January 31, 2009

Library Program: Paint with Coffee

In a week, I am leading a workshop on painting with coffee. This is part of our program series in preparation for our annual art contest. My colleague is going to do a program on street art. I saw the paint with coffee idea in the Collaborative Summer Reading Manual for this year's teen theme Express Yourself @ your library. I also found several good website by coffee artists, but no one really had a step by step video that I could find.

The best resource I found was an interview with an artist in which he describes his process. I also wasn't sure what type of coffee to use. Gathering supplies for this program is pretty simple. You need instant coffee, watercolor paper, brushes of different sizes, shallow bowls for mixing, and something to cover your work area with.

January 17, 2009

Movie Review: Gran Torino

Gran Torino is an unexpected treat—the type of movie that rarely comes along. You find yourself riveted to the spot, surprised at how much empathy you feel for a character that you think you would despise in real life.

Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) is a Korean War veteran. He’s racist as can be and isn’t ashamed of it. The only things he really seems to enjoy are beer, his dog, his tools, and his work—oh yeah, and his prized possession, a 1972 Gran Torino. His favorite facial pattern is a disapproving sneer. His favorite action seems to be spitting tobacco as he sneers. He despises young people and especially scantily dressed females. His sons are a disappointment to him.

The crisis point happens when the boy next door, Thao, tries to steal the aforementioned car. Thao is Hmong and considered too feminine by his family. He likes gardening better than hard labor. Walking down the street one day, he is harassed by some Latino gang members and bailed out by his Hmong cousins. This seeming favor becomes dangerous when they decide Thao should join their gang even if he has to be forced. The car theft is an initiation for him. Since he fails, he’s in the dog house, and they come to teach him a lesson. Just at as they’re about to drag him off, out comes Walt, now on his second night of interrupted sleep, Dirty Harry style to threaten the gangbangers with a shot gun. This is where the turning point in the movie happens.

Thao’s very large, very duty-bound family decides that Thao and the entire Hmong community are in Walt’s debt for the attempted crime and his heroic shotgun thing. Despite Walt’s protests they insist on giving him food and gifts as thank you tributes. Then Thao is given to Walt as his personal slave for a week. Walt decides to toughen Thao up.

January 06, 2009

Movie Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Since I first saw the trailer for this film, I have been looking forward to its release. I thought it looked like a beautiful love story, but more than that, an exploration into one man's life. It would be a story about a man who faces insurmountable challenges from the get go, but still has a full life. Boy, was I right. But I had my doubts that would be right.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is based on a short story written by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The short story and movie couldn't be more different. Many people say the book is always better. Here is a case where that is not true. The short story is typical Fitzgerald. The family is dysfunctional. The content is dark, dark, dark. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. In the short story, Benjamin is born, lives, and dies. Everything goes very quickly. His wife is mentioned in one paragraph. You can read the whole thing yourself online. I found the short story depressing. Benjamin is not a particularly likable character. After his wife gets old, he grows bored of her and goes off to have adventure. He is rejected his whole life except for one period where he is a successful football star. Lucky for the screenwriters, the movie goes in a different direction. Don't get me wrong, the short story is well written and will make you think. But I like stories with some hope. The short story doesn't have it.

The movie, on the other hand, is a tale of a man who by all accounts should have died. His mother dies giving birth to him. His father considers him a curse and slips into the night to get rid of him as quickly as possible. By some miraculous touch, he lives. He is born an old man and finds himself getting younger as time passes. He has many physical problems. The first 20 so years of his life are spent in a "home" for invalids and people with disabilities: the rejects of society. He is taken in by the kind young Queenie, who becomes Button's adopted Momma.

The plot takes many twists and turns that would go on longer than a review should. Suffice it to say that Benjamin visits many places, meets many interesting people, and his ailment does nothing to stop him. The film that is most similar would be Forrest Gump, so I wasn't at all surprised when I learned that Eric Roth, one of the co-writers of the screenplay for Benjamin Button, also wrote the Forrest Gump screenplay.

The main relationship of note is his lifelong friendship and then romance and then something even more with the red-headed Daisy.

January 04, 2009

Movie Review: The Painted Veil

I am a sucker for love stories. I am a special sucker when love happens between 2 people that don't seem to be able to stand one another. Isn't that essentially what happens in Pride and Prejudice?

In The Painted Veil, Kitty (Naomi Watts), a beautiful, vivacious girl from a moderately wealthy family agrees to marry Walter (Edward Norton), a serious doctor. You couldn't find a seemingly more mismatched pair. Kitty likes to play games, especially tennis and cards. She likes dances and the theater. Walter has a scientific, rational mind, and shows little interest in emotion or passion or any kind. He is a bacteriologist (he informs Kitty) and is leaving for Shanghai the next day. Of course, we know it's always those quiet ones . . .

Walter believes he can make Kitty happy in the typical way men think they can. Give them pretty things and an occasional fun night out, and they'll be happy. A fun girl like Kitty wants companionship, something the doctor lacks experience in. She might have allowed him to make her happy if he wasn't such a bore. Even I found this doctor boring, and I am an Edward Norton fan. Divorce was not an option in those days, so she begins an affair with the more suave politician (Liev Schreiber).

When Walter discovers the infidelity, he gives Kitty and ultimatum: come with him to an agricultural town that is suffering from a cholera epidemic or he will divorce her in a public humiliating fashion.