Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Movie Review: The Vow

The Vow
Directed by Michael Sucsy
Running Time: 104 minutes
Originally Released: February 12, 2012

* * (out of four)

Boy meets girl. Boy farts in front of girl. Girl rolls up car window to trap smell of boy’s fart in car. Boy declares love to girl. And so begins the wonderful romance at the heart of The Vow.

Four years after their chance encounter at the DMV, Paige (Rachel McAdams) and Leo (Channing Tatum) are married. Theirs is a storybook romance. Sweet nothings are whispered. Laughs and smiles abound. Bliss is the order of the day. That all changes one stormy night when Paige and Leo’s car gets rear-ended and Paige goes flying through the windshield. (You see, Paige had just taken off her seatbelt so she and Leo could have sex … while stopped at a stop sign.) When Paige finally regains consciousness, the last several years of her life are missing from her memory. She doesn’t know where she lives. She doesn’t know she dropped out of law school to pursue her dream of being a sculptor. Worst of all, she doesn’t know who Leo is. He’s a stranger. In her mind, she is still engaged to Jeremy (Scott Speedman), the handsome fella she dated back in her law school days. Not only must Leo convince Paige to come home and live with him, he must make her fall in love with him all over again.

The Vow is “inspired by actual events.” That doesn’t mean much when it comes to a Hollywood film, but you’d hope a true story would capture some of the emotional and psychological challenges that a wholly fabricated story like this might overlook. It doesn’t. As much as The Vow is centered on the overcoming of adversity, its key characters remain surprisingly nonplussed about the situation in which they find themselves. As Paige, McAdams rarely resonates as anything more than sheepishly naïve. On the few occasions when she does explode in frustration, she just seems put out. The problem is, losing the last few years of your life should make you feel more than that. But Tatum is the real problem. There’s no doubt in my mind that Tatum is getting acting gigs only because he is (supposedly) a hunk. He lacks any charisma whatsoever. Leo is a completely lifeless character beyond the clichéd behaviors he dutifully performs (such as coming home with a dozen roses). Of course, Paige and Leo would not be so boring if the script (the cumulative effort of Jason Katims, Abby Kohn, and Marc Silverstein) and/or the directing (by big screen novice Michael Sucsy) had been better. But I suspect a better actor than Tatum could have added some pizzazz and onscreen chemistry that The Vow is lacking.

With all of that being said, a two-star critique may seem generous. In response, I can say only that the film’s mediocrity is also its saving grace. There is nothing dreadful about the movie. It doesn’t make you cringe. While it doesn’t stray far from the beaten path, the storyline is not totally hackneyed. And so, you could do a lot worse. The problem remains that you could do a lot better.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Blogging: If I Don't Mind

The first week of the summer semester has passed. It’s 17% finished. I prefer to look at it that way. It makes it seem like the semester is going more quickly than it does when I focus only on how busy I am. For being incredibly busy, it’s not so bad. It’s a more difficult subject matter for me than anything I’ve taught previously, and this translates into some awkwardness in my lectures. I’m very interested in the subject, so I want to do a great job teaching it and really inspire some cool thinking on the part of the students. Mostly, I feel like I get blank stares. The classroom dynamic is more … I don’t know, subdued … than it was in either ethics or symbolic logic. Maybe it’s because my current class begins at 9:30am and that’s earlier than most college students want to be somewhere. I don’t know. I try to lighten the mood with jokes, but they don’t seem overly responsive. Oh well. The only good laugh I got had to do with throwing paraplegics into swimming pools to see if they could swim reflexively. It related very directly to one of the readings. Frogs with severed spinal cords who are what you might call volitionally paralyzed (they will just sit there until they starve to death if you don’t bother them) will nevertheless swim if you put them into water. Fascinating, eh?

Well, that’s about all I have time for. I’ve been wanting to blog for two or three weeks, and I’ve even had concrete ideas of what to blog about. Alas, no time. And I’m only blogging now because I’m taking a break from my philosophy of mind studies. (Perhaps now you can appreciate the astonishingly sophisticated wit demonstrated by the title of this post.) I’ve gotten a lot done today, so I feel okay taking three minutes to blog. And that’s that. Break’s over. Bye.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Peter Turns Four

Peter turned four this week. Melanie is extremely good about making birthdays special, and Peter’s fourth was no exception. Melanie made sure he woke up feeling loved and celebrated. Not only did she hang up a homemade birthday sign proclaiming just some of the wonderful things about the birthday boy (a tradition stemming from Melanie’s family of origin), but she had us lay balloons (green—Peter’s favorite color) all over Peter’s bedroom floor. She also made Peter a birthday crown and had it sitting on the kitchen table, where he would easily find it. Melanie did all of this after Peter had gone to sleep on the night before his birthday. Thus, for Peter, the birthday festivities started quite literally the moment he opened his eyes.

We let Peter dictate most of what happened on his birthday. He wasn’t very demanding. Melanie and I asked him what he wanted to do for breakfast, thinking he might choose to go to Chick-fil-A or go get bagels or muffins or donuts or something special. When we told him he could have whatever he wanted, including going somewhere, he asked to have cereal. FiberPlus cereal. The cereal I almost always have on hand because it helps me get my daily allotment of roughage. Yup. That was Peter’s birthday breakfast.

After breakfast, Peter opened some of his gifts. Melanie had found some cute wrapping paper with race cars that were Corvette-like. For whatever reason, Peter is very into Corvettes lately. He points them out when we’re driving around, and he often asks to print coloring pages of Corvettes. (Eddie also likes Corvettes, but Peter seems a bit more obsessed.) Well, the wrapping paper Melanie found was reversible and had colorable cars on one side. It was perfect.

The first gift Peter opened was from Eddie (via Mom and Dad). It’s some sort of powder that you can put into your bathtub to turn your bath water into goop. It safely turns it into some sort of gelatinous blob, and then you have another packet of powder that will make it all turn back into liquid H2O. Peter hasn’t tried it yet, but it should be quite fun. He and Eddie have loved using water-coloring pellets in the bath in the past, and this will kick things up a notch.

Next up was a pair of inline skates. Peter has greatly enjoyed the scooter he received for Christmas, and we thought he’d enjoy the skates. So far, all three boys are a fan of them.

Braving one foot.

Double the fun.

Peter is a big fan of Play-Doh. He’s also a big fan of going to the dentist. (Okay, that last one was a lie.) The next gift Peter opened was “Doctor Drill ‘N Fill,” a dentist-themed Play-Doh set that allows you to create Play-Doh teeth, to fill cavities in Play-Doh teeth with Play-Doh fillings, to brush those Play-Doh teeth with Play-Doh toothpaste, and to floss the Play-Doh teeth with Play-Doh floss. Oh, and it comes with instructions for making Play-Doh bowling pins.

In case the Play-Doh dentist set doesn’t do the trick of inspiring Peter to enter the medical profession as an adult—(look, someday somebody’s going to have to pay off my student loan debt, and I know it won’t be me!)—Melanie and I also gave Peter a doctor kit. The kit includes a doctor’s bag (have you ever seen a doctor carrying a bag?), a stethoscope, a syringe, a blood-pressure-taking thingy (sorry for the medical jargon, folks), a thermometer, and even a bandage. The doctor kit proved another hit with all three kids, especially the stethoscope (because it’s all about the bling-bling).

It’s never too early to learn, or to teach, good health habits.

Good grief, this table is flatlining!

Edison, taking a little too much pleasure in administering shots.

We asked Peter what he wanted to do on his birthday for fun. “Can we go to the gas station?” he asked. Who made this kid? We assured him we could go to the gas station at some point. “Can I get a Slurpee, or a snack?” he wanted to know. Melanie told him he could get both, since it’s his birthday. “I’ll just get a Slurpee,” he said. Does this kid not get it? Finally, we told him to choose something for lunch, crossing our fingers that we wouldn’t be asked to eat saltines out of our kitchen pantry. “Jason’s Deli,” he responded. Melanie and I were both surprised that Peter would think about that place, but we were joyously pleased with his selection. We forthwith wended our way to Jason’s.

Peter, already drunk on complimentary gingerbread muffins, and his pudgedly ruggedly handsome father.

After lunch, the presents continued. First, we introduced Peter to Angry Birds in Space, the latest game in the hit Angry Birds franchise. We had downloaded the game to Melanie’s Kindle as a surprise for Peter, who is a big fan of the preceding Angry Birds games. Next up, Peter opened the package that arrived from UPS from his maternal grandparents. It included, serendipitously enough, a package of Angry Birds in Space stickers, an Angry Birds t-shirt, and some “Alien Invasion” Shrinky Dinks. The collection of gifts couldn’t have been more ideal.

What could it be?

Angry Birds stickers!

What could it be?

Angry Birds shirt! (I love the sincere delight in Peter’s face here.)

The shirt reads “This is my angry face!” I asked Peter to show us his angry face, and this is what we got. I guess if he had a chainsaw, that expression would actually be pretty darn freaky.

In the afternoon, Peter wanted to go to Zoinks. Zoinks (which actually changed its name to Fun Station Jr. a little while back, a fact I will now ignore) is kind of like a Chuck E. Cheese that specializes in bounce houses. They don’t have an animatronics band that performs and I’ve never seen anyone eating pizza there (although they do sell it), but Zoinks does feature an assortment of arcade games, a few coin-operated rides, and bumper cars in addition to the bounce houses. But, really, the bounce houses are where it’s at. We didn’t arrive at Zoinks until 330pm, so we expected that several school kids might be there. As it turned out, only a few other kids were there, and they soon left. We had the place to ourselves a good deal of the time. It was kind of cool. Also, this was the first time we’ve been to Zoinks when Creegan has both been awake and old enough to join in the fun. He too had a blast.

Most of the pictures we took at Zoinks are of less-than-desirable quality. I’ll share some of them anyway.

Peter chose to eat at Hurricane Grill & Wings for dinner. When Melanie asked Peter what he wanted for dinner, he asked for ideas about where we could go. Melanie listed off several places, including Hurricane, and Peter seemed extremely excited to think we could go there. I’m not entirely sure why. We’ve been there before on kids’ night and they had a guy going around giving away balloon animals, and I fear Peter may have been expecting that. I didn’t think about it ahead of time, but Peter asked about the balloons when we were going inside the restaurant. He didn’t seem overly concerned when we said that there wouldn’t be any balloons that night. We offered a conciliatory prize of having the wait staff sing “Happy Birthday” to him, but Peter didn’t want any part of that.

One more gift awaited Peter at home. It’s a bullhorn-shaped microphone that changes the pitch of your voice. Melanie had originally wanted to find Peter a normal-style microphone for his birthday, since Peter loves to sing along to songs and frequently pretends to hold a microphone as he does so. We had a hard time actually finding a microphone like we wanted, so we decided upon this voice-modulating bullhorn. We knew he would love it, and sure enough, he does. So does Eddie, and Creegan tries it out from time to time, although he has no idea what he’s doing and usually just grunts into the speaker.

The last hoorah of the day was Peter’s cake. We didn’t do a traditional cake this time around. Instead, we had “rocket” cakes. Basically, you take several ice cream cones and fill them with cake batter and then bake them. You then decorate each individual ice cream cone cake to make it look like a rocket. It didn’t work out so well. The frosting we were trying to use as glue simply didn’t hold anything on, at least not for long. We all tried to make one, but it was mostly an exercise in humility. The wisest of us all, Peter kept his rocket extremely simple, with some decorative frosting and a cookies n’ cream Hershey’s kiss as the only adornment.

Recognizing it as an utter technological failure, I attempted to inscribe “Made in Mexico” on my rocket.

And that was Peter’s birthday. No, we never got to the gas station like he wanted, but we’ve since made it up to him. A couple of times, in fact. I can’t believe Peter’s only been in our lives for four years. It’s hard to imagine us as a family without him. He’s such a fundamental part of my joy as a father and as a human being. Happy birthday, Peter! I love you!