Movie Review: Robot & Frank (2012)

Robot & Frank (2012)

3 out of 5 stars

I saw a preview for this indie drama recently, either at the theatre or on another DVD, so I added it to my Netflix queue.

The story intrigued me by having an aging jewel thief, suffering from dementia, pass on the tricks of his trade to the domestic robot his son purchased as a home-health aide.  High-tech parental neglect? Hard to say, since Frank refused to be shuffled off to the near-future nursing home (called a Brain Center).  As expected, Frank also despised the robot foisted upon him by his son, going so far as to pit his daughter, the epitome of the idealist activist, against his son in a human v. robot philosophical battle.  Meanwhile, Robot (Frank never deigns to name it) slowly grows on Frank.

You won’t find any evidence of Asimov’s Three Laws in Robot’s programming.  His primary directive is to take care of Frank, helping him stay on a regular schedule, eat a healthy diet, get regular exercise and take up a hobby, like gardening, to stimulate his brain and fight off the ravages of the dementia.  Frank scoffs at grubbing in the dirt, but eventually shows Robot how to pick a lock, using his old cat burglar lock pick set.  Frank even questions Robot about his ethics, showing that Robot can lie and has no qualms about stealing.  That was all the excuse Frank needed to plan their first job and return to his favorite past-time.

One (or two) of the funniest scenes involve children harassing Robot outside the library while Frank visits with the librarian and checks out more books.  Franks runs off the kids and advises Robot that next time he should say ‘Self-destruct sequence initiated’ and start counting down from ten.  Robot puts this to good use later, only using it against more gullible adults.  I chuckled both times.

All of this plays out against the backdrop of his family:  His son who is torn between visiting and caring for his father and spending time with his own family; his globe-trotting daughter traveling the third world in pursuit of her next research grant; and his forgotten ex-wife, played charmingly by Susan Sarandon, as the nearly superfluous local librarian.  Frank Langella’s performance as, um, Frank, also shined.  True to form, Robot did as programmed, no matter how much Frank or the audience hoped it might surpass or overcame said programming.  Or did it?  Check the garden, under the tomatoes.

Baking Up a Storm (Winter Storm Q That Is).

Let It Snow!I didn’t get quite as much done domestically as I’d hoped yesterday during my ‘snow day‘ home courtesy of Winter Storm Q.  I should have been baking bread all day long.  Instead, I ended up working from home for the first half of the day and then working like a dog outside my home shoveling the ten or so inches of snow off of my driveway and onto my front yard.

Speaking of dogs, Apollo and Lexy had fun chasing each other through the back yard snow drifts and digging for dog treats that Terry tossed from the patio door out into the snow.  Lexy was bound and determined to find every last one:

Rottweilers Playing in Deep Snow

Apollo preferred to charge through the snow at top speed. He bowled Lexy over at least once. Here he is returning to me at a dead run:

Rottweilers Playing in Deep Snow

Here he is standing more or less still, breaking new ground through the snow soon after I let them out for the first time:

Rottweilers Playing in Deep Snow

But Lexy was the cutest for the camera yesterday:

Rottweilers Playing in Deep Snow

Early Thursday morning, before anyone was up yet, including Apollo and Lexy, I set out the frozen remains of our last chicken pot pie extravaganza to thaw. I went searching for the pastry crust recipe I usually use but instead I reached for my favorite baking cookbook, the King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary one (pictured at right).  I began reading through their ‘pastry primer’ section and found a simple recipe that sounded like a good fit for what I wanted to do around lunch time.  I’ll have to update this post later with the exact page number and title of the recipe, but here are the ingredients and instructions (from memory):

  • 2 1/2 cups King Arthur All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 cups King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening (aka Crisco)
  • 1/2 cup (or 1 stick) butter
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl.  Cut in the shortening (I used my handy-dandy pastry cutter) until crumbly.  Cut in the butter (again using the pastry cutter) until the pieces are the size of peas.  Pour in the buttermilk and quickly mix it in.

I covered my countertop with a couple of sheets of plastic wrap.  I divided the dough in two and folded the resulting piles into a mostly coherent lump.  Then I folded the plastic wrap over it, pressing it into a squarish-lump.  I repeated this for the second pile of pastry.  Then I placed the wrapped dough in the refrigerator for a minimum of thirty minutes.

Around lunch time, I preheated the oven to 375 degrees and used some mini-loaf pans to put the chicken pot pie filling and gravy into.  I took one of the dough packages out of the fridge and rolled it out.  I used a spare mini-loaf pan as a template to get the right size for the pastry crust top.  I should have used an egg white wash as glue, but I didn’t want to waste an egg, so I just pinched the edges of the crust to the pans.  I used a knife to cut some slits in the top.  For my husband’s pie, I cut out an extra bit of crust to form a “T” for his name (Terry).  I placed the pans on a baking sheet and baked them for 30-40 minutes.

I pulled them out of the oven and let them cool for 5-10 minutes.  When I pushed my spoon through the crust on my pie, I could tell immediately that I had a winner.  Very flaky crust!  And the filling wasn’t bad either.  The perfect lunch while we hunkered down to wait out Winter Storm Q.  My helping kept me warm while I shoveled the driveway clear after lunch.


Now I just have to figure out what to do with the other half of the pastry dough. I’m fresh out of chicken pot pie filling.

Movie Review: Double Indemnity (1944)

Double Indemnity (1944)

4 out of 5 stars

I rarely find time to watch all the movies I’ve recorded to my DVR from TCM.  Saturday afternoon I started watching Double Indemnity with my daughter, who happened to be visiting.  I didn’t get very far into the movie before we left to attend a wedding reception.  I picked up where I left off Sunday morning and finished before lunch.

I especially wanted to view this noir classic in light of the KC Public Library‘s Winter Reading program, While the City Sleeps.  I attended one of the ‘main events’ last month, a talk by local screenwriter Mitch Brian entitled ‘Noir: From Page to Screen.’  James M. Cain wrote the Double Indemnity story, but William Chandler adapted for the movie and both authors were highlighted by Mitch during his talk.  Not having yet read the novel, I can’t confirm that ‘bad books make good movies,’ but this movie definitely kept my attention.

Aside from the cinematography, what I found most appealing about this movie of ‘bad people doing bad things’ was the performance of Edward G. Robinson as Keyes, one of the few good guys in this noir classic.  He stole nearly every scene he was in.  Outstanding and completely against his normal type-casting as a gangster.  His performance even got me excited about a career as an insurance claims adjuster or actuary.

What intrigued me most, though, was constantly trying to puzzle out how this story could be redone in modern times, with the prevalence of security cameras, cell phones and the Internet.  If it could be done, it would have to be some sort of hacker techno-thriller, as far as I could determine.  Or in rural America, where none of those modern-day conveniences work reliably.

Crouching Tiger, Dying Dragon, Springing Snake

Terry, Derek and King (Easter 1987)

Tomorrow, I celebrate the 27th anniversary of my journey into motherhood.  And the little bundle of joy I brought kicking and screaming into the world twenty-seven years ago, arrived safely, after a long drive north from Texas, to visit us just before 3:00 a.m. earlier this morning.  In a strange juxtaposition of events, tomorrow also happens to be the last day of the Year of the Dragon. Even stranger, Derek was born on the very first day of the Year of the Tiger in 1986.  Sunday begins the Year of the Snake, the second for my daughter, since as she turns twenty-four in June.

My feelings about this past year are mixed and bittersweet.  Part of me grieves with the passing of my fourth Dragon year and part of me is disappointed with where I am, what I’ve accomplished (or failed to accomplish), where I’m going and what, if anything, there is to look forward to by the time the next Dragon year rolls around.  Right at this very moment, I’m not even sure I can muster any enthusiasm about it’s arrival or whether I’ll make it another twelve years to enjoy it (or not).  Gloomy, I know.  Perhaps it’s a by-product of two consecutive days of insomnia.

Derek Supporting the Lotus F1 Team
Derek at the USGP (Nov 2012)

But enough of my maudlin thoughts.  I came here today to write a short blog post celebrating my son’s birthday.  I haven’t seen him since last November, when all of us (my husband, my son and his wife, my daughter and her boyfriend and myself) traveled to Austin, Texas for the return of Formula 1 to the United States.  Derek opted to support Kimi and the Lotus team (see photo at left) in direct contradiction to his father’s preferred team, Ferrari.  I was clearly the underdog, since I cheered for Michael Schumacher.  Today, though, I am very excited to have both Derek and his wife, Royna, visiting us.  All I have to do is survive a gauntlet of meetings at work today followed by the commute home. Then I’ll be able to spend quality time with both of them.  I even ordered his favorite type of birthday cake earlier this week.  I’ll pick it up from the local Dairy Queen tomorrow morning.

Derek (2nd Place, 69kg Division) USJA Junior Nationals (July 2000)

My biggest adjustment to ’empty nest’ life has been a less hectic schedule for the last four years.  During the last Year of the Dragon (circa 2000), we traveled all around the country, taking Derek to compete at regional and national judo tournaments.  That schedule only increased through high school with the addition of wrestling, soccer and lacrosse. My Saturdays are decidedly quieter, as compared to a school gymnasium crammed to the rafters with screaming parents and ten or twelve wrestling mats. And warmer, compared to all-day tournaments in the early spring for soccer or lacrosse.

I do miss the excitement, though.  Watching him compete.  Or even listening to him sing at a choir concert.  The quiet life sometimes has its drawbacks.

Royna and Derek
Royna and Derek (Nov 2012)

At least I have him, and his wife, for the weekend. I take what I can get when it comes to visits from my kids.

Happy Birthday Derek!

Keeping Me Up Late

While the City Sleeps MugI collected my commemorative mug (shown at right) from the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library this past Monday, the 4th of February.  I completed the reading log form via the ‘While the City Sleeps’ web page, noting that three of the five books I’ve read in 2013 were suggested readings for the Library’s adult winter reading program.  I surprised myself because I liked all three and gave each one a four star rating at GoodReads.

When I first reviewed the suggested readings list, I didn’t see anything that jumped out at me.  I found three or four titles that might work so I placed them on hold in various formats.

I didn’t have to wait for one title, Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross.  I found it available immediately as an audiobook via the Library’s Overdrive website.  I checked it out and downloaded it to my new smartphone.  One of the nice features of the Overdrive Android application is a sleep timer.  I set the playback with a thirty minute timer and dozed off each evening to the soothing voice of the reader, extolling me with theology while providing a healing blessing to ease my trials and sufferings.  None of the local book clubs opted to discuss Dark Night of the Soul, but one enterprising library technician is posting daily Lenten observances at his blog, All-Soulo.

The library didn’t own an electronic or audio version of Lost Moon, so I requested the print edition.  I picked up the book on Friday, the 25th of January, and started reading it on Sunday, finishing it the following Friday.  Even though I’ve seen the movie, Apollo 13, many times, I still found myself compelled to read way past my bedtime.  I tried to limit myself to one chapter a night and refrained from carrying the hardcover edition back-and-forth to work.  Truth is not only stranger than fiction, it’s definitely more riveting.  I hope to attend the ‘Read It/Watch It’ event on Sunday afternoon, March 3, 2013.  I’m looking forward to lively conversation led by Katie Stover, Director of Readers’ Services, at the Waldo Branch.  I will resist the urge to pull out my own DVD from my personal video library.

Concurrently, I listened to the audiobook of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern as read by Jim Dale, known in other circles as the ‘voice’ of Harry Potter (winning numerous awards, including two Grammys).  I’ve heard him read before (via one of the Potter books) and he is a delight to listen to.  Even  more delightful than Jim’s exceptional characterizations was the enthralling tale told by Morgenstern in The Night Circus.  I found myself looking for excuses to continue listening, even though I wasn’t driving, or walking the dog, or cleaning house, or doing laundry.  Of all the suggested readings, this one hit the spot perfectly.  I highly recommend it.  In less than a week, I will join the Women Who Dare Book Group at the Central Library for one of the three book discussions scheduled in February and March for The Night Circus.

I convinced my husband to read one of the books along with me.  He prefers non-fiction titles, so I snagged a copy of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers from my local library while waiting for the hold I placed at the Plaza branch to come through.  He’s already into the fourth chapter, while I have yet to start reading it. We both plan to attend the discussion for the newly formed Stranger Than Fiction book group, meeting for the first time on February 27th at 7:00 p.m. at the Plaza Branch. When I mention this book to friends and acquaintances, I hear nothing but good things.  I should begin my cadaverous journey tomorrow evening while my husband is otherwise occupied with his band mates during band practice.

That leaves just one book on my hold list.  Well, actually on two hold lists.  I requested a print edition of Kansas City Noir, as well as the ebook edition.  I’ve been waiting several days and I hope I get one of the editions checked out before the last book discussion arrives on March 9th.  That’s when I plan to join the Heat of the Night book group at the Bluford Branch to discuss this anthology of ‘hard-used heroes and heroines [who] seem to live a lifetime in the stories…Each one seems almost novelistic in scope. Half novels-in-waiting, half journalistic anecdotes that are equally likely to appeal to Kansas City boosters and strangers.’ –Kirkus Reviews

And so I wrap up my winter reads like I wrap up in my favorite worn hand-me-down quilt: relaxed, satisfied and not too terribly sleep deprived, but still awake enough to enjoy some fresh brewed tea in a treasured mug memento.

Sunrise (Singular) for Groundhog Day

No repeats.  No snoozing to ‘You Got Me Babe’ from the alarm clock.  Just one single solitary sunrise to greet the groundhog last Saturday morning:

Groundhog Day Sunrise
Groundhog Day Sunrise (click on image for the other 58 photos in the album)

I almost gave up on this sunrise. The clouds stayed a dismal grey until the last ten minutes or so before sunrise. At least I had a cub of fresh made Irish Blend tea to keep me warm while I waited for the drab to transform to gilded.