Monday, August 31, 2009

The Fillmore

A few months ago, I was blessed with the opportunity to see a concert at the Fillmore in San Francisco. The venue is known for its small atmosphere, great bands, and excellent concert posters.

When you walk in, you are assaulted with incredible pieces of artwork, or at least they seem to be, in the form of concert posters. The entire building is covered in them as if some sort of wallpaper, except they are all framed. I could spend hours in there just gazing at all of the incredible bands that have graced their presence in this important venue. It's absolutely breathtaking not only to walk through here but to see a band perform here as well.

What I like about the venue, besides the decorations and interior designs, must be the small atmosphere. The venue has two floors, so you could either watch the band from the floor, which really isn't that crowded, or from the balcony where about five tables exist if you get there and set up early. Also, they if you want to stand on the floor, where we were situated, they have aisles cleared on each side so you can walk up and down from the front to the back. You don't have to push your way through; you just need to make it to the side where an aisle is literally patrolled by a worker (trust me, my friend was constantly being flashed with a flashlight to move her dancing self out of the way). It's also nice when places provide free water instead of charging way too much for it.

At the Fillmore, bands do two sets with an intermission. This is when we took advantage of the free water. When I went, we saw Railroad Earth and they were absolutely phenomenal. What most stuck with me was their violinist, and a female guest violinist who came on stage and jammed with him. They had a violin battle, as I like to call it, where they basically duelled with violins for who could play the best solo. I've never seen anything like it in my entire life. It blew my mind--they definitely left a good impression in my mind.

And, if the show sells out, everyone gets the poster advertised for free! We got one for Railroad Earth, which was absolutely sick. It got a little crumpled on its way back to New York, but I still think it's cool.

Anyway, below I would like to show some incredible posters from the Fillmore. I'm sure you've seen them before but maybe you haven't put the venue to the design. Check them out. And check out the bands!! What band of these would you like to have seen there?

So what do you think of the Fillmore?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Now, I'm cruising through these Harry Potter books for the first time, and I'm really quite enjoying them. I am fascinated by JK Rowling's ability to create a magical, fictional world with rules and characters and continuous plot development. It all makes sense and is extraordinarily interesting. I'm happy she's creating such a wonderful book series for adolescents and children!

I just finished the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and I was impressed. Her books seem to get better and better as the series continues, but this could be because she doesn't need to establish characters or history anymore. She can just pick up where they left off and use what she's already created. She obviously will throw in a new character or two in every book, like Mad Eye Moody, Rita Skeeter, Ludo Bagman, and the Crouch family. Understandable. I like that there are constant new characters and the old ones keep growing and changing.

I like that this book broke a little bit from the same formula that Rowling had been sticking to for the first three books: start trouble at the Dursleys, get rescued, go to school, discover a conflict including Harry Potter that he must figure out clues to defeat, play Quiddich, fight with Malfoy, fight "the boss" and win (with the help of others), and return to the Dursley's. Zzz after a while.

Thankfully, this book broke a LITTLE from that formula. They included the Quiddich World Cup and the Triwizard Tournament, two sporting events that broke the repetitiveness a bit. The book also started with a scene between Voldemort and Wormtail, which I thought was a better way to hook readers at the start of the book rather than always relying on Harry waking up at the Dursley's to their maltreatment. We got it. No surprose. Unfortunately, the fifth book starts off that way. It's just getting to me I guess! Spruce up the creativity!

The Goblet of Fire starts romance brewing as well. Cho is introduced, and Ron starts to have little bursts of I'm-a-boy-and-don't-know-how-to-show-or-understand-love with Hermione. There's a dance, and emotions run high. Even Hagrid has a love interest! Ooo baby. The other books can only bring more now that they're fifteen! Woa now.

The ending was pretty well done. I liked how Cedric and Harry really helped each other win the tournament. Cedric's character really goes down in history as a good man for his final effort during the last task. I couldn't believe Cedric was killed though! I didn't see that coming. Now Cho can focus more on Harry. Yikes. The final scene was pretty cool though--establishes Voldemort's character, his return, and his followers, the Death Eaters.

The only thing with the final scene that gets to me is that it seems that, in the next three books, they probably will have similar endings to this one. Voldemort will continue to take down Harry, but Harry will keep slipping away with his questionable power over him. He'll need to keep escaping until the last book where he finally destroys him. It seems kind of obvious, but if each ending is Harry vs. Voldemort and Harry keeps slipping away to take him on in the next book, it just will get a little old. I hope it isn't so cookie-cutter of a formula on endings.

And, Harry didn't really win the tournament! The whole last task was fudged because Krum and Fleur were charmed, and then Cedric and Harry "tied," but Harry won because he died? That's not really fair. I mean, I think we all thought he would win since he's the golden child, but it seems like Cedric actually won. The other two COULD have won but were charmed. I don't know. It didn't seem fair to me.

And why are they trying to make Fleur's character so big? Both on the cover of the book and on the cover of the movie, they make her character stand out when it was so small. I know she's attractive, but come on now. I'm not into that either. They're better than this!

But, I really enjoyed the fourth book and I'm a little way into the fifth book, which is starting out pretty good. But Harry has quite a temper! I know all fifteen-year-olds and teenage boys go through this phase, but somehow I thought Harry was better than that. But, I guess the point of the story is that he IS human...

Anyway. After every Harry Potter book, I watch the movie. I wanted to vent my frustrations with the movie. Man, it was so different from the book! So many details were left out, so many plot points were out of order, and some characters weren't even included! Ludo Bagman didn't even appear. Ginny had some headshots, but she wasn't central, so why include her character and not Bagman's? No Bill. No Charlie. And, the whole idea of Mad Eye Moody being the antagonist in the movie is easily pointed to. Instead of discovering it for ourselves at the end, the filmmaker drops clues throughout, pointing to him as the obvious choice. I didn't like that at all. It took away from the mystery of the story.

Other details were out of place or weren't mentioned which really took away from the story. The last task was all off. Harry and Cedric pretty much battled and fought inside the maze which didn't happen. If anything, they were helping each other to win which makes Cedric's character more honorable. In the way he was portrayed here, he was kind of a brat. I didn't like it at all. Also, the way that Harry discovers certain secrets about the tournament didn't happen the way they were portrayed. Harry discovered the dragons from following Hagrid before meeting Sirius--not in the movie. Dobby gave Harry the gillyweed--not Neville. Small things like that irritate me. They didn't even bother showing the Dursley's! Harry just wakes up at the Burrow. Arg. I know there's limited time, but some things can't be THAT fudged! Then make two movies or make it longer! We're here for a reason; at least portray it right!

I felt like the movie was on fast forward and all I could do was sit and rack my brain on all the details they were missing. I had a hard time enjoying it, but maybe I'm being too critical. I know the book has to be massively condensed to make it into a movie, but the sacrfices they choose are not good ones to choose. They didn't bring up the elf plotline with Hermione, but I think that one was a good choice. That plot line bores me.

Anyway, I'm done rambling about my problems with the film, but I hear great things about the fifth movie. Seeing as though the movies are getting worse and the books are getting better, I hope it's not true. The movies need to do the books justice! Meh.

So what do you think of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Colorado Kid

Another Stephen King novel for me, The Colorado Kid. I guess I'm starting off with some of his lesser known works, for my first was The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and now I read The Colorado Kid published in 2005. King has an uncanny ability to write, as so many already know. His characters seem so real; they come alive off the page. He has a great way of describing things so that you actually can see it in your mind, even if it is a little creepy.

The Colorado Kid is a mystery novel, but it is unlike typical mystery novels. The Colorado Kid explores an unsolved mystery in Maine through a young writer named Stefanie or Steffi. She asks to older men at the newspaper if they've ever come across an unexplained mystery, and the two of them launch into the story about the Colorado Kid. The entire story is really a narrative of the two of them telling the story with Steffi asking questions every now and then.

Here is the mystery: Two teenagers discover a man on the beach very early in the morning in 1980. The man is in a jacket perched standing up on the beach with a piece of steak wedged in his throat. The cause of death is asphyxiation, and fish and chips are in his stomach when he passes--not steak. At the scene of the crime, he has no identification, just a Russian coin and a pack of cigarettes. The medical examiner determines that John Doe is not a smoker by his pink lungs. So what's up with the cigarettes and the coin?

A year earlier, a hotshot in town figured out that they should check the tax stamp on the bottom of the cigarettes to determine where they came from. This is where John Doe gets dubbed the Colorado Kid. A woman from Colorado calls to identify her husband who went missing years ago and abandoned his young son that he truly loved. Why would he run away if he loved his job and his family? The mystery keeps spiralling out of control.

Further, they question those who worked with him, and he was at work the day before he died. He would have had to jump on a plane directly after the last person saw him, on an elevator in the morning at work, take a private jet to Maine and then be killed or kill himself? The mystery further tangles.

By the end of the novel, nothing is really figured out. No more clues or answers are given. We are left with this tangle of a web without any sort of closure. At first I was a little mad because I thought that King was going to tell us how to solve this mystery, but he doesn't. He doesn't do what the typical mystery does, and that's why he's such an innovative writer. He makes us wonder. He does what the real world does: he doesn't solve the crime. Not every mystery and murder has that obvious solution. Sometimes it takes years to solve; sometimes mysteries never get solved. That's the way the world works.

I like this idea of storytelling that is ever-present throughout the novel. The act of oral storytelling is really getting lost as years go by. We watch movies, we read, but do we pass on oral stories? We do in a sense, at least looking at comedians, but not in the ways that we used to. I like that this story connects back to that oral tie that is becoming abandoned. I think it's pretty cool.

I was a bit disappointed without any closure, but I think it sends a more powerful, deeper, realistic message without having a real ending. It's more true to life. It makes the reader actually think and try to solve the mystery herself/himself. If you read a mystery novel, you might try to put it together yourself, if you're that bold or non-lazy, but most people would just read to find out. I like that you are forced to come up with some kind of idea because King won't give it to you. We need to be more creative thinkers and not have everything spoon-fed to us!

The only thing I don't really get, besides any closure on the story, is the cover. Is that Steffi? What's up with the 1970s cover? The cover doesn't represent the story at all. Or maybe I'm not looking hard enough. I didn't take Steffi to be that sexual. There isn't any romance or sex in the novel anyway! Why be so deceiving on the cover? And, the answer on the cover is NO!!!

What conclusions have others come to about what happened to the Colorado Kid?

What do you think of The Colorado Kid?

Friday, August 28, 2009

District 9

I didn't know what to expect with District 9. I knew that it had to do with aliens, but I didn't know anything else about it. Another alien movie, but this one is produced by Peter Jackson. I figured everyone would be talking about it, so I took a chance at the drive-in.

Watching this movie, I went through many different emotions. Disgust, anger, hate, sorrow, fear. The emotions were all negative, but I do think the movie was trying to communicate a larger message. I like the way it was filmed, as a mock documentary, and it was talking about everything after the fact, which I thought was pretty cool.

As I was watching it, I kept thinking how improbable the whole thing would be. Not necessarily the whole alien encounter thing but the response of humans. I didn't buy that humans would let the aliens come to their planet. Why would they let them live in a colony? I feel like it would be too big of a threat. I understand that they wouldn't accept them--we can't even accept each other for petty reasons like racial color, religious preference, or sexual preference. I think the movie is a great reason to point out our feeling of superiority among everyone around us.

I also thought it was quite improbable that both species could eventually understand their dialects after twenty years. How could we understand their language? They might not even have a language that is even close to English to be translatable. They made absolutely different noises. I just don't know if it would really ever work out. I mean, how does anyone learn a new language when you can't communicate anything to the other group?

So basically, in District 9, aliens come down to Earth and hover over Johannesburg, Africa for months. They do not come out. Humans eventually fly up and pry themselves into their spaceship. They are malnourished and need help. Humans send them down to a compound they call District 9 where they fence them in and provide them shelter and food. It is a heavily militarized area.

Twenty years later, their population is growing and they need a bigger compound. The people of Johannesburg are also growing quite tired of having them around. The plan is to ship them to a different compound 200 KM south, so the person in charge, a man named Wikus, goes door to door to give them eviction notices. Note that these aliens are given human names and identifications just like human beings.

Outside of the compound, humans try to deal food, weapons, and other pleasures to the aliens. It is considered the Nigerian black market. There's even inter-species prostitution. Yuck. The aliens really like catfood, so they try to sell them that as well. There are picketers and protesters outside the compound. The aliens have even earned a new derogatory nickname as "prawns." It is the equivalent of a racial slur.

The conflict in the story begins with Wikus is exposed to a very valuable liquid to the aliens. This liquid, held in a tube, can transport their spaceship back to their homeland where they all want to return. Unfortunately, Wikus starts to slowly turn into a prawn. The government tries to do tests on him as he is the only successful person to transform into a prawn. Others have tried by digesting parts of the aliens or having intercourse with them. There is even a special lab that does testing on them that the main alien, Christopher, stumbles over with Wikus when they try to secure the liquid.

Wikus eventually runs away from the holding facility because he gets his hands on some alien weapons. Alien weapons only work when an alien holds them (which is really genius), so he escapes and hides away. The only place where he is safe is when he is among the prawns. Christopher then discovers his problem, and they decide to go on a suicide mission to get the liquid. Christopher promises that if he gets his liquid, he will turn Wikus back into a human.

In the midst, the Nigerian black market tries to cut off Wikus's arm for their own military gain, Christopher and Wikus murder a lot of people, and Christopher and Wikus eventually return with the liquid back at Christopher's hut. Christopher says that he cannot change Wikus yet because he must return back to his homeland. He promises to return three years later to turn him back. Wikus gets angry, but in the end, Christopher and his son are able to fly away in the giant spaceship alone.

This is where I got all sad: Wikus slowly transforms into an alien and must live with the other prawns. He misses his wife terribly and leaves her little things outside her door to let her know that he is still alive and loves her. The movie ends without closure whether Christopher will return to save the other aliens, if he will return for war, or if Wikus will ever change back to being a human.

I liked the ambiguous ending. It also leaves room for a potential sequel. I think it would make a good sequel. I thought the whole thing was kind of dreary and sad though. It was horrible to see how we treated the prawns, but I guess I can understand it too. On one hand, I see that we must respect everyone, but on the other hand, I don't know how much I would trust them. They are so powerful and technologically superior that they could wipe us out in an instant.

I was kind of disappointed with how the aliens were physically created. They looked very human-like with two legs, two arms, eyes, and mouth pieces. It was very similar to the human body, and they even communicated in similar ways that were able to be understood. I don't know what else I would have preferred, but it just bared quite similar to humans.

What I didn't know is that it is based on a similar actual account that happened in South Africa, where it takes place. Check out its origination: "The title and premise of the film are inspired by historical events that took place in District Six, an inner-city residential area in Cape Town in South Africa under apartheid. In 1966, District 6 was declared a "whites only" area by the apartheid government and for the next several decades, 60,000 people were forcibly removed and relocated to Cape Flats, 25 kilometres away." I love the spin off. It's so very clever. It's easy to substitute something alien (an actual alien) in place of another group of humans to make a point. Brilliant.

District 9 was a bit raunchy and disturbing, but I think it brings up interesting points to talk about. How would you feel about having aliens drop down on our planet? How should they be treated? Do you even believe in aliens? Why would they come here? What could we learn from them? A believable tale or not?

So what do you think of District 9?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I saw an independent film tonight which really intrigued me. An old theatre near me plays really cheap movies, and I was interested in the title because Michelle Pfeiffer is in it. As an actress, she blows me away. She's absolutely phenomenal. And I was right again; in this movie, she was absolutely incredible.

Cheri is a movie that was once a novel. It is a European film that debuted at the Berlin International Film Festival. I can see why it wasn't that big in the United States, but I still do think it is worth repeating.

Cheri takes place in France and focuses on an old courtesan named Lea. Basically, Lea got rich by courting wealthy men who payed her to sleep with them for months or years. Lea is getting old, but she takes on one more prospect, a young man (18) who she knew when he was young named Fred. When he was young, Fred called her Nunu and she called him Cheri. They go by these nicknames throughout the movie.

Lea and Cheri meet up when he is eighteen and wild where he wants to run away with her. Lea takes it upon herself to court him and try to teach him how to be a man so he can be a good suitor. They have a lavish time together for six years. Then, Cheri's mother, played by Kathy Bates, fixes an arranged marriage. Lea and Cheri are forced to end their affair.

Cheri thinks he can just let it go, so he tries to marry this tight young woman. Lea takes it hard and runs away to stage that she is courting a new man. What Cheri didn't plan on was going mad with rage and envy. He comes home angry and is crazed as he waits for Lea to return. He stays in a hotel for weeks waiting for her. Cheri does take a new man but leaves him to return home when he hears that Cheri has separated from his wife.

Upon her return, Cheri gets back together with his wife because he thinks he can now rest since he knows that Lea is back in town. Unfortunately, he can't keep himself away for long. The movie ends on a last dramatic scene between the two when they make love and wake up in the morning. Lea decides that they will run off together and be in secrecy from now on. Cheri was planning on having a dual love life. They have this really in-depth discussion where Cheri reverts to being like his mother and he yells at her for being like her. He always loved her for being nice and humble and honest. So, Cheri reverts back to herself and tells Cheri what he needs to hear: he needs to forget her and be a man to his new family even though she deprived him of that in their relationship.

Cheri actually leaves, but a narrator discusses that Cheri went off to war and eventually shot himself because he could never love anyone else besides Lea. Lea did look very old in the end which was sad because I think Cheri started to notice it. It was such a sad relationship because they could never really love each other for very long. They lived without each other, still with a strong love, but couldn't have it because it wasn't acceptable. That kills me.

I can't believe the romantic taboos that were present back then. Everything had to be so clean-cut--that would never fly today. I'm happy that we have moved on to more open romantic relationships so people can be happy with who they love. They don't have to endure pain and be in relationships they don't want to be in. Some people still marry for show, but it's not the only option anymore. It's a great thing.

One thing that I did find interesting in Cheri was the gender role reversal. In their relationship, Lea wore the pants. She made phone calls and paid for them. She was the boss. She was the controller and the power force. She had a hold over him, and I think he liked that. Cheri was very flamboyant and beautiful. He dressed wonderfully and had gorgeous hair. He liked wearing her pearls and always curled up on him like a little boy. It's weird the way it worked out.

Even though the movie is tragic, it has some great themes and it was very entertaining. I really didn't know what to expect, but this was good. I liked being brought back to the early 1900s in Europe--it was gorgeous. Such a simple life. But it was also cool to see how courtesans were actually respected and made such a good life for themselves with the money they earned. It's so much different now!

Michelle Pfeiffer is looking old, but she is still so stunningly gorgeous. She is one of those women who have such natural beauty, and she still looks beautiful today. She was perfect for this role, and her acting was impeccable. She drew me in and helped me appreciate the film. I love the man who played Cheri too. I've never seen him, but he is so handsome. He was perfect for the part.

Their nicknames are perfect for each other too. Nunu is so childish, which still shows Fred's boyishness that he never lets go of. Cheri is so feminine, connecting back to the gender role swap. It's a clever addition to the story. It's a good story and a great indie film.

But anyway, what do we think of Cheri?

Monday, August 24, 2009


Despite the negative reviews I heard, I still watched Valkyrie. World War II movies intrigue me, like the rest of this country, so I had to check it out. Just look at how many movies are made on the subject! Can't we just list WWII movies off the tops of our heads? I mean, even Quentin Tarrantino is making a WWII movie. That's when you know it's becoming a bit obsessive.

In any event, most people who spoke to me about the movie stressed its disappointing nature. I still watched it, and I really don't see why the movie was all that terrible. Honestly, I was pretty interested. It's one of those movies where you know the ending, so it's not really a surprise, but you still sit there hoping that somehow the course of history you know is wrong. But it's really not.

Valkyrie depicts one of fifteen assassination attempts made on Adolf Hitler by Germans to take him down in the Nazi Party. Von Stauffenberg, played by Tom Cruise, is the movie's protagonist. The movie is meant to bring his attempt to light since it was the one that almost worked and would have saved many, many lives. Von Stauffenberg gathers a team of military helpers to try to use Operation Valkyrie, a national emergency plan, to stage a coup to take over Berlin and assassinate Hitler in the process. Unfortauntely, the plan did not work and Hitler had all of the helpers killed for treason.

From a historical standpoint, it's a pretty interesting film. It's different from other World War II movies because it deals with the German perspective (even though it is probably twinged since it's an American film). Wikipedia offers a lot of perspective on the American critics take on the film and the Germans take on the film. Quite interesting. Apparently, the movie was pretty accurate. I mean, the whole thing was created because the writer felt that the Von Straussenberg story needed to be shared with the world. And now we all definitely know.

What I did learn from Wikipedia was the German people's reaction to the film. They weren't so mad about the content as they were with the filmmaker's selection of Tom Cruise as the lead role. They did not like his role in Scientology and basically put up a small fight about him leading the role. He was not fit for it, his religion is offensive, yadda yadda yadda. Even protestors set out to picket it. But, Von Straussenberg's grandson stepped forward and admitted that it was okay for Cruise to play the role. Others agreed later on as well since they saw his professionalism and realized that his popular role in America would draw a large fanbase. Interesting dispute.

Overall, Valkyrie was very interesting if you like history, particularly World War II material. Cruise did a great job as Von Straussenberg, except I hate when he does those high-pitched screams. It sounds like my mom is yelling. I wish he had a more manly yell (better than "Show me the money!"), because it would add more to the character. It's just awkward. But despite that, he convinced me that he was the character and I thought he portrayed the story exceptionally well. Well done Cruise. And, he looks a lot like his character. It's kind of eerie!

I think the movie does send out a good message, especially since it's based on a true story. When you see a tyrant in your midst, do you go along because you fear for your neck or do you stand up to the cruelty even if it might mean that you die for what you believe? How do you want to be remembered as a people? Do you take a stand or sit by and watch? Is it just as bad to watch a perpetrator continue to perform ill than to commit the crime? Are you a part of the crime if you just stand by and do nothing? Think about those kinds of questions.

Valkyrie provokes those kinds of questions and perhaps applies them to our own lives. What kind of person do we want to be remembered as? Even though Von Straussenberg died, he is still remembered for trying rather than slipping into history unremembered. Without those like him, people don't take chances and horrible things happen. It's a great message to pass on even though he failed. We still learn from failure. It still can be motivational.

What do you think of Valkyrie?

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Movies on the Sundance Channel always intrigue me. The latest one I caught was Elephant, a movie written and directed by Gus Van Sant. This one intrigued me because of its unusual content, a movie about a school shooting. I found out later that this movie is loosely based on the Columbine School shooting, but it is only loosely based. Some is fictionalized.

This movie, as I later found out, is the second in a trilogy of his called the Death Trilogy. They obviously all revolve around the same theme of death. The first movie is called Gerry and is about two men stranded in the wilderness starring Casey Affleck and Matt Damon. The second is Elephant which is about a school shooting. The third movie is called Last Days and is based on the last days of the life of Kurt Cobain.

Elephant is quite artistically done. Van Sant's films always have this very indie, artsy feel to them. There is very little dialogue in this movie. It's more about character development, as the camera follows around each character on the day of the shooting. You'll follow one student who walks down the hall and passes another, and then later on in the movie you'll watch the day of the student who passes. It's an interesting way to do the movie as opposed to purely one-sided on the side of the shooter.

I liked seeing the different perspectives of the shooters and the victims. You watched the shooters get picked on in class, play piano, plan the shooting, practice shooting, and even make out in the school bathroom. Weird addition. What is the purpose of that? You watch the victims live their last days, and you really can tell how innocent and young they are to experience such a tragedy. One guy even tries to help, which is quite heroic, and he is sadly shot.

The movie chronicles the lives of these characters, and they are quite diverse. Anyone and anyone is killed in this movie, as the movie shows the lives of all of these different students in their days--a popular couple, a teen struggling with an alcoholic father, a gay student, two artsy students, a clique of uptight girls, a jock, and the shooters. I liked showing the different groups because it's one of the reasons that alienates these shooters.

It also scared me, watching this movie, how easy it is for them to pull off such a horrible feat. It was easy for them to score the weapons and carry them right into school. They studied exactly which entrance they could enter, and they studied which areas held the most students with little escape routes. And, what kills me the most is that they were able to practice and plan at home. Their parents were absent. This is what causes these things to happen in the first place!

The movie was a little slow, as the camera literally follows students walking for long periods of time. I could see how this movie would drag on a bit for some, but I found it different, thus interesting. I was waiting for that big moment where the shooting actually happens. It's nerve-racking because you know it's going to happen but slowly pray it doesn't, but you know better. That last build-up kept me hooked, and some parts were ambiguous as to deaths and escapes, but I thought it added some necessary flavor to the film.

The ending was a little odd. One shooter kills the other shooter (for what purpose?) and then goes into the freezer in the back of the cafeteria. He comes across the popular couple and corners them into the freezer. He sings "Eeny Meeny Miny Moe" to them as he points the assault rifles at their chests. Once he finishes singing, the camera cuts to black. Odd. I wanted to see what happened to this kid and how many were taken down in their path.

Elephant is based on and inspired by the Columbine shootings but was dropped with the tag to the shootings because he didn't want to hold too tightly to the facts of that shooting. A lot of the same threads were persistant in the movie and the previous school shooting. Acquiring the weapons, practicing, warning signs, easy access to shooting, being bullied in school. Smilarities.

What is really eerie is that this movie inspired a school shooting to occur, something that really turns the stomach. In 2005, 17 days after its release, a school shooting occurred after a kid watched this movie. It happened at Red Lake High School. The boy brought the movie over to a friend's house, skipped to the parts of the shooting, talked about school shootings, but showed no other signs of actually wanting to do it himself. Days later, he did it. Freaky.

I was kind of mixed on a movie about school shootings. Does this promote school shootings or does it try to show the root of the problem so we can solve it? I think it's a racy topic, but I like that it's being expressed in film because it's becoming a tragic and horrible problem in our country. The problem is that it's glorifying these shooters, which is what they want--attention. We can't give them that satisfaction because then it will create more and more shootings. It's a vicious cycle, but the media just can't help itself.

I still liked it though. The title confused me, but I thought "Does it mean not to ignore the elephant in the room?" That was my only thought, and I was pretty close. It's similar to another movie called Elephant which is a movie about violence based on religion. It is exactly titled for not "ignoring the elephant in the room, especially when it's obvious." I think it's very clever for a title. That makes a lot of sense in this country.

If the subject interests you, it's worth checking out. If you're into indie films or want something different, Van Sant is really talented. I do enjoy his movies because they focus a lot on the message and creativity. It's different from a lot of other blockbuster movies.

Enough said. What do you think of Elephant?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

As I'm going through these YA titles that I could potentially read with my eighth grade classroom, I'm weeding some out and keeping some in mind. I just recently finished Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. We were forced to read this book in an undergraduate class on teaching literacy, and now I see why this book might not be too bad to teach.

What I like about the book is that it opens up a lot of areas for discussion. It deals with some pretty serious issues surrounding the struggle of African Americans that I find it rich to discuss with middle school students. It touches upon slavery, the KKK, hate crimes, sharecropping, bigotry, educational differences, and unjust treatment socially, economically, and educationally. I think it's worth teaching just because it opens up these avenues for discussion and introduces these concepts early on in the mind of the student.

A few concerns do come to mind, though. The book is quite long for a middle school student, and since the content is a little more sophisticated and serious, this book would have to be taught later on in the year. I'm afraid that the length and content are going to turn the heads of my students. And at times, the book can get rather dry. The characters aren't that dynamic--except for Stacey and perhaps TJ--but I don't think students are looking that in depth into the characters.

Basically, the story is about a large family who owns a lot of land, which is strange for African Americans of the south. The land is a big motif throughout, as it represents the only source of power and threat they hold over the white community. It is important for them to have the land since it is the only thing they can hang on to, the only thing that their family has to pass on. It's sort of representative of their family and their people--it's something tangible that they can be proud of.

The protagonist is Cassie, an eleven-year-old girl, who has three brothers: Stacey, Little Man, and Christopher-John. Stacey grows the most from the beginning to the end of the novel since he is learning the ways of being a black man in the 30s. He conflicts with his friend TJ who cheats him, takes his mother's teaching job away from ratting her out, befriends whites, and gets himself into a heap of trouble. TJ trusts whites who do nothing but get him in trouble. At the end of the novel, they end up making him steal a rifle, and when they are caught, the white boys murder the man who interrupted them and blame it on TJ. TJ is eventually sentenced to death at the hands of these two white teenage boys.

Cassie is a strong character who can't stand injustice. She even takes it out on a white girl who she helps carry books to school by beating her up and antagonizing her out in the forest. She can't stand when she isn't helped on by whites in the grocery store and must wait and wait and wait. She can't stand it when the white children take a bus to school and they have to walk (so they build a ditch to take down the school bus). She can't stand it when the local grocer threatens their family after they boycott the grocer for ill treatment to blacks. She can't stand for any kind of injustice.

Both of Cassie's parents struggle financially and with jobs. Early in the book, Cassie's mother is fired for taking out "colored" labels in the books and for teaching the truths of slavery. Cassie's father has to travel to work, working on the railroad, and isn't in too much of the book. Mr. Morrison lives in their backyard to take the place of their father. He is a strong man who helps them throughout the book. Also, Pa's brother Uncle Hammer comes occaisonally to help out with money or when they are in trouble. However, he is just like Cassie; he hates injustice and will do anything to combat it, even if it means his life.

Cassie's family dodges hate crimes, as others are tarred and feathered, beaten, and lynched. It seems like an endless battle for them just to earn enough money to eat. It's pretty sad. But, I think these plot points are good to introduce to students.

The character of Jeremy is also interesting to discuss. He is a white teenager who goes against the grain of what whites believe, and he is nice to blacks. He hangs out with them, walks with them to school, and brings them presents on Christmas. Jeremy truly wants to be friends with them, but Stacey can never allow it into his heart to trust a white person, especially with how whites treat TJ. The lawyer also is a character similar to Jeremy as he stands up for blacks when they want to murder TJ without a fair trial and then take on Cassie's family afterwards just for sport.

I didn't realize that this book is as old as it is. It was published in 1976 and won the Newberry Medal. A sequel came out a few years afterward called Let the Circle Be Unbroken. What is that one about? Is it worth reading?

I'm going to plan a Webquest and a PowerPoint project for after the novel. I'm pretty excited about it. I hope that I can interest my students in this novel, because I fear I won't be able to. I feel like tolerance is a great lesson to teach students, especially as I teach in a predominantly white school. Even if they can't relate, I think it's good to know. Knowledge beats ignorance.

If anyone has any good ideas on how to teach this book, any fun activities or discussions, please let me know.

What do you think of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Pygmy, Chuck Palahniuk's latest novel, is quite different from any of his other novels thus far, despite the graphic nature which is found in most of his works. I read Pygmy on audio tape which might hint towards my vague understanding of the novel and my disconnection with it.

Reading from Wikipedia, Pygmy is an epistolary novel, which means that it is a novel written as a series of documents. Each chapter is an account of Agent 67, nicknamed Pygmy, on his account of his visit to the United States. Pygmy is a nickname given to our protagonist and narrator because of his small size. He is an exchange student from a totalitarian homeland ("a mash-up of North Korea, Cuba, communist-era China, and Nazi-era Germany"). He travels to the midwest to live with a host family to carry out his mission for his homeland: some sort of terrorist attack.

Pygmy was taken from his family at an early age and was trained (and brainwashed) with a group of young boys like himself, hence his nickname Agent 67. These boys are trained to fight for their homeland, and these boys are sent off to countries to provoke war and terrorist attacks in the name of their country. In the beginning of the novel, you can tell Pygmy's brainwashing and connection to his country. He constantly repeats totalitarian quotations to justify his actions, something he must have learned in training.

Palahniuk is famous for using repetition in his works. In Pygmy, Palahniuk uses totalitarian quotations, as noted above, and the introductory beginnings of chapters. At the beginning of each chapter, Pygmy will document certain things about his location, purpose, people there, etc. So, it will sound something like, "Location: redacted. Mass of people on bus: redacted. Date: redacted." Everything is redacted, hence Palahniuk's repetiton for this book.

As aforementioned, each chapter is like a document that Pygmy uses to document his accounts in the United States. I think it's a clever way to structure a book. Since Pygmy isn't really big on description, it helps give the reader of sense of setting and other necessary details that aren't given in his narrative.

Also, the novel is a bit hard to understand since Pygmy's narrative is in broken English. It is a bit hard to get familiar with and used to, almost like you're reading A Clockwork Orange. But you do get used to it after a while.

What else is strange is the names in the book. Pygmy nicknames everybody something strange. For instance, he has two host siblings in his family, Cat Sister and Pig Dog Brother. Kind of creative. His host parents are Cow Father and Chicken Mother, attributing to their size and behavior. I like how Pygmy describes our overindulgence in things like food, especially when in comparison with the nickname of his host father.

Basically, the novel takes on a strange plot. Pygmy comes to the US and is immediately handed a Jesus t-shirt and an American flag. Hilarious. Then, he gets to know his host family. He goes into Walmart and tries to purchase an assault rifle which causes quite a stir. At Walmart, he catches his host brother being picked on by a kid named Trevor. Pygmy takes it upon himself to fight back against Trevor, so he brings him into the bathroom and beats and rapes him. Horrifying. Trevor then threatens to hurt Pygmy, but Pygmy is not scared of that happening.

Meanwhile, Pygmy is attracted to Cat Sister and they have quite a flirtatious relationship. Cat Sister actually makes Pygmy feel human, eventually leading to his transition at the end of the book where he decides not to go through with the terrorist attack and betray his home country.

Pygmy is decided to be adopted by the host family which makes sexual encounters between Pygmy and Cat Sister to become awkward. What else is strange is Chicken Mother's addiction to pleasing herself. She has toys all around the house and hoards batteries. It's very strange. Thus, Cat Sister takes it upon herself to steal office supplies from her father's work, thinking she's a spy. This is how she tries to get the batteries back.

Pygmy starts to question his motives and intentions in the country when he stops a school shooting and becomes an instant hero. The final turning point where he abandons that motive is at the end when he also stops another shooting: Trevor realizes his homosexuality after Pygmy's encounter with him, he tries to hook up with him and is denied, so he murders students at a UN Conference. Pygmy stops the attack and once again becomes a hero. Pygmy finally learns human emotions.

This novel was really bizarre. It was hard to get into and to follow since its strange style, but that also makes it unique. Palahniuk never fails to keep surprising me with how grotesque he can be. But, he is quite creative and has an imagination that is insane. This isn't my favorite book of his, but it's still worth talking about.

What do you think of Pygmy?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tunes for Bears to Dance To

Robert Cormier is a very popular young adult literature writer, and I had not yet been graced with his work until very recently. I know he is most popular for I Am the Cheese and The Chocolate War, but I read Tunes for Bears to Dance To, perhaps not one of his most popular books. However, it's on my to-teach list for my new school, and I think it's definitely teach-worthy.

Tunes for Bears to Dance To takes place after World War II. Our main character Henry, eleven years old, has just experienced the death of his brother. His father is so depressed that he quits work and falls into a deep depression that later will need to be hospitalized. His mother works overtime at a local restaurant as a waitress and is not given enough wages or respect at her job.

Henry then must earn money as he works in a local grocery store for a man named Mr. Hairston. Mr. Hairston, as we come to find out, is a bigot and is prejudiced against Jews, an antisemite. As Henry works for the store, he starts to notice a strange neighbor, an old man named Mr. Levine. Wondering about him, he starts to follow him around to see what crazy things he does. He follows him to a craft center where he is pulled in to meet the man.

Mr. Levine, we come to find out, is really not all that crazy. Mr. Levine used to be in a concentration camp, and he comes to the craft center to recreate his childhood. He makes exact replicas of the people and places that he remembers out of wood. Henry is blown away by his talent, and later he slips this information to Mr. Hairston who seems overly interested in the whole affair. We also notice Mr. Hairston's daughter coming into the store bruised, showing that he is abusive in the home. Henry desperately wants to help her out but can't.

Later on, Mr. Levine wins an art contest for his wooden replicas. He even crafts a wooden duck for Henry. Angry about the award, Mr. Hairston fires Henry but will take him back to work on one condition: he must smash the wooden figurines to pieces. In addition, Mr. Hairston will pay for the stone memorial that does not exist on Henry's brother's grave because they can't afford it, and he will give his mother a better paying job with better hours. If Henry does not comply, he will lose his job, he will have his mother lose his job, he will blacklist Henry for other businesses in town, and he will give a bad report to Henry's principal.

Henry is really in a pickle here. He contemplates what to do for a long time. When it comes down to it (SPOILER ALERT), he chooses to smash the town. Henry is beside himself, but when he confronts Mr. Hairston, he can't accept all of the wonderful gifts from doing the deed because he realizes the reasons that Mr. Hairston wanted him to do it: he hates Jews and he wanted to "break" the goodness in Henry. Henry quits and doesn't accept the gifts. Shortly afterwards, his family moves out of town because they can't deal with the trauma of their long lost son/brother.

The book is really short and really interesting. I had to keep reading because I wanted to see what was going to happen. And, it's a pretty easy read. I'm starting off the year on this book because it's coherent, short, and easier. I like the connection to bigotry and the Holocaust, since we still see so much prejudice in the world today. Will it ever go away?

I can see why Cormier is such a popular author. His books are brief, interesting, and can connect with teenagers. They are deep enough that readers can have in-depth conversations, but they aren't too shallow that the conversation would falter quickly.

For an assignment, if allowed, I was thinking I might focus on this essential question: What can we learn from our elders? We can learn about the past, about life lessons, and we can also learn what not to do. In order to demonstrate this, I was hoping to invite in adults, relatives, and neighbors of my students to come in and talk about some life lesson. The students would take notes and write a short essay on the life lesson/theme they took from one of the speakers and another short essay on what theme they took from one character in the story. Hopefully I can get this approved.

It's a good read. I would recommend this to young readers, especially those interested in history and the Holocaust. There isn't TOO MUCH information on the Holocaust, but it still is a central part of the book.

What do you think of Tunes for Bears to Dance To?