Monday, September 29, 2014

Everybody But Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Yesterday evening our friends Liz and Josh invited us on what turned out to be an amazing bat cruise.  (Best of all, we actually succeeded in seeing the bats for the first time ever!)  I'm definitely planning to blog about that soon, but tonight, I think I would be remiss not to mention how many awful things happened to us today.  We keep seeing commercials for Disney's film version of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, and I honestly feel like today our family was a performance art piece plugging that film.

For me, the morning wasn't going too badly...until I realized that one of Penelope's library books had gone completely missing.  (That's why I always get them ready hours in advance, though.  Invariably in every batch of books that we've rechecked the maximum of three times and can't recheck anymore, at least one of them ends up apart from the others in some totally crazy place.)

Annoyingly enough (for me) my mom really couldn't help me look for the library book because she was searching the house frantically for her car keys, last seen when she drove home from the grocery store Saturday afternoon (before the new furniture came).  She seriously spent all morning hunting for them.  (I am not kidding.  Like five hours at least.)  When I finally discovered Penelope's Baby Animals of the Desert book (beneath a pile of junk under the piano bench), I plunged into Mom's search for the keys.  I couldn't find them anywhere, but I did succeed in messing up my elbow, tripping over everything in the house, and pinching my finger. 

So I was in kind of a grumbly mood that only got worse when I was about to leave to pick up Penelope and realized that Derrick had just drunk the last cold Mountain Dew.  (Now see, that shouldn't be a big deal because he has as much right to the Mountain Dew as I do, and he did put another can in the fridge.  But the thing is, there had been one cold when I went upstairs, so I didn't know I needed to stick one in the freezer.  Now that school has started, I always drink a Mountain Dew while I wait for Penelope in the pick-up line.  It's usually hot in the afternoon, so a cold drink is nice and the midday caffeine always gives me a needed energy boost.  I used to drink a Mountain Dew with dinner, but I can't do that anymore if I want to go to bed at 10:00 or 11:00.)  The Mountain Dew should not have been a big deal, but I'm weirdly OCD, so I found it difficult to leave without cooling a Mountain Dew as much as possible, so I had to drag my heels to give it seven minutes in the freezer.  So then, of course, I was running later than usual (annoying because I had taken a break from what I was doing hours earlier to round up all the library books and pre-load the car).

Then once I got to the car (with my arms full of cold drinks for Penelope and me and a snack for her to eat on the way to the library) I noticed that her cupholder was still full of the can of sparkling orange water she'd been drinking the night before.  And then when I tried to pop out the extra set of front seat cupholders by pressing the panel under the stereo, nothing happened.  This was all making it very tricky for me to get all the drinks (waters, my Mountain Dew) I was juggling out of my hands.  I finally threw what I could into the seat and tried to move the can of hot water to the table on the front porch (only that's not there currently because the sectional is occupying the entire porch until somebody comes to pick it up tomorrow).

I'm pretty sure the extra cupholder is stuck shut because I put some clothespins in one of the slots the other day, so one of them must be tilted funny.  I tried to fix it, but all I did was break Penelope's Pez shooter.  (Long story.)

Anyway, none of the stuff going wrong for me was any big deal or anyone's fault, but it was just all these little tiny irritations that kept stacking up.  I honestly think part of my problem is Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Fall just sets me on edge when it first arrives.  

Then on the way to school, I got behind a car that insisted on going 25, even though the speed limit was 50--and I was behind this person all the way to school and all the way through the pickup line.

And then the book I had intended to read went sailing across the car when I turned a corner, so I couldn't read in the pick-up line as a usually do (so instead I used that time to break various objects by attempting to open the jammed cupholder with them).

Meanwhile, I got a text from Derrick saying that my parents had gone to get a new car key (which cost $150).  

But then Penelope got into the car, and everything seemed fine--until after craft day at the library.

After checking out our books, we were standing out near the statue of a mother frog reading to her babies.  Penelope loves this statue and always wants to take pictures and make videos there.  I had taken a few photos of her when she started telling an elaborate, animated story.  I decided to switch the phone camera to video mode, and as I was doing that, Penelope suddenly ran up to me and with both hands hit the center of my phone as hard as she could so that it fell to the edge of the sidewalk and split apart.

The back popped off, the battery flew out, the frame was chipped and scuffed and looks awful now.  But the worst part is, there's a chip out of the screen.  It's to the far left side, outside the viewing area, but still, I really hope it doesn't spread.

Why did Penelope do that?  I think she was caught up in some kind of role-playing frog story.  She didn't do it maliciously.  She was just including me in her game.  But she did it thoughtlessly and unexpectedly.  (She has never done anything like that ever before, so how could I have known to guard against it?)

So I got really mad, so mad that my anger took me by surprise.  Because I knew I was so mad, I calmly reprimanded Penelope for being reckless, led her back to the car, and then started the engine (and AC) and just sat there in silence for several minutes trying to compose myself while she cried hysterically.  

I felt terrible that she was crying.  I kept thinking to myself, Don't you love your child more than this phone?  I do, of course, but to my frustration, I couldn't stop feeling intensely angry.  But I didn't want to yell at her or say anything awful to her, so I just sat there silently.  Once or twice I said, "Please try to calm down.  I'm sorry, but I can't talk to you right now.  I'm too upset.  I just need to sit here for a minute until I stop feeling angry."

Finally I decided just to drive home.  Since my silence was freaking Penelope out, I turned on her radio station for her, but every time I tried to say something comforting to her, I found that I still felt so angry, so I just never said much of anything.

She cried on and on and on and offered me her phone and told me she had a dollar I could have if she  could only find it.  All of this was heart-breaking, so I told her, "We're almost home, and then you can sit with Grandma for a while, and that will help you feel better.  I'm sorry, but I'm still too angry to talk to you right now."

It was freaking me out that I was so angry with her, and clearly she was freaked out, too.  And then finally when we were 3/4 of the way home, I abruptly stopped feeling angry and was able to talk to her kindly and get her to stop crying fairly quickly.  It was weird.  I had felt guilty and horrible for being angry the entire time, but suddenly, the anger just vanished.

And Penelope responded immediately by telling me how much she loved me and being totally sweet, so I felt extra bad.  When I did something exasperating as a kid--like break two of my mother's nicest lamps in one week--and my mother responded by giving me the silent treatment, that would always make me so mad.  But Penelope was only sweet and happy we were friends again.

In the driveway, I texted Derrick that the screen was cracked a bit, and he replied, "I guess we've all had a terrible day."  Puzzled, I then noticed an earlier text from him saying that immediately after returning from having her $150 spare set of car keys made, my mother had found her car keys (someplace she'd already looked).

As we got out of the car, I realized that somehow I'd accidentally left the craft we made at the library this afternoon at the library!  And then Penelope tried to hand me her cup, but I didn't get a good grip on it, and it cracked on the driveway.

"Oh no!" Penelope cried.  "Now my cup is just like your phone!"

We were having the worst luck, although the rest of the evening was terribly pleasant for Penelope and me since we were both enjoying being in one another's good graces quite a bit.

But it wasn't a great evening for all of us.

When I came inside prepared to commiserate with my mom about that whole frustrating keys debacle, I learned that while we were at the library, her day had gotten even worse when, while eating some gluten free snack mix, she bit into a popcorn kernel hidden by melted chocolate and ended up cracking her tooth.

So now Mom's going to the dentist for an emergency crown tomorrow morning.  At least she knows where her car keys are, so she should have no trouble driving to the appointment.

Tattoo Dance

Fall Movie Diary: The Boxtrolls (2D)

Date: September 27, 2014
Time: 3:20 pm
Place: Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline
Food: Chips & Queso, Dr. Pepper
Company: Derrick,  Grayson,  Penelope
Runtime: 1 hour, 37 minutes

Rating: PG
Director: Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi

Quick Impressions:
We're big fans of stop-motion animation at our house.  I mean, how can anyone not be impressed by stop-motion?  The work that goes into each stop-motion feature is staggering!

And when artists dedicate that much time, energy, money, and meticulous crafting to creating thousands of tiny puppets and making us believe that they're moving, the creative team is unlikely to settle for a lazy, poorly written script.  You don't put in that much work to create a mediocre finished product if you can possibly help it.

The stop-motion classic Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit was easily my favorite film of 2005 (a total surprise since we bought tickets only because we had planned to see Roman Polanski's Oliver Twist but accidentally ended up at the wrong theater where it wasn't playing, an extra happy accident since when I finally did see Polanski's take on Oliver Twist, I totally hated it).

My husband and I are also big fans of Laika’s two previous stop motion features, Coraline, and (especially) ParaNorman.  I’m happy to report that The Boxtrolls is no departure from the studio’s previous work.  Three films can't be a fluke.  Laika consistently serves up unusually thoughtful, intensely atmospheric films with sharp writing and a blend of silly and sophisticated humor.  

Ostensibly these are children's movies, but all three of them are genuinely scary (sometimes even terrifying), and they also don't shy away from showing the ugly side of humanity.  (On the contrary, they relish spotlighting the disgusting and the vicious perhaps a little too much.)  Though some audiences may find this off putting, I think it’s all rather dark and wonderful, refreshingly non-toothless children's entertainment.  The morals are not exactly subtle, but they are artfully delivered, at least.

Even though our family has been trying to save money by cutting back on big weekend trips to the movies, all four of us really wanted to see The Boxtrolls (and our five-year-old really wanted to show her brother her new favorite movie theater), so we decided a Saturday afternoon matinee couldn't hurt.

And I’m pleased to say we got our money's worth.  The Boxtrolls is another great movie from Laika and a worthy contender for the Animated Feature Oscar this year.

The Good:
I’ve never read the book Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow (though my daughter and I liked the movie enough that we might get give it a try), but tonally The Boxtrolls reminded me a lot of a Neil Gaiman novel (specifically Neverwhere). 

Laika has consistently excelled at atmosphere, and from the opening scene, The Boxtrolls shows us a gloomy kingdom where high hats and cobblestone peek out at us through the ominous, pervasive fog.  Cheesebridge makes a strong impression right away as an atmospheric mash-up of a timeless fairy tale and Victorian London.

The characters all seem terribly familiar, though we’ve never exactly met them before.  The voice cast is extremely talented, and the writing is sharp, so the characters grow on us quickly, even (and maybe especially) the horrible ones.

Richard Ayoade and and Nick Frost are particular standouts as the—good guys?  evil henchmen?—philosophical Mr. Pickles and companionable Mr. Trout.  These two have some of the best (cleverest, funniest, and most thoughtful) lines in the film.  Initially, these characters made me think of Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar in Neverwhere, though Pickles and Trout turn out to be a very different breed of henchman.  (They’re not nightmarish at all, really.  They’ve just made some ill-informed choices.)

Ben Kingsley is just smashing as the nefarious Archibald Snatcher.  Some of Snatcher’s more successful moments of evilness may terrify young children, but (as someone who was obsessed with the movie Oliver! as a young child) I found him a wicked delight.  (That Snatcher’s “clever disguise” actually fools the most respectable (and not-so-coincidentally oblivious) citizens of Cheesebridge for a decade is another delightful aspect of the story.)  Kingsley plays the stereotypical storybook ruthless Cockney villain desperate to improve his social status with such gusto that I never succeeded in placing the actor’s voice until the end credits solved the mystery for me.  Making Snatcher come alive is a task of monumental importance since without a commanding performance from him, the movie would fall apart, and the seasoned Kingsley pulls it off with great aplomb.  (Kingsley usually gives fantastic performances, and I should mention that my dislike of Polanski's Oliver Twist had nothing to do with the actor's work in that film.)

Young Isaac Hempstead Wright (Bran Stark on Game of Thrones) is fantastic as “Boxboy” protagonist Eggs.  Elle Fanning is even better as Winifred, the much neglected (and resentful) daughter of the most influential whitehat of Cheesebridge, Lord Portley-Rind.  (She has such a hilarious line when she tells the Boxtrolls to go ahead and eat her, hilarious almost entirely because of her pouty delivery.)

Speaking of Lord Portley-Rind, Jed Harris is also perfect in his part.  (One of his only contemplative lines, delivered near the end of the final act, made me laugh more than almost anything in the movie.)

Playing a character who has been driven insane, Simon Pegg does little more than shout, “Jelly!”  But he shouts “Jelly!” with such charming energy that all his mad “Jelly!” shouting was my stepson’s favorite part of the movie.

Toni Collette has a nice moment in a very small part, and Tracy Morgan surprised me with his low key and sinister performance of Mr. Gristle.

Then we come to the Boxtrolls themselves.  Dee Bradley Baker (better known to my family as Perry the Platypus) plays Eggs’s charming Boxtroll protector, Fish (and some of the other Box Trolls, as well).  Fish is so sweet, so loyal, so true-hearted, and so cute.  In fact, all of the Boxtrolls are adorable, even the frequently grumpy Shoe (Steve Blum).

This brings me to one of the brilliant incongruities of the film.  So much of this movie comes across as biting social satire.  Though allegedly a faraway kingdom, Cheesebridge with its foggy, cobblestoned streets and abundance of scheming, grandiose, social-climbing Cockney villains seems an awful lot like the corrupt and merciless London of Charles Dickens or William Blake.  The town’s leadership, its finest and most respectable citizens, have their heads buried firmly up their cheesewheels, and they parade around uselessly in their empty finery, obliviously drawing the ire of their social “inferiors.”  Because of their self-absorbed incompetence and lack of leadership, the entire kingdom is in jeopardy.  (Really, Lord Portley-Rind makes Marie Antoinette look like a level-headed champion of the people.)  So up above on the streets of Cheesebridge, everything is very dark and grim and satirical and sophisticated and cutting.

But then down below in their underground wonderland, the Boxtrolls are a bunch of tender-hearted little cutie pies whose naïve gurgles and well-intentioned experiments will make toddlers coo and win the hearts of older children immediately.  The human world is oh so sophisticated and dark, and meanwhile the Boxtrolls are oh so cutie cute cute!

This is not a bad thing, mind you.  I think it’s meant to highlight the artificiality of society, the falseness of entrapping social constructs.  Over and over again, Snatcher bellows that you can’t change nature, but what he means is, in society, everyone has his or her proper place, and some people are meant to be better than others.  If anything, the movie teaches children to embrace their true nature and see past the ridiculous, oft entrapping trappings of a dysfunctional society.  Throughout the film, there’s a pretty sophisticated ongoing debate between a predestined, ordained worldview and the idea that free will and courageous decisions can make a difference.  Unhappy with his current station, Snatcher wants to rise in society, but he never considers that rising in society might not be worth it.  He hates being disrespected by the town's elite, and yet he continues to value their opinions.  He’s violently allergic to cheese, and yet his monomaniacal goal is to be invited to the cheese tasting room.  In some ways, he’s a tragic figure, but, then again, in most ways he’s more of a really evil jerk.

Meanwhile, the Boxtrolls could care less about society with its white hats and cheese-tasting.  They just enjoy their lives and spend most of their time taking apart old junk that they find and saving only the good bits and pieces, reassembling them to create useful things that actually work in a beneficial way.

The movie makes some pretty sophisticated philosophical points.  And if we’re unable to pick up on them ourselves, we can always rely on helpful Mr. Pickles to punch certain concepts for us again and again.

Also strongly in the movie’s favor is its captivating score.  There’s also a delightful, toe-tapping song by Eric Idle that plays in the closing credits.  I loved the song immediately, and I hope it gets an Oscar nomination (though that category is always so weird I never feel comfortable predicting it at all).

Best Scene Visually:
The layout of Cheesebridge makes an immediate impression.  When we see the kingdom from afar, it’s sharp triangular shape (not unlike a piece of cheese) looks very cool in the frame.  We get a view like this in several scenes, but my favorite moment comes when Eggs runs down the hill in his desperate search for the redhats who took Fish.

Best Scene:
When Winnie is taken below and introduced the Boxtrolls, the movie suddenly finds its stride and becomes far more enjoyable than it’s been to that point.  When Eggs goes above to be introduced into human society, however, the movie gets better still.  His inadvertently atrocious manners at the party are absolutely hilarious.

Another very strong scene is the flashback origin story of Eggs.

Best Action Sequence:
I personally like the dance/chase much better than the big fighting sequence at the end.  It’s very compelling with its mad-whirling energy.  And its absurdity is divine.  Madame Frou Frou is ridiculously grotesque, and yet Lord Portey-Rind can’t see beyond the end of his cheese wheel.  (You want to shout, “You wouldn’t know a villain if he dressed in drag and danced circles around your living room!”)

Another unforgettable sequence comes at the very end of the movie when we get to see the accelerated ghost of one of the animators manipulating the tiny puppets as the character in question waxes philosophical, wondering if his entire world is just a tiny stage, and if his every act is actually manipulated by some unseen hand.  This not only emphasizes for the audience just how much work goes into a stop-motion production, but it also punches one last time the movie’s preoccupation with the question of free will.

Best Cheesy Joke:
When Eggs and Winifred talk for the first time, the directions she gives him are hilarious (if groan-worthy).  As our kids would say, “She’s so punny!”

The Negatives:
Some people’s children are not going to enjoy watching this, and be careful because those children may be yours. 

I remember taking my stepson to see Coraline back when he was in kindergarten.  Media outlets kept buzzing that Coraline was too scary for children, and I thought, Seriously?  It’s directed by Henry Selick who also directed The Nightmare Before Christmas.  People complained about that, too, but though it’s macabre, it’s definitely not too scary for kids.  I’m sure the media is just overreacting to create a story.

Well, guess what?  At moments, Coraline is genuinely terrifying.  Neil Gaiman writes wonderful stuff, but even his children’s books don’t shy away from real horror.  (Though my daughter loves the whimsical Fortunately, the Milk, she absolutely refused to sit through Gaiman’s creepy picture book Crazy Hair a second time despite my pleas.  I was impressed with the book.  I kept saying, “Isn’t this delightfully creepy?”  And my daughter was like, “We are taking that right back to the library!  Now!”  Now arguably, Dave McKean’s artwork is what makes the book so horrifying, but Gaiman certainly doesn’t need any help scaring people.)

The Boxtrolls is not quite as scary as Coraline, but at moments it’s pretty darn close.  My five-year-old found it necessary to scoot up onto my lap and whisper petulantly, “I could not tell from the commercial that this would be so intense.  I’m not sure I would choose this movie again unless I could get more queso.”  (Of course, the moment the tide turned and the heroes had the villain on the run, she gushed, “Suddenly I’ve discovered that I love this movie again!”)

The Boxtrolls might legitimately frighten children not only because the villain is so hideously evil but also (and far more importantly) because the supposedly trustworthy adult authority figures do not recognize the villain as evil, do not pay attention to the children’s warnings, and do absolutely nothing to help them.  Very quickly the child protagonists realize that the way their world operates is not fair.  The villain wants to kill them, and the other adults are so self-absorbed they have no intention of offering the children any help.  If they do not come up with some way of stopping the sociopathic villain on their own, he will murder them and cover up their deaths.  Meanwhile, the other adults might not even notice that they’re gone.  Those stakes are pretty high.

For me, all of this is not a problem.  (In fact, I find it all quaintly charming, like a throw-back to the high stakes fairy tales of yore.)  But it would become a problem for me if instead of sitting nervously on my lap, my daughter threw back her head, started screaming in panic, had to be taken out of the theater, and suffered from recurring nightmares for the next five weeks.  Children are unpredictable, so taking the risk to treat the family to this film is bound to work out badly for some parents.

Others might become disenchanted with the film because the villain is so thoroughly disgusting.  His eventual fate is just flat out gross (and the kind of thing that would be less revolting to read than to see).

Again, I actually liked that (not the gross-out factor, but the idea that the villain had a choice and chose his own destruction).  The lesson it provides seems pretty solid.  Actions have consequences.  You can’t help someone who won’t be helped.  The fault is not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings.  That kind of thing.  But that doesn’t change the fact that the way it plays out is still really gross and unappealing to watch.

By taking your children to this movie, you’re also opening the door to lots of potentially awkward and problematic question and answer sessions.  (I keep thinking of the ad for Time Life Books that seemed to air during every other commercial break when I was a little kid.  “Daddy, what’s Vietnam?”)

I mean, there’s bound to be a say-it-ain’t-so factor to The Boxtrolls for the precocious child who is actually paying attention.  Surely the people in charge know what they’re doing, right?  Surely there’s no way that the “good” people could be so lazy and easily deceived as to let the villain make fools of them, right?  Surely the children can get help from their parents, right?

The social satire in The Boxtrolls is pretty sharp and biting, and some might find it kind of over-the-top and unnecessarily distressing.  (It’s kind of like Snowpiercer for children or an animated version of a William Blake poem.  It’s like a big mash-up of Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, and Charles Dickens.  Children will find life neither easy nor fair in Cheesebridge.)

Also several times during the movie, I kept thinking to myself, Most kids are so scared of this villain, but you know there’s got to be at least one sociopathic, Machiavellian little schemer in every audience who watches and takes a very different lesson from the story than the rest.  Surely some pint-sized Machiavel keeps his eyes on the screen, tents his fingers, and says, “Aha!  So this is how to game the system and gain power in an imperfect world.  Oh, but Snatcher’s made a false step there.  I’ll avoid that.  Yes.  I won’t be making that mistake on my rise to power…”

Basically, eighty-five percent of the negatives in this movie could also be viewed as decided strengths.  But they’re going to evoke a strong response.  This is not a bland, paint-by-numbers kind of affair, not a way to pass a vaguely pleasant afternoon with your kids.  The Boxtrolls is strong coffee, and surely some people aren’t going to respond well.

My husband also thought that the beginning was a bit slow.  I agree that the pace picks up considerably once Winnie and Eggs meet, but I didn’t have as big a problem with the pacing in the beginning (although taking so much time to establish the antagonist first might be off-putting to small childen).

The Boxtrolls is a thoroughly worthy successor to Laika’s earlier stop-motion features Coraline and ParaNorman.  All three films are cut from the same cloth (or, if you prefer to be more literal, all three are animated from similar materials), so if you liked Coraline and ParaNorman, then I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t like The Boxtrolls, too.

Because of its whimsical setting and genuine horror, The Boxtrolls probably has more in common with Coraline than with ParaNorman (something to bear in mind if you liked only one of those flilms).  So it’s possible that you and your family might enjoy this movie even if you weren’t necessarily sold on the others.

Boxtrolls is beautifully animated, sharply written, and extremely well-acted with moments of genuine menace and a plentiful sprinkling of humor that actually works.  All four of us really enjoyed it, and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t snag a nomination for Best Animated Feature (though it would have to overcome some seriously formidable competition to win).

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Fall Movie Diary: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them

Date: September 24, 2014
Time: 12:50 pm
Place: Regal Arbor
Company: No one

Food:  small Coke, small popcorn
Runtime: 2 hours, 2 minutes
Rating: R
Director: Ned Benson

Quick Impressions:
Once again, I want to see almost everything out this week, and I almost picked The Maze Runner.  Since the weekend, I’ve been going back and forth between titles, trying to make up my mind, and The Maze Runner does look cool and exciting.

Here’s the thing, though.  I write YA, so the thought of reviewing a YA adaptation makes me weirdly nervous.  (I don’t know why.  How likely is it that somebody in the publishing industry will choose not to work with me because I gave a movie adaptation a review that was too positive?  And you know that’s what I would do!  Somehow, that’s what I always do!)

The other thing is that I think I’d enjoy The Maze Runner more if I watched it with my husband and stepson, and we’re trying to save money right now by cutting back on big family trips to the movies.

And then the other thing (there are quite a lot of things, as it turns out!)—I’ve been dying to see The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby since I learned its compelling (some might say gimmicky, but I won’t) premise months ago!

I’m always game for exercises in shifting point of view.  As a child, I lived for sit-com episodes featuring two characters “remembering” a story completely differently.  I swear, when I was a kid, this happened all the time.  It must have been an 80s TV staple.  I always found it so funny to see how differently two people who knew each other remembered (and, potentially, even experienced) a common moment.  And then usually, in the last five minutes of the show, a third, impartial character tells another version of the story, one that’s either much more likely to be true or completely hilarious and useless because the narrator is hopelessly self-absorbed and unaware of the conflict between the two protagonists.)

It’s funny.  The creation of narrative has always fascinated me.  (Well, maybe since I’m a writer, it’s not so funny, after all.  That’s like saying, “The bone structure of birds has always fascinated me.”  “What do you do?” “I’m an ornithologist.”)

Anyway, I’m fascinated and tormented by the idea that the people around me at any given moment are not experiencing that moment in the same way that I am.  (Tormented may seem an odd word to use, but just imagine!  What if somebody I know is experiencing and conceiving of my life in a better, more meaningful way than I am?  What then?  What then???!)

The point is, I’m fascinated by lenses and by using narrative to make sense of reality and by point of view and all that stuff, so how could I not love a project that tells exactly the same story (i.e., presents the same events) from two completely different points of view?

And then I hear this amazing project is also a showcase for several talented actors and that Jessica Chastain might even get a nomination for Best Actress?  I’m afraid I’m hooked.  You’ve more than sold me on this movie.  I’m in.

Here’s weird thing about this movie, though.  It used to be two separate movies, and now, it’s neither of them.  The project screened at the Toronto International Film Festival as two distinct films, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her.  The subject of both films was the disappearance of the wife from a relationship, but Him told the story entirely from the man’s point of view, Her, from the woman’s.

Then Harvey Weinstein got involved and decided that American audiences (and more importantly Academy members) might not want to watch two separate feature length films about a relationship breaking down.  So now we get The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them, a film that promises to tell the story from both points of view (though from what I’ve read, it’s actually shorter than one of its components).

What’s problematic, of course, is that while two hours is indeed a more watchable length than five or six, suddenly a very unique concept becomes just another two hour relationship drama.

Still, Jessica Chastain is such a talented and versatile actress that she could potentially overcome this debacle and secure an acting nomination, after all.  (And plus, I hear that Him and Her will eventually be released, too, later in the fall.)

So that’s why I finally committed to The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them.  When The Maze Runner is available for streaming, everyone in the house will be delighted to watch it with me.  But if I don’t see this movie now, then when will I ever find the time?

The Good:
In its present form, this movie has two obvious strengths, 1) Its fantastic acting ensemble and 2) The way it looks. 

Let me talk about the second thing first because I lack the technical expertise to label the phenomenon succinctly.  When I say “the way it looks,” I don’t just mean the cinematography.  Almost every shot is exquisitely framed, and the composition of each shot is incredible.  This seems to go beyond cinematography into set design, costuming, and make-up. 

Basically, this film is an incredible showcase for actors.  I can see why Benson was able to assemble such an impressive cast.  Almost every single character gets a big, showy, showcased moment.  Before their line delivery even enters into it, they’re given the perfect hair, make-up, and costumes (so that they match the scenery), the perfect setting, and lighting that is so ideal it's almost eerie.

This film reminds me of an antique carousel.  Why? (Because I’m crazy, obviously.)  But, seriously, why?  Because as the carousel spins, we see it pass in a blur and try to make sense of what we see.  Then it stops, and we’re able to focus on one carefully crafted horse, carved and painted by an artist, aged and worn by time, an arresting thing of beauty that gives us pause and speaks to us.  And then the carousel spins again.  And then it stops again.  And then we’re treated to another look at another horse.

Jessica Chastain’s Eleanor is the character we’re shown the most (which is somewhat ironic given the film’s title.  It’s like we’re being told, “Here is the person who isn’t here.”)  Chastain is phenomenal (but I’ve never seen her not be phenomenal).  She certainly could get an Oscar nomination based on the strength of the performance even in this cut of the film.  As far as the others go, I think Him and Her would have to make a strong showing before I’d predict nominations for the rest of the cast.

Among Eleanor’s supporting players, Viola Davis is the clear standout.  If anybody pulls off a supporting nomination for this film, it should definitely be her.  (I think Harvey Weinstein knows this, too, because she’s in it a lot, making a far stronger and more intriguing impression than most of the other supporting players.)  Maybe it’s just because I’m an ex-academic myself, but I would gladly watch an entire movie of Chastain and Davis grabbing coffee on or near campus.

(Only after the film did I realize that Chastain and Davis appeared together before—in The Help.  You forget that because they’re both so versatile.  Plus, they didn’t really have any scenes together.)

Isabelle Huppert also has a plum supporting role as Chastain’s mother, and she is consistently intriguing.  (I really loved Huppert in I Heart Huckabees.)  One of her lines is so unexpected and odd—and yet her delivery is so convincing and real—that a lone elderly woman in my screening burst out laughing uproariously.

William Hurt’s early scenes I didn’t like much (though I think Hurt is a great and versatile actor).  But Hurt’s final scene is absolutely tremendous.  It’s a fantastic, powerful, show-stopping moment.

I’m completely unfamiliar with Jess Weixler, but she’s also very good as Eleanor’s sister.  I totally believed that they were sisters.  The two had great chemistry.  Their relationship seemed totally natural, effortlessly authentic.  I wish we knew more about that character.

Then there’s Connor’s side of the story.  I must say, I expected Chastain to be excellent (she’s always excellent).  The idea of her giving an Oscar-worthy performance is certainly nothing new.  But I was absolutely blown away by James McAvoy.  I’ve always liked McAvoy, but I’ve never personally seen him give a performance quite as strong as this.  (Something weird, too.  Ordinarily, I find performers more intriguing and more attractive when they speak in their natural accents, but in this odd case, I discovered that I like McAvoy better with an American accent.  I really don’t understand why, and that's why I mention it.)

The film seems cut to favor Chastain, but I would love to see McAvoy get some Oscar love, too.  This is one of those eye-opening performances.  You watch and think, “Oh, maybe in the future, we should start thinking about James McAvoy when it's time to dole out all those Oscars.”

I loved him as Connor.  He seemed so real.  I actually preferred his character and enjoyed seeing him, but then he never got as much to do, and the people around him were never quite as captivating.

I wish, particularly, that we saw more of his dad, played Ciarán Hinds.  There’s a late scene they have together that is pretty fantastic, but earlier, the character seems kind of weird.  He’s one of those people who gets talked about so much that he seems he ought to matter, but then he’s hardly ever there.  I’ve always liked Hinds as an actor, but I thought his speaking voice in this movie was very strange.  Oddly enough, though, in that late scene, when the character seems less vague and more present, the accent suddenly sounds less vague and more real, too.  I think if there are any additional scenes with him, they should put them back in the movie.  (Of course, that would mean a fourth cut of the film!  How many can they possibly make?)

Nina Arianda is great in a very, very small part.  (I mean, it seems especially tiny considering what a strong performance she gives.)

And I love Bill Hader.  He has a low key part here, but he’s one of Connor’s most frequent screen partners, so his presence is very important.  And (oddly enough) he’s playing one of the few supporting characters that does not seem particularly weird or troublesomely selfish.  (I suppose in that way, he’s similar to Eleanor’s sister.)

Best Scene Visually:
In a late scene, Eleanor picks up the phone receiver and holds it to her ear.  Guess what?  The receiver matches the highlights in her hair.  And then in the back of the room far behind her, the curtains match the main color of her hair, and the way the light hits the edges of them almost gives the curtains their own highlights.  

This happens to her all the time!  Scenery coordinates with her clothes, hair, and make-up everywhere she goes!  After a while, I started looking for it.  What would be in the shot with her next?  In what way would it mimic or complement her appearance?  Would it also reflect on her interiority or on the events she was currently experiencing? 

If you say, “I wanted to see if Chastain’s hair would match the drapes,” it sounds like you’re setting up a dirty joke or something.  But seriously, this movie rewards that kind of attention to detail.  What will Jessica Chastain match next?  And how will that visual coordination end up working in the story?

I sense there’s something more going on here than finding good lighting for beautiful people.

In the scene I just mentioned, the colors not only coordinate, but her position in the room also matters.  The lines of the shot are so clean and pronounced you feel like you could be looking at a painting in a gallery.

I watched, thinking, Are you sure Eleanor Rigby disappeared?  I keep seeing her everywhere!  She matches half of New York.  Maybe you should look harder for her.  She might just be blending in.  Maybe she’s been there the whole time, really, and it’s a camouflage thing.

There’s also a great shot of Connor sitting at the bar, and many, many repeated shots of Eleanor at one particular subway station.

The movie’s visuals are just as much a star as any of its cast, and that’s saying something because the actors are uniformly fantastic.

Best Scene:
Connor and Eleanor seem more alive in one another’s presence.  (Unfortunately, although their acting in these scenes is great, this is also where they get some of their cheesiest lines.)

But I love a late moment when Chastain confesses that she can’t remember something, and McAvoy refreshes her memory.

To be honest, though, Chastain’s scenes with Davis were the ones I most looked forward to in the movie.  I was even hoping they might get together one more time (even though that made no sense) just because I enjoyed watching them on screen together.

Most Oscar Worthy Moment, James McAvoy:
I don’t expect an Oscar nomination for McAvoy because he would have to be Best Actor, and surely there won’t be room for him.  But he’s still magnificent.  I loved his whole performance (because it seemed so real), but I can think of one amazing moment for him more easily than I can for Chastain.

Following a scene with a colleague in his restaurant, we get a shot of him sitting in regret, dismay, sadness, grief, in the corner of a booth.  The look in his eyes alone evokes such powerful emotions immediately.  It’s a stunning display of sadness that ought to get the attention of the people who give out awards for acting.

Most Oscar Worthy Moment, Jessica Chastain:
What makes Chastain’s performance great is more of a cumulative effect.  I feel that she gets to show off her gifts most in her scenes with her mother, though, because these require a certain nuance, the ability to convey multiple, complex emotions at once.

The scene, for example, when she comes home from releasing the firefly and finds her mother waiting with a glass of wine is riveting.  What makes Chastain’s performance great, though, is that she’s hardly ever given time alone without some outside agitation.  She’s constantly forced into conversations with other characters, and all of them have problems of their own.  (I think this is the point of her name, as Viola Davis’s character rather awkwardly emphasizes for us.)

Best Action Sequence:
The clear stand-out here is the end of the “stalking” scene after Connor follows Eleanor to and from class.

The Negatives:
Compare these two pitches.

A) “Watch The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him to see the struggles of a man experiencing loss as his wife slowly vanishes from his life.  Then stay for its companion piece The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her to see the same events depicted from the wife’s point of view.”  (Cool, right?)

B)  “Watch The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them to see a story about the breakdown of a marriage told from the points of view of the two protagonists.”  (Sorry, but a story told from the points of view of the protagonists—isn’t that just a typical movie?)

Relationship dramas are usually told from the points of view of the characters in the relationship(s).  That’s an entirely conventional presentation style, nothing bold or innovative or risky or novel about it at all.  And unfortunately, that’s what we get in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them.

I haven’t had the opportunity to see Him and Her (because they haven’t been given an ordinary theatrical release yet).  But what I would expect from them is to see two surprisingly different stories (even though the overlapping plot points are the same).  Nobody experiences life in the same way as anyone else.  (I mean, look at a murder mystery.  If you told it three separate times, from the points of view of the murderer, the victim, and the detective who solves the case, you’d produce three incredibly different stories about the same events.)  A relationship drama would work the same way.  (Look at all the people who have stories about crazy exes.  Surely which ex is the “crazy one” is determined by which ex is the narrator.) 

(Also—I’m off on a tangent now—wouldn’t it be delightful to make a movie about a serial killer telling the story of a failed relationship with his crazy ex?  Talk about fun with point-of-view!  The Coen Brothers could make that movie, and then I’m pretty sure it would work.  Quentin Tarantino might be able to pull it off, too.  In fact, maybe Tarantino’s already done it.)

Anyway, my point is, I would expect two different stories.  Here’s what I wonder, though.  What about the scenes where Connor and Eleanor come together?  Are these scenes identical in Him and Her, or are they cut slightly differently, or were completely different versions of the scenes filmed and used (because everybody remembers things in his or her own way)?

Here’s the problem.  These are the kinds of questions that first drew me to The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, but after paying to spend two hours watching the movie, I still don’t know the answers!  To find out the answers, I’m going to have to buy either another ticket to a three-plus-hour movie or two additional tickets to two feature length movies.

That’s a lot of time and money to devote to a project that isn’t even plot driven.  (I mean, if I wanted to experience the gripping saga of a thirty-five-year-old woman whose father keeps telling her to go back and finish her dissertation, I could just go downstairs to my living room and have a chat with my father.)

Here’s the crazy thing, though.  After watching The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them, I find that I actually do want to watch the two additional movies.  (To be frank, I wish I’d had the opportunity to watch them first.  I feel like filmmaker Ned Benson’s creative goals were subverted by the star power of his female lead.

I mean, I could be wrong, but the obvious reason for Harvey Weinstein to conflate the two movies is that he wants Jessica Chastain to get Oscar attention.  He doesn’t care about narrative experiments or an artistic exercise in point of view.  His point of view is that it’s a good thing for him to win as many Oscars as possible.)  

Of course, I’ve also read that originally Benson wanted to tell the story from the husband’s point of view and wrote the companion piece (Her) because after he cast Jessica Chastain, she mentioned that the wife’s character was underwritten.  (Correcting that by writing her an entire feature length film seems extreme at first glance, but then we’ve got to consider that writing a feature film just for an actress is never a bad idea if that actress is Jessica Chastain.)

The bottom line is, if you go to this movie just because you’re intrigued by the unusual structure, Them is sure to disappoint you.  It doesn’t even succeed in giving each point of view equal weight because Chastain’s character always feels more important (and, ironically, more present) than McAvoy’s.

But of course, if you’re also going because you’ve heard Oscar buzz for Jessica Chastain, her fine performance should soften the blow of any disappointment about the structure.  In fact, this film is a delicious showcase for all the fine actors, not just Chastain.

But I wish I could have seen both pieces separately, and each in its entirety without anything cut.  And honestly, at the end of the movie, I was left wanting more and wishing that it were a little longer.

Here’s the thing.  It’s a long movie, but given the style of the storytelling, it needs to be an even longer movie to work as well as it could.  The way it works is comparable to Blue is the Warmest Color, and that film often devotes five minutes at a time to the protagonist eating spaghetti, saying nothing, gazing nowhere.  Films like this are less about the plot than about the character.  And if you’re going for realism and trying to encourage the audience to lose themselves totally in a character (who does little that’s remarkable), you’re going to have to allow the audience to spend an enormous amount of time with that character.  You can’t really do that with two separate characters in a two hour span. 

Also to me, the dialogue sometimes felt clunky.  Eleanor and Connor seem natural enough (except occasionally when they’re together and fall into that trap of all movie couples, calling back the other’s earlier lines with a touch of bitter irony.  The most glaring example of this cinematic blunder I can think of is in Batman Returns.  “Mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it.”   “But a kiss can be even deadlier if you mean it.”  Connor and Eleanor never say anything nearly as goofy as that (which kind of works in context because of the tone of the movie), but because their interactions apart seem so natural, their dialogue to one another does strike me as conspicuously contrived at moments).  Most of the time, they speak naturally, though.

In contrast, the speech of the supporting characters sounds conspicuously contrived a lot of the time.  If the movie is going for unselfconscious realism, then it can’t sometimes give us obviously scripted clunkiness instead.  Viola Davis manages to make this work by seeming aware of how weird some of her lines are.  (She even has to recite Beatles lyrics that pointedly defend and explain the choice of naming the title character Eleanor Rigby, and she somehow manages to make that work!  Davis is just a phenomenal talent!)  But others do not pull this off as well, and they’re given some very strange things to say.  Of course, maybe they’re just strange people.  That’s possible.

The only other small quibble I have is that I didn’t like the score, and as the movie went on, I didn’t like it increasingly.  It reminded me of the soundtrack to Drive, but in Drive, the choice to use that music made sense to me.  Here, I just didn’t like the music.  I think I would have liked no music better.  But that’s just a personal quibble.  Others might think it’s great.

I also think this movie is a bit sneaky in the way its previews conceal the catalyst for Eleanor’s disappearance.  I think it should come with a trigger warning or something.  I avoided seeing Rabbit Hole deliberately for that reason.  (Not that the topic is all that easy to avoid.  It seems like every other movie that comes out lately touches on this in some way.  It’s enough to drive a woman crazy!)

The most unusual thing about The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them is that it claims to be unusual and then does absolutely nothing unusual at all.  It does contain some great performances by a uniformly strong cast of seasoned actors, though.  Jessica Chastain might pull off a Best Actress nomination, and James McAvoy gives what may be the strongest performance of his career. 

One warning, though, if you watch this movie, you will probably want to see The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her, as well, because here you leave with the sense that when we get both sides of the story, we get less of it.

But the acting of the talented ensemble alone makes The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them worth watching even though it leaves you wanting more.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Penelope Flies

A frog!

Haiku Brainstorming

Maze of Thorns

Penelope Wants to Go Across

A Different Creak

Still Trying to Get Through

The Maze

A Little Poetry by the Creek

Penelope's Boyfriend

Penelope Wants Everything Spooky

To Move or Not to Move

Yesterday on the way home from the park, just as we were passing the high school, Penelope piped up from the back seat, "Mom, if what they're telling me is true, I'm going to be able to stay at Hutto Elementary until I'm in sixth grade."

"Yep," I confirmed.   "That's right.  You'll go to Hutto Elementary through fifth grade, and then you'll go to middle school."

"Like Bubby," she said, sounding pleased.

"Yes, Bubby's in sixth grade right now," I agreed, and then, gesturing, added, "And if we don't move, when you're in ninth grade you'll start going to the high school.  Right there."

"Will I graduate from Hutto High School?" Penelope asked.

"If you start there," I answered, "we will do everything we can to make sure that's where you graduate."

Reflecting on that, I told her, "You know when I was a kid, I went to three high schools, four middle schools, and six elementary schools!"

"You must have learned a lot!" noted Penelope, impressed.

With a chuckle, I told her, "Well, I learned that I don't like moving.  That's for sure."

Grayson recently was telling us something about a girl he's known since kindergarten (whose name we know well).  It's amazing to me to think that you could know someone and interact with them on an almost daily basis from kindergarten to sixth grade.

But then just now this morning while I was downstairs making my "lunch" (which is what I call the tuna I eat at 9:30 every morning after my walk), my dad was watching TV when a commercial came on featuring a guy standing on the green of a golf course.

"I think I've golfed there," Dad said in surprise.  "I think I've stood right by that tee.  Of course, all golf courses look the same."

"I've never golfed," I said, adding, "Well I mean, not professionally."

Mom was saying, "I've golfed," but then hearing the second part added, "well I've never golfed professionally!"

"Well, I didn't mean professionally," I explained quickly.  "I meant at a real golf course.  I've golfed in Aunt Kay's backyard, but I somehow don't think that counts."

"I golfed once at Tan-Tar-A," Mom said.

"And you were hit by golf balls there many times," I chimed in.

"True," she said, as I allowed, "Or almost hit.  Anyway, you had quite a golf ball collection by the end."

"I did," she agreed.

And then I started thinking.  When I was seven, we moved from California to Missouri (quite a change), and my dad worked at Tan-Tar-A Resort (then owned by Marriott) on the Lake of the Ozarks.  We got there in the summer, and while we were looking for a house, we lived on the resort, at first in a room in the hotel, and then later in various empty cabins on the resort grounds (which was nice because then we could have Shells and Cheese and Fruit Juicees instead of room service).

During our stay, we moved around quite a bit (because they'd always shift us to an empty cabin).

From Mom's point of view, I think it was pretty hectic.  But living on a resort was kind of fun for us.  Every day we would take a walk together, but the walking trails weren't too far from the golf course, so Mom was spent a good portion of these walks ducking, jumping aside insanely, throwing herself over Merry's stroller, or pushing me to the ground.  Once a golf ball even came through the cabin window while we were inside watching TV.

Another time, Mom was doing laundry in the freestanding laundromat, so Merry and I were playing tag in a little park nearby.  (Since Merry was two and I was seven, we were really playing, "Make Merry think you're trying to catch her.")  I accidentally crashed into something, and it fell over.

That's an awfully big rock, I thought.  Then creeping closer, I realized what it really was--a tombstone!  Suddenly it dawned on me that we were playing tag in a cemetery!  Now incredibly paranoid, I soon spotted a security truck in the near distance, and yelled, "Run Merry!  Run!" and we took off to the laundromat where I told Mom in a rushed panic that I was sure we were about to be arrested and asked what on earth we should do.  She advised laying low in the laundromat for a while.

"But I didn't know it was a graveyard!" I kept insisting.  "Why would there be a graveyard in a hotel?"

Later that evening, we told Dad about our adventure.  The next day he cleared up the mystery for us.  Apparently the resort had purchased a huge piece of land with a very small cemetery on it, and as part of the deal, they had promised to keep the cemetery intact.  (It would have been nice if they had marked it as a cemetery somehow, though.  We can't be the first guests to have wandered in there.)

As I think about it, the reason we spent so long living at the hotel was that we had some trouble finding a place to live.  I remember this one place had wooden paneling and carpet that smelled moldy.  Even though I thought it was stinky and dark, I really wanted to live there because of the paneling.  (Of course, when Mom shot down my romantic notion that there was a secret panel with someone's will hidden inside, I changed my tune.)

Eventually we found a spacious, newly built house deep in the woods.  They were tract homes, but built with nothing around them but wilderness.  There was also an Indian Burial Cave a few blocks away that our next door neighbor tunneled into later on.  He'd always disappear into his tunnel and come out hours later covered in mud and carrying bones wrapped in cloth, which was rather impressive (to seven-year-old me).  (But I was friends with his sister, so I couldn't let on that I thought it was impressive.  I really wanted to go in there, but she was sure that her brother was an idiot, so I didn't like to argue with her.)

Our new house was beautiful and had only two shortcomings.  1) The location (heavily wooded) made it impossible to get TV reception or even cable that worked or anything.  (But that was okay.  We just bought our first VCR and rented five movies every weekend.)  2) The house was secretly built on top of a gigantic wasp colony.

Thing two eventually became quite a problem.  An exterminator went down there and came up saying, sounding spooked, "I set off some bug bombs, but that may not help.  I've never seen a colony so big.  There are millions of them down there.  This must have been their home for hundreds of years."

When they would swarm (which was like every day), my mother would wrap Merry in a blanket and run out the door to the car to pick me up from school.  On particularly swarmy days, she would then drive to the hotel where we would hang around in the underground bowling alley that smelled like cheeseburgers until Dad got off from work.  (The hotel also had a classier restaurant which you also had to walk down stairs to access.  I liked that one because on the stairs, there was a beautiful, rocky waterfall.  There was a candy store in the hotel, too.)

I guess my point is, I'm really hoping that Penelope won't have to move as much as I did.  I hope she doesn't have to change schools at all, to be honest.  But, on reflection, I have to say that moving did make my childhood extremely colorful and memorable.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Penelope Says

September 7, 2014

Penelope wanted a turn using Grandpa's safety harness for the stairs, but then she broke into a run and practically dragged Mom over to the staircase!

7:18 pm

Penelope: I'm stepping out of the shower now. I'm wearing my old fashioned robe.

8:33 pm  

Penelope wanted to read me her children's Bible as a bedtime story tonight. We started at the beginning again, and after the first two chapters, she asked me to read to her.
Penelope (as we read about Babel): Wait a minute. So other languages that we can learn to speak in the world are there because of a punishment?
Me: Well, in this story, it's definitely a punishment when they all speak different languages in the end.
Penelope: Hmm...
(A moment later)
Derrick: It's almost time for bed.
Me: (closing the book) And tomorrow night, we'll read about Abraham.
Penelope: (with a playful grin) Abraham Lincoln.
Me: No, not THAT Abraham...although you know, it's funny, Abraham Lincoln had a stepmother named Sarah, and Abraham in the Bible had a wife named Sarah. Of course, what's really surprising is that she was also his sister.
Penelope: What?!
Me: And that's not all. When Abraham went into Egypt one time, he said to Sarah, "Listen, you're so beautiful it's going to cause trouble for me if people think you're my wife, so just tell them you're my sister." But then the king of Egypt didn't know she was his wife, so he took her to live with him. And then he couldn't figure out why these terrible plagues kept happening to him...well, not plagues exactly...You know, I'm not sure it was the king of Egypt. What was Abraham doing in Egypt? I'm probably going crazy. He was probably somewhere else. I'll have to find my Bible. For some reason, I keep thinking it was the king of Egypt, but that can't be right.
Penelope: (reassuringly) It was probably the king of Mexico.
Me: Probably, now let's go up and wash your hair.
9:38 pm

September 8th

On our way to the grandparents' breakfast!

7:06 am
Penelope: Here (giving me a plastic lion). This is for Moosie's birthday. It's Moosie's birthday party, so get ready to give Moosie his presents. (getting her plastic Fisher-Price birthday cake) Here's the cake!
Me: Oh is that Moosie's birthday cake? (singing) Happy Birthday to Moo! Happy Birthday to Moo! Happy Birthday, dear Moosie....
Penelope: Cha-cha-cha.
(She goes around passing out slices of plastic birthday cake)
Penelope: (after she's been finished passing out cake for several minutes) OH NO! Grandma! I forgot! THIS CAKE IS NOT GLUTEN FREE!
Grandma: Well, I'd better not eat it then.
Penelope (taking the plastic cake back from Grandma and Grandpa, apparently very flustered, dumps it on the couch next to me): Here! You had better eat this, I guess! I don't know...
6:47 pm

Penelope's show-and-tell Friday is supposed to be a picture of her family. So we are doing some trial runs. She has too many family members to fit on one page. In this picture we see Daddy has much longer legs than I do, and Gray was the original choice for Simon the Chipmunk. Penelope also fears that she made Grandpa too long.
(Left to right, me, Derrick, Gray, Penelope, Grandma and Grandpa.)

8:15 pm 

September 9th

On our left is the moon, huge and white. On our right is the sun, huge and red. They're practically lined up and about the same size.
7:17 am

Sunrise at Hutto Elementary School

7:32 am

Penelope: Mom, I like school because I am learning, but I am starting to miss my old days. I am beginning to wish I had this much learning and THIS MUCH play.
Me: I know! But think of all the friends you have now!
Penelope: Mommy, can I tell you something that may sound a little bit strange? Now I have all these best friends, but you are my very best friend, Mommy. You are the very best friend I ever had!
9:21 pm

1-Up slightly past her bedtime!

9:23 pm  

So a couple of years ago, Penelope and I were halfway home when we noticed we'd lost Dinah.
Frantically we turned around retraced our steps while Penelope cried hysterically in the stroller. We were so relieved when a very kind little girl and her daddy were waiting in their front yard to give Dinah back to us.

The little girl had seen Dinah on the ground and realized that Penelope must have dropped her. At the time, we were so relieved and so grateful for their kindness.

And tonight at the ice cream social at the elementary school, we found out that that little girl is in Penelope's kindergarten class!
10:13 pm

September 11th

Me: Smile Penelope! 
Penelope: Mom! Save it for picture day!

7:20 am  

Coming soon to a Halloween near you...

4:19 pm 

So Penelope was planning to be a ghost for Halloween...until we found this mask!

5:14 pm 
Masked Vigilante Strikes at Target

5:19 pm

Michelangelo wants your candy!

5:55 pm  

In the snack bar at Target...

Me: We're having such a lovely little outing.
Penelope (genuinely): Yes, and from my seat, I have a beautiful view of the parking lot. Do you have any view from your seat?
Me: Well a partial view. I can see the clouds a little bit.
Penelope: I can also see the big red balls out this door.
Me: You'd better not push on that door. That's the emergency exit. They've helpfully written it there in Braille, too, in case you're blind and trying to escape a fire by feeling every wall for information.
Penelope: Or if you suddenly realize you're pregnant! You suddenly notice, "OHHHHH I'm in so much PAIN!" (glances down at her body) "And why am I so fat?"
Me: I don't think being pregnant is reason enough to use the emergency exit, unfortunately. 
Penelope: What if your baby is coming out right then?
Me: Then I guess you would have it in Target.
Penelope: Well, I'm really enjoying these bread sticks.
Me: That's good. Did you eat any of your lunch today?
Penelope: Yes, I ate my applesauce and my Goldfish.
Me: That sounds like you.
Penelope: Well, I didn't have time to eat any more because Blaze was sitting on one side of me, and Connor was on the other side, and they kept talking and talking and talking to me. I was like, "Come on guys! I'm trying to eat here! Give me a break!" I didn't say that you know. That's just what I was thinking.
Me: But sometimes it's nice to talk with your friends at lunch, too.
Penelope: Well, yes, but that doesn't leave much time to eat your granola bar.
7:15 pm

Penelope's family continued, Matt, Merry, and "my Rosie Kitty."

7:57 pm

Penelope's Family, continued, Uncle Jason, Nanny, and Papa Harley

8:00 pm

Penelope: (to Mom) I think I've decided who I want my boyfriend to be. Connor.
Grandma: Does Connor know this?
Penelope (nonchalantly): Yes, I told him today.
What?! We chatted about her day the entire time we were shopping for Halloween costumes, and she never once mentioned that.
8:14 pm

Lightning from our bathroom...

8:23 pm

Penelope’s Family

8:26 pm 

Afternoon Outing

9:21 pm 

Penelope (talking about her "boyfriend"): I really think that he likes me. I just have that feeling. 
Me: How can you tell?
Penelope: Because today at lunch, he kept saying, "I like you. I like you. I like you so much, Penelope, and that's what gave me the idea."
Me: That makes sense.
Penelope: Yes, and I like him too, but we can't really be boyfriend and girlfriend yet. I have to wait to be his girlfriend for two weeks.
Me: Is that what he said?
Penelope: No, that's what Bubby said. I can't be anyone's girlfriend right away, Bubby said. First I have to wait for two weeks.
9:32 pm

September 12th

Me: Smile, Penelope! 
Penelope: (blocking the shot, wickedly) I have a bigger hand now.

7:17 am

Hippo Time

9:56 am 

Kindergarten Hippo

10:03 am 

One of the perks of having my mom home! I come downstairs to get ready to pick up Nellie and discover all this!

2:25 pm 

Penelope (watching the "For the First Time in Forever" sequence in Frozen): Whoa! That's scary. I would be scared to stand out on that swing!
Me: Well, but she's very happy!
Penelope: But she could fall off the whole palace! Of course, I'm sure they have the stunt person doing that.
Me: What?
Penelope: They wouldn't let Anna stand outside the palace like that, would they? It's too dangerous! That's a stunt person doing that scene for her, right?
4:55 pm

So this costume got here fast! I ordered it from Amazon last night at 7:00!

5:19 pm


5:23 pm

Penelope is all dressed up in her rainy day gear from Aunt Merry, going from porch to porch, watching the rain. She's got the boots on and the umbrella out and everything. She even made me fasten all the snaps because she says, "I have to keep myself protected."
7:50 pm

September 13th

Penelope: (wisely) Rain is Splash Mountain without the drops.
11:08 am

Penelope: I want some of that chocolate. 
Me: Let's have some lunch first.
Penelope: I had a big breakfast, two pieces of jelly sandwich, some of my Honey Nut Cheerios, and almost all of my second bowl of marshmallows!
11:23 am

We just now noticed that there are rain drops. Derrick suggests, "Rain is Splash Mountain without the mountain."
11:28 am

Visiting Nanny and Papa on a rainy day...

2:39 pm  

The force is strong with this one!

4:19 pm

Penelope (leaving Nanny and Papa's): Wait! I want to show them my feet!
Me: No if you show them, your feet will get even dirtier!
Penelope: Well put it on facebook and tag everybody!

5:08 pm

Penelope climbs the wild persimmon tree...

5:13 pm 

Penelope Has Fun

5:17 pm

"This is the life!"

5:17 pm

Penelope follows Frodo to Mordor...

5:18 pm

Penelope sits in her first hole in order to dig her second hole comfortably.

5:23 pm

Penelope: Whoa! You shouldn't be running down the stairs!
Me: You are bossy.
Penelope: Well, I'm just trying to keep you safe so that you don't have to go to the hospital.
7:26 pm

September 14th

Penelope (out of nowhere at bedtime): What if you could only say one word a year?
Me: That would be crazy! You'd have to think really carefully all year about what you wanted to say. What would you say?
Penelope: Hello.
Me: That would be suspenseful. Then a whole year could pass before they'd find out any more about you!
Penelope (long pause, then widening eyes):
Me: It will take forever to get a question out! I think if I could only say one word a year, I'd wait until everyone had gathered around and then say very slowly, "Mar-ma-lade!" Then they would really be puzzled! And they'd have to wait a whole year for an explanation. And the next year, they would all gather around and I'd just say it very slowly again, "Mar-mal-ade!"
(Penelope laughs hysterically.)
What would I do at bedtime for entertainment if no one were here to ask me these random questions?
9:29 pm

September 15th

Rosie Dawn

7:21 am

Apparently we live on the wrong side of the tracks! We cross them every morning.

7:23 am


7:31 am

My phone has gone too far this time! It constantly turns itself on and does crazy things in my pocket. I've never had a phone do this before. It's one thing to pull random ancient contacts out of my email and make them shortcuts on the main screen, or to tell the weather channel I'm in Mozambique, or to set multiple alarms at random times throughout the day/week, or to text random people photos of the inside of my pocket. But last week it deleted an entire file of notes for my novel. And today, I took a gorgeous photo of two snails with their necks all the way out and criss-crossing each other and a second of them kissing. Then my phone deleted ALL of my photos in my pocket and did not even mention doing it!

Photo from my Camera
I went back to try to catch the snails again, but by then they had moved well past kissing, and nobody wants to see photos of snails mating! I really don't understand why or how this has happening. (And while typing this, I pulled it out to discover it is currently in the timer app counting down from 8 hours and 14 minutes!
9:27 am

Awesome Saucem Possum lost his pie,
and he never saw it again
because he made that pie
By Penelope
5:47 pm

September 16th

Hippo Hippo Hooray!

7:32 am 

Grandma and Penelope, Right on Target

10:06 pm

Fun With Masks

10:08 pm

September 17th

Derrick (brushing Nellie's hair): We forgot to brush your hair after your shower last night, so you might have a lot of rats today.
Penelope: (giggling) They made a nest!
Derrick (making hideous squeaks): Run, rats!
Penelope: Your nest will be devoured!
Me: By the ravenous hair brush!
(Penelope runs off.)
Derrick: Stop! Stop! I didn't say to run away! 
Penelope: (stopping) I don't have a stop sign!
Derrick: (holding her hair) You have reins, though. Whoa, Nellie!
7:42 am

Pork Chopping with Grandma

4:26 pm

Count Chocula Arises!

4:26 pm

The double-decker tooth is (finally) no more!

9:16 pm

September 18th

Trix, Strawberry Milk, Mini-Pancakes, and a Delicious Apple--Breakfast (with Mommy) of Champions!
8:06 pm

Derrick: Look!
Me: Ohh! Ohh! Ohh! I can't turn it to camera in time!
Derrick: I tried to slow down for you. I don't think you can get it.
Me: I have to get a picture! They're so cute!
Derrick: I was talking about the flood water!
Me: Oh! I thought you meant the cows!

8:26 am


11:12 am

Penelope: (as I pick her up) Oh Mom, I have something so sad to tell you. Instead of recess we had extra centers today because it was raining. And when I was at the art center, I made a picture for you that was a beautiful rainbow with the sun peeking out from behind a storm cloud. And I made you and me and Daddy, and I cut us out and glued us on there, so we could be enjoying that beautiful day.
Me: That sounds so pretty.
Penelope: But Mom, I rolled it up and put it in the side pouch of my backpack, and now I lost it somewhere. I tried to show it to my friend after school, but it wasn't in there.
Me: Oh I'm sorry. Did you put your name on it? Maybe someone will find it and give it back to your art teacher.
Penelope: But I didn't make it in art. I made it during centers. And I was going to put my name on it, but ohhhhhhh. I think I forgot!
Me: Penelope, here is your picture. It is in the side pocket.
Penelope: My picture! My friend must have looked on the wrong side! Looking at this picture makes me so happy. I tried to fit Bubby in there, too, but the square was pretty small, and I thought we all needed our personal space.

7:49 pm  

September 19th

So somebody grew an inch since August, and guess who it is????? The person I'm supposed to be keeping in shorts of an appropriate length!!!
7:23 am

Penelope's new obsession is incorporating glue into her artwork...
"This is the picture I made today, Mom. This time I found a spot for Bubby, and I left you and me together because I thought that would be the nicest way!"

3:15 pm

Enjoying a Banana

3:45 pm

The Sax Man

7:20 pm

Grandma (watching TV): She's got a tie-dye top on.
Grayson: (very excited) Dad, tie-dyes are so fun to make! (pause) I've never made one, but...they fun!
9:09 pm

Sleeping Beauty is coming for your soul...

10:03 pm 

September 20th

Derrick's been reading us pun-based jokes for a while. I try to guess the punchline, and if I don't guess, Nellie gets to read it. My favorite is, "If you ever get chilly, try standing in a corner to warm up. They're usually about ninety degrees." I also like, "How do you keep bacon from curling in the pan?" "Take away its little brooms."
Penelope: Wait! I have one! Want to hear my knock-knock joke?
Me: Okay.
Penelope: This might not be funny because I'm not very good at this. Okay, why did the maid ask the cow for some milk?
Me: Why?
Penelope: Ummm...wait just a minute...
Me: Why did the maid ask the cow for some milk? Because she didn't get any milk when she asked the chicken!
Penelope: HEY! That was supposed to be my joke!
Penelope: Why did the strawberry say, "Who are you?" to the other strawberry? Because he didn't have any seeds!
Penelope: Why couldn't the ball make friends with the spikey ball? Because he was a pufferfish!
Penelope: Why did the cow turn purple? Because he ate too many grapes!
Penelope: Why did the duck turn yellow? Because he drank too much lemonade!
Penelope: What do you say when pumpkins and eyeballs cross the street? Trick-or-treat!
(much later)
Penelope: Why did the scissors cut the paper? Because the rock wasn't there!
Penelope: Why did the ugly duckling turn gray? Because he didn't drink enough lemonade!
(just now)
Penelope: Hey Bub! Why didn't the cow cross the road? BECAUSE HE DIDN'T HAVE ANY FEET!
12:22 pm

Grayson (at Cow Creek, after wading): Aww man! There are ants in my shoes!
Derrick: Well, you may have to put them in the back!
Grayson: Oh no! Chiggers!
Penelope: ("reassuring" him with a wicked giggle) They're probably just leeches!
3:36 pm

On the way out to Cow Creek...
Penelope: I'm pretty, and you're beautiful!
Me: Who are you talking to?
Penelope (like it was a ridiculous question): YOU! I'm pretty and you're beautiful. 
Me: Oh! Well, thank you. What about Daddy and Bubby?
Penelope: They're handsome and smart.
Gray: Which is which?
Penelope: Daddy is handsome, and you're smart.
Gray: Daddy is also smart.
Me: And Grayson is also handsome.
On the way home from Cow Creek...
Gray: (looking at a field as we drive by) What is that?
Derrick: It's cotton.
Gray: Whoa! I didn't know cotton was actually white. I thought that was just something they said.
Derrick: Something "they" said?
Me: Like it's some kind of conspiracy theory.
Penelope: Oh...Well...I knew cotton was white, so let's go ahead and say I'm smart, and you're pretty.
4:38 pm

Penelope: (drying off after her shower) Look! In this outfit you can see that I am Greek.
Me: Hmm. With a toga that style, you look a little more Roman to me.
Penelope: I'm Roman in my toga. Oh! My shoulder is showing in this toga! That's why you have to be careful in a toga. Oh my! This toga is showing my winki!
Me: Oh, well, I'm sorry then. Maybe you are Greek, after all.
5:21 pm

Penelope: (making up a poem)
Wee Willie Winkie
loved Twinkies.
He liked to put them on his...
(Long pause, slow giggles, wicked grin)

5:31 pm