Archive for the 'movies' Category


Would I pay money to see this movie?

Hells yeah! (Too bad this isn’t a real trailer, though.)[youtube][/youtube]


What I’ve been watching

Nacho Libre: I knew this would be bad. But Jack Black is usually pretty good, and I thought if anyone could pull off a film about a Mexican monk who wants to be a luchadore, it would be him. There are a few funny moments here, but mostly this movie–even with Jack Black in it–stinks.

Empire Falls: I read this book several years ago and just loved it. Richard Russo is amazing. When I found out about this two-part miniseries…and that Paul Newman played the role of Max…and that Russo wrote the screenplay…I knew I had to see it. Newman is perfectly cast. I can’t imagine anyone else as a better Max. And although some details from the book were omitted from the movie, for the most part the movie works very well and sticks closely to the book. The one bit whose omission weakened the movie, I think, was the scene in which Francine teaches Miles how to drive. The phrase “power and control” is mentioned in the film (perhaps as a nod to those who’ve read the book and understand how pivotal it is here) but isn’t nearly as meaningful as it could be without the additional background. Still, I highly recommend this movie–though I recommend reading the book first.

Whale Rider: I have finally conquered my personal case of “Movie Guilt.” You know what I mean: you get a DVD from Netflix and hold on to it for weeks or months because you just aren’t in the mood to watch it (though you do want to watch that movie–just not right this minute), then eventually mail it back unwatched, telling yourself you’ll get it another time. Well, this was my third go with Whale Rider, and I’m glad I managed to push through the “not sure if I’m in the mood for this movie right now” barrier. No frenetic editing here–just a beautifully filmed, character-driven story that is unlike most of what’s out there. I liked it a lot.

Sometimes a Netflix DVD will sit around here for quite some time before we get around to watching it. But for some reason, I’ve managed to watch four movies in the last few days. This is extraordinary because I usually don’t get around to watching four movies in an entire month.

Baby Mama: I like Tina Fey. I like Amy Pohler. And I really wanted to like this movie. But I didn’t. It has some funny moments (thanks to Pohler, mostly), but was surprisingly formulaic. After about ten minutes I realized that this movie is an extended/modified version of a storyline Fey used on 30 Rock. The ending of this movie just about made me throw up a little in my mouth. The woman who is told at the beginning of the movie that she has a “one in a million chance” of getting pregnant (i.e., she is infertile) has, by the end of the film, apparently met a guy with “one in a million” sperm ’cause, yup, she gets pregnant. Instead of using the ending of the film to say something about how “hey, not everyone needs to be a parent to be happy and fulfilled” or “maybe an unconventional route to parenthood is indeed viable here,” the writers succumb to worn-out cliches. Ugh.

The Wedding Crashers: I think this is one of the worst movies I have ever seen. Even the usually awesome Christopher Walken couldn’t save this one. Seventy-five percent fresh, Rotten Tomatoes? Really? What were you critics smoking when you watched this one?

Feast of Love: This is an artsy meditation on love, starring some not-usually-artsy big stars, including Morgan Freeman and Greg Kinnear. As we watched this, Jan pointed out the similarity between Kinnear and Alan Tudyck as Wash, so maybe part of the reason I don’t give this film a mega-high rating is because it seriously lacks the cowboys in space I kept expecting to see. Actually, I don’t give it a mega-high rating because it’s fairly predictable and has some annoying plot devices. It’s okay, though–not a total waste of time. One thing I liked a lot was seeing a black-white interracial couple on screen completely without comment–they’re just another married couple. Nice.

Run, Fat Boy, Fun: This stars Simon Pegg, and that’s enough reason for me to check out. Hank Azaria is in here, too, and does a nice job. But Pegg gets all the best moments. Another predictable plot, but there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, and I think this worked well as a watch-while-knitting film.


Life update

Reading: Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America’s Soul, by Edward Humes. This book is about the 2005 decision by the school board in Dover, Pennsylvania, to force biology classes to teach about intelligent design and how this decision tore apart a small community and eventually led to a civil lawsuit. I loved this book. It is meticulously researched, mostly even-handed (though it’s clear where the author’s sympathies lie), and engagingly written. Not once did I feel like I was slogging through these 400 pages. While reading this I found myself repeatedly shocked that people could stoop to name-calling, hate-mongering, and fear-fostering supposedly in the name of religious belief. The thought that occurred to me is that such belief must rest on shaky ground indeed for people to feel so threatened by any challenge to them.

Watching: Lost in Austen. Once I convinced myself to suspend my disbelief about some points (e.g., a woman who gets transported from 21st-century London to the world of Pride and Prejudice still has her makeup fully intact every morning when she wakes up in early-19th-century England?), I found this movie to be lots of fun. At first I thought it was going to follow formula: “Oh, she’s messed up something that’s supposed to happen in the book, and now she has to fix it.” But I was pleasantly surprised to see the mess-ups pile on top of each other and get so unwieldy that it seems impossible for her to fix them. Now that’s a challenge! And if you want to know how it all turns out, you’ll have to watch it yourself.

Eating: Homemade spinach pakora. Even Sylvia likes them, which surprises me to no end. She calls them “chewies.”


Life update

Wow. It seems just yesterday that we returned from our vacation and I wrote the last big post here. Much has happened since then: a new school year has begun, the leaves are starting to turn (the dogwoods are already red; they get their leaves first in the spring and lose them first in the fall), and life continues its unfolding.

A few highlights:

Reading: Do-Over!: In which a forty-eight-year-old father of three returns to kindergarten, summer camp, the prom, and other embarrassments, by Robin Hemley. The first half of this book (with its tales of interactions with little kids) is much funnier–and just generally better–than the second half (which deals with his adolescence and young adulthood), but the entire book is worth reading. I think we all have our own “I wish I could do this over” moments, and it’s reassuring so know that some of life’s most embarrassing moments have an element of universality. And laughing out loud while reading a book–I can’t remember the last time I did that. This one was a fun read.

Watching: Watchmen, which I loved. Was it as good as the book? No, of course not. The book was written to take advantage of the genre, and it’s impossible to translate it perfectly to a screen. That said, this film was clearly a labor a love on the part of the filmmakers, true fans of the book, and is the best realization possible.

Also watching: Ponyo. We are huge fans of Hayao Miyazaki in this house, as evidenced by Jan’s Halloween costume from last year and Sylvia’s plan to dress as Kiki this year. (She already has a plan for next year’s costumes, too: “Daddy will be the big Totoro, Mommy will be the medium Totoro, and I will be the little Totoro!”) Ponyo isn’t his best work, but we still loved it.

Winning: A contest, run by Barbara Bretton, who’s both an author and a knitter. The prize: two skeins of Elann’s Silken Kydd (their version of Rowan’s Kidsilk Haze) and a lovely totebag with Barbara’s logos. I’m not sure yet what I’ll do with this yarn, but I think I want to cast on soon, since it’s toasty stuff and I’d love to have something ready for this winter. Thanks, Barbara!

Meeting: Deborah! She was my downstream pal in the last Secret Pal swap I did, two years ago. We’ve kept in touch ever since, and a few days ago we actually got to meet in person! She lives in New York and came to Philadelphia last weekend to run the half marathon (which she totally rocked), and Jan, Sylvia, and I met her and her boyfriend for lunch afterward in Chinatown at our favorite restaurant, New Harmony Vegetarian. We had a great time, and I hope we can get together like this again. She’s planning to run in Philly again next fall, so I’m sure I’ll see her then!

Eating: Peaceable Imperatrix has accomplished the impossible: she’s helped me find a way to like kale. Amazing! I have tried many preparations of this vegetable and really wanted to like it (leafy greens! good for you!) but had not succeeded until yesterday. PI posted a couple of weeks ago about making kale chips, and I thought I’d give them a try. So I picked up some kale at the local growers’ market and chipified them yesterday afternoon. They were delicious (though a bit salty–I have to remember to tone that down next time)! The best part: Sylvia loved them, too. It didn’t hurt, I’m sure, that I introduced them to her as “Jenny Greenteeth Chips.” (She is currently obsessed with Jenny Greenteeth. And pirates.)


Life update

Watching: Bride and Prejudice. Aside from the woefully miscast (as in: he can’t act to save his life, at least not in this role) actor who played Darcy, this was a fun film. Austen meets Bollywood! (With a bit of postcolonial social commentary, even!) What’s not to like? And wow, Sayid can dance!

Reading:The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai. It won the Man Booker Prize in 2006, and I was originally motivated to read it by the prospect to joining a local Meetup group that’s working its way through the Booker Prizer winners in reverse chronological order. (Scheduling issues will likely prevent me from participating in this group, but I may continue with the reading list on my own.) This is clearly a great book, in its scope, language, themes. It’s very well written, and it had no trouble keeping my interest–I wanted to know what would happen next. But I’m not sure if I like this book. I had a hard time relating to any of the main characters–not because of differences in our life experiences but because I didn’t find any of them likeable.

Traveling: To New York last weekend, to see my brother (who lives in the West Village). We spent most of the day at the very awesome American Museum of Natural History, and I have to admit that some of my favorite parts were the old-school exhibits (even though the scholar and anthropologist in me cringes a bit to see them). Truly, no other museum’s dinosaurs can hold a candle to those at the AMNH (no, not even yours, Smithsonian).

Eating: Cream puffs at Beard Papa’s. (Yes, they are worth the hype.)

Knitting: A shawl. Yes, me–the person who is allergic to lace knitting. I am knitting this one with sportweight yarn, though, and the pattern is simple enough that I haven’t yet cried or tried to claw out my eyes in frustration. So that’s all good.

Laughing my head off: At this blog. Cute Overload has some good moments, but this blog is pure gold nearly every time.


Life update

Reading: The Longitude Prize, by Joan Dash. Officially, this is a “children’s book” (one that I spotted on a shelf while Sylvia and I were on our weekly library trip), and the publisher’s note even specifies that it’s suitable for ages 9 to 12. It’s written at a much higher level than most books targeting that age group—and I’m delighted about that, since I find that most so-called children’s literature isn’t particularly well-written or intellectually challenging. This book happens to tell a terrific tale, too: the true story about how one self-educated, poor clockmaker figured out how to determine longitude at sea. Reading about his genius is thrilling, as is learning about the science of the day. How exciting* it much have been to be alive during the 18th century, when so many discoveries were being made.

Eating: The last of this season’s sugar snap peas and spinach. The pea plants are yellowing and will surely be spent within the next couple of days; the spinach was already starting to bolt, so I pulled it all up two days ago.

Watching: As We Forgive. I’m not even sure where to begin in talking about this documentary film. The words “amazing” and “powerful” and “moving” come to mind, for all that they are trite. The synopsis for this film begins with “Could you forgive a person who murdered your family?” I’ve heard this question before, especially in the immediate wake of the September 11 attacks, when there were numerous interviews and articles about people who’d lost family members in the Twin Towers. But in those cases, the connections between killers and victims were distant or anonymous. This movie, about the reconciliation movement in Rwanda, is about situations in which the connections were quite close and personal: people who had been neighbors and friends turned on each other—not only killing, but killing in extremely gruesome and hands-on ways. Over one million people died in less than four months. There are over one million stories to tell, but this short film focuses on two. In each case, we hear a killer describe in detail what he did, and then we hear from the victim’s family about how they feel about the crime and about offering asked-for forgiveness for it.

*If you were a wealthy, highly educated, upper-class, western European man, of course.


Life update

p4056949floweringtreeftf.jpgReveling: In the arrival of spring!

Watching: Tropic Thunder. This film was very poorly marketed, I think. When I first saw a trailer for it, I thought, “Robert Downey Jr. wears blackface and pretends to be a black man? Huh? Totally not interested in seeing this one.” As it turns out, there’s a lot more than that to this film. Believe it or not, along with some clever parodies, there’s actually some social commentary in here, too.

Reading: We Pointed Them North: Recollections of a Cowpuncher, by E. C. Abbott and Helena Huntington Smith. A memoir about being a cowboy during the golden age of cowboys in the USA, the 1870s and 1880s.

p4036916goldfinch403ftf.jpgWatching: Birds visit the two different feeders we’ve hung in a dogwood tree just outside the dining-room window. The goldfinches are gradually turning from brown to yellow again.

Being amazed by: Muscle memory. This morning I played Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” for the first time in a few years. I had worked on this piece a lot when I was a kid, and today I was surprised to see how good it sounded when I went through it. I couldn’t play this piece from memory to save my life, but interestingly enough when I have the sheet music in front of me I barely need to look at it—my hands know just what to do.

Eating: Lots of melted cheese. We had two raclette dinners within a month, and now that the weather is warm we’ve packed away the raclette grill until the cold returns next fall.


Life update


Eating: Lots of gado gado lately. Brown rice with steamed veggies, all covered with a peanut-and-coconut-milk sauce—healthy and delicious comfort food.

Watching: The Dark Knight, which I thought was pretty good. Heath Ledger’s much-touted performance as the Joker was good, but I thought Gary Oldman was a better actor in this film. Oldman has this chameleon-like ability to completely disappear in his role the point that I completely stop thinking “Oh, that’s Gary Oldman” and sometimes (as in this case) don’t even realize it’s him for quite some time.

Reading: Mark Bittman’s* latest book, Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating with More Than 75 Recipes, which is sort of a how-to companion to Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. I can’t say enough good things about Food Matters, in which Bittman adroitly and eloquently points out that health, social, environmental, financial, and ethical problems with today’s mainstream American diet. Then he provides a reasonably achievable alternative, along with several recipes (and menus) to get you started. My only real quibble with this book is that he stops short of adopting or recommending vegetarianism (though I’ll give him credit for not bashing or dismissing it), especially after he describes the horrific conditions of factory farms and is himself horrified by them. (For some reason, he think it’s awful to make animals endure those places, yet it’s still okay to kill and eat them if they grow up on local farms.) Take a look at this informative review published at last month or, better yet, read the book for yourself.

Listening to: Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, by David Byrne and Brian Eno

Smelling: Paperwhites (forced bulbs) and daffodils (cut flowers) in my living room and dining room. Spring is coming…
*Bittman is a food writer for The New York Times and the author of the wildly popular How to Cook Everything (Completely Revised 10th Anniversary Edition): 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food.


Life update

Watching: Groundhog Day. Yes, I watched this on February 2.

Knitting: Wavy scarf from Knitty.

Reading: Mr. Darcy’s Diary, by Amanda Grange. This is total fluff, but entertaining. I think Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance – Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem! will be an appropriate follow-up read.

Growing: Paperwhites (forced in Mason jars on the kitchen counter).

Eating: Pureed broccoli soup with garlic, ginger, and white miso.

Shoveling: Lots of snow. But I actually enjoy shoveling snow, so I don’t mind.

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