“Houston, we have a problem” is one of the great understatements (and oft quoted lines) in movie dialogue. Those words set the stage for the amazing drama of the Apollo 13 moon exploration mission, which took place exactly 40 years ago this month. The great 1995 movie is based on the book, “Lost Moon,” which was co-authored by one of the Apollo 13 astronauts, Jim Lovell, who is played by the ever talented (and understated) Tom Hanks.
No early space mission was ever routine, certainly not in 1970. The astronauts learned their jobs through extensive and thorough training, including hours upon hours of practice in space simulators, reliance on checklists, and their previous experience as (primarily) test pilots. Even so, problems were not unusual.
But the Apollo 13 mission suffered not an ordinary problem but a catastrophic explosion in space, resulting in loss of oxygen, power and a fully functioning guidance system. The 3-man crew faced the possibility of freezing to death, suffocating and being poisoned by their own carbon dioxide exhalation. And that was before they had to manually calculate (on a slide rule, no less) and maneuver their craft into position so that they could get back to earth and land safely, without being incinerated as they passed through the earth’s atmosphere in a module that was damaged to an unknown extent.
At one point, the NASA Flight Director, Gene Kranz, as played by Ed Harris, grandly states that, ”failure is not an option.” In truth, success was highly improbable.
The movie simultaneously covers NASA’s Mission Control’s race to save the astronauts, what was going on inside Apollo 13, and how the families of the astronauts coped, as the rest of the world watched the events unfold on live television. It is an exhilarating story of calm courage, professionalism, teamwork, perseverance, and ingenuity.
I highly recommend Apollo 13, because it is so realistic, wonderfully acted and tells a gripping story so well. For me, it also doesn’t hurt that it yields a strong dose of optimism about American know-how. Available in DVD, Apollo 13 is skillfully directed by Ron Howard, and has an excellent ensemble cast including Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise and Kathleen Quinlan.
Many clients are taking a second look at their budgets and finding ways to cut back on expenses. Even if everything is under control, it’s always nice to save money. If going out to a restaurant is something you do anyway, coupons are a way to reduce your expenses.
Restaurant.com is a website I have used before. It offers $25 coupons for dinner and $10 coupons for lunch. The list price for these is usually $10 for the dinner coupons and $4 for the lunch coupons. That’s a bit of savings, but truth be told, the coupons are almost always on sale if you know the right Discount Code.
Sometimes the discount is 50%, sometimes as much as 80%. But for the next couple of days Restaurant.com is offering a 90% off sale. In other words, you can get a $25 gift certificate for just $1. Why not give it a try?
Note that this is a limited offer, ending on September 13th at 3 a.m. PST.
Go to Restaurant.com, enter a zip code or city where you would like to find a restaurant to try (or one you already know that you like). Order the Discount Coupons and enter the Discount Code NINETY. Then hit Apply.
You should see the reduced prices.
Keep in mind, that there are some restrictions, such as spending a minimum amount, and not being able to use the coupons on Saturday night. And when you go, remember to leave a nice tip, based on the usual price of your dinner.
As Julia Child said, “Bon Appetit!”
P.S. I just saw the movie Julie and Julia and enjoyed it.
Some of the most memorable evenings in my life have nothing to do with money and numbers, and everything to do with music and theater. As a child, my mother took me to Broadway plays. Later, in my twenties, I saw Fiddler on the Roof and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, both with the late great Zero Mostel, and The Apple Tree with a very young Alan Alda, who went on to fame in the television series M*A*S*H.
Over time, I discovered folk music in Greenwich Village, then classical music and jazz, and finally cabaret music. I am certainly not a connoisseur, by any stretch of the imagination, but I know what I like.
I remember when a friend suggested going to hear Van Cliburn play Gershwin’s works at Lewisohn Stadium, located in what is now the City College campus in Harlem. Since Gary was always coming up with interesting things to do, I agreed. And was I glad I did. What an amazing night! As I remember it, the audience was so enthusiastic that Cliburn performed three encores.
It was in Rochester where I saw the Alvin Ailey dance troupe for the first time, and I was blown away by the energy, the muscularity, and the joy of the performances.
Some very memorable life cycle events have been marked by equally memorable musical plays. When my wife Joan was pregnant with our first child, we went to see the original A Chorus Line, which had just opened on Broadway. It took about eight seconds for me to be totally captivated by the play. It’s still my favorite musical. When it finally closed, after the then-longest run in Broadway history, we took our two daughters to see it.
Last week we used Netflix to get an Academy Award winning documentary: From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China about the famous musician’s 1979 trip to China. I thought it was a great film, and it captured the impact that a single person can have. You can witness Stern’s musical genius not only in performing but also in teaching. And you can see the hunger and enthusiasm that the Chinese performers and audiences had to learn more about Western music, which had been brutally suppressed. Little did anyone know, at the time, that China was about to change dramatically.
Check out the film and see for yourself. I think you’ll enjoy it, and the DVD extra, Musical Encounters, which tracks Stern as he returns to China, 20 years later. Some of the young musicians in the original film return and reminisce, most of them in fluent English. They are now adults and are successful musicians and teachers.
My brother-in-law likes to say that “there are no coincidences,” but I find it striking that Sunday’s New York Times had a very long article about the effect of Stern’s 1979 visit to China. After all, we had just seen the documentary a few days ago, and here is this very detailed analysis celebrating the 30th anniversary of Stern’s trip. You can read the entire article here.
And by all means, rent the DVD documentary from Netflix, Blockbuster or your local store. You won’t be disappointed.
I really, really like Netflix. It can’t be beat for its convenience and economy, and I have watched many very good movies that I easily would have missed. With over 100,000 DVDs in their library, there are certainly more than enough to choose from, no matter what your preference.
Netflix started out several years ago by touting its no late fees arrangement. I suppose from a marketing point of view, it’s a brilliant concept. They must have figured out that a great many consumers were unhappy paying a late fee to a local video rental store; in the grand scheme of things, returning borrowed movies is low on the agenda, and these fees can really add up. With Netflix, though, there are no due dates or late fees, ever. When you’re done with a movie, you simply drop it in any mailbox using a prepaid return envelope. As I said, the convenience can’t be beat.
I also like that you can create a wish list of films that you would like to watch, and as you return one DVD by mail, another one from your list is shipped out to you. I usually receive the new one in 3 days. It’s that easy.
But for me the best part is that Netflix uses technology to become a wonderful referral source for movies I might like. How this works is that, after you’ve watched a movie you grade it from one to five stars; in this way, Netflix “learns” what you like and don’t like. That facilitates recommendations. For example, if I click on Little Miss Sunshine, a 2006 comedy, and ask for “Movies Like This,” Netflix will recommend Sideways and Juno. If I click on Amelie, Netflix will recommend Priceless, another Audrey Tautou movie.
In addition, Netflix has a section called “Movies You’ll Love” which are suggestions based on your ratings. In any case, Netflix will predict how well you will like any given movie, based on your previous ratings. There are also brief descriptions of the movie plot and you can also read reviews by several film critics.
They have a very large selection of just about everything: hit movies, musicals, international flicks, documentaries, silent movies, and TV series. If you don’t get HBO, you can still watch In Treatment with Gabriel Byrne. Don’t get Showtime? You can still watch old episodes of Weeds.
Do I sound like a commercial? Only telling you the good stuff? Okay, there is one glitch that I’ve occasionally encountered; from my experience, about 5% of the DVDs are damaged. If you run across a problem like this, you can request a replacement disk, which will be sent out immediately. So for me, it is an occasional annoyance, but not a deal killer.
I recently received an e-mail saying that if I forwarded it to friends, they could try Netflix for free for one month. I’m not going to willy nilly send an email to everyone in my contacts list, but if you’re interested in trying Netflix out, send an e-mail to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll be happy to forward the message to you. Their offer expires June 15th.
FYI, the cost of a monthly plan depends on how many DVDs you have out at one time, but vary from $4.99 (2 movies per month) to $16.99 for 3 DVDs at a time with unlimited renting.
As I mentioned, there are some really good movies that I would have missed or even bypassed without their recommendation. This is only a partial list, because there really are too many to post:
Antonia’s Line, Ballets Russes, Billy Elliot, Elsa & Fred, The Girl in the Café, My Mother’s Castle, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Raise the Red Lantern, Smiles of a Summer Night, and Together.
And, no, in case you were wondering, I’m not getting a commission from Netflix for referring this great service. So, why am I doing this? For two simple reasons: first, because we all need a little less stress in our lives and second, because I really like Netflix.
Walt Handelsman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist and animator, has some fun with the songs of the classic musical, which is in revival on Broadway. I think you’ll find his version of West Side Story much more current, and funny to boot.
You are encouraged to sing along, if the spirit moves you.
To get to the web site, click here.
Is it possible to be as proud of a friend’s child as you would be of one of your own?
Adam Baff, whom I have known for 30 years, is the son of close friends. Adam has many talents, and recently he wrote the music and lyrics for the Dow Jones Music Video.
I think it is very well done and effectively uses humor, irony, and great visuals to express the many moods we’ve all experienced. No doubt, for many of us, the last few months have been “trying” (to say the least), but Adam’s tongue-in-cheek view of life in these United States gives us something to smile about. Adam’s band Downsize performed the music, and the video features Nicole O’Connell an aspiring model/actress.
The link to the YouTube video is here.
The song is available for purchase at Amazon.com and also through iTunes.
So, I ask again, is it possible to be as proud of a friend’s child as you would be of one of your own? Absolutely! Way to go, Adam.
I recently watched “The Best Man,” a 1964 political film starring Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson, with Lee Tracy, Edie Adams and Ann Southern. (I guess I haven’t yet had my fill of politics on MSNBC, CNN or PBS, and with the stock market having been so calm recently, there was absolutely no reason at all to watch CNBC.)
But, I digress… the movie plot revolves around a deadlocked Democratic convention, with Fonda and Robertson playing the role of the front runners vying to secure the nomination for President.
Fonda plays a thoughtful, ethical man, with a wry sense of humor and a strong sense of what he will, and will not, do to win the nomination. His flaw is that he seems indecisive. Robertson, on the other hand, is a decisive, almost impulsive man, who is ruthless and who will do whatever it takes to win the nomination. Think of him as a cross between Richard Nixon and Joe McCarthy. (In the movie, Robertson became famous for his hearings on whether the Mafia was controlled by the Communists.)
So, we have one candidate with a conscience and another without; one, who was so convinced that he was in the right, that he was willing to smear his opponent. They are both seeking the endorsement of the ex-president, played convincingly by Lee Tracy, who won an Oscar for his portrayal. We see the machinations of the convention, the threats and deals.
Looking back to 1964, it’s amazing (given the era) that Tracy says that we’ve had a Catholic president, and some day we will have a Jewish President, a Negro President, and (to laughter) even a Lady President. Sounds funny now, but remember, this movie is 44 years old.
Originally, The Best Man was written as a Broadway play which opened in 1960. Both the Broadway play and screen play for the movie were written by Gore Vidal, who had the right balance of insider knowledge, cynicism and optimism.
As an aside, the story goes that Ronald Reagan was considered for a role, but studio executives decided Reagan “didn’t look presidential.”
The movie is well acted, engaging and entertaining. The entire cast was very good, but Fonda and Robertson were standouts. The Best Man is worth watching if you can catch it on TV, as it’s not yet available on DVD.
“Give my regards to Broadway.” – George M. Cohan
This blog isn‘t meant to be a diary of my daily activities; but occasionally I do something outside of work that is just so good that I’d like to pass the information along. This past Labor Day weekend, my wife and I went to see two excellent musicals, each quite different from the other, but both very entertaining.
The first was the Tony Award winning revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic, South Pacific. I always felt that the 1958 movie was just so-so. But, the play, held at Lincoln Center, was really something special. South Pacific takes place during World War II, but the story and messages are still relevant today: Danger, patriotism, love, lust, and racial prejudice.
The leads, Kelli O’Hara and Paulo Szot, were terrific, as was Loretta Sayre, as Bloody Mary. The score was as stirring and beautiful as ever. The three-hour performance moved along quickly. As the curtain fell, there were quite a few teary eyes in the audience, mine included.
The second show that we saw was Forbidden Broadway, an off-Broadway review. This is a long-running series that parodies and pokes good-natured fun at whatever is currently running on “The Great White Way.” The humor-quotient of the many skits varied, but they were frequently hilarious. Even if you are not up-to-date on what is being performed, you can enjoy the fun.
Forbidden Broadway first opened in 1982, and we have been to see it several times, as the show changes every year. Many years ago, long before she became a household name as Dr. Lilith Sternin from the popular television sitcom, Cheers, we “discovered” the then-neophyte actor, Bebe Neuwirth, who has since become a regular fixture on Broadway, TV and in movies.
Both plays are in relatively small theaters, so don’t worry about buying the highest price tickets. In either of these theaters, there are no bad seats.