“The Blind Side” gets a thumbs-up from me.

22 12 2009

I’m a sucker for feel-good sports dramas. I enjoyed “Miracle” and “The Rookie,” partly because they were emotionally satisfying for me, and partly because I knew the real stories behind the screen dramatizations. I’m adding “The Blind Side” to the list. I remember being very touched when I first heard about Michael Oher’s journey to success with the Baltimore Ravens, and I was looking forward to seeing how the movie version handled the story.

I was not disappointed. This story is about compassion and love, determination and persistence, and faith. It’s about the rewards that can come when you do the right thing, stand up for what you believe in, and follow your heart. Knowing that Oher is making a difference with the Ravens in his rookie season makes the story all the more heartwarming.

I’ve followed Sandra Bullock’s career for a while (Remember “The Bionic Showdown”? Anybody?), and it’s wonderful to see her in a great role. She tackled the character of Leigh Anne Tuohy with gusto, and she is a huge part of the effectiveness of this movie for me. John Lee Hancock (no surprise that he did “The Rookie”) has another winner.

I saw a TV interview with the Tuohy family over the weekend, and they were warm, funny, well-spoken and humble. I got the impression that the real-life Tuohy-Oher story went so smoothly that the filmmakers felt the need to inject some conflict into the tale (such as daughter Collins’ friends questioning the family’s motivations in taking in Michael) to give it more drama. The most touching moment of the interview for me was when Collins recounted how she unexpectedly broke down during a morning-show interview a couple of days earlier, after being asked what life would be like without Michael in the family. She said that he is so much a part of the Tuohys that imagining a Michael-less life is simply unthinkable to her.

Go see “The Blind Side,” if you haven’t already.


‘Tis the season for ant invasions, fa la la la la

16 12 2009

Our house must be cursed. No, it wasn’t built over a proverbial Indian burial ground (at least, not to my knowledge), but I am convinced we’re living atop a massive, endless anthill, teeming with millions and millions of the little buggers. Every winter, when the rains come, they erupt out of the depths like so many vengeful spirits, one room at a time, in search of warmth or food, making human lives miserable.

I don’t like getting rid of ants. We try not to harm any living thing; we catch bugs in cups to take them outside. I’m an arachniphobe, but even I learned long ago to trap spiders (with a lot of yelping) and carry them out. But when you walk into a room and see the carpet covered with ants, see them crawling up the walls, getting into the bedclothes, even scuttling around on the computer keyboard…well, there comes a time when there’s no recourse but to treat the horde like enemy invaders, and get out the heavy artillery. In my case, Simple Green and the vacuum cleaner.

Complicating the annual adventure, we have a cat and a dog, so we use insecticide extremely rarely, only as a last resort when it’s impossible to seal up the spot where the invaders are getting into the house, such as behind a bookcase, or under a cabinet where the construction has left huge open gaps. I swear, when I become a contractor and start building houses, I will budget for caulking and make sure each domicile is ant-proof, for the sake of war-weary homeowners.

After each attack has been cleaned up, I recheck each battle site periodically, to see if the little monsters have found a teeny pinhole of an opening that I missed, and returned to plague us again. My rounds have grown longer and longer with each new onslaught. Since the invasion season began in earnest a couple of weeks ago, they’ve hit the bathrooms six times, the bedrooms another six, the dining room twice, the kitchen three times. Today it was a three-pronged attack: bathroom, bedroom, kitchen pantry.

Naturally, this all makes me a little paranoid. Every dark splotch must be examined, just in case it’s a pile of ants celebrating over a newly-discovered morsel of food. My skin crawls for days, even weeks… Phantom Ant Syndrome, I call it. And I don’t dare walk around the house in bare feet or socks any time soon.

There is one advantage to all this grief, though: the house gets noticeably cleaner.

Brett Favre and the Vikings: 2-0!

23 09 2009

Brett Favre set another NFL record this past Sunday, for the most consecutive starts — 271 — but the recaps and game clips were all about phenom Adrian Peterson. Well, I noticed, Brett. Congrats, dude!

I read a commentary on a sports site about Favre’s work so far as the Minnesota Vikings’ new quarterback. “Unspectacular, but in a good way.” 😀 I admit I miss his signature dead-on 50-yard TD passes, but I don’t miss the interceptions. I want to see him in the playoffs, and clearly he wants to get there too, so I’ll be content for now with his great scrambling, and his wise and frequent hand-offs to Peterson. And of course there’s that gleeful little-boy enthusiasm Favre has for playing football. Watching him joyfully tackle Harvin after the rookie’s first TD reception — and Favre’s first TD pass as a Viking — was sublime.

Next up: the home opener against the San Francisco 49ers, who are suprisingly 2-0 as well. I’m hoping for a faster start than the last two games… and maybe a long Favre TD pass. Not to mention, another win.

Love in yet another language

16 09 2009

I just added a Turkish translation to Trip’s “I love you” Rosetta Stone. It’s up to twenty-four languages now!

Don’t see “The Mist.” I’m begging you.

4 09 2009

Lordy, that’s two hours of my life I want back. The ending of this film was one of the more egregious examples of irresponsible storytelling I’ve ever seen.

What is the purpose of storytelling? Responsible storytelling? The best stories, the ones that endure, are those that teach or reinforce universally held positive moral values. In the more effective stories, the storyteller keeps your left brain occupied with that plot stuff, while slipping a message to your right brain under the radar. The story might be funny, sad, scary, serious…but on some level, the ending is satisfying and life-affirming. The main character has learned something and grown as a result of the story’s journey (a comedy) or has significantly failed to learn something he needed to learn (a tragedy). We, the readers or viewers, have gained some insight on the human condition, even subliminally.

Then there are stories (and I use that term loosely here) that end by telling you that everything that came before doesn’t matter. Life is sh*t and then you die. Do good unto others and you get screwed. Or as a good friend of mine often said, “And then they all get hit by a truck, The End.” That is meaningless, wasteful, irresponsible storytelling. There’s no reason for it that I can figure, except for perhaps some hubristic, manipulative, condescending desire to flip the bird at one’s own audience. Which still makes no sense to me.

“The Mist” is irresponsible storytelling. The production values are great, the direction is skilled, the performances by some of my favorite character actors — Frances Sternhagen, Jeffrey DeMunn — are wonderful. The story (based on a novella by Stephen King) is creepy and terrifying and gripping. But all of it went right out the window as I sat through the last few minutes in slack-jawed shock. To describe myself as “unsatisfied” would be a vast understatement. I was furious. I was offended. I am a storyteller, and I would never, ever crap on my audience the way Frank Darabont, the writer/director, did with that terrible, terrible ending. If I’d had rotten vegetables on hand, I would have been throwing them.

I had not read the King novella, so I took a look at it. The ending is DIFFERENT. It is an ending that is structurally appropriate for the tone and subject of the story. There’s no cheap Deus Ex Machina, but I didn’t expect that. I expected our heroes’ horrific journey to have meaning. I needed a ray of hope, and King’s story gave me one. In Darabont’s train-wreck of an ending, there is no meaning. Life is sh*t and then you die, indeed.

What possesses a filmmaker to take a story and toss out its perfectly good ending, in favor of one that is designed to leave a viewer either depressed or furious? What is the purpose of sending a message like that? And while I’m ranting, what was King thinking when he let Darabont piss all over his satisfying ending? The mind boggles.

I will say that I got one thing out of this ghastly experience: how not to tell a story. Ever. It’s a lesson I already know, but one that can’t be reinforced enough.

Hey kids, what time is it? It’s Viral Video Time!

27 07 2009

I’ve seen many videos that have “gone viral,” mostly catching up with them long after they spread through cyberspace like wildfire. But in the last few weeks, I’ve heard about two just as they were breaking.

Revenge is a dish best served on YouTube:

I caught a segment on CNN about singer Dave Carroll, of the Canadian singing duo Sons of Maxwell, and Carroll’s ode to insensitive airline customer service, “United Breaks Guitars”. The video had been posted online the day before, and had already racked up an impressive 300,000 hits. I loved the video, so I went to Carroll’s website and read the “long version” of his year-long, ultimately unsuccessful battle to get United Airlines to reimburse him for breaking his $3500 Taylor guitar. After he hit the last brick wall, Carroll made lemonades out of lemons and set out to write three songs about his travails and post them online, with the hope of getting a million views total.

Carroll got his million hits inside of a week. As of today, “United Breaks Guitars” has over four million hits. And United, as you might have expected, isn’t giving Carroll the cold shoulder anymore. He’s a star now — he’s had articles written about him from Los Angeles to Halifax, done countless interviews in print and on TV, and I understand he’s been inundated with offers for singing engagements. He still has two more songs to post, but his story already has a happy ending.

Best wedding intro ever:

My husband, of all people, found this one and showed it to me. It’s a video of a Minnesota couple and their wedding party entering the church for the ceremony, in a joyfully unconventional way…which no one in the audience had been told about in advance. Fabulous. It’s only been online for a week, and it’s up to nine million hits.

I was wondering when the press would hear about this one — and just now “The O’Reilly Factor” on Fox News did a segment on it. Alas, Bill O’Reilly was absolutely clueless; he didn’t get what all the fuss was about. But his two guests (and whoever told him to feature the video) understood just why it’s so special.

Go. Watch. Enjoy.

Michael Jackson, troubled genius

27 06 2009

I had the cable TV news on the other day when news broke about Michael Jackson. I watched for the next two hours as reporters scrambled for the latest word…he was in full cardiac arrest, he was en route to the hospital, he was dead. As the story steadily took over all the airwaves, I kept watching. TV this immediate, and news of this magnitude, is something from which you can’t turn away.

I tried to remember the last time a news event had been so all-encompassing. The Iran protests? Baghdad falling? “Shock and awe”? Just twelve hours before, word of TV icon Farrah Fawcett’s death from cancer had broken, and she was already old news.

For the last several years, I had considered Michael Jackson to be pretty much a freakshow, what with the trial for child molestation, the bizarre marriages, the dangling baby, the incredible morphing face. But as the music channels began showing his videos around the clock, I was reminded of his musical genius, his stage presence, his mesmerizing dancing. It was evident even in the early footage from “American Bandstand,” with little 11-year-old Michael displaying the show-stopping voice and prodigious talent that would keep him in the public eye for his entire life. His video for “Leave Me Alone”, which poked good-natured fun at his tabloid-worthy weirdness and fishbowl existence, remains my favorite — a masterpiece of animation and satire as well as a fine piece of entertainment.

It was good to remember the days when Michael was a musician, dancer, and showman, not simply a freakshow. He hadn’t seemed at peace for a very long time. I hope he has found peace now.