Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Movie Review - The Imitation Game

There has been much press about this movie, The Imitation Game. Often that can be the kiss of the death. This time of year when the "Big" films are being dumped just in time for Awards season, it is easy for a film to get lost in the bunch or, worse yet, be disappointing given the current competition. All that said, this film fell victim to neither.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turning and Keira Knightly as Joan Clarke, lead the cast of this true story of the team ensconced at Britain's top-secret Government Code and Cypher School located at Bletchley Park (a British estate) during WWII tasked with breaking the code on the German's Enigma machine.

Turning, while most likely the world's best cryptanalyst, has a type of aspergers and to say he is socially awkward is the understatement of the year. Clarke brings out the humanity in him and, as she often does in her other roles, adds as much in her facial expressions as she does in dialogue. 

The story is fascinating, in that it is true but what happened was not revealed until the 1990's. The screenplay is well done and the cast is good. I read some reviews about the film not being historically accurate. Whatever! I did not go to see this film on a history class assignment. 

I can see Cumberbatch getting an Academy nod for his spot on ability to play a character who is so focused he has little idea of the world around him, and so lacking of empathy that he finds life confusing. When he does realize that he has feelings he is either surprised or totally unprepared - or both. 

Obviously I recommend the movie. It is 114 minutes well spent.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Re-Gifting in Kind

And, then there is the issue of remembering others while reviewing the more interesting gifts bestowed upon you during the Yuletide - ie re-gifting. Yes, I know there are different schools of thought on this. Some say it is open season, with the exception of giving it back to the original giver unless you have a serious bone to pick. There are those among us who are most proper and would never think of such. But then they are the ones who can use the bird clocks, magic pans, and purses with 17 pockets made of the finest leatherette.

This just brings me to the issue at hand. I know that those friends and family truly had me in mind (or maybe not) when selecting my gift. However even with my vivid imagination I am not quite sure I can incorporate the set of lava lamp salt and pepper shakers into my kitchen. And  I was taken aback when I unwrapped the "As Seen on TV" Hot Buns. Thankfully after reading "the hair accessory that lets you roll, snap and wrap your hair into the perfect bun" on the package I knew how to better write the thank you note. 

I did take offense to the "Rapid Ramen Cooker". Even if I am not the gourmet cook I think I am, I would hope friends and family would at least let me go about life enjoying my self-illusion. After all, I haven't poisoned anyone yet. And, no that unfortunate dinner party a few years ago when several guests had to visit the emergency room on the way home was just an anomaly. But, I digress.

So who should I consider as recipients for the Glowing Gnomes? Their friendly faces light the way down your walk way at night for your guests. They are solar powered, so they will never go out - joy. Unfortunately they just do not go well with the yard fairies, the half buried tires that line our drive way, and the macrame hanging bird feeders on the porch. I don't want to hurt someone's feelings, but those gnomes would just trash up the yard. Just saying.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

And By the Fifth It Was Over

I can now take a deep breath and relax. Well, that is before I begin the onerous task of taking down the tree, removing the elves from the mantle, and ridding the coffee table of carolers. Yes on paper I am an Episcopalian and all this should stay put until the magi arrive. But the madness has ended and I need to cleanse my house.

Our four "Christmases" are over. The Fifth Day of Christmas has arrived but not my Five Rings. I wasn't sure I was looking for golden pieces of jewelry or elegant game birds. Either way they must be lost in transit. Trust me, I am not mourning.

I have great expectations for the day. My list is long and ambitious. There are visions in my head of a clean den, an uncluttered kitchen, and fresh linens neatly folded and in their proper place. Mama always said I had a vivid imagination.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Three French Hens

I await my French Hens (it being the third day of Christmas). However, no one ever stated in the song whether they were dressed and ready to be frozen or baked. Or, whether they were alive and kicking. Please, God, let they be the former. I do not need any more livestock. There was a reason I never got around to taking a class in slaughtering and dressing out a live bird.

In the song they never commented whether the hens were moving about or in a dish. Funny, references to some of the other fowl was more explicit. The Geese were laying. Those very expensive Swans were swimming. And that Partridge was always in the Pear Tree. Come to think of it, out of the 74 gifts, 23 are fowl (well actually 28 if you count the Five Golden Rings as Ring-neck Pheasants which was the original intent.)

I guess I best not hold my breath since neither the Partridge, the Pear, nor the Turtle Doves have showed up yet. Perhaps I should not count my French Hens before they arrive, dead or alive.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas

You know you are old when you are up, have started making home made cinnamon rolls, cleaned up the kitchen, taken your shower, and checked your email and have yet to open a present or even address Christmas at all. At 10 am any child at home is still sound asleep.  I pine for the days of the girls up early on Christmas morning and the anticipation.

Of course, this is the second stage of holiday life - the doldrums. These are Christmases when our parents have passed away so we do not have them to spend time with. Married children want to have Christmas at their home (which I can remember feeling the same way at their age) and the younger children want to sleep in pretending a certain indifference.

We are just a year or two away from the third stage, the joy of sharing it with our granddaughter. So if we can weather the doldrums the holiday season will be joyous again.

Don't get me wrong, it is only a matter of hours when chaos will ensue. They will all be here. We will share a large meal. Gifts will be exchanged and the den will be flurry of paper and boxes. 

As a child I always dreamed of a white Christmas (which I have yet to see) and something akin to a Courier and Ives print. I always felt cheated because my Christmases never included a sleigh ride, groups of friends constantly coming in and out of the house Christmas day carrying stacks of gifts, holiday parties every other night that required sophisticated clothes. But as I have aged I realize that is only in the movies of the 1950's. If it really happens in someone's life, spare me, I do not need to know - that would be much too depressing. Reality is hard enough to deal with, knowing someone else is living my dream holiday may just do me in. 

Whatever your dreams, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, or enjoy whatever ilk of the season you prefer. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Movie Review - Top Five

I ended up seeing this movie because the moon and stars collided, ie it was the only movie on at the time, of the genre I was interested in, at the only theater I was willing to drive to in the rain. No, this was not on my list of "Holiday Must See Movies". However, I know Chris Rock is a genius so I was game.

The story-line of Top Five  is that of a former very successful comedian, Andre Allen (Chris Rock) who is trying to break into serious on screen acting - which is not going well, to say the least. He has a reality star girl friend Erica (Gabrielle Union) who has convinced him to have their wedding televised as a part of her reality show. His fans want him to return to comedy and he shuns the thought for fear of failure. 

In walks Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) who manages to get him, albeit begrudgingly, to allow her to follow him around for a day, interviewing him all the while. That one day happens to be the opening day of his latest film and the day before his wedding. 

The name "Top Five" refers to the constant theme of asking friends and family their top five list of entertainers. The movie is rated R for good reason (for very strong sexual content, nudity, crude humor, language throughout and some drug use). Those with high morals, modest ears, and prudish ideas save your money - you will not last five minutes. But, for those who understand a black comedy (literally) and Chris Rock, you will find that the sex, profanity, nudity, and crude humor are used in the normal context of the story, not thrown around to rouse the crowd.

So my top five:

  • the film is funny as heck 
  • it is well cast and the acting is very good
  • the story line is not as predictable as it may seem at first, in some instances but with enough twists to keep it interesting
  • the cameos by Whoopi Goldberg and Adam Sandler are weak at best, other cameos (too many to list here) work better into the plot
  • if you like comedy and Chris Rock, I recommend it - keeping the R rating in mind 
And as a postscript, it was written and directed by Chris Rock and two of the co-producers were Kanye West and Jay-Z.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

One Down

One Christmas behind us, three to go. The best part - we are all speaking . . . so far. Of course the event last night was the easiest of all. My step mother's family is so large and extended anyone can get lost in the mayhem. No matter what your dysfunction you will either fit in or can easily blend into the wood work. The noise level alone is just below that of a small jet engine.

I am a firm believer that the more the merrier, and the more folks, the more accepting. No one sitting around judging everyone. No one with their nose in the air. After all there was an open bar - literally. When my father and step-mother re-did the house they put a large full service bar in the new large sunroom/den. This was a brilliant move on their part.

So we move on. We are in Christmas present, yet I still hear the sounds of the chains from Christmas past. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Headed Back South

On the way back south.

The best quote I heard was a lady who asked me "How close is South Carolina to North Carolina?" Yeah, if you have an answer for that one, please advise.

I was not able to finish my Christmas shopping, the Broadway show we saw was disappointin aND it did not snow. However, I just spent 6 wonderful days with 2 very special friends and over adult beverages in 6 or 7 bars we solved almost all the problems of the world.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas Windows in New York

Another set of Christmas windows in New York this season. These are from Saks. Each depicts a Nursery Rhyme. There are reflections in the photos because they were taken at night, with all the lights of 5th Avenue around while I was being jostled by several hundred other folks trying to see each window.


Red Riding Hood


Sleeping Beauty

Snow White

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Santas Everywhere!

Once again it is that magical time of year in New York when streets are merrier than usual. Laughter is heard throughout. Children are standing in amazement. Young teens dreaming of coming of age. And other mortal citizens are heading else where. Santa Con is here. And with it 1000s of Santas, as well as elves, reindeer, and the occasional Christmas tree roam the streets looking for a bar.

Each year this time they chose one Saturday to make Merry in part of New York. This year it was Hells Kitchen.

There were Santas coming:

And Santa's going:

Santas lunching:

And most of all Santas making merry in their natural habitat;  an Irish pub!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Windows of New York

I'm in New York on my annual trip to the big city. One of the big sites is the Christmas windows at Bergdof Goodman which are always great. Here they are:  




Wednesday, December 10, 2014

We Have A Problem

The phone rings and it is "Jack" my computer monitoring service. Seems a hacker has managed to get into my computer. So after ten minutes of looking into the files and running diagnostics I stop and ask, "Wait, how do I know who you are?", after all he could be the hacker! He gives me all the security information I need so I know he is legit.

He says he will work on it for twenty minutes or so and call me back. Sure enough in twenty minutes he calls me back. It is worse than he thought. He shows me on the screen where the issues are (and they are there). Then he says, "We need to remove these files."

No kidding I thought. "So can you do it?"

"That is why I am calling you. We have a program . . ."

"Here it comes," I thought.

Sure enough, "Our program will not only take care of this but make sure it doesn't happen again."

"OK, then do it."

"It will only cost you $199"

"$199? I have already paid you to take care of the computer"

"But this is different. And for $299, we can do this for 2 years."

I very quickly asked for his name and phone number and told him I would call him back if I decided to do that. Of course he launched into his spiel about if I did not use their program my computer would be ruined forever. I thanked him and rang off.

As soon as I could I powered off my computer but not before he put in into "Safe Mode".  First thing I did was go to my mobile phone, search how to get the computer out of safe mode, and handle that. The next thing was to research best anti hacking and clean-up software I could find online. I found an excellent free program that did what I needed and even more for an additional $24.95.

So within 20 minutes I had launched a program to take care of the problem. Yes, I would not have known of the problem without notification from the service, but that is what I pay them for.

Of course, this morning I had to start changing all my passwords just as a cautionary procedure. Changing them is not hard - remembering the new ones will be the problem. That becomes the old dog - new trick issue.

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Movie Review - Elsa and Fred

The saddest part about Elsa and Fred is that it will not enjoy wide release. Shirley McClaine (Elsa) and Christopher Plummer (Fred) are not only endearing in their roles as two old folks who discover it is never too late for love, they fit their parts as well as one of Elsa's every present shawl's falls gracefully over her shoulders. Who else could be cast as a septuagenarian who creates her world to fit the day and a stodgy old man who emerges as a very attractive suitor. For most of her life Elsa has dreamed of being Anita Ekberg in Fellini's scene at the Fontana di Trevi in Rome in his movie 'La Dolce Vita'. In fact often it is hard to determine fact from fiction as you follow Elsa.

Fred on the other hand has been moved in next door, much to his consternation, by his daughter and her sleazy (Fred's description) husband just eight months after the death of his wife. Elsa enters his world like a whirlwind determined to bring him out of his bedroom and make him enjoy life again.

In addition to the Oscar winning lead actors the cast is rounded out with George Segal (also an Oscar winner) and James Broland (with several Golden Globes). Erika Alexander plays the care keeper tasked with looking after the curmudgeon Fred and Wendell Pierce is cast as Amande the handy man for the building.

The story takes place in New Orleans. And the 97 minutes moves along quickly. Parts of the story may be predictable but there are many parts that are surprising. The screen play is well written and, obviously, the film well cast. It is a most enjoyable movie for those looking for a good story that is at times humorous, at times uplifting, and many times poignant played by an excellent cast of well seasoned actors.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Plain Ol' Meatloaf

All I wanted was a simple meatloaf recipe. I knew the ingredients - I just needed to know the portions. I did what every cook does these days - I Googled it. The first recipe called for 2 cups of brown sugar. I don't think so. The idea was meatloaf not caramelized beef. The next recipe I found included 1 pound of tofu - not in this house.

There was a recipe that used Campbell Soup, one that suggested you start by dicing 6 types of fresh vegetables, um it's a meatloaf not a veggie platter. It amazed me the number of recipes that called for multiple cups of ketchup then brown sugar on top of that, I did not even want to see the calorie count in that one.

I was brought up with the traditional beef and sausage, crumbled white bread, eggs, spices, several tablespoons of ketchup, yada yada yada - one. Finally I found what I needed, a recipe that reminded me it called for 1 pound each of the meats. The rest I knew.

But what bothered me was how a simple American staple can get ruined by fru fru tweaks and healthy changes. It doesn't need to be sweet or healthy or vegan. If you want something sweet for supper fix crepes. If your thing is healthy eating perhaps spinach lasagna would fit the bill. And if you are a vegan, I have nothing to offer you, sorry I fear you may be on the wrong coast.

Meatloaf is, well, meatloaf. It is that crusty on the outside, moist and tasty on the inside creation that falls in the category of comfort food. And something as sacred as that doesn't need to be messed with.