Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Grey Cabled Mittens

I finished them! I've been wearing them this past week, and I'm quite happy with them. They fit well, aren't too bulky, and are pretty warm. I did end up buying yarn for a matching Gretel hat (damn you, tempting yarn sales!). Hopefully I can start swatching for that soon.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Oscar Wrap-Up, 2007 Best and Worst Movies

So I sat through the entire Oscars ceremony last night. I was pleased with a number of the awards results, from the expected (best actor Daniel Day-Lewis, best supporting actor Javier Bardem, best picture No Country for Old Men, best score Atonement) and the unexpected (best supporting actress Tilda Swinton, best editing Bourne Ultimatum, best visual effects The Golden Compass). I thought Jon Stewart did okay, especially considering that he only had a week to prepare with his writing staff.

Which brings me to my 2007 Best and Worst: Movies list. Of the Oscar nominees, the only film I planned to see but didn't was Elizabeth: The Golden Age (I have netflixed it though). Of the other movies, I would still like to see Before the Devil Knows You're Dead and The Great Debaters. I'm going to admit that I'm voting a bit more with my heart than my head here. I ranked some stuff pretty high, even though I saw more artistic merit in other movies. This is what I enjoyed the most.

The Best:
1) Michael Clayton. I loved a lot of movies from 2007, but this is the only one I didn't have ANY reservations about. Acting, script, design, direction...this movie has it all. Plus, it stars George Clooney.

2) The Bourne Ultimatum. This isn't a particularly cerebral film, but it is well-written, directed, and acted. And the assassination in the London train station scenes are as good a suspense/action sequence as any I've seen. I like that someone as talented as Paul Greengrass (United 93) is willing to make something so enjoyably popcorn-y. This is sure to become an action movie favorite. Plus, it stars Matt Damon.

3)3:10 to Yuma. Like Bourne, this is also a fairly straightforward film. But also like Bourne, it's incredibly well-made and very enjoyable. Russel Crowe and Christian Bale work wonderfully together.

4) Ratatouille. Pixar continues its streak of beautiful, lovable, quality family films. It's not quite Finding Nemo, but it's close. As soon as I finished watching this one, I put it back in the DVD player and watched it again.

5) No Country for Old Men. I still have reservations about the ending, but this movie was impeccably executed. The showdowns between Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin are so good, that you can almost forgive anything else.

6) Atonement. Unlike No Country or There Will Be Blood, this is an example of a "classic" drama, made very much in an older mold. However, due largely to its interesting plot structure and kinetic direction, the film avoids feeling dated. I wish they had given Keira more to do (she comes off as annoying, largely due to the lack of material she has to work with), but James McAvoy and Saoirse Ronan are excellent.

7) Eastern Promises. It's all about Viggo Mortensen. End of story.

8) Gone Baby Gone. The script lacked some zest, relying too much on voice-over narration, but I was very taken with Ben Affleck's direction and Casey Affleck's performance. I'm looking forward to future projects from them.

9) Zodiac. A beautiful ensemble piece, though a bit drawn out. Mark Ruffalo totally works his ridiculous haircut, too. I was a bit surprised it got totally ignored this award season, though it was probably released too early in 2007.

10) Juno. A little too artificially cute for me, but Ellen Page is amazing. Plus, who doesn't like JK Simmons?

Stuff I liked but had some issues with: American Gangster, Charlie Wilson's War, Harry Potter 5, Across the Universe, Shoot 'em Up, The Golden Compass, Live Free or Die Hard, Oceans 13, There Will Be Blood.

The Worst:
1) Spider-Man 3. Painful. May be a franchise killer, though Marvel is planning to try again.

2) Shrek The Third: Eh.

3) Breach: A waste of Chris Cooper.

4) Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End: It lost a lot of the joy of the previous two installments. It felt as if they just wanted it over.

5) The Seeker: The Dark is Rising: Very disappointing. It was so flat.

6) The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford: There was a good movie in this film, but it's hard to find in the 2 hours 40 minutes running time. It's really a shame, given that Casey Affleck and Brad Pitt are quite good.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

At the speed of light

So Mike and I have been pushing really hard to see a bunch of movies before the Oscars. We started January with the following list, and have crossed a number of them off:

Elizabeth: The Golden Age
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
American Gangster
3:10 to Yuma
No Country for Old Men

There Will be Blood
Eastern Promises.

This past holiday weekend we saw 3:10 to Yuma, No Country, and Jesse James. It was a sort of a "western weekend."

3:10 to Yuma

Of the three, this is the one I enjoyed the most. Christian Bale plays a rancher, Dan, struggling to provide for his family. Dan is a Civil War veteran, and he's never really recovered from that experience. Russell Crowe plays a violent bandit, Ben Wade, who is captured in Dan's hometown. Dan volunteers to transport Ben to the 3:10 train to Yuma prison in exchange for much-needed cash. But, as a result, Ben's gang of theives is hunting Dan, trying to free their leader. The story is reasonably simple, and it ends just like you would expect. However, I was very impressed by the acting of the two leads, Bale and Crowe. Bale's character is a bit of a pathetic loser, but Bale makes sure we don't write him off. Crowe's Ben Wade is a scary psycho (there is one scene where he kills a guy with a fork), but he's also a bit of a dandy (Crowe sports a purple striped waistcoat throughout most of the film). Crowe meshes those disparate qualities together very effectively. These two men are so different, yet they manage to come to an understanding in the end. The final sequence is a keeper. (PS--Firefly fans, this movie features Alan Tudyk, aka Wash.)

No Country for Old Men

I'll admit that I was too scared to go see this movie when it first came out. The trailers alone were close to giving me nightmares. But after hearing so many good things from friends, I decided to suck it up and head to the theater. I'm glad I did. Yes, there were some violent parts, but the movie didn't dwell upon the gore. It's much more of a suspense piece, stringing you along in anticipation of something awful happening, instead of showing lots of awful things happening (though the final body count is really high). Javier Bardem is as good as everyone says he is, and I was equally impressed with Josh Brolin (I'm actually surprised he didn't get more awards buzz). And the dry wit conveyed by Tommy Lee Jones tops it all off. My only complaint: what is up with the ending? I realize that the Coen brothers sort of backed themselves into a corner, in that a movie like this has to end with a big shootout, but they probably didn't want to be so conventional. But instead of that type of ending, we get a drawn-out sequence where people meditate on the meaning of life. These scenes aren't bad, but they fit poorly with the rest fo the film.

The Assasination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

No need for a plot synopsis here. The title does say it all. The only thing I would add is, "... Framed by Lots of Arty Shots of Blowing Grass," after "Ford." I'm still a little confused by this movie. The actual assasination scene was interesting and well-constructed, but in order to get there we have to wade through lots of really random plot, somewhat stupid voice-overs (please, don't describe to the audience what you're already showing on the screen), and, well, grass. Seriously, the film crew must have spent days sitting in a hayfield somewhere. The acting is really good, led by Brad Pitt (as James) and Casey Affleck (as Ford). I just don't understand all the other artistic choices.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Mitten Chop!

I overcame "second mitten syndrome," and I am now about a third of the way through the second one. I'm contemplating what hat I could make to match these. I like the look of Ysolda's Gretel. This is the problem with knitting mittens--I always think they require a matching hat, which means buying more yarn! But Fabric Place is having a sale on Cascade 220, so maybe I can justify breaking my yarn diet....

Monday, February 11, 2008

Mitten Number One

I finished the first of my cabled mittens yesterday and set it out to block. I really like this pattern, despite the fact that it has some typos in it. But they were pretty easy to figure out, and the result is very cute. I sort of want a hat to match these, but I don't know if this cable pattern would translate well onto a hat. I'll have to think on it. I could always resort to my favorite cabled hat pattern, the Basic Cable from SNBN.

In other news, Mike and I have been trying to catch up on some more movies before the Oscars. First, there was Juno. I loved the quirkyness of this movie, but after a while the crazy dialogue got to me. You can tell that this is Diablo Cody's first film writing effort because she tried to cram way too much nonsensical hipster-speak and oddball situations into the script. However, the basic characterizations are very strong, and all of the actors, led by Ellen Page, do an excellent job. This is the second movie directed by Jason Reitman that I have enjoyed, following 2005's Thank You for Smoking. I am looking forward to his next project.

We also saw Eastern Promises on DVD this past weekend. In some ways, this movie didn't have a story arc at all. We just follow around a bunch of Russian mobsters for awhile. There isn't much resolution in the ending. However, I liked that there wasn't an epic storyline. This movie had no chance of topping all of the great gangster films out there, so it doesn't even try. Instead, it gives us a couple interesting characters and lets us explore their lives for a bit. Viggo Mortensen is amazing, as always. But be prepared for some graphic violence.