Friday, June 26, 2020

The Dyslexia Code: There Is No More Compassion -- Do It!

Book Review: The Dyslexia Code: There Is No More Compassion -- Do It! by Karl de Leeuw
Version: Free ebook from the author

Dyslexia is often portrayed as a problem to be fixed. Karl de Leeuw looks at it differently, as a gift, as he explains in The Dyslexia Code: There Is No More Compassion -- Do It! In 80 well-researched, well-written pages, de Leeuw shows, tells, and explores why those with dyslexia just think differently and that difference makes them better thinkers, better problem explorers, and better problem solvers.

Most of the hundreds if not thousands of books on dyslexia are written by academics and health professionals, who look at the condition from the outside. De Leeuw sees it from the inside, having dyslexia himself and having a daughter with dyslexia. So he understands what it's like to see the world as a dyslexic. They don't see it 2-dimensionally as most of easy-readers do. They see it more 3-dimensionally as most difficulty-with-reading do, which means they are visualizers and listeners who process information differently. And, de Leeuw explains, that accounts for some of the greatest geniuses and prolific patent-holders being dyslexics. Instead of "fixing" dyslexics, we should be helping dyslexics flourish with their talents, he suggests.

Thus, in The Dyslexia Code de Leeuw spends time and space talking about the condition, how to test for it, how to educate those with it, and how to plan for a future where people with dyslexia can use those talents instead of stifling them. He discusses resources. So, if you know someone with dyslexia, or suspect they have dyslexia, or if you have it yourself, you should read The Dyslexia Code and make sure others do, too. It's readable, understandable, and relatable. You won't even need a medical dictionary to get through it.

I must confess to being confused by the subtitle, "There Is No More Compassion -- Do It!" This book shows lots of compassion, and de Leeuw gives you plenty of room and route to "do it!" My advice as a reader is to focus on the "Code" part of the title, because this book decodes the code that dyslexia can be to help you understand and address it if it's in your life. Then make the most of life with your "gift".

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Call of the Wild: Man and Dog Find Escape Through Nature

Movie Review: Call of the Wild (2020)
Version: Amazon Prime rental

Call of the Wild is a film as big as all the outdoors and as intimate as the heart of the family dog. We witness this in this amazing film based on the book of the same name by Jack London.

This is an ambitious telling of the tale done in a little over an hour and a half. In it, we meet a rambunctious family mutt named Buck, owned by a county judge whom only the judge likes but only a town scoundrel dares snare to sell to some anonymous newspaper ad seeing dogs to help tame the Alaska wilderness. And so, Buck finds himself on a train ride north from his comfortable California home to a whole new life in the snow-filled gold fields of the Yukon. Buck learns a whole new way of living, including how to walk on ice, how to navigate in snow, and how to mush on a dog sled as part of a scraggly team led by likable French Canadian postman Perrault (Omar Sy). It's finding his snow legs and helping Perrault meet the challenge of making a delivery schedule that Buck finds the call of the wild inherent in his soul. Midway through the delivery schedule, Perrault's contract is canceled and Buck and the team are put up for sale. It's now that Buck meets an old acquaintance, John Thornton (Harrison Ford), an old man who has escaped the misfortunes of life to live out fate in the wild country. He rescues Buck from a dangerous fortune hunter (Dan Stevens) but with the understanding Buck is free to go his own way any time. A friendship is bonded nonetheless and the two set off on a journey of discovery that leads Thornton to find the richness of life and Buck the keys to legacy from his own personal call to the wild.

This film isn't about Harrison Ford's character -- he is very much a supporting actor in this role. And yet Call of the Wild would very much not be the film it is without him in that role. It defines his legacy as a lead actor even so. I would see this movie just to see him in this role. At the same time, the main character, Buck, isn't even an actor. This is probably a SPOILER, so read with caution, but Buck is done all in CGI. Imagine all the things Buck must do to make this character come to life and the effort required to train a dog to do them all, and get the expressions on its face. In a sense that's a cheat, making Ford's work to carry this film even more weighty. To our fortune, it all works, brilliantly.

The setting for most of this film, the wild of Alaska and the Yukon, the wild of nature, is also brilliant. It calls to you as it calls to Thornton and especially to Buck. This would be even more so on the large screen in a theater, of course, but being as COVID-19 interrupted theater screenings, we will just have to imagine that.

The book Call of the Wild was written in 1903 but London's story translates well thematically and technically in 2020. We can all appreciate the breath of fresh air it represents cinematically and metaphorically in these complicated, claustrophobic times. I suggest you gather the family around the big screen at home this weekend and enjoy Call of the Wild and escape the wild ride we are on for at least and hour and a half (and some change).

Monday, June 01, 2020

Knives Out: In the Tradition of an Agatha Christie Who Done It, But Better!

Movie Review: Knives Out (2019)
Version: Amazon Prime rental

In the mood for a good mystery? In the style of an Agatha Christie who-done-it? With an ensemble of strange characters all of whom are prime suspects but only one surely must of done it? A ring of clueless policemen but one immensely smart privately consulting detective with at least one irritating quirk who can't quite figure out the crime-defining question but is always on the cusp of finding the answer? Oh, and the victim -- the irascible old man everyone has a reason to kill! Well, that's Knives Out in a nutshell!

It features the usual cast of notables. Christopher Plummer is the victim, one famous mystery writer Harlan Thrombey. Did he commit suicide or was he killed by any of a number of family members or family staff in a position and with a reason to slit his throat? There is daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her husband Richard Drysdale (Don Johnson), and ungrateful grandson Ransom (Chris Evans). They've been living off the old man's fortune too long, to his disappointment. Son Walt Thrombey (Michael Shannon) ran the old man's publishing house but was never allowed to run with his instincts and always felt held back in his father's shadow. His son Jacob (Jaeden Martell) was a spoiled family muckraker who enjoyed inciting a family squabble. Granddaughter Meg Thrombey (Katherine Langford) was the apple of her grandfather's eye, dutifully sending a six-figure check to cover her college tuition, until he discovered her mother Joni (Toni Collette) was double billing the accountant and stealing from dear old granddad. That leaves housekeeper Fran (Edi Patterson) who was discovered with a blackmail note and nurse Marta (Ana de Arnas) who was the last person to see Harlan alive. Who could solve this difficult crime? Why, the privately consulting detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) with the irritating Southern gentlemanliness. And so he goes after the clues and that one remaining question he can't quite solve till the very end.

Now, watching a Brit like Craig handle the Southern drawl and charm with such adeptness, after years of watching him play steely-eyed James Bond, was a revelation of his acting skills. He totally took on that role and won the character. He vied with Jamie Lee Curtis, with her verve and sparkle, for steeling the show. It should be noted that Frank Oz of Muppets fame came out of whole cloth to play a human attorney.

The only thing I can compare this film to is Murder on the Orient Express or perhaps Clue, mysteries with large ensemble casts and celebrity roles. It has that look and feel. And so you cannot take it seriously as a mystery, although the conclusion is a surprise. Still, it was a fun story and worth a watch. Jamie Lee Curtis is always fun to watch, Daniel Craig is interesting in this new role, Chris Evans gets to stretch his creative legs in this role, and Toni Collette is delicious in her character. Christopher Plummer commands the screen. Just for their performances, it's worth the watch.

So here's the gist of the story. Harlan Thrombey is a famous mystery writer. His family returns to the "ancestral home" to celebrate his 85th birthday. The next morning his private nurse discovers he has died and investigating police surmise Harlan has committed suicide. But private detective Benoit Blanc, anonymously hired by a mysterious source, attends a follow-up interview of those present that evening, and he has questions. He discovers each of the family members had reason to want Harlan Thrombey dead. Grandson Ransom had left the party early that night but returns late to answer questions and so also becomes one of the suspects. Through flashbacks we learn truths about some of the testimony and about other events that give context to occurrences that night, including an important role nurse Marta played. Even up to the end, all isn't as it seems. Of course! In the last moment, Benoit Blanc discovers the answer to his final question and the culprit is revealed.

As is always so with these ensemble casts, everyone is not just a suspect but every clue is a misdirect. And the job of the viewer is to listen intently without getting snookered. Knives Out is probably one of the better written who-done-its. I think you will agree. Perhaps when it fades to credits, you will find that's the real reveal at the end.