Monday, April 21, 2008

At last! DVR movie mini-reviews, 2007/2008.... 

Many of these aired on Turner Classic Movies during their "31 Days of Oscar" promotion, so they won some sort of Academy Award (not always for Best Picture). Others of these I plucked from the various HBO channels. Now, I started recording these in September, so my memory of details of some of them is fuzzy already (I may have to resort to looking up actor names on IBMd), but I'll say at least a few words about each....

"Little Miss Sunshine": Olive, a girl from a dysfunctional family, has won a spot at a pageant in California, and the whole family piles into a barely working VW van, racing against time to get her there. What's refreshing about this movie is that Abigail Breslin has none of that beauty queen pretension or preciousness; she seems like a real kid you wouldn't mind traveling with. But her family is off the charts: her grandfather is usually high, her brother has taken a vow of silence, her uncle recently attempted suicide, and her dad is a failed writer of self-help books. From this description, you wouldn't think any of this would be funny, but I found portions of it hilarious. My favorite part is when Olive does her talent routine, a raunchy dance number set to "Superfreak" by Rick James!

"Pan's Labyrinth": I must say I was rather misled by the trailers for this. They made it seem like a whimsical children's story. Yes, a child is the central character, and she enters a land to escape her everyday life, but whimsical it is not. I think I saw one review mention it was dark, but I was expecting "Chronicles of Narnia" dark, not Stephen King dark. So I was not at all prepared for the violence and disturbing themes. This is not to say it is a bad movie. The horrors of Ofelia's real life (dead father, dying mother, murderous stepfather, war all around her) are quite believable, and in that context, the world to which she escapes is not that surprising, full of wrenching choices and danger. For what it is, it is excellently done, quite vivid. I am not sorry I saw it, but one viewing is enough for me.

"The Out-of-Towners": This is the 1970 version starring Jack Lemmon, not the inferior remake. It was written by Neil Simon. Lemmon plays a businessman from the MidWest who visits New York with his wife because he has an interview scheduled and may be offered a job there. But the trip is a series of disasters from the word go. First, their plane doesn't even end up in New York, and they must scramble to find alternate transportation so that Lemmon can get to his interview the next day. Their luggage is lost, they can't get a room anywhere, they get mugged, and they end up sleeping in a park. Lemmon is perfect for his role as a regular guy growing ever more exasperated with the Big Apple. And if you can identify with even one of their mishaps, you'll find this amusing.

"For Your Consideration": A 2006 Christopher Guest creation (Eugene Levy co-wrote) about the absurdities of the movie business and how celebrity gossip builds up and destroys without regard for actual talent. Guest's usual suspects are all here, plus other stars popping up in such profusion that after awhile one simply loses track. The main storyline surrounds a dreadful film called "Home for Purim" which features a Jewish family in Georgia during World War II, a dying mom and a lesbian daughter. The film would be perfectly forgettable except for a rumor on the internet that the woman who plays the mom (Catherine O'Hara) might get an Oscar nomination. Then the media hounds are released, so to speak. The Oscar buzz expands to include other actors in the film, the production company tweaks the film to make it more Academy friendly, and the potential nominees do the talk show/MTV/tabloid circuit. Catherine O'Hara goes from a nice enough woman to a Botox-injected, silicone-implanted, prancing nightmare. But the most hilarious part is Fred Willard as a Mohawked gossip columnist. The satire here can be biting, but the subject matter is something that well deserves to be bitten.

"Happy Feet": I think my expectations were too high. I kept getting told what an adorable family movie this was. Granted, the animation was awesome, the voicing was well done, and one or two of the tunes were catchy. But I did not find the penguin with the pop can plastic cutting off his circulation to be all that amusing. It wasn't a dreadful movie, but I kept getting the nagging feeling that something wasn't quite right. I guess I wanted a little more story and a little less singing. Like "Pan's Labyrith", I'm not sorry I watched but found that one viewing was sufficient.

"The Secret Garden": Now this I can honestly recommend as a great family film. I had seen the Hallmark version on TV in 1987 and it made quite an impression on me, so I decided to give the 1993 version a shot. This one has Maggie Smith as the stern housekeeper and Kate Maberly as the spoiled orphan Mary Lennox. In the story, after Mary's parents die in India, she is sent to live with a mysterious uncle in England in an even more mysterious castle that appears to be haunted. Mary finds out that the ghostly sounds are actually coming from her cousin, an invalid boy who is even more spoiled than she. Apparently, her cousin's mother died when he was born, and his father never recovered from the grief over this. With the help of a boy who lives on the grounds of the castle, Mary finds a withered garden locked away and apparently forgotten. The transformation of the garden leads to the transformation of Mary, her cousin, and her uncle. I don't know if this was actually filmed in England, but whatever location they used was very realistic, lots of rain that made a perfect contrast with the colorful garden scenes. I did attempt to watch another version of this movie from the 1940's starring Margaret O'Brien and Dean Stockwell, but there was a conflict with the recording on the DVR, and I only got part of it. What I did see was awesome, and I found it really interesting that the movie was black and white until the garden scenes, which were color (kinda like in "The Wizard of Oz"). I cannot find the 1949 version on Netflix, but I hope Turner Classic Movies reruns it sometime.

"Brokeback Mountain": I had planned on seeing this in the theatre, mainly because Ang Lee's name was attached to it, but my limited budget wouldn't allow me to go to more than one or two movies that year (unfortunately, that situation won't change anytime soon), so I ended up skipping it. But HBO came to the rescue last fall. This is more than anything else a star-crossed love story, every bit as heart-wrenching as Romeo and Juliet. The characters portrayed by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal don't want to care for one another, know that any sort of relationship could literally endanger their lives if found out, and do their utmost to conform to what is expected of them.
But Jack and Ennis, their passion for one another never dims, even after they have moved on with their lives and have gotten married to women. Interestingly, Ennis' wife sees him kissing Jack when they are finally reunited, and she is devastated, but she plays along that she believes the two men are just fishing buddies. The burden of their secrecy is enormous, as is the sadness in knowing they can never make a full commitment to one another. Forbidden love usually exerts a heavy toll, and it does here. I highly recommend this movie.

"My Man Godfrey": This is the 1936 version; another one starring David Niven came out during the 1950's, but I have not seen it. This one features William Powell as a homeless man hired as a butler and Carole Lombard as a the ditsy socialite who hires him. What makes this movie work is that Godfrey, despite his initial appearance, actually has much more class than the rich family who employs him. Lombard's character, Irene, generally means well but has absolutely no experience with how the other half lives. Inevitably, Irene falls for Godfrey, both learn from each other, and we get a screwball comedy ending. There is also a great deal of poking fun at American aristocracy. I found this enormously enjoyable and would watch it again in a heartbeat.

"Thinner": A Stephen King as Richard Bachman tale I somehow never got around to watching. An overweight lawyer accidentally runs over an ancient gypsy woman and gets away with it. One of her grieving family members puts a curse on the lawyer with one simple word: "thinner". He immediately begins losing weight and at first is delighted, but this eventually gives way to alarm when he realizes that the pounds won't stop coming off. He desperately tries to track down the traveling gypsy family to ask to have the curse removed; when he is refused, a Mafia-type friend of his retaliates, calling it the "curse of the white man from town". Skeletal and near death, the lawyer finally gets the option of either transferring his curse to someone else or keeping it. He decides to transfer it to his cheating wife, but this backfires. Unlike some King-based movies, this follows the book closely for the most part, which makes it ghoulishly delightful. Because this came out in 1996, the technology wasn't available to make the weight loss look more convincing (they started with a very obvious fat suit and used makeup tricks as the lawyer "slimmed" down), but this doesn't hurt the movie too much. Maybe not the best King adaptation, but I enjoyed it.

"Cyrano de Bergerac": This is the 1950 film version of the play, starring Jose Ferrer. What's not to like? Awesome swordplay, awesome wordplay. A verbose but gallant swordsman is in love with Roxanne, but he dares not tell her because his nose is almost as large as his sword. Besides, she's in love with the handsome Christian. But Christian is a verbal klutz, so Cyrano writes eloquent letters to Roxanne and lets her think they are from Mr. Handsome. Eventually, she does figure out who is the true author, but not until many years have passed. The film quality, or at least the print shown on TCM, was poor, but it almost doesn't matter because of the amazing performance of Jose Ferrer. The words he speaks and the way he speaks them are mesmerizing. A comedic version of this story with a happy ending was done featuring Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah called "Roxanne"; if this is the only version you have seen, check out the story that inspired it.

"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes": Had only seen bits and pieces of this in the past and thought Dan might enjoy watching it with me. Not being terribly into musicals, materialism or dumb blondes, I've seen better movies, but it was still kinda fun. I can understand how Marilyn Monroe got stuck with the reputation of being an airhead, even if it was just a movie role. Hard to get taken seriously as an actress when you make the part of gold digger Lorelei Lee appear so effortless. I did especially enjoy the musical number with the male athletes, heh heh, and I liked it when Jane Russell had to pretend to be Marilyn. And I admit the glamorous outfits were as eye-catching as the women in them. So, all in all, not a bad way to spend an hour and a half.

"The Adventures of Robin Hood": This is the 1938 Technicolor extravaganza featuring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland and Basil Rathbone. Mr. Flynn makes for a rather flashy Robin Hood, but this is a good thing; the sword fighting scenes are quite exciting, and there are several. Maid Marion is enchanting enough to draw you in but feisty enough to hold her own with the famous outlaw. And the bad guys are just menacing enough to make the violence against them justified. This film was enormously popular when it was released, and it still holds up surprisingly well. The best part has got to be the archery competition with the splitting arrow effect. Although I have not yet seen the Fairbanks version, I will say that the more recent remakes can't hold a candle to the dashing Flynn and his merry men. Great fun to watch.

"Network": I was only 12 when this came out, so all I knew about it was, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore!". It turned out to be the best satire I've ever seen about TV and its ruthless quest for ratings. I think this actually resonates more now than before, what with the recent writers' strike and the domination of "reality" programming. In "Network", a seasoned news announcer finds out he has been fired and announces on live TV that he is going to commit suicide. The execs are horrified, until they find out that this stunt gives them a huge jump in ratings, that is. They then not only keep him on the air, they give him his own show where he can say whatever outrageous things he likes, as long as the ratings stay high, that is. Nothing is too ridiculous for this network if it draws in viewers. I found the cynicism and profanity realistic (I used to work in the media) and the over-the-top gimmicks hilarious. Lots of big names associated with this movie: Sidney Lumet directed, Paddy Chayefsky wrote the screenplay, and the actors include William Holden, Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall and Ned Beatty. Many excellent performances here. If you want an only slightly exaggerated view of behind the scenes TV, check out "Network". You won't be sorry.

"Little Children": This is a recent film starring Kate Winslet as a stay-at-home mom who falls for a stay-at-home dad. This is also a larger story about the community in which they live and how it judges its neighbors. Kate's character, Sarah, sits at the park with the other young moms and is obviously bored with their gossip, until they notice Brad arriving with his son. Sarah decides to amuse herself by giving the other ladies something more to gossip about, so she introduces herself to Brad. The two parents start bringing their kids to the public pool every day during the summer, giving them an excuse to be together. Meanwhile, a registered sex offender moves into the neighborhood, and an ex-cop goes to great measures to let him know he's not wanted. While this film has "children" in the title, it is primarily about adults who behave childishly. This is not a comfy story where it is obvious who deserves what. The fate of the sex offender is particularly disturbing. The acting is superb, but it is not light viewing.

"Forbidden Planet": This is the 1956 sci-fi classic, loosely based upon the Shakespeare play, "The Tempest". A spaceship from Earth lands on a planet to investigate the fate of a crew who had landed there 20 years earlier. They find two survivors: a man and his daughter. The man has the key to a higher form of knowledge: technology left by a more advanced civilization. But will this knowledge be used for good or evil? Ok, I have to admit I laughed my ass off at the cheesy visual and sound effects; they are hopelessly dated. But I decided to be patient and see if the storyline was worth my time, and it was. The theme of using technology wisely transcends the decades since this movie was made, and it makes you think. Also, check out the performances of Walter Pidgeon and Leslie Nielsen (yes, he used to do serious roles).

"War of the Worlds": No, not the Tom Cruise update, which I did watch at the theatre. This was the 1953 edition. Like "Forbidden Planet", hopelessly dated visual and sound effects. But I was mesmerized by the original radio broadcast (recordings of it, of course), and I wanted to see how the 50's version compared to the others. This one starts in California when a meteor appears to crash in an uninhabited area. A local scientist figures out that this is no meteor, and after some time, it is revealed to be housing an alien vehicle, which promptly torches three men who were trying to communicate with it. It soon becomes clear that the aliens won't listen to reason, and no amount of force is effective against them. More and more arrive, and more and more destruction occurs. Planet Earth is imperiled. Only one thing can stop the aliens, and it is something we take for granted every day: common germs. While this differs quite a bit from the original story, it ain't bad. Worth a gander if you're curious.

"The Adventures of Tom Sawyer": A Technicolor feast courtesy of David O. Selznick from 1938. A remake was done in 1973 starring Johnny Whitaker and Jodi Foster, which I loved, but then, I was nine when I saw it, so I can't realistically compare the two. The '38 version has no big name child actors, but it doesn't seem to matter because they are quite good. For anyone not familiar with the Mark Twain story, Tom Sawyer is a mischievous boy living in 1850's Missouri and getting away with as much as possible with the help of his buddy Huck Finn. Tom is also clever, tricking the neighborhood boys into whitewashing a fence for him. Tom is also a romantic, falling for the new girl in town, Becky Thatcher, forgetting that he is already "engaged" to another girl. One night, Tom and Huck are unlucky enough to witness a murder; Tom identifies the culprit in court, but the bad guy gets away and intends to get revenge on Tom. On another occasion, Tom and Huck run away and are presumed dead; later, they sneak into their own funeral. I honestly think Twain himself would have been pleased with this straightforward telling of his wonderful novel.

"Ghandi: One of the few films of the '80's to deserve the label epic. I am truly sorry I had not watched this many years before. Don't be put off by the film's length as I had been. It is worth every minute. Richard Attenborough directed, and I was reminded of films from the '60's like "Lawrence of Arabia". Ben Kingsley played the title character and was thoroughly believable; I honestly feel the film wouldn't have been half as good with anyone else. Although this is a biography, it is not a dry recitation of history. One feels swept up in the events and the sense of the importance of what is taking place. It begins with Ghandi's lawyer days in South Africa where he starts a protest against the British leaders' treatment of Indian citizens there. It continues with his return to India and his realization that he can only truly identify with its poorer citizens if he lives like one. So he dresses in simple locally made garb. He protests the salt tax. His philosophy of peaceful resistance is not just word, it is deed, which leads to multiple arrests. He undergoes hunger strikes and attempts to unite the citizens of differing faiths. It ends with his assassination in 1948. Along the way, he inspires not just India, but the world, and his philosophy and wisdom still echo today. There are many well-known supporting actors in this film, such as John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, Candice Bergen, Martin Sheen and Nigel Hawthorne. A very credible presentation of one of the most amazing men of the 20th century.

"The Adventures of Mark Twain": A dramatized bio done in 1944 about my great great great uncle (there might be more or fewer greats involved). This was an adaptation of the play "Mark Twain". As with most dramatizations, there were liberties taken with some facts, but since this was the story of a man who was larger than life, it is still highly watchable. Frederic March plays Twain to perfection; with the excellent makeup, the resemblance is uncanny. Interestingly, the film shows Twain's massive failures as well as his successes. For instance, he invested so heavily in a typesetter that he became bankrupt, forcing him to go on a worldwide lecture circuit that cemented his status as the most popular American writer of his time, and, perhaps, all time. There is a lot of emphasis on Twain's widely celebrated wit, and rightly so, because could be funny as hell, but he was also known for ruffling some feathers. The ending is a tad schmaltzy, I'll admit, but by then one is fully invested in the story, so I didn't mind too much. Though I am biased, I think even if I weren't related to Samuel Clemens, I would still recommend this film as a cut above the average bio from the '40's.

"The Yearling": The main reason I avoided seeing this movie was because of its reputation as a tearjerker. This came out in 1946 and stars Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman. It's about a boy named Jody growing up on a farm in post-Civil War Florida. He's lonely and convinces his father to let him keep an orphaned fawn as a pet. When the animal grows up, Jody must grow up too. Although some of the dialogue seems a tad hokey to me, it's still a good movie, sad outcome and all.

"Little Women": This story has been done many times. In fact, I have a version of it on my DVR right now that stars Katharine Hepburn that I haven't watched yet. But the one I saw in March was the 1949 version starring June Allyson as Jo, Janet Leigh as Meg, Elizabeth Taylor as Amy and Margaret O'Brien as Beth. The story is based on the novel of the same name. Jo is a young woman who wants to be a writer. Her father is away fighting in the Civil War, and she along with her three sisters try keep their mother happy and keep the household running smoothly. It's basically a coming-of-age saga with love, surprises and tragedy. That being said, I enjoyed the performances very much and wouldn't mind having this one in my library.

"The Front Page": This was the 1931 version, not the one done in the '70's. It's mainly about a newspaper reports who accepts a higher paying job in advertising in preparation for married life. But can't ever seem to get out the door to start his new life because of the lure of a juicy story. The tale itself is not bad, and I really enjoyed the bit about hiding someone in a roll top desk, but I have to be honest: I fell asleep while watching it. My illness was the main reason for this, but the fact that the film quality was poor and that I had trouble telling one male character from another didn't help. I might give it another shot someday, because I really WANTED to like it. Or maybe I'll check out the 1974 remake which was directed by Billy Wilder and starred Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.

"Teacher's Pet": This was a romantic comedy starring Clark Gable and Doris Day that came out in 1958. Gable plays a seasoned newspaperman who learned his skills on the job in the real world. Day plays a smart journalism instructor who invites Gable to help out with her class. Gable has a great deal of disdain for college education, believing it can't take the place of learning by doing. But Gable goes to the classroom, and when he finds out how attractive the teacher is, pretends to be a student so he can show her up. I thought Gable was rather long in the tooth for this role (he looked at least 55), making it less believable. Nevertheless, I found the verbal sparring about journalism and its future to be entertaining, and the romance angle somewhat endearing. The rival character in the movie, a professor who seems to be good at absolutely everything, is thoroughly enjoyable and makes a for quite a bit of comic relief. Overall, the movie is worth checking out if you ignore Gable's age.

"A Tale of Two Cities": The excellent 1935 version; it has been remade, but I haven't seen any of those versions. This one has Reginald Owen (who played Scrooge in a version of "A Christmas Carol") and Basil Rathbone in it. It is of course based on the Charles Dickens book of the same name, but I was amazed they were able to condense such a complicated story down into two hours. The settings are France just before the Revolution and England. Lucie, an English citizen, is brought to France to see her father, who is being released from prison. On their way back home to England, Lucie encounters a handsome young Frenchman who calls himself Charles Darnay who is fleeing from his country, in part because his uncle, an aristocrat, accidentally killed a peasant boy. The Frenchman is put on trial for having British documents, but a lawyer who looks remarkably like him successfully defends him. Charles and Lucie marry, but things get complicated with the onset of the French Revolution. Charles must go back to France and is scheduled to die, but the lawyer, who is secretly in love with Lucie too, switches places with him. The ending is a very moving piece of cinema, true to the spirit of the book. Probably the best Dickens adaptation I have ever seen.

"Spellbound": This is the Hitchcock film from 1945, not the recent documentary about spelling bees. Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman star. Peck is a patient with memory loss who may have killed a psychiatrist in order to impersonate him; Bergman is a doctor at the mental hospital who falls in love with Peck and wants to find the cause of his amnesia. Dan watched this with me and was laughing at the acting in the beginning. I think the fact that psychology was still a novelty at the time this was made had something to do with it; there was a lot of explanation of the theories behind analysis that we take for granted today. But the story gets much more interesting when Peck has a dream inspired by the work of Salvador Dali. Turns out Peck was skiing when he lost his memory, so Bergman takes him back to the scene of the possible "crime". The revelation that takes place here is truly shocking, a classic Hitchcock moment. And the Peck/Bergman romance gets better as things roll along. So uneven though this film might be, it is worth a look as it is still better than average. I did enjoy it.

"Lolita": I had seen the Adrian Lyne 1997 version and was curious about whether the 1962 Stanley Kubrick would be more or less tame. Turns out it was both. The book's main character is not sane and may not be telling the truth about what happened, but neither film spends much time explaining that. The story is presented as though it happened exactly as shown, which is both more and less shocking. And Kubrick embellished on details while making the Lolita character slightly older (I think in the book she was 12 at the beginning?). That probably had to be done to get the film past the censors. But the actress he used was just young enough to not be able to watch the film's debut as it had been age restricted due to subject matter. Interestingly, the subject is more implied than shown; when Lolita wants to tell Humbert about a "game" she learned at summer camp, she whispers it in his ear rather than blurt it or act it out. For those unfamiliar with the basic story, Humbert is a professor who marries his landlady after he becomes infatuated with her underage daughter, Lolita. His new wife discovers his obsession but dies in an accident. As Lolita's legal guardian, Humbert picks up his stepdaughter at camp, and now that he has her all to himself, allows himself to become her lover as well. He eventually loses her to her drama instructor. I thought James Mason was an excellent casting choice; his Humbert is moody, violent, intelligent and sometimes charming. And his desire for Lolita is believable even if improper. Shelley Winters plays Lolita's mother, a lonely woman whose desperation is quite irritating; you can almost sympathize with Humbert's aggravation with her. Peter Sellers plays Quilty, the drama teacher and writer who's even more creepy than Humbert. I thought the movie was done tastefully considering its subject matter, and quite well acted. I would watch it again.

"Easy Rider": This came out in 1969 and stars Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson. Hopper directed, and Fonda and Hopper wrote. In it, Hopper and Fonda play two young men with a fondness for getting high who decide to ride their motorcycles from LA to New Orleans. Along the way, they encounter a commune, rednecks, jail, and a fellow prisoner played by Nicholson who decides to tag along when they get out. It would be easy for someone my age or younger watching this to think that the reaction of the rednecks in the movie to long haired bikers is exaggeration because we can't remember firsthand. But I heard enough stories from those who experienced similar reactions personally to not think the ending of "Easy Rider" is too far-fetched. Oh, and I suppose those of us who never dropped acid can experience it vicariously here. This movie serves as a reminder that forty years ago, trying various methods of getting high simultaneously was seen by many as simply expanding one's mind and not as the dangerous act we know it to be today. But the appeal of touring the country on a motorcycle has not diminished. This movie features beautiful scenery, a great soundtrack, and a fascinating peek at three non-conformists' quests for freedom.

"Topper": This is the original 1937 version starring Cary Grant. There were film sequels to this and even a television series. What you do get when you mix booze, ghosts and a banker? Why, screwball comedy, of course. Cary Grant and Constance Bennett play George and Marion Kerby, hard-partying socialites who die in a car crash. Because they do not end up in heaven, they conclude they haven't yet done any good deeds that would merit a reward. Their idea of a good deed is to show a stodgy banker how to party. This project has hilarious results. Topper, the banker, has always done exactly as he is expected to do, and his sudden rebellion takes his bossy social climbing wife, played by Billie Burke (Glenda the Good Witch in "The Wizard of Oz"), completely by surprise. My favorite part is when Topper lurches drunkenly through a lobby. Because he is being supported by invisible ghosts (they are invisible to everyone but Topper), he weaves and jerks like a wild marionette. Marion starts having too much fun with Topper's "rehabilitation", running off to a hotel with him and incurring her husband's jealousy. Interesting note: the producer was Hal Roach. The special effects are pretty good considering the technology available then. The drinking and driving isn't very PC, but nevertheless I recommend this one heartily and wouldn't mind owning it.

"The Circus": The 1928 Charlie Chaplin silent classic. In his familiar role as the little tramp, he inadvertently joins the circus while trying to escape the police. He is hired to make the audience laugh, but he is only able to accomplish this by accident. He becomes enamored of the lovely trapeze artist, but she only has eyes for the handsome tightrope walker. When Chaplin ends up having to walk the tightrope himself, he has to contend with perils such as monkeys biting at him; the scene is genius. In "The Circus", the tramp doesn't get the girl, making this a somewhat melancholy romantic comedy. While some of his other silent films are more popular, this should not be missed. I really loved it.

"The Great Dictator": 'We think too much and feel too little,' says the barber mistaken for a dictator. This film is a Chaplin "talkie" from 1940, which is significant because even though it pokes fun at Hitler, it was begun before the U.S. got involved in World War II. Chaplin plays both Adenoid Hinkel, dictator of Tomania, and a Jewish barber who looks exactly like him. Chaplin succeeds quite well in making his pseudo-Nazis appear utterly ridiculous but also acknowledges how dangerous they are. There is a very famous scene when Hinkel is alone batting a balloon globe around as if he were performing a ballet with it, symbolic of his quest to have the whole world in his grasp. Eventually, the barber is mistaken for Hinkel, and he must play along. The speech the barber gives is fantastic and is just as relevant today as it was nearly 50 years ago. At a time when hardly anyone dared speak up about Hitler, Chaplin's message was loud and clear and is still worth examining.

"Meet John Doe": A Frank Capra 1941 classic. Barbara Stanwyck plays a newspaper reporter whose job is threatened. To retaliate, she dreams up a fake letter to the editor claiming to be from a desperate man who plans to commit suicide. There is a huge public response, and Stanwyck's job is saved. Only one problem: she must produce the author of the letter. So she interviews homeless men, hoping to find a convincing John Doe. Enter Gary Cooper, a washed up baseball player. He initially agrees to play along because he is paid to and because Stanwyck tells him what to say. But even though his speeches aren't his own words, they strike a chord with the public, and he becomes a charismatic sensation. Like "It's a Wonderful Life", a few things are a bit simplistic and preachy, but the message of hope at the end is still inspiring, and there are times we need such themes in our lives. In this age of particularly complicated politics and religion, simplicity can be a welcome experience. Probably best viewed at Christmastime, "Meet John Doe" is one of those movies you dig out whenever you're tired of cynicism and just want to believe in something again. I truly enjoyed it.

"It Happened One Night": Frank Capra strikes again, this time with the original screwball comedy in 1934. I was familiar with the storyline, having heard a rebroadcast of a radio show that performed it. In the film version, Claudette Colbert plays a rich woman whose father wants her to annul her recent marriage. Instead, she flees. A down on his luck reporter, played by Clark Gable, stumbles across the heiress and sees his next big scoop. He becomes her traveling companion, a good thing because she's pretty incapable of taking care of herself, except when it comes to getting a car to stop for her when she shows a little leg. And as luck would have it, the two find themselves falling for each other. At one point, the two must share a hotel room, so they pretend to be husband and wife. But as it would be immoral for them to change clothes in front of one another (there's no bathroom), Gable hangs up a blanket as a room divider, referring to it as "the wall of Jericho". As with all screwball comedies, you pretty much know where it is going, but you enjoy the ride anyway. I found all the mishaps involving the bus hilarious. Gable and Colbert did have some good screen chemistry. Check this one out; you probably won't be sorry.

"Speedy": I had never heard of this film before I saw the listing for it on TCM. I decided to give it a shot because it stars Harold Lloyd and is a silent classic from 1928. I'd seen clips of him and thought he was hilarious, but this was the first full film I'd viewed. Turned out to be a great choice. Lloyd plays Harold "Speedy" Swift, a baseball fanatic in New York who can't hold down a job. Among one of his job failures is driving a motorized taxi. Imagine his delight when one of his passengers is none other than Babe Ruth (who stars as himself, by the way). Eventually, Speedy decides to help his girlfriend's father (grandfather?) save the last horse-drawn streetcar in the city. With the help of the neighborhood folks and a very clever dog, he succeeds, but only after many hilarious and amazing adventures. New York is almost a bigger star than Lloyd in this film; I found the sequences at Coney Island, the ballpark and the streets themselves to be fascinating. This movie lives up to its name; the streetcar and taxi scenes are incredibly fast-paced and exciting. I urge everyone to see this one at least once. I thought it was a real gem.

"Way Out West": I like Laurel and Hardy, but I find a little of them goes a long way. Therefore, I have watched very few of their films. But I had heard that this was one of their best, so I gave it a shot. It was made in 1937 but is set in the Old West. Stan and Ollie have to deliver the deed to a gold mine to the daughter of a prospector who has died. But the young woman's guardian is married to a scheming woman who pretends to be the rightful heir and captures the deed for herself. Stan and Ollie try to rectify their mistake, and this effort contains what I thought was the funniest scene in the film. Ollie wants to be hoisted by Stan up to the second floor of a building. At some point, he decides to have their donkey pull the rope. But it turns out the donkey isn't heavy enough, and the donkey goes flying up to the second floor while Ollie falls to the ground! Lots of other silliness goes on in this movie, in particular a tickling scene, but it is for the most part good-natured fun (although I do eventually tire of Ollie picking on Stan). As it is a Laurel and Hardy movie, all ends well. Worth checking out.

"Pat & Mike": I mistakenly thought I had already seen this movie, but I had it confused with another Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy film (and since the only one I know for certain I've seen all the way through is "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner", I've to decided watch all the others to refresh my memory). This one, which came out in 1952, is about an athlete and a sports promoter. Perhaps unusually for the time, Hepburn's Pat is the superstar athlete and Tracy's Mike is her manager. Pat is fantastic on golf and tennis courts as long has her fiance isn't watching and making her feel flustered. Mike's main interest in Pat initially is financial. But Pat and Mike must spend a great deal of time together traveling to various cities for tournaments, and naturally, they fall for one another. The tournaments show Hepburn holding her own (no stand ins) against famous athletes of the day such as Babe Didrikson Zaharias. That alone makes it worth viewing. I particularly like the scene when Tracy is getting roughed up by a couple of men and Hepburn comes out and kicks their butts. Tracy is horribly embarrassed about being rescued by a woman and tries to downplay the event when the police interview him, but alas, there was a witness who was more than happy to set him straight. Perhaps the best thing about the film is that Hepburn doesn't give up being an athlete just because she's in love. I enjoyed this movie a lot more than I thought I would.

"16 Candles": Can't remember what channel I found this on, but it wasn't TCM. I didn't watch this or "Pretty in Pink" when they originally came out because I wasn't a huge Molly Ringwald fan, but I kept hearing people reminiscing about how much they liked these and how much they typified the '80's, so I caved in. In case there's anyone else in the world who hasn't seen it, Molly Ringwald plays Samantha, a girl whose sister is getting married. The family is so caught up in this that they forget her 16th birthday. Meanwhile, Ringwald has a crush on the cutest guy in school, and an outrageous geek played by Anthony Michael Hall has a crush on her. Oh, and there's a foreign exchange student with the hilarious name of Long Duk Dong. Ringwald is better than I thought she'd be, but it's Hall who really makes this movie. He's annoying, all right, but he's also really funny. Worth checking out as a time capsule piece if you've already seen "Valley Girl".

"A Day at the Races": As with Laurel and Hardy, I like the Marx Brothers but find a little of them goes a long way. I have seen "Duck Soup" and a few others, but it was during the '80's, and all I can remember of them was that I liked them. This film is from 1937 and features Groucho, Harpo and Chico. In it, Groucho is a veterinarian posing as a people doctor at a sanitarium. Chico works at the sanitarium. Harpo is a horse jockey and up to his usual antics, chasing women and playing the harp now and then. The sanitarium is in danger of being replaced with a casino. To raise money and save the sanitarium, they are betting on a horse race. The funniest part of the movie is all the delays in the key race. There was also a musical number I enjoyed done at the stables by the sanitarium hired hands. There were a few moments that got tiresome, but all in all, it was a good time.

"My Favorite Year": An '80's film about the '50's television era. More specifically, a very famous aging drunken actor (Errol Flynn was the model?) is coaxed into performing on a "Your Show of Shows" type program (for those of you not familiar with this, think "Saturday Night Live" 20 years prior to its inception). One of the employees is charged with keeping the star sober and away from random women during the week of rehearsals. This leads to a series of amusing adventures, and the swashbuckling actor manages to survive the week. And then, much to his chagrin, just before airtime, he finally realizes that the show is done LIVE, something he has never done before! Peter O'Toole is awesome as the still dashing, womanizing, rather pickled film legend. Richard Benjamin directed. I found this film a delight; my only regret is that I had not viewed it sooner.

"The General": I had not seen a full-length Buster Keaton feature before, only clips, but I'd heard this was his best and not to be missed, so I went for it. This came out in 1927 but is set in and is about the Civil War. The first thing it has going for it is that everything looks authentic from that period, from the uniforms to the settings to the weapons to the train that gives the film its title. The plot goes like this: a railroad engineer attempts to enlist in the Confederate Army. He is turned down because he is told that he is needed to keep the trains running at home. His girlfriend breaks up with him because she thinks he did not even try to become a soldier. Then his locomotive is stolen by the enemy and his former girlfriend is kidnapped. Our hero chases them all the way across enemy lines. He gets the girl and the train and hightails it back home. The chases, both going out and coming back, are some of the most amazing and innovative I have ever seen of their type, mainly because of Keaton. I don't believe he had any sort of stunt double, and some of his feats were downright dangerous and thrilling and could never be duplicated. Like "Speedy", it works as a period piece, an action adventure and an actor showcase. Don't miss this one. I was incredibly impressed and would like to own this someday.

"Metropolis": Unfortunately, the full unedited version of this 1927 Fritz Lang film no longer exists. The version seen by most Americans was so butchered that few understood why it was originally considered a masterpiece because it made absolutely no sense. Luckily, TCM chose to air a recent version that not only contains restored footage, it has placards where necessary explaining exactly what was contained in the footage that remained missing. The difference in the enjoyment of the film is night and day with me. Once the plot was made understandable, I could focus on the dramatic tension and symbolism and marvel at the film's vision. I guess if I were to affix a genre to "Metropolis" it would be science fiction. It is set in what is now the near future, 2026. The city is divided into wealthy thinkers and poor exploited physical laborers. A prophet named Maria tells her followers in the working class that the day is coming when the brain (rich intellectuals) and the hands (the factory laborers) will have a heart to mediate between them. Freder, the son of the city's top boss, falls in love with Maria at first sight, and as a result, becomes aware of the plight of the laborers. He leaves his sheltered home and joins the workers. His father goes to an old rival who has developed a female android inspired by the woman they both loved, Freder's mother. The android is modified to look exactly like Maria, and it is as evil as the real Maria is good. There is an uprising amongst the workers, and it is a disaster, threatening to wipe out the entire city. The robot Maria is destroyed. Freder and the human Maria save the day, and the prophecy is fulfilled. I found fascinating the dream where the seven deadly sins come to life and the references, direct and otherwise, to the book of Revelation. The android and its transformation is surprisingly good given the technology available at the time. In fact, many of the visuals are quite impressive. If you do decide to view it, go straight for the 2002 restoration (I'm pretty sure this was what TCM aired). Then it will be easier to see why this is a masterpiece and the inspiration for films that were made decades later.

"Fall of the Roman Empire": Another film I mistakenly thought I'd already seen. This is an historical epic detailing the beginning of the end, of the Roman Empire, that is. It was done in 1964 and stars some big names, including Sophia Loren, Alec Guinness, Omar Sharif, James Mason and Christopher Plummer. It begins during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, who ironically was interested in bringing about peace, or at least in keeping Rome stable. Unfortunately, he is old, and his rightful heir is a nut job. He decides that his other son, who is adopted, should succeed him on the throne. He tells his daughter this in confidence, but he is murdered before anything can be arranged. His birth son, Commodus, becomes emperor and quickly sets about ruining everything good that his father had ever done. The running time is long, over three hours, and the plot is not actually historically accurate, but there are some rewards here. The sets and settings are gorgeous, the crowds are real people instead of computer graphics, and it shows in glorious detail exactly what greed and lust for power will get you. Christopher Plummer was deliciously evil as Commodus. Maybe not one to add to the library, but worth a look.

"Wuthering Heights": Although I had seen a different version in the past, this time I watched the one from 1939 starring Laurence Olivier, Merle Oberon and David Niven and directed by William Wyler. The acting was excellent, but I still disliked most of the movie. Why? Well, this is supposedly the most romantic story of all time. But I've always thought Cathy was a social-climbing bitch. Heathcliff is bitter and cruel, in part because of how he is treated, but I find it sad that he comes back just to impress Cathy with how rich he has become. Fortunately, unlike the other version I saw, the acting is good enough to win me over at the end and forgive the selfishness and savagery of the main characters. I suspect I lack a certain mushiness that most women possess, or maybe all the raving about the story during my lifetime made my expectations too high. At any rate, most romantics will love this film, and while I think it is very well done, it doesn't quite make my fave of all time list.

"Samson & Delilah": A Cecil B. DeMille Biblical epic in glorious Technicolor! This came out in 1949 and stars Hedy Lamarr and Victor Mature. Angela Lansbury plays Delilah's sister. You know the story: boy meets girl, boy kills lion with his bare hands, girl seduces boy, girl has boy enslaved, boy destroys temple with his bare hands. Lamarr and Mature are both gorgeous to look at and completely believable in their roles. What man could resist Lamarr's allure? And Mature was certainly beefy enough to give a stone pillar a run for its money. Like most DeMille pics, the dialog is cheesy, almost laughable, but the color is so stunning that I almost don't care. And the sets, scenery and effects are for the most part impressive considering computer graphics didn't exist yet. If you want to get your Old Testament on and you've already seen "The Ten Commandments", this should satisfy.

"Pride of the Yankees": One of those films I just never got around to even though it was on my mental "must see" list. This came out in 1942, just a couple of years after its subject, Lou Gehrig, died. Although it's pretty much a biography about Gehrig as a baseball player, it does show him as a married man and with his beloved parents, which makes his character more well-rounded. Gary Cooper portrays Gehrig very convincingly considering the actor was not a good ball player. Teresa Wright plays his wife, and the love relationship on screen is believable. I really enjoyed getting to see what baseball looked like in the 1930's. Babe Ruth appears as himself, which helps a lot. A lot of bio pics and baseball pics have idolized their subjects to the point of sugar overdose, but this one is only slightly schmaltzy and does contain some welcome comedic moments. I think it works because Gehrig himself really was a decent hardworking fella, always giving his best. And it's because he was such a good man that his fate was so heartbreaking. Cooper does an excellent job portraying the bewilderment Gehrig experiences when his batting starts to become less effective. At first, he thinks he's not trying hard enough, and so do the fans. It doesn't occur to him that he's sick until his physical problems become pronounced. I don't know if his disease was called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis back then, but it became known as Lou Gehrig's disease. If there was ever anything that would make a grown man weep, it would be recalling Gehrig's speech in 1939 where he officially retired from baseball, stating, "Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth". Knowing that's it's coming up in the film makes it no less moving. This has been called the greatest baseball movie ever made, and I would have to agree.

"Equus": I had studied the play in college, so I figured a film of the play wouldn't be shocking at all. Wrong. It's one thing to read about a boy who commits a horrible act and quite another to see a troubled youth, naked, blinding six horses, or at least appearing to do so. It also serves to make the boy's turmoil, confusion and madness very nearly understandable. While quite disturbing, this film effectively captures the inner workings of his mind and shows us how one can go from an innocent childish misinterpretation to unhealthy and devastating obsession. And how a psychiatrist can become nearly as obsessed as his patient. "Equus" came out in 1977. It was directed by Sidney Lumet. Richard Burton played the psychiatrist. There are many taboo themes addressed here: how religious zealotry can harm a child, animal worship, forbidden sexuality, identifying too much with a patient, the psychological origins of violence. Not recommended for the timid of sensibility. But if you can handle the subject matter, it's one of the most fascinating forays into the human mind I've ever seen.

"Pretty in Pink": Wanted to see if it was as good as "16 Candles". It wasn't. Another John Hughes script featuring Molly Ringwald. Problem is, there was more to like in this movie, such as the soundtrack, Annie Potts as the older wiser friend, the music store, and Andrew McCarthy and James Spader as eye candy. What ruined it for me? Ringwald and the Duckie character. Ringwald is supposed to elicit sympathy as the poor eclectic girl with a crush on a rich kid, but her whining and pouting and lack of range made her romance with McCarthy too implausible for me. I dunno, maybe it was that hideous prom dress she made out of two nice dresses. And Duckie? He annoyed the shit out of me! Any scene with him longer than five minutes had me rolling my eyes and groaning. A shame because I really WANTED to like this movie. I did enjoy the performances of Potts, McCarthy and Spader, though. I guess I would say it's probably worth a gander if you're curious, but keep your expectations low.

"Hamlet": Naturally, since it's probably Shakespeare's most popular play, there are several versions of it on film. The one I saw is often considered to be the definitive version, starring and directed by Laurence Olivier in 1948. This is truly the story of the man who couldn't make up his mind. Quite a bit of the play was left out to keep the running time down to two and a half hours (Kenneth Branagh's version, which includes the entire play, runs FOUR hours!). So no Rosencrantz or Guildenstern here. The comic relief Shakespeare provided in his tragedies was excised for this version, so there is much more focus on the Danish prince and how his indecision makes him appear insane to everyone else. It was shot in black and white and is as moody and dark as Hamlet himself, a perfect complement to Olivier's acting. Jean Simmons' Ophelia is girlish and giddy, and her slide into madness doesn't seem far-fetched as some actress' portrayals have been. There are hints of incest in the scenes of Hamlet with his doting mother, and it is creepy in a good way. The soliloquies are done as voice-overs, making them more effective than they would be if Olivier just addressed the camera like he was on stage. What I like best about Olivier's performance, though, is that he is able to take language that is centuries old and not just recite it, but breathe life into it so that even if you don't understand certain words, you get the context. His Hamlet is more subtle and less melodramatic than other interpretations I have seen. You can actually get into his head, and even if it never does make sense that Hamlet doesn't just march right up and kill his uncle from the outset, you can perhaps conclude that he's too lost in thought to act sensibly. Very effective overall. A must for any Shakespeare fan.

"Notorious": Another Hitchcock classic. Dan watched it with me. This one came out in 1946 and stars Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant and Claude Rains. Bergman plays Alicia, the daughter of a German man incarcerated for treason. She drowns her troubles in alcohol and men. She meets Grant, a US government agent who convinces her to do her patriotic duty and spy upon some of her father's buddies. Alicia agrees to do this even after she and Grant fall in love. She ends up in Rio de Jeneiro, where Rains' character, Sebastian, woos her and proposes marriage. Alicia accepts, but is it so she can complete her mission or because she was lying when she claimed to love Grant? Then she discovers a secret and is in serious trouble. As Agent Devlin, Grant is rather callous, particularly when he questions Alicia's ways with men, stopping just short of calling her a whore. But is it all an act so that he doesn't tempt Alicia away from going through with a loveless marriage? Things get pretty intense at a party at Sebastian's mansion, and it is at this point where the film goes from good to excellent in my opinion. If you like Hitchcock films and haven't seen this one yet, you've been missing out.

"Golden Age of Comedy": This is a nostalgic look at the good ol' days of comedy. Oddly enough, this documentary came out 50 years ago, which I suppose would make it a classic about classics. I enjoyed seeing all the clips, but I felt it was primarily a promotion piece for Hal Roach, seeing as how there was a ton of material featuring Laurel and Hardy and the Little Rascals/Our Gang and none of Keaton, Chaplin or Harold Lloyd who were my faves. I guess they couldn't get permission for clips of them? It's still fun as long as you understand that it is by no means an all-encompassing view of silent and early talkie comedies.

And there you have it! Eight months' worth of film viewing, not counting what I've seen on Netflix, which I will detail elsewhere. It took me 35 days to complete this post, a new record for this blog!

Pass the popcorn.

Of basmati rice and bronchitis.... 

Finally did a master list of all the stuff I buy regularly at the grocery store. Went to the nearest Hy-Vee so that I could see for myself how many of these items had a store brand equivalent in the hope of saving me some money. I had been buying name brands mostly because it is easy to check them on a database to see if they are gluten free; with store brands, you have to physically read every single label.

Luckily, there was an electric cart available. Unfortunately, the control tended to stick, which caused me to either run into things, go really fast or not go anywhere at all. But I put up with it because I only had the energy for a single trip.

I was in that store for TWO HOURS! But I had a page full of notes as to what Hy-Vee items I could switch to. And I found specialty items I didn't even know the store carried.

For instance, I came across all kinds of fancy rice: basmati, jasmine, arborio, and four kinds of gluten free risotto. And there were ingredients for Asian stir fry like fish sauce, spicy pastes and coconut milk. I'm going to try to cut down as much as I can on the health food store shopping because the prices are higher there than at the regular grocery.

In other news, Dan has sprained his left arm AND has bronchitis. We thought at first he had a broken bone because it was swollen and he has osteopenia. But he's got it in a splint now, and it feels better when he wears it.

As for the bronchitis, we're pretty sure he caught it from a family member at Easter. His mom was getting over a cold, and our nephew was recovering from pneumonia. Weird thing is, with me on immuno-suppressants, we thought for sure I would catch something, but Dan did instead.

Finished making templates for tax deductible medical expense charts and used them to create charts for 2008. And I've got all this year's info thus far in there already. Will be soooo much easier to itemize my deductions when I file next year's taxes.

The saga of the soggy basement continues. On Tuesday, a carpenter is going to start ripping out moldy drywall, insulation and a cabinet in the area that had flooded. Don't know how messy this will get or whether it will affect my health at all, but I may start spending more time upstairs while all this is going on, which may mean I don't make any blog entries for awhile, so don't anyone freak out if I vanish.

Don't really have a timetable for posting reviews of the movies I've been watching on the DVR. I'd like to get it done before Tuesday's carpentry chaos, but we'll see. Should probably take care of some more mundane matters like getting the checkbook caught up first.

Better fill up my jug with Hy-Vee brand drinking water and go get some sleep.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Rave of the Day for April 16, 2008: 

Came across this link in a roundabout way: it was on a message forum for the Zone diet I got in an e-mail. I'm on their mailing list because I used to buy my fish oil from them back in the days before you could find decent product in the health food stores....

10 Worst Foods of the Year

Anyway, I haven't tried any of the foods on the list because most of them contain gluten and/or more fat than I can digest. I found the Starbucks item to be the most surprising.

Not that I don't find the idea of a bacon burger or a stuffed crust pizza to be tantalizing. In fact, I frequently dream of foods I can no longer eat.

Found out today that Kinnickkinnick is no longer making their personal sized Italian style frozen gluten free pizza crusts. Now what am I gonna do with that three-quarters full jar of pizza sauce in my fridge? I put the rest of the turkey pepperoni in a pasta salad today, so that's no problem, and I can find plenty of uses for mozzarella.

Have found two recipes for tofu chili because Dan actually tried a store-bought version and liked it. When I get around to making it, I'm gonna have gluten free cornbread to go with it.

Did try substituting tofu for lean ground beef in a boxed lasagna dinner. It tastes good, but because the tofu was so moist, the corn pasta got all mushy, so I think I'll try ground turkey next time and see what happens.

Have found four soup recipes that look pretty easy. Soup would be the best thing for me because it's a sneaky way to get some digestible form of veggies into my diet.

At some point, I want to try an Indian-style chicken marinade recipe I ran across in the newspaper. You're supposed to grill the chicken on the barbecue, but I think it would taste good cooked in my rotisserie.

Still, what I wouldn't give for a 1950's style hamburger from Jim's Burger Haven in Denver, some "homers" (home made French fries) and and actual malt. In my dreams.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Rave of the Day for April 15, 2008: 

Filed your taxes yet? Need some cheering up? Here's a little pick-me-up courtesy of Dr. Karen....

I don't care if you lick windows, take the special bus or occasionally pee on yourself....
You hang in there, sunshine; you're friggin' special.

Every sixty seconds you spend angry, upset or mad, is a full minute of happiness you'll never get back.

Today's Message of the Day is:

Life is short,
Break the rules,
Forgive quickly,
Kiss slowly,
Love truly,
Laugh uncontrollably,
And never regret anything that made you smile.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Rave of the Day for April 14, 2008: 

My friend Robert posted this uTube nugget on his blog; thought I'd share....

Blue Oyster Cult Godzilla

While you're at it, check out the rest of the blog, which is mostly about film, and then visit his other blog, Music Snob.

Got the name of a carpenter from Dan's parents and gave him a call today. He's gonna come by tomorrow and take a look at the basement situation.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Money down the drain? 

Had the basement inspected today, and they think the problem is coming from BEHIND the wall. This means that the drywall has to be removed, the insulation behind it since it probably has mold too, and possibly a cabinet that was built into the wall. How much they tear up depends on how much mold they find.

And then once we find the source of the leak and address the mold, we may need to have part of the cement floor removed and have drainage connected to the main sump pump. We really can't afford this, but if we do nothing, we would never be able to sell the house with a known foundation problem that was not addressed. I don't particularly want to ever sell the house, but then, I didn't intend to become disabled and have to move away from Denver either, so you never know.

I am sooooo not looking forward to this.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Rave of the Day for April 9, 2008: 

Interesting stuff from a CFIDS newsletter. The first is about a study that found that deconditioning is probably NOT a valid cause for chronic fatigue syndrome....

Etiology, Exercise and CFS

The second is part of a series written by people with chronic fatigue syndrome. This man discovered that he needed to change a lot about his expectations of himself after he got sick....

Personal Stories: A “Defining Moments” Essay by Floyd Skloot

Apparently, I still expect too much of myself. All I did was clean the entertainment center downstairs and the command center, and now I seem to have daggers in every muscle from the neck to the hips.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Dirty little secrets.... 

Ok, we've put a call in to someone who specializes in foundations, but he won't be able to look at our basement until Friday. Apparently, we weren't the only ones who had flooding after the snow melt. What irritates me is that I talked to the insurance guy a year ago, and he said that since we weren't in a flood plain, we couldn't even get a policy for this sort of thing.

The scrapbook area has remained dry since Saturday morning, so Dan and I took a good look tonight at the extent of the mold. It's basically limited to one corner, and Dan thinks he can maybe take care of it himself if he wears a mask and gloves. I have already decided I'm not doing any scrubbing back there because I don't want to risk aggravating any of my already numerous health problems.

Since it looks like it could be awhile before I can put anything back in the scrapbook area, I decided to put stuff in a semi-permanent location. The boxes of stuff that Dan promised to shred last year went in the exercise equipment room along with most of the scrapbook supplies. The boxes of Dan's uncle's slides went in the supply room.

And, as usual, once I started moving around and realized that we'd have people in the house poking around, I noticed that I really needed to clean! The last time I can remember dusting was in December! In Denver, if you go three months without dusting, you can see the filth a mile away; luckily, it doesn't seem to accumulate nearly as much here.

Still, even though I've kept the kitchen clean and Dan has been keeping up with the bathrooms, Chip has started sneezing the past few weeks. He's the one that's allergic to dust. And last week, I discovered cobwebs in the silk flowers--ewwww!

Since I have until Friday afternoon, I'm trying to pace myself. I did about half the downstairs living area tonight. That was plenty, though, as my back spasms seem to indicate.

Yeah, I know housecleaning is a lot less work if you stay caught up with it, but I never actually do get caught up because I can do so little at a time. As soon as I make my way completely through the house, the part where I started is already dirty. And I've been so wiped out ever since the Mayo Clinic visit that dusting a single room is like running a marathon without any training whatsoever.

They make self-cleaning ovens....why not self-cleaning houses?

Rave of the Day for April 8, 2008: 

Pete swears the devil made her send me this joke. You be the judge....

Once upon a time there lived a king. The king had a beautiful daughter, the PRINCESS.

But there was a problem. Everything the princess touched would melt. No matter what; metal, wood, stone, anything she touched would melt.

Because of this, men were afraid of her. Nobody would dare marry her.

The king despaired. What could he do to help his daughter?

He consulted his wizards and magicians. One wizard told the king, 'If your daughter touches one thing that does not melt in her hands, she will be cured.'

The king was overjoyed and came up with a plan.

The next day, he held a competition. Any man that could bring his daughter an object that would not melt would marry her and inherit the king's wealth.


The first brought a sword of the finest steel. But alas, when the princess touched it, it melted.

The prince went away sadly.

The second prince brought diamonds. He thought diamonds are the hardest substance in the world and would not melt. But alas, once the princess touched them, they melted.

He too was sent away disappointed.

The third prince approached. He told the princess, 'Put your hand in my pocket and feel what is in there.'

The princess did as she was told, though she turned red. She felt something hard. She held it in her hand.

And it did not melt!!!

The king was overjoyed. Everybody in the kingdom was overjoyed.

And the third prince married the princess and they both lived happily ever after.

Question: What was in the prince's pants?

M&M's of course.

They melt in your mouth, not in your hand.

What were you thinking?

Sunday, April 06, 2008

As Charlie Brown would say, good grief! 

We had a lonnnng, cold winter. Cold as in minus 20 degrees at noon. Cold as in the fact that snow covered our yard from December 1st until yesterday.

The snow started melting last week, and the sump pump started going full time early this week. On Tuesday, Dan announced that the basement smelled like cat pee. I thought he was exaggerating since we don't have a cat and I didn't smell anything (kinda forgot that sometimes Sjogren's takes away my sense of smell).

Then on Friday after Dan came home from work and was talking to me in the basement while I was at the computer, he noticed that the stink was worse. I asked him to see where it seemed to be coming from since I still couldn't smell a thing. He went to the area where my scrapbook stuff is, and suddenly, his socks were all wet!

Yep, the basement had flooded! Ewwwwww! Dan wanted to have me call someone to come out and take care of it, but we are B-R-O-K-E, so I said we'd just have to rip out the wet carpet ourselves and see what we might be dealing with.

Dan called a friend to see if he could help. I meanwhile moved my scrapbook stuff into another room that was dry, which my back and shoulders did NOT appreciate. When our friend showed, luckily, he and Dan were able to get the carpet and pad up from the scrapbook area without too much trouble; I asked Dan to just cut the carpet at the entrance to the living area and said we'd deal with making it tidy later.

Good news is that I see no cracks in the floor at all. Bad news is MOLD!! It is along two walls as high as the tops of the baseboards.

We have no idea where the water is coming in, but we will have to get an answer to that before we do anything else. So I guess I will have to call someone to inspect, because even though we don't have cash for major work, we can even less afford further flooding. But I've never owned a home that flooded before and have no clue what sort of person or company handles that sort of thing.

And I've heard so many conflicting reports on what to do about mold that I am mystified. Will I really make it worse if I clean it myself? Are mold remediation companies rip-offs?

One thing I do know for sure: I'm not wasting any money putting down more carpet (the basement was fully carpeted when we bought it a year ago). Once we get the source of the leak figured out and the mold removed, I'm gonna have Dan buy the cheapest linoleum tile he can find and just slap it down so we can easily clean that area should we ever have another problem.

I wish I could just leave things the way they are. Once the carpet was removed and we ran a couple of box fans, the floor completely dried and has shown no further moisture even though it rained today. But I know I'm just asking for trouble if I don't get to the bottom of this.

Oh, and Dan had to spend most of a paycheck yesterday fixing his car again. Financially, I guess when it rains, it pours.

I don't like getting my feet wet.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Rave of the Day for April 4, 2008: 

At long last, I have written another article for But You Don't Look Sick! Once I got started, it took me only four days to complete, not bad considering how much brain fog I've got going on....

Visiting the Mayo Clinic

I sooooo needed to finish something as I was seriously lacking a sense of accomplishment about anything. As far as plans for future articles go, there are two books I intend to review, I'd like to do something about tracking deductible medical expenses throughout the year, and I will probably review various products.

The next thing I plan to do is finish the iTunes playlists I started months ago and wrap up going through my music CDs for songs to add to my library. At the moment I have 3080 songs in iTunes and will probably end up with at least 250 more by the time I get done.

And, no, I haven't forgotten movie reviews! I've been keeping a running list of what I've watched on my DVR since September and plan to do a paragraph on each. And I'll catch up on the Netflix material.

Since Dan has decided he wants to eat less red meat and more healthy stuff, I've been poking around various sources of recipes looking for something easy to make that we would both like. I did at last use my wok last week and am going to try some more stir fry as well as some rotisserie recipes.

One thing I haven't gotten around to yet is making a template out of the medical expense tracking charts I made for filing my taxes in February. Once I do that, I plan to start inputting my 2008 info so I can just add things as they come up before I forget about them.

Something I've been meaning to do is to sit down and come up with a list of grocery items I use that might have less expensive store brand versions and then actually go to the store myself and check the labels to make sure they are gluten free (Dan has done all my regular grocery shopping for over a year). If I can find a working electric cart at Hy-Vee, I should probably go there once a month or so and get ingredients for the new recipes I've found because I don't really know what's available in Sioux Falls other than the stuff I have Dan get every week.

That should keep me out of trouble for awhile.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Confessions of an April fool..... 

Here are some recent examples of how fibrofog interferes with my daily life. Gotta find this stuff amusing 'cuz it's a whole lot better than being bummed about it. Besides, some of it really IS funny....

Got my exercise clothes on for my stint on the glider today (still haven't gotten past five minutes, but oh well). Stepped on the Gazelle machine and realized I still had slippers on my feet! Had to go upstairs and find my tennis shoes.

Then, I went to the pharmacy and realized only after I got there that I had forgotten both my list and my coupons. Not having the energy to got back home and get them, I stood in the middle of the store for quite awhile trying to remember what I was after besides meds. And after I found the box of sinus rinse packets, I had to stare at it for the longest time before I finally recognized that yes, that was indeed the same stuff I had bought last time, and that, no, they hadn't changed the packaging or the location of the product.

After picking up some stuff at the health food store, I went home and started making rice pasta salad, cutting up some ham and making dressing for it. But after I poured the pasta in the pouring water, I saw that I only had about half a serving, and I had just come from looking at the gluten free pasta at the store and not realizing I was out! I had no fresh veggies to pad things out, and I was out of canned mushrooms, so I grabbed the only thing I could think of: a can of diced tomatoes. I drained them, put them in the bowl with the ham and the dressing, and as I was washing out the can, I saw on the ingredients label that they contained SUGAR! Yuck! I could swear that the canned tomatoes I bought for making chili in Denver didn't contain sugar, so why does the Hy-Vee brand do that? Anyway, I already had everything in the bowl, so I ate it, unintended dose of sugar and all.

Last week, I went to heat something up in the microwave and instead walked right past it and put my uncooked supper in the freezer! Dan saw me do it, and we both had a good laugh. That's even better than all those times I tried to cook eggs on a cold stove because I forgot to switch on the burner.

And a few weeks ago, I was discussing politics with Dan and apparently said Osama bin Laden when I meant to say Barack Obama! I have absolutely no recollection of this, but Dan swore it was true. And yes, I do absolutely know the difference between the two and would like to vote for Obama, not Osama, heh heh.

Happy April Fool's day! May you have far fewer brain farts than I.

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