Monday, April 30, 2007

"Beauty Shop"

Netflix fans may relate to this: sometimes the red envelope comes, and I open it, and the movie inside is nothing I have even heard of, let alone wanted to see. I must have put it in the queue during a fugue -- I have no memory of it and no idea what the thing is or why I'd want to watch it. That's how it was when Beauty Shop arrived. I think Queen Latifah is pretty terrific, but damned if I can figure where I got the idea to see this movie.

It wasn't a total loss. Kevin Bacon is amusing as an affected hairdresser with a pole up his ass. Queen Latifah plays a sympathetic character. Alicia Silverstone and Andie MacDowell have nice little roles.

But overall... eh. A little feelgood movie, not actively painful to watch, but not the least bit memorable either. I've already forgotten it. What is this post about again?

Jehovah! Jehovah!

Friends and family will be amused to read that after years of tolerating, even somewhat enjoying, regular visits from the team of Jehovah's Witnessess assigned to my apparently sorry spiritual case, I have thrown 'em out and requested they never return.

I didn't mind the religious chats. I've been happy to share my thoughts on these matters, figuring these particular visitors could use some help, frankly.

I didn't mind their dwelling on all that is awful and scary in the world, because it gave me an opportunity to be on the other side of that argument, for once. I'm prone to over-worry about things, and to be in a position where I'm saying "hey, there's a lot of good happening, too!" -- well, it's good to remind myself of that, as well as the doom-is-near types on my doorstep.

So, the last straw? The article in the last whatever-it's-called, exhorting the virtues of the marriage in which the wife is subject to the husband and the husband is head of the wife, and tut-tutting over the evils of the "so-called 'women's liberation' movement." Patronizing, insulting, and not welcome in my home. Buh-bye.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

"Casino Royale"

If everyone you know has been telling you to see this movie and you still haven't... well, quit reading this post right now and get to Blockbuster or wherever. As reluctant as I was to like a Bond movie without Pierce Brosnan or Sean Connery, I loved this one. Daniel Craig's Bond -- the newly promoted to 00 status Bond -- is less slick, less polished, doesn't yet care if it's shaken or stirred. But he does already know how to work a tux.

Judi Dench is great as the wise, incisive M ("Utter one more syllable and I'll have you killed"), and our primary villain -- a weirdo terrorist financier who has a tear duct disorder that causes him to weep blood -- is very good, which is to say, evil.

On the down side: the theme song is really, really bad. Which is a shame. Usually they're at least catchy.

And yes this is all quite after the fact for movie commentary, and been said already. Someday I should meet one of these "babysitter" people I hear so much about. In the meantime, it's Netflix, home theater, baby!, and mini-reviews long past current. Could be worse :).

Friday, April 20, 2007

"Teacher Man"

My reading group's book for April was Teacher Man, by Frank McCourt (of Angela's Ashes fame). It is the account of Mr. McCourt's years (about 30 of 'em, beginning in 1958) teaching English and creative writing in various New York City high schools, from the vocational/technical (McKee) to the top-notch academic (Stuyvesant). He approaches the subject with a good dose of jadedness. From the Prologue:

In America, doctors, lawyers, generals, actors, television people and politicians are admired and rewarded. Not teachers. Teaching is the downstairs maid of professions. Teachers are told to use the service door or go around the back. They are congratulated on having ATTO (All That Time Off). They are spoken of patronizingly and patted, retroactively, on their silvery locks. Oh, yes, I had an English teacher, Miss Smith, who really inspired me. I'll never forget dear old Miss Smith. She used to say that if she reached one child in her forty years of teaching it would make it all worth-while. She'd die happy. The inspiring English teacher then fades into gray shadows to eke out her days on a penny-pinching pension, dreaming of the one child she might have reached. Dream on, teacher. You will not be celebrated.

Hmmm. Is this jadedness or wallowing? Hard to tell. And it remains hard to tell throughout. It's a fine line.

In its favor: this book contains slices of life both lovely and sad, captured through a few sentences' dialogue or description that are absolute gems. The black girl whose sister got arrested for "liberating two pork chops from the store," while white women routinely steal steaks unnoticed. The boy who dines on veal medallions, alone at the polished mahogany table beneath a crystal chandelier, while his father lies dying of cancer in the hospital. The Jewish boy who knows with contented certainty that his calling is to be a farmer, much to the despair of his father the rabbi. We are there. We know these kids. It's good writing.

Against: Teacher Man has sort of a babbly style that doesn't appeal to me. It's hard to know what to do, as a reader, with the mess of McCourt's personal life as related here. His peculiar mix of egotism and self-loathing makes too much of this memoir a distractingly uncomfortable read.

Still, I bet his creative writing classes at Stuyvesant were fabulous.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Virginia Tech

I've been reading profiles of some of the victims of the Virginia Tech murders.

One professor -- a Holocaust survivor -- put himself in the doorway between the gunman and his students and told them to flee. These students have been emailing the professor's son to say how he saved their lives before he himself was shot.

Graduate students in engineering. Undergraduates in French class. A professor of French, a professor of German, two of engineering. People of all ages, backgrounds, talents.

All gone in a matter of minutes, and their families, their parents, will never know why. As if why makes any difference now anyway, or could provide any comfort whatsoever. A mentally ill student snaps - and all these lives are suddenly, brutally, senselessly over. There's not going to be a why that satisfies anyone.

My heart goes out to all who lost a child, a sibling, a parent, a friend, at Virginia Tech on Monday morning.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

First Post! (in which we decide: why do this? or just shrug our shoulders and do it anyway.)

So, why blog?

Well, there is the tedious midlife crisis factor (woe is me!).
There’s the vanity factor (listen to me!).
And the popular culture factor (everybody’s doin’ it!)

I like to think though, that if those were the only things in play, I’d resist.

The “why” really boils down to this: I miss general chit-chat with friends and acquaintances. People who used to be my closest companions now live far and wide and it’s impossible to be in touch as much as we’d like, no matter what our intentions. Our busy daily lives – jobs, spouses, children, campaigns, communities, extended families, all that – are our first priorities, and rightly so. Also, having left what’s thought of (often without a trace of irony!) as the “working world” to rear children, I’m without office banter.

So, who do you shoot the breeze with any more, especially if your work doesn’t involve regular interactions with other adults? Work-at-home gigs can be isolating and a bit lonesome.

Online community forums can be great… or they can be overrun by people using anonymity as license to be rude or mean. Online, topic-centered forums are really great, but to join them and then chat about everything but the subject at hand can be intrusive and disrespectful.

So. Enter the blog. Let’s give it a bid. Friends old and new are invited to comment on and discuss whatever comes up here. Differences of opinion, respectfully expressed, are heartily encouraged. Rudeness and insults won’t see the light of day.

And if this blog’s title reminds you at all of a favorite episode of Star Trek -- cool.