ROMA

“…He said, “I know a cure for everything. Salt water.” “Salt water?” I asked him. “Yes,” he said, “in one way or the other. Sweat, or tears, or the salt sea.” ~ Isak Dinesen

 

In the first few moments of the film “Roma”, while the opening credits are playing, there is an exquisite, relaxing scene of soapy water gently ebbing and flowing across a tile floor.  Rolling in… and rolling out, rolling in… and rolling out.  It was so hypnotic that I began to wonder whether I could find a way to play this footage on a loop, as a tool for meditation and relaxation.  It was just that lovely.  And then, reflected in the pool of water, the teeny tiny image of an airplane flying in the sky overhead…whoa!

The director now had my full attention.

And this was no small task, this stirring of my interest, because I’ve gotten a little lazy.  Dull, sluggish, apathetic, indifferent, and complacent.  I used to be the person to walk through a dreadful snowstorm to sit in a dank, old theater just to see a movie I was excited about.  I would stretch myself intellectually and emotionally, and I would seek out things to help me grow.  But I lived in New York City then, and that kind of effort is quite commonplace and pretty much required if you want to keep up.  Now I live on Hilton Head Island, which is nice and has its advantages, but I think you catch my drift.

So I almost missed out on seeing this wonderful movie that is currently streaming on Netflix, and here’s the main reason why:  Because I knew it had…SUBTITLES.  Eegads!!  Picture this:

Lying on my comfy couch with my Netflix Special Remote in my hand, I just didn’t know if I wanted to exert the energy to deal with subtitles.  (!)  However in my prone position, propped up by pillows, I kind of reluctantly selected the movie.  This was in part because Netflix was continually hounding me to do so (RECOMMENDED FOR YOU!), and also because I know this film has received major Oscar buzz.  (The Oscars are my Super Bowl…I tolerate all the hype and ridiculousness and petty controversies because, no matter what, I just love movies.)  And that’s when I realized:

It would have been a mistake to overlook this film.

“Roma”, written and directed by Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron, is filmed in black-and-white, and that is fine with me because if it is done with care there can be so many tones of silver, gray, and pearl as well.  It’s just stunning to look at.  But here’s the real deal:  the story itself, and the lead character.  It takes place in Mexico City in the early 1970s and is apparently autobiographical.  It definitely has the feeling of a memoir… really a full exploration of the director’s memory…of a specific time and place, and a series of events, as well as a person who made a lasting impression on him.

I won’t try to give a plot summary here, because that is just plain old insufficient.  I will merely say that there are a lot of different themes and ideas, and I was particularly struck by the theme of water.  Over and over again the director uses water very effectively to help tell his story:  It’s a tool, it’s an obstacle, and it’s a savior.

Since the Academy Awards are actually intended to honor “artistic achievement in film” I do hope this movie wins Best Picture this year.  But listen up my friends:  if the thought of sitting through a 2 hour black-and-white movie with subtitles by a Mexican filmmaker you’ve probably never heard of immediately sounds like torture to you, then don’t bother.  No worries!  Watch “Black Panther” instead, or better yet, “Bohemian Rhapsody”.  They are both awesome and much more popular and accessible.  However, if you do have a taste for high quality movies that are more personal and thoughtful, I encourage you to watch this one.  You can’t do better right now than “Roma”.

 

 

 

 

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The HELLO FRESH Fiasco

Mom Hello Fresh 2

“Thank you for calling Hello Fresh, my name is Danny, how can I help you today?”

 

Hi Danny. I recently set up a Hello Fresh account for my parents.  Let me tell you, it took some convincing, but my brothers and I just felt that a food delivery service like yours would be helpful for them.  They are getting older and while they still manage things okay, my Mom has mentioned more than once that food shopping and preparation is sometimes a bit of a challenge.  But I’m afraid Hello Fresh is just not working for them, so I will have to cancel their account.

“I’m sorry to hear that.  I see here that they have only received a couple of boxes.  Was there something wrong with their order?”

Oh no, not at all.  My mom acknowledged that the recipes were good, and the quality of the ingredients was excellent, but it just seems to be… well… I guess it’s just not a good idea for them.

“Hmm, is there something we can do to make it more appealing for them?  What kinds of issues were they having?”

Well Danny, it’s kind of a lot. First of all I had to solve the mystery of why they didn’t get their delivery in the 2nd week, and I discovered that my Dad had misplaced his credit card and consequently he put a freeze on that account, forgetting that he had an automatic payment to you guys coming out of that account.  So I cleared that up and got the deliveries scheduled again.

“Oh that’s good.”

Well, not really.  When they finally began getting their boxes delivered again, my Mom complained that it was too stressful.

“Stressful?”

Yes.  She said “it feels like a school assignment when that box arrives!”  She acknowledged that it made her very uptight, that she felt a lot of pressure to just cook everything.

“Uh…”

Yeah, and then I happened to be visiting and of course I was curious about this STRESSFUL food delivery issue, so we decided that we would make 1 of the meals together so I could see what it was like, but when I pulled out the bag of ingredients I could not find the main ingredient, which happened to be Italian sausage.  And she said “Yes, I know!  They forgot to put that in!”  I was thinking that was really odd, and of course was unacceptable.  To leave out the main ingredient!

“I’m sorry, I have never heard of that happening!”

Oh it didn’t.  Since I thought that seemed odd, I went over to the Hello Fresh box that was sitting by the garbage to see if there was any explanation, and there, under a piece of cardboard that clearly said “HEY!  DON’T FORGET TO LOOK UNDER HERE!” was the sausage.  Also the salmon, which was for the other meal in the delivery.  They had both been sitting there, not refrigerated, for several days.

“Oh no!”

Oh yes.  So that was a complete waste.  And even though my Mom immediately declared that she would go to the store and get some MORE sausage and salmon so she could prepare the recipes, that kind of defeats the purpose doesn’t it?

“Yes.”

She laughed at herself, because she really does have a cute sense of humor, and she promised to pay more attention to the next delivery.

“What happened then??”

Well, the next delivery contained shrimp… and well…

“Oh no!!”

Oh yes.  And again she went to the store to replace the ruined shrimp.  At this point I was feeling a bit discouraged about the whole thing, so I asked her if she actually did LIKE getting the Hello Fresh deliveries.  “No” she said.  “I just don’t think the recipes are that good, they are kind of boring, and I would like to try something else instead.”

“Like what?”

Danny, I had already done some research about all the types of food delivery services out there.  I explained all the different options, and price points, and varieties.  I covered all the bases.  And I learned that what she REALLY wants is to just THINK about what she feels like eating on any given night, wiggle her nose like Tabitha on Bewitched, and it just appears in front of her already prepared, hot and ready to eat.  Oh and there is a butler or something there to serve it to her and clean it up afterwards.

“Um, we don’t have anything like that.”

Yes.  I know.  She finally just laughed, again that CUTE sense of humor of hers, and said “We are just too old and difficult I guess.”  Ya think??  Then my Dad came into the room and put in his 2 cents “I don’t like this Hello Food thing!  It’s too expensive!  I want to cancel it!”  So I guess you understand now why I think it is for the best that we just cancel their delivery account.

“Yes.  I get it.  I’ll take care of that for you.  They have 1 more delivery already scheduled, but I will cancel everything after that.”

Thanks Danny.  You’ve been very patient and helpful.

 

TWO WEEKS LATER:

 

“Thank you for calling Hello Fresh, this is Susan, how can I help you?”

Hi Susan, I’m calling to reactivate my parent’s Hello Fresh account.

“Okay.  Actually, I see here in the notes that you canceled the account because your parents didn’t enjoy our food delivery service.  And I see a notation here that we should NOT expect to hear from you ever again.”

Actually Susan, and this is funny, but the whole thing has turned around!  I spoke to my Mom last night and when the final delivery of their former account arrived, she was delighted.  She made all the food, ENJOYED the recipes, and absolutely fell in LOVE with the Israeli couscous that was included.  I mean she is REALLY into the Israeli couscous.  They want to resume their deliveries, but just going down to every other week for the moment.  That will be more doable for them, both emotionally and financially.  Is that possible?

“Yes of course.  Let’s set that up for them.”

Thanks Susan.  You guys are great.  I’ll call you if we have any more problems.

CLICK

Hello?  Susan??

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Cute Sense of Humor

 

Phantom Thread

**This is a slightly dated post that I never published, but I think it still holds up so I went ahead and did it now…let me know if you ever saw this movie!

Well, it sure ain’t Star Wars!

 

When I started to type the title of the movie, Phantom Thread, into my search bar to check for showtimes, many many Star Wars things popped up first.  So just a head’s up:

Star Wars is an entertaining movie franchise that broke new ground when it started, continues to do well due to likable characters, entertaining adventures, clearly defined heroes and villains, and satisfying conclusions.  Pretty much everybody likes it.

Phantom Thread, on the other hand, is a weird movie about unlikable characters, where actually not much happens, it’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys, and the conclusion is just kinda like:  Huh.  Hmm.  Okay..?  And I don’t think that many people are gonna like it.  I’m talking about regular movie-going people, not professional film critics.

Oh listen, the critics are positively SWOONING!  They are falling all over themselves to praise the “attention to detail” and the “finely woven narrative” and “another committed performance by Daniel Day-Lewis”.  Phooey!!

Here’s the deal:  this director, Paul Thomas Anderson, positively takes the cake on narcissistic finicky-ness.  *bleah*  And all that attention to detail?  For what?

I r-e-e-a-l-l-y don’t like it when you feel like you need to go to Film School to understand a movie.  There’s a condescension inherent in that.  I love a sophisticated, educated director who has something to say.  But this guy!  You can positively feel the obsession of the filmmaker and it is stifling.  He spends what must have been countless hours poring over the details of place, period, and presentation.  But somehow he doesn’t deliver a movie with enough there to match.  This is truly style over substance.

What saves this movie, and gives it some weight, is of course Daniel Day-Lewis.  In this instance the director is one lucky duck.  As an actor Day-Lewis is wily, and subtle, and deep.  His performance as Mr. Woodcock doesn’t leap from the screen, it oozes and emanates and gradually permeates the entire theater.  He’s very skilled and deserves a full, rich script to work on, not this lame doodleybop.

The actresses are good too.  Vicky Krieps is perfectly cast as Alma, Woodcock’s muse, lover, nemesis, and lion tamer.  I have never seen her before, but I can’t imagine anyone else in that part.  She has a radiant quality that glows on screen.  She portrays Alma as entirely underestimated, and it was curiously heartening for me to see a female character who can give as good she gets.  In fact, that element of the movie is really the only satisfying thing!

Lesley Manville is so crisp and intelligent as Mr. Woodcock’s tough, clear-eyed sister/business manager that I could watch her all day.  For me, she is the true power center of this movie.

So I don’t know…if you admire Daniel Day-Lewis this movie is definitely worthwhile, especially since he says he is done with acting.  But otherwise be warned:  to paraphrase Darth Vader “the Force is not strong with this one”.

HOW’S YOUR BRACKET?

A Cinderella Story

 

I’ve just discovered something new.  Which is great actually because I’ve been going through, to put it mildly, a bit of a slump.  I won’t sugarcoat it:  it’s been a bad time.  And at my age I’m not sure you could even call it a middle-aged crisis anymore, which really sucks.  Life has felt small, mean, and tough.  And while I know that everyone has ups and downs in this life,  lately I sure did feel like screaming at the universe “HEY!!  Universe!  Throw me a frickin bone here!”  Then something entirely unexpected came along just to remind me that life is in fact interesting, inspiring, hilarious, and vast:  I got introduced to March Madness, and the whole crazy world of Sports Center, ESPN, etc.

I do realize this has been going on for quite a long time, I’m not a complete idiot and you certainly can’t entirely avoid the sports headlines, but frankly I always ignored it.  Gonzaga?  Oh really?  Is that a type of cheese?  Kansas State?  Ugh.  How boring.  Purdue?  Whatever.  Then my brother, who now lives in London but does love to follow his favorite American sports stuff, sent me a strange text out of the blue: “Be sure and fill out your March Madness bracket in time!  We are all in!!!“.  I was sure he sent this to the wrong person so I texted back “Huh??“.

What is this “Madness” of which my brother doth speak?

Huh??

Anyway, to make a long story short, I enlisted the help of my friend Jeff who lives in Kentucky and definitely takes part in such foolishness and I FILLED OUT A BRACKET!!!  It’s easy!  Try it!  But then…well…I did set a small wager with my brother so I had to start watching the games and the updates and the backstories and the predictions and oh boy!  This. Is. Amazing. Life-Affirming.  Stuff.  Let me explain:

Generally speaking I’m more of a theater/literature/philosophy person, but let me tell you:  SHAKESPEARE HAS NOTHING ON SPORTS CENTER.  The feuds, the rivalries, the dramatic upsets!  The characters…villains, heroes, charlatans!!  How have I not known about this??  A few examples from just ONE episode of SC:

  • Alvin Gentry, coach of the New Orleans Pelicans:  OUTRAGE over bad calls that have gone on ALL SEASON!  His players have been PERSECUTED for God’s sake!!
  • Stan Van Gundy, coach of the Detroit Pistons:  also OUTRAGE at the way his players are being treated!!!  It’s absolutely DISGRACEFUL!  And he’s speaking up for the first time!!!
  • Leonard Hamilton, coach of Florida State:  Mature wisdom, calm reflection, and a virtuous modesty over an amazing and apparently quite unexpected victory.
  • The entire team from the University of Virginia:  Bitter tears, extreme frustration, and a RENDING of their uniforms at having lost to a NOTHING team whose mascot is a RETRIEVER for God’s sake!  “…the soul’s slow agonizing descent into a state of such loneliness and despair as to be finally indistinguishable from Hell.” ~ Macbeth

Virginia

Ah yes indeed.  Who needs the classics when you can just turn on Channel 26 in the Time Warner cable line-up?

And then there’s this:  Isaac Haas, 7′ freak-of-nature who is the BMOC of Purdue’s team, has a sister with severe epilepsy.  He has been a loving and devoted brother, very personally affected by her increasingly devastating illness.  As his star has risen, he has not forgotten her:  he started a GoFundMe campaign to raise enough money to get her a seizure dog.  Oh my God.  Watching this story I cried like a baby…you would’ve thought it was a showing of The Notebook.  I was so proud of Isaac!  Gives one hope for the future of humanity!  I love college basketball!!

As for my bracket…well.  You see, I chose the NOBLE SPARTANS as this year’s champions…excellent record, superior athletes, good ranking.  Of course you know they lost in the 2nd round.  Everybody knows that.  And so, my bracket is now up in flames.

Thanks Spartans.

 

“Life … is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.” ~ William Shakespeare

I disagree, Will.  You just need to make your picks and fill out your bracket.  It’ll cheer you up a lot.  I promise.

 

MOLLY’S GAME

Some people learn the hard way.

 

I know I do…but is there really any other way?  How do you really know the depths of your integrity or the dimensions of your heart unless you bump up against life in a way that tests it?

Although her story is extreme, the experiences of Molly Bloom (the so-called “Poker Princess”) really started me thinking about lessons and motivations in my own life.  Well…that’s when you know you’ve seen a great movie, when it reaches in and gets you pondering like that.

Insanely well-written (by the great Aaron Sorkin) and barreling along at high speed, we follow the trajectory of a woman who was seemingly raised to train hard, push herself, achieve excellence, and go for the gold.  Literally.  And she ends up applying those skills in the dice-y arena of high stakes (VERY high stakes) poker.

Ah…but there’s more to the story.

Not just the “HOW?” but the “WHY?” is fully explored here, and I was reminded that there is a lot more going on in life than just the surface events.  Not everyone has a taste for these deeper motivations, but ya know what?  They are there, and they are RUNNING THINGS, whether you choose to examine them or not.

Every level of gambling is explored here:  financial, emotional, physical, spiritual, and of course, addiction.  You may start out risking just money, but at what point does it turn and you are wagering your very soul?  I’m not kidding.  It both captivated and scared the bejesus out of me.  (Some of the poker game scenes got me so nervous I wished I had one of those fidget spinner things to take the edge off.)

As the character of Molly, Jessica Chastain is on her best game (pun intended).  Whip-smart and intense and mesmerizing to watch, she is believable both as a sharp, opportunistic young woman who goes too far down the rabbit hole, and also one who painfully learns who her friends are, what she stands for, and where she draws the line.  She gets my vote for a Best Actress Oscar.  Especially this year, when women all over the country have been wrestling with much the same thing.  #metoo

Ultimately Molly must answer this question:  I may be able to gamble with and destroy my own life, but can I do that to others?  Under enormous pressure, she has to dig deep for the answer, and no bluffing this time.

When you leave the theater ask yourself, honestly, what would YOU do?

 

 

The Floridian: St. Augustine FL

If I was a restaurant I’d be The Floridian.

 

As soon as we walked through the homey brick patio and in the front door I felt this click of satisfaction, and a wash of warm familiarity.  Happiness?  Honestly, at first I thought I was just hungry and hot, but after we sat down I had a good look around.

Rarely have I walked into a place of business and felt my sensibilities aligning with theirs like that.  There’s not a lot of fanfare or anything, nothing to indicate I had found my “Restaurant Soulmate”.  The thing is, this place is kind of a sleeper.  I found it just by googling “Lunch St Augustine” and we were really just looking for a quick bite.

Here’s the deal:  You have to sit down, take it in, and go through the experience.  It kind of like…DAWNS on you.

First of all the decor is perfectperfectperfect.  This is because they have pulled off the neat trick of being both fresh-and-modern and sly-and-kitschy at the same time.  Hip, but without a trace of irony.  My first clue was the striking floor-to-ceiling print of a wide-open alligator’s mouth, seemingly about to chomp down on the unsuspecting diner seated below.

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Taking a fuller look around the dining room I saw that everything was definitely Vintage Florida Thrift Store.  One of my favorite genres!  But this DECOR is special, and carefully curated.

floridian wall shot

 

And that’s not all:  in the next room is a bar that can only be described as Down Home Luau.  In a good way!  I wanted to sit there and have a cherry red cocktail made with that St Augustine New World Gin, which is actually on display.  (I thought immediately of my jaunty friend Al, who has been known to go quite a long way for a good Tiki Bar.)

bar2

 

And in case you’re wondering whether this is a case of style over substance, have no fear: Describing themselves as “a synthesis of Down-home Southern Comfort Foods, and lighter, healthier, vibrant and creative dishes–with many vegetarian options.”  Well…they could use a punchier description because the food is AMAZINGLY good!

I had just come from a lengthy visit with my stepdaughter who is a vegan…

(I just typed that sentence fragment like it was nothing…but on a personal note:  I NEVER thought I would ever ever use either of the words STEPDAUGHTER or VEGAN in a sentence that pertained to MY life!  Isn’t it funny, that life thing?)….

Anyway.  I ordered a black bean sweet potato veggie burger.  Perfect consistency with slightly crispy edges, savory and well-seasoned, served with chipotle mayo and the lightest homemade potato chips I have ever eaten.  (My only quibble is that it was served on toasted bread instead of a ciabatta bun as advertised, and the burger needed a more substantial bun.)

My husband, who consistently out-orders me, pulled another fast one and opted for a beautiful salad with shrimp, mango, strawberries, and it was so good I wanted to eat HIS lunch as well as mine.  And we drank this all-natural root beer made with cane sugar…whoo-ee!  I just wanted to move into this place and call it home.

Oh.  Do I sound a bit dramatic?  Listen, I WORKED in restaurants for 25 years, so these observations and critiques are hard-won.  You can drop me down anywhere, in any food establishment, and I will tell you What’s What.  And if I tell you the Floridian is a sure thing, well…you better hightail it over there.

Don’t miss it.

floridian logo.jpg

 

The Revenant

Uncompromising.  That’s what they say about this film.  What I say is “They sure don’t make Westerns like they used to.”

 

More terrifying than any horror film, the challenges faced by The Revenant’s protagonist are relentless.  The story is inspired by a real-life frontiersman and takes place in the early 1800s in the northern Louisiana Purchase territory, which is now Montana and South Dakota.  (I tell you this, but I had to look it up.  The film-makers don’t bother with the usual informative titles like “This is Where” and “This is When”.  They just throw you into the snow and dirt and start moving.)

Uncompromising?  You bet.  The story, the landscape, the acting… just WOW!  It absolutely delivers.  From one ordeal to another, it is masterful film-making that draws us subtly and imperceptibly into this dramatic adventure.  At one point I realized that I was completely invested in this character’s harsh odyssey, and that I was literally on the edge of my seat.

I happen to really like movies like this:  tough and gritty.  It’s you, the land, the elements, and whatever your idea of God is.  Which even that is a bit indulgent:  these folks are too busy in an “Extreme Outward Bound” situation to trifle over such issues.  But there IS an underlying spirituality to it all… mother nature, life and death, and the painfully transcending experience of grief.

Oh dear.  I’m afraid you’ll think this movie is a grind.  “Two and half hours?” you may think.  “Of snow and dirt and terror??”

Actually, it is extraordinarily beautiful and richly expansive, IF!… you have a taste for such intense films.  I was deeply moved and completely engaged throughout.

Inevitably, I was reminded how completely spoiled we are.  With our ya know, ELECTRICITY, and our of course, RUNNING WATER.  And, it randomly occurred to me while watching this outdoorsy freeze-fest, “Thank God for blow-dryers!”  (If you see it, you’ll know why.)  But I actually started being grateful for a ton of stuff while I was watching.

And I thought about that word uncompromising, how in this time in history we CAN compromise with life and even death, if we want to.  Whether it be through science, modern medicine, or just communications technology, we have so much more control over our experiences than these folks did.  And yet the universal truth that The Revenant focuses on is:

“Life is definitely one damned thing after another… But ultimately we are redeemed by the strength of our character and the purity of our inner souls.”

  

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