Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, a Movie Review

I would love to give you a full review of Ben Stiller's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. However, since we only stayed for the first 20 minutes or so  that would be difficult. I can say in all fairness those incredibly long tedious minutes did not hold my attention, nor did they interest me enough to stay for the remaining 100 minutes or so.

No doubt the plot thickened, the pace quickened, and the story developed after we departed - or so I hope for those souls who stayed behind. I, however, was not willing to sacrifice my free time to see what happened. Watching a grown man zone out at any given moment as he lives some day dream is not my idea of a fun time. And, the other characters in the story were painful to watch. Their plodding and tedious performances only made it worse.

I will say the way the opening credits were done was quite creative which gave me hope only to be dashed several minutes later by an unimaginable heroic daydream by Mr. Mitty. Well, in all fairness, it was obviously imaginable to him, after all it was his day dream. I took it as an omen of things to come and prayed it would get better. However, I did not have the patience to watch Ben Stiller's character often act like a deer in the head lights, actually more like someone living in a slower parallel universe beside reality clueless how as to how to jump the divide. 

The visual Stiller, as the Director, used putting Mitty, the character, in black and white clothing was effective. Only Stiller's brilliant blue eyes showed that there was life in the character that moved at 3/4's time (and I do not allude to a waltz.)

And, the worse, most criminal part of all was the waste of Kristen Wiig's talent. She was cast as Cheryl Melhoff,  the girl Mitty secretly adores. Her character was flat, a feat I thought impossible for Wiig. (And, yes, I know I only saw little of the film - but her lines had a long way to go to give her the role she could run with.) Shirley McLaine played the part of his mother, pretty much a stock character.

I may have missed the most exciting 100 minutes of film this year by exiting early. If so, I'll take my chances. But, hey, this is but my humble opinion. The film garnered 4 out of 5 stars. I guess one of those stars would have been mine since it is a major motion picture with the star power of Ben Stiller and Kristen Wiig, I cannot tell you where the other two came from. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Death by Chocolate

Every year Santa leaves me a stocking full of rich chocolates. Usually there are a box or two of rich truffles and sometimes a bag of York peppermint patties. This year in addition to two boxes of truffles there was a large tin of chocolate ganaches in different flavors such as raspberry, passion fruit, caramel, and hazelnut. Now, I'll be the first to admit that dark chocolate is one of my weaknesses. However, I like things in small quantities.

And, these chocolates are fresh and will not last forever. When I was working in an office, I came back to work after Christmas with boxes of truffles to share. Needless to say, I was very popular. So now I have all these chocolates and I do not want them to go bad. They sit on my desk just calling me. 

Santa is so sweet (no pun intended) to think of me this way. But, I feel guilty with each bite. So do I die of guilt or consumption? 

Of course, there is also Key Lime pie, Cheese cake, Cupcakes, and Pralines in the kitchen remaining from Christmas. I only hope there is Alka Seltzer and Pepto-Bismol in the medicine cabinet. Thank God, Christmas only comes one time a year.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Wolf of Wall Street, a Movie Review

Is it my imagination or does Leonardo DiCaprio have a habit of narrating movies he stars in? Well, if not, he does in The Wolf of Wall Street, in which he plays Jordan Belfort, a self made multi-millionaire stockbroker. Martin Scorsese comes through again. The movie is based on the true story of Belfort's infamous rise with his own brokerage firm on Wall Street and his fall due to crime and corruption. It is a story of the American dream, of wealth and success. And often with that fortune and fast life come fast cars, fast women, drugs, alcohol, and other excesses.

The movie crosses genres - it is a crime story, a biography, and a comedy at times. It is fast paced with very witty dialogue. Warning, I would not bring young children or bashful mothers to this film, there is a certain amount of nudity, sex, and mature language. OK, there is a lot of nudity, sex, and mature language, but it is well managed within the story. 

Dicaprio fits into the role like one of the tailored suits he wears so well. Jonah Hill (playing Donnie Azoff) once again takes the role of the side kick. Azoff provides humor in the film as a thinly veiled chubby gay man thrown into this testosterone charged world of Wall Street. Matthew McConaunghey makes a brief appearance as the broker who introduces Dicaprio to the "magic of Wall Street" and shows him where the money is made, not in the rise and fall of the market, but in the commissions on the trades, and that the object is to generate as many trades as possible. Rob Reiner plays the part of Max Belfort, Jordan's father.

The movie is well made, well acted, and well cast. The story is engaging and thank goodness, since it is 180 minutes (yes, 3 hours) long. I do not think I have seen a film this long since Gone with the Wind and that had an intermission - this does not. But, no part of the film drags and, honestly, when the credits started running at the end, I had no idea my attention had been absorbed for that long. 

Yes, this has Academy Award potential. DiCaprio deserves a nod, if not serious consideration for his performance here. And, the film is one of the best this year, but, then, it has been a year rich in films. I highly recommend it. Funny, I can honestly say it was not on my top list of films to see. Thank goodness, I did though.

American Hustle, a Movie Review

It is frightening when you go to a movie set several decades ago when the fashion styles were hideous and you realize you know the words to all the music in the film because those were the years you were in college. Please tell me there are no existing pictures of me during those days. And if so, hopefully, no one would recognize me. 

American Hustle is packed with an unbelievable amount of today's young star power. I do not think I have seen  Christen Bale (playing Irving Rosenfeld, the ultimate con-man), Amy Adams (who plays Sydney Prosser, his co-hort and mistress), Jennifer Lawrence (playing Rosalyn Rosenfeld - the wife) in the same scene with Bradley Cooper (Richie DiMasso, the FBI agent). How many Academy Awards and nominations are we talking about among that group?

As part of the opening states, "Some of this actually happened." The story line is based on the Abscam sting operation set-up by the FBI in the late 70's and early 80's that brought down one US Senator, six member of the US House of Representatives, a NJ State Senator, and others on convictions of bribery, conspiracy, and public corruption. 

John Jenrette (D-SC) was one of the officials nabbed. His daughter was in my college sorority when everything went public. The press dogged that poor child everywhere she went, like she had something to do with it. That was the first time I ever realized how vicious the paparazzi could be. And, if that was not enough for my sorority sister,  her step mother, Rita, then created her own scandal by posing in Playboy and stating in the accompanying article that she and John (her husband- the congressman) had sex on the steps of the U.S. Capitol during a break in an all-night House session. (None of this had anything to do with the movie.) I digress.

I will not go further into the story line. However, I will say,"it ain't over, 'til it's over". The movie is well cast and acted (duh!). The story is entertaining and the plot is well developed. However, it is long (138 minutes) and, at times, I felt like someone told the director and screen write they had to fill up that amount of time. I am not sure which scenes, if any, I would have cut, but it really dragged. 

There are some potentially Academy Awards  here (IMHO), however, I do not see it as Best Picture. I do recommend seeing it, just buy the large drink and pop corn.

Oh, and after Rita divorced John Jenrette, she went on to marry Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi of Piombino*.  Ludovisi commissioned the recreation of a fragrance originally devised for one of his princely ancestors in honor of his bride. I kid you not. Oh, what a life!

*Piombino is an Italian principality dissolved under the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Very Fond Christmas Eve Memory

For Christmas, I thought I would repost a true story about my father and Christmas Eve. If you remember reading, humor me here, if not, I think will enjoy it. Either way, I hope you have a wonderful holiday.

One of my fondest holiday memories is not a special Christmas morning, or my first bicycle it is actually Christmas Eve at my father's drug store.

Our small town had three or four local drug stores and all the pharmacists were good friends. Everyone in town had "their" drugstore and rarely did anyone stray. Dad's store was on the street with the doctor's offices behind the hospital - a very strategic location. But he was all about customer service. Just for example - a customer, Mrs. McGee, who happened to live around the block, commented one day that it would be helpful it he carried quart containers of milk along with the pint sizes he had in the drink box. Sure enough, the next week when the Pet milk man came in, Dad placed a standing order for Mrs. McGee's milk. She knew it would be there every week for her.

As you can imagine Dad got to know all his customers very well. After all, this was a long time before Wal-mart and Target. Besides prescriptions and other medications, he carried a complete line of cosmetics, magazines, snacks, drinks, and ice cream, Hallmark greeting cards, and an incredible assortment of chocolate candies. Let me tell you I honed my art of wrapping gifts on boxes of Whitman Samplers. I can wrap one in my sleep! I digress.

But everyone knew that you stopped by Daddy's store on Christmas Eve. The festivities started around noon when folks started bringing in goodies - cakes, tins of cookies, homemade snack mix. When it first started, Dad furnished the food, but over the years, as it grew, everyone wanted to contribute their "special" dish to the event. Every time the delivery boy came in, he would be loaded down with more contributions. Then the customers and friends would start dropping by to visit, eat, and wish everyone holiday cheer. By five o'clock the store was still open but a sign went up stating "The Pharmacy was closed" and the bar was open. Then the party started.

Daddy would set up a full bar on the counter where he and the other pharmacists normally filled prescriptions and everyone would gather around and "a good time would be had by all". Everyone loved my Daddy. Even my friends would drop by during my college years and later, not to see me, but to visit with Dad. Only after everyone else had left, would we clean up and make our way home to crawl in bed and ready ourselves for Christmas morning.

My father passed away thirteen years ago and had sold his drug store many years before that, but to this day, every Christmas, I still have people in town stop me and say, "You know I was thinking the other day about going by your Dad's drugstore on Christmas Eve." I'm pretty sure Christmas Eve at my Daddy's store was part of many local folk's holiday tradition and he enjoyed every minute of it. I know I did.

Photography Post - Christmas Trees for Sale

Christmas trees for sale on the sidewalk in Chelsea.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Bates, My Hero

Bates is by far the hardest working character at Downton Abbey. This revelation came to mind as I stood there yesterday polishing my mama's sterling silver goblets for our family's Christmas Eve dinner. Just when I thought I had removed every bit of tarnish, the cloth would have more black on it. 

Anyone who really knows me, knows my affinity for sterling silver flatware. I guess I got that from my Mama. Not only did she collect silver, she used it. As children, we ate all our family meals using Mama's sterling flatware. And there is little doubt in my mind that that sterling silver saved our family from dying of some bungee bungee disease brought on by Mama's cooking, or lack thereof. On those evenings when she "retired" early, what was left for dinner was often questionable at best. 

I am testament to the fact that the alloys in sterling silver will fight off most any viral or bacterial infection. Under cooked meat, mystery casseroles, or charred roasts all seemed a little less daunting when using silver utensils. We may not have been born with a silver spoon in our mouths (and all the largess that accompanies it) but we used one at most meals. Thank God to the quick thinking of Great Great Grandmama who buried the family silver in the garden. In many cases that was all some southern families had left when the dust settled. 

Perhaps that is what saved most of the British explorers in Africa. They always traveled with their cooks, porters, and full accompaniment of fine crystal, china place settings, and sterling for their meals. Just a thought.

So I could relate to Bates as I sat there polishing each piece. The Victorians had their silver and enjoyed it, but they also had their servants to keep it polished. But, that's OK, I still look at it as a life saver of my youth. Or at least that is how I justify polishing all of it.

Photography Post - Bicycles

Bicycles on the snowy sidewalk in Greenwich Village.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Saving Mr. Banks, a Movie Review

This past week I went to see Wicked on Broadway (stay with me here). Most folks know that things happened in OZ before Dorothy dropped in. And, so they made a Broadway show about it, or book or whatever. But, I digress.

Saving Mr. Banks is basically the story of the 1964 Walt Disney award winning movie Mary Poppins before the narrator starts:

Winds in the east, theres a mist comin' in
Like somethin' is brewin' and 'bout to begin.
Can't put me finger on what lies in store,
But I feel what's to happen all happened before.

Even before Dick Van Dyke showed up on the roof top, Walt Disney himself spent twenty years trying to convince P.L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins book, to let him make a major motion picture of the story. 

The movie (Mr. Banks) weaves Ms. Travers childhood back and forth with her two week gut wrenching trip from her home in London to Beverly Hills to meet with Disney's folks about the script. The story line goes back forth between her angst to give up her beloved "Mary Poppins" to anyone and her anything but idyllic childhood. As her battles with the script writers and the guys writing the score continue, you are thrown back into the past.

As the script is being written, you learn more and more about the real people the characters in the book were based on. And, as Ms. Travers angst grows about the project, her childhood story reveals more. No spoiler here, the two collide. 

Emma Thompson who plays Ms. Travers is in her element. I can not imagine anyone else in this role with the facial expressions, the stature, and the ability to play a strong remote  being asked to open her soul. Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney and he is most convincing, which is hard to do.  I still remember him in my den every Sunday evening when my brother and I would sit down to watch Tinkerbell wave her wand around the castle and then Walt Disney himself would be there to introduce that night's show.

Thompson's Travers plays well against Hanks' Disney, neither is not quite sure what they are up against. Annie Rose Buckley who plays Ginty does a masterful job playing a young child caught up in a world where she watches everything she believes in just go away. All the promises made to her evaporate. The close ups of her face show the innocence of a child, but often the fear of the unknown. 

The scenes where the songs for the Mary Poppins movie were being created brought so many memories. In my mind the lyrics were so familiar and so incredibly well done. The movie is long, 125 minutes. Bring tissues, this film evokes emotion through out. It is not one where you can easily wipe the tear from your cheek as you leave the theater. There were folks so caught up, they were having to wipe their noses, removed their glasses, and rummage for more Kleenex.

By all means go see it. It is slow at times, but it takes a while to wrap the two parts together. This is Academy Award material, Thompson and Hanks - definitely; Best Picture, perhaps (but it's a tough field this year), and a possible nod to Buckley for her talent with such an intense role.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

I've Been Through the Heart of it

After 9 visits to 5 Irish pubs , 6 wonderful days in the big city, visits to Soho, Chelsea, and Greenwich Village, visions of jewels in the diamond district as well as diamonds in Tiffanies, Bryant Park and Central Park, and what is left of the Plaza, the tree at Rockefeller Center, the windows at Bloomingdales, Bergdoph Goodman, and Lord and Taylor; Broadway, Grand Central Station, and Times Square, not to mention the food, I cannot even begin to go there - it is time to come home.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bergdorf Goodman Windows

Bergdorf Goodman took a different approach this year. They decided to do a window for each holiday, not just Christmas. Here are their windows:

Valentine's Day

Ground Hog Day

April Fool's Day

Fourth of July

 Arbor Day

Christmas in the city

There is a good reason I do not live in New York City - it is cold up here. But, I will admit during the holidays it is festive. There are the 100's, well maybe 1000's, of Santas roaming around in search of a pub. (Note the one spraying his beard on.)

And then, there are the windows in all the department stores. Lord and Taylor has a Victorian theme this year.

I would show you more of the scenes, however, there was so much pushing and shoving by the folks up here, I felt I was taking my life in my own hands just to join the queue to view the windows. But, then they are Yankees, bless their hearts, and probably don't know any better.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Weather up There is Frightful

Packing for my trip to New York city, I thought I would check the weather - high tomorrow, 32. Perhaps that was not such a good idea afterall (to check the weather). Yes, I have warm clothes, scarves, gloves, boots, and a down jacket. The good news is that the cold weather will make it really seem like the holidays. The bad news is I don't know how long I'll be able to stay outside. The good news is most of the bars up there are heated. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Nightmare of Escaping Atlanta

I have found it hard to sleep lately. Have you ever had that horrible dream, not the one where you show up at work naked, but where you cannot get anywhere? Like you are in north Atlanta trying together back to South Carolina. As you come down I-85  you get engulfed in 5 o'clock traffic even though it isn't 5 o'clock yet. And just as get on I- 285, you learn that there has been a major car accident that has most of I-285 and I-20 East at a stand still. 

You pull off at the next exit, consult Google maps on your phone and plot out another route on state roads. Soon you realize two things- a lot of folks have decided to do the same thing and you now are dealing with stop lights every other block. You start your new rather circuitous route anyway. As traffic starts to move and you can see that you are making progress you find yourself behind a succession of city buses on their regular routes, stopping for folks. 

Finally, you make it through the country to I-20 and are on your way home in very light traffic. Your cell phone beeps indicating you have a text. Being a safe driver you pull off at the next exit, to safely read the text. Only then do you realize that this exit off the interstate has no return ramp. 

And, after consulting Google maps you see that the closest route back to the interstate is going to take most likely an additional hour. This is when your phone rings and you hope like Hell it is your alarm clock taking you out of this frustration nightmare. But, alas, it was not. 

This was my trip home from Atlanta last night. A four hour trip took almost 6 hours. Oh, as for the exit, I very carefully backed down the exit ramp to the Interstate. Hell, if I was going on another goose chase. I think Scarlet did a better job escaping Atlanta when it was burning with Melanie and  Prissy in that cart with the dying mule than I did with a V-6, a full tank of gas, interstate highway system and Google maps. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Book - Progress Report

The book about my mother is written and has been through one edit. I have done corrections and some rewrites. Now is back with my dear editor once more. I still have no title but am that much closer to publication. My plan (at this time) is to publish it as an eBook as well as in hard copy. Stay tuned, I will need all the support I can get when it is published.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Hunger Games: Catching Fire, a Movie Review

Once again, buy your popcorn and that extra large coke - you are going to need them. Two hours and twenty six minutes is a long time to sit in one place - well that is unless you are totally wrapped up in a story. First - if you haven't seen the first part of the Hunger Games Trilogy, rent it or download it before you see this film, otherwise you will be loss from the get go. 

The first film left us with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) having saved Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) in the 74th Hunger Games by sheer skill and wit - having threatened suicide of two lovers on TV shown live across the districts, if both their lives were not spared. Having emerged from the games alive, this victory afforded their families a life out of poverty in the "Victor's Village". And, the only question that we left the theater with was: will Katniss choose Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) her longtime friend as her beau or Peeta. The later being the relationship that was part of the charade that allowed them to escape the Hunger Games alive, but then soon became a little more real than Katniss had imagined. But, I digress.

Catching Fire opens with the love triangle smoldering, and the audience (at least those who had not read the trilogy) wondering which way Katniss's heart would go. The Victor's Tour Katniss and Peeta must take visiting all 11 other districts only begs that question more. When President Snow fears Katniss's national heroism may strengthen the embers of revolution within the Districts against the Capitol, he knows she must be stopped. A new character, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) comes into the picture as the new "Games Master".

Suddenly all the living victors from each district are thrown back into a pool for the 3rd Quarter Quell (75th) Games and Katniss, once again, finds herself in the arena. No spoiler here, all of this is in the trailers, if you have seen any. 

The costumes are even more over the top. Ceasar (Stanley Tucci), the cheesy Show Host, and Effie (Elizabeth Banks), the Victor's guide (always dressed somewhere between the Queens Court in Alice in Wonderland and Martha May Whovier from The Grinch, return in their memorable roles. And, of course you have Woddy Harrelson's character, Haymitch Abernathy, the hard drinking, dedicated strategist who aids Katniss and Peeta in preparing for the games.The games and the arena are more challenging than before and alliances are key to survival. 

When the movie ended, my DH turned to me and said,"You know when you come to the movies and sit through two and a half hours, you want an ending." Well, I felt a little more satisfied, perhaps because I have already read the trilogy and know what the third book, "Mockingjay" holds in store. However, for those who have not, the movie ends as if the film paused for a commercial break at a pivotal moment. Many may feel like that Friday afternoon episode on their soap opera when the male lead asks the female lead, "Just what do you mean by 'I really don't care'?". The screen goes dark, the credits start rolling, and the music begins. 

Having read the books, trust me: stay tuned. I felt the film stayed true to the story. The acting was excellent. The dull soot and grayness of the districts brought on a feeling of even more despair as juxtaposed to Kodachrome colors and opulence of the Capitol. Every time the camera panned in on a close up of Jennifer Lawrence's eyes one could see the emotion she felt, the unfairness of it all. Her countenance showed the weight of the responsibility resting on her. Hiding honesty was not one of Katniss's strong suits.

As the box office records show, this movie is a block buster, and for good reason. It is well made, well cast, well acted, and the story follows the book - a novel idea (no pun intended). 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

I Believe

Just for the record, our Christmas tree has been at our house now for six days, in the stand for five days, had a string and a half of lights on it for three days. Stay tuned.

I have been able to get my mantle decorated, although I made sure I removed all breakable items until we get the den straight for fear something would get knocked off the mantle. I have decorations on my coffee table but you would be hard pressed to see them amongst the boxes that need to go back to the attic. Bottom line, this is a work in progress. 

I hope Santa comes in the back door, because if he comes down the chimney, he would find a chair in front of the fireplace. But, I have faith that by Christmas Eve, the tree will be decorated, the boxes will be back in the attic, the chair in front of the fireplace will be moved to its proper place, and all will be right with the world. Yes, I believe. 

Most people think that saying, "I believe", refers to the magic of Christmas. In my case it refers to the chances I will ever be able to walk through my den again. But, as I have often said, if not, there is always drugs and therapy.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Dallas Byers Club, a Movie Review

Matthew McConaughey is having a banner year that may land him in the front seats at the Academy Awards this year, if not on the stage. His performance in Mud, earlier this year was note worthy. And, here he is again in Dallas Byers Club. The story line - no spoiler here if you have seen any trailers- is Ron Woodruf (McConaughey) is rough bull riding electrician who ends of up with a diagnosis of HIV (and a prognosis of 30 days to live) due to his years of womanizing. 

Not willing to take this sitting down, he goes to extremes to find anything that will keep him alive. While McConaughey gets the publicity for this movie, I really thought the strong roles were played by Jared Leto as Rayon, the transvestite, who befriends Ron and becomes an ally and business partner and Jennifer Garner as Eve Sacks, his doctor, who realizes that traditional treatment  may be doing more harm that good to the AIDS community. Both Leto and Garner come through with incredible performances, especially Leto. 

The film shows many us, unaware of the back story here, the issues going on in the medical community as it tried to come to grips with the HIV disease. It took a while for the FDA and most traditional doctors to get past the social aspects of the disease and realize that no one had the luxury of the traditional time it took to bring drugs to the American market, and everyone needed to look outside the box and consider alternative treatments. Even the legal system found itself caught up in both archaic and arcane laws that in some ways prevented people from getting progressive help for themselves. 

McConaughey's physical transformation for this role shows his dedication to serious acting. Woodruf's physique is as far as one can get from the beautiful buff McConaughey sported in his early RomCom films - a genre he is trying to put in his rear view mirror as he moves into serious cinema. And, with his performances in Mud and, now, the Dallas Buyers Club, it would be hard for any critic to not take him as a seriously talented actor now. Those days of romantic comedy are behind him. (I guess that body is now just a thing of our dreams and reruns.)

This is good movie: a great story with strong performances. That said, I was a little disappointed.This is a prime example where a little less hype would have served the film well. I'm not sure what my expectations were, but I left feeling, "Well, that was good, and the acting was great and I learned a lot from the story, but it wasn't as good as the hype."  Don't get me wrong, I highly recommend this movie, go see it. Perhaps I read too many reviews and see too many trailers and expect too much. I am sure tomorrow, after some reflection, I, too, will feel this was one of the better films this year. If nothing else, Leto's performance as Rayon, is haunting.