Monday, December 29, 2008

Go see Slumdog Millionaire

My uncle has always been a fan of independent films and frequented the Angelika Film Center at Mockingbird Station in Dallas before he and my aunt moved out to East Texas. He does not get to go to the movies much now, so I thought it would be neat to get out and have a movie day with him over the holidays.

We set up a good schedule to meet up at the new Angelika in Plano at the Shops at Legacy to catch Slumdog Millionaire at 11:00 AM and then have a few minutes turnaround before going to see Milk at 1:20 PM. While both flicks were really good with Sean Penn further cementing his place as an exceptional actor in the latter, Slumdog was the real winner for me.

To set up the plot for you (not a spoiler alert here), the story is set around a young man who is a contestant on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? in Mumbai, India. The film begins with main character, Jamal answering a question to win 10 million rupees and being accused of being a cheat. As a guy from the slums with admittedly no education, an investigator questions him about his unbelievable knowledge. He shows the tape of the game throughout the investigation and has him justify his answers.

The genius of the story is that the knowledge needed to answer the trivia questions was accumulated through a series of wild events in his youth. The flashbacks and forwards are strategically placed as they show his upbringing and reveal the answers in a variety of ways.

Jamal grows up with his brother, Salim and childhood love Latika. An awesome score accompanies the flashbacks and the cinematography gives a fantastic account of both the slums and the high life in India. The camera angles put you right in the middle of his adventure as he recounts his youth as well.

There was never a dull moment, and I really was on edge ready to find out what would happen to him next. While this is a seriously bold statement for me, Slumdog Millionaire may have already vaulted into the top 5 all time movies for me. Go see it while it's in the theaters for sure because the score and the action make it well worth your money. With the Oscar buzz surrounding it, you may want to catch it quick because it may win Best Picture.

So, what are my top 5 movies, you ask?

In no particular order (due to this recent viewing)...

Slumdog Millionaire
Cinderella Man
Good Will Hunting
Requiem for a Dream

Just to be fair, Milk was really good, too, and will definitely be in the mix come Oscar time but if you only go see one movie in the next month or two, make Slumdog Millionaire your choice.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Judgment Sunday in the NFL...

I was really excited about watching the NFL games today. Coming into week 17, there were so many different scenarios that could get various teams into the playoffs. I've always rooted for the Cowboys growing up, which could be expected since I grew up here. Lately though, the organization has just made me sick. They always take chances on troubled players who cannot seem to keep themselves away from legal trouble or have just torn other teams apart (see "the player" under Bill Parcells' English Dictionary). Today, incidently, one of those players, Adam "Pacman" Jones, played a major role in the complete meltdown of a team that was dubbed a Super Bowl favorite before the season started.

In the past few years, I've gotten pretty heavy into fantasy football. In doing so, I have tried to make sure (3 years running now) to get Eagles' RB Brian Westbrook onto my roster. Last year in a big fantasy matchup, the Eagles were playing the Cowboys. I had Westbrook as well as Romo on my roster. I was down by a few points and so was Dallas at the time. The Eagles were driving late in the 4th quarter. At this point in the fantasy contest, I needed a Westbrook touchdown and then to have Romo throw for a good chunk of yards when the Cowboys got the ball back. Westbrook got a handoff at about the 30 yardline and broke into the open. The 2 minute warning had just passed and the Cowboys had no timeouts. I lept into the air with excitement as the path between Westbrook at the endzone was completely clear. Imagine my surprise when Westbrook decelerated rapidly inside the 5 yardline and slid down at the 1. There aren't many, if any players in the NFL that would pass up a touchdown to guarantee a victory but since Philadelphia was ahead, Westbrook knew the Cowboys had no timeouts and could no longer stop the clock. The Eagles downed the ball to run the clock out, and I shared the loss with the Cowboys. The selfless act by Westbrook made me develop a whole new respect for him. He's a team player; the kind of player that the Cowboys lack.

In my appreciation for Westbrook over the past few years, I have also started to really enjoy watching Donovan McNabb play, too. He's been on my fantasy team 3 out of the last 4 years, too. It wouldn't be accurate to label myself an Eagles' fan, but I do root for them to do well.

Coming into today, they had long odds against them to get in the playoffs. They found themselves in the odd situation earlier this year of accumulating a tie into their record, which helped them to their 8-6-1 record coming into today. With the tie factoring in, if they were to even up wins with anyone, they would take the tiebreaker because they had less losses than the team they would be tied with.

That being said, they were behind 4 different 9-6 teams for the last wild card spot. The Vikings and the Bears were both 9-6 but since one of them would be the winner of their division, they did not factor into the wild card mix. The Vikings ended up beating the Giants to win the NFC North Division. The Eagles then needed Chicago to lose at Houston and for Oakland (one of the worst teams in the NFL) to go into Tampa Bay and win, even though they were a 13 point underdog going in. Even with all those unlikely scenarios to play out, the Eagles would still have to beat the Cowboys, too. With all those games going on in the early session (12 PM kickoffs), we would know by Cowboys/Eagles kickoff how much the game was going to mean.

The Cowboys scenario was simple; if they won, they were in. It was just a matter of wheather the Eagles would be playing for anything. The Eagles and the crazy Philadelphia crowd learned the outcomes of the other games and knew there was still a shot they could score a playoff berth.

I told Jessica earlier in the day that I just wanted all the situations to play out so that the Eagles/Cowboys game would actually mean something for both teams. That was one of my wishes; the other one being that the game would be a good one. My 2nd wish fell through with a huge crash.

The Eagles looked absolutely dominant on defense, causing 6 straight Dallas turnovers at one point. It was really sad to watch after a while. Even when the Cowboys got momentum and drove down into the red zone (inside the 20 for casual football viewers), Marion Barber fumbled and the Eagles ran it back for a touchdown.

It was an unbelievable debacle for all Cowboys fans for sure. Here's what should make it worse, though:

A year ago, the Miami Dolphins were the worst team in football with a 1-15 record. Bill Parcells, the former Cowboy coach who fans said "good riddance" to, took over as their General Manager in the offseason. He hired away the Cowboys offensive line coach and Assistant Head Coach in Tony Sparano to take over as Head Coach for the Dolphins.

At this point, the Cowboys were in need of an offensive line coach. Where better to hire that person from than the 1-15 Miami Dolphins? Interesting, I say.

Well here we are today with the Cowboys on the outside looking in on the playoff picture. What ever happened to the Dolphins anyway?

Oh, they beat the New York Jets today, led by Brett Favre, to take their record to 11-5 and win the AFC East Division championship, edging both the Jets and the New England Patriots for the playoff spot.

Here's my take on the state of the Cowboys: As long as Jerry Jones is multi-tasking as Owner, Team President and General Manager, Dallas fans should expect disappointment to continue. He lets the good coaches get away (Jimmy Johnson, Sean Payton, Tony Sparano & Bill Parcells) and hires puppets like Wade Phillips, Chan Gailey and Dave Campo, so he can run the show behind the scenes.

It really is a shame to see such a talented group of players not live up to potential but when teams lack leadership, it will always happen.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Cecelia Raine Allen

On November 23rd, 2008, at 6:56 AM, Jessica and I welcomed our little miracle angel, Cecelia Raine Allen. She weighed 6 lbs, 14 oz and measured 19.5 inches; she's a tiny little thing.

Although it only took nine months to wait on her arrival, it sure seemed like longer. Not too long before her birth day, the midwife told Jessica that she'd be surprised if she made it another week without going into labor. Seeing how this was about 2 1/2 weeks before we were due, the wait then seemed drag out substantially.

The day finally arrived, though. I made my best effort not to "freak out" as Jessica so aptly described it, and we had a truly wonderful labor experience. I have had friends tell me in the past and have also read about how much more husbands fall in love with their wives after birth. To say that I love Jessica more now would be an understatement; she is my hero, my inspiration, and I am so lucky and proud to call her my wife. She was so strong during the labor that I was in complete awe of her afterwards. Cecelia is a month and 3 days old now, and I still can't get over how amazing Jess was; I absolutely love her with all my heart.

The product of the whole birth extravaganza is our little Cece Queen. She's already growing out of some outfits, proving the so many correct who have told us repeatedly "they grow up so fast." I watched Father of the Bride the other day with the comic genius Steve Martin. The movie starts out with him winding down after the wedding has ended, and he's talking to the camera. He begins talking to fathers out there about what it's like to raise a daughter, and I was glued to the television. Granted, it is only a movie, this is a scene I would likely have not given a second thought to a few years back. It was almost as if Martin was talking directly to me now since I have a daughter myself.

I cannot explain how it feels to be a daddy. Honestly, the shock and awe may still be persisting. It's hard to believe that she is a product of the love we share in our household (or apartmenthold, if that's a word; shouldn't I know that? I'm an English teacher).

I love dressing her up in her little outfits and taking great pictures of her. I'm not a big fan of the ones where she is painfully upset during the photo session because it's apparent she does not approve at the time. We've been so blessed by all the great clothes that our friends and loved ones have given Cece. She looks best in her brown outfits that have touches of pinks, greens, or purples throughout the look. By the same token, however, she looks good in anything as far as I'm concerned.

Bath time might be my favorite time. Her first bath at the Birth & Women's Center was such an amazing experience; it felt like it was just me and her in the world for those few minutes. Each night, we try to make the bath part of our routine. She has a little duck bath that quacks when you push its bill. She usually seems so serene, kicking her feet and relaxing while we scrub her little arms and legs and wash her hair. There have been a handful of times when hunger has overtaken her, rendering her incapable of enjoying her generally happy bath time. We've recently gotten into the habit of putting her little towel into the dryer to warm it up so she's not so cold right out of the tub: I think she appreciates it. Jess gives her a little massage after that before we diaper her up and get her into a sleeper outfit. It's such a fun routine!

It's been a privelege so far to be part the everchanging world of the Cece Queen, but it has been tough at times, too. The difficult nights are composed of constant crying that steadily crescendos into an unmistakable shriek that echoes throughout the streets of Allen, Texas. It's become evident to me that patience is indeed the most important virtue while raising an infant. Jessica would likely tell you that I have no patience at all but honestly, I'd say my patience level is 500% higher than it used to be. I always try to remember that if she's crying, there's a reason for it; something is wrong, and it's our job to figure out what it is. It's almost like a quest for a treasure. If we can unlock the secrets of her cry, the quiet, mellow evening that ensues becomes our pot of gold.

After a month in the book as a father, the best way to describe it is that our daughter is an absolute blessing. She's beautiful and day by day, she is developing her own little personality. I'm excited about blogging and updating about her life.

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and have a happy and safe New Year!