November 20, 2009

New Moon Movie: The Good, The Bad, The Worst

I have a dirty little secret. I am 32 years old, and I have read the Twilight book series (all of them) and watched the movies. Now, I have a semi-excuse. I am a young adult librarian and service to teens is my first priority. This means I am supposed to know what teens enjoy so that I can use that knowledge to develop programs for them at the library. However, while this explains why I might have read a couple of the books, it doesn't explain why I chose to go see the New Moon movie at midnight this morning.

It was a last minute decision. I didn't have to work today so I thought, why not? Usually the big midnight releases are on Tuesday nights and I have to work in the morning. Plus I happen to live right down the street from a really cool community movie theater. It is quieter than the big cineplexes. I had no trouble getting a ticket at the last minute or finding a seat. They serve freshly popped popcorn, which yes, is a anomaly in the movie theater business.

So here's my reaction to the movie, and I'll attempt to do this without spoilers. Of course, it's pretty hard to spoil this movie when everyone knows the story for the most part.

The Good: The best parts of this movie are when Bella is alone or with Jacob. Their chemistry is real. And why wouldn't it be? Have you seen those abs? Little Jacob looks GOOD in this movie. The man-boy has a temperature of 140 degrees, and I am always cold. And when Bella is Edward-less, Kristen Stewart gives a fragile and sincere performance. I felt the wall she built around herself, and I felt it tumble as Jacob's warmth melts it away. I am on Team Jacob, but no one can deny that Bella and Jacob had a better connection in this movie. Maybe it's because Edward hardly shows up, but it's pretty obvious.

Okay, yes, there are some very cheesy parts in Taylor Lautner's Jacob performance. Couldn't they get him a better wig? But he did what this part required, he looked good (I read today that he had given up ice cream, poor guy) and he had a good combination of anger and brokenness to pull Jacob off. And he loses the wig halfway through.

October 15, 2009

Movie Review: The Searchers

The Searchers isn't my favorite John Wayne movie, but it was certainly good. The setting is the obligatory open prairie. The music swells in all the appropriate places, and the actors do what needs to be done. The pacing skips back and forth between serious scenes where people are brutalized and then humorous scenes that, to me, got in the way.
There are also some very ingenious scenes. The scene leading up to the attack where the Comanche wipe out Wayne's family is foreboding in every way. The colors of the sky just look evil and without saying much at all, the characters demonstrate the sense of doom and dread they are feeling. The director here is John Ford, of course, and he uses all of the tricks that made him famous in the 1930s. They still work in the 1950s and in the 2000s. Sometimes I think we were better off without all the special effects. Ford does certain things very well.
1. Landscape shots--There is nothing more beautiful than a Ford landscape complete with a fade from scene to scene.
2. Economy shots--Ford uses the camera well and uses one shot/take to do many things at once. At the beginning, he introduces all of the characters in just 3 takes. And few words are used. The woman Martha, Wayne's sister-in-law in this film, walks out of the house and watches Wayne approach. Then we see the rest of the family emerge onto the porch. Lastly, they all walk into the house. The only words spoken are "Ethan?", "That's your Uncle Ethan," and "Welcome home, Ethan." Yet we know several things: Ethan (Wayne) and Martha love one another romantically, Ethan has been gone for a long time, the kids are glad to see him, and the brother isn't sure how he feels. Ford does this all with his actors' faces. It's marvelous.

September 17, 2009

Peanut Butter Bacon Cookies

I tried a most unusual cookie recipe: peanut butter bacon cookies. Apparently the creator of this recipe heard about a friend's grandfather who made peanut butter bacon sandwiches. The recipe was easy to do and only requires 5 ingredients. The taste is . . . incredible. It's like peanut butter cookies with an extra zing. You could easily exchange turkey bacon if you are watching calories. I do highly recommend dipping the cookie balls in sugar before marking them with the fork tines. It is less sticky. The other really great thing about this recipe is it only makes 15 cookies, so you are less likely to gain 20 pounds eating them since there are less.

At first, I wasn't sure about the taste. Later on the next day, I found myself thinking about the taste of these cookies and salivating. I like the zaniness of them. God puts unusual combinations together and makes beautiful things with them.

Here is a link to the original recipe from the Joy the Baker Blog. It looks like she has a lot of other great ideas. Featured right now is zucchini pancakes.

September 07, 2009

Movie Review: District 9

Click here to see a trailer.

Peter Jackson's new protege, Neill Blomkamp, has created a film that takes the science fiction genre to a higher plain. On the surface, you think you are getting a typical science fiction evil alien story. That is certainly what my expectations were after watching the trailer, which is mighty misleading. But the story here is about the essence of humanity and what humans are capable of when they forget what the word "humane" means. It is sure to provoke a strong response in whomever watches it.

The film goes back and forth between a mockumentary format and a regular narrative film. Our setting is modern day Johannesburg, South Africa. Twenty-eight years ago, a large spacecraft came and hovered above the city. When the local authorities finally get up the courage to break into the ship, they find a horde of aliens that are half-starved. They move the aliens to a "safe location" for them, which is really an internment, called District 9. The local government feels this is necessary to protect its human citizens, since the aliens began to exhibit violent tendencies.

Now in our current setting, the population of Johannesburg is unhappy with the alien presence. They want them gone. So the government decides to relocate the aliens to a new location through forced migration. We can see District 9 has become a slum, and we understand why the humans want them removed. They plunder the land, fighting over tires and trash. They own weapons that humans can't operate, and they eat cat food. But we can see why the aliens might live this way. First of all, if you are starving, you will eat anything, and if the only option is cat food, well, you eat cat food. Also, when you force a bunch of people into a tight spot, they are going to fight for ownership over the little land they have. The aliens act as any oppressed people group throughout history has. They begin to act like animals.

August 31, 2009

Easy Cooking: Bruschetta

I don't enjoy cooking. But I enjoy eating, so I am always on the lookout for recipes which require little effort but offer the illusion of creating something gourmet. A few weeks ago, before vacation, a co-worker brought some fresh tomatoes in to share. The most appealing ones to me were the Roma tomatoes. When I asked her what I should make with them, she suggested bruschetta.
I have heard this word before, but didn't realize it was made of tomatoes. I thought it was a type of bread that you dip in other things. That's essentially what it is, but since the main ingredient in bruschetta is tomatoes, this dish contains bread and vegetables, which means this can be an appetizer for a party or a light meal.
Here's the recipe I used, along with some tips I had to learn along the way.

July 25, 2009

Movie Review: Brick

Just saw this really good movie called Brick. It's like a film noir (Think The Maltese Falcon or Chinatown) set in a modern California high school. It starts with a note dropped in a locker. The note leads to a pay phone, where our protagonist, Brendan, gets a phone call from his ex-girlfriend, Emily. She's scared, and she won't say why, only sobs out some words like bad brick . . .Tug . . .poor Frisco. . .the Pin. What do these words mean?

Brendan goes back to school, where he hasn't shown up for months and talks to Brain, who is the eyes and ears of the school. He doesn't fit in with any clique, but he knows everyone and everything that goes down. Brendan is stand up guy. He doesn't want to get back together with Em, but she asked for his help so . . .

So starts a search for the truth that will have Twin Peaks fans and film noir fans drooling. To get to the truth, Brendan will have to use all of his connections, both positive and negative, to navigate this course. We meet school administrators, druggies, brainiacs, jocks, drama geeks, and drug lords that will all help solve the mystery. And of course, we meet the femme fatale who will maybe or maybe not end up being who she seems to be. You will be guessing until the end. The movie was loads of fun.

July 23, 2009

Movie Review: The Soloist

Got a chance to see the Soloist the other night. This film showed in a concrete way that you can't force someone to change unless they are ready.

This is based on a true story, and it's believable. Steve Lopez (Robert Downy, Jr in another great role) is a cynical journalist. He knows how to find the good story out of the most mundane circumstances. He isn't above interviewing anyone if it means he will get some readers to enjoy his column. He makes a personal bike accident sound thoughtful and provoking, as he rhapsodizes about the state of a neighborhood hospital.

One day he comes upon Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) , who is homeless and rambles when he talks. Yet he tells Lopez that he used to attend Julliard. After checking out his story, Lopez takes a special interest in Ayers and decides he would make a good human interest piece. Lopez interviews him and listens to him play, but it's all word related---at first. Then he starts to get involved in Ayer's life, and he begins to take a genuine interest in Ayers. Lopez sees the talent in Ayers and he wants to see that talent get used. Here is where I think the movie flopped in most people's eyes.

We all love an underdog story. We want to see that homeless person defeat all of his monsters and settle down in a nice, normal life. Lopez wants him in an apartment, possibly giving concerts and sharing his music with the world. And if he (Lopez) gets some of the credit for bring this talent to light, well that's quite all right with him. In the traditional film, Ayers would have pulled himself up by his bootstraps and live happily ever after. We like that.

What happens instead is much more realistic and true.

July 20, 2009

Book Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

This book was different, I will give you that. Seth Grahame-Smith takes Austen's classic Regency novel and adds an extra element to the story. While Elizabeth Bennet and the incorrigible Mr. Darcy are turning circles around one another, alternating between hatred and passion, zombies are trying to infiltrate homes and lunch upon brains, brains, brains! The Bennet girls are all of them masters of all manner of zombie killing skills, trained in a real dojo. This explains Elizabeth Bennet's liberal manner. So much of the original text is included. This is the first time I have been able to read all the way through the book, and I have tried before. I love all of the Jane Austen films, but I have found the reading to be dry. It can be difficult for a reader to adjust to some of the old-fashioned style of writing. The zombies add a much needed zap of humor to the mix. For example, when Darcy and Elizabeth finally fight zombies together, they laugh together because they catch the zombies eating cauliflower, mistaking it for brains. The zombie episodes add just a dash of interest. So this is a great way to get teens or horror lovers to read a much beloved classic.

June 13, 2009

Movie Review: Revolutionary Road

Revolutionary Road should win the award for most depressing movie of the year. They could invent a new category with this film in mind. This movie is my worst nightmare come to life. Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) and April Wheeler (Kate Winslet) play a married couple in the 1950s. We understand that they are perfect for one another, but their marriage is horrible. They tear each other down and say awful things to one another. They are two wounded people bumping up against one another. They don't talk about these problems and instead focus on the surface problems. They have bought into the lie that "this is as good as it gets." One day, April decides that good enough isn't good enough, and she wants a change. She decides she can find that life in Paris. If they would only move to Paris, then they would be happy. Frank agrees and then later changes his mind. They don't move to Paris and fight even more. The movie is this couple fighting the entire movie. Instead of talking to one another, they decide to have affairs to numb the pain of their lives. They tear each other apart until there is nothing left.

Now don't get me wrong, Revolutionary Road is a well-made and interesting movie.

June 06, 2009

Fly By

Like a moon with no orbit
you fly by
I'm a radio tower
but you fly by

Like a bee with no hive
you fly by
heavy honey in the proboscis
no queen to dance for
and you fly by

Willing wanderer
where is your home
when you lay your head
(do you?) down at night
Where are you flying to?

My right arm
extends from shoulder to elbow
to wrist to hand
upon your shoulder
and you turn
to fly on and my arm
stays on your shoulder and rips
from the socket

And the pieces
fly by
and you never noticed
my hand upon your shoulder

Like a plane that never lands
you fly by
And I just watch you fly by
and wait for the next time
you will circle around

May 20, 2009

Book Review: The Kiss by Ted Dekker and Erin Healy

Have you ever wished you could erase the past and get a clean start? You might feel that if you could erase the pain of your past, you could move on and be free. Shauna learns this isn't quite the case in a recent Ted Dekker novel entitled, entitled The Kiss.

Shauna awakes from a coma with part of her memory erased. She doesn't remember the terrible accident that left her brother brain-damaged. She doesn't remember the drug treatments she's undergone, supposedly for her own good. And she certainly doesn't remember meeting and falling in love with Wayne, her fiance.

What she does know is that everyone blames her for the accident and the brain damage to her brother. She's always been the black sheep of the family. Her father has been distant since the night Shauna's mother died during her birth. He left her to the devices of her abusive stepmother and has never been the father Shauna needs.

Shauna is convinced that she would never hurt her brother and so sets out to prove her innocence and find out what really happened that night.

May 05, 2009

The True Story of Snow White

She was created to be loved
This much was clear
From first breath
certain about only this
The giants were a trifle
First through the door
singing at the top of her lungs
never noticing the ones that lagged behind

Pure beauty
loved by the King
loathed by the enemy
the enemy Queen
mirror mirror
Don't you know
you are hated for your beauty

The poisoned apple
presented so sweet
so foul underneath
the rotten meat
take a bite
and perish

Trapped behind the glass case
seeing only haunted eyes
reflected in mirror
lining her funeral bed
beauty wasted
Trapped in lies

She slept for a hundred years

Until he came
The one; the hero
the sabre branch in hand
strikes the glass and
frees the beauty

What happens now?

April 28, 2009

Movie Review: Knowing

First published in the Cary News on April 28, 2009

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John Koestler (Nicolas Cage), a professor at MIT, knows which side of the debate he falls on when he teaches his students about choices. Are they random or determined? Stuff just happens, he tells his class. He tries to live his life accordingly. When he’s not teaching in class or taking care of his partially deaf son, Caleb (Chandler Canterbury), he drinks away his sorrows. He’s unhappy that his wife passed away in an accident and has taken a passive seat on the life bus. Although like everyone, he wants desperately to know that life isn’t a waste, his highest goal has become keeping his son “safe.” If stuff just happens, he won’t let anything happen to Caleb by keeping him home.

One day, something happens which challenges his beliefs to the core. His son’s school is opening the time capsule a class buried in 1959, 50 year ago. Each student gets to open a letter from a student describing the future. Out of all the letters possible, Caleb gets the most disturbing one, a letter covered with seemingly random numbers. During one of his typical drunken stupors, John studies the numbers carefully and decides the same thing that Richard Dreyfuss did in Close Encounters: “This means something.” Of course his confidantes all think he has lost his marbles, so John must seek out the truth in an alternate way. He finds a fitting colleague in the somewhat creepy, somewhat attractive Diana (Rose Byrne), who has a connection with the original creator of the letter Caleb opened from the time capsule.

April 18, 2009

Out There

The corner between the wall and my shower stall
My hand placed on the cool tile
Neutral, white, so cold

Somewhere there is
a corn dog
piping hot and dripping with mustard
spilling down my chin
the warm pavement
when I find it
I will press my face against it

April 05, 2009

Transsiberian and Sin and Forgiveness

Today at my church service, the sermon was about forgiveness. How can we be forgiven of sins, and what is the proper response once we have been forgiven? This is an appropriate topic since I have recently been released from a bondage that has has held me down for more years that I care to share. As the preacher was talking, I was thinking about the movie Transsiberian. It's such a perfect picture of what sin does to your life and to others around you. It's also a perfect example of someone who doesn't understand the freedom that forgiveness can bring. The result is tragedy and a life of murky grays. There is no end. No freedom.

This writing will contains spoilers. In this film, a woman who we know has a wild past has married a really nice guy. This man is the type that participates in charity work and is genuinely likable. What we understand about Jessie (this is never spelled out) is that she married Roy and has tried to be a different person. She helps with the missionary work. She smiles and tries to play the saintly wife. But inside she still feels like the same wild, tainted woman.

March 27, 2009

Movie Review: Paranoid Park

If you helped commit a crime and never told the truth, would the guilt eat you alive? This is the quandary teenage skateboarder Alex finds himself in. Director Gus Van Sant gives this film a dreamlike quality. The truth of what happens that night unravels slowly piece by piece. By the time we know the truth, we are completely on Alex's side and are worried that he will be discovered. We know that Alex visited Paranoid Park with his friend Jared. We know that a security guard has been murdered. And we know that Alex almost called the cops and threw up. But we don't know until late into the movie what happened between visiting Paranoid Park and Alex throwing up. Alex has the look of a trauma victim. He doesn't respond to anything with emotion. He walks around in a daze, like he's not really there. To emphasize his displacement, Alex has conversations with people where their voices fade in and out or music plays over them. We know Alex isn't really having a conversation. He is merely in the room.

March 17, 2009

Movie Review: Watchmen

***First published in the Cary News on March 17, 2009***

Split open the mind of a scientist, add in superhero strength and struggles, set it in a doomsday world, sprinkle with some saucy fan service, shake, and you get The Watchmen.

But this film is more than its parts. The Watchmen is based on Alan Moore’s mind-blowing graphic novel. I am reviewing this movie separate from its graphic novel form, but check that out if you get a chance.
They had to simplify the story a great deal to make it manageable in a film form.

The plot is somewhat complex, but in fact, it matters little to this film. This movie is all about characters, culture, and the mood of the film. The story is set in an alternative United States history. It’s 1985, and Richard Nixon has been elected to his third term in office.The doomsday clock has been set for five minutes to midnight — midnight being the time when either Russia or the U.S. will launch a deadly bomb and the idea of world peace will forever be obliterated.

The Watchmen are a group of “superheroes,” although none of them (with one exception) have superhuman abilities. The story is laid out in a non-linear fashion: We see the past, then the present, then the more distant past. We find out bits of the story through memories, conversations, and photos on walls.

The main conflict is that The Comedian, one of the former Watchmen, has been murdered. Rorschach, our narrator, is convinced that someone is targeting the Watchmen and picking them off, one by one. He sets out to discover who it is and to warn the rest of his former teammates.

March 14, 2009

Understanding Movies, Chapter 2: German Expressionism and Russian Montage

This post will be continuing the course I wrote about here and here called Understanding Movies. In this section, we are learning about silent movies still, but these filmmakers took the art of silent film to its max. I really enjoyed this chapter and had a lot of films to watch, which is why it has taken so long to get this 2nd chapter up.

The main movements discussed are German Expressionism and Russian Montage. In German Expressionism, we are looking at using film to create a heightened emotion. If you remember, in chapter 1, we looked at cinema as a way to reflect everyday life, in a documentary style, and as a way to explore the imagination, such as a fantasy. German Expressionism is closer to the latter, but it is beyond that. Rather than an emphasis on the story, filmmakers took a special interest in creating a mood or feeling--mostly a dark mood. There was a special interest in what impact the movie would have on the audience. Some of the staples in this genre are mad scientists, dark shadows, deranged madmen, or crazy camera angles.

There is also a constant battle between man and society. Look for that in most of these films.

The first film I watched was Metropolis. I have heard of this movie but never took the time to watch it, especially since I find many silent movies to be boring. This film is about a contrasting world. Above ground you have the beautiful wealthy people who don't work. Down below you have the poor who work constantly and live in the darkness. A man who lives above ground, Freder Fredersen, falls in love with Maria, a woman from below. He bravely enters the darkness below out of concern for her. What he finds is horrifying, but this same woman whom he loves has inspired a community of underground dwellers to hope for the chosen one who will unite the head (the city planners above) and the hand (the laborers below). She calls him the heart. As I watched this movie, I was surprised at how engrossing it movie is, even though it was made about 80 years ago. The director is Fritz Lang, and he is the master.

Like Lillian Gish, the actors do get melodramatic somewhat. Everything is overacted, but that's part of the expressionism style. Each facial expression and gesture speaks volumes. You can tell this is expressionism because there is little logic. We don't really understand what the underground workers are tasked to do. One worker just has to move the hands of the clock to match the lights. If he does not keep up with this task, something explodes. It doesn't make sense, except on an emotional level.

You can see how Lang used many things in this movie to create a heightened emotional experience for the viewer. There is fog, darkness, the catacombs, candlelight. The special effects are still impressive today.

Here are some clips.

March 03, 2009

Movie Review: Confessions of a Shopaholic

I have been a longtime fan of the Sophie Kinsella Shopaholic books, which feature the lovable but compulsive Becky Bloomwood. So I wasn't sure what to expect out of the movie version.
Rebecca Bloomwood is a lovely redheaded young woman who loooooves to shop. I am not talking about the reasonable kind of love where she goes monthly or even weekly to see what's new at her local boutique. I am talking about an addiction as powerful as any drug out there. When she walks past a store, the mannequins talk to her and convince her that this, only this, particular item has the power to make her feel better, more attractive, more alive. She shops using 12 credit cards, including her Gold Card, which is encased in a block of ice in the freezer in case of emergencies. The tone of the film is comic, so it's not a tragic type of addiction, but we understand that Becky has a problem and she needs some serious help.
Rebecca also has her own personal bill collector stalker type person following her around named Derek Smeath. All told, she owes Mr. Smeath some $16,000. After losing her job as a journalist, she decides to apply for her dream job: fashion correspondent for Alette magazine. For Becky, this would be equivalent to an alcoholic working in a brewery. The job gets filled before she can arrive, but a sister magazine from the same magazine group, Successful Saving, is hiring. The man at the front desk assures her that the magazine group is a family, and once you're in, you're in. The only problem is that the magazine that ends up hiring Becky is a financial advice magazine. Not exactly the type of place that suits Becky's lifestyle or assets.

February 14, 2009

Book Review: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Lia is very good at keeping secrets. Yes, everyone knows that her ex-best friend Cassie was found dead in a motel room, but no one knows that she called Lia 33 times that same night. Yes her parents know that Lia is anorexic and weigh her each week to make sure she stays at 107, but they don't know that she has sewn rock in the pockets of her bathrobe to hide the fact that she is below 100 lbs. And her parents also know that she is going to counseling, but they don't know that she is still cutting herself with razors on the hidden areas of her body.

Lia has a complicated life, and the reader feels the pain of this. She has to count calories to reach her personal goal weight. Right now, it's 99 lbs. Her parents all seem to care, but it's hard for Lia to feel they really do. Her mother is a doctor that gives more heart to her patients than her own daughter. And Dad is a typical workaholic father, just glowing in his personal success. And the complication continues: a man calls her house to tell her he has a message from Cassie. Lia isn't sure she wants to hear it. Now she keeps seeing Cassie at night in the dark. What will it take to get Lia to change her ways? And can she get relief from being haunted by Cassie?

Laurie Halse Anderson has written another fine young adult novel. Like Speak, it features a female protagonist that cannot tell anyone what is really wrong with her.

February 12, 2009

Movie Review: Lawrence of Arabia

Last week, I received the awesome privilege of being able to watch Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen at a local theater. And yes, it makes a difference. You can actually see the grains of sand blowing around the Nefud desert. You feel the sun burning down as Lawrence rides through the scorching Devil's Anvil. And more than once, you see those blue penetrating eyes staring straight into your heart and know how a skinny, white British soldier inspired the Arab people to almost free themselves once and for all from imperialism.

If you haven't seen Lawrence of Arabia , it is an experience worth having. True, at 216 minutes, it is longer than your average film. But unlike some films of this length, the viewer stays involved. In fact, at the end of this film, I am always wanting more. It seems impossible that a people group could get so close to their goal only to turn back. And I want to see Lawrence and Sherif Ali continue their strange, endearing fellowship past what this film shows. And unlike some biopics, we don't see some long drawn out story about how painful Lawrence's childhood was or follow him past his prime to see him sighing over lost opportunities. The ending is abrupt with no sense of conclusion. The whole thing seems like a big buildup to failure, but no one ever said the man Lawrence of Arabia could be put into a nice, neat box.

February 09, 2009

Understanding Movies, Lesson 1 Continued: More Griffith, Lillian Gish, and Charlie Chaplin

Before moving onto lesson 2, I watched a few more of the movies suggested in lesson 1. One important thing I forgot to mention is that in the beginning, films were all silent. The characters did not speak audibly. In most movies, the actors did pantomime speech, but any words that were "spoken" were done so through the use of title cards. Sometimes the title cards tell what a character is saying. Other times, they add narrative to a picture to direct the viewer to consider a particular thing. For instance, a famous title card in Griffith's The Birth of a Nation reads "War's peace." After the words, the camera pans onto the Civil War battlefield after a battle has taken place. We see dead and injured bodies. The words suggest the irony of how quiet this field is when just moments before, it was filled with bodies, guns, blood, and probably screaming.

With only the moving pictures able to tell the story, Shargel says that we are talking about a "pure cinema." The success of the movie leans heavily on the actors on screen to clearly tell the tale. Or the emphasis can be on the director (which is covered in lesson 2). This is why in early films, the acting seems so comical and over exaggerated. The actors must really use every device to tell their tale: facial expressions, body language, actions.

There are two notable people that excelled in this area: Lillian Gish and Charlie Chaplin.

February 02, 2009

Movie Course: Understanding Movies, Lesson 1

As part of my foray into movie reviewing, I decided to learn more about the history of film. Now, let me tell you, I think I have watched a lot of movies. I made it my goal to watch the AFI 100 best movies and did so (until they updated the list in 2007). But there is a gap between someone who just watches a lot of movies and someone who understands the history and grammar of film. Luckily, I work at a library and have resources at my fingertips. I found Understanding Movies: The Art and History of Film. It is taught by Professor Raphael Shargel from Providence College. It is an audio course. You listen to a chapter on CD, which includes a brief lesson. You are also asked to view some movies in light of what Professor Shargel has just discussed. There are also discussion questions. Each chapter covers a period of movie history.

Chapter 1 was on the Origins of Cinema and the Grammar of Film. Shargel begins by discussing the dualist nature of film. It is the most real and most false of the arts, he says. It seems the most real because it includes the visual sense. We think we are viewing real life in a well made film. On the other hand, it is completely a false vision. What you think are movements are actually a rapid succession of still photos that make the image appear to be moving. There are about 24 frames a second. You may remember as a child seeing the large film reels. Each reel was made of long chains of still photos. Compare this to say a comic book or graphic novel. In comic strips, the artist also uses individual still frames, but the reader must use his imagination to fill in the spaces between each frame. Thus, film seems more real than comic strips.

He also says that film is a unique art form in that it is meant to be watched in community. Films are made to be shared, discussed, and critiqued. In this way, it is a very social art form. Also, movies are made to be watched on the large movie house screens. When you watch older films on a regular TV, even if it is a huge flat screen, the images you see can appear small and unimpressive. When that same image is viewed on a large movie house screen, the grandeur the director intended are much more apparent in these panoramic type of shots.

Now here's the fun part: the movies for chapter 1.

February 01, 2009

Book Review and Series Review: Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox

I looooooooove the Artemis Fowl series. This is one of my favorite series of all time, and I just read the 6th book in this stupendiferous series. It's still awesome, even after the 6th book. What makes this series for me is the characters that Eoin Colfer created from the get go. These same characters come up in every book, and I wouldn't have it any other way. We have Artemis (or Artie to his friends), the genius mastermind who used to be an evil genius mastermind. Now he's older and kinder, but still a mastermind (although his need to dominate comes out once in awhile). Captain Holly Short, is the feisty fairy who has a Tom Cruise Top Gun type of side (she goes maverick). Butler is Artemis' faithful manservant who has the reflexes of a lynx but the heart of a teddy bear. Foaly the centaur who works on the fairy technology but can't help but admire Artemis' brain. And of course, the lovable Mulch Diggums, a dwarf with enough energy in his stocky legs and mouth to dig a tunnel through almost anything (although you DON'T want to be behind him when it all comes out). This cast of flawed characters make this series what it is. I want to hang with them over and over again.

Let me set this up for you. In book one, Artemis was still the genius, criminal mastermind. He can hack any computer and can win any mind game you throw. He has the brains, and Butler has the brawn. Together, they are unstoppable. Artemis needs money. Before you think he's greedy, just know that his Dad is missing in the Arctic somewhere and his Mom is a basket case. Artemis had to get tough! Okay, he's a little greedy, but somewhat unhappy, too. Like any unhappy person, he doesn't realize how unhappy he is and is just out to rule the world.

His plan is to find a fairy, get the fairy's book, copy all the pages, and find out how he can steal fairy gold. Then he will have enough funds to put all of his schemes into places, including finding his father. Everything does according to plan until he picks Captain Holly Short, of the LEPrecon as the fairy to kidnap for ransom. The LEP aren't the sweet, beautiful fairies of tales told in the storybooks. These are the roughest, toughest fairies you've ever seen. They have gadgets that James Bond never dreamed of. They have Foaly, a centaur who has the the hooves to invent the gadgets that will keep the humans in their place. Artemis has no idea what's in store for him.

It's the perfect combination of science fiction, fantasy, and humor.

January 31, 2009

Library Program: Paint with Coffee

In a week, I am leading a workshop on painting with coffee. This is part of our program series in preparation for our annual art contest. My colleague is going to do a program on street art. I saw the paint with coffee idea in the Collaborative Summer Reading Manual for this year's teen theme Express Yourself @ your library. I also found several good website by coffee artists, but no one really had a step by step video that I could find.

The best resource I found was an interview with an artist in which he describes his process. I also wasn't sure what type of coffee to use. Gathering supplies for this program is pretty simple. You need instant coffee, watercolor paper, brushes of different sizes, shallow bowls for mixing, and something to cover your work area with.

January 17, 2009

Movie Review: Gran Torino

Gran Torino is an unexpected treat—the type of movie that rarely comes along. You find yourself riveted to the spot, surprised at how much empathy you feel for a character that you think you would despise in real life.

Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) is a Korean War veteran. He’s racist as can be and isn’t ashamed of it. The only things he really seems to enjoy are beer, his dog, his tools, and his work—oh yeah, and his prized possession, a 1972 Gran Torino. His favorite facial pattern is a disapproving sneer. His favorite action seems to be spitting tobacco as he sneers. He despises young people and especially scantily dressed females. His sons are a disappointment to him.

The crisis point happens when the boy next door, Thao, tries to steal the aforementioned car. Thao is Hmong and considered too feminine by his family. He likes gardening better than hard labor. Walking down the street one day, he is harassed by some Latino gang members and bailed out by his Hmong cousins. This seeming favor becomes dangerous when they decide Thao should join their gang even if he has to be forced. The car theft is an initiation for him. Since he fails, he’s in the dog house, and they come to teach him a lesson. Just at as they’re about to drag him off, out comes Walt, now on his second night of interrupted sleep, Dirty Harry style to threaten the gangbangers with a shot gun. This is where the turning point in the movie happens.

Thao’s very large, very duty-bound family decides that Thao and the entire Hmong community are in Walt’s debt for the attempted crime and his heroic shotgun thing. Despite Walt’s protests they insist on giving him food and gifts as thank you tributes. Then Thao is given to Walt as his personal slave for a week. Walt decides to toughen Thao up.

January 06, 2009

Movie Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Since I first saw the trailer for this film, I have been looking forward to its release. I thought it looked like a beautiful love story, but more than that, an exploration into one man's life. It would be a story about a man who faces insurmountable challenges from the get go, but still has a full life. Boy, was I right. But I had my doubts that would be right.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is based on a short story written by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The short story and movie couldn't be more different. Many people say the book is always better. Here is a case where that is not true. The short story is typical Fitzgerald. The family is dysfunctional. The content is dark, dark, dark. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. In the short story, Benjamin is born, lives, and dies. Everything goes very quickly. His wife is mentioned in one paragraph. You can read the whole thing yourself online. I found the short story depressing. Benjamin is not a particularly likable character. After his wife gets old, he grows bored of her and goes off to have adventure. He is rejected his whole life except for one period where he is a successful football star. Lucky for the screenwriters, the movie goes in a different direction. Don't get me wrong, the short story is well written and will make you think. But I like stories with some hope. The short story doesn't have it.

The movie, on the other hand, is a tale of a man who by all accounts should have died. His mother dies giving birth to him. His father considers him a curse and slips into the night to get rid of him as quickly as possible. By some miraculous touch, he lives. He is born an old man and finds himself getting younger as time passes. He has many physical problems. The first 20 so years of his life are spent in a "home" for invalids and people with disabilities: the rejects of society. He is taken in by the kind young Queenie, who becomes Button's adopted Momma.

The plot takes many twists and turns that would go on longer than a review should. Suffice it to say that Benjamin visits many places, meets many interesting people, and his ailment does nothing to stop him. The film that is most similar would be Forrest Gump, so I wasn't at all surprised when I learned that Eric Roth, one of the co-writers of the screenplay for Benjamin Button, also wrote the Forrest Gump screenplay.

The main relationship of note is his lifelong friendship and then romance and then something even more with the red-headed Daisy.

January 04, 2009

Movie Review: The Painted Veil

I am a sucker for love stories. I am a special sucker when love happens between 2 people that don't seem to be able to stand one another. Isn't that essentially what happens in Pride and Prejudice?

In The Painted Veil, Kitty (Naomi Watts), a beautiful, vivacious girl from a moderately wealthy family agrees to marry Walter (Edward Norton), a serious doctor. You couldn't find a seemingly more mismatched pair. Kitty likes to play games, especially tennis and cards. She likes dances and the theater. Walter has a scientific, rational mind, and shows little interest in emotion or passion or any kind. He is a bacteriologist (he informs Kitty) and is leaving for Shanghai the next day. Of course, we know it's always those quiet ones . . .

Walter believes he can make Kitty happy in the typical way men think they can. Give them pretty things and an occasional fun night out, and they'll be happy. A fun girl like Kitty wants companionship, something the doctor lacks experience in. She might have allowed him to make her happy if he wasn't such a bore. Even I found this doctor boring, and I am an Edward Norton fan. Divorce was not an option in those days, so she begins an affair with the more suave politician (Liev Schreiber).

When Walter discovers the infidelity, he gives Kitty and ultimatum: come with him to an agricultural town that is suffering from a cholera epidemic or he will divorce her in a public humiliating fashion.