The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe directed by Andrew Adamson

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As an RPG fan, The Lord of the Rings trilogy land (Middle Earth) is often the universe where the games are played. However, the books that made me a roleplayer- that opened my imagination- were the Chronicles. Therefore, I anxiously awaited this movie to see the characters of my imagination brought to cinematic life. And it’s true that my nostalgia brought tears to my eyes a couple of times.

The film shows a brilliant fantasy texture with bright colors and gorgeous scenery. The wide array of creatures was stunning and interesting. I loved all of the big cats in battle, and seeing them bearing down on the camera as they rushed into battle made my heart pound. In the final battle, am I the only one who saw Chewie?? Was Chewbacca in Narnia as an homage to the fantasy genre?

But arguably the best part of the film was Lucy Pevensie (played by Georgie Henley). This little actor delivers a variety of emotions without bringing the film to a syrupy consistency. Her massive amount of screen time could have broken the film, but she played the part very well. The part of Saint Peter- I mean, Peter (played by William Moseley)- tends to be a bit foppish and reminded me of mama’s boy Wesley Crusher. One of my favorite actors, Liam Neeson, voices the Lion; his voice was too much Liam and not enough Lion. I think that lack of voice range was intentional, drawing on Neeson’s long history as the protagonist in many films and evoking a quick audience affection for the just Lion.

Tilda Swinson plays the White Witch’s bipolar nature very well. Her costuming was artful, though occasionally it looked a bit like the material was made of handmade paper or the remains in my lint trap. The costume for the major battle, with its lion’s mane and headdress, was the best costume of the film.

I almost hate to mention the following because I’m sure this movie’s creators are already tired of hearing it: doubtless many reviews will draw parallels to the LoTR film trilogy. And yes, at first glance, there are many similarities. I do think that some of the shots were too similar to battle scenes from LoTR, but then, all open-field battles and all fantasy films will be compared to LoTR as the gold standard for many years to come. As for plot similarities, they both draw on the New Testament, so hello, of course there will be similarities. Not only that, but the book authors are contemporaries, so writing style and theme comparability are expected. The Christian symbolism is alive and well and obvious throughout Narnia.

The Narnia books are shorter and less complex fare that translates very well into a feature film with very little cut from it. Despite the obvious parallels other films, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe stands alone as an excellent fantasy film for children, with something for older viewers as well.

[rate 3.5]

Adaptation. directed by Spike Jonze

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“The play’s th’ thing!” While Shakespeare’s play within a play may have been one of the first, Adaptation. seeks again to use the theatre as both means and end. Nicholas Cage surprised me with his effective performances as the Kaufman twins. The best part of his performance is that unlike many people who play twins, Cage does not make them into charicatures; each twin has a wide range of emotion and reaction. The special effects that put the two in the same room or car are also very well done. But a note to the author: I can’t stand split screen. It’s not the author’s fault, but I spend more time looking at the actor and effects and lose the scene’s meaning as a result. A touch of adult attention defecit on my part. Sometime’s I’m just a monkey looking for a shiny toy, easily distracted.

Where was I? Oh, right.

The story focuses on a screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman, with terrible writer’s block and a horrible case of personal inertia. I’ve been there. He’s staring at a blank page and decides to use coffee as a reward when he has typed something. I have had the same thought, using an artificial carrot on a stick to propel myself forward on an otherwise unrewarding task. As the movie unfolds, the choppy and confusing style at the beginning make complete sense: we are the test audience for the screenwriter’s failed attempts.

Every performance is very well executed, delivering the movie in a way that can’t be done by lesser actors. The film’s mockery of Hollywood, of writers, of itself is so interwoven that sometimes it’s hard to tell where the sarcasm ends. At one point in the film I questioned if Charlie’s twin Donnie had taken over and was writing the ending. The constant mockery is also a clever way to excuse any of the things that don’t work. If one doesn’t like a visual effect, such as starting the movie with voice on a black screen, the film’s authors can claim it was part of the entire idea of a poorly written movie. The story, the actual tale about flowers and the orchid thief, was a perfectly ordinary Hollywood piece. Only the book within a screenplay within a movie revives the interest.

The characters and erratic plot connections are dark and Magnolia-esque, but the device is successful…and no frogs this time.

[rate 3.0]

Happy Couple?

NickeysThis is a picture of Carlton and me from earlier this summer.  My parents will probably KILL me for having a cigar.  Even though I smoke fewer than two a year, it’s still grounds for my death.  Not from cancer, mind you, but from their verbal bludgeoning.  They would further argue that I’ve ruined a perfectly good picture.  I disagree.  Carlton and I shared a cigar and a glass of bourbon at one of his work functions.  It was a lot of fun, and as a matter of fact, this picture was taken on the day I credit with being the "upswing" in Carlton’s happiness.  He had been really stressed by work, life,…. ME, and he slowly but surely changed his outlook for the better.  I love how happy he looks in the picture.

I am aware that most blog entries (including my own) are plagued by angst and what I call blogorrhea, driven by a need to be poetic and eloquent.  It’s the common person’s way to seem artistic.  As U2 once said, "every artist is a cannibal/every poet is a thief/all kill their inspiration/then sing about their grief."  I think comedy and lighthearted themes are much more difficult to convey without being too much like a syrupy movie. 

No angst: this one’s just happy.  I love this guy.

Uh oh.  Am I Nora Ephron?

Betta splendens Fry Update

My last Betta fry died today. I feel like a bit of a failure. It was somewhat of an experiment anyway, but part of me feels like hundreds of little lives shouldn’t be an “experiment.???

They hatched on 07 November, so they were four weeks old, and I lost them little by little. I did 20-40% water changes daily for three weeks, and then 30% every other day this week. I think I didn’t offer enough food; I had quite an infusoria culture going, but I weaned the fry onto dry foods because I didn’t have a microworm culture. I prepared egg yolk and they ate it with relish, but they never liked the prepared foods and I couldn’t feed them more than twice a day. Microworms live long enough for the fish to feed on them all day. I feel worse that they probably starved to death.

As an aquarium keeper, I’ve developed a keen sense of responsibility for the animals I keep. It’s tragic how some people treat their fish and I do everything I can to make my fish’s lives as happy as possible. Even with 25 years of experience, I’m still experimenting with my own ethics!

I am going to concentrate on the health of my reef and my five adult bettas. I’m thinking of converting the fry tank into a nice planted tank for the kitchen. Maybe a Betta biotope with the four females? I have each Betta in a 2.5-gallon aquarium, but I moved the females’ tanks together to see how they reacted to each other. While they are not supposed to be as pugnacious as the males, they “barred up??? and flared quite a bit at each other. I don’t want to put them together if they will end up beating on each other. Maybe I’ll make the 15-gallon tank heavily planted before I add the fish. That will also help me with the CO2 challenge: a DIY setup for CO2 can have drastic pH swings until the aquarist learns how to handle them.

As Calvin would say, Further Bulletins As Events Warrant.

Stealth directed by Rob Cohen

IMDb Description

I was dragged, kicking and screaming, to this movie even though I watched it at home. I had seen bad reviews, and the reviews were right. Like many action movies with no real plot, the premise revolves around one individual having a serious lack of both morals and knowledge of consequence. It also contains the requisite Nice Guy who Bites It.

WARNING: This paragraph will ruin the plot (if you want to call it that) if you haven’t seen the movie. Jamie Foxx, revered as a chameleon of an actor with the ability to display a multitude of tragic emotions as well as comedic range, dies by being fooled into crashing into a mountain. His performance (driven by a bad script) was so flat that I didn’t feel sad when he died, though he was a main character. I was too busy questioning how one of the top three pilots in the entire navy crashed head-on into a mountain with a little provocation by a droid ship.

The special effects looked very good, but the soundtrack was weak in content and delivery: the music was forgettable and did not use the full range of the surround sound capabilities. Air Force One is still my reference standard.

One saving grace: Jessica Biel looks incredible and was fun to watch.

Don’t waste your rental fees or Netflix time.
[rate 0.5]

Hotel Rwanda directed by Terry George

IMDb Description

Let me start by saying that Nick Nolte is IMHO one of the most annoying actors on the planet. Like Tom Cruise, he cannot be mercuric enough to meld into a role: even when the film is fantastic, you still know it’s Nick Nolte, not his character. Not so in this film. This is Nolte’s best performance, and there were many moments when I forgot the actor and saw Colonel Oliver instead.

Joaquin Phoenix delivers a strong performance as one of the minor characters. He is a journalist risking his life to document the situation in Rwanda. It is a testament to the skill of the writing and direction that the character, though he has little screen time, is fully developed and the audience understands him and his personal struggles. He delivers the line that affected me most: when speaking to Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), he says (I’m paraphrasing here) that he’s afraid that people will see what is happening in Rwanda on the evening news, they will say “how terrible,??? and they will do nothing. It’s a chilling line… and it’s true.

Speaking of Cheadle, this is an actor with serious range. I’ve almost always enjoyed his films, and this is no exception. He plays the role as a brilliantly understated man. He could have made the role into an angst-ridden, larger-than-life martyr. The brilliance is that it shows how Rusesabagina starts as a complex and intelligent man, and accepts his role as savior to first his neighbors, then savior to over a thousand people.

My favorite impression of the film is that the people attempted to maintain normalcy even though everything was falling apart. When under extreme stress such as cancer, individuals stop caring how they look. One of the first signs of remission is when the patient starts combing their hair or wearing makeup: they have hope for the future. While wearing a shirt and tie in the face of genocide may seem frivolous, it is this very attempt at composure that allows the hotel staff and guests to maintain it.

The colors, bright and brilliant at first, become muddied as the film progresses, and show their brilliance again in key scenes. The costuming was perfect and the texture of the film is fluid. The sound of the African songs filled the room with deep bass and incredibly moving rhythm. The theme song in particular displayed a great range of highs and lows, with rhythm that begs the audience to stand up and move…just like the film itself does.

I went into my home theatre to be entertained and came out wanting to change the world. While Rwanda may not be in the ruin it was at the time of this film, Sudan and many other parts of subSaharan Africa desparately need help. Closer to home, Haiti struggles under corruption.

I will not watch the evening news and do nothing.

[rate 4.0]

Asian Spiced Fried Turkey by Ming Tsai

My parents were out of town for Thanksgiving, so I invited everyone to my house on Saturday for Fakesgiving.

The recipe I used is an adaptation of Ming Tsai’s fried turkey recipe. The only hard part is cutting the turkey into pieces. Now, I buy whole organic chickens and routinely cut them into pieces or debone them completely, but part of that involves popping out the leg joints in order to cut the leg. Doing that to a turkey that is four times the size- that joint is strong! I recommend wearing long rubber gloves not only for bacteria protection, but also for grip on the fingers and forearms. You’ll need the extra leverage!

I adapt the recipe by what I place in the brine. This time, it was the requisite salt, sugar, at first, but I lower the concentration in half. After two days, I changed the water and added chinese five-spice, reduced salt but no sugar, and a lemon and an orange, halved and squeezed into the brine before adding the fruit. This brining is for one day.

The frying is easy if the oil is kept very hot- under 350 and the pieces are soggy and greasy. To avoid this issue, allow the pieces to come to room temperature before frying, and only add one piece at a time. I work clockwise around the pot: add a piece, remove the one clockwise, and so forth. By adding one piece every five minutes, the oil never has to dip too far in temperature, but the pot is still full.

It is a lot of prep work, but it’s really delicious and not hard to prepare the day of the event.