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Movies: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Melissa McCarthy is an actress I feel I would enjoy as a person, and as an actress in general, except that she tends to star in the kinds of movies I don’t like at all, by which I mean raunchy comedies. I’m not a bathroom humor kind of girl. I did see that Ghostbusters remake, however. It wasn’t anything special in my book, but it wasn’t as terrible as everyone made it out to be (in my opinion, though perhaps my nearly nil expectations made it easy for the movie to surpass them).

I say all this as preface to the fact that I think McCarthy does a very fine job here in a dark dramedy. In CYEFM, she portrays Lee Israel, an author-turned-forger. This is based on a true story, mind. Israel had been a biographer who, in the 90s, couldn’t seem to keep up with trends. In desperation, she turned to creating fake letters supposedly written by famous people. After being caught, she went on to write the book this film is based on.

Did I enjoy this movie? Actually, it incited quite a bit of anxiety in me, mostly because there is a pet cat being semi-neglected. What’s remarkable, though, and worth admiring is the way McCarthy makes Israel both unlikable and still sympathetic. I know the writing and directing have something to do with that, too, but the result inhabits that very tenuous space, which is a requirement to pull the movie off at all.

Likewise, Richard E. Grant as Israel’s partner in crime Jack is equally spot on.

CYEFM is well done. I don’t know if I’d say it’s a “good” movie because that would depend upon your personal criteria, but it is well written, well directed, and well acted. It’s a movie that will probably stay with me longer than the typical popcorn flick. If you count any of those things as “good,” then this fits the bill.

Fairy Tales Await!

And they’re just 99 cents!

February 26th is National Tell A Fairy Tale Day. Who knew? But Faebourne is a perfect read for such an event! As are all these other great fantasies, each discounted through February 28th. So grab one—or several—and curl up with a good book!

Meanwhile, also enjoy this preview of Faebourne and other Elite Review titles from InD’Tale Magazine:

Movie: Bohemian Rhapsody

I like the music of Queen, and I find Freddie Mercury a very interesting person. What I’d really like to do right now is dig up a good biography of him because this movie… falls short.

Bohemian Rhapsody skims the surface of the formation and rise to fame of Queen, with a focus on Mercury. Yet that focus does not delve, and what the movie mostly serves up is a series of vignettes about how some of their best-known songs were conceived. That’s fine, I suppose, and there are some great musical moments, but it doesn’t do much to create tension.

From what I can tell, they tried to manufacture some tension by:

  • showing some record execs that didn’t believe “Bohemian Rhapsody” could be a hit
  • showing Freddie being in love with Mary, even slightly jealous about her falling in love with someone else and having a baby… except that really wasn’t explored very much
  • showing Freddie partying hard while the rest of the band wanted to go home to their families (in, like, one or two scenes)
  • showing Freddie often being late for things
  • showing Freddie being offered a solo contract and the band reacting badly
  • showing Freddie breaking the news of his illness to the band

None of the above is deeply examined by the movie; each is a mere plot point in what really is just a kind of film timeline of events. And timelines aren’t all that interesting to watch.

Nor is this timeline accurate. I won’t bother to list it all here; Wikipedia has done it for me. And while Bohemian Rhapsody is hardly the first (or last) movie to play fast and loose with the truth, the fact that it does so in order to up the tension—and yet the tension remains nil—is part of what makes the film fail in my eyes.

Yet I know many who love this movie. And I will say the actors do a tremendous job with what they’re given. I was a teensy bit distracted by Malek’s false teeth at first, but I got used to them as the film went on. Yet, despite that toothiness, I’d say this movie is largely toothless.

Movies: The Favourite

Political intrigue. Backstabbing. Sex. And big costumes. What more could anyone want from a film?

The Favourite is a take on Queen Anne of Britain’s (r. 1707-1714) relationships with Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, and Abigail [Hill] Masham. While most historians believe that Anne was not a lesbian, this film depicts otherwise. I don’t know if this is simply to titillate the viewers or to create a fulcrum of tension, but I guess it’s entertaining anyway.

Sarah is Anne’s right-hand lady-in-waiting, and she’s taken it on herself to issue orders not only in the Queen’s stead, but to the Queen directly as well! One wonders why Anne would have allowed someone to behave in such a way towards her, but Olivia Colman’s portrayal is wonderfully nuanced. In this take, Anne is insecure as well as ill and leans on the more forceful Sarah for support. Sarah accepts this responsibility—indeed, she nurses Anne’s self-doubts by undercutting her confidence, all the while saying it proves she is a true friend because she will not lie to make Anne feel better. Well, this may be accurate to some extent, but there are ways to be truthful and kind. Sarah is not the latter.

Along comes Abigail, who is kind, and who learns at the hand of Sarah how to also be false. You can see where this is going.

What’s interesting to watch is the way the scales tip as the movie goes on. At first Sarah is the clear villain, but then she becomes the victim of Abigail’s growing ambition. Did she get what she deserved? The real casualty here is, of course, poor Anne, who loses a dear friend (and, in this version, lover). Again, one wonders however whether she is better off without Sarah as her shield/crutch.

So is the movie as good as the hype? I enjoyed it very much, though felt it was gratuitous in some places. Well, costume dramas often can be. And I loved the bunnies. Colman definitely merits the accolades she’s received, and I’d give Weisz an edge over Stone, but both are very good in this film. It helps to know a bit of the political history in order to follow the plot, but even if you don’t, you can get the gist of things. Overall, if asked to give a star rating, I’d say 4.5.

Mentors

I was helping host a Facebook cover reveal party, and it got me thinking about mentors and all the people who have supported me over the years. I’ve been really fortunate in that regard, and I wanted to write about a few of them.

Mrs. Truehardt was my first real mentor. She was our gifted & talented teacher, and we were in a pilot program where she followed us through several grades. (They call it “looping” now, and maybe they did then and I just never knew it.) She really encouraged us to develop our skills and interests, and she knew my strengths were in reading and writing. I remember once I forgot to write a paper, so I wrote a poem and handed that in instead. She loved it! We were all so sad when she retired after our fourth-grade year.

In high school I had Mrs. Bason, the journalism teacher, and Mr. Crivello, who taught honors and AP English Lit. Mrs. Bason was a fellow Trekkie, and we even once went to a Star Trek convention together. When I graduated, she gave me a book of poems inscribed with: “I know you’re going to be a great author someday.” Mr. C (as we called him) also encouraged my writing. He gave me a cassette tape of Jackson Browne music, too, which I still have, even though I’ve long since bought the albums in digital format. He’s the reason I got the highest possible score on the AP exam, too.

As an undergrad I was lucky enough to study with Dr. Douglass S. Parker (“Doc Parker”), the man who coined the term “parageography.” He had two offices on campus—one in the HRC and one in Waggener. Both were so crammed with stuff he couldn’t hold office hours in either. So he would send a note around to me and tell me to put on my one good suit—the one my parents had bought me for job interviews—and meet him at the faculty lounge. And he’d sneak me in and we’d have lunch and talk about his days in the war and in Memphis… He played in a band, if I remember right. Trombone? Doc Parker said I reminded him of his ex-daughter-in-law and wished I’d learned enough Greek to help him with his translations. He wrote the recommendation letter that got me into grad school, and he emailed me regularly to check on my writing and whether my world (AElit, which I had developed in his parageography course) was published yet. One of my biggest regrets is that he didn’t live to see my work in print. He was a wonderful champion.

And in grad school, one of my thesis advisors, Lisa Diercks, was the one to get me my first job by recommending me for an internship that eventually got me hired. I showed zero aptitude for book design, but she saw something in me anyway, for which I’m very grateful!

There are many more people in my life who have guided and supported me, but I can’t name everyone, else this list would be eternal. But I like to take moments now and then to remember that I didn’t get where I am all on my own—I’m not that good, nor quite as independent as I like to think. Good teachers make big differences in the lives of their students, and for that I’m forever thankful.

Valentine’s: Yay or Nay?

Happy Valentine’s Day! In our house, it’s pretty much an average day, except that the kids come home from school with armloads of candy and cards. Feels to me like a waste of paper in most cases. There’s nothing particularly sincere or sentimental in these cards; in fact, they usually aren’t directly addressed to my children, only signed by whichever classmate handed them out. That’s how they do it now. Saves time if you can just drop it in whatever bag or box the kids have decorated without searching for the exact one addressed to the right person.

Aside from the economy and marketing, I’m not sure why school kids celebrate Valentine’s Day at all. Sure, as they get older and begin to form real ties of friendship and affection, it makes sense for them to give the people they truly care about a card or token. But other than that? My third grader really doesn’t care. Except about the candy, of course.

And yet, it’s my third grader whose class is having a party. My fifth- and seventh graders are completely disinterested in Valentine’s Day because it is uncool and embarrassing. So even though they are the ones with strong social circles, they won’t be exchanging valentines.

It’s all just a bit backward.

But I’m hardly one to talk. My husband and I also do not usually observe Valentine’s Day. This is the night when, if you do go out, places are crowded and the food isn’t as good. We’d just as soon go out some other night. Which is what we do anyway when we have date nights. For Valentine’s Day, we don’t buy cards, and with my diet restrictions, I can’t have candy. Heck, I probably can’t even eat from the “Valentine’s Day Menus” at most restaurants. So why bother?

On the flip side, Valentine’s Day (and the days surrounding) is a cluster of my friends’ birthdays. For whatever reason, I seem to draw to me people born around this time of year. So I’m just as happy, or happier, to give them all the attention. As someone born near to Christmas, I know what a pain it is to have a birthday near a holiday that eclipses your day. Romance can happen any day of the year, but birthdays should be special.

How about you? Do you celebrate Valentine’s Day? Am I just taking my marriage and husband for granted by not making a bigger deal of the day? Do your kids care about Valentine’s Day, or are they over it? And how do you feel about birthdays that fall on or near holidays? Let me know in the comments!

Life with a Nutritionist

No, I’m not living with one. At least, not in close quarters. I am living with one telling me how and what and when to eat.

First off: Why hire a nutritionist? At my last general wellness visit with my doctor, I told her that I kept gaining weight and nothing I did seemed to stop or reverse it. I’d changed my eating habits, begun counting calories, was exercising—nothing worked. My doctor told me not to be concerned, but as a precaution she also sent me for blood tests. Everything came back normal. So then I got sent to a gastroenterologist. He diagnosed me with “low motility,” meaning my gut is slow at digesting and *ahem* eliminating. He put me on an expensive medication that kept me tied to the bathroom. I decided the cure was worse than the disease and quit after a month.

Finally, my doctor suggested a nutritionist. So I decided the start of a new year was the perfect time to tackle a new health regimen. I’m now four weeks into a nine week program. I’ve lost about 11 pounds, and of that about half has been body fat. I look better, but it hasn’t been easy, and I do worry whether I’ll be able to keep the weight off.

Here’s the current situation: I have to eat certain amounts and kids of foods at certain times of day. I eat at 6:00 a.m., 9:00 a.m., noon, 3:00 p.m., 5:30 p.m., and around 9:30 or 10:00 p.m. (roughly half an hour before I go to bed). At those times, I have to pick from an approved list of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. I cannot have breads (except Paleo bread), pasta, or dairy. I can’t have sugar; the only sweetener I’m allowed is Stevia. I can’t have starches like corn, rice, potatoes, carrots, or bananas. It’s not very fun, especially for someone who loves cheesesteak, mashed potatoes, and ice cream.

On top of all this, I have to take a lot of pills. First thing in the morning I take a probiotic and two Omega fish oil capsules. With breakfast, I’m supposed to take a Caltrate, too. Before lunch and again before dinner I take a starch blocker. At dinner I take three more Omega-3 capsules, a vitamin C tablet, another Caltrate, and another probiotic. Oh, and somewhere in all that I also take a magnesium pill as well. Yeah, it’s pretty f***ing insane.

And not inexpensive. All the health food, all the pills—the cost adds up quickly.

My nutritionist says that I’ll be able to add dairy and bread back into my diet at a later date (when we get to “maintenance”), once we’ve rebalanced my hormones or whatever. She also says I probably won’t want those things, but I have serious doubts about that. I don’t crave them the way I did in the first week or so, but I still want to be able to eat them. There’s nothing to make you want something like being told you can’t have it.

I worry I’ll be stuck eating off this restricted menu for the rest of my life. That if I don’t, I’ll just gain all this weight back and be fat again. And sometimes I wonder if losing weight and being healthy is worth all this sacrifice. I honestly can’t decide. I want to be healthy… But I also want to enjoy life. Eating should be a pleasure, not a chore.

So I’m about halfway through this… experiment? I don’t know if that’s exactly the right word. We’ll see what happens. I don’t have the extra energy that the nutritionist said I’d have, but I am sleeping better than before. That’s a plus. I worry about things like vacations. I want to be able to eat and not have to think about whether it fits my prescribed menu, and without feeling guilty for my choices. I’m not convinced there’s a good middle ground except moderation. And a life full of pills and supplements.

Worth it? What do you think?

Movies: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

Voices by: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Tiffany Haddish, Stephanie Beatriz, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman
Directed by: Mike Mitchell
Written by: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (screenplay); Phil Lord, Christopher Miller & Matthew Fogel (story)
Warner Bros., 2019
PG; 106 minutes
4 stars (out of 5)

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I’ve often said that the real problem with making an excellent movie (or television show, or writing an excellent book) is that it sets an expectation for everything after to be at least as good or better. And that level of excellence is impossible to sustain. “Quit while you’re ahead” is a saying for a reason.

Hollywood, however, has zero sense of going out while on top. It likes to run franchises into the ground, eking out every last bit of money from movie goers. In fact, even when things are terrible, it will keep making more of them if people keep paying to see them.

Don’t be afraid. The second Lego movie is not terrible. It’s just not as good as the first one, and that’s not at all surprising. The first one was fresh and unexpected. This one had a lot—perhaps too much—to live up to.

If you recall the end of the first film, little sister and her Duplo blocks had invaded Bricksburg. This movie picks up five years later and tackles the theme of growing up, losing one’s imagination, and sibling rivals. It’s a lot to pack in. But basically, Bianca (that’s the sister) takes some of Finn’s (that’s the brother) Legos and he goes on a quest to get them back. This quest takes the shape of Emmet having to rescue his abducted friends.

That’s as much as I’ll tell you; I wouldn’t want to spoil anything. I will say there are a number of references (such as new character Rex being billed as a “raptor trainer” a la Chris Pratt’s Owen in the Jurassic World franchise… Oh, and yes, there are raptors).

Bottom line is that I did laugh a few times, and I did find the movie super cute. But it also felt like it was trying a little too hard in its themes, leaning a little too much on the music, and it just doesn’t breathe. The new characters aren’t given much development, and the familiar ones are too one-note here.

Still, my kids loved it, and they came home and *gasp* went to play Legos together. So… that’s a win.

Movie: Abducted in Plain Sight

Okay, I don’t want to make these people feel any worse than they already do, and as the old saying goes, “Times were different then,” but geez.

This documentary is about a woman named Jan who, as a little girl, was abducted and sexual abused by a family friend—twice. The friend’s name was Robert, but everyone refers to him as “B” (for “Bob,” I think). B set up a long con that involved seducing Jan’s mother and also tricking Jan’s father into some homosexual situations… That right there leaves you to wonder, doesn’t it? That and the fact that B also convinced the parents to let him sleep in Jan’s bed as part of some ongoing “therapy” he was going through? I can’t imagine any circumstance—any friendship strong enough—that I’d let a grown man (or anyone, for that matter) sleep in my daughter’s bed. So, you know, it’s really difficult to not just yell at your television while watching this: “What are you thinking? How stupid are you?”

Now, they insist B was a master manipulator, super charming. Proof of this is provided in the fact he was a great car salesman, I guess? And not having been there, in these people’s shoes, I want to give them the benefit of the doubt. But the documentary does little to help that. The parents, in interviews, give limp excuses and explanations for their actions. An FBI agent calls them “naive,” which feels like an insane understatement. I’d say there’s a mixture of naiveté and just utter lack of judgement. Like, complete inability to accurately judge character. And/or a huge helping of denial. After all, no one wants to believe a family friend is preying on one’s child. But where were the protective instincts? Apparently they had none?

I will say that B clearly planned things out. He created an entire story to compel Jan’s cooperation and silence. In that much, he really was a master manipulator.

This documentary is equal parts fascinating and frustrating. It left me with a sense of disbelief and “what just happened?” I feel for Jan and her family; their pain is clear and evident in their interviews. What a wreckage. No matter how naive, no one deserves what was done to them. I’m glad they’ve been able to unburden, even if it was difficult for them to step up and speak out, knowing how the world might judge them in kind. Good on them for their courage.