After several years of surfing the same Time-Warner Cable channels – from USA at 101 to Comedy Central at 113 – these past few months I began ranging higher, into channels that I used to think I wasn’t remotely interested in.

I have good friends who declared that the best programming nowadays is on the various cooking channels –especially the Food Network. I had glanced at a few cooking programs, years ago, and found them mildly interesting.

Somewhere between watching hyenas eat into the bowels of an alert, living zebra, and watching a big ship lay very thick cables on the ocean floor.

But then I got into the Gordon Ramsay competitive cooking shows, and realized: Cooking really can be a spectator sport.

I’m just beginning to watch a show that has apparently been going for at least 10 seasons: Worst Cooks in America. It sounds like the equivalent of those horrible American Idol audition shows, which featured the worst singers in America, but Worst Cooks does not ridicule the badness of their cooking – well, a little, maybe – it tries to train them into being better cooks.

I’ve only watched one episode – near the end of a season, where four cooks were being narrowed down to two as they cooked, in a blind taste test being judged by their own loved ones, dishes that they had botched badly at the beginning of the show.

They still weren’t perfect (and there was a horrible moment where a lobster claw hit the floor and one of the cooks invoked the “five-second rule”; there is no five-second rule when you’re cooking for other people), but the food looked pretty good. The mistakes they made were the kind that would make Gordon Ramsay scream at you, but regular diners would say, “Gee, I wish there had been more salad to go with the fish.”

There’s also a dessert show on the Cooking Channel called Unique Sweets. It’s not so much a how-to as a documentary: Look what the crazy chefs at this restaurant have come up with!

I’ve watched three episodes, and not one dessert looked even slightly appealing to me. Even if they didn’t have loathsome ingredients (cooked fruit, jam, Oreos, walnuts, peanut butter, coffee, tea or booze), they were still simply too much. I guess my dessert tastes run to simpler fare.

However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t fascinating to watch them make the desserts, and then watch customers try to eat them, usually smearing huge amounts all over their hands and faces.

I don’t actually like getting food on my hands and face. That’s why I rarely use honey for anything. If I’m not near a lavatory with a good soap and towels when I eat it or put it on or in something, then I have sticky hands all day, which means that my steering wheel will be sticky, my clothes will be sticky – I’m not 5 years old. That isn’t fun for me.

But finding out the bizarre things that chefs combine, sometimes with great success, sometimes with appalling (to me) results, is fine entertainment, and way more cheerful than more reruns of Law & Order: SVU.

So I enjoy watching Unique Sweets, and then creating the opposite kind of dessert: mixing up a batch of plain chocolate chip cookies (one-quarter the normal amount of chips, in my version, since I like the cookie with an occasional chip, not a mass of semi-sweet chocolate held together by a cookie that you can hardly taste).

My cookies are nothing fancy. (Well, I do have a fancy version where I caramelize the sugars and butter in a pan, but it takes a lot of washing up and I’m lazy, so I haven’t made that version in years.) But I can eat them without needing a shower, and they don’t leave my teeth feeling icky the way overly oily and overly sweet desserts leave them.

The food show I like best right now – at least till Gordon Ramsay’s MasterChef and Hell’s Kitchen start new seasons – is Good Eats, on Food Network or the Cooking Channel. Or you can watch some past episodes online, at

The host, Alton Brown, combines genuine skill in the culinary arts with a deep understanding of the science of cooking. As he takes you through each step of making a particular kind of dish, he explains why each of the important ingredients is present.

As he taught his son how to make macaroni and cheese, for instance, he showed him what a gloppy mess they would get if they just added melted cheese to cooked elbow macaroni pasta. It looked, as Gordon Ramsay so often puts it, “like a dog’s dinner.”

Then Brown set about showing us how to make a good sauce based on butter and flour, which he seasoned with all the spices that would make the macaroni taste like something – mustard powder, paprika, chopped onions and salt. When it’s ready, he adds three cups of milk, so that this is now the main ingredient.

Already you can tell this ain’t one of them boxed macaroni kits.

The plan was to add some egg to this sauce, but I know from experience that when you add raw egg to something that is already at a high temperature on the stove, you can get some pretty disastrous results: scrambled eggs instead of a sauce with egg in it. That egg will cook instantly the moment you pour it into the heated mixture.

So Alton Brown demonstrated the process called “tempering,” which I had never seen before – though it’s probably a process that every would-be chef learns in the first week of cooking. (I was never a would-be chef; I simply knew how to make a few meals and how to read a simple recipe. One step up from Rice-a-Roni and Hamburger Helper.)

What he did was mix up the eggs and than have his son add the heated mixture to the egg, one tablespoonful at a time. The result was that the hot liquid cooled considerably as it was added to the egg, and the temperature of the egg overwhelmed the heat of the mixture.

Soon the egg was much nearer the temperature of the heated mixture, so after only a few tablespoons of tempering, it was safe to pour the eggs into the heated sauce. Now the egg could do its work of binding everything together.

When Alton Brown’s version of macaroni and cheese was finished, it looked good enough (and, knowing his ingredients, certainly smelled good enough) for me to eat it – and I hate macaroni and cheese. It is no “comfort food” to me, except when I watch it going down the disposal.

Macaroni, like rice with tuna gravy, is one of the dishes that my wife made for my children when I was traveling, so I didn’t have to smell it cooking in the house. This made both foods a special treat for my kids, and if it made them wish I’d go away on more trips, they kept those feelings to themselves.

So many recipe books and cooking shows either ignore everything deeper than the grocery store labels or assume you already know them. I don’t, but I’m interested. So when Brown started talking about hamburger, he didn’t stop with identifying where on the steer the ground beef comes from.

Instead, he tells us that ground sirloin and ground round, coming from the back of the cow, are too lean for hamburger or meat loaf. Instead, at least a third of the meat should be ground chuck, which has a much higher fat content.

(If part of your meat loaf is pork, lamb or some other meat, you still want one-third of it to be chuck.)

Brown goes to a butcher and asks where their “ground beef” comes from – as opposed to ground round or ground chuck. It turns out that these butchers make their ground beef out of the trimmings from all those expensive cuts of meat. So you’re getting some of the best meat on the cow – if your butchers grind their own ground beef.

But Alton Brown goes farther: He suggests – no, he says quite firmly – that if you really care about the quality of your hamburger or meat loaf, you’ll grind the meat yourself.

Now, we not only don’t own a meat grinder at our house, we wouldn’t have a place to set one up if we did have one. Brown understands that far more homes have food processors than meat grinders. So he shows how to grind good hamburger in a food processor.

You start with stew-size chunks of the meat you’re using – he used sirloin and chuck. He didn’t work with a huge portion of either. The key is to chop it in bursts. If you just turn on the processor, you’ll end up with beef mousse – which, as he pointed out, is not good for anything. Ten short bursts left the meat in an uneven but fairly small grind.

Every step of the way, Alton Brown explains why – which is why I enjoy watching him demonstrate the preparation of foods I’m not interested in eating.

I must confess, though, that I love hamburgers – and meat loaf is one of my favorite comfort foods. In a couple of sentences, he demolished all the “cool” things I’ve always done to try to bring my meat loaf to life.

In fact, having learned to make meat loaf from my Depression-raised mother, I assumed that you had to have two eggs for every pound of meat. However, this was a means of stretching the meat so that you could get more servings of protein even when you couldn’t afford more than a pound of meat.

What does Alton Brown have to say? For his entire meat loaf: one egg. Just one.

How could that possibly work?

Well, I watched him do it, and it works. When everything is mixed and kneaded lightly together (by hand), he shapes it into a loaf pan – but then drops it out of the loaf pan onto a much larger shallow cooking tray with parchment between the meatloaf and the metal of the pan. Why?

Because you want to get a nice crust all over the meatloaf, instead of just on top. Besides, if you cook in a loaf pan, all the fats and juices will stay in the pan. The top of your meatloaf is baked; the bottom is deep fried. Not what you had in mind at all!

So he cooks it in loaf shape on that shallow tray, while he puts together a glaze that starts with – to my disgust – catsup.

I know a lot of people think catsup and meat loaf go together, but for me, the catsup takes over and kills everything.

But his glaze is not just catsup. In fact, he adds enough to it, and applies it as a thin glaze instead of a thick gloppy sauce, so that I actually want to try doing it his way.

That’s right. This old dog is willing to learn new tricks.

And let me add a footnote. Alton Brown adds, in passing, a fact that nearly blew me away. In a sentence on a screen between scenes, there is a sentence declaring that Worcestershire Sauce is descended from the universally used Roman fish sauce called “garum.”

I’ve read a lot of Roman history, especially books about daily life in the empire, and garum keeps coming up all the time. Romans took it with them everywhere, the way that Koreans take jars of their own favorite kimchi with them when they travel.

Ancient accounts state very clearly that one sure marker of the presence of Romans was the pervasive smell of garum – which reeked quite powerfully, since it consisted of fermented rotten fish.

What in the world does this have to do with Worcestershire sauce? After all, Worcestershire sauce, as we know it, was first marketed in 1837, and its discovery was almost an accident, since the chemists working on it had given up on a particular recipe and set it aside.

It was only months later, the story has it, that they noticed the barrels again and opened them. Fermentation had changed the flavor to something quite delicious – and fermentation remains a vital part of making Worcestershire sauce today.

Not only that, but anchovies are an ingredient of many versions of Worcestershire sauce – which complicates things for Orthodox Jews, vegetarians, and vegans. They get separate fish-free versions.

But it’s still more than slightly wonderful that a sauce descended from garum is still in common use today.

It was that single statement from Good Eats that set me on that research path. Cooking is not the only result from a genuinely informative show about food.

All of this is good news. The bad news is that way down on the Food Network’s Good Eats page, there’s this announcement: “Good Eats is not currently airing on Food Network.”

Instead, we’re directed to watch Good Eats on the Cooking Channel, which is operated by the same company.

Oh, OK. That must be where I found it and recorded episodes. The trouble is that the Cooking Channel website treats Good Eats as an ugly stepchild, so it’s very hard to find anything about it on the site.

However, the Cooking Channel does list reruns of 10 years of Good Eats on its weekly schedule:

They air at 3 a.m. and 3:30 a.m., but since we have DVRs or TiVos now, we don’t have to wait up to see them at those inconvenient times. I just happen to be an insomniac, so that’s when I happened to see them.

But wait: The same reruns are also shown at 11 and 11:30 p.m. Still late, for most people, but … you can get them.

Not every cooking show is this good. But far more of them are watchable than I expected. So now I really understand my friends for whom cooking shows and restaurant shows were their favorite entertainment.

I’m not going to give up watching People of Earth or Designated Survivor in favor of any cooking show. But that still leaves a lot of other hours in the week, especially for a non-sleeper like me, so … my TiVo is recording these shows like crazy, so I can watch them whenever I want.

And if you can catch Alton Brown doing a half hour on porterhouse steak, you’ll get some idea of how important it is to know what you’re doing when you choose a cut of meat.


I’m about to start a semester of teaching at Southern Virginia University – and believe me, getting from Greensboro to Buena Vista, Virginia, and back again is some serious driving for an old coot like me.

I find that I’m now like a 6-month-old baby. I can’t get to sleep by lying in a bed. But put me in a moving car and I doze off within minutes.

This isn’t good when I’m the driver and sole occupant, however. So the 2.5-hour drive usually takes me three-and-a-half hours, what with stopping and snoozing several times along the way.

But it’s worth it, because I get to teach fiction writing to one group of students, and a lecture course on the fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis to another. (This year, I’m also teaching a one-hour course in writing hymn texts and song lyrics.)

I’m home every weekend, so that on Sundays I can also teach a one-hour class to a brilliant group of 10-year-olds at church.

I do love teaching. I just can’t get anybody to pay me for it …

A lot of nonsense has been written about both Tolkien and Lewis, but over the years some very fine books have been published as well. There are decent biographies of both men, and Tom Shippey has done a brilliant job of working with Tolkien’s original manuscripts to come up with the foundational scholarly studies of Tolkien’s work.

The basic Shippey book – which is highly readable even for non-scholars – is The Road to Middle-Earth: How J.R.R. Tolkien Created a New Mythology. (If my students simply read that, they wouldn’t actually need my class. But let’s just keep that our little secret.)

Besides, even if you read all of Shippey’s other work on Tolkien, like J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, there are some areas that he doesn’t talk about much, because nobody can be an expert on everything.

For instance, I just listened to Ralph C. Wood’s book The Gospel According to Tolkien, a highly accessible book that shows how very Christian the Lord of the Rings (and Tolkien’s other fiction) is.

Tolkien himself said that you can’t understand Lord of the Rings outside of the context of Catholicism – but I remember thinking, when I first heard that, how impossible that statement was. After all, there is no religion in Lord of the Rings. Nobody prays. There are no priests. Nobody meets together and sings hymns.

The closest thing the hobbits have to sacramental communion is gathering in a pub and singing tragic and comic songs to each other. And that’s not very close.

What Wood reveals in The Gospel According to Tolkien is that Christian doctrine informs every incident in Lord of the Rings, and as Wood spells it out for us, this becomes inescapable. The story doesn’t talk about Christianity, it simply exemplifies a Christian way of conceiving of history and judging the moral weight of characters’ decisions.

Yet even though I enjoyed Wood’s book, and recommend it highly (including the audiobook, read very well by Nadia May), I’m going to encourage my students to rely even more heavily, in their secondary reading, on Fleming Rutledge’s The Battle for Middle-earth: Tolkien’s Divine Design in The Lord of the Rings.

Taking a more scholarly (but still highly readable) stance, Rutledge goes into much more detail, both about Tolkien’s Catholicism and the way religion plays out in The Lord of the Rings.

It’s easy to see the Christianity in C.S. Lewis’s work – if you can’t find Jesus in The Chronicles of Narnia, you have problems beyond my ability to help. It takes more effort to find the Christian core of Lewis’ best novel, Till We Have Faces, a realistic retelling of the myth of Psyche and Eros – but by the end, it is inescapable.

And in my opinion, Lewis’ Christian plan turns his Perelandra trilogy into fairly bad science fiction. The allegory and message dominate and the storytelling is, to put it kindly, slack.

Nothing of the kind happens in Tolkien’s work – the closest he comes to overt religion is in his wonderful little allegory, “Leaf by Niggle” – and even that isn’t very close.

It’s rather odd, isn’t it, that Tolkien, a lifelong fervent Catholic, who labored hard to convert his atheist friend C.S. Lewis to Christianity, was very shy about putting his faith forward in his fiction, while Lewis plunged ahead to become the greatest Christian apologist of the 20th century.

Yet I believe this may be one reason why Tolkien’s fiction is so much better, and reaches so much wider an audience, than Lewis’.

Of course, another reason is that Lewis wrote lighter work, which was never intended to have the depth and passion of Lord of the Rings. Tolkien set out to create an English epic, drawing on forms and motifs from Norse, Celtic and Anglo-Saxon literary models.

In fact, I can’t imagine a more ambitious enterprise than the task Tolkien set for himself, once he realized that LOTR was not going to be Hobbit 2: The Sequel.

Even George R.R. Martin’s hugely ambitious Song of Ice and Fire (adapted for HBO as A Game of Thrones) actually has far more overt religion – which often works as advertised – than Tolkien puts in any of his fiction. I love Martin’s books, but it is no shame to write a brilliant, monumental work of literature that nevertheless does not match Tolkien’s achievement.

Which only means that Martin is human. Lord of the Rings was the greatest work of literature in any language in the 20th century. Not everybody gets to create that.

So when Tolkien says that Lord of the Rings can only be fully understood as a Christian and Catholic book, he’s echoing another highly ambitious Christian writer: John Milton.

I took a readings course in Milton in graduate school, and in all the scholarship I read, the critics and students of Milton often cited Milton’s own hope, expressed in Paradise Lost, Book VII.30-31: “Still govern thou my song / Urania! And fit audience find, though few.”

What baffled and then annoyed me as I plowed through all kinds of Milton scholarship was the way every critic seemed to miss the whole point of Milton’s wish to find a “fit audience.”

They thought, universally, that the way to become a “fit audience” for Milton’s writing was to duplicate Milton’s education, so that they could get all his references and allusions. Basically, the idea was that if you could read everything that Milton read, you would be able to receive Paradise Lost at a level that Milton himself would regard as “fit.”

How silly. When Milton speaks to “Urania,” he’s invoking, not a muse, but the Holy Spirit. His “fit audience” is not a bunch of scholars who have ransacked Milton’s library. He wrote Paradise Lost to speak to believers, not just in Christianity, but in the puritan version of Christianity to which he had devoted his life, often at great risk during the English Civil War.

None of the scholars even imagined that the only “fit audience” for Paradise Lost would consist of people to whom the Fall of Adam was the central event of human history prior to the Atonement of Christ. He is not writing a summation of all his classical education; he is telling the story of why the world is in its fallen state.

When Tolkien echoes Milton’s sentiment, he is saying that if you study Lord of the Rings but do not find and feel the Christianity in it, then either you or he has failed.

This is why I recommend both The Gospel According to Tolkien and The Battle for Middle-earth: Tolkien’s Divine Design in The Lord of the Rings. Both books are written so that you don’t have to be a scholar to enjoy them – though they meet every important standard of scholarship.

So if you have loved Lord of the Rings – the books, not Peter Jackson’s appallingly ignorant misunderstanding of them in his beautiful, stupid movies – I think one or the other or both of these books will open them up to you as no other commentary could.

Shippey’s work is fascinating, especially as an account of Tolkien’s creative process, and he does not ignore the Christian aspects of the books, insofar as he sees them.

But Wood and Rutledge take you closer to seeing the degree to which a shared belief in Christianity – not necessarily Tolkien’s own Catholicism, though that is the Christianity he brings to the books – makes you more receptive to, more moved by, the deep Christian undercurrent of this greatest of English language epics.


Just one more Hallmark Christmas movie, because it’s one of the best. The Christmas Note appeared on the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries channel (which shows up as channel 629 if you get the right Time-Warner Cable digital package).

The plot is simple: Gretchen (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) comes back to her home town with her Santa-believing son, Ethan (Dylan Kingwell), while waiting for their husband and father to recuperate from dangerous injuries he sustained while stationed in the Middle East.

The house they rent is next door to that of a single woman, Melissa (Leah Gibson), who is quite standoffish. They are forced to connect when Gretchen is given a message to deliver to Melissa – that Melissa’s mother has died, and the landlord needs all her stuff to be cleared out of the apartment by Friday.

Melissa has been estranged from her mother for many years, so this is especially difficult, and Gretchen comes along for moral support. In the apartment, they find a letter that the mother had been writing, telling Melissa that she was not an only child. An earlier baby had been given up for adoption.

Together, they set out to solve the mystery of what happened to that baby. Along the way, they come to know some wonderful people in the town and become very close to each other. The search ends up helping many people; it even leads to young Ethan getting the gift he asked Santa for in a letter.

Even the big surprise in this movie isn’t all that surprising, because, you know, this is the kind of movie where everything is supposed to work out. However, it’s a pleasure to watch good performances of an entertaining script based on a book by Donna VanLiere.

So in case you are treasuring all my Christmas movie recommendations in order to plan your viewing next year, make sure you add this one to the list.


The more I think of Manchester by the Sea, which I reviewed last week, the more the aching sadness of the movie fades, while the beauty of the characters and their relationships rises in my memory.

As a friend pointed out to me after my review, while it’s true that heartbreaking things happen in Manchester by the Sea, the truly remarkable thing is that everybody is actually trying to be decent to everybody else. They all Do The Right Thing, at least insofar as they can figure out what that might be.

So in retrospect, Manchester by the Sea is uplifting and admirable … if you can bear the wrenching emotional experience of watching it.


Last year I reviewed a Sally Field movie called Hello, My Name Is Doris, which was so monstrously bad that it not only qualified as the worst movie of 2015, it is in serious contention for worst movie of the decade.

Now I’ve watched 2016’s entry in that competition, Meddler – though, like Doris, this one is listed as a 2015 release. Still, I got it this year as a screener for award consideration, so I’m assuming it’s reasonably current.

The Meddler stars Susan Sarandon and it is appallingly bad from beginning to end.

Lorene Scafaria is the writer-director, so there is truly nobody to blame but her.

(Our guess is that she plays the uncredited shrink, the only bad acting job in the whole movie.)

Here’s the premise. Lori (Rose Byrne) is an up-and-coming television writer whose life is lonely and messy in the aftermath of a breakup with boyfriend Jacob (Jason Ritter).

Into this jumble comes Lori’s mother, Marnie (Susan Sarandon), who is pathologically lonely since the death of her husband many months ago. She has decided that she will now focus her life – and all her attention – on her daughter.

Marnie makes constant phone calls, which Lori ignores; so Marnie leaves long, rambling messages which are exceptionally boring to listen to, which we must do on many occasions.

However, just when we think that anybody who has to deal with this empty-headed talkative woman will soon be contemplating suicide, she actually barges into her daughter’s house.

Now, I’m a writer, and I know a lot of other writers, and what makes all of us insane is the assumption, early in our careers before any of our books or shows have come out, that we are simply “home” with a lot of “free time,” and dropping by is welcome.

Visits and phone calls of this kind would never be made to a person with a “real job,” because people say things like, “I’ll call him later, he’s at work now.”

But writers aren’t “at work.”

That all changes when people can actually see that you were, in fact, working, because look, here are these books or episodes of a show. But Lori is just on the verge of having her first pilot shot in New York City.

So I was hoping that Sarandon’s tediously perky monologues were just the price we had to pay to get to a good story.

Hopes dashed. When Marnie bursts in, Lori greets her mother rudely, in a petulant, unlikable-child way. She does not do the obvious thing, which is to eject her mother physically and refuse any kind of conversation.

This is what I would have done, had my mother ever been so unspeakably rude (she wasn’t), and what I have done to other visitors who came unannounced at a time when I was working, and who couldn’t take a hint, like, “I’m sorry you didn’t call ahead. I’m at work on a book and I can’t converse with anybody or I’ll lose my thread and it will set me back for days. Call ahead next time, please, good-bye.”

(All such incidents happened at least 35 years ago, so no, it wasn’t you.)

In fact, nobody in this movie behaves or speaks like a real person. Marnie is absolutely oblivious to other people’s signals of boredom or desperation – until the script needs her to notice. She is absolutely tedious – until the script needs her to connect with somebody who, for some reason, actually seems to enjoy her company.

Well, there’s one reason that people put up with her: Marnie’s meddling takes the form of using the money that her dead husband left her to make things better for other people – paying for a complete stranger’s wedding, for instance.

It’s nice that she’s generous with what she has, but I kept wondering, as I watched the movie, when it would all start to amount to something.

I was waiting for some kind of story.

But this is an art film, so there isn’t one. The movie certainly is not about the daughter, though I wonder if there might have been a version of the script that really was about the mother-daughter relationship.

Then maybe a star like Susan Sarandon attached herself to the script and immediately began to make demands, until the script turned into what we actually saw on the screen: Unrelenting screen time with the star, while the daughter, formerly an equally important character, was barely seen.

I don’t have any idea whether this is what happened, but it’s the kind of thing that happens all the time. A star comes in with enormous clout and turns it into a movie that pleases her or his ego – maximum screen time, that’s the ticket.

The benefit of getting a star like that is that in all likelihood, the excellent cast signed on because Susan Sarandon was going to be in it. Either the actor didn’t know Sarandon personally but was drawn by her reputation and her fine body of work, or the actor was a friend and Sarandon called him or her up and said, “It’s a most-favored-nation deal, only a hundred dollars a day, but I’d love it if you could come in for a couple of days’ shooting.”

Actors who destroy movies while trying desperately to help them be excellent are rather common. What’s rare is for an actor to promote a balanced story, though there are some who do.

The smaller the budget, oddly enough, the more power a name actor has over a film. That’s because all film budgets are huge compared to, say, taking a cruise or renovating a kitchen.

Even though some very creditable indie films have been made for under $300,000 – less than the craft services budget on a monster film like, say, Rogue One – it’s still hard to raise that $300,000 because writers and directors don’t have that kind of money until after they’ve graduated to studio-funded films.

In other words, when they need the money most, it’s hardest to get. So Susan Sarandon may be the entire reason why Meddler got its $4.3 million budget funded. (And she may be the reason the budget was $4.3 million instead of $300,000.)

It’s such a shame, because every member of this splendid cast could have spent the same amount of time and effort reading poetry on a public street somewhere, or posting comments on other people’s Facebook pages, with better results.

This story goes nowhere. We get a brief moment of Sarandon crying – presumably for her dead husband – on an airplane ride, and then she throws his ashes in the sea and gets arrested for it, and then she finally allows herself to start dating a guy named Zipper (J.K. Simmons), so now she can be happy.

But the problem is, none of this is clearly set up as the reason for Marnie’s bizarre behavior until near the end of the movie. And by the time we got there – with a lot of fast-forwarding through tedious scenes of driving and walking and, alas, meaningless talk – we absolutely did not care.

If we had been in a theater, with no fast-forward button, we would have left in search of wet paint, so we could watch it dry.

This is a movie that either lost its way or never had a way. It is incompetently written, incompetently directed and superbly acted by everyone, including Susan Sarandon, who apparently has long aspired to play a completely unbearable oblivious self-humiliating woman, and finally got her chance with Meddler.

In case you see this movie offered somewhere, online or on a cable channel, I urge you to watch it for a little while, just to see what completely empty film-making looks like.

No human beings would ever say such dialogue or respond to other people as these characters do. You and your family and friends are, on your dullest day, more interesting than anybody in this film.

There is more humor in your average family dinner than in this whole “comedy.”

If this is a movie, then you are a movie, and people should pay to watch you.