Thursday, February 27, 2014

Oscar Write-Up

It just occurred to me that I never posted my Oscar Write-Up here, but anyone interested can read my thoughts on the four acting races and picture in my movie blog.  Here's a link to my entry about the Best Picture nominees: Best Picture Nominees at Nancy's Night at the Movies.  The acting categories are also there, but I'll go ahead and put in a separate link for each.

Best Supporting Actor

Best Actress

Best Actor

Best Supporting Actress

Penelope Says

January 15

On our walk...
Penelope: Mom, remember when those kids were playing down there even though it's private property?
Me: Yes.
Penelope: Well what if they drowned in there? I'm pretty sure I see a ghost down there. Take a picture.
(I do.)
Penelope: Aaah! Mom, I told you! Look! It's the ghost, rising up out of the creek!
Me: Penelope, that's my shadow.
11:05 pm

January 16

One of Penelope's sentences from her reading lesson today, for "female":

The female snake lays a lot of eggs, and the male snake does not do much if you ask me.

Just now as I was typing up her sentences from this afternoon, I realized that the book she is reading spends an entire page describing how the female reticulated python lays and cares for its eggs, but then it just moves on to the next snake, saying nothing at all about the male.
1:06 am

Penelope (dramatically, as a I finished up my shower): I'll just wait here for you. I can't be alone since I became psychic. Ever since I saw my first ghost, a dark force began gathering in my heart. My heart began to pull in all the darkness in the world, and all the black magic. Suddenly, I felt like my heart was screaming out, like inside my mind, someone else was trapped! I was magenta!
Me: (in confusion) You turned magenta?
Penelope: No!! I WAS Magenta. A dark part of my mind sucked in all those shadows and became Magenta. You know. Magenta.
Me: (after thinking hard) From Blues Clues? The little pink dog?
Penelope: (rolls her eyes) NO! (sighs) Oh never mind!
(Three hours later)
Penelope (as we look at a picture of a poodle that needs to be groomed in her joke book): What is that lady called who has snakes for hair?
Me: Medusa!
Penelope: Yes! That's who I was talking about when you were in the shower!
Me: You were talking to Medusa when I was in the shower?
Penelope: NOOOOO! Remember? I said I was Magenta! But I meant Medusa. I just forgot her name. Medusa with the dark heart and the snake hair!
1:15 am

January 17

Recently Penelope has begun--somewhat randomly, it seems to me--setting her timer. She's got this chicken shaped egg timer that is really my mom's. Occasionally, she'll note, "I'm going to set my timer." Then at some variable interval later (usually long after we've forgotten about it) the timer noisily goes off. She'll say, "Oh that's my timer! I'll take care of it!" But it goes off on its own. Why is she doing this? Nobody knows.
4:53 pm

January 20

Penelope: What are you doing?
Me: I'm doing a little write-up about the nominees. I always do that every year.
Penelope: The nominees. That sounds very funny to me. Like it makes me think they are from Nomin. You know, like the Chinese, the Japanese, the Nominese?
12:17 am

At the beginning of our calendar lesson...
Me: Can you tell me the months of the year?
Penelope: Um...
Me: What is this month?
Penelope: Monday?
Me: Well, today is Monday, and it's also Bubby and Jack's birthday, but that's what day it is. I'm asking what month. Remember? We just talked about it? It's named after the god with two faces?
Penelope: Oh yeah! January! Okay! January...February...
Me: And next comes?
Penelope: (her face following my leading expressions until she finally guesses) Sebruary?
Me: Sebruary?!
(She bursts out laughing)
Me: Sebruary???!!! Where does that come from?
Penelope: From my imagination land.
Me: I see.
Penelope: It's somewhere near Egypt. They call it Sebruary, (in a spooky, booming voice) the Month of the Dead.
Me: I see. Does that have to do with the god Seb? Or maybe Seth?
Penelope: Probably. It's like in between February and Satan. It's very Egyptian. (again in a spooky, booming voice) Sebruary, the Month of the Dead!
(She giggles)
Me: I see.
6:37 pm

In the middle of our calendar lesson...
Penelope: Wait! What was the point of that Julyus guy again, and which way was HE looking? (She pronounced it July-us)
6:43 pm

During our calendar lesson...
Me: So May has a big holiday that happens on the fifth of May. It's called cinco de mayo, (I write the words out as I say them) and in Spanish that means "fifth of May."
Penelope: (laughs so hard) That's great! Tell me another one!
Me: (a little surprised) Okay. In Spanish, the fourth of May would be cuatro de mayo, and that means fourth of May.
(She dies laughing.)
Penelope: You crack me up!
Me: Some people also celebrate May the Fourth as Star Wars Day and say, "May the fourth be with you."
(She rolls her eyes.)
Later (after we've gone back around)
Penelope: April...
Me: (helpfully) April Showers bring...
Penelope: May??? Flowers???
Me: Yes. Here's a little joke. If April showers bring May flowers, what do Mayflowers bring?
Penelope: Is it something about a god?
Me: Pilgrims. Get it? Because the Pilgrims sailed here on the Mayflower. Remember? Thanksgiving?
Penelope: (chuckles) Yeah, I get it. But the Spanish jokes were funnier.
6:51 pm

So when I taught Penelope the month August, she immediately yelled out, "August! Like a rough boy!" I was like, "What does that mean?" She explained, "My imagination will be hard for you to believe. Like, please means thank you in my imagination world."

Anyway, it turned out to be a very useful mnemonic. If I say, "Like a rough boy?" she knows it's August. We always yell out, "August, like a rough boy!"

I told her, "I'm glad this works for you, but I don't exactly get it." Then she beat me over the head with her pillow for like five minutes yelling at the top of her lungs, "AUGUST, LIKE A ROUGH BOY!" every time she smacked. At the end, she asked, "Do you get it now?"

It's weird, but actually I think I do!
6:56 pm

Penelope: How do you remember what all your teachers taught you? Was like everyone you ever met in your whole life a teacher? It's blowing my mind (demonstrates with her fingers over her forehead) like a volcano!
7:13 pm

January 21

Penelope: (out of nowhere, totally at random) So boys just have two holes, right, because they don't have a baby hole?
Me: That's right.
Penelope: But I have three--because of the baby hole, like I said.
Me: Yes.
Penelope: (with a sigh) That is so much to keep track of! I wonder when I'm going to start getting my eggs.
Me: Actually you already have all your eggs. They're just not mature yet. I read somewhere that a baby girl gets all her eggs when she's still in her mommy's tummy, so for a little while, the egg that could become a grandchild is inside the mommy inside the grandma.
Penelope: Wow.
(Later, after we've gone up to brush her teeth.)
Penelope (crashing onto the bed as if her pelvis weighs millions of pounds) Whew! I've just got so many eggs in there! They get so heavy!
1:52 am

January 22

After having another calendar lesson...

Penelope: Mommy, here is a riddle for you.
Me: Okay.
Penelope: What do you call a girl who doesn't always have a birthday?
Me: I don't know. What do you call a girl who doesn't always have a birthday?
Penelope: Sylvie! [She was born on Leap Day.]
12:01 am

Me: When is your birthday?
Penelope: January 2.
Me: When is Bubby's birthday? I'll give you a hint. It's also Martin Luther King Day.
Penelope: Ummm...
Me: I'll give you another hint. It was yesterday.
Penelope: January fourth?
Me: January fourth?! No yesterday was January 20th!
Penelope: No way!
Me: I know!
Penelope: January has sure gone fast--like an airplane or a mustache...(giggling at my reaction)...shot out...
Me: A mustache shot out of a cannon?
Penelope: (giggling) That works, too! I was going to say like a mustache shot out of an Angry Birds slingshot!
Me: Well that simile is certainly not overused. I'll give you that!
12:05 am

Penelope's song
(It started out so sweet, but you can quickly tell it's the work of a five-year-old):

What is inside of me?
I'd like to see,
but I'll never get to know.
I'm stuck inside a kitty's butt
because he ate me,
then pooped me in the snow!
When I fly around, I'd really like to see,
but I always end up--
on a surf board
on the sea
with the kitty,
he and meeeeeeee!

(five seconds after singing it)
Mom, you have got to write that down! That is my greatest song yet! Did you get it all????
12:07 am

As we read about the Lady of the Lake and Excalibur...

Penelope: This all reminds me so much of Gollum. If he'd found that sword first in the lake, Arthur never would have gotten it.
Me: Yeah, good thing Gollum wasn't there.
Penelope: (shaking her head with a laugh) Gollum! What's his real name again?
Me: Smeagol.
Penelope: (rolling her eyes) I KNOW Smeagol! I mean his real name.
Me: Oh, you mean the actor who plays him? (She nods) Andy Serkis.
Penelope: (giggles) Seriously? Is that his real name?
Me: Yeah, Andy Serkis.
Penelope: (laughs) Don't you think it's kind of silly? I mean, you know, it's a little bit (sings circus music as she shakes her palms around) dah-dah-dah dah dah-dah-dah-dah dah!
Me: Well that kind of circus is C-I-R-C-U-S. He's Andy S-E-R-K-I-S.
Penelope: I'll bet he has a hard time telling his name to all the kids. (Grabbing a wheeled bear toy) "My name is Andy Ser..." (driving the bear through) dah-dah-dah dah dah-dah-dah-dah dah! "Aaaahhh! There's a bear in your name!"
5:52 pm

January 23

It's kinda sorta snowing in Hutto!
6:36 pm

Penelope started grilling me about my entire life today, so I read her some of my elementary school journals. When I got to the part about writing a novel about an alien, she interrupted at some random moment...
Penelope: QSQSAS2S!
Me: What?
Penelope: That's what you want to say if you ever want to contact the aliens. (patting me) So if you ever want to call the aliens, just remember that.
Me: QSQQSAS2S! I will try.
Penelope: Great, and if you ever want to get back to earth, just say, " wait! Maybe it's AS4S? Or wait it is AS3S!"
Me: (giggling) Whatever you don't know what you're talking about! You're going to end up on Mars.
Penelope (laughing hysterically) No...No...I think I remember...It's like AS...?
Me: You don't remember...
Penelope (as we both laugh hysterically): I'm sure it's AS something!
(A moment later when we're reading about me reading Little House on the Prairie)
Penelope: Wait, did you say Laura caught malaria! Is this like the same as Little House in the Big Woods?
Me: Yes, it's the second book in that series.
Penelope: Yeah, we'll have to check that out again. I wanted to finish reading that. Oh! When we were at the library last time, I saw that other book back on the shelf again, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. We should get that again, too!
Me: How the Grinch Stole Christmas? Yeah, we have that at home somewhere!
Penelope: No, no! You're just remembering that we have the movie! (Gets up and starts prancing around making huge-eyed dramatic faces and creepy hand gestures, singing a weird tune in a spooky voice) The Grinch Who Stole Christmas! The Grinch Who Stole Christmas!!!
Me: I don't remember that part.
Penelope: Sure you do! (after performing this number for a long time) Oh wait! I'm thinking about that king of the pumpkin headed people. Jack of the pumpkins...or...
Me: Jack Pumpkinhead! [It's Jack Skellington] You're thinking of The Nightmare Before Christmas. You don't even know what you're talking about again.
Penelope (laughing hysterically) I know what I mean!
Me: (also laughing hysterically) You don't! You're going to end up on Mars watching the wrong Christmas special! And the aliens won't come for you! No one will come for you!
Penelope: The aliens will always come for me! I can count on them!
6:54 pm

January 25

Gray is such a nice brother! Seems like it must be hard to play with his sister in his lap, but he's indulging her.
Gray: Next time I want to make my name "Lol you died." (Lol pronounced like a word)
Penelope: And I will be "Fire Burning Bullets."
Gray (singing as he plays): Lol, you died! Lol lol! You died! (repeat ad infinitum)
Penelope: (belting out) FIRE BURNING BULLETS!!!
3:11 pm

January 26

Wow! Good grief! No wonder Penelope has a headache! She just lost her two bottom front teeth over Christmas. I worried it was too early, but one of the teeth is already coming in. Fast. I mean, I didn't notice it coming in yesterday, and now it's like 1/4 of the way up!
4:48 pm

January 27

Penelope lost ANOTHER tooth!
3:31 pm

Penelope (as Derrick goes out to get cash): Where is Daddy going?
Me: Daddy's just going to get me a Mountain Dew for tomorrow in case it snows in the morning.
Penelope: You silly! You could keep warm without Mountain Dew!
10:15 pm

February 2

Penelope: (holding a gigantic, old fashioned metal key) Look at this. It's my skeleton key. I got it from Grandma.
Me: That's an amazing key. I wonder what door it opens.
Penelope: It opens any door. It's a skeleton key.
(a few minutes later)
Penelope: I'll hold onto this. Maybe one day in the future, some other girl will try to steal away the person I'm going to marry, and she'll lock me up in prison, and then I can use this skeleton key to make my escape and stop her!
8:43 pm

Penelope: (coming downstairs and up to Derrick) Okay. Can you take me to Egypt one day?
Derrick: Maybe we could go to Egypt.
Penelope: I'm really excited. I have this key, and I want to unlock stuff. First you have to get me a shot, so I can go. You have to get me there, though. You have to get me there very soon.
Derrick: Very soon? I don't know if I can do it very soon.
Penelope: Okay. Then I'll have to do something about this. (disappears)
9:02 pm

February 4

Penelope (practicing writing her Ps and Js while I type up her sentences): Ohhhh! This "p" looks like a knife!
Me: It doesn't have to be perfect. Just practicing will help you get better. Sometimes in Mario Kart, I drive right off a cliff...
Penelope: Sometimes?
Me: The point is, writing letters is just like playing video games. Practice helps us get better and feel more comfortable...
Penelope: Aw man! This "p" looks like a flamingo on one leg...(later) And this "P" looks like Barack Obama dressed like an old lady wearing a tiara.
Me: I do not believe you.
Penelope: You will when you see it. Can I be done now?
Me: Not yet.
Penelope: Are you trying to torture me?
4:19 pm

Penelope (interrupting I tell her the names of all the presidents from now to about FDR in reverse order because she asked): That's a funny name!
Me: Which one?
Penelope: Ronald Reagan! (Laughs hysterically) That sounds like someone who sells chicken!

4:25 pm

Penelope: (out of nowhere when we get home from the movies) I hate the Eagles. Every time I see them it makes me sick! I told Grandma.
Me: (confused for a minute, then realizing) Oh, you mean the Seahawks?
Penelope: Oh that's right. The point is, I hate them so much. You can tell Daddy.
8:51 pm

February 5

Penelope: That phone is not working for me. I started playing Bubble Shoot, and it rebooted! That crazy phone. So I started another game of Bubble Shoot, and it rebooted again! So then I started another game of Bubble Shoot, and again, it rebooted on me. So now, I'm not trusting it now. I mean, how can I trust it? I saw it was at one percent, so I plugged it in, but it did not respond to me. It did not respond to me. That makes me angry. It makes me angry if my phone doesn't respond to me. And I think I need a new phone. I think so. A new phone. What will I do? How can I afford this? I think I am at the end with this phone. There is no trusting it now. What will I ever do?
Me: Well why don't we play Fantasy Forest right now, and then we can paint and look at Greek recipes?
Penelope: Okay!
2:48 pm

Penelope (as I set up Fantasy Forest, dramatically): MOM! I don't think you're understanding what I'm saying about my phone. How long have you had your phone?
Me: Oh, a couple of years.
Penelope: Well my phone has been used FOR ONE HUNDRED YEARS! How would you feel if your phone didn't respond to you?
2:53 pm

Me (to Mom): You know what's surprising? Philip Seymour Hoffman's autopsy was inconclusive. They have to do further testing. Considering the circumstances they've reported so far, I was surprised to hear that.
Penelope (jumping in as if she's been following this new item closely): I don't know. Do you think he could have been murdered? It sounds like murder to me, murder still going nowadays?
Me: What do you mean?
Penelope: Like are they still doing that? Is murdering still going on?
Me: Yes, there are still murders. Did you think those ended with the passing of Poirot?
Penelope (nods, then says): Well I wasn't sure.

Derrick and I were so saddened to hear about Philip Seymour Hoffman, but I don't think Penelope even knows who he is.
8:25 pm

February 9

The other night in the car...
Penelope: Does that sign say "No Engine Brake"?
Derrick: Yes it does! That's very good reading!
Penelope: What does that mean?
(A long explanation followed)
Penelope: Remember the other day when I asked about that "engine brake" sign? Before you explained, I was thinking about what it meant. Here's what I was thinking. Maybe somebody's car broke, so they opened it up and tried to fix it. Then they tried to put the engine back in, but they didn't know which piece was the engine, so the car stayed broken. That's what I was thinking.
6:41 pm

Penelope: Did you know that Cupcake [her sea turtle] was secretly a boy?
Me: No.
Penelope: She used to be a girl!
Me: How did you find that out?
Penelope (like it's obvious): Well, she told me! (quickly) He told me!
10:04 pm

February 11

Me: So are you going to work on your book or are you playing right now?
Penelope: Um...maybe could I watch a Power Puff Girls?
Me: Yes, I think that would be okay. And after Power Puff Girls, we can go up and work on your book and do your reading.
Penelope: Yes, that sounds...(Gaps, looks up dramatically) WAIT! Is today TUESDAY????
Me: Yes it is Tuesday.
Penelope: HOORAY!!
Me: Why, what have you been waiting for?
Penelope: You know.
Me: I remember you've been waiting for Tuesday, but I can't remember why.
Penelope: Because Tuesday is when there will be a new Nerdy Nummies! But you know, I tend not to pay attention to the TV if my video is on at the same time.
Me: Well that just makes sense.
Penelope: So is it okay if I watch Nerdy Nummies first because you know it is my favorite show?
Me: Sure.
Penelope: Sometimes she says it like, "NERRRRRDY NummEEEEEES!" She's great. This show is the best. (Moments later) A Rubik's CUUUUBE? [She sounds like Grandpa Simpson] What is that? I have never heard of that. It looks crazy.
(I try to explain a Rubik's Cube)
Penelope: I hope it's safe to eat these colors since she's using wax paper.
Me: Yes, it's very standard to bake with wax paper. If a tiny bit of wax gets in the food, it won't hurt anything.
Penelope: That's a relief. Wait. What on earth is Instagram?
2:50 pm

Penelope: (reciting) March...
Me: And what month is next? What month is my birthday?
Penelope: April...but...are you going to be able to have a baby by then?
Me: No, not by then.
Penelope: (gravely) Ohhh. (Brightens) But Mommy, you look so young that I believe you'd be able to have another baby if you just hided away your secrets that you were old!
5:53 pm

Penelope: One day Dinah found a rooster, and she put it in Pupcake's doghouse. When Pupcake got there, he opened the door, and the rooster attacked with his feet and his legs and his nose.
Me: What's a rooster's nose called?
Penelope: Peck-peck?
Me: Peck-peck??!! What do you call a rooster's nose?
Penelope: I call it peck-peck!
6:04 pm

Be so careful. We had to stop on an overpass because there had been a wreck and the police would not let anyone go around until it cleared. We had been stopped about five minutes when somebody behind us couldn't stop in time and hit two cars behind us and us. Luckily no one was in front of us. (Ironically in the car behind us was one of Penelope's NICU nurses.)

Our bumper is destroyed but our car is fine.

Just when we felt safe a car in front of us (as we were trying to get off the highway) slid out of control like a pinball game back and forth all zigzag all over the highway until she crashed into the inner wall car smoking. I called 9-1-1 and am still so worried about that woman.

If you live in North Austin/Round Rock/Hutto/Pflugerville just play it safe and stay home
7:35 pm

Me: (examining my painting in progress) Oh no! Why does Daddy look like Genghis Khan?
Penelope: Angus Khan? Who is that?
Me: You're right. He looks more like Angus Khan.
10:52 pm

February 12

Yea! Derrick isn't Angus Khan anymore! This improvement is heartening enough that for now it's okay that Nellie has no nose and her head is too tall. She likes her oversized eyes. She said, "I like to look like anime. Now use the pearlized paint to put rainbow sparkles in her hair!"
12:29 am

Derrick: (to Nellie) Come on, sweetie. It's time to go upstairs.
Nellie (in despair): No! Please! I'm begging you! I love you, but I am begging you!
Me: Why are you so desperate?
Penelope (sticks her whole tongue out and makes an ugly noise): BLAAAAAAGH!
Me: Ah yes, our daughter. Sometimes, so articulate. Other times, so five years old!
(Moments later)
Derrick: Come on, sweetheart. I don't want to have to cajole you.
(I burst out laughing.)
Me: I don't want to have to cajole you? We're such strict parents!
Derrick: (chuckling) Don't make me start cajoling!
1:22 am

Five-year-old well check. 45 1/2 inches, 45.8 pounds. Hearing, normal. Vision 20/30 both eyes. No shots and two stickers, so we have a very happy girl!
4:37 pm

February 13

Me: (to Derrick) I'm confused because my hand doesn't hurt when I'm using it, but then when I let it rest, it hurts unbearably.
Penelope: Just don't stop using it. Keep using it know, always keep using it. Just never stop using it, and use it all the time, and never let it rest. And just always use it. That should work.
12:11 am

Penelope (watching a TV show on the Disney Channel): O.M.G. (with a pause per period) No wonder they think that boy is cute! Do you see him? (after a pause) By the way, what does omg mean?
11:44 pm

February 14

Penelope recently announced her latest celebrity crush, Japanese figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu. Of course she's currently in a relationship with her stuffed dog Brownie. (You can tell they're dating because they've spent the better part of two days tied together at opposite ends of a jumprope.) If he hopes to ask her out, Yuzuru Hanyu will have to wait until she untangles herself from her current relationship, which is probably for the best because he seems a bit busy himself at the moment.
5:00 am

As we watch figure skating...
Nellie: That was my boyfriend!
Grayson: Your boyfriend?! You're not supposed to have a boyfriend at five! When I was five...I had a girlfriend, but that's a different story.
Me: Oh it is?
Gray: Yeah, with Nellie and with me--it's a completely different lifestyle!
9:54 pm

Apparently, "all the Japanese skaters are my boyfriends," according to Nellie.
9:55 pm

February 16

Me: We can watch last night's primetime skating and stuff right now since we missed it, and then tonight we have the BAFTAs.
Mom: The what?
Me: The BAFTAs.
Mom: What on earth is that?
Me: You know. The British Academy Awards.
Mom: Ohhh. The BAFTAs. I thought you said the Bathtubs. I thought, "What in the heck kind of stupid race are they doing in a bathtub?" You know they have the skeleton, and the halfpipe. All these new events! I can't keep up with them all!
3:05 pm

February 17

Penelope: When I get to school, I want to be so famous! (quickly) But not too famous! (explaining) That's what Bubby told me. That's his advice. I want everybody to know me, but not too many people. But all of the teachers will love me! They have to love me. And my hair! When the boys see my hair, of course, they will all get a crush on me. You have to imagine how it will look, and you can see. I'm going to read all the books I can to get ready for school. I'm going to read every book. (starts to run across the room) Like books on science, math, how to be a good girl or good boy! I would read that twice if it really existed!
12:59 pm

Penelope: What do you think I should do for math? What would blow them away up at that school?
Me: Well, Penelope, when you get to school, the teacher will tell you what you should do.
Penelope: But I've been making such great stuff to take with me. I'm going to do all the work in advance.
Me: But that's not really the way school works.
Penelope: But I want to be prepared!
1:00 am

Penelope: Text Daddy, "You need to get rid of Nemo's Reef and put it back because the app's not working." That's what we do when the app is not working. Make sure to tell Daddy that's Penelope, or as we say in Japan, Hua Hee Ha.
Me: Hua Hee Ha?
Penelope: Yes, that's my Japanese name.
Me: I'm not sure that's right.
Penelope: It is.
Me: How do you know that's how to say your name in Japanese?
Penelope: Because I just made it up.
Me: I don't think that's how Japanese works.
Penelope: Well, that's interesting, but do you speak Japanese? You probably should trust me.
1:05 am

After reading the poem "Today I'm Going Yesterday" by Jack Prelutsky...
Me: You know, if we could travel faster than the speed of light, we could go back in time. The problem is, human beings can't travel that fast.
Penelope: Would we explode?
Me: Something like that. I'm sure it would be painful.
Penelope: Hmmm. Well that's inconvenient. But if that's the only problem, then we'll have to think of something.
(Long pause)
Penelope (eyes lit up): We could go on a cheetah!
6:32 pm

My mom (watching figure skating): Don't you think he looks like Prince Charles?
Penelope: Yeah, sorta. (with a shrug) But I don't even know who Prince Charles is!
9:00 pm

February 19

Working our Map of the World puzzle as the My Little Ponies...
Me (as Rarity): There's another piece of Russia.
Penelope: (as Pinky Pie) It goes here.
Me: (as Fluttershy, slowly reading)
Me: (as Rarity) Yes, Fluttershy, that's Russia.
Me: (as Fluttershy) And what's this yellow one?
Penelope: (nonchalantly, to my shock) That's Kazakhstan.
Me: (as Rarity, shocked) That's very good!
Penelope: And here is Ukrainia!
Me: (as Rarity) That's very close!
Penelope: And here is Greece.
Me: (as Rarity) Greece, I see. What comes from Greece?
Penelope: My name does. Penelope. It means duck.
Me: (as Rarity) I see. And does anyone famous in literature have that name?
Penelope: Yes, it's very famous from that old book of Greeks.
Me: Which one?
Penelope: (slowly with a winning smile) from the library?
Me (as Fluttershy): Ooh a bear! He looks cuddly! Oooh a head! He looks less cuddly.
Penelope: His name is Eastern Island. That's where he's from, anyway.
Me: (as Rarity): I see. Easter Island. And what happens there?
Penelope: Well, as I understand it, basically nothing. There's just that head standing around, and nobody knows how he got there. Anyway, that's what I've heard.
12:11 am

Penelope (noticing the episode of Midsomer Murders Mom is watching, suspiciously) Why are those men all naked? What do they think they're doing?
Grandma: Well, they have on their swimming trunks. They're just going swimming.
Penelope: (with a grunt, scornfully) Out in the middle of nowhere!
4:23 pm

Me: (watching Polina Edmunds, to Nellie) Would you ever like to be a skater like that?
Penelope: No! I want to be a skiier.
Me: Oh! You mean on a snow board or on skiis? Which event?
Penelope: Skiis, right? I get mixed up. I want to do the one where you wear the skiis and go really fast down the hill.
8:41 pm

February 21

While discussing with my mom release dates of DVDs...
Mom: What about Hunger Games?
Me: No, that's not out until March.
Penelope: Well I will sure be glad when Catching Fire comes out because I didn't even get to see it! I was like, "I'm so excited to see the movie. Zzzz...What?! The credits?!"
Mom: Does that happen to you a lot, Nellie? You wake up in the movie theater, and the credits are on, and somebody's eaten all your popcorn.
Penelope: Don't tease me about this! I'm not joking! This was something that happened to me!
7:11 pm

February 23

While we pretend we're characters in Dog With a Blog while we paint...
Penelope: So Avery, how is your art project coming along?
Me: I think it's looking pretty good, Chloe. How's life in the second grade?
Penelope: Well, that's hard to say.
Me: What did you do in school today?
Penelope: What does anybody do in second grade? I guess you could say that whatever people do in kindergarten, it's pretty much the same for us. There are so many grades, it's hard to get into the details. But I do have a crush on a boy in my class. And he has a crush on me. We're basically in love with each other.
Me: What's his name?
Penelope: I don't know.
Me: You don't know his name?
Penelope: I just can't remember it. Give me a minute in a good thinking spot. I remember it's a really cool name. Oh yeah. His name is Black Dragon.
Me: His name is Black Dragon?
Penelope: That's what his boy friends call him. I mean, not his boyfriends, but like, you know, all the guys he likes.
Me: I see. So he has a lot of friends?
Penelope: Oh yeah. You know (like she's reciting an old adage). All guys like each other, except in the Army.
1:57 am

Penelope: I don't believe in pretend stuff anymore.
Me: Well, you're getting older.
Penelope: I don't believe in dragons or knights or castles or queens...
Me: Wait...
Penelope:...or dinosaurs...
Me: You don't believe in dinosaurs?
Penelope: I don't believe in any stuff that's not real.
Me: Okay, but, Penelope, dinosaurs are real. We've found their bones, and...
Penelope: Yes, but I mean they don't exist anymore. Maybe they used to be real. That's fine. But what I'm saying is, they don't exist anymore. I don't believe in things that don't exist anymore like dinosaurs or dragons or castles....
Me: But, sweetie, castles still do exist.
Penelope: Oh really? Where are all these castles? I never see any around.
Me: Well, there aren't too many in this country, but in England there are castles.
Penelope: (sighs) Yes, fine, but they don't have kings and queens in them, anymore.
Me: But some of them do. There is still a queen in England. In London...
Penelope: (impatiently) In London they do a lot of things, but until somebody brings a queen over here where I can see her, she's still going on my list with dinosaurs and knights because she doesn't exist here!
2:03 am

Breaking News...
Penelope lost another tooth...and she swallowed it!

Game on, Tooth Fairy!
10:26 pm

Penelope: Daddy, I'm sorry I swallowed my tooth. What are we going to tell the Tooth Fairy about my money?
Derrick: I'm sure she'll be able to figure it out.
Penelope: Is she going to leave it in my tummy?
10:32 pm

Penelope: Mommy, will you help me make something?
Me: (foolishly) Sure in just a minute. (A moment later) So what are we making?
Penelope: A hang glider.
Me: What? Wait a minute...
Penelope: It will be easier than you think. All we need are two folding chairs...
10:43 pm

February 25

Penelope and I just tried a piece of Ghirardelli Intense Dark Cabernet Matinee, a chocolate bar which describes itself as "dark chocolate infused with a hint of natural blackberry and grape flavor."

Me: Mmm. That's good.
Penelope: Good?! Are you kidding me? Good! That word is not enough for this taste! It's like the Devil and Satan are joining to fight together in my mouth.
Me: (confused) The Devil is Satan.
Penelope: I know, and that's normally how I feel about blackberries. They're so bad to me, as bad as the Devil. But my love for God is how good I feel about grapes. You know I just love grapes so much. And when the two things are put together in one chocolate, (she starts to run in place in a frenzy) it's like there's two of the Devil, the Devil and Satan, that's how strong it is! And it's all mixed up with how much I love God! And it's fighting in my mouth. And then that chocolate coats my throat like the angels painted my throat with deliciousness! It's so good isn't it? It's just scrumptious! It's lovely! It's DIVINE!
Me: Yeah, I think I got that you think it's divine.

No hyperbole in this house!
11:56 pm

February 26

Penelope (watching them change seats in the last scene of Nebraska): Are they going to get out and pee in the field?
7:52 pm

Me: (to my mom) So what did you like better, Gravity or Nebraska?
Mom: I liked Gravity better, but they're both good. It's like comparing apples and oranges.
Penelope: I preferred Nebraska.
Me: What did you like about Nebraska, Penelope?
Penelope: Oh you know. I just loved it.
Me: Why?
Penelope: You know...because it's so great!
Me: But what about it did you think was great?
Penelope: I have to tell you downstairs so Grandma can't hear. (We meet on the stairs and she whispered) You know! I liked it so much because I have a crush on that boy.
Mom (at the top of the stairs): I already knew that! You already told all of us that!

That boy=Will Forte
8:47 pm

She really did seem to like Nebraska much better. She commented several times, "I like THIS movie," as she wandered around the room playing. And she watched every scene that involved peeing very attentively.
8:50 pm

Me: So did you really like Nebraska?
Penelope: Yes. Of course! It was so great. (her default enthusiastic response that sounds very insincere)
Me: What would you say it was about if somebody asked you?
Penelope: It's about an old man who wants to go somewhere. So he just keeps going. He really wants to go somewhere, but I can't remember where.
Me: Nebraska?
Penelope: (laughing) Oh yes. Nebraska. I see.
Me: Why does the old man want to go to Nebraska?
Penelope: To get his money?
Me: Yes, and does he get his money?
Penelope: No.
Me: Why not?
Penelope: Because he didn't really win.
Me: So why does he think he won?
Penelope: That's what I can't figure out. You're going to have to tell me.
Me: Well, I think he's old and sometimes gets confused.
Penelope: Has everybody seen Nebraska?
Me: Some people have seen it. So what was your favorite part?
Penelope: The part when he got to *spoiler blocked.*
Me: Why did you like that?
Penelope: Because I felt happy for him, and he probably feels happier, too, now that he at least *spoiler blocked* (She's referring to the final scene of the movie.)
Me: So who was your favorite one in the movie?
Penelope: The guy who I had a crush on, David.
Me: What about him did you like?
Penelope: Well, you know, he looks like an awful lot of cuteness. He's sort of cutesy wutesy, and I think a lot of girls will get a crush on him.
Me: What about him looked cute?
Penelope: His hair. I think it's brown, but it could be blond, but it was hard to tell because it was in black and white. And I had a crush on that guy because he was really crushy. He was so cuuuuuute!
9:06 pm

Penelope: But I still wanted to say some more things about David. (In Nebraska) He's so cute and so cuddly and so cute. I adore him because he's so cute. He feels like a baby to me, like so cute. I feel like I'm already dating him. He's just so crushy wushy and lovable, lovable! So lovable and so very crushy, crushy, crushy!
9:08 pm

Penelope: What are some other romantic things you did with your ex-boyfriends?
Me: Well, one time I was kissed at a train station.
Penelope: I hope you didn't have sex on the train.
Me: (taken aback) No, we didn't have sex on the train! We weren't even on the train! Well, I was, but not during the kiss. I mean, I got off the train, and then he kissed me.
Penelope: Well that's a good thing! Sex on a train! That's never a good idea!
Me: (curious about where she's getting this information) Why not?
Penelope: Well you know. It's just too much! Sex AND a train!
Me: What do you mean?
Penelope: Well you know from Poirot that trains are crawling with detectives! Someone would see you, and it would be in all the newspapers!
Me: What happens when you have sex, Penelope?
Penelope: You get murdered?
9:38 pm

Penelope (in a baby talk voice to her stuffed cat): I won't let you down, honey. (Tosses her up in the air, catches her) I won't ever let you down. (to me) Get it? I'm saying I won't let her down because I'm throwing her, so I have to catch her. Do you see?
11:47 pm

February 27

Me: You don't seem very into our library books this time. Don't you like the ones I picked out?
Penelope: Well, Mom, the thing is, I'm serious about this archaeology thing. When I say I need a book about dinosaurs, I don't mean these dumb kids' books. I need to find out good information about bones and how to collect them. Maybe next time we should look in the grown up section. Do you think they'd have something with more information about dinosaurs there? I just am not getting anything out of all these pictures of kids walking through the museum.
1:08 am

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Spring Movie Diary: The Great Beauty (La grande bellezza)

Date: February 25, 2013
Time: 6:50 pm
Place: Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane
Company: Derrick

Food:  Dr. Pepper; shared tomato and basil pizza; French fries
Runtime:  2 hours, 22 minutes
Rating: NR
Director: Paolo Sorrentino

Quick Impressions:
On the car ride home, my husband and I remarked, pretty much in unison, “That first party scene—even though I didn’t have any idea what was going on, I could have watched it forever.” 

Hearing that he felt the same way, I nodded my head and decided, “Yeah, I think that’s the point of the movie.”

Let me back off a bit and say that it’s point of the movie.  I won’t pretend to be an expert on Italian cinema.  I mean, I have enjoyed a lot of Italian movies (and I particularly love La vita é bella), but I haven’t seen any Fellini (unless you count random clips of La Dolce Vita).  Certainly, I’ve never seen 8 ½ (the film to which The Great Beauty seems to be most often compared), though I did see Rob Marshall’s screen version of Nine (chiefly memorable because the cast boasted at least seven Oscar winners, and yet the best scene in the movie by far belonged to Fergie.  I didn’t see that one coming.)

How have I never seen any Fellini, you ask?  I don’t know.  It wasn’t on purpose.  I’ve seen a lot of other things—performance art, funerals, tons of giraffes.  I’ve stayed at a hotel on the Janiculum.  Oh, and I’ve gone up the Scala Sancta on my knees (which is funny because at the time I wasn’t Catholic.  A friend and I were watching a pious, elderly nun slowly kneel her way to the top, pausing to kiss every step, and an older woman in our tour group suggested, “You girls should climb the Scala Sancta while you have the chance.”  “But we’re not Catholic,” we told her.  She replied, “But you may be one day,” (a philosophy that’s bound to lead to excitement if applied to every opportunity.  Anyway, it got us up the stairs.).

What can I say about The Great Beauty?  Well, the first thing I can say is that it demands a second viewing.  My husband feels the same way.  Already a Golden Globe and BAFTA winner for Best Foreign Film, this Oscar nominee from Italy is just the tiniest bit more dense and difficult than last week’s RoboCop.  Watching it, you feel simultaneously enraptured and alarmed.  No doubt you’ll be alarmed because life is so short and yet so unfathomable.  I, on the other hand, was alarmed the moment I realized, “Oh no!  I’ve got to go home and write a coherent review of this!” 

My knee jerk reaction was, “Couldn’t I just make a giraffe disappear instead?”  But on further reflection, I find I have quite a lot to say.  I just don’t feel I have much authority to say any of it. 

Based on my recollection of NineThe Great Beauty truly does seem to be in conversation with 8 ½, so if I were truly diligent, I’d watch Fellini’s masterpiece and then watch The Great Beauty again before attempting a review.  But when am I going to do that?  To be honest, I’ll be lucky if I find time to watch The Hunt and The Broken Circle Breakdown before the Oscars on Sunday.  I want to see as many of the nominated foreign films as possible, but the reality is, I’m far more likely to see several episodes of Dog With a BlogMy Little Pony, Wild Kratts, or Strawberry Shortcake.

So even though I’m not qualified to review this film, really, I’ll go ahead and give you my impressions now.

The Good:
I won’t pretend I truly “get” The Great Beauty, and I can’t offer any brilliant reading of the film as a whole after just one viewing and little understanding of the film’s context.  But I will say that I wasn’t kidding about the long party scene near the beginning being the point of the movie.

That delightful, enthralling, disorganized, chaotic, ever-evolving-yet-never-progressing birthday party for protagonist Jep Gambardella is essentially a visual metaphor for the entire film, which in turn is a metaphor for Jep’s life as a frustrated writer in Rome, and (since he’s a philosopher, by extension) for life in general (the human condition).

This is pretty straight forward, I think.  Life is a crazy party.  It distracts us.  It enthralls us.  As we’re caught up in it, we sometimes experience something truly meaningful.  More often we’re bored or feel detached from our surroundings.  Sometimes we forget ourselves, forget everything.  Sometimes we see images so vivid or horrifying or delightful that we never forget them even if we don’t realize their full significance at the time.  Perhaps there is something worthwhile to find at this party; perhaps not.  Happy hunting.  Happy birthday.

The birthday aspect is important, too, I think.  I mean, there will always be a party going on, but there will only be a limited number of birthday parties for you.  No human being on this earth has ever celebrated limitless birthdays.  So Jep is at a party because he’s always at a party.  Life in Rome (life on Earth, really) is one big, dynamic, confusing party.  But he’s not at just any party.  He’s at his birthday party, the party that helpfully reminds you that you’re older than you’ve ever been and soon you’re going to die.

Gambardella is a much more sympathetic protagonist than I expected him to be.  Toni Servillo is perfect in the role.  I can’t imagine anyone playing Jep better.  To be honest, when I saw a giraffe in the preview and heard the film being likened to Fellini, I worried, This has tremendous potential to be sickeningly pretentious.  (I mean nothing screams, “Pretentious, avant-garde European art film!” like a random, melancholy giraffe!)

The opening scene, followed by the deliciously trippy extended party scene did nothing to assuage my fears.  And then we get this memorably, wince-inducing piece of performance art.  Watching, wincing even before the jarring “thud,” I worried, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to connect to this.

Fortunately, the protagonist can’t connect to stuff like that either.  Both my husband and I found Jep surprisingly likable and highly sympathetic.  Despite the world he hangs around in, he never seems fake or pretentious.  It helps that he’s aware of the fakeness, the pretentiousness, the desperation, the unhappiness of his own life and the people in his immediate social circle.  He doesn’t seem to call attention to his self-awareness in an effort to be cool.  He doesn’t come across like some aging Italian hipster.  Instead he just seems very philosophical, perpetually depressed, and painfully honest.

To me, Jep is easy to like because he’s not just pretending to be deep.  He genuinely is deep (which is why he’s so depressed and disenchanted with life).  He does have a bit of affectation, of course, but his cultivated persona comes across as more of a mechanism for self-preservation than anything else.

My husband and I both liked the character.  It’s easy to relate to him, and he’s incredibly insightful (though he’s frustrated by his own lack of insight) and funny (even when he’s kind of cruel).

Jep has written one (highly praised) book years ago in his youth and has never written another book since.  That kind of dilemma is a bit foreign to me as a writer.  Whatever my failings, I’m incredibly prolific and am always working on a novel.  I start at least three novels every year and finish most of them.  In fact, right now, I’m forcing myself to slow down and take more time to complete my latest project.  (I’m discovering that revisions are more effective after a fallow period.)  But still, while I’m “waiting” to finish one book, I’m actively writing another.  I’m always writing and can’t imagine running out of ideas for novels.  I’ve had an idea for a book at all times since I first learned to think in words. 

Of course, Jep has the burden of having published a masterpiece.  The one book I did publish back in college is about the farthest thing from a masterpiece ever written.  So I don’t have to worry that I’ll never surpass my earlier work from an artistic standpoint.  (I already have surpassed my earlier work.  I just can’t seem to find the right publisher.)  As a novelist, I’m not in Jep’s situation, but I’ve often felt similar anxieties about my academic work.  (You know, if you complete the first assignment really well, what will the instructor expect from your second assignment?  I’ll bet a lot of people can relate to this type of anxiety.)

When pressed, Jep typically explains that he hasn’t written anything further because he has nothing else to say.  He’s not exactly happy about this situation.  I suppose you would call him resigned.  You could also call him realistic.  (The character is very believable.)  While he and I write very differently, I feel like I totally get this guy.  He could easily be someone that I know.  I mean, when I started college, about eighty percent of the guys I knew were budding philosophers dying to engage with the intellectual world and come away with all the answers.  Jep is like one of those guys forty-five years later.

I like him because he’s sincere.  He doesn’t want to pretend to know the meaning of life or pretend to want to know the meaning of life.  He actually wants to know the meaning of life.  He’s propelled by his relentless quest for meaning.  He never finds what he’s looking for, and by now he’s essentially given up hope that he ever will, but he still keeps looking, anyway, because it’s not like he has anything else to do.  His book has made him a celebrity.  He could behave like a pretentious guru.  Thanks to his celebrity, he would quickly attract a cult of followers.  But he prefers to be an ornery misanthrope.  (Now, as I said before, he does have a pretty carefully cultivated persona amongst his friends, but he seems to adopt that more for his own protection than from any desire to inculcate them to a cult of personality.)

One thing I really like about the movie is how almost every character is a foil for Jep.  It’s a very interesting move in terms of character development and overall film structure.  I mean, Jep basically moves from person to person, searching for meaning.  He seems to be on a first name basis with all of Rome.  Each time, he engages and seems to ask, “Do you have something worthwhile to tell me?”  The answer is always no, and he knows it will be, but he approaches each new encounter with a surprising amount of patience, always giving the new person the opportunity to prove him wrong about humanity.

He’s sort of like Socrates.  In fact, he’s exactly like Socrates—and not just because he never writes anything.  His entire day is taken up with engaging in dialectic with every single person he meets.  They behave as if he’s challenging them or expanding their worldview in his wisdom, but what he really wants is for them to enlighten him.    

The difference is, Socrates liked a good argument, and Jep communicates primarily through metaphor—often visual, sometimes poetic.  He (like the film) is a big fan of going, “Well, look at this.  What do you make of this?”  The person being asked usually assumes it’s a test when in fact it’s an honest question, and he genuinely wants to know.

So anyway, Jep goes along engaging with all of these disparate people, and he gets something from all of them, but none of them even comes close to giving him what he’s really after.  From a literary standpoint, what’s great about all this is that just about everybody else in the entire movie works as a foil for Jep.  (And even he is aware of this.  It’s like his mode of life, finding foils and trying to learn more about himself and the world.)

His two most pointed foils, in my opinion, are the disturbed young man and the “Saint” who arrives at the end of the story. 

The crazy adolescent essentially is Jep, an earlier incarnation of Jep.  When he approaches Jep in the restaurant talking about the books he’s read, the reply Jep gives him initially seems like a casual way of easing tension.  But actually, it’s very good and apt advice.  If the young man follows this advice, he will probably end up like Jep, unfulfilled and disillusioned, but sane and still breathing in old age.  On some level, the adolescent understands this, too.  That’s why his reply to Jep is so pointed and nasty.  He knows that Jep was like him, but he also knows that he will never be like Jep.  There is another option.

The Saint, meanwhile, is probably the most fascinating character in the whole film.  She’s definitely offered to us to make a point.  But are we supposed to notice how she differs from Jep or marvel at the similarities between the two?  To be honest, I’m not completely sure.  (The answer is probably both.)  For me, their similarities are remarkable.  She knows the names of all the flamingos, for example, and he knows by name virtually everyone in Rome.  I don’t want to spoil the ending of the movie, so I won’t go into great detail here.  I’ll just say that the Saint and Jep have a surprising amount in common, enough, in fact, that exploring what does make them different would certainly be worthwhile to him.

Several other really well rounded and compelling characters appear in the film, as well.  Probably my favorite of them is Jep’s editor, a confident woman who doesn’t feel intimidated when people mention that she’s a dwarf.

Best Scene:
I’m not letting my five-year-old see this movie.  Nudity and subtitles aside, I don’t want her watching that first long birthday party scene and getting any more ideas than she already has.  Seriously, I’m pretty sure that crazy pageant of excess is exactly what she has in mind for her next birthday.  (Her suggestions keep getting increasingly elaborate as the days go on, and she won’t be turning six until next January!  Who knows what she’ll have thought up by then!  No way is there room in our budget for that guy who disappears giraffes!)

Honestly, though, the party scenes are some of the most accessible and enjoyable of the entire film.  It’s so easy to get lost in them.  They’re just so fun and so easy to watch, exhilarating and relaxing all at once.  It’s like a big mash-up of The Great GatsbyThe Wolf of Wall Street, and Spring Breakers except instead of thinking judgmentally, “That’s so decadent!” instead you’re busy going, “Oooh!  Pretty!”

All the party scenes are cool, though.  Yeah, they may be kind of pointless, but that’s life, right?  (Seriously, I think every party would be cooler if you held it in an orchard, or you hired a screaming, painty child to entertain.)

Best Action Sequence:
Speaking of that screaming, painty child—I love that part!  Both my husband and I singled it out as a moment from the movie that leaves a lasting impression.  Again, I see an obvious metaphor for life.  Most of the time, we're all just like that kid, running around, covered in all kinds of paint, screaming our heads off—and then sometimes we take a step back and…wow!

So that’s the really obvious reading of the moment.  But there’s more there than that.  I also love Ramona’s reaction to the child, and the whole Ramona character, to be honest.  Sabrina Ferilli is just fantastic, and she somehow keeps getting increasingly beautiful as the film goes on.  I wish her character got more closure on camera, but this movie loves foils, and I know her entire story arc is an echo of the true love Jep experienced in his youth.  Their whole relationship is part of his grieving process even before any fresh grief gets brought into it.  I don’t want to talk more about that because it will spoil the movie.

Best Scene Visually:
This movie is just one amazing visual after another.  Watching The Great Beauty is like going to a rave in an art museum.  (In fact, that’s the kind of thing that actually happens in Jep’s day-to-day life.)

I told my husband, “I’ll bet a lot of artists struggle with anxiety of influence and worry that they can’t produce anything original or worthwhile in Rome because everywhere you go, Michelangelo statues are just lying all over the street.”  Rome is a great place to feel inferior.  I can imagine that nothing can make you despair of greatness like living among the ruins of a once great civilization.  There’s got to be some kind of weird “Ozymandius” effect of being an artist living in Rome and feeling inadequate to surpass the greatness of previous artists who are now dead and rotting.

My favorite thing about the entire film, though, is the extreme irony we get when The Saint shows up.  Early on, we’re shown that highly pretentious, contrived, disturbing (and possibly faked) piece of performance art.  And throughout the movie, Jep goes to one avant-garde social event after another.  At each party they seem determined to outdo the last.  Everyone is trying to create the most outrageous spectacle possible.  And yet which character ultimately provides some of the most outrageous spectacles in the movie, the most uncanny, unnerving uses of space and the human body?  It’s the person who is not trying to be outrageous or a spectacle.  The saint is just living her truth, yet around her, truly disturbing and potentially miraculous things happen.

(My husband also likes how the exit of the flamingos contrasts so beautifully with the disappearance of the giraffe.  I feel like I should mention that, though I’m being deliberately vague so that I don’t spoil the movie.)

The Negatives:
What might keep people from connecting with this film?  It’s over two hours long.  It’s in Italian.  And it’s very much an “art film,” not the type of plot-driven, formulaic piece we usually get from Hollywood.

Now suppose you love artsy foreign films.  Will you love The Great Beauty?  I don’t know.  I would imagine that knowing Fellini to a point would be helpful.  And then it’s also easy to imagine that knowing Fellini too well would make you like this imitation of Fellini less.  But I don’t know Fellini.  As I’ve said, I did see Rob Marshall’s Nine, and I do see definite similarities between the hang-ups of this protagonist and the protagonist of Nine.  Jep, to me, is a far more likable character, and the philosophical issues are addressed more deftly in The Great Beauty.  But for all I know, Fellini tackles these similar issues with the greatest skill and lightest hand or all.

So I’m afraid my “negatives” section is going to fall a bit short this time because I don’t feel like I have sufficient background to give the film the kind of critique it deserves.

One thing I do wish is that we knew more about the friend Jep verbally destroys at the party.  What he does is pretty harsh, but she’s definitely asking for it.  I’d just like to know why she’s behaving in such an aggressive way in the first place.  She’s clearly looking for a fight.  I wish we knew more about her motivations.

If you’re like me and do not have much knowledge Italian cinema, then I can tell you that you may find this movie confusing.  It’s not hard to follow in terms of plot.  Not that much happens (though something is always happening).  It’s just pretty hard as you’re watching to puzzle out the meaning of the film.  That’s really not a problem, though, because The Great Beauty is such a joy to watch even if you have absolutely no idea what any of it means.

It’s worth watching The Great Beauty just to hear the biting zinger about Flaubert the protagonist delivers when insulting his combative friend at a party.  If you have an intense aversion to subtitles or disappearing giraffes, then this is probably not the movie for you.  Honestly, though, while the film isn’t always easy to understand, it’s never hard to watch.  Rome is Rome, and who can resist a great party?  Funny, genuine, and often mesmerizing, The Great Beauty is a movie about life that transcends language.  Will it win an Oscar this Sunday night?  I don’t know, but I am so excited to watch the Academy Awards.  Here’s hoping something so crazy happens that the ceremony puts one of Jep Gambardella’s parties to shame!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Spring Movie Diary: RoboCop

Date: February 18, 2014
Time: 7:20 pm
Place: Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline
Company: Derrick

Food:  Dr. Pepper; shared tomato and basil pizza; spinach, artichoke, and feta dip with pita bread and veggies
Runtime:  1 hours, 48 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Director: José Padilha

Quick Impressions:
Last week, my husband and I were so excited to see The Monuments Men, and then on the way to the theater, we got in a wreck.  Before we could get off the highway, we saw four other wrecks (including one really scary one).  Could we have made it to the theater on time?  No.  Could we have made it to a later showing?  Probably.  But we weren’t particularly taken with the idea of driving across town, dragging the left half of our rear bumper while all around us people kept spinning out on the ice and hydroplaning all over the road.  So we went home and watched the Olympics instead.  (Tricks on the ice are way more fun to watch when they don’t end in fiery death.)

We could have seen The Monuments Men tonight, but as we hopped into our rental car, we both agreed it made more sense to see instead this week’s new release, RoboCop

I’ve never seen the original RoboCop.  Even I don’t know how that’s possible.  (Maybe it’s because I was eight the summer it came out, and it was rated R, though that argument is somewhat weakened by the strange fact that my parents let me watch Fatal Attraction the same year.

You’d think I would have at least seen it on TV as a kid.  I mean, when I was in elementary school, RoboCop was very cool, a huge cultural phenomenon.  (My husband’s seen it.  He tells me that the best part is when the bad guy asks one of his henchmen, “Can you fly, Bobby?” and then throws him out of the back of a moving car during high speed chase on the highway.  That sounds fun, I agree (though probably not for Bobby).)

My point is, I went into this movie with no preconceived notions of what a RoboCop movie ought to deliver.  (Well, I mean, I was expecting a guy in a robotic suit.  And I was pretty sure he was going to be some kind of cop.)

To my shock—because 1) action movies aren’t really my thing, and 2) action movies released in February are usually so bad—I really enjoyed this iteration of RoboCop.  It’s a cool movie, fun to watch and surprisingly philosophical.  Plus what it lacks in subtlety, it makes up for in Samuel L. Jackson.  (I got such a rush just watching Jackson having so much fun.  He makes such bold choices as an actor, and you can tell he’s really enjoying this role.)

The Good:
RoboCop would be a great movie to show to a high school class (if the administrators would let you).  It could spark some tremendous, productive philosophical discussions.  Even though the movie’s main goal is clearly entertainment, RoboCop is surprisingly deep.  It gives us a lot to think about.  I’m quite sure that after watching it (especially with prodding), some young viewers will realize, “Wait! There’s a hidden message in this movie,” and think they’re geniuses for finding it.

What does it mean to be human?  What separates humans from machines?  Is a human’s emotionally skewed discernment ever preferable to a machine’s unbiased rationality?  Do certain circumstances require human intervention, or is the mechanical efficiency of a well-built machine always superior?  Is what’s ethical always the same as what’s practical?

Probably my favorite thing about the film is that its most heroic supporting character is so terribly flawed.  This is not a movie where the “good guys” always make all the right choices at every minute.  In RoboCop, one of the people who ends up saving a key person’s life at the end makes some very ethically dubious choices before that. 

For an action movie, RoboCop features a surprisingly compelling assortment of characters.  In fact, throughout the movie, I kept vacillating.  At times, one character seems so much more sympathetic than the others.  Would this person turn out to be a villain in the end in a shocking plot twist?  Or would the person turn into a huge villain gradually?  Wondering about this made the film wonderfully engaging and legitimately suspenseful.  For a computer, everything is either black or white, good or bad, on or off.  But for a human, there are a lot of messy shades of gray.  Human life certainly isn’t perfect, neat, or particularly efficient.

The movie seems to suggest that navigating human life requires discernment and a grasp of nuance.  Robots don’t have that that kind of discernment.  People do.  But they don’t have to use it.  Behaving like a human and using one’s discernment is a choice.  RoboCop makes a pretty compelling case that to choose not to use human discernment is horrifically irresponsible.  Let machines be machines.  We're human.  We should act like it.

Another thing that I love about the movie is that it makes us question what about us makes us who we are.  (The answer is that it’s something inside us, maybe even something beyond our biochemistry. Whatever it is, it’s definitely not our exterior.)  In the same vein, the film features some of the most colorblind casting I’ve ever seen in an American action movie.  In RoboCop we cannot judge a person’s character based on what he or she looks like on the outside.  Now in real life, that principle is (hopefully) obvious.  But in action movies, it is really not all that obvious.  While watching the movie, I started thinking about race because of a joke that Alex’s partner makes when he returns wearing a black suit.  Then I realized, “The usual annoying racial stereotypes—or overcorrection of old stereotypes—are pretty much absent from this movie.”  RoboCop acts like race is just not a factor.  The color of someone’s skin really does not matter in this story.  Anyone can be a “bad guy.”  Anyone can be a “good guy.”  (But just like in real life, most characters in this story do the right thing at some moments, the wrong thing at others.)  I sure hope that ten years in the future, we all judge people’s actions on a case by case basis instead of making sweeping generalizations based on appearance. 

For an action movie, RoboCop is reasonably well written, and it’s superbly acted.  I will never understand why more action franchises don’t cast people who can act in the leading roles.  (I mean, yes, it’s nice to have a pretty star inspiring people to buy tickets, but if you cast somebody who excels at acting, your movie is just going to be so much better.)

The movie starts strong by giving us a very energized Samuel L. Jackson right off the bat.  RoboCop has done nothing to dissuade me of the notion that Jackson is the coolest person on earth, by the way.  He’s clearly having so much fun here, and yet he brings an intensity to the role that gives the movie a lot of extra power.  Jackson makes bold choices.  He seems like a smart guy.  He’s wonderfully charismatic, and he’s willing to take huge risks as an artist if that’s what it takes to make a great film.  (How many other people would even consider taking the role of an evil house slave, possibly even more villainous than his sociopathic master?  How many other people have had the opportunity to say, “Stop begging, George Lucas.  Fine, I’ll play a Jedi master in Star Wars, but only if you’ll let me have a purple light saber.”  That’s not a direct quote, but that’s what happened.)  Jackson’s one of a kind, and his performance draws us in immediately and adds a lot to the film.

Speaking of great actors, Gary Oldman (playing Dr. Dennett Norton) practically makes the movie.  He’s phenomenal here.  In his first scene, I thought, Well, it’s nice to see him, and it must be relaxing for him to play a role that doesn’t ask a lot of him as an actor.  Boy did I misjudge this movie!  An actor lacking Oldman’s caliber of talent and skill could never pull of his character.  And if the character was lackluster, the movie would probably be kind of disappointing, too.  You watch a movie like this and think, Well it’s a lot of fun, but this isn’t the kind of thing that wins Oscars.  Seriously, though, Oldman gives an Oscar worthy performance here.  (I’m not saying he’ll get a nomination.  That would be crazy.  But still, Gary Oldman is Gary Oldman, and he’s given a lot more to work with in RoboCop than I initially expected.)  (One weird thing—I kept mishearing and thinking people were calling him “Bennett Gordon.”  I thought, Surely his last name can’t be Gordon.  They’d rewrite the script and change the character’s name after casting Oldman, wouldn’t they?  But apparently, the answer is, I’m just deaf.)

Another great actor is Michael Keaton.  Seriously, he’s kind of an 1980s icon, anyway, because of stuff like Batman and Beetlejuice, but people tend to kind of overlook what a great actor he can be.  I don’t understand why Keaton has been absent from mainstream cinematic attention for so long.  I’m not aware of anything serious that he’s done recently outside of his voice work for Pixar, so maybe there’s a story there I don’t know.  I’ll have to read up on Keaton later.  But I know I was really glad to see him, and I think he’s wonderful in the part of Omnicore “visionary” Raymond Sellars.

Jackie Earle Haley is yet another heavy-hitting actor in the cast.  He’s great as the abrasive Rick Mattox.  If a lesser actor were playing the part, the character would be so forgettable.  (I know because I’ve seen and failed to be impressed by a lot of action movies.)  Haley makes Mattox so entertaining and yet so easy to root against.

Michael K. Williams is really great, too.  (I wish he had a bigger part.  I liked his character a lot, and I wanted to see more of him.)  In smaller roles, Jay Baruchel, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, and Patrick Garrow also excel. 

Meanwhile, Jennifer Ehle keeps up her tradition of being completely unrecognizable to me when she’s not speaking with an English accent.  (Seriously, I have some kind of mental block when it comes to Ehle.  Not only do I fail to recognize her every time she’s not British, but I always spend at least half the movie thinking, Who is that woman?  She’s too strong an actress not to be somebody.  She looks a little like Meryl Streep, but she can’t be her daughter, because her main daughter looks exactly like Meryl Streep.  Still she seems like she must be somebody’s daughter.  When I saw her name in the end credits, I was like, Seriously, brain?  Every time Jennifer Ehle is in a movie you go through this same thought process.  (Seriously I did it when I saw her in Zero Dark Thirty and The Ides of March.)  You can’t remember that’s Jennifer Ehle?  And while we’re on the subject, I doubt Meryl Streep introduces Mamie Gummer to people by saying, “This is my main daughter.”  And by the way, Ehle is the daughter of Rosemary Harris.)

Abbie Cornish also made an impression on me as Alex’s wife, something she’s failed to do in the past. As written, the character has a lot of potential, and Cornish delivers in the role.

The new RoboCop himself, Joel Kinnaman is a complete unknown to me (though according to his filmography, I saw him in the American remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).  I think he’s as convincing as anyone can be as a guy who’s still functioning after losing everything but his face, one eye, parts of his brain, a hand, and his heart and lungs.  Casting someone who isn’t well known was probably a smart move.  We don’t have to worry about what star we’re watching.  We just believe that Kinnaman is RoboCop and enjoy the story as it unfolds.  And he is, honestly, a pretty good actor.

Best Scene:
Samuel L. Jackson bookends this entire piece pretty brilliantly.  Before we even set eyes on Alex Murphy (played by a guy who is not a recognizable star), we get sucked into the energetic, charismatic performance of Jackson.  What we see on his show-within-a-show is pretty gripping.  I actually found myself surprised to be so drawn into the early action scene in “sunny Tehran.”  The way the scene ends—and particularly Jackson’s reaction to it—really gets our attention.  And Jackson’s final scene—well, I won’t soon forget it.  That’s for sure.

I’m also a big fan of the moment when a character whose ultimate destiny has been unclear finally decides to do the right thing.

Best Action Sequence:
The ending of the movie is strangely gripping.  I usually find it hard to lose myself in action movies, but this time I felt a surge of adrenaline and realized I really wanted RoboCop to win.  Even more than that, I wanted the “bad guy” to lose.

Honestly, though, the early training exercise thought up by Jackie Earle Haley’s character is pretty well choreographed as well, and the music they use there is interesting. 

Best Scene Visually:
The way Robocop sees the world is cool.  I’m a big fan of the way his interaction with his wife looks, when she stops him in the street to give him some news about their son.

The Negatives:
In case you somehow miss the cautionary tale buried in this action flick, in case you somehow fail to notice the real world application of the moral of this story, in case that’s just too much for you to follow, for your convenience in the final scene of the film, Samuel L. Jackson turns to stare directly into the camera and then screams out the warning you should take home with you at the top of his lungs. 

So if you leave RoboCop unaware that the filmmakers want you to ponder something that applies to present day politics, then I don’t really know what to say to you.  Nothing I say can possibly be as effective as Samuel L. Jackson yelling at the top of his lungs right in your face.  I mean, maybe I could ask Jackson if he’d be willing to throw his costume on, get into character, and then come yell at you in person.  That might work.  But chances are, you’d be too star struck in his presence, and you’d just miss the point again.

Okay, so this movie is not subtle.  At all.  For a while, it seems like it’s thinking about being subtle, but it just can’t contain itself.  It’s far too excited to drive the point home.

Doubtless, some people will find these shenanigans off-putting, particularly because Samuel L. Jackson seems so gleefully delighted by the whole thing.  (Curiously, one patron at our theater burst into applause near the end of Jackson’s final speech, but then abruptly stopped applauding.  I will admit that I was confused about the motivation for the applause, and that makes me realize that some people may interpret the movie differently than others.)

The thing is, I don’t fault the movie too much for this lack of subtlety because Jackson’s performance is also satirical.  He’s clearly doing his best impression of a type of person (some might even say a particular person) in order to point out the follies of that person/way of thinking.  So of course he’s not being subtle or allowing for any sort of nuance.  That’s the point.

I’m positive that this ending is going to rub many people the wrong way, however, because of its pointed heavy-handedness.  Sometimes you can watch a movie knowing (on some level) that  you disagree with a few of its underlying premises as long as those premises never get stated explicitly.  But when the final scene of the movie features a character clearly screaming out very specific ideas, it’s a little harder to pretend that the movie is just mindless action and nothing more.

For me, the much larger problem with RoboCop is the way it glosses over all those pesky details at the end.  It does one of those convenient time jumps that we almost always get in children’s programming after a situation becomes far too complicated to sort out within the allotted time frame.  (It’s very frustrating for children that movies and television teach you exactly how to get into trouble but are so vague when it comes to what you need to do to resolve the messes you create.)  Maybe I’m just intrinsically fearful of people with power and money, but to me, what happens in the last action scene seems like such a mess that leaves so many people hideously vulnerable.  I’m glad everything gets straightened out in the end, but I must admit I find the fair, just, “and they all lived happily ever after” bit hard to believe.

The only huge downside of the movie is that it forces you to think about advance directives.  On the way home from the theater, I had to ask my husband if he would want me to sign the papers allowing him to be turned into a RoboCop.  (Of course, this is very pressing.)  Now making me into a RoboCop would not be an issue.  I know I’d never pass their stringent psych evaluation.  I’d be deemed too unstable.  My only hope would be that when they ran my bloodwork, they’d notice a teeming midi-chlorian count and decide I have the makings of a Sith Lord.  (I certainly have the emotional maturity of one.)  I’m joking, of course, but the movie does force you to think about what you would do if your significant other were blown to bits, which is rather depressing.

And then of course there’s that glaring omission that this movie never discusses.  The robotic suit gives Alex Murphy back all the body parts that he needs—in a movie rated PG-13.  When I mentioned my anxieties to my husband, he decided that instead of worrying, I should just watch the pornographic film inspired by RoboCop (which undoubtedly exists given how few seconds it takes to think of the obvious title).  Now obviously, my concern about certain body parts is a bit juvenile, but don’t you think it would be highly important to the character himself?  It’s hard to imagine anyone exclaiming, “Gee!  How awesome it would be to have no genitals!”  (There probably are people out there who wish they had no genitals, but I’m confident they’re in the minority.)  With something like that, sexual function is just the tip of the iceberg.  And moving beyond just genitalia, beyond even sexuality, I think Alex’s situation is more complex and thorny than the movie acknowledges. 

Alex Murphy no longer has a human body.  He has very little flesh.  (Thankfully he does have a mouth and one hand, so he can still connect with other people in a human way.)  But surely being mostly machine is going to make returning to family life difficult.  (I mean, right now, he seems to live in a laboratory, which must put a strain on his relationship with his wife.)  Now I know that this is not the kind of film that addresses these concerns, but to me, the ending seems less happy than it wants to be because both Alex’s wife and their son are bound to have ongoing psychological distress because of Alex’s unusual condition.  Maybe what he’s like on the outside shouldn’t matter, but it probably does matter to him and to his loved ones.  To be fair, though, I will admit that the film may be deliberately encouraging us to think about the often unseen, long-term effects of surviving violence.

RoboCop is a cool, fun, surprisingly insightful action movie, and I enjoyed it way more than I ever thought I would.  The cast is superb, and the story not only delivers thrills and excitement, but it also asks some genuinely thought-provoking philosophical questions.  If this is the kind of movie they’re releasing in February this year, then I’m extremely excited about the blockbusters that await us this summer!