Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Wet cats.

Ok. I have to own up to something. I am the kind of person who washes her cats. And not just the mitt-and-a-brush variety of washing. We're talking the fully-submerged-in-water, kitty-shampoo-in-a-bottle kind of cleansing here. And before the baby was born, I did this every two weeks. Yep, you heard that right. Twice a month, I wrestled those kitties into a tub, soaped them up, and then spent the better part of an hour drying and brushing them.

Needless to say, since the baby's been born, the only water they've seen has been in a tiny bowl next to their food. So it's been nearly 7 months now. But this week, I FINALLY got back on my game. Partly because they were looking pretty mangy, and partly because booger is now getting a bit more mobile, I realized that I had to clean up the kitties.

And since they'd been gloriously bath-free for months, they were REAL unprepared for the horrors that awaited them. I'm talking yowling. And wailing. And crazy pleading. They were all like, "Wait, I thought we were DONE with this!! Are you telling me that we are STILL going to have these torture sessions?! And the kid STAYS?! This is not what we signed up for!!"

At any rate, though, I got them clean. And they look gorgeous. Missy, my long-haired kitty, is especially soft and puffy again. (She was starting to look a little like a walking mop head.)

Order is restored. (Now, if I can just get someone to come remove the spit-up carrot, sweet potato, and squash from the carpet . . . . )

MMA Cafe

I had the chance to re-visit the cafe in the Mississippi Museum of Art. (On my first trip to the new space, it wasn't up and running yet.) I'm happy to say that it's very nice! It's a bit pricey for the fare, but that's pretty much standard at museum cafes. The good news is that there's now a nice place to get a quick bite at the museum. YAY! Check out the cafe by clicking here. (I had the portabella mushroom sandwich. YUM!)

Though the Between God and Man exhibit is closed now, you can still see the Mississippi art collection for FREE! It's substantial and worth a visit.

More movies

Watched two movies this week that I thought I'd pass along . . .

My mother-in-law recommended Facing the Giants, a movie about a high school football coach who inspires his players through his faith in God. While it would be easy to dismiss this movie as just a religious flick, I think it's more than that.

Here's the skinny - Coach Grant Taylor is having a rough time of it. His football team hasn't had a winning season in 6 years. There's a bad smell in his house. His car keeps breaking down. And he and his wife, Brooke, have been trying to conceive for 4 years, with no luck. Then, he discovers that parents of his own football players are trying to get him fired. AND that HE'S the reason that he and Brooke can't conceive.

Grant starts praying. And God answers, telling him to start with his football team and "bloom where he's planted." So Grant does. And things start happening. A new truck makes its way into Grant's life. He and his wife remove a dead animal under their house that's causing the smell. The team starts winning. Etcetera, etcetera.

OK, now I know this sounds a little too pat. But it works. Why? Because the movie shows just how dramatic faith can be.

Some caveats - While the actors playing Brooke and Grant Taylor are good, most of the rest of the cast clearly has little performing experience. The film could have benefitted ALOT from a more seasoned cast. Also, you can tell that the director is new to feature film. Some of the shots didn't work, particularly the scenes where Grant reads the Bible aloud (to himself) and prays aloud. I think that perhaps showing the words, having him praying to himself without hearing every word, etc., would have worked better here. Prayer is something very personal, and I realized while watching the movie that we RARELY see depictions of people praying on film (other than the, "Please God don't let him die," variety).

Of course, there were some stilted moments as well. Another faculty member at the school comes to get him to show him what is happening on the football field. The faculty member launches into some rather lengthy explanations to bring both Grant and the audience "up to speed." I remember thinking, "Dude, this is a MOVIE. Don't keep trying to TELL us stuff. SHOW US. We're smart enough to figure it out."

All of that said, though, this is a very moving film. I really enjoyed it, and I think it demonstrates the power of faith in film. You CAN make a compelling, entertaining, dramatic, artistic movie about faith. Now, where are all of them, people?

The second movie I watched was Wild Hogs, which was throughly entertaining. Smart casting on this film - each actor brings something very different (and a different audience) to the core group of four guys who hit the road on their motorcycles for a middle-age-crisis trip. No wonder it did pretty well at the box office. Martin Lawrence and Tim Allen provide the "comedian" power, and Bill Macy and John Travolta have acting cred.

The movie tells the story of Doug (Allen), Dudley (Macy), Woody (Travolta), and Bobby (Lawrence), four friends who get together on the weekends to ride motorcycles. Due to various things going on in each of their lives, the guys decide to take a 2,000 mile road trip to the coast together. On the way, they cement their friendships, learn more about each other and themselves, et. al.

This was a fun ride. While the plot itself is no dynamo, the characters (and the way the actors portrayed them) made it worth watching. When Woody "accidentally" blows up a biker bar, Travolta's freak-outs are pretty dead on. Macy is, as always, soooo true.

A fun family flick. Break out the popcorn for this one.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A weekend away

Ahhhh, to take a weekend away. It is one of life's great pleasures.

On Friday, my sister and I threw some panties in a bag and headed for Birmingham. We'd set our sights on some food, fun, a few martinis, and the Pompeii exhibit at the Birmingham Museum of Art. A brief trip report:

Headed east on I-20 Friday night, we decided to stop in Meridian for a bite of dinner. I'd passed through Meridian several times before, and I'd always wanted to eat at Weidmann's, a local place in old downtown. (I can't find a web address for the restaurant, but you can read more about the history of Weidmann's by clicking here.) Unfortunately, it was always closed when I'd had the occasion to be in Meridian. Not this time, I am happy to say. We found the restaurant easily and began to enjoy fried calimari with cilantro aioli as our appetizer. (DIVINE.) We moved on to crabcakes and tilapia as our entrees. (OMG.) Weidmann's is upscale, but the food is amazing. I believe there's a bar above the restaurant, and they may serve more reasonably-priced fare there. (However, the bar is clearly not non-smoking, as we could see hazy drifts emanating from it. Just an FYI.) Too full for more, we trundled back into the car for the rest of the drive.

Once we arrived in Birmingham, we checked into the Highland Hotel in the Five Points area. I'd wanted to stay at Five Points because there are many restaurants and bars within walking distance. Plus, it's just a quick hop to Vulcan Park and not too far from the museum. We loved the hotel - Brazilian linens, contemporary design, flat-screen TV, and even a little martini bar off the lobby.

Once we were checked in, we headed out for a bit of a walk and some drinks. We ran into a news crew out to film "man-on-the-street" reactions to the incoming "crippling snow" (about 2 inches!), chatted a bit, and slipped into a bar for some fruity, girly martinis. Delish.

We went to bed at a fairly reasonable hour, but we awoke at 3:30 a.m. to the sounds of patrons leaving the bars below. (And we were on the EIGHTH floor. No, I'm not kidding.) Somebody must have called the police (and no, it wasn't me), because they showed up to get people to quiet down and go on home.

The next morning, we walked in a delightful shower of snow to The Original Pancake House, where we feasted on pecan waffles and peach pancakes with turkey sausage. Portion sizes were insane, and the place was PACKED. Service was speedy, and our accomplished waiter made everything look effortless. Prices were very reasonable. The coffee was goooooood, and it was made even better by the scenery outside. TV crews were back for more "man-on-the-street" footage. Yes, snow is a big deal in the south.

After that, we headed to the exhibit. It was wonderful, and sad, too. There were alot of casts of the volcano's victims on display, and some of them were kids. It was hard to see. They also showed what alot of the victims had with them when they died - coins, jewelry, silver, any portable wealth they could lay hands on. Tiny statues of the gods they thought would protect them. There were also these cool life-sized pictures of excavated streets on the walls, almost making you feel like you were there. They had put up pieces of frescoes from the homes there, with a nice audio tour that explained what you were seeing and its significance. It was a marvelous exhibit, and there's still time to go! It closes on the 27th.

After the museum, we hit the road back to Jackson, only stopping briefly in Tuscaloosa for HUGE burritos at Chipotle's (which we don't have in the metro area). FUN!

Stars in their eyes

OMG. Hubby and I watched American Dreamz this week, and I cannot BELIEVE how long I went without seeing it. A hilarious send-up of politics, reality TV, pop-culture marketing, and the image of America, this movie is not to be missed.

The movie opens, oddly enough, on a Taliban training camp. Robed terrorists are going through their paces as another man films their activities. However, in each scene, there is ONE terrorist who is messing up the shot - falling over the wall instead of jumping over it, dropping awkwardly from the climbing pole, misfiring his weapon. We discover that this person is Olmer (Sam Golzari), who is only at the camp because he is related to its director. In the privacy of his tent at night, Olmer listens to old 45s of showtunes and dreams of being a song and dance man. The camp director, wishing to get Olmer off his hands for good, packs him off to live with another relative in California, telling him that his sleeper cell will contact him when the time is right (but fully intending to abandon him).

Meanwhile, Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant), the British host of a very American-Idol-like reality TV show, is trying to keep his program at the top of the ratings. They are looking for a crop of contestants for the new season, and they discover Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore), a singer from a rural area of Ohio. When he learns that Sally has a lovestruck Iraq War veteran (Chris Klein) for a boyfriend, something sparks Tweed's mind. He charges his team to also find an Arab and a Jew as contestants, leading to what he hopes will be hefty human intrest drama during the show.

In the meantime, America's President (Dennis Quaid) is looking for some high profile appearances to boost approval ratings. It is decided that he'll be a guest judge on the final episode of the show, moving all the major players towards an inevitable and thoroughly entertaining conclusion.

I nearly busted a gut during this movie. It is SUCH an accurate, sly parody of American society and the U.S. marketing machine. Performances are wonderful and light. Quaid is chuckle-worthy as the befuddled president, and Moore is a force as the driven, scheming Sally Kendoo. Golzari's Omer personifies the world's fascination with America. The script is fresh, funny, and smart. Rounding out the cast are Marcia Gay Harden as the first lady, Jennifer Coolidge as Sally's pushy stage mom, and Willem Dafoe as the President's chief of staff. With such an all-star cast, HOW can you lose??! Sooooo worth seeing.

Eating dinner with Chu

I loved this movie. Eat Drink Man Woman is a Chinese film with subtitles, but don't let that scare you off. Directed by Ang Lee, the film tells the story of Chu, a senior chef who has discovered that his tastebuds are starting to fail him. Chu has three daughters, all of whom still live with him. (Their mother passed away when they were growing up.) The eldest is a schoolteacher and is widely considered to be an old maid. Everyone expects her to never marry and spend her life taking care of her father. The middle child is a high-powered executive at an airline company. She's already put down money on her own apartment, and an offer to become a vice-president at her company may move her away even farther - to Amsterdam. The youngest daughter works at a fast food joint.

Chu still expects all his daughters to arrive at home in time for Sunday dinner each week, an elaborate affair that he spends all day preparing for. The film allows us to sit in on Chu's family dinners, the venue of choice for the characters to make big announcements. Over the course of the family dinners, we watch as each of the daughters, and Chu himself, find their way in the world and make new lives for themselves.

The most notable part of this film is watching Chu cook. The camera zooms in on intricate chopping, slicing, arranging, frying, and more. As you watch, you realize that Chinese cooking (and any cooking done with such precision) is truly an art. He slices vegetables with razor-like deft. He creates aesthetic towers of vegetables and proteins. He sets a gorgeous table that would feed an army. It is amazing to see. (And it will make you long for good Chinese food. Don't watch on an empty stomach.) In this sense, the film reminded me of both Like Water for Chocolate and Babette's Feast. In some scenes, the food is the real star.

The plot itself is also good, and I TOTALLY did not see the end coming. In this way, the food really becomes a metaphor in the story - it is the note of something unexpected that provides intrigue to the entire dish.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Brasserie or bistro?

Rapport, a fairly new restaurant in Madison, bills itself as a bistro. I think, however, that it would more accurately be described as a brasserie. Regardless of what you call it, though, you'll leave Rapport with a very satisfied palate.

The dining room is small and cozy, with a short bar to the right. Though the menus themselves were a little tattered, the bill of fare looked positively sumptuous. For appetizers, we chose the baked oysters, four of which arrived on a VERY hot plate on a bed of rock salt. Scattered with leeks and cheese (among other things), they were DE-LISH and consumed in record time. For an entree, I chose the lamb chops, which came served with creamed potatoes and snap peas. Cooked to perfection, the lamb was glazed with a light butter sauce. It was all I could do to keep from gnawing on the bones. Hubby ordered the duck l'orange, which was meltingly tender, with only a light note of orange rather than an overpowering mess. The duck was served with roasted potatoes and snap peas.

But the perfect flourish to the meal was dessert - a FAN. TAS. TIC. cannoli, filled with a Bailey's Irish-flavored pastry cream, drizzled in chocolate sauce and garnished with a perfectly ripe strawberry. First of all, cannoli is not an item that you find on many dessert menus in the area, which makes it rather special. Secondly, the one other local place that DOES serve it butchers it unforgivably. So to find a delicious cannoli in the metro area is no small thing. I am happy to say that I've located it at Rapport. I will be back, back, and back, for dessert if nothing else.

Now to my point about the bistro/brasserie distinction - bistros offer limited menus of regular fair at everyday prices. They are the "family restaurants" of France, and prices reflect that. Brasseries are a step up from bistros, with more options and usually a higher tab. I'd say that Rapport fits into this category, especially since prices can range on the high side. (Although there were entrees for as little as $17, we spent about $26 each on our dinner plates.) But, hey, who cares? The food is great. Servers are quick and have actual KNOWLEDGE about the menu. (Can't stress this enough; our waiter gave GREAT suggestions.) The atmosphere is warm, and the house wine is drinkable.

Get thee to Rapport immediately.

A mediocre vintage

I watched A Good Year, starring Russell Crowe, Albert Finney, Marion Cotillard, and Freddie Highmore, today. Crowe plays Max Skinner, a moneygrubbing banker in fast-paced London. Max is focused only on generating profits, and he has no personal relationships in his life to speak of. After a bumper business day (involving ethically questionable behaviors), Max comes home to find a letter notifying him that his Uncle Henry (Finney), who he used to spend his summers with, has died. Because Henry left no formal written will, and because Max is his only living relative, all of Henry's possessions (which include a sizable estate and vineyard in Provence) go to Max. Max packs up his bags and heads to Provence to do a quick assessment of the estate and prepare it for sale.

Of course, once Max arrives in France, Provence (and a lovely lady, played by Cotillard) sinks into his bones. In addition, the vineyard jumpstarts Max's memory, invoking all the grand adventures he had on the estate with Uncle Henry. (Highmore plays Max as a child.) Lastly, an attractive American shows up, claiming to be Uncle Henry's illegitimate daughter (complicating decisions about the estate).

My favorite parts of the movie were the flashbacks of Max as a child at the vineyard. Highmore and Finney had a nice on-screen relationship, and the golden-tinted light had just the right hazy, halcyon quality to evoke memory.

Overall, however, the movie had a really predictable storyline and smacked of a French version of Under the Tuscan Sun. Not a must-see by any means.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Happyness is . . .

. . . a good movie. The hubs and I watched The Pursuit of Happyness this week, and it was a movie that I definitely enjoyed, even though it had its painful moments. Before I review, let me just mention that, once you become a parent, everything you observe is filtered through the lens of momhood. And things that affected you somewhat BEFORE you had a kid seem to affect you alot more now that you DO have one. For example, when I read those horror stories of mistreated children in the paper, I am doubly hurt because I am somebody's mama, and I picture my little man in whatever situation is described.

Which is probably why I found The Pursuit of Happyness very emotional. The movie, which stars Will Smith and his (actual) son Jaden, is about Chris Gardner. Chris is a smart, capable guy, but he's gotten himself into a bad situation. He sunk his life savings into selling bone density scanners, which don't seem to be moving very quickly. And his girlfriend Linda (played by Thandie Newton, looking as bad as a person that gorgeous can look), who's been working double shifts to make ends meet, gets fed up. She's going to leave him and take the kid, but Chris won't let her. So she leaves him AND the kid. Here's where things get interesting. In an effort to better their situation, Chris applies for a competitive broker internship. He's learned that out of a pool of 20 interns, ONE will be offered a job at the end of the six-month program. He gets the internship. Problem? It's UNPAID.

Soooo, Chris has to start selling some scanners, FAST. He has moderate success, but there are still times when the father/son team is living pretty close to the bone. During some scenes, such as when the little family finds itself homeless for a while, I almost cried. These are the kinds of characters I can root for. Chris is doing everything possible to keep body and soul together and make a future for himself and his son. And sometimes, it still isn't enough. But the guy just WON'T give up. He powers through the worst of circumstances. He puts a brave face on for his kid. He keeps his wits about him. He doesn't cave. You gotta love a guy like that.

Will Smith is great in this. He must have gotten in awesome shape, too, because he spends alot of the movie in a flat-out run. (Talk about hustle.) And Jaden is adorable. His sweet, soft little-boy face. His good nature. His ultimate trust in his dad (on screen and off). A totally effortless performance, it was perfect for this movie. You will love this kid.

I recommend The Pursuit of Happyness. And if you're a parent, I REALLY recommend it. It's absolutely inspirational.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

And other dangerous behaviors

I saw Running with Scissors this week. Joseph Cross leads an all-star cast (Annette Bening, Gwyneth Paltrow, Evan Rachel Wood, Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes, Alec Baldwin, and Jill Clayburgh) as young Augusten Burroughs.

Augusten is living a fairly normal existence with his alcoholic father (Baldwin) and his bopolar mother (Bening). Other than the fact that his mother is a frustrated, unpublished poet with dreams of fame, his life is pretty pat. Then, his mother begins seeing Dr. Finch (Cox), a psychiatrist who is at best, unorthodox, and at worst, preying on his patients. Soon after, Augusten's parents divorce, and his mother sends him to live with Finch and his odd extended family in a boarded-up old mansion. (Finch eventually formally adopts Augusten. Eeek.)

The film, told in the memoir style, is Augusten's account of how he survived his tumultuous growing-up years in such an eccentric environment.

Augusten notes at the beginning of the movie that no one will ever believe him. And it's true. It's hard to believe a mother as crazy as Diedre Burroughs. A shrink as crazy as Dr. Finch. A house as weird as the one Augusten grew up in. But the cast does their best to make it work. Bening is, as always, a triumph. Paltrow is eerily committed. I almost didn't even recognize Joseph Fiennes under all that hair. (That guy is a chameleon.) Cross (as Augusten) and Wood (as Natalie) are the glue that begins to hold everything together.

The storyline was so odd that it was entertaining. And, in the end, strangely redemptive. I'd give this 3.5/4 out of 5 stars. Worth seeing.

Culture vulture

This week, I went to the International Museum of Muslim Cultures in Jackson. I'd been meaning to go since the museum opened, but I never "got around to it." (You know how it is.) Well, this week I made a concerted effort!

The museum currently has two exhibits on display - Islamic Moorish Spain and an exhibit featuring writings from Timbuktu. The Islamic Moorish Spain exhibit is older, and I think it's the museum's permanent collection. The Timbuktu exhibit is (I think) temporary. The Timbuktu exhibit is very well laid-out, featuring a variety of books, instruments, models of buildings, and scenes from daily life. Plus, they have an area where you can push buttons on a kiosk, hear traditional music, and then use some instruments they've placed on a table to make your own songs.

The Islamic Moorish Spain exhibit was nice, but you could tell it was an older exhibit. Plus, due to space constraints, it was kind-of squeezed into a corner of the museum, which didn't make for easy (or aesthetic) viewing. So, I think they either need a little bit more space, or they need to put the Islamic Moorish Spain exhibit into storage until the Timbuktu exhibit closes.

Oh, one other thing - before we toured the museum, they showed two short videos about what we were going to see. The videos were VERY interesting, and I learned several things I didn't know. However, the videos showed you alot of the same things that you later saw in the exhibit. So, while I really appreciated the videos, they kind-of spoiled the exhibit for you (in a way).

Anyway, we did enjoy the visit, and we'll go back when they mount another special exhibit! It's a very unique museum.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Marsden finally gets the girl - and what a woman

You may remember my Superman Returns review a while back, in which I opined that James Marsden NEVER gets the girl. Seems as if I'm not the only one who noticed. Check out this USA Weekend article. Apparently, in the upcoming 27 Dresses (starring Katherine Heigl, who looks FAB on the cover of the current Vanity Fair - see left and/or click here for pics from her gorgeous retro photo shoot), Marsden finally picks someone who loves him back! YAY!
Here's hoping this will become the new Marsden trend.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

What a world, what a world . . .

OK, I watched MOST of the presidential debates in New Hampshire last night. I caught about half of the republican debate and all of the democratic one. I am an independent voter. I lean left on some issues and right on others. Here's what I thought:

1.) Can Romney and McCain please stop monopolizing our time by arguing with one another and simply address the issues? I mean, we have some bigger fish to fry right now as a country than these guys' wounded pride. I was very disappointed that they both allowed their little tiff to suck up valuable debate time on NATIONAL TELEVISION, a bully pulpit they should have been using to talk to us about what the heck they think we should do do dig out of the messes we're in.

2.) Huckabee came off VERY well, I thought. If he didn't hold views that were opposed to many of mine, I would consider voting for him. No wonder he's become the guy to beat on the republican side.

3.) Obama is sharp as a tack. He knows what the American people are thinking, and he's eloquent enough to express it well. His litany of what's on our minds was powerful (though it lost its impact as he began to use it over and over again). But knowing/talking and doing something about it (as Clinton pointed out) are two different things.

4.) Does anybody besides me think that Obama and Edwards had drinks the night before and decided that, regardless of who got the nomination, they'd choose each other as their running mate? It was VERY chummy on the left side of the table, KWIM? And that tag team they did on HIllary was uncool. (Though I did note that the dirtiest part of the democratic debate came off squeaky-clean when compared with the republicans.)

5.) I had such high hopes for Richardson. He tracks my own views more closely than any other candidate. BUT he is not a persuasive public speaker. And he kept going off onto tangents, instead of getting back to the initial question(s). Not good, and I don't think he stands a chance unless he can do a complete 180 on that.

6.) Charlie hit it right on the head when he said that people appreciate Hillary's experience (and I totally do), but they don't LIKE her (and I totally don't). I guess that shouldn't matter, but think about this: whoever we elect, we've got to listen to them for the next four years. And so does the rest of the free world. (Do we really want another person who is just going to annoy us? I'm ready to be able to turn my TV on without fear again.)

Also, this person has got to talk people into doing what he/she wants them to do. And no matter what anyone says, we all know that people want to do things for the people they LIKE. Likability can galvanize action on the part of the message recipient. So if people don't like Hillary, it's going to be harder for her to persuade them to do what needs to be done. Just my 2 cents.

7.) Change this, change that, blah, blah, blah. Every candidate campaigns saying that he represents change. This has come to mean nothing to me. What I want to know (and Clinton verbalized this well) is, "What are you going to DO?" I agree with her on this point - while words are all well and good, it is ACTIONS that matter when the chips are down. Words are only a TOOL to get you where you are going. They are not an end, but rather a means to an end.

What scares me about the republicans - Romney is someone I would NOT like to see as president. I neither like him nor agree with him. Huckabee, while I can completely respect him, does not share my beliefs. Thompson - eh. Some remarkably intelligent things came out of Ron Paul's mouth, but I don't think he'll get the nomination. Guliani had some good ideas, too, but he let himself get caught up in Romney's immigration fire and brimstone. McCain, who I had such high hopes for at one time, might be the lesser of all evils.

What scares me about the democrats - Obama doesn't have enough experience, a very real issue. Edwards seems to be playing the wide-eyed southern boy card, and I find it a bit insulting. (I mean, who does he think I am?) Clinton is awfully prickly and veers toward socialization (scary). Richardson can't seem to stay on topic, which makes me doubt his mental acuity. Overall, their approaches to both healthcare and immigration worry me. I mean, everything the government touches gets more than a little screwed-up. Do we really WANT them more involved in healthcare? And the immigration issue is another sore spot for me, probably because my father immigrated to this country LEGALLY. I was shocked to learn that when illegal aliens were arrested on criminal charges, they weren't deported. Wha . . . ? So you're telling me they sneaked into the country, and then instead of contributing, they robbed folks? And we DON'T put them back on the first boat home? If that's the case, we deserve what we get.

Anyway, I will be following subsequent debates and hoping for the best. I know it's early in the process (Lord, help us all.), but the premise is this: by the time the primaries get to Mississippi, we're pretty much down to two candidates anyway. Most everyone else has dropped out. So the only way for me to effect any meaningful influence is to pick some likely candidates now and start donating/talking to folks about them. With this strategy, I improve the odds that at least ONE of the yahoos on the ballot that I finally get to vote for is someone I can stomach.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Blues and shoes

Today was the Mississippi Blues Marathon, held primarily on the streets of downtown Jackson. A friend of mine who lives close to the route threw a FUN brunch party! We cheered on the racers, then retired to the comfort of her house to eat cheese grits, eggs, bacon, fruit salad, biscuits, and other goodies. Best marathon I ever went to. :-)

The run is actually getting to be a pretty big deal, certified with US Track and Field. Bands were playing all along the route, and there were artists out selling their wares, too. My sister and some good friends of mine did the half, and I have thoughts that I *might* try to do likewise next year. We shall see!

No treasure here

I recently watched The Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. Those are 2 1/2 hours of my life that I will never get back. Let me preface this review by saying that I LOVED the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. I thought Johnny Depp was pure genius in it, and the love story between Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan made for fabulous, romantic entertainment.

Then I saw the second movie. While not without merit, it certainly wasn't as good as the first one. And the ending was crappy with a capital "C." Based on my opinion of the second movie, I didn't make an effort to go see the third installment in the theatre.

But then hubby got the DVD as part of his Christmas haul, and we watched it.

BIG mistake.

First of all, there was just too much junk going on - Capt. Sparrow in Davy Jones' locker, the pirate kings getting together, the Calypso storyline (and the Calypso/Davy Jones relationship), the tenuous Sparrow/Turner/Swan love triangle, and on and on and on. It was too much to keep up with, but more than that, it was too much to care about. And so I didn't. Plus, the ending was just preposterous. (And yes, I continued to watch until after the credits rolled. Now, imagine that same scene in about 40 years. The captain of The Flying Dutchman doesn't age, remember? Ick.)

At any rate, I DON'T recommend this movie. And here's hoping that the weak set-up they provided for still ANOTHER installment goes unfulfilled.

Shiver me timbers.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

More movie magic

Got a chance yesterday to watch The Illusionist, starring Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, and Jessica Biel. Having just watched The Prestige, I was unsure if I was ready for another movie about magicians, but I was pleasantly surprised by this film.

Here's the skinny: Eisenheim (Norton), a magician, arrives in Vienna with his manager and opens a show. Audiences are astounded by the illusions he performs - making an orange tree grow before their eyes, levitating things, etc. Hearing of these magnificent feats from an impressed Inspector Uhl (Giamatti), the Crown Prince (Rufus Sewell) decides to attend a performance, bringing with him his soon-to-be fiancee Sophie (Biel). (Unbeknownst to the Crown Prince, Eisenheim and Sophie were in love as youngsters.) Convinced that he can debunk Eisenheim's tricks, the Crown Prince demands a private royal performance, and the magician obliges. However, once gathered before the royalty and the court, the Crown Prince is unable to explain away Eisenheim's masterful illusions.

Perturbed by the magician, the Crown Prince sends Inspector Uhl to find out more about this magician and how he performs such wonders. During the investigation, Uhl himself develops a healthy respect for Eisenheim, even as he learns that the magician has rekindled his affair with Sophie.

Although you'll see the ending coming, this is a great movie. What makes it worth it: the performances of Norton and Giamatti. (Particularly, Norton's magician in mourning is fabulous. I only wish that being separated from me could inspire such anguish in a man.) The effects in Eisenheim's stage shows are nice as well, and I like it that the magician's secrets are not divulged. Also, I love how the script comments on philosophy, not just magic. Eisenheim introduces each trick with a rather philosophical exposition, which serves as set-up, distraction, and fodder for the mind. The movie plays with the notion of death, the idea of truth and falsehood (i.e. fraud), topics of politics/power, and the significance of public opinion.

Singing along

Ok. Perhaps I should change the name of my blog from "Woman About Town" to "Woman Holed Up in Her House Watching Movies." Because, well, that's basically all I've been doing lately. But in my defense, it's been cold outside. And because of the holidays, alot of places "about town" have been closed. So, I'm not a hermit, right?

The first movie I'd like to weigh in on is Music and Lyrics, starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore. Hugh Grant plays Alex Fletcher, a washed-up pop icon reconciled to performing at high school reunions and amusement parks. Barrymore plays Sophie Fisher, an eccentric young woman with a natural gift for lyrics. Fletcher gets a golden opportunity to write a new song for a famous young songstress. However, he only writes music, so he needs to find a lyricist to complete the song and achieve a comeback. Fisher happens by his apartment one day (she's working for his plant-watering service), overhears what he's working on, and supplies a few lyrics. Fletcher is impressed and begs her to help him write the song. After some convincing, the two get to work. Of course, you know what happens next. The two fall in love, write a great song, etc., etc.

The storyline is pretty trite, but nothing can detract from Grant's hilarious lines and perfect delivery. Also amusing are the peeks back into Fletcher's bygone pop career - the hair and dance moves will give you fits.

I'll admit, this movie will NOT change your life, and it's pretty predictable. But if you are looking to pass an afternoon with an agreeable romantic comedy and don't mind knowing how it all ends long before it actually does, curl up with this movie.