Six Nominated Films

February 7, 2011 at 7:32 am (Movies and TV)

Now that it’s February, I really have to get on the stick. I have a long list of films to see before the telecast on Sunday, February 27. I spent this SuperBowl weekend seeing six more, which I will as usual offer comments on for your convenience.

Toy Story 3, nominated for Best Animated Feature.

Only in an alternate universe with Toy Story fail to win its Oscar. I preferred How to Train Your Dragon. But the Academy is not going to miss its last chance to award a franchise that changed the history of animated films forever. As you may recall, the original Toy Story came out in 1995, and its sequel in 1997, before they even had the Best Animated Feature category (that arrived in 2001).

I found several scenes, like the one where Ken models clothes, to be unnecessary. The whole concept of “bitter, non-played-with toy as villain” is a recycle from Stinky Pete, the Prospector. This film took less care with subplots, scoring, and background details than the other two, which is a shame and not fair to the original. One scene involving an incinerator moved me to tears, but not because of what was happening onscreen; I was terribly upset, picturing all the little kids sitting in movie theaters around the world getting traumatized. Had I taken my 6-year-old to this, he’s have woken up with nightmares about his toys burning up. The film had moments, certainly. But it wasn’t a worthy successor.

The Kids Are All Right, nominated for Best Picture

A few people have suggested that Annette Bening might pull an upset over Natalie Portman for Best Actress this year. Bening turned in a solid performance, but mostly, the character is Carolyn Burnham as a lesbian. It’s not that big of a stretch. The best moments of this film came from Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore, who are both nominated for Support Categories they won’t win.

The writing in the film is exactly the type I admire most…honesty, with humor and heart (that’s my motto, in fact). There is both humor and heartbreak. There is perfection in imperfection. These characters and their motivations are believable. In America, people don’t seem to get as offended by lesbians as they do gay men, for some reason…a reason why this film has gotten the level of attention it has. However, thinking back to Milk and Brokeback Mountain, those films both won other awards, but NOT Best Picture. I wonder when America will be ready for a gay Best Picture. It won’t be this year, and that’s too bad, because this was a special film.

Exit Through the Gift Shop, nominated for Best Documentary Feature

Thierry Guetta, a French expatriate in Los Angeles who ought to be on Ritalin, was obsessed with his camcorder for several years, and because he captured everything he could for several years, he stumbled onto the underworld of illegal street art. Guetta befriends the likes of Sheperd Fairey and Banksy, and follows them around, helping to document their art process and the reaction to that art. If only that’s solely what this film had been about.

Responding to a half-serious challenge from Banksy, Guetta mortgages his business, rents an art studio, buys printing equipment, and hires a staff to mass-produce the kind of street art Fairey and Bansky made famous. Guetta then puts together an art show, using quotes from those two artists to promote the show. Guetta’s show nets him a million dollars in art sales. The whole thing made me sick because this guy commodified art on purpose, and got away with it. He didn’t even do his work, personally. My 13-year-old son, also horrified by what he was seeing, exclaimed, “But…he’s cheating!” Even though there aren’t technically rules associated with art, I agree that there was something sleazy about this. Loved the first half, was upset by the second, and I wish the film had chosen either one or the other to be completely about.

Dogtooth, nominated for Best Foreign Feature

A Greek executive rules tyrannically using psychological and physical abuse, over his wife and three adult children, who live in a walled-off compound far away from civilization. This is a home school from Hell. Incest (very graphic) is condoned, the “children” spend all day in their underwear but dress in infantile-looking formalwear for dinner, and the three have been brought up, deliberately being taught fallacies about their language and their world. It is disturbing from beginning to end, and has a lot of sex and nudity in it, which isn’t done with any camera trickery or body doubles.

What the hell are the Greeks smoking these days? I’ve heard a few people claim that this film is really a protest against oppressive governments. I have no idea whether that’s true or not, because I didn’t read it that way at all. If it was the intention to have it be such a protest, then it was badly, and offensively handled. Not only will I not recommend that anyone see this, but I will actively campaign against anyone seeing it.

I Am Love, nominated for Best Foreign Feature

This is a film that proves I’m not enough of a film snob yet. It won the Golden Globe, and has gotten tons of glowing reviews about its depth. I pride myself on reading several levels of depth in films, to the extent that I’m asked to share my notes a lot at film school now that I’m there. However…I found it mostly boring because of its very slow pace. It took about half an hour before I even understood what the film was about, and because I don’t speak Italian, I missed a key point. Tilda Swinton’s character is Russian, and speaks Italian with a Russian accent. Good luck understanding that facet without reading any reviews, or just reading subtitles, grrrrr.

While others have written that this film is about a woman who is an outsider in her own family, who discovers and follows her own needs, that isn’t what I got from it. I found it to be a statement about old business that valued quality products and people, versus the new corporate mantra that only the bottom line matters. Grandfather Eduardo leaves the company to his son and grandson (also named Eduardo), stating that he wishes his old-fashioned business philosophy to continue; before the grandfather’s body is even cold, his son is making arrangements to sell to an American corporation. Young Eduardo clearly espouses his grandfather’s position, and protests loudly. Disillusioned, he argues with his mother, falls by accident into a swimming pool, hits his head and dies. His death is necessary because it represents the death of the old ways. I found that aspect of the film to be its most compelling. Overall, so far, between this and Dogtooth, this wins. But that’s not saying much because Dogtooth is actually Dogpoop.

Restrepo, nominated for Best Documentary Feature

I haven’t walked out on many movies in my lifetime. I think the only one I can ever remember actually walking out on is Adam Sandler’s Waterboy, because as the parent of a child with autism I found it offensive. I have great respect for the men and women in uniform who are deployed in Afghanistan, but I am ashamed to say, I lasted only twelve minutes and forty-three seconds into this film before I got seriously motion-sick and had to turn it off. It’s possible I may go back and try to see more, but…it’s even worse than the one that’s made me sickest of all (Children of Men), which I sat through all they way only because it contained Clive Owen. Maybe I’ll pretend the Army captain is Clive Owen. I do feel an obligation to finish this film. It’s the least I can do to honor the troops who have placed themselves in harm’s way, in my place. But I think I’ll need one of those motion sickness patches first.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Anti-Socials and The Social Network

January 13, 2011 at 4:27 pm (Movies and TV)

I think I may have been the last person in America to see The Social Network, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I have been on FaceBook for three years and can’t live without it. This film chronicles the controversial startup of the internet behemoth.

My favorite scene of the film is the very first one, with quickfire, snappy dialogue that could only have been written by Aaron Sorkin. This is the kind of back-and-forth I’ve been missing since The West Wing left the air. As the story takes place mostly in dark rooms, online, in law offices and in e-mails between people, the challenge here is to build any sense of action. Several scenes could have been eliminated entirely, had Person A simply e-mailed Person B about what was going on, as my husband pointed out. “Yes,” I agreed. “But it would be a pretty short movie, and film is primarily a visual medium, so all we’d be doing is checking some computer geek’s e-mail for half an hour.”

The film will get many Oscar nominations, including one for Jesse Eisenberg, whose cocky, driven portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg seemed eerily familiar to me as the parent of a child with autism. Were I not that parent, I would have been more able to see the Zuckerberg character as the jerk the movie wants you to. Instead, I saw a possibly autistic kid with a good idea. The only character I was truly able to like and sympathize with was the unfortunate Eduardo, and even he distracted me, because he looked so much like a childhood friend of mine.

So much of this film takes place in dark little rooms, the kinds of rooms that imply shady deals, and breed anti-social computer addicts all over the world. The difference here is that Zuckerberg did something with it. For better and worse, he has changed the world. Whether that can be said for thousands of young men trapped by their own social awkwardness, behind computers, I don’t know. The irony of a socially-inept person inventing the ultimate social tool is not lost here.

Many critics are calling this the best film of 2010. While I understand that this can be viewed as “a film for our time,” I thought it failed on a couple of levels, and that the failings were writing decisions rather than directing or acting decisions. Will an old lady who isn’t very familiar with computers see this film and come out with a better understanding of FaceBook, or computers, or the internet? Not likely, because the film assumes a certain level of knowledge from the outset.

There are two aspects of FaceBook which should have been better explained, which affected my ability to sympathize with characters. One is, if Zuckerberg would not allow advertising, how was FaceBook worth money and not just a big expanding electronic rolodex? The other is, how is FaceBook different from MySpace and Friendster? At one point, the film even asks this question, but never adequately answers it. Answering these two key points more obviously and more in-depth might have built more urgency for Eduardo’s concerns, and might have created more excitement in the audience about the idea.

The multi-talented Justin Timberlake did a swell job of playing the counterpoint to Zuckerberg’s rising star. It was unfair both to Timberlake and to his character that they went so far to establish him as part of the story, only to leave his character unresolved at the end. I am not savvy enough to already know what happened to that man, and the film implies that viewers ought to.

Maybe I’ve been taking too many cultural classes at film school, but I was also bothered by the notion of white privilege and how this story, and so many stories like this, came out of Harvard, and ONLY Harvard. There were no people of color anywhere. The only contributions women make are to dump the men in the story. Maybe, the story happened exactly like this, and maybe in its telling, this film perpetuates the notion that to get anywhere in this country, you have to be a white guy from Harvard: film simultaneously portraying, and perpetuating, reality. I like to think that because Zuckerberg had such animosity toward the “closed club” issue, that FaceBook, the corporation has gone on to create opportunities for people outside that circle.

I say this every year: I go to the movies during Oscar season to discover that one film that makes me go…WOW…now THAT was best picture. I didn’t get that feeling here, like I did when I saw Slumdog Millionaire or the Hurt Locker. Black Swan and True Grit are both better films than The Social Network. But as I said…that may not be important. The more important thing here may just be that you have more FaceBook users than moviegoers, period.

Permalink 1 Comment

The Fighter and The King’s Speech

December 30, 2010 at 3:54 am (Movies and TV)

Every year I do a movie marathon with my Mom to get ready for awards season. I always look forward to it and always have fun, even when the films aren’t ones we particularly like. This year, we saw The King’s Speech, followed immediately afterward by The Fighter. These two films are similar in that they both present afflicted men who overcome certain obstacles to attain greatness. These two films are different in that I liked the former, but did not like the latter.

When we went in to the theater to see The Fighter, a lady was on her way out, wiping away tears, and telling us magnificent the film was. We can’t figure out why this lady was crying. There have, over the years, been examples of blue-collar people in the movies who are likable and who have a certain degree of dignity, if not class (think Rocky Balboa or Erin Brockovich or Sissy Spacek in Coal Miner’s Daughter). You will not meet anyone like them in The Fighter, which has the unusual distinction of having not one single character I liked, could sympathize with or root for, and it is difficult to like a film under those circumstances. As I had previously read, Christian Bale does completely dominate the film. I couldn’t decide whether this was the point, or whether they just allowed him too much power. Also, Oscar buzz aside, after headlines I’ve read, and certain audio clips I’ve heard, I’m not sure acting like a jerk is such a big stretch for Bale. Melissa Leo could very well deserve an award if she was able to make me hate her that much in two hours’ space.

In terms of filmic convention, I take no issue with The Fighter, other than, the soundtrack (which jumped between classic metal, 80’s music and Whitesnake) thoroughly confused me. I don’t understand how a film set in 1993 is so heavy on 70’s and 80’s music, though, if the alternative is Ace of Base and Ugly Kid Joe, maybe we’re better off. This will be a weird year at the Oscars for Darren Aronofsky, who directed Black Swan, but produced The Fighter. Hopefully only Black Swan will get nominated and the guy won’t have to risk mixing up speech papers in his pocket.

The bottom line about The Fighter is dysfunction. Can we ever really rise above dysfunction if we surround ourselves with the same people whose patterns have screwed us up? Perhaps  it depends on the individual. Several critics have compared this film to Rocky, and it isn’t even close. Both films are about small-town fighters becoming champions despite incredible odds. However, only Rocky is a guy you can feel for, can root for; and that’s really saying something when you consider that The Fighter is based on a true story. The film did no favors for the people involved, who ought to be pretty upset. I did not emerge with any further appreciation for boxing, or any feeling of enrichment for having seen this film.

In contrast, The King’s Speech is the movie I can picture an older woman coming out of, wiping away tears and proclaiming its excellence. Colin Firth is a master of masking deep emotion with British reservedness (see What A Girl Wants, Bridget Jones, Love Actually, pretty much anything he’s ever been in). Geoffrey Rush is a master of likable peculiarity (see Shakespeare in Love, Quills, Pirates of the Caribbean, pretty much anything he’s ever been in). Helena Bonham Carter (aka Mrs. Tim Burton) makes her first return to unquirky, normal British period biopics in quite a while, and comes across with grace, style and believability; this is hardly the Red Queen. The cast here turns out to be a better recipe than The Fighter‘s. The acting was, in itself, solid; I was also struck by the clever, heartfelt screenplay, and Alexander Desplat’s mesmerizing score.

Some films depict characters from throughout history at a defining moment. We don’t see what they went on to do, because we know it, historically. What we see is some crisis of conscience or confidence that leads to them becoming the person they had to be, to face their particular moment in history. That King George VI had to contend with the eruption of World War II, a new monarchy, and stuttering all at the same time was something I had not been previously aware of. I imagine that Queen Elizabeth will want to see this film, because it’s about her parents, and depicts her as a child; she is sure to approve. I felt not just that I had enjoyed the film, but had come out of it with more appreciation for history. That’s the difference, when you create characters who are accessible and able to be sympathized with.

Permalink 2 Comments

Black Swan

December 28, 2010 at 1:54 am (Movies and TV)

Oscar time is definitely here. I read very few reviews of Black Swan, because I wanted to form my own conclusions. That’s how I’m rolling with it this year, because I have a rep to protect. This is my first year reporting on Oscar films, officially as a film student. You can tell I’m a film student because I now call them films.

Once you go to film school, you realize that you will never watch one in the same way again. I can’t merely watch and enjoy anymore, because now my mind is occupied with things like continuity, editing, parallel structure, lighting, etc. — all the stuff I get graded for. In some cases, this will probably ruin the experience for me. Not this time.

The themes operating in Black Swan are fantasy versus reality, perfection versus imperfection; good versus evil, and of course sanity versus insanity. Darren Aronofsky juggles all of these themes deftly, while constructing a real-life story that parallels that of the ballet “Swan Lake” right down to the characters and their functions. In an ironic twist, it was announced hours before I saw this film that Natalie Portman is pregnant and engaged to her choreographer from Black Swan. Talk about the intensity of art blurring real-life boundaries! I wish them well, but can’t help but notice that many relationships starting on a  movie set aren’t long for the world once the bubble of that film has popped and removed the couple’s main thing in common. (See Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder, Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams, Kate Winslet and Sam Mendes, etc…)

I’ll get this out of the way now: I don’t like ballet. I’ll also get this out of the way now: when screenwriters explain the plot in lay terms to the audience, my first impulse is often to want to throw a shoe at the screen. Twice, Aronofsky’s characters explain the plot of “Swan Lake.” Once, Vincent Cassel’s narcissistic director explains to Natalie Portman’s Nina what is happening in the scene, so here is what he needs from her. The other example occurs in a night club as Nina tells the story of the ballet to a dopey guy who’s trying to get in her pants and clearly does not like or know anything about ballet. These explanations happen in a believable, uncontrived way, and don’t just explain things to uncultured boobs like me who aren’t into ballet; they also provide greater context for what we’ve seen and also, what we are about to see.

Portman’s performance is heroic. She is believable as the sheltered meekling who descends into insanity, and it is a testament to her ability that we are just as confused as she is at times about whether something has occurred in reality or whether she has hallucinated it. Each step of the way it is fascinating how she can’t take responsibility for her own behavior, and when she does, it represents character growth both horrifying and beautiful. That she will win an Oscar, especially after announcing her engagement and pregnancy the same day Oscar ballots were mailed, is not in doubt.

I have seen articles predicting a supporting nomination for Mila Kunis. I can’t say that I necessarily agree or disagree, because our entire experience of Kunis’ character is through the eyes of someone paranoid and delusional, and Kunis plays the whole thing with enough of a smirk that we can’t tell how real any of it is. If I were going to nominate anyone for support, it would be Barbara Hershey, who is purely diabolical as a former dancer-turned-stage mother.

Note the particular uses of black and white in costuming, and how the opening credits are white on black and the ending credits, black on white. At one point, someone puts X in Nina’s drink, and we see it affecting her faculties; that happened to me in 1989 and it did look a lot like that. The much-touted girl on girl sex scene is pretty vivid, but did not strike me as gratuitous, especially considering its metaphorical and psychological implications.

When Tom Cruise made The Last Samurai, my chief complaint with it was that it could only appropriately end in one way, but they still eked out a contrived, happy Hollywood ending. In Black Swan, the same does not occur, and you realize afterward that you were breathless at that moment. As Portman utters, “It was perfect,” you agree.

Permalink 1 Comment

Steel City Girl Enjoyed Iron Man 2

May 8, 2010 at 5:40 pm (Movies and TV)

Welcome, Summer Movie Season, 2010!!!!! What a way to start!!!!

We have a 6-year-old who was obsessed with the first Iron Man movie. We own the movie. He has Iron Man shoes, hat, shirts, coloring book, action figure, etc. I considered the fact that they make little boy underwear that say “Iron Man” kind of funny but wrong…though his little butt sports those, too. He spent Iron Man 2 fighting along with Iron Man in his seat, and in some parts where rock music was involved, he was dancing like a goof. He woke us up at 8am this Saturday morning by jumping on top of us and singing Ozzy Osbourne’s Iron Man theme at the top of his lungs. He was not only undisappointed, he was in the zone the entire time. And he’s been “flying” and calling himself “Iron Bean” for the last two hours.

Recall that the original Iron Man was one of my top 3 favorite movies of 2008. I liked it not just for the luscious rogue-ish-ness that is The Downey, but because it asked important questions about weapons and war and peace.

Here we are 2 years later. Very, very rarely does a sequel live up to the original. From a pure entertainment value standpoint, I think I enjoyed Iron Man 2 the same amount. However, that was in spite of The Downey rather than because of him, as when we meet him it is 6 months after his announcement that he is Iron Man, and he has become a pompous ass. In the first one he was a pompous ass but a FUN one. The plot in this sequel requires that Downey become just an ass, so that he can be taken down a couple pegs in order to return triumphant. Tony Stark is less fun, but that’s less Downey’s fault than it is a plot device. He has his reasons.

I always grin like an idjit the entire time Samuel L Jackson is onscreen, and we think they may have even used the Pulp Fiction diner in one scene. The long-suffering Gwyneth Paltrow is delightful as usual. Scarlett Johanssen kicks much butt, and, I am happy for my husband that we finally get a good movie that has eye candy for BOTH of us. There was a flap over the fact that Terence Howard was re-cast with Don Cheadle…they handle this by having Cheadle’s first line be, “I’m here, it’s me, deal with it.”

The big coolness in terms of characters and actors, hands down…MICKEY ROURKE. I have no idea why Hollywood has waited this long to start casting him as a true bad-ass. I sympathized with Rourke but was also completely creeped out by him, even while seeing his answer to Iron Man’s technology and thinking, oh, now THAT is COOL! He was just as much a show-stealer of a bad guy as Heath Ledger’s Joker…which is not to say I equate the two (Ledger rules)…just that I was preoccupied with the bad-guy over the good-guy in Iron Man 2 in the same manner as I was in The Dark Knight.

Iron Man 2 also deals with important themes and asks difficult questions which should be asked, as the original did. If someone invents something that could be dangerous, does the government have a right or a responsibility to take it away, or is it personal property? When you toss your lot in with a bad guy (as the US has done before in the Middle East), why are you surprised to get double-crossed? They made use of the threat of loose nuclear components in Russia, as well as the notion that decisions you make 30-40 years ago can often have a lot to do with where you are right now (again, see US Foreign Policy, Middle East). It also questions the use of robot drones in war (see US Foreign Policy, Afghanistan).

The visual effects are top notch if sometimes impossible according to the laws of physics, particularly, a scene at a Monaco raceway. I do have some questions, though…with some of this film devoted to Iron Man’s vulnerabilities, I’d like to know what happens if he ever goes into water, as surely, he’d sink to the bottom. Also, if you are making robots to fight wars for you, and they’re robots, wouldn’t it behoove you to give them a more streamlined design than to make them human-shaped? I mean, a human-shaped Navy robot wouldn’t be the most aquadynamic, a human-shaped Air Force robot wouldn’t fly as well as other shapes and designs would.

Anyone who calls this sequel a disappointment is wrong. These days, I tend to measure movies in terms of, would I feel bad paying full price for seeing this? How about matinee price? On-Demand rental? Grocery store dollar rental? The answer on Iron Man 2 is…definitely worth full price.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Still Angel (Posted by Request)

August 6, 2009 at 5:11 pm (Housewife Life, Icky Girl Stuff)

Winner of the short story contest sponsored by Actor Rutger Hauer on his official website, January 2003.

Two days before Christmas, my water breaks, and usually, that’s the beginning of a joyful and miraculous process. I am nine weeks pregnant and it signifies something else…something unexpected and horrible.

The hospital obstetrics practice has a policy; they won’t see you until you’ve been pregnant for ten weeks. I haven’t had my first appointment, but I need immediate medical attention two days before Christmas. I lay on the couch, clutching my belly and bracing for the inevitable, as my husband nervously places the call.

“My wife needs to see an obstetrician immediately.”

Pause.

“Our first appointment is scheduled for January 6.”

Pause.

“Nine weeks.”

Pause.

“We KNOW your policy, and we KNOW we’ve never been there before. This is an emergency and she needs to see a doctor, NOW.”

Pause.

“Excuse me…”

Pause.

“Ma’am…”

Pause.

“Look, what part of ’emergency’ didn’t you understand? She just passed a whole lot of fluid, and we think her water br…”

Pause.

My husband slams the phone down.

The administrator on the phone needs to talk with a nurse about their policy in a case like ours. They will call us back. I urge him to call another office…any other office…the cramps are beginning, and I won’t mind labor cramps as long as I don’t have to see…

He calls another office…no answer. He calls a third office…they ask him a barrage of incredibly personal questions and dismiss him because we have the wrong insurance. On the bedroom chair is a little snowsuit I impulsively bought last year for the baby we’d someday have…the pattern of cherubic suns, moons and stars matches our bedroom decorations. Now, I cradle the snowsuit in my arms, bury my face in it, and weep. I’ll have to put the snowsuit away now. The fourth office tells us to come over right away. It doesn’t matter that I am a ‘new’ patient, and our insurance is fine.

In the waiting room, I still feel the slow ooze of fluid. I will not cry, I tell myself. Pregnant ladies, smiling and healthy, walk in and out and wait cheerfully. A closed-circuit television broadcasts information about “you and your healthy baby.” The medical secretaries are wearing Santa hats and sampling from a table of Christmas cookies in the file room. In a last-ditch effort to maintain my emotions, I seize a nearby magazine, with its cover torn off. I open the magazine, silently praying for some redemption in its pages, but crying starts instead. The magazine is “Fit Pregnancy.” The pregnant ladies are staring at me, but I don’t care and think, “You just go ahead and stare. Stare at me, and just rub your belly, and be thankful you aren’t me, thankful you have a healthy baby, thankful that a trip to this office is a rite of passage instead of a death sentence.”

We are called into the sonogram room. I had a sonogram two weeks earlier, and saw the baby’s heartbeat (Blink, blink, blink, blink). We have a photo from the session, which my husband carries in his wallet; he calls the baby “Munch.” This time, I also see Munch. But the steady flicker of a heartbeat, so strong only two weeks before, is gone. Utterly, completely, and forever gone. I sob on the table. The technician keeps taking pictures from every angle; clean, clinical. I continue to look at the screen, in case somehow she’s made a mistake and the heartbeat suddenly appears. The mistake never comes. My husband stands quietly in the corner, the color draining from his face.

We wait in another small room, painted a sunny yellow with floral prints on the walls. I am doubled over with tears, my heart broken. A compassionate female doctor explains our options to us: wait for a miscarriage (the first time anyone’s actually said the word in my presence) to occur naturally, which involves pain and things I probably shouldn’t see, or have the contents of my uterus surgically removed under anesthesia. I think about how unfair the word “miscarriage” is because of how it implies that the woman has somehow failed and it doesn’t actually have anything to do with an extra set of chromosomes. We know there is no heartbeat, so there seems no moral choice involved…I am immediately prepared for surgery, an “emergency evacuation.” I picture a loudspeaker going off in my womb to the dead child…”This is an emergency evacuation, please form a single file line and head for the stairs…” (In the meantime, the other hospital calls our home voice mail to say they’ve decided to see me.)

My hospital gown has suns, moons and stars on it, just like the baby’s snowsuit. The surgery ward is a solemn place. Soft wails can be heard from neighboring rooms where other unlucky women wait their turns. Despite the macabre feeling in the air, a kind nurse named Jennifer smiles and talks to me softly. I burst into tears and thank her for smiling.

I awaken in the recovery room a mere moment later. I feel a slow turning pain in my abdomen, remember where I am, and tears flow again. Simple as that. Pregnant, not pregnant anymore. Clean, clinical. A nurse sees the tears and asks if I need a pain pill, and I explain that I’m just sad. She suggests professional counseling, and I despise her for it. The woman in the next bed over, recovering from the same procedure, is cheery and talkative with the nurses and I despise her for it. As they wheel me out of the recovery room, another nurse says “Merry Christmas.”

All I can think about on the way home (when I’m not throwing up) is the baby. What have they done with my baby? Clean, clinical, simple as that… Is it in a jar somewhere, or a disposal bin, or waiting to be used by some scientific researcher? Is my baby in a garbage pile with used coffee grains, plastic silverware and kleenex? I’d been so afraid to see it, yet now it’s gone and I want to see it more than anything. I want to tell it I’m sad, I’m sorry, I’ll love it, I’ll miss it forever.

We pass the Christmas lights flashing from houses in our neighborhood (Blink, blink, blink, blink), and the sight of a nativity outside the Presbyterian Church slices through me, an icy dagger. “Merry Christmas,” the nurse said. Merry Christmas? What does that mean? A feeling of peace and goodwill to commemorate the birth of a baby? I vomit again.

The next day is Christmas Eve. The church chimes, ringing out Silent Night, keep waking me up. I’m not throwing up anymore, but I hurt worse. A neighbor slips a note under our door: would we help light the luminaria at the neighborhood observance later? The mail arrives, including three Christmas cards with congratulations for our baby, friends’ Christmas pictures of their babies, and a Christmas present my husband ordered for our baby. The phone keeps ringing with happy relatives and holiday wishes, but I don’t want to answer it or even hear the messages. Merry Christmas. I fall back to sleep, and dream of the empty celestial snowsuit, walking around the house by itself. Merry Christmas.

Our other two children have been with my mother. When she brings them back, we have to tell them. My 5-year-old son sees me crumpled on the couch with a tear-streaked face and yells “Mommy! What’s wrong!” My 7-year-old daughter hovers in the doorway. “Um,” I begin, swallowing back tears. “The baby died. I had to go to the hospital, and have an operation, to take the baby out. So I don’t have a baby in me anymore, because it’s gone.” Silent Night. Blink, blink, blink, blink. My son throws his arms around me and holds on for dear life, while my daughter looks small and ghostly, and pretends to be invisible. I cry into the boy’s sweet-smelling hair and cover his face with tears and kisses. Merry Christmas. “You’re still going to church with your grandmother tonight, guys, so change your clothes,” my husband says. My daughter slinks over, grabs my hand tightly, and whispers, “Mommy. Can I still be an angel?”

Christmas Eve dinner at my in-laws, the biggest yearly affair, starts at 6:30. I can’t handle seeing the entire extended family, so we go over at 5:15 to be gone before most people arrive. Everyone is in holiday velvets — I am in a sweat suit. Merry Christmas. Neighbors I’ve never met are also seated in the living room. My brother-in-law kisses my forehead and asks how I’m doing, and the neighbors ask what’s wrong. “I just had surgery,” I explain discreetly. My mother-in-law crosses the room to where the neighbors are enjoying miniature quiches on festive holiday plates, somehow forgetting I’m in the room, and loudly says “She lost her baby yesterday.” Clean, clinical, simple as that. Blink, blink, blink, blink…You just go ahead and stare…and be thankful you aren’t me…I’m suddenly dizzy and need to leave, but not before enduring guilt for not staying and eating, and having our appearances criticized. “You didn’t even shave,” my husband is told. Merry Christmas. Mommy. Can I still be an angel?

In the morning, I watch the kids open their presents for as long as I can. I don’t care to open mine. One of my husband’s is a baby present, not taken out of the stack soon enough. I go to sleep hoping my dad stops calling until I’m ready to talk. He will keep calling until my husband stops saying I’m asleep. I don’t mind the thought of talking to him as much as I fear he’ll have things to say about the Will of God that tornado victims never have to hear.

Now it’s been a little over a week. At the mall, I see a teenage pregnant girl, and cry with frustration and jealousy. I venture out for sushi (because we know there won’t be any pregnant ladies there) and see a couple with a newborn baby (and wonder how that baby would look in a celestial snowsuit). The first time I laugh is in the car, right before I see a baby on a billboard and start crying all over again. An angry letter I wrote to a newspaper editor about anti-abortion protesters and their pictures of dead babies is published four days after my operation. I send difficult e-mails to friends, relatives, and professional contacts. Merry Christmas. Some people say nice things, some people say insensitive things. My four pregnant girlfriends, in a club I no longer belong to, are suddenly distant. I return to work, stare at the cubicle wall, and tears roll down my chin. Seven women I know confide their similar experiences; varied times, varied stories, all of them still sad and still haunted. I search for an anonymous, online support group…I click a search engine’s suggested address, and find a site where women post photographs of their dead babies, all excruciatingly pictured in lifeless slumber.

Sometimes I have nightmares. A pink slimy creature with large eyes, stubby arms and a tail crawls up next to my ear and whispers, “Mommy.” I wake up with a start. Munch whispers different things to me sometimes, and I am never sure whether I love it, am afraid of it, or whether I’m beginning to lose my mind. I don’t need counseling, I tell myself…I don’t need someone to hear me snivel and tell me how to live my life until time’s up. Other nights, I lie awake (Silent Night) wondering whether I have the right to grieve for a baby that wasn’t even really here yet, didn’t have a brain, a gender, a name. I reason that the baby was already dead, no heartbeat (Blink, blink, blink, blink) so we didn’t kill anything by having the surgery. Clean, clinical. Sometimes I’m deeply frightened by the notion that somehow I really let them kill it. Some days I laugh for no reason, most days, I cry for no reason, apparently as random as the episode itself. Christmas is over, (Merry Christmas,) a new year has begun, and Munch whispers, “Mommy. Can I still be an angel?”

Permalink Leave a Comment

Popping Over The Pond, Are We? Jolly Good!

June 29, 2009 at 10:34 pm (Housewife Life, Uncategorized)

A travel agent friend of mine recently told me she won a week-long trip to England, through work. A lifelong Angophile, I have to confess my envy. I went there on my graduation trip in June, 1988, and raised about as much hell as any freshly-graduated American girl, suddenly legally allowed to consume alcohol, could get away with. My friend is a travel agent, so undoubtedly knows things about the local attractions…but I thought this would be a good opportunity to make her a scavenger hunt that adds some ZING to her trip. 😉 As a bonus, I will include a list of dont’s, all learned the hard way. My only disclaimer is that I take no responsibility for the fact that my information is over 20 years old. With that…congrats, Cindy, and enjoy yourself!

British Travel Scavenger Hunt
1. Watch the changing of the Buckingham Palace guards. (Bonus points if one of the horses craps while passing you.)
2. Take high tea at the Savoy Hotel. (Bonus points if you already know what the hell a “scone” is.)
3. Get your photo taken in front of Big Ben, on London Bridge, with a Beefeater and a Bobby, on top of a double-decker bus, on top of that scary-big ferris wheel, and inside a little red phone booth.
4. Tour Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral. (Bonus points if you can do either without thinking of the scene in Indiana Jones 3 with the subterranean crypt, and more bonus points if you can tour both places without stepping on a tile where a dead person is buried underneath.)
5. Spend one full afternoon shopping at Harrod’s. I cannot begin to describe why this is necessary, other than to assure you that it is.
6. Go boutique-ing in Covent Gardens.
7. See something naughty in Piccadilly Circus. (Bonus points if someone in a caftan offers you a camel in exchange for sexual favors. No, really! It happened to me!)
8. Day trip to Edinburgh Castle, Scotland. (Bonus points for standing at the very top and yelling “FREEEEEEEDOMMMMMMM!”)
9. See a play, a Shakespeare one in Stratford if at all possible. (Bonus points if you actually get to see the line “to be, or not to be” performed live in its original context by an actual British Shakespeare company.)
10. Stay one night at the “Hard Day’s Night” hotel in Liverpool. (500 Bonus points for getting busy in the Lennon Suite!!!!)
11. Sit on a bench outside of Oxford University, and BOYWATCH. (Bonus points if you avoid arrest.)
12. Walk or drive down King’s Road, London, just to soak up the punk-rock juju. (Bonus points if you see someone with a mohawk, ask to take his picture, and he tells you to sod off.)
12. Visit Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum and conduct an investigation as to which male likeness boasts the most lipstick marks. (Bonus points if the answer is Johnny Depp.)

List of DON’Ts While in the UK…
1. DON’T, for the love of all that’s holy, ask an Edinburgh Castle guard what he’s wearing under his kilt.
2. DON’T be too depressed when you find out that Big Ben is only a clock.
3. DON’T decide to visit Stonehenge on Midsummer’s Eve…literally…you might inadvertently get arrested on one of the police sweeps for people exhibiting druid-like behaviors.
4. DON’T wear your licensed Brazilian world cup jersey.
5. DON’T make fun of the queen’s hats. Charles’ ears are fair game.
6. DON’T get offended if someone mentions “bumming a fag.” (That means “mooching a cigarette”.) They also call getting your hair blow-dried at the stylist, a “blow-job.”
7. DON’T order a pizza. Pizza as you know it does not exist there.
8. DON’T try too hard to heckle a Palace Guard.
9. DON’T bother the front desk about why you only get 6 channels.
10. DON’T forget to have an AWESOME TIME!!!!!

Permalink Leave a Comment

Family Continues to Decline

May 13, 2009 at 5:29 pm (Housewife Life)

We’re now on our second month of being unemployed, though, not for lack of trying. People have been taking to heart our “Sensitivity Training For Dealing With the Unemployed,” and that’s been nice. We are, though, starting to understand why the first thing people tend to say is about “staying positive,” because that’s something that becomes harder as you go along.

It isn’t JUST the hours spent scouring websites and newspapers and seeing that there aren’t as many jobs out there; the afternoons spent writing and re-writing different versions of your resume and different cover letters and trying to keep track of all that; the mind-numbing time you spend on corporate websites filling out intricate application forms that duplicate everything you just told them on the resume you uploaded; the days waiting for your phone to ring and feeling more worthless with every day that passes without anyone calling.

Right now we’re finding it’s the little stuff that eats you, one bite at a time. Having to admit to our daughter’s dance teacher (at her private school where she goes on scholarship) that buying a dance costume for a 1-time use in a recital is problematic at the moment. Registering our youngest child for Kindergarten and applying for the free lunch program because we qualify now. Going to the doctor and being asked by a receptionist to update your information for the file, and being asked a little too loudly, “Does your husband still work at IBM?” Realizing how disappointed our 5-year-old will be to have to stop going to the “Ninja School” he loves so much. The worst was going to the quarterly psych-evaluation that’s done so that my middle son can continue to receive autism counseling services, and seeing someone write on a page in the file folder, “Family continues to decline.”

I have never been made to question my life choices quite as much as now. I left college the first time to be a musician for several years, and that experience was wonderful and taught me more about life than I think I would have learned in college. I left the second time because I chose to have my child rather than abort her. For 15 to 20 years I have been OK with, even proud of, these choices. Now I am learning that national and regional writing awards, over 10 years of solid, responsible work experience…these things don’t ultimately count as much as having a degree because not having one  gives companies an excuse to pass you by. (Never mind that I know recent college graduates without the skills or experience I have.) Apparently I should be thinking about taking on $30,000 of debt at the time we can least afford to, in order to finish that degree. (While one would think that having no income would grant you plenty of financial aid, they base aid on your most recent 6 months, a point at which we were making way over any aid threshold. So it would all be debt.)

This is all really heavy stuff . But there’s been one other question I feel that needs to be answered right now…what am I not learning from this that I need to be? Because truthfully, that has to be why things are continuing to go this way. Kind of like when during karate class, they make our son hold a certain “balance position” for an extra 30 seconds before giving him his “stripe” he’s earned for the day. What am I not doing well enough, what am I looking at the wrong way? Maybe it isn’t the universe holding out on us, at all. Maybe it’s just that we aren’t standing still long enough to earn our stripes. I’m guessing the best I can do is to keep applying for jobs, keep trying not to take things so personally, and remaining open to whatever it is the universe needs me to learn right now, so that good things can start happening again. So 90 days hence, that phrase, “Family continues to decline” can be replaced with something like “Family continues to Strive,” “Family continues to Care,” “Family continues to Learn,” or better yet, “Family is Headed the Right Direction.”

Permalink Leave a Comment

Sensitivity Training Regarding the Unemployed

April 21, 2009 at 8:49 pm (Housewife Life)

People on FaceBook, and most people in general, have been pretty cool about the fact that my husband just lost his job.  This happened nearly a month ago, was a complete shock, and is nothing short of catastrophic once you consider that he is the sole breadwinner in the family…and it happened despite awesome performance reviews. Some number-cruncher somewhere thought his job would be better done by a non-American, or by someone half our age they wouldn’t have to pay as much to. In any case…our family has been hit pretty doggone hard, and it’s a story that’s becoming more and more common in this country right now.

This post doesn’t deal with the multitude of people who have been cool to us, but with the people who have unwittingly been jerks. This is for the now de-friended guy whose first reaction was, “Well, it’s your own fault because you refuse to leave Pittsburgh…I protected myself, you should have been better at protecting yourself.”  This is for the relatives with the paid-off houses and steady jobs who complained during Easter dinner about needing to change around their investments…never mind that we’ll have to cash our retirement fund out in order to SAVE our house, and even then, it might not work, and then we’ll also have NO retirement. This is for the people who are avoiding us completely now, or not acknowledging the hugeness of this to our lives, or can’t bring themselves to be even the slightest bit positive about anything at all. (Apocalyptic talk and “when will the rapture come, already” talk does NOT help right now…)

It’s a sensitive thing, and people don’t always know how to respond. Here are some tips about what people in our boat NEED from others at times like this.

  1. DON’T complain about your job or your finances, if you still have a job and a house and are less than bankrupt, or if you’re not truly terrified about meeting the basic necessities of life.
  2. DO say something sincere and sympathetic, which acknowledges how large the loss is, and how massive the fear is.  Even an “I’m so sorry” is better than someone who says, “Oh, it can’t be that bad.”
  3. DON’T avoid us. We need to know that people still care about us, not to be treated like lepers. This wasn’t our fault, and even though we understand that seeing it hit someone you know makes your own situation feel more precarious, this is absolutely the wrong time to pretend you don’t know us, if you care about us. Just a call to ask, how are you doing, means a lot.
  4. DO ask if there’s any way you can help. If you say this, it doesn’t mean we’re going to ask you for money, because we’re not. Just offering to get us out of the house, talk to us and check up on us periodically, send us silly internet jokes, keeping your ears open for job leads we might fit…this is the kind of help we’re most likely to ask for, if we ask at all. It’s the offering that counts.
  5. DON’T offer unsolicited advice that’s ridiculously obvious. When I recently told someone I had a job interview, I was asked, “Do you have a nice outfit to wear to the interview? And will you have clean fingernails?” Please. It implies I’m stupid, or a slob…and it ended up being pretty hurtful when I’m sure that wasn’t the intention. Of COURSE we know when and how to apply for unemployment, of COURSE we know to look for jobs every single day. We’ll be sure to ask for what we need in terms of advice!
  6. Take your cues from the jobless person when it comes to gallows humor. My husband and I have been laughing ourselves silly some days, crying on others. Try to test the waters before joking. Most times we’re receptive, but there are days when it could really smart. The process is an emotional rollercoaster, so being sensitive to that helps a lot.
  7. Cut us some slack on the small stuff. We really can’t care as much right now about re-gearing our Warcraft characters, returning school notes on time, sending out photos of the kids to relatives, forgetting to return phonecalls or e-mails that aren’t job-related.  Some things are going to slip when your family is in total upheaval. Solving the job thing, and maintaining mental and emotional health for everyone in our household, is literally our ONLY concern at the moment…and that takes a lot out of us.
  8. Recognize that we have to be careful about our finances right now. Don’t ask us to go in on a group gift, don’t make us feel bad if our kid can only give a $5 bill as a gift at a birthday party.  Don’t ask us to attend something that costs money, and for corn’s sake, if you’re a charity who calls us and asks for money, if we SAY there’s been a job loss…let the matter go without a scripted rebuttal. Realize that if we go through with a birthday party or a vacation, it’s because it was already planned, paid for, and non-refundable.

The unfortunate thing about offering this list is that the people who NEED to see this, likely aren’t the ones who are going to read it. More likely than not, you’re one of the people who has been very encouraging, has laughed with us, has expressed sympathy, has sent us a job lead. And we thank you for that more than can possibly be expressed.

Permalink 1 Comment

How Real is “Parks and Recreation?”

April 10, 2009 at 5:28 pm (Movies and TV, Politics)

Keeping in mind that anything I say here is MY OWN PERSONAL OPINION and NOT the opinions of any body I am elected to, or official body at all…Here is my take on NBC’s new show, “Parks and Recreation” as far as its general accuracy. It’s hilarious. Ten minutes in, I called my friend (a Borough Manager) and said, “TELL me you’re watching this!” He wasn’t, but I have a feeling he will be.  I have no frame of reference as to whether this show is funny to the masses, but being who and where I am and doing what I do, I nearly peed myself laughing. Here’s why.

Amy Poehler’s character is not necessarily meant as a “dumb blonde” as much as she’s meant to represent a head-in-the-clouds idealist who comes up with grandiose ideas but is oblivious to the processes and logistics of putting her ideas into action. I have been this person before, though I like to think I have been more realistic and accepting when confronted with the obstacles of a situation, and altering the plan to fit pre-existing parameters. Poehler’s character is funny because of the oblivious-ness and her unwillingness or inability to LISTEN, or to back down.  I have known people like her, both elected and resident. While Poehler amuses me, I have not necessarily been amused by these folks in real life. I do have a secret list of top 20 residents I’d like to see move somewhere else.

Amy Poehler’s assistant is a devious and subversive little guy. One person, in the right position, can cause a lot of damage in a government office if that person is the undermining type.  That is true, and is why it’s reeeally important to keep the lines of communication open with city staff so that if someone has an axe to grind, you can work it out before it goes critical. Which sometimes, it does anyway.  A few of the characters on this show had personal agendas which is also sometimes true, though I have to say that I’ve been lucky during my 6 years of council service not to have bumped into this too often. I understand that in other places, certainly larger places, this is not the case.

The over-the-top Republican councilman who wishes he could privatize the whole government? Yes, I’ve known someone like him. Their strategy of giving Poehler her own “sub-committee to study the issue” can be taken a couple of ways…we are required to approach each issue after having conducted due diligence . Appointing a sub-committee can be one legitimate way of involving the community in a project, and having that committee do the due diligence on your behalf…or…it can be a way to make someone or a group of someones feel like the issue is being handled without actually having to do anything about it. I have seen examples of both.

The funniest thing on this show, for me, was when the city councilman sent Poehler to the public feedback meeting while he hid in his office, saying, “Nobody wants to go to those things because it’s two straight hours of the public yelling at you. I HATE the public.”  I came onto Council a lot like Poehler, but now that I’m on my way out, I’ve become more like the misanthropic guy; the good thing about a Democracy is that everyone has a voice, but the bad thing about a Democracy is that everyone has a voice. We are very hard on our elected officials. The hat does have a price to wear. People are moreso mean and complaining than they are reasonable and thankful…though people in the latter category do exist. Many times the loudest critics are the people who don’t have all the information, or people who don’t understand the information they’ve been given. The best way to interact with your public officials is going to be reasonable, polite, and asking a lot of questions to make sure you understand what’s going on. Bringing positive energy is a good thing as long as you’re being open and realistic; negative energy can become positive if it’s cosntructive and used to trouble-shoot, and if good suggestions come from the discussions.

Poehler says she’s going to befriend the Borough Manager because that’s the one guy in a city who knows where all the bodies are buried. That’s the truth. If you want to get something done, if you want to know the one person who has ALL the deets on anything or knows where to get them…be nice to your city manager.  Right now, there are 3x the positions, and not enough city managers…the market is competitive and changes with the political winds. So it’s no wonder that the city manager on TV said he lost his idealism in his first 2 years. There is nobody more valuable but also nobody more pounded on by electeds, residents, or staff.

Poehler asks whether a big ditch can be turned into a park, and the city manager explains that there are lots of costs, lots of hoops, lots of red tape she isn’t aware of. That is also the truth. It would involve getting the approval of the planning commission and zoning boards, meeting with officials to get money (which is ESPECIALLY hard right now!!!), to begin with. Then there would have to be architectural and landscape designers involved, bidding processes for equipment, a resident needs’ survey; we’d have to do grant applications to state, federal, and other organizations. We’d have to have our engineers review the plans to make sure they wouldn’t conflict with gas or sewer lines, and evaluate them for things like water run-off. We’d have to involve the borough solicitor regarding liability issues and ownership of any donated equipment…Yeah. The wheels of government turn VERY slowly. I don’t blame beauracracy for that. I blame how litigious our society has become, that you have to be overcareful with even the tiniest of decisions in government because of a lawsuit’s price tag, win or lose.

A friend of mine said she worked for a Parks & Recreation Department for 6 years, and there wasn’t anything funny about it. While I believe my friend more than she realizes, I also think it’s possible to derive humor from pretty much any situation if you step back far enough. I wish I could write an episode of this show, because there really are funny things that happen behind the scenes. Overall…it’s pretty accurate stuff. I’m interested to see where this show goes.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Oscars 2009 Wrap-Up

February 23, 2009 at 8:38 pm (Movies and TV)

I have to admit that this year, I watched the Red Carpet with the TV on “mute.”  The things that come out of interviewers’ mouths are just so stupid and adversarial! Did they honestly think they were going to encourage a catfight between Jen and Angelina? Please.

Kate Winslet looked like Grace Kelly, and Frieda Pinto in the blue number was gorgeous. Once again I’m disagreeing with a few of the people on the “Best Dressed Lists,” as Anne Hathaway is way too pale to wear that silver dress and Miley Cyrus’ dress was too old for her, and the tacky wide belt has got to go. But enough about clothes and on with the show.

I am angry with the Post-Gazette’s TV editor for saying Hugh Jackman’s opening number was bad, because I thought it was both clever and demonstrative of the man’s versatile talents. How can you not love that he sang the phrase “I’d crawl through human excrement for you” to Kate Winslet? Hysterical. Hugh’s other best joke…
“Kate Winslet, British woman laying a German woman…nominated. Robert Downey, Jr., American man playing an Australian man, playing a black man…nominated. Me, Hugh Jackman, an Australian man, playing an Australian in a movie called Australia…hosting.”

Overall I thought Hugh did a good enough job to be included again, and really gave it his best, but, he played it safe all night and wasn’t as edgy as some of his counterparts. I mean, I didn’t want him Chris Rock-edgy, but closer to Steve Martin or Billy Crystal in ad-lib-ability would have been nice. I’ve read on various blogs today that his best gag of the night happened during the commercial break when someone passed him a note from his wife, and he read it to the audience, “Babe, you’re doing great, I love you, but I’m hungry.” He then obtained a plate of chocolate chip cookies and brought them down into the audience and passed them to her and to anyone else who was hungry. Reminiscent of the Danny DeVito/dip gag Steve Martin did in 2002, and still would have been funny. Realize that this is all coming from someone who would desperately love to be a comedy writer for the Oscars, and who would be pretty good at it, too. 😉

I’m reading a mixed reaction among bloggers and critics to Ben Stiller one-offing Joaquin Phoenix’s Letterman appearance as too much of an inside joke…which…OK, maybe the 80-year-old ladies in the audience didn’t get it, but, that video has gone absolutely viral on youtube, and I’m convinced it was more understandable than they fear. And it was so funny I nearly peed myself. Clearly the audience also thought so.

The set design will win an Emmy because it was classic and pleasing to look at.  But they should have stopped there when it came to bringing back the classics…ie…I found the big dance number cringeworthy, and Jackman didn’t do the rumours about his sexuality any favors with it. It would have been preferable to axe that entire sequence in favor of letting all 3 of the nominated songs be played; not that I have an issue with John Legend, but I’d have rather heard Peter Gabriel sing his whole song. Speaking of those nominated songs…how catchy is “Jai Ho?” And doing it with Japanese Kodo drummers and an African choir? THAT’s what world music is all about.

I thought I was going to cry when Heath Ledger won, but it was Lance Black’s speech that did it. His was the best and most important speech of the night.

This year I went out of my way to see all the nominated short films, and realized in the end that actually seeing them did not help my ability to guess the winners. The Best Animated Short is AWFUL, even though I forgave its maker once he said “Domo Origato, Mr. Roboto.”

For several years, we have been without one of those iconic Oscar moments, like Roebrto Begnini jumping, like Jack Palance’s one-armed pushups, like the streaker and David Niven, like Adrien Brody kissing Halle Berry. We’ve been overdue. Heaven bless Philippe Petit, the subject of Man On Wire (which by the way is a very cool and deserving film). His Oscar-balancing act has given us a new one. Balancing the Oscar on his chin could not have been easy…the thing weighs 8 pounds.

Lots of people are dissing the manner in which acting awards were dispensed. One blog I read said they thought it was necessary because last year’s presenters were big enough names to make this year’s acting presentations well-watched. Cynicism aside after reading about that…and despite everyone dissing this…this was one of the highlights of the show for me. Someone compared it to the scene in Superman where they are banishing General Zod…I think it’s actually closer to the Borg in Star Trek, welcoming a new member into the collective. I appreciated the fact that they used Oscar legends to appreciate each specific performance, even if some of the accolades were painfully scripted (just ask Seymour Philip Hoffman).

The Pineapple Express number wasn’t as funny as it should have been, and the evening’s “Filmmaking 101” narrative wasted a lot of time. People who are very interested in how movies are made would know these basics anyway. I miss the film montage thing they’ve often done at the beginning of the show, working the host into various movies.

Statistics are saying that viewership is up, but, it was still among the 3 least-watched telecasts. Here’s what they should do to fix that.

  • Stop trying to increase the Oscar viewership and play to the audience who loves it. If that’s females and gay men, SO BE IT. If that means the telecast goes to TBS or another network like that, SO BE IT. The Oscars, though they’re the weightiest awards show, HAVE become less relevant over the years because of all the other awards shows on TV and because the people who go to movies most often anymore are not the type to go see “The Reader” but moreso “The Dark Knight.” So, don’t try to be what you can’t be. Do what you’re good at, and do it well, and if that means smaller numbers, SO WHAT.
  • I’ve said this in past years…Have all nominees submit lists of who they’d like to thank if they win, and have a graphics person generate tickers for every nominee. Then when the name is read, the staff calls up the correct ticker, and we read who they’re thanking across the bottom of our screens and the winners are freed up to say whatever they want, which is less stressful for them than having to think of names most of us have never heard of anyway…and arguably, more entertaining for us.
  • Offer certain stars able to handle it the ability to say whatever they want when presenting. Will Smith and Robert DeNiro could do it, so could many others.
  • Combine the telecast and the Governor’s Ball. That way, stars would be good and drunk and more fun to watch like on the Golden Globes…and they won’t have to go hungry. Win-win.
  • Have Tina Fey and Steve Martin co-host next year, and let me write!

Permalink Leave a Comment

Oscar-Nominated Live-Action Shorts

February 22, 2009 at 5:21 am (Movies and TV)

1. On The Line (Germany)

A man fails to intervene when he sees someone attacked on a train, which has unforeseen consequences. I enjoyed this because the casting was dead-on, and because of a sequence where the main character is upset and confused and the camera revolves around him in a way that accomplishes his disorientation perfectly. There are watchers, and there are doers. You might be a good judge of character yet completely misjudge a situation, which is exactly what happens to the main character because he has let himself become a watcher rather than a doer.

2. New Boy (Ireland)

An African boy experiences his first day in an Irish school. We know that the teacher isn’t very good at controlling her class; we know there are bullies in the class who have decided to victimize Joseph; we know that Joseph has at least one ally in the class; what we don’t know is how Joseph ended up in Ireland, though we learn that it may have something to do with his father being violently executed in Africa. Watching carefully, you will note that Joseph speaks only two words in the whole film…but he says so much more with his face and eyes. In the end, humor is the great equalizer. This was a nice film but not sure it will win an Oscar.

3.  Toyland (Germany)

In the most jarring of entries, a six-year-old boy named Heinrich in 1930’s Germany overhears his Jewish neighbors talking about going on a journey. Heinrich askes his mother where the neighbors are going and his mother, not thinking ahead very well, answers that the neighbors are going to Toyland. We know, of course, that the neighbors are going to a concentration camp. But Heinrich in his innocence misunderstands and makes plans to go to Toyland too. (I always wonder what actors feel like when they have to don Nazi uniforms for their roles…are they conflicted about this? Do some refuse to take roles for this reason?) As you’re being emotionally shredded by the boy’s misperception and what he does about it, something even more tragic happens which I will not presume to spoil, though the film ends on a bitteersweet upswing. A strong contender for the live-action short Oscar.

4. The Pig (Denmark).

An old man goes into a hospital for rectal surgery, and bonds unexpectedly with a painting of a pig hanging in his hospital room. Later, he is upset when the painting disappears after the family of the man in the room’s other bed requests it be taken down since pigs are offensive to Muslims. Viewing the situation from the outside, one could think of the old man as a cranky old man…but I found him endearing, and he’s right…the pig painting is special (and I want to try to find a print of it online). With humor and compassion, this film raises questions about how to practice tolerance in situations where parties’ differences are akin to night and day. Can you have freedom expression in a situation of absolutes? Whose view takes precedent, and who decides? This was already my favorite film of the bunch, even before my Mom reminded me about the situation in Denmark with the Muslims and the cartoon. Having now seen all the movies in this category, The Pig is now my pick for the Live-Action Short Oscar, and everyone in the theater (about 10 of us) agreed.

5. Manon on the Asphalt (France).

Hit by a car while riding her bicycle, a young woman’s life flashes before her eyes as she’s dying. This is one that’s supposed to be all arty and full of meaning but which I found pretentious and depressing.  I am unsure how it ended up in the same category with these other films, which had superior dialogue and camera-work.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts

February 21, 2009 at 6:25 am (Movies and TV)

1. La Maisons en Petit Cubes (France)

This was a sad, thoughtful one full of metaphor. A man puts on a scuba suit and dives downward through each level of a house he’s lived in, which has submerged over time…at the end, he builds himself a new level at the very top, to avoid the slowly rising water. Perhaps audiences have become spoiled by computerized animation; I found it hard to enjoy the grainy, 2-D style though I did appreciate the film.

2. Lavatory – Lovestory (Russia)

Humorous and full of heart, two public toilet attendants unexpectedly find love at work. This is the kind of film I could picture my 11-year-old son eventually being able to make, as it was simple drawings on paper, with no color but bouquets of flowers.  I was amazed at how much emotion came through using a minimum of lines. I liked this a lot but it will not win the Oscar.

3. Okatpodi (France)

Two lovelorn octopi band together in a chase through the streets of Greece, to avoid becoming separated by a sushi restaurant. This is a computerized 3-D animation that’s fun to watch in terms of action, color, humor and imagination. and it was my favorite. Of the ten or so people in the theater, I believe most agreed that the octopus one sucked pretty hard at our heartstrings. I stand by my original call for Oktopodi, realizing that Presto may win because Pixar was involved.

4. Presto (United States)

This is the animated short Pixar paired with Wall-E, which is the shoe-in for this year’s full-length animated feature award. It’s about a disagreement between a magician and his rabbit, which the rabbit decides to take public at an extremely inconvenient time. This was very funny, and the visual effects were especially good…but let’s face it…this effort had Pixar behind it. I don’t know whether Academy voters are willing to award both animated categories to Pixar. I think if it were up to me, I’d give Pixar the big one and let someone else have a chance when it came to the shorts. This may win the Oscar out of industry regard for Pixar, and it is a very good film…but my gut for some reason liked the octopus one slightly better.

5. This Way Up (England).

This is the best animated short Tim Burton never made. It’s about two morticians who have several hilarious misfortunes befall them while trying to take a body to the cemetary. One of the morticians looks exactly like my 11th grade history teacher. Having generated the most laughter in the theater, I believe this might have won an Oscar…if it had ended when it was supposed to instead of culminating in a psychedelic, supernatural sequence that seemed completely out of place. This one clearly earned its nomination because it was SO good until it fell off the bike.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Man On Wire

February 20, 2009 at 10:13 pm (Movies and TV)

When you read a police report from August 7, 1974 which accompanied the arrest of Frenchman Philippe Petit for disorderly conduct and trespassing, the description of the circumstances of the arrest states simply, “Man On Wire.” Before you watch this documentary, you already know that Philippe was successful in his attempt to tightrope walk between the Twin Towers, because otherwise, we wouldn’t be here. But that foreknowledge does not stop this documentary from being  more fascinating than expected.

As flighty and screwball as Philippe clearly is, at least he is clever enough to surround himself with exactly the people he needs to pull his goal off…the encouraging girlfriend who sees the art and beauty of what he’s trying to do; the mentally grounded, practical friend who insists that physics are necessary; the sympathetic hippie who happens to be working in one of the buildings.

We see this plan from its inception, including a mind-blowing level of preparations which to us are even more unbelievable because of the technology available to us nowadays, and because of the totally different way in which someone scoping out a national landmark is now perceived by guards and passersby. We realize, not without poignance, that this situation for a variety of reasons could only have taken place in 1974.

Even knowing Philippe was successful, it’s impossible not to hold your breath at times when the whole plan could seriously unravel, or when Philippe finally takes that fateful step off the top of the building. His success, like any other success story, is owed part to planning, part to persistence, and just…luck. It’s a real reminder of the fragility of everything, the universe’s own high-wire balancing act.

After Petit’s arrest, he had all charges dropped in exchange for some acrobatic performances. His counterparts, the people without whom he could not have possibly accomplished his dream, were all deported. Philippe was on to grander dreams, finding his next art…his friends were left to get back to real life…and while this might not seem fair, it does seem fitting. We’ve all known someone like Philippe during our lifetimes, a flashy person who swoops into our lives at a certain moment, stays in the same compartment of the revolving door with you for a few turns, teaches you new and wonderful things, then exits dancing into the wind as you leave the door in your own direction, contemplating his effects.

If you can get your hands on the movie, which I suspect will be easier to do after Oscar night, I recommend it.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Defiance

February 20, 2009 at 5:40 pm (Movies and TV)

Remember those free movie passes I mentioned getting the day I saw Rachel Getting Married? Well, they saved me from having to pay admission for Defiance. I took my mom. When the movie was over, we turned to each other awkwardly and I said, “the best thing about this movie is we didn’t lose any money seeing it.” She howled and gave me a high five, as our own act of defiance was to sit through the entire film.

The Holocaust is a popular topic this year. Defiance is up for an Oscar, Best Score; the score is a lovely violin-centered affair which will lose to Slumdog Millionaire. The story behind Defiance is a true one, and I respect that. But the movie rendition has the ambling quality of the Blair Witch Project or the second Lord of the Rings, and there are so many breaches of logic onscreen it is nearly laughable.

I know people turned over their valuables as soon as they arrived to the forest camp, so the community could trade them for necessities…but…how is it that a wedding scene involved two very ornate wooden dining chairs? Were the chairs brought to the woods on someone’s back? Surely these folks would not have had the right tools to make such chairs…and if I were doing the trading, logically, I’d probably only trade for medicine, food, clothes, shoes, or weapons. It was also a stretch to see glass-paned windows on a couple of the log cabins. Why anyone would take the trouble to install glass windows on camp which would need to be abandoned at a moment’s notice, I can’t say.

My mom and I had real trouble with the scene where the group is running from the Nazi’s and has to cross a marsh. We couldn’t understand how children and little old ladies survived that, and would have liked to see more about that than who’s shacking up with whom.  The picture also makes use of “fuzzy math,” because the group of people didn’t ever seem to change, even after planes bombed a bunker we just saw 30 people jump into; there seemed to be an inordinate number of bodies but the same number of people still alive. We find out later that 1,200 were in the woods and they only lost 50…you don’t get that sense at all.

There are also a few camera filters and shooting styles thrown in for artistic value which are completely inappropriate. Had they gone the action movie route, the jarring style used in the entire film Children of Men would have been perfect to use during a shootout. But otherwise, it is out of place. At one point a yellow filter is used to overemphasize the appearance of sunlight after a hard winter, which works…but that filter is then used at least twice more in cases that don’t make as much sense.

The trailer promised an action movie, and oh, but how I wish it actually were. It would have been so much more entertaining. Liev Schreiber and Daniel Craig are both reasonably good actors, doing the best they can to bring justice simultaneously to an amazing true story and a subpar screenplay. Daniel Craig has always disturbed me to look at, but I realized he is actually a handsome man when he smiles. Maybe not in this movie, but he should smile more. I suspect now that he is finished with Defiance, he is smiling more.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Changeling

February 19, 2009 at 7:16 pm (Movies and TV)

When I underwent sales training as a telemarketer some 21 years ago, they did an exercise to show it’s not what you say, but how you say it. They’d say a sentence with 7 words in it, each time emphasizing a different word, so that the meaning changed. Changeling is like repeating that exercise for two hours with Angelina Jolie using the sentence, “I want my son back.”

I have nothing but respect for Clint Eastwood, but felt that Changeling was not even close to efforts such as Unforgiven, or Flags Of Our Fathers. Eastwood’s simple scores are always lovely, and I have come to look forward to humming them around the house for days after I’ve seen one of his movies. Eastwood, in this film, is understated and makes just as much use of what we don’t see.

I’m beginning to think that Angelina Jolie’s agent has been given the directive to only pass along scripts that require gun-toting, mental wards, and fits of hysteria. Perhaps this is unfair, but the fashion of the early 30’s called for red lipstick, and seeing Jolie’s oversized aperture in bright red lipstick was distracting, regardless of what else was happening onscreen. The story is a heartbreaking one, and I can barely believe it’s a true one. That’s sad in many ways.

John Malkovich is woefully underutilized. When you have an actor who’s that intrinsically creepy, why not make the most of it? I was thoroughly shocked to realize that the frazzled mental hospital hooker and Michael Scott’s girlfriend on The Office are the same person. I was even more shocked to realize that she is in a later scene, involving the identification of Arthur Hutchins…I had to go back and rewind to check…because her presence in that scene has massive implications about her character and the LAPD.

I can’t say this was a bad movie, though I can’t necessarily recommend it, either. Any film which encourages us to dig deeper and ask uncomfortable questions can’t be all bad. Nor can one which inspires people to fight for justice in many forms.

Permalink Leave a Comment

The Reader

February 16, 2009 at 11:05 pm (Movies and TV)

When someone asks you how you liked a movie involving the Holocaust, it’s a sticky wicket. Do you say, I enjoyed it immensely, knowing that you’re talking about the Holocaust? Or do you say, it was disturbing? I don’t know the etiquette here, so I’ll say, I liked The Reader immensely in a disturbing sort of way.

This is a movie which can’t be reviewed in depth, as the plot unfolds through a sequence of reveals. What I can say is, it starts with a teenage boy throwing up and ends with Ralph Fiennes reading Books on Tape. Any other movie would have seen a marketing opportunity here, as most women would gladly pay to listen to Ralph Fiennes read the Scranton, PA telephone book, the back of a cereal box, or assembly instructions for any IKEA product. The man is beautiful even when he cries.

Kate Winslet will win the Best Actress Oscar this year. I can picture the phone call from her agent.  “You have to play (an EXTREMELY unsavory character I can’t explain without messing up your experience of the movie). Oh, and you have to spend most of your time in the nude.” I know the economy is bad, but I can’t think of many actresses courageous enough to have jumped at that chance. Winslet, an actress whose body of work includes Titanic and The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, has an Oscar record — incredibly — of  zero for six. That is an unfairness I expect to be corrected in a year she also gave a breathtaking performance in Revolutionary Road.

David Kross, the German highschooler who plays the young Ralph Fiennes character, has astonishing bravery and range for someone his age…reminiscent of Dev Patel in Slumdog Millionaire. How wonderful this year to see such greatness from young actors and actresses.

My daughter is currently studying the Holocaust at school, but I was not able to take her to see the movie because it is inappropriate for young viewers. It is what I describe as a “talking movie” which depends more on what is said and shown in an understated way than on the amount of action and adventure. I apologize for the vagueness of the review. Let’s just say it is a very well-done and emotionally engaging film, and worth seeing.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Australia (or, Hugh Jackman’s Crotch)

February 16, 2009 at 10:26 pm (Movies and TV)

Have you ever gone to a drive-thru restaurant, only to get home and see they’ve made a massive mistake in your favor?  You don’t discover it until you get home, and by that time, it’s too late to do anything about. It’s cool, you think to yourself, while feeling a tad guilty about it. This is exactly my sentiment after watching Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, having only paid 99 cents for admission. Baz, if you’re somehow out there reading this, e-mail me your address and I’ll send you the other five bucks.

Australia was meant as a love letter to a native country with a checkered history, an epic in the grand tradition of Gone With the Wind. It is successful at that on a purely visceral level, though it is not without issues. That said, I feel bad about the beating this picture took from critics.  Sure, at times it’s dramatically overwrought. Sure, the glorification of the Aborigine feels as forced as Black History Month. Sure, it’s WAY too long and is more like two separate movies instead of one. But I gotta say, Australia has style, and class, and old-fashioned movie-making you don’t often see anymore. I was truly surprised it didn’t earn a cinematography nomination to go with its costume nomination, even if those 2 cows going over the cliff were done in CGI.

Because we have a friend up for an Oscar in costumes this year (Danny Glicker for Milk), a word about those costumes. Danny, the coolest brother-of-a-husband’s-college-friend I’ve ever sort of met on FaceBook, has nothing to fear from Australia because, let’s face it, Catherine Martin forgot to put the back on the Aborigine’s costume. How fair is it to let the old native guy’s ass hang out, but cover up Hugh Jackman’s? Isn’t that a felony?  At least she gave Hugh some brown corduroys so tight his crotch was distracting, and much as I approve of that, I’m not sure it deserves an Oscar.

There is just so much movie to write about here, it’s hard to narrow down. Nicole Kidman goes from very entertaining in the beginning, to strong in the middle, to overemotional at the end…but in a film of this scale, it’s forgiveable. With Jackman, they were clearly aiming for Australia’s answer to Rhett Butler. They came up with the sexiest hybrid of Crocodile Dundee and the Horse Whisperer I’ve ever seen, even if he loses most of his appeal the second you clean him up. Faramir from Lord of the Rings is not a very intimidating bad guy, and I wish I  hadn’t heard that Russell Crowe pulled out of that role as he’d have been better. The wide-eyed Brandon Walters makes his native boy believable, and I wish him much success in the future. I was amused to see Cocktail’s Bryan Brown dusted off for this one. Bryan Brown is the guy formerly juggling bottles with Tom Cruise who we saw and said, “Look, it’s Michael Caine,” until we realized it wasn’t. Why we haven’t seen more of this guy in the interim, I can’t say, but he is thoroughly likable, even as a complete bastard.

Having been to Australia myself and learning something of its history while there, I can’t help but feel they chose the wrong time period for this movie. The island continent was colonized as a penal colony for criminals, who had to carve out a life for themselves despite unforgiving terrain and isolation…and that’s in addition to their conquer and subjugation of the natives. That would have been the more fascinating story.  Anyway…this was a lot more movie than I’d expect to pay 99 cents for, in terms of length and quality. Baz…good on ya, mate.

Permalink 1 Comment

Lactose Intolerance

February 3, 2009 at 6:47 pm (Uncategorized)

Harvey Milk collapses on a sofa, exhausted, and tells his campaign manager he’s going to stop running for office, because he just doesn’t have it in him anymore. I understand how Milk felt. This is the year I myself have announced I will not be seeking re-election to my town’s council after six years of service. Somehow Milk found the strength to keep going. That alone, to me, was mind-boggling and right there enough for me to respect the man.

Friends told me to bring Kleenex with me to see Milk. They were not wrong, but, I did not get verklempt at the times when the audience is clearly supposed to be. Instead, I found myself teary-eyed at a point where Harvey Milk and his staff are certain they’ve lost their battle against Proposition 6, a law with unprecedented unfairness and discrimination against gay individuals (gay teachers and anyone who supported them would be immediately fired, causing a government witch hunt as to who is or is not gay). The phone rings, and Milk learns that Prop 6 has been defeated. This for me was the most poignant scene in Milk, because it’s what should have happened earlier this year when Proposition 8 (barring gay marriages in CA and nullifying those which already exist) passed. That’s when I cried.

Sean Penn is absolutely mesmerizing and sincere. My Litmus Test with Penn is always, does merely yell to get his point across, or does he dial it down a little. Mostly, he yells, and it annoys me. Not so in this role, where his emotional range is palpable. I believe in my heart of hearts that he and Mickey Rourke have given equally compelling performances this year in their Oscar-nominated roles, but that this year…the year we celebrate Harvey Milk through our outrage that intolerance is alive and well in Milk’s state 30 years later…Penn will take the Oscar not just as a testament to his wonderful job here, but, as an acknowledgment that discrimination in any form is wrong, and must be fought by large groups of people (say…Academy voters…) willing to stand up and say, “that’s enough.”

Here in Pittsburgh, PA, I don’t get many glimpses into actual Hollywood.  My LA-living brother-in-law winces whenever my kids ask him “what famous people he’s seen” since they last talked. My husband’s friend from college has a brother who left HBO’s “True Blood” to do the costumes for Milk, and he was nominated for both the Costumers’ Guild Award and his first Oscar this year. I truly wish Danny Glicker well. Even knowing him peripherally, seeing the comments on his FaceBook page, indicates that Milk is a film which touched everyone who worked on it in a deeply personal way. Certainly, in a year when HOPE was the central theme of a groundbreaking presidential election, parts of Harvey Milk’s legacy remain, and his life still speaks profoundly to gay and straight people alike.

Milk is a special film, and certainly one of the best this year.  It does more than share one man’s extraordinary journey. It opens discussions about fairness in American society and encourages all of us to have the courage of our convictions.  It helps us examine whether we embrace our differences, and drink in more Milk, or whether we manifest lactose intolerance and judge others.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Frost/Nixon

February 3, 2009 at 5:59 pm (Uncategorized)

My parents did not want to see Frost/Nixon for the same reason I would not see W: they lived it, and it was bad enough the first time. I was 4 years old at the time of the depicted events. I don’t remember the scandal, but I *do* remember Nixon’s resignation speech on TV because it’s the earliest memory I have of my father hitting me (apparently I wouldn’t shut up).

Frost/Nixon is another movie, like Doubt, which evolved from a stage play. I submit that both would have been better served remaining on the stage. Both Oscar nominations for acting (ie. Frank Langella as Richard Nixon, Best Actor and Michael Sheen as David Frost for Best Supporting Actor) are well-deserved, though neither man will win.

Frank Langella looks nothing like Richard Nixon, though the voice and mannerisms are uncanny. You never quite forget it’s Frank up there, not Dick, which is the one difference between Cate Blanchett as Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator, a performance I described similarly. I was convinced by the end of The Aviator that Cate WAS Katharine, not just Cate acting a whole lot like Katharine; by the end of Frost/Nixon I could not escape the idea that this was Frank Langella, acting a whole lot like Richard Nixon. Though I do give the guy props for the eye-twitch thing he had going on, it made my eyes itch to watch.

Overall, Ron Howard has been a director with a lot of heart. Even when he’s made a movie I haven’t liked, it’s at least had heart. This one, while I can’t say I liked it, also had heart. Sam Rockwell’s character, a jaded type who wants to see Nixon made accountable, says at one point, “How can anyone have sympathy for Richard Nixon?” Howard does try, and very nearly succeeds, at asking us to have some sympathy for a tired old man haunted by his bad choices. Nixon is very much a modern example of Greek tragedy, a man who is judged so harshly for his failures that his accomplishments (and he did have a few!) have been all but forgotten.

I saw parallels between this story and that of George W. Bush (though Bush even has the “complicated Daddy element” in his Greek tragedy), and wondered how Bush will feel in the coming years about some of his choices, and how history will judge him in the end. I tried to put myself in my parents’ place by thinking about Bush and how I will feel if some of his choices go unquestioned, if he is not held accountable…wondered how it would feel to see him on television, admitting wrongdoing and apologizing for it. Would doing that really change anything, for Bush, for us? And did it ultimately change anything for Nixon?

It is a dance accomplished without flourish or fanfare, but with some question as to who is leading, and with one of them in a pair of “effeminate Italian loafers.” One question I came away with at the end of Frost/Nixon was, did Frost suddenly wake up halfway through the process and “bring it,” or was it his strategy all along to make Nixon think he was incompetent and then hit when least expected? I thought I knew, but reflecting on the fake smiles and the front Frost puts up in front of others…now I’m not so sure. The loafers thing made me laugh though, as my ex-husband wore ONLY Italian loafers. He’d have loved this movie.

Perhaps it is because the American mind has now been trained to have a shorter attention span, and to expect nonstop action in movies. Perhaps it’s because the movie was first a stage play. There have been other “talking movies,” as my daughter calls them, which I’ve liked more than Frost/Nixon (including, ironically, another one starring Michael Sheen…The Queen). This one, however, will not win Best Picture, nor am I sure it should have been nominated.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Rachel…Hitched

January 25, 2009 at 7:41 am (Movies and TV)

The theater began showing Hotel For Dogs. We checked our stubs, we asked the other two people in the theater…there had been a mistake. Upon informing the theater, we were given free passes for next time, and they re-started what we’d come to see, which was Rachel Getting Married. The free passes were the best part of the movie, and I wish we’d seen Hotel For Dogs instead.

It is not unusual for a movie to introduce us to a tragically dysfunctional family. It is not unusual to have other than a happy ending, or for a movie to show us characters we can’t possibly like or sympathize with. It’s a little unusual to have random appearances by Robin Hitchcock and bellydancers. It is, however, VERY unusual to have all of this happen in a plot that goes nowhere, in a story that never shows us the reason why it’s one worth telling.

The only reason I am not horribly depressed by the idea of knowing Anne Hathaway has a Golden Globe, is knowing at least she tied with Meryl Streep. They’re recongizing her for not being perky and doe-eyed in the same way they are recognizing Amy Adam’s continued perkiness and doe-eyed innocence in Doubt.

When I went to my senior homecoming dance with four other couples, we went to a four-star restaurant before the dance. One guy, wanting to impress his date, paid the strolling violinist $50 to play us Ave Maria. I have no idea whether that guy succeeded in getting any tail that night, but, I do remember that the violinist then refused to leave, and was cloying and annoying and disruptive of our dinners until the guy gave him more money to go away. I was reminded of this anecdote while listening to the score of Rachel Getting Married, only there was no opportunity to pay the violinist to shut the fuck up.

As a writer, I found myself very disappointed that the film focused so little on the tall, African-American groom, meeting this messed-up family for the first time the day before he marries into it. What is this poor guy’s reaction? Does he have second thoughts? How does he process this? How will it impact their marriage? We don’t know, but it would have been an interesting thing to explore as he was the only character in the mix I felt truly sorry for. I felt sorry for the actor, too, because apart from the marriage ceremony, his only other big scene was one where he loads a dishwasher. But hey, the economy is bad, I’m sure he appreciated the work.

The film would have worked infinitely better had Hathaway’s character not survived a car wreck at one point in the movie. There could have been some relief, possibly some character growth, maybe even a reconciliation of a life’s ending with a life’s beginning. But no. She and her whole damned family, and the annoying violinist, are there with us until the bitter end and nobody is the better for it. My advice is, when you get your invitation to Rachel Getting Married, send regrets.

Permalink Leave a Comment

The Wrestler

January 25, 2009 at 7:17 am (Movies and TV)

When I was a bar musician, I met a few long-haired, burned out guys who spent years touring and partying, only to end up in their 50’s, bulging out of their spandex pants, playing Gimme Three Steps in biker bars and pretending it’s just as swell. They’d unplug their amps at 2am and go back to their trailer parks. I never thought much about what their existence was like offstage, after the smoke had cleared and the shouting crowd had gone home.

The only thing I’d heard about The Wrestler was that it’s another case of, extraordinary performance in a mediocre movie. Now that I’ve seen it, I can’t agree. It is a poignant, special movie with one extraordinary performance and at least two damned good ones.

I never got into the WWF in the 80’s, but I’d seen enough of it to remember the Hulk Hogans and Sgt. Slaughters of the day. It didn’t matter to me while watching The Wrestler that I don’t like or follow wrestling, because Mickey Rourke’s Randy the Ram Robinson easily could have been one of the guys I played the Mesa Lounge with in 1991 — doing what he’s always done, because he loves it, and can do nothing else.

There aren’t very many truly good roles for women once they hit 45, which Marisa Tomei will this year. Actresses can play young and lovely for only so long, before there’s this 15 year gap and then they have to start playing somebody’s grandma. Tomei’s presence in the movie, an aging stripper who is berated by onlookers for being too old, could easily be a metaphor for what happens to actresses, which is every bit as sad and unfair.  She may be the stereotypical stripper with the heart of gold, but she works hard for the money…SO hard for it, honey. I will never look as good as her 44-year-old self, twisting around a stripper pole and bringing the sexy despite the fact that doing so demeans her…this role took chutzpah and I applaud her.

There are cringeworthy scenes here which are not for the faint of heart. I have not researched whether or not Mickey Rourke actually let someone go after him with a staple gun, but if he did…whoa…Sean Penn might have to do more than just yell this year if he wants his statue. I still need to see Milk for comparison’s sake. Mickey Rourke used to be a great looking guy, and now he’s nearly disfigured and unable to speak a complete sentence, as he left acting to be a professional kickboxer for so many years. The fact that he allowed himself to simply BE, with no sugar coating, no glossing over…the vulnerability is heartbreaking.

During one scene, Evan Rachel Wood in a sincere performance as the estranged daughter explains that the relationship is broken beyond repair. We come to realize it is Randy who is broken and unable to be fixed. The false, for him, is the only truth he’s capable of.  An addict to the adoration, perhaps the most heartbreaking line in The Wrestler occurs as he strides confidently into the stadium for his rematch amid a cheering crowd, mumbling something just loud enough for us to realize that he really does know the difference between real and fake, but doesn’t care anymore.

Now hearing Bruce Springsteen’s song in its proper context, I don’t understand how it could have been looked over at Oscar time.  I suspect what will happen to The Boss  after the snub is a lot like what happens in The Wrestler. He’ll go on doing what he loves, what he’s good at, consequences be damned, for the rest of his life.

Permalink Leave a Comment

It’s Not You, It’s Me

January 25, 2009 at 6:33 am (Movies and TV)

If you are a housewife within spitting distance of 40, wait 10 years before watching Revolutionary Road, or it’ll screw you up pretty good. If you are in my mother’s generation, you will see snapshots of your childhood and wonder how your parents felt.

Everything you hear about the fine acting in this one is true. I have thought well of Kate Winslet since Sense and Sensibility, but it took The Aviator to convince me that DiCaprio was any more than a smug pretty boy. Both are in fine form here, and their chemistry is undeniable. Michael Shannon, another Oscar-nominated actor this season, isn’t anyone I immediately recognize but I thoroughly enjoyed him as the insane guy who tells the truth a bit too much for polite company. How unfortunate for Mr. Shannon that he is up against Heath Ledger. Any other year, he might win.

The only true issue I had with this film is that I’ve already seen it on AMC; on TV it’s called Mad Men. The only difference here is that Winslet’s April is more extreme than her January Jones counterpart, and DiCaprio is less likable, and way less suave than than Don Draper. I love Mad Men and continue to watch it willingly and without discomfort, yet Revolutionary Road hit a nerve. I have more thinking to do about how and why my reaction can be so vastly different between two such similar pieces of entertainment.

Many of us have been through those  breakups where you hear from your soon-to-be ex, “It’s not you, it’s me.” I’ve heard that before, but have never said that before. Now, I find myself in a situation where that’s exactly how I feel about Revolutionary Road. I might have liked it a lot more, had I not been a 38-year-old housewife in life evaluation mode as my youngest prepares for school in the fall. It probably is the picture it’s intended to be, for many who see it. Alas, Revolutionary Road, it’s not you, it’s me.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Hellboy 2

January 23, 2009 at 4:09 pm (Movies and TV)

In a year that also gave us Iron Man and The Dark Knight, it’s kind of hard to address Hellboy 2: The Golden Army with a straight face. When your 4-year-old, who has seen the movie before, is able to recount the plot in accurate detail, you know you can let your brain take a 2-hour lunch break. This movie requires that I put my “Movie Snob” on the shelf for its duration because Hellboy 2 is not meant to be taken seriously. And for once, that’s kind of refreshing.

Entertaining, it is…but only when you suspend your expectation for anything approached as seriously and with as much care as Iron Man. Fun, it is…but only when you realize that not only is nobody going to match Heath Ledger’s acting in The Dark Knight, but nobody is even trying. Say what you will, but Hellboy 2: The Golden Shower Army accurately gauges its place and purpose, and I have to respect that.

Needing to see this film because it was nominated for an Oscar in the category of Best Makeup, I dreaded the experience more than I disliked it, even if it’s clearly a “boy movie.” Who can keep from chuckling at a lovesick amphibian singing Barry Manilow? That Red Man, he gets ahead, man. And if you suspend all logic and laws of physics, it’s an amusing ride.

The one interesting thing about Hellboy 2 was seeing Kath & Kim’s Selma Blair in a role as a strong, smart, nurturing woman, 180 degrees different from the useless bimbo she plays on TV. I can’t decide whether this means she does an extra good job on TV, or whether it means she’s being underutilized on TV. I suspect it’s both.

The makeup, I’m guessing, was nominated for its deft combination of rubber prosthetics and actual makeup. I shudder to think about how long it would have taken poor Ron Perlman to get all those layers of red stuff off. I don’t think the makeup here is anything that’s going to outperform the age makeup for Brad Pitt in Benjamin Button…but I can at least appreciate where they were coming from.

Permalink Leave a Comment

The Visitor

January 23, 2009 at 4:54 am (Movies and TV)

The Visitor is a surprising movie, and in my opinion, better than at least one of the nominees for Best Picture I’ve seen so far.

Richard Jenkins, a well-recognized character actor, plays  the classic curmudgeon. At least, this is how he is first introduced. Slowly, he is drawn into an unusual situation, and as it unfolds, you find yourself being drawn in as well.

Jenkins received an Oscar nomination earlier today, and I submit that it is well-deserved. This is an actor whose forte has been understatement, so in that sense, this was a terrific part for him; however, here the acting is in his transformation from antisocial introvert to living, feeling example of humanity…and he is brilliant in this progression. We see him dismiss a student with a late paper, we suspect, heartlessly; we wonder at his no-nonsense, nonchalant firing of a piano teacher; then later we see the same person with his zany African drumming and finally, his meltdown in front of an immigration official. I would not have initially guessed so, but, the guy has range.

Cleverly titled, the film’s finish leaves you wondering who the visitor is.  Is it the young immigrants, who are surviving in our country as illegal visitors? Is it Jenkins, who visits his friend of 10 days as faithfully as a relative after apprehension by INS? Is it the young immigrant’s mother, who visits Jenkins to find out what has become of her son, and inadvertently helps him start living his life again? Are we the visitors into this particular story and set of circumstances?

These characters, while typical, are likable. It’s not often that you find yourself caring what happens to all the characters in a movie, but with this one, it’s inevitable. The filmmakers have created people who, while recognizable, you can sympathize with for one reason or another. Maybe you’ve drifted along in life after losing someone. Maybe you make one dumb mistake anyone could have made, which has major consequences later. Maybe you meet someone unexpected who helps bring out your best. Maybe you’re trapped in an uncomfortable conversation with a neighbor. Maybe you’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time. These are things that happen to all of us.

One could argue that Jenkins’ character might have easily solved a conundrum by proposing to Mona Khalil, yet he does not. He has grown, certainly, but not so much that he can venture that far out of his comfort zone. We suspect he may have regrets later, though these events have indelibly changed him.

Other films with messages are less subtle…even Wall-E, the animated movie, was really preachy this year. The Visitor does not judge, does not sermonize. What it does is simply tell us a story…these people, in this situation, in this place, in this moment. I really respect a movie that gives its audience enough credit to let us draw our own conclusion.

I wish this film had been in wider release, because I truly enjoyed it. I said in my review of  The Curious Case of Benjamin Button that it would receive many Oscar nominations over other, more deserving choices. Perfect example. If Button is overrated, (and I honestly believe it is), then The Visitor is its counterpart, deserving of more appreciation and a wider audience than it has enjoyed.

Permalink Leave a Comment

The Fabric Surprise

January 15, 2009 at 7:16 pm (Housewife Life)

I love doing business with eQuilter.com. They donate 2% of your purchase, before tax and shipping, to a charity you choose from their list. They wrap each order in tissue paper and enclose a personal note. It’s a first-class operation. So why have I always been too scared to risk A Fabric Surprise?

A Fabric Surprise is a 3-lb bag of bolt ends, adding up to usually over 10 yards of fabric, randomly selected,  and bundled. Virtually every online quilt store I’ve ever done business with (Blue Bamboo and Keepsake Quilting to drop just a couple) offers some version of the Fabric Surprise. You pay somewhere between $15 and $25 to get this 3-lb bag of fabric, not having any idea what’s in there.

There are some fabrics and designers I adore, such as Michael Miller (for his bright, sprawling patterns and his Fairy Frost line), Hoffman (Hoffman Bali are the best batiks on the planet), Kona Bay (the best Asian patterns anywhere), and Moda (their jellyrolls are awesome, and their Moda Marbles have been well-used in my quilts).

You do this quilt thing often enough and you start to recognize designers whose names you keep seeing on the selvage (fabric edge). I use brights and jewel-tones and batiks most of the time, so that’s how I’ve become comfortable with these designers. For what I do, they’re reliable. So when searching fabric on eQuilter, I’ll browse their lines first.

There are other designers and styles I can’t stand. Thimbleberries, Civil War repro fabrics…pretty much anything that’s standard pastel, muted,  earthy…or traditional. I was at Sun Valley Quilts, one of my favorite stores, last June. I told the saleslady how much I appreciate them, being from Pennsylvania. She knew immediately what I meant. “A lot of Thimbleberries out by where you are, eh?” I answered her that actually, the reason I’ve never put a quilt in a show before is because it’s pointless to compete against Amish ladies. Three other women within earshot groaned with sympathy. Pennsylvania is famous among quilters, but for quilting in the traditional sense. That’s admirable and respectable, but far from what I do.

So, I have never mustered the courage to order a Fabric Surprise, because somewhere in a warehouse lurks a stack of Thimbleberries bolt ends which would sit, unused, in my dining room if they ended up part of my surprise. Until… (ominous-sounding…dun…dun…DUHHHHHH!)

A relative  gave me some money for Christmas. I  was on eQuilter nearly immediately to take advantage of the ridiculous year-end bargains you can often get. While shopping, it hit me. As I’m spending gift money, and I already know this company is top notch and would never deliberately fill my Fabric Surprise full of country ducks, why not make 2009 the year I venture out of my comfort zone, shake it up, try out the Fabric Surprise, and make a pact with myself to use everything I get, even if there are a couple of Thimbleberries in the stack?

The thing that surprised me most about the Fabric Surprise was how much more I looked forward to this shipment than any other. I was like a teenager about to go to a dance, hoping for the best but without any idea what to expect. Even the kids got caught up in the enthusiasm, and have started asking daily, “Is the Fabric Surprise here yet?” As soon as I had taken the risk, it wasn’t dread, it was GLEEFUL anticipation, because after all, I love fabric. One of the quotes I use on my FaceBook Profile is from one of the senior, most experienced, most gifted ladies in my quilt guild who says “there’s no such thing as an ugly fabric, just a misunderstood one.”

Today, I got my Fabric Surprise. Twenty-six fabrics are involved. Two are solids, three are large-scale florals (one pretty garish but two, if I’m being honest, are lovely), and to my delight I immediately noticed two Michael Miller jewel patterns. One is the bolt end of a fabric also in my order, so cool, I get more. Three are black and white; there are two separate stacks that coordinate very well if not in colors I’d have chosen. One depicts ropes, another waves, which will fit in well wth my collection of pirate fabric. One fabric has multicolored spools of thread on it, one has varieties of Chinese footwear on a blue background, one is a Valentine fabric with little red envelopes and hearts. The fabric that will challenge me the most  is a red, white, and blue fabric with American flags and Elvis Presley in his Army uniform, though I smiled anyway when I saw it. No Thimbleberries in sight. (This time.)

I may report back later in the year with how well I’m doing on my quest to use every fabric…but overall, this was a satisfying experiment which I intend to repeat. Not even the whole Barack Obama thing taught me as much as this one little bundle of cloth…”fear of the unknown” doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Taking a risk pays off sometimes; even if it’s not a 100% success, success is possible. And that’s awesome.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Golden Globes 2009

January 12, 2009 at 5:55 pm (Movies and TV)

How much in FCC fines will NBC have to pay for Darren Aronofsky’s “rude gesture?” Will Sacha Baron Cohen be invited to Madonna’s next dinner party? And when will I stop being impressed by Tina Fey?

Last night’s Golden Globes held more than a few upsets but also had predictable moments.

My favorite lines of the night came from Ricky Gervais (“Good on you, Winslet! I told you…make a holocaust movie, you’ll get your award, so there you go.”), Colin Farrell (“I have a cold. It’s not that other thing.”), J-L0 (Mama’s talkin’! Shhhh!), and Tina Fey (“Suck it, suck it hard!”).

The Awkward Turtle Award goes to Emma Thompson, David Duchovny, and Cameron Diaz. They tried to joke, it fell flat. Bummer.

The Worst Speech Award: Tied, Colin Farrell and the British chick who was onstage with Johnny Depp. But in fairness to that chick, I wasn’t paying attention to anything but Johnny Depp.

Too Cool for School Award: The Bruce, wishing Clarence Clemons happy birthday. The guy just oozes cool, he can’t help it. He seems like the next inductee to the Saints of Cool, which already contains St. Eric Clapton and St. Jack Nicholson.

Most Conspicuous Absences: Sean Penn and winner Gabriel Byrne, who clearly didn’t expect to win.

Most Touching Moment: Chris Nolan accepting Heath Ledger’s posthumous Globe. Robert Downey, Jr. getting misty-eyed. And the whole room in standing ovation.

Most Unexpected: Kate Winslet, who should have split the vote and not won anything, winning BOTH of her awards. This will shake up the Oscar Predictions like nothing else. Though I was nearly as surprised as she was, I am pleased for her.

One source I read today referred to the Steven Spielberg speech as a Worst Moment, but I SO disagree. I loved it, especially the story about CB DeMille and the toy train set. It’s kind of scary to think that Spielberg has been in movies for 40 years, because it shows his age and reminds us that old directors don’t die, they just cut.

How wonderful to see John Adams winning so many awards, and one of my favorites, Mad Men, getting a Globe for Best Drama. And congratulations to Slumdog Millionaire, which I believe is deserving of everything it wins.

All things considered, though, the stars were not as drunk or as fun as usual. There were no classic moments that will make this broadcast special, other than it was nice to see the Globes back again after the writers’ strike cancelled the show last year. The few shots we were permitted of the room looked as though hardly anyone spent any time sitting down, or being quiet…a rowdy room. I wish we had seen more of that rowdiness onstage.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Golden Globes 2009 Red Carpet

January 12, 2009 at 5:10 pm (Movies and TV)

OK I never do a Red Carpet because I tend to disagree with the powers that be pretty much 90% of the time when it comes to what’s hot and what’s not.  This year, though, my experiment is to hang it all out there and see what REAL PEOPLE think.

First off…Nobody is talking about the fact that Sting’s face looks like a vagina. Sting is only one of the hottest-looking men on earth, so this is incredibly upsetting. Maybe he’s going through yet another midlife crisis. I dunno. All I know is I was not pleased to see the unkempt shrubbery. This was the worst fashion faux-pas of the night, hands down.

It seems that everyone agrees Renee Zellweger forgot the lining part of her dress.  I guess it’s interesting to think of movie stars as regular people who latch their bras, too, but that doesn’t mean we need to SEE it. And as much slam as I’m reading on Mickey Rourke today, I wish people would cut the poor guy a break. He’s been out of this whole scene since the 80’s, so wouldn’t know what else to wear. A guy who thanks his dogs and cusses during his speech…whatever else you say about him, he was the most REAL person in the room. And I hand it to him for that.

Regarding pantsuits at awards shows when you’re female, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it.

I watched the E! pre-show with Ryan Douchecrest. Two funniest things here, and I’m not even talking about Megan Fox’s admission that she is a trannie…the camera ABRUPTLY cuts as soon as it’s evident Tom Cruise is there with his MOM, not Katie H…and then Douchecrest chases Brangelina on the Carpet and gets snubbed. That. Was. Awesome!!! (Note it’s the only time all night they didn’t use the little arrows pointing to where people were on the Carpet…).

Here are examples of people Yahoo Buzz put on the WORST list who I’d have put on the opposite list: Miley Cyrus (I don’t like her at all but she looked really nice, I thought!). Anne Hathaway just needed a necklace and it would have been perfect. I agree that Mary-Lousie Parker could have done something different with her hair, but does she really deserve to be on the Worst list just for bad hair, when the dress was gorgeous?

Here are example of people Yahoo Buzz put on the BEST list who I’d have put on the opposite list: Why would anyone put Angelina’s garbage bag on a “Best” list? Especially when it looks exactly like the dress she wore to the Critics’ Choice? I don’t know what the hell that was on J-Lo, but it was NOT one of the best dresses of the night…it was a big scarf. Heidi Klum, black bubble wrap and a big gross flower…ew. And, OK, double standard here…if Mary-Louise Parker and that very cool dress can make the Worst List just for bad hair, then why oh why isn’t Drew Barrymore on the Worst List for this hairdo? Dress by Galleano, hair by Eggbeater. At least the LA Times agreed with me on the matter of Eva Mendes and the dress that threw up on itself…the classier version of which was Kate Beckinsale’s impersonation of a callalily. Freida Pinto, the gorgeous star of Slumdog Millionaire, wore a baby-poo gown with pleats and gathers in all the wrong places. I have no explanation for how Jenna Fischer ended up on the Best List with her drapery and lack of bustier. And…who told Amy Adams that her jewelry matched the outfit? Methinks there will be one out-of-work stylist today…

I think everyone knows what my FAVORITE fashion moment of the night was…can I get a Johnny Depp hair flip, please? I sure needed my fix!

Permalink 1 Comment

Slumdog Millionaire

January 11, 2009 at 6:24 pm (Movies and TV)

The old man at the front of the house leaned in as he tore my ticket and whispered with a wink, “best movie in the house, sweetie.” Grandpa knows his stuff, because everything else I see this season will be trying to measure up to Slumdog Millionaire.

My initial reaction after this was to call my travel agent and cancel that dream vacation I’ve been planning to Mumbai.  This was an anti-commercial for American tourism there. My mother, however, who has been to India, says that the depiction is sadly accurate. I had never thought about, and was surprised by, the number of Indian-Americans living in our metro area (the theater was full of them) and had to wonder what their reaction to this was. When seeing a brutally honest characterization of Mumbai, one can’t help but instantly understand some of the problems that would have surely followed last year’s earthquake there. The churning nature of the place makes the city its own living, breathing character in the movie.

I read no reviews of this film prior to seeing it. I knew that it was a love story taking place in India, where a young man goes on a gameshow to try to catch a girl’s attention, and that class issues are central to the story. This is all true, however to say that this is all the movie is would be unfairly oversimplifying Slumdog Millionaire.

It took me overnight to begin writing this review simply to calm the whirling vortex of adjectives. Terrible, wonderful; terrifying, hopeful; beautiful, ugly; violent, gentle; simple, complicated; desperate, calm; truthful, deceptive; pre-destined, accidental; colorful, barren…I found myself in the ladies room before the next movie trying to collect myself because I was crying and wasn’t even sure why…was it because after everything that happened in this film (and there’s a lot), truth was all that remained? Or was it, pure and simply, emotional overload?

This film is disturbing and has much violence involving children.  You may ask why this is necessary. It is not merely necessary for plot explication, but it is a realistic depiction of what life is like for orphans living in the slums of Mumbai. As Americans this shocks us because this kind of life, to us, is incomprehensible; even the homeless here have better lives than what you’ll see. But as you’ll see, despite the moral corners these children must cut to stay alive, they have an admirable persistence (a formerly common virtue in our country which has all but disappeared). At one point a child crawls through the bottom of an outhouse, and out from under a heaping pile of human waste, in order to get a movie star’s autograph. It is far from secret how passionately I love Johnny Depp, but there are some things not even I would do to get his autograph.

What a gifted director Danny Boyle is, to draw such effective performances out of little children. How adept he is, to be able to capture the color, the chaos, the opulence juxtaposed directly with the appalling poverty of Mumbai in such an absolutely haunting way.  What a humane performance by Irrfan Khan, how perfect Anil Kapoor’s gameshow host, and how amazingly well the two young actors Dev Patel and Frieda Pinto demonstrate simultaneous innocence and world-weariness. This is, quite simply, a masterpiece. Once this movie had finished, not a soul moved to leave the theater until the credits had finished. I’ve never seen that happen before.

I predict Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Score, Best Cinematography, Best Screenplay, and while I have more movies to see, have the preliminary belief that Slumdog Millionaire could and arguably should win in several of these categories. It’s a long shot for a Best Costumes nomination in a year that also contains The Duchess, but that wouldn’t surprise me, either. If Slumdog Millionaire leaves you with any one realization, it’s that anything could happen…but then…perhaps it is written.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Doubt

January 11, 2009 at 3:58 am (Movies and TV)

The Devil Wears a Nun Suit Doubt will make former Catholic School students squirm in their seats, remembering the corporal punishment and the scary nuns and the forced dancing in the gym to dorky samba records. It will make everyone else squirm for other reasons.

There is a popular card game known as “I Doubt It” (which our family calls “Bullshit”) which is basically a bluffing game. Imagine that game where the stakes of the game mean something different to every player.  It would change the game quite a bit. Doubt explores that studio space.

This picture had to take place in the early 1960’s, because that was the last time when the majority of people were free from cynicism and were more willing to believe the best about people than the worst. The clothes and cars and references to the JFK assassination don’t establish the time period half as well as the outmoded school intercom and a nun’s crusade against the evil of the ballpoint pen. The use of pathetic fallacy was effective in the film, though the editing was oddly spliced in places.

When asked after the movie whether I believe Meryl Streep will win Best Actress, I responded that because the last two roles I have seen her in have made her so thoroughly evil (this, and The Devil Wears Prada), I have to watch Mamma Mia just to make sure Meryl can still play someone likeable, that evil for her is a demonstration of range. All of the hype about her performance is deserved, but I have to say I still find myself wanting to smack that doe-eyed look from Amy Adams’ face. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is adequate and likeable here, which makes one question whether you should believe someone because they’re likeable, or whether believing someone you can’t stand (like Streep’s character) is even possible.

Not the most entertaining of movies, Doubt does accomplish what it sets out to do, which is to ask questions about right and wrong; discretion and its use in concert with big-picture, peripheral considerations; feminism and the patriarchal leadership of the Catholic church; racism; proof versus gut feeling and the importance of each. While the picture stays true to its name and never does settle the main concern one way or the other, I found the stronger lesson in the character played by Hoffman. In the words of Kenny Rogers, you gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.

Doubt will not be a serious contender for Best Picture, but rather, is a case of one standout acting performance and an above-average ensemble in a mediocre, uncomfortable movie.

Permalink Leave a Comment

The Dreaded Fridge Purge

January 9, 2009 at 12:40 am (Food, Housewife Life)

We had to wait until Garbage Day to do the Fridge Purge, for logistical reasons. I shouldn’t even say “we,” since I had nothing to do with it. The credit belongs to 11-year-old Bunny, who found a non-perverted way to prove that he’ll do anything for money.

Lucky for you, I donated the batteries from my digital camera to Ninja on Christmas Morning so he could make his new robot walk across the floor, so I have no photographic evidence to share from our refrigerator-cleaning experience. Chances are the HazMat Team would have confiscated it, anyway.

The most embarrassing item was a carton of cottage cheese WAAAAAAAY back in the back behind everything, dated August 27, 2007. I was immediately reminded of the scene in “Naked Gun” when Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley are looking for something to eat in his fridge, and he finds some Chinese takeout, and she says, “I thought this place closed 3 years ago!” OK nothing was 3 years old, but let’s just say Chef Gordon Ramsay would have been dropping a few F-bombs on me.

There was one cucumber so limp not even Viagra could have saved it. And I didn’t even check the date on this one half-full bottle of Greek Salad Dressing. (Note to Husband: If this was yours and current, I’m sorry…but the object of this exercise was to throw out anything that looked gross…sooooo….) And one scientific question we have…since there’s mold in yogurt, how can you tell if your yogurt has gone bad?

One of the drawbacks of trying out cool recipes so often is that you get stuck with weird ingredients you don’t use regularly. Some of these things don’t have date stamps, like Sushi Vinegar and Liquid Smoke. How do you decide in a case like that? Can vinegar go bad? I think I’ve only used Liquid Smoke one time, but seasonings, sauces, spices are expensive to replace…We pitched them both anyway.

My house may be out of control, but at least I know my fridge isn’t anymore. I don’t have time to watch Oprah, and I think FlyLady is slightly insane…maybe one small step at a time, with my son and a wad of $1 bills to encourage him, is really the best way to approach this.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Unbuttoning After Too Much…

January 4, 2009 at 6:57 pm (Movies and TV)

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is getting rave reviews, nominations, and critics’ awards. On the positive side, I’ll say that if you liked “The English Patient,” you’ll like this…and that my Mom is sure to like it.  On the other side, reviewing this movie is kind of like having to unbutton your pants after you’ve just eaten way too much. It’s too much and you need some relief.

It occurred to me that there were three main purposes for this film: 1) To make baby-boomers feel better about getting old, which according to the demographics of Academy voters, kind of also automatically means, “trying for some Oscars.” 2) To allow Brad Pitt to bring some big business down to hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, which for him is a conscience move I can’t fault. 3) A vehicle for the amazing and versatile Cate Blanchett, which…she’s just…awesome. The best in a generation.

Everyone is hearing the buzz about Brad Pitt. Beyond his squinting and looking thoughtful, the rest was makeup; he had the range of cardboard when compared to his Oscar-winning turn in 1994’s “Twelve Monkeys.” The true performance in this one is from Blanchett, though toward the end of the movie I felt kind of like Elaine Benis (“DIE ALREADY!!!”).

The script tries so hard to make pithy observations about life that it inadvertantly sends mixed messages in some cases and in others, throws way too much at you without worrying which couple of things might stick (kind of like reading a whole stack of fortune cookies and trying to remember later what any of them said).  At one point, Blanchett, a ballerina who can no longer dance after an accident, cries when she sees a younger woman getting out of the pool because the woman’s body makes her remember her own, pre-accident body and abilities. Pitt comforts her by saying something to the effect of, “You chose to be something so extraordinary that you couldn’t have been that for long. That life is over.” Then later in the same movie, Pitt waxes philosophical and tells the audience they can always “choose again, start again, make a new life.” Which is it, Brad? Because it’s not always that easy, and as my daughter and I decided later, even less easy for females.

The older man constantly saying “Did I ever tell you, I’ve been struck by lightning 7 times?” happening either right before or right after a major change in Pitt’s character did not give much credit to the audience even though it was kind of fun to watch the grainy footage of those events.

While the ending was not nearly as awful as the one in “There Will Be Blood,” there was no real sense of resolution at the end here….though I will say that the scene where Benjamin Button meets his inevitable end was thoroughly awful to watch and should have been implied, not literal.

I have many more buzzed-about movies, likely Oscar contenders yet to see. My take on this one was, while I can take or leave this one, I can see it getting a few Oscars over more deserving choices simply because a lot of people are ready for “pensive and feelgood” after the last few years of “jarring and pessimistic,” regardless of how trite, how predictable, how forced I found this. I am not sure this is a movie I will be talking about for years to come. Over the next several weeks, I will re-fasten myself and go back to the theater, looking for that one movie that moves you, stays with you, and ages well over time (if you’ll forgive the pun). Button isn’t it.

Permalink 2 Comments

Notes From My Baby Book

January 4, 2009 at 2:07 am (Housewife Life)

In preparation to make some surprise holiday collages for a couple family members last month, based on old family photos, I found a small memo book in which my parents recorded my “firsts” from birth through age two. Here are a few the more telling excerpts, copied exactly:

June 17, 1970, 1 month old: First drive-in movie. Rated X.

June 22, 1970, 6 wks. old: First doctor appointment. Gained 3 pounds in 5 weeks!

16 weeks: Definitely learned to pout.

19 weeks: Loves to be kissed and cuddled, as long as she’s not hungry.

24 weeks: Cries for attention.

10 months: Pulls to standing, prone to sitting.

First birthday: Greatly mistrusts men.

At two, still lacks the concept of “tomorrow” but can memorize entire television commercials and point out the products later in the store. Constantly talking.

2-1/2, learned to call Daddy a “Male Chauvinist Pig.”

So much changes, so much stays the same…

Permalink Leave a Comment

Eating at the Improv

January 2, 2009 at 8:21 pm (Food)

Next time I’m doing major cooking in the kitchen, I should probably figure out the difference between what I *think* we have in the house, versus what we actually have, and whether what we have is usable. Clearly, I am due for a fridge purge when the mayonnaise was stamped, “Best if used by January 12, 2008.” Yikes!  (I’m still convinced that was a typo because we didn’t buy it all that long ago…or…did we?) No mayonnaise!?!?! CRAP!!! The crab cakes call for 1 cup, the mushroom caps call for 1/2 cup, and the devilled eggs call for 1/3 cup. I needed the whole freekin’ jar…

This either called for The Husband to run to the store YET AGAIN after just trudging home from there earlier in the day. And who am I to further disturb his slow march to Level 80 on World of Warcraft? Mayonnaise, Schmayonnaise…I’m creative. I decided to improvise (and make a mental note that my 11-year-old is due to make a fridge purge over the weekend…he’s the only one brave enough).

Saving the Crab Cakes…

The previously-posted recipe for crab cakes called for 1 cup of mayonnaise. After double-checking the date stamps on the other condiments because I’m now paranoid, I added instead of mayonnaise:

  • 3T of A-1 steak sauce
  • 2T of French’s yellow mustard
  • 2 shakes of garlic salt
  • extra parsley
  • a tiny pinch of crushed red pepper
  • 3T of shredded parmesan cheese (idea borrowed from the Stuffed Mushrooms recipe…)
  • a few more shakes of black pepper.

The Result: Family decided that this was the best batch of crab cakes I’ve ever made. The consistency was perfect, and because of the cheese, they fried easier and faster than ever. My instincts seem to have been right on with this one.

Saving the Stuffed Mushrooms…

The posted recipe called for 1/2 cup of Mayonnaise…here’s what I used instead:

  • 1/2 T Tupperware-brand blended seasonings, garlic flavor
  • I left out the lemon juice
  • I doubled the amount of A-1 steak sauce (my stock substitution for Worcestershire sauce)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon of Hungarian paprika (yes, it makes a difference…just like the difference between Mexican vanilla and McCormick from your grocery store)
  • 2 eggs

The Result…Again, a winner. The kids even noticed they’d never seen these gobbled up so quickly, (even though my 4-year-old did feed his to the dog). YESSSSS!!!!

Saving the Devilled Eggs.

This was a trickier proposition because the mayonnaise is the ingredient chiefly responsible for the filling’s creamy consistency. Hmmm….here’s what I added instead of mayonnaise:

  • doubled the mustard used from 1/2t to 1t
  • 1/2t of Hungarian paprika in the mix, not just for sprinkling over at the end
  • 1t A-1 steak sauce (at this point, what the heck I already had it out…)
  • 4T milk (This was my big risk…I was pleased to see that the egg yolks seemed to sop the milk right up, and the mix had an appropriate consistency after that)
  • 1/4t garlic salt

The Result: Edible, but not as good as other times I’ve made them, according to my 11-year-old expert. He said something about the consistency was “off,” but he couldn’t say how. His 13-year-old sister completely disagreed, but then she didn’t eat half as many as he did.

I love to experiment in the kitchen (especially when the result works out!!!), but sometimes it’s even cooler when not having something forces the experiment. I feel that I’ve grown in my abilities. I did not, however, made Crepes Suzette once I realized we had no flour (how can you run out of FLOUR???). That will have to wait. I suspect my next post in the Food category might have something to do with a fridge purge. Until then, here’s a challenge…everybody go through their fridge and tell us what’s the oldest thing you found?

Permalink Leave a Comment

New Year’s Food, 2009

January 1, 2009 at 8:07 pm (Food)

There are three times per year I tend to outdo myself in the kitchen. One is Oscar Night, one is my husband’s baseball draft in April, and the other is New Year’s. (This year I’ll undoubtedly be adding Inauguration Day!) Now that I have a blog, I can share all my recipes! Granted, most are pulled from the internet, but I promise you’ll love them!

There is no better site on the internet for recipes than Allrecipes.com. I completely swear by it. So without further ado, here’s what’s on the McDonald Family Menu for the 2009 New Year’s Feast!!! The way this works is, the kids clean up around the house and in return, I have to cook them whatever they want. Here’s what they chose this year:

Crab Cakes (One year I had extra crab meat left over from the mushrooms and decided to make them into crab cakes. My daughter LOVES these, and if you have leftovers, they can replace a beef hamburger on a bun with ketchup, mustard, onions, etc.)

Deviled Eggs (A particular favorite of my 11-year-old son, though, for the rest of the night you want to be sitting on the opposite side of the room due to the resulting fumes…)

Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms (This is a recipe I use New Year’s, Oscar Night, AND for the baseball draft. It’s that yummy. They don’t fridge or re-heat well, however, so if you have any left, toss them.)

Crepes Suzette (This being a base crepe recipe which I then make into Crepe Suzette by adding orange peel and a teaspoon of orange juice, and make orange butter and orange sauce including Grand Marnier for the flambe effect when served. This is something I only do on New Year’s Day, and have finally done this enough years that people are looking forward to it.)

Thai Curry Chicken (I stumbled onto this in Parents’ Magazine around October, and it got RAVE reviews from my family. It has become a staple and a favorite.)

Happy New Year! I wish everyone a great 2009 complete with great people,  great times, and GREAT FOOD! Bon Appetit!

Permalink Leave a Comment

Mr. Hula Face

December 27, 2008 at 11:50 pm (Housewife Life)

The presents are opened, we are bloated from eating, and a good time was had by all. Ninja, the imaginative 4-year-old, has been building all sorts of  “contraptions,” as he calls them, with his new Tinker Toys. (Yes, they still make those!)

Among said contraptions are, a leaf-blower, a self-flying airplane, a peanut-shelling machine, and Mr. Hula Face (a bunch of stuck-together Tinker Toys with a yellow plastic tiki-looking face affixed to the front). Everything this kid has been building has a noble purpose, albeit a pretend one. I asked him, “What does Mr. Hula Face do?” The answer, of course, is that Mr. Hula Face can answer any question you ask him. I asked Mr. Hula Face what time it was, and he knew; I asked Mr. Hula Face why it rains, and he knew; I asked him how many sides does an isosceles triangle have, and he also knew, though I’m sure it helped that I yelled “Yaaaay!!! That’s right!!!” right after three, when he was clearly about to count higher.

We could have really used Mr. Hula Face  the other night, when 8 of us sat down to play the game “Apples to Apples.” The way we play it, whoever wins the previous game acts as The Judge for the next game, and this is how we ended up with my autistic son, Bunny,  as The Judge. Only Mr. Hula Face could explain how, when the adjective was “eccentric,” Bunny the Judge chose “Beets” over BOTH “Michael Jackson” and “Quentin Tarantino.” The game took a really long time because nobody is privy to Bunny’s brand of logic, and it soon degenerated into, everyone throw down a random noun card and see what he does. I think Mr. Hula Face could have helped us play our cards a little better that night, as we tried to contain our frustration but allow the kid his rightfully-earned turn as Judge.

Mr. Hula Face could tell me in advance whether or not my procrastinating husband will remember to buy me Christmas presents. My guy waited too long, at which point I said please wait until January because I don’t want a Panic Present. A Panic Present is the thing you grab in a last-minute freakout because you don’t want to be caught having nothing to give as a gift. We’ve all gotten them…the plaque with a wiggling rubber fish that sings a song, or the wool hunters’ hat with the ears that fold down, or a DVD of the Mel Tillis Christmas special from 1978. If we are going to spend the money, I’d honestly rather wait a little longer and get something I like and can use, instead of a Panic Present. I’d appreciate Mr. Hula Face’s input up front so that if Hubby’s gonna forget (cough-AnniversaryDinnerFromSeptemberThatGotRescheduledButWeNeverWent-cough), I can get over it now and not waste any emotional energy.

I’m sure Mr. Hula Face would also come in handy on things like guessing lottery numbers, SuperBowl winners, election results  and that kind of thing. He could tell us the weather in advance, warn us in advance if this week’s “Heroes” episode is going to suck, tell me what day my period’s going to show up so I won’t wear white. Yes, it would be awesome if Mr. Hula Face were real.

Ninja explained that Mr. Hula Face can answer any question you ask…but…what he DIDN’T say was whether the answers would be right. So, in the absence of such certainty, Mr. Hula Face isn’t really any smarter than the rest of us. But I’m not spoiling it for the 4-year-old.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Clumsy the Elf

December 16, 2008 at 6:49 pm (Housewife Life)

Recently, we had our yearly municipal light-up night, complete with cookies and Santa.  Ninja, my 4-year-old, talked all day about what he would say to Santa when the two met. Imagine my surprise when my relentlessly talkative child got star-struck in front of Santa and froze up like Alberto Gonzales under oath.

Later that night, Ninja was downcast. I asked what was wrong, and he burst into the saddest tears I’ve ever seen. “Mommy, Santa was right there. He was RIGHT THERE, and I spent all day figuring it out, and when he asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I forgot and couldn’t say anything at all! So he’s not bringing me anything!” My heart really went out to the little guy as I saw those watermelon-seed tears pouring from his eyes.

“Tell you what,” I said. “I’ll bet there’s a way to e-mail Santa instead.”  All I had to do was Google “e-mail Santa” and we were directed to emailSanta.com, where after typing in my child’s name, age, hometown and Christmas requests, we got an e-mail back from Santa within minutes. Ninja had no idea this was computer-generated. He was thrilled. He danced around, kissed my whole face, and proclaimed “Mommy! YOU SAVED CHRISTMAS!!!!” 

Composing the letter was something in itself. The kid actually said, “Maybe you should tell me what you and Grandma already got me so I can make sure to ask Santa for different stuff.” Nice…

The computer letter was brilliant.  It said something to the effect of:

“Dear (Name), Merry Christmas! Everyone at the North Pole is so excited to get a letter from you, all the way from (hometown)! Is it true that you’re really already (age) years old? That’s amazing! I remember when you were just a little baby! I know you’ve been really good this year, so I’ll do the best I can on your request for a (toy1), a (toy 2), and a (toy 3). You need to know, though, that this year I’ve hired a new elf. His name is Clumsy. Sometimes he makes mistakes, and he feels really bad about that, because he wants all the children to have a nice Christmas! So I wanted to let you know, that because we are so busy this time of year, and there are so many children all over the world, if Clumsy makes a mistake on your toys, he doesn’t mean to. He’s just…Clumsy. So have a nice Christmas, (Name), and be sure to leave out some vegetable treats for my reindeer!”

Heaven bless whoever thought up Clumsy the Elf, because I have no intention of buying Ninja that pair of $80 night-vision goggles which are labeled “ages 8 and up,” and which one parent reviewer on Amazon.com listed as “really very dangerous and impractical.” Now I can buy the kid something more appropriate and blame Clumsy the Elf!

Ninja, for his part, has developed a real fondness for Clumsy. He loves the idea that Santa has an elf that messes up sometimes, but he’s a good elf who tries really hard, and everyone likes him anyway. He has asked me in the meantime if we should e-mail Santa back again to check on Clumsy the Elf, and if we should leave Clumsy the Elf some cookies on Christmas so he won’t feel bad about mistakes he makes.  I am constantly being asked questions about Clumsy the Elf, to the extent that I feel like a Hollywood director coming up with motivations and the whole character backstory.

Any lingering anger I have at the computer people for changing my rightfully earned cookie plate into a tray of “vegetable treats” is tempered by the pride I feel toward this awesome 4-year-old with a heart so big, he cares more about befriending the underdog elf than he does about whether Santa brings him the right toys. And that’s the stuff great Christmas memories are made of.

Permalink Leave a Comment

The Joke’s On Leonard Maltin

December 10, 2008 at 10:00 pm (Movies and TV)

Monday, Australia awarded Heath Ledger a posthumous Best Actor award. Yesterday, The Washington DC Area Film Critics’ Association named Heath Ledger Best Supporting Actor for his performance in “Dark Knight.” Should we see this trend continue in the coming weeks (as I am betting it will), the joke will be on Leonard Maltin.

Leonard Maltin, respected film critic, is the guy who believed on July 17 that Heath Ledger has little chance of winning an Oscar for his turn as The Joker.  I disagreed then. I disagree now. Here’s why.

  1. Academy voters, demographically, have a majority of white males over 55…men who would have been contemporaries of James Dean (a cult hero who was passed over not once, but TWICE for posthumous Oscars) and who may recognize Heath Ledger as this generation’s James Dean and feel a sense of nostalgia toward Ledger.
  2. A challenge for the Oscars each year is to remain relevant in a situation with declining viewership. They are aiming for a younger audience because they walk a strange tightrope between wanting viewers but honoring films which many times have not been seen by most of the public. Nominating Heath Ledger would almost certainly cause younger viewers to watch the Oscars.
  3. Straight up, dead or alive…I can count on a single hand the number of actors capable of occupying the same role as Jack Nicholson, and kicking Nicholson’s ass. Not easy by any stretch. (And yes, of COURSE Johnny Depp is on that list.)
  4. The villain created by Heath Ledger in “Dark Knight” is almost certainly the first true Post-9/11 movie villain. Chaos for chaos’ sake. Even Javier Bardem flipped a coin to see who he killed…the Joker is indescriminate because it’s the chaos that counts, and that is why he is terrifying even as we laugh at The Pencil Trick. It’s original, yet a kind of fear we can all relate to right now.
  5. The “Dark Knight” did come from a comic book, but…when you look at most Oscar films and the qualities they share (dark/disturbing, realism, deeper themes that make you think), you have to admit that the “Dark Knight” occupies the same territory.
  6. Plain and simple: cult movement. Heath Ledger is who The People want to win. In an economy like ours, the entertainment industry is aching for our money and therefore, may pay some attention to what the masses have to say on the matter.

To be fair, Maltin is a film historian who is basing his opinion on past trends and statistics: there have only ever been three posthumous Oscar nominations ever (two of those being, you guessed it….James Dean…who didn’t win), and only one win, and that was Peter Finch, who died in the middle of Oscar season between his nomination and the vote. Ledger differs from these two in terms of his body of work overall, and in terms of this role, which some could argue played a part in his untimely death due to the extreme toll method acting took on a nice guy, playing a monster like The Joker. 

One of the factors in my Oscar Prediction System has to do with the number of other awards received, and according to that factor, so far, it’s Ledger: 2, Maltin: zilch.  LennyMalt is part of the same crew who was sure an action/fantasy would never win Best Picture, even though “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” was the best movie of 2003.

Another of my factors has to do with number of times an actor has previously been passed over.  In Ledger’s case, that’s once, for “Brokeback Mountain”…but…he died. He’ll never get another chance, and he was brilliant. In my opinion, that changes things.

Warner Brothers clearly agrees with me, seeing as it has earmarked “Dark Knight” for re-release on January 23, otherwise known as the day after Oscar nominations are announced.

I say, stop being so serious. Give Ledger his damned statue already.

Permalink 2 Comments

My Day On Wheels

December 9, 2008 at 4:53 pm (Housewife Life)

I spent Saturday in the hospital getting poked and prodded due to extreme back pain. Because it was very painful to stand and sit, I sat in a wheelchair. You can learn a lot by spending a day in a wheelchair.

There are many things that are labelled “handicap-accessible,” but when put into practice, aren’t. For example, a handicapped toilet stall has bars on the sides, but what good is that if the door to the bathroom has no handle, the door is insanely heavy and isn’t wide enough for a wheelchair, and all the sinks are at regular level?  If someone pees themselves while trying to get into the bathroom, they can’t even wash it off.  This is even more MIND-BOGGLING when you consider that this was a HOSPITAL, the one place that should know better.

I was moved and encouraged by the kindness of strangers. There was always someone willing to help me open a door, help move me where I needed to be, pick something up for me that I had dropped. These weren’t necessarily people wearing hospital uniforms but random everyday people. At one point an orderly wheeling me back from triage offered to position me near a TV. The two TV’s in the waiting room were showing a football game and Harry Potter. I told the orderly I’d like to watch Harry Potter but he put me in front of the football game. (By the way, I hate football, but that’s a separate post.) A robust black man near me grinned and shook his head, waited for the orderly to leave, and turned me around.

Having to navigate your way according to widths and curb depressions really slows a person down. And it’s aggravating as hell. And there are TONS of people who don’t have the luxury of doing things any other way, who can’t suddenly pop a Vicodin and say, “that’s enough,” stand up after seven hours, walk to the car and leave for home.

People who have to spend their lives in wheelchairs should ALL be given motorized wheelchairs for free. It takes a brutal amount of strength and endurance to wheel yourself around. The upper body strength on these folks has to be amazing. It’s not merely strength and endurance though, it’s AIM, and I’m the world’s biggest klutz. So we won’t talk about the bruises on my legs from every time I bumped into something.

I definitely have a new respect and appreciation for disabled people in wheelchairs, and instead of feeling so good about myself the next time I help someone in a wheelchair open a door, I’ll remember what it feels like to have to accept charity for life’s simplest tasks, and to move around in a world that’s not as equipped for you as it thinks.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Hungry-Bitch

December 5, 2008 at 5:07 pm (Food, Housewife Life)

(or, an Open Letter to the Hungry-Man Dinner Company of Allentown, PA)

Dear Sirs:

(And I am quite sure you are in fact Sirs because no woman would allow a corporate moniker as blatantly sexist as Hungry-Man Dinners.)

You are missing an excellent marketing opportunity.

When it comes to eating, literally, I am no lightweight. Ask my ass. I am one of these women who goes to fancy lunch parties and puts no more than three cucumber-and-watercress finger sandwiches on my plate and pleasantly converses with the other ladies…then stops off at Five Guys on the way home for a serious burger. I am someone who would politely eat a tiny salad in front of a date, then down a pint of Ben and Jerry’s when I get home. I am not dainty, I am not delicate. When I am hungry, I want food. 

You with your manly-man notions of Hungry-Man Dinners are missing out on the half of us that want the portions but not the Virile Buffalo Chicken or the Macho Pressed Ribs with a Brownie. My suggestion? Hungry-Bitch Dinners: for the Bitch with the Gastric Itch.

Take all the pleasant, ladylike entrees offered by an estrogen-centric company like Lean Cuisine, multiply the portion size by 1.5, use cheap-ass, barely edible ingredients like those you’re currently using, and there you have it. Just because I am a woman does not mean I am not as hungry as a man, dammit.  I may be fat, but at least I’m honest. When not on dates. Which I’m not, anymore. But I digress.

Just because you think Macho Pressed Ribs with a Brownie is more appropriate to a man…maybe, just once, a guy would like to eat Chicken Tenders with Gingered Snow Peas outside the privacy of his own home, and without having his sexuality questioned. You know, breaking gender barriers is a very “in” thing this year, and I’d rather not feel like a lumberjack just because I am eating something called “Hungry-Man.”

You could make money hand over fist with this thing. Not solely because you would save money for all those women who are secretly having to eat TWO Lean Cuisines to keep from starving, but because for once, you’d be the company that FINALLY has the brass to break ranks with the skinny-minnie, fat-hating stereotypes, and stand up and say, “We know that women like to eat, too, and women should not be punished for being hungry, or have to force themselves to go hungry for appearances’ sake. It’s OK for healthy women to have good appetites and we’re gonna deliver the best, most filling and most satisfying frozen dinner you can buy for $3.59. You’re our kind of Hungry Bitch. Here’s some frickin’ FOOD.”

The desired width of my ass being totally at odds with the size of my appetite is another issue for another day. When I believe that weight loss is truly attainable, and in a way that doesn’t result in either unrelenting misery or a surgery with a 25% mortality rate which insurance rarely covers, I’ll re-visit the cucumber and watercress. But for now, pass the gravy…I’m one Hungry Bitch. 😉

Permalink Leave a Comment

A Sort of Homecoming

December 2, 2008 at 5:53 pm (Housewife Life, Uncategorized)

So, this past weekend was our 20-year HS reunion. Everyone has been asking me whether it was fun, how’d it go, etc. Judging from the number of e-mails that have been flying, and the talk of a 25th this early out of the gate, it must have been a success, and I feel good about that. As to whether I found it fun, I think the more appropriate word is “surreal.” Not that I didn’t enjoy it, but…it was surreal.

The first thing I can’t exactly wrap my brain around is how I can be old enough to have a 20-year reunion when I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. There are faces I will never quite get used to seeing under a bald head.

The second strange thing…my back was hurting that night so I was on Vicodin and therefore couldn’t drink. When you’re at a party like that one and not drinking, and just about everyone else is drinking heavily, interesting things happen.

Maybe someone will confess to you his secret desire to dress up like a cheerleader. Maybe someone will regale you with the list of medications she’s on. Maybe someone will overcompensate for living with his mother. Maybe someone will swear that escort really is his girlfriend. Maybe someone will tell you a story about her severely handicapped child that breaks your heart. Maybe someone will crack your shit up telling stories about a moronic supervisor who actually believes him when he calls off due to “an outbreak of Coulrophobia” (fear of clowns). I’d love to say I’m making ANY of this up, but, not even my imagination could have conjured this stuff!!!

It makes me wonder, what would I have said if I’d been drunk, and who would I have said it to?  Not all of these folks were “BFF’s” in school…in fact, with a couple, it was kind of the opposite (which, when I was a tubby goth-type in school, there WERE unkind people…). I would love to believe that this episode means I’ve gone from being an outcast to being approachable, but these people were drunk. Regardless, it was genuinely nice to see these folks again and have them treat me like Friend, not Freak.

I am not yet above looking around the room and praying that I see at least someone who is fatter than me. I am still petty enough to notice which people in the room who clearly knew me, didn’t even say hi. As much as it felt great that “here we are, all grown up,” there was still the tiniest element of it all just being “so high school.” I guess we all still have some work to do. And you know what? GOOD. Because it means we’re not finished yet, we’re not used up, these lives are still works in progess.

In the meantime, as we wonder whether to plan another one of these in 5 years, I’ll be deciding whether to get as drunk as everybody else next time, or stay sober and maybe not have as much “fun.” I’m leaning toward sober, if only because I learned a lot more about people and about life.

Permalink 3 Comments

Unhappy Meals

November 23, 2008 at 8:27 am (Housewife Life)

Lately I have decided that Kids’ Meals are tools of the Devil. Sure, Kids’ Meals are convenient when you’re driving between one kid’s soccer practice and the other kid’s scout meeting, can’t stop in between and won’t get back until 9:00. Yeah, it’s something I can use on those occasions when I prefer bribery to threatening a trip to a Nebraska hospital. But the toys…the kids are supposed to play with the toys, and instead, the toys are playing with my mind.

Regardless of their ages, these kids all seem to know which movie goes with which restaurant’s Kids’ Meal toys, and they bug you accordingly.  Loud groaning ensues from the backseat as you pull into Taco Bell, because apparently, the Indiana Jones toys are at Burger King. Never mind that these toys all have that toxic plastic smell and are usually useless and stupid. Kids play with them for all of 15 minutes before they become beagle treats, toybox underbrush, or shit that trips you on the way down the steps in the morning on your way to the john.

Restaurants probably did this to seem more family-friendly, and to make mealtime more fun for kids. I’d rather they quit with the environmentally-unfriendly toys and made their meals healthier, but that’s just me, worried about my kids’ 50% genetic likelihood to get large during middle age. My kids don’t need to be rewarded for eating their meal. That whole food/reward lesson is what made their mother look like Violet Beauregard after dessert and I am unwilling to repeat that particular parental mistake.

I will admit to having gone to McDonald’s about a dozen times the year they had the Pirates of the Caribbean stuff, because I wanted all 8 toys. My plastic Captain Jack Sparrow rides everywhere I go, in my purse, because I’m mental that way. You could argue that I’m a hypocrite but the fact is, my kids don’t play with their leftover meal toys, but I play with my Jack Sparrow all the time. 

Anyway…these stupid toys end up EVERYWHERE, and it seems they’re multiplying, like tribbles. Try  throwing one away, and you’d think this little plastic panda that does nothing but yell “Skidoosh!” was the very last toy on Earth for the amount of protest it causes. The challenge is bagging these suckers up and sneaking them out to the recyclable garbage without 1) the 4-year-old catching me and throwing a truly heartbreaking fit or 2) one of the older 2 thinking I threw them away by mistake and bringing them back in. Which makes the things smell just SO much better.

My experiment in December will be to see what I can do about asking for “no toy with the kids’ meal,” loud enough for the person in the speaker to hear me but not loud enough for a mutiny to ensue in the back seat. I’m kind of worried about the mutiny, now that we are keeping an ice scraper in the car. Seriously, that could draw blood. I’ll let everyone know how the experiment went…I’m aiming for no maiming (ooh, that rhymed!) and less plastic miniatures underfoot.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Neverwinter, Nevermore

November 21, 2008 at 4:08 am (Gaming)

OK so the highlight of my very bad week was supposed to be picking up the copy of Neverwinter Nights 2: The Storm of Zehir. It was my hazard pay. My treat to myself, off my husband’s bank card.

For those of you who don’t know what the heck I’m talking about…it’s a videogame. If you’ve ever heard of the board game Dungeons and Dragons, which is currently making a comeback in its 4th Edition and enticing a whole new generation of D&D geeks (more on that later, and we are NOT Satanists), the Neverwinter Nights series is essentially a PC, roleplaying, video game version. The game conducts battles and adventures according to what would be random dice rolls that would occur in the D&D board game, and follows the basic rules and concepts of D&D…just a whole lot faster and with fleshed-out, well-written characters to encounter and play with. In short, it is awesome.

If Neverwinter 1 and its expansions were fun, then Neverwinter 2 had some of the best-written and most entertaining non-player characters (NPC) I’ve ever encountered. And for me, being the big closet game-geek that I am…that’s really saying something.  Its first expansion pack was a little light on plot, but hey, they had that hottie emo Spirit Shaman, Gannayev, who was romanceable. (Which was the coolest time I’ve had since SimMommy took a clandestine SimVacation to the Caribbean with Captain Jack Sparrow while SimDaddy wasn’t home.) I was so excited for a new NWN2 expansion that I pre-ordered it months in advance, using MY OWN bank card.

I snuck out to GameStop yesterday with Bunny, while Queenie was helping Ninja in the tub. I was sooooo excited. I loaded it right away, and thrilled to the strains of the orchestral score and the oh-so-pretty cinematics.

Now for those of you who have played the D&D board game and ever thought it was boring, imagine all the most tedious elements of the board game, integrated into this new expansion “to make it more authentic.” Granted, they’re probably banking on a whole new audience now that D&D proper is exhibiting renewed success…but do they HAVE to take out the WorldMap, from where you can teleport without penalty to anywhere else in the game, and replace it with an “Overland Map” which forces you to manually walk everywhere, speed-adjusted for terrain difficulty, and auto-spawning encounters that chase you all he way across the map? It has turned the game from a plot-driven adventure into this ambling, rambling situation that just isn’t any fun. And I don’t even have my elven hottie anymore, and had to start from an annoying Level 1 after having levelled two characters to 20 in the game’s prior incarnations.

Before, you had these quirky, incredibly well-written compatriots, with whom alliances could affect outcomes on a larger level…now, you choose from pre-fab characters with template personalities. There are no interactions that matter. So you don’t care as much when they die. And if you thought our US economy was bad…it’s spilled over into this game. Apparently in virtual worlds, it also costs 500 dollars to heal yourself.

If you’ve read this far and still understand what I’m talking about, SAVE YOUR MONEY, unless you want some cool new mod elements to play with in the toolbox. I am so hoping that modding has not been affected by these lame format changes, because I’m only just now putting the finishing touches on my Eladrin Village. The wrecking of a franchise I’ve always really liked is a bummer, but thankfully I am able to console myself by endearing my Hunter to the Walrus People on World of Warcraft. If you get enough faction, they give you a baby Penguin. I’m naming him Ringo.

Permalink Leave a Comment

I’ve Got A Hot Ass

November 18, 2008 at 5:15 pm (Housewife Life) (, , , , )

No, I haven’t meant this statement in the way you’re thinking of it since the late 1980’s. Believe me, I wish I did have an attractive derriere rather than this expansive floopy thing spangled with areas of cottage cheese, and deserving of liposuction. But I digress.

I am speaking today of the Seat Warmer in our new car. A couple weeks ago we were reading articles about how the economic downturn was making car dealers desperate, and decided to see how true that was. We ended up trading in our 2002 silver mini-van with the big dent in the back and all the Barack Obama bumper stickers, for a sleek black 2007 Chrysler Pacifica, a repo…we got a VERY good deal. The “Touring Edition” of any car essentially means it’s fully loaded, and dang, this one really is. Two weeks later, I’m still trying to figure all the gadgetry out…leather seats, sun roof, DVD player, rear windows that automatically tilt when you’re in reverse, beeping noises if you’re backing up too close to something, XM radio, cappuccino maker and interface to e-mail the astronauts on the international space station. OK, we don’t really have an onboard cappuccino maker and can’t e-mail the astronauts from the car. But I honestly think we have just about everything else.

One of my husband’s big bragging points about this car is the “Seat Warmer.” He, and both my older kids have extolled the virtue of the Seat Warmer, aka “The Butt Toaster.”  What is wrong with me that I think the thing is creepy and won’t use it, even though it’s 27 degrees out and just started snowing? Having a heated ass isn’t natural. It disturbs me. It makes me feel like either I have to pee, or maybe just did pee and didn’t notice. When you sit on sun-roasted leather in the summertime, it can be painful when you peel your reddened skin back up from the seat…why is this suddenly OK in the winter? Could you burn yourself any less? And what if it malfunctions, could it set the car on fire? Because even with all the gadgets on my new buggy, I don’t think it has a sprinkler system.

I dunno. Something about the Seat Warmer is wrong, very wrong. I’ll re-visit this in February, at a point when parts of me might actually appreciate a Butt Toaster…

Permalink Leave a Comment

Raiders of the Lost Ark (AFI #66)

April 28, 2011 at 3:29 am (AFI Top 100 in 100 Days)

Another of my top 10 favorite films ever, Raiders of the Lost Ark was a welcome stop on my journey through the AFI Top 100 Films list. This one should have cracked at least the top half, AFI. Annie Hall does not deserve to be higher than Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Watching Raiders as a film student, I was struck for the first time by the skillful use of color filters, and how Spielberg painted with shadow as effectively as he paints with light. Part of the fun on this viewing was to try to catch which shots are Harrison Ford, and which shots are Stunt Guy.

One new discovery: I don’t think there are actually any live snakes in the proximity of Harrison Ford. There are so many shots that establish the snakes in the pit, that we take it for granted that the snakes are real, and are focused on Harrison Ford. There are snakes that look like they’re models, being pulled by strings from outside the shot. But…I challenge you. Look closely. I don’t think there are ever any live snakes in the proximity of Harrison Ford.

I don’t know that there is any other film besides “Star Wars” that has had so many different scenes in the same film parodied throughout pop culture. The score, another John Williams creation, is one of the most recognized and best in film history. My husband and I used it as the recessional at our wedding. The best man threw him The Fedora, and we ran down the aisle.

I remember reading something funny once about the scene where there’s a big bad guy swirling swords in the marketplace, and Ford just pulls a gun and shoots him. Apparently, the heat had been terrible that day, Ford had a serious case of intestinal distress, and was frustrated by the length of the shoot. He improvised as a joke, Spielberg howled, and kept it. I wonder how the scene was originally supposed to go.

There’s something a little sad about the fact that my youngest child knows the plot line of Raiders from his LEGO video game, without ever seeing the original film. I will have to schedule an Indiana Jones marathon around here, post haste.

Does this film belong on the AFI list? Yes. But at least in the top half of said list.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Unforgiven (AFI #68)

April 27, 2011 at 3:25 pm (AFI Top 100 in 100 Days)

“Unforgiven” is one of my top 10 favorite films of all time, so having to watch it again was not exactly a chore. Sometimes, when you understand how films are made, having that information will keep you from liking the movie as much as you otherwise might have (“African Cats,” for example). Other times, you end up liking the film a whole lot more because you appreciate the skill.

“Unforgiven” is as close to perfect as a film can get. So much so that I have to confess, when I watched it for filmic elements, I went into it deliberately being overpicky, to try to find the flaws. There are places where the ADR is the teensiest, tiniest bit off, which regular audiences probably wouldn’t pick up…but that’s seriously all I could find.

The SFX are right on, down to the splashes in the stream corresponding to the individual hooves on the horses. I never used to think about that stuff before, but now that I do, it’s something beautiful when it’s done really well.

What I thought of Eastwood before is that his strength was simplicity. I still agree with that, though, am now marveling at how often and how well he puts natural light to work for him. I don’t know what technology was available yet in 1993, so don’t know whether shadows of the crew got digitally removed from some shots, or, where the heck the crew could safely be in that shot given the direction of the sun and what they needed to capture. The level of precise timing, in terms of shooting at a specific point in the day for sunlight and the direction thereof, must have made determining the production schedule interesting.

When I remember the 1993 Oscars, when this took Best Picture, Best Director, Best Editing and a very well-deserved Best Supporting Actor for Gene Hackman, I remember being disappointed that it hadn’t also won for screenwriting and cinematography. Nearly 20 years later, I still find this one of the most quotable films I’ve ever seen.

I did find myself feeling sorry for Clint Eastwood because he falls down A LOT in this one, and I could not see that he was using a stunt person in any of those cases. This was the perfect vehicle for an aging western actor, playing the unwilling hero whose past antics haunt him. I don’t know that he can ever make a film I love more than this one, and after “Hereafter,” I’m concerned that he’s lost his mojo altogether. Time will tell, but, the guy is 80 years old now.

Does “Unforgiven” belong on the AFI Best list? Definitely.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Do the Right Thing (AFI #96)

April 26, 2011 at 1:21 am (AFI Top 100 in 100 Days)

My first semester as a film major at Chatham University was Fall, 2010. One of my classes, Representations of Race and Gender in the Media (which I described to my friends and family as “Angry Class”), introduced me to the films of Spike Lee. Prior to that class, I had only ever seen “Malcolm X.”

I have since sought out Spike Lee’s work on other occasions, in and outside the classroom. I’ve seen several examples of both his narrative and his documentary work, and was surprised to learn that he directed the pilot episode of TV’s “Shark,” starring James Woods.

“Do the Right Thing,” from 1989, is one of Lee’s films I’ve seen before. According to IMDB, it’s been his most critically-acclaimed narrative, though I found “Bamboozled” a lot more upsetting and my favorite of his films is “Get On The Bus” because of its wide emotional range. Since 1989, Lee has learned to use rage alongside hope, compassion, and sadness, (ie. “When the Levees Broke”) and it has made him a better filmmaker.

Despite the fact that he is to blame for introducing Rosie Perez, Lee occupies an important place in the national conversation about directors who have made a difference to the movies. If Tyler Perry makes movies for black people, then Spike Lee makes movies about them, in a manner that gives voice to the racial rift in the United States.

In “Do the Right Thing,” it is as interesting to see a young Martin Lawrence, and an unusually subdued, non-vulgarian Samuel L. Jackson, as it is bittersweet to see late husband and wife acting team Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. Lee doesn’t mince his transitions, as it’s always a cut; but the thing I hadn’t paid enough attention to on my first viewing is his camera angles, which he uses to emphasize points when characters are at cross purposes.

Some people dismiss Spike Lee as an angry black man who makes angry black films. If he were truly the “angry black man” some white film enthusiasts would paint him as, he would not have handled Danny Aiello’s character at all like an honorable man who simply has a really bad day. To my way of thinking, if you think Spike Lee is just an angry black man, you 1) don’t know much about American history and 2) haven’t seen enough of his work.

Does “Do the Right Thing” belong on the AFI list? Yes. But they should do the right thing and make it higher than number 96.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Duck Soup for Easter Dinner (AFI #60)

April 24, 2011 at 11:21 pm (AFI Top 100 in 100 Days)

The Marx Brothers are more fun than a barrel of monkeys. I’ve seen Groucho’s “You Bet Your Life,” and the legendary episode of “I Love Lucy” starring Harpo, but watching “Duck Soup” was a new experience. My 14-year-old son and I laughed our (honk) off.

Having nothing to compare it to, I can’t say whether I agree with the popular notion that “Duck Soup” is the best Marx Brothers film. That is an exercise for another day. I don’t know for sure whether Mel Brooks ever cited the Marx Brothers as influences, but I am betting they are. Much of the gags reminded me stylistically of various things done by Mel Brooks, who I believe to be one of the funniest filmmakers in history and ought to have at least one of his own titles in the “Best” list. (I would vote for “Blazing Saddles.”)

The Marx Brothers developed their schtick and signature looks on vaudeville (plastic nose and glasses sets became famous because of Groucho), then transferred them easily to the screen. “Duck Soup” was seen at the time as genius in both comedy (it still is) and political satire. When Groucho Marx was asked about the political satire, he answered that they were just “four Jewish guys trying to get a laugh.” Because they never commented publicly about their intentions toward political satire, the subject has been much discussed among film historians. Mussolini reportedly banned the film in Italy.

Film is of course primarily a visual medium, but the Marx Brothers didn’t let all their gags be sight gags. They took full advantage of the dialogue, too. “I wanted to get a writ of habeas corpus, but I should have gotten a-rid of you, instead!” Honestly, Groucho is so quick with most of these that I had to pause and go back and make sure he’d actually said what I thought I’d heard. The Marx Brothers, in 1933, were funnier than most television sitcoms on TV are in 2011.

As far as whether I agree with “Duck Soup” being on the AFI list: Yes. I am not convinced it should be as low on the pole as 60, but then at this point, I’ve still only seen a handful of these titles to be able to think about re-ranking them.

Permalink Leave a Comment

JAWS (AFI #56)

April 23, 2011 at 3:56 pm (AFI Top 100 in 100 Days)

It’s safe to say that most people of my generation have seen “JAWS.” I saw it when our family first got cable TV in 1978 and I was too scared to take a bath in the bathroom by myself for weeks afterward. The score alone is one of the most recognizable in film history.

Re-visiting “JAWS” as a film student is an unexpectedly fascinating exercise. The editing is mind-blowingly good. Once you’re watching the film for other than enjoyment, you can tell by looking closely which scenes were done in a pool, and which in a bay, and which actually out in the ocean. I couldn’t wait to see the list of “filmed at” locations in the credits, only to be disappointed because in 1975, they didn’t do the kind of long, specific credits we’re used to these days.

Some of the shots, obviously, had to be taken while on a boat, and considering that Spielberg would have been shooting this on 16mm, it’s pretty impressive to think about some dude up on the poop deck of a boat with a 35mm camera. Those things are huge and heavy, and, it’s awfully windy in a place like that. You can tell by watching closely which shots happened from another boat, as opposed to on a stationery dock with a boat close by. This is a film I’d love to see the shot list and production schedule for.

It occurred to me that one scene had to have constituted either one of the most fun, or the most aggravating, shoots ever. “OK, I’m gonna wait another minute for all of you to get situated and play in the water. When I blow this whistle, I need everyone to scream, run out of the water, and act like there’s a shark chasing you.”

My first college class in film taught that “you should always cut during action.” Spielberg, I noticed, doesn’t do that in “JAWS.” Spielberg allows the main action to take place and the actors to leave the frame, continuing in conversation, as the shot lingers on items of note. I thought it worked well. Spielberg helmed “JAWS,” his second major feature which is considered the first summer blockbuster, 20 years before going back and getting his degree in film. I will now need to go watch something he made after 1995 to see whether he changed this convention or not.

So, again to our final question: Does “JAWS” belong on the AFI list? Absofrickinlutely. And probably higher than #56.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (AFI #58)

April 22, 2011 at 12:00 pm (AFI Top 100 in 100 Days)

You don’t have to wait until the end of this review to find out whether I think Charlie Chaplin’s 1925 film, “The Gold Rush,” belongs in its space on the AFI Top 100 Films of all time list. It absolutely does. I know for a fact it ought to have a higher rank than some of the films on the list. (I’m looking at you, “Annie Hall.”)

I had never seen a Charlie Chaplin film all the way through, and I’m really glad I decided to watch this one. What Chaplin accomplishes here in terms of special effects, choreographed shots, and body language, for 1925, is monumental. He manages a story with humor and heart, without us hearing a single word. To give you an idea of how ahead of his time he was, he uses guyliner 75 years — a full lifetime — before guyliner became cool.

One of my favorite Johnny Depp movies is “Benny and Joon.” Something Depp’s Sam does throughout the film is to re-create various Charlie Chaplin gags. I knew that the “Oceanic Roll” bit Depp does with forks and bread rolls was something from a Chaplin film, but getting to see it in its original context, by Chaplin, was a treat I did not expect.

I was expecting the visual gags to be corny. What I did not expect was to find myself laughing out loud more than once. I tried to think about who Chaplin’s successors are, in terms of slapstick film stars. Steve Martin? Jim Carrey? Both are really good, but neither have a specific image enduring enough that it can be called truly iconic.

There are places where the film drags. I can’t decide whether that is because in 2011 we are used to more fast-paced films, or whether it’s owing to the limited technology of the day. Taken in conjunction with everything that was ahead of its time in terms of effects (the tilting cabin!) and choreographed slapstick (the bear!), I can’t really fault Chaplin for that.

Here is a case where I got turned on to something cool I hadn’t been exposed to before. I hope there are a lot more like that.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Bonnie and Clyde, Public Enemies (AFI #42)

April 21, 2011 at 12:00 pm (AFI Top 100 in 100 Days)

As absurd as it sounds, this is the first film I think I’ve ever seen with Warren Beatty in it. Frankly, for purposes of this exercise, I wish I’d seen 1967’s “Bonnie and Clyde” prior to having already seen Johnny Depp in 2009’s “Public Enemies.”

I can’t help but be struck by the number of similarities between these films. Bank robber falls for girl and drags her into his life of crime, which becomes romanticized. Shoot-outs and bank robbings, punctuated by some dead friends, and ultimately, at least one treacherous friend. The public, in the throes of the Great Depression, helps and even idolizes the criminals; and in both cases, robbers are shown letting regular folks keep their own money during bank robberies. Both cases end in death.

It will surprise nobody to hear that I prefer watching Johnny Depp. Warren keeps this cheesy car salesman grin on his face a lot of the time, despite a similar unspoken understanding that things can only end badly. Both women involved (Bonnie is Faye Dunaway with perfect hair and her counterpart, Billie, is Marion Cotillard, with haunting eyes) have grim prospects as compared to being on the lam with sexy robbers. In Bonnie’s case, she might have found a rich man to pluck her from poverty, because of her beauty; Billie’s case was more complicated because of her ethnic background. Bonnie has more to lose, but Billie has fewer options. Both women are loved unquestioningly, and for each, this becomes more important than the paltry fact that her lover is a robber and a killer.

As a musician and scorer myself, I always notice the music and pay particular attention to it in my own work. Both scores have a lot of bluegrass banjo in them, but in the end, I prefer the score to “Enemies” because it also mixed in some slide guitar. Slide guitar is sexy, and did more to accompany the seduction of a life of crime, than the constant banjo during “Bonnie and Clyde.” (I kept waiting for the dueling banjos.)

Both films show a stalwart lawman, trying to get his man. In “Enemies,” there’s a lot more to understand about the pursuer and his motivations. In “Bonnie and Clyde,” Denver Pyle (yep, that would be Uncle Jesse from “Dukes of Hazzard”) follows up more from a sense of personal outrage than anything else.

As for filming style, both films make use of the wide expanses of the midwest, and cramped, dark hiding places; “Enemies” can at points make you motion sick owing to the HD-handheld camera style during action sequences. Would Arthur Penn have used that technology in “Bonnie and Clyde” had it been available to him? We can’t ask, as he died in September. It is an interesting question.

Does “Bonnie and Clyde” deserve to be on the AFI list? I don’t think so. I see it as pretty close to the same film as “Public Enemies,” and while I did enjoy “Public Enemies,” would not describe it as among the Best Ever (nor did the Academy, or most professional critics).

For argument’s sake, though, I will provide an alternate title which I believe should have been on the AFI list, instead. I will at least try to keep my replacements in similar genres. Seeing “Bonnie and Clyde” as a 1930’s crime drama, I’d replace it on the AFI list with 1987’s “The Untouchables,” starring Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, and Robert DeNiro.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Koo Koo Ka-Choo, Mrs. Robinson (AFI #17: The Graduate)

April 20, 2011 at 12:00 pm (AFI Top 100 in 100 Days)

So, I had to go all the way down to #17 on the AFI’s Top 100 list to find a film that’s available streaming on Netflix. I bet they changed most of these titles to “DVD only” the day after the list came out. Bastards.

I had never seen “The Graduate,” incredible as that sounds. I have seen the iconic end scene, as well as references to it in pop culture, but had never actually seen the film.

Filmically speaking, I understand completely why it’s on the list of 100 Best. The shot composition and camera work is stellar, something I would not have noticed before film school. The use of underwater shots does a lot to create the lead character’s aimlessness, confusion, solitude and frustration.

I suddenly came to understand why casting Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise as brothers in “Rain Man” was such an inspired idea; young Dustin does remind me at points of Tom. Hoffman does bring the “aimless and awkward” well. This is the first time I’d seen anything with Anne Bancroft in it where she plays anything other than an old woman. I like her performance without completely understanding her character’s motivation.

While I understand that Simon and Garfunkel were popular at the time and therefore probably appropriately used at the time, I found them cloying. Musically speaking, there were certain moments I found myself missing a traditional musical score, and other times I longed for something other than Paul Simon.

To me, the film speaks to a generation of people coming of age who were having to choose between tradition and new ways, what their parents wanted for them versus the ability to decide for themselves. Through that lens, Hoffman’s character does take a growth step, even if he’s still aimless at the end.

I was bothered by the representation of women in this film. Ben’s mother is all but invisible, Mrs. Robinson predatory and vindictive, and Elaine doesn’t seem to have a single redeeming quality that would inspire such rash behavior on Ben’s part. Maybe that’s a generational thing, as back in the 60’s, it was more common for a girl to go to college, only to meet a guy, drop out, and marry him. That part of the story line, I believe, would no longer fly in an age where female college graduates outnumber males.

The main question then: Does “The Graduate” belong on the AFI list? Yes. For filmic composition reasons, for the themes it explored at the time it explored them, and for at least two of the more memorable movie scenes ever. Whether I believe it belongs as high as #17 remains to be seen.

Permalink Leave a Comment

100 Films in 100 Days

April 19, 2011 at 4:20 pm (AFI Top 100 in 100 Days)

Lately, the only time I’ve used this blog is as a repository of published writing credits, or at Oscar time. The American Film Institute released its 100 Best Films of the Past 100 Years list. A Moviephile and a film student, I had only seen 57 of them. So my goal will be, by the end of summer, to watch all 100 of these films and report on them in some fashion.

Some of the films on this list that I haven’t seen are going to surprise people, because they’re ones you’d think I as a movie-watcher would have seen. In some cases, like “Apocalypse Now,” I can recognize the iconic moments and references to it in pop culture, without ever actually having watched the entire film. There are a lot of films on the list I haven’t seen only because of my age, and the act of reporting on them, I hope, will not just improve my film criticism but also act as a service to those my age and younger who for whatever reason have not gotten around to seeing these.

Each time, I’ll tell you why I believe the film was placed on the list, and whether I agree.  If I do not agree, I will attempt to offer a title I feel should be there instead. In cases where I’ve already seen the film, I’ll watch it again, now having had the benefit of a year of film school through which to newly interpret the film.

I may not go in order because that might prove difficult. Dreaming Ant only has so many copies of older films. At first glance, I find it dubious that so many of these films contain Humphrey Bogart, and that so many of them are Westerns. I have to remind myself that this is the AMERICAN Film Institute and that Westerns are probably a uniquely American genre (with or without spaghetti). But…I don’t get the Humphrey Bogart thing. That’s one of the things I hope to understand, because, unbelievably, I have never actually seen a film with him in it.

Some films (think, “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Toy Story,” “Titanic,” etc.) I already have in my DVD library and will be all too happy to see again. Others, like “Sophie’s Choice,” I am not looking forward to watching again. I think I could have withstood that one a lot easier before becoming a mother, but unfortunately, I saw it just as I’d become a young mother with a little girl and a little boy, and it gave me nightmares. For years.

Anyhow…off to the AFI’s Top 100 movies, hope you’ll come with me!

Permalink Leave a Comment

Next page »