February 27, 2011

Movie Maniac's First Screenplay Suggestions

In honor of the Academy Awards, I am going to satisfy my life-long ambition of becoming a movie critic. Thanks to the freedom of the Internet, I can write and publish myself, which is a truly beautiful thing. People actually reading what I write is another matter entirely...
Anyhoo, what I've always disliked about movie critics is that they are either extremely negative and critical (go figure) or obviously somehow employed by a movie's company (and therefore biased). That's not how I do things- in this entry, I will only make recommendations of movies worth watching, no strings attached (all are available to rent I believe). Save yourself the trouble of reading about movies that aren't worth your time or watching countless titles until you find a gem. I'll watch them and waste my time for you, cause that's what I love doing. I am a movie maniac. Hmmm, I like that alliteration...Here are a few great movies that I have seen recently:
  #1- Tangled (PG)
A delightful cartoon rendering of the fairy tale Rapunzel, it is both beautifully drawn (love those lanterns!) and wittily sung. I left the theater twirling and smiling, humming the music to myself all the way home. This tale will please the most avid Disney fan and entertain even the anti-cartoonist, if you don't mind that the only resemblance to the actual fairytale is the hair, tower and evil step-mom. I found the villain to have much more depth than many Disney bad guys/girls. Yes, the villain did out-right bad stuff (kidnapping for one), but the worst thing brought upon Rapunzel by her "mother" was all mental. Her words were poisonous, and I think Disney did a really good job of showing what words can do to a person's confidence in a highly humorous scene where Rapunzel is both ecstatic and terrified to be out of her tower. All in all, nothing new or profound, but highly entertaining and satisfying, as only Disney can deliver.
#2- RED: Retired and Extremely Dangerous (PG-13)
Based on the graphic novel by the same name, this action/adventure romp was a thrill ride through the life of a retired CIA "analyst" Paul Moses, who is just trying to meet a girl and move on with his life after being one of the most dangerous and successful spies of his time. It reminded me of True Lies and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, only with older guys and gals kicking butt and taking names. While violent and over the top as only action movies about spies can be, I laughed out loud consistently from about 10 minutes in until the end. Let me put it this way- if you want to see what John Malkovich would be like as a crazy spy who lives in the woods, or  Morgan Freeman wearing a bright robin's egg blue, yellow and pink outfit, or Bruce Willis walk out of a spinning car and then take out his would be killer without breaking a sweat on that sweet bald head of his, then this is the film for you.
#3- The Secret of Kells (not rated)
Also a cartoon, this amazing movie tells the story of the illuminated Book of Kells through the eyes of a child. The Book of Kells is a real book in Ireland (one of their national treasures and the finest example of calligraphy from the time). The style reminded me of the cartoon The Thief and the Cobbler, and at first, the oddness of the characters and scenery threw me off. About ten minutes in, however, I was totally inside the disjointed world that was based on the 2-D art of 8th century monks. The two main characters, a boy named Brandon and an elfish spirit girl named Aisling exist in a frightening world of Viking invasions and scary creatures in the forest. Both wish to turn the darkness into light with written wisdom and Celtic myths. If you wish to see a modern take on a historical time, then see the Secret of Kells.
#4- Moliere (PG-13)
This French film is a refined comedy in the line of Shakespeare in Love, in the way that it tells the story of a real playwright through one of the plays he wrote (although I think this one is much funnier and had better acting than Shakespeare in Love). Twisting Moliere's comedy Tartuffe into a exciting escapade of the author's own love-life, it shows how farce was changed into comedy of depth in 16th century France. I found it to be a lovely film with rich colors and superb actors who could make you both cry and laugh at the same time, which in fact was the point of the whole movie.
#5- The Jane Austin Book Club (PG-13)
Sometimes you just need a romantic comedy that's all fluff and little substance. Jane Austen can hardly be said to have little substance as her caricatures of people and subtle commentary on the social aspects of her time were truly awesome, but she always provides the fluff in abundance. This movie is based on the novel of the same name, and just watching it made me want to pick up Austen's books and drink in her literary wonderfulness. It is a movie about six people, all at different and difficult stages in their love lives, forming a book club with the goal of reading all six of Jane Austen's books and then meeting to discuss them. While the substance of the movie is provided by the fact that all the characters are similar to a major Jane Austen character, the fluff of the romantic mine-field set up by their modern lives is sufficiently diverting (though at times disappointing too). What I enjoyed most was the reminders of how entertaining Austen can be and that I need to actually read her books, not just watch movies based on them. I hope you get the same message!
#6- The Social Network (PG-13)
I thought a movie based on the beginnings of Facebook was the stupidest premise for a film that I had ever heard of. I think I said so to many people. I stand here today, corrected and wrong about this superb story. With great cinematography, this wonderfully shot film remains exciting throughout, even though many of the scenes are of two parties arguing out lawsuits. Not what you would think of as exciting, I know (my stint on jury duty showed me just how much lawyers like to talk), but it really keeps you worried for the characters. The characters aren't necessarily likable, in fact, the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, is portrayed as a real @#$hole (pardon my French), but they speak SO fast and are SO witty that you find yourself taking sides even if you don't like any of them. Who knew computer programing could be such an interesting topic? (my apologies to all the computer programmers I know, I just never thought a movie about making a website could be any more than instructional. I was very, very wrong) I guess when you throw in money, everything becomes interesting because humans act so strangely when they feel greed. But buyer beware- don't take this film as gospel truth for many of the things that happened were expanded upon or made up. (Which kind of, sort of, slightly proves my initial opinion that it was a silly premise and would have to be changed in order to be worth watching. Oh well. It's a good movie)

I hope you enjoy these films as much as I did!

February 19, 2011

Upward and MAPward we go!

Here's the million dollar question- how do you catch the attention of 28 twelve year-olds whose minds are still at home playing on one of their hundred snow days? You start teaching them about the Greek gods and all the nasty stuff they did. Oh yes, I have resorted to shock and awe in order to drag my students into the land of learning. I can't tell you how many students recoiled and shouted 'Ewww!' 'What?!?' or 'Wait a minute...' when they learned that most of the gods marry their sisters and brothers, or that Hera is one P.O.ed lady due to her philandering husband Zeus, or that Ares and Aphrodite may not be married, but boy do they love each other! Yes, that is the sound of learning in my classroom- Ewww!

We are currently reading The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan and I am having so much fun! It's one of my favorites and I think I have successfully hooked the students with all the background knowledge of the Greek myths and gods and creatures. The book is a roller coaster ride of excitement and thrills, so even if it's a struggle for some students to comprehend, they are trying harder than they normally would because they want to find out what happens next. I love it when they moan after I say, "Alright, that's all we have time for today. Close your books!" Music to my ears.

Life is moving right along and the MAP (Missouri Assessment Program) test is coming, which means everything gets turned MAP-ward around now. Focus lessons, constant principal observations in the classroom, and a general feeling of nervous stress are the norm all over Busch and probably the district. At this time of testing stress, I recall those naive discussions I had in college classes, safely tucked in a happy corner of a protected little world, where I strongly denounced teaching to the test. How little I knew of how our wacky world works. It's not necessarily that I teach to the test- I teach the reading skills a student is supposed to know in the 6th grade and that is what the test is over, but boy does my life revolve around the test. Everything rides on it.

I don't think one can truly comprehend what the MAP means unless your spectacular students' future class will depend on their score, your school's freedom and open status depends on improving on the test, your Principal's job depends on the school wide improvement, the district's funding and standing compared to other districts depends on how all the children do, and your record is forever marked by your students' scores. All of these realities are based on the awesome idea of accountability, a double edged sword that hacks away at my confidence. Thank goodness for the book, Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire, which taught me to teach my students test taking skills (which is really boosting their performance!) and to assure them that while the test is important, in the end it is a piece of paper that adults are afraid of and they should view it as a challenge, not a monster. This mantra is what gets me through the testing season.

Anyhoo, onto more pleasant things.
I LOVE PAINTING. Period. It calms and soothes my MAP-mad mind and I can't get enough of it. I am currently taking a painting class at the community college here in St. Louis, and it is my first dabbling in oil. The professor is extremely professional and likes to use big canvases, which was a stretch for me. I'm learning a lot, and want to paint all the time, be it oil, acrylic or with my fingers. I told one of my co-workers that moving from acrylic to oil painting is like eating Hershey's chocolate your whole life, and then placing a Belgian truffle on your tongue. Both are good, but boy, does oil take the cake. It moves like butter and blends beautifully, the colors are extreme and vibrant and it will last forever if you prepare and paint it right. That said, it was also intimidating, time-consuming and expensive to begin. I love it!

A few of my early canvases have been attached to this blog for your viewing pleasure.
I am also looking forward to a trip to Disneyworld with my friend Jessica and St. Patty's day here in St. Louis with my friend Allie for my Spring Break. I love being in a position where those kind of things are an option. Thank God for all the blessings in my life!
If anyone wants to come out and visit- please do! If that's not an option, call, send me a letter or carrier pigeon, or contact me in some fashion, because I'd love to hear from you.