Thursday, September 15, 2016

Even More Random Thoughts - September Edition

What you say to your hairdresser:  “Don’t cut it too short.”  What your hairdresser hears:  “Do whatever you want.  I have no taste and know nothing about my own hair.”

The cleaning lady was at my house for four hours today.  I don’t think I have spent four hours cleaning in the past month.  And that’s probably why the cleaning lady was at my house for four hours today.

I actually had to buy ketchup recently.  Seriously, who runs out of ketchup?  Well, I didn’t run out, but I use it so rarely that mine expired.  By two months, which my BFF would insist makes it still quite usable, but I’m not taking any chances.  I can feel a “discussion” coming on over this subject, right, Jo?

How and who decided that we had to boil the water first and then put in the pasta but we can boil the water with eggs in the pot to hard boil them?  Tons of research must have been conducted to reach those conclusions.  See why I can’t sleep?  These matters of such grave importance keep me up and pondering.

You know you haven’t been cooking much if you have to dust off the stove.

The easiest way to spot lint (or glitter) on your floor is to unplug the vacuum cleaner and put it away.   The lint will suddenly appear, as though it has been hiding the entire time you cleaned and now is there to taunt you.

I don’t need an alarm clock anymore.  Either my leg cramps get me hopping out of bed or my need to hit the bathroom does the trick.  Ah, the joys of getting old.

No matter how much I walk or exercise, it seems I will never have any visible muscle definition.  I know I have calf muscles because I get cramps in them, but, unlike the legs on the other people I see out walking, mine are encased in layers of a protective fatty coating.  And as for a six-pack?  Well, that’s been buried for years.  Finding my six-pack would be like looking for Jimmy Hoffa in the Meadowlands.  Neither will ever be found.

There are so many gray-haired heads walking around this community that sometimes I feel like I am on the set of the movie “Cocoon.”

Almost everyone who walks for exercise in my active adult community would benefit from a stronger support bra, including me.  And that includes most of the men.

Whatever happened to lime flavor?  I love those green lollipops and LifeSavers from my youth, but most everything green these days seems to be watermelon-flavored.  Bring back lime!

Someone will have to explain to me why anyone would opt to be a urologist.  Or why we use the word “a” in front of urologist, despite the fact that it starts with a vowel and normally that means using “an” as the preceding word.

Which is the biggest lie? 
    1.  The technician/delivery truck will be there first thing in the morning.
    2.  The check is in the mail.
    3.  One size fits all.

The best way to spot an error – typographical, spelling or otherwise – in a document is to hit the SEND button.  Then it pops right out at you.

Have you ever considered that the words weird and wired are so similar?  Meditation and mediation, too.  During the recent mediation process, I turned to meditation when medication wasn’t working for me.

I could hand wash the dishes in less time than it takes me to load them into the dishwasher.

I don’t understand why I always had to spell out my street name when I lived on Joshua Drive, but no one ever asks me to spell my new street, Constitution Way.

I spent $8 on grapes in the supermarket today.  Next time, I’m just going to buy wine.

My washing machine was particularly agitated today.  It turned all my tops inside out.

I really don’t mind doing laundry, but if it could just fold itself when the dryer is done, I would be very happy.

When I have a sandwich, it must be cut diagonally.  I’m not sure why.

Panic sets in when I am down to my last 12 rolls of toilet paper, even if they are triple rolls, and especially if there is snow on the ground.  Really, Tina, you live alone.  How much toilet paper can you use and how fast?

How could I possibly break a fingernail in the shower?  It must have really been tough washing my hair!

I frequently pass a house with a sign in front that reads “Dinning room set for sale.”  The sign has been there for weeks, and I am secretly hoping that no one is buying that set as a protest to the egregious spelling error on the sign.

You would think that fly buzzing around my house would drop dead of fatigue by now, but he’s still racing around and uncatchable.

If the Russians can hack into the DNC’s computer systems, could they send someone to my house to fix up Windows 10, etc.?

I spent the morning of a rainy day reorganizing and cleaning my laundry room.  You know you hate to do stuff like this, but it sure feels great once it is done!  I even washed the washing machine.

I’m signed up with a market research company and occasionally do surveys for them, go to a focus group or shop in a store they require.  The pre-screen for today’s survey had this as the first question:  “Do you own a refrigerator?”  If you have a computer to take the survey, I think it is a safe bet you own a refrigerator.  But I know, they have to ask.  Strange.

When did “curate” become so popular?  Everything from the art in a museum to the bathroom collection at Home Depot is now “curated.”  If the word is combined with the equally overused “awesome,” I may just lose my mind.

“La la la la la la la” means “I love you.”  At least according to the Delfonics.

I have listened to Pandora’s Motown station so much that they have run out of Motown tunes.  I mean, I love the Four Season’s “Sherry Baby,” but it isn’t remotely a Motown song.

I have been 50 percent successful in my latest attempt to multitask.  I now know that I cannot walk and meditate.  I have enough trouble meditating while just sitting still.  (The mind is a terrible thing to wander.)  But I CAN walk and do my shoulder exercises at the same time.  Considering that I have trouble walking and chewing gum, that’s quite an accomplishment for me!

At the risk of kicking off a chorus of derision, I will admit (as anyone who knows me well already knows) that I am not an animal lover.  Feel free to love yours and others all you want, but that’s just not me.  The only pets I have are pet peeves.  I do not want your “don’t worry, he’s friendly” dog jumping on me or your otherwise standoffish cat rubbing up against my leg.  And I especially don’t want to take a walk while picking up dog poop  and carrying it around in a bag until the walk is over.  This probably explains why I don’t have kids, too.

And finally, I created quite a stir on Facebook this month with the admission that I had never eaten a taco.  People seemed outraged and suspicious that I had lived this long without ever having tried one and they demanded to know why.  The truth is that I have a sensitive stomach and have always avoided Mexican restaurants or other places where I imagine the food will be spicy.  And I don’t particularly enjoy corn-based hard shell/chip-like foods, such as tortilla chips, nachos, Fritos (which smell like feet to me) or even corn bread.  But my persuasive friend Heather took me to On the Border near the Douglass campus, where we enjoyed several margaritas and I sampled my first tacos.  Though Heather insisted I tackle the basic hard-shell taco with ground beef, I preferred the soft shell with brisket, which I would eat again in a minute.  And the world will rest easy knowing that I have had my first – and probably not my last – taco, at last.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Tina's August 2016 Movies

The fact that I saw even 10 movies in a month when I watched the Olympics nearly non-stop is a miracle, but here they are.  Numbering picks up from previous months.  Movies I had not seen previously are marked with an asterisk and the rating scale is 1-5 cans of tuna, with 5 the top score.
89.  Talullah* (2016) – This made-for-Netflix movie stars Ellen Page as Lou, a grifter living in her van with her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend.  When Lu is caught scrounging for food in a posh hotel, the woman she meets assumes she works there and dumps her baby girl on “Lou.”  Lou sees an opportunity to steal credit cards and take the obviously neglected baby for herself.  Penniless and with nowhere to go, she ends up on the doorstep of her ex’s mother (Allison Janney), a bitter woman whose divorce from her gay husband has yet to be finalized.  Lou tells her that the baby is her granddaughter, and the three women develop a strange bond, until the child’s actual mother (Tammy Blanchard) and the authorities come after her.  This is an odd little story and it ends in a metaphysical way that I didn’t quite get.  The acting is first-rate even if the story was a little off-kilter.  3½ cans.
90.  Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorfs* – If you know me at all, my lack of fashion style and knowledge is readily apparent.  So why would I watch a movie about the iconic NYC department store?  I love nearly any behind-the-scenes looks, and this documentary opens the doors of Bergdorf’s and shows you the designers, the fashion director, the personal shoppers and all kinds of people who have made this store THE place for important people to shop and for important designers to show.  From tales of John and Yoko’s buying 72 furs one holiday eve to the whirlwind that is fashion director Linda Fargo, it is clear that this is NOT Macy’s.  Designers would give their right arms to have their lines shown in the famous Bergdorf’s windows (and an amazing account of the holiday windows is included here).  For designer Michael Kors, serendipity led to his selection, when then boss-woman Polly Mellon saw his stuff and told him she wanted Bergdorf’s to sell his line – which he didn’t have at the time.  This is how legends are born!  The truth is, if you can make it to Bergdorf’s as a designer, you needn’t go anywhere else.  As for me, I fear going into a store where the sales people will look at me with the same disdain shown Julia Roberts on her Rodeo Drive shopping trip in “Pretty Woman” (until they found out paramour Richard Gere was footing the bill).  So I’ll stick to the movie, which I recommend to my shopping, fashionista friends.  4 cans.
91.  Bad Moms* (2016) – Lest you think my taste runs only to independent or documentary films, here is something considerably less esoteric – and way more fun!  Mila Kunis plays hyperactive, overachieving Mom Amy.  She brings home the bacon in the family – not that she would ever actually serve bacon -- makes the nutritious lunches, drives the kids to school and a myriad of activities -- and drives herself crazy.  She is married to a slacker dad whose Internet hobbies are merely self-satisfying, and any work-life balance doesn’t include an actual life for her.  One day she just loses it, teams up with a slacker Mom Carla (Kathyrn Hahn, playing the role Melissa McCarthy would have played if she hadn’t moved beyond second-banana status and into superstardom), and Kiki (Kristen Bell), the do-gooder Mom with 4 little ones and a thoughtless, demanding spouse.  They take on the PTA president and all-powerful, perfect supermom Christina Applegate, who is so important that she throws a campaign party that Martha Stewart herself shows up to cater.  This romp is just good, mostly-clean fun (with more than a few sexual references thrown in) and laugh-out-loud funny.  Sure, I wondered who was watching all those kids when the Moms were out gallivanting, but you can’t look at a movie like this with logic.  It is about Mom-power, girl-power, friendship among women and how nobody is perfect.  Best movie laughs I have had in a long time.  4 cans.
92.  The Only Thrill* (2005) – Actually, this movie was not much of a thrill.  The action takes place over decades, and sometimes it seemed like time was passing that slowly just watching it.  The always taciturn Sam Shepard is Wiley, proprietor of a clothing store in Texas.  He is married to a woman in a coma, and, while he doesn’t mind cheating on her with other women once in a while, he won’t dump her and marry someone else, like Carol (Diane Keaton, turning down the comedy here), the seamstress he hires who alters his life.  They spend every Wednesday together at the local movie theater and are clearly in love, but Wiley refuses to take the next step.  Meanwhile, her daughter (Diane Lane) and his son (Robert Patrick) also start seeing each other and, like his father, the son refuses to take the next logical step.  So what we have here is lifelong happiness unachieved.  The bonds of love are strong, despite the circumstances and trials, but will they ever be in the right place at the right time?  I’m not sure you’d want to stick around to see for yourself, although I did.  3 cans. 
93.  Florence Foster Jenkins* (2016) – In the “Meryl never disappoints” category, this latest effort has her playing real-life society matron Florence, whose largess supports the arts and allows her to gain a following for her singing. You and I – and anyone with functioning ears – would hear her caterwauling and immediately recognize a total dearth of musical talent, but Florence only hears herself as a mellifluous doyenne of the stage.  Her husband (Hugh Grant) supports her singing habit.  Theirs is a strange relationship.  He adores and coddles her, but sneaks out at night for romantic trysts with his girlfriend, which is generally OK with Florence.  The whole plot leads up to Florence’s Carnegie Hall debut performance, which actually did take place.  She is remarkably bad, bad beyond description, really, with truly awful costumes to match her dowager body.  Her loyal and somewhat frenzied accompanist is played by Simon Helberg, better known as Wolowitz from the TV sitcom “Big Bang Theory,” and he can really tickle the old ivories.  It’s hard to be this good at being this bad, but the wide-eyed innocence Streep brings to the role is full of poignancy.  There’s the old saying, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?  Practice!” but no amount of practice would make Florence a nightingale.  4 cans.
94.  Dance With Me* (1996) – If the hunky co-star of this movie, Chayanne, asked me to dance, I’d definitely drag my two left feet out there on the dance floor.  He plays a handyman who works for a dance studio that is owned by a man (Kris Kristofferson) who may or may not be his father.  One of the instructors, played by Vanessa Williams, is also a ballroom dance competitor, and the climactic scene shows her competing with her partner.  It sounds strange to say that one of my objections to this movie is that there was too much dancing.  Williams is excellent on the dance floor, and she and Chayanne spend much of the movie exchanging smoldering looks, but this movie made Dancing With the Stars seem like high drama (which it kind of is…).  Not much plot, but it had a nice beat.  2 cans and a pair of dancing shoes.
95.  The Danish Girl* (2015) – I somehow missed this highly-praised movie last year.  It is the story of Dutch artists Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) and his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander), who are young and very much in love.  And then Gerda encourages Einar to pose for her dressed as a woman, which forces him to reconcile feelings that he has repressed about actually being a woman.  The story is based on the real artists and what happens when Einar starts to live as Lily.  Vikander won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, and her character is very supportive of her husband despite everyone’s changing roles.  Redmayne gives a strong performance as he subtly shifts his voice, his body language and his persona to become the woman who is trapped inside a male body.  If it weren’t for Leonardo DiCaprio’s star turn in “The Revenant,” Redmayne would probably have grabbed his second Oscar.  4 cans.
96.  An Officer and a Gentleman (1986) – Zack Mayo (Richard Gere) is neither of those two things for much of this movie, the tale of a young man who bucks authority even as her strives to become a naval aviator.  His unyielding drill instructor, Sgt. Foley (Louis Gossett Jr., who deservedly won an Oscar for his breakout performance) doesn’t think much of him at first and tries not only to break him and the others in his class, but he singles Mayo out for especially brutal treatment to get him to DOR (Dropped on Request).  Mayo manages to get through the brutal treatment with the support of Paula (Debra Winger, in one of the two best movies of her career – the other is one of my Top 5: “Terms of Endearment”), a local blue-collar woman who, with her friend, is seeking a good officer candidate of her own.  But Mayo, who was brought up by a reprobate Navy father and whose mother killed herself, has commitment issues.  Will he stick it out and get to flight school?  Can he commit to Paula, to whom he is immediately attracted?  If you have experienced this movie, you know that the last scene is one of the best last scenes EVER in a movie.  And if you haven’t, please go and watch this movie.  It is more than a love story, more than a story of surviving in a tough world.  It is about friendship and love and achieving goals.  4 cans and a jar of mayonnaise.
97.  About a Boy (2002) – Hugh Grant is at his handsomest and most charming as a career bachelor who firmly believes he is an island, a man in need of no one beyond women to “shag” once in a while.  Independently wealthy due to the wide exposure of a Christmas song written by his father, Will takes great pride in his ability to do absolutely nothing all day.  But when he decides to look for single moms to date, 12-year old Marcus (Nicholas Hoult) comes into his life along with his suicidal mother.  The kid keeps coming around, and eventually Will forms an attachment to the bullied pre-teen, and they each have something to teach each other.  Toni Collette plays the troubled mother in this heartwarming comedy.  And Will comes through just when you were ready to write him off.  “About a Boy” is about a man.  4 cans.
98.  The Big Chill (1983) – Before there was “Friends” on TV, these 30-somethings gather in the home of the only married couple among them for the funeral of one of their own.  Take a talented cast (Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, William Hurt, JoBeth Williams, Mary Kay Place, Tom Berenger and Jeff Goldblum), a wonderful script, a great soundtrack and you get the seminal 80s film about friendship and idealism gone astray amid the realities of life.  The once engaged social activists are now actors, doctors, pop culture journalists, lawyers, entrepreneurs and burnouts.  Missing from the old U of Michigan gang is Alex, the one with the promise, the one they come to celebrate, the one who committed suicide.  They lick their wounds, renew their friendships, express their shortcomings and regrets and vow to be ever more faithful to the people they loved so long ago.  I hadn’t seen this movie in a long time and I forgot how much I love it.  The soundtrack is one of my favorites, and I can never listen to “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” without picturing the dancing scene in the kitchen.  4½ cans.

Monday, August 15, 2016

At Your Service

My mother – the late, great Sylvia Gordon – often said, “I spend half my life waiting for service people.”

Exaggeration?  Maybe not.

You know the drill:  You contact the “Customer Care” folks about your broken, non-working whatever, and after pressing an inordinate number of buttons and wading through countless menus, you eventually get someone on the phone who tells you it is their pleasure to serve you.  Hmmm.  So you make an appointment for repair, and you get “the window.”  Let’s say your window is 1-4 PM.  Here’s how this works.  If you are NOT there precisely at 1 – or even earlier – the repair guy (oops, technician) will show up then.  If you change your plans and race home to be there before or at 1, he will show up at 4.  If you are lucky.

This just happened to me recently, when a large box and two smaller boxes arrived at my door unexpectedly.  Apparently someone followed up with GE about the damaged oven door on my brand new stove.  The manager in my development must have precipitated the shipment, because we discussed this issue at our last walk-through -- maybe 3 months ago. 

Anyway, I called the Customer Care to let them know I had these big boxes and they said someone would be there two days later to install it.  If I hadn’t called them, would they have called me to let me know to stay in for “the window?”  It would be helpful for me to be home to let the guy in, don’t you think?  We worked out a day and time and I returned home promptly at 12:45.  Mike the repair guy arrived at 4.  He opened the box with the oven door (they had sent a new handle and another part that I didn’t need) and noticed it was damaged.  He then proceeded to enter information on his little computer.  I could write my life story in fewer keystrokes.  He ordered the part, said it would be shipped via FedEx and he would be back next week, same time, same deal, to replace the door -- unless it doesn’t arrive, in which case I have to call and cancel the appointment and wait (another 3 months, I suppose) until it shows up.  Then he suggested I open the large box and inspect the door to make sure this one is NOT damaged.  Right, I have so much repair experience that I can take a cursory look and determine the integrity of the part. 

Given this situation, you can understand why we are forced into the “self-service” concept.  You can wander around the supermarket now with a scanner so you check out your shopping order while you shop.  Or you can go to the “self-service” line – because there are few open registers where actual people work anymore – and scan in your own stuff.  God forbid you want to use your own bags.  The machine goes nuts and asks you with each item if you are bagging it because you aren’t using store bags.  Isn’t that supposed to be an environmentally good thing?  I always – always – have to flag down a store employee because the item doesn’t scan or the bag thing is an issue.  It’s always something. 

When the line at the deli is too long, you can buy the pre-sliced meats and cheeses or order at a kiosk and continue shopping.  It sounds good in theory, but I miss the interaction and the occasional sample piece of cheese the deli folks offer.  What’s next?  Will I have to go behind the counter and slice my own meat?

I had to take my car into the dealership for routine maintenance and I thought I would save myself some time and trouble by scheduling the appointment on-line.  That worked fine, except that the process kicked off a series of thank you messages, confirmations and reminders – in e-mail, text and phone – that took more time to process than actually calling for the appointment.  After the car was serviced, I got an e-mail and a text message to thank me, and the promise of a survey to come that I should fill out to let them know how great their customer service was. 

My dental appointments are made 6 months in advance, and I take the little appointment card, but the procedure is that I get a reminder via e-mail.  The problem with that is that the message arrives about a month before the appointment.  What’s the point?  It is so far in advance I could theoretically forget it anyway.  But no fear, because Laura in the office will call the day or two before to remind me.

Even restaurants now call to confirm your reservation.  I understand that they need to be sure their reservations are being kept, but I think I get more calls from these interactions than I do from my family and friends.  That’s because they are all so busy getting calls about appointments they have made that they don’t have time to call me!

We all have stories about contacting the bank, the insurance company (those are fun), Comcast and plenty of other companies with whom we do business to report a service outage, ask a question or try to get some kind of help.  Successful interactions are rarely done on the first call.  Assuming you can explain the problem and the agent can direct you – after you have hit 10 more buttons and been cut off three times, as I was recently with Comcast – you will get the inevitable question, “Is there anything else I can do for you today?”  Actually, you barely helped me with the first thing, so let’s not keep up this new relationship any longer than we have to.

The new trend when you call is to let you know that the wait time is X number of minutes and they will call you back if you don’t want to hold.  I called the Social Security office once and was told they would call me back at 4:06.  Not at 4, or ten after 4, but at 4:06.  The joke was on them.  They didn’t call until 4:08.

Or you can have a “live chat” with the cartoony-looking representative on your computer screen who is happy to help you.  That works, but you have to sit patiently while the rep types, and you read the message that tells you he or she is typing.  Again, I could tell my life story in fewer keystrokes. 
Those of you who live outside of NJ are used to one self-service thing that we here in the Garden State don’t have to tolerate – we don’t have to pump our own gas, which means I don’t have to get out of the car to fill up.  It would be nice if the gas station guy(s) ever bothered to look up or offer a thank-you, but that doesn’t happen anymore. 

I’m so against self-service that I don’t even want to cook my own dinner anymore.  (Ok, you could just say I’m lazy, and I won’t argue with you on that point.)  That’s why I am in love with Panera.  I can order a yummy salad or satisfying sandwich on my phone app, customize it the way I like, and they have it ready and charged to my account by the time I can drive the 2 miles from my house to pick it up.  I don’t even have to speak with a human being.  The bag with my name is waiting for me to pick it up.  Now, that’s what I call customer service!

Let’s get back to my GE experience.  My oven didn’t work when I first moved into my new house last September.  Brand new, and it would not turn on (a good excuse not to cook).  The tech came and said I needed a new control panel and it would be shipped, but when it didn’t arrive, I called my new best friends at Customer Care and was informed that it was on backorder.  And you were going to tell me that when, I asked.  Several weeks later, the part was shipped to me, and I called again to schedule the tech guy.  When he arrived, he also had the part.  I asked him if he could take the extra one back, but he told me it was expensive so I should keep it in case I need it replaced again.

The message was clear to me:  We don’t care if the company makes money, and your oven will probably go on the fritz again, so you might as well keep the spare part for when that happens.  Because it will.

The oven also had a defective light inside the stove, so I called GE about that and was asked – in all seriousness – whether I had an appliance bulb.  I explained that I had a brand new stove in a brand new house, so buying appliance bulbs to replace defective ones wasn’t part of my plan.  The Customer Care woman ordered me a new one and when it came in, I called to schedule the installation.  Instead, she told me how to do it myself, thereby saving the service call and not forcing me to stay in that 1-4 window yet again.

Back to the issue at hand – the defective oven door(s).  Someone else on my street called GE to schedule a repair of her appliance and then called me to say that the Customer Care folks seemed confused by a request for another appliance repair on the same street (two different addresses, names and phone numbers).  She wanted to give me a heads-up in case they cancelled my appointment.  I called the next day and, sure enough, GE had cancelled MY appointment when making HERS.  The part arrived, but I had to wait a few more days for the tech guy to do the installation.  The new door was also damaged, so now we are ordering it for the third time, with the new tech saying he will order it to be packed in a way that it will be protected.  Wouldn’t you think that would be the case anyway?  And I get to kill another day waiting for the arrival of the part and the repair guy.  Maybe I can just go ahead and install that, too, or maybe I can get a part-time job repairing GE appliances. 

Remember the old Maytag repairman?  He was a lonely, forlorn guy whose services were never needed because Maytag washing machines always worked – or so the ads would have you believe.  Now things are expected to fail and no one is supposed to mind. 

My last gas dryer – also a GE – needed a new control panel (you’re sensing an out-of-control trend here, aren’t you?).  This part commonly breaks because you turn the knob.  But how else can you turn the dryer on if you don’t turn the knob?  The repair guy explained that everything is made of plastic instead of metal (cue “the olden days”) and the parts don’t stand up.  So expect to repair or replace a part or an entire appliance every few years. 

And only a dozen calls, texts and e-mails later, things are working again.  I think the system is broken.  Who do we call to repair that?

Monday, August 1, 2016

Tina's July 2016 Movies

July was full of movies, with my usual eclectic mix.  I watched an 11-minute documentary about model trains, a portrait of the notorious Anthony Weiner and a film about Nazis that was worth remembering.  Movies I had not seen previously are marked with an asterisk, and all movies are rated on a scale of 1-5 cans of tuna fish, with 5 being the top rating.  Numbering picks up from the previous month.
71. Tab Hunter Confidential* (2014) – When I think about Tab Hunter (on the rare occasions that I do), I think of a good-looking guy whose modicum of talent led to a largely unmemorable career.  Today, in his mid-80s, Hunter is still a very good-looking guy, and in this memoir, he shares his ups and downs.  As a closeted gay man whose star rose in the 50s and 60s, he couldn’t acknowledge his sexuality.  The fan magazines of the time featured countless pictures of Tab and the leading female stars of the day – Natalie Wood, Debbie Reynolds and others.  A practicing Catholic, Hunter had difficulty reconciling his sexuality with his religion, so he kept his private life private.  There is neither great triumph nor tragedy in his story – much like his range as an actor – but he comes across as a genuinely good guy who got the most out of what he had to offer without giving too much of himself away.  3 cans.
72.  Eddie the Eagle* (2016) – If you appreciate the story of the underdog, look no further than the genre of sports movies.  There are winners, of course, and loveable losers.  Here we have the dramatized story of Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton), a Brit with an Olympic obsession.  His lack of athletic ability never stops his yearning to be in the Olympics, and he realizes that since Britain doesn’t have a ski jumping team, he won’t have a lot of competition to get to the 1988 Calgary games.  The awkward young athlete finds a crusty has-been (Hugh Jackman) who first discourages him and then teaches him.  For some reason, Eddie manages to survive and not break his body into bits, and, of course, he realizes his Olympic dream – to compete.  And isn’t that the goal of the Olympics anyway?  I actually remember his “Up Close and Personal” profile from the TV broadcasts, as young Eddie soared into the hearts of fans.  This is no “Rudy,” but, based on the true story, there is more of the thrill of victory than the agony of defeat.  3½ cans.
73.  Remember* (2016) – Christopher Plummer is Zev, an old man who escapes his retirement home to seek revenge on the Nazi who murdered his family at Auschwitz during World War II.  Although he suffers from dementia and wakes up every morning calling out for his deceased wife, he somehow manages (with the help and encouragement of his friend at the retirement home, played by Martin Landau) to get himself across the country in search of the war criminal.  He goes down several blind alleys and has some interesting encounters as director Atom Egoyan builds the suspense.  Like all other movies about war and Nazis, this is one I will watch only once.  Plummer is outstanding, and although the pace is slow (with an octogenarian lead, what else would you expect?), the story is taut and thrilling.  Stay tuned for a twist at the end that I never saw coming.  I will not forget “Remember.”  4 cans.
74.  A Few Great Bakeries* (2015) – There’s nothing like waking up to the smell of fresh, hot bread or pastries.  At least I would assume so from watching this PBS special.  A Few Great Bakeries takes a look at selected bakeries from New York State to Portland, Oregon, most family-owned and operated, and all bring much more than just dough to people’s lives.  One woman runs her bakery in her backyard.  She operates by the honor system, so people take what they want and leave their money.  Another woman runs a bakery from a food truck, baking the yummy items at home and then opening the truck to sell her signature rum cakes.  There are Mexican bakeries, a Japanese bakery and a million kinds of breads and rolls.  I think I gained weight just by watching.  Gone are the days of the cardboard box and the ubiquitous string for most of us, but these places bring back memories most of us can share.  Pass the pastries.  3½ cinnamon buns, please.
75.  Everybody’s Fine* (2009) – Except they aren’t.  When widower Goode’s (Robert DeNiro) adult children all cancel out on a visit to their father with flimsy excuses, he takes to the road, turning up unannounced to visit each of them.  He has instilled values in them and has pride in their accomplishments.  But his visits to them reveal things about each that he didn’t know and which his late wife didn’t share.  There is such an air of sadness about this movie, as the lonely widower tries to establish bonds with his family that somehow have eluded him.  DeNiro looks and seems similar to his character in “The Intern,” minus some of the innate kindness in the latter picture, and, as always, he delivers.  The disappointing progeny are Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell and Drew Barrymore.  All I can say is to immediately call your parents and talk to both of them if you are lucky enough to have them.  3½ cans.
76.  Frost-Nixon* (2008) – It is interesting to me that director Ron Howard (one of my favorites) gave talk show host David Frost (Michael Sheen) top billing in his account of the 1977 interviews Frost conducted with disgraced President Richard Nixon (Frank Langella).  Frost is in charge, selected to host the interviews and then stuck with selling the program that will pose the toughest Watergate questions.  But Frost is used to banal banter with celebrities, not investigative journalism, so he seems an unlikely choice to go toe-to-toe with the man who remains the only president to resign from office.  And despite hiring a tough back-up team, Frost as first is far too deferential and preoccupied to focus in on the most telling parts of the Nixon story – what did he know and when did he know it.  Frost shows too much respect and restraint, and Nixon at first commands the stage.  But Frost realizes his responsibility to get Nixon to admit his role in the Watergate cover-up, particularly as overheard on the infamous White House tapes.  This movie pits the two men together to parry and it is captivating.  Langella plays Nixon well, although on the close-ups (complete with a glistening upper lip), I thought he looked more like game show host Dennis James than Richard Nixon.  Watergate was a watershed moment in U.S. political history, and Howard brings the Nixon hysteria back with style.  4 cans.
77.  1001 to 1: The Corey Weissman Story* (2014) – OK, I’m a sucker for sports movies, so I slogged through this account of real life basketball player Corey Weissman  (David Henrie), a dedicated baller who suffered a stroke his sophomore season at Gettysburg College.  Weissman is a genuinely good guy who spent all of his free time dribbling basketballs, working out and studying the game.  He had a sweet shot, ability to drive to the hoop, and a weakness in his brain that led to his stroke.  What followed was lengthy rehab and never-ending hope of one day returning to the court to score for the Bullets.  Beau Bridges phones in his part as the firm but kindly coach.  There are the loyal-at-first girlfriend, the supportive parents and the best friend on hand to encourage and help Corey.  I can’t imagine this movie airing in the theater; it had “Lifetime Movie” written all over it.  Yet I watched.  You know it must be off-season and I was desperate for some hoops action.  2 cans for the movie, but 5 for Corey himself.
78.  Don’t Pass Me By* (2014) – As Frank Sinatra sings in my way, “Regrets, I’ve had a few…”  Well, this movie is full of them.  For the main characters, heartbreak and bad timing have forced them to make choices.  One is a ballerina who married the wrong guy too fast and is really in love with someone else (her friend’s boyfriend, no less).    Another finds out in the first few minutes of the movie that she has stage 4 cancer and only a short time to live – and then immediately meets the tall, dark and handsome man of all our dreams (well, most of us, anyway).  The third one is a movie star with a pushy agent who is forced into choosing her career over her life but who rediscovers the guy she was friends with growing up who still has a thing for her.  And then there’s the teenager who is living with her sister and gets pregnant.  Timing, people, timing.  Except for the blonde ballerina, all the other women were brunettes and I had a tough time telling them apart.  The actress is played by Rachel Noll, who wrote the screenplay and produced.  The only thing that ties these stories together – and it is a tenuous tie at that – is that they happen to frequent the same diner.  Nothing outstanding here, but considering that we all go through life changes and experience loss and regret, we all have something in common with this film.  3 cans.
79.  Knuckleball* (2012) – Who else besides me would watch a documentary about the strange saga of the knuckleball and the pitchers who throw it?   This movie focuses on the pitch itself, a non-rotating, slow-moving pitch that seems at times to have a mind of its own.  The men who use it as their primary weapon are a special breed, and they are a kind of fraternity.  They don’t mind sharing secrets about the mysterious pitch with each other and newcomers to the trade.  From the past we have former Yankee Jim Bouton, with Charlie Hough and the Niekro brothers all dispensing wisdom to the newest ace, R. J. Dickey, then with the Mets.  Boston’s Tim Wakefield pitched for the Red Sox for 19 years with that pitch in his arsenal, using it as a starter, a reliever or a long man.  He and Dickey, a career baseball nomad until he mastered the knuckler, are the keepers of the knuckle flame, with Dickey admitting that he wants to stick around long enough to see someone else pick up where he and Wakefield leave off.  I can’t imagine too many people watching this one, but I’ll give it 3 baseballs. 
80.  The Man in the Moon* (1991) – It is hard to believe that accomplished actress Reese Witherspoon has been around for 25 years now, having made her movie debut in this tender story.  She plays adolescent Dani, a 14-year old with older and younger sisters who live on a Louisiana farm in 1957.  Dani is crazy about Elvis and curious about love, and when handsome 17-year old Court (Jason London) and his family return to live at the neighboring farm, it doesn’t take Dani long to be smitten.  Though young himself, Court recognizes that Dani is too young for him and resolves to be just friends.  But when Dani’s older sister Maureen (Emily Warfield) falls for the same guy, sisterly bonds are broken.  Richard Mulligan, who also directed “Summer of 42” and the more intense “To Kill a Mockingbird,” sets the right tone, with stunning shots of the countryside and Dani racing through it to jump into the nearby swimming hole.  This is a beautiful look at the heartaches of growing up, of first love and of the relationships within a family.  Tess Harper, Sam Waterston and Gail Strickland are known quantities who fill out the cast.  And Reese Witherspoon is off and running at the start of a great career in film.  4 cans.
81.  Weiner* (2016) – The first word that comes to mind watching this absorbing but prurient documentary about the rise and fall of politician and would-be NYC Mayor Anthony Weiner is “Why?”  If you are not familiar with his story, it can be summed up as: a passionate politician with a penchant for posing for pictures of his privates is exposed.  There, I said it.  So the “Why?” question addresses Weiner’s peccadillos, but also must be posed to his way-too-loyal and patient wife, Huma Abedin, a highly thought of advisor to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.  After Weiner’s swift fall from grace, when the sexting scandal broke and he was forced to resign from Congress, it is Huma who urges him to run for Mayor of New York.  It is Huma by his side as he launches his mayoral campaign.  And it is Huma – albeit with a look on her face that says she wants to pummel him with a cast iron frying pan – who gamely supports him when yet another series of ill-advised texts come to light, these written and sent by her numb-sculled husband under the hilarious pseudonym “Carlos Danger.”  Senor Danger humiliates his wife, sabotages an otherwise promising career and simply does not understand what he has done that is so bad.  I guess you don’t go to jail for humiliating your wife, or for being stupid, but if you did, this guy would be a lifer.  I felt no sympathy for him, just for her, but at the same time I wanted to ask her that one question:  “Why?”  And finally, to both of them, why would you let/encourage/engage a documentary film crew to follow you around when you knew that there were more texts that had been sent AFTER he was forced to resign, after he was caught and admitted the scandalous behavior?  You cannot make this stuff up.  Fascinating, in a let’s-watch-the-trainwreck kind of way.  4 cans.
82.  Some Kind of Quest* (2016) – I have driven past Northlandz countless times but never with a desire to stop in and see the world’s largest model railroad.  Building this unique attraction was a quest for Bruce Williams Zaccagnino, its creator and owner, who took two years to see his vision through.  It features tiny people and trees, realistic buildings, mountains, bridges and, of course, trains.  They travel over miles of tiny tracks, over 400 bridges, past Bruce’s painstakingly made mountains, rivers and city scenes.  At 11 minutes, this brief documentary is certainly the shortest movie I have ever reviewed, but it stands tall.  Well done, Bruce.  I might just have to stop by and see this local wonderland in person.  3½ cans.
83.  Suited* (2016) – We all know how hard it is to find just the right outfit, something “suitable” for a special occasion, something that fits us just right and makes us feel so good.  For people who are transgender, the challenge is real, and the creator of Bindle & Keep brings his artistry and compassion to making a suit that is perfectly suited for each client.  Their clothes are empowering as they find the right fabric, the right cut and the right attitude to serve customers who might never have felt comfortable in their own skin, no less their own clothes.  This moving documentary aired on HBO and is well-suited for viewers.  3½ cans.
84.  Ghostbusters (1984) – Don’t get all excited.  This is the original, not the all-female remake.  This classic comedy starts Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis as the, well, ghostbusters, determined to outwit, outplay and outlast an army of apparitions taking over New York City.  Considering that I don’t like broad comedy (generally speaking) and I have no passion for fantasy, I nonetheless enjoyed this movie way back when and still got a chuckle seeing it again.  Murray is particularly smarmy and smug as he pursues Sigourney Weaver with the same determination as the ghosts.  Ackroyd, the man who made you believe there actually was a Bass-o-matic when he was on SNL, is at his serious best.  Rick Moranis in a supporting role was annoying, and Ernie Hudson was thrown in the mix for unknown reasons.  This romp still holds up. After all, who ya gonna call?  3½ cans. 
85.  Everest* (2015) – They say that men climb mountains because they are there.  Hmm, that’s not reason enough to me to risk life and limb in the freezing cold, on the quite literal slippery slope of a place like Mt. Everest in Nepal.  But in 1996, an expedition that included author Jon Krakauer and a bunch of Americans did just that and met with disaster right near the summit when a ferocious storm struck.  This movie recounts those events.  I watched it on my 60” TV, which was too small to get the full effect of the stunning vistas.  Yet, I couldn’t wait for it to end.  I could barely understand the dialog, much of which was delivered with an Australian accent, I knew doom was near and the whole thing made me cold.  Why did I watch?  Well, because it was on.  2½ cans.
86.  The Thing Called Love* (1993) – As a big fan of the TV show “Nashville,” I decided to watch this movie about young singer-songwriters trying desperately to break into show biz via the local bar, the Bluebird Cafe.  Samantha Mathis is Miranda Presley (no relation, she assures everyone), who arrives in Nashville from NYC and meets a group of other young hopefuls.  Chief among them are James (River Phoenix, in his last performance), Kyle (Dermot Mulroney) and Linda Lue (Sandra Bullock in what might be her first role of note).  Everyone in Nashville seems to have another, real job, and when Miranda doesn’t make the cut at Blue Bird auditions, she becomes a waitress.  All of her spare time is spent writing songs, and there is plenty of heartache to provide material, as she falls in love and marries the talented but unreliable James.  Their sudden marriage doesn’t seem destined for longevity, and sadly, neither did Phoenix himself, a specter that hangs over the movie.  I prefer seeing the cast of Nashville performing at the Blue Bird, because you never know if Deacon Claybourne or the great Rayna James herself will show up.  This low-key story was directed by Peter Bogdonovich, which I never would have guessed.  3 cans.
87.  All Good Things* (2010) – All Good Things almost came to the end before the real action got started.  My future husband, Ryan Gosling, plays real estate dynasty heir David Marks, based on the real-life Fred Durst, who was accused in the disappearance of his young wife Katie (Kirsten Dunst).  David and Katie meet as free spirits and they open a health food store, marry and seem outwardly happy, although David has issues stemming from his witnessing his mother’s suicide as a 6-year old.   He reluctantly takes a job working for his mogul father (Frank Langella) that requires him to collect cash payments from rentals in the seediest sections of NYC (back in the 1970s-80s, before Times Square went through Disneyfication).  Katie doesn’t care about his job, but she is affected by his distance in their marriage.  She enrolls in medical school and leaves David repeatedly, yet returns when he cuts her off financially.  This is a frustrating and chilling story about a sociopath with domestic violence tendencies whose wife disappears.  Eventually, so does David.  Say no more or spoil the plot, Tina.  The best thing in All Good Things is, of course, Gosling, but you knew I’d say that.  3½ cans.
88.  Girlfriends (1978) – As a woman, I can attest to the importance of girlfriends.  Despite the presence of men in our lives, it is our girlfriends who can be our soulmates, our advisors, our supporters – or our disappointments.  In the case of artsy photographer Susan (Melanie Mayron) and her BFF Anne (Anita Skinner), the two women are all set to move into a new apartment together when Anne informs Susan that she is marrying her new boyfriend Martin (Bob Balaban), leaving Susan with more rent than she can afford and without Anne in her daily life.  Susan struggles to survive alone, photographing weddings and bar mitzvahs to make ends meet.  Although she has men in her life, they just don’t have the same depth in their relationships.  As the years pass, the two women remain friends despite leading different lives that afford them little time to reconnect.  The movie is very much of the 1970s, so there were no cellphones, e-mail or social media keeping us updated with every event – significant or otherwise – in the lives of our friends.  I didn’t love this movie, but I appreciate the important role friends play in our lives and how, if the friendship is strong, it will survive lapses and life choices.  3½ cans.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Walk On


That word is spoken – silently or otherwise – as I haul my butt out of bed, knowing that I need to hit the streets for my morning walk.

My feet, my ankles, my Achilles tendons, my knees, my sciatica – everything hurts.  I’m no more than a litany of body parts that would keep an orthopedist in business indefinitely.  I stretch, worrying that I’ll simply aggravate the offended body parts.  I hear the “snap, crackle, pop” of my knees and shoulders as I get ready.  And I so don’t want to go.  I have other things to do.  Or I’ll go later.  Right, I can walk later.  But I know I won’t, so I go.

I throw on a shirt with some strange logo (where did “Hartford Health Care” come from?).  I check the weather to see if it is safe to wear shorts or whether I’d be better off putting on long pants.  I don the baseball cap I bought during a sudden 10-minute rain storm while visiting St. John.  I grab the phone and headphones, tune into Pandora or Amazon Music (since I will never be able to figure out how to access my 5,500 songs on “the Cloud” from my iTunes account without my iPod), and I hit the streets.  I wonder if there is an Olympic medal for just getting out of the house and walking when things hurt and you don’t want to go.  And then I remember how lucky I am to have the time, to have a place and to have the ability to do something others might want to do but can’t.  So I keep walking.

As I walk through my development, I make a mental note of the houses with generators so I know whose door to knock on in case of a power failure.  I envy the people whose homes have newspapers in the driveways since the Star-Ledger broke its promise to find my house and deliver the paper to me.  (I must admit, not getting a daily paper really cuts down on the clutter and the recycling.)

I dodge the sprinklers and the dogs on long leashes as I sing along (silently), hoping I can still recall all the words to “Love Child.”  I figure that if I can, I have avoided Alzheimer’s, at least for now.  I can actually hear the real words to songs I’ve known for decades, thanks to the headphones, although I still am not sure of the lyrics to “Louie, Louie,” but that, I’m sure, was the Kingsmen’s intent.  I think about the wonders of Stevie Wonder and the marketing genius of Berry Gordy.  I do, really.

Since I have been more stressed out than usual lately, I have even switched up the musical selections to include some New Age or spa music.  The music is soothing, although I find that nature sounds don’t work for me if there is running water in the background.  Saying more would be TMI.  I feel relaxed, but if only I could stop thinking for just a bit, I would really de-stress myself.

I stop periodically to remove tiny, almost invisible stones that somehow find their way into my shoes.  I’m like the character in “The Princess and the Pea:” I feel every little imperfection. I’m such a delicate little flower.

I notice the flowers and the variety of mailboxes from one street to the next.  I check the landscaping for ideas for my own property.  I take in the smells of the plants and the people who appear to have showered and put on clean clothes BEFORE their walks.  They smell like Tide.  I don’t.  I don’t even comb my hair (see baseball cap, above).

Because I live in an “active adult” community, there are plenty of other people out walking, too.  Some are older and some are younger, but very few look like they would be carded if they tried to buy the senior citizen ticket on the train.  There are some people who run, but I assume they are either younger and living with someone here who qualifies as 55 and older or they are visiting.  There’s one crazy woman who walks fast and far.  One morning I spotted her on the dangerous road outside the development.  When I returned two hours later, she was still powerwalking, but this time in another area.  Give it a rest, woman.  I note that no one I see has any kind of “cool factor” that is inherently mine.  Some sport fanny packs – and don’t tell me they are “back in style,” because these folks never gave them up.  I’ve seen people walking with umbrellas for the sun, carrying walking sticks, cross-body purses and wearing slacks and polo shirts, all looking totally dorky and uncool (compared to me, with my hugely oversized t-shirts and aforementioned St. John hat).

Sometimes I venture to a nearby park, where the views include a lake/pond, plants, people fishing, picnicking, riding bikes, walking dogs and playing tennis.  I can walk to Colonial Park, where I can literally “smell the roses” at the wondrous rose garden there.  That route isn’t as practical as noting the houses with generators, but it is much more life-affirming.  Or I walk along the tow path for the nearby canal, looking at the meandering path of the adjoining river.  Mother Nature is one cool chick.

These solitary sojourns give me time to think about the issues of the day.  What’s for dinner?  What’s my schedule for the rest of the day?  Can I get in my 3.2 miles/10,000 steps on just this walk?  Whose call do I need to return?  When can I do this again?  What’s the subject of my next essay?

I guess I have that one figured out.