A resolution for a happier life

imagesCAP6BGNUDecember 31, 2012 – We’re a mere few hours away from 2013 and everyone I know seems to be talking New Year’s resolutions.

I found this profound and wonderful message on www.happinessinyourlife.com. So, instead of making any resolutions for the coming year, I will give it my best effort to live by these words. If I succeed, the rest will fall into place.

“Think less, feel more – frown less, smile more – talk less, listen more – judge less, accept more – watch less, do more – complain less, appreciate more – and fear less, love more.”

Happy New Year!

24 in ’12

imagesDecember 28, 2012
– I’m pretty darned pleased with myself.

After adding up the number of movies I saw in the theater in 2012, I came to a solid 24. That’s a fine number for a major movie fan – averaging out to about one movie every two weeks – but it’s not over the top enough to call me crazy or obsessed.

I’ve rated them from worst to first, but that doesn’t necessary mean the movies that appear higher on the list are bad. It was an incredible year for movies, and I managed to avoid most of the rotten ones.

24. People Like Us – Touted as the feel good movie of the year, the trailer was intriguing enough to lure me to the theater over the summer, but I didn’t like this movie about family dysfunction and setting things straight after you die. Not even the acting skills of Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks and Michelle Pfeiffer could save this silly film.

23. Dark Shadows – Campy fun with Johnny Depp in the lead role as Barnabas Collins, but as a fan from the gothic soap from the late 1960s, which had me rushing home from elementary school to watch, it was a little disappointing and didn’t live up to the Tim Burton trademark.

22. Not Fade Away – I saw this movie as part of the Philadelphia Film Festival in October, and it was good. It’s in theaters now, and I’ll admit the trailer wouldn’t have pulled me in on its own. David Chase followed his stint as creator and writer of “The Sopranos” with this film about guys in a North Jersey neighborhood forming a band in the 1960s.

21. The Guilt Trip – Barbara Streisand Seth Rogen are funny as mother and son in this road trip comedy, and as a mother of a grown son I thought most of the humor was spot on. However, “The Guilt Trip” will most likely appeal to older audiences though, and I can attest to being the youngest in the theater when I saw it.

20. Anna Karenina – Classic literature usually makes for interesting film adaptations. This version of Tolstoy’s sad story of an aristocrat wife (Keira Knightly) from an arranged marriage to an affluent military officer (Jude Law) and her fall into adultery, however, was beautifully filmed, but it didn’t hold my attention the way the way the 1948 version with Vivian Leigh did.

19. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – Unlike other movies dealing with asteroids, such as “Deep Impact” or “Armageddon”, this film starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightly deals with the human emotions and the regular people, instead of the super heroes who save the world from doom. Most critics panned it, but I thought it was kind of interesting.

18. Hope Springs – This odd romantic comedy starring Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell dealt with a couple married for 30 something years trying to recapture the magic. It was charming and had some funny moments, but like “The Guilt Trip”, it appealed to an older audience. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

17. Ruby Sparks – “Ruby Sparks” immediately grabbed my attention because I’m always drawn to stories about writers. It also had an interesting twist that I haven’t seen since the days of Charlie Kaufman’s “Adaptation”. Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan star in this quirky comedy about a writer who creates a character and she becomes part of his “real” life.

16. The Bourne Legacy – Jeremy Renner stars as a new character in the Bourne series, but out Jason Bourne. Still, It was an adventurous ride for the two hours and fifteen minutes it played out on screen. It didn’t have the same impact as the previous films, but I was never bored.

15. To Rome with Love – Here’s another one that critics didn’t like much, but I thought was enjoyable. Woody Allen’s “To Rome with Love” tells four stories, all sprinkled with love and humor. I love that Allen allowed each imaginative story to breath on its own, and didn’t intertwine them neatly together at the end of the movie.

14. Hitchcock – Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren were superb in this bio movie about Mr. & Mrs. Hitchcock, and the making of “Psycho”. It was interesting to learn the behind the scenes story of Hitchcock’s most popular film.

13. The Master – This odd little number from the mind of Paul Thomas Anderson and based on Scientology is the epitome of a character driven story. It also shined a light on the fantastic acting skills of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams.

12. This is Forty – Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann head a very funny cast in this reverse coming of age comedy that is billed as the “sort of” sequel to Apatow’s 2007 “Knocked Up”. Funny stuff, but it may be a bit too crude to appeal to a wide audience.

11. Jeff Who Lives at Home – I thoroughly enjoyed this film about a jobless, 30-year-old stoner, who is obsessed with the movie “Signs” and lives in his mother’s basement. Jason Segal and Ed Helms star as brothers, with Susan Sarandon as their mother.

10. Hyde Park on Hudson – Bill Murray shines and FDR in this dramedy about a weekend spent at the President’s family home in upstate New York during the King and Queen of England’s only visit to America. Too bad for him there are so many wonderful actors that came through this year. It might cost him an Oscar nomination, but he truly deserves it.

9. Argo – Even though we all know how this one ended, it was a great thrill ride just the same. Ben Affleck’s Argo is an on the edge of your seat drama based on the true story of the Iran Embassy crisis during the late 1970s.

8. Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson’s films are always a crazy trip. Not only did the talented writer/director give us one of the most original stories of the year, it also had an amazing soundtrack. It’s another Bill Murray performance gem.

7. Bernie – It may be unorthodox to call a movie about a real life murder delightful and charming, but there is no other way to describe this film that tells the story of Bernie Tiede, who was sentenced to life in prison after admitting he murdered Marjorie Nugent, a wealthy widow, played on screen by Jack Black and Shirley McLaine.

6. Your Sister’s Sister – This little Indy film proves that you don’t need a big budget to make a compelling movie. Emily Blunt and Mark Duplass star in this story about a man who is still struggling with his brother’s recent death. It’s touching and sweet and certainly not your typical romcom.

5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower – A well-written story with Emma Watson and Ezra Miller in the lead roles, along with a of wonderful young actors. It actually surprised me, and I witnessed a heartfelt and often funny coming of age story, and one with a main character that can hold a candle to Holden Caulfield.

4. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen – “Salmon Fishing in Yemen” is a rare find. The refreshingly witty film that tells the story of a billionaire sheik that wants to bring Salmon fishing to Yemen. The British romcom stars Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor.

3. Lincoln – Perhaps one of the most talked about movies of the year, “Lincoln” stars Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field, as the President and Mrs. Lincoln, along a huge supporting cast. The Civil War is entering its fourth year, the nation is weary, and Lincoln is trying to pass the 13th Amendment that will abolish slavery.

2. Safety Not Guaranteed – Here’s another Indy film that I absolutely loved because of its originality. I’ve never been a sci-fi fan, and pretty much stay away from movies that feature time travel because it’s been done to the extreme. Still, “Safety Not Guaranteed” combines both sci-fi and time travel elements, but with a major dose of quirky, and that’s what won me over.

1. Silver Linings Playbook – By far my favorite movie of the year, this film starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert DeNiro is wrought with serious undertones, such as family dysfunction, mental illness and the harsh reality of life changing traumatic events. Yet, “Silver Linings Playbook” is thoroughly charming, funny and honest, and it has you rooting for its troubled and wounded characters from start to finish.

Sometimes the past is worth repeating

images (1)December 26, 2012 Here’s a post from December 26, 2010 that bears repeating because it still holds true … Happy Holidays!

The Day After

Few things puzzle me more than folks rushing to the mall the day after Christmas, whether it’s to return gifts or find the best bargains. Still, it is an incredibly popular thing to do on December 26. For me, shopping the last thing on my mind, and my wallet appreciates that.

Perhaps shopping for some is a way to avoid the post holiday blues. It’s common to feel letdown when Christmas is over. You put so much time and preparation into Christmas, and the day passes much too quickly. In fact, psychologist say the more you prepare and the more exciting the holiday is for you, the more you may feel letdown the day after. Our brains need to establish equilibrium, and the higher we are, the lower we must fall to settle back into that middle space.

The letdown may also be why many countries around the world celebrate Boxing Day, a day after Christmas tradition that started in England during the Victorian era when the wealthy would box up gifts they didn’t need and bring them to the poor. What a great thought. As a child, my mom and dad asked us to pick one of our gifts to give to baby Jesus. On Christmas night, we had to place that gift back under the tree and it was gone the next morning. I found out when I was older that those gifts actually went to less fortunate kids.

I enjoy the day after Christmas because it’s when my entire family gets together. With some of us living in different states and others with obligations elsewhere, it’s typically the only day of the year when all 16 immediate family members are in the same room.

Oddly, my post holiday blues start on January 1, the day I should embrace the new start that lies ahead. I’m usually a glass half full kind of person, but there’s something a little sad about New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. The holidays are officially over and the long winter sets in.

This year I am determined to focus on the positive and feel excited for what the new year has in store, so I will treat New Year’s Day with the respect it deserves. It’s won’t just be the day the decorations come down.

Movie review: This is Forty

MV5BNzQxMDQ1NjA4N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTE5MjQ3OA@@._V1._SY317_December 24, 2012 – I can’t remember a movie trailer that made me laugh or anticipate seeing it as much as Judd Apatow’s “This is Forty”.

Perhaps that’s because I am of the age where I can relate. There’s no avoiding growing older, so you may as well laugh, right?

Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann head a very funny cast in this reverse coming of age comedy that is billed as the “sort of” sequel to Apatow’s 2007 “Knocked Up”. This time, we catch up with the supporting characters, Pete and Debbie and their two children, a family who are in the throes of a midlife crisis because the parents are about to turn – you guessed it – 40.

At first there didn’t seem like much of a story unfolding, but rather little slices of a day in the life played for laughs. It could have been called “This is Life”. Midway through, I recognized an actual story forming, and that’s when it took on a more serious tone. This family is dealing with an overly hormonal teenage daughter that is making life pretty miserable for everyone, a failing business, mooching and absentee parents and employee embezzlement all in one week. It’s definitely not a fun day at the beach, but considering their privileged existence in an upper class California neighborhood, it’s not the end of the world either.

Rudd is perfectly cast in the role of an overwhelmed and often frustrated husband and father with a slick sense of humor, his own share of secrets and a heart of gold. He has some of the movie’s best comic moments, especially when he’s poking fun at the television show “Friends”, which he was a part of in its last season. But it’s also the most dramatic performance I’ve ever witnessed from him. There is something so appealing about Rudd, who still possesses the boyish charm he had in 1995s “Clueless”, yet he’s quite believable as the adult father of a teenager.

Mann, who stars in all of Apatow’s films and is his real life wife, also lives up to her role as a mother who’s afraid she’s not doing the best for her children, and as a wife who is worried about losing the magic with her husband. I haven’t enjoyed her performances in other movies she’s been in because I find her characters too  abrasive and condescending. She carries less of those traits as Debbie, but they are still there. Somehow it’s more acceptable in this role. Mann is all over the place with her emotions, which seems true to life for many of us that age, but there is also a sweetness about her character that comes through in the end.

The cameo appearances in this movie are plenty; Jason Segel, Albert Brooks, John Lithgow, Melissa McCarthy, Megan Fox, and several others all have small and memorable roles. And let’s not forget several musicians and NHL players that are fun to spot.

So, did the trailer live up to its hype? Not entirely. I did laugh out loud a few times and snicker several more, but I was disappointed I didn’t laugh more; there were far too many serious moments for that. There were also too many crude moments played for comedy, like the scenes with Melissa McCarthy, who I normally find hilarious, but this time it didn’t work for me.  Still, it is a relatively enjoyable way to spend two hours and 14 minutes, which may seem long for a comedy.

This one isn’t winning any awards, folks, but you may recognize yourself in some of the characters and get a laugh or two. And who doesn’t need that? Just remember this is a movie with mature themes, and leave the kids at home.

Visions of hotcakes danced in our heads

thCAKY7EHODecember 21, 2012 – When I think of my grandfather – known lovingly as Pop Pop throughout our large extended family – lots of warm and comforting memories come to mind.

Most often, he’s standing in front of a microphone at a family party singing a favorite song from the roaring twenties that begs, “Don’t put a tax on the beautiful girls, I won’t last a day without love…”

Or, he’s sitting at our dining room table playing Scrabble with my parents after one of our Thursday night dinners.

I also see him in the kitchen preparing his famous hotcakes.

Pop Pop made hotcakes every Sunday for his kids before church. As he grew older, he’d make them for us during our summer vacation at the beach because he usually came with us. He’d love to get up early, walk to the grocery store and buy what he needed to whip up a fresh batch and the kitchen magic would begin. Then we’d wake to the sound of him whistling or singing in the kitchen with the griddle sizzling.

“Who wants hotcakes?” he’d ask as soon as he saw our sleepy faces.

We all did. We all loved them. They were one of the things we looked forward to while on vacation. And we loved them the next day, too, and maybe even the day after that. By day four, we’d have rather eaten a simple bowl of corn flakes or a Pop Tart, but we never had the heart to say so, and we ate them anyway. It was a small price to pay to please a man who brought so much joy into our lives.

The most special hotcakes were the ones he made us on Christmas mornings when I was really young. We’d eat them like we never had them before.

Pop Pop passed away in 1977, and I still think of him and his hotcakes every year. Gone but not forgotten, poured but never duplicated, Pop Pop’s hotcakes were the centerpiece of our Christmas morning and our summer vacations for years.

This one’s for you, Pop Pop!

Hear the sizzle on the griddle
As you drop that batter
In the pat of hot butter
Round and round
Piping hot
Like as not
What you got is hotcakes
Hubba hubba hubba
Puffin’ up fluffy and sweet
Uh now wait
Uh now flip it!

– Hotcakes by Carly Simon

A Christmas Carol top five

imagesCARJTF4WDecember 19, 2012 – ‘Tis the season to celebrate one of the most popular holiday classics of all time – Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”.

The clever story about second chances has been turned into countless films and stage productions, and is also celebrating an anniversary; it first went on sale 169 years ago today in 1843.

Here is a look at my picks for the top five film versions of this wonderful story. While most film critics claim that the best version is the 1951 theatrical release starring Alastair Sim, it didn’t make my top five. Sorry about that, Mr. Sim. If I expanded it to 10, you would have had a place for sure.

5. Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983) – This animated Disney film is splendidly charming, and brings back plenty of Christmas memories for me since I used to watch it with my son each holiday season. It also features one of my favorite movie Christmas songs ever, “Oh What a Merry Christmas Day”. This kid friendly version has Scrooge McDuck in the title character of Ebenezer Scrooge, and other Disney favorites, such as Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit, Goofy as Marley, and Jiminy Cricket as the Ghost of Christmas Past. This version certainly warms the heart like no other, and better yet, you can watch it in about 45 minutes.

4. The Muppets Christmas Carol (1992) – Here’s another version I used to watch every year when my son was younger. Like “Mickey’s Christmas Carol”, this rendition offers plenty of kid friendly entertainment, but with the comic twist that only the Muppets can provide. Michael Caine, the only human in the cast, stars as Scrooge, while Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit, Miss Piggy as a very aggressive and hilarious Mrs. Cratchit, and Fozzi Bear as Old Fozziwig, round out the cast and make for a lively movie experience.

3. Ebbie (1995) – A contemporary made for TV version provides a different twist on the story, casting females in the roles of Ebbie Scrooge (soap opera queen Susan Lucci) and Roberta Cratchit (Wendy Crewson. Those familiar with Lucci’s days on “All My Children” know she has the teeth to pull off the nasty Scrooge, but when it comes to the sweet, young Ebbie, Lucci seems a little out-of-place in the role. Still, it was the first contemporary version I’d seen with a female so it has a place on my list. Since then, it’s been done a few times, one in 2000 with Vanessa Williams in “A Diva’s Christmas Carol”, but none were as surprising or as good as “Ebbie”.

2. Scrooged (1988) – Director Richard Donner’s humorous take on the classic story casts Bill Murray in the lead role as a miserly television executive who is so cruel to his employees, he makes them work on Christmas Eve. Bobcat Goldthwait, David Johansen, Carol Kane also lend their talents to this uproarious comedy. Just like “Elf”, “A Christmas Story” or “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”, this should become a must see in every household each holiday season.

1. Scrooge (1970) – The musical version of “A Christmas Carol” simply called “Scrooge” is my absolute favorite rendition. The film stars Albert Finney as the miser, and a plethora of other English actors I’m not familiar with, but who certainly add class and charm to their roles. The score is wonderful and features 11 catchy songs that I’ll admit I know by heart. When released in 1970, the movie wasn’t a hit with many critics (what do they know?) but Finney did win the Golden Globe for Best Actor in 1971 for the role.