Friday, April 24, 2015

Movie Review: The Age of Adaline

If you HAD to stop aging, though, I do think 29 is a pretty great place to pause.

What would you do if you knew you'd stay 29 years old forever?

I hadn't done my homework before seeing The Age of Adaline; I knew who the leads were and that it was about a woman who didn't age, but that's it. So I was surprised to learn afterward that it isn't based on any best-selling novel, but rather is an original story from J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz. I was surprised by this because let's be honest—there aren't a ton of romantic dramas out there these days that aren't adaptations. Actually, there aren't many movies of any genre out there these days that aren't adaptations.

I'd made another pre-screening assumption: that the movie was going to be either too cheesy or too weepy for my tastes. Wrong again.

Maybe it's because I've always been a sucker for any story dealing with the manipulation of time, but I found myself willing to go all in with The Age of Adaline from its very first moments. A voiceover explains the fairly ridiculous (and intentionally comedic in parts) setup of exactly how Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively) stopped aging at 29 years old when she crashed her car on the way to pick up her five-year-old daughter after her husband's untimely death. The year was 1937.

Director Lee Toland Krieger (Celeste and Jesse Forever) made a smart decision in putting Adaline's secret out there from the start—and by giving the audience a silly "wink and nudge" moment that allowed them to just laugh out loud at the crazy premise and then move on to caring about Adaline's dilemma. The dilemma being that since she has remained 29 for decades, she can't get close to anyone, nor can she stay in one place for more than ten years before somebody starts getting suspicious.

It's a lonely, mournful existence, which Lively does an excellent job of conveying throughout the film, but there was one scene in particular that stuck with me. Adaline and her now-eightysomething daughter, Flemming (Ellen Burstyn) were at lunch, and Flemming was babbling on about friends of hers who had recently fallen or had hip surgery or had moved to a retirement community. The mix of emotions that crossed Adaline's face within a matter of seconds—concern, disbelief, irritation, denial, sadness, and then back to authentic concern—was amazing and heartbreaking. A different scene where Adaline has to say goodbye to yet another faithful canine companion put me over the edge.

If you look real quick you might think this is Shia LaBeouf, like I did.And so it becomes clear that unless you're a vampire with other vampire friends to hang with (or a virginal beauty decides she just must turn undead and join you), living forever ain't all it's cracked up to be. Adaline can't even pull an Arwen—if she were to find The One, she couldn't simply choose to give up her immortality for her own personal version of Aragorn.

So when Ellis Jones (Michael Huisman) aggressively pursues Adaline after they meet at a New Year's Eve party, it's understandable (to us) why she plays coy. However, she does allow herself a little fun, which leads to a weekend trip with Ellis to his parent's house to celebrate their fortieth anniversary. Things get mighty mighty weird right quick, because Ellis's dad William (Harrison Ford) knew Adaline back in the day. 

This is where I tell you that if you're on the fence about seeing this movie, you must see it solely for the flashbacks of Harrison Ford's character. Because I'm pretty darn sure that my entire theater had their minds blown by not only the physical resemblance of the actor playing young William (Anthony Ingruber) to a young Harrison Ford, but also by how much the two men sound exactly like each other. It is freaky, I tell you. (I later learned that Ingruber got the part specifically because of his Han Solo impressions on YouTube. For real.)

Where's Chewie?
As for Ford himself, he's great, too. He and Kathy Baker (as William's wife) are not in the film long, but they serve to drive home the consequences and pain of missed opportunities and "what if?" scenarios that we'd previously only considered from Adaline's view.

I had but three small issues with The Age of Adaline: 1) I'm so used to hearing Huisman in other softer accents (on Game of Thrones, Nashville and Orphan Black) that I was not feeling the grating "American voice" he settled on for this role, 2) while there were hints at something deeper (bursting into another language, dominating at Trivial Pursuit), I was left wanting to know more about Adaline's past, and 3) the ending was totally cheeserrific. Not in a film-ruining way, but in a "did they really have to be that cheesy?" way.

Regardless, I would still recommend The Age of Adaline because it pleasantly surprised me and passed my test of getting me to think about things that will never happen to me. (What? You thought I was still 29? Why thank you, and you go on and have yourself a fantastic weekend.)

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Great Customer Service: Fitbit

The update on yesterday's Fitbit Fail situation is that there's good news and bad news. The bad news is that my Fitbit One is indeed dead. The good news is that since I only bought it in mid-January, it's under warranty and they're going to send me a new one.

The even better news is that I didn't have to pull teeth to make this happen. I had a very short online chat with a customer service rep who had me try to sync my device after I explained to her what happened. The sync wouldn't work.

Yeah, and it's a BIG problem, people.

And... that was it. I got an email asking for my shipping address and a screenshot of my order details from Amazon. A new Fitbit One should be on its way to me shortly, and it doesn't even seem like they're going to make me go through the annoying task of sending the defunct one bad, which I LOVE.

I asked the rep if there was a known issue with One's flaking out after only a few months, but she said there wasn't, so I'm going to cross my fingers that the new one isn't a dud.

In the meantime, I'm still feeling uneasy without anything tracking my steps. And I don't like touching my waist and not being able to feel my little fitness friend right there by my side. This must be how Tom Hanks felt when he lost Wilson.

Yep. It's exactly like that.

- e

Monday, April 06, 2015

Feeling Naked When You're Not

At around 11:30 this afternoon, I went to the kitchen to get a snack and absentmindedly hit my Fitbit button to see how many steps I'd logged so far.

"0," it glared back at me.

I frantically hit the button again and cycled through all of the categories. Everything was showing a big fat zero: steps, calories, stairs, the works.

What was happening?!?

Apparently I'm not the only one who feels this way.I forgot all about eating and ran to plug the little guy into my laptop. I searched the Help section of Fitbit's site to see what to do. A reboot was suggested. I tried it and then jogged around the floor again. Still nothing but zeroes.

Another reboot. And another. It's just not working.

Fitbit's customer service wasn't online, so I sent them an email and am impatiently waiting to hear back. In the meantime, I've left my Fitbit plugged into my laptop so that it can fully charge, and I'm hoping for a miracle.

I've only had this thing for a few months, so it's amazing that I am COMPLETELY FREAKING OUT without it on. I feel naked without it, and every step I take that it doesn't track seems like a travesty.

Anyone who has a smart phone has felt this same way when they've either forgotten to bring it with them or otherwise misplaced it for a while. We're like trained animals with this stuff, I swear. But with the Fitbit it's even stranger because I feel like any exercise I get while it's off somehow doesn't matter or doesn't count, when clearly it does. A lot of the things I do at the gym are way better workouts than walking is, and the Fitbit I have (the One) doesn't even track that stuff anyway. But for whatever reason, not having it on and not having it working are causing me to meltdown nonetheless.

Pray for a quick resolution, for my sanity's sake!

- e

Friday, April 03, 2015

Tax Time

It's go time.
So yesterday I did something I've never done in all of my years of either preparing my own taxes or getting the files and forms together for our accountant: I pulled everything together in one day.

Granted, I had been keeping all tax-related documents in a folder as things were mailed to us over the last few months, but that's not really what I'm talking about. I'm talking about all of those other random and not-so-random last-minute things you realize you need when tax time rolls around. That includes completing the entire year's profit and loss statement for my writing business. Each year I swear that I'm going to keep my LLC's income and expense spreadsheet current. I vow to fill in what I get paid and what writing-related costs I incur on a rolling basis each month so that I don't have to scramble in April. And then I promptly forget about it (or am just too lazy to do it) as soon as the taxes are filed.

Since my 2014 situation was not that complicated, I was able to complete my spreadsheet in a matter of a few hours. It's always fun to go back through the year and be reminded of which movies I took cabs to versus drove to (cash expenses versus credit-card parking expenses!)—what's even more fun is when a movie was so blah that I cannot even remember what it was about. D'oh.

Anyway, I got everything done and made it over to our accountant's office 30 minutes before they closed for the day. (I used to LOVE doing our taxes on my own, but once I created an LLC I got too nervous I would screw something up.)

There was another guy dropping his packet of forms off at the same time. We went down the stairs afterward together and he said, "It feels good to have the ball be in their court now, doesn't it?"

Yes, yes it does.

- e

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Something I'll Never Buy

A few weeks ago I was enjoying a walk down by Lake Michigan when a strange contraption whizzed by me: the Elliptigo. I immediately emailed myself to remember to look into it later, and today's the day I finally did.

This is not the dude I saw.

Technically it's written as the ElliptiGO... so there's that. My favorite machine at the gym is the Elliptical, so I admit I was curious about this mobile version. For poor souls like me who just can't handle high-impact exercise like jogging, I've found the Elliptical to be the best way to work up a sweat and burn calories without feeling like you've angered the Knee Gods the next morning.

But the cheapest ElliptiGO model costs $1,800.


So I will not be buying one. In convincing myself not to be sad about this, here's what I came up with:
  • I wouldn't be able to use it at all between December and March thanks to bad weather in Chicago. (Well, technically it looks like you CAN use it inside with some sort of stationary adjustment that's of course like $500 more, but you get my point.)
  • I'd need to store it somewhere and we don't have a garage or any place it would be protected from the elements.
  • I already pay for membership at a gym across the street that has Elliptical machines.
  • If I really wanted to be able to both exercise and go greater distances faster than I could by just walking, I could a) ride my husband's bike or b) buy a bike of my own for a lot less than $1,800.
  • It looks kinda silly and calls attention to whomever's riding it, and I like to keep a low profile—especially when I'm exercising. I won't even do any group classes because I 'm so horrified by the thought of someone watching me work out, so riding some beast machine down the jogging path that's the equivalent of blaring "LOOK AT ME" over loudspeakers is kind of my worst nightmare.
  • Again, it's $1,800 (without tax or shipping, I assume).

There. Now I feel better about never being an ElliptiGO owner. I do wish I had a normal Elliptical in my place so that I wouldn't even have to go to the gym. God forbid I have to walk two blocks to exercise!

- e

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

No Fooling

Ah, April Fools' Day. A day that I don't necessarily mind, as long as the pranks are happening to someone else. For example, if anyone pulled this Jimmy Kimmel stunt on me while I had my first sip of tea in the morning, things would end badly. (Seriously, all I can imagine is scalding liquids being spilled and thrown on innocent people. Not cool.)

What I do enjoy, however, is seeing how creative or otherwise into it some companies get. Take Uber, for example. I received this email at 7:30 a.m., which I actually bought for a few seconds until I read the hilarious quote at the end. I just assumed SkyMall was takin' it to the streets, so to speak.

Three-person Slanket -- sign me up!

Best quote ever?

I actually clicked on the video and was even more impressed. The Shoulder Selfie Camera made me laugh out loud. (And you know some people out there actually want one.)

That's some serious effort.

But wait, there's more! They actually created a SkyMall-like catalog. Would you be interested in the blanket of human hair? Or perhaps the Signed and Framed Photo from an Out-of-Work Actor?

If you are in need of a laugh, flip through the whole thing. The best part is there's no mention anywhere that it's a gag.

My longtime freelance employer, Redbox, pulled a great one today as well with Petbox. At first I thought it was just a bunch of already-existing animal-centric films, but then I looked a bit closer...

Hollywood needs to make Gone Squirrel happen.

Once you scroll down past "the fold," as we Web people say, you'll see that they fess up--and provide a little April Fools' Day bonus. My favorites are Gone Squirrel, Fox Catcher and Fifty Shades of Greyhound.

Actually, all of these need to happen.

It's only a few hours into the day, so I'm sure there will be some other great pranks to come. As long as I'm not the unwitting target, it's all good.

- e

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Reality Bites.

Go, Cubs, go! (They actually won, too!)
It's been three weeks since I last posted, but I only have a legitimate excuse for about two of those weeks. If you're connected to me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you know that we were in Arizona (to visit my in-laws as well as go to a Cubs Spring Training game) and then flew from there to L.A. for a trip to Disneyland. Then this past weekend we drove to Michigan to help celebrate my grandma's 91st birthday.

All of that travel caused three things to happen before and after we left.

1) In advance of our trip, I worked like a maniac to get writing for clients, various errands (like doctor's appointments for both myself and Desmond) and other To Do items checked off of my list. We threw the Disney excursion together at the very last minute and I knew it wasn't going to happen again for a while, so I wanted absolutely nothing on my plate or hanging over my head while we were there. This is my (admittedly not totally great) excuse for not blogging in the days leading up to our departure for Arizona.

My own personal Disney tradition.2) The time off was the best. Seriously, it couldn't have been any better. I will definitely be writing about everything we did very soon. But part of the reason I couldn't bring myself to sit down and crank out any posts over the past three weekdays I've been home is because I'd already been sitting so much during the trip. As in, twelve hours crammed in the back seat of our tiny Volt this past weekend going to and from Michigan, three hours on the flight to Arizona, five hours on the return flight from L.A., all of the time in the car getting to and from airports, and so on. The last thing I wanted to do was sit after we got home. I even chose to do hours and hours of laundry over booting up my laptop, if that tells you something.

3) Since we returned, I've been in a complete and total funk. Hence the title of this post. Now, this kind of post-vacation depression almost always happens when I get back from a great trip. So I was expecting it to some degree. But this time it seems worse. Perhaps it was because we were at The Happiest Place on Earth™, so being back in the dismal not-really-spring-yet Chicago weather was an ever bigger letdown then it would've been coming back from anywhere else.

Sing it, brahMaybe it's because we had such an extraordinary time. Maybe it's because real life was pretty much on hold while we were away. Maybe it's because I had the first true, honest-to-god-no-work-AT-ALL vacation since 2008 and I really, really needed it. Maybe it's because when I got back, I could no longer ignore a few major professional and personal situations that have me really bummed out and in denial. Maybe it's because even though there are many things we're doing over the next few months that I'm excited about, we don't have any other vacations planned. (Remember how I always need something big to look forward to?)

So what did I do? We got back late Wednesday night, and on Thursday I had the aforementioned Day Of Laundry. I went through mail, cleaned our place, and did everything I could to avoid opening my laptop. I had every intention to get back to work on Friday.

But then Friday morning hit, and I still couldn't bring myself to accept reality. By this point I did have to do some client work, but in my head I guess I felt like if I didn't go back to my usual routine of doing a personal blog post in the morning then I wasn't really back back. Plus, I had to get things ready to leave again on Saturday morning, I wanted to go to the gym, we didn't have any food at home so I took that as an opportunity to go out to eat, et cetera, et cetera. I would totally be rarin' to go again on Monday. For sure. Because, I mean, it would be Monday and that's a perfect day to start fresh again.

I mean come on. THE BEST!So we went to Michigan and back over the weekend, and then on Sunday night in my head I was like, "OK, I'm going to watch The Walking Dead finale and then that will also represent the finale of these past few weeks of goofing off and then tomorrow I am totally going to get serious again."

Except that yesterday came and I was even more down in the dumps than before. I did a bunch of client work, but still couldn't bring myself to log in to Blogger. By the time it hit 3 p.m. I couldn't sit still anymore. It was halfway decent out, so I justified a long walk around my neighborhood.

I was about 30 minutes into that brisk walk when the tears started coming. Was it because I finally had to accept that play time was over? Was it me coming to terms with the crappy work and personal stuff that's going on? Was it the fact that "Run" by Collective Soul came on my Spotify mix? Who knows, but I decided I was just going to let myself have a pity party right there in the middle of Lincoln Park and be done with it. I turned down a residential side street and had a good cry and felt a million times better.

Yup.Right or wrong, I am the kind of person who doesn't have much patience for anyone who's acting all "poor me" when they don't have something serious to be down about. I am especially hard on myself whenever I feel blue because I know I have a great life and so many things to be thankful for. I mean, being sad that you're back from Disneyland is like THE number one #FirstWorldProblem, am I right? (There truly is more to it than that, but you get my point.)

But a wise friend told me yesterday that I was human, I am being faced with real challenges (the work and personal ones I alluded to, not the post-Disneyland-blues, obviously) and that I was allowed to feel the way I was feeling. And that helped. So did the cry during my walk. So did watching Better Call Saul last night. So is the promise of seeing something mega-silly like Furious 7 tonight. The dreary weather today is NOT helping (hence the SAD lamp is cranking as I write this), but warmer temperatures are ahead, and so is a brighter outlook on my part. "Pity, Party of One" has had its time, but now I need to smack myself upside the head and start acting like an adult again.

And what could be MORE adult than this: actually looking forward to spending the majority of the day tomorrow pulling together everything needed to complete our 2014 taxes. Yes, I am one of those dorks who enjoys tax season. It's no Disneyland, but it'll have to do.

- e

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Good Day Sunshine

Around 3:15 today I realized something with a shock: I had completely forgotten about posting today.

At that point in time I was heading back home from a 2-hour-long, 10,000+ step (thanks, FitBit) walk along Lake Michigan, which is one of my favorite things in the world to do.

Yesterday was the first time in 2015 that I ventured out for a walk rather than hiding from the cold in the gym. But today was even warmer ("warm" in Chicago = 45 degrees) and sunnier and I'd gotten all of my client work done so I decided to go for a really, really long hike.

Around this time of the year, it's more of an adventure than anything. I have to wear my ugly brown waterproof New Balances, I need to make peace with the fact that my pants will have lines of mud splayed up the back by the time I get home, I need to jump over huge puddles, constantly keep my eyes peeled for mounds of goose poop, and leap from boulder to boulder when I'm on some more precarious parts of the mostly-still-snowed-over path closest to the water.

But I have a ton of fun. Today I went down to the beachfront, which does not look like beachfront. I actually don't know what this looks like.

Not bathing suit ready just yet.

Cracked, dry desert? Tundra? Rotting sand dunes? Small mountains? Modern art?

I nearly killed myself climbing up the tallest hill to get this shot and I'm not sure the effort was worth it. But the walk was. And I still got my post done!

- e

Monday, March 09, 2015

What is Your "Claim to Fame"?

Do you have something that you consider to be your "claim to fame"? Longtime readers of this blog might remember that back in 2008 I wrote about how up until that point, I'd never eaten a taco. I was wondering if a thing I had while on vacation in Mexico finally qualified. (The consensus was that it did.)

I still use the "Madonna went to my high school" tidbit referenced in that same post whenever I'm in a situation that requires an "interesting fact about you." But my other go-to statement that tends to shock people is that I've never had coffee. As in, I've never even tried it. Not one sip. This seems to blow a lot of people's minds. Apparently even those who don't consider themselves to be coffee drinkers have at least tried the stuff at some point.

But not me. Not even coffee-flavored ice cream. Not even one of those fancy drinks at Starbucks that has a ton of other stuff in it along with a tiny bit of coffee. NO COFFEE.

There's no reason for this except that I think even the smell of coffee is gross. I know there are people who can't get up in the morning unless they smell a freshly brewed pot of joe wafting through their house. That's something I don't understand.

Know anyone like this?I'm a tea girl, but even with that I'm not too extreme. I have one big mug of Earl Grey each morning and that's it. I'm not too happy if something causes me to have to skip that mug, but I don't transform into a terrible beast in search of caffeine, either.

My husband actually drinks neither. He'll have a bowl of cereal in the morning or a banana or something, but no caffeine. (He will drink coffee or an espresso at restaurants every now and then, though, so he can't steal my no-coffee-ever-whatsoever thunder.)

I'm curious to see if anyone else has one of these claims to fame that they're oddly proud of—something that seems to truly surprise people?

- e

Friday, March 06, 2015

The Problem with Reminders

Of course I picked a fox graphic
Last month I wrote about the four methods I use to help me remember stuff. But I didn't mention the ridiculous lengths I go to in order to remind my husband to do one simple thing almost every single day.

Here's the situation: We bought the three condos in our building with the intention of one day converting them into a single home. But right now, and for the next few years at least, we have these three separate condo units with separate kitchens, separate entrances, and separate electric and gas bills.

My husband goes to our top floor pretty much every night to work on his music. When he's not up there, we want to keep the thermostat waaay down—warm enough so that the pipes won't freeze, but low enough so that our heating bills don't bankrupt us. We do the same thing for our second level, which is where I work during business hours on the weekdays. Each morning I crank up the heat, and each day when I'm done I turn it back to 55. This practice is second nature to me now. I don't even have to think about it. I never forget to do it.

If not, turn around, climb back up 3 flights and DO ITUnfortunately my husband hasn't made the "turning down of the heat" a routine yet. When we were hitting a total of $700 per month in gas bills across the three units, I totally spazzed out at him and found many creative ways to yell, "WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO TO GET YOU TO REMEMBER TO TURN DOWN THE HEAT?!?!"

But nothing I did worked. I'd go up to the third floor before I'd start my day and dammit if it wasn't warm and toasty up there, meaning that the furnace had been cranking nonstop throughout the night for absolutely no reason.

So then I started putting signs at his eye level on both the door our of the third-floor condo and the door at the end of our stairwell, thinking that would HAVE to work because he'd pass both on his way back downstairs. And it did for about a week. But then even those reminders failed and I'd find the thermostat at 70 in the morning.

I would email him before I knew he was coming down. I would call him. I would text him. Nothing was able to drive it into his head permanently.

My latest tactic is that I've taped a sign right onto the handle of the door he'll go out of so that it's really in his way. But honestly I still don't have faith that this is a permanent solution.

FOR THE LOVE OF GODAnd then today I realized that he's become dependent on all of the nightly reminders I would text and email him to the point that he's ignoring the signs I've hung. He's not even consciously registering them. This notion hit me because I saw some article online about how "spring forward" is this weekend, and I had to laugh because I NEVER remember when the spring forward/fall back dates are on my own because for whatever reason, my mom still emails me reminders about turning our clocks to the right time on the day we're supposed to do this. If my mom stopped reminding me, I would be lost. I've become dependent on those messages twice a year.

So now I really don't know what to do to get my husband to internalize this heating-bill issue. If you're wondering why the aforementioned $700 wasn't enough, it's because I'm the one who actually pays our bills and manages the finances, so it's not front and center in his life. He's not "going without" because of that extra expense. He definitely does realize this is a huge problem and that it's solely his fault, yet he's just not putting those thoughts into repeatable actions every night.

Will publicly shaming him on the Internet like this do the trick? Stay tuned for next month's bill totals to find out! And does anyone else out there have an issue like this? Misery loves company...

- e

Thursday, March 05, 2015

When Momentum Turns Against You

It's either for you or against you
So the last time I wrote a real post here was February 12. (The two more recent film reviews are copies of what I post on Redblog.)

I'd been doing so well. What happened?

I'll tell you what happened: momentum got the best of me. As you may remember, I had guests here for Walker Stalker Con for a week at the end of February. My Scottish friend Paul was set to arrive first on February 18 and would be leaving February 24. In between those two dates I'd also have Jo, her partner Lisa and my parents here. I needed to not only have two floors of our place clean that I normally never clean (truth), but I also wanted to get all of my client work done in advance so that I could fully enjoy the time with my friends and not be stressing about deadlines or to-do's that didn't get done.

So I went dark in the days leading up to Paul's arrival, and had already told myself that it was fine to take a week off from this blog for the reason mentioned above.

The good news is this: Paul, Jo, Lisa and I had the best time ever. I'll dedicate one or two posts to their visit in the future so you can be jealous. But the bad news is that after everyone left and it was back to "real life," I couldn't motivate myself to write. At first the excuse was that I had so much to catch up on from the prior week. Then it was that I "deserved" a few days to mourn the fact that my awesome staycation was over and I had to face the freezing Chicago winter (and work) again. Then it was... well, then I didn't have a reason. I simply had fallen out of my morning writing routine and kept telling myself that it was OK to put off new posts because what would a few more days matter?

That pretty much sums it up.Along with not writing, I was also not going to the gym and not eating healthfully. I used the same "what's a few more days?" excuse—we'd all pigged out at top-notch restaurants around the city for a week... what harm would there be in continuing to overindulge for just a little while longer?

The harm is that I now feel totally disgusting, have gained 2 pounds and my face totally broke out from the shock of consuming almost no sugar or alcohol for months to ingesting dizzying amounts of sugar and lots of booze for the past few weeks.

Now I understand that the momentum (and pride and happiness) that had helped me sustain a month-long writing streak was a fragile thing. My past routine of writing a blog post early in the day had not formed into a hard-to-break habit yet, and so the momentum of not writing easily took over.

I suppose if keeping this blog alive wasn't really that important to me, the negative momentum would've been permanent. But I've truly enjoyed getting back to this type of personal expression. I think it's improved the work I do for clients, forced me to be more productive throughout the rest of the day, and has reconnected me with friends who share some of the weird traits, worries, obsessions and thoughts I post about.

It's soooooo easy to fall off of the wagon when it comes to goals I've set for myself that aren't easy to achieve. But the worst thing I could do is let my writing lapse "win," or let my new crappy-food-every-day habit continue. I'm not saying there will never be another good reason to take a short blogging break, but I think I'll be able to keep the satisfaction I feel from publishing something every day in the forefront of my mind just enough so that I'll resume my old schedule when that break is over.

And with that, I need to get to the gym to work off ALL THE CHOCOLATE.

- e

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Movie Review: Focus

Is she about to pickpocket him? FOCUS, Will, focus!

Will Smith reminds us why we liked him in the first place. (We never forgot why we like Margot Robbie.)

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

In Focus, Will Smith plays Nicky, a confident, smooth-talking con man who runs an organization of professional pickpockets and scammers. Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street) plays Jess, a woman who leverages her looks to make cash through petty crimes and wants in on Nicky's next big scheme. There's an instant attraction between the two (who meet at a bar where she's relieving a drunk fool of his wallet), but because of the nature of the biz they're in, you can never be sure if they're playing each other, if they're being real with each other, or if there's a really, really long con afoot.

After Jess first pleads with Nicky to take her under his wing, he instead takes her out into the snow and gives her a lesson in focus (ahem), set to a jazzy, new-age instrumental that would've been more appropriate if they were in a W hotel lobby. That mood music was as out of place as a darker scene was near the end of the film. But in the middle of those two moments was a whole lot of fun and a bunch of pretty things to look at.

This is one of those movies where you'll catch yourself rooting for the "bad" guy—fast-paced pickpocketing sequences had me smiling ear to ear, amazed at how Nicky's team could lift countless wallets and watches while weaving through clueless crowds in New Orleans. Then about two seconds later I was like, "Wait, that's awful." And ever since I've been constantly touching my coat pockets and shifting my purse around when I'm walking outside because I'm convinced I'll be ripped off at any minute. So thanks for that, Will. Or I guess really I should be thank-scolding writer-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who clearly know a little something about charming bad boys (see Crazy, Stupid, Love).

Anyway, Jess proves herself by being able to up the stakes and improvise on the spot during the pickpocketing spree. The team pulls in $1.2 million for their efforts, and that's when we learn Nicky might not be the best person to trust with all of that cash.

To con or not to con?Eventually, Nicky gets an opportunity to make so many millions that he'll be set for life. The only problem is that Jess may or may not be on the other side of the scam, which involves Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro), a hotshot race car driver, and his right-hand crony Owens (Gerald McRaney, doing his best "Mike from Breaking Bad" impression).

There was so much glamour, so many expensive suits, so many expensive shades, so many cool cons and so much fun trash talk between Nicky, Jess and their crew throughout most of the film that it felt good to have the old Will Smith back. (Was the "take a knee" line Nicky uttered a jokey reference to the terrible After Earth, by the way? I don't even care, I'm telling myself it was.) But then Ficarra and Requa had to go and screw it up with a lame attempt at one last twist that reached too far and fell totally flat.

I'm still glad that Focus helped remind me why I liked Smith in the first place—I've been a fan since the Fresh Prince days and even saw him in concert. The film's a weird mix of heist flick and romantic dramedy, but it mostly works thanks to Smith and Robbie's looks (let's be honest) and performances. Just be forewarned that you're going to be conned out of a decent ending.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Movie Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

This movie is going to make ten bazillion dollars.
It'll leave fans wanting more—and everyone else wondering what all the fuss is about.
- - - - - - - - - -
It was February 2012. I had seven weeks off after my son was born, and everything people had told me about not getting any sleep or not having any extra time when you're at home with a newborn wasn't turning out to be true. I had several hours free each day while he napped. I asked a friend what I should read during that downtime.

"Have you heard about Fifty Shades of Grey?" she asked. I hadn't. "Well, they're calling it 'mommy porn,' but everyone I know is reading it." Hmm.

I finished the entire Fifty Shades trilogy shortly thereafter in just a few sittings. Early on I was unnerved by the similarities to Twilight... until I learned how E.L. James' story was originally some sort of Twilight fanfic... and then it all made sense. James is a horrendous writer, butlike Stephenie Meyer before hershe's at least an intriguing storyteller. I was curious enough to learn what would become of kinky billionaire Christian Grey and his air-head "girlfriend" Anastasia Steele that I saw the trilogy through despite my shame at reading something that was so awfully written. Less than a month later, the book visited me again via the cover of the Entertainment Weekly that arrived on my doorstep. A movie was in the works.

And now, three years later, that movie has arrived. I can't say I liked the novels, but I have friends who could be classified as super-rabid-crazy-obsessed fans. For their sake, I was hoping that director Sam Taylor-Johnson (Nowhere Boy) did Christian and Ana (and their, um, unusual relationship) justice. And I believe that she did.
Make of this what you will.
Actually, it was likely a combination of Taylor-Johnson and screenwriter Kelly Marcel (Saving Mr. Banks) that saved the film from becoming a complete laughingstock. While they chose to keep in the majority of fan-favorite quotes and scenes from the book, gone are the absolute worst, most grating, and most disturbing parts. Which means film-only audiences will never know of the ultra-annoying "inner goddess" who dominates Anastasia's thoughts and is constantly, constantly yapping. Only once will they be subjected to a silly exclamation from Ana that starts with "Holy." They will see a very watered-down version of Christian the Mentally Abusive Control Freak; he comes off as a stalker in his pursuit of Ana, sure—but she's much more empowered in the adaptation.

However, the problem with taking out such big parts of the book is that you've got to replace them with something or there's just not much left to fill two hours. That's the biggest issue with Fifty Shades of Grey: it's about a recent college grad falling for a troubled, rich-as-hell businessman five years her senior who wants her to sign a contract to become his "submissive" in a BDSM relationship. The contract becomes the focus of the plot, which makes zero sense because 1) despite Christian (Jamie Dornan) claiming he "doesn't do romance," he makes almost all grand gestures associated with courtship, and 2) they sleep together, both in and out of his "playroom" without Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) ever signing the contract. What?!?

Knowing what happens in the next two novels, I'm surprised Johnson and Marcel didn't decide to tease a bit more of the trilogy's larger mysteries. Because honestly the whole contract thing became totally pointless.

I kinda wish they would've just let him BE Irish
So it came down to whether or not the leads could carry the film despite the weak plot. I just finished a two-season binge of The Fall, the Netflix series in which Dornan plays a serial killer. (It will 100% give you nightmares, but it's fantastic.) Because of that series, there was no doubt in my mind that Dornan is an incredible actor. In fact, some might argue that his character in The Fall has many things in common with Christian Grey. However, in Fifty Shades, his performance took a backseat to Johnson's. Perhaps that was intentional. Perhaps he was just supposed to show up and look good. Perhaps there didn't need to be any more to his character than the fact that he was a brooding billionaire with a kinky side. Lord knows the majority of female characters these days are one-note. If there was anything that made it tough for me to buy him as Christian, it was how he seemed to be struggling to contain his Irish accent.

As for Dakota Johnson, I knew nothing about her going into the film, except that she's Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson's daughter. I didn't see that in her looks, but man was it there when she opened her mouth. She's got her mom's same high, breathless voice. In an early scene where she first meets Christian, she trips and falls into his office and acts all doofus-embarrassed I was like, "Oh sweet jesus this is going to be awful." But she won me over not too long after that during a scene where Ana drunk-dials Christian from a bar. It was genuinely funny, and the fact that she was able to maintain a tricky balance of naivety, lightness and "I may be young but I wasn't born yesterday" tough-headed-nessespecially in a surprisingly humorous "negotiation" sequence where Ana strikes certain sexual acts from the aforementioned ridiculous contractmade the film's darker ending more powerful. And though the chemistry between Johnson and Dornan doesn't equal that of, say, a "Robsten" (who were dating in real life, remember), it is there.
Laters, baby.
Are you being like I was when I read the first book and wondering, "Where's all the sex?" Rest assured that there are sex scenes, and quite a few of them, but something tells me that the series' fans are going to be left disappointed on this front. Tune in to Game of Thrones any given Sunday and you'll find more freakiness that you're going to get between the film versions of Christian and Ana.

I was prepared to be just as embarrassed to admit I enjoyed Fifty Shades of Grey the movie as I was to admit I'd read the Fifty Shades trilogy. But the truth is that it's just not the horrible B-movie we were all expecting it to be. It's heavy on escapism, lighter-than-expected on sex and pretty much non-existent in plot, but I had fun watching it. And that's more than I can say about the majority of plot-challenged, testosterone-fueled, badly acted shoot-'em-up movies I've seen over the years. If this is what's meant by a "girls' night out" movie, I say bring it on.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Another Home Project I Should've Done Years Ago

We have two fairly low front windows that I've always liked because they're the perfect height for both Desmond and our dog to be able to entertain themselves by watching the action on our busy street. 

The problem is that our dog is, um, a little over-anxious when we leave sometimes. He jumps up on our window sill with his two front paws and barks like a madman at both us ("Come back!") and anyone else he sees ("Stay away!"). This destroyed the paint on our sill, and a year or so ago I stupidly thought that if we just sanded down and repainted the area and then always remembered to leave our blinds down when we left, we would be able to keep the sill nice-looking.

Our longtime handyman tried to warn us against this. But we didn't listen. So we got the sill repainted and then within about three days the paint was getting scratched by our dog. Then Des would roll all of his toy cars and trucks over those scratches and they'd break open and the paint would start flaking off. I kicked myself.

Here's a picture I took a few weeks ago. It got significantly worse after that.


So finally I determined that I needed to just follow our handyman's advice and have them install a wooden plank over the sill. We finally had it done today.

Bring on the dog nails and monster truck toys

Just like the sprucing up of my home office, this is another project I should've done years ago! Ah, well. Better late than never, I guess.

- e