Saturday, December 19, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (spoiler-free review)

It's finally here!
(There are no spoilers whatsoever in this review. There aren't even any plot points discussed. You should know that I would never ruin your experience for you, my dear friends.)

When I walked into the press screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the city of Los Angeles had just decided to close 900 schools and keep more than 640,000 students home because of a terror threat. (That threat turned out to be a hoax... but I think we all know that the nation's second-largest school system was justified in taking it seriously.) As we waited for the lights to dim, I started talking with a fellow critic about how scary it is to be raising two young children these days, and how I became physically sick the first time I learned about my three-year-old son's pre-K class having to practice "lockdown drills." Our conversation about the state of this country got more and more depressing until we were saved by the glorious, triumphant first blasts of John Williams' iconic score. The words STAR WARS appeared on the screen... and the tears started flowing heavily down my face.

This strong, emotional reaction to the freakin' FIRST SECOND of the movie was not what I was expecting. In fact, it was kind of like when my five-month-old daughter accidentally hits herself in the face and then looks around all confused and is like, "Did I do that?" That's how I felt when I realized I was crying. I mean, I LOVE STAR WARS and consider myself something of a hardcore fangirl, and I knew going into the film that I was probably going to be a mess throughout most of its running time. But to start bawling at the title screen? What was happening?!?

Still have 'em! (This is not nearly everything, duh.)What was happening is that I was leaving the nonstop, overwhelming fears and worries of this world behind and being transported back in time to a beloved galaxy far, far away. But I was not only being transported to that other galaxy, I was also being transported back to my childhood. Back to me and my brother watching the movies over and over and over.  Back to he and I "playing Star Wars"... not only with the figures, but also by pretending that we were the characters and running around our house like maniacs. (I think me rolling him down our steps in a sleeping bag might've somehow been related to a scene in the movies? Either way, sorry about that, bro.) Back to us standing in line for Return of the Jedi with our stuffed Ewoks. Those were happy, simpler times indeed. So all I can figure is that my tears started a-flowin' thanks to a prehistoric, preprogrammed stress-release response that is somewhere deep in all of us. And I guess there should be no shame in it anyway.

After I stopped crying, then I totally freaked out and all that was going through my mind was, "I'm seeing a new Star Wars movie! This is a NEW Star Wars movie! I'm about to find out what happened to everyone. I can't believe this is happening. I can't believe this day is finally here! I'mseeinganewStarWarsmovieI'mseeinganewStarWarsmovieI'mseeinganewStarWarsmovieI'mseeinganewStarWarsmovieI'mseeinganewStarWarsmovieI'mseeinganewStarWarsmovieI'mseeinganewStarWarsmovieI'mseeinganewStarWarsmovieI'mseeinganewStarWarsmovieI'mseeinganewStarWarsmovieI'mseeinganewStarWarsmovieI'mseeinganewStarWarsmovieI'mseeinganewStarWarsmovieI'mseeinganewStarWarsmovieI'mseeinganewStarWarsmovieI'mseeinganewStarWarsmovieI'mseeinganewStarWarsmovieI'mseeinganewStarWarsmovie!!!!!!!"

Then I was like, "Dammit, Erika, you're gonna start missing stuff. Pull yourself together." And thankfully I did.

NOT Keira Knightley.Now, I already told you I'm not even going to talk about the plot. But under the assumption that you've seen at least some of the nonstop marketing for the film and watched its trailers, I will share that I walked into the theater highly confident J.J. Abrams was going to do us right. Someone had asked me if I was nervous about The Force Awakens. My response was an emphatic "no." I realize that not everything Abrams has done has been the best ever, but this IS the man responsible for co-creating the show that changed the course of my career and hence my life. He was quite literally the only man for the job, in my book.

My main concern had been whether or not the female lead was going to be any good. But even that wasn't really a big worry, because J.J. and his team have a knack for plucking fresh-faced no-name actresses out of thin air who turn out to be really, really good. And Daisy Ridley (who plays Rey) is more than good. She's incredible. Say it with me now: phew. Before the movie I got some popcorn and the girl at the concession stand looked at me in my Star Wars shirt (and the five women behind me in line, also in Star Wars shirts) and commented, "I have never seen a female Star Wars fan before." My response was, "WHAT. SHUT UP." Then she repeated herself. All I have to say to that is, 1) it made me sad, but 2) there are bound to be more fangirls out there going forward thanks to Ridley's character. Yay!

BELIEVE it.Next up is John Boyega, who I loved as Moses in Attack the Block. But that movie was so twisted and weird and his character had such a thick South London accent, I was kinda like, "How is THIS gonna work with him being what I assume is some sort of Stormtrooper-turned-good-guy?" First things first: the accent is gone, bruv. Second: his Finn ended up being my favorite character (well, favorite new character). Funny, believable and charming. I was so, so impressed. Another phew and yay!

Another new character is pilot Poe Dameron, played by Oscar Isaac. On the day the cast was announced, I honest-to-god squealed when finding out Isaac was going to be in the film. Do yourself a favor and see everything else he's ever been in and then you'll understand why.

After we'd met the various new characters on screen, I kept thinking stuff like, "OK who's supposed to be the new Han... who's supposed to be the new Luke... hmm, that sounded kind of Han-ish," and so on. Until it hit me that they're just their own characters and they're the ones who are going to be taking this franchise into the future. I am pleased to report that it's in good hands, and no one even needs to be the "new Han" or "new Luke" or "new Leia" or whatever. Ridley, Boyega and Isaac were surprisingly funny on top of just being totally immersed in their characters. You know how all of us think of Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill (I actually just wrote Luke Hamill first) and Carrie Fisher AS Han, Luke and Leia? That's already how I feel about these three. They ARE Rey and Finn and Poe. Forever and ever, amen.
If there was any new character that we all got to know before the film even came out, it was BB-8, the ball-looking droid. Nerds like me even bought their own BB-8s earlier this year. It's not a spoiler to say that BB-8 is in the movie A LOT, and he can more than hang with R2-D2 and C3P0, as far as instantly-lovable droids go.

Speaking of the old-school characters, everyone knows that the original three leads are back for this installment. My favorite of those characters is Han Solo (I even have a framed still of him in my house!), and I'm happy to say that his role is no small cameo. Han and Chewie (rrrrrrhhhhwwwwuuuurrrr) have a ton of scenes and pretty much every single one of them was The. Best. And the first time the Millennium Falcon appeared on screen? I lost my breath. One of my favorite scenes in the entire film involves that old "piece of junk," too. I gotta say that on top of putting so many of the original trilogy's characters into the mix to appease us older fans and provide the needed transition for the future films, Abrams also included several other sly shoutouts and callbacks that made me smile, because he himself is also a megafan. Again I say, "right man for the job!" (Of course the inclusion of Lawrence Kasdan on the writing team—he also co-wrote TESB and ROTJ—helped significantly on this front, too.)

Come at me, bro!
What about the bad guys? From the trailers you're probably aware that Adam Driver plays Kylo Ren, who's like a Darth Vader wannabe with an upgraded light saber. Domhnall Gleeson (another one I shrieked about when the cast was announced—LOVE HIM) is General Hux, a leader in the First Order, which is like the new Empire. They're both fine, but I just don't think there's ever going to be a better villain than Darth Vader. #sorrynotsorry To me Kylo Ren was like a spoiled-brat villain-poser and I wanted to just smack him several times. If I had one issue with The Force Awakens, it had to do with how some of the bad-guy parts were explained (or not explained), but then someone reminded me that not everything was always crystal clear in the original trilogy, either.

Let's see... a few other things: The first time I saw it was in 2D. The second time was in 3D and while I usually hate 3D, I'll admit that it did add a little to the experience—there was one part in particular where the whole audience kinda laughed at how a huge ship was sticking out at us. It didn't give me a headache like it usually does, either. I'm seeing it again tonight (yes, really) but didn't have a format choice because there was only one seat left and it was in a 2D theater... and I'm fine with that. (I'm seeing it again because I feel robbed of a true hardcore fandom experience so far—seeing it early with mostly silent critics and then again in a half-full theater at noon aren't the same as a nighttime screening on opening weekend where I know everyone will be cheering and clapping and reacting loudly throughout. That's what I want. That's what I NEED!)

The last thing I'll comment upon is what a great job they did with the various "creatures." If you rewatch the originals, all of the various aliens and weirdo characters still have their charm, but many of them look straight-up fake because of technology and effects restrictions back in the day. That's no longer the case, obviously!

We're ALL home.
Everything else I want to say—which is a lot—about the parts where I laughed, I cried, I gasped and I cheered, is all spoilery, so I better start wrapping this up. I haven't been able to stop thinking about the film since I saw it. My mind has been replaying certain scenes over and over and whirring away with theories about what might happen in the upcoming installments. I have been DYING TO TALK ABOUT IT WITH MY FELLOW NERDS. It's the first time I've felt like this since LOST ended. (Speaking of my favorite TV series... there are a few fun LOST connections in the movie, too!) But perhaps most importantly, I left the theater with a renewed sense of hope. (Kinda-sorta reference to the original film not intended.) Yes, there's a lot of bad stuff going on in our galaxy, and that's not going to end any time soon. But it's not likely going to be any world leader or famous person or human version of a superhero who's going to make things better. It will be ordinary people like you and I who choose to get involved in causes we believe in and stand up to fight the good fight when it would be easier to just do nothing. As cheesy as it sounds, all of us, every day, have a choice: the dark side, or the light. And that is why the Star Wars franchise has been so beloved for decades and will always be so beloved—it reminds each one of us that we can make a difference in some way. We can make things better. The bad guys don't have to win. (Although they will apparently keep coming back again and again and again in various masks. D'oh!)

OK, before I go, I've decided that I AM going to spoil you on one big thing: Jar-Jar Binks does NOT make an appearance.

Can we get a final phew?


- e

p.s. I WILL ALLOW spoilers and plot points in the comments below because I am dying to talk about the movie with others. So don't take a look-see down there until you've watched the movie for yourself. In a few days I intend to post all of my theories about various characters and what I thnk could happen in Episodes VIII and IX, but feel free to write whatever you'd like now before I get to it.

You have been forewarned!

The next generation of female Star Wars fans begins with my daughter.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Movie Review: Jurassic World

They're baa-aack
In short: I loved it.

Lightning has struck twice this year, my friends. I often complain about how action sequences haven't done it for me in a long, long time. I'll watch an elaborate car chase, explosion-heavy war scene or tricked-out superhero vs. villain battle and just feel bored. It's all like "been there, done that" for me at this point.

Until last month with Mad Max: Fury Road. And again this week with Jurassic World. Two totally different kinds of films—the former having truly changed the game and the latter being pretty much the definition of a popcorn movie—but all that matters to me is that I loved every minute of watching both of them, and that's something I can't say about any other recent action/adventure titles. I should probably mention here that I have no nostalgic feelings about the original trilogy, so there wasn't any of that factoring into my enjoyment of the film. This isn't the Star Wars franchise to me, by any means.

Having said all that, does it really even matter if I tell you what Jurassic World is about? No. Plus, you already freaking know what it's about: people being stupid (again) and dinosaurs wreaking having on those stupid people (again). It's a great combination, even though the dino mayhem far surpasses the idiotic human stuff in terms of entertainment value. And I'm not ashamed at all to admit that I was rooting against mankind for the majority of the movie.

Almost nothing of importance has changed plot-wise when comparing Jurassic World to 1993's Jurassic Park, except that this time it's 22 years later, the rebooted theme park has been operating successfully for years, and there's a guy named Owen Grady (Chris Pratt, in full "Hire me as the next Indiana Jones" mode, not that there's anything wrong with that) who's been attempting to train four Velociraptors with "positive reinforcement" techniques, much in the same way that I tried (and miserably failed) to train my black lab years ago.

Oops, we did it again.
Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) is the park's head of operations, and she's all business. Some people may say that Claire's character is one dimensional because she's so uptight and unemotional, but I actually know women like that so whatever. However, I was annoyed by the fact that she ran around in heels the entire time, even after the inappropriateness of her outfit was actually mentioned by Owen. But I got over it because 1) running around barefoot would've probably been worse in this case, 2) you can't run in heels after the heels are broken off, so that wasn't an option, and 3) I was rolling my eyes even harder at the fact that all of the characters stopped to chat, hug, kiss, joke or do anything other than run their assess off or look for places to hide when there were LOOSE DINOSAURS NEARBY WHO HAD ALREADY NEARLY KILLED THEM.

So I truly had no issue with Claire overall, but the character I thought was most ripped out of the Movie Character Stereotype Handbook was Vic Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio, who I still can't believe is the same guy who played Thor in my beloved Adventures in Babysitting). Vic is the head of security and is all about weaponizing the dinos. He relishes the death and chaos when things start going horribly wrong. In other words, he is the Evil War- and Violence-Obsessed Villain.

Star Lord to the rescue
There of course must be kids' lives in danger again, so Claire has two nephews who are visiting for the weekend... who she promptly hands off to an assistant... who the brothers find a way to ditch so that they're totally alone right before things go south. I was freaking out about the older one (Zach, played by Nick Robinson (The Kings of Summer)) for most of the film, because I thought he looked so much like another actor... but I couldn't put my finger on it. By the end I realized that it was a young, Goonies-era Sean Astin that he resembled. Anyway, the brothers had a go-nowhere subplot about their parents' divorce, but otherwise they only served as a device to bring Owen and Claire together to have someone to save.

And that's all fine and good, because watching these people (plus many other minor characters it's pointless to mention here) deal with the repercussions of humankind's greed, arrogance and inability to learn from the past was absolutely thrilling. The dinosaurs looked great, they sounded great, and everything about them was incredible. They're what's worth the price of a ticket, and thankfully you won't have to sit through too many human-only scenes. Michael Giacchino's spectacular throwback score and shots of the gorgeous island of Oahu (specifically Kualoa Ranch) are worth the cost admission, too.

Yay for Jake Johnson, in the role of Comic Relief, Sensible Human
So if you're looking for some deep statement about man vs. nature or a thoughtful debate on the ethics of bringing extinct creatures to life or cooking up hybrid creatures, this is not the movie for you. (Try Splice.) But personally I don't always need fully formed characters or Big Ideas or even a well-thought-out plot. Really all I want to do when I go into any movie is forget about reality. I want my mind to be so absorbed by what's going down on the screen that for two hours it completely empties of everything that's stressing me out. These days, there is a lot stressing me out. Director Colin Trevorrow's previous film, Safety Not Guaranteed, was one of my two favorites of 2012 (along with Looper). Jurassic World is a very, very different kind of movie, but Trevorrow succeeded in once again hooking me from the opening seconds and making me forget about the real world, which is probably why I broke into applause at the end. And since everyone's looking for a little escapism, I can only hope you enjoy it even half as much as I did.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

Make no mistake, this is HER movie.
"Masterpiece" doesn't even begin to describe it.

When extremely enthusiastic buzz for Mad Max: Fury Road started leaking after its first press screenings last weekend, I didn't give those early whispers much weight. As a rule, I try not to pay attention to other film reviews before I write my own so as to not have my opinion clouded, and in this case, if I'm being honest, I had already figured there was going to be a strong George-Miller-fanboy element that would need to be factored in to account for all of the glowing reviews coming from mostly (95%, I calculated) male critics.

I had also figured that affection for the existing Mad Max films would bleed over into this reboot of sorts (with Miller back in the director's chair and Tom Hardy taking over Mel Gibson's role as "Mad" Max Rockatansky). Here's the part where I admit to having never seen any of those movies. What can I say? I was an 11-year-old girl obsessed with Madonna and The Goonies when the third film (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome) came out, and for whatever reason just never felt motivated to rent the trilogy in the decades since. They seemed like testosterone-fueled "guy movies" to me. And my general dislike of Mel Gibson didn't help.

I considered catching up before seeing Fury Road, but ultimately didn't. My reasoning: in addition to most other critics being male, nearly all of them have seen the original trilogy, so maybe it would be more interesting if I reported from a totally different perspective.

But as it turns out, my gender and complete lack of familiarity with George Miller's previous films didn't even matter in the end. I'm here to assure you that you don't need to know anything about the other Mad Max installments to have your mind completely blown by Fury Road. I walked out of the theater contemplating that it might just be the best film I've ever seen, ever. (Not my favorite, but the best. There's a difference.)

That's attractive
From Fury Road's very first moments, I was hooked. There stood poor Max, totally alone in the vast desert of post-apocalyptic Australia, hearing voices and hallucinating. He has been on the run for years, trying to survive in a cruel world that is nothing but sand for as far as the eye can see, while also failing to shake off disturbing visions of his family members and loved ones blaming him for their deaths.

Soon he has bigger things to worry about, though, because he gets captured by a gang of War Boys—brainwashed, chalk-covered, wild-eyed members of a feral army that worships King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played Toecutter in 1979's Mad Max). After a heart-pounding escape-attempt sequence that, in retrospect, serves as a remarkably tame appetizer for what's to come, Max finds himself strung upside down and serving as a blood donor for a weakened War Boy named Nux (Nicholas Hoult).

We are introduced to Immortan Joe as he showers his starving, filthy and tumored masses with a stingy taste of the drinking water he's been pumping up from the earth and hoarding. But soon after this display of arrogance and power, he discovers that Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron)—who was supposed to be leading a crew of War Boys on a fuel run—has stolen Joe's five (!) wives and gone rogue. The wheezy, masked ruler promises glory to whomever brings Furiosa to justice, so Nux decides he needs to strap his blood bank (Max) to the front of a vehicle and join the chase.

Cool guys JUMP away from explosions
And it really is a chase. "It" being the majority of the two-hour film. It is a chase that puts to shame all other cinematic chases. All of them. It is a chase that will leave you astounded by its relentlessness, its creativity and its beauty. I've simply never seen anything like it—many parts of the Joe vs. Furiosa land race reminded me of acrobatic and carefully choreographed Cirque du Soleil performances, but even that description doesn't really do it. (Maybe because those performances usually lack spearings, stabbings, rammings and explosions.)

From the increased frame-rate that makes everything appear jumpy and hyper-real, to the electric-guitar and drum-heavy score (by Junkie XL) that's cleverly embedded into the action, to the glorious wide shots of the desert chase courtesy of cinematographer John Seale—you can't help but wonder how in the hell Miller pulled this off, especially when there doesn't seem to be that much obvious CGI. Fury Road raises the bar so high I can't imagine it being met for years to come. Let's just say it reinforced my belief that superhero movies have been taking the easy and expected way out for quite a while now. No action movie I can remember holds a candle to Fury Road. No action movie I can remember should even be classified as an action movie now that Fury Road exists. It's a game-changer.

Those eyes thought
Miller, Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris wrote the screenplay, which is very light on dialogue. I suppose that could've been a problem if Hardy and Theron weren't masters at conveying such a range of thoughts and emotions through their expressions. And truth be told, it kind of bugged me when any characters did speak; the slang and accents and levels of sanity varied so drastically among them, it started to shatter the illusion that this awful world was real. I also thought it was kind of odd that Max looked so normal compared to all of the freaks around him. Shame on me for assuming the distant dystopian future could never abide a few good-looking dudes.

Much ado has been made about the film's feminist or female empowerment themes, but I didn't walk out of the theater with any such thoughts in my head. The person who's had enough of Immortan Joe's bullshit happens to be female, and she also happens to kick ass. A lot of the people who end up helping her happen to be ass-kicking females as well. But to me this isn't a story of men versus women or men effing up the world and women having to save it, it's a story of how a small group of people with not much more than their convictions and determination might possibly change things. It's a story about hope. It just takes a while to realize that after you've been holding your breath in amazement for two hours.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Give It Away Give It Away Give It Away Now

As I explained in yesterday's post, I've had some extra time over the past few weeks. My schedule will also be slightly less jam-packed between now and our vacation next Friday, and I have big plans to continue my rare productive streak.

What a great idea, huh?
One of the biggest things I accomplished so far was pulling together a ton—and I do mean a ton—of clothes, purses and toiletries for a few different charities my mom volunteers for. My parents were here a few weekends ago and my mom asked if I had any purses I no longer wanted because she was working with a group called Handbags of Hope. This awesome organization pulls together purses filled with various toiletries for women in shelters or who have fled dangerous situations and took absolutely no possessions with them. (There are many nonprofits like this one around the country, by the way... and hint hint.)

My mom asked the right person. Not only did I have several purses wasting away in my closet purgatory, but I had over a dozen of those random makeup bags that you get "free" with your purchase at various makeup counters. These things were seriously multiplying on my bathroom shelves, and I was thrilled to clear them out and know they'd be going to someone who actually needed them.

And the toiletries? Oh lord, don't even get me started. This is a little embarrassing, but I clearly have some sort of kleptomaniac blood running through my veins because every time I stay at a hotel, I take all of the toiletries home. All of those mini bottles of shampoo, conditioner, lotion, mouthwash, body gel, soap—you name it. And we travel a lot. So over the years I accumulated literally hundreds of bottles, boxes and packets of various toiletries. My reasoning was that we have a lot of people stay with us and that it would be nice to offer our guests a selection of bathroom amenities to choose from. But at this point someone could stay with us for five years straight and not run out of shampoo. It was ridiculous.

So I spent a few hours over the course of that weekend going through my bathroom closets, looking under the sinks and rummaging through every other random place I've squirreled this stuff away and came up with several big grocery bags full of loot for my mom to take back with her. Now I wish I would've weighed all of it because it was insane! All that's left now are a few small baskets for each of our guest rooms that look something like this:

Lint brush & extra toothbrushes supplied by me. All else, um, supplied by hotels around the world.

 I think our visitors are gonna survive AND still be so fresh and so clean when they leave our place.

Next up was the biggest task yet: cleaning out my clothes closets, since my mom mentioned there were other groups she worked with that were holding clothing drives.

I've been freelancing from home since 2007, yet for some reason I still kept all of my very nice suits I wore for The Man, along with a ton of high heels and more businessy stuff that I haven't touched for years. I just never had the time—even on weekends—to go through it all and decide what I should give to charity and what I should keep. But now I finally had a huge motivation to do it: I had a few hours to spare because my parents were watching Desmond all weekend and they were going to be nice enough to actually haul everything to the various nonprofits for me and get me the tax receipts I need. I HAD to get it done.

I went crazy paring down my closets. It felt so, so good. I kept my three favorite suits, but all other outfits only relevant to The Man went bye-bye. As did sweaters I hadn't worn in at least two seasons, pants that didn't fit anymore, shoes that were uncomfortable, pajamas I'd forgotten about, and so on.

We piled it all into my parents' SUV and FILLED IT. We filled an SUV with clothes, purses and toiletries!?!?

Behold the back seat

Behold the way way back

We gave away that much stuff... and my husband still needs to rummage through his closets! We're going to have so much extra room around here, and we can feel extra-good about it. Words can't describe the relief I felt at getting this done.

I hope I've inspired you to do the same if you've been feeling like you need a good spring cleaning. Now is the time! 'Cause it's spring—duh!

- e 

Monday, May 11, 2015


Come at me

It's been a while since I've posted, and this time I actually have a good excuse—or several good excuses, as it were. Two of them can't be shared publicly right now, so I'll have to keep you in suspense on those for a bit longer. But one update I can talk about is that—after 6.5 years of writing movie reviews, blog posts and social media musings—I am no longer freelancing for Redbox. It's only been a few weeks since I stopped working for them, so I'm not even sure it's completely sunk in to me yet. I was a contractor for Redbox longer than I had a "real job" anywhere else, so I guess the adjustment is going to take some time.

I had four months to prepare for my last day, but clearly change is harder than I'd like to admit because I didn't get off my butt and proactively try to secure another film reviewing gig like I should've. And now because of the other stuff going on that I can't share just yet, it probably doesn't make sense for me to try and find a more permanent critic post until the fall. So you can expect to see more movie reviews here on According to e in the meantime, starting this week.

Britney would say I'm lucky
As I was stressing out about how I was going to replace the income I've lost from Redbox, another wonderful opportunity fell into my lap, much like the Redbox job did back in 2008. I must've done something damn cool in a past life for this type of thing to happen to me so many times. Or maybe it's just really good luck?

My new gig will start in a few months and is still social media and writing-centric, but it's not really public-facing—meaning that I won't be sharing links of things I've written. So my hope is to eventually find a way to balance the new client work and my other client work, start reviewing films for a new outlet and also post frequently on this site in order to keep the ol' creative expression flowing.

Now that my personal update is out of the way, I'll be back with commentary on totally random topics starting tomorrow . . . until I leave for Ireland and Northern Ireland next Friday. Westeros, here I come!

- e

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.