Thursday, November 30, 2017

Tina's November 2017 Movies

While I await the arrival of the new holiday releases, I managed to find 12 movies to keep me entertained in November, only one of which I had seen previously.  Numbering picks up from prior months and movies are rated on a scale of 1-5 cans of tuna fish, with 5 getting the top rating.  You'll see an asterisk indicating which movies I had not previously watched.   

119.  The China Syndrome (1979) – Despite the presence of major stars like Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas and Jack Lemmon, this movie about an accident at a nuclear power plant in California might have slipped by unnoticed, with so much of its screen time devoted to staring at gauges and talking about containment tanks.  But two weeks after it opened, the Three Mile Island plant in northeastern Pennsylvania experienced a similar situation that spread into a disaster.  Then people started paying attention to the risks associated with nuclear energy.  Even with fail-safe systems, these plants failed, and the movie makes a compelling drama of the problems while pointing fingers at corporate management for falsifying records and taking risks in the name of financial gain.  It still felt relevant to me today.  4 cans, and a top-notch performance by the great Jack Lemmon.
120.  The Shack* (2017) – I’m pretty good at figuring out whether or not I will like a movie in the first few minutes.  There is nothing wrong with this movie, but I should not have stuck with it because it just isn’t the kind of movie I like.  Mack (Sam Worthington) is a morose father, deeply depressed by a tragic loss in his family, when he gets a strange message that turns out to be from God (Octavia Spencer).  The movie drags on, trying to prove to Mack that he can go on, that Heaven is a place on earth, all while including as much cheesy spirituality as it can muster.  I can’t recommend it, but I can see how some people would find it affirming and uplifting.  I am not one of those people.  2 cans.
121.  The Doctor* (1991) – William Hurt plays highly competent but egotistical Dr. Jack McKee, a successful surgeon living the good life in San Francisco.  He works too hard but loves to “cut” people, and when he thinks about his patients, he often refers to them by their ailments instead of by their names.  In the OR, he rules, blasting his favorite tunes and leading a rollicking band of colleagues.  I guess when you are operating (literally) in life-and-death situations, where what you do and the decisions you make can either save lives or end them, it is appropriate to let off some steam.  The doctor changes his tune dramatically, however, when the persistent cough he has turns out to be something that requires him to be a patient and experience the hospital regulations and the attitude of his doctor in a whole new light.  Hurt is a consistent performer and his character here seems like others he has played.  His long-suffering wife is played by Christine Lahti, who is also a very dependable actress, who cannot understand why the long-married couple can no longer connect.  Not a great movie, but worth seeing for free on demand.  3 cans.
122.   Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold* (2017) – Now, THERE is an author.  Joan Didion is the chronicler of her generation through her magazine articles, books and movies.  Married to late author John Gregory Dunne, Didion formed half of what must be one of the most storied writing couple of our time.  Her social commentary, her articles on the counterculture of the 60s, on superstar entertainers such as The Doors and Janice Joplin, her political coverage here and internationally, were tempered by her intimate writing about coming to terms with her own grief following Dunne’s sudden death in “The Year of Magical Thinking.”  She was a private person but unafraid to share her own thoughts and experiences.  In this fond documentary by her nephew, actor/writer Griffin Dunne, she comes across as frank and frail but fierce, true to herself and not ashamed to point out her own failings.  And what a writer.  The film includes brief readings of some of her work, and it is stunningly composed, the way a musician might pen a work for an orchestra but more unflinching and spare.  This movie is available on Netflix and was enough to make me want to read more by Didion.  4 cans.
123.  Inherit the Wind* (1999) – The classic Spencer Tracy version of the movie about the Scopes Trial was updated in 1999, with Jack Lemmon playing the Clarence Darrow role (here called Henry Drummond) and George C. Scott assuming the part of Matthew Brady Harrison, the prosecutor on the case.  The story is simple – a young teacher is on trial in Tennessee for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution and not the Bible to explain creationism.  The main characters spar with considerable indignation, and Drummond is repeatedly put at a disadvantage by the prejudiced judge (John Cullem), who refuses to allow his expert scientific witnesses to testify.  Instead, the main event becomes the Bible itself, and how it is interpreted.  There are stellar performances by all in the cast, and though Tracy cannot be replaced, Lemmon is much more than acceptable as a substitute.  Preachy (as you would expect) but well played and played out.  4 cans.  The original would get 4½ here.
124.  Strange Weather* (2017) – There aren’t many actresses more feisty than Holly Hunter (I’d put Frances McDormand in that category).  Here Hunter is Darcy Baylor, a single woman who cannot get over the suicide of her adult son, Walker, seven years earlier.  She stumbles upon some information that reveals that the restaurant chain run by his friend, Mark Wright (Shane Jacobsen) was actually Walker’s idea.  She decides to head to New Orleans with her friend Byrd (Carrie Coon) to confront him) after first tracking down his other friends to learn more about the details of his death.  Even she is not sure what she will do when she meets up with Wright, but she needs some kind of closure to move on.  Hunter, as always, is strong in a role that shows her pain and despair.  3 cans.
125.  All the Way* (2017) – I’m old enough to remember the “All the Way with LBG” slogan for Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 presidential campaign.  Thrust into office following the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Johnson was a long-time member of Congress and knew his way around politics.  Blustery, brusque and frank, LBG wasn’t afraid of anyone or anything.  The movie covers his fight to get the Civil Rights Amendment passed and to win the nomination in 1964.  Lots of compromises and back door deals had to be made with powerful members of Congress and with Reverend Martin Luther King himself.  At a time when we question the leadership of this country in Washington, I almost miss the likes of Johnson, who knew how to get things done.  Ultimately, he was responsible for the passage of the Voting Rights Act.  (Mind you, this was before the US became immersed in the Vietnam War, which persuaded Johnson not to seek reelection in 1968.)  The cast here is terrific, with Bradley Whitford as a simpering Hubert Humphrey, Frank Langella, Stephen Root as ruthless J. Edgar Hoover and Melissa Leo as Lady Bird.  But as LBG, Bryan Cranston outshines them all.  Crude, rude and tough as nails as LBG, he also manages to show the President’s frustration, impatience and vulnerability.  The sad part of this movie is that despite legislation guaranteeing Equal Rights, racism in this country remains firmly in place.  But without Johnson’s push on voting rights, conditions would not have changed at all. 4 cans.
126.  Wonder* (2017) – This is my third Jacob Tremblay movie and I can attest to the fact that this young actor is truly a wonder.  The 11-year old here stars as Augie Pullman, a bright, active boy with a penchant for “Star Wars” who just happens to have been born with a facial deformity that has required many surgeries to look acceptable to others.  Home-schooled by his mother (Julia Roberts), Augie is ready to enter middle school, a time when kids can be unrelentingly mean to each other.  Augie is such a smart, funny kid, that despite his outward appearance, some of his classmates accept him, particularly Jack Will (Noah Jupe).  But then those kids are ostracized.  Augie is surrounded by a loving family, with Dad Nate (Owen Wilson) and his patient and supportive older sister Via (Izabela Didovic).  Kids struggle to fit in at all ages, and even the lovely Via here, ditched by her former best friend, has to find her way.  Both young actors (Tremblay and Didovic) are engaging, vulnerable and, well, wonderful.  4 cans.
127.  And So It Goes* (2014) – Diane Keaton has made so many movies with similar titles (“Something’s Got to Give,” “Because I Said So”) and characters, that I feel it is my duty to provide you with a public service:  Don’t bother to see this one.  Here she is Leah, a widow who sings in a small local club and is about as melancholy as you can get on stage. But at home, where she is the neighbor of irascible realtor Oren (Michael Douglas, playing the part that I’m guessing Robert DeNiro turned down), she is sweet and loving.  When Oren’s heretofore unknown granddaughter is dumped on him by his about-to-be-incarcerated son, Leah steps in and serves as surrogate grandmother despite not having any child-rearing experience.  Young Sarah (Sterling Jerins) takes to her immediately, while Oren is determined to find the girl’s mother and return her.  Of course you know that romance is in the air between neighbors and of course you know that the young girl will win over her grumpy grandpa.  Sappy, predictable and annoying.  2 cans, but only because I love Diane Keaton.
128.  Murder on the Orient Express* (2017) – I’m a failure at who-done-it movies.  I follow every lead, convinced that this is the perpetrator, or, no, it must be him.  Or is it her?  This latest screen adaptation of the classic Agatha Christie tale is full of twists and turns, almost as many as the Orient Express itself takes.  Kenneth Branagh pulls double duty as the director and as ace detective Hercule Poirot, he of the scene-stealing mustache.  Lots of characters board the train, but one doesn’t make it out alive.  Luckily for me, it was Johnny Depp, an actor I could do without.  But who pulled off the crime? On board for the suspense are Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer, Josh Gad, Willem DaFoe, Daisy Ridley, Penelope Cruz, Leslie Odom Jr. and a host of other passengers with an axe to grind and a reason for revenge.  Branagh is a sharp and amusing detective whose Poirot misses no detail.  But will that help him solve the case?  Stay tuned.  And don’t book seats on this train if you are in a hurry.  3 cans.
129.  8 Days a Week* (2017) – This documentary is director Ron Howard’s salute to those loveable boys from Liverpool, the Beatles.  The PBS show highlights their brief but epic career, from their early days through the memorable debut on The Ed Sullivan Show to the concerts at Shea Stadium.  They were cute, cheeky, cheerful, and, oh, by the way, prolific and profound songwriters -- OK, maybe not on ditties like “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” but they had many more elegant compositions.  Eventually, the constant travel, the press’ hounding them with questions and the deafening roar of the fans persuaded them to stop touring and concentrate on recording in the studio, where they virtually created the concept album (remember “Sargent Pepper?”) and turned out their finest work.  For those of us who grew up with the Beatles, it was great to see them again, kidding around with each other and reporters, commenting on their hair and bringing fun and great music.  When they became more politically aware and outspoken, you can sense the joy dissipate.  But until then, and through the classic recordings, they enjoyed an ascendant career as a group that we will never see again (my review, my opinion).  Thanks, Ron Howard.  4 cans.
130.  Scott Peterson: An American Murder Mystery* (2017) – This case about a man who is tried and convicted of killing his young, pregnant wife, so dominated the headlines – first her disappearance, then finding her body, then the “other woman” and finally his murder trial – that you think you can’t forget it even 15 years after his conviction. But you do forget all of the lurid details about the handsome husband, the bubbly, pretty wife, who disappeared on Christmas Eve while 8 months pregnant.  Peterson’s story, airing on the ID Network on TV, here is told by the policemen, investigators and lawyers who worked on the case and through actual news and trial footage.  Peterson cheated on his wife with a woman he lied to, telling her first that he wasn’t married and then telling her he had lost his wife – days before she suddenly disappeared.  I had forgotten the details and could have lived my life happily ever after without ever thinking about this case again, but there is something about seeing it that got me hooked.  He’s guilty in my book.  3 cans.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Random Thoughts, Thanksgiving Edition

You know you are getting old when you take a survey on-line and you have to scroll WAY down to get to your year of birth.

My good friend Heather suggested I watch an episode of South Park (my first ever) where the boys taunted the Amazon Echo – Alexa – with typical boy-like language and outrageous requests.  My Alexa had to get in on the action, trying to add poop to the shopping list.  On the same episode, characters hosted “White People Renovating Houses,” which aptly describes every show I watch on HGTV.  Thanks for the tip, Heather!

One of my (many) idiosyncrasies is that I cannot set the thermostat in the house or in the car at an odd number.  Don’t ask me why.  It’s just my thing.

Among the things I can’t stand (and the list is quite lengthy) are those hand dryers in the restroom.  Oh, I like the concept of not having to touch anything or wave your hands around like a maniac to coax paper towels out of the dispenser, but some of those fans feel like a jet engine.  I’m afraid the force of the air will blow the ring right off my finger!  And loud?  You can’t hear yourself think!

Here’s a conundrum:  What do you do when the school bus up ahead is stopped and flashing its yellow lights but not moving?  Is someone coming?  Why are the lights not red?  Should I stop and stay stopped waiting for something to happen, even if there is no sign of activity?  Discuss amongst yourselves.

I recently watched the first episode of Ken Burns’ exhaustive (and exhausting) documentary “The Vietnam War” on PBS and I still don’t understand why the US got involved.  I had to have my brother-in-law, the history major in the family, explain it to me, which he did gladly and much more succinctly than Burns’ zillion- part documentary will do.  Still, I respect Burns for his thorough examination of the subjects he tackles, and I hope to slog through the rest of the series.  Stay tuned.  Update:  I stopped watching after the 2nd episode.  It was typical Ken Burns fare – meticulously researched, relayed by experts and people who were there – and too long!  Maybe I’m not ready to relive those trying times. 

Sadly, reading a book has become a guilty pleasure for me.  It is certainly a pleasure to delve into an absorbing book, one that you can’t put down, that you relish and that you are sad to see end.  It is fun to compare notes with friends who have read the same book or to recommend it to those who haven’t read it.  But I always feel guilty, because there is ALWAYS something else I feel I should be doing.  I need to write, read or approve something for the Associate Alumnae of Douglass College, or pay bills, or watch enough movies to justify sending out my reviews every month, or order something I need, or set up a doctor’s appointment – there is ALWAYS something else I feel I should be doing instead of reading.  And that is from a retired person.  I need better time management skills!

You know which industry must be doing well, thanks to Amazon?  The cardboard box industry.  Lord knows I am constantly opening boxes and ripping them apart for recycling.  I’m guessing UPS, FedEx and the USPS are kept busy shipping everything imaginable from Amazon to your door.

Don’t you hate it when you are signing onto your account on line and that dreaded red type comes up to let you know you entered in the wrong password?  Then you go scrambling around, trying to figure out the right one.  Did you change it recently?  Is it your high school mascot’s name?  Your dog’s birthday?  It’s amazing how easy it is for someone to hack into your account when you can’t access it yourself!

For the first time in my adult life I bought Q-Tips.  Real, brand-name Q-Tips.  Not JOHNSON’S Swabs, which I used for the past 45 years but which apparently are no longer part of the Johnson & Johnson family (at least I couldn’t find them).  And God forbid I buy a generic brand.  For years I corrected people who called JOHNSON’S Swabs Q-Tips, reminding them that Q-Tips are a brand name and not made by J&J.  So the irony is now I bought actual Q-Tips – and paid retail – for the very first time.  End of an era.

There should be an Olympic Medal for how many grocery bags you can carry in one trip.  Because NO ONE wants to make 2 trips, no matter how painfully the bags dig into your arms.  One trip, no matter what, is always the goal.

Forget folding fitted sheets.  I have enough trouble folding the flat ones!  That is embarrassing for someone who relishes doing laundry and precisely folds the towels.  Once I broke my ankle and my mother did my laundry.  She folded the towels and put them away in the linen closet while I thanked her profusely.  The minute she left, I stood in front of the linen closet, crutches and all, and refolded every towel.  Please don’t tell her.

When you wake up during the night, do you immediately check the clock and start calculating how many hours are left before you have to wake up?  “If I fall asleep RIGHT NOW, I can get 6 more hours,” you tell yourself, and then the urgency to fall asleep RIGHT NOW makes it impossible to fall asleep.  No one I know sleeps well anymore.

And speaking of sleep, why is it so easy to fall asleep when and where you aren’t supposed to, as opposed to falling asleep at night, in your own bed?

Word to the wise:  Krazy Glue really works.  Avoid getting it on your fingers, because it is TOUGH to get them apart.  I had enough on my hands that I doubt I could have provided a fingerprint if asked.  And here’s a tip:  If you do buy a Krazy Glue-type product, buy the smallest size available.  Chances are the next time you go to use it, you won’t be able to remove the top and you’ll end up throwing it away.  You’re welcome.

Does there have to be a survey on EVERYTHING?  Last month I had blood work done, and before I even got home, Quest Diagnostics had sent me a survey on their service.  No wonder the tech told me her name.  Twice.  As if I would remember…

There is no situation in which time passes more slowly than when I am waiting for my nails to dry at the nail salon.  And it’s not like I can use my phone or read a magazine to pass the time, since I can’t use my hands.  And nothing is FASTER than the mail delivery person in my community.  She whizzes by in her little truck to deposit mail in the box.  I doubt she’s in front of my house for more than 5 seconds.  She ought to be a professional race car driver!

I recently dropped off a few things at the frame store and the guy from the frame store told me he would call me when they were ready to be picked up.  I realized I didn’t even know the name of the guy from the frame store, but then he called me and identified himself as “The Guy from the Frame Store.”  That just made me laugh.

After two years of living in a construction zone at Canal Walk, I am pleased to report that construction in our section of the development is done and the street in from of my house has now been paved.  No more dodging raised manhole covers, dips in the road and slowing down to transition from the lower, unpaved part of the road to the previously paved and higher part.  And this is just in time for the development to install speed bumps to keep the old folks who live here from going over the speed limit.  It seems to me they need to set a minimum limit, because the drivers here are TOO SLOW.  I swear I can spot a CW resident driving on a nearby road OUTSIDE the development just by how s-l-o-w-l-y the car moves.  We don’t need no stinkin’ bumps!  What about when ambulances need to race to a house?  What about snow plows?  But at least the road will be smooth now.

The Junk Drawer.  We all have one, except for those people who have two.  It is typically loaded with extension cords, rubber bands, some batteries that may be either new or old, a pair of scissors, mystery keys that we are afraid to toss out just in case we need them, an errant screw or part that must be important if only we could remember or identify what it is – you know the drill. 

And then there is the button collection.  Is there a legal ruling on how long you are supposed to keep extra buttons?  I think I hold on to mine for longer than I do my tax returns.  I have a big jar of buttons that came with outfits I probably bought decades ago and no longer own, but I still have those buttons.  I have long since discarded the little pieces of thread or yarn that came with the outfit since I have NEVER used any of them, but the buttons?  I just can’t throw them away. 

And although I am afraid you will think I may be starring in the next episode of “Hoarders,” I also hang on to way too many plastic bags.  ShopRite and Kohl’s don’t have as many in stock as I have – you know, just in case I need them.  I use them to line the garbage cans in my bedroom and office, so they are put to good use, but these things take up a lot of space, so I should winnow down the collection.  Right, someday. 

I’m an Android house.  I have a Samsung phone and two tablets (that I rarely use), but I still have – and use – my old iPod, even though I have transitioned by 5500 songs to the Cloud.  But Apple keeps prompting my laptop that there is a new version of iTunes I should download.  I don’t.  I am so far behind, it would be like starting to watch “House of Cards” from the beginning to catch up with the newest version.  (And now that Kevin Spacey has been accused of sexual harassment and abuse, I’ll never watch “House of Cards,” either.) 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Tina's October 2017 Movies

I barely made it into double figures this month, but a few of the movies I saw were memorable.  Start with "The Florida Project."  Films are rated on a scale of 1-5 cans of tuna, 5 being the highest rating.  Movies I had not seen previously are marked with an asterisk.  Numbering picks up from the previous month.

109.  Spielberg* (2017) – This HBO documentary chronicles the extraordinary career of film maker Steven Spielberg, but it is far from a mere listing of his movies.  Smitten with movies from an early age, Spielberg has used film as a writer uses prose, to express his innocence, his character, his fears and his virtues.  From a young TV director and his landmark TV film “Duel,” Spielberg has delivered some of the most popular, important and revered movies of all time.  You can admire the blockbusters like “ET,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and his first big hit, “Jaws,” or you can partake in more intellectual fare with his epics “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan.”  The list is endless and rich in visual creativity, storytelling and innovation (see “Jurassic Park” for one of the first forays into live action blended with animation). Steven Spielberg lives to make movies, and the rest of us are better for it.  4 cans.
110.  Beaches (1988) -- I’m not sure I have any friends who have not seen this movie, designed to celebrate the emotional, warm, feisty friendship between singer CC Bloom (Better Midler) and rich girl Hillary Whitney (Barbara Hershey).  They meet on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City as kids and sustain a friendship for decades that endures strains and misunderstandings, bouts of selfishness and jealousy, but in the end, love wins.  Hershey has it tough here, standing in the shadow of larger-than-life Midler, but she handles herself with a kind of patrician pride.  We all know what’s coming, but we cry anyway.  This is a chick flick that I just need to see every few years (the TV version broadcast last year was forgettable) as a reminder of the power of movies and of friendship.  4 cans.
110.  The Art of the Steal (2009) – This documentary is one like to view every few years.  It is about what happened to one of the best art collections in the world, mostly post-Impressionist art, accumulated by the late Dr. Albert Barnes, who built his own museum to display his collection outside of Philadelphia.  Scoffed at initially by the art establishment, Barnes vowed never to allow his vast collection to move, travel or become part of the Philadelphia Art Museum.  His death, with no direct heirs, greatly compromised his desires, and the film focuses on the fight over Barnes’ wishes and the greed of the art community who wished to annex his works.  I’m sorry that I never made it to his original museum, but I have seen his collection on display – in the very place he abhorred.  Let’s not forget for a minute that art is commerce, and that those who can profit from it will always try to find a way to do just that.  This is a fascinating movie that I have recommended to many people, all of whom loved it.  I caught it on STARZ this time around.  4½ cans.
111. Crazy, stupid, love (2011) – Ryan Gosling has never looked better than in this part as a cool player who schools separated Dad Cal (Steve Carell) about women in this clever comedy brought to you by the guys responsible for TV’s “This is Us.”  There are plenty of plot twists I cannot reveal, as Cal tries to recover from his wife’s (Julianne Moore) sudden decision to dump him for her co-worker David Lindenhof (Kevin Bacon).  There are precocious kids and Emma Stone.  If you have NEVER seen this movie, stop reading right NOW and go watch it.  It is one of my faves.  4½ cans.
112.  Battle of the Sexes* (2017) – It was Mother’s Day, 1973, and regal Margaret Court, the number one women’s tennis player in the world, took on aging tennis hustler Bobby Riggs, who was out to prove that women could never compete with men.  They called it “The Mother’s Day Massacre,” as Court dropped the match, in essence forcing Billie Jean King, women’s tennis pioneer and champion, to agree to play Riggs herself and defend all women athletes.  King never contended that women were better athletes or tennis players than men.  She just wanted equal pay and treatment from the tennis establishment, and she, with the help of other top players, set up their own tour.  Riggs was in this mix as a publicity stunt and for the money, and he and Billie Jean King squared off at the Houston Astrodome on September 20 of that year to great fanfare and big ratings.  But this movie, with Emma Stone admirably playing King and Steve Carell looking startlingly like Bobby Riggs, takes on more than just the match and the nascent women’s movement.  It is also the story of King’s first romance with another woman, her first realization that, while she loved her husband, she was actually gay.  A hairdresser who came into her life, Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough), helped her understand her true self.  As for the tennis, I won’t reveal who won the match for anyone who wasn’t alive at that time, but the movie gives a very real portrayal of this huge sporting event that helped women’s tennis grow and thrive.  BJK has always been one of my heroes, and this movie makes her heroic and human.  3½ cans.
113.  The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) – The coolest actors around in 1968 were Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, and here they team in a white collar crime drama perpetrated by McQueen’s title character.  A wealthy banking executive, he pulls off a multimillion dollar heist – not that he needs the money – seemingly just for the sport of it.  Dunaway is the insurance investigator out to get him – in more ways than one.  If you thought the famous pottery scene in “Ghost” was sexy, check out the chess game as foreplay here.  McQueen was the chillest of actors, one who could dominate a scene with a mere glance or raised eyebrow.  Dunaway matches him nicely in this movie, which is much more about style than substance.  3½ cans.
114.  Jaws (1975) – Having watched the “Spielberg” documentary (see #109) this month, I thought it was a good time to revisit the first Spielberg blockbuster, “Jaws.”  This time around I felt a little less terrified, but every time the John Williams score amps up, I wanted to scream at the screen, “Get out of the water.”  Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw go shark hunting to capture the huge animal snacking on swimmers in Amityville, much to the dismay of the Mayor (Murray Hamilton), who wants to promote tourism, not terrorism, on the beach.  The trio goes after the great white like Hemingway’s hero in “The Old Man and the Sea,” testing their guile and will against a powerful creature.  I have to admit that this time around – after seeing the “Sharknado” series – I saw more campiness and humor than in my initial viewing, many years ago.  Still, with “Bruce,” the mechanical shark stalking the swimmers, and the taut direction of a very young Spielberg, this movie has to be considered a classic in its genre and the appropriate launch of a director’s long and storied career.  3½ cans.
115.  Victoria and Abdul* (2017) – Queen Victoria ruled the United Kingdom for more than 6 decades around the turn of the last century, and in this movie, she’s really had enough.  Her many servants get her up in the morning, get her dressed, drag her off to royal galas and dinners (where she occasionally falls asleep) and generally bore her to pieces.  Judi Dench plays the Queen (of course) as a woman who is physically frail and in a chronically bad mood.  Then along comes Abdul (Ali Fazal), an emissary sent from his native India, a British Colony, who is called upon to present a gift to the Queen.  He is to have no eye contact, and, together with another man drafted for this momentary mission, is to be in and out in no time.  But Abdul shows kindness and understanding to the Queen, who is almost instantly smitten.  She finds ways to keep him around, but her people think she has gone off the deep end when she proposes to grant him a knighthood.  Though from distinctly different backgrounds, the elderly royal and the lower class man from India develop a special rapport and friendship.  Based on a true story, this movie has plenty of charm and humor, but at its core are the antiquated ways of the royals and how tough it is to be a mere mortal among them.  You basically just have to tell me Judi Dench is in a movie and I’ll be heading right to the theater.  She rules!  3½ cans.
116.  Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House* (2017) – If you are old enough to remember the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s, the name “Deep Throat” is one you will easily recall.  But Mark Felt’s name is not one many people know, because it took until 2005 for the 30-year FBI veteran to admit that he was the man who furtively met with reporter Bob Woodward in parking garages throughout the scandal, providing key bits of information and directing the Washington Post reporter along the path of discovery to the role played by the highest level of government in the scandal.  Here Felt, played by Liam Neeson (who is made up with slathers of too-white make-up), is portrayed as the government guy who believed so strongly in the independence of the FBI that he decided to betray it when he saw Richard Nixon’s White House chipping away at it.  Felt was the number 2 guy under FBI czar J. Edgar Hoover, a man with so much power that both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson were afraid to fire him.  Luckily for Nixon, he died, and Felt and company burned his personal papers before the White House could uncover them.  As the 1972 election neared and the Watergate break-in of Democratic headquarters took place (two weeks after Hoover’s death), the White House was all over the FBI, demanding a quick resolution of the case.  Felt understood the importance of having an independent “police” of the nation, and bristled at being passed over for the top job, which likely led to his feeding information to both the Post and Time Magazine.  This story is an intriguing one, as people speculated for decades about the identity of Deep Throat.  It just just when the movie strays into Felt’s personal life that it goes off course.  It also takes much of the suspense out of the story with its very slow pacing and the taciturn performance of Neeson.  3 cans.
117.  Julie & Julia (2009) – The incomparable Meryl Streep – looking incredibly tall – plays beloved chef Julia Child, and Amy Adams plays Child’s superfan Julie Powell – a young woman living in Queens with her husband – in this combination of their respective stories.  Julia Child’s story is of her years in France with her beloved husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) as she decides to attend the Cordon Bleu culinary institute and become a chef and, ultimately, a cookbook author.  When she begins to write the definitive book on French cooking for an American audience, she faces plenty of challenges.  Julie, on the other hand, challenges herself by vowing to go through Child’s entire book, making 571 recipes in 365 days, a daunting cooking task.  The stories are told in parallel fashion.  Child is completely charming, adoring her husband, enthusiastically adapting to life in Paris and transforming herself into a master chef.  How they ever got her to look that tall is an amazing movie feat.  Julie tackles her challenge with relish and feels a growing kinship with the woman she grows to love.  This movie made me hungry!  3½ cans and a hearty serving of beef bourguignon.  
118. The Florida Project* (2017) – If you live a stone’s throw from The Magic Kingdom in a run-down welfare motel called The Magic Castle, you cannot be farther away from the happiest place on earth.  Young Moonee (an incredibly gifted 6-year old actress named Brooklynn Prince) never goes to the Disney Park.  Instead she runs around with her ragtag friends, finding places to explore at other nearby strip motels, begging for enough money to share an ice cream cone, playing largely unsupervised and wreaking havoc with the other residents and the motel’s manager, Bobby (Willem Dafoe).  The kids get into all kinds of mischief, and while we might feel badly for them, they experience the joy of innocence.  Moonee has learned to be pretty self-sufficient since her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) is busy trying to scrounge up money to pay her rent through shady deals and whatever schemes she can work.  Halley loves her daughter but is completely lacking parenting skills (and she’s fairly shaky on survival skills, for that matter, though she is superb at denying any responsibility for anything and arguing with the confidence that she is never wrong).  The depiction of poverty here, of desperation, reminded me somewhat of “Midnight Cowboy,” with its poignant look at what people have to do to survive when there is no hope, no future and no chance to get ahead.   Prince and Vinaite dominate the screen.  How the director and co-writer, Sean Baker, managed to get this performance out of a six-year old and a novice actress in Vinaite is truly remarkable.  It is hard to LIKE this movie, but easy to admire it for its honesty, its irony, and its acting.  4 cans.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Fifty Shades of Beige

I have decided I would rather be tortured than pick out paint colors.  Actually, those two things are the same. 

After 2 years in my new house, I have FINALLY gotten around to having the painter (whose mother lives down my street and who has painted most of the neighbors’ houses here) replace the builder grade Sherwin Williams “Hide the Flaws” (or whatever shade of off-white that is) with colors that better match my décor.  But who knew this task would be so daunting?

In my last house, I selected “Hillsborough Beige” for my master bedroom.  It seemed – from the tiny swatch – to match the furniture and the drapes, and, besides, I knew I would remember the name (since I was living in Hillsborough).  I hated it.  Too much mauve.  Did I get it repainted?  Nah, I lived with it.  Just like I lived with the yellow walls of the dining room and living room in that house, rooms I rarely entered.  I used to keep a laundry rack in the dining room because NO ONE ever went in there and you couldn’t see the room from the kitchen.  I guess I knew I wouldn’t be living in that house forever, because I was content (actually, just too plain lazy) to not put much work into the place beyond repairs and upkeep.  The pool alone “drained” my time and resources there. 

But this house is different.  I have never believed in painting BEFORE you move into a house.  As I predicted, I have changed the furniture, the rug and my mind (about a million times) since I moved in so my colors have to be selected accordingly.  But how?  I know I want a shade of beige, but which one?  One beige is too green, another too mauve.  Is this one too grayish, and is that one too gold?  That Benjamin Moore color deck offers way too many choices!

So I have done the thing that I see on all those HGTV shows I watch.  I am now the owner of 10 pints of paint, seven of which are varying shades of beige, and all represented by painted squares positioned all over the house.  Does Yosemite Sand (cute and memorable name) look right with the bedroom drapes?  Does Boardwalk match the new, coppery-brownish vessel sink?  Will Putnam Ivory have enough contrast with the stone going up around my fireplace, stretching 18 feet high?  Is it a good combination with Decatur Bluff if one is on the bottom under a chair rail and one on top?

Does Everlasting look too dull?  Does Sierra Hills look too bold?  You can ask yourself all of those questions by touring my house, where each painted sample has a color coded sticky note so I will remember which color is which.  The very patient woman in the paint store (who, seeing my dilemma, offered her services as a color consultant; if I were her, I’d run for the hills, and I don’t mean the Sierra Hills) steered me away from some potential candidates that didn’t seem quite right (this without her actually having seen the house).  Instead, my personal color consultant, my neighbor Donna, is providing much-needed guidance.  Our only issue is that she sees colors I don’t see.  “Do you see the gold in your granite?” she asks.  Gold?  Where?  I think. 

I knew I wanted a distinctly UN-beige shade on an accent wall, and I have been lusting after a deep blue, which is a popular color right now.  But most of the blues seemed too dark, or too gray, or too teal, until Donna and I walked into the local “Hand & Stone” massage place recently.  One whole wall was painted the perfect blue.  Of course, no one at the desk had a clue about the blue – why would they? – but we both agreed THIS WAS THE COLOR!  So after our massages, we ran to the local paint store, picked up a bunch of those paint chip strips, and headed back to Hand & Stone, where we told the folks at the desk not to mind us as we diligently matched them up to the wall – a large, living sample of the perfect blue (Benjamin Moore Van Deusen). Just to be on the safe side, I bought a pint of that, too, and up it went on the proposed accent wall, to full approval of Donna and me.  However, the second accent wall – in the family room – did not fare as well, since the room is darker and the blue looked, well, dark.  So there I am back to pondering the perfect beige, one that won’t make my huge sectional sofa (the one with not one, not two, but three power recliners) disappear. 

So back I went to the paint store, where the folks dutifully concocted the perfect small batch of my requested colors and put them on that milkshake machine to shake them to death.  Not that shaking helped me, since it took me a few days to even open the samples of Van Deusen Blue and Sierra Hills beige.

As a side note, who dreams up these names?  I mean, that’s an actual job, right?  Someone had to apply to be the “namer” of the paint colors.  Can you imagine letting your family know this is what you do for a living?  I mean, it’s an honorable profession, being a color expert who can marry a shade to a suitable name, but you have to admit, it seems like a profession to which few people would aspire – but what do I know?

I invaded my basement collection of leftover painting equipment, consisting of a bunch of small rollers, foam rubber brushes and plenty of take-out containers to serve as paint trays, my old shower curtain as the drop cloth of choice, stirrers and the cardboard box tops I always keep on hand for just such occasions.  I probably have as much stuff as the painters have, but I don’t move furniture and no amount of potential savings would prompt me to get up on a ladder and paint walls that run 18 feet high.  My painting these days is confined to a plethora of squares all over the house.

Given the expense of this undertaking and the amount of time and effort it will take, I really want to get it right.  But I feel myself getting bogged down in beige, which, knowing me, means I will settle.  I’ll lose my nerve and pick something that works but that I might not love.  Does it really matter?  After a while, no one notices it anyway.

All of this reminds me of the classic Cary Grant movie, “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House,” where the lady of the house is pretty sure she know what she wants, as she conveys her color preferences to the painter:

“Muriel Blandings:  “I want it to be a soft green, not as blue-green as a robin’s egg, but not as yellow-green as daffodil buds. Now, the only sample I could get is a little too yellow, but don’t let whoever does it go to the other extreme and get it too blue. It should just be a sort of grayish-yellow-green. Now, the dining room. I’d like yellow. Not just yellow; a very gay yellow. Something bright and sunshine-y. I tell you, Mr. PeDelford, if you’ll send one of your men to the grocer for a pound of their best butter, and match that exactly, you can’t go wrong! Now, this is the paper we’re going to use in the hall. It’s flowered, but I don’t want the ceiling to match any of the colors of the flowers. There’s some little dots in the background, and it’s these dots I want you to match. Not the little greenish dot near the hollyhock leaf, but the little bluish dot between the rosebud and the delphinium blossom. Is that clear? Now the kitchen is to be white. Not a cold, antiseptic hospital white. A little warmer, but still, not to suggest any other color but white. Now for the powder room – in here – I want you to match this thread, and don’t lose it. It’s the only spool I have and I had an awful time finding it! As you can see, it’s practically an apple red. Somewhere between a healthy winesap and an unripened Jonathan.”

Mr. PeDelford: “You got that Charlie?”

Charlie the Painter: “Red, green, blue, yellow, white.”

So, in the end, much of my house will be beige.  Just do me a favor and tell me you love it.

Footnote – The painting as well as the installation of travertine stone around my fireplace (stretching 18 feet high) – is now done.  Nearly done, since I am still waiting for the perfect mantle and for the hearth stone to be laid down.  If I had hand grips, that could be a rock-climbing wall! 

The painters I used were phenomenal, and they reminded me why it is better to hire pros than to DIY.  I used to sponge paint (which is now so passé), but that was a goof-proof technique.  You pick some colors and sponge paint on the wall.  These guys painted without taping off nearly anywhere.  They did the baseboard trim without a drop cloth.  I, on the other hand, dripped paint on the trim with my very first sample! 

I made a few last-minute substitutions on colors.  I fell in love with “Simple Pleasures,” a color I selected for an accent wall in the office and made the painters, who had already done one coat of “Oakwood Manor” on the other three walls, paint the whole room and one more wall in the Simple Pleasure shade of beige.  I now have a typed chart (thank you, neighbor Donna) listing each room, the name of the color and its Benjamin Moore color code for future reference.

I didn’t quite meet the 50 shades that title this month’s entry, but I haven’t had the upstairs of the house painted this time around.  So I may get there yet!

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Tina's September 2017 Movies

This was not a stellar month for movies. I watched 11 of them, and the ones I had not seen previously are marked with an asterisk*.  All movies are rated on a scale of 1-5 cans of tuna fish, with 5 being the top.  Numbering picks up from previous months.  
98.  Nightcrawler* (2014) – An emaciated Jake Gyllenhaal plays Lou, a man living by his wits, not averse to theft or any other means to survive.  When he witnesses an accident, he notices a phalanx of the news people who descend on the scene to shoot video and he is fascinated by their ability to get up close to the blood and gore and sell their footage.  A fast talker (who sounds like he has attended one too many business seminars), he gets himself some video equipment and starts listening to a police scanner so he can arrive early on the scene of grisly accidents and crimes and capture footage worthy of the ratings-starved local news, a lucrative way to make money.  But that’s not enough.  Instead of merely recording what he sees, he ventures out at night, even initiating action to make a grittier piece to sell at a higher price, ignoring the opportunity to make a 911 call to help the victims in favor of recording them in their dying moments.  Gyllenhaal plays Lou as fast and loose, desperate, slimy and a true opportunist, in an excellent performance.  Rene Russo is the woman who buys his news footage – and more.  The only lighthearted part of this movie is Lou’s relationship with the “intern” he hires, Rick (Riz Ahmed), whom he promises to pay once he completes the “internship” that gets Lou his services for free.  There is plenty of tension and suspense to go with shootings, blood and gore.  3½ cans.
99.  Miracles from Heaven* (2016) – Jennifer Garner plays Christy Beam, the mother of a terminally ill 10-year old, Anna (Kylie Rogers) with a rare intestinal illness that at first defies the doctors.  She can’t get an appointment with the specialist in Boston but flies there from Texas anyway, hoping to get him to diagnose and treat her daughter.  Of course, this movie being about miracles, he does.  Queen Latifah got a day’s work on the set playing a waitress who befriends the mother-daughter and shows them around her hometown (my favorite line in the movie is when she shows them tony Beacon Hill and says that’s where her boyfriend, Tom Brady, lives).  Garner’s part requires constant consternation, the family is going broke, the father (Martin Henderson) is left to care for Anna’s two sisters, and despite the family’s being active in the local church, there is nary a fundraiser or contribution provided for them.  And then comes the miracle, which I won’t spoil.  This treacly tale is actually true, so if you believe in miracles, feel free to watch for yourself.  The real miracle here is that I watched this movie to the end – despite falling asleep three times and having to rewind it to see where I left off!  2 cans.
100.  Mean Girls (2004) – Before Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams and Amanda Seyfried hit it big with other projects, they teamed to torture each other in this movie about the bullying ways of teenaged girls.  Lohan is Cady, a former homeschooled student entering high school after living in South Africa, and what she doesn’t know about her classmates is dangerous.  McAdams is Regina, the ringleader of “The Plastics,” the popular, unapproachable girl who thinks nothing of randomly having sex with guys while dating Aaron, the BMOC (Jonathan Bennett).  Quickly, good girl and mathlete Cady is caught up in the power struggle, going after Mr. Popularity while dumbing down her math prowess.  This movie, adapted by the clever and acerbic Tina Fey from a book, is a primer for all things teenagers do that you wish they wouldn’t.  It is an indictment of white privilege, of spoiling your kids (see Amy Pohler’s part) and how NOT to behave – in school and life.  If you can stand being part of this world for 90 minutes or so, it is a good lesson, but definitely not within everyone’s tolerance level.  It just isn’t so fetch.  3 cans.
101.  Staying Alive (1993) – Tony Manero (John Travolta, who never looked better) still has that strut, that swagger, years after leaving Brooklyn to hit Manhattan and seek a life as a dancer on Broadway (in what looks like a show sure to close on opening night).  Tony vacillates between his steady girl friend Jackie (Cynthia Rhodes) and the lead in the show, Laura (Fionula Hughes), a haughty, rich star who toys with his emotions and psyche.  Tony works hard for the money and displays much more charm here than when he was hanging with the boys from Brooklyn in “Saturday Night Fever,” where he ruled the disco dance floor.  Again, his determination to make it is admirable, even if he looks a little lost among real dancers.  Will he get the part, the lead, the girl?  Well, he’s still staying alive.  It amazes me that this movie was directed by Sylvester Stallone, who knows more about the underdog coming out on top than hoofing in a Broadway musical.   3 cans.
102.  Top Gun (186) – Once upon a time, watching Tom Cruise zoom around on a motorcycle and fly jet fighters thrilled me.  Now, after jumping on Oprah’s couch and espousing Scientology, he just doesn’t have the same effect on me.  Still, watching him as “Maverick,” a naval pilot at Top Gun School, flying missions with his buddy Goose (Anthony Edwards, married to Meg Ryan in a bit part), playing volleyball on the beach and romancing instructor Charlie (Kelly McGillis) for the first time in a very long time managed to put a smile on my face.  These pilots are highly trained, but apart from their skills, they have to have a boatload of braggadocio, enough to make each one feel like he is the alpha male in a competitive squad.  The plot here is simple – Maverick is sure he is the Top Gun and is out to show up anyone else vying for the top dog status.  In between chomping on gum and going after McGillis, he flies dangerous missions where people get killed.  This movie is a cross between John Wayne and a recruitment film for the Navy, with a little romance thrown in.  I liked it – and Cruise – much more 30 years ago.  3 cans. 
103.  The Disappearance of Natalie Holloway* (2017) – Teenager Natalie Holloway famously disappeared on the island of Aruba in 2008, making international headlines.  Last seen in the company of local playboy Joran van der Sloot, Natalie was celebrating her high school graduation with friends when she vanished.  Although all signs pointed to van der Sloot as the culprit, the authorities could never find the body or pin him directly to the crime.  Enter Dave Holloway, Natalie’s father, with a team of investigators, now primarily focused on what happened to the body, according to a local man who may have been in on the cover-up.  At the time of the incident, Dave stayed largely in the background as Natalie’s mother Beth, his ex-wife, made the on-camera pleas for information about her daughter.  But here Dave is the man behind this excruciating look into John and a friend, Gabriel, who claims he can tie John to the exhumation of Natalie’s remains.  This documentary, airing on the Oxygen Channel – which is now reestablishing itself as a law and order outlet -- is repetitive, detailed, and, frankly, boring.  I think we all want to know what happened and feel sorry for Dave, but this story, full of false leads and sketchy characters, could have been told in 2 hours instead of multiple episodes.  Natalie deserved better.  2 cans.
104.  The Sinner* (2017) – This multipart drama is one of those compelling stories that, once you start watching, you are hooked.  Jessica Beil plays Cora, a young wife and mother who one day seemingly snaps for no reason, viciously attacking and killing a man on a beach in broad daylight and with a plethora of witnesses.  She immediately admits her culpability and is ready to plead guilty.  But this is an 8-part series, so you know it can’t be wrapped up in episode one.  Bill Pullman plays a seasoned, dubious cop who wants to understand why Cora committed the crime, and he works on her behalf to investigate.  There is plenty of strange, even kinky stuff in his background as well as Cora’s, but it is tough to outguess the writers of this drama.  Beil is commanding in her role as Cora, a woman lost in her own past and unsure of what she did and why.  It only takes 8 episodes to understand the truth.  As this series continued, I liked it less and less, but I stuck with it.  I already knew whodunit, but I wanted to know why.  3½ cans. 
105.  American Experience – Walt Disney* (2017) – I realize this is the third consecutive non-theatrical program I am reviewing, but each is longer than a movie and as worthy of the attention as any film.  PBS takes a long and detailed look at the rise of ambitious Walt Disney, from his earliest days as a creator of cartoons to his establishment of the mighty Walt Disney empire.  What impressed me here was the inventiveness of this man.  If you have grown up with Disney – watching “The Wonderful World of Disney” on Sunday nights, going to Disney movies yourself or with your kids, or taking family vacations at Disneyland or Disney World – you can take for granted the man’s incredible gift of creativity.  He was the first person to meld animation with music, to create long-form, animated movies like “Snow White,” “Pinocchio” and “Fantasia” – complete with famed conductor Leopold Stokowski leading the orchestra.  He and his brother Roy practically invented licensing of merchandise, which today often earns more than the movies themselves.  Disney was clever, and despite early business setbacks that threatened to put him out of business, once he and his team of talented artists created Mickey Mouse, they were on the road to iconic stature.  In part one we get through the early part of his career and through “Snow White.”  Part two is all about expansion, including the creation of his Disney parks, TV programs and non-animated movies.  I found it fascinating, even though I personally think we have “disneyfied” our world a bit too much.  4 cans.
106.  The Heart of the Game (2005) – Every now and then, I just have to watch this documentary about Bill Ressler, the girls’ basketball coach at Washington High School in Seattle.  Whether he is exhorting his charges to rip out the opponents’ hearts or look into their eyes, Ressler cajoles, supports and teaches these young woman life lessons that go far beyond the court.  Filmed over seven years by Ward Serrill, the film focuses particularly on the immensely talented Darnelia Russell, who comes into the gym ready to take on Ressler and the world, which is good, because she has to.  This movie has everything good and bad about sports, and to me, it is the equivalent of the landmark “Hoop Dreams.”  4½ cans.
107.  Welcome to Kutsher’s* (2012) – Hot town, summer in the city, and for years people who were crowded into the confines of NYC traveled 90 miles upstate to get some country air.  But Jews were frequently banned from the resorts and country clubs, so enterprising Jewish hoteliers established places like Kutsher’s, Grossingers and the Concord to cater to them.  And cater, they did, with an abundance of activities, food, entertainment and sports.  The hotel you saw in “Dirty Dancing” exemplified Kutsher’s Resort and Country Club, which stuck around for 100 years.  This documentary is a loving look at that era and this resort, which ended this century as it couldn’t compete with the casinos of Atlantic City and Las Vegas, the Poconos and cruise ships – which essentially built on the Borscht Belt model established by Kutsher’s and others.  My parents used to go to what we referred to as “the Jewish Alps,” once a year when I was a teenager and in my 20s, and my father had but one complaint:  Too much food.  Ah, those were the days.  3 cans and a heaping helping of chopped liver.
108.   The Edge of 17* (2016) – This stage of life is certainly not the edge of glory for awkward high school junior Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld).  Nadine lives with her widowed mother (Kyra Sedgwick) and her perfect brother Darian (Blake Jenner) as she muddles through her angst-ridden teenage years. She is smart and attractive but she doesn’t fit in.  She gets by thanks to her devoted childhood best friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) – until, that is, Krista starts dating Darian.  Feeling betrayed, angry and lost, Nadine begins sparring with teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) – a relationship that thankfully does not go down the path I feared it might.  The sardonic Mr. Bruner has just the right amount of cynicism to deal effectively with Nadine.  She also strikes up a friendship with low-key classmate Erwin (Hayden Szeto), who clearly has a crush on the otherwise miserable teen.  This being a contemporary movie, there is a predictable social media gaffe that almost sends Nadine in the wrong direction.  Steinfeld has just the right approach to her character, who you can love/like one minute and can’t stand the next.  3½ cans.