Sunday, January 16, 2011

Movie Sunday: Everybody's Fine

Image from here

So we're watching Mammoth last night, which is the longest, best produced movie in which nothing at all happens that I can ever remember seeing, when the sixteen year old Thai prostitute looks at Leo and says, "You're wearing two watches." Now I'm not sure if I can keep wearing two watches.

Anyway, unlike Mammoth, if you didn't get enough family-related guilt over the holidays, Everybody's Fine is a must see. Actually, you should probably see it anyway. Because it's excellent. Robert De Niro will make you want to cry within about five minutes of the movie starting, but in a good way. Not like the way Mammoth made me want to cry. In fact, even though not that much happens in this film either, we are so emotionally engaged from the beginning that it's hard to look away.

De Niro plays a recent widower in poor health whose children are supposed to come from all around the country for the weekend. They all cancel at the last minute, so he decides to surprise each of them with a visit. Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, and Drew Barrymore play his children, and they are all very good. But De Niro is genius in this thing. His vulnerability will break your heart.

This is apparently a remake of a 1990 Italian film starring Marcello Mastroianni, who is probably my favorite Italian actor with a y chromosome. The storyline of the original seems both a little cleaner and more literary than the American version, which is not really surprising. For example, each of the children is named for an opera character, who they seem to resemble in some way. I would love to see the original film. Unfortunately, it apparently has not been released on DVD, and I haven't been to Italy lately.

At it's core, Everybody's Fine is about secrets and lies, but not "there's a treasure map on the Declaration of Independence" kind of secrets. The little, real life secrets that children keep from their parents, and vice versa, and how each one puts a little distance between us.

Speaking of which, if you like the falsehood-based family comedy, we really enjoyed City Island, with Andy Garcia and Julianna Margulies. Garcia plays a prison guard and aspiring actor who heads a family that seems incapable of telling each other the truth. It's a bit quirky, and a little more light-hearted than Everybody's Fine.

Wow, three for the price of one. Maybe I will skip next week altogether.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Three things you should know about me

  1. I'm not good in a crisis. If you are looking for a well-reasoned, in depth analysis of what went wrong, or you would like a balanced opinion on some life-changing decision, complete with examples and philosophical underpinnings, then I'm your guy. If you're looking for someone to take charge in the heat of the moment, start barking orders, and always know exactly what to do, you're going to want to call someone else.
  2. I can't be dared. People have tried to dare me to do one thing or another my whole life, and as far as I can recall, it hasn't worked a single time. I'm not sure if it's because I'm too internally motivated or just chicken, but it's just not going to happen. So don't even bother. On the other hand...
  3. I'm highly suggestible. For example, JV suggested in response to my last post that I wear one of my two identical watches on each arm. I chuckled at the suggestion and promptly forgot it. Until this morning, when for reasons we won't go into right now, it struck me as the best idea ever. 
It feels even stranger than it looks.

I'm taking bets on how long it takes before anyone at work says anything. So far I may have caught one sidelong glance, but no comments. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Tale of Two Watches

It was the best of time ... no, I can't do it. Anyway, a long time ago, in a land called "The Eighties," I was married to a crazy woman, though that's really another story. The point is her parents were nice. For example, they brought me back a watch from a trip to Switzerland. Because they knew I would like one. It was perfect. An Omega self-winder, water-resistant, simple, analog, easy to read, luminescent hands, and appropriate for any occasion.

I loved my watch, and wore it virtually every day. Alas, watches like mine are mechanical, and things wear out over time. After a while, watches don't hold their value well enough to justify the cost of continued repairs. Sort of like people. So when my Omega started to betray my habitual punctuality, I started stepping out, going through a series of cheap Swatches and flashy Indiglo's. But nothing could really take the place of my beloved Omega.

Nothing, that is, until Biscuit presented me with a Citizen Corso Eco-Drive for Christmas one year. Or maybe it was my birthday, I forget, but I loved it. It was everything the Omega was, and more. Titanium case and band, scratch-resistant mineral dial window, and driven by light. How can you not love a watch that's driven by light? And while the Omega's style was great for the 80's, the Citizen's look is perfect for who I am now.

Titanium, just like the SR-71 and my King Cobra driver

Everything was great with my new watch until I lost it. One day it just seemed to vanish. I racked my brain for months, trying to come up with any clues to its whereabouts. I searched the car, moved furniture, and looked in places too small for it to fit. I even cut the bottom fabric and looked inside my favorite club chair, which has eaten two Swiss Army knives, one phone, a lot of change, and countless M&M's over the years. No luck.

After a couple of years, once it was obvious that my watch was truly gone for good, Biscuit took pity on me and presented me with a replacement this past Christmas. I was planning to bake bread all day on the 23rd, and we were driving to see family on Christmas Eve, so we exchanged gifts on the evening of the 22nd. I was excited to have my new watch, and since it was identical to the old one, it lessened the sense of loss.

I jumped up early the next morning and made breakfast, as I had about a half dozen full size loaves to bake, as well as sixteen mini chocolate loaves for family presents.* I decided to put on my apron, which was also a present from Biscuit, and wearing it reminds me to check on things every now and then. I forget to wear it most of the time when I'm cooking, but I had one loaf rising, one proofing, and one in the oven pretty much all day, and I tend to get distracted, so anything that helps keep me centered is, well, helpful.

Good advice when I'm cooking

I had the apron on for about five minutes when I noticed there was something in the pocket. Why, what could it possibly be? Infrared thermometer? Tiny measuring cup? Muffin ring? Why it's ... okay, at this point you should be feeling almost as uncomfortable as I was. Even before I got my hand in the apron pocket, I had a premonition of what it was going to be ... my other watch!

For a second, I seriously considered not saying anything, and maybe hiding it in a drawer against the day that I lost the new one, and I could replace it without saying anything. But that's not really the kind of relationship we have, and besides, I felt way too stupid to get away with this. Biscuit was incredibly gracious and good-humored about the whole thing, partially because she's always relieved to find something good to buy me, but mostly because she's really nice.

I walked within six inches of this several 
times a day, the entire time it was missing.

We talked about sending back the new one, but given my track record, in the end I thought it was probably wise to keep them both. Plus, I feel like some sort of country gentleman with matching watches.

So the next time you think you couldn't possibly feel stupider about something, remember that it was a far, far dumber thing I ... nope, still can't do it.

* I don't normally give bread to people as if it were a real present. It's bit of a long story, but the important thing to know is that each loaf came with a bottle of champagne.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Movie Sunday: Fun with physics romantic comedy triple feature

Streaming Netflix and I have been down a bit of a rabbit-hole lately, and I've watched several quirky little movies that involve manipulation of time and space in one way or another. While none of them are exactly Sleepless in Seattle, I think we have to classify them as romantic comedies, since they revolve around relationships and nothing much explodes.

It all started with Cashback, a likable movie with the worst title since Twinkle, Twinkle, Killer Kane, and an even worse poster. As Biscuit said after resisting the first dozen times I suggested we watch, it looked like it was going to be a film for fifteen year old boys. Not that fifteen year old boys wouldn't like it. There is a decent amount of nudity, tastefully done of course. Also, a couple of fart jokes and a soccer game.

Image from here

Cashback is the story of a young art student who has just broken up with that girl who was the new Bionic Woman, though that has nothing to do with the story. He is so broken up that he stops sleeping, and ends up taking a job at an all-night grocery store to fill up his nighttime hours. Eventually, he figures out how to stop time. Wackiness and a touch of romance ensue. It's a bit of 500 Days of Summer meets Employee of the Month, but everyone in it is a much better actor than Jessica Simpson.

This is probably my favorite of the three films, both because of the quirky characters and because it's British, so you know it's good. Also, I believe I mentioned the nudity. I don't expect everyone to share my preference, but it did win some awards and stuff.

Image from here

Next came TiMER, which takes place in a world where science* has invented an implant that can determine exactly when you will meet your soulmate, assuming they are also wearing a timer. The story revolves around two sisters, one whose timer hasn't started, while the other's has quite a while to go. The  interest comes from pondering how you would live your life if you knew your perfect relationship was x years in the future. This show is very clever, fun to watch, and the cast is just about perfect. I have mixed feelings about the end, but all in all it's a good way to pass 99 minutes.

Image from here

The last of our trio is Happy Accidents, which of the three is probably the closest to a traditional romantic comedy. It stars Marisa Tomei as a girl who is so bad at relationships that she and her friends seem to have formed some sort of club for girls who only date losers. She meets a young fellow (Vincent D'Onofrio) from Dubuque who seems strange, even for an Iowan. As she learns more about him, his story becomes increasingly unbelievable, and the tension of whether or not we are going to believe him drives us forward through the story.  Like the other two, it's mostly light-hearted, and easy watching, though with some substance.

There were a few more in this odd little thread, but not really that notable. Except for Uncertainty, which I didn't care for. Biscuit liked it a little better, but it definitely was not on the level of these others. So the next time you're about to watch Pretty Woman again just because it's on TV, try streaming one of these instead. It will entertain you, and make you think.

* This is romantic comedy science, so think of it more as magic.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Movie Sunday: My Six Loves

Image from here

Biscuit and I both have colds, brought home from our holiday travels. We are choosing to blame my niece from L.A., who was inconsiderate enough to travel 2000 miles with two kids under five and presents for twenty, just so she could spend the holidays feeling like crap with a lot of people she barely knows. As a bonus, she got to have a big fight with her mother (my sister-in-law), just because her mom brought an ill-behaved, child-biting yippy little dog into a small house full of little kids.

But that has very little to do with this week's movie. Or maybe it does, how would I know? I have a fever, and probably won't remember writing any of this later. Anyway, we got Biscuit's parents a Roku box and a Netflix subscription for Christmas, and even though it doesn't work that great with their small town, steam-powered broadband, it seems like it's going to be serviceable, and they seem to like it.

Biscuit's mom is what you might call traditional, meaning most of her favorite books and movies were made before 1968. So when we were looking for things to add to her instant queue, the second thing she settled on (after a John Wayne movie) was today's gem, My Six Loves. Released in 1963, it stars Debbie Reynolds as an overworked actress, with Cliff Robertson, David Jansen, and Eileen Heckart, the Joan Cusack of her day.

Reynolds plays a successful actress suffering from exhaustion,* who is banished to her Connecticut estate for rest by her manager/boyfriend Jansen. There she discovers six trailer-trash children living in her old greenhouse. The ragamuffins have run away from a neglectful aunt and uncle who apparently wandered off the set of The Beverly Hillbillies. Once the local minister (Robertson) persuades her to take care of the kids until something suitable can be arranged, the wackiness starts. Also, there is a song jammed into the middle of the film for no discernible reason. Perhaps it was a signal to the men of the day that they could step out for a quick smoke and a bathroom break.

Some people will see this movie as a nostalgic look at a simpler time. Released today, it would be viewed by most women under 50 as a misogynistic propaganda piece, possibly secretly financed by the Mormon Church. The story revolves around Reynolds' realization that she "may be an actress, but she's also a woman, and should start acting like one." Apparently, real women can only be fulfilled when they are in a morally unambiguous relationship with a righteous man and a passel of kids. Heckart plays Reynolds' friend, assistant, and external super-ego, whose main job seems to be telling everyone that Reynolds will eventually come to her senses.

I like watching movies like this, because it reminds me of how far we have come in what is really a very short time. And also why our parents and the Tea Party (admittedly largely overlapping sets) seem so crazy about some things. Attitudes usually change over several generations, and seeing mainstream entertainment so obviously out of touch with today's mainstream sentiments helps lend a sense of perspective.

I wouldn't waste a DVD choice on this, but if you feel like streaming as much as you can stand, I found it pretty entertaining. You will probably need drinks.

* This was before the likes of Liza, Mariah, and Lindsay taught us that "actress suffering from exhaustion" is normally a synonym for "ho-bag on the Joe Cocker diet."** But it's implied.

** Bloody Mary's for breakfast and cocaine for lunch. Supper usually consists of jumping around onstage for a couple of hours, followed by a handful of M&M's.