Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ted and the Toy Box

While many of us may have wished that our dolls or stuffed animals could come to life when we were children, we probably never imagined they would stay with us into adulthood. In "Ted", the title character transforms from a fuzzy and friendly Teddy Bear into a pint-size bad boy spewing foul language in his now deep voice. (And it's darn funny!) He and Mark Wahlberg are best friends forever, so it got me thinking about my favorite toys growing up. The first one I really remember was Baby Alive. I don't think I was hooked on it simply because it was the hottest doll at the time. It was my fave, because I could play jokes on my relatives! I remember one Christmas we were visiting Boston (where my family is from and incidentally, where "Ted" takes place) for Christmas. I might have been five years old. I went up to my Aunt Valerie and said "Baby Alive wants to sit on your lap." She said "Oh, that's so sweet." What she didn't realize is that I had just fed Baby Alive her bottle and this doll was so amazing that it actually peed!!! Yes, it peed on her lap! I thought it was hilarious. Sorry, Aunt Valerie!!! Apparently, I've always been a jokester. I, of course, was a HUGE Barbie fan. I mean, what little girl wasn't? I had the Barbie Corvette, Barbie Townhouse and the Barbie Airplane. I didn't think about it then, but dang! How did Barbie get so rich??? Anyway, when I was seven, we moved from Hermosa Beach, California to Malibu. We were moving from a house with an enclosed garage into an apartment, so we were getting rid of some stuff. I remember thinking "I'm seven years old. I'm too mature for Barbie now. So, I gave them all to my Aunt Nancy's friend's daughter. In hindsight, I wish I had kept them another couple years. It's ok though, because now, I have four little nieces I can play Barbies with! I had two beanbag dolls that I had gotten when I was really little - they had hard heads and beanbag bodies. One had an orange outfit, one had yellow. My plan was to keep them and hand them down to my future daughter or daughters; however, I'm sad to say that will never happen. I can laugh about this story now, but I was NOT happy at the time. When I was maybe eight or nine, my dad took my older brother out to Gorman to ride motorcycles. I wasn't around when this conversation happened, but my dad apparently asked my brother if he had anything for target practice. I guess they were shooting bebe guns. Now, in my brother's defense, I'm not sure that he knew I was planning on keeping those dolls and I had grown out of them, but still! My bro says "Yeah, let's take these dolls." When I found out, I was PISSED! THEY SHOT MY DOLLS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! REALLY?????????????????? Don't worry. I'm all right. I'm over it now. If only I could have made his G.I. Joe dive off a skyscraper onto a freeway. KIDDING! When I was a little bit older, my Aunt Nancy gave me a Pot Belly Koala Bear - a big, soft, squishy bear. I LOVED it. I slept with it every night. When I was in junior high school, my aunt died from breast cancer and I continued sleeping with it, because it reminded me of her. I'm pretty sure I had it through college, but unfortunately, it fell apart. Oh, I had a really unique name for it too. I called it "Koala." All in all, I was more of a game person than a doll and stuffed animal person growing up. Clue, Life, Sorry!, Yahtzee and my all-time favorite... CANDYLAND! In college, I did my field study at an elementary school and always tried to sneak in a game of Candyland. Even the kids would be sick of it, but not me! I was a freak about video games too. Every year, my Aunt Mal (all my aunts are getting a mention in today's blog!) would ask me and my brother for a Christmas Wish List. She would get us each a bunch of separate gifts (she's VERY generous) and one gift that we could share. One year, we asked for the PacMan handheld game. We wanted it sooooooooooooo badly. The gifts always arrived early and would sit under the tree until the 25th. My mom was working at the time and we were old enough to stay home by ourselves. We opened the gift at the beginning of our winter break and played it all day every day when Mom was at work, then we'd wrap it back up again before she got home. By the time we opened it on Christmas Day, we were tired of playing it! My Mom was puzzled, because she thought we'd be super excited to get it. I don't think we ever told her or our aunt what we did. I guess they'll know now! And by the way, I still play Ms. PacMan when I go to the car wash and I always get the high score. Now, here's when I have to defend that statement. Some of my friends give me a hard time saying that they disconnect the machine every night and clear the high score... BUT I REFUSE TO BELIEVE IT. In my mind, I am the Ms. PacMan Master. Unlike Mark Wahlberg in "Ted" though, I wouldn't want Ms. PacMan to move in with me, because she'd eat me out of house and home! OK, now it's YOUR turn to share. What toys do YOU remember most???

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

People Like Us: The Importance of Unimportance

I recently saw "People Like Us" and though I'm not convinced the characters are like ME, I am a fan of the six rules of life that Chris Pine teaches to Elizabeth Banks' young movie son. I'll give you the six, so you can take a look, but my personal favorite is number three. 1. If you like something, because you think other people are going to like it, it’s a sure bet that no one will. 2. Most doors in the world are closed, so if you find one that you want to get into, you damn well better have an interesting knock. 3. Everything that you think is important isn’t. Everything that you think is unimportant is. 4. Don’t shit where you eat. 5. Lean into it. The outcome doesn’t matter. What matters is that you were there for it, whatever ‘it’ is - good or bad. 6. Don’t sleep with people, who have more problems than you do. I relate to number three, because I feel like so many people in this world spend oodles of time stressing and worrying about things that, in the grand scheme of things, are NOT important. They stay up nights freaking out about things that are out of their control, and what may be worse is that they waste other people's time talking about it and talking about it and talking about it. Shut up already! I'm sure we've all had someone special in our lives suffer from or die of cancer or another terrible disease. We know people, whose children were born with a serous medical issue. Making the most of every single day while we can and making our relationships the best they can be? That's important. Focusing on the fact that a seemingly great guy, who asked for your number in a bar hasn't called you? NOT important. Making sure that your family has enough food to eat? Important. Getting that promotion that would have allowed you to buy that snazzy new Mercedes you've been eyeing? Not important. We all wish our lives could be better in one way or another. Trust me - I'm right there with you. But I think we all need to take a step back, remove ourselves from our own little world for a bit, and REALLY think about what's important in our lives. At the end of your life, what will matter the most???

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Paul Williams: Still Alive... and Thriving

If you grew up in the 70s, there's no way you don't remember Paul Williams. Sure, the name alone may not immediately bring up the face these days, but if someone says "You know, Paul Williams! Short, pudgy, funny, brilliant songwriter, who wore big sunglasses, had scraggly, long blonde hair and appeared on just about every tv show, talk show, variety show and game show in the seventies?!?" They go "Oh yeah! Of course! Paul Williams!!!" He was everywhere back then, even cracking up the legendary Johnny Carson on a regular basis. And that's got to be pretty hard to do. When he wasn't entertaining us in front of the camera, he was busy writing some of the most heartfelt songs of the last few decades. "The Rainbow Connection" most famously sung by that adorable and charming frog named Kermit is one of my all-time favorites and that's not ONLY because I like to sing it in my best Kermie voice. But what about classics like "You and Me Against the World" by Helen Reddy, "Evergreen" by Barbra Streisand and "We've Only Just Begun" and "Rainy Days and Mondays" by The Carpenters? This guy had it all... and then it all came crashing down. I bet you can guess what's to blame. You got it. Drugs and alcohol. The good news is Paul Williams IS alive and seems to be doing extremely well. He's been sober for 20 years, he's touring... and you can see his rise and fall and rise again in the new documentary "Paul Williams Still Alive". I saw it with my mom today and not only was it a fantastic trip down Memory Lane for us both, it was a well-told, honest and entertaining story about a man, who defied the odds, found his voice and ran with it. The movie may be hard to find right now, but I'm guessing it'll spread to some more theaters very soon, so keep watching for it.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Celebrating the Imperfections in a Perfect Family

I had the pleasure of seeing "The Perfect Family" at the Newport Beach Film Festival the other night. Kathleen Turner stars and executive produces. Sure, she's not the sexy young minx she was in "Body Heat" or "Romancing the Stone," but come on guys... she's 57 years old. She has reinvented herself, much like former sex symbol Alec Baldwin has done in his older years... and I'm so glad. We didn't see a lot of her in starring feature film roles for a while, but it was so fantastic watching her leading the cast again on the big screen. Her comedy chops are in full force reminiscent of her highly acclaimed performance in "Serial Mom." Emily Deschanel from tv's "Bones" plays her daughter, Jason Ritter from tv's "Parenthood" plays her son and we also get solid performances from Elizabeth Pena, Sharon Lawrence (though too young to play a former high school classmate of Turner), Michael McGrady and Richard Chamberlain. But remember, this blog is NOT about movie reviews. It's about what we take away from movies. So... let's talk about "perfect" families. Those of us from divorced or poor families tend to look at other families and think they have it all. Oh, they're so lucky. But if you ever peel away the layers, I think you'll find that many of those "perfect" families are the most IMperfect of all. I've fallen into the trap myself, where I've looked at people, who live in the gorgeous homes with the beautifully manicured lawns and white picket fences with the fantastic children and the most fabulous dog, and thought "Man, they have it all." But often behind closed doors, the PTA mom is cheating on her husband with her trainer, the man of the house is embezzling from his company and the high school valedictorian is popping pills. The things that happen on "Desperate Housewives" may not be so far from reality after all. So, instead of dreaming we had a "perfect" family for ourselves, we should probably just celebrate the family we do have, appreciate them and make the best of sometimes challenging situations. Let's put the FUN in dysfunction!!!

Getting Your Swerve On

The Newport Beach Film Festival comes to a close today and though some would say I'm a film connoisseur, not to mention I lived in Newport Beach throughout college, I must admit that this is the first time I ever attended. I'm so glad I did, though I wish I had time to see more films and take part in all it has to offer. I'm looking at it as an appetizer for years to come. The first movie I saw there is called "Swerve" and comes to us from Australia. That means no subtitles for those of you, who turn away from foreign films!!! The movie reminds me a bit of "No Country for Old Men" or "A Simple Plan" starring Billy Bob Thornton and Bill Paxton. It's the story of money and honesty. If you found a large sum of money, would you keep it or turn it in? If you decided to turn it in, would it be because it's the right thing to do or because you were afraid of the circumstances that could follow? Karma really can be a bitch! On the flip side, if you decided to keep it, how far would you go to get away with it? Starting over in a different country? Breaking other laws to keep your secret? Committing murder? Depending on your answer, chances are you won't admit the truth here on a blog. But this may be a good time to think about it. How important is money to you and what lengths will you go to to get your grubby little hands on it? As for the actors, David Lyons, Emma Booth and Jason Clarke do a fine job. Lyons should soon become a movie star here in America. Yes, he is a real dream boat (did I really just say dream boat?), but he certainly has the acting chops to back up his physical attributes. Booth is sort of a Nicole Kidman or Jessica Chastain type, though sexier, and Clarke plays a solid heavy. All three could easily make a successful transition to film and television here in the U.S., so watch for these Aussies getting their "Swerve" on... on a big or small screen near you!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Bully... King of the Playground

"If I were king of the United States, I’d do away with popularity... because then everyone would be equal." That's one of the lines that stands out most in the highly-publicized "Bully" in theaters now. I blogged about it before it came out and now that I've seen it, I feel compelled to say more. First off, I can't remember a movie that has left me with tears in my eyes throughout nearly the entire length of the film. Sure, "Sophie's Choice" made me cry my eyes out and "Schindler's List" left me speechless for most of the afternoon, but "Bully" really hit me. Parents should not have to find their teenager hanging in the closet, eleven year olds should not have to see their best friend buried, school should not be a place students are afraid of, so WHAT IS HAPPENING? I can't say that I'm shocked to see the behavior of the kids in the movie, because I, of course, went to school and I remember the name calling, fights and ridicule. It's worse now with the internet, texting and cell phone video, but it's been going on forever. What DID shock me was the behavior of some of the administrators, teachers and bus drivers. Yes, kids will be kids, but bullying should not be tolerated. I know that there are schools that take bullying very seriously, I know that there are teachers, who don't turn a blind eye, I know that administrators have rules they need to follow, but come on! We adults should know better. We're supposed to be the role models. Let's figure this out. Just say NO! This is not right. It broke my heart to see these children going through the daily ritual of being picked on and beat up, because they're too fat, too skinny, too tall, too short, too smart, too dumb, too masculine, too feminine, too different. Guess what, bullies... YOU'RE NOT PERFECT EITHER! At one point, Alex from Sioux City, Iowa is asked by his mom if it feels good to be pushed and hit and stabbed with pencils and he responds with "I'm starting to think I don't feel anything anymore". The little boy is bullied so often that he's becoming desensitized to it. Let's not become desensitized to bullying as a society, because these kids deserve a chance to grow, smile, laugh, thrive and make it past their 18th birthday. It's time to take a stand. Each and every one of us. How will YOU help make a difference?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Bye Bye Bullying

The much-publicized "Bully" documentary is coming out next Friday and I didn't realize until today that part of it takes place in Sioux City, Iowa. I spent two years in Sioux City as a news anchor/reporter at KMEG, the CBS affiliate and covered many stories at local schools, so I became even more interested in seeing it. Bullying has been around forever and it's sad that it took this long for it to become such a topic of conversation and attention in the news. I think most of us have either been a bully to some extent or been bullied at some point in our lives. And let's be honest, it doesn't stop when you graduate from high school. There's bullying among friends and neighbors, and in the workplace. While I would love to say that I've never bullied anyone, that just wouldn't be true. I remember not being very nice to a certain girl in elementary school for really no reason at all, except that she was different. I thought I was being funny. Clearly, I wasn't. We're ALL different and we should be celebrating that, not ridiculing people, because of it. Once I got to junior high (luckily), I realized on my own that what I had been doing was wrong and mean, and I apologized to her. We then became friendly, but it doesn't change what I did. And here I am, all these years later, still mad at myself for acting that way. I also know what it's like to be on the receiving end. When I was in ninth grade (it was still junior high back then), I rode the school bus every day and just about every day, these two boys who had gotten kicked out of their school in Santa Monica and sent to my school, would harass me. I know their names, but I won't mention them here. They would grab me, pinch me, you name it. One day I was wearing this really nice dress that my mom had gotten me for Christmas and I was trying to get off the bus at my stop. I was in the back of the bus and they were both grabbing and pulling at me, not letting me off the bus. I swear to this day that the bus driver saw what was going on and didn't step in. He continued on to the next stop with me still on the bus. The boys even ripped the back of my dress. I was finally able to break free and get off a couple stops up the hill. I was angry and humiliated. I walked all the way home crying, but wiped away the tears before I got home, because I didn't want my mom to see me so upset. I didn't want to tell her what happened, even though I didn't do anything wrong. I think so many kids don't share what's going on with their parents, because they don't want them to get involved or they're embarrassed, and sadly, as we've seen recently, some kids end up killing themselves or others, because of it. Something needs to be done about this... NOW. Bus drivers, teachers, parents, kids... Nancy Reagan taught us to say no to drugs. Now, let's start saying bye bye to bullying. I think this would be a good place to open up the discussion about bullying - for children and adults, bullies and victims. Who would like to share???

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Year of the Mediocre Movies

Is it me or has it been a weak year for movies??? Strong performances, but none of the movies wowed me. I just saw "War Horse", which means I've now seen every film nominated in the best picture, best actor, best actress, best supporting actor and best supporting actress categories, plus a few more. Sure, it's not like last year when I saw 33 of the Oscar-nominated movies, but still, I saw the majority of them. So, let's recap. I was not looking forward to seeing "War Horse" at all. I mean, I waited this long to see it, didn't I? While I was thrilled that I only paid $3.00 at the second-run theater (yes!), I now know that I would have enjoyed it even if I had paid full price! Though it is longer than it needed to be, I found myself rooting for the horse. And Jeremy Irvine, the lead kid in the movie, is quite simply a movie star. Watch for him, people! Young Celine Buckens sort of steals your heart too. She's the girl living with her grandfather, who cares for the War Horse and his fellow equine for a while. She reminds me of a young Gabrielle Anwar. This year has been strange for me in the movie world. Every year at Oscar time, I have a definite favorite to win for best picture. Often times, I know it won't win or realize there's a good chance that it won't, but nevertheless, I have a definite favorite. This year, I couldn't care less which picture wins. Did you catch that? "Couldn't" care less. If you COULD care less, that means you care. Got it? Cool! Remember it. Be original and use it correctly, please. So many people don't. But I digress! I honestly don't care this year which movie takes the top honor. Though "Hugo" was slow at times and I didn't feel that the revelation was as shocking as it could have been or should have been, it was, at times, magical. Again, another strong child performance. Asa Butterfield, who plays Hugo, carried the movie perfectly. The directing by Martin Scorsese, no big surprise, was superb. I wouldn't be upset if "The Artist" won, because it was so different from anything we've seen in so long. The production value alone made me happy, but it was slow at times. That seems to be a running theme in the movies of 2011. Slow, slow, slow. Pick up the pace! While I've mentioned some memorable performances by youngsters, I'm sorry to say that Thomas Horn ruined "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" for me. I know his character is supposed to be odd, but if an actor is in virtually every scene of the movie, he still has to be likeable. "The Descendants", "The Help", "Midnight in Paris" and "Moneyball" are all solid, mostly enjoyable movies with strong performances and decent screenplays, but best picture of the year? I don't think so. And "The Tree of Life"??? Sorry, folks. Didn't like that one at all. I would have LOVED to have seen an entire movie though on Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain and their two young sons. THAT would have been a good movie, but all the other stuff mixed in (i.e. dinosaurs and waves - really???) ruined it for me. And I'll be honest, I've never witnessed so many people walk out of a movie and rip it apart at the end (if they stayed) than I did when I went to see "The Tree of Life". I understand what Terrence Malick was trying to do, but it would have made a better film to run at some science museum or something, not on the big screen. OK, on to the acting categories... while I think Gary Oldman should already be an Oscar winner and I'm shocked that this is his first nomination, I don't feel that he was the standout in the film. Though it's filled with talented actors, for me, the standouts were Tom Hardy (and not just because he's sexy) and Mark Strong. If you don't know who Mark Strong is, he looks like a cross between Stanley Tucci and Matt Lauer, and he's been popping up in more and more movies and in bigger parts lately. You'll be seeing a lot more of him. I know Jean Dujardin from "The Artist" may stand out in this category, because of the kind of movie he's in and I truly believe Brad Pitt should be an Oscar winner by now, but I think George Clooney may deserve the award for "The Descendants". We'll see. Best actress is a STRONG category this year. I think you can make arguments for each of them to win. Before I saw "The Iron Lady", I was saying I wanted Meryl Streep to win simply based on the trailer and the fact that she gets nominated so often, but rarely wins. I think she deserved to win for "Julie and Julia", because she MADE the movie, though I realize she was only in half of it. I like Sandra Bullock and she was great in "The Blind Side", but if Streep hadn't been nominated so many times, she may have taken that award. Anyway, now that I've seen "The Iron Lady", I feel that some elements of Julia Child comes out in the performance. She's still brilliant (of course), but I think Michelle Williams should win for playing Marilyn Monroe. You may disagree, but that is no easy task and many people would do it as a caricature. Williams didn't. I felt the pain and constant quest for love and affection that Marilyn went through, because Williams did it right. I'm hoping this might be the surprise win of the night. Viola Davis is clearly talented enough to be an Oscar winner. Her performance in "Doubt", though short, was intense. She delivered another powerful performance in 2011 in "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" and she very well may take home the statue. Glenn Close was wonderful and also deserves to win an Oscar in her lifetime and Rooney Mara was fantastic, but this will not be their year. For best supporting actor, I don't think anyone doubts that Christopher Plummer will win, and he should. No question in my mind; however, I did love Max von Sydow in "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close". I wanted much more of him! For best supporting actress, Octavia Spencer will almost definitely take home to award, and she should, but don't discount Jessica Chastain's performance in "The Help". Every moment she was on-screen, I had a huge smile on my face. Her performance was so refreshing. I just loved her. Someone else in that movie, who did not receive a nomination, but deserves big props is the one and only Sissy Spacek. She stole every scene she was in and made it look effortless. And let's talk effort for a second. I'm sincerely hoping studios and producers will put more effort into making movies in 2012. If a screenplay needs work, spend the money to improve it before you start shooting. So many times, a movie could have easily gone from good to phenomenal with a few nips and tucks of the screenplay. Come on, Hollywood! We pay a lot of money to go to the movies these days during an economy that is still struggling. Make it worth it for us and bring back the movie magic of yesteryear.