Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Two Movie Reviews

As I did last year, I'm going to hold off on picking my best of 2007 movies until I've watched everything I've got in my pre-Oscar queue. I crossed another one off my list this past weekend: Atonement. I was very curious to see this movie, because I really enjoyed director Joe Wright's last effort, 2005's Pride and Prejudice. Atonement did not dissapoint. You've probably figured out most of the basic story from the many commercials that were playing around Christmas: a young girl (Saoirse Ronan) witnesses something scandalous which she doesn't understand, and promptly tells people about it. As a result, two young lovers (played by Keira Knightley and James McAvoy) are separated, and they remain apart through the tumult of WWII in England. I was prepared for the movie to be really sad, which it was, but I was also struck by the quality of the film. It is interestingly constructed, jumping forwards and backwards in time (this reminded me a lot of Brian Michael Bendis's writing). The acting is tight, led by Ronan and McAvoy (though Knightley got top billing, hers is actually more of a supporting role). The design was excellent. I particularly liked the sound design and score, which cleverly incorporates typewriter sounds at key moments. Overall, it was a beautiful, well-made film. I'm looking forward to Wright's next project.

The other movie I saw recently was Shoot 'Em Up. This is a short, violent, ridiculous movie about a "Mr. Smith" (Clive Owen) trying to protect a baby from some bad guys. Really, that is most of the plot. It's just an excuse to show tons of stunts, which are actually quite cool. It's an 80 minute movie, more than half of which is gun fights. It's got every iteration: gun fight in the street, gun fight in a car chase, gun fight on a rooftop, gun fight in a plane, gun fight while skydiving, gun fight in a gun factory.... Don't expect anything cerebral, but it's fun for what it is.

Mittens for the Emma Knitalong

So, I've been sewing more than I have been knitting lately, but I did start a pair of cabled mittens. These are for the Emma (as in Jane Austen's Emma) knit-and-readalong on the Ravelry Austentatious Fiber Artists message board. The theme was "made for each other," meaning things that come in pairs. Since I've been needing some new mittens for awhile (I love my old cabled mittens, but they're beginning to look a little ratty), I started these. They're from the Vogue Knitting on the Go: Mittens & Gloves book. I wasn't sure about knitting so much reverse stockinette, but they're coming out fine. I'm using a ball of Cascade 220 from the stash (which was originally supposed to be felted sheep stuffie, but whatev). Maybe I can make a matching hat? (Though that would require me buying more yarn, and I'm trying to be on a yarn diet right now.)

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Best and Worst of 2007: Installment One

So since we have just started a new year, I figured it was time for me to recap my favorite tv, books, and movies of 2007. I am by no means an accomplished or dedicated tv watcher, reader, or movie-goer. But I like to do this so I can look back over what I enjoyed the past year.

The Best:

1) 30-Rock. ER gets knocked down from the top spot by, of all things, a sit-com. This is the only sit-com I watch regularly (though I sometimes tune into Scrubs, and Mike is slowly introducing me to How I Met Your Mother). When I saw the first few episodes of 30-Rock, I wasn't sold on it. It seemed too random. But over time, the show began to weave together seemingly unrelated story lines, creating a hilarious whole.

2) Chuck. This was a total dark horse. When I heard the premise (guy gets a super-spy computer downloaded into his head and then gets drawn into international intrigue), I was more than a bit skeptical. But surprisingly, the show isn't too hokey. The actors (including Adam Baldwin of Firefly fame) give simple yet effective performances, and the plots aren't too over-the-top. I like that Chuck, the guy with the computer brain, isn't a total loser. He's a smart guy who has never quite gotten his life together. Sometimes he jumps to conclusions and does stupid things, but other times he comes up with brilliant plans that save the day. NBC gave this one a full-season pick up.

3) ER. Some of this past year's episodes have been perfunctory, but overall I am still impressed with this show. The Abby/Luka wedding episode was a standout. It combined poignant joy, zany comedy, and sadness, all in the trademark ER style. The current season has been focusing on Abby's alcoholism relapse, and it has been both painful and wonderful to watch. I particularly liked how they spread that story over several episodes, letting the events unfold slowly.

4) The Closer. Although I don't think the third season was a strong as the second, it was still very good. The cases were less predictable, and the oddball interactions between the many characters in Brenda's squad continue to be fascinating. My one qualm is with the show's portrayal of Brenda. She throws her all into her work, very often to the detriment of her personal life. Her fiance Fritz has been much abused on this point. I find this conflict interesting, but after a while it makes Brenda a very unsympathetic character. I'm all for the portrayal of strong women in the workplace, but sometimes she ignores personal obligations to an extreme extent. I hope that we will see her learn to better balance work and family in the next season.

The Worst:

1) Heroes. I lost all interest in this show. The first several episodes just dragged on, and on, and on. . . . There was very little action, and they decided not to explain anything about the ending of the last season until several episodes into this one. Plus, the new characters weren't that compelling, though Kristen Bell put in a good effort. Eventually I just stopped watching, though I did catch the final episode of the "half-season."

2) Veronica Mars. The first half of the last season was good, but after that it was clear that the show had run out of money. There were several episodes that used very few actors and took place entirely on one or two sets. This really limited what used to be a much more exciting show. The disappointing results aren't really the fault of the show's creators, since they were put in a tough place by the CW. It's sad that the show was canceled, but it was clear that the network wasn't being supportive.

3) Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Eh. Aaron Sorkin has a lot of trouble writing compelling female characters. CJ was great on the West Wing, but I think that has more to do with the talent of Allison Janney than Sorkin's writing. That major weakness, combined with the indifferent plotting really sunk the show.

4) Big Shots. I only watched half an episode of this show, so it's really not fair for me to say much about it. Nevertheless, that thirty minutes was a horrible waste of my time.

Lace adventures

When I visited my parents for Christmas, I finally had room to block out my Highland Triangle shawls. They are just too big for me to do it in my apartment. (I don't have the floor space.) I picked up some aluminum hanging wires from Home Depot (look in the lighting fixture section). Then I threaded these through the points in the shawl edging. The wires helped me a lot in blocking the shawls out evenly.
As for my Shetland Triangle, I almost finished it over Christmas, but then my mother started complaining about how she thought it was too small. This complaint was raised when I had already begun the edging. As a result, I really had to work at pulling the edging out and ripping back. I ended up threading some sewing thread through a row right before the edging and using that as a lifeline. Now I've added another repeat of the body chart, and I may add another.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New year, new movie reviews

Happy New Year!!!!!

It's that time of the year where I frantically try to watch a bunch of movies before the Oscars. Although, since the writer's strike is still on, it's not clear if there will be a televised ceremony this year.

Here are a few things I caught recently. I'm hoping to see Atonement and Juno soon, also.

The Golden Compass
I have to admit that I have never read the series of books upon which this movie is based. I have listened to Mike and my sister talk about them, so I know some of the general plot. With that disclaimer, I thought this movie was good but not great. They clearly threw a lot of money into the project. The visual designs were excellent. But, it seemed as if they weren't sure what parts of the book they wanted to focus on, which left the plot really muddled. Although, the armored polar bear fight was awesome.

Charlie Wilson's War
This film was written by Aaron Sorkin, directed by Mike Nichols, and stars Tom Hanks (as Charlie Wilson). The result is slick and professional. That is both a strength and a weakness. For being a movie about the end of the Cold War and continuing tension in the Middle East (particularly Afghanistan), it has a surprisingly light and detached feel. You almost feel as if the entire thing was made up. One of the best sequences, where Congressman Wilson is holding a meeting with a CIA officer (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) while simultaneously writing a memo with his staff, is zany and brilliantly executed. But it's really staged and fake given the gravity of the base material. This mood was probably a conscious choice, but it did come off as a bit weird to me. We, as an audience in 2007, know that the story of Afghanistan does not yet have a happy ending.

I saw this on DVD. I was a bit afraid to watch it, because I am not a fan of gore. I feared the movie was really going to dwell on the Zodiac murders. However, that is not the case (though there is one particularly graphic scene). Instead, the movie focuses on the men investigating these killings, played admirably well by Jake Gyllanhall, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, and Anthony Edwards (who is, of course, one of my faves from his time on ER). Roger Ebert compares this movie to All the President's Men, and I agree with him (though Zodiac is not as good as AtPM). My one qualm is that the shift from when the investigation is handled by the police (Ruffalo and Edwards) to when it is handled by one journalist (Gyllanhall) creates a marked break in the film. It's almost as if they are two separate movies. My guess is this happened because the movie is trying to follow the way the investigation evolved in real life.