Monday, September 28, 2009

Periodic Table and the Freedom of Homeschooling

Today my little guy, who is not so little anymore, was introduced to the Periodic Table.
This little guy loves to write graphic novels. So what does he do with the elements? He makes them into characters.

Right now he's wondering which element would be the bad guy. Any thoughts?

He's got molecule characters as well. When he found out what happens when you mix elemental Sodium (Na) and Water (H2O) he was thrilled (don't do this at home... Na and Water make fire). After all, a graphic novel needs some action, and mixing Sodium and Water ought to provide some heated action for the story.:)

Oughtn't I have this child fill out worksheets on the elements, or fill in a blank periodic table?

Nope. He'll learn much more by playing. Children learn by play. Yes, we'll do more from the book on Atoms and Molecules, but right now he's drawing and I bet learning far more about chemical properties than he would from any worksheet.

I love Homeschooling.

And this leads me to a book I found displayed at the Library this week: Lucy Frank's "The Homeschool Liberation League."

It's a novel for girls about 13 or 14, and it reads like one. It has angst, some parental conflict, boys, crushes, even a kiss. Typical Jr. High popcorn literature... except, this girl wants to be homeschooled. Even more than that, she wants to be unschooled.

The reactions of all involved, from the principal to the parents read very 'true' to me. Whoever Lucy Frank is (I've not googled her yet) she KNOWS this process. The kids are real kids, not stereotypical homeschoolers. She makes, just by telling a story, a powerful argument for the benefits of learning from life around you.

I'm not going to recommend the book yet-- I'm only halfway through. But so far I'm liking what I read.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Looking UP

I've not been in the Blog World for almost a year now. Hopefully I'll get back in the swing of things.

Today the family went to the movies, which is a fairly rare occurrence. This is the first summer in a long time in which there are a number of movies out I want to see.

Today we saw Pixar's new flick, "Up".

I'm not really sure what to say about it, except GO SEE IT. It's worth it.

It's not a children's movie, although children will enjoy it. It is an adult's film. Even an older adult's film. It's a film about hope and life and enduring love.

It's funny and sad and beautiful. And it has a way cool dog.

This might well be the best of Pixar so far.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Why "Prince Caspian" failed

I went to this movie with higher hopes than the last ... I didn't care for Andrew Adamson's version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I know the guy CAN tell a story (I loved Shrek). But he doesn't seem to be able to tell THESE stories.

TLWW didn't come together well, even though it had some good parts.

I felt the same about Prince Caspian, but this one was worse... because parts were so much better. It had a cast that ranged from adequate to excellent, glimmers of good focus, and some of the changes made to the story, in order to help focus and condense it, were good choices and good changes.

Why didn't it work, then?

Well, before I go on about what didn't work, let me say what did.

1) Peter Dinklage as Trumpkin. Perfect. I like this actor anyway, and he was excellent as Trumpkin. Too bad we didn't get to see much of him. Too bad the developing relationship between Trumpkin and the children/kings/queens was not explored. I guess when you only have 2.5 hours you have to cut things like that if you want lots of way-kewl flying animal battle sequences. Wait... I said I'd save the bad for later, and focus on the good... :: cough :: ... let me get back to the good...

2) Eddy Izzard as Reepicheep. Perfectly done, perfectly cast, great interpretation of Reepicheep.

Both Trumpkin and Reepicheep looked and sounded different than what played in my mind as I read the books as a child... they were better. I never could figure out how a mouse could be a threat... now I can.

3) Warwick Davis as Nikabrik. I also wish we'd seen more of him... I'd have liked to have seen him and Trumpkin interact just a bit more. Davis played a great villain... too bad the film didn't relate to us why Nikabrik turned dark... his feeling of despair and abandonment... that led him to the place where he's trying to raise the white witch... Davis did such a good job with the little he had, I'd have loved to have seen him tackle that. The book got it across... the movie did not. er.. there I go again.. back to the good...

4) The Telmarines. I figured out what happens to the Telmarines after they go back to our world. They become UPS drivers. You know how I can tell?
It's a known fact to most American women, that there is no such thing as a bad looking UPS driver. Those guys are always good looking.
So are Telmarines. Wow... those might have been the bad guys, but they can come conquer my town anytime they want.

Miraz was a delightful villain... and his role was fleshed out some so that you could see him for the tyrant he was... that part worked. I also liked that the Telmarines were Spanish in look and sound and culture. Clearly human, but distinct from the "British" Narnians.

Now... to the changes made to the book...
first let me say Prince Caspian is my least favorite Narnia book. Maybe thats why I didn't mind the changes as much as some might. I thought condensing Caspian's story, having him blow Susan's horn earlier, having Trumpkin be captured at the same time... all served to get the characters where they needed to be, but dispensed with the 'story within the story' that we had in the book.

All of this is all good... why then, did the movie fail?

1) The Faramir Affect. Anyone who has read Lord of the Rings is familiar with Faramir, a man strong and noble, who experienced the pain of a father who rejected him, yet did not lose his own moral compass in the process. The guy was "together".
In Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings, the writers figured such a character would not do. So they changed him. Instead of a strong, noble, character... we got a wuss with daddy issues.

Why is it that modern filmmakers seem to find it easier to make the villains strong with an element of honor... and yet can't write the heros in a similar fashion? Why are the heros weak, tortured, and traumatized? Why do heros always have ISSUES? Are people unable to tell a story without neutering all the heros? Without making them so much LESS?

Sure, there is a place for that sort of character... and one can show a journey from wuss to hero... but just as Faramir was not the character to 'lessen' in that fashion in the LOTR films... Peter and Caspian were not characters to so cheapen in this movie.

Caspian was reduced to hot hearthrob, who wants his throne and wants to kill the six fingered man who killed his father (several folks in the theater said alound, when Caspian faced Miraz: "You killed my father... prepare to die!" In the Princess Bride Inigo Montoya was a charicature.. he was comic... he was a parody... and it worked well. In Prince no.)

and Peter... oy. Peter was a whiny kid with power issues. I wanted to smack him. I think Trumpkin did, too. And I'd have cheered if Trumpkin had done it.

HOWEVER... these characterizations could have worked... if the film had managed to get hold of a few themes they toyed with, but never managed to grasp.

which leads me to
2) Poor storytelling, and loss of the theme/focus.
It seems to me the scriptwriters were trying to build the movie around one key scene... Lucy seeing Aslan, and the others not believing her. Peter was trying to do good in his own way... which is a sure way to fail, with evil results. IF the movie had suceeded in focusing on this theme, and building the story around it... the weaker Peter would have made sense.

But the scene where Lucy sees Aslan was so short, and no time was given to the character's reactions. This was the section of the movie where Adamson needed to stop, tell carefully, focus. He did not.

We needed to see that Trumpkin did not believe in Aslan... but in worldly help. We needed to see the film Peter have a similar mentality to Trumpkin... though he believed in Aslan, he wanted to succeed on his own.. he felt alone, abandoned, and responsible in his aloneness. And Edmund... we needed to see Edmund voting to go with Lucy... that was a key scene in the books that showed how Edmund had changed... the scene in the book would have gotten all this across, but it would have taken a little more time to tell (not much). Then we would have seen the characters for who they were... and this character development was absolutely NEEDED.

If they'd spent time with this, though, they couldn't have focused on the kewl floating tree lady scene Lucy had. Well, I guess they could have.. but again, they sacrificed story and character development for the sake of special fx.

I believe that Adamson was trying to tell a story of the wrong that happened when the characters did not trust in Aslan... I believe he was trying to build around that theme. In part I believe this due to how the film ended... we got the scene with Trumpkin facing Aslan... almost as in the book... but this time it made little sense because we'd not been allowed to see who Trumpkin was earlier... we didn't hear about his doubts... we were not permitted enough time to know and understand the character.. so the later scenes made no sense.

Likewise when the children were leaving... we had tearful goodbyes... but since we'd not been allowed to see the characters for who they were... to see their relationships developing.. it meant nothing. It was hollow.

But gosh, there were kewl fx.

What we had was a story that could have been told well... that had elements that were excellent... but Adamson was not the man to tell this story. He did not put the excellent elements together in a way that made sense. The man can do some individual scenes. He does good battle sequences. But seems to have lost the ability to tell a story... or at least, he's the wrong one to tell THIS story.

Here's hoping the next movie has a different director, and trusts in the story and characters more than the special effects. Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a story of conversion... true change in character... it's Eustace's story... and unless it's put in the hands of someone who can develop character, and give the characters rather than the fx the main focus... it will also fail.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Horton hears a Who, the movie

I took the little guy (he's not so little anymore) to the movies the other day. We were trying to decide between the only available kid friendly (?) movies, Nim's Island or Horton Hears a Who. We went with the latter.

I've come to a couple of conclusions.

1) Jim Carey usually plays Jim Carey.
My two middle daughters loved the "The Series of Unfortunate Events" books, but felt the movie was marred by the fact Jim Carey played Count Olaf not as Count Olaf, but as Jim Carey.

Horton suffers a little from this as well.

2) Dr. Seuss books make very nice 30 minute TV specials. Stretching them to an hour and a half is... well.. a stretch.

Nice parts:

The son and I both chuckled at Horton's Anime fantasy segment. No, you are not having a memory lapse. That sure WAS NOT in the book... but it was cute.

The Mayor of Whoville was delightful. This book character was fleshed out so much for the film, I'd say he was 'invented' by the team who did this movie. Steve Carrell did a wonderful job with this role. His son Jo Jo reminded me a bit of my youngest teen. This added story of the Mayor and his son was one part where the 'fleshing out' of the book worked very well. It was sweet.

The team from Ice Age who animated also did a wonderful job. Whoville was spectacular and very Seussish. The Whimsy in the Animation saved the movie. Loved Vlad the Vulture, Vlad the Bunny, and a few of the other minor characters added to the story.

Note for homeschoolers: There is a jab at homeschoolers in the movie. Sour Kangaroo wants to protect her child from evil things like Imagination, so she "Pouch Schools" her kid... and the kid breaks away from the oppressive parent at the end.

I couldn't really take offense to this, though. Sour Kangaroo seemed much more from the NEA than from any homeschool group I know. And Horton's "lessons" with the kids (he had some sort of teacherish role) early on was much more like a day in a homeschool than a day in a classroom.

I had a brief flashback to college, when a guy I was dating heard the Billy Joel anti-Catholic song "Only the Good Die Young." The boyfriend said, "that song is so true."

I said "Am I like that?"

He said "No."

I asked if another friend of ours, a religious Catholic, was like that. He said, "No."

I then asked if the crew from our Newman Center was like that. He paused, then said "Um.. No."

I asked if he knew any Catholics like that.

More silence. Followed by "Um.. No."

Actions speak louder than songs, or lines in a movie.

Overall, I'd give Horton a C+. Great animation, whimsy, and the wonderful line "A person's a person no matter how small."

That covers a multitude of silly filler.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Only in America....

Just watched the Pope touch down in D.C.

What hooting and hollering from the crowd! I loved it.
They all burst into "Happy Birthday" at one point.
Quite impressed that Bush went out to meet him.

Years ago I sat at Pope John Paul II's Mass, shortly after he was elected. Awesome experience.
One of my children was at an audience with Benedict, and another is going down to DC tomorrow.

It's cool to be Catholic. This is our Papa, and he's one of the good guys.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Taking a walk

Today my little guy and I took a walk. It's getting to be springtime here. Flowers are poking their heads up, trees are just beginning to blossom. Robins are all over the place, getting their nests ready.

How important walks are! I think my eldest and I learned more going on "nature walks" (even if all we saw were sparrows and ants) than we learned from any book.

There are always worksheets to do, and numbers to be tallied, and tests to be taken. They are all so much the same, and all so easily forgotten.

But the walks, we remember.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Harry Potter, again

I was thinking about the Potter series today, and the Christian themes within it. I was thinking of the way ordered, and disordered love was portrayed. How refreshing it was to read a book where families were cherished, and a large family which put children ahead of "things" was heroic. Where young people fell in love, got married, and had children. This love led to life, even though it sometimes required great sacrifice, even the ultimate sacrifice.

And we had some great examples of disordered love, and the tragedy it leads to. Some of the people involved were not evil, some greatly repented (Snape, for example), but the disordered love led to death.

There are few books where this is so clearly illustrated. It's in the natural fabric of the story. It's not preached. It just IS.

And that's a good thing.

Then tonight, I clicked on Sean Daily's "The Blue Boar" blog and found this:

Many of us Christians really have missed the mark on the Potter books, and that is a shame on many levels.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Blessed Easter

He is Risen
He is Risen, Indeed.

A Blessed and Holy Easter to all.

We usually go to the Vigil Mass. I love the Vigil Mass, the lighting of the fire, the spreading of the Light through the darkness, overcoming it.

The first time I risked taking young children to the Vigil Mass, I was quite surprised. My then three year old said "It was the most beautifulest thing" she ever saw.

This year, however, duty called. And not the duty to attend Mass. A child is sick, and crying, and up coughing and sniffing, unable to sleep due to a totally clogged head and cough. So Dad went to the vigil, and Mom stayed home. It's daytime Mass for me tomorrow.

The little guy was very upset when he found out I'd probably keep him home from Church tomorrow. I said "I know, it's Easter."

He said, "And not only that, it's SUNDAY!"

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Cough that won't Quit

The past few weeks have seen the cough that wouldn't quit (and it's related symptoms) make it's way through the Smith household. This virus is nasty, and can easily move to pneumonia.
If it's come your way, don't mess with it... see a doctor! Most people get over it in about three weeks, but I know of two who have died of pneumonia complications, and another who landed herself in the hospital for three days with it. It's easy to think "it's just a bug, I don't want to be a wuss" but please, please, see a doctor if your cough does not go away in a few days, or especially if it's accompanied by chest pains of any sort.

I've still got two battling it, including the husband who is allergic to doctors (but sick enough now he's going to go). But I think we're through the worst!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Traditional Latin Mass, part two

I'm finding myself more and more drawn to the TLM. I still don't know when to sit, stand, or kneel (feeling somewhat as many protestants must feel on their first visit to a Catholic Mass, ordinary or extraordinary rite). I still am not quite sure which part the Priest is at... whenever I think I know a bell rings and I find I'm on the wrong page. But... but... there is something about it. Such a sense of awe and worship. It's wonderous.

And Mass is Mass... Christ offers himself, no matter the rite. But there is *something* about the Traditional Mass that really draws me.

And that surprises me. But each week I find myself going to the TLM.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Keep praying....

I'd ask you to continue to keep Mary (refered to in the Jan 20 entry) in your prayers. The devil is ticked off that she's choosing life, and she's getting trouble from almost every side. She continues to make great choices in the face of adversity. May she be surrounded by God's wonderful Grace, and may Our Lady of Lourdes pray for her!