Category Archives: reviews

Weekend Recap

1. Saw Mamma Mia on Friday with BFF and BSL (best sister-in-law). Had a blast singing along to ABBA and wishing that I would EVER be as beautiful as Meryl Streep. Is it silly? Yes. Can Pierce Brosnan sing? Hell, no. But he’s still damn cute, and it was a fun, popcorny, summery movie.

2. Saw The Dark Knight last night with Mr. Squab. Holy, holy, holy CRAP is that a good movie. If Heath Ledger doesn’t get an Oscar nom for playing the Joker it’s a crying shame.

3. The nausea, she has kicked in. I have to eat a little something every 2-3 hours, or Bubba gets cranky. How can something the size of a sesame seed get so mad? Why are my children so forceful practically from the moment of conception?

4. Also? I am tired. And now I will go to bed.

Sometimes it’s exhausting being a humorless fat feminist

I grew up in a family of college professors; specifically, philosophy professors. My parents and their friends are professional critical thinkers, and our dinner table conversations were often on the esoteric geeky side. Sometimes this was cool, sometimes it was embarrassing, but whatever: it was what it was, and every family has its own weirdnesses. This was just ours. (Well: one of ours.) But one area where the parental penchant for critical thinking really used to get on my nerves was post-movie discussions. We’d go see a flick – not necessarily anything highbrow, it could just as easily be Lethal Weapon as The Unbearable Lightness of Being – and then afterwards we’d go to Perkins for dessert or coffee and talk about the movie. Or, as I thought of it then, mercilessly disect the movie until any lingering enjoyment was completely eradicated. “Can’t you just like a movie and be done with it?” I’d ask exasperatedly, only to be patiently told that they did like the movie, this was their way of showing they liked it, criticism doesn’t imply dissatisfaction, blahblahblah and my thirteen-year-old eyes were rolled completely back into my skull. Parents are so WEIRD.

Fast-forward to college, and I start realizing the inescapable truth that the more you know about something, the less possible it is to have a naive enjoyment of that thing. Major in theatre, and you can no longer view a production of Cats with unalloyed, unironical pleasure. You might still get a kick out of it, but not the same kind of kick those sweet ladies from the Lutheran church group in row 3 who just cannot BELIEVE they are getting to see a REAL! BROADWAY! SHOW! are getting. My English major friends lamented that they could no longer really lose themselves in a good novel. Worse: knowledge of some topics precluded any enjoyment of certain pop-cultural tropes whatsoever. Once you’ve had your feminist awakening, you notice there’s a lot of misogynist shit out there that just ain’t funny. Things your less-awakened friends might still find hilarious, you just find … depressing. Or angering. Or nauseating. Same goes for when you get hip to GLBT rights, or civil rights for people of color, or class issues, etc., etc., etc. Often, after that first initial shock, you get inured again and can once more watch mainstream media without wanting to kill someone or hurl, but when you’re really intensely immersed in race issues, class issues, gender issues – well, let’s just say I can remember a semester in grad school where I could only watch carefully selected VHS movies, because I was so hyper-attuned to sexism that any other media exposure just squicked me right the hell out. And those of you who know me will understand how sensitive I must have been to cut out TV viewing, because I loooooooooooooves me my teevee.

The shitty thing about being gender-race-class-sexuality-younameit aware is that it can feel awfully lonely and ill-tempered. More than a few times I’ve gone to a movie with Mr. Squab or friends and everyone else comes out saying “that was fun!” or “good movie!” and I’m the only one going “well, I liked parts of the movie, but why did they have to keep making those dumb homophobic jokes all the time?” or “but there was only one female character, and she was just a sex object!” or whatever. And then everyone gets all uncomfortable, like, well, yeah, of course homophobia/sexism/racism is bad but why can’t you just like the movie and be done with it? Squab is so WEIRD. Which is a response I totally get, and I’m not trying to be Debbie Downer, but you know … I just can’t not see that stuff anymore.

All of which is an extremely long preface to saying, Mr. Squab and I saw Wall-E this evening, and I liked parts of the movie a lot, but the representation of the humans really fucking bothered me. I love Pixar films generally – their animation is amazing, they really pay attention to crafting a good story with interesting characters, and they maintain that sense of wonder and playfulness mixed with a little snark that’s the hallmark of good family entertainment (like the Muppet Show or Bugs Bunny cartoons or the Animaniacs). Sure, they’ve got some gender problems, and that bugs me, but I usually really enjoy seeing their films. Anyway, in Wall-E, one of the central story conceits is that human beings have abandoned planet earth to live in luxurious, cruise-shipesque spaceships, where their every need is catered to by smart robots, and even the ability to walk is obviated by personal hovercraft thingies that transport them wherever they might want to go. Due to their nearly total lack of physical activity and (possibly) their unhealthy diet (though this is unclear), they have all morphed into hugely obese, puffy slug people. Helpless puffy slug people. Who apparently have atrophied brains as well as muscles, since they don’t really notice their surroundings until Wall-E shows up to jolt them out of their sluggishness, in some cases literally jolting them out of their hovercrafts, at which point they flail around like upturned turtles (fat people can’t move normally! Fat people’s bodies are hilarious!) until their helper robots come to set them gently upright.

Now, there were a lot of things I liked about this movie: the female robot, Eve, is pretty kick-ass, and one of the most progressive/feminist female characters I’ve ever seen in an animated movie. The animation is as gorgeous as I’d expect a Pixar film to be, and the first 1/2 hour, which is entirely without dialogue, is an amazing example of visual storytelling. But the fat jokes, y’all: I can’t get over the fat jokes. Partly because I don’t buy into the notion that we’d all be the same size and shape no matter HOW inactive/unhealthy we were. Humans are too variable; some of us just don’t balloon up no matter what. But more, the fat jokes weren’t even necessary. Just as much – or more! – physical humor could have been derived from the humans’ atrophied muscles and loss of bone density, irrespective of their size, as was got from the tired old fat=funny trope that was in this movie. The fat gags were the easy, brainless humor-shorthand option, and I’ve come to expect more from Pixar than taking the easy way out. Why they gotta play me like that?

More on this here, here (scroll down), here and here. The director’s take, FWIW, is here.

More Accurate Titles for the Latest Indiana Jones Movie

1. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal SUCK.

2. Indiana Jones and the Travesty that Besmirched the Franchise.

3. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crap Screenplay.

4. Indiana Jones and His Creators Phone It In.

5. Indiana Jones and the Unbelievably Lame Use of Unnecessary CGI.

6. Indiana Jones and the Movie that Confirms that George Lucas Should be Banned from Filmmaking or Possibly Just Taken Out Back and Shot.

7. Indiana Jones and the FUCKING ALIENS? Are you SHITTING me?!!?!?

8. Indiana Jones and the Pointless Waste of Time.

Don’t see it, is what I’m saying.

Review: The Yummy Mummy Manifesto

When it comes to mothering, at least in this culture, there’s a lot of pressure to do it all. Be a combination of Martha Stewart, Marmee from Little Women, June Cleaver, and – oh yeah – make sure you’re still dynamic and sexually attractive. For god’s sake don’t lose your style!! Because, you know, we aren’t under enough stress as it is, juggling the kid(s) and the career(s) and the relationships and the housework and all. So when I see the term “yummy mummy” it tends to set my teeth on edge – I associate it with a very judgmental perspective on being a mama. But I have to say, Anna Johnson’s The Yummy Mummy Manifesto does a really nice job of reclaiming the term for what it really should be all about: loving yourself and finding a way to be a whole, passionate, vibrant personality, even while you’re caring for a small person who regularly coats you in their bodily fluids. Here’s a representative quote:

I will tell anyone in the first year of mothering to hang on to her pregnancy rights (the cravings, the emotions, the attitude, and, yes, even those ten pounds) and to fixate less on going back to what she was before. Once you’re a mother, it’s all about more. … It isn’t easy to be expansive in a culture that is constantly urging women to contract, shrink, and diet to the point of disappearance, but that is probably the greatest challenge of Yummy Motherhood: to feel delicious every step of the way. Proudly so. Pregnancy is the milestone we carry up front. This is the most glorious moment to be all of your many selves. Never will you occupy so many variations of one body in such a short space of time. And, hopefully, never will you feel so free, in high heels, in overalls, or in nothing at all.

Johnson’s free-ranging tome covers everything from pregnancy style (key message: embrace the flamboyant), to sex, to fighting fair, to throwing a yummy birthday party. It’s not a radical book – the underlying assumption is that the reader is a heterosexual woman who finds makeup and fashion at least a little bit fun – but Johnson has a fundamentally kind and caring approach. This is not a book that will harangue you into exercising and getting that baby weight off (thank god). This is a book that will encourage you to find a way to move your body with joy, and eat things you love, and wear clothes that are both comfortable and beautiful, and damn the torpedoes. There are lots of handy links to web resources for SAHMs and WAHMs (stay-at-home and work-away from-home moms), along with recipes, craft projects, and ideas on how to be more of an eco-mom. But I have to be honest – I think my favorite part of the book is the design. The pages are lushly illustrated, in rich colors with botanical motifs – the whole visual experience of the book exactly reflects the “yumminess” the author is promoting. Does The Yummy Mummy Manifesto offer any amazing new insights into modern motherhood? Nah. But it’s a loving reminder that life is more fun when you approach it with humor and zaniness and passion, and that – as Martha would say – is A Good Thing.

(Reviewed as part of the MotherTalk blog tour.)

Review: A Plumm Summer

It’s summer, and that means it’s blockbuster movie season. There are several mega-movies coming out that are high on my “must-see” list – I love me some good popcorny entertainment – but I admit that by the end of summer I’m often maxxed out on CGI explosions, car crashes, bullet-time and death-defying finales. Enter A Plumm Summer, a kid- and family-friendly movie that has more in common with the Disney movies-of-the-week they used to show when I was a kid than your typical kid-fare of the new millennium. (Remember Escape to Witch Mountain? Damn, I loved that movie.)

The story is based on an actual event that happened in Billings, MO MT in 1968. Billings had an extremely popular local kids’ show called Happy Herb and Froggy Doo (this was before the era of national network programming). The show was something of a local legend that made national news when Froggy Doo, the central marionette character, was kidnapped and held for ransom. For serious. They reported it on the Brinkley report and J. Edgar Hoover sent out FBI agents to find the lost puppet. Crazy, no?

The film takes these events as its jumping-off point, creating a fictional story of two brothers, aged 13 and 5, who go in search of Froggy Doo, aided by their Trixie Belden-loving (female) neighbor. The boys, whose home life is being wrecked by an alcoholic father, find common ground in their search for the TV character, and the older boy in particular uses the experience as a way to navigate the tricky waters of adolescence. Nostalgic scenes of small-town life in the late 60s are portrayed from a kid’s point of view, and the gorgeous Montana scenery is almost another character in the story.

The filmmakers clearly want to hearken back to the good-ole-days when men were men, women were women, and family movies were predicated on a good, moral story rather than on an inflated special effects budget. I’ve got nothing against special effects when well used, but I can certainly understand the appeal of a simpler approach – and in many respects A Plumm Summer achieves its goal of old-fashioned family entertainment. I have to say that I found the script a bit clunky, and I thought it showed that this is the director’s first feature film. There’s also some world-class scenery chewing from some of the adult actors, particularly Brenda Strong as Happy Herb’s fiancee and co-star, and Billy Baldwin as the boys’ alcoholic father. (Of course, you can’t really be surprised to see Billy Baldwin overacting. It’s what he does.) But Henry Winkler is absolutely charming as Happy Herb, and the kids playing the three main characters are uniformly good. The five-year-old Rocky, played by Owen Pearce, is particularly adorable – he manages to have a lisp and glasses and yet not be a walking cliche. (On a side note, I also really appreciated that all of the female characters had real bodies, with curves and soft parts and everything, and not creepy plastic model-y hollywood bodies.)

The plot is predictable, and the ending is pretty corny, but these are things more likely to bother a Snarky Squab than the kids the movie is targeting. Overall, it’s a nice alternative to more big-budget stuff. Heck, it’s nice just to HAVE an alternative to the big-budget stuff. If you’re looking for a movie that you can take both your tween-ager and your parents and grandparents to, A Plumm Summer may be your only option this summer. It’s opening this weekend in California, Minnesota and Alabama only, so if you live in one of these states and want to support this kind of filmmaking, get out there and see it this weekend! (I’ve listed MN theatres showing the film below; you can find other listings on the official movie site.)

Minnesota Theaters featuring A Plumm Summer April 25, 26, and 27 and May 2, 3 and 4

* AMC Eden Prairie 18 (4000 Flying Cloud Drive Ste 2400 Eden Prairie, MN 55344)

* Lakeville 18 (Country Road 70 & 35W Lakeville, MN 55044)

* Eagan 16 (2055 Cliff Road Eagan, MN 55122)

* Showplace 16 (10051 Woodcrest Drive Coon Rapids, MN 55448)

* Showplace 16 (5567 Bishop Avenue Inver Grove Hts., MN 55076)

* Oakdale 10 (1188 Helmo Avenue North Oakdale, MN 55128)

Reviewed as part of the MotherTalk series.

Review: Body Drama

As the product of a quasi-hippy household, I learned the “facts of life” at a ridiculously early age. I’m not sure how the conversation was initiated with my mother – probably it stemmed from her being pregnant with one of my siblings – but I do remember that my reaction was “gross.” I think my mom was *pretty* easy to talk to about body stuff, insofar as it can ever not be totally and completely embarrassing to talk to one’s mother about these things, but I’ll tell you what: I sure do wish this book had been around when I was going through puberty. Remember Our Bodies, Ourselves? (Yes, I am THAT. OLD.) Well, this is like that for the pre-teen to early twenties set. Only better, in some ways, because it specifically addresses some of the really tricky, stupid stuff that girls have to navigate now that they didn’t have to in earlier generations. (For example, the whole concept of “waxing” was pretty new in my high school years, and you can FORGET about crap like “Brazilians.” Nobody did that or even thought about it.) Body Drama: Real Girls, Real Bodies, Real Issues, Real Answers is written by Nancy Redd, a former Miss Virginia who went from a shapely, body-loving teen to a yo-yoing, body hating young adult, partly as a result of beauty pageants. Having graduated from Harvard with a Women’s Studies degree, she wanted to create a resource for young women to let them know that their bodies are “normal and OK.”

Needless to say, I love that goal and this book tackles it with gusto. It’s divided into five sections: Skin, Boobs, Down There, Hair/Mouth/Nails, and Shape. Each section is illustrated with photographs of real women, covering every kind of question and situation that a teen or pre-teen girl could be curious about and way too embarrassed to ask anyone about. Got back zits? There’s information for you. Stretch marks? Page 50. You can revel in 99 nicknames for boobs on page 75 (some of which I may start adopting myself, as soon as I can choose between “wonder twins,” “dumplings” and “quantum heaps”). The “down there” section includes about a dozen photos of real, live vulvas, which can be a slight shock if you’re not expecting it, but PRAISE THE GODS that they’re in there, along with instructions for how to look at your own, when to see a doctor for various conditions, and why you shouldn’t, for cripes sake, get plastic surgery on your cooter. (That’s my term, not the author’s. As if you had to ask.)

The “Shape” section, which is the one I was most interested to read, is a mixed bag. It does refer to the dreaded (and useless) BMI chart, and it does talk about dieting as an option for losing weight. But the emphasis in that section is definitely more on being active and healthy and loving your body first and foremost than it is on losing weight or fitting on the BMI chart. And, best of all, there’s a fabulous section of “before and after” shots that show exactly how the average fashion magazine image is created, and how false the “after” version is as a reflection of the “before.” The main part of the book ends with several different statements that every body is beautiful, illustrated with a variety of real, beautiful womens’ bodies. Finally, there’s a resources section with great information on different kinds of doctors, helpful sites for everything from body piercings to reporting physical abuse, and thorough notes and indexes.

The graphic photos and frank language around womens’ bodies will mean that some people won’t be comfortable reading this book or giving it to their daughters, granddaughters, nieces and sisters. And that’s too bad, because this is an area that can use all the frankness and reality it can get! I’d recommend this book to any young woman as a valuable resource, and it’s definitely something I’ll be glad to have around when my daughter gets older.

(This post is part of the MotherTalk blog tour.)

Review: 101 Pep-Up Games for Children

So, in case you haven’t noticed it on the right-hand side, I’m a member of LibraryThing, which is this enormously satisfying way of cataloging one’s book collection online. Enormously satisfying for TOTAL NERDS like me, I mean. Oooh, I love me some book cataloging. Mmm-hmmm. And the only thing even more awesome than organizing my books online is getting free copies of books I’m interested in, so long as I review them. Free books = awesome. (Unless you’re Mr. Squab, who tells me every time we move that I should not be allowed to own more books than I’m willing to physically carry, myself, from one house to the next. To which my response is, that’s what professional movers are for!) So anyway, I got my first reviewer’s copy a few weeks ago, and what with siblings getting married and all, I didn’t get a chance to write the review until tonight. It’s posted at Amazon.com and LibraryThing, but I figgered I’d post it here, too. In case y’all are interested.

As a theatre director and professor, I’ve had ample opportunity to witness the usefulness of games for energizing and focusing groups of people. Now, as the mother of an extremely energetic one year old (one of her primary nicknames is the Energizer Bunny), I’m even more aware of the basic human need to *move* sometimes. Educational theory backs this up: kinesthetic learning is increasingly recognized as an important and valid learning style. (In my parenting group, our coordinator told us that some districts are even encouraging kids to chew gum late in the afternoons because the motion helps them focus!)

Along these lines, 101 Pep-up Games for Children is an excellent resource for moms, pre-school and grade-school teachers, daycare providers, and theatre folks like myself. The games are well-organized, making it easy to find the right kind of game for your specific purpose. They’re ordered from simplest (for the youngest children) to most complex (for kids aged 9-10 … or immature performer-types like myself). Each game is coded with clear icons delineating how many people the game is for, whether props or music are needed (mostly they’re not), whether the game is played outside, and whether or not there’s physical contact involved. There are also nice indexes in the back in case you want to find a game by name or requirement. Best of all, the games are simple to learn and play, and many incorporate learning concepts that make them easy to adapt to current classroom lesson plans.

One interesting note: the author is German and the book was originally published in Germany. For the most part the translation is seamless, but occasionally the cultural differences show in the “tips” included with certain games. (Suggesting that teachers light a peppermint scented candle to pep students up is one that I imagine would not be allowed in a lot of US classrooms.) Overall, this book is a great resource and one I’m sure I’ll turn to with my own kid and with future students and actors.