Category Archives: FIlm and Books

The Power of Reading Together

A friend linked a wonderful essay by author Kate DiCamillo on Facebook recently, about the benefits of reading aloud together.

The author spoke of her mom reading to her as a child, which is the most common read aloud set up, I guess, and she shared how much of an impact it made on her to see her mom laugh until she cried, while reading the Beverly Cleary classic, Ribsy.

(We love us some Beverly Cleary in this house. Er, apartment.)

Shared reactions are definitely a point in favor of reading aloud. It’s not uncommon for me to laugh uproariously–my kids have seen that plenty–but I will tell you that I think it’s been more meaningful that they’ve seen me simply cry when moved, because of something we’re reading.

I don’t really read out loud to them enough. I never have. (I even wrote a blog post years ago describing what it’s like to try and read out loud with kids all over you, and how much of a failure I was at it, compared to some saintly homeschooling moms.)

But it is always rewarding, when I do.

And I’m reminded again and again that there is always time, or there should be, for something like reading out loud. (And your kids aren’t too old, no matter what you think or they tell you. I’ll bet you a dollar that even if they roll their eyes, they’ll sit and listen when you start.)

We read The Hobbit as my marriage of twenty plus years was winding down and I was summoning the strength to leave.

We’re reading Watership Down, now, in the evenings before exhaustion from single Momming knocks me out for the night.

You just have to make time. Even if it’s five or ten minutes.

My kids gain benefits from it, yes. They hear words read correctly (as long as I know how to pronounce them), they ingest great writing (or just fun writing, as in the case of the Junie B. Jonesbooks we all loved when they were little), and it’s time when they’re doing something other than looking at a screen.

And they’ve seen me get choked up. Over something other than our electric bill, or the fact that someone didn’t fully shut the freezer door.

The two constants that get me verklempt, as those of us who grew up watching a certain time period of Saturday Night Live would call it, are seasonal reads; Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

It’s helpful to have ways to illustrate to your kids that you actually are a human being, and this is how I’ve done it; by getting emotional over children’s books.

Both of these are also great examples of how books can teach lessons, another important aspect of reading aloud.

Squanto gets kidnapped, is forced to live with Europeans for much of his adult life, and comes back home to find that not only is his entire village dead, but Europeans are now living there. He just can’t get away from them. But he acts as an interpreter, helps negotiate peace, and also shows them how to grow food.

Thanksgiving, politically, is a touchy subject, I know. And Squanto is also not a perfect example of selflessness–there are accounts that his role as one of the only go-betweens went to his head, and he actually starting fleecing some of his fellow Native Americans who needed him to interpret.

But he suffered. And yet he made a decision to help the Europeans who came trouncing into his world, anyway, and he definitely had a role in the fact that there was a long period of peaceful co-existence between them and the inhabitants of what they called a “New World”.

Thanksgiving is a time to be humble and reflective. There will be times in your life when you’ll be the encroacher, barreling into someone else’s world insensitively, stepping on lives and taking things that aren’t yours. Hopefully there will also be times when you’ll be in a position to be helpful, even if those who need your help don’t fully deserve it. But you’ll do it, anyway. Out of compassion.

Christmas is also a time to ponder deep things, but a hilarious kids’ book is a good way to do it without beating everyone over the head.

Just be warned; you might, like me, get overcome with the message woven into the story of the wild, unkempt Herdmans. It’s the real spirit behind the baby whose birth some have chosen to celebrate during that season.

The tale of a tiny being undertaking a long journey and a gargantuan task is great fuel for reinforcing big decisions of your own. The Hobbit also has the unique honor of housing one of my very favorite words; “staggerment”. (I’m not sure if J.R.R. Tolkien made that word up or not, but it is nestled in my heart forever.)

And this second reading of Watership Down with my younger batch of kids is making me think either more deeply than it did the first time…or the manic demands of motherhood have made me forget how deep it was.

It made me blink when I got to the part where Hazel tells the Owsla members who have come after them to go…or be killed.

Yes, I’ve read it before, but I’ve slept since then–it was like seeing it for the first time, and I had a moment where I thought, “Wow…really? Is that necessary?” It caused us to get into an impromptu discussion about good leadership, and making hard decisions, and our simple time sitting on the floor and reading became a teaching moment. (I also have to admit that life in our new seriously reduced circumstances has me sympathizing deeply with a pack of rabbits dodging peril at every turn. Sort of how I feel like we’re living a financial version of this family of ducks’ trip across the freeway.)

Books matter. Teaching your child to read is important, getting them in the habit of reading is important, but giving them a love for story, for information, and for the written/spoken word is something that will yield a multitude of benefits, I believe.

And if you don’t have kids, read out loud to someone who wouldn’t otherwise read a book. Your significant other, your grandma, your dog. (Yes, it can be good for both you and him/her.) Or if you’re the person who would like to be read to, get an audio book. You could get a historical biography and learn something useful, or you could just get ahold of Amy Poehler’s Yes Please.

But reading out loud to your kids is a good thing.

Don’t feel bad if you’re not doing a lot of it, just…try.



A Review of Mad Max…and a Rebuttal to the Idea that it Minimizes Men (and Max)

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My two oldest children and I were in line to see Mad Max:Fury Road on the day it premiered.

I’ve been waiting to see it for a long time. (Meaning, for almost a year I obsessively watched the totally dope Comic Con trailer that utilizes engine revs and gun sound effects as a theme. :::Shivers with Delight:::)

If you didn’t see it in the theater, I hate to tell you this, but…you missed out.

However, watching it on DVD or Amazon Instant Video–which is now possible, and which you can kick me a few bucks by doing through the above links–is better than not seeing it at all. And you do need to watch it. In fact, I seldom recommend buying movies, but when I do, you can be sure it’s because I really, really mean it.

It’s always a risk, being an optimistic person, and this truth is never more painfully clear than when it is focused on hopes for movies. (Except for maybe when it’s about romantic relationships. Or expectations about new pizza restaurants. But…this is a post about a movie.)

This is one time I wasn’t disappointed.

If you are sensitive to explosions and fighting and guns, this is not your flick. (As a favor to those who can’t deal with such things, I’ll just tell you that there are no scenes of women being abused. It’s vaguely referenced, but there is nothing explicit.)

If you love simple, brutal truths, and stories that don’t explain as much as they show, then this is your movie.

I was surprised, after seeing this, to learn that some hard core Mad Max fans were upset about this reboot. (I was not surprised, however, that there was somewhat of a fracas that popped up about it being a feminist manifesto.)

Yes,  Max wasn’t the only lead role. But the partnership of Furiosa and Max is one of the most wonderful things I’ve seen in a movie in a long time. And the change in Max from hard-hearted lone wolf to ally and even caring friend is EXACTLY what I always thought the whole point of the Mad Max franchise was…we are all in this together, whether you like it or not. You can’t simply choose to look out for Number One, only, if you’re a human being.

I don’t know how men think about post-apocalyptic situations, but I know that for some women, there’s one nagging, underlying thought, that tugs at the back of our minds when we’re joking about the poles flipping, or whatever End of Days scenario you choose, that would result in a breakdown of society.

Everyone would be worrying about fueling cars, yes. And everyone would be scurrying for food, and toilet paper.

But women would have the additional worry, of “How do I keep from becoming a form of currency?”

Laws can require society to pay women the same amount as men for doing the same job. (Although statistics tell us that gender equality in pay still has a long way to go). They can punish men for victimizing women. (But we all get that it’s a continual struggle to keep that victimization from happening in the first place–our “civilized” world is still one where we have to educate young men explicitly about consent and invent things like nail polish that can detect date rape drugs).)

So, what would happen if our world suddenly ceased to have these laws that keep what we do have in place?

I think we all know.

Fury Road is a good picture of a dystopian future, and a way to explore in our imaginations what we think we would do, or be like, in that sort of mess, but it’s also an allegory about life now, in my opinion. The lessons it holds are ones that I’m glad to show my kids–male and female–and if you’re interested in hearing what I believe they are, I’ll tell you.

Real Men Empower Women

My good friend Jennifer, the President/CEO of She-Jitsu, a women’s jiu jitsu apparel company, has made a t-shirt that expresses this sentiment, which perfectly sums up my thoughts about women’s “rights” and the proper male response.

There’s a scene (don’t worry, I’m not including explicit spoilers) where Max acquiesces to Furiosa’s skill as a good shot when there’s only one bullet left. It’s a great snapshot of letting a woman excel at something she’s obviously good at, without involving ego. Something I’d love for my sons to be secure enough to do.

My Beautiful Sister Billie likes to say that a man should know when to stand behind a woman, when to stand beside her, and when to stand in front of her. That kind of discernment takes skill, humility, and a willingness to let a women be both strong and weak.

Real Women Empower Women

Surprise…She-Jitsu also makes a shirt with this message, which I consider another key component of this movie. (They also have a Real Women Empower Men shirt, which isn’t exactly a feature of Mad Max: Fury Road, but is a fantastic thought to promote.)

Furiosa’s mission in the movie involves helping women leave victimhood and live a free life. The strong should not only protect the weak, they should help them get strong, as well. Always a message worth repeating. Women have a bad reputation for being jealous of other women, and competing with each other for status, for men…that isn’t how it should be. We should be lifting each other up, helping each other. So let’s do it.

Men and Women Can…and Should Be…Friends

The relationship between Furiosa and Max disappointed one of my romantically minded girls, because as she said,  “They should have gotten together!” (Okay, I guess that’s a spoiler. No action between Max and Furiosa. Get over it).

I’m glad they didn’t hook up.

Not because I don’t love a good romance–I do–but because I want to highlight to my girls (and my guys, too) that first and foremost, any person you’re even thinking about in a romantic sense should be, first, foremost, and finally, your friend.

If a relationship can’t start and stand on respect, I’m not interested. If we can’t fight beside each other and appreciate each other as people, it won’t work on a romantic level.

I liked that the main point of the relationship between Max and Furiosa was partnering in a mutual endeavor, and it ended, ultimately, in mutual respect. I like that they left it that way, because it reinforces the thought that sex isn’t everything.

When One Dream Dies…Get Another Dream

I won’t include a spoiler about the aspect of the story that I think promotes this idea, but it was powerful to watch.

In fact, one of the reasons I’m glad we watched this movie in a theater is that at this point in the story, my 13 year old daughter saw a grown man sitting near us cry. That’s meaningful to me. That a little girl can see a man moved to tears over an image of a woman losing a dream that’s kept her going.

And then you get to see her rebound, regroup, and listen to the advice of a friend on how to reform the dream.

And make it happen.

You may not come away from your viewing of Mad Max: Fury Road with the same feelings that I did. But I’m willing to bet that it will surprise you, and that you’ll find out that it’s not tearing men down to show them letting women be strong and helping them win against bad guys.

In fact, it’s a good representation of true manliness. The kind that co-exists with true womanliness.

And car chases, and explosions. And painted men bungee jumping with electric guitars.

Hey, I never said it wasn’t weird, in addition to being emotionally poignant…

(Edited to add: after seeing this movie, my 13 year old came home and immediately repurposed one of her old Barbies as a tribute to the fantastic character of Furiosa. Still on the lookout for a mechanical arm, though. I’ve never tried to impose my distaste for Barbie on my girls, I’ve always allowed her presence…but I won’t lie; it made me smile years ago when this same daughter renamed one of her Barbies Evelyn Salt, and it reassured me even more when she did this. The message is clear; beauty is okay, but badassery is important, too. Carry on. )


Sneak Peek: St. Vincent


I had the chance to preview the new movie St. Vincent (opening in wide release tomorrow), starring Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, and the amazing young Jaeden Lieberher (who does a fantastic job of holding his own alongside some acting heavyweights).

If you’re a Bill Murray fan, this is a must see; he’s at both his comedic and dramatic best. (All of the members of the cast are great, but Murray is definitely in his best form. Another treat; Chris Dowd’s turn as a wryly sympathetic priest.) His Vincent is a lovable ruffian, and the message is an always-relevant one; you never know someone until you know them.

Yes, it’s a bit predictable. Yes, the crotchety old man and adorable little boy friendship is formulaic at times (however, one of the best lines comes when young Oliver broaches the sensitive nature of the pairing, by saying, “I guess he’s too old to be really dangerous, huh?”). But the nuances of the writing (not to mention the understated but heartfelt acting) give it enough of an edge that you don’t really mind.

It’s deep, it has the potential to make you cry, but you’ll laugh through the whole thing, and you won’t leave the theater with a heavy heart.

(In my best Michael-from-The-Office voice)…”You missed it! You missed it…”

Book of Life

Had a great time at the promotional mini carnival for the upcoming Guillermo del Toro-directed animated feature film The Book of Life today.

There were free churros! (Courtesy of El Chico). We made mustaches! There was face painting, a free photo booth, and prizes were given away by none other than KJ103′s Frito. (Thank you to Mr. Frito for posing with my youngest daughter for a photo; I can count on one hand the number of times my kids have actually been impressed with anything about my career, and I’m counting today as one. Also, in case you’re curious, his business cards actually read “Frito”. I was tempted to ask to see his driver’s license, but figured that would be nosy.)

The Book of Life opens next Friday…don’t miss it!

Come See Me!


Oklahoma City area folks, come out to Quail Springs mall this Saturday (October 11th) from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for a Book of Life Halloween Carnival!

A promotional event designed around the upcoming Guillermo del Toro animated feature The Book of Life, this carnival will have a photo booth, arts and crafts, face painting, and a chance to win prizes! Come in costume, if you’d like; we’ll be on the lower level in front of Macy’s.

(The Book of Life opens in theatres October 17th).


Movie Review: Tusk


The descriptive subtitle for Kevin Smith’s Tusk (opening tomorrow, Sept. 19th) is “a truly transformative tale”, but if I were the one tasked with cooking up an alliterative teaser, I think I would’ve gone with “A WTF Wonderland”.

Seriously…where to start. (I’m not alone in struggling to find the words to share what I experienced; one of my fellow media folks–a person dedicated to describing movies in words, mind you–looked at me, after the lights came up and said, “I don’t even know how to explain what I just saw.”)

I’m not a Kevin Smith fan. By saying that, I’m not telling you I don’t like him–just that I’ve never seen any of his movies. (I watched Good Will Hunting, which I think he had a hand in producing, but that’s it.) Smith aficianados have told me that this is a departure from his usual M.O., so take that into consideration if you’re yearning to see it out of loyalty to him, but all preconceptions aside…consider seeing it if any of the following describe you…

You like the unexpected.

I don’t care what you think you know, you’re not completely expecting this, I don’t think.

You don’t mind a little grossness.

My definition of “a little” might be tainted. I mean, I always maintain that I can’t stand movies that are gratuitously violent, or gross, but I guess your mileage varies. There’s not lewdness to the point of the Hangover movies (I’m embarrassed that I can even offer a knowledgeable comparison), but it can be a little crass. It’s not a Saw movie, but there is some dismemberment going on. There’s also reference to abuse, but this is handled in such a way that you get the background it’s supposed to supply, without the horrid experience of witnessing it. In short, it’s a horror movie that involves some wickedly terrible things, but Smith has done a pretty good job of exercising that one virtue so conspicuously absent in many modern movies; restraint.

That isn’t to say there’s not over the top moments–it’s about a man being turned into a walrus–but…it’s awfully restrained, for a movie about a man being turned into a walrus.

You like deep themes, but don’t want to be hit over the head.

It will make you think. It will give you things to discuss on the car ride home, or over dinner as you try and sort out what just happened. But it’s also not a Bergman film. I mean, Johnny Depp is in it. (He’s not credited, but the cat was already out of the bag and you’ll know him even with the makeup. Fun fact; his teenage daughter, Lily-Rose, is also in it, as one of the Canadian store clerks.) There were legitimate laugh-out-loud moments–it’s genuinely funny in places, also a rare treat–and there was Hemingway, and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Smith does point you in the direction you need to go, with a few mentions of animalistic behavior, and wonderings about humanity, but for the most part it’s up to you to fill in the blanks. And enjoy the inevitable appearance of That Fleetwood Mac Song.

Do I recommend it? Sure. I think it’s got some good things to say about how we let ourselves devolve, what we need in relationships, and it’s a good illustration for the maxim that I constantly repeat to my children; “Hurt people hurt people.” (It’s also rare in that it may scare you a little if you’re a man. Not a lot of movies focus on trying to terrify guys–it’s easy to make a movie about someone wanting to do horrible things to women–but Tusk succeeds as a psychological thriller to me in part because it strikes at men; the person instigating the fear even mentions the distinction between simply being afraid, and terror. The protagonist isn’t expecting what happens to him, and you won’t either, even if you think you know what it’s about.)

It’s immensely quotable (“I think we’re all tea people”), and will certainly stick with you, like a serving of poutine. (Yes, the movie has a very memorable reference to Canada’s beloved dish.)

There you go…that’s my best attempt at describing the odd, thought-provoking duck of a movie that is Tusk.



Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes


I’ve been a Planet of the Apes enthusiast since childhood.

I’m not sure what twisted event in my youth (of the many that existed) made me susceptible to fascination with a world controlled by apes, but I know that it was fostered in part by the rampant replaying of the movies and the follow up television series (I include Television among the grandparents, parents and stepparents named on my list of childhood caregivers), and fueled by the availability of tie-in toys and record albums (look them up children–I’m sure Wikipedia has an entry explaining what those are) in the 70s.

Whatever the cause…I’m a fan. (Roddy McDowell’s Cornelius was probably my first movie star fascination. We’ll refrain from reading anything into how that might have influenced my later taste in men.)

I watched the 2001 reboot, with Mark Wahlberg (two good reasons to watch–resurrection of a beloved childhood memory and Marky Mark), and I’ve seen the prequel to the subject of this review (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), and enjoyed them both.

But this, this was different.

Andy Serkis is amazing, as he always is when playing a non-human (he’s the actor who gave life to the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit’s Gollum, among other things, and is also the co-founder of The Imaginarium Studios, a digital studio dedicated to furthering the technology of performance capture filming). The other actors who voice and animate the apes do a fantastic job, as well, and one of the biggest selling points for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is how the gap from apes moving from non-speaking animals to ones developing their power of speech is broached. It’s actually made believable (as much as anything in a fantasy movie is, anyway) by the writing and how the process is portrayed by the actors.

The other draw, for those who don’t simply NEED to see it, for nostalgic reasons, is that the apes’ evolution as a society is also introduced fairly gradually; tribal painting and order of rule precedes the use of weapons and horses, and again, as much as you can be convinced that what you’re watching could happen, it’s made palatable. This deftness requires time, of course, but the movie’s two hours and ten minutes doesn’t drag.

For the human cast, the choices are good; Gary Oldman brings his usual vigor and depth to the role of the bad-guy-that-you-sort-of-sympathize with, and Keri Russell and Jason Clarke are strong but believable. The simian flu storyline isn’t just a throw-in, either; characters’ struggles with the aftermath of tragedy are as much a part of the plot as their fight to defend themselves against what becomes a threat in their present.

(In a semi-related aside, you might want to steel yourself before watching if you’re a borderline paranoid conspiracy theorist; when my intellectual friend David and I tried to have a rational conversation about the recent Ebola outbreak, he referenced scholarly articles and the assumption that everyone involved was doing the best they knew to do, and strictly observing protocols. I simply said, “I’ve seen Planet of the Apes, David. I know how stuff like this goes.”)

So, my overall reaction and review is this; go see it in the theaters while you still can. It will be watchable on DVD, but this is one that you might want to enjoy on a big screen. I’ll wrap up with a Not So Bad Spoiler, which you can avoid by not scrolling down, if you want, but if you’ve read other reviews, it might not come as a surprise. (I never ruin endings, don’t worry.)

SMALL SPOILER ALERT………………………………………………..

I WARNED YOU…………………………………………………………..


I was heartbroken by Koba’s betrayal. He was one of my favorite characters from the 2011 movie. So imagine me grabbing his hairy face, Michael Corleone style, and saying, “You broke my heart. You broke my heart.”

Best Movie Fest Ever, Day Two…

Looking forward to more musical movie watching at today’s installment of Best Movie Fest, Ever!

OKC’s Tinseltown, for those of you able to come out. Schedule is here:

Hello, Dolly, Moulin Rouge, Oklahoma…all on the big screen, the way human beings were meant to watch movies. In a clutch of humanity, not in your pajamas on the couch, eating food you purchased for a reasonable amount of money.

Come out and see me, and let’s have some fun!

Best! Movie! Fest! Ever!

All of you Okie folks need to come see me this Saturday at the Oklahoma City Cinemark Tinseltown, where I will be hosting The Best Movie Fest Ever: My Favorite Musicals.

Three classic musicals…on the big screen! Shared with your fellow musical lovers, the way it was meant to be!

Here are the schedules…

Saturday 7/26  

Hello Dolly – 11:15AM
Moulin Rouge – 2:20PM
Oklahoma – 5:00PM

Tuesday 7/29

Hello Dolly – 1:00PM
Moulin Rouge – 4:15PM
Oklahoma – 7:00PM

There will prizes! And fun! Come out and join us, for one showing, or all six!