Monday, December 31, 2012

The Muppet Movie (1979) and The Muppets (2011)

I have fond memories of watching The Muppet Movie in a theater with my family. I guess I was nine, since it came out in 1979. Seeing a movie in a theater was a huge treat for us, but what I remember the most is my parents breaking into song once we got home. They started singing "Moving Right Along," which thereafter became a family joke -- we'd sing it at each other at odd moments, especially when we were trying to leave the house or when we wanted someone to move.

I've enjoyed all of the Muppet movies since, but the original was my favorite. When The Muppets came out in 2011, I didn't expect much, but the reviews I read were good, so I raised my expectations, probably a little too much. It had a few good moments (my kids love the part where Chris Cooper raps), but it didn't approach my memories of the original.

I recently watched the original again and confirmed that it's a classic. It has such a goofy sense of humor and the cameos are delightful, especially Steve Martin and Mel Brooks. And "Moving Right Along" is still a fine song that I like to sing at my kids every now and then.

Freaks and Geeks (1999)

This one-season TV show from 1999 was recommended to me and Jon some years ago, but the first couple of episodes just seemed depressing, so we didn't get any further. I mean, it takes place in 1980 in a high school and everyone seems to be wearing olive drab. It seemed painfully realistic. But during one of my recent knitting projects, I decided to give it another try.

I loved it. It's more innocent and familiar than other high school TV shows I've watched recently, like Veronica Mars or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There are still the obligatory high school themes -- cliques, sex, drugs, parties, sneaking around, etc. -- but everything seemed more realistic than in other shows. Painful, yes, but also funny and heartfelt and touching. Maybe that's why it only got one season. Not enough soap opera-y drama!

Every character on the show is believable. Quirky but not excessively so. Regular but not boring. In fact, I think one of its triumphs is showing that everybody has a story, even if some of the characters seem like stereotypes in the beginning. Just like in real life, the better you get to know people, the more you love and understand them.

It was also fun to see John Francis Daily (Dr. Sweets on Bones) as the main "geek." He looks exactly the same as an adult!

It's streaming on Netflix right now, and it's only eighteen episodes, so if you're looking for something great to watch, I recommend it. Here's a somewhat long but interesting article/interview of writers and cast members that appeared recently in Vanity Fair, as well as a lovely slideshow of cast members now.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

I watched The Dark Knight again with my oldest three boys. They hadn't seen it yet. I was disappointed in it the first time around and I still didn't like it nearly as much as Batman Begins, which is an excellent origin story movie, I think. The Dark Knight is (surprise!) dark and the plot is fairly complicated. And yes, Heath Ledger does a fine Joker. But I didn't enjoy it that much. Maybe Two-Face is too sad or something. But I'm glad I watched it with my boys, partly so I could remember its darkness and know what the boys were seeing and partly because it's important to the plot of The Dark Knight Rises.

Which we were lucky enough to see in a second-run theater just a couple of days after watching The Dark Knight. It wasn't the best theater experience -- the focus was off for a little while and there are other things that make this particular theater second-run -- but it's a great movie. I loved the villain and his populist rhetoric. Catwoman was wonderfully conflicted and complicated. And the surprises were pretty surprising. (It's always fun to compare notes after a movie like that. I figured out the Big Plot Twist before the boys did, so I won!)

Jon might be sick of hearing me say this, but I appreciate the fact that Batman changes his voice in these Batman movies. It always seems kind of dumb to me when, for example, Spiderman sounds exactly like his alter ego -- voices are pretty distinct, and I think people would recognize his. So even though Batman's voice is a little ridiculous, I'm glad he sounds different from Bruce Wayne. It makes the disguise part more believable to me.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Watched in or near 2011

More catching up.

  • 17 Miracles (2011): Really good movie about the Mormon handcart companies.
  • Winnie the Pooh (2011): I liked it a lot! I'm a Winnie the Pooh fan.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011): Enjoyable and not as convoluted as the others (although I liked the others a lot, too).
  • Mansfield Park (1999): I like this movie a lot, although it doesn't have a lot to do with Jane Austen's novel.
  • Monday Monday (2009): A British TV series, good, fairly short.
  • Jerry Maguire (1996): I liked this.
  • Killers (2010): Funnier than I thought it would be.
  • Crazy, Stupid Love. (2011): I really liked this, although the end was overly cheesy and unlikely.
  • Raising Arizona (1987): One of my favorite movies ever!
  • How Do You Know (2010): I really like Reese Witherspoon, but this was just okay.
  • Dear Lemon Lima (2009): Really good music and I liked it, but I didn't like one major part of the plot.
  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1996): A pretty good adaptation of Anne Brontë's novel.
  • It's Kind of a Funny Story (2010): Very good.
  • Arranged (2007): Really good. We all loved it.
  • A Summer in Genoa (2008): Pretty good, kind of sad.
  • Heist (2001): Pretty good.
  • Morning Glory (2010): Better than I expected. I'm not a huge fan of Rachel McAdams.
  • Master and Commander (2003): Very, very good.
  • Falling for Grace (2006): Okay.
  • Scorched (2003): Kind of quirky. Okay.
  • The Informant! (2009): Very good.
  • Sense & Sensibility (2008): Really good! I loved it. Sense and Sensibility is maybe my favorite Jane Austen novel.
  • Case Histories (2011): Three long Masterpiece Mystery episodes. Very good.
  • The Time Traveler's Wife (2009): Interesting. Still not a big Rachel McAdams fan.
  • The Accidental Husband (2008): Okay.
  • Wild Target (2010): Very good. Quirky and funny.
  • Little Miss Sunshine (2006): Really good.
  • Cheaper by the Dozen (1950): So, so good! I had forgotten how delightful this movie is.
  • Spirit of the Marathon (2007): Interesting.
  • A Town Called Panic (2009): Odd and entertaining. The kids and I really liked it.
  • Sherlock (2010): The first three movie-length episodes are very good. Loved them.
  • TiMER (2009): Pretty good, although it seems like there was something I didn't like about it. I can't remember, though.
  • The Baker (2007): Quirky and funny.
  • The Forsyte Saga (2002): Kind of a dark mini-series about a family around the turn-of-the-century. Good, though.
  • Waiting for Forever (2010): Okay.
  • Mad Men (2007): Man, this is well-written and fascinating, but it's really hard to sympathize with any of the characters. I still love it.

Movies watched in 2010 (or thereabouts)

Yes, I'm behind. This is catch-up.

  • Date Night (2010): Loved it!
  • Koyaanisqatsi (1982): I liked this. So did the kids, surprisingly enough.
  • Powaqqatsi (1988): Not as good as the first one.
  • Naqoyqatsi (2002): Even less good than the second one, although the kids liked it because of a couple of scenes from video games.
  • Robin Hood (2010): So good.
  • Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987): Second time seeing it. It's good.
  • Bright Star (2009): Apparently kind of forgettable.
  • Back to the Future (1985): The kids hadn't seen it before. They loved it, and it was fun to see again.
  • Outsourced (2006): Okay
  • Hotel Rwanda (2004): Very good. Moving.
  • Leap Year (2010): Somewhat enjoyable fluff.
  • Whip It (2009): Very good.
  • The Incredible Hulk (2008): Meh.
  • Groundhog Day (1993): Kind of fun.
  • Pizza (2005): Pretty good.
  • Amreeka (2009): Very good. Zed saw this at his Arabic camp at BYU, so we watched it while he was there.
  • Amélie (2001): Cute. We'd had the soundtrack for a while, which is excellent, and I think the movie was a little disappointing after that.
  • Bridget Jones's Diary (2001): I love this movie (and the book), but I'm not necessarily proud of that.
  • Pasta (2010): A Korean TV series. I went through a phase, okay? This was my favorite one, I think.
  • My Lovely Sam-Soon (2005): Another Korean TV series. Funny.
  • Boys Over Flowers (2005): Another Korean TV series. She picks the wrong guy, and the guys dressed and looked like '80s New Wave pop stars, but I liked it.
  • Triumph of the Will (1935): Leni Riefenstahl's Nazi propaganda movie from 1935. Jon made us watch it. Definitely interesting.
  • Rocky (1976): This is a great movie.
  • Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988): So funny.
  • The Ramen Girl (2008): Okay.
  • Bad Love (?): Another Korean TV series. This one went on for too long, but I liked the characters.
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983): A good, scary movie from my youth. I love Ray Bradbury.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows

After a brief moment of annoyance at the beginning of this epistolary novel when I thought I might not finish it, I picked it up again and devoured it in a couple of days. It's lovely: funny and moving and informative about the German Occupation of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands between England and France, during World War II. I loved it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Rah, rah Rasputin!

It's been a few years since I heard this song, but a few of us were singing it at work the other day and now I can't get enough of Boney M.'s legendary Rasputin. Here's one version from 1978:

A shorter version of the same show in color and better quality, but without the fun Moscow photo/film montage:

How can the people sit still, looking bored, at the dinner party or whatever that event was? Impossible.

Live at Top of the Pops, Christmas 1978:

Wacky Count Rasputin version on Italian TV in 1978:

And a 30-year reunion live version in Russia, 2008:

Not as much to commend that, except the lip-syncing guy doing nice backflips on stage. And everyone having fun with it.

There are more, but I'll stop here. It's one of disco's finest tracks.

Back in the non-disco world, Rasputin had a daughter, and it's too bad she died before this song became famous:

Rasputin's daughter, Maria Rasputin (Matryona Rasputina) (1898–1977), emigrated to France after the October Revolution, and then to the U.S. There she worked as a dancer and then a tiger-trainer in a circus.

And probably the final crazy footnote to the Rasputin song:

Bobby Farrell, who was the band's frontman, passed away in 2010, in the same city [St. Petersburg] and on the same day [December 30] as the real-life Rasputin. [news article]

Really wunderbar!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Debt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching off My Parents by Zac Bissonnette

I skimmed much of this book, but I found it very informative and useful. It helped me solidify some plans for our kids' education. As an example of the interesting stuff in here: a study showed that college students who work about 20 hours a week get better grades than those who work full-time and better than those who don't work at all. Now that's the kind of thing I like to learn for future reference, you know? There's a lot of good info for parents about prioritizing saving, too, i.e., savings and retirement should come before your kids' education. It's likely that I will be consulting this book again in the future.

Major Decisions: Taking Charge of Your College Education by Henry J.Eyring

This is now required reading for our kids (along with College Without High School). The first part is about deciding what to major in and the second part is about making the most of your college education once you get there. I wish I had read something like this when I was in high school.

A few years' worth of reading

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare. A traveling group from Cedar City's Shakespeare Festival performed this at our local high school, and it was fantastic. After we saw it, I came home and read it. Shakespeare is so much fun when you can see it performed, and then it's more fun to read, too.

Antigone. This is embarrassing, but I can't remember if I read the play by Sophocles or the one by Jean Anouilh. We have them both, and I read them both in college. On second thought, it must have been the one by Sophocles, because my copy by Anouilh is in French, and I don't think I've read any significant amount of French since college. (A few pages of the first Harry Potter doesn't count.)

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I think I made it through about a third of this book before giving up. I have little patience for books that I don't enjoy these days, and this one was self-centered, self-indulgent, and annoying.

The Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg. So far I haven't met a book by Elizabeth Berg that I didn't thoroughly enjoy.

The Samaritan Bueno by Jack Weyland. I hadn't read a Jack Weyland book for many years. I didn't mind reading this one.

365 Nights: A Memoir of Intimacy by Charla Muller. This was mildly interesting, which is not as interesting as you might think it would be.

The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall. I loved this book. Brady Udall is a very good writer. (Some people have found parts of it offensive, though, so you've been warned.)

From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. I read this out loud to the three youngest. It was fun to read it again after many years.

So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger. I didn't finish this. Enger is a really good writer, and I loved Peace Like a River, and Jon and Zed liked this newer one, but I couldn't finish it. Probably my fault.

The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine. This was mostly fascinating. It kind of fizzled at the end, which may be just because there isn't a lot known about hormones during and after menopause. In spite of that, I recommend it.

Bella at Midnight by Diane Stanley. I don't remember this very well. I'm not even sure why I read it.

Player One by Douglas Coupland. This is not my favorite book by Douglas Coupland, but I love all books by him. So far, anyway.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. I read this out loud to the kids. I was surprised by how annoying they found Anne. I think she's hilarious.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Read this aloud to the younger kids. It's brilliant. I recommend the annotated version to all adults, although I didn't read those to the kids.

The Semi-Detached House by Emily Eden. I love Emily Eden! She should be more famous than she apparently is.

Invisible by Lorena McCourtney. I read this on my phone (the Kindle version is free!) and actually enjoyed it quite a bit. It's total fluff, but fun.

Anthem by Ayn Rand. Jon is appalled that it took me so long to get to this. It's tiny and a very quick, worthwhile read.

Lady Susan by Jane Austen. I only vaguely remember reading this. I'm sorry.

Your Chariot Awaits by Lorena McCourtney. Another piece of enjoyable fluff. I like that her protagonists are older women.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. Fascinating! And now I know why my kids are never going to be concert pianists.

The Pull of the Moon by Elizabeth Berg. I don't remember this very well.

The Senator's Wife by Sue Miller. I liked this until the end. The end seemed kind of cheap or something.

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett. I was always intrigued by the title of this book, but then Lillian and I listened to it on a car trip, and I didn't like it. I don't remember why.

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen. This was amusing and pleasant. I think.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. It took me a little while to get into this, but I like it.

Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale. The Austenland books are fluff, but I love them. So fun! There's a movie version of the first book coming out this year, and I'm excited!

The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale

It's been a few years since I read this, so I don't have a detailed review, but I enjoyed it. Shannon Hale is funny and insightful and I haven't been disappointed by her yet.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The state of the surveillance state

It’s hard not to be at least a little paranoid when I come across all the following articles in a single day not of concerted search on the subject, but simply following a few links I came across on Twitter:

  • The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say) by James Bamford, longtime NSA watcher — I guess Utah is supposed to thank Orrin Hatch for bringing in some new jobs! Jobs and money über alles.
  • Democratic Senators Issue Strong Warning About Use of the Patriot Act — Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall say they are “skeptical about the actual value of the ‘intelligence collection operation’” where even the rules surrounding it are secret.
  • RIAA chief: ISPs to start policing copyright by July 1 — Comcast, Cablevision, Verizon, Time Warner Cable, and other Internet providers plan to monitor customers’ Internet traffic and issue warnings if in their opinion any copyright is violated, absent any legal requirement or framework.
  • How Not to Attract Tourists — “Imagine that you’re the citizen of a prosperous, democratic ally like Britain, Spain or Japan, and you’d like to visit America. Before traveling, you must pay $14 to complete an online United States government form called ESTA, short for Electronic System for Travel Authorization.” So we're becoming less welcoming to friendly visitors, like spoiled brats in our fortress. Only those who never travel internationally can ignorantly think such friction is no big deal.
  • New York passes DNA requirement for convicted criminals — Perhaps this seems reasonable if you don’t consider the United States’ absurdly high incarceration rate and the precedent the U.K. has already set by collecting DNA on every arrest, not just every conviction.

Lest anyone think U.S. citizens don’t care, I’ll make it clear for myself at least: I disapprove.

Some further reading and viewing with more philosophic and encouraging value: