Saturday, November 30, 2013

Fall Movie Diary: Frozen (2D)

Frozen (2D)
Date: November 27
Time: 2:25 pm
Place: Tinsel Town
Company: Derrick, Grayson, Penelope, Mom, Dad, Merry, Matt
Food:  popcorn, Icee, Whoppers
Runtime:  1 hour, 42 minutes
Rating: PG
Directors:  Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee

Quick Impressions:
We’re big Tangled fans at our house.  Tangled was the first movie my daughter saw in the theater.  (She had just turned two and kept folding up into her seat because she wasn’t heavy enough to keep it in position.)  She absolutely loved the movie, but we almost didn’t go because all the previews for Tangled we saw on TV made it look abysmally stupid, full of cheap jokes and forced pop culture references.  (This was especially distressing because I was following the movie while it was in development, and I worried that by gutting and re-hauling their original classic fairy tale concept they’d destroyed the whole project.)  Fortunately Tangled was great.  The actual movie didn’t have the same feel as its promotional marketing.   It had heart, humor, adventure, music.  All of us loved it.

When I heard Disney was making an animated version of “The Snow Queen” starring Idina Menzel, I got really excited.  But when I saw the very early promos, my excitement turned to grave concern.  I kept reminding myself of what had happened with the Tangled previews, though.  Two fairy tales revamped with computer animation and single-adjective titles should have a lot in common.  “I’m sure Frozen will be good,” I kept telling myself.  (I mean, something has to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature!)  Then I started hearing comparisons to Beauty and the Beast and excitedly dragged my entire family (the four of us, my parents, my sister and her boyfriend) to see Frozen the day before Thanksgiving.

We all really enjoyed it.  Tangled is funnier and benefits from faster pacing and a more compact story, but Frozen is definitely going for a grander, more dramatic feel.  What really sets it apart (aside from Idina Menzel’s show-stopping diva ballad) is the masterful way Frozen tackles a criticism long plaguing Disney’s princess movies and manages to conjure up an unexpected ending that should please both little girls and their parents (and everyone else watching, too).

The Good:
The film looks great and features catchy songs and fantastic vocal performances from a very talented cast.  Children should warm quickly to the characters.  Both princesses are very charming, and honestly, it’s refreshing to have two female protagonists.  Both Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) have their personality flaws, but neither even approaches being evil.  They’re both sympathetic characters, yet they are totally different from one another (and not just in their coloring or choice of dress).  That’s nice variety.  Little girls deserve more than one appealing female per film, and they’re getting two fairly well drawn characters here.

To my surprise, though, I really loved the performances of the male characters.  Before this movie, I’d never even heard of Santino Fontana (who brilliantly plays Prince Hans) and knew little about Jonathan Groff (Kristoff), but both of them give fantastic performances.

For me, new life was injected into the film with the arrival of the adult Kristoff.  I really liked Groff’s line readings.  He sounded very natural, very warm. 

I was also astonished to fall in love with Olaf the Snowman (voiced by Josh Gad).  Ordinarily I’m leery of comic relief.  I usually prefer leads who can be dramatic and funny at the same time to a verbose clown who pulls focus from the central story.  I really had my doubts about Olaf, but he turned out to be totally cute, and a really great character (yes, he’s comic relief, but he’s also deeply invested in the main characters. This sounds odd because he’s a magic snowman, but he’s a real person, not just a joke machine.)

I also liked Alan Tudyk as the Duke of “Weasel Town.”  (Meanwhile I had no idea CiarĂ¡n Hinds was in the movie until the closing credits.)

While I’m on the subject of the closing credits, be sure to stay until the very end.  We were the only ones who did, and there is a short, cute post credits scene.

As I said before, the highlight of Frozen—the thing that makes the movie particularly memorable—is the way writer/director Jennifer Lee and director Chris Buck create a happy ending without reducing the princesses to passive pawns waiting around for someone to save them.  What it gives us is brilliant, but saying it too succinctly would be a major spoiler.

Best Scene:
For me the best moment in the movie comes as Anna prepares to receive her true love’s kiss.  My almost-five-year-old (who had been totally—even uncharacteristically—enraptured with every scene of the movie up to this point) totally lost it here and had to go sit on her father’s lap.  I, however, thought this was the highlight of the entire film.  Besides being a particularly well played scene, it’s also a moment that provides the high drama on which this production clearly thrives.  It also introduces a third act that’s a welcome departure from Disney tradition.

For what it’s worth, my daughter’s favorite scene is the initial reveal at the end of the coronation ball.  (She loved that scene before going to the movie, and watches the promo clip over and over.)

Best Show-Stopping Diva Ballad:
A few days before we saw the movie, my daughter and I discovered a treasure trove of promotional spots for Frozen on Roku’s Disney Channel.  (We’ve also seen quite a few on the actual Disney Channel.)  These include scenes from the movie, interviews with the cast, and—of course—Demi Lovato’s pop cover of “Let it Go.”  As a result, all the way to the theater, we were treated to my daughter’s cover of “Let it Go” (which consists mostly of the first line sung on an endless loop with just a hint of a “y” sound in the “l.”)

I like every version of the song.  For me, Idina Menzel gets a slight edge for enunciation.  If you were sitting in an actual theater hearing the song for the first time being belted out from the stage, you would understand every lyric as she carefully closes “door” without making its final “r” sound weird.  (Of course, my daughter’s take on the song is the sentimental favorite.)

To be honest, this is probably the reason some people are comparing Frozen to Beauty and the Beast—it feels a lot like a Broadway show.  Not only are there several songs, but often they define the essence of a character and for that reason have a particularly Broadway feel to them. 

“Let it Go” is the kind of number that’s clearly in the movie because Idina Menzel is.  In most Disney animated musicals, the female lead gets a song.  (Believe me, I know.  The summer after The Little Mermaid came out, on our vacation my little sister—then five—could always be found dead center in each and every hotel pool, twirling in a circle in her floaty and belting out “Part of Your World” at the top of her lungs, oblivious to any onlookers.) 

The female lead almost always gets a song, but she doesn’t always get a song like this.  I don’t know its exact runtime, but it feels long, much longer than what an animated Disney woman usually gets, particularly if she’s just singing about herself.  Usually they’re either singing about how they want to find love or how they want their lives to change.  In Disney princess movies, we don’t get a whole lot of, “This is who I really am, and I am awesome!”  (Pocahontas does sing, “This is what life is about, and you’re stupid,” making her different from the others as well, but Elsa’s grand acceptance of herself/architecture project/winter celebration is entirely unique among Disney heroines as far as I can remember.)

I remember being so puzzled when Menzel showed up in the movie Enchanted, a musical, and then didn’t get to sing.  (She said she was flattered to be valued for her acting ability, but I still think casting Menzel and then not giving Nancy a song—or even a part in a song—was a weird choice.)

“Let it Go” is a pretty great song (particularly when Menzel sings it), and it’s a very strong point in the film because watching her build the castle magically is highly appealing visually.

I would say it’s a shoe-in for winning Best Song at the Oscars, but I know the movie Inside Llewyn Davis is supposed to be packed full of great music, so that makes it harder to predict.

Best Other Song:
Honestly I think the best song in the movie belongs to Olaf the Snowman, who is a great character even when he’s not singing.  Husband and wife Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez wrote the songs for Frozen.  They also did the charming little songs for Disney’s most recent Winnie the Pooh (2011), and I honestly think that charming little songs is what they do best.  (I’m not trying to insult their other songs.  They just particularly excel at sweet, simple little numbers like the cute song they give Olaf.)

Best Scene Visually:
Elsa’s snow fortress is pretty impressive, but that’s not the only thing.  The whole movie looks great.  Cartoon snow always looks strangely warm.  I’m also fond of the way that the trolls come to life.  (Now while I’m on the subject, I do think the trolls needed a bit more development, but there’s a nice, energetic, organic, unexpected quality to their animation.)  I also like the way the movie shows us what happens to the parents.  That’s quite well done.

Best Action Sequence:
I’m very fond of the scene with the wolves because 1) It’s exciting, 2) It’s funny, 3) It’s also used for character development, 4) I can’t resist wolf chases in the snow.  There’s just something so wintery and wonderful about wolf attacks that makes me wish I were in England—being attacked by wolves?  Probably not.  This tangent clearly doesn’t lead me anywhere logical, but I’m not likely to be attacked by wolves in the snow in Texas any time soon.  It’s not that I want to be attacked by wolves in the snow, but there’s just something romantic about having the possibility out there.

Anyway, my daughter also loves this scene.  (We watched a promo clip of it over and over.  It is awfully funny.)

The Negatives:
Is Frozen as good as Beauty and the Beast?  That’s really hard to say.  My gut instinct is to say “no” because while I enjoyed the movie, I didn’t walk out of the theater feeling emotional and blown away as I would if the production had its claws in my soul.  Of course—as I remembered later that night as my stepson and I cut up our fingers making apple pie—I wasn’t blown away by Beauty and the Beast either, not initially.

My family saw Beauty and the Beast for my sister’s seventh birthday.  At the time, I felt a bit let down by it.  Yes, I liked Beauty and the Beast, but not the way I had passionately loved The Little Mermaid.  That bothered me at the time.  I thought in some distress, Is the difference that I’m in seventh grade now? Have I gotten too old to lose myself in children’s movies?  Will I never connect to anything ever again?  

(Fortunately, these melodramatic thoughts were swept out of my head rather quickly as we arrived at dinner, and Chuck E. Cheese proceeded to stalk me for the rest of the night for reasons beyond my comprehension.  (Seriously, he was putting parmesan cheese on my pizza and helping me play ski-ball.  All night.  My parents were like, “I think he likes you.”  As I look back, I imagine them saying that in a Homer Simpson stage whisper, but at the time I was just very, very confused by the whole bizarre episode.))

Anyway, my point is Beauty and the Beast really grew on me over the years.  With more viewings, I knew the songs better and better, liked the film more and more.  It’s now my second favorite Disney movie (after Sleeping Beauty because how can you beat a medieval tapestry set to the music of Tchaikovsky?  Plus Princess Aurora clearly has a grip on how to handle life.  I’m with her.  When life gets stressful, go out in the woods and dance around with the animals for a few hours, then fall asleep and have sweet dreams while your problems are helpfully solved by everyone else.)

I’ve only seen Frozen once, so I can’t tell yet how I’ll feel about it in the end.  I will say that my four-year-old absolutely loved it.  She watched most of it on the edge of her seat.  Late in the film, there was a moment that made her cover her ears in horror and seek comfort.  (She’s not scared of monsters, just interpersonal conflict.)  But she still left in high spirits eager to listen again to her new favorite song “Let it Go” in the car.

My stepson liked it, too, and so did my husband and I (though when I gave him the choice, he said he thought he liked Tangled a bit better, and for the moment, I’m with him, though Frozen is certainly a more lavish production.  My sister said that she liked Frozen more than Tangled.

Early on, my sister and I had some definite concerns.  When she arrived Monday night of Thanksgiving week, my sister introduced us all to the reality show My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding.  During Hans and Anna’s first song, my sister and I were exchanging glances, and even my ten-year-old stepson asked with a grin, “I wonder if she also brushes her teeth with bleach.  It saves so much money.”  We were definitely all very concerned about the way things were headed.  Fortunately, what the movie finally does here is quite brilliant and nearly unprecedented in a Disney animated feature.  (It’s not that nothing like this has ever happened before, but this was sufficiently well done to elicit gasps.)

The only thing that really bothered me about the movie is that the set-up feels a little contrived.  Why does Elsa have this magic?  I mean, yes I get it.  She was born this way, but why doesn’t anyone else ever turn up with these powers?  Is there any precedent for this kind of thing?  The king and queen both seem so matter-of-fact about it.  The world is not explained to us very well.  The trolls, particularly, need a lot more development and more explanation.  I wish we had either more background information or more songs (because we get almost all of the character development in the songs).  Still, the film is already close to two hours, and that’s quite long for a Disney animated feature.  Any longer, and half your audience misses their nap.

After the movie, my sister declared, “Movies about sisters always make me cry.  So I think I’d be Anna, and you’d be Elsa because” ever so diplomatically “you have blue eyes.” 

“Yes,” I agreed.  “And I’m the older sister.”  Clearly I am the more Elsa of the two of us.  There’s really no doubt.

My whole family really enjoyed Frozen.  The animation is beautiful, the characters are likable and well-drawn, the ending is pleasantly unexpected, and the songs are upbeat and enchanting.  If you’re looking for a good holiday movie for the whole family, this is it.  You're kids are probably begging to see it, so let them go, let them go, don't hold them back anymore...

I'm sorry.  I dream that song now.  My daughter sings it instead of breathing.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Fall Movie Diary: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Date: November 23, 2013
Time: 7:00 pm
Place: Tinsel Town XD
Company: Derrick, Grayson, Penelope
Food:  popcorn, Coke, Whoppers
Runtime:  2 hours, 26 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Director: Francis Lawrence

Quick Impressions:
Ordinarily as I walk out of the theater after a movie, I’m already thinking about what I plan to say in my review, but as I left Catching Fire I was thinking, “How can I trick someone into taking me to see this again?”

(I’d love to see it a second time in the theater, but I just attempted to count the other movies I need to see before the New Year, and I ran out of fingers.)

For prestige pictures, 2013 has been a great—a teeming!—year.  But compared to last year’s crop, this summer’s popcorn flicks were more lackluster than blockbuster.  Now I see why.  Apparently all of the best crowd pleasers were held until just before Thanksgiving.  First Thor, now Catching Fire!  I’m extremely excited about Frozen and The Hobbit and more than a little curious about The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Typically years with fewer great blockbusters have a more exciting Oscar season (and vice versa), but 2013 is suddenly shaping up to be a good year for movies period, offering, frankly, the strongest and most diverse field of films I’ve seen in a very long time.

This second installment of The Hunger Games is by far the year’s best blockbuster.  It’s what Skyfall was last November—that really awesome, big budget, star studded, crowd pleasing, box office hit that nobody expects to be a serious Oscar contender despite the fact that based on merit alone, it’s clearly one of the best pictures of the year.  It’s so well made, so impeccably cast, so enjoyable, so satisfying.  (A lot of people in our packed house clapped at the end.)

The whole time I was watching, two big questions kept repeating themselves continuously in the back of my mind.

1)  Why is there such an obvious chasm separating Oscar hopefuls from fan favorites?  (Isn’t there something wrong when we say, “That was the best movie I’ve seen all year!  I mean, it’s not going to win Best Picture or anything.  It’s not that kind of movie, but…”?)

2)  Why isn’t every successful YA book franchise brought to the screen with the same painstaking care?  I ask this not only as someone with a personal investment in YA literature (because I write it), but also as a pragmatist.  I mean, there’s so much money to be made, and yet the majority of YA adaptations seem set up to fail.  (Look at the Percy Jackson series.  Maybe it’s true that not everyone in the movie audience needs to read the books first, but I think the people in charge of making the movies probably should.)

Suzanne Collins thoroughly won my admiration (and envy) when she wrote the screenplay for the first Hunger Games film herself (with director Gary Ross and Billy Ray).  I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a movie that matched my expectations so completely.  (It helped, of course, that I knew Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson were cast as Katniss and Peeta when I first read the novel.)  Still, to keep that level of creative control (and more importantly to know what to do with it) is amazing, commendable, and enviable in a novelist.  Stephen Chbosky took things a step further when he not only wrote but directed his The Perks of Being a Wallflower, also with great success.  (But I think Collins gets points for greater degree of difficulty.  There’s no archery, child-on-child murder, or subversive political content in Perks, though Charlie and Katniss are neck-and-neck for number of childhood traumas endured.)

The first Hunger Games rarely (if ever) departed from the novel.  The only significant changes were the scenes showing us what the first person narration of the book could not, namely the crucial stuff going on behind the scenes, events Katniss could not witness firsthand.  These enhancements worked in the film’s favor since they did not change the events of the story but rather shifted point of view to show us a more complete picture of events than Katniss could form using her limited firsthand experiences.  And in a film trilogy, if someone—like Donald Sutherland’s President Snow—is going to be a key player later on then we need to see him early and often to establish his importance for the audience.  (English teachers, take note.  The novel paired with the film could be a great lesson that not everything happening in the story is told explicitly in the narration.)

Of course another defining trait of the first film was its motion sickness inducing visuals.  It didn’t make me sick, but there were a lot of close-ups and quick cuts and shaky cam.  My husband and I had different takes on this.  I said, “It’s filmed like a reality show, plus it gives the same sense of urgency as the present tense narration of the novel.”  More pragmatically, my husband pointed out, “We get so used to close ups and the camera jerking away that when it’s time for all the killing of kids, it doesn’t feel weird that we can’t see the graphic violence very clearly.  We’re already used to that filming style, and that way, they don’t get an R.”  (Because something came up, I never finished and posted my review of the first Hunger Games, but you’re getting a taste of what I did say here.)

My impressions of the first film were mostly positive.  Certainly I enjoyed it enough to read the second book and get excited about the movie Catching Fire.  Honestly I’d say the first movie was a success in every way.  So keep that in mind when I say that the second film in the franchise, Catching Fire, is roughly nine-hundred-thousand-million times better than the original. 

Is Catching Fire a marginally better book than The Hunger Games or is it marginally worse?  Ask a group of invested friends, and you could probably debate that without resolution for days.  But there’s absolutely no contest when it comes to the movies.  Catching Fire is by far the superior film, more engaging, more emotionally resonant, and ultimately more satisfying.  It’s definitely one of the best movies of 2013.

The Good:
I started reading Catching Fire right after The Hunger Games, but then I got caught up in something I was writing, and when I came back to the book, it seemed too depressing.  (So I read The Handmaid’s Tale and Dracula because, obviously, those books are rays of pure sunshine.)  This November, I suddenly realized in alarm, “Oh no! The movie is almost out!  I’ve got to finish Catching Fire.” 

This time, I burned through the pages so quickly my Kindle almost caught fire.  (If you ever want a grim novel to seem less depressing, try reading Ender’s Game first.  Ender and company make Katniss Everdeen look like Shirley Temple!)

I love watching a movie adaptation with the book fresh in my mind.  It makes the whole thing so exciting.  Even better, my daughter fell asleep during the previews while sitting in her brother’s usual spot, so I got to sit next to my stepson for once and hear all of his unfiltered reactions to what was happening on the screen.  He has not read The Hunger Games series yet, so I got the double fun of watching the movie with the book fresh in my mind and hearing the quietly vocalized reactions of someone who had no idea what was coming. 

I don’t mean to be bossy, but everyone should do this.  It makes the movie so much fun.

Every ten seconds my stepson would either gasp or whisper something like, “But in the end, they’ll all have to kill each other,” or “Aww.  I love Mags.  She’s so sweet.  I hope she makes it out.  Maybe they’ll call it off.  I don’t want her to die.”  (His questions, on the other hand, were more problematic.  It’s pretty hard to answer stuff like, “Why are they beating them?” in a brief, inconspicuous whisper.) 

My stepson was not the only one who hadn’t read the book.  We had a very interactive (yet polite) audience.  At least half of them were gasping so earnestly at moments that I’m sure the events on the screen took them completely by surprise.  On the other hand, a sizable number of viewers clearly had read the books because there are a lot of moments that serve as cues for knowing laughter (a bit different than the parts that are simply funny).

Clearly this movie is equally enjoyable whether or not you’ve read the book.  My stepson’s comments also helped me gauge if the movie was suspenseful for people who haven’t read the book.  There was a late moment when my stepson said of Johanna Mason, “Oohkay, she has anger issues.”  He’s about to turn eleven.  I’m sure there were other kids his age (and kids my age) thinking along the same lines and trying to make sense of everything they were seeing onscreen. 

I can pay Catching Fire an extremely high compliment by saying that if you have not read the novel, it is not predictable.  (I love the Harry Potter franchise, the books and the film adaptations.  But, though unquestionably well done, the films usually take part of the fun out of the story by making J.K. Rowling’s suspenseful, hard-to-guess plots a lot more obvious.  Compare the fourth book to the fourth movie.  I’m actually a huge fan of the Goblet of Fire adaptation simply because the book is so intricate and involved that it could be a miniseries.  I think that many of the changes for the screen are good ones, but they do simplify the plot drastically and greatly reduce the mystery.   That doesn’t happen here.)  Catching Fire manages to surprise audiences who have not read the book, and I applaud it for refraining from obvious gestures that would give the entire thing away.

In the book, for example, there’s a moment at the ball for Peeta and Katniss when we get a huge visual clue (and some spoken ones) that we do not understand until later.  I don’t think there would be any way to show this in a movie without making it far too obvious.  So the movie simply doesn’t show it.  I think that’s a good choice.

There are more changes this time around than before.  The movie leaves out some early scenes altogether, conflates others, shortens others still.  I think that’s a good thing.  It keeps the pacing brisk and the story taut.  It’s also really nice to see Plutarch Heavensbee and President Snow having their private conversations.  For those who haven’t read the book and don’t have the benefit of Katniss’s thoughts and surmises on the situation, these moments help explain why things are happening.  For those who have read the book, it’s fun to watch and realize the cleverness and political savvy of some characters.

But the best thing about the movie is really the cast.  How did they get this cast?  This isn’t the kind of movie that traditionally wins Oscars—but why not?  Philip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer.  If you read the cast of the movie before the title, you’d assume it was Oscar bait.  Then of course it helps that the star of the whole thing won Best Actress in 2012.  

She leads a young cast that is every bit as fantastic as the supporting cast, including possibly the best (and certainly the most prolific) young actor of his generation, Josh Hutcherson, Liam of the Hemsworths, Jenna Malone (perfect for her part), Sam Claflin (also well cast).

As I watched, I couldn’t help wondering, “Is Jennifer Lawrence an expert archer by now?”  I mean, she’s been faking it convincingly for a long time.  First Winter’s Bone, now in two films as Katniss.  Quite honestly I think her performance here is just as good as anything that’s been talked about for Best Actress.  (And the performances I’ve seen thus far have been pretty phenomenal.)  Lawrence is a stunningly strong actress and comes across as such a likable, down-to-earth person.  I really haven’t seen someone so young make such uncannily good (and seemingly effortless) acting choices since Kate Winslet was her age.

She’s certainly having a great year!  Best Actress, Katniss Everdeen, and a potential Supporting Actress nominee for American Hustle.

My other two favorites are Stanley Tucci (who basically gives Oscar caliber work in all his performances and makes Caesar Flickerman a huge scene stealer) and Lenny Kravitz as Cinna (my favorite character in the books).  Of course Kravitz is more well known for his phenomenally successful musical career, but for somebody who is a musician first, he’s a remarkably good actor.  I wish he would make more movies.

The movie features several small moments when actors make good choices, tiny things that help establish or reinforce character (like Woody Harrelson and the morphling while Gale is in the house or the commentators’ chit chat, “Our favorite.  Well, my favorite,” during the parade).  I’m not sure what’s in the screenplay and what the actors themselves are generating, but whatever’s happening, it’s working.  As Effie Trinket, Elizabeth Banks also gets much more emotionally resonant material this time and really makes the most of it.

This time, the screenplay was written by Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt, and I’m mentioning them because I think they’ve done wonderful work.  (As far as I’m concerned Michael Arndt can keep working on The Hunger Games, and Lawrence Kasdan can write Star Wars.  I’d say that’s a beneficial arrangement for everyone.)

A part of me wants to say that when you hire actors based on their acting ability and get good screenwriters, the movie has to turn out well, but I’m not sure that’s true.  (Good editing and cinematography choices are quite crucial, too.)  It’s harder for me to evaluate what goes on behind the camera, but in Catching Fire, the end results are so effective that I just have to assume that everything is working. 

Often I don’t notice things like costuming, but this film has some of the most impressive costumes and make-up that I’ve ever seen.  Everyone looks exactly right all of the time.  In particular, I love Effie’s butterfly dress and Katniss’s amazing wedding gown. 

The visual effects are also much more impressive this time around.  In general, there’s less shaky cam claustrophobia and more steady, rising grandeur.  The special effects are better, too.  And I also love the score.  Not only is it catchy, it’s used well.

Catching Fire is definitely a superior movie to the first installment of The Hunger Games (which was already very good).  It helps that the story is bigger and more cinematic, but I think the improvement in terms of visual effects is entirely the movie’s victory.

Best Scene Visually:
As the end credits rolled (and my daughter woke up), my husband cited a favorite moment that I had made note of myself.  There’s an absolutely brilliant moment with President Snow at the end of the banquet for Peeta and Katniss.  A movie can’t convey fragrance, so instead it gives us a visual image that will stir the same associations.  It’s an especially nice nod to the book for those who have read.  I really loved it. 

The parade of tributes is also stunning, really quite grand and spectacular, especially when compared to the first movie (which we are re-watching at this moment).  It can’t be just the daylight.  Everything seems much bigger, which is fittingly in step with the much larger scope of the plot.

Funniest Scene:
Jenna Malone’s introduction in the elevator is perfect.  It’s not just the way the scene is staged (although that’s great), but all four actors involved play it absolutely perfectly.  Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t even speak (at least not much), but her face is just priceless.  Since Jennifer Lawrence was cast after playing an eerily similar character in Winter’s Bone, I can’t help wondering if somebody thought of Jenna Malone because of her work in the shower with Hayden Christensen in Life as a House.  I’ve always liked Jenna Malone, and it’s been a while since she’s been in a big, successful film, so I’m delighted to see her here.  She makes a perfect Johanna Mason.

Best Scene:
My favorite scene in the novel is Katniss’s farewell to Cinna.  The movie does this well, and it pairs nicely with the earlier scene when Caesar interviews the tributes.  That scene is probably the strongest in the film although almost every scene is excellent.

Best Action Sequence:
The book has a convenient narrative structure since all the action comes at the end.  Probably the most gripping sequence is the one with the fog, though of course that final arrow got a lot of applause from the crowd. 

The Negatives:
As far as pacing goes, the choice to conflate and skip over so much of the material that comes before the Quarter Quell makes sense and works out well.  The thing is, I think the movie would be better if it gave us more Gale and even more Peeta.  At least movie audiences got plenty of Peeta in the first film and can carry those memories with them.  But Gale needs a little more time.  I think his big scene in the middle deserves a lot more time (although I appreciate that this isn’t 12 Years a Slave and that an R rating would seriously hurt this movie’s box office take).

Honestly, I’d even like to see more of Finnick Odair.  Sam Claflin is great when he’s in it, but I felt like Finnick was more of a presence in the novel.

Honestly, though, I don’t know how to fix this because the movie already moves at a brisk pace and seems to last forever.  (Thank goodness I changed our dinner plans at the last minute from after to before!)

My stepson’s reaction to the very ending was priceless.  He cried, “No!  Seriously!”

I suggested, “You could read the books.”

He replied, “Yeah, but books are even worse.  It’s always like you get to the end of the chapter, and it leaves you hanging, so you hurry up and read the next chapter, but it’s like fifty years in the future, and then someone’s telling a story, and then it jumps back to twenty years ago, and then somebody’s having a dream, and by the time you get to find out what happens next, it’s like six chapters later, and you have to go back and reread because you can’t even remember what was happening anymore.”

Catching Fire was so good that we’re all at home watching The Hunger Games now.  My husband, my stepson, and I all loved it (like seriously loved it).  My four-year-old fell asleep during the previews and awoke after the last scene.  A few seconds later she told my husband with a smile, “It’s a funny thing.  All I remember about that movie is the credits.”

Some scenes may be too intense for most kids her age, but with a plot that includes whipping, multiple murders, insurrection, nudity, and profanity, the movie does a fantastic job of hinting at such things rather than showing them and keeping its PG-13 pretty kid friendly. 

Catching Fire is a fantastically entertaining and (for younger viewers especially) thought provoking movie.  See it for the cast alone.  They’re all very gifted actors turning in fine and highly watchable work here.  I hope I can find the time and money to see it again in the theater, but perusing a list of upcoming movies I need to see by the end of the year, I’m beginning to feel that the odds won’t ever be in my favor!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Signs of Fall

Penelope Says

October 21

As You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown ended, the newly elected Linus was caving to pressures from the principal, and Sally was raving about elected officials, something like, "They're all the same. We vote them into office and then they turn their backs on us." Shaking her head, Penelope commented wisely, "She's just too little to understand how the world really works."
11:28 pm

October 22

Thanks for the skel-a-mingos, Aunt Merry! Penelope was very particular about how we arranged them. "Now they have to make a deadly heart! Do you hear me? They HAVE to make a DEADLY HEART!" (She means with the noses touching.)

Apparently, she's had this arrangement in mind since we saw a box of skel-a-mingos in the Halloween aisle the other day.
1:26 pm

October 23

Mom: Is that Arlene Finch?
Dad: I don't know.
Mom: Or whoever she is. She's very young there. She's a dame now.
(I look up at the TV)
Me: (suspiciously) Do you mean Elieen Atkins?
Mom: Yeah, that's it!
11:24 am

October 24

Penelope: (in the back seat, reading the radio) That crazy Lady Gaga! Why is she singing a song called Apple now?
Me: Oh that doesn't say Apple, but you're really close. The song is called "Applause." Apple does start just like that, though.
Penelope: Oh I see! I was just looking at the beginning of the word. I forgot to check the end of the word. That's how she confused me.
Me: That sneaky Lady Gaga!
6:01 pm

Penelope (as a Degree deodorant commercial comes on after the football game): Um, can we not watch this commercial? Because it just seems a little weird to me. [It is a montage of guys doing stuff. Usually she likes every commercial.]
Me: It's a weird commercial, huh?
Penelope: Well because basically it's just all men doing stuff. I don't see any women at all! So that makes it not a good commercial, I think.
Me: Well, there aren't any women because it's a commercial for men's deodorant.
9:32 pm

October 25

Penelope: Where are my cookies? Oh here they are! Oh what a crazy fool am I!
4:20 pm

Penelope: I've never heard this. It must be new.
Me: Actually all the songs on this station came out in the 60s when Grandma and Grandpa were kids. So none of these groups are actually together making music anymore (song changes as I'm talking) except this group. They're called The Rolling Stones. They were making songs when Grandma was a kid, and they're still around today.
Penelope: That's impressive. I can see why they're called the Rolling Stones.
Me: Why's that?
Penelope: Obviously because they just keep going and going!
4:23 pm

Grayson: I wish I could be a shark.
Nellie: I would like to be a newt.
All of us: A newt?!!
Gray: I would eat you!
Me: As a shark? You'd have to catch her first!
Nellie: On second thought, maybe I would like to be a lion. Newts and lions are my favorite animals.
Derrick: Newts and lions, huh?
Me: There's a cute newt on her alphabet animal poster.
Penelope: But I think I will be a lion. (Runs roaring around the living room.)
Gray: This way, we'll both be the kings of our elements.
9:41 pm

Me (perusing names): What do you think about Atlas?
Penelope (Groaning): Atlas?!! That's a book name! Are you crazy? And anyways, I don't want to be talking about baby names right now! What is wrong with you?
11:43 pm

October 26

Derrick: Sweetie, I was joking.
Penelope (bossily): Joking? Well I view the world differently from you, and my rules are your rules.

At least she's honest!
12:44 am

October 27

Penelope: (complaining) I can't get my french fries out! I CANNNNN'T GET MY...okay, I got them out. (whining) Now I can't get my french fries back in.....Ohhhhhh....These nuggets don't taste warm. They only feel warm! Ohhhhhhhhhhh!
1:15 pm

Me: I'm sorry. I guess you're just not feeling good.
Penelope: I DO FEEL GOOD.
Derrick: Then why aren't you happy?
Penelope: I'm NOT happy!
Derrick: So what is wrong? Why aren't you feeling happy?
Penelope: I don't KNOW why I'm not HAPPY!!!!
Me: Okay.
Penelope: I'm ho-o-o-t! [One minute after complaining she was cold.]
Derrick: Okay. (changes the A/C)
Penelope: (one second later) My feet are too COLD!!!!!
Me: (fiddling with her A/C again) You just said you were too hot!
Penelope: I AM TOO HOT! Make it stop being so COLD!!!!!!
Me: How can you be...?
Penelope: My FEEEEET are too COLD because my CROCKS are on the FLOOR!!!
Derrick: She's hot, but her feet are cold.
Me: You seem like you're having a hard time today. I'm sorry you're not feeling so good.
Penelope: I DO FEEL GOOD!!!!
3:50 pm

Penelope: Can we watch some Ghost Hunt?
Me: Sure. I know I missed some of the ones you guys watched earlier, but you can catch me up...
Penelope: Oh no, no, that's okay. I'll put it back for you.
Me: Oh you don't have to.
Penelope: No trust me, this is better. You're going to love this one. It is perfect to get us ready for Halloween. Let's see. You remember about Naru the Narcissist?
Me: Yes. I've seen the first couple of episodes.
Penelope: I'll look for the one about the doll, part one. (explaining to me) So Ayami is a little girl, and Minnie is her doll, and she can speak to Ayami. I think she's like possessed by the devil or something.
Me: That sounds creepy!
Penelope: (in delight) Yeah! And isn't the little girl so cute?

Penelope is catching me up on her new favorite show. And yet for like two weeks, Mom and I have been trying to talk her into watching the Ichabod half of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, and she keeps refusing saying it’s too scary!
9:45 pm

Penelope: Curses! Ratabooey! (to me) Curses ratabooey means I realized that I forgot to hypnotize myself, and now my brain won't explode! So I say, "Curses! Ratabooey!"
Me: So you want your brain to explode?
Penelope: Yes! How else is my imagination going to get out? I'm trying to hypnotize my brain to make my imagination come to life!
11:34 pm

October 28

Penelope (as we color): I'm going to make a lion. First--most importantly--I'm going to make the mane. (realizes) Ha! That's funny. Get it? Because that's the main thing? What a little joke! (later as she's coloring said mane) Now this is the mane part. (laughs again, shakes her head) Man, that is funny every time I say it!
12:32 pm

Penelope: (chanting as she colors a scary picture): Midnight! Jack-o'-lanterns rising from the ground! There's too many! We confound!
Me: We confound?
Penelope: Yes, the pumpkins say that. (bellows) We confouuuund!
Me: What does that mean?
Penelope: Confound means there's too many to find. The pumpkins say that because they know there's too many of them to find. They are just rising too quickly. No one can find them fast enough.
Me: I see.
Penelope: (continues her chant) And the cat is wise to find the rat! He sees that mouse then toodlescat!
Me: Toodlescat?
Penelope: That is what the mouse does when he sees the cat is chasing him! That's what it's called when he runs away.
12:37 am

Grandma: Okay, let's make banana bread. Have you washed your hands recently?
Penelope: I washed them after I cleaned the shower door. That was recently.
Grandma: Well wash them again right now.
Penelope: Here you are, soap. You're going to be in my hands! That's funny because you grab the soap--get it? (sinisterly) You're going to be in my hands, soap!
12:59 pm

Grandma: They didn't have tapioca flour, so I have to go to Sprouts. Do you know what Sprouts is? It's a store. It's like a grocery store, so they sell food there.
Penelope: (laughing) I know what a store is, silly!
Grandma: Well, I thought you might not know what Sprouts was.
Penelope: Well I did know, silly!
1:11 pm

Now she's singing, "Mash bananas! Mash mash bananas!"

Penelope's hands are probably the cleanest they've ever been. She and I cleaned my bedroom and a bit of the living room today, and I have a lot in common with Lady Macbeth when it comes to hand washing.
2:00 pm

Penelope (coloring): Here. I made our country. And now this blue dot is Texas.
Grandma: You mean that blue dot is Hutto, Texas?
Penelope: Yes, and now you see, we're going to fly on an airplane over to Hawaii. Now of course, this is complicated because I have no idea where to put Hawaii on this map or what it looks like.
Grandma: Well Hawaii is way out in the middle of the ocean.
Penelope: I see. So here is the blue around Hawaii, and now you will notice I'm making several large volcanoes.
Grandma: So is this map accurate?
Penelope: Well...I don't actually know where any of this
2:22 pm

On our walk...
Penelope (pressing yellow leaves against her eyes): It sure does seem yellow out here in the world this fine day.
Me: Your days are in the yellow leaf.
Penelope (giggles): Yes. I have all the yellow leaves. These three yellow leaves give me my power.
(Long pause)
Penelope (out of the blue): Does God believe in Himself?
Penelope: But how did He get up in heaven in the first place? That is what I am dying to know.
(Long, long, long ten minute discussion)
Me: If you say that you're God, and you aren't, then that's blasphemy. But if you say you're God, and you are are, then that's just true. Of course, most people aren't God.
Penelope (chuckling appreciatively): Yes, to say the least!
Penelope: Oh I get it! So God didn't have to grow up and go to school.
Me: No, but Jesus had to grow up, and he learned to be a carpenter from his father on Earth.
Penelope: And did he believe in Santa Claus?
4:01 pm

Grandma: Is tonight football?
Me: Yes.
Grandma (clearly not thrilled): Oh...goody!
Penelope: (rolls her eyes) Oh goody, indeed! (shakes her head and says to Mom) I'm not crazy about football either.
8:25 pm

Penelope: Ice you, Piranhas! Ice you with my ice balls! Ice...(shriking sound, groan of disappointment) Ohhh.
Me: Sorry.
Penelope: Man, I hate piranhas!
Me: I think these are cheep cheeps.
Penelope: Oh yeah!
Me: Here are some ice balls for you.
(Toad screams)
Penelope: (groans) But now I just died by that porky pine!
11:18 pm

October 29

Penelope: (as we do our reading outside and the sentences blow away) Oh no! The wind is blowing the cinnamons—ahh the sentences!—away!! (Laughs) I said cinnamons!
2:49 pm

Me: What else rhymes with "joke"?
Penelope: Noke.
Me: Noke? What does "noke" mean?
Penelope: I don't noke! I made a joke!
2:58 pm

Me: (looking for a rhyme for "mess") If you don't know the answer, you take a wild...
Penelope: Dancer?

That might solve a midlife crisis, but it wasn't the answer I was looking for.
2:58 pm

October 30

Penelope (out of nowhere as we're making cookies): Mom, do you think someone is in a coma?
Me: What do you mean? Like who is in a coma?
Penelope: Just anyone.
Me: Yes, I'm sure someone's in a coma somewhere.
Penelope: But maybe we're all in a coma, and what we think of as this world is just our dream. Maybe we're all just sleeping somewhere, but our eyes are open in a coma having this dream of our world and our life.
Me: Where did you get that idea?
Penelope: (casually) Oh, I was just talking to God.
Me: And God told you that?!
Penelope: Oh no. He told me, "You don't really think that about the world being a dream and everybody being in a coma. You're just being silly."
12:47 pm

Grandma: Stand behind me.
Penelope: Where?
Grandma: Behind me.
Penelope: Which hind?
Grandma: This hind!
Penelope: But there's too many hinds.
Grandma: I only have one. One behind.
Penelope: But there are too many behinds in this world. I don't know what you mean when you say "behind."
Grandma: Behind me. I only have one behind. Stand behind it.
4:23 pm

October 31

Me: (decorating our vampire cupcakes) Her mouth is getting out of control! She's a very joyous vampire!
Penelope: (laughing hysterically, falling out of her chair) She looks like Medusa!
Me: Like Medusa!?
P: (pats me consolingly, giggles) I'm just kidding.
Me: Sure you are.
Penelope: You know all they have left are their butts. Cupcakes are just a smiling face with nothing behind it but a huge butt!
Me: I've seen some people like that, too.
Penelope: Really??!!
Me: No, I'm just kidding.
12:42 pm

Me: Do you want to watch the Great Pumpkin again? Or do you want to watch E.T.? There's a good Halloween part in that.
Penelope: No, let's watch Buffy Halloween.
Me: Well, but Grandma said that gave you nightmares last night because you were scared of Gachnar.
Penelope: Who could be scared of Gachnar because he's just a little tiny thing really?
Me: But Grandma said you had nightmares...
Penelope: But I didn't have nightmares really. I just woke up. So let's just watch Buffy Halloween again.
Me: I don't know because Grandma said...
Penelope: She said I shouldn't watch it before going to bed, but I'm planning to stay up for quite a while.
Me: Why don't we watch the Buffy musical instead?
Penelope: Oh yeah! I haven't seen that for a while.
(After the first song)
Penelope: Could we just watch Buffy sing again because it's helping me to learn my moves.
(After we watch the first song again)
Penelope: Can we just turn the captioning on because that's going to help me to learn the words better, and I want to figure out what's going on with Buffy.

Last night while we were baking, we watched the Buffy Halloween episode with a haunted house from season 4 at least three times (because she always wanted to watch it again). She'd always yell at the screen, "You should not draw a symbol at your party! You should not make a mark for the devil because somebody will get blood on it, and he will come!"
9:07 pm

November 2

Penelope: Now can we watch Joyride?
Me: I like how she says "watch."
Penelope: (cheerfully) I don't speak very clearly. Listen to how I say pyease.
Me: I just meant that usually we listen to a song in the car.
12:14 pm

On the road to Victoria and getting blasted with butterflies! Seriously about 30 swarm past every second!
12:57 pm

Derrick (to Penelope who we caught pressing her ear right against the speaker as the band played as we leave the reception): Does your ear hurt?
Penelope: What?
9:10 pm

I thought surely "dancing" non-stop at the wedding for hours would result in Penelope collapsing in the carseat and sleeping all the way home. But nope. She is back there singing along with the radio at the top of her lungs!
9:39 pm

Penelope: (growling as she lifts her Whataburger grilled cheese to her mouth): I need to eat. Eat. Devour.
9:59 pm

Penelope has refueled, and the "joyride" has continued.
10:30 pm

Penelope: How soon are we going to be home?
Derrick: We've got about two hours.
Penelope: That's soon, right?
10:31 pm

Penelope: Mommy, listen to me. Every single day, I pray to God for my imagination to come to life, but it never happens. This is something I'm beginning to get desperate about!
10:44 pm

Penelope: Wait is this really called Roll Over Beethoven? (Snorts) That's a bit awkward (whispers) because is Beethoven in bed with him?
11:24 pm

About half an hour ago, Nellie's loud singing suddenly stopped...
Me: Is the little rap god asleep?
Derrick (looks back): Yeah, she is.
(We talk about her for ten minutes.)
Penelope: You guys know I'm really awake right? I was just pretending to be asleep?

Good thing everything we said about her was positive, but seriously, she ran in circles for over three hours at the reception. She's back to singing. She just sang the echo of "ruler" in the song "Royals" in the flightiest little voice.
11:32 pm

"She SHOULD care. She may need those things someday, and then she'll be sorry."
--Penelope's take on Icona Pop's "I Love It."
11:47 pm

Penelope: (at a random moment during the drive home) Mommy, if at some point you want to watch Jeopardy!...I don't want to.
11:51 pm

November 4

Penelope: (sitting between a scooted out cushion and the back of the couch) I'm sitting in my little cat bird seat.
Me: Okay little catbird.
Penelope: Yes, I am a catbird. I'm half cat and half bird, so sometimes I get confused and start chasing myself!
3:48 pm

Penelope: Mommy, I'll make you a deal. If instead of doing my reading, you get me a cake pop, then I promise I will do my reading tomorrow.
3:51 pm

November 5

Me: So what colors do you want at your wedding?
Penelope: Well, I want rainbow flowers.
Me: But what color dresses do you want your bridesmaids to wear?
Penelope: I don't want any bridesmaids.
Me: Why not?
Penelope: I can explain that to you another day, but I'm not going to tell you right now.
Me: Well, where do you want to get married?
Penelope: Outside in a flower garden, of course, with all the rainbow flowers around me. Basically, I want to get married in the jungle, and then go on my honeymoon in the jungle, and build a house there, and then live in the jungle.
12:10 am

Penelope: (appearing at the bottom of the stairs) Mom, yesterday Grandma lowered those shades in my room, so I could sleep a little longer, but I'd like them back up please.
Me: Okay. I'll do that in a little bit.
Penelope: Well, this is the entire reason I came down.
(I follow her up to her room and open the blinds)
Penelope (peering out the window suspiciously): That mocking bird is usually there. It's best to keep an eye on him.
(We go back downstairs.)
Penelope: Can I have some Honey Nut Cheerios in milk?
Me: Sure.
Penelope: I don't know if I've mentioned this, but I'm really great at pouring milk.
Me: Would you like to pour the milk?
Penelope: Oh sure! Of course, I've never done it onto cereal before...
12:15 pm

Penelope (dramatically): Those noisy bugs ate everything but the electric fence!
Me: I think all the rain is what flattened down the brush.
Penelope: Well but those noisy bugs ate the leaves right off the thorny branches! Now the birds are going to prick their butts. You don't want that to happen, do you?
3:52 pm

November 6

Me: You look so grown up in that outfit. Let me take your picture.
Penelope (at the last minute lifts up her shirt): Tada!!!!!
Me: Ok. Now you look more your age.
3:00 pm

Penelope's idea of a leisurely walk to get the mail is grabbing me by the hand and dragging me behind her as she runs as fast as she can down the sidewalk singing, "She'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes!" nonstop at the top of her lungs. When we got back to our front door, she whooped, "YEEEEEEEEEE-HA!"
3:17 pm

The birthday message Nellie dictated to me for Grandma:

I love you Grandma. I hope you have an enjoyable birthday. I hope you like the movie says us, everyone. Love, Nellie. (Penelope, I mean.)

For a special Grandma of mine, here is a poem:

Poiroses are red.
Blue Miss Marplebonnets are blue!
Happy Birthday!
Love Nellie! For you!
For you-oooo-ou-ou! Love! Love! Love!

Mom, I had to write that down because it cracked me up while she was telling it to me! I mean "I hope you have an enjoyable birthday!!"????! She's so funny.
11:58 pm

November 7

Penelope: (watching Grandma play Zelda) Grandma, you know you can never get out of there.
Grandma: Look I just got this bug!
Penelope: Well that's great, but Grandma, now you're going to be trapped in there forever. Grandma, you're doomed.
3:24 pm

Will: Come on, Nellie! Come on, Sarah! Let's go hunt mynocks!
(He runs into the darkened bedroom, shooting his laser gun ahead of him.)
A moment later...
Christina: Who wants to help me use the salad spinner?
Will: We're hunting!
Christina: You don't want to use the (louder) SALAD SPINNER?
Will (runs into the room yelling enthusiastically): Salad spinner! Salad spinner! Salad spinner!!!!!!!
7:48 pm

Nellie: Ohhh. Now I see why it's called Thor: The Dark World.
Me: Why?
Nellie: Because Loki is helping them this time. That's going to be pretty dark!
8:12 pm

November 9

Penelope (while watching Thor): I am astonished!!!!

I can't post the sentence before because it would be a spoiler. It's fun to watch with someone who gets so into it.
6:16 pm

Penelope: That's why we call you dingbat kitty. Kitties have no brains. They have feathers because they eat all those [unintelligible.]
Derrick: Because they eat all those butts??!!
Penelope: NO!!!! Butts don't have feathers! Because they eat all those BIRDS!
9:56 pm

November 10

Penelope: At Grandma's church all the kids go to math class.
Me: Mass class?
P: Yeah, so I decided to go back with them. We had to say people we knew who died. And there were like so many kids and they all knew all these people who died. And one little boy, his mother died. So (sighs) I didn't have anything as good as that! I just told them Grandma GG.
Me: So what saints did you learn about?
Penelope: Well all of them basically because there were like millions of kids and everybody they knew practically had died. And they were so mean to each other. They were all like, "Gimme those crowns." And they kept the crowns in a baby wipe box, and nobody could share them, so I only got like five colors, so it's a good thing I only knew Grandma GG because like all their whole families are saints now because you become a saint when you die.
Me: What if you're doing something bad when you die? What happens to you then? Do you still become a saint?
Penelope: Well they didn't mention that, but I think you should wait until you're a saint to die to be safe.
Me: So do you remember the names of any saints?
Penelope: Well Saint Patrick is the funnest one obviously because when we're in second grade, we get to have a big party with him at the church. (Hesitantly) And I think there might be drinking at
5:10 pm

Me: I was thinking since you're asking Santa for a bike, maybe we should go look in the store and see if there's one you like.
Penelope: Maybe.
Me: Well that way, we could take a picture and send it to Santa. But of course, if you don't want to look at Toys R Us, we could always just trust Santa.
Penelope: Oh, well, since you mention it, Toys R Us has a lot of other things I've had my eye on. I'm sure I've seen jack-in-the-boxes there.
6:27 pm

November 10

Me: Is it me or is it a hundred thousand million degrees in here?
Penelope: You know, you are not wrong.
Me: I'm going to take off these hot jeans and change into my pajama pants.
Penelope: I know what you mean. I'm thinking of taking off some clothes, too. And that will be hard because I'm only wearing this shirt.
Me: (having changed) Oh that's much better. I was a hot potato!
Penelope: Yeah, you were over baked!
Me: (giggling at her chuckling) Good one, Nellie!
Penelope: It really is, isn't it? I am so funny tonight. I'm on a roll. I'm going to go tell Grandma my joke. That will really crack her up! I know it!
11:32 pm

Penelope (in the kitchen): May I please have a slice of that delicious Boston Cream Pie?
Me: Sure. I'll get you one in just a second.
Penelope: Okay. While I'm waiting I'll just work on this coloring. (A moment later) Mom!
Me: Yes?
Penelope: How many legs does a horse have?
Me: Four.
Penelope: That's a relief. But oh no!
Me: What?
Penelope: I forgot to make the top half of Jesus!
11:50 pm

November 11

Penelope: I'm not sure I'm crazy about our state bird. These mocking birds are so noisy. They keep me awake every day. I think I would prefer another kind of bird.
Me: Like what?
Penelope: Maybe a hummingbird. They would be quieter at least. Does Texas have a state animal?
Me: Maybe the Armadillo?
Penelope: I hope they are quiet!
Me: Usually they just lie by the road.
Penelope: That would be a nice change so people could sleep for once!
3:56 pm

Penelope: I prefer small dogs like Bluey my little Chihuahua. I adopted him, so I'm his mother now. His old mother was my reflection, but she ran away to Mexico in the mirror because that's how she travels, by reflecting herself mainly.
Me: So now she's in Mexico?
Penelope: No, she's in Mexico in the Mirror. It's right across from Mexico, but it's a little different there because...
Me: Everything is backwards?
Penelope: Yes! How did you know?
4:16 pm

Me: (laughing hysterically) Nooo! I said they brought, "gold, frankincense, and MYRRH to Baby Jesus!"
Penelope: No, you said they brought gold and frankincense to murder Baby Jesus!
Me: That is not what I said.
Penelope: Trust me, that is what you said.
Me: No, that is what you heard!
9:18 pm

Penelope: Add Branch to my list.
Me: Branch?
Penelope: And Brick.
Me: You like Branch and Brick? Brick Rayburn?
Penelope: Yeah! It's cool, right?
Derrick: Add Straw, and we'll have the Three Little Pigs!
9:21 pm

November 11

Penelope: Read me some more cool names.
Me: Clancy...Cliff...Coltrane....Cosimo.
Penelope: Clancy-Cliff Coltrane-Cosimo.
Me: You're just saying all the names. Tell me which one you like?
Penelope: Clancy-Cliff Coltrane-Cosimo.
Me: You just said ALL the names!
Penelope: (laughing hysterically) I love them!!!!
9:26 pm

November 12

Mom and I are discussing the exact meal for Thanksgiving.

Me: Well, we should write down what we're making when.
Mom: I don't want to get too carried away.
Penelope: Can we make a little turkey? I just love a little turkey on my Thanksgiving.
Me: Yes, I'm sure we'll have turkey.
Penelope: (whispers to me) What I really want is to get a chance with that wishbone again. I have a lot of wishes ready, so I'm going to need that big half.
2:08 pm

Penelope's reading lesson turned into a bit of a fiasco. First she couldn't sound out the word "net." Then she sight read perfectly, "Lighter-than-air hydrogen gas hissed into the balloon." Then she ran off into the flower bed and started digging with a stick.
Me: Come back here. We're still doing our reading.
Penelope: (writing with the stick) What is 1+0?
Me: What IS 1+0?
Penelope: (like I'm oppressing her) It's YOUR math!!
Me: Let's do YOUR reading.
Penelope: Oooh! Did you feel that gust? Look! A flower pot fell off. That was disturbing.
Me: Yes, a lot of disturbing things are happening during this lesson.
(I get her to sit at the table again)
Penelope: Nerby.
Me: Nearby. Who's Nerby?
Penelope: He's the little dwarf who makes balloons... (Reads a little more, then runs off into the flower bed again)
Me: Um...
Penelope: (doing an antic dance with a stick, in a crazy voice) What's that I'm touching? It might be something rubber or tasty down my spine! (in her normal voice) That was Nerby talking.
Me: Come here, Nerby and read this sentence for me.
Penelope: (lightning fast) Its captain, Beard the Brave, was the best gizmo astermask!
Me: That is not what that says.
Penelope: Well I don't know this crazy name.
Me: Bernard.
Penelope: Burnhard! That's a crazy name!
Me: Bernard the Brave.
Penelope: And he's some kind of [hard G] gentlesomething astrosock!

Our reading is postponed until I return this evening.
3:58 pm

November 12

Penelope (laughing menacingly as she lowers her fork into the banana Grandma has given her in pieces on a plate): I'm going to give this banana a big injection.
Me: What are you injecting it with?
Penelope: All kinds of chemicals to make it stay still so it can't struggle as I move it into my mouth.

I had no idea eating fruit was so sinister!
10:03 pm

So apparently they sent that random American Girl catalogue to the right house after all. Every page is full of wonders like nothing we've ever seen, apparently!

10:24 pm

November 13

Me: (looking up from our butterfly book as Derrick enters) Tell Daddy what word you just learned.
Penelope: Metamorphosis.
Derrick: Metamorphosis! And what does that mean?
Penelope: Changing form.
(I tell the story of Apollo and Daphne.)
Me: And did you know the butterfly starts out with a huge abdomen, and then the fluid from the abdomen is pumped into the wings?
Derrick: I never knew that.
Me: Neither did I.
Penelope (excitedly): And Daddy, before they can fly, first their wings have to dry.
Me: (looking back at the book) The butterfly has an abdomen. Where's your abdomen?
(Penelope points)
Me: And he has a thorax...
Penelope: (bursts out laughing) A thorax! What's a thorax?
Derrick: That's what he had before Mjolnir.
(We laugh and laugh.)
Penelope: (laughing hysterically) Darcy says, "Mew-mew!"
Me: (reading again) Fall is on the way...
(Exactly at this moment, Penelope coincidentally falls off my lap onto the kitchen floor. We laugh and joke about this, and reread the line and repeat the fall several times until my hand hurts.)
12:00 am

Me: Oh that's my old watch. Grandma GG helped me pick that out. It doesn't seem like that long, but I guess she has been dead almost ten years.
Penelope: Yeah, but now she's a saint. I see her now.
Me: You do?
Penelope: Yeah, she's up there with Grandpa Jim floating around on the ceiling.
Me: Really? What do they look like?
Penelope: Well, it's been a lot of years, so their hairstyles have changed.
12:32 am

Penelope (washing dishes): Oh look at all these beautiful, perfect soap bubbles! Just look at you, my beautiful little darlings! Oh, my little darlings! Oh no, my little darlings, you have popped!
9:55 pm

November 14

Penelope: Here Mom, cut out my brand new balloon. It will catch a breeze and it will fly, fly like the wind, Bullseye!
1:04 am

Penelope: (dramatically) This yogurt spoon is too heavy. I'm worried it's going to drip. I need you to feed me this yogurt.
Me: I think you're doing a fine job eating it yourself.
Penelope: But I need to eat it faster.
(A few moments later)
Me: Do you want to do your reading, or shall we...?
Penelope: (interrupting excitedly) I'm going to go see Grandma now. I just want to go upstairs and see Grandma!
(A few seconds later)
Penelope: (walking up to me, explaining in case she's hurt my feelings) You see, there's this Jack Skellington sucker on my table, and Grandma said after I eat that yogurt I can have it. I think I've done a good enough job, and she's upstairs, so she's not going to check.
Me: I see.
(A moment later, Penelope returns down the stairs and runs urgently to the kitchen table trying to clear stuff off)
Penelope: There is no room on this table anywhere! What is all this mess? I need to color a turkey. There is no room on this table to color a turkey. How can I color a turkey?
Me (helping her clear a spot to color): Why is this such an emergency? Do you need to color a turkey right now?
Penelope: (sighs heavily) Well, you see, the turkey is for Grandma!

Obviously, she's still trying for the sucker!
12:56 pm

Penelope (sneezes as we do her reading on the porch, goes in, gets a napkin): There. I'll just keep this napkin nearby, or as I call it, nerby.
2:58 pm

Penelope: What's my next word?
Me: Flight.
Penelope: Dinah was going on a flight, but it gave her a fright because she was scared of heights.
Me: Why that's practically a poem! Now can you make a sentence using "pigeon"?
Penelope: This is chapter two.
Me: Okay.
Penelope: Dinah met a pigeon, and it bit her, and that hurt her, so she went home and ate some toast with butter.
3:00 pm

November 15

The radio: When the heart rules the mind, one look, and love is blind. When you want the dream to last, take a chance, forget the past.
Penelope: Take a chance, Spaghetti Pants?!!
5:50 pm

After juggling options for weeks now--Chuck E. Cheese, Gattiland--Penelope has finally decided where she'd like to go for her birthday--South Padre Island. She announced this last night and again just now, but apparently, before even telling me these plans, she invited Grandma to come along yesterday morning. According to Penelope, it will be much cheaper than Chuck E. Cheese because she won't need to pay for games.
6:07 pm

November 16

While the rest of us are watching TV, Nellie is watching seemingly limitless Nyan Cat videos on her phone, so all I can think is, "Meow meow meow..."

One of them was a how-to video about making a Nyan Cat cake. The girl doing it would say "meow" instead of "now." Penelope told me, "Isn't she cute? I think she's a big daughter. I don't think she's the mom." At one point, the girl said, "If you need fondant, come to my house." Penelope was like, "But I don't know where she lives, so that's not terribly convenient. Where am I going to get my fondant?" I think she's considering a Nyan Cat cake for her birthday.
8:21 pm

November 17
Me: Where are all these butterflies off to today?
Penelope: Well I hope they're not swarming to the park! That would be a terrible place to migrate!
Me: Why?
Penelope: You know the trees are too far away from the sidewalk to make shade there. The sun will get into their eyes, and they'll crash into the sun. It will be a complete catastrophe!
Penelope: Why are all these birdies flying around like this?
Me: Maybe they know something is going to happen.
Penelope: Something terrible! A disaster! The end of the world!
Me: That seems extreme. Maybe something is going on in the bird world.
Penelope: Maybe the turkeys aren't coming. Maybe they refuse to make it for Thanksgiving! That will be a disaster! Thank goodness Grandma already bought our turkey, so at least we will have a happy Thanksgiving.
5:11 pm

November 18

Something tells me I took too long writing that movie review because while I was proofreading Penelope informed me that she's sure our bathroom is haunted because she heard a mysterious voice reciting an evil poem in there. Also, her dog became a super hero, and white is actually the warmest color (she knows because she was licking a rainbow sucker earlier)
12:32 am

My daughter is not melodramatic or anything. She just informed Grandma that she hopes we do Aunt Merry's birthday shopping at Barnes and Noble because she's hoping to get a new book herself, and all the books there are so tempting or as she put it, "I am possessed by a demon that makes me want it always!"
1:57 pm

Me: Are you ready to go? Let's get ready.
Penelope: No first I have to watch this show.
Me: What show?
Penelope (gestures toward the fireplace where Mom and Dad are hanging a string of lights covered with fake fall leaves): This show! It's the best show around, and it only comes on holidays!
3:27 pm

Penelope: We usually eat dinner at the table on Thanksgiving right?
Me: We sometimes do.
Penelope: Good! (holds up a red Maple leaf) I'll go put this on the table! It's the Holy Spirit.
Me: It's the Holy Spirit?
Penelope: Yes, and I've got to find more Holy Spirits because we need lots of leaves on our table for Thanksgiving to make room for everyone!
3:28 pm

Penelope: (listening to the radio) When the sky is falling down, he could lift her up? That's impressive.
Me: I think he's saying he can be strong for her.
Penelope: Well I hope her body can take that!
(I laugh)
Penelope: He must be a pretty tall guy if this is going to work.
6:39 pm

Penelope (as we pull into the driveway): We have to keep watching this until it's over.
(She always "watches" the radio. Actually, she does read the display very attentively. And if it's not accurate, she throws a fit and tells everybody in the car, "This is not really Treasure, this is Roar," just to make sure they're informed.)
Me: The song is already over.
Penelope: (testily) YE-ES, but didn't you hear them? They're about to talk about Gaga, and that means Lady Gaga. I want to hear what they have to say about her performance on SNL. You know I think she is amazing. Let's see if they agree with me. I am dying to find out.
(After I turn off the car.)
Me: So who are your favorite singers?
Penelope: Well, Lady Gaga, and Miley Cyrus, obviously, because you know I live to hear "Wrecking Ball." It is the song for me right now. The words are so powerful, and you can hear that in her voice.
(She has been obsessed with the song "Wrecking Ball" for at least two weeks. She's fascinated by the lyrics. This afternoon at Barnes and Noble, she explained what she thinks the song really means to me.)
Me: Who else do you like?
Penelope: You know, I like all of the most famous artists singing all the top hits.
Me: Hmm, maybe we'll have to listen to some different stuff when we drive in the car, so you can get an idea of some other kinds of music. We'll have to find some classical music, or classic stuff or...
Penelope: Well, Grandma can help us out with that.
Me: Can she?
Penelope: You know she listens to all the old stuff.
Me: Like what?
Penelope: Just whatever is old, Grandma listens to it. Next time we ride in her car, you'll see what I mean.
6:49 pm

Penelope: (clearly trying to shock him) Daddy, when I finished drinking the blood of this grape, then I ate the skin!
8:45 pm

Penelope (as we read her book about the human body from the library): I must have several cerebrums because I am full of thinking constantly! (a moment later) I haven't had nightmares for many moons, so maybe my brain is trying to be extra nice to me.
Me: Maybe you've been so tired that you've gone into a deep sleep, and you don't remember your dreams.
Penelope: No, I haven't been sleeping very sound because I do my stories all night. I can't even speak at night because everyone will wake up, so I keep them to myself and tell them quietly inside my head.
Me: But you do fall asleep eventually.
Penelope: Well, I...(suddenly her eyes widen) Oh! My brain says, "You have to pee!"
Me: (as she runs to the bathroom) Now your brain will tell your bladder muscles to relax.
Penelope (reappearing from the bathroom): Whew! That took my entire body!
10:29 pm

Penelope (eating grapes while we read her book on the human body): Now does my tongue know these are grapes rolling around in my mouth right now?
Me: No, your tongue is just gathering all the information.
Penelope: Oh yeah! Now it's going to travel through my nerves. Oh! (Touches a spot between her eyes) Suddenly I'm feeling activity in my brain! It always burns with so much energy right here after I eat, and now I know why. My brain is very busy!
10:32 pm

Penelope: Did you know that Dinah's real name is actually Dinosaur? Dinah is just her nickname.
10:33 pm

Penelope (showing me a Nyan Cat video on the game phone): I think you will really love this because it's the most tragic thing I've ever seen. It always makes me cry. See Pop Tart Kitty falls in love with this little girl kitty. Isn't she so cute and sweet with all her little eyelashes? I may fall in love with her, too! She's just adorable. And now see, they're falling in love. Their Pop Tarts are different, but they share the same love. See that little heart shared between them? That's how you know. And now, see, she's taking her everywhere that she enjoys. Now they're going sailing in their boat. See? They're doing everything together. Now they're flying on their rainbows up to space. Oh but look! (gasps) The meteor is coming! No one could have seen this coming! It even surprised me. Look! It's hit her! What a terrible way to die! That's the most terrible way to die I can think of--falling into the sun. That would be so hot and so lonely. And now you see, back on earth she just can't go on. She wants to die, too. She jumps off the cliff because in her mind, she just keeps torturing herself. Why did I even take her up into space? she thinks. Her death was so easy to avoid if I just hadn't taken her anywhere near space! Now she's decided to kill herself because she can't bear to go on living. She's much too sad. But now the ghost has somehow survived--I don't know how even your ghost doesn't burn up when you fall into the sun--but anyway, she's telling her she has to go on. She can't die now. She has to live on and make rainbows for both of them. Isn't that so tragic? Don't you love it?

I so wish I had taken a video of her watching and narrating that video!
11:26 pm

November 19

Princess Presto on Super Why: Now what letter makes the sound rrrrrrrr?
Penelope: I know my alphabet, lady!
12:46 am

Prayers please (and positive thoughts) for Derrick's boss and friend who suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm this weekend and is currently in the ICU. Things are very serious, and he and his wife have two young children (each younger than our corresponding child).
2:24 pm

Penelope: (finding a random stick, booming) I'm Poseidon, and this is my trident. In a storm two of its dents blew off, and now it's just a stick. Every time I lose a dent, I lose one of my lives! Soon it will be the end of Poseidon. But for now (shakes the stick above her head) know my power!
Me: Do that again, Poseidon so I can take your picture.
P: (booming in outrage): No! No one can take a picture of Poseidon. I'm a (unclear).
Me: You're a myth?
P: No I said I am a man! Can't you tell by my voice.
Me: Oh, I thought you said I couldn't take your picture because you're a myth.
P (in her own voice): Oh! Because you can't prove a myth! Yeah. Can we pretend I said that?
Me: Sure. Besides Poseidon's not a man anyway, he's a god. He kept Odysseus away from Penelope. But Athena helped him.
P: Which one is she again?
Me: She's the one who jumped out of Zeus' s head.
P: Oh yeah. It's hard to plan what to do if that happens. I guess if it was a baby jumping out I would keep her, but if it was a bad guy I would kill it!
5:28 pm

What's best about autumn in Hutto? As Nellie and I crunch through the park, colored leaves fall from the trees overhead often five or six at a time. It's nice to see some tangible sign of fall in Texas. Here's the really magical part, though. Just before they all hit the ground, sometimes one of them starts heading the other way, and you realize it's actually a butterfly. This has happened about twice a walk for the past several days.
9:09 pm

November 20

Penelope: Dad, can you carry me into the house? My leg is so sore from this flu shot.
Derrick: Sweetie, walking on it will help work out the cramp in the muscle.
Penelope: But I feel like I'm going to collapse! I can feel my leg collapsing!
Derrick: Then hold my hand.
(She feebly totters along beside him, then suddenly breaks away and sprints into the yard and starts riding a flamingo.)
Penelope (antically): Gallop-a-trot! Gallop-a-trot!
Derrick: So much for collapsing!
2:17 pm

Penelope (swinging her Poseidon stick near a tree in our yard): Watch me climb the tree! (She advances. Suddenly a leaf spirals down and hits her head. She turns and bolts away shrieking) Ahhhhhhh! Fall is coming!
4:58 pm

Me: Let's pick a movie out of the cabinet, one we haven't watched in a while.
Penelope: (grabbing Ghostbusters) How about Ghostbusters! We haven't seen that in a while!
Me: We just watched that like two days ago!
Penelope: But not out of the box.
Me: Yes, but on Roku still counts as watching it. Come on, you've never even seen some of these. Like this one. Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. It's about two boys who travel back in time in a telephone booth!
Penelope: What's a telephone booth?
Me: You know, a phone booth. (I realize as I'm saying it that she doesn't know and start to explain, pretty awkwardly) You know our phones, well, you see...
(Meanwhile, Penelope grabs the DVD box and examines the cover art)
Penelope: (not impressed) Oh, a Tardis.
9:50 pm

Penelope: (as we rummage through the DVD kids' cabinet) What's this?
Me: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It's about a man named Willie Wonka who has a chocolate factory where he makes amazing candy, but nobody can go inside. Then one day, there's a contest, and five lucky children each find a golden ticket in a chocolate bar. They get to go inside and take a tour of the factory, but some unexpected things happen.
Penelope: (pointing at Willy Wonka) And is he made of chocolate?
Me: No.
Penelope: But he is weird, right?
Me: Yeah, he is pretty weird.
Penelope: I was getting that idea.
Me: So do you want to watch it?
Penelope: No, I hate documentaries.
9:58 pm