Saturday, October 4, 2014

Financial Stress and Surprises

Why is it that fall surprises me each year? There's always a part of me that's sad the warmth and sunshine of summer is diminishing and gloves, hats, and scarves must reluctantly be pulled from the depths of the closet. Mike and I succumbed to watching a movie last night wrapped in a blanket (which the cats were all in favor of). The weather forecast even has the dreaded F word in it this weekend - flurries.

This year has been nuts on our financial front. Let me attempt to recap months of what we've been up to!

2013 Progress 

I never gave a summary for last year, but we called it The Year of the Car. We had my Mazda 6 and our 1999 Ford F150 truck. Given its age and gas mileage, we wanted to replace the truck and began saving to buy a used vehicle. Mike got a promotion last summer from a floater to a program coordinator, so one of his paychecks satisfied rent, the other went into savings for the truck replacement. We were shooting for the end of the year - Christmas basically - to save up enough. We were aiming for $6,000-8,000 so we weren't buying a junker we'd have to upgrade in only a few years.
Clearly photos stolen off the internet and not our actual cars, but these are the models
Well, it turned out a coworker was selling her Subaru that summer for almost EXACTLY what we already had in savings. Mike grew up with Subarus and I learned all sorts of things about brand loyalty, lol. I had reservations about buying an older car (2001), but it was in good shape and the previous owners had taken good care of it. Mike may also have pulled a Puss-in-Boots and given me a pleading look ... We plunked down $3,800 for it, immediately spent $800 replacing the timing belt (which we knew going into the purchase) and the water pump.
Add some rust on the rear panels and this is what we've got
Having unexpectedly bought a car ahead of schedule, we had to revisit our savings goals. We decided the Mazda loan, which is a monthly payment of $200, needed to be squashed. We continued saving Mike's checks as before and were able to put $2,500 on the loan at Christmas. That effort cut the remaining balance in half - totally felt awesome!

January - August 2014 

We had such nice goals laid out for this year (looks wistful). With about $2,000 left on the Mazda loan, we figured we could kill it off within a few months. Hahaha ....  

First there was the vet visit in January. We took the cats in for their routine appointment and found both of them needed dental work. $750 out. But the cats are getting older (they're 8 this month!) and we hadn't had any big bills in our entire time of having them, aside from the initial neuter and front declaw.

As most of you experienced, we had a super bad winter. Once the snow melted from the cars, we were flabbergasted to find a HUGE crack in the Subaru windshield at the very bottom near the heating element - it ran almost the whole length of the windshield! Complete replacement, no insurance help - $300

That was followed by taxes. We owed $300 and it was about $200 to file at H&R Block.  Pffft.

I also needed a new bike. I was hoping to make my old one work, particularly with having lost so much weight and being stronger. Alas, my cruiser model was cumbersome and sucked all of the joy out of biking. New hybrid bike (after discount for trade-in) - $300.

Well past having bought the Subaru, we still needed to sell the truck. To remedy a check engine light (didn't want to scare off potential buyers), we took it into Firestone (never again). They "repaired" a hose and did an oil change - $300 and a block later, the check engine light turned back on. I should have turned around right then and there and make them fix it for free ...

Only a few weeks later, we took the Mazda in for an oil change (to a local shop with mechanics we trust). Because they're awesome, they told us the tires were going bald. Clearly Mike and I have been too busy to deal with car maintenance, which left both of feeling quite bashful. Upgraded from summar performance to touring tires so the damn thing will actually drive in the snow - $525 for four tires. 

At the beginning of the year, I unexpectedly won a trip from my company for our version of employee of the year. It was a very generous package where I got two plane tickets, two nights in a hotel, and an extra day of vacation. We chose Vegas and scheduled the trip for May so we had time to save up. I meticulously planned out everything and budgeted $800 for our share of food and entertainment. I even allotted $5 a piece to put in the slot machines so we could say we gambled, lol.$HomepageHeroImage$&crop=12,1039,4938,1682&anchor=2481,1880
We stayed at the Mandarin Oriental, which is the middle building with the fan on top
It was almost perfect except that I had been waffling on getting show tickets, the only reason being that they weren't in the budget and I was getting worried about how much we were spending in the first place. We weren't expecting to take a trip on this scale this year so it hadn't originally been in the plans to devote this much on vacation fun. But I eventually caved in and bought discount Cirque du Soleil tickets for $200 - best decision ever! It was breathtaking and magical and everything people rave about. Trip total: $1,000.


Later in the summer, Ajax, whose interest in human food never wanes, decided to vomit 12 times in an hour. Rushed him off to the vet and after much testing, determined he probably ate something off the floor and got sick. But between x-rays, fluids, antibiotics, and the exam, that set us back $400. We love our cats, but we sweep our kitchen now a lot more.

In that six-month period, we put ZERO extra money on the Mazda loan. Sigh ...

Good news, we were able to pay for all of those unexpected expenses largely out of pocket. Sure, we put some bills on the credit card a few days ahead of payday and then immediately took care of the charges, but none of these required us to go into debt.  We tried to keep this in mind and be thankful about our financial situation rather than disappointed we set what seemed like a reasonable goal and were never able to work on it.

August 2014 

Midpoint of the year and if our finances hadn't been turbulent enough, Mike got a significant promotion at work. He had only been a program coordinator for a year, so we weren't thinking about the next level quite yet. But a position for a program director opened, he was volun-told to apply for it, and got it! It was whirlwind, we had many reservations, we tried our best to not get excited about the implications, and then had to shock ourselves into reality when Mike landed a salaried position.

What was his pay raise, might you wonder? $10,000.

Ok, that's a projection, because it's oddly hard to compare your hourly rate (which includes overtime) to an annual salary. What we know is that his typical hourly check without overtime averaged $850 (so around $1700 a month). After his raise, a single pay period is a static $1,200.  \That's about a 30% increase in funds.

It makes our heads spin. Seriously. The promotion happened in the middle of August, so September was the first month we've been at this new income level. We're just trying to get a feel for it before we make concrete goals.

For example, our bad car luck has continued. We were going to gleefully use Mike's first check to kill off that resilient Mazda loan. But we had to first take in the Subaru for a check engine light. $750 later, we got the oxygen sensors replaced and new CV boots, which resulted in an alignment on top of that. And we're told our brakes have 10% and 25% left on them, meaning we need to take care of those before winter driving conditions are here. 

Looking Ahead

Even though I'm all for taking openly about finances, our new situation makes me a little self-conscious. I don't want anyone to think we're all of sudden rich or swimming in a ton of disposable income. 

We have some serious financial deficiencies we need to remedy with Mike's income:
  • Neither of us has retirement savings started. I know, not good, keenly aware of that. I made a vow to myself that by the time I turned 30, I would have that figured out. Well, I turned 30 in April, Mike turned 31 this summer, and time is ticking.
  • Mike needs to be on my health insurance. He has access to the VA, but you've seen the headlines and they won't see him for anything but near death. He deserves preventive care and since the VA can't deliver at this time, we need to do that through my private plan. While he's already on my vision and dental, he's overdue for both. New glasses and hopefully just a cleaning need to be scheduled stat.
  • The damn Mazda loan. As of today, October 4, the balance is $297.42. Seriously, so frickin' close!!!!!! 
  • Mike's student loan is currently in deferment. Now that he has a regular schedule (no evenings!), he can look into resuming his schooling. But in case he doesn't or there's a complication, that loan will come into play in December. Its payment would be $250 a month (prior to salary adjusted payments, which we haven't explored yet). It was one of the reasons we were in such a rush to take care of the Mazda loan, as prior to the promotion, having an additional $250 monthly payment would have really hurt us.
We have some big discussions ahead of us about making sure we remain on solid footing. In addition to retirement planning and healthcare, our student loan debt situation is a big drain on our budget (over $400 a month for mine, not including the one Mike has in deferment). We also have a (loose) 5-year goal of buying a home, which means saving for a down payment. And sometime in the future, there will be a point where our cars need to be replaced again. Hopefully not in the next 5-7 years, but you really never know.

Having spent so many years with financial insecurity, we take NOTHING for granted and never want to become compliant about our money. If one of us got laid off tomorrow, we would be in a scary place, just as you would. The best we can do is keep a tight eye on our budget, be aggressive with debt, and minimize unplanned expenses. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A 30th Birthday Weekend Getaway

Why would anyone be sad about leaving their 20s behind?!

This is the question I asked myself as I turned 30 last week. While I haven't seen a notable difference in the first days of this new decade, I am more than ecstatic to be another year older and wiser.

To be fair, there were a lot of good things that happened in my 20s. I had a ball in college, became friends with people I consider my family and are still an active part of my life, I earned two degrees, I started teaching college, we got married, I got a new job, we moved to a city that we profoundly love, we became DINKS for the first time, and Mike and I went to Jamaica twice, among numerous other adventures around the country.

You know what else happened? Mike was stationed overseas for three of the last ten years (yay long-distance relationships ... ), we had the longest engagement in the history of mankind (and even a patch when we weren't together at all), we struggled with finances, we struggled with career decisions, we had crappy cars that broke down, we lived in even crappier places, we acquired large sums of student loan and credit card debt, I had health problems for years on end, and Mike had a tough run without a job for a long time (being SINKS sucks).

Who would be tearful about saying sayonara to any of that?

Not me. Like the proper old fogies we are, we celebrated my birthday tucked away in a cabin alongside the Mississippi. In peace and quiet. And flippin' 40-degree temperatures and a few stray snowflakes. In April.

Country road along the Yellow River
I never knew I had a winter birthday (though my mom says it snowed when I was born), but we preserved with my plan to hike most of the weekend. We made our way two hours north to the booming metropolis of McGregor and Marquette, Iowa, with Prairie du Chien right across the river in Wisconsin. I love this area and my heart belongs to the Mississippi. I was hoping the grass would have at least turned green, but alas, spring is quite tardy in Iowa this year. We came here in October and it was much warmer then!

The Natural Gait

We stayed at a place called The Natural Gait. Nestled into the hills along the Yellow River, they offer cabins and campgrounds. Their main business is the Ion Exchange, which grows native wildflowers and seeds. We've yet to be on their grounds when everything is in bloom, but they literally have acres of prairie!

We stayed in their smallest retreat, the Kouple's Kabin. It's perfect for two people and best of all, it has a kitchen! With all of my food issues, traveling is a stressful proposition if I have to rely on restaurants and other people's good intention for meals. I've found that renting a place where I can cook my own food GREATLY eases my mind.

These were from this fall, but you get the idea!
We explored a little more of our host grounds this time around. They have an "Indian Cave" at the top of one of their bluffs, which I'm told they hold music concerts in during the summer. We pulled ourselves up the side with the assistance of a rope while gingerly stepping around deer poops. Totally worth the effort to see the river valley and watch three hawks gliding in the wind.

Spot the bird of prey
Later in the evening, we walked along the lane you see below and listened to the frogs croaking, saw a herd of deer grazing, made friends with two farm cats, gave some horses a few scratches, heard a woodpecker drilling into a tree, and even saw the red twinkle of Mars rising. Love being able to properly see the stars!

Pike's Peak / Point Ann

Due to the lack of greenage, we skipped going to Effigy Mounds. They were closed this fall when we went because of the government shutdown ... one of these days we'll make it ... So we opted for Pike's Peak instead. You really need to check out this state park if you haven't! There are tons of trails, camping if you are inclined, great views of the Mississippi, a few Native American Mounds, and even waterfalls.

We explored the Point Ann trail, which starts at the base of McGregor and takes you to the top of the bluff (500 feet up). So glad we packed sweaters and hats! You get quite the hike with the incline of this path, but I liked the extra challenge. Lovely panorama too.

Vacation Meals

Normally I'm quite frugal with our groceries, but when we go on a getaway like this, I "allow" myself to make upgrades. Like getting a brand of local milk, a block of whatever fancy cheese catches my eye, a more expensive brand of chocolate, and organic chicken. I spent $70 on food purchases, but that got us two dinners, two lunches, two breakfasts, plus snacks and treats. Certainly better than eating out and much safer for me!

One dinner consisted of roasted bacon-wrapped turkey fillets (courtesy of the HyVee meat case) sprinkled with Penzy's Northwood Fire seasoning. Paired with a variation on this roasted potatoes recipe. I seriously make these once a week! Used a jalapeno bbq rub and jalapeno havarti (the original is tasty on its own).

The other was an adaption of this chicken and zucchini dish. I make this with herbes de province, all lemon juice instead of broth, yellow squash, and chicken chunks. Boursin cheese has such an amazing flavor (drool). The picture doesn't make it look too appetizing, but trust me, this is in our regular rotation! Paired with sauteed apples in pomegranate juice.

The Yellow River

The high point of our trip was walking down a county lane along the Yellow River - we simply had to walk out our front door. It was a perfect Sunday morning walk, the temperature flirted with being 60 degrees, and the song birds were chipper.

Costs and Benefits

Since I haven't posted much in the way of finances lately, let's talk about costs. First of all, we have a savings account dedicated to travel. Sometimes it's filled sporadically with $20 here and there. Sometime it's filled with a mission when we know and are planning for an outing. Occasionally one of us comes into a bonus situation and we immediately declare it "fun money" and set it aside.

End of story - you should budget for vacations. Particularly if your life is a little more bearable when there's a retreat scheduled on the calendar. Everyone needs a trip they can look forward to and not worry about paying for.

This was a pretty minimal vacation, considering that our main entertainment - hiking - was totally free. We even visited several antique shops and came out empty handed. Not so much with Eagles Landing Winery - have to support the local economy :)

Cabin rent (two nights + tax)   $256.80 
Food                                       $68.73
Gas                                        $51.25
Winery (two bottles)                $22.47

It's still a little weird to think that it cost us $400 to escape for 2.5 days. I almost feel like I have to justify it.


What's your ideal vacation?

Saturday, February 1, 2014

A Month of Movies - December Holiday Edition

Moving on from November, we enter a winter wonderland of movies. It was a blizzard of genres, but we managed to watch a few holiday classics.

The Debt (Redbox)

Helen Mirren. That's all you need to know.

This movie (2010) was very good, even though it's not at all what it's advertised as. If you watch the trailer, you think you'll be embroiled in an intense espionage thriller, where a Nazi monster comes back to haunt three agents who were supposed to have eliminated him on a secret mission.

What you won't find here is plot twists, chase sequences, fight scenes, or any other hallmarks of an action/spy movie. What you get is a carefully crafted drama about human nature under duress. 

It's a far quieter movie than expected, and I was not satisfied with the ending, but it is worth a watch for the fine acting. Helen Mirren is superb, as is Jessica Chastain.

Big Trouble (Family Video)

I love walking down the aisles of a video store, waiting for a title or image to catch my eye. I saw this 2002 comedy and thought it looked fun and zany. Tim Allen is another one of my favorite comedies, from Home Improvement, Jungle 2 Jungle, Galaxy Quest, and even The Santa Clause.  

This movie is nothing but pure caper madness and definitely worth your time. You've got the hijincks of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World, an ensemble cast that's stuffed to the brim with amazing comedians, and a crime plot that's as improbable as Get Shorty or Pulp Fiction.

Shanghai Noon (VHS)

Oh Jackie Chan, this is not your finest work

Even waiting for the glimpses of his amazing martial arts is not enough to save this movie (2000). Owen Wilson is adorable, but this is a nostalgic stinker. At least the bathtub scene is still hilarious. 

Pushing Tin (VHS)

Awful. Sheer 90s awful. We lasted 15 minutes and shut it off. 

Plot as relayed in a cheesy narrator voice:

Two air traffic controllers go toe-to-toe in a battle of the egos. Insert multiple sequences of them showing off and trying to outdo one another. I'm a man, I have testosterone, grr! Enter pretty lady as plot complication. Likely will have to bond over trying to avert a crisis. Only by working together to save lives can they put their difference aside (ha, IMDB says I'm right about the ending!).

Jane Eyre (DVD/Netflix)

I taught a Women in Literature class recently and assigned the book. Wanted to treat my students the last night of class to a film adaption. 

I tried the Mia Wasikowska / Michael Fassbender version from 2011. I was sorely disappointment. The film is beautifully shot and I loved that the vast majority of the dialogue was directly from the book, but it completely missed the mark. It takes the gothic romance genre too literally. There is no love and light between the characters, only tears and oppressive broodiness.

I grew up on the Charlotte Gainsbourgh / William Hurt rendition from 1996. I had good memories of the film so I didn't screen it before showing it in class. I was a little disappointed to find that this adaption is hardly any better. 

Too much is condensed, altered, and omitted to be faithful to Bronte's intent. At least you want to cheer for this version of Jane and Mr. Rochester. I've been told that some of the mini series do the book better justice ...

Christmas Vacation (VHS)

I never watched this movie as a kid. Not once. I think the first time was in high school and I think I liked it but didn't fall in love with it.

Mike hadn't seen it either until we watched it for the first time last year. Now I think we have a new Christmas tradition on our hands. Chevy Chase, another goofball master, captures so much of what makes us all go a little crazy around the holidays ...

Home Alone (DVD)

Ok, let's be honest about this 90s movie trend. We've been tapping into our childhood, in search for something perhaps no more psychological than a warm fuzzy.

Home Alone is a modern classic and it is still delightful to watch. Everything about it is flawless. Perhaps it's why I like the two Chris Columbus Harry Potter movies (I know, I'm admittedly in the minority). There's a special quality infused into Columbus films, like Mrs. Doubtfire and Stepmom. Plus when you have a score by John Williams, oh man.


Neat thing I noticed for the first time - the entire movie is decorated in red and green. Every single inch of the screen, from the house to character clothing, uses that color scheme. Christmas is literally everywhere! 

White Christmas (Netflix)

As a movie buff, I sometimes obligate myself to "catch up" on classics that I wouldn't normally pick but are important in film history. It's why I'm still slogging my way through AFI's Top 100 lists ...

Whenever I talk holiday movies with folks, I always get ragged on for not having seen this one! So I hunkered down one Saturday morning and tried to get in the Christmas spirit with this 1954 Technicolor classic.

Honestly, this isn't my cup of tea. I don't mind musicals, but this one is over-the-top cheesy. As much as I tried, I couldn't get into it. Unhappily for me, Irving Berlin knows how to write catchy songs and I had a rough two weeks following this viewing. 

But I can at least say that I've seen this now. I also checked off my first Bing Crosby film so silver lining :)
The Way Way Back (Redbox)

Thought this looked like a cute coming-of-age comedy. Can't go wrong with Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Maya Rudolph, and Alison Janney (love her!). It even has Jim Rash in it, the dean from Community.

Despite the cast, this is not an uproariously funny film. It's more of a dramatic exploration of the modern family as told by a teenager trying to find his place in the world. A good indie flick on its own (Fox Searchlight knows what it's doing), but suffering from misleading advertising.

Worth checking out if you're a Sam Rockwell fan (he plays his usual self) and seeing Steve Carell play a massive jerk. 

Charlie's Angels (VHS/DVD)

I blame Sam Rockwell for this. We were talking about his other roles and I mentioned to Mike that he plays the bad guy in one of the Charlie's Angels movie. He was dubious so I tentatively asked him if he wanted to watch them with me.

These movies are a guilty pleasure. They're campy, totally improbable, filled with ridiculous humor, and full of girl power parading around in tight clothes and heels.

We turned our brains off and laughed.

Little Women (Netflix)

For some reason, I associate this story with Christmas. Maybe because there are many scenes set in winter? At any rate, I branched out from my staple 1994 Winona Ryder version to see what Katharine Hepburn could make of my hero Jo.

This George Cukor film (My Fair Lady, The Philadelphia Story, and many Hepburn-Spencer Tracy pairings) is a fine adaptation. It was done in 1933, right in the thick of the Depression. It's a rose-tinted, sappy version of a simpler time. I don't say this cynically, but it makes all the sense when trying to get down-trodden folks to shore up a few pennies to escape into the theater for an evening. 

It was a nice trip into the past and I'll get a hold of the Elizabeth Taylor 1949 version next. And at the rate Hollywood is recycling old material, I bet we'll see a Little Women adaptation in the near future. It would be interesting if they took the basic story and placed it in modern times. Hmm ... no one steal that script idea!

American Hustle (Movie Theater)


This movie was nothing short of glorious fun. I cannot emphasize how highly this film deserves every award it's been nominated for. If you hated Silver Linings Playbook (which I enjoyed), never fear, this is truly a comedy. It's dark, a signature of David O. Russell, but the humor leads the way.

The casting is perfect and the acting sublime. Russell is fantastic at taking over-the-top characters, putting them in a preposterous situation, and letting his actors steal the scene.


January was so busy that we've barely watched any films. Check back at the end of February when we've had some downtime!

A Month of Movies - November Comedy Edition

You know, it's odd how few holiday plans we had this year and yet November and December flew by at an alarming pace!  I'm still trying to grasp that it's February ...

So here's a double post on what's been in our DVD queue lately.  

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (VHS)

I adore goofball comedies. I always loved watching parodies with my dad, like any of Mel Brooks films, Hot Shots: Part Deux, The Naked Gun, and Airplane. Austin Powers is no different. The slapstick, groan-worthy puns, clever references, outlandish characters, nonsensical plot - I'm sold.

Hadn't seen this movie in ages and Mike and I were still busting up a gut. So many quotable lines! It's crazy to think that this was released in 1999 though ... oh high school ...

Catching Fire (Movie Theater)

While we watch a fair number of movies, it takes special motivation to actually go to the theater. I'm just not willing to spend $20 for both of us to be disappointed. So I try to be selective about which movies we see.

I saw the first Hunger Games movie when Mike was deployed and immediately went out, bought the book, and sat down to read it in one sitting. My mom even sent him the books in his care packages.  

While I know some don't agree, I think the first movie is really good and a strong adaption. Catching Fire, however, takes the series to a whole new level. I loved every minute and even cried 10 minutes into it. Everything was on point, and yes, some stuff was left out, but that happens with every book-to-film translation. 

The key is that they got the essence and feel of Book 2. This will not be a trilogy where the second movie is only a weak bridge between the first and second! 

Father of the Bride (VHS) 

Such an adorable movie! Steve Martin is hands-down my favorite movie comedian. He's so personable and warm and he's got the best "you've got to be kidding me" face. 

The movie's look is definitely dated (so 1991), but it comes off in a nostalgic way. A friend and I remarked that they just don't make family movies like this anymore. I mean, when was the last time you saw a film that celebrated the father-daughter relationship in this way? 

Bill Engvall stand-up comedy (Netflix)

Confession - I've never watched the Blue Comedy Tour, I definitely cannot stand Larry The Cable Guy, and Jeff Foxworthy can be ok in small doses.

I can't remember why we choose Bill Engvall one night, probably because I don't like super raunchy humor and Mike loves his catch phrase "here's your sign." I immediately appreciated his stage presence, observations on life (particularly marriage and family), and storytelling. 

We've now watched Here's Your Sign, 15 Degrees Off Cool, and Aged and Confused. I even started watching the latest season of Dancing with the Stars because he was on there!  I'm kind of curious to watch his TV show, particularly as I love all things Jennifer Lawrence too ...

Peter Russell: Notorious (Netflix)

When we had cable, we loved catching Friday night stand-up on Comedy Central. It's how we got into Gabriel Iglesias and Maria Bamford. It's such an awesome way to end a dismal week at work. Laughter really is the best medicine.

After we'd exhausted our Bill Engvall options, we elected for a random pick based on the description. I like comedians who can do a lot of voices or impressions and Peter Russell is pretty decent. Not too offense and a few funny stories about growing up in an immigrant family. Not amazing, not off putting, relatively amusing. Not particularly motivated to seek out any of his other specials though.

101 Dalmatians (Netflix)

Oh yes, we watched the 1996 live version of this Disney classic. Didn't I tell you we had varied tastes?! All I can say is that we'd both had a bad day, it was available on instant streaming, and puppies. Lots of puppies.

Oddly enough, this movie is pretty funny and Glen Close is simply marvelous as Cruella de Vil. So over the top, so sublime, so perfectly committed to the role.

The Switch (2010)

Haters gonna hate, but I really do like Jennifer Aniston. I never even watched Friends in its heyday, but I loved her in We're the Millers, Horrible Bosses, Just Go with It (even more surprising, an Adam Sandler movie I like!), Bruce Almighty, Rumor Has It, and Office Space.  

Sure, there have been some perfectly awful movies she's been in. I couldn't get through more than 20 minutes of Friends with Money, Along Came Polly is just a weird movie and she and Ben Stiller don't have the best chemistry, The Bounty Hunter is pretty ridiculous, I haven't seen The Break-up nor do I want to, and Wanderlust is just obnoxious. I'm not even sure where to classify Marley & Me (there's that puppy thing again).

She and Jason Bateman were so funny in Horrible Bosses that I thought The Switch would be gold too. It's not. It's not awful, but it's just not a comedy in my mind. It's more of a drama between two long-time friends with one or two chuckle-worthy moments. Even Wikipedia classifies it as an American romantic comedy-drama. And you know Wikipedia is never wrong.

This is the End

I bravely stepped outside of my comfort zone for this movie.  I'm not overly fond of the cast, I hate stupid comedies, there aren't any female characters (aside from a pretty awesome Emma Watson but she has a small role), and the premise is pretty redonkulous. But Mike was in need of a brainless comedy that night so I obliged.

Surprisingly, this film works. Every actor plays a version of themselves for the ultimate form of parody and the obvious references to other post-apocalyptic movies are done with a loving hand. It's definitely rated R though and its humor will appeal to a 13-year-old boy (as well as the adult version), so you are duly warned.

The Heat (Redbox)

I grew up on a bunch of buddy cop movies, like Lethal Weapon, Men in Black, Rush Hour, even Turner & Hooch and K-9. Having been a cop in the military, Mike also loves Hot Fuzz and The Other Guys

The minute I heard about The Heat, I was all for it. Finally, a buddy cop movie with women! And two of the best female comedians out there - Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. I really wanted to see this in the theater to support it but just never had the time. 

The Heat absolutely delivers! There's slapstick, hilarious exchanges between Bullock and McCarthy, and real friendship and growth between the characters. 

There's a scene where McCarthy's character can't get out of car because of close parking and once she does, she starts slamming the door in rage and muffled curses. Because I have never done anything like that before (ahem), I was in stitches. There's also a moment where Bullock gives a double bird to a room full of male supervisors that was unexpected and epic.

More importantly, The Heat shows women as competent professions despite their flaws. Or maybe because of their flaws. Either way, we need more characterizations that show women just like men - as humans first.

Check out what we watched in December