Fantastic Flix for Kids

Been meaning to write a post on Fantastic Mr. Fox – Wes Anderson’s marvelous screen version of the classic children’s book of the same name by Roald Dahl. Although it’s been out for about eight months (Nov 2009), we recently saw it and instantly fell in love. Both my children, one eight the other four, were mesmerized by the colors, characters and overall visual approach – and the storyline kept myself and my wife glued to the screen – which is rare when watching a kids’ flick. It helps greatly when the voice talent includes George Clooney (as Mr. Fox), Meryl Streep,long-time collaborators Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman.  

In the age of CGI-based animated spectacles on IMAX screens in mind-blowing 3D – it was a very nice change of pace to see a movie using stop motion to tell the story. It feels so different and precious (in a good way) – considering the amount of effort and painstaking detail necessary to bring the dolls used in the movie to life. And if you’re familiar with Mr. Anderson’s work – Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou – then you’ll immediately notice the director’s highly recognizable and unique style in this movie.

The other remarkable aspect of the picture is the eclectic and surprising soundtrack with songs ranging from The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, The Bobby Fuller Four, Burl Ives and magical original music by Alexandre Desplat – the French film composer who has scored over 100 films including The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Julie and Julia, Syriana, The Golden Compass – to name just a few.

We rented it once but then went out and bought it as this movie will be (and has been) watched many times over. If you’ve got kids of any age – I suggest you do the same.

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Dads, Be Prepared. Worry More.

When I was younger I used to read (or more accurately “skim”) Cosmopolitan Magazine because it offered me what I thought at the time was insight into how women think, what they want and what they’re looking for. Way back in the day – when I was doing this, occasionally I’d stumble on a couple of bits and pieces that I actually used. If nothing else, it provided interesting material for chatting up a cutey pie on a Friday night.

Recently, I’ve found more relevant and more helpful content at DoubleX – a women’s focused website with buckets of well written content on news, politics, parenting, relationships, etc. that I access usually through my Slate.com visits. As a husband and father, the Cosmo sex quiz or “How to Get Guys to Buy You Whatever You Want” articles aren’t as helpful anymore… go figure.

Click here for an article I came across highlighting an interesting perspective that men ultimately suffer more than women when their kids leave for college.  This is consistent with my personal experience (and distant recollections) that guys take longer to get over serious relationships simply because we aren’t skilled at managing and sharing our emotions  –  with ourselves or our friends, which helps tremendously in coming to terms with a break-up and moving on.

The DoubleX article details how men, who – according to the piece “…don’t worry about things until they happen”, aren’t prepared for the shift that’s required when a child leaves home. The author, Mimi Swartz, writes that she (and her friends) begin the process months if not years before, thinking, worrying and mourning the pending seperation and are therefore better prepared when it happens and consequently able to work through the process much more quickly – and easily. With men, apparently not…

So Pops, if you want to make things easier for yourself when it does happen – start now. Although my kids are still in elementary school, I do try to really be present and relish every moment I can get – cuz it’s flying by so fast, college applications will be flying out the door in what will seem like a blink of an eye.

I’d love to hear from any dads (or moms) that can validate (or refute) this but it makes a lot of sense to me.

Top 10 Realistic TV Dads

I started thinking the other day about the portrayal of fathers on TV after watching “Californication” – Showtime’s steamy Sunday night guilty pleasure staring David Duchovny as the LA-based, sex-addicted, Porsche-driving, rebellious-author-turned-walking-social-commentator dad of a goth teenage girl.

Although the story lines get a bit over the top IMHO, there’s something authentic about his well-intentioned but flawed attempts of trying to be a stand-up father figure for his daughter.

But since the early days of the tube we have typically been served cardboard cut outs of paternalistic cliches  – either bland, uninteresting prototypes (think Ward Cleaver, Mr. Brady) or the knuckle-headed slob (Al Bundy, Homer, et al).

We’ve all seen the lists of TV dads that exemplify the vaulted model of daddy-dom…Dick Van Dyke and Clifford Huxtabel.  I started thinking – who were the TV dads that actually reflected the real, conflicted, emotionally confused and less than perfect pops who are out there doing the best they can?  So, for your review, reaction and rebuttal – I submit the following:

10. Gomez AddamsThe Addams Family

He was rich, stylish, madly in love with his wife (remember “Cara mia!”) never flinched at stressful or scary moments and always looked at the bright side of things. Although a caricature, his ability to stay well above the normal fray of fatherhood bucked the trend of the stressed out or overly protective dad that would typically be portrayed to TV audiences.

9. Dan Conner Roseanne

He got angry, slammed doors, yelled at his kids and his wife – perhaps not exemplary behavior but John Goodman brought real angst and frustration that I always though was kind of ballsy for a prime time sitcom. Although a hard worker – was constantly stretched financially and those issues were also brought to bear on the show – but he ultimately stayed grounded and worked through the messes – a good real role model.

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8. Tom CorbettCourtship of Eddie’s Father

Bill Bixby’s character (originally played by Glenn Ford in the 1963 movie that spawned the series) was a role model dad that struggled throughout the show to find a partner – thus the title. His failures with women brought an authentic vulnerability and made him real – not a super dad who can handle any problem or challenge thrown at him (he’d save that for when he’d get angry and turned into the Hulk). BTW – Ron Howard played the son in the movie.

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7. James Evans, Sr.Good Times

Although angry and frustrated with the indignities and struggles of being a working man, James Evans, Sr (John Amos) still brought an even-handed rational approach in relating to his wife and kids. You could tell that he was trying with all his might to leave his troubles at the door. And with a son like JJ ( Jimmy Walker), he was a shining example of restraint, as JJ’s repeated “dynomite” would cause a lesser man to toss his butt out the window of their high-rise.

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6. Elliot Weston ThirtySomething

Michael Steadman was too stoic and restrained, while Elliot Weston (Timothy Busfield) was the emotionally charged, passionate but at times misdirected father figure in the late ’80’s yuppie drama. Although his infidelities take him outside the bounds of accepted “fatherly behavior” – his love for his children while dealing with his conflicts with marriage and reconciling unfulfilled dreams, in short – his complexity as a character made him way more interesting than most of the other characters on the show.

 

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5. Mr. Cunningham– Happy Days

Mr. Cunningham is on this list despite the fact that he’s on most other top TV dad lists because Tom Bosley really brought forth the exasperation and surrender a father feels in dealing with their teenagers. He always redeemed himself in the end but the journey towards redemption was filled with the struggle of doing what he thought was right despite everyone around him encouraging him to do otherwise for the sake of keeping the peace. His desire to stay true to what he believed in and stand against the “would you rather be right than happy” mantra rings true now more than ever.

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4. Fred Flintsone The Flintstones

Although he came across many times as a bit of a dufus, Fred – based on Jackie Gleason’s character from the Honeymooners, always represented a dad who maintained respect in his household despite his occasional gaffes. He was a true blue collar kind of guy – bowling, pool, cards – he was a guy’s guy and his aggressiveness and loudness served him. He loved his Pebbles and his interactions with Wilma serve as a pretty decent model of a loving, attentive, well-meaning husband.

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3. Michael Bluth Arrested Development

As the only sane and somewhat decent adult figure in a cast of selfish, manipulative, co-dependent, mean and dysfunctional characters, Michael Bluth’s efforts to raise his son – George Michael (Michael Cera) stands out in stark contrast. His efforts to keep the family together while they all careen around him on drugs, booze and subversive sexual behaviors are noble and almost heroic. The struggle to keep from being pulled into his convicted father’s neurosis and paranoia while maintaining some semblance of a moral compass is hilarious AND exemplary.

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2. Hank Moody Californication

He’s a sex addict. He’s a recreational drug user. He’s a brilliant but burnt-out writer. He’s a dad. Juxtaposing the rock-n-roll LA lifestyle Hank lives with the sometimes mundane duties of being a dad is part of what makes Californication a compelling watch. He wants to do the right thing – and often does but his lessor instincts sometimes gets the best of him and he, like a lot of dads, has to figure out how to surpress the selfish streak that runs through all of us.

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1. Archie Bunker All in the Family

Considered the greatest TV character of all time by TV Guide, Archie Bunker was the quintessential bigot – loud-mouthed, ignorant, rude. But underneath the crust, Carroll O’Connor’s character was ultimately a man who was never motivated by malice or hatred – but was simply channeling a provincial and prevalent mindset of the times. Remember the episode he tried to stop a KKK cross burning? Or when he took in his Jewish niece? Whether you liked him or not – he’s on the list simply because he reflects a real perspective that very much still exists today.

What are your top picks? Send me yours and I’ll post them to this one. Either comment below or send an email to info@poppapa.com.

The Red Balloon – Pre-Pixar Movie Magic

You know you’re watching something special when mom, dad, an eight year old boy and a three year old girl are all equally immersed and captivated by a 34 minute French movie with English subtitles that’s over a half a century old. Granted there’s only about five lines of dialogue in the movie (and amazingly still won the 1957 Academy Award for Best Screenplay – which really does prove that “less is more” once and for all) so there’s very little reading that is required. The Red Balloon, an almost wordless motion picture, is a fantasy piece by director Albert Lamorisse – who cast his son in the starring role as the little Parisian boy who finds a red balloon on his way to school and begins a magical, intimate and ultimately trusting friendship with the bright red shiny orb. Red_balloon

The movie has almost a living story book feel, with amazingly composed shots of the Ménilmontant neighborhood of Paris which apparently was razed in the late 1960’s. So the movie actually also serves as a recorded preserve of the Belleville area of the city which was a unique neighborhood of steep staircases, narrow passageways and cobblestone streets.

Typically “Friday Night Movie Night” is a boy’s event since little sister is usually in bed by 8pm but tonight was our first family movie night, and thanks to grandma Mama Mela – who spent weeks hunting down the movie – which was only recently released on DVD, we all got to experience a wonderful, touching, beautiful movie.

And the real magic IMO….is that there wasn’t one single computer graphic, blue screen shot, motion capture, 3D animation or technical special effect used. Nor was there a celebrity voice-over, merchandising tie-in or super cool soundtrack with hit singles from Black Eyed Peas or Hannah Montana – just a sweeping string-based score, a great, simple, compelling story, a balloon, a very very thin piece of thread and the opportunity for any and all of us to be connected by pure imagination.

Click here to get it on Amazon: The Red Balloon

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Wee See for Me (and you too)

I’m a big fan of The Polyphonic Spree – the choral symphonic rock group from Dallas Texas, which is headed by Tim DeLaughter. So when I came across a company, Wee See, that produces visual stimulation DVDs for infants with music scored, composed and performed by Tim, I had to check it out. For a quick taste of the experience, click here:

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Fans of The Polyphonic Spree will recognize the bright and shiny melodies in the DVDs which are slow methodically dynamic high contrast black and white animations that are soothing and actually pretty fun to watch. I can imagine a concert or party (for grown-ups) with these as visualizations in the background. Here’s a sample of one of the DVDs: