Tile “M” for Worder

Tennis isn’t my game. Racquetball during my college years for sure. But, tennis? Nope.

Now, had I been born a few years earlier, courting Grace Kelly around town on my arm – even in a fantastical whimsy – would have been a possibility. She was a beautiful actress. As Margot Mary Wendice in the 1954 classic directed by Alfred Hitchcock, however, her graceful availability met its match. Tennis pro, Tony Wendice, finds out about his beaus off-court doubles action and can’t help but seek out the ultimate revenge … duh duh duuuuh!! … MURDER! Enter Charles Alexander Swann locker room left. Thus begins a tale of handbags, watches. keys, and … no perfect murder.

Alas, however, I did have the perfect word. SUMP. Tile “M”. This wasn’t a game played on a clay or grass court measuring 120×60 feet, or a mysterious game leading to an apartment full with intrigue and an executioner’s dalliance with a pretty lady. Nope. It happened in the virtual world of “Words with Friends -2” and, without dissembling a single emotion here, I was rather seven-letter overturned by the move. She stole my “M”. It was a letter already so courtly placed as the third in NEMO falling down from LANNER horizontally resting four rows from the bottom of the game board. So beautiful it was. There for the taking as I planned my move.

At once, she struck a blow. I felt trembling in my core. Unexpected, due to her prior text-babbling about “too many E’s … oh, toooo many E’s…”. In the shadow of my pride and delight, the whole virtual board seemed to be – in my mind, anyway – an open oasis for her to use. This little corner of my world – down where the “M” sat – was to be my multiple-point score … an ace she didn’t see coming. Ah, yes … the “S” to pluralize SQUAT draping down, “U”, then the magical “M”, … and “P” to finish off a 4-letter other-wordly experience she had no idea was festering in my mind.

Then. Then, “E-M-C-E-E” slapped me. She stole my “M”. Hijacked my happy little corner, she did. And I must say, …although I have no way to prove this, I believe there was a smirk about her face as she did it. Oh, for the record, I’m soooo glad she was able to use those E’s! (sarcasm, of course)

Currently, I’m losing 153-95 and not happy about it. I have 4 words against her 6 thus far with my turn in play at present. Due to my switching tiles and losing a turn, the turns are a wonky one-off at this point. There are 47 letters left in the game. Oh, boy. Fifty-eight points behind isn’t a satisfactory place to be against a player who plays well, steals my letters I don’t actually have until it’s my turn, and, admittedly, may be a slightly better tile-placer than I … “may be” until proven otherwise.

It’s just a game. I’m having fun. A moment of frustration shouldn’t ruin the fun. I am over it. I think, anyway. Looking at my current rack of letters, the next tile-ation will cause some consternation as I, now, find myself full with 5 vowels and little expectation. The 2 consonants facing back at me don’t offer much hand-holding hope, either. Seven letters of little longing at this point.

Racquetball was easier. Break a good sweat? Done. Those days are gone. Now it’s mind games more than physical exercise. Older knees know how to ruin quick, sharp turns and the high-energy, two-hour long little racquet, blue-ball chasing interludes of mine, perhaps, are over. I miss the echoes in a racquetball court. The squeak of rubber soles on the wooden floors and grunts that bounced around my youth are so missed.

Today, replaced by tiles, I guess. Oh, and other virtual games on my little hand held device. Once in a while, I pick up one of a few bowling balls in my closet and roll a few games to re-visit the 3-D world of gaming we used to live in back in the 20th century.

Games. We can’t forget how to play. Even the ones frustrating us at times, we can’t lose sight of the fun. I’m 95% sure the loss of the “M” yesterday is in my rearview mirror as I move forward with the current game. The remaining 5% is yet to be determined depending upon the remaining 47 letters in the queue. I will conquer the board, but may not win. The virtual quandary will be my inability to dump the board if – and when – I eventually lose.

No problem finishing a tennis match, however, because I won’t be playing one … virtual or otherwise. Wii won’t be doing it together, my virtual “Words with Friends-2” partner and I, since she can’t EMCEE the match and play at the same time. That in mind, I’ll sit with these ridiculous 7 letters in my rack trying to come up with my own version of, “Where on the board is SHE thinking of playing so I can hijack her ‘M’?”…

Grace? I have none at this point and most likely wouldn’t have her on my arm 67 years ago. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to plot my next move. Five vowels and two consonants … I believe I may be in trouble here. Calling the spirit of Mr. Hitchcock. I see another movie in the making …

Sensational Swashbuckling, 2021

2020 was not, for sure. 1954 – the backdrop year of this surprisingly wonderful film – was for a few characters … especially Bengy Stone, who was assigned the unenviable task of looking after swashbuckling matinee idol Alan Swann. Thirty-six years removed from the previous pandemic (in movie time) and directed by Richard Benjamin thirty-nine years behind this current masking society (in real time), “My Favorite Year” is close to my favorite slice of time so far in 2021.

I first met Richard Benjamin during a Tonight Show re-run a few nights ago. He was, in a word, delightful. His appearance came a few months prior to the release of this film, of course … as all appearances by actors and directors dutifully promoting their wares – sitting to the right of the King of Late Night – did at the time. One mention of Peter O’Toole is all it took for me to begin Netflixing my way through movie queues soon thereafter. A few dollars later, there it was. A movie, previously unknown to me, now beginning as a young Mark Linn-Baker carries a cardboard cutout of Alan Swann through the heavy pedestrian traffic of NYC toward 30 Rockefeller Center. A New York City full of life, energy, and humor.

Bengy is who you would expect him to be – a young, energetic fellow who has quirky, humble comedic tilts in his personality. As a writer among others supporting a one hour t.v. Comedy Hour, he’s under pressure to be funny, yet sympathetic to the bigger egos in the room. None bigger than the soon to be inserted Mr. Swann who, we are quick to learn, has a leaning toward wine and women, – both of which cause highly predictable delays in morning arrivals. This being the case, Bengy volunteers to be a swashbuckler’s man-nanny for the week, guaranteeing safe travels within the city and promptness at all rehearsals.

As with all movies that keep our attention and are entertaining, there are sub-plots and curves here. A small romance, a mafia tie-in that culminates in a “hit” at the end, and charming individual character flaws all come together to make this movie really fun to watch.

Obviously, I’m not a professional movie reviewer. I wouldn’t even qualify to carry the briefcases of Siskel & Ebert from their limo to the Oscars if they were alive today. How to accurately convey the pleasure I got out of watching a thirty-nine year old movie without giving away most of the surprise? I don’t know. Peter O’Toole was wonderful. The story wasn’t campy or overplayed by anyone. The premise wasn’t too far reaching … it could actually be true and believable should an actor relay such a story in an autobiography.

What I kept thinking after the movie credits was: How ironic the title.

Nine days into 2021, and I’ll go back to my first line … 2020 was not, for sure. Maybe I simply needed a 1 1/2 hour hero to jump out of the screen and save me from the bad news of last year. A surprise visitor. Someone different with a message I hadn’t heard in a while – even if it was a fantasy. A swashbuckler slaying all the badness one by one.

I related so well to Bengy. Maybe that’s it. Trying to get through with a bit of quirkiness, dealing with egos much greater than I … making it work, somehow.

That’s what most of us are doing. We don’t have a say beyond our own words. Too many have platforms and audiences greater than ours … probably.

I can’t say 1954 was my favorite. Pre-birth years don’t qualify. Now, 1982 does have significance – it set me on my life’s journey after high school. Not my favorite, though. Up to now, I don’t have one, really. Should I?

Should you? When Norman Steinberg and Dennis Palumbo wrote the story for My Favorite Year, I wonder if 1954 was theirs? Marilyn Monroe married Joe DiMaggio, the Oscar Mayer hotdog car was patented, and Rock Around the Clock was recorded by Bill Haley and the Comets that same year. If you were to write a movie, what year would you pick?

Tell you what year I wouldn’t pick. 2020. Unless the horror genre is your thing, I wouldn’t recommend it for you either. The only advice I will give you is: find a few moments aside to watch this movie. Yes, it’s 39 years old. Sure, there are better “made” movies that will sparkle your special-effects fantasies. However, for a refreshing start to your 2021, sit back and go back sixty-seven years to a NYC full of life, liberty, happiness, joy, …. and most of all – humanity.

As Siskel & Ebert would lovingly say, “See you at the movies!”

Man Meets Woman Part 2

Yesterday I wrote, tongue-in-cheek, a blog regarding the plot lines, ins-and-outs, wardrobes, and all there is’s with ROM-COMs as I see them. A lighter, more comedic approach to the genre. My frustration wasn’t with the movies themselves … it was (and is) with my inability to stay away from watching them. Writing about the inherent, obvious, predictable ebbs and flows gives me a tether – a stability in the midst of my temporary insanity. Bear with me as I attempt to loosen the bonds of frame by frame subjugation in which I find myself.

Keeping that in mind, I present the movie above. This 2011 romantic comedy has a personal connection. The director, Jim Fall, is a family friend. He is a graduate of my high school – only a year or so ahead of me – and was active in a lot of the music groups available to the student body. His interest, primary, was choral. Mine – instrumental, but we knew each other in passing.

A quick Wikipedia read has movie bio credits from 1999 through 2018 with “The Lizzie McGuire Movie” and “Trick 2” being two feature films of note listed in the Filmography among eight others. I encourage you to read his complete bio.

Jim does a marvelous job directing the film. My reflections below are just that … MINE. I have no doubt he would join me in understanding my frustrations are not about his work, or, the work of the actors, script writers, or crew. The story is wonderful. I am a slave to these. Period.

The movie to which I refer above, has the main character, Hillary, in a pickle. (If you are going to watch the movie, stop here…..) I’ll wait.

Waiting.

Ok. She finds herself alone after her jerk of a fiance dumps her kinda-because …. well, he’s a bald-spot on his chin shadow at 2pm lawyer who can’t stay off his phone long enough to have a civil conversation with her. Oh, and he wants her to move to Pittsburgh AFTER he earns a promotion at work (i.e. makes partner because there’s nobody – NOBODY – there who deserves it more). She doesn’t -er, hesititates ever so slightly – so, he kicks her to the curb while they’re walking next to the curb. She cries. He’s not seen again for a long, long time.

Hillary is helped along by a bestie who encourages her to get out there … ya know, put up a video on a dating site. Aha!! … Here’s a twist!. She happens to win a trip for two to Mexico …SO why not offer up those tickets to any guy willing to pretend to be her fiance at the Thanksgiving dinner at her folks home (who don’t know the fiance is no-go-guy)? See, there’s pressure at the ole’ home to marry and Hillary feels it … bad. Family ‘don’t know bad-breakup boy “Jason”, so the ruse is on. Take fake fiance and pass him off as Jason. Oh, the deeds of the needy… the game is a-foot.

She settles in on red-cell-phone guy David. Long story. Well not really. He’s an out of work actor working the streets who is the eventual winner in the internet video “find Hillary a Thanksgiving fake date Sweepstakes”. Seems a bit young for her in the beginning; however, cleans up a little, puts extra mousse in his hair, stops walking like a toddler, talks in complete sentences, and grows into his part …. uhm… (you know what I mean!)

Hillary settles into a less rigid character as the movie moves into the family Thanksgiving scenes. Opposite of David, she becomes open – less mature, if you will. Dealing with an over-protective mother, a sensitive, but goofy father, and a rebellious sister, her boundaries soften enough to realize her love is increasing for David. … what else? It’s a ROM-COM!

So….family dynamics back-and-forth for an hour. David playing Jason. We learn about them. They learn about them. Yeah-yeah. Oh, and Hillary is…in…L-O-V-E

And then. UH-OH!! JASON IS BACK…. Might as well be Friday the 13th! … Door bell rings and there he is. Guess what? He didn’t get the promotion. Da-da-Daaaah…..

Jason declares his love, once-a-freakin-gain for Hillary and she – (insert goofball icon here) ACCEPTS HIM BACK. Meanwhile, I’m not buying it because, although the love story doesn’t seem genuine between Hillary and David, the connection between Hillary and Jason is as bad as me and Charlize Theron: Just ain’t there.

AND.. I was right because five minutes later, Hillary is running frantically out the door to find David after Jason – the former fiance-turned curb dirt-then fiance-now pond bottom feeder once again couldn’t put his cell phone down long enough to kiss her goodnight. Good golly, Molly.

Ending? A wedding. Oh, with a dog jumping in the car with the happy couple. We never saw the dog until that moment but know it’s name is Whiskey because Hillary wrote an article that David read about that dog. Jason and Hillary’s mom never read the article. Silly, silly people.

Jason is nowhere to be found. Probably hasn’t shaved, either. Goof.

Man Meets Woman … Damn Rom-Coms

Have a need today to write about the “ROM-COM” films. Lately, I’ve been hostage to the darn things. It is so much an obsession that I quote-bold-capital-italic-alized the entire genre above in an attempt to show my dominance over this need to watch the …wait for it …. “man-meets-woman and struggles to tell her he loves her over the objections of close friends – on both sides – who, in the interest of wasting an hour and a half, find out they were wrong in the first place” plot.

I don’t know what it is lately. I scroll down the menu options looking past titles with key words that used to peak my interest. Words in the past prompting a twenty out of my wallet and a manly trip to the theater on a cold, blustery afternoon: Crush, Rambo, Thunder, Fearless, Braveheart, Warrior, 300, War, West, and GODFATHER … to name a manly few. There are many more. Many. Many. More. Please don’t doubt my past masculinity. (please?)

Ah, yes. Here’s one. Or two. Or…. Titles so wonderful. Enlightening. Soulful. I am heart-ful and full of excitement to see these words now-a-days: “Love, Amazing, Together, Incredible, Talking, Experience, Understand, Supporting, Sexy, Feeling, The Truth About You, Time ….. ” I know. I KNOW. If only there were movies like:

  1. “I Understand You’re Feeling Like Murder”
  2. “You Sexy Warrior Dude”
  3. “I’m Feeling Crushed and Excited Love”

So, now here I am. In my mid 50’s choking back tears as ten minutes remain in a flick. The damn dude has screwed up -as usual – a chance at a lifetime of happiness with the girl/woman/hot chick of his dreams. He running through an airport/horse field/museum/traffic jam/hotel/restaurant dodging or running over everyone. She is eagerly oblivious, or, unabashedly aware of the situation: in love with said dude, but confused UNTIL he explains himself ONLY AFTER being completely out of breath. Oh, and all the misinformed, stupid, completely insensible friends stand around hugging themselves in a, sort-of, self congratulatory semi-circle – like they had anything to do with it.

Meanwhile, none of this solved my soppy problem under the cotton throw, crying my eyes out. Every. Single. Time.

The girl is always cute. The guy is always charming. The chemistry always works. The dude-friend is always clumsy, somewhat insightful, but never as smart as the main dude. The babe-friend “can” be spicier than the main girl, but never as sensitive or endearing. The sub-characters such as secondary friends or family?: Never, ever hotter or more captivating than subjects A, B, or C’s.

Wardrobe ranges from the sexiest of lingerie (which, btw, I had to google because I tried four times to spell), to bland bowling shirts, blue jeans, and knickers (THAT I could spell). What they wear in these movies is kinda irrelevant, I guess. What isn’t worn, arguably, could be reason to watch. But, that’s not the point of these movies. They are about the romance and the comedy, not the paleness of a saxophone-in-the-background every ten minutes flick. But, I digress. I’m still an emotional wreck at the end.

One dialectical problem, however. I do skip over English titles. No objection to our British friends. Can’t understand half the nuance, words, or slang. Mumble wouldn’t be an acceptable form of communication in my script writing class had I taken up that career path. No offense to my “Downton Abbey” readers. I did enjoy “The King’s Speech” a few years ago and this may have been my limit.

Anyway, I have been binging on these rom-coms, er.. “ROM-COMS” and they are winning. The seasons of my life are such that November through March are months of quasi-leisure mixed in with sporadic work here-and-theres. April through October are months of go-get-ems and may require (sadly) a hiatus.

Here’s what I figure:

Hollywood churns out movies. No problem there. Past movies available to queue up are, basically, unlimited. Again, no problem. Movies …. check!

A movie lasts one hour, forty-five minutes +/-. Two per day with a half hour break for snacks and “personal time” is a total of four hours. Hours …. check!

Let’s say, at a minimum, eight movies per week through mid-March. That’s about fourteen weeks from now. Weeks … check!

TOTAL: 14 weeks x 8 movies = 112 ROM-COMS !!

That’s 112 eventual couples who, at the beginning don’t know they’re supposed to be together – or do they? – but end up embracing their fate somewhere, surrounded by some people, in a somewhat situation, somehow, supposedly, miraculously finding the perfect parking space just in the nick of time. That’s 112 gorgeous women who always have makeup on in bed and never break a heel running on uneven sidewalks, or, fart at inappropriate times. That’s 112 charming dudes who always have gobs of money but never work, drive expensive cars but never put gas in them, cook but never shop for groceries, pay bills, or just readjust their underwear … not even ONCE!

Yet, here I am considering another again tonight … and another tomorrow…and another … and… well,….I’m being dominated. Man meets woman and I, the hopeless romantic/comedian of the mid-50’s manly-ish world, have been duped into this genre of predictability from which I cannot escape. Geesh. I can’t even get out from under the cotton throw I find myself – even when I need “personal time” bad in the middle of the damn movie – because he NEEDS to find his true love! .. He NEEDS her and doesn’t know it yet!. She needs him. He needs her. It’s also entirely possible I may need some help here … and soon.

Anybody know of a local Rom-Com-Anon group?

Good Golly, “Molly’s Game”

Jessica Chastain. She is an actress who masterfully portrays Molly Brown in the 2017 gambling movie, “Molly’s Game”, which I queued up to record last night. I use “masterfully” as a term of my own choosing based on my own bias. Do I rank it among the “Godfather” Pacino performances? No. Certainly not; However, her ability to pull me through a lazy Sunday morning with grace, energy, and talent when I initially expected inelegance, lethargy, and clumsiness was nothing short of masterful.

She had some help to tilt my bias. The subject matter – Texas Hold’em – is in my wheelhouse. I love the game. Also, to quote one of the most famous holiday tunes, “Oh, the weather outside is…” (you know the rest..). I am currently in a lone, solitary state with no interruptions. Not wanting to do anything else, but needing to do other pressing matters, I must not do anything BUT watch a movie (or two, or three). It’s still a holiday weekend. On and on…. Oh, and did I mention Jessica is kinda good looking? That helps, too.

Press play. (pause)

This is where writing a blog about a movie gets a bit tricky. I don’t want to be a plot problem in reverse. How do I, a non-professional movie non-reviewer/blogger, discuss my feelings about a movie without disclosing any specific, juicy details? There is a certain irony in just asking last question based on a main platform in the defense Molly, herself, unshakably retains. Her honor is her name. Neither my honor is at stake, nor life is over as we know it if a sub-plot is ruined via an innocent blog, but I wouldn’t want it to happen, regardless. That said, a tightrope walk begins. It is a gambling movie, however, and risks must be endeavored.

Let me begin with a film synopsis. Credit here given to http://www.imdb.com: “The true story of Molly Bloom, a beautiful, young, Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game for a decade before being arrested in the middle of the night by 17 FBI agents wielding automatic weapons. Her players included Hollywood royalty, sports stars, business titans and finally, unbeknownst to her, the Russian mob. Her only ally was her criminal defense lawyer Charlie Jaffey, who learned there was much more to Molly than the tabloids led people to believe.”

This is, pretty much, the summary I read when deciding to record. Two words, “beautiful” and “poker”, instantly led me to push record…similar to addictive smells of cinnamon rolls and chocolate lead me to being ten pounds overweight. The allure – I am so proud to say – I satisfied without any apologies to possible plot spoilages.

Molly wears a lot of sexy dresses in the film. Sparkley, spaghetti-strap, red, blue, black laced barely covering, classy one piece attractively worn numbers designed to lure the wealthiest of players. That’s part of her inside game….(and also one of the longest sentences I’ve written in a blog.) She works on the game inside the game, does it remarkably well, and is rewarded with increasing financial results. Molly vs. Smarts, vs. Instinct, vs. Knowledge, vs. Bad Luck, vs. Family are the fight cards she draws consistently but survives. “Problem = Opportunity” seems to be her mantra. She’s a fighter.

Greed is the left hook she never saw coming and, had she even the good fortune to see it, her life had no defense against it. No sexy dress or connection to power could save her. After years of eluding fate’s inevitable, concluding punch to the gut, Molly reached the final bell. All the cards were on the table. With options all used up, she’s arrested by the FBI… and so began her story as I eagerly shushed comfortably backward on the sofa under the lonely, warm, brown throw.

I was “pot committed” as she began her quest into the belly of the poker whale. What is the path for a highly competitive, world class skier to a poker game-runner? The highly avoidable pun here is … I guess it was unavoidably all downhill for her, right? The answer lay ahead in the movie. Thus, the hook. I had to know. Highly attractive woman, poker, allure, inevitable failure, … wheelhouse.

OK. So here’s what I can say without giving too much of the movie “stuff” away.

She starts out as a secretary and soon finds out there are bigger financial rewards setting up poker games. The sticky wicket is her overbearing boss, Dean Keith, who needs his teeth kicked in by an unruly three-year old who’s having a really bad day. I figure, if Mr. Keith was just a tad bit nicer to Molly, we’d have no movie (but, I digress). Moving forward, Molly finds herself a “crowd favorite” among the regular players who tip her with increasingly larger bills because of her kind demeanor and professionalism. All the while, she is observing the game, learning, studying…

Enter player X (Michael Cera). Let’s be glad Malcom X or Mr. T were not in the movie, otherwise, we’d have an alphabet nightmare afoot. Player X provides a level 2 safety net for Molly from not-so-nice-guy Dean when she jumps from the platform of abuse. Player X decides he wants to advance to Y and Z later in the movie which puts Molly at a crossroads once again, so she ups her game. The high level Russians get involved, chips fly, rakes begin (poker term – bad, bad, idea if you host a game … means the host is taking a % of the pot. No can do… very, very, bad), drugs, sleep/wake cycle non-existent. Worlds in disarray.

Seventeen FBI agents at the ready. And there’s the back story. Conclusion? Obviously, not for me to say. If you read my blog frequently, there’s always a game-within-the-game. If there isn’t something to be gleaned from a life experience, it is moments wasted.

Molly knew what she didn’t know and built towers of knowledge on the foundations of that premise. There was never a moment when I felt she was pretending. If she didn’t know, she didn’t know. Period.

Molly was exceptionally honest with herself. Knowledge, as stated above, is one dimension. Emotionally, I found her to be open and true to herself as well. For what she knew about herself most of the way though the movie, it was as real to me as if I was reading my own autobiography.

Molly’s morals and ethics could – and I emphasize “could” – be unchallenged. Honesty and knowledge aside, there are moments – especially later – when her ethics come into play (why else would the FBI be arresting her, right?). Who among us, correct?…. Degrees of severity. Not giving Molly a pass at all. I knew, based on the premise of the movie, something had to unravel.

Plots within plots. Character development. Poker games and really cool camera angles. Russians, gambling addicts, moral lessons and a well cast attorney, (Idris Elba) Charlie Jaffey, in addition to Michael Cera and Kevin Costner (who makes an awkward re-appearance later in the movie -with three questions that “should” tie up a father/daughter issue – but seems out-of-place). I won’t spoil this with the three questions. You can google if you want … they pertain to the “family” matter back story between an over-reaching/coach-father and athlete-daughter. I find those retros to be mundane and pedantic. Just me? Well, knock my chips over and call me late for supper!….

Lessons learned? Never give up. Always be learning. Know what you don’t know. Be honest with yourself. Stay moral and ethical as best you can.

“Molly’s Game” is a great movie beginning to end. Stay with it if you start it. The last five minutes are pleasurable. All the minutes previous are just as enjoyable. I was easily pulled through a lazy Sunday morning with ease by beautiful dresses, wonderful acting, a great story, a poker bias, intrigue, fascination, a partially eaten bag of pretzels, and a warm, brown throw.

All in all, not a bad few hours. Thanks, Jessica. Hopefully we can shuffle up and deal a few hands together sometime. I’d like that.