To Sleep, To Snore No More

Back when America was great, people snored. It was natural, nobody made a big deal out of it. Oh sure, people who didn’t snore and lived with people who did usually complained, but there was really nothing they could do about it.

And then…science. And suddenly snoring wasn’t snoring anymore, it was “sleep apnea.” And while it wouldn’t kill you, it could help lead to your early demise — thorough heart disease or diabetes or your spouse beating you to death with her pillow.

I have been told that I snore. I believe this to be “fake news” because I have never personally heard myself snore. Plenty of people have told me I snore, but they could be lying. Still, I do wonder sometimes why I get up in the morning and The Wife is sleeping on the couch, or why I’ve been banned from camping out with my friends.

4128335-7065079024-tumbl-1But lately I’ve been having second thoughts. I’m tired all the time. If I sit still for more than 10 minutes I black out. Every afternoon I come home from work, sit down on the couch, and fall asleep. I can’t make it through a movie without falling asleep. I now judge whether a movie is good or not based on whether or not I stay awake the whole time.

And so it was that last night I made my way to American Sleep Medicine for a sleep study. They put me in a nice room with a double-size bed. The tech then came in to wire me up — two electrodes on each leg, 2 on the rib cage, 2 on the shoulders, a half-dozen all around my head, a strap around my gut and one around my chest, two diodes shoved up each nostril and a clip to put my index finger in.

How the —- am I supposed to sleep like this?

I decided I’d better use the restroom before lights out, so I carried my box of wires into the adjacent room and did my business, then settled in for a good night’s sleep. It’s not easy to rest when you can’t move your head because of wires all around it and there are wires up your nose and everywhere else…but eventually I did drift off.

The next morning the tech informed me that they had found no evidence of sleep apnea. “Are you serious?” I asked. “Yes. You showed no signs of snoring,” he said.

“Rodney? Rodney? Sorry to wake you but you haven’t been breathing, so we’re going to try the CPAP on you.”

14d09682add8ae93b1757689296fe9fe(Honest to God, I was sleeping and dreaming that I had passed the sleep test when the guy comes in and wakes me up to tell me I’ve failed the sleep test)

The first thing he does is tries this thing that he shoved up my nose that pushes air in. It’s the least invasive format but you have to be a good nose-breather to use it. My body was having nothing of that.So we put on the mask, which is uncomfortable and weird but at least I can breathe fairly normally.

Still, how the —- am I supposed to sleep like this?

I decided I’d better take another restroom break since I’m awake anyway. Lying there with the mask on was pretty darn freaky but eventually I did drift off. Some time later I found myself in a daze trying to take the mask off. The tech comes in.

“Rodney, are you OK? What are you doing?

“I dunno. Am I awake? What’s going on?”

e9203702acfb83a6cf00bfd43c1d429dThe tech politely tells me we’ve still got some more time and puts the mask back on and I go back to sleep. The next thing I know the tech is waking me up and telling me we’re done for the day but I would probably need to come back for a second study so they can get the air flow adjusted just right. He gets me a cup of coffee and sends me away.

It’s 5:30 a.m. and I have this new sensation — like I’m awake. Like I’m not tired. I don’t know what to make of it. I go next door to Dierberg’s and buy donut holes for my son, then stop at McDonald’s for a couple of sausage burritos. Come home to find my lazy, deadbeat family are all asleep.

 

Go downstairs and eat breakfast while watching last night’s “Late Show.” Put in a load of laundry. Get caught up on all the boring crap my friends have posted on Facebook overnight. Write a blog post. It’s just now 9 a.m.

What the hell has happened to me?

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At The Movies: Logan

Well, it took three tries, but Hugh Jackman and 20th Century Fox have finally made a great Wolverine movie. Too bad it’s the last one.

Given how screwed up the X-Men movie timeline is these days, let’s say “Logan” takes place in the near future. All the mutants appear to have been wiped out, with the exception of Logan (Hugh Jackman), also known as Wolverine, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), former professor and leader of the X-Men, and Caliban (Stephen Merchant), a mutant with the ability to detect and locate mutants.

Logan and Caliban care for the professor in an out-of-the-way junkyard in Mexico. Xavier has to be sedated most of the time to keep him from having deadly seizures — more deadly for the people around him than for himself. Logan scrapes together what little money they have by working for a limousine service. His healing factor isn’t what it used to be, but he’s still willing to cut people open if they cross him.

519-film-page-thumbnailOne day Logan is approached by a woman with a young girl. She begs Logan to take the child — Laura (Dafne Keen) — to a safe haven. Laura and several other children are the product of genetic experiments by the Transigen corporation. Working with stolen mutant DNA, Transigen was creating preteen super soldiers. With her bad temper and metal claws, it’s clear who was Laura’s unwitting donor.

Naturally the Transigen people want Laura back, so she’s being tracked by some heavily armed mercenaries called the Reavers, led by the ruthless Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook).

Soon it’s the road trip from hell as Logan, Charles and Laura race across country for sanctuary, with Pierce, the Reavers, and an imprisoned Caliban always on their heels.

Aside from a couple of characters, “Logan” bears little resemblance to the X-Men films that have come before. Unlike previous X-Men and Wolverine movies, this one is rated R — and it earned that R. The violence and language are ramped up to “Deadpool” levels. Sorry, but you really shouldn’t take your small children to see “Logan,” even if they do sleep in Wolverine pajamas. They probably wouldn’t sleep well after witnessing this.

And while “Deadpool” played the R-rated superhero movie as a comedy, “Logan” is anything but. This movie is dark, moody, and dark. There’s a little of the trademark Marvel humor, but the overall tone is grim. Like Batman, Wolverine is a character that can work in many situations (Yes, I’d pay to see Lego Logan) but is at his best when the stories are dark and gritty.

Director James Mangold has crafted a comic book movie that is violent yet poignant, bleak yet hopeful, and emotionally charged. Jackman gives it his all in this, his ninth and reportedly final outing as The Wolverine. There could be no better sendoff.

 

 

 

 

At The Movies: The Great Wall

History books tell us that the Great Wall of China  was built to protect the public against the invading Mongol hordes. The alternative facts presented in “The Great Wall” tell us the structure was built to keep out monsters from the pits of hell (or rather a green meteorite).

At least that’s the plot of this visually interesting but otherwise flat and predictable movie.

William Garin (Matt Damon) and Pero Tovar (Pedro Pascal) are a pair of mercenaries who have come to China to bring back the explosive, mysterious “black powder.” Neither of them have seen the stuff, because no one who has gone in search of it has come back alive.

One night the group is attacked by a monster and all die except Will and Pero. William kills the beast and keeps one of its arms as a souvenir. The next day they’re being chased through the hills by some horde or other when they run smack dab into the Great Wall. William decides to take his chances with the people behind the wall and surrenders to them.

p_ho00004241On the other side of the wall are a large contingent of soldiers of various skills. They are shocked when they find the monstrous arm among William’s possessions and even more surprised when he claims to have killed the monster to whom it was formerly attached. In no time everyone is called to battle stations as a screeching, endless swarm of monsters begins an assault on the wall.

Although prisoners, William and Pero join the battle, killing several monsters and saving lives. This endears them to the soldiers, especially  Commander Lin Mae (Jing Tian), the only officer in the group that speaks English.

She learned the language from Sir Ballard (Willem Dafoe), a fellow European who came China 25 years ago in search of the black powder and has been a prisoner ever since. Ballard would love to help the duo escape — and with plenty of black powder — but William isn’t ready to leave just yet.

“The Great Wall” is directed by Zhang Yimou (“Hero,” “House of Flying Daggers”) so you can expect some lovely and exciting visuals. In that regard the film doesn’t disappoint. The highlight comes in the initial siege on the wall, as the Chinese soldiers pull out all the stops to fight the monsters — including bungee-jumping women fighters with long spears.

But alas, you can’t get by on just good special effects anymore — if ever. The story between the action sequences is as lifeless and pedestrian as movies get.

It’s a great wall alright. Just not a very great movie.

 

Ah, The Arts! Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade

If someone had told me there was going to be an art exhibit about hats and paintings of women wearing hats, I would’ve said, “Now I see why Trump wants to end arts funding.”

But it sounded good to The Wife, and so it was that Saturday morning the Family RRoy made our way to Forest Park to catch the opening weekend of “Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade” at the Saint Louis Art Museum.

Mother Nature, cruel mistress that she is, decided it wasn’t enough punishment that I had to go to the art museum, she also turned Saturday into a beautiful Spring day…in February. And you know what that means — every stinking idiot in the greater St. Louis metropolitan area is going to converge on Forest Park for the day. It didn’t matter that we weren’t going to the zoo. No, all that mattered was there wasn’t going to be any parking anywhere and driving it in would be a nightmare.

So, I let The Wife drive. She was the one wanting to go after all.

Traffic wasn’t too bad until we got to Art Hill. We foolishly pulled into the nearest free lot thinking maybe there would be one spot open. Of course we got trapped as people waited for other people to leave and blocked the way around. Eventually we escaped and said, “screw it,” and went to the art museum’s parking lot. It’s only $5 for members, and $5 for parking beats the 5 years it takes off my life every time I have to sit in traffic in Forest Park.

Our usual strategy for art exhibitions is Laurie goes in first and Andrew and I bum around until she’s finished (roughly 1 hour, depending on the size of the exhibit) and then I go in while she waits with Andrew (roughly 15 minutes, depending on how crowded it is and how quickly I can get around people). We arrived at 12:20 and there was a French class Laurie wanted to attend at 1 p.m. I doubted her ability to get through the exhibit in 40 minutes, but she seemed to think she could, so she went to the exhibit hall and Andrew and I walked in circles around the outdoor statue garden for a half-hour. It was a nice day for it.

We got back to the exhibit hall close to 1 and L was just leaving the exhibit. “Did you see all you wanted to see?” I asked incredulously. “Yes,” she replied. “Did you enjoy it?” I queried. “Yes,” she replied.

Laurie went to the French class and Andrew and I had a leisurely visit in the restroom. Andrew likes to take his time in the restroom. I usually rush him out when we’re in public but since we had nowhere else to go I indulged him. Fifteen minutes later we went and found some big, comfy chairs and waited for French class to be over.

A half-hour later Laurie emerged from class. She suggested I go through the art show while she and Andrew went to the garage and got our picnic lunch and set it up out on the lawn. That seemed about right. In the time it would take them to do that I should easily walk through the Hats and Paintings of People Wearing Hats exhibit.

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“D, I & the PMT” features 60 paintings and a number of elaborate hats dating back to the Impressionist era of artist Edgar Degas. Apparently Degas was fascinated by high-fashion hats and the women who made them — my guess is he was more interested in the women who made them, but I could be wrong. I don’t know anything about Degas.

There were some pretty funky-looking hats, I will say. Hats with birds on them, hats with giant flowers and etc. The paintings were predominantly portraits of women in hats by Degas and other masters of the era like Manet, Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec. There was also a small section of men’s hats — basic black bowlers and top hats — and some paintings of men in hats.

I have to say this was not one of my favorite art shows. Nothing really stood out to me. But it was OK and I made it through in record time and got to the picnic spot before they had eaten all the food.
“Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade” runs through May 7 at the Saint Louis Art Museum. http://www.slam.org/

At The Movies: John Wick Chapter 2

I did not see “John Wick” when it first came out. The plot — retired assassin goes on revenge spree after his dog is killed — just sounded too stupid. But it kept getting rave reviews so I eventually checked it out on video.

Wow. What a great film. Sure, it’s a heaping pile of revenge movie clichés, but it’s so well done.  Naturally, success breeds sequels, so here we are with “John Wick: Chapter 2.” Again, I had my doubts. The first film told a complete story — was there really anywhere else to go with this character?

Once again I had made the same mistake common to many of his enemies — I had underestimated John Wick. Fortunately, I am not John Wick’s enemy, so I am alive to tell the tale.

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The movie opens by cleaning up some leftover business from the first film, as John (Keanu Reeves) goes tearing through New York City to retrieve his stolen car. The car is in the possession of a thug (Peter Stormare) who calmly explains to his aide — and anyone in the audience who hadn’t seen the first movie — just how dangerous John Wick is. In the first of many dizzying, brutal, and expertly choreographed action sequences, John goes through a dozen or so of the chop shop owner’s employees before driving away in his now totaled (damaged in the fight, of course) Mustang.

John goes home, intending to continue with his retirement, when a visitor from the past shows up on his doorstep. Italian crime lord Santino D’Antonio ( Riccardo Scamarcio) is calling in a marker — a blood debt that John owes him. Insisting he’s still retired, John refuses Santino’s request. Santino responds by blowing up John’s house.

Now, in the world of John Wick there are many rules and regulations overseeing the assassination trade. John goes to Winston (Ian McShane) for advice. Winston runs the Continental Hotel, a safe haven for assassins, and he pretty much oversees the rules of the business.

Winston tells John he has no choice but to pay off his debt. John meets with Santino and is told his job is to kill Santino’s rival-and-sister, Gianna (Claudia Gerini). She’s well protected, of course, and killing her could lead to even more trouble for our retired assassin.

Directed once again by Chad Stahelski, this sequel features the usual excesses that sequels often have, but in this case that works to the film’s favor. The fight scenes, the chases and the gun battles are all bigger and more explosive than last time around. But unlike bad sequels, this one doesn’t lose the heart or imaginative style that set the first film apart. Keanu’s portrayal of John Wick continues to evoke our sympathy and support, even as he’s shooting people in the head again and again and again.

“John Wick: Chapter 2” is a clever and fitting continuation of the John Wick saga. And it sets things up nicely for the next installment, which I will not be so quick to prejudge.

At The Movies: The Lego Batman Movie

Oh Batman, is there anything you can’t do?

Star of countless comic books, movies, TV shows (mainly cartoons), lunch boxes, T-shirts, coloring books, video games and so much more.  Now, he’s been shrunk down and turned to plastic for “The Lego Batman Movie.” But he’s still just as bad-ass as ever.

As voiced by Will Arnett, Batman was the break-out character of surprise hit “The Lego Movie.” So naturally Lego and DC wasted no time in putting the Dark Knight at the forefront of a film based on little plastic blocks you use to build stuff.

Lego Batman loves to narrate. In fact, he can’t wait for the movie to start before he has something to say. Arnett’s gravelly tone perfectly brings the character to life. This Batman is a bit more egotistical than other Batmen, with a sarcastic bent and sense of humor. Ah, humor — the newly forming DC movie universe could learn a lot from Lego Batman.

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The film opens with Batman taking down pretty much his entire rogues gallery in one dizzying action sequence. After basking in the cheers of the crowd, Bats heads home to a life of solitude. Trusted butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) wishes his surrogate son would take a break from crime fighting and maybe settle down, but Batman will have none of that.

That night Bruce Wayne (you know who he is) attends a retirement party for Police Commissioner James Gordon (Hector Elizondo). Gordon is being replaced as top cop by his daughter Barbara (Rosario Dawson). Bruce becomes tongue-tied and googly-eyed at the sight of Barbara. In fact, he gets so distracted that he absent-mindedly agrees to adopt an earnest orphan named Richard Grayson (Michael Cera). Dick, of course, goes on to become Batman’s unwanted (at least initially) sidekick, Robin.

Meanwhile, the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) has concocted a scheme to bring together the greatest villains of all time to help him take over Gotham City. Maybe that will make Batman admit who is his true arch-enemy.

“The Lego Batman Movie” is silly fun for Batfans of all ages. The movie pays homage (or rather takes shots) to every Batman movie and bat-related character out there.  There are even guest appearances by Superman and the Justice League.

The action pieces are frenetic and colorful and sometimes go on too long. The jokes come at a rapid clip as well and are for the most part successful. The most tiring aspect of “The Lego Batman Movie” is the theme that Batman Needs A Family — which is really beaten to death. But then that’s fairly common in kids’ movies. And to be fair, subtlety isn’t really one of Batman’s traits. Especially not Lego Batman.

Movie Batmen have been in grim-and-gritty mode for quite some time so it’s refreshing to see the lighter side of Batman take the stage for a change.

 

On Stage: Something Rotten!

Whether you love or hate William Shakespeare (there’s one of each in my family) and whether you love or hate musical theater, you’ll find something to applaud in “Something Rotten!” The Renaissance-era comedy is playing through Feb. 19 at the Fox Theatre.

Written by John O’Farrel and Karey Kirkpatrick  with music and lyrics by Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick,  “Something Rotten” opened on Broadway in 2015. This high-energy spoof of musicals and The Bard is the funniest show I’ve seen in a long time.

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Adam Pascal and the cast of the Something Rotten! National Tour. Photo © Jeremy Daniel

The story takes place in 1595 London with the opening number “Welcome to the Renaissance” setting the stage. Everything’s new and exciting at this time in world history and at the center of attention is famed playwright William Shakespeare (Adam Pascal). The Bard is pretty much the Elvis of the era.

Not everyone loves Shakespeare – particularly struggling playwright Nick Bottom (Rob McClure). Nick had kicked Will out of his acting troupe years ago and advised him to take up writing. Now, the excitable Nick and his timid brother/writing partner Nigel (Josh Grisetti) aren’t having any luck coming up with a successful show. In fact, their patron has given them one day to come up with a winning idea or they’re going to be booted from the theater.

In desperation, Nick goes looking for a soothsayer. He finds Thomas Nostradamus (Blake Hammond), nephew of the famous seer. Nick pays for one good idea and Thomas has a doozy: musical comedy.

At first Nick scoffs at the idea that audiences would watch a show in which people spontaneously burst into song and dance in the course of telling a story. But Thomas and the chorus win him over in the show-stopping number “A Musical.”

Nick takes this idea to Nigel and their theater troupe. They decide to make a go of it but there’s another problem — what is this musical going to be about?  Eventually Nick returns to Thomas for help, asking him to look into the future and find Shakespeare’s greatest work so that he can steal it. Thomas’ vision gets scrambled in translation and Nick eventually ends up with egg on his face.

There’s a lot more going on, including an obligatory love story (the weakest link in the show), but the rest it’s best you discover on your own. “Something Rotten” features a number of hilarious, often exhilarating, musical numbers, such as “God, I Hate Shakespeare,” “Will Power,” “Bottom’s Gonna Be On Top,” and “Hard to Be the Bard.” There’s even a lovely inspiration number, “To Thine Own Self.”

“Something Rotten” references dozens of musicals and Shakespeare plays in wicked, rapid-fire succession — good luck trying to catch them all.

The cast is terrific, especially McClure as the manic Nick Bottom, Hammond as the not-so-all-seeing Nostradamus and Pascal as the charming, conceited Bard. The show also boasts colorful costumes and a fine set design.

But what makes “Something Rotten!” something deliciously entertaining are its smart songs, clever story and talented cast.

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The cast of the Something Rotten! National Tour. Photo © Jeremy Daniel

“Something Rotten!” runs through Feb. 19 at the Fox Theatre. http://www.fabulousfox.com/