Thursday, December 31, 2009

Getting Smart

How do we get smart? We know about street smart, book smart, and the half dozen different kinds of intelligence identified by social scientists.

But what is a well educated person? The questions are raised, though not definitively answered, in An Education, yet another coming-of-age movie out this season. It is a very enjoyable movie, written by Nick Hornby, and set in the British equivalent of a private girls school in the early '60's. The lovely, thoroughly admirable student is working hard to get into Oxford, spurred on by her education driven middle class parents. Enter the older man, who introduces her to jazz clubs, art auctions, and Paris. Who wouldn't be tested? That he is married and a thief she learns only as the movie evolves.

So is she better educated by studying Latin in preparation for Oxford or by learning the traps of a romantic escapade with the wrong person? See the movie and decide.
An Education has fresh and convincing performances by Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard and a fine supporting role by Alfred Molina as the father.

Just one word about It's Complicated, with Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin playing the upper middle class couple who, ten years after their divorce, have an affair. The New York Times review is very thoughtful.

The movie is lovely to look at, with lots of laughs, especially around the issue of aging bodies, old habits, and "senior" dating. Some predictable situational humor, but many laugh-out-loud moments. Bottom line: However mellow you've become in recent years, there was a reason you got divorced in the first place! Women far outnumbered men in the theater, but men should find food for thought in Alec Baldwin's hilarious performance.

Monday, December 28, 2009

t'is the season to see movies!

Compared to Christmas Day movies in past years, - Syriana, Million Dollar Baby, Gran' Turino come to mind - Up in the Air pales by comparison. But it's better than it could have ended up. George Clooney is always a pleasure to watch, though in this film he seems much more like George Clooney playing George Clooney than some of his deeper character roles.

That said, Up in the Air doesn't settle for pat story lines and simplistic romantic solutions. When Clooney's character shows up unexpectedly at the home of the woman he's been sleeping with across the country, she turns out to be married with kids, reversing gender stereotypes. It's the woman who's the cad, or is that cadette? And when, at the end, he begins to understand his own human need for connectivity, he is left "up in the air," again a rejection of a simple romantic resolution of the story. A good movie, many chuckles, some tears, not a great movie.

Two girls become women. The Young Victoria and Precious tell the stories of dramatically different 17-year-old girls who, in their own time and place, find their voices and assert their inner values. The Young Victoria is a somewhat facile look at Queen Victoria, her childhood, her ascension to the throne of England at the age of 18, her courtship and marriage to Prince Albert. If you like Masterpiece Theatre - and I do (it's a girl thing) - you'll like the romance and lush costumes of this period piece - and I did, though a shot of insulin would have helped counteract the saccharin story.

Precious is a gripping story of a black, morbidly obese, illiterate, physically and sexually abused girl in Harlem who is identified by her math teacher and school principal as someone who could benefit from attending an "alternative" school. Impregnated for the second time by her abusive father, she labors against all odds to enroll at the school, go to classes, and learn to read and write. She keeps a journal and even writes poetry. Her struggles to free herself from her appallingly messed up welfare mother, her insistence on caring for her two kids, and oh, yes, her learning that - thanks to daddy - she is now HIV-positive -all of that leaves you with a dry mouth, misty eyes and a knot in your stomach.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Health Reform Surprise Benefit for Nurses

There’s a surprise benefit expected to come out of the pending health reform legislation, and it has received little if any attention in the public debate. Congress is seeing fit to do something about the nursing shortage. Both House and Senate versions understand that, when for the first time you’re insuring 30 million or more new patients, you need to have adequate primary care providers. And you can’t depend on doctors to cover that need. You need highly skilled nurse practitioners to help in doing the screening, regular check-ups and preventive care.

A decade-long shortfall of nurses is only going to get worse as new patients enter the health care market and as our population ages. As outlined recently in the Metrowest Daily News by Antoinette Hays, RN PhD, Dean of the Regis College School of Nursing and Health Professions, the problem isn’t a lack of willingness to go into nursing but a lack of nursing faculty to teach the next generation of nurses and nurse practitioners.

House and Senate versions offer a variety of education assistance and loan repayment benefits for nurses and nursing faculty. This is the good news. It’s important to note that the bills provide authorization but still need appropriation at relevant stages of the process.
But the trend line is in the right direction, and it’s not a minute too soon!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Theater in NYC

For all its offerings, Boston pales in comparison to New York in the quality and variety of its theatrical offerings. Superior Donuts, for example, is an outstanding play, coming to Broadway from the Steppenwolf Theater Company in Chicago. The themes are racism and community, stereotypes and authentic relationships, but it's never didactic because the humor is so trenchant and constant. It should have a longer run but won't because there are no "name" actors. Jon Michael Hill, who plays Franco, will be one someday. Written by Tracy Letts, who wrote the superbe August:Osage County, it rates 9 on a scale of 10.

God of Carnage was touted as the best on Broadway, and it is very good, sort of a 21st century Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf. Jimmy Smits and Christine Latti have replaced James Gandolfino and Marcia Gay Harden, so maybe there's a softer edge now than when it opened. Many emotional moments but, despite the name actors (which will extend its run), we didn't enjoy it as much as Superior Donuts.

Finally, the recent (though no longer new) production of South Pacific is enchanting. Everyone of a certain ago knows all the lyrics so the trick to enjoying it is to be able to hum to oneself without having to listen to the woman in back of you give voice to the songs. As a revival, it's a 10!

Considering the miserable quality of A Civil War Christmas at the Hungtington Theater in Boston, New York theater was a shot in the arm.