Vow for a date night

Another week. And not much different than the previous week. Long hours at work and long nights working on my graduate studies.

With Valentine's Day coming up, I circled last night on our calendar and pledged to Kates a couple weeks ago that it would be a date night. We were leaving Phoebe with a sitter and hitting the town.

After checking around to see who was available, we booked our friend Whitney for the night. Phoebe adores her, and when Whitney arrived shortly before 6:30, Phoebe giggled and danced with glee. ... She had a whole night planned of watching movies, pretend-baking at her play kitchen and making valentines for her grandparents. They did just that, and Phoebe reportedly zonked out around 8:30 as they watched "Enchanted."

Kates and I, meanwhile, planned for a dinner at one of The Ville's finest restaurants before hitting up a 9 p.m. showing of "The Vow." ... There are other movies we'd rather see, but when you have just one movie theater in town and it has just five screens -- you take what you can get.

Dinner was delicious. I had a sirloin; Kates had a salad. And we ran into several friends who were also getting away from their kids for the evening, making for some nice conversation as we waited out the 30-minute wait time for a table.

Shortly before 8, we were reboarding our car and trying to figure out how to pass the time until the movie. ... We headed to Walmart to do some grocery shopping. Romantic, right? After all, the temperature outside was just 6 degrees, so we didn't have to worry about getting the cold stuff home to our refrigerator.

Even with our shopping spree, we were at the movie theater plenty of time before the showing. We had enough time for a drink at the diner and perused the upcoming releases. It was then that I checked my phone for the latest headlines and gasped at the news of Whitney Houston's death. It will go down as one of those "Where were you when ... " moments. But more on that later.

Eventually we joined the throng of teenagers waiting for the 9 o'clock showings and found our seats in the theater. I bet half the high school students in The 'Ville decided to see "The Vow." Kates groaned at the fact that we were so outnumbered, but I reassured her they were respectful youths. And I was right.

"The Vow," in case you haven't heard, is a heart-wrenching story -- inspired by true events -- of a young married couple whose lives are changed when they are both injured in a car crash. The man, Leo (played by the suddenly everywhere Channing Tatum), survives with few injuries, but Paige (played by the lovely Rachel McAdams) suffers severe brain trauma and loses all memories of anything that occurred during the five years before the car crash, including her relationship with Leo. Before the crash, Paige was a free-spirited art student and madly in love with Leo, but when she wakes from her coma she knows herself only as a young law student from an affluent family and thinks Leo is one of her doctors.

The film was good, but I wouldn't call it great. The characters suffer unimaginable heartache as they try to reconnect, and there are moments in the film that you want to scream at Paige's family for the mind games they seem to play with her. But you have to see the film to connect those details. ... The acting isn't always convincing. The plot also drags at times, but to the filmmakers' credit the movie keeps the audience from never fully knowing how the story will play out.

The film takes place in Chicago. So more than anything Kates and I enjoyed all of the wonderful city scenery in the film, being able to reconnect for those 104 minutes with our former home and remember the good times we shared there.

I also enjoyed the soundtrack and the emotion it added to certain scenes in the film.

And there's a key shot just before the car crash scene that shows Paige unbuckling her seat belt. After all my years of covering crime and reading police reports detailing car accidents, I couldn't help but watch that scene play out and think, Oh, I hope all of these teenagers are watching and making mental notes of this.

Here's the movie trailer ...

* * *

While I'm talking about movies ...

There's a few others I've seen recently, but I was either too tired or busy to blog about them. Or they didn't blow me away enough that I wanted to rush to my computer and detail what I'd just seen. In these cases, it was all of the above.

"Whip It" ... Stellar cast, and I'll watch anything with Ellen Page. But it took me awhile to get into it. The ending was a nice payoff, though.

"Forgetting Sarah Marshall" ... What a letdown -- in the ranks of "40-year-old Virgin," "Wedding Crashers" and other overrated comedies. "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" was -- I'm gonna say it -- forgettable.

"500 Days of Summer" ... Oh, how I was dazzled the first time I saw the trailer for this one -- Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel? It had to be great, right!? ... But Kates and I never did get around to seeing it, until I caught it on TV a couple weeks ago ... There are some good scenes and fun quirks to the film -- the best being after Toms first night with Summer. But, sadly, it didn't live up to the hype in my head.

* * *

About Whitney Houston ...

In the days and weeks ahead, much will be written about her rise to stardom and her fall from it. But I'm not sure you can be a true music fan without having some admiration for that powerful voice she possessed.

My mother was a big fan, so my childhood was filled with Whitney Houston songs playing on the radio or the cassette deck on the boombox in our kitchen and nights of watching Whitney perform on television specials, especially during the 1991 Gulf War. And oh, how my mother loved "One Moment in Time," which, for the record, may go down as my favorite Whitney Houston song.

But as I've reflected on those time the last several hours, two memories really stick out ...

The first is from a Christmas around the time that the young Whitney was bursting onto the music scene, and her debut album was hot; it must've been 1985. I don't remember if it was my father who gave the cassette tape to my mom as a gift that year, or if it was my brother and I who gave it to her, probably with some help from my dad. But I do remember that bright orange cover and the sounds of "Saving All My Love for You" and "Greatest Love of All" blaring many mornings and nights from that boombox in the kitchen.

The second memory stems from sometime around November 1992. My dad, brother and I were shopping one Saturday for a new caravan -- my dad's Plymouth Reliant station wagon had been totaled by a deer one morning as he drove to work, but that's another story. And as we test-drove cars and listened to the radio, we heard Whitney's "I Will Always Love You" for the first time. I remember thinking at that time that it was the greatest song I'd ever heard. By the time we were driving home our new blue Dodge Caravan that night, I'll bet we'd heard the song a half-dozen times and almost had it memorized. Not long after that, I purchased "The Bodyguard" soundtrack on cassette, and I remember looking at the music charts in the newspaper for weeks afterward and seeing the album at the top for what seemed like an eternity.

Good memories. It's too bad Whitney's were cut so short.

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