Saturday, April 15, 2017

April Observations

Why is it that when you are in a hurry you get every red light and it seems to be National Slow Drivers Day?  And when you are ahead of schedule, you always get green lights and there is no traffic?

You know you're getting old when you pick up a book at the library and it turns out to be a large type edition, and you realize that you don't even mind because it will be easier to read.

Here’s another thing I have noticed about getting old:  Women shrink and sag, their hair gets thinner and their hips get fuller.  Men get bushy eyebrows and longer earlobes.  And I no longer have to shave the inside of my legs, my calves.  Just an observation.

There are some days when I have to look down at my shoes to make sure I am wearing an actual pair.

There are days when I drive 100 miles and I don't go anywhere.

Does this happen to you?  You look for something in the place where you just KNOW it will be, except that it isn’t in its place.  So you keep looking there, and finally give up because the item – a utensil, a pair of shoes, a sweater – is NOT where it was supposed to be.  Then you randomly glance at the spot in question at another time, and there it is.  What happened?  Did the thing you were looking for slip away for some sort of dalliance?  And how did it get back?  Ah, the secret life of your stuff.

Recently I went to visit a friend who has an adorable dog.  I am not a dog or cat person (sometimes I’m not even sure I am a people person), but I find Byron irresistible.  I’ll even let him sit on my lap and gaze and me with his puppy-dog eyes (even though he isn’t a puppy anymore).  Before I left for the visit, I decided that I would stop at Pet Smart to buy Byron a gift.  I have NEVER been in a pet store.  It was overwhelming.  What should I buy?  I found a few likely candidates, but when I realized they squeaked, I figured it best to avoid that type of annoying sound.  After browsing the aisles for something that Byron would want to play with, I settled on a bunny from Ellen DeGeneres’ pet line.  I went the register to pay and the cashier asked me if I had a loyalty card.  I told her I had never even been in a pet store before, which she found shocking.  I told her I wasn’t sure this was the right gift, so she asked me what kind of dog it was.  “He’s black,” I answered.  What do I know?  Then I remembered he was a snickerdoodle, or something like that.  You know, part poodle and part something else.  She probably went home from work that day shaking her head about the dopey woman who came into Pet Smart that day.  PS – I barely had the bunny out of the package when Byron seized his gift, ran around the room with it and spent the day chewing the ear right off the bunny.  I think he liked it.  And no, I am NOT getting a dog!

I recently took an on-line quiz about one of my all-time favorite movies, “Animal House,” and aced it.  I’m not sure what that says about the information stored in my brain, but as the motto of fictional Faber College asserts, “Knowledge is Good.”

I totally get the relatively simple concept of losing weight:  “Eat less and move more.”  But sometimes that motto seems to morph into “Eat more and move less,” which, I can assure you, does NOT yield the same results.  So I have come to this realization about the very logical and effective Weight Watchers program:  If you are not making progress, you are probably making excuses.

I read an article that says there is scientific evidence that eating chocolate cake for breakfast (and the timing is critical, according to the research) can increase your intelligence and help you lose weight.  I approach this news with skepticism, hope and a fork.

The question is never “How long CAN you keep Girl Scout Cookies in the freezer?”  It is always, “How long WILL you keep Girls Scout Cookies in the freezer?”

With all of this talk about our appliances performing “surveillance” on our daily lives, I’m wondering if Alexa is divulging my shopping list to anyone.  And who could possibly be interested in knowing that I need bananas?

And speaking of bananas, here is my question of the day:  Why are the bananas in Stop and Shop ALWAYS better than the ones in ShopRite?  They aren’t bagged, for one, but they are consistently superior to the lame ones in ShopRite, even if they are the same brand (Chiquita, etc.)  Such a mystery.

My idea of pressure is getting a 14-day book from the library.  Will I have time to read it and return it?  What if it is late and that goes on my permanent record?  I can’t take the pressure.  It is easier to just buy the book.

You know your day is busy when you think you can’t afford the two minutes it takes to run the electric toothbrush for the full cycle.

Whenever someone tells me something that is confidential and says I should not repeat it, I always think, “No problem.  I’m probably not going to remember it anyway.”

There is no time that I speak more clearly than when I am trying to enter destination information into the navigation system in my car.  However precisely I enunciate the address, she fails to understand and cannot locate the desired destination.  Frankly, I think she is suffering from some sort of hearing impairment issue, because what she CLAIMS to hear and what I actually said are so completely different (like I saw "Raritan" and she thinks it is "Matawan).  It would be easier to fold and unfold a map – or just use my phone, which magically picks up every word I say when asking for directions.

Does this happen to you?  I’ll wake up during the night with a sore knee or a sore throat or some ailment, which, of course, feels so much worse during the night, and in the morning I’ll call the doctor’s office for an appointment, whereupon I instantly feel better.  So I don’t take anything, hoping that when I get there whatever is bothering me is at its worst so the doctor doesn’t think I’m a hypochondriac.  The same thing happens with the car.  You hear a terrible noise, make an appointment, and by the time you get to the service place, the noise is nearly gone.  So then you try to replicate it so the mechanic can diagnose it, which almost never works.  Odd, isn’t it?

Lately I have been having more problems than usual sleeping.  I may have trouble falling asleep, but it is what happens during the night that makes me crazy (and now you know how that happened).  I will wake up at 3 or 4 AM and have a discussion with myself about whether I should get up and go to the bathroom.  Am I awake BECAUSE I need to go?  Or should I go because I am awake?  So I get up and go, which makes me consider WHY I had this internal debate in the first place, since I always get up and go.  And then I go back to bed more awake than when I first got up and I can’t fall asleep again.  I make sure I am in what I consider a real “sleeping position.”  The pillows are arranged just right, there’s no pressure on my shoulders and my hands are unclenched to prevent carpel tunnel.  I am cool and comfortable – and fully awake.  If I could get exercise points for tossing and turning I’d be in great shape!  Should I get up and read a book?  Should I see what movies are on the DVR?  Should I put on the TV?  I refuse to turn on my phone before 7 am (most of the time).  I roll over and ask Alexa my schedule for the day or the temperature – as if I can do anything about either.  Just go back to sleep, I admonish myself.  Sometimes I try to meditate, to calm my mind and relax my body – if I can stop thinking about relaxing!  I’ll tell you, it is NOT easy being me, and it is certainly a relief to everyone that I live alone.  No one could put up with me.  I can’t stand myself when I am tossing and turning.

I think I had a bad dream last night that was prompted by the recent United Airlines incident when a passenger was dragged down the aisle of the plane in an effort to “re-accommodate” him (airlines parlance) since the flight was overbooked.  In the dream, I was at an airport, trying to get somewhere, and the authorities kept questioning me, delaying my departure.  I woke up so upset and reluctant to go back to sleep because I was afraid the dream would continue – which NEVER happens.  And I wonder why the bags under my eyes look like they came from American Tourister!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Tina's March 2017 Movies

It should come as no surprise that I watched several basketball movies since, after all, it IS March Madness!  Movies not previously seen are marked with an asterisk.  Movies are rated on a scale of 1-5 tuna cans, with 5 being at the top of the scale.  Numbering picks up from the previous months.

23.  At All Costs* (2015) – As a sports fan, it pains me to think about the business aspects of athletics, but that is the reality of athletics at ANY level.  This documentary about boys’ AAU basketball gives an inside look at “amateur” athletics, where basketball players as young as pre-teens are tracked and rated.  But the all-consuming monsters here are the AAU teams and leagues, funded generously by shoe companies and headed by well-meaning coaches who preside over their young charges with authoritarianism and the promoting the dream of a D-1 scholarship and an NBA career.  The coaches establish a rapport with the players and their families, but their altruism is tempered by their need to win, thus insuring future financial support.  The players criss-cross the country to play in showcase tournaments, elevate their visibility and garner that scholarship.  Gone are the days where allegiance to the hometown high school team was enough of a motivator.  According to this movie, the high school coach is a minor influence, supplanted by the AAU coach and organization.  Yes, some good can come of this in the form of educational opportunities, but with that comes more games and more chances to blow out a knee and miss out on a future so fervently desired.  Such are the demands of the meat market that is college athletics.  3½ basketballs.
24.  The Secret Rules of Modern Living: Algorithms* (2015) – Let me start by saying that math is not my forte. So why on earth would I be drawn to a documentary on algorithms?  Well, I like anything logical, that shows how things work, and algorithms – which are a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer – are behind much of what we demand in today’s society.  That includes everything from internet searches to calculating directions to managing warehouse operations to on-line dating, where algorithms work behind the scenes to match and sort huge volumes of data very quickly to provide answers.  Google was built on a search algorithm.  The host of this BBC documentary does a masterful job of illustrating how algorithms work for us and highlighting how they help get information we depend on for everyday life.  I can’t explain algorithms in much detail, but I’m happy they are around, and I’m happy I stumbled on this demonstration of their importance.  3 cans.  PS – I know few people who would watch this movie but many people who would question my sanity and interest in it.
25.  Don Jon* (2013) – I thought I was watching an episode of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” with this movie.  Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who also wrote and directed), is a “player,” an Italian stud whose mission in life is to score with the hot ladies and keep his apartment, car and himself clean and tidy in between sexual conquests.  He goes to church and the gym, works out religiously while chanting his Hail Marys as penance for the porn obsession that he confesses each week to his priest.  That’s until he’s hit with the thunderbolt that is Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), a gum-chewing Jersey girl with all the physical requirements he demands.  Yet no one and nothing can match the fantasies of the thrills he gets from watching porn.  When Barbara discovers that Jon’s sex life often does not need her, she dumps him.  After mourning for at least a few minutes, he strikes up a relationship with pot-smoking Esther (Julianne Moore), a much older classmate, who leads him into a better kind of existence.  Jon seems like a self-centered meathead who will never be satisfied with an actual woman and who will continue to indulge himself.  The only reason I watched this movie is that I couldn’t find anything else on a snowy day and that I like Gordon-Levitt (no relation) – but not so much here.  2 cans.
26.  The Railway Man* (2013) – The movie is based on the true story of British WWII veteran Eric Lomax (Colin Firth), a man who loves railroads.  He meets a young woman Patti (Nicole Kidman) while riding the train, and they get married quickly – before she really gets a chance to know him.  Soon she finds out that while serving as an officer in the British Army in Japan, Lomax was taken as a prisoner of war and tortured.  Ironically, he and his cohorts are forced into the hard labor of building a railroad line.  Years later, he feels drawn to return to the place where he was captured and to confront his torturer, a man named Nagase (Hiroyuki Sanada).  This is a moving tale of a man trying to reconcile his past and his present.  3½ cans.
27.  Mr. Church* 2016) – This quiet little melodrama stars Eddie Murphy in a role diametrically opposed to his more well-known turns in “Beverly Hills Cop” and “Trading Places.”  Here he is a man hired to cook for a little girl and her mother, a young woman who is dying of breast cancer.  He is a great cook, and soon becomes a treasured part of the family, but in a dignified, proper way, always called “Mr. Church” by his employer and her daughter Charlie.  Although the dying woman only has 6 months to live, she far exceeds her grim prognosis, and Mr. Church is always there for her and Charlie.  The movie builds through their unconventional relationship, which lasts for years.  It’s not possible to say more her without giving away the story.  There are numerous plot holes and a bit of maudlin play.  This movie reminded me in a way of “Driving Miss Daisy,” depicting caring black people in subservient roles, but Mr. Church himself kowtows to no one.  3 cans.
28.  Sunset Boulevard (1950) – Picture it: Faded silent screen star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) easing down that long staircase and sneering into the camera.  “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.”  Now try NOT to picture Carol Burnett in the role, which she did as a memorable send-up on her hilarious TV show.  In this, the classic Billy Wilder film, Norma is desperate to regain her position as the Queen of Hollywood, a part she hasn’t played since silent movies became extinct.  She is holed up in a decaying mansion on, yes, Sunset Boulevard, reliving her glory days as her faithful servant Max caters to her every whim.  Then along comes screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden), who accidentally arrives there and is almost immediately drawn into the hands of the manipulative and exceedingly generous Madame Desmond.  But they are manipulating each other, he because he needs the work she offers (and doesn’t mind her lavish gifts) and she because she is used to being in charge.  Will Joe ever reclaim his real life?  Will Norma once again shine on screen?  There are signs of dementia as the increasingly demanding and desperate Norma tries to romance the much younger writer, who is torn between helping himself and saving her.  I watched as a pre-requisite to the Broadway musical with Glenn Close that I saw the next day.  The movie gets 4 cans.  The Broadway show was outstanding and gets 5 cans.
29.  Nights in Rodanthe (2008) – I guess if I were going to watch a movie with two of my favorite actors as the leads (Richard Gere and Diane Lane), I should have picked their much superior co-starring stint in “Unfaithful.”  This is your typical Nicholas Sparks story of two great-looking people in North Carolina.  They meet by accident and fall madly in love during a nasty storm.  Adrienne Willis has a troubled marriage.  Dr. Paul Flanner is divorced, estranged from his son, and, oh, by the way, a local resident died on his operating table and the family wants to sue him.  She’s tending her friend’s inn and getting away from her errant husband, and Flanner, the only guest, is in town to apologize to the family of the woman who died.  It rains – hard – and they have to batten down the hatches before they can fall in love.  This is a trite and manipulative story that I cannot reveal more of without giving away the ending.  Their attraction is immediate and their love is sudden; it rains and he goes away.  Watch it to find out the whole story.  One bonus – Viola Davis plays Adrienne’s BFF.  2½ cans.
30.  More Than a Game* (2008) – I admire people who are prescient enough to seize opportunities to record events and news before they become significant.  In this case, the filmmakers tracked the athletic success of a basketball team in Akron, Ohio, BEFORE its members were even in high school, when they played in an old community center.  And, as good fortune would have it, one of the members of that team became NBA superstar LeBron James.  James even as an adolescent was clearly a superior talent.  Together with several of his childhood friends and dedicated coaches, the kids had a chance to win a championship.  It took them until James’ senior year to move to the top of the national high school rankings and become the national champions, playing all-comers and flying around the country to do so.  As a basketball fan, I find this stuff fascinating.  James often looked like a man among boys, his body maturing faster and his strength evident while at least one of his teammates hadn’t cracked five feet tall yet.  I think this documentary also shows the influence that dedicated coaches have not just on developing winning teams, but also on the development of boys to men, and good men.  The young men in the movies remain LeBron’s best friends even today, while he was gone on to a career that puts him among the elite players in the game.  3 ½ cans.
31.  Redwood Highway* (2013) – Shirley Knight is one of those actresses who always come across as believable, effortless.  Here she escapes her assisted living facility to hit the highway – on foot – determined to spite her interfering son and walk 80 miles to attend her granddaughter’s wedding.  Along the way she is lucky enough to encounter people who help her on her mission, providing food, tips and even medical help when needed.  That’s where the story – to me – begins to unravel a bit.  She walks through a redwood forest to get to Oregon, where many years back she married her late husband, a man killed at a young age while in the Service.  She fantasizes a bit and demonstrates some possible signs of dementia, but she is determined and stubborn.  Nothing explodes, nobody gets hurt, and this is a bittersweet little movie worth seeing if only for Knight’s performance.  3 cans.
32.  Woman in Gold (2015) – I am intrigued by the premise here, so much so that I have seen two other movies on this theme and have visited the museum where the painting of the title is on display.  The superb documentary “The Rape of Europa” covered the seizure of art from Jews by the Nazis in the period leading up to and during WWII.  George Clooney’s “The Monuments Men” tried to inject some humor in the story of a team of men trying to recapture these treasures and return them to their rightful owners.  That’s where this story picks up, with Maria, having moved to the United Sates to flee Austria during the war, trying to reclaim the “Woman in Gold” painting of her aunt by the famous artist Gustav Klimpt.  But the Austria Museum where the painting has long resided claims its ownership, so Maria (Helen Mirren, terrific as always) teams up with a young attorney whose family she knows (underplayed beautifully by Ryan Reynolds) to bring a lawsuit first in Austria and then in the US to get the painting back.  The odds are long and the legal angles can be a little hard to follow, but this pair is ready to pull out all the stops.  4 cans
33.  Return to Me (2000) – This endearing movie is about a broken heart.  Grace (Minnie Driver) has lived her whole life with a bad heart and is failing when she is the lucky recipient of the heart of a woman killed in a car accident.  The victim’s loving husband Bob (David Duchovny) is devastated, until he meets Grace, having no idea that her good health is thanks to his wife’s heart.  When she figures it out, can she tell him, and will it change things between them?  Grace is surrounded by family and friends (including Bonnie Hunt, Carroll O’Connor as her grandfather, Jim Belushi) and has plenty of love and support, but can she give her heart to Bob once she knows it once belonged to his wife?  If I could pick someone to be friends with, Bonnie Hunt, who co-wrote and directed this charming gem, would be high up on my list.  This movie is charming and will make you smile.  Let’s just say it has a lot of heart.  4 cans.
34.  Custody* (2015) – Sorry, Viola Davis, but if I see that you are in a movie, I expect a very high standard.  Not that Davis’ performance is anything other than stellar, but the movie?  The only real reason to watch it is Davis herself, playing a stoic judge who runs a tight family courtroom and presides over a case with Sara, a young mother (Catalina Sandino Moreno) who is in trouble with the law but fighting desperately to retain custody of her two young children.  Davis may control her courtroom, but in real life, her marriage is falling apart and there are issues with her college student son.  Meanwhile, Sara’s public defender Ally (Hayden Panetierre) has her own issues – personally and professionally.  Too much time is spent on the arcane rulings of the court and not enough on the problems faced by these women, each of a different socio-economic class and each facing stereotypes.  Well done, but I wanted better.  3½ cans.
35.  Driving Lessons* (2006) – Not to be confused with “Learning to Drive,” this British movie is about 17-year old Ben (Rupert Grint), a socially awkward boy living with his religious parents and ready to break free.  He takes a job (at his mother’s urging; his mother is Laura Linney) as an assistant to Evie, an elderly actress (Julie Walters) who is as eccentric as you expect of older actresses in this kind of movie.  Although he’s not quite sure how to assist Evie and he’s not all that resourceful, he soon becomes essential to her existence.  This is a coming of age movies, as Ben must learn to drive and to deal with the demands of the women in his life.  Some of the situations are far-fetched, but the relationship between the demanding actress and her young charge is mostly heartwarming.  3 cans.
36.  The Loving Story* (2011) – Love is love, right?  Well, not in Virginia in 1958, when Richard Loving, a white man, married Mildred Jeter, a woman of black and Cherokee heritage, in Washington, DC.  After the wedding, the young couple returned to their home state to live.  Several weeks later, they were arrested, charged and convicted pf miscegenation, a law designed to prohibit the mixing of races.  Virginia was one of 21 states with miscegenation laws on the books then.  The Lovings had no idea they were violating the law and moved to Washington to avoid jail.  But their respective families lived in Virginia and they wanted their kids to grow up there, so they wrote a letter to then-Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, asking for his help.  He recommended they contact the American Civil Liberties Union, which they did.  The Lovings were not activists, and they were not looking to end up in front of the Supreme Court to make their case.  They just wanted to enjoy their married lives together in their home state.  I missed the dramatization of this case in the movie that came out in 2016 (“Loving”), but this HBO documentary covers the ground in a factual, low-key way.  It is truly abhorrent to remember that there were laws like this around as recently as 2000, when Alabama became the last state to drop its.  You can’t help but think about the irony of the name of this film – Loving – which well reflects the couple’s devotion to each other, to their families and to the State of Virginia at a time when state governments made it illegal for them to do just that.  4 cans.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

March Madness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Tina's February 2017 Movies

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

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

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

On My Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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