Friday, September 30, 2011

Fast Five Friday: TV Edition

A new TV season is upon us. It's good to have my favorite shows back, and I've tried out a few new shows as well. Here are five thoughts on the current state of my television viewing.

5) Really glad Kristen Wiig is back for another season of SNL: I did watch Bridesmaids last weekend-brilliant. I'm sure it'll make my top 10 of the year. With all of Wiig's success, I wasn't sure if she'd be back.

4) Person of Interest: This is one of the new shows I'm trying out. It's got Michael Emerson from Lost (man, I miss that show), and it was created by J.J. Abrams and Jonathan Nolan (Christopher's brother). The show has an interesting premise, but the first two episodes have been underwhelming. Not sure if I'm going to stick with this one.  

3) Prime Suspect: I like having a good cop show in the mix. I love Southland, but I'm not sure if that's coming back. If the first episode is any indication, this show may become a regular for me. Maria Bello is the real deal, and it looks like she's found a role she can sink her teeth into.

2) Parks and Rec: This show has grown on me the past couple years. The ensemble cast is great, and I have a feeling it may give The Office a run for its money as my favorite show on TV.

1) The Office: I am seriously going to miss Steve Carell, but Ed Helms is one funny guy. I'm hoping his expanded role will keep the show running smoothly. I like the addition of James Spader. It feels like he's doing a middle age version of Stef from Pretty in Pink, which is a damn good idea in my book.

What shows are you watching? Are your favorites holding up? Any new shows to recommend?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Show Me How to do the Raji

The Packers play the Bears later today, a continuation of one of the longest and most intense rivalries in all of sport. The last time the two teams met, the Packers defeated the Bears to go the Super Bowl, perhaps the most meaningful win in this long and storied rivalry. It was the day after my dad's memorial service, and I still can't believe how it happened. I wrote about it back then, and I'd like to repost that piece in my dad's honor today:

My Dad Was Smiling Down

My dad loved the Green Bay Packers. He had to be smiling down yesterday. The Packers beat their archrival, the Chicago Bears, to reach the Super Bowl. It doesn't get much better than that. My brother and I got to watch the game together, and my dad's spirit was definitely there with us. The way the game unfolded would have been particularly satisfying for my dad.

My dad was a year round fan. One of the biggest weekends of the year for my dad was draft weekend. The last few years we watched the draft together, hours of talking about football and life. Those draft days are really great memories. Two years ago my dad predicted the Packers would draft a nose tackle from Boston College named BJ Raji. I'd never heard of the kid, but sure enough, the Packers drafted this guy. My dad was adamant Raji was going to be a great player for the Packers. My brother and I bought him a Raji jersey for Christmas. I was wearing the jersey yesterday in my dad's honor. I know it's corny to think my dad's spirit had anything to do with what happened yesterday, but I'm going to think it anyway.

I'm not a guy who cries about sports, but big ol' BJ Raji brought tears to my eyes yesterday.

There will probably be a few more today.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fast Five Friday: Funny Women

For last week's Fast Five, I chose my favorite comedies. It was pointed out, and fairly I think, that my choices are male-centric. I have written about my own bias before, particularly as it applies to my reading habits. I am not about to argue that my taste in comedy is devoid of bias. It is unintentional, but it's hard to deny it's there. The stuff that makes me laugh, makes me laugh, what can I say. That being said, there are many hilarious women in movies these days, so this week's FFF is for the ladies.

5) Kristen Wiig: The only reason I have Wiig at #5 is because I haven't seen Bridesmaids yet. Not because I don't want to. Meg and I prefer to watch most movies at home these days, so we decided to wait. We're going to watch it tomorrow night, and I have no doubt I'll love it. With the success of Bridesmaids, I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot more of Wiig on the big screen. She's probably my favorite SNL player of all-time, so I look forward to many more funny movies from her.

4) Holly Hunter: I loved Hunter in Broadcast News, and of course, Raising Arizona. I love movies about families, usually dysfunctional, coming together for holiday hijinks. Hunter stars in one of the very best, Jodie Foster's Home for the Holidays. Hunter is understated and hilarious.

3) Jane Lynch: So far Lynch has been relegated to fairly small roles in the movies. No matter how small the role, she always manages to steal the show. She is hilarious in Role Models and Talledega Nights, and mind-numbingly funny in 40-Year-Old Virgin. With the success of Glee (which I've never watched), I'm hoping to see Lynch in bigger roles in the movies. By the way, you really might want to google her and Bill Maher reading Anthony Wiener's emails.

2) Frances McDormand: McDormand is married to one of the Coen brothers, and she's been in many of their movies. She's always great, but her crowning glory is Fargo. Marge Gunderson is one of the great female characters, period. Minnesotans will try to tell you the accent is exaggerated, but I lived in Minnesota for 8 years, and let me tell ya, she nailed it.

1) Tina Fey: I thoroughly enjoyed both of Fey's major star turns in Baby Mama and Date Night. She wrote the screenplay for Mean Girls, a wickedly funny take on the modern female high school experience. I know Fey has the whole 30 Rock thing going, but I really hope she keeps cranking out the movies.

There you have it, five seriously funny women. As always, let me know what you think of the choices, and let us know which women and movies tickle your funny bone.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Things on my Mind

I feel like writing, but my mind is a bit scrambled. I usually have a specific topic in mind when I sit down to write a blog post, but a unifying theme is eluding me right now. I do have some things on my mind though.

Meg and I watched Everything Must Go this weekend. This movie was barely in theaters and didn't make much of a splash, but I loved it. Will Ferrell, very toned down, plays Nick Halsey, an alcoholic who loses his job. His wife leaves him, locks him out of the house and dumps all of his things in the front yard. Halsey has a yard sale and with help from two strangers, starts the road to recovery. The movie was based on a Raymond Carver short story, and it definitely had a literary feel.

I was flipping through channels last night, and I came across Greta Van Susteren interviewing some guy about the state of education. It was hardly surprising to hear more teacher-bashing, but it got me pretty riled up. According to Fox, and quite frankly, way too many liberals in this country, teachers have become the enemy, the evil teachers' union and exorbitant teacher salaries the sole reason the American education system is struggling. I try to ignore the anti-teacher rhetoric that seems de rigueur these days, but sometimes it can't be avoided. At least Matt Damon has teachers' backs.

On a final note, today is the day "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" finally goes away. It's about time. I was very disappointed in Obama for not getting this done earlier, but I'm glad he finally came through. In my book, he has a few more promises to live up to, but this is a big one.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Fast Five Friday: Comedies

I had two inspirations for this week's Fast Five. Earlier this week, James over at Luke, I Am Your Father dreamt about funny movies and posted his top ten. Then yesterday, /Film had a link to Time Out London's Top 100 comedies of all time. With my penchant for lists, it's no wonder I can't stop thinking about my own favorite comedies. This is one of the more fluid lists I've done for FFF, but these are my top five comedies on this particular Friday afternoon.

5) Raising Arizona: This was my first Coen brothers' movie, and I've been a huge fan ever since.

4) Fletch: I've been quoting Fletch for most of my life, and the lines never get old.

3) Midnight Run: This one may be a little under the radar, but the combination of DeNiro and Charles Grodin was brilliant. The best part of the movie though was Dennis Farina.

2) Old School: This is the most recent comedy on the list. I have a feeling it will be a lot like Fletch, people quoting the lines for years to come.

1) The Big Lebowski: My favorite comedy of all time, probably my favorite movie of all time.

Let me know what you think of my choices, and please, leave some of your all-time favorite comedies. We all can use a good laugh, and this post might be a great resource.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Thoughts on This School Year

I got an email today that blew my mind: mid-quarter grades are due by Friday. The passage of time seems to be defying the laws of physics, or whatever scientific principle applies to the passage of time. Let me remind you, I'm an English teacher. When it comes to science, unfortunately, I'm a bit like Michelle Bachmann discussing Paul Revere.

The year is off to a great start. My school is a failing school, and we have put an aggressive plan in place to change the culture. Changing the culture of a school is a Herculean effort, and I feel like I'm going a hundred miles an hour all day. The kind of change we're trying to make takes a long time, but I can feel a different vibe in the building. The kids feel it too. More than one kid has complained about how strict things are now. That may not sound like much, but let me tell ya, it's huge. I am cautiously optimistic we're on the right track.

I wanted to share one of the highlights of my year so far. Last week I took my classes to the library to check out books. In one of my classes, two boys checked out the same book. They went off to a corner and began quietly reading, taking turns. On the walk back to class, they kept right on reading out loud, completely immersed. It was a sight to behold.

We have a lot of really cool kids this year, but as usual, a few stand out. There's the girl whose outfits are just crazy enough to be fashionable, the African American kid who I can only describe as the black Michael Cera, the new kid who is so dorky and smart (he reads The New York Times on his mother's phone), the other smart kids already defer to him. And then there's the boy who wants to eat lunch with me every day. I usually say no when kids want to come in for lunch, but this kid is just so damn sweet, I can't turn him away. He came to Open House last week with his mom, and he introduced me as his lunch buddy.

That's just four kids out of the 125 I have in class every day. I know plenty of other kids will make an impression as the year wears on.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Fast Five Friday + 2

This week was even busier than last. This school year is kicking my butt, and soccer started this week. I should have things under control soon, but once again, only one post this week.

L.G. Smith and Hektor Karl kindly gave me a cool award recently. L.G. and Hektor are both amazing bloggers. Do yourself a favor and become followers immediately. The 7 x 7 Link Award involves looking back at old posts to find pieces of writing that made a mark. I dig that.

Most Beautiful: I've written a number of posts about the bittersweet nature of parenting, but The Raft may be my favorite.

Most Helpful: I'm not sure the blog is much help, but if there's one thing I know, it's movies. My Top Ten Movies of the Decade may give you some ideas for your next movie night.

Most Popular: I just reposted Leonard Smalls vs. Anton Chigurh in July, but with twice as many pageviews as the next closest post, it fits the bill.

Most Controversial: I don't think I've riled up much controversy, but my post on Gender Bias in Reading comes to mind.

Most Surprisingly Successful: During the A-Z Challenge, I whipped out a post for B about Ferris Bueller. I didn't think it would get much of a response, but as of today, it's the post with the most comments.

Most Underrated: I've written a lot about teaching, and Leave it to the Bard nicely captures the essence of why I love my job.

Most Prideworthy: I'm a proud Papa, and I write about my girls quite a bit. My S and Q posts from the A-Z Challenge are oozing with pride.

Now I get to pass the award on to 7 more outstanding bloggers. As always, give 'em a read and follow their exploits. I look forward to seeing their selections.

Munk Davis
David Macaulay at Brits in the USA
Michael Offutt-SLC Kismet
James at Luke, I Am Your Father
Olga at Artful Nuance
Carrie at Kiwi's Life

Friday, September 2, 2011

Fast Five Friday: Great Nonfiction

This was a crazy week, so I wasn't able to fit in a midweek post. While I was too busy to get myself in front of the computer long enough to crank out a coherent piece of writing, I did see on Twitter that Time Magazine put out a list of the top 100 nonfiction books. Now that's something I can wrap my head around. I've been thinking about my favorite nonfiction for the past couple of days, and as of right now, here are my top five nonfiction books.

5) Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand: I'm not a huge horse racing fan, but this book isn't just about a horse. Hillenbrand manages to tell the story of the US during the Depression, when an underdog nation cheered for an underdog horse.  

4) We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families, Philip Gourevitch: This is a book about the genocide in Rwanda. I didn't know anything about Rwanda, about Hutus and Tutsis, and I remember feeling shocked and angered as Gourevitch explained how the world essentially turned a blind eye as hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered. This was were I first learned of Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager who risked his life to save hundreds of others, whose story later became the film Hotel Rwanda.

3) Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich: Ehrenrich took a series of low wage jobs to highlight the struggle of working class people in modern America. With the economy in its current state, this book may be even more relevant now than when it was first published ten years ago.

2) A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers: This is a memoir, and while Eggers certainly takes his share of creative liberties to tell his story, the honesty and power of this book floored me.  

1) Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns: This is history that reads like fiction. Kearns details how Abraham Lincoln managed to put political differences aside, inviting three men who ran against him to join his cabinet. Lincoln successfully navigated complicated personal and professional relationships on the path to abolition and victory in the Civil War. A lot of people think Obama took a similar approach with his cabinet.

I'm always on the look-out for a good nonfiction read. What are some of your favorites?