Friday, January 30, 2015

Great movies + TV shows shouldn't be remade

By now most of you have probably heard that CBS gave the go-ahead to Matthew Perry (of Friends fame) to do a re-boot of The Odd Couple. (It debuts in mid-February.)

Granted, The Odd Couple has been remade several times since premiering on Broadway in 1965 (starring Walter Matthau as Oscar Madison and Art Carney as Felix Ungar, and directed by Mike Nichols). The two most successful remakes, or versions, being the 1968 film starring Walter Matthau (again as Oscar) and Jack Lemmon as Felix (now Unger, with an "e"), and the beloved 1970s television series of the same name starring Jack Klugman as Oscar and Tony Randall as Felix.

Since then every attempt at remaking the TV show (or movie) has flopped. And this one will, too. Why? I'll give you three reasons:

1) How can you possibly improve upon the Jack Klugman and Tony Randall television classic? (That's a rhetorical question. You can't.)

2) Matthew Perry? Really? The guy who hasn't had a hit since Friends, whose presence almost guarantees the movie or TV show will flop? (Is it just me, or is every character Perry plays just some version of Chandler? And admit it, you never really liked Chandler, did you?) Which CBS executive thought it a great idea to give this guy the green light to develop, produce, and star in the re-boot of a beloved series (as Oscar Madison)?

3) Re-boots, re-makes, or sequels, especially of classic or great TV shows or movies are never as good as the original (with possibly one or two exceptions, none of them recent).

With all of the writers out there looking for work, some of them even good, talented writers, you would think that movie studios and television networks could come up with something original. But no.

They have to go ahead and remake The Odd Couple. And Jurassic Park. And Ghostbusters.

None of them, I guarantee you, will be nearly as good, or as clever, or as  funny, or as witty, as the original. Though I have no doubt that Jurassic World, starring Chris Pratt, will take in millions of dollars, at least the first couple of weeks, as will the all-female version of Ghostbusters, starring Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig, which will basically be Bridesmaids II: Ghouls Gone Wild, with lots of crude and lewd humor.


Why, Hollywood? Why?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Remember life before email?

Remember life before email? I do. Vaguely. As I recall, we used things called "pens" and "stationery" and "stamps" to communicate with each other over long distances, or used a quaint invention called "a telephone."

Seems so long ago, doesn't it? But it was really just 20 years ago (less) that email started to take off. (Though can you believe, AOL, which, yes, still exists -- I know! -- it going to be 30 this year?! And that there are some people who still have email addresses? Hi Steven!)

At the beginning, many people had no idea how to use this newfangled technology, as BMW playfully reminds us in this fun/funny Super Bowl XLIX ad featuring Katie Couric and Bryant Gumble...

Actually, I know people, make that many people, who still don't understand how email works, or know how to properly use or manage it. But since some of them read this blog, I will not name names.

Now it is hard to imagine life without email.

(You know what else is hard to imagine? Going back to how we dressed and wore our hair in the 1990s. Though I hear animal prints are going to be big this spring!)

RELATED "BOY DO I FEEL OLD" ASIDE: While having dinner the other night, the spouse mentioned that my mother, while clearing out her apartment of over 40 years (for an upcoming, long overdue, renovation), happened upon a box of old 78s and 45s. To which our teenage daughter replied, "What are '78s' and '45s'?"

We asked her to guess. She had no clue. (Anyone else feeling incredibly old now? Granted, 78s were before my time, but I fondly remember 45s.) The spouse explained to her that they were types of records (which required another short explanation) -- and that 45s were the iTunes of their day, which I think is a rather brilliant description.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Birding, Beaching & Shelling on Sanibel Island

Had a credit I had to use or lose on JetBlue by the end of January, so the spouse and I decided to take a quick mid-winter, mid-week break on Sanibel Island, one of my favorite places.*

For those of you unfamiliar with Sanibel Island, it is in Southwest Florida (near Ft. Myers, just north of Naples), and is renowned for its shelling, birding, miles of beach, and fabulous sunrises and sunsets.

Here are some of my favorite photos (and memories) from our recent Sanibel jaunt, taken with my little Canon PowerShot S90 or my Nexus 5 smart phone ('cause the spouse convinced me I didn't need to bring my Nikon -- ahem).

First up, the prettiest sunrise that you ever did see.

Next, shells. The reason I go to Sanibel Island. Though the shelling was not particularly good this visit, despite there being a new moon. Still, I managed to find a dozen or so nice ones. (The colors are much deeper and brighter when the shells are wet. But I was in a hurry and didn't have time to spritz them for their close-up.)

I had much better results with birding, though.

First up, check out this lovely snowy egret, wading into the water, on the beach in front of the Island Inn, where we stayed this visit.

Next, a visit to the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, an amazing place, yielded several photos of roseate spoonbills. I even managed to convince one roseate spoonbill to come up very close to the viewing platform, so I could snap this photo of it. (I am the roseate spoonbill whisperer.)

We also spotted flocks of white pelicans and storks and this little night heron there. (Look, he's smiling!)

Back on the beach, we watched this seagull land this silvery, catfish-looking fish and then wrestle with it, which was pretty amazing. (I will spare you the gory photos.)

And there were terns everywhere. I particularly love this photo where the tern second from the right is chewing out the tern next to her. (I really should have taken a video. It was hysterical. Talk about hen-pecked!)

I also managed to catch an ibis in flight. (Look to the left of the photo.) So beautiful.

Sunsets are a big deal on Sanibel, with people lining the beach, or relaxing in beach chairs (like these plastic Adirondack chairs), to view it (often with a glass, or bottle, of wine).

I think this photo captures the mood.

Speaking of the sunsets, I took dozens of photos of the two sunsets we saw, but I particularly like this one, where you can see brown pelicans fishing near the horizon.

Until next time...

*Luckily (?), we made it  back to Connecticut just before Mother Nature decided to dump six (or was it seven?) inches of snow on us last night.Woohoo! (I miss you, 75-degree weather and beautiful, warm sandy beach!)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

You might have a teenager if...

How can you tell your children are officially teens (other than, you know, knowing how old they are)? Here are 11 signs to watch out for.

Note: Any resemblance to actual, specific teens is purely coincidental. 

You might have a teenager if... your daughter thinks that a tight, low-cut shirt, a mini skirt, and Uggs are the perfect winter outfit; and your son insists on wearing a t-shirt and shorts to school if it's over 32 degrees out.

You might have a teenager if... you have never heard of the bands or singers your child listens to.

You might have a teenager if... you start to wonder if those ear buds were surgically implanted in your child's ears.

You might have a teenager if... your child cannot go 30 seconds without looking at his or her smart phone.

You might have a teenager if... your child can type way faster than you on his/her smart phone -- and offers to teach you how to use your smart phone.

You might have a teenager if... she says she was "talking" with her friends when she was actually texting or Facebook messaging or Snapchatting with them.

You might have a teenager if... you know what Snapchat is.

You might have a teenager if... when you ask your child a question, make a request, or offer advice (or, okay, just speak), she rolls her eyes.

You might have a teenager if... when you ask your child to do something, she cuts you off with a "Yes, mom," like you are the most annoying person on the planet.

You might have a teenager if... your child thinks you are the most annoying person on the planet.

You might have a teenager if... they think you can't possibly understand whatever it is they are going through.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

"Sexy" sweatpants?

It was 18 degrees Fahrenheit here this morning (probably still is), and I was freezing my tuckus off. So I figured that, since I was working from home and didn't need to go out this afternoon, I'd just throw on my old, gray Gap sweatpants.

Then I hesitated.

The last time I wore my sweatpants (and actually the time before that), the spouse informed me that I looked like I was wearing a big droopy diaper. (I wasn't.) This from a man who thinks flannel pajamas are sexy. So I knew my gray sweatpants must look really bad on me.

Granted, the sweatpants are a bit big on me, having bought them when I probably weighed 20 pounds more. But aren't sweatpants supposed to be a bit big and baggy and comfortable?

Apparently, I didn't get the memo.

Gone are the days of wearing sweatpants to sweat in -- or hang out in. Today's sweatpants must be both fashionable and sexy -- in case you are running out for a gallon of milk and there are paparazzi lurking. These fashionable, sexy sweats can also run you $600 or $700. (I kid you not. Just click on the link.)

Granted, it's always nice to be comfortable and look good doing it. But aren't "sexy" sweatpants, "fashionable" sweatpants, and "skinny" sweatpants oxymorons? When did we go from "sweat" pants to "sexy" pants? Can fleece ever be sexy?

Let me know your thoughts via the Comments. And while you're there, let me know where I can pick up a pair of these sexy, fleece sweatpants for under $50.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Year-end book review: my 14 fave reads of 2014

I read over 80 books in 2014. Many of which I thought were good, but not great; a few (I'm looking at you, Donna Tartt) really pissed me off; and a dozen or so that delighted, enlightened, or captivated me -- and made me wish I could write like that.

Herewith, a list of my 14 favorite, or most memorable, reads of 2014, both fiction and nonfiction, listed alphabetically by author.

(For a complete list of all the books I reviewed this year, click here or on the Book Nook label at the end of this post.)

One Hundred Names by Cecilia Ahern. Fiction. A story about redemption, friendship, and not judging a book, or a person, by its cover, or appearances. The main character, and, in a way, deus ex machina, is Kitty Logan, a disgraced journalist who seeks to redeem herself and to pay tribute to her recently deceased mentor and editor, Constance, by writing the story Constance had wanted to write but didn't. The story? We don't exactly know (until the end of the book). All the editor left was a list of 100 names. It is up to Kitty to track down the 100 people on the list and figure out what ties them together and to Constance.

I loved this book, and not just because I started my professional life as a journalist, or that I, too, had a beloved editor and mentor named Constance (though it helped me to instantly connect with Kitty, her coworkers, and her subjects). I loved it because of the stories Kitty uncovers in her quest, the great writing, and how uplifted the book left me feeling when I finished reading it.

Flirting with French: How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me & Nearly Broke My Heart by William Alexander. Nonfiction. This book is for everyone who has ever attempted to brush up on their high school language skills or tried to learn a new language after the age of 40 (or 35, or 22).

More than a memoir, Flirting with French chronicles Alexander's attempt to master French at the age of 59 and shares some of the science behind language acquisition and its effect on the brain. As per usual, Alexander, the author of 52 Loaves, about his adventures in bread-making (which I also recommend), imbues his tale (and struggles) with frankness and humor. Highly recommend (and not just because I happened to read it while trying to learn Italian and could totally relate.)

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom. Fiction. A powerful, moving, beautifully written coming-of-age story about two motherless teenage girls, half-sisters, trying to make a life for and support themselves in 1940s America. The older sister, Iris, whose mother has just died at the opening of the book, and has no idea she has a half-sister, harbors dreams of becoming a movie star in Hollywood. The younger sister, Eva, the illegitimate daughter of Iris's philandering, no-good-but-charming father, doesn't know what she wants -- and is unceremoniously dumped on Iris's doorstep, or in her parlor, the day of Iris's mother's funeral, by her mother.

Eva quickly forms a bond with Iris and commits to helping her in her quest to become a movie star. Soon, the girls are fleeing Ohio, and their father (who has been stealing from Iris), for Hollywood, where Iris gets noticed by studio executives and seems to be on her way. Until circumstances conspire against her and she is forced to flee again, this time to New York, with the help of a an avuncular studio hairdresser, Diego, dragging along Eva and their father, who shows up on their doorstep just as they are about to leave.

With the help of Diego and his sisters, Iris and her father land jobs as a governess and butler to a nouveau riche Italian family in Great Neck, while Eva works in Diego's sisters' hair salon in Brooklyn. However, once again, Iris's ambition (and passion) wreaks havoc on their lives and the lives of others around them. And as Iris is sent off to war-torn London, Eva is left to pick up the pieces in New York and find a way to support herself.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Fiction. The beautifully written, poignant story of two teenagers whose lives are forever changed by the Second World War.

Marie-Laure, who is blind, lives in Paris with her doting father, the master of locks at the Museum of Natural History. But when the Nazis invade France, Marie-Laure and her father flee Paris, taking with them a dangerous secret, to the coastal town of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure's reclusive great uncle lives.

Werner, a year older than Marie-Laure, lives with his younger sister in an orphanage in a German mining town. However, when Werner's talent for fixing radios is discovered by a local party official, he wins a spot in an elite, and sadistic, Hitler Youth academy -- and is soon after conscripted into the army, where his mission is to ferret out resisters and those seeking to bring down the Nazis by secretly broadcasting information.

Eventually, Werner's work leads him and his team to Saint-Malo, where his and Marie-Laure's lives collide  and change forever.

The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg. Fiction. Who would have thought watching Match Game all those years ago that Fannie Flagg would become a beloved, best-selling author? Though I guess I shouldn't be that surprised as she was always funny and clever. But as we (I) know, being funny and clever does not necessarily translate into being a great author. And I think Flagg is a great author.

I loved The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion (as I did her other books). And I learned something, too -- about early female aviators, the WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots), who helped America's World War II effort. At the risk of sounding cliche, I laughed and I cried (albeit mostly to myself) all throughout this dual tale of a kindly but much put-upon Alabama homemaker (and her domineering mother), set in the mid-2000s, and a family of pioneering female aviators from Wisconsin during the 1930s and 1940s.

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. Fiction. I could not stomach Eat, Pray, Love, and it was only after being reassured that this book was totally different and well worth a read that I checked it out. And I am glad I did.

Not a typical "Jennifer Book" (as I prefer upbeat, happy reads), while much of the book is sad and depressing, Gilbert's prose are so eloquent, and her story of botanist/heiress Alma Whittaker so compelling and inspiring, I could not put the book down. (I particularly enjoyed the section about Roger the dog.)

As for how to describe The Signature of All Things, you could say it is a book about mid-19th century botany and botanists, which it is. You could also call it a novel of adventure and self discovery. Which it also is. You could also call it the tale of a dysfunctional family and of love and loss. And it is those things, too. Just read it.

Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan. Fascinating (somewhat fictional though based on fact) biography of Fanny Vandergrift Osborne Stevenson, the wife of author Robert Louis Stevenson.

The Other Language by Francesca Marciano. Fiction. I am not a big fan of short story collections. Not sure why. I think it's because I find them uneven and unsatisfying. But something about The Other Language intrigued me enough to check it out. Maybe it's because I love books set in other places, told from a non-American (in this case, Italian) point of view.

In any case, while the stories in The Other Language are all a bit (or more) sad and depressing -- tales of love (or lust) and loss -- they are beautifully and movingly told (the word poignant keeps springing to mind). I also found them all too relatable and  admired the author's ability to capture pivotal moments in relationships. 

The Hotel on Place Vendome: Life, Death, and Betrayal at the Hotel Ritz in Paris by Tilar J. Mazzeo. Nonfiction. The Nazi occupation of Paris observed from inside the Hotel Ritz, where Nazis, the rich and famous, Allies, and spies for both sides lived and mingled. A work of nonfiction, the book at times reads like a spy novel or pulp fiction and includes plenty of glitz and glamor, as well as a history of the Hotel Ritz and some of its famous occupants and regulars, going back to its opening in 1898.

The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince by Jane Ridley. Nonfiction. One of the best biographies I've read -- extremely well researched and very well written. Ridley gives readers a full-blown portrait of Edward VII, aka Albert Edward or Bertie, from his boyhood to his coronation and death, uncovering many previously unknown or forgotten facts about not only Edward but about his role in governing England and the political conflicts of the time (mid to late 1800s through the early 1900s). She also gives us a glimpse into the life of Queen Victoria, his mother, a horrible sounding woman and mother, and her family, and Bertie's wife, Princess Alexandra of Denmark. A fascinating read. Highly recommend, especially if you are an Anglophile.

Save the Deli: In Search of the Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen by David Sax.Warning: Do not read this book unless you have on hand a really good pastrami, or corned beef, or turkey sandwich, on rye bread, with a side of coleslaw. Which, considering there are no great delis anymore, or very few, will be tough to find. So prepare to be hungry.

Save the Deli in short is a love letter to that temple of smoked or cured meats and schmaltz that Jews (and non-Jews) have flocked to for centuries. Sax, a Canadian, spent several years traveling the United States, Canada, and Europe in search of the last remaining delis, sampling their wares and writing about what made them great (both the food and the people) and why so many once great delis -- institutions -- closed (mainly in New York, because the rent is so high) and why and how they have managed to survive in other places (namely Los Angeles).

The Heist by Daniel Silva. Mystery/Espionage. This was my first Daniel Silva Gabriel Allon spy novel, and even though it is the 14th book in the series, The Heist stands on its own merits, and Silva does an excellent job of making new readers to the series not feel like they've missed something.

Taking you on an adventure around Europe, The Heist opens in Venice, where we find Silva's protagonist, Gabriel Allon, an Israeli art restorer and spy, restoring  an altarpiece by Veronese. However, when a former (fallen) English spy, known to deal in stolen artwork, is found brutally murdered in his Lake Como villa by a London art dealer friend of Allon's, and word on the street is that the deceased may have been hiding or trafficking a famous missing masterpiece by Caravaggio, Allon is forced out of semi-retirement and sets off to find the Caravaggio and the killer(s).

Lovers of spy novels and books about art heists, especially ones set in exotic locales, should greatly enjoy The Heist. I did.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. This may have been my favorite book of 2014. Very funny. Reminded me of The Big Bang Theory, in a good way, as the main character in The Rosie Project, Don, like Sheldon, is a scientist, who is "socially challenged" (i.e., has Asperger Syndrome or similar). Though in this case it is the Sheldon character, who is good looking and into cooking not comic books, who falls for the Penny character, Rosie, who is a sexy bartender (similar to Penny), though also very intelligent. Got it?

Okay, for those who have no idea what I'm talking about, The Rosie Project is a romantic comedy about a health-obsessed Australian geneticist with Asperger's who creates a compatibility test for finding the perfect mate and winds up falling for a sexy bartender who smokes. (Just trust me and pick it up. You won't be sorry.)

Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind by Alex Stone. Fun, fast-paced read/memoir about a young man's love of (or really obsession with) magic. Very entertaining and informative (though I may never play poker or black jack again).

So what were some of your favorite, or most memorable, books that you read in 2014? Let me, and everyone else know, via a Comment.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Politically correct Christmas* carols

*I mean Holiday

Imagine that all the beloved Christmas songs we knew and sang (most of which were written by Jews) had to be politically correct, i.e., racially sensitive, or non-discriminatory.

Well, you no longer have to imagine, thanks to Paint!

Presenting "Progressive Christmas Carols":

Wishing everyone a merry ChanuMasZaa... and a Happy New Year. (It's still okay to say "Happy New Year," right?)