Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story

I got the feeling while watching this movie that the filmmakers were doing something brilliant but that it was going over my head because--as is so often the case--I wasn't familiar with the source material. Having had a few days to do a little digging, I think I was right. What the writer and director has done here is take a book that is widely regarded to be unfilmable (Laurence Stern's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman) and restructured it in such a way that it works brilliantly on film. Rather than try to put the novel on film, what they've done is captured the spirit of the novel by making a movie about making a movie about the novel. (Is your head spinning yet?) The book is described as a self-reflexive, stream-of-consciousness satire full of both low-brow bawdy and more intellectual, meta-literary humor that still manages to ask some serious questions about the limits of self-knowledge and deliver some touching scenes of paternal love. And that's exactly what you get from the movie. The more I think about it, the more I like it. Now, to go get myself a copy of the book.

Viewed: 2/25/2006 | Released: 1/26/2006 | Score: B

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Commodore Hornblower

By C. S. Forester

I think what keeps bringing me back to this series--aside from the fact that I already own it--is the characterization. Hornblower is keenly aware of himself and the events of his life so, rather than each story standing alone, the echoes of all of his past adventures continue to be heard as he matures. You get to see how he grows. It's really great writing. Plus, you get to read lots of cool nautical terms like "sternsheets" and "mizzentop."

Started: 2/12/2006 | Finished: 2/22/2006

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Mrs. Henderson Presents

As you may know, Judi Dench was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her performance as the woman who first brought nudity to the West End stage. I'd say the nom is well deserved. Of course, Dench could do just about anything and it would be good, so it's not terribly surprising. Bob Hoskins and Christopher Guest were also quite good and between the three of them there were some truly hilarious scenes. Much of the film focuses on the shows themselves, nudity and all, and while a real show like that would come off today as hokey and gratuitous, in the context of the film it was kind of endearing--sort of a glimpse into a time that was more innocent despite the tragedies brought about by war.

Viewed: 2/19/2006 | Released: 12/8/2005 | Score: B

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Match Point

I really hated the last two Woody Allen movies I saw in the theater. In fact, after we saw Anything Else, Juliette and I decided that was it, we weren't going to see any more Woody Allen movies. So when we heard about Match Point we were a little skeptical, despite the overwhelmingly good reviews it was getting. We were so wrong. It was easily one of the best films we've seen over the past year. The writing was excellent, the locations were beautiful, and the acting was, for the most part, brilliant. The story managed some of the most incredible tension I've ever seen in a movie and the resolution leaves you both satisfied and uncomfortable. Probably the lowest point of the film is Scarlett Johansen's acting, but even so this is probably her best work. In fact, I'm not even sure that the relative shallowness of her performance--relative to the other actors, that is--wasn't on purpose, because it works pretty well for the character. I wouldn't have thought I'd have so many good things to say about a movie by Woody Allen but this one was just amazing.

Viewed: 2/11/2006 | Released: 12/27/2005 | Score: A

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The Pink Panther

The 2006 update of The Pink Panther has been receiving generally bad reviews. This review will not break that streak. I think part of the problem for me was that I had reasonably high expectations based on the fact that I thought Steve Martin looked really funny in the previews. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie was only OK. In fact, the funniest part of the movie wasn't even Martin, it was Jean Reno. Reno's deadpan performance as Clouseau's sidekick, Ponton, was the highlight of the film, for me. And the low point? That would be Beyoncé. I honestly cannot figure out why she keeps getting cast in movies. Sure, she's good-looking, but not enough that it makes up for being completely terrible at acting.

Viewed: 2/10/2006 | Released: 2/9/2006 | Score: C

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His Excellency: George Washington

By Joseph J. Ellis

Once, back in high school, my stepdad and I had a conversation about great American presidents. Like a lot of people, he thought quite a bit more of Thomas Jefferson than George Washington--in his words, Washington was "just a general." As much sense as that appraisal made at the time, it was ultimately unsatisfying because there must have been some reason that Washington was the first president instead of Jefferson, or other eminent politicians of the time like Madison or Adams. In fact, it is exactly this problem that is the central question of His Excellency. I found it to be an excellent read--informative and engaging while also being easy to absorb. Separating the man from the mythology that has grown up around him over the past two centuries is no mean feat, and Ellis does a good job of presenting him as a human figure. In addition to the subject of the book, I also found it interesting to see the biases that different historians have. Ellis presents Jefferson and John Adams and their respective parties in a very different light from the way Stephen Ambrose portrays them in Undaunted Courage and To America. Clearly, one writer can never give you a complete picture, but I'm starting to get to the point where I feel that the breadth of my reading is giving me a wide enough reference to read with a more critical eye.

Started: 1/30/2006 | Finished: 2/7/2006

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Flying Colours

By C. S. Forester

The eighth Hornblower book is a bit different from the others in that almost none of the story takes place on a ship. The book opens with Hornblower and his men in a French prison, and the bulk of the novel is concerned with his escape and his travels home. There's less action, but it turns out that instead of making the book boring this allows for a more character-driven story. I think by the end of Flying Colours I had a much clearer picture of Horatio Hornblower, the man, than ever before. I find that I feel toward him much the same way as one of the characters in this book--I can't help liking him, despite the fact that he's not very likeable. Three books are left and I'm looking forward to them.

Started: 1/28/2006 | Finished: 1/29/2006

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