Category Archives: Movies

How to Turn 60

Audrey and I pause for a selfie before riding the Sac and Fox Trail.

My 60th birthday won’t come again, but tomorrow will the only day after my 60th birthday, and that day won’t return, either.

But if I were to be stuck, “Groundhog Day” style, in a 24-hour period that would repeat—well, today might not be my best choice, but it would be a decent choice. Today was a pretty good day.

It began with me fixing a special breakfast for myself—I made plain oatmeal, added some butter, salt, pepper, two over-easy eggs and cheddar cheese. It was a tasty way to begin my birthday.

We’ve had rain recently in Iowa, a pattern expected to return tomorrow, but today was cool in the morning and very pretty in the afternoon. I have been driving to work most of the week, but today I put on the special bicycle shoes and rode my road bike. A day at work is always a better day if I get there and return on two wheels.

And for lunch, my wife took me to Taste of India—probably the best restaurant in Cedar Rapids for a birthday lunch, if you like Indian food. I do.

After afternoon work, I got home about 4:30, and noticed a flat of mums on the front stoop. My wife had already gotten me two Rose of Sharon bushes for my birthday earlier this week, and I will plant those this weekend. Mums are one of her favorite flowers, but I enjoy that splash of fall color, too—and I love to plant pretty things. I think of it as an investment in hope, the future and the wonderfulness of this planet we find ourselves inhabiting. Planting always boosts my mood, so seeing the flower flat was another reason to smile today.

And the house smelled divine when I got home. Someone had baked an apple crisp for me.

Before we watched “Thor: Ragnarok,” a DVD someone got for me on this special day, I attached the bike rack to the van and loaded our mountain bikes on it. My wife had suggested that, if the weather was right, we might enjoy a bicycle ride on my birthday—if I agreed. I did, and I suggested we got to the Sac and Fox, a trail I have been on several times this year, but have not shared with her before today.

And the bike ride on the trail was delightful, featuring perfect late afternoon golden light, and clouds enough to keep us from warming up. We had ridden maybe 5 of the 7 miles on our way to the south end of the trail, and I had noted to Audrey that, although it had been a very pretty ride (the Sac and Fox is the prettiest bike trail in Cedar Rapids), I was surprised there had been no deer. I had encountered deer on my summer pre-RAGBRAI rides on this trail.

And almost immediately, on cue, there, up ahead—a group of maybe seven deer, adults and fawns, loitering on the trail. They moved north off the trail as we approached, but stayed nearby in the woods, so I paused and photographed them.

Two of the deer.

Yes, the ride went well. And we felt we had earned our post-ride supper of apple crisp with ice cream (that’s all we had—but honestly, after a Taste of India buffet, how much could we have possibly eaten?).

My birthday season hasn’t really ended yet. The weekend after Labor Day, we’ll probably host a family brunch with kids and grandkids, and that will be fun. And probably there will be cake.

I don’t know that I would recommend 60 all that much. My body is aging, and showing its wear and tear in various ways. I’m still battling a stubborn ear infection, and getting to learn what my father’s life was like as his hearing faded away. My arthritic knees and hips dictate a certain slowness to my gait, when they don’t inflict pain. My family has a weight-loss challenging going, and I truly am trying, but at the start of your seventh decade on this planet, trust me, weight does not melt away. Well, I suppose apple crisp suppers (or savory egg and oatmeal breakfasts followed by spicy buffet food) don’t help, either.

But, whatever. I’ll do what I can and also try to enjoy myself. I’m 60. The little things don’t matter any more. And today I had a very good day—thanks, mostly, to my wife. Shout out to my delayed twin, my four years to the day younger sister, who still lingers in the midst of her sixth decade.

Sis, 60 is coming, knock on wood. And when it gets here for you, I hope its arrival is at least as nice as it was for me.

We ride off into the sunset.


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So What Is Right With “The Interview?”

From, a screen shot of the movie's home page. I didn't watch it online, I went for the whole theater experience.

From, a screen shot of the movie’s home page. I didn’t watch it online, I went for the whole theater experience.

I saw the movie at the heart of the Sony hacking case this Friday.

Since I was going to write my “Corridor Business Journal” column this month on some lessons from that controversy, I felt it was my duty to see the film.

And it’s a terrible movie. The kind of movie where mentioning an intimate body part is taken to be a joke. The kind of movie where our “hero” can party with the dictator of North Korea and a bunch of sexy North Korean babes without ever troubling himself with questions of whether the babes are there voluntarily. The kind of movie where biting off fingers or running people over with tanks are laugh lines.

It had its brief glimmers of wit. Eminem coming out of the closet was a bit of a chuckle. The joke was went on way too long and was totally given away in the trailer, but OK, a bit of confusion over “taking out” Kim Jong-un was worth a tiny smile. But, because the only funny jokes were already in the trailer, you’re not going to see much new or interesting or funny if you see the movie.

It says something when all of the “good bits” of a 90-minute movie are given away in a 2-minute trailer.

So, if Joe were to suddenly enter a career as a movie critic, he would award The Interview one star on a five-star scale.

What is right with the movie?

The fact that I saw it here in Cedar Rapids, where the only movie theater in Iowa that is showing the film, the Galaxy 16 Cine, a Wehrenberg Theatres location, is screening the film. It cost too much (I am far more likely to attend a movie at Collins Road Theater, and if I can’t wait for it to get there, will at least go to a matinee, which was an option strategically not offered for this movie), but at least there is a movie theater here that shows the controversial film. Kudos, Wehrenberg.

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Clearly, Thorin Never Saw “Fatal Attraction”

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When the bad person/obsessed mistress/orc king in a movie is under water, apparently dead, don’t just stand there. Because movie villains seem to have amazing abilities in the holding-their-breath department and he/she/it is only waiting to spring out and shout “boo” or “arrggggg.”

It’s one of the odd movie rules, “the evil one can hold his or her breath,” sort of like the old rule that Siskel and Ebert talked about, “the killer always hesitates.” Come to think of it, that happened in this movie, some, too. I guess everyone has to hesitate some if one or two chapters in a kid’s book is going to be an epic motion picture.

Don’t hold your breath when the villain does—that’s one lesson I learned from seeing “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.”

It was a movie with lots of plusses and minuses, good things and odd things, many parts that I enjoyed, many parts that left me wondering a bit what Peter Jackson had in mind.

What I liked:

  • Smaug attacking Lake Town. He was a satisfyingly huge, angry dragon, terrifying in his impact. Smaug the great and terrible was great fun to watch. Sigh. He was gone too soon.
  • Thorin going off his rocker. Lust for gold is the root of all evil. You listening, GOP in Congress?
  • Hot, strong elf babes. Galadriel is indeed still hot, and I thought she belonged a bit more in this movie, rather than movie one, because in this one it’s plausible she could have been part of the “White Council” that drove the Necromancer from Mirkwood. Tauriel was a bit troubling in movie two when she showed up for no reason, but since she’s already here, we might as well have her do her orc-killing moves during the third movie’s fights. And sure, the romance with Kili was silly, but that also felt like an artifact from movie two, too.
  • Most battle scenes. Not all—more on that later—but most of them were pretty well done. The elves look pretty but the dwarves can fight.

What I didn’t like:

  • Gandalf in a cage. Why is he always having to be rescued? It happened only once in the books, which made it extraordinary—in the movies this poor guy spends way too much time being dangled. Yes, I know, he was in the Necromancer’s prison in the books, but the implication there is that he snuck in and out of the Necromancer’s fortress under his own power, not that Galadriel had to cart him around like a big ugly baby.
  • My son Ben at Christmas. He got a grey blanket and joked it was the color of his parents' hair--but I think he looks like a troll about to flunk an IQ exam by running into a wall with a stone bonnet on.

    My son Ben at Christmas. He got a grey blanket and joked it was the color of his parents’ hair–but I think he looks like a troll about to flunk an IQ exam by running into a wall with a stone bonnet on.

    Some of the sillier battle scenes. The battles were mostly fun to watch, but there were too many, they went on way too long, and some of the ideas were just odd. The troll in the stone bonnet running at the wall, was that supposed to be comedic relief? And why did Legolas get to suspend any laws of physics whenever he wanted to, like being able to run along an already collapsed bridge or having a bat who is smaller than he is cart him about?

  • Some of the painful extra dialogue. My son Ben pointed out that you would quickly pass out during a drinking game if you took a sip every time someone said “war” in a portentous way early in the movie—”what were those bats bred for? War! Will you have peace of war? War! What is it good for? War! Good God y’all.” But war wasn’t the most painful word uttered or shouted too much. Then there were some of the death scenes. Tauriel, honey, when you get to kick some orc butt, you are fun to watch. But when you get your heart broken over your rather short, true love, you fall into painful dialogue with the elf king that seems to have been written by a distraught 13-year-old girl:

“Why does it hurt so bad?”

“That’s how you know it was real. Or perhaps written by Tracey in Mrs. Pettigrast’s seventh grade English class.”

Anyway, on balance, I have to admit I was very entertained. I actually appreciated one more visit to Middle Earth. The Hobbit didn’t need to be blown up into three movies, but the third is, for me, mostly satisfying. Much of the added stuff is at least consistent with the thrust of the book, there is no ridiculous chase scene down a river—and even if odd animals suddenly and inexplicably show up when they are needed (and I’m not really talking about eagles, I’m more wondering where the dwarfs suddenly came up with tame mountain goats as steeds), one thing that Peter Jackson does get right is the “look” and “feel” of Middle Earth.

So, yes, if you’re a Tolkien fan, if you can get over how ridiculous an elf king looks riding around on a moose, I think you might like this one.

Still, too bad Smaug wasn’t around more.

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