Reading, watching, listening to …

I’m reading …

When You Are Engulfed In Flames by David Sedaris

cabbage cruz

Sedaris is the master of the short, comic, grotesque personal essay.  Are his rambling ideas connected, or is he just really good at making it seem like they are? I don’t know, but I die of envy. A little David Sedaris goes a long way, though, and the essays in this collection are not quite as tight and sharp as some of his other works – but still, very funny stuff, enough to make me snort while I’m reading in bed.  An excerpt from “What I Learned”:

It’s been interesting to walk around campus this afternoon, as when I went to Princeton, things were completely different. This chapel, for instance—I remember when it was just a clearing, cordoned off with sharp sticks. Prayer was compulsory back then, and you couldn’t just fake it by moving your lips; you had to know the words, and really mean them. I’m dating myself, but this was before Jesus Christ. We worshipped a God named Sashatiba, who had five eyes, including one right here, on the Adam’s apple. None of us ever met him, but word had it that he might appear at any moment, so we were always at the ready. Whatever you do, don’t look at his neck, I used to tell myself.

It gets a little more R-rated than that in other essays; caveat lector.

 

I’m watching …

Disney Animated Shorts on Netflix streaming.  An overall entertaining collection with good animation, including:

“John Henry,”
“Lorenzo,”
“The Little Matchgirl,”
“How To Hook Up Your Home Theater,”
“Tick Tock Tale,”
“Prep & Landing: Operation Secret Santa,”
“The Ballad Of Nessie,”
“Tangled Ever After,”
“Paperman,”
“Get A Horse!”
“Feast,”
“Frozen Fever” which even the kids thought was kind of weird. Adorable animated snot monsters? Sure, why not.

“Feast,” which premiered before Big Hero 6, is just wonderful, especially if you have a dog. Very beautifully rendered, sweet, deft, and funny. Also, I appreciate the fact that Pixar consistently says, “Psst, babies don’t actually ruin everything!”  (It’s not about kids, it’s about a dog (well, really it’s about love, like all Pixar films); but it shows a happy family as the natural progress of love.)

We have a bunch of pukey kids at home, and these are keeping them happy, but they are skipping past the little introductions before each short.

For Halloween, the little kids watched Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, which features actual Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney, Jr.  Benny, 3, was almost overcome with terror; the rest of us watched with one eyeball and let the other eyeball rest. This movie is a bit of a puzzle for us, as my husband and I are both convinced that we only show it to the kids because the other one desires it. I don’t even like Abbott and Costello, so I guess that settles that. Why would you watch Abbott and Costello instead of the Three Stooges? Other than Lon Chaney, Jr.?

The older kids were too worn out to deal with the scary DVD we rented, Diabolique, so we watched Army of Darkness again.  Still funny. But the next day we went to Mass and I told my son I was going to write the grandparents’ names in the Book of the Dead, “UM, I mean ‘Book of the Deceased.’”

This is the kind of thing that gets us quietly taken off the LifeTeen email tree.*

*Not really. They are very  nice.

 

I’m listening to …

a bunch o’ Sibelius, because it’s his birthday, and I’ve had just about enough. I do like singing hymns set to “Finlandia,” though, unless the words they choose are “This is my song.”

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;
but other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
and skies are everywhere as blue as mine:
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
a song of peace for their land and for mine.

And God is like, “That’s your song, eh? That’s your song? Check yo’ Unitarian privilege, mah people!”

What, are you saying God is racist? That’s just weird.

I’m reading, I’m watching, I’m listening to . . .

I’m reading . . . 

Havana Bay by Martin Cruz Smith.  

havana bay

Fourth in the Arkady Renko series that began with the brilliant Gorky Park, about which I said this:

Maybe because it was so popular when it came out, or maybe because the author’s name is so snazzy, I somehow assumed that it was a trashy beach book, or some kind of dated, two-bit thriller.  Boy, was I wrong.  This is the real deal — real literature, a genuinely great novel.  Almost Dostoevskian at times.

The characters are so real.  Their sorrows and loves are so real.  The places are so real.  My memories of passages I read are as strong as memories of places I’ve actually, physically visited.  The plot is insanely complicated, but it’s never outside the realm of what might, actually possibly happen to someone who is as unlucky, as talented, as driven, and as flawed, and as Russian as Moscow homicide investigator Arkady Renko.

Havana Bay is not quite on the same level as Gorky Park (so far Polar Star comes closest. I can’t remember the last time I felt so cold while reading a book), and I don’t think I’m just imagining it when the plot feels a little wobbly; but it’s still good writing. I came across this passage last night:

Bugai had kept retreating and Arkady had kept advancing until he stepped on a pencil that broke with a sharp crack. The vice consul jumped and looked not as cool as a jellyfish anymore, more like an egg yolk at the sight of a fork. His nervousness reminded Arkady that he had killed a man; whether in self-defense or not, killing someone was a violent act and not likely to attract new friends.

This tone of melanchony wiseassery is pretty typical. Love that: like an egg yolk at the sight of a fork. Ha.

***

I’m watching . . . 

The IT Crowd. If you don’t like very broad British comedy, then avert your eyes. It’s a spoof of the nerdliest nerds navigating office life and trying to have a social life.Northanger Abbey it ain’t. There is a lot of naughty language, poo jokes, sex  jokes, screaming, etc. Just funny enough, sometimes hilarious. Honestly, it’s not something I’d sit and watch avidly, but it’s pretty good for when you’re blitzed and just want something making amusing noises while you sip your glass of Chateau de There There, The Kids Are In Bed Now. And I kind of love the opening credits:

Bonus: Roy, the tall Irish doofus, also does the voice of the narrator for Puffin Rock. It’s a comforting brown corduroy kind of voice, just right.

***

I’m listening to . . .

Son Little’s self-titled new album, which my dear husband bought for me as a surprise. I’m listening to it now.

Here’s “Lay Down,” which I could listen to on a loop all day (video is PG):

On the label’s website, it says, “For Son Little, studio time is a joy, where every good idea leads to four more.”
I’ve mentioned Son Little before. The many-layered production of these songs is a delight, but the real pleasure is in his voice, where there is both brass and velvet and deep dark earth. Best new music I’ve heard in years and years.

I’m reading, I’m watching, I’m listening to …

I’m reading . . .

A Case of Conscience by James Blish (1958).

case-of-conscience

It turns out that the bland title has prevented anyone else in my house from picking this book up, and they had no idea it’s a Catholic science fiction adventure novel about a biochemist Jesuit who is on an alien planet collecting information about a society of super intelligent lizard-like creatures who do not sin and who have no apparent need for God, and what do we think about that? In his down time, he works on solving an arcane ethical dilemma posited in Finnegan’s Wake.

Confronted with a profound scientific riddle and ethical quandary, Father Ruiz-Sanchez soon finds himself torn between the teachings of his faith, the teachings of his science, and the inner promptings of his humanity. There is only one solution: He must accept an ancient and unforgivable heresy–and risk the futures of both worlds . . .

Crazy, man. I’ve read this book before, but thanks to my Swiss cheese memory, I have no idea how it ends. The writing is snappy and entertaining. Recommended so far, for a bright middle schooler or high schooler on up.

***

I’m watching . . . 

Puffin Rock, which premiered in January of this year. Everyone should be watching Puffin Rock. It’s on Netflix streaming, and it will help you remember that it’s a good world, really.

Sweet as can be. I don’t even mind when the song gets stuck in my head. Made by the same people who made “The Secret of Kells” and “Song of the Sea.”

***

I’m listening to . . .

the irreplaceable Jean Redpath. Here she is singing “Lady Mary Anne”

just in case you wanted to cry about stuff.

***

How about you? Share your micro-reviews here!

 

Worth Watching Again: The Edge

The great part of this deft, brisk movie is that you can totally ignore these existential themes of being lost and being found, having direction and having a reason to live, and just watch it because it’s tense and exciting and has a really scary bear in it.

Read the rest of my review of the 1997 film The Edge at the Register.

The lady was sad, and MAD. (We showed the kids an opera!)

don giovanni

My kids’ experience with opera comes entirely from Bugs Bunny, and we really wanted them to branch out. So, with great trepidation, we showed them Don Giovanni last weekend … and they loved  it. More or less.

We did it in two nights. The first night, I set out some trays heaped with treats in the living room. We had brie, havarti, and honey goat cheese and three kinds of crackers, red and green grapes, mini chocolate eclairs, and sparkling cider. So the kids were all excited and cheerful, and ready to have a fancy good time. For my kids, this step is essential. If they get any whiff of high art or culture, they turn into jerks and refuse to enjoy themselves, so they need to be softened up. This is okay with me, because I, too, enjoy cheese.

We went with the Metropolitan Opera’s 2000 production with set design by Franco Zeffirelli. This production has large, clear subtitles, and all the literate kids followed the action just fine. (And the story doesn’t waste any time, but leaps right in, which is one of the reasons I chose this opera.)

The amazing thing was that Benny (age 3) picked up an awful lot, too, and was engaged throughout. She could tell that DonjiManji was one bad dude. She called all the women “princesses” (score one for the wonderful costumes, which were everything opera costumes should be) and said that Donna Elivra was “sad, and mad.” When Don Ottavio was pestering Donna Anna for the umpteenth time, she remarked, “The princess wants him to shut up.”

They laughed at the funny parts (Ferruccio Furlanetto as Leperello did a great job of making all the subtler jokes obvious with gestures and smirks) and were aghast at Don Giovanni’s wickedness.

The NYT review said that Bryn Terfel

comes to the Don with his own powerful if somewhat repugnant point of view. If the production is about period elegance, the character itself achieves a modern mean-spiritedness. Endearing naughtiness is replaced with outright sadism. This is a coldly obsessive figure for whom rape and murder is not offhand but committed with pleasure.

Well, that is the role. I don’t see how the rest of the opera makes any sense if the Don is just endearingly naughty; and his sneering callousness helped the kids to see why (spoiler) Don Giovanni goes to Hell but Leperello gets off the hook. Terfel’s power and command were sufficient to explain why the women found him hard to resist, and, as the NYT says,

this not very nice man sings like an angel. The articulation was wonderful, and Mr. Terfel commands such a depth of color that his ”La ci darem la mano” could soar out into the hall even at half voice. Volume does not necessarily conquer the Met’s bigness. Quality and focus have a better chance.

The entire cast had that focus, and no one seemed dwarfed. Here’s the rest of the cast:

Bryn Terfel (Don Giovanni), Ferruccio Furlanetto (Leporello), Renee Fleming (Donna Anna), Solveig Kringelborn (Donna Elvira), Hei-Kyung Hong (Zerlina), Paul Groves (Don Ottavio), Sergei Koptchak (Commendatore) and John Relyea (Masetto). James Levine was conductor.

Renee Fleming was tremendous. I think a few of the kids were crying when she wept, “O padre mio!” The NYT:

Fleming’s Donna Anna had unusual breadth. ”Non mi dir” luxuriated in the softness of her timbre, yet the early scenes abandoned beauty for its own sake and took on a wonderful fierceness. She is in both moods a splendid musician; the attention to rhythm, phrase length and pitch legitimized the emotion.

Quite right about the two moods. She showed real depth. Her character is naturally more interesting than Don Ottavio’s anyway, but I was really struck, in this production, by how unworthy he is of her! And what a pest, good heavens. I think if she broke a toe or won the Nobel prize for phsyics, he’d scoot over and explain that this was the perfect time for her to get over her grief and marry him.  Anyway, she was immensely present in the role, and plus, she is just so beautiful.

Solveig Kringelborn as Donna Elivira was a revelation to me. I’ve heard this role mainly played as straight up crazy bitch; but Kringelborn brought out some real pathos and humor, and avoided sounding screamy in a role that has a lot of high notes. I enjoyed every minute of her performance, and the kids loved her.

Zerlina, I was not so crazy about, and the kids had a hard time with her character. I’ve seen her played more winningly.  Her voice was crystalline and her diction was perfect, but there was no appeal in her stage presence, that I could see. It would have been fine as an audio performance, but I wouldn’t seek out Hei-Kyung Hong out for this stage role again.

Masetto did fine. Paul Groves as Don Ottavio was nicely stolid and useless, and his voice was as lovely as you could wish for his lovely arias. Don Ottavio is not actually allowed to breathe at any point, and Groves did not. The Commendatore was nice and creepy. I totally would have repented if it had been me holding that cold hand!

assuming I was still awake by the time the Commendatore showed up again

assuming I was still awake by the time the Commendatore showed up

We rented this two-disc set through Netflix, which has several Don Giovannis available. You can buy the DVD set on Amazon, or you can rent it directly from the Met for $3.99.

Very sensitive audiences will be upset with the scariness of the final scene, and with Don Giovanni’s handsiness, but it is an opera about rape and damnation, so. There was nothing so explicit that we found it off-bounds for the kids.

Next up: not sure! I think Mozart is great for kids: the emotion is so evident, and he doesn’t waste any time. Maybe The Barber of Seville.I’m sadly ignorant about Italian opera, and I’d like to remedy that. What would you suggest?

Roald Dahl > John Steinbeck (up to a point)

roald dahl portrait

Today was Roald Dahl Day. You’ve probably read all the famous books by him —James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches (which is seriously disturbing), The BFG, The Twits. I loved them all when I was a kid, and I’m more or less happy to see my kids enjoying them; but as an adult re-reading them, the constant drumbeat of “challenge authority” is worrisome.

If you read Dahl’s autobiography of his childhood, Boy, it’s obvious why he wrote his children’s books the way he did: the adults in his life were massively cruel and masochistic to him and the thousands of defenseless school boys who were churned through the barbaric British school system. The message of rebellion and retribution he works out in his stories is fine in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, when only really wicked people lose, and they’ll all come out in the wash anyway; it’s a little upsetting in Matilda, when the heroine is nakedly contemptuous of her (admittedly contemptible) parents; and it’s even less fine in Danny, the Champion of the Worldwhen the immensely appealing hero father can poach game simply because the rich man is deemed unworthy of his riches.

Still, his books are good — great, even. Some of the short stories in The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More are stunning. But my current favorite is Going Solo, the second part of his autobiography. I happened to read it at the same time as I was reading John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley: In Search of America. (You’ll have to pardon me: I don’t have either book in front of me at the moment, so I won’t be quoting any passages!)

Steinbeck is, of course, a master novelist and short story writer; but when he’s his own main character, it’s just about unbearable. Oh man, starting on page one, it’s just him licking his own paws adoringly like a narcissistic kitten, purring a little tune of self-admiration into the mirror as he thinks about how tough and gritty and honest and wise he is.  I couldn’t even finish it. So false, so preening, so stilted. Turns out it was all fake, anyway. Well, it sounded fake.

Dahl’s story of his own exploits is just the opposite. He survives and even makes good in the most ridiculous, bizarre misadventures, but he makes it clear that he’s just this guy, you know? As he writes, he’s clearly still angry at the RAF for sending him and his friends out into the sky with almost no training. He’s still a bit embarrassed by his failures. And he writes with stunning immediacy, making you seehearfeeltouchtaste the desert, the sky, the food, the boredom, the fear, the ridiculousness of it all.

To sum up:

Recommended: Going Solo
Disrecommended: Travels with Charley: In Search of My Own Magnificent Ass with Both Hands: Read It If You Can (But You Can’t Because It Sucks)

Happy Roald Dahl Day!

***

7 video games, reviewed by my kids

Hey, who wants to talk about SOMETHING ELSE?

How about vidya games? My kids play games on the Wii, PS2, and occasionally the iPad and PC. We have tons of the Lego Wii games, and they were all the rage at our house for a few years. These are cute, clever, and not too noisy or violent (people just turn back into separate pieces when they get killed). Have’t found a bad one yet.

Here are some of my kids’ other current favorite games. I asked them to give a quick description, plus their favorite and least favorite aspects of the game. Then I added my take, as someone who doesn’t especially like video games, who worries about bad influences on the kids, but who isn’t especially restrictive. We don’t have any particular interest in very violent, scary, or gross games like Resident Evil or Call of Duty. Bracketed comments are mine.

 

1. Õkami 

okami 2

 

17-year-old girl says:
It’s a Zelda-type action adventure, but everything looks like a Japanese sumi-e painting. You are Amaterasu, the sun goddess, incarnated as a white wolf, and you use celestial brush techniques to paint symbols. You draw symbols in the air to manipulate the world around you — like, you draw a swirly thing to summon a gust of wind. You can fill in gaps in bridges, trail fire from a torch to a pile of brushwood, stuff like that. The goal is to save Japan from evil spirits, which, you know. [I don’t actually know.]

Best part: The best part is that it’s a serious, hard-core adventure game that also rewards you for feeding animals and caring for plants. You collect praise points for helping to restore nature, or helping people, or just being nice, like feeding a kitten. That’s not the main point of the game, but I like that it’s this elaborate adventure, and you get points for being nice to kitties.

Worst part: I hate the sidekick. I want to kill him and I want him to shut up.

My take: Looks weird and gorgeous. I don’t mind having this one in the house at all.

 

2. Sly Cooper series for Playstation

 

sly cooper

11-year-old boy says:
It’s about a raccoon thief who beats people up and steals stuff, but he’s a good guy. Sort of. In the first one, he’s trying to steal back his family’s guide for how to be a sneaky thief.

Best thing about it: The graphics are great. The characters are very well thought out, and there is good voice acting, except for when they’re supposed to be surprised.

Something I don’t like: it’s kind of annoying that Sly always smiles, even when he falls off a cliff and dies.

My take: The voices are really obnoxious, and the few female characters strike me as unnecessarily sultry.  I would just as soon see these games go away, but both boys (the other one is 13) love these three game to pieces, so there must be something there. The fighting isn’t too graphic. It’s fairly flashy and the sound effects are kind of grating.

 

3. Just Dance 2

 

just dance 2

9-year-old girl says:
It’s a game where you pick a song to dance to, and you can earn points by dancing like they are dancing on the screen

Best thing about it: I’m not too good at games where you have to fix up a problem, and I’m pretty good at games where you just follow the moves of what is on the screen. It’s a good, easy game for all ages.

Something I don’t like: It doesn’t have Taylor Swift. Some of the dance moves areinapwo-pwo, and we have to skip some of the songs, like “Toxic,” “That’s Not My Name,” and a few others, because they’re sassy and weird and dumb, and sometimes the dances are just inappropriate.

My take: Silly, active fun, except for that one kid who discovered that you can get a perfect score while sitting in a chair and moving your wrist around. Great for an ice breaker at parties, because it gets you moving but everyone is looking at the screen, not at you. Most of the songs are just goofy; a few are too sexy (lyrics and dance moves), so we just skip those. (I actually prefer having the kids get used to the idea that you have to pick and choose and say “no” to some things and “yes” to others, rather than just flat-out forbidding anything that might be, well, inapwopwo, because eventually they’re going to have to tell themselves how to spend their time.)

4. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (link is for the WiiU version)

legend of zelda wind waker

15-year-old girl says:
It’s made for Gamecube, so if you’re using the Wii, you have to use a Gamecube controller instead of a Wii remote. You also need a memory stick for the Wii. There is also an HD version for the Wii U.

It’s an adventure game and a puzzle game, and you have to defeat puzzles and dungeons and bosses, to get different items.  The point of the game is to defeat Gannandorf, the evil bad guy, and save Hyrule and your sister, and make your grandma proud of you.

Best part: It’s an exciting game, but the graphics are absolutely adorable, and the characters are all really funny. I like the Snot Kid, and the way all the characters look.

Something I don’t like: It’s set in a sea, and it takes a while to get from island to island, and you get lost really easily.

My take: I honestly don’t get what the big deal is about all this Zelda stuff, but it doesn’t bother me. A few of the videos are quite pretty. The music isn’t too loud or annoying, and it’s not one of those awful frenetic games. Just a lot of running and hopping, as far as I can see.

 

5. Epic Mickey

 

epic mickey 1

 

15-year-old girl says:
It’s a sort of dark twist on forgotten old Disney cartoons, but in a cool way –  not a stupid emo hipster kind of thing. [You know. Stupid emo hipster.] You play as Mickey, and get sucked into a world called “Wasteland,” where all forgotten cartoon characters live, and you have to defeat the Mad Doctor and the Blot Creature. You have the power of ink and thinner so you can paint and erase things to your advantage.

Best part: It’s kind of dark and scary at times. It’s got this great morality thing, and sometimes you have a choice of helping a gremlin or getting money, and if you help, you get even more money, or a reward, and you also get the gremlin’s reward later in the game, so it’s got that going for it. It’s not a serious gamer game, but it’s still fun.

Don’t like: It encourages you to use paint more than thinner when defeating bosses, but it’s really difficult. It’s just frustrating.

 My take: She’s not kidding about dark twist! Some parts of this game scare the three-year-old. I hear a lot of frustration when they are playing this game, so it’s best for kids who are persistent. Graphics are super detailed and imaginative and have a lot of depth, and it’s fun for the kids to spot obscure cartoon characters.

6. Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb

 

indiana jones emperors tomb

14-year-old girl says:
It’s an action adventure game in the style of the Tomb Raider series, but it’s Indiana Jones. The goal is to get an artifact from the tomb of an emperor, but it’s really convoluted. (We have the PS2 and Windows versions. Apparently this game is “backwards compatible, which means that if you have a PS3 or 4, you can play this PS2 on it.)

What I like: Nice detailed graphics, and the combat is a lot of fun except for when you blow yourself right after Indy says, “Hope I don’t blow myself up.” It has good voice overs. You have to solve puzzles and beat up Nazis.

Don’t like: This is pretty much the only game I’ve played besides all the Lego games. I would make a setting for people who have never played video games before so it’s for them. [There is an easy mode. She may not be aware of this.]

My take: Meh, I’m not crazy about this one, but they’ve been playing it for years now, and no one has turned into a felon yet. My husband likes it.There is so, so much punching, but it’s not bloody or anything, and it seems like it takes a long time to beat all the levels, so that’s a plus. We have picked up a lot of family catch phrases from this game. The voice really does sound like Harrison Ford, and I get to wow the kids by putting my high school German to use (“The American! Kill him!”).

7. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

zelda twilight princess

17-year-old girl says:
It’s my all time favorite game. It’s my first ever Zelda game, and you always think the first Zelda game you play is the best one. But objectively, I firmly believe it is the best one in the series. The main plot is that you’re trying to rescue Hyrule from this evil, alternate dimension that is trying to turn everyone into ghosts. It’s a very Japanese game.

Best part: It creates such an elaborate world, you can really get lost with everything you can interact with. It has a great plot and great characters. There’s one scene where one of the characters is dying and you have to bring her to the castle, and it’s the most concerned I’ve ever felt about a character. You get really emotionally involved. Also, it’s just gorgeous and the game play is crazy. It really feels like you’re doing these things. It makes me feel cool. Link does things I could never do. He has all these crazy abilities. That sounds lame, but that’s what they’re trying to do: get you immersed in rhe game.

Don’t like: Uh, I thought I mentioned that this has no flaws whatsoever? Probably the best cel shaded game I’ve ever seen, kind of crazy gorgeous, and so creepy sometimes. It sets you up, introduces you to this world to make you feel secure, and then changes the world suddenly. It really throws you off your balance. It has this innocent fairy tale vibe, and then really strange, creepy things happen.It has some really dark elements to it. The creepiest thing is when it kind of changes the rules on you, and shows you things that don’t belong. Unsettling in the best way.

My take: Take it easy, weirdo.

Worth another look: Joe Versus the Volcano

joe vs volcano

“Dear god, whose name I do not know, Thank you for my life. I forgot… how BIG… thank you. Thank you for my life.”

The scene works because it shows so nicely how change of heart really comes about in our lives: not always in the clearly-defined moments of choice, but in the middle of the night, when we see with our hearts what the world is really like.

Read the rest at the Register.  **** movie still from Warner Brothers and Amblin Entertainment

Hollywood is Lady Tremaine: Why I love Branagh’s Cinderella

cinderella 2

Saw it, liked it!

I agree with just about everything Steve Greydanus says here. I do think the movie would be judged a bit more critically if it had been made in any other decade. Since it dropped out of the blue into hypercynical 2015, it’s notable mostly for what it refuses to do: it refuses to reimagine, to be sassy, to be in your face, or jarring, or ironic, or myth-busting. It is, in short, a work of mercy offered for an audience who just wants, for once, to hear a story.

It’s not flawless. The dialogue is lackluster: the Captain (Nonso Anozie), resplendent in a brocaded tricorn and silky knee breeches, says to the prince, “We better get a move on, your highness.” Klonk. But every other aspect of the movie is gratifyingly consistent with itself. The world of the movie is fully realized, and everyone involved in it sets out to do something very basic: to tell a pleasant story in an enjoyable way.

The overall look occasionally crosses the line from gorgeous to gaudy, and a few scenes fairly bulge off the screen with sparkles and butterflies, topiary and gilt. But mostly, it just bathes your eyes in sweetness and splendor, because human beings still like that kind of thing. I am grateful to the ten million yards of satin who valiantly gave their lives for this lush spectacle.

The casting was impeccable. Cate Blanchet as the stepmother, Lady Tremaine, is chic, bloodless, and cruel, and she delivers one of the movie’s two memorable lines. As the prince’s retinue is at the door of their house, Cinderella realizes that her stepmother knows she is the chosen one. Her own daughters have no hope of catching the prince, but the stepmother smashes the glass slipper to destroy Cinderella’s chances anyway, just out of pure spite. After years of quiet endurance and attempts to be kind, Cinderella finally challenges her, and cries out, “Why are you so cruel?” The stepmother replies, “Because you are young, and innocent, and good, and I–”  And they understand each other perfectly, for a moment. The stepmother has suffered, too. If her response to suffering has been precisely the wrong one, at least there is a reason for it.

I couldn’t help but think that Lady Tremaine is the embodiment of Hollywood right now. “What have we ever done to you, but buy movie tickets and DVDs and $4 boxes of Whoppers?” the audience cries out. “Why do you keep serving up these crappy, unpleasant, revisionist nightmares?”  And Hollywood replies, “It’s because all you want is a simple, decent story, whereas we–” We, what? We, the movie industry, are a desperate, bloodless widow, still beautiful, but long past the hope of ever being in love again. And we need to take it out on someone.

Well, maybe I’m over thinking it. The second line that caught my ear was spoken by the gawky lizard footman (and the magical coach transformation scenes are some of the best in the movie. This is how to use CGI to show impossible things in a believably earthy way). On the way to the palace, Cinderella admits,”I’m frightened, Mr. Lizard. I’m only a girl, not a princess,” and the footman responds, “And I’m only a lizard, not a footman. Enjoy it while it lasts!”

Good advice! The movie is not a profound existential response about modernity and the legitimacy of the patriarchy. It’s just a pretty movie that wants you to enjoy it while it lasts. So that is what we did.

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Related: Monique Ocampo compares the animated Disney film with the 2015 live action film

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Cinderella 2015 movie poster via IMDB

First Things likes The Sinner’s Guide to NFP!

sgnfp stack

Reviewer Christine Emba says in First Things:

What especially recommends The Sinner’s Guide to a broader ­audience is Fisher’s ability to use NFP as a starting point to engage with the larger and more universal questions facing anyone attempting to live out a Christian life day to day. What is prudence? How does one persevere in adversity? What does charity actually look like in relationships, and in daily life? As Fisher asks, “Does God just hate women, or what?” The question “Is it the right time to conceive” gives way to a plainspoken yet illuminating discourse on the phrase “God’s will.” A chapter entitled “Groping Toward Chastity” helps define the oft-misunderstood word in terms relevant to any reader—single or married.

Read the rest of “Marriage with Benefits” here. This review makes me realize how desperately I was longing for someone to describe it as “this slim volume.” I feel so happy.

You can order SGNFP in paperback directly from Our Sunday Visitor or from Amazon. Also available: the ebook for Kindle or Nook, and the audiobook, read croakily by yours twooly. And looky, it has 230 reviews, with an average of 4.9 out of five stars!