The Apartment, #80 on AFI’s List

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: AFI's Top 100 Movies

The Apartment, 1960

Director: Billy Wilder

Writers: Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond

Starring: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Fred MacMurray

Jack Lemmon plays C.C. Baxter, one worker in thousands at an insurance company trying to work his way up the ladder. Shirley MacLaine plays Fran Kubelik the elevator operator. Knowing this movie was filmed over fifty years ago, I was still mesmerized by the youth and beauty of both MacLaine and Lemmon. But more importantly, their acting chops are just as strong as they are in later movies, and both actors utterly compelling in their performances.

He’s a really nice guy, but besides being a highly efficient and responsible employee, he’s trying to achieve executive status by lending out his apartment to executives in his office for their extra marital affairs. He finds himself in various difficult situations because of it.

There are some differences in some social aspects, not surprisingly, from current day morals. One is that when Baxter is asking Kubelik out on a date, he tells her he knows everything about her because he looked up her personal information in the insurance files. He knew her address, birthday, social security number. She thought it was funny. We thought he was a stalker.

The other was that when a married executive fires an ex-lover because she told his current lover about their relationship. He was very frank about why he was firing her and had no fear of legal retribution. She did get even, but not by pursuing sexual harassment or appealing the job loss.

The movie suddenly takes a serious turn and is absolutely mesmerizing. I absolutely loved the ending, when it seemed that we were going to get a cliche ending and didn’t with my favorite response EVAR to a character being told “I love you.”

Fran simply says, “Shut up and deal,” while playing a card game with Baxter when he confesses his love for her.

It’s a completely charming film with a blunt view of affairs, sexuality and the appetites of powerful men taking full advantage of their place in life. I am sad that the vast majority of women in the film seem to be drunken bimbos, other than the absolutely charming balance of goodness of MacLaine’s Fran and the apartment’s neighbor-wife. There was not a lot of depth given to either, and all the female characters fulfilled a cliche, but for its time that is not a surprise.

While no where near my favorite movie on the list, it’s solidly in the middle and I enjoyed it immensely.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2 (No Spoilers)

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Dizzy, Family, Mom, Movies, Our Kids

I will touch only lightly on the movie itself, as it just opened today and don’t want to spoil anyone else’s experience.

It was everything I hoped for, and save for a nitpick by my niece afterward that I agree with, it was perfection. We saw it in 3-D, even though I knew it would likely bring on the spins. I was, but it was worth it. Chooch said he didn’t feel 3-D added much, and maybe it’s my condition, but I noticed constant use of it to more fully immerse the viewers in the story. In hindsight, he thought maybe that’s the difference between good and bad 3-D, it’s not in your face, so to speak, like (my example) the old SCTV “3D House of Pancakes” skit. It was subtle and masterfully done in my opinion. Yes, I was extremely dizzy afterward, with nausea and a returning migraine. But I’m glad we sprang for it. It may be the last time I’ll have the chance to see Harry in 3D on the big screen, after all.

Watching the actors grow and develop their skills along with these beloved characters over the eight movies depicting this beautifully written but very dark children’s series has been bittersweet. I was amazed at the acting chops they demonstrated, and in fact the entire cast truly brought their A-game. I hope to see it again before it leaves the theaters, at least one more time, so I can more fully enjoy each and every nuance.

I will say this is not a film for young children or those with sensitive dispositions. As in the books, terrible things happen. I won’t go into it, but will instead point you to a SPOILER FILLED review written by my favorite kid review site, Kids In Mind. The site offers reviews based on a numerical score for nudity, violence/gore, and profanity. It then lists every scene in which each of these occur with description. I’ve used it for years, and have never found error with their reviews. In a quick reading of the Deathly Hallows 2 review, I find the descriptions to be wholly accurate. I highly recommend that you spoil yourself, if you are considering taking young ones to see it. There are things that can be unseen, and if you’ve not read the books you owe it to your kid(s) to know what they’ll be seeing to make an informed decision on their behalf. /steps off soapbox/

Now for the real reason for the post, to describe the journey. Christmas of 1999, my son Naughty Bear was given the book series (up to that point , 3 books) by both grandmothers, and the first book by an aunt. We’d not heard of the series, but all three of these wonderful women sensed that NB would love it. We split the difference, keeping one book from each of the sets given. He tried reading it, but at 8 couldn’t really sink his teeth into it. That spring, his dad left me and the boys and I moved in with my parents as I was an unemployed, stay-home Mom of two. While trying to find our way in our new life, we reached for J.K. Rowling’s magical world. Instead of him reading the books alone, I read the Sorcerer’s Stone aloud to him. LT was 4 and had little to no interest other than being in the room with us and sharing this special time, and played around us or snuggled with us as his mood warranted.

We enjoyed the book, but we were hooked when Fred and George entered the story. The light-hearted shenanigans they brought to the story where the turning point for NB, and we then read with gusto as quickly as I could. I then read the next book to him, and when my voice would give out he would read sections aloud to me. This was how we finished the books available to that point, and eagerly awaited book 4. We were transfixed by this world, full of loss, new friendships and the transformative new life little Harry found.

That Halloween, my Mom hosted a Harry Potter Halloween party for the family and close friends. My dad set out the Christmas light reindeer made to look like a unicorn with a pool of blue lights at its feet as if it were in front of a lake, taking a drink. My former sister-in-law and family friend made an ornate cardboard front for the door, making it look like stonework with a Hogwart’s shield on it. We set up a wand making station, and held a scavenger hunt for the Goblet of Fire that nearly ended in disaster as the kids thought one of the clues led to my Mom’s actual cat. We served theme foods (Mad Eye Moody deviled eggs comes to mind) and had Jelly Bellies since Bernie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans were not yet available. Everyone came in costume, even the 3 month old baby in the sorting hat costume made by his mom. My Mother went as Madame Pomfrey and handed out chocolate coins to the children all night for their “restorative powers.” It was an amazing night, that I think shows a small amount of the way that my family embraced that world.

When the movies started coming out, for the first few I played hooky with Mark and my folks to go see them on opening day. Yep, if his grades were good, and they always were, I pulled him out of school to go to the movies. Judge me all you like, it was one of the few irresponsible choices I made, and I stand by them to this day.

So when this one came out, and my boys are actually here to see it with me (Thank God for the timing), we turned it into a big family event. We met at my brother’s house at 11 pm, as it’s 4 minutes from the theater. Chaos ensued, as it always does with us, and we headed off to the theater at 11:15. By the time we got there, we couldn’t get seats together. I expected that we wouldn’t all 9 have seats together, but I had expected to sit together in small groups. Nope. We had to settle for solo viewings, save LT and his cousin, who I was able to finally get seated together. It was highly stressful as they either over sold, or more likely, had people sneak in from other theaters. I finally managed to get everyone a seat, then almost lost mine as I ran to get drinks before the movie started. Luckily, my seat was next to an adorable couple, aged around 16 years old. They had wands and great excitement, and he saw what I was dealing with and guarded my seat with vigor, as did Chooch who was seated behind me.

Side note: The trailer for The Dark Knight actually has me wanting to see it now. The snippet with Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) sold me completely. That man remains one of my favorite actors. The Sherlock Holmes trailer resulted in “meh,” but the trailer for John Carter looked pretty cool. The Twilight trailer for the upcoming movie, brought immediate booing and laughter at the dramatic scenes. Apparently, Bella and Edward are fairly despised, but Jacob is adored. The only cheering that happened was when he was shown, and the rest of the trailer was mocked. I was really surprised to find that there seemed to be a rivalry between the two franchises. I’ve never had interest in that series and know only what people have told me, so was shocked at the reaction. These Rowling loyalists don’t seem to dig the sparkly vampires one bit!

Once the movie started, cheering began and I saw people raise their wands at the screen in excitement. At different points during the movie, there was heartfelt cheering, uproarious laughter, total silence, gasping and a great sense of unity. At the end of the movie, some then raised their wands saying “Mischief managed.” I get goosebumps again thinking about it.

I’m extremely grateful that I did not re-read the last book as I had intended. There were things completely forgotten, and when they happened I was as shocked as if I had never read the books. It was a total and complete roller coaster ride.  I’m happy to say that my adoration of the tale was not from blind devotion, but rather true appreciation for what I find to be a rich and beautiful world filled with joy and pain, just like our own world.

As is true with the Lord of the Rings, my favorite characters are not the “heroes” of the story. Samwyse stole my heart there, and Neville Longbottom has had his name in my heart since, hm… The third book? Maybe the fourth. He, Luna and Snape are by far my favorites, although Mrs. Weaseley is right up there as well, especially after this installment.

The family gathered after the end of the movie and we excitedly shared our favorite parts and utter amazement at what an amazing experience it had been. It was bittersweet, knowing that this part of that experience is over even as I’m happy to finally have seen the final movie. As I expressed last night in Twitter, I’m very grateful that Ms. Rowling put pen to paper to such exquisite result. The impact on my life and that of my family has been huge and unexpectedly extraordinary.

Thank you, Ms. Rowling, from the bottom of my over-flowing heart containers.

Zombies, Harry Potter and Healing

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Family, Mom, No Whining, Too Long For Twitter, Uncategorized

I had previously never given zombies much thought, but recall that as a teen my friends and I watched every B-movies our tiny Texas town’s video store had. The grosser the better. Naturally, many of those had zombies of one type or another. I had certainly seen many more nasty movies in the intervening 19 years. And while I became more squeamish after my children’s separate but critical health issues, I don’t recall any zombie anxiety until Halloween of 2006.

While out shopping for Halloween costumes and decorations with the kids at a cheesily and spookily decorated party store, I realized I was shaky and freaked out by the skeletons and zombies. Although none of them resembled her, I envisioned my Mom in their place. Even worse, I was unable to stop picturing her in various stages of decomposition in her coffin, wearing the clothes she had been buried in. It was the first Halloween since her passing away, and I can assure you it freaked me right the fuck out. Happily that effect has eased immensely, mostly due to being inundated with movies, TV shows, songs, audio dramas, games and apocalypse preparedness plans. And I’ve been working hard with meditation to shut it down when it start to creep in.

But at my core, zombies still freak me out. It’s not something I like to think about, and have worked really hard not to hate those that make Zombie Jesus jokes and stuff like that. Especially those that continue to make them when they see my discomfort. But they don’t realize it’s not a religious issue for me. The Christian/Catholic in me doesn’t care. I reconciled that bit long ago. But having those images in my head? It’s why my zombie preparedness plan only has one constraint: Are our kids relying on me for survival? If yes, I’ll fight tooth, nail, blood and tears for their lives. No? Self-destruction. If my kids aren’t with us, then I want to be a goner in the first wave. I don’t want to see my loved ones like that. Yes, that’s very literal and takes the fun out of it. But that’s how my brain works. When I visualize it, it’s extremely hard to un-visualize it. This is true for all things. Chooch and I even have it as part of an “In Case I Become Undead” Pact: Zombie = bash my brains out. Vampire = join me.

But when hearing about zombies, I almost always return to  standing next to Mom’s coffin at the cemetery at her funeral.  I tried to be a solid and calming influence on all the kids, as I calmly put a rose on her coffin and gave the cold, hard wood one last touch. But on the inside, I felt like a four year old, screaming and throwing myself on the coffin and begging for Mommy to wake up. Not having to be brave or strong or a good example, and just being able to grieve and let it all out in one hysterical rush.

My family rode together to the cemetery in two limos and, to my comprehension at the time, were wanting to leave pretty quickly after the ceremony. But I had to force every step away from her. I didn’t want to leave her alone. I wanted to stay and keep her company the same way I had during her chemo treatments and for all those months in the hospital. Even when she was unconscious.

I wanted a blanket to cover her, as it was so cold that morning. I knew what she was wearing was lovely, but had no warmth. I worried about the rain and the snow, and her being left out in the elements without even an umbrella to keep her dry. Crazy, right? But I’d spent the last five months in constant care of her. I even carried her pain pills with me that morning, knowing she had no use for them but unable to leave them behind.

My whole life her feet were always ice cold, and I was suddenly mad at myself for not remembering to wrap the blanket I had been crocheting for her for months around her feet to keep them warm. I remembered too late and still have the unfinished blanket.

As we slowly walked to the cars, I remember telling Chooch how mad I was at myself, for not having anticipated the need to stay and driving separately. The family needed to leave, to be in motion, to have this part over. But I needed to stay and watch over my Mom for just a little bit longer. I curtailed my time and headed to the waiting car.

It doesn’t come as a shock to anyone who knows me that I have an undying love for my Mom. She was not perfect, and she made a lot of mistakes. I don’t see her through rose-colored glasses. But I still miss her everyday, and I don’t care one whit if anyone else thinks that it’s “unhealthy” or that I should be “over it” or that I’m “using it for sympathy.” My loss is my own, and I expect no one else to fully understand it. Not even my husband, and he knows everything about me. It’s a multi-faceted issue, one that is very private and inexplicable. I don’t see it ever completely fading away.

Today would have been Mom’s 68th birthday. I’ve been pushing it out of my mind with lots of activities and stuff going on, but now I can’t ignore it any more and the blues have arrived full force. Part of it is because of the big part that Harry Potter played in our lives. The first three books had a tremendous healing power after my divorce, and it was also a huge bonding thing for me and my boys. My oldest son, Naughty Bear was the perfect age to be spellbound by it, and we were just reminiscing about playing hooky to see the first showings on opening day for the first few movies to watch it together with my Mom and my Dad. We even had an Epic Harry Potter Halloween party. And I do mean Epic.

Chooch and I watched Harry Potter 7 tonight with LT and NB in anticipation of watching the final installment at the midnight showing on Thursday night. It pisses me off that she only got to see the first four movies, but at least she got to read all the books. Having it come out the same week as her birthday stirs up a bunch of sadness at what she’s missed in the last 5 1/2 years, but I’m working really hard to shift my attention instead to all she did experience, as well as the tremendous impact she had on the lives of her family and friends.

While DM’ing with a friend about it in Twitter, she reminded me to celebrate Mom, enjoy Harry Potter and have dessert first. That last is a tradition that had slipped my mind, based on my Mom taking LT to dinner one day and randomly deciding to have dessert before dinner. So I’m deciding on her birthday dessert in the morning.

I also want to toast Mom, but, and here’s the irony, when trying to think of a wine or liquor that she preferred, I suddenly remembered that the drink I most remember her ordering was a Zombie. She did order one or two Long Island Iced Teas in my memory, but over the years when she was in the rare mood for a drink in my presence, it was a Zombie.

Isn’t she a kick in the pants? It feels as if even now she’s pushing me to toughen up. I don’t even get to hold on to a weird weakness! So, yes. Mom. I get it. I need to do some more healing. Message received, loud and clear. The family I embrace is helping me to come to terms with a lot of things, including not having your physical presence in my life any longer.

I guess at this point I should apologize to anyone that’s bothered to read this far. I don’t have any grand closing statement or clear train of thought. I’m just clearing out the shadows in my brain and dumping ’em here for my own purposes.

So, Happy Birthday, Pocket Mom. I was damned lucky to have you as long as I did, and I know it.

Mom and Me on my wedding day, 2003

Spartacus – Number 81 on the AFI Top 100 Movies

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: AFI's Top 100 Movies, Chooch, Movies

Spartacus, 1960

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Writers: Dalton Trumbo (screenplay), Howard Fast (novel)

Stars: Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov, Tony Curtis  and Jean Simmons

Overture and opening credits: You definitely get that they were trying to imbue a sense of grandeur and majesty, which usually makes me roll my eyes. Because I know the reputation of this movie, it’s probably well-deserved, so I only half-rolled my eyes.

In this film, Spartacus is a slave and is openly rebellious, as he demonstrates by hamstringing a guard that’s beating him by cutting into the tendon with his teeth. That my friends, is what you call A Bad Ass. He’s sold to a gladiator school for training, with the intent of selling him to win or die in the arena.

He develops friendships (or tries) to, and because of his success is given a female slave to enjoy. He is struck by her beauty and fragility and gently touches her skin and hair, admitting he’d never had a woman before. He’s incredibly smitten and she appears confused at what I’m sure is a completely different meeting than she usually gets.

They are then mocked by voyeur Batiatus which enrages Spartacus, causing him to shout, “I’m not an animal!”

“Neither am I,” Varinia says quietly. This is the first hint that although she is submissive, Spartacus isn’t the only one with some rebellion in him.

The training montage was more interesting than most. How do you train men to fight to the death when you only care a little if they live or die? You have them on a training machine with huge swords attached to give greater motivation to doing well, I suppose.

Burgeoning love growing between Varinia and Spartacus is believable and touching, and how I imagine it may have been a common development in the slave communities throughout history.

As two sets of gladiators at the school are forced to fight to the death, the guard says to those in the spectator box, “Those who are about to die salute you.” I thought I misheard until I saw it repeated with the second set of gladiators.

During that fight, Draba refused to kill Spartacus and instead attacked the spectators. This was quite surprising since he had refused to exchange names or befriend the other gladiators-in-training  since they would likely face each other in battle one day. The implication was that he would kill anyone he was put in the arena with, and did not want to make friends with any of them. In hindsight, it seems that Draba was trying to steel himself to be able to kill another in battle so tried to keep a distance, which he was unable to do.

The honorable Draba’s body was hung as an example to the others, “He’ll hang there til he rots” said the head guard and all-around meanie. All the slaves hung their heads as they passed by, but this instead seemed to  haunt and motivate Spartacus, and ended up being a big fat mistake on Batiatus’ part.

Evil politician Crassus said to Antonius as he was washing his back in the giant tub, “My taste includes both snails and oysters.” Because of the conversation surrounding that statement, this was only a veiled reference since it was literally spoken behind a veil. Crassus seemed very disappointed when Antonius took that moment to escape.Confession time:
Notes were abandoned after this as I became completely caught up in the movie. Yes, this movie. I’ve dodged it for decades, and it is magnificent. Here are my thoughts after watching:

The complete and utter love and devotion that Spartacus inspired was compelling and well-deserved.

The moment when he kills Antoninus (Tony Curtis) is particularly poignant as they are forced to fight to the death knowing that that victor will be crucified. They fiercely battle to kill the other, only because each wants to save the other from the agony of dying slowly in the heat without food or water while nailed to a cross. Spartacus wins, and you can see it takes all that is left of him as he believes all the people he loves to be dead.

Happily, in a traumatizing and devastatingly bittersweet turn, in the very last scene he sees his wife Varinia after she is freed with their son. She introduces him, and then begs him to let himself die. *ouch*

I remain glad that I avoided this movie until now, as I don’t know that I would have given it as much attention were I not convalescing from the wonderful weekend. All of the performances were perfection, I don’t have a criticism about any point in this movie.

It should also be noted that Kirk Douglas’ physique is insanely ripped in this movie. Insane!

My favorite thing about this movie is having discovered Jean Simmons. In the moment when she was reunited with Spartacus after separately freeing themselves, I found her to be exquisitely joyful and captivating. Her performance was perfection, and I am now picking through her movies and adding them to my Netflix queue. The list is long, and includes How to Make An American QuiltGuys and Dolls with Brando and Sinatra; Hamlet, when she once again teamed with Olivier; and many other movies which landed her alongside Gregory Peck, Burt Lancaster and Cary Grant.

More recently, she was on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and did voice work for  Thru the Moebius Strip, (Shepway), Howl’s Moving Castle (Grandma Sophie in the English version), and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (Council Member #2).

I couldn’t find a photo of her from Spartacus, but have included this one from 1959.

She had the kind of dark-haired ethereal beauty that I find similar to Audrey Hepburn, with a sprinkle of Vivian Leigh.
Shame on me for not having discovered her sooner. She was so very talented!

Next on the AFI list: The Apartment, also from 1960. I have faint recollections of this one, starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, so am guessing I saw all or most of it at some point.

Move Update: Nothing to Update

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Consumer Info, Friends, No Whining, Too Long For Twitter

Since our price drop a little while ago, we’ve had renewed interest in the house but still no offers. I am continually tweaking out about this, but remind myself that it’s only been on the market 2 1/2 months. While it makes me stabby, it would’ve been remarkable to have sold before now.

It seems insane that it hasn’t been longer, but when you’re doing constant scrub-downs on a house with 4 bathrooms (3 used continuously), a kitchen, 4 bedrooms (2 used continuously) and living spaces it gets exhausting really quickly. Plus, the last minute tidying every time I get notice that someone is wants to view it.

We’ve no choice on the need for the move and will keep the house on the market until it sells. Our realtor is being less communicative with us, but I’m addressing that this week.

I am glad to say that I no longer have to worry about having to move while L.T. is here, but there is potential that the house will sell and we’ll have to move over the holidays. This only stresses me minimally, as we hope to be in California over Christmas. If we can fund the trip to visit Chooch’s son and other family, it won’t be an issue if the Christmas tree is packed up with no ability to decorate.

On a related note, I’m happy to say that I have friends that either just finished or are in the process of buying new homes. It’s a wonderful, although stressful experience, and I wish all of them the best of luck. This is a much better market and I’m sure you’re getting a great deal on a great new chapter in your life. May your purchases go quickly and without drama, and let no bad happen!