Sunday, January 27, 2019

2018 Movies in Review, Part 2

Oscar Nominations were announced last week.  I have bolded the films that received one or more nominations.
Black KKKlansman - Spike Lee's film about Ron Stalwarth (John David Washington) is about the first African American police officer and detective in Colorado Springs.  In the late 1970s, he, by chance, becomes an undercover officer in the Klu Klux Klan after calling their offices one slow day and pretending to be a white man.  He forms a phone relationship with a few high level members of the KKK including David Duke.  When the need arose for Stalwarth to meet the members in person, they devised a plan to send white detectives in his place.  Based on a true story, this movie is fascinating and really well done.  The filming is great as it looks like a 70's movie it takes place in the 70s.  It is called a biographical comedy-drama.  While the circumstances are serious, the events are so outrageous it is quite funny as well.  It is one of my favorites of the year.
Operation Finale - In 1960, Israeli Intelligence finds out that Adolph Eichmann (Ben Kingsley) escaped from Germany and is living in Argentina.  This film tells the true story about the Mossad agents (Oscar Isaac) who are tasked with finding him and bringing him back to Israel to stand trial for his crimes against humanity. The film received mixed reviews.  I found it very interesting, but very intense.  Even though I had some knowledge of how it all ended up, it was sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat suspenseful.  It wasn't an enjoyable movie, but I'm glad that I saw it.
Life Itself - Lives of several individuals are connected over three generations in tragedy and in love.  It is an interesting movie conceptually, but it is emotionally exhausting.  The tragedies were like punches to the gut you didn't see coming.  It has a huge cast - Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Mandy Patinkin, Antonio Banderas, Annette Benning, and many international actors who I was unfamiliar with but were very good.  The reviews for it are terrible.  I didn't find it terrible, but I was tired after seeing it.
A Star is Born - Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper star in the 4th or 5th version of this film.  Jack, an alcoholic rock star (Cooper), "discovers" Ally (Gaga) who is a songwriter working in a drag bar.  He falls in love with her talent, makes her famous, and then falls in love her.  After some time she becomes ultra-famous and he slips further into the bottle.  It is an emotional roller coaster of a movie, but Lady Gaga is WONDERFUL in it, and I was surprised in Bradley Cooper's singing talents.  The music is great.  Gaga lost out to Glenn Close at the Golden Globes.  I did not see Close's film, and I'm sure it is very good, but I was hoping Gaga would win the Best Actress award.  She had an incredible performance and that voice is something.  She is nominated again for an Oscar.  There's been a lot of buzz about how Bradley Cooper was snubbed for a Best Picture nomination.  He did get one for Best Actor though.
Bohemian Rhapsody - Rami Malek stars as the band Queen's frontman, Freddy Mercury.  BR told the story of Queen with the focus on Mercury's over-the-top personality.  It was a very interesting and entertaining story of his life (Hollywood's version anyhow), and the music was so much fun.  Malek embodies what I remember of Freddy Mercury, and the casting of the other band members is brilliant.  When the band was at their most well known, I was a bit young to be a fan however over all this time there wasn't a song in the movie that I wasn't familiar with.  Mike Myers (star of Wayne's World) plays the record producer who refused to release Bohemian Rhapsody as the lead song on the A Night at the Opera album because it was too long.  What great casting that was!  It is a fun movie.  We left smiling.
Widows - Viola Davis and Liam Neeson open this film as husband and wife.  Neeson is part of a group of bank robbers who rob a local politician/gangster.  When they are killed in an explosion after the robbery, the thieves' wives are held accountable for the money by the politician/gangster.  The women come up with their own plan for getting a hold of the money to pay back.  There are SO MANY twists and turns in this movie.  I'm not really a Viola Davis fan, but I liked the movie a lot.  Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, Jacki Weaver, and Michelle Rodriguez also star.
The Girl in the Spiderweb - Claire Foy (The Crown) is the most recent 'Lisbeth Salander' from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo fame.  This book was the fourth book in the Stieg Larsson "Millennium" series, but was written by David Lagercrantz after Steig's death.  There is a lot of technical, over the top content in this story, but the actual story was in line with the others.  Lisbeth Salander continues saving the world as a computer hacker when her sister, who she thought had killed herself, returns for revenge.  It is intense and exciting like the other books/movies are.  I think Foy made a good Salander.  I liked it.
Green Book - Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali star in the true story of Tony "Lip" Vallelonga and Don Shirley.  Shirley was a famous pianist who hired Vallelonga to be his driver when he traveled to the Deep South in the 1960s to perform. Shirley, an African American from NYC, faced racism on this tour.  Vallelonga had some prejudices of his own at the start of the trip, but they soon became friends and often lent a hand when Shirley found himself in danger.  The move was entertaining and heartwarming.  It also is a reminder of of how far we've come and how far we still have to go.  Both actors were nominated for Golden Globes and Oscars, however I'm not sure why Moretensen got the Best Actor nom and Ali got the Best Supporting Actor nod.  They were both equally in the film.
The Mule - Clint Eastwood stars as an old man (because he is) who becomes a drug mule driving to and from various locations because he is desperate for cash.  The DEA (Bradley Cooper) get wind of him and begin to track him in order to catch the dealers.  It is based on a true story.   The movie was ok, but kind of slow.
Vice - This film was written and directed by Adam McKay who also did The Big Short.  The writing and pacing is quite similar to that film.  It is quick and jumps around to different perspectives so you have to to pay very close attention.  It is a biographical comedy-drama about Dick Cheney.  After seeing the movie, I spent a little time trying to fact check it because it is definitely over the top in demonstrating Cheney's power as Vice President.  As with anything political these days, if the review/reviewer leans left it's wonderful and all true, and if right leaning, the movie was awful and all false.  However, according to the fact checkers, the events are mostly accurate.  All can agree that liberties were taken with dialogue, even the writer/director admits at the beginning of the film that some of the actual conversation between characters was made up due to not knowing the exact words.  It is a polarizing film.  I personally enjoyed it while being a little sick to my stomach at the same time.  Cheney's unprecedented power has always been unsettling to me, and that power was the main topic of the movie.
The Favourite - Hmmmm, I just saw it this afternoon.  I wouldn't say I didn't like, but I wouldn't say I liked it either.  Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone star in this period piece about Queen Anne (Colman) and the women, Sarah Churchill (Weisz) and Abigail Masham (Stone), who vie for the queen's attention.  The women, also cousins, wish to capitalize on their friendship with the ailing and tragic queen to rise in her court and become influential in her decisions. The costumes, wigs, and palace are incredible in the movie - opulent is an understatement and it's been rewarded with several artistic nominations.  All three actresses have also been nominated.  They were all very good.  I can't put my finger on what I liked and didn't like about it.  It is an odd film - not a comedy but not a serious period piece either.  It's quite dark.
As usual, the Oscar nominations leave me perplexed.  There are several films in the main categories that I've never even heard of let alone seen.  It's not like I live in the "boonies", but several of them didn't even come to our local theaters which always makes me wonder how in the heck they get nominated.  The nominations often seem pretentious.  The Globes are much more relatable as far as nominations go.  A few of the big films that I didn't see but still wish to are Black Panther, The Wife, and If Beale Street Could Talk.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

2018 Movies in Review

One of my movie going friends moved away last year, so I thought that my movie attendance may have dropped in 2018.  However, it seems as I still (as usual) saw quite a few...
Den of Thieves - Gerard Butler and 50 Cent star in this film about a group of violent bank robbers in Los Angeles and the Sheriff Department's elite squad of detectives.  Apparently, Los Angeles is the Bank Robbery capital of the world (yay, us!), and this film is based on a real life attempt to rob the Federal Reserve Bank in Downtown.  In the movie, there is a fine line between the behavior of both groups as the detectives engage in questionable behavior in both their personal and professional lives and the violent bank robbers have families at home whom they lovingly take care of.  The reviews were mixed, so I went in with low expectations (and only went because I am a fan of Gerard Butler and the movie's genre).  However, it was an entertaining and action packed film - typical of the police-cat-and-mouse genre with big car chases and big gun fights.
Red Sparrow - Dominica Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) plays Russian prima ballerina who, after being injured,  joins the SVR and is sent to "Sparrow School" to learn the art of seductive spying or "sexpionage".  When CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) is found to be working with a top level SVR officer to gain secrets for the US, Egorova is sent to seduce him and find out more about his double agent.  I'm a sucker for an espionage film and the premise is a good one, but the movie was just ok.  I'm not one to be offended by sex or violence in a film, even a lot of it, but both seemed gratuitous rather than important to the plot which I found irritating.  Red Sparrow is based on a book of the same name by Jason Matthews.  I'm currently listening to it when I walk the dog.  I'm enjoying it more.
Ocean's 8 - The Ocean's 11, 12, and 13 movies are some of my favorite movies of all time, so I looked forward to the "female version" of Ocean's 8.  Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Rhianna, Helena Bonham Carter, Awkwafina, and Anne Hathaway all star in this heist film.  Bullock's character plays Debbie Ocean, the sister of Danny Ocean (George Clooney's Ocean's character) who is a bit of a con herself.  During her most recent stint in prison she devised a plan to steal a Cartier necklace at the upcoming Met Gala.  Once she gets out of prison, she assembles her reluctant team, all with a specific set of skills, to pull off the heist.  As with the previous Ocean's films, this one was funny and quite clever - keeping you guessing with the twists and turns and the real motive behind the heist.  I enjoyed this one a lot, the only downfall being the absence of George Clooney and Matt Damon as eye candy.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado - OMG!  This movie was so good- Intense but good.  It is the follow up to 2015's Sicario about the CIA's relationship with a Sicario or hitman for the Mexican drug cartels.  Josh Brolin stars as the CIA agent who enlists the help of former Sicario Alejandro Gillick (Benecio del Toro) to start a feud between rival drug cartels.  They kidnap the daughter of one kingpin and blame it on another.  In the end, the plan goes to pot, and Gillick and the teenage girl are abandoned by the CIA.  They fend for themselves and try to get out of harm's way while the CIA tries to destroy all evidence of the plan, including them.  The ending left me wondering so thankfully, a 3rd installment is in the works.  It is not for the faint of heart, but it is very well done.
Equalizer 2 - Denzel Washington reprised his roll as Robert McCall, ex-CIA who now helps the "little guy" with big problems.  When his friend and former colleague is murdered, he finds out that her killer is someone he knows.  He takes matters into his own hands.  I'm sensing a pattern here in my movie watching, but yes, it's another action/spy (ex)/good guy vs bad guy movie.  I liked it!
The Spy Who Dumped Me - Best friends (Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon) must become amateur spies after an ex-boyfriend who turns out to be a spy comes to them for help.  This movie is hysterical and so much fun.  It had some similarities to Megan McCarthy's "Spy" movie where the "bumbling" women save the day, but I belly laughed all the same.
Dog Days - I'm not usually a fan of dog movies because when the dog dies I cry and cry and cry.  This movie about how dogs are a wonderful part of our lives was cute, and even though one does die, they don't make us watch that part like other movies have done.  It has a large cast with mostly stars famous for television (Eva Longoria, Vanessa Hudgens, Rob Cordry, Tone Bell, and Adam Pally).  I noticed some reviewers named it "Dog, Actually" as a play on Love, Actually because the large cast is all related in some way or another and are all in love or trying to fall in love.  It's not an award winner, but it's a sweet movie.
I'm going to stop there for now.  Oscar nominations were announced this week.  I will share my thoughts on those in the next post.  None of these were chosen.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

A Magic Pot

Like thousands of people this year, I got an Instant Pot for Christmas.  When I first started hearing about the cooking appliance, I was skeptical.  I have a Crockpot, and figured that's all I really needed for a cooker in addition to my stove/oven.  After hearing more about it though, I was intrigued.
I've been on winter break since Christmas so once the holidays were over, I have spent a little time rying to get to know the new pot.
The Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker.  I know a lot of people who were raised in families who used an "old school" stovetop pressure cooker.  I was not raised in one of those families, so don't have (fond) memories of it exploding all over the kitchen.  With that being said, I don't really understand the concept of pressure cooking and all its ins and outs.  Therefore, I have not made anything from my imagination - I don't understand enough yet just to throw something in and figure out how to cook it.  However, I've been having a lot of fun just trying it out using yummy recipes I find on the internet.
I started off slow with basic chicken breast (shredded, portioned, and put in freezer for quick meals) and macaroni and cheese.  Both were super easy and worked just like the recipe said they would.

On my third try, I MADE CHEESECAKE!  I joined a Facebook group for Instant Pot users because a lot of time there are a lot specific questions asked that aren't addressed in recipes or online information.  I've liked that, but something else I found out while searching through the can make freaking cheesecake in the Instant Pot.  I've NEVER made a baked cheesecake in my life because it just seemed too hard.  Well, in this FB group EVERYONE has been posting their cheesecakes.  So making one in the Instant Pot is a thing, and I decided to try it!  OMG!  I am wowed!
I made it on Thursday night and topped it with ganache and peanut butter cups Friday morning.  I took it to a party on Friday night, and everyone was stunned it came out of the Instant Pot.  I was very impressed with myself.
Last night I made beef stroganoff, and it was delicious.  Stroganoff isn't the prettiest meal, so I'm not sharing pictures, but I couldn't have been happier with how it turned out.  The round steak that I used was so tender after just 15 minutes cooking time.  When I make it on the stovetop I leave it simmering for at least an hour after browning to make it tender.
So this is my take on the Instant Pot so far...It's similar to a slow cooker/crockpot in that you throw everything in and wait until it's finished without doing anything while it cooks.  This frees you up to make additional parts of the meal (pasta, veggies, etc) or to do something else not even related to cooking.  But the most important differences are that it is FAST, and it doesn't over cook the contents.  At first, I was a little annoyed by the time it takes to come to pressure as it can take upwards of 20 - 30 minutes, but now that I'm aware of that I can factor the time in.  It's still much faster than a lot of other cooking.  While a crockpot has it's place for certain types of meats that you want falling apart - pulled pork for example.  Most things I would cook in the crockpot all day came out falling apart, and sometimes that isn't want you want.  The IP cooks fast while making things tender and juicy, but not overcooked.
I'm kind of a kitchen appliance/gadget geek.  The Instant Pot is making me geek out hard!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018


Being quite close to "Hollywood", the suburbs where I live is used quite often in both television in movies.  From the time I was in kindergarten, I've watched my city as the setting of various shows and films.  The "Industry" has boomed here, and we now have several studios.  Many have taken to calling it "Hollywood North" as you can find a film crew set up somewhere on any given day.  So it was no surprise when earlier this week, we got notice at school that there would be filming taking place for the television show SWAT in the neighborhood closing a couple of our streets.  In addition, they wanted us all to be aware that there would be several "police" vehicles on the premises as well as "armed officers" shooting their "weapons" so we didn't call a lockdown.
I am not a starstruck person and driving past filming  doesn't make me even slow down.  The only emotion I usually have over it is irritation when the street I'm trying to turn onto is blocked or the gas station I want to use is closed due to filming.  However, since I watch the show SWAT and like it, my interest was peaked at the notice.  I remember as a kid watching the first SWAT television show with my dad back in the late 70s.  When it premiered last year, I recorded it due to those memories with my dad.  I watched the whole season over the summer and really enjoyed it.  It's an entertaining police favorite!
When the notice came out, some of the kids asked about it and there was some excitement over my explanation, some of the kids had even seen the show.  So on the day of the filming I told them I'd take them out to see what we could see at the end of the day.  Our school property is huge and the back part, where the playground is, is surrounded by a tall metal fence.  We walked out towards the street until we got to that fence to take a look.  There wasn't a lot to see from where we were as most of the street the school is on was being used for trailers, security, and craft services (food).  However, along the corner of the fence we could see the street that runs perpendicular and there were police cars, and a lot of people milling around as they do.  We spent about 5 minutes looking and talking about what we saw.  A member of the crew walked up to the fence at that time and called me over.  I thought I might be told we were in the way or something.  Instead, he asked me if we'd like to meet the actors.  Ummmmm, ok!
When the cast of the show came out to see us, they seemed genuinely as excited to meet the kids as we were to meet them.  They were so kind, shaking hands and talking with the kids.
I had not planned on this happening at all, so had left my phone in the classroom when I picked up the kids from lunch to walk them over.  Thankfully, we have a yard supervisor who loves the be "in the know" and she followed us out to the back of the school. When we found out they were coming over, she whipped out her phone.  

The cast spent several minutes with us before saying their goodbyes.  The kids haven't stopped talking about it since...neither has their teacher.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

What a Waste

This past week was quite hectic with a few nights of getting home later than usual so I did not take the dog out on her regular long walk on Wednesday or Thursday.  When I walk the dog the long route, we pass by the mailbox, and I pick up mail.  Since we didn't go by on those two days and since it's not conveniently located, I didn't pick up Wednesday's or Thursday's mail until we walked by Friday after work.  With the midterm elections quickly (thankfully) approaching, we are inundated with campaign ads both on TV and through the mail.  The junk mail is bad enough when we're not in election season, but when we are it's not a good idea to skip mail pick up.  It doesn't seem so bad when it's picked up and tossed out on a daily bases.  After three days accumulation, it's appalling.
There are 21, mostly full color, campaign mailers in this picture.  The majority of them are the size of a regular sheet of paper or larger and all are double sided or have several pages.  A few are different ads for the same candidate or proposition.  I know that there has to be some kind of positive result for candidates to keep sending these out, along with paying the expense of them, but I feel like they are really a big waste of money and paper. As a fairly knowledgable voter, these do absolutely nothing to sway my vote (and even less so since I already voted last week) and really only further irritate me on the waste of money that is a political campaign.  I don't know if junk mail like this is helpful to the undecided voter in the internet age.  I wish they'd eliminate it as it seems like such a waste.  What's your take on campaign mail?  Does is sway you?

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Halloween Odds and Ends

Tomorrow is Halloween!  Personally, I could take it or leave it as a "holiday".  Being that it falls during the week is the part I like least about it.  It's not the 31st that is really the problem but rather the day AFTER halloween when you are a teacher.  While I don't mind an hour or two of "celebrating" on the day of, dealing with sugarcoated tired little kids for 7+ hours the next day is NOT my idea of a good time.  I have a pretty good group this year, so fingers crossed that they don't completely lose their minds (or that I don't lose mine) on Thursday.
For years, I've been saying I want to get a proposition on the California ballot (it only takes 350,000 signatures) to celebrate Halloween on the last Friday of the month rather than on whatever day the 31st happens to fall on - which is the day before a school day 5 out 7 times!  Just this past week, I read an article that there is an online petition on for making that move.  Actually, theirs is moving it to Saturday.  Friday is a much better choice...more days to recover before going back to school or work, but I'll take a Saturday over a Wednesday any day.
Speaking of Halloween articles, I read one this weekend about some towns making it "illegal" for children older than 12 (some 14, some 16) to go Trick-Or-Treating.  I don't know how I feel about this.  When I used to man the door for trick-or-treaters back in the day, I will admit it was a little irritating to have some 6 foot 4 ninja, zombie, or trench coat wearer show up at the door and take the candy you bought for the little ones.   However, if they weren't causing trouble or being mean or nasty to the little kids, who really cares.  Kids 12-15/16 are at that odd age where they are thought of as too old to don a costume and trick-or-treat, but they aren't really old enough to party either.  If the older kids want to celebrate by going door-to-door for candy, I'd prefer that to them TPing or vandalizing the neighborhood.
Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 11, 2018


The trip this summer was mostly about the beauty of the Oregon Coast, but we did make a few educational (and in this case yummy) stops, one of those was the Tillamook Cheese Factory.  The city of Tillamook sits west of Portland on Tillamook Bay.  Located on the bay and also having 5 rivers, the city is known for fertile land and mild temperatures which makes for happy cows.  Not as happy as California cows of course.  The dairies there are part of a dairy cooperative called the Tillamook County Creamery Association, and the Cheese Factory is where they produce their cheese.  They have recently added a modern visitors' center which was a fun way to spend an hour or two.
When driving through town, the factory is hard to miss.
 The factory used to allow visitors onto the factory floor, but in the late 60s that was (thankfully) stopped due to safety regulations.  Now you can view some of the factory from a viewing area up above.
 Here they were checking cheese blocks for correct formation.  Those in the bin behind the checker were not acceptable.  Those were then sent to the cheese shredder for bags of grated cheese.
 This area wrapped the finished cheese in its packaging.
 The best part of the self guided tour was that it ended with cheese samples.  I can't say for sure, but we might have spent A LOT of time in this area.  Duh.
 The new visitor center has a huge food court with all things made from dairy.  A vegan or someone lactose intolerant would have been very sad at this food court.  Since I'm neither, it made me happy.  We had taken our time in Cannon Beach that day, so by the time we arrived at the factory is was dinnertime.  We had planned to share some cheese curds and macaroni and cheese - healthy stuff!  Sadly, the cheese factory was OUT OF cheese curds, so we just had mac and cheese.  It was very good.  But the ice cream was even better.
We still had a little over an hour drive to the next stop in Newport, so we couldn't spend too much time eating dairy products.  Tillamook was a quick but fun stop.