Monday, December 29, 2008

Kung Fu Panda

Movie: Kung Fu Panda
Like/Don't Like: I laughed out loud a few times

I kind of feel like I'm the last person on the planet to see this movie so it seems a little ridiculous that I'm even reviewing it. But indulge me here, okay?

Jack Black made this movie. There were some pretty hilarious moments but I'm pretty sure that if it wasn't Jack Black reading the lines, they would have all flopped. So let us rejoice that he was in it. I had a good laugh from it. The animation was pretty cool too.

I have one complaint. There was too much slow motion. For me. Which is to say that everyone I've mentioned this to didn't notice it. But every fight sequence had a substantial amount of slo-mo and it was getting on my nerves. And now the next time you watch it you will notice it and then we can all sign petitions to Hollywood asking them to reign it in a little.

But other than that it was a great.

Monopoly - the Card Game

Game: Monopoly - the Card Game!
Like/Don't Like: So much more than the board game

I hate Monopoly. About once a year I think that maybe I can be grown up about it and play and then I remember, almost instantly, how much I don't like playing. This is because I grew up playing with my dad, the Hotel Tycoon. I don't mind losing games. In fact, if you play any game against my dad or Katie or Camille, you end up losing. So I'm use to it. But losing Monopoly makes me feel bankrupt inside. I get to a point in the game, about the time that Dad has three whole sides of the board covered in hotels, that I just want to hand over all of my properties and cash and head to debtors prison.

So you can imagine that I wasn't too keen on playing any other form of Monopoly. I was afraid it would be an even meaner form of the game. Like an evil twin brother. But it was so much better. Like a fun and sassy aunt. There's no board or dice or tokens, just the cards. And instead of having to give money away, you just collect it. It's the same concept as Bad Monopoly in that you try to collect matching properties, but then you get cash based on which properties you have at the end of a round. Plus, it's quicker and you don't end the game feeling like a penniless loser. Bonus!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Ticket to Ride

Game: Ticket to Ride
Like/Don't Like: I'm kind of addicted

That's right folks, I'm not just about the movies and the books. I give to you a game! I don't normally come across new games but I feel like ever since Chris joined the family we have be introduced to a bunch of new ones. If anyone knows games it's Chris Witt. He also knows all the rules. And all the sub-rules. And where in the rules to find the one rule that will spoil your plans for victory. He will even quote it for you. Chris has revolutionized the way we play games at the Knechts.

And this game, introduced to us by Gina and Chris, has revolutionized Sunday nights at the Knechts. Sunday nights have been the same for decades. Hamburgers for dinner, chit-chat around the table, a joke about dad not doing the dishes, sometimes we'll catch Andy Rooney on 60 minutes and comment on his glorious eyebrows, then popcorn. Now it has become hamburgers, Ticket to Ride, then popcorn. I think we've played it every Sunday night for 2 months.

It's a pretty simple concept. Here's the web-site if you want a visual. There's a map of the US (or other places depending on which game you have) with all sorts of train routes, like Chicago to LA or Boston to Nashville. You choose a few routes then you start building trains. The trick is to get your route before someone else takes it.

I'm truly surprised at how much I like this game. I don't really like games that involve too much strategy and this one does. So I thought I was going to hate it the first time I played but I was hooked right away. I love planning out the routes I want to take, and then planning contingency routes if they get taken, which they always are. It helps that it's a game with a map, which my family are suckers for. Another Sunday night tradition is for someone to ask a question about some place and my dad will say, "Let's pull out a map." Now we can pull out a map and possibly be a winner. Bonus!

Monday, November 17, 2008


Movie: Leatherheads
Like/Don't Like: Lame

I should say, to be fair, that it was not Renee Zellweger that ruined this movie for me. It had a lot of flaws that got in the way of me liking it. But she certainly didn't help it any.

I love George Clooney. And I love Jim from the Office. And I love movies about sports. And movies set in the 1930s. And movies with spunky girl reporters. See, I should have liked this movie, even with Renee's squishy drunken face in it. But the story was weak. An old timer football player who's trying to save the game so he hires on a young star who's too good to be true. That's all there was too it. But it was more than just a thin story. It was really lacking something. You know what it was? Rat-a-tat-tat. It was missing that fast talking rhythm that should be found in sports movies with spunky girl reporters set in the 1930s.

Maybe it's because I've seen it done better. If you're looking for a great girl reporter look at Jennifer Jason Leigh in the Hudsucker Proxy. George Clooney was better as the fast talking slickster in O Brother Where Art Thou. Jim is better in the Office. And Renee Zellwegger is better under a rock.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pumpkin Soup

It was Pumpkin Party time last Saturday, which gave me a good reason to try out a new recipe. And it was a winner. The pumpkin party originated with Wendy's pumpkin soup but since Wendy left we haven't had soup at the party and I missed it. But I didn't want to make Wendy's soup because I didn't want to have to deal with an actual pumpkin. Soup should be easy and pumpkins are not anything like easy. This one has pumpkin puree and, bonus, tastes a little like pumpkin pie. I don't know about you but when I eat anything with pumpkin my mouth always enjoys it but my brain is confused if it tastes more like a gourd then a pie. It's not really sweet but it has all the same spices as pumpkin pie. It was extremely easy and warm and delicious. I can't remember where I got it from but I found a few variations on it and I changed it up a bit so why don't we just say it's the Yummy Pumpkin Soup Recipe:

1 (30 oz.) can pumpkin puree
1 quart chicken stock (low sodium)
1 cup half and half
1 shallot minced
3 Tbsp butter
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp clove
1/2 tsp all spice
1/2 ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp molasses
6-8 strips of bacon cooked and chopped
blue cheese crumbled

Melt 1 Tbsp butter in large pot and cook shallots for about 2 minutes. Add stock, pumpkin, half and half, remaining 2 Tbsp of butter and all the spices and sugar and molasses. Combine and simmer on low for 10 minutes. While it's simmering you can cook your bacon. I added more spice as needed but it's mostly to your taste. Top with bacon and blue cheese. Bacon is an obvious topper, all things are better with bacon. But you may question the blue cheese. Don't. It totally works here. Even Katie, who doesn't like blue cheese, said it made the soup. I agree.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Jouni's Cafe

Restaurant: Jouni's Cafe
Location: 932 N. Central Ave., Upland, CA 91786
Like/Don't Like: Yummy! Like.

People of Upland and Surrounding Areas: Go to Jouni's Cafe!

You know where this is. You've passed by it a few times, I'm sure. It's in that shopping center near the corner of Central and Foothill, the one with the Bra Lady and the British Emporium and the Moose lodge. Yes, I know, it's totally the GREATEST shopping center ever. I've lived practically around the corner from it for years now and I've always wanted to go because it seems like the type of place that I love to eat at. I pictured good food for cheap, homey decor, regulars who are mostly 80 and all know each other, and feisty waitresses.

And that's exactly what it is. Since we all had the day off for Camille's Triumphal Return, Katie, Lindsay and I tried it out and were thrilled with it. I always believe that the true test of a breakfast joint is their omelet because there are a million different ways to ruin it. Anyone can do pancakes or French toast but an omelet takes skill and the omelet I got was perfectly done. I also tried Lindsay's biscuits and gravy and they were really tasty. The portions are enormous -- I got the kids size and it was still too much -- but the prices are great. And there were cops there who you could tell were regulars, so you know that it's good.

As we were walking out our feisty waitress said, "Please come again and tell everyone about us. Seriously, tell everyone." Which made me think that business isn't so great. This makes sense considering their location. Even though it is in the greatest shopping center ever it still is in a lousy spot, tucked away in the back on an intersection that looks a little sketchy. So go support your a small local business and have breakfast or lunch there with your family. But be careful, I'm not kidding about the feisty waitress.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Tale of Despereaux

Book: The Tale of Despereaux
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Like/Don't Like: Like a lot

It's been ages since I've read a children's book. I have a huge collection of them and the other day I was looking over the shelves for something new to read and since they're arranged alphabetically by author (the one area in my life that is in some kind of order), I came across this one first. I'm a huge sucker for books with award stickers on them. Have you noticed that more and more books have them and don't really deserve them? I blame Oprah. But this sticker was for the Newberry Award and I trust that one.

Gosh this is a cute book. And it was nothing like I thought it would be. I got it years ago but haven't read it because it has a mouse on the cover, which I took to mean it involved a mouse and I'm always slow to warm to books about animals. But the story was so well written, about a mouse named Despereaux on a quest to save a princess, that I forgot all my prejudices and loved the whole thing. It made me want to steal a few children and read it out loud to them. It's a perfect reading-out-loud book.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Alchemist

Book: The Alchemist
Author: Paulo Coelho
Like/Don't Like: Yeah, sure, I liked it.

I'm not sure what all the fuss is about with this book. It seems like I've been seeing it everywhere for years and years and I hear people talking about it like it has changed their lives. But I'm going to be honest here (like I'm going to lie to you) and say that while it was a sweet little allegory and made some good points it certainly wasn't revolutionary. There are plenty of books and people out there who say the same thing. Dr. Laura for instance. I know this because I have to hear Dr. Laura every day at work whenever I walk into the back office. She is always telling people to get on with their lives and dump all the baggage that's holding them back. But I would recommend reading this book instead of listening to Dr. Laura. She's a bit of a crank. I try very hard to not go to the back office when she's on. This book is much nicer and won't make you cry.

But just because it didn't wow me doesn't mean it was unpleasant to read. It had a great message, that we all have things that we need to accomplish in life and sometimes they're hard and sometimes things get in the way and sometimes we fail but there are forces out there willing us to succeed and if we just get to work and use our surroundings and our abilities to our advantage then success is inevitable. Everyone needs to hear that, right? It was like a little self help book in the form of a fable. And even better that it can be read in just a few hours. If you're looking for a novel then skip it. It's not much of a story. But if you're looking for a little shove in life, go ahead.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

La Vie En Rose

Movie: La Vie En Rose
Like/Don't Like: Like-ish

I have found that with most music biopics the performance of the star of the film and the music that accompanies it are usually the best part. I'm thinking of Ray and Walk the Line here. The same is true with La Vie en Rose - a film about Edith Piaf and her bulging eye balls. Marion Cotillard is sensational as Edith Piaf and the music is amazing. At one point in the movie someone says that Edith Piaf is the voice of Paris and I have to say it's true. Whenever I think of classic French music I hear her bold, passionate voice and an accordion. Well, the accordion goes without saying because every single song I've ever heard that was in French has an accordion. Which makes me wish I were born in France because maybe I would have learned how to play one. It is a wish of mine to play the accordion while wearing a sparkly vest. I like to dream big.

But if Marion Cotillard and the music with all those accordions are the best parts, the worst parts are just about everything else. It was all jumbled. We're at the end of her life, then when she's a kid, then back to an old lady, then a teenager, then older but not really old. And one minute she looks like she's dying and the next minute she just looks drunk and you're not sure if it's when she's actually dying or just one of her spells. And there's all these people who are her friends but you only know a few names and only recognize a few faces and were they with her earlier or later? And when did she go to California? And when did she get married anyway? You can't tell because it just keeps jumping around and her hair keeps changing from red to black to red to black. It was slightly exhausting. And I kept sitting up straight but she had the WORST posture.

But then there were all of those wonderful songs. So I liked it. Sort of.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Three Cups of Tea

Book: Three Cups of Tea
Authors: Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin
Like/Don't Like: Like. And it inspired me.

You've seen this book everywhere, right? Everywhere! And when I asked for recommendations a while back this one got a number of mentions. And I'd like to thank all of you who did because it was really amazing.

About 15 years ago Greg Mortenson attempted to climb K2 and failed but in that failure he has managed to build dozens of schools for the poorest of poor in Pakistan and later other parts of Central Asia. He started out with one school, learning from mistake after mistake how to best get a school up and running in one of the most remote parts of the world. And he did it because he felt that everyone benefits when people are educated. This is a fairly simple and obvious idea but it's amazing how many obstacles he faced because not everyone believed it.

Because of the region and the wars that are going on there I was afraid that it was going to be heavy handed in its politics and I felt like it would have ruined the story. But this was not the case at all. They told about what they saw, both the good and the bad and I thought it was very fair. It read like a very long newspaper human interest story. The style got a little old at times but when it veered away from it it got overly sentimental and romanticized so I was happy with the way it was written in the long run. I should warn you though that you may feel like a bum when you're done reading for not doing more. Like, why haven't I thought to fly to Pakistan and build a school with my bare hands in a place that takes a 3 day mule trip to get to over unpaved mountain passes in a war zone using money I saved while living in my car for a year to cut expenses? Clearly, I hate humanity.

Son of Rambow

Movie: Son of Rambow
Like/Don't Like: How could I not like this?

As soon as I saw the previews for this movie I knew I would love it. Mostly because I think that little boys are the funniest things around. Especially when they're at that age around 9, 10, and 11 and they're just all freckles and arms and legs and energy and they laugh and jump and run and their whole lives are centered around finding adventure. They are just so cute. I think that God made them that way because when they hit 12 and start acting like they're in Lord of the Flies you're going to need those memories of when they were cute and funny.

The movie centers around these two unlikely friends who are out to make a sequel to Rambo: First Blood. They do their own stunts and camera work and they scamper around town getting shots in. It's hysterical. There's a little conflict and there were some legitimately sweet moments to it but it mostly is just fun. And it had kind of a timeless quality to it. Boys are boys no matter the time or place. It hit me about an hour after I finished watching it that it was set in the 80s. I didn't even pick up on that (this is not the film maker's fault. I'm fairly dense and what with all the kids these days wearing leg warmers and gold lame Members Only jackets I could easily get confused. Remember, I'm 80.) But it could have been set in the 50s or the old west or ye olde days of yore. Boys are always going to shove each other around and dream up crazy ways to hurt themselves. And I love them for it.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Movie: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
Like/Don't Like: I guess I didn't like it much

There were a few things that would have, if I were a weaker person, pushed this into the like category. But most of it would boil down to Ciaran Hinds. I love him because he plays Captain Wentworth in the good adaptation of Persuasion. The one that did not have a kissing scene at the end that made me want to vomit. I know that it's completely irrational to like a movie because one person is in it but he just has such a nice way about him. I feel better with any movie that he's in.

But he couldn't save it. It was like a piece of cotton candy -- sweet but not very satisfying. There just wasn't enough to it to make me believe in it. And I think that again it boils down to Ciaran Hinds, and all the other fine actors in it. There just wasn't enough for them to do and in the end I was unimpressed with the whole thing.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The King of Kong: A Fist Full of Quarters

Documentary: The King of Kong: A Fistfull of Quarters
Like/Don't Like: My face almost exploded from the joy of watching it.

This pretty much was made for me. Because it combined several things that I love. 1.) Documentaries, 2.) the ridiculous, 3.) a good under-dog story and 4.) really bad hair. I mean REALLY bad hair. So bad that it's fabulous. So bad that at one point it showed this guy blow-drying his hair and I almost swooned. The picture doesn't even do it justice. You have to see it in motion. Like a wild horse's mane.

That guy is Billy Mitchell, the original world record holder of Donkey Kong. And he's a jerk. You will hate him at the end. But you will also love him because you couldn't create a character like this. He's everything you want in a geek/hot sauce mogul/egomaniacal video game lord, complete with sycophantic toadies and all wrapped up in black jeans and an American flag tie. You will be cheering for Steve Wiebe, who has been cheated out of the record by Billy Mitchell several times. He's a good guy that bad things have happened to and he just wants to do something great. And Donkey Kong is that something.

I never even dreamed that I would care about Donkey Kong or gamers but I'm telling you, by the end of the show you're going to be laughing and screaming and crying. There's drama and espionage (seriously) and real heart touching moments. And bonus, a video game tournament on Lake Winnepesaukee. I couldn't stop smiling through the whole thing.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Solitaire Mystery

Book: The Solitaire Mystery
Author: Jostein Gaarder
Like/Don't Like: Liked

A few weeks ago an envelope appeared under my door mat (The ugly door mat that we have since gotten rid of now that the neighbor who gave it to us has moved. REJOICE!(for the door mat, not the neighbor moving.)) Inside was a nine of hearts card with some Norwegian written on it. Clearly Brett was involved, but what did it all mean. A few weeks later a Joker card showed up with more Norwegian and a Cinnabon gift card. Awesome. But still, I was very confused.

And then Brett came by with a book that held the answers. A book involving a sticky bun with a baker's personal history inside, soda that tastes like every flavor on earth, lots of goldfish, lots of philosophy, a boy and his dad on a European roadtrip to find his mom who is a supermodel working in Greece, and 53 midgets on a magical island.

Yep, that's right, midgets. And since this was translated from Norwegian there is no political correctness involved. Midgets everywhere!

I love getting books from friends. Not just Borders gift cards but actual books that they think I'll like that I would probably never pick out for myself. And I did like this one. It was kind of a cross between Alice in Wonderland and Neverending Story with a bunch of philosophy thrown in. And, on top of being a great adventure, it made me think - which is always a bonus.

My only problem was in the translation. I don't know Norwegian or how easily it translates but this one did not translate well. There were times when it seemed almost literal and that was distracting. But as far as the story goes it was fun to read.

And I'm not telling what the nine of hearts of the joker means. You'll have to read it to find out.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Book: Twilight
Author: Stephanie Meyer
Like/Don't Like: Dear Stephanie Meyer, Please edit. EDIT! EDIT! EDIT! Love, Rachel

Alright. I get it. I see why every single person on the planet has recommended this book to me. The story is interesting. Edward is dreamy. I wish I could fall in love with a vampire. Now will you please leave me alone?

It's not the story I have a problem with, it's the writing (okay, maybe a little bit of the story, but they're minor points and mostly because of the writing so I'm not even going to touch them) Which means that this is purely a technical issue I have with it and if you're not like me and certain writing styles don't ruin a book for you then by all means read it and love it. I'm not judging you at all. I want you to love this book. Really. I have a load of friends who love this book and I don't want to offend any of them so I hope the "it's not you, it's me" excuse flies here.

How about I talk about what I did like? It's quick and easy. The perfect book for summer. And it's romantic. And interesting in that I've never read a vampire book before. But it's not actually a vampire book, it's a romance book. A big fat romance book. You should keep this in mind.

Which leads me to what I didn't like. You remember that friend of yours who started dating a guy and for the first month or so they couldn't stop cuddling and whispering and touching each other and every time you were with them you wanted to gag and you would talk about them with your other friends, like, "For crying in the mud! We're in the middle of church and they can't stop massaging each other!"? That is totally this book. It's like I was stuck on a very long road trip with Bella and Edward and all they could say was, "I love you," "I love you more," "No, I love you more." "Uh-uh. I love YOU more." "Schmoopy." "No, you're a schmoopy." "But you're my schmoopy." "Stop it schmoopy!" "No, you stop it schmoopy!" Cuddle, cuddle, snuggle, snuggle, gaze longingly into each other's eyes. Gag! I'm totally fine with a page or two of that and I know exactly how true to form it is, but 200 pages is ridiculous.

And enough with the descriptions. The book never shuts up. It is never just, "'Blah, blah, blah,' said Bella." Instead it's "'Blah, blah, blah,' whispered Bella as she looked deep into his golden eyes and touched his perfectly sculpted hand." Every, and I really do mean every, conversation went on like this.

You see, I'm a less is more girl when it comes to books. I like to use my imagination a little and this book never lets you. It tells you everything. Every class Bella has, the path that she takes at school, the friends she sees in the hallways, what she cooks for dinner, the clothes that she's wearing, the gas mileage her truck gets. I know that this is a common flaw in a lot of first books but it's not one that I deal very well with. It wouldn't be so bad if it didn't get in the way of the story but when 50% of the book is describing things like how gorgeous Edward is, I get a little annoyed.

And now for some examples of things that nearly made me give it all up.

She would not stop talking about his eyes and so I started jotting down a few of the descriptions: ocher, deep golden honey, darker than butterscotch, deep gold, burning gold, blazing gold, dark golden, and - my personal favorite - liquid topaz. LIQUID TOPAZ!

How about this one: "The light of the setting orb glittering off his skin in ruby-tinged sparkles." Are you kidding me?

Or..."I didn't feel like mentioning that my stomach was already full -- of butterflies."

And do people really gulp when they're taken aback? Because Bella was always gulping, as in, "He touched my arm. I gulped." Really? Like she's some kind of old-timey cartoon.

If I were in a Stephanie Meyer book right now it would go something like this: "Rachel sighed and rolled her grass colored eyes, tossed the weighty licorice black book to the side of the couch and sarcastically whispered, 'Looks like someone found her thesaurus."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Baxter

Movie: The Baxter
Like/Don't Like: Really like. (It's already been 2 days since I've seen it. This means that I've passed into the "All I remember is that I like it" Zone, from which there is not return. But you should take my word for it.)

You know those guys in movies who are left at the alter when the main guy bursts into the wedding and steals the main girl away? Those guys are Baxters and this movie is about one and how he ceases to be one.

So, even though it's been a few days since I've seen it (I'm really not kidding when I say I don't remember movies. It's been less than 48 hours and I can't remember any of the characters' names.) I can remember a few things:

1.) I reminded me of the Apartment. Mostly because Michelle Williams has a bit of the Shirley MacLaine in her (especially with her cute short hair) and Jack Lemon is the ultimate Baxter. But also because, like the Apartment, it's clever. I love a clever movie.

2.) I loved the music and the costumes. I know that there was a Rufus Wainwright song on there, which I always approve of. And the clothes were well thought out. I particularly liked What's His Names hats. Elliot! I remember his name is Elliot. Because the other guy, the one who swoops in and steals the girl, keeps calling him L-Train or Elbow Macaroni.

3.) There were surprise cast members that I love. Paul Rudd and Michael Ian Black (although he wasn't a surprise. He and the guy who played Elliot are in a comedy group together.) and Peter Dinklage, who delivered the line, "And I would like an apple juice," in a way that made me nearly fall off the couch from laughing.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Robin Hood

TV Show: Robin Hood on BBC America (the second season just ended so you're going to have to Netflix it)
Like/Don't Like: Who doesn't love merry men?

Did you like the A-Team? Don't answer that. Everyone liked the A-Team. And if you didn't I'm not sure I want to be your friend. So, we've established that you like the A-Team. That means that you'll like Robin Hood. Because it is totally Medieval A-Team.

There's a band of outlaws, back from war and on the run from bad guys who are suppose to be good, and in their spare time they help out the poor by staging daring and elaborate rescues and not once getting nicked by an arrow. There is an underlying plot that runs throughout the series but this is basically the premise of every episode. And that may sound kind of dull but it worked for the A-Team because the characters where funny and, well, there's just something nice and familiar about it. Like your favorite breakfast cereal, how you keep going back to it over and over again because you know it's always going to be good even though the flavor never changes. It's the same here. There are funny characters and a few witty lines and sometimes they mix up the formula and kill someone off but for the most part it's just fun to watch.

And, it has the added bonus of Richard Armitage*. He's a bad guy, which makes it all the more intriguing. You want to hate him but you just can't.

*I was just talking to some friends the other day who have not watched North and South yet. I'm not sure how this is even possible because I thought I was pretty clear that everyone needed to watch it. I'm not just talking about sometime in the distant future but RIGHT NOW. GO TO BLOCKBUSTER RIGHT NOW AND GET IT. Do not make me get all Queen of the Universe on you.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Under the Same Moon

Movie: Under the Same Moon
Like/Don't Like: How do you say "Pass the tissue" in Spanish?

Golly, I cried a lot through this movie. This was expected because it's about a cute little boy in Mexico trying to get to his mother in LA. How was I not suppose to cry?

And I know that this was the intention. Everything was sweet and heart-warming and a little contrived, and the "immigrants have it hard" card was dealt too often (for the record, I actually do believe that immigrants have it hard for the work they do here. Don't you think we should make it just a little bit easier for the woman who cleans our toilets for minimum wage to stay here with her kids?) but it was tough to not like it. I'm a sucker for little boys. Plus, there's a man with a mustache, and you know how I'm feeling about mustaches these days.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Book: Hooligan - A Mormon Boyhood
Author: Douglas Thayer
Like/Don't Like: It made me wish a little that I had been a boy.

Unless you were an English major at BYU and spent your days growing pale and consumptive in the basement of the JKHB, you probably have never heard or Douglas Thayer. I'm glad I can introduce you. He's one of a handful of Mormon writers who can write about the religion and the culture without coming off as either preachy or bitter. It helps that he has a real talent for essays and storytelling. I took a class on Mormon Literature (where we did not have to read the Work and Glory) and fell in love with his dry wit and straightforward prose.

I always cringe when people start getting nostalgic for the good old days. But he's hardly sighing here. He's just recalling his childhood in Provo during the 30s and 40s - when he and his friends would roam the valley looking for adventures but usually ended up just skinny dipping in the river or shooting birds off of telephone wires or trying to scrounge up enough money to buy a popsicle to share. They would wish for the train to derail or a mental patient to escape from the hospital up the hill, just so they could see some action. It is a sweet and funny memoir that will make you want to ride your bike and sneak into the movies.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Forsythe Saga

Movie: The Forsythe Saga
Like/Don't Like: I wanted to stick my head in the oven through most of it but I actually liked it in the end

Wow, this is a long one. I'm just telling you this because you might want to break it up into a few viewings. It's like 7 hours long. And there are very few likable characters. And it's the likable ones that all the bad things happen to. And yet it a very fascinating character study. The main character, Soames Forsythe, is incredibly complex and had the ability to make you feel sorry for him and then hate him and then back to feeling sorry and then scratching your head at his actions and then laughing at him. You don't ever like him but you certainly go through almost every other emotion because of him. It kept me going through all the sad stuff.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Stop in the Name of Pants

Book: Stop in the Name of Pants
Author: Louise Rennison
Like/Don't Like: Luuuuurve

Oh how I love these books. They make me laugh like a loon on loon pills. This is the latest in the Georgia books and it measured up, as always. They're the type of books that you can't read in public because you won't be able to stop yourself from laughing out loud and snorting. It's happened to me. And Katie. They are entirely laugh-out-loud-able. And quotable. I find myself thinking or saying things that Georgia would say because they're just so fitting. For instance, the phrase "Blimey O'Reilly's Trousers" is always in my head when something goes wrong.

If you're familiar with the books you have a few things to look forward to: an updated glossary, the snogging scale in German, and a new bison viking hornpipe disco dance with exact instructions on how to do it that had me laughing and snorting and nearly wetting myself. Plus, loads of Dave the Laugh. Admit it, he's your fave.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Be Kind Rewind

Movie: Be Kind Rewind
Like/Don't Like: I liked it enough to stay awake for most of it

I have found that it's rare when a movie makes me laugh out loud. I mean, really laugh. (Don't you think that's strange? I do. Because I really like to laugh, and I'm easily amused. Maybe I'm dead inside.) This movie did. But during the parts when I wasn't laughing out loud it was kind of slow and I actually took a little siesta in the middle of it.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Golden Compass

Movie: The Golden Compass
Like/Don't Like: Not Really

You may recall that I read the series and was disappointed. I didn't let it stop me from watching the movie though because I knew that the issues I had with the books would not be in the movie. And I LOVED the first book. It was so adventurous and fun. Which made watching the movie also disappointing. The adventure just didn't translate.

Is it just me or do you think that CGI is ruining movies? I think that directors spend way too much time these days coming up with the most eye-popping whiz-bang special effects and too little time on actually making a solid film with a good script and good acting. The movie got all the essential plot points from the book in but it completely missed the mark on the heart of it. I was bored through most of it, which is a shame because I nearly had a heart-attack from the the excitement it generated from reading it.

A Passage to India

Book: A Passage to India
Author: E.M. Forster
Like/Don't Like: Like

There were really only two classes that I skipped in college on a regular basis. My organ class (Dear Members of My Ward, I am so sorry. Love, Rachel) and this one Lit class that I have completely forgotten the name of. Well, not so much forgotten as didn't really care enough to learn. Because the professor was a joke. I never understood what he was talking about. And I'm sure he had no idea either. I know this because anytime we would start talking about what we were actually suppose to be talking about, he would change the subject. I learned more about Telemark skiing in that class then I ever did about whatever books we were suppose to be reading. And since I didn't care about the class, I didn't bother to read any of the books.

One of those books was A Passage to India. And having just read it, I'm a little mad at that guy for not being a better teacher. Like all Forster novels, I found myself really wanting to talk it out with someone. He has such a way of writing about conflict and misunderstanding, or, as he like to put it, muddles. He makes muddles a very human condition, and in this book he shows that it's not just a trait of one race. Pride and culture and status and prejudices get in the way of progress everywhere you go.

I think what I like about his writing is that it all seems like it's part of the same family. I picture all of his characters as cousins and their stories are part of a larger collected volume of work. Like Lucy from A Room with a View and the Schlegels from Howard's End and Adela from this book all get together for tea when they make it back to England to talk about why people can't forget all the nonsense about money and religion and just be friends.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

August Rush

Movie: August Rush
Like/Don't Like: It was a little much

I once went to the tea room at the Huntington Library with some friends. They have this sensational buffet with all sorts of yummy tea snacks like wee little sandwiches and tarts and scones and fruit. And they have this cheese tray. Oh the cheese! We probably spent a good two hours in that tea room eating our weight in cheese.

I thought, at that moment, that I would never in my life ingest as much cheese as I did then. I was wrong. There was so much cheese in August Rush that I prayed I would suddenly become lactose intolerant so I would have a medical reason to stop watching it.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Iron Man

Movie: Iron Man
Like/Don't Like: Like

Did you know I hate guns? I mean, I really don't like them at all. If I had my way I would have everyone turn in their guns and we'd melt them down and build schools out of the metal. And I don't like movies that have a lot of guns in them. All that shooting makes me really jumpy and uncomfortable. So through the first part of this movie I kept thinking in my head, "All those people who told me this was a great movie clearly don't know me AT ALL. Have I no friends? How did I become so misunderstood? I thought I was pretty clear on all of this."

But I DO have friends. (I'm sorry I doubted you. And thank you for still being my friend even though I sometimes spout off extreme opinions.) Because that first part of the movie was just a ploy to make all of you see my side of things. That weapons of mass destruction are bad and we need to be accountable for the evil things we put out in the world. Even if the accountability comes through Robert Downey Jr. putting on an robot suit and chasing down bad guys. That it a message I can get behind.

I can also get behind great acting. I thought this movie had plenty of it. Good acting is what puts an action flick ahead of the rest in my book. Because we all know what to expect with them, right? There's going to be a lot of explosions and fighting. But it's the scenes in between that need to be good and if there's just bad acting,then all you have are explosions.

Robert Downey Jr. was AWESOME in this role. I've always been a fan. He just has a way of making any character he plays completely believable. And not just that he's believable as the character but that his character is believable as a real human being. He played him strong throughout. He was a type-a in the beginning and him getting a conscience did not change that, it just redirected his energy.

And Gwyneth Paltrow was terrific. And that's telling because I usually find the female lead in action movies to be annoying (Kirsten Dunst in Spiderman, Katie Holmes in Batman, Kate Bosworth in Superman) mostly because they always overact it on the tough-as-nails part but in the end all they're really good for is standing there either screaming or looking pretty. Gwyneth did look very pretty (I liked her with the red hair) and she screamed a bit, but she was so good against Robert Downey Jr. She was vulnerable at all the right moment and sassy when she needed to be. Plus, she did most of the action scenes in 6 inch heels. Just that she can walk in those was impressive.

And let's talk about Jeff Bridges. Who knew that his face was so large? Was it that big in Tron? It's like the size of a hubcap. And not like a compact car hubcap, but an SUV hubcap. He's like the Denali hubcap of faces. Maybe it was the combo of the bald head and the giant beard. That beard took up half the screen. Am I going too far with this? Well, whatever made his face balloon up like that, it really helped with the who bad guy thing.

My one complaint, besides all the gun shooting, was that it seemed more like a prelude to a franchise than an actual movie. Like a pilot episode where they just introduce the characters and tell how they got to be the way they are. Obviously there will be sequels and I'm happy about that. But I just wish that they had spent a little less time introducing us to everything and more time making a movie that would stand alone.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Host

Book: The Host
Author: Stephanie Meyer
Like/Don't Like: Um, kind of a medium here

I'm going to have to come up with a new category for this one because I can't say that I actually liked it, but then I didn't really dislike it either. I should say up front that if you recognize the author as being the one who wrote those Twilight books, I have not read them. I specifically read this one first because I didn't want to get sucked into a series if I didn't really like her writing style.

And I don't. Except that it's not all bad. See what I mean. It's tough to categorize. I think most of my problems with it is that it needs some serious fine tuning. She's got it in there, she just needs to learn how to edit herself. There were a good 300 pages that she could have cut to tell the exact same story. And it would have been a better story for it because she would have had to use less prosaic terms to describe things. She certainly would have had to cut out all the times she described characters' eyes as "denim" or "sienna" or "chocolate". Well, now I'm just being picky, except to be fair, I think the exact same thing about J.K. Rowlings. Their editors need to start reading the manuscript and stop looking at the dollar signs attached to it.

The story was an interesting one and I wanted to finish it but the characters were dull as cardboard. They were so one-dimensional and she never gave us any background on them to let us know why they were that way. Or any hint as to why they weren't changing. It was all very manufactured conflict and I found myself wishing that something drastic would happen about every 20 pages. A cave-in, a bomb going off, a hang nail. Anything.

I would like to hear from people who have read both this book and the Twilight series and let me know what you think. The girl who recommended this one to me said that she liked it better than the series so that doesn't give me much hope. But her taste is a little different from mine so I don't know.

Grey Gardens

Movie/Documentary: Grey Gardens
Like/Don't Like: I liked it so much I'm going to be Little Edie for Halloween

Liz had good reason to be afraid to watch this by herself. We all agreed afterwards that if any of us had attempted a solo viewing we would have burst into tears from despair over such a tragic story. But watching it with several very funny friends made it more than bearable. Hilarious, in fact. Because these ladies are CHARACTERS. Staunch characters. It's a crazy mother and daughter who live in this dilapidated mansion in East Hampton with a bunch of raccoons and cats. I really can't describe it. You just have to watch the clips. And then throw your own party (we all wore fabulous head wraps like Little Edie), because you will weep if you're by yourself.

My Antonia

Book: My Antonia
Author: Willa Cather
Like/Don't Like: Like

You know how people always say nice things about Midwesterners? How they're straightforward and honest and good natured? That's how this book is. No pretense or guile. Just a simple, charming story about real life on the prairies of Nebraska. It was a joy to read.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Lorna Doone

Movie:  Lorna Doone
Like/Don't Like:  Like

This is your standard BBC period drama.  If you like BBC period dramas, which I do, you'll like this.  If you're Laura, you won't.  It wasn't my favorite, certainly not up to Pride and Prejudice or North and South, but it had all that it was suppose to.  It's set a little earlier than most, like the 1600 or something.  This only means that there are more wigs and ruffly cravats.  Bonus!  It's kind of like Romeo and Juliet in the Highlands.  Poor farm boy falls in love with a girl from the local family of outlaws - their love is forbidden but they go for it anyway - war ensues.  The content was good, although at times a little confusing.  You might want to bone up on your English kings and queens if you haven't studied it in a while.  Aside from that the only real problem I had was how it was shot and edited.  The fight scenes were horrible.  They were all so jumpy that you couldn't tell who was getting hit or shot or run through.  

Speaking of bonuses...James McAvoy was in it!  It's a bit part so don't get too excited, but we all sighed a little sigh when he showed up, much to our surprise.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Jesus Camp

Documentary: Jesus Camp
Like/Don't Like: I liked it, but was very unsettled by it

This one is tough to categorize because it was an excellent documentary but very hard to watch. I thought it was fair and accurate, and sadly, that only made the people in it look very real and very scary. Being Christian, and a comparatively conservative one at that, and coming from a faith that is easily misunderstood and often misrepresented, I have a lot of sympathy for the people that were portrayed here. It's tough to get a solid view of anything that has been filmed then edited out of context. But it's also tough to argue what was shown and said and done, in or out of context.

The film followed three kids to Bible camp. More specifically, a fundamentalist Evangelical camp for kids. It showed them arriving and meeting up with friends and talking like kids do, then going to hear sermons on how it's their duty as Christians to take back America for Jesus and be a driving force for future changes in the government - specifically in regards to abortion and prayer in school - in a pretty hard-core fashion. I'm talking about them speaking in tongues and laying hands on them and working them up into such a frenzy that the kids were huddled on the floor sobbing over their sins and the sins of the world. Some that looked as young as five.

It wasn't what was being taught to these kids that bothered me. It was how they were taught and what the end-goal was. This camp, essentially, is making fanatics for Christ, and that's scary, especially when two of the kids were talking about how cool it would be to be a martyr. I had a hard time seeing much of a difference between these kids and kids shown on videos of al Qaeda training camps. The only real difference was that these kids didn't have weapons in their hands. Well, unless you count the hammer they were wielding to smash a cup that had "the government" written on it. They both speak the same language of fanaticism, that it's a war they're fighting, that they're right and everyone else is wrong, and that they have to take action now, even dramatic action. It's fanatics who take the true principles that religions have and warp them into something horrifying. That was the unsettling part. The uncontrollable fervor in their eyes. The ministers and parents at the camp were hoping that they were training kids who would one day grow up to be world leaders, but it looked more like they were training kids who would one day grow up to bomb an abortion clinic.

*I feel like I should put a disclaimer here since I've already received (and deleted. I'm the only loon who can post on this site.) one comment that started out, "You sound as if you think bombing or burning abortion clinics is wrong." Um, yes. I actually do. I think abortion is wrong too. But fighting against it with acts of terrorism seems, I don't know, a little hypocritical.

Monday, May 19, 2008


Movie:  Cranford (On Masterpiece, you can Netflix it)
Like/Don't Like:  Loved

You all know I will pretty much watch anything on Masterpiece Theater (side note:  did you know it's just called Masterpiece now?  That, my friends, is an outrage!)  And I will also watch pretty much anything with Judi Dench (side note #2:  I have never seen a James Bond movie.  Not ever.  I tried watching the last one and was mesmerized by Daniel Craig's rugged good looks but only for about 10 minutes then I was through with the movie and turned it off.)  So Cranford was a sure bet for me.  It's set in England near the time of the industrial revolution in a small village called Cranford, that is populated primarily by single older women - either widows or spinsters, mostly all meddlers.  A young doctor comes into town and stirs things upa bit and because it's an adaptation of an Elizabeth Gaskell novel, loads of people die.  But don't let the death stop you from watching this.  Or the fact that it is a 5 hour mini-series.  It is a very sweet, funny, charming and touching movie.  

Thursday, May 15, 2008

27 Dresses

Movie: 27 Dresses
Like/Don't Like: Don't like

I watched this over a week ago and I kept forgetting to write about it. Which is not surprising because it is an entirely forgettable movie. It's your basic romantic comedy, but not a very convincing one. It had everything it was suppose to: a slightly neurotic girl, her testy over-sexed best friend, the guy she loves who doesn't love her, the guy she meets and instantly doesn't like for no reason at all but will find out that he has a heart of gold, the widowed father, the needy sister, and the obligatory cutesy montage with a fun soundtrack. It wasn't that I had seen it before, it was that I have seen it done better. This is saying something since my expectations for romantic comedies is already pretty low. When the needy sister asked if the testy best friend, who she didn't even know, would be in the wedding because she would look good in the dress, you know that the writers couldn't figure out another way to get her into those scenes for comic relief and had basically give up before the title paged was typed.

Saturday, May 3, 2008


Movie: Juno
Like/Don't Like: Um...I liked it. (I wish I could record my voice here (I'm sure that there is a way to do this, I just haven't learned that magic yet) because it's all in my tone with this one, which is "not exactly convinced.")

I liked it because it won me over in the end. It really was a very charming and quirky story. The characters were all charming and quirky and the music was charming and quirky and I like charming and quirky. Who doesn't? But maybe it was too charming and quirky. Especially in the beginning. I felt like I was drowning in a sea of alien teen talk. Because I'm 80. I could practically visualize the script, and that's a problem for me. I don't like the words to get bigger than the film. But either it slowed down or I just got the hang of it, and about halfway through I warmed up to it. It was a little rough in parts and I had to tell Jason Bateman's character to back off because I was feeling uncomfortable (Who else talks to the movie? Anyone?) but it was sweet and funny.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Lars and the Real Girl

Movie: Lars and the Real Girl
Like/Don't Like: Love. I would recommend it to anyone, including my mom.

I was at a church pot luck (the Mormon motto should be: Come for the spirit, stay for the casserole.) and Krii was telling us about this movie and the question on everyone's lips was, "Isn't that the one about the sex doll?" And Krii's answer was, "Yes! It's so great!" So naturally we planned a movie night.

And she's totally right. It's a great movie! Probably one of the sweetest movies I've seen. And it does have a sex doll, which no doubt makes you think, "Ew." But trust me, it's not really about her. It's about Lars. In a nutshell, he buys Bianca on the internet and imagines that she's real and tells everyone that she's his girlfriend. And everyone goes along with it. After the first 10 minutes you start to think of her as a real character. I kept waiting for squirmy eye-averting type moments and they never came. It just kept getting sweeter and more charming. By the end of it I wanted to give people hugs.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Bel Canto

Book: Bel Canto
Author: Ann Patchett
Like/Don't Like: Like - with a sigh, but I'm not going to tell you what kind of sigh.

I love sweet peas. They are my favorite flower and I look forward to spring every year mostly because there will be sweet peas in my parent's back yard. They're just so beautiful and delicate. And they're the sweetest smelling flower around. Admit it. The sweet pea season only lasts for about a month. Maybe a little longer if we're lucky. But I never think of the end of the sweet peas. Them not making it beyond May never ruins my enjoyment.

It was the same with this book. I read the flap and instantly thought this can't possibly end well, even though there were a few moments of foreshadowing that it could, just possibly, turn out exactly as I hoped it would. I'm not giving anything away. You'll get the same feeling too. A group of foreign diplomats and business men and one opera singer are held hostage in a large home for 4 months. Those things never end with everyone happy. But knowing that it most likely wouldn't end well never once ruined my enjoyment of the story because it was sweet and delicate and beautiful. And I wished, like the characters, that it would go on for a little while longer (although I have to say that reading a 300 page book after reading a 1200 page book was like a glorious vacation for my brain with palm trees and sunshine and tan cabana boys bringing cool glasses of water.)

I think I've mentioned here before how it bothers me when a book jumps from one character voice to the next. I have found that few authors do it very well and instead of giving me lots of different points of view it just gives me a headache. So I think that the greatest accomplishment in this book is that she managed to make it not about 1 or 2 people but about 58 and doing it without any kind of style shift or page break. She would change to a different character mid-paragraph and half the time I wouldn't even notice. It became their story instead of his or her story. Which makes the point of the whole story have more relevance. That beauty and music and love make people happy, even when they don't speak the same language. And even when half of them are holding guns at the the other half.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Room with a View

Move: A Room with a View (PBS)
Like/Don't Like: It was basically a view of a giant pile of poo. Don't Like.

I was just going to let Wendy do the talking because she said nearly everything that I wanted to say, only better, but I find that I can't keep my righteous indignation quiet.

About 15 minutes into this adaptation I pulled the book off of my shelf to make sure that I was right. And I was. I was absolutely right that the powers behind this movie COMPLETELY RUINED IT! And about 15 minutes before the end, after I realized exactly what I had been fearing was true, I wanted to throw the book at the tv. What rubbish.

I have two major beefs with it:

1.) They changed nearly every character into types: the Emersons, particularly George, were low class lugs; Mr. Beebe and Cecil were gay; Freddy was goofy; Mrs. Honeychurch was Elizabeth McGovern. It was maddening.

2.) The ending. Here, let me tell you how it ended. "Oh, don't bother," you say, "We know the ending. George and Lucy run away to Florence." Yes. They do. But you probably don't know that there is a "Room with a View. The Continuing Story." wherein George goes off to war and DIES and Lucy goes back to Florence and hooks up with the cab driver who originally took them all to see the view. Who knew?

Okay, and I'm going to add a third reason, which is not exclusive to this adaptation because even Merchant-Ivory got it wrong, but it's important nonetheless.

3.) I would just like to ask the very important question: how hard is it to plant a few violets? Huh? Because even with my pathetic memory for scenes in books, the one where George kisses Lucy is etched in my brain, even though it's only about a quarter of a page long, because of all the violets. It's suppose to be the well-head of all of earth's beauties but every time it's put on film it is always some brown field of wheat. If they had spent some of the cigarettes for Cecil budget on planting a few violets I would have been more forgiving of it's other flaws.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Sense and Sensibility

Movie: Sense and Sensibility (PBS)
Like/Don't Like: Like. Dual or no dual.

Now, we all know that the reason why I started this blog was because I have a very pathetic memory. I can read a book 10 times and still not remember specific things that happen in it, even a week later. It's embarrassing but I've learned to live with it. Occasionally, someone, usually Katie, will mention a scene in a book or a movie and I'll nod my head and hmm wisely like I totally remember it but what I'm actually doing is stalling for time while the wee little pixies in my brain start uncovering layers of useless facts to get to that particular memory. You see, it's in there, it's just overwhelmed by information like the proper ration of oatmeal to water (1:2) and what the capital of Slovenia is (Llubljana).

Which made this adaption a little frustrating for me. I don't want to give you the wrong idea, because I really liked it. The actors were good and nicely cast, the scenery, music, and costumes were perfect. And it was a two-parter, which, in theory, I'm opposed to, but in this case, it's what I've been praying for since the very beginning of the whole Jane Austen on PBS thing started. But there were a lot of liberties taken. Or, at least, I think there were a lot because even though I've read the book 3 or 4 times, as recently as a year ago even, I can't for the life of me remember if half the things that happened in the movie actually happened in the book. But the whole time I had the suspicion that they hadn't. I can rattle off European capitals on demand but I can't remember whether or not Marianne went with Willoughby to Cum Magnum. Did she? Oh, who knows.

Even if Andrew Davies did make up everything I can't fault him too much because it really was a good movie. Sure, they had a few too many shots of the turbulent sea and maybe this Edward Ferris was more lucid and charming than we all know him to be. But like I'm going to complain about a guy being charming. I think you'll like it.

Fascinating side note: After it ended I went on imdb to see what the actors (specifically Lucy Steele)(She was Mrs. Beeton) had all been in and every one that I clicked on had been in a Mrs. Marple Mystery. I think it must be the British equivalent of Law and Order.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Run, Fat Boy, Run

Movie: Run, Fat Boy, Run
Like/Don't Like: Like

I'm a sucker for funny British movies. And this is a funny British movie, which means that it's already at an advantage. Although, it didn't seem very British. Which made more sense at the end when I saw that Michael Ian Black wrote it and Ross Geller, um, what's his name, David Schwimmer, directed it. Not British. But still funny. It got a little muddled near the end but it was touching and charming and I laughed out loud a lot. That's a good sign. But, cover your eyes when the Very Large Blister Scene appears. You've been warned.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Atlas Shrugged

Book: Atlas Shrugged
Author: Ayn Rand
Like/Don't Like: Like. Although I have already forgotten the first 700 pages.

Have any of you who haven't read this heard anything about it? It's always been on my list of books I should read and that I picked up on a recommendation but when I actually started reading it I realized that I didn't know a thing about it. This is unusual. I generally know at least the basic plot line of most well known classics. But I honestly had never heard a single thing about this one. Strange.

Well, now I know why. It's not the easiest plot to explain. It's easy enough to say that it's about capitalism, sort of, and big time industrialists vanishing, in a way, and a vicious commentary on socialism mixed in with economic theory and Aristotelian philosophy (Fact#1: I can promise you that this will be the one and only time I ever use the word Aristotelian, so you had better enjoy it. And please still be my friend. Fact #2: The only way that I actually know that Aristotelian is even a word is because there was this guy in one of my classes who used it EVERY TIME HE OPENED HIS MOUTH. And I wanted to shoot myself in the foot each time. And I want to shoot myself in the foot now for using it but I find, much to my surprise, that it actually applies in this case.) But the book is nearly 1200 pages so to say that it's just about these things is to say that Tyra Banks is just about smiling with your eyes. We all know that Tyra is so much more. (Fact#3: First time Atlas Shrugged has ever been compared to Tyra Banks.)

I was talking to someone the other day and explaining the book a little bit and she said, "That doesn't sound like anything you would even remotely read." Boy, is that true. Economics, business, philosophy, 1200 pages, a 60 page soliloquy near the end, basically all add up to being a book I would shun with a firm hand. But remember, I didn't know. And I'm so glad that I didn't because I loved it. It was a really incredible book. The story was great, the characters where strong, it moved along nicely (especially since I skimmed most of that 60 page soliloquy)(and I'm not making that up. See pages 1009 to 1069.) I think it helped that she was a screen writer also. She was great in her descriptions, although I did get a little tired of her describing nearly everyone at some point as having a blank expression but with very significant meaning behind it. I get to a point in every fatty book when I'm done with it and I'm ready to toss it, simply because I feel like I've dedicated enough of my time and want it to wrap up so I can get back to my life. It says something that that point didn't come until about page 1000. And really, once that soliloquy was done and the story picked back up I was ready to make a sprint to the end.

This is not to say that I didn't have my issues with it. Ayn Rand was definitely extreme in her views, which means that this book, which is, admittedly, a vehicle to explaining those views, is one of extremes. The philosophies where very black and white. Either you believed in Self over Society or Society over Self. She usually sacrificed anyone in the middle and that bothered me. The world isn't made up of extremes, but that's how she portrayed it. And by about half way through I started to say, "Yeah, I got it. Stop explaining." Because it wasn't too difficult to figure out who John Galt was and what he was up to. (You'll get a little tired of the question, "Who is John Galt?" I won't tell you who he is, but I will tell you he's a Chatty Cathy. See pages 1009 to 1069.)

So, I'm going to recommend this book but with a warning that the 60-pager was the longest but was not the only multi-paged personal manifesto.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Movie: Penelope
Like/Don't Like: Like.

Am I alone in thinking that maybe Christina Ricci's head was a little too large for her body? Anyone? It's like she lost all of this weight and she always has her hair pulled back with rather severe bangs. It just makes her look a little bit like a lollipop. I'm not going to lie, it has always scared me a little. So, maybe it was the fetching hair style, or possibly the pig nose, but her head didn't look nearly as large in this movie. In fact, she actually looked really cute in it. Which made the premise that she was so ugly that possible suitors would leap out of second story windows to get away from her a little far fetched. But whatever, this was a cute move. Cute Christina Ricci in cute clothes with cute music playing behind her in a cute storyline. And cute James McAvoy. Cute, cute, cute. Dear James McAvoy, You are cute. Love Rachel.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto

Book: In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
Author: Michael Pollan
Like/Don't Like: Like. Can you believe it? Yeah, me neither.

The astute readers of this blog - all 6 of you - probably realize that I like fiction. And that's about it. I'm not really into non-fiction, mostly because I like all aspects of good fiction - plot, characterization, interesting locale. It's saying something that every non-fiction book that I've really enjoyed would have been great as fiction. But that list is short because I just don't get around to it much. Out of the 46 books that I have read in the last 2 years, 3 of them have been non-fiction (Yes, I keep track. You should try it. It is a dorky as it sounds but it's also fun to look back and reminisce.) I usually don't even bother with looking at non-fiction books when I'm at the bookstore because there's so much fiction to read that I don't have time for it. The classics alone will keep me in books for years.

How I came to 1.) notice, 2.) pick up, 3.) open, and 4.) read the first page of this book is a complete mystery to me because it's not just any non-fiction, it's informative non-fiction. It's non-fiction with science and stuff. It's not telling a story at all. In fact, it's talking about lipids and saturated fats. It has every appearance of a diet book. Ack! This book is exactly the type of book I make fun of. Exactly the type that I look at with disdain as I make my way to the new fiction section. Exactly the type that I would never even imagine reading.

But I couldn't put it down! I got sucked in on the very first paragraph. All it said was, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." And then it went on, in a very logical and sensible way to explain how the food we eat now isn't really food but food-like substances created to make it seem like food, and it comes with promises that it has no fat and no carbs and plenty of whatever nutrient is popular right now. It's amazing how much our brains have become wired into thinking the way nutritional science wants us to think. I was looking through a magazine the other day and noticed that half the ads in it were for food that wasn't really food, all claiming to be good for you. One of the ads was for Fritos. Maybe you've seen it. It's a bag of Fritos rapped in a corn husk with sunshine pouring down on it. So, suddenly corn chips are great for us.

It was really the common sense that got me. There was a lot of science and history of food in it but it was all used to show how eating locally grown whole food is better for you than, say, Twinkies. It makes sense, right? And yet, more people eat Twinkies than apples. And more people have cancer and heart disease and diabetes than ever before. I'm not saying that Twinkies causes cancer but you get the picture right? It doesn't make any medical claims that eating certain foods have made us less healthy but it does thoroughly and thoughtfully go over how the Western Diet has made us obsessed with health while being one of the most unhealthy nations on the planet.

It would be impossible for me to become a health fanatic. Mostly because I think that Hostess Chocolate Donettes are a little gift from above (See Hostess! I love you. Don't sue me.) But it made perfect sense to me and it was actually a very enjoyable read. It kept me entertained and informed. And it's short. Only 200 pages. Read it. And eat an apple.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Definitely, Maybe

Movie: Definitely, Maybe
Like/Don't Like: Definitely, Maybe Don't Like

Boy, does this movie have some pretty people in it. And songs from the 90s. And Rachel Weisz (who, incidently, is up on my fridge because she happens to be in a print ad with a very fetching Ioan Gruffudd) wears the most adorable dresses in it. And for a romantic comedy, it was made of brown sugar and honey as opposed to high fructose corn syrup. Meaning that it had a lot more depth than most in its genre. People break up and some end up in the hospital and Bill Clinton gets elected. You know, serious.

But about half-way through I realized that I had been watching this movie for about 18 hours. Nine of which I had to go to the bathroom. And we still had 18 more hours to go. What I'm saying is that it seemed really long. Longer than Gone With the Wind kind of long. It was only two hours, but what with all the is it going to be her, or her, or her, or back to her, but maybe it's her, although the other one was nice but she's prettier and laughs at the good jokes but I think finally it's going to be her, but maybe not - well, you get it. Long.
It's one of those movies that if I were home sick and it happened to be on ABC Family I would probably watch it, but only during commercial breaks from Little House on the Prairie.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Under the Blacklight

Album: Under the Blacklight
Artists: Rilo Kiley
Like/Don't Like: Like, mostly.

Poor Rilo Kiley. I got their newest album the same day I picked up the Allison Krauss/Robert Plant album. Tough break - because that album is MAGIC and I couldn't seem to bring myself to take it out of the player. So Under the Blacklight has been sitting on my stereo, waiting to be listened to for about a month now.

I finally gave it a real shot yesterday and I like it. Mostly. Catchy songs that I can sing along with always score high with me and this album has plenty of them. But it's pretty thin lyrics-wise. One of my biggest pet-peeves in songs is when lyrics are repeated over and over again. Nearly every song on this album suffers from this. I got bored with a lot of the songs because, even with the catchy tunes, I couldn't get past hearing the same phrases repeated a dozen or so times. I don't think this will be a problem for a lot of people, but it was for me.

But aside from that, it had a real quirky and fun vibe that I liked a lot. It won't go down as one of my go-tos but it certainly will be one that now and then I'll be driving along and get tired of the radio and will want something different and will flip through my cds and stumble across it and pop it in and remember that I liked it.

Oh, and one of the added benefits of listening to Rilo Kiley is that you can have Troop Beverly Hills quotes running through your head. Bonus!

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Secret Life of Mrs. Beeton

Movie: The Secret Life of Mrs. Beeton
Like/Don't Like: Like

I put this on my Netflix because 1.) It was a Masterpiece Theater that I had not seen yet 2.) I'm 80 and 3.) It had the guy from Northanger Abbey who was so adorable.

I'm glad that it gives you the ending at the very beginning because otherwise I would not have liked it nearly as much. Let me just say that she does not die of consumption like I had hoped. No, not consumption.

I believe it's a true(ish) story. Mrs. Beeton was a wife of a publisher who wrote a very popular cookbook and home management handbook back in the 1860s (I think it was the 1860s. Don't quote me on this.) This chronicles how it came about and how she convinced people that she should do it. While it was a little sad at times, I really enjoyed how it portrayed her as a very real woman with very real domestic problems while creating this image of perfect domesticity in her book.

And the guy from Northanger Abbey was very cute. I run pretty deep here.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Miss Austen Regrets

Movie: Miss Austen Regrets
Like/Don't Like: Like.

What with quitting my job and thinking about quitting my job and trying not to throw up over my job it completely slipped my mind to review that lastest Masterpiece Theater Jane Austen offering.

Sadly, it is well past the 3 day point I have in my brain for remembering crucial things about movies. Things such as why I liked it. But I remember that I liked it. Really, I did. Um...I liked the actress who played Jane. And, er, it was a nice movie. Wait, I can do better than that. I can recap. It was about Jane Austen near the end of her life. And...let's included a bit with her niece and a former suitor and getting Emma published. Blast. I'm useless. Oh, just take my word for it and put it on your Netflix queue.

This weekend begins the A&E Pride and Prejudice. I'll just give you two words to let you know how I feel about it: piano scene.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Mansfield Park

Film: Mansfield Park
Like/Don't Like: Don't like. I guess. I'm getting tired.

Oh, it's been years since I've read Mansfield Park. And I remember it not being my most favorite of her books. Big surprise, I can't remember why. Curse this memory of mine! But I do remember characters and the plot and I've seen the version that came out in 1999 a number of times so I'm not wholly unfamiliar with it. I feel like I'm just repeating myself here so I'll give you the abridged version: It was too short and too chopped up. No continuity. What happened to all the characters. 90 minutes is not enough time, blah, blah, blah. The ending was very sweet and romantic so it left me with moderately good feelings and I felt that everyone, with the exception of Fanny* was well casted. But there were several times during the show that I felt like just chucking it all and going to bed. It didn't grab my attention at all.

And it was too modern**. It felt like I was watching a dress rehearsal of a plucky young troupe of actors pulling something together at a country estate and their hair people hadn't shown up yet so they had to do it themselves. Which brings me to my real criticism. Hair. It's a shame Fanny couldn't stroll down to the local merchant and pick up a box of Miss Clairol Ashy Blonde to touch up her roots. I'm pretty sure that woman in Jane Austen's time had eyebrows that matched their hair color. And Edmund's looked like it was styled by some emo kid with too much gel on his hands. Distracting, to say the least.

*I will NOT say anything about her unfortunate overbite. No I will not.
**"Hold the phone," you're saying. "Wasn't the 1999 version really modern too?" True. But it was also beautifully done. Loosely based, yes. Liberties abounded. But as a film, very nice to watch.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Chicken & Dumplings

Recipe: Chicken & Dumplings
Like/Don't Like: Mmmm. Warm & tasty. Like.

So it's really cold here. Let me amend that, it's really cold here in California. Which means that it's about 55 during the day and about 40 at night. Brrrr. And it's rainy. Cold and cloudy and rainy. Anyone feel sorry for me now? I didn't think so. But that does not change the fact that for the last week I've been very chilled. So I was in need of comfort food last night. Warm comfort food with dumplings. Because nothing says, "Let me hug your tummy" more than dumplings, right? It was too late to think about stew, which is my go-to vehicle for dumplings. So I wracked my brain and remembered the one time I had chicken and dumplings. It was heavenly. This may have something to do with the fact that Courtney made it. Anyone who knows Courtney knows what I'm talking about. In heaven, all of our meals will taste like Courtney made them. I digress...I remember it being warm and creamy and delicious. And last night as I drove home from work in the cold, cold rain all I could think about was how perfect chicken and dumplings would be.

And it was. Warm and delicious. I got the recipe off of but I changed it so much that it doesn't really even resemble it so here's what I did, including the changes that I will make the next time I make it, which may be tonight since it is still cold and rainy and I'm still a wimp.

1 - 2 chicken breasts cut into bite size pieces
some celery chopped
some carrots chopped
some onion finely chopped
maybe some minced garlic if you want it
whatever other vegetables you want to add, maybe potatoes or peas or corn
some Italian seasoning
salt and pepper
whatever other seasonings you feel like, this is your soup, go for it.
1 box of low sodium chicken broth
1 cup milk
2 Tbsp. flour

In a big pot heat up about a teaspoon of olive oil and throw in everything but the broth. Cook it until the chicken no longer is pink on the outside and the onions are translucent. Pour in the broth, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the chicken is completely cooked and the veggies are soft. Mix together milk and flour until smooth and pour into soup. Return to a medium boil.


1 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp margarine
1/2 cup milk

Stir together flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in medium size bowl. Cut in butter until crumbly. Stir in milk to make a soft dough. Drop large spoonfuls into the boiling soup. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes without lifting the lid. DON'T LIFT THE LID! Ha. I said that just to scare you. I don't actually know what will happen if you lift the lid but maybe we don't want to find out. Insert a toothpick into a dumpling and if it comes out clean then your gold. Last night I didn't have any flour so I used corn starch to thicken it and refrigerated biscuits for the dumplings. They worked alright but I'm still craving the real deal.

I have no idea how much this will make. The dumplings soaked up a lot of the liquid and it was enough for me and Katie with just enough for leftovers for my lunch. So I've upped the liquid ingredients here. Probably about 4.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Northanger Abbey

Movie: Northanger Abbey
Like/Don't Like: Like. And a sigh was heard from apartment 103.

Okay, this was more like it. After my disappointment with Persuasion last week I didn't have much hope for Northanger Abbey. Especially since, once again, it was only 90 minutes. (Dear PBS, Get a clue! The people who are watching your shows are not 13 year old girls who thing that TRL is a little long and like, ya know, boring sometimes. We may be 80 but I think we can handle staying up until 11 if it meant having a better movie. Hey, how about trying a mini-series? I can wait a week because I'm practically a grown up. Regards, Rachel) So I settled down in my jim-jams with a cup of cocoa (or, as the kids say, ho-cho. To go with the fro-yo. I'm gagging now.) and a skeptical look on my face. Katie joined me because she has today off and could stay up past her bedtime.

Well, I went to bed with peace in my heart because I liked it. Truly. It was charming and funny and captured the whole feel of the novel. Kind of tongue-in-cheek gothic. Catherine was appropriately naive and Henry did just the right amount of teasing. And the actual Northanger Abbey was as spooky as it should be. The ending was a little rushed but they still did a pretty good job with it considering how much time was left. My one thumbs-down was that every single man in Bath seemed to be a leering cad. Everywhere Catherine went men were turning their heads and raising their eyebrows and nodding to their fellow scoundrels as if to say, "Nice spencer. I'd like to help her with that." If they had had mustaches they would have been twirling them. I don't know if that was done to give it a danger-at-every-turn feel but I found it to be kind of laughable.

But really, besides that and the 90 minutes I was really thrilled with it. Next week...Mansfield Park. In the previews the girl who plays Fanny Price looks like a buxom Swiss milk maid. I'm fearful.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Raising Sand

Album: Raising Sand
Artists: Allison Krauss and Robert Plant
Like/Don't Like: Let's just say that I cried through half the songs. Yes. I like it.

This is exactly the type of music you would hear if you found yourself one night at a roadhouse off a lonesome Texas highway. A roadhouse often visited by gypsies, fallen women, couples on the verge of breaking up, and a trucker who may or may not have killed a man.

Which is to say that this album is eerie and sad* and warm and all together AMAZING. It's folk and blues and a little rock (natch, it's Robert Plant) but it mostly just defies all the genres because it's so perfect. I got it last night after work and I haven't stopped listening to it. My plan is to quit my job so I can listen to it full time. I'd have to give up really good benefits but at least I'd have magic in my heart.

I love albums that sound like they're telling a story, where each song feels connected to the next. This one feels that way all the way through. I think that has a lot to do with T-Bone Burnette, who produced it and played guitar and bass on it. Most of the songs have that really heart-breaking wobbly bass line that evokes the creepy roadhouse image. Allison Krauss and Robert Plant sound like they come from the same family. Like a father and daughter duet. They sound incredible together. They're so well blended that it's hard to tell sometimes who's taking the lead and who's singing harmony. And the musicianship is some of the best I've heard.

I bought this album without ever hearing a single song from it. It popped up on my Amazon recommendations and I took a shot. I tend to get lucky when I do that, but it takes a few listens to really warm up to it and there will still be a few songs that I never get. So it's pretty high praise that I can't ever remember loving an entire album this much on it's first go around. Maybe you should think about getting it.

*It really is a very melancholy album so I would not recommend say, listening to it while actually driving on a lonesome Texas highway. I've never been on one but I've listened to enough Lyle Lovett to know that they're no place for people with low spirits.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Movie: Persuasion (The new one on Masterpiece Theatre)
Like/Don't Like: The day after I felt like it was okay, but after thinking about it I'm going to have to give it a don't like.

I should not have read the book just before watching the movie. I didn't intend to. It's just that I was in the mood for a Jane Austen book and even though I don't believe is having favorites, Persuasion would probably be it. I had no idea that it would be the first one shown on Masterpiece Theatre's Jane-a-palooza.

I try to avoid reading books just before seeing an adaptation of it because I find that it ruins it for me. I'm a firm believer that film adaptations should be allowed to stand on their own, seperate from the book. I'm okay if little things are tweaked here or there for time or continuity. As long as the movie is true to the spirit of the book. If the tone and pacing and themes are the same then I'm fine with a few characters or scenes missing. I do have a bit of the purist in me, which is probably why I think that the A&E Pride and Prejudice is the best, but I try really hard to supress that when I'm watching a movie because I want to enjoy it.

And I really wanted to enjoy this new Persuasion. I love the 1995 version (I just recently bought the dvd of it because my tape was so worn out.) and I love the book, but I didn't want any of that to get in the way of my loving this new one.

And it didn't get in the way, because there wasn't a whole lot to love. Sure, there were a few moments where I felt like they got it right, like when Anne and Fredrick meet again after 8 years, but for the most part it was just too rushed. I don't know whose idea it was to fit the whole movie into 90 minutes, but it was a bad one. I'll give it points for covering most everything but this was a perfect example of how sometimes faithfulness to the story gets in the way of actually telling the story. There were so many times when I thought that they should have shown something instead of telling us about it. It felt like they adapted the Cliff's Notes instead of the book.

And the parts they weren't faithful to were some of the most important parts of the book. Like the speech Anne gives to Harville about "loving longest" which, let's be honest, is one of the best book passages of all time. And the end, when Captain Wentworth writes her the letter, was butchered. And then there was all that silly running around Bath. What was that?! And I won't even mention the kiss at the end except to say that it was icky. And disturbing. And weird. I need to change the subject.

Now that I think about it, they probably would have been able to fit it all into 90 minutes had the director not chosen to have every other scene end with Anne gazing longingly into the camera. We get it Anne. You love him. You feel miserable that you broke his heart and you want him to forgive you. Staring desperately into the camera is not going to fix that.

My main problem was that they short changed every character. Jane Austen is a master at characters and she takes the time to develop them. This movie had no time at all to do that and so it turned all of them into caricatures without any context to the story. It made the whole film see cheap.

I was disappointed. And it's made me a little nervous for the other ones. Sigh.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


Movie: Rebecca (the 1997 BBC version)
Like/Don't Like: Don't Like, even though I wanted to.

A few years ago I was at Acres of Books (I think it may have been the all public transportation adventure trip where we took the blue-line out to Long Beach. Here’s something fun to do…take a train through south central LA. You will be thrilled with the number of people you see with boomboxes to their ears. Like they're in Breakin’ II-- Electric Boogaloo.) I found an old copy of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier there and bought it because it seemed like the appropriate thing to do. I ended up reading it on a very cold winter day last year while snuggled up in a blanket. It was possibly the greatest time I’ve ever had reading a book. Why? Because it’s simply marvelous. And I say simply marvelous because that’s exactly what they would say in the book. Only it would be “It’s simply marvelous, darling.” Reading Rebecca made me wish I were the type of person who could get away with saying darling, preferably in a posh British accent.

It’s such a delicious book. All full of dressing for dinner and hosting fancy dress balls and trips to Monte Carlo and servants and great estates and intrigue and “darling this” and “darling that”. And it’s dark and kind of spooky and mysterious. And it’s just the right amount of over-the-top-ness. I loved reading this book.

But, this is not a book review. It’s a movie review. And not the 1940 Hitchcock movie, which is fabulous, but the 1997 BBC version which is not so much.

Two reasons why:

1.) I think I probably would have liked it more if I hadn’t read the book and seen the Hitchcock, who was born to make it into a film, with Lawrence Olivier, who was born to say darling. This one just didn’t capture the creepiness and excess of it all. It was too sunshiny. And Mrs. Danvers, the evil housekeeper, was more pathetic than scheming. It was kind of lacking.

2.) I know that Maxim deWinter is suppose to be old enough to be his new bride’s father but did he have to look like it? According to imdb the actors who played Maxim (Charles Dance) and The Second Mrs. deWinter (the girl who played Georgianna in the A&E Pride and Prejudice) are 28 years apart but she actually looked like she could be his granddaughter. It was kind of skeevy. Plus, he was COVERED in freckles. And while I have a soft spot in my heart for men with freckles, and think that in most cases it makes people look cute and youthful like wee little scamps, his mask of them made him look like he was 80 and covered in age spots. Tragic!

I’ll give it a plus for staying true to the story and the costumes were wonderful, but you would do better watching Lawrence Olivier say, “Darling, be a good girl and go dress for dinner.”