Archive for the ‘Movie Review’ Category

Bleak House

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

By Charles Dickens

A few months ago BN and I were invited by our friends the K’s to watch the BBC miniseries Bleak House. We went over to their house for 3 or 4 Mondays to watch the next installment they’d gotten from Netflix. Each episode was only about 25 minutes but there were about 12 of them. It was really good! Definitely very suspenseful and more thrilling than many of those literary movies – don’t get me wrong, I love the Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice as much as the next anglo-biblio-phile. This one was just more mysterious and dark. We really liked the characterization, everybody was appropriately endearing, tragic, or repulsive. We also liked the lighting – very moody and from “natural” sources – like one candle, or the dim light coming in from a rainy day into a cavernous hall. Lovely. We were a little amused at the over-dramatized scene transitions, they used this kind of “zoom” effect, complete with whooshing sounds. Any time there was a horse or carriage ride, they would speed through the night as if the headless horseman was after them. A bit much, that part. But on the whole it was really, really good. Of course when it was over I was itching to read the book! This is the second book in a row I’ve read after seeing the movie – usually I prefer to do it the other way around. But, I’ve found I can slow down and enjoy the quality of the writing if I’m not rushing to find out what happens.

So, now I’ve finished the book. I’m positive that I read it before, but somehow it didn’t stick. I didn’t remember much at all from the book while I was watching the movie, and then when I re-read the book it really didn’t come back much more at all. Very strange. I guess I must have been younger when I read it than I recall. Anyway, it’s a good, good story. It’s exciting, like the movie, with lots of interesting characters and scene changes, lots of mystery, and juxtapositions of humor and pathos in typical Dickens style.

I think this is a first – I’m going to recommend that you watch the movie, enjoy the suspense and meet the main characters. Then read the book, to add layers of subtlety and more characters and connections between them. Enjoy!

Anniversary in Bend

Monday, July 14th, 2008

AnnivFlowers

Aren’t these pretty? BN got them for me to celebrate our 4th wedding anniversary. That’s not all – he also made me a wooden jewelry box with embedded magnets to keep the lid on. He used some exotic hardwoods he’d gotten for Christmas – purple heart and zebra wood. I love the way the cross grains and lengthwise grains create subtle contrasting surfaces. Inside was a whole collection of silver earrings – I’d been wanting some hoops to wear all the time comfortably with no posts poking into my head.

PurpleHeart1PurpleHeart3

We took a weekend getaway to Bend, which is east of Eugene. We stopped for lunch at Sahalie falls. It was a warm day but sitting within sight of the falls was cold! The rushing water really cooled the air.

SahalieFalls Bend_Hotel

Our hotel room looked out over the Deschutes river, which had a slight dam to create a calm surface for ducks and geese in Drake park downtown. We drove a short ways into downtown to find some dinner, and discovered that there was a pro bicycle racing event going on right in the middle of town – they’d closed off a several-block area and the racers did laps. Our dinner location was right at the corner of the home stretch and after we ate we watched the women’s race. It was very exciting!

From there we went to watch Wall-e. It was a sweet little movie. I appreciated that the tone wasn’t preachy (it could easily have been, with a planet made uninhabitable by garbage and the human race turned totally sedentary) and I think perhaps we were meant to identify with the robots more than the humans? It was definitely more about Wall-e and Eve than about the cruise passengers.

On Saturday morning we went to Smith Rock. We hiked up to the top of one of the formations and got some great views of Central Oregon, the various Cascade peaks, and a cute little lizard.

Smith_Valley

SmithRock

Smith_Monkey Smith_Lizard

Smith Rock State Park is a rock-climbing hotspot, and we observed some climbers on Monkey Face, a huge pillar that’s a signature feature of the park. If you click on the image above you can see a climber right below the shadow on the lower left face.

We were very hot and sweaty after our hike, and we wanted to go swimming in Tumalo creek but we figured we’d go back to Bend first and get some lunch. A short way into our drive back we realized the car was overheating. To make a long story short, we did make it out to the creek to swim, quite a bit later than we’d planned, and after learning several new facts about the cooling system of the car, plus discovering the insider trick of pouring roadside creek water over the engine to cool it off.

When we got back to town after our swim, we cleaned up and went to check out the street fair that was going on downtown. (When we planned our trip we had no idea that Bend was going to be such a happening spot this weekend!) There were lots of booths selling art and crafted goodies, and several live bands. One of them was really groovy and we stayed to listen. The singers reminded us of some girls we’d heard singing down by the creek. I think it was the same girls.

We ate dinner at Typhoon, a very good Thai place. Best Thai we’d had in awhile, and it felt very upscale without being too pricey. Bend as a whole is so much more upscale than Eugene, astonishingly so. After a leisurely breakfast on Sunday morning we strolled in Drake park and looked at the geese and ducks.

Bend_Ducks

Bend_Park

Driving home, we took a detour to Waldo Lake, where we’d been with my family last summer camping in the Cascades. The mosquitoes were just as vicious this year, but we scampered past them as best we could and the lake was cold, clear and refreshing. I’m amazed by how many activities we fit into this trip – besides the ones we planned on, even. It was a lot of fun.

The Fall

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

We have an art-film theater in town, the Bijou. If The Fall is playing anywhere near you, go see it. A visual treat, the story is also immersive and the acting is top-notch. A story-within-a-story kind of experience, it reminded me of one of our favorite books, Momo by Michael Ende. It also has hints of Alice in Wonderland and other fantasies where a child is gradually drawn into a story-world and the events in the story mirror the teller and hearer’s real life. A young girl, in the hospital recovering from a broken arm (she fell out of a tree when picking oranges with her displaced/migrant family) becomes friends with a young stunt actor, bedridden after a fall from a railroad bridge during the filming of a silent “flicker.” (it’s 1915.) Roy tells Alexandria a fanciful story, full of exotic scenery and colorful characters. The intensity of the action mounts to a brutal climax (be prepared for violence!). The best part about the movie was the sweet, mischievous little girl. The part I liked the least was the wrap-up – it was quite abrupt. But overall it was a rich entertainment and a refreshing change from the American blockbuster fare we get in the mainstream theaters.

Middlemarch

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

… as in the movie, a 6-episode mini series. We thoroughly enjoyed it – and the book is totally amazing; I would recommend it. It’s not an easy book to read, but so rich in characters, language and deep thoughts. Seeing the movie reinforced the top-shelf quality of the book for me. BN and I read it aloud to each other last year, and it took a long time, sporadically reading it at bedtime (dozed off during a few chapters!) and in the car on vacation. But by the time we were done we felt so well acquainted with the many characters that the town (or is it a county?) of Middlemarch felt like home. It’s a sign of the quality of the characters that I truly hated one of them, Rosamond Vincy. She is pure evil. The final scene with her and Dorothea did not sufficiently endear me to her to change my mind that she was the most believably selfish person I have ever met. (I mean, read about.) In the movie they portrayed her as slightly more sympathetic. But still right on. Everyone else was well cast, too. I thought Dorothea just seemed a bit too old. She was perfect for the part but if she looked a bit younger that would have been better. Ladislaw was handsome in an exotic way, but you couldn’t read his expression so he didn’t quite live up to himself in the book. Lydgate grew on me – at first I thought he looked too boyish, no aristocratic features. But he did a wonderful job so I’ll forgive him his not-perfect-looks. Mary Garth – perfect. Caleb Garth – wonderful. Bulstrode – what a complex guy! He worked. And Mr Brooke was a perfect match, too. One thing I missed from the book, though of course they couldn’t fit it all into even 420 minutes – was the scene with Borthrop Trumbull auctioning off the antique fender. That might have been one of the funniest scenes I have ever read, especially in a classic novel. Maybe that’s why it was so funny – I was surprised to discover George Eliot had a silly streak.

Ratatouille

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

pre-bakedYes, I saw the movie! I loved it. I thought it was so much fun. I liked the family dynamic of the rat colony, and how the skinny redheaded kid gained confidence and built character… and, Gusteau was so cute, and what a great motto – Anyone can cook!

I’d found this recipe even before I saw the movie, and afterwards I was inspired to try it. Now is the perfect time of year, when eggplant, zucchini, and fresh herbs are plentiful at the farmer’s market – I’ve been trying to go once a week this summer, and it’s been really fun to get such fresh yummy veggies that are all local and mostly organic. Very cool. I highly recommend this recipe – especially if you’ve tried making ratatouille in the classic simmer/saute method before. I have, and it was nothing to write home about. But this one’s a keeper! It’s really easy, too. The only trick is cutting the veggies as thin as you can. And, it’s flexible. My veg slices weren’t all the same diameter, so I just layered them in rows (or rounds, as in this pie dish) and it looked great. I like to eat pretty food, especially if it’s not a lot of work to make it look pretty. That’s the nice thing about cooking with lots of vegetables – it’s effortless to make it colorful. This recipe calls for goat cheese, but we used sour cream instead. Something about that creamy finishing touch, mmm – magnifique!

Hot out of the oven

Man of the Year

Sunday, April 15th, 2007

BN thought this movie was dumb but I really enjoyed it. However, what killed it for me was the way-too-heavy dose of sexual/crude humor. It stars Robin Williams, playing a comedian, so there you go. (But I think Williams is funniest when he’s doing humor about clean subjects.) The basic plot here is that a political comedian (Tom Dobbs), sort of a Jay Leno or Conan OBrien type, runs for president. Meanwhile there is a new computerized voting system being introduced for the election.

The funniest scene, I thought, was the presidential debate. Dobbs is a nervous wreck and his team of writers and his manager have been desperately trying to get him to turn the humor back on, since lately he’s been strictly serious, talking about The Issues. Once Dobbs gets out there with the 2 other candidates, he just goes off. He is truly improvising, and being funny “from the heart” – about The Issues – like oil dependency and his opponents’ inside connections with the oil industry. I thought that part was brilliant and totally believable.

So maybe the other reason I mostly liked this movie was my background working in software development. The “computer geek” character, Eleanor, was totally perfect. All obsessive, introverted, and sort of a spazz. And it was truly chilling how the C-level executives (yep, I know all the jargon!) efficiently shut down the whistleblower. (The nature of “the bug,” though, was totally not convincing. I pictured my software engineer friends rolling their eyes.)

I won’t say I recommend this, on account of the pervasive gutter element, but parts of it were quite amusing.

Deceptions and amusements

Saturday, April 7th, 2007

Somehow we’ve had a theme in our entertainment lately having to do with magicians, hoaxes, and illusions.

The Prestige

This movie was definitely entertaining… the acting was good, there were lots of intriguing concepts, but I have the following complaints:

– Hard to follow. The DVD cover gushed that you’ll want to watch it again and again – and it’s true, except the reason is that I got lost a few times and missed subtleties that were very important. Maybe they did it on purpose – the magician asks, “are you watching closely?!” If you blink, you’ll miss it. The issues were mostly in passage-of-time and sequence-of-events: there’s a plot device with people reading each other’s diaries, with flashbacks etc, so sometimes that gets a bit confusing. And some of the action occurs in near-darkness and so quickly that you really can’t tell what just happened.

– Disturbing! When the magic tricks go wrong and people get injured… or killed. That kind of thing really freaks me out.

– I mentioned earlier that the acting was good, which is true, but one of the main characters was really not well written as a character. Her motives and feelings were not clear or convincing.

– The movie tricks you into suspending your disbelief and then pulls a totally not-believable trick. Almost like there is such a thing as real magic, when we just went through this whole saga about illusionists and their work and tricks? It kind of left me with a “huh?!” impression.

– A parallel “huh?!” comes at the very end when you discover something about one of the characters that is (I’m assuming) supposed to, in retrospect, make the things he did make sense and be right/moral. But it doesn’t quite work… So you find yourself wanting to watch it again, not because you want to see all that confusing, disturbing stuff again, but just figure out what was really going on now that you know what was really going on.

I’d say do watch it, but be prepared to pay attention very carefully and be a bit bewildered even after the credits roll.

The Turk: a wikipedia article

This was the article-of-the-day earlier this week, and what a winner! This is the kind of story that would make a good movie. They could enhance and fictionalize the lives and relationships of the people involved and come up with some romance or mystery tied in with the enigmatic machine that played chess (and won) against some of the world’s most famous men – Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin! Way before Deep Blue there was The Turk…

The Illusionist

This movie was definitely several cuts above The Prestige. It was artistically filmed, all the characters were strong and believable, and the whole thing hung together very well. It scored on several points that were lacking in Prestige: it flowed well and was easy to follow – something about the sense of pacing and the elements of suspense really pulled you in without feeling like you were being manipulated or tricked. There was plenty of mystery, but you weren’t constantly asking yourself, did I miss something? There were eerie and even shocking moments, but it felt right with the story rather than, “aaa! disturbing!” The interesting comparison comes between the “impossible trick” elements in both movies. In the Illusionist, the impossible trick is never explained but you are kind of OK with that. Somehow they pulled it off very tastefully, and didn’t annoy this viewer, at least.

There is a bit of a flaw with a similar thing to the Prestige: at the very end you find out “what was really going on” and this too is handled better; but you still have this nagging thought: if this is true then what about that earlier event…

But, on the whole, a great movie. I’d recommend it as high quality entertainment.

My Favorite Movies

Friday, March 30th, 2007

Leave a comment if you want to recommend a movie to me!

All time favorites:

Lord of the Rings trilogy

Anna and the King

Pride and Prejudice (the newer one and the older miniseries)

Interesting concepts:

Terminal

Rain Man

Groundhog day

Forrest Gump

A Beautiful Mind

The Illusionist

Girl with a Pearl Earring

Literary:

Little Women (newer, with Winona Ryder & Christian Bale)

Emma

Babe (the Gallant Pig)

Romantic Comedy:

While You Were Sleeping

Runaway Bride

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Sleepless in Seattle

Sweet Home Alabama

Raising Helen

Funniest:

Haiku Tunnel

Groundhog day

Napoleon Dynamite

Animated:

Beauty and the Beast

Aladdin

Lion King

Emperor’s New Groove

Toy Story 1 & 2

Monsters, Inc.

Finding Nemo

The Incredibles

Groundhog Day

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

As in, the 1993 movie starring Bill Murray.

It’s a great movie. This was my second time seeing it which was nice because I knew what the basic premise of the plot was and it was long enough ago since I last saw it that I was still surprised at some of the scenes.

The basic idea is that Phil (a weatherman) is “cursed” to re-live the same day over and over. He starts out as a total jerk, but gradually he falls in love with his co-worker and even more gradually tries to win her over. He only has one day to accomplish this, and each day she forgets everything from his previous attempts. My theory, though, is that somehow she retains something from all of his efforts, because she has moments of deja vu and eventually she becomes the key to his escape from his curse. He has become an altruist, spending his whole day helping a laundry list of people, some in dire need and some who just need some fun in their life.

It’s fun to watch this movie with a deep-thinking friend – it leads to discussions about deja vu, intuition, and branching alternative universes. Entertaining AND food for thought? This is a must-see!

Bend it like the Prada-clad Devil

Monday, February 26th, 2007

I rented two movies this weekend: Bend it like Beckham, and The Devil Wears Prada. BILB was cute – I enjoyed watching the Indian families and their social gatherings. There were a few exiting “girls kick ass!” moments, too. :) But it’s quite shallow in a lot of ways.

The Devil was much more disturbing. If you haven’t seen it, don’t let me discourage you, but don’t read this review because I’m about to spoil the plot.

Anne Hathaway is so, so, pretty. I would love to look exactly like her. But the problem with this movie was that she starts out as a likable character (Andrea), and gradually becomes less and less so. For some reason, she decides that working for the nation’s top fashion magazine editor will be her big break in journalism. Didn’t seem that believable to me, ’cause she wasn’t originally interested in fashion journalism, and the job wasn’t writing. It was a whole lot of other tasks, but no writing.

“A million girls would kill for this job.” Andy is told this about 3 or 4 times by different people. She starts out as not included in that million, and ends up as one of them. I mean, she didn’t kill anyone in the movie. But she sure neglected, even abused, her relationships with just about everyone who mattered to her. Some really cool, laid-back witty friends, and her boyfriend – I have to say, a total hottie. And she trashed her integrity too, with a blatant, obvious, stereotypical sleaze-ball man. I don’t see how any woman watching the movie could sympathize with her choice to do so. I mean, he was so sleazy. And her boyfriend (recently ex’d) was so, so, cute! He treated her well enough, making her gourmet grilled cheese after hours from his job as a chef. He was such a normal, likeable guy.

The shared thematic downfall of both of these movies is that in each the main character, a young woman, pulls a lot of “assertive” moves. But she doesn’t become a better person for it. She plays fast and loose with her values and the people that matter to her, but there aren’t any lasting consequences. Everything comes out pretty much OK, everybody’s happy. There was maybe a normal amount of character development, but no character building. No deeper message, no resonance with human nature, emotions or motives.