Mr. & Mrs Smith directed by Doug Liman

IMDb link

Yet again, I’m dragged to see a movie I didn’t want to see. However, my annoyance at certain actors should have nothing to do with my enjoyment of a movie.

The most striking part of the movie is its color scheme. Most of the costuming and scene dressings are in neutrals- check Mr. Pitt in a light cream shirt, beige sweater, and tan sport coat. The set design follows similar patterns, but it isn’t boring: I would call it vibrant neutrals, but that doesn’t quite capture my meaning. The movie is full of textural interest without being garishly colored.

This is all very beautiful and only fitting when two of the western world’s most visually stunning people are on one screen. The smooth bedside lamps and beautiful silk damask comforter create an almost tactile scene, but the two actors make the final addition to that beauty. The only flaw is when the costume changes are only for costume’s sake, such as matching suits for the two Smiths complete with eyewear. Their first scene in this garb looks more like a catwalk than armed maneuvers in combat.

Suspension of disbelief is a must for this film. Each situation is elaborately impossible; however, the film is not trying for realism or any heavy messages. As the plot unfolds, the physical surroundings deteriorate in a way that somehow reminds me of sexy, tousled hair.

The acting is very good, with Pitt in the type of role he used to eschew before Meet Joe Black. Many a heart fluttered with joy when he started to embrace his status. He adds his own quirks to the role, supplying a well-acted performance. Jolie is at her most beautiful; I know that an actor is perfect when I can’t visualize someone else in the role. To boot, Vince Vaughn’s comic relief is not overly slapstick and humiliating, and he delivers with heart and humor. Not too bad on the eyes either. Mmm mmm.

Of course, nearly the entire thing is implausible, but the movie is a fun little romp that is worth a look if you like action movies.

[rate 3.5]

The Island directed by Michael Bay

IMDb link

I keep mentioning actors I dislike, so let me start this review by mentioning one I like: Ewan McGregor. From the bizarre but powerful Trainspotting to the Bizarro but entertaining Moulin Rouge, he delivers powerful performances almost every time. Even with weaker scripts (read: Episode II), McGregor give the part everything he has.

Despite my misgivings from seeing trailers, I Netflixed the film. The trailers give away the “big secret??? that the wealthy of the future create clones of themselves. It’s tragic that they did so; all this film had going for it was suspense. Better films can be reminiscent of a Shakespearean play: give away the entire plot before the film begins, and see how a quality script- rich with dialogue and insight- unfolds. It’s no less of an impact than if the plot is not revealed.

The film is slick, but it doesn’t look like the future: it looks like a cool interior design for 2005. I usually love to marvel at the inventions of film: a screenwriter is not tied to budget or plausibility and is free to invent impossible technologies. I was nonplussed by The Island.
Of course, the lesson of the film is that Clones Are People Too and that we should Be Careful With Genetics. Um… who doesn’t already know this? I am worried that our ability with technology has outpaced our ability to handle the ethical problems, but who isn’t?

Scarlet Johanssen delivers as good of a performance as can an ingénue with a poor script. The saving grace of the film was that Ewan McGregor delivers, as usual, a magnificent performance.

If you want to see a vapid movie with no brain or heart, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

[rate 1.5]

Serenity directed by Joss Whedon

IMDb link

A note to the anti-science fiction crowd: please keep reading. It’s worth it.

This marks the third time I’ve seen this movie, and it most certainly is not the last time. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention why this movie was made.

While at GenCon this year, some of my cronies were watching scenes from a movie called Serenity, and buying books called Firefly to be autographed by Ron Glass. They were very excited about it, but I had never even heard of it.

Then my evil friend Oz lent me his DVDs of the Firefly series, a show that was cancelled midseason before some of the episodes ever aired. The network had poorly promoted it, then moved the time slot several times. Seriously, how did I not hear of this until it was off the air for two years? About halfway through the second show, I exclaimed, “why was this cancelled?!?” It is a question that has been asked by me- and by millions of others- countless times. Needless to say, as a geek and a lover of good dialogue, I was hooked. I won’t review the entire series here, but I recommend it highly to anyone who would like to watch it.

I had missed the special BrownCoats screening that was held a few months before the general release. As Joss Whedon says in his intro, this movie was a miracle. Failed TV shows aren’t made into major motion pictures. But the fan base that had built was so tenacious that the movie was made.

The movie had a shoestring budget of $40 million (that is low for a SciFi picture), but most of the effects are very good. The things that distinguish this film from most in its genre is that A) there are no aliens and B) there is a plot.

The movie doesn’t rely on elaborate alien beings (no JarJar here!) to be visually interesting, and the musical score is amazing. The first time we see the spaceship Serenity, the score has an amazing crescendo in keeping with the Wild West flavor of the television series. I had chills the first time I saw it- and this time too.

The world created is interesting- allow me to explain. No, takes too long, let me sum up: of the superpowers on earth, North American and Mandarin Chinese cultures have survived (with a bit of Indian flavor on the Registered Companions- the new Geishas). Both languages are spoken in the film, but Mandarin is reserved mostly for cursing, so don’t worry about needing new language skills. The ship is a “Firefly” class (hence the series name) and the specific vessel is Serenity (hence the title). Some of the more interesting background plot points are explained in the DVD’s deleted scenes.

Joss Whedon is clever, funny, and inventive with his script, creating a world of the future that seems plausible (no Tribbles here!) and interesting. Best of all, though the world itself is fascinating, the movie would carry just as well if it were set on present-day earth. The film isn’t leaning on its SciFi roots and settling for interesting concepts and fun special effects. The characters are each interesting (except for Inara, who tragically has so little screen time that unless you’ve seen the series, you’re out of luck. Go buy the TV series on DVD…but again, I digress).

This is worth at least one look by anyone who enjoys action movies with good dialogue (what a rarity!), and is worth multiple viewings by all of us nerds. For the supernerds, quoting the movie’s quasi-western-southern slang is necessary. For the UltraNerd: quote the Mandarin Chinese.

Don’t rent it. BUY IT!!!

[rate 5.0]

Snow Falling on Cedars directed by Scott Hicks

IMDb link

The tagline “first loves last. Forever” and the title of this movie relegated it to- please accept my apologies- Chick Flick status in my book, and relegated this movie to the back of my DVD cabinet for four years. It was free with purchase of some software, though I can’t remember what. Then, my mother-in-law was in town, and it seemed like a good movie to watch with her, plus a friend had recommended it no more than a week ago.

The movie begins slowly through the mist, and I was uncomfortably edgy. I have been watching lots of action movies, Justice League cartoons, and grisly thrillers. It took me the entire opening sequence to become accustomed to the pacing. This pacing continues throughout the film. Even through the highest drama sequences, the pace is deliberate.

The opening sequence is of a fishing boat in the mist and the plot surrounds this incident. The creaking of the fishing boat, the flames of the lamp, and the sounds of the fog are repeated throughout the movie. Other than the forest, the whole movie seems to take place on a vessel, not dry land. The courtroom in particular mirrors the fishing vessel- right down to a scene where oil lamps are lighted. Visual quality of this film is incredible, and carries the Japanese tradition of deliberate visual art. However, this visual nature becomes very heavy-handed at times, such as a scene showing a cedar branch with water rushing over it on the floor. The shot lingers a little too long, saying “look at me! I’m visually symbolic!”

The plot was very interesting, and definitely kept me engaged. The characters are richly painted and their tribulations are real and relevant, both to the time of the film (WWII-era) and to current times. The plot does struggle under its own weight as it shows the Japanese-American war camps, but recovers nicely as Hatsue (Youki Kudoh) develops. The character development, visual flashbacks and themes, and general melancholy of the entire film are all reminiscent of The Sweet Hereafter (another tragic but excellent picture).

Finally, I enjoyed the film’s treatment of first young love. I can’t really say more than that without revealing more than I would like about the plot. This film appeals to a wide audience and should make it onto your Netflix list.

[rate 3.5]

Bah Humblog

Well, this is not good. I could not obtain any tickets for the INXS concert because the closest one is in Chicago and decent seats are going for $300-$800 per SEAT. Not per pair, per SEAT. So after all of my excitement, I will not be seeing them in concert. I feel a little sick.

I haven’t felt well all week. I have been so tired that I’m sleeping at least 12 hours a day and I have a general malaise. I don’t know what is wrong. I slept 13 hours last night and as I write this, I can barely keep my eyes open. My house is a mess and I desperately need to clean it; my mother-in-law and brother-in-law are visiting all weekend and into next week. I think they deserve clean towels, don’t you?

To make my idle whining completely insignificant, I was told today that one of my coworkers lost her husband this week. His death was completely sudden. It’s always tragic when these things happen, but it’s worse when it’s someone one knows well. Also, she’s a wonderful person who really cared about all of us at work. When we would have to work on a holiday (she did not ever work holidays), she would still come to work and bring homemade egg rolls, cookies, or other treats to let us know she was thinking of us. I know her husband is in a better place, but that’s probably little consolation to her or their two young children.

I called my husband and told him he’s not allowed to go anywhere anytime soon. So to whomever is reading this: go hug someone you love. And pray for everyone who’s lost someone.


While many people think that fruitcake is disgusting, that is because they have been eating the tripe made in a grocery store- or the kind with that sticky, food-coloring soaked, preserved fruit that looks like gummi worms. Talk about gilding a lily.

Real fruitcake, the good stuff, is delicious. It’s baked low and slow, it’s more fruit than batter, and best of all: it’s soaked in alcohol. I have a mister filled with apple brandy and Maker’s Mark that I use to mist the cake daily. For even more infusion, place a shot glass in the hole in the middle of the cake and fill it with bourbon. As with all recipes using alcohol, don’t use the cheap stuff: if you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it. Now, I’m not using my George T. Stagg in the cake, but Maker’s is a decent whiskey that I drink on the rocks.  Here’s a picture of the fruitcake we made for our dad.

As for the recipe, it’s a family recipe. My father had a fruitcake made by my grandfather Maxey that lasted for years with proper preservation. My sister and I lamented that the recipe was gone forever. Then, for my sister’s bridal shower, our aunt gave her one of my grandmother’s cookbooks that had been unused for 15 years. My sister was very excited just to have the cookbook. Then, while turning the pages and poring over recipes, a slip of notepaper fell to the floor. It looked like a grocery list of dried fruit in our grandfather’s handwriting. Then we realized what we had: The Maxey Fruitcake Recipe.

Making the fruitcake is an annual tradition now, and we double the recipe to have enough for everyone. Serve thin slices with fresh whipped cream and Crème Noel (or egg nog if you prefer).

Oh wait… I never gave you the recipe… And I shan’t! The recipe itself is now a treasured and closely guarded secret. But Alton Brown has a great recipe that’s a close approximation.

World Peas

I am happy to see a message of peace amid so much animosity by so many countries. I am not staunchly one political party or the other, but my views do tend to lean in one direction. I am conservative but open-minded. Some peg me as a “Green Republican,??? but that’s too limiting. My core belief is that I think that central government should be limited as much as possible. I also think- in a manner that seems contrary to both parties- that open discussion of ideas is desparately needed. If we are the model of a Republic to the rest of the world, we should view our own behavior as a template.

So back to my original theme. I am not solely anti-war, as it is impossible to be rational with an irrational person. There are situations where force is needed. However, messages of peace resounding from the mouths of religious leaders, political leaders, and (dare I say) we hoi polloi…these messages can only serve to aid in a more peaceful world. The other thing I really like about the message is that it’s a religious leader chiding all religious leaders for failing to concentrate on peace.

So put your guns down on the ground/yeah, peace, it makes such a pretty sound.

Methinks He Doth Protest Too Much

After an intense gaming session on Sunday where my greed and push-the-button nature nearly had Athran killed and me turned to stone, we started perusing my website, my blog, and Oz’s blog for amusing information.

The GM was stationed at the computer (how shocking- the GM was deciding where we would go) and was complaining about the perils of having a website and especially a blog. He berated a couple of my blog entries and didn’t seem that enthused about our websites.

Then, after my ISO meeting tonight, I arrive home and my husband has news. My husband, the hardware/software guru, has helped my GM, the programming guru, to open his own little corner of cyberspace.

I humbly present to you: It’s just nuts and bolts for now, but I’m anticipating a Juggernaut of a site!

See, Gregory, I told you it was fun.

Switched Back to Ecstatic

It was the morning 23 November 1997 and I was lying in bed with my dog curled on my shoulder. I was sort of looking out at the fading leaves on the trees and lazily considering going back to sleep. The phone rang; it was my sister (no surprise; we talked three times a day). She told me Michael Hutchence had died. We had a brief conversation and I hung up. I stared at the ceiling, not exactly sad, but sort of feeling blank.

Anyone who knew me in high school knew I was a fan of INXS in the truest sense of the word. I listened to their music while I danced by myself in my basement, while I painted in my workshop, while I crooned along in bed in my room. I owned every album and made a "best of INXS" mix tape- two double-sided tapes full of their music. I have a painting of Michael Hutchence hanging in my house right now (though it looks little like him- I’m not that good at portraits). I didn’t cry or go crazy when I heard the news. I was really unhappy because I knew I’d never see INXS in concert again. Their last album had been disappointing and lacked their earlier creativity. Now, they were done for good.

Unless you’ve been living in an anti-reality TV household, you know that INXS held a 13-week audition for a new lead singer. They didn’t choose my first choice of singer (Mig), but hearing the band play during the last show made me extremely happy. They played "Don’t Change," and I was singing along like crazy. I didn’t rush to buy the album, though, afraid of what quality it could be. Plus, I’m trying to save money. Then Carlton and I saw the video for "Pretty Vegas" and it was a really good song. JD sounded really good.

Carlton surprised me tonight by giving me the CD Switch by INXS as a present. He downloaded it to the Sonos, and soon my Infinity speakers filled the living room with music. The album has everything: edgier new stuff like "Pretty Vegas" where JD’s fresh influence shines. Soulful songs like "Afterglow" and the haunting "God’s Top Ten" that are reminiscent of X (and Suzie sounds amazing). Like KICK the best? Listen to "Like it or Not." Listen Like Theives? "Hungry." Even sax/keyboard throwbacks from their first studio album, INXS, on the track "Never Let You Go." While I’m highlighting similarities to the old albums, this is not just a band making an album that sounds like everything they’ve ever done. The music is great and feels fresh.

The best part is that the members of INXS truly did choose the right singer. He wasn’t a Hutchence doppleganger, but his voice can handle the older music beautifully. Best of all, I will be able to see the band in concert next year. I have been missing this feeling for eight years.