November 27, 2016

Movie Review: Manchester by the Sea *****

Casey Affleck is remarkable in his role as Lee in Manchester by the Sea. He's a solitary man with demons, though we don't know what they are until well into the film, and when the story is revealed we completely understand who he is.
Now he has to go home to deal with the death of his brother and figure out what to do with his 16-year-old nephew, whose father named Lee as his guardian, without telling Lee.
"Because he knew I'd say no," Lee tells the attorney.
Affleck hits just the right notes of stoicism and grief, and much of his performance is in his face, not his words. It's a subtle and restrained performance and I can't imagine he won't be nominated for an Oscar for this performance.
Newcomer Lucas Hedges as the nephew Patrick also gives a wonderful and authentic performance. Kenneth Lonergan's direction was just right in this film, and all the actors live up to his high expectations.
There are no neat little bows in this story. It's a gritty story about gritty people, struggling to survive.
Five stars out of five for Manchester by the Sea.

November 26, 2016

Movie Review: The Edge of Seventeen **

The Edge of Seventeen is an implausible coming-of-age story that doesn't work until the final act.
There's Nadine (Hailee Steinfield), who's supposed to be a nerdy outcast but who's too beautiful to have ever been anything other than head cheerleader or homecoming queen. But okay, if you can buy that part of the premise you might like this contrived story.
A couple more of my many problems with the story: As a seventeen year old she "accidentally" sends a pornographic text to a guy she has a crush on (there's no believable lead-up to this crush, no chemistry, and this guy is such a drip that one has to wonder what she sees in him), and when he texts her back to ask if she wants to hang out she thinks he really just wants to get to know her. He does, of course, but not the way she hoped.
And after she finally understands what he's after (duh...) she gets out of the car and runs away, only to call her teacher (Woody Harrelson as a curmudgeon in another unbelievable relationship) who comes to get her. Nice, right? How does she have his private phone number? But, whatever, he picks her up and takes her to his house. WHAT??? He takes her to his house? In what world would he not be arrested? And why didn't he just take her home?
But up until this point we're led to believe that he's single, making his actions even sleazier, so this scene is contrived to show us that voila! he's a family man with a lovely wife (what does she possibly see in him?) and baby.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch (Nadine's house which of course isn't a ranch) there's the stereotypical neglectful mom (Kyra Sedgewick) and the older brother who's the golden boy, who Nadine has never gotten along with.
Spoiler alert: In the final act everyone's happy, with themselves and each other. Sweet, but not sweet enough to sit through the other 45 minutes.
Two stars out of five for The Edge of Seventeen.

November 18, 2016

Movie Review: The Eagle Huntress *****

I don't often call movies perfect. Usually there are at least one or two small things I would change, but The Eagle Huntress is perfect.
This is a documentary about a young girl in a remote part of the Asian mountains who wants to be an eagle hunter, a right reserved for men, and handed down from generation to generation. Not only is she not a man, she's not even a woman - she's a 12 year old girl; a girl with admirable courage and fearlessness and heart.
Dazzling photography, a magnificent score that enhances the action and the scenery, an elegantly written and edited story. It's a sensitively told, heartwarming and uplifting story about the human spirit.
Watch this trailer and then go see this amazing film.
Five of five stars for The Eagle Huntress.
(I have no idea what other documentaries will be nominated for Oscars this year, but none can be better than this.)

October 31, 2016

Halloween: The Anti-Cinderella

As a child I wanted nothing more than to be Cinderella for Halloween. I remember one year when I was a cowboy. Not a cowgirl - a cowboy. I remember being a scarecrow and a baseball player. But what I remember most is the year I was a wolf. The costume was a red onesie-type thing with a tail, and it had a red full-head wolf's mask complete with fangs and icky red fur.
Talk about anti-Cinderella.
The only good thing about that wolf costume was that Mrs. Williams, my third grade teacher, said she was going to give out a prize if she couldn't guess who you were and I thought, "How the fuck is she going to know who I am in this thing?"
Well, not in those exact words. I was 8, after all.
Mrs. Williams went up and down the rows and put her hand on each kid's head and said their name. Of course it was easy with the princesses and the cowboys and Indians, but there were a few of us with full-head masks and I was sure I was going to win. But when she got to me she never even hesitated, just said my name and moved on.
Sheila Bennett won that year. She was a black cat. She didn't even have a full-head mask. She wore black makeup and whiskers and a mask over her eyes. And she acted just like a cat; licking her paw and "washing" her head and sitting by Mrs. Williams' chair and meowing. Everybody knew it was Sheila. Except that ignorant (sucker) Mrs. Williams.
The thing is, I used to get my cousin Ken's Halloween hand-me-downs because he was one year older.
But he was a boy. I was not.
And my mother was too mean to buy me a Cinderella costume. Mean, just like that wicked stepmother. And she was apparently immune to my tears because I shed a lot of them over that wolf thing.
It scarred me for life.
I blame Ken. If only he'd wanted to be Cinderella.

October 29, 2016

Movie Review: Moonlight **

Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune calls this film "extraordinary," because of "the film medium's secret weapons: restraint, quiet honesty, fluid imagery..."
His definition of 'restraint' must be 'excruciatingly slow.' By 'quiet honesty' he must be talking about all those many scenes where the camera lingers on someone who's not speaking, and by 'fluid imagery'...well, I can only imagine what that means.
I truly thought this film was going to be a gem, and was shocked when under an hour into it I was looking at my watch. Things move very slowly here.
In the first act Chiron is about eight and is befriended by (of all people) his mother's drug dealer, and the drug dealer's lady. But somewhere along the way (in the second act) the drug dealer is gone and we only know he died because Chiron's mother mentions a funeral.
There's one more scene with the drug dealer's lady, so you know she's still in his life, but than pfffft! she's gone. What happened to her? We never know.
So now, Chiron is about 15 or 16, and he's even more morose and silent than he was at eight. Which, believe me, is not engaging.
So then he gets beaten up (this happens regularly in his life) and retaliates and goes to Juvie.
And in the third act he's in his 20s and has moved to Atlanta with his drug addict mom and has turned into the drug dealer who befriended him - same car, same dashboard ornament, same necklace, and those gold teeth that shout "I'm a drug dealer!"
In the end (spoiler alert) he meets up with with his childhood friend who's now a cook in a restaurant in Miami (where they grew up), whom he's been in love with all these years.
Yes, there's a gay theme. Sort of.
He goes to the restaurant where this guy cooks and they reconnect. Kevin, the friend, wants to cook for him and asks him what he wants. "Or do you want the chef's special?" he asks. And a man in the audience says (loud), "Yeah, give it to him," which was very funny. Many people laughed, so you can see what the mood was.
I can't blame the actors for their performances, tho I want to. It's all about the directing. And the writing, but less so.
Two stars out of five for Moonlight.
(But I bet it'll be nominated for a bunch of Academy Awards.)

October 23, 2016

Movie Review: Aquarius **1/2

Aquarius never gives us a compelling reason for Clara's refusal to leave her apartment in the face of pressure all around her. And that's the entire plot of this film.
I wanted to be on her side, but what was her motivation? Sentiment? Stubbornness? Principle? We never know.
This is a very long movie - 2 hours 22 minutes - and there's a lot happening but most of it seems to have no purpose.
I wanted to care but unfortunately never found a reason to.
2-1/2 stars for Aquarius, but only that many because I love Sonia Braga.

October 11, 2016

Theatre Review: Hamilton *****

First question everyone asks: Does Hamilton live up to the hype?
The answer: Unequivocally,  yes. And beyond.
How did Lin Manuel-Miranda ever come up with the concept of doing a musical about Alexander Hamilton, who certainly was not our most famous president?
And then, once he thought of it, how did he come up with the idea of doing it in hip-hop?
And what made him choose all races and ethnicities to play these mostly-white parts?
How did he decide to add amazing choreography?
The answer: Who knows?
But it's genius.
This show a phenomenon. It's clever and smart with perfect direction and amazing actors who all have great voices and dancing abilities, and it brings to life a time in our history that we all need to remember.
There are a few current-day terms sprinkled in ("Awesome!" "Wassup!") that work in the context, but are surprising, and so funny.
And then there are the ditties sung in a sulky way by King George to his errant subjects in the new world. He's a hoot. Here's a sample from his first song, You'll Be Back:
You’ll be back, soon you’ll see
You’ll remember you belong to me
You’ll be back, time will tell
You’ll remember that I served you well
Oceans rise, empires fall
We have seen each other through it all
And when push comes to shove
I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love!
This show lives up to everything you expect in a Broadway smash.
Five of five stars for Hamilton.

October 8, 2016

Theatre Review: Scarcity at Redtiwst Theatre *

The only word that comes to mind when trying to describe the play Scarcity, now showing at the Redtwist Theatre, is ick.
Here's the premise: There's Martha, an enabling, trash-talking woman who's married to a jobless drunk who lusts after his own 12 year old daughter. This delightful couple also has another child,  Billy, 16, who's supposedly very bright and who's lusted after by his young teacher. White trash mom encourages this relationship so that sweet little Billy can get ahead.
Oh, and if that's not enough Martha's bad-cop cousin lusts after her, though of course he has his own wife, who's pretty disgusting herself, so no wonder he wants to get it on with Martha.
There's not a hint of likeability or vulnerability or any redeeming quality in any of these characters, so no reason to care about them.
There's nothing believable in the dialogue or the characters or the situation. The reliable Jacqueline Grandt is good as Martha (although sometimes she stares off into space while action is going on around her) but the other performances are pretty uneven. Some of them sound as if they're reading directly from the script. It's a wonder that this play by Lucy Thurber has ever gone into production.
One of five stars for Scarcity, which doesn't really even deserve that. One of the down sides of a very small theater is that you'd have to walk across the set to leave in the middle of the play, otherwise we would have done it. Thankfully, it's short.

October 1, 2016

Movie Review: Deepwater Horizon ***

Deepwater Horizon is a heart-wrenching film to watch, knowing that some semblance of it happened - possibly not in the way it's depicted on the screen, it's not a documentary after all, but surely equally horrific. We know what's going to happen going in - most of us were aware of it when it happened - but we didn't know the faces behind the story, and the families who loved them and feared for them.
There are a lot of explosions in this film, debris flying about, bodies being blasted from one end to the other, blood, fire, brimstone - a little too much for my taste.
The first hour is the set-up to the disaster, and BP officials' responsibility for the failure to follow safety measures. That's a little long for set-up.
The second act is the disaster, and I watched in horror and dread, but that act is a little too long as well, carnage that goes on and on and on.
And the final act is just about right, showing these guys trying to get off the rig, looking after each other, the rescue effort, and then some of the families reuniting with their loved ones.
Eleven men died, and their pictures are shown before the credits, and that's very poignant.
All in all, it could have been better but much of it was very gripping.
Three of five stars for Deepwater Horizon.

September 30, 2016

People DO Judge a Book by its Cover

I just read an article by Catherine McKenzie titled Why Do Books Written by Women Get Such Audience-Limiting Covers?

I am the choir on this topic, and she's preaching to it.
I have never publicly expressed dislike for the cover of my debut novel, What More Could You Wish For. I didn't want to seem ungrateful. I am thrilled beyond imagining that St. Martin's Press published my book. I loved working with them and had an awesome editor. But I had an issue with my cover. When the book was going to the design department I was asked to send images of covers that I liked, and I did - six or seven of them. The cover I got had not the remotest resemblance to any of the ones I sent.
My book is about a 
woman turning 50. She's at a crossroads in her life and a family tragedy motivates her to reevaluate decisions and change the direction of her future. 

The cover I got was all sweetness and light – pastel colors, with my name in pink (pink!) and a picture of a cupcake with a gazillion candles. Cute? Yes. Perfect for a YA novel. There’s not a cupcake to be found anywhere in the book. I worked to get it changed to something more sophisticated; something that would reflect the seriousness of the story, and the only concession I got was that my name was changed to blue. I believe the cover limited the audience of my book. There could be many reasons it didn’t sell well; lack of promotion, unknown author, bad writing (I hope not!), etc. It’s tough for a debut author unless you get very lucky. I knew that. I never expected it to make the best seller list (though I did imagine that). But I know that that cover didn’t help.

When the book was translated into German it got a whole new cover, which I loved, and especially appreciated because Germans are not known for their sense of humor. (Now don't get all huffy if you're German. I love German people... but you have to admit...)

Anyway, back to Catherine McKenzie's question: why do books written by women get such audience-limiting covers?

Anna Quindlen had a book published the same time I did and her cover was a sparkler, for Pete’s sake! Elizabeth Berg had a book come out the same time also, and she got a teacup! Frilly, lightweight covers. But they’re well-known so I’m sure those covers didn’t affect their sales.

Still…why not let the cover reflect the interior?  People DO judge a book by its cover.

Why Do Books Written by Women Get Such Audience-Limiting Covers?

by Catherine McKenzie

September 21, 2016

Book Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog

A story told from the POV of a dog? What a silly concept!
I would never read something like that. But then a friend whose opinion I trust recommended it, so I got the Kindle sample and immediately upon finishing the sample, I ordered the book and just kept on reading. I couldn't put it down and didn't want it to end.
It's a touching, sweet story with Enzo, the sensitive and perceptive dog, as a reliable and engaging narrator. What a creative device!
Beautifully written, characters you root for, and a dog you want to take home. Even if you're not a dog lover.
Read this book!

September 7, 2016

Facebook: When is Enough Enough?

I recently got an email from a friend, regarding my Facebook posts, saying, "...enough photos of your view!"
If you're a Facebook friend of mine you've undoubtedly seen them because, yes, I've moved to a new apartment that looks out on the lakefront and Michigan Avenue, and I'm enamored of the view, so I post early and often. (Just in case you're not a FB friend, here's a sampling.)
Facebook is an interesting phenomenon; it's a place where you can post most anything you want; pictures of your kids, your food, your pets, your new job, the house you're trying to sell, your vacation, your feet on vacation...
You can rant about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or taxes or the CTA; you can state your political leanings where the whole Facebook world can see; you can laud someone's accomplishment, or tell us how humbled you are to win a big award; you can insult someone you disagree with, you can give us daily updates on your dying pet's treatments, and on and on.
I have friends who make incendiary remarks about the President, calling for impeachment. I don't think that has any place on FB. I have others who post nothing but pictures of themselves. I admit, I don't understand the fascination with one's own image, but...whatever. And then there are the ones who post daily updates on their medical conditions.
I don't necessarily want to read/see these things but we are all the arbiters of what's appropriate on our own Facebook page.
Some years ago, when my first book was published, I posted a lot about that on FB; talking about book signings and other events I was doing, posting links to good reviews, telling people about radio or TV (local cable) interviews, letting them know when it was on sale on Amazon...
People may have thought it was too much back then; too much about the same thing. Being published was a very big deal to me, but even I thought all that posting was excessive. It embarrassed me to do that kind of self-promotion, but the thing is, if you're lucky enough to have a traditional publisher, they expect that of you (unless you're JK Rowling or Nicholas Sparks, and then they'll do it for you). And if you self-publish, you'd better do it, because no one else will.
Back then a friend of mine, someone I considered my best friend, someone I'd known for 50 years, thought it was too much about me and my book. Hubris, she called it. She could have unfriended me on FB, or just ignored my posts, but instead she unfriended me in real life; ended our relationship. Of 50 years. Over Facebook.
That was devastating to me, and unfathomable.
Yes, that's extreme, but it's a choice. There are others: you can "hide" those posts that you feel are redundant, you can "unfriend" those people, or you can simply scroll past the things you're tired of looking at or reading.
We all get to decide when enough is enough.
That said, when I wake up in the morning and see the view outside my window I'm enthralled. Every day I tell myself I'm not going to post another photo of my view, but then I see this miracle outside my window and every day it's another version of spectacular, and I can't help myself.
So, if you're tired of seeing my pictures, I get that. It's new for me so maybe at some point I'll stop. But if you get tired of it before I do, just scroll past.
Unfriend me, if it really bothers you, but don't break up with me in real life. Over Facebook.

July 12, 2016

Dear Job Applicant...

Dear job applicant,
Thank you for your resume that lists your stellar qualifications as a self-employed handyman for 37 years. It's a pleasure to see such a stable work history.
Perhaps you didn't realize that you applied for the position of inventory planner. I'm looking through your resume for the 8-10 years' experience in demand planning and ERP/SAP system knowledge that are listed as requirements on the job posting, and I'm not finding that anywhere.
Did I miss that?
Samantha Hoffman

July 10, 2016

Theatre Review: Between Riverside and Crazy *****

I saw Between Riverside and Crazy at Steppenwolf Theatre on Friday night, right after the events in Dallas, and it was such a powerful and timely show. It's the story of a black cop who was shot by a white rookie cop. I stayed for the discussion afterwards and so I know how emotional it was for the performers. This is an amazing production, on all levels; the writing, the direction, the stellar acting, the set. I loved the subtlety of the directing – these characters could have easily been over the top, but all of the performances were perfectly understated and believable, and drew me in.
This is an amazing production, on all levels; the set, the direction, the stellar acting. I loved the subtle
finesse of the directing – these characters could have easily been over the top, but all of the performances were perfectly understated and believable, and drew me in.
One scene, in particular, stands out in my mind; it’s in the first act where all the action is at the table at the left side of the stage. Only Junior sits off to the right, alone, not engaged in the conversation, checking his cell phone, but listening, and his reactions to what he’s hearing are beautiful to watch – his face says so much with so little, without a single word. It's a gorgeous piece of acting
James Vincent Meredith
by James Vincent Meredith; the kind of acting that’s so authentic and adds so much dimension to a production. Eamonn Walker (above, who plays the Chief on Chicago Fire) sets exactly the right tone as "Pops." 

Five stars out of five for Between Riverside and Crazy.

July 6, 2016

Dear Job Applicant...

Dear job applicant, 
If you're looking for a position outside of your field of expertise, I get that - I've been in that position myself (a hundred years ago). 
But you're going to need to sell me. If you send me a resume for a customer service position and your only job experience is the drive-thru at Burger King, write a kick-ass cover letter showing me how that experience translates to my position. I promise you'll get a phone call.

And here are my top 10 tips for job seekers:

  1. Create a resume that’s easy to read, concise (bullet points are always helpful) and professional-looking. Avoid large blocks of run-on text. I will not read them.
  2. Put your resume in a professional format. If you can’t use Word, have your eight-year-old do it for you. Do not put your picture and/or graphics on your resume.
  3. Don’t list photocopying as a skill on your resume.
  4. Do not put three phone numbers on your resume. Unless you are Barack Obama or George Clooney I’m not going to chase you down. Give me one number to call and make sure you check it for messages.
  5. If the ad says send a cover letter, send a friggin' cover letter.
  6. In your cover letter, omit the phrase, “I am excited about your position…,” particularly when you’re over 25. Your excitement is of no interest to me.
  7. Don't grill me about the company in the phone interview. There's an assumption you actually read the ad you applied to - don't burst my bubble.
  8. When you're going on an interview, be on time. Do I really have to say this? If you have a problem, call me to let me know you're going to be late. 
  9. When you go on an interview dress as if you care. Even if you’re interviewing for cashier at the Stop ‘n Go, wear business attire, meaning a jacket and tie for men and a suit or dress for women.
  10. If you’re looking for a job, clear your damn voice mailbox. If I call you and get a message that says your “mailbox is full, please call again later,” you can be assured I will not be calling again later.

June 22, 2016

Movie Review: A Bigger Splash ***1/2

The acting is amazing in this film and the scenery is beautiful but it's a very strange story. Tilda Swinton barely speaks (her rock star character, Marianne, has had throat surgery) but she really doesn't need words, her face says everything.
Ralph Fiennes is Harry, a former boyfriend who shows up and ends up staying with Marianne and boyfriend Paul, the hunky Matthias Schoenaerts (you might not know his name but you know his face), and with Harry is a young woman they think is his protege but who is his daughter - the very sexy Dakota Johnson.
You can imagine what might happen with these four under one roof, but you might not imagine the ending.
Check it out.
Three and a half stars out of five for A Bigger Splash.

May 29, 2016

Movie Review: The Lobster ***1/2

I can't decide if I love The Lobster or hate it; it's creepy and gruesome and bizarre, but it's beautifully acted and directed, funny and romantic, and it's like nothing you've seen before.
This is a world where it's illegal to be single (good thing I don't live there) and people check in to a hotel where you must find a mate in 45 days, or be turned into an animal. David (Colin Farrell), arrives at the hotel with his brother Bob, who didn't find a mate and is now a dog.
There are lots of rules in this place (masturbation is strictly forbidden and is punished with a combination of a toaster and the offending hand) and lots of angst; after all, you only have 45 days to find The One. Even can't guarantee that.
When David isn't successful, he escapes to join The Loners, a renegade group of single people in the forest. This is where he meets his match, but romance is not allowed and has dire consequences.
And then there's the ending, which is even creepier than what we've seen so far, and possibly more romantic.
Three and a half stars out of 5 for The Lobster.

May 22, 2016

Movie Review: Money Monster ****

George Clooney is Lee Gates, an arrogant and self-centered financial guru with an over-the-top TV show,  and Julia Roberts is his producer.
I would have liked Clooney's character to be less of a buffoon in the beginning - he opens his show with an overabundance of shtick (crazy costumes and nerdy white-man dancing) - and I imagine he felt like an idiot filming those scenes, but that goofiness is easily forgotten when the hostage situation unfolds.
George and Julia really work - they have great on-screen chemistry. You can tell they really like each other, so they're easy to watch.
The story's a good one - we relate to the hijacker, an everyman who lost his life savings and wants someone held responsible; we relate to Clooney as he freaks out and panics and then finds some humanity; and we relate to Julia as she works to try to save the day for everyone.
It gets a little slow in the middle but all in all Money Monster is an engaging story; charming, funny, nail-biting, heartbreaking.
Four out of five stars for Money Monster.  

May 11, 2016

Movie Review: Sing Street *****

It's Dublin, it's the 1980s, the new kid in school gets bullied by schoolmates and tormented by the cruel priest. He meets a girl, forms a band to impress said girl, and gets retribution against all who harrassed him.
Is there anything new in this story? Not really. But Sing Street is a joyous film with wonderful performances, especially from Ferdia Walsh-Peelo who plays Conor, the main character.
This is a heartwarming underdog tale and it's not a secret that I love this genre, especially when the underdog is immensely likable and charming.
The best scene is early on, when he meets the girl (who, by the way, looks much too old for him) and asks her to be in his band's music video and when she says yes he turns away, crosses the street and says to his friend, "We have to form a band!"
Wonderful, feel-good movie.
Five out of five stars for Sing Street.

May 10, 2016

Movie Reviews - Mini-reviews

If you read my reviews and you generally disagree with me I have three new movies and a play for you:

The Family Fang **
Jason Bateman directed this and stars in it, and he's a favorite of mine (his performances are always effortless and understated) and so he was the best part of this goofy movie. Nicole Kidman and Christopher Walken also give fine performances but I couldn't buy into the story line of parents who exploit their kids in crazy ways and call it "performance art" and are renowned because of it.
If you can buy the premise, you'll like this film.

The Meddler **
Susan Sarandon is The Meddler, quite the understatement. This is exactly the kind of writing I hate: a character who is so in-your-face, so broadly drawn, so annoying that they're hard to watch. Sarandon looks great, but she's still hard to watch.
Here's a woman who attends a baby shower she's not invited to, and later ends up planning and paying for an over-the-top wedding for a lesbian friend of her daughter's, whose last name she doesn't even know. Too stupid for me. Sweet romantic thread with JK Simmons, tho.

Maggie's Plan*
I decided, after watching this film, the third or fourth I've seen Greta Gerwig in, that I really don't care for her as an actor. There's something appealing about her looks and her manner but her acting seems very self-conscious, and distracted.
This is a crazy story that could have been called The Controller, or...The Meddler,  with weird, not believable happenings.
I saw an advance screening and it seems so rude to walk out on one of those, and besides, I was in the middle of a packed row...otherwise I would have.

Sender *
A play at The Red Orchid Theatre, Chicago
Four people screaming at each other and repeating lines, again and again and again. Effective device used sparingly, which it's not, in this play. "I'm sorry," was said by one character twelve times in a row. We get it already.
On the plus side there was some male nudity.

March 26, 2016

Me and Naked Anthony Bourdain

Sometimes people appear in my dream and I had no idea they were even in my head; people I haven't seen or talked to in years and years, famous people...
I've kept a dream journal since 2001 and I have to say, there is some weird shit in mind is a very strange dwelling. Some of the famous people who've appeared are Michael Jordan, Al Pacino, Paul McCartney and the pope.
Last night my dream starred Anthony Bourdain, of all people. Why Anthony Bourdain? Undoubtedly that came from a book I've been reading called My Last Supper (thank you Mikki, for the early b'day present), where famous chefs answer questions about what their final meal would be, where, with whom, etc., and Bourdain is one of the chefs.
And there are pictures that accompany each spread - some normal, some funny, some bizarre... and here is Bourdain's.
The dream wasn't all that interesting (he wasn't naked) but he was very charming and very tall.
He started chatting me up as we waited in a line for something, and after a while I could see he was getting interested in me, which was amazing since I'd just come from the gym and my hair was a fright and I had on no makeup.
Every night there's a little adventure in my brain.

March 21, 2016

Movie Review: 'Tis the Season...

Oscar season is over, it's way too early in the year to release a film that might be a contender for next year's awards so what's being released now are the throwaways. If you're looking for a movie to see right now you should be aware: 'Tis The Season of Stupidity.

Two cases in point:

Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot, the Tina Fey vehicle. Immensely stupid. Tina Fey has an engaging screen presence no matter what she's doing but this film isn't worthy of a review. I couldn't sit for more than an hour of this.
0 stars

Hello, My Name is Doris, the Sally Field vehicle. Almost more stupid than Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot but I sat through it. If you can buy the concept that a sixty-something woman (even an adorable little woman like Sally Field) believes that a cute (not as hunky as the movie would have you believe) 30-something would be interested in her romantically, well...then maybe you'll like this. I couldn't and I didn't. Too stupid for me. I do love Sally Field and she does her best in the role but I couldn't get into the story at all. And I hated her clothes.
1 star

Meanwhile, some others I've seen recently:
Eddie the Eagle - A silly little movie that's over-directed in parts (mostly the downhill crash scenes, which no one could survive yet he just gets up and does it again), but sweet, too.
3-1/2 stars

Race - Well-done, well-written, well-acted, touching story.
4-1/2 stars

The Finest Hour - Melodramatic, crazy music, terrible direction.
2 stars

February 28, 2016

The Academy Awards: Should Acceptable be the New Exceptional?

I look forward to the Academy Awards all year long; I've seen all the nominated films, I read all the press, I watch Entertainment Tonight - I keep up with it all. It's 5:00p on Oscar night and I'll soon turn on the TV and watch all the Red Carpet hoo-hah until the Oscars begin.
But before I do that I just have to say I'm a little weary of all the grousing about how 'white' the Oscars are this year. I don't see that there's any 'snubbing' of people of color. I believe the Academy judges the films on  excellence in film making. Should they also judge by who wrote/produced/directed/acted in the film? Wouldn't that compromise the quality of the awards?
I believe in equality. I believe everyone has the same opportunity. I believe that people like Jada Pinkett Smith should do something to right what she thinks is wrong, instead of boycotting this celebration which will serve no real purpose. She has enough money to hire people of color to write great scripts and then to produce them and then to hire amazing black directors and actors. If there are no black people up for Oscars this year maybe it's because other performances/films outshone them.
It's not snubbing. It's rewarding excellence, regardless of color. That's equality.
Should 'acceptable' be the new 'exceptional' so we have more diversity?

February 26, 2016

The Good and The Bad of Writing

Let's get the bad out of the way: Writing is tough. Not that it isn't fun, but it's not an easy process and even if you finish a book or two, it's certainly not easy to get published. But if you love to write then you write. And if at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
Harry Bernstein

And here's the good: You can write whenever you want; you don't need any special equipment, you don't need a partner, you don't even have to get dressed. Just sit down at your computer, or whip out your favorite notebook, and start writing. All you need is motivation and inspiration.

Maybe you started writing in your youth, without success. If you gave up back then, but you still love writing, then get back to it. It doesn't matter how old you are.
If you need inspiration check out this post from one of my favorite writing sites: Live, Write, Thrive
about late-blooming writers (of which I'm proudly one).

February 11, 2016

Recipe: Savory Appetizer Cookies

Here's how I fake myself out when I want something sweet but I'm trying to stay away from sugar (which I'm addicted to): I make savory appetizer cookies. These are Cheddar Thumbprint cookies with Pepper Jelly. They're not exactly like eating an Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookie (that's a sinful recipe for another time) but for some reason I look at these little beauties and my brain says, "Yay! A cookie!" so I'm satisfied, and I won't eat an entire tray of them, as I might if they were laden with gooey chocolate and filled with sugar.
Did I mention I'm addicted to sugar?
There's no sugar in the dough, but lots of butter and cheese (I never said they were good for you) so they're like shortbread, and they're delicious. And that little spicy bit of pepper jelly is just the right contrast.
Great to accompany a bowl of chili, or ham and bean soup, or just for a snack with an ice-cold beer.

Cheddar Thumbprints with Pepper Jelly
Makes 24 cookies

2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
6 tbs butter, softened
1 cup flour
¾ tsp house spice (salt, pepper, garlic powder)
Pinch of cayenne
1/3 cup pepper jelly

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a stand mixer, mix cheese, butter, flour, and spices until it looks like peas. Pinch together enough dough to form into one inch balls and place on a prepared pan, 1” apart. 

Bake 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and press an indentation into the dough, using the end of a wooden spoon. Fill with ¼ teaspoon jelly and return to oven; bake additional 10 minutes, or until tops are lightly browned. 
Remove to wire rack and cool completely. 

January 17, 2016

Movie Review: Mad Max Fury Road *

Mad Max: Fury Road is nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.
Granted, I'm not a fan of this genre, but isn't the true test how many people outside the genre it appeals to?
There's a lot of shtick here: the sexy babes in skimpy clothing, the endless car chase, the pyrotechnics, the snarling. And then there are the characters I didn't care about.
The only good things about this film:
1. It has zero chance of winning the Oscar.
2. I watched it on HBO so didn't have to pay for it.
One star out of five for Mad Max Fury Road.

January 16, 2016

Movie Review: The Revenant ***

Have you ever used the word revenant before? I guess it takes a Mexican (Director Alejandro González Iñárritu) to teach us a cool new word.
Here's how to use it in a sentence:
1. This film is revenant. (Definition: half an hour too long, so be sure to get a snack.)
2. The situation in this film is revenant. (Definition: preposterous, so be prepared to suspend disbelief.)
It's beautifully filmed and well-acted, and excruciatingly gory. I can take a lot of gore but even I winced a few times. The bear-mauling scene is, of course, really hard to watch. But, voila! he not only survives that, but he's resurrected (making him the revenant) by revenge, and during his long, crawling journey he manages to save a young Indian girl from rape, ride a horse off a cliff and (even though the horse dies) once again survive, and then he guts the horse and crawls into it for shelter. That's a charming scene.
Much of this film is DiCaprio crawling through gorgeous, frozen scenery. And then he crawls some more, and then he gets to his feet and limps along for twenty more minutes, and then just when you're so bored of all that walking, he walks some more, without a limp now, for twenty more minutes.
I needed this story to move along - I got his passion to survive - how could I not, when it's thrown in my face over and over again.
Is The Revenant an Academy Award winner? Obviously not in my book. Is it a great film? It's a good film that would have been better if it were shorter. Will it win? Probably. But there are other films that, in my opinion, are more deserving of the award.
Three out of five stars for The Revenant.

January 15, 2016

Movie Review: Too Many Movies, Too Little Time

Concussion ***** Riveting. Great performances. The conflict: the reverence for an American institution vs. the science that proves it's killing its heroes.
This film is eye-opening, riveting and heart-breaking.
I'm shocked that Will Smith didn't get an Oscar nomination for this role.
Five stars out of five for Concussion.
Carol * So extremely boring. Oh my god. I couldn't wait for this to end, and the only reason I didn't
walk out is because I was with a friend and she seemed into it. Turned out she wasn't, and if I'd just said the word we could have saved ourselves 2 hours of extreme boredom.
I didn't get the chemistry between these two characters, didn't see the connection or attraction, didn't see a reason for Carol to give up her life for this strangely aloof and indifferent young woman. I didn't care about either of them.
Even the sex scene is boring: unnecessary and uninteresting, and obviously Cate Blanchett has a no-breast clause in her contract.
One star out of five for Carol.

Joy ** The first hour is very slow - way too much build-up to a payoff that isn't all that big of a payoff, and then in the final act when Joy has become a major-league success, I hated how superior she was.
Good performances and good story but bad script. And it's 45 minutes too long.
Two stars out of five for Joy.

The Hateful Eight ** I think Quentin Tarantino is a genius (loved Django Unchained, loved Inglorious Basterds) but this film is no illustration of that. Not much happens (unless you count the blood and guts spewing all over the place). There's a lot of talk, and that gets pretty boring. There's no real depth to any of the characters, no one to root for, no one with any humanity, so I just hoped they would all kill other so the movie could end. I didn't walk out, even though it's about three hours long, because I kept thinking, It's Tarantino - there's going to be a big payoff.
There wasn't.
Two stars out of five for The Hateful Eight.

Creed **** Sylvester Stallone's performance is heartfelt and authentic; a joy to watch. The beginning is hokey but it's not long before you recognize the heart in this film, and you just have to roll with it. It's Rocky. If you liked the first one you'll like this one.
Four stars out of five for Creed.