Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Not Quite So Flexible

As we speed headlong into 2009, I find myself in a tizzy over unfinished business from 2008.

Namely, my flexible spending account.

I've never had one of these before, but I figured with my monthly prescription co-pays and regular lab tests and check-ups it would be a great way to put aside some tax-free funds for medical expenses.

The FSA can also cover OTC meds like pain reliever or cough drops as well as my contact lens cleaner and solution. What's not to like?

I did a pretty conservative estimate of my monthly expenses, but come end of December I found I was over $150 short of spending my funding.

Not good.

One problem was that I estimated my monthly prescriptions (which could cost about $100/month), but I didn't realize I had a $150 brand name prescription deductible. When I found that out in mid-November, I figured I could wait out the calendar year and just meet the deductible in 2009. No sense in paying the $150 in November then again in January, right?

Unfortunately, I also didn't figure on the lab work I got done in November STILL not being billed or my dental appointment that I squeaked in days before the end of the year being covered 100% with no co-pay.

Drats!

So, with a week or so left in the year I had two options: get my prescriptions refilled or lose my money.

To do that, I had to overcome two obstacles. One, getting one of my prescriptions credited toward my deductible and two, getting two other prescriptions pre-authorized by my insurance.

I called the pharmacy division of my insurance about both issues. They said my doctor had never submitted a pre-authorization request and they offered to fax the form to her office. This was over a week ago. Then they checked my prescription that hadn't been credited to my deductible and said that I needed to get the pharmacy to re-process it.

I went to the pharmacy to pick up another prescription and asked them to re-submit the claim for the uncredited prescription.

They had no idea how to do that.

Meanwhile, my doctor's office STILL hadn't put through the pre-authorization. I called yesterday and asked them to call the 800 number where they would complete the process while the doctor was on the phone.

Meanwhile, I had given the number of the pharmacy division to my pharmacist and he managed to get my other prescription credited to my deductible. So that makes over $40 applied with less than $110 to go.

No problem.

Unfortunately, there was still no pre-authorization from my doctor's office. I called AGAIN and BEGGED them to call the 800 number. The confused front desk person said they'd already faxed the prescriptions to my pharmacy.

Yes, I said. But they can't FILL the prescriptions without the pre-authorization and for that you need to call the pharmacy division of my insurance!

Now I have the someone from my doctor's office calling me to ask me why I need the Humalog pens and pen needles, how often I use it, etc. I explain it's more portable and easier to use and when you have to inject yourself with insulin 3-5 times a day, anything that makes the process EASIER is a good thing. The doctor's office called back to say they should get a fax as to whether or not the pre-authorization was approved within a half an hour and they'd call to let me know.

They didn't so I called the pharmacy division at 2 pm to see if the pre-authorization had gone through. It had.

Whew!

Then I went to my pharmacy to pick up my prescriptions. I had the pharmacy assistant run each through in order that the deductible be met with the minimum amount possible. The syringes were $26. The Lantus $86.

That totals $112 and I only need $110. Bingo! This means the pen needles, Humalog pens and One Touch test strips each get filled at the $25 co-pay.

The only problem: the Lantus isn't in stock. Which means my grand total comes to $101. I'm $88 short and there are only 7 hours left in 2008.

I file my claims online to make sure my math is right. I find another $22 spent at drugstore.com that's eligible. And I have a little over $20 in receipts yet to come. (I have until March to complete the claims submission--but the costs need to be incurred by 12/31!)

With the $20, I'm still $46 short. That's $46 of my money that I lose out on. No way that's happening!

I get an idea. I could use a new glucose meter (mine's looking a little battered). They run about $60-80--but they usually come with rebates that make them FREE. Buy a new meter, submit the receipt for reimbursement, meet my FSA requirements and then get the rebate check!

I know--GENIUS!

Although if I could bill the FSA for the time it took to deal with my doctor's office, the pharmacy and my insurance, I'd have had no problem at all reaching that goal!

2008 Favorite Beauty Products

This past year I've read over a dozen books, seen about FOUR dozen movies in a theater and tested out dozens of beauty products. Once I finish seeing all of 2008's movies, I'll compile a list of my top ten favorites--but in the meantime here are my favorite skincare and beauty products for the year:

1. Favorite Skincare Line - nude skincare

From the green philosophy that informs everything from the packaging to the fair trade and organic ingredients to the exquisitely exotic and effective formulations, this line of luxurious products is the cream of the crop.

2. Favorite Mask - derma e Cleansing Enzyme Mask

Nothing works better at sucking the grit, grime and grease out of skin than this mask. And it smells DELICIOUS!

3. Favorite Sunscreen - Verabella

Vera Kantor has created a brilliant product: SPF 45, non-chemical sunblock that goes on sheer and contains loads of great ingredients to nourish your skin. Genius!

4. Favorite Eye Treatment - Therapy Systems Line Tox for Eyes

So many great products to choose from in this category, but this paraben, mineral oil and phthalate-free treatment reduces puffiness and wrinkles. I have definitely noticed the delicate skin around my eyes looking smoother and more refreshed.

5. Favorite Lip Treatment - Sircuit Skin's Suggah

The thing I love most about this rich and emollient lip treatment is its delectable scent. Sircuit formulations NEVER contain chemical parabens or preservatives, fillers, artificial colors, artificial fragrances and are cruelty free.

6. Favorite Body Scrub - Thom Fleming Skin Care

Three reasons I love this scrub: it comes in a squeeze tube which makes it easy to dispense and prevents the dreaded oil/scrub separation, it foams up a bit so you can cleanse as well as exfoliate skin at the same time and it rinses completely clean leaving skin soft and smooth and without leaving an oily film.

7. Favorite Hair Product - Pristine Recovery Scary Hairy

This 100% natural serum remedies dry fragile hair and revitalizes the scalp. It makes my coarse, dry hair soft and manageable. And it smells soooo good!


8. Favorite Body Spray - Biotherm Eau Pure

This light fragrance with green and fruity notes is the perfect everyday scent. Love it!

That's the round-up for 2008. Bring on 2009!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

You Light Up My Life

One of my favorite things about Christmas is people who put lights up.


















If there's a clash of colors and Santa and Frosty side-by-side with the Nativity scene, I'm tickled pink.

























Even the local police station gets into the spirit.























Sadly, most people have already taken their lights down. But for those who put them up and those who have kept them up, I'm extremely grateful.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Eli Stone - Season One

My friend Stevie RAVED about this new series and was kind enough to lend me her DVD set for Season One. I must say, I wasn't all that enthralled about the concept of a visionary lawyer cum prophet. I mean, don't we have enough quirky law dramedies on TV?

Turns out Ms. Stevie was right--as usual. Although it took me awhile to get hooked into series, I found it quite enjoyable with just the right amount of quirk and kitsch to balance out the serious drama.

Jonny Lee Miller plays the formerly ruthless attorney inspired to walk another path when a brain aneurysm causes him to see visions. Or is it hallucinations? Whether it's a tidal wave or kamikaze airplane or George Michael playing the guitar and singing on his coffee table, Eli's visions drive the drama. As does the music of George Michael, whose songs are not only featured prominently in many episodes but are also the function as title and theme of every episode.

In a meta turn, Michael also appears as himself--not just a hallucination--in one of the episodes. I must say, I prefer him as a singer than actor--and his teeth were kind of scary. But he acquitted himself fairly well and was a good sport throughout.

The musical numbers that make up Eli's visions are relevatory in that not only must the cast be competent actors, but they have to carry a tune as well. Well, Natasha Henstridge who plays Eli's ex-fiancee Taylor Wethersby and Julie Gonzalo who plays newbie lawyer Maggie Dekker not so much. But Loretta Devine who plays Eli's saucy assistant Patti definitely has a set of pipes on her.

The biggest surprise, however, was Victor Garber. Garber, who played Jennifer Garner's icy, stick-up-the-butt father on Alias plays another cold character with an even bigger stick up his @$$ on Eli Stone. But man, can he sing! I guess it's not so surprising since he's been a fixture on Broadway for two decades--but I had no idea. His voice is simply amazing. Almost as good as George Michael's...

The other surprise was Jonny Lee Miller. The only thing I knew about him before Eli Stone was that once upon a time he was married to Angelina Jolie. This is almost as amazing (but not quite) as the fact that Fisher Stevens was once married to Michelle Pfeiffer. What I didn't realize is that he's a Brit. (What is it about the Brits like Hugh Laurie and Jonny Lee Miller that they can do such impeccable American accents that you don't even know they're British--but Gwyneth and Renee sound so fake?)

And, as Eli Stone, he's far less annoying than that other quirky hallucinatory lawyer played by Calista Flockhart.

Unfortunately after being hooked by season one, ABC in its infinite wisdom has canceled the show after 13 episodes of season two.

Bummer.

Hopefully Victor Garber will get a recording deal or something so we'll still get to hear his beautiful voice...

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Doubt

I'm trying to get to see as many Oscar-bait flicks as possible. I'll probably pass on Benjamin Button (too Forrest Gumpish for my tastes) and Revolutionary Road (if the trailer is any indication, it looks like a snoozer), but I managed to catch the acting tour de force of Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis today.

Set in the Bronx in 1964, the film explores faith and power and betrayal and doubt. Although the child sexual abuse scandal of the Catholic Church took another 40 years to come to a head, Doubt explores what has long been the Church's ugly little secret.

Given our 20/20 hindsight, it's as difficult for the audience to maintain any sense of doubt over of the guilt Hoffman's character of Father Flynn as it is for Streep's magnificent Sister Aloysius. But the fine acting skills of all involve manage to take a black and white issue and add the depth and complexity of many shades of gray.

Although all involved turn in fabulous performances, the knockouts for me were:

1. Meryl Streep, who consistently proves why she's an icon. Even not having grown up Catholic, the domineering and strict nun is still a familiar character. Streep manages to convey all the icy determination, but softened ever so subtly with her no-nonsense caring and protection of the sisters under her charge--as well as the children whose education and well-being she has been tasked with. To be sure, it's all about tradition, respect and the rules--but Streep also displays a protective fierceness of those in her charge that adds dimension to what could have been merely Nurse Ratchet in a habit.

2. Viola Davis as the mother of the allegedly abused boy shows a different kind of ferocity. Also willing to protect with any means necessary, Davis plays Mrs. Miller with dignity and grace--and is the main reason for most of the many shades of gray in the film.

3. Roger Deakins whose cinematography captures the stark and austere beauty of St. Nicholas and the Bronx in the 60s. As he did in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, No Country for Old Men and numerous other productions (Deakins also was DP for upcoming Oscar-bait flicks The Reader and Revolutionary Road. He's a busy and talented guy!), Deakins' exquisitely transcendent camerawork raises the film to a whole other level.

Written and directed by John Patrick Shanley adapted from his 2004 play, Doubt is a solid Oscar contender. I have to say though--while it's most certainly a good film, maybe even a great film--it's a definite downer. I'm glad I got to see the terrific acting and beautiful production design and camerawork, but it's most certainly not what one would term "uplifting." At a mere 90 minutes, it still felt a bit interminable and inevitable.

Still, if Oscar-caliber actors showing off their chops is your cup of tea, then Doubt is definitely a must-see.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Stuff

Having just finished celebrating the universal festival of "stuff," I thought this link to "The Story of Stuff" I received via e-mail today was exceptionally timely.

I posted about this issue previously. It was also the plot of WALL*E.

Maybe it's time for all of us to say, "Enough with the stuff!"

When Hotties turn into Fatties

I got pinged by someone regarding my comment about Val Kilmer's weight gain. Apparently a reader took issue with the snarky remark which wasn't meant to belittle his acting talents. I loved him in Willow and more recently he was intriguing in the underrated Spartan (no, he's not wearing a loincloth...). But Val seems to have taken the Nora Desmond line, "I am big. It's the pictures that got small!" a little too literally.













But Val isn't the only hottie turned fatty: there are a number of former Hollywood Sex Symbols that instead of being Speedo models look more like Cheetos models. In the interest of critical equity, I thought I'd spread the snark around.

Sometimes the addition of a few pounds adds gravitas to an actor's performance (think Marlon Brando). Sometimes the addition of weight does nothing to mar the star quality (think Elvis), but more often those few (or forty) extra pounds make one long wistfully for the slimmer, hotter version of the celebrity in question.

For what it's worth, I'm a size four and weigh within ten pounds or less of what I weighed in high school. And I'm not the only one who's avoided the addition of pounds with the addition of years: Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood, the late great Paul Newman, Kiefer Sutherland and many others have remained fit.

So this is not a situation of the pot calling the kettle black--just the blogger calling the actor fat:













Travolta was all the rage in a three-piece white suit for Saturday Night Fever, but judging by the picture on the right it doesn't look like he needed a fat suit to play Edna Turnblad in Hairspray.













William Shatner has spent his whole career trying to escape from the shadow of Captain Kirk. Now that his bloated body no longer resembles the lithe, lean James T. Kirk, he's definitely succeeded.













Once upon a time--and not so long ago--James Spader WAS Sex, Lies and Videotape. Now, while he's not taking acting lessons from his Boston Legal co-star, it certainly looks like he's taken EATING lessons from him.













Alec Baldwin's never been better--or funnier--as Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock. He's also never been bigger. And I don't mean that in the good way...













Russell Crowe may not be ready to play an overweight drag queen--yet! But if he doesn't lay off the donuts, he'll be taking up residence in Brando-ville soon.













John Cusack couldn't stay Lloyd Dobler forever, but Lloyd Double-chin is not an improvement.

We've watched Kirstie Alley and Valerie Bertinelli take off the pounds. Maybe it's time for a Jenny Craig-style intervention for our former male hotties...

Friday, December 26, 2008

December the 26th

For some the day after Christmas means shopping the sales, others celebrate "Boxing Day." For me, December 26th means there's 26 days until LOST returns!

Whoohoo!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Friends of the World Food Program

As I sit here with distended belly--having eating more today than I usually do in a WEEK--I am reminded of one of my favorite Christmas songs, "Do they know it's Christmas?" The refrain of the song urges to "Feed the World," and that's exactly what the Friends of the World Food Program are trying to do.


The Menu for Hope campaign raised over $90k for the U.N. World Food Program last year, but they're not even halfway to that goal for this year.

I know--times are tough, everyone's struggling to get by. My friend John was laid off, my brother was laid off and the economy's in the tank. But as hard as things are, I doubt anyone reading this has ever (unwillingly) gone to bed hungry--which is a common occurrence for far too many people on this planet.

And if the glow of doing something charitable weren't incentive enough, each $10 you donate goes towards a raffle of some foodie related prizes, including a Cuisinart Ice Cream maker, a Scharffen Berger Chocolate Gift package and Gourmet Book Club membership--to name but a few.

So while you recover from feasting on turkey or roast beef or honey-glazed ham or a vegetarian lasagna, maybe give a thought to those not quite so fortunate.

Christmas: The Aftermath

Before I sink into a food-induced coma (compliments of cookies baked by my sister Laurie), I thought I'd share some of the Christmas I spent with brother David, his girlfriend Crystal and the most adorable Master Jack.

Serenaded by an iTunes Christmas playlist (again thanks to Laurie who burned at least half a dozen Christmas CDs for my enjoyment), we opened presents and ate breakfast and basically chilled out on a rainy L.A. day.

The first gift I opened was from David and was a CanonA470 digital camera. After some instructions from Crystal, I was able to take some halfway decent photos:













Crystal and Jack













David and Crystal















Jack with his new stuffed puppy from Laurie
















Jack with his monster blanket


In addition to the digital camera I got an iTunes gift card, 2 GB USB flashdrive, a cow draft dodger, some tea, a reusable shopping bag and this deceptively simple looking puzzle that had us pulling our hair out. We took a picture so we'd never have to spend hours figuring it out again:














Puzzle from Hell


After we got through exchanging our gifts, we started in on the presents Laurie sent. And my present from Laurie was...a Sony digital camera!

Apparently two of my siblings read my blog--but neither of them talk to each other. James told me he sent out my Christmas present yesterday. If I get a THIRD digital camera I'm going to have to stop writing and this blog will henceforth be all pictures.

Thanks to all for making it such an awesome Christmas! Hope yours was fabulous as well...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Frasier Grinch

Jen Chaney recently posted her list of TV's Most Awesome Holiday episodes. Sure we all love The Grinch and Frosty (well, maybe not Frosty so much...), but some of the best Christmas "specials" are holiday-themed episodes of our favorite sitcoms and dramas.

Frankly, I think Ms. Chaney's list is kind of lame. Mainly because it omits the most awesome of TV's most awesome holiday episodes: Frasier Grinch.

In this episode, Frasier's son Frederick is coming to visit for Christmas and Frasier is in a tizzy because the educational gifts he ordered for his son have gone astray in the mail (leading to Nile's most awesome punchline: "The Cranes of Maine have got your human brain...") leading to a frenzy visit to the most horrific of locales on Christmas Eve: a shopping mail. Although Martin has advised Frasier that the hot gift item is an "Outlaw Laser Robogeek," he ignores him in favor of more intellectual items for his young son.

This is what happens next:



Yeah--it makes me misty-eyed every time...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bottle Rocket: Short Film Soundtrack Digital Release

Rushmore is one of my favorite movies. But before Rushmore, there was Bottle Rocket. And before Bottle Rocket, there was...

Bottle Rocket.

Two years before the release of the quirky caper film about some spectacularly inept thieves, Anderson filmed a 13 minute short version that was the inspiration for the feature length film.

With the release of the deluxe DVD version of the film comes the never before released short--as well as its accompanying soundtrack.

Wes Anderson is as well-known for his quirky, offbeat choices of music as he is for his quirky and offbeat cast of characters. The soundtrack for the short film is no exception. His longtime collaboration with music supervisor Randall Posner over the years has produced the uniquely idiosyncratic sound that Anderson is known for.

The short film moves along to the syncopated beat of an assortment of jazz tunes: Artie Shaw, Sonny Rollins, Duke Ellington & John Coltrane and the Zoot Sims Quartet add zip and pizazz to the eight tracks of the album. Anderson must have grown up watching the Peanuts specials like the rest of us because two of the tracks are by none other than Peanuts composer Vince Guaraldi.

According to music production team of Anderson/Posner:

“I was listening to a lot of jazz at the time, especially Coltrane’s albums on Blue Note and Sonny Rollins’ A Night at the Village Vanguard,” explains Anderson. “I was inspired by the use of American jazz in French new wave movies like Breathless. I still love this music.”

“He seemed to take the outlaw nature of these jazz musicians and apply it to the would-be rebels in the film,” adds Poster.
The soundtrack for the short film version of Bottle Rocket is available on iTunes.

Next thing you know, the Pope will be doing podcasts...

From an article in the Washington Post, "Vatican embraces iTunes prayer book."

According to the article:

Pope Benedict XVI, a classical music lover who was reportedly given an iPod in 2006, has sought to reach out to young people through new media. During last summer's World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, he sent out mobile phone text messages citing scripture to thousands of registered pilgrims - signed with the tagline "BXVI."
The prayer book was downloaded 10,000 during the trial period.

Who knows--maybe with a little help from technology it'll end up being bigger than the Beatles...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Favorite TV Characters

I'm glomming off a recent post by Linz about her favorite TV characters. I completely concur with her on the choices of Dexter Morgan of Dexter (Michael C. Hall makes serial killing an art form) and Ned the Piemaker from Pushing Daisies (Lee Pace is even yummier than his pies!) and Desmond Hume from LOST, but I thought I add a couple of my own picks:

1. Entourage, Ari Gold - This role may turn out to be Jeremy Piven's "Captain Kirk" in that he will be forever identified and defined the hyperbolic and hyperactive uber-agent. But there are worse fates. And Shatner managed to outgrow Star Trek. It only took 40 years....

Lloyd!!!

2. Dirty Sexy Money, Brian Darling - Glenn Fitzgerald is my only reason for watching this silly, stupid show. His portrayal of perpetually angry Brian Darling is both hot-headed and just plain HOT. Someone compiled a "Best of" all his spleen-venting moments on YouTube. My favorite is his attempt to get a little (well, maybe not SO little) girl to stop bullying his illegitimate son:

"God told me you're not being so nice to him. And God is so disappointed. So from now on, He wants you two to be friends. Otherwise you're going to burn in Hell for eternity. And eternity's a very long time..."



3. The Office, Jim Halpert - Okay, just so you know it's not ALL about the bad boys. Who could resist John Krasinki and his patented "Jim face?"

Jim Halpert: Playing that game again?

Dwight Schrute: Second life is not a game. It is a multi-user, virtual environment. It doesn't have points or scores; it doesn't have winners or losers.

Jim Halpert: Oh, it has losers...


3. Heroes, Sylar - Okay, maybe it IS all about the bad boys. Zachary Quinto can play warm and fuzzy or cold-blooded killer. Either way, he's by far the most interesting character on Heroes.

Long live Sylar!







4. Ugly Betty, Gio - Betty may have agonized over whether to choose Henry or Gio but it would have taken me no time at all. Henry Grubstick may have been "sweet like sugar and soft like suede," but Freddy Rodriguez brought passion, fire and Italian spice to the party.

Capiche?


5. Desperate Housewives, Andrew Van De Kamp -Shawn Pyform does a great job of portraying Bree's smart-mouthed gay son. He made AfterEllen.com's list Of Top 25 Gay TV Characters, but he's number one on my list!









6. One Life to Live, David Vickers - Tuc Watkins plays Andrew's gay next door neighbor on Desperate Housewives, but it's his portrayal of snarky con man/gigolo on One Life to Live that amuses me most. The writers LOVE writing lines for this guy:





David Vickers: Bo, don't neglect to turn on your lights and your siren. I will be right behind.

Lee Dennison Halpern Sanders: Ugh.

David Vickers: This is a seminal moment for me. I'll be chasing a police car instead of it chasing me. Let's go.
There are more--but it's late.

Who are your favorite TV characters?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Netflix Quick Picks - Round Eleven

It's been a while since round ten. My new job keeps me so busy I have little time for movies! But with TV going on holiday hiatus, it's time to catch up with the rentals...

1. Gangs of New York - Similar themes as The Departed with DiCaprio and Scorcese depicting deception and betrayal--only this time in 1800s New York City. If it were between this and The Departed, I'd have given Scorcese the Oscar for Gangs of New York. I'd have given Daniel Day-Lewis the Academy Award for his portrayal of Bill "the Butcher" Poole in this film over the one he was awarded for There Will Be Blood as well. Cameron Diaz was the only weak link, although much improved over her last period foray in From Hell. I say RENT IT!

2. Everything is Illuminated - Directed by Liev Schreiber, Elijah Wood stars Jonathan Froer, a Jewish collector of memorabilia and personal artifacts who seeks the woman who saved his grandfather when the Ukraine was invaded by the Nazis. But the real star of the film is Eugene Hutz who plays Froer's translator Alex. With his stilted broken English and Tony Manero-esque mannerisms, Alex could have ended up being an over-the-top caricature but Hutz infuses him with so much humor and humanity that you can't help but adore him. Rent it!

3. Eagle vs. Shark - This quirky New Zealand romantic comedy stars Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords fame. Unfortunately that's not enough to recommend it. Loren Holsey is lovely as the lovestruck Lily, but the film tries too hard to be offbeat and weird and meanders aimlessly in search of a story. Skip it.

4. A Good Woman - Is a bad movie. Helen Hunt is bad. Scarlett Johansson is bad. The life and lilt of this tale based on an Oscar Wilde play is completely sucked out of the story. With the exception of Tom Wilkinson who is completely charming as the winning and winsome Tuppy, this is a bland and banal costume drama devoid of any character. Skip it.

5. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead - Stellar cast (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Albert Finney) directed by the legendary Sidney Lumet. It's a downer of a story filled with unlikable characters doing unspeakable things. If you like dark and downbeat, go for it.

But don't say I didn't warn ya...

6. The King of Comedy - Basically this is Taxi Driver all over again. Maybe a bit lighter and more satirical... Robert De Niro plays aspiring comic Travis Bickle (I mean Rupert Pupkin...) who is obsessed with Jodie Foster (make that Jerry Lewis) and tangentially involved with an icy blonde (Shelley Hack standing in for Cybill Shepherd in this case...). Same talking to self in the mirror scenes, same delusions of grandeur. It's a good movie--I'd just already seen it all before...

7. The Iron Giant - Although the film features Vin Diesel voicing the title characer, his trademark gravelly growl is synthesized to render it unrecognizable. Still, it's a clever little morality tale that's worth a look. Rent it.

8. Hard Eight - This early Paul Thomas Anderson film showcases the themes and characters that would come to be staple signatures in future films. Including Philip Baker Hall and Philip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly and Samuel L. Jackson (what is it with the three names or two plus middle initial anyway?!!!) who would pop up again and again in later works. It's a great character study, but I felt like the delivery was a bit flat. Philip Baker Hall is a charismatic enigma, but overall stretched too thin to hold the story together. Skip it.

LAVANILA: This is not your Mom's vanilla...

Personally I'm a fan of foodie scents. But there are times when one doesn't particularly want to smell like cake batter. Thank goodness for LAVANILA Pure Vanilla Body Wash. It's a more floral than foodie vanilla. With a hint of musk and patchouli.

And if the gorgeous scent weren't enough, the 100% natural cleanser is completely free of sulfates, harsh detergents and harmful synthetics. Known as "The Healthy Body Wash," LAVANILA is filled with great ingredients that are good for your skin:

  • Coconut Oil: Has gentle cleansing properties to purify skin.
  • Oat Protein: Moisturizes, conditions, and soothes skin as it adjusts skin's pH.
  • Pomegranate: Gently exfoliates by removing the outer layer of dead skin cells that trap bacteria and sebum.
  • Goji Berries: Provide potent antioxidant protection and nourishment.
I love how the light lather rinses completely - leaving softened and softly scented skin.

Yummy!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

All Hail the Hulu Man!

Matt The.Hulu.Man has been gearing up the first annual (first EVER!) Hulu Awards. For better or worse, yours truly is a panelist working tirelessly voting on Hulu's best programming.

Now it's your chance. Let your voice be heard and cast your votes for your favorites!

Best Cartoon Series



Best Anime



Best Dramatic Movie



Best Dramatic TV Series



Best Family Movie



Best Movie Comedy



Best Non-competitive Reality Show



Best Celebrity Driven Reality Show



Best Competitive Reality Show



Best Documentary Feature



Best Horror Movie



Best Classic TV Show



Best Comedy TV Show



Best Show of the Seventies



Best Show of the Eighties



Best Sports Programming

Friday, December 19, 2008

Amongst the Coffee Tables and Futons...

I'm moving to a bigger apartment soon and as such I've been perusing Craigslist to see about acquiring some new (used) pieces of furniture for cheap.

There's a lot out there--although not necessarily "cheap." Used to be that people were more concerned with getting the extra stuff out of their apartment. With the economy the way it is, however, looks like people are actually trying to pay rent by selling off their furniture. Like the person in Malibu trying to unload a "Vintage" room divider folding screen with embroidered flowers for the bargain price of $3,999.

I got my folding screen room divider (sans embroidered flowers) for $40 at Target.

But in addition to the dining room tables and queen sized mattresses, there are a lot of odd things under the furniture for sale section of Craigslist:

Interferenital Estimulator (brand new) for $1,000
Solid Wood Doors (Quantity available, 5) for $85/each
Beautiful sword mounted under acrylic glass for $40
Scrapbook storage cubes, $10
6 1/2' Ficus tree for $170
Horse Sculpture, $20
Solid Wood Shutters, $10
Red Ferrari 360 F1 Spider, $149,000
Michelangelo Bronze overlay David statue, $2,900
Beautiful Silk Flower Arrangement, $30
Giant 5 ft Buddha
My Breast Friend breastfeeding pillow - $30
Oil Rubbed Bronze Toilet Paper Holder - $37

and my personal favorite listing,

like new GYN exam table - $750

Seriously people, I could not make this up!

It's a SpongeBob World and We Just Live in it...

I've never gotten the whole SpongeBob SquarePants thing. Frankly, I find him a little creepy.

But apparently SpongeBob is worldwide cultural phenomenon. In Spanish-speaking countries he is known as Bob Esponja and in French it's "Bob L'Eponge."

Bob L'Eponge...

Sounds almost classy, huh?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Adding One to the List

Thanks to my friend Dave, I can cross one item off my Christmas list.

So I thought I'd add something back on: a 16 GB Flashdrive. Once upon a time, 16 GB was more capacity than most hard drives. Hard to believe you can get all that storage now in a pocket-sized stick.

And for less than $30 in many cases!

At that price, maybe I should get a couple...

Pushing Daisies - The Norwegians

And the game-changer on last night's episode of Pushing Daisies is...George Hamilton?

The preternaturally tanned one wasn't credited with the cameo at the end of the show so his appearance as Ned's long lost father came as a bit of shock--especially given the fact that he bears little resemblance to Jon Eric Price (who played the role of the Piemaker's errant Dad previously) and NO resemblance to Lee Pace.

Speaking of Dads, Chuck bemoans the fact that hers has taken off: "I've been dumped by my Dad!" "You haven't been Dad-dumped," Ned consoles. A lone button sitting on the windowsill convinces Chuck that her Dad is still around--watching over her.

Meanwhile, Vivian tries to hire Emerson Cod to track down the MIA Dwight Dixon. Knowing full well Dwight's whereabouts (replacing the formerly dead Charles Charles in his coffin), he refuses the case and attempts to talk Vivian out of digging any deeper.

The bereft Vivian turns elsewhere for investigative support--to the Norwegians. Who resembled not so coincidentally the trio of Emerson, Ned and Chuck. Fearing the Norwegians will find out the truth, the three enlist Olive to convince Vivian to drop the case.

Olive is upset at being excluded from the three sharing secrets, but Chuck tries to tell her that it's for her own protection. "I don't need protection. That's what I have several long-standing restraining orders for!" exclaims Olive.

However, she reluctantly agrees to help out. But while talking to Vivian, she sees the similarity between Lily's obfuscation and that of Ned, Emerson and Chuck. Not only doesn't she talk Vivian out of her search for Dwight, but talks herself into switching teams.

And so Olive jumps ship and starts working with the Norwegians, who have located the note that Lily wrote to Dwight in his hotel room. They present the evidence to Vivian who confronts Lily. Lily tells her that Dwight stood her up as well--and shows her Charles Charles' watch which she found in Dwight's possession. This she offers as proof of Dwight's nefariousness since--as far as they know--the only he could have obtained the watch was by digging up Chuck's grave to get it.

The Norwegians also found a shovel underneath Dwight's bed and tracked the traces of dirt on it to the graves of Chuck and her Dad. But upon exhuming them, they find both coffins empty. Ned and Emerson come up with a plan to destroy the forensic evidence by getting rid of the Norwegians mobile lab, nicknamed "Mother."

When he goes to steal the vehicle, he finds Olive there with the same idea. Turns out that Olive was not a turncoat but deep undercover. As the two hurtle Thelma and Louise style towards a large chasm, Olive pumps Ned for information. "I got myself dirty," Ned admits. "Well, allow me to soap up those hard to reach place!" Olive offers.

Ned and Olive manage to dive out of "Mother" as it goes over the cliff. Clinging to a tree branch, they are rescued just in the nick of time by a mysterious man.

Chuck is sure that her Dad was the guardian angel that saved Ned and Olive and also the person who made sure that both coffins were empty. Not only was Dwight removed from the coffin, but he was placed in his hotel bed looking like he died of natural causes and with a stash of items making him look like a graverobber.

Which he was, as a matter of fact...

But Ned and Olive's savior was not Chuck's Dad, but Ned's. In the form of George Hamilton.

Go figure.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Six Shopping Days Left 'til Christmas!

Time is running out to get your Christmas shopping done! I know I'm still working on finding the perfect gifts for my loved ones. What makes it even harder is money being tight in these tough economic times...

If you're struggling for ideas, I've got two words for you:

1. Disney - This limited edition Disney Couture Harvey's Seatbelt bag features Mickey Mouse on comic webbing with splashes of color. It's both cute and functional. Made of 100% seat belt, it's capable of holding up to 2,000 pounds of necessities (I know sometimes my bag feels that heavy...). It's lined in genuine flight satin, used by the US Airforce to make flight jackets, and features strong magnetic snaps or YKK zippers, NASA certified thread and chrome plated feet imported from Italy.

2. Discount - Not only will HipUndies ship the bag to you for a mere $1.00, but--courtesy of Well Above Average--you can get $50 off when you use the promo code: WAASAVES. (It stands for Well Above Average Saves! How cool is that?)

HipUndies also carries Hanky Panky, Cosabella, Spanx and Betsey Johnson Lingerie so log on and start shopping!

I Am Not my Blog

Via the blog Dark Star Discovery, I stumbled upon the Typealyzer, a Myers-Brigg categorization for blogs.

According to it, Well Above Average is:

ESTP - The Doers

The active and playful type. They are especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical out-door activities.

The Doers are happiest with action-filled work which craves their full attention and focus. They might be very impulsive and more keen on starting something new than following it through. They might have a problem with sitting still or remaining inactive for any period of time.

Hmmm...that is the exact opposite of my Myers-Brigg type which is INFJ.

Is my blog the Mr. Hyde to my Dr. Jekyll?

Crossing One Off the List

Sunday I received my first Christmas present. My friend Dave gifted me with the step stool from my Christmas list so I won't be risking breaking my neck on my wobbly swivel chair.

I can hardly wait to change a light bulb!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button soundtrack available 12/16

Although movie-goers have to wait until Christmas Day to check out Brad Pitt portraying the title character in the tale of a man who ages backwards, music lovers can get their hands on the soundtrack from the movie today.

The two CD set features the score by Award-winning composer Alexandre Desplat on disc one and a collection of songs and dialogue snippets from the film on disc two. To mirror Benjamin's retrograde existence, Desplat created a main theme that can be played backwards as well as forwards. Other themes come and go, and chords switch from major to minor, as the clock ticks and characters disappear from the story.

Desplat's haunting score is complemented by music by Louis Armstrong, the Preservation Jazz Hall Band and even The Platters--evoking the melodies and milieu of New Orleans as well as the moments in time of Benjamin's life. According to Desplat:

"The movie has everything that a film can offer to a composer: A humanistic script by Eric Roth of a man's epic journey living his life biologically in reverse through a century, a heartbreaking love story played with intensity by two of the most glamorous and gifted actors of our times, the pulse of jazz in the city where he was born, a twist of witty humor, the metaphysical question of death, and the pure visual magic created by a genius director."
Whether or not the film turns out to be the brilliant epic of Desplat's assessment, there's no doubt from the pieces I've seen that it looks spectacular. And, after listening to the soundtrack, it sounds spectacular as well.

Heroes - Dual

The anti-climatic mid-season cliffhanger episode of Heroes left me with only one question:

Is Sylar really dead?

I sort of doubt it.

Meredith, on the other hand, seems to have suffered the ignominious fate of self-immolation and Knox was frozen to smithereens by Tracy.

Mohinder, however, survives to continue his cheesy voice-overs.

There really is no justice in the battle between good and evil now, is there?

Starting off with Nathan's throw-down to Peter: "Eventually you're going to have to choose a side," the finale of Volume Three tried to live up to both aspects of its title. On one hand, "Dual" explored the thin line between good and evil. On the other, "Duel" highlighted the clashes between the various characters: Peter vs. Nathan and Sylar vs. Claire.

The jury's still out as to who were the winners in last night's episode.

Peter managed to trash Nathan's laboratory--although when push came to shove (and there was a lot of pushing, shoving, punching and general smacking around in the episode), his high standards against the distribution of abilities excluded injecting himself with Suresh's formula.

Which was weird, because I thought the last syringe was snatched from Suresh's hands by speedster Daphne. Ando injects himself with it in order to get the ability to time travel so he can rescue Hiro. After regaining consciousness, he asks Matt and Daphne if he has any abilities. "So far all we know is that you can pass out really well," snarks the speedster.

Ando tries to teleport himself to save Hiro but is unsuccessful. Daphne tells him to scrunch like Hiro did. Matt cautions him to "Scrunch gently." So let's review: we have the "brain mojo thingy" and "scrunching."

After much effort exerted in scrunching, Ando is still in the present with no time travel ability. It soon becomes apparent that the power that he did get was ability to amplify or super-charged other people's abilities. So, in concert with Daphne's speed, he is able to travel back in time and rescue Hiro who is just about to destroy the formula.

Ando and Daphne manage to swoop in and save Hiro from being turned into human shish-kabob by his Daddy who does not recognize the future version of his son, but before Hiro is ability to rip the formula to shreds. Although Hiro wasn't able to destroy the formula in the past, he and Daphne speed travel to Pinehearst to retrieve the formula in the present.

Tracy Strauss has the same idea, but the formula is snatched from her hands after Hiro clocks her in the face. That'll teach her to call him "Pikachu."

Back at Primatech, Sylar has Claire, Angela, Noah and Meredith in lock-down as he pursues his vengeance against Angela, who lied to and manipulated him and Noah, who helped turn him into a monster. As Meredith walks through the halls littered with body parts, she is jumped from behind by Sylar who injects her with adrenaline. Sylar locks Meredith--whose fire powers are out of control--in a cell with Noah.

While Claire helps them to break out of the cell, Sylar deals with Mommie Dearest. Angela admits that she is not his mother but tells him, "I know who your real parents are. If you kill me, you'll never find out."

Way to go, Angela--always good to keep a bargaining chip up your sleeve!

As Sylar begins to slice her skull, Claire manages to sneak up behind him and drive a shard of glass into his brain.

Chapter Thirteen casualties:

Meredith - dead
Knox - dead
Eric Doyle - probably dead

On the other hand, Peter's got power(s) again and Ando is now one of the "evolved." And best of all, the tribal guy appears to be alive and well with head attached!

Of course they're all in danger now as Nathan's secret meeting with the President means that all those with abilities will now be hunted down and confined.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas Movie

Television has plenty of ways to get us into the holiday spirit. Some classic (How the Grinch Stole Christmas), some claptrap (Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer). I've sort of outgrown the Rankin-Bass claymation specials, but there are special Christmas movies that will never grow old for me. Here are my favorites:

1. It's a Wonderful Life - I watched this for the 27th (or maybe more!) last night. I still puddle up when Harry toasts his big brother George Bailey at the end of the movie. It's the best Christmas movie EVER.

2. Scrooge - The musical version of A Christmas Carol starring Albert Finney manages to infuse the Dickens classic with really catchy songs. Everything about this movie--from the costumes to the casting--is perfect.

3. Scrooged - For those wanting to avoid the saccharine-sweetness of most holiday-themed movies, the Bill Murray version of A Christmas Carol should suffice. It remains true to the original story even as it updates it to the modern-day.

4. Miracle on 34th Street - Yes, Susan Walker--there IS a Santa Claus! So determines the state of New York in one of the best courtroom scenes in any movie. Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle isn't as much sugar as he is spice. His is a bit of a confrontational, crochety Santa who's not above being a bit naughty (smacking down an annoying Macy's employee for example...) rather than just nice.

5. The Santa Clause - This Tim Allen vehicle is much darker than your average Christmas movie. The clever high-concept plot doesn't overwhelm the message and Allen does a great job at portraying the reluctant Santa Claus.

6. Elf - Will Ferrell's perpetual manchild finds the perfect combination of humor and heart in Buddy, the Christmas elf. I love the scene where he uses Legos and LightBrights to rig up Gimbel's in time for Santa's visit. And how could you not love a movie that incorporates the talents of Ed Asner and Bob Newhart?

7. White Christmas - Although the plot is merely a contrivance to feature the singing talents of Rosemary Clooney and Bing Crosby, it still manages to convey the best aspects of the season: friendship, loyalty, compassion, generosity and SNOW!

8. The Ref - Denis Leary finds out crime does not pay when he hides out at the Chasseurs. The dysfunctionality of Lloyd (Kevin Spacey) and Caroline (Judy Davis) makes the strain of most family gatherings pale in comparison.

9. Bad Santa - The tagline for this movie starring Billy Bob Thornton as a drunken, womanizing, thieving mall Santa is "He's very naughty...and not very nice." This isn't some schmaltzy Christmas special for the kiddies--but it's one of my favorites all the same. Hysterically funny--especially when Willie tears into Thurman's advent calendar--and then feeling remorseful, tries to rectify it by replacing the chocolates with aspirin, candy corn, etc.

10. Gremlins - You may not think of this as a Christmas movie, but it is set at Christmastime and the original "gremlin" was an ill-advised Christmas gift. The scene where Billy's mom fends off the evil gremlins who have invaded her kitchen is worth the price of the rental alone...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Frost/Nixon

After the snoozefest that was Oliver Stone's W., I wasn't sure what to expect from Frost/Nixon. Sure it had gotten lots of love from the critics and boasted Michael Sheen--who has twice wowed as with his uncanny Tony Blair impressions--playing David Frost. But could Ron Howard turn a dialogue-heavy stage play about politics into a compelling movie?

You betcha.

Personally, I think Ron Howard is an incredibly under-rated director. Sure, he's been associated with some losers like The Da Vinci Code (well, the film version was a loser for me although its earnings of over $200 million domestically is nothing to sneeze at...), but also with gems like Willow (remember when Val Kilmer was HOT? Now he looks like the guy who ate Val Kilmer...), Parenthood, Apollo 13 (which deserved an Oscar in my opinion) and The Missing.

As with all Ron Howard films, you get the obligatory Clint Howard appearance--but I find that more endearing than annoying. The rest of the cast is pitch perfect--from Toby Jones as agent Swifty Lazar to Patty McCormack as the fragile Pat Nixon. Kevin Bacon proves once again why he is such a stalwart to have inspired the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game (I believe we're down to three degrees by now...) and Sam Rockwell is super as well.

But the movie belongs to Michael Sheen and Frank Langella who embody the title roles with such confidence and finesse. Sheen's portrayal of Frost is subtly layered and gives depth and intrigue to what could have been glossed over with facile charm and wit. I wavered with Langella--who captured the voice and mannerisms of the disgraced ex-president and managed to convey both arrogance and humanity. But by the end of the film he had so disappeared into the persona, I was completely won over.

The film manages to be humorous, topical and a cat-and-mouse thriller. No doubt Howard, a bit of an underdog when it comes to respect and appreciation, could identify with Frost's quest to be taken more seriously than just a "talk show host." And in the same way that the Frost/Nixon interviews helped legitimize David Frost as an interviewer, Frost/Nixon should do the same for the under appreciated Ron Howard.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Combing Through the Keywords

Yeah, I know it's been awhile. While perusing my analytics, it occurred to me that I get an awful lot of visits from people searching for answers to Gap related questions. E.g.; "What are Gap rewards?," "How do Gap rewards work?" and "Can I use Discover Card at the Gap?" I had 204 visits from the search term "gap rewards" alone in the last couple of months.

I think the Gap should hire me to write a blog for them. God knows I shop there often enough that a good portion of what they paid me would end up back in their bank account.

Next in popularity was the term "Hollie Nell blog" with 58 visits. This is no doubt my fab friend Hollie's psycho stalker. I used to have a stalker, but thankfully she's gotten a life.

"Mark Cuban shirtless" comes in with 30 visits. That can't ALL be Elisabeth waving "Hi!," so some of you people need to get a life like Hollie's stalker.

"Tom Bergeron shirtless"--thankfully--only garnered 11 visits, while "Eddie Steeples shirtless" accounted for 9. I also got "Freddy Rodriguez shirtless pictures from Havoc."

That one I understand!

There was a lot of interest in the actor who played Warren Schilling on Desperate Housewives (Peter Onorati) and the one who played Orson's friend, Peter Hickey (Bruce Thomas). I'll post a picture of Bruce, because he's cuter than Peter (sorry Peter--playing a wife beater just isn't attractive...)

Someone wondered about a movie starring a little boy with an asthma attack. Signs comes to mind--as the asthma of the character portrayed by Rory Culkin became an integral part of the plot. There's also Sean Astin in The Goonies. And I think the drippy little boy who played Geena Davis' son in The Accidental Tourist had asthma, but I could be wrong...

There was a search for "Italian actress with butterfly tattoo above crotch." I'm guessing they were looking for Asia Argento. But it's not a butterfly, but an angel or the madonna or something humanoid with wings...

"Does growing a goatee affect getting a job?"

Probably not, but it will in all likelihood decrease your chances of getting laid...

"Does Ty Treadway sleep in the nude?"

Wouldn't you like to know!

"Does celery cause cancer?"

I don't think so...

"Christmas song with guy and girl in a grocery store?"

Two songs come to mind: Same Auld Lang Syne by Dan Fogelberg or Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses.

Then there's the lost soul searching for "Thelma from Scooby Doo always says "jin." First off, the character's name is "Velma," not "Thelma." Velma Dace Dinkley to be exact--which I know because Velma (believe it or not) has her own page on Wikipedia.

Secondly, she's not using the name of the recently departed LOST character in vain, but instead the exclaimation is "Jinkies!"

Don't ask me what that means--I have no idea.

And then comes the really random @#$%--from the disturbing to the banal:

back seat fucking at the westside pavillion parking
ballbusting pornos
cheating ugly office girls
full frontal netflix
granny during sex with cucumber
grannys haveing sex.com
ugly granny breasts movies
how to tuck when wearing speedo
profane recharge in chino hills

Actually, I think that last person meant "proPane recharge in chino hills"...

But the one that boggles my mind is "connection between bart simpson, napoleon, kurt cobain, kermit and michelangelo."

Seriously--if someone knows the answer to that, let me know! It's gonna keep me awake nights...

Then there's:

average appendix
average breast size by nation
average christmas in the united states
average day screenwriter
average donation to breast cancer foundation
average forehead
average heroes
average hoa fees santa clarita
average level free rice
average men fashion
average mens fashion tips
average pay for actors dirty sexy money
average poems
average price of dvd promotion
average rainy days london
average rent paid by pr firms
average role models
average salary of pacemaker rep
average sale price of a screenplay
average shelf life of a professional dancer
average songs heard a day
average stop loss
average tattoo time
average thoughts
average time for dentist appointment
average time to read 100 pages
average top models
average vocabulary level on free rice
average writing
averaging poem
above average
above average ability
above average fashions
above average four year old
above average return
above average words

...for which I can offer no assistance. 'Cuz we don't do "average" or "above average" here.

Only "Well Above Average."