Archive for March, 2009

Cinema Salvation

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

Last week, I wrote about how I often leave Blockbuster feeling frustrated. Not just because there aren’t many family-friendly movies to rent, but also because the crude and violent movies that get made are such a waste of the skills and resources of the people who work on them. Couldn’t they put their considerable talents to work on something more uplifting? A movie that doesn’t appeal to the basest of human emotions?

But enough of my soapbox.

So on those frequent occasions when we leave the video store empty-handed, we turn to our DVD library for a movie to watch on a Saturday night. Our family really likes movies, so over the years we have built up quite a library of DVDs ““ with a heavy emphasis on the action movie genre because the division of labor in our house is that I do all the grocery shopping and Steve and my 20-year-old son do all the DVD shopping.

In spite of having a wide range of movies on our shelf to choose from there are a few movies that we have watched over and over again, and will continue to because we always enjoy them. They are the movies that when suggested as the evening’s entertainment, unless we’ve watched it within the last month, we have unanimous agreement from the rest of the family. None of them has a rating over PG-13 and most are PG. They all have excellent casting.

I realize by naming our favorite movies that I could be getting into dangerous territory because it’s so personal. So while I don’t expect these movies to be on anybody else’s family-favorite list, our choices might remind you of a movie you’ve seen and forgotten about or one that’s worth checking out when you too can’t find anything to rent at the video store.

So in no particular order:

1. “Enchanted” ““ 2007, rated PG. We frequently watch this on Sunday night because Amy Adams is so bright and charming that it caps the weekend off on a very upbeat note
2.  “Showtime” ““ 2002, rated PG-13. Yes, I know this isn’t a great movie, but it’s a darn entertaining take on the buddy cop genre. It’s got a great cast: Eddie Murphy, Robert De Niro, and Rene Russo.
3. “Galaxy Quest” ““ 1999, rated PG. We practically wore out our VHS copy of this until we replaced it with a DVD. It never fails to entertain.
4. “Secondhand Lions” ““ 2003, rated PG. Again, a great cast, Michael Caine and Robert Duvall and Haley Joel Osment during his awkward years. A very sweet coming-of-age story.
5. “Bedazzled” ““ 2000, rated PG-13. Too bad Brendan Fraser hasn’t done anything as good since. Elizabeth Hurley is delightful as the devil.
6. “Freaky Friday” ““ 2003, rated PG. Lindsay Lohan when she was still cute. Jamie Lee Curtis looking into the mirror and saying “I look like the crypt-keeper!” is classic.
7. “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” 1988, rated PG. Michael Caine looks like he is having so much fun whacking Steve Martin on the knees in one scene, that I always laugh out loud.
8. “Kung Fu Panda” ““ 2008, rated G. Even though we own all the Disney/Pixar animated movies, we’ve enjoyed watching this more than “Ratatouille.”
9. and 10. Disney animated shorts from the 1940’s. These are so wholesome and without cynicism that it’s refreshing to watch them. Just a few of our favorites are, “Three Caballeros,” “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad,” and “Melody Time.”

So guys, what are we going to watch tonight?


Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

Oftentimes when Steve and I are on our way home from running errands on a Saturday, he suggests stopping at the video store to see if there is anything to rent. My typical response is, “Can I wait in the car?”

The reason I would prefer to clean out the receipts in my purse while Steve makes a loop around Blockbuster is because when I do go in, I always leave feeling depressed. So much of Hollywood’s output either falls into the gore or raunch categories, neither of which I’m interested in watching.

The DVD options (or lack thereof) in the video store always prompt me to think about the movie industry in general. I don’t know if the people who make their living working on “Saw” and “Saw II, III, IV and V” or “I Want Candy” are talented, but they certainly are skilled in the crafts required to make a movie.

And I would guess that everyone who is hired to work on “Brotherhood of Blood” ““ from the writers, cinematographers, editors, gaffers, and on down the line of credits to the catering company ““ sincerely want to give the project their best. I doubt any of them say, “I’m working on a really bad movie, so it doesn’t matter if I do a crappy job.”

But it does lead me to wonder what the craftspeople who make these movies think about the project while they’re working on it? How do they feel spending day-after-day creating special effects for a torture scene for a movie that has no redeeming values and its only purpose for being made is to shock and push the limits of violence? “It took us weeks, but I think we finally got just the right look to the skin when it’s being pulled apart by the hooks.”

I’m sure they want to provide for their family like we do. Maybe they would prefer to work on a more uplifting project but “Hatchet” pays the bills. Like Nick Naylor’s “yuppie Nuremberg defense” in “Thank You For Smoking,” maybe they rationalize what their jobs involve by saying they are just doing what they have to do to pay the mortgage.

But it strikes me as a huge waste of resources that their considerable skills and months of their lives go into working on a movie and the result is “Hostel II” or “Bachelor Party: The Last Temptation.”

So when I go to the video store and I see all the shelves filled with an overwhelming quantity of”¦I can’t think of any other word but”¦junk, it depresses me. Yes, I know that there’s an audience for it and it’s not me. I’m not advocating for eliminating the genres that aren’t my taste. I just wish that the scale would tip slightly more in the direction of making movies that bring out the best qualities in people ““ both the ones who make them and the ones who watch them.

Since there’s usually nothing to rent at the video store, next week I’ll share our family’s top picks from our DVD library for never-fail entertainment that doesn’t make you feel like you have to take a shower after watching it.

A Senior Moment

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

Steve had a birthday last week. And he couldn’t help asking me the rhetorical questions, “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, not when, but now that I’m 64?”

When Paul McCartney wrote that song as a teenager, 64 must have seemed to him like the point at which a person turns into a tottering old person puttering in the garden.

But no one, except our kids, would ever look at Steve and think of him as old, even though he occasionally makes light of himself by wearing an “Old Guys Rule” baseball cap. He is blessed with great genes. But probably an even more important factor in the way he looks is his determination to stay in shape. He’s at the health club sweating over the elliptical machine five days a week.

And perhaps because he looks so good for his age, Steve really doesn’t mind admitting that he’s getting older. But I do. When I’m programming the treadmill and it asks you to enter your age, I lie and punch in 45, and I intend to keep doing so forever.

However, when you’re 12-years-old, like our youngest daughter Jennifer, and your Dad is 64, it can be hard to take. When you’re comparing your parents’ age with that of your friends’ parents and you discover that your mom and dad are older than some of their grandparents, it gives you one more reason not to want to be seen with your folks. In her world, her Dad is old no matter how good he looks.

We tease her that she should be thankful she lives in California. In some parts of the country her dad would be old enough to be her great-grandfather.

And we couldn’t help having fun with Jennifer about an article that appeared in the “San Francisco Chronicle” last week. A new study shows that the father’s age may affect the child’s IQ. Apparently, the older the father, the worse the kids do on a battery of cognitive tests. So now if she gets a B on her next algebra test, she can blame it on Dad.

When we checked in with Valerie, who’s 16, about what she thought about her Dad’s age, she tried to put a positive spin on it, that it was kind of cool to know someone who was around when “stuff happened.” When we asked what she meant by “stuff,” she answered, “the ice age.” But underneath her teasing, I know she is concerned that her dad will be around to see her get married and have kids. That’s why she monitors the size of the piece of cake that I give him. “Not so big, it’s not good for him,” she’ll say.

Being an older parent is just what happens when you get a late start on things. Steve and I got married when he was 39 and we didn’t start our family until he was 43. Two more kids, each four years apart, and that puts Steve at 51 when Jennifer was born. It’s a good thing that 50 is the new 30.

So what does that make 64? Steve would say that it’s another year to appreciate his family and his health. And as the saying goes, it sure beats the alternative.

Home Free

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

Working in a home-based business, especially as a mom, has a lot of advantages. Top of the list has to be the flexibility; I can throw a load of wash in or run to the grocery store whenever it is convenient for me. And since almost all of the client contact for our marketing business is done over the phone rather than in-person, the only non-family members who have to witness a bad hair day or wrinkled khakis are the bank teller or post office clerk. And at the end of the day, I know that there isn’t anything I could do ““ in a business sense ““ and that Steve wouldn’t still love me.

But there is also a downside to a working from home. If the business doesn’t constantly demand face-to-face interaction, it’s very easy to hole-up in the house and lose out the energy that comes from connecting and working with people who you haven’t been married to for 25 years.

Although I definitely didn’t see it this way at first, the recession has given me an opportunity; the need to bring in some supplemental income means that I have to break out of the comfort zone of working only in our family business and venture out in the job market again.

But the thought of confronting the 15 year gap in my resume was a little overwhelming, so I decided that I would wait to update it. However something that I could do right away which didn’t require any preparation was to start talking to people. So Steve helped me come up with a list of business contacts, friends and acquaintances who might be willing to chat with me, even if I wasn’t really sure what kind of position I was looking for.

And what I’ve discovered is that I have been missing out on a lot that’s going on in the world by staying comfortably sequestered in my routine. In the past three weeks, I have probably met and talked with more people than I have in the past three years ““ and it has been very rejuvenating. Just having people take time to meet with me has given me a lot of encouragement. Plus, I’ve gotten some excellent practical advice.

And stepping out of the front door yielded sooner than expected results. I am thrilled to have picked up a short-term, part-time gig with a client we have worked with at various times over the past six years. Working outside the house will certainly stretch me and our family, but Steve says he’s committed to learning how to use the microwave and all the kids really want is to see me less stressed about money.

I feel like I’m embarking on a new chapter in my life. I love the challenge of working with new people and doing something different. It was definitely time for me to leave home.

Disarming Prejudice

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

As you probably know by now, I have a special interest in people with limb anomalies because my 16-year-old daughter, Valerie, was born without a left arm. So when I happened to go to the “Today Show” website last Thursday and saw that the title of the most the prominent story on the page was, “Is Disabled TV Host Scaring Kids?” it certainly grabbed my attention.

The scary host mentioned in the headline is a young actress, Cerrie Burnell, who was recently hired as co-host of a daily program for toddlers on the BBC. She was born without a right arm below the elbow and because she appears on TV without wearing a prosthesis or even so much as a long sleeve shirt to hide her condition, some parents are”¦well”¦up in arms.

In the photo that accompanied the story, Ms. Burnell’s condition looked exactly like that of my daughter, except that she’s missing her right arm and Valerie is missing her left arm so I was intrigued to read the details of the story.

The accompanying article said that some parents “have written to the station complaining about Ms. Burnell’s disability. Some say she may frighten the children. Others accuse the network of going overboard in the interests of diversity. Some say they don’t want to have to address such issues with very young children.”

You would think that if anyone had a reason to complain it would be Ms. Burnell, not the viewers, after all, she’s the one who has had to figure out how to master two-handed tasks with only one hand.

But back to the story”¦Why did parents say that she “might give their children nightmares?” I think that these adults are attempting to hide their own prejudices about people who are different by attributing their negative feelings to their kids. How sad, rather than educating their children about people with disabilities, they are perpetuating their own ignorant prejudices and doing it under the guise of protecting their children.

Certainly in my experience watching kids relate to my daughter, children are curious about her missing arm or prosthesis, but not frightened. Once she tells them, “I was born that way” or “No, it didn’t hurt” they accept her answer as fact and move on.

It’s ironic given all the truly offensive material on TV that some people would be upset about their kids seeing a completely natural, albeit somewhat unusual, difference in a person. It’s not as if Ms. Burnell had a choice about the way she looks. But there are plenty of people on TV who have chosen to alter their looks with plastic surgery and the results can certainly be scary. I wonder if these same parents are writing to the BBC whenever they show a clip of Michael Jackson. He gives me nightmares.

I can understand people being surprised when they first see Ms. Burnell. We were told the incidence of this condition is about one in every 10,000 births so many people have probably never encountered anyone like her. Viewers probably scoot a little bit closer to the TV screen to be sure that she really is missing her arm and that it’s not some special effects trick. I imagine people remarking, “That’s unusual, I’ve never seen that before.”

Then isn’t it time to accept her difference, move beyond her physical appearance, and appreciate the qualities she brings to the show? What a great opportunity to teach your children that it is what is on the inside of a person that really counts. The alternative is holding Tyra Banks up as a role model.

And wouldn’t seeing Ms. Burnell on TV give hope to kids who don’t look like a clone from the “High School Musical” cast, that they too can succeed?

Perhaps parents’ reaction to Ms. Burnell is an expression of the pervasive fearfulness that people are feeling these days. A lot of “abnormal” events are happening. Perhaps seeing a pretty, young actress who is missing her arm ““ not from an accident, that would be easier to understand ““ but from a random birth defect reminds people that we aren’t really in control of what happens to us or our kids.