The Shapiro Files

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lessons in Parenting

Here’s a little something that recently brightened my day.

It was just another regular morning around the Shapiro household. We had all just finished breakfast and were enjoying a few minutes of downtime in the living room. Melody and Julianne were sitting together on their Dora the Explorer character kiddie-couch like the two proverbial peas in a pod they often are, while Marcie and I were similarly situated on a love seat.

Never one to miss a happy domestic moment, I took the opportunity to give Marcie a prolonged hug. While in mid-embrace, I began to sense that little eyes were pointed in our direction. I looked down to see that Melody and Julianne were indeed watching us with great interest. Then with a big smile, Melody gave Julianne a loving hug, imitating her Mommy and Daddy perfectly.

Not only was I completely charmed by this unexpected gesture of sibling affection, but I also had one of those “ah ha” moments. It occurred to me that this is a perfect illustration of how children truly do learn by example. If they grow up in a household where their parents are affectionate, then they tend to be more affectionate. Of course, such learning by example also applies to the negative end of the spectrum when children grow up in less than ideal household circumstances.

So it should be a great reminder to all parents to always treat their spouses with the same love, courtesy, and respect we’d want our children to exhibit in their interpersonal interactions. It’s not enough to be on our best behavior only when interacting directly with our children; it’s how they see us interact with others that’s just as important.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Out of the Mouth of Babes

In the days leading up to so-called “Super Tuesday” this week, there was plenty of talk around the house about the candidates — obviously with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama coming up most frequently. Not really having a terribly strong opinion about either (both have their relative strengths and weaknesses), I often playfully asked Melody whom she prefers. Her response was usually something to the effect of “I like Bama” — probably because “Obama” (or “Bama” in her case) is simply more fun to say.

Our designated polling location was in the garage of a house just up the street and I swung by on the way home from work to cast my vote. Marcie hadn’t had a chance to go earlier in the day and decided to go after dinner. But when Melody got wind of this plan, she insisted in joining along. At first, we just thought she wanted to go with Marcie just for the sake of going on an outing with her mother. But Marcie soon learned why Melody was so keen to go on this particular outing. When they arrived at the polling location, Melody exclaimed, “Bama’s house!” Apparently, with all the talk of elections and voting, Melody somehow associated a polling location with the candidates themselves and thought she was going to “their house.” Naturally Marcie tried to clarify the nature of their errand, but Melody remained convinced she was going to see “Bama.”

Interestingly enough, Melody turned out not to be particularly disappointed that there was no “Bama” present amongst the ballet boxes. This may have possibly been because the poll workers gave her a whopping four “I voted” stickers — a real treasure trove when you’re two.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Netflix Wrap-Up #18

Previous installments: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12, #13, #14, #15, #16, #17

Yes folks, it’s time for a new Netflix DVD film review wrap-up. Marcie and I haven’t watched a whole bunch of movies since my last wrap-up in November, but the list has finally grown long enough to warrant a new one. So without further ado, here we go...

Idiocracy (2006) - This follow-up to the cult classic Office Space by writer/director Mike Judge received theatrical distribution for all of about five minutes, which is a shame because this film actually has a lot going for it. The premise is very clever (a future in which intelligence is extinct) and the film has more than its share of funny moments and quotable lines. I think if the studios gave this film half a chance, it would have found an audience. But at least it’s on DVD now. So if you’re looking for something that’s decidedly low-brow, but actually very smart under the surface, this is worth checking out. My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Fast Food Nation (2006) - Director Richard Linklater’s fictionalized adaptation of the non-fiction book of the same name. It’s a pretty dark portrait of the fast food industry (particularly the conditions of meat packing plants) and one I have no doubt is pretty accurate. It’s a little clumsy in its plotting, but that’s more than made up for in its solid dialogue and performances. As a warning, please note that if you choose to see this movie, you may not want to eat a hamburger for a looooong time. My Netflix rating: 4 stars

The Last King of Scotland (2006) - I’ve never really known much about the dictatorship of Idi Amin or Ugandan history in general, so I found this to be a compelling look at a place and time all but unknown to me. Yes, Forest Whitaker is very powerful in his role and deserving of his Oscar; but it’s worth noting that the movie’s main focus is on Dr. Nicholas Garrigan, played quite ably by James McAvoy. Thus, this outsider’s look is a little off-putting and keeps Amin at a considerable distance. Still the plot keeps things fairly brisk and the characters remain compelling throughout. My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Grizzly Man (2005) - Master filmmaker Werner Herzog has aimed to prove in film after film that nature can be mindlessly cruel and deadly. In this fine documentary, he found in Timothy Treadwell the perfect embodiment of this thesis. Treadwell’s footage is absolutely stunning in both its beauty and recklessness. And of course, Treadwell’s ultimate demise by the very subjects he so dearly loved remains the chief validation of Herzog’s view of nature. To that end, I wished that Herzog didn’t inject himself in the film as much as he did, as the footage speaks for itself. But still a very compelling piece of work. My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) - A gorgeous and surprisingly dark fairy tale that no child should watch. I was reminded a little of Last King of Scotland in that I once again found myself learning about a time and place about which I knew close to nothing. As such, the film ably serves as a cautionary tale about the horrors of Fascism — not that any of us need a film to teach us of this. But it’s the juxtaposition of such evil in the face of pure childhood innocence (beautifully portrayed by Ivana Baquero) that gives this film its power. Highly recommended (but please only watch it with its original Spanish language soundtrack). My Netflix rating: 5 stars

For Your Consideration (2006) - The first Christopher Guest film in years that’s not presented in a faux-documentary style, but otherwise still built upon a series of improvisations by his usual ensemble of comedic actors. For some reason this slightly different approach doesn’t work quite as well as some of his previous films — partially because the broad comic style much of his cast adopts is a little too “big” for a more traditional film narrative style. Far too many of Guest’s actors are going for the joke instead of playing their scenes straight and allowing surrounding circumstances to create the comedy. But that much said, there’s still a whole lot that’s funny in the film (especially Ricky Gervais and Fred Willard) and it’s quite on the mark when it comes to its depiction of Hollywood politics and players. My Netflix rating: 3 stars

Talk to Me (2007) - Take a little bit of Hustle and Flow, a sprinkling of Rocky, and a dash of Howard Stern’s autobiographical film Private Parts, and you pretty much have Talk to Me. It’s a mostly by-the-book look at what is actually a very interesting story about Ralph “Petey” Greene, a very popular and influential Washington D.C. DJ during the civil rights era of the 1960s. Don Cheadle gives yet another wonderful performance and his chemistry with Chiwetel Ejiofor makes for an entertaining, if not especially deep, film. My Netflix rating: 3 stars

Evening (2007) - Another nostalgic flash-back narrative along the lines of The Notebook and Bridges of Madison County. It’s about as formulaic and forced as it’s poorly cast (with the lone exception of a predictably fine performance by Meryl Streep). In a word: dreck. My Netflix rating: 1 star

Accepted (2006) - I suspected that this was not going to be a particularly good film, but hoped it would at least be funny. And I was right. There are enough funny (and quotable) moments with Lewis Black alone to make this an entertaining experience. Plus Justin Long and supporting cast are able to eke out a few additional chuckles. So I guess there are worse ways to spend 90 minutes. My Netflix rating: 2 stars

Once (2006) - A wonderful find. Marcie and I absolutely loved this tiny, ultra low-budget Irish film about musicians and the creative process. The action of the movie only takes place over a handful of days and there aren’t any grand sweeping plot arcs you’d expect in a film with this subject matter. Nope, you won’t get the moment when the “unknown musician” gets discovered by the wily talent scout and becomes an overnight sensation. You won’t get the predictable love story (guy finds girl, guy neglects girl in pursuit of his dreams, guy regains girl....oh and becomes a superstar to boot). You won’t even get the moment when the artist and friends are driving in a car, turn on the radio, and hear the artist’s song on the radio for the first time — an event that results in everyone hooting it up in joyful celebration. Nope, nothing like that. It’s just a simple story of musicians getting together and, well, making music. And what music it is! Marcie and I really loved the songs in the film (composed and performed by the extremely talented Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, who play the film’s lead roles). Very highly recommended. My Netflix rating: 5 stars