Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Naming and Claiming

I admit to spending as much time, recently, on Facebook as on Blogger. Mea culpa.

It is fascinating to reconnect with friends, from college days and even from high school days. But, there is a significant challenge for women looking for friends from the past--if those friends are also women. What NAME to use for searching.

While I may remember the family names (or last names) of those high school or college friends, I have no way of knowing their married names, unless I stayed in constant contact with them. Some I did, many I didn't. And, how should I identify myself on Facebook?

This is not a problem that my brother, also on Facebook, has. He still has the same first and last name he had while in college. My sister, another Facebook user, has solved the problem by including her birth last name along with her married last name. It works--but since our family name is somewhat lengthy (10 letters and 4 syllables), it does get a bit unwieldy.

When I got married, in the mid 1960s, it was still very much the norm for a woman to give up her last name. By the 1970s, some women solved the question of what last name by going double barrel with a last name.

We know of one couple who decided that taking a last name was too much like ownership, so they fabricated a new last name by combining elements of their first names for their children. Interesting approach--a family with 3 sets of last names: his, hers, and the children's.

Today, of course, women are as likely to retain the last name of their birth family just as men do.

The only simple solution that I can see is to have a single name that requires no last name, like Cher, for example.

So, who else can be easily identified with just one name?


photo of Cher from:

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Of Monsters and Movies...

I herewith propose that we all cease using the name Hitler to describe anything but the man who bore that name. It has been in vogue recently to label as Hitler, particularly politicians, or make other references such as drawing toothbrush mustaches on posters . Obviously, any time someone drops the H-bomb (no, not the real one--the Hitler one) that name dropper does not like or value or respect the person to whom the appellation is applied.

Perhaps you have heard or seen some of these recent references--applied to the current president. Now, my personal politics aside, I have a very specific reason to making this proposal--referring to someone as a present Hitler cheapens the reference (overuse of anything will do that). And, more significantly, it diminishes the horror that Hitler inflicted on the world. Certainly within modern memory, Hitler occupies a place of horror almost unmatched. I know what you're thinking...what about Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Ze-Dong?

Fair enough--these people are the monsters of modern memory, along with a few others you can name. But, I think it makes the point--we are cheapening truly horrific actions when we label a political leader with whom we disagree as Hitler. NO. I am sorry--only Hitler was Hitler.

OK--so what about movies. We went to see a gripping political thriller today--and the connection to monsters is not tenuous. We saw Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer. Now, I don't know what you think of personal Polanski's actions of the late 1970s. It is not that sordid history that is the connection to the monster label. Rather, it is the subject matter of the movie The Ghost Writer.

The movie deals with a fictional British prime minister who is writing his memoirs. Played with surprising acting skill by Pierce Brosnan, the prime minister Adam Lang is being accused of having engaged in illegal activities in turning suspected terrorists over to the CIA for torture. The first ghost writer turns up dead, and a second writer is hired--never named, this ghost writer is played by Ian McEwen.

There are two women in the prime minister's life--his wife Ruth (Olivia Williams) and his loyal staff person and mistress (Kim Catrall). They give conflicting advice to Adam Lang, as he puzzles what to do when he is faced with being charged with war crimes. Meanwhile, the ghost writer keeps plugging away, trying to draw out details of the prime minister's life that go beyond the deadly prose of the first draft of the memoirs.

If you remember that this is a political thriller, and that it is directed by Polanski (remember Chinatown--my daughter, my sister, my daughter, my sister), you will be prepared for some first rate twists and turns. And just when you think all the twists and turns have happened, the ending holds several more surprises.

I don't for a minute suggest that there is a corollary between actions by the above named monsters (Hitler et al.) and fictional characters named Adam Lang, who is clearly a thinly disguised Tony Blair. But I would suggest that when we forget our humanity, when we adopt the tools that we long considered immoral (water-boarding), when we sit silently by while our politicians lie and deceive us (and I do not mean the present U.S. president), then we have made it easy for even decent leaders to become monsters.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Good Cup of Tea

Now, I enjoy a good cup of tea as much as the next person. Perhaps, maybe more so--I grew up drinking tea. Living in a former British colony will do that. Even today, I love good tea--an easy gift mark for our daughter who resides in London!

And, of course, in American history, tea parties figure prominently. The Boston Tea Party at least had something to do with tea.

Yes, astute reader, you probably can tell where I am going.

I certainly have my thoughts about the present use of the term "the tea party." In this forum, I don't usually air those thoughts. But, yesterday's news chilled me. The crowds protesting passage of the health care bill hurled racial slurs at members of Congress, and also yelled epithets at Representative Barney Frank, calling him a faggot.

In the various news accounts I have read of these incidents, these protestors have been identified as "tea partiers."

Maybe the American political system needs to be revised, maybe people are feeling disenfranchised and disengaged, maybe there are legitimate grievances that need to be redressed--BUT...

But when you erase 50 years of moving forward in the United States, and take us back to a day when people were judged only by the color of their skin...

When you call someone names because of his sexuality, an issue that is completely unrelated to his effectiveness as a congressman or his general intelligence in addressing complex issues...

When you have no real solutions yourself for the difficult challenges facing government at all levels...

When you seemingly have no empathy for anything, and it is is difficult indeed to determine what you DO respect, care for and value...

Then, as far as I am, this tea party is one I have absolutely no time for.

OK, going back to my own cup of tea now--hmmm, good.
Image of tea from -- http://www.goldimari.com/shop/images/B100V01.jpg

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Signs of Spring

A bit more than a month ago, this was the scene looking to the west from our house. See the lovely icicles? And the view from the outside shows these frozen daggers posed to strike any creature below.

But, now we are seeing signs of spring. Daffodils bring sunshine inside.

The orchid I adopted a year ago (from my daughter-in-law) is getting ready to bloom for the first time, in our house. It was blooming when we first got it, but after those blooms faded, it has been gathering strength to bloom again.

A small chipmunk has been busily gathering sunflower seeds. In the process, the chipmunk is driving our two cats crazy--a glass door separates him from certain death lurking inside.

The squirrels go to great lengths (literally) to try to raid the peanuts.

Then, the squirrel scampers away to watch me carefully. Whose picture are you taking, lady?

All these are wonderful signs of spring.

Some other signs abound as well, not so wonderful.

Herewith the tale of THE GREAT SKUNK ESCAPADE.

Now, this is not nearly as exciting as some skunk stories. No dogs were harmed in the process. About a week ago, we were sitting in our sun room. Seeing some movement outside, I looked up into our backyard--a skunk toddled into our yard. And then stopped. It seemed to settle down. Oh, no--I thought. Please, go away. On second thought, don't go away.

We had a skunk family settle next to our pool, a couple of years ago, living with its babies under a deck. We finally rousted it, after two skunk babies fell into the pool. I read online that skunks don't like loud noises, so I placed a radio, speaker down on the deck, and picked the loudest hip-hop station I could find and played it full blast. Skunk begone, and it was.

Anyway, all I could think was--please don't go under our deck.

So, I ventured outside. I circled far around the skunk, keeping my distance. Then I watched it--looking for signs of respiration. NOTHING. Huh? A skunk walks into our yard, and stops moving. Since this was in the middle of the day, all I could think was rabies. So, the first thing we did was call our local police.

An officer came promptly, and she asked--what's the problem.
Well, there's a skunk in our yard.
Were you harmed or in danger?

the officer said--I can shoot the skunk, but other than that, there's nothing I can do.

Never mind--the thought of a service revolver blasting a skunk gave my husband pause. Visions of skunks bits here and there. And, the office said, if she shoots it, the skunk will probably spray anyway.

So, the next step was to call a wildlife removal company. We were still thinking--rabies. After calling two companies, one responded immediately, and came out. The first thing he did was determine--was the skunk still alive. Please note the highly scientific method used to determine if the skunk is alive.

First, walk around the yard a bit, sort of circle the skunk. Next, select a small twig. Next, jab at the skunk. No spraying. Nothing. Nope--not alive.

This very helpful man then opined that the skunk looked not too old, not emaciated or unkempt, not underfed, that it likely died from some disease, but that other diseases than rabies could have caused its death--distemper for example. Then, he took a plastic bag out of his pocket, and wrapped it around the dead skunk--presto. Skunk begone (once again).

Thank you, helpful man--and yes, we will pay you for your help.

So, the great skunk escapade ended happily. Except for the next several days, when our neighbor came knocking on our door. Do you have a cat outside, she asked. Well, we don't allow our cats to roam--they are only outside with us for short times, and then inside a fenced yard. So, no, we don't.

Well, she said, there's a cat with 5 babies in my window well. Oh my, another sign of a spring--and it's the same cat I saw the day of the skunk-capade who very carefully approached the still (now dead) skunk, then traveled on. Oh, great--a feral cat roaming around, getting distemper or rabies or whatever--and with 5 kittens to boot, more feral cats!

Well, now we are midway in March, and here's that same western sky--absent icicles daggers.

Happy spring! Do a vernal dance this weekend.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

I Just Don't Get It !

A while back, I wrote a blog post entitled "What's Wrong with People." I even entertained the thought, after writing it, that maybe we should devise a new code. . .you know, a WWWP code.

Well, here's a new and distantly connected rant. I have no idea what got me to thinking about this topic, I just did.

The topic: I just don't get it !

OK, I know that all generations have their own style that signals rebellion. A kind of poke in the eye to the older folk who . . .just don't get it. For my generation, it was long hair. Woo-eee, could I post some interesting pictures of self and (ahem) family members--but I won't.

The rock musical "Hair" -- see photo of a cast group -- captured this rebellious in-your-face preoccupation with hair. As I said, my generation's symbol.

But, I must confess, while I recognize some of the current symbols of rebellion, or at least of the "let's cut loose from the old folks", I just don't get these--

To wit:

--oversize baseball hats. Popularized by Russell Simmons, and always worn at an absurd sideways angle. . .

--jeans that already have holes in them when you BUY them ( and they aren't cheap). . .

--saggy baggy pants. No other description needed. . .

--and, finally, multiple facial piercings. One particular gripe with such piercings is when a student has a tongue ball that he (or she) insists on playing with, twirling, clicking, etc. WHILE talking to me.

I know, I know--this little list just makes me sound curmudgeonly, but--really, folks--I just don't get it. Maybe I need a new code: I J D G I

So, what's on your "I just don't get it" list?
All photos are from various sites on the Internet. The face on the baseball hat model is purposefully blurred.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Thin Veneer

It seems that I often reflect on issues by making reference to my diverse career. It’s true—I have worked in a variety of places. At one time, I worked for the state medical society. While there, one of the physicians with whom I came in contact was a specialist in elder care. We were talking about what to do with doctors who are difficult to deal with as they age. His remark has stayed with me. He said—people don’t change with age, the patina just wears thin.

Now, this is not a post about aging. But it is a post about the patina wearing thin; the thin veneer of what makes us human that gets rubbed away over time. I have been thinking about the veneer of civilization and how quickly it wears thin. Sadly, we have had two recent examples of this inclination with the two earthquakes, first in Haiti and then in Chile.

In Haiti, with aid slow to arrive, people took whatever steps they could to provision themselves and their families. Unfortunately, some of those steps included inhumane acts. Events spiraled out of control as crowds overran water provisioning stations. There were reports that armed citizens intent on getting what they felt they needed killed other citizens. When soldiers didn’t restore order, the crowds tried to establish their own order but soon dissolved into mayhem.

Hard on the heels of the Haiti earthquake was the one in Chile—while unrelated geologically, these two events shared the sad aftermath of looting. Because Chile has tighter building standards, more people survived the earthquake, but the deprivation was very like that experienced in Haiti. Looters began ransacking grocery stores and warehouses. The outgoing president of Chile Michelle Bachelet had imposed a curfew, but did not initially call out the military. Chile has a troubled past where military rule is concerned, and I heard at least one report that hypothesized that since President Bachelet had herself been a victim under the former Pinochet government, she was reluctant to invoke military authority. Eventually she did call out the military to restore order.

The New York Times captured perfectly the abhorrence of looting noting in
a recent article that “Residents who formed self-defense posses were quoted saying that the “human earthquake” was worse than the geological one.” The human earthquake!

This article explores a difficult theme: when do people have the right to take what they lack? While I could argue that an equitable distribution of resources is a good thing, arming oneself with a machete and going after your fellow citizens is NOT. The thin veneer.

This theme is not a new one. One of the most powerful and disturbing books I read is William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. The book demonstrates how thin the veneer of civilization really is. Sounding rather like the plot line for an episode of the current TV show “Lost,” the novel features a group of British school boys whose plane crashes. All the adults are killed. The boys who survive decide to set up their own civilization.

At first, the boys manage to form some semblance of order, including getting a fire going. But it does not take long until the boys split into two groups, with one group more or less being “civilized” while the other groups becomes very savage and begins to hunt the other boys.

It is a difficult read—the final word in the story comes from the adult who finally rescues the boys. Finding the boys engaged in their savage fighting in the climactic scene—where, after killing two boys, the savage group is hunting a third boy—the adult remarks that he would have expected better of British school boys.

I don't know how to preserve the thin veneer--except to do what I can to respond to human need, and to avoid rubbing away the veneer of humanity that binds us all together.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

And the winners are…

Supporting actor—Christoph Waltz

Supporting actress—Mo ‘Nique

Best Actor—Jeff Bridges

Best Actress—Sandra Bullock

Best Director—Kathryn Bigelow

Best picture—The Hurt Locker

Saturday, March 06, 2010

The Last Picture Show

Well, tomorrow is the big show. . .the Academy Awards. We will get to hear the words ". . .and the Oscar goes to. . ."

We watched our last movie this evening--The Hurt Locker. This movie has been the cause of quite a buzz--predictions of its director, Kathryn Bigelow, being the first woman to be named Best Director. The movie, also nominated for best picture, has a good chance to win. And Jeremy Renner has been nominated as best actor in the lead role of Sgt. William James.

The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds (misspelling intentional) are both war movies. The latter is Quentin Tarantino's magnum opus. He has worked on the script off and on since 1998, working and reworking the story.

The Hurt Locker is set in the very real war in Iraq, following a three man explosive ordnance disposal unit. At times, some of the situations seemed a bit of stretch--for example, the same men who disarms IEDs also are able snipers, then later go roving the countryside. But the war they are fighting is very real. Sgt. James is clearly hooked on adrenaline as he disarms bombs, facing down the prospect of death every time.

The versimilitude of the movie is stunning, with a music track that helpfully has a throbbing beat like a heart speeding up as the tension rises.

Inglourious Basterds, set during World War II, tells a completely fantastical tale of a unit (led by Aldo Raine played by Brad Pitt) of Jewish American soldiers who prey on Nazis, wiping out units save for one survivor who will tell the tale, thus instilling fear in the German soldiers. It also follows the career for an S.S. colonel Hans Landa (played with wonderful creepiness by Christoph Waltz) who specializes in hunting Jews.

While the tension in the movie is very real, the events depicted are not--nevertheless the tension is palpable. We see the persecution of the Jews through the eyes of young Shoshanna Dreyfus (played by Mélanie Laurent). She escapes from Colonel Landa only to encounter him later in her life.

There are too many twists and turns in this movie to try to tell you the story line of Inglourious Basterds--just see it for yourself.

Also see The Hurt Locker--even if you have to see it after the Academy Awards, when--if it wins as many awards as predicted--it will be showing everywhere.

OK--what are my PREFERENCES for the only categories we really care about? My picks in RED. Note, these are not predictions as to who will win (I have underlined these), and since we didn't see every movie, my voting is not fair. Hmmmmm--I think I have something in common with members of the Academy. (The whole list of nominees can be seen

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Matt Damon, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Plummer, Stanley Tucci, Christoph Waltz

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Penélope Cruz, Vera Farmiga, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Anna Kendrick, Mo'Nique

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE: Jeff Bridges, George Clooney, Colin Firth, Morgan Freeman, Jeremy Renner

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE: Sandra Bullock, Helen Mirren, Carey Mulligan, Gabourey Sidibe, Meryl Streep

DIRECTOR: James Cameron--Avatar; Kathryn Bigelow--The Hurt Locker; Quentin Tarantino--Inglourious Basterds; Jason Reitman--Up in the Air; Lee Daniels--Precious

BEST PICTURE: Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, A Serious Man, Up, Up in the Air

Of all the movies that we saw in our mad rush to "get ready for Oscar," I enjoyed Crazy Heart, An Education and Up the most.

OK, now my brain and eyes can rest, and just enjoy the show tomorrow night.

Friday, March 05, 2010

An Odd Couple

As you have been reading my "rush to the Oscars" review series, you have noted that I am pairing the movies. The next two movies might seem not to fit together in anyway at all--but, ah, let me show you my masterful compare/contrast of Up In the Air and A Serious Man.

A couple of years ago, I
posted about teaching and giving an exam in which I posed a compare/contrast question. I had asked the students to compare and contrast the characters of Oedipus Rex and Hamlet, from their respective eponymous dramas. I was stunned when one of the students simply gave me a list of comparisons, no contrasts. So much for compare/contrast. LauraHinNJ wisely commented that students have to be taught the technique of compare/contrast.

True, true.

What that episode did to me, in addition to my making certain that from there on out in teaching, I ALWAYS covered compare/contrast, is that I tend to look at two things and immediately look for ways to compare/contrast. It's downright fun.

So, herewith.

Up in the Air has as its central subject a man--Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney--whose job is to travel all over the country delivering the awful news to people that they have been fired. No, he doesn't actually tell them they are fired--he says their position no longer exists, and they are being let go. While to most of us that would be the most depressing job imaginable, Ryan actually enjoys it. He loves travelling, racking up the frequent flyer miles that go along with it. You learn that he has a goal to reach a certain level of miles.
You also learn that Ryan has shed every conceivable attachment in his life--in addition to his job firing people, he gives motivational talks. He uses the image of a backpack, and asks people to fill up the backpack, then to empty it. He applies the same rationale to personal relationships--fill up the backpack, and then empty it. Attachments are impediments to his goals.


Until he meets two women: one is a woman, Alex (Vera Farmiga), in a job that requires her to travel all over the country. In their initial meeting, they spend time comparing the various credit cards and special deal clubs they belong to--their conversation is animated about frequent flyer benefits, which car rental place has the best deal, which hotel has the most perks. They are admirably suited for each other, and--predictably--end up romantically involved.

The other woman is the newest employee at the company that employs Ryan--she is Natalie (Anna Kendrick): fresh-faced, full of enthusiasm, ready to tear into the firing work by overhauling it through a computer conference approach. Ryan insists she has to see the real world, so he takes her on the road with him.

Ryan has everything figured out, his life is a set pattern, he needs no one in his life, his goal the frequent flyer miles he earns. But, of course, life has a way of taking its own direction. What was so certain for him begins to unravel. He begins to think about possibly changing his disconnected life by making a commitment to Alex--I will not spoil what happens next.

At the end of the movie, we see Ryan staring at the destination board in an airport--and we wonder, where is he headed? Where will life take him? Now that he has reached his mileage goal, what else lies out there for him? The answer is not at all clear.

A Serious Man centers of Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) who has NO clue what to do with
his life. He is the complete opposite of Ryan in Up in the Air. Larry is clueless. He is loaded down with attachments--a whining wife, who wants to divorce him and take up with a widower, a freeloading brother who seems to spend his life in the bathroom draining a cyst, a moaning daughter who wants to get in the bathroom to wash her hair, and a nagging son who wants his father to fix the television antenna so the son can watch F-Troop. (Ah, F-Troop--miss that show!)

While Larry teaches at a mid-western university, thus having a job that should give him some idea of what to do. He is up for tenure and very uncertain about the vote. When he fails a Korean student, the student comes to petition to get a passing grade. When he leaves Larry's office, he leaves behind an envelope with money. Larry tries to return the money, then worries about the effect of this potential bribe.

As if the impending tenure vote weren't enough, he returns home from work to his wife's announcement that she wants a divorce. The news clearly hits Larry as completely unanticipated--he had no idea anything was wrong. At his wife's urging, he moves to a motel, taking his strange brother with him. One day, a friend who is encouraging Larry suggests that he talk with a rabbi.

That sets Larry on the quest to talk to the rabbis at his synagogue. The first rabbi is young and as clueless as Larry. He can give no help. The second rabbi talks at length and with deep philosophical import telling him the tale of a dentist who discovered Hebrew letters inscribed on the inside of a Gentile's teeth. What does it mean? asks Larry. Who knows--says the rabbi. The dentist never found out. The third rabbi then must be the one who will help Larry, but the third rabbi refuses to see him.

Just as his life appears to be crumbling into nothingness, things suddenly begin to turn in Larry's favor. His wife's widower "lover" is killed, so she no longer appears eager to leave Larry, his son successfully completes his bar mitzvah, the head of the department where Larry works hints that he will get tenure--maybe everything will work out.

But, no--this is a Coen Brothers' movie (which means we should have been forewarned). You, dear reader, can see the ending for yourself. Besides, any movie that has an elderly rabbi solemnly intoning the lyrics of a Jefferson Airplane song can't be all bad!

So, Ryan and Larry. One man with a clear path in life, unencumbered by relationships. The other man weighed down by too many family obligations, and totally befuddled at the meaning of life. One man reaching his mileage goal, but not really having a destination beyond that. The other presumably gaining his tenure, but with trouble lurking just around the corner.

Both of these movies pose the question--what is the meaning of life? Why are we here? Is that all there is?
One more review coming: we will be watching The Hurt Locker, and I will review it along with Inglourious Basterds, which we saw a couple of months ago.
As I noted in a comment on the first movie review post, we have chosen to skip Avatar, District 9 and Precious. Can't see them all. I can do without James Cameron's ego, I am not a big fan of sci-fi, even if it is intended as a metaphor, and some just seem too painful to watch.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Round Two for Oscar

The famous opening of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina might be an apt description for the pair of movies I will cover today:

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

It occurred to me that the movies I described in the prior post are bookend movies: one is about some at the end of a career and life (Crazy Heart), the other about someone at the beginning of a career and life (An Education). It wasn't planned that way--to see two paired movies, it just happened.

Likewise, the next two movies can be paired--the family pair, hence the Tolstoy quote. And, fittingly, the first movie is about Tolstoy: The Last Station.

I recall reading a Tolstoy biography many years ago--at the time, I thought him an odd person. In addition to writing some marvelous novels, he had very distinct ideas about wealth, property ownership, human relationships including sexuality. He married a woman 16 years his junior; since he had lived a somewhat dissolute youth, he thought it necessary to unburden himself to her on their wedding eve--he presented her with a diary of his sexual exploits. Needless to say, she was stunned, but they married anyway. She could not, though, claim to have not been forewarned.

The Last Station is about this peculiar marriage in the last days of Tolstoy's life. The movie is not one of the "ten best" nominated, but the two stars--Helen Mirren as Countess Tolstoy, and Christopher Plummer as Leo Tolstoy--have both been nominated. The acting of both is a joy to behold, but Helen Mirren's work is a tour de force. She alternately rages, cajoles, curses, and charms. Tolstoy eventually can't stand the tumult of his life, and departs in the dead of night. The movie title derives from his final destination. Along the journey, by train, he falls ill and upon leaving the train, he and his party set up in a small train station. The world press gathers to await his death.

Interwoven with Tolstoy's story is that of a young secretary, played with the right of blushing, stammering, sneezing naivete by James McAvoy. He is under Tolstoy's thrall, but as he witnessed the dysfunctional relationship between Tolstoy and his wife, he begins to see the man behind the myth.

The second family that is a subject of a "ten best" nominee is the Tuohy family depicted in the movie The Blind Side. This movie, while certainly the feel-good movie of the season, has some probing questions about the nature of family and family responsibility. It depicts the high school and early college years of football phenom Michael Oher (who now plays for the Baltimore Ravens). Even though the football motif necessarily runs through the movie, it is not a sports movie.

Sandra Bullock, as Leigh Anne Tuohy, does a good job of the mother who opens her arms and her family to include a child in need. For that role, she has earned her nomination as best actress.

There were some squirm moments for me--why must this outstanding young athlete, who is black, be rescued by a white family? Why are almost all the healthy role models that young Michael encounters white, and why are all the unhealthy ones black? I know in part the answer is that it is based on reality--a true story. True, there is a scene in which a not so subtly racist white needles young Michael.

But, I will not dwell on these issues--the story is one of true triumph. It is also one with a message that we really all are responsible for the children we encounter--whether they are black and we are white should not be a barrier to responding to the need.

So, two movies, two families. The Tolstoys totally dysfunctional, the Tuohys totally loving. How ironic that the unhappy family is Tolstoy's--but then, maybe the old man knew exactly what he was talking about. See both movies--they are worth your time.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Getting Ready for Oscar

This is becoming something of an annual tradition--as the Academy Awards annual bash approaches, my husband and I suddenly realize how few movies we have seen through the year. So we get ready for the biggest entertainment show of the year by madly dashing around to see as many of the nominated films as we can.

We had begun our quest inadvertently about six months ago. While strolling through Costco (a favorite shopping haunt) we saw the DVD for Up. I had heard and read good things about this animated film, so we picked it up. And then watched it. And fell in love with the sweet story. I made brief mention of the movie before, noting:

"Up is a sheer delight of a story--with many sweet messages. But one message is certain--sometimes we hold on to memories for so long that they might keep us from grasping new experiences."

We began our movie rush in earnest this week. Thus far, we have seen Crazy Heart and An Education. With the Oscar best movie list expanded to 10 this year, for the first time, it makes our quest so much more challenging.

Crazy Heart, starring Jeff Bridges who has also been nominated as best actor, is a touching story. Bridges plays "Bad" Blake, a country singer at the end of his career, but he still desperately wants to stay in the music scene. He sings "I used to be somebody, but now I am somebody else." Oh my--practically the anthem for someone who feels that time has passed you by. Bridges wears his age on his world-weary face. His body practically creaks as he struggles through this time in his life. Watching this story is rather like peeling an onion--a layer at a time removed, as more nuances and complications unfold. One of the complications is Jean, a young reporter played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, who draws out some of Bad's life story.

An Education is a coming of age story, set in London of the 1960s. Carrie Mulligan, a relative newcomer, is nominated for her role as Jenny, a 16 year old preparing to enter Oxford, if she can get accepted. Along comes an older man, David, played by Peter Sarsgaard, to provide her with "an education." That education introduces Jenny to a world far more exciting than her parents' stodgy middle-class life.

Well, mad rush movie time continues. I will write more mini-reviews as we see films--all to get ready for "the big show."

Seen any good movies lately?