Monday, November 28, 2005

Harry Potter: Wizards in Puberty

I went to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire this weekend. What a great flick! True to predictions (and its PG13 rating), this is a darker film than the earlier Potter pics. (Any Potter fan knows that in books four, five, and six, more central characters start biting the dust, and the Potter story begins to deal with some weightier situations.) In addition, there is a little bit of profanity in the movie, mostly spouting from the mouth of Ron, Harry's somewhat sullen friend.

The film begins with Harry, Ron, and Hermione starting their fourth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The students are 14 now, only three years away from the "adult" wizarding age of 17. Mad Eye Moody (played by Brendan Gleeson) is tapped by headmaster Dumbledore as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. (This position has rotated regularly among a variety of characters since the books/movies began. Apparently, Hogwarts just can't find a good dark arts teacher!) As the film opens, we are informed that Hogwarts has been chosen to host the Tri-Wizard Tournament, a battle for glory among representatives from the three schools of wizarding. Each school may select one representative for the tournament, and the competition is widely recognized as a dangerous endeavor for the students chosen. Althoug he is technically too young to compete, Harry is chosen as one of the student representatives, and adventure ensues.

Emma Watson is developing into a fine young actress. Her portrayal of Hermione Granger, a bookish young girl on the cusp of womanhood, was very well done. She also did a good job playing the ambiguity of her relationships with both of the central male characters. I look forward to seeing what she will do after the Potter series is over.

But the real star of the picture is the magic. Needless to say, the effects in this movie are amazing. Dragons, pegasus, odd little mermaids, various magical happenings - all are achieved with startling realism on screen. I continue to be impressed by the effects "wizards" that work on the Potter pictures. They are the real magicians of this series, bringing all sorts of wondrous creatures to life.

I thought the movie ran a tad long. Much was made of the ball that goes along with the Tri-Wizard Tournament, some of which I might have edited out, had it been my decision. However, I thought the film was very good overall, and I highly recommend it.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Perfect cranberry sauce

Usually, my husband has about the same response to everything I cook. "That was good, honey." But he says this regardless of whether I heat up instant mashed potatoes or serve bananas foster flambe at tableside. So my ears pricked up when he asked me to make this cranberry-apple relish again this year for Thanksgiving. He even reminded me that I forgot to make it last year, so you know he's been paying attention! The recipe is from the Cooking Light 2002 Annual Recipes Cookbook. The book contains an entire year's worth of Cooking Light recipes, and it can be purchased online at Amazon.com.

Here's the recipe. It's almost as easy as opening a can of the jellied cranberry sauce!

1 1/2 c. chopped peeled Granny Smith apple
1 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 c. white grape juice
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 (12-ounce) package fresh cranberries

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until thick (about 15 minutes), stirring occasionally. Cool completely. Yield: 16 servings (serving size: 3 tablespoons)

** I've found that if I make this a few days ahead of time, it only gets better as it sits. Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Reads and eats

Well, I've been watching quite a few movies lately, so I thought I'd weigh in on some of them. First, I saw Vanity Fair, starring Reese Witherspoon, and I must say that I'm not sure quite what to think. I've unfortunately never read Thackeray's novel, so I can't critique the film based on its veracity to the book, but some aspects of the movie were jarringly out of place for me. There's a scene in which several British women perform in a little entertainment for an honored guest. There were legs, ankles, and bare flesh everywhere! In my understanding of the time period, this was strictly taboo. I'm not sure if this episode was described in the book, but it seems highly unlikely to me. I enjoyed the Indian influence in the movie, as it imparted a sense of exoticism and wonder that cold, gray England often seems to lack. Performances were all right, but something about it all just felt flat to me. There were several scenes where Witherspoon's character sings that seemed to stretch on far too long. (I don't say this to malign Witherspoon's singing voice. I just wasn't sure what such long musical scenes were supposed to be contributing to the film.) In conclusion, I found this film a rather mixed bag in regards to entertainment value.

I also watched Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, starring Renee Zellweger. Another hit and miss endeavor. First of all, I couldn't understand why Jones was whining about boyfriend Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) never fighting for her, considering he beat Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) to a pulp for her in the LAST movie. Secondly, some quite preposterous plot turns (Being thrown in a Thai prison? That's a bit much for even my flexible suspension of disbelief.) made the whole movie pretty hard to swallow. The movie was okay, and I don't expect that another film following the escapades of Jones will be worth watching unless the formula is changed enough to allow for some relief.

Lastly, I watched The Door in the Floor. Having read John Irving's A Widow for One Year, upon which the film is based, I feel qualified to comment. The Door in the Floor wisely makes use of only the best and most interesting narrative in the novel, which is the introductory story. (The novel continues to follow the characters as they age, showing the impact of the early narrative as it reverberates through their lives.) Kim Basinger was probably the perfect actress to cast in this film as Marion, a wife destroyed by the grief of losing her two sons. Jeff Bridges is also wonderfully unsettling (and annoying) as Ted, Marion's philandering husband. Eddie (played by Jon Foster), who bears a striking resemblance to one of the dead boys, is hired as Ted's driver for the summer (Ted, an alocoholic, has lost his license.), and he almost immediately develops a strong attraction to Marion. The two begin an affair, and the resulting fall-out ends the marriage of Marion and Ted. I liked this movie. Although it is not a hopeful or pleasant film, it is worth watching for Basinger's nuanced portrayal of a childless mother and Bridges' (often unsympathetic) character work.

Lastly, I had to share information about some delicious products from Williams-Sonoma. I don't usually make the significant trek to get to the only Williams-Sonoma in my area, but I had to pop in for a visit after tasting some delicious treats at a friend's house last week. They have a fabulous pecan pumpkin butter ($9.00) for the holidays. The appetizer they recommend for its use: 1 package of cream cheese, cut in half lengthwise and placed on a dish, topped with a spreading of the pumpkin butter. This mixture is them topped with chopped green onions, crumbled bacon, and chopped toasted pecans. They suggest serving it with wheat thins or other crackers. HEAVENLY. Not only that, they have a yummy pomegranate margarita mix ($14.00) that is divine, and its cranberry color looks so festive in a glass! Both of these items are on my holiday menu for next weekend, and you can find them at the Williams-Sonoma web site, which I've linked to above. Happy eating!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The world of thought

I just read an interesting new book that I thought I'd share.

Sophie's World, a New York Times Bestseller written by a high-school philosophy teacher, is basically a quick survey of philosophy couched within a narrative. Young Sophie Amundsen is on the cusp of her fifteenth birthday when she discovers a strange letter in her mailbox. The letter asks "Who are you? Where does the world come from?" So begins Sophie's adventure in a philosophical correspondence course. She receives her lessons via mail at first, as her teacher wishes to keep his identity a secret. Soon, though, Sophie and her professor, Alberto Knox, are meeting in cafes, churches, and other places around town to discuss philosophy. The result is a fairly engaging treatment of what could easily be very difficult and dry material.

I thought this was a good book for what it was. In other words, Gaarder was successful in his use of the narrative to introduce and cover some rather weighty topics. (I did find the novel a bit dry in places, particularly when Knox is racing through the Middle Ages at breakneck speed.) As the book is basically a philosphy survey, Gaarder doesn't get too involved in the specifics of every theory; however, Sophie's "teacher" does try to provide a "big picture" view of the history of philosophic thought.

What intrigued me most about the book was that I hadn't pondered many of the questions in it since my college philosophy courses. I can't remember when the last time was that I wondered where the world came from, or that I thought about whether man has any eternal bits about him, rather than just a temporal form. As Sophie discovers, it is so easy for people to get caught up in day-to-day life. We rarely ask ourselves some of the biggest questions of human existence because we are worried about what we are making for dinner on any given night. That's the primary reason that I recommend this book. So few of us really sit down and think about what our purpose is, and what the world is all about. This book will have you asking yourself those questions again, and it's very refreshing to do so.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Murrow signs on in Jackson

Tinseltown Theatre in Pearl will be showing Good Night and Good Luck, the new George Clooney film that details Edward Murrow's coverage of the McCarthy hearings, through next Thursday, November 17th. The movie, shot in black and white, also stars Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Daniels, David Strathairn, and Patricia Clarkson. Show times through this weekend are 1:10 p.m., 4 p.m., 7 p.m., and 9:45 p.m.

I'm thrilled about going to see it, particularly because it appears to examine how television media, then in its infancy, began to shape public debate and opinion. It also seems to explore the media's role in the personal freedoms and civic responsibility of Americans. You can learn more about the movie at its official site.

Anyway, for more information, or to ask about show times for next week, call Tinseltown at 601-936-5856. See you at the theatre!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Molasses Cookies. You'll thank me later.

Ok, I usually don't post recipes (although I do alot of cooking), but this one is a must-share. This recipe appeared in the October 2005 issue of Cooking Light, a magazine that I absolutely love. These cookies are delicious, easy to make, and they make me think of fall! This recipe is going to become an autmn tradition at my house.

Molasses Cookies
1 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 c. vegetable shortening
1/2 c. molasses
1 large egg
2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. water
1/4 c. granulated sugar
Cooking spray

Combine brown sugar and shortening in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add molasses and egg; beat well. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 5 ingredients (through salt), stirring with a whisk. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture; beat at low speed just until blended. Cover and freeze 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place water in a small bowl; place granulated sugar in another small bowl. Lightly coat hands with cooking spray. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Dip one side of each ball in water; dip wet side in sugar. Place balls, sugar side up, on baking sheets coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375 degrees for 8 minutes. Remove from pans; cool on wire racks. Yield: 4 dozen.

*** Okay, notes from me: I halved the recipe, and it turned out fine. Also, I did not freeze the cookie dough for an hour. I only freezed mine for about 30 minutes. I also noticed that I did not need to dip the dough in water, as the moisture in the dough was more than enough to coat one side with sugar. Lastly, my cookies did not take 8 minutes to bake. They were ready in 6 minutes or so.

I loved these! And, at only 66 calories per cookie, I can have 2 or 3 without feeling guilty.

Flying men (and boys)

I watched two great movies this week: Finding Neverland and Batman Begins.

Finding Neverland is a beautiful family film about playwright James Barrie (played by Johnny Depp). Barrie, who has unfortunately just weathered the commercial failure of his latest play, happens upon a fatherless family in the park. Sylvia Llewelyn Davies' husband has passed away, and she has been left to care for four very rambunctious boys: Peter, Jack, George, and Michael. Barrie falls in love with the young boys, and to an extent with their mother, because he discovers they stoke his own child-like imagination. Together, Barrie and the boys are pirates, cowboys, circus performers, and more. Inspired by the little family, and particularly by Peter Davies (played with aching accuracy by Freddie Highmore), Barrie pens the stage play Peter Pan, which is a resounding commerical and critical success for him.

This movie is a beautiful story about imagination, renewal, and growing up. Young Peter is scarred by the death of his father, and he observes his mother's illness with growing trepidation. He is an old soul in a young body, which seems to be why Barrie names his own primary character after him. Barrie hopes that Peter can feel young again, can rediscover the carefree life of childhood. Of course, there are complications. Barrie's wife, Mary (played by Radha Mitchell), doesn't appreciate all of the time he spends with the Davies family, nor of the affection he feels for Sylvia. As well, Sylvia's mother disapproves of Barrie's presence in her daughter's life. However, our protagonist overcomes both obstacles, and the resulting story is both hopeful and triumphant.

The performances in the film were particularly good. Depp is subtle and endearing as Barrie, playing a character much more true-to-life than his turns as fantastical Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka, and Edward Scissorhands. Winslet is also excellent. Some of the scenes in which she revealed and dealt with Sylvia's illness were wonderful little gems in the film. She makes Sylvia such a likable character that it is difficult not to root for her whole-heartedly. Also, Freddie Highmore was astonishing as young Peter. I loved him in the scenes at the premiere of the play. Overall, his scenes with Depp were all quite good.

Batman Begins was also a treat; I really wish I had seen it in the theatre, on the big screen! To be honest, I was a little wary upon hearing that ANOTHER Batman movie was going to be made, but this film does the legend justice. The film starts rather haltingly, with the viewer seeing images of a young Bruce Wayne trapped in a cave, terrified of the bats that live there, juxtaposed with images of an older Wayne (played by Christian Bale) in a foreign prison. Viewers then witness more scenes from Wayne's childhood, interspersed with his odd (and slightly insane) journey to martial arts mastery. However, once Wayne leaves the "League of Shadows" (corny, but that's the name), the story begins to pick up. Fortified by his newly-minted combat skills, he returns to Gotham, where he vows to clean up the city's crime problem.

Of course, adventure ensues! Viewers are treated to "the making of Batman," including the wit and heart of such characters as devoted butler Alfred Pennyworth (played perfectly by Michael Cain) and cunning scientist Lucius Fox (played by Morgan Freeman). I cannot say enough about the impact of both Cain and Freeman on this film. They both offer an experience and a mastery of their craft that is a pleasure to watch. Cain gives the film some of its most emotional moments, but he is never too maudlin or sentimental. Freeman, though not the father figure that Cain is, is a cunning friend to the young billionaire, and he provides lots of chuckles and smiles by the virtue of his excellent line delivery and facial expressions. I thoroughly enjoyed both of their performances. (Gary Oldman, as Lt. Gordon, isn't shabby, either. He makes a great cop and a great "good guy.") Bale was good in the film, but it is difficult for me to see him as an actor, cloaked as he is in the whole Batman mystique. (So much of it is the cape and the ears, right?) Katie Holmes played Wayne's childhood friend Rachel Dawes, now a young lawyer with Gotham's D.A. office. Though her role wasn't large, I thought she turned in a solid performance.

This was a fun action film, and I didn't think it was too violent for young families. However, if you are planning on buying the DVD in order to get extras such as deleted scenes, interviews with the actors or technicians, or other goodies, think twice!! Our DVD contained nothing except the movie and its trailer. We found this VERY DISAPPOINTING. Shame on you, Warner!!