Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Best Actor Race Heats Up

What in the world is a discerning Oscar follower to do? Hot on the heels of my raves over George Clooney in Up in the Air, and Colin Firth in A Single Man, the decision as to who should walk away with the Best Actor trophy in March just became a whole lot more difficult. Jeff Bridges gives new meaning to the pat phrase, "the role he was born to play" with an unbelievable turn as "Bad" Blake in the amazing film Crazy Heart.

I was a huge Jeff Bridges fan growing up. My sister and I probably watched Starman (another Best Actor nominated performance) a hundred times as little girls. Of course, The Fabulous Baker Boys was another favorite. But in recent years, Bridges has slowed down his filmmaking pace, much the loss of a new generation of moviegoers who may not be familiar with any of his work.

That should change with the growing word of mouth and critical success of Crazy Heart. Now mind you, I am no great fan of red states and the stereotypical musical and lifestyle tastes they embody. But this film is not at all political. Instead, it is an authentic, naked portrayal of a genius on the decline, as he fights to make his way back to the top. Featuring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Colin Ferrell (a revelation in his own right) in supporting roles, my only regret about the film is that Academy Award buzz swirls solely around Bridges. As you may be aware, Oscar voters are selecting ten films, rather than the usual five, for the Best Picture contest this year. Crazy Heart is easily one of the top films, so I am hoping for a surprise when announcements are read this week.

At the recommendation of one of our loyal blog followers, Sanjiv, I am definitely going to make it a point to watch 500 Days of Summer before finally declaring my own choice for the best film of 2009. Right now, I am simply high on the availability of so much great art at the multiplex.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

State of the Union

I listened to every moment of the President's address before the joint houses of Congress (and a very dour and censured looking Supreme Court) last night. In many respects, I thought Obama did a great job. He said a lot of tough things that needed to be said, that most of us are aware of, but rarely hear come from the mouths of our elected leaders. Such as the fact that he has increased deficit spending in the last year, but felt that given the choice of two evils: letting America go belly up or adding to our long term monetary problems, he had no option but to go with the latter. He also reminded us, as God I have wanted Obama to do so many times in recent months, that a great reason everyone is so panicked about the deficit is because of the fine legacy of fiscal "conservative" George W. Bush.

In general, I thought our President came off as committed and firm, aware of his mistakes, but ready to get out there and keep trying, because damn it that's what we elected him to do and America has some serious problems that need fixing.

As one of my young co-workers eloquently stated over happy hour beers last evening, "I don't trust government, but I do trust Obama." I think that about sums it up for me too, so while I felt somewhat re-energized after the President's address, I felt the keen sense that his commitment to change is only as good as the worthless Congress whose help he requires to get things done. I am as liberal as they come, but I would be remiss here if I lay the blame solely at the feet of the minority Republican coalitions in the House and Senate.

In fact, the ironic feature of Obama's address last night was that we could not, for one visual moment, get away from the symbol of Democratic incompetence and arrogant gamesmanship - that would be House Leader Nancy Pelosi. This woman is as guilty of anyone else on the Hill of misleading, disappointing and delaying the life improvement of so many Americans. As much as I wanted to let go and get into the rhythm of the diverse messages the President was disseminating (are we REALLY near the end of the hateful "Don't Ask, Don't Tell?"), it was hard to do with the constant presence of the elected official who failed to pass anything of strength or importance in the House this last year, despite the benefit of an overwhelming majority.

In fact I found that I was more attuned to the resurgence of hope that Obama was trying to engender when I left the room to fold my laundry and ready my things for the next work day. Eddie always watches the TV at top volume, a habit that normally irritates the beejesus out of me. However, on this occasion, Eddie's hearing loss enabled me to take most of it in from the opposite side of the house, free of Nancy's mystifyingly smug and empowered visage.

Joe Biden is pretty useless too. His penchant for foot in mouth PR gaffes has relegated him to status as the 21st century's answer to Dan Quayle. However, it is his very lack of being able to affect anything that renders his image benign. Let him stand behind Obama and smile like the Ed McMahon to his Johnny Carson. But for the next State of the Union, can we find another seat for Pelosi?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

2010 Shamrock Shuffle

This was the scene at last year's 2009 Chicago Shamrock Shuffle. My best friend Gary entered the race and reported that his feet were so wet by the end of the 8k (roughly 5 miles), he felt like he was trying to run with bricks on his feet.

God help me if Mother Nature isn't a little kinder this round. Because I hate winter, I kind of hate running, and yet I felt it necessary to throw my hat in the ring for the first Shamrock Shuffle of the new decade. I am an official entrant, as of yesterday afternoon, and there's no turning back now.

When using the treadmill, my biggest accomplishment to this point is a four mile walk/run hybrid where I pump it for six minutes and then sort of speed walk for two minutes. Rinse and repeat. In other words, I am no great, driven long distance runner. Therefore, running five continuous miles away from my usual idle pace is going to be a challenge.

The one thing I have going for me as I begin two months of preparatory training is my competitive nature (just ask my friends Timbo and Di about the level of "in your face!" obnoxiousness I displayed last Tuesday when we won an evening of bar trivia at O'Shaughnessey's). I also loathe humiliating myself with demonstrations of mediocrity. I do not enter into contests unless I have a decent hope, and certain intention, of finishing in the top 10%. The knowledge of these relentless character traits staves off a bit of the "Oh shit. What have I gotten myself into?"

But still, this old girl is once again trying something new and that's always a little scary. The race is Sunday, March 21st. Join me in praying that on that day, I run with more grace than I walk.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

So Long For Now Coco

I watched every last moment of Conan O'Brien's finale on NBC's The Tonight Show . Hilarious, intelligent, weird and completely human, the last show of O'Brien's brief stint at the helm of the late night stalwart was the very essence of the host himself. The program was so unexpectedly joyous, and yet it was hard not to seethe with indignation at the knowledge of what NBC let get away. For the return of Jay Leno.

Conan is so in touch with his fan base, and is wizened enough to know that a legion of Coco followers felt very disillusioned by the unabashed, out of touch corporate politics that have now deprived them of the opportunity to laugh at the tall, funny looking pale looking pale guy. For the first time in 17 years, there will be a marked decline in humorous oddity on late night television. It makes one angry, particularly in a time when we may not be able to find much to laugh about on our own.

There were so many great moments involved in O'Brien's Tonight Show swan song. How nice it was to be reminded that Tom Hanks got his start in Hollywood as a damned funny guy. But the best, was of course, for last: a brief, emotional and achingly gracious speech from the host, aimed at everyone from his cast and crew, to his loyal fans, to an unbelievably mature expression of gratitude to NBC for a long and fruitful career - the very network that he has now left.

In case you haven't had the opportunity to witness the moment I am referring to, I encourage you to click the following link:

It's not often I am inspired by the words of a television personality, but in a world of self-entitlement, bitterness and huge egos, this was a gorgeous parting gift.

Conan is legally obligated to remain off the airwaves until September. I can't wait to see he does next, and my guess is that a lot of America is with me.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

In Dreams

Whenever I have trouble sleeping, which is somewhat often I'm afraid, and more and more in the last two to three years, I have a number of recurring dreams that occur in the lighter stages of fitful rest. While I can't exactly call them "nightmares," they are weird and disturbing, leaving me with a sense of unrested dread when I set about my morning routines.

I took a fall on the job Monday, while walking the terrain of the lovely Beverly neighborhood. This rather mundane trip on broken sidewalk led to a rather unusually severe injury to the right hand. I will spare everyone the gory details, but recovery has been slow and the wound's discomfort has ratcheted up the insomnia. In the early morning hours, as I dozed slightly, two of my subconscious "greatest hits" made an appearance in my dreamscape. However, this time around I received a unique 2-for-1 bargain as they both appeared in the context of the same visual story arc.

I am going to some sort of high school reunion retreat. The class of 1996 is on campus, but in my dream, campus is a lakeside, rural, grassy institution that reminds me of photos of Ireland I have seen in coffee table books. Now bear in mind, I went to Lincoln Park High School in the City. The corner of Halsted and Armitage is no pastoral vision.

But the beauty of the campus belies the furtive anxiousness with which I arrive at the reunion. I am afraid my secret will be exposed. Somehow in the last semester of my senior year back in 1996, I forgot to attend a morning math class each and every day. My failure to show up resulted in my failing the course. However the school's bureaucracy somehow missed this and I was allowed to graduate with the rest of my class. I have since gone on to earn a BA as as well as a Master's in English, but if my faulty high school graduation is uncovered, the rest of my adult life tumbles like a flimsy house of cards.

Let's be clear: this never happened. As a matter of fact, I ended my high school career on a high note, with excellent grades, a steady boyfriend and a couple of merit grants to the U. of I. So what is this about? I cannot tell you how many times I have seen variations of this dream play out as I sleep, particularly in the last calendar year.

But that's not all. Last night's acid trip also included another variable that has been popping up more and more often in my subconscious: monstrous and threatening or faulty carnival rides. I have already mentioned that this reunion took place along a rural lakefront. Well this space contained a dilapidated amusement park of sorts along the banks, including 5 or 6 of the most towering and unsafe attractions that can be conjured. Somehow it was implied that I had to board these things at some point, but I didn't even want to stand near them. I love thrills, I love Great America. Again, what is this about?

I have Googled a number of dream websites in a quest for answers, but can't find any information that specifically addresses these scenarios. There is of course the obvious possibility that I am a nutcase, but I like to flatter myself things could be more complicated than that.

Any amateur dream analyzers out there in the blogosphere?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

See this Movie Immediately!

Bar none, best film of 2009, and not only because it is so "now" tapping into the modern scene of mass corporate layoffs and the soulless road warriors who hand them out. The movie is really that simple, and yet oh so much more. George Clooney, who never fails to be both hunky and and an amazing actor, is truly a revelation in this film.

I have yet to see Crazy Heart but hear Jeff Bridges presents a formidable challenge to Clooney for the Best Actor Oscar. I am going to make it a point to check that movie out next week so I can make a truly informed decision. But George is going to be tough to beat. I should also mention that I like Colin Firth in A Single Man as a possible dark horse spoiler.

But I digress. See Up in the Air. I realize America is enamored with Avatar at the moment (blah!) and doesn't seem to have an appetite for much else. But I urge you to forget the blue people and check out this film: no special effects, no suspension of disbelief, no cliche happy endings. Just good old fashioned movie making. A beautiful, gorgeous piece of modern art.

Monday, January 18, 2010

I, lover of all things sensational/Hollywood/trashy, even have my limits. It seems like the same ol' sh!t keeps getting recycled throughout the entertainment shows, blogs and websites and I JUST CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE!!!

Following is the list of items I never wish to hear about ever again:

  • Tiger Woods not being able to keep his thing in his pants

  • The whereabouts of Tiger Woods

  • the whole NBC/Conan/Jay Leno mess

  • Anything pertaining to Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag including but not limited to music "careers" plastic surgery, marriage, babies, and being "hot".

  • Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie

  • Jennifer Aniston's lack of marital status

  • John Mayer and his many conquests

  • Any member of the Cyrus family acting age-inappropriate (including Billy Ray and Tish)

  • All things related to the Jackson family or Michael Jackson's estate

Am I leaving any out? Let me know. Enough is enough already!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Team Coco!

Isn't it comforting to know, when you might be going through a period in which you can't do anything right, when everything you touch turns to shit, that you can always look around and find someone or something more lost and confused than you? That touchstone for me right now is legendary TV network NBC.

Unless you have spent the last couple weeks spelunking, you have heard about the whole mess. Last Fall, the Peacock network gave The Tonight Show to the funny, red haired one and moved the tired old man to primetime. Though I think everyone in the free world could envision that a primetime show each and every night with Jay Leno would end up destroying viewership for everything else that aired, NBC thought it knew better. It in fact went into a mode of self-congratulation for its out of the box thinking and cost cutting savvy.

Fast forward four months and NBC has a real debacle on its hand. The Jay Leno show has been mercifully cancelled. But instead of giving Big Chin his walking papers, the next bright idea was to put him on at 10:35 PM (local time) and bump Conan's program back to 11:05, which on the East Coast actually means The Tonight Show would air the next day.

Well NBC clearly didn't count on someone having the integrity to put history before their own financial gain. But this is precisely what funnyman Conan O'Brien has done. This week he issued this statement:

Huzzah! So NBC, which has done nothing but bungle this whole situation, beginning six years ago when it promised The Tonight Show to O'Brien, found itself railroaded by a man with a Harvard education. And now, Conan's people are saying that next week Friday will be his last air date - a mere 7 1/2 months after the first. On so many, many levels, what a shame.

Conan is a class act. I never liked Jay Leno on late night before, and especially after this outrage, I will never make an effort to try. As for me, and many others, it will take a long time to forgive the network. It is almost, but not quite, enough to make me stop watching Community.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Which End is Up!? Turns 1!

Exactly one year ago today, Jen of All Trades wrote the following post:

This introduction ushered in Jen's brand of uniquely relatable Everymom/Career Woman humor. The next day, she asked her frustrated writer sister, languishing at an administrative management job from hell, if she'd like to get off her duff, stop daydreaming about putting her work out there, and actually, you know, start producing.

A lot has happened since Jen published her first post. As Which End is Up?! celebrates its first birthday, let's pause and reflect on some of the changes in our own lives and the world at large:

  • America's leadership - Out with Dubya (mercifully), in with Obama

  • Inspired by the creative juices that began to flow as I wrote my own posts, I finally mustered the courage to leave corporate America and follow my dreams. In less than a year, I have published six articles for StreetWise (two of which have been nominated for awards by the Illinois Woman's Press Association), over a dozen theater and book reviews for Edge Chicago, and two well received articles for Jettison Quarterly.

  • Baby Rosebud fought, and won, her fight to get well.

  • Loved ones and great friends, both famous and not, left us.

There is so much more, but birthdays are just as much about looking forward as they are about looking back. On a personal note, I want to thank my co-blogger and sister from the bottom of my heart. Her idea for this collaboration knocked something loose inside me, something exciting and scary that I am not sure would ever have come dislodged without her kicking me in the pants. Jen is more than a sister to me - she is an inspiration on so many levels.

But we write for more than just ourselves on these pages. We want to hear from you, your impressions about the work we've done the last year. Is there something you'd like to hear us talk about? Anything we could be doing better?

Thanks for reading! Another year of blogging begins...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Please don't back that footage up! Once is enough!

The industry term for random footage used in the background to tell part of a news story is B-roll. For instance, the news anchor talks about the threat of Asian Carp while shots of lake Michigan roll across the screen. That would be "Lake Michigan B-roll". There are many different kinds of b-roll, but one in particular is actually one of my worst nightmares; "Fat booty B-roll"

We have all seen it. News anchor talks about the new ban on restaurants cooking with trans fats while the viewer is subjected to the sight of the backside of an unfortunate individual whose butt, thighs, hips and legs seem to be one gelatinous blob. The woman who chose to wear leggings that revealed a pool of cottage cheese and other lumps and bumps. The man at the fast food counter who turns to leave with his tray that must be held straight out in front of him to avoid colliding with his massive stomach. Thankfully, they never show the faces of these people. That would be just cruel. But can you imagine sitting at home watching the news going "Hey, I have those pants! Wait a minute, I have that shirt too. Oh. My. God"

It makes me wonder, too, about the conversation between cameraman and producer while out in the field trying to capture said "fat booty B-roll". Does the producer actually get giddy and shout "Look Frank! There's one over there! The one in the XXXXL orange drape on who can't fit into the car". Do they have to stealthily navigate Michigan Avenue capturing every thigh that rubs together without being noticed? I mean really, how does this cruel procedure go down?

While I am not presently a candidate for this type of recording, the thought that I could one day spot my outfit on the nightly news is a recurring nightmare of mine. And I don't just worry about myself. If I saw a friend, family member, or co-worker I would be equally embarrassed. Okay maybe not family member since I don't like most of them anyway. But oh the horror if it was someone I cared about! People find motivation to stay in shape for many different reasons. Me, I would rather be on the news for committing a heinous crime than for my cottage cheese butt. Treadmill, here I come!

With Democratic Friends Like These, Our President Needs No Enemies...

Blagojevich: "I'm blacker than Obama"
Former governor, in a somewhat bizarre interview, goes off

Reid's Obama comments could worsen Democrats' woes

Sigh. What the hell is going on here? Where is this crap coming from and why now, all of the sudden, from Obama's own party? It's like the Democrats have a death wish regarding the 2010 mid-term elections.

This makes me so apoplectic, I don't even have words to form an argument. I am just disgusted.


Sunday, January 10, 2010


The photo above was taken yesterday afternoon when Jen dropped KK off at my apartment for one of her periodic overnight visits. This time out, the aunty/niece agenda included a three course meal at the Olive Garden (beloved by both KK and I), then a trip to the bowling alley for two games of cosmic bowl, with a splash of air hockey and Dance, Dance Revolution. I was ready for bed at 10:30 PM.

Anywhoo, those who are familiar with my face may notice a distinct difference upon viewing the snapshot. That is right - after 25 years of fleeing from cameras, scowling at people and covering my mouth when I spoke in public, I am free at last. No more snaggle teeth, and no more braces!

22 months of orthodontic treatment have taken me to a moment in time I could only fantasize about in my teens and 20s, a world where I can laugh at a joke without panicking that if I open my mouth too wide, I will disgust people (including myself). I cannot overstate what a source of shame, ridicule and sadness my crooked teeth have been to me for about as long as I can remember - the result of a first grade radiator face plant. But rather than dwell on unpleasantness, I would rather mention the tears of elation I shed on Friday morning in Dr. Colleen's chair, my orthodontist, as she debuted the new Me to the most disbelieving of audiences - myself.

I really feel like a different woman now. It may sound shallow or vain, but the removal of my braces is truly one of the happiest events in my entire life, not withstanding the births of Jen's girls and a few other milestones. This moment however, unlike a birth or wedding, is just for me, the first instance I can recall since six years of age when I can gaze in the mirror and genuinely appreciate the person looking back at me. Self-love has never been easy, and when it has come, I have only ever been able to recognize my inner worth. Outwardly? Well, the same way that Jen labeled me the "smart one" on Day 1 of this blog (which is a misleading label as my sister is clearly up there with the brightest), I was accustomed to idolizing her as the "pretty one." I probably always will, as Jen is one mad hot MILF, but at long last I can allow that maybe, just maybe, I am not too shabby looking myself.

That's huge. It's impossible for anyone, even those who love me the most, to fully grasp just how big. I feel I have been let out of prison: the real, beautiful, confident and fabulous me locked away, for years, in an ivory tower of embarassing chompers. If I can overcome 25 years of shame by giving myself the keys to a vast self-esteem improvement, there's probably nothing I can't do. In my own socially responsible way, that makes me dangerous. I may even learn to smile.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Four Studying Days Left

I received an early morning text message yesterday from my good friend Timbo. It read: "So who are you voting for?" I felt that familiar old panic.

Because you see, good citizens of Illinois, I somehow fell asleep at the wheel again and neglected to realize the 2010 primaries were upon us. Timbo remembered that I had taken a vow in late 2008, after the whole Blago/Roland Burris dustup, never to cast an ignorant local vote again. For I must sadly own, my friends, I voted for deposed Governor Blagojevich, not once, but TWICE. I pay lavish attention to national elections, for years sometimes prior to the first vote being cast. But when it comes to my own backyard, I fall behind on who is in play and what they stand for. Why? Is this because Illinois elections are not covered on CNN or in the pages of the New York Times?

Be that as it may, there is no excuse for my lack of attention. There are so many critical issues and bureaucratic messes confronting the City, County and State. But it is not too late! With a little over four days left to cram and make decisions on who to throw support behind, I have found this handy tool an asset:

It gives a pretty great summary of each open office, with links for additional information on the individual candidates. How did I not know we were operating without a Lieutenant Governor? For shame.

About the only vote I am sure of right now is that of the Democratic primary for Governor. I am likely to give Pat Quinn another chance. He has done the best he can with a very bad economic and PR situation post-Blago, and has managed to keep his nose reasonably clean in the process. After that I am not too sure. But I put you on notice Timbo: I will not go the ballot box unprepared this coming Tuesday.

Have you decided who should take the State of Illinois into the next decade?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

CNN Tidbits

Those who know me best are aware that I readily own up to my addictions: one of which is this venerable cable news stalwart. I think my problem dates back to the 2004 Kerry/Bush election, but it took on the hallmarks of a full blown habit early in 2007 with the Democratic primaries. I got WAY into CNN during the 2008 election coverage, and somehow never left after Obama's victory over McCain.

The anchors and pundits of CNN both fill my heart with joy, and alternately repulse me, like any good family members ought. Weekend staff members Don Lemon and Fredricka Whitfield are young, pretty and nonthreatening, same for Erica Hill, AC360's regular guest host. Lou Dobbs, before his recent departure, was the cranky old backward uncle I loved to argue with. Campbell Brown possesses just enough "red" leanings in her to prevent accusations of network liberalism. Then of course you have Wolf, AC, Christiane Amanpour, Sanjay Gupta and Fareed Zakaria - the channel's All-Stars.

I mention all of this by way of acknowledgement that very few people besides myself may find interest in the latest news of which the channel is an agent, rather than a conduit. Be that as it may:

1. Kathy Griffin banned from CNN after F-bomb drop on New Year's Eve

It is hard to find any synpathy for CNN here. You take a notoriously ribald comedienne, put her in the Big Apple live on New Year's Eve, and you expect what, her and AC to share recipes with viewers? Of course she said something off color. This is a woman who famously stated, upon winning an Emmy, "I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus. Suck it, Jesus, this award is my god now!"

Personally, I enjoyed Griffin and Cooper the last two New Years. If I want boring and predictable, I can always switch over to Seacrest. I hope CNN gets its underwear out of a bunch and rethinks the decision.

2. Lou Dobbs Launches Members-Only Web Site

Why would I pay my hard earned dollars to read shit I didn't want to hear when it was free? And I hear he may also run for Congress in New Jersey. That lucky Garden State.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Lovie Shuffle

I would like to formally congratulate the Bears on the official end to a mediocre, 7-9 season. Sadly, we Chicagoans are used to the Bears routine suckiness (and that trip to the Super Bowl in February 2007 was just a lovely fluke). But what makes the repeat of last year's dismal record sting a bit more is the dumping of "Sexy Rexy" Grossman for the much more expensive (fiscally and in terms of future prospects) Jay "Multimillion Dollar Baby" Cutler. Such high hopes. So many interceptions.

Clearly Da Bears had problems above and beyond the undependable arm of our man Jay. Can we get a defense before next Fall? Perhaps show Lovie the door? What is with Bears fans and our irrational attachment to our coaches?

At the very least, the Bears went out somewhat nobly in the remaining two games of this often humiliating season. Granted the final quarter of today's contest was a little bit more stressful than it ought to have been, given that we were playing Detroit. But last week's "W" against Favre and the Vikings brought a genuine sheen to my eyes. Maybe there is hope for next year? Hey - I am a Chicago sports fan. What else do we have to keep us warm in these winter months if not eternal optimism?

That reminds me. The Cubs are three months away...