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As I have already discussed, the red-band (mature material) trailer for the upcoming film “Kick-Ass” has an 11-year-old character played by a now-13-year-old girl using extremely crude language. The New York Times article focused on the accessibility of the trailer online, though it is supposed to be limited to adult audiences. But there is another aspect I’d like to look at as well. This movie is the third in recent months to feature a child using very crude or obscene language as a source of humor or as a signifier of coolness. I think it is because we are now numb to the shock value of even the strongest language used by adults, so all that is left is to have those words said by children.
In Cop Out a child who is referred to as the top local car thief uses a string of obscene epithets, kicks another character in the crotch, and then is himself kicked in the crotch. Bobb’e J. Thompson, now 13, has pretty much made a career of being the outrageous kid in movies like the 2008 release Role Models, where his character’s extreme and raunchy language is supposed to be funny.
We have a lot of rules to protect child performers. Their work hours are limited and the production is responsible for making sure they do not miss schoolwork. Their earnings are set aside so they cannot be appropriated by managers or family members. I do not want to impinge on anyone’s freedom of expression or artistic integrity, but I do not think that is what is at stake here. This is just exploitation of children who are not capable of protecting themselves. If an adult approached a child in the playground and used that language, he’d be arrested as a sexual predator. Is it really all right for us to allow children to use that language in a movie?

What a wonderful way to celebrate the birthday of the great Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss — each year on March 2 volunteers, many of them wearing red and white striped Cat in the Hat top hats — read aloud to children in their classrooms as a part of the Read Across America Day program. Today’s celebration included First Lady Michelle Obama, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, along with members of Congress, NEA leaders, and hundreds of local students at the Library of Congress. And the NEA released this list of favorites from our elected officials. Every one of them is a great choice for families to share.

NEA’s Read Across America
Congress’ All-Time Favorite Books

Was it a Dr. Seuss classic like Green Eggs and Ham or The Cat in the Hat? Maybe it was The Little Engine That Could? Or perhaps they preferred thrillers and suspense novels like those in The Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew mystery series?
For the National Education Association’s 13th annual Read Across America celebration, we asked members of Congress to share their all-time favorite children’s book!
SEN. MARK BEGICH (Alaska)
Horton Hears a Who! by Dr. Seuss
“It’s difficult to pick a favorite children’s book because there are so many great ones I’ve enjoyed over the years. But I’ll have to go with Horton Hears a Who! as one of my all-time favorites. You can read it over and over again and it never gets old. I loved it growing up, and it’s a frequent choice in our house now with my young son, Jacob.”
REP. MARION BERRY (Ariz.)
Uncle Remus by Joel Chandler Harris “Don’t throw me in the briar patch!”
REP. JOHN BOCCIERI (Ohio)
The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
“As a father of four young children, I know how important it is to read to our kids. I enjoy sharing my favorite childhood book, The Lorax, with my own children because it shows the responsibility we have to leave earth and our community in a much better plan than we found it.”
REP. JOHN CAMPBELL (Calif.)
Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman
“I have fond memories of reading Are You my Mother? to my sons when they were little. Although they are now grown, and have since graduated from college, it remains one of my favorite children’s books.”
REP. LOIS CAPPS (Calif.)
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis SEN. BEN CARDIN (Md.)
The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss REP. TRAVIS W. CHILDERS (Miss.)
The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
“The Little Engine That Could is my favorite children’s book because it is a story about determination. This book emphasizes the importance of persistence when aspiring toward a goal and it teaches us that anything can be done when we work hard.”
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (Maine)
Antlers Forever by Frances Bloxam
“One of my favorite things to do as a U.S. Senator is to visit schools and read to children. Since I was first elected to the Senate, I have visited 170 schools throughout the state of Maine. My favorite book to read to children is Antlers Forever by Maine author Frances Bloxam.”
Congress’ All-Time Favorite Books REP. GERALD E. CONNOLLY (Va.)
Green Eggs and Ham and The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
“Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham was always fun to read aloud with my daughter, and The Lorax has a great message for kids about protecting our natural environment.”
REP. DANNY K. DAVIS (ILL.)
Twas the Night Before Christmas by Henry Livingston
Every year, on Christmas Eve, Congressman Davis makes the rounds of homeless shelters and drug rehab homes in the district and reads Twas the Night Before Christmas before sharing some fruit and warm clothing for the children. His reading (actually it is one of many, many books, stories and poems he has memorized) is very dramatic and the children are always fascinated and totally absorbed with the story.
REP. BRAD ELLSWORTH (Ind.)
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
“One of my favorites is Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. I think I probably read it to my daughter, Andrea, about 40,000 times while she was growing up; it’s still a favorite in our family.”
REP. ELIOT ENGEL (N.Y.)
Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss and Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Rep. Engel read Hop on Pop often to his kids, and they read it back to him. It holds special memories for him. And he likes the way Charlotte’s Web portrays the close relationships among friends.
SEN. MICHAEL B. ENZI (Wyo.)
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst and Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
“For young kids, I recommend Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. I enjoyed this children’s book because everyone, even young kids, have bad days. I also recommend Hatchet by Gary Paulsen for its tremendous adventures that encourage ingenuity and survival.”
REP. BILL FOSTER (Ill.)
A Fly Went By by Mike McClintock
“Because it is a gentle and humorous reminder about the dangers of getting caught up in a public stampede before getting all the facts.”
REP. JIM GERLACH (Pa.)
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
“It was a great spy thriller inspired by the long-running TV series starring Robert Vaughn.”
REP. SAM GRAVES (Mo.)
Look out for Pirates by Iris Vinton
“I loved reading about the exciting adventures of courageous Captain Jim and his men. Shipwrecks, treasure and castaways–this book had it all. It’s a great plot with great pictures. I read it to my own children when they were younger and they loved it too.”
REP. GENE GREEN (Texas)
House Mouse, Senate Mouse by Peter W. Barnes and Cheryl Shaw Barnes
“One of my favorite things to do is visit an elementary school in our district, read this book to one of the classes, and leave it for the school library. The book is always a hit with the children, and I enjoy how it sparks their interest in the way our government works and the importance of public service.”
SEN. TOM HARKIN (Iowa)
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
“The Little House on the Prairie series is clearly written and uses vivid imagery to extol the value of strong family bonds, enduring hardship, perseverance and generosity. It is a great adventure!”
REP. MARTIN HEINRICH (N.M.)
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
“My oldest son, Carter, loves fantasy adventure stories so I started reading The Hobbit to him when he was four. To this day, he can quote parts of the story.”
REP. RUSH HOLT (N.J.)
Duck for President by Doreen Cronin
“I always enjoy seeing how children respond to Duck for President, which tells the story of a duck who uses the power of democracy to create a better farm, state and country. This book inspires young children and shows them how we govern ourselves.”
REP. TIM JOHNSON (S.D.)
House Mouse, Senate Mouse by Peter W. Barnes and Cheryl Shaw Barnes
“I enjoy reading House Mouse, Senate Mouse to my grandchildren and to students in South Dakota. It’s a fun way to teach children how our government works at an early age.”
REP. RON KIND (Wis.)
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain “Huckleberry Finn mirrored my own childhood, growing
up in La Crosse, Wisconsin along the Mississippi River.”
REP. LARRY KISSELL (N.C.)
The Chip Hilton Series by Clair Bee
“This is a great series of books. Chip had a dream to be the best he could be in sports, and he pursued his dreams to succeed. The series describes the interactions between Chip and his coaches as they work to succeed on and off the field.”
REP. RON KLEIN (Fla.)
The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss “Because of its spirit and fun!”
REP. SANDER LEVIN (Mich.)
When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne
“This is a wonderful children’s poetry book whose captivating rhymes, timeless stories, and treasured characters remind us all of the joys of childhood.”
REP. DAVE LOEBSACK (Iowa)
Oh, the Place You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss
“As someone who grew up in poverty, I know from first-hand experience that education can open many doors. My favorite book reminds children that opportunities can be limitless.”
REP. ZOE LOFGREN (Calif.)
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White “It had everything–humor, bravery, and friendship.”
REP. BLAINE LUETKEMEYER (Mo.)
Davy Crockett Book Series by Aileen Wells Parks
“My favorite books as a child involved Davy Crockett, because as a youngster growing up in Missouri, I was particularly drawn to tales about his wilderness adventures. I also was inspired when I read books that talked about Davy Crockett’s service to our country, including his time as a Congressman and his bravery in defense of the Alamo. It inspired me to dream that if a rural kid from Tennessee could grow up to be a Congressman, so could I. And sure enough, here I am living that dream.”
REP. JIM MARSHALL (Ga.)
The Tom Swift Series by Victor Appleton
“They were wholly inspirational and just a series of wonderful reads. I read them cover to cover time and again.”
REP. ERIC MASSA (N.Y.)
Hiawatha by Susan Jeffers
“The song of Hiawatha teaches the balance of natural life and provides the blueprint for harmony, peace and strength of character.”
REP. DORIS MATSUI (Calif.)
Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne
“The adventures of Winnie the Pooh and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood have captured the hearts of children for generations. I fondly remember reading these timeless stories as a young girl, allowing my imagination to take me on a journey to meet Pooh and the other lovable characters he spends his days with.”
REP. CAROLYN MCCARTHY (N.Y.)
The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles
“I have had the privilege to read The Story of Ruby Bridges to school classes in my district for Read Across America celebrations in past years. Ruby was a six-year- old African American child who was taken to school escorted by National Guard troops in New Orleans following desegregation. The book tells important lessons about racial equality and discrimination, as well as the importance of bravery.”
REP. JIM MCDERMOTT (Wash.)
The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins by Dr. Seuss
“I’ve always loved The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins because it teaches children to stay positive in the face of adversity in a way that only Dr. Seuss could imagine.”
REP. CANDICE MILLER (Mich.)
Nancy Drew Mystery Series by Carolyn Keene
“The effects books have on children’s education are priceless because they take you into a higher level of learning and wonder about the possibilities the world around us offers. For me, it was the Nancy Drew mystery series which offered endless entertainment, as well as an example of how you can have a strong sense of self and independence to go after your goals.”
REP. TIM MURPHY (Pa.)
The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton
“Growing up in a family of eleven children, our house was crowded on the inside. The ‘little house’ was crowded by an ever-expanding world on the outside. The little house was neglected until it is rescued by a loving family.”
REP. LAURA RICHARDSON (Calif.)
Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman
“I liked the story because the bird was not afraid of an adventure, really wanted to be loved and eventually ended happy with finding his mother. I would read it at least once a week for years and as I got older I would tease my mother while shopping asking, still, Are You My Mother?”
SEN. JAMES E. RISCH (Idaho)
The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
“This story celebrates the importance of determination and hard work.”
REP. PHIL ROE (Tenn.)
Woodrow, The White House Mouse by Peter W. Barnes and Cheryl Shaw Barnes
This is his favorite because he enjoys traveling around the district reading this book to school children. It gives them a better understanding and awareness of the US government.
REP. STEPHANIE HERSETH SANDLIN (S.D.)
The Message in the Hollow Oak (Nancy Drew Mystery Series) by Carolyn Keene
Until just a couple of years ago, my Nancy Drew hard covers were still on the shelf in the farmhouse in South Dakota in which I grew up. I loved the suspense of those books and reading about a smart girl who could piece it all together.
SEN. JOHN THUNE (S.D.)
The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss “Because it is about a lovable and hilarious cat!”
REP. FRED UPTON (Mich.)
House Mouse, Senate Mouse by Peter W. Barnes and Cheryl Shaw Barnes
“As a father of two and a Member of Congress, I recognize the tremendously important role reading plays in childhood development. House Mouse, Senate Mouse is a pleasure for children and parents alike and an enjoyable way to introduce a child to the workings of the U.S. Congress.”
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN (Fla.)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
“I loved the fantasy of a giant and life-sized candy and chocolate world. More importantly, it taught me that we are not rewarded for selfishness: being spoiled gets you nowhere. Charlie was rewarded for selflessness. He just kept his nose down and always did the right thing. With those solid morals–and a little luck–he got more than he could have dreamed.”
SEN. ROGER WICKER (Miss.)
The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
“My daughter, Caroline, had difficulty learning to read and had to be tutored during the summer between first and second grade. One of her success stories was this book, which she cheerfully improvised by saying, ‘I thought I could read, I thought I could read.'”
REP. DAVID WU (Ore.)
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
“I can still hear the voice of my third grade teacher, Mrs. Warren, saying, ‘Salutations,’ and slowly forming my own, personal picture of Wilbur and Charlotte talking and becoming friends in the barn.”
REP. JOHN YARMUTH (Ky.)
Duck for President by Doreen Cronin
“This book explains the electoral process to kids in such a charming and clever way. Duck for President is full of great characters and great lessons, honoring the value of basic hard work that it takes to succeed in any field.”
TM & © 2009 Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. All Rights Reserved.

“2012” is yet another example of technological genius and story-telling mediocrity. Its careless, almost gleeful destruction of the entire world makes the brilliant CGI work jarring in a way the film-makers did not intend.

It has the usual disaster film elements: concerned scientists pick up disturbing information, staring at computer screens and using important-sounding jargon (something about neutrinos). Government bureaucrats are reluctant to believe its implications. People say, “That’s impossible!” Some ancient culture predicted this all along. Some crackpot conspiracy theorist predicted it all along, too. The disaster brings out the best and the worst in people. Someone says, “I thought we’d have more time.” The same dozen people keep running into each other. Iconic landmarks collapse. The entire world may be at risk, but we still have time for a little romance and some touching lessons about the importance of family. There are some sad deaths but a couple of convenient and satisfying ones as well. And when things really get bad, there’s a soaring angelic choir on the soundtrack.

But a disaster film has to be about survival, and this one, from how-can-I-blow-up-the-world-today writer/director Roland Emmerich (“Independence Day” and “The Day After Tomorrow”) is too cavalier in tone, soft-pedaling the real implications of its apocalyptic storyline as though the world’s literally breaking apart is justified in order to bring John Cusack back to his family. It is curiously antiseptic, with only a couple of dead bodies, and the deaths we witness almost like the coming of The Rapture. And, at two hours and forty minutes, it feels endless, as though by the time you get out of the theater, it will be 2012.

The CGI is impressive, especially when the ground buckles and heaves as a car speeds along a crumbling road, trying to stay ahead of the collapse. And you don’t need a lot of story in a special effects movie. But you do need the right kind of story, and this one seems as off-kilter as the convulsing tectonic plates. The question is inevitably posed — how do we decide who will survive? But it is never engaged. There is a momentary mention of the possible problems of a sort of economic Darwinism, selling survival to the highest bidders. But the characters never deal with the consequences of that decision either way; it spends more time on the lesser issue of whether people deserve to know what is about to happen. No one is asking for a debate about philosophy or ethics; just enough narrative Spackle to keep the story going forward. Instead, it repeatedly derails. It’s no more compelling than watching a kid knock down a tower of blocks. In a movie like this, with little time to do more than sketch out the characters, a lot of the story’s validity depends on who lives and who dies. It is harder than it seems at first to put together exactly the right mix of satisfying (bad guys get what they deserve, think Richard Chamberlin in “The Towering Inferno” and Victor Garber in “Titanic”) and sad but honorable (Bruce Willis in “Armageddon,” Leonardo DiCaprio in “Titanic”). The mis-handling of the outcomes here contributes to its inability to engage the audience. And so does the howler-filled dialogue. In the middle of utter catastrophe a scientist stops to make cocktail party chit-chat with a desperate father about the last time they met. In the wake of utter devastation a couple engages in arch but completely leaden banter. (She does miss the opportunity of a lifetime, though, to say something like, “Not if you were the last man on earth.”)

Chiwetel Ejiofor is brilliant as always as the concerned scientist with a heart, though we can’t help wondering whether the stricken look in his eyes is as much about the disaster he is in as an actor as it is about what his character is witnessing. In a story where 21st century robber barons seem to carry the weight, it is perhaps appropriate that the movie itself resembles a hedge fund manager — too expensive, too arrogant, and, finally, dull.

Hayao Miyazaki has produced another trippy fantasia, this time a fish out of water story along the lines of “The Little Mermaid.” A little girl goldfish with magical powers loves a little boy and turns herself into a human, by ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny-mode stopping at a few evolutionary species along the way and sometimes reverting back to chicken feet in times of stress.

The boy is Sosuke (Frankie Jonas) and he dubs the fish Ponyo (Noah Lindsey Cyrus). In a bit of stunt casting, both main character voice talents are the younger siblings of Disney mega-pop stars. Ponyo’s father (voice of Liam Neeson), angry over the human’s mistreatment of the oceans and concerned that her leaving may upset the balance of the world, wants her back in her original fishy form. A storm rises and creates enormous flooding. While Sosuke’s mother Lisa (Tina Fey) is taking care of the wheelchair-bound elderly women at the nursing home (voices include Betty White and Cloris Leachman), Ponyo uses her magic to enlarge Sosuke’s toy boat and they go out onto the water.

Stunning bursts of imagination and sensational, almost psychedelic images make the film a garden of unearthly delights. The undersea settings, including the flooded village, are filled with intricate detail and grand concepts, like waves that turn into enormous leaping fish. Ponyo uses her new feet to race across the tops of the waves in a moment of pure exhilaration. The images are visually rich and engrossing and the tenderness between the two children is affecting. But they are also at times disconcertingly grotesque and as in past films Miyazaki cannot make visual splendor compensate for moments in the storyline that are random and inconsistent.

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