Friday, December 31, 2010

Dear 2010,

You've been a good year - a very good year indeed.  I've seen lots of places, done lots of interesting things, indulged in my passions, and been treated like a princess. I'm a firm believer of the five spheres - family, friends, wealth, health and love.  Most everyone and everything in our lives fit on one of these spheres.  I think 2010 was the first year that I felt like my spheres actually clicked together, as opposed to smashing into each other.. 

Family: in a continuing upward trend, my family and I are beginning to enjoy each other's company.  I think my twice-a-week visit helped quite a bit with that.  We've actually chosen to hang out together, play games and just chat.  I know people tell you this will happen, but I didn't really believe them.

Friends: I've been able to actually get this under control - weed out the chaff, as it were. Monthly Book Club meetings are one of my highlights in life and I simply love those ladies.  Finding a new travel buddy that actually jives with Nish and my craziness has been a serious bonus - Ance, you're a gem.  Board games are back on, although with less frequency, and I'm finding that they keep my competitive edge sharp.  Work friends have become real friends (I can't tell you how lovely it is to walk into your office and have roses - or a scarf! - greet you). 

Wealth: it's the first year I didn't feel poor (although, my bank account still does) and I've been afforded the gift of time to enjoy books, movies and mini-crafts.  My job has been extremely satisfying and I feel like I've really made a difference.  My recent promotion, I think, testifies to that.  Speaking of which, in a month or so, I get to go back to a bipedal commute that's under fifteen minutes.  A new challenge and I'm a little excited (though still sad to be leaving where I am now).

Health: any year where I don't contract a fatal disease is a good one. *knock wood* Having gotten over my initial illness early this year, we've had a pretty good run.

Love: ahh, love.  Elusive little minx.  I'm lucky to say I've found someone who will put up with my special brand of crazy and who doesn't seem to mind that I travel without him, have a life outside of him and who loves me despite (because of?) my tendency to be incredibly demanding.  Who knew this was possible?

So!  As I think back to my 2010 resolutions this year, I realise I did almost none of the things I set out to - I think I drank less, read less and crafted almost nothing.  I did get Netflix and began bringing home library DVDs every week, so I guess there's that... but I still watched a LOT of movies this year.  Meh - I don't even feel guilty.  I clearly did something right this year, so why mess with a winning formula...if only I knew what that formula is...

Thanks, 2010, for being kinda awesome.  You've set a bar.


[Happy New Years, everyone!  Best of luck for 2011 and, as Elle says, I hope you all make more money than a comatose pigeon!]

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Blood, murder, rape, transgender issues and vampires... must be the Christmas Book Club pick!  Yes, this year, we decided to keep up our annual tradition of being non-traditional and chose Let The Right One In, an English  translation of the original Swedish novel, which has gone on to win lauds and praises as a movie, both in English and Swedish. 

What can I tell you that the back of the book won't?  Well, BOB says it's chilling, a classic tale of horror, a roaring good story it has vampires at their best.  All true.  What I liked about it though were the not-so-obvious shocks to the system.  Oskar and his hellish existence at school, the drunken wastrels of the Chinese restaurant, the drugs, the booze and the copious amounts of blood.  This was not an easy book to read, not by a long shot.  Much harder to read at night with nothing but the humidifier to keep me company.  I actually had to put it down forcibly, often feeling a little ill in the stomach.  Lindqvist's (and his translator's) gift for description was often a little too good.  Like a horribly bloody car wreck, I couldn't help but crane my neck for a closer view of the gore and then shudder when I caught a glimpse of it.

Should you read it?  Yes.  Will it make you uncomfortable?  Most definitely.  Will you regret it?  i don't think so.

Now Playing: The Fighter

Even though I've sworn off making an effort to watch the Golden Globes, I still checked out the 2010 nominations list in the effort to get a head start on the Oscars.  I was happy to see that I've already reviewed five of them and The Fighter made it number six.  Nominated in five major categories, I was ready for a tour de force.  I was disappointed.  Unlike The Wrestler (to which, of course, people are comparing ...unjustly so), this is based on a true story.  In case you doubted, we even see the real people at the end (don't you love when they do that?).

The acting was great - I mean REALLY great.  While Mark Wahlberg put some real effort into it, yes, he is distinctly overshadowed by Christian Bale (who is genius, really), Amy Adams (the princess goes badass) and Melissa Leo (damn, this lady can act).  Even the side characters were amazing - I believed every minute of it.  Th directing was tight, well-paced.  What can I say about the story - it's true!  I did like what they did with the documentary "twist" - when you see it, you'll know what I mean - and how it took us as viewers along for the ride.

Best movie of 2010?  Definitely a strong contender.  Perhaps I can make a more educated decision when I've watched the rest.  4.5 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Now Playing: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The third movie in the Narnia series, perhaps the last we'll see of the Pevensies, came out to little fanfare earlier this month.  I barely remember the other two movies (except for Tilda Swinton, whom I adore), so I'm glad they didn't decide to make it too memory dependent.  Anyway, on to the movie.

The visual feel of the movie is really the best part, very distinct and unique.  You can watch any clip from the series and know immediately that it's Narnia, as opposed to Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter.  The acting is as solid as ever, with the kids holding up their own.  The other thing I really like is the seamless incorporation of animatronics, digital effects and puppetry: Toravon looked so real, so life-like, that I still can't decide if he was computer-generated or some sort of Hensonesque magic; Aslan, too, is just so Lion-like - when Lucy hugs him, you can see her fingers threading through his fur.  As Jadek says, the interaction between the "animals" and the humans is some of the best I've seen on screen.

The action is dramatic and the scenery is very well done. The 3D doesn't overwhelm or take over the movie as it tends to do in other post-production renderings.  Nor does it go by unnoticed.  Well-paced and well-choreographed, the sequences are pretty riveting (and because I haven't read the books in close to twenty years, nail-biting!).

So what is it about the movies that don't really have an impact on people (or the box office)?  I'm not sure. Perhaps it's the very British dialogue that's lost on North American audiences (Harry Potter had to change its Philosopher's Stone to a ridiculous Sorceror's Stone because of this).  Or the distinctly religious overtones (though, during the Holidays, one would think this would be a bonus).  Maybe it's just too removed from contemporary audiences, with its WWII frame and its lack of modern techno wizardry.  Whatever it is, I doubt we'll talk about this series the way we talk about LOTR, even seven years later.

Despite its lack of box office gold, I still think The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is worth a trip to the local multiplex.  3.5 out of 5 stars.

Now Playing: Tron

I tried watching the original Tron in anticipation of the slick sequel - I fell asleep halfway through.  This did not bode well.  However, with Jeff Bridges, I am inclined to reserve judgement.

Things I loved: it was a real sequel with no apologies and with every assumption you'd watched the first one.  It actually takes place twenty-eight years later.  A lot of the original characters are back, with one glaring exception (what the heck happened to Lora anyway?).  The special effects were beautifully slick and the 3D was so natural.  I really liked that the Tron world was in 3D but the real world was normal.  It's too bad the original came out in 1982 when, let's face it, movie technology was in its real infancy and couldn't possibly have kept up with artistic visions.

I didn't really hate much in the movie at all.  Aside from the obvious unanswered question: how the heck did she get out? (not when the heck is the next part due out...).  If you are going to see it, I suggest watching it in the theatre (unless you own a 3D TV) because it's a very pretty movie.  If you're not, don't bother.  3 out of 5 stars.


This movie led to an animated discussion as to which movies were real benchmarks for special effects.  Jadek thought Jurassic Park was a real show-stopper - the first time that fake characters (e.g. dinosaurs) were completely realistic.  I went back much further to Jaws, featuring a very realistic shark as an actual character in a film, the villain to boot!  Matrix, of course, changed the way we film fight scenes and do wire work.  I struggled with finding a place for Star Wars, which I think is fairly mediocre but I suppose the space scenes were pretty cutting edge and actually employed some interesting battle mechanics.  Makes for interesting pre-movie popcorn conversation.

Friday, December 24, 2010

On Stage: How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Do you know me? If you do, the you’ll know just how much I LOVE Dr. Seuss’ classic Christmas book.

Background: I didn’t read this book until I was in my teens. I did, however, see the inimitable Boris Karloff-helmed version on CBC in 1987 and I just fell in love. It has been a tradition ever since to watch it on Christmas Eve. I couldn’t think of better way to spend a cold December night than singing along to “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” with hundreds of other kids (and kids-at heart)! Thanks to Jadek, that happened this past Monday and boy was it fun!

Of course, the classic songs are in the play; but they also have some originals that can really get stuck in your head. (“Who likes Christmas? Whos like Christmas!”). The kids are just great in it, without being saccharine. The costumery and sets are perfect, evoking all the images associated with the book, without looking cheap or cardboard-like. Honestly, it was a great time. If it’s still around, it, too, might become a tradition!

Now Playing: The Tourist

When I first saw The Tourist trailer, I totally hyperventilated. The pairing of the Perfect Man with my Dream Woman? Oh. My. God. December wouldn’t get here fast enough! Due to certain circumstances, I couldn’t watch the movie on its opening weekend and I was really disappointed to see all the terrible reviews. Could it be? The perfect pairing was a perfect flop? I decided to ignore the reviews and go in to enjoy the movie anyway.

Here’s the thing: when two people are that sexy and that cool, there comes a time when it’s all just too much. Like eating a UK-sized bar of Cadbury, about halfway through I’m thinking “I love you!”, three-quarters “I’m getting kinda full” and when I was done I couldn’t decide if it was all worth it, despite continuing to lick my fingers.

Everything about this movie was okay – which is disappointing. Sort of like Rumer Willis. I just expected fireworks! Chemistry! Sexiness out the wazoo! What I got was decent, but it didn’t blow my mind. Plot-wise it was pretty good – and no I didn’t completely guess the ending, which is a definite plus. The locales were spectacular. (I need to go to Venice). Acting was solid and the action was very believable. So? A good movie. But not great. I am fighting inner biases by dropping it down to a mere 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Now Playing: Red

I actually watched Red quite some time ago, but just plumb forgot to review it (thanks Jadek).   Here's what I remember, in stream of consciousness mode (which is all i can muster on three hours of sleep).

The actors were great, with the stellar Helen Mirren really standing out (who, I'm pretty sure, went without make-up for most of the movie and was simply divine!).  John Malkovich is his usual crazy self (can that man ever play normal) and, oh, Ernest Borgnine!  Surprise! Also, the charming Brian Cox - if I were forty years older, I'd be swooning.

The actions scenes were pretty good too, the best one you can see in the trailer, the dialogue is quippy and the plot has enough twists to actually keep you interested in between the blow-em-up scenes.  I liked it, but the reason it stands out is because of the premise, which is so much better executed than that other movie (which wasn't bad to begin with).  4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Now Playing: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part one

I know, I know... FINALLY.  Poppets, you cannot know how hard it was for me not to have watched the penultimate instalment of the Harry Potter series within 24 hours of its release.  A trip to Virginia and limited IMAX screenings really did their best to get in the way but I conquered all these obstacles Wednesday night!

What can I say?  After the almost-disastrous Half-Blood Prince, Deathly Hallows was simply divine.  And while I won't go back on my long-ago promise to avoid book comparisons, I will say that the script writers went to great lengths (emphasis on length) to stay true to the feel, pace and gravitas of the seventh book.  Yes, there's  a lot of aimless wandering and yes there's some annoyingly rash decision-making but hello?  we're dealing with seventeen-year-olds, people, and that what makes it so believable. 

So we get a lot of Harry, Hermione and Ron - as we should.  The rest of the cast, though, are severely under-represented.  I couldn't believe that Rickman's Snape really only got one scene - even dead Professor Dumbledore seemed to get more minutes than he did.  No McGonagall, barely any Weasleys, three seconds of Lupin... I suppose it IS what the book was like, but still.

Clocking in at two and a half hours, I thought I'd be antsy about halfway through; I was grossly mistaken.  In fact, I was actually surprised when the credits came up!  I turn to Jadek and was all "that's it?" - so the pacing was incredible. 

I feel weird rating half a movie, because we can't really talk about plot, etc.  However, I'm a happy camper.  4.5 out of 5 stars.