Would a Jane by any other name still be plain?

jane streetMay 31, 2013 — Naming a child is one of the most important tasks parents have.

Think I’m being dramatic? Ask anyone with a name like Bernhard or Albertina, and they’ll confirm it for you. Something that sticks to you forever should not be taken lightly.

As a child, I found my given name rather dull. Not only did Jane sound boring, it only contained one syllable. What kind of impression could I make on people with a one-syllable name?

me tarzan you janeThe variations of my name came from adults, who often said things like, “Me Tarzan, you Jane”, or who called me Plain Jane or Lady Jane (I didn’t mind that one), or referred to the children’s book characters “Dick and Jane”. I don’t recall kids teasing me about my name. There were many days I felt grateful that Jane didn’t rhyme with anything disgusting like Vicky (Icky Vicky) or Kelly (Smelly Kelly) because kids are relentless. “Jane the Pain” was the worst I got, and that came from my family.

Instead of Plain Jane or Jane the Pain, I imagined myself as an Angelique, just like the character in “Dark Shadows”, or as someone with a musical sounding name that ended with an “a” such as Melissa or Johanna. Both of my sisters’ names end with “a” and because mine did not, I believed I was destined to be a tomboy. Or a nun. Nun’s names, which were often masculine, rarely ended with an “a”.

In fifth grade, I decided to take on Angelique as my confirmation name. That would give me a little flair. My father told me if I shortened it to Ann, I might get a dollar from my grandfather, since that was my grandmother’s name. She had passed away years before, and I never knew her, so decided to go for it. The Bishop called me Ann, slapped my face as a reminder of the hardships I might face in my Christian life, and I became Jane Marie Ann McMaster. Notice none of those names end in an “a”, and I don’t recall getting that dollar.

dick and janeJane is also my mother’s name, although she later confessed she doesn’t care for it. She wanted to name me Diane and might have if my father hadn’t been persistent. The year I was born, Jane didn’t crack the top fifty for girls’ names, so my parents did not go the popular route. That privilege belonged to girls named Susan, Linda, Karen, Donna, Lisa, Patricia, Debra, Cynthia, Mary, and Diane, the top ten girls’ names that year. My sisters’ names are on that list, while Jane placed at a semi-respectable #54.

Any baby name book will tell you that Jane is Hebrew in origin. As the feminine form of John, it means God is gracious. It’s not on the list of royal names, yet two English queens, Lady Jane Grey, who ruled for nine days before the king executed her for treason, and Jane Seymour, who died shortly after childbirth, giving Henry VIII his much-anticipated son, held it proudly.

Today, I am rather glad my parents did not name me Angelique. Jane fits me and I have grown accustomed to it. I like that it is not common, and it slides off the tongue easily when I have to introduce myself, especially in business situations. Angelique McMaster has an odd sound to it, and the six syllables it contains are a bit too much to get through.

On occasion, people still call me Lady Jane; however, gone are the days where people mention “Tarzan” or “Dick”. Sadly, they are characters from generations long gone. Just like Angelique.

Movie review: Behind the Candelabra

behind-the-candelabra-review_article_story_main 2May 29, 2013 – With the many rave reviews “Behind the Candelabra” received before and after its first showing on HBO Sunday night, you would think Steven Soderbergh’s story of Liberace and his relationship with Scott Thorson was “The Greatest Story Ever Told”. Critics raved about the “stellar” performances of Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in the lead roles, with some stating that gay love stories are among the most romantic.

The film also received tremendous applause at the Cannes Film Festival, and all of the praise leads me to believe I saw a completely different film than they did. Douglas’ Liberace was over the top – maybe because the man himself was over the top – and seemed a bit creepy. I also missed the touching scenes critics wrote about or failed to see any romance at all. This isn’t a love story, it’s the story of an aging star who prefers much younger companions, and trades them in for newer models every few years. Does that pass for romance?

Matt Damon’s portrayal of Scott Thorson, who penned the memoir, which is the basis of the film, seemed fine enough, although in reality, I know little about Liberace or Thorson, so I only have the film to go on. If it is accurate, Liberace came across egotistical and almost pedophile-like, and Thorson, rather stupid. After all, Thorson replaces one of those younger companions when he comes onto the scene early in the film. Why would he act surprised when the same happens to him?

In no way do I mean this review as an anti-gay statement. If I felt that way, I wouldn’t have watched it. I wanted to like it. I support gay rights, love the gay people in my life, and want to see them happy and secure like anyone else. However, the story is equivalent to watching the Hugh Hefner story unfold on screen. He had many relationships with women over the years, and they seemed to get younger and younger as he got older. There may be nothing wrong with this lifestyle choice, but you would not describe it as romantic or touching, would you? Heterosexual or homosexual, it does not matter.

That said, there were parts of the film I enjoyed. Spotting actors who made cameos in this film was fun, for example. Debbie Reynolds did a fine job playing Liberace’s Mother, and in make-up that made her unrecognizable. Her voice gave her away. Dan Aykroyd plays the pianists’ manager to perfection, and Rob Lowe, in creepy makeup himself, plays a compelling Dr. Feelgood type character, who introduces Thorson to speed to keep him thin, and performs plastic surgery to make him look like Liberace at the master’s request. Who would want their lover to get plastic surgery to look like them? Only someone who is in love with himself, I suppose. Moreover, who would agree to it? Someone who is desperate to maintain his new lifestyle and keep the relationship going are the reasons that spring to mind.

As I stated, I know little about Liberace, except that he was a talented pianist who was quite flamboyant. That’s fine, but this flick made him appear as if he was a narcissistic head case. Maybe that’s true, or maybe it isn’t, but it is what Thorson portrayed. I’m willing to believe, however, that like everything else in life the truth lies in the middle.

If you are expecting a touching film about a talented musician and the love of his life, skip “Behind the Candelabra” and watch “Walk the Line” instead.

Remembering our fallen heroes

imagesMay 27, 2013 Memorial Day is a time to honor the service men and women who died defending our nation. As most Americans celebrate with a day off, let’s remember those who have given everything to make sure we maintain our safety and freedom.

Take a moment to read about some of these brave men and women up close and personal. Visit 100 Faces, 100 Hours, a cnn.com tribute to our fallen heroes from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The tribute puts a face to the statistics we hear and read about in the news, which makes far more emotional, and provides a poignant look at the harsh reality of war.

Thank you to all who made the ultimate sacrifice, and to all who proudly served.

The creative side of political scandals

thMay 24, 2013 – Twitter blew up today when asking its audience to get a little creative. The mission should you choose to accept it: name a good title for an Obama scandal movie.

It is important to keep our sense of humor during these trying times, so here are a few titles that made me laugh:

16 Scandals
Admission Impossible
Dr. I Don’t Know
Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Love the Drone
Drones Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Dude, Where’s My Drone
Father of the Bribe
Game of Drones
Gone With the Scandal
Harry Potter and the Auditor’s Apprentice
He’s Just Not That into Us
How to Destroy a Country in 10 Days
Ignoring Private Ryan
I Know Who You Audited Last Summer
Indiana Jones and the Consulate of Benghazi
I Totally Don’t Recall
Lie Hard
Look Who’s Not Talking
No Country for Honest Men
Play Dumb and Dumber
Saving Private Emails
Silence of the Scams
Swindler’s List
The IRS Man of Alcatraz
The Lyin’ King
The Man Who Knew Too Little
The Terrorist and I
There’s Something About Benghazi
There Will Be Audits
We’ve Got Your Mail

Summertime and the livin’ is easy

lazy_summer_dayMay 24, 2013 – It is Memorial Day Weekend, the unofficial summer kick off in this part of the world. Here are here are a few ideas that may help you fill some of those long, warm days ahead:

Planning a vacation? According to USA Today, the top five off-peak summer vacation locations offering the most bang for your buck this season include:

1. South Africa –You not only get the season’s lowest prices, but many animals are easier to spot, and the weather is less humid during the “winter” months in this part of the world.
2. Costa Rica – Summer is a smart time to visit this tropical paradise because of cheaper accommodations and smaller crowds.
3. St. Lucia – The visitor’s bureau on this tiny island nation offers savings up to 40% for summer travelers.
4. Salt Lake City – Sure, it is a great location for ski enthusiasts, but Utah is perfect for all-season lovers of the great outdoors. Salt Lake City offers bargains galore aimed at bikers and hikers this season.
5. Baja California – Prices are low because of declining travelers south of the border, and it is not surprising considering the crime levels reported in the news. However, there are no travel warnings in effect for Cabo San Lucas and La Paz in Baja.

Need a good beach read? The folks at goodreads.com put together this summer 2013 list that includes these intriguing titles:

1. The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han
2. Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler
3. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
4. My Favorite Mistake by Chelsea M. Cameron
5. The Upside of Letting Go by Nacole Stayton

How about a movie? Rainy summer days are always a great time to escape to your local multiplex. Here are five anticipated movies coming soon to a theater near you:

1. Now You See Me – where illusion meets Robin Hood – May 31
2. Tiger Eyes – the first Judy Blume novel to make it to the big screen – June 7
3. Man of Steel – Superman for a new generation – June 14
4. The Lone Ranger – if you need a Johnny Depp fix – July 3
5. I Give it a Year – the comic trials and tribulations of a newlywed couple’s first year – August 9

Happy Memorial Day!

‘The Crash’

ddMay 22, 2013 – Was Sunday’s episode of “Mad Men” the weirdest yet?

The episode with Roger Sterling tripping on acid still tops my list, but I seem to be in the minority according to the tweets and message boards that are abuzz with feedback from Sunday’s episode, “The Crash”.

I said it last season, and it’s worth mentioning again. Now that “Mad Men’s” timeline has reached the late 60s, it has become cliché. We get it; the 1960s are associated with drugs and lots of them. Most likely, the stories are accurate for that year, but it makes me long for the simpler days when tossing back a whiskey or bourbon after a meeting was the drug of choice.

Then again, maybe the 1960s are cliché. With the exception of Don Draper, everyone looks like they could be an extra in an episode of “Laugh In” with the mod clothing, long hair, and sideburns. It’s ironic that the writers designed it this way to keep it real, and in doing so, it rather seems fake.

The past few seasons have been slow getting started, and this season is no exception. In the end, however, the writers seem to redeem themselves, even though Don’s shtick is wearing on me. The more I learn about him, especially this season, the less I like him, and that isn’t a good opinion to have about a main character.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, I’ll admit “Mad Men” remains one of the best shows on television, and I’m planning to hang in until the end to see if Don finally lets someone in. Perhaps Sally said it best in Sunday’s episode. “Dad, I don’t know anything about you.”

If you’re one of the many who believe Sunday’s episode wins the prize for weirdness, here are 12 most surreal moments that buzzfeed.com put together. While some of the antics were included for the sake of weirdness alone, some also set up possible storylines for the future, and I can’t wait to see what happens.

Hey, I didn’t see that coming! The good, the bad and the ugly of movies with surprise endings

surpriseMay 20, 2013 — Part of the draw of watching movies is the hope that the story will wow us in the end, a rare event these days in the era of sequels and remakes. If well done, movies can also surprise us, even if a clever ending is left open to interpretation.

Here are five films, both old and new that fall outside of “The Usual Suspects” normally mentioned in these categories. The first three have endings I didn’t see coming, and the last two left me wondering what happened next. If you haven’t seen these movies, proceed with caution; spoilers are discussed.

5. The Life of David Gayle (2003) Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet, Laura Linney
Alan Parker’s crime thriller about a man named David Gale (Spacey) who sits on death row awaiting execution for the rape and murder of his friend (Linney) didn’t generate a large audience or rave reviews, but a clever film it is. The interesting twist is that both Spacey’s and Linney’s characters were active capital punishment abolitionists. A few days before his execution, Gale’s lawyer hires journalist Bitsey Bloom (Winslet) to write a story that he hopes will stop the execution. The problem is Gale doesn’t want it stopped. Still, Bloom comes to believe the evidence against Gale doesn’t add up. She believes he was framed because she discovers the victim was actually dying from terminal leukemia and has committed an elaborate suicide to look like murder. She attempts to give the information to the authorities to stop the execution, just as the warden announces that it has been carried out. Sometime later, Bloom receives a videotape and discovers that both Gale and the murder victim set up the entire scheme, sacrificing themselves to prove that innocent prisoners are executed, a last-ditch effort to assure that capital punishment is stopped for good.

4. Some Like it Hot (1959) Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe
It is unusual for comedies to have surprising endings, but this little gem from 1959 gives us an ending as shocking as “Gone with the Wind’s” “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” The story takes place in 1929, as two struggling jazz musicians (Curtis and Lemmon) rush to get out-of-town after witnessing the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. Quickly, they board a departing train and pose as two women to fit in with the other passengers onboard, an all girl jazz band. They keep up the charade and both develop feelings for Sugar, a fellow musician (Monroe). Over the course of the story, they have to fight off their fair share of men, and keep reminding themselves they are women so they don’t make a pass at Sugar. While in Miami a millionaire named Osgood Fielding falls big time for Lemmon’s character Daphne, and soon proposes marriage. When the mob tracks the boys to Miami, the musicians escape again, this time on Osgood’s yacht. While Daphne tries to explain that she can’t marry him, Osgood dismisses all the excuses. Frustrated Daphne removes his wig, reveals himself as Jerry, and shouts, “But I’m a man!” to which Osgood simply responds, “Well, nobody’s perfect.” And the credits roll.

3. No Way Out (1987) Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, Sean Young
When Navy Lieutenant Tom Farrell (Costner) falls in love with a call girl named Susan (Young) and discovers she is having an affair with the Secretary of Defense David Brice (Hackman), fireworks are bound to occur. But the real excitement begins with Farrell and Brice begin working together on a secret government project to take down the Soviets, who they believe is working on a similar defense project. When Brice discovers Susan is having an affair, he demands she name her other lover. She refuses and he slaps her knocking her off a balcony and causing her to fall to her death. Instead of turning himself in, Brice is persuaded by his assistant to concoct a story that Susan was having an affair with a KGB agent in Washington with the codename “Yuri” and that he must have killed her. Unaware that Farrell was her other lover, Brice appoints him to investigate and find Yuri. Instead, Farrell sets out to prove Brice was involved with Susan and is her murderer. After many twists and turns, Farrell is closing in on evidence to implicate Brice, who then shifts the blame to his assistant, who collapses with grief when his boss turns on him. The assistant commits suicide in front of Brice and Farrell, and Brice falsely identifies him as Yuri. In the next scene, Farrell sits beside Susan’s grave in grief, and two men arrive to take him away for questioning. One of the men addresses him in Russian, and he answers in the same manner. The audience is shocked to learn that Farrell is actually a KGB spy and indeed Yuri, as he was planted in the United States as a teen, to become a Soviet mole.

2. Notorious (1946) Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman
Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman are at their best in this spy mystery that has Bergman as a civilian going undercover to catch a Nazis in South America after World War II, and Grant as the FBI agent who is her connection. The two fall in love naturally, and when Bergman’s character blows her cover, the Nazis slowly begin to poison her. At the end of the movie Grant’s character comes to her rescue, and he does manage to get her out of the house where she is being held captive. The last scene shows him helping her into the car to drive to the hospital. And that’s it. Does she live? Does she die? Do the bad guys get what’s coming to them? Will their evil plot continue? Plenty may be insinuated in this intelligent script, but the answers are left open for the audience to interpret, a perfect example of a surprise/hanging ending done right.

1. Your Sister’s Sister (2012) Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt, Rosemary DeWitt
A predictable Indy chic flick maybe, but I loved this movie. Too bad it has an ending scene that leaves you wondering is she or isn’t she, and this time, not even her hairdresser knows for sure. The story ends with Jack (Mark Duplass), Iris (Emily Blunt) and Hannah (Rosemary DeWitt) hovering in a crowded bathroom anxiously waiting for the results of Hannah’s pregnancy test. The scene fades as the credits begin to roll before the test results are revealed. Yikes! Sure, the audience knows that whether Hannah is pregnant or not, Iris and Jack will be together.  Iris is in love with Jack, who recently slept with Hannah, her sister one drunken night. The real resolution of this story is that Jack and Iris declare their love for each other after it is revealed to Iris about Hannah and Jack. Yet, the movie leaves us hanging if the next step in their lives involves a baby or not. The script is clever and often funny, but the ending would have been more satisfying if we knew the outcome.

The true confessions of a frustrated Phillies fan

0926-help-wanted_full_380May 17, 2013 – Would you rather cheer blindly (and happily) for a team who has struggled for years with little or no success, or enjoy a great five-year run where they dominate the division, win a world championship, and then return to mediocre?

In other words, is it better to have loved and lost, then never to have loved at all?

I am probably not the only Phillies fan to ponder this age-old question. Their run from 2007 through 2011, and the 2008 championship is the dream of every baseball fan. Now, left with memories of greatness and a present and near future that looks bleak, I almost wish it never happened. Ignorance truly is bliss.

During the bad years, before 2007, I cheered for my flawed team. In 2008, when we finally made it to the ultimate goal, it didn’t satisfy my taste for winning, it made me greedy for more. How I long to return to the days when I did not know better, when I took each game for what it was and enjoyed it despite being out of first place by double digits, back when I was accustomed to mediocrity.

Say what you will about fan faithfulness or jumping off the bandwagon. It does not apply to me.  I once was one of those fans that balked when friends and family would say the Phillies stink, and I never counted them out of a playoff run until it was mathematically impossible. Now I am ready to admit defeat this early in the season, agree that they are a bad team, and that I am frustrated because I thought they are capable of more. Sure, they are aging, but I convinced myself at the beginning of the season they had enough gas in the tank to make one more run with this team in tact. Last year, in a season plagued with injuries, I could get away with the excuse that the lack of offense had to do with the absence of key players on the disabled list. They played better in the second half, when Chase Utley and Ryan Howard came back, so the theory seemed plausible. Nevertheless, this year is no better, even with a full team on the field.

I still have my moments of fantasy, and try to keep my momentum up for the team. I went to Wednesday’s terrible 10-4 loss against the Indians, and I look at the standings and realize that the NL East is still up for grabs. Atlanta or Washington is not running away with this division, as the experts predicted. Unfortunately, I do not have the faith the Phillies will take advantage of this situation and do something about it. They look defeated, as if they have given up themselves. That leaves me scratching my head wondering why I should care. There is nothing left to say except my beloved team is not doing their part to keep me interested, and that is a painful confession.

How can we fix this? Only one thought comes to mind. It is time to say goodbye to many core members of this team that I once loved, become sellers at the trade deadline, and hope we can get our competitive edge back quickly. My faith and passion for baseball and the Phillies depend on it.

Ten television programs I miss

Grunge vintage televisionMay 15, 2013 – With “The Office” saying goodbye to its viewing audience tomorrow night, I am a little sad to think about these characters disappearing from my life. I realize it seems silly, and there is no doubt the show needs to end now. The last several seasons have not lived up to anyone’s standards, yet I am one of those people who hung in until the end.

Thinking about the end makes me remember other shows I miss, ten of which I listed below. The good news is that I survived the disappointment of losing favorite shows before, and I will again now and in the future, when “Mad Men” or “Parenthood” leaves the airwaves.

10. As the World Turns (1956-2010)
How sad is it that the soap opera is a dying genre? This classic aired for more than 50 years on the radio and television. I have watched other soaps through the years, but this one I stuck because I shared it with my mother. I began watching it when I was a little girl, and cherish those summer afternoons and days off sick when we would watch together. I also shared it with my son; it became our bonding time at the end of each day.

9. Eastwick (2009)
This short-lived series based on John Updike’s novel “The Witches of Eastwick” about a coven of three witches only lasted one season, but it made me smile. The television show was lighter and much more enchanting than the movie with Cher, Susan Sarandon, and Michelle Pfeiffer based on the same novel, and I still want to know what happened to the characters brought to life by Jaime Ray Newman, Lindsay Price, and Rebecca Romijn.

8. Bewitched (1964-1972)
Speaking of a coven, who could forget everyone’s favorite TV witch, Samantha Stevens. She was the only reason her husband Darren kept his job at the advertising firm of McMahon and Tate. Sam always came up with those catchy slogans thanks to her meddling and very magical family.

7. Big Love (2006-2011)
The first HBO show that makes the list told the story of a modern fundamentalist Mormon family living in polygamy and in the same housing development. It fed my curiosity about that lifestyle, and it taught me a lot about it because it was reportedly accurate. The best thing about the main character, his three wives and their crazy families, was the mix of the old (from the old compound where people still dressed in pioneer style clothing) to the new (a modern housing development in Salt Lake City). Sometimes I wanted to scream obscenities at the TV screen, but the show always entertained.

6. Family Ties (1982-1989)
Once upon a time, NBC ruled the airwaves with its lineup of comedies, “The Cosby Show”, “Family Ties”, and “Cheers”. They did not get much better than that, and all three were enough to keep this young working girl home on a Thursday night. “Family Ties”, about former hippies Elyse and Steven Keaton raising three kids, Alex P. Keaton, Mallory, and Jennifer, was the best of the bunch.

5. My So Called Life (1994)
Another short-lived series, and one that I did not catch the first time around, but later on MTV reruns, was “My So Called Life”. The trials and tribulations of Pittsburgh high school student Angela Chase and the boy she loved Jordan Catalano seemed like the most honestly written show about teenagers at the time, and each compelling episode brought me to tears by the end.

4. Six Feet Under (2001-2005)
The second HBO installment on the list told the story of a family who owned and operated the local funeral home. Each episode began with a death, and the body’s funeral intertwined with the story of the family itself. The writers came up with the most creative ways to kill people, and the final episode remains one of the cleverest of any television show in history.

3. Northern Exposure (1990-1995)
Here is another quirky classic about a New York doctor who decides to pay off some of his student loan debt by working for a few years in the wilds of Alaska. Watching Dr. Joel Fleishman adjust to life in the wilderness was about as interesting as visiting the state of Alaska itself. The television show was one of the main reasons I wanted to vacation in Alaska.

2. Magnum PI (1980-1988)
The beach. The estate. The red Ferrari. The Hawaiian shirt. The moustache and those short shorts. There is no mistaking you could easily pick Tom Selleck out of a line of Magnum wannabes. This show about a Navy Intelligence Officer who becomes a PI in Hawaii came with action, solid writing, a bit of clever comedy, and an All-American hunk. What else did a girl need?

1. Thirtysomething – (1987-1991)
I may not have been thirty something when this program started its run, but I still related to its fine storylines and characters. The drama that centered on a group yuppie baby boomers in their mid to late thirties had characters that most people could relate to and focused more on the drama of everyday life (character driven) than actual dramatic events (plot driven). This was a unique change for television programming at the time and I consumed every bit of it.

What are some of the shows you miss most?

The 100 best romantic movies

romanceMay 13, 2103 – How cool is this list?

Our British friends at www.timeout.com in London put together a panel of experts (actors and movie people from both sides of the pond) to select the 100 best romantic movies of all time.

I’m surprised that so many old movies made the list. That makes me feel warm and happy.

My favorite, “Notorious” with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman sits at number 52. A crowd pleasing favorite “The Way We Were” with Robert Redford and Barbara Streisand is number 59. Am I the only one who hated that movie?

Some choices are what you’d expect, like “When Harry Met Sally” at 25. Others are a head scratchers, such as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” at #88. Whoever selected that has a very different view of romance.

You can view the entire interesting and eclectic list here. How many have you seen? According to the folks at Timeout, the average is 32. I counted a rather impressive 54 for me.