My 2019 Movie Tally: What to Watch During Social Isolation

23 Mar

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I was going to start off by saying that I am thankful for the good within 2019 but also extremely relieved that it’s over. Because that’s exactly how I felt as the calendar turned the page. In 2019 our daughter Natalia started talking, and her hilariously assertive and precocious personality really took shape. We went on a perfect South African safari vacation. We spent weeks in Israel visiting friends and family and seeing the sights. but…major health scares with not one but both of my parents? It was Just. A. Lot. But as soon as we all started getting used to this new year, this new decade, our worlds exploded with an event of seismic proportions, a literal pandemic, and nothing since has been the same. I asked myself, do I really continue writing up my annual movie tally? Is something like this even helpful anymore when everyone has their life turned upside down? And my answer was a resounding yes. Yes because we need the distraction. Yes because we need to read about something that isn’t about a virus, or about politics. And yes because something else has happened that I have never before experienced: movie theaters are closed! I couldn’t go to one now if I tried, and even if there was a holdout with one open, I certainly wouldn’t try because they need to remain closed for an unknown period of time. As much as I have always sung the virtues of seeing a movie on the big screen with the lights off, this is the time you really must stay home as much as possible, and away from others. And guess what? I have a guide of the movies I watched in 2019, and at this point most of them are available to stream; so in many ways, this may be the most appropriate annual movie tally I’ve ever done. So sit back, put on your reading glasses, and get caught up on my life as well as my advice for the dozens of movies you probably missed last year…

But before we talk about movies, before we discuss any numbers or tallies, before I mention what I liked best and worst with each friend, let’s go through some low and high-lights of 2019.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The cover photo was taken in January, back when I started writing this saga, and well before we had a notion of the prescient nature of Natalia’s t-shirt. This post is full of both trivial and interesting Easter Eggs, if you see a hyperlink, go ahead and click it for more.

May, 2019: South Africa

We left Natalia in the warm and wonderful hands of her grandparents, and headed on a grand adventure to South Africa. The story behind this was the usual age-old story of boy meets girl, boy marries girl, boy goes with girl to fundraiser dinner where the boy is assured by his philanthropic wife the night is free…and then…the auction begins for an African safari.  Boy watches girl raise her hand in the air and bid without any warning whatsoever, and boy watches girl turn free night into a not-so-free night. So you know, the usual way vacations come to fruition. It was actually an incredible deal because 75% of the money went directly to charity, and something that was previously on our bucket list(s) was able to happen. Through ingenuity, Adi was able to get more of the safari trips sold via her Sheba Medical Center charity to friends, and the next thing we knew there were 18 of us on our own tour bus in Johannesburg and Zulu Nyala safari creating instantly classic memories. Pictures can never fully capture feelings, but to the extent that they can, here is what we looked like on our first day (on the historic streets of Soweto), many not knowing the person next to them…

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…and then 10 days later this is how close we had become, and how sad we were to gaze at our last exhilarating safari sunset.

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May, 2019: A Shocking Return

We got through our looooong journey home, and like zombies, we came home to say hi to our parents and daughter….and my sister Abigail? Why was my New Jersey sister sitting in our living room? Jokingly, she said she came because we required a grand welcome back, but 10 minutes later, when we could put things down and talk to her, she dropped a bomb on us: my mother was diagnosed with the Big C. She had an aggressive form of Lymphoma, and chemotherapy treatments were going to start in a few days. She and the family had actually found out on our second day of our fun vacation, and made the (understandable) decision not to tell us until we returned.

There was good news however; this was caught early. So early that there were no symptoms yet. In fact the only reason they caught it was because my mom got her regularly scheduled mammogram, and then the office called her up and said, “we have new fancy 3D equipment now, would you like to return and get another one with the new gadgets?” and she obliged. This updated technology allowed them to get a clear image of the lymph nodes on her left side, and thus the cancer was detected early. The next 18 weeks consisted of 6 horribly exhausting cycles of treatments that were extremely confusing for my mother, since everyone would ask her sympathetically, “How are you feeling now???” to which she would reply, “I was feeling perfectly fine before the treatments, but now the cure itself is what makes me feel awful”. This process started in May and went through September.

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August, 2019: Israel

For months, my amazing wife and siblings were coordinating and taking turns visiting and spending weeks helping my mother through the worst of it. And in August, we went with Natalia and Adi’s parents to Israel, for our niece Yael’s Bat Mitzvah. It was an incredible trip. The first week, my best friend Kevin showed us everything in Southern Israel from wineries to tank museums.

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We then traveled North to Safed (aka Tzfat) where Adi’s brother Adam lives and works as a certified tour guide. He and his family spent a week touring us around everything from the grottoes of Rosh Hanikra to the warm waters of the Sea of Galilee (aka The Kinneret).  All of this surrounding the reason we went, Yael’s Bat Mitzvah.

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September, 2019: The Calm Before the Storm

David Suissa gave me the opportunity to become a blogger for the Jewish Journal, one of the largest Jewish publications in the world. He and their digital editor Erin Ben-Moche like(d) my writing so much that they told me if I write it, they’ll publish it. My first piece was a quiet one about the death of a dear friend’s child. My next involved my bizarre movie habits. Others include an interview of my friend Ronnie just as he was about to premiere on the show Survivor, and a special happy anniversary piece dedicated to my wife. They kept their word, they were happy to publish my every writing!

My mother finished her final round of chemo, and my siblings booked flights to come to LA and enjoy the upcoming Succos holiday together as a family. Finally. In celebration. Rosh Hashana kicked off the Jewish high holiday season, and then…

October, 2019: The Storm

…While walking home from his synagogue, minutes after Rosh Hashana ended, my father crossed the street, and became the victim of a hit & run accident. He was alive, but had serious injuries. The next day I wrote a piece about the awful experience, it was shared by countless others, and thankfully by the end of the week the police notified us that the driver had admitted to the accident.

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My siblings came in as planned, but instead of a holiday to celebrate my mother’s end of treatments, it was a holiday where all of us, including my mother, were helping my father with his new impairments.

But…here’s the thing. By the end of the year, my father, who had a major head injury, and could have easily not survived, was and is alive. My mother was in remission. Her cancer was no longer detected, even if we did not know there would be a new, different cancer threat, also vanquished, early this year. These were and are incalculably massive blessings. Each of our trips may have been followed by hellish experiences, but as the year came to a close, there was plenty of reason to be optimistic that this next year of 2020 would be…easier. (Please allow the irony of that last sentiment to linger, as we turn the page toward the main topic at hand.)

SO YOU SAW NO MOVIES?

Okay, I get it, anything not about movies is a deviation from the main story. This is, after all, my annual end-of-year blog, and here’s where the count, the tallies, the stories, and some mini-reviews come in. Because through it all, the thick and the thin, the highs and the lows, the vacations and the health scares…I decompressed in the movie theater. Whether with Adi or friends, I got myself out as often as possible, because during the happy it added to my fun, and during the hair-pulling travails, it helped provide 2 hours of distraction. That’s the thing about movies, they always feel right for me, even (and at times especially) the bad ones. (That’s part of what’s making this current pandemic even harder for me – there goes my coping mechanism!) So let’s get into my biggest passion (sorry family, sorry nursing), and discuss what I saw this year.

MOVIE COUNT

My mind forever tells me that anything under 150 is below my “average”, but I think the time has come that I need to adjust my expectations. It’s like bowling. On the occasion I go, people ask me what I usually score, and I tell them 144 is my average. Well yes, but the only reason I know my average bowling score is that I was in a bowling league back in college. 20 years ago. Since then I have bowled possibly once a year. Each time my supposed average is 144, but yet I rarely hit those numbers now, because I’m out of practice. So at what point do I have a new bowling reality? There’s no league to track my numbers, but at what point is my average a thing of the past? Here I am, knowing I used to see an average of 150 movies per year, but the last time I saw that many was prior to 2010…before I met Adi. Not that I’m blaming her. (Not that I’m not blaming her either though – ha!)

So let’s look at things through B.A. (Before Adi) and A.A. goggles, because that’s what the new math demands. My highest tally in the A.A. era was in 2012, my first year out of the hell that was nursing school when I threw myself into the job market; that year I saw a grand total of 138 flicks. Any year that gifted the world both Zero Dark Thirty and Abraham Lincoln: (wait for it…) Vampire Hunter is a year we will forever look back on fondly. The very next year in 2013 I stayed quite consistent and saw 135. Really a negligible drop in numbers, and both years were an acceptable deviation from my B.A. 150 average. I wouldn’t exactly say the OCD part of me was thrilled by the slight drop-off, but the A.A. part of me looks at those 2 years with rose colored glasses. And by the way, that beautiful year gave me both 12 Years a Slave and Machete Kills, two movies that I’m confident already share the same shelf at the Smithsonian. But then it happened. 2014 came and I saw a putrid 103 movies. My world shattered. I screamed and tried to spin the globe backwards Christopher Reeve style, but alas my abilities to turn back time were not what the movie promised. I cannot conclusively say what caused this massive drop-off. We were in our first year of marriage where the only thing newlyweds could do when alone is….see movies obviously. No long trips yet, wedding planning had come and gone the previous year, the honeymoon was to wait until the next year; I truly have no answers for this massive deviation, other than that my now-wife started to learn to say no to me. Plus I forgot to include a mandatory minimum number of movies in our prenup, so feel free to draw your own conclusions. A few years in a row sent me into a spiral of deep depression, when I dipped under 100 movies; I knew something had to change, because my prioritizing of my work and family was clearly spiraling my movie-obsessed life down the wrong path.

So that’s what I did. My priorities changed. 3 meals a day? Who needs balanced meals when you can eat chocolate bars and soda in the theater! Spending time with my wife? Sure, as long as it’s a movie she’s interested in, otherwise see ya when I get home! Friends want to catch up with me? Great, I’ll meet at The Conjuring 3, and we can talk between previews! Last year when I wrote my 2018 tally, I had regained some of my mojo, back over 100, with 106 as my total. I vowed to only go up from here, which leads me to:

My final tally for 2019 movies seen in a theater – 110

THE BREAKDOWN

Who I saw the most with:

  1. Adi – 82 movies (previous year 83). Not a typo, she saw exactly one less than the prior year! Know the cliche of the suspicious men and women who hack into the computers and phones of their significant others to find secrets and lies? My wife recently did that to me, except in my case she opened my laptop to sneak a peek at my spreadsheet where I do my count, and this was our exchange at 9pm, when she was looking at my computer for something else:
    Adi – Oh, hey, we saw a lot of movies.
    Me – (Assuming she was looking at my spreadsheet) No cheating!
    Adi – Cheating?
    Adi – Did you write it down?
    Adi – Where!!!
    Adi – I’m gonna snoop.
    Me – No, go away!
    Adi – I saw more this year than last! And you went up too!!
    Adi – I’m the best wife in the world.
    Me – No you aren’t.
    Me – You are a wife who cheats.
    Me – Horribly.
    Me – By looking ahead.
    Adi – Actually, I didn’t see The Peanut Butter Falcon, so remove that from my tally, so my number is exactly the same as last year, 83 movies. (And that was true until I realized she didn’t see Ad Astra with me either, so she really went down to 82. Maybe cheaters never prosper after all?!)Now that you’ve been given a glimpse into our intimate dynamic, let me say in all seriousness, Adi is the best wife. I don’t think there are many out there who would put up with a spouse seeing over a hundred movies a year, baby or no baby at home, and even less would join for just under 75% of those movies (yes I just did the math); but here we are, a husband who lives and breathes movies, and a wife who actually wants to see three quarters of them too. I do realize I’m lucky. The highlights of the year…

    We saw Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and if you have never read my take on how screwed Star Wars movies are no matter who/what/how they make the new ones, then here it is for you again. Yes I truly enjoyed the experience of finishing off the trilogy/aka the 3rd movie in the 3rd trilogy; aaaaand yes I have a laundry list of critiques, some of which doomed the movie before filming even began. Life just isn’t fair sometimes, and the one major character they decided to keep alive for this finale was the one actor who died before the movie could start filming, Carrie Fisher. How do you solve a problem like Leia? They understandably vetoed recasting her, said no to using CG to fake her scenes, and did not want to have her iconic character simply die off-screen between films; so they came up with an undeniably honorable solution, to gather unused footage of her and work it into the movie. Nothing faked, all things she filmed but had previously remained on the cutting room floor. Therefore the biggest problem with the new film was one inherent to their honorable solution; they had to fabricate entire scenes to work around a piece of dialogue here and there, instead of writing and filming something to move the story forward. A deleted moment where Leia hugged this character? Create a scene to explain that embrace. Leia was filmed telling another character “good luck”? Work that in somewhere. This type of thing works fine for a cute YouTube montage, but does not serve a story well that needs momentum for its narrative. The character Rose Tico was forced to stay behind with Leia so that she would have someone to “act” with, but since there was not much footage to manipulate with Carrie Fisher, Rose de-evolved into a mostly useless character. Again, an honorable decision that derailed the narrative. But in spite of that, here was a Star Wars that moved me at times, excited me at other times, and gave me a semblance of closure that was important…until the superior Mandalorian came along later, that is.

    Terminator: Dark Fate was certainly the best one since the original two, and the fact that James Cameron was finally involved again showed. Sadly the inferior sequels that came in-between eroded any chance that audiences would show up en masse again, and any chance of this series being revived will depend on whether Cameron himself wants to direct one.

    Parasite was incredible. If anything had to come along and snatch victory away from my favorite movie of the year, I’m glad it was this one. Inventive, funny, vicious, and constantly surprising, this movie is hard to describe without spoiling things, and also mesmerizing to watch. It is about time that a foreign film was considered the “Best Picture” of the year. Though if weird and dark are two adjectives you dislike in a film, or if subtitles are something you cannot ever get past, I suppose I cannot recommend it to you.

    Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was hands-down one of my favorite movies of the year. Last year I sang the praises of 2018’s beautiful Mister Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? This year the warmhearted treat continued, as Tom Hanks was Fred Rogers. I don’t mean he played him well, I mean he was him. He lived him, breathed him, as if you were watching him live again. In the final scene they showed Tom Hanks in the show and then showed Fred Rogers doing it, and honest to God I couldn’t tell that it had switched back. I loved every minute of it, and had predicted that I would for purely nostalgic reasons, but in truth the film-making itself was fantastic, and took all of us through one of his journeys of imagination, where even our world was in his Land of Make Believe. I didn’t want the experience of watching it to end.

    Other movies we saw that I do not have the time to separately describe, but each deserve high praise nonetheless, include Joker, The Farewell, The Favourite, Dark Waters, Ford V Ferrari, Bombshell, Dark Waters,They Shall Not Grow Old, Doctor Sleep, and Midsommar. And yes the last two of the list are horror movies, always a snubbed genre when it comes to award season unfortunately. And I’ll point out that Midsommar was Adi’s personal favorite movie of 2019.

    But my favorite movie seen in 2019 was one that I had hoped to win it all at the Oscars, but had to settle for Best Supporting Actor with Brad Pitt – that’s right, I absolutely loved Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Let me be clear, my love for Quentin Tarantino movies has a very narrow range. It has gone from my least favorite ones that I still thoroughly enjoyed, including The Hateful Eight and Jackie Brown, to the classics I could, and have watched over and over again, including Reservoir Dogs and Pulp FictionNot a dud in the bunch, though I’m choosing to ignore Four Rooms which was a failed experiment he was only 25% responsible for. This newest one immediately shot into my upper echelon of his films, because of how riveted I was from the first minute to the last scene. Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio couldn’t have been cast better, and I enjoyed watching a brief period in their fictitious lives, all while the inevitable true-life Manson murder of Sharon Tate was looming large next door. What a wonderful movie that transported me into all of their lives with Tarantino’s perfect screenplay that rambles along in their lives, takes us into the world of Rick Dalton’s Bounty Law that could have easily been a real show; captivated me with a wonderful performance of 10 year old breakout star Julia Butters more than holding her own against Leo’s Rick Dalton; and tantalizingly scares us with the looming sexy threat of Margaret Qualley’s hitchhiking hippie. I enjoyed every minute of the meandering ride, and once it was over, I was bowled over by how incredibly it all came together. Some found it pointlessly long, I found it to be hands down my favorite of all 110 movies this past year.

     

  2. Avish – 10 movies (previous year 2). What a great comeback story! The previous year she had been 3rd place with 8, and then she had a blip of just 2, but came in strong this past year right behind Adi at 10 movies. Everyone likes a good comeback story. And Avish deserves extra props for coming in 2nd place, because she is our #1 backup babysitter when the grandparents aren’t available, which means yes, some movies she would otherwise see with us; she takes one for the team and watches Natalia while we go out to play. So thank you “Auntie” Avish, you’re Adi’s oldest friend in the world, and when you’re not saving every feral cat in LA County, you’re saving our social lives – we love you!And now to highlight a few. Best movie we saw together was JoJo Rabbit. I know this movie angered some by daring to make a “Hitler comedy”, but I have yet to find anything by Taika Waititi that I haven’t truly enjoyed. He made arguably the best Marvel movie yet by adding his brand of humor to Thor: Ragnarok, and he was responsible for the best and wittiest episode of the wonderful Star Wars series The Mandalorian, when he directed the finale. JoJo Rabbit certainly had plenty of great laughs showing the perspective of a naive and angry child in the Hitler Youth, but also contained some scenes that felt like a shocking sensation of ice water to the face. We also had the amusing (dis?)pleasure of seeing a double feature of Last Christmas and Black Christmas. The latter was simply a weak horror movie remake whose best feature was showing us that Cary Elwes has barely aged at all, but the former was a somewhat adorable and extremely weird romantic comedy that was written by (and featuring) Emma Thompson, who gave herself some lines that made me laugh loudly (a feat not easily done).
  3. Arnon – 9 movies (previous year 1). This comeback impresses me even further, because it happened in a year where his (busy doctor) wife Talia was pregnant, he was watching the kids while writing and directing, and he still found the time to see nine with me. Plus the one movie we saw together in 2018 was Proud Mary, a movie I was the most bored in of any movie in 2018, so the bar is pretty low…. Watching a movie with Arnon is an experience. As a highly introspective filmmaker, whether the film is a mindless action flick or an art piece, he finds a way to elevate the conversation. I want to know what my movie partners think of each one we see together, but there’s something very special about watching Arnon process what he thinks as we drive back together after it ends – even when I strongly disagree. And if you haven’t seen his award-winning short The Pirate Captain Toledano you can see it on Amazon Prime and I’ll supply a preview right here. Also, Arnon’s mustache is worth the friendship in and of itself.What stands out most from the ones we watched together in 2019? Netflix! No, I am not suddenly adding television to the blog, but we paid to see two Netflix movies in the theater together, and yes we each have Netflix subscriptions. Is that insanity? We really don’t think so. Here’s my take: A big dumb Netflix movie like Bright is obviously theatrical. It’s expensive, full of special effects, action, and is a movie that most people can agree benefits from the large screen. But what about the small indie flicks? Early in the year we caught Roma, and I loved it. If I had seen it at home I predict I would have been impressed, but also somewhat bored, and I’m confident I would have gotten less out of the experience. Seeing a wonderful, slow character piece in a forum where you can’t look at your phone (unless you’re a horrible moviegoer), you can’t pause it to pee (unless you’re the projectionist), you can’t multitask and fold laundry or open your mail while it’s playing – it’s just you and the characters on the screen. You get lost in that world. Roma was a movie that was incredibly personal to Alfonso Cuarón, and you felt it. Watching the protagonist maid clean the dog shit off the driveway is somehow still an image I remember a year later, and the feelings of dread watching the children swim in the strong ocean currents still sit with me. If I had seen it at home I truly don’t think I would have thought about it the next day. So if you continue to give me the option of seeing the same movie right now at home or in the theater, I’ll continue to choose the full experience. While Roma was nominated for the previous year’s Oscars, late in 2019 we went to see The Irishman which was nominated this year. It felt too long. It felt quite epic. I was both impressed and frustrated while watching it, and wished it had been an hour shorter. But I must admit that I gained a fuller appreciation of the 3.5 hour saga after reading a great piece shared with me by my friend and movie critic Zach Ralston, which I will pass along here, in addition to his own glowing review here.
  4. Shlomo – 7 movies (previous year 0). Oh Shlomo. He manages to perpetually be one of my favorite and least favorite people to watch a movie with. It doesn’t matter if it’s an Oscar flick or a dumb one, he’ll tell you it sucks. Not just at the end. Before you see it with him.Shlomo – Hey Boaz, I’ll see the Maleficent sequel with you.
    Boaz – Really? You like nothing but you want to see that mediocre Disney movie?
    Shlomo – The first one was okay, better than the crap I expected.
    Boaz – Okay great, let’s go see it.
    (We drive to the theater together)
    Shlomo – This is gonna suck.
    Boaz – You said you wanted to see it!
    Shlomo – It’s gonna suck. Everything I see with you sucks.
    (Previews start)
    Shlomo – That movie looks terrible. (He then tells me that for every preview that comes on)
    (Movie starts, 3 times during the movie)
    Shlomo – This sucks
    (Movie ends)
    Shlomo – Why did you make me see that? It sucked.

    In addition to the Maleficent sequel, he also had that same chat with me this year for…Hobbs & Shaw (incredibly dumb fun Fast & Furious spinoff), the Jumanji sequel (he had never seen the first one!), Good Boys (truly funny by the way, I saw it twice so I could show it to Adi), Spies in Disguise (adequate disposable kid cartoon), Avengers: Endgame (I think this was absolutely epic in spite of dozens of flaws), Stuber (very little to say about this dumb diverting one), and Aladdin. By the way, I saw Aladdin for my birthday, and he was one of only three to dislike it. Think three is a decent sample size? It’s out of this many who otherwise told me they enjoyed it.Inked61711087_10162005405765464_5031579549045882880_o_LI
    I’ll miss my camera-phobic friend Shlomo, and his wife Sarah, as they are near and dear friends who are no longer near, as they moved to Massachusetts; and I admit that the masochistic side of me will miss hearing him blame me for the apparent suckage of each and every movie we see.

  5. Annie – 7 movies (previous year 2). One of my closest friends to ever come out of a job. Annie left my Med/Surg unit a year or so ago, and I still manage to see her a few times a month. When we’re not commiserating about the stress and hell that our jobs can be, we are both in love with cinema. Watching movies with her involves a lot of laughter, regardless of the genre. She is likely moving away later this year (temporarily???) and I’ll miss the hell out of her.Although she’s not nearly the fan of comic book movies that I am, we saw both Captain Marvel and Shazam! There was nothing particularly special about Captain Marvel but as with all MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) flicks it was good, fun entertainment. Lots of fun watching Samuel L Jackson younger (more convincingly de-aged than DeNiro in The Irishman and Will Smith in Gemini Man), and more than just a cameo as Nick Fury. And he’s always great in a buddy cop-type role. (You probably didn’t see the hilariously stupid/violent The Hitman’s Bodyguard with him teaming up with Ryan Reynolds, but let’s just say I’m extremely excited for the sequel later this year.) One critique is that they not only made her awesomely full of power, her character is actually too powerful. The only way Avengers: Endgame was able to justify her not defeating Thanos early on was by making her disappear until the last 10 minutes of the movie. A bit of a miscalculation in writing her character if you ask me. Shazam! on the other hand is just the perfect superhero comedy. I’m a 40 year old man and I thought it was delightful and funny with a witty script. If I was a kid it would have felt like an instant classic. As a side note, between this movie and the previous season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, I enjoyed my year of watching Zachary Levi performances.
  6. Harwin – 7 movies (previous year 3). Ah David Harwin, a guy so easy-going, so down to…whatever you offer that day, and so quiet! Seeing a movie with Harwin like most things with him are about looking at his expressions and seeing what a great time he’s having either because of the movie or at its expense. One of Adi’s oldest friends, he not only travels with us annually but takes hella great photos along the way.This year among other things, we saw Cold Pursuit, which had the misfortune of Liam Neeson making one of the world’s strangest life choices during his PR stint. Okay Liam, you’ve just made a relatively entertaining Coen Brothers type revenge thriller comedy, go enjoy the usual talk show trail – oh that’s where you decide to casually drop a bomb and tell the world about what you once did and potentially destroy your career in the process (or at least any chance this movie had of being watched that month). Never heard it? Have a listen here. What’s fascinating is that if you actually listen to it (rather than just read the negative press) you might see that there was an interesting point in the awful life choice he made there. He was clearly trying to say how terrible revenge is, and brought in a personal example of his own terrible decision-making. But the way he went about it showed more than just him trying to kill the guy, it showed a horrible sense of casual racism that went along with it, where he wanted to get any “black bastard” to approach him so he could “kill him”. I mean, really Liam Neeson? That’s your revenge story? Not about the man who attacked your friend but anyone his color? Okay then at least tell the story in a way to sincerely demonstrate how awful it was that you felt that way, generalizing an entire race for the attack on your friend; but nope, instead it was just about how revenge isn’t helpful, nothing about the inherent racism permeating through. Ucch. So Liam Neeson gets to be shifted to the camp of actors I love watching along with Mel Gibson and plenty of others, each of whom I’ve lost the respect of on a personal level, but dammit I’ll still enjoy watching their movies. And speaking of race relations, we also saw Black and Blue together, and it was a surprisingly strong police thriller. Tyrese Gibson playing very much against type, and a really well done B-movie that addresses whether a black cop should sooner bleed black or police blue when put to an extremely unfair test by corrupt others. I’m sure you missed it, so check it out.
  7. Shira – 5 movies (previous year 1). Yet another friend picking up the pace hugely this past year. Something must have changed because in 2018 none of these people seemed to want to go out with me, so either my personality improved or my mom is pulling her old tricks again, and paying them to be my friend. I’ll say this now like I said it back then – THANKS MOM! A warm and wonderful friend in common to both me and Adi coincidentally before we started dating, Shira is truly awesome. She actually wants to see the stupid kid movies that nobody else can tolerate. I don’t have to convince her, and she charges my mother the same price as everyone else.Case in point: we saw a double feature this year, excited for the lineup? A Dog’s Journey and, wait for it, UglyDolls. Yep. And we enjoyed, nay tolerated both just fine thankyouverymuch. Actually UglyDolls was about as good as you’d expect a cartoon based on a toy chain to be, but it did have one catchy villainous earworm that you can get a kick out of too, right here (that’s Nick Jonas btw).

     

  8. Patrick – 5 movies (previous year 2). There’s nobody quite like Patrick, and if you don’t yet have your own Patrick, I very much recommend finding one. He used to have a face as smooth as a baby’s bottom, but then years passed by, he must have been inspired by the Dexter finale, and grew out a Hasidic beard. Except he’s Christian, so they just call them Hipster beards apparently. Then after a few years of his friends asking when he would end this weird “beard phase”, he landed a commercial. In prime-time television. This one. That cemented the beard onto his face permanently and most of us since have given up trying. But is the beard actually why everyone should get their own Patrick? Not at all, he’s just truly one of the most delightful, life-adoring, good-natured-at-all-times friend who has a laugh that’s infectious in the best kind of way. He’s that guy. He also took my father to the eye doctor and proved himself to be a friend in need. Just saying. 

    Among the movies we saw together I’m going to name the only one that probably did not garner the special Patrick laugh, 21 Bridges. A serious action thriller, and a really solid old-fashioned one. We know where the cop-killing bad guys are, and our hero is on his own tracking them down! Could easily be a made-for-TV movie, but it was exciting, and a great role for Chadwick Boseman aka Black Panther. On a more ridiculous, yes-he-was-laughing end of the spectrum, we watched Octavia Spencer have the grandest time being a psychopathic horror villain in Ma, and boy oh boy did she enjoy chewing up the scenery. One of those fun movies where the theater was jumping, welping and laughing out loud from start to finish. Really doesn’t hurt to have an Oscar-winner take a break every now and then to just enjoy being ridiculous.

  9. Jared – 5 movies (previous year 3). One of my best friends, and always finishes off a movie with a slow clap. Does he mean it seriously? Sarcastically? Mockingly? All of the above? Could be! A wonderful friend-in-need, Jared has always been there for us, a hiking companion for Adi and Natalia, a poker friend (and teacher honestly) for me. And he and Mike (Burgher) are responsible for getting me hooked on what is likely my favorite show to watch each week, Survivor. When I broke my elbow in 2015, the two of them smelled blood in the water and pounced. By the time I had returned to work I had watched nine seasons, and now most Wednesdays Jared is on the couch watching with me.What we watched together this past year ranged from gorgeously boring to stupidly funny. We saw Ad Astra together, a movie that if I saw on my television I would have found without merit. I’m sorry but I do not do well with slow, art films. I will forever remember Tree of Life as a movie that some consider a classic, and I consider 3 hours of torture. 2001: A Space Odyssey almost falls into that camp, each time I watch it I almost get too bored to continue, but then something about it mesmerizes me to the point of recognizing its dark beauty. Ad Astra falls somewhere between those two worlds for me. Too slow moving, not enough dialogue, and far too much narration. In fact I still remember the wise words of my best friend Seth Isenberg from years ago, “Almost every movie with narration would have been better without it.” I have found various examples to poke holes in his theory over the years, usually due to either witty narration (A Christmas Story, The Big Lebowski) or deliberately  misleading narration that helps manipulate what you think is happening in the story (Fight Club, Memento). Ad Astra would have been a better movie without the tedious voice-over. It was gorgeous, worth seeing on an IMAX, but now that you can only watch it via streaming I don’t know how many of you would enjoy the pretty, but mostly internalized experience of the film. On the other side of the spectrum, we enjoyed the stupidity that was the one-note movie Jexi, a panned, predictable comedy variation of Her, just dumb and enjoyable enough for us to enjoy our 90 minutes. For a far superior Rated R comedy though, we watched Booksmart, an actually really good “just before college” comedy. Olivia Wilde did a surprisingly good job with her directorial debut, and the main two actors were just winners. Both of them. They weren’t just women being told they could talk Superbad style, they were complex women, graduating high school, with a bond that you could feel, and you really rooted for them, their high-jinx, and most of all their friendship. The fact that one of them (Beanie Feldstein) happens to be Jonah Hill’s sister certainly is a funny coincidence though.
  10. Cori – 5 movies (previous year 0). Cori only lived here for a handful of months last year, but still managed to see 5 with me. If this tally was proportional, he would have displaced everyone but Adi on this list! Cori rounds out the LACES quartet that make up Adi, Avish, Harwin and Cori. These 4 have been friends since middle school at, you guessed it, LACES, and every single group trip I’ve planned since 2016 has been with them. Just a wonderful bunch of really old friends, and they seem to either like me or enjoy my vacation planning; either way we’re all tight now. Cori is super smart, super geeky, super informed, and super opinionated, and it adds up to someone who I adore watching geeky movies to obsess over.What an epic 5 movies this past year that consisted of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, one of the best cartoons, and one of the best comic book movies of all time, beautifully melded into one. Us, which was totally robbed of Oscar love for the frighteningly cool dual performances by Lupita Nyong’o, even if it still wasn’t quite as fantastic as Jordan Peele’s previous scary funny flick Get Out (an unfair but inevitable comparison). For good measure we also had fun geeking out together over Glass, How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, and Avengers: Endgame. All quite memorable honestly.

    HONORABLE MENTIONS

    A few last people worth mentioning… Sam was a newlywed, his wife had a baby, they copied our baby’s name (Talia, come on, they thought we wouldn’t notice the silent Na?) and managed to squeeze in 4 with me including Alita: Battle Angel, a movie I thought would be terribly dumb but was actually a well done rendering of a manga comic I was unfamiliar with.

    Mayman (who I wrote about extensively last year), managed to see 3 with me including Gemini Man, a movie that should have been so much better than it was. Really it was too reliant on its weak de-aging technology, which distracted terribly from an otherwise exciting and even thoughtful Ang Lee action movie. Though I must give a special shout-out yet again to my friend Zach Ralston whose review for it absolutely convinced me that there was only one way to view the movie, and I missed the boat on doing so.

    And finally there was my dear friend Mike, my once-upon-a-time #1 movie companion, a guy who is in the same scientific brain studies as Marilu Henner (check out a cool example here), and now he and Naomi will sadly be moving away from me later this year. We managed to see 3 together, including the excellent biopic Richard Jewell, which starred Paul Walter Hauser. Can I take a minute to point out that this actor only recently broke into movies, he’s not exactly what you think of as leading man material, and yet he’s already had three wonderfully memorable roles in 3 different Oscar movies: I, Tonya, BlacKkKlansman and Richard Jewell. And honestly he was robbed of a nomination in this particularly strange role.

    IN MEMORIAM

    Don’t worry, nobody died, but missing movies always feels like I’ve missed my opportunities to score. Sure, some of them are movies I really had no need to see, and it would have felt more like trying to pad my stats, but others were ones where I feel like I let down my team, and will get ’em next time, coach. (Can you tell I’m going through baseball withdrawal?) I wish I had seen these on a big screen, in no particular order:
    Apollo 11, Wonder Park, The Beach Bum, Her Smell, The Intruder, Pokémon Detective Pikachu, Tolkien, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Anna, The Art of Self-Defense, Luce, The Art of Racing in the Rain, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, The Goldfinch, Rambo: Last Blood, Dolemite is My Name, Countdown, Motherless Brooklyn, The Aeronauts and Clemency.

    SO LONG, FAREWELL, AUF WIEDERSEHEN, GOODBYE

    That rounds up the 2019 movie tally. So I went up from 106 to 110, and this is where I would usually vow that anything less than 110 would mark a failure for this next year. But you and I both know that might be a false oath, because none of us can know just how long it will be before it is next both legal and safe to go to the movies. So until then, use this guide as a way to ease your boredom through the pandemic, about 90% of your time can be spent watching all of these movies you’ve missed, the other 10% will be needed just to get through what I wrote!

    I’ll leave you with an apropos song from my favorite movie of all time – yes I’ve finally announced it, I have a favorite movie – the geniuses of Monty Python finished off their greatest(?) film with this gem you can try to take with you…

My Interview With a Reality TV Survivor

21 Sep

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“When are you going to finally try Survivor?” That’s the question that some of my closest friends would relentlessly ask me for years. They knew I was TV obsessed, and watched dozens of shows at a time, but my answer was always the same, “nah, I don’t watch reality TV, not interested”. Year after year went by. At first (in the year 2000) it aired the same night as ER and Friends, (remember “must-see TV”?) and I’d even watch whatever mediocre sitcom they’d sandwich between Friends and Will & Grace over the years (hi The Single Guy, looking at you Veronica’s Closet). More time passed and I’d watch Breaking Bad as easily as Arrow, but still would not watch the show about people competing for a million bucks by taking their shirts off and living on an island. Nothing about that compelled me, even compared to the garbage I was often watching.

Then, my wife and I went on our honeymoon. We were finishing our wonderful few weeks in New Zealand when the saddle of my horse slid off with me on it. My elbow was broken. My wife who had forced me to wear a helmet was proven correct. Our honeymoon turned into six months of state disability, since I couldn’t work as a nurse with a broken elbow, and it took the doctors three months just to figure out that it required surgery. In that time two of those same close friends hounded me. They said, “Listen, you’re off work, we’ll come over and hang out with you IF you finally try a season of Survivor. If you don’t like it, we’ll never bring it up again.” Fine, if I was going to be stuck at home glued to my idiot-box anyway, I may as well do it with friends and finally try their favorite show.

It was June of 2015, and by the time I returned to work on October 1st, I had watched nine seasons. Yep, I was hooked, the show was like crack to me. These two friends Mike Burgher and Jared Rubin strategically showed me Season 28 (Cagayan) to get the ball rolling, and two of the players from that season are still my favorites to this day (Tony and Spencer). What I didn’t realize is that what had started as a show about people surviving on an island trying to outlast each other had evolved into a show with tremendous game theory. It was less about who you liked and who could fish and build a shelter, and far more about social strategy, puzzle-solving, reading people, and knowing what to say and do when. No wonder it was so much fun, I loved playing and watching poker!

Ronnie Bardah had already won a World Series of Poker bracelet in 2012, and was in the Guinness Book of World Records for placing in the money in the main event of the World Series of Poker for an insane five years in a row (between 2010 and 2015), a record that might never be broken. Since 2002 I had been hosting weekly (legal) poker games.  In 2012, my poker-pro friend Jared (one of the same friends who binged me on Survivor) brought Ronnie to my silly home game. Cut to 2016, the four of us friends were watching the show together!

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The above photo was taken May of 2018, exactly 10 days after my daughter was born, as we watched the Survivor: Ghost Island finale together (from left to right Jared, Boaz, Ronnie, Mike, and of course 10-day old future Survivor fan Natalia). We’d discuss each episode like it was a passion project, and fantasize about how cool it would be to ever be on the show. For Mike, Jared and I these were silly hypotheticals, none of us even considered applying; for Ronnie, a competitive poker player, a Muay Thai kickboxer just for fun, a guy who took every red cent he earned and bought his father a house to live in, this was to become a reality.

Next week, on Wednesday 9/25/19, Ronnie’s first season of Survivor will premiere on CBS, and I can’t wait to watch and see what happens! I’ll be watching my friend compete in my favorite show, a truly surreal first-time experience for me. I had the pleasure of being granted a phone interview via CBS with Ronnie:

Me – Please tell me about your family.

Ronnie – My dad and mom were both from Israel, and they were the only two who left. My older brother lives in Texas, my mom and sister are in Boston, and my dad is in Henderson, Nevada, right by Las Vegas. I grew up in a blue-collar part of Massachusetts called Brockton.

Me – What was it like being a Jewish kid in Brockton?

Ronnie – Brockton is a great city. But growing up as the only Israelis in the town was a challenge. There was nobody to relate to, and I couldn’t blend in if I tried – and I did try at times. There were a few other Jews around town, and for a while as a kid I’d tell people I was Jewish, but they’d make jokes so I kind of hid it for a while. My first crush when I was 12 was Laura, a religious Christian. Her dad was even a Deacon, and I wanted so badly to fit in with them, so I went to church and tried to be like the rest of the Christians to fit in. I just didn’t want to seem Jewish, which I was given a hard time about. Then I went to tell my old friends that I was Christian now, but they told me “You’ll always be a Jesus-Killer. A kike. A dirty Jew”. I’d tell them, “No, I’m Christian now, not Jewish!” but then gave up when it didn’t make a dent. And after some time when they would say I was cheap, or any other stereotype you can think of, it started to feel like it was just friends kidding around. They came at me hard as the only Jew in the neighborhood. The jokes didn’t end, but I remained friends with many of them until today.

At some point when I got older, I realized that some of these jokes from friends really weren’t jokes.  I could feel the malice in their words and tone. I could tell they actually meant some of what they were saying, whereas with others I could tell it was just good, dumb fun. I’m intentionally not friends with some of those guys anymore as a result. As you get older you can read people better; something that became a huge skill later in life with my poker career.

And when I grew older I embraced my Judaism and wanted to be more a part of the tribe. I loved going to Israel, and discovered a lot of what being Jewish is all about.

Me – Did they also give you a hard time about your parents being Israeli?

Ronnie – In my community, nobody cared about Israel, they didn’t pay attention to politics. My mom knew about the politics and talked about it with us, and in 1996 we went on a family trip in Israel which was great, but they also got divorced that year, so a lot changed.  It’s funny, people tell me “you don’t look Jewish, you look Latino”, but Israelis recognize me and start speaking Hebrew to me right when they see me, so I can’t hide it.

Me – How did your family feel about you initially going into poker for a living, Did it make them nervous that you were gambling all the time?

Ronnie – They didn’t take the time to give me much guidance as a child. They were busy arguing and fighting and leaving each other. My dad was constantly in the casino, so half my family trips were to dog-tracks or casinos like Foxwoods on weekends, so I grew up in that environment. My dad likes what I do but also says dumb things to me about it because he doesn’t get the skill of poker, meanwhile he gambles every game under the sun. But my mom to this day says, “Find a nice Jewish girl, find a real job and just settle down”, and I get that she means it should all become more conducive to raising a family. I can do that and settle and not travel anymore and be more stable I really can do that, She wants me to have a standard stable life with a normal job title and normal job hours and be structured. Ultimately I know she just wants me to have a girlfriend and settle down, and there are ways I could travel less and do what I’m doing but with more stability. I get that, and I want that too.

Me – If any single ladies (or Jewish mothers of single ladies) are reading this, what are you looking for in a soulmate?

Ronnie – I just want someone who’s active, exercises, spiritual, compassionate and empathetic like myself. I like rational people, who are calm and collected, spontaneous, travel the world, and spiritual. Honestly, an American Israeli, born here with Israeli parents would be great!

Me – Do you think you’ll be playing poker in 20 years? At higher stakes?

Ronnie – Poker has been great, it allows me to travel the world, even if I’m getting ready to stay put a bit more. I want to do something else too, but I think I’ll play until the day I die. My dad was never profitable, but I think I’ll always be profitable. The game gets tougher and the kids playing it keep getting smarter, but I’m so good at getting a feel for the table and reading people, that I really think I’ll be profitable until the day I get buried. So yes, I think I’ll always play.

Me – Did you really buy your dad a house with your winnings?

Ronnie – Yeah I did about two and a half years ago, I thought I could be set financially enough to do it, and I wanted to provide for him. He was in a housing project and he lives solely on social security, so I paid for it and I continue to pay for it. Here’s the thing, poker is never guaranteed income.

Me – You and I bonded over poker and Survivor, how long have you been watching the show?

Ronnie – I started watching when most people did, in its first season, but then I got busy, played countless hours of poker, and stopped watching most TV. Then Season 22 (Redemption Island) aired, when Boston Rob bulldozed over everyone else. I caught that, and it was epic. And then I’d see him at the World Series of Poker and I’d be so excited, but I never approached him. When (poker pro) Anna Khait played in season 32 (Kaôh Rōng) I watched again. And then about 4 years ago I got hooked religiously. I kept watching and decided “I want to play this game, and need to audition”. I tried one time and sent my audition tape and they took me!

Me – How strictly did you need to keep this a secret from your friends? Who were you allowed to tell?

Ronnie – A lot of people know I’m a huge fan and I was gonna try to get on, so once I got in and wasn’t allowed to tell friends, I had to lie and say, “ No It didn’t work out and nobody called me back”. Once I was cast I knew I’d have no contact with anyone, not even phone access, so I told people I was going on a yoga retreat. Something I would totally do. Thankfully, they tell you to tell your family. I didn’t want to tell my mom since she has a big mouth, so I hinted it to my mom, told my dad, brother and sister and my ex (girlfriend at the time). They all signed NDAs (Non-Disclosure Agreements).

Me – There have been a handful of poker players on Survivor in the past, they always thought It would help them win, but none of them have. Did you learn anything from them playing that you think might make you succeed where they couldn’t?

Ronnie – Jean-Robert (Bellande) was lazy, he didn’t do much, didn’t have much gameplay or strategy. I didn’t learn much for him other than that if you want to get anywhere in the game you gotta make moves at the right time, and make alliances too. With Garrett Adelstein I just learned to do the opposite of whatever he did, it was all executed so poorly. I also learned that you gotta get some fat on you when you go out there. He was a chiseled man in amazing shape, but you don’t want to have 0% body fat when you go out there, you want a bunch of fat to burn, you need it there. Anna (Khait) got screwed; she played the best of all previous poker players, and got unlucky. There’s so much luck involved in Survivor, so much variance: whoever you’re put with, the makeup of tribes, the different personalities. You could be the coolest guy in the block but if those guys don’t think so it can backfire and you’ll be seen as annoying and voted off right away. I prepped for the show best just from watching smart players like Wendell (Holland),  Jeremy (Collins), Boston Rob (Mariano), Cirie (Fields), and Denise (Stapley). Forget the poker players, we’re all different. Just like doctors and lawyers aren’t the same personality, the same with us. Some sit there and don’t talk, others like me are social. There’s no pattern to our personalities.

Me – Do  you think poker and Survivor are similar?

Ronnie – I think playing cards gives me many tools to play the game. I mentioned in my pre-game interviews that knowing how people perceive you is huge in Survivor. At the poker table I’ll get into a tournament and notice 7 or 8 people who are also strong, so instead of clashing with them I’ll join them in attacking the weaker players. But then other times I can tell that they perceive me as doing exactly that, so I’ll use that poker-read to blindside them. You gotta be one level ahead of the next guy. I’m a numbers guy too but most of my success is about my maneuverability; it’s second to none, knowing when to sit back and let a hand go and when to push the pedal to the gas and attack. In the game of Survivor a huge component is knowing when to fall back and stay out of things versus when to make moves. But at the same time, let’s remember that at poker you’re comfortable with food being brought to you and things taken care of around you. In the show, you’re in your underwear weathering the elements. So how you feel while everything is happening is just gonna be different. That’s inevitable.

Me – Do you get nervous when you play poker? And do you think you’ll be nervous competing on Survivor?

Ronnie – Of course! You’re more anxious than nervous. With poker some days I feel like my heart is steady and never increases no matter what happens, but sometimes depending on what’s happening in my life, how I’m physically or mentally feeling, I’ll get sweaty and anxious.  I’ve had times where I’ve been calm all day at the casino playing high stakes, and then I feel different that evening and I’ll be playing at your cheap home-game, and every bluff I make makes me super nervous. I think that how you are feeling in your life parallels how you’re gonna feel in the Survivor. The same cast last year would play and feel totally different this year, because they feel different and therefore act different. I’m sure I’ll be nervous some of the time.

Me – How important is it to you that Jeff Probst (host and executive producer), the producers and the fans “like” you? Would you rather be a subtle player who gets by with less of a target on his back and goes further, but is less likely to be invited back to play again, or a player taking bigger risks with becomes a bigger target, but is more likely to be invited back?

Ronnie – I would like to be a combo of both of those things. In Survivor you can’t full-force be that guy who’s cracking the jokes, talking trash about others, and being open in tribal councils for great TV, because they’ll shoot you down. There’s ways to balance it. My plan is to be crazy in confessionals, where you can be who you are, talk trash about everyone, and you can showcase your personality. Nobody can see or hear you but the people holding the cameras. Within the game you can strategically be the person you want them to see you as. At some point it’s gonna show who you really are, there’s a fine line you’re gonna have to walk. Everyone wants to be memorable.  But at the end of the day winning is what matters most, that’s my first priority. Paying my dad’s mortgage is my top priority. Way more important than being invited back. But I would love to be like Boston Rob or Sandra (Diaz-Twine) or Ozzy (Lusth) and come back every season if they’d let me.

 

Ronnie Bardah can be seen on the season premiere of Survivor: Island of the Idols (season 39), airing 8pm Wednesday, September 25th, on CBS.

 

 

 

My 2018 Movie Tally: My First As A Dad!

26 Jan

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It’s time to play the music. It’s time to light the lights. It’s time to write my tally for my ’18 blog tonight! Sorry, but I had the Muppet Show theme stuck in my head. Let’s start over…

THREE HOSPITALIZATIONS AND A DUPLEX

2018 was insane. Care for an abridged recap? Adi’s pregnancy was terrible. By March she had to go on Disability due to endless vomiting and dehydration along with twenty other symptoms. In May I was about to go on a “guy’s trip” to Vegas when her water broke and the baby started coming 6 weeks early. A long labor resulted in an emergency c-section. If the next month had been funny, it would have been a true Comedy of Errors, because oh-boy-did-Cedars-Sinai-screw-things-up…we were there for 6 days, sent home for 2, brought back in an emergency for 2 more days, sent home for 4, and then brought back with yet another emergency for 19 more days. And if the details of that are new to you, I truly invite you to read about the nitty gritty right here, it’s not boring.

But wait, there’s more! In the midst of the first hospitalization, we found our wonderful new home, and moved into a scary but wonderful arrangement with her parents. No not living together, but a duplex where we are upstairs and they are downstairs, and it has been a mutual blessing for us all so far….(cue dramatic music)! We moved in just in time for the Jewish High Holidays, and life began to semi-normalize.

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Adi’s nasty pregnancy left her with a few nuggets of poop, as she found out that she would likely require three surgeries to undo the damage of carrying our little terrorist in her womb: one for the worsened carpal tunnel in both her left and right hands, and another for her sinuses. Luckily thus-far it appears she may be able to avoid the sinus surgery, but as of writing this post she has completed the two on her hands.

SO I MARRIED A CLONED NOLTE

We named our adorable baby girl Natalia Rose, and she has blown up the internet ever since. It may be due to her cuteness. But it may also be because people started to realize that I, Boaz Hepner, actually married Nick Nolte. Don’t get the connection? Let me connect the dots in an incontrovertible way.

The following is a photo of Adi (above) and Natalia (below). Can you tell them apart other than from the faded picture quality? I don’t think so. Look, the photos were even both time stamped at 3:27pm, I smell an X-File in the making…clearly “my” baby girl is actually Adi’s clone.

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Now that you obviously agree that Adi gave birth to herself, all you need to see is Natalia’s unique head of hair. Now look at it next to Nick Nolte’s own unique mane.

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Case. Closed.

MOVIEPASS IS DEAD, LONG LIVE MOVIEPASS

But wait, throughout the entire roller-coaster year, there was craziness at the cinema! I don’t exactly mean the movies themselves, but the way to get tickets to the movies went bananas. Entering the year there was the greatest thing for movie-lovers that I imagine I will ever experience, MoviePass. It was like a fleeting dream. The longer time passes the more I start to doubt my own memories as real. “Listen up boys and girls, have I got a product for you! For just 10 dollars a month – you heard me, 10 bucks is all it takes – I’ll let you see any movie you want, day in, day out, no questions asked. Just go to 90% of your local theaters, swipe this magic card, and voilà, your ticket is paid for!” And that wasn’t even an exaggeration, that’s how it worked, and it really did work…..until it didn’t. I knew from Day One of this magical app that it was simply not a sustainable business model, and tried to get everyone and their mother to sign up and enjoy the ride while it lasted; because sure enough by the midpoint of last year the wheels were falling off the cart. In August we switched over to AMC’s own too-good-to-be-true program, and so far other than a small price increase, it has been fantastic. I’m paying 20 bucks a month (okay, double MoviePass but still the cost of under 2 movies) and I’m seeing 3 a week at their many nice theaters. But my favorite thing is that unlike MoviePass, I am booking these tickets and seats in advance. For my entire life I have avoided movies and showtimes that are busy because quite simply there’s always older stuff I haven’t caught yet, and why bother competing for bad seats in a busy theater or finding out it’s sold out when I arrive? (EDITOR’S NOTE: For the many years prior to these subscriptions, I was buying discount passes from each theater to save significant money, but in doing so you have to be in person to buy seats.) But this new program changes everything. I now I use my app, find whatever the heck movie I want that’s conveniently timed, and a few days in advance I can already reserve the best seats in the house. And if I change my mind? I cancel the tickets, it costs me nothing, no harm is done, and the seats are released for someone else. In just the past two weeks we have enjoyed Mary Poppins Returns and A Star Is Born in sold out AMC Theaters, and yet we had perfect seats and paid zero (beyond our 20 dollar subscription for the month). Oh, and one of them was in the special Dolby theater that costs over 20 bucks per ticket anyway, so that one alone justified its existence for the month. So unless the wheels fall off this sucker, we’re riding it into the sunset. (And you are welcome to read my analysis of those two plus Sinemia that I wrote up last August here).

Okay, enough with the foreplay, it’s time to talk about the movies I saw last year, let’s rev up those engines and count those numbers!

SHUT UP ALREADY AND SHOW ME THE NUMBERS

In my previous tally I had plummeted to an all-time low. In 2016 for my first time ever, I went under 100 movies, and saw only 86. I vowed to never let it happen again, and make it a blemish, an aberration in the history of Boaz. But then 2017 happened, and I saw one LESS flick, with a measly 85 as my final number. This was becoming a new pattern as I was bringing life into this world (okay fiiiiine, Adi was self-actualizing the life of her clone into this world, but dammit I was being supportive in my new role as pater familias and I needed my daughter to respect me as the insanely movie obsessed man I am). The year came to a close, and as always I had no idea where I stood as I pulled my bag of ticket stubs out of my drawer to do my annual count (yes that’s how I actually do it)! Like the 3rd act of any sports movie, I knew I could not be victorious, the odds were stacked against me; I had even spent an entire month in the hospital seeing nothing but my annual birthday movie. My most frequent movie companion was vomiting for 7 plus months and often unwilling (okay fiiiiine, unable) to go out. Previous “winners” of being my movie companion (some would meanly call them losers, it’s all a matter of perspective I suppose) had moved away to DC (Josh Baron), Nor Cal (David Mittelman) and even frequent commutes to Vegas (Jared Rubin). I was obviously about to find I had gone even lower than ever…

But wait, what’s this? I had somehow beaten the numbers of each of the last few years, and managed to see…106 movies! I can’t tell you how, it makes no sense to me, but just like the unlimited MoviePass plan fever-dream, apparently, there’s proof – it really happened. So enough is enough, let’s break down the numbers, let’s see who I saw the most with, and let’s analyze the highs and the lows!

My final tally for 2018 in theaters – 106

THE BREAKDOWN

Who I saw the most with:

  1. Adi – 83 movies (previous year 58). If there’s any proof that no good deed goes unpunished, this would be it. I got/forced/begged/manipulated my pregnant wife in the first half of the year, and a then-mother of a newborn in the second half, to see 25 more movies this dramatic past year than the prior one! And let me tell you people, I do not ever take her to a movie she doesn’t want to see. Yes I’m the movie obsessed one, but she actually does want to see the vast majority of movies out there, especially if it doesn’t cost anything extra to see it – thus an added benefit to the subscription models of MoviePass (God rest its soul) and AMC Stubs A-List (yaaaay for now…).What were some of the highlights? Hard to pinpoint when there were 83 to choose from. Let’s go with the day we spent watching a ridiculously great triple feature, where the genres zigzagged all over the map. It began with Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a movie that was so damn good, and so beloved by all audiences and critics alike, that it was widely considered a shoo-in for winning the Best Documentary Oscar….so naturally it wasn’t even nominated, because that would be too easy. It brought tears of nostalgia to my eyes as I still have proof of how wonderful Fred Rogers and his show were. I was a little boy and loved to help my mother tend to her LA based English garden. I loved watching Sesame Street and Mister Rogers. So with my mother’s help no doubt, I sent him a letter asking if he would ever make an episode about gardening for me to watch. Soon after, when I was not even 4 years old, I received a personal letter by the iconic man himself making me feel special for each detail I had written. This was signed by him, and as cynical as I am about celebrities these days, yes I am confident the letter was really from him. But that’s not even the best part. 15 months later, I received another letter in the mail, this person identified herself as his secretary, and was letting me know that Fred Rogers remembered my letter, and was creating an episode about gardening, that would air later that year, and they wanted to make sure I knew. Who does something like this anymore??? Who would see a child’s letter to their show that has millions upon millions of viewers, responds to it personally, and then cultivate (in the non-digital age no less, with no way to easily keep track of these things), an environment that then took yet more time to tell that same child about the episode? I was not an 18-39 demographic. I was not a Nielsen viewer. I provided no way for them to make any money. I was a child, they were on PBS, and they cared. I cried happy tears watching that wonderful documentary about that beautiful man.
    EDITOR’S NOTE: Writing this story inspired me to drive to my parent’s house, rummage through my old files, and eventually find these letters which I now present to you below:mr. rogers letter 1983mr. rogers secretary letter 1984
    Tell me that didn’t warm your heart to read, I challenge you. You can even see where I wet the end of his signature just to validate that it was real ink! Naturally, the movie that followed was Hereditary, a scary movie that involves a tour de force performance by Toni Collette that most critics also demanded be recognized by the Oscars – but good luck finding a horror movie that gets the respect it deserves come awards season. Last year Get Out was the first one nominated since Silence of the Lambs in 1991. Then again, Black Panther (damn fun movie) broke the Best Picture comic book barrier that even the superior The Dark Night was robbed of; perhaps a horror movie’s acting is the next barrier to get through. The film was great far beyond Collette’s performance, with some of the most haunting audio and visuals I experienced all of last year. From that we went into Incredibles 2, because what could be better than watching another Pixar masterpiece after being disturbed for 2 hours? My only regret is that I have not seen the original The Incredibles since its initial release, so it wasn’t fresh in my mind. Nonetheless, this made me love it as much as I remember loving the first one, and Pixar along with Marvel Studios (weird comparison) both continue to make movies that range from decent to awesome, with no stinkers in the bunch. (For the sake of that argument I will pretend Cars 2 was never made, because that’s far more convenient for my point.) So yes, that was a phenomenal triple feature!Here’s where things get weird. In all prior years there were a slew of friends seeing four or more movies with us. Two years ago there were 7 of those friends, and last year there were 9. So how is it that in a year when I saw this many more movies, there were only three friends who went with me to see between 4-5 flicks? Another X-File! (And before you ask, yes, I still wear deodorant!)
  2. Glee – 5 movies (previous year 0). That’s right, from left field, a new contender, someone who had literally never seen a movie with me before; my dear friend from the hospital who moved from working nights to joining me at day-shifts, and as we speak is moving back to nights on another unit. Let’s be honest, she only puts up with me to spend time with her true love, baby Natalia, but anyone who comes over and asks to change my child’s diaper is family in my book. My movie highlight with her has to be The Room. Yes, considered the greatest worst movie of all time, I had never seen it, and time was running out to catch the James Franco film The Disaster Artist about the making of it; so I made a plan, and a bunch of us went to see it with the infamously awesome Tommy Wiseau in person, where we got to take this absurd photo with him and his merchandise…
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    So yeah, it was a truly, hilariously surreal experience; we watched it on the big screen, him right there in the room with us, and then a few weeks later I saw The Disaster Artist in the same exact theater, with actual scenes of the movie filmed within the theater we were watching it in. Are you confused yet?! My head was exploding
  3. Haley – 4 movies (previous year 1). Another delightful friend I made at work. Between work and seeing movies with me, I found out that Haley was acting in a play that she hadn’t told a single coworker about. So naturally, I told everyone, and a group of us from work went to watch her and cheer her on! Listen, she’s obviously shy, and didn’t want the attention, so I’ll just share a photo of the entire cast bowing at the end, and you can’t possibly know which one is her.
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    Our year consisted of 4 movies. 3 were excellent, and 1 was unwatchable (and I almost never use that adjective as you know)! The best of the best was Hostiles. If you missed it, and I’m guessing you did, then run to your Netflix account and make it first on your queue. That movie blew me away. It should have at the very least been nominated for all of the major Oscars the previous year. Christian Bale was great as always. Rosamund Pike gave a performance that still to this day haunts me. She cries in a way I have truly never seen in cinema, and I get heartbroken just imagining it. No this is not a movie for the squeamish, it is extremely savage, and raw, and perfect. Den of Thieves was the first good movie Gerard Butler has been in for years, I expected fun B-movie crap and was surprised to get the next damn good version of Training Day. And Thoroughbreds was amazing. I don’t even know how to describe this other than a dark comedy, a genre that usually misses the mark, hit it right on the bullseye with this one. Best is if you know nothing going into it, as I did, but if you must get a taste, you can watch the trailer here. But wait, remember that earlier word? We also saw the one and only movie all year that I would describe as “unwatchable”. Proud Mary was a piece of garbage that had no direction, provided no fun, and it couldn’t end fast enough. And it’s a real shame since I would think you could put Taraji P Henson in front of a camera and film her doing literally anything, and make an entertaining movie, but this proved that theory wrong. Story, direction and screenplay does apparently matter too. (Luckily for her fans, Tyler Perry’s Acrimony came out a few months later, and was a wonderful and entertaining use of her talents.)
  4. Mayman – 4 movies (previous year 0). It’s actually nuts that I saw absolutely no movies with David (yes he occasionally has a first name) in 2017, because unlike Glee and Haley, David is not a new friend. In fact, not only has he been one of my closest for ages, not only was he a groomsman at my wedding, but he is responsible for my going into nursing in the first place! True story: back in 2008 this guy invited me to meet for a slice of pizza at our usual place, Nagila, and he had a legal pad full of notes in front of him as I arrived. It turned out to be an ambush, and he had spent hours of his time researching not only why I would make a great nurse, but how much it would cost, which schools do it the fastest, how many prerequisites I would need, and many other things that he anticipated (correctly) I would argue and question. An hour later, my very stubborn mind had been opened to a new career from its previous L.A. aimlessness, and I embarked on a new life-path. Between his 2 kids and busy job lawyering, I was thrilled to see that we had actually seen 4 movies together this year, and I’m honored to have him round out my 2018 list.The real story of the movies I saw with David is that 2 of them I had ALREADY SEEN. I rarely take the time to see a movie a second time, but hey that’s yet another advantage of a subscription service where cost is no longer a factor. And wait, by many counts I really saw 108 movies this year, but I have to be consistent, and when I see a movie two or even three times, I only count it once since my goal is to count how many different movies I see in the theater each year. An important caveat. So what were those two movies worth seeing twice? Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Avengers: Infinity War. What? Were you expecting Shakespeare? This is my movie blog, and I ain’t no movie snob. Show me a 200 plus million dollar spectacle that entertains the hell out of me, and I’m in cinema heaven. Sure they were full of flaws, but I enjoyed the hell out of them both. Many hate on the middle chapter of the current Star Wars trilogy, but I for one appreciated all of the risks it took; in fact it needed to take some left turns after the first one was loads of fun, but light on the originality. Although I will admit, I have no idea why this hilariously creepy scene needed to be included, other than providing a #MeToo story for a Henson-type Milk Creature. (For my review of the first two Star Wars movies, read my previous entry here.)
    And then there’s Marvel’s latest flawed masterpiece, Avengers: Infinity War. All of their movies have been varying degrees of awesomeness. Doesn’t have to mean Oscar-worthy awesome, it can simply mean Jeff Spicoli-type awesome, I’m good with that. If you grew up reading comic books, you grew up with a universe that was intertwined and crossed over from one character’s book to another. And only now do we finally have a universe like that in film, where the crossover format of the page has leapt to the big screen, and the results have been…awesome. That being said, I am still more than happy to laugh at flaws and plot holes as well as the next guy, and if you were a fan of this movie and have not yet watched this “How it Should Have Ended” clip, enjoy, and you’re welcome. But the best movie we saw together was actually neither of those double-viewed blockbusters, it was Mission Impossible: Fallout. How. Does. This. Series. Keep. Getting. Better? Seriously. The first 3 of the franchise were varying wobbly degrees of high energy, ridiculous ordinary action blockbuster, with the added bit of adrenaline injection that is Tom Cruise and his real life God-Complex-Death-Wish. You can’t help but enjoy this series a bit extra knowing he does the vast majority of his own death-defying stunts. But still, as I said, those first 3 were fine. But then the most recent two were absolutely magnificent. Every minute of them was exciting. The direction was crisp, the story moved, and the stunts were better than ever. These were as good as the best of the James Bond movies, and Christopher McQuarrie shot to the top of my list of favorite action writer/director options in Hollywood. In fact if you look at the previous movie he just wrote, it was the unbelievably entertaining, funny, and intelligent (also Tom Cruise) movie Edge of Tomorrow. So yeah, this guy is the real deal.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

Honorable mention goes to a few friends who saw 3 movies with me: Harwin, who was number one (after Adi of course) each of the last two years, and sadly plummeted dramatically for no reason I can come up with…we happened to bump into him while he was biking in Marina del Rey, he got off his bike, showered (happens to live there), and ran in to watch The Greatest Showman with us – a movie that whitewashes the history of the circus, but does so with such amazing flair, music and Hugh Jackman, that it makes me excited for the upcoming whitewashed Broadway musical adaptation; Jared, who plays poker for a living, and once upon a time was chip leader in my movie tally…we loved getting to watch Molly’s Game with him, a rare great movie about the world of poker. Jessica Chastain and the Sorkin writing are what really make damn good; Mike, who used to also lead the pack in my tally, watched Bohemian Rhapsody with us, and has not stopped singing Queen to his kids ever since. Rami Malek’s performance is mesmerizing, Marc Martel who does the behind-the-scenes vocals imitating Freddy Mercury is magically pitch perfect (watch him here and see for yourself), and all of the concert scenes make it a really fun night at the movies…they also help cover up the fact that the film’s dialogue, acting and direction otherwise are quite ordinary and paint-by-numbers; Nathan, who took a few hours away from producing awe-inspiring videos for League of Legends, and saw the entertainingly ridiculous Liam Neeson on a train movie The Commuter, but balanced it out well by also seeing the spectacularly good Churchill movie Darkest Hour, which resulted in Gary Oldman winning a well-deserved Acaedemy Award last year; Sabrina, who seems to spend all of her time trying to help her clients in Adelanto Detention Center, but did manage to see the highly satisfying Spielberg movie The Post with me, and balanced it out beautifully when we left our spouses at home and went to see the finale to the Fifty Shades trilogy. Remember when I said much earlier that Proud Mary was an extremely rare movie where I would use the word “unwatchable”? Well I meant it. Fifty Shades Freed was ridiculous, pointless, but still fun. And a decent improvement on the 2nd one which was actually, nearly unwatchable; Oh, and last but not least Avish. She only saw 2 with me, but that’s not her fault. The only reason Harwin & Sabrina even made the cut of 3 was for my annual birthday bash in Westwood. Avish was planning to join that, her night was set aside, but we were in a bind. Remember when I mentioned the only movie we saw during the month of hospitalizations was my annual birthday movie? We needed someone to stay with Natalia while she had a feeding tube down her throat, and zero trust in a hospital that had already let us down not once but twice. So she offered to stay so that we could make a rare exit from the hospital grounds and see people on the outside for a night. Boy oh boy did we need it! We saw Deadpool 2, a hilarious Marvel franchise that I pray will remain R-Rated when Disney takes over, as it makes no sense in a sanitized universe. So Avish gets deserved honorable mention for her 2 movies plus sacrificing her 3rd so that we could go. This was the end result:

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AND BAD REGRETS, I’VE HAD A FEW

Seeing 106 different movies does NOT, however, mean I didn’t miss out on any. I looked back and counted 40, yes 40 that I had wanted to watch but missed. They ranged from incredibly crappy movies like Mortal Engines, The Spy Who Dumped Me and The Happytime Murders, to excellently reviewed films such as Lean On Pete, The RiderBlindspottingFirst Man and BlacKkKlansman. There were even a handful of movies where I had watched the previous ones within the franchise, making the OCD part of me not pleased at all; these include Maze Runner: Death Cure, Goosebumps 2, Super Troopers 2, Hotel Transylvania 3, The NunJohnny English Strikes Again, and yes even Sherlock Gnomes. And although I had reached my 1 documentary per year quota (has never been my thing, what can I say), I highly regret missing Three Identical Strangers and Free Solo.

UNTIL NEXT YEAR…

That rounds up my 2018 movie tally. I hope it inspires you to watch a few you have missed. I hope you know me a bit better than you did before reading this. And if I had one wish for 2019, it might be for World Peace; or it might be to make it more affordable to live in L.A. with my family; it likely should be to bring together our horribly divided nation; but instead I’ll use my one wish to see at least 107 movies next year, because we all want the 2019 blog to start on a happy note. (And if you have never seen the absolutely classic Steve Martin One Wish sketch I was mildly channeling, enjoy this nugget of brilliance here).

 

 

Three Hospitalizations & A Baby (Sorta Starring Dennis Quaid)

3 Sep
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I have been waiting a long time to post this important and highly personal story, something most of our friends don’t know about yet, and today is finally the day. I’ll even tell you what we have in common with Dennis Quaid.
Many of you followed our experience w/ Natalia in Cedars Sinai, and are well aware that we had a bad and dangerous series of hospitalizations/discharges. It shocked us as that’s where we’ve gone for most of our lives; it’s where I was born myself, and not only does it have a stellar reputation but we’ve had SO MANY great experiences there over the years…I would still consider it a top notch hospital. But nonetheless, sometimes in life someone has to become the unfortunate “teaching case” where things go badly, but IDEALLY they learn from it and make things safer for future patients, so here is our experience. (You may know pieces of the first 2 parts, previously mentioned on Facebook, but we’ve never until now publicly discussed the third)…
Prologue:
Adi had a rough pregnancy, so difficult that she was vomiting from Day One until the day she was taken to get a c-section 6 weeks early, an ironic Mother’s Day surprise. The one relief from giving birth to our child prematurely was knowing that the vomiting would finally come to an end – and yes, thankfully, it did. Safe delivery from our good doctor, the cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck, and they had to take her to the NICU. Once there she had feeding challenges. And also once there she developed jaundice. But as countless parents are aware, all of these were quite common things to experience with preemies, and we were confident in the care we were receiving. The social worker was attentive, the nurses were knowledgeable and caring, and the chaplain was checking on our psychosocial needs daily. Cedars Sinai was living up to its reputation as a wonderful place to deliver a child…until our first problem.
Scene 1: (NICU)
Adi and I had been visiting the NICU regularly to be with our new little Natalia Rose. Each doctor, physical therapist, lactation consultant and nurse had mentioned that it would be at least another week before she would go home. Expectations were there, we were prepared to stick it out while Natalia continued to sunbathe under her spa-treatment UV lights to keep her jaundice at bay. The need for assistance for her breathing had been solved, and although she was breastfeeding poorly, she was swallowing milk from the bottle, so it mostly came down to the jaundice-problem (caused by raised bilirubin levels). She was considered at moderate to high risk because she was not only a preemie, but what you call Coombs Positive – a Blood Incompatibility disorder. This is also a common occurrence; it happens when the baby and mother are not the same Rh Factor (Positive/Negative blood type). Most mothers get a shot of RhoGAM to prevent this while pregnant, but Natalia was born before the shot could be given, so thus, the baby would need more help from the UV lights for her bilirubin levels. Sure, no problem, the staff had dealt with this countless times before, and thus we were told she was stable and doing well, and likely to discharge home the next week.
On day 5 of her life, Thursday night, the NICU neonatologist visited us, and with an absolutely lovely bedside manner dropped an unexpectedly happy bomb on us – there’s a chance Natalia could go home TOMORROW. What? Really? But everyone else had said “hopefully next week” just earlier that same day. “Yes, tomorrow possibly”. A few minutes later he said, “50/50 tomorrow it will happen”. We weren’t sure what had happened in those few minutes to take this from a maybe to 50/50, but this doctor’s friendly internal monologue continued. As he kept talking to us, a few minutes after THAT he blurted out, “tomorrow is going to happen, I’m confident, she will go home tomorrow”.  I said this made no sense, she was still under the UV lights, nobody else had thought it could happen for days, how could this be? The warm and friendly NICU doctor reassured us she would be fine; he would take her off the UV lights in the morning, test her bilirubin levels, wait 6 hours to be sure, test her again off the lights and then send her home. I tried to quell the red flags that had been going off in my brain, equal parts due to the fact that we wanted to go home with her, mixed with the fact that his warm reassuring bedside manner convinced us that he must be doing what’s right.
The next morning, our sweet NICU nurse said to us, “Wasn’t the doctor going to check her bilirubin and wait 6 hours before possibly discharging her?” and when we answered yes, she said, “okay, I need to call him, he just ordered her discharge home now without running any tests”. The red flags came roaring back in my brain. The tests got ordered, her levels were below actual jaundice, around 10.7, and we waited 6 hours with the UV lights turned off to see how her body would respond. 6 hours later, the new test showed that her number had gone UP to about 11.3, still under the jaundice levels of 12, but the trend was heading back toward it. He still ordered the discharge. MORE RED FLAGS. I questioned him, how could this be, the numbers trended in the wrong direction? “It’s okay, it’s still under jaundice at these numbers”. Yes, I understood that, but surely he could see this was heading that way, if anything we could wait another 6 hours and see what the numbers would be the next time? “No, she’s fine, she’ll be fine, you can safely take her home, see your pediatrician after the weekend”.  Okay, wonderful, I muted my red flags, I trusted the neonatologist, and we celebrated that on the 6th day of her 6 week premature life, we could take her home!
2 mornings later, about 40 hours had passed, it was the Jewish holiday of Shavuos, and I came home from my synagogue and just STARED at Natalia. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but something about her skin tone was off. Now please realize, I am an RN, I see Jaundice in my patients with liver failure, but this was simply not it. The whites of her eyes remained completely white. Her skin did not resemble a yellow highlighter. It was not jaundice the way I know it, but something told me it might be anyway. At this same moment I realized something else: we had been given NO EDUCATION. None. Zero. Zip. Not a drop of “look for this w/ her poops, and be aware of that for her breathing. We were first time parents, taking home a premature moderate to high-risk baby, and we were not coached on anything, not even jaundice signs and symptoms. Oy. I called my pediatrician, who we continue to trust and love to this day, and she was confident in my judgment enough to send me to get a blood test for Natalia’s bilirubin levels. We happened to even run into our dear friend Aryeh who is a pediatrician, and agreed with our “better safe than sorry” approach to get the blood test that afternoon. 2 hours later, our pediatrician called us and explained, “Her bilirubin levels are 18.9, you must take her right now to be checked back into the hospital for her jaundice levels. She will be okay because she is still under a level of 20, but this is very important”. Here is where I must explain the importance of the number 20. You and I have what’s called the “blood-brain barrier”, this acts as a sort of moat to protect the castle. Our brain uses it to keep things filtered out…..BUT until we turn approximately 10 days old, we don’t HAVE this barrier, and if the bilirubin levels are above 20 at that young age, you could thus get permanent brain damage and deafness. Do the math, she was 10.7 Friday morning, 6 hours later she was 11.3, and 40 hours later she was 18.9. It would have likely been just a matter of hours before she had passed that scarily irreversible point in time, and thank GOD my inner voice nudged me into rechecking this, because it was caught in time. But it sure seems like the discharge was scarily incorrect.
Scene 2: (Pediatrics Ward)
We were no longer in the NICU, but rather the Pediatric unit down the hall. This was a massive relief to us as it meant we could sleep in the same room with Natalia. She was to stay under the UV lights without a break until her levels could justify otherwise. We could not even take her out to hold her, and that was okay, it was what was needed for her, and she seemed content in her little sun-tanning booth. Let’s gloss over the day that we had a terrible nurse who left her UV lights OFF for an hour and did not even correct (or apologize for) her own mistake when the Nursing Assistant caught it. Let’s just cut to the end of this 2 day hospitalization. Each and every shift the doctors and nurses would come and check on us and ask how much she had been eating and pooping/peeing. We kept the chart, they put it on not only a paper but their computers. Upon discharge they told us how great she was doing and we could go home for real this time. We were relieved, and went home. 4 days later our own pediatrician was out of town, we had a bilirubin test that showed the jaundice was finally a thing of the past, but the doctor covering for her called us on the phone and asked us to go over Natalia’s feeding habits each and every day. Adi read him the numbers kept on her app that tracks everything. The doctor had the incredibly decent compassion to invite himself over to the house for the simple purpose of telling us that WE HAD TO GO BACK TO THE HOSPITAL AGAIN. He had done the math and seen that she was eating – only HALF of what she needed to thrive. Half. I told him, “I could deal with this easier if she had been eating less well since coming home from the hospital, if something was DIFFERENT now, but these numbers WERE what she was doing in the hospital. Nothing had changed. They simply sent her home when the numbers had reflected a failure to thrive, yet another ridiculous discharge…
Scene 3: (Pediatrics Ward)
Upon arrival, I saw some of the same young doctors from the second hospitalization, in the same pediatric unit as last time, and I was not polite. As soon as they visited us, I told them, “I am sick and tired of being here, but what I am really furious about is the fact that you doctors keep treating her for her ADMITTING DIAGNOSIS, but ignoring everything else that arises as unimportant. The first time she had respiratory distress from birth, it was solved, the jaundice arose and it was not taken seriously enough, which brought us to our second hospitalization. That second one was for jaundice, which was solved, but the fact that she was eating half of what is necessary was totally ignored, not even acknowledged, and for that reason alone we were back there this third time for the feeding issue. Now you are about to put a feeding tube down her nose for however long, but if ANYTHING ELSE arises, you’d better actually pay attention to it. For example, look at this rash on her chest. It may be nothing, but we want you to look at it and pay attention, even though that’s not the main reason she’s here…look at her entire being, not just her diagnosis!” That was my rant, and unbeknownst to us, it contained a large nugget of irony. The next morning her temperature dropped, they ran tests, gave the poor tiny thing a spinal tap, and confirmed that she actually had a form of Viral Meningitis known as Enterovirus (dangerous for babies but completely benign in adults). And when the Infectious Disease doctors entered our newly created isolation room to visit us, they asked if she had had any recent rashes on her chest. Ha! Yes, it was our example of something else to look at, and was there even a photo of it for them taken by the doctors I showed it to? Nope. Oh well.
19 days in Cedars went by, we were treated with kid gloves, and you can imagine why at this point. I reported all of what I have repeated to the Quality Control department, who would convey it to Risk Management. Our own trusted pediatrician had reported our experience to the head of the NICU, and he came by on two occasions to discuss and apologize for our experience thus far. Multiple heads of departments in nursing and the hospital visited us, and understandably apologized carefully. I told them we were not interested in suing the hospital, but wanted things to be changed for the future, and “you’d better tear up our bills, because we won’t be paying for this huge mess, obviously”. The majority of nurses, physical therapists, and various other people who helped us were fantastic. Oh, remember that nurse I glossed over, who left her UV lights off and didn’t take responsibility for her mistake? We had her again, silently worried, and within 2 hours that same nurse had made 3 more errors, including when her trainee (yes, she of all people was training someone else) asked her “aren’t they under isolation?” she answered loudly in front of us, “yes, I think so, but I don’t know why” to which WE chimed in and exclaimed, “She’s in isolation because she has Viral Meningitis!”. This was weeks into her isolation, and as our designated nurse hours into her mshift, she didn’t even know that basic fact of the care of her own patient? Yikes. We had to report this nurse as being quite obliviously unsafe.
Scene 4: (Home)
But we got to go home! She had the tube down her nose for the “Gavage” feedings for most of the 19 days, but by the end she was eating enough, she had no Enterovirus symptoms, she could go home and this saga would be over! Everyone celebrated, the 3 hospitalizations were enough, nothing further would be missed. We enjoyed a completely uneventful week at home UNTIL ONE MORNING ADI SCREAMED. “What, what’s wrong???” “COME INTO THE KITCHEN RIGHT NOW!” I groggily got out of bed, and saw a bunch of bottles of breast milk on our counter. “What’s the problem?” I asked. “LOOK CLOSER AT THE LABELS!” she answered. That brings us to the photo at the start of this post. They had the name, birthday and medical record number of ANOTHER PATIENT! I went to the garage, checked our entire breast milk supply, and we counted 13 bottles of this other patient’s milk! When they sent us home with Adi’s milk, they had somehow sent us home with another patient’s milk, it was insane! Her HIPAA (privacy) was totally violated. It turned out a week after leaving the hospital, they had found a way to mess up yet again, and when I called the same people to report this newest problem, their previously diplomatic stone-faced apologies were gone. They had been replaced with turning pale, saying things along the lines of “Oh my God, I can’t believe this happened, I can’t believe the hospital did this to you, that’s crazy, and after everything else you’ve gone through already, I don’t even know how to start apologizing for all of this, this is NOT okay.” No it wasn’t, and I appreciated that people were giving me human reactions, not merely the previous apologies without admitting liability that we had been (understandably) getting until this point. A courier came to pick up the bottles. They had to contact their legal department and epidemiology. They needed to know what tests to run on the other mother, assuming we had already fed Natalia some of that mother’s breast milk before catching the error (because yes things can be transmitted via breast milk). A week later the other mother was contacted, her blood was tested, she asked that Adi’s blood also be tested (a reasonable request as she likely got some of our milk in exchange) and thankfully everything was fine on both ends. BUT THIS SHOULD HAVE NEVER BEEN ABLE TO OCCUR.
Epilogue:
Why did I bring up Dennis Quaid at the start of the piece? Am I simply name-dropping randomly, or was there a purpose? Can anyone recall something to do with Dennis Quaid and Cedars Sinai? Let me refresh your memory with this link, and a quick recap: 11 years ago, Dennis Quaid and his wife gave birth to twins in Saint John’s Health Center – my hospital, where I work as an RN! But a few days later, their twins developed an infection, and the Quaids brought them to, wait for it, Cedars Sinai. Somehow, a HUGE medication error occurred in Cedars, and they were given too much of the blood thinner Heparin. How much was too much? Umm, how about 1 THOUSAND times the proper dosage!  Miraculously, it was caught in time, and they were able to save both babies. But thanks to the horrors of their case, multiple changes were made for the betterment of everyone else. Labels on Heparin were changed, high alert labels were added, different protocols were put into place. Basically, they went through the shit of it all, and thankfully everyone else is now safer for it.
Well, we are your latest crash test dummies. Natalia is the latest Quaid twin. We have been told by Cedars that they now are utilizing a bar-code system for all breast milks so that the wrong milk cannot be given upon going home again. Furthermore, the head of the NICU explained to us that thanks to the bilirubin/jaundice scare, they are applying for an experimental technology that would allow them to do a simple test that shows who is at significant risk of jaundice bouncing back the wrong direction, as it did with Natalia. Long story short, our case was not simple and not good, but the hospital should be a better place thanks to what happened. And Natalia is just fine, she is gaining weight, eating plenty, no jaundice, no breathing issues, and we are not worried. Who knows, maybe Dennis Quaid will one day read this and his twins can babysit for her, wouldn’t that bring things full circle?

MoviePass, AMC and Sinemia – Oh My!

8 Aug
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Want advice on movie-watching services, but don’t want to take the time to research it yourself? I’ve spent months tracking and testing this, so happy reading…
For the past year I have sung the praises of MoviePass. So many recommendations, so many Facebook posts, every new change people share with me because they associate it with me. I’ve seen SO many movies for SUCH little money, it has felt too-good-to-be-true, and now it seems it really was, as the service has without question gone further and further DOWNHILL to the mess it currently is. The company paved the way for others to come up with movie-going subscription services, and we should always appreciate the affordability it has provided us, but here are my thoughts on what remains as of August 8th, 2018, in this ever-fluid situation that could make this post irrelevant a week from now:
1. MoviePass:
It still exists, but in any given day you never know what you’ll get from it. In the past 4 weeks they changed it so you can’t see movies they arbitrarily decide minute-to-minute are more popular, so those newer movies usually disappear, and they added surge pricing, but then they said they’d remove surge pricing, but they’d still not show all movies especially newer ones, and not have all showtimes available, and they said it’d be 15 dollars instead of 10 per month, but then changed it back to 10 bucks a month, and they said it will only be 3 movies per month max, but…. If you thought reading that run-on sentence was exhausting, just imagine how exhausting it is trying to keep up with the changes in real time, because that was only a glimpse into the past month! Adi and I prepaid 90 bucks for a whole year that doesn’t expire until November, so we have no reason to even consider canceling the messy plan until then, and honestly by the time November comes who the hell knows what other changes will have been made. But in the meantime I can tell you we could barely use this app over the past few weeks. On Sunday for example, we found a showtime and location for a movie offered on the app,  drove there, and when we opened the app it had disappeared as an option at that theater, and we had to pay for it. (They change it from hour to hour, it’s nuts!) So we had to move on and find a competitor that’s more stable, which brings me to…
2. AMC Stubs A-List:
This is what we signed up for during that incident on Sunday. It costs double MoviePass but in some ways it’s even better than what that ever was, as its details include:
-20 bucks per month plus tax.
-3 movies a week with no rollover, with each week starting on a Friday morning (when movies are typically released).
-You can buy tickets to any movie, in any AMC theater, even special IMAX 3D is fine, no surcharges, and it can be booked w/ seats reserved days in advance (as long as you reserve during that same Friday to Thursday week). So you could buy tix and seats days in advance if you wanted, and you can always cancel and not have it count against your 3 per week (as long as you cancel BEFORE the movie starts). And obviously (unlike MoviePass) none of this has to be done in person when you arrive.
Many other questions you might have about it can be answered here at their FAQ. Honestly, even I used to (at my peak) see 150 movies a year, which averaged 3 a week. So this is technically enough to feed even my insatiable movie-going-habit, and 20 bucks a month is a steal for that since a ticket is already 14-17 bucks. BUT the one sad thing is that I simply will NOT be able to see everything at an AMC. Here in West LA locally there’s AMC Century City, and AMC Sunset 5, and going a bit further there’s the lovely AMC Marina, AMC Burbank and CityWalk theaters which are fancy. BUT I will still inevitably only find certain movies and showtimes at an Arclight or The Grove or The Landmark, which are not AMC theaters. So this AMC plan is absolutely worth it for us but doesn’t solve the times we need to go to those theaters, which leads me to discussing…
3. Sinemia:
I wanted to sign up for this, I really did. This app allows me to sign up for a few options you can see here; their top one being 3 movies a month, ANY movie, ANY theater, for 15 bucks. That’s great, it ensures I can see a movie at The Arclight for example, for what works out to be 5 bucks. It even offers family plans (no other app offers this) so we don’t need 2 separate apps, and can pay 30 bucks and each have 3 movies available to see anytime, anywhere…and we’d obviously try to see most at AMC Theaters and just use Sinemia when we can’t, right?
Except no, their interface and usability is stupid. I read multiple reviews that say you have to go through it, get a code, and then be redirected to a 3rd party website and book through them using the code, and often by the time you go through the effort of booking it you are timed out and have to start from the beginning. Basically, it’s a great idea done badly, and I’m hoping they work on it to make it user-friendly; if and when they do, I will sign us up for this as well. There’s a good review testing out Sinemia that fleshes out what I said right here.
Conclusion:
Until November (when our MoviePass annual subscriptions expire), we will TRY to see everything at an AMC and use our new AMC 3-per-week program, and when we go to another chain, we’ll HOPE our MoviePass actually works. And hopefully down the line Sinemia or some other new competitor will be easy to use and also get our business, or sure, we’ll be happy to re-up with MoviePass if they’ve somehow righted the ship by then.
Regardless of everything I wrote, let’s just have a little happy perspective. In the old days, I’d pay for my cell phone and have to monitor my minutes, because after a certain number, I’d be paying for it. If I wanted to see a movie, I had to shell out the rip-off 16 bucks or so to see it. Well, I far prefer paying my monthly cell phone bill and not even remember what it’s like to count my minutes anymore, and I’m equally glad to pay a monthly subscription and not have to pay for each movie – this is the far better outcome, even if the journey is still a bit of a work-in-progress.

The 2016 AND 2017 Boaz Movie Tally

8 Jan

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Has the image been burnt into your mind yet? Do you already regret reading this? Well, you’re already here, you may as well read on…

I missed blogging last year’s movie tally! (I know, unforgivable.) These things don’t write themselves you know, and before long I had failed at writing the one thing that I had never missed since creating this blog – my year in review.

So to help make up for it, I will post about both years now, 2 for the low price of 1, what a deal!

2016 Movie Tally

2016 was the year that me and Adi started to travel with friends. We went for a week to China with Harwin, Avish and Cori, two of whom you will read more about further down this blog. There are all sorts of things I could tell you about China, but one big takeaway is that Beijing is ancient, and still full of Buddhists and citizens who are scared to speak ill of the government. Shanghai on the other hand felt like visiting Tokyo, was lit up like Vegas, and full of citizens who had zero issue with speaking openly against their government. In summation, 2 major cities in the same country, and they couldn’t have been more different. Oh, and this was us. (Side note: see that mask dangling from Harwin’s hand? Yup, Beijing had air pollution so bad that you could taste and feel it.  Checking the air quality index on a daily basis was depressing.)

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What about the movies from that year? Okay here goes.

My final tally for 2016 in theaters – 86

Sounds like a lot? No! This is the first time in all of my years tracking that I went UNDER 100 movies for the calendar year! My previous low was 103 in 2014. I bounced back a bit with 121 in 2015, and sadly had this precipitous drop in 2016. I vowed to improve and at least get back over 100 in 2017, but to know if I succeeded you’ll have to keep reading, my intrepid readers.

Here is the breakdown of some of the highs and lows of the year, categorized by who I saw the most movies with:

  1. Adi – 73 movies (previous year 86). No surprise there, my wife continues to be my #1 each year (awwww) and honestly wants to see MOST movies that come out. So as any friend who has asked me to see a movie can tell you, my main limitation is not time or energy or cost, it’s “If Adi can’t join then it’ll have to be one of the few likely crappy movies playing that she doesn’t care about seeing.” We see so many together, so what were some of the highlights? Let’s run through them quickly. Hacksaw Ridge gets the prize of being an amazingly made war movie, by a continuously awful human being (Mel Gibson). Storks gets the prize of us enjoying  an animated flick, thinking that the funniest character was the surfer-dude pigeon, and then months later meeting Abe Zilkha’s cousin Stephen Kramer Glickman, who was introduced to us as “the voice of the pigeon in Storks“…an awesome and hilarious guy who hosts a hysterical show at the Hollywood Improv each month that I’ve now enjoyed twice. Kubo and the Two Strings was an incredibly imaginative and fun animated film. The Hateful Eight continued the string of Tarantino movies that makes me mad that he keeps threatening to retire, and Room was just one of the best movies I’ve seen in years, ironic considering people confuse it with The Room, arguably the worst movie of all time, so naturally I found a clip where someone compares the two here.
  2. Harwin – 6 movies (previous year 3). From China to the movie theater, we doubled our previous year’s tally, with mixed results. My favorite of the bunch was probably the creative Don’t Breathe. Put a bunch of punk teens into the house of a blind man they’re trying to rob, make him a psycho killer who uses the darkness to his advantage, and you’ve got a pretty fun flick. We also saw The Accountant (with long-ago movie-watching champ Mike Burgher), an underrated suspenseful drama that made everyone exclaim, “wow, that was actually surprisingly good” and spitting in the face of most critics.
  3. (TIE 3rd/4th) Jared – 5 movies (previous year 11). Wow, all 5 were sequels, that’s hilarious. Going from 11 to 5 though, not cool! None of the sequels were great, I would say the best was probably Star Trek Beyond which was fun but unmemorable. The worst was easily the Independence Day sequel. What a waste, after all these years, if they can churn out Fast & The Furious movies every 2 years and make them all damn fun, they couldn’t at least make a great B movie out of this? Blah.
  4. (TIE 3rd/4th) Mittelman – 5 movies (previous year 4). The highlight was easily Deadpool. I mean, come on, that movie was hysterical. There was an entire sex montage built around each holiday. It takes a lot to make me laugh hard, but that movie did the trick. Oh, and have you seen the teaser for the sequel this year? It’s an homage to Bob Ross who anyone under 30 probably doesn’t even remember! Check it out here.
  5. (TIE 5th-8th) Yossi – 4 movies (previous year 0). Exponentially the biggest uptick in movie-going, we went from never seeing a movie together to seeing 4! A very tough call what my favorite movie was with him, as there were two AWESOME ones. Don’t laugh, but one of them was…Trolls! Yup, not just in the Boaz ratings system, but it was a hilarious movie, totally zany, great music, inventive visuals, and a group of us adults were sitting in the theater cracking up and wondering if we had just all just dropped the same acid. Netflix even just released a short Holiday special of it, and me and Adi JUMPED to watch it. Trust me, drink a little alcohol and watch the trippy experience of this musical movie, you’ll crack up. The other film I loved? The Jungle Book, WOW was that amazing. What CAN’T Jon Favreau do? The guy was a fun actor in Swingers, and then cut to years later he kick-starts the now-iconic Iron Man franchise, he makes the adorable small movie Chef (highly recommended) and then Disney asks him to make a live action version of their cartoon about animals. 9 out of 10 directors would have made a movie about as good as Alvin & The Chipmunks but he found it in him to make a visually stunning live action musical movie that was thrilling. The kid gave an incredible acting performance against CGI creatures, and the movie set a high benchmark for Disney remaking its cartoons that will be hard to match.
  6. (TIE 5th-8th) Kara – 4 movies (previous year 4). This should be easy. Yes we also saw the aforementioned Trolls together, but dude, we saw Sausage Party. Have you SEEN that filthy cartoon yet? If you have anything even CLOSE to my dirty sense of humor, and haven’t seen it yet, run, don’t walk. And just you wait for the, let’s just say climax. Ooh boy. It may be a cartoon, but don’t let your kids get within 100 yards of this one (unless you want them to turn out like me).
  7. (TIE 5th-8th) Avish – 4 movies (previous year 4). There she is, also pictured way above traveling together in China. I did enjoy Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, though not surprisingly Adi says the book was better. But my favorite isn’t even in question: Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I started to write an entire answer about how much I loved that movie, and it evolved into a much bigger piece, so I published that separately right here.
  8. (TIE 5th-8th) Sara – 4 movies (previous year 1). I’m gonna mention two diametrically opposed movies we saw together, each of which I highly recommend. The first was Love & Friendship…what made this so surprising is that it is as lovely as any of the classic Jane Austen adaptations, but it’s based on a short collection of notebooks where she threw this story together when she was just 15 years old! As a movie it comes together delightfully. What’s the other movie I recommend? 10 Cloverfield Lane, couldn’t be much more different from Austen, and I loved it. It’s one of those movies that benefits from knowing less before seeing it, but I will say that it has a tour de force performance by the always solid John Goodman, and the direction created a really great, taut atmosphere. And you have NO IDEA where things will go, always a pleasure when I’m sitting in a movie theater.

Honorable mention goes to the following friends who saw 3 movies with me: Patrick, who has the greatest, loudest movie-laugh other than Craig’s horse-laugh; Aaron who only went to a movie with me one day, but we saw 3 that day – LOVE THAT; Arnon who  after being inspired by the ones we saw together no doubt, made an incredible award winning short you can see advertised here; Abe & Farnaz, who I saw movies with that varied from the epic Captain American: Civil War (essentially another great Avengers flick), to the HYSTERICALLY inappropriate The Brothers Grimsby, which will never let you see elephants the same way again; Shira saw Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping with me, and it made me laugh enough to cry, and had the added benefit of being on my actual birthday; And speaking of my actual birthday, I saw 5 or 6 that day, and the final one was the only one Adi refused to sit through, so instead Avy joined me for, wait for it, Angry Birds: The Movie, and yes it was as terrible as you likely imagine.

Additional very honorable mention goes to the masterpiece Hell or High Water. I saw that with my family, none of whom made my list, but I have to mention how awesome this movie was. The performances by both sides of the law (including Jeff Bridges in his best role since Lebowski), the witty dialogue, the fact that I can STILL remember the side characters who have 2 lines, it was an instant-classic, and you must watch it.

 

2017 Movie Tally

2017 was epic. First of all the traveling continued. In February we went just the 2 of us to Ireland, and it was exactly as you’d hope: beautiful, green, chilly, and full of friendly people who were not necessarily drunk all the time. Oh, and see the photo below? Know what movie it OBVIOUSLY brings to mind since it was actually, famously filmed here? The Princess Bride, DUH, those are the Cliffs of Insanity. Oh, did I figure that out while I was STANDING RIGHT THERE? No…I’ll never live that one down…

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The very next month we went on another trip, this time to Thailand, with a group of 11 of us. Before we could go, Adi wanted to take every freaking insane precaution for Zika Virus that she could, because we were planning to start “trying” (polite vernacular for unprotected baby-making sex) after the trip. So what did this mean? A trip to the OB who told us to wear strong bug spray and get Zika tested upon return. How did Adi translate that relatively simple instruction? By spending hundreds of dollars on Permethrin pre-treated long-sleeved shirts and pants to wear in the hundred degree weather, oh, and this, she made me bring this…

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Yup, that mosquito net on my face, but thankfully we literally never saw mosquitoes once we arrived so it ended up only being worn during Purim as a costume as pictured above with the very welcoming Chabad Rabbi who took us in for the holiday.

So the trip was incredibly fun, the locals insanely warm and friendly, and the country just the best. Honestly can’t recommend visiting Thailand enough. Here is a shot of the 11 of us plus a lovely family we befriended during the tour. We’re standing at The Golden Triangle where you can literally see 3 countries on this one body of water: Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (formerly known as Burma).

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So yada yada yada, we return home and Adi has Zika Virus. WTF?! Seriously, we returned, we had not even seen more than 1 or 2 stray mosquitoes during the trip, we’d been wearing these damn long-sleeved shirts and pants, spraying w/ chemicals that create 3-eyed glowing fish, never noticed a single bite, and….she tested positive for Zika? Her doctor’s office started to whisper and point when they saw her, she was like Patient Zero at the start of the long-awaited Outbreak sequel. I had tested negative so I was going to have to revert to the Clinton-era days of the Public School System and either practice abstinence or use protection. This was a thing….for about a week, until they realized it was a false positive and she had absolutely no Zika and laughed it all off.

Cut to October 14th, we get the exciting news that she’s pregnant, and rather than go into that story, let me just link you to to the now-viral (PHRASING!) story here, and let you enjoy the greatest gift Adi has ever gotten me; no I’m not cheesily writing about the fetus, I’m referring to her getting John Lithgow to record this video on October 15th for me:

So now my photo to start off this blog makes perfect sense, right? Because, you know, we’re expecting a baby. No? Still makes no sense to subject you to an image of my stomach, and cradling a panda holding ticket stubs? Fine, shut up, it’s time to actually discuss the MOVIES of 2017…

My final tally for 2017 in theaters – 85

Remember my number earlier from 2016? That’s right, that was the first ever year under 100, and I hit 86, vowing to see AT LEAST 100 again this year, and instead I saw ONE LESS. Not happy with this trend, and before you can say it, I know that having a child will not exactly help improve my movie-going, so I have 6 months to give myself a head-start, because DAMMIT I WILL SEE MORE THIS YEAR OR SO HELP ME…

Okay, time for the usual breakdown w/ highlights and lowlights:

  1. Adi – 58 movies (previous year 73). An interesting drop in the number and percentage of movies; we can blame the super lousy pregnancy she has been experiencing, there were simply more times I was otherwise going to miss a flick so I ran out with someone else. As a result, you will notice the secondary numbers with other friends below has risen, as the one combo I never go to the movie theater with is nobody else. As in, I don’t see movies solo, as weird as that may sound. But there were some INCREDIBLE movies this year. One of my absolute favorites of the year was Wind River. This movie was incredibly tough to watch at times, had some of the most beautiful wintry cinematography I’ve seen in years, and it was written by the same person who wrote the aforementioned Hell or High Water, only this time he also made his directorial debut. Wow, I’m excited to see what else you have to offer us, Taylor Sheridan. One of the last movies of the year we saw was Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Amazing screenplay, awesome acting, and totally brutal while also delivering some much needed comic relief here and there. Logan was not only one of my favorite genres (superhero), but it was done so daringly as a post-apocalyptic Western. It was gritty and the fact that it was a superhero movie was almost incidental to the story. What a way for Hugh Jackman to round out his iconic role of Wolverine after all these years. I loved Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and the fact that it was rumored to be a terrible movie riddled with problems before it came out gives me cautious hope that this year’s Hans Solo origin movie (also rumored to be riddled with problems) will still work out and at least be entertaining. Blade Runner 2049 was excellent, deserves every award imaginable for the set design, and proves that long awaited sequels can be great (hear that Independence Day?!)…Battle of the Sexes was easily one of the most crowd-pleasing, easy to enjoy movies of the year, with PERFECT performances by Steve Carell (who looked EXACTLY like Bobby Riggs), and Emma Stone. War for the Planet of the Apes was awesome, and I wrote an entire blog about it here. And many others I enjoyed including Wonder, Beauty and the Beast, Fences, Moana, The Founder, and It, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my #1 favorite movie of the year, certainly the one that I found the most thrilling to watch from start to finish, and that’s Baby Driver. If you told me that there would be an action car chase/heist movie that’s basically a ballet, I wouldn’t even know how to conceptualize that. If you missed it on the big screen, you already missed out, but get yourself to a good sound system, crank it up, and enjoy that movie, because it was sooooo good.
  2. Harwin – 13 movies (previous year 6). My faithful travel companion continued to increase his movie-going with me this year, thus proving that he must really have non-discriminating taste in friends. Thor: Ragnarok was hilarious, and kudos to Marvel-owned movies for continuing to make nothing that sucks, and a fair amount that are awesome, like this one. Also, when was the last time a movie sequel totally changed tones and genres like this absolute-comedy? The one that comes to mind is Gremlins 2: The New Batch which went from horror comedy to a zany Looney Tunes adventure, feel free to chime in with others I may have missed though. Here they handed over the reins to Taika Waititi, knowing it would be a comedy, allowing the actors to improvise, and resulting in a really funny end result. Logan Lucky totally bombed and I’m not sure why. Steven Soderbergh basically returned to the director’s chair, picked up the keys to his most popular genre (the heist flick) and instead of making yet another slick Oceans Eleven sequel, he thankfully made a hillbilly version with a bizarre cast of Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, and Daniel Craig, and it WORKED. And I have to mention one last one that almost all of you missed, Happy Death Day. If you saw the billboards or previews you probably shrugged it off as yet another crappy low budget horror movie. What you don’t know is that it is as much of a comedy as it is horror, and it is creative, and hilarious. And if that hasn’t sold you yet, it’s basically a really funny horror version of Groundhog Day, except she keeps getting killed over and over and over again. Just trust me and watch it.
  3. Avish – 8 movies (previous year 4). A continued improvement from my travel buddies, and in she also happens to be Adi’s oldest childhood friend (since kindergarten). Ooh, the prize for the best one is going to have to go to Lion, a movie I would have been thrilled to see win Best Picture the previous year (along with the previously mentioned Hell or High Water). When the final scene comes on after the film, showing the REAL people, I cried like a baby. It’s a story that’s too insane to be true, but somehow is. But a very big shout-out to The Lost City of Z. This movie was like no other you’ve seen in years. It looks like a lost film from the 50s, beautiful in scope, and a sweeping adventure into the jungle. It was fun getting to see Charlie Hunnan getting a great role on the big screen after his fantastic work on Sons of Anarchy, and Robert Pattinson was almost unrecognizable and fantastic.
  4. Jared – 7 movies (previous year 5). Between long stints of playing professional poker, Jared still made a little time for movies. We saw a few lousy but entertaining raunchy comedies, between Rough Night (an all-female and far less good version of Very Bad Things), CHiPs (gets the award for funniest use of genitalia being inadvertently whacked in someone’s face of the year), and Why Him? (James Franco vs Walter White already made things amusing). We saw possibly the worst movie of the year together though, The Circle. I don’t think Tom Hanks has made a movie this bad since the early 80s.
  5. (TIE 5th/6th) Helen – 6 movies (previous year 2). Good uptick, I don’t see movies often with Helen, but when we do, we try to see a few in a row! She might have enjoyed Daddy’s Home 2 more, but for my money I have to highly recommend Lady Bird, which Helen didn’t love but I think was one of the best movies of the year. What an amazing job from first-time director Greta Gerwig, and what pitch perfect performances she got out of Laurie Metcalm and Saoirse Ronan (who sings how to pronounce her name on SNL here).
  6. (TIE 5th/6th) Shlomo – 6 movies (previous year 2). Welcome back to the list Shlomo! He used to be one of my main friends to watch with, but then he got married, had kids, and started seeing them with JOSH. As if there was ever anything so special about JOSH. Pfft. Well Josh moved away, so Shlomo came running back to me with a dozen roses, and I took him back under my movie-going wing. At least that’s the way I choose to remember things. He likes to historically complain that the movies we see together are always “crap”, but in truth we saw some damn fun ones this year. Wonder Woman was the first really good DC movie since Nolan stopped directing Batman flicks, though in my humble opinion it wasn’t any better than the hordes of Marvel movies that have been great, but certainly refreshing to finally see a female superhero movie that wasn’t total shit (can anyone remember Catwoman or Elektra? You’re better off if you don’t). We also saw the Academy Award winning Best Picture La La Land together, and….wait a minute, I’m being told it lost the award to Moonlight, sorry about that. John Wick 2 was a rare sequel that does not in any way shape or form disappoint (I really do love when the actors learn their own stunts as Keanu famously did for this one…don’t know what I’m talking about? Watch his weapons training video here, it’s insane). And a special shout-out to a terrible reviewed but reeeeeeally entertaining buddy action comedy The Hitman’s Bodyguard, if you miss Samuel L Jackson saying the F-word and shooting people, this makes his role in Pulp Fiction look family-friendly.

Notice that the numbers are higher there? Seeing less with Adi meant seeing more separately with friends. I will now give honorable mention to the following who saw 4 with me in 2017: Kara saw Get Out with us, and man oh man was it a great, funny, scary, surprising movie. Saying a lot about it inevitably means spoiling some of the twists, and they did a great job marketing it without ruining it, so I won’t even go there. Landsburg saw one of the most pleasant surprises of this year with me, Kong: Skull Island. Who knew that a big budget monster movie could be done so damn artistically? The first half hour felt like a sequel to Argo, and the rest of the movie was just FUN, and as Adi told me when she later watched it, it was PRETTY. Yes, a King Kong prequel was cinematically beautiful. Mittelman gets honorable mention because he moved away and lives up north. So how did he make this list and see 4 with me? By visiting during Christmas break and seeing all of them in a few days, INCLUDING Bright which was made by Netflix and released in a few theaters while also streaming, and they already locked up the director and cast for the sequel in this decent urban fantasy. And finally, I have the pleasure of welcoming my brilliant twin nieces Eve & Ada to this list, as I went from seeing 1 in their entire lives together, to this year 4 movies with them! These are brilliant teenagers who could write movie reviews that would make mine look juvenile. We saw the better-than-you-think Power Rangers movie, which wasn’t particularly interesting when the action happened, but was an otherwise good teen drama; we also saw the really witty kid’s pic Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. Don’t throw this away with much of the crap out there, it was actually quite funny.

Last but not least, seeing “only” 85 movies in 2017 means I missed a whole bunch I would have wanted to see. Included in that bunch are: Split (watched on Netflix since then), Colossal, Mother!, Detroit, Stronger, The Mountain Between Us, T2 Trainspotting, The House, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (no matter how good or bad it turns out to be, I wish I’d have seen this on a giant screen), Goodbye Christopher Robin, Only The Brave, Wonderstruck, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, Suburbicon, and xXx: Return of Xander Cage.

And that sums up the last 2 years folks. I’ve already seen 5 flicks 8 days into 2018, and hoping that I will make good on my promise to increase my movie-watching this year, in spite of this baby girl fetus’ best efforts to get in our way.

Happy 2018 from me and my beautiful wife!

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Star Wars (Damned If They Do, Damned If They Don’t)

3 Jan

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Like millions and millions out there, I am a huge Star Wars fan. I watched and re-watched the original trilogy (Episodes IV, V and VI) more times than I could pretend to count. And when the prequels were finally made (Episodes I, II, III) by George Lucas, I was as excited as the rest of the world. But then Lucas did something unforgivable: He created a new trilogy….of mediocrity. They were not bad movies by any means, they had fun universes, some great actors (Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor), a fantastic John Williams score, and added to the mythology that we had been waiting to gain pieces to since 1983’s Return of the Jedi. But it was mediocre, plain and simple. The quality of actors for Anakin Skywalker were distractingly bad, the overuse of CGI for characters that had previously been done with love using Muppets was jarring, and the dialogue was frequently laughable. The most interesting protagonist (Neeson’s Qui-Gon Jinn) and antagonist (Darth Maul) of the movies were killed off so quickly, that we were left with mostly the dregs. And don’t even get me started with Jar Jar Binks….But still, you couldn’t NOT watch, you still got a thrill by watching the mythology unfold. You still appreciated the vastness of the universe and the storytelling. It was still a fun ride, and thankfully the best chapter was left for last (Revenge of the Sith aka Episode III), so it did end on a positive note.

Then, years went by, and fans were given a huge gift…George Lucas sold Lucasfilm for 4 billion dollars, and a movie a year was going to be made. And thankfully it would be created by other writers and directors, and specifically made by fans, for fans.

Time has passed, the the first 2/3 of the new trilogy has been made (Episodes VII and VIII), and it’s astounding, but these movies are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t with us fans. It’s too massive a franchise NOT to piss off millions of people, so The Force Awakens and now the recent The Last Jedi have proved the old adage that “you CAN’T please all of the people, all of the time”.

The Force Awakens was a nostalgic pleasure to watch. It flooded our hearts with memories of our childhoods watching the original iconic trilogy. Han Solo with his rascally personality was back with Chewbacca and the Millenium Falcon, the music, the visuals, the universe we love, all back, hooray! What was the problem? Well many people complained loudly that it was completely unoriginal. It was simply a rehash of everything we knew. Story-lines mimicked the originals, there was even basically a new Death Star with yet another conveniently designed fatal flaw that if you bomb it will blow up the whole place. “JJ Abrams how could you make us wait so long and then do nothing NEW with it???”

Well I didn’t feel that way, I loved the nostalgia, I loved seeing Han Solo again, I loved being engulfed by that universe again, and I had no complaints. But I DID leave the theater telling Adi and my friends that it’s okay for Abrams to have made this as a sort of “apology” for the mediocre prequels, and finally make one “for the fans” after all these years; BUT that it was a one-time baton pass from the old to the new, and all future ones would HAVE to be original storytelling.

And that’s exactly what happened. And that’s unfortunately what proved my point that fans cannot all be satisfied. Because along came The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson, an extremely creative director in tow (did you ever see Looper? If not, check it out, one of the most clever movies of the past 10 years). Critics loved The Last Jedi, arguably the best reviewed movie in the franchise’s history. But…audiences were divided. “How could you destroy our childhood and make Luke so angry?!” some would yell. “An entire mission that fails, what was the point of that?!” others would cry out. “Rey has iconic parents, that can’t be the real answer to that mystery!” others would complain. Even Mark Hamill, aka Luke Skywalker went on social media saying how upset HE was that Luke was not the same positive character he had always been (until Disney likely pressured him to shut up, and he suddenly did a total 180 and apologized in public). A petition was actually started to remove this from the Star Wars official canon, and remake it; over 80,000 people have signed it and counting (see it for yourself here). Wow, fans can be truly whiny!

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But I think that’s a GOOD thing! There aren’t enough things left in this world that instill passion into people, but this franchise still makes people leave their homes to see their first movie in 2 years. It still makes people happy OR mad enough to make them angrily post on social media and argue with their friends about how great or terrible it was. Try making that happens with 99.9% of the other movies out there…it won’t happen. Let’s continue to create movies and television that makes people want to continue talking about it long after they’ve left the theater or turned off their TVs. Personally, I think BOTH movies were awesome. I saw each one in theaters TWICE, and these are the only movies I can say that about in the past 10 years! Both did far more to thrill me and make me care than the disappointing prequels. I think The Force Awakens did what it needed to do and gave us all the gift of nostalgia that we had been longing for after many years, and The Last Jedi appropriately moved on from there. I appreciate that it did not take the safe route. I love that missions failed. I loved the continued awesome music and visuals, and new creatures that were NOT reliant on CGI. I loved that I did not know what was going to happen next, and I am excited to see how this trilogy finishes….and in a fascinating twist of events, it will revert back to the original director JJ Abrams, so time will tell if he will continue from the tone that Rian Johnson just left it with, or if he will revert to the safer version of the first one that he kicked off…

I will leave you with one additional point. Disney recently bought 20th Century Fox for over 52 billion dollars. I would love for them to reward us by putting their iconic fanfare back in front of each Star Wars movie, because most of us fans can agree that this is how the opening should always sound.

 

This is easy. The movies were each far far better than Episodes I, II and III (the prequels), though still unable to take the crown away from the original iconic trilogy.

Quality Rating (Star Wars: The Force Awakens): A (Hard to give something an A+ that so closely tried to imitate the original, even if imitation IS the sincerest form of flattery.

Boaz Rating (Star Wars: The Force Awakens): A+ (I couldn’t have been more excited from the start to finish if I tried. Harrison Ford was back on the screen playing Han Solo, there was new story, the dialogue was not cringe-worthy, I was in heaven.

Quality Rating (Star Wars: The Last Jedi): A (There are still a few weak lines of dialogue, a incongruous shot of Adam Driver with his shirt off, that ever so slightly weaken the quality of this highly original movie.

Boaz Rating (Star Wars: The Force Awakens): A+ (The continuation of the awesome story but in a far more original and unexpected way? I was sold, and riveted, and that held true upon a second viewing.)