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30Jan/09Off

Book Review: Casino Royale

Casino Royale

Casino Royale by Ian Flemming is the first James Bond novel ever written, and apparently it made a big enough impression to spawn many more books (both by Flemming and by subsequent authors) and the longest running film series EVAR. Having seen many of the movies (including the adaptation of Casino Royale) but never having read one of the books, I decided to try this one out. Not bad.

The biggest thing that struck me about the book was that having been published in 1953 it's definitely a product of its time. Sensibilities about the roles of men (grrr, grunt, punch) and the role of women (pout, seduce, swoon) seem kind of out of date, even in the context of a freaking James Bond story. And indeed, we expect some of that from superspy James Bond. He's the alpha male, the personification of rugged masculinity, competence, strength, and male libido. If the hero doesn't shoot the bad guys, out-debonair every other guy in the room, and bed every slinky minx in sight, you're not experiencing a James Bond story.

EVEN STILL, this book seemed to step beyond that kind of territory straight into misogyny and chest thumping. The Bond in this story mutters "bitch..." under his breath when having to endure the company of women and he pretty vividly fantasizes about raping his female compatriot. So, for all the excessive masculinity and smoldering sex drive that modern day Bond has, it's kind of surprising to learn that he's actually mellowed quite a bit.

Even more surprising is that the Bond in this book still suffers from self-doubt and a crisis of conscience to the point of reconsidering his role in the the whole superspy game. He's also vulnerable to the point of getting his clock cleaned, and most of his heroics are limited to a card game. Flemming seems to want to get into Bond's head and present him as a bona fide badass --competent, strong, intelligent, and driven-- but also human underneath it all. He does a fairly good job of it, exploring both Bond's psychological and physical vulnerabilities. Even still, the pace of the book is surprisingly quick, with only one slow, introspective part towards the end. The rest is pretty much explosions, shootings, tests of physical endurance, sex, and high-stakes gambling. Pretty much the standard 007 formula, in other words.

Filed under: Books 1 Comment
28Jan/09Off

Movie Review: Sunrise (1927)

Sunrise

Note: This is #4 of my 52 Classic Movies in 52 Weeks challenge for 2009.

I didn't even get past the subtitle of "A Song of Two Humans" to suspect that this 1927 silent film was going to be more art house wankery that was ahead of its time. And once I read in the Netflix summary that it had characters like "The Man" and "The Wife" all doubt was pretty much gone.

The plot is pretty simple, almost like a fable: The Man is seduced by The Whore From The City, who convinces him to drown The Wife in The Lake so they can elope. Only he can't go through with it, and when The Man follows the fleeing The Wife to The City they fall in love again. The balance of the movie is mostly them having adventures in the metropolis, including getting a new haircut and chasing The Drunk Pig around a restaurant.

Like Intolerance, Sunrise strikes me as a movie that's only interesting as an exercise in film history. From what I've read about the movie it was marvelously ground breaking in how it was made, with tracking shots, forced perspective, and camera technology that allowed cameras to move smoothly over rough terrain. And apparently it's a wonderful example of German Expressionism, whatever that means. So, rah rah. That's all fine and dandy as a lesson in film history, but the it didn't do much for me personally.

I think this trailer should give you a pretty representative sampling of the film:

Others doing the 52-in-52 thing this week:

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27Jan/09Off

Week 261: Monkies, Birthdays, and Barak

Sam's birthday, which is an event we're starting to think of as an end to the year-end holiday frenzy, was this weekend and we apparently did it up right. Rather than having a nice quiet time at home we arranged a party for all her classmates at a local establishment called "Monkey Joe's." The place endeavors to recreate the great purple monkey's natural habitat of inflatable bouncie structures, because basically it's a giant warehouse full of those. Plus a snack bar and party rooms.

The kids absolutely loved it, Mandy particularly so. There was this one pen you could just dump her in and let her go crazy, and that's where she spent most of her time. The event happened to be right over her nap time so I could tell she was really tired, and when Mandy gets really tired she tends to lose coordination, stumble a lot, bump into things, and fall on her face repeatedly. Fortunately this is exactly the kind of thing Monkey Joe's encourages, so she just rolled with it and had fun. Seriously, she just ran and bounced off of vinyl inflated surfaces like a big giggling pinball.

That evening after a short nap we had Ger's dad and godmother over for dinner and gift opening, but not in that order. Since we had failed to specify "no gifts" on the party invitations all the kids had brought along their own gifts and Sam ended up with a pile of gifts that required several oxygen tanks and a Sherpa to get to the top of. In addition to all that, she got an awesome train table from her aunt Shawn, which she loves.

On the non-birthday front, Sister Amanda Francesca continues to show her fascination with all things religious. The other morning I showed her a picture of Barak Obama and had this exchange with her:

"Mandy, who is this a picture of?"

"Jesus!"

"HA! Well, some people seem to think so, but no not quite."

Filed under: Parenting 1 Comment
23Jan/09Off

Book Review: Guards! Guards!

Guards! Guards!

More Terry Prattchett. This time around in Guards! Guards! he introduces a new recurring cast in the Diskworld, the City Watch, and spends most of the novel satirizing crime novels, cop movies, the British obsession with dog breeding, and an orangutan with a thing for books. The book mainly tells the story of Samuel Vimes, Captain of the Watch, who makes an arc from a drunk wallowing in a dead-end job to a street-wise detective with a sense of ownership and obligation to his city. Unfortunately that puts him squarely at odds with a secret society and the dragon they have summoned in order to enact some overly elaborate plan to overthrow the city's Machiavellian dictator in favor of a puppet king. Vimes and the rest of the watch have to figure out what's going on and rise to the occasion of thinking about getting around someday to doing something about it possibly.

Like with Pyramids, Prattchett seems to find his groove in social satire with a faux fantasy coating with Guards! Guards!, mixing it in with some real insights into human nature, what it means to be good or evil, and what injustices society is willing to tolerate in exchange for safety and comfort. But he somehow never gets preachy or ostentatious about it.

Samuel Vimes also gets the most elaborate character development so far in the series. We've seen other characters develop a bit, but not that much. Rincewind may get moments of panicked bravery, but he always returns to being a coward. Granny Weatherwax broadened her worldview a bit, but she went back to being withdrawn and distrustful of new things. Teppic from Pyramids probably comes closest in how he learns to reject tradition in favor of better judgment, but even his fate at the end of the book is pretty close to what it was at the beginning. We see Vimes, on the other hand, enter into a real crisis of conscience and seem him win some substantial internal struggles that leave him a different character than he was at the beginning.

Of course, none of this precludes Guards! Guards! from being really funny, as you'd expect from Prattchett. The social satire alone is clever and biting and funny, but the rest of the City Watch provides plenty of comic relief. Carrot is an musclebound, naive, and overly enthusiastic human who just recently learned he wasn't a dwarf like the foster parents who raised him. Nobby is a good enough fellow to his friends, but he seems to have a habit of using his station to steal more than he keeps from being stolen. And Sergeant Colon is an overstuffed working man who shouts really well but doesn't have any further ambitions in life. And as usual Prattchett displays his gift for turns of phrase and twisting his lines of thought around into amusing shapes. Here's some of my favorite quotes from the book:

"You had to hand it to the Patrician, he admitted grudgingly. If you didn't, he sent men to come and take it away."

"Lessee...he'd gone off after the funeral and gotten drunk. No, not drunk, another word, ended with "er." Drunker. that was it."

"Noble dragons don't have friends. The nearest they can get to the idea is an enemy who is still alive."

"These weren't encouraged in the city, since the heft and throw of a longbow's arrow could send it through an innocent bystander a hundred yards away instead of the innocent bystander at whom it was aimed."

"If there was anything that depressed him more than his own cynicism, it was that quite often it still wasn't as cynical as real life."

"They felt, in fact, tremendously bucked-up, which was how Lady Ramkin would almost certainly have put it and which was definitely several letters of the alphabet away from how they normally felt."

"His sister had been sent down to the village to ask Mistress Garlick the witch how you stopped spelling recommendation."

Filed under: Books No Comments
21Jan/09Off

Movie Review: The General (1927)

The General

Note: This is #3 of my 52 Classic Movies in 52 Weeks challenge for 2009.

Another silent comedy, but this week it's from Buster Keaton, who was Charlie Chaplin's contemporary and I can only assume box office rival. I imagine that "Chaplin vs. Keaton" debates are all the rage among movie critics and aspiring film students desparate to show their sophistication, so I'll just say that based on my extensive viewing of one movie by each, Keaton is no Chaplin.

The plot of The General is pretty straight forward and, oddly enough, based on actual events. Keaton plays Johnnie Gray, an engineer for a Confederate railroad during the U.S. Civil War. In order to woo his sweetheart, Gray tries to enlist in the military, but is rejected. Heartbroken, Gray returns to his life as the engineer for his engine, The General, until it is hijacked by Union spies intent on blazing a trail for a Northern army to strike at the heart of the South. From there, hijinks ensue as Gray steals the train back, flees from the Union soldiers, and tries to protect his sweetheart (who just happened to be on The General when it was hijacked).

There were definitely some funny and impressive gags in The General, and a lot of credit has to be given to Keaton. The protracted railroad chase scene is surprisingly inventive and amusing, with Keaton coming up with an amazing number of stunts in order to elude and slow down his pursuers. This is all the more impressive for the lack of special effects and the fact that Keaton did all his own acrobatics.

In contrast to Chaplin's brand of smooth, precise, and charming physical comedy, though, Keaton is all about big movements and stunts. He's chopping through wood with an axe, hurling boxes off moving boxcars, hefting firewood around, clobbering people with rifle butts, scrambling over moving train engines, tossing rail road ties into each other, and more. The athleticism and daring on display is impressive, and while it's very different from Chaplin, it's often used to get some good laughs or surprised grunts.

What bugged me about Keaton, though, is throughout almost the entire movie he wore a still mask almost completely devoid of expression. It was like a clown and a mime fell in love and Keaton was the result. It robbed the movie of any human element or warmth that it might have had, since Keaton didn't really seem like he was there during any of the parts that didn't involve slapstick action.

Still, amusing enough and worth it for all the railway shenanigans.

Others doing the 52-in-52 thing this week:

  • Filed under: Movies 2 Comments
  • 19Jan/09Off

    Week 260: Independence, Games, and Apple Seeds

    Sam has definitely started to hit upon an age where she wants to do things for herself. A lot of times, this is welcome, since it pars down the number of things in the universe that I'm responsible for. Other times, it's much less of a relief and more, what's the word? Panic inducing. Here's a handy chart that converts things to point values:

    My attempts at converting Sam to a gamer have perhaps gone too well. Right as I type this she's standing next to me holding my old Game Boy Advance and playing her Disney Princess Jamboree or whatever it's called. All I know is that she keeps asking me to unscramble pictures of Ariel because that part's too hard. And all the reading.

    Sam's other great passion at the moment is Feeding Frenzy, a little "big fish eats the little fish" game on the Xbox 360. Unless she is actually playing this game, she's asking if she can play it. I've had to explain to her that YES, I totally get what she means, I've got a similar monkey on my back demanding that I scour the post-apocalyptic D.C. Wasteland in search of Nuka-Cola bottlecaps and Supermutants, but that I sometimes --sometimes-- have to punch that monkey in the nose and do things like interact with my family. We've learned to use this passion as a lever against her, though, so all we have to do is promise her 30 minutes of playtime at 7:00, but she has to have everything cleaned up and she has to behave, else we have the fish killed and she can't play. It's been working miracles. And come to think of it, I guess that's pretty much how Geralyn got ME to install that new medicine cabinet in Mandy's bathroom this weekend.

    Mandy seems to be gearing up for some kind of growth spurt. She had been birdlike in her appetite before, but in the last couple of days she's been eating like less of a sparrow and more of an ostrich. The other day we gave her a whole apple and she started gnawing on it. I turned my back and hard a sound like someone taking a chain saw to a sack of wet noodles. When I turned around to look at her, she was just holding a palm full of apple seeds. She's eaten with similar relish at other meals, and I'm more than a little confident that I'm going to go in to get her out of bed tomorrow morning to find that she's five feet tall.

    Filed under: Parenting 4 Comments
    16Jan/09Off

    Book Review: Holidays on Ice

    Holidays on Ice

    I became a fan of David Sedaris last year, and when my sister gave me this collection of holiday-themed stories and essays I jumped right in. The pieces range from ostensibly autobiographical to completely fabrcated. One may tell the fictional (not to mention absurd) tale of two rich families trying to outdo each other in attempts at hoarding more holiday spirit, and another recounts the soul-crushing time Sedaris spent employed as a Christmas Elf at Macy's department store.

    Much like with his other books, my reactions to individual pieces ranged from "meh" to shrieking laughter. Some of them did nothing for me, and at least one of them --a faux holiday newsletter from a mentally unstable Stepford Wife-- turned out to be perplexingly tragic rather than funny. But on the other hand, the aforementioned story about the families competing over who can give more away was great, and the essay entitled "Six to Eight Black Men" about the ironic absurdity of Dutch Christmas traditions is one of the funniest things I've ever read.

    My main complaint about Holidays on Ice is that it was an already short book made shorter by the fact that it contained several pieces by Sedaris that are published in other collections. I literally hit a block of these several dozen pages long towards the back, which brought the book to an unexpected (for me) end. Even still, they were worth a re-read.

    Filed under: Books 1 Comment
    14Jan/09Off

    Movie Review: The Gold Rush (1925 / 1942)

    The Gold Rush

    Note: This is #2 of my 52 Classic Movies in 52 Weeks challenge for 2009. Netflix sent me the 1942 re-release of the original 1925 movie, which included voice overs, music, and slightly different editing.

    Having never seen a Charlie Chaplin movie before, I was only familiar with his "Little Tramp" character in so far as it had permeated popular culture --certainly a lot less in 2009 than in Chaplin's heyday. I knew he was kind of a lovable sad sack, that he was played by Chaplin himself, and that he sported a signature cane and bowler hat. That was about it. The Gold Rush is supposed to be one of Chaplin's best silent comedies in that series, telling the story of The Little Tramp (or "The Little Fellow" as Chaplin's voice overs in the 1942 re-release call him) heading to the Alaska frontier to try his hand at prospecting for gold. There he runs afoul of an unscrupulous claim jumper, makes friends with another prospector, eats his shoe, and finds romance. Unlike last week's Intolerance I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked this one.

    Specifically, it was funny. This was surprising because I expected the cultural gap between today and 1925 to neatly squash any humor that tried to make its way from Chaplin's sensibilities to mine, but strangely I was wrong. It was a lot like being cracked up by some archaic joke that your grandpa tells you, and genuinely so. It wasn't bust-a-gut funny, but I did laugh out loud several times and smiled a lot more.

    What I came to realize is that most of the humor in The Gold Rush is physical, but not the kind of full-body physical slapstick akin to the Three Stooges. Instead, many of the laughs owe themselves to Chaplin's precise, dexterous, and fluid execution of so many visual gags. It's the way he walks, the way he lifts his hat in greeting, the way he savors a dish of boiled shoe, the way he sticks two forks in dinner rolls and makes them dance across the table (see below). There are also some great set pieces involving a tilting cabin that surprised me with both the simplicity and effectiveness of its special effects given the year it was made.

    So, good stuff. I've got another Chaplin movie or two in my list, and I'm looking forward to it.

    Others doing the 52-in-52 thing this week:

    Filed under: Movies 4 Comments
    13Jan/09Off

    Week 259: Yogurt, Quantifying, and Face-Planting

    I think we can officially say that Sam is a bit competitive. This is a conversation I had for her the other morning:

    "Daddy, I like the key lime yogurt the best."

    "Yeah, I like that one too."

    "Well, I like it MORE than you do."

    "Sam, it's not a competition. It's hard to quantify something like that, anyway."

    "What does 'quantify' mean?"

    "It means to like measure something. To count how much of it there is. So I could say 'I like key lime yogurt...'"

    "Twenty!"

    "Yeah, sure. I could say 'I like key lime yogurt a twenty.' That would be quantifying how much I like it."

    "Daddy?"

    "Yes, Sam?"

    "I like key lime yogurt twenty-one."

    At least her vocabulary is growing.

    Mandy, on the other hand, seems so far to prefer individual sports better. One example would be improving her time in racing to the bedroom floor, but unfortunately her last race was a bit more on the vertical plane. She tried to climb out of her crib the other day, and upon hearing the result of face hitting carpet from the other end of the house I ran in to find her standing in the middle of the floor screaming but still wearing a very clear "WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT, MAN?" expression.

    No permanent harm was done, though every time we put her in her crib now she emphatically claims "I'm not going to climb out. I'm not going to climb out." Until the next time, I'm sure.

    Filed under: Parenting 2 Comments
    9Jan/09Off

    Book Review: Outliers

    Outliers

    In statistics, there's this concept called "error variance." No, no wait. Stick with me on this for a second. Basically error variance is all the unknown stuff that you can't measure or control, but which still decides to affect outcomes despite all etiquette and social decorum. You may have a main effect from your treatment (say, an experimental drug or a painful shock) or your individual difference (say, intelligence or shoe size), but error variance is that mysterious other stuff that causes some individuals to differ --sometimes wildly-- despite your best efforts to predict what they will do or how they will be. It's what my old statistics professor used to call "cussidness," and it's the subject of Malcolm Gladwell's new book, Outliers.

    Specifically, Gladwell sets out to demystify some of the reasons why some people are outliers --that is, those athletes, businessmen, rock stars, and other exceptional individuals who fall so far to the right of the probability curve that they're off the charts in terms of how well they do whatever it is they do. Gladwell argues that these people are so far out of normal bounds that they defy typical explanations for their success. Bill Gates and Bill Joy weren't such good computer programmers just because they were smart. Canadian hockey stars aren't so good at hockey just because they're so naturally athletic. And The Beatles aren't the greatest band of all time just because they were inherently good at playing music. Other stuff was at play. Cussidness was involved.

    In the course of his book, Gladwell offers several explanations for all this, and they're all a uniformly fascinating mixture of storytelling and research distillation. One example would be the phenomenon of why so many members of Canadian hockey's upper echelons have birthdays in January, February, and March, and why so few have birthdays in December, November, and October. The reason, in a nutshell, is that those young lads with birthdays closer to the cutoff date of January 1st for inclusion in each year's school hockey leagues are more likely to have a few months worth of growth and development on their younger teammates. And at 12 years old, that can be a LOT of growth and development. Those bigger, more practiced players get more coaching and opportunities to play in games, and over time those advantages compoind into making them MUCH better players. The end result down the line? You're going to have a REALLY hard time making it as a professional hockey player if you were born in December.

    This kind of happenstance of lucky timing and placement is a theme that runs throughout much of the book. Gladwell discusses, for example, how Bill Gates was fortunate to not only be born at a time that was ripe for the rise of the personal computer and computer programming in general, but through a lucky cascade of coincidences he was able to get early access to computer after computer so that he could practice his programming skills to the point of expertise long before many people had even seen a computer much less worked with one. Bill Gates wouldn't have been an outlier if he had been born the son of a fisherman in Burma. Or probably even if he had been born a year or two earlier to his own parents. Outliers like Gates owe as much to chance and cultural inheritances as they do ability.

    Speaking of the power of cultural legacies, Gladwell also spends a fair amount of time discussing how they account for a lot of our success (or failure). Those who come from a culture emphasizing hard work and a direct relationship between effort and reward --rice farmers in Vietnam or Jewish garment makers in turn of the century New York, for example-- are more likely to succeed. This is, I thought, perhaps his weakest set of arguments once you decouple it from the "be born in the right time and place" phenomenon, but it was still interesting. Gladwell also presents a fascinating explanation for why he thinks many Asians are better at math than English-speakers. I won't go into too much detail, but the theory is based in how much quicker and inherently easier it is to count in many Asian languages relative to the clunky system we have in English. Also, rice farming is involved somehow.

    So while I have some minor quibbles with Gladwell's methodologies (mainly that he devotes no time at all to the good science practice of exploring other explanations and theories that compete with his own), the book is interesting and engaging from cover to cover. I've seen other reviewers criticize Gladwell for spitting in the face of the American dream --that anyone can do anything with enough hard work and talent-- but in fact Gladwell goes to great pains to explain that ability (intelligence, athleticism, business acumen, musical talent, etc.) DOES matter a great deal, as does motivation to put that native ability to work. And you can do really pretty well with just that. But the fact is that doesn't give you the WHOLE explanation for wild, off the scale success. Sometimes you're born with ability and motivation, but it takes that PLUS being born at the right time, in the right place, and into the right culture to makes you a Bill Gates, a Mozart, a Michael Jordan, or a member of the Beatles. Maybe that's a little depressing and fatalistic, but cussidness is always gonna be a pain.

    Filed under: Books 1 Comment
    7Jan/09Off

    Movie Review: Intolerance (1916)

    Intolerance

    Note: This is #1 of my 52 Classic Movies in 52 Weeks challenge for 2009.

    Wow, what a movie to start this thing off on. Released in 1916, Intolerance: Love's Struggle Through the Ages is film pioneer D.W. Griffith's sprawling silent movie epic about how much intolerance really totally sucks. The film actually combines 4 different stories and links them together through transitions. This includes a "modern" story set in 1914 about a bunch of puritains trying to ruin everyone's fun through their intoleance for anything but their brand of morality, a story set during the French Renaissance where religious intolerance between Protestants and Catholics leads to a massacre, the story of Christ's crucifixion during the Judean era, and the fall of ancient Babylon brought on by conflicts between worshipers of different religious sects.

    Instead of presenting each story sequentially, Griffith weaves the stories together and draws on common themes to show how humanity's best must suffer and withstand humanity's worst. In the beginning of the movie, the transitions are more measured and far apart as the filmmaker sets the stage (literally) for each of the four stories. He even does this weird thing where some woman is rocking a cradle symbolic of human civilization or something, which to me seemed like so much art house wankery. He even includes snippets of poetry by Walt Whitman, and as everyone knows, I HATE WALT WHITMAN. As things reach their climaxes the cuts become more frequent and you can see how the events of each of the stories run parallel to each other and otherwise relate.

    Sounds grand, but I don't see how Intolerance could be a movie anyone would recommend except as an academic exercise in film history. It's mildly interesting the way looking at a Bronze Age tool or an ancient sandal in a museum is mildly interesting. You think "Huh, that was probably pretty cool at the time, sure is old now" and you shuffle on to the next exhibit. Only I couldn't do that, because Intolerance was almost three freaking hours long.

    And indeed, I can see how this movie was a groundbreaking achievement that served as a template for decades to come. I get that. While I was amused at how the actors and director were often shackled to the traditions of stage plays (e.g., wildly exaggerated facial expressions, florid and almost spastic body movement, extreme lighting, etc.), if you kept in mind that this thing was made in 1916 you start to notice things that were probably novel and even ingenious, like close-up shots of pocket watches or crane shots of city streets. Even the transitions between the four parallel stories would have been something utterly impossible to do on a stage. And apparently Griffith even bankrupted his own studio by financing huge wardrobes and set scenes replete with authentic looking buildings and exotic animals like camels, elephants, and ducks. I can imagine viewers really being amazed by that stuff at the time.

    But I wasn't. The fact is that I personally found it practically unwatchable, thanks in no small part to how the quality of the surviving footage gave me a huge headache. Entire areas of scenes are blown out to the point of being burning white blobs, the quality of the rest of the picture is grainy to the point of distraction, a lot of the text in the intertitles is completely illegible, and honestly I found that the stories were goofy at best and incoherent at worst. I appreciate Intolerance as ground breaking film making, but it was a complete pain to watch in 2009.

    Others doing the 52-in-52 thing this week:

    Filed under: Movies 7 Comments
    6Jan/09Off

    Week 258: Gaming, fireplaces, and beanstalks

    Most worrisome thing I heard all week, from Mandy: "Sister tried to kill me." There were, unfortunately, no credible witnesses.

    Most amusing thing I saw all week: Geralyn running through the living room and up the stairs holding a spatula heaped with butter cream icing, followed closely by a gibbering Samantha.

    Really not much to report this week. With my mom and sister returned home things have gone back to more of a normal routine. I'm doing my best to convert Samantha to a life of video gaming, and have been met with some success. I gave her my old Game Boy Advance for Christmas along with some little Disney Princess game, but the game requires a lot of reading and she's not quite up to that task. She also loves a game on Xbox Live Arcade called "Feeding Frenzy" where you play this little fish who swims around eating other fish (it's kind of realistic that way), and I've purchased it for her so that she can farm it for Achievements.

    I'm still looking for good suggestions for an almost 5-year old, though, so let me know if you got any.

    We took the kids to the newly remodeled Children's Museum type place on New Year's Day, and predictably they had a blast. Some of the new displays are a little worrisome, though. There's one with a tiny hidden passageway behind a fake fireplace that strikes you as kind of cool until you watch both of your children walk through it to a completely unknown area beyond (presumably full of scorpions and hyenas) and realize that you're too big to follow them through the tiny opening. There was also another area where a big spiral staircase with a a kind of Jack and the Beanstalk motif wound around a central column filled with giant interlocking leaves and netting that kids can climb through. It was a really solid concept, but in reality it turned into a huge column of screaming children who have lost their way in the vertical maze and cry through the netting to their parents, who obstruct the stairway to alternate between shouting out directions to the exit and cheerfully snapping photographs of their imprisoned and anquished brood. It was quite surreal.

    Also, this is my new favorite picture of Sam. The children are our future. Let's teach them how to use a phone. Mandy, on the other hand, seems to have no problem and has moved on to classical piano music.

    Filed under: Parenting 4 Comments
    1Jan/09Off

    52 Classic Movies in 52 Weeks

    In 2008 I did the 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge in which I attempted to read a book a week and write a review about it. Instead of repeating that exercise again, I've decided to do something a little different by taking in 52 movies during the 52 weeks of 2009.

    Of course, just watching 52 Will Ferrell movies would kind of miss the point. I want to use this as an opportunity to see some of those movies that I've always thought I should have seen, but never did because I picked up something with guns and tight clothes. Any such list of "classic" movies would be arbitrary, so when building my checklist I took the easy way out and decided to just use the 2007 edition of the American Film Institute's "100 Years... 100 Movies," which you'll see reprinted below in chronological order. I've gone ahead and crossed out the movies that I've already seen.

    1916 - Intolerance
    1925 - The Gold Rush
    1927 - The General
    1927 - Sunrise
    1931 - City Lights
    1933 - King Kong
    1933 - Duck Soup
    1934 - It Happened One Night
    1935 - A Night at the Opera
    1936 - Modern Times
    1936 - Swing Time
    1937 - Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
    1938 - Bringing Up Baby
    1939 - Gone with the Wind
    1939 - The Wizard of Oz
    1939 - Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
    1940 - The Grapes of Wrath
    1940 - The Philadelphia Story
    1941 - Citizen Kane
    1941 - The Maltese Falcon
    1941 - Sullivan's Travels
    1942 - Casablanca
    1942 - Yankee Doodle Dandy
    1944 - Double Indemnity
    1946 - It's a Wonderful Life
    1946 - The Best Years of Our Lives
    1948 - The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
    1950 - Sunset Boulevard
    1950 - All About Eve
    1951 - A Streetcar Named Desire
    1951 - The African Queen
    1952 - Singin' in the Rain
    1952 - High Noon
    1953 - Shane
    1954 - On the Waterfront
    1954 - Rear Window
    1956 - The Searchers
    1957 - The Bridge on the River Kwai
    1957 - 12 Angry Men
    1958 - Vertigo
    1959 - Some Like It Hot
    1959 - North by Northwest
    1959 - Ben-Hur
    1960 - Psycho
    1960 - The Apartment
    1960 - Spartacus
    1961 - West Side Story
    1962 - Lawrence of Arabia
    1962 - To Kill a Mockingbird
    1964 - Dr. Strangelove
    1965 - The Sound of Music
    1966 - Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf
    1967 - The Graduate
    1967 - Bonnie and Clyde
    1967 - In the Heat of the Night
    1968 - 2001: A Space Odyssey
    1969 - Midnight Cowboy
    1969 - Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
    1969 - The Wild Bunch
    1969 - Easy Rider
    1970 - MASH
    1971 - A Clockwork Orange
    1971 - The French Connection
    1971 - The Last Picture Show
    1972 - The Godfather
    1972 - Cabaret
    1973 - American Graffiti
    1974 - Chinatown
    1974 - The Godfather Part II
    1975 - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
    1975 - Jaws
    1975 - Nashville
    1976 - Taxi Driver
    1976 - Rocky
    1976 - Network
    1976 - All the President's Men
    1977 - Star Wars
    1977 - Annie Hall
    1978 - The Deer Hunter
    1979 - Apocalypse Now
    1980 - Raging Bull
    1981 - Raiders of the Lost Ark
    1982 - E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
    1982 - Tootsie
    1982 - Sophie's Choice
    1982 - Blade Runner
    1986 - Platoon
    1989 - Do the Right Thing
    1990 - Goodfellas
    1991 - The Silence of the Lambs
    1992 - Unforgiven
    1993 - Schindler's List
    1994 - The Shawshank Redemption
    1994 - Forrest Gump
    1994 - Pulp Fiction
    1995 - Toy Story
    1997 - Titanic
    1998 - Saving Private Ryan
    1999 - The Sixth Sense
    2001 - LotR: The Fellowship of the Ring

    What I plan to do is start at the top of the list above and work my way down, watching at least a movie a week and writing up a short blog post about each. There's more than 52 movies on that list that aren't already scratched off, but if I don't get ahead I'll probably carry it over to next year until I've made it through.

    And again, like with the book challenge, I'll invite you all to participate as well. I believe we have Jeremy and Paul (a.k.a., "Yotsuya") from PlanetCrap.com ready to go already, plus a few other folks who are going to do one or two movies a month. If you want to play along, let me know and I'll include links to your weekly updates.

    Filed under: Movies 4 Comments