Thursday, November 5, 2009

Charlotte's Web + Getting to Know Spiders = Kids Off The Couch

In taking down this year's Halloween decorations, we found a few real spider webs underneath the pretend ones. Their sticky homes could give spiders a bad rap, unless you're familiar with Charlotte's Web, a story that gives arachnids a whole new spin. Based on E.B. White's classic book, the new live-action adaptation stars Dakota Fanning as Fern and Julia Roberts lending her voice to literature's most literate pig. Charlotte, the webby wordsmith, saves her friend Wilbur the pig from becoming dinner by weaving words like "Some Pig" into her web and creating a publicity stir. Like Wilbur, and our kids were enamored with Charlotte, so we checked out the a Spider Exhibit at our local natural history museum o see if Charlotte's movie star good looks were as mesmerizing off the screen. The Pavilion is an enclosed space on the Museum lawn that houses spiders cage free in a natural habitat. Kids can wander about looking for cool webs and five varieties of spiders. Arachnaphobes have nothing to fear: spiders are shy and stay put in their webs amongst the garden bushes. If you look close, you may just run into an Agiope -- Charlotte's cousin who weaves her silken threads into geometric patterns! (Click here for a video of naturalists handling a tarantula and for more books and films about spiders.)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Election Day 2009: Mount Rushmore + North By Northwest = Kids Off The Couch

Election Day 2009: Mount Rushmore + North by Northwest = Kids Off The Couch
50th Anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock's Classic Thriller

Without any pressing issues on the ballot today, our thoughts drift to Presidents who were elected on previous Election Days. Four presidential greats are memorialized on Mount Rushmore, so why not take this chance to quiz your kids on this unique American tourist site? Then, treat them to one of Hitchcock's masterpieces, the climax of which features Eva Marie Saint and Cary Grant scrambling around the faces of the four presidents. The film, celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this week, ranks 55th on the AFI's list of the 100 Greatest American Movies.

Quick quiz:
Whose faces are etched in stone? (Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln).
Under what President was the monument commissioned, and under which recent president was the park declared a National Historic Park? (Calvin Coolidge in 1925 and George H.W. Bush in 1991).
Why was the monument erected? (To promote tourism in the Black Hills of South Dakota).
What is the controversy surrounding the monument? (The Lakota Indians believe the Black Hills land belongs to them and have responded with plans to erect a monument to Crazy Horse, nearby).

North By Northwest
The 1959 thriller stars Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, Martin Landau and James Mason in one of Alfred Hitchcock's most elegant and memorable thrillers about a NY ad exec (Grant) who is mistaken for a government agent and chased by foreign spies. On the run, he teams with one of the better looking spies (Saint, fresh from her Oscar win for On the Waterfront) to double-cross the crooks. Who can forget the sight of Grant being chased by a crop duster, or Eva Marie dangling precariously in her skirt and heels from Rushmore? The famous scene of the train going into the tunnel once the lovers are reunited is classic (and hopefully over your tween's heads), Bernard Herrmann's score is terrific, and we particularly love the cat-and-mouse cleverness in the scene where Grant lets a kidnapped Saint know he's hiding in the house where she is being held. Kids over 10 are ready to handle the suspense of this excellent film although parents will need to do a bit of dancing around the issue of Saint using her female wiles to do her job.

Want more?
A newly remastered DVD of North By Northwest is a great holiday gift, and worth stocking in your home library. Click here to purchase the new 50th Anniversary edition from Warner Home Library. DVD extras include documentaries about Hitchcock, Grant and a commentary by late screenwriter Earnest Lehman. Mount Rushmore is also featured in National Treasure: Book of Secrets.

Click here to learn more about the making of Mt. Rushmore, which was completed on October 31, 1941. Click here to read a Wall Street Journal article about the complexity of issues behind the monument.

Don't forget to vote!