Watching Red Carpet Arrivals with My Five-Year-Old Daughter

She considers herself a fashion diva, and I have no place to argue, though Manfrengensen often accuses her of ripping off Cindi Lauper’s sense of style. I thought it would be fun to watch the Oscar Red Carpet show with her, though we disagreed on a few things.

I loved Hailee Steinfeld’s Marchesa Oscar dress, thinking it was totally age-appropriate, and just stunning. The Princess, however, was not impressed. She didn’t hate it, but she wasn’t wild about it either.

She likes things a bit more frilly or sparkly. She thought Amy Adams’s dress was the bomb. I had to admit that Adams looked stunning in her sparkling purple (also big with The Princess) LWren Scott.

She was also no fan of Cate Blanchett’s Givenchy dress, which I thought was interesting.

But the dress she hated the most was Jennifer Hudson’s Versache number (never mind that the dress was the darling of most other Red Carpet fashion critics).

“Too orange?” I asked.

“No,” she said, looking up again from the iPod game she was playing to take another look, “too booby.”

Let’s hope that kind of fashion sense stays with her, at least through her teen years.

Anyway, not long after Hudson’s arrival The Princess lost interest, and we switched back to our regularly-scheduled programming. Spongebob was wearing his trademark brown shorts, white shirt and tie, and he was working that look like no one else can.


The best movie review of recent times

It’s by my brother, and btw, SPOILER ALERT.

He said he was a little disappointed, then shrugged and added that the title was “false advertising.”


The Bigger Picture

So Universal Studios has decided not to convert the latest installment of the Harry Potter franchise in 3-D, which is good news no matter where you stand on 3-D. What passes for 3-D content is often more gimmick than substance, and in most cases, it doesn’t add much more to the film than increased ticket prices, especially in those instances where the 3-D conversion was done after the movie was filmed. Avatar (which was shot in 3-D) was fine, but didn’t the 3-D images kind of distract us from the primarily cheesy dialogue in the movie? Do we really need 3-D TV? Do we really need EVERYTHING to be in 3-D? Does the public really care? Are the effects really worth it?

The whole story reminded me of growing up with my  uncle Tom. Uncle Tom was actually my great-uncle, my mom’s uncle, and my grandmother’s youngest brother. He’d been a go-between in my grandparents’ courtship, running letters between them on a daily basis. He was a bachelor his entire life. After his mother died, he and my great-grandfather moved in with my grandmother, the family’s only daughter. Even though she had her own family, she took them in, and another brother or two came along with the deal as well, although they eventually got married, moved out and had their own families.

This was a time we often forget or discount as old-fashioned, a time when men had certain roles and women had others. He was the kind of man who wouldn’t have been able to fend for himself. Not that he wasn’t a strong man, because he was. He was a god to us kids. But he never would have been able to cook for himself, or iron his own shirts. Maybe he would have learned how, if he had needed to, but he didn’t need to because he could rely on his sister. It was a time when families stuck close together. Afterall, they were first generation Americans. Where were else was he going to go after their mother died?

He worked outside of Philadelphia at the Sun Shipyard as a welder. He worked long hours and came home filthy every day at 5 o’clock, where the dinner my grandmother had cooked was waiting for him on the table. He always had black under his nails, and he had these big, meaty thumbs. He once told us that he had “worked on the bomb”, or I would guess part of its outer shell, which I suppose could have been possible. The whole operation was compartmentalized and so secret. He said they “didn’t know what they had been working on” until after August 6, 1945.

Me in the middle with Uncle Tom on the left and my cousin on the right. 1965

Uncle Tom had three domains. His primary one was a garage he rented in the alley across the street from my grandparents’ house. It was filled with all kinds of things that we always thought of as “real man” related, fishing poles, styrofoam coolers, auto parts, sports equipment, tools and things he would just find and collect. Truth be told, we kids were not allowed to venture far into the garage (tetanus being the primary danger there, I’m sure), but he would take us over to collect the items for our afternoons of play. Sometimes we would play softball, or he’d take us fishing at the state park. We’d go crabbing in the Chesapeake, searching for fossils along its bed (and we’d find some!), or more often, we would just take long walks in the park, which in those days was almost as dense as a forest. And he would point to the surrounding neighborhoods and say, “You see all this? When I was a kid, it was all trees, as far as the eye could see.”

He would open that garage door and the smell would hit us. I can still remember it, though I couldn’t say what it was exactly, nor have I smelled anything like it since. A mixture of motor oil with a pinch of gasoline and a whole lot of fishing residue baking inside the walls of those coolers while enclosed in the hot garage; to us kids, that smell was heaven. That smell meant fun.

His other domains included his bedroom, the threshold of which we rarely crossed. The room was immaculate. The bed was always made with military smoothness, and though it smelled like an old man, it looked relatively untouched, not a doily out of its place. He would sleep late on the weekends, which often drove us crazy waiting for him to come play with us when we visited. My grandmother had this fox stole that looked like several foxes, each biting the tail of the one in front of it. We used to like to leave it outside his door when he was sleeping so that he would step on it when he got up. I can still hear him yelling, “Get those crazy cats out of my way!” putting us in hysterics.

Uncle Tom’s other, and most sacred domain, was the basement where he shaved in the morning looking at his reflection in a small mirror over the utility tub, and changed every evening into the freshly pressed shirts that my grandmother would leave down there for him near her ironing board. We used to have long talks with Uncle Tom in that back room there. He’d be shining his shoes or doing some other man-task while we sat on a hard box full of dark brown Balantine empties (“The champagne of beers!”).

The finished part of the basement was where he kept his chair and his TV, which was always black and white, even though color TVs were readily available in those days. I asked him one time why he didn’t have a color TV, and he responded that it “hurt” his eyes.

That line has always stuck with me, not because I really believe that his eyes hurt, but I do think there was something to what he said. I think that watching TV in black and white helped him and his generation to distinguish the difference between reality and TV, a line that we in the 21st century see getting more and more unclear every day. We live in a society that is currently obsessed, almost terminally distracted by “Reality Television.” I personally find this ironic, because while most Americans watch some form of reality television, almost an equal number, if not more eschew what is ACTUAL reality television, network news. Networks over the last two decades have put less and less money into producing news programs and more and more into the cheap form of “reality TV” and it’s been wildly profitable for them.

But what’s crazy is that it’s not reality. It’s orchestrated and staged for the greatest possible effect. Read any of these blogs about behind the scenes of Kate Plus 8 or any of those shows, and you know that the producers put these characters (and that’s what they are — CHARACTERS) into situations that will produce the best footage, and then they weave that footage in such a way that viewers see the version of reality that is the most sensational.

In addition, we’ve created a society where almost everyone expects to have the 15 minutes of fame that Andy Warhol promised, and once some get it, they cling tenaciously and become such train wrecks that some of us can’t look away. (See: Spencer/Heidi Pratt, John and Kate and the like.) Some of these nobodies who are instantly propelled to arbitrary fame just refuse to go away. But what’s even more disturbing is that so many Americans think they could have a shot at it as well. In the early days, and even into the 70’s and 80’s you needed actual talent to be famous. Now it’s just a competition to see who can be the lowest of the lowest common denominator.

Every kid is a star. Parents talk about their kids’ talents like everyone’s a prodigy. If one girl kicks another in a soccer game, the parents consider suing for what might be a lost career, or a potential scholarship. Couples have multiples, five kids, six kids, one family’s even considering having a 20th child just to stay in the limelight. Doesn’t matter that their 19th child was born prematurely, spewed from a womb too tired to keep it going for another couple of months. Doesn’t matter what effect it will have on the child’s health or quality of life. It’s all about the fame.

And the media celebrates it. The Daily Show talked recently about how the media is like Doug, the dog, in Up, who is easily distracted by squirrels. Their point rang true for me. The media are too easily distracted, and because we are a media-centric society, we follow the lead.

3-D may be part of the never-ending push for reality in entertainment, but is it necessary? Is it like color, or hi-def, or is it just a gimmick? In a world where you don’t have to do anything special to be famous, where “reality TV” personalities are considered “talent” how much further do we really need to go?

I don’t want to sound old-fashioned or anything, but personally, 3-D hurts my eyes.


Um, more like Incredible Hunk!

After appearing with the cast of The Avengers at ComicCon over the weekend, it seems Mark Ruffalo has been cast as Bruce Banner in the upcoming Marvel feature. He will replace former Incredible Hulk, Edward Norton in the role, after an ugly press release last week in which Marvel claimed Norton was “difficult” to work with. (I’m guessing Norton had problems with the script, but we’ll never know.)

Personally, I don’t really have a lot of hope for the script, but we’ll see. There’s bound to be lots of action, and with a cast that includes Ruffalo and Robert Downey, Jr., unless it’s in 3-D, it shouldn’t be too hard on the eyes.


RIP John Hughes

He was an icon of my youth. So many situations in my life make me think of apt lines in his films. He wrote characters people could relate to and movies that they could watch over and over again and still laugh. He will be missed.


Best Movie Line Ever

Last night we were all sitting around at my dad’s beach house flipping channels, like we do almost every Saturday night in the summer. It’s totally crazy because even though they get every premium cable channel, there’s never anything on worth watching. Everyone shuns the remote because no one wants the responsibility. Anyway, at one point, we stopped on the Mark Wahlberg vehicle Shooter.

We caught it from the beginning, and almost immediately, a debate erupted over whether Mark Wahlberg’s beard was real or a product of the make-up department. My brother argued that it had to be real because what make-up artist would create a beard that looked that bad? And to prove his point, he added that it “looks like he was eating pancakes without a fork, and then went and had his hair cut” with all the trimmings sticking to his cheeks.

At least, I think that’s what he said after “hair cut.” We were all laughing too hard to hear the end of the joke.


Randomness

Haven’t blogged in a while. Haven’t felt any “bloggable” moments in life, I guess. It’s been busy here with sickness. It sounds like a TB ward, like the kids are communicating with each other in the language of cough. As a mom, you know, you worry. It’s a big part of the job. I’ve got that going on, plus the other day I had an epiphany about Edison. Over the last year he’s gotten these really bad headaches that make him vomit. Manfrengensen and I, being the dolts we are, have thought it was strange how he always got these headaches with a stomach virus. And then with this last one, which happened Sunday night, I saw the light. You would think that as a migraineur, I would easily recognize the symptoms in others. But you just don’t think an eight-year-old would suffer from migraines. I’m pretty sure he does though. As beautiful as he is, he’s tightly wound. He stresses about things he shouldn’t.

Like the other night, we took a walk after dinner to get ice cream. We were down at the beach, and there were some college kids playing some kind of game on their lawn, tossing coins into these little square wooden boxes. (What’s that game called?) Edison wanted to tell them that they shouldn’t play it on the lawn. Why not? I asked him. “They’re going to lose their coins,” he said. What’s he caring about their coins? Know what I’m saying? And that’s just the tip of his iceberg. In terms of Edison’s siblings, Manfrengensen and I often joke that he’s like a third parent. He worries. He sees the world in black and white. He’s an octogenarian in an eight-year-old body.

Old Man Santa BeardSpeaking of the beach, we went to the boardwalk on Saturday, and to get there, we had to go through a toll booth. The toll taker was this skinny old man with tattoos down his arms and a long white beard. As Manfrengensen handed the man our dollar, Clooney called out from the back seat in his most Eddie Haskell tone: “Hey, Santa Claus!” Then yesterday, he reminded me of that moment and said, “Yeah he looked just like Santa. Even his tattoos were green. You know, like Christmas colors?”

I have been reading a lot, currently finishing up The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and I am also rereading Positive Discipline for Preschoolers, which has helped me a lot over the years. The Princess has been more of a challenge than the others, I think. Don’t know why that is. But as a parent, I have trouble with this age. I think that’s because, first of all, I have the blood of scores of Sicilian ancestors coursing through my veins, so I tend toward hot-tempered. But also, being a motherless mother, I have trouble identifying age-appropriate behavior in kids. (Perhaps that’s not exclusive to motherless mothers however. I just like to think that’s why I do it.) Positive Discipline helps me a lot with that. I highly recommend it if you’ve got a little one and feel challenged.

Ni Hao Kai LanAnyway, last night was tough. I finally got Clooney and The Princess to the doctor yesterday. The doctors never want to see them until they’ve been coughing for more than a week or had fever for more than three days. I can’t blame them. Nine times out of ten these things are caused by viruses and there’s nothing they can do. But yesterday, enough already. Clooney had had a low-grade fever for a few days, and The Princess was running 101-102.5, so I took them. Got them both hooked up with antibiotics and a steroid for the cough. Clooney is prone to respiratory illnesses for some reason. I was a little worried about the steroid, as he’s also prone to bouncing off the walls, but he didn’t. His fever actually spiked in the afternoon, so he was kind of listless, just on the couch watching Ni Hao, Kai Lan all day.

The Princess had a coughing fit at bedtime that kept her awake and then made her vomit. So at ten o’clock we had her in the shower and taking a steam. The joys of parenting…

The funny thing was that this morning, I had planned to keep Clooney home, but he popped out of bed and begged me to let him to go to school. I don’t know if that is a testament to what a great school he goes to or how nerdy our kids can be.

 

On Another Note Entirely

 

As I mentioned months ago, I was kind of looking forward to Terminator Salvation, thinking we could sneak away this weekend to see it while my parents watched the kids. But according to Rotten Tomatoes today, the reviews are running positively at only 35%. I mentioned my disappointment to Manfrengensen last night, to which he gave me a one word response: “McG.”

Yes, what was I thinking? McG. I think Manfrengensen said it best when he reminded me that McG is like the poor man’s Michael Bay, and hey, that’s not a good thing for anyone. 

 

terminator_salvation_christian_bale_

 


Slumdog Tourism

I’m glad Slumdog Millionaire won Best Picture at the Oscars (which was THE most boring and self-important ceremony of all time).  It was a great movie, but I have to say that it was the best movie I never want to see again.

I don’t get these people who are going to see the slums of Mumbai after seeing this movie. How heartless and moronic is that? Who says to themselves after seeing this movie, “Man, I’ve just got to see those SLUMS!” Like they’re going to visit a zoo or one of those drive-through safari parks. How out-of-touch do you have to be to think the slums of Mumbai are fodder for sightseeing?

Do the world a favor — take those thousands you would spend on your vacation to the slums and give them to a relief organization. I’m not saying don’t go to India. By all means, go. See the Taj Mahal, experience the culture, maybe even hire a real-live yogi for an hour or so. But please, don’t sit in your chauffered, air-conditioned Mercedes and look out the window at people living in squalor. It takes away what dignity they cling to, and it dishonors you as well.

 

One more thing about the Slumdog, and I will be finished. Again, great film. But what kills me is the ads. Whenever you see a clip, it’s always Latika turning around in slow motion, the wind in her hair, making eye contact with Jamal across the crowded train platform. The print ads feature a photo of the two of them smiling and dancing, taken from the Bollywood-homage dance number that appears as the credits roll and has nothing to do with the story in the film. I’m not saying they should feature the scene at the orphanage with the spoon or anything. I just find it interesting that they sell it like it’s this happy kind of Indian Step Up 2.

 

Like I said, it’s a great movie, but I wouldn’t say that I “felt good” about it.

 

Speaking of wealthy, I’ve been thinking again about the $54 panties. I think there should be a special tax on $54 panties. Like, if you’re spending $54 on panties, you should automatically have to give a reasonable sum to someone who can’t afford clothing.

Just my 2 cents. Thanks for reading.


This word you keep using…

I do not think it means what you think it means…

 

There was an article in Friday’s Wall Street Journal focusing on the instances where playing a stripper or prostitute has garnered Oscar nominations or wins for the actress in those roles. marisa-tomei-in-una-sequenza-del-film-the-wrestler-842471The latest actress to earn such a nomination is Marisa Tomei in The Wrestler.

The piece talks about how the prostitute/stripper role is a kind of tried-and-true archetype, (and one could argue tired-and-true) the kind of part in which an actress might be able to reveal a kind of dichotomy of sorts, the good and the bad rolled into one, the diamond in the rough of an essentially flawed character. It’s a character we’ve seen countless times, and I think the article does a good job of covering Hollywood’s fixation on this kind of female role, though it doesn’t really touch on the kind of inherent misogyny that films like Pretty Woman convey. (I mean, the hooker with the heart of gold is SUCH a fantasy; more often a fantasy than a reality, I would assume. I know this is the point of Pretty Woman. It’s escapist popcorn fare, and it doesn’t claim to be anything that it’s not, provided, of course, that you don’t count Julia’s Oscar nod. But I imagine you will find that kind of lovable whore probably as often as you will find a street walker who looks like Julia Roberts.) I just worry sometimes that these films kind of perpetuate the fantasy and thus the misogyny.

My favorite part of the article is a quote from Ms.Tomei, who says of her research at strip clubs before filming, “My aim in the film was to honor the women I met and to represent them in a meaningful way.” Honor? Really? I don’t mean to seem callous, or anything, but it’s not like these ladies are heroes or anything. They’re not saving lives or helping feed the minds of the next generation. They’re working on poles and jiggling their gear. I’m not saying their lives aren’t hard, but I just don’t think honor is something they’re too worried about.

But I wish Ms. Tomei luck tonight at the Oscars. I do think she’s a fine actress.

And can I just say something about Sean Penn as Harvey Milk? Okay — I knew the Harvey Milk story really well going into the theater that night. I had seen the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk years and years ago when it was playing in the theater. So I had no surprises. But I didn’t think Sean Penn was all that. Really. If anything, I thought at times that he played Milk kind of close to the character he played in I Am Sam. Sometimes he played it a little too gay, on the brink of stereotype even. And maybe Milk was kind of like that, but what I am saying is that it was no big stretch for Penn, who is also a fine actor and fine here, but not his best.

 

 

Hollywood always makes like these “gay-centered” films are so courageous, but I don’t really think so. How is it courageous for Sean Penn, or Jake Gyllenhall or Heath Ledger to play homosexuals? If Hollywood were truly courageous, it might actually cast a gay actor in a gay part once in a while. I’m sorry, but that’s what I think, and I said it. You’re telling me they can’t find any gay actors? Or gay actors with big enough names for the marquee? Please. I think they just don’t give people credit for being able to watch an actor that they know is gay play a gay part. It’s much easier for John and Jane Q. Cineplex to think, “Oh, it’s okay to see Sean Penn kiss a man because really, he’s not like that. Isn’t he a great actor?”

Frankly, I thought Clint Eastwood was better in Gran Torino. I even thought Richard Jenkins was better in The Visitor. (Which is a great movie. You should see that.) But Sean Penn will probably come away with the award tonight not only because he’s Sean Penn, but also because voting for him would be a statement against Prop 8. (Prop 8, by the way is abhorrent. It should be repealed, but it has nothing to do with Penn’s performance.)

Oscars, Shmoscars, who really cares?

I’ll tell you what I care about — tonight Manfrengensen and I had a sitter and there was NOTHING at the movies. Medea Goes to Jail…um, I don’t think so. (Can I just ask — why do the plots of so many films aimed at African American audiences involve men dressing as women or men dressing in fat suits or both? Is this something that plays well time and again with those audiences? These films must do well right?) Shopaholic? Not wasting the cash. He’s Just Not That Into You? Not into that. Crap, crap, crap. We went bowling instead, which was fun, and the place was packed. I threw rocks in the first game, but petered out in the second, which is my usual pattern when keggling.

 

 


Countdown to Terminator Salvation

New trailer.  Looks awesome.