Monday, June 27, 2005

Burning up the track.

I recently saw the movie Hidalgo, with Viggo Mortensen, and I thought it was a great flick. The movie revolves around Frank Hopkins and his horse Hidalgo, a team that Buffalo Bill dubs as one of the fastest in the world. After the end of a Wild West Show one day, two comers take him up on his claim. They talk of a great race, called the Ocean of Fire, in which men race some of the finest horses ever ridden 3,000 miles across the burning desert. They invite Bill (and Frank) to either enter the race and prove their claim, or drop the bavado.

Of course, Frank and his painted pony can't resist the challenge. Though warned by nearly everyone he comes into contact with (he is the first "infidel" to be invited to the race, and many of the desert's finest riders do not survive the challenge of racing in the desert), Frank enters the race. Of course, adventure ensues.

The plot itself has many implausible moments (what Arab rides around in the middle of the desert with two leopards in a wagon?!), but I still thought the film worked well as a whole. Much is made thematically of the fact that Hopkins was half Sioux. He has been "passing" as a full-blooded white man, and the journey teaches him to be true to himself. Additionally, Hopkins' mixed heritage is used to underscore the theme that it is will, not blood, that determines what a man (or horse) will become.

There are some wonderful shots of the desert landscape; cinematography is a real standout in this film. As well, I thought performances by Omar Sharif (Sheikh Riyadh) and Zuleikha Robinson (Jazira) were particularly good. (Being half-Arab, I also appreciated the fact that all the Arabs in the movie weren't bloodthirsty, unsympathetic characters. There were characters on both sides of the extreme.)

All in all, I thought this was a good movie. No bad language, no nudity. There is quite a bit of violence involved, but that is pretty much par for the course in adventure movies. If I had to grade it, I'd probably give it a B.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Terminal Man

Brian and I watched The Terminal last night. The movie, starring Tom Hanks, Stanley Tucci, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, revolves around an Eastern European man who is stranded in JFK international airport. (While in flight, a military coup occurs in his country, which renders his passport invalid. He becomes a man without a country.) He stays in the airport for several months, waiting for conditions in his country to change.

Some of the scenes in the movie were the saddest, sweetest scenes that I've seen on screen in quite a while. When Victor (Hanks) is briefed by airport officials about what has happened in his country, his limited English prevents him from understanding. It is only later, when he sees images of his country on an airport television, that he begins to comprehend what has occurred. He becomes almost hysterical. Again, his limited English prevents him from fully understanding the news reports, and no one will help him use a phone card to call home and learn news of his loved ones. He is basically left to fend for himself in the airport terminal.

In scenes like these, it seemed to me that Spielberg was really trying to emphasize the isolation of American culture, especially that of big cities. (Very Hopper-esque.) Everyone is too busy to help. No one takes pity on Victor. And the fact that almost the entire movie takes place in an airport terminal - a transitional space, not a destination, people are neither here nor there, they are only almost somewhere - seemed to illustrate the transience of life.

Slowly, Victor acclimates to life in the terminal (!), and our faith in humanity is restored. Even in a bustling airport, Victor begins to make friends, people begin to help him. (As Victor is befriended by the airport staff members, I started to feel much better about the movie. Coming from a small city, the story of the good samaritan is something that I'm much more familiar with. I can't imagine someone being abandoned at the Jackson International Airport, for goodness sakes! I know that someone would take pity on him!)

Victor is always waiting, and we learn throughout the movie that other characters are waiting, too - for love, for the other shoe to drop, for their dreams to be fulfilled. Victor learns, as do some of the other characters, that life is what is happening while we are waiting for life to happen. It was a very enjoyable, very interesting movie.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Lazy Lady

Well, I had no appointments this weekend. And did I do anything? No.

Brian and I rented National Treasure with Nicholas Cage. Now I really regret not going to see it in the theater. I thought it was a great family movie. Lots of action, not too much violence, pretty clean language, and even a history angle! I love adventures! (I got goosebumps a few times.) Some of the chase scenes went on a little too long, but, other than that, this was a great movie. Rent it if you have the chance!

We went out to eat at Fratesi's, a little Italian place in Ridgeland near the reservoir. It's a great little restaurant. (The first time we went there, we were still dating. I remember thinking that it was so romantic!) Brian loves the seafood lasagna there; I usually get the shrimp alfredo. (Both are amazing.) Over the weekend, though, I tried the shrimp scampi. Yum! The portion sizes at Fratesi's are just right - not too big, not too little. (It reminds me of the portion sizes overseas. There's always plenty of food to fill you up, but you can eat the whole serving and still feel fine afterwards. Whereas on this side of the Atlantic, you practically need to be carried out of the restaurant on a stretcher if you eat the entire serving of anything.) We had room for dessert! (Tiramisu - need I say more?) With tip, the tab came to around $45, which I thought was a very reasonable price for the meal we had.

I'm almost finished reading The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Yes, I know, I should have read it ages ago. I've seen the movie (starring Sandra Bullock and Ashley Judd), but I hadn't yet read the book until this weekend. It's definitely a good book, and I'm surprised by how faithful the movie was to the original story. (Much of the time, movies based on books are hardly recognizable as derivations of the novel.) Reading about such good friends makes me wish I'd kept up with more of my childhood pals. We got so far-flung, though. Everyone went their separate ways after high school graduation. My 10-year high school reunion is coming up. Maybe that will give me a chance to catch up with some of my old friends.

We've booked our hotel in Phoenix for our upcoming Arizona trip! We will be staying at the Legacy Golf Resort. It's a little bit outside of Phoenix (which I like), and it looks like it has some nice amenities. Brain is interested in playing a round or two of golf, or maybe visiting a driving range, while we are on vacation. I still can't believe that he didn't do any golfing while we were in Hawaii. There were some amazing courses there.

We also went ahead and booked two nights at the Yavapai Lodge for our stay at the Grand Canyon. It, too, is a little off the beaten path, which is exactly why we chose it. (We hate crowds.) We are still looking for accommodations in Sedona. I'm looking forward to this trip with such relish. We haven't really been on vacation since last fall. I don't know what it is with me and traveling. I guess I just feel a need to experience the world around me and visit places that I've read about or heard about. And I guess I don't want to wrap up my little life without doing any exploring.

Anyway, I am anticipating the beautiful scenery of the Southwest, which will bo so different from what I am used to. Mississippi is a beautiful state, but it looks nothing like Arizona. Mesas, desert, red rocks - the contrast should be quite dramatic. I plan on doing a bit of hiking on this trip, so I may have to do some conditioning before we go west.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

The T-Rex That Ate Jackson

I went to the premiere of the "A T-Rex Named Sue" exhibit last night at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science. WOW. First of all, the thing is huge. Its head is almost the size of my entire body. Three or four full-grown people could easily fit in its stomach. (As I overheard at the premiere, "I'm glad it's dead. We would lose.") BIG teeth and BIG clawed feet.

Along with the skeleton, there was an interactive exhibit. While it was clearly for people much younger than myself, I went through it to check it out. They had cool kiosks where you could change the coloring of a T-rex, investigate what type of arm function it may have had, experiment with movement of its tail and head, and step inside the brain of a T-rex to see what its vision might have been like. (Most predators can focus their eyes in front of them, like humans, allowing them to zone in on a target and achieve it. The triceratops, however, wasn't so lucky. You can check out what it's like to have eyes on the sides of your head, too. No wonder he needed so much armor!) I highly recommend this one, folks. I hope that I can get my nephew out to see it. (And that it doesn't scare him!)

Plus, the museum itself is a great attraction to visit. They are in a new building in Lefleur's Bluff Park, and they have grounds with trails on them behind the museum. Lots of cool aquariums, displays of Mississippi wildlife, and other things to look at and learn.

Today, I am a free woman! I have no appointments!! I'm thinking of either going by the Mississippi Museum of Art or catching the Adrenaline Rush film at the Russell C. Davis Planetarium. (The film is supposed to show you what it's like to sky dive, base jump, etc. Since I'll never do those things in real life, I can at least watch them on TV!) You can learn more about Adrenaline Rush, and the other films scheduled at the planetarium, by going to their web site.

JubileeJam! is also this weekend. While I haven't been in a few years, I may stop by this one. (The weather is BEAUTIFUL out.) You can get the schedule and ticket information at the JubileeJam! web site.

Can't wait to get out there!

Friday, June 17, 2005

Staggering and heartbreaking

I recently finished reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. What can I say. It didn't live up to its name! You can read my full review online at Amazon. Next up: either I Am Charlotte Simmons or The Orchid Thief (which, alas, I've never read, although I DID watch the movie Adaptation.)

Big plans tonight - I'm going to the premiere of the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science's new "A T-Rex Named Sue" exhibit. It features a replica of the largest intact T-Rex skeleton ever found. Woo-hoo! I'll check it out tonight, and maybe I can take my nephew sometime soon!

I also may pop over to the Mississippi Museum of Art this weekend. I recently received my new membership card, and I'm looking forward to participating in more of their events. They have an Unburied Treasures event scheduled for June 21 at 6 p.m. The event, which features discussion on art and literature, is free with museum admission.

I've booked my tickets to Pheonix for early October! Sedona and the Grand Canyon, here I come!!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Convergence and Separateness

Today, a friend and I went to a lecture by Dr. Suzanne Marrs, one of the nation's leading authorities on Eudora Welty. We discussed Welty's short story "A Still Moment." The event, held as a brown bag lunch and lecture, took place at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in downtown Jackson. I really enjoyed it. I had almost forgotten what a good teacher Dr. Marrs is. I dug up my old copy of Welty's short stories, read away, and came to "class." It was a very mixed crowd, which I thought was wonderful. Old and young, men and women, with lots of very interested-looking readers. (I noticed several people who came with notes, pads of paper, and pens.)

The story details a fictional meeting between three very disparate but historical characters who theoretically could have been in Mississippi (and along the Natchez Trace) at the same point in history. Lorenzo Dow was a circuit Methodist preacher, a fanatic for "saving souls." James (or John) Murrell was a murderer and horse thief who patrolled the Trace, looking for victims. Audobon is, of course, James Audubon, the famed ornithologist and rumored Lost Dauphin of France. We discussed the element of time in the story, they way that Dow is always looking to the future, and how Murrell wants to destroy the present. Audubon seems to want to capture the present, but he is never totally successful, as his drawings can only show a shadow of what man experiences upon seeing a living bird. By chance the three isolated men meet on the Trace, and they share a moment suspended in time, the observation of a snowy white heron feeding in the untamed wilderness. Murrell approaches confession, Dow sees it as a visible sign of God's love, and Audubon tries to memorize the details of the bird. The three men, all isolated, separate, share the "still moment," and then Audubon shoots the bird. (He cannot paint from memory; Audubon killed all of his feathered subjects, mounted them, and painted from the dead, mounted birds.) With the death of the bird, the three men are shaken from the still moment, and they return to their separateness.

Welty also played with some other themes: sight and seeing, closeness and distance (which plays into the separateness/confluence theme), light and darkness. For such a short piece of work, there's just so much there. You can read it several times, and get different things out of it (and see new things) each time.

Dr. Marrs will be discussing "Moon Lake" on June 21 and "No Place for You, My Love" on June 28. (Both of which, sadly, I will have to miss. I have Public Relations Association of Mississippi meetings scheduled for both dates.) To learn more about these free lectures, visit the department online.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

It's good to see the King.

I went out with a theatre buddy of mine last night to see New Stage's production of Idols of the King. I had a great time at the show, and I recommend it for those looking for a fun, entertaining evening of theatre. (This is not Sartre. If you're looking for the intellectual deliberation of weighty issues in your theatre, stay away. However, if you're looking for light summer fare, head on over to New Stage.)

First of all, the cast did a great job. New Stage veteran Jo Ann Robinson played "The Woman," and she portrayed a large number of characters with heart and wackiness. My particular favorite was a scene depicting a piano teacher who apparently still lives with her mother. The companion cat, the liquor hidden away in the instrument, the griping mother calling from the next room, the need for a fantasy she could lose herself in - it was pitch perfect. (I was less thrilled with "Zephyr," a loopy flower-child, but that was definitely the script, not Robinson.)

Chris Roebuck, who also played Bob Cratchit in this year's New Stage production of A Christmas Carol, played "The Man." I loved him as the paranoid radio broadcaster, the redneck boyfriend of a (bad) songwriter, and the gay florist. He also shone as the off-stage voice of a querelous mother. For both Robinson and Roebuck, the mastery of the physical workout of the show (and the many quick changes that have to take place in the wings) merits attention. To boot, they both did a great job portraying a wide variety of characters.

And then we come to the King. During the first act, I felt myself resisting the charms of Lance Zitron, a Memphis native that New Stage flew in from L.A. to portray one of Mississippi's favorite native sons. But sometime during act two, I fell under the spell of the King. (Part of this might have been due to a rabid Elvis fan that seated herself next to me during intermission. She clapped, hooted, and sang along to all the songs. Her excitement was totally contagious. That, and Zitron looks pretty darn good in leather pants.) By the end of the show, I was in Zitron's corner. Great voice, great face/body, great movement, and lots of pelvic thrusts. If that's not a recipe for success, I don't know what is.

Add Robinson, Roebuck, and Zitron in with a kickin' band, and you've got a fabulous show. The show also had great technical support. Costumes were a notable standout. MaryAnise did wonderful work recreating some of Elvis' most famous "looks." Lighting by Brent Lefavor guided the eye and accentuated the lame (!). Tom Jenkins weighed in with musical direction on this production. I saw his work at the Millsaps production of Nunsense recently, and I'm beginning to expect great work from him as a matter of course. J.R. Robertson and Sonny White took care of scenic design, and the smart use of rotating panels on both stage left and stage right kept the action clipping along, with no long (or even short) pauses as set pieces were moved.

Congrats to New Stage for a throughly enjoyable production!