PS... A Column

on Things

By Paul E. Schindler Jr.

Some things are impossible to know, but it is impossible to know these things.

I have a day job. So every word of this is my opinion, not that of my employer. This offer IS void in Wisconsin. Except, of course, that some material in this column comes from incoming e-mail; such material is usually reproduced in the Sans Serif type font to distinguish it from the (somewhat) original material.

To Pay For This Column Voluntarily
Tales of Teaching 2004
Tales of Teaching 2005

P.S. A Column On Things: December 29, 2003

December 29, 2003 Vol. 5, No. 51

Table of Contents:

General News

  • And Then There Were Three
  • From Rae's Journal
  • News from Marlow

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs: None this week


  • None


  • Guest Review: House of Sand and Fog
  • Guest Review: Something's Gotta Give
  • Cheaper By The Dozen
  • Big Fish
  • Mona Lisa Smile
  • Something's Gotta Give
  • Eight Best Films
  • Countdown


  • The Dan Grobstein File

General News

And Then There Were Three

In 1978 and 1979, when Vicki and I were living together, there were two of us for Christmas. We expected three by Christmas of 1980, but Marlow took her sweet time, arriving on Jan. 11. Two years of three for Christmas, then 19 years of four for Christmas. Marlow was in Taiwan this year on Christmas Day--she was supposed to go to class (they don't get the day off), but overslept her alarm. It's the first Christmas she's ever missed with us. She's an adult now, and a world traveler at that, so it surely won't be the last. For the first time since 1983, we are three at Christmas. It is, we know, just a step on the way to being two again--until (and unless) the grandchildren start coming.

Per Rae's request, we have a 14-foot live tree in the library, just as we did for Marlow's freshman year in college. A tree that large is beautiful to behold, but a pain to bring in, a pain to decorate, and a pain to take out. It is probably our last tree of this size.

Everything changes; nothing ever stays the same. As we approach our 24th wedding anniversary this New Years Day, Vicki and I have learned that if nothing else. It is true of our marriage, of life, of our family, of our careers. Which is why you have to keep your eyes on the windshield and not the rearview mirror. The past is history, the future is a mystery, all we have is now, that's why they call it the present.

Happy New Year!

From Rae's Journal

Well, we know she had at least one good day at home:

Yesterday was an awesome day:

1.lunch with MC at the Big Salad Place in Berkeley (Cafe Intermezzo). I mean- they're salads are huuuuuuuge- obscene one could say. One person could not eat that salad alone. Needless to say, we split it, and I wouldn't have eaten so much if Mike didn't egg me on- it was a pride thing that I had to finish my half. It took us one hour to eat the whole thing, but by gum we did it!

2.I talked to C, my college buddy, online. I didn't realize I missed her until I started talking to her, and then I got all sentimental. *sigh* Maybe I do kinda miss college a little bit.

3. I went to the library, I've missed so much and borrowed two classic country CDs, two classical music CDs, Mary Oliver's "A Poetry Handbook," "Classical music for Dummies," and Orson Scott Card's "A Planet Called Treason." I *love* libraries. Particularly this one. I would have sat in there and read my books, but I was so wired, so happy with my books and CDs, that I just couldn't sit still.

4. celebrated the winter solstice at Mom's office. nice poetry readings, Mom!

5. exercised- heck yeah- jogging and sit-ups in my room! Soundtrack: Country Western music from the library.

6. watched the Marx Brother's "A Night at the Opera" with young MG - an enjoyable evening.

News From Marlow

More details of Marlow's travels are here.

Well, this is my first weekend in awhile with nothing really exciting to report. It was my first weekend in Taipei since I left for Thailand the last week of November. I took full advantage of Saturday to sleep, do a little homework, take a nap, make some dinner, and then sleep some more. Sunday I managed to get out of the house since I had some tutoring to do, and as long as I was out I studied for several hours in a coffee shop because it is so damn cold in my apartment.

O has a bunch of friends visiting from home, they're mainly from Texas though some are from Cal. They're all on winter break now, and all ethnically Taiwanese. Right now there's twins from Stanford and a friend from Texas, but today his Cal roommate and another friend were coming in, and his little brother will be here shortly as well. They all have family in Taiwan, but the plan is to cram them all into O's apartment.

I saw Lord of the Rings last week, a full time zone before any of you got a chance to. And there was a talent show on Friday at Shi Da that was hilarious. The American part of it was probably the only badly done part, or maybe just embarrassing to Americans and amusing to foreigners, hard for me to tell really. After the talent show I went out to Luxy with a bunch of people. It wasn't quite as much fun as when I did it with J. There was a police raid that kind of interrupted the night, and there just weren't as many people out for whatever reason.


Merry belated Christmas to everyone again. It was certainly weird being in Taipei for Christmas. I didn't really feel alone since all my friends are from Christmas celebrating countries as well, and no one went home so we were all in the same boat. Still not the same as having family or older friends though. And although there were strings of lights and plastic trees scattered around, no natives here really celebrate. Stores weren't closed or any different from normal. There was class on Christmas Eve day, there was class on Christmas Day.


Christmas Day, as I told most of you over the phone, I slept in. My alarm was on when I woke up, so I must have managed to sleep through all twenty minutes of it going off or something. Aw well, it was Christmas Day, most Americans didn't even pretend they were going to go. It turns out the other white American kid in my class didn't go either, but he's Jewish, he just skipped to clean up his apartment because his parents and little brother were coming into town today.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs





Guest Review: House of Sand and Fog

Vadim Perelman's feature film directing debut is a powerful adaptation of the Andre Dubus III novel. An intriguing effort at dealing with sophisticated and conflicting themes of dislocation, guilt, deception, sacrifice, and ultimately tragedy, House of Sand and Fog is driven by stellar performances by Oscar winners Ben Kingsley (Gandhi, Sexy Beast) and Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind, Hulk). Kingsley is the patriarch of an Iranian family and a top military officer fleeing the Ayatollah; Connelly is a former addict struggling to maintain sobriety in the face of the disintegration of her marriage. Circumstances bring them into raw conflict over a nondescript piece of real estate on the Northern California coast, with disastrous results. While some improbable plot turns in House of Sand and Fog undercut its visceral quality, the film makes a vivid impression that is not easy to forget or ignore.

--Neal Vitale

Guest Review: Something's Gotta Give

For director Nancy Meyers' (Private Benjamin, Father of the Bride, Irreconcilable Differences, Sister Act, What Women Want, et al.) sake, I hope that this film is a result of test screening tinkering. With at least three distinct conclusions, Something's Gotta Give winds down in embarrassing fashion, undercutting all the warmth, good humor, and excellent ensemble acting with which it begins. The lightweight story of an aging Lothario (Jack Nicholson) who ultimately falls for the mother (Diane Keaton) of one of his many youthful dates (Amanda Peet) has a wonderful spirit in its early going, thanks to the sensational interplay of its extraordinary cast. In small roles, Keanu Reeves (what a surprise!), Frances McDormand, and Peet all contribute lovely, perfectly nuanced performances. A stunning Hamptons shingle-style beach house is a major uncredited actor in the film. Nicholson is in perfect late career form, using his eyebrows and grin as always to lethal effect. Keaton in particular is spectacular, communicating volumes without saying a word, enriching the ditzy tics and twitches and pauses of Annie Hall with conflicting emotions, doubt, regret, and maturity. But sadly, it doesn't end well - what could easily have wrapped up nicely (though not necessarily happily by mass movie-going standards) in 100 minutes drags on past two hours. What should have been a delightful and refreshing film-going experience is subverted by the clumsy and protracted efforts to make it all end "well." It smacks of making a film to please test audiences; in the process, some terrific acting will be missed.

--Neal Vitale

Cheaper By The Dozen

I read the book. I saw the 1950 movie. This is a very entertaining family film, that almost makes good use of Steve Martin (it's a joy to hear him cut loose and laugh in a film), but it sure ain't Cheaper By The Dozen. All it has to do with the original is the concept of two parents and 12 kids. This film is a PG-rated family comedy/guiltfest designed to insure that families in which both parents work feel guilty about leaving their children alone. Hilary Duff as the second-oldest daughter gets little screen time and doesn't do much with it. Oldest son Tom "Superboy" Welling is, in my daughter Rae's opinion, extremely handsome. Most of the screen-time goes to the Hollywood-adorable younger children, including scene-stealing Alyson Stoner, of whom much more will be heard in the future.

No one above or below the line associated with this film needs to be clearing mantle space for an Oscar, but the movie is good, honest fun, not as stupid as the trailers make it appear, and, at 98 minutes, only about 10 minutes too long.

See it with the kids.

Big Fish

As usual, the men get all the good parts and the women stand around and watch. Well, yes, this is a film about a father son relationship, but what a waste of Jessica Lange.

IMDB's plot summary: The story is about a William Bloom (Billy Crudup) [a UPI reporter! Imagine that!] trying to learn more about his dying father (Albert Finney in old age, Ewan McGregor as a youth) by reliving stories and myths his father told him about himself.

Tim "All my films are works of art" Burton creates--well, another work of art. Every scene is beautiful, composed and art directed to within an inch of its life, with color palettes that match its mood and dialog. Clearly, this man is, to use the over-used word, a genius. Mixed reviews may keep this film from being a serious contender at Oscar Time, but frankly, the male leads were good and the direction and art direction were fantastic. While I realized I was being manipulated, that didn't stop me from crying for the last 15 minutes of the film. I was truly touched. The critics are right, Albert Finney is not as charming as everyone in the movie insists, but he was charming enough for me. Maybe I just like liars.

The film is a tidy, fast-moving 110 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for a fight scene, some images of nudity and a suggestive reference.

A great family film for teens and older (although it may be too serious and too draggy for some younger folk), and this film is art, with Oscar-potential performances all over. In fact, John August's screenplay is so clever it deserves an Oscar. And Albert Finney's performance is also statue-worthy.

Mona Lisa Smile

This two-hour love/hate letter to a Wellesley College that once was (set in 1953) stars Julia Roberts, proving to us again that she can act in a serious movie. I can see now why the studio had doubts about this "chick flick." I mean it is OK and entertaining in its way, but I have concluded Ms. Roberts is wasted in any movie where she smiles less than half the time. She plays an Art History teacher from Cal who is eaten up and spit out by the arch-conservative girls, faculty and alumnae of America's foremost women's college. Most of the exteriors were actually shot at the beautiful suburban Boston campus, and they're worth a look. The script runs along in Hollywood tickety-boo fashion, with three acts and all the requisite beats, as it describes the most important events in Julia's life and the lives of the half-dozen students who are more than walk-on extras. In a way, it's like a World War II movie, with the smart one, the nasty one, the fat one, and the one from New York City. I mean, this isn't the Wellesley I knew as an MIT undergraduate, but it wasn't supposed to be. It will probably be shown in women's studies classes for years to come, to remind us all how far we've come.

At 117 minutes, it is only a little too long. Rated PG-13 for sexual content and thematic issues. Might be worth viewing for Julia Roberts films and girls who are juniors in high school trying to decide where to go to college, but most of the rest of us can give it a pass.

Something's Gotta Give

I don't know how it is where you are, but this film is still selling out every showing at the Rheem Theater (200 seats) in Moraga, California, with a demographic you don't see very often at sold-out movies: adults. Everything about this film is tremendous. Nancy Meyer's script and directing are inspired, brilliant, funny and clever. Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton are at the absolute peak of their acting ability, and they act the hell out of a great story of adult love. In particular, in this year when most women are little more than set decoration with a half-dozen lines, Keaton actually gets to act here. And Nicholson cries--three times! If that doesn't attract Oscar like a shark (or a Hollywood agent) smelling blood in the water, I don't know what will. I laughed, I cried, I was entertained to within an inch of my life. Almost as good as early Woody Allen, from which Meyers swiped more than her star--the conceit, for example, of artists writing plays based on their lives in which things turn out the way they wished they had, rather than the way they did.

At 117 minutes in length, the film was an almost perfect length (it could have been 20 minutes shorter and 20 minutes better). It was rated PG-13 for sexual content, brief nudity and strong language. It felt awkward to see it with my daughter because of the sex scenes. Let the kids see it by themselves--nothing they can't see or haven't seen, just stuff you don't want to see sitting next to them. But take your spouse, by all means, and then kiss up a storm when you get home.

If you prefer your films realistic, get up and leave when Nicholson starts to cry on the bridge and don't look back. There's a tacked-on ending that, while fully satisfying in a Hollywood sort of way, is so unrealistic as to spoil the effect of the film. Actions have consequences, people! I added a few nominees to my Oscar countdown from this film.

Eight Best Films: First Draft

Why eight? Because I didn't see ten films I thought were that good. In alphabetical order (because I simply can't order them), here is my first draft of the 10 Best Films of 2003. There are a half-dozen year-end blockbusters (including Cold Mountain and Triplets) that I have not seen yet, so this list is subject to change.

Finding Nemo
In The Cut
Lost In Translation
Mighty Wind
Mystic River
Something's Gotta Give
Station Agent

The Countdown

Best Picture:
Seabiscuit, Lost in Translation, Mystic River, Something's Gotta Give

Best Animated Film:
Finding Nemo

Best Director:
Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation), Clint Eastwood (Mystic River), Jane Campion (In The Cut), Nancy Meyers (Something's Gotta Give)

Best Writer:
Nikki Reed (Thirteen), Nancy Meyers (Something's Gotta Give), John August (Big Fish)

Best Actress:
Diane Keaton (Something's Gotta Give ), Diane Lane (Under The Tuscan Sun), Holly Hunter (Thirteen), Meg Ryan (In The Cut)

Best Actor:
Bill Murray (Lost in Translation), Sean Penn (Mystic River), Nicolas Cage (Matchstick Men), Sean Penn (21 Grams), Jack Nicholson (Something's Gotta Give)

Best Supporting Actor:
Albert Finney (Big Fish)

In other categories, my favorite films so far this year are:

Indie Film:
Whale Rider, The Hard Word, Station Agent

Spellbound, Lost in La Mancha, Gigantic

Narration by a dead person:

Bend it like Beckham

A Mighty Wind


Dave Barry on 2003, The Dan Grobstein File

Norman Sandler pointed out Dave Barry's funny Year in Review. He noted, as I note, that we normally don't care much for Dave's stuff (much of the time he's barely funnier than Art Buchwald), but this annual column seems to bring out the best in Barry.

The Dan Grobstein File:

Washington Post

  • Prosecutor added to Plame leak probe [Editor's Note: let me just add it would be nice to see someone from the administration go to jail for the hypocrisy of leaking a CIA agent's identity.]

New York Times

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