Saturday, December 29, 2007

"Forget the Alamo"

The entry is part of the Endings Blog-a-Thon, featuring a variety of other blogs all talking about movie endings, which i find a fascinating subject. Thanks to Joe at Joe's Movie Corner for putting this all together.

And therefore, be forewarned that the very nature of this posting means here there be spoilers and please do not read unless you have seen the movie in question or don't mind the ending ruined.

Every semester that I teach the introductory film course, I pick a new slate of 14 movies to show over the course of the semester. Most of the students stay with me no matter what I teach, because, somehow, they trust me. Even the movies that confuse them -- Lucretia Martel's The Holy Girl (which I've written about before), Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo (which I still don't understand why they don't like), Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless (their dislike for this also mystifies me, yet it's happened three times) -- are accepted.

All except one.

This is a still from the final scene in John Sayles' Lone Star, one of the most impressive movies I have seen about the contemporary American condition. Featuring a complex tapestry of storylines centering about the town of Perdido on the Texan border with Mexico, the film also openly deals with complicated concerns about history and how nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Unlike other films which tackle RACIAL CONCERNS!! with bolded, italicized, capital letters by arming itself with a sledgehammer of stereotypes (hello, Crash!), each person in Sayles' Lone Star is a full-fledged character, even if they only have a single scene.

The movie begins with the discovery of a sheriff's badge and a bullet on a skeleton right outside the town limits. This sends the current sheriff, Sam Deeds (played by Chris Cooper), on a quest to determine whether local hero and lauded sheriff Buddy Deeds -- who happens to be his father -- actually deserves his honor, or whether he killed a fellow sheriff in cold blood. In the process, he unearths many long-buried stories about how the white, black, Mexican and native populations have not-so-carefully gotten along in the interim and how times really have changed.

Add into the mix a rather interesting and tender romance between Sam and schoolteacher Pilar Cruz (Elizabeth Peña). We eventually learn that she is widowed with a teenage son, he is divorced, and that as teenagers themselves they were deeply in love. Torn apart when his father and her mother, a Mexican immigrant, find them hot and heavy at a drive-in, they are forbidden to see one another until now. As the rest of the story unfolds, Sam and Pilar's story seems like an interesting diversion. At one point, we are even offered a very steamy lovemaking scene between Sam and Pilar with Freddy Fender playing in the background.

If you've seen other Sayles films, you'll know that that scene is a bit out of character for him. Indeed, the love scene seems otherwise typical for any other film, shot in a very standard style. But most of Sayles' films don't deal with love in quite this way, so this stands out, even if it doesn't seem that problematic or consequential at the time.

It turns out to be very important. The last scene is very simple: Pilar drives up to the drive-in -- long since abandoned -- to meet Sam for the first time since they had their fling, the very drive-in where their parents separated them so many years ago. And while there, Sam shows her a picture of her parents. That is, a picture of her mother and his father. Yes: at the very end, she -- and we -- find out that his father had been having a secret affair with the Mexican immigrant who he helped save as she was crossing the border. And that what they though was merely their parents' racist attitudes covered a bigger fear: that they would find each other and commit incest instead. May I remind you of the sensuous love scene I described above?

Here is the kicker: she is completely overcome, not believing that after all this time of unrequited love, they are still thwarted. He holds her hand as they sit on the hood of his car.
Sam: If I met you today, I'd still want to be with you.
Pilar: We start from scratch?
Sam: Yeah.
Pilar: All that other stuff-- all that history... to hell with it, right? Forget the Alamo.
And the movie ends.

It's important to know that I usually end my screenings by having a discussion immediately following the credits. Students have usually taken this moment to chat with one another about it and I then offer them the ability to share with everyone what they think, a la 60s cinephilia.

Here's the thing: this is the only movie which hasn't worked well under such circumstances. Upon further reflection, students are able to process the subtle layering of the movie, how this one very quiet scene sends a corkscrew through every other part of the movie. It turns everything around and manages to force us as viewers to reflect on each element of the movie as it has built up. It's a different kind of twist than what we are used to in things like The Sixth Sense or The Usual Suspects, but those movie also allow us with at least a couple shots in a montage to show us just how the twist affects the movie. Lone Star makes us think that for ourselves, which we eventually do. As such, it's an extraordinary piece.

But this ending really messes up your average undergraduate's mind, where all they can think is oh mah gahd, he just slept with his SISTER!!! I mean, heck, Chinatown gave us more time to deal with that. The fact that these otherwise really cool, normal, nice characters not only learn that they have committed an ultimate transgression but that they resolve to be OK with it and keep going -- to "forget the Alamo" indeed -- is just too much to immediately process. Lone Star has an ending that demands thought and time and, as such, stands above many other contemporary films.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Joy to the World

We're up in Cape Cod this Christmas and, although there is no snow around, everyone has been having a good time. Around here, presents are opened on Christmas Eve, so we had fun opening last night -- all except for Xan, who waited until this morning after Santa had delivered. (We've then been opening throughout the day, as he just got overwhelmed with items. He still has two more to open, I think.)

Christmas Eve, however, is usually punctuated by Angela and me -- and now Xan -- accompanying her grandparents to church. A word here: I am now a Unitarian-Universalist, although I have admittedly been lax at getting to services every Sunday; Angela has generally inherited her father's (dis-)taste for anything church-related. In general, however, this is something that Nana in particular loves and we feel it's the best for everyone to go to church, even if it means delaying the Christmas Eve Meal for some time.

I should also say that I happen to love Christmas Eve services. This is, after all, the happiest day in the Christian calendar with no strings attached. If I am ever wistful for Christmas, I think of the services from back home in Lima which, for me, were always a great sign of Christmas, even though it was usualy hot and outside in the summer evening air (which I never got used to for the holidays). My church in Lima does a candlelight service with lots of Christmas carols (and for many years I was forced into the choir as a guy who could sing), so for me Christmas always solidifies with a singing on "Silent Night" as the lights go out and the candles turn on -- but in my world, it features three verses in English and one each in the original German and in Spanish. For me, that's magic.

Two years ago when we were last on the Cape for the holidays, we went to what was billed as a "Birthday Party for Jesus." This turned out to be amazingly wonderful, even for the sub-one-year-old that we had at the time: lots of Christmas carols, a direct rendering of the Christmas story and afterwards a quick round of "Happy Birthday to You" with balloons and cake in the parish hall. Brief, to the point and entirely on a kid's level. It was, to use a word, heavenly. I was actually looking forward to the service this year, gleefully expecting cake.

In the interim, however, the former pastor (who actually married us) has been moved elsewhere and a new pastor -- who we refer to as "Reverend Doctor" since the "Dr." was prominently on display when we attended a memorial service only a month or so ago -- has been installed. We had not been to a regular church service at this church for quite some time.

Certainly, I would not have expected that our venture would be worth recoutning. And yet, here I am

For starters, we walk into the main hall of the church to the musicians practicing, since we're a little early. There is a boy playing trumpet and a woman playing piano. They appear to be playing similar tunes, but are at an interval that is dissonant. "Is the trumpet in a different key?" I turn to ask Angela. "Maybe," she says, "since I don't think piano and trumpet are in the same key. Surely the pianist has figured this out." Indeed, we see the two chatting and they wander off as everyone else is wandering in. Xan picks a row for us to sit in and Nana and we two are happily esconced. There is even a little boy who comes to try to make friends with Xan.

At some point before the service begins, we notice a rather large change to the church: there are now two rather large screens hanging around the cross. Oddly, this seems incongruous to me in this otherwise fiarly normally adorned church and I realize that they have gone high-tech in a way, that the lyrics will be projected. I look down at my program and see the lyrics have also been printed in full here. Why, I think, do we have both? Isn't this a waste of paper?

The service begins and the first thing we realize is that the pianist and the trumpeter clearly have not been talking about how to fix their problem because it's still there. They are still dissonant. This grates on a number of my nerves. Xan, however, is thrilled to pieces and fascinated by the music. It appears that he knows something of "Jingle Bells" and tries in a few places to sing it while he is in my arms.

We quickly fall into "Angels We Have Heard On High." This features the chorus that goes "Glooooooooria, in excelsis deo." Xan perks up with a big smile: "Fire engine!" Indeed, each time the church sings the "Glooooooooria," it sounds like a siren and he starts happily singing along, "Fiiire engiiiine! Wooooo!"

As is to be expected. the lyrics come up on the aforementioned screens. As is to be expected, said lyrics are correctly rendered, sometimes.

There is a skit in the middle of the service, impassionately performed by several of the congregation's kids, where each letter in "Christmas" is noted, with some notation as to how a word beginning with that letter pertains to Christmas (such as "T is for tequila, which you undoubtedly could use right about now"). Before this begins, however, the screen features a lone "C" while the pastor explains what is about to occur. A long animated bell continues to ring on the corner of the screen. Xan lights up, happily yells: "Jingle bells!" The pastor, who has not said anything about what anybody else's kid has done, calls attention to this. Xan then proceeds to repeat each letter as a kid comes forward with a large letter. (As is perhaps to be expected, at one point the word in front of us reads "CHRI2TMAS.")

The Biblical passage that the pastor reads comes from a completely different translation than what appears on screen.

The trumpet and piano still are not together as the carols continue.

The kids are brought up for a small children's sermon, which involves him going on about war. The one cool thing that happens at this service is when he gives the kids bells made from spent cartidges made from the metalic detritus of war in Indochina. Xan has gone up with the rest ofthe kids but, upon seeing a mother with a smaller child in her arms, comes back to drag Angela up with him, thus inducting her into the Dadak tradition of being forced against their will to the front of the church (which apparently happened to her father all the time as he would arrive late to Christmas pageants when only the front row was left).

At some point during this, Nana turns to me and points out a 60-something-year-old man sitting with the kids. "That's Joseph," she says to me. I later find out from Angela's mother that indeed this man played Joseph in aliving nativity scene in front of the church; Mary was played by a 14-year-old. Yeesh.

The kids come back with the bells and I realize that my kid finally got his jingle bell -- and that he won't be the only one making noise for the rest of the service.

This being a kids-oriented service, the pastor then offers a regular sermon where I believe he discusses homeless people in three different cities. At this point, however, Xan gets antsy and forces each of his parents out into the vestibule for a while. (In my time away, we got to look at both the traffic and the parking lot.) I realize by this point that, this being the happiest day of the year, the pastor hasn't smiled once.

For the last hymn, the pastor introduces a new song with a calypso beat. (Remember, we're in Massachusetts, where spicy often means black pepper.) The piano and trumpet are still nopt coordinated, no one else appears to know the tune, the lyrics provided on the screen are half grammtically correct and and half rendered in grammatically-incorrect-yet-possibly-Caribbean-patois-maybe? style, Xan is still happily singing about fire engines on one side and Nana, who is lovely but completely tone-deaf, is singing on the other.

The service ends. We do not stay for cake.

I know Christmas Eve services. Later, I will tell Angela that this was by far one of the worst I have been to, on many levels. Before then, however, we turn to Nana in the car: "How did you like the service?"

"Wasn't it lovely?" Nana said genuinely. "I just love seeing all the kids around. And you."

And that, kids, is what the holidays are all about. Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I think I've seen this someplace before...

Anyone who has taken one of my classes knows that I am somewhat obsessed with fonts. Somehow, I missed this particular font-oriented tidbit, brilliantly put together by Goodie Bag. Now all I need to to see the new documentary Helvetica and my life melding my font and movie obsessions shall be complete.



(Cross-posted at the new Critical Approach to the Cinema blog, for the AU Cinema Studies student community!)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

In lieu of day laborers

Cookie season is under way. Luckily, we now can employ some indentured servitude to get through the many baked goods that need to be made during this time of the year.

Rates per hour will go up when he's able to reach the sink in order to wash the dishes.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Why I still get carded

Overheard this evening, on the bus coming home with Mama:

X: Mercedes is a kid.
A: Yes, she is.
X: And Xan is a kid.
A: Yes, you're right.
X: And Dada is a kid.
A: No, he's a grown-up.
X (in resolve voice, a la Willow Rosenberg): No, he is not a grown-up. Dada's a kid.
A: He may act like a kid sometimes, but he's really a grown-up.
X: No, he's not. Dada's a kid.
(slight pause)
X: Mama's a grown-up.

Well, there you have it.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Ahead and Behind

The grading piles left over from Thanksgiving are finally completed. I am as mystified as everyone else that it has taken this long. But I'm back and, while I have to now make it through the next week of final exams, I may be back to blogging at least a little more regularly.

To celebrate, Angela and I have thought about posting this Way-Too-Much-Information posting for some time now. So, here goes:

The Last Ten Places Xan Has Asked One of His Parents to Kiss Because He Has Hurt It (And Which We Have Subsequently Kissed, Despite Any Aversions)
  1. Head
  2. Finger
  3. Head
  4. Elbow
  5. Head (hmm, trend?)
  6. Head
  7. Tongue ("Dada, I'th bith my thongue. Can you kith it?")
  8. Back
  9. Head
  10. Butt (For the first time, but undoubtedly not the last: "Dada, kiss my butt!")
I would continue this posting, but I think I hear him crawling up to take a flying leap off the ottoman onto the sofa. Again.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Last night

(Paper count:
"Jeff, how many are left?"
"About 20."
"In that stack or overall?"
"Just in that stack. Should have it done tonight or tomorrow. Then one more stack to go before all the finals come in.")

Visions of Holiday to Come (by AMD)

Last night, the three of us were sitting in Xan's room during the handoff between post-bath/pyjamas (Jeff) and pre-story/music (Angela).

"Goodnight, Dada. I love you." Kiss.

"Did you say goodnight to the Christmas tree?"

Xan hops off the bed and excitedly scampers into the living room. "Goodnight Christmas tree." Parents smile. "I love you." Parents giggle. "I give you a hug." Parents panic.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

No se lo digas a nadie

I'm raising my head up from the morass (four piles down, two to go) with news that is not news -- or, rather, that I got news that I don't want to publicly advertise yet because it's not definite yet. (No, nobody's pregnant.) Nonetheless, it points to some very good news. I'll just leave it at that

With one week before the semester ends, it's back to the grind.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Happy Belated Thanksgiving

Hope you all have successfully devoured the Thanksgiving leftovers! Blogger and my Dad's computer didn't like each other, so I couldn't post this earlier. So pretend it is the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and read on.......

Happy Thanksgiving with lots of cranberries (by AMD)

(Jeff's paper count: 2.5 stacks down, 1.5 to go, 3 more coming in by Wednesday night)

One of the joys of being a parent is sharing things you love with your kid. Orchestra pictures will be coming later, but to honor the holiday, let's look at CRANBERRIES!

I grew up with a cranberry bog practically in our backyard. We walked - or in my short running phase, jogged - around it (1.3 miles), learned about its history (used to be a pond), helped harvest, ice-skated on it, etc. We have about a million stories about "our" bog. So naturally we share this experience with Xan.

We had a special treat this year: on the road between the airport and my parents' home we stopped off at a different cranberry bog where my dad was helping a friend with the harvest.



Grumpy (yes, that is really what his grandfather wants to be called- it's great!) walking with Xan on the road between two sections of cranberry bog. Notice the bog on the right in its dry spring-fall dry state and on the left in its winter dress - covered with water (according to my 8th grade research on the topic, this is because cranberries don't like lots of temperature changes, so keeping them under water keeps them at a mostly steady temperature; from personal experience I can say it also makes for a great skating rink in January).



One way to harvest cranberries is "wet:" flood the bog; then use a machine to hit the berries off the vines. The berries rise to the surface, perfect for corralling together (see above). Then they send them an escalator-type contraption to a truck (below).


Berries that are wet harvested are processed into juice and sauce, mostly. (The whole berries you can buy in the store are dry harvested.)

Have a very Happy Thanksgiving! Eat lots of cranberries!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Lion, not bear!

(Jeff's paper count: 1 stack down, 3 to go; 4 more stacks still coming in by Thanksgiving)

Xan's Halloween Report (respectfully submitted by AMD):

8:ooam: "Halloween, Mama! We will get chocolate, and candy, and lollipops!"The latter is the treat of choice this season, oddly inspired weeks ago by two random students on the AU shuttlebus (who left the wrappers on the seats).

3:30pm - protest putting on costume. Agree only when parents plead that it is just for two friends in the department.

3:30pm - trick or treating in the department, starting with the graduate students in the lounge who teach him the classic "trick or treat, smell my feet......"

3:45pm move on to professors in their offices. Handling the "trick or treat" and "thank you" routine with ease. Starts to go further "trick or treat... um... give me good to eat!"


(this photo looks remarkably similar to last year!)

5:00pm Left campus and joined four colleagues and friends in a trick-or-treat friendly part of our town. Angela was very lame and took no photos; Jeff was working at a film screening on campus, so there is no visual evidence of the event.

But if you will, imagine this little lion happily traipsing after a slightly bigger fairy princess on a neighborhood sidewalk in the Halloween dusk. It was magical.

Monday, November 12, 2007

There is no substitute........

While there is no substitute for the true author of this blog, there is also no end in sight to his backlog of papers to grade. So in the interests of not allowing a similar backlog of topics to stymie him when he returns to posting, Jeff is allowing me to procrastinate on my lesson prepping write an entry or two. Basically, I'll be keeping the chronicles of Xan's life up to date and avoiding any movie commentary. For those of you who don't know - I am "Wifeling," Mother-of-Xan, and She-Whom-the-Cat-May-Upon-Occasion-Actually-Obey.

Before putting up Xan posts, I'll start with a quick "life with Jeff" vignette. Specifically, a list of ways to tell that Dr. Middents is in grading mode:

1. The amount of hair product is drastically reduced and instead he controls the poof of his hair with a baseball cap.

2. When I wake up in the wee hours of the morning, he is asleep on the couch / dining room table / floor with a pile of papers on his chest.

3. His futile dialogues with the cat feature lines such as "Vega, would you give this a B or a B+?"

4. He reaches for his 25-pound dictionary, muttering "Oooooh, I absolutely do NOT think that word means what you think it means."

5. He cannot tell you how many papers he has left; he lists how many stacks of papers he has left (4 stacks now - 4 more to come by Thanksgiving)

6. He drinks coffee. Sometimes starting at 10pm. The man almost never drinks coffee.

7. His generally amicable TA says "You're STILL not done?"

8. He begins to sport a grading callous on his right pointer finger.

9. He tries to get his 2-1/2-year-old son to help grade, again.

10. He doesn't blog.

Yet this amazing man will still take Xan around campus to trick-or-treat and bring him to family orchestra concerts (posts and photos coming) - and even do dishes!

Anyone have any advice for Jeff as he grades?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Stuck

Like Xan in playground equipment somewhere in Capitol Hill, it may seem like I'm stuck. Angela's aunt rightly is chastising me for having first asked who is reading this blog... only to then not post in forever. Believe me, I've wanted to. But right now I'm behind the 8-ball with a ton of grading to wade through and seemingly no time to do it in. (Mustard gas seems to be part of the problem. That will make a good posting.)

Which goes to say that I'll be back, soon. But for now there are a few more papers to go...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Come out, come out, wherever you are!

The Great Mofo Delurk 2007
I saw this the other day and thought this was a great idea: so many of us read each other's blogs but then rarely comment. We lurk. Never participate.

So let's show ourselves. I'm going to delurk myself at the various blogs I read. I encourage you to do the same. Including this one: say hi! Wave! Introduce yourself! Ask me embarrassing questions which I'll try to reply! let's see how many people are really reading this.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

So what did you learn today?

As I have mentioned, Xan started preschool just a couple weeks ago. His routine is fairly free-form, but they usually have one major planned activity for each day. The school was nice enough to give us a calendar of these activities. For example, later in the month, the class will be cooking pumpkin muffins. The idea, of course, is that when your child comes home, you'll be able to steal his muffins ask what happened at school today.

Thus it was that, as we were about to start dinner, we looked at the calendar on the fridge and saw that today was marked cryptically with "What Happens in the Fall?" "What the heck is that?" Angela murmured to me. "Beats the heck out of me," I replied under my breath.

As we sit down, Xan has already started taking out the offending elements from his rice. An aside here: I can't believe the food pickiness has finally begun. "I don't like mushrooms," Xan declared as I put down his plate, which had a nice dollop of brown rice mixed with mushrooms and onions. "Since when?" I said to him, since I've seen him eat them with gusto before, and since he said it in the same tone he uses when he wants to be obstinate. ("No, I don't want to go to school!" "Xan, you love school." "No, I don't like school." "Do you like cookies?" "No, I don't
like cookies." I have actually had this conversation. Indeed, I have a variation of this every time I try to get out of the door in the morning.) Rather than fight this battle tonight, Ange and I quickly de-mushroomed his rice; after all, more 'shroom for me! "And I don't like onion," he said. "Oh no, Mama and Dad took all the mushrooms out, you have to take care of the onions." Luckily, this time, he took this as fair and proceeded to do so. This is what he was doing when we sat down.

"So," Ange turns to Xan loudly, "what happens in the fall?"

Suddenly, a little face brightened immeasurably. If you know of my son's cute sing-songy voice, please apply your memory of it to the following. The reply was brimming with happiness.

"In the fall," he declared, "the leaves fall from the trees."

Holy crap, I thought. That's right. Jeez, are they actually teaching him something over there?
Angela and I looked at each other, quite impressed with school.

"And in the fall," he kept going, "the rain falls on the leaves and then the leaves fall from the trees."

Why, yes, I thought, that's also true. Not to mention that fact that I'm actually hearing a comma there. He's even recognizing the use of the dependent clause!

Ain't no stopping him now. Still happy as can be: "And in the fall, the leaves are green and yellow and red and orange and brown."

Wow, that's really goo-

"And in the FALL, the cars go zoom-zoom very, very fast."

Ange and I look at each other quizzically since we hear about cars that do this every day, not just in the fall. OK. Well, I suppose that could happen in the fall, but-

"And in the
FALL, the juice comes down from the trees and splashes me in my face and in my mouth."

Blink. What the he-

"And in the FALL, the rain comes and the trucks with mushrooms and the kids turn over I play with the water and get very very wet but not with a diaper."

By this point, I'm hiding the fact that I'm laughing hysterically at the gibberish that is clearly happening in the fall. Angela is doing her best to smile-and-nod because he is directing all this to her since she asked the question. She, too, is losing it.

This went on for -- and this is not hyperbole -- about 10 minutes, with a flurry of statements all beginning very forcefully (but cheerfully) with "In the fall, . . ." with about half the statements making perfect sense and the other half scripted by pre-Mexican Luis Buñuel. It was brilliant.

I almost can't wait to see what will happen in a couple weeks, when the calendar says they'll be talking about the "Gray Squirrel."

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Ode on a Sugar-Filled Urn

Tonight was the annual MA/MFA student Literary Dessert Party, whereby everyone is asked to bring a dessert inspired by a work of literature. More points were given for creativity than taste, which only partially explains why we lost. (Also a big reason: some of the professors wanted a student to win and refused to vote for a professor. Which I thought, quite frankly, was idiotic. And no, that was not me trying to bribe my current students with extra credit points so that they would vote for our cake. And no, I'm not bitter that I lost the flashing tiara prize. Nope. Not at all. sniff...) Indeed, we were asked to vote before we were allowed to taste anything; after trying our cake, four profs came up to me afterwards and lamented that they had voted for someone else because they were just melting in the yumminess of our cake.

Anyway, the winner -- one of my former students -- was clear from the minute I walked in:In case it isn't obvious by looking at it, count the layers: it's Dante's Inferno Cake. That's right: nine layers of hellacious goodness. And yes, those are nine separate cakes stacked on top of one another. I mean, jeez, how could I not vote for that? Do you see how much frosting is there? "It's an architectural marvel!" one of us remarked. And it was actually tasty to boot.

Ours? Well, if you remember the last time Angela made a cake (that time for Xan's birthday), it should come as no surprise that we were also on the extravagant side:
Behold: Chocoblanca!
("It doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of cocoa beans in this crazy world.")

Yes, not strictly "literary," but I teach film in a lit department, so my field must be asserted somehow. The cake itself is a ridiculously delicious chocolate cheesecake, containing Bailey's Irish Cream and a full pound each of cream cheese and dark chocolate. And yes, the rendering of Bogey and Bergman is done is dark chocolate on top. Naturally, Angela made the cake, I only helped with the decorating at the very end. I also bought the ingredients. ("So, should I buy any of the light or lowfat versions of these ingredients, Ange?" "For this cake? Hell, no.")

The worst part? Poor Ange didn't feel well, thus missed a party whose raison d'etre was dessert, which tells you how ill she was feeling. Xan, meanwhile, ate six of the nine layers of my slice of the Hell Cake pictured above and then started zipping around the party like a wildebeast. These were, by the way, only two of what were at least 35 different dessert entries (two inpired by Dante, two by Achebe's Things Fall Apart, one "Love Song of J. Alfred Pruefrock," a Life of Pi(e), one Bluest Eye, one Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and one basket of apples which came with the label Paradise Lost). I came home and immediately needed something salty.

Next year? Maybe One Hundred Cookies of Solitude.

The winner (a.k.a. Bitch stole my flashing tiara, dammit!!)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Fujis weren't ready yet. Well, maybe one was.

That's right! It's apple-picking season, and time for the annual trip to the Homestead Farms out in Poolesville, where everyone goes to pick their own apples. Literally, it will be everyone in a few weeks, which is why we went this weekend when it was still early in the season. As it was, we still ran into old friends we hadn't seen in awhile.
Jolie was back again for more apple-picking goodness and it was great to see KC and JP again. They took off a little on the early side, perhaps because last year we all developed a taste for the scrumptious Pink Lady variety and most of what was ripe was just Red Delicious, the eternally misnamed fruit.

Perhaps they took off because they sensed the silliness that was about to occur.Yes, this is how Angela and Jeff attempt to get the apples from higher in the tree. There were ladders. There were poles. But this was fun. (Plus, Xan seemed to get a kick out of the fact that someone besides him could go on Dada's shoulders. And that that someone should happen to be Mama.)We're actually planning on going back again because with only 20 pounds of apples, we'll be ready for more in about a month or so, when the ones we really like will be in play. Mmmm, tart apples.

The shirt I'm wearing is worth noting. It did happen to be on the top of the pile of t-shirts, but it turned out to be quite appropriate. You may notice that it says "Chile" on it. My father-in-law got it for me and was very proud of himself. I looked at it and thought, Wow, this really is a great shirt, color and all, and it's a soccer oriented shirt! I said thank you.

"I got it right," he said, happily.

Ange glared at him. "Peru, Dad."

With look of horror: "Oh, no. They haven't been at war with one another, have they?"

"Just the War of the Pacific. Very bloody." He looked sick. "But I really do like the shirt!"

Today, however, was a good day to wear the shirt since, as it turns out, the Chileans finally did Peru a good turn after all.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Class is in

So this is where he's going to go.

We took a few pictures a while back to get him used to the idea that he's going to preschool. We just happened to have him around as we were dropping off some papers, so now he got to experience it firsthand. Naturally for him, he didn't want to leave once he saw it.

For almost two years, I've had the immense pleasure and joy of being a part-time stay-at-home dad. As much as I agonized giving up whole workdays -- which ate considerably into getting-the-book-done time -- I never complained, nor regretted it. Few dads in particular either can or choose to spend time with their kids, so I knew that I had a good gig going here. I also knew that it would end all too soon.

Tuesday was my last full day with him and I think he was prepping me by being as impossible as he could for most of the day, so that by the end of the day I would say, "OK, fine. Thank goodness he's a-goin' to school." That said, I'm already still looking to see when are the first days when, gosh darn it, the center is closed and look! it's my day off!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

I (do not) win

I would like to announce that I officially introduced my son to the world of board games today. I have always loved board games, ever since I was a little kid -- virtually any board game will get me going. I have blogged before on the usual game played in out house among the adults, but I saw a really neat version of a good game at the mall today that was markdown-priced and thought, It's time to induct the new generation into another passion of mine.

What I was not expecting was that I would get my ass completely beaten to a bloody pulp.

Yes, it's true. I have not lost in any game by such a large margin in a very long time. And it's not like I was trying to play badly so that my son would be bolstered by a win. No, by sheer luck, my game piece was barely past the opening while my son crossed over the finish line. It wasn't even close. I was crushed like a bug.

Indeed, it may take a little while for me to recover to play Candyland again.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

"It took all the strength I had not to fall apart"

Somebody who I hadn't spoken to in a little while called and asked how Xan was dealing with the terrible twos. "Has he entered into the 'NO NO NO NO' phase?" she asked. "Well, in his own way," I replied. "And by that, I mean he seems to offer further explanations with his 'no.' It's rarely a simple 'no.'"

He has actually done this for a while (in fact, I blogged about what turned into his favorite phrase at least once) Case in point for the new version: This morning, the three of us were in the car to go to work when suddenly Gloria Gaynor came through the speakers, discussing her post-breakup Survival skillz. Naturally, because disco was involved, we in the front seats started car-dancing and singing along with Gloria: "At first I was afraid I was petrified..."

The back seat disapproved. "No!" came the shout. "No dancing! No singing."

This has happened quite a bit lately, the plea for no more frivolity. And I have to say, it's not because the two of us are tone-deaf. I also have a hard time remaining quiet and morose all the time, particularly when he is having so much fun. We stopped for a minute, then suddenly bounced back: "And so you're back! From outer spa-"

"No, no! Mama and Dada, stop singing and dancing." There was some actual distress here.

"Listen," I patiently explained, "all the books we read indicate the singing with your child is a good thing, even if you have a bad voice. And not only don't we have bad voices, we have good voices. And I know you haven't read those books yet, but that's what they say, so there you go. Not to mention that this is disco, which is definitely indicates the necessity for dancing."

He contemplated that for a moment.

"And besides," I continued, "Mama and Dada sing because we're happy."

This, he could counter: "No."

"No?"

"No. Mama and Dada are not happy."

"Really."

"Yes. Mama and Dada are not happy."

I looked at Angela. "Well, I was hoping it would be a good day with the students, but I'll have to tell them that I was told I was 'not happy' today. I wish I had something to grade, man."

Angela stopped giggling enough to pipe in at this point. "Does that mean Mama is sad?"

"Yes," Xan said, "Mama is crying."

Angela proceeded to cry. I continued, "And that must mean Dada is angry." I then started growling like a lion.

This actually made him happy. He forgot that we were not supposed to sing and dance by this point and we could go back to doing that eventually -- although the downside was that we were then met with cries of "Mama, cry please! And Dada, please growl!" for much of the rest of the trip.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Telluride 2007 (a week later)

See that picture? That's one happy cat, taking in the gorgeous mountain air, so thin and so wonderful that all you can do is avoid it entirely by sitting inside a theater to watch movies.

Many people reading this may know that Angela and I are fortunate enough to work the Telluride Film Festival each Labor Day weekend. I have been going since I was a stealth programming intern distribution manager way back in '94 and have tried to go every year since. I have not been to any of the world's other major festivals -- heck, I've only attended other film fests of any sort in Lima and Washington -- but from what I hear, I don't want to go anywhere else. Telluride is special: a fantastic location, a fest where stars are free to walk down the main street without the stalkerazzi, and where the U.S./World Premieres of the Movies That Will Be for that year share space with some quirky, fun stuff, retrospectives and restored/re-found films you'd never see anywhere else. (Heck, last year, one of my favorites turned out to be William Wyler's Dodsworth, which I had never seen.) It also is, as Ken Burns said at the staff introduction, "home" of sorts, where I see fellow film geeks (many of us part of the so-called "Dartmouth Mafia" of former directors of the Dartmouth Film Society) who are not necessarily also film academics. It's the fest-for-folk-who-really-love-movies, and it's a pleasure to be able to go.

Last year, I attempted to post daily, but I was caught up in my new position as "ringmaster," which means basically I'm the emcee at a particular theater. In the case of my theater, this also meant I came up with trivia questions to auction off the TCM (our theater sponsor) versions of Scene-It. (It's all about having Rosebud as a game piece, trust me. This is why, this year, the aforementioned Ken Burns was thrilled to win a copy for himself, heh heh.) Back then, I still got a chance to see some of the "new cool stuff" when The Last King of Scotland and Jindabyne still played at my theater.

This time, however, not a chance: the "big" movies sailed past my theater into the larger spaces only, leaving only the more esoteric choices for us. This usually doesn't bother me, but I winced at seeing a movie play twice in our theater, if only because that meant I couldn't see another movie, dammit. (Don't they think of me?) Chained as I was to the theater, this means that I can't comment on the likes of the premieres like Juno (the big fest hit), Persepolis, Margot at the Wedding, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The Savages or Into the Wild. All missed, because of programming. (I did catch two of the "bigger" films, but we'll get to that in a moment.) And, if you're interested in commentary on those films (and others), check out JJ's blog: a former student (who is the spitting image of Jack Nicholson these days, I tell ya) and an alum of the Telluride Student Symposium program, he is now also a happy fest slave like me, only he's at a theater that gets the bigger films. (Further tangent: if you ever want to see someone run quickly, try dancing close to a former student. I laughed myself silly.) In any case, the two blogs together give a nice overview of a lot of the fest.

What I Liked:
  • Jar City (Mýrin): This was a taut thriller from Iceland which, in many ways, could have been very standard fare. Yet, between the extraordinary Icelandic atmosphere (complemented by the horrifying Icelandic food, which led me to actually ask the director if the food was supposed to be taked as "horrifying" or if it was just Icelandic fast food... and 'twas the latter...), and a cast who looking more intriguing than attractive (I don't think it's an accident that the only classically "good looking" character gets his nose broken early on), there lies a carefully spun story that left a gritty, yet satisfying taste in my mouth. A week later, I still remember this one as what was ultimately my favorite of the fest.
  • Secret Sunshine (Milyang): This one won the Best Actress award at Cannes (apparently the first time for an Asian) -- and wow, I can understand completely. This contemporary story finds a young widow and her son returning to her husband's small hometown, where she puts up a front to try to establish herself as a successful person -- with disastrous results that lead to the second part of the movie, which becomes less an exploration of faith as much of an examination of a singular character. Smaller than it initially appears, the movie follows the character of Shin-Ae through a cavalcade of situations and emotions that becomes riveting.
  • A Thousand Years of Good Prayers: I think a lot of people didn't like this one but here's another quiet meditation that turns out to be more than it initially seems. We forget that the guy who made Maid in Manhattan, Because of Winn-Dixie and The Joy Luck Club, also made things like Smoke; here, Wayne Wang films a not-so-simple story about culture- and generation-clashes (between a Chinese father and the Americanized daughter he is visiting) in a quiet, natural way. I'm also now inspired to read the story by Yiyun Li upon which the film is based.
  • Edith Kramer: Every year, Telluride brings in a guest director to program some (hopefully) unusual yet interesting material. This year, the selection fell to the former curator of the Pacifica Film Archive, no small cookie. While I was only partially enthralled by her selections (I'm still not quite there yet with George Kuchar and I thought the "old film" selection of Millions Like Us was good but not overwhelmingly thrilling), I was charmed by Edith herself, who was a delight to work with, had some amazing stories to tell and absolutely, positively refused to sit down in the theater at all, preferring a side stance so as to view the audience along with the film. A true film lover, she charmed me every time she walked into the theater.
  • Peter Sellars: Several years ago, I was told that I should be thoroughly insulted if I did not receive a hug from fest regular Peter Sellars, who really did seem to hug everyone; last year, therefore, his presence was sorely missed. This year he came back, and with a documentary about him to boot. I knew he was simply one of the most amazingly wonderful human beings I've ever known; I had no idea that he is literally brilliant. Watching the doc on him (particularly given how absolutely, shamefully ignorant I was concerning what he did outside the festival), I just sat in awe of what he has accomplished and what he is. Today, I asked a colleague about him and she happily extolled his importance in the history of both theater and opera. The funny thing is that I can't even aspire to be what he is, on so many levels. And yet, the man still hugs me. Such a thrill.
What I Am Solidly on the Fence About:
  • I'm Not There: Ah, the new Todd Haynes, a.k.a. the flick where Cate Blanchett plays Bob Dylan. Overall, I thought that the notion of having her (and Christian Bale and Richard Gere and Heath Ledger and...) play Dylan was a thrilling, compelling choice. Let me go on record right now by saying that she is seriously the best thing about the picture, bar none. The idea of fragmenting Dylan's life, intermixing the yarns of his songs and the yarn that was his life, is tour-de-force. And yet -- for experimental it wants to be, I actually have a problem with the very thing that it's getting press for: its use of stars in these roles. Yes, Dylan is a star now, and so are the characters that he sings about, but oddly enough, I could rarely get beyond the notion that I was watching Richard Gere on screen to really be able to process more beyond that. In the end, I couldn't tell whether the film was brilliant or a brilliant mess -- and, a week later, I'm still not sure, although I'm tending toward the latter.)
What I Really Didn't Care For
  • Let's forget for a moment that this is a feature film doing what documentaries have already done. Let's really forget the politics of it all. Let's just look at Redacted, the de Palma secret flick that just won him the Best Director prize at Venice, somewhat inexplicably from my point of view. It's about the current war and, like I'm Not There, also has an ambitious, innovative way to present itself: by using the same tools used by the soldiers to document their own stories: regular video cameras, blogs, videophones, etc. I thought this was inspired and, when I found out that my little theater was going to have the U.S. Premiere of the film (having debuted only a night before in Venice! with a live feed from there featuring de Palma himself!!!), I actually got a little excited. (This, after I figured out the title. "Redacted?" I kept saying, "why are they not giving me the name? How silly." This is what I get for actually knowing what words mean.) And yet -- like the Haynes film, actually -- it seems this didn't quite work. Here, the acting seems "fake" throughout and the amateurish quality (which might have been intentional) of the atrocities, while stark, were otherwise unconvincing for me. The Q&A didn't help me with the film either. It doesn't matter that I agree with the film's politics: I didn't think the film was all that to begin with.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Last Smackdown Show


The Supporting Actress Smackdown is up! This is an interesting one, with a really wide variety of opinions. (I'm stunned that I'm the one championing Ann-Margaret.) It really was fascinating to watch this set of flicks and I'm delighted by the collective disagreement. (Even if my gal didn't win.)

In case you're wondering, the nominees are:
  • Ann-Margaret in Carnal Knowledge
  • Ellen Burstyn in The Last Picture Show
  • Barbara Harris in Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? (trivia fact: the longest title to ever garner an Oscar nomination!)
  • Cloris Leachman in The Last Picture Show
  • Margaret Leighton in The Go-Between
Don't know some of these films? Me neither -- which is why this was such a hoot. Carnal Knowledge features a very young Jack Nicholson who is all kinds of sexy; Who Is Harry... features a younger Dustin Hoffman who is all kinds of not. Check it out.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Crash boom bah

There's an amazingly awesome storm going on right now, while I am finding things for my last syllabus and I'm recovering from a lovely day. Today we had a completely family-oriented day, complete with something we have been wanting to institute for quite a long time:

Family Reading Time.

Yes, at some point today (probably inspired by the ridiculously hot weather), chez Middents-Dadak got right down to it with all three of us with a large book in hand, quietly reading away. Xan's current choice of obsession, found last week at the library: Richard Scarry's Cars, Trucks and Things That Go. This is a monster book that takes us almost a half-hour to get through: about 50 pages or so, chock-full of all sorts of pictures of the best things in the world, which are cars and trucks. (In the library the other day -- X: "That's a pickle truck!" J: "Yes, Xan, that is a pickle truck." Noticing a mom looking at me funny, I continue: "You think I'm nuts. It says right here, 'pickle truck.'") This afternoon, he sat quietly leafing through the pages on his bed while Ange and I secretly beamed, surrounding him with love and books of our own.

At this moment, the rain (much-needed) is pouring down in an amazing display, and a thunderclap broke nearby with a loud crash. I just checked the house and everyone still slumbers; all is well.

Tomorrow (Sunday) is officially my last day of summer, what with the new semester starting on Monday. If I finish the syllabi early enough, I plan to finally put up a summer recap. Also, tomorrow is the Supporting Actress Smackdown for 1970 over at Stinkylulu - check it out to see how my gal Ellen holds up against the other candidates 27 years later.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Now that's what I'm talking about

If you would like to know what it's like to do my job sometimes, I would recommend reading this long, but scarily accurate posting about what it's like to go from a graduate student to a professor. I have felt much of this at many times and, from the comments, it also clearly resonates with other young professors.

A fun read, as we head pell-mell into back-to-school mode. (Gee, do classes really begin Monday? And gee, am I really leaving for Colorado a week from today? Wow...)

UPDATE: Gone, baby, gone -- the manuscript got sent out today. Will arrive in the midwest on Tuesday. Wish me luck!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Xanasaurus Rex


Wow. I just saw this picture that Angela took from a visit to the Zoo this weekend. I absolutely love it. Would anyone like to caption this?
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I am a film studies god

At least I tried to convince my new set of students of that yesterday, when I met the large majority of them at the University College kick-off. (Humorously, the Dean said that all of the professors in the program were tenured. Maybe he knows something I don't know? "Hey, folks, guess what? The Dean said I was tenured! It's all over with!! Woo-hoo!!!" Ah, if it was only that easy.) I'm excited by the new semester, and the group of students seem very cool -- and hey, without knowing it, one of them even cited as one of his favorite movies of the year a film that we'll be watching in class!

Anyway, I'm not claiming to be a real film studies god -- but I will get a chance to play on someone else's blog this coming weekend. Perhaps because of my participation in various blog-a-thons, I have been asked to participate in Stinkylulu's Supporting Actress Smackdown! (This month: 1971.) As it turns out, JJ will be participating as well, so we're currently going to shuttle videotapes back and forth. Yes, tapes. Wow. I'm excited to see how things turn out, myself. Tune in on Sunday!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Exposing my child to Evil

At lunch today, I told the Pájarotorres that I had exposed my child to Evil. "Oh?" said Señor Pájaro. "Yes," said I, "and can you guess what that means in my world?" He thought for a moment. "It does not involve Dick Cheney," I added.

They were stumped.

"I have exposed him to Disney*," I said.

"Well," said Señor P, "not all Disney is bad. I mean, how about the old stuff."

"Ah," I said, "but that's exactly what I exposed him to. Old Disney."

Specifically, The Three Caballeros. Full disclosure: Last night, I was previewing this for my upcoming course on Cinemas of Latin America. I have wanted to include this for quite some time now and I usually just show a clip; my being away for the Telluride Film Festival right at the beginning of the semester, however, allows for it to be shown right at the beginning.

I show the film in this class for a very simple reason: the film exemplifies what Disney (read: Hollywood, read: U.S. filmmakers/audiences) thought of Latin Americans at the time. It's significant because the film was made in 1944 explicitly as part of the Good Neighbor policy to appeal to both U.S. and Latin America markets to show how the entire hemisphere are "birds of a feather." Walt Disney was, in fact, one of two Hollywood filmmakers that toured Latin America on the government's dime to make films that would inspire such camaraderie. (Famously, the other was Orson Welles, whose unfinished film It's All True was exactly not what the U.S. government wanted.) The premise of the film is simple: it's Donald's birthday and his "friends from Latin America" send him some presents, including a filmstrip about a crazy penguin and a gauchito with a flying donkey, a book which produces his good friend Zé Carioca (a cigar-smoking parrot, established in Saludos Amigos, the preceding fuller-length venture into Good Neighbor cartoons) and a piñata-carrying, gun-toting new best friend from Mexico, Panchito the rooster.

Looked at with a keen eye, the film is horribly racist and sexist on many levels. For one thing, at two points in particular, the Latin Americans seem ignorant about their respectiveown cultures: Zé, after extolling the virtues of Baía, admits he has never been there himself; meanwhile, Panchito sings in the title track, "We say, '¡Ay, carramba!'/ What means, 'ay, carramba'?/ Oh yes, I don't know!" Panchito, in particular, is rife with stereotypical depictions reminiscent of Pancho Villa with his two guns and a giant sombrero, and he brings Donald and Zé to Acapulco explicitly to dive-bomb the bikini-clad girls on the beach while flying on a serape. ("Typically American," Donald is a horn-dog from start to finish, of course.) The film is in line with many other studio-period depictions of Latin Americans, from 1933's Flying Down to Rio to 1939's Stagecoach and beyond.

Anyway, last night while previewing, it hit me: Xan would love this.

With that in mind, I could appreciate the wacky zaniness when Donald gets stuck within the animation that precedes Panchito's entrance. I absolutely love the gorgeous images and luscious music of "Baía." Indeed, I think the entire sequence in Brazil is fantastic -- and that includes the part that I slammed above:


The antics of the aracuán are not only hilarious, but also prefigure some antics in the (superior) Warner Brothers cartoon Duck Amuck:


So this morning, right before heading out for lunch and since he and Angela had just come back from checking out the new baby anteater at the Zoo, I decided to show him about 20 minutes of the movie.

Naturally, he loved it. Particularly the aracuán.

So it is that while I am teaching to my students as an example of "horrific portrayals of Latin American in Hollywood film," I may purchase it for myself to show to my son. I figure as long as I stop it before the Mexican sequence begins -- I don't need to explain guns, really, nor Donald's trippy end sequence, and really, it's not like there's a plot within the film -- I may still be OK. And hey, it's just as incongruous as my being Latin and still loving West Side Story... right?

Still, I have exposed him to the Evil Mouse Empire. How long before he wails to go to Disneyworld instead of to colonial Williamsburg? Sigh.

* Apologies to KC, who blogs nice with the Mouse House, heh.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A little shook up

I had planned tonight to finally blog about something fun, but my parents just called to inform me that a really major earthquake hit Peru very close to Lima earlier this evening. For those not in the know, Ica is on the coast in the heart of wine country and not far from Nazca, where the lines are located. This quake measured somewhere between 7.5 and 7.9 on the Richter scale, which puts it in league with the last Big Quake to hit Peru in 1970, which is one of the worst ever to hit worldwide, having caused an avalanche that wiped out entire cities. Making that connection right now makes me so thrilled that this wasn't as big of a disaster as it clearly could have been. (Nontheless, this also disproves my theory that Larcomar, the posh mall built into said cliffs, would fall right into the ocean with the first major earthquake. I always said that that would bring new meaning to the phrase, "Shop 'Til Ya Drop." I slay me with my wit.)

For as dirty and horrible as it is -- indeed, there is a book from the 60s by Sebastian Salazar Bondy called Lima, la horrible -- I do still consider Lima as "the place where I come from," much more so than Long Island. Beyond my own academic work, I have very personal ties to the city and to the country. The odor of dust, smoke, smog and sea that greets me when I step off the plane at Jorge Chávez International Airport has long been the smell of home for me, something instantly familiar, if also bracing. In many ways, Lima is the worst part about Peru and the thing I hate the most -- and yet, it's home.

All that said, no matter how long I lived there, I never got over a (not necessarily irrational) fear of earthquakes, particularly the Big One which would (will? yikes) decimate Lima. I have never been in a really major earthquake, although living on the 15th floor of an apartment building made some major tremors seem pretty horrible. (One happened when I stayed home from school to get a paper done. My parents weren't home and I ran to the elevator shaft, where I prayed to God that if He would make it stop and brought my parents back safely, I would never stay home from class ever again just to get an extra day of work. I kept that promise, too.) Given Lima's location right on the fault line between the Nazca and South American tectonic plates (I think I have that right), the prospect of a Big Quake is an inevitability. Thankfully, this wasn't it. But -- and this is true -- I still occasionally randomly think of my family in a big quake and it hurts my heart in so many ways.

I will also confess this here and now: they say that what you fear most often brings about some great creativity -- and it is true that the long piece of fiction that has been sitting in my head for over a decade, waiting to come out (tenure, please... tenure...) is based around a seismic event.

In any case, my aunt called to say that everyone in the family was OK. In fact, one side of the family is now hunkered down in her house -- which is built like a giant concrete bunker -- just in case a stronger aftershock should come. My love goes out to them, and to everyone else in coastal Peru tonight.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Back to life

...as Soul II Soul once said. I have been very lax on posting, mainly because of a lack of a high speed connection (and, quite frankly, some time). But the vacation ends on Friday when I head back to DC with the boy and hopefully I'll be able to relate some fun info soon thereafter.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

And they all die in the end!

Having pre-ordered the book, ensured its delivery to Cape Cod on the right date, and received it yesterday afternoon around 1:00PM, I proceeded to stay up until around 5:30AM to read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows all the way through. It is quite the riveting tale and I relished every page even as I was reading as quickly as possible -- not just to ensure that I would be able to get to the end before anyone told me about it, but also before my 13-year-old Potter-obsessed nephew (along with my sister- and brother-in-law) arrived to steal the book away from me. Plus, I knew I wasn't going to legitimately get any free time to read it and still attempt to be any sort of dad paying attention to my son's burgeoning trampoline skillz unless I finished it as quickly as possible. And hey, it's ben a while since I've pulled an all-nighter.

Anybody who knows my good buddy Marcy will tell you that the title of my posting gives nothing away: this is a common response to all plots and can only be confirmed by actualy reading it yourself. (So there. Nyah.) I have been somewhat amused about the attempts at covering up some major issues of "spoilering" which I refrained from reading entirely until today. The best one that I heard, however, comes from the NPR Quiz Show "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!" whose first segment featured host Peter Segal stating that audio-version actor Jim Dale refused to let on the Potter ending -- which featured, among other elements, the ending that everybody loves "when Ginny [Weasley] and Cho Cheng drive a Cadillac convertible right into the Grand Canyon or, much to Joey's chagrin, Hermione decides to move in with Ross, or . . . the most satisfying part when Harry Potter finally whacks Tony Soprano." (And hey, how's this for blogging synergy: the special guest this week on "Wait, Wait!" was Patrick Fitzgerald, who Marcy talks about considerably in her book! Score!)

(Yes, there will be more posting. I don't have a direct-to-Internet connection at my in-laws, but when I do there are a whole lotta pictures to put up. And besides, did I mention that I'm on vacation?)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Like a dirty shirt

I'm off! Just cleaned everything up, packed my stuff and am on the road to join the family in Massachusetts. I miss them just a little too much. I got a lot of work done as well (although I didn't finish quite everything, I think I can actually relax a bit and read some short stories over the next few weeks). Itinerary: New York (sister-in-law), Cape Cod (rest of Ange's fam), Rochester (old friend), Ann Arbor (my fam), back to DC. Whew! Good thing I got the car looked at.

Monday, July 09, 2007

"Turn in your teasin' comb and go back to high school"

Yes. Well.

Her name began with an A. (I would love to offer the full first name and I so rarely blog about students because I don't think it's ethical, but this was a public enough event and, in fact, she's not one of my students at all.) She was in the back of the room of the New Student Orientation at the program called "Academic Transitions," where a whole roomful of students role-play a hypothetical situation where a student is overwhelmed with school, issues and life and they have to offer advice. Each group brainstorms ideas and a representative offers up the top three choices, including one that is meant to be "unique." This if the fifth of five of these sessions being held this summer and I attend as a representative faculty member who then offers advice as well. I have been doing this for a few summers now and generally enjoy it; I also know that the fifth is usually (a) the biggest and (b) the hardest. Students who wait until the end often self-select this session for a reason. Of note, it's also hot outside today.

Of the many groups, A went first. In order, her advice to the student who was just a little overstressed was that she needed to:
  1. Get laid.
  2. Find a student who had taken the class before and pay them to write the paper.
  3. If that doesn't work, hire someone to kill the professor.
Ha. Yeah.

I should say that nearly every other time that I have done this kind of thing, the kids have been great and play along really well. And, in (some) fairness, I should say that this time A was one of three representatives this time that suggested offing the prof. (At least they didn't suggest sleeping with us, which we've heard a few times.) I also don't take this particular bit of "naughty posturing" as a comment on students as a whole who, as a group, I am not cynical enough yet to believe all think this way. In fact, to everyone's credit, all of these smarmy answers (including all of A's) were met with real unease by the rest of the group, not the laughter or cheers I'm sure they expected to elicit.

When it came time to give my spiel, however, I said to the entire group of around 150 students, "My first bit of advice is that A needs to not take any of my classes in the four years that she's here. Your orientation leader, who has taken three of my classes, can tell you that that kind of attitude isn't going to fly very far in my class. And, by the way, nice way to make an impression."

Just This: Once


Instead of a make-up class this last semester, I decided to bring some local critics to talk to my classes. In addition to my usual fabulous house critics, Movie Mom Nell Minow, we also brought along New York Times stringer Jeanette Catsoulis, who was hilarious and charming. Someone asked her what her favorite movie the year was and, without hesitation, she said, "There's this amazing little Irish movie coming out called Once. You should see that."

OK. Almost three months after she said that, I finally did. Thanks, Jeanette.

This quiet, unassuming movie stars the lead singer of the Frames, a band which I had heard of somewhat but not really paid attention to, and a young Czech woman. They're scruffy, not your regular movie star types. He's busking on the streets of Dublin and the movie begins with an intense performance of him performing. For the first few minutes, I thought that perhaps would just be a long music video -- but while watching some of the performances, I started to realize that (hey, looky there!) the characters and story were building very incrementally underneath. And, however familiar the movie was starting to seem, it didn't look even remotely like what I thought it was going to look like. And I was really loving it.

I had thought about seeing a second film afterwards and realized that the smile on my face was just too big and too satisfying that I didn't need another movie. That hasn't happened in a while, I think.

At some point, I realized with some amusement that, indeed, this was actually a musical. I've refrained from putting that here until now because I don't want people to be turned off by that and sometimes the m-word does that. As many of the earth-shatteringly glowing reviews (seriously, Rotten Tomatoes has it at a whopping 97%, 100% of the "cream of the crop folks, and I hadn't read much about it beforehand) have indicated, however, the movie stands to appeal to even the non-musical lover. So I have no problem saying to anyone reading this to go searching for this flick, or at least put it on the Netflix list. It's that charming.

Jeanette has a great interview with actor Glen Hansard and director (and former Frames bassist!) John Carney at Reverse Shot.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

¡Ay, Ninón!

I only just found out about this blog-a-thon, so I'm late on the scene; nonetheless, I was taken for a moment by the idea of "the performance that changed my life." Indeed, there are so many that I consider near and dear to my heart: Gene Kelly in Singin' in the Rain, Claude Rains in Casablanca, James Dean in Rebel without a Cause, Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves and (perhaps surprisingly) Arsinée Khanjian in Speaking Parts. I saw all of these for the first time (or at least seriously for the first time) either right after college or during graduate school and therefore during my formative period as a professional film geek; hence, all these are at least influential.

But which performance changed my life? That would probably be...

Ninón Sevilla as Elena Tejero in Aventurera

Ninón is not the best-known actress from the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema from the 1940s; indeed, she may not even be the best, considering that she would be competing with luminaries like María Félix and Dolores del Rio. But she's definitely got something. (She's the one in the center of the picture above. As if you could look anywhere else -- although yes, Miguel Inclán is one of the most amazing character actors ever.) In the cabaretera films (a genre which mixes the musical, the melodrama and film noir in a singularly Mexican way), Sevilla
was by far and above the best. In this film, she captivates the screen: defiant, sexual, sure of her destiny and her doom. She's fierce and she's fiesty and she wears pineapples on her head in one rump-shaking dance number.But why is this the performance that changed my life? Well, there are three extra-diegetic factors that contribute to this. For one, this is one of my favorite movies that I saw the first time I went to the Telluride Film Festival in 1994, back when I was an intern. Shown as a rediscovered classic (which had only recently been subtitled -- finally -- in English), the movie made an indelible impression that I couldn't shake for some time afterwards, as I had never seen anything like it before. Secondly, it helps that only a couple days after seeing the film, I actually had a long chat with the woman in a van ride back to Montrose, whereupon she became the first movie star I ever actually had a conversation with. (I almost fell out of the van when I realized who I was sitting next to -- and she was thrilled to finally speak Spanish with someone other than her translator.) Aged 73 then, she still had the fire and verve in her and was an immensely classy lady.

Finally, and this is the most important reason, I believe this is one of the very first Latin American films I had ever seen. That seems strange now, since I am now a film scholar who
specializes in Latin American cinema, but I was not really introduced to the region's cinema until my first semester of grad school, which happened immediately after this festival. By this point I knew I wanted to do something with Latin America and I knew I wanted to do something with film, but somehow I never realized the two could go together. Thus, the performance that carries this film was a starting point into what would eventually become my future. And for that, muchisimas gracias, doña Ninón.

Oh, and just in case you think I'm the only one who thinks she's amazing, I w
ill point out that in some research I did years ago, she is mentioned in Cahiers du Cinéma in the Christmas issue of 1953. The title of that piece demonstrates the company she kept: "Greta, Marlene, Ninon." Priceless.
This entry is part of the Performance That Changed My Life Blogathon -- please feel free to visit the other sites on the list at that site, particularly since they probably had more time to prepare and I'm late, heh. Thanks to Emma for putting all of this together!

I hope Stevie Nicks likes Latin America...

Despite my general devotion toward new wave bands like New Order, The Cure, Depeche Mode and the Pet Shop Boys, I confess I also have an odd fondness for Fleetwood Mac. (Also Supertramp. Might as well confess that, too.) So it is with some bemusement that I thought of their song upon seeing the random "news" story that I actually participated in.

If I live to see the seven wonders,
I'll take a path to the rainbow's end.
I'll never live to match the beauty again.

Yep, it turns out that Peru (along with Brazil and Mexico) is now host to one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. (Let's not debate the fact that Macchu Picchu ain't all that "new," all right?) Admittedly, I actually voted in this, buoyed by some hype on NPR about the surge in voting for the Christ Redeemer. What amuses me is that five of the ones I voted for were actually chosen (although, admittedly, I went for the Acropolis and Angkor Wat over the Christ Redeemer and Chichén Itzá). I really have no vested interest in this, but I still find it amusing.

Reality bites

My son loves everything with wheels. Trucks, cars, backhoes, vans, station wagons, bicycles, cement mixers -- and tractors. Yes, there was an entire book from the library on tractors. There are several in the house. Tractors are amazing things.

Here is a picture of Xan on Cape Cod in a little trailer behind Grumpy on the tractor.
You should really click to get the blow up the picture to see the poor kid's face.

Here's the funny thing: apparently, he's taking a shiner to Grumpy's Harley. Wait until that thing gets turned on.
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Thursday, July 05, 2007

I supposes

You may notice how blurry this photograph is. I tried my damnedest to get a screen shot from this sequence that was relatively clear -- and in all of them something is blurred. That's how exuberantly kinetic this sequence is.

While watching this yesterday morning (before the 4th of July parade, and before -- sniff! -- the mom and the boy went up to Cape Cod, leaving me down here to wallow and work), I remembered that we brought up this sequence at dinner with El Pájaro, La Torre Alta Metachuck, and Konroad (sorry, no nickname for you, hee) the night before. Angela pointed out that, according to Xan, this -- and only this -- means "movie" so far; El Pájaro asked if I could recite the words to "Moses Supposes." (I did so, although later I realized I had done so "erroneously.") She casually mentioned Xan's attempts at dancing, then said, "Just wait until they can do it together."

Yesterday, while watching it, I realized that this was actually a great idea.

Except, given his propensity towards Cosmo -- and come on, who doesn't want to be Cosmo? My students love Cosmo! The man can walk up walls! Seriously!! -- I realized that if we were to do this scenario, I would have to be Gene Kelly.

Not that Donald O'Connor is any easier, let me tell you, but Kelly has some shoes to fill.

So I did start to google "adult tap classes" (which brought up precious little, save for some Joy of Motion stuff -- can anyone advise on adult tap? please??). Hey, it would also be exercise. Plus, my walking step could get even more percussive. This may take a while, but stay tuned.)

(Oh yeah, if anyone wants to know how I'm doing all alone with the cat, I will point out that I couldn't fall asleep last night, so I straightened up most of the house before finally collapsing around 3. And, sans child around, still woke up at 7. Damn.)