Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Ship of Dreams

Ok, so I had every intention of writing this this past weekend but I was pretty busy with the show I was doing and trying to entertain my loving and ever so patient I simply didn't have time to open ye old notebook and write.  It's probably appropriate that I chose to focus on my special guy rather than other things at hand though, because the film I chose to write about this week was one in which the lead characters do just that.  The importance of loving someone, being loved back, and giving that person your focus is something our cynical world would rather tease and make fun of than to take seriously (heck, I do it myself) and so "Yucky love stuff" becomes something of an embarrassment.  However, I think that films such as this help to remind us of the simple importance of love and can unite large audiences in a way that no other medium can.  I dunno if my guy will appreciate that I'm using him along side this, cause he doesn't care much for the film, but I hope he'll appreciate the sentiment.  For now, however, let's transport ourselves back in time to this month in 1997.  James Cameron was making headlines again, but this time it was not for success.  Rather, industry pundits were predicting a disaster of massive proportions when his latest film was released.  It was already several months past release date and several million dollars over budget and few people had seen any real footage from it.  Little did we know then that Cameron was about to unleash one of the 90s best loved (and best hated) pop culture phenomenon...and to think it all began with a simple pitch, Romeo and Juliet on a ship.  So now, while I'm still in the throes of the yucky love stuff, allow me to give my two cents about Titanic.

It is present day (1997 that is) and a treasure hunter named Brock Lovett is taking yet another dive to the site of one of the most famous nautical disasters, the Titanic.  Lovett has been, for years, hunting for a lost diamond necklace called The Heart of the Ocean which has been said to have gone down with Titanic when it sank.  On his latest dive he discovers not the stone but a drawing which places the necklace with a young woman on the night of the sinking.  When this picture is shown on television, an elderly woman named Rose Calvert calls him and tells him that she is the woman in the drawing.  Rose is invited to board Brock's ship and to share her story in the hopes of illuminating the location of the lost necklace.  Instead, Rose enchants the crew and her tag along granddaughter with a tale of romance.  Suddenly it is 1914 again and Rose Dewitt Bucater is boarding the Titanic with her wealthy fiance and mother to go home to America to be wed to this man she doesn't love.  Meanwhile, a drifter named Jack Dawson happens to win a ticket aboard Titanic in a lucky hand of poker.  Jack, a third class passenger, and Rose, a first class passenger, should never have cause to meet and yet, during a suicide attempt by Rose, the two of them begin a friendship that very quickly races toward love even as the ship itself races toward the fated iceberg that would sink her.  Soon the star-crossed lovers are thrown into a situation of dire circumstances and must fight for survival aboard the ill-fated unsinkable ship.

Lemme just say it, I love Titanic and I don't care how unpopular it is to say so.  It's a predictable and cliched story and has some atrocious dialogue and yet I cannot dislike it due to the sheer amount of care and craftsmanship involved.  It was a labor of love and passion and that love and passion is infused in every shot and detail.  Cameron was fascinated by Titanic when he dove to see the wreck himself and he began to imagine a way he could resurrect her on screen.  When he dreamed up his own Romeo and Juliet, he discovered the perfect way to justify a film about her and her sinking.  If the film took place within a fictional disaster, I don't believe it would have carried as much weight or affected so many people.  However, since Cameron so beautifully captures both Titanic's majesty and the waste of life it's arrogant creators caused, we are able to be much more invested in the story.  The fact of the disaster manages to trump the story's cliches and dialogue inconsistencies.  I still get teary eyed when the ship finally vanishes beneath the waves and the hundreds of passengers left in the dark have nothing to do but panic and freeze to death.  The fate of our heroes elicits some marvelous emotional moments, such as when Titanic is beginning to go down and Jack and Rose have been forced to the stern.  Rose looks at Jack, smiles almost madly and says "Jack...this is where we first met."  Gets me everytime.  And just like that, audiences responded marvelously to an old-fashioned love story in a time of growing cynicism and coldness.  That may actually be my favorite thing about Titanic...the fact that it's so apologetically old-fashioned.  It's the kind of big budget spectacle only possible in the days of films like Ben Hur and Gone with the Wind and yet, Cameron managed to repeat that kind of spectacle and update it for the 90s.  Titanic is big, bold, and beautiful and it dares you to ignore it.  Still, as Cameron himself said, under all the spectacle and set-dressing Titanic is simply a love story.  I suppose that is why I enjoy it and why I dedicate it to my special guy....we all, universally, want to be loved.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

My Idea of A Perfect School...

Still feeling like talking about going back to school, I got to thinking today about how....while I don't dislike the job....I do hate the hours (getting up at 5:30 every day BLOWS) and sometimes there are co-workers (read: children) I could do without.  Most of these issues are solved on inservice days, or rather days that we teachers come to work and the students don't.  Usually we have these so we can have important meetings or attend seminars and the district is kind enough to give us work time to accomplish this rather than making us do it on our own time (though I'm sure union contract language has more to do with it than the district's goodwill).  Anyway, we had one of these inservices last week and it was downright delightful.  I didn't have to be at work until 8am, I got to spend time with my co-workers and friends without any student interference, and I didn't have to worry about any of those hoodlums that give me more gray hairs as the days go by.  It got me thinking about one my mother's favorite quotes ever said by a villain..."My idea of a perfect school is one where there are no children at all."  Granted, we weren't supposed to like this character or her ideas...but I gotta say, I think she had something there.  Those days where the school is nothing but faculty and staff are as close to work-place paradise as I've ever gotten.  So it is with some fanfare and a great deal of nostalgia that I bring to you one of the rare films that I love and yet don't yet own...Matilda.

Matilda Wormwood is anything but average.  She was able to spell her own name when she was an infant, she was allowed to take care of herself when she was about three or four, and she has been an avid reader since that same age.  For most parents, these would be sure-fire signs that their little girl was a child prodigy.  However, Harry and Zinnia Wormwood are not most parents.  They are boorish, slovenly, couch-potatoes who encourage dispicable behavior in their son and who treat Matilda's interest in expanding her mind with the sort of attitude one reserves for rashes or warts to be removed.  Matilda begins reading in secret and dreams of going to school, even though her parents aren't interested in sending her there and continue doing cruel things to her.  Things change, however, when Harry Wormwood explains his view of punishment to Matilda..."When a person is bad, he or she should be punished."  He should have said "When a child is bad..." because Matilda, smart as she is, interprets this to mean that children can punish their parents.  Matilda visits a surprisingly effective and hilarious bit of revenge on her parents by using the things they love against them.  However, when the Wormwoods finally do decide to send Matilda to school, Matilda finds she may have met her match in the huge and horrific Miss Trunchbull, the principal of the school and the biggest bully she has ever seen.  In order to overcome Miss Trunchbull's wickedness, Matilda may need to reach deep inside herself and to find a power that she doesn't even realize she has.

Matilda is a darling film based on an equally darling book by Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, among others).  It is a potent work that both challanges us to stand up against bullies while also teaching us to respect the excellence of the mind, where ever it is found.  Matilda's growing abilities represent her growing strength in the face of those who would oppress her and give her the oomph she needs to not allow herself to be oppressed.  Indeed her strength is a great advantage, but her unwillingness to be made to be afraid is her true power.  Conversely, Matilda's parents and Miss Trunchbull represent the worst kind of people...rigid, uneducated, and bigoted.  They are so blinded by their own beliefs and ignorence of people that they can never appreciate anyone for who they are...they can only see them as different and therefore unworthy of the same respect.  They would be rather pitiful people if they weren't also in complete control of the power.  Thankfully our heroine is here to take them down a peg.  Also of note is the character of Miss Honey, Matilda's lovely and thoughtful teacher, who seems to be a grown-up version of the girl but without the acceptional abilities.  She is an image of what Matilda could become if she wasn't given an edge with her mental abilities.  Ironically, she is also Matilda's savior because she encourages Matilda when no one else will and she gives Matilda faith in the rest of the world.  Matilda then saves Miss Honey from her own insecurity and teaches her that she can be strong even without the incredible powers of her little friend.  It is a bizare looking but highly uplifting little fantasy with a lot of heart.   Few fantasy films can show respect for education while also showcasing an imaginative adventure...Matilda manages to do both.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Back to School Again

Well, it's the end of our second week of school and I don't know about anyone else but I am exhausted.  I was given a new program to add to my numerous assignments this year, Broadcasting and our News show, and even though we're only in the planning stages for the program I am already beaten down by the stress.  It's a bit unnerving to teach a class that you're pretty sure you know the stuff for, but you want to be sure you don't make a mistake because there are kids in the class who have been doing it much longer than I have and know as much or more about it than I do.  On the plus side, having that class prevents me from teaching a second grade of language arts this year so now I only have to prep for Freshmen, which I think I prefer.  They're still pliable at this age and much more receptive to learning than upperclassmen who have since decided that they are closed off to anything new.  To be honest, I meant to write this blog last week when we started school, but it slipped my mind with everything else swirling about.  However, I think getting it in before Labor Day counts (considering we used to not go back to school till after Labor Day in my youth).  Today's title is both indicative of the state of mind many of us are in at this time, but also is a song title from the film I plan to discuss today.  It is generally considered to be one of the worst sequels made at it's time and it's reputation hasn't changed much in the interim years.  Despite the fact that it stars a fresh faced Michelle Pfeiffer and was produced by the same creative team as it's first installment, it just didn't gel.  However, for the theme of going back to school, I thought it fit quite nicely.  So put on your helmet and revve your engines...we're going prowlin' with Grease 2.

It's 1961, three years since the original gang became seniors at Rydel High School and now a new gang is taking the spot light.  The most influential is Stephanie Zinone, the new leader of the Pink Ladies, who feels she has outgrown her relationship with the rather juvenile leader of the T-Birds, Johnny Zogerelli.  Things begin to change when Sandy's cousin Michael Carrington arrives at Rydel as a transfer student from Britain.  Guided by the effervescent Frenchy, who is back at Rydel to complete some courses, Michael takes an interest in Stephanie who, while trying to prove a point to Johnny at bowling night, gives Michael some very mixed signals.  Michael attempts to ask her out, but she rebuffs him saying that she will only date a "Cool Rider" of a motorcycle.  Michael then takes it upon himself to change his appearance and to learn to ride a hog, so that he can impress and win over the beautiful Stephanie....oh yeah, and there are some other supporting characters and a lot of singing and dancing.

Grease 2 can only be described as a have an attempt at trying a new era from the original Grease by placing it in the early 60s, but that wasn't that far removed from the 50s stylistically so it becomes a retread in that area.  The characters are simply gender switched with the rebel being a female (who is far more sensative than Danny Zuko ever was) and the goody-two-shoes who decides to change to be liked is now a male, so again you have the exact same dish with none of the favor.  And then there is the random addition of Frenchy, which the film does almost nothing with (it almost acts as an unpleasent reminder that you aren't watching the original).  And yet, I can't completely write off Grease 2 as a failure because, while it is a is a damn entertaining mess.  The songs and the sequences that feature them, corny and awful as they are, are what save this film from complete oblivion by being watchable and enjoyable.  The opening sequence, "Back to School Again", sets the (groan inducing?) tone for the entire film and tells you that "Hey, we're here....we're not as good as Grease...and damnit we're having too much corny fun to care."  Things progress to the bowling number, in which teenagers are inexplicably spinning and twirling with bowling balls that by all rights should be ripping their arms off with the weight of the balls and force in which they are twirling.  Things begin to crecendo as Michelle Pfeiffer straddles a ladder and wishes for her "Cool Ryder" and by the time a science class sings about "Reproduction" you're hooked.  It's a shame that movie goers didn't turn this one into the audience participation phenomenon that Rocky Horror managed because it is just begging to be yelled at.

If you loved Grease, I cannot promise that you'll even like Grease 2.  If, however, you get a kick out of watching bad films that, despite their awfulness, are still fun to might find a cheesy good time with Grease 2.  If fact, if you're looking for a rowdy movie night kinda film, I think this may be the perfect contender.  Grease 2 will be your "Girl For All Seasons" if you let her.