Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Concert Feature

So it is rainy, gray, and blah today in my town and its almost in stark contrast to my mood and the Christmasy decor that has now come to complete fruition outside in the stores.  I mean really, usually on days like this I feel blah right along with the weather...but today I refused to be.  I mean I was downright chipper...well chipper for me...on a Tuesday...in late November.  Stop looking at me like I'm always grumpy!

Anyway, today was our last normally scheduled day until next Wednesday due to our block scheduling this week and then four days of junior diversity (Thursday and Friday and then Monday and Tuesday) so I'm feeling a little strange for that.  I'm also doubting I'll finish Act II of Caesar until next week, which isn't really that surprising given the time I have to actually teach.  However, I shall take it in stride and just go with the flow.  Oh I was proud of me when I arrived home today, I actually did some crunches and pushups since I wasn't able to make it to the gym again.  Its not much, but every little bit helps.  I've gotten so bad about getting to the gym since it got colder...and its sad too because it used to be my favorite part of the day. But I'll get back there again.  Its a matter of time, especially considering the progress I made.

So, on with the scheduled movie talk...I will be discussing a Disney classic newly released on Blu-ray today and arguably one of the most beautiful American animated films of all time.  Today it holds prestige as being recognized by the American Film Institute twice and is hailed as Walt Disney's magnum opus, but upon its release it was not as warmly received.  Originally called "The Concert Feature", Walt's original concept of a film where animators would animate segments to be paired with classical music simply could not find an audience.  It was envisioned as a high-brow theater event with reserved seats and a fancy program, but due to the expense of installing its immersive sound system and the resistance of the public to shell out concert-ticket amounts of money for movie theater tickets, the film largely bombed on release.  It was not until years later that the film, in a cut down form, would achieve the acclaim and popularity it now enjoys today.  The public would not see its proper roadshow version until 2000 when the DVD was released, and by then Walt's 'concert feature' was the avant garde animated film to own.  So lets tune-up and see one of Walt Disney's most ambitious and risky ventures...embrace the sound of Fantasia.

Fantasia is not a film with a story, but rather it is a film more akin to going to a concert hall to see a presentation of fantastic music.  However, in this instance, the music is accompanied by images that one might imagine in his or her head while watching.  As narrator Deems Taylor puts it, there are three times of music in the program.  First there is music that tells a definite story, then music that paints certain pictures but not really a story, and lastly music that exists simply for its own sake and which inspires abstract images.  The first selection, Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, is of this third kind and inspires completely abstract animation.  Next is The Nutcracker Suite, which depicts the changing of the seasons from Spring to summer, and then from Summer to autumn and winter through the work of fairies and other magical creatures.  Third is The Sorcerer's Apprentice, the famous Mickey Mouse short that inspired the making of Fantasia and which tells the story of a cocky apprentice who tries to create magic far too advanced for himself.  The last segment before intermission is The Rite of Spring, which depicts the dawn of time on Earth through the extinction of the dinosaurs.  After intermission we are invited to Meet the Soundtrack and then given the fifth segment, The Pastoral Symphony, which shows life in the era of Greek mythology.  Segment six is a comedic look at ballet set to The Dance of the Hours and features ostriches, hippos, elephants, and alligators all dancing like pros.  Lastly we have A Night on Bald Mountain, where an evil mountain top demon conjurers up the undead on Walpurgisnacht only to be driven away by the light of dawn and the Ave Maria, where several faithful souls venture into the forest toward the call of the spiritual.

I don't think I've ever seen anything on film quite like Fantasia.  Sure, there have been anthology movies and movies that were about music, but there is something unmatched about it.  It is like the third kind of music that Taylor mentions, which exists purely for its own sake.  Fantasia exists to be beautiful and epic and acts as a true testament to the creativity and ingeniousness of Walt Disney.  He knew that Fantasia was a good idea and a good film and its too bad that he did not live to see how acclaimed it is today.  Its quite possible that Walt simply debuted Fantasia too soon, before people were willing to recognize Disney as an artist and not as just a one-hit wonder (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs having been Walt's only feature-length success to this point).  The animation talent on display in this film is absolutely top notch and showcases many of the techniques and trademarks that would become tools of the trade for animators...before they were widely used. The sound and music, conducted by Leopold Stokowski and performed by the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, is amazing as well...since Fantasia is all about music.  It is at all times equally bombastic and tender...subtle and robust.  Many people cite these orchestrations of these pieces as their favorites and its easy to see why.  In fact, I don't think I've ever heard some of these pieces in any other version.  If you can see and hear Fantasia in high-def video and sound you really owe it to yourself to make the effort to do so.  It might truly be the most beautiful thing on Blu-ray at the moment.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Gearing up for the Holidays

Well its that time of year again.  The time of year when the stores get crowded, you start seeing red and green and little white lights everywhere, and our pocketbooks all get a little lighter (or in some cases a lot lighter).  Its the Holiday Season (I say Holiday because there are so many gift giving holidays during December, though admittedly Christmas gets more of the screen time than most of the others...though Hanukkah has its weight too) and so its time for all of us to do a bit more work than we might be usually accustomed to.  You know, stuff like baking, planning parties, buying gifts, wrapping said gifts, and traveling.  It becomes a whirlwind, and with 26 full days left until Christmas it might seem like we have plenty of time to get all the shopping, planning, wrapping, cooking, and traveling done.  However, as work days pile up and deadlines close in we quickly find that time runs out too soon like it always does.  Who here always feels like there's plenty of time to accomplish all our tasks and then suddenly there's no time? (waits for raised hands)  Yeah, me too.  So today, I went out and tried to get a few things done before I ran out of time.  I now have all my stocking gifts purchased, a new supply of wrapping paper and clothes boxes, and several sheets of decorative paper on which I plan to print certificates.  Also, on Friday I finished my grandmother's and my mom's boyfriend's gifts for this year.  I'm feeling pretty good at this point (whoo! prances around like Rocky before a prize fight).  However, I think if I had more free weekends coming to me I don't think I would have gotten so much ahead.  Are we ready for my holiday calendar?  Here it comes!

So this week at school we have a block schedule (which always seems to speed up the week) and the first two days of Junior Diversity, which will relieve me of half of my students for Thursday and Friday so this week will be eaten up fast.  So I can use this coming weekend to accomplish stuff right?  Well, not really.  You see, the only time my sister has to see my father this Christmas happens to be this weekend.  So we're all meeting at his place in Athens for an early Christmas.  Pop and I will exchange smaller gifts I'm sure, since he and I will meet again for Christmas day in Pennsylvania like we usually do and thus we do not need to give all of our gifts right away.  But I do have to have a gift for Miss J and and gift for Mr. J ready and wrapped by Friday.  I will spend the weekend there and so I won't have any time to get much done until I get home on Sunday, and I will most likely spend that time wrapping and getting ingredients for baking that coming week.  The next week I have Monday and Tuesday Junior Diversity with the half of the students that I didn't have the previous Friday and Saturday as well as the sophomore field trip on that Tuesday as well, which will speed up the week again.  Wednesday or Thursday I will do my spritz cookies and my cream cheeseball because Friday night I have an Ugly Christmas Sweater party to go to.  I will also print up prize certificates for that evening as it was our idea to give everyone a personalized award for their sweaters (like "Most Inventive Use of Holly" or "Best Worst Sweater").  Of course, the awards will be determined by what people actually wear, which is why I'm doing a generic blank certificate that I can write names and award names into.  After that I have Saturday and Sunday to get the next round of gifts wrapped, which would be Miss J and Mr. J's second round gifts and Mom's gifts as well as all the stockings for that group as well.  I'll probably have time to wrap the third and final round of gifts for Pennsylvania that weekend too (Uncle Mike, Mommom, and Dad's second round gift), but I don't have to.  That third week is our last of school until New Year's and we will have auditions for the musical revue, a choral concert that I am chaperoning, a block schedule, and then an assembly and early release that Friday to finish us off so once again, that week will go by in a flash.  Add to that our annual department potluck where we exchange gifts and eat and you've got a highly festive and rough week.  Then that Friday I drive home to WV just like last year to have Christmas with Mom and Miss/Mr. J.  Following that I will drive back to Ohio to chill for a few blissful days until hitching a ride with Dad for our traditional Pennsylvania Christmas, and then back to Ohio again for the second week of break and New Year's.  Are you exhausted from reading that?  Me too, and I haven't yet done it all.

So, here's my list of things yet to be accomplished: I must buy my baking ingredients, print certificates, get an oil change in Athens, pay the bills, find or make an ugly Christmas sweater, finish buying all the gifts I need, and then wrap everything.  I think I can do it, but you're more than welcome to cheer me on for those days I need moral support.

OH!

I almost forgot, I will be having my second annual 25 Days of Christmas Movies starting this Wednesday, December the 1st.  There will probably be a few repeats from last year, but there will also be new films examined as well.  I hope its as fun to write as last year's was, and I hope you readers enjoy it as well.  Now, bring on the season!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Be Afraid...Be Very Afraid

It was 1986 and America was dealing with a number of technological and medical changes having to do with the body.  Gyms and spas were featuring more and more advanced body toning and sculpting equipment, plastic surgery (which began as a procedure to help those with disfigurement and now was being used for more vain endeavors) was rising in prominence among the affluent, and a disease called AIDS was slowly putting itself into a position to destroy us from the inside out.  It seemed that everywhere you looked, something was changing our bodies into vessels that were unfamiliar to us.  It created intrigue, curiosity, and fear...and director David Chronenburg was right in the middle of it.  He was already examining the effects of science and the body in films such as The Brood, Scanners, and Videodrome and was poised to bring his vision of body transformation to an old tale and make it relevant again.  To date it is considered one of the best remakes to come out of the 80s remake trend and also one of the grossest films of the 80s.  So lets take a look at a science fiction classic called The Fly.

It is almost like an old-fashioned romance.  Veronica "Ronnie" Quaffe is a lovely journalist attending a party for the Bartok Technologies corporation and while there she meets the mild-mannered but attractive Dr. Seth Brundle who promises her that he is working on something extraordinary.  Against her better judgment, she follows him to his apartment where he shows her his new invention, two large black pods.  Brundle tells her that they are teleportation pods and that they can transfer matter between them through the use of digital technology.  She is skeptical at first, but when he teleports one of her stockings she becomes a believer.  He makes a deal with her then.  If she will act as a historian for his work, he will give her exclusive rights to the story and permit her to write a book about the process.  It is a slow and difficult process, as he is having difficulty teleporting organic material through the machines.  Soon though, as a result of a budding romance with Ronnie, Brundle solves the problem of the organic material and sends a baboon through unharmed.  It seems as though the process will yield both a successful discovery and a relationship, but then something goes wrong.  Brundle goes through the telepods unsupervised and doesn't notice that he has been joined by a common housefly.  The computer becomes confused and instead of keeping the two of them separate, it merges them at the genetic level.  Soon Brundle is going through serious changes and Ronnie has to choose between her love for him and her own safety.

The Fly really is an excellent remake.  It takes the familiar elements of the original story and grafts them onto a tale that is highly relevant to the times.  Brundle's discovery of sex and subsequent spiral into disintegrating health is almost like an allegory for the AIDS and HIV epidemic that was racing through the headlines and Ronnie's brush with an unwanted pregnancy has shades of the 'safe-sex' and 'planned parenthood' debates that were beginning to rage.  The idea that unwanted changes could occur within our own bodies was something that was sure to make the people in the theater squirm in their seats.  Add to this idea the amazing performances of Jeff Goldblum as Seth Brundle and Geena Davis as Veronica Quaffe and you have the makings of a solid science fiction thriller.  The juicy effects work is also high quality and sure to make even the strongest of stomachs lurch a little as we go from little things falling off of Brundle to the full transformation at the end.  Last but not least is the orchestral score by Howard Shore that makes the film sound bigger than its claustrophobic surroundings and also links it to its 1950s film roots.  Would a straight remake of the original story be welcome here?  Of course, but this is a great film too and with the changes it feels like a fully original work.  Its certainly no surprise that Chronenberg went on to bigger and better things.  So if you think your stomach can handle the ick, give this one a try.  It will surely keep you up at night.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Witness the Resurrection

It was 1996 and I, by sheer happenstance, picked up a sci-fi magazine to leaf through while passing through a mall. I was shocked when I turned a page over and saw "ALIEN 4" as part of the headline for an article. I about shit myself. I devoured the article, reveling in the fact that not only were they continuing the series I had loved for so long and believed dead, but they were also bringing back Sigourney Weaver to play Ripley. I thought it was too good to be true and I was eager to know how they would accomplish this...outside of saying that Alien 3 had been a dream. It turned out that they were going to bring her back through cloning, an original concept I thought (I was 12 after-all) which would give new complications to the story and the character. I simply couldn't wait until 1997 when the film would finally be unleashed. For me, it seemed like years, but November 26th, 1997 finally arrived and I sat in the darkened theater quivering with anticipation for the return of Ripley and the creatures that torment her. Now, come back in time with me as we look at Alien Resurrection.

It has been 200 years since the incident on Fury 161 and there have been some changes.  Weyland-Yutani has been bought out by Wal-Mart, Earth has become a burned out shell of a world, and a monopolistic organization called the United Systems Military (USM) now runs the galaxy...and among all of this something extraordinary happens.  Ripley awakens aboard the research vessel Auriga.  The USM scientists have cloned her in order to retrieve the Alien Queen from within her and have kept her alive as a curiosity to be studied.  She has a vague memory of her old existence and the creatures who ultimately ended it (which she should not have at all), but she is like a completely different person.  Due to a mixing of her own DNA with the alien's DNA, she is stronger, faster, has acid for blood, and lacks an emotional core.  She views the resurrection of the aliens with apathy and sees her own survival as paramount to anything else.  Soon, the aliens escape from their cages and kill the soldiers and scientists who tried to contain them and Ripley must band together with a group of space pirates (who brought the human hosts that the scientists used to grow the aliens) in order to escape and destroy the doomed vessel before it reaches home-base, Earth.  Along the way, Ripley will have to deal with the ambiguity of her existence and choose where her loyalties lie.  She will also discover that in the genetic trading between herself and the alien, the alien has also experienced a few changes.

There are two ways to look at Alien Resurrection.  The first way is the one that most people do and that is to look at what could have been versus what we actually received.  I call this the 'spoiled child at Christmas' perspective...though it does have some weight.  I realized as I was writing the above summary that it actually sounded better than the movie actually is.  That isn't to say that the film is bad (though there are those that VIOLENTLY disagree...I've heard 'worst film ever made' cast about with casual abandon a lot) but there are quite a few missteps in it that keep it from matching the first two.  Which brings us to the second way to look at the film, which is to simply look at what is there rather than imagining what never was.  There's a lot to love in Alien Resurrection even if you don't like the black comedy or some of the 'twists' (cough...Newborn...cough).  First, once again we have to give massive props to Sigourney Weaver for taking the familiar aspects of Ripley and turning them into a completely new character.  She is predatory, sarcastic, and brave unlike the original Ripley.  Yet, later in the film when she has moments of compassion she is at first surprised and enraged by it...but later embraces the emotions as part of rediscovering her soul and choosing to be more human than alien.  It is a brilliant performance held back only by hokey dialogue writing.  The cloning aspect and the following through to the logical conclusion of it is also a welcome addition to this story.  It makes sense (even if it couldn't really happen...this is the plausible impossible afterall) that the two strains of DNA would mix and cause unexpected results.  The production design is a mixed bag.  Some sets look as big as they should while others look unnecessarily cramped.  The creature design is a bit of a disappointment as well. They added some embellishments to the alien this time out that seem to make it look more of a brutish run-of-the-mill monster than the elegant creature where it began.  Woodruff and Gillis provide some very sound reasoning for these enhancements so you know they aren't just changing for the sake of change...but I didn't care for it.  On the other side, the Newborn actually doesn't bother me as much as it does other people, however they should have kept the earlier design without eyes.  I will admit that I also saw Alien Resurrection as the weakest of the four (though I would never call it the worst move ever made, I wouldn't even call it bad), but I will say that recently I re-watched the long cut and had forgotten how good it was.  I really enjoyed revisiting the film and I suggest that people with open minds do the same.  Whats the worst that could happen?  Afterall, no one ever died from watching a movie they didn't like.  I'm proof positive of that.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Three Times The Terror

It was Christmas of 1991 when I first saw the poster advertising that there would be a 3rd Alien film in theaters the following summer and I was all a-quiver with excitement.  I had just been introduced to the first and second films earlier that year and was a huge fan already of both the stories and of Sigourney Weaver herself, so the prospect of a new movie was like a dream come true.  I waited patiently (or impatiently as Mom would tell it) for the big day to arrive, reading and watching anything I could get my hands on that would give me a glimpse of the film to come.  The trailers made it look like an action packed and frightening thrill ride to equal Aliens...so what if there was only one alien creature this time and there were no weapons, this was gonna be great.  Finally, the day came when I would be sent to the theater to see the film (with an adult guardian of course) despite my mother's misgivings (she thought I might not be able to take it...with good reason since at the age of 5 I had taken off on a scared screaming fit during a showing of Ghostbusters II, ironically also starring Mrs. Weaver).  I think, since I was only 8, nothing could have disappointed me when I first saw the film...but I do remember being very sad and depressed at the end.  The tone of the film affected me greatly and it was not nearly as action packed as they had made it out to be.  Still, in my mind I had seen a good film...one that would take me years to really grasp the real meaning and themes of.  But lets not put the cart before the horse...I should talk about the movie first.  So without further adieu, here's Alien 3.  (If only I knew how to cube that 3, like the posters).

Picking up right where Aliens left off, the film begins in deep space.  The Sulaco, the marine ship that is carrying the small band of survivors including Ripley and Newt, finds itself in a bit of a jam.  It seems an alien egg was laid by the queen when she was aboard for her brief visit and the facehugger inside manages to cause a huge malfunction that forces the ship to eject its passengers in an EEV (Emergency Escape Vehicle), which then gets pulled into the gravity of a nearby planet, Fiorina 'Fury' 161.  The EEV loses control and crashes into the sea, where it is found by the residents of Fury...a small group of convicts.  They bring Ripley, the only survivor of the crash, inside where she recovers and is faced with the tragedy that her friends and surragate daughter are dead despite all her work to the contrary.  Unfortunately, her time to mourn is cut short when mysterious deaths begin occuring within the prison.  It seems that the alien that crashed the ship came with them and has incubated inside of an animal, creating a new beast that is sleeker, faster, and more preditory than before.  Ripley must now lead the waning band of prisoners in primitive efforts to kill the creature because they have little working technology and no weapons of any kind.  It seems hopeless, but the men have an ace up their sleeve.  The alien will not kill Ripley, for reasons that become horrifyingly clear by the conclusion.

Alien 3 was destined to be a dissapointment the moment that the credits for James Cameron's Aliens began to roll.  That film was so suspenceful, exciting, and optimistic (despite depressing setbacks to the characters and death) that any follow up would need to either be a clone (no pun intended for part 4) or a massive ripoff.  Instead, 20th Century Fox decided to take another risk and do another dramatic departure from the previous film to create a different beast.  Their original plan, which was created by Vincent Ward took place on a wooden planet populated by monks who believed Ripley and the alien to be a version of the devil, was ambitious for sure...but was too expensive an idea for the time.  Instead, the setting was changed to a mining colony used as a prison and the characters were changed to prisoners with religious ideals.  The depressing tone and bleak opening and ending were retained however.  This did not sit well with audiences who felt that the film spat in the face of Cameron's ending, that set up the idea of Ripley and a makeshift family (with the death of Newt to be the most unpleasent for people).  There were also those who believed that the decision to make all the convicts bald made it difficult to identify the individuals (and even more, rather USAcentric people, who throught it odd that so many of the convicts had British accents).  There were also plot holes in the theatrical version due to haphazard editing of director David Fincher's original vision for the film (which was around 2 hours and 30 minutes) which left large pieces of plot unexplained.  Still, I've always liked Alien 3 since the beginning.  Sigourney Weaver's performance as Ripley has many more layers this time around.  She's in mourning, and she's tired and it all shows on the camera.  Your empathy is increased for her because this makes her even more of a real person.  A real hero, after their greatest moment, would not be ready for more the next day.  That person would be exhausted and deeply depressed if they had to hop back up and fix the exact same problem immediately after taking care of it twice before.  The score by Elliot Goldenthal is also amazing as it mixes musical elements with ambiant noises to create something truely haunting.  Now that we have the option of watching the longer assembly cut of Alien 3, I think more and more people are appreciating what they were trying to accomplish with the film...even if they don't like how depressed it makes them.  I still like the film and enjoy the ride as it goes on, because it seems like a natural progression of a realistic story.  People don't always survive and don't always live happily ever after, and that was a good thing for an 8 year old to learn.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

They Bite

I was racking my brain at "The Addams Family" trying to think of where I had seen one of the actors, Terrence Mann, before.  I remembered him from other stage shows such as "Cats" and the 2000 revival of "The Rocky Horror Show" but I was sure I had seen him in a movie.  So I looked him up and low and behold, not only had I seen him in a film...but I owned two of them.  So that inspired me to write about this particular B-movie that is a rip off of Gremlins but yet manages to find its own madcap spirit, much like the original Piranha.  It also includes several strange sci-fi elements that it manages to create its own strange mystique.  Lets chew on a snack and enjoy the little morsel that is Critters.

The story begins on a prison asteroid in the middle of an unexplored galaxy.  The prison is accepting a transport containing several Krites, small monsters with large jaws and teeth that roll about like hedgehogs.  The Krites are so dangerous that they must be imprisoned to protect the galaxy from being eaten.  However, someone makes a mistake and the Krites escape in a small shuttle.  Meanwhile, on Earth, it is another normal morning at the Brown home.  Brother and sister are fighting, mom is bored and under-appreciated, and dad is oblivious of anything that isn't farming.  Soon though, the shuttle lands in their backyard and the Browns soon find themselves under siege by several toothy creatures intent on having them for dinner.  To make matters more interesting, a pair of interstellar 'chameleon' bounty hunters have just landed on Earth and are shooting up the town of Grover's Mills in order to find the fugitive critters.  With time and ammunition running out, the Browns and the bounty hunters must work together to outsmart the Krites and save themselves from becoming the main course.

Critters is a fun little romp back into the 80s when popular culture was ripe for ripoffs and said ripoffs were actually made with a level of competency not seen otherwise.  New Line Cinema assembled a rather talented group of lesser-known actors such as Dee Wallace Stone and Terrence Mann to populate the frames of the film and also commissioned The Chiodo Brothers (who would later helm the fabulously whacky Killer Klowns from Outer Space) to do the creature effects.  The result is a film with a sense of humor and some decent suspense that is well-made despite being a cash in on the success of another popular monster movie.  Its no surprise then that the film spawned three sequels and still remains a popular creature feature standby of the 80s.  This film is perfect for a Friday or Saturday night when you're curled up with a bowl of popcorn and have nowhere else to be.  Enjoy it the way you would a bag of potato chips...as something empty yet satisfying.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Start Spreadin' the News

What a great weekend that was!  Four days and three nights in New York City with all the noises, sights, sounds, and smells (some rather pungent) thrown in, and it was amazing.  I think it might have been one of the best trips I've ever taken to the Big Apple, largely because the schedule was so loose.  We would wake up, eat breakfast, and decide where it was we wanted to go that day.  I only wish there had been even more time....but then I probably would have gone broke.

The first day I got there around noon and I was the only one from our group who was there that early so I arranged to see an old friend of mine and then stood in line at the TKTS booth to get tickets to a show that evening.  I lucked out at the booth and got four orchestra level tickets for "Mary Poppins" at half-price.  We were maybe 5 or 6 rows back from the stage for only $61.50 each...a steal considering how orchestra seats go for over 100 or 150 most nights.  Before the show I saw my friend, The Dancer, and we had a great time catching up and talking about everything.  It was probably the most at ease I ever felt around him.  I met him when I was 16 and working at our local summer theater in West Virginia.  He was a 24 or 25 year old dancer at that point so I was still a kid to him.  But oh did I ever have a crush on him.  You know, one of those dopey teenage crushes where everything is live or die based on how he reacted to me on a given day.  God I was an emotional and hormonal rollercoaster and wrote the most inane chatter in my journal about him (you should read it, you'd laugh at how melodramatic it is).  Well, Thursday we were both on equal footing.  Both adults, both professionals, and both...shall we say.....'experienced' in the ways of gay romance.  We chatted about all aspects of life and it was nice and comfortable.  I finally admitted to him how infatuated I was with him back then and we both laughed.  I said it wouldn't have surprised me if he knew and then I went one step forward to see, if we were both in the position, if we might share at least physical romance.  His answer was encouraging to say the least...however, he is seeing someone very special now and he's making the most of that while it lasts.  I congratulated him and we went our separate ways.  The show was amazing and full of tremendous magic tricks and special effects.  I would highly recommend it if you get the chance and you aren't put off by the 'sweetness' of the original film.

The second day was a bit of an adventure.  We had nothing planned until "Billy Elliot: The Musical" that evening and few sights we hadn't seen...so Mom and I took a spirited jaunt down to Central Park.  We walked through the bottom portion (trying to find a bus to take us up the avenue) and came out on the west side right in front of the apartment building that was used as the location for Dana Barret's building in Ghostbusters...you can tell because of the church right next door.  We hopped on a bus with the plan to ride up to where we could walk across the park to the Metropolitan Museum of art...but we happened to look out the window at a stop light and saw the American Museum of Natural History (from Night at the Museum).  We realized that neither of us had ever been to it, so we jumped off the bus and spent the next several hours wandering its massive halls and gaping at the artistry of its dioramas and artifacts.  It was easily one of my favorite museums from the city and I recommend it to everyone.  Following that, we took a break at the hotel and then walked to the Lunt-Fontaine Theater to buy next-day matinee tickets for "The Addams Family", after which we ate dinner at the Times Square Olive Garden where we got to look down on the streets and billboards.  Following that was "Billy Elliot", which was easily the best show we saw this weekend as far as story and performances are concerned.  It was funny, sweet, touching, and uplifting while also being somber and serious in its depiction of the 1984 miner's strike in Great Britain.  I was very impressed with the boy who played Billy, who wasn't just a good actor but was also a tremendous dancer.  Its no surprise why this won Best Musical of 2009.  After the show I received the additional thrill of a British Celebrity sighting.  The theater next door was featuring Joanna Lumley (Patsy from "Absolutely Fabulous") and she was out signing autographs.  I managed to snap a quick, blurry picture and then went on my way.

Saturday was our last full day in the city and we started it at our favorite place for breakfast, the Edison Cafe.  After that, we walked up the street to the Museum of Modern Art (which I was rather underwhelmed by) and spent a few hours walking its hallowed halls.  We didn't have as much free early time that day because we had to be at "The Addams Family" at 2pm.  We saw some very nice work from recognized artists (like The Starry Night by Van Gogh) and a great deal of fun sculpture and found art installations.  The show was a lot of fun, but not the best I've seen.  However, it was a thrill to see Nathan Lane and Bebe Newurth live on the stage.  They have always cracked me up in television and film and I felt just as honored to have seen them as I felt when I saw Sean Hayes and Kristen Chennoweth in "Promises, Promises".  After that we met up with Jon, my ex and good friend, for dinner at Bill's Bar and Burger in Rockefeller Center and then we ended our evening at Radio City Music Hall watching "The Radio City Christmas Spectacular."  Wow, what a show.  It was a lot of fun to see the Rockettes and the living nativity and I could defiantly see why its a Christmas tradition for a lot of people.

Sunday stank.  I left the hotel on a shuttle to the airport around 8:40 and I didn't get home until a little after 7 (largely due to a 3-4 hour layover in Baltimore) so I was pretty tired.  I even considered calling in sick to work, but then decided it would be less trouble than writing sub plans.  It turned out to be a fine day today and I felt rested even though I spent all 4 days off running from here to there.  It was worth it.  I can't wait until the next time I get to go to that city and do more things I've never done before.  Now stay tuned because tomorrow I'll be back with a review of something...its been much too long.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sick

So Friday night was really awesome at my house, I bet you wish you had been there.  I had a few friends over and we had an Alien marathon...we planned to watch all four but we only made it through three before pooping out.  We got Applebee's take out (which was terrible) and several beverages of a spirituous nature (aka...beer) which made our night pretty fun on top of the films.  I wasn't much fun that night though, I must admit, because I was so tired from the week.  Or at least that's what I thought.  I woke up Saturday morning with a sore throat and a stuffy head and lamented my rotten luck.  Being sick is never pleasent, but being sick on the weekend just adds insult to injury because you want to feel great and use the time to the fullest, but your mood and general lousy feeling brings you down.  It was mild I'll admit, and didn't interfere with most of my errand-running, but by the end of Saturday and by half-way through Sunday I was chair-bound thanks to having little energy.  I didn't get any of the papers graded that I meant to get done, and I didn't do half the planning I intended to do either.  It was a very unproductive, albeit relaxing, weekend.  I'm glad I only have 3 work days this week, so I can kinda fudge these days.  My juniors are finishing an essay and taking a quiz, and my sophomores are reading To Kill a Mockingbird and we'll discuss that and take a quiz.  So I don't feel so bad about skimping a bit on the planning.

We're getting off Thursday and Friday this week due to Veteran's Day on Thursday and a Teacher Work Day on Friday (which I will be absent for due to fortuitous circumstances).  The only thing that would make it better is if I was leaving on a trip for the long weekend.  Oh wait, I am!  I was invited by my mom (and to a lesser extent, Mary Thomas, an old friend and teacher from high school) to go to Manhattan with her as part of Mrs. Thomas's tour group.  Mrs. Thomas commonly takes school groups to NYC and she happened to schedule another one right when I'd be off for a long weekend so it just made good sense for me to go along, especially since Mom didn't want to share a hotel room with a stranger.  Mom and I are also not obligated to take the tours and excursions that the high school kids are going on either, so we're gonna try and do our favorite things.  Museums, shows, shopping, and those sorts of things.  We'll skip the Empire State Building and Ground Zero (we've both been to those before).  I mean I've been to Manhattan now 4 times (5 once I return) and Mom's been I think 3 times.  We already know that we're going to see "Billy Elliot: The Musical" and "The Radio City Christmas Spectacular" and we're hoping to squeeze in a Saturday matinee at another show of our choosing (I'm hoping for either "Mary Poppins" or "The Addams Family").  Honestly, I'd love it if we saw something Thursday night too (but mom's gonna be tired from that long bus ride).  Either way, its gonna be a great trip (but I'm gonna be TIRED when I get back on Sunday).  I just hope I'm back to normal health by then, especially since its gonna be so cold.

Speaking of cold, I got a new winter coat this weekend that I can't wait to use in the cold, cold city.  I got a great deal too.  Old Navy was having a 50%-off sale on all men's outerwear and so I got an $80 coat and a $45 blazer for $62, not bad at all.  I had to go all the way to the outlet malls in Jeffersonville to do it, but it was worth it.  I wouldn't have needed to buy a coat if mine hadn't been stolen last Feburary, but now I can look super chic.  Well actually, if I wanted to look super chic, I'd have to buy some $200 coat from Armani or something...and that would probably come from the clearence rack.  Wait...does Armani even have a clearence rack?  I don't even know.  Probably not.  In which case, I'm not classy enough to shop at a store that doesn't have a clearence rack.  That's where I get most of my clothes from name brand places.  I'm the strangest breed of clothes horse...I love to go to those brand stores to shop (Express, Gap, Banana Republic, and Old Navy) but I never get anything that hasn't been marked down to $15 bucks or less.  I guess I'm cheap, but stylish.  Call me crazy, but I just don't think one should spend $20 or more on a shirt.  I mean, the only reason that these places can charge that much for things like t-shirts is because they know people will pay it.  Its the same reason that home video distributors charge a premium for Blu-rays.  They like to rationalize that you're paying for 'the quality', but anyone worth their salt in manufacturing knowlege knows that most of these things...clothing and disc based media alike...don't cost nearly that much to make.  Ok, enough of my rant on consumer products.

This blog entry is pretty long already, so I'll forgo my next film until the next one.  See you soon!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

This Time, Its War

I remember visits to my Dad's old apartment relatively well, considering they started around the time I was 5.  Mom and Dad decided to get a divorce around that time of my life (I didn't even know the meaning of the word, I thought they said we were getting a horse) and I was saddened by it, but not as much as kids in the movies tend to be.  For me, all it meant was that Dad lived in another state and we would see him less.  Visits were always great though.  Dad would rent us movies (or get them from the library once he discovered that they had a great selection), get pizza, and take us to fun places like Chuck E. Cheese's and the local parks.  It was like a vacation, and every movie that I saw while visiting Dad has become one of my all-time favorites.  I sometimes wonder if my affection for said films is inspired by that feeling of special-ness we always got when visiting with Dad.  Anyway, I'm getting away from my point.  It was on one of these visits that, while surfing through the channels on Dad's tv, that we came across what would be my introduction to my all-time favorite Sci-Fi series and possibly the best action movie of all time.  Let's saddle up marines, and take my (maybe) millionth look at Aliens.

Ellen Ripley, the lone survivor from Alien, finds her world completely unhinged when she awakens from her long journey and finds that 57 years have passed, due to a guidance malfunction on her small escape pod.  She has not aged, thanks to the hyperspace freezing technology, but everyone that she knew, including her 11 year old daughter, has passed on.  Equally unpleasent is the knowledge that the company she works for, Weyland-Yutani, thinks she is unstable and refuses to believe her testimony on the alien creature that killed her crew and destroyed her ship.  Some time later, through a company lieson, she discovers that a colony has been established on the planet where they originally found the alien ship and contact has been lost with them.  The company intends to send a squad of high-tech marines to the planet, LV-426, and wants Ripley to return with them as a consultant if they encounter any creepy creatures.  Ripley decides to go in order to help the civilians who are in danger, but also to rid herself of the demons that haunt her nightmares.  When the team arrives at the colony, they find it desolate and destroyed.  They also find one survivor, a little girl named Newt, who will only communicate with Ripley.  It becomes clear that the alien terror has been reborn, and this time in greater numbers.  Before they know it, the marines are cut off from their ship and nearly wiped out.  Its up to Ripley to lead the team to safety, despite her reluctance to do so.

Aliens was a real gamble in 1986, not in the same way that sequels are nowadays.  Studios didn't make sequels for big pictures often at that time...rather, they preferred to make numerous sequels to their B and C movies that were usually horror themed.  For Alien to do well enough to warrent a sequel was amazing in itself, but for the sequel to then deviate so strongly from its source was also unheard of.  Director James Cameron (fresh off his success with The Terminator) did not want to simply rehash the first though...rather, he wanted to let the story grow logically from where it left off.  The never did deal with that ship full of eggs from the first film and its fully possible that someone else could stumble across it...and if one alien was a problem, then several would be even worse.  The only people qualified then, to deal with such a problem, would be soldiers...so Cameron wisely decided to make this a combat movie.  It is then a foregone conclusion that the film will not be as frightening as Alien, but it is twice as exciting....so it evens out.  There is so much done well in the film that it would be impossible to list all of it here in my humble blog.  First and foremost, Sigourney Weaver's portrayal of Ripley is so wonderfully nuanced that you hardly notice how she transistions from wounded victim, to mother, to tough hero without missing a beat.  And, every character shift is brilliantly motivated by Cameron's tight script.  Few characters have been written in sequels as convincingly.  She truely makes the series and sets it apart from its clones and imitators.  Cameron should also be congratulated with how he has Ripley find an unlikely family in Newt and Corporal Hicks.  Each of them is isolated from their surroundings and seems to be a loaner, but their indivdual traits are made stronger by their being united as one whole.  It gives the film a sense of optimism lacking in the other Alien films and I think that that optimisim is why so many people say that this is their favorite of the quartet.  So if you've been living under a rock and never managed to see this film, you owe it to yourself to get it and watch it.  Its an amazingly thrilling and suspenceful flick that you will simply never forget.  I know I never will.