Monday, September 30, 2013

Penelope's Sentences

"Well," said Iris, "in the big city, there are lots and lots and lots of people."
"Ah," said Walter.  "But in the country there are lots and lots and lots of stars." 

-- from Iris and Walter by Elissa Haden Guest


Penelope finished reading Iris and Walter today.  She read it two chapters at a time.  (There are only four chapters, but stuff kept happening last week, so we read the first two and then experienced a delay.)  I like this system of letting her pick her own books at the library each week.  Iris and Walter turned out to be a sweetly charming old fashioned little story about a city girl who moves to the country and has trouble adjusting.

1.  Dinah lived in the doghouse, and she was chained up.  She was shackled with a leg chain.  And there was also a loop tied on the back of the dog house to pull in the rain when it was rainy.  Dinah was so lonely because they wanted her to be lonely.  She was lonely because she had no one to play with.

2.  One day Bluey really wanted to be a hawk, so he went to a magical place where no one ever has been, and he got hawk wings.  But then another day, he didn't want them anymore, so he took them off.  It hurt him because he had to rip them off with his paws.  He never went back to that magical place, never ever again.

3.  One day Pupcake was in the kitty house, and Pupcake was being wild because Dinah locked the door.  He tried to tear open the door, but it didn't work.  Then he tried to bump it open with his butt.  Then he tried to head butt it with his head.  He tried with his cheek and his face and his teeth and his tail.  Then he had a toy sword.  He tried to whack it and bang it and slam it and boom it with a bomb, but it still didn't work.  He even tried to throw his water dish at it, but nothing worked, and Pupcake never got out.

4.  One day Brownie was walking in the meadow.  He was lonely, but then a wild hawk came and took him.  And then she fed him to her babies.  He was so scared!  He whimpered and whimpered and whimpered and barked, too, and growled.  But the little birds didn't know what he was saying.  They thought he meant, "Go on, go on," and so they did, and they ate him all up, and so, Brownie was devoured.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Fall Movie Diary: Prisoners

Date: September 24, 2013
Time: 6:45 pm
Place: Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane
Company: Derrick
Food:  Greek salad wrap with chips and salsa and chocolate peanut butter milkshake
Runtime:  2 hours, 33 minutes
Rating: R
Director: Denis Villeneuve

Quick Impressions:
Prisoners is one of the darkest movies that I’ve seen in a long time, and (rather surprisingly given its nightmarish premise) it’s also one of the most cerebral. 

For months, I’ve been feeling conflicted about the previews.  On the one hand, as the already paranoid mother of a very friendly and fearless four-year-old girl, the thought of two little girls potentially being abducted by some weirdo played by Paul Dano (acting odd as only he can) made my stomach turn inside out and start crawling up my throat in a most disconcerting way (not like there’s a good way for that to happen, of course). 

On the other hand, what a cast!  Seriously, lots of films boast all-star casts, but a principal cast consisting entirely of Oscar nominees?  Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard, Viola Davis!  True, despite tons of awards attention, Maria Bello and Paul Dano have not technically been personally nominated for the Oscar, but the movie makes up for that by giving us not only an Oscar winner (Melissa Leo) but the Tony winning Len Cariou to boot! 

Of course, my excitement about the cast won out.  As I watched tonight, I was also relieved to note that Prisoners did not disturb me in the way that I’d feared.  (Don’t get me wrong.  Certain story elements are incredibly creepy.)  It’s just that the whole thing is so cerebral, there’s hardly time to feel (except for the scene with the sock.  That’s pretty wrenching). 

For one thing, the plot is very intricate and full of twists—like a labyrinth or…I don’t know…a maze, you might say.  Also the movie raises such serious philosophical/moral/religious questions and addresses them so earnestly and relentlessly that I found myself responding primarily in an intellectual way to what I saw on screen.  If you’re currently taking an ethics class, and your professor has asked you to lead a discussion based on the popular film of your choice, then boy are you in luck!  There’s enough going on here to keep an ethics class busy for an entire semester.  (I’m serious.  I think you could teach an entire course on ethics using this movie as your primary text—though, as I’m thinking about it, for a secondary text, you might want to go ahead and pick up an ethics textbook just to be safe.)

The Good:
Prisoners reminded me of so many other movies.  First—and always in the Jake Gyllenhaal scenes—it had a serious vibe of Zodiac (a movie that scared the hell out of me for weeks because, um, what?!  The Zodiac killer was never caught?!  So he could still be out there somewhere waiting to kill unsuspecting engaged people or their fianc├ęs just weeks before the wedding ceremony?  That’s just a hypothetical, mind you.  Of course, the whole thing seems much less scary now that I’ve been married for over six years.)

Then about thirty to forty minutes in, I kept thinking, Didn’t I see this movie last Oscar season, except then it was starring Jessica Chastain as a tightly wound CIA operative?

It also has flashes of Mystic RiverSe7en, and (for me, at least) Fight Club.  (Granted most of that last one was in my head, but I could not stop wondering, Why does Detective Loki keep blinking his eyes so much?  Doesn’t he sleep?  Is he secretly Tyler Durden?)

Anyway, these similarities were mostly tonal (though obviously the Zero Dark Thirty connection was thematic with some flashes of plot, as well).  Prisoners plays like a crime procedural with soul, and it’s a bit of a mind bender.  I mean, there’s not a full-blown Shyamalanesque twist ending (i.e., they’re all really dead!  It’s actually a dream!  Everyone’s a tiger!), but it does keep you on the edge of your seat trying to figure out which of many guesses you have about the resolution is actually going to pan out.

But even though there’s mystery, suspense, and some riveting action, this isn’t just your typical popcorn flick.  Prisoners wants to make us feel and wants even more to make us think.  In fact, it insists that we think and confronts us over and over again with various moral dilemmas.  Seriously it seems tailor made for an ethics discussion.  Each of the characters responds to adversity in a unique way and (as a result) faces a specialized set of challenges and raises questions without easy answers.

Back when I was still unmarried and hyperaware of the Zodiac killer, I taught a couple of courses about the rhetoric of Civil Disobedience, and every time Gandhi and satyagraha came up, I’d find myself deeply conflicted when confronted by the problem of how to respond when someone threatened violence against someone in your protection.  Something that is usually fairly clear cut (i.e. violence is wrong, find non-violent means of protest) gets muddled incredibly quickly when suddenly you’re not dealing with violence against you, but rather with violence against somebody you love instead. 

Life loves doling out ambiguous gray areas and huge chasms separating what’s good from what’s practical.  Clearly you have the moral high ground if someone attacks you and you respond by saying graciously, “Let’s try to talk this out.  What you’re doing is hurting me.  I appeal to your sense of reason and morality.  Please stop this.”  But if I were the woman over in the corner being raped, I think I’d find it hard to be too impressed by the high minded morality of my brother or husband or son or father standing there non-violently protesting my rape.  I think at that point, I might prefer to be married to the crazy guy with the temper who solves problems by knifing people. 

Plus even though I’m naturally somewhat meek in my interactions with strangers and casual acquaintances, I’m afraid I’d have to get a little stabby myself if someone posed an imminent threat not to me but to my child.  If you hurt me, I’ll get over it.  If you hurt my children, watch out.

This would be so inappropriate for children, I found myself thinking repeatedly.  (The R-rating must be mainly for the adult themes.  This isn’t like one of those unrealistic action movies with fantasy violence or some flick that got an R rating because of pervasive language or one sex scene or King George showing flagrant incivility while trying not to stammer).  Prisoners is a very adult movie, with profoundly adult themes.  Children watch movies and think, I’m going to grow up and be the good guy.  Adults watch and think, How do you be a good guy?  Is it even possible? 

That’s mainly what this movie is about.  How do you be the good guy? 

Terrence Howard is absolutely marvelous here playing a character who’s pretty far outside his usual box.  For the first half (or at least the first third) of the film, Howard’s character Franklin is the person I felt for most.  I truly sympathized (empathized even) with Franklin because he’s honestly trying to do the right thing, and circumstances just keep making it increasingly impossible.  Watching the anguish on his face, I thought of all the cartoons where the angel and devil pop up over a conflicted character’s shoulders.  Franklin, unfortunately, is plagued by an over-abundance of devils, and a marked lack of moral support.  He’s forced to step into the angel role himself, and with the slightest help or encouragement, he might behave very differently.  But there’s no help for him.  It’s quite a pitiable (as well as relatable) fix he’s in, and Howard gives a marvelous performance.  Unfortunately, I think the part is too small (comparatively) to get Oscar attention. 

Viola Davis is terribly impressive as his wife, too.  As usual, she does more with a well-timed look and an emotive presence than most actors can do with every soliloquy in Hamlet.  Davis always gives powerful performances, and her work here is absolutely riveting.  She gets one of the most emotionally powerful moments in the entire movie.  (Actually she gets several, but her declaration—almost a command—to her husband as they pull up at home comes across particularly powerfully.)  Already I’ve seen nomination worthy supporting roles from Oprah Winfrey, Sally Hawkins, and Octavia Spencer this year, and those are only the highlights, and it’s only September!  I’d love to see Davis squeeze into a Best Supporting Actress nomination, but I’ll be stunned if there’s room for her, especially given her relatively small amount of screen time, and the mainstream commercial appeal of the film.

Another problem is that Melissa Leo deserves a nomination, too.  (She’ll never get one either, but she’s so good here.  My mother says repeatedly that Melissa Leo didn’t deserve the Oscar for The Fighter because she was just playing herself as she does in every role.  This is patently ridiculous, of course, but if you’re like my mother and haven’t really seen Leo in anything but The Fighter, it’s much easier to believe.  I wish I could recommend this movie to my mother to show off Leo’s actual range, but this movie is far too dark and morally problematic for her tastes.)

Most Oscar Worthy Moment, Hugh Jackman:
If Jackman can somehow worm his way into supporting, perhaps he can get some traction and at least score an Oscar nomination for his wonderful turn as Keller Dover.  He’s actually the lead, of course, but apparently that’s how you win a Supporting Oscar these days (just ask Christoph Waltz, Rachel Weisz, or a slew of others), so maybe Jackman can jump on the bandwagon.  (If he misses a nomination, he can always console himself with his past Oscar nomination, his Tony and Emmy wins, his cult status as an iconic comic book hero, and the adoring love of millions of fans both male and female.)

The moment with the sock is one of Jackman’s best, but I also like his conversation near the liquor store with Detective Loki, and basically every time he loses his temper with anyone.  Jackman makes Keller Dover so sympathetic.  We see that he is deeply flawed, but still we appreciate his strength and can easily imagine ourselves in his shoes.

On the way home, my husband noted, “If something like that happened to us, I would want to do that.”

I added emphatically, “I would do that.”

It’s wrong, no doubt.  But it’s highly practical.  This notion of doing something bad to prevent someone else from doing something worse to someone innocent is immensely compelling.  Sometimes I think that love means no longer caring what’s right or wrong but only caring about the well-being of the other person.  It’s that old idea of knowingly choosing sin to prevent someone more vulnerable from being sinned against or sinning. 

But then other times I feel more like Terrence Howard’s character.

No, no I don’t.  I’m more like Keller Dover.  But I feel more sympathy for Howard’s character.  He’s the one who knows that it matters to be good.  Commendably, he does not seem comfortable with the idea that one can bring about good by doing evil.  I think he’s right about that, but I identify with the darkness in Dover.  If someone were hurting my child, I would do anything to make it stop.  The well-being of my own soul would not particularly concern me at that point.  It’s all terribly disturbing, but that’s reality for you.  I mean, if it were as easy as every little boy thinks it is to grow up and be the good guy, we’d have a world full of heroes, and there would be no crime or suffering.

Anyway, the brilliance of Jackman’s performance lies in the depth of his emotions and the quick fluidity of his transitions between them.

Most Oscar Worthy Moment, Jake Gyllenhaal:
I think this is the most I’ve ever liked Jake Gyllenhaal in a movie, and it’s probably his best role since Brokeback Mountain.  He gives a very strong performance.  By the middle of the movie, Loki becomes the clear standout among characters to root for.  He’s the one least mired in moral ambiguity and most empowered to do something legitimately helpful (although it’s hard to trust him at times). 

His frequent long blinks distracted me to know end though.  Why does he keep doing that?  I know someone with ADD who blinks that way when he’s thinking¸ possibly because he’s being overwhelmed with sensory input.  I wondered if the detective is prone to noticing everything going on around him, hyper-alert and extra blinky.  I also wondered if Gyllenhaal was trying to give the character a little extra oomph through trick mannerisms—in the vein of Joaquin Phoenix in The Master.

The blinking is odd, but the performance really works, anyway.   Among several standouts, my favorite Loki moment comes at the end of his most unconventional interrogation.  (You’ll know it when you get to it.)

Best Scene Visually:
Paul Dano and Viola Davis have a moment together that’s pretty riveting thanks to their respective faces.  His is telling a whole story.  Hers simply belongs to an amazing actress who excels at emoting non-verbally.

We also get lots and lots of scenes that look like the kinds of realistic landscape paintings (by no artist in particular) you’d find hanging on the wall of a friend’s house in the country.

The film also offers some brilliant doubling.  (My favorite is a character who serves as a double for Hugh Jackman in terms of ethical decisions.)  But some of these moments are visual, such as circumstances that Jackman and yet another character eventually come to share.

Best Action Sequence/Best Scene:
It’s a draw.  One scene involves Hugh Jackman moving slowly.  The other involves Jake Gyllenhaal driving fast.  They’re both late moments that I don’t want to spoil.

The Negatives:
Maria Bello does not need to be in this movie at all.  I really like Bello.  She’s a talented, high powered actress, and Prisoners completely wastes her.  I mean, for most of the movie she’s just lying around unconscious in bed.  You really don’t need Maria Bello for that.  She feels kind of shoe-horned in there to get the movie extra attention from the people who give out awards.  To be clear, I have no complaints about the quality of her performance.  I just think she deserves a more substantial part.  (Or more practically, they could have replaced her with a lesser actress.)

Now that I write this out, it seems like a very weird complaint.  Who complains about the cast of a movie being too talented?  Me, apparently.

Another thing that bothered me about this film was how distanced I felt from all of these events emotionally.  There were moments that hit me in the gut or made me cry.  But so much of the film is so disturbing, and yet I was so intellectually engaged I had trouble responding emotionally.  I think the movie might have been more powerful if it had been less intriguing. 

The ending is also incredibly abrupt.  The movie drags on so long, and the final scene is so jarringly sudden (it has an almost clipped quality) that you begin to suspect that later we’ll get a director’s cut that runs another thirty minutes.  Maybe they ran out of time before they ran out of story.  I don’t know what exactly would happen with the extra time—maybe a post-credits Avengers scene where Samuel L. Jackson steps in to save the day by recruiting one of the characters.  Maybe we’d get a surprise cameo by Lauren Bacall delivering an iconic line.  I don’t honestly know, and to tell the truth it doesn’t matter much.  We have a pretty good idea of the likely possibilities that will come after the movie ends.  The problem is less that the resolution is insufficient than that the final scene is jarring.

Still these are not huge problems, and I must admit, after almost three hours in the dark, I was pretty ready to come home.

Overall:
Prisoners features fantastic performances from a cast packed with stellar actors, a suspenseful plot that keeps us all guessing, and enough philosophical and moral dilemmas to keep an ethics class busy for an entire term.  Though it is extremely dark, it could be more depressing still.  Instead, it manages to end on a bizarrely uplifting note and should be of particular interest to people of faith and people who don’t understand why others have faith.  Whether you’re an ethics professor, a worried parent, or you just enjoy hearing Hugh Jackman snarl, Prisoners has quite a bit to offer fall audiences.  But do not under any circumstances take your children (and beware that you’ll leave worried that someone else may have taken your children while you were out at the movies all evening). 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Penelope's Sentences

1.  Dinah lived in an apartment where a dragon lived next door, a blue dragon with silver on the back of his head, smoothing down his back.

2.  Pupcake was doing a cartwheel in the grass.  Then he wanted to do something else--chew candy bones and drink some glasses of water.  And after that, he was going to go play again.

3.  Bluey was on the stoop waiting for his best friend Brownie to come over.  He waited until night because Brownie was out playing for too long.  They talked for a little while, and then Brownie got mad.  Bluey ran away, away from the front door, and he started crying on the sidewalk.  The next morning, somebody found him and helped him go back home.  [I guess there's lots of drama in the city.]

4.  Brownie was on the subway with his best girl.  They were going to eat some sandwiches from Subway.

5.  Every stuffed animal was together in the beginning.  Then this happened.  They all got on the subway.  Dinah went to her apartment.  Pupcake went to the park where he did a cartwheel in the grass.  And Brownie went to Bluey's front stoop while Bluey was in the house making him a special cake and all kinds of sweet things.  [Apparently Bluey and Brownie resolved their domestic dispute.]

While thinking up rhymes for "rumble"...
Me:  What about a kind of bee?  There's a honey bee, and a...
Penelope: Funny bee?
Me: A funny bee!  Well I meant a bumble bee.
Penelope: Oh that's true.  But can you put "the funny bee" on the list, too?  I have a good feeling about him.  I think we should keep him around.

While Penelope was not reading...
Penelope: (playing with Mrs. Potato Head) Mrs. Potato said she doesn't want to do our reading.
Me: Really?  Well, now Mrs. Potato Head doesn't have a nose.  There, she can just smell the grapes and think about how her nose got taken away.
Penelope: Or I could just take it away back! (steals the nose and puts it back on, in a funny voice) "Oh, I don't want to do our reading," says Mrs. Potato.
Me: Well, I'll just take away Mrs. Potato Head's mouth and put it in her butt.  No free speech around here.
Grandma: Yesterday, Penelope threatened to stick her head up my butt to punish me.
Me: Hmm. Well, I think that would be more of a punishment for Penelope.
Penelope: "MMMffmfmfmm," says Mrs. Potato.

We also worked on numbers.  First we alternated counting to 100 with Penelope doing the odds, then we switched so she had to do the evens (which was obviously harder for her).  After that, I wrote some numbers on paper for her to recognize.  First straight up tens in random order.  Then (after she got all of those, except 20), 73, 55, 75, 84, 63, 28, and 16.  She got them all right immediately except 28.  She really has some kind of a mental block about the 20s.  Half the time, she still tries to say, "19...100!"  I'm not sure what it is about the 20s.  It's like she refuses to accept them.

Oh yes, and the book Penelope picked from the library is a story called Iris and Walter about a little girl from New York City who moves to a house in the country.  She read the first two chapters today.  (They're really short chapters.)  The other night, we were reading a science book about rainbows (which was so cool and informative it was blowing us both away) and Penelope mentioned, "I keep thinking that maybe a rainbow could be a bridge leading somewhere, so we need to look up information about that."  So I told her about Iris, the messenger of the Greek gods who traveled by rainbow.  She immediately picked up Iris and Walter and said, "Oh, so another Iris!"

Monday, September 23, 2013

Looking Good

Penelope's trip to the dentist turned out relievingly well.  It was so nerve-wracking while it was going on because they called us over to show us areas of concern.  These looked like so many shadowy thousand dollar pockets to me.  (You know, they say, "Here's a shadowed area," and I hear, "This is all very shady.  It will probably cost $10,000 to fix.")  Fortunately, Dr. Bain came in and everything was fine.  (Derrick told me later it went just like that last time, too.)  It was kind of weird to see her permanent teeth crowding in there at the bottom.  I hope she keeps the baby teeth in for a while because the permanent teeth are so huge.  Seriously, once two or three come in, her entire mouth will be full!  Clearly she's going to require some orthodontia.

Of course, this was the one visit per year insurance didn't cover, and it was also time for X-rays and fluoride treatment.  What fun!

The hygenists seemed really taken with Penelope who did an excellent job and was also very up front with all her opinions.  When they asked what flavor of toothpaste she wanted, she replied, "Well, I definitely don't want chocolate.  That's for sure!"  She then explained to me that she'd had chocolate last time and didn't like it.

In the end, she opted for grape.  I whispered to Derrick, "Next time it will be, 'I don't want grape, that's for sure.'"  She did really well getting her x-rays and declared at the end of the visit, "I even learned to like the blowy thing now."  (She was complaining recently about how she hates the blowy thing worst of all.)

Everyone seemed extremely delighted and amused by her Halloween dilemma--Darth Vader or The Ruby Red Orange Strawberry (aka Human Cannonball)!  They were also charmed to hear that we'd almost had to postpone the appointment, but she had wanted to come so much.  Penelope was very pleased with all the attention and positive feedback.  She was also delighted to get a token which she redeemed for a shimmery hot pink bouncy ball.  (I was so pleased when we got a color she likes.  So often, it's, "Ohhhh.  This was really not what I was hoping for" about prizes that come out of a machine.)

After that, Penelope muttered in the back seat for some time and spat into a paper towel a lot (because yuck, fluoride!) while I went to CPL to get a hundred phials of blood drawn.  It took like ten thousand years because it was lunch time when I got there, but nobody in the office was coughing, and the phlobotomist was very friendly.  She had on this really cool gold eye shadow that looked great with her earrings and shoes.  I kept wondering if I ought to mention it, but I decided not to because sometimes I'm too enthusiastic and seem  weird.  I've been noticing accessories a lot recently because we've been making so many Soul Calibur characters.  I think I like making characters better than playing the game.  I even figured out how to use stickers to make cool tattoos.  I wish I could make babies that easily--of course, then what would I do with them all?  Even if they had to fight to see which one stayed, we'd still end up with way too many babies to feed.

Meanwhile, Derrick sees a gallbladder specialist tomorrow at ten.  Surely the doctor specializes in more than just gallbladders.  That seems like a very narrow area of focus, particularly because the policy always seems to be, "Take it out!"  We'll see what happens.  I had a dream this morning that Derrick had forgotten to call the specialist.  Then when I was trying to get dressed to go to the dentist, Martin Mull followed me into the closet and started commenting that we probably had mice.  I was like, "You need to tell your dad not to follow me into the closet while I'm getting dressed!"

I'm sure this was inspired by the Dads pilot we watched the other day.  (As a rule, we're not big Family Guy fans because it's too mean spirited, so we never watch Family Guy--though I did see an episode about Michael Moore, Rush Limbaugh, and Fred Savage that cracked me up back when I was pumping.  But because of the cast, we thought we'd give the show a try.  We're not sure yet how we feel about it, but Derrick, Gray, and I all loved Brooklyn 9/9.  In fact, it was much better than we expected.  We're Andy Samberg fans, but you never know with new sitcoms.)

Penelope has been "waiting so long, waiting forever" to take a walk (which is odd because The Wizard of Diz (the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse special) just ended thirty seconds ago.

I guess we'll hurry off for a walk.


Resolution

Just so I'm not accused of "cliffhanging" as Nellie calls it, I will say that a CAT scan at the ER showed Derrick has gallstones,  including a big one.  He definitely needs treatment, probably surgery, very very possibly removal of the whole gallbladder.  Dad doesn't have one.  Nellie and I watched Aloha, Scooby Doo, and he still wasn't back.  Then we created Soul Calibur characters until he came home.  (I made an evil wizard named Malvolio, and she made a sassy cowboy with bubblegum pink cornrows called Kit.)

We thought it was his gallbladder, but I was basing that entirely on an episode of Golden Girls.  So it was still a shock.  We know he doesn't have diabetes or even prediabetes because of his recent health work up.  I feel terribly bad for him.  It's not like he doesn't have enough stress.

We will know more tomorrow when he calls the specialist.   Meanwhile I'm not allowed to have food or breast stimulation until my blood draw.  I never have food at night anyway, but I am regretting eating garadettos today.  It was supposed to be a treat for the football game, but it is so full of sodium.  I worry that will taint my blood.  I feel fine.  I drink like eighty glasses of water a day, but I just feel guilty.  It was like just flat out extra food because we ate lunch early.   We did take a pretty long brisk walk during that awful late game.  It was brisk enough to kill Mom, so...

Why am I rambling?  I am really worried about Derrick. We were going to push Nellie's dental appointment, but she really wants to go.  Trying to coax her to floss more promptly, he threatened firmly, "If you want to go to the dentist tomorrow,  then you need to get over here."

I'm blogging on my phone, so I'll stop for now.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sighhhh

So Derrick is at the ER where they think it's his gallbladder (what we thought).  Meanwhile, my poor Steelers are losing again.  Of course, this game has not been too bad since in fantasy I have Antonio Brown and Matt Forte.  I've always liked the Bears, but I must say I prefer them when they're not beating the Steelers.

The Texas Med Clinic

I hate the Texas Med Clinic.  They refused to treat Derrick and sent him to the ER.  A while back, they sent Mom to the ER and refused to treat her (for chest congestion) because they said she was having a blood pressure emergency.  Then guess what?  She waited at the ER for like four hours, and the doctors there didn't do anything for her except prescribe an antibiotic.  Meanwhile, she had to sit there stressed out she was going to have a heart attack.  The ER bill was like $1000.  I seriously am going to write to somebody and complain about the Texas Med Clinic.  They just don't want to be bothered with patients there.  Seriously, I'm going to contact the news or something.  They're awful.

Dr. Whataburger

I've been meaning to blog for about ten thousand years, but I'm trying not to stay up so late at night, so I've been reading or writing on paper upstairs.  Usually I try to read so that I'm not getting myself all wound up before I'm trying to sleep.  I've successfully moved by bedtime back to 3:30, but I can't seem to shake my weird night terrors.  I regularly wake suddenly and continue dreaming with my eyes open.  Usually this means I need to roll onto my side, but it's still pretty terrifying.  Usually I see people standing at the foot of the bed.

A couple of weeks ago, I woke from sleep, saw Derrick walk out of the bathroom and pause at the foot of the bed to flash "I love you" at me in sign language, then walk toward the door.  That wasn't scary--until I rolled over five seconds later, and Derrick was in the bed next to me sound asleep.  (He said that's how he actually left the bedroom the next morning, even though I was asleep and didn't wake up.  He's like, "See?  You're just psychic!"  I'm like, "Whatever.  The bedroom is haunted and I'm going insane.")  Fortunately, this only happens when I am falling asleep or waking up, so it's a sleep disorder, not all out insanity.

Last night, Derrick was having some terrible burning indigestion and decided to sleep upright in his office chair.  I kept sleeping fitfully and jolting awake in fear at some random noise.  Finally at 4:25, I had to go downstairs and get him.  His indigestion was a bit better then, so he risked lying down for a while.  After I was asleep, he got up to go downstairs again.  I'm not sure how long I had been sleeping.  I just remember waking up, seeing him looming over me and letting out a bloodcurdling scream.  It actually came out.  (Some of them go unvocalized because my vocal chords are still paralyzed from sleep.)  I think I screamed twice.  I can't remember what I was so afraid of, just that I was terrified.  Derrick kept trying to quiet me and tell me it was just me.  They were seriously loud blood curdling screams.  As usual, Mom and Dad heard nothing.  So reassuring to know that when we're murdered in our beds, no one will come running to help!

Derrick actually just now walked out the door to go see an urgent care doctor.  He doesn't know for sure what's going on.  Mom had terrible burning indigestion Friday night and part of Saturday, so she thinks maybe it's a virus.  I thought she just ate bad pepperoni.  (Seriously, if the pepperoni's been in the bottom of the dairy drawer for so long, cook it first at least or if you're me burn it and throw it in the trash.  Of course, I'm biased because even good pepperoni gives me horrible throat burning the second I eat it and often makes me very sick later.  So I never eat pepperoni.)

Derrick doesn't think it's viral because he's had this same pain before.  In the past, he thought it was an ulcer.  He's beginning to wonder if it's a gall bladder attack.  It seems very odd.  I'm kind of worried about him.  I suggested he go to urgent care, and he did.  The last time he actually went to the doctor when I suggested it, he had severe pneumonia (thus explaining his mystery chest pains).  So it must be bad if he's seeing the doctor.  I hope he's okay.  I'm starting to get very worried.  He did eat some of the pepperoni, too, but it was cooked on a pizza when he ate it.  I think the nasty cold pepperoni they ate was later.

Tomorrow Penelope has a dentist's appointment, and after that, I have to get blood drawn.  Last Thursday, we went to see our fertility specialist again for the first time since we were working on Penelope.  When we got home from the appointment, Penelope and I went for a walk to the playground.  As we enjoyed the fall(ier than usual but still hot) weather, she asked sweetly, "So, how was Dr. Whataburger?"

With a smile, I replied, "Her name is Dr. Burger, not Dr. Whataburger."

"Well," Penelope asked, "did she used to work for Whataburger at some point in the past?"

"No," I answered.

"Well, that's kind of a funny name," she decided.  "Are you sure she didn't change it from something else?"

"Dr. Whataburger" ordered a preliminary blood test to make sure I'm not pregnant (I'm not) and to see if I ovulated in the past two weeks (nope).  So tomorrow I have blood drawn to test egg reserve, hormone balance, prolactin level, blood sugar, cholesterol, and some more stuff.  Predictably, Friday morning, I started a period.  (That's exactly what happened last time.)  Unpredictably, it didn't pan out.  So tomorrow I think I'll have to get some provera, and then after I have a period, I get another HSG (which is frankly a relief to me because I had a lot of random bleeding while I was pumping, and I'd like to be sure my uterus healed correctly).  Derrick has some "homework" to do, too.  Hopefully he'll do it so well they won't make him have another scrotal ultrasound.  We also have to swab our cheeks to find out all the horrible things we're silent carriers for.

Oh yes, and Dr. Burger also thinks that having another singleton is the way to go given my history, so she would be reluctant to try treatments that might produce multiples.




Penelope Says

August 15, 2013

After we read in her Sunshine Makes the Seasons book that the highest recorded temperature was in Libya...
Penelope: (knocking on the globe) Knock Knock!
Me: (confused) What are you doing?
Penelope: You say "Who's there?"
Me: Who's there?
Penelope: Libya.
Me: Libya who?
Penelope: I Libya! See you later! Get it? Like, "I love ya!" "I Libya!"
Me: Where did you hear that?
Penelope: I made it up!
Me: That's pretty good.
Penelope: Now it's your turn.
Me: Um.
Penelope: Go ahead. Knock on the globe.
Me: Knock Knock.
Penelope: Who's there?
Me: Egypt.
Penelope: Egypt who?
Me: (scrambling to think of something in a very poor attempt at a cockney accent) Egypt me! 'e said this was a genuine Egyptian mummy, but it's only a bunch of rags!
(Penelope gives me a look, so I try harder)
Me: And I paid $500 for it, so Egypt me!
Penelope: I don't know.
Me: Yours was better. There's no reason that guy would have paid in dollars. I didn't really have one...
Penelope: (patting me) It was a good try.
10:51 pm


Me (trying to coax Penelope to draw herself as a human--she's usually a lion or a werewolf--but without trying to seem like I'm giving her a test): When I was in kindergarten, I had to draw a picture of myself. (redrawing it) And I drew every detail so carefully. I drew my head and my face, and my hair, and the little jumper I was wearing with apple buttons, and my legs, and my saddle shoes. And can you see anything I left out?
Penelope: (laughing) You have no arms!
Me: Yes, my kindergarten teacher told Grandma, "This means that Sarah doesn't see herself as having agency or being empowered to do things for herself." But it didn't mean that. I remember drawing it. I was looking straight down at my outfit and my shoes. I wasn't looking at my arms and hands because I was drawing and holding the paper with those.
Penelope: That crazy teacher! She didn't think you know you have hands! (excited) Now give me the test! (takes the chalk) I'll just start with my body. And I have a green shirt. And here are my legs. I'll just make my toes, but...oh well, obviously I'm not going to have room for ALL my toes, right? If the person can't figure out that I have all the toes I need, then I think they fail the test, right?! Obviously there's no room for ten toes on this thing! Now my face. My eyes aren't showing up very well. I didn't make a big enough face for this stupid chalk. Surely the person knows I have eyebrows without me drawing a picture. There just isn't going to be enough room for EVERYTHING. (Smiles at me wickedly) And now I'm going to add something that might be a shock to you. I'll do it very slowly, so you can try to understand. Now I know you may never have heard of these before, but these yellow things I'm making now, these are my arms.
11:13 pm


August 16

Grayson was kind enough to let Nellie pick a show, so now we are watching Squid Girl, which seemed like a disaster at first but has turned out to be quite amusing.
3:17 pm

August 17

Grayson (as we discuss when various people have gotten their ears pierced on the way back from the pool): I'm never going to pierce my ears. Well, I won't say never, but I can't imagine doing it right now. My ears are too beautiful to be pierced.
Penelope: They're handsome.
12:05 am

Okay, I've found my new favorite movie--Disneynature: Wings of Life. We've only been watching it for five minutes, and I already wish I lived in the movie.
12:21 am

Me: Who's narrating this?
Gray: It's Mother Nature.
Me: But I mean who's doing the narration?
Grayson: No, I'm telling you! It's Mother Nature! Why else would she be all over the forest?
Derrick: But she means the actress.
Me: (looking online) It's Meryl Streep.
Gray: Who's that?
Me: She's the mom in Mama Mia!
Gray: Oh! Look at that!
Me: Where did they get this camera? This is how I imagine my pictures will all turn out.
Derrick: Moving?
Me: Yes. Look at that! It's amazing. I want to live in this movie.
Narrator: I am an orchid.
Me: I'll bet they got her to narrate this because she played the author of The Orchid Thief in Adaptation! [As if you need a reason to get Meryl Streep.]
Grayson: Hey! I've never seen a blue bee. Look at that! You're right, Sarah. How are they getting these pictures? They must have an incredible camera. How do they show the flowers opening? Do they just wait a long time?
Me: Yes. They set up a camera and record for a really long time, sometimes like a year. And then they speed up the playback. It's called time lapse photography. That's what I think is so amazing. We have this idea that plants don't move, but if you watch them on their own time instead of from a human perspective, they're full of life and movement.
Derrick: I agree.
Gray: Oh, she's going to squeeze onto him and give him a different way out.
Penelope: I didn't know Mother Nature was this mean. She's sneaky.
Me: Wouldn't it be weird if humans needed bees to reproduce? It would be especially inconvenient if you were allergic to bees.
Gray: Wow how did they get these photos--a hundred and thirty five million years ago?
Me: Well, it's not really 135 million years ago. But that is a real forest.
Derrick: You don't know it's not 135 million years ago. You said yourself they have incredible cameras.

Okay a hummingbird just did a slow motion backflip. My life is now complete! Ooh! And bats!

Narrator: I am here, too!
Gray: What? She's already been an orchid in the jungle, and a cactus in the desert. Now she's a flower in a field, too?
Me: Meryl Streep is known for her versatility. OOH! A BUTTERFLY TREE???!!!!!
Penelope: (as the butterflies all fly off the trees) There's more than you could ever count! There's more than the stars!
Gray: Let's count them! Sarah!
Derrick: But if Sarah were there, her heart would explode, and she would be dead...although she'd probably manage to give five or six pictures after she died on her way to the ground.
12:48 am


Penelope: Now I'll tell you my story. Once there was a poor woman, and she met a man who had a horse, and they had lots of adventures. And they went in pirate ships. They fighted pirates. They fighted bosses. And then, oh no, a giant captured them. They tried to get out. And then the giant put them in a jail. They were so tiny now. And they couldn't get out. And they couldn't get out for a long time until the giant died. There was such a big crash! They opened up the jar, and they got out the window. They rode away on the horse. They flew, flew, flew far far away. But then somebody got them in a sack. He put them in the water. When they touched the bottom, they moved and moved into the filter. Then they sunk, sunk down, and they saw what was in the pipes, but they had to stay in the bag, and they were so, so sad. And then they almost died, but they didn't. And then they got so cold and sank and sank and sank until they were dead. But they weren't dead yet. Now they died. That's a very sad ending, isn't it?
4:47 pm



August 18

Penelope (after much vocalized thinking, staring at her Freebirds cup): I get it--because quesadillas aren't really made out of birds, so these aren't normal birds!
4:23 pm

Penelope: I know why they're called Pop Brownies--because they make your tummy pop!
Gray: They're called pot brownies.
P: What?! Why?
4:33 pm

Penelope: (we're changing into our suits) Hurry! Hurry! (pushes me into the bathroom) Daddy is coming!
(door slams)
Me: Is that...?
Funny sounding voice: Hehyo! I'm Daddy!
Me: Are you sure that's Daddy? It doesn't sound like Daddy.
Funny voice: Oh! Uh! (funny coughing, throat clearing sounds) Yes I am! I'm Daddy. I just had a little extra cuteness in my throat. But it is definitely me--Daddy!
5:19 pm

Me (frustrated): Why did it post??? Why won't it delete?
Gray: What did you post?
Me: Nothing! I wasn't done typing yet! I didn't hit post! Why did it post? Now it's not working.
Penelope (deadpan): It's gone Turbo.
6:57 pm

Penelope: (in the pool) Remember, Daddy's the boss!
Me: Are you sure you're not the boss. You're awfully bossy.
P (indignant) Nooooo! I'm the princess in this game!
Me: Oh I see. He's a video game boss.
P (as Derrick spins while she is on his back) Whoooooa! We're like the Earth.
Me: Is Daddy your axis?
Penelope (splashing him) Remember water is your weakness!
Me: You've planned this attack well.
Penelope (with gusto): Take that, you stinky old sack bag!!!
(Gray dies laughing)
Penelope: Taste my attack, arch enemy!
(Later as she climbs out)
Penelope: No! Don't give me a boost! Arch enemies don't give other arch enemies a boost!
Gray: You old sack bag!
7:10 pm

Penelope (pointing out the car window at where they're putting in a sidewalk): You see? There's the blue police box I was telling you about.
Me: Oh that does look like a blue police box, but that's a porta potty not a tardis.
7:16 pm

Me: See that lion?
Penelope: Is he the Pink Panther?
Me: No this is the MGM logo. See the words written on the circle around the lion?
Penelope: Yes.
Me: That says "Ars gratia artis"--art for art's sake. That's Latin. In other words, don't make art because it will make you rich. Don't make art because it will make you powerful. Make art because art is good and making art is good.
My dad: (coming out of the bathroom) What's that? Fart for fart's sake?
Me: That must be the vulgate.
My mom: Or it's vulgar anyway.
My dad: (grandly) Don't fart because it will make you rich...
8:18 pm

Mom (while watching her favorite dance number of the week, "Meglio Stasera," to Nellie): Look at her dance around so gracefully. She moves like smoke...
Me: (dancing around behind the couch) That's what I look like when I dance.
(Nellie turns dramatically and looks at me incredulously)
Mom: Penelope doesn't believe that!
Me: (waving my arms flumishly) Just like smoke! A big, giant cloud of smoke!
Mom: And she's so thin. How did she get so thin?
Dad: You used to look like that, Susan, when I first met you.
Mom: I don't know about that.
Dad: No, when I first met you, you were just like that...
Me: Because it was interpretive dance night at Bible study? [They met at Bible study.]
Dad: You had long arms and long fingers...
Me (attempting to do the dance): Just like ET?
Mom: Shut up, Sarah!
Me: That's who I look like when I do this dance--ET!
Penelope (Blows a raspberry on Grandma's arm and laughs): Hee hee!
Mom: Don't make that noise on me!
Penelope: (instructively with a sly grin) That is called a raspberry.
Mom: I see. And who taught you that? Your mother?
Me: (dancing around like ET) Always blame me!
Penelope (with a wicked smile, leaning into Grandma's face) I think that it was YOU who taught me that.
Mom: I don't think so.
Penelope: I believe that it was, yes. (still grinning, allows) Well, maybe it was Bubby.
Mom: Bubby. yes. That sounds more like it.
Penelope: Have another raspberry. (Penelope blows another raspberry on her.)
Mom: Stop that!
9:25 pm

Penelope's explanation of "stinky old sack bag" was that, "Somebody threw you in a bag and tied you in a sack and sat on it and tooted." Gray had a slightly different idea, however.
9:32 pm

"There's only one thing nature abhors more than a vacuum, and that's a Pink Panther with a vacuum."

Season one of The Pink Panther cartoon show is streaming free on amazon prime! The Pink Panther cartoons are funny as ever, but the ones with the Inspector are infinitely weirder than I remembered.
11:14 pm

Derrick: That horse looks just like Mommy. Look how mad he is! Wait till you see his mad face.
Me: That does look like me!
(later)
Penelope: Why does that guy have a pot on his head?
Me: Because he's weird.
Penelope: (with a mischievous smile) He looks just like Mommy.
(Later)
Penelope: Now he can't get up the hill...just like Mommy. And he has no eyes...just like Mommy. (Wicked grin) Would you agree with me there, Dad?

Some of us like to run things into the ground.
11:27 pm

August 19

Penlope (using "caught," "weasel," and "story"): Dinah caught some flowers that were running away. They came to life because they were so scared of Pupcake, so they were running. Then she gave them to a weasel and read a story with him about a poor woman who had no bones.
Me: My goodness! That is poor!
Penelope (with a sad sigh): Yes, and she would never have bones unless she made a wish. But she was mean, so she didn't want to make a wish. So she went on having no bones, and naturally, she died. She didn't believe in God or fairies, and she didn't love anyone, so she was glad to die. But that's only a story, you know.
5:49 pm

August 22

Last night's nightmare was that Penelope was abducted by a mysterious cult. Luckily after two weeks, we were able to track them down and recover her. We had no idea what they might have done to her. But here's the worst part. I asked her, "Did you floss your teeth every night?" She replied, "No, they didn't even let me brush them!" In horror, I wailed to Derrick, "We're going to have to call the dentist immediately, explain what happened, and see if there's anything he can do!" Crazy dreams!
12:29 pm


August 24

Merry, Nellie and I are watching The Carebears Movie on Netflix. Did you know that the voice of the evil spirit in the book is Jackie Burroughs who plays Hetty King in Avonlea? Can you still sing all the songs in this movie from memory? I can! Seriously this is still quite fun to watch. The premise is just so insane. The protagonists' only objective is to be friendly to everyone. Meanwhile, they're up against...ALL THE POWERS OF HELL!!!!!!!
12:44 am


August 25

Me: Quit coloring on my picture!
Penelope (coloring on my picture): Now this just needs a little improvement.
Me: Cut it out Naughty Pants McToodle Poodle. Isn't that what they're calling you these days--down at the club?
Penelope: Oh no. You're thinking of someone else. I'm never naughty at the club.
Me: Are you sure?
Penelope: Oh yes. All I ever do there is watch TV, and just, you know, relax. That's the kind of a club it is.
Me: Well I asked the other members, and they said you're always naughty at the club, naughty as can be.
Penelope: Have you ever even been to the club?
Me: Yes, I've been going there every day to check up on you.
Penelope: Oh no you haven't, Mister!

Needless to say, "the club" exists only in this conversation.
12:08 am


Penelope: (running commentary as she draws one of the many witches who will be going to her witch party) She has a brunette face. She doesn't look like a she. I think she's a man. Look at him. Well, no, she needs more arms. She looks like a psycho, doesn't she? (speaking of another one) Can you believe all those long fangs? She has at least three fangs, but she needs even more fangs. Her name is Vampire Marilda. (another one) Oh look at this cute one. She's very happy. She's extremely happy, as you can see.
Me: What's her name?
Penelope: She doesn't have a name yet. She's been born, but it's too soon for a name. Witches don't do that kind of thing right away. (of another one) She has big eyes! She must be animated!
12:31 am


August 25

Penelope: Mom, wouldn't it be swell if one of my friends [from the pool] came to my house?
Grandma: (with a grin) Wouldn't that be just swell?
Penelope: Yeah, it'd be swell. Like what if they went around knocking on every door in the neighborhood until they could find me?
Me: That would be pretty cool.
Penelope: And then I pulled open the door, and they said (extremely happy face) "Hello!"

This fantasy is extra cute because Penelope always pronounces her greeting "hehyo." When she tries she can say, "HelllllllllllllLO," but her default is always "hehyo," and she says it in such a charming little way.
1:41 pm


August 26

Me: So what are the witches going to do at their party?
Penelope: They're going to try to get the copper out of the bread.
Me: Get the copper out of the bread? What does that mean?
Penelope: That's an old expression from back when I was born. Just like, "An egg without a shell? No thanks!" because nobody wants an egg without a shell. Another good one you can say is, "Toast without butter? No way!" I also am fond of saying, "Oh peanut crackers!"
Me: What does "get the copper out of the bread" mean?
Penelope: It means, "Oh no! No thank you! No thank you! No!"
Me: But I'm confused.
Penelope: They're playing a game named that.
Me: So how do you play the game?
Penelope: You know butter? That's what you want on your bread. Not copper. So when they see copper, they use their magic to get it off the bread and say, "OH NO! No thank you! No!"
Me: So that's the game? The name of the game comes from the old expression?
Penelope: Mmhmm. That's right.
12:42 am

Penelope (as we toast each other by raising our bananas): I'm a little M-O-N-C-E!
Me: You mean a little M-O-N-K-E-Y?
Penelope: (grins) Yeeaahhhh.
12:52 pm

Penelope and Grandma were watching Miss Marple when one couple got a bit more passionate than they usually do on Miss Marple...

Penelope: I have a suspicion that that girl is a succubus.
Grandma: You're probably right.
5:44 pm

August 27 

Penelope: Mom, do you ever pick your nose with your finger?
Me: Well I try not to anymore because it's kind of rude.
Penelope: I do it all the time.
Me: When I was your age, I always picked my nose, and Grandma told me, "Sarah Jane, don't pick your nose."
Penelope: (wisely) Well, don't worry too much about that because I'm pretty sure everybody does it.
Me: I told her I had to because picking my nose was my hobby, and she said, "Then you need to get a new hobby."
Penelope: So you got the hobby of biting your fingernails?
Me: (realizing) Actually yes.
1:25 am

Penelope: (licking the dum-dum she just selected): Oh Mom! You should have gotten at least one grape because...mmmm!...(crazily excited voice) they're DIVINE!!!!!
10:37 pm


August 28

Penelope (as I clean up the master bedroom): Oh Mommy, I wanted so much to help you, but right now I have to spend time with Pinkie and Yellow. They are growing up so fast, and they're going through so many changes! Pinkie never talks to me now. I don't know where all the good times we had together have gone. And all his teeth have fallen out! I knew this might happen. All he does is stay silent. And yellow has shranken! Now he's only three, and I don't know how it could have happened because Pink is already four at least. And he's getting so much bigger, but at school they're mean to little Pink. And when I try to console him, he doesn't even reply! (wailing dramatically) Oh Pink! Little Pink! Why won't you reply?
2:52 pm

With the return of Direct TV to the house, someone has been on a Doc McStuffins binge! You might even call it a spree!
11:37 pm

Penelope's watching Doc McStuffins again, and the hippo just exclaimed, "Well cheese on a fish stick!" I don't know why, but that really cracked me up for some reason.
2:18 pm


August 31

Me: And you said I could get a purse, right?
Grayson: You don't have a purse?
Derrick: Well, she has old ones.
Me: I just haven't been carrying one for a while. I got out of the habit. I've been carrying that camera bag instead for some reason.
Grayson: You're the first woman who doesn't get a new purse every month! My mom gets one like every month...or week!
(We laugh)
Me (as I type this): Did he say "the first woman I've met" or "the only woman I know"?
Derrick: Just "the first woman" in general.
Grayson: Make sure you put in that part about my mom. She gets one like every week! She got TWO new purses just the other DAY!
12:45 pm

Grayson (playing a video game and leaning sign language with Derrick): What's sign language for the C word?
Derrick and I in suspicious unison: What "C" word?
Grayson: Crud.
Derrick and I in relief: Ohhhh...
Grayson: What "C" word did you think I meant? (Guesses in a really, really quiet voice) Crap?
12:55 pm

I never knew Julie Bowen was Virginia in Happy Gilmore! Even now that I'm watching it, I find it hard to believe!
9:47 pm


September 2, 2013

At the pool this afternoon...
Penelope: Now Mama Frog is going to pee on my face!
Me: What?! Oh no!
Penelope: No, I like it. I like it when she pees on my face.
Grayson: Whaaaaat?
Penelope: (wickedly) I prefer things to be a little bit scandalizing.
Me: Hmmm.
1:40 am

September 5

Me (reading): The push was a strong one, and it sent Despereaux flying down the stairs into the dungeon. As he tumbled, whisker over tail, through the darkness, there were only two words in his mind. One was "perfidy."
Penelope (interrupting eagerly) And two was (jerks her head repeatedly to indicate falling down the stairs) Bump-badump-badump-badump-bump-bump!

We're really enjoying reading The Tale of Despereaux together, but there are dangers. For example, when Penelope was attempting to beat our drum with her tail, she accidentally sat in her jelly sandwich.
3:11 pm

Trying to make a program work, I opened a browser I don't normally use and saw the headline, "At age 3, boy hangs 10." I thought, "Oh! That's terrible! But how did he lift them?" When I clicked the link to find out, I was pretty relieved by the photo
8:43 pm

Derrick (playing with Nellie in the chair, tickling her and trying to get her to laugh): I heard that! I heard that this time!
Penelope: You sound like Pawpaw Harley when you say that!
Me: You kind of did sound like him.
Derrick: You know why I sound like Pawpaw Harley?
Penelope: (touching his face) You're handsome. That's why you sound like Pawpaw Harley--because you're so handsome!
Derrick: Aww. I'll tell him that. I'm sure he'll appreciate it. No the reason I sound like Pawpaw Harley...
Penelope: Is because you're his son!!!
8:54 pm

September 6

Penelope (at the library, talking to the statue of the frog reading): Why hello there, Froggie? What are you reading?
"Frog": Ribbit! Croak!
Penelope: Oh, as it turns out, I don't speak frog you know, so I'll just take a little peek for myself.
Me: So what is he reading?
Penelope: I can't tell because it's in Japanese.
Me: It's in Japanese??!
Penelope: (informatively) Yes, frogs always prefer to read their books in Japanese, you know. Some people think that frogs can't read, but as it turns out, they are the ones who are stupid because they can't recognize Japanese when they see it! I think the whole thing is just ridiculous!
3:11 pm

September 7

Penelope: Why hello there, Froggie? What are you reading?
"Frog": Ribbit! Croak!
Penelope: Oh, as it turns out, I don't speak frog you know, so I'll just take a little peek for myself.
Me: So what is he reading?
Penelope: I can't tell because it's in Japanese.
Me: It's in Japanese??!
Penelope: (informatively) Yes, frogs always prefer to read their books in Japanese, you know. Some people think that frogs can't read, but as it turns out, they are the ones who are stupid because they can't recognize Japanese when they see it! I think the whole thing is just ridiculous!
2:26 pm

(Grayson is making a bizarre, loud, squeaky noise for some reason.)
Penelope: Bubby, don't scream, because you'll ruin your beau-u-u-itful voice!
(We laugh)
Grayson: Well, then you should keep that in mind, too.
Derrick: Pot, meet kettle.
2:27 pm

Watching Goonies: "I'm gonna hit you so hard that when you wake up, your clothes will be out of style!"
Penelope (giggling): The big one is funny!
8:29 pm

September 8

Mom and Dad's solution to football season—to work a puzzle. Penelope just raved, "What happened to my puzzles? Everything Grandma put in my puzzle drawer is just random toys and no puzzle pieces, so where did they go???!!!!!!"
5:43 pm

September 9

Penelope and I were playing Doc McStuffins Uno. She kept changing the color to blue. I'd draw and draw and draw and finally get a Wildcard and change it back to pink or yellow. After this happened four times, I finally got suspicious and examined the deck. There were no blue cards (or green ones for that matter).

"How have you been playing this with Grandma?" I wondered.

Her eyes lit up, and she cried, "Oh wait! I'll go and get the other deck."

That deck was unopened. (So now I'm really confused how they've been playing!) Once I got all the cards together, there were so many I didn't shuffle well enough. That time, we both ended up with all blue cards, and they game was over in like 30 seconds.

Apparently, some of us are not cut out to play Doc McStuffins Uno.
1:36 pm

Me: Nellie, will you go tell Grandma her timer is going off?
Penelope: (like I've asked her 80 times) YES! I will in a SECOND!!!!!
Derrick: Mommy only asked you once, crazy pants!
Penelope: (Still weirdly intense) I KNOW! And I REPLIED TO HER!!!!!!!
6:10 pm

Penelope: Mommy, I want to have a music band. It will be you, me, Grandpa, and Daddy.
Me: What about Grandma?
Penelope: Oh yeah, I forgot about her. Our songs will be "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," "Skipping Rope," "Lucky Money," and "Hakuna Matata."
Me: What's "Lucky Money"?
Penelope: Oh, it's just a song I wrote.
Me: What are you going to call your band?
Penelope: Skipping Rope. And actually, if we did this, we could make a video.
6:26 pm

Penelope: Mommy, can you make me a cross?
Me: Like this?
Penelope: (exasperated) I mean like a Jesus Christ cross!
Me: Um...Well that's pretty much what I thought you meant! What other kind of cross is there?
Penelope: Ugggghhhhh!
Me: Did you want me to draw Jesus on the cross? Like a crucifix? Like on a rosary?
Penelope: Just gimme it! (snatches the paper away)
(after a moment)
Penelope: There. (Very pleased with herself) I drew circles in the center. Get it?
Me: Are the circles supposed to be Jesus? Like a halo or...
Penelope: Nooooo! Don't you get it? It's like a target! It's a little joke for people who understand. Because Jesus' enemies who put him on the cross were trying to hurt him, right? And they had been planning to get him? So they were TARGETING him! It's obviously a joke.
Me: Well that's a strange joke. Don't be disappointed if no one laughs.
Penelope: (shaking her head and heading upstairs to find Grandma) You just don't understand me!

She was trying to walk on water today in the pool. I said, "Well, when Jesus walked on water it was a miracle." She insisted that she wanted to try it. I was like, "Well, okay, but try not to be too disappointed when it doesn't work."
7:39 pm

Me: (watching football and thinking about kids growing up) I wonder if Gray really will grow up and join the Army. He's wanted to be in the military for so long. But maybe all boys want to do that. Did you want to be in the Army when you were a kid?
Derrick: I don't think so. (Thinks) No, I wanted to be an ornithologist.
Me: Yeah, that's not the same.
Derrick: Yeah, I was a weird kid.
11:42 pm


September 10

Me: Are you ready to read your science books?
Penelope: Oh no! Not yet! Are you kidding me? I am still finishing up my scissors work!
(Moments later)
Penelope: Here you go! I made you this Halloween Valentine! They buried their mummy cat under an active volcano!
1:47 pm

Penelope (holding up two pieces of candy corn): What did one witch say to the other witch?
Me: I don't know.
Penelope: "Let's ride on our broomsticks to the witches park!" It's funny, you see, because I used these candy corns for their hats. Make sure you write that at the end of my joke, okay? Make sure you put this on facebook, okay?
1:56 pm

September 10

Me: (reading) "An electric eel can give a shock of up to 650 volts--over five times the voltage needed to light a standard household light bulb."
Penelope: Well that would be good for me because I could stay up all night watching TV, and no one could stop me because he would never run out of power. Then eventually...after a while...then...eventually...he could replace all the remotes, and we could turn off the direct TV...because anybody with that much power...he must be magical! And then basically what I am trying to explain is that I could stay up watching Doc McStuffins all night long!
2:26 pm

September 11

Me: (reading) "The meaning of life," said Botticelli, "is suffering, specifically the suffering of others."
Penelope: (outraged) What!? Suffering!
Me: That's not right, is it?
Penelope: No.
Me: What is the meaning of life, Penelope?
Penelope: Love.
Me: Well that's what Despereaux thinks, isn't it? But Roscuro thinks it's light.
Penelope: So which one is it?
Me: What do you think? What do you think is the meaning of life?
Penelope: Well, if it's up to me, I'm going to say "eating candy," but that's just how I feel about it.
12:19 am

September 13

Penelope (on the way to the library): I don't like this song.
Me: (turning it to 40s on 4): How about this one?
Penelope: Well, I'm not crazy about it! It's a little violent!
Me: Violent? It's just Billie Holiday singing.
Penelope: But those horns are a little bit violent on my ears.
Me: How about this? (changing it to the 50s)
Penelope: Oh now this is a song!
Me: Do you know this one?
Penelope: No, but I like it. What is it?
Me: This is a classic. It's called "Mr. Sandman, Bring Me a Dream."
(After the bom-bom-bom...part)
Penelope: Wow! Who is singing this?
Me: It says it's the Chordettes.
Penelope: Well they are incredible! They are so talented! Did you hear what they just did, how they sang that? That is amazing! No wonder they're famous! That is talent!
4:42 pm

Penelope (as I turn off the car): Mom, I just don't get that guy.
Me: What guy?
Penelope: The one just now with the drums. (with a look of concentration on her face) And I think I heard a maraca.
Me: The song that was playing just now?
Penelope: Yeah, but I just don't understand. "I'm not sick, but I'm not well?" What can that mean? I don't understand when you were in high school. I think you should know if you're happy or sad. Why would you be sad if you're happy? None of your songs make sense to me.
Me: Well, what did you think of the songs from when Grandma and Grandpa were in high school?
Penelope: I don't know what to think. I like them, but is the Little Boy Blue really on the moon or not, and what is he doing there?

(We weren't all actually in high school for all of those, but I told her the 90s on 9 was when I was in high school, and the 70s was when Grandma and Grandpa were in school, which is misleading but convenient.)
4:47 pm

Penelope: (freaking out) Daddy!! There's bumps on my lips! Will you take a look!
Grayson (leans over): Let me see. (expertly) Those are regular bumps.
Penelope: (in high alarm) REGULAR BUMPS!!!!!!!!!
Grayson: That means they're normal. Those bumps are supposed to be there.
Penelope: Oh.
10:22 pm

Penelope: What's the Apolaplakips?
Me: What?!
Penelope: (laughing) I can't say it right!
Me: What's the Apocalypse?
Gray: It's the end of the world!
Penelope: (disappointed) Ohhhhhh! I wish it would be the Apocalypse NOW!
Me: Well, Apocalypse Now is something we'll have to save for later.
Penelope: Bubby, I can't wait until it's Halloween because that's the night I'll get all my candy!!!!!!!!!
10:58 pm

Me (confused by the DVR): It's already in the middle...
Derrick (realizing): Is that from Tuesday? Didn't the president speak on Tuesday?
Me: Oh yeah! The president spoke on Syria.
Gray: (confused) The president spoke on cereal? What? The president gave a speech about cereal?
Derrick: That's right--because there's something wrong with Frosted Flakes.
Gray: Sweet.
Derrick: (forcefully, pointing) No! It's NOT! And that's the problem!
Gray: What?!!
Me (laughing): Tell him for real!
11:20 pm

Me: I have a question! After I've taken two pregnancy tests, there's no way I could be pregnant right?
Grayson: Why? Do they say you are?
Me: (laughing hysterically) No! No! They say I'm not! I just don't understand why I'm so hungry!
11:31 pm

September 14

Penelope's library book, Women Daredevils, inspired this conversation...

Penelope: When I grow up, I'm going to be the human cannon ball, too!
Me: What will you call yourself? Zazel? Will you wear pink tights?
Penelope: No. I'll be Penelope the Great!
Me: Penelope the Great! What will you wear to do your act?
Penelope: Some orange high heels and a bright red dress. (Pauses, thinks) Actually, I'll call myself The Ruby Red Orange Strawberry!
Me: Oh, that one's so good, I think I'll write it down!
Penelope: (who is turning around singing what sounds like a weird variation on circus music) Make sure you write down my little "woo-doo-doo-doo-doo-woo-doo-woo-doo!"
1:36 am

Me: Yes that is a bathroom! Little kids play soccer there! They have to let them pee!
Gray: Naw, they wear soccer diapers.
2:58 pm

Grayson (playing video games with Derrick): If you can't join 'em, beat 'em!
Derrick: If you can't join 'em, beat 'em?
(We laugh.)
Grayson: Well, you know. Like if you try to join the bad guys, and they won't let you.
5:02 pm

Grayson: They call me Death Machine!
Derrick: (with a wink) They call me Little Death Machine!
5:41 pm

September 15

Penelope: (watching Calvin Johnson outrun everyone to get a touchdown) I'm rooting for that guy.
3:47 pm

Penelope (pretending she's on the phone with the North Pole): Well, I do sometimes stomp my feet and run upstairs and then slam the door very loudly...
5:33 pm

Breaking News: Penelope is no longer planning to go as Darth Vader for Halloween. Her new costume? The Ruby Red Orange Strawberry (aka Human Cannonball, that's her stage name)
11:13 pm


September 16

Whoever is in charge of abcmouse's advertising needs a raise. EVERY time Penelope sees a commercial for it, she gushes to me about why we need abcmouse for the rest of the commercial break, often laying out very detailed arguments. She doesn't respond that way to any other product advertised.
3:27 pm

Penelope is very proud she read Pinkalicious: Soccer Star all by herself in just a few minutes! (The Amelia Bedelia ones are so much longer. She can't read those all at once, but the library has opened up our options.)
4:08 pm

Penelope's final sentence, using "inspired," "gallop," and "Spain" and featuring her stuffed dog, Brownie:

One time Brownie was going to a farm. He was galloping because he was inspired by a horse they showed him there. Oh yeah, he was in Spain.
4:38 pm

Penelope (bursting through the doors of Derrick's office behind me): And now the Other Mommy is here!
Me: The Other Mommy? Is that you?
Penelope: Yes.
Me: I see.
Penelope: The little mommy.
Me: The little mommy?
Penelope: Which is a child.
4:52 pm

Penelope: (to Mom who is going to play Zelda with us) Are you almost done vacuuming?
Grandma: Yes.
Penelope (disappearing behind the chair): Okay, well if you need me, I will be over here...building a ziggurat.
4:54 pm


September 18

Me: (reading about the Greek gods) Do you know what "immortal" means?
Penelope: Like (proclaims dramatically) "What immortal hand or eye!"
Me: (surprised and pleased) "Could frame thy fearful symmetry?"
Penelope (eyes lit up) Yeah! But what's that from? It's just like stuck in my head!
1:00 am

Me: (after reading about the rise of Cronus, the defeat of Cronus by Zeus, and the birth of Athena) Look! There's the Parthenon, the temple to Athena in Athens. I've been there.
Penelope: (aghast) Really? (then smiles) Not really.
Me: No, I really was there. I stayed at a hotel where I could see the Parthenon through my window, and then I climbed up the hill...
Penelope: Not really!
Me: Yes, really. I really did go to Greece.
Penelope (horrified): Did you see Greeks there?
Me: Yes, Greece is full of Greeks.
Penelope: (gasps, terrified) But did they try to swallow you?
Me: Oh no! I didn't see the Greek gods there!
Penelope: Well that's a relief. They seem to like to eat people!
Me: No, Greeks are just ordinary people like we are. In fact, most Greeks worship our God now.
Penelope: (shaking her head) Well, I still think going there was very dangerous. All those Greeks do is eat everybody!
Me: That was the Greek gods, though. Those are just stories. It's not like that anymore.
1:06 am

So tonight I showed Penelope how to play Soul Calibur because I knew she would get a kick out of fighting as Darth Vader. Of course, she loved it and played several rounds as Darth Vader. Then she switched to Tira, this sinister girl who fights with an evil hula hoop. During our battle...

Penelope: I'm not gonna fall in that water! It's going to be you! Come here, so I can push you off!
Me: No way!
Penelope: Yes, I'm going to hoop you off the cliff! Come here, you! What? Now why is this goose in the way? Did you see him wandering through?
Me: That did look like a goose who just wandered through. I think maybe he's a Dodo or something.
My character (rather randomly): Here, Kitty-kitty!
Penelope (outraged): What?! Nobody says, "Here, Kitty-kitty" to Tira! (charges at me)
Me: (laughing, repeating) Nobody says, "Here, Kitty-kitty to Tira!"
Penelope: And for sure no one says, "Here, Kitty-kitty" to Darth Vader! That's for sure!
1:12 am

September 19

Penelope: (playing the Evil Hoola Hoop Lady in Soul Calibur): Take this! And this! There! Now take a little of that!
Me: (as some guy who looks like one of the Three Musketeers) But I do not want to take that! I will run away!
Penelope: But wait! I haven't finished giving you presents!
Me: I do not what your presents! (trying to force her off the edge of the ring) Fall off! Fall off! Arghh! Why do you not fall off!??
Penelope: (as she charges at me) I'm mad at you--for stealing my wife's husband!!!!!
Me: For stealing your wife's husband?!
Penelope: Yes! And you weren't even nice to him! You just abandoned him by the side of the road! And he was crying!
Me: This vendetta is becoming extraordinarily complicated!
Penelope: I will make you pay! Taste my hoop!
Me: I don't even remember your wife's husband! What was his name?
Penelope: Alex Midwife!
Me: Alex Midwife, eh? This all sounds increasingly improbable!
Penelope: Oh yeah? Well guess WHAT?
Me: What?
Penelope: (emphatically rhyming on "what") You're a BUTT!
Me: I will kill you for that!
Penelope: Here, kitty-kitty! Now take THAT! Taste my hoop! I will have my revenge!
12:31 am

Penelope just picked a name for her tiny stuffed puppy—Chicken Nugget "because they're brown on the outside and white on the inside, and they're small just like him."
9:08 pm


September 20

"Madelyn's going to a special school for stage magicians."
--Velma talking about her little sister in Abracadabra-Doo
4:50 pm

We're taking turns playing Soul Calibur. As Nellie and I fight...
Gray: I'm rooting for Nellie!
Penelope: Daddy, you're rooting for Mommy! (as she beats me up)
Gray: Go Nellie!
Penelope: Now Daddy, you say, "OH NO!"
Derrick: OH NO!
Penelope (as she kills me and wins the match): Now Dad, you say, "Oh curses!"
Me: Nellie, you need to start fighting again.
Penelope: Daddy, you say, "Oh curses!"
Derrick: Oh curses!
Penelope: (as I beat her) Daddy, now you say, "Oh yea!"
10:57 pm

September 21

So now we've all custom made Soul Calibur characters. Currently Realta is fighting Super Cat. Can anyone solve the mystery of who created Super Cat?
12:55 pm

After Derrick finds and plays "Highway Patrol"...
Gray: Can we listen to something from the 21st century now?
Derrick and me (not in unison): Hey! That was a classic!
Gray (unconvincingly): No, yeah, that was great, but could we listen to something from the 21st century now, or at least the 20th century?
Me: That's from the 20th century!
Grayson: Ooohhh! Nevermind then. 21st century.

Is "When September Ends" really 21st century? I guess Sirius XM doesn't lie.
6:34 pm

Derrick: What are you up to?
Me: I'm texting my secret boyfriend.
Derrick: (in almost a Homer Simpson whisper) I've got a secret for you. I'm your secret boyfriend.
Gray: What? Daddy has a secret boyfriend, too? Wouldn't it be funny if Daddy's secret boyfriend was your secret boyfriend?
Me: That would be Cabaret.
Gray: What? (seriously) Cabaret, is that like straight AND gay?
Me: Yes.
Derrick: No, Gray, the word you're looking for is "bisexual." Cabaret is a stage musical.
6:57 pm

Gray: Aww! There's something up there.
Me: It's a locust!
Derrick: It's a CRICKET!
Me: Well, it's not a normal cricket! It's a yellow cricket.
Derrick: You're like, "It's the Kraken!!!!!"
Gray: (laughing) It's the Kraken!!!
Me: And you're Kraken me up.
Gray (deadpan): That was a terrible pun.
Me (mock menacing): I'll be Kraken you up next.
Gray: (shaking his head) Yeah, that was just terrible.
7:08 pm

Gray: If I were the hand of God, then I could make Mickey Mouse!
Me: (confused) What? If I were the hand of God, then I could make Mickey Mouse? What kind of conversation am I missing?
Derrick: See you need to pay attention.
(After lots of teasing, finally they explain)
Derrick: He was talking about making salt maps at school, and he got to be the hand of God coming down and shaping everything.
Me: So where did Mickey Mouse come in?
Derrick: In your imagination.
Me: Noo! He said, "If I were the hand of God, then I could make Mickey Mouse!"
Gray (laughing): Nooo.
Derrick: He said, "If I were the hand of God, then I could make mountains."
Me: Really?
(They laugh hysterically.)
Me: I guess I need to pay more attention! Quit being so funny, so I can stop writing stuff down.
7:25 pm

Gray (watching Derrick and Nellie battle in Soul Calibur, prepared to play the winner): I bet fifty bucks on Daddy. Real money. Remember Nellie, I bet fifty bucks on this. If you win, I owe you fifty bucks.
Penelope: Okay. How many's fifty again?
Gray (noticing that Nellie is winning): Fifty bucks. Um, let's say it's not real money.
Penelope: Okay, that's fine.
Gray: Fifty bucks of not real money that Daddy will win.
9:16 pm

Gray: Remember, Nellie. This is not a game. It's real life. Life and Death.
Nellie (as she beats him): Bubby, this is a fighting game. I have to fight you!
9:18 pm

Penelope: (as a guy with a stick, fighting Derrick's character of a woman wielding a huge sword) How about a little of this? Okay, try some of that now! (getting hit) Your sword is too big for a real man like me!

Nellie: I'm gonna do my cartwheels. Hey, take some death! Hey, come a little closer, can you? Now let's do a little of that. And this! And this! And kickety this!
9:21 pm

Penelope: (stepping back with her hands behind her back) Dad, I have a big surprise. But you don't know what it is. (in kind of an unintentionally scary whisper) Don't watch my arms or hands.
Grayson: That's kind of menacing.
Penelope: (lunging forward and flinging her arms around Derrick's neck, giving him a hug and a kiss) That's for how much I love you!
9:24 pm




Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Fall Movie Diary: The Family

Date: September 17, 2013
Time: 6:35 pm
Place: Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline
Company: Derrick
Food:  Shared pizza verde and chips and queso with avocado, and chocolate peanut butter milkshake
Runtime:  1 hour, 51 minutes
Rating: R
Director: Luc Besson

Quick Impressions:
Back in college, my friends and I all went to see Luc Besson’s The Messenger.  I may have been the only one who liked it—in the entire world. 

(No, just kidding.  But I do remember the film getting poor—really more like baffled—reception.  Even star Milla Jovovich seemed eager to distance herself from the project.  Divorcing the director is a pretty sure sign you think the star vehicle he put together for you was a horrendous failure.) 

The thing is, I’d been quite taken with Milla Jovovich ever since a childhood obsession with The Night Train to Kathmandu, and I spent all of junior high so obsessed with Joan of Arc that I never passed on any book or movie about the Maid of Orleans.  So of course, I was excited about The Messenger, and even though the movie indulged in more unexpected tonal shifts than a slam poet racing a stock car (seriously, only a crazy, mixed metaphor can accurately describe the out-of-control tone of that movie), I still had a great time watching Besson’s take on France’s most controversial patron saint. 

(The only downside was that Joan’s bizarre Christ hallucinations terrified me.  I showered at night, and for months, I’d hesitate to leave my dorm room, terrified that the bloodied arms of “Scary Jesus” would slide underneath the gap from the next shower and grab me, or that his eerily expressionless face would appear in the window, moments before his eyes darted over to meet mine. 

One night, my roommate insisted, “Hurry up! Go take a shower.”

I countered, “What if Scary Jesus comes?”

“He won’t,” she reassured me, adding, “And if he does, I’ll beat him up.”

“Thanks,” I said, genuinely grateful.  “You’re so nice.”

She rolled her eyes and muttered sarcastically, “Yes, I’m so nice, I would beat up Jesus.”)

If you’re wondering what I’m getting at here, it’s this.  Luc Besson makes really weird, disturbing movies.  Even the good ones are weird.  I mean, Milla Jovovich was great as The Fifth Element, but some of the other elements in that film were decidedly off the wall.  (That suits me fine.  I write weird books.  I like to see off-the-wall stuff out there making money.  It gives me hope.  But I get the impression it sometimes gives other viewers panic attacks and nausea.)

At least, the movies Besson directs are all rather strange.  He’s a much more prolific writer than a director, and films that give him less creative control perhaps not so coincidentally also involve markedly less weirdness.  Weird’s not always bad, of course, and even when it is, bad weird is better than bad boring.

So I really thought I knew what I was getting myself into with The Family.  I expected a movie with some winning qualities—maybe even isolated moments of brilliance—but a pronounced disregard for tonal cohesion.  Maybe it will be too weird, I thought.  Maybe it will be pulled in so many directions that it will start to bore me.  Oh well, at least I’ll get to review a bad movie for a change. Then people will see once and for all that I don’t love everything!

But guess what?  Luc Besson spoiled my fun.  The Family is great.  Not only is the tone consistent (weird, yes, but consistent), the film is always entertaining, start to finish.  In fact, when it was over, my husband declared, “That’s one I’d like to own,” and I agree.  What a surprise!

The Good:
Now mind you, I’m not claiming that The Family is not very strange.  So when you go to see the movie based on this favorable review and then find that it’s very strange, don’t blame me.  I’m also not claiming that everyone will like it.  But I did (and so did my husband). 

Here’s why.

As far as I’m concerned, this is consistently a black comedy.  The violence is always graphic (though the worst of it is not always depicted onscreen), and the gallows humor is pervasive.  I don’t understand why some people think this film is trying (and failing) to be a drama.  It is never a drama.  It’s always a comedy.  Just accept that.  It’s a dark comedy about an extremely dysfunctional and violent family just trying to make it through another day with minimal killing and zero being killed.  This family is by no means moral (at least by no conventional means), but in a bizarre twist they manage to be uncannily likable and extremely watchable.  This is the genius of the movie. 

Think of The Addams Family.  Decidedly weird.  Completely unconventional.  Objectionable by ordinary standards.  Still the protagonists.  Still, engaging, likable protagonists.  Look at the Griswolds from the Vacation series.  All they do is travel the world making jackasses of themselves (particularly Clark), but the audience still roots for them, still wants to see how their adventures turn out.  Homer Simpson is a buffoon, Bart’s a budding sociopath, Lisa’s annoyingly self-righteous, Marge is a moaning enabler, and Maggie’s a killer.  But we don’t watch The Simpsons hoping that the family will fall off a cliff and die or something.  Despite their glaring flaws, we sympathize with these odd families and get easily engaged in their onscreen adventures.

And that’s what we’re supposed to do with the Blake (aka Manzoni) family, too.  At least, that’s what I think.

Now, I’ll admit, it’s not like I’m personal friends with Luc Besson or anything.  It’s not like I can call him up and ask, “So what were you trying to do with this film?”  I mean, it’s entirely possible that despite all appearances, he was trying to make a serious crime drama, and he failed.  But regardless of his intentions, what he has succeeded in making is a black comedy.

Much of the humor lies in the unlikely premise.  Now don’t misunderstand.  I’m not saying that the basic plot of the movie is terribly original.  We’ve seen all kinds of relocated government witness movies and fish-out –of-water movies and even mobsters-working-with-the-government movies before.  In that way, the movie is not original.  But this family faces a rather odd predicament.  They haven’t been relocated just once, and they aren’t being moved time and again simply because somebody’s hunting them.  Yes the father ratted out the family and needs government protection, but their ongoing problems stem from a far more vexing (and unlikely) complication—not one single member of the family can stop committing heinous violent crimes, not even for one single day.  All four of these people behave like total sociopaths when crossed, and yet, when they’re together, they’re so loving and happy, such a charming, functional family unit.

So you see, the movie we’re watching isn’t trying to be a serious crime drama.  It’s trying to be The Addams Family with an Italian Mafia twist.  Belle beating somebody half-to-death with a tennis racket and then offering sweet advice while looking composed and cherubic is really no different from Wednesday Addams strapping her brother in an electric chair and announcing, “We’re going to play a game.  It’s called, ‘Is there a God?’”  (Mind you, I’m not claiming that the movie adaptation of The Addams Family was universally well received, but nobody thought that the film was trying to be a serious thriller about psychologically damaged people and failing.)

This movie is never a drama.  When Giovanni begins to type his memoirs and looks back on his life with nostalgia and regret, it’s no different from Gomez wondering what happened to the old Fester and lamenting that his long lost brother has lost his sense of fun.  Just because something is a drama for the characters doesn’t mean it’s a drama for the audience.

I think audiences are getting confused and trying to watch a different movie from the one that’s there.  Katharine Hepburn once shared that while making the screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby, she first tried to make her character seem wacky and strange.  Howard Hawks suggested she talk to some of the more seasoned comedians in the cast who advised her to play the role completely straight, completely seriously.  Susan Vance is experiencing a drama, but the audience is watching a screwball comedy, nonetheless.

Now some people may say, “Fine.  So it’s a comedy.  But I didn’t think it was very funny.”

That’s a legitimate complaint.  Not everybody is going to like this movie.  My husband and I noticed ourselves laughing conspicuously more than the other people in the theater (and he laughed even more often than I did, which doesn’t usually happen).  Even when it’s working, this really isn’t a movie that makes you laugh out loud every single second.  In fact, often what’s funniest is the unlikely situation.  Sometimes the material that forces us to step back and turn over in our minds for a minute turns out to be the funniest stuff of all. 

So the movie isn’t always a giggle-a-minute laugh riot.  (In fact, it’s never that.)  But it is consistently entertaining. 

Quite honestly, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, start to finish.  I expected pacing problems or odd, alienating scenes.  But no. 

The cast is so strong, such a pleasure to watch, and the characters have such unlikely likability that the whole movie passes very pleasantly.  I never got bored even once.

For me the highlight of the movie was Michelle Pfieffer.  Every time her name or face comes up at home, my mother says (reliable as Old Faithful), “Michelle Pfieffer is just so beautiful.  I think some people are just naturally beautiful, and Michelle Pfieffer is one of them.” 

Mom and I often disagree about movie-related matters, but I’m with her there.  Even at 55, Pfieffer is gorgeous, stunning.  And it’s not just that she has a beautiful face.  She knows how to use it.  What an actress!  Without saying a word, she can turn in an engrossing, amazing performance.  I loved her as Catwoman.  I love her in everything.  I’m not sure why she doesn’t get more awards recognition (though it is true that in Hollywood, beauty often masks talent.)  In recent years, Pfieffer has been turning up in sizeable supporting roles (often as the villain) rather than in the lead, and like every time she almost single-handedly makes the movie.  She is absolutely fabulous here.  I felt energy leaping out into the audience like lightning every single instant she was on the screen.

Of course, it goes without saying that Robert De Niro is also good.  I don’t understand why people sometimes claim he can no longer act simply because he enjoys appearing in goofy comedies.  How ridiculous!  Go watch Silver Linings Playbook.  De Niro remains a gifted, dependable dramatic actor no many how abysmally silly comedies he signs on for!  Besides, half the time, people ridicule him for movies that aren’t even actually bad.  (Like Stardust!  That lovely little Neil Gaiman adaptation really did not get the love it deserved.  Michelle Pfieffer’s in that one, too!  Both of them are fabulous, and despite not making a gazillion dollars, Stardust was much better than what some people say.)  Anyway, in this movie, like Pfieffer’s Maggie, De Niro’s Fred/Giovanni experiences the adventures we see as a comedy largely as a drama, though he does have a penchant for appreciating how funny life can sometimes be.

What I did not expect is such strong performances from their fabulous kids.  Both Belle and Warren are far more interesting characters than I would have imagined, and their dynamic together is highly watchable.  Despite their criminal tendencies, the two make a lovable pair with great chemistry.  They’re totally believable as brother and sister, and I loved both Dianna Argon and John D’Leo, two performers I’ve never even noticed before.  (Glee remains one of many wildly popular shows I’ve never gotten into, and I know nothing about D’Leo whatsoever.)  I particularly enjoyed the kids’ discussion of their father’s favorite word, something that kept coming up again and again as the film went on.

Tommy Lee Jones doesn’t do anything revelatory here, but he’s in the movie, and when you’re talking about an actor of his caliber, that’s enough.  I also liked the guys who were keeping watch over the family in the house across the street, Jimmy Palumbo and (especially) Domenick Lombardozzi.  I really liked Lombardozzi, though I don’t remember noticing him ever before.  (I’ve never seen The Wire, either.)  (If you’re wondering what I do watch, this week it’s been mainly Doc McStuffins, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, and PAW Patrol.)

Best Scene:
Though it’s seen in previews, so it’s not a total surprise, I absolutely adored Maggie’s first visit to the market.  Maggie’s scenes were always my favorites in this movie simply because Pfieffer has such a captivating face and so thoroughly commits to the character.

An even better scene, though, actually comes later when Maggie criticizes her husband about the plumbing problem, and he responds by taking her to task about how she’s handled the grocery shopping.  Good grief this scene was hilarious!  Though I enjoyed the entire movie, I didn’t actually laugh out loud that often, but boy did I laugh here!

De Niro and Pfieffer are fantastic together.

Best Action Sequence:
My husband loved (I mean loved) the part with the tennis racket. 

Probably best for me was the big show down at the end.  Everyone’s involved, but my favorite scene was the rescue of Maggie simply because my heart kept rooting for the Blake family, and my head kept protesting, “Really?  Think about what you’re saying!  I know you love them for some reason, but they’re awful, guilty people!”

Best Scene Visually:
Tonight I realized that I have an obsession with close-ups of male faces.  All year long, my eye has been drawn to shots that show a close-up of a distinctive male face (filling the frame vertically) in the far corner of the screen with interesting scenery in the near distance accounting for the rest of the shot.  There’s a shot like this of Warren on the train platform that I absolutely loved.

Another visually stunning moment that really leaves an impression is the movie’s one sex scene.  (At least, if there’s another sex scene, I don’t remember it.  I mean the one that involves a white dress covered in flamingos.) 

This scene really surprised me because I so enjoyed watching it.  That sounds odd, I suppose.  But the thing is, lately sex scenes in movies often leave me cold.  They just don’t make an impression.  They seem so by-the-numbers, obligatory, uninspiring. 

But this one’s different.

Trying to articulate my impressions to my husband on the drive home, I suddenly realized, “I think it’s because of the female pleasure.”  Clearly in this scene, the woman involved is transported by rapture.  She’s very in the moment.  She both wants and loves the sex she’s having.

Maybe this feels so different to me because Besson is French, and there’s something here that doesn’t feel very American.  I just know that in so many movies, we get this long buildup of steamy, scintillating seduction, and then when the sex actually happens, it’s like, “Meh.  We knew this was coming.  Whatever.  Now it’s happened.”

I haven’t thought about this much until tonight, but now I think that recently, sex scenes have gotten less alluring.  (Often they’re not even there anymore.  When I was a kid back in the eighties, women were always dancing around topless, and people were throwing each other into bed left and right.  There was always something going on in movies that I either wasn’t supposed to be seeing or, in fact, wasn’t actually getting to see.)

There’s such sensuality and unabashed joy in this moment (probably the more so because the joy is derived from a kind of desperation).  The last time I remember seeing a sex scene that seemed so sensual, so real was in Enemy at the Gates (and I haven’t seen that movie in so long, I can’t even remember the scene now). 

Anyway, this surprisingly sensual, natural, exuberant, elegant, joyous moment really made a positive impression on me.

The Negatives:
I really enjoyed The Family, but it is not a movie I would recommend without reservation to anyone.  I can assure you that I liked it, but I certainly can’t promise that you will.

Some people will find it funny.  Others won’t.  Really this basic rule applies to every scene.  Some people will find a violent moment hilarious.  Others will deem it upsetting and unnecessary.  Some will smile knowingly at the film-within-a-film.  Others will rage, “All that does is make us wish we were watching that movie instead!  This movie sucks.”

So I really can’t recommend the film whole heartedly, even to people I know.  Instead I’ve got to caution you to enter at your own risk.  (But there is potential of a relatively high reward, and risk is diminished considerably for people who are big fans of any member of the principal cast.  All the stars have good parts and lots of well utilized screen time.)

But though enjoyable, The Family definitely is not perfect.  For one thing, in terms of plot, it has definite limitations.  It presents us a clearly exaggerated reality, a world where uncanny (really unbelievable) circumstances can bring people together and force a climax.  Really, beyond the broad set-up of a mob family under government protection, nothing about the premise is even remotely plausible.  The Warrens are a pretty weird family, with oddly ungovernable impulses given their loving bond with each other.  And telling a story about a mob family in protection in the first place covers pretty familiar narrative ground.  (Covers it with what is another question altogether, of course, but nevertheless, the ground covered is familiar.)

Personally, I was disappointed that we never learned more about the Giovanni’s actual backstory.  He hinted repeatedly that his memoir contained a truth never before told.  We were primed so often about that back yard barbecue that I expected something more to come of it in the end.  Also, there’s definitely some mysterious secret shared by De Niro’s and Jones’s characters that never gets openly discussed and resolved.  In that aspect, the ending is disappointing.

Still even the last lines of the movie made my husband and me chuckle softly.  No we never really got a deeper look into who Giovanni truly is—or did we?  Is that what the whole movie’s actually been about?  Maybe it’s hard for people to describe themselves honestly, hard even to know themselves.  Maybe The Family is actually asking us to try to reconcile what Giovanni has said in defense of himself with what he has unwittingly shown us of himself in the film.
  
Overall:
Luc Besson’s The Family is very, very weird, but I would expect nothing less (nothing normal) from Luc Besson.  To my surprise, though the film is dark and strange (gallows humor, through and through), this Mafia-themed variation on The Addams Family kept me completely entertained and (to be honest) won my heart. 

As the film drew to a close, I found myself strangely drawn to this odd but endearing Family, and I’d be happy to watch their further adventures in a sequel (not that they’ll make another one, of course.  Judging by critical reception so far, Besson will be lucky if they don’t burn this one.) 


Still, if you like well cast black comedies, why not give The Family a shot?  (But if you hate it, don’t come crying to me.  Remember, I told you it was weird.)