virtuoso performance was matched by Brenda Fricker, who plays Christy’s mother (and reminded me of Mrs. Patmore on “Downton Abbey.”)  4 cans.
13.  Narrow Margin (1990) – Talk about a bad blind date!  Carol Hunnicutt (Anne Archer) meets a lawyer on a blind date and is in the bathroom of his hotel room when two men enter the suite and murder him.  They don’t know she’s in the room, but the deputy district attorney Robert Caulfield (Gene Hackman) finds out, and he tracks her down in a remote cabin in Canada to bring her back to Los Angeles to testify against the underworld boss who is responsible for the murder.  No one knows where she is except Caulfield – and the bad guys.  Hunnicut and Caulfield somehow manage to evade the helicopter with the gunman firing at them and make it onto a train bound for Vancouver so she can get out safely. This suspenseful drama uses a convention I have always liked but not always been able to reconcile – trying to evade someone while in a confined space (think of “Air Force One,” which took place on – well, you can figure that one out, right?).  Can Caulfield protect his star witness and get her to testify?  Where do you hide on a moving train?  Hackman is convincing as the lawman and I’ve always wondered why Archer didn’t have a bigger career (I’ve liked her since the TV show “Family Tree,” and, of course, as Michael Douglas’ wife in “Fatal Attraction”).  I saw this movie 25 years ago and have wanted to see it again for a long time.  It’s a bit improbable, but I liked it regardless of the need to suspend my sense of reality.  3½ cans.
14.  Gleason* (2002) – Physically imposing comedian Brad Garrett takes on the role of larger-than-life comedian Jackie Gleason in this biopic of Gleason’s good and bad times.  Born poor in Brooklyn, Gleason yearned for something more, especially after his father abandoned the family when Jackie was a kid.  The film traces Gleason’s forays into stand-up comedy – where he freely appropriated other comics’ material – his unsuccessful stint on a movie for Warner Brothers, who fired him, and his habit of chasing women even while married to his first wife.  But Gleason had a rare gift for understanding the audience and gracefully performing physical comedy, even for a very large man.  He created the classic sitcom “The Honeymooners,” which quoted lines directly from his own life.  His problem was control.  He wanted to control all aspects of his work but couldn’t control himself. He represents the classic sad clown aspect of a comic’s life.  Garrett was born to play this role.  3 cans.
15.  American Sniper* (2014) – If you like your movies intense, run, don’t walk, to see this one.  A bulked up Bradley Cooper plays real-life Navy Seal sharpshooter Chris Kyle, who served four tours in combat and was responsible for killing countless enemies while protecting legions of servicemen in combat.  His precision with a rifle and his instincts led his comrades to refer to him as “The Legend.”  Blessed with a beautiful wife and small children, Kyle had less success in between tours of duty, trying to adjust to civilian life as a husband and father.  Sienna Miller plays his anxious wife – worried about the effects of combat and frustrated by his outward lack of emotion.  Cooper does an excellent job in a role that doesn’t have a large amount of dialog, so he has to convey his thinking through his body and face.  I don’t normally go for action-type movies, but this one was worth experiencing in a theater.  4 cans.
16.  This Is Where I Leave You* (2014) – And this is exactly the opposite of the movie above, except for the shared dysfunction.  Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) finds his wife in bed with his boss, so when his sister (Tina Fey) calls to say their father is dead, he’s really not having a good time.  Judd returns to the family home, where his author-mother (Jane Fonda) insists he and his siblings (Adam Driver and Corey Stoll) sit Shiva for seven days despite the fact that their father was an aetheist.  The ruse is to get them to spend time together, but these sibs, along with their significant others, cannot stay in a room without arguing over something or revealing confidences.  Despite the fact that I like Jason Bateman and Tina Fey, there is nothing truly likeable about this movie.  For the rest of the plot, see it – on don’t.  I’m just glad I saw it for free, thanks to a Redbox coupon, because that’s about what it was worth.  2 cans.
17.  Get On Up* (2014) – Chadwick Bozeman gives a bravura performance as the dynamic entertainer James Brown in this biopic of the life of “The Godfather of Soul.”  He’s got the moves, the swagger, the barely controlled rage – call it passion if you wish – that define a man who grew from an impoverished and abandoned boy to one of the world’s funkiest and foremost entertainers.  Along the way, there is a stint in jail, living at his aunt’s brothel, getting into music via the church, and the women, the songs and the sidemen who Brown liked to control.  Nearly everyone had to call him “Mr. Brown,” and he was clearly in charge of the show, even imposing fines on his band members if they didn’t play to his standard of excellence.  Bozeman – who was equally effective as Jackie Robinson in the movie “42” – is in just about every scene, and he really delivers, whether pulsating with spins and splits on stage or bullying those around him.  I’ll give the movie 3½ cans, but Bozeman gets 4½.
18.  Still Alice* (2015) – Actress Julianne Moore is getting well-deserved praise (and an Oscar nomination) for her portrayal of a vibrant 50-year-old woman who experiences early-onset Alzheimer ’s disease.  A noted linguist with three grown children and a devoted husband, Alice notices that something isn’t quite right when she starts forgetting words or gets lost in familiar territory.  A trip to a neurologist and a few tests and months later, she is diagnosed with a disease that promises only to get worse, robbing her of her memory and her ability to perform the everyday tasks she could once do without thinking.  This sensitive and moving story shows how she begins to deteriorate, having good days and days where she puts the skin cream in the refrigerator.  The scene where she records a message for herself to view in the future is especially touching.  Alec Baldwin as the loving husband does a nice job but Moore is the one who stands out in the crowd, going from a sharp-eyed woman to one with a vacant look on her face, as the cloud she lives in settles in more and more.  By the end, you’d have to say that Alice doesn’t live here anymore.  4 cans and a likely Oscar for Moore.



Monday, January 12, 2015

Ups and Downtons

Ups and Downtons – My Imaginary Life in Downton Abbey

With Downton Abbey debuting its latest season on PBS this month, I am excited to return to Lord Grantham and the family and see the upstairs/downstairs drama that lies ahead.  Will Lady Mary’s new bob bring forth an army of suitors, or will she finally decide on the two contestants left over from last season?  Will Lady Edith really give her illegitimate daughter to the local farmer to raise, and does he have a good lawyer to enforce child support?  And, after the near sex scene in the finale of season 4, will Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes do more than just hold hands at the beach?  Oooohhh, that’s like 50 Shades of Grey for this gang.

Though I am generally not given to fantasy of any kind, the return of DA inspired me to think about actually living on the estate.  I wonder if my life would be like this…

I am Lady Tina Knowes Best, and I live in Downton Abbey in 2015.  Here is an account of my life so you will understand that being titled and wealthy for generations is no picnic.  I find it quite taxing at times. 

The first sound I hear in the morning is my ladies maid, Hilda, who awakens me gently with a friendly, “Are you awake, Milady?”  I am, of course, but it is her job to open my eyes.  I cannot be expected to do everything for myself.  And I find it ironic that “Milady” sounds so close to “malady.”

We exchange pleasantries, discussing the key issues of the day, such as what will I wear, where and with whom shall I dine, and what taxing chores await me.  She helps me dress, carefully buttoning, zipping, and cajoling me into my Milady Spanx.  Again, I cannot be expected to do everything for myself.

This day we select a riding outfit, complete with boots, hat and something that looks appropriate in the back of the convertible.  Sometimes I even get to drive it.  They say you need something called a license, but I’m not sure what that is or how one goes about getting one so I haven’t bothered.  Mostly the staff chauffeurs me around.  I’ll go to the local village, stop by to visit one of the many local charities I support, or occasionally venture to a store – arranged in advance, of course – to see what cute little numbers I need to supplement my wardrobe.  We change clothes on the estate many times in one day, you know, so that 30% off at Kingdom Kohl’s comes in handy.  There are day outfits, evening outfits, many black ensembles for when we are in mourning (which is very often, it seems) and the clothes we wear for dinner.

Believe me, the staff has it easy compared to those of us who own the estate.  The head of the staff, Mr. Butler, is tough but fair.  The staff gets to wear uniforms, they live in the house rent-free, eat their meals at no cost, and get to call us “Milady” or “Your Lordship,” while we have to decide what to wear every day and actually remember their names.  And every few years they change – not the names, the people – so we have to learn new names.  I find this very taxing.  It’s not that we don’t look at them as individuals or have a relationship with them.  Some family members in the past have even run off and married staff, though they nearly always died as a result, which tells us what a bad idea that can be.  I try to ask about them.  For instance, once Hilda’s predecessor – What’shername – came in to wake me and I noticed when she opened my eyes that she was on crutches.  I was concerned and immediately asked, “How are you going to take care of me while you are hopping around on those things?”

Things have changed here over the years.  My grandfather, Lord Knowes, came close to losing the estate due to his mismanagement of the finances, so we retained the services of a prominent local firm, Dewey Cheetum and Howe, to advise us on how to capitalize on the property.  The galling thing is that we now have to allow tourists to visit.  They come in, mouths agape, and want to engage us in conversation.  I mean, really, what could I possibly say to a woman from someplace called New Jersey?  Most have hair bigger than my hats!  We are unfailingly polite and attempt to address them as a group, providing some historical background and insights, while they are only interested in the location of the restrooms, snacks and an on-site gift shop.  I keep waiting for them to leave me a gift, but no one has yet done so.

The house itself is very large, so every day I am forced to deal with the difficult decision of where I should sit.  There’s the drawing room, the library, the sitting room, the parlor, the conservatory.  Once I caught a visiting educator, Professor Plumb, in there with a lead pipe.  I still don’t know what he was planning.  So I have to decide where to sit in my finery and which book Hilda should fetch from the shelf while I ring for tea.  If you don’t drink tea, you are drummed out of the family.  There’s the little-discussed incident with my cousin, Heaven Knowes, who took to something called a diet and refused to drink tea.  She’s now living in some foreign land called Brooklyn, where she works as a barrister or a barrista or something that brings great shame to the family just because she works and doesn’t drink tea. 

We live together as a family.  My father, Hugh Knowes, is the Lord of the Manor.  My mother is Mother Knowes.  My younger sister is more progressive.  Her name is Beyonce Knowes, though she is not related to some singer from the United States.  My late husband, Mr. Best (that's why I am Lady Tina Knowes Best), lived with us for a while, but he had an unfortunate accident when his meat was not cut finely enough and he choked on a rather large hunk of it.  We dismissed but graciously did not hang the servant responsible for this transgression because, truth be known, I probably would have poisoned the annoying SOB anyway.  He wanted to move off the estate and start a business, but that sounded too much like work, and I found just the thought of it far too taxing.

Every now and then we have a large soiree here and invite the toniest of the tony people.  Sometimes we even watch the Tony Awards.  I particularly like that Neil Patrick Harris, mostly because he has three names and that makes him sound like a Noble.  At most of these parties we stand around and hold cocktails and discuss our money.  I have many suitors, but have found them unsuitable for a long-term relationship after enduring nearly 18 months with my husband, so I remain unattached.  I am working on an appropriate ad for richpeopleonestates.com, but am having trouble describing my many fabulous attributes in the allotted space.  Besides, I find the whole process too taxing.  My requirements will be hard to match for anyone, I fear, so it looks like Hilda will be my constant companion, changing the channels and treating me like the lady I am for the foreseeable future. 


Meanwhile, feel free to come by and visit the estate (please bring beaucoup bucks), visit us on Twitter @richbitch or like our Facebook Page:  Facebook/UpsandDowntons.  And I’ll ring for tea.  And little cakes.  And if we don’t have any, someone will whip them right up.  I don’t like to wait.  I find that too taxing.