Yearly Archives: 2009

Movie Reviews: “Avatar” and “Sherlock Holmes”

Confession time: I go to the movies with my family because I know we might have dinner before or after. Explanation: I do not go for the food, I go for the table. My ACE life has taught me the importance of gathering around the table to eat regularly. I always feel closer to my family when we eat together, which we only do when we’re out. Last weekend, I managed to see both Avatar in 3-D and Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes was so great; Avatar was so not.

My prejudice going into Avatar was that (a) I didn’t know what it was about, and (b) I had a bad experience with the last 3-D movie I attempted. Granted, it was Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, which was not a great movie in the first place. The main problem was that the DVD was only viewable in 3-D, and watching it through the cheap cardboard glasses made my eyes hurt. I tried watching it without them, but the pictures were so blurry that I was annoyed the whole time.

When my mom asked if I wanted to see Avatar, I was reluctant. She brought me a pair she had kept after another movie. I was surprised to see that they were much higher quality: like sunglasses with a dramatic blue-green tint. I was still wary of wasting the (as I later I found out) $13.50 ticket if watching the movie gave me a headache, but she suggested that I get a refund and see something else if it came down to that. I finally agreed.

When we finally got in to see the movie, I put on my 3-D glasses for the Despicable Me trailer. Lo and behold, I could (still) see! I had to take the glasses off a few times during the movie to rest my pinched nose (I already wear glasses, remember?), at which point I discovered that the alien language subtitles were also in 3-D (I couldn’t read them).

I must say that Avatar was one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. It was just gorgeous. The 3-D was impeccable, the scenes were expertly crafted, and I believed what I was seeing.

The plot was terrible. I could tell how it was going to end. It got awkwardly political about halfway through, having managed to avoid the politics during the earlier part of the film despite featuring multiple military characters. I see Avatar much like I did The Village: nice, but I’ve seen this story before.

Sherlock Holmes was a great movie. I love Jude Law largely for his accent, but I thought he acted well in The Holiday. Robert Downey, Jr. was a great Holmes, though he was entirely unlike Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation. I thought all the acting was masterful. I love a good mystery. I was a little worried when the movie took a dramatic turn toward the occult, but the end left me entirely satisfied.

I think this is why I don’t usually write movie reviews. I am not very good at them, so I think I’ll stick to teaching English.

Friday Fives

December 4: the iTunes edition

This one is bittersweet. I had my old hard drive removed at Best Buy, but I left it at home so it wouldn’t be damaged before I could buy the enclosure kit for it. That left me without any of my mp3-only music (I still have a soft spot for CDs), including the version of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” I wanted to use for Song Prayer Friday before Christmas break. (All was not lost: I found it playable online as well.)

1. What song do you play the most? All my most-played songs are by Switchfoot. I can’t remember off the top of my head if any one tops the others.
2. What song do you play the least? I had a few songs I downloaded, but never played, but I took care of that recently.
3. What’s the last song you added? Amazon MP3 offered a free song every day leading up to Christmas. I’ve been snagging free MP3s for a while, but I found the song-a-day promotion through Matt Maher’s newsletter. The last song I snagged and listened to was Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s cover of “Mr. Heatmiser” from The Year Without a Santa Claus.
4. What’s your favorite playlist? My favorite is actually my playlist of Internet radio stations. I listen to music I own sometimes, but I still love the radio.
5. What kind of iPod (or MP3 player) do you have? I don’t! I’ve never really wanted one. Now that so many great radio stations are online, though, I could be persuaded. And of course I wouldn’t turn down one as a gift.

December 18
: Morning Routine

  1. What time do you usually wake up on weekdays? 5 a.m. Oh-dark-hundred. It gets me in the shower before Jess with about twenty minutes to work before I leave for school.
  2. What about weekends? 8:30 on Saturdays when I’m at home, 8:00 on Sunday so I can do my hair before church. I set an alarm even on Saturday. Queen of the neurotics here.
  3. What do you eat for breakfast? I love bagels (usually with butter, though plain cream cheese is great when I can get it) and Honey Nut Cheerios.
  4. Do you take a shower at night or in the morning? Always in the morning. I can’t feel clean or wake up properly unless I shower first thing.
  5. How long does it take you to get ready? Much too long. On weekdays, I don’t leave until 7. On weekends, I have a personal rule against eating lunch until I’ve gotten dressed, which is at least by 1 p.m.

December 25: Childhood

1. What one food most reminds you of your childhood? Ham pancakes. I think my grandma only ever made them once, but that one time she made me pancakes with bit of sliced ham in them has stuck with me forever.
2. How old were you when you learned how to ride a bicycle? I don’t know. Of greater note is the fact that I don’t think I remember how to do it anymore. I am capable of many things, not all of them good.
3. How old were you when you stopped believing in Santa Claus? Again, I don’t know. I know that what cinched it for me was when I realized the handwriting on our gift-bagged presents from Santa was the same as my mom’s.
4. What was your favorite television show/cartoon when you were little? I remember watching a lot of Rainbow Brite and My Little Pony, but mostly my Barney videos.
5. What is the youngest age you remember being and do you have a specific memory of when you were that age? I remember one evening when I was about four years old. My dad had brought home some live crabs for dinner, and he came stomping downstairs wearing his uniform boots, holding tongs in his potholder-encased hands. I died laughing. Later, one of them did get away, and my mom made me climb onto the couch with her so it wouldn’t pinch our toes. I was more interested in leaning over to peek into the kitchen and watch my dad galumphing about.

The Obligatory Christmas Post

Hands down, the best part of Christmas break is not having to go to school/work. I told my students I was probably more excited than they were to be going on break, but they didn’t believe me. They never do.

I tried to surprise my mom for her 50th birthday by coming in on the day of it (Friday). I got permission from my principal and president to take half a personal day, called in an outside sub, prepped my sub folders, drove to my old community on Thursday night, got a ride to the airport from Sarah: the whole nine yards. However, winter decided to arrive that very day. That and the black hole that is the Atlanta airport meant that I arrived six hours later than planned. Courtney blew the surprise when my dad called home about one of my various delays. He had told Ryan, but not Courtney, so when she shouted “Lindsay’s at the airport?” in surprise, my teleworking mom overheard. She and my grandma had been worried about my flying in the next day, since the area was expecting two feet of snow. I made it in on the right day, but that was the only successful part of my plan. I can only imagine the chaos if I’d been planning an actual party.

Saturday’s snow was beautiful. It fell all day long and was so intense that I had no hope of making it to Mass on Sunday. I know inclement weather is a legitimate excuse from the Sunday obligation (and I had checked the ADW website just to be sure), but I still missed being there. I think that’s the first time I’ve missed Sunday Mass since I overslept once when I was just starting to make my way back. I consoled myself by watching TV Mass twice: on the local channel from the Shrine and on EWTN.

The rest of my week was a string of lazy days, to be honest. I managed to finish my Christmas shopping in one day at the mall and Wal-Mart. I got all my ninth-graders’ papers finished and updated their grades. And on Thursday, my new baby arrived: the espresso black HP pavilion dv6t notebook on which I am currently typing. My old Dell has nothing on this guy—and from talking to my parents, I know it actually cost less. It was the best Christmas Eve present ever!

Christmas Day was also good. We had our latest start ever: 11 a.m. Ryan’s a big boy now. (He’s thirteen.) I got the new luggage I requested, some chocolate, Borders and Old Navy gift cards, and some cash. Our trip to grandma’s house was largely uneventful, though I think it’s the first time I have taken a book but not sat down to read it.

Last night, I went with my family to see Avatar in 3-D. My glasses were uncomfortable since I have to wear my regular ones at the same time, but the colors and 3-D effects were absolutely gorgeous. The story was lame; I’ll elaborate in a future post. Tonight, we attempted to see Sherlock Holmes for free on base, but we wound up going to pay for it when the base theater never even opened. Now that was a good movie.

For the next few days, it’s back to work, out for visits…and quality time with my new baby.

Selling Lesson Plans

I’m catching up on old NCTE Inbox articles today. Since my computer died two weeks ago, I have had even less opportunity to read email newsletters. When you share a computer (or would have to stay late or come early to school), people are less likely to let you sit and read for long stretches of time.

Today, I read an NYT article from mid-November about the practice of teachers selling lesson plans online. I hadn’t realized there was a controversy. I am a big fan of, and I use other free lesson plans to support my own all time. Simply basing my discussions off the recommendations in the margins of my teacher’s editions is using someone else’s ideas to help me teach. If I ask my mentor teacher for help, he is giving me ideas. Who would expect me to come up with everything from scratch?

When teachers with classroom experience go to work for education companies (like those who have been selling prepackaged units for ages, or even textbook publishers), it makes sense that they take their experience and lessons along with them. No one expects to pick up a lesson plan or unit and do exactly what it says; something always needs adjusting. The problem seems to be in selling those lessons. If you have used ideas from another teacher or your textbook, that person deserves the credit. But if it’s your idea, and you don’t want to give it away for free, don’t. It’s a simple concept for every other profession: why not teaching?

Books + Video = Bad News

One’s opinions on books and writing evolves when one becomes an English teacher. At least mine have. For example, when I read this NYT article on hybrid books, I was scandalized. Books are meant to stay in their static, text-based format. Part of the charm of a book is that it is portable, requires no electricity, and only sometimes has pictures. I love the narrative nature of movies as much as the next lit specialist, but if a book demanded that I log on to find out what happens, I would honestly return it (and who returns books?). I think that if such texts were designed for online publication, then interspersing videos would be ideal. They came up with that idea already; it’s called hypertext. But please, leave my four-by-six mass-market editions alone.

One of my favorite things about the NCTE Inbox is that it works for me like a selective lit and ed news aggregator. This week, in addition to the aforementioned “book” article, it brought me an essay about teaching writing: another of my primary interests at the moment because I teach sophomore composition. (A stack of essays is waiting to avalanche me in just a few minutes.) The author, a former writing instructor, shares his experiences teaching college students and adults about how to write. These perspectives always interest me because one of the reasons I became a high school teacher was to help create better adult writers. It is a classic teacher fallback to blame previous instructors’ inadequacies and failings for your students’ missing abilities. (You, a tenth-grader, can’t spell? Your third-grade teacher must have sucked.) As a sophomore, I nearly drooled from my dropped jaw when an English major classmate couldn’t punctuate dialogue. (Of course you need quotation marks around things the characters said!) With every grammar lesson I teach, I take one small step toward fighting the disintegration of writing skills that has plagued Generation IM.

On Writing Less

I’ve come across some interesting points to chew on in my recreational reading lately. (Despite all odds, I just barely manage to squeeze non-academic reading in on top of all my schoolwork.) The first relates to my work, actually, so it seems like a noble use of my scant time. From the NCTE Inbox newsletter came a link to an Inside Higher Ed essay by Scott Jaschick on the trend of less writing on college application essays. Jaschick writes that some colleges, particularly those that use the Common Application, are de-emphasizing or eliminating the traditional long application essay in favor of shorter questions. Admissions staff say that the short questions tend to have more direct answers and show fewer signs of coaching, so they can get a better picture of the applicant through fewer words. Several commenters suggest that the true benefit is to the admissions officers, since they simply don’t have to read as much when applicants don’t write as much.

I find myself torn on the issue. I teach essay writing, so I know that students can express themselves a lot more fully when they are “allowed” (read: required) to write more. However, though some of my students are crack hands at writing paragraphs, they are struggling greatly with essay writing. They simply can’t break free of the strictly defined format of a good paragraph enough to expand it into an essay. I coach them as best I can, but simultaneously find myself drowning in the volume of writing that sixty students can produce in twenty to forty minutes a day. In that respect, I prefer the paragraph to the essay, but I know the essays are essential as well.

Thinking back to my own college applications, I used an essay I’d written for my AP English Literature class on as many applications as possible. The cookie-cutter “choose your own topic” long essay question invited that tactic. However, on the short questions (I think Maryland called them “Finding Your Niche”), I had to compose answers specific to the information needs of the school. Those questions ultimately led me to join Honors Humanities: a decision I have yet to regret.

Are college application essays walking the path toward extinction? I don’t think so; if you can’t write an essay by the time you’re a senior, you have no business in college, and even coached essays will help you realize that (or demonstrate the lack of that skill). But I can see short questions becoming more popular. I prefer them on my tests. Getting into college is, in some ways, just another test.

My Favorite Punctuation Poem So Far!

Ode to Em—

As you dash about, I admire how
Straight, crisp and lean you look;
And whether before, after, or between
Your words, phrases, and clauses—
You create bold—almost brash—pauses.
Your sharp, double-sided sword either
Interrupts, explains, or provides a crisp refrain—

Your more subdued and delicate cousin Comma,
More delicately shapes her conversational stance.
With a classic hook, an almost unstated elegance,
She crooks her tiny tea cup drinking finger and smiles,
While you slash and grin like a pirate defending his men.
On all matters of meaning, movement, and patterns.

Sandra Ridpath

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