Sunday, October 22, 2006

Three Movies, Three Different Responses

Armed with a "BOGO" coupon, yesterday I rented three movies that I've been wanting to view for awhile, and haven't had the time to see until now. "Mr and Mrs Smith" the action/spy/romance movie, starring Brad Pitt and the lush Angelina Jolie, "A Good Woman" starring Scarlett Johansson (a favorite of my husbands) and Helen Hunt, and "Capote" starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I watched "Mr and Mrs Smith" first, and was stunned by the car chases, harrowing escapes, gunfire and special effects. Not a movie for the faint of heart. Yet with his hair shaved and his age beginning to show, I thought Brad Pitt was always a breath behind the lithe and svelte Jolie. He's still got those sweet baby blue eyes, and can make with the innocent "don't you just want to mother me and take me to bed" stare at the drop of a machine gun cartridge, but I still found myself thinking that Jolie could do better with someone a touch more emotionally mature. Though I find tatoos disgusting and in poor taste, I still think Jolie makes one hot leading lady, and she's a decent actress to boot. The whole plot of two spies sharing a lie of a marriage, and going to counseling, was funny for about 15 minutes, and then it palled by the end of the movie. Note to film makers: Too much snark is a bad thing. The next movie was "Capote," which, if you've ever read "In Cold Blood" will devastate you, and I was not disappointed. Phillip Hoffman had the Capote lisp and drawl down to a science, and he even managed to appear as small as Capote, and as brilliant and petulant. "In Cold Blood" was the first book of Capotes that I read, and it seared me to the soul.It is, without a doubt, a masterwork of American fiction. It did, as the editor in the movie says, "change the way American fiction is written." And I had no idea that Capote was good friends with the marvelous Harper Lee, author of "To Kill a Mockingbird," another masterwork of fiction. I was also unaware that neither author would ever finish another novel, and that Capote spent so much time with the prisoners that he fell in love with one of them, and that he watched the murderer hang for his crime. Amazing, horrifying and yet, fascinating at the same time. I am not surprised that Hoffman won an academy award for this role. He deserved it. The last movie was a new take on an old Oscar Wilde story, "A Good Woman." I was sobbing so much at the end of Capote that I had hopes that this movie would be uplifting to my dark mood. Unfortunately, a lot of talented actors are wasted on what appears to be a very thin script. You do get to see the gorgeous Amalfi Coast in Italy, and some luscious fashions and villas, but other than that, it's not a movie I'd recommend.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The South Rises Again With Sookie Stackhouse

Just in time for the Halloween season, a series of supernatural mysteries was recommended to me by my friend, Renee Stern.
"Dead Until Dark," "Living Dead in Dallas," "Club Dead," "Dead to the World," and "Definetly Dead" are all marvelous reads, and I highly recommend them.
Sookie Stackhouse is a barmaid and waitress in Bon Temps, Louisiana, and following the days that vampires come "out of the coffin" and prove they are real, Sookie, who is a reluctant telepath, falls for Bill Compton, a vampire made during the Civil War whom she can't "hear" with her gift. Hijinks follow, and, though she's a pretty young blonde, Sookie shows us that her spine is steel and her brain works just fine, thanks. She holds her own against the evil vampires, were-creatures of all stripe and ruthless shape-shifters, and she does it with aplomb. There's a great deal of humor, tenderness and plain old common sense in these novels, though they're placed in an exotic mileau. Harris' prose is smooth and soothingly Southern, but her characters are full-bodied and fascinating, and her plots move faster than a vampire before dawn. The romantic element is done appropriately, and I was fascinated to learn that though vampires have no heartbeat, the other parts of their anatomy seem to have all the requisite blood flow. I highly recommend the series to all who find the supernatural and the South fascinating. You're guarenteed a good read that will refresh all those who've gotten bored with the same old blood-drenched, brooding vampire novels.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Angel With Attitude by Michelle Rowen

"Angel with Attitude" is a funny, fluffy read that is just absorbing enough for a good time. It's what some might call a good "beach" read, but I prefer to think of such light and easy fare as "mental vacation" reading. To be honest, I don't think anyone can read the hard stuff all the time. The last book I read was very serious and intense, so I felt the need to kick back and relax with something none too taxing. The Angel with 'tude in this book is a wise-cracking blonde named Valerie Grace, who gets thrown out of heaven for the sin of pride in her work. She meets a "hottie" demon from Hell, sent to tempt her into giving up her soul, and after some shenanigans involving a key to the backdoor of heaven, falls in love with said demon. Inbetween, we meet a rat of a boyfriend and his witch girlfriend, a 'gay' demon who writes romance novels, and Lucifer himself, who turns out to be an okay guy, somehow. I enjoyed the funky characters, the bizarre and silly take on heaven and hell, and the zippy plot that was like a cheetah on stopped for nothing, and parts went by so fast it was a blur. There's the requisite happy ending, the hot sex, and the 'maturing' of the main character that is found in most decent romance novels. I am not a huge fan of romance, but I do like fantasy novels, and this particular novel fit the bill for off-beat fantasy that provides some prime escapism without the intense prose or convoluted plots and sub plots. I recommend this novel for anyone who enjoys modern romance fiction with a slight twist.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Raising Readers: Happy Kids, Peaceful Parents by Dr Shannon Knepper-Maveety

I was drawn to this POD guide to raising readers because my son is in first grade now, and is experiencing difficulty in the fluency of his reading. As a helpful guide for parents, I felt the book got a solid B plus, but not an outstanding A, mainly because the author spends too much time with anecdotes and admonishing parents to teach their children, and keep them from watching TV, and less time on actual strategies for making your child a reader than I would have liked. Still, there is good information here, and help with common sense items like reading books to your child before bedtime and other ideas. I found myself wondering, though, if Dr Shannon was one of those women who, like militant breast-feeders, believes that there is only one right way to do things, and that any other way leads directly to the handbasket of hell. She has a long-winded chapter on the horrors of allowing children to watch TV, any TV, and admonishes parents that they, too, will become mindless idiots if they have the temerity to watch the "boob tube" themselves after their children have been sent to bed. Tsk, tsk, BAD PARENT! I happen to have watched more than my share of cartoons as a child, and stupid TV shows like Gilligans Island and the redoubtable Star Trek, and I was reading by age 4, and have been a lifelong-reader and college graduate. My mind did not become mush, nor does it turn to mush because I happen to be a fan of the marvelous TV series "House" and "Gilmore Girls." I still read constantly and enjoy books tremendously. A friend of mine, Syne Mitchell, who is a genius and had many degrees by the time she was 15, also watched cartoons and reruns of Gilligans Island as a child, and she didn't turn out mush-minded at all, and in fact is a successful mother, wife, Microsoft employee and author of stellar science fiction books. I just think that the panic-inducing screech I hear from teachers or self-help authors about the evils of TV is overblown and ridiculous. There is no conclusive proof that TV turns anyones mind to mush, children or adults. Excessive TV watching is like anything in excess, of course, but I don't believe that most parents allow their kids to watch 6 hours of TV a day. I certainly don't, nor do I know any parents who do. Nick watches some TV, but gets bored with it easily, and usually will play with Legos, complete some lovely origami or come to me with a book in hand to read at least once a day. I have been reading to Nick since I brought him home from the hospital at the end of January, 2000. The first book I read to him was "Goodnight Moon," by Margaret Wise Brown, a classic. It is still one of his all-time favorites. But I don't know that my reading to him consistently for the past 7 years has really turned him into a reader, as Dr Shannon seems convinced it will. He loves being read to, of course, but still struggles with reading books himself. I believe that there are people who are wired to be readers, and people who are more tactile, or kinesthetic learners who like to create with their hands. Nick likes to build things--he's always been that way. I was always more language oriented, the kind of person who loved words. And preschool isn't always as good a thing as Dr Shannon suggests in her book. My younger brother was the only kid in our family to go to preschool, and he hated learning, and was a very poor student throughout his life. My elder brother and I didn't go to preschool, and he was a brilliant student who got straight As, while I was a very solid B student through high school and most of college. I think kids burn out if they are in school before they can walk. I also think that not all parents are good teachers. There are people who are born to the profession, like my father, who have the patience and excel at helping young people get an education. I am not one of those people. I don't have the patience, nor the talent to be a teacher. And I rather resent the implication by Dr Shannon and others that I should be a teacher, and that if I am not up for being a tutor my son will suffer greatly for it in school. That's hogwash. I can help him with his homework, and he and I can work on his reading together, but I am not homeschooling my child in addition to his going to public school--I can't imagine him thriving under that kind of stress and pressure to perform. Kids need time to relax and play, and they need guidance and help from their parents, certainly, but they shouldn't be constantly bombarded with lessons all day and all night, without respite. That is why I don't understand the subtitle of this book "Happy Kids, Peaceful Parents." There is little peace for parents in this book. They must be constantly on their children to learn, learn, learn, read, read, read, and they must never allow that child time to watch TV, play or do anything fun. Their young minds might become, gasp, mush! Despite its slightly fanatical tone, I still recommend this book, if for no other reason than to enjoy the great book lists and the wonderful quotes about reading and libraries.