Saturday, April 14, 2018

In Support of Nichols Middle School Principal Adrian Harries

Last summer I was honored to be invited to join the board of the Organization for Positive Action and Leadership (OPAL), a nonprofit dedicated to improving racial equity in Evanston. OPAL was formed and is led by members of Evanston's Black community, and it is my honor to follow their lead.

This week we learned of a ridiculous opinion piece in Crain's Chicago Business attacking Nichols Middle School Principal Adrian Harries for doing his job. Specifically, the piece criticizes his use of racial affinity groups among staff members, widely considered by equity experts a best practice. 

I was proud to take part in drafting this response in support of Principal Adrian Harries, and it's our hope that District 65 will join us by publishing a full-throated defense of a courageous school principal.

In the event that the link to our response isn't permanent, the text is repeated below.


Saturday, January 9, 2016

White Fragility and Shadow Work

I wrote an essay for the Shadow Work email newsletter for the first time in a while.

White Fragility and Shadow Work

And had some positive feedback.

"I read your article on [the Shadow Work site] site and found it easy to read, organized so I could put your thoughts together in my mind, compelling and clearly passion driven!!!  Loved it!!!"

"I just completed reading your article in the newsletter and want to thank you for your honesty  and taking the time to address things that are so very important. I put an override definition on all isims -" an emotional commitment to ignorance." Bless you on your journey Alyce. Changing my ignorance concerning isims and my white privilege has been the greatest thing I have ever put myself to learn and change in my life. It's ongoing. ... All the best, and my heartfelt thanks to you."

"Thank you so much Alyce. Your willingness to share in an open and trusting way helps me to examine my own beliefs and agreements."

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Movies July-August 2014


MicMacs. What an amazing film. A dark-comic story about a man's crusade to take down the global arms trade with the help of some kooky friends and using some really clever strategies.

Wit. The film of a play that must be even more powerful on the stage. Emma Thompson plays a woman facing terminal cancer, and despite that the movie is quite funny at times and certainly thought-provoking.

Temple Grandin. What a delightful story, a true story about an autistic woman who not only has the life she wants but changes the life for autistic people coming after her. I'm very impressed with Claire Danes, I didn't know her range would extend this far.

The Book Thief. I thought this was a film for young people, but it stood up very well to adult scrutiny, thanks in part to an excellent performance by Geoffrey Rush.

The Grand Budapest Hotel. What a fun movie, as I expected it to be, coming from Wes Anderson, whose Moonrise Kingdom was one of my favorite films two years ago. I watched it twice and wouldn't mind a third time around, there's so much going on around the edges, like the keys on Gustave's lapels, that may go unnoticed the first time through. This must have been such a fun change for Ralph Fiennes after being Voldemort for so many years. The music is wonderful, as everything from Desplat seems to be. Don't miss the hat Tilda Swinton's character wears, or the end of the credits.


Apocalypto. Surprisingly good considering I don't care for its director, Mel Gibson. The images have stayed with me, and if the story strained credulity at times, I think it was trying to tell a good story about a man very devoted to his wife and child.

Dear Mr. Watterson. A documentary about the impact of the cartoon strip Calvin and Hobbes on readers. A few times I wanted to say to the director, "Get a life," but it was fun to see and hear about so many cartoons that I've enjoyed so much.

Afterwards. Starring one of my favorite actors, Romain Duris, an odd, somber story that never quite gripped me fully, and which seemed to suggest that people around you are going to drop like flies.


Empire Falls. What an inordinate waste of talent on the part of a superlative cast. I haven't read the book, so I don't know if this was a case of a 10-pound novel being shoved into an 8-ounce bag or what, but it's awful.

Oblivion. Predictable sci-fi film.

The Great Beauty. Some beautiful cinematography in this story about the beauty of Rome, but I found the main character, Jep, hard to like. He's a wealthy man who attends parties with socialites and snarks about people to their face. He has a miniature awakening when he learns of the death of someone he used to know, but by the time he shows any depth of character I had lost interest in him and the film. There are many more beautiful films to watch.


Top Gear. Apparently a favorite British TV show. If you enjoy listening to people whine about what's not working for them, with tantalizing scenery in the background that never gets its due, be my guest.


Amelie. It hadn't occurred to me that Amelie qualified as Magical Realism until I saw it listed, but considering how many other films in that genre are among my favorite recent films I shouldn't be surprised. The film has stood up very well to the passage of time, it's not at all dated.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Movies June 2014

Didn't see any "BEST" movies during June.


Tous les Matins du Monde. Surgeon General's warning: Do not watch this film if you are depressed, it's one of the most melancholic films I've ever seen. The performances are excellent, and if you adore the sound of the instrument known as a viol de gamba (similar to the cello but I think not as resonant) you may love this film in spite of the story. I would not have imagined that I could watch nothing but the face of Gerard Depardieu for a good 15-20 minutes without it being awkward, but that's how this film stars, it shows what a gifted actor he is.


The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The dialogue is not only extremely modern, and therefore unTolkienesque, but trite and predictable. The action is so constant that this is a lot like watching a video game except you can't do anything. Either Jackson or his set designer has decided that all mysterious places need to have great verticality so that the characters continually fall as things crumble, and it gets very monotonous. The only scene I enjoyed was the one in which Jackson finally lets Gandalf be Gandalf and have some power, rather than continually being a clueless dunderhead.

Young Sherlock Holmes. Paul and I both saw this originally years ago, and he wanted to see it again after all the other versions of Conan-Doyle's work we've seen recently, including the thrilling Sherlock. But it's really bad, suffering from Spielberg's insistence on making movies about people he wished he'd been and Chris Columbus' stifled scene-writing.

Pompeii. What can I say, I thought the special effects might be worth watching, though I suspected the story would be dumb. And it was, and they weren't, even the tsunami wasn't worth watching, seawater isn't that color. Kit Harrington showed more range than I would've expected based on his performance in Game of Thrones. Lots of things about the plot were borrowed from other better sword-and-sandal epics like Gladiator, and lots of other things made no logical sense.

The Hunger Games. Yow, I thought I'd enjoy this after reading a little about the story. My stomach hurt for at least the first half of the movie -- I'm all about keeping people safe, and this is the quintessential story about people who can't be safe, the safest choice they can make is to surrender to being killed so they don't have to murder others -- until Paul started speaking up about how silly much of it was. It's rare that he dislikes a movie more than I do, he thought it was completely ridiculous, and he made a lot of good points. Jennifer Lawrence is still a treat to watch, her ability to show in her face what's happening inside her is amazing, she's like a young Meryl Streep with more sex appeal. Woody Harrelson's character is bizarre, and Donald Sutherland was seriously miscast, I don't know what they were thinking, they needed somebody who can do corrupt and sleazy, which Sutherland apparently can't.


The Three Musketeers, the 1966 British 10-part television series starring Jeremy Brett as D'Artagnan. Brett and Brian Blessed as Porthos are the only two reasons to watch this. The only words to describe this series are, "it's a hoot." The performances are intentionally over the top, the music is so hyper-energetic, that it's fun to watch, sort of like a cross between a swashbuckler and the Keystone Cops. Brett is gorgeous. The first 5 episodes are much easier to follow than the last 5, in part because this was such a low-budget production, so if you don't already know the story you're going to be a bit lost.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Movies April-May 2014


The Lives of Others. This German film is the best film I've seen in the last few months. It won a ton of awards, and it deserved them. I don't want to say too much about the plot because it's a delicate one and I don't want to ruin the suspense for you should you end up seeing it.

Kick Ass. This film has more gratuitous violence in it than anything I've ever seen with the exception of Game of Thrones, but it's laugh-out-loud funny in a very dark way. About a young man who decides to make himself into a superhero. Did you see Olga Korbut's perfect-10 performance in the Olympics years ago? Chloe Grace Moretz's performance in this film reminds me of Olga's attitude as she achieved athletic perfection.


NO. A charming Chilean film about the advertising campaign that helped oust Augusto Pinochet from power. The context of this story was sometimes puzzling: in any American movie on this theme, thugs would show up at the door and blow the ad man's head off, and why that doesn't happen in this one means there was a context here that wasn't fully explained. Clearly Pinochet had the power to stay in power if he'd wished.

The Master. The first word that occurs to me about this film is "disturbing," and I recommend it only for the performance of Joaquin Phoenix, which is the best I've ever seen him do, and that's saying something. He plays a sailor after WWII who is persuaded to become a sort of disciple-slash-henchman to a charlatan who is clearly based on L. Ron Hubbard. There are loose threads left dangling, which seems unnecessary coming from filmmaking of this caliber: for example, at one point Phoenix's character enters a hotel room with malicious intent, and there are apparently no legal consequences.

La Vie en Rose. I knew nothing about the life of French singer Edith Piaf, and I rented this primarily because it starred Marion Cotillard, whom I enjoyed so much in Rust and Bone. It's mostly a sad film about a talented singer whose voice was unforgettable but who never became an adult; it's like watching a child become an alcoholic. Most of the singing is Piaf herself; whoever re-mastered her work did such a great job that I thought they must have dubbed in an imitator.

Samsara. An intriguing film, and oddly, the very first image, of Thai dancers, is what stayed with me, although there were many scenes throughout the film that were visually stunning. If, like me, you liked the idea of Koyaanisqatsi but don't care for its soundtrack by Phillip Glass, I recommend Samsara for more enjoyable music to accompany the sometimes startling images.

Seducing Doctor Lewis. Sort of a lighter-hearted retake on Waking Ned Devine with less realism and a lot more integrity. I love the music, performances and scenery in Waking Ned Devine but the townspeople's dishonesty gets to me: I believe it's going to come back to bite them sometime after the story ends and there are no more movie cameras watching; maybe they all get cancer or die in a tsunami. Seducing Doctor Lewis takes a different approach, and I'm less concerned about the long-term risks for the townspeople.


Seven Psychopaths. I actually liked some things about this film, it was just so frigging disturbing and the violence was ridiculous. It's very reminiscent of Pulp Fiction, with the scenes in time-ordered sequence and not as funny. Sam Rockwell's performance as a psychopath is so strong that I might be uncomfortable speaking with him in person.


Wishbone. Paul mentioned that his daughter Niki loved the Wishbone TV series when she was little. As I hadn't heard of it, we rented it, and found it sadly dated and no longer very funny, but that may be more due to our age than the length of time since it was produced.

Game of Thrones. Okay, I'll add a few words to the storm surge of writing on the web on this topic. When I moved in with Paul, he was watching GoT every Sunday night, and it was the end of Season 2, and I had a hell of a time figuring out what was going on and who was who. I continued watching the series with him up until the Red Wedding, when I signed off in disgust. Later, however, I read synopses of early episodes and realized that I had missed a good deal of the story's background and character development. So we rented Season 1, and from there kept watching (except for the Red Wedding, skipped those scenes) until I'd seen all the episodes I missed and re-seen the ones I'd seen before. I now get the characters a lot better, and every time we went out for a walk over a period of several weeks we began talking about the various characters and what we expected to happen. There are now just 2 episodes remaining in Season 4, and if the author has decided to kill off Tyrion Lannister, I suspect we'll give up on the series for good. But I for one have an idea how that can be avoided if anybody's interested. (The head of the Tyrell family, played by Diana Rigg, lures Jamie Lannister to a spot where her guards take him prisoner. She then reveals to Jamie's father, Tywin Lannister, that she's the one who killed Joffrey, and why (to protect her granddaughter), and lays the real responsibility for Joffrey's death at the feet of Cersei, who raised a monster, and Tywin, who allowed the monster to become king. What do you think?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Movies February-March 2014

This time I'm using the term HIGHEST QUALITY instead of BEST because we saw a very well made movie (The Paperboy) featuring some superb performances, but it's a creepy, disturbing movie whose existence I question and I'm not comfortable saying it was one of the "best" movies I saw.


Rust and Bone. Highly recommended, due to stellar performances by Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts. It's about an unlikely relationship between an orca trainer and a boxer with a young son and anger issues. Hard to watch at times, especially when he's with his son, but the human moments are true, and there's a touching phone scene near the end that I haven't been able to forget. (Paul's comment: Thoroughly believable performances.)

The Paperboy. Why does someone write a story like this, and why does someone make a movie out of it? Redeeming character qualities are in short supply, and I don't see anything useful to be learned from the story. I've never seen John Cusack in this type of role before, and I'm impressed by his range. Nicole Kidman's performance is astounding but I'm not surprised as I've seen her range before. Matthew McConaughey's character didn't seem to hang together very well. Zac Ephron did a respectable job of the least interesting character. Macy Gray did a fantastic job with a difficult character; her dialogue at the beginning of the film is confusing, which is unworthy of her character. (Paul's comment: These people are so scuzzy, you'll want to take a shower afterward.)

Gravity. Fun to watch, suspenseful, I wished mostly for more chances to see shots of earth. I'm not sure what else to says. Another film in which George Clooney seems to be just going through the motions and in which I never forgot Sandra Bullock was Sandra Bullock. I'm not sure why the filmmakers decided that when a human body encounters the vacuum of space nothing more exciting than freezing happens. (Paul's comment: The tension is well developed, and the special effects are truly spectacular.)

Suor Angelica. I'd seen one other filmed production of Puccini's Il Trittico, which consists of three one-act operas, and both have been mesmerizing because of the beauty of the music and the power of the story of a woman forced to give up her child. This one starred Rosalind Plowright whose voice is majestic and who can really act, which is a rarity in the opera world and a necessity in a role like this. (Paul's comment: Some operas take several hearings to become enjoyable. Not this one.)


Priceless. A fairly predictable romantic comedy in which Audrey Tautou looks more gorgeous than I thought she could. My favorite part was her giving tips on how to bamboozle a lover. (Paul's comment: Entertaining but not particularly significant.)

Heartbreaker. I rented this because Romain Duris has become one of my favorite actors, and it's a lot of fun. A few plot twists, so not entirely predictable.

Earth: The Biography. This five-part documentary (also known as Earth: The Power of the Planet) stars Scottish geologist Dr. Iain Stewart who travels the globe, dressed and equipped appropriately, and whose brogue is almost thick enough to be a supporting character. Each of the first four parts explains in an unusually big-picture way the role of something that helped shape our planet -- volcanoes, the atmosphere, ice and the oceans -- and I learned something significant about each of them. The fifth part debates the conventional wisdom that there must be many Earths out there in the universe. As marvelous as the subject matter and cinematography were, I sometimes found it hard to stay awake, I think because so much of Stewart's text was constructed from cookie-cutter sentences. But Paul and I had lots of fun with faux brogues. (Paul's comment: Photography was spectacular.)

Wild Pacific. I found this two-disc documentary series on the Pacific Ocean upon searching for films done by Benedict Cumberbatch, who does its narration. The cinematography is stunning and is enough reason to recommend this highly. Unfortunately, the script isn't very interesting and even contains the occasional grammatical error. (Paul's comment: But you just can't help being entertained by the spectacle.)

Fantastic Mr. Fox. I've read most of Roald Dahl's books but somehow missed this one. George Clooney does Mr. Fox's voice, and he's perfect for this glibly overconfident role, but even better are the cheesy smiles with which Mr. Fox excuses his behavior to his family members and friends. (Paul's comment: If you can get past the distraction of stop-motion animation, you'll find an interesting story with some interesting characters.)

Wind in the Willows. Paul is currently building a model of Ratty's house, so we've seen several film productions of Kenneth Grahame's book, which I've never read. I enjoyed this 2006 TV movie production that features Mark Gatiss (who plays Mycroft Holmes in Sherlock) as Rat. Bob Hoskins is great as Badger, and Matt Lucas is appropriately over-the-top as Toad. (Paul's comment: This is an interesting interpretation of a classic which has been done many times in many ways.)

Not the Messiah. This retelling of Monty Python's Life of Brian as a concert opera production was fun at times. (Paul's comment: It's a spectacular celebration of the 50th anniversary of Monty Python featuring a huge choir and orchestra in the Albert Hall in London with some wonderfully operatic/Broadway musical numbers. Wretched excess at its best.)


The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I don't care enough about the dwarves in Tolkien's The Hobbit to care very much about how their characters were changed for this film. (I liked Balin, who was also Bilbo's favorite, but Tolkien's Thorin is a pompous, greedy coward who does the right thing only on his deathbed. He is not a handsome action hero.) I do care deeply about the character of Gandalf, who is nearly unrecognizable in Peter Jackson's hands and would never be timid and subservient to Galadriel. Martin Freeman does an okay job of Bilbo, though I think he's much less the middle class British traditionalist than Tolkien intended. (Paul's comment: As usual Peter Jackson has taken a humble, charming story and turned it into an action-adventure spectacular bloated into being covered by three movies. This one frantically flies from one numbing action spectacle to the next with merciless intensity. Whatever happened to pacing? His studio is poised to desecrate Wind in the Willows later this year. We can expect the interpretation to be appalling.)

Noah. I'm really grateful that I was forewarned about the presence of "transformers" by a friend who saw this the day before we did, so that I didn't experience a huge disappointment within the first few minutes of the film, and instead had the pleasure of laughing out loud at the silliness of Hollywood. I enjoy watching Russell Crowe and he wouldn't be my casting choice for a religious fanatic, but he does all right. For the first time ever I enjoyed watching Jennifer Connelly; for some reason I've not liked watching her before. The special effects are entertaining, and that's the best thing I can think to say about this film. I walked out thinking about what a good film could be made about Noah. If nobody believed his dire predictions of flood and steered clear of the crazy guy building the boat. If then, when the rain began, their skepticism turned around only in time to try to hold onto the edges of the ark as it was lifted by furiously rising waters. If those inside were tormented by the cries of those dying outside, not unlike stories of those in Titanic's lifeboats. It could have been a poignant story of loss and survivor guilt. Oh well, maybe next time. (Paul's comment: It did an amazing job of walking that tightrope between impressive and ludicrous: not an easy thing to do. While the plot devices are downright unbelievable, the acting was good enough to make you almost believe them. It cleverly dealt with the issue of carnivores having to eat their prey, as well as manure galore, by putting the critters to sleep for their sojourn. But it did not deal with the inevitability of beasts and humans having to go forth and multiply through the miracle of incest. Great special effects (ho hum). Not a "see it in a theatre" level movie but worth a wait to see it from Netflix.)

Legend. Intriguing set design, and the most amazing opposite of character development, what fellow Monty Python fans might join me in calling "undergoing a total personality change.". That is, each character says at some point during this film, "Definitely A. On second thought, Not A." I feel bad about knocking this film, as it's one of Paul's favorites for its set designs. (Paul's comment: I do love the artwork that went into this film but the dialogue and story line are embarrassingly childish and hippy-dippy.)

The Princess and the Frog. I hardly remember this, it was so Disney-fied that the story was almost beside the point. This could've been good with more authentic New Orleans style and music. (Paul's comment: So far the Disney Princess Machine has pandered to other ethnic groups (Chinese with Mulan, Native American with Pocahontas, Arab with Aladdin) and Europeans (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Brave and Snow White) and now Southern African-American with The Princess and the Frog. As a native New Orleanian, I was pleased to see my city's unique culture displayed but embarrassed by seeing my town so patronized.)


Master and Commander. I saw this film in the theatre when it first came out because Russell Crowe was gorgeous, and I remember enjoying Paul Bettany even more. I gave Paul the DVD for his birthday, and this time around I understood the story much better, thanks largely to Paul's expert commentary. I really wish there was a sequel. (Paul's comment: The film is cobbled together from parts of Patrick O'Brian's nine-book series which is so historically authentic in speech, habits and nautical terminology that you almost have to have a dictionary to get through a single page. About as close as you could get to the experience of serving on a British war ship in 1802.)

Rommel. So far we've seen only two episodes of this documentary series on Erwin Rommel, and I would say it's well done but in an unusual way. Episode 1 is essentially the whole story, enlivened by interviews with Germans who knew him personally. Episode 2 focuses on a single pivotal battle, El Alamein, relying even more heavily on the interviews, which I find far more interesting than the footage and voiceovers. We don't yet know how the rest of the series will look, but I assume that each episode will focus on a particular battle or aspect of Rommel's career or character. (Paul's comment: It's the story of a decent fellow trying to be a good soldier and stay out of politics only to realize too late that he's working for a pack of delusional criminals.)

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Movies, January 2014


I didn't see any best-category films in January. I did, however, see a TV series that knocked my socks off, so I'll talk about that instead —--

Sherlock. My daughter's fiance gave Paul the first season on DVD for Christmas, and we didn't get to watching it for a week and a half. We were both just knocked out by the first episode, and I've been hearing the theme music in my head off and on ever since. We've now seen the rest of the series. Some episodes are much better than others ——-- A Study in Pink is superb, while The Blind Banker wasn't nearly as good and its title didn't even make sense. The series is sadly interesting for what it says about homophobia in our current era. It was commonplace for men in Abraham Lincoln's time to say "I love you" to each other without fear of anything being wrong or even odd about it, and I find it very sad that in today's world a movie about two men who are close friends is laughingly called a bromance, which misses the point altogether, that men can be emotionally close to other without having a sexual relationship, and that men are as capable of closeness as women are. I have the great fortune to have many close men friends and two brothers who have experienced the ManKind Project's initiation weekend, and I've seen the friendships they form and maintain, which add so greatly to their happiness as well as to their growth as people.

I hate Benedict Cumberbatch's haircut, and I don't find him at all attractive, but I enjoy watching his characterization of Holmes, which I would say is more pathological than other performances I've seen —-- more openly and obviously sociopathic and narcissistic. I love watching Martin Freeman, I find his face beautiful, and I love his characterization of Watson, so different from any I've seen before and so much more dramatic. I thought he was miscast as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit --— Bilbo is a bourgeois with unexpected gold inside, and Freeman just isn't bourgeois —-- and am delighted to enjoy him in this instead.

I think I would say that the best written episodes so far are the premier episode mentioned above, The Reichenbach Fall, The Empty Hearse and The Sign of Three. I've read all of Conan-Doyle's stories and wondered when I saw the word Reichenbach in an episode title if Holmes and Moriarty would meet their doom at a waterfall in Switzerland as in the original, and the re-imagined, re-engineered plot was fascinating.


Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead. This documentary by Joe Cross is apparently the closest thing to a film about the "nutritarian" diet proposed by Dr. Joel Fuhrman in his book Eat To Live, but although Dr. Fuhrman appears several times, it's really about the benefits of phytonutrients gained from juicing, which is a very different thing from being a nutritarian. Nevertheless, it's an enjoyable and sometimes inspiring film about two men with downwardly spiraling health problems taking responsibility for their lives and deciding to do something very different. I have several issues with juicing: you lose the pulp, which offers fiber that helps clean toxins out of the intestines and helps in other ways as well. And judging by what I read at Joe's website, juicing isn't any easier than eating salads, fruits and vegetables on the nutritarian diet if you follow all of Joe's recommendations for washing and peeling produce before juicing it four to six times a day, not to mention buying and cleaning the juicer.

Skyfall. It's been years since I saw a James Bond movie. I read all of Fleming's novels while in my teens, and I liked watching Sean Connery but didn't enjoy the films much. When Roger Moore played Bond I lost interest, and I don't think I've seen a film since. It was better than I expected, with some spectacular cinematography. Daniel Craig is a very different kind of Bond, and although I got tired of seeing his face, and especially his mouth, in the same set expression, he gives the part a fierceness that Connery didn't have. It was the first time I remember being disappointed in a performance by Judi Dench, she acted as if she hadn't had enough time to rehearse, or as if the part was too far from who she is in life.


The Decoy Bride. I saw a trailer for this on the DVD for another IFC film and thought it looked interesting. The plot was so predictable, the dialogue so trite, the supporting characters so flat and uninteresting, it was really disappointing. And it's a shame because the actors were people I would've enjoyed if they were speaking well-written dialogue.