Monday, December 31, 2012

Penelope Says


December 8

The Monsignor: Sometimes we feel like God is not present...
Penelope (eyes light up, turns to me in excitement): Did he say God is now president?!!!!
7:58 pm

Penelope (bouncing and speaking very rapidly): Bubby, did you see the Christmas tree? It's beautyful! Bubby, don't you love it? You can run up and give the Christmas tree a hug and a kiss, and say, "I love you Christmas tree, you're the best looking buddy ever." You can tell it, "You're beautyful. You're the bestest Christmas tree ever! I love you! I love you! I love you!"
9:43 pm

December 9

Penelope (tugging on a ribbon) Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek! (To me) Look what I made, Mommy! A high-pitched contraption!
1:47 am

Me: Here let me help you!
Penelope: No! I can do it myself. AHHHHHHHHHHHH! (Crash)
Me: Did you fall off your stool? Did you break something?
Penelope: No!
Me: Did you fall into the Christmas tree?
Penelope: Kind of! Sorry! Did I kill the Christmas tree?
9:06 pm


December 10

Penelope just tried to get down from the step stool by launching herself into me and grabbing onto both breasts, as she plunged into a loop of my tinsel, and we sideswiped the tree.
Me: What are you doing, crazy?
Penelope: Sorry! I had to get down! (You have to imagine that she pronounces "sorry," "sah-EEEEE!")
4:05 pm

Me: Okay, I think we have enough tinsel. Do you want to paint or make the Chex Mix?
Penelope: No, no! We need much more tinsel. Our tree needs so much more tinsel. We need lots and lots.
Me: We already have quite a bit on there.
Penelope: But there's more in the bag. You're not thinking.
4:14 pm


December 11

Me (hugging Penelope good night): Don't forget to say your prayers.
Penelope: Do you want to hear what I'm going to say? I'm going to pray (falls down onto her bed) Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. (stands up) I am thankful for my family and for food. Dear God, (throws up arms in expression of bemused amazement) how did you make us? (runs around) And then the angel comes...(runs towards me)
Derrick: Okay, well, tell Mommy good night.

Her prayers sound exciting!
3:00 am

Dinah (reading Eight Spinning Planets): Six spinning planets, in outer space they roam. / Next comes bright blue Ear-tee-huh, the place we call our home.
Penelope: No, Dinah! That's Earth!
Dinah: Earth! I've never heard of that.
Penlope: Dinah, we live there.
Dinah: We do? Do you mean Ee-Arth?
Penelope: No, Dinah, we are on Earth. Look.  (Shows her a picture of immense pine trees around a lake.  It kind of looks like Lake Tahoe.)
Dinah: (as usual) But if we're on Earth, then why don't I see any trees or lakes or...
Penelope: Because we're inside, Dinah! Oh! But we do have a tree now!
Dinah: Really? What kind of tree?
Penelope: The Christmas kind! Look! It's just like these trees, only, Dinah, ours is much taller!
3:05 am

Tonight I finally got down Fantasy Forest, so Nellie and I could play. That was my favorite board game as a child, and I was four when I started playing, so I thought she might be just about ready. Playing brought back so many happy memories.

Usually, I played with my grandpa. Vividly, I remember suggesting, "Say, Grandpa, how about a game of Fantasy Forest?" I also remember telling him in a very dramatic voice, "I challenge you," and when people would say that he let me win, he'd be like, "No! She's a shark! She steals all my cards!" There actually is quite a bit of strategy involved. I'd forgotten how much.

Penelope and I can't challenge yet because I'm teaching her to play with the cards face up first. She likes the ambushes the best. I must say, Grandpa always told people I won so often because it was all about strategy, and there really is quite a bit of strategy involved. I genuinely enjoyed playing tonight and would have kept playing all night long, to be honest.

On my fifth birthday, when my mom was pregnant with my sister, and we were back in Omaha for a visit, staying with my Aunt Mary, I remember languishing around the house wishing I could play Fantasy Forest until Grandpa just decided to take me to the store and buy me a second game to play there since it was my birthday anyway. He told the check-out lady, "This little girl is five years old today, and she'll never be four any more."

After two games of Fantasy Forest, it was pretty late, but Nellie begged to squeeze in one game of Candyland. Then she said, "You're in for a treat because tonight we're playing 'Ambush Candyland.'" And then she kept throwing an upside down plastic cup over my player at random moments, telling me I was trapped until I drew a certain color.
3:18 am

December 12

Penelope: Wait! Wait! Don't brush my teeth yet. I feel like I'm about to turn into a monster. (In a tragic tone) I'm turning into a werewolf. I don't want to be a werewolf! I will be all alone, howling alone. But if I must be a werewolf, I will be a nice, kind werewolf!
Derrick: Are you channeling Katharine Hepburn? Did you hear that?
Me: Maybe it's because she's been watching Miracle on 34th Street.

It's her cadence. She sounds like she's in a 30s or 40s movie.
2:42 am

Derrick: What's this string?
Penelope: When you pull it, it blows bubble gum out of my toodlebutt.
2:44 am

Me: Those are nice new panties Grandma got you. Those signs on there mean peace.
P: Where's the peace? Inside my toodlebutt? No fighting by me, or my butt will suck you into my toodlebutt!

That conversation got scary fast.
2:48 am

Me: (discussing SAG nominations with Mom and Derrick) I guess I need to see The Paperboy. I thought it was safe to skip because all I heard anybody saying about it is that Nicole Kidman pees on Zac Efron...
Penelope (who didn't appear to be listening): That is RUDE!
Me:...or he pees on her. I can't remember which...
Penelope: That is GROSS!
Me: Yes, it's not very nice is it?
Penelope: No, it's not! It is rude to pee on people. Good grief! Has Bubby seen that movie?
Me: No. Why, do you think he would like it?
Penelope: Yeah. He'd see it and say (yanks her head back) "Gro-oss! That is nasty nast!" That's a thing we say now.

I have never heard Grayson say "nasty nast," so I suspect she just made that up, but her delivery was very Grayish.
10:21 pm

Me (talking about noses turning red in the cold, responding to my dad): I'm the palest of the pale.
Penelope: (turning to me) You're only a young girl.
Me (surprised): I'm only a young girl?
Penelope (sweet smile, pats me on the arm): I'm just telling you that.
Apparently Grandma has her trained!
11:00 pm

December 13, 2012

Me: (on our walk today) You need to hold my hand, and don't run.
Penelope: We're not in the street yet.
Me: Yes, but you see, there are cars all around at this time of day. See that truck? If you run out and accidentally run into the street, he wouldn't be able to stop in time, and then you would be a flat Penelope. And I would be so sad. If you died, that would be horrible.
Penelope: It really wouldn't be so bad. You could build me a tomb with a big tomb stone, and then you could go there and summon me, and I promise I wouldn't even be evil at all. I would be very friendly to you.
Me: Well, but I'm not sure that I could summon you.
Penelope: You could. I summon Good Ghost all the time, and he sings me beautiful songs.
Me: Well, you can sing me beautiful songs now, so I'd really still prefer that you didn't get hit by a truck.
2:25 am

While playing Fantasy Forest...
Penelope: My dragon was on the stage. He was ready for that ambush, and he beat the werewolf! He said, "Roar!" (Making the dragon card jump on top of the werewolf card) But wouldn't it be funny if this was my werewolf [4], and he hit the dragon [7] so hard he saw two werewolves, and he won the ambush? And the dragon said, "ROAR!" Wait, what do dragons say?
Me: Sometimes they say "roar," and a lot of dragons talk in words.
Penelope: What do they sound like? How do they talk?
Me: In movies they (in a dragony, British accent) Talk like this. But it's hard to know how they really sound. There aren't many dragons around nowadays, and the ones who are left are very hard to find.
Penelope: Well, you're in luck because I happen to have one in my room. I forgot to tell you he's my pet. You may not have noticed him because he's invisible. But you're in luck again because he doesn't kill anyone. He's just a baby. And do you know what his name is?
Me: No, what's his name?
Penelope: Fox.
3:23 am

As we prepare to read bedtime stories...
Penelope: Dinah, I have a pet dragon named Fox.
Dinah: Yes, I know. I met him last night in your room. But we didn't talk much because he seemed very shy.
Penelope: He isn't shy.
Dinah: Well, he seemed shy to me. But maybe that's just because I asked him, "WHAT IS YOUR NAME YOU STUPID DRAGON?"
Penelope: Dinah, that is rude.
Dinah: I'm sorry. I'll try to be more friendly. Maybe he'll want to play with me if I'm nice.
Me: What does your dragon like to do?
Penelope: He likes to watch Fox News.
Me: (incredulously) He likes to watch Fox News???!!!
Penelope: Yes, like Grandpa.
Me: Really? Maybe he should meet Grandpa.
Penelope: Oh, he has met him. Grandpa was watching Fox News, and my dragon was coming up behind him to watch it, too, and Grandpa introduced himself, and my dragon told him his name, too. So now they're friends, and they watch Fox News together. (watching my face, smiles) No, not really! I'm just joking. But my dragon really does watch Fox News.
Me: He does, huh?
Penelope: Yes, but he watches it at night, so Grandpa doesn't see him. And he's invisible. But he just can't stop watching Fox News. He stays up all night watching Fox News and drinking coffee. That dragon just can't get enough coffee! Last night he drank all the coffee! And I had to go downstairs and cook him some more. Midna had to help me use the coffee pot with her big hand. We try to cook for him, but he just can't stop drinking coffee because he never wants to stop watching Fox News, and he just stays up all night that crazy dragon!
3:31 am

So, just for the record, Penelope's current troupe of imaginary friends/enemies are as follows:

1) The Spooky Kitty (aka "My Sister"), an evil ghost cat who practices black magic, lives in the woods, teleports to our house, and breathes out slime. Spooky Kitty is her arch enemy who is always taking and hiding our stuff, making messes, breaking things, and putting wooden clothespins on Penelope's fingers which I must then remove. She is also able to possess Penelope temporarily.

2) Midna (a character from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, who is constantly using her powers to help Penelope do naughty things that are seemingly impossible--i.e. "How did you even get up here?" "Midna jumped me up.")

3) Good Ghost, the ghost of Johnny Cash whom Penelope claims to have raised from the grave herself practicing some kind of weird necromancy with powers she stole from Spooky Kitty. Good Ghost apparently sings to her at night and helps her to fight the Spooky Kitty.

4) And now Fox, an invisible baby dragon who stays up all night compulsively watching Fox News and drinking endless cups of coffee!

That is quite an eclectic group of friends. There's also My Other Penelope, a girl who lives in the mirror and is supposedly from China, but she's a mysterious figure. I haven't quite figured her out yet.
3:55 am

Penelope (looking at the owl painting I'm working on): Your owl is looking at us.
Me: I know. I wish I hadn't messed him up so much today. I was almost done with him.
Penelope: Well, he IS staring at you like he hates you now. (Jumps up and runs through the room flapping her arms) He's saying, "Hoo! Hoo! Who messed me up?" (To the painting) It was Mommy. She keeps telling me so.
5:28 am
December 14

A couple of weeks ago, we drove to Marble Falls to visit "The Walkway of Lights." Apparently, Penelope thinks that's all there is to Marble Falls. Last night, Grandma took her for a walk around the neighborhood to look at Christmas lights, and she asked, "Are we going to walk all the way to Marble Falls?" Then just now as we were picking up Grayson, Penelope suggested in the car, "We should get a bunch of lights and make our own Marble Falls here!" Yes, somebody really should bring something like the Marble Falls Walkway of Lights to Austin. Why has no one thought of that? ;)
5:16 pm

I'm so excited about seeing The Hobbit tonight. Even Nellie is very excited. She and Grandma have been reading the chapter "Riddles in the Dark" together all week. Last night, she asked us riddles of her own, including, "I'm wet and I'm water, but I'm cold as ice, what am I?" Of course, the answer is "ice water." I can't really remember the others, but they were all much weirder.
5:18 pm

December 15

Penelope: (to Grayson) It's not about winning.
Derrick: (to me) Do you hear that?
Penelope: It's about having fun.
Me: Who won?
Grayson: Me.
Penelope: NO ME!!!!!!!
12:09 am

Penelope's riddle: What's a fish who doesn't swim and can't breathe under water?

A promising start, but the answer was a pantomime of this creature.
12:32 am

Derrick: At night they come out without being fetched, by day they are lost without being stolen.
(I have promised to stop guessing until Grayson gives up.)
Grayson: Owls?
Me: I don't see why it couldn't be owls.
Derrick: I suppose it could be owls, but what else comes out at night?
Penelope: Mice? Rats? Wolves? Sharks? Eels?
Grayson: Bats?
Penelope: HEY! I WAS GOING TO SAY BATS, GRAYSON!!!
Grayson: Well, then why didn't you?
Penelope: Because I was just about to!
1:01 am

So Nellie and I were in the middle of one last game of Fantasy Forest when the power dipped and returned twice and finally went out. We were downstairs alone, but I knew where my phone was--only it was completely dead. We huddled together and made it up the stairs and found Derrick who had fallen asleep in Grayson's room. We couldn't find any flashlights, and Penelope was terrified. She kept saying, "This is the worst night of my life!" (She's afraid of the dark and really always has been.) I kept trying to convince her that power outages are normal.

Besides Derrick's phone, the only light we could find was the Sun Jar that Merry gave me for my birthday. I found it easily in Penelope's room because it was the only thing glowing in the whole neighborhood. (The jar charges in sunlight and automatically glows at night, but the glow is very faint. It's like having a jar of fireflies.) Once we found Derrick, Penelope refused to leave his side.

We huddled together in our bed--after I wandered downstairs alone again to find Pinkie--and I asked, "Would you like a bedtime story?"

She suggested, "How about Coral Reefs?"

I explained, "You know, I can't read you a story. I can't see the words, and you couldn't see the pictures. I'll have to tell you a story." We settled on the Christmas story, but when we finished it was still dark, so I was like, "Did you know Jesus had a cousin?" and then told the story of John the Baptist's birth. And just when Zechariah was able to speak again, light started blaring in my face, blinding me (because I'd turned the overhead light on, so I'd know when the power was back).

I imagine that for people who are normally asleep from 2:15 to 3:15, this power outage was not an issue.
3:32 am

Derrick: You went into the woods to get it. You sat down to seek it. And you took it home with you because you couldn't find it.
Penelope (excited): Is it an ostrich????
5:38 pm

Penelope: (who didn't even appear to be watching) Oh no! Oh no! But why is she stabbing her? No, this can't be right! She can't die now! She was going to give the money back! She was going to give the money back--I'm sure she was! This is terrible! Now there's black blood on the bottom of the shower. That's gross! Eww! It's getting blood down the drain!
Grayson: Why did his mother stab her? This isn't the end, is it?
Me: No, there's more.
Grayson: Good because I don't understand what's going on yet.
11:33 pm

December 17

Penelope (as we listen to O Come, O Come Emmanuel on Pandora): Mom, do you like this song?
Me: Yes I do. Do you like it?
Penelope: Not really as much as Frosty the Snowman because I don't know what it's about.
Me: It's about waiting for Jesus to come. Remember when Gabriel talked to Mary, and after that, she was waiting for Jesus to come?
Penelope: Yes.
Me: Well, now we're waiting for him to come again, and we're remembering the time when Mary and Joseph were waiting for him to be born.
Penelope: He doesn't come when you're sleeping, does he?
Me: No. You don't have to be sleeping for Jesus to come.
Penelope: Well, that's good! You have to be asleep for everything, and I'm not even tired!
4:40 pm

December 18
Penelope (walking into Whataburger): It's a winter wonderland in here!
7:20 pm

Derrick (muttering as he drives): You need to move out of the way, dude.
Penelope: He's probably saying, "I'm a sneaky bad guy, so I can stand in the middle of the way to block the road, so no cars can go through. I'm going to say, 'No one can cross the road unless you answer my secret password.'" And then a car ran over him and he moved.
Derrick: Nellie, you're a funny girl.
Penelope: Don't blame me, blame Mommy!
Me: Why blame me?
Penelope: Because you're the only one left to blame. (As if the very idea would be outrageous) I'm not going to blame Daddy!
8:55 pm
December 19

Penelope (as I put red ribbon on Grayson's package): No blue!
Me: But the wrapping paper is red and green, so on this one...
Penelope: But Bubby loves blue the best!
Me: Well, I guess you're right.
Penelope: (watching as I curl ribbon) No here. And over here. Oh! A heart! That looks like a heart. And that looks light a tornado! Why that's perfect! A heart and a tornado--Bubby's that kind of kid.

Wise words I thought. I can hardly think of a better way to describe Grayson than "a heart and a tornado."
12:29 am

Penelope (singing) Hi-ho, the thistle toe!
1:31 am

Penelope: I've got a riddle. What is it when sometimes, there's an enormous tummy as far as your eye can see, and sometimes, there's a gigantic toodlebutt as big as your mind can imagine?
Me: I give up. What is it?
Penelope: It's taking a shower with you!
2:51 am

I entered the room to find Penelope standing by the tree singing, "Joy to the World!" (just that line) over and over again.
Me: That's a pretty song.
Penelope: Well, it is, usually, but I can't remember the rest of the words.
3:40 pm


December 20

So The Rock'N Lights (don't ask me why they spell it that way) tour was pretty fun, though I have to say the "pre-tour" dragged on a little. (It took us about an hour and fifteen minutes just to get to the start of the tour, so it's very popular.)

On the bright side, while we were waiting in line to get in, we listened to Christmas music on Pandora, and we saw a shooting star! Penelope wished for toys (probably a safer bet than Gray's wish on a previous shooting star that dragons were alive today).
10:50 pm

December 21

Grayson: Come play, Jack. Are you mad because I said you can't cheat and use armor?
Jackson (from the stairs): I don't cheat.
Gray: You won't cheat?
Jack: I DON'T cheat! I'm just taking a break. Turn around. Turn around, Bubba.
Gray: What?
Jack: Turn around. I've got a present for you.
Gray: Is it death?
Jack: Turn around, Bubba. I've got a present for you. Turn around Nellie. Turn your head around.
Penelope: I don't really know what you want me to do.
Derrick: Turn your head around like Grayson.
(As soon as their heads are turned, he runs forward and attacks them.)
4:38 pm

Jack: Time out! Stop playing!
Grayson: Well, it can be a time out for you.
Jack: No, time out for everyone.
Gray: Dude, you can't call that. You can just call out time out for you.
Jack: No, time out for everybody.
Gray: Jackson, you're not the boss.
Jack: Yes, I am the boss! I'm the boss of everybody.
Penelope: No! Bubby, remember you said I'm the boss of everybody for the weekend?
Gray: What?
Me: She's been claiming all week that you told her she has to be the boss of everybody for the whole weekend.
Grayson: I said that?
Me: I highly doubt it, but that's what she says.
5:14 pm

December 22

A very long time aqo, I suggested telling Christmas ghost stories. Grayson, however, is still trying to convince Derrick to let him open his Christmas presents early. Meanwhile, Penelope has been stalking around the room telling us her story ever since I suggested it. I've only caught snatches.

Penelope: Once upon a time, in a foggy, foggy house...And it was a terrible fight with dreadful claws...And the cat jumped over the moon...But that cat played the xylophone....
12:33 am

December 23
We just got out of The Master Pancake Christmas Show, funniest one in years! (Merry, they didn't even need one of our holiday stories to liven things up.) I feel so giddy wandering around downtown after midnight. Thanks Mom for letting us go!!!
12:10 am

Penelope (while we wrap): Maybe for Aunt Merry’s birthday, you should wrap me up like a present, and when she tries to open me, I’ll jump out and give her presents.
Me: Oh, well, it was already Aunt Merry’s birthday.
Penelope: Rats, I should have done that!
5:59 pm

Penelope (pointing to Statue of Liberty on motorcycle at Freebirds): That's what I want for Christmas.
Me: Why do you want that for Christmas?
Penelope: Because it's so awesome! I told Santa Claus when I was in there! 
7:44 pm

December 24

Oh my gosh! Linzer hearts are so good! They're like the love child of a pecan sandy and a jelly doughnut, but much lighter and fluffier than either. (And I don't actually like jelly doughnuts, but these are awesome.) I may never make them again, though! They're awfully expensive and time consuming. Maybe I shouldn't have used Martha Stewart's recipe! I think you need a slave army in order to make baking them convenient! Also, the DVD of How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the cartoon) apparently just starts over when it gets to the end. We've watched it about eight times now! I'm going to be singing that Who carol over and over in my nightmares tonight!
2:06 am

Penelope: (sprinkling powdered sugar on the top halves of the Linzer hearts) I'll just add a dash of (messes up) ERGGGGO (quickly corrects herself) fluffolupagus! (explains) You always get upset and say bad words, but I just say silly words because I get in trouble if I say bad words.
Me: Well, that makes sense, but "ergonomic keyboard" isn't actually a bad word. It's something I've been saying so I don't say as many bad words.
Penelope: Oh, well, then I should have just gone ahead and said that!
Me: Well, you can say it next time.
2:44 am

Penelope (from the back seat): Hutto HippOHs! Hutto HippOHs!
Me: Hutto HippOHs!
Penelope: That's what I call when I see my hippos. They're my friends. I see them all over Hutto. They like to eat ketchup.
Me: They like to eat ketchup?
Penelope: Well MY hippos do. They eat ketchup and apples and fries.
3:20 pm

So I spent like thirty minutes deciding which shirt to wear and then dumped green apple Coke on it like five minutes after we got in the car. At least the shirt I picked goes with green apple Coke!
3:49 pm

December 25

Ah, Christmas Eve, that magical night when the world's soundest sleeper stands watch over someone who would prefer not to sleep at all! How does Santa keep his cool? If I were Santa, I would constantly be hiding in corners, looking behind me, and concocting a plausible cover story!
4:21 am

Penelope (last night, holding up Gizmo): Now take a picture of just Gizmo.
(When I do, she yanks him away and starts squeaking)
Me: Hey! Hold him still or I can't take his picture!
Penelope: But he was afraid of your bright light from the flash.
Me: Oh, I see.
Penelope: Yeah, that's why I got the idea in the first place because I thought it would be funny for a joke.
4:32 pm

Penelope asked Santa for a Cabbage Patch Brother for Christy (aka Christine Joy Butterfly, the Cabbage Patch Kid Santa brought me when I was four). Now get this--she wanted a baby boy who was black and looked sick, so she could make him feel better. And she wanted his name to be China. How did Santa do it? This one even came with a thermometer and medicine. Way to be specific, you weird child! (I think the show Doc McStuffins prompted her to think of this idea.)
4:45 pm

The stocking was hung by the chimney with care [aka Scotch tape]
because Daddy was sleeping, and Mommy was there.
4:54 pm

Penelope: Mommy, can I have this Pez?
Grandma: Aren't you having a sucker?
Me (while playing Anomia with the adults, loudly, pointing to her sucker I'd just unwrapped): EAT THAT AT ONCE!!!!

Okay, everyone said to put this on facebook, but it's not funny in print. I meant to say, "Eat your sucker first," in agreement with Grandma, but we're playing a game where you have to react quickly and blurt out answers.
11:27 pm

December 26

Reading this joke book Nellie got for Christmas is making me wish Grayson were here. I know these tongue twisters would crack him up. Saying, "Cooks cook cupcakes quickly" once is so easy it doesn't even seem like a tongue twister. So why is it when I say three times fast I suddenly sound like The Mad Hatter (as voiced by Ed Wynn)?
12:00 am

Penelope: I made my own tongue twister. Rexes eat meat [loud dinosaur noise]. Rexes eat meat [loud dinosuar noise].
Me: That last part sounds really hard.
12:02 am

Penelope (climbing into my bed with China and Christy): I can fit Dinah right here, and now we all look like we're sick. Mom, can you hand me my rubber dinosaur?
(I do.)
Penelope: (sticking the Cabbage Patch thermometer in the dinosaur’s mouth) The dinosaur is my helper. My babies are sick, so he's bringing me my thermometer.
2:20 am

December 27
Merry's playing The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess for the first time. She was just told to go get her horse (named Nellie in this game). But she has to find the horse. The first thing she did was walk into her house and climb the ladder.
Nellie (smiling cheekily): Your horse isn't there. It's not up the ladder.
2:23 pm

Penelope: (During the gift opening, playing on the table near Derrick) Ho hahaha! Hoo ha!
(I see that she's playing with Yoshi and a toy cow)
Me: Is that a cow? They certainly sound excited about something.
Penelope: These are my lawyers.
Me: Your lawyers?
Penelope: Yes, they're trying to protect my stuff. They're also fighters, so when monsters come, they get rid of them.
4:54 pm

Grayson got a phone for Christmas. On the way to the theater, I got a text from him that said, "I observed befor that you are on your phone a lot in the car."
8:32 pm

December 28
Immediately after the movie...
Grayson (whipping out his phone): I've got to text everybody about this movie.
Five minutes later, I get this text from Gray: Do you think the movie was saddddddd?
12:29 am

Derrick carefully set up the ringtone and wrapped the present in transparent tissue paper to create a theatrical way for Grayson to discover his present. Unfortunately, the phone didn't ring as loudly as we expected.

Then Penelope blurted out, "It's your phone," and seemed to think better of it at the last second. This was extra funny because a few minutes before, Merry had opened a set of cocoa mugs from us, and Grayson had blurted out, "Oh, is that the sushi kit?" (before she had opened the sushi kit). Merry and I died laughing, and then after we'd been laughing about it for like thirty seconds, Grayson said craftily, "Oh no, that's right. We were going to buy you that, but we changed our minds."
12:48 am

Grayson: Pretty soon Nellie will want a phone.
Me: Yes, but she won't be ready to have one for quite a while.
Penelope: No, actually I am ready. I'm ready right now.
12:58 am

Merry’s version of Marius and Cosette singing to each other: "I fell in love with you today." "And I just met you, but you're pretty." Did I get that right, Merry? It was so funny. I wish I'd written it down immediately.
1:54 am

Grayson: It's so fun to have a phone. I feel complete.
1:51 pm

Penelope (as we read her new book, Pompeii: Burried Alive): I'm confused. Which one is Pompeii?
Me: Pompeii is the name of the city.
Penelope: No, but I mean, which one of the people in the city is named Pompeii? Who is Pompeii? I thought there was a guy named Pompeii.
Me: (confused) Well, in Julius Caesar, there's a guy named Pompey, but...
Penelope: So okay. What I want to know is who is going to be buried alive?
Me: Well all of these people are. They're going to be buried by the volcano when it erupts. It will bury the entire city.
Penelope: What? Well that's very sad! Are they going to be okay?
Me: No, when they get covered in ash and lava, it kills them all.
Penelope: Well this is a very sad story! I thought it was going to be about a ghost named Pompeii who rose from his tomb on Halloween! I thought it was going to be a delightful Halloweenstory!
4:02 pm

Me: Oh tell Aunt Merry about the first Christmas. Who was born on Christmas?
Penelope: Jesus.
Me: And who was his mommy?
Penelope: Mary Beth..lehem.
Me: Mary Bethlehem?!
Penelope: Maybe just Mary.
Merry: That was her stage name.
5:40 pm

Penelope: Are you going to leave?
Merry: No, I'm going to be here tomorrow and the next day.
Penelope: But I mean the day after those days. Will you leave?
Merry: No, I will be here.
Penelope (fretfully): No, you're going to leave tomorrow. I just know it!
6:42 pm

Penelope: Pretty soon, I'll be ready for a phone, too.
Me: And who are you going to call when you get your phone?
Penelope: Probably Midna. Even after I die, she will be there. She is my friend until the end of the world.
11:21 pm

December 29

Grayson: (to me, ever so innocently) Is that your phone? I think someone texted you a minute ago. I think I just heard it whistle again.
(I check my texts)
First Text: So 24601 what are you doing?
Second Text: 24601?
Third Text: You there?
My Text: Who am I???
His Text: ????
My Text: I'M JEAN VALJEAN!!!!
My Text: 24601!!!!!!!!!
His Text: You are 2. 4. 6. 0. 1!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I think I'm enjoying Grayson's new phone.
12:30 am

As Derrick and I were discussing what to do with the leftover pizza, Grayson remarked wisely, "Well, hunger is the best sauce."

What happened to little Grayson, and who is this kid coolly delivering pithy apothegms while texting in the corner?

(By the way, I realize that "pithy apothegms" is kind of redundant, but I like the way it sounds.)
3:41 am

Grayson: Go away, Macbeth.
Me: You can't stop me. I'm the king.
Grayson: I'm higher than the king. I'm the president.
Penelope (in a really weird voice like saying a riddle): He USED to be...and still is...Barrack Obama.

That makes sense when I write it. She said it in such a weird voice, like Tim in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
11:55 pm

December 30

Grayson just took all the leftover clip on pirate earrings and put them on his ears, nose, and lips.
Me: That looks piratey.
Grayson: Yeah, it looks pretty good.
Penelope: It looks gross to me.
Me: Looks pretty good on Grayson.
Penelope: Grosson!
Grandpa: That was pretty good! She's now making puns.
Penelope: (singing) What do you do with a drunken sailor?
Grandma: Now she's singing it, too! Everybody in the whole house is singing it now! Grayson was singing it for hours this morning.
6:11 pm

Question in Loaded Questions: If we were playing hide-and-seek right now, where would you hide?
Grandma: One person said with the cutest girl in the room...
Derrick (guessing): Okay, Grandpa said with the cutest girl in the room.
Penelope: (brightly) That is definitely me!
8:04 pm

Okay, who will fall down the stairs next? Last night, Penelope tumbled head over heels down almost the entire staircase, scaring us all to death. And then this afternoon, I slipped and fell down several steps, whacking my butt, shoulder, leg, and head. Mom saw the whole thing and said I landed on my butt, but that's not sore at all. My shoulder, however, aches. I must say, Nellie reacted better than I did. I totally freaked out because I don't want those random neck spasms to start again.  And now Derrick just broke his toe!
8:08 pm

Penelope's random squawky outbursts of "ear-ly in the morning!" are cracking me up!
9:05 pm

Penelope (singing as we work her pirate puzzle): What do you do with a drunken sailor?
Me: (singing back) Give me a kiss, and I'll tell you later.
Penelope (lunging forward across the puzzle, arms spread, singing grandly): I got aten by an alligator! Ear-ly in the morning!

Why we're not being paid millions for our amazing improv skills is beyond me!
2:17 am

Me (as we talk about relatives in the shower): And did you know that Grandpa had a Daddy, too?
Penelope (like I'm an idiot): Yes, of course I knew that!
Me: And he was my Grandpa Ernie.
Penelope: Oh, now that does surprise me. I didn't realize you had a Grandpa who lived on Sesame Street.
3:43 am

Penelope: Bubby, drink some of my moisture.
Grayson: She wants me to drink some of her moisture?
Me: Penelope, that does sound a little suspicious.
Penelope (wide-eyed): What! It's good! It's good, I promise. It's not poisoned. It's not like I'm trying to poison him or something. It's orange flavored.
2:58 pm

Friday, December 28, 2012

Fall Movie Diary: Les Misérables

Date: December 28, 2012
Time: 8:45 pm
Place: Tinsel Town
Company: Derrick, Merry, Courtney, Grayson, Penelope
Food:  Popcorn, Reece’s Pieces, Icee (red & blue)
Runtime:  2 hours, 38 minutes

Rating:  PG-13
Director: Tom Hooper

Quick Impressions:
I first saw the musical Les Misérables on the stage in London in the summer of 2000.  To be honest, it was a slightly disappointing and, at times, bewildering experience.  The show seemed very rushed (as if they were trying to pack in a million performances a day) and notably lacking in genuine passion (some actors seemed to sleepwalk through their parts).  Basically, the whole event is a blur, though I did take away two lasting memories.

I will never forget the way the actor playing Jean Valjean performed the number “Bring Him Home,” a song I had always fast forwarded through when listening to the Original Cast Recording on my Walkman at home.  I don’t remember the actor’s name, but I do remember his unbelievable range and the stunning clarity of the high notes he sang like an angel as he waded through the sewage trying to prevent the wounded Marius from dying.  I remember thinking, This is beyond incredible.  (Had someone castrated him during the song?  How on earth did he get range like that?  How did he make that extremely high note sound so hauntingly beautiful?)

The other thing that I will never forget is that while Valjean selflessly risked his life to rescue Marius by dragging him through the sewage, one of my best friends lay dying in an obscure London gutter where my other friend and I had abandoned her so that we could make the curtain of Les Mis.

Okay, she wasn’t actually dying, just slipping into a diabetic coma.  No, really, she was just having a familiar flare up of kidney pain, abdominal cramping, and light nausea.  When she started to experience these symptoms as the three of us rushed to the theater that evening, we probably should have been considerate friends and helped her get back home.  In fact, that’s what we would have done if our other friend had been calling the shots.  But I wanted to see Les Mis, and—here’s the funny part—my dear diabetic friend wanted me to see Les Mis as well.  She was passionate about theater and everything else and very dramatically ordered us to leave her behind and go to the show and love it. 

So we went.  And we squeezed into the seats we had purchased cheaply because they had limited leg room, and we listened in amazement as Valjean hit those high notes.  And meanwhile, our dear diabetic friend (who had only been in the city for a day) tried to make her way home but got lost and ended up sprawled in agony along the side of a road where a benevolent motorist stopped to help her.    She never would have gotten back to our friend’s sister’s house except that she knew a little song our friend’s three-year-old niece had been taught to remember her address.  And—mirable dictu!—the woman who stopped to help her turned out to be a realtor who knew London’s confusingly complex neighborhoods like the back of her hand.

“To love another person is to see the face of God.”  I like to pretend that Good Samaritan realtor had been an odious, hard-hearted jerk until one fateful performance of Les Mis turned her life around and she began reaching out to help take poor, sick girls off the streets, one languishing tourist at a time.

Seriously, though, Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables is a staggering achievement.  What an ambitious follow up to The King’s Speech!  Tom Hooper wins acclaim (and an Oscar) for directing a straight forward period drama about a man overcoming a speech impediment in order to embrace his destiny.  He then decides to tackle an iconic three-hour musical (really more of an opera) and to do it in a novel way.  Instead of recording an Original Cast Album at the beginning and playing pre-recorded tracks while the actors pantomimed their parts, Hooper let each actor set the pace of his own singing and filmed the performers singing and acting at the same time.  He then added the full orchestration later.

I say, “Bravo, Tom Hooper!”  I have been trying to understand Les Misérables for years, and finally I do!  (Back in 1996, my high school drama department performed a forty-five minute, non-musical version of the story with fifteen actors and minimal sets.  Though the performances were universally solid, the whole thing was a tiny bit rushed and pretty hard to take in.  I’ve listened to various recordings of the songs countless times.  And I saw the 1998 non-musical adaptation of the novel.  And I’m pretty sure I saw part of a made-for-TV version that involved Eponine walking up and down the stairs a lot.)  But until now, I’ve found the “barricades” part of the story very hard to figure out simply because I don’t have a great visual imagination.  A real-world setting helps tremendously.

Others may complain, but I can sincerely say this is by far the best and least confusing version of Les Misérables I’ve ever seen.
  
The Good:
Les Misérables is such a huge story that I think it comes across better on screen than it ever could on stage.  What Tom Hooper has done here is amazing!  It’s a very bold move to make a nearly three-hour movie where the principal characters do nothing but sing the entire time.  And I love his decision to let the actors sing their parts as they acted the scenes.  Watching the movie is like having the best seats ever to a Broadway (or West End) show.  (It’s hard to get the same experience in a theater.  It’s like watching a football game from the stands—and wondering where the yellow line marking the first down is—versus watching at home in HD.)

The entire cast is probably the best imaginable since all of them can both sing and act.  (Better singers could have been found, certainly.  But this isn’t a stage play.  It’s a movie.  So you really do need experienced film actors in the leading roles.  I’ve always thought that in a musical, a good actor who sings passably (or an excellent actor who sings badly) is better than a magnificent singer who can’t act.)

And there are some other nice touches.  Lots of performers from various incarnations of the musical appear as minor characters in the film.  The only one of them I really noticed was Colm Wilkinson  (the original English Jean Valjean) (and by that I mean English language, as in, he originated the part on the West End and on Broadway—Wilkinson is Irish).  In the film, Wilkinson plays the bishop whose remarkable act of mercy changes Valjean’s life.  And he’s very, very good as the bishop.

There are bound to be people who don’t like the movie.  The thing is, Les Misérables is just not everyone’s cup of tea.  It’s very long and extremely singy and over-the-top in its level of emotional self-importance.  In our screening, some people did walk out.  (My sister and I joked that they probably thought it was taking too long for Wolverine to fight the Gladiator.)  But our almost ten-year-old watched every second of the movie and enjoyed it, though he found it very sad.

Tom Hooper isn’t hiding the fact that he’s making Les Misérables, and Les Misérables is what he delivers.  It’s very refreshing not to see a famous stage musical butchered on film.  (I mean, thank God we don’t have Justin Bieber playing Marius, and half the songs cut out, and all the life and energy drained from the big musical numbers.)

The new song, “Suddenly,” written by the original composers for the movie is very good, too, and makes the Best Song race quite interesting for the first time.

Most Oscar Worthy Moment (Tom Hooper):
Tom Hooper deserves a nomination for Best Director.  The musical has so many distinct parts—that differ wildly in tone—and he brings them all together to create a perfectly harmonious final product.  I have never seen the last half of the musical done with such passion and such clarity.  And I think it’s a wonderful decision to trust his actors to set their own pace.  The song “One Day More” (another of my favorites) can definitely come across as cluttered, ear-splitting, and bewildering, but he handles it perfectly.

Most Oscar Worthy Moment (Anne Hathaway):
Anne Hathaway’s probably going to win an Oscar for her portrayal of Fantine, and I think she deserves one.  She has a lovely singing voice, and the raw passion she brings to the role is incredible.  Her performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” is the most emotive performance of a song in a movie musical since Jennifer Hudson’s big number in Dream Girls.  I’ve heard that to appear sickly and emaciated, Hathaway ate dry oatmeal.  That sounds unpleasant and probably also unnecessary since her passion overwhelms her appearance.  What she looks like doesn’t matter (though she did make many physical sacrifices, aiming for realism).  I feel like I understand the suffering of Fantine better now that I’ve watched Hathaway perform her song.  I hope she does win an Oscar.  She’s really good. 

Most Oscar Worthy Moment (Hugh Jackman):
Hugh Jackman may not win an Oscar (though he always could), but if he doesn’t get at least a nomination for Best Actor it will be a terrible injustice.  For sheer endurance, he ought to win something.  His transformation over the course of the movie is amazing.  It’s like how much he has changed (physically, emotionally, spiritually) really doesn’t hit you until the end.  (At least, that was my experience).

The song of his turmoil after the bishop’s gift seems to take forever, but his performance is magnificent.  He’s so tormented and confused here, and he really looks the part, too.  (He also did a lot to prepare.  I can’t remember exactly what.  I like to imagine him bench pressing the newly waifish Anne Hathaway and stealing her meager dinner of dried oatmeal, but that’s probably not his secret.)

Jackman also sneaks a lot of comedy into his performance.  He’s equally good in the big, stagey parts and the small, intimate moments.  He doesn’t sing as well as the guy I heard as Jean Valjean on stage.  (I can’t find the program.  I’ve been trying to figure out his name.  I think it must have been Simon Bowman.)  Still, Jackman has a fantastic voice and amazing stage presence.  If people feel reluctant to give Daniel Day-Lewis a third Oscar, he may end up winning.  (But it’s been my experience that the Academy would vote to give Day-Lewis every Oscar if only they could, so we’ll see.)

Most Oscar Worthy Moment (Samantha Barks):
When I was in high school and college, Eponine was the part everybody talked about the most.  (Well, Eponine and the Thénardiers.)  Everybody loved Eponine, felt for Eponine, wanted to play Eponine, wanted to sing her songs as solos.  (Maybe that’s because her part is the best fit for someone in high school or college.  Maybe, too, it’s because Marius and Cosette inadvertently make Eponine appear so attractive and non-annoying.)

Samantha Barks seemed okay at first, and then gradually seemed better and better and better.  She has a lovely voice, and lovely eyes, and is a lovely girl.  (She should play Eliza Doolittle!)  She brings such warmth and humanity and realism to Eponine, qualities sadly lacking in Marius and Cosette.  (I’m not blaming the actors.  The characters just aren’t easy to like.)

When I got home, I found out that when Samantha Barks was cast, she was playing Nancy on stage in a production of Oliver!  Um, why was I not notified sooner and given a plane ticket to England?

I like the way Barks performs both her songs, but I really liked the way she played the scene by the gate of Valjean’s house. 

The Other Performances:
Eddie Redmayne (whom I really liked in My Week with Marilyn) starts off a bit weak, but gets better as he goes on as Marius.  (In fact, maybe what I noticed was just a change in the character, matured by his sobering experiences.)  He has a nice voice, and he’s very good singing “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.”

Far better than Redmayne, however, is the guy playing Enjorlas, a part I’ve never given a second thought about before.  That guy is phenomenal.  His name is Aaron Tveit, and he really elevates the part because he’s very good at doing a lot with his face.  He has tremendous energy and intensity, and he’s by far the most interesting of the would-be revolutionaries (apart from Gavroche).

I’ve heard many complaints about Russell Crowe’s singing (most of them from my sister who was watching with me) and I’ll admit he doesn’t sing the part nearly as well as Roger Allam or Terrence Mann.  But actually, I liked his performance.  He plays it small.  Definitely he’s giving us a film Javert, not a stage Javert.  But I thought his interpretation of Javert made the character make more sense (and seem more sympathetic) than he ever has before, as far as I’m concerned.  His fate makes much more sense given Crowe’s portrayal and doesn’t seem to come out of left field.  Basically, Crowe humanizes the character.  (Now some people may think that’s a bad thing since there’s clearly a lot of moral allegory going on in Les Mis, but it’s kind of hard to watch a movie about a guy who’s just a piece of moral allegory.)

I like Amanda Seyfried.  She’s a passable actress and a passable singer, and that’s a winning combination, especially because she has enormous blue eyes and pretty blonde hair.  She’s lovely and sweet as the innocent, pure-hearted Cosette, and she manages her (incredibly difficult songs) very well.  I think Cosette has some of the hardest songs to sing in the entire musical, and Seyfried has a pretty, clear voice.  But you don’t get the same intensity from Seyfried that you get from Hathaway or even Barks (and that’s really because the character just doesn’t allow for that).

The little girl who plays Cosette is starkly beautiful, too, and a talented young actress.  Her name is Isabelle Allen.

Best Action Sequence:
The most exciting part, I think, is Valjean dragging Marius through the sewers, and the two confrontations he faces on the way.

Our almost ten-year-old enjoyed the battle scenes on the barricades the most, he says.

As an adult who was once a child obsessed with the movie Oliver!, I also loved all the screentime given to the cheeky, spirited Gavroche (very charmingly played by Daniel Huttlestone), and enjoyed the way he moved through the streets, in and out of carriages and all over town.  

Funniest Scene/Best Joke:
“Master of the House” is one of my favorite songs from Les Mis (and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone there), and I thought this movie did that number particularly well.  (Maybe the stage version is better when you’re not sitting up in the cheap seats, of course, but I’ve never seen it does this well.) 

Casting Sacha Baron and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thénardiers seemed like the obvious choice, and both of them deliver fantastic performances and practically steal the movie.  Our audience loved them.  And one of Madame Thénardier’s lines in her first conversation with Cosette made my sister and me crack up at the same instant.  (Obviously we’re related.  Nobody else laughed as loud as we did.)  Played perfectly, Madame Thénardier is not a very nice person.

I love Helena Bonham Carter’s eyes.  Nobody else has eyes quite like that (except the friend we left to die in the gutter.  Hers were remarkably similar).  She and Sacha Baron Cohen have wonderful comedic chemistry together, and Hugh Jackman gets in on the fun himself.  One nice thing about a film versus a stage show—you can see in great detail the expression on each person’s face, so a lot can be done with the eyes.

Helena Bonham Carter is a treasure of the silver screen whom we all take for granted.  One day, she won’t be around anymore to play all the zany parts we expect her to play, and we’ll realize too late that we should have given her more accolades while we still had the chance.

Best Scene Visually:
Apparently Cosette is so lovely that she’s perpetually surrounded by a chorus of luminous, glow-in-the-dark butterflies, kind of like Cinderella.  The scene where Marius and Cosette meet at the gate is lovely but a little weird.

What I liked best was the blood running through the streets of Paris like so much spilled red wine.  That makes me think fondly of Charles Dickens.

The last big moment with Enjolras is nice, too.

Best Scene:
By far, the most powerful scene in the movie is the ending which is spectacular in this version.  I’ve seen Les Misérables before, but I feel like I finally get the point of the whole thing and understand why some people find it so moving.  Even though the entire production was good, I kept some distance between myself and what was happening on screen—until the ending.  I was genuinely moved by the ending which made all the disparate elements of the story come together to create a powerful and focused message.

The Negatives:
The biggest weakness of the story is that Marius and the (barely) adult Cosette are so annoying.  Their love story is just not very believable and definitely not moving to the audience.  It’s not their fault.  The audience has been watching wretched people with good intentions being raped and killed and falsely imprisoned.  After all that tragic and character-building suffering has dominated the screen, it’s very hard to care much about two teenagers who are both terribly rich and pretty and innocent and obsessed with one another.  It’s like that in Oliver Twist, too.  The virtuous innocents are always the least interesting.

Watching Eponine watch them sing together actually made several of us laugh.  It’s not that Eponine’s plight is funny, but her reaction to their passion seems so human and makes them seem even more whispy and ridiculous.

Don’t get me wrong.  I wouldn’t want Cosette to be ugly or vicious.  And Marius does improve a little with time.  It’s just that their love story is the least compelling part of the story to the audience and the most compelling to all the other characters, which makes the musical a little imbalanced.  But that’s not the fault of Hooper’s production.  That’s just Les Misérables.

People who have seen the show on stage from good seats thousands of times will probably find much not to like.  And people who accidentally get dragged to the movie and hate singing will probably wish to go the way of Javert before the sprawling, singing spectacle is finally over.  There are parts that seem slow.  The movie is long.  The singing is incessant.  And the sentimentality is flowing like an endless tidal wave of blood in the streets.  But you certainly can’t watch all this and complain that Les Misérables isn’t very aptly titled.

But personally, I don’t have any more complaints.  (Except that Javert’s last moment is conspicuously loud.)

Overall:
If you like Les Misérables, of course, you’ll like Tom Hooper’s ambitious film version of the immensely popular stage musical.  If you don’t like Les Misérables, you probably should not see this movie (unless you’ve confessed to one of those priests who enjoys creative penance and the fate of your soul depends on you watching it).  Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Samantha Barks are all marvelous, and the rest of the cast is pretty great, too.  (If you are taking children, be warned that the terrible things that happen to Anne Hathaway are pretty graphic and disturbing in the film version.)

Fall Movie Diary: Django Unchained



Date: December 26, 2012
Time: 9:20 pm
Place: Tinsel Town
Company: Derrick
Food:  Pretzel Bites, Icee (red & blue)

Runtime:  2 hours, 21 minutes
Rating:  R
Director: Quentin Tarantino

Quick Impressions:
We saw this movie in a packed house (at 9:20 pm) with an exceptionally responsive audience, and I was very excited about the whole thing.  I love that Quentin Tarantino these days seems to have the freedom to do just exactly whatever he wants, and that the audience shows up and loves it.  That’s just cool.  (I mean, yes, he certainly takes his time, and yes, the movie is sprawling and kind of crazy.  But it’s fun to watch and thought provoking with a quirky soundtrack and artful cinematography.  I think artists should be allowed to do what they want more often.  We might have more cinematic successes, and we’d certainly have more spectacular, passionate cinematic train-wrecks, which are usually more entertaining than soulless, by-the-numbers (wannabe) moneymakers.  Why settle for boring and average?  (Most people don’t, by the way.  Most people stay home unless a particularly appealing film lures them to the theater.)

I’ve been extremely excited to see Django Unchained for some time now (probably because I’ve already seen everything else I’ve been excited to see, and this is one of the big ones remaining). Even though I’m really not a fan of gory, visceral, graphic violence (and I’m too chicken to enjoy most horror movies), I do usually like Quentin Tarantino’s films.  They’re so talky, and I just love to listen.  I also enjoy crazy, inappropriate displays of excess.  (Who doesn’t love a good spree?)  And I particularly loved Inglorious Basterds (mainly because of the intensity of Christoph Waltz), though I wasn’t sure about it the entire time I was watching.  The ending of that movie really took me by surprise, and at first, I hated it, but by the next day, I had decided it was possibly my favorite Oscar nominated film that year.

I also love Leonardo DiCaprio.  He first impressed me in Romeo + Juliet, but his performance in The Departed is one of my favorite of all time.  Since then, he’s never been quite as good in anything else, and his last few roles have been sort of bland.  (I mean, Inception was great, but even though the high-concept premise is exciting, his character really isn’t.)  Playing Calvin Candie, the charismatic villain you love to hate, DiCaprio is marvelous in the most exciting part he’s had in years.  Maybe he should play the villain more often. 

Of course, the most memorable thing I’d heard about Django Unchained (over and over again and all the time) was that Quentin Tarantino wrote the role of Django for Will Smith who turned it down and decided to make a movie with M. Night Shyamalan instead.  After seeing Django, I suppose I understand why Smith passed on the role.  (It’s hard to imagine the thoroughly amiable, squeaky clean Fresh Prince expressing his enthusiasm to kill white men for money.)  Still, turning down a leading role Quentin Tarantino wrote for you to work with M. Night Shyamalan instead seems crazy to me, and obviously I know more about how to be successful than Will Smith.  (He seems to think the path to success is tremendous wealth and world-wide fame, whereas I know it’s all about enormous debt and virtual obscurity.)  (Not everyone has the patience to do things my way, of course.  It’s more of a long term strategy and even more of a coping mechanism.) 

Of course, no matter what Will Smith chooses at this point in his career, he remains rich and famous, and Jamie Foxx doesn’t have to overcome a Will-Smith-like screen persona to play the role.  He’s easily believable and seemingly effortlessly convincing as Django and gives a strong, emotive performance grounded in a kind of righteous rage that it’s hard to imagine in Will Smith.  It’s easy to imagine Smith playing the part though, and playing it differently.  Maybe in the future, he will decide to accept the role, and he’ll star in a remake.  (That would be fun, like seeing a new person tackle Hamlet—not that Django Unchained has much in common with Hamlet apart from a final act full of bodies and a vengeful, “crazy” man  monologuing with a skull.)

The Good:
Django Unchained is an extremely self-conscious Spaghetti Western/Blackspoilation/revenge fantasy about a freed slave teaming up with a German bounty hunter to take on a demented plantation owner/amateur phrenologist (whose best friend is his cantankerous old house slave, Samuel L. Jackson dressed up like a cross between the guy on the Uncle Ben’s rice box and Uncle Remus from Song of the South) in order to rescue a woman in peril.

A movie like that could not be mediocre.  Obviously, Tarantino believes that you go big or you go home.  That movie is going to be something special (for better or worse).

I loved it.  At nearly two and a half hours, it is quite long, but it’s solidly entertaining, and I’m hard pressed to find any scene that should have been cut. 

The soundtrack is wonderful.  (I’m thinking of buying it because it’s so eclectic and so perfect.  You’ve got a mix of Ennio Morricone, James Brown, Jim Croce, with unexpected flights of rap.)  The cinematography is very good, too.  You really feel like you’re watching an old Spaghetti Western, and some of the scenes are just beautifully framed. 

Costuming and set design are also high points of the film.  There’s amazing detail in the costuming, and the sets at Candyland are particularly ornate.  But what I loved?  The gross, grimy teeth gunking up all those beautiful mouths!  It seemed like everyone’s teeth got browner and browner as the movie went on.

This movie got no SAG nominations, which stuns me, but I have heard that Quentin Tarantino was struggling in the editing room to get it released in time, so maybe it didn’t screen early enough for SAG voters.  How could they overlook these performances?  So many of them are noteworthy!

Most Oscar Worthy Moment (Leonardo DiCaprio):
I’m extremely biased in DiCaprio’s favor.  I always want to love him.  (Of course, that doesn’t mean I always do.)  I almost always enjoy his performances, but while they’re usually high quality, that doesn’t make every one of them Oscar worthy.  But he’s exceptional here.  This crazy plantation owner is a very good role for him.

The moment when he drags out the skull is pretty over-the-top, but definitely memorable, giving him a chance to go absolutely berserk and show previously untapped emotions. 

Really what I like best, though, is the way he reacts to and interacts with Django in the earlier scenes, particularly as they ride out on their ostensible errand and pass the man in the tree.

DiCaprio uses the perfect mixture of charm and menace to make Candie a consistently compelling yet entirely repulsive character.   I really hope he gets nominated for this.

Most Oscar Worthy Moment (Christoph Waltz):
I think Waltz gets the best character arc in the story.  (And I also like the way his character here is so different from the one he so memorably played in his previous collaboration with Quentin Tarantino, Inglorious Basterds.)  He plays a former dentist who kills people for money to the collect the bounty on their heads because to do so is his legal right.  If the law protects your actions, how can they be wrong?

I like best the scene he plays in German with Kerry Washington.  His joke at the end is particularly funny.  But he’s also quite strong in the scene with the man in the tree and again when he’s revisiting this moment in his head later on.

Most Oscar Worthy Moment (Samuel L. Jackson):
I haven’t heard any awards buzz around Samuel L. Jackson’s performance, and I can’t figure out why on earth not!  He’s fantastic as Stephen, the hostile old house slave who is bafflingly devoted to his sadistic master, Calvin Candy.  The part is completely different than what he usually plays (which is amazing since he shows up in so many movies playing such a variety of roles). 

What’s more, the part really only works because Jackson is playing it and playing it so well.  Obviously Tarantino intends the character to be commentary on a cliché, not just a lazy cliché himself.  But if Stephen had been played badly by a lesser actor, the audience might have missed the point (which would not have been a good thing at all).  Jackson’s participation brings a necessary gravitas to the entire production, in fact.

Stephen is marvelous, both intense and entertaining from his first scene, but I like him best when he’s interrogating Kerry Washington’s Broomhilda.

Most Oscar Worthy Moment (Kerry Washington):
She doesn’t say much, so she’ll most likely be overlooked, but I also think that Kerry Washington gives a nomination worthy performance here, based on the amount of sheer agony she manages to convey alone.  Her character is very effective.  There was one moment late in the movie when I suddenly realized she might not make it, and I got so angry and thought, “If this woman doesn’t get out of here, I will hate this movie forever!”  (Of course, I originally hated the end of Inglorious Basterds, then suddenly decided that I actually loved it.)  But I mean, good grief!  They’ve been torturing her the entire movie.  If she doesn’t get to win, this movie has a sick sensibility.

The Other Performances:
The rest of the cast is very good, by the way, and very deep.  Expect big name actors to show up without warning.  There are a ton of them, but Jonah Hill stands out (though not really in a good way).  I think Best Actor is already too crowded for Jamie Foxx, but he’s a very different kind of Django than I can imagine Will Smith playing.  When he’s in cover at Candyland, he’s at his best.  I also like the way he delivers the line, “It’s me, Baby.”  (I think that’s the line.)

Also, wow!  Any movie that features Don Johnson playing “Big Daddy” definitely knows how to make the most of surprise casting.  I also am really coming to enjoy the work of Walton Goggins.

Probably the worst performance in the movie comes from Quentin Tarantino.  (I say probably to be kind.)  His movie is full of gouged out eyes and severed limbs, but he should have cut himself.

Most Oscar Worthy Moment (Quentin Tarantino):
Horrible performance (and painful accent) aside, Tarantino does a great job here and should definitely get a nomination as a screenwriter (and possibly also as a director).  I don’t think this movie is quite as good as Inglorious Basterds, but it’s definitely a crowd pleaser and contains some fantastic performances. 

One of the best decisions he makes is putting Samuel L. Jackson in the movie as the cantankerous Stephen.  Another great choice is the way Django interferes in the scene with D’Artagnan.  And I really enjoyed the scene with the bags on the heads.  It was like Blazing Saddles taken to another level.

Best Action Sequence:
Certainly the most intense action occurs when Django confronts two of the three men who previously whipped and branded his wife.  The mistreatment of Broomhilda is very sobering because earlier violence has been more of an occasion for cheers.  Django doesn’t do a lot of talking, so we’re mainly able to sympathize and side with the character because we’re able to see the traumas of his past for ourselves. 

Of course, the explosive ending is dynamite, too!

Funniest Scene/Best Joke:
No contest here.  Even though the movie is full of humor, it’s tough to top the sequence when Big Daddy and the riders ambush Django and Dr. Schultz with the bags on their heads.  I won’t spoil it, but it is pretty amusing.

The moment when Django and Broomhilda are first reunited gets a nice big laugh, too.

Best Audience Reaction:
When Django gets captured late in the film and we see him from an unusual angle, somebody in the crowd gasped out loudly, “Oh my gosh!” when she realized what she was seeing.  Hard to beat that!

Best Scene Visually:
The D’Artagnan scene is gorgeous and particularly memorable.  The tree is just conspicuously beautiful.  But what happens there is horribly ugly.  The stark contrast makes a lasting impression.

Best Scene:
Honestly, that scene involving D’Artagnan (played with piteous intensity by Ato Essando) in the tree is the best.  So many elements come together there. 

Personally, I like the part of the movie featuring Leonardo DiCaprio the best, and not just because of Leonardo DiCaprio.  This is the heart of the movie when the most stuff that matters happens.  We get to find out who the characters really are, and they also get to make some discoveries of their own.

The Negatives:
I’m never sure as I watch a Quentin Tarantino movie just what he’s trying to say.  But the fact remains that he says so much so constantly that the movie is engaging, complex, and fun to think about.  This one definitely raises questions about morality versus legality.  It also makes you ask when (if ever) violence is justified, and pointedly examines the difference between being good and being nice.

One slight weakness (or strange choice) is that Christoph Waltz’s Dr. King Schultz gets a more complete story (in terms of character development, growth, etc.) than Django himself.  Waltz, DiCaprio, and Jackson are by far the most exciting characters in the movie.  It’s easy to imagine Will Smith making Django a bigger, scene-stealing character, but Jamie Foxx plays him instead with a quiet passion.  I actually think Foxx is playing the part perfectly, but sometimes the character of Django gets a little lost in the three ring circus of excitement around him.

Kerry Washington’s part could have been beefed up a little bit to make it showier and more likely to get Oscar attention.  Her best moments are all non-verbal, and she’s really magnificent in a difficult role, but it’s easy for the audience to lose sight of that with everyone else gabbing away all the time while Broomhilda remains largely silent.

For me, the weakest part of the story is Django’s treatment of the Australians near the end.  I’m not sure that it’s necessary to handle that exactly the way he does.  Also, Quentin Tarantino is a wonderful writer and director, but he’s such a bad actor that I didn’t even realize he was trying to sound Australian until another Australian guy showed up.  Seriously, he sounded like a tone-deaf cartoon mouse trying to sing.

That crazy, springy tooth  bouncing around on top of Schulz’s cart is kind of distracting, too.  When I first got a look at him in action, I wondered, Is he that helpful little elf from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer all grown up?

The amount of violence to horses bothered me, too.  Intellectually, I realize that it’s supposed to be upsetting.  I mean, obviously, it’s horrible to kill an innocent horse but even worse to kill an innocent human being.  The thing is, I’m not in favor of torturing and killing people, either.  My shock at seeing the horses hurt makes an interesting point about American movies.  People are shot up, blown apart, and ripped to shreds all the time, but you hardly ever see graphic violence to animals.   (As if Quentin Tarantino anticipated gut reactions like mine, very early in the closing credits, we get a gigantic disclaimer that no animals were harmed in the making of the movie.) 

One More Thing:
Also—not a fault of the film—our ratings system seriously needs a major overhaul.  The R rating tells you nothing about what to expect from the movie.  Tarantino’s name means more.  I look at a film like this and one like Killer Joe and just cannot understand why the latter was rated NC-17 if Django Unchainted is only R.  The Fright Night remake looks like a bedtime story for five-year-olds compared to Killer Joe and Django Unchained, but it has exactly the same R rating.  And so does The King’s Speech!  Good grief!

Overall:
I thoroughly enjoyed Django Unchained and find it worthy of Oscar consideration in many areas.  It’s definitely not for children (which should go without saying), but it’s a fun watch and was a huge crowd pleaser the night we saw it.  Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson both deserve Oscar nominations, and Christoph Waltz ought to get one as well.  (Not since Doc Holiday has a dentist with a gun caused such a stir.)  Inglorious Basterds is probably a slightly better film, but the two of them together would make a fantastic and thought-provoking double feature.