November 27, 2011

Movie Review: The Descendants

It's got George Clooney in it. Need I say more?
Okay, he wasn't enough to make me see The Men Who Stare at Goats, so I guess I do.
Alexander Payne is one of my favorite writer/directors. He directed About Schmidt
and Sideways, two movies I love. So between Payne and Clooney it was a no-brainer for me.
The Descendants is the story of "the back-up" parent (Clooney) reconnecting with his daughters (Shailene Woodley is wonderful as the older daughter) as his wife lays in a coma. Typical of Payne movies there's humor, pathos, poignancy, and a road trip - this one in beautiful Hawaii.
I connected with these flawed characters, sympathized with their situation and felt their desire to get to know each other and bridge the distance between them. It's a sweet story. Worth it just for Clooney's running scene where he looks like the world's biggest klutz. Certainly against type and a very funny visual.
Four out of five stars for The Descendants.

November 23, 2011

Thanks A Lot!

I've been going to my friends Lauren and Bill's for Thanksgiving for most of the last ten years, and it's always lovely with an elegant table setting, exquisite food and charming guests. I bring my corn souffle every year, and a bottle of wine, and for me the only stress to that meal is figuring out how much food I can pack away without throwing up. Thanksgiving's my favorite holiday and my favorite meal.

But here's the thing: Lauren's Bill always asks people to say what they're thankful for. He goes around the table calling on people who may or may not know about his tradition. So then you have to come up with something to say. Sounds easy, right? Well, there are rules: it can't be about friends or family, it can't be about work, and it can't be about health.
Oh. My. God. Try coming up with something that meets those criteria.
It's so stressful.
There's so much pressure to come up with something everyone will appreciate, and even better if it's something poignant but funny. Humor is always a big hit.
I start thinking about it the day after T'giving for the following year.
Holy crap, I'm a writer. How hard could this be?
I'm thankful for so many things. I'm thankful for my whole life. But I can't say that. I'm thankful to have people like them to spend T'giving with. But I can't say that. I'm thankful that I have work that I love, family that I cherish, friends who make my life richer, a comfortable home in the most desirable neighborhood in Chicago...but I can't say any of that.
This year it's a no-brainer: I'm thankful that St. Martin's Press is publishing my book and making my dream come true. It makes me feel like a rock star. But that may be against the rules - Bill will surely consider that work. So I have a fallback position: I'm thankful that I don't have bedbugs. My neighbors had them but the little suckers don't crawl through concrete and for that, I'm truly thankful. At least they haven't made it so far. If one gets through during the night, tho, I'm screwed.

November 21, 2011

Two Kinds of People

There are two kinds of people in this world. You know, like toilet paper people - unders and overs; belly buttons, in'y and out'y; people who put bumper stickers on their cars and people with good taste; people who spit on the street and people with class.
And then there are pet people - those who will spend their child's inheritance to treat their pet's illness and others who will have them put to sleep to end their misery. On my morning run I've been seeing this guy with his dog, a terrier of some sort, who can't walk, so the guy bends over and holds the dog by the belly, moving him along, hoping, I suppose, that he'll move his little legs. He won't.
I stopped to talk to him one day and asked what was wrong and he said the dog just didn't want to walk any more. He had taken him to the vet and the vet said he needed to get some exercise so this was the exercise.
I saw him a couple more times doing the same thing and then I saw him carrying the dog. The dog, Popcorn, didn't want to walk. But the guy was hopeful. He'd just had him back to the vet; they ran some tests, did acupuncture, so he thought that would help. Popcorn's 15 years old.
Now, looks are definitely deceiving but this guy doesn't look like someone with money to burn. Popcorn's old and clearly tired. He looks so sad.
So I guess the question is, when do you let go?
Some years ago the same sort of thing happened to a friend's dog and she spent thousands looking for a miracle cure, buying leg braces, physical therapy, then carting the dog around in a little red wagon. When I suggested the dog was telling her he was ready to go she said, "If he was a person would you just let him die?"
My answer is yes. If only it were that easy and humane. If only we had the same option with people.
When my father was sick, almost 90 and in a nursing home, he told me he was ready to die. If I could have helped him along I would have. If I could have saved him the indignity of being cared for by strangers, wearing diapers, being fed, I would have.
I believe animals let us know when they're ready to die, and all we have to do is listen. It doesn't mean we love our pets any less if we let them go.

November 14, 2011

Pomegranate: The Really Ugly Fruit

I wonder who was the first person who thought of eating a pomegranate. The outside certainly doesn't say, "Eat me." But then grapefruit and oranges don't either. When you open them, however, you have some tasty fruit (mostly, depending on the season). Open a pomegranate and it looks like an internal organ. Not very appetizing. And all you get are seeds. Pretty-colored seeds, but seeds nonetheless.
Not to mention all the work it takes to get those friggin' seeds out of there and once you what? It's not like they're all that good. Oh sure, they're sweet/tart but if you eat the whole seed you get that pithy seed part that tastes like fiberboard. So what you really want to do is suck the juice out of them and spit out the chewed up seed.
Not very ladylike. And not worth the trouble.
So are those pomegranate fetuses?

November 12, 2011

Movie Review: Like Crazy

I've been waiting for Like Crazy ever since I saw the trailer, probably six or eight months ago. It looked like the kind of movie I would fall in love with. It came to the Chicago Film Festival but I missed it then, but finally it opened. At ONE theatre.
So I went to see Like Crazy, and settled in with great anticipation. I can't even explain why I was so drawn to the trailer but I so wanted to love it.
And I almost did.
The beginning pulls you right in; Jacob and Anna meet, they fall in love, they're separated. It's the basic three-act structure - Act One: boy meets girl, boy gets girl, Act Two: boy loses girl, Act Three: boy gets girl back. It's a good formula, one that the great movies follow, a recipe for success. I almost loved it. But not quite.
Good performances by Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin, who are both appealing on screen but something about the last act fell off a bit for me, as if the filmmakers ran out of steam.
Still worth seeing.
Four out of five stars for Like Crazy.

November 8, 2011

Movie Review: The Skin I Live In

A picture is worth a thousand words. Is this image freaky and creepy? It nearly kept me from seeing the movie but I love Almodovar's films, tho they're far from universally appealing. They always have a weird, fantasy vibe.
It's a beautifully photographed film with beautiful characters and wonderful performances. And who couldn't watch Antonio Banderas for two hours?
But the story is so icky and off-putting. I wanted a shower when it was over.
Whew! That's not to say I didn't like it. But it's not to say I did, either.
Frankly, I don't know how to rate this movie. Go see for yourself and then let me know.
? out of five stars for The Skin I Live In.

November 6, 2011

Rasta Thomas and The Bad Boys of Dance

Wow, three of my favorite things: dance, music and muscular, lithe men without shirts.
Did you ever hear of The Bad Boys of Dance? Me either but who cares...isn't that the best name? How could you not want to see them?
These guys are so cute and fun and, oh yeah...great dancers.
Fantastic program at the Auditorium Theatre, who needs to do a better job at promoting these things. The theatre was only half full (if that) but if people knew about it they'd have flocked to see The Bad Boys of Dance.
The music is great: Black Eyed Peas, U2, Coldplay, Michael Jackson, and, favorite rock song of all time: Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen.
The whole thing is inventive and creative and engaging. They did a number in the first act with blow-up dolls that was just hysterical, dancing to Maria Callas singing Carmen.
Too bad today was the last performance but if you ever have the chance to see them, do it.
Word of note: you have to wait for the second act for them to take their shirts off but it's worth the wait.

Movie Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May Marlene is one of the scariest movies I've ever seen. It's not a horror film, per se - the horror comes from the fact that it's so realistic and you're utterly sucked into the story. It's a fairly quiet movie but the tension just builds and builds and builds. I sat through much of it, dreading what was going to happen, hand over my mouth.
Elizabeth Olsen is Martha, who has spent the last two years living in a commune headed by an insidious Manson-like leader (John Hawkes who is suitably creepy). She's just run away from the cult (escaped, really), and calls her estranged sister (Sarah Paulson) who brings her to stay with her and her husband. Olsen is mesmerizing in this, her first leading role. She has a beautiful, expressive face and her performance seems effortless. We'll be seeing lots more of her, I'm sure.
All of the performances are stellar, so natural and real that you feel like you're watching a documentary.
I'm sure there are those who won't like the ambiguous ending but I, for one, couldn't have handled any more.
Five out of five stars for Martha Marcy May Marlene.

November 5, 2011

Just in Case You Don't Know How to Wash Your Hands

Washing hands has become a national pastime. In the Starbucks bathroom there's a big sign on the mirror saying ALL EMPLOYEES MUST WASH THEIR HANDS BEFORE RETURNING TO WORK. Well we've seen that sign for years, but now, just in case you were raised by wolves, there are six little graphics on the towel holder showing you how to do that.
1. Wet hands
2. Soap
3. Lather for 20 seconds - scrub palms, backs of hands, wrists, between fingers, under fingernails
4. Rinse
5. Dry hands with towel
6. Turn off water with paper towel.
Scrub? Wrists?
Come on...
Turn off the tap with a paper towel?? Oh, please. I'm surprised they don't tell you to also use your paper towel to open the door. I've seen people do that.
There are two types of people in this world: obsessive germophobes who wash their hands forty-three times a day, pump germicide when there's no sink, use an antibacterial wipe before pushing the grocery cart, sneeze into their armpit...
And then there are the rest of us. I'm one of seventy-six million baby boomers who grew up washing our hands before dinner, after using the washroom and before bed. Done. And we all grew up.
We're raising a whole generation of people who will have no immune system because they've never been exposed to germs. Germs won't kill your kids. Relax. Let them eat dirt.