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.)

Monday, July 02, 2007

Gloating/Not gloating

My son is two-and-a-quarter years old and sat getting his haircut the other day without shedding a single tear. Primarily distracted by the hair-dryer across the room, he sat still until the whole event was through, only then calling for Mama. What a little gentleman!...

...who, three days earlier, woke us up by bringing a book for us to read -- a book that was goopy to the touch. At which point we realized that that container of Vaseline that we thought was too high for him to reach was, in fact, not high enough at all. After six baths over two days, most of the Vaseline was finally out of his hair.

The other day, our son defied what all the books say about kids his age, proudly declaring, "I try olives!" before gobbling down (several!) pitted, marinated kalamatas with relish. This gives him about a 25-year jump on his dad in the olive-eating category (also the raw-tomato-eating category). Our boy is adventurous in food...

...which is good given that his dad had a hard time eating from the major head-butt he got from his son, so hard that he got a major fat lip that brought about tears. The boy then gave himself a bloody nose (and currently only has one elbow without a scratch on it) and nearly bestowed a black eye on his mother from a unintentional fist. Don't send us donations; just drop off the Ace bandages. (Upon telling this story, we learned of a colleague whose now 17-year-old jumped off a coffee table onto his father's resting body on a sofa, cracking three of his ribs. Given that Xan has done this already, we may have something to look forward to.)

Taking pictures of the back of your head

When I talk about experiences at the Telluride Film Festival, I often mention the wonderful surprise that was Yi Yi, a thrilling three-hour film set in contemporary Taiwan. You have to understand that another Taiwanese film that had something to do with dragons or tigers was also in the festival; we all knew that that martial arts adventure was going to hit it big. Yi Yi was the opposite: quiet, introspective, thoughtful, building up an impressive story around a family trying hard to connect. As it happened, it opened in our little Masons theater as our first screening; while it was not that well-attended at first, everyone who saw it was floored by it. The film quickly became the film to see, the film that everyone (including me, especially me) would tell other people about while waiting in line. As it happened, Yi Yi also closed our theater, a screening where we sold out and turned away nearly 100 angry people who desperately wanted to see this really magical film.

Which is why I'm stunned now, up late grading papers but about to head for bed, as I read that director-writer Edward Yang has just died, leaving Yi Yi as his final word. The movie features Yang-Yang, the young boy seen above, who takes pictures of the back of people's heads because he wants to take note of the things that people don't, or can't, pay attention to. I am saddened that Yang won't be able to show us such fascinating elements anymore.

George Wu has a wonderful review of the film in Senses of Cinema.