Sunday, May 25, 2014

Summer Movie Diary: X-Men: Days of Future Past (2D)

Date: May 24, 2014
Time: 3:00 pm
Place: Cinemark NextGen Stone Hill Town Center
Company: Derrick, Grayson, Penelope

Food:  shared popcorn, mixed red and blue Icee
Runtime:  2 hours, 11 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Director: Bryan Singer

Quick Impressions:
I’ve been five thousand times more excited to see X-Men: Days of Future Past than any other movie coming out this summer, so excited, in fact, that now that I’ve seen it, I feel like the summer is as good as over as far as movies are concerned.

Given my history, I shouldn’t have liked this movie because in the past, I’ve loved every other one (not the first, but the second, not the third, but the fourth).  For me, Singer’s first X-Men was just okay.  (Though I’ve got nothing against Anna Paquin and Hugh Jackman, Rogue generally bores me, and it’s taken me an unusually long time to warm up to Wolverine.)  I loved X2, however.  I loved it a lot.  That’s because I love Magneto.  In my own days of future past, whenever anyone asked me, “Who’s your favorite of the X-Men,” I didn’t even have to pause to think.  It’s Magneto by a mile.  (I realize, of course, that X-Man in the singular is not really a thing, and Magneto is not exactly one of the X-Men, but still.  How can anyone not love Magneto?  He’s brilliantly played by Ian McKellan, he has amazing, seemingly unique powers, and whenever tiresome, annoying jerks show up, he kills them.) 

The only part of the third movie I even remember is the tragic scene when Magneto and Mystique part company, and I remember it because I didn’t like it.  (I like it better when we see the more sympathetic side of Magneto.)

But now, X-Men: First Class, that was all about Magneto.  Suddenly he was young, intense as ever, given his own catchy bass-line theme, played by Michael Fassbender, essentially the star of the movie.  We got to spend a long time probing the tortured complexities of his relationship with Professor Xavier (another character I like), and we got a new and ten zillion times more interesting Mystique, now played by the endlessly watchable Jennifer Lawrence.  X-Men: First Class focuses on all the characters I like best, and features actors I adore.  I think it’s fantastic.
But now, how could any movie successfully cram all the stars of that movie and the stars of the previous X-Men trilogy in to a single feature film and come up with anything coherent let alone cohesive?  That’s what I’ve been wondering all this time.  Part of me worried that this movie might turn into a bit of a train wreck, but I’m happy to report that it’s actually every bit as good as I’d hoped and quite a bit better than I’d expected.
I’m pleased they kept Matthew Vaughn around as a story collaborator and happy to have ­Bryan Singer back in the director’s chair.  Hopefully they won’t have to break Singer out of a high security prison in order to make the next film in the series.

The Good:
I don’t read the X-Men comics, so if you’re looking for a report on how faithful this movie is to the original storyline as presented in the comics, I’m afraid I can’t enlighten you.  I have, however, read no fewer than four headlines complaining about the fact that in the comics, Kitty Pryde goes back in time, while in the movie, this mission is reassigned to Wolverine.  I haven’t read the articles yet (because I didn’t want to spoil the movie), just the headlines, but I do feel qualified to explain and defend that decision. 

If the one-line synopsis of your movie is, “Wolverine travels back in time to prevent a robot apocalypse,” you know you’re going to sell tickets faster than you can print them.  If you try to spin it any other way, you end up saying, “You know that girl who played Juno?  No, you know her.  She was in Inception, remember?  You know.  She just came out recently.  Surely you heard about that.  Okay, remember, she’s Kitty Pryde…well, in the third one she is.  In the second one, someone else plays that part, but that’s not important right now.  Who’s Kitty Pryde?  Well, remember she can walk through stuff.  No you know…”

Unless you read the comics, or you lived with my college roommate, you probably know way less about Kitty Pryde than you do about Wolverine.  So comic fans may be (justifiably) disappointed in this change, but for everyone else, it just makes sense.  For general audiences (i.e. people who aren’t invested in the comics or in the social allegory of the X-Men franchise), Wolverine is definitely the biggest star of the series, and Jackman is easily the biggest box office draw (though Jennifer Lawrence is—for this particular moment—practically right there with him).

So the movie is about Wolverine travelling back in time to prevent a robot apocalypse, and it stars basically everyone famous from every previous X-Men movie.  The largest parts go to Jackman, Lawrence, Fassbender, James McAvoy, and Nicholas Hoult with decent screentime as well for Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan, some key moments for Shawn Ashmore (as Bobby Drake) and Ellen Page (as Kitty Pryde, who does play a crucial role), a very nice action scene for Halle Berry as Storm, and essentially glorified cameos for every other lovable mutant imaginable.  The film also introduces some exciting new mutants (our favorites were Evan Peters as Quicksilver and Bingbing Fan as Blink), and even finds a rather showcased supporting role for everybody’s favorite Lannister, Peter Dinklage.

Ordinarily with a cast that large and star-studded, the result you get is either a) chaos or b) extremely fragmented.  I was pretty stunned that this film manages to give all of the central players actual character arcs and development.  Very few people are simply along for the ride. 

I’ve always thought that the most fascinating relationship in the X-Men universe is the tormented friendship between Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, and Professor X and Magneto (as dually played by James McAvoy/Patrick Stewart and Michael Fassbender/Ian McKellan) get an astonishing amount of time and development in this film.  I’ve always said that I’d watch an entire movie of Professor X and Magneto playing chess, and, essentially, that’s what this movie gives us.  They’re playing chess on a very large stage (that crosses vast amounts of space and time), and even when they’re not together onscreen, their overlapping torment and warring ideologies remain the driving force of the film.  As everyone should expect, Jennifer Lawrence is also quite captivating as Mystique, a third player in this strange game.

What really surprised me, though, is how much of the story focuses on Wolverine.  His side-story never detracts from the central plot, but he’s really there as a three-dimensional character, not as simply a convenient plot device.

For young children, the story may occasionally be hard to follow.  It’s really best if you’ve seen as many other X-Men movies as possible.  As with X-Men: First Class, this film always keeps us busy intellectually.  It’s not that it’s intricately plotted or full of confusing twists.  It’s just that it keeps tossing out philosophical quandaries, warring ideologies, and provocative possibilities.  It’s overflowing with so much subtext that you can expect your grandchildren to be studying the screenplay in their high school English class (kind of like how we all had to read The Crucible).

There’s so much to love about this movie.  I love the way James McAvoy plays Charles Xavier like he’s a tormented heroin addict, perpetually on the verge of a total breakdown.  I love the way Wolverine tells Beast that they can change the future (because at that moment, I suddenly realized what to expect from the final scene).  I love the idea that the past is fluid, and that free will does matter.

Days of Future Past benefits from tons of action, superb acting, brilliant intensity from its cast, and abundant humor and intelligence.  It’s just a summer blockbuster, but it’s one that proves that entertainment need not be devoid of substance.  A film can be light and fun without being meaningless.  Also did I mention that Wolverine goes back in time to save the world from a robot apocalypse? 

This is clearly the must-see movie of Memorial Day Weekend 2014.

Best Scene Visually:
My husband, our children, and I all emphatically agree that the best new character in the movie is Quicksilver (aka Peter aka a guy whose mom once dated somebody with a very particular set of skills).  (It’s not Liam Neeson, and that’s all I’m saying for now.)

Played by Evan Peters, this guy has amazing powers and is consistently hilarious and cool.  The highlight of the first half of the movie is his slow-motion action scene which looks amazing, makes us laugh, and gets added bonus points for its apt and clever use of the 1970s era song “Time in a Bottle.”

Funniest Scene:
X-Men: Days of Future Past has a great sense of humor and is full of sly jokes, but the humor never becomes obnoxious or upstages the drama in any way.  Both Wolverine and Magneto are great at cracking jokes even at the bleakest moments, Evan Peters has a flare for comedy, and Singer allows comedy to arise naturally from serious situations.  (That seems like an obvious thing to do since there’s a kind of comedy inherent in human life, but some filmmakers—going for a serious tone—are careful to suppress any hint of intrinsic humor.)

Anyway, I don’t know if it really counts as the funniest scene, but here’s what sticks in my mind. After picking up a girl in a bar, one man gets an encounter he doesn’t expect.  At the end, his new “friend” finds a convenient way of restraining him while going through his stuff.  The humor here is all non-verbal, but it’s definitely present.  It sticks in my mind because it so delighted my five-year-old daughter, who reacted by chuckling out loud, a single, satisfied, “Huh!”

Best Scene:
When Peter Dinklage first pitches his new scheme around the table, he gets a nasty shock, followed by an even nastier shock, and then some more surprises, and then even more unexpected mayhem.

What’s great about this scene is that so many characters’ lives converge all at once.  This is a crucial moment for several people.  Even Wolverine finds himself caught up in unexpected personal drama here.

A close second to this is the conversation Hank, Charles, and Logan have about the problem of time travel.  Hank points out a problem a number of famous physicists continually mention about the idea of changing the past.  I think the film makes a smart choice by engaging openly with this piece of science fact, and I love Charles Xavier’s response.
Best Action Sequence:
Magneto definitely knows how to make an entrance.  He manages to command quite a bit of attention near the end by acting out a drama in center stage.  This entire process looks impressive (and exhausting).  We see that he really must have tremendous power.  In this climactic action sequence, though, the tension in the Charles-Erik-Raven triangle comes to a head, and all three of them get the chance to show what they’re made of in highly dramatic fashion.

The Negatives:
I remember when X-Men: First Class came out and a lot of people started noticing, “Isn’t it weird that Magneto doesn’t have a British accent anymore?”

Well, now he does.

I wondered how Singer would handle the problem of a young Magneto without an English accent, and an older Magneto with a pointedly English accent.  I sort of love his solution.  With utterly no explanation, Michael Fassbender’s Magneto now speaks in an English accent just like Ian McKellan’s.  The only difference is that Fassbender’s accent is more subtle, as if the filmmakers expect us to believe that he’s had the accent this whole time, and we just somehow failed to notice it when we watched him in X-Men: First Class.  Of course, I’m not sure this is really a problem.

Maybe this Magneto always did have an English accent since the entire story seems to take place in some kind of parallel reality.  Maybe Magneto has a whole exciting grab bag of differing accents that vary depending on which dimension you find him in.

Honestly, I really have no problem with anything in this movie.  I’m not saying that it’s the most perfect, life-altering, mind-blowing film ever created in all of time.  But it’s pretty solid summer entertainment that actually delivers on all its promise.

I will say that Ellen Page and Halle Berry are in the movie just enough to make us realize that they ought to be in it more.  Both actresses have plenty of screentime, but their characters don’t really get to do very much.  Though what each does is crucial, all they do is facilitate the main story.  They don’t get stories of their own in the way that Logan, Charles, Erik, and Raven do.  If Kitty Pryde is so crucial to this storyline in the comics, she probably should get a more fleshed out role here because as the movie stands, I think Bobby Drake has a more interesting part.

If you like X-Men movies, or if you like any of the stars of this movie, or even if you just enjoy going to the movies, then you are probably going to like X-Men: Days of Future Past.  As this movie shows very effectively, there are certainly worse choices you can make than sitting in a darkened movie theater for a couple of hours not bothering anybody.  If you’re like me and don’t want to alter the entire course of human history for the worse, then I insist you err on the side of caution and get yourself to a movie theater to see Days of Future Past at your earliest opportunity.

After the movie, we all tried to decide which mutant had the powers we coveted most.  My stepson decided, “I liked Blink, the one who can make portals.”  My daughter chimed in, “I liked the blue girl, the one who can be Jennifer Lawrence,” because being Jennifer Lawrence right now would be a pretty awesome super power, let’s face it.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Penelope Says

April 14

Penelope is planning to make a movie about her life. This is her storyboard for the first scene. "That's you and me, Mom, when you first took me home." [picture]
3:40 pm

April 15

What amazed me about that eclipse (which is still happening) is not so much how dark red the moon became at the end, but how insanely bright it was just before going dark.
3:10 am

In the middle of dinner...
Mom: There's chocolate pudding for dessert.
Penelope: (immediately) I'M DONE!
(We all laugh)
Penelope: I'm serious. I'm full of dinner, but I'm still a little hungry.
Mom: You want that pudding.
Penelope: (in outrage) I DO NOT! (sweetly) I want those marshmallow Easter bunnies I saw on the table.
8:13 pm

Penelope: (as she takes my picture with my camera in the bluebonnets) Perfect. Perfect. Now just turn this way a little bit. Now I just need one more. And one more.
Me: (suspiciously) Are any of these turning out?
Penelope: (insulted) Um, yeah! They're all turning out. I'm doing a great job. Every one of these pictures is magical!
10:16 pm

Penelope: Oh Mom, you would look so lovely in these. Take a picture of you.
Me: Do you want to take it?
Penelope: No, no. You take a picture of yourself. I'm just going to run and play way over there.
Me: Well, let's see. I don't know if this will work.
(I feel a rush of wind behind me)
Penelope: (laughing hysterically) Haha! I totally photobombed you!
11:04 pm [add picture]

April 16

Penelope: Write Book Eight of The Kitty Princess by Penelope.
Me: Here. You write "Penelope."
Penelope: Okay. Now you write, Penelope is coming on an adventure with the kitties to an island with an X on the water. There's a sand piece, water, and an X with palm trees. What could be buried there? (spookily) We don't KNOOOOOOOWWWWWW!
Me (writing it down): So what happens when they get to the island?
Penelope (like I'm certifiably insane) Well we can't skip that far ahead!!!!!
Me: So what do we do now?
Penelope: (rolling her eyes) Well, they have to pack their suitcase!
(She then spends the next twenty minutes dictating to me what they all packed in their suitcases)
Penelope:...And she packed a lot of phones.
Me: What for?
Penelope: (like I'm dumb, with a shrug) Texting. (explains patiently) She needed phones for texting her boyfriend even though Spike was coming, too. Spike packed a lot of romantic tuxedos.
12:18 pm

Me: So did you have fun with Grandma and Grandpa?
Penelope: Oooh! (singing out) That remiiiiiiiiiinds meee! We got something so nice!
Me: What is it?
Penelope: Well, I'm sure you've heard the legend of the Keeblers who have their workshops in the hollow tree?
2:41 pm

Penelope: Mommy, will you tell this bunny the story of Little Red Riding Hood? I yove you.
Me: I yove you, too, but I'd rather not tell this bunny the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Who is this weird bunny, anyway? He looks suspicious to me.
Penelope: I agree.
Me: He looks like he's up to something.
Penelope: Well, yes, he is. He's been my nemesis for years.
9:20 pm

Penelope: That dog was so loud. He was probably scared the kitty away.
Grandma: He probably did.
Penelope: He'd better not scare Rosie away because she's my kitty. I love her. She's like my baby to me. I'll protect her. If a dog attacks her, I will fight that dog. If he tries to hurt my little Rosie kitty, I'll kill that dog!
Grandma: Where do you bury your dead?
Penelope: I'll bury him in the front yard.
(Moments later)
Derrick: (calmly) It's very nice that you love your kitty. I would recommend not picking fights with random dogs...
9:26 pm

Derrick: I think I saw the Easter bunny in the front yard this morning.
Penelope: Really?
Derrick: I think Rosie saw him, too! Hopefully she didn't eat him.
Me: Yeah, hopefully Rosie doesn't eat the Easter Bunny. That would be a disaster.
Penelope: But on the other hand, it would be good for Rosie to get some nutrition.
10:25 pm

April 17

Penelope (as we carry our books toward the library, overflowing with excitement): I just can't wait until we see the bear movie this weekend.
Me: (unaware that we were seeing the bear movie this weekend): Oh yeah?
Penelope: There's so much I can't wait to find out. I have so many theories. I can't wait to see those cute little bears having their adventures. (Prattles on an on about this at great length, then) I don't know what the fathers do. I didn't see anything about the father in the commercials. Maybe they don't even have a father. Maybe there are no fathers in the bear world. Maybe the little bears just spring up from the earth when the mother feels lonely. Maybe that's how it works for bears.
Me: No I don't think it works that way for bears. I pretty sure it doesn't work that way for anyone.
Penelope: We'll find out when we see the movie.
8:08 pm

Penelope: I was singing as a man. I was singing about "being away from you," because that's what men sing, about how they don't like being away from their wife. I sing my songs as a man because that's the way I have to make them.
9:58 pm

Penelope: Now I'll sing as the woman. "Oh baby, baby! Come back to me! I'll rush to your side like we're having tea!"
10:01 pm

April 18

Me: It's time for bed.
Penelope: Not yet! I have to get this place all cleaned up for Grandma!
Me: I will clean up after you go to sleep.
Penelope: No, Mom. I love you, but we'd better work together. Just trust me. Trust me. Together we will get this place cleaned up for Grandma spit spot. (As she cleans) And when Grandma sees how neat and tidy we have shined up this place, she will know we did it for her, and she will see how much we love her. She'll know we did it for her because, let's face it, there's no other reason you would have did it!
Me: (after she's been cleaning for forty minutes) Your kitchen looks great, but let's go to bed now.
Penelope: No Mom! Not yet! My work is not done yet!
Me: Well hurry.
Penelope: Grandma is going to be so pleased when she sees how clean I have made this room.
Me: I think we're done.
Penelope: No, Mom! Vamonos! Vamonos! I say vamonos to give me the energy I need because I know I can do it. Vamonos! Vamonos! Soon it will all be spit spot.
Derrick: (waking up from dozing) Wow! This place is looking clean.
Penelope: I have been working hard! This place is going to be spit spot, I tell you. Spit spot! There won't even be a single bit of spit! Not even a spot! Everything is going to be spit spot before you know it!

She literally spent an hour cleaning the downstairs.
1:50 am

Penelope: Working is a very hard job!
1:51 am

April 19

Penelope (with the eggs we have just dyed): No, no! You're putting the eggs in the wrong place. Over here!
Me: Well, I don't want them to fall off the table.
Penelope: But we want them arranged in the best way for the Easter bunny to enjoy them when he first comes into the room. Now let's try to imagine it. (She steps through the back door onto the porch, then acts out his interest) Now he'll come in through here, and he'll be throwing eggs everywhere, here and there...So I think (she adjusts the eggs)...yes...
7:12 pm

April 20

While watching The Easter Beagle...
Penelope: That's so funny Peppermint Patty and Marcie don't know Snoopy's a dog.
Me: Yeah, they just think he's a funny looking kid.
Penelope: And Lucy calls him a beagle!
Me: Well, he is a beagle.
Penelope: He is?! Oh! But isn't there another kind of beagle you eat for breakfast?
Me: Oh, you're thinking of a bagel. It sounds like beagle.
Penelope: (laughs) Oh I see!
Me: Here comes the Easter Bagel! That would be a very different story!
Penelope: Oh! They should do that! They should have an Easter bagel at restaurants. They could just put it on the menu at Easter.
Me: Here comes the Easter Bagel!
Penelope: Right! It would be a great idea to make the menu exciting for Easter.
Me: But what would be on the Easter bagel?
Penelope: Eggs of course. Fried eggs on top of the beagles. I mean the bagels.
Me: With colored yolks for Easter?
Penelope: No they'd just be regular eg...NO! That's a great idea! They could serve Easter eggs on top and give the customers a giant mallet so they would have to smash them open first before they could eat them! That would be a fun idea!
11:42 am

Penelope: (talking about one of her stuffed dogs) Brownie Williams. That's Brownie's real name. Brownie Williams. He was an orphan when I found him. All of my kids are adopted except the two Pinkies and Dinah. Penella Peep's real name is Penella Peep Kitty.

I would expect a bunch of stuffed cats and dogs (and a stuffed Peep) to be adopted. I'm more surprised by the news that she apparently gave birth to two blankets and a stuffed cat from Neptune!
1:20 pm

Penelope told us earlier that if all her animals don't wake up early and sit quietly through mass, she's going to ground them all from kindergarten for a week! She has now gathered them in a bunch in the living room and is blowing bubbles on them.

She just announced, "I am blowing bubbles on my kids to let them know that they are not abandoned from God. They thought that God abandoned them because they didn't hear Him speaking down from heaven. But I told them that's not how it works. Their prayers always go up to God. Now I'm sending them bubbles down to them to show to them how God's messages come down all around and answer them."
2:53 pm

Every time Penelope sang "alleluia" or "I will raise you up," her little trill made it sound like the church was haunted. She was being so sincere, but it was so hard not to giggle.
6:26 pm

My purse got all tangled up in my camera strap...
Derrick: (trying to help) You almost made a lark's head knot.
Me: I'm just a natural.
Penelope: (from the backseat) Look Grandma, in the dust on my window I drew a picture of Sandra Bullock in Gravity.
Mom: Your parents are pretty entertaining. (Suddenly registers what Penelope said) You drew a picture of Sandra Bullock in Gravity?!!
Penelope: Yes, she's way up here in the top corner. I made a circle for her mouth, so you can see she's really distressed.
6:44 pm

Apparently while I was in the shower, the Easter Bunny came back and hid all of Penelope's eggs again! On top of all that, she actually met him. "Why didn't you tell me?" I asked, "I wanted to meet him, too." She replied, "You couldn't have seen him, anyway. He's invisible, and only I have invisible powers."
7:06 pm

I think I see where this is going. It will probably keep going on until she's 20. The Easter Bunny will show up and hide eggs, but only when one of us is out of the room. We'll never get to talk to him at the same time!
9:21 pm

April 21

On our walk...
Penelope: (who has built a bunny trap on the front porch) When we get home, we'll have to check and see if there's a bunny in my trap.
Me: If there is, what will you do with him?
Penelope: Well, I'll do everything with him! I'll bring him in, paint his nails, make him some dinner, let him watch a little TV. He'll have free rein of the place!
Me: That sounds like a pretty sweet deal for the bunny.
Penelope: Well, yeah.
Me: Maybe you don't even need a trap. Maybe you could just put an ad online and find bunnies that way.
(Penelope rolls her eyes)
Me: (innocently) What?
Penelope: (shaking her head) Bunnies don't have phones.
Me: Well maybe they have access to an old desktop.
Penelope: What's an old deskcock?
Me: An old (enunciating carefully) desktop?
Penelope: Well, whatever it is, I'm sure you already know bunnies don't have one.
8:19 pm

On the playground...
Penelope: Mom, is it "free rein" or "free range"?
Me: When the bunny gets free rein of the place?
(She nods)
Me: It's free rein.
Penelope: Then why do I hear some people saying free range?
Me: Well free range means something different. If you had built a cow trap instead of a bunny trap...(I try to explain the difference, then halfway through realize I don't actually know what I'm talking about) Free reign r-e-i-g-n has to do with the ruling of a king or queen.
Penelope: So my bunny will be a queen.
Me: Yes...well...wait. Maybe that's not right. Maybe it's r-e-i-n like reindeer, like a horse gets control of its own reins.
Penelope: Or a bunny.
Me: Yes, like there is no rein. You're free. I'll bet it's that. I'll have to look.
(Later as we race home to beat the rain)
Me: Ahhh! I just felt a big drop by my eye! We'd better hurry.
Penelope: Because soon the rain will have free rein of this place! Get it, Mom?
8:25 pm

As we pick up laundry in the master bedroom...
Penelope: It's dark!
Me: It is dark! Let's turn on the light! The light is already on! Then why is it so dark?
Penelope: I'm afraid of the dark.
Me: "The baby bat screamed out in fright, (in a squeaky little bat voice) 'Turn on the dark, I'm afraid of the light.'"
Penelope: (giggles) Do it again.
(I do.)
Penelope: That's so funny! Where did you hear that?
Me: That's Shel Silverstein.
(We repeat it several times, then just she keeps saying it over and over as I gather laundry.)
Penelope: How do you turn on the dark?
Me: Well that's part of what makes it so funny. Usually kids want to turn on the light, but he's a little bat, so he's nocturnal and used to the darkness. So he wants to turn on the dark. But you don't turn on the dark, of course. Darkness isn't like a thing. Darkness is what comes when you turn off the light. Well...but, of is already very dark, but we don't even see it until light enters the picture and interrupts the status quo. So... obviously darkness is a thing. It's probably quite a lot of things...
(Penelope goes downstairs to tell the poem to grandma while I go on realizing what an idiot I am and wondering why these questions about light and dark haven't been keeping me awake all night before now.)
In the laundry room...
Penelope: So that bat is basically exactly the opposite of me.
Me: (nodding) Makes sense. Do you sleep upside down?
Penelope (taking this differently than I'd intended, with a thoughtful shrug) Well, I'll give it a try.
(A few minutes later)
Penelope (sitting at the kitchen table): Turn on the dark! Like you can turn on the dark! (laughing) That is the lamest thing that I've ever heard in the whole history of the world!
8:52 pm

Peg + Cat is so hilarious. I'm starting to wonder how many episodes about getting stuck in a tree they can pull off.
11:51 pm

April 22

If you start the day at the dentist, you finish off the night with a peep kabob. Surely that's some kind of proverb, right?
11:22 pm

April 24

Me (reading): Filled with light and color, many of his paintings showed the happy side of life.
Penelope (giggling hysterically, with wicked glee): Except not this one!
Me (reading): Would you like to be dressed this way?
Penelope: Um. No.
Me (reading): Why.
Penelope: Because--look at him! I don't think there's anything I need to explain!

We agree that the big-eyed kitty is planning to eat the bird, the shifty kitty is planning to eat the big-eyed kitty, and the kitty in the shadows is planning to eat everyone!
3:28 pm [picture]

Me (reading): Can you think of two different words to describe the texture [of the child's dress]?
Penelope: Well "big" and "psycho" come to mind.
Me: No but the texture of the dress. How would it feel to touch it?
Penelope: It would hurt because if I got close enough to touch his dress, that psycho baby would whack me with his mallet and say, "GET AWAY FROM MY DRESS OR I WILL KILL YOU WITH MY MALLET!"
3:34 pm [picture]

I realize I never said my dad was in a procedure, but he's out now and resting. I just talked to him, so anybody who knew he was in surgery can now know he's out successfully. My mom will be posting more details later.
6:23 pm

April 25

Penelope's initial reaction to her "kid's slice"--"Why did they only give me two pieces?" Now she has gone into a New York style trance!
1:40 pm

Waiting to hear if Mom and Dad got a hospital room yet or need us to stay, found the most beautiful place on earth...
3:08 pm

So allegedly there is a Starbucks 450 feet from us, but where is it???? Where is it?????????? Where????
3:59 pm

Sooo...the only available room in San Antonio seems to be in Austin. Meanwhile we'll just hang out at Starbucks until Dad gets a room.
4:14 pm

Penelope (who has been talking to Derrick at great length as we sit in the car): So now Daddy, we are going to play a different game. It's going to be called The Golden Goose...

I love the way she says, "So, Daddy, so..." in the middle to make sure she's got his attention, and then goes prattling on non-stop for like twenty minutes.

Right now she's reminding me if both five-year-old Grayson and a little bit of Merry.
5:56 pm

Penelope: I will make my own music. I only specialize in country music now. Which country would you like--China or Japan?
6:42 pm

Dad finally got a room (where he and mom can stay at the hospital). The rest of us are now heading home (for now).
7:58 pm

April 26

Penelope (as Derrick goes into the kitchen): I may have spilled a little water on the floor just over here. Don't worry, I'll tell you where it is so you don't slip. I'm not trying to be rude, but you're a little older than me, so I have better eyesight.
12:41 am

4:30 pm

Watching Scooby Doo and grateful our nickname isn't Hot Dog Water.
11:30 pm

Grayson (wisely as we watch Scooby Doo): Anybody who brings you that much meatballs who is that pretty is obviously doing something behind your back!
11:37 pm

Grayson (wisely): Never walk in the cemetery as a girl.

You'll never catch him walking in the cemetery as a girl!
11:44 pm

April 27

So...garlic bread was ready to go in the oven, sauce was ready, pasta just went into the boiling water and 30 seconds later, the power went out. Will it ever come back on? Is the water hot enough to cook the spaghetti?
4:55 pm

Fortunately it came back on just ten minutes later. By then the spaghetti was done because the water was boiling and the burner retained heat, too. The garlic bread turned out a little weird, but that might not be entirely the oven's fault.
5:48 pm

Me: You say your other Croc is under the piano bench?
Preemptive voice from under the piano bench: Let me deal with it.

Penelope, or did someone use a shrinking ray on Derrick?
6:13 pm

Penelope: Daddy, tomorrow I'm going to go without food for a whole day.
Me: Why?
Penelope: To see if I can.
Derrick: For science!
6:48 pm

Penelope: (talking about her creepy stuffed rabbit) I put this mitt on my nemesis's ears, so he can't hear me when I talk about him. We were in college together, and one time he made me so mad, I threw him out the window.

Christina, this explains why you are always offering me oven mitts for my ears.
7:06 pm

April 29

Penelope: (in a dramatic wail) Mom, spaghetti just fell on the floor, and its coldness is all over my toe!
2:56 pm

Me (as I pack some clothes for mom and dad): It's really peaceful in here. It's like we're in another dimension.
Penelope: Yes, it's very relaxing in Grandma's room. It's easy to rest in here--not like in that room of MINE!
Me: Oh your room isn't relaxing?
Penelope: No! I never get the twelve hours of sleep I need in that place! I just stay awake, and the minutes tick by! One time I stayed awake for six months!
Me: For six months!?!!
Penelope: That might not be accurate because I'm little, you know. I can't always tell the difference between six and nine.
Me: I see.
(Suddenly an eerie, tinkling version of "O, Little Town of Bethlehem" begins to play)
P (as I freak out): Oh don't worry! That's just Grandma's clock! That's another thing about my room. The clock never plays any refreshing music. It just makes a ticking noise which is very irritating to me. Ooh! Is it rainbow time?? It is!!!!

Apparently Grandma's room has prisms, too. Clearly I need to hang out in here more often.
4:19 pm

Me (in my parents' room): That's my grandpa and grandpa.
P: Are you sure?
Me: Yes, that's Grandpa Jim and Grandma GG.
Penelope: She looks just like Grandma.
Me: Well she's her mommy.
Penelope: And he looks just like Grandpa.
Me: Really?
Penelope: Ye-es. She has the black hair, and he has the silver hair.
4:33 pm

I think Penelope is not thrilled to be leaving San Antonio without Grandma. Baby Pinkie is already complaining about leaving her great grandma behind.
9:19 pm

April 30

Good morning, butterflies!
We are all the sun's children.
The sun comes with us,
but only in day.
In night, the moon comes out to kill the sun.
But the sun survives.
She tricks the moon
because she doesn't like him now.
They were dating once.
I don't know when. I wasn't there.
But I met the sun.
She told me all about it.
So when the moon comes out,
know I will always love you,
Sun, my big sister!
--Penelope (after we read a poem about the moon)
3:16 pm

Penelope: Here, I drew the sun and the moon on this picture of me and Will because these are the two great love stories.
3:20 pm

Penelope: Here, I drew the sun and the moon on this picture of me and Will because these are the two great love stories.
4:10 pm

May 2

So the industrial truck ahead of us says "Deus E Fiel" on the back. Is this some industrial slogan? It seems to me that must mean God is Faithful in I'm guessing Portugese. Is there some kind of Portuguese secret society that needs to haul around an extra large load of gravel? It's written in such an odd way. Is this some trend I don't know about?
4:41 pm

May 4

Penelope (singing in the shower): I like water! Soap it up! You know I am a bubblesup!
Me: What's bubblesup?
Penelope: Not bubblesup. I am saying like, "I'm a bubble, what's up?" Like you know, you make a little thingy then put "sup" as in short for "what's up?" It's just a thing people say, Mom. Trust me.
4:36 pm

Penelope (while painting): Look at my impression painting! Call up the museum in town and tell them it's coming!
11:50 pm

May 5

Penelope: Mommy, here's what I'm thinking would be a fun idea--to sneak out in the middle of the night and go take a shower at the pool.
Me: That does sound fun.
Penelope: (pleased) I knew you would think so. And here's the thing. Since I'm usually awake at night pretty late myself, I could go with you. You know, since we're both nocturnal. If we're very quiet, we could sneak out after everyone's asleep, and go down to the pool, and take a shower in the pool shower.
Me: Oh you think so?
Penelope: Yes. We could sneak out very quietly. (reflectively) Of course, Daddy and Grandma would probably notice.
Me: Would they?
Penelope (taking this as encouragement, encouraged, craftily): Well, maybe not if we're very quiet. We could just tiptoe so silently. And, of course, it is very dark at night, so that will help. And then once we get to the pool, both of us would be there, so we would have both our strength, and if we each took a bucket...
(Her sneaky plan was interrupted by Daddy announcing it was bedtime.)
1:31 am

In the car...
Penelope (as "The Best Day of My Life" plays on the radio): Every day is the best day of your life.
Me: (optimistically) That's true. Every day we're alive is the best day of our life because we're alive, and it's now, and we can enjoy our life.
Penelope: (exasperated) No! I was talking to the guy in the song. Apparently every day is the best day of his life because I hear this song on the radio like every single day!
9:52 pm

May 6

Penelope: (looking at a picture of interlocking fish by M.C. Escher) Ooh! That would be great for a floor. Like instead of a never-ending staircase, we could have a never-ending floor!
Me: Ooh I see what you mean. If we built a house, we could use that as tile for the kitchen floor. That would be great as tile.
Penelope: Or as stained glass.
Me: Ooh yeah! A stained glass window!
Penelope: Or a stained glass floor!! And you could look down through it to underneath.
Me: And what would be down there?
Penelope (enticingly): I don't kno-ow! You'd have to go into the house and look down there for yourself to find out!
5:03 pm

Penelope: (as she colors a picture) You see? I've given her the face of a beautiful woman...
Me: Oh. I thought it was George Washington.
Penelope: Well boys think she is beautiful. And they can't wait to date her, and that's what she wants. When they lean in to kiss her, she sucks them out and eats them. And that's why they call her the date ruining monster.
Me: Why does she want to devour her dates? Doesn't she like them?
Penelope: No, that's just her thing. It's how she gets her power. You'll notice that she has the body of a snail that looks like a tuba.
Me: You would think that would dissuade people from going out with her.
Penelope: Yes but boys who want to kiss her don't notice anything. They're just in a trance or whatever.
5:16 pm

May 7

In Target...
Me: Penelope, come over here please.
Penelope (hiding behind an orange tutu): Excuse me, strange lady, but who is this Penelope? I am not Penelope. I have never heard of Penelope, you stranger lady.
Me: Well, whoever you are, let's go this way now.
Penelope: Oh, I'm not sure I should go with you. My name is Wolf, and I'm a very tough boy.
Me: Then why is it I saw you wearing an orange tutu a second ago?
Wolf: Oh, well, that's because I like to dress up in girls' clothes sometimes. That's just one of the many fun surprises about me.
9:00 pm

May 8

Penelope: Um, from now on my new name is Awesome Yo Cool, so try to remember that.
12:57 am

Penelope (as she paints): Shaggy is cuter than this dog. This dog looks like a kangaroo-coyote baby. Of course, I'm not a professional artist.
2:52 pm

May 9

Me (as we watch The Twilight Zone): So now you know if I disappear, you can look for me in the TV.
Grayson: No, you'll be in your camera. I know it.
Me: Oh yeah, you're right. You'll be outside taking a bunch of pictures, and then when you look at them on the computer, I'll be in the corner of every picture going (I make a crazy face).
Penelope: What about me?
Grayson: You'll be in a cake or something.
Penelope: Oh yeahhh. Or maybe I'll be in a pregnant woman's tummy.

PS The Twilight Zone is so entertaining. I've laughed, I've cried, and as I'm posting this status, I'm suddenly realizing the little kid currently on screen is a really, really, really young Ron Howard.
6:16 pm

We're watching a Twilight Zone episode called "Escape Claus," and Grayson is trying to convince me that the devil is really Santa Claus. He did just say, "Ho ho ho!"
6:45 pm

May 10

Penelope (in a heated argument with her brother, insisting that she did not say a bad word): The only bad word in this house is Grayson!
11:28 pm

May 11

Penelope (newly discovering Looney Tunes beyond Roadrunner): Ooh! Look! It's that daffy duck Porker!
11:01 pm

May 13

Penelope: I don't know how I fell like that. My body just kept going so fast somehow! I thought I was in slow-mo!
12:26 am

Just registered our Hippo!
4:17 pm

Penelope: (watching Blues Clues) This is the thing about Steve. He always repeats everything he says over and over and over again. And Joe doesn't do that as much, so he isn't as annoying to me. (Suddenly observes) Oh, I thought Joe was going to bring himself to show-and-tell, but now I see he's going to bring his duck blanket.
Me: You're pretty good at figuring out these clues.
Penelope: (like I'm an idiot) Well, Mom, I watch mystery shows all the time and horror shows. I watch like Poirot and Twilight Zone, so, um, yeah, I think I can figure out Blue's Clues.
10:50 pm

May 14

Grandma: ...but I don't have any money.
Me: Well, yes, that's me, too. That's all of us, really.
Penelope (with a wicked laugh): I have money. And that is where all of Daddy's money went...into my coiny bag!
3:45 pm

May 15

So Penelope's new thing is to tell outrageous lies in order to keep secrets. Well, the lies aren't so much outrageous, as her delivery of them. The other day she explained to me earnestly, "Mom, you know I'm bad at keeping secrets when people ask me, so I've started using lies instead as trick answers. Like I didn't want Grandma to guess I'm making her this lizard for Mother's Day, so I told her that it's a present for you. Now she'll never suspect." She also does this during shows because we corrected her for giving spoilers. Now she gives deliberately inaccurate spoilers to throw people off the scent.

So tonight at bedtime, I took a minute refilling Penelope's water. When I joined Penelope and Derrick up in the master bathroom, she had clearly already finished brushing her teeth. Immediately, she announced, "Mom, you're just in time. We waited for you. I haven't even brushed my teeth yet." Then (behind my back, but not far enough out of my eyeline) she gave Derrick a conspicuous thumbs up, winked, and flashed this huge, open-mouthed conspiratorial grin. She continued this deception for several minutes. At one point--so I wouldn't see her flossing--she shut me in the bathroom. Then she wandered in to say casually, "Oh, Daddy and I were just giving fist bumps." He added conspicuously, "It's just what she does to pass the time" (which earned him another one of her secret acknowledgements of approval). Then later she encouraged me to stand in the corner while she whispered something unintelligible to him. Then she told me, "Oh, Daddy was just looking at something on his phone. But now he put it away. It was a joke about gophers."

Suddenly, I feel like I'm living with Emma Bovary! Making the whole thing even more hilarious, Derrick kept flashing those open-mouth-grinned-thumbs-up winks at me over her head and behind her back.
1:54 am

May 16

Me: (as we drive to a friend's house) Oh I just remembered I forgot to look up her address again.
Penelope: Just remember there's a big truck outsi...IT'S WHERE MY DEMONS HIDE! IT'S WHERE MY DEMONS HIDE! So if you look for that big moving thi...IT'S WHERE MY DEMONS HIDE! IT'S WHERE MY DEMONS HIDE! Sorry. I really like this song. But if you just look for the big...Oh Mom! (Yells out a street name) Oh Mom! That was definitely one of them! You should have turned there!
4:07 pm

May 17

So googlemaps saved us at least an hour by rerouting around this crazy bicycle race. Meanwhile we are driving past a line of practically parked cars at least two miles long! People are like out of their cars talking in frustrated confusion. They probably think they're living a scene from some summer apocalypse movie! This is crazy!
12:59 pm

Me: Don't hit me with a stick please.
Nanny: Uh oh. She got caught. This time she hit Mom instead of Dad.
Me: Oh has she been hitting you? I haven't been paying attention.
Penelope (whining in outrage): Mommy!
Me: What?
Penelope: Stop pointing out the truth. I don't want to hear the truth!
2:18 pm

May 18

Grayson: Those doughnuts were called do nuts. On that sign, it said do nuts.
Penelope: I call them dude nuts.
Derrick: No, let's not call them that.
2:12 pm

Nellie: (making the most horrific "laugh," that sounds like a dolphin falling out of an airplane)
Gray: I think that was fake.
Penelope (indignantly): No, it was not! It came right out of my mouth!
5:15 pm

May 20

Me: (to Derrick) Earlier today, she put her baby girl doll in that wicker basket and staged a Christmas pageant around her and said her name was Shevus.
Penelope: Because she's a "she," but that sounds like Jesus.
Derrick: I see.
Penelope: There was even a part where she died on the cross.
Me: I can't decide if that's very sweet or very blasphemous.
Penelope: (defensively) Well, Mary and Joefus really liked it!
1:09 am

Penelope (leading me up the stairs): Come on. I'm summoning you to heaven. There's two heavens and hells. Follow me, and I'll take you up to the original heaven.
Me: What's in the second heaven?
Penelope: Oh, there's just too much of too much!
Me: Two much what?
Penelope: You know. It starts with an "s" and ends with an "x." That is men's heaven, but the original heaven is women's heaven. All the women prefer to stay here in this nice, old, original heaven. (leads me into her room) It's just so nice and peaceful. Here is where the nice heaven gathers.
Me: I see.
Penelope: And I'll tell you what happens in the hells. One hell is where the devil kills you, but that's in the devil's room. As you might guess, the other hell is similar to the other heaven. No one gets any sleep there.
Me: Where did you get all this information?
Penelope: Mom, remember The Twilight Zone? It made me start thinking, and I've been thinking about it A LOT.
5:06 pm

Me: Come on now. Turn around. It's time to do your reading.
Penelope: (playing with this old weird inflatable orange tubey thing that used to have googley eyes) Can I just give my wiener a kiss goodbye?
Me: Oh is that your wiener dog?
Penelope: Yes. His face used to be A seagull pecked out his eyes, so it's harder to tell now. Mwaaah! You're the best wiener ever! (stuffing him between the bed and the wall) Now go in your crack and eat some doggie food!
5:08 pm

Me: (reading) Monkeys, gorillas, and people are all primates.
Penelope: (outraged) What?! All this time, I thought we were manimals!
Me: Well, we are mammals. But we're a special kind of mammals called primates. Not all mammals are primates. We are primates and gorillas are primates, but kitties are not primates.
Penelope: (belligerently) KITTIES ARE PRIMATES! We're just manimals! (shaking that orange tubey "wiener dog" wildly, singing disruptively) Here comes the Faerie Queene!
5:11 pm

And the school music talent show finishes dramatically in a fire alarm. Looks like Derrick finally found Grayson!
8:00 pm

May 21

At the doctor's office (where we learned that Penelope does NOT have athlete's foot)...
Nurse: How long has this been going on?
Penelope: (matter-of-factly, before I can answer) For ten weeks and eleven months.
6:36 pm

Fortunately, the nurse did not hear what she was talking about as we walked in as she went on and on about all her adopted children and then announced, "I got pregnant with Pinkie by accident when I was young." I cried, "You got pregnant with Pinkie by accident? How did that happen?" She replied, "Well I was a baby! I didn't have good judgment then!"
8:20 pm

She said it in the elevator on the way up. Fortunately, nobody heard but Derrick and me. He's like, "I'm expecting some interesting phone calls from the kindergarten teacher next year."
8:25 pm

Penelope and I agree that the weirdest thing in the movie The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake is the way Drake's daughter keeps vamping it up around him. Penelope just suggested, "Maybe she's really his wife, and she only tells people that she's his daughter."
10:43 pm

Me: That must be the cabinet of Dr. Caligari...where he keeps all his skulls...
Me: Oh wait! This isn't The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. I forgot. We decided to watch The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake instead.
Penelope: Well, yeah!
Derrick: I just thought you were tossing out some random literary allusion like you're wont to do. And I never have any idea what you're talking about!
10:47 pm

Penelope: (in an eerie, light voice as we watch a man hallucinate floating skulls) That's why I never have nightmares anymore...because those dancing skulls scare all the nightmares off.
Me: You have dancing skulls like that in your room?
Penelope: (in an eerie voice with vacant eyes) Yes...they are my family!
(I widen my eyes and make a face in horror)
Penelope: Haha! Just trying to spook you out!
11:00 pm

Me: I think I've seen that guy. Was he on Bewitched once?
Penelope: Be-itched. I love that show.
Me: It's called Bewitched.
Penelope: No my show is called Be-Itched. I used to watch it when I was in your tummy. It's about a witch who has an itch, and she can't get it, and then she meets a bunch of annoying people in every episode. And she looks just like Witch Hazelnut.
Me: Witch Hazelnut? You mean Witch Hazel, from Bugs Bunny?
Penelope: Oh yeah. Yeah.
11:04 pm

May 22

Penelope (as we try to get her ready for bed, crawling on her belly up the bedspread, miming picking flowers): This is called picking flowers.
Derrick: I can see why you call it that. I like that move.
Penelope: No, Dad. It's not a move. It's an approach. Now here is my next approach. It's called, "Here comes the sun!"

(This was all very adorable until there were thirty or so more "approaches.")
Derrick (at length): Sweetie, there is no doubt in my mind that you will never be at a loss as to how to approach someone, but you can't reveal all your genius in one night, and now it's time for bed.
1:51 am

Perhaps my favorite "approach" was "the lollipop" in which she simply walked forward on her knees, stopping every couple of seconds to lunge to the side and say rhythmically, "Here comes the lick!"
1:52 am

May 23

The maniac on my lap at the movies: I wish Godzilla would come here for two days. Then he would die. Then he would face plant. And then at the end, he would fart.
9:33 pm

Penelope (in response to the Twilight Zone on TV): Whom? That's the awkwardest word ever!
Gray: No, Nellie, you're the awkwardest word ever.
Penelope: No, Bubby is the awkwardest word ever. It's like, blah blah blah blah Bubby blah, blah, blah...
11:13 pm

Summer Movie Diary: Godzilla (2D)

Date: May 23, 2014
Time: 7:00 pm
Place: Cinemark NextGen Stone Hill Town Center
Company: Derrick, Gray, Penelope
Food:  strange Icee, Whoppers
Runtime:  2 hours, 3 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Director: Gareth Edwards

Quick Impressions:
We’ve been dying to see Godzilla, but last weekend we were out of town at a family wedding, and we didn’t want to see it without my stepson.  He’s been looking forward to it almost as much as my husband. 

My daughter, on the other hand, has spent weeks trembling in horror at the very mention of the name Godzilla.  Typically when she launches into one of her near fainting spells of fright, I suggest, “Well, you could stay with Grandma and Grandpa while the rest of us go,” and then she immediately snaps out of her trance and assures me matter-of-factly, “Oh, I’ll go.  I’ll go.”

And she went.  It’s probably a good thing she did because she seemed to be following the movie better than I was.  At one point, she whispered to me, “What’s that?”

Trying to figure it out, I squinted at the screen and replied, “I think it’s Godzilla.”

She asked, “Are you sure?  I thought Godzilla would be bigger and not as pointy.”

Later on, I nudged her and whispered, “You were right.  That’s not Godzilla.”

Rolling her eyes, she whispered back, “Yes, I know.”

As we all walked out of the theater, my husband remarked, “I think that did a great job of paying homage to the original Godzilla.”

To his great surprise, I told him, “I’ve never seen the original Godzilla.”  Now that I think about it, I’m not sure that I’ve seen any Godzilla movies at all.  That seems impossible.  In fact, I’m positive I must have seen the 1998 version with Matthew Broderick (on TV if nothing else), but when I try to remember it, all that comes to mind is a cringe-worthy montage of scenes from Inspector Gadget (possibly why I chose not to see that Godzilla).

This Godzilla is pretty good, though. 

The Good:
If you’re like me, when you hear Godzilla, you immediately think, “Oh!  The star of the movie will be a giant lizard monster.”  Even though I haven’t seen any previous Godzilla movies (that I recall) when I try to imagine one, I immediately picture random people running through city streets screaming, “It is Godzilla,” as a giant lizard monster pursues them, smashing up Tokyo (or wherever) in his wake.

But the giant lizard is not actually the star of this movie.  One reason I’ve been excited to see Godzilla is that its preview revealed a bevy of talented actors in the cast.  We get Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, and David Strathairn (among others).  That’s better than an all-star cast.  It’s an “all actors” cast.  I’m personally delighted to see Sally Hawkins and Elizabeth Olsen breaking through into a wide release, (fairly) big budget, summer blockbuster.  Basically everyone in this cast got famous because of acting talent, and (not surprisingly) all of them turn in solid performances (though some are given way more to work with than others).

Even though the story is mainly action-focused, the script is surprisingly decent.  Ken Watanabe, in particular, gets to deliver some exceptionally memorable and thought-provoking lines.  Several times I found myself intrigued by some idea inspired by the dialogue, zoning out and pondering epistemology, myth-building, semiotics, metaphysics, and other stuff you would not expect to be considering actively during a movie named for a giant amphibious lizard monster.  Watanabe has an especially memorable line near the end when he advises to “let them fight” (or something like that).  Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about war and peace (perhaps—and this is just a wild guess—because I’ve been reading War and Peace (maybe more slowly than any other human being in history).  If you’re interested at all in war and what it does to the human psyche, I think this film explores all that surprisingly well (if frustratingly non-verbally at times).

I also like the treatment Godzilla himself gets in this film.  The way they respond to him is great, too.  There are few moments of shock and awe here.  Most of the time, the people in charge simply recognize a new threat, assess it, prepare to meet it, and carry on.  Sometimes I missed the corny jokes that usually pop up in movies like this, but on the other hand, that kind of silliness can get old really fast.  This movie finds a curious middle ground.  It doesn’t make Godzilla into a joke or acknowledge anything at all ridiculous or absurd about the situation.  But, on the other hand, it also never overdramatizes the danger.  Basically, Godzilla is just another threat, one of many that people are used to encountering and overcoming.

The movie also has a couple of incredibly iconic scenes that seem likely to have a long cinematic life.  Most striking and unusual is the vivid recreation of the experience of parachuting out of an airplane and into (deliciously disorienting) danger.

In general, the film has incredibly appealing cinematography.  I’m bizarrely fond of shots that focus on a character in the foreground to the left or right of the screen, then bring everything else into soft focus in the distant background.  Godzilla contains shot after shot like this, and I have to say I love every one of them.

Best Non-Action Sequence:
Bryan Cranston delivers what is unquestionably the best performance of the movie (though Ken Watanabe is great in his part, too).  Cranston’s performance is a true early highlight of the film and provides most of the emotional momentum of its early sequences.  The best bit of his start-to-finish strong turn is the impassioned speech he makes to “the wall” while detained in Japan.

Best Scene:
By far my favorite scene in in the movie is the kind of trippy descent by parachute through the air and into the thick of the monster battle zone.  There’s something almost hypnotic about the experience of watching.  In 3D, it’s probably mind-blowing.

Best Action Sequence:
Godzilla’s killer breath looks amazing, and you can’t argue with the results.  I’m not even particularly interested in action, but I found this face-melting Godzilla solo utterly spellbinding.

Best Scene Visually:
The reaction of Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins to the events unfolding near the end of the movie is really spectacular.  You watch them and think, “Wow! I wish someone would watch me like that!”  What must it be like to inspire such a spellbound gaze?  This probably sounds odd since they’re basically just standing there staring, but for me, this scene is one of the soaring highlights of the entire movie, possibly even my very favorite part.

The Negatives:
Bryan Cranston brings a tremendous intensity to the film, an intensity Godzilla has trouble sustaining when he’s absent.  I think this fault would probably be less noticeable were Cranston never present to ratchet up the intensity in the first place.  But what fun would that be?

Although I enjoyed Godzilla, I never felt so fully engaged that I lost myself in the movie.  Now to be fair, I was sitting next to a frustratingly talkative five-year-old, and it is pretty hard to lose yourself in a film if you’re constantly going, “Shhhhhhh!” or whispering incorrect answers to complex questions about the movie’s plot and the characters' motivations. 

So I do admit that some of the inability to engage resulted from a problem on my end.  But even so, from my point of view, the early scenes featuring Bryan Cranston are easily a thousand times more compelling than everything that comes after.  Others may not share this experience of the film, though.  I think I’ve figured out why I find Cranston’s Joe Brody an infinitely more engaging protagonist than Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Ford Brody.

Cranston is a pretty good actor, but (in fairness) so is Taylor-Johnson.  The difference is, Cranston plays a character who simply appeals to me more.  Conspiracy-driven, tormented Joe Brody is trying to uncover secrets, avenge the wrongs of the past, and assuage the guilt he feels about past actions.  Not surprisingly given these motivations, Joe Brody talks a lot.  Basically he talks non-stop all the time.  He talks to others.  He talks about others.  He talks to himself.  He talks about himself.  He talks about what’s happened.  He talks about what’s going to happen.  He just talks and talks and talks and talks.  He’s got this amazing, to-die-for intensity, and he expresses it almost entirely verbally.  So of course, he totally gets my attention.

Ford Brody, on the other hand, is a soulful, pensive, brooding, action-oriented young protagonist.  He hardly ever talks—at least, not about anything interesting.  For him, speech is almost entirely utilitarian, used for facilitating basic exchanges (i.e. getting orders, obtaining information).  When we first meet the adult Ford, obviously he’s driven by inner turmoil and swimming in pent up emotions and a surplus of vexing feelings, but he never really expresses any of them verbally.  For Ford, actions speak way louder than words, so he doesn’t really bother with words unless he has to, like, call his wife or something.  And even then, his speech is pretty terse and focused on expressing pertinent facts with the greatest efficiency possible.

I’m a very verbal person naturally drawn to linguistic expressions of ideas.  Action doesn’t always hold my attention, and Ford is a man of action (and of brooding, something else I’m not exactly crazy about).

Because I like Joe and his (impeccably delivered) words so much better than Ford and his anguished silences, I prefer the first half of the film.  It just works better for me.  As far as I’m concerned, Godzilla loses too much momentum in the middle.  It’s not that nothing is happening. Plenty continues to happen.  It’s just that without Bryan Cranston there to comment on it, nothing seems even remotely as important.

I also think Elizabeth Olsen needs a better part.  I’m glad to see her in a big, mainstream movie, but I wish her character got more to do.  She’s in it quite a bit, but nothing that happens to her is very interesting, and (possibly because she seems so capable), we never really feel the urgency we should about her wellbeing.  On Ford’s end, we get the idea that he’s made a promise to his wife and feels an urgent obligation to rescue her.  But when we could be leaning forward on the edge of our seats wondering, Will he get to her in time?  Will he reach her before it’s too late?, instead we’re basically thinking, Whatever, he’s never home anyway, and when he is, he’s not emotionally available.  She’s on her own most of the time, and she’s been okay up to now.  By this time, surely she knows how to take care of herself.  What happens in this movie may be realistic (and even socially progressive in the sense that she clearly doesn’t need a man to save her), but the ending of Die Hard is way more satisfying and fun.

Speaking of fun, Godzilla doesn’t have much of a sense of fun.  Humor is conspicuously lacking here (perhaps not the worst thing since summer action flicks are notorious for going overboard with lazy jokes and excessive comic relief, but it seems odd that nothing funny ever happens at all.)  Even in grim situations in real life, mildly funny things do occasionally occur.

The only other major criticism I have of Godzilla (apart from the fact that Godzilla himself is barely in the movie) is that sometimes the score seems off.  Let me try to explain what I mean, though I’m having difficulty expressing this point clearly.  There’s one scene when Sally Hawkins gets a particularly large amount of dialogue.  Both Hawkins and Ken Watanabe are great actors, but something about this moment of grave (borderline hysterical) concern rings false.  After turning it over in my mind for some time, I finally decided that the background music is too excited about itself and makes what should be a taut, well-acted, dramatic scene seem overdone and slightly cheesy.  For me, something like this happened sporadically throughout the film.  But I can’t say that the score is bad because during other scenes (especially several late scenes), the score shines conspicuously.  Maybe there’s a more precise, more telling way to describe this particular quirk of Godzilla, but I can’t think of any plainer way to put it.

At the end of the movie, my five-year-old announced matter-of-factly, “I wish Godzilla would come here for two days.  Then he would die.  Then he would face plant.  And then at the end, he would fart.” 

If you’ve been excited to see this summer’s Godzilla, then you’ll be thrilled to know that her comment is not a candid summary of  this movie.  The film is actually a well-made, surprisingly thoughtful, refreshingly respectful tribute to what is clearly cherished source material.  Now that I’ve seen this latest Godzilla, in fact, I’d like to watch the original movie at home and probably will in the near future.

Our little family of four all enjoyed Godzilla, though I do think my husband and stepson (who hopes to be in the military one day) liked it more than my daughter and me.  But my daughter was calling herself Mini-Godzilla and roaring like a maniac as the end credits rolled.  So if you go to see Godzilla, you’ll probably like it, too.  (Plus, since we’ve already seen it, you’re much less likely to get stuck sitting near a roaring, five-year-old Mini-Godzilla!  And trust me, that’s a good thing, a very good thing.)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Summer Movie Diary: Neighbors

Date: May 12, 2014
Time: 6:40 pm
Place: Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline
Company: Derrick
Food:  Dr. Pepper; Greek wrap with no red onion, no dressing, chips and salsa
Runtime:  1 hour, 36 minutes
Rating: R
Director: Nicholas Stoller

Quick Impressions:
Neighbors opened this weekend, and that’s why we saw it.  I usually like Seth Rogen (although the posters for Knocked Up really annoyed me at the time).  I have nothing against Zac Efron.  And I always have fun going to the theater to see R-rated comedies because now that I have a five-year-old daughter, I don’t often get to watch those at home.

After seeing Neighbors, I’ve decided that the Oscars need to add one more award—Best Baby in a Motion Picture. 

Forget Zac Efron.  The baby they found to play Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne’s daughter is the cutest thing ever put on screen!  All through the movie, her conspicuous adorableness distracted me.  I found myself thinking, “Who is their baby?  And who is their baby wrangler?” (That’s probably not what they call it.)  “How are they getting reactions like this from this baby?”

For a while, I wondered if she were director Nicholas Stoller’s own baby because she just looked so thrilled to be there, so relaxed, so natural, and so happy, oh so, so happy. 

Actually, the delightful Stella is played by twins, Elise and Zoey Vargas.  I haven’t seen a baby this animated on screen since Elora Danan in Willow (also played by twins).  Seriously if this movie is any indication, Elise and Zoey Vargas have a huge future on the silver screen.  They give such an amazing performance.  (I’d really love to know how the filmmakers are coaxing such great reactions.  Maybe they caught them at just the right age.  There were a couple of months when my own daughter was non-stop enormous grins just about 24/7.)

Not only is the baby cute, but they make unusually good use of her cuteness.  In the opening scene, her persistent grins at Seth Rogen are so realistic and so thoroughly charming.

The only unrealistic thing about Stella is how well she sleeps through the night.  Now I’m not saying my own daughter never slept through the night as an infant.  I’m just saying that I’m positive if I nipped next door to get high with some frat boys, my daughter would have woken up immediately.  Babies have some kind of automatic timer that wakes them.  It activates the moment you need them to be asleep.

Now if you’re not obsessed with cute babies, is Neighbors worth seeing?  Is it funny?  Sort of.  It’s a pretty painless way to kill an hour and a half.  The love story between Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne is surprisingly sweet and realistic for a movie about a comedic war with frat boys.  And though the whole thing is not laugh out loud funny, there are some high points that really made the audience laugh.  Rogen and Efron’s final showdown is genuinely inventive and lots of fun.

The Good:
Seth Rogen and Zac Efron have surprising chemistry.  I could sit and listen to them Batman each other back and forth all night—well, as long as I’m at a theater where they serve alcohol.  I wasn’t drinking while watching this movie, but an all-night Batman riff would surely pair better with a margarita.  (I was going to say “pair better with a nice merlot,” which would make a superior sentence, but why drink merlot if I can have a margarita?  When I get drunk in my imagination, taste always trumps style.)

The idea of watching an extended version of the Batman debate while knocking back margaritas is not entirely unappealing.  During parts of this movie, you feel like you’re dropping in on somebody’s party yourself, maybe just sitting in a corner by a fire pit and observing all the fun.  (Clearly I love to do things vicariously.  I imagine I’m getting drunk and imagining being at somebody else’s party.  I’m surprised I’m even in this paragraph at all.)

Anyway, the movie has some very funny moments and a pretty winning cast.  I always love Dave Franco.  I don’t know why.  I just really like him, and it’s not just because he’s not James Franco (although that is a pretty great bonus).  The younger Franco is charismatic without being pretentious, and though he usually plays the same kind of character again and again, I’m glad to see him every time.  (And speaking of being glad to see someone—is he really performing that party trick?  It seems like something that would have to be faked in order to get an R rating, but what do I know?)

Rose Byrne also has a great part in this movie.  As you might expect in a movie centered on a frat house, Neighbors does not feature many fleshed out female characters.  But as Seth Rogen’s wife (I swear they hardly ever say their characters’ names, which are allegedly Mac and Kelly), Rose Byrne is an equal partner who gets just as much screentime, character development, and initiative as Rogen or Efron.

I think Byrne is very talented.  I remember when I first became aware of her after seeing Get Him to the Greek, X-Men: First Class, and Bridesmaids in very quick succession.  Wow! I thought at the time.  This has got to be the most versatile woman on the face of the earth!  Tonight my husband agreed and said, “She’s like the female Gary Oldman.”  Of course, I’ve never seen a movie where Gary Oldman has a scene like the one an uncomfortable Byrne has with a panicking Rogen in the nursery.

Best Robert De Niro Cameo Not Featuring Robert De Niro: 
I think Robert De Niro’s great because he’s an immensely talented actor who also has a sense of humor.  Now maybe he loves appearing in dumb comedies a little too much or maybe not.  That’s not for me to say.  But he does have a habit of appearing in silly comedies whether in a starring role, a supporting part, or even a cameo.  Some of these parts are good for him, others not so much.

But they really make excellent use of De Niro here, and he’s not even actually in the movie.  There’s a scene when a group of De Niros (really costumed frat boys) gather outside Seth Rogen’s window to mock him.  (Jerrod Carmichael’s Garf is pretty hilarious in this scene, too, and he’s not even doing De Niro.  He’s even better later in a hilarious scene with the cop, played by Hannibal Buress.) 

My point is, Dave Franco’s De Niro costume seems to foreshadow a scene with Rose Byrne that I might not have liked when I was younger but at this age found relatable and hilarious.

Best Scene Visually:
Zac Efron shirtless is probably this movie’s most memorable visual and greatest visual asset.  Efron and Rogen’s final scene together plays off this beautifully.  I’m sure it’s great to look like Zac Efron, but it’s even better if you can laugh about it.

Honestly, I also like the scene with the frat party goers pressed up against the windows and laughing derisively at the neighbors’ intimate moment on the couch since this seems emblematic of the entire movie.

The dance-off/bro-sabotage scene is also pretty arresting since the loud confusion of the party means the visuals must do all the work in this sequence.  The earnest dance moves of Rogen and Efron are pretty amusing, and it’s hard to look away from Rose Byrne.

Funniest Scene:
I think this depends on whether you’re a parent.  I say this because for me, the absolute funniest scene in the movie came near the beginning when they’re trying to pack up to go to the rave.  Wow, this really resonated with me (and my husband), but before I had a baby, I don’t think I would have found it nearly as funny.  Before I could relate, the joke would have been wasted on me, to be honest.

But at this stage of life, it really hit home.  My daughter was premature and spent her first three months in the NICU, so once we brought her home, we were hyper-cautious and literally (literally!) did not take her anywhere for three months!  And then where did we go for her first outing?  To a haunted catfish restaurant 150 miles from our house for dinner, and then a further 700 miles to my cousins’ house in another state. 

For a first outing, this was so ridiculously ambitious.  Also we waited until early that morning to pack and then tried to cram everything—everything! Including her entire wardrobe, her baby swing, her bouncer, and even her bathtub!—into the trunk of our Toyota Camry along with our luggage.  To make matters more ridiculous, it was a Camry hybrid, so the battery took up most of the trunk space.  We started packing the car at 7:00 that morning.  By the time we had finished, picked up my stepson, come back to our house for an emergency diaper/onesie change, and finally left again, it was 4:00 in the afternoon!

So this early scene rang really true for me and cracked me up completely, but I doubt it would amuse non-parents quite as much.

My husband and I also chuckled knowingly when Seth Rogen worried about what the baby’s first word might be.  I remember once my daughter thought “ergonomic keyboard” was profanity simply because she heard me saying it.

Best Action Sequence/Best Scene:
Maybe I was thinking this way because the movie was about a frat house, and I used to be an English TA tasked with keeping a vigilant eye out for plagiarism, but as I watched the epic mano-a-mano showdown between Efron and Rogen, I couldn’t help but notice that it fit the movie so well.  It was so grounded in elements specific to Neighbors.  It wasn’t just some generic fight scene that could have been copied and pasted from another movie. 

Granted in the end, mano-a-mano isn’t really the most anatomically apt description for their particular smackdown.  Another phrase springs immediately to mind, but if I use it, I’ll spoil the surprise.  (It’s really not much of a surprise.  What kind of duel would you expect between Seth Rogen and Zac Efron in a frat house?)

Because of how perfectly this scene finishes off the film—and also for its general sense of off-kilter fun—I enjoyed this more than most onscreen fights.  It’s dumb, but it’s far from lazy.

The Negatives:
You know what’s not funny?  If I had been that baby’s parents rushing her to the hospital in panic, I would have come home as angry as Seth Rogen’s character.  But if I’d been that wife, I would not have told him he was out of line.  I would have recited some terrifying, melodramatic speech from Game of Thrones (which they had earlier mentioned watching), and then stormed over the fence and enacted some sort of Game of Thrones style vengeance. 

Now the frat guys seemed to like the baby, so I don’t think they would have actively tried to harm her.  But I do think they were deliberately trying to psych out the parents.  I think if those boys knew more about new mothers, they would think twice before trying to get under the neighbors’ skin that way.

The very last prank Efron plays on the neighbors is also a terrible idea.  It’s far too dangerous, and someone could be seriously hurt.  Given that Rogen’s character finds his little valentine first, it all works out (and it does make everybody laugh).  But what if the wife had decided to nurse the baby in an inopportune spot?  I realize the movie’s a comedy, but stuff like this made me a little too anxious.

There are too many moments in this movie that feel a little too true to be funny.  I mean, some of the frat’s antics are outrageous—but they never feel much like something that couldn’t happen in real life.  Juvenile humor is fine.  But mean-spirited juvenile humor is something else.

Zac Efron’s Teddy is a really problematic character for me.  Obviously, the movie wants us to come to understand that he’s immature and frightened about his future.  But Teddy should be frightened about his future, and he’s not just immature.  Sometimes he’s out and out vicious.  He’s calculating from scene one.  (That’s another thing I don’t understand, though.  Why are Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne so gullible?  They should be able to see what they’re dealing with from the outset.)  Teddy is always thinking of his own advantage (which is normal, but he sometimes seems almost sociopathic about it).  He’s unusually aggressive in persecuting the people next door (which was clearly his plan from the beginning).  He’s also shockingly dumb for somebody so conniving.  He’s smart enough to realize that he’s twenty-two with a great body, but not smart enough to understand that he won’t be tweny-two with a great body forever.  There’s something both attractive and appalling about the character.  More than anything, I think, he’s kind of a sad figure. 

What makes me the saddest, though, is the realization that Zac Efron keeps playing characters like this.  Twice this year already, I’ve seen him play the same character, an emotionally stunted hot guy who thinks he’s awesome and doesn’t know how to grow up.  Will Zac Efron ever get to grow up?  What happens when he’s forty?  I don’t know whether to hope he stays in shape or to hope he lets himself go and turns into Mickey Rourke or something.  The thing is, I don’t know how much actual acting talent Efron has.  I know he can sing and dance, and he’s got a ton of charisma.  Surely he deserves better roles than the one he’s being given.  If not (if he’s incapable of doing better work), then he sure better make a lot more movies fast, so he has something to live on once his pecs start to sag.  (Is that a thing guys worry about?  It sounds depressing, right?)

Efron will turn 27 this fall, but he’s always either playing really young guys with arrested development or getting peed on Nicole Kidman in more “serious” films that no one ever sees.  Maybe he should audition for some of these million and one Star Wars spin-offs we keep hearing are in the works.  He needs to play a different kind of character in a mainstream movie.  Why is he always a dumb, immature selfish guy with a handsome face and a great body?  Couldn’t he at least occasionally be a smart, motivated, kind guy with a handsome face and a great body?  I highly doubt that all attractive young men are at best vapid, at worst vicious.  At least Efron has the good sense to make fun of himself, and he does have a flair for comedy, so maybe this is a step in the right direction.  But I still think he needs to go several steps farther and take on some more diverse roles.  If he’s being typecast against his will, that’s even sadder somehow.

Efron just mystifies me, I guess.  He’s clearly valued mainly for his built body and cute face, but what’s weird is that this somehow makes him seem less masculine.  I can’t think of anybody who seems less manly than Zach Efron, including Mary Martin playing Peter Pan.  And isn’t that really weird?  I mean, he’s treated as a sex object, and yet, he doesn’t seem very representative of that sex.  Maybe he’s happy with the way his career is going, but he shouldn’t be.  He’s sort of like a male Marilyn Monroe or something.  Nobody takes him seriously.  I realize he’s probably rich and happy, but I just can’t help feeling really sorry for him.  Looking at him makes me sad.  (Clearly the real problem is that I’m insane.)

And speaking of an actor who needs desperately to challenge himself with some different types of roles, Christopher Mintz-Plasse is also in this movie.  For another twenty years or so, Efron will be able to take off his shirt and get a job like he does at the end of the movie, but I think the clock is ticking a lot faster for Mintz-Plasse.  He can’t be McLovin’ forever.  I really like the guy, but he needs to take some parts that challenge him as an actor before audiences get sick of seeing him.

At least Seth Rogen is happy, I guess.  Rogen seems like the mellowest dude around, totally content with everything in his life and loving who he is.  Admittedly, he’s another one who always plays variations of a single character, but I don’t think he’s in any danger of outgrowing his persona.  That’s the difference.  Rogen can probably make the same kinds of movies for the rest of his life and continue to be successful.

As a movie about a couple of new parents who don’t feel quite ready to grow into old boring people, Neighbors works just fine.  I personally would be very nervous about spending hours getting high at a crazy frat party while my baby is sleeping next door, but they seem to be working out their problems, and at the end, they seem pretty happy together.  I both believed and enjoyed their relationship as it unfolded onscreen.

The stuff about the fraternity is more problematic (and less funny) for me.  The problem with excess is that it’s fun and fun and more fun and awesome and more awesome and even more fun and awesome…and then somebody’s dead.  In real life, fraternities have a kind of disturbing quality.  They can be a really positive part of people’s lives, and it’s true that a lot of the dark stuff is greatly exaggerated by the media.  But there’s enough truly disturbing stuff to give one pause.  This movie’s moral seems to be, “You have to grow up.  You can’t behave like an amoral hedonistic maniac when you’re thirty!  That’s how you’re supposed to behave when you’re twenty!”

When you think about it, our society is kind of weird.  Apparently it’s perfectly acceptable to stick your penis in another guy’s mouth when you think he’s asleep if it’s all in good fun, and you’re just hazing him so he can later get infinite blow jobs.  I guess all guys know this somehow.  They know this is okay, but they also know exactly where to draw the line.  They must find out by reading between the lines of William Faulkner stories and becoming a man by the end because no one has ever explained it to me.  I try to understand.  I really do.  But I think that if somebody affectionately nicknamed me “ass juice” and used my unwittingly open mouth as a penis holder, I would probably not laugh about it as much as they expected.  So this is probably why I was never invited to join a fraternity (except I was because as I just remembered while writing this sentence, I’m in phi beta kappa).

(By the way, while we’re on the subject of weird, it’s odd that the “college-aged” frat guys in this movie are being played by actors too old to be traditional undergrads.  They’re practically the same age as the old people next door.  It’s like we’re getting a preview of 22 Jump Street.)

Don’t get me wrong, though.  This particular fraternity doesn’t do anything so unconscionably horrible onscreen.  It’s not that the movie’s lack of a moral center is a problem for me.  (In fact, the movie has a moral center, and the love story of the young parents is actually very sweet and realistic.)  It’s that some of these things that are supposed to be so funny just aren’t funny enough, and it’s usually because they’re too realistic.  So you think either, “That’s not outrageous!  That happens every day!” or you think, “Wow, frat boys can be so awful!” or, “This seems like a bad idea.”  But it’s all kind of banal and annoying instead of being hilarious.  Some scenes are great, but there are too many that don’t have enough energy and power.  Neighbors is not unpleasant (except when it is), but it’s not exactly laugh-a-minute hilarious, either.

Neighbors is funny enough to be the funniest new release out right now, so if you’re impatient, and you’re dying to laugh, this is definitely the movie for you.  This week.  Hurry, though.  After this, from now until July, expect at least two movies a weekend that everyone will be dying to see.  So if you don’t see Neighbors now, you might not want to see it later.  And that’s a shame because you’ll miss out on several genuinely funny (and sometimes surprisingly touching) moments, an inspired final fight scene, and the cutest baby ever captured on film!