Thursday, January 28, 2010

Motivational Speaker

So I have the privilege of teaching English, history, and algebra to a group of very bright and enthusiastic eighth graders. The range of subjects allows for wonderful opportunities to relate education to so many aspects of life and today offered a particularly just such an opportunity.

We are coming to the close of a rather difficult chapter in algebra (algebraic fractions to be exact). As we were getting into the meat of the lesson and beginning to grapple with tougher problems, the complaining began: "I don't know how to do this", "This is too hard", "This is too much work", "I can't do this problem", and my personal favorite. . . "I don't get it!" and so on and so forth.

"Hold it!" I said. "These are numbers and letters on a sheet of paper. Why are you getting so bent out of shape? These math problems cannot hurt you. Relax, and I will explain it." I proceeded on a rampage explaining that while hard math problems can look frighteningly difficult, in actuality they cannot cause any physical harm. And that no matter what happens, Jesus and I will love you so relax, and use the knowledge that you have to try and figure it out. "Actually. . . You are acting just like General McClellan" I continued. We have been studying the Civil War and today talked about how foolishly worried and simultaneously arrogant McClellan was. Even though he outnumbered the enemy and had better weapons and supplies, he was afraid and hesitated to fight giving the Confederacy time to plan their attack and get reinforcements. This happened time and time again in the early parts of the War, and here, in my classroom, my students were doing the very same thing. "McClellan hesitated and could not see all he had going for him, and he lost. When you let a math problem intimidate you out of trying you are losing! You might as well try because if you don't you will get it wrong anyway." I proceeded to tell them that they are all very bright and that they have a mighty arsenal of intelligence at their advantage so USE IT!

Well, even I was roused by this moving address. At the end of it all and in the spirit of the State of the Union Address, two boys on the back row stood up and clapped. Touche! It was hilarious! Who says that algebraic fractions have nothing to do with the Civil War. Oh well!

(Above is a picture of me with my students at the FDR Memorial in DC.
P.S. The guy looking really cool in teh middle is not a student but our ever beloved bus driver for the trip--Keith.)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Bridge Over the River Kwai

A classic World War II pic and a favorite of my dad's, I used to always give my dad a hard time about liking this movie. I am sure that I have seen at least parts of it when I was younger, but it was not until a few weeks ago that I watched the whole thing in its entirety. And my dad was right: Bridge Over the River Kwai is classic.

With stars like Alec Guinness and William Holden, the movie has classic written all over it. But the story of the speaks to the age old struggle for nobility in a time of war. Colonel Nicholson (Guinness) is a British officer in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. After several long fought arguments with the Japanese commander, Nicholson agrees to help the Japanese build a bridge for the newly constructed railroad. The bridge quickly becomes an attempt by Nicholson to demonstrate British efficiency and engineering. Meanwhile, Shears (Holden), an American soldier posing as an officer in hopes of better treatment in prison, escapes only to be asked to return to the camp on a mission to blow up the bridge. Shears' selfishness is a sharp contrast to Nicholson's strong sense of patriotism, honor, and value of the letter of the law. Yet Nicholson's patriotism and valor delude him into helping the enemy; whereas even in Shears' self-serving actions, he sees "the forest for the trees" and stays true to the cause of war. The movie also shows the value and power of hard work toward a common goal.

Bridge Over the River Kwai is long and slow at times but worth watching. I give it 9 out of 10.

Gone Baby Gone

Gone Baby Gone came out relatively recently, and having heard good things about it, Barrett and I decided to rent it. The movie was directed by Ben Affleck and stars his brother Casey. The movie takes place in the slums of Boston and is about a detective who specializes in missing persons who is hired to investigate the case of 4 year-old girl from his neighborhood who is kidnapped. This movie reminded us of Mystic River in the setting and its dealing with corruption among law enforcement, but we both liked it better.

Gone Baby Gone is not for the faint of heart; the language and violence in the movie is intense but fitting. The cast of the movie does a great job especially Casey Affleck as detective and main character and Amy Ryan as Helene McCready, the drug-addict whose daughter was kidnapped. (She also played Holly on The Office but you would never guess that after watching this movie.)The movie also stars the always good Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris. The weakest link is Casey Afflecks girlfriend/associate who is not believable at all. (I personally think they should have gotten someone like Alicia Keys. She would have done a better job in the role.)

One thing I really liked about this movie was the way Affleck dealt with filming the violence. Rather than letting the camera dwell on particularly gruesome scenes, he would do a series of very effective fast cuts. It was like you were covering your eyes but peeking out at intervals to see what was happening. It was a great way to deal with harsh realities with being gruesome or making the scenes more painful that necessary. This allows the main grotesque to be the crime itself (kidnapping) rather than the blood and guts.

Again, I did not like the ending. There were two points where the movie could have drawn to a close that would have worked well. Instead there were unnecessary plot twists which spread the plot too thin--a classic case of biting off more than you can chew. I think the movie should have ended at the second logical place (after the shoot out in the drug house and Harris's conversation with Affleck in the hospital parking lot).

Overall, this was a well acted suspense movie and great effort by Ben Affleck with too many plot twists at the end. I give this movie a 7.5 out of 10.

Away We Go

Here begins another facet of my blog--movie reviews! This weekend Barrett and I watched Away We Go starring John Krasinski (better know as "Jim" on The Office) and Maya Rudolph (formerly on SNL). While there were several things about the movie that I did not like, overall I found it well acted, well written, and very fun to watch.

The movie follows a young couple who just found out that they were expecting. After finding out that Burt's (Krasinski) parents are moving to Belgium, the couple sets out to find the perfect "home" to start their family. Verona (Rudolph) and Burt meet up with several of their friends along the way and quickly discover that the perfect home for their potentially perfect family does not exist. Away We Go has several hysterical performances from Maggie Gyllenhal and Allison Janney: the former playing the quintessential earth mother and the latter as the careless, career driven mom with a drinking problem. Throughout, Verona and Burt begin to discover the foundation and depth of their relationship.

Things I liked: The acting in the movie is superb. Krasinski and Rudolph have great chemistry, and when the movie was over I wanted to spend more time with them. Their dialogue and interaction is very natural, authentic, and pleasant to watch. I also like the style of the film. While very modern, it does not feel in your face. The movie has a naturally rambling pace which matches the wandering of the main characters. Away We Go is also very funny. They truly run the gambit of dysfunction and I laughed out loud on multiple occasions. Lastly, the music was great. Slow and folksy, it echoed the vibe of the movie.

Things I didn't like: First, the movie was very adult. There was one explicit scene in the beginning, and at times, the language was pointless bordering on excessive. I did not like that Verona irrationally (seemingly) refused to marry Burt even though they were obviously committed. This seemed incongruous with the rest of her character--like the movie was trying to be modern for the sake of being modern. Lastly, I did not like the ending. The whole movie seemed to be building up to the point that there is no perfect family so do your best. The film seemed to point to the brokenness in every family yet point to the redemptive possibility of something better. But rather than make that point by having the couple move back "home" to Colorado, they go back to Verona's childhood home on the beach in Florida. With this lackluster ending, the filmmakers make a very relational and redemptive movie trite by saying, "Hey we know we are not perfect, but this is perfect for us." Thus, they killed a lot of the nuance that I liked about the movie.

Overall, this movie was very enjoyable, and I recommend it especially if you are in the mood for an authentic and modern romantic comedy. I give Away We Go an 8 out of 10.