Sunday, March 30, 2008

Bringing home the bacon with every blog

After learning that Teacher Lady and QOWP are playing a not-fun game as I try to hide myself (somewhat) on the internet, I tried the trick of Googling my name to see where I ended up. This blog is still at #11, but check out what I found out at #40! I'm not sure what I think is the best part of this site: the fact that his G-rated 12-minute short movie "Pimpy" is from 1983, the year of my birth; the statement that "his expertise extends into the fields of film, television, radio, acting, directing, and producing"; or that he "stars in each episode, and certainly brings home the bacon, as modern-day radio actor." Actually, my favourite part is the description of one of the radio plays on his CD:
"And lastly, the third bizarre tale, "The Great God Donald," co-stars WKRP IN CINCINATTI's Richard Sanders (Les Nessman) and NORTHERN EXPOSURE's Peg Phillips (Ruth-Ann). The story of a man who never psychologically grew up, and just so happens, believes that he's...God!"
Les Nessman, Ruth-Ann, and a delusion of deity?! All with my name?! I may have to order this disc soon just to see what all the hype is about. Until then, I will just bring home the bacon with every blogisode.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Class planning

One of the biggest frustrations I have had this year has been planning on a large scale and planning units and classes. It might seem odd that I - a very deliberate and planning-type person - should struggle in this area, but there are two reasons why. First of all, it really was not enforced in my education: in my time in the College of Ed. I had to complete exactly three unit plans in my entire degree, and most instruction in unit planning was relegated to either my introductory curriculum course or as afterthoughts in my subject specialty courses. Then on internship I became so reliant on day-to-day development that I barely hung on to the scant unit plans I had concocted to appease my supervisors. The second reason has been a little harder to pinpoint, but I think I understand it as much as I can at this point: plans change. Allow me to use an analogy from my university years to demonstrate. Planning a unit or a class is akin to writing a paper with a deadline every single day. Sometimes you have all of the research and all of the prep done ahead of time, but when you actually sit down and write it, the end product is vastly different from what you envisioned because of what you learned along the way. That same process happens in teaching, and I have found that one of the primary factors is my students. I know what I want them to do, but I can only push them slightly further than think they can go or else risk losing them completely. And because I am doing this for the first time, I do not always know what I expect of them (admittedly my fault) or of what they are capable (a variable I have trouble predicting). There are so many variables involved in teaching, and as soon as I feel like I have mastered one, another one comes along and takes my legs out from under me. And some days I have that nasty feeling like I had in university when I knew I was writing a paper that was not going to be very good, but it was going to be far better just to plug it out than it was to completely restart the entire agonizing process - making the best of a bad situation. I have found out the hard way that it is more difficult to dig yourself out when you have many other stakeholders (students, parents, administrators, curricula) who are affected by what you do. So some weeks just have ended up consisting of me trying to rescue what I see as a sinking ship; and sometimes, the students even pick up on that, and respond in kind. This break has been good to try to revisit my current status in my classes and to look ahead to my final four weeks of the semester, as I now feel like I have a better grasp on planning my final units than I would have otherwise. But what I really need is a good break to step away from the whole thing, re-evaluate my processes and problems, and to reset for the fall so I do not make the same mistakes again. Yay for making all-new mistakes next year.

Monday, March 24, 2008

R.I.P. Blogging

I finally did a bit of work on my blog today - updating some links and such - and I realized just how dead blogging is. Of the around 100 friends I have who blogged, there are fewer than a dozen who are still blogging consistently, and most of those are from one group of friends who use their blogs as a primary means of communication. When I started blogging in July 2004, it was just taking off, and it hit its height within the next two years - but something happened in 2006 that killed blogging. Were people discovering Facebook, and blogging was therefore perceived to be redundant? Was it that people realized that they did not have anything meaningful to say? Did people realize that no one cared what they had to say? Or was it just one of those fads that everyone will look back in twenty years on like we do now with Euro-techno and Pet Rocks? I know that my blog is less frequent now - once a week as opposed to 3-4 posts per week - but that's also a function of the fact that I have over 500 posts logged, and it gets harder to say meaningful things when you've said them before. But not only are there are fewer people writing blogs, there are fewer people reading them, and reading them less frequently, so I guess I see my blog's current status as a natural evolution of the blog ideal. I expect that I will keep this pace, and that the people that still read my blog will continue to do so faithfully, so this blog is not dead. But as for most of the blogosphere, rest in peace, floating in cyberspace. You were fun while you lasted.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Pop goes the world

Over the weekend, I attended the exhibit of art by famed American "pop artist" Andy Warhol at the Mackenzie Art Gallery. It was interesting to see artwork that so directly intersected with pop culture, and in fact was a part of that pop culture. I really wondered if Warhol is in fact more famous for being an artist, or for being a pop culture figure, and whether his art would still be regarded well if not for the pop connections. This train of thought ties into something I have been wondering about especially in the past few months - the difference between pop and transcendent culture. This has mainly come up as I have watched movies - Across the Universe, Juno and Moulin Rouge!, for example - that are tied to pop culture but that also seek to elevate certain songs to a new level of understanding (mostly with success). I have been wondering about how certain figures or ideas or motifs recur in pop culture, and how some things become meaningful well beyond their time. What of the movies, television, music, books, and news produced in 2008 will still be part of our world in 2038? For example, think of the number of movies from the 1975-1979 that are still part of our cultural consciousness: Star Wars, Rocky, Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now, Alien, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jaws, and Annie Hall. There are others that are still around, of course, but those are the most immediate and most obvious of the bunch - there are eight from four years there. Media saturation did begin to increase in the 1980s, but the fact is that out of all of the pop culture produced that very little has any kind of staying power. I'm sure that for every Warhol that there were a hundred other artists doing similar things who did not make it, just like for every one memorable movie released each year there are one hundred more junkers released. For all of the music I listen to, how much will I actually hold dear into my 50s? My goal is to continue to decrease the culture I intake for the "pop" factor, and to continue to increase the culture I invest in because it seems like something I will be paying attention to when I have kids who are my age. Now that's a scary thought - inflicting my culture on another generation.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

How I watch movies

I was 13 when I first started paying attention to movies. That was when my parents started letting me go to the theatre with friends, and when I could start watching movies at a PG-13 rating. It ended up that a lot of movies I saw were movies my parents were watching, which ended up being fairly mindless action blockbusters for the most part. I recently spent some time going through some lists of movies online in trying to compile as comprehensive a list as I could of the movies I have seen over the past 12 years, just to see how much my tastes have changed for the better. (Thankfully, they have.) Here are some of my observations:

1. I average viewing about 25 new movies from any given year, with a high range of around 40 that I would ever want to see. Many of those viewings come in later years, of course, but I seem to top out at around 30, with several that just stay on the "to see" list.

2. Of those 25-30 movies I see, there are between 10 and 12 that I would actually watch again. 5 or 6 become personal favourites - often silly comedies - and another 5 or 6 are those films that are so good that you have to watch them over and over.

3. I can separate my viewings into four categories: those aforementioned exceptional films; personal favourites; movies toward which I'm fairly indifferent (I would not watch them a second time, but I do not entirely regret watching them); and the movies I am ashamed to have sat through and would never watch again.

4. Many movies I truly regret watching are due to being with people who watch movies I myself would not watch. And almost all of those movies are mass-market, wide-release movies that I would normally avoid. Like Transformers.

5. Time does help sort out what movies are worth watching. I am more likely to waste time watching a movie in the immediate circumstances of its release (either in theatre, cheap theatre, or DVD) than if I wait for it. Case in point: I have watched very few bad movies from 2002-2003, the years that I did not go to theatres except for Lord of the Rings.

6. I am far more likely to watch a movie based on its director and writer than its stars, and viewing earlier entries in a filmography is one of my primary reasons for watching a movie. Of course, it doesn't help that I have a lot of directors I like to pay attention to: Guillermo del Toro, the Coens, P.T. Anderson, Wes Anderson, Alfonso Cuaron, Jason Reitman, M. Night Shyamalan, Christopher Nolan, David Cronenberg, Danny Boyle, Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman, Stephen Frears, Richard Linklater, Christopher Guest, and Edgar Wright...to start.

7. Critics actually get a lot right. Most of the movies that make my "Best of" lists make critics "best of" lists; I also add the personal favourites for the Rocky Balboas out there, but it's nice to know that critics are actually intelligent.

8. The movies I appreciate the most are the movies that make me think. There are usually only one or two movies a year that can change the way I look at the world, but there are a few that make me think in a good way, and I am disposed to like those more.

9. I have spent a lot of time watching movies, talking about movies, and thinking about movies. Apparently, movies are a hobby of mine. Who knew?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Teachers are people, too!

When I was in high school, I said some mean things to my teachers. It usually was not on purpose, and sometimes I was just repeating something I heard on The Simpsons that sounded impressive in an argument (like the time I called a teacher a "bleeding-heart liberal"). But I realized that my teachers were human, and that they had feelings, and so I treated them like people who had feelings. But a lot of people did not uphold the same courtesy; they treated teachers like robots who could take anything, and they did not have respect for their teachers. One of the parts of teaching that I could not have expected is how draining some students really can be, particularly when an issue develops. As much as I try to safeguard myself against being abused emotionally, some students really leave me with little energy and some really do things that get to me. I am sure that over time that I will figure out other ways to process these situations when they arise, but I do wish that some students could get a glimpse of what it is like to teach. Then they might understand that we are affected by their actions, and that we, too, have feelings and emotions. Prick us, do we not bleed? We do - and sometimes too much.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

2007: The Year in...Movies!

Well, it's March, and I'm finally getting around to my picks for the best movies of 2007. It took longer this year for three reasons: I have a full-time job; I live in Moose Jaw, where it's harder to get all the movies; and I have someone else to pick movies sometimes. But I don't mind that it has taken me longer, since 2007 was a great year for film. There were more "good" films than I can remember seeing in recent years, and my top two films of the year (you will not be surprised) are contemporary masterpieces. But let's start at the low end, with the worst movies I saw this year (also known as the movies I wish I could burn out of my brain).

FF: Rise of the Silver Surfer - A poor sequel to an already poor effort. I didn't pay to see this, and I still feel like I got ripped off.
Live Free or Die Hard - Though Bruce Willis' physical prowess is impressive, his script selection is not. This movie represents almost everything wrong with contemporary action movies.
Pirates: At World’s End - The more I think about this movie, the more I realize what a complete mess it is. Try figuring out all the subplots sometime. I dare you. Spider-Man 3 - I saw this ten months ago, and I can still rant about it for an hour. What the deuce happened here?
Transformers - It was worse than I thought it would be, and I expected it to be pretty bad.

Next, the movies that just didn't quite work - they were not horribly bad, but something was missing. The problem was often that they did not quite know what they wanted to do or be. For reference, I'd give these movies between 3 and 3.5 stars out of five (although a couple might sneak into 4 territory if I really liked them).

Across The Universe - An interesting musical experiment that was worth seeing just for Bono's cameo singing "I Am The Walrus".
The Bourne Ultimatum - I really enjoyed this action thriller, except that the crew always forgot the tripod. Seriously - shaky cam is so 2006. Get over it.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - It was good, but it wasn't great; a seasoned director would have made a lot of difference, as would have more of the Order.
I Am Legend - Will Smith is impressive in this movie, but the film's ideas are bigger than what it delivers. Again, it could have been much better with a better director.
The Kingdom - A fairly forgettable movie with some memorable ideas. The pieces are all there, but they just don't quite fit.
TMNT - Dude, it was Ninja Turtles in CGI on the big screen, and it was decent. Cowabunga.

There are always a few movies that I really enjoy but that are not quite good enough to crack that top echelon of movies. The "4 to 4.5 stars" section.

Amazing Grace - The William Wilberforce biopic really pleasantly surprised me; it really worked well, and it did not downplay his faith. Definitely a movie to revisit.

Black Snake Moan - This parable about sexuality, music, spirituality, love, loss, race, and faith is a really intriguing experiment that works out well, and provides Samuel L. Jackson's best performance since Pulp Fiction.

The Darjeeling Limited - I really enjoyed Wes Anderson's take on a brother-comedy road-trip Bollywood movie. I think it will get better with each viewing.

Fido - This delightful Canadian zombie satire was mostly ignored, but it's worth digging up.

Hot Fuzz - I did not laugh harder at any movie this year. It has its flaws, but what a fun movie.

Ratatouille - I really enjoyed Brad Bird's latest movie. If I was making a Top 10, this would be added to that list. It's not in the top top movies, but it's a great movie nevertheless.

And now for my top movies of the year. I find it hard to rank them individually within this group, but There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men do stand out above the rest. Here are my unforgettable movie experiences of the past year.

Juno - It's quirky without being annoying, and innocent without being cloying. Jason Reitman is 2/2 in my books.
Once - A simple, elegant, meaningful modern fairy-tale about an Irish singer and a Czech immigrant who bring the best out of one another. Once is a real gem.
Eastern Promises - Cronenberg's underground Russian mafia world is appropriately dark and subtle, and Viggo is almost as good as he was in A History of Violence (which is saying something). What a great movie.
Rescue Dawn - Christian Bale is unbelievable as real-life Vietnam POW Dieter Dengler. One of the best soldier stories out there.
There Will Be Blood - Daniel Day-Lewis chews up the screen and spits it back out at you with more vehemence than you thought ever possible, and P.T. Anderson's vision comes to life. Two masters at work.
No Country For Old Men - It is hard to think of filmmakers who say so much while using so little. Truly an American classic.

And, lest you think I am neglectful, here are the movies I did not see this year but that are still on my radar to see soon. (You can assume that any movies that do not appear on this list are not ones that I want to see.) It is still a long list, but I feel fairly confident that none of them would crack my top 6 or so. Then again, you never know. I would still like to see... Sunshine, Michael Clayton, Zodiac, 3:10 To Yuma, Atonement, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Talk To Me, American Gangster, Charlie Wilson’s War, I’m Not There, and Lars and the Real Girl. I kind of want to see Shrek the Third, Bee Movie, and The Simpsons Movie, but I just don't get as excited for these kinds of movies anymore. And I'll watch Beowulf when I know I can handle the rage that I will have toward it.

So, some of the list will change, but I think I've got my top movies for 2007 in the books. At least I still have a couple of months before I really have to pay attention to any movies in 2008, so I still have time to catch up before I start making a list for next year. See you at the movies!

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