Archive for the ‘Popular culture’ Category

My Mad, Mad, Mad Men Love

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

 Mad Men cast

After the last “House of Cards” season wrapped, I took a breather and then dove head first into “Mad Men,” and now the characters are haunting my dreams. My waking moments too. That’s what happens when you binge watch one episode after another, six seasons worth. (Thank you, Netflix.) Last Sunday I was primed for the Season 7 premiere on AMC and made sure I was planted in front of the TV with zero distractions. I forgot there would be commercials this time around – ugh – but I was so happy to have Don, Ted, Peggy and the gang back in my life that I didn’t whine too much.

What an amazing show. Such brilliant writing. Such nuanced acting. Such a fascinating look at the ’60s through the lens of politics, fashion, music and social mores.

Jon Hamm is Don Draper, a brooding, screwed up, smart ass ad man, and yet Hamm is so versatile he can do comedy too (as in “Bridesmaids”). I find him endlessly drool-worthy as well as riveting to watch. The show is his – will he completely self-destruct? redeem himself just a tiny bit? make peace with his past? connect with his kids? – and I can’t even imagine how “Mad Men” will end his story next year when the show is over.

In the meantime, Sunday nights at 10pm are must-see TV for me.



My Current Obsession

Thursday, March 6th, 2014


Now that I’ve finished watching Season 2, I’m feeling bereft, lost, hungry for more. “House of Cards” is addictive that way. I’ve been trying to wean myself off of the show but instead I read and re-read everything I can get my hands on about it – interviews with the writer and the cast, reviews from the critics, articles about the similarities between the fictional characters and real-life members of Congress.

What makes the show such irresistible television? Part of it is that in this era of stalled government, it’s a kick to see bills actually get passed. Another part is the snappy writing and fast pace. And then there’s Frank and Claire Underwood, two of the most nakedly power crazed people ever. Kevin Spacey is wonderfully droll and conniving as Frank, but it’s Robin Wright’s Claire who is the more complex of the two. She’s loyal and smart and sexy but the coldest thing since the North Pole. And let’s face it: she’s a gorgeous fashion icon. I mean seriously. Take a look.

There’s her haircut…

Claire's haircut

Her clothes…

Robin Wright dress

Her glasses…

Claire's glasses

Even her cashmere bathrobe is to die for…

Claire's bathrobe

Every now and then she gives us a peek at her softer side, but mostly she cleaves to an agenda and it doesn’t matter who’s caught in the crossfire. I can’t wait to see what she and Frank will do next, but that won’t happen FOR A YEAR. How will I survive until Season 3?

I’ve been watching and loving “True Detective” thanks to Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle.


But there’s only one more episode to go and then the season’s done – and so is McConaughey, apparently. He announced after the Oscars that he’s not continuing with the show. Bummer.

So I’ll have to throw my affection elsewhere. Friends have told me to check out “Nurse Jackie” and “Orange Is the New Black.” But right now I’m not in the mood to dip into a new set of characters on the small screen.

Now the screen on my Kindle is another matter. I’m still reading like a maniac.


Movie Night: “Muhammed Ali’s Greatest Fight”

Sunday, October 6th, 2013


If I hadn’t read an interview with Christopher Plummer in yesterday’s Daily Beast, I might not have known this HBO original movie was on last night, but I’m glad I did because the movie was utterly fascinating.

Based on a book of the same name and directed by Stephen Frears (“The Queen” with Helen Mirren and many other great films), it takes place in 1967 when Ali was convicted of draft dodging. He’d changed his named from Cassius Clay after joining the Nation of Islam and refused to be inducted into the military because he was opposed to the Vietnam War on religious grounds. I remember it well. I  was a big boxing fan in those days and watched all the Ali-Frazer/Ali-Foreman fights and Ali was just about the biggest sports story on the planet in those days.

Stripped of his world heavyweight championship title, he spent four years fighting his conviction, embarking on a college tour to make money. At the time he found a sympathetic audience, since campuses across America were in a state of protest against the war. In 1971, his case finally reached the Supreme Court and it’s in the Court that this movie resides.

What a cast. Frank Langella plays Nixon’s pal Chief Justice Warren Burger. Plummer plays Justice John Harlan. Danny Glover plays Justice Thurgood Marshall, the only black man on the bench. Barry Levinson, Fritz Weaver, Ed Begley Jr. play other justices. The real co-star to Plummer is Benjamin Walker, who plays Plummer’s clerk, Kevin Connolly, a liberal who didn’t agree with his boss’s positions, particularly his decision to join the Chief Justice’s opinion that Ali’s case should be upheld, not overturned.

The drama of the legal battle involving these giants of acting, expertly interwoven with archival footage of Ali, boxing, student protests, Nixon, etc. make this a must-see movie. I’m sure HBO will repeat it throughout the month. Plummer, in particular, as a conservative justice who values fairness – and who’s dying of cancer and has a wife with dementia – is superb.



Movie Night: “American Masters/Billy Jean King”

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013


I was really looking forward to this documentary and it didn’t disappoint. I’ve been a tennis fan and a Billie Jean fan since I was old enough to hold a racquet. I remember going out to my neighborhood courts and hitting against the backboard for hours, wishing I could play like she did. And when she spearheaded the women’s tour and fought for equal prize money for women, she became a larger-than-life heroine for me (although I admit it was Chris Evert whose clothes and hair I tried to copy).

Tonight’s PBS American Masters doc covers her childhood in SoCal, how her father encouraged her to play sports, how a girl at school invited her to play tennis at the country club, how she bought her first racquet and practiced on the public courts, how she married her college sweetheart. It moves into her career, both as an amateur and pro player, and there’s lots of great footage of her athleticism and shot making. It explores the feminist movement’s affect on her and vice versa, how she was outed after an affair with her secretary became a public nightmare for her, and of course how she beat Bobby Riggs in the match of the century.

With testimonials from everyone from Hillary Clinton, Elton John and Gloria Steinem to fellow tennis stars like  Evert, the Williams sisters and Maria Sharapova (where were Martina and Steffi?) to her ex-husband, her brother and her longtime partner, the doc gives us an adoring portrait of King but not a white-wash job either. I came away thinking I wish I could meet her. Her energy and drive are still as contagious as they were back in the day.


Movie Night: “Blue Jasmine”

Friday, August 9th, 2013


I ran to see this one on its first night in Santa Barbara, partly because the reviews have been uniformly great and partly because I love Cate Blanchett and partly because I was starved for movies after being away for a month. I wasn’t disappointed.

Although “Blue Jasmine” isn’t a typical Woody Allen film in that it’s not really a comedy – social satire, yes, but laughs, not so much – it’s mesmerizing entertainment thanks to a brilliant performance by Blanchett, who’s in almost every scene. She plays a young Ruth Madoff type – a woman with a financial cheat of a husband who loses everything when he goes to prison. Through flashbacks, Blanchett takes us into her opulent life and she’s burnished in tones of gold – her hair, her clothes, the glow of her skin. She falls apart without the safety of money and lands on her sister’s less-than-opulent doorstep popping Xanax and guzzling vodka and talking to herself on street corners.

Sally Hawkins, the gifted British actress, plays Blanchett’s sister and she’s wonderful. Andrew Dice Clay does a nice job with his small part as the sister’s ex-husband and Alec Baldwin plays yet another cad. Some of the writing is sharp and timely and some of it is lazy and lacking bite. (An early scene in the airport as Blanchett is getting her luggage and saying goodbye to the woman she yammered to for the entire flight comes to mind.) But it’s a showcase for Blanchett, pure and simple, and she takes full advantage. Woody’s always been a master with his female characters and “Blue Jasmine” is no exception.




How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Lois & me

Yesterday I spent the day with my old friend Lois Juliber. I hadn’t seen her in years because I live on the west coast and she lives on the east coast and we lead very different lives these days. When I was a New Yorker, she and I played tennis every weekend in the summer and spent memorable evenings with our husbands and other friends and it was great fun. Now I’m holed up in my home office in California writing and she’s traveling the world. The former VP of General Foods and Vice Chairman of Colgate-Palmolive (we’re talking about one of the highest-ranking women in corporate America), she now either chairs or sits on multiple boards. In between trips to Uganda, she plays a mean game of golf and has played the world’s best courses. Yesterday we met up and caught up and talked for hours. At times she was making me awestruck with tales of moving in circles I couldn’t fathom. At other times she was “just Lois,” telling me with pride that she has all the hardcover copies of my books displayed at her house. It was a lovely day.

As have been so many other days during my month in Connecticut. I’ve had laughs with old publishing pals and have reunited with one of my closest friends from summer camp. I’ve seen cousins I rarely get to see. And I’ve spent time with my mother, who came to California for her 96th birthday but rarely ventures out of New York.

So with only a week to go on my summer vacation, it’s with a wistfulness that I go about the rest of the trip. The weather has turned cool – kind of strange for July – and I slept with all the covers on for the first time since I got here. Maybe it’s telling me it’s time to go home. Or am I home? Hard to tell right now.



RIP James Gandolfini

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013


I was on Twitter early this afternoon when news of Gandolfini’s sudden death in Italy broke. There was an immediate outpouring from his fellow actors but also from us regular folks. Everyone was surprised and saddened.

I don’t pretend to be a Gandolfini aficionado; I didn’t see him on Broadway or even watch some of his movies. But “The Sopranos” was one of my all-time favorite shows – appointment television on Sunday nights – and he inhabited the character of Tony Soprano like no other TV actor has ever become his character, except maybe Carroll O’Connor as Archie Bunker. When HBO aired the show’s finale, I couldn’t stand that Tony and the others were gone forever.

And now Gandolfini is gone too. I’ve been thinking back tonight on all the best scenes from the show. There were so many and he was in every one. He had the ability to turn a killer into someone you actually root for – no small feat. He left an indelible mark on popular culture and New Jersey will never be the same.




Speaking About Caregiving And More

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

First came You’d Better Not Die or I’ll Kill You: A Caregiver’s Survival Guide to Keeping You in Good Health. Now comes its sequel….sort of. I’m not actually writing another book on the subject, but I’ve just partnered with the premier speakers bureau on healthcare to travel around the country and talk about caregiving.

Speakers on Healthcare has the absolute best roster of speakers – from celebrities like actress Meredith Baxter and broadcaster Anderson Cooper to health gurus like Dr. Oz and Deepak Chopra to prestigious journalists like Jane Gross and Jane Brody. Now I’ve joined this stellar list with my own page on the SOH site. I’m really eager to get started and speak to groups everywhere and spread the word that caregiving, while demanding, also has its rewards – if we make sure to take care of ourselves.



Now Playing On My Kindle: “Me Before You”

Monday, April 8th, 2013

Usually, I wait until I finish a book before blogging about it, but I’m making an exception in the case of Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You. I’m about a third of the way into the novel, and I love the setup, the characters and the possibilities of how things will go.

I’ve been writing a lot about caregiving since You’d Better Not Die came out in November, so you’d think Moyes’ novel about a caregiver would have been on my Must Read List. Somehow, it slipped under my radar despite all the great reviews.

Like last year’s French film sensation “The Intouchables,” which I also loved, Me Before You features a quadriplegic millionaire and his unlikely helper. In this case, the helper is a twentysomething British woman who’s out of a job, lives with her family and has no idea what she wants out of life. She has no purpose other than to contribute to the household income. Her charge is a man who once lived life to the fullest – a success in business and in romance. An adrenaline junkie, he embraced adventure and risk. After his accident, he’s angry, bitter, wants to die. What’s a naive, inexperienced caregiver to do?

I’m about to find out.

It seems that caregiving is on a lot of creative minds these days, and I’m not surprised. It’s rare to find someone who hasn’t been or isn’t being touched by the experience personally, so it’s only natural that the subject has made its way into the zeitgeist. The more we share those experiences, the better it’ll be for all of us.



My Friend Deborah Is One Gutsy Gal

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

Over on the links to the right, under My California Writing Buddies, is a link for the web site of my friend, Deborah Hutchison. Her company is called Gutsy Gals Inspire Me, and it’s a multimedia group whose mission is to celebrate women across history and around the world who have followed their passion, taken risks and courageously accomplished their goals. Through books, films and awards, the company inspires girls and women to achieve great things, no matter what the odds.

Deborah’s first film project evolved from a children’s book by Mindy Bingham called Berta Benz and the Motorwagen: The Story of the First Automobile Journey.

Deborah read the book and thought it would make the basis for an inspiring animated short film for young women to tell the little-known story of how Berta Benz was the first person – man or woman – to drive a motorized vehicle over a long distance. (Take that, Henry Ford!) While it was Berta’s husband Karl who invented the car that inspired what is now Mercedes Benz, it was Berta who didn’t let the naysayers get the best of her and took her sons with her in the vehicle despite warnings from local German law enforcement. Here’s the trailer.

I can’t believe how gorgeous the animation of the film is – so colorful and magical. What young girl wouldn’t be motivated to reach for her dreams after seeing that?

Now the film, “The Improbable Journey of Berta Benz,” is being released, and as an official selection of the 2013 Los Angeles International Women’s Festival will be shown for the first time on March 22nd.

I’m so proud of Deborah and her team. Wow. Applause, applause.