Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Dinosaurs Rule The Earth...Again

One large popcorn, please.

Four words that are synonymous with summer movies like "Jurassic World." While other summer action blockbusters dominate the cinematic landscape, only this latest edition of the regenerated dinosaur franchise works.   And why?

Because it doesn't take itself too seriously.   And, as a result, it is the perfect hot weather fare.  Now add some butter to the aforementioned popcorn.

The very first chapter of this series came out in the early 90s and, as directed and masterminded by Steven Spielberg himself, the movie was almost perfect in its execution.   The follow-ups were much less, but "Jurassic World" essentially rejiggers the original plot line and then piles on the peril because, after all, it is 2015.

The former theme park has now exploded to Epcot-like proportions and pulls in 20,000 visitors a day.  As it happens, no one escapes without at least one body part bandaged.   Because this intricately run vacation spot experiences more malfunctions than the Affordable Health Care website.  Before you know it, there is a hybrid edition of a raptor and several other violent species on the loose and killing for sport.

Of course, there are two kids lost in the woods.   A marketing executive who refuses to listen to her ex-boyfriend/resident dinosaur wrangler.   Yes, apparently, there is such a thing.   And, naturally, there will be several action sequences that have you gasping for air.

Yes, it's exactly the same plot as the first "Jurassic Park."  But who cares?   The only thing missing is Spielberg's astute directorial hand, but his name is on the credits so you figure he's had a little input.  At the end of the day, though, the film works because it's formula and it gives you exactly what you paid your money to see.  

More importantly, there is an element of fun that is missing from most summer action yarns.  The tongue is planted firmly in said cheek and that's the secret.   As you watch heroine Bryce Dallas Howard (yes, Opie's kid) running around the entire movie in high heels, you know that the folks in charge of this production want their audience to experience some rousing entertainment.   

They're not out to produce some work of art.   They simply want us to enjoy ourselves.   And, as a result, we all do.  There are chills.  There are laughs.   And, overall, a terrific two hours in the dark.

Unfortunately, not enough film makers get that concept these days.   Kudos to the people behind "Jurassic World" for breaking the mold.   By simply adhering to an old one.

LEN'S RATING:   Three-and-a-half stars.

Dinner last night:  Chicken parm at Craig's.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Monday Morning Video Laugh - June 29, 2015

"It wasn't scary at all."

Dinner last night:  Pasta with mushrooms and Italian sausage at Casa Nostra.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Happy Birthday, America and All That Jazz

Well, isn't he a grand old...  Wait, I can't say that anymore, correct?

We've got another celebration coming up this Saturday as summer begins in its sweaty earnest.  Happy Birthday, America. You don't look a day over 239. No, wait, that's how old the country really is. Sorry, I guess you are looking your age.  In my book, the place has got about twenty-five years left as we know it.   Thanks to the politicians of this land, we are circling the drain as we speak.

But that's for the future.  Let's remember the joyous past.  And the Fourth of July usually stands out as the Tiffany of our patriotic holidays.

The summer holiday, totally unique to our country, is one of our glorious traditions. Everybody has developed their own routine on how to celebrate the Fourth. Since I moved to points west, it's all about the Hollywood Bowl with its music and fireworks spectacular. I'll be there this year listening to...er...Smokey Robinson.  If the baseball schedule gods give me a break, there's a game and post-game pyrotechnics to soak in. I am lucky this year. The Dodgers are home for the weekend and I'll be watching their fireworks on Friday.  Oh, and even better, their opponents are the Mets!

So, my holiday weekend this year is set. And hopefully trouble-free.

Unlike others in the past.

When I was a kid, there were the years with a family barbecue, usually in our backyard which quickly was transformed into either a badminton court or a croquet field. Organized games were popular with my tribe as it was a welcome diversion to either eating or fighting. My cousins were mostly older so I was completely overmatched/underaged when it came to playing these games. I was too short. I was too uncoordinated. I was always too too something.

During the badminton games, I pretty much fanned on the shuttlecock. It would land at my feet. Or I'd hit it so hard that it would get lost amongst my grandmother's rhubarb plants.

When it came to croquet, I was not a proponent of the "less is more" approach. It was a lawn game, but I had my share of fly balls when it came to the sport. I'd attack my turn with the zeal of Mickey Mantle hitting a fastball down the plate. One took such an arc that I missed the wicket altogether. But managed a direct hit on the garage window. I looked sheepish and uttered my standard apology.

Sorry.

Grandma had another single word for me.

"Dumkopf."

The adults usually stayed sequestered in a row of beach chairs. If the temperature went below 90 degrees, my grandmother and the ubiquitous Tante Emma would hightail it into the house to fetch their winter coats. The summer humidity would be draining us all of body water. Meanwhile, Grandma would sit and bundle up.

"I feel a draft."

As the day would wind down, there would be less activity and more chit chat. One year, somebody had cracked a joke and one of our relatives laughed so hard that she shit right through her Capri pants onto the beach chair. I would have burned the thing right then and there. But, my father simply took it and hosed it off.Not enough for me. I never sat in that particular chair ever again. 

We weren't big on fireworks. And, besides I was still reeling from an unfortunate incident with matches, so the fear of fire was still all too real. The most I would tackle would be the run down the driveway holding a sparkler. Meanwhile, my mother would get more of a flame going by simply lighting up a pack of Kent Cigarettes. 

The real celebratory explosives were happening up the block with my neighborhood chums. They had the major artillary and plenty of it. Cherry bombs, sky rockets, and the unfortunately-but-aptly named "nigger chasers." Again, the remembrance of flames near my fingers made me a spectator to the special effects around me. Did I want to light one? Er, no, thanks. 

One year, there was an inexplicable attempt to go watch a professional fireworks show at a high school in Tuckahoe. My family didn't do organized events often. This one, however, was well populated. Even Grandma attended in one of her rare appearances that didn't involve either church, the A and P, or Suchy's Funeral Home in the Bronx. Invitations out of the realm usually got her tried-and-true response.


"I'll stay home." 

Well, that July the Fourth, Grandma went with the rest of us to see fireworks. It looked like all of Westchester County had converged on the Tuckahoe High School football bleachers to watch this. The usual ooohs and aahs. When it was over, the throng exited en masse. There was no room to move. My mother instructed me to hold onto my grandmother's hand for dear life. I did so.As I exited the crowd to meet the rest of my entourage, I was alone. Somehow, my hand was no longer attached to my grandmother's.


"Oh, great! You lost your grandmother!"

My fault again. 

Moments later, Grandma emerged from the melee. Unscathed and unamused."Next year, I stay home."She turned to look at me.

"Dumkopf."

Most of us will not be around when and if America celebrates its tricentennial in 2076. But, quite a lot of us were around for the bicentennial and we will have to hold that single memory for our entire lives. I remember all the hoopla. 

The tall ships in New York Harbor. 

The fireworks over Washington DC. 

Arthur Fiedler conducting the Boston Pops. 

All of it televised with Walter Cronkite officiating over all.

The only problem is I had other issues that day.

I thought I had cancer.

The day before, it had started. Terrific stomach pains that manifested themselves quickly in the form of hourly bathroom visits. The only trouble is what was leaking out of me didn't look right.

It was nothing but blood.

And, in one of my frequent moments of stupidity, I said nothing to anybody.My mother had a medical reference book in her arsenal. I pulled it out and looked up the symptoms.

Oh, my God, I have cancer of the colon!

Since I now assumed that I was dying, I figured it was time to mention my problem. I needed to give my folks time to clear their schedules in the event of my impending funeral. Indeed, they actually worried about this. But, not enough to respond outside of their usual medical orbit.

"We'll take you to Dr. Weisberg tomorrow."

Oh, God, no. Not him. I've written about this goofball before. A guy who would have attended to Robert Kennedy's head wound by spraying Bactine on it. This time around, however, Dr. Weisberg had to do a little bit more than simply prescribe Tylenol. One swig of barium and a GI series later, I was pronounced fit. Or as fit as a serious bout of kiddie colitis could leave me. I could celebrate America's birthday with nothing more than a steady diet of tapioca.

America's one noteworthy birthday during my lifetime and I'm toasting it with a bland diet.

Oh, well. I obviously lived to blog about it.

Enjoy the holiday and drive safely.

Dinner last night:  French dip panini at the Arclight Cafe.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Classic Movie Trailer of the Month - June 2015

A true classic and it only came out in 1988??  Meanwhile, it had a July release and a Christmas theme.  Duh.

Dinner last night:  Omelet with ham and cheese.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Six Flags Over Lunacy

Perfect for summer.

You know how all those amusement parks take your picture at the worst possible time during a scary ride?   Well, you realize that somebody was bound to capture the worst of the worst.











Dinner last night:  Hamburger and salad.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The .275 Hitter

Oy vey.

Or whatever the Christian, non-Yiddish translation of that is.

As regular readers to this daily merriment know, 2015 has been a tumult of nasty stuff happening to yours truly.  Like vomit coming out of a teenager on New Year's Day morning.

Let's see.  Where do I start?

An inflamed liver caused by Celebrex.

Multiple medical tests to discover just that, amounting to $ 5,000 which is conveniently my medical deductible for the years.

Oh, yes, even more tests for an unrelated ailment that is sparked by a small, but pesky hiatal hernia and esophagus irritation.  

Um, identity theft of my social security number that led to the purchase of multiple lawn mowers and weed whackers from Home Depot not by me.

Extensive alerts and security safeguards added to everything with my name on it.

More?

Last week, while on business in New York, my parked rental car was sideswiped by either a cyclist or a cab.   Mild but annoying damage to the rear passenger side.   I see yellow paint on the white car.  Taxi!  

I could have kept driving the car for the rest of the trip after filing the vandalism report at Hertz, but I decided to trade it for another car that may not realize it's associated with me.  

And the year isn't eve half-over.

So, I will give the bullshit the rest of the month to get out.  I need a virtual cleanse by July 1.  Out, out, bad karma.  

Just who did I piss off to merit the first half of 2015?

If you say I should just drink to forget it all, I will remind you of the top of this entry where I talk about an inflamed liver.   I have not had a drink since March 24.  And don't plan on it any time soon.

Seriously, I am a good person.  I tend to look at each year of your life as a baseball season.  There are ups and downs.  With regard to my own existence, I think I'm a .275 hitter.   Not a lot of home runs but I'm in every game and I do expect to win.  

So far, in 2015, I am hitting .220.  Cosmic gods, it is time to help me get my average up.   The good news is that I'm generally healthy now.   And life could be a lot worse.   I do have some blessings.

At the same time, come the freak on.  The first half of 2015 needs to be evened out so that I finish at my usual .275.  There has to be something wow headed my way.  The rest of the year is going to see me hitting .330.  

Again, bad karma incorporated, you have until July 1 to get this and me out of your system.   The second half of this year is going to be dynamite.

Smiling through it all.

Dinner last night:  Stir fry vegetables in garlic sauce.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

This Date in History - June 24

Today is another example of the Knots Landing guarantee.   Anybody from that show with a birthday gets their picture here.

109:  ROMAN EMPEROR TRAJAN INAUGURATES THE AQUA TRAIANA, AN AQUEDUCT THAT CHANNELS WATER FROM LAKE BRACCIANO.

It's an Aqueduct, not a Belmont.

474:  JULIUS NEPOS FORCES ROMAN USURPER GLYCERIUS TO ABDICATE THE THRONE AND PROCLAIMS HIMSELF EMPEROR OF THE WESTERN ROMAN EMPIRE.  

Glycerious?  Isn't that something for a rash?

1230:  THE SIEGE OF JAEN STARTED IN THE CONTEXT OF THE SPANISH RECONQUISTA.

I suppose there was an earlier Spanish Conquista.

1314:  FIRST WAR OF SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE - THE BATTLE OF BANNOCKBURN CONCLUDES WITH A DECISIVE VICTORY BY SCOTTISH FORCES LED BY ROBERT THE BRUCE.  

At least, he didn't call himself Robert the Springsteen.

1374:  A SUDDEN OUTBREAK OF ST. JOHN'S DANCE CAUSES PEOPLE IN THE STREETS OF AACHEN, GERMANY TO EXPERIENCE HALLUCINATIONS AND BEGIN TO JUMP AND TWITCH UNCONTROLLABLY UNTIL THEY COLLAPSE FROM EXHAUSTION.  

They shoot Germans, don't they?

1509:  HENRY VIII AND CATHERINE OF ARAGON ARE CROWNED KING AND QUEEN OF ENGLAND.

The Mickey Rooney of monarchs.  I mean in number of marriages, not height.

1535:  THE ANABAPTIST STATE OF MUNSTER IS CONQUERED AND DISBANDED.  

Herman or Lily?

1717:  THE PREMIER GRAND LODGE OF ENGLAND, THE FIRST MASONIC GRAND LODGE IN THE WORLD, IS FOUNDED IN LONDON.

Wives now know where their husbands are two nights a week.

1779:  DURING THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, THE GREAT SIEGE OF GIBRALTAR BEGINS.

Get a piece of the rock.

1793:  THE FIRST REPUBLICAN CONSTITUTION IN FRANCE IS ADOPTED.

Not those Republicans, right?

1880:  FIRST PERFORMANCE OF O CANADA, WHICH WOULD BECOME THE NATIONAL ANTHEM OF CANADA.

Now they have something to play before hockey games.

1902:  KING EDWARD VII OF THE UNITED KINGDOM DEVELOPS APPENDICITIS, DELAYING HIS CORONATION.

Back in the day when appendicitis was sometimes a fatal disease.

1904:  SINGER/ACTOR PHIL HARRIS IS BORN.

That's what I like about the South.  Ah, you thought there was going to be a "bare necessity" joke.

1916:  MARY PICKFORD BECOMES THE FIRST FEMALE FILM STAR TO SIGN A MILLION DOLLAR CONTRACT.

That's $500,000 per pigtail.

1919:  ACTOR AL MOLINARO IS BORN.

Most remember him from Happy Days, but I still prefer him as Murray the cop on the The Odd Couple.

1938:  PIECES OF A METEOR, ESTIMATED TO HAVE WEIGHED 450 METRIC TONS WHEN IT HIT THE EARTH'S ATMOSPHERE, LAND NEAR PENNSYLVANIA.   

What's that flying above...OUCH!

1942:  ACTRESS MICHELE LEE IS BORN.

Met her several times.  Nice lady.

1947:  KENNETH ARNOLD MAKES THE FIRST WIDELY REPORTED UFO SIGHTING NEAR MOUNT RAINIER, WASHINGTON.

Maybe it was a piece of that meteor.

1948:  START OF THE BERLIN BLOCKADE - THE SOVIET UNION MAKES OVERLAND TRAVEL BETWEEN WEST GERMANY AND WEST BERLIN IMPOSSIBLE.

Mr. Stalin, put up that wall.

1949:  THE FIRST TELEVISION WESTERN, HOPALONG CASSIDY, IS AIRED ON NBC.

There will be a few others...ahem.

1957:  IN ROTH VS. US, THE SUPREME COURT RULES THAT OBSCENITY IS NOT PROTECTED BY THE FIRST AMENDMENT.

Hell, yeah.

1973:  THE UPSTAIRS LOUNGE ARSON ATTACK TAKES PLACE AT A GAY BAR IN NEW ORLEANS.  THIRTY-TWO PEOPLE DIE.

They should have gone to the Downstairs Lounge.  Probably easier to get out.

1987:  ACTOR JACKIE GLEASON DIES.

And away he goes.

1997:  ACTOR BRIAN KEITH DIES.

Killed himself.  Buried in the Westwood cemetery near my house.

2000:  ACTOR DAVID TOMLINSON DIES.

No saving Mr. Banks this time.

2004:  IN NEW YORK, CAPITAL PUNISHMENT IS DECLARED UNCONSTITUTIONAL.  

Glad I moved.

2005:  VENTRILOQUIST PAUL WINCHELL DIES.

Oddly enough, Jerry Mahoney released a statement.

2013:  FORMER ITALIAN PRIME MINISTER SILVIO BERLUSCONI IS FOUND GUILTY OF ABUSING HIS POWER AND HAVING SEX WITH AN UNDERAGE PROSTITUTE AND IS SENTENCED TO SEVEN YEARS IN PRISON.

And you thought all the political sleazeballs were in this country.

2014:  ACTOR ELI WALLACH DIES.

The Good, the Bad, and the Dead.

Dinner last night:  Chef's salad.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Not the Jersey Boys

On the heels of last year's joyous screen adaptation of "Jersey Boys," we get this very curious film biography about Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys called "Love and Mercy."   Anybody who thinks they will leave the theater singing along to the hit tunes they just heard will be sadly mistaken and likely disappointed.

Oh, "Love and Mercy" certainly holds your interest and is well-acted.  But, the subject matter here is ten times more grim than the gambling and money woes of the Four Seasons.   We're talking here about leader Brian Wilson's manic schizophrenia and that's never a toe tapper in anybody's book.  As a result, this film by director Bill Pohlad is immediately mired in a sadness from which it never really recovers.

This movie actually employs two different actors to play the beleaguered Brian Wilson at two different points in his life.  John Cusack plays the 90s version who is being treated by a psychopath of a shrink played menacingly by Paul Giamatti.  This Brian Wilson is almost comatose but he still has enough of his mental faculties to begin a relationship with a Cadillac salesperson played by Elizabeth Banks.

Intertwined are many flashbacks of the younger Brian Wilson played most by Paul Dano in a complete stupor and stare.  This is the Brian Wilson that was starting to hear the many voices in his head as provoked by an overbearing and abusive father/manager.  We meet all the other Beach Boys but they are purely secondary characters.   Indeed, the Beach Boys are already big hits when the film opens.  And, conveniently, they are shipped off to an Asian tour, leaving Brian to deal with the onset of his mental illness.  As a result, we get lots of little snippets of Beach Boys music but not enough to register with true fans.  

Instead, we get Brian grappling with his "new sound," which is just white noise. There is one marvelous set piece where Brian overdirects a recording session with the famed "Wrecking Crew" that was spotlighted in that marvelous documentary of several months ago.  It was fascinating to see the likes of Hal Blaine and Carol Kaye played by actors on the big screen because I just met the real people on screen a little while ago.  

And, frankly, the key word above is "overdirect."  Because the film's director Pohlad does just that.  Every time the voices in Wilson's head emerge, we are treated to some cacophony of noise and screen images that look like an LSD trip.  Suddenly, you think you're watching "Easy Rider" with Peter Fonda.  Less could have been more here and an already depressing tale is made even more unlikable.

At the screening I attended, I actually think there were people who thought they were going to be treated to a Beach Boys version of "Jersey Boys."   I could sense lots of disappointment on the way out.  I heard one patron say, "I had no idea Brian Wilson was such a nut."

Well, I myself did know the back story and, heck, I saw the real Brian perform a few years back at the Dodgers' Opening Day.  He clearly could function as a musician but you could see that he still wasn't "right."  How some members of my movie audience didn't know this is beyond me.

You got the story all right as ugly as it sounds.   And, from the closing catch-up credits, you can see that the filmmakers did their homework.  It's just not a happy movie.  And you should understand that going in.

But, at least, nobody at my screen thought they were coming to see the screen biography of the Giant/Dodger reliever Brian Wilson.

LEN'S RATING:  Two-and-a-half stars.

Dinner last night:  Chicken fried steak and salad. 


Monday, June 22, 2015

Monday Morning Video Laugh - June 22, 2015

Summer has arrived.

Dinner last night:  Bacon wrapped hot dog at the Dodger game.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Yet Another Father's Day Memory

Father's Day again and, as likely the case with you as well, memories come back to the forefront one more time.   If your dad is around, hug him a bit tighter.

As for me, the holiday is always a little more poignant because my father's birthday was June 20.   Often times, the two days were connected or close enough to warrant an even bigger celebration.  Of course, for many years when I was a kid, the true present would be dictated by my mother.

"Don't bother your father today."

Yes, ma'am.  

Indeed, there were years later on where my dad got cheated a little bit.  As an adult, I would take him out to dinner on Father's Day and that would cover the birthday festivities as well.   Back in that day, he loved to go any place that had a salad bar.  This was routine to me.  For him who rarely went out any more, the many options of cole slaw, pickled beets, cucumbers, and radishes were a novelty.

This year though, my dad memories started a few weeks back.   When I was watching American Pharoah win the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown.   You see, that has always been my little unspoken legacy and hat tip to my dad.   Wherever I am and whatever I am doing, I watch the three legs of that horse racing event.  My father had instilled in me early on the importance of watching these races.


As long as I can remember, Dad was a horse racing fan.  I remember him going to Yonkers Raceway all the time.  That was a big double date night out. Frequently, my mom would go along and they would be joined by another couple.  It was a big deal.

When we vacationed in Atlantic City or Asbury Park, there was always one day set aside to visit the local track.   As a six-year-old, I was bored to tears.  But this stuff seemed to animate my rather stoic dad more than anything else.

I have images of him seated at the kitchen table with the racing results spread out in front of him.  He studied and studied.   He seemed to know his stuff when it came to the ponies.

Now, was there gambling going on?   I am sure of it.   I always remember hearing my parents talk about "hitting the number" whatever that was.   And, in those long ago days prior to Offtrack Betting, your wagers on today's card at Aqueduct or Monmouth were handled by some guy parked near the train station at 241st Street and White Plains Road in the Bronx.

And there's a little family secret that I only know about peripherally.   And likely will never know more.

The whispering in my house was a little more intense.   There was covert activity that was never really addressed.   If I asked a question, I was likely dismissed.

Several years later, while retrieving a phone number for my mother from her desk drawer, I saw a "Police Beat" item from the local newspaper.   My dad and a friend from work had gotten in trouble with the law for consorting with one said bookie.

Oh.   

Seeing your dad's name printed as an alleged criminal is a little...no...a lot unsettling.  I quickly put the clipping away.   Do I ask about it?  

Nah.   I wouldn't get a straight answer anyway.   All I know is that I never remember my dad being away from home, so I supposed it was all dismissed with a warning.  Another mystery of childhood that will never be explained.

Moving on from that supposed ugliness, Dad still followed horse racing and yes, he sat me down for three Saturdays every spring to watch the Triple Crown.   And then I started to ask him more questions about what the heck I was watching.

It was another attempt to connect with my father.  Oh, sure, we had baseball and he certainly conformed to my interests and likes there.   I mean, he was a longtime Yankee fan who switched to the Mets for me.  This was my way of giving it back.

Dad started to explain to me how he studied the racing form.   Following particular jockeys.  The strengths and weaknesses of various horses.  The conditions of the tracks and how that affected the rides.   He was more than happy to comply.

So, it was natural for this eleven-year-old to finally broach the question.

Can I go with you the next time?

"You were always bored when we went to Atlantic City."

I won't be now.  Please.

At that juncture, I became the regular companion for my father's trip to Yonkers Raceway, which was not the flats but harness racing.   No difference. Dad knew all about that world, too.  And we went one Saturday night a month for a couple of years.

The routine would be very simple.   My father would give me ten dollars and allow me to pick every other race.  He, of course, had to be the one to go to the window.   But I tried to employ all the tricks he had taught me.   Of course, he had final say.

"You don't want that horse.   The rider has never won."

"Don't pick it for place.   Go across the board."

"It's a little muddy out.   Don't pick that horse."

Sometimes, I came home with winnings after I gave back the ten dollar seed money.   But, even if I didn't, there was a treasure of gold in memories that I could never replace.

I had found another way to connect to my father.  I thought about that as American Pharoah came down the Belmont stretch.   The last time there was a Triple Crown winner, I was watching that race with my father.

In a way, I still was.

Dinner last night:  Bratwurst at the Hollywood Bowl.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Classic Newsreel of the Month - June 2015

Now here's somebody to remember on Father's Day.

Dinner last night:  The pre-game buffet at the Dodger Stadium Club.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Attention Walmart Shoppers

She didn't make it in time.
 Neither did she.
 Can you tell me what aisle I can find ladies' underwear?
 This better be Halloween.
 Mother and daughter eat together every night.
Crazy cat lady!
 It's a look.
So is this.
Who?
 What must the front look like???
 Eyes in the back of his head.
Guess who?  FLOTUS hitting that Walmart wig sale.

Dinner last night:  Had a big lunch, so just some ice cream.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Yes, That's Gywneth Paltrow's Mother

That would be Blythe Danner and frankly she can act rings around her loony daughter.  A long time career on TV, Broadway, and the movies.  Hell, I was reminded she can sing, too.  She was in "1776" on both the stage and the screen. She sings in this movie in what I can call one of the best performances I've seen in a long time.

"I'll See You in My Dreams" is a strange title for a movie and you don't really understand it until the last five minutes.  It is clearly targeted for an older demo.  It moves as slowly as a senior citizen and that is probably by design.   The creeping pace is not bad editing.  It is meant to signify lives slowing down post 60 or 70.  And, as a result, the device works beautifully.

Meanwhile, the film's writer-director is Brett Haley and he can't be much more than 35 years old.  Obviously one of the new generation, he partially funded this film on Kickstarter as the long list of donors at the end credits will show.
But, despite his age, Haley shows an amazing insight into people a generation and a half away.  I'm curious as to how he developed this.  Maybe he spends lot of time talking to his grandparents.

Danner plays a long time widow.  Her husband died in a plane crash on a business trip twenty years ago.  Her life is very much a routine, including regular swigs of white wine as she is likely a borderline alcoholic.  She regularly plays golf and bridge with her girlfriends.   But, otherwise, her life is dull.

When she has to put her dog down (which we see in a very detailed scene), this event prompts her to branch out.  She develops an odd but gratifying relationship with a young pool cleaner who is intrigued by her past singing career and takes her out to a dive bar's Karaoke night.  

Meanwhile, down at the country club, she hooks up for some full-blown dates with a grizzled millionaire played by an even more grizzled Sam Elliott.  The film gravitates slowly through these new relationships.  Nothing much happens.  A lot happens.

The casting throughout is spot on.  The bridge games scenes with the always welcome June Squibb, the even more welcome Mary Kay Place, and the generally dependable Rhea Perlman are a hoot and could be a whole movie unto themselves.

But, ultimately, the film belongs to Blythe Danner who becomes your friend over the course of ninety minutes.  You quietly feel her pain.  You worry as you watch her take that one more glass of white wine.   You grimace as her new relationships take odd and unfortunate turns.  That's the mark of a great actress.

An actress whose genes were apparently not handed down to her daughter.

LEN'S RATING:  Three-and-a-half stars.

Dinner last night:  Super Dodger Dog at the game.




Wednesday, June 17, 2015

This Date in History - June 17

No, it's not his birthday.   Read on...

1462:  VLAD III THE IMPALER ATTEMPTS TO ASSASSINATE MEHMED II THE NIGHT ATTACK.

How come these guys sound like wrestlers?

1565: MATSUNAGE HISAHIDE ASSASSINATES THE 13TH ASHIKAGA SHOGUN, ASHIKAGA YOSHITERU.

If you say so...

1579:  SIR FRANCIS DRAKE CLAIMS A LAND HE CALLS NOVA ALBION (MODERN CALIFORNIA) FOR ENGLAND.

So they almost became the Nova Albion Giants.

1631:  MUMTAZ MAHAL DIES DURING CHILDBIRTH.  HER HUSBAND, SHAH JAHAN I, WILL SPEND THE NEXT 17 YEARS BUILDING HER MAUSOLEUM, THE TAJ MAHAL.

That's an awfully long time to keep a dead body around.

1775:  DURING THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, COLONISTS INFLICT HEAVY CASUALTIES ON BRITISH FORCES WHILE LOSING THE BATTLE OF BUNKER HILL.

Take that, you blasted Redcoats!

1789:  IN FRANCE, THE THIRD ESTATE DECLARES ITSELF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY.

Je ne care pas.

1839:  IN THE KINGDOM OF HAWAII, KAMEHAMEHA II ISSUES THE EDICT OF TOLERATION WHICH GIVES ROMAN CATHOLICS THE FREEDOM TO WORSHIP IN THE HAWAIIAN ISLANDS.

The Kingdom of Hawaii?   Is there any other US state that was once a kingdom?  Not counting Texas, of course.

1876:  THE BATTLE OF THE ROSEBUD - 1,500 SIOUX AND CHEYENNE LED BY CRAZY HORSE BEAT BACK GENERAL CROOK'S FORCES IN MONTANA TERRITORY.

Sioux?  Si.

1877: THE BATTLE OF WHITE BIRD CANYON - THE NEZ PERCE DEFEAT THE US CAVALRY IN IDAHO.

So how come the Indians are always winning?

1885:  THE STATUE OF LIBERTY ARRIVES IN NEW YORK HARBOR.

And they kept it there when they found out it didn't exactly fit into anybody's living room.

1898:  THE US NAVY HOSPITAL CORPS IS ESTABLISHED.

Anchors and Band Aids away.

1901:  THE COLLEGE BOARD INTRODUCES ITS FIRST STANDARDIZED TEST, THE FORERUNNER TO THE SAT.

I thought that was the PSAT.

1930:  US PRESIDENT HERBERT HOOVER SIGNS THE SMOOT-HAWLEY TARIFF ACT INTO LAW.

I don't trust any legislation with the word "Smoot" in it.

1933:  IN KANSAS CITY, FOUR FBI AGENTS AND CAPTURED FUGITIVE FRANK NASH ARE GUNNED DOWN BY GANGSTERS ATTEMPTING TO FREE NASH.

Paging Eliot Ness.

1943:  POLITICIAN NEWT GINGRICH IS BORN.

Is it me or does this guy always look so much older than his age?

1943:  SINGER BARRY MANILOW IS BORN.

He finally came out of the closet.  As if we were surprised.

1953:  IN EAST GERMANY, THE SOVIET UNION ORDERS A DIVISION OF TROOPS INTO EAST BERLIN TO QUELL A REBELLION.

Yeah, that worked.   For a while.

1960: THE NEZ PERCE TRIBE IS AWARDED FOUR MILLION DOLLARS FOR 7 MILLION ACRES OF LAND.

So they beat us on this date in 1877 and also got oodles of money???

1963:  THE US SUPREME COURT RULES 8-1 IN ABINGTON SCHOOL DISTRICT VS. SCHEMPP AGAINST REQUIRING THE RECITING OF BIBLE VERSES AND THE LORD'S PRAYER IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

Do Moe and Larry know about this?

1971:  PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON DECLARES THE US WAR ON DRUGS.

Does that mean he'll be bugging the folks at Johnson and Johnson?

1972:  FIVE WHITE HOUSE OPERATIVES ARE ARRESTED FOR BURGLING THE OFFICES OF THE DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE.

Watergate...I think this turned out to be some sort of big deal.

1986:  SINGER KATE SMITH DIES.

God bless her...and America.

1987:  BASEBALL STAR AND MANAGER DICK HOWSER DIES.

Less than two years after guiding them to the 1985 World Series.

1994:  FOLLOWING A TELEVISED LOW-SPEED HIGHWAY CHASE, OJ SIMPSON IS ARRESTED FOR THE MURDER OF HIS WIFE NICOLE AND HER FRIEND RONALD GOLDMAN.

Guilty.

2008:  ACTRESS/DANCER CYD CHARISSE DIES.

She lived three blocks away from my last apartment.

2012:  RODNEY KING DIES.

Don't know how to describe him with an occupation.  I'll leave it at that.

Dinner last night:  On a long flight back.   Just a sandwich.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Morons of the Month - June 2015


Hey, I've found my candidate for 2016.

So, Len, if that's the case, we guess you're saying that you're the Moron of the Month for June.

Um, not exactly.   Given the conga lines of assholes on both sides of the aisle who are lining up to be Presidential candidates, I can't think of a better choice than Gracie Allen.

I mean, everybody listened to her across the country.   She had a unique way of looking at things outside the box.   And, since she mounted this campaign in 1940 against the inept Wendell Wilkie and the ultimately dangerous Franklin Roosevelt, I would challenge that the country would have been better off in 2015 if she had won 75 years ago.

As regulars here know, I'm not bullish on the long term future of America as we know it and as it was founded back in 1776.  Thanks to the relentlessly stupid media and our own misguided focus, we're in a bi-polar society for which there is no little blue pill to be prescribed.

Down the rabbit hole we go a little further.

On the Republican side, there are 16 to 40 known or alleged candidates, each worse than the next.   Radical right leaning or Republicans pretending to be Democrats.  All clearly without any direction.   And leading the field is somebody named Bush and there are people in this country who won't even eat a certain brand of baked beans because it bears the same name.

There are more retreads here than there are down at your local Firestone outlet store.

The other side of the political ledger is no better and might even be worse.  Of course, most are waiting for Democrats to anoint their queen and I challenge anybody to tell me what Hillary has done in her career that warrants her having what used to be the most important job in the world.   Sleeping with Bill doesn't count because it only happened once.   We know that because we see daughter Chelsea all the time.   And, oh, by the way, has the latter's father-in-law paid back the millions of dollars he misappropriated in Congress?  That got him five years of federal prison time.  Given all the funny money deals Hillary and Bill have apparently engineered through their foundation, they should get at least that and more when they're finally up against the judge.

But I digress...

Or do I?  The other Democratic options are just as bad.   The media keeps touting this O'Malley guy who was Governor of Maryland and every picture they show of him he's got his shirt off.  So, his major attribute is being physically fit?

Then there's this raging mental patient called Bernie Sanders who claims to be an Independent but wants to run on the Democratic ticket.   What the fuck is up with that?  Hey, I'm a registered Independent in the state of California and nothing this lunatic talks about matches up with my unique beliefs.   Indeed, everything I read about Sanders makes him the ideal guest at Joseph Stalin's May Day barbecue.   

But that is what we've got, sports fans, and we have let it happen on our watch. A lot of us vote simply based on whether there is a "D" or a "R" next to somebody's name.  How about delving into the complete make-up of every candidate from grade school to present day?   And I don't mean how many parking tickets they forgot to pay as the media has investigated with regard to Marco Rubio.  Let's demand real issues, please.  And let's not fall for any marketing plans that are based on dredging up century-old sins of the nation.  I mean, that's how we got in trouble back in 2008.

If we don't do this as a nation in totality next year, we will be the morons this month and every month.  Of course, what's really been captivating everybody these days?   Bruce or whatever her name is Jenner.   Some reality stars called the Duggars.

Yeah, we're messed up.  Badly.

Still think Gracie Allen's a bad idea?

Oh, wait, you say.  Len, you can't vote for her.   She's dead.

Pish tosh, given the current slate of what's out there, this is a minor quibble.

Dinner last night:  Leftover sausage and peppers.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Monday Morning Video Laugh - June 15, 2015

Steaks well done.

Dinner last night:  French dip sandwich at the Bee Hive in Armonk.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Sunday Memory Drawer - New York State Regents Exams

If you're in high school this month, chances are you're taking final exams.   And, if you live in New York State, you're taking final exams as directed by the Regents.  Centralized finals for a variety of subjects.

After thinking about them, I did a Google search and found they still exist.  As a matter of fact, according to the Internet, there have been a lot of issues surrounding them of late.   Some activist groups call them racially biased.   Of course, they're the same folks who to administer final exams and diplomas based simply on spelling your name correctly.

But, I digress...

It's somewhat pleasing for me to see that such an important part of my high school years is still around.  If you were taking a course that had a Regents final, you certainly knew it by the middle of May.   That's when your teacher started to prep you for this.   You'd have to get a workbook like the one pictured above.   It would give you sample past exams.   The Best of Regents as it were.   If your teacher had done a good job over the entire school year, the workbook was just a good refresher.  

I think I took my first Regents exam in the ninth grade and it was for Algebra.   Aces.  The same for some sciences and English and history.  Not only did I pass these exams, I always did so with flying colors.

This was a good thing.   Because, always watching over my shoulder, was Dad.

Backtracking a bit, I can tell you that my father was not particularly active in my school life.   That's not to say that he wasn't interested, but he worked nights.   As a result, when it came to things like Parents Teacher Night, it was my mom doing that heavy lifting.  

There was one time, however, where my dad made a school appearance.   In high school, I had an asshole of a gym teacher called Mr. Lee who was a little abusive to me when it came to doing gymnastics.   I didn't want to do it.  Mr. Lee didn't like that and was a bit nasty about it.   My father had a one-on-one with the jerk.  To this day, I have no idea what happened in that tete-a-tete.   But, from that point on, Mr. Lee treated me like I was Waterford Crystal.

Other than that mysterious incident, Dad was not the school activist in our house.   Except when it came to Regents exams.   It seems that, sometime in Parents 101, the importance of these tests was drilled in.   And my father somehow believed that doing well in these exams was the answer to all things in life.

"Don't monkey around with those Regents."

Er, yes?

For the most part, Dad's stern warning wasn't needed.   I had good teachers.   I did the prep work.  I bought the workbooks at Barish's Bookstore on Gramatan Avenue in Mount Vernon, New York.  And I had the Regents scores to prove it.

"You want to make sure you get that damn Regents diploma."

Um, okay.  If you passed every Regents exam in high school, you got some paper acknowledgement of that accomplishment at graduation.   Perhaps my father thought you could redeem that at the gas station for free fill-ups.   All I know is that he really wanted me to get this.

But, as my high school career progressed, this was not a worry.   I wasn't just passing Regents exams, I was always getting 90s or better.

And then came senior year.   Or, specifically, Physics class.   As it would be in perfect dramatic style, this would be the very last Regents exam I would take.   Nothing seemed to be a problem.   All throughout the school years, I was getting nothing but A+s on my report card in this class.

Except I should have seen the warning signs.   The teacher was an addled and leaky old fossil named Mr. Russell, who was knock, knock, knockin' on Heaven's door.   He loved to astound us with little experiments that could have reruns of TV's Mr. Wizard.   But, when it came to May and the need for Regents prep, he did nothing.  

Okay, no worries.   I went down to Barish's and got the Physics prep book.   And I'll never forget my reaction when I opened it when I got home.

Holy shit!

Whatever curriculum Mr. Russell was following for 12th grade Physics, it wasn't in this book or maybe even state.   This could be a potential disaster.

And it was.   I have no idea how my classmates fared.   But I was in a complete fog taking that final Regents.   90 or better?   I was simply hoping that I would come in somewhere over 65.

I wound up at 63.  And there went the Regents diploma, along with other store coupons my father would get from it.

I knew it would show up on the computerized report card that showed up in the mail.   That document was always opened first by my father.

I remember watching him scan the scores at the kitchen table.  He looked up at me.  

"Well, you tried."

Who are you and what have you done with my father?

Sometimes, in life, people surprise you.  And my dad sure did that day.

"Hey, you're going to college anyway.  No big deal."

Um, okay.

Dinner last night:  Sausage and peppers at Carlo's in Yonkers.  As good as usual.  Meal capped off with a cannoli.