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Outliers (2008)

Sandy and I listened to Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” on CD on our long drive to and from Philly.  In Outliers, Gladwell examines incredibly successful people, and explores what, beyond innate talent, has led them to be so incredibly successful.  We’re not talking about “has a good job and is making a good salary” successful, Gladwell is more concerned with the Bill Gates and The Beatles level of success.

The premise of Outliers boils down to: Incredible success is made up of (1) talent, (2) hard work, and (3) access to the right kind of opportunities to lead to that success.  Bill Gates as a child, for example, had a passion for programming, but also access to a computer which was highly unusual for a schoolkid in 1968, and was also exploring programming at a time where there was still a lot of that territory to be explored and developed.

I enjoyed Gladwell’s deconstruction of the path to success for Gates, the Beatles, Mozart, and others.  His theories are all straightforward and make sense.  Of course you can have all the innate talent to be a prodigy oboe player, but if you have no access to an oboe, and therefore can’t put in oboe practice time, obviously your future as an oboe prodigy will never come to fruition.

Gladwell’s weaknesses in Outliers are that he overwhelmingly relies on anecdata.  Aside from short the discussion of some statistics related to the month of birth of Canadian hockey players, the rest of his book is case studies.  I don’t know how Gladwell’s theories could be objectively tested, but I felt like Gladwell should have had more numbers and figures, or at least broader support.  Gladwell also relies too heavily on absolutes.  In a section exploring how cultural backgrounds fashion our actions (which honestly felt a little out of place in the context of the book’s purpose) Gladwell repeatedly insists “we must take cultural influences into account”, and essentially insists that extreme success cannot exist outside his formula.  The New York Times speared Gladwell for these weaknesses, but I probably would have been satisfied if he just used “should” instead of “must” more.

On one hand, Outliers was incredibly depressing to me.  It made me feel helpless in my own success (or lack thereof), by making success so heavily reliant on access to unique opportunities.  On the other hand, it made me feel more secure in not being a prodigy in something or another.  My lack of Bill Gates level success isn’t for lack of effort or intelligence, but for lack of those lucky opportunities.

Gladwell is an engaging storyteller, and did an excellent job of bringing his case studies to life.  He also has a nice, soothing voice which made his reading of this book on CD very enjoyable.  I recommend this book as a good poolside nonfiction, but it will leave you wanting more if you are seeking hard academic writing.

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fail fail fail FAIL

Parenthood has provided me with no shortage of opportunities to appear unprofessional or FLAT OUT INSANE.

Sometimes, I have to make work calls from home.  This is not an easy task virtually impossible for me to do in any fashion that makes me appear anything less than a complete maniac.

See: Exhibit A.

Exhibit B (an old picture of her before she started destroying her feathers. Now she is loud AND bedraggled):

Exhibit C:

Whereas the Red Monster usually just tweets and whistles, the Green Monster SQUAWKS AT THE TOP OF HIS BIRDIE LUNGS, and won’t stop squawking until Mr. Beez comes by and gives him a snuggle. When Mr. Beez is not home, however, the squawking goes ON AND ON AND ON.

I need to find a way to make a work call from my home that is not completely disrupted by all this noise.  Bird and baby noises are LOUD and they carry well, so when I make calls from home, I always have to explain myself and I come off as completely unprofessional (and crazy).

A cone of silence would be a good idea, but I don’t know where to pick one up.

I frequently make work-related calls from my front porch.  This is unpleasant in inclement weather, and not a cure-all, since the birds are SO LOUD that you can still kind of hear them from out there.

This morning, I made an important work-related call, as I was simultaneously rushing around to get myself and Baby Beez ready for Rosh Hashanah services (I should have known this was doomed from the start).  The call ended up being a voicemail and Baby Beez ended up making loud noises, so I had to explain why there were baby noises in this voicemail on a Wednesday morning, and then Baby Beez smacked her head AND STARTED SCREAMING.  I, like the terrible mother I am, put her in her crib, shut her door, ran in my room, shut my door, and attempted to leave the last 7 seconds of the voicemail in a coherent fashion.  I seriously, seriously doubt I succeeded.  (I did go cuddle her right after the voicemail ended).

My only option left is to make all work-related phone calls from my car.  At this point, this is a necessity.

Now accepting hugs and general feel good messages, because it’s one of those days where I feel like I can’t do anything right.

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Bridesmaids (2011)

I was afraid that Bridesmaids would be The Hangover with a female cast.  I thought The Hangover was great, but I would rather see an original movie instead of the same thing with different faces plugged in.  Several friends assured me that Bridesmaids is its own movie, and that’s it great. And it is.

Bridesmaids is the ABSOLUTE MAYHEM of female friendships and weddings.  The over-the-top jokes and gross out humor were great, but there are these little scenes of casual banter between the characters that really make the movie.  Those are the bits that bring the movie to life, and turn the relatable into OMG THAT IS MY LIFE.

If you’ve ever been a bridesmaid, or even just been close friends with a bride, there is so much here to both horrify an enchant you.  When it’s wedding time, these conflicts are the most important things in the universe, and when the big day has passed and hopefully the tempers have cooled, it’s so funny to look back and realize how insane everyone was, and how such small issues blew up into complete insanity.  Also, there’s a great Wilson Phillips scene, and EVERYONE went through a phase of singing “Hold On” into the bathroom mirror.

Watching Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig is like watching your own friends on screen (or super cool laid back people you wish were your friends!) The other characters were more or less caricatures, but good caricatures.  I am a huge Reno 911! fan, so I would have loved to see more Wendi McLendon-Covey.  Also, there’s a small plotline involving Kristen Wiig’s super creepy but hilarious Briitsh roommates. There are few movies that actually make me laugh out loud.  This one did.

Bridesmaids certainly wasn’t a female Hangover.  It was its own movie, with its own jokes, and own themes, and all of its comediennes really shined.

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I Love You Philip Morris (2009)

I can’t be the only person who assumed that “I Love You Phillip Morris” was going to be “Thank You for Smoking“, with Jim Carrey subbed in as the lead.  (BTW, “Thank You For Smoking” is brilliant).

In fact, “I Love You Phillip Morris” has nothing to do with smoking, or cigarettes, or that Philip Morris at all.  It’s the story of a gay former Texas cop, Steven Russell (Jim Carrey) who can’t handle his spending sprees, and commits fraud (after fraud after fraud). This lands him in prison, where he meets inmate Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor) and falls hopelessly in love.

Steven gets released from prison, but he can’t bear to be away from Phillip, so he concocts a scheme to get Phillip out as well.  The rest of the film plays out Steven’s fraud after fraud after fraud after prison break after prison break, all for the sake of keeping Phillip ever-impressed and living in luxury.

WHO could bear to be separated from this face?

I, too, am hopelessly in love with Ewan McGregor, so I feel for Steven Russell.  Still, this movie felt an awful lot like gay “Catch Me if You Can.”  The film wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t anything super-special either.  Ewan McGregor plays his usual doe-eyed beautiful self.  Jim Carrey doesn’t rely entirely on his rubber face and loud noises, he does some genuine acting here…but ever since “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” everyone knows he can for-real act.

Leslie Mann gave me some good laughs as Steven Russell’s Bible-thumping ex-wife “Debbie” (why are her characters always named “Debbie”?)  She was more goofy and less whiny in this movie, and it was a lot of fun to watch her.

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Winter’s Bone (2010)

I spent the weekend not feeling great.  Finally last night I decided to stop by MedExpress to get checked out, and lucky me, I have strep throat.  I stayed home from work today because I feel like garbage, and because I’m still contagious.  I did do some work, but I also rested a lot and watched some movies.

Winter’s Bone is available on Netflix streaming right now.  I had it in my queue because of the Oscar acclaim, but didn’t know much about it.  I actually had it confused with Frozen River.  I thought that Melissa Leo was an Oscar contender due to a performance in Winter’s Bone…but she wasn’t in Winter’s Bone, she got her Oscar attention for her performance in The Fighter.

Jennifer Lawrence plays 17 year old Ree Dolly.  Her mother is catatonic, and her father’s a meth cooker on the lam.  Ree plays mother to her younger brother and sister, struggling to keep them fed and warm in their rural Ozark log cabin.  Ree gets an unexpected visit from the sheriff, who informs her that her dad is up for a hearing next week.  No one expects him to show.  This time, though, he put the family home up as collateral for the bail bond.  If he doesn’t show, the family will be thrown out in the forest.

Determined to save her already starving family from homelessness, Ree decides she will find him.  She ventures into the frightening world of the Missouri meth trade, on a quest to hunt her father down.

Lawrence’s performance is perfect.  She is devoted to saving her family, but not sappy.  She is brave and brooding.  She shows her humanity with her tenderness to her friend and her siblings.  It might have been nice to see her crack a smile, but there is nothing in Ree Dolly’s world to smile about.

The family’s poverty is shocking.  At one point, Ree teaches her sister and brother to shoot squirrels for dinner because they have nothing else.  I am sure there are families starving like this in certain parts of America, it’s so heartbreaking I don’t want to think of it.

I admit, I was most interested in Winter’s Bone because Jennifer Lawrence has been cast as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games due to come out next year.   Both films and both characters share many themes–protecting family, survival, poverty and hunger, hopelessness.  Lawrence will be perfect as Katniss.