My Best (Material) Christmas Gift

I know after Christmas you’re supposed to say how the best gift was spending time with your family and, yay, we’re all happy, healthy, and only mildly hungover.  And, yes, all of that is lovely and I am blessed to have all of those things.

But sometimes Santa shows up with one of those gifts that you never even knew you wanted; and now, one week later, it has become part of who you are and what you stand for and you wonder how you ever lived without it.

My such a gift this year was the Kermit the Frog mug that Santa left in my stocking.

My mug is perfection.  It features a giant Kermit on the side of it, which mesmerizes my 1 1/2 year-old.  I just need to leave it out on the kitchen counter so he can enjoy it from his high chair, engaging it in a one-sided conversation consisting of “bas” and “das” and “bees,” allowing me to empty the dishwasher or prepare his smoothie before he completely loses it.  The mug is the perfect size for my needs.  It holds more than a single cup of coffee, so the molten hot liquid doesn’t slosh out all over my hands as I chase the baby or the dog or the pair of them around the house.  It’s shaped like a regular coffee mug, only bigger, which is a vast improvement over the giant latte cup I sometimes use which just ends up spilling tea or coffee or soup all down the front of my clothes (as my battered bathrobe can attest).  I can put my mug in either the microwave or the dishwasher (unlike my metal travel mugs), which means I don’t have to dirty up two vessels when making my chai tea lattes.

Most importantly, the mug is “mine.”  I’ve never had a mug that could fit all of my needs like this one.  Years from now (if it survives my son’s adolescence) I hope that this mug becomes as synonymous with “me” as the crystal pitcher where I keep my water for the day or my Stella perfume.

I’m sure “Santa” just bought this mug for me on a lark, in fact I know he did.  He bought it not for me, intentionally, but for my son who loves the Muppets to a ridiculous degree (not that there’s anything at all wrong with loving the Muppets, at all).  It was just an added bonus that I liked the gift so much.

Sometimes it’s the little things you don’t expect that end up meaning the most.

Also-Ran Movies of the Aughts – Dramas

Many bloggers and critics (my husband included) have been posting their lists of the best films of the 00s.  This is not one of those lists.  The following is one in a series of posts dedicated to the overlooked/underrated/hidden gem films of the Aughts.  I have handily included Netflix links with each film in case you want to add it to your queue.  And you should.  All of them.  For further inspiration, see the lists of romances and comedies.

The Upside of Anger – This is probably one of my favorite movie finds of the Aughts.  Joan Allen stars as a woman whose husband has up and left her without a trace.  She befriends her friendly neighborhood ex-baseball player who lives down the street (played by Kevin Coster, who should at this point ONLY play ex-baseball players).

Cinderella Man – I saw this movie in a pre-screening a few weeks before it came out.  Everyone in my group loved this Rocky-esque tale starring Russell Crowe.  It went on to make -$14.

In Good Company – Dennis Quaid and Topher Grace star in this story about growing old in the business world.

The Prestige – Christopher Nolan became known this decade mostly for Memento and the Batman movies (all brilliant), but this film about dueling magicians staring Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman is fun and surprising.

Hustle & Flow – Years later, I still love that this movie won the Academy Award for Best Song (“It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp).  The movie itself is the story of a pimp who makes good, played with aplomb by Terrence Howard.

You Can Count on Me – This movie was all the rage back in 2001 when it debuted.  If you missed it then, rent it now and see the lovely little film that made stars out of Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo.

State of Play – This movie is like the film version of Season 5 of The Wire starring Russell Crowe, Helen Mirren, and Rachel McAdams.  That should be enough for you.

25th Hour – Spike Lee and Edward Norton were at their absolute best when they made this film about how one man spends his final free day before serving a seven-year stint in prison.

Match Point – I am not a big Woody Allen fan, and this is pretty much not a Woody Allen movie.  Suspenseful, sexy, and British – I love it.

The Visitor – This brilliant little film (featuring an Oscar-nominated performance from Richard Jenkins AKA the dad from Six Feet Under) about a man who strikes up an unlikely friendship with his apartment’s squatters is not to be missed.

Honorable Mention: Collateral, Almost Famous, Insomnia, Friday Night Lights, Shattered Glass, Changing Lanes, Far From Heaven, Frost/Nixon, 8 Mile, Big Fish, The Queen

Which dramas did you love over the past 10 years?

The Also-Ran Movies of the Aughts – Comedies

Many bloggers and critics (my husband included) have been posting their lists of the best films of the 00s.  This is not one of those lists.  The following is one in a series of posts dedicated to the overlooked/underrated/hidden gem films of the Aughts.  I have handily included Netflix links with each film in case you want to add it to your queue.  And you should.  All of them.  Check out my list of Romances for further filmic inspiration.

The following is a list of comedies that slipped through the cracks critically and/or commercially, but are most definitely worth a rental (especially since January is such a cold, dreary wasteland of horrendous theatrical releases).

Team America: World Police – Marionettes! Catchy tunes! Satire!  This movie may not have caught on as much as its predecessor (South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut), but it is just as entertaining.  F*ck yeah!

Roger Dodger – The great Campbell Scott plays a womanizing cad who takes his teenage nephew out on the town to get laid, and he plays the role brilliantly.

The Girl Next Door – This movie is worthwhile just for the inclusion three of the best young actors out there today – Emile Hirsch, Paul Dano, and Chris Marquette (Where have you been, man?).  However, the film itself is smart, funny, and one of the best send-ups of an ‘80s-style teen comedy to be seen since, well, the ‘80s.

Sex Drive – Ah, James Marsden.  Is there nothing you can’t do?  He takes on the Bill Paxton-esque jerk of an older brother role in this funny road trip sex comedy.

I Love You, Man – In a perfect world, Paul Rudd would be nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for his brilliant performance in the movie, Joban.

Idiocracy – FOX had absolutely no faith in this film and released it with very little fanfare.  However, despite faltering a bit at the end, this film is prescient and hilarious and features a great acting turn by Maya Rudolph.

Just Friends – One would think that Ryan Reynolds in a fat suit and braces lip-synching to “I Swear” to himself in a mirror would be a recipe for disaster, but it’s so not.  Reynolds proves his comedic chops in this movie along side Anna Faris and the aforementioned Chris Marquette.

Burn After ReadingBurn After Reading was the Coen brothers’ follow-up to the Oscar winning No Country for Old Men, and was mostly overlooked during the awards season.  Brad Pitt, who always manages to shine in small roles in quirky movies (see: Snatch, 12 Monkeys), steals the show here.

Best in Show – Dogs! My personal introduction to both Jane Lynch and John Michael Higgins! Talking! Not talking! Snow peas!

High Fidelity – This film about falling in and out of love while Jack Black serenades you and questions your musical choices makes the list with a bullet.

Punch-Drunk Love – This was Adam Sandler’s first foray into real, serious acting and he fares well under the tutelage of Paul Thomas Anderson.  Of course, he had help from Philip Seymour Hoffman (NSFW – language).

The Also-Ran Movies of the Aughts – Romances

Many bloggers and critics (my husband included) have been posting their lists of the best films of the 00s.  This is not one of those lists.  The following is one in a series of posts dedicated to the overlooked/underrated/hidden gem films of the Aughts.  I have handily included Netflix links with each film in case you want to add it to your queue.  And you should.  All of them.

The first list in this series is near and dear to my heart.  I love a good action movie or horror flick, but I’m a romance gal.  These are the rom coms and rom drams that made me smile/laugh/cry over the past ten years.  Some of them are legitimately brilliant films.  Some of them are a tad bit embarrassing.  All of them are worthy of a look-see.

In no particular order:

Moulin Rouge! – Baz Luhrmann’s magnum opus has been featured on many a Top 10 list (including my husband’s), but the fact that it’s a musical and the fact that the first twenty minutes are a little frenetic tend to turn people off.  Don’t let them.  If you make it past the first half hour, I guarantee you will be spellbound.

Love Actually – This has slowly turned into both my favorite rom com and my favorite Christmas movie.  It has something for everyone, regardless of where you are in your life and love.

Once – Simply, perfectly the most beautiful story of unrequited love ever told.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – This one has also made a bunch of Top 10 lists, deservedly; but, much like Moulin Rouge!, the strangeness of the storytelling/Kate Winslet’s hair may have kept some people from seeing this brilliant and heartbreaking film.

Bend It Like Beckham – This film is an absolute delight, and Keira Knightly has never been more enjoyable on screen.

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist – A lot of movies take place over the course of one night, but this one is whimsical and lovely.  Michael Cera is at his George Michael best and Kat Dennings is infinitely likeable.

Music & Lyrics – I went into seeing this film with few expectations, but I changed my tune the minute the “Pop! Goes My Heart” music video started at the very beginning of the movie.  Hugh Grant is a delight, and Drew Barrymore is not annoying (glowing praise indeed).  Sure, the story is predictable and ridiculous, but Hugh Grant makes it more than palatable.

He’s Just Not That Into You – Critics were not kind to this film.  It only received a 44% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  While it’s not the caliber of Love Actually, the actors are entertaining (particularly Ginnifer Goodwin and Justin Long) and the stories are relatable.

Enchanted – While compiling my list of also-ran movies, I could’ve made a list of just James Marsden movies.  He steals the show in this frothy musical.

Before Sunset – Here’s what happens when one-night-stands reconnect after a decade has passed.  Before Sunset is a near-perfect example of a sequel that deepens and enriches the ideas of the first film, with an ambiguous ending that will leave you begging for more.

Honorable Pathetic (Wardrobe-Related) Mention:

How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days – I know.  This movie is not good.  But Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey are at their personal best (plus the yellow dress at the end of the movie is to die for).

Dr. T and the Women – I actually don’t think this movie is that bad (as long as you press “stop” on the DVD player once the tornado starts up (seriously)).  But most importantly, this movie features the absolute most covet-worthy wedding dress of all time.

27 Dresses – It’s right there in the title.  There are dresses and there are 27 of them.  And there is James Marsden.  Enough said.

Which romantic movies did I miss?

The Adam Lambert Non-Problem

Won’t somebody please think of the children?!

Having read Peggy Noonan’s screed about Adam Lambert’s American Music Awards performance (which she apparently caught onto as a cultural phenomenon a few weeks late), I realized that her problem (and a lot of other people’s problems) with Adam’s performance is not about the guy on guy aspect; it’s more of a “get off my lawn/these kids today” kind of thing.  And that’s somewhat encouraging.  I guess.  For society.

Now let me start off by saying, I did not like the Adam Lambert performance.  I thought it was crude for no reason, and I’m kind of over people kissing on stage for shock value.  It’s been played out.  It’s boring.   I would’ve much rather seen him take the performance to a whole androgynous David Bowie meets Robert Palmer kind of place.  Or, if he was insistent on including the smooching and the (actually kind of offensive on a feminist level) g-string grabbing, at least take the performance to a toga-clad Caligula pleasure boat scenario to the nth degree (with gold and little people and senators — see the movie Caligula for reference.  Or don’t.  Because it’s gross.  But Helen Mirren(?!) gets naked in it, so there’s that).  Now that would’ve been conversation worthy.  I actually agree with every word Michael Slezak writes here, if you’re interested in delving into this further.

The outrage over Lambert’s omnisexual performance feels a little like I imagine the outrage was over Elvis’ pelvis back in the 1960s.  It’s scary to think of our children as sexual beings who might understand what gyrating hips are meant to symbolize or know what it means when a guy drops to his knees in front of another guy.  It’s even scarier to think that our kids might actually be engaging in some of these acts or (heaven forbid!) think we adults are engaging in them or did engage in them when we were their age.  For some reason these thoughts freak parents out a lot more than if our kids should see someone’s head or arms blown off, but that’s another topic for another day.

What Ms. Noonan and countless others fail to recognize in their hullaballoo over Lambert’s performance is that it was broadcast after 10:00 PM on a school night when most of the impressionable children should’ve been in bed.  And, you know, there’s such thing as a DVR (or VCR, if you’re old school) for parents who want their kids to get a good night’s sleep/preview the late night television their children want to watch.

Another recent controversy that had the moral majority up in arms was the (OMFG) Gossip Girl threesome.  Much was made of the ads that alluded to three of the characters hooking-up; but in actuality, the threesome (at least what was shown of it) amounted to not much more than a chaste girl-on-girl kiss.  What the no one was talking about the next day was that at the very same time that the GG threesome was happening on the CW, over on CBS Charlie Sheen was waking up in bed with his brother (gross) and a woman while wearing each other’s underwear on Two and a Half Men (a show that skews to older viewers, but is no less accessible to youngn’s than the private lives of Manhattan’s elite).

But that kind of behavior only goes against Morality when it’s the under-25 set who are engaging in it, I suppose.

Merry Christmas from Hardrock, Cocoa, and Joe!

If you grew up in Chicago with WGN and The Bozo Show, you knew it was Christmastime because Hardrock, Cocoa, and Joe (and Suzy Snowflake and Frosty the Snowman) would start making an appearance where Scooby-Doo had been.

5 Great TV Deaths of the 00s

SPOILERS abound.  Shows appear in this order: Six Feet Under, LOST, Big Love, The Wire, and Grey’s Anatomy.  If you don’t want any of those shows spoiled for you, stay away.  You’ve been warned.

___________________________________________

Six Feet Under – “Narm!”

Lost – “Not Penny’s boat!”

Big Love – The dangers of a long braid.

The Wire – “You look good, girl.”

Grey’s Anatomy – 007

Breaking Up Is Hard (But Necessary) to Do

We are now in the late December TV lull before January swings around with the promise of new episodes of the fall shows and the winter premieres of some new and returning shows (i.e. Big Love, Lost, 24, Project Runway, and the Godzilla of them all, American Idol).

So for my own productivity and sanity I’ve decided to bid adieu to a few old TV friends to make room for some new ones (at least until I can catch up over the summer on DVD).

Farewell, Ugly Betty.  It’s not you, it’s me.  I couldn’t handle the giant backlog of episodes clogging up my DVR.  It was stressing me out.  We will meet again, I promise.

Vale, NCIS.  I know you’ve made yourself available to me on On Demand, and maybe I’ll see you there; but hopefully you’ll pop up on Netflix soon and I can watch you via my Roku box like I did last year.  That was nice.  I miss that.

Good riddance, Glee.  I had so much hope for you, but you failed me.  Like Heroes before you, I get the sense that your writers have absolutely no idea what to do with you.  Some of your characters are all over the map, and others are just stereotypes.  I need to get out of this relationship now while I still have some self-respect.

You’re on notice, Community.  I was about ready to pull the plug on us, but you surprised me with a lovely holiday episode.  That bought you another month of my sweet, sweet viewership.

You’re also on notice, Fringe.  Like Ugly Betty and NCIS before you, it’s really not your fault.  You never fail to entertain and surprise me, it’s just that I’ve got, like, three episodes clogging up my DVR.  Something’s gotta give.

And you’re prematurely on notice, 24.  Seriously.  You lifted right out easily last year, and I won’t hesitate to give you the old Jack Bauer treatment if you don’t at least surpass Season 2 in sheer entertainment value.

Which shows are you exorcising from your life?

Fix It – 5 Steps to a Better Saturday Night Live

Ah, there was a time when I didn’t have a care or an inkling as to how bad Saturday Night Live was.  It was that blissful period between my hardcore babysitting days and my now super hardcore baby having days.  I remember a time when Saturday night meant something other than, “Let’s go out for an early 5:00 dinner so we can get the boy to bed by 7:00 and I can be asleep on the couch by 8:30, only to wake up at 10:30 to catch the most-likely disappointing cold open of SNL.”

Anyway, so, yeah, I care that SNL sucks (and I understand how passe it is to be complaining about how much it sucks).  But.  It could be easy to fix.

1. Forget everything you ever knew about a cold open. For the past I don’t know how many millions of years, SNL has been opening the show with political sketches.  I understand that The Powers That Be believe political commentary is their bread and butter; but with The Daily Show and The Colbert Report brilliantly commenting on political matters four days a week, your addition to the conversation had better be as good or better than theirs.  SNL lucked out big time last year with Tina Fey/Sarah Palin; but since the ’08 election, none of the limp impersonations of political figures (from Barack Obama to Timothy Geitner) have made a big impact.  The time has come to move the cold open out from behind the desk or podium and mix it up a bit, a la a game show parody or Adam Lambert at the AMAs or I don’t know.  I’m not a sketch writer.  And there’s a reason.

2. Speaking of parody… The sketches that are supposed to be send-ups of real events/TV shows/whatever are usually carbon copies of the original.  It is the Date Movie/Meet the Spartans version of comedy — direct imitation.  There’s nothing particularly clever about merely being able to sound like and look like the famous person you’re impersonating.  The reason the Jeopardy sketches worked so well was because Darrell Hammond didn’t just stand up there and do a Scottish accent, he brought something new to the character of Sean Connery.  Merely putting on a wig and saying you’re John Edwards does not make a lasting impression on anyone.  Go back and do some homework.  Watch Dana Carvey as Ross Perot or the late, great Phil Hartman as, well, anyone.

3. Diversify. You should not have to go outside of your cast to find an African-American woman to play Michelle Obama.  That is all.

4. The host can add a lot to the show, so don’t just call in the flavor of the month because she’s hot/he’s a great athlete.  You have a lot of great go-to performers to help you out when the show needs a boost (Alec Baldwin, Justin Timberlake), but you should be trying to expand that field.  There are a lot of hilarious actors on TV right now, many of them on NBC.  Think about Nick Offerman, Aziz Ansari, Aubrey Plaza, Danny Pudi, Joel McHale, or Donald Glover (just to name a few).

5. Put all sketches on NBC.com. Two of the best sketches of the past two years (a Thanksgiving sketch where Will Forte plays a creepy guy who snuck into the house for dinner and a sketch called “Mirror Image” which featured Kristin Wiig and Amy Adams as “identical” twins) are nowhere to be found online, which means they basically don’t exist in the world anymore.  The potential for the show’s sketches to go viral is a great little focus group opportunity for The Powers That Be to see what’s resonating with the online community.  That said, don’t beat any dead horses.  Keep doing Gilly, sure, but mix up the premise a bit.  And don’t let the sketches run too long.  And never, ever let Jason Sudeikis stop dancing (via Hulu).

Crazy (Five-Alarm) Sunday Family Shenanigans

My family is full of worrywarts (myself included), and here’s an example:

Every Sunday my parents go out to breakfast with my aunt and uncle after church.  They mix it up often, and they don’t go to the same place every weekend.  It’s a lovely little tradition, and sometimes my husband and I or my brother and his wife join them (usually minus the whole “going to church” part).

Last night (Saturday) my parents offered to watch my son overnight so that Mr. Mags and I could go to a couple movies.  We had a lovely time (despite the movies’ mediocrity) and we had a fabulous and extravagant dinner (at Noodles & Co.).  In the morning we slept in (until seven freakin’ THIRTY) and went out for breakfast on our own.

Just as we sat down to eat my phone rang.  It was my aunt, and she was wondering if I had heard from either of my parents.  I had not.  She and my uncle were waiting for them at their predetermined breakfasting place of choice (the IHOP, for realz), and had been sitting there for a half hour.

I tried calling my mom’s phone.  No answer.  Tried my dad’s phone.  Nada.  Tried their house phone.  Nothing.  Tried all three again.  Nope.  I called my aunt back, and she still had not seen or heard from my mom, my dad, or my son.

So, by this point my mind was swimming.  I figured that maybe they got out of church and had to stop at home to get the car or change a diaper or something.  I tried all the phones again.  Still no answer.  My aunt called me back, and she still hadn’t heard anything.

I knew there was no way I was going to be able to enjoy my breakfast, so we paid for our meal and got it to go.  In the meantime, I called my brother (who lives about twenty minutes away — on a good day) to see if he had heard anything.  Now, I didn’t just call him to get him worked up.  There was some logic to my madness.  I thought maybe he was meeting my parents for breakfast and maybe they were waiting for him.  He wasn’t, and they weren’t.  He said he would try calling them, and he’d keep me informed.

Mr. Mags and I got our meal and set off to drive the route to the IHOP, looking along the way for my parents’ car (on the side of the road in a non-existent ditch, or rammed into an errant telephone pole).  I ran into the IHOP and found no recognizable family members.  My brother called again.  He was on his way to our house, wife and baby in tow.  My aunt called again.  She and my uncle were on their way over to our house to discuss a plan of action.

We had developed a number of possible scenarios:

1. They had gone to the wrong restaurant and had forgotten their phones

2. Either my mom or my dad had sustained some kind of injury/heart attack/stroke and all three of them were incommunicato at the emergency room

3. All of them were dead and hidden along the side of the road in some little nook and/or cranny we happened to have missed

4. They were abducted by a carjacker/alien

5. They had decided to flee the country to raise their grandchild away from his mother, who had neglected to give him a haircut for so long

6. They had all perished in a gas/carbon monoxide leak in the house (debunked because they had been seen at church earlier that morning)

Mr. Mags and I drove past our house, where we saw our dog sitting serenely on the couch (which told me neither my parents nor the baby was in our home).  I suggested that we pull a little CSI action and go over to their house to look for clues.  We got out of the car and climbed the stairs, fully expecting to find some kind of Uncle Owen/Aunt Beru situation.  The first thing I noticed as I went to put my key in the lock was that my son’s car seat was sitting empty in the dining room.  I opened the door and heard an immediate cheery exclamation from my mother: “Well, look who’s here!”

They were fine.  They had forgotten their phones and had missed my aunt and uncle at the restaurant.  They had forgotten to tell my parents that they were stopping at home before going to breakfast.  My mom and dad waited in the parking lot for them (figuring that my aunt and uncle, who were baby-less, should’ve been at the restaurant long before they were) for a few minutes before deciding there had been a miscommunication about breakfast location.  So they drove to another restaurant — the same restaurant where Mr. Mags and I had been eating earlier.  If we had just stayed put, we would’ve run into them in a matter of minutes.  We all would’ve had a good laugh, and I would’ve had a hot breakfast.

But alas, all’s well that ends well.

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