Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Best and Worst of 2006: Movies

Now that I have caught up on a bunch of films from the end of last year, I feel that I can make this list somewhat well-informed. There are still things I want to see (Letters from Iwo Jima, Children of Men, The Painted Veil, History Boys), so keep that in mind.

The Best:
1) United 93. This is the only movie I saw from the past year that I wouldn't change at all if I were making it. It was respectful of the tragedy without being soft. I thought Paul Greengrass deserved an Oscar for directing and writing this film.

2) The Queen. Even aside from Helen Mirren's brilliant performance, there was a lot to love here. The script was creative with its material, the direction was appropriately restrained, and the acting was wonderful all around.

3) The Departed. Some things about this movie aren't quite right (re: the psychiatrist storyline). But it is such an amazing collection of performances, that it almost doesn't matter.

4) Little Miss Sunshine. I haven't had as good a laugh watching a movie in a long time.

5) Casino Royale. After the last few somewhat embarrassing Bond movies, this one brought the franchise back into full swing. And Daniel Craig is surprisingly hot, though in an "ugly-hot" sort of way.

6) Thank You for Smoking. Although it doesn't hold up as well after repeated watchings, this is an incredibly creative film. And it's crazy. CRAZY.

7) Wordplay. This isn't a hard hitting documentary, but the love it shows for the subject matter (crosswords) is inspiring.

8) The Good Shepherd. It was too long. The performances were excellent, though.

9) The Pursuit of Happyness. This one is all about Will Smith and his son. The rest of the movie is okay, but they are phenomenal.

10) A Prairie Home Companion. I don't like NPR (I'm slightly deaf in one ear, so I can't hear things that aren't music in the car, which is the only place I listen to the radio). But I have to admire both the performances and the direction in this film. Robert Altman will be missed.

11) Dreamgirls. This was beautifully produced and well-acted. Something is lacking in the pacing, though.

12) Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. This film is on probation until the third one comes out, as it's really only one half of a two-part movie. But the joy and creativity that shone through the action sequences was quite enjoyable.

The Worst:
1) X-3: X-Men United. I don't understand what happened. The second one was so good, whereas this one was so flat.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Oscar Wrap-Up

I enjoyed watching the Oscars this year. I thought Ellen did a good job, keeping the jokes funny but brief and moving things along reasonably quickly. I was pleased with Martin Scorsesee's win (though I thought Paul Greengrass made the better movie). It's also sad that Peter O'Toole has yet to win an Oscar (besides his honorary one). The two highlights of the ceremony for me were the opening film about the nominees and the wierd song routine that Will Ferrell, Jack Black, and John C. Riley did. I loved it when Ferrell sang "Hey Ryan Gosling, you're all hip and now. Well, I'm going to break your hip, right now!"

By my count, I managed to watch 8 of the nominated movies before the ceremony: The Queen, The Pursuit of Happyness, Little Miss Sunshine, The Departed, United 93, Dreamgirls, The Good Shepherd, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. However, I failed to catch Letters from Iwo Jima. But I'm going to make an effort to see it.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Movie Review and a Book Review: Enigma

Yes, I changed the template. I'm too lazy to use anything but the pre-loaded blogger layouts, but that pink one was beginning to get old. I thought the blue here was soothing, so there you go.

In other news, I recently rewatched Enigma (a movie from 2001), which led to me reading the book it was based on, also Enigma, by Robert Harris.

The Movie
I was impressed with this the first time I watched it, and it holds up really well. The script was written by Tom Stoppard (who wrote Shakespeare in Love, along with a slew of famous plays such as Arcadia, Jumpers, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead...). However, the film is incredibly conventional for Stoppard (the storytelling is quite linear and no one ends the movie with a pineapple on their head). But it's a good conventional, in that we get effective storytelling and character development. The acting is solid, led by Dougray Scott as a cryptanalyst, Tom Jericho, working on breaking the German submarine enigma code. He enlists the help of Hester (Kate Winslet) to unravel another puzzle: the disappearance of Tom's former girlfriend, Claire (Saffron Burrows). Both Tom and Hester have to dodge the questions of an oily investigator (Jeremy Northam) who is looking into Claire's whereabouts. And then somehow all this gets dropped into the middle of one of the largest convoy battles of World War II. The story sounds more contrived than it is (or maybe the movie just does a really good job of selling it). The film is quiet and simple, acting like a modest slice of life movie that just happens to also be a war movie. As an added plus, we get some great British character acting, including Matthew Macfadyen (2005's Pride and Prejudice) and Tom Hollander (2005's Pride and Prejudice, and PotC: Dead Man's Chest).

The Book
I was surprised by how similar the movie is to the book. The two are extremely close, except for a brief departure at the very end. Regardless, the book is a different experience, dwelling on details a little longer, and really probing the character of Tom. But the language remains frugal and effective, so this close characterization isn't overdone. My one qualm upon comparing the book and the movie is that Hester is a much stronger character in the latter. The book is really Tom's story, while the movie is more about Tom and Hester. I sort of like the movie's focus more. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed this read.

There is one historical note to all of the above. The man actually responsible for many of the British breakthroughs with enigma was Alan Turing, a pioneer of computer science and a man prosecuted for being a homosexual. He was a fascinating person himself, but this book and movie are not at all about him. They are pure fiction.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

From the pre-blog file

I was looking through my photobucket album, and I noticed that I had pictures of this outfit I made a few years ago in college. I never posted pictures here, so I thought I would share. The skirt is basically just knitting around and around in circles, then doing some eyelets for the ruffle. Not rocket science. Then you just sew some elastic into the waistband, and you are good to go! I haven't worn it in a couple years, but it was one of my favorite skirts senior year of college. I think I remember wearing it to the Boston Knit-Out and Crochet that year.

Pattern: Rebecca 25
Yarn: Cotton-Ease for the black and Sugar and Cream Cotton for the burgundy (this was before I discovered LYS's with expensive yarn!)
Needles: US 6 Susan Bates circulars

Tank Top
Pattern: none (it's just a panel of st stitch with i-cords attached)
Yarn: Cotton-Ease
Needles: US 6 Susan Bates circulars

Looking ahead

I'm sorry I have had so little knitting content lately. It's because the semester is heating up, and I haven't had time to knit much. I did sew a little, but all I have to show for it is half a skirt. I haven't finished that because I didn't have a zipper for it.

I did want to figure out what is in the "to knit list," though. I stopped planning new projects because I have to knit all those Highland Triangles (I'm on the last repeat of the center chart on #2 right now). But I do have yarn sitting around for these:

1) Cabled boat neck sweater from Debbie Bliss's Cathay book. I got the yarn for this two summers ago in London, but it's just sitting there. The color I have is this bright pink.

2) A hat using this great handspun I got in a Craftster swap from TheBon.

3) A cabled wrap from Wrap Style, using some red Wool of the Andes from

4) Enough yarn (it's the blue yarn in that picture) to knit another VK Cabled Cardigan, since the first one I made is getting old and pilly.

5) I'm contemplating the Nantucket Jacket that was on the cover of the winter IK, too. But I don't actually have the yarn for that yet. Maybe I should hold off.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Movie Review: The Departed

Next up on our magical mystery tour of oscar movies: The Departed. I'm probably the last person in Boston to see this movie.

Overall, I liked it. It was like watching a very slow train wreck, in that you know exactly how it has to end, but you're mesmerized anyway. I could have done without most of the first hour. A little too much set-up. And I hate to say it, since she was the only actress with any lines of note, but I would have trimmed the psychiatrist (Vera Farmiga) storyline too. But the last hour was incredibly riveting. All of the performances were strong, including Leo's, who continues to surprise me. If the first movie you see him in is Titanic, he kinda has to spend the rest of his career trying to dig himself out of a hole. But he has done that admirably since (Catch Me if You Can comes to mind). Matt Damon does a good job of being the glue of the movie, allowing everyone else to be flashier (though Jack Nicholson is flashy no matter what he does). I still don't understand why Alec Baldwin's and Mark Wahlberg's characters had so much hair, but their performances were great examples of perfect character acting. And I forgot that Martin Scorsese doesn't just have a verbal ADD style (watching his interviews is fascinating) but also a visual ADD kick. It works, though.

Next up: Letters from Iwo Jima, if I can get out to the theater.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Movie Review: United 93

I was scared to watch this movie. Watching something about 9/11 when the memories are still so vivid ... but I'm very glad that I did. This film is an important story, and it will be an important document of 9/11 50 years from now. When Mike and I started the movie, I was nervous that something in it would be handled poorly, embarrassing the memory of the event, instead of honoring it. But that moment never came. Paul Greengrass (who wrote and directed) deserves great credit for creating the best constructed movie I have seen from 2006, and doing it with such emotional source material. Many of the people involved in that day (FAA officials, air traffic controllers, military personnel) play themselves, and that works surprisingly well. The film is also a scathing indictment of the administration, showing us how little ability our airspace control system as a whole had to deal with a situation of this magnitude, despite the heroic efforts of individual members. As a result, the passengers and crew of United 93 are on their own, and their final act is captured movingly and appropriately in this film.

Next Up: The Departed

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Movie Review: Little Miss Sunshine

Finally got around to seeing this one. I was not expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. Some people have told me that they loved it, others not so much. I think the problem is that this movie is based on a series of utter unbelievabilities. How exactly did this gangly, not entirely beautiful Olive (Abigail Breslin) win a local beauty contest to begin with (or even come in second)? How did Steve Carell's Frank self destruct so badly as to go from being a successful professor at Yale (the university isn't mentioned by name, but I think that was implied) to needing a teenager to be his suicide watch? How did Dwayne (Paul Dano) survive public school without speaking for 9 months? In what world would the bastardish Richard (Greg Kinnear) marry a caring woman like Sheryl (Toni Collette)? This movie makes no apologies for this set-up. In fact, the opening scene just throws it on the dinner table without any fanfare. If you accept it, the rest of the movie works. If you don't, it doesn't. I accepted it.

Next up: United 93.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Movie Review: Dreamgirls

Mike and I are trying to watch at least one Oscar movie a week all of February, so as to be able to catch up before the ceremony. First up was Dreamgirls.

I was impressed with the production values on this film. The acting was solid, making good use of interesting casting (Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson did give Oscar-caliber performances). Bill Condon's direction was smooth, guiding us through years worth of plot. However, I was less than taken by the music. It seemed slick and unemotional, cooked up for the stage. The singers did their best to liven things up, but there was something fake about it. The other issue I had was that the pacing was a tad off. The movie would dwell on one thing for a LONG while, then skip forward suddenly. I just didn't buy it. Nevertheless, it was definitely worth seeing.

Next up: Little Miss Sunshine.