Sunday, September 30, 2012

Fall Movie Diary: Hotel Transylvania

Date: September 29, 2012
Time: 2:45 pm
Place: Tinsel Town
Company: Derrick, Penelope
Food:  large mixed red and blue Icee, popcorn, some of Derrick’s Reece’s Pieces

Runtime:  1 hour, 34 minutes
Rating:  PG
Directors:  Genndy Tartakovsky

Quick Impressions:
Let’s begin with a riddle.  Ready? 

“Why do demons like ghouls so much?”

The answer, of course, is that “demons are a ghoul’s best friend.”

As a girl whose intense obsession with princesses began in junior high when I started reading about the gruesomely fascinating family of Henry VIII, I must say that I wish Hotel Transylvania would have been around when I was a kid.  Don’t get me wrong.  The movie Love at First Bite and reruns of The Munsters were great, and so was Scooby Doo.  After much pleading and whining, I even managed to convince my parents to let me watch The Howling at four and Rosemary’s Baby at six (both edited for television).  And I loved getting birthday cards full of monster riddles that began “Hey Birthday Boy” with the word “Girl” scribbled in with marker by my mother.  When I was in third grade, I even managed to convince several friends that I was secretly a vampire (or at least give them the impression that if they didn't play along, I might bite them).  I was a little girl who loved monsters, and I know that I was not the only one.

When we were kids, we got mostly low budget cartoons.  (Even fairly high profile cartoons had simple backgrounds.  Who doesn’t love “Transylvania 6-5000,” the cartoon where Bugs Bunny keeps changing his overnight host into weird combinations of bat and vampire by saying scrambled incantations like, “Abraca-pocus!” and “Hocus-cadabra!”? ) 

The previews for Hotel Transylvania have had my family intrigued all summer long.  Based on the previews, I expected Hotel Transylvania to be a silly monster movie for kids, full of fun, Halloweeny, old-school-monster atmosphere but with more laughs than scares and no actual horror.  I wanted a film with the same fun-loving spirit of “Transylvania 6-5000,” but with 6,5000 times the production value—and I’m happy to report that the movie met my expectations exactly. 

The Good:
Usually, I approach Adam Sandler’s movies thinking, “Oh, Adam Sandler, I truly want to love you, but sometimes you make it so very, very hard.”  So I will admit that I was a bit apprehensive to learn that Sandler and some of his pet co-stars were the voice actors in this film.  Based on the delightful concept promised by the previews, I still wanted to see Hotel Transylvania, but I was prepared to be horribly disappointed.  (Don’t get me wrong.  I like Adam Sandler, but his previous animated work is Eight Crazy Nights.  No comment necessary.  Just sayin’.)

I am pleased to report, however, that Adam Sandler is delightful in this film.  He makes a really wonderful Dracula and seems pretty committed to the performance.  To be honest, Sandler’s Dracula was a charismatic and sympathetic figure who anchored the whole piece and really made it work. 

Andy Samberg is also outstanding as the human fish-out-of-water, Jonathan.  (You have no idea how many times I tried and failed to improve on that idiom appropriately.)  If you pointedly hate Andy Samberg himself, of course (and it’s really easy—and pretty funny—to imagine him having enemies), then you aren’t going to like the character of Jonathan because  there’s no mistaking Samberg’s voice.  He makes Johnny just like one of the adolescentish, man-boy kooks he played so often on Saturday Night Live.

Speaking of Saturday Night Live, I was shocked to see that the screenplay was co-written by Robert Smigel.  Though I’ve seen many “a cartoon by” him as a long-time SNL viewer, I’m incredibly unfamiliar with his other work.  (To be honest, I didn’t know he even had other work, which is pretty naïve of me.  I just think of him as the SNL cartoon guy who often entertained me with stuff like The Ambiguously Gay Duo and The Ex-Presidents.  (How fondly I recall the time the ex-presidents had to stop the rampaging Constitution from slaughtering Congress!  “The Constitution clearly implies that perjury is both legal and fun!”  Who can forget a great line like that?)  The other credited co-writer of the screenplay, Peter Baynham apparently wrote Borat (which I hated) and Arthur Christmas (which I loved).  Knowing this, I can now say that nobody should complain about Hotel Transylvania’s script.  It could have been much, much weirder and way, way cruder.  (I am not just complaining about Borat.  Much as I love The Ex-Presidents, I have seen some very, very weird Robert Smigel cartoons.)

To be honest, I’ve heard complaints that the script isn’t funny, and I find that to be blatantly untrue.  I mean, I would be lying if I said there were no jokes about stinky farts, fly vomit, and dirty diapers, but now you be honest.  When I call Hotel Transylvania a movie starring Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg from the writers of Borat and The Ambiguously Gay Duo, don’t you expect much, much worse?  The movie is really not disgusting and gross and obscene.  The scatological humor is fangless, the kind of stuff that really appeals to little kids (and let’s be honest, sometimes even to their parents).  

I will personally guarantee you (in writing) that everyone who’s ever raised a baby has a really funny anecdote about poop.  If you’re not a parent, they’re just not sharing it with you.  Also flies are really gross.  That’s a scientific fact.  And if you’re going to choose a scientific fact to be offended by, for heaven’s sake, don’t make it fly vomit.  Dream bigger.

Anyway, Sandler and Samberg don’t use the premise as a vehicle for silly, sketch comedy jokes.  They remain in character and help the story progress.  The rest of the cast is pretty good, too.  Selena Gomez seems perfect for the part of young Mavis, celebrating her 118th birthday and dreaming of life beyond the castle walls.  Steve Buscemi wins the award for easiest celebrity voice to recognize, and Kevin James is surprisingly good as Drac’s best friend Frank.

Funniest Scene:
This is a movie where five-year-old boys laugh out loud quite a lot.  (I know because we were sitting next to one.)  Adults spend more time smiling than outright guffawing.  Still, there are laugh-out-loud moments, but they’re not the same for everybody.  This is one of those sporadic pockets of laughter kinds of films.

I personally laughed quite a bit when Dracula gave Johnny his two cents about wooden stakes.  I also loved Johnny’s crazy explanation of how he was related to Frank.  And every scene of Dracula’s idea of “having fun” features visual and spoken delights  aplenty to make you smile.  As a parent who has shared a bed with a toddler, it’s also hard not to laugh at the scene of the Wolfman family in bed.  And what a wake-up call!

Visually:
Hotel Transylvania is beautiful to look at.  The dialogue is perhaps not the most inventive ever written, but if the scenes being acted in the foreground feel a bit by-the-numbers, what’s happening in the animated background—replete with spooky sight gags and thrilling atmosphere—is such strong and captivating work that on some level, the movie is a masterpiece.   

In all honesty, I’ve never seen such a good animated monster movie for young children.  Every little kid loves the spooky decorations that come with Halloween, but for children, Halloween is about pretending.  Little children want costume atmosphere, spooky shadows and plastic fangs without bite.

This may sound silly, but probably my favorite thing about the entire movie was the way Dracula moved and carried himself.  His very posture won me over.  He just looked so much like how a cartoon Dracula should.  Also I recently read Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the first time, so I really loved the way the Draculas walked effortlessly down walls and across ceilings.   (Also—off topic, but—how can you say the script isn’t witty when the human’s name is Jonathan, but they never make a big deal about it?)

Probably the strongest visual moment comes as all the guests arrive for Mavis’s big birthday weekend.  But my personal favorite image is the way Dracula embraces his daughter, so that his cape surrounds them both.  It just looks right, as do the shots of the view of the forested horizon from the castle.

Best Action Sequence:
If you’re seeing the movie in 3D (which we didn’t), the scene with the banquet tables must be exhilarating.  It’s fun to look at even in two dimensions. 

Personally, though, I really loved the scene when Dracula was leading Jonathan through strange passageways trying to find a secret exit.

Best Scene:
I liked the scene Dracula shared with his daughter on the rooftop, mainly because I found what she said to him so moving.  This is definitely a turning point for Dracula, and Mavis has a pretty good line that really hits home.

The Negatives:
I fell in love with this movie from the first scene.  It’s not trying to be profound.  It’s just trying to be a really fun monster movie for kids, and at that, it succeeds so brilliantly that I see no reason to pick it apart.  Do you laugh out loud every single second?  No.  Are the plot elements or themes original?  No.  But so what? 

As I write this review, I’m watching Road Runner cartoons with my three-year-old (at her request).  I could say, of course, “This cartoon is full of slapstick humor.  The same plot devices are used over and over again.  The dialogue is very lacking.  The characters seem shallow with transparent, stock motives.  Most laughs come at random moments when an anvil falls on someone’s head.”  Taking Hotel Transylvania to task for its artistic “failings” would be a similar exercise.  It is meant to entertain children (and, by extension, the child in all of us) by showing us a bunch of silly monsters hanging out in a spooky hotel.  It’s a lot more entertaining than just staring at a lawn full of Halloween decorations for ninety minutes, which is the other option for the film’s target audience.

The one thing that did bother me about the movie came in its last act (which is, as a whole, the weakest part of Hotel Transylvania).  This whole idea of “zinging” really bugged me.  For one thing, the introduction of this concept (far too late in the story) provides far too convenient an excuse for all the monsters to return to Dracula’s side.  We’ve never heard anything about “zinging” before, and this all just seems a little hard to believe.  Obviously, there’s a rush to wrap things up, and the film handles this clumsily (which is doubly odd since this isn’t one of those movies that has you looking at your watch wondering, “When will this agony end?")  They could have spared a few minutes longer for a more believable monsters-band-together scene.

To be honest, I found the whole concept of “zinging” and the ridiculous emphasis every single monster placed on it to be disturbing.  I think it was Fran Drescher’s Eunice Frankenstein who exclaimed in horror, “You only zing once!” or something like that.  What a horrible message for little girls (or boys, I suppose)! 

I understand that we want a happy ending for the movie, but all the monsters seem to hold the truth Eunice expresses to be self-evident.  There’s such frantic urgency, as if to suggest that if the situation with Mavis isn’t resolved immediately, she will be unhappy for the rest of her life.  I understand why Mavis feels this way, and even why Dracula feels this way.  I mean, strong emotions cloud your judgment.  But that’s exactly why it seems so horrible that the other monsters feel that way—because strong emotions cloud your judgment.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not against the idea of love at first sight, but I do think you should at least blink before signing the marriage license. 

Once when my daughter was a little less than a year old, I had a bad fall and hit my head and worried that I was going to die from brain trauma.  (Really I was just extra emotional because I had a concussion.)  In horror that my daughter might grow up without knowing her mother, I wrote her a long letter before it was too late.  (Luckily, I’m still here, and my daughter already knows that her mother is very melodramatic.)  The point is, I’ve thought about what I would say to my daughter, what words I would want to leave her.  I thought the revelation of the gift Mavis received from her mother was terribly anticlimactic and really just sad.

Is “zinging” that important?  At 118, Mavis has led a sheltered life.  Jonathan is the first human boy she’s ever even laid eyes on, and there is a huge difference between chemistry and compatibility.  And what about her father?  He’s already zinged, and as we know “you only zing once.”  And yet there he is, undead forever.  Poor old Dracula.  That’s got to suck.

People complain incessantly (and far too much) about how Disney princess movies that end in weddings brainwash little girls into looking for a prince charming who will never come.  But good grief!  You only zing once?!  (And they really hammer this home, too.  In the final minutes of the movie, they all go on and on about the importance of zinging.  It’s even in the closing song, and they’re all on the same page about its importance and everything.)  

So what?  A little girl in the audience grows up and meets a guy, and they really zing…

And then six months later, he happily shows her all of the bodies buried under the house just as the neighbor’s dog requested.  But she still goes through with the wedding because, I mean, you only zing once, right?  That’s your only chance at happiness.  Otherwise you’re doomed to be alone and miserable.

Sorry to go on and on about that, but it actually really bothered me.

Other than that, I have no complaints about the movie.  In fact, I'm excited to see it again.

Overall:
We were going to wait to see this movie until my stepson came back from Disney World, but then it rained and rained, and there was nothing else to do in all that rain...

Anyway, we’re going to have to go again, so he can see it, too, and I for one am delighted about that.  It’s the monster movie I always longed for back when I was a five-year-old monster enthusiast.  It’s like a birthday card full of monster riddles, projected up onto a massive screen with killer art design and digital surround sound. 

Plus Dracula and I have so much in common.  We’re both control freaks who go out of our way to please people, but when something threatens our daughters, our reaction is exactly the same.  (I also have that reaction when I accidentally trip over something and when my computer freezes.)

If the packed theater I was in is any indication, the elementary school crowd finds the film hilarious.  Some scenes may scare the youngest children but not because of true gruesomeness or horror.  I thoroughly enjoyed Hotel Transylvania and look forward to purchasing it on Blu-ray.

Oh, and also, the zombies are awesome!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fall Movie Diary: The Master

Date: September 25, 2012
Time: 7:15 pm
Place: Tinsel Town
Company: Derrick
Food:  large blue/red Icee (shared with Derrick)

Runtime:  2 hours, 16 minutes
Rating:  R
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Quick Impressions:
My eyes hurt.  I think that’s because I just stared intently at a movie screen for over two hours without blinking once.  I feel like I’ve just been audited—no, sorry, processed.  (For some reason, we’re pretending The Master is not necessarily about Scientology.  It kind of reminds me of when I was cast in Godspell my senior year of high school.  Half way through rehearsals we received instructions from a higher power—I think the principal—not to call the character playing Jesus by name in order to avoid controversy.  So we dropped the name and pretended we were just talking to some random guy coincidentally delivering all the red-printed lines from the Gospel of Matthew.)

Let me take a step back and admit that in the past, I’ve never connected to the films of Paul Thomas Anderson, specifically Magnolia and There Will Be Blood.  (I’ve only seen parts of Boogie Nights, and I won’t tell you whose.)  It’s not that I think Anderson’s films are lacking in artistic merit.  It’s just that, normally, I don’t enjoy them.  It’s not for lack of trying, either.  Every time I happen upon the beginning of the movie Magnolia, I sit down and try to watch it, thinking, This time, I know I’ll love it.  (I’m serious.  This has happened at least four times.  And I’ll admit, I do love the opening.)  A friend once told me that Magnolia was one of the greatest films made in our lifetime, but I just don’t feel it.  

In the past, Anderson and I have just never been on the same page.  Watching his films, I always feel like he’s on a page from one of those literary works I failed to connect with in high school, usually a short story where all the important characters are boys, and nothing coherent ever happens, yet at the end, the boys have a tacit understanding that they’ve shared a profound experience and are now men, though they can never explain this in words and know they need not try.  (I know that’s a run-on sentence.  That’s what most of Anderson’s films feel like to me.  There Will Be Blood did, at least, inspire me to re-watch The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and I enjoyed that very much.)

Despite all this, I’ve been very excited to see The Master, and I’m happy to report that I liked it much more than any other P.T. Anderson movie I’ve ever seen.  I’m willing to believe that all of his films are brilliant, but I actually see the brilliance in this one for myself.  Has Anderson changed?  (I doubt it.)  Have I?  (Maybe I’ve finally become a man!)  I’m not sure if it’s  curiosity about the subject, affinity for the material, love of the period, enchantment with the actors, or delight in the tight focus, but I loved The Master, and I finally feel like I get a P.T. Anderson movie! 

My eyes never left the screen.  I was afraid to look away.  (My husband felt the same way.  Every scene had such tension, such energy.  There were few moments when looking away seemed even an option.)  The Master was riveting, raising so many questions that my mind moved a mile a minute.  I feel like I could sit and discuss the film for hours on end.  I really loved it and found it fascinating. 

The Good:
This movie should win the Oscar for Original Score.  (That’s a ridiculously bold statement since I’ve seen very few contenders so far, but I feel pretty strongly about it.  At one point in the movie, I leaned over and said to my husband, “This should be nominated for score,” and he replied, “I was just about to say the same thing.”  Since we were the only ones in the theater, we didn’t mind going on about it and didn’t bother to whisper.)  The last time we both had the same hunch about a movie’s score at the same time, the film was Atonement, which did indeed go on to receive the Original Score Oscar.  Working hand-in-hand with the cinematography, the score establishes mood, provides transitions, and builds and maintains tension from scene to scene.

The soundtrack is fabulous, too.  In fact, the final scene of the movie is amazingly poignant and seems to sum up one of the film’s major statements (or, if you prefer, questions).  I won’t spoil the image (so resonant), but the song is “Changing Partners,” and the two come together to get the point across brilliantly providing a perfect ending for the film.  (The scene in the department store showcased by Ella Fitzgerald singing “Get Thee Behind Me Satan” does much to develop the character of Freddie and set the scene for the story to come and also deserves mention.)

Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead scored the film and ought to win an Oscar.  Of course, other people’s work may prove equally worthy.  But it will be a crime if Greenwood doesn’t receive at the least a nomination.

Visually, The Master is also stunning.  Each scene is visually arresting, obviously carefully framed, and enormously successful at not only making an impression but at creating an overall aesthetic that helps to advance the story and shape it into a cohesive work of art.  I love the repeated shots of the ocean that bookend the story and occasionally interrupt it.  (They don’t only interrupt it.  They also advance it.  Those sound like contradictory activities, but in this case, I don’t think so.)

The film also won my adoration by focusing on a subject that fascinates me endlessly.  I’m not sure why I have such morbid curiosity about Scientology.  (But I am sure that now that I’ve admitted that on the internet, I’ll probably get some phone calls and brochures, especially when I also divulge that I regularly “get muscle spasms for no reason.”  (In fact, a neurologist actually gave me exactly that extremely unsatisfying diagnosis.)

Who isn’t fascinated by the human condition?  (Maybe the answer is those too drunk to care.)  Without spoilers, I can say that The Master takes a great interest in the meaning of life, the nature of success, and the way one ought to live.  The title ostensibly refers to guru/mystic/soul-healer/lunatic?/cult-leader?/ not L. Ron Hubbard alter-ego (wink-wink) Lancaster Dodd, (compellingly played by the always brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman at his most charismatic).  But I think The Master also suggests that we must master our baser passions, that we can master certain techniques, that we want to be our own master, that life is easier when you’re on a vessel with a mast.  The title is amazingly apt (and much classier than The Master Baiter and the Masturbator, an also at moments apt alternative title suggested by no one but me at this very instant).

Even though I’ve admitted an interest in (maybe more a lurid fascination with) Scientology, I actually don’t know much about it.  But for years I’ve had more than a passing interest in psychology (particularly the abnormal variety), and of course, as both a student of literature and a writer of fiction, I have quite a passion for character studies.  The Master provides plenty of material for that.  Central characters Lancaster Dodd, Freddie Quell, and Peggy Dodd are rich and vivid enough to prompt days of discussion.

Another nice aspect of the movie is its ambiguity.  Even though few would call it a glowing endorsement of Dodd and his movement, it’s certainly not a scathing indictment either.  What to make of Lancaster Dodd?  What to think about Freddie Quell’s ultimate decision?  I know what I think of the ending, but someone else could view the matter quite differently.  Plus even though it’s hard not to identify Dodd’s movement with Scientology, the movie isn’t really any more about Scientology than it is about questions of faith in general.

Most Oscar Worthy Moment (Amy Adams):
I thought Amy Adams deserved a nomination for Enchanted.  (Try to imagine another actress selling the character of fish-out-of-water fairy tale princess Giselle.  And the whole movie is built around the performance.  With a less capable lead, the movie would have been a grotesque, laughable failure.)  I also thought she deserved to win when she was nominated for Doubt.  (To be clear, Viola Davis deserved a win, too, and so did Penelope Cruz, who won.)

I love her here.  As we left the theater, my husband and I said in unison, “I thought that was Amy Adams’s best performance.”  (At this point, you may be rolling your eyes and realizing that my husband and I are one of those annoying couples so in sync that it's almost eerie.  Well, wait until you get a load of the Dodds!)  From the moment Adams showed up in her first close-up, I loved her performance as Dodd’s beyond-devoted wife Peggy.  In fact, I was quite distressed that my husband accidentally missed her first scene by choosing that moment to run to the bathroom.  I thought, Not now, you fool!  Amy Adams is emanating a wonderful, creepy sincerity.  Fortunately for him, however, she had plenty of wonderful, creepy sincerity left in her.

She’s fantastic whenever she appears.  Probably her strongest moment comes around the family dinner table, although that first scene that my husband inadvertently missed just might be my favorite.  Her choice of words when describing her preference for the sea reveals her slightly fanatical devotion to her husband’s cause and more than slightly scary devotion to her husband himself.

I’m kind of hoping Adams wins an Oscar for this because it’s the most against her usual type that she’s ever been in a high profile role.

Most Oscar Worthy Moment (Philip Seymour Hoffman):
Like Adams, Hoffman as the arresting Lancaster Dodd doesn’t have a bad scene in this movie, and he has a lot more scenes.  Probably my favorite moment from him comes in the drawing room in New York when a skeptic interrupts his demonstration.  Even though the agitator in the doorway presents the more logical position, it’s remarkably hard not to sympathize with Dodd in the moment since Hoffman makes him so dignified and eloquent.  Without a doubt, the interrupter’s entire intention is to stir up trouble.  The man has no interest in entering into a genuine dialogue.  He has no intention of revising his own position.  So the charismatic Dodd easily comes across as the man with greater integrity.  As such he remains incredibly sympathetic (both to his audience and the audience in the theater) until one last minute slip-up that comes with a shocking flare of temper.  It’s a brilliant glimpse into the character and is expertly performed by Hoffman. 

The scene where he sings “Slow Boat to China” is awfully strong, too.  He has a lovely voice.  (And the placement of his head in relation to the architecture behind him is almost distracting.)

Most Oscar Worthy Moment (Joaquin Phoenix):
I must admit that initially I least liked Phoenix’s character, damaged Navy Veteran Freddie Quell.  Often characters in P.T. Anderson films seem a little too cartoony and over-the-top to me, and at first Quell seemed to fall into this category.  In early scenes, he seemed more like a walking caricature, a character that would turn up in one of those short stories I mentioned earlier than an actual, flesh-and-blood man. 

But as the movie went on, and we saw more of Quell, Phoenix managed to change my mind.  I first began to change my mind when I saw him in the second of his back-to-back processing attempts.  In that scene, Phoenix makes Quell seem as full human as anyone can.  Here he’s at his best.  Suddenly Quell seems like a different man, and after watching his changing state throughout the rest of the film, I came away quite impressed with Phoenix’s performance.

Best Scene:
The processing scene I just mentioned is probably my favorite in the film.  For one thing, it’s the core of both the film’s narrative journey and its philosophical musings.  Phoenix and Hoffman sit facing one another across a small table and without blinking say and respond to things so raw as to be psychologically binding.

I also love the very last scene of the movie, the very last instant, an example of brilliant visuals and perfect music coming together to punctuate a possible thematic implication of the entire film.  It’s the most striking and effective final scene I’ve seen since The Descendants.  (I know last year wasn’t that long ago, but I do see a lot of movies.)

Strangest Scene:
Without a doubt, Hoffman’s rollicking rendition of “I’ll Go No More A-Roving” is a scene that makes an impression, and a strange one.  For one thing, the scene conspicuously requires the audience to form its own interpretation of what is happening.  (Arguably it’s not the only scene that does, but the others are less obvious.)  Its juxtaposition with the even stranger scene immediately following it is what really gets me. 

Without spoilers, I don’t think I can say much about what’s going on here, but it’s definitely something.  These scenes seem particularly crucial to solving some of the central riddles surrounding the characters simply because they seem to demand more careful interpretation than the more transparent scenes surrounding them.  With characters as suspicious as these, scenes that seem laden with clues do make an impression.  I’m not suggesting that these scenes are key to understanding the overall thrust of the film, but they may be helpful in understanding Dodd.

Best Scene Visually:
How can you not be captivated by the stark contrast in the jail scene between the practiced stoicism of Lancaster Dodd and the animalistic rage of Freddie Quell in the adjoining cell?  Both actors are marvelous, and I think one reason I understand what Anderson is saying with this movie is that he frequently gives us visual clues like this.  As in the processing scene, the set-up in the jail cell once again draws our attention to Dodd and Quell side by side, both separated and joined by so little and yet so much.

The Negatives:
A now deceased college professor once told me, “If you’re interested in verbs, then you have no business reading Henry James.”  (Try skimming the opening chapters of The Ambassadors some time.  Just try it.)

A similar sentiment applies here.  This movie is about the nature of faith, the proper state of the soul, the meaning of life, and other such lofty things.  It appeals to passion and reason and asks complex questions of the intellect and the soul. 

In narrative terms, it’s a nearly two-and-a-half-hour character study, focused on the relationship between two men.  Of course the film is about something more, something bigger than just the simple interactions of Dodd and Quell.  But the story isn’t.  If you’re looking for plot-driven, action packed stuff, then boy are you going to hate The Master.

I found the whole thing completely enthralling, but those who prefer more action and a more traditional narrative structure with a formulaic (and I don’t mean that in a bad way), traditionally paced plot will probably scream, “This is boring!”  And you can’t exactly say that they’re wrong.  I know several cherished friends and family members who would probably drop dead from sheer boredom before the end credits rolled.

So I do think it’s a masterpiece of sorts, but I’ll readily concede that it is really not for everyone.

Overall:
Given my less than enthusiastic reaction to P.T. Anderson’s past films, I was quite surprised to love The Master.  It’s a well-acted character drama that asks important questions and deserves a number of Oscar nominations for acting, directing, picture, and, most definitely, Original Score.  I highly recommend it but not without reservations.  Some of you out there are most definitely going to hate it.  But you just might love it as much as I did.  And love it or hate it, it’s hard to deny the strength of the performances from Adams, Hoffman, and Phoenix, not to mention the power of Greenwood’s outstanding score.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Penelope Says

September 7


Penelope (wearing the death mask Gray colored, with brown hair): Dinah, I'm going to freak you out!
Dinah: Aaah! A mummy!
Penelope: Dinah, it's just me wearing a death mask. Don't worry. My hair is still blond under here.
5:19 pm


Me (reading): We all went on safari, / In the sunset's fading light./ We build ourselves a campfire./ And bid our friends, "Good night!"
Penelope: (gasps) There are vampires in Tanzania!
Me: No, we "bid" our friends. That's kind of an old fashioned word. It means tell. Like we told our friends good night.
Penelope: Oh! (relieved) I thought you said bit. That didn't sound very good to me.
5:25 pm


Penelope: I have a shock for you. In real life, Donald is married to Minnie, and Mickey is married to Daisy.
Me: That is very surprising news.
6:02 pm


Penelope: (handing Derrick a tomato) We can pretend we were the rain. Crashing! And thunder! And flying down! But that would be a bad idea.
Me: Why?
Penelope: Well, if we were flying down the chimney pretending to be the rain, that would be a bad idea.
6:49 pm


Penelope: Warehouse 13. They thought it was a house with werewolves.
Me: What about 13?
Penelope: They thought there were thirteen werewolves.
6:58 pm


Penelope: Ohhh. I'm scared.
Grandma: There's nothing to be scared of in this.
Penelope: Oh, but this gives me a creep.
Grandma: I hate it when I get a creep.
9:23 pm


Penelope (after I read a story and Grayson told one): I have a scary story.
Me: What is it?
Penelope: The bloody foot. It was one foot, and it was bloody, and it had no body just a foot.
Me: What did it do?
Penelope: It stomped around, and it climbed a tree, and it scared everyone in the town, and they became evil.
Me: The town became evil?
Penelope: Yes, and they ate flowers because they were bad.
11:28 pm


Grayson: You know the Grim Reaper? That would be funny if there was a mouse grim reaper, and a bird grim reaper, and an elf grim reaper, and every Friday they got together and had tea. Like it was their day off. Nobody dies on Friday!
11:50 pm


September 8


Reading Scary Stories...
Grayson (pretending to be sleeping, snoring with an open mouth): I'm Daddy. (pretends to be asleep.) I'm like the little voodoo version of Daddy!
12:51 am


Penelope: Let's watch Dora on Netflix.
Me: Are you sure?
Penelope: Yes, I think I'm in the mood to try again.
(I turn it on.)
Dora: Hi, I'm Dora. What's your name?
Penelope: Penelope.
Dora: WHAT's your name?
Penelope: (gives me a look and groans, really slowly) Pen-nel-o-pe. (to me) I don't know. Maybe we should watch Mickey Mouse.
Me: Well, we've already started Dora. Let's give it a chance.
(Ten minutes later)
Penelope: Will you get me a banana?
Me: Well, it's almost time to go up and brush your teeth, but okay. You can have some banana first.
Penelope: Let's play Dora.
Me: Okay, Dora.
Penelope: No, you be Dora. I'll be Boots.
Me: Okay, Boots. It's a good thing you're a monkey. Here's a...(I try to think). Look! (stalling in a super loud Dora voice) It's amarillo! Yellow! (Thinking) It's a banana! A platano...I hope. (It took me a really long time to remember that, but it is late.)

If we're going to keep playing Dora and Boots, I am definitely going to have to brush up on my Spanish.
1:15 am

Watching Jake and the Neverland Pirates with Nellie and wishing she'd listen to Peter Pan. Maybe she's old enough. I remember being seven and cracking up about Captain Hook agonizing about somebody having good form without knowing it, "the best form of all!!!" She always laughs at Captain Hook, so maybe she'd listen. I don't know.
1:35 am

Grayson: Who are you?
Me: I'm Izzie.
Grayson: I'm Peter Pan.
Me: Ooh! Good choice! I'm always Izzie, and she's Jake.
Grayson: I'm surprised she's not Izzie.
Me: She's always the main character. And she usually makes me the girl.
(Just now)
Grandpa: (to Gray) Fly away, Pan, and go ring your Tinkerbelle.
Gray: You'll pay for this Hook. There will be payback.
Grandpa: Arrghh. I don't pay anythin' back. I have bad credit.
1:40 pm

Penelope (on our magic carpet): Look down there, Harold.
Harold: What do you see down there, Chester. (Grabbing some geography cards) Oh look! I see what we're flying over. What's that, Chester!
Penelope: It's the Eiffel Tower!
Me: The Eiffel Tower! Chester, that's the Statue of Liberty! We're in New York!
Penelope: Oh.
Me: Look. (finding another card) There's the Eiffel Tower.
Penelope: Oh.
Me: So where are we now, Chester? Where is the Eiffel Tower?
Penelope: (triumphantly) In Transylvania!
11:22 pm

Penelope is running back and forth holding a ball tightly, daring Derrick to try and grab it. When he misses, she yells, "Too late, slow folk!" I think she means "slow poke."
11:24 pm


September 9

Penelope: I'm scared of the night time. What things are nocturnal?
Me: Good fairies.
Penelope: Owls and werewolves?
Me: Yes, but...
Penelope: Crows and bats?
Me: Not crows so much. But bats are nocturnal.
Penelope: And vampires.
12:55 am

Penelope: (out of nowhere) It's not nice to call people names and laugh at them.
Me: That's right. It's not. That's not the way to be a good friend. You shouldn't call names.
Penelope: Like "fat pig." That's not a very nice name.
Me: No, who said that?
Penelope: It was on TV two years ago.
Me: Oh.
11:40 pm


Penelope: (spontaneously) Know what I'm getting you? Something special! Something great! Something just for your birthday date!
11:52 pm


September 10

Penelope:  Izzy, we've got to hide in our hideout because Captain Hook wants to eat us.
Me: Yea-hey, no way, Jake! Captain Hook is a cannibal?
P: No, he's a person. He just eats people.
Me: A cannibal is a person who eats people.
P: Fine. Have it your way. But he's coming. He's going to swallow us in one bite and not even chew!
Me: Then maybe we can climb out of his tummy.
P: That will never work because it's much too slippery to climb, and sometimes he jiggles his belly.
Me: Oh no!
P: He's going to have us for a snack.
(A moment later)
Me: Good night, Jake. Sleep tight. Don't let Captain Hook bite!
1:23 am

Grandma (at dinner time): Would you like some nice celery?
Penelope (to the Sara Lee jingle tune, taking several pieces, singing) Nobody doesn't like celery!
(Five minutes later)
Penelope: I don't like celery!
1:25 am


I'm sure Nellie wonders why we now go to the dentist every day.
11:07 am

Penelope (in her Chester voice): I was in my bungalow minding my own business when suddenly something strange came upon me.
Me: What was it, Chester?
Penelope: It was Harrison. I saw him putting something in my food. At first, I thought it was ketchup. But then I realized the truth.
Me: Poison?
Penelope: This is the secret of Chateau Bow-Wow!
3:51 pm

So Nellie doesn't have to lose her front teeth early, but she still gets an OR visit to get seven crowns and some-odd fillings. Parents of toddlers beware. We have brushed her teeth every night with fluoride toothpaste and flossed occasionally. From now on we will brush her teeth morning and night (and after eating sweets) and floss at least daily. But I hope it helps. The hygienist only gave her teeth cleanliness a B, which is quite disturbing since she went to the dentist twice last week, and we've been brushing and flossing her teeth multiple times a day.
7:44 pm

Mr. Jett is going to look quite exciting to all this fifth grade pupils tomorrow since in his words "the grill blew up in my face." He's kind of cute with this oddly thinned eyebrows. And the grilled ham steak will be the perfect complement to our waffles!
8:23 pm


Penelope: (sounding out what she has written) X-H-T...exxxhit. Exit!

(She won't let me help. She was very secretive and only read it to me when I kept asking. She doesn't like me to tell her how to make the letters.)
1:15 pm


Now every time Penelope eats anything, I get so worried.
11:37 pm


Penelope: (gasping, grabbing my head and turning it toward the TV) Do you see it? It's real. Do you see it?
Me: I think that's a Raiders fan.
Penelope: (fearfully) But skeletons should only come out on Halloween.
Me: Well, in Oakland, I think they may come out during football season.
11:44 pm



September 11

P: Now that I found this kitty mask, what am I going to do for Halloween? I know! I can be Kitty Little Red Riding Hood Vampire with a sword!
1:07 am

Spooooooky! When we came home from Killer Joe, Nellie couldn't wait to show us her killer door decorations!
9:24 pm


September 12
"There's an old sayin', lad. What doesn't kill ya [dramatic pause] usually succeeds in a second attempt." We came in from playing Jake and the Neverland Pirates on the front porch just in time to catch this pearl of wisdom from Mr. Krabs.
4:10 pm


Penelope: Mommy, do monkeys lay eggs?
Me: No, monkeys are born just like we are. Humans and monkeys are both mammals. We give live birth.
Penelope: (suspiciously) Then who puts in our bones?
6:40 pm

Penelope (to Derrick as I come down the stairs): I like the show where the Mommy hits the son.
Derrick: What show is that?
Penelope: It's Mommy's favorite show. (Seeing me) Mommy, I'm talking to Daddy about your favorite show. So be quiet!
Derrick: She didn't say anything!
Me: (interrupting her giggling fit as she attacks Derrick): Are you talking about a real show?
Penelope: (without thinking) N...(thinks better of it, hesitates, finally admits) No. It's a pretend show.
7:43 pm

Okay, so I feel like a huge idiot. Penelope refused to come inside after greeting Grandma on the front porch, so Derrick carried her in, and she was screaming at us and crying. She immediately ran up to her room. Finally, (after Grandma and Grandpa had checked in with no results), I went to check on her. She said to me in horror, "My voice is changing. It's already changing. Can't you hear it?" I said it sounded the same to me, and she insisted, "It's not the same!" She was totally distraught and hysterical as she said, "It's already happening even before I get my mummy teeth. I'm already changing into a monster!"

And then she showed me how she thought her head looked red, like the picture of Bunnicula. I feel so stupid. When they do a root canal on baby teeth, they mummify the tooth. Since she loves mummies so much, last week when I heard that, I said, "Ooh! You get a mummy tooth! Isn't that cool!" This explains why she was so terrified when they tried to clean her teeth in Dr. Bain's office Monday, and why she's been so anxious lately. Thankfully, I think we've straightened it all out now!
8:46 pm

Merry, that Sun Jar you got me for my birthday is awesome. Somehow, I had forgotten all about it. Penelope found the jar yesterday, and we charged it on the front porch all afternoon. Now it glows in the dark or whenever you cover the top with your hand. The non-monster is totally fascinated with it.
9:00 pm

Penelope: (showing me a piece of packing styrofoam) What's this called again?
Me: Styrofoam.
Penelope: Yeah, I'm going to save this for my collection. I have a collection of styrofoam.
Me: You do?
Penelope: Yes, but it's secret. I'll put this with my collection of...what's it called again?
Me: Styrofoam.
Penelope: Right.
9:44 pm



September 13

Penelope (as Jake, to Derrick): Cubby, did you know that you're my little brother? Izzy's my little sister, and you're my little brother, and I'm the big brother, you see. But, Cubby, I couldn't find any coconuts for you, I'm sorry. But I will keep looking. Hey Iz, there are no coconuts in the banana field. That's weird. But I found this gold dubloon! Oh no! It fell in some blood!
1:39 am

Penelope (as Chester): Mr. Monroe, my teeth are sore because a bad dentist came into town, so I didn't brush my kitty teeth, and they all fell out.
1:59 am

I am really confused. Isn't your great uncle the brother of your grandfather (or mother)? So isn't your great uncle's father your great grandfather and your great uncle's grandfather your great, great grandfather? But here, the relationship is given as great grand uncle. It is late, so maybe I am missing something. By the way, this is in The Lair of the White Worm. It gives me pause because I remember similar confusion in the movie The Spiderwick Chronicles. Is there something I am missing?
3:36 am

Penelope (watching Good Luck Charlie, which was on when we came home from our "walk" [perhaps better called a swim]): I think this is all a dream.
Me: No, I think it's real. I think it's really happening.
Penelope: It's happening in her mind because it's all a dream.
Me: I really don't think it's a dream. It's not that weird. I think it's happening.
Penelope: No, no. It's all a dream. I am sure that it's all a dream.
(Later we find out it was all a dream)
Penelope: See. I told you so. What did I tell you? It was all a dream.
Me: How did you know that?
Penelope: Well, I've seen this episode before. Haven't you?
Me: Obviously, I don't remember.
10:20 pm

Derrick: Hmmm.
Penelope: Did you have a sneaky idea in your head?
Derrick: What makes you say that?
Penelope: Because of the (mimics his voice and facial expression) hmmm.
10:24 pm


Penelope: Miss Piggy? Is that her name?
Me: Yes.
Penelope: I've got a song. It's called "Miss Pig, Won't You Come In?" (sings) Miss Pig, won't you please come in? Won't you please come in? With your pink skin jumbled on the floor. She tumbled in the kor. (Informs me) Kor means bad. (resumes) Miss Pig, won't you please come in?
10:30 pm


Me: (trying to floss Penelope's teeth) Well, I see why these teeth have problems. It's easier to fit a camel through the eye of a needle than to get dental floss between these two front teeth.
Derrick (partially asleep, suddenly looks over): Did you say to fit a CAMEL through the eye of a needle?
Me: Yeah, it's in the Bible. Jesus says it's easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. Now some people think that back then...
Derrick: Needles were bigger?
11:06 pm

September 14

Penelope: (sing-song, to Derrick) Come on! Don't be shy. You've got to die in another bunny's eye!
12:53 pm

Derrick: I'm going to go shower.
P: Aw yuck!
Me: Did you say, "Aw yuck?"
P (innocently, clearly lying): I said good luck.
1:01 am

Penelope: I apologize.
Me: You apologize about what?
Penelope: About all the howl-oooing. I saw a werewolf chewing on my tooth brush.
1:03 am

Me: (reading the back of a book) Me and My Family Tree. What's a family tree?
Derrick: It's when you gather the whole family and plant a tree in the yard.
Penelope: No! You go to the park!
Me: No a family tree is a chart of your ancestors.
D: Are those all the girl ants related to you?
Penelope: No!!! (to me) You tell.
Me: Your ancestors are the people you're descended from...like your mommy, and your grandma, and your great grandma.
D: So you're descended from all women.
Me: Yes. You're Wonder Woman!
Penelope: No, Daddy can't be Wonder Woman!
Me: No, not Daddy.
P: You have to be Wonder Boy, Dad.
1:27 am

Penelope: Dad, let's fight! No! Just move your arms! That's how you fight. (Jumps onto his side) Were you expecting that?
D: No, sweetie! You're like the Spanish Inquisition. Urghhh! She just Spanish Inquisitioned me in the ribs. Why do you keep driving your knee into me?
Me: They call her the chauffeur.
P: Dad, did you feel that? We're awesome!
D: WE'RE awesome??!! I can take a beating and she can dish one out!
P: Let's play hide and seek. (Jumps off the bed) You count!
D: 999...998...(counts a long time until she says he forgot twody eighty ten. He counts down from there.)
P: Dad! You are counting too long!
(He keeps counting.)
P: (in dismay) Maybe we shouldn't play hide and seek. Ohhh. I need new pants.
Me: Oh no! You took too long!
P (as D gets up): Ohh, I didn't mean to pee in my hiding place. Careful, don't step in the puddle.
1:39 pm


Penelope (as we begin to read Dr. Seuss's A B C): Ohhh. This has such good pictures. I wish it could have won the Caldecott medal!
2:37 am

Penelope (after we wave "bye bye" to Gma on the porch, scooping up some fallen blossoms from the front garden): Oooh! Rainflowers! How rare! One smells like honey, and one smells like grass. Oooh! And there are more rainflowers, too. I'm going to tell my kitty. We found rainflowers, Dinah.
Dinah: Oooh! Rainflowers! How rare! Those only appear after a rain shower!
2:36 pm

Penelope's  first deliberately written word: HI
3:57 pm


Penelope: (happily surveying her red letters) I-T-H-V-X. What spells that?
Me: Well...
P: It kind of spells Netflix, except I forgot to make the Nnn Nnn N.
4:07 pm



September 15
My teeth have hurt so much ever since we took Penelope to the dentist. And now my ear is being weird. I tried to fix it, and that made it worse.
Penelope: Do your teeth hurt because you floss them so much?
Me: Sometimes I grind my teeth at night when I'm worried.
P: About me?
Me (thinking, carefully): Well I was worried about you at first, but now that we talked to Bubby's dentist I know there's nothing to worry about. He said, "Mommy, I'm going to get rid of the cavities in Penelope's teeth, and it won't even hurt."
P: And you believed him?
Me: Yes. I know he will help us.
1:33 am


Penelope (pointing to a road sign in her Rocks book that says Via Appia): This says, "'Don't go to church,'--The Devil."
2:12 am


Penelope (playing ball with Derrick): I was just explaining "catch me if you can ball". That's just an old game weirdos play. I think my sister the Spooky Kitty put her picture in the glow in the dark football and made it evil.
2:02 pm


Penelope (from the back seat): Dad! You let a bug get in!
D: I let a bug get in?
Me: It was probably me. I left my door open while I took stuff in the house.
Penelope: The bug flew in my eye!
D (skeptically): The bug flew in your eye?
P: That always happens to me! I'm allergic to bugs!
G: What is she allegic to?
2:30 pm

Grayson: I opened the door myself. It was (sings) maaa-gic! Just kiddding. There's no such thing as magic. It's called science.
Penelope: I have magic.
Gray: There's no such thing as magic, there's no such thing as monsters, no such thing as ghosts.
Me: I believe in ghosts.
P: The Spooky Kitty has appeared in my room.
Gray: But there are no real ghosts.
Me: I do believe in ghosts. Really.
Gray: (in a funny voice) Serrrioussly?
Me: Yeah.
Gray: (dramatically) I'm surrounded by fools!!
3:05 pm


Gray: Shut up!
Penelope: Don't say shut up!
Derrick: You got told!
Grayson: But you said shut up. Ooooh! Backfire!
P (oblivious to his point): I said DON'T say shut up.
Gray: (changing the subject) I love my gun! (referring to the candy dispenser/gun he got from the candy store) I lovvvvve guns!
D: I don't know if I should be happy or disturbed about that.
3:11 pm


P: Bubby, what are you doing?
Gray: (secretively) Something...
P: (almost whispering) Are you doing something naughty?
(Gray and I both laugh and repeat it.)
P: I didn't know if you were being naughty or bad.
Me: Are those the only choices??!!
3:14 pm


Gray: What are we doing?
D: I told you. We're stopping to get a new football.
G: But my food will get cold.
Me: It's a sandwich.
G: Yeah, but mine is toasted.
D: So is mine, but toasting brings out a new flavor even if it's cold.
P: But, Dad, you toasted your hand, remember? And you cooked it in the toaster...
D: (jumps in) Yes I...(Penelope just keeps talking as he talks)
P: And you burned off all your flesh!
3:20 pm


Grayson: I'm as sweaty as a dog.
Penelope: I'm sweatier than a cat!
4:34 pm


Our picnic in the park was great except that while we were there, my phone screen cracked, apparently from being bent in my pocket. I'm pretty sure it must have happened when I was helping Penelope look for her stick (either that, or when she wanted to pick up a feather). It was kind of a shock--a huge crack across the entire screen when I'd just been using the phone in the car and never dropped it or anything. Fortunately, the extra warranty we have covered it. (I knew Derrick would be furious otherwise.) So in 2-4 business days I'll have a brand new phone, hopefully white, though they say it also might be red.
5:44 pm


Grayson has on the coolest shirt. I thought it said Nosferatu while he was putting on his shoes. When he stood up, though, it was clearly Northern Pines Swap Meet. Still cool, though, and probably much more age appropriate.
6:35 pm


Mom (getting into the car after mass): We just met the church vampire.
Me: What?
Mom: He said he hung upside down from the belfry at night.
Dad: So I said, "You're the church vampire, huh?"
Mom: It was a little weird.
Me: He just said he slept upside down in the belfry? Apropos of nothing?
Mom: Well, I said, "I've seen you here before." He was the usher last week, too. And he said, "Yes, I'm always here. I sleep upside down in the belfry."
Dad: So I said, "You're the church vampire, huh?"
Penelope: (very loudly, as if highly exasperated) I THINK that he was JOKING!
(We all laugh)
Grayson: Then how come when we're joking she always gets upset and thinks we're serious?
8:22 pm


Just after the passing of the peace...
Ghost: Boooo! Booo!
Me: (turning sharply to the side) Shh!
Penelope: (wide eyes, mysterious whisper) It wasn't me! (shrugs)
(I make face and turn back)
Ghost: Booo! Boooo!
Penelope: It wasn't...
Me (whispering): Penelope, tell the ghost to be quiet during church.
(Later in the car)
Me: Penelope tried to be quiet during Mass, but there was a ghost.
Grandma: Was it the Holy Ghost?
Me: I don't think so because it kept saying, "Boo! Boo!"
Grayson: Yes, I heard that ghost, too. And it kept sounding like it was right next to me. It sounded like a little ghost to me.
Me: Yes. It was a yittle ghost.
8:28 pm


Penelope: Bubby! While you were in the kitchen, my macaroni tumbled onto the carpet! It was not awesome.
9:26 pm

Penelope (in the car taking Gray home): I want a brother who lives at Penelope's house.
Grayson: I am your brother.
Me: Yeah, and Bubby is here every week.
Penelope: But I want a little brother, a baby brother.
Grayson: I'm going to have a little girl and name her Angel. Angel Battle Rayburn. And then I'm going to have a baby boy and name him...Leo maybe? Leo Rayburn Battle.
Penelope: Baby Addie is already a girl!
Gray: No, I mean when I'm like Mommy and Daddy--a big kid.
D: A big kid!
Grayson: I mean, a grown up. I'm going to name them Leo Battle Rayburn and Angel Battle Rayburn.
Me: Well, your wife may weigh in on that.
Gray (groaning): Yeah...(suddenly adds brightly) If I have one!
11:10 pm

September 16

Penelope: Cubbie, will you give me a piggie ride?
D: Not tonight, Jake.
P: Please.
Me: Jake, Cubbie hurt his neck at the park today.
P: How did that happen?
D: I'm not really sure.
P: Ohhhh. But who's gonna give me a piggie ride?
Me: Well, nobody tonight. You'll just have to wait until tomorrow or the next day when Daddy's neck feels better.
P: But what if it doesn't feel better?
Me: You can wait until it does. It will get better, trust me.
P: But what if it always hurts, and it never feels better ever again?
2:01 am


Derrick: Nellie did you grow an extra foot overnight? Look at her. She's so tall. She's taller than the piano.
Me: Is she standing on something? No, I guess not.
Penelope: But Daddy! (laughing) I didn't grow an extra foot! (like he's crazy, lifts up her skirt) Look! (She indicates that there's not a third foot between her legs)
Derrick: No, sweetie, I just mean that it looks like you've been growing.Penelope: Oh yes, I've been growing in the car last night.
1:19 pm


Penelope: Dad, I don't like football! (carrying around the new football)
Derrick: You don't?
Penelope: On the TV! It makes me bored!
1:21 pm


Penelope (plugging her ears as a supporting character on Handy Manny speaks): His voice is very pitch! Like Daddy gets a pitch!
Me: You mean it's loud?
P: Yeah.
Me: Should I turn it down?
P: No!
10:51 pm



September 17


Penelope: I think I'm going to put Pinkie in the time out chair because I have one of those. Because he's been too fast.
Grandma: How long does he have to stay there? Five minutes?
Penelope: Forty minutes.
Grandma: Forty minutes! That's a lot time.
Penelope: But I'm going to sit there with him because it's Pinkie's birthday.
Grandma: How old is he?
Penelope: Forty.
Grandma: Forty! Are you sure?
Penelope: Yes.
Grandma: Wow! Babies grow up so fast.
2:21 pm


Penelope: (after two licks of a Mystery wrapped Dumdum) Ooh! That mystery sucker gave me mysteries to suck!

(I'm aware that candy is not great for teeth, but she's already freaked out enough, so I don't want to forbid her from sweets. We just brush afterwards.)
3:45 pm


September 18


Penelope: (looking at a picture of a cat sitting with the moon and stars behind them) Oh no! This cat is stuck in outerspace!
Me: Aww! Let's take his picture.
P: Meow! Meow! He says he doesn't want his picture taken.
1:16 am


Penelope (working the new African animal puzzle Mom got for her this morning): Mommy, who is the elephant?
Me: Who is he?
Penelope: What's his name?
Grandma: I think she means in Swahili. Isn't it something with a T?
Me: Oh yeah! Tembo, I think!
Penelope: How about the giraffe?
Me: Hmm. I don't remember. We'll have to get your book.
Penelope: I'm going to call him banana.
(Moments later)
Me: It's twiga.
Penelope: Well what about the zebra?
2:04 pm


Penelope: Ghostbusters. I love Ghostbusters. We watched about that marshmallow man in Grandma's room and ate those big, giant marshmallows. That was the best!
Me: Did you brush your teeth?
(Silence)
10:08 pm


September 19


Penelope (looking at an illustration in her ant book): I can lift up a car. I'm sure I can.
Me: You can?
Penelope: Well, it might slam down on me. But I'm sure Daddy can do it!
2:23 am


Penelope (as we read our ant book): Grandma has Koofoo.
Me: Khofu?
Penelope: No, Koofoo.
Me: I'm not sure what you mean.
Penelope: You know. Where you roll the dice and make a bug?
Me: Ohh! Cootie!
1:12 pm


Penelope (on political map): Now where is that Kenya? (flips page) Ooh! I want to look at this beauitful page! Look at that beautiful ocean on earth. (lies on her stomach and kicks up her legs) This is like a slumber party!
3:35 pm


Me: Where are we on this map right now?
Penelope: Well, there's North America, but we're not on this map anymore. I'm afraid we've gone into Spook World.
Me: Spook World?
Penelope: Yeah, it's so spooky here! A man is really a cat witch, and a snail is really a lion!
Me: It sounds dangerous in Spook World.
Penelope: Well, it's really kind of fun. It's a roller coaster ride. It goes up in the air really fast. And me and Pinkie go on it. And it's really kind of fun, too. Iz, you should try it. (Apparently we're playing Jake and the Neverland Pirates now.)
3:40 pm


Penelope: (to the wooden ostrich from the Melissa and Doug cut out puzzle) Ostrich, your name is mbuni.
Ostrich: Oh yes, I knew that. And there are my two sisters. There are two of them in English. And look, in swahili, the number is mbili. Do you know how to say two in Spanish?
Penelope (confidently) Makoko.
Ostrich: Makoko???!
Penelope: I was just guessing.
Ostrich: Oh, well, good guess, but actually it's just dos.
Penelope: Oh yeah, uno, dos, tres.
Ostrich: Yes, that's right. It's hard to keep up with all these crazy languages on this planet.
Penelope: But ostrich, why are you so pink? (the puzzle piece is very pink, and the book ostriches are life-like in coloring)
Ostrich: Well, that's because I'm a ballerina, and I'm practicing to be in my big show, Ostrich Lake.
Penelope: That sounds weird. Besides, you don't live in the lake. That's where the Hippo and the Crocodile go.
Ostrich: Oh yes, you're right. Well, I can still warm up at the barre, can't I?
3:46 pm


Me: What do wildebeests do?
Penelope: They kill lions.
Me: Well, I don't think they kill lions on purpose.
Penelope: I'm not so sure about that.
3:59 pm

Penelope just got TONS of hand-me-down clothes and shoes from Derrick's friend's daughter. Penelope loves the boots, and she is absolutely obsessed with a pair of sparkly shoes that light up when you slam them down.
Me: (hanging up several dresses) Look aren't these pretty! Look at this one! It will be so nice to wear to church.
Penelope: Yeah, it will go great with my glowing shoes!
5:31 pm

We just finished reading Penelope's safari book and counting to ten together in English, Spanish, and Swahili. Then Penelope yelled, "Kiki!"
Me: Kiki! What does that mean?
Penelope: It means it's time to read Dear Zoo. Or as we say in our language, Kiki.
Me: What language is that?
Penelope: It's called Uno, Dos, Tres Lion.
Me: Where do you speak that language?
Penelope: Kehkeh.
Me: I don't understand.
Penelope: I guess you don't speak giraffe.
5:59 pm

Penelope: (singing at her zoo) Ants! They danced! They canst! They nanced! (Looking up at me with wide eyes) Until there were so many girlfriends, nobody knew who to choose!
8:17 pm

Penelope: I used to have a show called Catty Cat Time.
Me: Catty Cat Time?
Penelope: Yeah, and a voice would say Catty Cat, it's time for your time! And they have those little balls that look like animals, and I choose to be the cat!
9:31 pm

Penelope (crestfallen): Oh no! This isn't right. Mommy, you must have recorded the wrong Jake.
Me: No, this is the new one.
Penelope: Ohhh. But this is not what I was hoping for. This is just terrible.
Me: (realizing) Oh no, lovee. Captain Hook won't keep Bucky. They'll get Bucky back. This is an extra long episode. It's only half over. There's going to be more after the commercial.
11:15 pm

September 20

Penelope and Derrick were just playing heads or tails.
Penelope (picking up a penny): Now it's my game. (Turning the penny over in her hands) Fence, or heads. I want heads! (Flips it) Oh! I got fence!!!
12:54 am

Penelope (counting nine coins as I get her toothbrush ready): Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, Felipe, ocho...(long pause)...tikki. (Looks around, repeats more confidently) tikki.
1:23 am

Penelope: (greeting Derrick at the front door with the little tupperware pitcher that was my toy iced tea pitcher when I was her age) Daddy, I made this drink for you.
Grandma: (as Derrick "drinks" it) Oh! Some nice lemonade!
Penelope: NO! It's NOT LEMONADE!
Grandma: Okay, what is it?
Penelope: Energy drink!
Me: Aww! It's Daddy's energy drink.
Derrick: Oh thank you.
5:00 pm

Grandma: (wailing) Oh, my arm is sore!
Penelope (singing back) And we are poor! (giggles) Hey, that rhymes!
5:01 pm


Derrick: I sent you a couple of links you'll think are funny.
Mom: You never send me any links.
Me: That's because I got fence. You must have called heads.
(Only funny if you've flipped a penny with Penelope.)
5:02 pm


Me: (to Derrick) I've done a lot of work today. Unfortunately, it's all the kind you can't see around the house.
Penelope (eating some vanilla ice cream with Hershey's syrup): You can't see my cake. It's all invisible with (sings out) chocolate! Come look!
Me: Where's the cake? I don't see it anywhere.
(Penelope grins, pleased)
9:23 pm

Penelope (still playing in her ice cream): What do you think of my letter pool? It's got a slide.
Me: Why is it called your letter pool?
Penelope: Because I made an a (with her spoon in the ice cream). That's why it's called the letter pool!
9:24 pm
P: Look Iz.
Me: Yea-hey, Jake. A cute little turtle! I wonder if he's from the Galapagos.
P: (suspicious) What Gullopa ghost?
11:48 pm


September 21
Me: Have you taken your maniac pills?
Penelope (running around the room): Nope, no maniac pills.
Me: Well then based on the way you're acting, I think you should take some. I think you need them, Jake.
P: No, maniac pills don't cure you, you know. When you take them you just keep on maniacing. Those are wrong ideas, Izzie!
12:40 am

Penelope: (Throwing her towel over her head like a hood) Look! It's time to play Baby Jesus.
Me: Oh are you Mary?
P: But Izzy. I'm a boy. There's a new book about Baby Jesus called Baby Jesus and the Vampire Man!
Me: What?! Who wrote that book?
P (immediately): Izzabod Edgar Stickyswamp.
Me: Of course you know!
P (Letting her towel slip into a cape in the scariest wrasp ever): Come here Baby Jesus! I am going to drink your blood. (Seeing my alarm, ever so sweetly) Don't worry. It's just a play. (Gushing in delight) Baby Jesus and his family are enjoying it!!!
!!!????!!!
1:33 am

P: (bringing me Me and My Amazing Body) Mom, we need to read this book again. I just know I have some parts I can't remember.
1:43 am

Penelope's new favorite game--covering up the "-eon" on the cover of Don't Let the Pigeon Stay up Late to vew the drawing of the Pigeon below the title
P: Pig!
Pigeon (outraged): Don't call me a pig!
P: (through giggles) Pig!
1:54 am

After I read Penelope her new book, Tut's Mummy: Lost...and Found, Penelope seemed a little nervous and scared, so I found Steve Martin's King Tut song on Hulu. Granted, it's not very educational, but it definitely lightened the mood. She wanted to hear it over and over again, each time exclaiming, "He ate a crocodile!" Then one time she looked at the clips below the viewing screen and exclaimed, "Wait a minute. The news? SNL? No wonder this song is so crazy!"
3:44 pm

Wow! It's been a while since we played Burnout Paradise! Grayson and I are excitedly waiting to see what things got changed in the update! He's already noticed there are new cars, but we're wondering if the soundtrack will be updated, too. And I suddenly thought of the billboards!
4:56 pm

Penelope: I’ve got a scary story called The Vampire and the Scarecrow. Once there was a vampire and a scarecrow. The vampire found some blood to suck, and the scarecrow found some food to eat. Then crows came, and the scarecrow scared them away, and the vampire sucked their blood. That was kind of scary, right guys?
Me: Yeah, that was kind of scary.
Grayson: Well not really.
Penelope: Well, I’ve got another one. The Bloody Foot.
Grayson: I’ve heard that one.
Penelope: Oh yeah, well I’ve got one called The Bloody Lamb and the Ghosty Lamb. That one will be scary.
Gray: Well, I’ve got scary stories that are actually scary.
5:29 pm

Penelope (touching her throat, interrupting her brother's reading of Tut's Mummy): Hey, guys! I can feel my heart beating in here!
Me: You can? That's called your jugular vein. Lots of times if you cut that, you die.
Derrick: Well, that's a cheerful thing to say!
Me: Hmm. Maybe you're right.
Penelope (annoyed, to me): I only scratched it!
6:15 pm

Penelope (as the movie starts): Beetlejuice! Yuck! Who'd ever want to meet a guy named Beetlejuice?
Grayson: It's not that scary--is it? Is it scary?
Me: No, it's really more of a comedy.
Grayson: Is there a lot of Beatles music in it?
6:31 pm

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fall Movie Diary: Beats of the Southern Wild

Date: September 18, 2012
Time: 7:20 pm
Place: Regal Arbor
Company: Derrick
Food:  small Coke (shared with Derrick)

Runtime:  1 hour, 33 minutes
Rating:  PG-13
Director: Benh Zeitlin

Quick Impressions:
So in our city, practically every movie worth seeing in September comes out on the twenty-first.  Okay, maybe that’s not completely true, but next weekend is packed with high profile releases.  Popcorn flick Dredd 3D, well-cast horror title The House at the End of the Street, pleasant-looking-baseball-Eastwoodfest Trouble with the Curve, cop-drama End of Watch.  Even Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (out in theaters now) doesn’t open here until next weekend.

But it’s not next weekend yet, so my husband and I went to “the art theater” to watch Beasts of the Southern Wild (the movie that lost out to Killer Joe when we were choosing last week). 

Even though I don’t know how we’ll possibly see all of the upcoming releases we have our eye on, I am very glad we saw Beasts of the Southern Wild tonight.  The child star Quvenzhané Wallis gives a performance more than worthy of the universal acclaim she’s getting, and as her troubled but amazingly sympathetic father, Dwight Henry is revelatory and riveting. 

The Good:
I love movies that depict a portion of America not usually seen on the big screen (or anywhere else).  In that way, Beasts of the Southern reminded me a bit of recent Oscar nominee Winter’s Bone a wonderfully gritty film about the Missouri Ozarks that my father (from the area) found surprisingly realistic and accurate.  In movies, we see so much of big cities—New York, LA, Chicago—quaint Southern communities, quirky Western towns, teen-riddled Midwestern suburbs, the part of Boston where the Whalbergs and the Afflecks grew up.  But I’ve never seen another movie about the Bathtub, a part of Louisiana that lies beyond the levee in what seems to be a saltwater swamp.

This movie provides an interesting perspective about why certain people refuse to evacuate during hurricanes.  As my husband pointed out, the interference they face from the people trying to “help” them is just as scary as the storm—in some ways, scarier, because surviving storms is the devil they know.  I also recall many arguments with acquaintances about “how you could ever get into that situation.”  Well, maybe you start out there.

At first Hushpuppy’s father Wink seems like a scary, unreliable figure, a neglectful and possibly abusive, Huckleberry-Finn-type father, but the longer you see him, the better you begin to understand the true nature of the character and what he hopes to achieve through his unorthodox parenting style. 

The community in the Bathtub actually seems rather appealing, if unusual.  As the school teacher’s initial lesson and the intercalary scenes of the prehistoric aurochs suggest, the residents of the Bathtub are the isolated relics of an earlier age and likely the last of their kind.  They survive by their own skill, in their own way, courageous, proud, and dependent on no one. 

I thought the school looked pretty good, too.  I mean, the lessons are interesting, the teacher (winningly played by Gina Montana) is nurturing, and many of the students are able to survive a hurricane.  (In the same situation, the entire Breakfast Club—even Bender—would surely have perished.  And they’ve all got about ten years on Hushpuppy.)

The movie also has a really captivating (musical) theme and probably deserves a nomination for Best Score.

Most Oscar Worthy Moment (Dwight Henry):
Everywhere you look, somebody seems to be predicting a best actress nomination for Quvenzhané Wallis.  I’m certainly not denying that she’s good.  What a powerful performance from such a young actress!  But now that I’ve seen the movie, I honestly think that excellent as Wallis is, Dwight Henry is even better as her tormented father, Wink.

As we left the theater, my husband pointed out that when Wink tells the story about the crocodile attack that led to Hushpuppy’s conception, his face lights up and his entire countenance changes.  He looks like a younger, more vital man with dreams bigger than his worries. 

I personally fell in love with Henry’s performance when Wink and Hushpuppy went out on their makeshift fishing boat in the wake of the storm.  When somberly beholding the ruin of his home and likely decimation of his neighbors, Wink looks like a completely different man than he does in his bold interactions with Hushpuppy, catching fish and hammering home survival skills.  The story could probably work successfully on an empty stage, Our Town style, because Henry’s face is so evocative that it tells the whole story without any need for actual surroundings.

After I initially suspected the story would involve child abuse given some early quirks of Wink’s behavior, Henry’s ability to win me over and make Wink amazingly, heart-breakingly sympathetic should earn him an Oscar nomination.  I’m sure I’m not the only one whose heart he touched with that passionate performance of a courageous-yet-terrified, well-meaning man who just can’t win.

Most Oscar Worthy Moment (Quvenzhané Wallis):
Quvenzhané Wallis is nine years old, but she landed the role of Hushpuppy at age five.  For someone so young, she shows remarkable command of the character and makes Hushpuppy’s amazing strength and courage come across just as they’re meant to.  Not every young performer can achieve this kind of cinematic intensity.  Her work reminds me a lot of young Freddie Highmore angrily tearing apart the set in Finding Neverland.  But Wallis maintains this level of intensity throughout the entire film.  Beasts of the Southern Wild has only two stars, two central characters who carry the story, and one of them is just a little girl.  No wonder so many people are talking about her performance.  She’s remarkable.

Early on, Wallis has a wonderful scene when she burns down her house.  (This sounds odd, but makes more sense as it happens on screen.)  She’s excellent throughout this scene, and her wonderful performance only improves as the film goes on.  Some of my favorite moments with Hushpuppy come as she watches and listens to the adults around her, trying to make sense of what is happening.  I love the way that she listens attentively and then adjusts her mood to fit the circumstances as she sees them.  She definitely deserves a nomination and other leading roles in future movies.

I read in an interview just now (when trying to determine her actual age during filming) that Wallis’s own favorite scene was when she ate the crab.  I thought that part was pretty great, as well, particularly the way the moment concludes.

Best Action Sequence:
How can you beat the scene where Wink tries to allay Hushpuppy’s fears by running outside during the hurricane and showing the storm he wasn’t scared?  The scene is incredibly captivating throughout for many reasons and is definitely a turning point in the film.

Best Scene:
A strong moment with Dwight Henry and Quvenzhané Wallis comes in one of their late scenes together when Hushpuppy confronts her father and curtly accuses him of keeping her in the dark about what’s really going on, leading first to a kind of pillow fight, then to an unusual bout of screaming.

Even better is the scene the two share later in the parking lot when Wink tries to put Hushpuppy on a bus and she angrily runs off again.  What he says to her about fathers—so theatrically stern, undeniably true, and heartbreakingly sweet—really resonates.  And she responds with such palpable passion and determined, courageous restraint.  Anybody who doesn’t cry has no soul. 

(Just kidding, but I can’t imagine how you wouldn’t cry.  Right after this scene, an elderly gentleman a few rows in front of us began conspicuously blowing his nose.) 

Funniest Scene/Best Joke:
I really love the couple who run the bar.  (At least, I assume it’s their bar.)  They’re winningly zany.  I love the way the guy just walks out the door and sinks into the water.  And then they go inside and find the lady passed out under the table.  Those two were wonderful. 

I also laughed at the weird guy who picks up the girls on the boat and starts rambling about how healthy chicken sandwiches are (punctuating this remark with a cough).  He’s an usual person, to say the least.  He’s more than just comic relief, of course, but he did make me smile.

Visually:
The opening of the movie is wonderful—everything up to the moment when the opening title flashes across the screen.  Not only is the environment rich and arrestingly distinctive, but the camera angle always seems to be low and in motion—like we’re experiencing the environment through a child’s eyes.  Throughout the story, you really get a strong idea of how Hushpuppy perceives the world around her.

The Negatives:
The part with the aurochs at the end felt a little weird to me.  It wasn’t exactly bad, but I’m not sure that the confrontation actually enhanced the story.  I mean, I get it.  And I’m not saying it’s a failure on the film’s part, but it’s certainly a bold choice.  The next moment when we discover what Hushpuppy has brought home with her is wonderfully touching, though.

I’m a bit unsure about Hushpuppy’s final trip in the film.  I understand the choice she ultimately makes (though it seems only a matter of time before something else is chosen for her), but her excursion on the guy’s boat in search of someone is less easy to understand.

I come away thinking that Hushpuppy has realized that what she needs, she must find within herself.  She comes away realizing that she already has what matters and must protect it, living up to her father’s vision of what she must become and how she should behave (in order to survive).

As we drove home, my husband asked me some questions about the identity of the woman in—let’s just call it—the dance hall.  (I’m trying to avoid spoilers.)  I could answer him pretty quickly, but I’m not sure that my answer is entirely correct, and I’m not sure that we (or Hushpuppy) can ever solve this mystery completely.  I don’t know that this is really a negative, but I’m the kind of person who likes to be sure about things.  (If you can’t figure out what on earth I’m rambling out, see the movie first, and then ask me questions.)

Also, whenever I see a movie with such a specific and unusual setting, I’m always curious about authenticity.  I’m very curious to learn more about the writers and the director (as I’m sure I will during the upcoming Oscar season).

Overall:
This is an enchanting movie that raises as many questions as it answers and offers something truly different at the box office.  Beasts of the Southern Wild is a captivating film starring a little girl who gives a towering performance.  Quvenzhané Wallis is intense and amazing as Hushpuppy, and Henry Dwight is honestly even better as her struggling father Wink.  I’m sure we’ll be hearing both of their names quite often in the months to come.