Thursday, June 30, 2011

Summer Movie Diary: Bridesmaids

Date: Monday, June 27, 2011
Time: 6:40 pm
Place: Cinemark Round Rock (Outlets)
Company: Derrick
Trivia: My mom and dad graciously watched Penelope while Derrick and I had a date night. First we went to Chili’s, then the outlet mall to get new shorts for me, then to the movie.
Food: Small Coke Icee, Whoppers
Running Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes
Rating: R
Director: Paul Feig

Quick Impressions:
I love Kristen Wiig on Saturday Night Live, and I’ve long felt that her movie roles don’t effectively showcase her talent, so I’m thrilled that she got to co-write this movie and create a role that played to her strengths. I’d heard a number of people rave that Bridesmaids was funny, and it is, but the story has such heart, the characters such depth. I was impressed with how real and relatable the characters seemed (even though some events were, of course, over the top). I would be willing to bet that almost no one has attended an engagement party quite like the one Helen throws for Lillian, and that nobody in attendance at such a party has ever done quite what Annie does in the movie. But I’m also completely sure that almost everyone has been at a party that seemed like that and wanted desperately to react just as Annie did in the movie.

Another thing that could not help but dominate my thoughts as I watched the movie is the incredible versatility of Rose Byrne. I’ve seen her in three movies now, Get Him to the Greek, X-Men: First Class, and Bridesmaids, and she’s given three performances so distinct from one another that it’s hard to believe it’s the same actress playing the roles.

The Good and The Great:
What made this movie wonderful was the combination of laugh-out-loud humor and a character-driven story with real heart. Bridesmaids was a genuinely funny movie full of outrageous jokes and off-the-wall scenes. Anything that could go wrong did, in a ludicrous and hyperbolic fashion. But the characters felt like real people with common and relatable problems. Any single woman who has ever had to participate in (or even attend) a close friend’s wedding knows exactly how Annie feels. We don’t all attack harmless cookies and befoul chocolate fountains, but perhaps a part of us wants to (and sometimes we inwardly cheer when someone else acts out in a similar—if less outrageous—fashion).

Weddings are really stressful, and planning and preparing for them is emotionally exhausting and full of potential pitfalls. Few brides and bridesmaids experience the series of increasingly awful calamities that happen to Lillian and her bridesmaids, but by the time the engagement party, the fittings, the shower, the cake tasting, the bachelorette party, the ceremony, and the reception are over, we feel like we’ve been through all the zany misadventures that unfold in this two-hour comedy.

Almost every scene elicits some laughs, or at least coaxes a smile, and yet there’s an underlying note of sadness. Annie may feel that she’s the most anguished, but almost none of the women involved with the wedding is actually happy.

Rather pointedly, there are two kinds of characters in the movie who do appear to be happy: 1) those who seem oblivious to their own shortcomings and behave rather viciously as if they lack any empathy for others and 2) those who recognize their own weaknesses but deliberately try to live in a way that enriches themselves and the people around them in spite of the fact that life is unfair.

Annie starts out somewhere between these two states, and then, in a self-pitying, kamikaze move, backslides into emotional immaturity of the first category. By the end of the movie, however, she’s grown emotionally and is firmly among the people who make the best of life and do what they can to ease the burdens of others. ­­

Funniest Scene:
Without a doubt the flight to Vegas is the funniest part of the movie, but I was also quite amused by Annie’s interactions with customers at the jewelry store. And even though I looked away during portions of the food poisoning sequence (because I didn’t want to get queasy myself), I laughed pretty hard at Kristen Wiig’s increasingly ridiculous denials that she felt sick.

Best Joke:
No contest, my favorite moment in the entire movie came when the airline passenger in the seat beside Annie first started talking to her.

Best Scene:
The scene on the airplane is screamingly funny from start to finish, as is the scene that begins with Brazilian food and ends with Maya Rudolph’s Lillian squatting in the street in an expensive wedding gown. But I particularly liked the scene in Lillian’s house just before the wedding. The friendship between the two women felt so strong and so real.

Best Surprise [Possible light spoilers]:
When Megan tracks Annie down for a heart-to-heart, we begin to see the character in a new light, and Annie is forced to realize that she’s not the only person who has interiority and personal issues. This revelatory moment with Megan made me go back and rethink earlier statements made by her character. Some of the stuff she says and does is absolutely nuts—but, possibly, she knows this. From her first appearance in the movie, Megan (as perfectly portrayed by Melissa McCarthy) is a scene stealer and a hugely funny character. There are some uncomfortable moments when we seem to be laughing at her, not with her. In the end, however, it’s quite possible that she knows that we are laughing at her, that she’s deliberately making us laugh at her, and that she’s laughing hardest of all.

Her character is the one through which Annie realizes that other people have feelings, too. Of course, objectively everyone knows this, but it’s so easy to forget and regress to an adolescent level of social interaction in which we feel everyone else is critiquing our weaknesses but fail to realize that most people are just as preoccupied as we are with personal issues of their own.

The Performances:
Kristen Wiig gave an amazing performance as Annie, displaying real acting chops to go along with her wonderful wit and coming timing. Annie seemed like a real person with real problems who used humor as a defense mechanism but ultimately couldn’t make sense of everything going wrong in her life. Honestly, the character reminded me of my sister which made me like the movie even more. Wiig’s performance was so good because it was so understated. Zany things happened constantly in the movie, but Annie’s real feelings could be seen clearly in her eyes, heard in the slight strain of her voice.

Watching Bridesmaids convinced me of something that I’ve suspected for a long time: I like Maya Rudolph much better when she’s not trying to be funny. I thought she gave a great performance, too. Most of the time, she played the straight man, a bride who was much less crazy than everyone else in her wedding party. I found her performance as Lillian both believable and moving.

I fell in love with Chris O’Dowd’s Officer Nathan Rhodes practically the moment he showed up on screen. During the first moments of their exchange at Annie’s car window, I thought, Oh I hope this is her love interest, because something about him was refreshingly real and likeable. He was just a nice guy.

John Hamm was pretty fantastic as Ted, not a nice guy at all. The actor has a great sense of humor and does well in roles in which he mocks his own handsomeness by playing a shallow character with absolutely no inkling that he’s so ridiculous. The whole thing plays like some kind of delightful inside joke he’s sharing with us.

Jill Clayburgh was great as Annie’s mom. She seems so feisty and full of life as the non-alcoholic permanently in recovery. It’s hard to believe that she died last November.

I’ve already said that I’m stunned by Rose Byrne’s versatility. I really loved her performance as Helen, a character whose own life is complicated by the fact that she’s unintentionally awful and can’t seem to help herself. (I began to understand her after seeing the way her step-children treated her at the tennis court.) Sometimes there’s nothing you can do but smile and throw a party. Like a number of the characters, Helen is surprisingly complex, and Rose Byrne does a great job of playing her as a miserably lonely and unhappy woman who inadvertently makes herself hated because she so desperately wants to be loved.

Melissa McCarthy is outstanding as Megan, the one bridesmaid subtle in her increasing support of Annie and outrageous in almost every other respect. She’s screamingly funny throughout the movie but plays her serious scene with beautiful honesty.

The Negatives:
The movie was too long. I thoroughly enjoyed watching it all, but it could have been trimmed because there were long stretches with (relatively) little humor. Though admittedly the romance between Annie and the officer is charming, their scenes together could have been pared back a bit without losing the heart of the relationship, its promise and its problems.

I also didn’t like the man and his sister that Annie lived with. They seemed almost too creepy to me. That was the one part of the story that felt forced, as if it had gone too far. I mean, yes, we’ve all had some kooky roommates, but those two were almost unrealistically bizarre. Plus, the movie seems to promote the idea that if you look closely enough, other people have internal struggles and insecurities, just like you. But we’re scared to look any more closely at those, too, so they remain just freaks. (Of course, I suppose that theoretically, there may be people out there that it’s safer not to look at any closer.) The more I think about this, the more I recall that I’ve lived with some very weird people over the years, but these two still made me vaguely uncomfortable every time they were on screen. I don’t know if that’s good or bad anymore.

Watching Bridesmaids was so much fun that I forgot halfway through that I was supposed to be watching it critically. Calling out all the amazingly funny moments will spoil the movie. But I can safely say that though hilarious, the film is grounded by its amazing heart that doesn’t feel syrupy or contrived, just amazingly sincere. Go see it. (But don’t take your children—unless they’re adults who live with you because their bizarre brother-and-sister roommates kicked them out.)

Facebook Soundbites

Penelope: Hi Pluto! Hi boy! This is Pupcake. He's my boy, too! He's my pal. Aren't you boy? (Holds Pupcake to her face, makes licking noises, and then giggles)

I'm pretty sure my daughter and Mickey Mouse are secretly the same person. I've only seen them together once, and Mickey Mouse didn't say anything on that occasion.
June 24 at 1:25 pm

Penelope (discovering a cup that looks like a coconut in the pantry): Oh boy! A coconut! Everybody likes coconuts!
June 24 at 3:29pm

Penelope: (Chasing Grayson) I'm going to eat you.
Grayson: No, don't eat me.
Penelope: (still chasing him, in an innocent voice) Hello, Bubby. I'm just walking by. I'm sweaty. Hello, sweaty Bubby.
(A moment passes)
Penelope: (in a thoroughly pleasant and casual voice) I'm going to eat you.
June 25 at 10:55pm

Penelope (sitting on the stairs, patting the stair beside her): Come sit here, Grayson.
Grayson: My name is Bubby.
Penelope: No! You're the Gray Swan! (That's what my mom calls him.)
June 25 at 10:56 pm

Grayson (under the table): Help! Let us out of here! Let us out of this--where are we?
Penelope: In a cage!
Me: Who put you in a cage?
Penelope: A dinosaur!
June 25 at 10:57pm

P: Once upon a time there was a little house in the woods.
Me: Who lived in the little house?
P: A dwarf!
Me: What was his name?
P: Jack. He had a blue puppy dog named Kitty Cat. (giggles)
Me: What did Jack do?
P: He fed the chickens grain, and he fed the ducks bread, and he fed Kitty Cat dog food. Then he had a party and had blue ice cream.
Me: Who came to the party?
P: Kitty Cat. (Pause) His dog.
June 26 at 11:26 am

"Critics are calling Through the Wormhole the best thing ever." Derrick and I cannot stop laughing.
June 26 at 12:28pm

P: I want to write.
Me: (astonished) You made a circle!
P: I did?! I'm going to make a triangle. It has three sides. (She tries.) Hmm.
Me: Make a square.
P: Okay. I will try. Hmm. I'm trying to make a square. It's kind of tricky, Mommy. (examining drawing) Well that looks kind of rude! Square! Come on, you! Make! I made a pyramid, Mommy. (Examining it closely) Well, little bit a pyramid. It's kind of tricky.
Monday at 11:30am

Me (looking at calendar, planning for vacation): Let's see. How many shirts will you need?
Penelope (wisely, pointing at days with her fingers): Let's see. Five. Ten. Fifteen days. (thinks a minute, looks up and decides) 600.
Monday at 2:39 pm

Penelope: (taking off her clothes) I am naked now.
Me: Who lived in Eden?
Penelope: Pancakes.
Me: Pancakes?!
Penelope: Yeah, dancing pancakes. They would spin around like this. Spi-ih-ih-ihn! (She spins around the living room)
Monday at 9:46pm

Penelope (singing as I brush my teeth) Itsy bitsy Mommy went up the water spout. Down came the rain and wash my mommy out. Up came sunshine and dried poor Mommy out!
Monday at 11:31 pm

Me: Maybe she was acting weird because I seemed worried.
Derrick: She's fine. Everything's fine. Y'all feed off each other. That's why I'm here to lighten the mood.
Penelope: NO, Daddy! Don't lighten the moon! It's daytime!
Tuesday at 2:59 pm

P (grabbing a pack of seemingly 1,000 hot dogs Mom bought and setting it on the bottom of the refrigerator): Here you go, Mommy.
Me: Thank you, Penelope. I know you want to help but...
P: (putting cream in the vegetable crisper) I'm just a helper, Mommy.
Me: Thank you so much (moving the cream). I'm not sure I need any help right now.
P: Oh, I like to help you, Mommy. I'm a very good helper. I always help.
20 hours ago

Penelope (in the fitting room with me at the store): I want to get out of here. Open the door, Mommy.
Me: No, you can't go out yet. I need you to help me. Tell me if I look good. (At this point, I'm still in the process of changing.)
Penelope (throws back her arms enthusiastically) You look GREAT! (immediately goes back to a more natural posture) Please, Mommy, let me out of here!
11 hours ago

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

More Phone Pictures from the Office

My Work!

Derrick: What are you doing in my office?
Penelope: (outrageously) This is my work!
Me: Your work?!
Derrick: This isn't your office!
Penelope: (with mock insolence) Shut up, Daddy! This is my work!
Derrick: Your work, my foot!
Penelope: I'm going to work your foot! (runs down, scampers over, and begins typing on his foot as if it's a keyboard)

Penelope (back in the chair): I'm going to get you, Daddy!
Derrick: I'm gonna get you!
Penelope: NOOOO!
Derrick: I'm just playing! You have to realize, I'm funny.
Penelope: No! No, Daddy! I don't want to realize!
Derrick: Oh, I'm sorry. Are you in denial?
Penelope: Yeah...
Penelope: This is my work!!


Monday night Derrick and I had a very exciting night out together. I'm sure most couples' dates don't include trips to the outlet mall to buy shorts, but as Derrick put it, we're very efficient. We also had dinner at Chili's (where I was delighted to see chicken club tacos back on the menu since it's the only thing I ever order there; we went once after Penelope was born, and it was off the menu, and I was devastated. But I guess if you wait long enough in this crazy world, things right themselves eventually).

As we took the menus, I thought, No matter how careful I am about washing my hands, I will look at this used menu and then eat my food. What if people cough and sneeze all over these menus. Since this is the new, less crazy me, I let that go and decided I was being ridiculous. Then just after we ordered, a woman with two kids came in and sat in the booth right behind us on the other side of the aisle. Derrick couldn't see her, but I was unable not to look at her unless I turned my head towards the wall. Anyway, she sneezed twice, right into her menu both times, and didn't cover her nose or mouth either time. I was like, Hmm...

Don't get me wrong. The woman didn't look sick at all. Still I didn't dwell on that and dinner was wonderful. Then I bought four pairs of shorts and we went to Bridesmaids which I enjoyed so much I forgot to think about a review. It's awfully late in the summer for a review of Bridesmaids, but I'm working on one, anyway.

I had time to write all of one sentence yesterday because Penelope decided to be the clingiest child in the world. She wanted me to hold her on my lap every time I sat at the computer. But then she'd squiggle herself around so that she kept throwing us out of the chair. I went to go set on the couch just so that I could snuggle with her. Then she wouldn't come near me and wanted to run around the room. But as soon as I went over to the computer (which I've been keeping on the kitchen table to see if it helps my neck) she was back throwing herself off of my lap. We went up to play in her room for a while, and that went pretty well, except that she wouldn't wear clothes, which was getting frustrating.

I was kind of short tempered yesterday, too, because I couldn't sleep Monday night until 4:30. I ended up sleeping till 11:00, so it's not like I was sleep deprived, just off. I hate it when I can't sleep. It makes me go berserk and stress out, which makes it harder and harder to sleep as the night goes on. I swear, during the day, every minute crawls by, and then at night, two hours pass in the blink of an eye. It's the most frustrating thing ever!

I'm trying so hard to ignore our upcoming trip so that my body doesn't flip out like last time. I'm trying to focus on movies instead.

Penelope's in a much lovelier mood today, so she must have been tired from playing with Grayson all weekend. She's doing so much better with potty training. And today she's wearing a shirt. Yesterday, she kept taking all her clothes off. I'd say, "Don't you want to wear your shirt," and she replied, "It's very warm down here," so I started worrying she was sick until Derrick pointed out that she was just making excuses to be naked.

She's being a cutie toot today, and I'm feeling much better, too--and excited about our vacation. We leave July 9th!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Penelope's Night Terrors

Penelope's night terrors really freak me out, especially when she seems to be awake and responsive and then suddenly starts going nuts.

She was so excited to go with us to pick up Grayson Friday afternoon. In fact, dangling the prospect in front of her was the only way I could convince her to get out of the bath tub. Very randomly, I thought, she remarked, "Bubby likes Pawn Stars, too?"

"Yes, he does."

"I like it, too," she lied.

"Bubby watches it with his mommy," I told her.

"Yes, I knew that," she replied wisely.

Then on the car ride over, she fell asleep. Grayson was kind of disappointed that she was asleep, but Derrick told him, "Well, she's awake 90 percent of the time, so you're witnessing something very rare."

We stopped to get Chinese takeout on the way home, and Penelope woke up while we were driving around in La Frontera. Suddenly, she opened her eyes, stared out her side window and cooed, "Look at that! Look at that! Look at that!"

We couldn't figure out what she saw, but she seemed delighted about it. Then Grayson made her giggle and giggle by pretending to sneeze or something silly like that. I can't quite remember. The point is, for at least 3 or 4 minutes, she was laughing and happy and talking.

Then suddenly she started to scream hysterically. At first, I thought she'd bit her tongue or something, but then she started freaking out more and more and more, screaming, "Get me out of here! Get me out of here!"

Derrick let her out of her car seat while he went in to get the food, but that did not stop her hysterics. By that time, I was convinced she was having a night terror. I could tell by the way that she didn't seem to see me when I looked at her. Plus, she was the kind of inconsolable she gets when she's not really awake. I mean, she's not throwing a tantrum. She's hysterical and practically nonresponsive. She won't communicate, and if people get close to her, she throws out her arms and goes, "ANHH!" or something screams loudly in their faces, as if she's yelling at some attacking fiend.

I felt really bad because Grayson seemed so sad that his ideas weren't working. When Derrick came back and picked her up and took her out of the car--to still greater screaming--he looked so sad and confused. "She said she wanted to get out," he said forlornly, looking really mystified.

I'm sure that up till that point he thought I was like the meanest most uncaring mom in the world since I tried to respond to her minimally. I was positive that she was having a night terror, and I tried to explain that to him, but it's kind of hard to explain (especially because I don't quite understand myself). He's so compassionate, and you could tell that her distress was getting to him, but I think he really believed until Derrick took her out of the car that that was all she wanted. Everything he was trying would have worked to soothe an awake, rational person. Every time something didn't work, he seemed so perplexed. It should have worked.

I've found what works best is to let her lie on my lap but not hold her too much, and stroke down on her hair, like they taught us to soothe them in the NICU. But that doesn't work perfectly. I'm pretty sure that stimuli cause her to hallucinate because she's actually asleep.

This caught us all off guard because she had seemed awake, but when I thought back on it, none of us had been able to figure out what she was seeing out the window, so maybe she was dreaming, and then just laughing at Grayson because she dreams about him a lot, anyway (?). I really don't know, but I am positive it was a night terror because when we got home, she was fully awake and back to normal again.

"I worry about her when that happens," I told Derrick.

He replied, "I don't think that's a sign of autism."

"Yeah, it wasn't autism I had in mind," I said.

I worry sometimes about schizophrenia. I know she doesn't sleep the way she should. I've made a pointed effort this weekend to force her to sleep more, but it's hard to force someone to sleep. Last night, she fell asleep when we took Grayson home around 7:30, and she slept until 10:00 this morning!

Derrick was astonished. "I thought she'd be up at 8:00 for sure," he said. "I even bought you too Mountain Dews because I figured she'd wake you up early."

I don't like night terrors, and I hope there is nothing more serious wrong.

Penelope's Chicken Stories

Penelope's thing all day has been to tell me stories about chickens. These always come out of nowhere. She just appears and says, "Once upon a time..." and it's always a story about chickens. I'm really not sure why chickens are the animal of the day. She was watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Bubble Guppies earlier, but neither show was about chickens. While she was in the shower, I tried to tell her about Adam and Eve, but she found that story very distressing.

Earlier, I caught her sprinkling granola bar crumbs out of the wrapper and onto the floor, and the following bit of charming dialogue ensued:

Me: What are you doing?
Penelope: (calmly) These are seeds.
Me: Don't throw them on the floor.
Penelope: (outraged) WELL, THE CHICKENS ARE SO HUNGRY!!!!!!

Anyway, here are her chicken stories:

#1 The Chicken House
Penelope: Once upon a time there were two chickens. They lived in a house. Then somebody stole their house.

Me: Who was it?

Penelope: That guy (points to one of my nutcrackers.) (After a minute, she decides) It was a monster who took the house. "Please give back our house," said the chickens. The monster said, "Knifey! Get a new house!" And the chickens got a new house. And they got back from running, and when they woke up, they said, "Look out for the monster."

Me: What was the new house like?

Penelope: It was green. The chickens went in and wouldn't let the monster go in. There were no monsters coming in the house. The end.

#2 The Chicken Soup

Penelope: Once upon a time there were two chickens baking. They had to cook dinner for all the chickens. They made soup, green soup. But the chickens got away.

Me: From who?

Penelope: The monster. But the monster got away, too, to catch them. Then the chickens met a lion. He went away to Tiger Land. All the tigers lived there. "Grr." All the tigers said, "Grr."

Me: What happened to the chickens?

Penelope: They disappeared into the forest.

Me: What happened to the monster?

Penelope: The monster disappeared, too.

Me: What happened next?

Penelope: That's the end. Everybody was disappeared.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Summer Movie Diary: Cars 2

Cars 2
Date: June 25, 2011
Time: 5:30 pm
Place: Cinemark NextGen Stone Hill Town Center
Company: Derrick, Grayson, and Penelope
Food: Large cherry Icee (partially drunk by Penelope), Whoppers (mostly eaten by Penelope)
Running Time: 1 hour, 53 minutes
Rating: G
Director: John Lasseter
Personal Trivia:
Penelope got her own orange soda. (She never drinks very much, but it’s so much easier than trying to dump some of whatever I have into her cup.) She wanted candy, too (since Grayson got some), so we got her the Welch’s fruit snacks because all the other gummy stuff was sour. As soon as we sat down, Penelope wanted her candy. I opened it and gave her a piece.

“Nother piece of candy,” she demanded immediately.

“Let’s wait until the movie starts,” I told her, “or you’ll run out of candy.”

Every time a new segment of the preshow or a commercial or a preview came on, she’d coo, “Ooooh! What’s it gonna be?” During Winnie the Pooh, she made crazed growling noises of excitement. When almost every other preview started, she’d complain, “No, I don’t want to watch this.” Then about halfway through the same preview, she’d report chipperly, “I like this.”
At one point, a commercial featuring the Cars characters came on, and Penelope turned to me expectantly, demanding, “I want another piece of candy.” I gave her a piece, then explained, “This isn’t actually the movie, so we need to wait until the movie starts.” Hearing that, she made lots of grumpy noises. Later, she was angry at The Smurfs preview for not giving Azrael more screen time.

Just before the movie, she asked, “Oooh! What’s it going to be?” I replied, “It’s the movie! Aren’t you excited?”

She cooed, “Yeaaah!!!” Then she demanded abruptly, “Another piece of candy.”

Quick Impressions:

The original Cars is, by far, my least favorite Pixar film, but I was kind of excited about the sequel because I heard it focused more on Mater (my favorite character) and had a Hitchcockian plot. Overall, the intriguing concept of making a sequel in a different genre than the original didn’t work, but I still enjoyed watching Cars 2. I thought the set-up felt awkward, contrived, and prolonged, but in the end the movie delivered with a likeable protagonist, beautiful animation, crisp sound, and engaging action.

Setting plot, pacing, and character development aside, the movie looked fantastic and sounded just as amazing. I loved the soundtrack. Honestly, I think I might have liked the movie better if it had just been scenes of bustling foreign cities set to catchy music.

The Negatives:
I keep asking myself why the movie wasn’t as effective as it wanted to be. I actually think the biggest problem may be that it did not feel like a sequel to Cars because filmmakers completely changed the genre of the story. In theory, a sequel in a different genre sounds high concept and exciting, but in practice, it didn’t work out so well. The characters in Cars inhabited a highly developed fictional world that obeyed certain rules. In Cars 2, Radiator Springs and its charming atmosphere and inhabitants got completely sidelined. In a story about international espionage, the town with a heart of gold became irrelevant. The first movie spent so much time trying to show us that even though Route 66 was no longer traveled, Radiator Springs and its inhabitants still mattered, but Cars 2 seems to admit, “Well, yeah, but we all know they really don’t. Now let’s race around the world and spray super villains with bullets.”

Cars 2 just didn’t feel like a Cars movie. (Imagine Godfather 2: A Romantic Comedy, Aliens (the Musical!), Winnie the Pooh 2: Eeyore’s Barbiturate Overdose.) Maybe the movie should have been given a different title and offered as a spin-off rather than a sequel since Mater is clearly the protagonist this time around instead of Lightning McQueen.

Honestly, the first Cars always bored me, but after watching it at home with a very young child, I began to see it in a new light. Not only did it have bright, shiny, noisy, exciting cars as protagonists, but it also had a very simple story, completely free of any real evil or genuine menace. It wasn’t scary or violent and contained nothing that would terrify or alienate young children or their grandparents. By comparison, Cars 2 is noisy, complicated, and violent.

It reminded me a bit of POC: On Stranger Tides in that the beginning of the movie seemed like a contrived, floundering attempt to find an excuse to get the story started. Jokes fell flat. Timing seemed off. The scene in which Mater towed a lemon back into town felt forced, as if it had been clumsily inserted to make a very clunky point.

The opening action sequence starring Finn McMissile involved some complicated elements and was quite difficult to explain to my two-year-old. (Granted, what a two-year-old thinks is not an acid test for the quality of a movie, but by comparison, the original Cars is almost ridiculously simplistic and easy to explain. “That’s Lightning McQueen. He’s a race car. Will he win the race? Oh, it’s a tie! He’s not being very nice.” You definitely cannot explain the opening of Cars 2 to a preschooler with the same kind of ease.)

Initially, the plot seemed complicated, inadequate, sloppy, and disjointed. The story unfolded awkwardly and never really gelled until Mater went undercover as Ivan. Then suddenly, the plot surprised me by not only making sense but even being rather clever (not very original, of course, but originality has never been the strong point of the Cars franchise). (I’m pretty sure that I’ve seen almost the exact same scheme before in both Speed Racer and Inspector Gadget cartoons.) Still, though well thought out, the plot was not presented in a way that young children would understand. Children will be able to follow the action occurring in the movie but may not understand the reasoning behind it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the first Cars movie was very, very easy to follow.

Cars 2 seems like a doomed hybrid creation—a plot that will mean more to adults inserted into a jumbled, noisy cartoon that no adult without children would possibly endure long enough to get to the intellectually satisfying part.

The Good and The Could Have Been Better:
One thing that the movie did have in its favor was a good moral. Movies targeted at children usually include some sort of heavy handed lesson, and this one seems genuinely useful instead of recycled and cliché. Thinking back on childhood, I can recall times when I felt embarrassed by a friend as well as times when I was the source of embarrassment. People of any age should be able to relate to conflict that arises when personal relationships seem to interfere with professional success. The “staying true to your friends” message—offered with absolutely no subtlety—should stick with kids after the credits roll. And that’s a good thing.

It was a little weird, of course, that once again, Lightning McQueen was the one learning the lesson since this time around he was not really the protagonist of the story. Seems kind of unfair that he’s doomed to learn lesson upon lesson about what a jerk he is, when, really, Mater’s actions were objectionable (even if his intentions were good).

Mater also learned something—he learned to be true to himself and confident in his abilities. The only catch is that Mater already had a good heart and excellent self-esteem before others began to tell him flat out that he was an idiot. I’m really not quite sure what Mater took away from the whole experience since he was satisfied with himself and his life from the outset. Others learned the lesson, not Mater, and this may be a hint that Mater is not really a suitable protagonist. Because McQueen is one character who misjudges Mater, much of the story is seen from his point of view, but the story isn’t about him, and he’s not involved in the significant action. The movie would have benefited from a script rewrite to make the character experiencing growth the central player in the action as well.

Best Action Sequence:
Mater’s escape from the secret meeting and attempt to warn McQueen was delightful and exciting to watch.

Best Joke:
For the most part, Mater was the only character in Cars who amused me, but he’s the kind of car who makes you smile more often than laugh out loud, so when he takes center stage, the comedy seems hokey overall, and lots of jokes fall flat. I think my favorite moment came when Mater seemed to know the correct response to the spy’s coded contact message simply because of his own mechanical knowledge.

Best Scene:
The last big action scene in London was riveting and exciting. I enjoyed it, and I’m sure kids loved it.

Best Surprise:
The movie didn’t offer many surprises, but I enjoyed the way the table was decorated during the big meeting scene. I’m not sure that actually counts as a surprise, but I felt mild surprise as I realized that more thought than I’d initially suspected had gone into the story.

Best Scene Visually:
The first part of the movie that I loved was Mater and McQueen’s arrival in Japan. Even my two-year-old was impressed by the vibrant colors, the attention to detail, the overwhelming, almost hypnotic effect as the cars raced past the urban scenery. “Oooh! Wow!” she cooed. I wish I had seen the movie in 3D. (If only my two-year-old would wear the glasses!)

The Performances:
Larry the Cable Guy is good as Mater, just as likeable as he was in the first movie. Owen Wilson does a great job reprising Lightning McQueen but he had relatively few lines this time around. He does have a great moment near the end of the film at the conclusion of the race in Italy.

Michael Caine is good as usual as Finn McMissile, and I really liked Emily Mortimer’s performance as Holly Shiftwell, so much so that I spent the entire movie wondering in the back of my mind who was voicing Holly. I couldn’t quite place her, but I thought she delivered her lines wonderfully well.

John Turturro is as over-the-top as always as Italian racing sensation Francesco Bernoulli, Eddie Izzard surprisingly inconspicuous as Sir Miles Axelrod.

Joe Mantegna, I am beginning to think, has the most recognizable voice in the world. I can always tell it’s him, and whenever I ask myself, “Is that really Joe Mantegna or is it just someone trying to sound like a mobster?” it’s always Joe Mantegna.

Cars is a far better movie than Cars 2, but I’ve always found Cars kind of boring and slow, and Cars 2 is fast-paced and fun once it gets going (which admittedly takes a while). I truly enjoyed watching Cars 2, particularly once the story began to click about half-way through the movie. Even early on when the story seemed disjointed and the scenes fell a bit flat, the visuals and the sound were still stunning, more than worth the price of admission.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Chicken Butt!!

On Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Penelope has heard Goofy say, "Guess what?" Mickey says, "What?" and he answers, "Chicken butt!" So after dinner, Penelope pulled her shirt over her head and came running as fast as she could up to Grayson.

"Hey Bubby!" she yelled. "Guess what, Bubby?" But without even waiting for him to answer, she yelled, "Chicken butt!" Then he pulled his shirt up, too, and they ran around the room like maniacs hunting for dinosaurs.

Pluto and Pupcake

Penelope: Hi Pluto! Hi boy! This is Pupcake! He's my boy, too! He's my pal! Aren't you boy? (puts Pupcake up to the side of her face and makes licking noises, then giggles)

Penelope: This is Daddy's office, boys. Good job, Daddy! Good job!
Me: Yes, good job typing Daddy!
Penelope: Look! Five computers!
Me: Well...three computers. Well...(Trying to figure out how to describe a laptop and one CPU with two monitors) There are three monitors...well....
Penelope: (wisely points to the laptop) One puter. (Points to the monitors) And two monikors.
Me: Good job! That's right.

Penelope: Come on boys! Let's go in your basset!

Facebook Fun

Penelope had an accident of the worst kind while wearing her Daisy Duck panties this afternoon. When I took her up to run her a bath, she informed me, "I went all the way to tootie town!" She says the craziest stuff!
June 17 at 11:31pm

Penelope: I want to see my bubby.
Me: Well, maybe you'll see your bubby tomorrow.
Penelope: I want to see Baby Addie, too.
Me: Well, Baby Addie is still pretty little...
Penelope (interrupting bossily): Well, I am not even sneezing any more!
June 17 at 11:34pm

Last night when I came home, Penelope brought me Dinah and an old silverware tray.

Penelope: Dinah's throwing up! (makes retching noises) She needs to go to the doctor.

Me: What's wrong, Dinah?

"Dinah": So hungry!

(I take Dinah and make her pretend to eat from the silverware tray. It has several compartments and kind of looks like a trough)

Penelope: (In horror) NOOOO!

Me (as Dinah): Um um um yummy! MMmmmm!

Penelope: No! That's my TV! Dinah! You ate my whole TV!

Grandma (explaining): She's been pretending that's her TV since Grandpa got our new TV today.

Me: Well, no wonder Dinah threw up.

Penelope: (disappointed) You ate my TV, Dinah.

June 18 at 2:16 pm

Penelope: Grandma, your timer is going off. Better open the oven. You stay right here, Mommy. It's hot. Be very careful.
Me: (I laugh) Okay, I'll stay right here.
Penelope: (lifts a finger to her lips) Shh! Be quiet, Mommy. I'm talking on the phone. (She runs into the office and returns with one of Derrick's belts held up to her ear) Hello!
June 19 at 5:54pm

Penelope (running up to me with Grayson's red light saber): My light saber!
(I turn it on. She jumps.)
Penelope: Turn that off!
Me: Are you a Jedi?
Penelope: (insulted) No! I'm a fireman!
June 19 at 10:05 pm

Every time Penelope writes with a pen on paper, she sings, "ABCDFIG." She's funny. She knows the letters, but she can't seem to get the order right.
June 20 at 1:47pm

Penelope (resisting bedtime at random): Hooray! I did it! I built this whole house! It's perfect now! I'm so proud of me. There's sand everywhere on the floor and the ceiling. It has a big flag! (Apparently we live in a giant sand castle.)
Tuesday at 12:31 am

Penelope (pointing to an exposed socket): We need to put a white plug in there.
Me: Well, I'm not sure we have another one.
Penelope: But I don't want it to shock me when I put my fingers in there!
Me: Then don't put your fingers in there!
Penelope: Better get a plug!
Wednesday at 1:42pm

Penelope: Here is another one of these things I found you. (Hands me a match)
Me: Thank you very much.
Penelope: Be careful, Mommy. It makes fire!
Me: Yes, that's right.
Penelope: Don't burn down my house, Mommy.

(The other day, she dropped a box full of wedding favor matches that Mom brought over, and I struck one to give her an object lesson that was apparently memorable.)
Wednesday at 1:53 pm

Penelope: You wait here, Mommy. I have to go check my house. It's full of blue birds and weeds and birdies and bears!
Yesterday at 12:28 am

Me: Who is Noah?
P: He built something.
Me: What did he build?
P: My whole room. He didn't build an ark. He built a green boat. The animals didn't poop on it. They pooped in the potty. (After a long pause, coaches me encouragingly) Oh, I see!
22 hours ago

P: (putting a toy dinosaur in her Strawberry Shortcake car) Buckle up, honey! He looks kind of nervous.
Me: Can you tell me a story?
P: Once upon a time, a piggie bit a giraffe on the nose. It hurt, hurt, hurt.
Me: Why did the piggie do that?
P: I don't know.
Me: What did the giraffe say?
P: Oh dammit!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Traumatic Morning

I'm always happy when I can get up without waking up Penelope. Yesterday, it took me an hour to finally sneak away, and then she said immediately, "I love you." Well, you can't trick someone into going back to sleep when they start the day off with something like that.

This morning I actually made it downstairs by 9:30. But then she woke up about 11:00, completely hysterical, throwing her body into the bedroom door. When I opened the door to coo at her, she screamed, "NOOOOOOO!" and slammed the door in my face and began throwing herself into it again, yelling, "Daddy! My daddy! Where's my daddy??!!"

Finally I coaxed her out and calmed her down by singing "You Are My Sunshine" while I held her on my lap in the landing. Then she looked up at me happily and asked, "Where's Bubby's candy bar?"

"I don't know," I answered.

Still very perky, she told me happily, "My bubby's downstairs."

"No, he's not right now," I had to tell her, "but he's coming tomorrow."

She immediately burst into hysterical, inconsolable tears and proceeded to scream, "HE IS!!! HE'S HERE!!!!!" Then she scooted downstairs sobbing hysterically and proceeded to run all over the house yelling, "Bubby? My bubby? Where's my Bubby?" and every time I would try to talk to her, she'd scream vehemently at me, "He's HERE!!!!!!" Then she ran into the office, found it empty and exploded, "WHERE DID MY DADDY GO!!!!???"

I said, "He had to go to work at work, but Grandma is here."

But then I couldn't find Mom. She had vanished. I looked out at the empty driveway and had to tell her, "Well, maybe Grandma left..."

She went berserk, of course. Then she wanted milk, and I couldn't find her cup, and we looked everywhere. Mom really was here hiding upstairs, so we found her and continued to look. Mom had seen something mousey looking run underneath the couch, but it turned out to be this giant harry spider-scorpion mutant creature. Also, we found several toys, including Snowball the kitten and Mickey Mouse. Then Penelope looked for the mouse in her oven, and we finally found the milk.

She's in a better mood now, but I know that we need to establish a better bedtime routine. I think she would go to sleep earlier than we do. The problem is, I can't. I'm not sure how to do it, but I don't want her to go through life never getting adequate rest. If anything at all is going on, she stays up to be a part of it. And now we don't drive home every night at ten to put her to sleep in the car.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

"Breathing in My Nose"

Me: Hey!!
Penelope (naughty giggles)

Me: Hey! Did you steal my lens cap?
Penelope: Noooo...
Me: You didn't?
Penelope: Nooo...I'm just breathing in my nose!
Me: Really.
Penelope: Lalala...breathing in my nose...
Me: You give me that back!
Me: You old sneaky!
Penelope (to bird's nest hand puppet): I'm very sneaky, birdies!