Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Princess and the Frog

Movie: The Princess and the Frog
Like/Don't Like: Like

This was old school Disney and I liked it. Sometimes I get bored with Pixar - it just looks too real and I think it takes some of the fun out of animation. But this was hand drawn with catchy songs and talking animals and a prince and a princess and it just felt right.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Special Occasion Orange French Toast

Recipe: Special Occasion Orange French Toast
Like/Don't Like: Yum.

I make something called Special Occasion French Toast. I call it that because you should only make it if you have something spectacular to celebrate or you're about to run a marathon. It's a bit on the decadent side. It involves layering slices of french bread and a cream cheese mixture and then pouring eggs and heavy cream all over it and then letting it sit over night and then before baking the whole thing you dump butter and brown sugar and nuts over the top. Better make that two marathons.

But it was a special occasion on Saturday and I needed something to feed a lot of people so I decided to make it. Only I wanted to do it a little differently so I found a recipe and behold: Special Occasion Orange French Toast.

It was divine. And it actually baked up nicer than the original Special Occasion French Toast. I made a few changes to the recipe though. They are:

1.) I only put in half the sugar it asked for in the egg mixture. I thought 1 cup sounded excessive.
2.) Instead of the mandarin oranges I used the zest and juice of two oranges because chunks of baked oranges sounded gross.
3.) It says to mix equal parts of the orange butter sauce with maple syrup to serve on top but that just sounded like a diabetic coma waiting to happen. I served both on the side and some people mixed and others didn't. I didn't and I thought the sauce alone was heavenly. Those who did mix said it was great too.
4.) I added a dash of salt with the dash of nutmeg.

Changes I'm planning on making:

1.) I'm going to try it with one less egg in both the egg mixture and the filling. It didn't taste eggy but the texture was a little too custardy for my taste.
2.) It was a subtle orange flavor and I want it to be a little more pronounced so I may throw in some marmalade to the filling.

I hope you like jogging because you're going to need to after you eat this.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Book: The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Author: Muriel Barbery
Like/Don't Like: Lovely

My friend Teresa said to me one day last week, "Have you read The Elegance of the Hedgehog? It's like The Solace of Leaving Early only slightly less philosophical." And that got me hooked because The Solace of Leaving Early was, hands-down, my favorite read of 2009, even with all that Christian philosophy that I only barely grasped and all those really big words that I couldn't find in my dictionary. The next night I was over at her house and she lent it to me and by the next day I didn't want to put it down. Dear Teresa, I owe you cookies. Or would you rather a skein of yarn? Love, Rachel.

The story is set in a swanky Paris apartment building and the narration switches between Renee, the landlady, and Paloma, a 12 year old resident. Renee is a self-taught intellectual who loves Tolstoy and Japanese films. She hides behind the stereotype of her humble position, never letting on to the ultra-rich residents of the building that she is more than what she seems. Paloma is a smart kid who has decided to light the building on fire and then commit suicide on her 13 birthday because she has yet to find a good enough reason to live. She's not depressed, but every example of adulthood that she seems only reinforces her idea that growing up is pointless.

Their stories don't join up until about halfway through when a Japanese business man moves into the building and recognizes that both of them are hiding their true selves from everyone around them. It is beautiful how these three people find each other, despite their cultural and social differences.

It is translated from French, which means that there are some phrases, especially the slang that Paloma uses, that get a bit lost. And I recommended this book to a friend who then told me that she started reading it but stopped because she couldn't get past all the philosophy and the back and forth narration in the beginning but to that I say, "KEEP GOING!" because it mellows out pretty quickly. You start to see the parallel lives that Renee and Paloma are leading and the similar thoughts that they are having and you just hope that they'll meet up. It's lovely when they finally do.

Monday, December 14, 2009


Movie: Invictus
Like/Don't Like: Liked

So this is the year for Rugby movies. And I still don't understand the purpose of the scrum.

But no worries because this isn't a movie about rugby. I know that the ads make you think that it is but it's not. It's a movie about Nelson Mandela trying to get South Africa to come together after the end of apartheid. The Rugby World Cup was a means of doing that. The South African team was revered by the whites and hated by the blacks and everyone assumed that when Mandela came into power he would at the very least change their name and colors to reflect the new democracy. Instead he made it a priority during his first year in office to get the whole country, blacks and whites, to rally behind them rather than rally against each other. The rugby matches come near the end and by that point you're so caught up in the story that you don't really care that you have no idea how the game is played.

I think the biggest compliment I can give this movie is that it had tremendous restraint. Movies that deal with these sorts of themes (underdog sports teams, racism, great leaders) tend to be played with a heavy hand. You know, lots of tears and heart wrenching moments with violins in the background. But there wasn't too much of that in this film. In times when it could have justifiably gone over the top it pulled back and let the story speak for itself. And I can't tell you how much I appreciated that. I'm a HUGE crier (Here I will confess, once again, that I cried during Encino Man, which should illustrate just how low my crying point is.) and considering the last Clint Eastwood film I saw (Million Dollar Baby, where I cried even more then I did during Steel Magnolias. You didn't think that was possible, right?) I was afraid that I would shrivel up like a prune from extreme dehydration. But I didn't cry once. Nor did I feel cheated out of any emotions. It was just right.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Blind Side

Movie: The Blind Side
Like/Don't Like: Like

I like sports movies. And I like Sandra Bullock. And I was practically in a turkey-induced coma when I saw it. These were all contributing factors to me liking this film about a homeless black kid being taken in by a rich white family and eventually making it into the NFL. Everything is heartwarming and predictable but enjoyable to watch.

What was not so enjoyable was Tim McGraw's hair. I'm not sure what he had on top of his head - toupee? hair plugs? heaven forbid his actual hair?- but I think we can all agree that he should never be without a hat.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

Cookbook: America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
Like/Don't Like: It has never failed me.

If you have been to my apartment you may have noticed the bookcase next to the kitchen. It is four shelves worth of cookbooks. I admit that we may need an intervention. The majority of those cookbooks remain on the shelves. In fact, I would say that most of the recipes we use come from the binder full of Mom's recipes that she gave us years ago and from the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. Because you can't go wrong with either. In fact, you may actually have more success with the ATKFC because, as you know, you can never replicate your mom's food. Your chocolate chip cookies will come close but they will never taste just like hers. You suspect that she may use a little extra butter, and possibly witch craft.

You may have seen the show America's Test Kitchen on PBS. It's my favorite cooking show because 1.) the cooks on it are cooks and not TV personalities which means that they're considerably less annoying and 2.) they make food you would normally eat and they show you how to make it better.

Which is exactly what this cookbook does. It's filled with recipes of everyday food that you would serve your family but each recipe is tested dozens of times to get the best flavor and texture and also the easiest way to get there. Then, instead of just telling what to do, they show you how to do it with lots of pictures and explain why you're doing it. For example, I needed to make a pie crust last night. I've always had trouble with crust, it is either too moist or too dry and never pretty. So I thought that I would give theirs a try. The recipe suggested using a food processor to blend everything together because you don't want to overwork the butter. But I don't have a food processor and it's kind of a pain cutting in cold butter to get the texture you need for the dough. So the helpful tip, as if the cookbook was reading my mind, was to freeze the butter and grate it in. GENIUS!!!!! It worked like a champ. I've never had dough come together so nicely.

I've used their recipe for bread and rolls (first time I have EVER been successful making yeasty breads)(The word yeasty gives me the heebs.), for soup and pot roast and several desserts and they've always turned out terrific. I've seen it at Barnes and Noble but I think it's cheaper at Costco. I think you should get it and then invite me over for dinner. I'll bring a pie.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Movie: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Like/Don't Like: Liked

I'm not sure why I completely forgot that this was a French film and therefore, they would be speaking in French. When this happened my friend Krii and I both looked at each other and said, "huh?" We were tired, okay? Also, the subtitles didn't automatically come on.

So, oui, it is French. Which is irrelevant in regards to the gist of the film but explains a lot when you find yourself thinking, "Boy, that was odd," or "Was that a naked woman I just saw?"

It's a true story about Jean-Dominique Bauby who was the editor-in-chief for Elle and lived a fancy jet-setting French kind of life until one day he had a stroke and was completely paralyzed except for his left eye. He woke up from his coma aware and alert but unable to move or communicate. His therapist discovered that his mind was still functioning and thinking and set out to help him communicate by having him blink his one good eye. Once for yes and twice for no. Eventually he was able to spell out words and sentences by having someone read through the alphabet and he would blink when the letter he wanted would come up.

He wrote a book this way. I just checked on Amazon, it's 144 pages long. He blinked out 144 pages. Which basically makes everyone who has ever wanted to write a book but has gotten hung up on something look like pansies.

The film is partially seen from his point of view, so basically, his one good eye. People come in and out of view and you can hear his thoughts and responses to their questions. You don't actually see him until he starts seeing himself - in reflexions in windows or TV screens. And there are flashbacks to before the stroke which give you some details on how his life was with his job and his kids. It was both sad and beautiful to hear his thoughts (I'm assuming most of it was taken from his book) about what it means to be bed-ridden and paralysed and at the mercy of everyone around you - the person who bathes you, the nurse who turns you tv on or off, the long Sundays when it's a light staff and no one comes to visit. It's amazing to me that instead of falling into some deep despair he managed to not only rally but live the best that he could.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Srida Thai Cuisine

Restaurant: Srida Thai Cuisine
Location: 924 N. Central Ave.Upland, CA 91786
Like/Don't Like: Loved!

Liz (winner of the second Mr. T bookmark) and I get together for dinner every so often to catch up. It is a gab fest. We are both talkers and we generally end up sitting at our table talking for hours while the staff patiently wait for us to shut up and leave.

So it is high praise that at one point in the meal we were both speechless over how yummy the food was.

I've been wanting to try this place for a while. It's right around the corner from my place and it's in that magical shopping center that has the Bra Lady, the moose lodge, the British Emporium and Jouni's cafe. But I'd been kind of turned off by Thai food thanks to the Doc. Anytime she would take us out to lunch she insisted that we go to this Thai place around the corner from the office. It was disgusting. Everything was greasy and tasted about 3 days old. And they used so much lemon grass that you left feeling like you chugged a gallon of Pine-sol.

But I felt like I could go back to Thai and I've been trying to be a good citizen and spend my money locally so Srida was the winner.

We had the green curry and the Crying Tiger - which is a phenomenal name for a dish, right? What I love about Thai food is that there are so many distinct flavors and when it's good Thai you should be able to get all of them without being over-powered by one. The green curry was perfect. You could taste everything individually but they mixed together so well. And it all tasted fresh. The Crying Tiger was a marinated steak with a spicy sauce you could drizzle over it. I wanted to drink it straight from the bowl.

It was cheap - our dinner with tax was under $20, the service was great and the place was clean and nicely decorated. And I can attest that it all tastes great the next day for lunch.

The Avocado House

Restaurant: The Avocado House
Location: 11618 Central Ave., Chino, CA 91710
Like/Don't Like: They give you cookies with your yummy sandwich. Like!

Full disclosure: I know the owners. And I knew every single person who was working there. And half the people in the dining area. It was an old Chino Second Ward reunion practically. So the experience of seeing all these people that I've known for my entire life, including friends that I grew up with whom I haven't seen in probably a decade, may have warmed my heart a bit.

But, as the food is the main reason for going to any restaurant, I'm here to tell you that this food is GOOD. I had the Thanksgiving sandwich (turkey, cranberry sauce, lettuce and cream cheese) and it came with a side of fruit, and a cookie and a pumpkin bar. My sisters and mom all had salads that they loved. Everything tastes fresh and homemade. They do breakfast and lunch and have boxed dinners you can pick up. It's located in a converted home so it has a cozy feel to it. There's a fire place and a large porch you can eat out on. It's just a really cute small-towny kind of place with really good food.

84 Charing Cross Road

Movie: 84 Charing Cross Road
Like/Don't Like: Netflix was right. I loved it.

I think from the moment I first signed up for Netflix years ago this has been on my recommended list. I eventually put it on my queue but even then it barely cracked the top 5 because I kept putting other movies ahead of it. No one but Netflix has recommended it to me and I'm not much for trusting the opinions of a computer. But now I owe Netflix an apology, and possibly some brownies, because it was right. I liked it a lot.

Anne Bancroft is a writer who loves old, obscure, British non-fiction and she can't find cheap copies in New York so she gets the address of a used book store in London (at 84 Charing Cross Road) and asks them to send her specific titles. Anthony Hopkins is the clerk who answers her first request and they start up a correspondence that lasts for a few decades. Most of the movie is told through their letters and it is a very genuine and sweet friendship.

I was kind of destined to like this movie though. It contains all sorts of things I love: books, used book stores, letter writing, Anthony Hopkins, Judy Dench. At one point Anne Bancroft describes the smell as she opened up the first shipment of books and I knew exactly the smell she was talking about. That dust and old glue smell that almost makes me weep.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Movie: Doubt
Like/Don't Like: Very interesting.

I wish I hadn't returned this movie so quickly. Having had some time to think about it I would have liked to watch it again, preferably with friends so that we could talk about it later because it's one of those movies that needs talking about.

It's set in the early 1960s at a Catholic school that has admitted its first black student. He is taken under the wing of the priest and their relationship causes some suspicion on the parts of two nuns - one who wants to believe he is innocent of anything inappropriate and one determined to prove his guilt.

The fascinating part of the story is that we never learn what actually happened. The priest's guilt or innocence is never proven but throughout the movie we gets new bits of information that can change your whole perception of it. And that's what I want to talk to people about. Did you think he was guilty from the beginning or not? What changed your mind? Did it change at all?

The acting was great - naturally, it's Meryl Streep and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Amy Adams held her own too, but I'd like to see her do something other than doe-eyed innocence. I would love to see this on stage, where it originated. The film did a good job of translating it but it's a lot of talking and there were a few moments when I felt like the action going on around the dialogue was out of place. But over all, a very intriguing film. Invite me over to watch it with you and we can discuss. I'll bring cookies.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Glass Castle

Book: The Glass Castle
Author: Jeannette Walls
Like/Don't Like: Very good. I liked it a lot.

Have I told you how great my parents are? They never once made us live in a house with no plumbing. They never made us leave our home in the middle of the night to escape from bill collectors or the police. They bought us food on a regular basis so we wouldn't have to dig through the trash cans in the school bathrooms for something to eat. These are things I never even considered as attributes, but I also never had Jeannette Walls' parents, who did all of these things and more.

Jeannette Walls was a gossip columnist living in New York City when she was on her way to a fancy party and saw her mom digging in a dumpster. Up until that point she had hidden the fact that her parents were living on the streets from just about everyone because she was afraid that people would think she was a monster for allowing that to happen. The next time she saw her mom she asked her what she should tell people and her mom said to just tell the truth. So she wrote her memoirs about growing up in poverty with a genius father who was also a raging alcoholic and a mother who would rather be an artist than look after her 4 kids. The book is filled with really horrible stories about neglect. Her parents loved her but seemed to be incapable of caring for her. They moved from town to town, always staying in places that were barely inhabitable. Her parents seemed oblivious to their kids' suffering, which was incredibly frustrating to read about. And when they did see what they were doing to their family it was heartbreaking to read about their shame. Particularly her dad.

The impressive part about this memoir is that there is very little blame placed. She doesn't seem bitter or angry. She has a very light style and writes about horrific experiences like they happen to everyone, which, considering the subject, was a blessing to read. I can't imagine being able to finish a book like this if it had taken a more dramatic tone. She doesn't seem to want any sympathy - although you can't help but feel it - she just seems to want to explain how it all happened. And because of that you don't see her or her parents as monsters, just people with problems who are doing the best they know how.

Monday, September 21, 2009

David Copperfield

Book: David Copperfield
Author: Charles Dickens
Like/Don't Like: I think I'm making Dickens my literary boyfriend.

Once I decided that I loved Dickens I felt it only fair that I read more of his stuff. So I happened to be in the library last month and they didn't have the book that I wanted so I grabbed David Copperfield off of the shelf. I could have maybe planned it a little better because this is a fatty book - 1000 pages - and it always takes me a long time to get through fatty books. I've been reading it for a month now. It's not that I don't like big books, it's just that I get to a point where I forget what happened earlier in the book. I forget that characters existed or that certainly plot lines even happened. And I feel like it eats away at my book reading time, like I've devoted enough time and that I should be done, when I still have 300 pages, or essentially another book, left to read.

But I don't regret reading this at all because I really loved it. All 1000 pages of it. I really love his subtlety and wit. It carried the book for me. The story is about David Copperfield (a fairly typical Dickens ragamuffin) and his rise from obscure orphan to prominent author. Along the way we meet relatives and villains, servants and sailors, and his great aunt Besty Trotwood, who holds a personal vendetta against all local donkeys who trample upon her lawn. It's filled with hilarious characters and interesting stories.

In the introduction Dickens wrote that he felt truly sorry at the end of writing it because he would miss them all so much. And, while I'm glad to move on to a new book, I kind of feel the same way.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Duhks - Fast Paced World

Album: Fast Paced World
Group: The Duhks
Like/Don't Like: Awesome! Like!

Lindsay gave me this album for my birthday with the intention of me falling in love with them so that I would go to their show with her.

Mission accomplished, Linds!

I think you should check them out. I really think you'll like them. Yes, you! You'll like them.

They're exactly the type of music that I love. Which is to say, they're all over the place. Folk, blue grass, jazz, rock, gospel. On the album they have a Brazilian samba, a French ballad, an Irish jig and a cover of Whole Lot of Love. The musicianship on it is incredible and the lead singer has pipes. She sounds like a less screechy and more sober Janis Joplin.

Their show last night was a free concert in the park in Pasadena. Don't you think all concerts should be free and outdoors? It just makes for a really fun night. People are more apt to get up and move. And there are always really adorable children dancing in front of the stage. And the area smells like picnic food and blooming flowers. And, as was the case last night, forest fire. (Ah, late summer in California. 100+ degree weather and fire in the mountains.)

They were incredible live. They had a very easy presence on stage which I think comes from being really good and having great music to play. And they played a lot of zydeco. Zydeco = fun.

They're not the type of band to hit it big and get air time on the radio, and they probably won't be coming to a city near you. But you can certainly get their album. Did I mention that I think you'll like it?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Shop Class as Soulcraft

Book: Shop Class as Soulcraft
Author: Matthew B. Crawford
Like/Don't Like: Not enough to sustain me. I made it about 20 pages from the end and decided I was done.

There are times when I'm sitting at my desk and working on the computer that I wish I had gone to trade school to learn a marketable skill, like flower arranging or hair cutting or basket weaving. Because there is something so much more rewarding about physical work then desk work. There's a process to it and problems to fix and a product at the end and you're usually supplying a need for people. This is why I have the World's Largest Felt Collection. Because you can't just sit and think about felt, you have to actually do something with it. Same with the skeins and skeins of yarn and the mountains of fabric and the ribbon drawer that barely closes anymore. When my mind gets too full of thoughts that don't get me anywhere I head to the felt collection and make something with my hands.

This is also why I like recipes and patterns. It's satisfying to follow the instructions, step by step, and come up with the intended product. And if it's not right I don't mind at all going back and figuring out if it was me or the pattern. I love that feeling of being able to find the problem and work on it until it's fixed.

What I'm saying is that I like work. I like making things and fixing things with my hands. I think a lot of people are like this.

This book explores that desire to work and societies push to get people out of jobs that require them to work. How many of us were told in high school to skip college and become a welder? None of us, right? Because somewhere along the lines manual labor lost its honor and cubicle labor became the way to earn a living. But the problem is that some people are just better suited for manual labor - that's how their minds work - and most people actually find joy in doing some form of it, and everyone requires that labor to be done in order for our world to move smoothly. Imagine if your plumber had taken his guidance counselors advice to go on to a 4 year college and study liberal arts?

Crawford actually did go to a university and studied physics, and then ended up getting his PhD in political something or other. But before he went to school he was an electrician, and that's the work that supported him through all of his schooling. He also worked on cars and motorcycles on the side. But after he got his degree he decided that he need a job that reflected his education and he got one working at a think tank. Which made him miss physically working. So he quit and opened up a bike shop.

The premise was great. But it seems as if it was written for academics to explain how one of their own could up and leave the field for a greasy shop. He has some truly fascinating takes on it but in the end it felt ironic to be sitting on a chair, reading about working. It made me want to get up and actually do something instead of thinking about the philosophical reasons of why I wanted to.

So I just stopped reading it. Not because of what he was saying, it all made perfect sense. I just think I was the wrong audience. I went into it not needing to be convinced.


Movie: Arranged
Like/Don't Like: It was lovely

It's been weeks since I watched this movie and somehow I have forgot to post about it until now. This may be brief.

Emily (whom I've never actually met, she's a friend of a friend of a friend, but hi to her anyways, and thanks!) reviewed this on her blog and it sounded intriguing. Two teachers in a NY public school -- one a Jew, one a Muslim -- end up becoming friends and discover they are both going through the process of having marriages arranged for them.

In short (because that's about all I can remember): I loved the way the women and their cultures where portrayed. Not as weird or mysterious or unapproachable, but as faithful and loving people who struggle sometimes with their faith but ultimately choose it because they want to. Not because they're forced to, as so many people believe. It was nice to see religious people portrayed as rational human beings instead of fanatics or brain-washed simpletons. It was refreshing.

Forever Strong

Movie: Forever Strong
Like/Don't Like: Feel-good sports movie. Like.

I get the gist of most sports, but rugby stumps me. As does cricket and Australian rules football. Basically sports that are popular primarily in the former British Empire are a complete mystery to me.

I was hoping that since this movie was about a high school rugby team I would get a handle but I finished it still not understanding the purpose of the scrum. Or why they all lift one guy up to catch the ball. And why they can't pass forward.

But not knowing these things didn't actually hinder enjoying the movie. It wasn't anything revolutionary, just your standard feel-good sports movie. I think we're hard-wired to like them. Who can resist Rudy (who is actually in this movie) or Hoosiers or Remember the Titans? You can't! You can't resist the power of the final seconds ticking down in slow motion. Don't even try.

As a funny side note: Gary Cole is in this as the coach of the team and most of his lines are made up of Important Life Lessons. And all I could think of while watching him was when he played Mike Brady in the Brady Bunch Movie and spouted off Important Life Lessons. That was played for laughs. This was not. But I laughed anyway.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Book: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Authors: Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
Like/Don't Like: Clever

You know how in Anne of Green Gables Diana submits Anne's story, Avril's Atonement, to the Rolling's Reliable Baking Power contest by inserting that Avril uses Rolling's Reliable to make the cake? This is what Seth Grahame-Smith has done with Pride and Prejudice. Same story, just with zombies thrown in. It's pretty clever.

England has been plagued with the undead for decades when the story opens and the Bennett sisters have to do more than just take long walks and find husbands. They have to kill zombies too. They have studied extensively with Shaolin monks and never travel anywhere without their knives and shot guns.

I never get tired of reading Pride and Prejudice but after a while the zombie talk got a little old. It's not overbearing, but it lost its originality over time. There were a few funny twists that made the book hilarious. I won't give them away but I will tell you that Charlotte Lucas doesn't marry Mr. Collins out of a desire to be mistress of her own home. There are darker reasons for it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Julie & Julia

Movie: Julie & Julia
Like/Don't Like: I'm seeing it again tomorrow. It's that good!

You know I'm sensitive to mouth noises, right? I mean, abnormally so. Chewing -- sometimes even my own -- makes my heart race with anxiety. It's horrible.

This movie is FULL OF LOUD CHEWING. And slurping and sipping and crunching. Just typing those words makes me want to crawl under my desk and cry.

And yet the movie just charmed the anxiety right out of me. I loved it. There was one scene at the beginning when I thought that Amy Adam's husband was chewing loudly enough to warrant a punch in the face, but after that I completely fell in love with everyone on the screen and forgot all about the squishy sounding food.

Most of that love was centered on Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci. What's not to love about them? They're amazing. It would have been easy enough for them to play the characters as the zany chef and the straight-man husband but they didn't. One of the best parts about the film is how sweet and real their relationship is. It was very refreshing to see a happily married couple in a movie. Two, actually, because Amy Adam's character and her husband had a great relationship too. Despite his disgusting chewing habits.

So the acting was great, the story moved along nicely, which is a feat considering how it jumps back and forth between Julie and Julia, and the food looked delicious. Don't go hungry.

Addendum: I saw this a second time and I remembered something I wanted to comment on. Both Julie and Julia wear fabulous brooches and pins in the movie. FABULOUS! Julia had on a sparkly monogram brooch that, were it mine, I would put on the pillow beside me and snuggle with at night.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Book: Sabriel
Author: Garth Nix
Like/Don't Like: I managed to like it, even without a glossary.

I'm going to admit that I'm not that big of a fantasy fan and I generally stay away from it. But there were several circumstances that led me to this book: 1.) a lot of reliable people have recommended it, 2.) in the last month I have started and stopped 4 books because either the writing was bad, the story was not to my taste, excess smuttiness, or combinations of the three, 3.) it was at the library and I was desperate.

But even desperation cannot take away my initial problem with fantasy, which is this: Fantasy fiction doesn't do such a hot job of explaining itself. It just dumps you in the middle of a made-up world without any kind of context and you have to do all this work to figure it out. I personally find this distracting. I lose all interest in the story because I can't get passed not understanding the details of the world the story is set in. I spend a large chunk of the book with the feeling that I missed a page, or I didn't read closely enough because half the time I have no idea what the characters are talking about.

I suppose if I had read a lot of fantasy when I was a kid I wouldn't have such a problem with it now. But I never did. I didn't read the Narnia books until I was in college. Lord of the Rings - not until after college. Same with A Wrinkle in Time. All those classics you probably read as kids weren't even on my radar.

I'm not sad about this at all. I had a great time reading as a kid. I'm just saying that reading fantasy now as an adult is like trying to learn Finnish as an adult.

And I'm also just saying that this book could have used a glossary. Or a 2 page appendix giving me a little hint as to what free magic was, and how there came to be two worlds, and who are the Clayr, and what's the difference between a necromancer and an Abhorsen, and who was Sabriel's mom, and what's with all the dead, and not just all the dead but all the different levels of dead including, but not limited to, Sendings, Hands, and Shadow Hands, and how does one become a Charter Mage and why are some of them outside of the Old Kingdom.

You probably read that last paragraph and thought, "I don't even know what you're talking about!" Which is exactly how I felt through most of this book.

The only thing that kept me going was that it was a pretty interesting story about this young girl named Sabriel who has to travel into the Old Kingdom to find her dead father. Only he's just mostly dead. (Thinking of Miracle Max in the Princess Bride also helped.) And about halfway through I started to get my bearings and decided to just ignore all references to magic or dead things or charter-whatevers that I didn't get and enjoy the story. Which I did.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Confessions of a Shopaholic

Movie: Confessions of a Shopaholic
Like/Don't Like: It was okay

I never know what to say about movies like this. Because you know what you're getting when you watch it. It was cute, and there were crazy clothes, and life lessons learned. And isn't Hugh Dancy just so charming? But it wasn't mind blowing or anything. There were some moments when I was feeling like I may have a heart attack because nothing makes me stress more than money issues. So those scenes when she was spending way too much I wanted to scream, "Don't Do It!!!!" But that's about as riled up as a gal can get with this sort of movie.

I guess the best I can say is that I didn't feel like it was a waste of time to watch.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Movie: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Like/Don't Like: Eh, liked

I feel like maybe I should watch this movie again. Because I think I should have liked it more. I mean, it was alright. I guess. But it was long...and long...and kind of slow at times. It didn't have anything to jump start it like the other ones. It just kind of gradually started and didn't pick up steam until the last 45 minutes or so. They spent the bulk of the time playing up the romance between Harry & Ginny and Ron & Hermoine. I vaguely remember that taking up a lot of the book (it's been a while since I've read it so I basically remember that Dumbledore dies) so I get it. Maybe they were trying to be faithful. But maybe they could have been faithful to the parts that didn't involve love-sick glances and longing sighs. What is this, Twilight?

I really hate saying that because I wanted to love this movie. I really did. I love Harry and his gang. I love the books. I love the movies. But I didn't love this one. Neither did the guy sitting a few rows behind me who loudly yawned about every 10 minutes or so. And then I think I heard him snore a few times.

Although the girls behind me were dying...DYING...over it. They loved it. They squealed and kicked my chair and at the funny parts one girl laughed so hard that she spit what felt like crushed up pieces of ice on the back of my head. Ah, youth. (Side note: She also had a very wet and snotty laugh. She sounded like a pug. Weird.)

So I didn't love it but there were plenty of things to like about it. For one thing, there's Alan Rickman. I love him as Snape. Love him! His words just sort of seep out of him. And I thought they did the whole scary part at the lake in the cave bit brilliantly. I was sufficiently scared. Ron and the love potions was pretty funny. Plus, it's just nice to be with them again. Like a family reunion with your fun relatives. Not the relatives who bug you.

Let me know if you've seen it and what you thought.

Friday, June 12, 2009


Movie: Up
Like/Don't Like: LOVE.

It was an exhausting day at work yesterday. Not really bad, just non-stop. The phones didn't stop ringing, the people didn't stop coming in, and by the end of the day I was looking into monastic retreats in Tibet - just so I wouldn't have to talk to anyone.

But I opted for the cheaper retreat of a dark movie theater. Best $8 I've spent in my life. Because I LOVED this movie. LOVED. IT.

Maybe it was because I was so tired, but I was a wreck by the end of it. In a good way. I cry at a lot of things but I wept through this movie. Almost Shadowlands kind of weeping. Within the first 10 minutes. Because they are heartbreaking - both sad and sweet.

The movie follows Carl, an old man whose wife has just died. He decides to go on the adventure he always promised her they would take. This is how he ends up floating down to South America in his house, with a chubby boy scout named Russell tagging along. They end up on an island with talking dogs, Carl's childhood hero, and an exotic bird named Kevin.

It was all just so sweet and funny and lovely and beautiful and I can't say enough good things about it.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Movie: Australia
Like/Don't Like: I would have liked it more if it were just one movie

It is a good thing I knew that this movie was 6 days long. Because at the half-way mark, when the movie essentially comes to a climactic ending - complete with a barely beaten deadline involving a large herd of cattle, and a big kiss involving Hugh Jackman - I knew, and was prepared for, another 3 days of movie. Maybe I'm exaggerating here, and that's unfair. It was more like 5 days. Okay, really it was 2 hrs and 45 mins. Which may as well be 5 days in my book. I was talking to Cynde and she casually mentioned this movie and then I casually mentioned that I just got it from Netflix that day and I was planning on watching it. That was two weeks ago! Because when I got off the phone with her and took a look at the movie and noticed that the run time was 6 days long it took me two weeks do decide that it was worth giving up that much time when I could be doing really important reading, or doing my correspondence, or sewing elegant caftans for leisure wear. Or, you know, watching other stuff on tv.

But I decided that it was worth it because 1.) Cynde recommended it; 2.) It has Hugh Jackman. Truth be told, I would watch Hugh Jackman folding origami. 2 hours and 45 minutes is not asking much when you get to see him without his shirt; and 3.) It's a Baz Luhrman film and I love Baz Luhrman films. I just really appreciate the cheesy, epic, lush vibe he tries so desperately to create. I know that it's not for everyone, but I get it. It's like he was born in the wrong era. He could have given Cecil B. DeMille a run.

But I think this is where people will run into problems with it. Because it is trying really hard to be grand and you know that he wants you the feel it. But it doesn't always work. The gist of the story, which is pretty good, gets lost in the length and scope of it. It truly could have been two movies, the first about Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman doing this cattle drive, the second about them trying to save this aboriginal kid.

In the end I enjoyed it. But I think that had a lot to do with being able to watch it at 1.4 speed.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Last Chance Harvey

Movie: Last Chance Harvey
Like/Don't Like: Like. Despite the awkward moments.

You can't go wrong with a movie with Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman. A movie, which was, according to the special features, specifically written for them to star in. They had such a good time working together on Stranger than Fiction that Emma Thompson practically commissioned someone to write them a movie. You would do it, right? If Emma Thompson asked. Because she just seems like a lovely person and you're sure you would be fast friends.

Dustin Hoffman plays an unhappy musician who does commercial jingles for a living. He's in London for his daughter's wedding and he meets Emma Thompson and starts up a friendship. That's pretty much it. But I liked the simplicity of it. It had a very authentic feel. Especially in the awkward moments. I hate awkward moments in movies. They make me want to hit the fast-forward button. And this movie had a few of them. But they were very real moments that usually happen to people and that somehow made them more bearable. Definitely more believable.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Last Dickens

Book: The Last Dickens
Author: Matthew Pearl
Like/Don't Like: Liked very much

This was a ridiculously fun book for me to read. Wait, I mean it was fun reading experience. The book itself wasn't exactly a disco party but it had such a good story that I couldn't help but smile like a loon whenever I picked it up.

The gist: when Charles Dickens died he was 6 parts into a 12 part serial called The Mystery of Edwin Drood. He was a bit of a superstar writer and people were devastated at his death and agitated over the fact that he had only made it through half of the story. There was a lot of speculation as to whether or not he had finished the novel but no proof has ever come up that he did. The story is a take on what could have happened. It sets his real-life publisher, James Osgood, on a fictional adventure around Boston and London looking for the rest of the manuscript before the rival publishing houses get their hands on it or make up the rest of the story, which, apparently, was common practice back in the day. There are Chinese pirates and opium dens and spies and slick business men and it's all centered around some fairly interesting historical facts.

I am usually pretty critical of historical fiction, mostly because people who write them tend to be big fat bores. The story generally suffers at the expense of too much information. There were some times in the story when I had had enough lecturing. Particularly the sections that flashbacked to Dicken's last tour of America. But those parts were rare and on the whole it was a nice blend of scholarly research and really good writing and I enjoyed the whole thing.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

Movie: Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian
Like/Don't Like: Pretty entertaining

This should have been named Night at the Improve. There was a whole lot of ad-libbing going on and I have to say, it was pretty funny.

You know exactly what you're getting with this movie, and that's the appeal. You know that there will be silly hijinks and zany characters and lots of shtick. And who doesn't love shtick?

Ben Stiller is once again called up to save a museum, this time from an evil pharaoh (played by Hank Azaria - who STOLE the show). It took all of 5 minutes to set the plot in motion, thus maximizing the amount of screen time to fill up with all that shtick. I shouldn't actually say plot because there wasn't one. There was a lot of metaphorical screaming of "Come to the Smithsonian! It's AWESOME!" But I didn't mind that too much because it actually does look awesome.

A couple of things I was grateful for: 1.) There was less of Robin Williams than in the first movie, 2.) There was less of that monkey than in the first one (I hate monkeys in movies. HATE.) 3.) It was captivating enough for the kids in the audience that they all sat through it without causing a ruckus. The theater was packed, mostly with kids, and they were great through the whole thing. I wanted to high-five them all as we walked out.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Movie: X-Men Origins: Wolverine: Staring the Very Attractive Hugh Jackman: Who Is Very Attractive
Like/Don't Like: Hugh Jackman

Tell me if you feel this way sometimes - you're watching an action movie and about half-way through you say, "Okay. I'm good." You've had your fill of punching and throwing and helicopters spinning through the air and you're ready to move on to the story. Only the punching doesn't stop. There is always another scene of punching and more punching. It's kind of boring. Especially in this particular movie because SPOILER! Wolverine lives. You know he's not going to die. So whatever new and improved mutant they throw at him will not be able to kill him. Now, the scenes were all action packed and I'm not saying that they weren't fun to watch, but I just got to a point where I was done with seeing Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber stab each other in the chest.

This isn't so much a problem with the movie as it is with the whole genre. It's so saturated with tricks and stunts and things blowing up that there isn't anything left to impress us so they have to just keep filling every moment up with them until the really super big fight to the death at the end. What I'm saying is that it's getting old and that I don't see anything wrong with substituting one or two of those fight sequences with a little bit of story line.

But did I mention that Hugh Jackman was in this? Hugh Jackman wearing nicely fitted jeans? Those jeans and an Icee could have carried me through another hour of punching.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County

Book: The Little Giant of Aberdeen County
Author: Tiffany Baker
Like/Don't Like: I liked it in a different way than I expected.

For some reason I was expecting something entirely different. More quirky small townish. But this book is a whole lot more than that. It had a much darker, earthier feel to it that I found surprising and really enjoyable.

First a brief synopsis: Truly Plaic is Aberdeen's largest resident and she's been tormented about it her whole like. She was born abnormally large and just continued to get bigger. And she grew up in a time when it was apparently okay to say, "You're fat and ugly," because she got that a lot. Over the course of events Truly ends up living at her brother-in-law's house raising her nephew after her sister left them. Her brother-in-law, Robert Morgan, is the town doctor and is as cruel as they come and a lot of the tragedy that has been a part of Truly's life, and the lives of her two closest friends, has a lot to do with him. The plot weaves around how they deal with those tragedies and come to grips with the lives they've been given.

I appreciated a lot of things about this book, particularly how flawed the characters were. Truly was bitter and vengeful towards the town and Robert Morgan for almost the entire book and while it made her a little hard to love it was also a very honest take on how things really are. People hold grudges, even fictional ones. I loved the character of Marcus, one of Truly's friends, who is a great foil to her. He has plenty of reason to be just as bitter but he manages to make the most of his rough life. Robert Morgan is a great bad guy - an enormous jerk - but he also shows a hints of humanity every once in a while.

I did have some minor problems with it. For one thing, it's dripping with metaphors and foreshadowing and it kind of got in the way of story. It also made the ending a little anti-climactic because you saw it coming a mile away. And for another, I thought the choice of the 1st person perspective was odd because there were so many stories to be told. Truly was the voice but she was telling things about other people, feelings and details, that she would never have known. I kept wondering if we were going to find out that she was a witch at the end of it (which would not be farfetched in this story). I realize that this is just literary license but it was kind of distracting to me.

But the story was worth it. The first part of the book was a little on the slow side but after that it picks right up and sucks you in.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Mysterious Benedict Society

Book: The Mysterious Benedict Society
Author: Trenton Lee Stewart
Like/Don't Like: I liked it. Mostly.

It's been a few days since I've finished this book but it's taken me a while to determine that I liked it. I didn't love it, but I definitely had a good time reading it. But even though I liked it and whizzed right through it, the whole time I felt like something was wrong, or something was missing, or my chakras were not aligned. Actually, it wasn't my chakras. It was definitely the book. I'll get to that in a bit.

Why don't I start with a synopsis. Four bright kids, all orphaned (natch), end up being part of a little spy organization whose purpose is to take down a bad guy. They are sent to a school on an island and their job is to find out what is the evil plan and figure out a way to stop it. Along the way they receive clues and get help from Mr. Benedict and his assistants on the mainland and work together to solve the problems. It was a pretty good story. I got caught up in the action and it was kind of fun to solve the problems along with the kids.

So, yeah, a fun read. But there was still something wrong. And I think it was the tone. It just didn't feel right to me. It felt a little too forced and mapped out. Like you could see the author 3 steps ahead saying, "Now look here. Then over here." Not really a dreadful thing. All authors do this. But it was just a little too transparent for me. So I just told myself to get over it an stop being such an unbearable snob about things and I enjoyed the rest of the book.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Crocodile on the Sandbanks

Book: Crocodile on the Sandbanks
Author: Elizabeth Peters
Like/Don't Like: Liked a lot. I'm dusting off my pith helmet for an expedition.

Lately I've been desperate for fiction. I seem to have read a lot of non-fiction this year, which is highly unusual for me, and while all of them were great, I have just been needing a made up story. One that doesn't require a lot of me. I didn't want any thinking involved. No heavy emotions or moral lessons. I needed a lot of plot and action. Like the A-Team. I was looking for the A-Team of fiction.

When I get in this mood I feel sort of loose at the ends. I find myself sighing a lot and picking up unread books on my shelves and reading the first chapters and tossing them aside because they're just not what I want. I ended up reading a few things that were fine but not what I was looking for.

Well, this book was exactly what I was looking for. It's the first in a long series of popular mystery novels that Hannah recommended to me on a few occasions. I trust Hannah's judgement in books because early on in our friendship we discovered that we both loved The Blue Castle. Now, I don't know anyone who doesn't love that book but I have always recommended it to them first. Hannah was the first person I met who had actually read it without me shoving it her face. This was a good omen (Incidentally, Hannah was also the only other person I knew who had independently read Good Omens and loved it.)

Back to the book - It's about an independently wealth British spinster (at 32 - gasp!) named Amelia Peabody, who travels to Egypt and stumbles upon a mystery at an archaeological dig. She's the type of woman who knows her mind and can convince everyone that she's always right. I think Hannah described her as Mary Poppins meets Indiana Jones, which is exactly right. The book is full of adventure in a strange land and it got me out of my funk.

And, bonus, there are enough books in this series to keep me from wandering around my apartment sighing at books whenever I get in that mood again.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Little Dorrit

Movie (miniseries): Little Dorrit (Masterpiece Theater edition)
Like/Don't Like: Long but worth it. It has Matthew Mcfadyen. And lots and lots of crazy Dickens characters. See...worth it.

You have probably heard me mention that I had this professor who was a Dickens scholar and, at the time of our class, was recovering from (and I am NOT making this up) a near fatal flesh-eating disease that left his body covered in gaping, oozing sores. How very Dickensian, right? I mean, seriously, Dickens would have killed for a plot like that.

You should know that anytime I mention Dickens I'm going to bring that up...because it's just too fantastic to not mention.

On to the review:

I will admit that I was lured in by Matthew Macfadyen. While he isn't my favorite Mr. Darcy, he is certainly swoon-worthy. And it's Masterpiece Classic. I'm required by my status as a Former English Major/80 Year Old Woman to watch all of them. Had I known that it was approximately 118 hours long, I probably would have thought twice, but by the first episode I was hooked and had to go the distance. It's actually 8 hours, over 5 episodes, which is still a huge time commitment. And you can imagine my anticipation of it all working out. I didn't know the story, and there are so many twists and turns and trips to Venice in this one that I wasn't sure that it all would. But it did. It's Dickens. It generally does.

The plot is entirely too complicated to even give you a synopsis but I will tell you that it has all the things you love about Dickens. (You love Dickens, don't you? If you don't you should read A Tale of Two Cities and get back to me with your answer.) Funny names, eccentric characters, debtors prison, really good villains. And, really fine acting. Character actors in England must rejoice when casting calls go out for a Dickens adaptation because there are dozens of roles, all calling for quirky performances.

If you're looking for a more modern tale, would it help to tell you that part of this story revolves around a Ponzi scheme?

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Book: Catalyst
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Like/Don't Like: I liked it all the way up to the end. And then it fizzled.

I pray for good endings. Not necessarily happy endings, although I always prefer them. But just a well written ending. A good ending is all about timing. It should come right when you need it and shouldn't last too long and it shouldn't be rushed and should answer enough of your questions to satisfy you and still leave a few so that you're thinking about it for the rest of the day. When I spend all of this time with the characters and the story there are few things more satisfying to me then a good ending nicely written.

This did not have a good ending. Sure, it was happy-ish, but suddenly it was there and I was left wondering what just happened. Which is a shame, because it was a pretty good book.

I've read a few of Anderson's YA fiction and have really enjoyed them (Fever 1793 and Speak). She does teenage angst really well, even colonial teenage angst in Fever 1793. She nails it here too. Kate Malone is a high school senior, dad's a minister, mother is dead (why are there ALWAYS dead parents in YA fiction?), honor roll student, bound for MIT. Or, at least she's applied to MIT. And you see where this is going. But there's a twist that I didn't expect that shifted the whole story in a really interesting way and it hooked me.

And then suddenly it was done. For like 100 pages Kate is miserable and confused and then in 2 she's fine. The end. The ending came in a hurry and with little explanation and it made me feel a little cheated.

I should probably be a little more forgiving of this because the book really was good. But I wanted more. And not "Wow, this was so great, I wish it wouldn't end," but "Really? Did some pages fall out?"

Monday, April 20, 2009

17 Again/High School Musical 3

Movies: 17 Again & High School Musical 3
Like/Don't Like: I didn't want to slit my wrists but an orange jumpsuit is still an orange jumpsuit.

You know how sometimes you're out shopping with your friends and you try something on, let's say an orange jumpsuit, that in your heart you know is a bad idea but your friends are all, "That's so CUTE! You should totally get that! You look so thin in it! I think I saw Tyra Banks wearing it the other day!" And suddenly you go from thinking you look like an Oompa-Loompa in it to thinking you're America's Next Top Short Model so you buy it but when you get home and are going through all your purchases (because you know that when you go out shopping with friends you buy WAY more than you normally would on your own) you wonder how your friends managed to slip you a mickey because that would be the only logical reason for an orange jumpsuit to end up in your shopping bag.

This totally happened this weekend, only the orange jumpsuit was Zac Efron.

And Camille is the one who slipped me a mickey. Because she's the common thread throughout this. She invited me to see 17 Again with her and Allie and Sarah on Friday night and then she and Katie rented High School Musical 3 on Saturday and called me up to come down and watch it with them. What are you trying to do to me Camille?! (I shouldn't really blame Camille. I am certainly not above watching cheesy teen flicks. I'm a very immature 80 year old.)

I'm putting these two movies together because they're essentially the same thing. They both have a lot of Zac Efron casually tossing his shaggy bangs out of his eyes.

17 Again is your typical changing-bodies movie that would have been a real dud if not for this guy. He made the movie. In movies like this the hero's' best friend is always suppose to be hilarious but he was over the top. If you were going to see a movie based strictly on one character this should be it. But be warned, he's the best part of it. The rest is pretty weak.

High School Musical 3 can be summed up in a few words: lots of singing. Knights of Columbus! There were like 183 songs in this movie. I know you're thinking, "Duh, Rachel. It's a musical." But in most musicals you have a breather in between songs. There were no breathers here. It went from one song about school and the end of their youth to another song about the future and the end of their youth to another song about prom and the end of their youth. I saw the first movie a long time ago and I didn't see the second so I have no idea if they had the marathon singing in them too. I just wasn't prepared. And they all sounded the same. Either upbeat big production numbers or swoony teenage love ballads. But there was one song that made me think of Bret's Angry Dance, and that's always a bonus.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

John Adams

Movie: John Adams
Like/Don't Like: Good, despite the weird make-up and heavy pauses.

I have kind of a soft spot in my heart for John Adams. He has always struck me as being short and grumpy. And I can relate to that.

For this reason I've wanted to watch the John Adams mini-series. Plus, I've heard several people rave about it and I can see why. The story, by itself, is incredible. It is broad and covers the highlights of a very fascinating life, starting in 1775, near the beginning of the Revolutionary War to Adams' death in 1826. And in addition to those highlights it focused a lot on the relationships he had - with his wife and children and with the other founding fathers. I particularly loved his friendship with Jefferson. They were friends on opposite ends of the political spectrum who reasoned with each other rather than argued. Politics makes me cringe because usually the discussions are so one-sided they make me want to shout out something controversial just to mix it up, or they're so combative that I want to gather everyone in a hug and feed them cookies to calm them down. It was a relief to see two intelligent people have a respectful and thoughtful discussion on their difference. And I will admit that I openly wept at the end when both of them died on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

I did have a few complaints about it. They aren't in any way major. Most of them are based on artistic choices that, instead of adding realism and depth to the story, just distracted from it. Like the weird camera angles. Anytime there was some kind of discord the cameras would go all wonky. At one point they showed Adams walking through a field of corn and the camera flipped and followed him the rest of the way upside down. Yeah, I get it, his world has turned upside down. Now turn back around before I throw up. It did not help that most of these wonky camera angles were filled with heavy pauses.

A typical scene:

camera tilted to the left
John: (Sigh)(Heavy Pause)
Abigail: (Wide-eyed Stare)(Heavy Pause)
John: I need to go to Philadelphia.
Abigail: (Heavy Pause) But you've just returned.
John: (Sigh)(Slight Stammer)(Heavy Pause) Yes, but the Congress needs me.
camera titled to the right
Abigail: (Wide-eyed stare into the distance)(Heavy Pause) But the children...
John: (Heavy Pause)(Open and Close Mouth Several Times)
Abigail: We will make do (Resolute Wide-eyed Stare)(Heavy Pause)(Cuddle with John)

It wasn't bad, but it got a little old after 7 hours.

One more thing, and this is just pure nit-picking here. But what did they do to David Morse's face? He played George Washington and they put a fake nose on him to make him look more like the General and it was HORRIBLE. It completely sucked the ability to act right out of him. He just stood there with this enormous prosthetic on his face and mumbled a few lines here and there. I suppose one could make the argument that he was just acting stoic, but it looked more like he was trying to figure out a way to breath with his mouth closed.

Alright, that's it. It's pretty long, but it rewards your time with that good feeling of wanting to go out and wave a flag. And coming from someone who is more of "waving a flag in my heart" patriot rather than an actual flag-waving one, that's high pretty high praise.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Little Heathens

Book: Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression
Author: Mildred Armstrong Kalish
Like/Don't Like: Hey, we're practically in a depression now. Who wants to move to a farm with me and raise sheep?

A few weeks ago my friend Lisa asked me to watch her dog, Yard Bird, for the weekend so I went over and picked up a key. And as I was leaving she handed me a mixed CD (which was awesome) and this book. Lisa has great taste.

This book is exactly what the title says it is. Which is just so Mid-Western, right? It's about the authors experience on her families Iowa farm during the Depression. It's filled with simple, straightforward stories about life on the farm and sprinkled with home remedies, recipes and tips for taming raccoons. There's a whole section on cooking that made me gain 10 pounds just reading it. I can't wait to make her apple cream pie. Their life was filled with hard work but it just seemed so rewarding.

It was a fascinating read but I had the same problem with it that I have with most memoirs, and really most non-fiction. If there's no story to draw me in then I have a hard time going back to it. I loved it while I was reading it, her writing is sparse but just dry enough to make you know she's sassy and would slap your hand if you tried to snatch a cookie before supper, but I was never dying to pick it back up. That's just me though. I'm sure you're a much more evolved reader than I am and can handle that sort of thing.


Movie: Wall-E
Like/Don't Like: It has magical memory-erasing powers.

Picture it: Dawn. I found myself lying on the bathroom floor praying for death. It wasn't even my bathroom floor. My family was staying in a condo in Utah for a family reunion. So, there I was, lying on an unfamiliar bathroom floor, contemplating whether or not I could muster the strength to crawl up the stairs and wish my beloved parents farewell. I opted instead to throw up. At that point I had been throwing up for 6 hours. I threw up more times that night than I had in my entire life combined. This is not an exaggeration. I am not much for throwing up. The fact that I was even lying on the bathroom floor should be a good indication to you of the fevered and feeble state I was in. What I'm trying to tell you was that this was a Very Bad Night. Quite possibly the worst night of my life. Even writing about it makes me want to cry a little. And would you like to know the soundtrack to that night? "Hello, Dolly!"

I had turned the TV on with the hopes that it would distract me from the possibility of throwing up my pancreas and "Hello, Dolly!" happened to be on and who doesn't love to see Barbra Streisand in a bustle? But now anytime I hear songs from "Hello, Dolly!" I start to get a little queasy and I can almost feel the cold linoleum of the bathroom floor on my cheek.

I'm telling you all of this to give you a good idea of the incredible power of the movie Wall-E. Because Wall-E, the little robot left on earth to pick up our trash, has a video of "Hello, Dolly!" that he plays occasionally throughout the movie and when it first happened I had a bit of a flashback to that night and thought, "Great, now this movie is ruined forever for me." But the movie just kept getting cuter and cuter and suddenly I found myself hoping that he would play the song again and then I found myself misting up over it and by the end I was wanting to put "Hello, Dolly!" on my Netflix queue. Wall-E cured me of my Streisand induced flashbacks to the Night I Prayed for Death on the Bathroom Floor!

It was a little slow in the beginning and I'm kind of tired of the whole Go Green thing, which this movie is thick with, but who cares. Cutey, cute, cute.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Dark Knight

Movie: The Dark Knight
Like/Don't Like: I fast forwarded through the last hour and a half. Don't Like.

On the plus side Christian Bale is cute, but minus points for his even more exaggerated gravelly voice. But plus points for replacing Katie Holmes with Maggie Gyllenhaal. Good choice there.
But minus about a billion points for all the death and carnage and blowing things up and dead people ever where. Oy, my nerves.
I realize that I'm the last person on earth to see this movie and the world loved it. And yes, Heather Ledger was a very convincing sociopath. And it certainly did take a compelling look at the nature of good and evil.

But I still didn't like it.

Mostly because I don't like violence in movies. Well, violence anywhere, really. But since I don't often come into contact with violence in my own life, movies seem to be the only place I really see it. And I just can't handle it. I don't think it's fun to watch people die, even if it is fake. I know that people will argue that it's important to realistically portray evil and violence in films but let's be honest here, they didn't make that movie to teach us not to kill. They made that movie to make money. And I'm more afraid of people who revel in that kind of violence by depicting it on screen then I am of the prospect of a guy wreaking havoc on a city just for the fun of it. Halfway through I thought, "What kind of sicko would even think to write about this kind of violence?" And that's when I started fast-forwarding it. I wanted to see how they would resolve it all. And I guess it was an alright ending. The people didn't all kill each other. Hooray. But it wasn't worth it. It didn't leave me feeling uplifted or edified or educated or even entertained and it makes me kind of sad that I finished watching it.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Visitor

Movie: The Visitor
Like/Don't Like: I liked it a lot.

I actually watched this movie weeks ago but forgot to post on it. And generally that would mean I would write something like, " was good." Except that I loved it and I remember why I loved it. It was very quiet. And I like quiet movies when they're well written and acted. This one was both. The acting was great, especially Richard Jenkins, who is one of those actors you've seen everywhere but never know his name. He plays an economic professor who finds two illegal immigrants living in his New York City apartment, and because of them he goes from being a lonely widower who barely knows how to live anymore to a man who suddenly has things to care about. He is lovely in it. The whole film is just very subtle and lovely.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

Book: Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
Author: David Sedaris
Like/Don't Like: Thoroughly enjoyable. And a little heartbreaking.

I sort of feel a little connection to David Sedaris because we both love a good story. Throughout this collection of his I could see that his mind worked the same way mine does: that if I happen to see something weird or fascinating or funny I can't wait to tell people about it. We both plot out how we're going to phrase it, how to lead into it, how many people can we tell. It made me feel slightly less needy knowing that there was someone else who does this. And it made me never want to meet him over hot chocolate because we would inevitably get into a game of story one-upping and I would lose. Because he has the craziest stories.

And he's way more talented. The guy can write. He has a gift for starting out with something small, like a talking parrot or a boy trying to bring his parents coffee at a hotel, and turning it into very funny, often heartbreaking, story about his relationships with family and friends. There were times when I found myself laughing as I was welling up, which is a good sign of great story-telling.

Monday, February 9, 2009

New in Town

Movie: New in Town
Like/Don't Like: Even with Renee Zellwegger's squishy face and awkward jogging, I still really liked it.

Did you know I use to work at a movie theater. I have the physical scars to prove it. I started out in the concession stand, burning my flesh on the popcorn popper and then I moved to the box office, where I attempted to not shove my hand through the little slot to throw unwound paperclips at people's heads. Because people who go to the movies are dumb. No, I really mean it. They are ludicrously dumb. At the concession stand people would go from one candy counter to the next, inspecting the identical displays, and then come up to the register and say, "I don't see any Jordan Almonds here but I'd like some so could you pull a box out from the back." To which I would reply, "I would like to not be wearing these polyester pants, so it seems like we're both going to be disappointed tonight." They were no better at the box office. People would spend 10 minutes in line waiting to buy their ticket and when they got up to the window they would still turn to their date and say, "What do you want to see?" "I don't know, what do you want to see?" And I would join in, "I bet the people behind you know what they want to see."

I'm telling you this because I feel it's important, as an active member of society, that when you get to the box office window you know exactly what you want. I know that it must be hard to live in a cave with no newspaper or Internet or phone or blackberry or TV and then you get the sudden urge to go to the movies and you have no idea what's playing. It's a tough world for spontaneous cave-dwellers. I understand. But people are standing behind you in line. In the rain. The freezing pouring rain. Waiting to watch a movie with Harry Connick Jr. Inside, where it's warm and dry. And they're standing in the rain because it's Southern California, where it doesn't rain very much, so builders of movie theaters don't really consider it fiscally responsible to build the box office indoors or even under an awning. And while you're standing at the box office, and you're asking the ticket girl to describe every movie playing at the 30-plex, including major plot lines and character development, as well as a brief critique on it, the group of girls behind you are getting very wet. And their hair is getting all damp and tragic and will no doubt resemble a tumbleweed when it dries, if they ever make it into the theater. Where it is not wet. And when you hear them say very loudly behind you, "Um...we're STANDING IN THE RAIN!" don't just stare at them and then turn back and ask the ticket girl what she thought of "He's Just Not That Into You." Buy your ticket and move. So they can get inside where it's not raining. If you're lucky, you'll be stuck behind a bunch of girls who thought it was actually quite hilarious and laughed about the whole thing. But no amount of laughter will stop their hair from tumbleweeding up.

Wasn't I do something? Oh right! I was telling you about the movie.

Funny. Really. Very funny. And here's what made it funny. The minor characters. Renee Zellwegger was her usual drunken squishy face self. And she had the added annoyance of having Very Severe Hair that I wanted to push out of her face. And the scenes with her jogging were extremely uncomfortable to watch. And Harry was adorable and charming but was the straight man mostly. But the supporting cast was hilarious. They were over the top caricatures of Minnesotans, and I image that some people would find that too much. But I thought they were great. And I laughed a lot. So did the other people in the theater. In fact, there were times that I laughed more at the people laughing than I did at the actual movie. I love it when that happens.

And, since we're all here, let's talk about Harry Connick Jr. in a beard for a sec. It was like Christmas morning for me. Hooray for Harry in a beard!!!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Ghost Town

Movie: Ghost Town
Like/Don't Like: Like. Ricky Gervais makes me giggle a lot. And squirm. He makes me squirm.

You know how sometimes you watch the Office and Michael Scott is just so embarrassing that you squirm a little? Well, he is nothing to Ricky Gervais in the original British version of the Office. Whenever I watch him I want to hide my head under a pillow because I know that something incredibly awkward is going to happen.

This is how I felt through about the first 30 minutes of this movie because just seeing Ricky Gervais gives me kind of a squirmy feeling. But I was pleasantly surprised that he was the funny, only slightly awkward version of himself, rather than the run from the room because you're so embarrassed for an entirely fictional character kind of awkward.

Maybe it was the anticipation of squirminess that made me feel it wasn't as hysterically funny as several people had told me it was. I did think it was funny, and I did laugh out loud quite a few times.* But I think I was expecting a romp. And it wasn't. It was actually quite touching at times. Which, I think in the end, I preferred.

*I'm more of a giggler in movies. It takes a lot to make me laugh out loud during one.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

Book: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
Author: Oliver Sacks
Like/Don't Like: Fascinating!

Oliver Sacks is clearly a genius. And not just any kind of genius but an All-Around Genius. He's smart in a lot of different ways. He's a world-renown neurologist, which automatically puts him up there on the smartypants scale. And reading his books gives you the sense that he knows everything about everything. This book is comprised of 20 or so of his most interesting case studies and in them he references movies, books, philosophers, music, art, and sports. He would kill on Jeopardy.

For me, though, his real genius is how he manages to write about these things in a way that isn't just understandable but is also compelling. He's an incredible story-teller. Especially for someone who is so knowledgeable about a subject that very few people even understand - that being neurological disorders so severe you wonder a little if he's making them all up. Because the title is true. He had a patient who literally could not tell the difference between his hat and his wife. He actually grabbed his wife's head when he meant to put his hat on. Dr. Sacks also writes about a woman who lost all awareness of herself except through sight. So if she closed her eyes for longer than a blink her brain would think that her body no longer existed and she would collapse. He writes about twins who can calculate prime numbers up to 20 digits and a woman who literally hears music in her head all the time. It has some crazy stuff in it.

But it's not necessarily the stories that grab you, it's the way he tells them. If these were just clinical records of unusual cases I would never have stuck with it. But mixed in with all the scientific explanations and references to previous studies by doctors you know nothing of are his experiences of getting to the bottom of problems that nearly everyone else had written off as impossible to solve. He's able to show the human aspect of every case and it's touching to see a doctor be both fascinated and excited by the challenge and compassionate towards those that are suffering. Particularly in the last section of the book where he writes about his work with the mentally disabled. It's very sweet.

In regards to that last section: the book was written in 1984, before political correctness took over, and he uses old school terminology for the mentally disabled. Terms like dullard and retardate and simpleton and freak. I actually found it to be kind of funny and refreshing because clearly he loves them and wants the best for them and would never say anything degrading or mean spirited. It just shows how times have changed in 25 years.

And if you're looking for something a little less scientifically taxing on your brain I will recommend his memoir, Uncle Tungsten. It's about his childhood in England during the war and his fascination with chemistry. It made me want to memorize the periodical chart of elements.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cold Comfort Farm

Book: Cold Comfort Farm
Like/Don't Like: This is Very British. And I really love Very British sorts of things.

The movie adaptation of this book has been a favorite of mine for years. So much so that I had to get into a feud with Netflix because I accidentally sent back my copy of the movie instead of their copy of Gilmore Girls season 3 and they flatly refused to give it back to me. Big Jerks. I held onto the box for ages and a while back I came across it and got sad all over again that it was empty. So I found a used copy on Amazon and joy returned.

Re-watching the movie made me want to check out the book. I had a feeling it would be just as witty and hilarious. I was totally right. It's set in England in the 1930s where young Flora Poste has just lost her parents and decides to move in with some relatives on their run down farm in Sussex. She is set on fixing things up there so that she has material for her book she's planning to write when she's 50. She meets all sorts of kooky relatives living there and does her best at dragging them into the modern world. It has the same kind of feel as a P.G. Wodehouse novel, that tongue-in-cheek take on the era. Thoroughly enjoyable.

And as a note: if you're looking for a good example of how to adapt a book into film read this then watch the movie. Very faithful without losing any of the charm.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Henry Poole is Here

Movie: Henry Poole Is Here
Like/Don't Like: was alright...I guess I liked it...but it wasn't what I was expecting.

I was expecting something else. I was expecting this description from Netflix:
Rather than living his last days to the fullest after learning he only has
six weeks left on earth, Henry Poole (Luke Wilson) cuts himself off from his
fiancée and his family -- and binges on Twinkies, pizza and liquor. But a
fortuitous miracle and a clash with his eccentric, meddling neighbors derail
Henry's plans in director Mark Pellington's witty black
. Cheryl Hines and George Lopez also star.

I was expecting a "witty black comedy". It is neither witty, nor black, nor a comedy. There is also neither a fiancee nor a family. There are meddling neighbors. And a fortuitous miracle. But it was the witty black comedy I was wanting. It was slow in both pace and filming, because like all good low-budget indies it was full of scenes in slow motion. I'm a fast losing my patience with slow motion.

But it wasn't bad once I got over the lack of comedy and speed. The story was alright and it was filmed in one of those cities south of LA, like Norwalk or Downey or Lakewood, because all the houses had those tell-tale sloping eaves that make them look like elfin cottages that were so popular in those cities back in the 50s and 60s. They warm my heart.

And, I'm going to give it away, the fortuitous miracle is a water mark on the side of a house that looks like Jesus' face. And you know how much I love a good holy visitation.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Indiana Jones and the Kindgdom of the Crystal Skull

Movie: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Like/Don't Like: Far-fetched, but I can't lie that I didn't get a little thrill when I heard the music and saw the hat.

I'm going to assume that everyone has seen this movie by now. So I'm just going to say this:

Aliens? Really? You went with Aliens? Because that was pretty lame.

Now, I'm not saying that I didn't enjoy the movie. I love Indiana Jones. But aliens was a dumb move. I wondered what made it harder to swallow then say a man guarding a cup in a cave for a few centuries, but apparently aliens cross the line for me. I can see why they went there. It's set in the 50s. Little Green Men were big then. I get it, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. It still had a bit of the old Indiana Jones Charm but the whole movie felt a little unnecessary to the franchise.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Solace of Leaving Early

Book: The Solace of Leaving Early
Author: Haven Kimmel
Like/Don't Like: Love. Love. Love. With all my heart. You should read this book. You can buy it here.

I heard about this book from the Red Hot Eyebrows girl. I've actually never met them. They're friends of my friend Rac. But I've come to trust their judgement and if you're looking for insightful and witty reviews, instead of an outpouring of rambling opinions like you get here, you should have a look.

I owe those girls. If I ever meet them I'm going to bring them cookies because this book was amazing, beautiful, intelligent, heartbreaking, funny. All the things I love in a novel.

I really wish I had the skills to express why I loved it so much. I can always say why I don't like something but I have a hard time not gushing when I love a book. I wish I could express how I felt about the pacing (which was perfect. Just enough information exactly when you needed it), or the details (like when she described a man sitting in a dinner who always wore braided suspenders. You can totally see him, right?), of the characters (how I got to know the main characters, Langston and Amos, through their thoughts first, and then they spoke and their actual voices, the ones they use with their family and friends, were completely different and added a whole new complex layer to them that made them much more flawed than I had originally thought but also more easy to like.) But I don't have those kinds of skills. I can just say that I loved it. The story itself was powerful and original and well told. I would never ask for more than that.

If you're going to read it, which I think that you should, I'll give you a few warning:

1.) It is littered with Christian philosophy. I was amazed at how intellectual it was, and kind of intimidated. But after the first few pages of it I got over it and couldn't put it down. It doesn't stop. They're talking about Kierkegaard and Kant all the way to the end, but if anything it makes you think that much more about what's going on in the story.

2.) Read it with a dictionary. A good one. Mine, which even has the word "Oxford" on the cover, failed me a few times.


Book: 1776
Author: David McCullough
Like/Don't Like: I liked it but I wished someone had told me the story while wearing an authentic rebel uniform.

Here's the reason why I don't read history books. For me, it's like listening to a Civil War reenact without the benefit of a good laugh as you tell your friends about it later. But I felt a little patriotic last 4th of July so I started reading it. And I've been reading it ever since. It took me 5 months to make it through. Not that it wasn't fascinating. It was just that I already knew the ending. We won! Take that, Brits! And knowing that we won did not help in making me want to pick it back up. It was very well written and I suspect that I learned a lot, except that I can't actually remember any of it. Maybe it will come back to me if I'm ever on Jeopardy.