Tag Archives: movies

A Lesson in Pacing


A Lesson in Pacing

I had a long discussion with my daughter this evening about pacing.

She is in a film history class so she has taken to having long discussions about movies.  When we visited her sister in college, the sister’s good friend is going to school for film so they had a lot to talk about.

Tonight, though, in the wake of having watched Citizen Kane as well as a number of other films she informed me that one of her advisers dislikes the film.

“She thinks it’s too slow.”


I rolled my eyes which caused a long discussion of how I somehow, without using the words, called the adviser an idiot, classless, and probably a whole lot of other things I didn’t remember having said (because I didn’t.)

The whole thing came after I informed my kids that I got to see a Delorean on October 21st, the day Marty McFly went to the future in Back to the Future II.  

But the whole thing comes down to a discussion I’d had with an actual film director and with others in the industry. Films today are being edited, directed, and written by a post-MTV generation. The number of edits on every film is vastly different from a film cut even twenty years ago. So is the music, the pacing, and the freneticism of it.

But then . . . we also have an age when Hollywood is filled with comic book movies. I don’t dislike comic book movies, by the way, but I do leave them with a bit of exhaustion sometimes.

“So this same adviser probably hated Lawrence of Arabia because it was too slow,” I ask?  This was met with eye-rolling from her part. It was warranted, I was trying to elicit a reaction.

The thing about this entire discussion is not a generational thing nor is it cultural nor industrial.  This is just what some of these movies call for in the editing process.  The Avengers, by Marvel, would not have long, sweeping landscapes.  Yet as much as they liked that movie, Ridley Scott’s The Martian, which had those long shots, sweeping landscapes and slow moments wowed them more. “This movie deserves and Oscar,” my son said as we left the theater. I agreed.

So why do I write this? When I sit with the kids and watch an old movie, which is often – that’s our kind of habit/hobby – I don’t let them spend the whole time on video games or phones.

Citizen Kane I made my daughter look at the scene that Wells dug out the floor to put the camera low to the ground and explained – it may not be modern now . . . but it literally was groundbreaking. When directors of photography told him he couldn’t do something, Wells said “why?” Then he did it anyway.

When I bring up The Third Man, they realize that an old episode of Pinky and the Brain is completely modeled after that movie . . . and succeeds in paying homage and lampooning it at the same time.

Sure, we don’t have as many epic movies. Ben Hur would be a miniseries, not a movie. Spartacus turned into a bloody spectacle of a show, alternative to the Kubrick version.

Life is quick today, so it’s obvious that media, movies and everything are reflective of that.

But then . . . we sat and watched Back to the Future this evening, on the same day the Marty went to the future, and this was not an edit frenzy. It was pretty amazing, though, and complicated, and tackled a lot of issues and made you pay attention to the story in #1 and #2.

This after they loved Shaun the Sheep, which wasn’t quick, either. It was paced out and funny and sweeping in its small model way and they loved it!

Slower isn’t necessarily worse . . . and quicker isn’t necessarily better.  My daughter walked away, smiling, because we’d come to the conclusion together that the answer to this debate was, like so many things, somewhere in-between.

A Wooly Endorsement

ShaunA Wooly Endorsement

I don’t normally give endorsements. Nor do I normally give reviews, it’s a journalist thing. Opinions are things we have, just tend not to give them as we have to try and remain neutral and unbiased in our reporting and writing.

Still . . . I have to give an endorsement, I cannot help it.

I took my kids to see the movie Shaun the Sheep. Bearing in mind, sure, that I have a son who looooves stop-frame animation and cartooning, it was still something that was a bit of an aberration in today’s movie world. This wasn’t a cartoon so much as a creation.

A brave creation.

I call this brave because I don’t believe there’s a single line of dialogue in the entire movie. You know something? It didn’t need it, either. My sons, both 12, and my daughters, 16 and 20, all went with us to see this movie. The girls had seen Shaun in an occasional airing here and there in television short films but nothing feature-length.

This was a 90-minute film and it held their attention better than the last Marvel Avengers movie.


Created by Aardman Animation studios, which made Wallace and Gromit as well as Flushed Away  and a number of other amazing films, this is their first feature film with the character of a little sheep named Shaun. The basic plot is that the sheep, in an attempt to break their boring routine, end up losing their farmer and have to try and get him back from the big city.

Hilarity ensues.

This is no small feat, I have to say. The film is full of character, humor, slapstick comedy and poignancy that is done through the movement of clay (or plasticine, whatever) on a model. You forget they aren’t real until you pay attention to the fingerprints in the clay next and eyeball that they leave in.

In a world (reference intended) where superhero movies with loud explosions and massive set pieces have taken over it’s a feat of epic proportions to have a film with so much heart garner attention. My kids did see a lot of the recent action films and there’s nothing being stated here against any of them. Yet this Labor Day weekend, when the Cartoon Network decided to run a marathon of the old Shaun the Sheep cartoons, they recorded them and watched them over and over again. Not only were they funny, they were clever and turned old cartoon tropes on their heads.

More to the point, for a family that has its struggles and difficulties on a regular basis, to come out of a theater with a glowing smile, our stomachs sore from laughing, and realize that more was said with no words than many movies do with thousands of words was more than fun. When a goldfish plays harmonica in a pet jail it’s a pretty amazing thing.

It is a feat that Mark Burton and Richard Starzak, the directors, with the help of Nick Park, who helped create the characters pulled off with subtlety and style. There is nothing like it out today.

I am not affiliated with, don’t have stock in or have a job with the studio. I was just that impressed. The movie was a pleasure to watch, Aardman.

I highly recommend that you see it. As do all four of my children.  I mean, come on, the poster says “CATCH THEM IF EWE CAN!” What more do you need?

In Defense of Tomorrowland


In Defense of Tomorrowland

I know, I’m late to the party when it comes to the summer blockbusters out there.

Still . . . I took my kids, late to the game, to see the Brad Bird/Damon Lindeloff movie Tomorrowland. I heard all the criticisms and the complaints and the fact that it might have only taken in, what, a fourth of what the Pixar (Disney, too) movie Inside Out did this same weekend?

Slate’s movie critic had a podcast and also a review where she found holes in the plot and lacked understanding and exposition where she said she thought it needed them.

I’m going to say, though, with my expectations highly tempered and skeptical, I noticed something I really hadn’t expected.

I’m not certain most adults really got the point.

It wasn’t the environmental and “prepare for disaster” message that the movie was trying to sell.

For my kids, the four people who walked through their own personal tragedy when losing their mother, the whole political message wasn’t the point. Which made me realize . . . it wasn’t really the point of the movie, either.

I have told my kids a few things as their only parent in the last four years. My oldest daughter worried about getting into college and choosing a career. I told her that she had to do what she was passionate about, what drove her, what made her curious and happy. It isn’t work if you enjoy what you do. (She later turned those words back on me but that’s for a later post)

I also told them that “wishing on a star” or “really, really wanting it” wasn’t going to get you anywhere, either. If you have talents, you should use them. Work hard at anything, learn all you can about it and you will succeed.

I also had them stay positive.  The world can beat you down, that’s for sure. In our case that’s particularly true. Yet my kids have remained positive. Like the girl in the movie, Casey Newton, my kids had their moments of doubt and struggle, but they never believed we couldn’t make it.  They never once thought that things were so bad that we couldn’t band together and stay together.

There are a bunch of things to like about this film. Casey’s dad isn’t some distant, always-at-work jackass. He’s a Dad. He’s involved, she loves him, and I think my kids related to the fact that Casey only had a dad. They also show a heroine that thinks. That’s not always the case, either.

The world had beaten down George Clooney’s character.

But the idea that a dreamer is what the world needs . . . that’s the message. At one point, in the middle of Tomorrowland, a giant quote from Einstein: “imagination is more important than knowledge” is front and center. That was the point of this movie.

When my wife passed away, it wasn’t therapy or group angst or anything that helped me get through. It was necessary, for sure, and I’m not saying they aren’t important – they are. But for me . . . creativity and dreaming and thinking about a possible future, one that exists with the five of us in it . . . that was more important.  My kids related to the fact that their father told them it was okay to dream . . . and to work hard on that dream. It may not happen, but I’ll be damned if you didn’t try hard to make it so. It wasn’t from lack of faith or belief . . . Tomorrowland did that, too. My kids watched the wonder and laughed at Clooney’s grumpy demeanor (which may have been them laughing at me, too, I think) and I realized that kids get this  movie.

Lots of adults don’t because . . . well . . . life may have beaten them down just a bit.

I may be missing the holes in the movie that the NY Times, Chronicle, Slate and others saw. Still, my kids got it. Holes and all.

And through all that . . . it’s not a superhero movie. It’s a movie that took some big chances and there just aren’t enough of those any more.

So I defend Tomorrowland. I think it’s worth giving a chance for what I think is the real message behind the movie.

Yet Another Story

After writing a long post on our trip to the Calaveras County Big Trees for Good Enough Mother, I did exactly what I said I wasn’t going to do last weekend . . .

I took my oldest daughter to the movies.

2013-08-10 14.58.31-1I could say there’s some major, gigantic difference, that I’m not being a hypocrite, and I’d be truthful in that.  Abbi, my oldest, took the other three kids – her sister and twin brothers – to the movies yesterday while I worked.  (Pulled a Saturday shift…but I can take another day off this week.)  I told them last weekend I wasn’t going to the movies due to the cost and the fact we needed to get out of the house.  That’s why the trip to the Big Trees.

But today I took Abbi, my oldest, to the movies.  It wasn’t because the other 3 didn’t deserve to go.  I could claim it was a reward for watching those three while I worked all day yesterday – and it kind of was.  I could make the claim that she’s going into theater and drama and she, therefore, loves these kinds of things.  I could easily, legitimately, say all these things.  That wouldn’t be reality.

Reality is that I took her because . . . I won’t get to share near as many nights as before with my oldest.  I do an equal number of things with each kid . . . Hannah loves music and I took her to see the Who.  I take her to ice-cream and we go on walks together.  We play guitar and I help her record the songs she writes.

The boys have varying interests.  Noah likes stop-motion so I watch things with him about Ray Harryhausen and analyze the original Clash of the Titans and Wallace and Gromit.  We read stuff together.  Sam loves Sci-Fi and Doctor Who and we talk about that and go see things and watch it together.  That’s each one’s love.

But Abbi and I have seen movies since she was little.  When she was 4 I took her to the IMAX theater at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and it had a 3D movie about fish.  I still remember her, gigantic Elton John-looking glasses on her head, trying to grab at the fish coming out of the two-story movie screen.  When Monsters, Inc. came out she had to see it because the little girl looked like her sister, Hannah.  (She did, too.  Hannah and “Boo” had a striking resemlbance)  As a result, this year she saw Monsters University with the other kids.  When Prometheus came out and it got the press of being Ridley Scott’s first Sci-Fi film in years she had to see it.  I took her to opening night.

So on the last weekend before she takes the plunge, heads out to college, and lives with two other girls in a dorm room and begins an entirely new part of her life . . . I took her to the movies.  Just one last time.  She’d been dying to see Elysium because we’d both seen the movie District 9 by the same director.  It wasn’t Matt Damon or Jodie Foster, it was the art of it for her.  She loved how realistic it was and how great an actor Damon is and how brilliant Sharito Copely acted in the film.

I loved that one more time . . . just one . . . I got to go to the movies with my daughter before she’s more Abbi, the adult than Abbi my little girl.  She hasn’t been that little girl for awhile now, and that’s something I wish I could have changed.  Losing her mother to pneumonia that quickly affected all of us.  It affected her, I think, more than even she wants to imagine.  But if I had any influence on her life, I like to think and hope that telling her to do what she loves as long as she’s smart and does it well is the greatest influence.  I have always told my kids they’re smart.  They have brains filled with nearly as much useless information as I do – just haven’t seen as much – and that isn’t always a bad thing.

There could be a thousand different reasons for any number of things.  For her today may have just been the movies, too.  For me, though, it was one more Abbi/Daddy day before it all changes.

She’ll always be my daughter, my little girl.  I just wanted one more trip to the pictures before it’s clear she’s not little any more.

You’re My Charlie Brown

Those who read here will realize that I don’t often post on weekends. I do often post from what inspires me. Often that’s good writing by others, either musically, cinematically, hell . . . even phonetically or telephonically. Regardless, when something strikes me, I tend to share it.

This is one of those times.

My oldest, Abbi
My oldest, Abbi

Abbi, my oldest, convinced me I needed to see this movie that starred, of all people Alyssa Milano. You remember her, right? The little girl from Who’s the Boss and that show Charmed from the ’90s (of which I can only remember that a Morrissey song was the theme . . . sorry!). I didn’t groan but must have had a skeptical look on my face. Abbi, you see, has a heart of gold, though she tries to act sometimes that the gold has some frost coating it. That golden pumper in there absolutely adores a good romantic movie, particularly a comedy.

The funny thing is, I began to love those same movies . . . the crazy silly ones, not the sappy classic ones . . . and sat many nights watching them with her. We saw Carey Grant and Audrey Hepburn in Charade and loved it. We’ve compared what works best from each version of Sabrina – the Billy Wilder and Sidney Polak versions. We saw John Cusack, Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal, Tom Hanks, Bogie, Bacall, all of them.

Then came this movie . . . titled My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend.

Abbi informed me that the writer struggled to get it made and finally . . . Milano offered to help produce it just so the film could get to the screen. She plays a lead along with a character actor who’s in some decent television stuff. Abbi hooked me in when she told me Beau Bridges and Carol Kane were in it as well.

But she got me to watch because she said the main guy reminded her of me. He’s a writer – who makes little money at it. He buys gifts for Milano that mean something rather than just expensive things. He jumps in front of her and covers her when a car is about to splash them rather than bemoaning how awful it was. She said all those things were actions she’d not only heard I had done but witnessed them herself. . . things I couldn’t tell you about but she swears are true.

So I watched the film . . . and it’s just . . . good. I mean, it’s not Citizen Kane, don’t get that impression. But it’s, I don’t know, just more accurate to life. I won’t give away the plot twist – though I had it pegged fairly early – but it’s a film I watched and for weeks it’s stuck with me. One line, which my daughter called to my attention before we watched the film, in particular.

“You’re my Charlie Brown,” says Milano to her boyfriend.

Kissing my wife, Andrea
Kissing my wife, Andrea


Here’s the brief explanation . . . and I remember the reference from the Charlie Brown specials. Eventually, after years of angst and pain, Charlie Brown gets a kiss from the Little Red-Haired girl on the cartoons. When she does it, Charlie Brown floats and flies through the air.
“When you kiss me, I feel like I can fly,” she says, “just like Charlie Brown in that cartoon. Nobody’s ever done that before, but you. You’re my Charlie Brown.”

“It’s so cuute!,” my daughter says. And she’s right . . . and so’s the movie.

It’s really not how good you kiss, or how great you are in bed or even how many people you’ve dated. It’s the feeling you get when you’re with that person who sees you and gets you. You do feel like you can fly.

So many people say to settle or lower standards or even to just be happy. But I don’t want my daughters . . . hell, my sons, even, to feel that way. I want them to kiss that little red-haired girl (or brown, or blonde or brunette) and fly. Love is the one thing that simultaneously separates us from both animal and machine. We feel our whole bodies change when that person even approaches us. Our brains are basically organic computers . . . so why do smells or songs or stories make us suddenly remember and our hearts start to race?

I want my kids to have that.

I kind of want it again, too.

Now if there was just a little red-haired girl nearby . . .

Closer to the Heart

Closer to the Heart by Rush from the LP “Gold”

Yeah, I know, it’s a Rush song.  Sue me.  You’ll see the reason why it fits in a minute . . .

Yesterday was my puffed-up, love my daughter, father-lessons-from-movies moment.  Here I thought I had this amazing couple weeks to help have some time with Abbi and help her and share some warm fuzzy moments with her.  Then came tonight.

As I said, she’s been into the Romance movie thing, and I’m not exactly holding back from it myself.  It’s been very nice for me to look at things through her eyes a little bit and I get more than a little bit of – God help me for saying this – hope from seeing the sparkle in her eyes.  My lord, she looks like her Mom when she gets that look.  Which, sadly, leads me to the foray we began tonight.

To give you some context to it all, I’m sitting here about 1:30am typing this.  Can’t really sleep.

I mentioned yesterday that I tend to go for the more realistic of films.  Not theOne Daykind of thing, where it cannot and does not end well, killing off one of the leads.  No, I tend to go for the ones that take you somewhere and might be a little funny and a lot realistic.  Unfortunately, sometimes my forays tend to get a bit too realistic and those damn movie trailers do very little to give you the full picture of what you’re opening your heart to for 90 to 120 minutes.  Don’t get me wrong, either, that’s what you’re doing.  It may be in the theater or in your living room, but you’re opening your rib cage just slightly to let those emotions in and out – both directions – in order to feel something.  You may think you’re feeling love and happiness, but you can’t always get that without the other emotions, either.

Last night I pulled some movie off iTunes that I simply couldn’t remember having seen.  It was, though, written, directed and acted by Bonnie Hunt.  I’ve always thought she was more than just funny, but had that touch of reality that you needed, not the sickening sweetness that is pervasive today, and certainly not so sad that you collapse on the floor.  But I couldn’t remember this, it was older, Carroll O’Connor was in it and it starred Minnie Driver and David Duchovny.  That should give you an idea of the era it was made.  It was calle dReturn to Me. 

It should have been quirky, cute, real and funny.  It was all that.  But I wasn’t aware that not only would it be about a girl who had a heart transplant.  It was about a girl who had a heart transplant . . . and a guy that loses his wife quickly, horribly, and painfully.  You get where this is going, right?  Now . . . I can’t be angry or dismayed by it – other than the fact that somehow, amazingly, they got it just so right.  Not the romance, it has a twist and quirky gut-wrenching turn I won’t go into, but the beginning . . . where the main guy loses his wife . . . dear God that hurt.

Abbi and I were both on the couch.  The accident has her in the hospital, dragged into another room without her husband.  The next shot, he’s going in the house talking about needing to walk the dog.  He talks about having to clean up.  Duchovny’s friend comes up and says he’s there to help and will be there at a moment’s notice if he needs something . . . then breaks down crying and hugs him, looking more for comfort himself than giving it.  This isn’t the only thing . . . he spots a note from his wife saying how much she loves him hanging on the fridge.  When he ushers the friend out the door he notices that their dog is waiting at the door for Mom to come home.  He sinks down, tells him that she’s not coming home again . . . and loses it, in the most God-awful, realistic way.  He even – and I did this – falls right there in place and falls asleep on the floor.  He’s wearing the same clothes he had on when he got there.

That killed me.  I mean, I’ve had waves of emotion and sadness before.  I just wasn’t prepared for that.  I have no idea what Bonnie Hunt’s personal life is like.  I don’t know if she knows people who’ve lost their wives.  If she doesn’t or hasn’t, dear God she’s intuitive.  I had to get up halfway into the scene and go to the kitchen.  I knew Abbi was crying.  I didn’t want her to think I couldn’t handle it.  It’s not some testosterone-induced male thing.  She’s 17, sure, but I’m her Dad.  She doesn’t need me breaking down at every reminder of her Mom, she needs to know that when she does I’m going to be there to hold her up.  So I got up and made a pitcher of iced-tea.  I got a dessert.  Sure, I’m probably not fooling her, she’s my daughter after all.  She’s sometimes smarter than I am.  But I have to at least make the attempt, and hopefully that makes the difference to her.

We both liked the movie.  We really did.  But I came to realization that reality is just too hard to face sometimes.  Sure, I’ve written about all those events – so much I won’t subject you to them again here – but those are words on a page (OK, screen) not conversation.  It’s been drafted, thought-through, and revised here and there.  What you don’t see is what I go through writing them.  You don’t see me smile when  I can almost feel the gentle brush of her lips on my cheek when I talk of kissing her goodbye each morning.  You don’t hear the crack in my voice when I would talk about seeing the kids’ faces in difficult times.  You don’t see the glassy, wavering moisture that coats my cornea as I think about where she should be.  You don’t see the track down my cheek the tear takes as I realize Im crying when the drop hits the bottom of my laptop when writing.

Reality is easy to chronicle when you can face it in short bursts on a page like this.  When you have 2 hours of it thrust in front of you, pulling you in different directions and you don’t see it coming, it’s like being on a fair ride where you can’t see the track.  The car changes direction and your body is thrown around because you can’t anticipate where it’s taking you.  It’s a lot harder to face that way than when you can walk away from it and come back – like I can here.

So I’m sitting here hours after watching the movie wondering why – yet again – the cable channels run Friends for hours and on every channel (are they giving it away for free?!) and not really watching.  My bed seems particularly empty.  My body particularly flabby.  My life particularly missing a piece . . . still.  I know the vacant space won’t get filled again, it can’t.  But the reminders really throw me for a loop.

Then Sam came in my room . . . without saying what’s wrong he asked if he can come in the bed with me.  It’s not the remnants of his sunburn, he’s crying.  “Of course, hop in buddy,” is my response.  He feels safe, I guess, because in a few minutes he starts to fall asleep.

So while reality has pulled me in strange directions tonight, it’s also brought me back.  I look at my son and realize that those few moments where I couldn’t face what I saw on that glossy screen also open my heart up a little to what Istillhave . . . and as I hear Abbi fiddle with the lightswitch in the downstairs bathroom, Hannah snore next door, and suddenly hear the resigned sigh from Sam next to me as the tension and worry leaves his body .  . .

I realize that through all of this, I still am pretty lucky.  I’m closer to reality than I’ve been in awhile.

Nights in White Satin

Nights in White Satin (Single Edit) by the Moody Blues from the LP Days of Future Past

OK, it’s a stretch for a tie-in, I’ve just been dying to use that song for a headline.

But nights are seriously becoming less tedious for me.  I started writing due to the slow and maddeningly quiet time.  It’s a hard thing to watch your children go to bed and realize that you’ve been unable to process your own life because you’ve been  keeping yourself busy and moving forward knowing that you have them counting on you.  It’s not that I’ve suppressed a lot of feelings or grief, you’ve seen and read a lot of it.  But when your day starts really early and ends really late you don’t really think very much about your life.  It’s something triggered by smells, touch, thoughts, all of that.  It’s not something that you prepare for until you’ve realized you’re in the house and the only one awake.  You can’t relax because you are left to think about what you have and, more importantly, what you don’t have.

But this last few weeks my oldest daughter has been staying up.  I should be the dutiful Dad and force her to go to bed, even at 17.  She needs the rest, teenagers don’t think they do, they’re immortal after all, but they’d be dead wrong, too.  I had the ability to sleep until noon at that age, though I stayed up really late.  You’d think, being a man, I’d dislike the constant romantic comedies or the horribly sickening trash reality shows.  But I actually like them now.  Not for the reasons you might think, though, it’s not that they completely got under my skin.  Sure, I liked the Scottish girl on Abbi’s show America’s Next Top Model.  Like her Mom, she enjoys the romance and British romantic comedies.  I actually like the hopeful tone and the smiles my daughter gets . . . the tension she feels when the romantic leads don’t meet up.  It’s fun to watch her so hopeful.

Don’t get me wrong, though.  We don’t watch just those things.  We were enamored and tried to analyze the last episode of Steven Moffat’s Sherlock.  (How in the hell did he stage his own death and Watson didn’t figure it out?!  No possible way CBS will even get this close to right.)  We’ve seen action pictures.  We have Alien on reserve so that we can watch that before seeing Prometheus in the theaters.  It’s more the opportunity to spend some time with her, really.  That’s the big thing.

Now, you might be thinking I’m just putting off my own feelings and being selfish by spending the time with her and should be making her go to bed or doing whatever she needs to do.  School’s out for her, bear in mind, and she has those opportunities.  She asks me to go out with friends and I let her.  She asks me to go to movies, all of that.  I let her do that, too, within reason.  The odd time she forgets to tell me something or springs a last-minute redezvous with friends on me I tend to be pernicious with her and push her to remember that she’s not just taking on responsibility, she has a responsibility to tell me what she’s doing and where she’s going.

But no, I’m not using these evenings just for the company, though that’s really nice.  Not many Dads can say their kids like to spend time with them and I’m lucky enough, at least right now, to have that.  I only have another year left so I’m going to take my breaks where I can get them.  No . . . the big thing is, at least for me, that I also have the opportunity to talk with her about the very things that we’re watching.  She wants to go into drama.  A crappy, horribly written and badly acted rom-com is something we can talk about how it went wrong.  We can watch her Mom’s favorite one – Sleepless in Seattle – and even though Abbi loves Norah Ephron, talk about the fact that the leads live on opposing coasts – something that even Tom Hanks brings up in the movie.  We can talk about whether the ending is truly that happy.  Sure, it’s very hopeful, but is Meg Ryan really going to leave her job at the Baltimore Sun . . . without another gig at, say the Post Intelligencer?  Where are Meg’s friends?

Then there’s the ones that actually have a touch of reality in them.  I, personally, think that the Hollywood machine – lately in particular – have gotten out of control.  We both particularly disliked  the Justin Timberlake/Mila Kunis movie . . . with the exception of how they analyze the manipulation of the audience during one romantic comedy they watch on the television.  It’s actually quite clever.  “There it is . . . a jaunty little pop song at the end to make you feel good without ever really tying in to the movie’s theme.  Why the hell is that even in there?”  (No complaints about letting my 17-year-old watch a movie about friends having sex.  At least we have a healthy enough relationship to talk about this.)

But the real movies are the ones that tend to give me more opportunity to have decent discussions.  It’s not like a book club, folks.  I don’t sit with her after the credits have started to roll and then talk about the movie in deep analysis.  It’s not Inside the Actors Studio here.  I don’t ask her favorite sounds or those three random questions from that annoying French philosopher they always end their show with.  But the chance to have a conversation here and there with her so that I can get in my thoughts and let her formulate her own are priceless.  The last few have really hit home.  We watched a cute little independent called Take Me Home that had neither lead kissing each other through the entire film.  They slowly got closer and then didn’t end up together.  In fact it wasn’t until the final scene she ended up meeting up with the man she’d fallen in love with and even then they showed the two people walking toward each other and faded to black.  That, my friends, is more reality than the spinning steady-cam roll 720 degrees in a sickeningly naseous ride while the guy tries to map his love interest’s tonsils with his tongue.

“That movie was nice.  It’s like real life,” was my intuitive daughter’s line.  Sure, it’s insanely hopeful still, but I got to at least poke at the reality bubble a little.

Then there’s When Harry Met Sally. ( I know, I know, there’s the fake orgasm scene.  Again – seventeen folks.  Do you honestly think I had never seen that when it came out?  How many Playboys do you think I hadn’t read by the time I’d reached her age?  Give it a rest.  At least it’s reality this way.)  This Rob Reiner movie written by Norah Ephron is probably closer to the dichotomy of men and women than anything I’ve ever watched with her before.  It’s enough for me to forgive the sweetness and false hope of Seattle.  During the movie my daughter says “I hate it when people say that!” when Billy Crystal says men and women can’t be “friends”, the sex gets in the way.

You’re probably going to think I’m crazy, but I agree with her.  I have a number of female friends.  I have male friends, too.  I don’t want to have sex with any of them, either.  To me the bigger, more important message of the movie – the one many people miss in the mess of emotions and “sex gets in the way” message is the fact that Harry and Sally are friends.  You see all the older couples talking about love at first sight – and I had that.  They also talk about being together and being happy.  I had that, too.  But most importantly, like the two of them in the movie, I was great friends with Andrea long before we dated.  She was part of a circle of people that I worked with, a clique of reporters and crew members that had to put the newscast together every night.  We hung out.  We joked.  She was maddening and frustrating and would fight me on every turn.  So when Billy Crystal tells Meg Ryan that “I love the fact that when you leave my clothes still have the smell of your perfume on them.”  He loves that he wants to tell her everything.  She’s the one person he wishes he could talk to when things aren’t right and while they had sex and it messed everything up, it really just opened the doorway to let them walk down that new path.

Most important, though, is the fact that she looks at him after all that and says she hates him.  You may think that’s a silly takeaway, but it’s true.  Real life isn’t “oh, that’s how you feel?  OK.  No problem.  Let’s kiss intimately in front of 100 strangers and act like the world isn’t here and not think we’re making a spectacle of ourselves.”  He was mean, awful, grumpy, and stupid.  That’s not an easy thing to forgive or to overcome.  They don’t say it can’t be done . . . but they do say it’s there.  It’s whether or not you truly love that other person – whether your truly like that person that gives you the indication if it can work.

So when John Cusak brings the boom box over his head, my daughter can sigh and get misty.  But when that same Cusack realized years later in High Fidelity that he’s being stupid by flirting with the rock mag’s cute writer and his life was far more worthwhile being with the woman he’d fought to keep . . . when his love interest, after losing her father, wants to have sex because she wants to feel something – just anything – but the pain she’s feeling . . . that’s more real.  My daughter gets small glimpses into reality.

To continue the movie metaphors . . . Reality Bites, sure.  But it’s the small details . . . the mechanisms of emotions that miraculously click into place, the fates letting the book with her phone number show up at the precise moment; the rhythm guitarist spilling a whiskey sour on your blue jeans so you have to go out with your future girlfriend and friends rather than staying and breaking down gear; the moment of cognition when you realize that you’re friends but you never want this to end, like so many friendships really do.  That’s real.

That’s what makes these nights in white satin.  (OK, not the best closing line, I had to come full circle somehow.  They can’t all be winners!)

Equality for All

The Manoucheri 3 at MIB III

I usually try to keep things fairly even in my household.  There are certainly issues that I don’t expect, things like Noah, one of the twins, getting suspended because he can’t control his temper.  Hannah, my middle, neglecting the homework and forgetting to turn it in.  Sometimes she just plain doesn’t do it and lies about it, covering it up like an expert spy, rearranging paperwork and making it all look normal.  The energy she puts into avoiding the work would have finished it in half the time, for Christ’s sake.  Abbi tends to have evenings, if she’s not locked away in her room, with me.

As a result, sometimes the kids get less time than their other siblings.  It’s not on-purpose and I don’t want to actually make things look that uneven.  I realize, with complete understanding, that those four kids have all differing personalities, differing needs, and completely different reactions to having that time without any attention.

Sam has been trying to get me to work on an electronics lab he got for his birthday since his birthday – over a month.  Yet Noah got me to help him build his just a week after, something I horribly regret.  The main consolation is that I couldn’t get Noah’s to work, so maybe my help isn’t so keen after all.  Hannah likes to learn guitar and had lessons for a year or more and shows me new songs she’s written and asks me to show her things.  Noah brings out his guitar and looks crestfallen because he’s still trying to figure it out.  I need to get him lessons, but then Hannah will beg to get them again and the monetary cycle starts all over again.

So tonight I decided, after a long, stressful day at work, that I’m going to even things out a bit.  Abbi had spent the entire day at a pool party with friends.  Then, in a day surrounded with texts while at a press conference and telling me she needs gasoline right when she needs it, not before she leaves the house . . . asks if she can go to a baseball game at 5:45.  I had a 6pm story that was running.

I told her that it was in the hands of her brothers and sister.  They would have to wait at home for about an hour until I got home and if they weren’t comfortable with that they would tell her.  They were OK.  So on the way home, right after 6pm, I told the kids that I was coming.  They asked what I was making for dinner and I had no idea.

On the way I made a decision that if their sister got to have a fun night so would they.  Not just a decent meal or playing games at home, we’d go out.  Really go out.  So I raced into the house and told them we were leaving.  I made PB&J for them and told them we were heading out.
“Where are we going, Dad?”
“It’s a surprise.”
“Is it far?”
“What is it?”
“You’ll see when you get there.”

Now, this isn’t a commercial – but the boys and Hannah have been dying to see Men in Black III.  I debated, since it’s PG-13, but thought I’d look into it and there was nothing sexual and it was all alien kind of violence.  So we got in the car.  When I pulled into the parking lot, the Manoucheri humor came out.
“Wouldn’t it be funny if Dad took us to the theater and then we went downstairs and he said ‘I just brought you along to buy shoes!'”

As we walked up to the entrance, they all looked up and I heard Sam mumble to his brother – “too bad Dad won’t let us see MIB III, I really want to see that.”

Then I went up and said “give me three kid and one adult for the IMAX 3D Men in Black.”

You’d think I’d won the lottery they were so happy.  We got popcorn and drinks, went in, the theater wasn’t very full, and we sat and watched the previews, the movie, and the kids were giggling, gasping, and just . . . having a good time.

Sure, Abbi wasn’t there, but they had a blast.  In the middle of the movie’s 2nd act I felt little hands wrap around my arm, and looked down and Noah, with the giant, yellow glasses like he was some miniature throwback to the Disco era, wrapped his arms around mine . . . and gave me a hug.

The smiles lasted the rest of the night, and when we got home, they were still talking about the movie.

It’s not often I do something so simple but so right, but when I sat at home, Abbi walking in and sitting next to me to let me know everything she’d done, I realized that today . . . today at least . . . I got it right.

There was equality for  all.

The Brutality and the Birthdays . . .

My family, taken by Amy Renz's Hunny Bee Photography

My daughter and I separately watched movies that brought us down in the last week.  Hers was Phantom of the Opera, which I could have easily told her wasn’t going to end well for the hopeless romantic she is.  (Broadway lovers out there, please for the love of God don’t email telling me how “Phantom” truly is hopelessly romantic.  I get it.  But my daughter is the happy-ending kind of hopeless romantic.  For Phantom, that ain’t it.  Sorry.)  Mine was something I probably should have left well enough alone because I knew it was going to hit me hard.

I should also point out that, while I think from the looks of the ads and the trailers that the movie “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” is superbly acted and brilliantly accurate in how a kid may deal with losing a parent, I just couldn’t bring myself to watch it.  I still believe there’s likely no way I’ll ever watch the movie because I know the parent’s going to die and I know the kids will be upset and I just don’t want to watch that.  I’ve already lived it.

No, my piece was a BBC production (no, I’m not a TV snob, I just wanted to watch it.) called “Single Father.”  To be honest, I’d actually wanted to watch long before I lost my wife, it had come out in 2010 and run in England only.  I had seen all kinds of articles and reviews on it, how it was brilliantly written by someone who hadn’t suffered loss but seemed to get it right.  How it was acted so well that the acting made up for inadequacies in the story and the writing.  I wanted to see it for all the talk it was getting.  When I found the DVD on a website eons ago I decided to buy it.  I was depressed, sad, and hurt from loss and thought there was nothing better than to force myself to wallow in it, alone, without the kids so they didn’t see me doing it.  To get it all out so that I could avoid welling up and feeling the waves of grief and depression at the most random times during the day.

But like all things from other countries, they have to get shipped from their respective countries.  Mine obviously came from England.  As a result, it took a long time to get here and when I got it I wasn’t sure I should watch it.

But I’m nothing if not a glutton for punishment and I’ve never been accused of being very smart.  I turned on the movie, whose lead character happened to be a former Doctor Who – David Tennant.  I wasn’t sure how I’d react to a sci-fi star as this major character, but he was brilliant.  Which brings me to the brutality.  The main character, Tennant’s character, is named David.  Dave.  Didn’t make things easier for me.  Dave’s wife dies in a brutal car accident where a cop car hits her on her bicycle.  Cop’s fault, she dies immediately, and says “I love you” right before the end.  The story leaves my parallels there, as it’s not a hospital scene and Dave falls in love with his wife’s best friend just a couple months after losing her.  Guess I’m lucky Andrea’s best friends weren’t nearby my house, might have been all kinds of crazy confused salacious activities going on around me!  I think it’s the lack of parallels that helped me to watch it.

But the one thing that the writer put into Tennant’s mouth, the adjective I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of and used before he cries in a moment of grief, breaking down, tears, messed up.  “It’s just brutal” he says.  “It’s brutal doing this without her!”

Brutal is a perfect adjective.  Yes, I had to perform the activities of daily life long before my wife passed away, but doing them alone along with everything else is just that: brutal.  Easter was this last weekend, and I was so proud of myself that I’d gotten everything done for Easter that I hadn’t realized how quickly my sons’ birthday was approaching.  That’s this Saturday.  The tax refund they said was coming in 7 business days is now coming on the 24th – ten days after their birthday – making my financial situation precarious.  The boys’ friends all had big parties that had all the classmates attend.  I can’t do that, I don’t know how I’m going to get them presents, if I’m being honest.  I’m making the cake (which I can do, other than Freeport Bakery, I can outdo Costco any day!) and the frosting from scratch.  I’m hoping to get the family, aunt, uncle, grandparents, cousins in the park near our house so they can play.  My middle daughter wants to get them a present and I am counting the change in my pocket.  Added to that is the fact that I had no babysitter on Thursday so I have hired a kid down the street who my oldest daughter is friends with.  I have to pay her as well.  I watch the numbers to the left of my bank account’s balance reduce by a digit with each expenditure and I’m feeling the brutality again.

So brutal is a perfect adjective.  No, I’m no longer trying to figure out whether or not I can pay the house payment or anything, but since the rent has come out and the payment for other bills, and the tuition the school gets along with the Extended Day costs for them being at school past the school day, I’m in a world of hurt.  The tax refund would make me even again but I have to wait.  I can’t tell the boys “you’ll get your presents in ten days”.  So I do the financial juggle.  I lean with my head on the kitchen table frustrated.  I think about what I can get them with what I have and how to stretch what I already have for dinners and everything in the house.

These are the things that I face alone.  It’s painful to miss my wife, but it’s also brutal that I have to face these things alone, no second brain helping to push ideas for birthday.  No supportive hands on my back to calm me when I feel overwhelmed.  Sure, people say “she’s up there watching and helping you” but up there doesn’t help or comfort me.  It really doesn’t.  It actually tells me she’s happy and calm and peaceful and I’m left to pick up the pieces and it’s . . . yeah, I’ll use the adjective again . . . it’s brutal.  It really is.

Unlike the character in the movie, I knew I had to do it.  There was no choice, they all need me to be their Dad and not break down and lose it.  It’s very different for my kids who now miss their Mom and simply miss them.  They feel loss, they worry about abandonment, but they didn’t have the mental and emotional backing that I had from her.  Sure, they had their Mom’s emotional and physical help, but they’re kids.  They also fought that backing.  I, on the other hand, wish it wasn’t gone.

Birthdays aren’t brutal.  It’s the buildup and daily life that’s brutal.  It was brutal before she left, but with nobody to help take some of the blows now, all I can do is reflect at the end of the day and take a deep breath and prepare myself for tomorrow.

It’s still one day at a time, and though it’s brutal, I continue to take the beating.  I don’t really have any other choice.