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The malapert bookworm

"Things need not have happened to be true."



January 24th, 2012

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There was a time in my life when I awaited the announcement of the Oscar nominations the way some people await the NFL draft. (There was also a time in my life when I weighed in at 130 lbs., bought things just because they caught my eye, and sang Janis Joplin songs at parties. Things change.)

In those days, I went to at least one movie every week, and even when I became an old married lady, I could reliably count on having seen most (at least) of the Oscar nominees plus the most-buzzed-about non-nominees. Now? I can count on my fingers the number of times I've been in a movie theater in the past 12 months -- one hand! And for what may be the first time ever, I haven't seen any of the Best Picture nominees: Not even ONE! I've hardly seen any of the nominated films at all, but that doesn't mean I don't have an opinion!

Best Picture x9
Nine nominees is too many. I respect that the Academy decided to increase the number of nominees because, in a good year, there would be more than five movies deserving of a nom. I think it had more to do with competing against the Golden Globes than with honoring quality per se, though. (The GG split movies into Best Comedy and Best Drama, so they end up with a total of ten.) Who knows when we'll see another annus mirabilis like 1939, another year like last one when they nominated ten films. I'm not sure that 2011 really compares with 1939 (nor did 2010).

  • Harry Potter. Seriously -- I challenge anyone to say that War Horse is a more stirring celebration of courage or more epic, or that Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is more emotional, or that any of those nine films is a better exploration of the darkesses and heroism of which the human spirit is capable.
  • Muppets. If EL&IC is a better move than The Muppets, then I'll eat the nearest hat. Anti-felt-creature bias, plain and simple.
  • Some songs. There couldn't possibly have been only two nomination-worthy songs that whole year. Somebody in the music division of MPAA needs to get over herself and give a songwriter a break. Two nominations? I'm happy for at least this much love for The Muppets, though.
I should probably keep my mouth shut, since I'm about the only person who has enjoyed the comic stylings of the most unpopular hosts in Oscar history. With all due respect for Billy Crystal, I'm not sure he has the chops any more. Obviously a nostalgic choice rather than a substantive one, but hardly the end of the world. Still better than Rob Lowe's Snow White production number, eh?

Just because it's a period movie, it gets a costume nom. Phooey.

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Not so much a grip as an expression of surprise, because I thought this was a shoo-in for more honors, including at least Adapted Screenplay. But then, I didn't even see the movie, so what do I know?

Best Supporting Actor
It's almost always the most interesting category, and while I'd rather Ken Branagh had been omitted just on general principles, it's pretty cool that Nick Nolte, Max Von Sydow and Jonah Hill (JONAH HILL, folks!) got nods. As happy as I am for young Jonah (yes, I remember your bit part in The 40-Year-Old Virgin), it's gotta be Max Von Sydow, right? Right? C'mon Academy voters: Do the right thing by one of the world's great actors (and one of the world's most amazing voices).

Albert Nobbs
What the frak? I had never even heard of it -- alas, how low have the mighty fallen, that I'd have to actually look up a multiple-time Oscar nominee on wikipedia. It sounds great, so I'll definitely have to check it out. The behind-the-scenes story is almost as fascinating -- Glenn Close starred in a stage version and worked for more than 15 years to bring about a movie adaptation. She cowrote the thing and even wrote the song. (Hey: Why wasn't THIS song nominated?)

Hugo's the Best
I haven't seen it, but I already know it's my pic for Best Picture. We put off going because the kids hadn't read the book, and the book was unobtainable. I ordered through SlowBooks.net, and maybe after it gets here we'll have family reading night again, push on through Hugh Cabret, and catch it at the second-run theater. And then I'll just redouble my efforts to convince you it's the Best Picture winner, though my arguments will carry more weight. (Be warned.)

Good night, movie fans!

January 22nd, 2012

Welcome back?

My goodness, but it's been a long time, eh?

Dear Livejournal, do you forgive me? Will you take me back?

December 29th, 2008

Ah, Christmas. I love Christmas. I am not one of those people who gripe about the crowds, nor am I one of those people who spends a lot of time searching for random, thoughtful-seeming presents for coworkers and distant relatives. We're not exactly living Little House in the Big Woods, here (per last year's rumination on gifts and consumerism), but our holiday is lower-key than it is for a lot of (most?) middle-class (and MC-aspiring) Americans.

We began the official holiday with a lovely Christmas eve service at my parents' church (also the host of my Scout troop), with Christmas story bible readings, carols and candles. The young and handsome pastor played guitar for several songs, and Zeke burned his hand on a candle, so there were ups and downs -- but generally a lovely experience. (Until we exited the church into a truly torrential downpour. I hope that wasn't some kind of omen.)

And Christmas itself? It was lots of fun: By "it," I mean most all of it. There was the inevitable stress of getting presents and pajamas packed into the car for the (shortish) drive to my mother-in-law's house, the inevitable chaos of having four little kids (nearly-9, 5, 4 and 1.5) together in one house, the general hustle of saying "Hi!" to my parents and brother's family in nearly the same breath (it seems) as saying "Bye!" to them as we whirl on out to see the other family. But mostly, it was fun. As I've said before, I love hanging out at my mother-in-law's house (and her holiday habit of making a big pitcher of sangria only adds to the appeal). This trip was much more hectic (the nephews) than usual, but still pretty fun.

I especially love seeing the kids (and even the grown-ups) open their presents. Hannah is transitioning into that age where the distant relatives have started to give her shower gel and those little mesh puffballs for washing, instead of toys (though she has turned the puffball-scrubbie into a toy), but these particular relatives were not present, so she was spared the effort of looking grateful. Mostly, it's toys -- toys for grownups, too (and cash -- thanks to generous relations!). That there were four kids all there opening together, and then four kids to play with the result added to the stress, at times, but also to the fun.

In the spirit of the American holiday, in which we obliquely and silently pay homage to Mammon at least as much as to anyone else, allow me to note some of my favorites among the Christmas loot:

Best Toy: There was no real Floam this year, the gift that Hannah yearned for a few years back and which, after her sincere (but failed) attempts to make it fun, has become a household byword for betrayed anticipation. Most of the toys were, in a word, awesome. The best of the bunch, in terms of the amount of play that it got, were the My Meebas that Granny got each of the post-toddler grandkids. Hannah studiously played with hers and got it out the first day; Zeke's took until Saturday, but he was all the more excited by it. I think he likes it more than Hannah, and they are both determined to get more of them. (You can go to the very annoying My Meebas website to see what they are.)

Most used, grown-up category:  The Harry Potter 20 Questions orb. Hannah got one from Santa Claus, and Granny, coincidentally, got one from us. (Hannah got the regular flavor of 20 Q game last year or so, and it has been a great favorite. These things are eerie in their ability to "guess" your answer from a series of often seemingly unrelated questions.) Trying to stump the game became a weekend habit. (I did it with with Flobberworms, and Hannah did it with Cho Chang, of all people, but to give you an idea how unlikely this is, it guessed answers as obscure as Amelia Bones and Bezoar.)

Most used, kid category: Hannah's awesome "Guess Who Extra" game, from Nana and Grandad. The "rock 'em sock 'em" Kung Fu Panda game that Zeke got will never endure as many game plays as this superior game already has. (I know this, because cousin J. opened his game and it keeps falling apart and is, generally, adorable but poorly engineered. For KFP fun, watch the DVD extras instead.) Guess Who is a great game anyway, but the "extra" (with categories such as "Monsters" and "Creepy Crawlies") gives it even more longevity.

Funniest: Tie. I got my dad a poster showing a group of Plains Indians with the slogan: Homeland Security. Fighting terrorism since 1492. Pretty cool, if I do say so myself. My mother-in-law got my bro-in-law M. a glass mug from despair.com, with what is maybe my favorite of their Demotivators: Achievement.

Almost didn't make it to the recipient: We got Rob's youngest bro a really cool academic "cookbook" (really more of a dissertation on food science and meal planning), and I think he hated to let it out of his hands. Said bro's wife, my lovely sister-in-law A., scored a dip calligraphy set that I hated to see go, even though I had specifically picked it out for her. Does this mean that we have something in common with them? Besides our mutual regard, of course.

Best in show: Cash, obviously, which we are perennially short on (though I must say we did an excellent job of budgeting this Christmas!). But the best tangible thing was probably what salvador_dalai and I got for ourselves: The Dr. Horrible DVD! Haven't watched Commentary! The Musical, yet, but just seeing it on a big TV-sized screen was a true treat, as was introducing mom-in-law to its glories. (She loved it, obviously.) Maybe we should have a Dr. H.-watching party (and serve frozen yogurt and soup, of course).

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December 21st, 2008

This morning, Zeke accidentally fluttered his eyelashes against my face. "A butterfly kiss!" I exclaimed.
"What's a butterfly kiss?" he asked. I was sure we'd been over this before. But... I brushed his cheek with my eyelashes.
He shrieked with mock horror: "Aaaaaaaarrrrgh! You kissed me with your EYE! EYE-KISS!"
And then he dissolved in laughter.

And that's how I started my solstice celebration....

December 19th, 2008

It's got to be "The Christmas Shoes," right? C'mon. You can complain about your novelty annoyances, and they wear pretty thin, but they're also pretty easily dismissed.

"The Christmas Shoes," though: Wow. If you are lucky enough not to be familiar with this tune, imagine if you will a softcore country ballad telling the story of a little boy on a quest to buy fancy "Christmas" shoes for his dying mother. That's right: It's Christmas Eve, and the little guy is at a store buying pretty shoes, which are "just her size," so that "if Mama meets Jesus tonight," she'll be able to wear them. He urges the sales clerk to hurry, because "Daddy says there's not much time."

Where to begin? For starters, what little boy has the faintest idea what size shoe his mom wears? Really? But my real problems with this song are more profound. To wit, if I were on my deathbed, I'd much rather have my son with me, sharing a last few precious moments, than out buying anything. Especially shoes. Luckily, I've never been mortally ill, so I can't exactly predict what would be going through my mind as the last hours trickled away, but I bet shoes would be pretty far down the list. Unless they were magical cancer-curing shoes or something like that. Maybe shoe-based defibrillators. I suggest defib, because in the movie version of this song, the young mother-on-deathbed suffers from heart problems.

That's right -- I said "movie." Starring Rob Lowe and Kimberly Williams, no less. It was even released on a real network (more or less). The website calls it a "little song with a big message." Um? That dying women need footwear, too? That Jesus has high fashion standards?

I know, I know: It's supposed to demonstrate the importance of giving, to detract from the commercialism of our modern Christmas by showing that true gift-giving comes from the heart. But is a song about a boy SHOPPING for SHOES really the best way to convey such a message? I think not. How about a song about a little boy who is too poor to give presents, so instead he plays his drum as a gift? Or a song about a rich ruler tramping into the snow to bring food and cheer to a poor man? Heck, John Legend's ode to "Nutmeg" has more to do with the spirit of Christmas than "The Christmas Shoes."

Because you know what this song is about? Making money off of sentimental people. That's not the true spirit of Christmas. Sure, it's the true American spirit, so I can see how easy it is to get confused.

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December 11th, 2008

Wow, it's been a while, eh? A lot of folks have been getting away with a lot of stuff. Time they were put on notice!

I realize, now, that I've completely underestimated you. Taken you entirely for granted. I see now; I understand how important you are. I'm glad you're coming back to me. Don't leave again, 'K?

Heat Miser:
I will stop going around and saying that I like your brother better. (I really do think you have awesome hair.) And I promise to watch your new movie -- I've even got it programmed into the DVR already. So can you let it snow? Please? It's been so long!

Facial hair:
I have loved you, and still, in the right context, do. You know I love a beard -- my fella's got one, probably always will. I love it. I love the way the right beard makes a handsome face gorgeous, like the (handsome but) rawboned Viggo Mortensen turning into smokin' Aragorn, or the (handsome but) pointy-chinned Hugh Jackman turning into the temperature-raising Wolverine or Drover. So yeah, I'm with you, most of the time. But mustaches? They're a dodgier proposition, and it's the rare face that can bear up under the hirsute grandeur of, say, the Sam Elliot Special or the Jamie Hyneman Deluxe. It's an even rarer lip that dares the cosmic weirdness of, say, a Billy Ruiz Extravaganza. The recent spate of pornstaches is not to be borne. Facial hair, get off the lips of Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr. I don't care what movie they're making; if it's not a sequel to Boogie Nights, they have no business with those things on their faces. While you're at it, facial hair, leave Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom alone, too. You can have Dr. Phil and Thomas Friedman.

Slow down! Everybody always says "slow as Christmas," but you're like a jackrabbit these days.

The Big Three:
No, you can't have any more of my money. I have two GM cars at home, and they replace two previous GMs. The first new car I bought was a Chevy, and it replaced my favorite, a Ford. You have gotten plenty of my money over the years. Fine. But you can't have my taxes. The bankers, apparently, need it all. Seriously, I know people say the economy will collapse if we "let" any or all of you fail, but why weren't you doing something last year, or last decade, when analysts and observers pointed out that your big ol' cars and bloated business models were headed for trouble? Weren't you paying attention when Priuses became a phenom and Coopers became hot? Weren't you watching people check out the high resale value of Honda Accords and Toyota Camrys? You just gave up, didn't you? You thought it was fine to pay laid-off auto workers 90% of their wages, and to crank out many interchangeable big ol' things, supposing that a bunch of trucks and vans, a couple of classics (Mustang, Camaro) and a few fads (the Neon, the PT Cruiser) would carry you indefinitely. Nonsense. Listen, I understand bad financial decisions -- been there, done that. And I guess I can't blame you for trying, but if I went up to Washington and asked Congress for a handout, er, bailout, Capitol Security wouldn't even let me on the floor. And you don't get a handout either. Suck it up, and stop holding the country for ransom.

The University of Tennessee:
I realize money's tight, and maybe in the world of NCAA coaches, a $6 million severance package accounts for belt-tightening. But did you have to rub our faces in it by hiring Phil Fulmer right back, for $12,000 a month? I mean, c'mon -- hundreds of people are losing their jobs all over this city, without a six-figure cushion. Without a four-figure one, either. I know, supposedly Fulmer's new salary comes from private donations, yadda yadda yadda -- you couldn't have found a better way to spend that money? On, say, NOT FIRING TEACHERS? Maybe part of Fulmer's responsibilities can include helping kids figure out to how to graduate without being able to take the classes they need.

Girl Scout Chocolate-covered almonds:
You are too delicious. Go away. Oh, wait, you're almost gone already? How'd that happen?

December 4th, 2008

Because I'm too mopey to post, I take refuge in my annual delight: Holiday specials! Last year, I did a pretty thorough rundown:

  • Part the first: A new one, and my favorites

  • Part the Second: The Good, the Weird and the Ugly

  • And Part the Third: The Rest (an "Ani-magic" wonderland)

    ho, ho, ho

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  • November 21st, 2008

    A touch of snow today

    I missed the brief flirtation with snow we had a few days back. A friend woke up to snow dusting her ivy, and lots of people reported seeing proper flurries on Saturday, on Tuesday....

    Not me. I missed Saturday's Blount/West Knox flurries somehow, and I missed Tuesday's campus/East Knox flurries because I work in a windowless hole beneath a tower. This time, I didn't miss it -- there's not much to see, but it is, unmistakeably, SNOW. Hearing a student in the outer office mention it, I scurried out of my basement stronghold to the parking garage, and there, drifting every so slowly down through the gingkos in the tree well: Snowflakes. Not a lot. And maybe you had to kind of squint to see them, but they were there.

    I love snow. I really miss the infrequent but dependable snows of my childhood winters. The January that Hannah was born, we had a "blizzard" in central North Carolina -- a couple of feet of snow, which left us in the hospital stranded. The nurses camped out on pallets and cots, and lunch that first day or two consisted of the dregs from the kitchen shelves: I remember one meal consisting of a slice of bread and half of a canned peach. Hannah says she's a snow pixie because we had so much snow the first month of her life.

    Snow days are still magical in my mind. Every little flake that lazily finds its way into the tree well holds the promise of real snow, blanketing the ground, ready for snowmen or snow cream or just for looking at. The promise is almost always, these days, unfulfilled, but the magic is still there.

    November 20th, 2008

    Robert Ben Garant is in town for a benefit appearance for the Highlander Center. One of the celebrities -- in his case, comic genius -- to spring from my native soil. He's one of the few that I have some connection with. I didn't know him that well in high school; he's actually my brother's age. But he went to a high school near mine, and competed in speech and drama at the same time I did. His teacher/coach was buddies with mine, that sort of thing. We did different events, but I think he competed directly against my brother (who I guess has bragging rights thereby).

    But I do have one story. I'm sure he doesn't remember me, but I wonder if he remembers this occasion. My freshman year of college, a friend and I came up to Knoxville to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which played weekly at a crappy theater on the westside. (Locals: Remember The Kingston Four?) They always had a police officer stationed there, presumably to stop any rice- and camp-fueled rioting, but really, I expect, to keep an eye on all the proto-goths and New Wavers and flaming geeks. (Which persons, history shows, are generally better behaved than their mundane-seeming counterparts. But I digress.)

    Anyway, my car wouldn't start -- dead battery. The officer wouldn't help us, but then, if we were at Rocky Horror, we were obviously wierdos who had thereby abandoned any claim to the protection of law. The convenience store next door didn't have jumper cables. We were trying to figure out what to do, along Kingston Pike at 2 a.m., when a carfull of Farragut High students came over. It wasn't because they knew me; a couple of them recognized me, I think, and I them, but they were just doing the basic humanitarian thing. They volunteered to drive down the Pike in search of jumper cables. They found some, at another convenience store down the road, but the store clerk wouldn't let them take the cables off the premises.

    Not to worry -- they volunteered to leave one of their number behind as surety for the cables. They came back to us in the K4 parking lot, bearing jumper cables but minus one friend. We got my car jumped off, and they returned the cables, and all was well.

    The cable hostage was Robert Ben Garant. Mostly, I laugh at his work because it's hilarious. But there's a litle part of me that sometimes laughs, too, because I think about this skinny teenager hanging around a convenience store in the wee hours waiting for his friends to rescue near-strangers and come back to ransom him.

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