Brave’s Merida – Redefining the Word Princess

There was a lot of uproar about Disney “sexing” up Merida in their lead up to her official induction into the Disney Princess Pantheon.  But, at the Disney coronation ceremony last week, which I attended as part of the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, she was exactly as you would imagine – wild haired, bold, in her everyday velvet dress and riding a horse.

photo courtesy of Disney

photo courtesy of Disney

My daughters never went through a princess phase, but Merida they relate to.  Archery is one of their favorite sports – and my daughter could easily give Merida a run for her money in the biggest, curly hair category.

archerygirls

The word princess is weighed down with years and years of anti-feminist meaning – damsel in distress, pampered and spoiled, helpless and silly.  And if you’re also Jewish – well that just adds a whole other level of stereotype.   Thanks, Bravo.

But, I will be the first to admit I was all in for Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty when I was growing up.  Just like a was all in for Charlie’s Angels, Wonder Woman and Princess Leia – not to mention Sandy in Grease.   The “princesses,” didn’t differ in my mind from any other title and lead female character – they were all important enough to have the story revolve around them, or be key characters that drove the story.  And in the end, that is the most empowering message – you drive the story of your life.

So, I love this new I am a Princess Campaign from Disney.  I’ve written before about the power of owning a word that was used to put you down.  Girls defining what it means to be a princess now, to them, for them – that has the potential to be truly powerful.  Watch the video and tell me what you think.

 

My Daughters are Film Makers – Take Two Film Academy and What Makes a Great After School Class

As New York City 10 year-olds my girls have taken a huge range of after school classes.  From sports to cooking, arts to performing, we’ve covered pretty much every venue on the Upper West Side.  I’ve found that some classes are harder to do well than others, cooking for example is often nothing more than baking, often involving Pillsbury Crescent Rolls or assembling of ingredients rather than real cooking.  And I won’t even discuss the disastrous swim class we took where they put kids back in the pool after another kid had thrown up in it. So, I was definitely skeptical of Take Two Film Academy, kid focused film program, since most of our experience has been a “film” class that consists of a non-film teacher making videos on iMovie and the kids merely actors in the teacher’s script or ideas.  But, Take Two Academy seemed a lot more professional and worth a shot.

The first thing that impressed me about Take Two and their fabulous teachers was that they use real professional equipment. The cameras, boom mikes, and Final Cut Pro editing software challenged the students to make higher quality and richer movies.  But what I really loved was how they focused on the process and on collaboration – two things that are essential to good filmmaking.  The kids range in age from 8-15, not an easy group to get to work together, but they did.  They broke down into smaller groups, but each took bigger or smaller roles within each group – from writing, to acting, from directing to editing.  In just 5 days they produced 3 short films – each of them unique, interesting, and completely from their own voices.  And, they were all really proud of each other, the teachers took a total backseat to the students at the final viewing.

Here’s what one of their students (and star KidzVuz Reviewer) has to say about Take Two Film Academy:

And here is sample of one of the films my girls made:

It’s not cheap – but classes of this quality rarely are in Manhattan. I highly recommend checking it out for your budding film maker, actor, writer or performer.

Disclosure: I received a discount on the one-week film class in exchange for a review.  All opinions (and those of the kids) are unbiased and our own!

Won’t Back Down Movie Review: My (ex) PTA President’s Point of View

Won’t Back Down Movie Review: My (ex) PTA President’s Point of View

This week I went to a screening of Won’t Back Down starring Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal.  The movie is about a mom and a teacher who band together and use the Parent Trigger law (which is never mentioned by name) to take over and turn around a failing elementary school in Pittsburgh.  The film is loosely based on real events (though in my research I couldn’t find anything other than the Los Angeles based parent trigger law, which was backed by a big charter school organization), and produced by the same man who produced Waiting for Superman. As someone who has been deeply embroiled in the discussion and reality of parents advocating for better schools, for student and parent rights, and as a PA C0-President who has worked closely with many teachers and administrators, this movie got to me on many levels. So, I have decided to break it down in two parts: As a movie and then as a propaganda film.

The Merits of the Movie:

Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal are wonderful.  The acting is spot on and engaging.  The script however, is full of holes and clichés and desperate to create dramatic tension because just trying to get names on petitions isn’t all that interesting.  It could be interesting, of course, but the writer and director chose not to show any other parents other than Maggie Gyllenhaal’s plucky, positive, uneducated, but so endearing single mom on a mission.  They also gave Viola Davis a horrible back story having to do with being a mom who couldn’t deal with a colicky baby, rather than the more difficult story I think of how a once great teacher could lose her passion and desire and become completely mediocre.  Holly Hunter had the worst task of the movie playing the Pennsylvania Teachers Union boss – her role was so thinly written that people at my screening giggled when she gave her over the top pro-union scare speeches.  I wondered how members of the Screen Actors Guild (or the screenwriters for that matter that just went on strike not that long ago) could play a part that so demonized another union.   And that brings me to…

The Movie as Propaganda:

OK.  I get it.  There are terrible teachers out there and no one does a thing about it.  They really don’t. They cross their fingers and hope they’ll retire.  But, there are also a ton of great teachers, and a lot of average teachers.  In this school, they pretty much all sucked except of course the young, hot, Teach for America Teacher!  Though he toted a ukulele, not a Superman cape, he was clearly the hero.  For the sake of romantic conflict they also made him pro-labor so he and Maggie Gyllenhaal could argue.  But, don’t worry, once he saw the inhumanity of Holly Hunter he quickly realized the teachers union was the ogre and the cause of all public education woes and joined the turnaround crusade.

Here’s what never happened in the movie:  A discussion by the teachers about how much their principal obviously sucked and how they could push him out and start to collaborate to have the school they envisioned.  OR a discussion with their union leaders that they were unhappy about certain union policies and make themselves heard.  Also – parents and teachers NEVER came together during this process except at the end in the council meeting.  Seriously?  If all you have is a bunch of parent signatures on petitions but no parents showing up for meetings or in classrooms you do not actually have parent involvement.

There was one moment in the film where I thought for sure Viola Davis’s character was going to have a true conflict.  Her awful principal, who knew she was organizing this attempt to take over the school, suspended Viola Davis because of attendance tampering that she did at his directive.  Here we go, I thought, now she will need the union.  This is why teachers formed unions right?  To protect them against petty personal administrators (particularly when admins were dominantly men and teachers were women.)  But, no.  That would have taken away from the union as devil storyline.  So, instead of a real meaningful discussion between Viola Davis and Holly Hunter about what is right and wrong about the union – the two never meet.  I won’t go into the ridiculous scene where Holly Hunter tries to buy off Maggie Gyllenhaal with free private school tuition for her daughter.  Seriously.

I am all for parent power.  I am all for getting rid of the crappy, demoralizing teachers who should not be allowed to step foot in a classroom.  But, this movie made me sad.  I was really hopeful in the beginning of the film because it was about teachers and parents working together – not something you usually see in movies.  This wasn’t some public school movie where the wide-eyed liberal white teacher swoops in to the minority student school and teaches them violin and magically makes their lives better.  We don’t need any more of those either.  But, this was really a giant anti-union propaganda film that missed the mark.  And that’s too bad because it had the chance to really say something about how parents and teachers can make change – and how hard it really is to find great leadership, and what can happen if we put kids first.  There was NO mention of lack of funding at the school by the way, or lack of professional development for teachers, after school programs, etc.  Seems if you just hang lots of butterflies in the hallway and paint the halls you make a great new school.  That’s an insult to all the parents and teachers who really do work their butts off to make their schools better everyday.

Preparing for the Oscars, LEGO style

LEGO Top Ten Movie Moments – YouTube.

Behind the Scenes at Mary Poppins – Disney Magic In Times Square

Behind the Scenes at Mary Poppins – Disney Magic In Times Square

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A few weeks ago we were invited to take a backstage tour of the New Amsterdam Theater on 42nd Street, current home of the Disney Broadway musical, Mary PoppinsThe New Amsterdam is a particularly rich historical theater – it housed the Ziegfeld Follies and the fabulous Fanny Brice and is haunted by the ghost of Olive Thomas.  Like most of Times Square in the 70s and 80s The New Amsterdam had fallen apart, become decrepit and rat ridden and showed Kung Fu movies.  I remember when Disney purchased the theater and announced their intention to restore it and bring The Lion King there.  Most New Yorkers were skeptical at best.

What occurred is one of those extraordinary New York and theater moments.  The restoration of the theater – most of it helped by the memories of original Ziegfeld Follies girls then in their 90s – is glorious.  All of the original details were restored or rebuilt from the crowned sconces, to the Shakespeare friezes, to the beautiful murals in the downstairs lounge that depict the history of New York.  It’s hard to imagine the lounge with 2 feet of dirty water filling the floor as it was 15 years ago when they began the restoration.

On our tour we not only saw the beautiful details but also had a backstage, hands-on experience with props and set pieces from all of the Disney musicals.  Sitting in Ariel’s scallop shell bathtub was a definite highlight.  That evening we saw Mary Poppins – for the second time I should say.  But, now that my girls are 9 they had a whole different appreciation.  It also was pretty amazing to see the show after standing on that very stage that morning.  There is nothing like walking on a Broadway stage!  Except, maybe, seeing yourself on one of the giant screens in Times Square.

We had an extra dose of Disney Magic that day when the girls got to experience a virtual Disney Park experience by posing with a beamed-in Daisy Duck and having their pictures projected on the screen above the Disney Times Square store and then again and again on within the “castle” that covered the building across the street.  I think they could have watched themselves forever…

Transport Group’s Queen of the Mist Review (and Get Discount Tickets!)

I don’t often do reviews here on Beccarama.  I have plenty of opinions, but I’m not a technical reviewer who parses the ins and out of products – unless it’s something I really, really want to talk about.  I have been a theater and movie geek since I was old enough to waddle into a theater.  I was one of those 5-year-old kids who could sit through a 2 hour movie, ballet or musical and barely blink, let alone squirm.  It was always magical and engrossing to me.  Growing up in NYC meant I had access to the best of everything – and performing arts was top of that list.  So, when I was invited to join a new blogger group of women bloggers called Mama Drama co-founded by Holly Rosen Fink (theculturemama) I immediately said yes and I will now be reviewing all of the productions I see on Beccarama.

This past week I saw a new production, currently in previews, produced by the Transport Group Theatre Company called Queen of the Mist.  The production takes place at the Gym at Judson – the space is an actual gym that has been transformed into a performance space – the seats are on either side and the action takes place in the center and sides, level with the first row of the audience.  It’s very intimate, and for an intense production like Queen of the Mist, quite powerful.  Here’s the background from the plays’ producers:

Based on an astounding, outrageous, and haunting true story, Queen of the
Mist stars two-time Tony nominee Mary Testa as Anna Edson Taylor, who,
in 1901, set out to be the first woman to shoot Niagara Falls—in a barrel of
her own design. Navigating both the treacherous Falls and a fickle public
with a ravenous appetite for sensationalism, this unconventional heroine
vies for her legacy in a world clamoring with swindling managers, assassins,
revolutionaries, moralizing family, anarchists, and activists. Convinced that
there is greatness in her and determined not to live as ordinary, she sets out
to battle her fear and tempt her fate. With a score that incorporates turn of
the century themes with signature LaChiusa elements, Queen of the Mist is
the story of a single great fall, and how one woman risked death so that she
could live.

Anna Edson Taylor was the first woman to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel and survive.  The Queen of the Mist refers to the barrel itself.  It’s a story steeped in turn of the century Americana, touching on the temperance movement, WWI, and the beginnings of ginned up public relations.  In a way it’s the precursor to modern reality TV.

The musical written by Michael John LaChiusa and directed by Jack Cummings is emotionally and musically complex and intense.  The cast is exceptionally strong, led by Mary Testa as Anna Edson Taylor.  Being that close to the actors is a very different experience than a typical Broadway show where the music, dancing and singing are kept at a distance, where you are always aware there is an invisible wall between them and you.  In this sort of space the strength and power of the acting – not just the amazing voices – is what surrounds you.  The connections between the actors, the truthfulness of their emotions and reality of their space were the most compelling part of the show.  It’s absolutely worth seeing for those performances alone.

Here’s a video of the cast meet and greet:

For $10 off the ticket price enter code: TGMAMA

Click HERE for tickets.

For more blog posts on Broadway’s Godspell visit MamaDrama.

Once Princess Leia, Always Princess Leia

Wordless Wednesday was never this geeky.  I know.  When my husband saw this he said, “Truly there are no words.”  Actually, he said, ” That is the geekiest thing I’ve ever seen.”   I’m OK with that.  I spent all of kindergarten with my hair in two side buns.  I saw Star Wars 26 times in the summer of 1977 – and the first time it was with my dad in Times Square at the old Astor Plaza Theater. I was 5.

And so yesterday when I was at the holiday showcase event for Xbox360 Kinect and R2D2 was there – for real people – I could not resist taking advantage of having a hooded sweater coat with me and posing like this.  What you can’t tell from the picture is that when I did that the prerecorded message of Princess Leia saying, “Help me Obi-Wan you’re my only hope,” played from deep inside that lovable droid.  Now I don’t feel so bad that I missed all the fun at Comic Con last week.

Thank you GayNycDad for taking the pic!!