Thursday, January 31, 2008

Random Long Beach Moments

Last night while driving into the parking structure near the gym, I frantically tried waving down a car gliding out the Exit. The three young Hispanic guys in the car glanced at me, scowls scrunching their eyebrows, but the driver finally stopped, rolled down his window after I pantomimed (badly), and angrily asked what I wanted.

I pointed. "You've got some water bottles on your roof."

The angry look disappeared, his face blushed as he stuck his torso out and turned. His friends laughed as they got out and removed the bottles. The driver sheepishly waved as he rolled up his window.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bookwhore Chronicles: The Singing Detective
I found a copy of this a few years ago, after seeing the movie with Robert Downey, Jr. and after a few glimpses of the BBC series starring Michael Gambon. I picked it up, dropped it on the counter at the used book store and handed over my 50¢ without a second thought. It was only when I finally opened the book a few weeks ago that I realized it wasn't a novel that I'd purchased, but a copy of the script. Not a novelization, but the script done up in book form so it read like a play.

Not that I have anything against plays. I've read The Lion in Winter as well as numerous Shakespeare, Molière and Camus pieces and found them easier to get through, not having to fight through someone else's detailed physical descriptions of characters and scenes.

I just wasn't expecting it with The Singing Detective.

The story begins with P.E. Marlowe, author of many noirish detective stories, struggling in a hospital bed with one of the severest cases of psoriasis -- covered from head to foot with lesions, terrible rises in body temperature, the inability to move without bursts of pain racking his body. Confined to his bed, P.E. spends his time thinking about his next book with his crooning detective Phillip Marlowe. In the meantime, he starts to visit a psychiatrist as a last resort to quell the psoriasis, hoping that something hidden deep in his past may be the trigger and the solution. But the events in his story begin to intertwine with the reality of the hospital and soon even P.E. begins to question what is real and what is fiction.

I couldn't put this book down once I started, relishing the vivid characters and the juxtaposition of fantasy and reality. Quite an ingenious idea, using psoriasis as a means to explore Marlowe's past and how he relates to the characters he creates.

I may have to rent this movie again....

Monday, January 28, 2008

Lull in the Storm

Saturday was surprisingly bright and clear. The rains and heavy winds of the few days before (including a tornado warning for Long Beach!) left behind a sharp, warm day, and as we drove to meet my folks for lunch, the snow-covered moutains stretched across the horizon, their white seeming to drift all the way down to the bottom edges near the desert.

We walked into the Lonestar Steak House and as the host was asking how many in our party, my Dad greeted us in the lobby. Minus my Mom. "She has a terrible cold. Could barely talk yesterday or this morning so I decided to come alone." We hugged and followed the host to our table. "Usually, she just gets stuffed up and her voice goes, but this morning, she had a 101˚ fever. She's taking some antibiotic where you take two pills the first day, one the next and so on." I knew those pills fairly well, having followed the same treatment only a few weeks before. I guess the principle is to hit the body hard the first day with antibiotics, to let them seep into the system, then keep the medicine at a steady level until it slowly fades in about 10 days time.

The waitress took our order with me having to repeat what she said somewhat louder and slower for my Dad, looking directly at him as I spoke. Before she left, he told her, "My son's treating me to a birthday lunch. My wife was supposed to join us because her birthday is next week, but she's sick. Mine was last week." She wished him all the best, then asked for his birthdate and what he would like for dessert. "The Brownie Blast sounds good. And don't forget the extra spoons for those two." She laughed as she walked away, then I handed the birthday cards to him. Mom's was small in a lavender envelope; I told her about her gift a week ago, a subscription and one-year membership to the Audubon Society, and she was thrilled. My Dad's card was almost the size of a vinyl LP, and he carefully opened it, pulling the Star Wars-like card from the sleeve. "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." He lifted one side, the card vibrated to the opening strings of music from Star Wars, "...you were born!" He giggled, tears starting to show in his eyes, playing the song for almost a full minute. I had to point out the Staples gift card taped inside before he closed the card so he wouldn't forget.

After lunch, the waitress set a large sundae glass filled with brownie, chocolate syrup and vanilla ice cream in front of my Dad along with a scroll. He unrolled that while we dug into the ice cream. "Geez! A loaf of bread cost 11¢ when I was born!" He passed the paper to CM who marveled at the other facts: gas was 55¢ a gallon, a new car cost $500, the average income was $1,500, It Happened One Night won the Oscar® for Best Picture. We talked about growing up and getting older, and all the fun that goes with it. "Well, I should be getting home now to check on your Mother." We walked him to the car and waved him onto PCH.

--

In the early evening, we decided to see Cloverfield, figuring that we'd allowed enough time to pass after eating that we shouldn't become too sick from the jerky camera. Somehow, we managed to arrive 40 minutes before the show started so we bought tickets then wandered through Barnes & Noble. As we skimmed the magazines, a loud pounding battered against the roof. I said it had probably started raining again, and once we opened the doors, sure enough the rain pelted the ground and anyone unfortunate enough to be walking without an umbrella or coat. So we carefully darted to the theater.
Cloverfield is the Dept. of Defense's name for the incident which occurred in Manhattan. The video being shown was found in the rubble of what was once know as Central park and details the events of seven hours from one person's perspective, one person who witnessed the terrible events while trying to escape the city.

A genius idea, using a handheld camera for the entire film. CM and I felt as though we were characters, tangled in the immediacy of events, running terrified along with the small group working their way through the city to find one person who called on a cell phone for help. They have no idea what happened, what the creature is that they catch glimpses of as they race across the city. To know that would change the entire feel of the film, making it just another monster film. Everything seems to happen at a quick pace without leaving any time to think or to ruminate on their circumstances. And while the sometimes jerky camera motions did recall The Blair Witch Project, I didn't once feel motion sickness as I did with the other film. (CM felt a little twinge, but not too much.) And the use of virtually unknown actors enhanced the realism. Cloverfield was an incredible roller coaster of a film, leaving me exhausted and exhilarated.

Even the pouring rain couldn't dampen our enthusiasm as we hurried to the car, talking about our favorite scenes, the special effects, and what that audio clip after the credits meant.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bookwhore Favorites: The Well of Loneliness
One of my favorite reads from 2005, here's the brief review I posted on Amazon a few years ago...

"Anna and Sir Phillip Gordon looked happily upon the upcoming birth of their child, hoping against hope to have a boy, even going so far as to only pick out a boy's name. When the child arrives, Anna is dispirited when she gives birth to a girl. Sir Phillip makes the most of it, but still decides to give her the name they'd already chosen: Stephen. And so enters into the world one of the most astonishing creatures of literary fiction.

"Young Stephen knows that she's different from the other children, but her father, noticing her difference also, allows her to grow up her own way: riding horses like a young man, sometimes dressing like a young boy. From a young age to her lae thirties, we watch as Stephen discovers herself, longing to love and to fit into a society that will not accept her or others like her. She puts her feelings into words, becoming a successful author and does find love, but that love is put to the test when someone who can offer her beloved acceptance steps into the picture.

"An astonishing book for its time that was banned upon initial publication, openly discussing what was considered taboo with much candor and respect. The characters of Radclyffe Hall's novel deal with the same societal pressures and beliefs which are still prevalent today: same-sex marriage, societal roles of male and female, wanting to fight for one's country during a time of war even when that country doesn't want you because of who you are. A truly remarkable novel."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

There Will Be Oscar Nods

Skimming the list of Oscar nominations yesterday morning I realized that CM and I have seen quite a few of the films in most of the major categories. I was surprised and pleased about Ellen Page's nomination for Juno but disappointed that the Academy passed on Helena Bonham Carter. Still, many of my favorites were nominated, including Daniel Day Lewis from the movie we finally saw on Sunday: There Will Be Blood.
>The movie tells the tale of Daniel Plainwater, an oilman during the early days of the California oil industry, as he sets out to snatch the remaining oil from the desert surrounding Signal Hill. During the first twenty minutes of the film, we learn just how driven Plainwater is: down in his silver mine, alone, trying to unearth as much wealth as he can, he sets a stick of dynamite into the rock. After the explosion, he begins climbing the rickety steps into the hole, a rung loosened by the blast causes hium to fall the rest of the way, breaking his leg in the process. When he wakes, he grabs and cleans some of the silver ore, struggles determinedly to lave the mine and drags himself on his back all the way through the hills to the assayer's office. All without one word of dialogue.

This determination is what drives Plainwater, convincing him to snatch up as much oil-bearing land as he can before Standard Oil can stake a claim. No matter what the hardships, from an oil derrick fire to his son losing his hearing in the same blast, that drive remains. But into the picture steps a preacher, Eli Sunday, as determined to better his community's church as Plainwater is to better his own pocketbook and a subtle battle between the two shakes both men to their core.

Fantastic movie! Daniel Day Lewis shows how good an actor he is with his hard portrayal of Plainwater. He embodied that drive found in so many men in the early days of California, whether during the gold rush or the oil boom, that made them turn away from their families, become suspicious of new "friends" and "family". And for the first twenty minutes, he doesn't say one word! Paul Dano was surprisingly good as Eli Sunday, keeping the religious fanatic hidden behind a quiet composure. Dillon Freasier played Plainview's son HW perfectly. The only thing that both CM and I disliked about the film was the intrusive angry-swarming-bees score by Jon Brion and Jonny Greenwood. Too loud, lingering too long, and hindering the movie when it blasted onto the screen.

An amazing film despite the music, and I enjoyed it enough to find a copy of the Upton Sinclair novel Oil! and hope to read it soon!

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Best Little Whorehouse in Huntington

We originally planned to visit Star Trek: The Tour near the Queen Mary on Saturday because I found discount tickets on Goldstar. But by the time everyone got around to telling me whether or not they wanted to go and what time would be best, the ticket offer had expired. And we couldn't rationalize paying $35 to spend one hour walking through costumes and a few Star Trek sets with hundreds of other folks crowding the view so we decided against boldy going where too many men are going.

Instead, CM and I caught a local performance of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas at the Huntington Beach Playhouse later in the evening. I washed a load of laundry and took a few items to the Assistance League, finished the last 150 pages of You Suck, then we set out for Huntington Beach, stopping by my Aunt's first to pick up a book I'd loaned her before a quick dinner at Sunny's where I managed to win a Anaheim Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim cap from one of those grabbing machines and CM almost snagged a plushy bright green-and-blue rabbit. Or bear. Or some kind of kid-friendly creature. Neither of us could figure it out.

The theater was hidden on the bottom of floor of the Central library, which CM had never visited before. I showed him around where I could -- beneath the dome painted with patel angels floating through clouds, past the wall adorned with photos of various jazz musicians, to the atrium at the center of the library. Unfortunately, the curving ramp leading to the books had been roped off, but we walked around it, admiring the '70s architectural columns, with large fern-laden shields dripping water into a coin-filled pool at the bottom -- very reminiscent of Logan's Run minus the Sandmen. We wandered back among the decidedly older crowd and found our way inside the theater and settled into our seats.
In a nutshell, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas tells the tale of the last days of the Chicken Ranch, a 150-year-old brothel on the outskirts of Gilbert, Texas. While Miss Mona -- the brothel's owner -- goes over the rules with two new hires, a TV watchdogger named Melvin Thorpe has decided that the brothel tarnishes the good name of Texas and needs to go, taking his message to the airwaves. Thorpe manages to win over the Governor who orders the closing of the Ranch, much to the chagrin of Miss Mona and the girls. And that's about it.

The country-tinged songs made this show -- from the upbeat, ironic A Lil' Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place describing the Ranch and its happenings, to the raunchy and sassy Twenty-Four Hours of Lovin' and the tearful Hard Candy Christmas when the girls are forced to pack up and leave. The local cast performed them admirably with Cate Conroy as Mona Stangley and Rebecca Hyrkas as Jewel leading the way with both singing and acting. The only drawback came from the band which sometimes overpowered the singers. Even so, I still managed to choke up during Hard Candy Christmas.

I'm a sucker for ballads sung by tearful whores.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Broken Scale?

I'm not sure.

This morning, I set the scale on the cold bathroom floor, stripped to just my glasses and stepped onto the black footprints. The numbers bounced left and right, finally stopping on a weight: 204 lbs. My first thought was, What the Hell?! I worked out three times this week, drank nothing but water and iced tea, cut out the candy and chocolate snacks between meals, and still my weight went up.

So I did what any other normal person would do: I re-adjusted the scale to make sure the red line sat directly over the 0 lbs. mark and re-weighed.

199 lbs. this time.

I actually weighed myself three more times, not once getting a repeat readout. I decided to tell myself that I hadn't lost or gained any weight since my last attempt at the scale, holding steady at 199 lbs.

Maybe the utterly cold morning had something to do with it, the frigid temperature contracting the metal as to render it less flexible. Maybe the bathroom floor wasn't (isn't) flat enough for a good, solid reading.

Maybe we need a digital scale.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Caller

"Welcome back. If you've just tuned in," riffling of papers, "I'm Howie Doone, and this Talk Back America on FreeRadio with today's guest, Presidential hopeful, Sorrel Fourberry. Sorrel, it's good to have you."

"Thank you, Howie. It's good to be here." Clears throat.

"Before we continue, we do have a caller on the line." Presses button. "Go ahead caller. You're live on the air."

"Thanks, Howie. Love your show." Cell phone static. "Oops, sorry about that. I have a question for Mr. Fourberry."

"Go ahead."

"Hi, Mr. Fourberry. My name's Jeff from Long Beach."

"Hello, Jeff!" A smile in his voice.

"In an interview a while back, you stated that living a gay or lesbian lifestyle was a choice."

"That's correct. I've read some articles and heard stories in which certain individuals believed that homosexuality was something inborn, that that was how nature -- GOD -- intended them to be. Those people have actually chosen to be gay, to live in sin with a member of the same sex."

"So when did you choose?"

Silence. "Um, pardon me? I don't think I heard you correctly."

"When did you choose between being gay and being straight? I mean, at what point in your life did someone sit you down and tell you that you had an option?"

"An option?"

"I've been an openly gay man for as long as I can remember and live happily with my partner of 5 years. We've both racked our brains, trying to find that singular moment in high school or junior high when perhaps a guidance counselor looked at us over his desk and said 'Gay or Straight?' My parents can't recall anything like that ever happening; their parents never pulled them to one side and asked which way they wanted to swing. It seems to me that for homosexuality to be a lifestyle choice, at some time in our lives, we must be given options. Each one of us, man and woman."

Harsh, quick whispers.

"Because, Mr. Fourberry, who would choose to be persecuted on a daily basis? Who would want to be told who and how to love? To be judged by another human because of his or her feelings toward another person?

"So I just want to know when you consciously made your decision?"

More silence, broken by the clunking sound of headphones striking a tabletop and a door swishing closed.

a work of fiction, © 2008, G.A. Carter

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Say "NO!" to Coniferous Currency
As one of my co-workers walked out the door yesterday, he wished everyone a good night. Then, as an afterthought, warned, "Don't take any wooden nickels!" To which another co-worker replied, "What's that?" We then briefly debated about wooden nickels, where they came from what they meant, etc. And it piqued my interest: just what is a wooden nickel, and why are we supposed to stay away from them?

So I did a little research. According to the Old Time Wooden Nickel Co., the first wooden nickels appeared in 1931 when a bank in Washington State failed, creating a shortage of money for the town of Tenino. Their Chamber of Commerce issued temporary scrips on lng, thin pieces of wood until the crisis was over. A few years later, the same thing happened in another Washington city, and they responded in the same manner, only their scrips were printed on round pieces of wood. (Wikipedia notes that wooden nickels have been around since the 1880's, and nowadays, they can be highly collectible.)

But that has very little to do with the saying itself.

Old Time Wooden Nickel Co. attributes the saying to the use of wooden nickels at state fairs where the wooden nickels served as fair currency during the entire run. However, they came with a limited time to use them so many companies would stop accepting the wooden coins a few days before the end of the fair fearing that they may not have been able to cash them before they expired.

And there you have it!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Le Scaphandre et le Papillon

Saturday morning I dismantled the Christmas tree and boxed the ornaments and other holiday decorations while CM was at the gym. (I spent an hour Friday after work at the gym so I'm covered.) Trudging down stairs to the garage for the empty boxes, hauling them into the living room, finding the ornaments I thought had been left in my brother's garage back in Huntington Beach, closing our umbrella-like tree and shoving it into it's coffin, hauling the now-loaded boxes back down the stairs to the garage -- I seriously debated just leaving everything up. The apartment felt so bare, and Diesel sniffed around looking for the tree, not sure what to make of the large vacant spot by the window.

After CM returned, we both cleaned up and decided to take in a movie, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Unfortunately, the closest theater showing the film happened to be close to my office (about 15 miles away) so I felt as though I were returning to work during the drive. Only with much less traffic. We had decided to eat before the 5:30 PM screening, but with cars speeding South on the 405, we made it to the theater with 15 minutes to spare before an earlier showing. So I forced my tummy grumblings to a dull roar, and we bought tickets.
A hazy scene, two blurred dark figures against a pale green wall, muffled sounds that echo faintly then crash into the ears then recede, quick flashes of black like an eye closing, a confused male voice trying to determine where he is.... In 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor of French Elle suffered a massive stroke, or "cerebrovascular accident". When he awakened from a deep coma weeks later, the doctors told him that he was paralyzed from head to toe though his brain activity and intellect were just as before the "accident", a state known as locked-in syndrome. His left eye remained his only means of communication. With this eye, and with the aid of a speech therapist, Jean-Dominique examined his life up until the accident and decided not to let his current state wear him down, instead spending two months "dictating" his life in the hospital of Berck-sur-Mer, his feelings of being trapped in a diving bell, his imagination allowing him to travel like a butterfly through the world, his memories of family and life before the accident, to a transcriber. Two days after the book was published, he passed away.

Director Julian Schnabel took a unique approach, telling the tale from Jean-Dominque's perspective. The first 20-30 minutes of the film were shot as though the camera were his left eye, taking in and experiencing the world of the hospital. (One brief scene may be a bit much for some, dealing with the occlusion of his right eye. Just a bit graphic.) We saw through his eye how others react to him -- family, friends, doctors -- and with Marc Amalric's amazing performance and Ronald Harwood's spot-on adaptation of the book, Jean-Dominique's personality (his wit, his sexuality, his imagination) came remarkably to life. CM and I never felt sad for Jean-Dominique, feeling uplifted by how he never let his situation get the better of him when most of us would probably have shut down or felt sorry for ourselves. The man still managed to write a best-selling book!

We ate at the Red Robin next door to the theater, and I stuck to my diet (mostly) by substituting a Boca patty for the beef in my Whiskey River BBQ Burger. For most of the dinner, we discussed our favorite scenes from the film; I think both of us agreed on the very tense scene involving Jean-Dominique, Céline (the mother of his children) and Inès his current girlfriend who had yet to visit him in the hospital. Inès phoned his room not knowing that Céline was there and the only one who could translate for him. One of the tensest movie moments ever!

After dinner, we wandered around South Coast Plaza, and I wound up purchasing a copy of the The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, though I couldn't find it at first. Instead of being in the biographies or auto-biographies, Borders classified it as a "medical narrative" and shelved it alongside texts dealing with autism, blindness, and other diseases and syndromes. I began reading it that night and finished it the next morning, surprised at how closely the movie followed the book. Okay, a few changes were made to make the movie more palatable, but the intent of the book is in the movie, and I admire Ronald Harwood's adaptation. Jean-Dominque's descriptions were stunningly vivid and captured his life in the hospital like a camera, showing all the good and the bad.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

First Weigh-In of the Year

Once again, it's time for me to try to stick to my weight loss. Usually, I state it in the form of a "resolution", but these seldom stick or keep me motivated. My weight at the beginning of 2007 was 205 lbs. So I reluctanlty stepped on the scale this morning, watching the skinny black numbers zoom left then right then left again like a ping pong ball until finally stopping at 199 lbs. This despite the French fries, the doughnuts, the See's candies and holiday pies of recent weeks.

Do you know how long it's been since I began a year below 200 lbs.?!

Me, neither.

According to MyDietExercise.com, my "ideal weight" is between 172 and 189 lbs., but I don't feel the need to drop to 172. I do intend to keep the weight under 200 lbs., with a reasonable goal of reaching 190 lbs. by the end of the year.

Keep your fingers crossed!!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Favorite Films of 2007

It appears that most of my posts for 2008 have dealt with movies so why not go one step further and list my favorite films of last year? To be eligible, a film must have been released in 2007 and subsequently seen by me during the past year. So here goes....

  1. No Country for Old Men
  2. Lars and the Real Girl
  3. Juno
  4. The Host
  5. Knocked Up
  6. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
  7. Waitress
  8. Sunshine
  9. Across the Universe
  10. Beowulf

Agree or disagree -- it's still my list. But, before signing off, I do need to mention one more film: my choice for the worst film of 2007. And that honor belongs to....

Shrek the Third

I must admit, the voting came very close, with Shrek the Third just barely eking by Spider-Man 3. Hopefully, the studios have learned their lesson and will stop the sequel insanity!

Monday, January 07, 2008

National Treasure: The Personal Day

A week before Christmas, my office was discussing who would have which day off for the holidays when she mentioned that I'd only taken about five days of personal/vacation time during 2007. The low number didn't really surprise me; looking back over my 9+ years here, my time taken off amounts to almost 4 weeks (not including sick time). So I decided right then and there to start the New Year right and took the first Friday of 2008 as a Personal Day.

When CM and I saw The Orphanage, I earned a free "night at the movies" (free movie ticket, small drink and small popcorn) thanks to my AMC Moviewatcher card. What better way to spend my day off than at the movies so I treated myself to National Treasure: Book of Secrets.
>In this movie, Ben Gates, historian and treasure hunter, learns that a beloved ancestor may have aided John Wilkes Booth with the assassination of President Lincoln thereby tarnishing the Gates name. In order to clear his family name, Ben discovers a cypher on the back of an old document that his ancestor had supposedly ripped from a book of Booth's and thrown into a fire. With the help of his associate Riley Poole and his ex-girlfriend Abigail Chase, he cracks the code, sending the team on a wild treasure hunt from Paris to Buckingham Palace to the White House and Mount Rushmore. But his accuser, Mitch Wilkinson, closely trails the team, wanting the treasure for himself.

I enjoyed this film, finding myself caught up in the hunt, trying to solve the puzzles, and following the somewhat farfetched storyline. But I think that's the whole point of the film -- to have a good time -- and all the actors from Helen Mirren as Ben Gates' mother to Nicholas Cage as Ben Gates to Justin Bartha as Riley Poole, seem to relish the adventure and the humor. This isn't Citizen Kane so just sit back and enjoy. I certainly did.

After the movie, I walked to Barnes & Noble, forcing myself to spend the $25 gift card I received for Christmas. And I came home with another three books to add to my ever-growing pile.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Trinity

Beginning last Friday, CM and I squeezed in three more movies before finally closing out 2007. Well, okay, two movies for 2007 and one on New Years Day. But that's just a technicality.
With only an hour before the movie started on Friday, we sped to the theater after work and snagged two seats for the comedy Juno. Juno MacGuff is a wise-cracking 16-year-old who suddenly finds herself pregnant after her first time with classmate Paulie Bleeker. She decides first to get an abortion rather than tell her folks but can't go through with it at the last minute and, with the help of her friend Leah, searches the PennySaver to find a couple -- Vanessa and Mark Loring -- looking to adopt. Finally telling her folks what's happened, she navigates the months of her pregnancy dealing with her changing body and the ups and downs of love and relationships with herself and Paulie, with her parents and with the Lorings. A heartwarming comedy that will have you laughing and crying, with a knockout performance by Ellen Page as Juno. Michael Cera as Paulie Bleeker and Jennifer Garner as Vanessa Loring also deliver fine performances. But kudos go to my favorite actress, Allison Janney, who gets to deliver the funniest lines of the film as Juno's stepmother Bren. And for a first screenplay, Diablo Cody does an incredible job.
Somehow, two free movie tickets wound up in our laps so we decided to see The Golden Compass. After all the hype and tales of boycotts by religious groups, we weren't too sure of what to expect so by using free tickets, we would be happy whatever the outcome of the film. The Golden Compass follows Lyra, a young girl living in a parallel world in which human souls live outside the body as animals. She finds herself in possession of mysterious golden compass, or alethiometer, which a group known as the Mysterium Magisterium (see how I was paying attention?) is trying to find. When two friends are kidnapped she sets out North to find them and to try to put a stop to the Magisterium's plans.

A very busy film, with too many storylines to keep track of: the alethiometer, the Magisterium's kidnapping of young children, Marisa Coulter (a villain with the last name Coulter? No way!) and her weird violent attachment to Lyra and to the Mysterium, Lord Asriel and his trek to discover Dust and its origins, talking polar bears, new characters who are on screen for mere moments then disappear until near the end of the film, and so on. I never became caught up in the story, instead wanting to thrash the geek in the second row who pulled out his Nintendo every two minutes to play a game or the woman who allowed her two very young children to run up and down the aisle and stairs throughout the entire film. When I did focus on the film, I enjoyed the dazzling special effects but disliked the lackluster and unbelievable performance by Nicole Kidman. It also told the audience that a sequel was coming, devoting the last ten mintues to discuss what was going to happen in the next film, leaving this film incomplete an unable to stand on its own. And if it hadn't been for the hype, I would never have picked up on the religious undertones. In fact, I still really don't get the connection. Thank goodness we didn't pay to see this one!!

New Years Day we planned to watch a Spanish film called The Orphanage (El Orfanato), but the only theaters close to us that were showing it were in Irvine and Orange. We chose The Block in Orange which gave us the chance to spend a few gifts cards as well as see the film. And shop we did -- at the Virgin Megastore, Old Navy and Borders. But onto the film....
In The Orphanage, Laura returns to the orphanage where she grew up, bringing along her husband Carlos and son Simón with the hope of re-opening the abandoned building as a home for special needs children. As opening day approaches, Simón encounters a new, mysterious friend. Carlos believes he's just trying to get attention, but after a few eerie disturbances -- followed by Simón's disappearance -- Laura begins to realize that something else is happening. Determined to find her son, she confronts the house, unearthing dark and menacing secrets about the orphanage along the way.

Spooky and incredibly creepy, what I really enjoyed about this movie -- when not peeking at scenes through my intertwined fingers -- was the lack of CGI work and special effects. The majority of scares came from silences, camera angles, shadowplay, the creaks and groans of the house, making my skin crawl by allowing my own fears to take over. How would I react in the same situations as Laura? Belén Rueda's wonderful portrayal of the frazzled, determined mother Laura reminded me of Julie Harris in The Haunting -- both trying to figure out the dark workings behind the house before it can control them. And the special appearance by Geraldine Chaplin as Aurora, a pyschic brought in to find Simón, was a great treat. Juan Antonio Bayona's direction and Sergio Sanchez's smart and creepy script also helped to make this one of the better films of 2007, and any fan of ghost/horror films will love The Orphanage.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year's Cleaning: The Condensed Version

Sunday, I pulled the RugDoctor® over the living room carpet, pressing the button that was supposed to send jets of foamy water and then suck up the dirty mess. And for the most part, the cleaner did just that -- when either of us could figure out how to work the damned thing properly. After three hours of pulling the loud machine, we managed a patchwork of clean spots versus dirty ones. Fortunately, all the cat stains disappeared and that was the desired result. We hoped our friends would be a bit too tipsy from the pre-New Year's barhopping to notice.

I stopped at the grocery store on the way home from work Monday afternoon to buy a few last-minute items: half-can sized sodas and a mixed fruit bowl to go with the cookies and cheesecake from Costco. Two bottles of champagne were already chilling in the refrigerator so we were set. By the time CM arrived from work, I bagged our final gifts and off we walked to CS' apartment.

A clear, windy night. Somewhat chilly, but not as cold as it had been. By the time we reached CS', sweat beaded on both our foreheads, and we quickly shrugged off our jackets once inside. RG was already at work in the kitchen, helping with the hors d'oeuvres: a cream cheese brick covered in salsa, rossted red pepper humus with tortilla chips, flavored filo dough filled with a choice of chipotle queso or Mediterranean veggies, real Vermont cheddar cheese straws, and various cookies. The four of us stood round the table, oversnacking, talking about dating movies theater until SK arrived for the gift exchange. With Madonna videos running in the background, we shredded gift wrap, and oohed and aahed over the new DVDs and Disney gadgets and games.

Around 8PM, we finally left CS' to grab a quick bite at the Park Pantry.

Which, as we discovered from a big sign on the door, closed early to allow its employees to spend time with family and friends. So we jaywalked and dined at the Star of Siam, stuffing even more food into our already full stomachs. From there, we waddled down Broadway to get our drink on, and I'm fairly certain that a number of tequila shots and bottles of beer made appearances within the group. But, at 11:30PM, we reluctantly made a mad dash for RG's car which was parked probably a half mile away, trying to convince RG that we should have stayed at The Brit, that we were going to miss ringing in the New Year.

But luck shined down on us, and we made it to our apartment with 5 minutes to spare, turning on the TV in time to watch the ball drop in Time Square and toast with a bottle of Berringer's while poppers and streamers flew around the apartment.

I then forced everyone to watch as many episodes of Robot Chicken as we could until 1AM.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!