Sunday, November 06, 2016

My Trump Confession

Hello my dear friends -

Before this hideous election that we all want to be over is actually over, there are some things I feel compelled to clear up with people who have known me since I was young.

I waited so long to publish this because 1) it took me forever to write, 2) it's extremely personal and in parts very embarrassing and I went back and forth about it and had to clear some content with a few other people, and 3) since we're only two days before the election, I'm not trying to change anyone's vote (most people I know (on all sides of the political spectrum) have already voted anyway), but rather just have peace of mind by publicly stating where I stand—and more importantly, why.

This post is LONG, and so I have condensed the first few sections into an "executive summary" of sorts, with all of the supporting sections down below (beginning with the heading THE EXTENDED VERSION: BABIES, GUNS AND POOP).

I don't expect anyone at all to read this entire thing, I just had to do it for myself. (Plus, anyone who used to read my LOST blog knows I've never exactly been short on words.)


So here we go. Here's what I wanted to get out in the open: the cold hard truth is that Donald Trump has played a huge role in determining the direction of my career, and therefore my life. It began, I believe, with my first visit to New York in 1986. My aunt lived in Manhattan, and we visited her during the Statue of Liberty's Bicentennial Celebration in 1986, as pictured below.

I was going to make a crack about '80s fashion but the image of the twin towers made me put things in perspective.

I loved everything about New York City. And at some point during that trip, we must have gone into or past Trump Tower, and then I'm sure either my aunt or my parents told me about Donald Trump as a result.

The next year his best-selling book, The Art of the Deal,* was published, and I sought it out. I was 13 years old. (No one ever said I wasn't a nerd from the beginning.) So yeah, I was into Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, WWF Wrestling (yep, really) ... and Donald Trump. I was very proud of the fact I'd read his book and bragged about it all the time.

Because of Trump I joined business-related clubs in high school and got an undergraduate business degree from Michigan Business School (which is now called Ross). I was never into politics and I don't think I ever even heard the terms "conservative" or "liberal" back then. But now that I know what they mean, I understand that where I grew up in Michigan is fairly conservative and homogenous, whereas the University of Michigan and the town it's in (Ann Arbor) are very, very liberal and diverse.

But I did not really open myself up to new ways of thinking and new experiences while at Michigan. I'd say if anything I was privately intimidated and overwhelmed and retreated further into a more conservative mindset (again, not really being conscious of that label at the time). My freshman year this guy named Bill Clinton was running for president. I remember my roommate and I going to watch his speech. Bill had laryngitis or something, and while he did give a short speech (as pictured below), Hillary talked more (prescient). I don't remember having strong feelings either way, but I know that I did not vote for him.

Credit to By Carptrash at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Fast-forward seven years, and I was in the thick of the boom, traveling across the country and literally around the world (10 countries, 5 continents back to back) doing consumer research for an internet consulting gig. It was that project that took me back to New York, where I of course had to make my pilgrimage to Trump Tower. Yes, that is me bowing down to a poster of Donald Trump in 2000. I still loved him and considered him a role model.

I will now choose to focus on how skinny my arms were. Sigh.

Around this same time I applied to Harvard Business School and was accepted, just as the boom went bust. Getting an MBA was always part of my "life plan" because of Trump. But just now—as in, five minutes ago while writing this post and researching things to make sure I'm accurate—I learned that Trump does not actually have an MBA?!?! My whole life is a LIE!!!!!

No, I kid. I will never regret my degrees, although I needed tens of thousands of dollars in student loans. (And despite this, I do not think college should be free. Sorry, Bernie bros.) But back to Trump: he was in the undergraduate business program at Wharton (similar to what I was in at Michigan) after transferring there as a junior from Fordham. He concentrated in real estate. I had always just assumed he had an MBA because that's what the Wharton school is best known for and he doesn't make it very clear when he brings it up (which is a lot). And so there's the first mention of what will soon become the overriding theme of this post: I have made assumptions and been wrong about a hell of a lot of things in my life.

I graduated from business school, got married and moved back to Chicago in the last half of 2003. A few months later, a call came from my dad that I still remember to this day. "Have you heard of this show with Donald Trump in it? You really need to watch it."

If we only knew then...

Ah yes, the first season of The Apprentice began in January 2004. I was looking for a reason to get together with some of my MBA classmates who were also in Chicago, and I'd found it. I began hosting weekly Apprentice viewings at my place. We had a blast. It was the perfect show for recent business-school graduates to geek out over. But when the first season ended, we were at a loss. Now what? Hmm, there was a show called LOST that was starting up in September. We kept our weekly get-togethers and switched to watching LOST... and I think you already know the rest of that story.

That same year in October, Trump visited Chicago to break ground on what would become the Trump International Hotel and Tower, which Bill Rancic (winner of The Apprentice Season 1) was supposed to oversee. So of course I went. I got to see Donald in the flesh! I remember taking some awesome pictures of his hair flying in the wind, but I can't find them. This was before digital cameras or smart phones, people!

A few days after Trump's Chicago visit, my husband and I went as Donald and his ever-patient Apprentice associate Carolyn for Halloween.

My friends and I watched Season 2 of The Apprentice ... and then I actually tried out for Season 3.

Bill seems to have wisely stayed out of the election fray.

I stood in line for about 9 hours outside of the NBC building in Chicago—there I am with some of my linemates and Bill Rancic, who came to greet wannabe contestants. I brought the picture of me bowing down to the Trump poster along with my application. When we actually got into the tryout room, the question we had to debate as a small group was whether or not someone who's applying for a job should let the employer know if they're pregnant. It was clear they were looking for people who would say controversial things; those were the ones who moved on. I was not one of those people. (And of course now we all know that Trump has publicly said that pregnancy is "wonderful... but an inconvenience for a business.")

I grew weary of The Apprentice after Season 3 and was done with it. I was initially interested in The Celebrity Apprentice, but never actually ended up watching it. I had other things keeping me busy by that time (around 2008).

So now that you have all of that background, there are a few last things I want to mention before I get into some very personal stories that explain why I now feel the way I do about certain topics that are relevant to this week's election.
  • I get disturbed when I sense that people are treating politics like sports. Our elected officials WORK FOR US and are supposed to represent us to the rest of the nation and the world at large. This is not like, say, remaining a Cubs fan for decades out of some sort of loyalty and hope that they may one day win the World Series. (YESSSSSSSS.) If your party or candidate has drifted away from your stance on issues or has promoted someone up through the ranks that you don't think is qualified for the responsibility of their office, you shouldn't vote for them. End of story. Period. For that reason I do not understand party loyalty, and for that same reason I have actually voted for independent/third-party candidates in two past presidential elections. I voted for the person I thought would do the best job handling the issues I care about.
  • Which leads to the fact that no politician exists who has ever represented how I feel about ALL issues. So it comes down to prioritizing what I care about most, and keeping in mind what the president's role is (vs. members of Congress, the Senate, and other state and local representatives). 
  • If there is one label I would be OK with for myself, it's "realist." Reality is what I always try to come back to. What is actually happening, what is fact (versus ALL of the rumors and opinions out there), what I know to be true from my own experiences and the experiences of those I love, and what things are beyond the control of any of our politicians (such as the global economy, which affects our economy). 


You can imagine the calls I got when Trump became the leading voice in the whole "birther" movement. I truly could not believe his blatant racism, and man oh man did I hear it from a lot of people who knew how much I used to worship him. But make no mistake, from the very second he started loudly and publicly questioning where Obama was born, I was done with Trump. 

What I can't figure out is why everyone else isn't.
    Methinks Trump would fit in well in Westeros.As I mentioned in the section above, I don't align with any political party and I've voted for independent presidential candidates twice before. So I guess maybe in a way I kinda sorta understand why lifelong Republicans are struggling with what they see as a hard choice between "the lesser of two evils." But through the life experiences I've had that are intimately detailed below, I've met people who have faced truly hard choices. Maybe that's why, to me, I get frustrated when I hear people lamenting how difficult it is to cast their vote. For me, this election is about as easy as it could get, and infinitely easier for me than past elections.

    In the end, despite all of the things I share below that have shaped my life and matter deeply to me, it still comes down to this: I have spent time in 40 countries across all 7 continents and therefore have no doubt that America, by comparison, is already great. Trump keeps saying that "he alone" can save us, which is about the scariest thing I could imagine, judging by how he's run so many of his ventures into the ground and cheated employees and business partners over the past several decades. (Not to mention the fact that he cannot string an intelligent sentence together on his own and acts like an angry teenager on Twitter. TWITTER. So embarrassing.) 

    I paused for two minutes when a conservative friend made the whole "Supreme Court argument," until I remembered that we had a conservative Court for decades already and, um, conservatives don't seem so happy about some of their rulings. (Everyone is aware that Roe vs. Wade, for example, went through because of 5 Republican and 2 Democrat-appointed judges and one of the only two dissenters was a Democrat-appointed justice, right? This Christian journalist recaps it for us.)

    My neighborhoodI am optimistic about the future of this country because I personally know insanely smart people doing amazing things across all major industries. They're not the kind of stories that are covered on cable news shows, though, unfortunately. 

    I have lived in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country for 20 years and would never for a second support someone who has offended and clearly thinks less of pretty much every single person I know and love, including my friends of all different ethnicities, my LGBT friends, my friends in the military, and the disabled. Oh, and all women (except those he's related to).

    On Trump's sexism, I think focusing on accusations and pending lawsuits isn't the way to go. Both the Clinton and Trump camps are very hypocritical when it comes to the respective allegations against them. Instead I choose to judge him by what he has publicly said about women for the past four decades.

    These two things are related.I have business degrees from two of the best schools in the world (Michigan and Harvard) and understand now that Trump is an awful and unethical businessman who is undoubtedly worth nowhere near what he claims to be, or else he would release his tax records like every other presidential candidate in the past. His tax records would also show any business partners he has (something else he seems to want to hide) and how charitable he is NOT. The fact that no one seems to be pressing him about his taxes is proof that his brilliant strategy of carpet-bombing us all with insane antic after insane antic has worked. There's so much crazy surrounding him that it's overwhelming; focusing on any one thing he's said or done seems insignificant against the sheer number of warning signs that he's not fit to be president.

    I also keep thinking about how my son is four, and in Pre-K he's being taught to respect others, listen to others, admit when he's wrong and say sorry, explore the joy of reading and learning new things, and celebrate the diversity of his class—boys and girls of all ethnicities and religions who consider themselves a family. My heart hurts when I think about what we'd be saying to not only kids, but also ourselves, if we elect someone to the highest position in the land who embodies the polar opposite of all of those lessons.

    It feels good to get all of this out.

    Here's my message to Trump now:

    Thanks for reading.

    - e

    * We know now that Trump did not actually write The Art of the Deal. His ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz, recently gave an extraordinarily enlightening interview about what he observed during the 18 months he spent by Trump's side in order to write the book. You should read it.


    What, you want more? Happy to oblige.


    In the following sections I will tell you about a few other things I was drastically wrong about and am not proud of, because why stop now? They're all related to the election and Trump.

    BABIES (This one's the longest because I am the most fired up about it.)

    My husband and I tried everything under the sun to have a child between 2007 and 2011, when I became pregnant with Desmond using IVF and an anonymous donor's egg. From 2013 to mid-2015 we went through more rounds of IVF unsuccessfully and then began the adoption process to finally bring our Summer home.

    During that entire time—7.5 years in total—I was very open about our struggles, and as a result heard heartbreaking stories from countless other women and men who had endured similar situations.

    I had multiple miscarriages both before and after we saw a heartbeat. Because I was so high-risk, each time I did get pregnant my doctor would perform an ultrasound every single week, sometimes twice within a week. (For comparison: during a normal pregnancy, women get two to three ultrasounds TOTAL over 40 weeks.) When you try that desperately and that long to have a child, it is hard to imagine how someone who's pregnant could not want a baby.

    I made many judgments and had many ideas stuck in my head about women who have gotten abortions. But after being schooled on every angle of reproductive rights and procedures and adoption and abortion, I now realize how ignorant my earlier biases were. Some people assume that because I've adopted that I MUST be pro-life. But what I know now is that term is just pure marketing fluff (coming from someone with two degrees in marketing). It is a fallacy. The pro-life/pro-choice debate is one of the most unfortunate and misguided battles of all time.

    What SHOULD it mean to be "pro-life"? I was all worked up to write about this... and then I saw that someone already did. Someone who's not very similar to me, background-wise—hard-core Christian, masters degree in Special Education with a specialty in Autism and Learning Disabilities, six kids (four adopted and of different races)—somehow still encapsulated all of the things I wanted to say in this (long but incredibly thorough and inspiring) post. This woman has done her homework.

    There are two things I'll add from my own experience:
    1) After about thirty hours of adoption training and two years of meeting directly with adoption counselors and adoption lawmakers who've seen everything, I have learned more than I ever wanted to know about a whole other world right here in America that I never knew existed. A world where people are born into abuse, rape, neglect, addiction, hopelessness, and a cruel cycle of poverty. The multiple birth mothers (and birth fathers) we met during our adoption process had absolutely tragic life stories. I know now that the reality is if some women are pregnant they'll be beaten, or lose their low-paying manual-labor jobs that their families depend on, or be kicked out of their house and become homeless. They will become desperate.

    2) I have two different lifelong friends and four other acquaintances who had to end very much wanted pregnancies after 20 weeks because their babies had developmental problems that would have caused them to die either in the womb or right after birth. Their gut-wrenching, life-changing and utterly heartbreaking stories are not my stories to tell. But their experiences are one of the main reasons I decided to write this post overall. After the third presidential debate, I witnessed several discussions on Facebook related to Trump's totally false claim about babies being "ripped out of the womb" at nine months. (Which, I hope you know, doesn't happen in the United States. Ever. This is one of hundreds of things Trump just made up and says for shock value.)

    The people I saw posting on Facebook about "who in the world would get an abortion after 20 weeks?" are people I know and they're good people. But because of what my friends went through with their pregnancy losses, I truly wanted to jump through my laptop screen and choke those commenters. About 10 seconds later, I did a 180 and felt a really weird sense of happiness. And it's because I realized that if they had no clue about why someone would end a pregnancy after 20 weeks, it meant that they themselves nor anyone they're close to has ever had to experience that awful situation.

    My goal here is not to educate anyone (but if you'd like to learn a little more, I love and recommend Dr. Jen Gunter's work) but rather challenge people to consider that they may not know everything. Just like I didn't. Hardly anyone (as in, .3% of all abortions) ends a pregnancy after 20 weeks because they no longer want the baby. Something has gone drastically wrong.

    My own experiences and the experiences of my friends made me certain of one thing: no politician should be determining what a woman does with her body. Nothing enrages me more than hearing another story about some old ignorant dude trying to pass laws that hurt women's reproductive rights, especially when it seems like the majority of these politicians can't even answer basic questions about women's menstrual cycles, conception, how birth control works or pregnancy.

    Which brings me to Mike Pence, who in many ways scares me even more than Trump. However, if you haven't done your research on him, this might surprise you. He comes off well in speeches and seems sane and mild-mannered. But if he had his way, I honestly don't think either of my children would exist. Plus, you know, there's the fact that he's gone on record to state that smoking does not kill people (please tell that to my two grandparents who died of lung cancer and emphysema), does not believe in climate change (please explain that to the researchers I spent time with in Antarctica), and infamously signed and defended Indiana's LGBT discrimination law under the guise of religious freedom. I mean seriously, this guy is the worst. And Trump picked him precisely for that reason—he wanted the most extreme running mate possible to play to his base.

    So what did I mean about neither of my kids existing if Pence had his way?

    With Desmond, I'm talking about Pence co-sponsoring the Personhood bill (H.R. 374, "Life at Conception Act"), which would give a microscopic fertilized egg full protection as a human being. Such a law would signal the beginning of the end of reproductive rights. Fertility procedures such as IVF would likely be banned. Our Desmond (and 5 million other IVF babies around the world, many of whom I'm sure you know) would not be here. (It didn't pass.)

    With Summer, I'm talking about Pence's relentless crusade to defund Planned Parenthood because 3% of its offerings cover reproductive services, including abortion. Pence didn't care about the other 97%. I urge you to read this Chicago Tribune article about what has since happened in Indiana thanks to Pence. I saw this tragedy with my own eyes last year (we adopted Summer from Indiana). If Pence had succeeded in defunding Planned Parenthood when he originally wanted to, I don't think Summer would be here because I don't think her birth mother would've been alive to have had her.

    I wish no one ever had to have an abortion. I wish all children who are born would be loved and cared for and given what they need to reach their full potential. But right now that is not reality.

    It is very, very easy for some people to throw Bible verses around when it comes to heated and emotional issues like this. But if you truly consider yourself pro-life in this way (same link as earlier) and you want to actually do something to help, donate time or money to organizations that assist low-income women. Financial instability is a top reason for both abortion and placing a child for adoption.

    Or you could look into adopting, fostering or mentoring one of the 415,000+ foster children currently awaiting placement in the United States.

    One last word for anyone reading this who considers him or herself to be religious and has seen posts about how all of Trump's horrible, completely un-Christian behavior should be overlooked because the Supreme Court is at stake and there's a chance to overturn Roe vs. Wade: as I mentioned waaaay back near the beginning of this post, you do know that the Supreme Court justices that decided Roe vs. Wade in the first place were conservative, right? This Christian journalist recaps it for us.

    P.S. I can't believe it is 2016 and this is still a major campaign issue. Smaller government could start with getting out of people's bedrooms and doctor's offices.


    Felt like a picture was needed to lighten the mood!
    I have a bad habit of reading over people's shoulders when I'm taking public transportation. One time I did this and caught snippets of some really graphic medical-procedure description a doctor was reading and I started feeling woozy, had to run off of the Boston T and then promptly passed out on the disgusting ground of the station platform. (A woman and her young son heading to school stayed with me until I came to and then gave me his juice box.)

    A similar scenario came close to unfolding another time. I was on the bus in Chicago and was reading a magazine article over someone's shoulder. It was about how parents of shooting victims had to identify their kids' remains by dental records. I ran off the bus and put my head between my knees and felt sick the rest of the night. The image that was conjured up in my head by that article still haunts me.

    That happened in 1999. It was a cover story about the Columbine shooting.

    Right after that tragedy, I took my work trip to 10 countries around the world for the consulting project that I mentioned earlier. I was asked the exact same question by clients at every stop: "Why do Americans love guns so much?"

    It is 16.5 years later and I still don't know the answer, and things have of course only gotten far worse. In 1996, 16 children were killed by a gunman in Scotland. The very next year the UK enacted drastically tougher gun laws. A few weeks after the Scotland massacre, a gunman killed 35 people and wounded 24 in Australia. TWELVE DAYS LATER the Australian government passed the National Firearms Agreement to tighten gun laws.



    Let that sink in. As a nation who claims to care about its children and "family values" and all of that, we are totally pathetic on the gun violence front.

    I was terrified of gun violence before I had kids. I became nearly paralyzed by fear after Sandy Hook, which happened when my son was 11 months old. One week when he was 3, his pre-k teacher sent her usual e-newsletter and I nearly vomited after reading that "the kiddies did a great job crawling on their bellies" during a lockdown drill. WHAT? At work, my husband was trained on what to do during an active shooter situation. Did your school prepare you for active gunmen scenarios when you were growing up? Did any of your employers offer training like this more than, say, ten years ago?

    We as a country have totally failed when it comes to gun safety and gun violence. It is a disgrace. And let me be clear: I am from a state where hunting is a big thing, many of my relatives hunt and have guns, and some of the country's biggest employers in my home state gave people the first day of hunting season off work as a holiday. (This is true.) I'm not against guns, but I am certainly not for keeping the status quo.

    Neither was Trump, at one point. In his 2000 book "The America We Deserve" (the one in the poster I was bowing to), he criticizes Republicans who "walk the NRA line and are against even limited restrictions." He wants to ban assault weapons and increase gun-purchase waiting times. You can read it yourself here.

    But then despite all of his big talk about being an outsider who can shake things up and someone who's just going to do what he wants and not be beholden to anyone or any organization, Trump joins forces with the NRA—one of the biggest and most powerful lobbying groups in the country—which has since endorsed him, given his campaign millions of dollars and is running ridiculous (and, again, totally untruthful) ads on his behalf across the nation talking about Hillary wanting to take everyone's guns away and leave people defenseless.

    That is the textbook definition of a flip-flopper, a hypocrite, and a sell-out. And let's remember that the exact same claims were made about Obama "taking guns away." Yet here we are eight years later with even more guns floating around, a quarter of a million more people dead and hundreds of thousands more injured, and not bit of national progress on gun safety.

    This team rocks.Shortly after Sandy Hook I went to my first meeting with a local chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, founded by President Reagan's White House Press Secretary and Assistant to the President (Jim Brady) and his wife Sarah (now both deceased). I was shocked to find that several people there were gun owners. But they were there for the same reasons I was: they were sick of nothing being done. They were not threatened by the group's efforts to expand background checks or close gun-show loopholes or target the small number of gun dealers who supply the majority of guns used in crimes. They were like, "Yeah, duh." They were looking for advice on how to talk to fellow gun owners and separate fact from all of the rumors out there about politicians wanting to "take away" their guns (which no one has actually ever said, ever). They were not fans of the NRA. But incredibly, the NRA was not even brought up by anyone at Brady. That's not their focus.

    I won't go on and on about this organization because you can read more about it yourself here. What I will say is that I have met and talked with all of its leadership team and have been thoroughly impressed. They have very clear, realistic goals and are succeeding in making positive changes, even if you don't hear about their efforts on the news.

    So after all of these horrible mass shootings that have taken place in just about every public place you can imagine (malls, schools, churches, movie theaters), after personally meeting the wife and sister of a policeman shot and killed in the line of duty, after learning about a friend's ex-co-worker who was shot and killed by a stalker, after knowing those who've lost siblings and children to gun suicides, and after consoling a close friend over the loss of her former co-worker and friend, a beautiful woman, who—along with her two-year-old son and six-year-old daughter—was shot and killed earlier this year by her husband after he went on pro-gun, anti-Obama, anti-Planned Parenthood, anti-ISIS and anti-immigration rants online, I have had enough.

    If Trump actually did what he said Republicans should do in his 2000 book and stood up to the NRA, I might've had a little bit of respect for him. But once again, he's just all talk.


    Admit it: you didn't read any of my heartfelt missive above and skipped straight here to the poop section, didn't you?

    That's fine. I get it. I won't disappoint.

    I am sharing this story with you to prove how easy it is for well-meaning and intelligent people to fall down the rabbit hole that is Information On The Internet.

    Several years back I had a health scare. I looked up information about it on the internet. I found tons of articles about a screening procedure that would predict if you were going to get this possibly deadly diagnosis that I was convinced I had. I found even more articles about changes you could make to your diet and supplements you could take that would help you reverse what was happening in your body to cause this condition.

    And so I spent over $600 on that screening test and probably $1000 more on getting my entire DNA report downloaded and meeting with a dietician who helped me interpret it and suggested a phased plan of how I should change my eating habits and what vitamins I should be taking.

    I did all of it. I completely changed my diet and was miserable. I peed on a stick multiple times per day to check certain levels in my urine. I bought hundreds of dollars in supplements. I paid for a critical $400 test she recommended that would analyze my bowel movements and tell me what else might be wrong with me and what I could do about it.

    I pooped in this.So yes. YES. I pooped into what looked like a french fry container, sealed it up as instructed, and sent it off to a lab across the country.

    The next day, the results came in from my other screening test, and they were bad. I was developing the condition but it probably wouldn't show up on any "western medicine" tests or scans for decades. I FREAKED OUT. I called my doctor within minutes of opening the test results. I got in to see her right away. She had never heard of what I was talking about but her good friend from med school was a specialist in my area of concern. She got me an appointment with her a few days later.

    Then I saw the specialist. She tried to explain why the screening test I did was not something she could consider valid or even worth looking at. How no clinical trials had been done on it; it wasn't proven. She tried to console me by telling me her own story of listening to an informercial on a rare condition while driving to work and then becoming convinced she had it.

    I pleaded with her that I was an educated person and had done my research. I dissolved into a sobbing mess. They had a counselor come take me to another room and try to talk me down. I was ashamed; I was in a place where people were getting really, really bad news. And here I was taking up this counselor's time about something a leading specialist wouldn't even acknowledge. But I didn't feel any better.

    The turning point came after I had driven myself and my husband crazy after another week or so of digging around on the internet. I still hadn't heard from the place I sent the poo into. I dug out my copy of the shipping label and typed the name of the lab into Google.

    The lab had recently been raided by the DEA for growing pot.

    I showed the article to my husband. He said, "I can just imagine a bunch of stoners sitting around when your sample came in and saying, 'Duuuudddeeeee, yesssss..... we got some more poop!'"

    I'm not spending any more of my life doing this.It was the first time I'd cracked a smile in a month. He was right. They probably used my sample as fertilizer for their weed.

    Then I found message boards with people complaining about the lab and how they'd been scammed into the tests and the supplements and the procedures. There were some heartbreaking stories on there from parents who had bought into it because their kids were sick. They'd gone bankrupt thinking that these "specialists" and labs and supplements would give them the hope that legitimate, trained, actual REAL doctors couldn't.

    And then I came across Dr. Jen Gunter's blog (I mentioned Gunter in the Babies section because of her articles attempting to dispel inaccuracies about late-term abortions). She's an OB in Canada, writes about a whole host of women's health issues, and is very active on Twitter. She had a post from years ago about the very screening procedure I'd done, and she explained why it was bogus. (Oh, and the place I had the screening procedure done closed up shop two months later.)

    I was equal parts enraged at myself, ashamed and relieved. I was always the FIRST person to tell people not to put any faith in forwarded emails (remember when that was a thing?) and not to believe what they read online. I did not take my own advice, and I learned an embarrassing lesson.

    And that's why I'm especially horrified by how many U.S. citizens seem to be both seeking out and basing their votes on completely made up information they find online or the opinions of political pundits and others that have a clear agenda. I know what it feels like to believe what you are reading is factual, especially when it's something you already think is true.

    How can you know what's real?
    • If you see it going around on Facebook, Twitter or another social media platform, it's probably fake. I almost included a Trump quote in this post that's been circulating heavily until I checked and found it wasn't something he ever said. Snopes and Politifact are my go-to sites when it comes to separating fact, rumor and fiction.
    • If you're primarily getting your information from cable news, you might want to take a breather. Stations like Fox News, MSNBC and CNN have notorious and obvious biases and it's easy to confuse pundits and "talking heads" with actual news anchors. Opinions are not facts.
    • If a site you're reading has charged political words or terms in its URL... that should be a clue.
    • If an article you're reading has no author, has information that you haven't heard anywhere else and is littered with ads, it's almost definitely NOT a trustworthy source.


    My firstborn's middle name is in honor of a (fictional) conspiracy theorist, so I understand the allure of rumors and speculation and going against the mainstream. If you just want to validate things you already think, well, I guess no one can stop you. But if you actually want to make informed decisions and not come off like a loon, take special care with what you believe (and what you post or pass on to others). And whatever you do, NEVER send your own poop through the mail!


    Half of the country is going to be disappointed after this election. I hope people are respectful to each other. I personally plan to take a break from social media.

    What I'll be doing instead is performing random acts of kindness all day Tuesday and Wednesday. Yes, it's cheesy, but who cares. It'll be needed.

    Happy voting!

    - e

    (I welcome polite and respectful comments. But I will be reviewing all of them first. I am going to be slammed with work all week so if I do not publish your comment or respond to it, rest assured that I'm not ignoring it. Please be patient.)


    Friday, July 22, 2016


    I hate it when a movie's title makes no sense, like this one.
    I saw Equals shortly after my best friend's family—and by extension my family—had suffered a horrible loss. So I think I was more affected by its message than I would've been otherwise. Director Drake Doremus (Like Crazy) retreads very, very familiar territory (think The Giver mixed with Romeo & Juliet) and doesn't have anything new to add to the conversation, and on top of that, the film's cop-out ending made me groan. But since Equals' story centers around the question of whether it's better to experience the highs and lows (but especially the lows) that come with being human versus feeling nothing at all, and since I would've done anything to stop my friend from feeling the pain she was going through at that time, I was captivated for 101 minutes, if nothing else.

    Silas (Nicholas Hoult) and Nia (Kristen Stewart) are part of "The Collective," our future society where human DNA has been manipulated in order to prevent emotions. Most of the population has been wiped out thanks to a world war, although there's talk of a group of people who live outside of The Collective and still have feelings. Silas, Nia and their robot-like counterparts at work are able to have discussions and whatnot, but their lives are pretty darn boring.

    Then one day Nicholas realizes that he's starting to have dreams and feel slivers of emotions—and he has reason to suspect Nia is as well. Oh no! This means they are both "infected" with Switched On Sydrome (SOS—GET IT?!?) and are going to be thrown in "the den" to be experimented on and will never be seen again.

    Let's just stare at each other... FOREVER
    It's obvious that despite the imminent danger they'd be in if they start acting on their emotions, Silas and Nia will soon fall for each other anyway and then have to work increasingly hard to keep their forbidden relationship a secret. This whole "star-crossed lovers" thing inspired cinematographer John Guleserian to give us lots and lots and LOTS of longing looks and glances and dreamy closeups of faces and lips and hands touching. (These are things Stewart is really good at from her Twilight experience, though, and I'm not even joking.) However, no matter how earnest the leads are in their roles, the extreme multitude of the aforementioned shots—combined with the sometimes-overbearing emo score from Sascha Ring and Dustin O'Halloran—make the film come off as more than a little ridiculous.

    The only breath of fresh air arrives in the form of a few scenes with other "infecteds," played by Guy Pearce and Jacki Weaver, among others. The pace picks up a bit when they hatch a plan to help Silas and Nia escape The Collective. But it's not enough to save the film overall.

    We all already know that as much as it hurts to experience loss, sadness and pain, having the full spectrum of human emotions is still worth it. It's a shame Doremus couldn't find anything else to say besides the obvious in Equals.

      Saturday, July 09, 2016

      The Secret Life of Pets

      Good dog. Bad movie.

      I had such high hopes for The Secret Life of Pets (despite the fact that the grammar nerd in me instantly hated that it wasn't called The Secret Lives of Pets).

      As the owner of a black lab who freaks out every time I leave and return, I have often wondered what he does when I'm gone, and this film from directors Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney promised me some entertaining answers. Its trailers—filled with head-banging poodles and toilet-water-chugging bulldogs—showed promise. And to be fair, the opening act and the final scene of the movie were funny, clever and moving. If you're a pet owner or animal lover, you WILL well up at the end.

      The problem is that almost everything in the middle was cringe-worthy or otherwise disappointing, and had absolutely nothing to do with what pets get up to behind closed doors.

      The plot is basically Toy Story, except with animals. The main character Max (Lewis C.K.) is horrified and hurt when his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) brings home Duke (Eric Stonestreet) from the NYC pound. Max does everything he can to get Duke out of the picture, and then when his plan finally succeeds but puts both of them in danger, the two rivals have to band together to get back home safely. In the meantime, a ragtag group of other pets, led by the fluffy Pomeranian Gidget (Jenny Slate), venture out into Manhattan to rescue their friends. (All of this is set to a surprisingly great soundtrack, by the way.)

      I was enjoying everything until Max and Duke get lost in New York and run afoul of "the flushed pets"—a group of abandoned animals that live in the sewer. Led by the bent-on-revenge bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart, a great choice), these forgotten pets have one goal: to kill humans. You read that right. When Fluffy and his crew first meet Max and Duke, the two domesticated dogs lie and say that they offed their owner, and Fluffy wants details. He demands to know exactly HOW the dogs killed their owner. And then he vows to kill Max and Duke after they escape from the sewer. I could not believe what I was hearing. This is supposed to be a movie for kids! (It reminded me of why I despised Cars 2 so much—all the talk about shooting and killing.) How hard would it have been for writers Brian Lynch, Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio to have had the animals speak in more vague terms about the flushed pets wanting revenge? (Or to have just thought of another way for the story to go entirely.)
      Don't be fooled by appearances.

      And don't think for a second that they were trying to make some bigger point about how animals aren't objects to be tossed out after the responsibility of having a pet gets old. They were doing no such thing. This film is not that deep.

      So after Fluffy enters the picture, the story is no longer about what pets do when humans aren't around. The animals are chasing each other all over the city and none of it has anything to do with the original premise. During this disappointing middle section of the film, there were a few points where the directing and writing team could've at least paused the action for a moment and taken the opportunity to pull on our heartstrings a little. A scene where Duke visits his old home is a prime example. We learn something about Duke's old owner and then... nothing. We're left hanging. No closure. What were they thinking?!?

      In addition to all of the talk about killing and death, one character does actually meet a violent end, Gidget beats up another animal, Max and Duke nearly die a few times over, and in general there's just a very icky undertone to most of the film. It's like a totally different team made The Secret Life of Pets' thoroughly enjoyable start and finish.

      I will not be taking my 4.5 year old to see this one. Not because I think he would be scared by it or disturbed by it or even understand the parts I'm upset about. But rather because there are enough GOOD kids' movies out there that there's no reason to give money to one that took the lazy, easy way out.

      Sunday, June 19, 2016

      Finding Dory

      Come baaaaacck!
      My life was so incredibly different in 2003 when Finding Nemo came out. (Everyone's was, right? It was THIRTEEN YEARS ago!!!) I got married a month after its debut, and having kids was the furthest thing from my mind. But, as with all Pixar movies (and, IMHO, most animated Disney movies in general), you didn't need to be a parent to enjoy or be moved by the film about a dad clownfish swimming across the ocean in search of his lost son. (And, as longtime readers of this blog know, not having any kids didn't stop me from going to EPCOT (by myself) solely to experience the Nemo ride. Or going to Disney World/Land several times since, by myself. But I digress.)

      I mention all of this because I didn't think it would ever be possible for me to love films like Finding Nemo, Toy Story or Cars more than I already did. I was wrong. Once my four-and-a-half-year-old son got into these movies, a whole new dimension came into play. One of ownership, one of feeling personally vested (both emotionally and financially because of ALL THE TOYS), one of protectiveness as he came to cherish the characters as much as I did, and one of feeling truly petrified that something could one day ruin these franchises. (DAMN YOU, CARS 2!!!) When we took our son to Disneyland this year and last year and got a huge kick out of the "Turtle Talk with Crush" attraction (seriously, it's the best) and the Finding Nemo submarine ride, the stakes grew that much higher. Finding Dory HAD to be good. It just had to be.

      And it is! Praise Poseidon! (Or King Triton, perhaps?)

      Yes, it is like The Force Awakens in the sense that the plot is almost completely recycled. You know what I say to that? WHO CARES. I don't see these movies for the plot, I see them for the gorgeous animation and for the clever adult humor sprinkled in alongside more obvious jokes for the kiddies. I see them because I know there will be a positive moral to the story (Dory is actually superior to Nemo here). I see them because I know I will feel the warm fuzzies at the end. And because I don't recall a time in my forty-plus years where feeling the warm fuzzies was ever a bad thing.

      So, yep, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), the short-term-memory-impaired regal tang, gets lost in a few different ways. Most revolve around a search for her family, who she starts remembering bits and pieces about via flashbacks. Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Illinois native Hayden Rolence, represent!) are back, as are a couple of other beloved characters like Squirt and Crush—though I wish those two had been in it much more, thanks to my reignited love of Crush after seeing his Disneyland show.

      There's memorable marine-life humor (yes, that's a thing)—much like we learned how seagulls are actually shouting "Mine!" in Nemo, we find out why sea lions make their barking noises in Dory. You'll squirm through a sequence involving an aquarium's "touch pool." You'll sniffle at the opening montage and additional flashbacks featuring tiny bug-eyed Dory.

      Hank the tank! Hank the tank! (Old School humor)
      And while there are other new characters who are cute and make their own mark on the film, you'll likely be most impressed by Hank (Ed O'Neill, a perfect choice), a cranky red octopus (minus one tentacle) who can camouflage himself and begrudgingly agrees to help Dory because there's something in it for him. The scenes where he changes colors are amazing. And overall he's just hilarious. I don't think young kids will really "get" him as much as adults will, though. Nevertheless, he's the film's standout character.

      Speaking of young kids, parents should know that there is one scene that's a little intense (spoiler alert for the rest of this paragraph): Nemo, Marlin and Dory are chased by a pretty scary squid, and at one point the squid comes close to eating Nemo. They of course get away, so you could always just TELL your kids this before they see the movie so they're not worried. That's what I did, and my son is at the film with his dad for a Father's Day treat as I type this.

      Two non-spoilery highlights involve Sigourney Weaver and a slo-mo scene set to Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World," which was so crazy I can't believe the team (co-director/co-writer extraordinaire Andrew Stanton (who also voices Crush (!), co-director Angus MacLane and co-writer Victoria Strouse) not only thought of it in the first place, but then also pulled it off so magnificently.

      So in summary: PHEW. No one's affection for or memories of Finding Nemo are going to be destroyed by this sequel. It was great to check in on the old gang again, and even better to meet some new insta-classic characters. Now can Cars 3 PLEASE not be horrible... ?

      (p.s. Make sure you stay through ALL of the credits.)

      Friday, June 03, 2016

      Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

      Never stop never stopping - whoever came up with that is a genius
      I have a framed still from This is Spinal Tap displayed proudly in my house, so you could say I take my music-industry mockumentaries seriously. And while I'm not prepared to say that Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping "goes to eleven," it comes mighty close.

      Yes, I'm as surprised as you are. I should preface the rest of this review with the disclaimer that I know waaaaaaaay too much about Justin Bieber (who is clearly the inspiration for main character Conner4Real) and spend waaaaaaaay too much of my time consuming various celebrity-gossip articles and TV shows. If you're not into that scene, a large percentage of Popstar's humor will be lost on you. Whereas I laughed throughout the entire movie. This is one of the few times where I would recommend watching the film's trailer beforehand. If you like it, you will LOVE the rest of the movie. Bonus: most of the trailer's scenes occur within Popstar's first ten minutes, so it's not even giving away the best parts.

      The story, written by SNL-digital-short-masters The Lonely Island (Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone; the latter two also directed), follows Conner4Real (Samberg), a Bieber-esque popstar who was once part of a trio called The Style Boyz. After a falling out, the Boyz break up, and Conner skyrockets to fame as a solo act, while Owen (Taccone) tags along as Conner's DJ, and Lawrence (Schaffer) retreats to life on a rural farm. Schaffer and Taccone shot Popstar as a documentary that takes place as Conner's second solo album, Connquest, is about to drop. As you might have already guessed, the new tracks are met with tepid reception, which throws Conner's world tour into jeopardy. His team scrambles to do everything, anything they can—from securing corporate sponsorships, to lining up a hot new opening act (a fantastic Chris Redd as Hunter the Hungry), to staging a very, very bizarre E! exclusive—to keep Conner in the spotlight and the money rolling in.

      r u 4 real?
      Short documentary-style interviews with real-life celebrities, musicians and DJs are sprinkled throughout the film, and they are hilarious—Mariah Carey's in particular, and I'm impressed she went along with it. Several other famous faces also pop up in Conner's life as either themselves or other ridiculous characters, and those cameos were also just great. None of them were the kind of cameos that seemed totally pointless (like almost every single one in Zoolander 2), either. One of my favorites was Will Arnett as the head of CMZ. (If you don't know what that's a spoof of, then again, this movie might not be for you.)

      If I had one complaint about Popstar, it would be the same complaint I've made about so many recent comedies: all of the f-bombing gets old really quickly, and its cruder gags are also its weakest. But when the laughs revolve around one of Conner's absurd (but catchy!) songs, making fun of our fickle celebrity-obsessed culture, or the many ways that Conner's entourage strokes his ego (Tim Meadows and Sarah Silverman as Conner's manager and publicist are particularly funny), Popstar is in Spinal Tap territory—"no bones" about it.

      Me Before You

      Would've been better if dragons were behind them in the sky
      I read Me Before You by Jojo Moyes a few months ago, because usually if a novel that I'm even remotely interested in is being made into a film, I want to hurry up and finish the book first. I'm not typically one for weepy romances, but I have to admit that—like John Green's The Fault in Our Stars (which is waaaaay better, if equally manipulative)—Me Before You did affect me and had me sobbing my head off by the end. The film adaptation, whose screenplay was also written by Moyes, tries desperately to inspire that same emotional reaction. But for me, it failed.

      The story revolves around Louisa Clark (Game of Thrones' Emilia Clarke), who mostly goes by her last name in the film. She's a young woman with no real ambitions who's desperate for a job because she's pretty much supporting her entire extended family. Despite her circumstances, however, she is impossibly upbeat and expresses this through outrageous outfits that look like something the four-year-old girls in my son's pre-k class would pick out. I felt like Moyes went overboard on the Quirky Scale with Clark's character in the book, so it annoyed me even more to see all of her weird clothes and shoes brought to life on the big screen.

      Clark needs a job and ends up becoming the latest in a long line of caretakers for Will Traynor (The Hunger Games' Sam Claflin, well cast), who had everything anyone could ever dream of... all before being hit by a motorcycle. Now he's a quadriplegic and extremely, extremely bitter. His crazy-rich parents (Janet McTeer and Charles Dance, also perfectly cast)—they literally live in a castle—are beside themselves and are putting no small amount of pressure on Clark to convince Will that life is still worth living.

      You can already guess what happens: little by little, Clark is able to break down Will's walls with her never-ending positivity and relentlessness, and they eventually fall for each other. (It didn't hurt that Clark's boyfriend throughout most of the story is a self-centered buffoon.) One thing Moyes got right with the screenplay is that she dropped two dark subplots that were in the book—one about Will's parents and the other about Clark's past. Minor characters like Will's sister are also gone, so the focus is almost entirely on Clark and Will's changing relationship.
      I can't even with her outfits and hair.
      But it was a misstep for Moyes and first-time director Thea Sharrock not to give us more insight into Will's state of mind. In the novel, Clark gets to know other quadriplegics through message boards, and I felt it went a long way toward understanding why Will could not bring himself to adjust to his new circumstances while others in similar situations embraced their lives more fully. I do not think this was the intention of the film in any way, but it came off as though the ultra-wealthy cannot cope with tragedy because they've always gotten what they wanted, whereas families who struggle are better equipped to handle even the most dire of setbacks.

      Which leads us back to Clark and her uber-optimism. I did not have a problem with it in and of itself because I, too, try to convince others that the glass is half full more than I probably should. What I couldn't get over was Emilia Clarke's facial expressions. Girlfriend has some CRAZY eyebrows that work for her as the Mother of Dragons, but that almost took on a life of their own in this film. Clarke is an actress who acts with her entire face, which would be refreshing if it weren't so distracting in this particular case. If you go to this movie and are not bothered whatsoever by the many ways Clarke's eyebrows can move, I salute you. But to me it came off like she was trying too hard, almost like she wanted to go overboard with being animated in order to make people forget about her steely Game of Thrones character. It often ruined what should've been a somber or touching scene. Claflin, however, was exactly how I pictured Will would be, and was able to pull off both Will's biting wit and repressed rage.

      I want to be clear that I'm not saying Clarke was an awful actress in this film, but I do think she was miscast and too enthusiastic with her facial expressions at key points. Her performance came off as cheesy in those scenes, which were usually accompanied by an aggressive, intrusive song off of the film's soundtrack. Luckily there weren't too many of these moments, but I must still forewarn my fellow book fans to set their expectations accordingly.

      Wednesday, February 10, 2016


      So sweet.
      Oh, boy. How do I even begin to describe how much I loved Deadpool?

      Perhaps I should start by reminding you how sick I've grown of superhero movies over the past several years, and how—before I saw Deadpool—I would've confidently stated that if I never saw a dude with "special powers" in a colorful skintight outfit again it would be too soon.

      But from the first second of this film I was laughing; it was clear Deadpool was going to be different. I won't spoil the excellent opening sequence for you (my far-and-away favorite in recent memory), but I will say that it manages to poke fun at pretty much every superhero-movie convention while also ripping on its lead and his, uh, not-so-successful past in the genre. (But hey, he did get a hot wife out of the whole Green Lantern fiasco, so the joke's on us.) Maybe the power of the title sequence stems from director Tim Miller's experience; this may be his first feature film, but in the past he was responsible for the opening scenes of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Thor: Dark World, so strong first impressions are kind of his thing.

      At the outset we find our masked antihero Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) in the middle of a violent car-chase-turned-car-wreck-turned-shootout, complete with gratuitous slo-mo and a thumpin' soundtrack. What's unexpected (for those unfamiliar with Deadpool's comic-book roots) are all of the wisecracking and fourth-wall-breaking asides in the midst of the chaos, as if Deadpool didn't have a care in the world. But before we can really get our bearings, much less see how all of the mayhem ends, we're taken back in time to learn how Deadpool became Deadpool... and what exactly his deal is.

      So, yeah, it's an "origin story" as expected, since this is the first Deadpool spinoff and everyone wants to pretend like the character's scenes in X-Men Origins: Wolverine didn't happen. (There are some hilarious jabs about that whole mess of a movie as well; Deadpool is at its snarky best when it's giving the middle finger to other superhero movies, and specifically the X-Men franchise.)

      How ya like me now?
      But for every way that the film is unconventional and unique in tone, its plot and story progression are about as generic as you can get. However, since I almost always care most about dialogue, I didn't mind not being exactly surprised by how Deadpool got from Point A to Point B in his life. I was having too much fun... which was still not as much fun as Reynolds was having with the role. He's never stuck out as anything special to me until this film. Now it's obvious why he's been trying to get Deadpool on the big screen for over a decade: he was made for this role. It's one of those characters you just can't imagine anyone else playing, and I can't say that about any other superhero character except for Tony Stark/Iron Man and Robert Downey Jr.

      Deadpool's nonstop banter, vulgarity, deprecation and audience-talking could've easily come off as annoying if not executed perfectly, and then the whole film would've been a bust. Instead it's the only superhero movie since the original Iron Man where I walked out of the theater feeling like I just saw something new. I've enjoyed a few other superhero films (all Captain America installments) and tolerated the rest, but for the most part I usually get the sense that I'm just watching the same movie over and over again with a new bad guy in the mix each time.

      A rare fully-clothed moment.
      With Deadpool, though, the characters and their conversations felt fresh despite the familiar Wolverinesque origin story and the by-the-numbers ending, so I still must give credit to screenwriters Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese (the same writing team behind Zombieland). We learn that "the Merc with a Mouth" (as he's known in the comics) used to be Wade Wilson, a loner smart-ass with a special-ops background and just one loner smart-ass pseudo-friend (Weasel, played by the perfectly cast T.J. Miller of Silicon Valley) until he finds his match in Vanessa Carlysle (Morena Baccarin), a hooker who can go toe-to-toe with Wade's crudeness and sarcasm. Their "meet-cute" consists of a I'm-more-damanged-than-you faux-pity-party competition, followed closely by a month-by-month sex montage that is, well... perhaps this is the place to point out that you should NOT bring your kids or nephews and nieces to Deadpool unless you want to have some reeeeeaaaaaalllllly uncomfortable conversations on the ride home. This warning also applies to adults who are obscenity-adverse; you are guaranteed to be offended within the first 5 minutes. Unlike other superhero films, this one is rated R, and it's no joke.

      So Wade meets Vanessa, they fall in love... and then he finds out he's going to die. Cancer is everywhere in his body. He doesn't want her to see him fade away, so he takes a really shady guy up on an offer to subject himself to torturous treatments that will "force a mutation" and cure his cancer. Yes, that means that Wade/Deadpool might make for X-Men material one day. But not just yet. Not before he can completely and utterly diss the residents of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters several times over. And exact revenge upon the guy who ran the experiments that left him horribly disfigured... with regenerative healing powers.

      Will you get all of the jokes if you're unfamiliar with superhero movies? Probably not. But you'll still get the rest, and my bet is that—again, only if you have a high tolerance for extremely naughty stuff—Deadpool will win you over, too. Be sure you stay for the end credits, which any child of the '80s will appreciate. Apparently there is also a second end-credit scene that was not screened for critics, so if you're already hanging out in the theater afterward, you'll be treated to that as well.

      Friday, February 05, 2016

      Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

      I love a clever tagline
      "I totally loved PPZ," I texted my friend after I got out of the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies screening.

      "Are you drunk" was the reply.

      I get it. I didn't expect to like this movie, either—much less enjoy it so much that I would recommend others spend their hard-earned money going to see it.

      What's more, I can't even say my enthusiasm about this film stems from any sort of Jane Austen fandom. I've read not one of her books, nor have I seen any of the several Pride and Prejudice adaptations. Before you judge me to be some sort of uncultured moron, I'll have you know that I was in AP English throughout high school, but for whatever reason Austen's books were never on the curriculum. Maybe they figured we nerds would seek them out for ourselves? Alas, I did no such thing. I've never been about the whole "women in corsets" era.

      Which, again, is why it's so weird that I adored PPZ. Its trailers made it look like it consisted of a bunch of supermodels being all pouty and sexy while hiking up their dresses to reveal whatever weapon they had strapped to their thighs that would be used to dispatch the undead. However, I was already hooked by the time that silliness hit the screen in the actual film. In fact, I was sold in the very first scene, where we see the ever-solemn Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) ferret out a zombie in a room full of stuffy high-society types. Unlike other parts of the film, nothing in this initial scene is meant to be funny, and somehow it works. We learn that 19th century British zombies are not of The Walking Dead variety; they can still act and appear human for quite some time. Which is what makes Darcy's task all the more suspenseful. When he finally zeroes in on the undead guest, he wastes no time in bringing him/her/it to a bloody end ... which we see from the zombie's perspective. That's when I knew director and screenwriter Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down, 17 Again) wasn't going to phone this one in, and I allowed myself to think there could be a chance that a film called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies might not be embarrassingly awful.

      Girl Power!
      As you may know, this morbid twist on Austen's classic story was first brought to us in novel form by Seth Grahame-Smith, who also wrote Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. It focuses on Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James), who's unlike most girls at that time because her goal in life isn't to be married off to the highest bidder. She's got several sisters (the aforementioned supermodels), and their father (Charles Dance, aka Tywin Lannister) is refreshingly progressive in that he, too, thinks his girls should aspire to more than "Mrs." status. And so he has trained them in Chinese combat techniques so that they can survive the cruel zombie wasteland that the English countryside has become.

      When Elizabeth's sister Jane (Bella Heathcoate) and the rich Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth) fall for each other, Elizabeth often finds herself in the company of Bingley's friend Mr. Darcy, who is giving Grumpy Cat a serious run for his money. Darcy is perpetually somber and frowning and annoyed, and it's clear he's a big ol' snob. Elizabeth's got no patience for that, yet over the course of time she and Darcy at least grow to appreciate each other's zombie-killing skills.

      Not a pirate, though that would've been coolDespite the fact that soulless corpses are slowly but surely taking over their country, the characters in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies still fall victim to the worst human emotions: there is too much pride and there is definitely prejudice—and there's also extreme jealousy, paranoia and stubbornness. What I loved is that it was still such a human story in the midst of all of the zombie chaos (which never got very gory, by the way). The cast took their roles seriously and I never felt stupid or sheepish for enjoying the film. It helped that in addition to the leads, the supporting cast was strong as well, with standouts including Matt Smith (yes, the Eleventh Doctor) and Lena Headey (Cersei as
      Lady Catherine de Bourgh, fierce zombie assassin = perfection) really getting into their somewhat comedic roles. I also thought that with a film like this, the director would almost be expected to try and get away with it looking kind of cheap and being shot in a straightforward manner, but that was never the case here. Believe it or not there was some really gorgeous cinematography by Remi Adefarasin, including a few memorable pan-outs to aerial views that have stuck with me.

      As I was getting ready to publish this review, a friend wrote me to ask if I'd seen Pride and Prejudice and Zombies yet. She had been given advanced passes and confessed that she "kinda loved it." I told her I felt the same. So that makes two of us...

      Will the rest of you give it the chance it deserves? Or are you going to be all Mr. Darcy about it and assume it's beneath you? Your loss if you do! I think it makes for a fun movie night. If you end up seeing it, let me know if you agree. And be sure you stay a few minutes after the credits start rolling.

      Friday, January 22, 2016

      The 5th Wave

      Damn aliens!
      Yesterday, a fellow critic shared his condolences that I had to go to a screening of The 5th Wave on the eve of my birthday. But what he didn't know is that I am a fourteen year old trapped in a fortysomething's body when it comes to both books and movies: I can't get enough of the whole YA scene, especially when there's post-Apocalyptic stuff going down. And in some aliens for good measure and let's call it a party!

      So yes, I had already read Rick Yancey's novel of the same name over a year ago, and I'll have you know that it was one of The New York Times' Best YA Books of 2013. So in other words, it's not Twilight. (Though as you may remember I liked that series, too; I never claimed to be the most discerning reader. It's all about escapism, people.)

      There are some YA books I read and I feel like they're just great books, period. Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy and John Green's The Fault in Our Stars are on that list. Then there are others, like Paper Towns (also by Green), or the Divergent and Mortal Instruments series, where I am conscious from beginning to end that I am not the target demographic and I feel a little silly. Not silly enough to actually stop reading these kinds of books, but a tad sheepish nonetheless.

      The 5th Wave fell into the "just a good book overall" category for me, which is why I was disappointed when I saw its trailer. First, I thought ChloĆ« Grace Moretz was not the right choice for the lead—she just didn't fit what I had in my head. Second, what little dialogue was highlighted was absolutely generic and awful. So I had extremely low expectations going into the screening.

      The good news is that I enjoyed the film and was quite surprised by how much it didn't suck (by Teen Apocalypse Movie standards). The bad news is that I'm not sure I could outright recommend it to anyone who: 1) hasn't read (and liked) the book, and/or 2) is over the age of, say, 23. What seemed to be a lot more logical on paper comes off as totally bananas on the big screen—from how aliens destroy our planet in four "waves," to how we fight back by, um, attempting to turn shrimpy little kids into extraterrestrial killing machines. There are undeniable shades of The Hunger Games in the film that I never picked up in the book, and I can't help but feel like that was an intentional, conscious choice by director J Blakeson (The Disappearance of Alice Creed) and the very accomplished screenwriting team of Susannah Grant, Akiva Goldsman and Jeff Pinker.

      Don't worry Cassie, I'll just mesmerize the aliens with my dreaminess
      So how did CGM do in the Feisty Heroine You Don't Want To Mess With role? Just fine. She wasn't who I had pictured as Cassie, the high-schooler whose perspective we're viewing the alien attacks and aftermath from, but she also wasn't who I had in my head as the lead in If I Stay (yet another YA book/movie I liked), either, and she was able to make that role her own as well. Though some other fairly impressive names and recognizable faces round out the supporting cast of The 5th Wave, if Moretz hadn't been able to pull her weight, it all would've fallen apart.

      Instead we have two strong first acts where we see the Earth get destroyed and pretty much everyone on it be killed, learn what happened to Cassie's family, find out what's become of her crush Ben (Nick Robinson, only slightly less scowly than he was in Jurassic World, but still likable), and meet Evan (Alex Roe, almost too pretty to look at), some random guy who saves Cassie from alien snipers but may or may not be completely trustworthy.

      In the final act, Cassie is hellbent on finding her little brother Sammy (cute moptop Zackary Arthur from Transparent) and can't stop Evan from tagging along with her. Little do they know that Sammy has been with Ben, a badass chick who goes by "Ringer" (Maika Monroe from It Follows, whose performance is one of the highlights of the film), and a bunch of other little kids who are under the direction of the shady Colonel Vosch (Liev Schrieber). From there, things get even more messed up than they already were. There are some hokey effects that distract from the action sequences, and the dialogue goes from decent to godawful near the end. But to me it was more like the screenwriters knew they were being cheesy, and so it came off as a little "wink-wink" and amusing rather than out-and-out cringeworthy. Which is why I still enjoyed The 5th Wave and didn't walk out of the theater all bitter that Hollywood had ruined yet another good book.

      I'm not going to tell you if Cassie succeeds in reuniting with her bro and finally giving him back his damn teddy bear she's managed to carry with her this whole time. Nor will I tell you if any of the aforementioned characters die. And the film ends before we get the final answer on whether humanity survives or the aliens win. However, the bigger question is this: Will this movie make enough green to get a sequel? The book The 5th Wave is based on is the first of three (with the final installment out in May of this year), yet I'm not sure the series has the Twilight/Hunger Games/Divergent-level fandom necessary to translate into profit at the box office. But I was entertained enough to hope it does.

      Sunday, January 17, 2016

      13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

      It bothers me that there's a comma missing after "wrong."As I type out this next statement it seems so so so so very wrong, but after quickly refreshing my memory of Michael Bay's filmography, I've come to the realization that I actually enjoy most of his movies. Which is crazy, because on that same list of titles is one of my most-hated films of all time: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. But the fact remains that you can usually count on Bay for a good time at the theater, assuming you can handle lots of testosterone, boobs and explosions. (Semi-relevant side note: my friend was at the Playboy Mansion a few years ago for work (really!) and he texted me that Michael Bay was there. My response? "OF COURSE HE IS.")

      Bay's taken on real events before with Pearl Harbor and Pain & Gain, both of which were critically despised (though for the record I kinda loved the latter). So I can't say my hopes were high for 13 Hours. Then there's the fact that most of what's been in the news more recently about the Benghazi tragedy did not exactly sound like movie material: emails, email servers, Hillary Clinton's emails and email servers, marathon Congressional hearings... blah blah blah... zzzzzz. I realize this is shameful and that I am living up (down) to the overall fairly accurate stereotype of an ignorant American, but I feel it's important to be honest that I didn't know a heck of a lot about what actually happened in Benghazi when I went into this movie.

      But Bay knows his audience, and so he's got you, fellow fools. He lays it all out at the beginning, quickly explaining where Benghazi is, what was going on there in 2012, and why that context matters. Then we meet some of the people who were working at both the United States' diplomatic compound and the secret CIA annex about a mile down the road. At that annex was a team of six men who all had hardcore military backgrounds and were in Benghazi as CIA security contractors; the screenplay by Chuck Hogan was based on Mitchell Zuckoff's book, which he wrote alongside the five surviving members of that team.

      As impossible as this may be to believe, 13 Hours isn't a political film. I was dreading that it would be, and was therefore pleasantly surprised that it instead focused almost solely on the Americans who were forced to defend themselves and each other when Islamic militants attacked both the compound and the annex. (In retrospect this focus makes sense, given the screenplay's source material).

      Let's lighten things up: Pornstache from OITNB and both Jim AND Roy from The Office?!?
      A little time was spent trying to differentiate the six beefy members of the security team upfront, with the most time given to Jack (John Krasinski) and Rone (James Badge Dale), who found themselves in a life-and-death situation on the streets of Benghazi just minutes after Rone picked Jack up from the airport—an ominous prelude to what was to come.

      When the attack sequences start—and then do not let up for a large chunk of the 144-minute running time—it is often hard to understand exactly what's going on. But I think that was the point. We might be seeing firefights from above, from street level, through windows or from the security team's night-vision goggles, but one thing's clear: it was an all-out shitshow, with the CIA team unable to tell which locals might be on their side versus who might be about to shoot them in the back at any second.

      While some of the dialogue in the film is downright embarrassing, I'd still argue that I'm glad it was Michael Bay, of all directors, who made this movie. He kept it about the people directly involved, was respectful to those who lost their lives, and did the right thing by using the Hero Worship filter to depict the actions of a group of people who were profoundly brave and selfless in the face of near-certain death.

      But make no mistake: you will not—or at least you should not—leave the theater wanting to pump your fist and holler, "MURICA!!!" You might be, as I was, confused and saddened and angry. And then perhaps you'll also do what I do after seeing any good movie that's "based on true events": get home, smack yourself upside the head and then spend a little time educating yourself on the full story.