Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Apple of My Eye

Last night at 8:52, my entire life changed.

It started at 6:30 yesterday morning when my sister called me to tell me our sister's water broke, and she was going into labor. Her actual due date was today, so the baby was coming on time, more or less. I'd been waiting for this day ever since the day I found out my sister was pregnant, but as much as I was looking towards it, I knew my pregnant sister was looking forward to it for a whole other set of reasons. I went to work, waiting for any updates since I knew it was going to be a super long day.

By lunch time, there weren't any significant updates with my sister's condition. Since I had to drive from Northern Virginia to Baltimore, I had to leave work early enough to hopefully dodge as much rush hour traffic in between as possible. Fortunately, I met up with my dad by early evening and we got to the hospital with plenty of time to spare (much to the chagrin of my sister in labor).

By 7:00, my sister had just started moving forward with dilating. However, she was faced with choosing between giving birth naturally or having a C-section. She ultimately went with the C-section, and the procedure was expected to take about an hour to complete.

Finally sometime after 9:00, my brother-in-law came out with a big smile on his face and showed us pictures of my niece. Gianna Violet Ignozzi was 7 lbs, 9.5 oz and was 19 inches long. I chose to wait to meet her face to face before leaving for the night. I had to wait over two hours before we got notice that we could come back to see my niece.

All I can say is, it was completely worth the wait.

I saw my sister laying in bed, with my niece laying in her newborn bed with a heater above her to keep her warm. I always knew I'd enjoy becoming an uncle, but once the moment hit me, there were no words that could possibly describe how completely in love with my niece I was. I was extremely nervous about holding her, but the nurse in the room wrapped her in several blankets and offered her up to me.

As amazing as it was seeing my niece for the first time, holding her in my arms was another experience all together.

There was a moment as I was holding my niece where she opened her eyes and looked right at me. It was a moment that I will never forget as long as I live. She was immediately the apple of my eye.

I said all along that I would enjoy spoiling my niece rotten, even to the point of annoying my sister in the process. I still plan on doing that, but when my niece looked at me in the eye, I knew my role as uncle was far greater than that. It's my brother-in-law's responsibility to protect and support her throughout her life, but I now know I play a role in that, too. I may already be completely wrapped around her finger, but I also will do my best to take care of her and protect her as well.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

How Good Is Your British Accent?

Every now and then, a film is released that causes some controversy based on content involving sex, race, gender, politics, religion, and/or ethnicity. I'm sure that at least some of those films are made specifically to cause controversy, while others are made controversial because of the general public's reactions. The old cliche of "no press is bad press" applies in cases like this, since most times a controversial film has an instant boost at the box office from people talking about it.

One of the recurring forms of controversy surrounding movies is "whitewashing," where characters of foreign backgrounds are cast with Caucasian actors. Though it wasn't quite whitewashing, I had read a number of complaints online back when the role of Sulu was cast in the reboot of Star Trek a couple years ago. Sulu was a Japanese character, but the actor portraying him was of Korean descent. I didn't see any real offense committed here, though I can see why some would be upset at this casting.

One of the most recent examples of whitewashing was in the film Prince of Persia. The film takes place in the Middle East over 1000 years ago, and the characters were all natively Persian obviously. The controversy in the film came up when Jake Gyllenhaal was cast as the male lead and British actress Gemma Arterton was cast as the female lead. The filmmakers were accused of appealing to American audiences more than finding actors who matched the ethnic profiles of the characters - an accusation that, in my opinion, had some merit.

In fairness to Prince of Persia, the film was far from being the first film of its kind of controversy. However, there's another odd choice made in the film that I don't recall reading anywhere else previously: In addition to the whitewashing in the film, all the characters speak with British accents.

Prince of Persia was merely the latest example of this odd choice on the filmmakers' behalf as well. Films such as Gladiator, Troy, Kingdom of Heaven, and 300 all had many of the lead actors speak with British accents even though none of them took place in England at all. Historically speaking, England had no influence on any of the areas where any of those films took place either, so anyone living in those areas wouldn't have spoken with British accents at all (even if they could speak English at all).

I'm not sure exactly when using British accents became common practice for films taking place over 1000 years ago. I'm not even necessarily saying it's a bad thing, or make the films automatically bad as a whole (Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven are two of my favorite films, in fact). It does manage to take me out of the film somewhat; that is to say, I start thinking about how out of place the accents are more than enjoying the film for itself. The trend is clearly a fairly new technique though, since older films taking place in the same general time period don't use phony British accents at all (see The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, The Robe, etc).

The irony here is that I personally love Hollywood epics that take place in time periods like the aforementioned films, so I come across films with these British accents frequently. It's nothing more than a minor peeve with movies, but it's got me wondering at what point during production do the filmmakers stop and say, "Boy, the movie sure is turning out great, but it's missing something....I know! British accents!"

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Enrico Polazzo Would Be Proud...Sort Of

I consider myself a fairly patriotic person. I love admiring the sight of the American flag flapping in the wind. Watching fireworks every July 4th isn't just about the ooo-ing and ahh-ing for me. But above either of these, I get a chill when I hear the national anthem.

One of the most iconic renditions of the national anthem I've ever seen or heard was Whitney Houston, when she had sung it at the Super Bowl in 1991. It was particularly moving since the U.S. at that time had just gone to war with Iraq, and she brought the house down in a moving and patriotic performance. She didn't overdo it, which is actually somewhat easy to do.

Christina Aguilera could have learned a lot from Whitney Houston's performance. Aguilera sang the anthem at Super Bowl XLV, and while I will never deny that she has some serious vocal talents, she tends to show off her skills for no reason at all. Where Houston gave a performance for the ages because of how great she sang, Aguilera gave a performance for the ages for the complete opposite of reasons. She actually messed up a line in the anthem, which is beyond embarrassing on such a stage. She tried rebounding as much as possible, but her performance rivals - if not surpasses - Roseanne's performance as the single worst singing of the national anthem ever.

Two things come to mind here. First, I can't help but suspect that Aguilera messed the song up because she was so focused on showing off her vocal range more than anything else while singing. She's far from the only vocalist out there to do so, which is really a sign of the times. Houston has a beautiful singing voice, but part of the reason why she's so successful is because she carries a note, not constantly shifting tone and pitch. Aguilera can sing just as well, but she's constantly going up and down on her scale. Singing the national anthem does not need that!

Second, and before I'm accused of trying to sound like Simon Cowell here, her performance reminded me of another famous fumbling of the national anthem: Leslie Nielsen as Frank Drebin as Enrico Polazzo in The Naked Gun. In my opinion, his performance of the national anthem at a baseball game late in the movie is one of the funniest scenes in any movie ever.

The ultimate irony to Aguilera's performance is that right before she sang, one of the cast members of Glee sang "America the Beautiful" and absolutely nailed it. She really brought the house down, and she didn't go over the top in her performance. Less truly can be more sometimes, and I think this is one of those times.

But hey, even though Aguilera blew her moment in the spotlight, at least the Packers won the game.