With my move to a new house in September, lack of internet and TV service for a few days and all the unpacking, there was only time to see five movies in September, making the month hardly blog-worthy. However, I cannot disappoint my loyal readers, so here goes, with numbering continued from last month. Movies are rated on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest, and movies not seen previously are marked with an asterisk.
111. Revenge* (1990) – The young and handsome version of Kevin Costner stars here as again a Navy man, Jay, this time as a pilot who has finished his work and goes to Mexico to visit his friend Tiberon Menoza (Anthony Quinn) a powerful and wealthy man with a posse of protectors and a young, attractive wife (Madeleine Stowe; it took me half the movie to recall that she also starred in the TV show, Revenge). When the inevitable spark between the attractive Jay and the beautiful Miryea leads to an affair, Tibby is tipped off and chases them down to get his revenge. Costner knows his way around women, and Stowe is alluring and more than willing to stray. What will happen to the ill-fated lovers? Any additional info would ruin the story, but it is worth watching despite the brutality. 3½ cans.
112. Ghostbusters (1984) – On paper at least, it would be safe to assume I would hate this movie about paranormal activity and ghostly invasions of the city. It is full of slime and demands that I suspend my sense of reality, which I typically am loathe to do. However, the trio of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis is pretty irresistible, even for someone who hates moves with special effects. Aykroyd and Ramis co-wrote the film, which Ivan Reitman directed, around the time that these clever and crazy guys began ruling Hollywood with a string of likeable comedies (“Stripes,” “Animal House” and, later, “Caddyshack.”) And who can forget that song? Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters! 3½ cans.
113. Million Dollar Arm* (2014) – Don Draper takes on major league baseball, as Jon Hamm is Jason Bernstein, a sports agent with virtually no clients, barely making a living and watching his world slip away. But one day he sees a cricket match on TV and, with nothing of substance going on in his US business, he decides to promote a contest in India to find athletes who can be trained in America to play baseball. I recall reading this true story in Sports Illustrated, as two men who won the contest came to the US and trained to become major league pitchers. Eventually, both signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but those signings barely made any inroads in American baseball. Hamm is good at conveying a sense of desperation, and that’s surely the character’s MO. Will these guys get the training they need to make the big time? Can Bernstein ride their coattails? Much of the humor is cultural in nature, as the vastly different Indian culture is not exactly comparable to the crazy California life to which these young men have to adjust. Lake Bell plays Brenda, a neighbor who befriends the erstwhile pitchers and serves as the movie’s conscience. While the movie didn’t strike out completely, it was more like a pop-up than a home run. 2½ cans.
114. Grandma* (2015) – This is Lily Tomlin’s movie from the moment you see her aging character break up with her much younger girlfriend until you see her walking down the street alone at the end. She is Elle, a feisty feminist academic/poet who is fiercely independent and still recovering from the loss of her long-time partner the previous year. On the very day she unceremoniously dumps Olivia, her young girlfriend, her granddaughter Sage (Julie Garner) shows up looking for money to pay for an abortion. Broke and having cut up her credit cards so she can’t go into debt again, Elle sets out in her old, classic car with the young woman to find the funding, leading to encounters with people from her past and the memories – good and bad – that they conjure up. Elle is not your prototypical grandma. This one smokes weed, gets tattoos, wears a denim jacket and is like the post-modern Sophia Petrillo (from “Golden Girls”) but without the zingers. Her past is revealed with subtle humor and poignant memories as the two women struggle to come up with the money and avoid revealing Sage’s predicament to her judgmental mother (Marcia Gay Harden), the daughter with whom Elle has a prickly relationship. This movie is a different kind of buddy movie/road trip, and Lily Tomlin triumphs, displaying arrogance and vulnerability at different times. 3½ cans.
115. The Remains of the Day (1993) – If you are looking for an action packed movie full of special effects or a torrid affair between consulting adults, skip this perfect gem of a movie that features none of those attributes. But if you like Downton Abby and have not as yet seen this glorious movie about the unspoken love between a diligent butler, Mr. Stevens (Anthony Hopkins), and the head housekeeper, Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson) at the English estate he manages, then please rent it, find it, stream it, buy it – whatever you need to do to relish the story. The era is pre-World War II and Stevens has been in service there seemingly forever, running the home and the lives of the people who reside there with perfection and dedication. When the young Miss Kenton arrives, she is a bit of an upstart compared to the starched and formal Stevens, but the relationship between them grows even though Stevens resists having a personal life. The plot is secondary to the characters and the cast, including the handsome and virile Christopher Reeve as well as Hugh Grant, is superb. If not for Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson could well be considered the best actress of her generation (Helen Mirren might have a different view). 5 cans for a perfect movie that I rarely can resist watching yet again.
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Anatomy of a Move
Let me start by saying that my next move will be to the old folks’ home or six feet under. In either case, I won’t be sorting and packing, just backing up the dumpster to get rid of everything. Someone else will be charged with this task.
The process began on August 30, 2014, when I signed a contract to build a new, single family home in the active adult community Canal Walk in Somerset. I already knew a bunch of people there, looked longingly at the many amenities and activities offered to residents, and relished the chance to select exactly what I wanted for the new home. I wouldn't have to worry about having the lawn cut, the driveway plowed or putting chlorine in the pool. I was excited!
Until I had to make the selections for every aspect of the house, that is. In one session, I had to make the initial selections on everything from the color of the roof and siding to the faucets on the bathtub. Kitchen cabinets (color, style, etc.) and their configuration (doors? drawers?), granite for the kitchen counters, fireplace surround, floors, carpet, tile – you name it, I had to choose it. At the end of the session, I thought my head would explode. And that doesn’t include lighting fixtures and extra electrical, both done separately (and at additional cost; oh, you want an outlet on that wall? Kaching!), and the trip to the lighting store to select fixtures. In a house of more than 2,500 square feet (I’m not exactly downsizing, though there won’t be a pool and spa to maintain), the developer gives you exactly six – count ‘em, six – recessed lights. By the time I got through, there were 35. You could do surgery in my new kitchen.
When you are building or remodeling, there is always the “You might as well” factor. This process adds beaucoup bucks to the bottom line, but, hey, it’s your last house and you might as well. So you have to specify the location of every outlet that you want that isn’t already provided, and move the ones that are smack behind the bed that you will never reach.
Then there was the cable, TV, alarm system and internet guy. Where will the TVs go? Wall mounted? High or low? I even had him run lines to the kitchen and the master bath – just in case. (I think we all now know how much TV I watch.) And in the office, where should I locate the hookup for the computer? And how was I supposed to figure that out nine months in advance?
With the selections made, I turned my attention to my current house. For months, my motto was, “Every time the garbage goes out, something must be in it.” Old photographs from the weddings of people who aren’t married to each other anymore, photo enlargements that had faded in their frames, gifts that people gave me that I was holding onto for sentimental reasons only – all got trashed. At least three different charities picked up bags of clothes and household items, and two local churches benefited from my purge. The garage sale in the spring sprung a few more items out of the house and netted enough income to barely pay for lunch. Then I gave away my stereo, my records and a bed, sold the living room furniture I didn’t need, and even parted with my beloved convertible.
I went through every file in the drawers, realizing that holding on to 15-year old tax returns and receipts from my last house seemed stupid (and I wondered how some of this stuff survived the last move, in 2007). There was a picture of the couches I bought for my first apartment, my entire collection of old TV Guide magazines and playbills from virtually every show I have ever scene – all sorted, recycled or retained.
Two old TVs in the basement that sat in the same spot since the movers placed them in 2007 (I couldn’t lift them) there were placed in my car by the power washing guy and taken to the recycling place, along with old cameras, house phones that didn’t work (was I thinking they would come back to life?), VCRs, chargers for things I didn’t own anymore, my old desktop computer and anything else that plugged in that I couldn’t use or sell (I sold a $200 video camera for a dollar and a Nikon camera for $75 on eBay). I sorted through Yankee candles and sold $25 jars for $1 just to lighten the load. I tested every pen in the house, threw out the bad ones and donated pens, pads and other office supplies to the Associate Alumnae of Douglass College. After a meeting, I smiled as I saw people walking out with my unwanted wrapping paper and gift bags, as well as a supply of huge napkins.
The purging continued uninterrupted for a year. Meanwhile, the house went on the market, which meant it couldn’t look like anyone actually lived here. Every day I faithfully hid my toothbrush and hairdryer, emptied the garbage, removed everything possible from the kitchen counters, and kept the place spotless. Not only did this exercise help market the place, but it showed me that I probably don’t need 20 knives in the kitchen drawer; in reality, just a few will do. Only Staples has more office supplies than I do, and who else has four – count ‘em, four – boxes labeled “HBA” (health and beauty aids)? My sister, whose help in this process was invaluable, found BAND-AID Brand Adhesive Bandages (I used to be responsible for defending the trademark, hence the formal name) that were so old they still had the string packing. We found antiseptic wipes from 1996. OK, those we didn’t keep or donate. They joined the ever present mountain of trash I left for the garbage guys every Sunday and Wednesday night.
I attacked the food situation with relish, eating what I had in the freezer not by choice but by expiration date. The pantry items began to dwindle and the ones that expired last year were responsibly recycled. I tossed out old spices and rethought whether I actually need the ones that had expired unopened. I stopped buying food, again learning that I don’t really need twelve cans of chicken broth in the pantry. It’s not like I live in Buffalo and a snowmaggedon will trap me inside for months.
No description of this process would be complete without considering my packing process. I feel like I am making a sequel to the movie “Still Alice” called “Still Packing,” and I will be doing just that until the last item is loaded on the moving truck next Monday.
If ever I thought I might be a little OCD, this packing experience proved the point. I was in search of the perfect box for everything, determined to group like things together (that’s why there is one box that contains knee braces, ankle supports, Ace bandages, wrist splints and a fold-up cane). I even had kept cartons from my last move, so it was possible to place my framed Lucy poster in its original, safely transported box. Things are carefully arranged in each inch of every box, wrapped in wrapping paper, bubble wrap or the newspapers I have not recycled in more than 6 months and buffered by throw pillows and blankets which I hope I can find again. My artwork looked like it was being wrapped for shipping to a museum. My precious collection of framed photos was wrapped in plain paper with each piece labeled. Every box is marked on the top, sides and end, so no matter how it is stacked, the contents are clearly visible. Instead of keeping a master list of what is in what box, I marked each with meaningful commentary, such as “Mom’s plate” or “Dad’s shoehorn.” And, recognizing but refusing to dispose of everything, I grouped things I thought of as extras in boxes that I can simply toss in six months if they haven’t been opened, like the kitchen gadgets I packed in the beginning and haven’t missed since they entered their cardboard casket. All I know if that every sentence I speak post-move will contain the words “I wonder where…” even though I’ll be talking to myself.
So pity the movers, and wish them well on the 21st, as they haul all of this stuff (in two trucks since the new street isn’t big enough for an 18-wheeler) to my new house. And then wish me luck as I spend the next six months looking for all of the things I can’t live without and can’t find.
Although I have moved before (this is my 5th move in 40 years and 4th house, two of which were brand new), this process revealed lot to me about myself and was, by far, my worst move ever – and it hasn’t actually taken place yet. Will I remember what I did with the chargers for the phone and laptop? Do I really have a use for five clock radios? Where is the TV remote? (Seriously, the brand new TV remote that didn’t work is missing in action.) And don't even get me started on the mortgage process. I would write a separate blog entry for that, but no one would want to read it.
So take my experience and project it on YOUR future: Do you really need that baby grand piano? The stroller you used for your now 40-year old son? Your report card from 3rd grade? START NOW by reviewing, reliving the moments and getting rid of everything you don’t absolutely need, use or love. I even trashed photo albums of vacations I took! Sell, donate and discard anything you can long before you are forced to pack it and move it. Take it from me – nobody needs this much stuff. I think I will confirm that when I begin to Unpack. Stay tuned.
Tuesday, September 1, 2015
I had an eclectic collection of movies this month, but you'll note a bunch of 1980s movies and stories about rock stars. As always, movies are rated on a scale of 1 (bottom) to 5 (top, natch) cans of tuna, and numbering picks up from previous months. Movies marked with an asterisk are ones I had not seen previously.
93. This is Spinal Tap (1984) – It is 1982, and the metal hair band Spinal Tap has fallen on hard times. Once the kings of arena rock, they are reduced to playing at smaller and smaller venues, ultimately sharing a billing with a puppet show. Director Rob Reiner creates a new genre of film with this classic “mockumentary” playing director Marty De Bergi, maker of a “rockumentary” about the fictional British band Spinal Tap. The best thing you can say about the dim-witted band members is that they are loud. As Nigel (Christopher Guest) explains, they have special amps that go to 11 rather than 10 on the loudness scale because 11 is one more. Lead singer David St. Hubbens (Michael McKeon, whose face can barely be seen through his flaxen hair) flails away on guitar through such Tap classics as “Big Bottom” and “Sex Farm.” And check out guitar player Harry Shearer as he tries to pass through airport security and has to remove the “metal object” in his pants. This clever comedy features a treasure trove of cameos and mocks everything in the music industry and its players on every level, including the Yoko Ono-type girlfriend who overthrows the band’s manager and takes over. This movie is not for everyone, but I have always found it extremely entertaining. Kudos to the stars for getting out there on stage in the requisite 80s spandex. 4 cans.
94. Saturday Night Fever (1977) – Tony Manero (John Travolta) is ill-suited for much in life. The almost 20-year old Brooklynite hangs out with his friends, has a dead-end job in a paint store and doesn’t have big aspirations for the future – but put him on the floor at the local disco, and he is magic. Travolta in his iconic white suit, the BeeGees and other disco artists blasting away on the best-selling soundtrack and the woefully miscast Karen Lynn Gorney as his dance partner (she neither sounds like she is from Brooklyn or Manhattan, and she isn’t much of a dancer, for that matter) – these are the things we remember about this classic movie. Tony lives at home with his ever disapproving parents (his father mocks him when Tony tells him he got a raise, to which Tony counters, “I don’t see them handing out raises at the Unemployment Office”) and his only escape is on the dance floor, where he dominates the disco. For all his bravado, Tony is actually a sweet soul, trying to understand the world and his place in it. I distinctly remember seeing this movie for the first time with one of my all-time favorite B-movies, “Lifeguard,” back in the days of the double feature. Travolta brings a sly, sweet sexiness to the otherwise loutish Tony in the role that launched his career. Skip the truly horrible sequel, “Staying Alive,” and see the original. 4 cans.
95. Clara’s Heart (1988) – Before he became the – wait for it – legendary Neil Patrick Harris, the very young NPH played David Hart, a lonely preteen boy in an unhappy family who develops a close bond with the family’s housekeeper, Clara (Whoopi Goldberg). When David’s baby sister dies suddenly, the relationship between his parents deteriorates, and Clara is his only friend. She becomes his confidante, advisor and parental figure, exposing him to her world of Jamaican friends, music and the warmth that he lacks at home. Harris is terrific in the part, and Whoopi is understanding yet authoritative as she tries to guide young David. The last scene had me in tears. 3 ½ cans.
96. Gone Girl (2014) – In the Neil Patrick Harris Double Feature here at Gordon Cinema, Patrick has a minor role as a rich man in love with Rosamund Pike’s Amazing Amy Elliot Dunne, the missing and presumed dead wife of Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck). His part is small, central to the story and not at all like the innocent young man he plays in “Clara’s Heart.” The Gillian Flynn book on which this movie is based is one you can’t put down, and the suspense of this movie is nearly as good. Nick and Amy are the ideal couple on the surface, but when she wants out of the marriage to the oblivious and cheating Nick, she plots a clever way to escape and blame her husband for the crime. I don’t want to give away the plot, but the story is captivating and the twists just keep on coming. Let’s just say I don’t anticipate a sequel to this love story. 4 cans.
97. The Rose (1979) – Bette Midler delivers a knockout punch as the title character, a burned out rock star, fueled by booze and drugs, who is disintegrating before our eyes. Based loosely on the iconic Janis Joplin, the story centers on a woman who seemingly has it all – money, fame, adoring fans – but is lonely, tired and living the lifestyle of the rich and addicted. Alan Bates is her tough manager and Frederic Forrest is the limousine driver she hijacks who becomes her love. But all eyes on Midler here, please, as she commands the stage, grabs the mike and attacks the full-length performances with gusto. I can only hope that they got her in one take for “Stay With Me Baby,” a plaintive wail of a song into which Midler pours every ounce of energy, every muscle twitching and every note a cry of desperation. Wow! Midler won a well-deserved Oscar nomination for this bravura performance. 4 cans.
98. Ricki & the Flash* (2015) – Speaking of rock stars…under the category of “Meryl Can Do Anything,” here actress-icon Streep portrays an aging rocker with family problems. Her daughter (her real-life daughter, Mamie Gummer) is thinking of killing herself, her son is getting married to an uptight woman and isn’t inviting Mom to the wedding, her other son is coming out of the closet, much to the consternation of his family, her ex-husband (Kevin Kline) has picked up the slack for the much-traveled and largely absentee-Mom “Ricki” (actual name – Linda) for years, and his lovely wife (Audra McDonald) has been the one person to try to keep Ricki’s kids connected to her with a myriad of kindnesses. But forget the story and think about Meryl rockin’ out with Rick Springfield, a skill she handles with typical Meryl aplomb. Director Jonathan Demme decided to allow Ricki and her band, the Flash, to perform whole songs, and they do a more than credible job with the likes of Tom Petty, and, in a memorable and most appropriate scene, they take on Bruce Springsteen’s “My Love Will Not Let You Down.” I liked this movie more than I had anticipated, though I’ll admit that had Demi Moore or Sandra Bullock played the lead, I probably wouldn’t have given it 4 cans. Rock on, Meryl. You really can do anything, and you NEVER disappoint.
99. The Perks of Being a Wallflower* (2012) – I actually couldn’t identify any perks for poor high school freshman Charlie (Logan Lerman). He has a host of issues in his past and he is quiet, intelligent and overlooked by nearly everyone, until he strikes up a friendship with seniors Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam, half-siblings who have their own issues. He falls for Sam (Emma Watson) but is saddled with needy Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman), but he really likes Sam. I’m glad I don’t have to go through high school in today’s world, where kids seem remarkably mean, yet the same time vulnerable, insecure and full of false bravado. Everyone has their past, but what will the future bring to Charlie and his friends? This movie is captivating enough that the viewer wants to know the answer. 3½ cans.
100. Shattered* (2007) —This suspenseful drama had plenty of twists and turns, enough that I cannot provide much detail on the plot. Maria Bello and Gerard Butler are a handsome couple with a daughter whose world is turned upside down when Pierce Brosnan abducts them and informs them he has kidnapped their daughter. If they don’t follow his orders, she will be killed. How far do you go to protect your family? The couple is put to the test, and he, in particular, has to come up with ways to follow the orders without putting his life or his wife and daughter in more jeopardy. Brosnan is cold as the perpetrator, and Butler and Bello look suitably scared to death. I had never even heard of this movie but decided to watch it, and I’m glad I did. I just took a deep breath from all of the excitement. 4 cans.
101. Greg Louganis: Back on Board* (2014) – This documentary traces the famed Olympic Gold Medal-winning diver Greg Louganis in his quest for perfection and peace of mind. Always a bit of a loner, Louganis found solace on the diving board, competing in 3 Olympics and missing a fourth only because the US boycotted the Moscow Games in 1980. His superb style and technical prowess even as a teenager surely set him apart from other athletes. The fact that he is a gay man who has lived with HIV for decades also set him apart, and here he recalls the issues around the illness and his attempt to live his life, earn a living and find happiness. You can’t help but feel for this man, who has faced a myriad of challenges and come undone by trusting the wrong people. The good news is that his life seems to have settled down as of the time of the film, and he has found that happiness is possible outside of the pool. 3 cans.
102. Amy* (2015) – Last month I watched the Brian Wilson movie, “Love & Mercy.” This month I have seen “Spinal Tap,” “Ricki & the Flash” and “The Rose,” so clearly I am on a music-movie kick. This documentary is about the transcendent talent of British singer Amy Winehouse, a jazz-loving, hard-drinking chanteuse whose short life exploded into fame and misfortune between 2003 and her death less than 10 years later. Winehouse wrote her own songs and burst on the scene as a teenager, eventually reaching the kind of scary superstardom where cameras flash in your face constantly. When she moved into her first flat, she aspired to write songs and smoke weed all day, the beginning of the inevitable drug and health problems that plagued her. She started out so strong, but by the time she hooked up with Blake Fiedler and married him, she was bulimic and began using drugs that included heroin. Her song “Rehab” was written after the first intervention by family and friends, one that she rejected, but she did finally go to rehab, occasionally stayed clean, but eventually lost her battle. Her desire to stay out of the spotlight was impossible to achieve once she became so famous so quickly. And her talent burned bright, albeit briefly. What a loss for all of us who love real music. 4 cans.
103. In the Land of Women* (2007) – Carter Webb (Adam Brody) lands in the land of women when his actress girlfriend breaks up with him and he seeks refuge at the home of his grandmother (Olympia Dukakis), an older woman waiting impatiently to die. Feeling the loss of his relationship and immersed in a desire to write the story he has contemplated since he was a teenager, the 26-year old finds himself establishing new relationships with an attractive neighbor recently diagnosed with cancer (Meg Ryan) and her teenaged, confused daughter (Kristen Stewart). Carter knows he shouldn’t get involved with either of them, but they are all lonely and confused and drawn to each other. In the end, they all come to realizations about themselves that help each to grow. Brody is a lanky, charming actor, best known for playing Seth Cohen in the TV show “The OC” years before, and he doesn’t have that much of a stretch here. Can’t give this one more than 3 cans.
104. Catch and Release* (2006) – Gray (Jennifer Garner) finds out more about her fiancé after his sudden death right before their wedding than she knew about him while they were engaged. He had money and a secret life that she needs to reconcile to move on, but instead she moves in – to her fiancé’s house, with his semi-slacker roommates Sam and Dennis (Kevin Smith and Sam Jaeger). Also staying with them is good friend Fritz (Timothy Olyphant), who provides the perfect vehicle for revenge sex for Gray. Aside from the fact that I found Kevin Smith to be overacting and and Garner’s lips distracting, I just basically didn’t like the story, so 2 cans is all I can muster here.
105. Date Night (2010) – Date night is not a great night for married couple Claire and Phil Foster (Tina Fey and Steve Carell), who take someone’s reservation at a posh restaurant, only to become the victims of mistaken identity. It seems “the Tripplehorns” are in trouble, and now the bad guys – who are actually bad cops – are after them. This is a comedy-action movie, so there are car chases and crashes, shooting (it always amazes me when shooters can obliterate the windshield and yet no one is harmed), a dunk in the river and whatever other mayhem can ensue. Fey and Carell are just an ordinary New Jersey couple spending an evening in Manhattan, but under some extraordinary circumstances. I liked this movie better in the movies. Somehow revisiting it reminded me of how preposterous it was, and how difficult it is for me to suspend my sense of reality. So, when the airbags went off in the car and then the next scene had them driving it again without them, I found that a little tough to believe. Moderately amusing, and a few great scenes of Mark Wahlberg without his shirt. 3 cans.
106. Masquerade (1988) – The gorgeous Rob Lowe is Tim Whelan, a young yacht skipper who meets the very wealthy Olivia Lawrence (Meg Tilly) and pursues a relationship with her. Tim has a bit of a shady past, and he is having an affair with his captain’s wife, but that doesn’t seem to hamper his pursuit of the quiet Olivia. But this movie, written and directed by Dick Wolf long before he created the “Law & Order” franchise on TV, is full of suspense, as their relationship deepens and you wonder if he really loves her. Saying more would ruin the plot, but I can recommend this movie, which is nowhere near the level of suspense of a “Gone Girl” but compelling nonetheless. Tilly is very bland as Olivia, and they have her looking almost matronly, but Rob Lowe in the 1980s was eye candy for sure (and still…). 3½ cans.
107. St. Elmo’s Fire (1986) – Speaking of Rob Lowe, here he is reprobate Billy, a sax player, recent graduate of Georgetown, and part of a tight group of friends in their early 20s trying to transition between college life and real life. Billy is the heartbreaker, as Demi Moore’s Jules tells him, because he always lets them down. Jules has her own issues – a drug and alcohol problem and overspending, sleeping around and waiting for her “Stepmonster” to die. Alec (Judd Nelson) is the responsible, steady one, who happens to be cheating on his live-in girlfriend Leslie (Ally Sheedy), who knows better than to marry him. Would-be author Kevin (Andrew McCarthy) is secretly in love with Leslie and won’t pursue other women because of his feelings for her and for his best friend, Alec. His closest relationship is with the hooker he passes on the street, who, like everyone else, assumes he is gay. And speaking of unrequited love, Kirby (Emilio Estevez) is head over heels for Dr. Dale, a woman a few years older whom he once took to see a Woody Allen movie. The final member of the crew is Wendy (Mare Willingham), daughter of a wealthy family and in love with her polar opposite, Billy. The movie embodied the emergence of Hollywood’s Brat Pack, and these people were in the news and on the screens frequently. We have all been in that transition period, where we know we have to leave college behind and make our way in this world, yet we cling to the bonds we have made with our college friends, many of which (the bonds, that is) last a lifetime. And this crowd is probably going to stay together, linked somehow, for life. The music and the cast make this movie watchable, and I enjoyed a stroll down memory lane. 4 cans.
108. Nothing In Common (1986) – Continuing my stream of 1980s movies, here we have a little Garry Marshall-Tom Hanks gem. Hanks has played in many movies I have enjoyed, but this one seems to have been overlooked since I rarely find anyone who is familiar with it. David Basner (Hanks) is a 30-something ad exec who he loves working with his team and chasing women, and he’s good at both. He’s trying to land an airline account and the exec (Sela Ward) whose father owns the company. And then one day his mother leaves his father (Eva Maire Saint and Jackie Gleason) and David is forced to face family responsibilities, the truth about the relationship between his parents and how it has affected him. You’d never know from this description that this movie is equal parts comedy and drama (the advertising scenes in the office draw the most comedy). David leans on his old high school girlfriend (Bess Armstrong) for emotional support even though they have both moved on. Gleason is terrific as irascible Max Basner, still trying to sell children’s clothes and ignoring his failing health. David has to balance his work and family life for the first time. 4 cans.
109. Sex Tape* (2014) – You have to give Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz props for nearly baring it all this comedy about a couple trying to revive their sex life by recording themselves going at it in every possible way for three hours. In these days of “the cloud,” the video gets uploaded to a server and the couple make a mad dash to see who is behind the incident and how they can get it back. This isn’t the kind of movie I generally watch, but it is less prurient than comedic in nature. Having seen it once, I’ll likely never see it again. 2½ cans.
110. In the Bedroom (2001) – Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson are Ruth and Matt, a long-married couple leading quiet lives in their Maine community when their world is rocked by the tragic death of their son, Frank. Frank had been dating Natalie (Marissa Tomei), a not-quite divorced woman with two young children whose nasty husband did not take kindly to the presence of another man. With Frank’s death, Ruth and Matt’s lives become quietly desperate, as their cope with their grief and the restrictions of the legal system. This is a slow-moving drama where feelings are sublimated by the main characters as they try to live their lives through their everyday activities and their grief. The performances by the leads all received Oscar nominations for good reason. Not cheery, but well done. 3½ cans.
Saturday, August 15, 2015
Whatever happened to Adele? I mean, one day we were rolling with her in the deep, and then she had a baby, and then something happened to her throat, and then Sam Smith seemed to take her place and then something happened to his throat, so where is Adele? I need some more Adele music. And Sam Smith, too, for that matter.
Is there a better song than Brain Wilson’s “God Only Knows?’ Maybe God is the only one who can answer that question. The lyrics are so beautiful and so timeless.
I’ve said this before but I can’t help repeating myself: Does EVERYONE have to ask you to take a survey? Kohl’s wastes more paper just by stapling that tiny note to the receipt to ask you to go on-line to take their survey. I mailed something from the post office and they wanted me to take a survey. The lab that does my blood work asked me to go on-line and fill one out, and the hospital where I had minor surgery recently sent me a written questionnaire via US mail. I wonder if the post office asked them to fill out a survey.
You know, Medicare, if I could figure how HOW to enroll on your website “from the comfort of my home or office,” I would do that rather than listen to 30 minutes of bad music and your explanations that you serve 50 million people – all of whom are on line ahead of my call today. By the way, when I finally spoke to a live human being at SS even he asked me to stay on the line to take a survey. I figured I’d leave that to one of the 50 million other people they were serving.
Why do I always have technical issues with my computer or programs when I do that last, late check before bed? Inevitably, all of my e-mail disappears, or the printer won’t print, or I can’t sign in to something. And how do machines sense when you are in a hurry? That’s when they crack under the pressure and shut down, just when you need that last page of the fax to go through. So annoying.
I no longer think of the newspaper as reading material or something that should be recycled. I think of it as packing material, as I use it for wrapping as I pack.
Seriously, why is there an expiration date on my bottle of nail polish remover? Is it so toxic that by July, 2017, it will have disintegrated the bottle? If I use it that August, what will happen?
I love the Neil Sedaka song (little known) “I Should’ve Never Let You Go,” about a man’s regret about a woman whom he dumps. But the fact that he sings it as a duet with his daughter kind of creeps me out.
Not that research has been conducted on this topic, but I’m pretty sure than the vast majority of retail clerks who start the transaction by asking you, “How are you today?” actually don’t care how you are today. Your “Fine, thanks, how are you?” response doesn’t mean you care about them, either.
Why is the abbreviation for pounds “lbs?” There are no letters L or B in the word pound. Just another English language oddity, or is there a real reason? Just wondering.
And why is the nickname for William Bill? For Jonathan, Jack? For Elizabeth, Betty? I don’t get it.
I was driving past Quest Diagnostics, where my blood work is done, when I heard the Taylor Swift song “Bad Blood.” Irony? Coincidence?
Have you ever called an 800 number where the menu options had NOT changed? You are told to listen carefully, as if you actually knew the previous menu options, which, unless you have had lots of problems with this organization and called many times before, you probably don’t know in the first place. And how many of us actually know our party’s extension and can enter it at this time?
I recently took a long trip and used the map application on my phone because it gave me more route options than the GPS built into the car. But, because it recognizes traffic, I kept getting a verbal message about traffic and the route being abated, or at least I think that is what the message said. For the first 2 hours of the trip, I thought she was saying something about rutabagas. And then she kept switching the route because it would be shorter, but I didn’t want to go the new way, so I went the original way and the rutabagas kept coming up.
Any time I think to myself that I’ll remember something and I don’t have to write it down I don’t remember it and I wish that I had written it down.
Speaking of which, I am making a pledge to go shopping with a list instead of wandering around ShopRite, seeing things on sale and buying them IN CASE I need them. That’s how you end up with 4 boxes of plastic bags and two containers of salt. Seriously, how often does anyone buy salt? And I have two. And don’t tell me to take one back, because I recycled the receipt, responsible person that I am. So, does anyone need salt?
I’ll admit it: I don’t know the difference between Ice Cube and Ice T. I also cannot identify which Hemsworth brother is which. And you could hold a gun to my head and I would still not know Mary Kate from Ashley Olson.
If you wear a FitBit or any of these new devices that track your activity, you would be amazed at how much ground you cover in a day. On days when I take a 3.5 mile walk, I can cover another few miles just running around the house. Packing boxes and hauling them up and down the stairs is a big contributor to my mileage these days, too!
Thank God for Tide to Go, which I end up using at home. Is that legal?
I wonder why we move our left arm forward with our right leg and vice versa when we walk. Would we tip over if the right leg and arm moved together on the same side? These are things I think about on my walk.
You know that things are bad when you make your dinner choice based on the expiration date on whatever is in the freezer. Tonight’s chicken fettucine was running out of time this month, and it’s gone now. I don’t want to worry about packing/wasting food when I move, so I am trying to eat my way through the food chain here.
I get so sleepy watching TV, but by the time I go upstairs to bed, wash my face, brush my teeth, etc., I am wide awake. I’m hoping that when I move to a house with the bedroom on the first floor, I’ll get into the habit of getting ready for bed earlier and I can just hop in when I feel my eyes starting to close. Of course, I’ll be unpacking for 6 months, so there goes at least some sleep.
The way to a man’s heart is through his – lawn. That’s right. I have yet to meet a man who didn’t consider a compliment about his grass looking really green as the highest form of flattery.
You have no idea how much useless stuff you own until you start packing it. I have donated, sold, recycled and discarded a landfill’s worth of stuff, and I still find more to pack or toss. I am labeling the boxes very specifically because I’m pretty sure a lot of this stuff will never even get UNPACKED, even though I am reluctant to get rid of it now. Throwing out my grade school report cards was a big deal, but I kept my Douglass diploma. These days, I wouldn’t be surprised if Rutgers tried to wrest it from me, but that would happen over my dark, cold, lifeless body.
Saturday, August 1, 2015
I watched a boatload of movies in July, as I anticipate my movie watching time dwindling in the next few months as I move into a new house. As usual, the numbering picks up from previous months and those movies that are new to me are indicated with an asterisk. They are rated on a scale of 1-5 cans of tuna, with 5 being the top of the scale.
77. The Turning Point (1977) – There are countless decisions we make in life, but only a few that truly set our course. Here, middle-aged Didi (Shirley Maclaine) is a retired ballerina, raising her family and running a ballet school, when her old ballet company and its principal ballerina (and her erstwhile dear friend) Emma (Anne Bancroft) come to town. Didi and her husband have a talented daughter, Emelia, who is selected to work with the company in New York (Leslie Browne). Didi gave up her dream to be a ballet dancer when she married Wayne (Tom Skerritt), and the two friends each envy the other’s life. Would Didi have been better than Emma? Should she not have had a child and pursued her artistic dream? Does Emma, a recognized star, yearn to have a talented daughter like Emilia? I don’t know much about ballet, but the sequences, especially those which feature Mikhail Baryshnikov, are breathtaking. Friendship between women can be deep and long-lasting, but so can resentments and drama, and here they boil up to the surface and end up in one of the best catfights ever filmed. This movie has an excellent cast, a good story and it takes on a burning question – did I make the right choice? I thought it was time to see this oldie but goodie again. 4 cans and a pair of ballet slippers.
78. Innocence – “Too much love is as bad as no love at all,” says Claire to her beloved Andreas. Claire and Andreas were a happy, young couple many years ago but life took them in different directions. Claire married John, had a son and proceeded to subjugate her life to the needs of others. Andreas married as well, but by the time he and Claire reunite after 30 plus years, he has been a widower for a long time. Their once-young love is rekindled but complicated by the scowling presence of Claire’s husband, who has largely ignored her for 30 years and, only when he sees that he may lose her to another man, does he begin to realize that he loves her. Claire feels that neither man has loved her enough – Andreas, not enough to have fought for her when they were young, and John, neglecting to express his feelings for her. Now Claire and Andreas have one last chance to be together, and it isn’t the same. As he tells her, “Every stage of life has its own kind of love.” Is it companionship, obligation or real, lasting love? This wonderful movie raises all kinds of questions about relationships, and how we take for granted the people we love. The story is lovingly portrayed by Julia Blake (who looks like a cross between Jessica Tandy and Barbara Barrie), Charles Tingwell and Terry Norris. There aren’t many movies about love between mature couples, and this one is worth waiting for. 4 cans.
79. Niagara* (1953) – Film noir = men wearing fedoras, sometimes filmed in silhouette, with a murder plot and melodramatic music. This movie fits that definition, with the stunning Marilyn Monroe plotting with her lover to kill her husband (Joseph Cotton), all set at Niagara Falls. Monroe is all red lips and blonde hair and filmed in a way that accentuates the power of her looks. The movie is a bit plodding and overly dramatic, but, never having been to Niagara Falls, at least I got a close-up look. 2 cans.
80. Cinema Paradiso (1989) – There are few movies as heartwarming as this lovely Italian (with subtitles) classic about a young boy who falls in love with the movies by befriending the gruff projectionist at the theater in his Sicilian town, the Cinema Paradiso. The music is beautiful and haunting, the story sad yet uplifting, the acting authentic and the entire experience is a must-see for those of us who love movies. I can remember spending many a Saturday at the Cort Theater in Somerville, where, for a dollar, you could buy your ticket (either 35 or 50 cents), get popcorn and a soda and see a double feature. It is that experience that led me to my love of movies. I saw this one on Netflix for the first time in many years, and if you haven’t seen it, stop reading this review and watch it now. 4½ bags of popcorn.
81. Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me* (2013) – And so they did – shoot her, that is, for many hours for this documentary. Elaine Stritch was a Broadway legend, a tough dame whose singing voice alone would never qualify her for a place in the pantheon of performers on the stage. It was her attitude, her fearlessness and her dominance of the stage and those around her who made her a star. She shunned wearing pants – preferring long shirts and tights – and she wore ties and lots of hats, from tams to fedoras, all adding to her unique style, bluster and charm. A self-confessed alcoholic who battled the bottle and diabetes, she proposed to her husband, whose reply was, “Why not?” And she commanded a stage. Anyone who ever saw “Company” remembers her rendition of the Stephen Sondheim song, “Here’s to the Ladies Who Lunch,” which should never be sung by anyone else. Sondheim was never easy on a singer, with his complex lyrics that tell an intricate tale, and Stritch, at an advanced age, sometimes had trouble remembering them on stage – but she delivers when the house lights go down. This documentary, filmed when Stritch was about to turn 87, traces Stritch’s career from the movies to the musical memoir that won her the Tony: “I’m Still Here.” And don’t we wish she were. Feisty, profane and yet vulnerable. One of a kind. 3½ cans.
82. Antarctica: A Year on Ice* (2013) – As someone who wears a jacket in the summer because I freeze in the produce section of ShopRite, I picked what seems to be an odd movie for me to watch. But Anthony Powell’s visually arresting documentary traces the beauty of a continent seen by few people, only those who can brave winters of 80 degrees below zero weather. They are not just scientists but firefighters, a retail clerk, administrators, and other so-called “normal” people. Some live there only in the summer, but many brave the long and dark winters, when the sun sets in April and isn’t seen again until August. No planes can fly in or out during the winter conditions, so supplies must be carefully maintained. And even personalities change, according to the residents, as they claim to suffer from “T-3” syndrome, where they forget things easily. The beauty of the nighttime in the dark, when flashes of green light undulate in the black sky, are truly spectacular. Powell created stabilizers and weather-proofed his cameras so he could record much of the film in time lapse photography, the cameras standing outside like soldiers, braving the conditions. The result of his work is a collection of footage that tells the story of a unique place and the people who live and work there. Compelling stuff. 3½ cans.
83. Good Night and Good Luck (2005) – The title of this movie is based on the exit line of CBS news legend Edward R. Murrow (David Straitharn). This film is a dramatization of CBS’s quest to expose Senator Joseph McCarthy in the early 1950s for his witch-hunt against anyone whom he decided was a Communist sympathizer. CBS is portrayed as above reproach while McCarthy, shown in extensive clips of his actual hearings, is portrayed as a gadfly who relied on guilt by association, never letting actual facts get in the way of his tirades against people he deemed suspicious. Murrow has plenty of juice here, having built his reputation as a hard-nosed but fair reporter during WWII, and he uses it to go after McCarthy in a way that contrasts to the Senator’s histrionics. This is a very insular movie, filmed appropriately in black and white, and confining itself primarily to the smoke-filled newsroom of CBS. Murrow stakes the reputation of CBS on his crusade to expose the methods and tactics of McCarthy. George Clooney plays CBS exec Fred Friendly, a devoted Murrow supporter, and he also directed and co-wrote the script. Straitharn fashions his Murrow with the right amount of quiet indignation, gravitas and an occasionally arched eyebrow, barely visible through the constant cigarette smoke. This movie is certainly not one of broad appeal, but this account helps us understand the importance of journalistic integrity and getting the facts straight. 4 cans.
84. No Contract, No Cookies: The Stella D’Oro Story (2011) – Stella D’Oro was a successful family bakery with a plant in the Bronx, where 138 workers from 20 countries made cookies, packed boxes, fixed equipment, and stayed for decades, many becoming close, personal friends. But when the company, started in 1930, was sold to an investment firm, Brynwood Partners, the new owners demanded cuts in pay and benefits and the workers went on strike. This documentary shows the worst side of business, with the investment firm portrayed as heartless scoundrels. The unionized workers showed up every day to picket and demand their jobs – now being done by “scabs” -- back. Eventually they won their case in court, but in an act of absolute corporate greed and cruelty, Brynwood immediately sold the factory and its assets and moved production to a non-union plant in Ohio. All 138 workers, many far too old to find jobs, were left unemployed. I saw this movie once before, and I still find it sad. The close-ups of the faces of people who loved their jobs and each other, who proudly represent their place of birth – be that Greece or Ecuador, Vietnam or the Dominican Republic or Italy – and the music add even more drama to a heartbreaking situation. All I know is that I have not bought a package of Stella D’Oro cookies since I first saw this movie and I never will again. 4 cans but no cookies.
85. Cake* (2014) – Jennifer Anniston has never looked worse or acted better than she does in this drama about Claire, a woman suffering chronic pain and trapped in despair and anger. She is thrown out of her pain support group for her insensitivity when one of the members (Anna Kendrick) commits suicide, and then she is obsessed with learning the details of her death. She even befriends the grieving husband (Sam Worthington) of the woman. Anniston walks like she is in pain, like every step puts daggers in her body. Her physical pain is only part of the issue, as she grapples with a tragic loss and tries to decide whether she wants to continue to live. She lashes out at everyone and lies to get prescription drugs to dull all of her pain. The only good thing in her life is her loyal housekeeper, Silvana (Adriana Barraza), who tolerates her behavior as Claire tries to tolerate her pain. This is hardly the kind of light fare in which we typically see Anniston, and she is up to the challenge, eschewing the good looks of her signature role as Rachel Green in “Friends” and is not afraid to look as bad as we all do when we are going through a crisis. There is cake, but not until the end of the movie. 3½ cans.
86. Happy Valley* (2014) – “Happy Valley” – State College, Pennsylvania -- was not such a happy valley in the wake of child molestation charges against retired Penn State Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky. This documentary skirts the crimes themselves to address the culture of football fervor at Penn State. The focus shifts from the heinous acts committed by Sandusky to the Penn State administration, including legendary coach Joe Paterno: When did he know and what did he know about Sandusky? According to a report commissioned by Penn State, “Joe Pa” knew little, but failed to follow up on what he had heard, as did members of the University administration. The Paterno family is shown suffering a litany of indignities, from having the halo over Paterno’s head painted out of a street mural by the original artist to having his statue removed from the front of the stadium to having the NCAA strip Paterno of all of the wins from 1998 (the date of the first incident) until the end of his career, when he was unceremoniously sacked (he died just months later). Let’s not forget that it was Sandusky who was the perpetrator of these heinous crimes against children and young men. The smug Board of Governors seriously underestimated the fury Paterno’s firing would generate among students and alumni, who chanted, flipped over media trucks, tore down street lamps and simply lost their minds. The movie shows us the considerable fall-out, without the victims, but concentrating on Penn State football fanatics and the Paterno family and how they were deceived by Sandusky and sanctimoniously slapped by Penn State and later by the NCAA. But this is a place that considered its program above all others, where football is worshipped, and by the end of the movie, the pro-Joe crowd has already bought in to the new coach hired (Bill O’Brien, who has since returned to the NFL) and the fans look eager to get back to the game. I won’t offer an opinion on the crime and punishment here, but I will say this provocative film had little happiness on display in Happy Valley. 3½ cans.
87. The Sterile Cuckoo (1969) – Lisa Minelli gives a powerhouse performance as kooky Pookie Adams, a desperately lonely young woman who lives somewhere between madness and euphoria. Pookie is on her way to college in upstate New York when she encounters Jerry (Wendell Burton), a quiet, buttoned down kind of guy also on his way to his school in upstate New York who is, at first, overwhelmed by her personality. But they gravitate to each other, with Jerry willing to tolerate Pookie’s disdain for her classmates and society in general. He reluctantly (at first) continues to see Pookie at school and allows himself to be drawn into her insular world. They are in love – or so they think – but no one can exist entirely outside the norms of college life forever. Jerry is very reserved but he has the ability to assimilate into a normal life, while Pookie gets increasingly desperate and clingy. This is a sad, tender story about a woman who today would have a diagnosis to describe her behavior and who banks her hopes on a relationship that is doomed from the start. I love the song “Come Saturday Morning.” 3½ cans.
88. Showrunner* (2014) – It’s not easy being king. Ask any of the overworked, stressed out “showrunners” in this documentary on the people who are responsible for heading up a TV show. Most started as writers (and many continue to write scripts for their shows), and others have gone on to direct programs, but there is a collaborative process that results in a program getting – and staying – on air. The showrunners are not generally the only writers on the staff, and sometimes they have help on the management side, but their biggest obstacles are not the stories and the scripts but the TV executives and ratings that can make or break a show. Renowned showrunner J.J. Abrams has had as many as three shows on TV simultaneously (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” being the best known) and has also gone on to feature films. There are interviews with “Sopranos” vet Terence Winter, Abrams, Michael Kelly of “Revenge” and many others, all of whom admit that getting started is tough and staying on top is tougher. If you like the business part of show business, you’ll find this program fascinating. 3½ cans.
89. Under the Tuscan Sun (2003) – It’s hard not to like this movie about a suddenly divorced book reviewer who travels to Italy and impulsively buys a dilapidated old villa in Tuscany. Diane Lane stars in this story based on the autobiographical novel of Frances Mayes. I know that the story is at least semi-true, but it was hard for me to accept the fact that this woman could buy a home, find workers to fix it up, meet the man of her dreams and become part of her new community so easily. In real life, I’ve spent weeks trying to get the window guy to call me back. But Lane, who is in virtually every scene, is so disarming that the reality/fantasy of the plot becomes plausible. The men are handsome, the vistas beautiful, the food looks yummy and the movie provides us with a two-hour escape from our own, considerably less interesting lives. 3½ cans.
90. The Producers (2005) – This is a movie I should love. It is the musical adaptation of Mel Brooks’ classic comedy with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder about a Broadway producer and his accountant who hatch a scheme to overfund a play destined to flop. Any movie that brings you a musical number like “Springtime for Hitler” can either be highly hysterical or highly offensive. I opt for the former. However, this version, which is the movie version of the smash Broadway hit with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, is played so broadly that the actors seem to be projecting to the last row of the balcony and just doesn’t work as well on the small screen (my 35-inch TV, that is). Lane and Broderick are just two of the inspired lunatics (Gary Beach, Roger Bart and Will Ferrell also star), and the music and lyrics were written by Brooks himself. But somehow all of that talent just hammed it up too much for my taste. I’d rather see the Mostel and Wilder version. Mel Brooks is a sick, sick man. 3 cans.
91. Sharknado 3 – Oh, Hell, No* (2015) – Oh, hell, no, is exactly what I kept saying to myself throughout this preposterous movie. I really thought the first two in this franchise that aired on TV’s ScyFy Channel were campy enough to be amusing, knowing they were so bad that they were good. But this time around, the stunt casting gets stranger (Mark Cuban is POTUS, brandishing weapons to fight the flying fish in the White House) and our hero, Fin Shepherd (Ian Ziering, Beverly Hills 90120 refuge who is just happy to find work), is put in ever more danger. In this sequel, he and his father, Gil Shepherd (David Hasselhoff, thank you very much), are launched into space to thwart the sharknado weather pattern and are joined at the last minute by Fin’s pregnant wife, April (the emotionless Tara Reid), because in real life, pretty much anyone can ride a NASA rocket into space at a moment’s notice. I don’t want to ruin it, but suffice to say that there is a human birth that involves a shark. And there is the ever-present chain saw that Fin carries around to fend off the flying fish. The first two were funny-bad. This one was just bad-bad. And when they come out with Sharknado 4 – which is in production – all I can say is, “Oh, hell, no!” This may be Sharknado 3, but it only gets 1 can of seafood from me.
92. Mr. Holmes* (2015) – Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellan) is not the man you think he is. Elderly and frail, he neither wears a hat nor smokes a pipe, and he cannot live on his own without the help of his housekeeper (Laura Linney, looking determinedly frumpy) and her young son. His fading memory makes it hard for him to complete a book because he cannot recall the details of a key case. He’s left to work with his bees and train young Roger to care for them, too. But there are some moments of clarity for the old sleuth, who can still determine more about someone from a cursory glance than the rest of us can from a detailed examination. There’s not a lot of action here, as Holmes struggles to recall his unsolved case. Still, McKellan’s portrayal of the legend of Scotland Yard is so nuanced and yet so prickly that he surely will get an Oscar nod. I liked it but didn’t love it. 3 cans.