Saturday, July 20, 2013

Gettysburg - An Address for All Time

Gettysburg National Battlefield Park is a holy place. How could you stand on ground where more than 150,000 fought, more than 30,000 were wounded and at least 7,000 people died in three days without appreciating the level of their suffering.

I have been to Gettysburg four times now. It is one of my most favorite places to visit. There’s a spirit there. Solemn. Exhausting. Overwhelming. Shocking. And yet, peaceful.
Today, the Civil War Trust Teacher Institute brought me to the battlefield once again. This time with an incredible guide and people who hungered for more information…teachers.

After spending more than six hours out in the hot sun, viewing hills and ridges, imagining smoke filled fields and acres of the dead and dying--including hiding in our bus from a torrential downpour while discussing Pickett’s Charge--we found ourselves in the cemetery, drippy and dampy learning of one of Lincoln’s greatest moments.
“Anyone know this?” asked the guide.

“I do,” I answered confidently.
“I’m going to call on you in a moment.”

Sudden moments of performance anxiety. I know, I know these words. Can I say them? And say them in a way that they mean to me.
I stopped listening and started thinking.
“Okay,” he said.
I folded my umbrella. Slid my hand into my pocket for comfort and took a slow, calming breath.
“Fourscore and seven years ago…”
The words flowed with a comfort that comes from teaching it to more than eight hundred students and having known it for what seems now, nearly my whole life (I learned in fifth grade.)

“Now we are engaged in a Great Civil War, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.”
Early this month was the 150th anniversary of this battle. Our nation still evolving. Still struggling.
“We have come to dedication a portion of that field as a final resting place…” (Only the Union soldiers, of course) “…for those who here gave their lives…”
My voice broke. Tears blurred my eyes for those “brave men living and dead who struggled here that that nation might live.”

My heart jumped to my nephew—in Afghanistan for the second time and his comrades who are fighting the unpopular battle that freedom might live.
I paused and cleared my throat.
“We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men living and down who struggled here have consecrated far above our poor power to add or detract.”
This was the feeling I’d carried all day. Them. Not me. Them not me. Not the hundreds of thousands of visitors.

“The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
And yet, I stood remembering exactly what he said and only just scratching the surface of what they did.

“It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here thus far so nobly advanced.”
I stood surrounded by teachers. Of different states, different backgrounds, colors, religions. And I realized that we…the educators of our children have picked up those battle colors fluttered from the hands of our honored dead and we must continue on in that unfinished work. To bring peace. To end hatred. To find and embrace equality for our students so that, “the government, of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”


Friday, July 19, 2013

Red 2: Movie Moments

I loved this movie. It was better than the first.

It was funny. The story was nice and complex with plenty of twists. It had tons of action and great stunts. It’s got a touch of romance and great sexual tension and it was funny.
Yep. I said that twice!

Red—Retired Extremely Dangerous (2) brings back together Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren and John Malkovich as retired intelligence operatives.  And their characters are VERY good at what they do.
It was fun to see Anthony Hopkins in this, although I had a few technical issues with his character—not his acting. (I don’t want to give away the plot so I won’t say more.)

If you’re going to enjoy this movie, you must go in expecting dry humor, violence (not blood splattering), and tongue in cheek chatter than goes on and on and on.  Like the repetitive joke about giving Sarah (the girlfriend) a gun…"it wasn’t loaded was it?" Everyone asks as soon as they hear she’s was given one.
What makes it so fun is that while there is lots of plot and action, they’re almost making fun of the whole intelligence movie genre/business.

If I were to make one complaint…who did Catherine Zeta Jones’s eye makeup? It was awful—especially at first, she looked like a clown and it was difficult to take her seriously because of it.

Expect lots of shooting and explosions. Some high speed chases. A little hand to hand smashing and not a ton of bad language.
Best of all? There are more funny parts than just shown in the commercials. The whole Costco sequence at the beginning had me chuckling from the start. And I could not stop laughing at the funeral.

Go. Be Entertained. Suspend your disbelief and laugh!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Host: Movie Moments (DVD)

The Host was written by Stephenie Meyer of Twilight Fame. I’m not a Twilight Fan. I saw the first three movies because my teenage daughter begged me. I have not read The Host and I had heard nothing of the story but that the book was good and the book was bad. The movie was good and the movie was bad.

So…I decided to give it try. (Thanks to a free Redbox!)

Plot: The world – now “perfect” – has been taken over by aliens who use human bodies as hosts. (Hence the name.) Only a few humans remain and they’re being hunted down. The story follows one girl who while she is taken as a host, her consciousness remains alive and trapped and fights against the control of the alien.

I’ve gotta say I LOVE the shiny stuff the aliens use. The silver eggs they come in. Their cars. And everything is very neat and orderly. Except for the Seeker’s shoes! What costume designer thought those tall brown, ugly things when the character was wearing stark all white thought those were a good idea??

But…it’s SLOW! Very slow.

The plot is pedantic and predictable. And like Twilight there are two guys which complicate the girl’s feelings…then again, there are two people/beings in her body so I guess that’s explains the need for two guys, eh?

The acting is okay.

What is it with everyone wanting to use the Valley of the Gods as a background?  (Remember the Lone Ranger)

There’s way too much kissing. (It’s used as a tool for the inner real girl to “communicate”…sorta.) It’s just like watching a make out session. Rolling eyes. And every kiss doesn’t need to involve being slammed up against a wall for intensity. (Just a note for future directors and writers.)

The music does nothing to add to the intensity—emotional, otherwise. It nearly overpowers everything with the heavy bass and syrupy sweet melodies.

I can see why The Host came and went quickly. If you’ve missed it, don’t waste your time. If you saw it and paid movie theater price—that is unfortunate for you. This alien romance is a skip.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Pacific Rim: Movie Moments

First, let me say I liked it better than I thought I would.

Those are think Pacific Rim is simply Transformers VS Aliens – it isn’t really like that.
I do NOT recommend this movie for younger children who have a problem with nightmares.

For those who remember Japanese anime shows from the 1980’s and 1990’s….this movie will make perfect sense to you.
Kaiju (alien/monsters—almost Godzilla-like) coming through the Rift bent on destroying Earth against the Jaegers (massive robotic—but human piloted).

Strong Stuff:
*The CGI is beautifully done.

*The music fits.
*The aliens which come from the dark and water have cool things like luminescent stripes which add depth to them.

*Good humor moments.
*Loved the Marshal’s character.

Weak Stuff:
*Because all the fighting happens at night and usually in the rain—it’s hard to tell exactly what’s happening  there’s so much machinery flying in different directions it’s very difficult to really get a sense of what damage is happening. (Transformers had the similar problem…)

*Characters are fairly stock. Handsome arrogant jock who needs to be taken down a peg, Handsome emotional wounded jock who needs to set aside the past, Sweet young girl who is tougher than she looks, goofy—caricature scientists.
*Like Voltron (if you don’t know who Voltron is…you may not “get” this movie)—unexpectedly there’s a sword.

*Part of its problem is that it tries to tell too big of a story, so no character really has a chance to develop.
Oh, and I felt so bad for Hong Kong!  Talk about being smashed! (Then again in Man of Steel Metropolis had the same problem…uh…who pays for all the rebuilding damage anyway?)

So, if you like battling science fictiony things. Suspend your disbelief and go be entertained for two hours.
Romantics like me, would’ve enjoyed at least one kiss.

And for those little kids dying to see the smash ‘em bash ‘em robots (there is a moment of homage in the film--btw, nice)…wait for the small screen. It will be less scary/intense/overpowering.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

What is Success?

Indian Paintbrush a favorite mountain flower
As an author, I often ask myself what is success?

Making enough money to quit my day job just to write? (Sort of a problem because I really LOVE my day job as a history teacher.)

Actually finishing another manuscript?

Getting an agent?

Holding a published book in your hand?

Having zillions of followers on your: (fill in the blank) twitter, blog, author pages?

Having friends and family love your stuff?  Well, I'm going to say no on husband didn't even know I have a blog.  Not sure if I should sigh, chuckle or groan.

I think I've gotta say, it's having someone love your words. Catch your vision. Step into that crazy world you've created. Lived and breathed, laughed and maybe cried with your characters for a while and to have enjoyed the journey. THAT's success. 

As I'm struggling to push my way through an edit on a nearly completed manuscript--I'm having a tough time making myself sit down and do it.  But as I've finally waded in...I'm falling for these characters again. Their voices, their struggles, their hopes and fears and dreams. 

And I can only hope that sometime I'll have the chance to let some readers into their world.

And maybe...I'll get someone to love their story like one reader loved Benz in "My Life as a Lumberjack."

Here's what she said!

Friday, July 5, 2013

White House Down: Movie Moments

Yep! Another movie!

And yep…another…well, it’s “okay.”

Let me start by saying my “new adult” was offended that I didn’t love this movie.  And, I had to agree that Channing Tatum with barely a shirt on was a delight.

Also, I don’t remember seeing anything with Jamie Foxx before and I thought he did a good job. His performance was solid as the President. His lines were good, he was believable and likable.

The problem came with the movie as a whole.

Things I liked:
*Not tons of language, even the one use of the “F” word made me laugh.
*Decent effects (loved the Blackhawks coming in LOW over DC).
*One of the best lines I’ve ever heard—a bad guy is eating cake shortly after they take over the White House. He offers some cake to another terrorist who glares at the first guy and says something like, “I don’t want cake! I’m diabetic!”  I burst out laughing on that. A funny little detail, that appealed to this diabetic.
*The young daughter (Joey King) who was good at crying.

Things I didn’t:
*Channing Tatum isn’t a good enough actor to play a single dad—the emotional stuff was disappointingly flat.
*The young daughter acted more like 15 than 11.
*Obvious plot points that should have been twists…the one example I’ll give…the dad missed the daughter’s talent show. She’s mad. Her talent? Flag-twirling. How could flag-twirling become important in an action thriller about the White House? Well, I don’t want to spoil it for those who are planning to see it.
There are at least three of these obvious breadcrumbs which weakened the plot for me.
*Overused types of lines, like the President saying, “Get off my lawn!” (Sort of like the President in Air Force One—“Get off my plane.”
*The egotistical, psycho computer geek played by Jimmi Simpson was too typical.
*The ex-wife showing up at the White House…was far too matter of fact. It was too easy for her just to show up. There should have been chaos in DC and she just appeared without a problem.

So, this film has the right pieces: big name actors (Jamie Foxx, Channing Tatum, James Woods, Maggie Gyllenhaal), a good setting, good effects but the dorky script and some overacting like with Jimmi Simpson shackled it to mediocrity.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

My Hero Speaks - David McCullough

From the time you’re tiny, people ask, "what do you want to be when you grow up?" I finally figured it out a couple of years ago. I want to be David McCullough. He’s a tremendous writer, a great historian. He’s funny, charming, brilliant, and right.

Right, because he understands that we are historically illiterate as a nation. Mostly because kids hate history. I actually love getting kids that have the nerve to march up to me the first day of school and tell me how much they hate history.  I love them, because usually I can win them over by the end of school. And like David McCullough, they have learned that history is stories of people, and they want to know more.
60 Minutes just did a bit on David McCullough and in it, he said such an important thing, I wanted to reach through the TV and squeeze him:

He said that teachers should not have degrees in Education. They should have degrees in subjects which they should thoroughly know and then teach what they love.
I utterly agree.

I have a degree in history. A master’s degree. But almost more importantly, I love it.
That’s why I consider myself a teacher. Not an educator.

The educator’s world is filled with jargon and abbreviations and specialists who think they know the best way to do things. The bureaucracy wraps about me and suffocates me. Its unending complication gives me a headache. The cry for this form of teaching or that way of planning or of demanding more and more testing is false to me.
That is not teaching.

As a teacher, I simply seek to open my students’ minds. I struggle and ponder and even dream of ways to pour knowledge into them. To turn the light of learning on in their hearts. I want my students to be able to think and read and make connections and interpret information and to see how decisions made a hundred years ago still affect them. To know that they cannot simply ignore the problems of today that they are going to need to be citizens of action in order to keep the freedoms this country has had and to stop the incursions on those freedoms. And to do this, they’re going to need to know their history.
This is what the children of our nation need.
This what dedicated teachers across the country, day in and day out, who spend hours planning and grading and spending their own family’s money for supplies for their classrooms want. Successful, well informed students and these education master degrees that are found everywhere on the internet and in colleges and universities are not going to make people better teachers. And demanding more and different forms of testing isn’t going to improve their students’ ability to learn either.

Teaching teachers to love their subject whether history, or math or whatever it is and then letting them teach that love in the classroom, that is what is going to make the difference.
Happy 4th of July -- And thanks to all of the men and women who have fought public, private, organized and unofficial battles to bring freedom to our country and may those still serving on our behalf stay safe.

Now You See Me - Movie Moments

Magic is all about slight of hand. Great movies, like "Oceans Eleven" and "Fast and Furious Five"(whatever its real name) give the audience a roller coaster ride while using slight of hand to trick both the audience and the bad guys into believing one thing is happening while something else is going on.

So, I went to “Now You See Me” with high expectations. I think I was expecting a high energy, heavy action film. Instead, I found a clever, rather cerebral winding, twisting, unfolding, story.

It was good. Not great. Well written, well acted but it had draggy parts.
Basically, the plot is that four scrambling magicians, who become known as the Four Horsemen, are given the chance of a lifetime. To work together to use incredible performances and magic to pull off three astonishing robberies.

If you’re paying attention, you’ll be able to figure out a few plot twists as they happen because the writers help the audience know what’s going to happen through a few breadcrumbs that are dropped. But, most things are not made clear until after they happen which is fine. As the show points out, part of the enjoyment of magic is the surprise during the performance and the sheer fun of watching.
Morgan Freeman plays a magic debunker. He was good, which is expected, but boy, is he showing his age—with skin spots and his eyes are cloudy. (That makes me sad.) And his character, while also having nice twists, doesn’t get to have the power that some of his movies have had.

There’s some gratuitous sex-ish stuff at the beginning which made me glad that my young teen wasn’t there and the pace would have lost her interest in the middle, but there wasn’t a lot of language which was nice. And there’s some really entertaining action sequences.
The final magic set up was amazing! Placed in Five Points, New York. It was great.

The unfolding of the plot was good. Are they good, are they bad, who actually are they working for? thing, a thing about me, is that I usually see most plots twists coming and there were a few that didn’t surprise me. And there was something about the last big twist that didn’t give me that heart-pounding, WOW! It felt a little flat.
The characters were fun and different and I would have liked to see more of the magicians because they were such unique, colorful characters.

All in all. It’s a good one. But, there are so many new movies coming out in the Summer rush, if you haven’t seen it yet, I think it will play fine on the smaller screen and it might be worth waiting now, for the DVD.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Lone Ranger - Movie Moments—

The Lone Ranger: Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer

First, we were really excited to see this movie because we’d seen so many trailers and advertisements. I found out that there was one showing the day before the official opening. So, feeling like we’d won the jackpot, we went as a family and were delighted to find the movie theater not crowded. My youngest, 13, has only just started seeing PG-13 movies in the theater (meaning ones we haven’t previewed and watching things at home is less intense than in a dark, large, loud theater.)
I wish we hadn’t brought her. Not that there was a lot of swearing, or a lot of sex (there were saloon hall girls who obviously sold more than drinks.) However, there is a moment where the villain cuts the heart out of one of the rangers which is terribly disturbing. Families with young children BEWARE!

By the end the film was the movie ride a lot of fun. The final train sequence was brilliantly designed and executed.
But…there were a lot dumb/silly jokes that weren’t clever, like Silver standing up a tree wearing the Lone Ranger’s hat. And too many puzzled stares by Johnny Depp at the camera. And the Army officer who was some writer’s vision of the “caricature” of Custer. (Having just visited Little Big Horn it was very easy to envision what might have happened had Custer had a bit more technology.)

As a historian, the reference to Promontory Point—in—Utah, which they called Promontory Summit (or something) annoyed me as was the obvious filming in the Valley of the Gods in Monument Valley, Utah and them saying it was Texas.
And, I’m not going to say anything about the dumb bird and all the just flat bird jokes—like Tanto sticking his head in a birdcage. Sigh.

I’m not fully sure the significance of the little boy who Tonto tells the story to throughout the movie. I kept thinking of the grandson in The Princess Bride—there to interrupt the story at significant points to build the tension. Who was he? Why did he know the tale of the Lone Ranger? Why should he recognize Tonto? It didn’t make sense.
As a theater person, I thought it an interesting choice that everyone was dirty. All the makeup was done dusty and dark…I suppose to add the desert feel—it didn’t.

And, not that Tom Wilkinson didn't do a decent job as the villain, but because I know he's British (like Helena Bonham Carter) I did not buy his accent as solid or consistent (nor hers). I felt bad that Helena looked painted up like the chick from Hunger Games--only a shadow of a character, not a fully developed one--but that's not her fault, nor her leg's.

I loved the clever use of The William Tell Overture by Rossini which has been used as The Lone Ranger’s theme since radio serial days.
Armie Hammer and his clean good-looks did well with his honest, sincere portrayal of a man battling internally and growing as his world falls apart—once we got over the dumb, “I’m a city-slicker lawyer and the law is all we need” beginning of his character development. And the chemistry between John and Rebecca was palpable. I would have liked to see more of them together on screen. It was super.

All in all?
It’s no Pirates of the Caribbean. The storyline, characters and charm isn’t there.

But…if you’re caught in three digit heat and you don’t have young children (or plan to cover their eyes) then it’s worth the price of admission.