Thursday, December 27, 2012

We're All In This Together

This morning, the driving was pretty sketchy. Here in Central NY, we got a good foot or more of snow, and while the plows were doing their best to keep up, the roads were messy enough to warrant some careful maneuvering. Everything went fine until I arrived at work, where I got stuck in the bottom of the driveway. I went into the building to look for help, and while I was waiting, a couple of guys in a plow stopped to ask if I needed a hand. When I responded that I could use a push, they drove their plow in (via another entrance). Not only did they give me that push, but they shoveled and plowed me a clear path. I called my thanks out the window, but I had to drive around the building, rather than risk stopping and getting stuck again. My two good Samaritans were gone before I could get a name, or find out how to mail them a thank-you.

This is just one of the many examples that restores my faith in people, each time it happens. I believe mankind is basically good at heart, with a willingness to help when we see a need and are able to do so. It seems we still realize, when it comes down to nuts and bolts, that people need each other.

So this is a public thank-you to the two young men who helped me out this morning, without asking anything in return. I may not be able to thank them personally, but maybe I can pay that kindness forward. ‘Cause we’re all in this together.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Tree 2012 - The Narnia Tree

I am a rather rabid fan of all things Narnia. This year, that was the theme for our Christmas tree, and all the ornaments on it have some relation to the seven books C.S. Lewis wrote in the "Chronicles of Narnia" series. Some of the ornaments were promotional toys released by McDonald's when the 2005 film "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" came out. Others, I found at a craft store that sold the Safari, Ltd. collection of toys. Among them, I found a minotaur, a griffin, a phoenix, and some kings and queens that would stand in for Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy from the books. I also came across a dragon released by Schleich, and I had a unicorn and a white stag already among my Christmas ornaments. I also purchased the Lenox set that came out when LWW was released, as well as an adorable Hallmark ornament of Lucy stepping into the wardrobe. Interspersed with these are some foliage and decorations representing all four seasons, which we see in LWW, and a set of silver bells (In one of the books, a child rings a forbidden bell, which starts the trouble with the White Witch in the first place.). I'm quite sure I could expand what's on the tree, and that may be a project for later years! I know I'm missing some good ornament possibilities....

The top of the tree is the best part: a gutted outdoor lamppost, which the hubby and I re-wired with an electric flicker flame bulb. The lantern sets right on top of the tree, with a switch to turn it on. This is the most fun I've had yet with a Christmas tree.

I'm sure that if I had an enormous house, I would be one of those people who couldn't resist putting a tree in every room, each with its own theme. It's just such fun! Hope you had a Merry Christmas if you celebrated, and if not, I hope that you at least enjoy looking at the tree. Cheers!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Being Grateful

I've been doing a lot of thinking about those terrible shootings in Sandy Hook this week. My son is a kindergartener, so it hit very close to home for me. All I did for an hour Friday night, when I got home, was sit on the floor in the kitchen and hug my son.

Every day with your family is a gift. Everyone says it, to the point of triteness ... but at times like these, it's blazing clear. My heart hurts for those people and their families. Things will never be the same for them. Please, try to put aside those little squabbles every family has, and be grateful that they're still with you. I wish you all a safe holiday season. Hugs to you all. - Nicki

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Movie Review: "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"

I made sure to give this a full day to sink in before reviewing it, because I tend to be a bit biased toward "The Lord of the Rings" (i.e. OMG-squee-this-is-so-cool-I'm-just-gonna-die!). Let's face it, (Sir) Peter Jackson has redefined the epic cinematic adventure as we know it.

He does so once again in "The Hobbit," (titled "An Unexpected Journey," though marketed as "The Hobbit"). We have all come to know and appreciate Jackson's cinematic eye, especially with the sweeping vistas of Middle Earth to which he treated us in all three LOTR installments. He does so again, and even when we see places we've been before (Rivendell and Weathertop come to mind), we see a new aspect of these familiar places, rather than the same old scenery rehashed.

On that note, we enjoy a visit with a number of characters we know from the LOTR films ... but again, it's not as if Jackson trots them out for us to view just because we already know, and have bonded, with them. They are all there for a reason - to further the story.

Anyone who's read "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" knows that Tolkien was inordinately fond of history, and there is A LOT of it in Middle Earth. While I had my doubts about why Jackson broke "The Hobbit" into three films - this being the first installment - I understand, seeing it, that it was not only possible, but necessary. And it isn't a dry dissertation, either. While there is one notable scene where several characters simply sit around talking, it's not dull - because the expo is paired with subtext, and things going on that AREN'T being talked about. At no point was I bored enough to say "Get on with it!"

While I really (really, really) missed Aragorn at the outset of the story, I was more than engaged with the story of Bilbo, and especially this film's displaced leader, Thorin Oakenshield (played very admirably by Richard Armitage). And the song "Misty Mountains" gave me goosebumps.

Make no mistake: this isn't "The Lord of the Rings" redux. It is a lighter tale, with more comedy, and even a few shades of slapstick. (Not to mention a number of unlikely escapes.) But is still a good old-fashioned adventure, complete with its complement of honor, sacrifice, and hobbitish courage. Go see it, expecting some beautiful CGI, set design, storytelling, and just plain fun.

Side note: my husband and I being the movie geeks we are, we recognized several of the names in the credits, which WEREN'T the actors. I was pleased to see Shane Rangi's name among them (he of the motion-capture and costume acting for likewise-New-Zealand-filmed "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe"). We were also thrilled to see that Alan Lee, who is famous for his illustrations for "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings," was listed as a design consultant. So not only is this a terrific movie, it picked from the best available talent. Nice job, Jackson. Looking forward to the next one ... just don't make us wait too long! *grin*

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Movie Review: "Breaking Dawn pt. 2"

There's been an aura of fangirl wish fulfillment hanging around the Twilight books and movies since day one. I admit freely to enjoying the first book, in spite of some stilted writing/editing, because it reminded me of the painful awkwardness of being a teenager with a hardcore crush on that ungettable get. I have read all of the books in the Twilight series, and seen all the films (I can't bring myself to call it a "saga," which brings to mind Gone With The Wind - which deserves the moniker).

That said, I went to see "Breaking Dawn pt. 2" with a friend last night, and there were some places in which I was very pleasantly surprised indeed. BD is my least favorite book of the series, because of its too-slow pacing and its fizzle at the climactic moment of the story. Without giving too much away, I'll say that they definitely changed a couple of things that had left me underwhelmed when I read the book.

BD2, the film, starts out slow, as the book did, and I found myself preparing for disappointment. It's never easy to carry the "middle" of a story, but BD was noticeable in its slow pacing. I did not, and still don't, understand why they decided to break it into two films. True, there's a lot of story that needs to be crammed in - a lot happens in this book - but the real meat of the story is spread out over pages of introspection that I felt wandered too much from the necessary plot points in the book.

Another flaw of this film is that its CGI is noticeable in its clunkiness. It's hard to translate sensory detail onto film. After all, they haven't invented a way to see-how-she-sees, hear-how-she-hears, and smell-how-she-smells (but I keep hoping). But the action is clearly CGI, too smooth, too perfect, and too smudged. When a viewer finds herself looking for the bad mechanics of artistry in a movie, trust me, it's bad for the story. Edward and Bella's baby is clearly CGI, a completely unnecessary use of the medium. It's the difference between watching something with bad 80's special effects, and watching Avatar ... where you could see pores in skin. The character spends such a short time being an infant that I wonder why it was worth the bother to CGI her. Not only that, but virtually every non-human in this film is over-CGI'd. I felt like I was watching a cartoon, rather than what should (and could, given its budget) have been a photo-real film. Part of the reason we enjoy watching films is to relate to the characters on a human level. That means they shouldn't look/act flawless, even when they are. I can name half a dozen movies where the CGI was so good, it's nearly invisible. This is NOT one of them. The CGI is so visible, it should have had its own acting credit. Story first. The flashy stuff should support it, not outshout it.

Pacing took a back seat, as well (not unexpected). There are too many pauses where the movie lingers on the young, happy, and in-love couple and all the awesome things they can now do. This, to the detriment of Bella's character growth as part of the family in her new role, and Edward's in coming to terms with her change. It's all too easy for them. Granted, I'm from the Joss Whedon school of storytelling, where no one gets to be happy for long ... 'cause what fun is that? We read books and watch movies to see the characters overcome adversity, not to sit there and watch them be happy, as if we're mashing our noses to a storefront window with a sparkly, perfect life inside.

The end of this film may well have been its saving grace. It's another of those awesome examples of revision done right. It got a "Wooooow" out of me, no question. Had the rest of the film been this cunningly written, it might have gotten a 4 or above, but given all its flaws, I can only give this film a 3 of 5. Farewell, Twilight. Let's see what books Hollywood picks next.