So Much Gratitude.

Today I saw the movie St. Vincent with my friend Kim. I’d heard some good buzz about Bill Murray’s performance, and he did not disappoint. The movie, however, was a bit too realistic for me. For most of the film, I sat with a knot in my stomach as I thought “There but for the grace of God for I.” Living in relative poverty, outrunning loan sharks and other creditors, and experiencing a major health crisis, Murray’s Vincent had a life that scared me.

It scared me so much that as I went grocery shopping afterward, I could barely remember what I needed for the week and after stops at two stores, I arrived home without the things I really needed. 
The ending of the movie is really quite heartwarming, and at its core, the story is quite similar to About A Boy–which I love–so there’s plenty of good about the film, including how it made me keenly grateful for all that I have:
A car that can take me to two stores, enough money to buy groceries (even mindlessly), and plenty of food storage to make up the difference for the groceries I forgot to buy, and the on-hand ingredients to make a chocolate sheet cake (just ‘cuz) and banana bread with overripe bananas (also, just ‘cuz). 

Movie Monday: Aladdin

Last Monday I watched “About A Boy.” Alphabetically, this week should have been “Airplane,” but that’s a movie I really need to be in a mood to see. But after “Airplane” is “Aladdin,” and I never need to be in any particular mood to watch a Disney film. So in it went.

I teach a mini-unit about Disney and its impact on childhood and have been accused of not liking Disney movies. But the dirty little secret is that I actually like them quite a bit, in large part due to the memories I have of seeing them for the first time. And Aladdin is no different.

My roommates at BYU and I saw Aladdin at the Scera theatre, which is a gorgeous theatre in Orem. Giant screen, plush seats, and if I recall, only one or two screens–so different from the functional multiplexes of today. By the time Preference (a semi-formal dance in which the girls ask the boys) rolled around, we were so enthralled with the film that we had the soundtrack and decided to decorate our entire apartment like the palaces in Agraba. I wish I had pictures. It was a work of art. Oh, BYU…

Anyway, we quoted the movie incessantly, and even as I watched it tonight, I wished Nikki and Aimee, two dear roommates, were sitting in my living room with me.

I’m surprised how critical I am now of the animation, and it’s not a consequence of modern times–go watch “The Sword in the Stone” and that movie is visually stunning. Aladdin just looks ordinary, especially in the computer animated age I’m so used to now.

But it was a lovely way to end my day.

Except Jafar is way creepier now than he was 20 years ago. Why is that?

Valentine’s Day Movies

The Deseret News (newspaper in Salt Lake City that I can’t seem to stop reading) published a list of Valentine’s Day movies to watch. I’ve seen all of them, so here I offer you my reviews of the ten.

10. A Walk To Remember. Teen dying of cancer somehow gets town bad boy to fall in love with her. It’s Nicholas Sparks, so you know someone’s gonna die, and you are gonna cry. Great soundtrack, decent acting, but…see previous sentence. Rating: 3 of 5 broken hearts

9. Return to Me. Heart transplant recipient falls in love with the man whose wife’s heart ended up in transplant. I love this movie. Watch it for the following reasons: the four old guys kibitzing, Bonnie Hunt/James Belushi relationship. Rating: 4 of 5 broken hearts  

8. Ever After. I should probably watch this one again since the last time I saw it, I ended up making out with the guy I was watching it with. But friends of mine say that it’s a great twist on the Cinderella trope and a rather feminist retelling. Rating: One Awesome Make-out Session.

7. You’ve Got Mail. An updated “Shop Around The Corner” for the email age. Some great quotable lines, and anytime Steve Zahn makes an appearance in a film, it’s a good thing. Pro-tip: do NOT let Tom Hanks say the last line. It’s atrocious. Fun-tip: saw this movie with a guy I fell in love with mostly over AOL Instant Messaging and email. We were dating by the time this film was released, and I loved that he took me to see it. Rating: 4 of 5 broken hearts

6. While You Were Sleeping. Any movie that can make Bill Pullman seem sexy as an Everyman (when he’s POTUS and flies a plane to fight alien invasions, of COURSE he’s gonna be sexy) is a hit. Also incredibly quotable, funny, lovely…I never get sick of this one. Rating: 5 of 5 broken hearts

5. Sleepless in Seattle. If anything gave me unrealistic expectations about destiny and love and all that crap, it’s this movie. Worth watching just for the “Dirty Dozen” scene with Tom Hanks and Victor Garber. Rating: 3 of 5 broken hearts

4. The Princess Bride. The only acceptable “twu wuv” film to watch. Quotable, passed down from generation to generation, a true classic. I don’t even feel bitter about the happy ending. Rating: 5 of 5 broken hearts 

3. The Man From Snowy River. It’s been forever since I’ve seen this one, and all I remember from it is the lush soundtrack. One of my favorite pieces of sheet music. Rating: Insufficient data.

2. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. One of the most misogynistic musicals ever written, ever. I had a friend whose mother so worried about possible inferred messages of this show that she forbade her daughters to ever watch it. Rating: 1 of 5 broken hearts

1. Casablanca. A desert island movie. So much part of the American popular culture landscape that when I show it to my students ever semester, they know the famous lines even though they’ve never seen the movie. Love the sweeping drama of the story, the cinematography, the acting…and wow is Humphrey Bogart ever so staggeringly handsome. Rating: 5 of 5 broken hearts

So if you didn’t have any plans for Valentine’s Day week, perhaps one of these movies fits the bill for you.

And if not, you could always watch Die Hard. I hear it’s the best Christmas movie ever.

Les Miserables

I was a freshman at BYU the first time I ever heard “On My Own” from the musical Les Miserables. As part of my vocal major, I had to attend a MDT showcase (BYU has a major titled Musical Dance Theatre–MDT for short) and one segment of the showcase was highlights from Les Mis.

I fell in love.

So much so that after my freshman year concluded, I set about reading the unabridged novel. It took me a long time to finish–that whole summer plus the first month of my sophomore year of college. The last 100 pages had me on my bed, sobbing, surrounded by Kleenex. I’m sure my roommates thought I was crazy.

I didn’t see it performed on stage until 1995, when I splurged on a mezzanine seat and went by myself. And I cried through the whole thing.

So I was extraordinarily excited for the movie. I finally saw it on Saturday with my friend Kelly. And despite all the negative reviews and attention, my love for the story and the music made it impossible for me to join in the negativity-fest.

So here’s what I loved most about Les Mis:

1. I LOVED the insider-touch of casting Colm Wilkinson as the Bishop of Digne. Who is Colm Wilkinson, you ask? He played the original Jean Valjean on Broadway. As soon as the Bishop began to sing, I knew it…and then I confirmed it on IMDB when I got home.

2. The cinematography was riveting. Some elements of physical space are much more compelling on film than on stage–the grime of the city, the desperation of the commoners and the young men at the barricade, the “lovely ladies”–it created a much more powerful message of mercy and redemption to see a non-sanitized representation of the characters’ struggles.

3. One small lyrical change really affected me. In the Broadway cast recording version of “On My Own,” Eponine sings about her love for Marius and toward the end she concedes: “Without me/his world will go on turning/the world is full of happiness/that I have never known.” In the movie, though, it’s this: “Without me/his world will go on turning/ a world that’s full of happiness/that I have never known.” I get that articles are the most underrated part of speech, but the impact of that change, to me, was dramatic.

I left really only feeling one major slight: on stage, as Valjean is dying and Fantine appears to usher him to the other side, Eponine appears with her. I have an irrational love for Eponine (we have the unrequited love thing down to an art form), and the fact that she facilitates Marius and Cosette’s relationship warrants her inclusion in that final scene. Alas, director Tom Hooper decided otherwise.

I can’t wait for the DVD–I haven’t bought a DVD in years because of Netflix, Hulu, and Redbox–because I will be buying this one.

Escape

This year is harder than others. I don’t know why. I didn’t expect it–I have one of the best schedules I’ve ever had in all my years of teaching, I’m starting to see some legitimate change in the district, and in general, I don’t have a whole lot of waves going on.

Yet I’m restless. Unsettled.

Last night before I went to bed, I thought I’d read for a bit. The last book I read was so mind-numbingly boring that it put to sleep every night. It was a fantasy-alternate-world-fighting-dragons kind of book and I hated every page. But I’ve committed to reading the books on this list, 

So next up was the book “Shiver” by Maggie Stiefvater. It is just shy of 400 pages and from what I could tell was a book about wolves.

Ew.

I crawled into bed, exhausted from my day, opened the book and read a page. The pace wasn’t bad, so I read another page. And before I knew it, it was midnight, I was wrapped up in the story, and I had to force myself to turn off the light and get some sleep.

I found pockets of time throughout my day, and finished it before school was over. I was lost in that book. And while I was reading, I didn’t have to think about grading papers, planning lessons, district demands. I didn’t worry about my nieces and nephews, or my parents or my sisters, or think about how I need to start coming back to terms with the fact that I will likely never date again, and definitely won’t ever marry. My thoughts were concerned only with the characters in the book, what was happening to them, and how the story would end.

There are two more books in the series; it’s taking all the willpower in the world to not sink back into the story.

It was glorious to be lost in that world for a day, to just not be really living in mine.