Wednesday, December 26, 2007

National Treasure: Book of Secrets

Movie: National Treasure: Book of Secrets
Like/Don't Like: Like - because it was Christmas Eve and I was in the mood

Have you ever been on Google Earth and done their globe hopping thing where it takes you from one major world land mark to the next? I think that's where the writers got the idea for this movie. Mount Rushmore, Mount Vernon, Buckingham Palace, the Library of Congress, the White House, and the "other" Statue of Liberty all made appearances in this movie. It is not a stretch to say that the words "far-fetched" went through my brain several dozen times.
And that was before they broke into the Queen's office AND the Oval Office and then kidnapped the president.

So I rolled my eyes A LOT and I think on any other occassion I would have said no thanks but several things saved it for me, 1.) It was Christmas Eve and I was looking for a mindless, fun adventure movie, preferably without Nicholas Cage, but you can't be picky, right? 2.) That funny sidekick guy who's name has slipped my mind, 3.) I'm kind of a sucker for historical trivia, the likes of which this movie was blowing out it's nose, 4.) Helen Mirren. 5.) Helen Mirren's hair. It was so cute and very flattering and made up for her shoddy American accent.

Speaking of Nicholas Cage...have his teeth always been like that? They looked really weird. Like his bite was off or his caps were too big.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Christmas Carol

Book: A Christmas Carol
Author: Charles Dickens
Like/Don't Like: Like

Dear High School English Teachers of the World:

Do NOT make your students read Dickens. I'm serious about this. Dickens is not for kids. If you want your students to hate Dickens and curse your name forever then go ahead. But I'd advise you to back away from it and give them Lord of the Flies instead. It's a much better story for 15 year olds.

I know what I'm talking about. I loved to read when I was 15, just like I do now. I was one of those kids who read every book assigned in school, not just because I had to but because I actually enjoyed it. I read every book - even Moby Dick - every book but A Tale of Two Cities. Why? Because the year before I had to read Great Expectations and it did me in. It was too dark and there were too many foot notes and too many characters and the crazy old lady in the wedding dress and gosh it was confusing for my young mind. Dickens and I were through.

I harbored bad feelings for him for years. I had a teacher in college* who was OBSESSED with Dickens. He was PASSIONATE about him. He dreamed about consumption and debtors prison. I wasn't actually taking a Dickens class from him but not a lecture went by without some obscure reference from the Pickwick Papers. And every reference made me say “Bleh! Dickens. I’m not going to do that again!”

Which was a big shame because Dickens is actually fantastic. Last year, thanks to Katie, I redeemed myself and read A Tale of Two Cities and I loved it. Seriously. It's such an amazing, beautiful book. In fact, it was my number one book of 2007. (Yeah, I keep track of the books I read in a little notebook. I'm a dork. So what?) And I felt like I had wasted all of these years when I could have been reading his stuff.

So I vowed to be friends with him again. I’ve had a copy of A Christmas Carol in my bookshelf for years. It may have been a gift. I can’t remember. Every Christmas I would think, “Maybe I should read A Christmas Carol.” And it would take me about 30 seconds to remind myself that I didn’t like Dickens. But since we’ve been reunited I didn’t talk myself out of it this time

Who doesn’t know this story? Everyone knows this story. I’ve seen A Muppet’s Christmas Carol enough to know it (Incidentally, only 15 more sleeps ‘til Christmas. Fa la la.) So I thought that it would be a little dull reading something that I already knew so well. But Dickens charmed me again. I was lovely. And short. It love a book I can read in a couple of hours.

So, in conclusion, I found my way to Dickens, even after hating him. But I could have read him a lot earlier. I would have found my way to him years ago and would have had the joy of Tiny Tim every Christmas. If only you people wouldn’t insist on forcing us to be best friends.

Best at this festive time of year,

PS. Another author who is terrific that kids shouldn’t read because they just won’t get it is John Steinbeck. Don’t give them Steinbeck! Let the readers find him on their own. East of Eden was my favorite book of 2006 but that was after years of not liking him after I had to read The Pearl in the 7th grade.

*Interesting side note: This professor actually had a very Dickensian experience the year before I took his class. He almost died from a flesh eating bacteria. He had scars all over his neck and face and gaping, oozing sores on his arms. I bet it was like a dream come true for him.

Sunday, December 9, 2007


Movie: Waitress
Like/Don't Like: Um...overall - don't like

I remember hearing about this movie when it came out, mostly because of the tragic stuff with the writer/director/person in the movie who was murdered in her own apartment before it came out. Sad. And also because I have a soft place in my heart for Keri Russell. Oh Felicity. The hours I spent watching you walk around the streets of NYC in slow motion, wistfully looking over your shoulder. Those were the days.

I remember hearing that this movie was sad and quirky. So true. Although more sad than quirky. I'm not against sad movies. Shadowlands is pretty high up there for me and if there's a sadder movie out there, I'd like not to hear about it because I'm a sucker and would probably end up watching it and I don't think there's a tissue box large enough to handle the amount of tears I would shed if it were sadder than Shadowlands. That the attic...when they're sitting on the steps...after she dies. Oh gee whiz.

But this one was more depressing than sad. Felicity plays a pie baking waitress who is pregnant with her abusive husband's baby and she's not happy about it. Boy, is she not happy. And then she has an affair with her doctor, who is married. And then (this is where I give away the ending) she has the baby and ends the affair and dumps her louse of a husband. Which is great, but that is about 5 minutes at the end. The rest just kind of wears you down with how sad her life is.

Which may be the reason why I went to bed feeling a little let down, even after everything worked out for the best. It had all the makings for a movie I'd really like. Snappy lines, homey locale, wise cracking side characters, pie, Andy Griffith, and a guy who creates spontaneous poetry. That last one should have won me over all by itself, and it was close. So close. But not close enough. I wanted to eat pie at the end of it, but mostly to cheer me up.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium

Movie: Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium
Like/Don't Like: Like

This was sweet. And quirky. And pretty witty for a kiddie movie. And Dustin Hoffman's eyebrows were magnificent. And seeing Natalie Portman's cute short hair made me curse my own hair because I can't pull that off (and believe me, I have tried). And Jason Bateman was in it. I think that Jason Bateman should be in everything. Basically, it was a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Jane and the Barque of Frailty

Book: Jane and the Barque of Frailty (9th in the Jane Austen Mystery series)
Author: Stephanie Barron
Like/Don’t Like: Like

It’s a very fine line to walk, loving Jane Austen. You start out loving her books and then suddenly you find yourself in a Jane chat-room and you've given yourself the name darcylover4ever and you’re organizing fancy dress tea parties and there you are at the annual Jane Austen convention discussing the merits of Captain Wentworth and you think to yourself, “Good heavens! What have I become?!"

This is exactly why I avoid all those Jane Austen knock-offs that have flooded the book market. Seriously, there are so many of them that a publishing house could dedicate itself entirely to books depicting exactly what Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy did after their wedding and never go out of business. Unless someone I trust has specifically recommended one to me I stay far, far away. You can never be too careful. If I ever start calling my purse a reticule then you know I have gone too far and need an intervention.

Years ago Cynde gave me the first of this series and it sat on a bookshelf for 2 years, purposely forgotten, because I didn't want to turn into one of Those Girls. But then one day, probably out of desperation for something to read, I picked it up and couldn't put it down (this proves that you should always trust your best friend’s judgment in books). I liked it so much that I actually ventured into the popular fiction section (Fact: I had never been in the popular fiction section before this. All those books - romance, mystery, and sci-fi- fall under the category of Books I Never Read in my Youth So I Don't Actually Remember that They Exist Until Someone Tells Me about Them.) and bought the rest in the series. They are surprisingly well written books.

Jane is the narrator and, like all mystery series detectives, has a keen ability to stumble upon dead bodies. The mysteries are fairly surprising and the pacing is good. And it’s pretty impressive how close the author gets to the tone of a Jane Austen book. She’s always in a different locale so it give some variety to the books but there are a few recurring characters, mostly her family, who keep it familiar. The series has declined a little, especially after one of the main characters dies in a later book, and this last one felt a little forced. But it was still a really fun read. I’m recommending the whole series.

And I’m serious about the intervention.

Note to Laura: Don't bother.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Dan in Real Life

Movie: Dan in Real Life
Like/Don't Like: Like

I know what you're saying, "Wait a second. You mean you actually go to the movies too? In a real live movie theater?" Yep. Sometimes I do. The problem though is that my 80 year old tendencies come out so strong at movie theaters that I can actually feel orthopedic shoes forming on my feet. My pet peeves include: people chewing too loudly; cell phones going off and instead of sheepishly silencing it, the person starts talking, usually about how they're in the movies...I'll call you right back...well, I don't know what you did with that pink sweater...did you look in the laundry room...well how am I suppose to know...I'll be back in an hour...well look harder (click)(to husband) Ashley can't find her pink sweater; young whipper-snappers who spend their time giggling and running up and down the stairs, you know, because a movie is a great time to get your cardio in; the Obvious Guy - you all know this guy, the one who sits behind you and states the obvious (Example: Character falls down the stairs, OG says, "Dude! He totally fell down the stairs!"); your friend who comes with you and talks to you through the whole thing, sometimes turning into OG.

But I really like going to the movies so I will usually go by myself on a weeknight (seriously folks, I am one cat away from pathetic.) and get an Icee (okay, I may also be 12, but did you know that you can now get an Icee in the jumbo size cup! Awesome!!) and sit in the middle with the elderly (the ne'er-do-wells prefer the top, for their exercise) and start my Serenity Now chant.

Um...Rachel...isn't this a movie review? Oh, right? It is.

After watching North and South again, this time with Mom and Katie, I decided that I hadn't spent enough time on my butt and went to see Dan in Real Life. I liked it. I was prepared for it to go either way because sometimes movies like that can be a little schmaltzy. It certainly had all the makings of it: widower, large family retreat, rustic setting, Diane Wiest. But most of the time when it could have gone all warm and fuzzy it went warm and funny instead. I was a little nervous for Steve Carrell because the ads made it look like he was a slightly calmer Michael Scott, but he held it together. And despite his extra large nose, I had a bit of a crush on him at the end of it (I'm a complete sucker for funny men. My love for Steve Martin goes all the way back to Three Amigos.)

A few observations:
1.) In my next life I want Juliette Binoche's skin, which, according to legend, was blessed by unicorns at her birth.
2.) The guy who wrote the screenplay also wrote Pieces of April. You should see this movie. Katie Holmes isn't as bad as you think she will be.
3.) I like this trend of movie soundtracks being done by primarily one artist, like Britt Daniels from Spoon on Stranger than Fiction, or Badly Drawn Boy on About a Boy. It gives it a nice continuity. This one was done by Sondre Lerche and hooray for that. So great! Modern Nature may be one of the cutest songs ever written.
4.) Frazier's dad is looking really old.
5.) I don't know who Norbert Leo Butz's parents are but I love them for giving him that name.
6.) Speaking of Norbert Leo Butz (if we were neighbors I would not be able to call him anything but that full glorious name), there were too many great actors who were under-used. They could have taken half of Dane Cooks scenes and given them to actors who weren't in Employee of the Month.
7.) Emily Blunt could bite through a Ginsu knife with those teeth. But I like her in everything I've seen her in so she can stay.
8.) They showed a preview for Atonement before the movie and I've realized that I can't see it because that book still haunts me. I started welling up right when they showed cute James McAvoy and didn't stop until Kiera Knightly's giant jaw took over the screen at the end. If Keira Knightly's jaw joined forces with Emily Blunt's teeth they could rent themselves out as pretty, pretty nutcrackers for office holiday parties.

Yeah, it's a good movie. I'd say it was worth sitting in front of the guy who, when Dan got another speeding ticket, said, "Dude! He totally got another ticket!"

Pumpkin Ravioli

Recipe: Pumpkin Shallot Ravioli with Sage Butter
Like/Don't Like: Like
Note: This recipe makes me sound like I actually cook fancy food all the time. Don't believe it. Although I like to cook and try out recipes I usually have toast for dinner.

My dear friend Wendy started a tradition many years ago of a pumpkin party. She would make her pumpkin soup and we'd all bring something pumpkiny to share. And because she's Wendy, there would usually be fun pumpkin games for us to play. Wendy and her cute family has since moved to Texas and the pumpkin party kind of died down. But Laura revived it this year (Hooray Laura!) and coupled it with the Little House on the Prairie - Best of Almanzo Marathon (Hooray Almanzo!) - both completely in the Spirit of Wendy.

Because pumpkin parties of yore have usually consisted of Wendy's soup and Katie's Yummy Pumpkin Stuff (Hooray YPS!) and about 10 other sweet pumpkin desserts I decided I would branch out and do something savory instead. You want to know how many savory pumpkin recipes are out there? Five. And three of them were for pumpkin ravioli. So that's what I did.

It turned out better than I expected. Mostly because it was easy. I mean, really easy. And kind of fun to make. It made me want to wear a chef's hat and speak Italian. I'm a believer in trying out new recipes on people (just ask my book club) and sometimes they don't always turn out as I would hope. But aside from one completely disintegrating in the water, they worked out nicely and tasted pretty good. And did I mention how easy they were to make. Do not be afraid to try this recipe. I had a ton of pumpkin left over so I just tripled the recipe and made a bunch and shoved them in the freezer, where they will probably sit for months and months and months. Amanda and I had this conversation just the other day. Our freezers aren't so much freezers but curio cases for ancient relics of dinners past. It makes for a fun guessing game.

Some tips on the recipe:

1.) These are large ravioli so don't over-stuff them because they will explode. I tried quartering the wanton wrappers and they made for really adorable wee ravioli but I aged about 34 years making them. Much less time consuming doing the full size.
2.) They're not kidding when they say save some of the boiling water. They're slippery when they come out of the pot but they get sticky fast. Actually, why don't you just skip the whole serving dish thing and plate everything instead. They're kind of delicate and will rip easily and I thought it was easier to just put it straight from the pot to the plate and pour a little sauce over it.
3.) And I do mean a little sauce. Butter is terrific but it's better with just a drizzle.
4.) I actually liked more sage in the filling the second time I made them. About 2 tsp.
5.) You can very easily make this a meaty dish but putting some Italian sausage in it. Yum.
6.) I think they would taste better with real pasta so if you have a pasta maker and you're crazy go ahead and make it. And while you're at it, why don't you grow an herb garden because I actually had to buy an herb garden just to have fresh sage.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

North and South

Movie: North and South
Like/Don't Like: I liked it so much I asked it to go steady with me.

Here's the question: Why haven't I heard of this movie before? Why hasn't Netflix recommended it? Why haven't I seen it on Masterpiece Theatre? I'm 80 and I watch Masterpiece Theatre ALL THE TIME and I don't even remember hearing about this. And if you're my friend and have seen it, why haven't you made me watch it? If I find out that any of you have known about this movie but didn't bother mentioning it to me then we're through. Turn in your Friend of Rachel membership card. Because if there were ever a movie made just for me it would be this. Seriously, it was so great! (Note to the guys who may have come across this blog: you can probably stop reading. It's a 4 hour period chick flick. Unless you liked Pride and Prejudice when your girlfriend/wife/girl you were trying to impress made you watch it you're probably not going to be running out to buy it. Although if your girlfriend/wife/girl you're trying to impress asks if you want to watch it, say yes. Always say yes to that question, because you know she always watches your guy movies with you.) Rac (my one true friend!) recommended this to me a few months ago. Here's a direct quote from her e-mail, "I got North and South for my birthday (swoon, swoon)." Swoon indeed. There were at least a dozen times I could have used some smelling salts.

This was a cross between Jane Austen and Dickens, with a little Newsies thrown in. Yep, there's a strike. Although they don't break out into song and dance when they march on the establishment. Briefly: a girl and her parents move from their home in the genteel south of England to a textile town up north and she meets (swoon, swoon) a slightly stern but fair businessman. And dreamy. I should definitely say dreamy. He's a stern but fair dreamy dreamboat businessman.

I think one of the reasons I liked it so much was because I didn't know the story going into it. I already knew Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, and Jane Eyre (if you have not seen the newest Jane Eyre run, run I say, to the nearest Blockbuster and pick it up. Or if you're local you can borrow it from me. Or we can have a slumber party and watch it. Every other adaptation is a big pile of poo compared to it.) But this was all new to me so even though it played out as I expected, and hoped, I still wasn't sure that it would. Especially because the last adaptation of an Elizabeth Gaskell novel that I saw, Wives and Daughters, did not end as I had hoped. Well, it did end as I had hoped, but it didn't end with a kiss and you know how much I think the kiss is necessary at the end.

But, oh girls, this ending. Yep, this one is a winner. I am not ashamed to say that when it was over I re-watched the ending 3 times and then decided that I hadn't had enough so I watched the whole second half again. Oh, alright, and I woke up this morning and did a "good parts" viewing. That's how good it is!

Watch it right now! I don't ever want you saying I kept this from you.

Addemdum: I just got off the phone with Katie and she told me that she watched it last night too and completely agrees that it was the swooniest of all swoony movies.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Principles of Uncertainty

Book: The Principles of Uncertainty
Author: Maira Kalman
Like/Don't Like: Like!!!

I don't know how I got stuck on reading the New York Times. The LA Times is just fine. They have almost everything the NY Times has (except Nicholas Kristoff. Dear Nicholas Kristoff, please stop writing your book and get back to writing your column. I miss you, even though you only ever write about child prostitution and women dying in Africa. Best, Rachel) plus they have a better entertainment section. But every morning I check with the NY Times to see what news I missed because I can't bear to watch the news on TV. It's too painful. All they talk about is the weather (Note to tv news producers: We don't have weather here. It's Southern California. Land of the Never Ending Sunny Day. I don't think that 1 inch of rain justifies having 4 reporters on Storm Watch.)

Anyway, last year they ran a series by the illustrator Maira Kalman. It was a collection of text and pictures based on her observations and I was sold on them right away. They were charming and sad and joyous and lovable all at once. And random, which I love. Each monthly installment seemed to be a collection of something entirely random. She would start out talking about Nietzsche's moustache and end up painting her hotel bathroom sink. But at the end of each piece you felt like something whole had been created. I would wait every month for the next installment. And when I heard that they were going to be made into a book I pre-ordered it right away. There are few things better than pre-ordering a book and then forgetting about it then coming home from a crappy day at work to find an Amazon box sitting on your doormat. Fantastic! I initially thought that I shouldn't get the book because you can see the whole series on-line (seriously, have a look) but I'm so glad I did. The prints in the book are beautiful and bright and it has big fat glossy pages that make it weigh twice as much as a book of it's size. Very substantial. And reading the whole thing in one sitting felt really rewarding. She's a fascinating woman and I'd like to have a snack with her sometime.

Friday, October 26, 2007

His Dark Material

Books: His Dark Materials trilogy (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass)
Author: Philip Pullman
Like/Don't Like: I'm going to have to go with Don't Like, even though it really hurts to do it.

I was disappointed. And nothing is more hurtful to me than a book that disappoints. Especially after it promises so much.

I finished the last book on Tuesday night but it's taken me a while to do this review because I was so torn by it. It was an incredibly enthralling series. From the very beginning it sucks you in and all you can think about are what will happen to Lyra and Will, will they be able to escape from all the danger in their way, will they be able to save all those people they need to, will they be reunited with those they love. And all the while they're having one great adventure after another that seriously made me exhausted at the end. And they're good, brave kids with very pure and unselfish motives, who just want to do the right thing. The awful state of my bedroom is a testament to just how little I've been able to do because I've been so into these books.

But the more the story progressed the more disappointed I became. Not because the story started losing steam, but because through it all there was a very anti-religion undercurrent (and not so under near the end) that I found really distasteful. I once wrote about how much it bothers me when authors put too much of themselves into a story. I'm especially bothered when it's so blatantly their own personal agenda. And certainly even more when it's in a children's book. If I'm reading and the thought comes to me, "Boy, this guy really hates Catholics and God," then he's not disguising himself well enough. I guess it bothered me more on a technical level than anything else. It felt like he was taunting rather than writing and it ended up really muddling the story line. At the moment that everything was suppose to start making sense and questions were suppose to be answered these ideas started coming out in big neon signs and it seemed petty to hold onto them at the cost of the story line.

I don't want to come off sounding righteously indignant about this. I'm not. The guy is a great storyteller and he can and should write whatever he wants. I'm also not saying you shouldn't read this book just because I happen to disagree with it. Although you should certainly read it before you let your kids read it, but you should be doing that anyway. I've read plenty of books that I didn't necessarily agree with but still loved, and plenty of books that professed beliefs other than my own that I found inspirational and beautiful. Isn't that the whole point of reading? And if I read only books that did fit inside my beliefs I would be stuck with Mormon fiction - and that is a miserable option. I just wish he hadn't tried to hit me over the head with it. It kind of broke my heart. I don't think I would have been so disappointed if I hadn't loved it so much in the beginning.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Miss Potter

Movie: Miss Potter
Like/Don't Like: Like*

Dear Renee Zellweger,

I wish you would stop making movies. Especially movies that I want to see. Because there's something about you that makes me really uncomfortable. Okay, there are several things about you that make me uncomfortable.

I'll start with the eyes. How can you see through those things? With the exception of Bridget Jones' Diary, where you had to stand agog and googly eyed a lot, your eyes are usually two inky black holes in your head. I'm not kidding, when I picture you in my head all I can see is your face with no eyes. Like a dead doll. It's kind of creepy. But, those were the eyes you were born with and I applaud your resolve to not get them done. Although, if you were ever considering plastic surgery, that should be the top of your list: eye implants.

How about we move on to the things you can work on now. For instance, that habit you have of scrunching up your face and pursing your lips and tucking your chin in. It is not very flattering. And your voice. Why do you always have to whisper? And sometimes you act like you're drunk. There have been several times when I've seen you on Oprah or presenting at the Oscars and you look like you killed the time during your limo ride by playing a drinking game with your publicist where you had to take a drink any time you saw a car that wasn't plaid. I got the impression the last time I saw you on Oprah that maybe it's shyness. Maybe you feel awkward in public. Here's a tip, if you act natural, and not like a lush, and you smile and talk at a normal voice then you give off the impression that you're actually quite comfortable, even if you're not.

It's called acting, Renee.

Which brings me to your movie. I liked Miss Potter the same way I like oatmeal. They're both very wholesome and satisfying and easy to digest. I certainly don't mind oatmeal, and sometimes I even crave it. But even though I like oatmeal, I always wish that it were bacon instead. And while I liked the movie, I was kind of wishing that it were something different. Mostly because, like oatmeal, it was kind of bland. In order to make oatmeal better you have to add butter and brown sugar. And for Miss Potter to be better it would have needed more of a story line, and possibly less of you and your beady little eyes. A British actress would have been a good start. Or at least someone who could do a more convincing accent.

Sincerely, Rachel

*The asterisk has created a new category. It means that I will remember liking the movie but something will hold me back from saying that I really liked it and you should watch it this minute.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Starter for 10

Movie: Starter for 10
Like/Don't Like: Like

Ever since Cynde saw Becoming Jane she's been slightly obsessed with James McAvoy. And rightly so. He's adorable. The type of fellow you want to follow you around and feed you cookies. Because of this she's been recommending Starter for 10 to me for a month now.

As usual, she was right. It was a very charming film.

It fits into that wonderful category of British Cute. You know, along with Dear Frankie, Kinky Boots, Millions (I was mesmerized by that child's freckles. They were so big. I wanted to name them.) British Cute movies usually follow the same pattern: grey sky, dreary town, awkward- cute moment, quirky neighbor/flat-mate/pal, reference to Margaret Thatcher, another awkward-cute moment, fish 'n chips shop, crisis, crisis resolved, awkward-cute ending. (Side note: I've never liked the way awkward was spelled. It's the "wkw" in it. What distinguished this one from the others is the rockin' sound track. The Cure, The Smiths, etc. It made me want to wear Docs and write bad poetry. It would have made me want to listen to Kevin and Bean on KROQ. Except that I still do that every morning. Although now instead of the Cure they play way too much Snow Patrol, which means I no longer listen to the music part of KROQ.

There was a guy in the movie whom I recognized but couldn't remember from where so I went onto IMDb and found out that his name is Benedict Cumberbatch (Amazing Grace. That's where I saw him. That movie with Horatio Hornblower about slavery in England.) Could there be any greater British name than Benedict Cumberbatch. I don't think so. It's sounds like he should be a friend of Bertie Wooster's. All "I say!" and "What utter rot!" and "Be a good man and lend me a fiver?"

Oh, right, back to the movie. Yes, I liked it. You should give it a try.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Fall for Dance

Event: Fall for Dance
Place: Orange County Performing Artscenter*
Like/Don't Like: Don't Like

I'm always up for a cheap live artsy event so when Katie said that there were $10 good seats for this dance thing at OCPAC I said sure. It was probably around the time when So You Think You Can Dance was on so I'm sure I was feeling like I really got dance at the time. Like I totally know all about movement and emotion and whatever. I'm clearly insane. I know nothing about dance.

I consider myself to be appreciative of the Arts. You all know how much I love to hug books, but I also love art and plays and movies and music. And I feel like I can usually get it. I don't need a whole lot of explanation to understand what makes something worthwhile. This is mostly because I'm fairly simple minded (remember, it's called "like/don't like" for a reason). But apparently I have been deluding myself for years and should probably head home to the backwoods of Chino because most of the dances made me think that I must be some small town rube. I didn't get it at all.

Here's how the night broke down:

That Ball Thingy
The Nudey One
Martha Graham's Statement Against Fascism
The One with the Muscly Man
The Hip-Hop One
The One of the Wall

A brief synopsis in semi-random order:

The One with the Muscly Man was just that. "Wow" is about all I have to say. Okay, "wow" and "huh?" because it didn't make much sense. But it was very beautiful to watch.

The Hip-Hop One was pretty good, mostly straight-forward stuff. Although I was slightly disturbed that one of the dances kept holding onto the crotch of his pants. I wanted to let him know that only 4 year old boys are allowed to get away with that.

The award for weirdest dance went to Martha Graham's Statement Against Fascism. Initially I thought that it was pretty cool that we got to see the Martha Graham dance company perform one of her signature pieces. But that was before it started. That chick was crazy! Which, kind of made it fun to watch. And fun to imitate. The next time we're together you should ask to see some of the moves. I will be happy to show you. Or you can just watch the choreography scene in "White Christmas". It's the same stuff. At least this one had a good synopsis to explain it all to us.

That Ball Thingy is almost impossible to describe without it sounding incredibly dorky, but it was actually kind of mesmerizing. It was basically 60 people passing brightly colored Nerf balls in funky patterns. This was the largest ball-passing thingy ever attempted. Up until this point the most that had been done was 45. Yep, passing balls is for dorks but it looked like they were having a good time.

And now for the Nudey One. It was a duet from some Dutch ballet company and the synopsis said something about how throughout the dance they will reveal their true colors. Well, apparently that true color is flesh. Halfway through the show both dancers took their shirts off and they had shirts on underneath. But near the end the guy took his shirt off with nothing on underneath and then I think our collective thought process went something like this: She's not going to...oh, she is going to take it off...But she wouldn't...okay, she did turn around... But surely they'll...nope, no strategically placed arms. They totally could have charged more than $10 for this.

By the end of the show we were pretty confused but they still had one more performance outside in the courtyard and it redeemed the whole night. A bunch of dancers repelled down the side of the building and danced on the wall. Now that was cool.

*Dear OCPAC, Art Center is two words, not one. Love, Rachel

Monday, October 8, 2007

Empire Falls

Book: Empire Falls
Author: Richard Russo
Like/Don't Like: Like!

I find that I can't stop thinking about this book. I loved it. Kudos to the Pulitzer people for giving it their little prize.

It was a completely satisfying book. The type that reminds you why you spent years of your childhood reading when you could have been not failing geometry. It had the three most important qualities that I look for in a book: pacing, character, and story. I never wanted to put it down. It kept slowly uncovering pieces of the story and giving you just enough to satisfy the edge but keep you wanting more.

And remember how I complained about Love Walked In being chopped up by the perspective switch and asked if anyone had read a book that did this well? Who would have thought that the very next book I read would be the one. There were at least a dozen characters who each got a turn. Because the story dealt with the entire town of Empire Falls it was best told this way, but it flowed beautifully. The minute you wondered what was happening with another character it would switch over to them.

It was an easy book to read in that it was so nicely put together but I struggled with a few parts. Some of the characters were disturbing and I found myself skimming through a lot of their chapters because I couldn't handle the stench of them, and all the swearing (I'm sensitive, alright!). And it had some very tragic scenes. One in particular. I'm welling up thinking about it. When I read I'm usually slow to cry. This is not to say that I don't cry at books. I cry at almost every book. It's just that sometimes it takes a minute or two for things to set in. But not with this. This was a burst of tears that came before the sentence even ended and was so bad that I couldn't see the page to read for about 5 minutes. You have been warned.

I also had issue with how God was handled in it. I love it when characters discuss their belief or lack of belief in God, especially when their ideas differ from each other. But everyone in the book seemed to have the exact same idea of Him, that he was a pretty handy fellow to have around, either to blame for your misfortunes, accuse of unfairness, or to help justify your actions. I suppose that's how most people treat God, but it seemed a little too convenient that everyone, including the priest, felt the same way.

Oh, and I'm giving negative points for overuse of the word intuit.

But really, I can't complain over these things when everything else about the book made me want to hug it. There wasn't a single point in the book where I wanted it to end and I didn't roll my eyes once. High praise.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Sweet Land

Movie: Sweet Land
Like/Don't Like: Like

I usually can't remember how I hear about things. Especially the obscure movies and albums I come across. A good guess would be NPR but that's not always the case. Take for instance Sweet Land. I'm pretty sure it wasn't NPR so maybe it was the newspaper, or the radio. I don't remember seeing a single ad for it when it was out and I really have no idea how it ended up on my Netflix queue (is anyone else thrown by the spelling of queue? It gets me every time.) Regardless, it came months ago, I think during my stint with Maynard, and because I was so busy letting him outside to not pee I didn't have time to watch it then. I also didn't have much time to watch it in between my job with Maynard and my job at the Duke's. And when I left for the Duke's I thought I should probably take it with me, but by that point it was lost somewhere on my desk, which NASA has categorized as a black hole.

Well, I found it last night and decided that it was about time I watched it. And now a list of pros and cons:

1.) Gorgeous! It was beautifully filmed. Long shots of blue skies and corn fields. Is Minnesota really that beautiful? I would be tempted to move there if I didn't know that the entire state is buried under ice for half the year. Don't try and trick me Minnesota, with your pretty landscape!
2.) Sentimental without making me want to gag. Like Sarah Big and Small, I mean Plain and Tall. Same premise too. Strong willed mail order bride comes to a farm and helps out.
3.) Ah, romance. I'm a sucker for romantic movies and this was a good one.
4.) It was a solid story. Very simple and no surprises but it's nice for the soul to see good people working hard and doing the right thing.

1.) Alan Cummings hair. It was the exact same hair that he had in Circle of Friends and Emma. Greasy and floppy.
2.) And this is the big one. If you are a director and you've already made a rather sentimental romantic movie you have to be aware that a kiss between the two leads is the only appropriate ending. If you don't have them kiss at the end then the past two hours filled with longing looks and smoldering gazes and scene wherein the girl teaches the guy to dance just makes you a tease and a flirt. You have to have them kiss!

I'm not raving about it but if you're in the mood for a good love story with no kissing at the end then pick it up.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Album: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Artist: Spoon
Like/Don't Like: Like

I had a hard time making it all the way through this album because I couldn't stop listening to track 7, the Underdog. This song is the reason why I got the album in the first place. Catchy, very catchy.

And, as it turns out, so are all the other songs. I finally listened to the whole thing yesterday and liked it all. Kind of a peppy-rock feel, good for bouncing along to while your driving. I bet they would be fun to see live. Mostly because of the back-up clapping. The album is full of it. That's what puts Underdog at the top for me - all that clapping. You'll know what I'm talking about when you hear. It kind of makes it dangerous to drive. I'm a sucker for clapping in songs. There's nothing worse than an over-produced album, and clapping signifies a very low-tech approach that I can appreciate. Okay, and it makes me think of that scene in That Think You Do with Chris Isaak clapping as they record the song in the church. Mmm...Chris Isaak.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos

Book: Love Walked In
Author: Marisa de los Santos
Like or Don't Like: Like

I think I was with Nicola when she bought this. I distinctly remember the thought coming into my head, "That sounds like a book I would love but the title is kind of embarrassing." This from the girl who snort-laughed out loud in Jiffy-Lube over a book titled Knocked Out by my Nunga-Nungas (Like!). I waited for her assessment before getting it. The girl has got taste. When I next saw her she gave the big thumbs up. Hold on. I don't think Nicola does thumbs up. Well, she gave a verbal thumbs up by saying it was one of the best books she's read all year. So I picked it up.

Hooray for Nicola! She has never failed me.

Since this is my first book review you should know something about me. I really care a lot about writing. Yikes, that makes me sound like I sit around all day in floral print kaftans crafting prose. No, a woman like that is passionate about writing. What I mean is that the quality of the writing makes a big difference in how I view a book. I have this annoying habit of rolling my eyes at authors. Sometimes even shutting the book and sighing loudly while rolling my eyes. I will even do this to myself for the things I've written. I'm not very tactful. If the writing is bad and the story is bad then forget it, I'm miserable. Sometimes the writing is mediocre but the story is good. This I can handle. I just have to pray that all the excessive eye-rolling doesn't make my vision any worse. Sometimes you get lucky and come across a book that is a good story beautifully written (ex: Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. In my opinion a perfectly written book.) and it makes you want to hug people at the end of it. (Fact: If there isn't a person to hug at the end of one of those books I tend to just hug the book. Yeah, I know, I'm pretty precious.)

Having said all that I'll start with the problems, because they were glaring in the beginning and I didn't think that I would make it passed them. There were two main flaws: First, could we please send a memo to all creative writing professors about warning their students against alternating voices. It drives me nutty. Unless expertly done (quick, someone give me a good example of a book that has achieved this. I can't think of any.) it really cuts into the flow of the story. This book not only alternated chapters between the two main characters, it also switched from 1st to 3rd person. Gag! It obliterated the flow. It took me about 100 pages before I could forgive her and get over it. I could see why she did it. The 1st person voice was very distinctive and it was obvious that she didn't want to give it up. But she also couldn't tell the other character's story with it. She tried to have it both ways but it didn't really work.

Second, the author came through too much in her characters. I didn't need her bio to confirm that de los Santos was a fan of vintage clothes, classic movies and L.M. Montgomery (although it did, in the very first paragraph no less.) She put it all out in her characters. It would be like me writing about a short Mormon girl who loved ice cream and books and America's Next Top Model and Old Fat Vegas Elvis and had 7 brothers and sisters and grew up in Chino, and writing about these things so specifically and with so much love and knowledge that you knew it was me, even if you've never met me. I'm not saying it's wrong to love all these things she put in (the next time you're at my place ask to see my L.M. Montgomery collection.) or even to put a few of them in but it's important for an author to hide herself a little. It's fiction not an autobiography.

The rest is just nit-picking that most people probably won't mind but made me want to call her editor for a page by page explaination. Things like the way one of the character's would describe everything using the same word like "the devilish devil he was" or "she was adorable in a very adorable way." (These are not quotes. I don't have the book in front of me so I'm just making up examples, but they're pretty true to form.) Or the excessive use of names instead of pronouns, like "Clare looked at Cornelia. Clare thought she was lovely." or the lack of proper names, as in pages and pages of "Clare's father" instead of "Martin". And while we're on the subject of names, can we please talk about naming characters? Clare and Martin were it for normal names. Everyone else was Cornelia, Linny, B, Hayes, Vivianna, Cam. Ugh. I'm not ashamed to admit that I may have a little reader OCD. It hurts me when people do this.

Wait did I say I liked this book? Oh yeah, I did. Which is saying something because I've tossed a lot of books that had the flaws I've just listed and didn't think twice about it.

But I really liked it. Why? Because golly, this book was sweet. But not sweet in the gives you a sugar headache kind of way. Sweet like kids are sweet. The ones who don't bring guns to school (sometimes I really miss those GATE kids.) It was kind of a snuggly book. I read most of it in bed under my covers. But it wasn't all sweet. There was some sadness in it too. Some of the best written parts were the sad parts. The characters were solid and likable. And the story kept me going. It really did. Not a lot of twists but it kept moving forward with no superfluous scenes. I appreciate a nicely trimmed story, especially when bowls are being described as very bowl like in a bowly sort of way.