Too much suspense and too little drama in ‘The Hand That Rocks the Cradle’

A tale of multiple wrongs not making a right meets vengeance, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992) grew up with a 1980’s sensibility that landed in the final decade of the twentieth century.  The movie landed roughly 2-positive reviews to another that went the other way among film critics and moviegoers alike as it aimed for the sympathy of women and mothers scorned with men behaving reprehensibly. There are spoilers in this review.

Cradle Rock 2(John De Lancie)

The first villain for The Hand That Rocks the Cradle sets a series of unfortunate events in motion for a movie that begins as drama is Dr. Victor Mott as portrayed by John de Lancie. Mott, as a gynecologist, is shown taking professional advantage of sympathetic movie heroine Claire Bartel, played by Annabella Sciorra. Not sure if she should report the exam room abuse, Claire is convinced by husband Michael (actor Matt McCoy) to report the crime.

Cradle Rock 4(Matt McCoy)

When faced with abuse allegations from Claire Bartel and other women, Mott ends his life with a pregnant wife. Mrs. Mott introduces herself to the Bartel’s meet as Peyton Flanders as a nanny, not admitting the outcome of losing her baby and the ability to become pregnant shortly after her husband’s suicide. With news of her husband’s primary accuser, Claire Bartel, showing in the hospital room following the loss of her own family, Rebecca De Mornay as Mrs. Mott pretending to be Peyton Flanders lands the nanny job up for grabs in the Bartel household following the birth of a son.

Cradle Rock 3(Rebecca De Mornay, left, and Annabella Sciorra, right)

With the story moving from stolen innocence in a doctor’s office to lost family with a suicide, miscarriage, and reproductive injury, the story clearly moves from drama to the suspense of motive, opportunity, and deceptively obtained means to acquire revenge and a stolen family of one’s own. These were the motivations in the narrative arc of movie villain Peyton Flanders.

Cradle Rock 5(Julianne Moore)

Ernie Hudson as Solomon, Madeline Zima as Emma Bartel, and Julianne Moore as Marlene Craven each played prominent roles in determining an outcome to the tension laid out above. Without getting into the detail for how things move from conflict to resolution, my largest disappointment with the film is that the resolution didn’t strike a reasonable fit with the tension developed in getting the Claire and Peyton into conflict.

Cradle Rock 6(Madeline Zima)

That the trope of women in one’s home over the subject of family and kids is a tired one in 2018, and was entering the same back in 1992, could not rescue The Hand That Rocks the Cradle from an unfavorable reckoning for me with regards to this movie. The story itself, I think, was not without potential. My feeling is that the process would have worked better as strictly drama. Making this a drama turned suspense film did not work.

Cradle Rock 7(Ernie Hudson)

Matt – Wednesday, May 02, 2018


The memory of a life scholastic – Jean Marzollo

The writer of more than 150 books for children has died. Jean Marzollo wrote books for the Scholastic Publishing brand of education and media that has thrived through my childhood and for a long run before and after. Marzollo’s life is captured in this New York Times article from April 13, 2018.

Marzollo 2(Jean Marzollo)

Ms. Marzollo passed at age 75 in New York state after a fulfilling career writing books for children. Her I SPY series of books were written in rhythm and rhyme. The notion of this trait was to “lure and excite the ear,” as Marzollo said in the biography on her website. “Children love rhythm and rhyme, and so do I.”

Marzollo 3(A book in the I SPY series)

While many of the books by Marzollo were accompanied by images or illustrations with collaborators such as Walter Wick, the I SPY series that began in the early 1990s also led to other works.

Marzollo 5(My First Book of Biographies)

Per the piece in The New York Times, Marzollo became editor of Let’s Find Out magazine in 1972. The monthly magazine for kindergartners led to Marzollo’s first book in 1978, Close Your Eyes (illustrated by Susan Jeffers). The book was about a boy having trouble falling asleep. Other I SPY books really cemented Marzollo‘s reputation.

Marzollo 4(A book in the I SPY series)

The book In 1492 is a biographical book for kids that describes the first voyage of Christopher Columbus into the new world. The point here is to show that Marzollo‘s literary themes for kids ranged from the fanciful to factual, words used in The New York Times article.

Marzollo 6(The book In 1492 by Jean Marzollo)

Jean Marzollo lived a life that aimed to educate children. Her recent passing at 75 years of age, while sad, reminds us that she left us with much of a fanciful yet factual world that educated children and adults alike in the concept of raising the literacy of children. There is much to respect and remember in this life’s aim to inspire a love for reading and literacy.

Matt – Friday, April 20, 2018

Maya Angelou knew why the caged bird sang, and it was good

Ninety years and eight days ago, Maya Angelou was born to parents that would divorce three years later. Forty-one years later, the autobiographical fiction book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published in 1969. It is on the occasion of Angelou‘s birth that I choose to review my experience of having read the book.

Caged Bird 2(Maya Angelou)

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings gets into Angelou’s the harsh reality of growing up to the age of 17 as a black female in the racist America of the 1930s and 1940s. The book gets into difficult assaults on the main characters of Maya and her brother Bailey as they are shuttled between households across the country, suffering brutal attacks on personal dignity, racial and gender identity, ownership of innocence and the right to say yes or no AS CHILDREN in matters of intimate physical contact, and much more.

Caged Bird 3(Angelou‘s poem I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings)

The emotional and visceral feelings of consternation raised by the cruel and severe treatment of Maya and Bailey as children are unmistakable, autobiographical, and in raising commentary about the injustice and then later ramifications are unmistakable. In underscoring these indignities as well as the importance of family, fair racial treatment, and the longing for a less-trying background, the narrative structure not only exemplifies the reality yet drives home a notion that the human spirit still can flourish in the presence of events that would embitter people of lesser quality.

Caged Bird 4(A Kathy Coleman Jones poem inspired by Maya Angelou)

In the novel, the character Maya learns in her teenage years while living in San Francisco that consolation for grief from the past can be overcome. The transformation of Maya is the maturity and insight gained by self-love and the insight of friends that the character Maya finds within the pages of books. Maya professes a love for literature in general and classic writers and William Shakspeare specifically. Over the course of the work, the beauty that shows itself is the overcoming of the cages of racism, rape, an inconsistent family life, and other challenges in coming to the realization of choosing love, expression, deeper feelings. Maya the character frees her feelings to sing of the beauty she sees for herself and in others to move from the shackles of a cruel upbringing to the joyful singing of beauty, love, and depth.

Caged Bird 5(Maya Angelou)

In the reading of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, I felt the sting of suffering with the characters of Maya and Bailey. I felt the confusion of adolescence with these two, as well as the longing for stability of consistent family, place, and justice. The humanity growth of Maya’s choosing love, literature, and the higher callings of our human family were redeemed, for a book from 1969, worked for me. It is for these reasons that the book rates 4.0-starts-out-of-five.

Matt – Thursday, April 12, 2018

Randy Pausch’s ‘The Last Lecture’ offers touching inspiration

Do you find that folks in a computer science profession aloof? Are folks in the Information Technology department at your workplace a touch odd, shy, and lacking in the panache of personality that you crave? With the life lessons and experiences shared by Randy Pausch of Carnegie Mellon University in his 2008 book The Last Lecture, the Pittsburgh-based computer science professor gave the presentation on life that forms the basis of the book The Last Lecture a mere ten months before his death in July 2008.

Last Lecture 2(Randy Pausch)

Prior to giving this lecture offered in the book, Pausch had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and less than 12-months to live. Pausch set about offering the life-affirming story of pursuing your childhood dreams in a fashion that belied both the preconception of people working in computer science as well as that of a talk about a man talking about death. The story was one of inspiration, life lessons that Pausch wished to leave for his wife and young kids, and paying forward the lessons that he, Pausch, had taken from those who influenced him.

Last Lecture 3(Randy Pausch delivering his last lecture at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh)

Much of the stories within the lecture can be considered mini-essays about life. Pausch talks of the love he has for his wife, Jai. Pausch distills life lessons that he would like to leave for his three children, so that they had a first hand sense for the man that would be much more possible with this record than simply with the stories from his wife. The sense of humor, intelligence, and panache of his tales were engaging.

Last Lecture 4(Randy Pausch, left, and Jai Pausch (Glasgow))

Hearkening back to his larger audience at Carnegie Mellon University, where Pausch gave his last lecture, I like that he focused a chapter on sharing cliche. He focused on the general truths captured in them, and that students at a university (or younger) can benefit from the wisdom. Why? The benefit comes from their truth and that students by and large lack the life experience to know about them. Another favorite subject was the section / chapter on team dynamics. The key thing here is that many people are so self-focused that they do not really learn how to function with others or for others. This, in reality, forces computer science students, college students, and even his kids to hear a lesson that Pausch found telling and important.

Last Lecture 5(Randy Pausch with his three kids)

There is so much more to the lessons about life and self that Pausch shared in The Last Lecture that this offering does not do justice to the subject. The ending to the lecture punctuates the larger point that these life lessons all get back to the larger, more important point of leaving memories of yourself for those that you love most. These loves notes for Pausch were for his wife, Jai, and their three kids. The lecture involved a couple notions of the subject of head fakes, which get back to how lessons are taught using the cliche of lessons from a football coach that Pausch admired.

The engaging, touching quality of the message of the book stands tall for me. My rating for the book is 4.5-stars out of 5-stars. This book, though covering ostensibly sad material, is worth the read for me.

Matt – Saturday, March 31, 2018

Wonder Woman is a leader in the DC Comics movie universe

Perhaps a little late to the party, the movie Wonder Woman (2017) was an entertaining telling of the origin story of Greek Goddess and Amazon warrior Diana Prince, aka the person we know as Wonder Woman. A foray into the DC Comics movie universe, Wonder Woman rated well among audiences and critics alike on Rotten Tomatoes.

Actress Gal Gadot reprises her role as Diana Prince in the summer blockbuster movie Wonder Woman, after first appearing as the character in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) as the same character. Gadot again appeared as the character later that year in Justice League (2017). Before playing Diana Prince, some will recognize Gadot from her role as Gisele in The Fast and The Furious (2009).

Wonder Woman 2(Gal Gadot, left, and Connie Nielsen, right)

Much of the origin story for the feature film first focuses on Diana Prince getting raised on the Paradise Islands. Diana’s Amazon Goddess mother Hippolyta (played by Connie Nielsen) looked to protect Diana from the fate that laid ahead of her, which slowly became clear was a fight with Greek God Ares, the God of War and chief enemy of the Amazons. It wasn’t until much later in the film that we learn if such a fight would actually occur … it would have been a disappointing turn of events if this story line were put on hold for another movie.

Wonder Woman 4(Gal Gadot, left, and Chris Pine, right)

It was roughly 40 to 60 minutes into the movie, characteristically for DC Comics movies, that the events began moving from origin story to live action movie with action, conflict, and the story that makes comic books appealing to fans of the medium happy. Robin Wright as Antiope starts training Diana. Chris Pine as Steve Trevor brings in the means by which Diana Prince will leave the Paradise Islands.

Wonder Woman 3(Robin Wright)

Other than knowing that Diana Prince was first seen in France with a reference back to Batman v Superman, much of when the origin story for Diana Prince occurs is a mystery. The Steve Trevor story line sets the remainder of the movie firmly in the last year of World War One. The story takes on quest for justice in bringing an end to the war while simultaneously resolving the origin story of Diana Prince and the Amazon colony from which Diana, Wonder Woman came.

Wonder Woman 5(Elena Anaya, left, and Danny Huston, right)

Having already revealed much more of the plot than is fair, the fair thing to say is that I found much of the story and character development engaging. Many of the personal stories of the characters were engaging, though the most interesting story lines were those for Diana Prince, Steve Trevor, and that of some of the characters pitted against Trevor and Wonder Woman in the film’s climax. Many of the remaining characters were understandably more two-dimensional as they were present to serve the larger story.

Wonder Woman 6(David Thewlis)

My personal judgment is that much of the film’s being received by critics and audiences alike is that there were large themes, CGI-influenced comic book action, and character growth through a story that you can largely take something from. For fans of movies with strong female leads, this movie is for you. I for one was entertained.

Matt – Sunday, March 25, 2018

Book Review: Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go

As some of you that read this blog know, I joined a communication, confidence, and leadership growth group in January of 2016 called Toastmasters International. A gentleman there took a risk by affording me the opportunity to practice my leadership skills.  He offered the challenge to be uncomfortable for awhile in supporting not only myself and my club. He allowed me to serve the people of five clubs in an area of my city that I hadn’t really explored much during the first roughly 40-years of my life.

I was first introduced to the gentleman, Mr. Tay, in April 2017. This friend reads two to four books on leadership each year to keep current with new ideas that can help him in his career. Mindful and continuous improvement are cornerstones of the advice that I have received from Mr. Tay. This approach brought me to the book Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want.

Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni co-wrote Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go, a book that gets into a concept that Goodreads calls “surprisingly simple.” The notion underpinning the book is that “frequent short conversations with employees about their career goals and options integrated seamlessly into the normal course of business” will help keep employees growing, engaged, and happily productive within your organization.

Grow or Go 2(Beverly Kay)

The framework that Kaye and Winkle Giulioni voice clearly in Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go includes talks about understanding your own hindsight, combining it with foresight into department, company, and industry trends, and then joining the two with context to gain insight.

Much of the book indicates what it will tell you and then did. Chapters three and four get into the notion of hindsight to determine who you are, where you’ve been, what you love, and where you excel. Foresight in chapter five looks to have managers help employees look forward, outward, and toward trends, changes, and the big picture. Chapters six through eight focus on leveraging insight from the convergence of hindsight and foresight.

Grow or Go 3(Julie Winkle Giulioni)

Career-oriented books about leadership and development are definitely not the material for everyone. Conversations about a Toastmasters career further are not the types of information that will excite folks. Taking concrete action to lead and grow through direct action within clubs, and then more passive reflection and thought to shape further action, is further not the thing folks want.

In combining the two and reviewing a book well at 4.0-starts out of 5.0 stars, know that I received insight that I wanted while getting to practice the techniques within. Thanks, Mr. Tay, for sharing the opportunity to read this and apply it in the real world.

Matt – Thursday, March 22, 2018

Film review for a winner of four Academy Awards, ‘Platoon’

Director Oliver Stone and Producer Arnold Kopelson first released Platoon on a limited basis in movie theater’s in December 1986. The movie was nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning for Best Picture, Film Editing, Sound, and Direction. To underscore that this movie was well received by the academy would be a disservice to the film.

Platoon 8(Oliver Stone in cameo in Platoon)

While arguably first a movie with an ensemble cast set in the Vietnam War circa 1967, the story of the movie is a tale of idealism and innocence lost in the jungle of Vietnam as seen through the eyes of Chris Taylor (as played by Charlie Sheen) and others. The character of Chris Taylor volunteers for service after dropping out from college with little worldly experience, which in my opinion serves as a metaphor for much of how the United States viewed itself at the time.

Platoon 3(Charlie Sheen)

While the enemy that the United States was fighting in Vietnam was the communist ideal and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the argument offered in the movie was that there was an internal struggle within America for the fight. The movie wasn’t aiming to argue those politics, though the internal American struggle was viewed through the lens of youthful innocence and some degree of rich versus poor.

Platoon 2(Willem Dafoe, left, and Tom Berenger, right)

Sargent Barnes as played by Tom Berenger serves as the jaded by war experience and morally corrupted platoon leader. Barnes has a quite unsympathetic and unfeeling attitude toward the Vietnam natives in country, and takes ruthless and criminal actions against the people of a farming village that the platoon in the movie comes upon. Sheen’s Taylor finds sympathy with the platoon faction lining up behind the more sympathetic Sargent Elias, who is played by Willem Dafoe.

The characters of Elias and Taylor take illicit drugs during the course of the movie. Barnes does not take that step, receives praise for his toughness within members of the platoon, and is shown for moments of leadership fallibility and moral turpitude, especially amongst the Vietnamese farming villagers as well as in the fate of Sargent Elias.

Platoon 5(Forest Whitaker)

In underscoring some of the military policy of integrating the military that was part of the legacy of the Vietnam War, the notion of the larger ensemble cast also sharing in the taking of sides between Sargent’s Barnes and Elias was clear. Big Harold, as played by Forest Whitaker, gave voice to the same inner turmoil that Chris Taylor (Sheen) was experiencing. This was communicated most strongly, perhaps, after the Vietnamese village was raised and farmers were killed.

Platoon 4(Keith David)

In the role as King, Keith David was a voice of moralizing that helped the character of Chris Taylor come to his own sense of moral clarity within the film. David’s initial role was in taking stock of the character that Taylor was as well as helping guide the change that Taylor would experience by the end of the movie. The character of Rhah, as played by Francesco Quinn, was another strong voice for the audience and Taylor in speaking for the directorial messages of immediacy and vision that I heard in the film.

Platoon 6(Francesco Quinn)

There is no question that Platoon lands firmly in the camp of war movie. The scenes of war action were real and intense for their day, though later surpassed by some of the film quality of a picture like Saving Private Ryan. Similar in ensemble quality to Saving Private Ryan, I would be remiss if I were to not point out that Johnny Depp also served as Private Gator Lerner in Platoon.

Platoon 7(Johnny Depp)

Part of the larger power of the movie that worked so well as a war movie is that the experience offered was that of the platoon level combatant. The notion of Taylor losing the ability to write home, and his platoon mates asking him about it were quite real. The notion of staying morally forthright while facing many opportunities to lose innocence and idealism were also fair, gritty, and in ways unpleasantly real. The depictions of combat, of corrupted leadership and the counterpoint rectitude, and the coping with having thoughts on each while feeling powerless to affect the course were strong and cogent messages.

With all these things said, the reason that I watched Platoon without Lynn reflect the same reason that I watched Dunkirk, reviewed here, without Lynn. The violence and sensibility of war that were parts of Platoon and Dunkirk were not things that Lynn would enjoy. Quite easily put, there was nothing to be gained by subjecting her to an experience that she would not enjoy.

Platoon, still, was worthy of Academy Award attention.

Matt – Sunday, March 18, 2018