Alice's Misadventures in Wonderland

Alice's Misadventures was the last feature-length film we saw at the Newport Beach Film Festival, and fortunately we were able to get in a few shorts afterwards so we didn't end on such a bad note. I gave it one star because some of the writing was genuinely clever, but everything else about it was pretty awful. Even allowing for the poor filmcraft, which can easily be explained away by considering this a low-budget or semi-amateur film, the acting was universally terrible, and much of the production design, costuming, and makeup was actually disgusting enough to make me uncomfortable watching it. But everyone else in the theater except me and Juliette loved it. In fact, it's won audience awards at several festivals. So what do I know?

Viewed: 4/23/2005 | Released: 9/24/2004 | Score: D

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What Babies Want

What Babies Want was the documentary feature that we saw at the Newport Beach Film Festival. The title sums up the subject pretty well; the film is about prenatal and very early postnatal influences on child development, with a heavy emphasis on birth and the events immediately following delivery. The film has a definite "hippie" slant, being generally in favor of home birth and alternatives to "traditional" hospital birthing procedures. I would imagine that there are any number of people out there who would have problems with the film--indeed, I was not without my own criticisms of the ways in which some of the information was presented--but I was lucky enough to hear the filmmaker say that she considered the movie to be "the beginning of a conversation" rather than the final word, which I think definitely made me more open-minded. Whether or not you buy into the philosophy behind the film--and more and more I'm coming around to such ideas--it was a well-made documentary that presented quite a lot of information in less than an hour.

Viewed: 4/22/2005 | Released: 11/6/2004 | Score: A

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50 Ways to Leave Your Lover

This was the first of three feature-length films that we saw this past weekend at the Newport Beach Film Festival. A cute, slightly offbeat romantic comedy, I found 50 Ways pretty fun to watch. There wasn't anything great about it--the acting was on the low end of adequate and the writing was decent but not particularly profound--but I enjoyed it all the same. In fact, I enjoyed it quite a bit more than I enjoy most big studio romantic comedies. One thing that I especially liked was the perspective on Los Angeles. The writer seems to display the same sort of fascination and repulsion toward the city that most LA immigrants I've met have, which worked well in the context of the film.

Viewed: 4/22/2005 | Released: 5/5/2004 | Score: C

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Kushiel's Avatar

By Jacqueline Carey

In some ways, this was a worse book than the other two. The same annoyingly stilted writing style was present, but this time the book also suffered from a very odd structure. It felt as though the author had had ideas for two books but not enough to really flesh out either one sufficiently, so she just crammed both of then into a single volume. On the other hand, I found myself even more drawn in by the story, disjointed as it was. Something about the characters' increasing maturity, combined with the pseudo-African setting of the second half of the book and the addition of a young boy to the cast just clicked for me. All in all, I'm not sure whether I liked or disliked the series, but I have found myself wondering what happens next. If Carey ever does decide to write more stories set in this world, I do hope she gets over her overly affected writing habits. If not, I'll probably just complain and read them anyway.

Started: 4/11/2005 | Finished: 4/20/2005

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Hornblower and the Hotspur

By C. S. Forester

Book three of the Hornblower series was just as good as the first two, but it was kind of interesting to get a closer look into Hornblower's mind. The second book was told from another character's point of view, and the first kept the focus wider. This one, though, zoomed right in, giving us much more of Hornblower's thoughts and impressions. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Still, I think I'm going to take a bit of a break from the series; I don't want to get burned out on it.

Started: 4/4/2005 | Finished: 4/10/2005

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Childhood's End

Over the past eight years I've been slowly but steadily saying goodbye to all the pieces of my childhood. I left for college in 1997 and started getting a taste for living on my own. It was an exhilarating time, and will continue to be one I look back on fondly, but at the same time it managed to be a confusing, lonely time. I felt a little lost, a little adrift. I didn't quite feel like I belonged anywhere. I felt homeless. In 2001, I graduated and got my first job, my first apartment. I started providing for myself. I valued my freedom at the same time that I rankled against my responsibilities. By the time I got married in 2003, I felt like more or less grown up. But I guess there's always a bit of the child left; when I found out that my mom and stepdad were going to be selling the house I grew up in and moving to a different state, it hit me harder than I would have expected.

I've never felt completely at home in my new surroundings. I still haven't figured out yet where I see myself ending up in ten years, whether I'll still be in the city or if I'll make it back to my small town roots. There was comfort, though, in knowing that, even if I didn't live there anymore, even if it wasn't my home anymore, I could still visit the place where I spent so much time as a child.

So many things about my town and neighborhood are different already. My friends have all moved away. Even some of their parents have. My mom's house isn't the same, either; the yard's changed several times, as has the paint. There aren't even the same number of rooms. It's not the same place where I used to live. Despite all that, whenever I went back I felt a sense of belonging, a feeling of comfort.

It's strange to realize that if the house sells soon enough I might never have a reason to go back to my old neighborhood. I find my mind flooding with images from the past. Like the swimming hole at the end of the street with the chalk shelf that extended out into the water, or the huge bay laurel my friends and I used to climb in the park across the river. The time my stepdad set up a treasure hunt all over the neighborhood for my birthday, which I might have missed because I didn't feel like going outside that morning. Finding a tiny kitten with a broken tail under the bench in our back yard--our cat Leon, who is old and arthritic now but still full of personality. Oakworms falling out of the tree in the front yard, stick-fighting in the driveway, frantically riding our bikes away from overly territorial neighborhood dogs. The sound of little league games, the bite in the morning air in the wintertime, the way the tap water always tasted like rust in the summer.

I'm happy for my mom, that she's going to be able to make the changes in her life that she needs. I'm sure that in time, the whole thing won't bother me at all. I'll be used to having family on both coasts. This is just another part of growing up. People get older, things change. I wish I could end this piece with something profound, some little piece of wisdom, but for now I just don't have the perspective that time will eventually bring.

Fever Pitch

I wasn't too jazzed about this one after seeing the previews, but it wasn't looking like a great weekend for movies and we had nothing better to do. As it turned out, Fever Pitch was quite a bit better than I was expecting. Now, it's quite possibly the least funny Farrelly Brothers movie ever, but what it lacks in laughs it makes up for in cute. Barrymore and Fallon have great on-screen chemistry, and I found myself quite drawn in by their relationship. On the downside, as Juliette pointed out on the drive home, Barrymore didn't really fit as the tough, driven, career woman, so that portion of the film didn't work very well. Still, it wasn't enough to ruin the rest of the story, so I'm fine with it.

Viewed: 4/9/2005 | Released: 4/5/2005 | Score: B

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Kushiel's Chosen

By Jacqueline Carey

I think I've managed to solidify my opinion of this series a bit more. I don't particularly care for the writing. The dialogue is a bit stilted, and the prose is pretty formulaic--it seems like ten pages can't go by without Joscelin bowing with crossed vambraces. Still, like the first one, the plot is quite intricately laid out, and I find myself really wanting to know what's going to happen. I've also found several of the minor characters to be very enjoyable. Anyway, it's enough that I'm going to finish out the series, but I doubt I'll reread it any time soon.

Started: 3/22/2005 | Finished: 4/3/2005

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Dear Frankie

This weekend marked our first trip back to the local arthouse theater this year. It seems like we go there so seldom, and nearly every time we go we wonder why we don't go more often. This was another one of those times. Dear Frankie was an excellent movie. It's a smaller, more humble movie than most of what we've been seeing this year, but it was very heartfelt. As you might guess from the title, much of the story revolves around letters. Frankie is a young deaf boy who has just moved to Glasgow, Scotland with his mother and grandmother. He has been writing letters to his father for his whole life, but doesn't realize that the letters never actually reach his father; his mother takes them and writes letters back, posing as the boy's father, who he thinks is a petty officer on a merchant ship. I tend to be drawn to stories about childhood and family, and this one certainly fits that bill. It also struck me as somewhat refreshing that Frankie is presented as neither a victim nor a hero because of his disability. Because it's not on the mainstream circuit, I doubt many people will see Dear Frankie, which is too bad because it's really quite a good movie.

Viewed: 4/2/2005 | Released: 1/20/2005 | Score: A

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Sin City

Once again, I find myself in the position of having to write a review without having done my homework. No, I've never read the Sin City graphic novels. My thoughts on the film, then, will be based on nothing more than the film itself and my reaction to it. The most obvious thing to say about Sin City is that it is violent. You knew that (or you should have). But I don't think I'm stretching to say that it is easily one of the most brutally, graphically violent movies I've ever seen. It was enough to squick me out, which is the only reason that I couldn't give this one a fourth star. The rest of the film was excellent. Much of the dialogue (and the near constant voiceover) approached campy cliché, but that never bothered me. In fact, I think it worked wonderfully with the noir style. And there was plenty of good acting: Mickey Rourke was intense as Marv, and I particularly liked Nick Stahl as the villain of the Hartigan story. Clive Owen did a decent job, but no matter how good an actor does otherwise, if he can't get the accent down, it pulls me out of the moment. On the other hand, nearly all of the female performances were either too flat or too overdone. Though, since a lot of the female roles only exist for skin, it doesn't hurt the movie too much overall. So, to sum up, if you don't like horrible violence and a lot of bare female skin, this isn't a good movie for you. But you probably already knew that. Otherwise, check it out.

Viewed: 4/1/2005 | Released: 3/27/2005 | Score: B

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