Monday, June 30, 2008

"Wall-E" Shows Us the Future, and It's Pretty Freakin' Depressing

I, like seemingly everyone else and their brothers, saw Wall-E this past weekend (shout-out to EA for the invite!). Before anyone flips out because of my negative-sounding post title, please rest assured that I did enjoy this movie. I am not surprised that it was #1 at the box office, or that I've read nothing but glowing reviews of it.

As you know, though, sometimes I have a different take than the other critics out there, so I feel like I have to point out a few things I could've done without in this latest Pixar flick. But first, a quick nonspoilery recap for those of you who have been living under a rock and do not know the movie's premise (I say this only because I started seeing promos for the film over a year ago, and the marketing for it seems omnipresent--look! A bus just went by my condo with a Wall-E poster splashed on its side...).

is about a robot named, uh, Wall-E, who appears to be the only object still moving around on Earth (well, except for roaches, but we all know they can never be destroyed!). One day another robot arrives (courtesy of a huge spaceship that drops her off) and starts checking out what's going on around the planet. It's love at first sight for Wall-E, who then follows Eve (the female robot) back to where she came from when her spaceship returns to collect her.

OK... so that is what I thought the movie was going to be about based on the trailers I had seen. Judge for yourself:

And at a very high level, that's still the overall plot. But there is a much darker theme running throughout the film regarding what exactly went wrong on Earth, and why it is that no humans have been back in over 700 years. Though you cannot claim I'm ruining anything when I say that Wall-E of course still has a "happy" ending (Pixar IS owned by Disney, Master of Happy Endings, remember), I actually didn't think the ending was that joyous. I was left with a feeling of hopelessness... and I dare say I was a little depressed. If you've seen the movie and understand what I'm talking about, definitely leave me a comment... I have put a comment that has spoilers in it after this post already so that those who have seen the movie understand my beef a bit better.

I also thought the movie was a tad too long. It was 97 minutes, which doesn't seem like it should feel too long, but there were several "false endings" that got old. I think they could've easily cut out 15 minutes. The little girl sitting behind me was yelling, "I want to LEEEAAAAVE!" at about the same time I thought the movie could've wrapped up... so I rest my case.

Now that my complaining is out of the way, let me tell you why I still liked the movie overall and would definitely recommend that you see it:

1) The character of Wall-E is awesome and is an instant classic. I sincerely hope they are already working on a Wall-E ride at Disney World, because he's going to be loved by the kiddies for a long time. Most of my favorite scenes were when Wall-E was by himself, doing goofy things.

2) While I wasn't as enamored with the girl robot, Eve, I liked some of the other "bit player" robots on the spaceship... especially the obsessive compulsive M-O, who wanted to keep everything clean.

3) Though the foreboding tone I talked about above was a little disconcerting, the truth is, it is necessary. I am glad to see that this movie didn't shy away from making a statement on how humans treat both their bodies and their environment, and what the future could be like if our need for more, more, MORE! doesn't subside soon. There aren't too many other children's movies I can think of that take this route, so kudos to the writers for having the guts to "go there."

4) I really liked how Wall-E made the "Mac boot-up" sound whenever he recharged. But hey, that's just me being a nerd.

5) The Pixar short film that was shown before the movie (at least in my theater) was great.

6) Peter Gabriel sings over the closing credits, and I love me some Peter Gabriel.

I am hard-pressed to think of someone I know who wouldn't like this movie. I wish it had been slightly shorter and had a more definitively hopeful ending, but all in all, I give Wall-E a thumbs up. It has also made me want my own personal robot really badly (this is a lifelong dream of mine... one day, I WILL have a robot, dammit!).

If you saw it, let me know what you think!

- e

Friday, June 27, 2008

They Say That Breaking Up Is Hard To Do...

It's been a long time since I've been moved to comment on a bit of celebrity gossip. I think we all overdosed a long time ago on anything having to do with Britney Spears, Jamie Lynn Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Ashley Simpson, Jessica Simpson/Tony Romo, Angelina's soon-to-be-delivered twins, and Jennifer Aniston and John Mayer's new romance. I'm lovin' precious few peeps in Hollywood right about now.

But I read something last night that made me truly sad: it's pretty much been confirmed that Madonna and Guy Ritchie are getting divorced. Rumors about their marriage's impending demise have been floating around for over a year... and several times they've gone as far as to make public statements that everything was just fine.

This time, however, The Times reported that Madonna is contracting the same divorce attorney hired by not only Paul McCartney, but also Prince Charles. And apparently, if The Times reports this news, it's more believable than, say, Star magazine.

Last week I read that Madonna didn't want to announce any split until her tour is over with at the end of November. So it will be interesting to see if we go that long without "official" confirmation. I'm also very curious about the fact that the couple supposedly did not have a prenuptial agreement. Madonna obviously has more to lose (her net worth is estimated at nearly $600 million), but I just can't see Guy Ritchie fighting to get some huge chunk of that. It seems kind of... unmanly or something.

Anyway, I'm still holding out hope that this news proves false, because I hate the fact that they have three kids who will have to deal with everything the media's saying about their parents for a long, long time. And on a more selfish note, I think I will be really creeped out if Madonna starts dating again. I thought she and Guy seemed like a good match, and I just cringe at the thought of pictures of her with some new (most likely even younger... as Guy was already a decade her junior) dude. She turns fifty next year... I don't want to see a mid-life-crisising Madonna!

- e

Thursday, June 26, 2008

This Guy is My Hero

I'm sure many of you have already seen the insanely popular 2005 and 2006 YouTube videos entitled "Where the Hell is Matt?" If not, I've included them below for your viewing pleasure (and they're worth watching again if you haven't seen them in awhile, if I do say so myself).

Anyway, this guy traveled all around the world in 2003 and 2004, filming himself doing this crazy jig. After uploading the video in 2005 and achieving online fame, Stride Gum contacted him and offered to sponsor another trip and another video-making effort. Hence, the 2006 "sequel" was born.

I was just clued in to the fact that he has done it a third time and uploaded another installment a few days ago. This time, he wrote to the several people who e-mailed him from various countries and invited them to dance with him. The final video below is the result.

2005 Video

2006 Video

... And the brand-new 2008 Video! (If you want to see any of the videos in higher quality, which I highly recommend (especially for this last one), go here instead.)

I gotta admit, I cannot watch those montages without tearing up. I can only guess that it's because they prove that people are goofy all over the world, and that everyone appreciates the opportunity to do a rockin' jig.

If you want to read more about Matt's incredible journey, go to his web site and click on one of the links at the top, like "FAQ" or "About Matt."

I hope the videos were as inspirational for you as they are for me! And I'm glad to see that he got to Chicago this time around, too. The Bean represents!

- e

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


It's a rainy, dreary day here in Chicago, so I thought it would be fitting to review a movie I saw recently that I found pretty damn depressing: Flightplan.

First off, why did they have to spell "Flightplan" incorrectly? It is supposed to be written as two words, and since I take that kind of stuff seriously, I was already put off by the movie before it even began. (And for the record, neither my husband nor I can figure out how it got to the top of our Netflix queue... we both deny ever adding it. Someone's hacked into our queue and is messing with us!!!)

Although I was able to brush aside my grouchiness over the misspelled title and keep hope alive that the movie might actually turn out to be decent, my husband settled in to watch it with a bad attitude from the get-go: "How can a kid get lost on a plane? This is going to be LAME!!!"

Yes, that's the premise of the movie. Jodie Foster plays a woman who designs jet engines and is therefore extremely familiar with the various layouts of huge commercial aircraft. She and her daughter board a flight from Berlin to New York, during which she falls asleep, and then wakes up three hours later to find her daughter missing. Passengers, the air marshal, flight attendants and even the captain all get involved in the mystery (Peter Sarsgaard and Erika Christensen are in two of the supporting roles), and they all come to the same conclusion: Jodie Foster is nuts and never even brought her daughter on board in the first place. Who to believe? What in the heck is going on?

There's a little bit more to the story than that, but I'll leave those details as a surprise in case you do want to rent this one. My husband called some of the twists right away, but I (as always) didn't see them coming. One thing I was really confused about was how Boromir could be the pilot of the plane... it just wasn't right to see him in a present-day setting... I didn't like it. Go back to Middle Earth!

So I guess by now you probably think that I didn't like this movie, and that's not necessarily the case. It kept me guessing and was definitely fast-paced, but it's not a "happy" story. And it's not like I only enjoy uplifting or comical movies... but this one, for whatever reason, just struck a hollow chord with me.

But if you like mysteries, or if you enjoyed the similarly-themed Jodie-starring film, Panic Room, you may find Flightplan to be OK. However, if you have a fear of losing your kid on a plane, then seriously... never, ever see this movie!

It is wrong that I was hoping that in the search for the little girl, we frequent travelers would get some insight into where they stash extra water bottles and snacks? Alas, no such luck.

- e

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Coldplay: Viva La Vida

I wanted to give myself a few days to let the new Coldplay album sink in before making any judgments. Their three previous CDs had to grow on me, and so I knew Viva La Vida would need some time to work its magic as well. But I've listened to it in full enough at this point to comment on what I like... and what I could've done without.

But first let me say that I think anyone who didn't get the pre-release version of the CD got the shaft. Two of my favorite songs--"Lost?" and "Lovers in Japan (Acoustic Version)" do not appear to be on the 10-track, "normal" album that is selling on "Lost?" is listed as a "bonus song" on the iTunes version.

I've read quite a few "professional music critic" reviews of Coldplay's latest effort, and I have to admit to being pretty shocked at how differently I feel about the album. Either the critic raved on and on and thought it was their best CD ever (which I strongly disagree with), or they loved everything I hated (namely the track "42," which I find totally annoying, or when Chris Martin sings in an abnormally low voice just to prove that he can).

So, for what it's worth, here is my normal-person's take on Viva La Vida.

What's Good:
- The title track, "Viva La Vida," is my favorite "fast" Coldplay song to date. Nope, I was never on the "Clocks" bandwagon, sorry.

- "Lost?" is the best "slow" song of the CD, and is much better than the main version of the song, entitled "Lost!" (Notice the different punctuation marks--those cheeky Brits.) So if you don't have the version of the CD with "Lost?" on it, do yourself a favor and download that one separately from iTunes. I really hope when I see them in concert next month they play this stripped-down version...

- The pretty much instrumental "Life in Technicolor" is catchy, "Violet Hill" has grown on me, and "Lovers in Japan" is instantly likable, but as I mentioned above, the acoustic version available through the pre-order is much better.

- Overall, there is only one song I really don't like, so I feel that the album as a whole is a success.

What's Bad:
- Unbelievably, there are not one, not two, but THREE tracks that are in between 6:30 and 7:07 minutes long because they actually have more than one song contained within them. As I wrote almost exactly two years ago today, I HATE HIDDEN TRACKS. WHY do bands do this?!?! It makes no sense! All it does is annoy the hell out of everyone.

On Coldplay's latest, they do it with the non-acoustic version of "Lovers in Japan," which has "Reign of Love" tagged on to it. "Yes" also includes the trippy "Chinese Sleep Chant." And finally, "Death and All His Friends" has "The Escapist" tacked on. Why, guys, why?!?!!? I'm threatening to make my husband break them up using his fancy Mac audio software just so I don't need to keep getting angry every time I play these songs.

- As I mentioned above, I can't stand the song "42." It starts out with a whiny, sing-songy Chris Martin proclaiming, "Those who are dead are not dead, they're just living in my head." What? Later when the song picks up its tempo, he's sing-shouting, "You thought you might be a ghost? You didn't get to Heaven but you made it close."

Now, I've overlooked some mega-stupid lyrics in my day, but I just can't get past those. And like I said yesterday, what's with all the ghost talk lately? Anyway, this song just rubbed me the wrong way.

But in the whole scheme of things, that's not such a big complaint, now is it? I'm just happy that I didn't hate the CD, because I really do love the band and I was hoping that I wouldn't dread hearing all of the new songs performed live when I see them next month. Now I know I'll be able to sing along to the vast majority of them, which is good for me but bad for whoever is going to be sitting next to me.

Speaking of Coldplay in concert, did anyone happen to catch the free Madison Square Garden show last night? If so, please let me know your take. Kind of weird that it was only an hour... but I guess you get what you don't pay for, huh?

- e

Monday, June 23, 2008

Who You Gonna Call?

After a five-hour drive back from Michigan last night, I wanted to do nothing but crawl into bed and zone out once we got home. And what better way to zone out than to flip around on TV until a classic 80s movie graced the screen? Especially if it was Ghostbusters, which I only saw once when it first came out in 1984. I was in fourth grade! This movie needed to be seen again--it was fate.

All I had remembered about the film was: a) who starred in it, b) the theme song, and c) the marshmallow dude at the end. So it was kind of like seeing it for the first time again, only 24 years later and with a very judgmental eye for special effects. On that note, if there's one reason you should watch this movie (most likely again), it's for the hilarious effects. When any of the monsters or ghosts are on-screen and stationary, they're actually pretty decent-looking. But when they start to move... that's where it gets kind of funny because it's sooooo fake-looking. But hey, the movie still rocks, so I'm not going to knock it.

I must say that trailers have come a long way since that point in time, too... check out the original preview for the movie below... that voice-over guy achieved the impossible and made Ghostbusters seem boring!

The true reason I decided to write about this movie today, however, wasn't really to do a movie review... it was to talk about the idea of actual ghost-busters. I feel like it is no coincidence that I saw this movie again last night, that Glen Hansard from The Swell Season talked about a friend who is a ghost-buster during his concert last week, and that a new character, Miles, on my favorite TV show, Lost, also has that same profession.

What is up with all of the ghost-busting talk as of late? Do these people really exist? At the concert, Glen said that his friend has a "normal job" as a grocery clerk, but did ghost-busting on the side and didn't talk much about it. But he did share one of his friend's stories about helping "free" ghosts that had been wandering the planet for centuries, because "some people don't know they're dead"--it was very Sixth Sense-ish.

So--despite whether or not you believe in ghosts--ghost-busters do really exist, and I want to know how you go about contracting one. I don't have any ghosts in my condo or anything, but just about everything else has gone wrong with this place, so I figure it's best to be prepared.

Wait, I just thought of something... maybe all of the things that have gone wrong with my place have been CAUSED BY ghosts?!?! D'ah!

OK, so I just stopped writing this post in order to investigate whether or not there is a Chicago-area group that provides ghost-busting services. I came across this article, which was pretty interesting... and then turned comical when it discussed a haunted Hooters basement. But anyway, from the article I learned that there is a group called the Chicagoland Paranormal Researchers. I'm very much considering going to one of their meetings sometime... then maybe I, too, can put "ghost-buster" on my résumé. Admit it, you'd be jealous of me.

- e

Friday, June 20, 2008

e's Favorite Things: Scrub Your Pup

Before our horrendous master bathroom was redone (it used to have a huge white jacuzzi, all-white tiled floors, crappy white counters and mirrors on every wall...), it served as our dog's bath area. We would get him into the jacuzzi and hose him down and be done with it.

But once the jacuzzi was hauled away and a shower was built in its place, we had to come up with another solution for bath-time. Enter the ingenious store, Scrub Your Pup. For $18, you get shampoo, conditioner, tons of towels, every grooming tool known to man, ear cleaner--you name it--anything you would need to get your dog in tip-top shape. The "scrubbing" is done in a huge bin that has a walk-up ramp (which apparently is the hardest part to deal with for most dogs, but ours walks right up it like he's working the red carpet--looking around to see who's watching him), and there are water hoses with adjustable temperatures to spray your pet down. There are even harnesses to secure Fido from jumping out and aprons to keep yourself from getting splashed.

The only complaint I have is that after the bath is done, there aren't actual dryers to use... there are just "air-blowers"--which look like huge vacuum hoses that just shoot water off of your dog by way of puffs of cold air. For a dog as big as mine, it therefore takes A LOT of towels and a lot of time to get him completely dry. In the summer it's fine, but in the winter... not so much.

As you can tell from the pictures, this is where I spent part of my afternoon today. Now my doggy looks and feels like a king (and acts like one, too)!

- e

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Fall: Weird, Wild, Wacky Stuff

First and foremost, a huge shout-out of thanks to the anonymous commenter who recommended The Fall to me last week. I definitely would not have known about this movie otherwise. I found its trailer online and was then surprised to see that it was playing at the independent theater two blocks from my house... so I went to see it. Because after the awful reviews of The Happening started rolling in (plus the corroborating comments received on this site), I knew I definitely wasn't going to pay for that one!

In short, The Fall is a very bizarre movie. It's one part The Princess Bride, one part Big Fish, one part The Wizard of Oz, and two parts original stuff. If you haven't seen any of the aforementioned films, you may think The Fall the cleverest thing to hit screens in quite a while. But I kept comparing it to those other movies. Don't get me wrong, however, it's still really good... just... strange.

The premise is that a little girl is in a hospital in L.A. in the 1920s, and she meets a fellow patient. He tells her a story over the course of several days, and the story pretty much becomes the majority of the movie. This story he tells is utterly whacked out, but if you have an active imagination like I do, then you'll appreciate it.

No matter what you think of the story, however, there's no denying the beautiful cinematography and eye-popping colors in the movie. I usually don't go ga-ga about that kind of stuff, but it was so in-your-face in The Fall that there was really no way around being impressed. You can get a good idea of the visual effects through the trailer:

So let's talk about the real reason I enjoyed this movie so much: the two main actors. The five-year-old Alexandria (played by Catinca Untaru) rocks the house, plain and simple. You should know by now that I am not a fan of most kid actors, but this little girl was amazing--to the point where I wondered if they even gave her a script, or perhaps just filmed her true reactions to the various situations and conversations. If she was given lines to memorize, then I'm even more astonished. You just have to see her performance to understand what I'm saying.

Her buddy in the hospital was played by Lee Pace, and I'm happy to announce that he is my new celebrity crush. I was shocked to learn that he's on the TV show Pushing Daisies, because he looks totally different (read: worse) in that show (or else I would've watched it--yes, I'm that shallow). Now I feel inclined to rent Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day solely because he's in it.

The bad news for a lot of you is that The Fall is only in limited release... so you may have to wait a bit to see it when it comes out on DVD. But I do think it's worth watching, so put it on your lists now!

- e

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Swell Season--or--The "Once" Duo in Concert

Those of you who've been with me for a while may remember my glowing review of the movie Once last summer. At that point I was insanely jealous of anyone who had actually seen the couple from the movie, who perform as The Swell Season, in concert. Now I am happy to announce that I, too, am among their ranks.

The Swell Season--Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová--plays the last of their three sold-out concerts tonight at the Chicago Theater, and I had the pleasure of seeing their show last night. It definitely lived up to my high expectations.

I thought that perhaps it would be just the two of them on stage (as that's how they've performed on Leno and whatnot), but they actually had other members of Glen's band, The Frames, playing guitar, drums and violin, as well as another random dude from Chicago playing guitar as well.

For those of you who followed my advice and downloaded the Once soundtrack... they played eight out of its eleven tracks, including their Oscar-winner, "Falling Slowly," and my two personal favorites, "When Your Mind's Made Up" and "Say It To Me Now."

One of the highlights of the evening was the very short "Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy," before which Glen shouted out to the audience to see if "Ethan" was there. Then a young boy, who was seated up in the balcony not too far away from me, yelled, "I'm here! I'm here!" and everyone else was like, "Saaaay whaaat?"

Long story short, this kid had recorded somewhat of a YouTube sensation after the movie came out, in which he sang the aforementioned song. The band was told about it, and Glen ended up emailing back and forth with the kid--Ethan--who is now seven. So he was at the show last night and Glen brought him down on the stage to sing it. Here is the original YouTube video... it's not like it's that entertaining... but I think the fact that a six-year-old (at that point in time) is singing it is what people found humorous.

For me, the best part of the show was when Glen was completely alone with his guitar (still the beat-up one with a huge hole in it!), sat down on the steps of the stage and belted out "Say It To Me Now" with no microphone. The Chicago Theater is seven stories high and holds 3,600 people, so that was a pretty bold move, don't you think? Anyway, I was up in the highest balcony, and since the audience was dead quiet as he sang, you could still hear him perfectly (there's a lot of emotion in the song, so he's kind of yell-singing, which helped) and it was just a very powerful experience. Everyone straight-up exploded in applause after that one.

Besides the Once songs (some of which were actually originally Frames songs, I just found out), they also sang some Frames tunes, a few songs that I assume may be on an upcoming album, and a very cool cover of "Into the Mystic" by Van Morrison.

They played for over two hours, spoke a lot with the audience (well, Glen did, Markéta was a bit quieter), and truly seemed like they loved performing and were overly-thankful for their newfound success. He used to sing on the streets in Dublin--damn right he's thankful!

As a side note, some friends of my future sister-in-law's saw the duo at a restaurant during brunch on Sunday and got a picture with them, and reported that they were extremely nice. I have also heard that they have played outside after concerts have ended to waiting fans who weren't able to get into sold-out shows. I think some of the current pop and rap divas out there could learn a lesson or two from The Swell Season, don't you?

Once is now out on DVD if you missed it in theaters. And if you have still not bought its soundtrack... seriously--what else do I have to say?

- e

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

This Season's Reality TV Winners & Losers, Part 1

Even though The Mole just started up (and I'm watching it, despite the fact that it's sans my man, Anderson Cooper), I marked the official end of the reality TV season with the finale of Top Chef: Chicago last week.

So let's take a walk down memory lane, shall we? Here is my take on the winners and losers of two of the major reality shows (I'll cover others in future posts):

American Idol

Winners: David Cook (duh), David Archuleta, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and the dude that sang "I Am Your Brother"

Obviously David Cook won the title of American Idol, which comes with a recording contract. Now he's everywhere, even earning a "sexy" photo shoot in People magazine and meeting with his "cougar" fans face to face, which kind of creeped me out. But David Archuleta also signed a record deal last week, so he's going to be just fine, too. Not like anyone was worried.

But a surprise winner of this season's AI was Andrew Lloyd Webber, the awesomely freaky composer of a bevy of famous Broadway tunes. When he was going on and on about channeling an "ancient, old glamour puss," well, I don't think I've laughed that hard in a long time. Let's face it, the vast majority of Americans did not know who this guy was, much less what he looked and acted like. I would've loved to have seen the reactions in households across the country when he came on the screen.

I personally loved every moment he was on the show because he put all other divas to shame. It would've been awesome if they forced him and Mariah Carey up on stage together and made them duke it out for the title of #1 Diva. THAT would've been good TV.

And I don't really need to say why the "I Am Your Brother" guy was a winner, do I? He was the center of a huge spectacle in the finale!

Losers: Jason Castro, Paula Abdul, and David Archuleta's dad

I never liked Jason Castro, and every time he came on screen I would groan. The kid is just an idiot--how did he make it to the final four? I'm still totally bewildered, and I therefore weep for the nation. Someone was voting for him!

I just hope I never see his dopey grin again. And yes, as some of you wrote me before, I do think he looks exactly like a young version of John Travolta in Battlefield Earth (aka: The Scientology Movie).

As for Paula... her major screw-up in critiquing Jason's second performance--before it happened--was unforgivable in my book. I've always brushed aside her loopiness, but her failure to pay attention in that situation really undermined the entire premise of the show for me. At least it was Jason it happened to.

And David A's dad--I think we've all heard the "nightmare stage father" stories. I just hope that young David, who genuinely seems like a nice kid, can escape the grasp of his father before it's too late and he ends up like a male version of Jessica and/or Ashlee Simpson.

The Hills

Winners: Whitney Port, Audrina Patridge, Justin Bobby, Brody Jenner

The Hills never really leaves us, does it? Its 'stars' are still gracing the covers of gossip magazines, are being interviewed on the late-night talk shows, and are returning to the airwaves in a mere two months! And for once, something actually happened on the show last season--fans started seeing Lauren for what she really is--a whiny, spoiled brat. While the other two main characters, Whitney and Audrina, attempted to grow up, gets jobs, and move away from the cattiness of their high school years, LC couldn't let the past go. That's why I'm totally on Team Audrina, and hope she does move out of the Catty House into a place of her own.

Justin Bobby is a winner simply for returning to the show and seeming half-way sober and normal, and Brody is a winner because he's getting his own spin-off, entitled Bromance. It will be interesting to see if the viewership of The Hills will follow Brody's antics when the girls aren't around. I'm betting they won't, but we'll see.

Losers: Spencer, Heidi, LC, Lo

While I fully admit to liking Spencer a teensy bit more this season because he just totally embraced his own jerkiness, didn't apologize for it, and doesn't even bother trying to act like he has any sort of job... that still only brings him up to the "barely watchable" level. The miracle that happened this season is that I found someone I dislike even more than Spencer: Lo. What is up with that girl? She needs to go away--I will seriously stop watching the show (OK, no I won't) if she keeps getting more and more air time. It's obvious that she's very insecure, and she brings out the worst in Lauren. I think they should put LC, Lo, Spencer and Heidi on a remote island and let them fight each other for survival. Maybe with Mariah and Andrew Lloyd Webber thrown in just for kicks. Now that is a show I would enjoy!

- e

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Hulk: Not as Bad as I Thought it Would Be, But Not as Great as Other Reviews are Making it Seem

First off, I hope all of the baby daddies out there had a nice Father's Day. Did you hear that Kevin Federline won the "Father of the Year" award?!? The rest of you best start stepping it up, because that's a disgrace. (OK, so the honor was given by Privé nightclub in Vegas... probably not the best judge of moral character in the world. But still, he won.)

After toasting K-Fed's victory, I decided to go see The Incredible Hulk, having heard and read surprisingly positive reviews. As always, I'm not going to give anything away, but I will say that I don't think the film is as, uh, incredible as critics are making it out to be.

The good news is that Ed Norton is excellent. I'm not sure if you all know about my not-so-secret crush on Ed, but now you do. I was therefore much more interested in the parts where he looked like himself as "Bruce Banner"--on the run from the authorities and trying to figure out how to "cure" himself--than when he was The Hulk. Tim Roth, playing one of the military baddies after Bruce, was good as well. The effects were fine... nothing looked outright fake, but in general it's still a little hard (at least for me) to see this big green freak running around and not find it at least a little unbelievable. Which I admit is strange, because I had no problem with, say, the monster in Cloverfield.

Thankfully, the vast majority of the movie didn't feature The Hulk, which left me with an overall favorable impression of the movie. But the climactic ending was all about the green guy, and therefore I was disappointed when the credits rolled. I personally felt like the ending fell flat and was extremely confusing because it didn't wrap things up clearly at all... and not just for purposes of a potential sequel. It was kind of like all of a sudden things just stopped. If you have seen the movie and want to discuss the details, leave a comment and I'll expound upon my bitterness at the final scenes.

The main thing that didn't work for me was Liv Tyler. First off, her lips are freaking distracting. Angelina Jolie has nothing on Liv Tyler in the lip department, I have decided. Secondly, she has that lispy voice that just keeps making me think that she should really only play elves. I could deal with her as Arwen in LOTR, and that's about it. Lastly, she just did not physically look like a good match for Ed Norton. As much as I love him, I will admit that he is kind of a scrawny, scrappy guy. I think Liv could've easily beat him down if she wanted to, maybe even when he was The Hulk. So that bad stroke of casting took a little shine off of the overall movie for me.

All in all, though, both my husband and I did like The Incredible Hulk... I just don't think it deserves the glowing reviews I've seen floating around. If you actually like the monster stuff, then you will enjoy the movie much more than I did. If you are like me and just want to see Ed, then you'll be fine with about 80% of it.

As a side note, it will be interesting to see how they handle a potential sequel to the movie. Liv Tyler and a few others from this initial installment have already signed on for a second and third go-round, but the ever-fickle Mr. Norton hasn't. Nor has he done any publicity for the movie because of "creative differences" (which he seems to have with every movie he's done).

I think I know who they're going to get for the sequel... he's scrappy and scrawny and looks just like Ed does in a tank top: Kevin Federline. You heard it here first!

- e

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Who Will Be The Hobbit?

I still smile every time I think about the fact that The Hobbit is finally being made into a movie, even though its release is three years away. Remember how I almost passed out when I saw the Entertainment Weekly issue touting the end to the battle between New Line Cinema and Peter Jackson last fall?

Things have really started moving lately, with Guillermo Del Toro being named as the movie's director (Peter Jackson is still producing). Most nerdy fans like myself are very pleased with that choice. Del Toro rocked the visual effects in Pan's Labyrinth, and while I haven't seen his other major movie, Hellboy, I have seen the trailer for Hellboy II, and it was amazing. I may go to that movie solely based on its trailer, knowing nothing else about that comic series whatsoever. That's how cool it was.

Anyway, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief because Ian McKellen is definitely going to play Gandalf again, and Andy Serkis will be revisiting his turn as Gollum. Script-writing is underway, with the biggest controversy being that not only are they making The Hobbit, they are also making a "sequel" of sorts that is a NEW STORY that will bridge the 60-year-or-so gap between where The Hobbit left off and where The Fellowship of the Ring began. While I'm excited to get another Lord of the Rings movie that I wasn't expecting, I am a bit nervous about how they're going to pull it off. But I'll worry about that in 2012 when that one comes out (if the world hasn't ended by then, right?).

For now, I will stress about who they're going to choose to play the hobbit himself--Bilbo Baggins. Ian Holm, who played the role in the other three movies, is out because he's too old and The Hobbit took place when Bilbo was young. Jack Black, Daniel Radcliffe (aka Harry Potter) and James McAvoy (Atonement) are names floating around, but have also been shot down as rumors. At first I was like, "How in the heck did anyone come up with JACK BLACK?!?" because I definitely couldn't see that working, but then I remembered that he did team up with Peter Jackson for King Kong. However, I think LOTR fans would totally revolt if he were picked, as they would if Harry Potter, er, Daniel Radcliffe, got the role.

But I know I'm not the only one who thinks McAvoy would be a wise choice. He's got a young look (but not too young), he's got the accent, he played a non-human creature in Narnia, he's got a proven track record but isn't such a big star that his presence will overwhelm the film... and he's kind of short. Ding ding ding, we have a winner! At least in my book.

My other big question is--are they going to actually KEEP the Shire/Hobbiton set intact this time after filming ends in New Zealand? If so, I may have to visit again...

- e

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Trailer Bonanza

With some of the most anticipated summer movies already behind us, I couldn't help but look ahead to what else is in store for the big screen. I was most interested in what was yet to come in the next few months, but when I saw that the first trailer for Marley & Me had been released (even though the movie isn't out until December), I rushed to play it.

While I never read the book because I didn't want to bawl my head off, I had been excited about the movie. Until I saw this...

Are you kidding me? That was perhaps the most annoying trailer ever. Don't even make a trailer if it's going to be that lame! Yikes... my expectations have been drastically lowered for this movie...

... As they have been for The Happening. When I first saw a poster for the latest M. Night Shyamalan effort, I was all excited because I have loved all of his movies to date--yes, all of them. But I don't think I'm going to enjoy this one, if I even see it in the theater. He seems to be way too proud of the fact that it's his first R-rated film, and that is bad news to me. The reason I've liked this other movies is because they revolve more around psychological suspense and imagining awful things that are not shown on-screen. So all an R rating means to me is that there will be a lot of gross blood and guts shown, which I am not into at all. Plus, it simply doesn't look scary. Judge for yourself:

It's opening this Friday (the 13th, hee hee), so if any of you go see it, let me know what you think.

Also opening this weekend is The Incredible Hulk, which, solely because of my love for Ed Norton, I know I'll end up seeing. The good news is that the trailer is decent, though I think Liv Tyler as his love interest was really poor casting.

It will be at least a few weeks before I can get out to see the Hulk, though, so if the reviews rip it to shreds, I may have to skip it.

What I really want to know, however, is if any of you out there actually saw Don't Mess with the Zohan?

I figured it would either be really, really, REALLY bad, or hilarious. Inquiring minds want to know!

- e

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Moody Blues

Before this past Sunday night, I wouldn't have been able to name off one Moody Blues song, even if my life depended on it. I had heard of this English band from Birmingham, but just wasn't familiar with their albums. So when my husband and I were invited to see them in concert we figured, "What the heck? It might be fun." I pretty much like all types of music, except for hard-core heavy metal, so I thought that it couldn't be that bad.

After seeing the group, I now feel that it is sometimes more fun to go to a concert where you don't know the band than it is to go to see your all-time favorites perform (sometimes, not always). Why? Because of expectations--with a band you don't know, you have essentially have none. So there's a good chance you may be pleasantly surprised. Whereas when you see an artist or group that you love, if they don't play your favorite song, you will be mad. Or if they arrange a song slightly differently than how you've grown used to it on the radio, you might be annoyed. Or if they don't sound as perfect as they do on their CD, you may be really disturbed. But you don't have to worry about any of that if you don't know the songs or the band's performing style in the first place!

I actually did recognize two of the Moody Blues' songs: 1) "Knights in White Satin," which I never liked and actually thought Neil Diamond sang, and 2) "In Your Wildest Dreams," which I also never liked and thought Mike & the Mechanics sang. You may remember that one from the height of the 80s, cheesy video and all (below):

The song I DID really dig, however, was called "I Know You're Out There Somewhere," and it has the kind of chorus that you immediately pick up--it's just catchy. I am still singing it two days later, so I just bought it on iTunes. It turns out the video for this song is somewhat of a continuation of the video for "In Your Wildest Dreams." (If you just want to hear the chorus, forward to the one-minute mark.)

Anyway, the guys (and two women on back-up vocals who also played instruments) did put on a good concert and I really enjoyed it. I also appreciated the old-school light show they had--I almost forgot that's what all concerts used to have for effects. No acrobatics, no rotating stages, no smoke and fog machines, no video screens, no alien spacecraft (I'm talkin' to you, Kanye), just colored lights flashing to the beat.

The other cool thing was the two-drummer set up. One of the drummers was not an original member of the band, but he had what looked to be the funnest job in the world. He was just surrounded by drums and cymbals and was just wailing on them constantly--standing up, sitting down, twirling around--it looked like quite a work-out. The other drummer was one of the original band members, and despite being older, he definitely hammed it up for the crowd and came out on stage with a tambourine and danced all around like a goofball.

So all in all, we had a great time and I even got a new addition for my iPod out of it!

- e

Monday, June 09, 2008

For Once, a Productive Weekend

Usually, when Monday morning arrives, I am depressed because I got nothing on my ever-growing "to do" list accomplished over the weekend. But this weekend was different... and as proud as I am to not own a car, I must concede that the main reason for my productivity across Saturday and Sunday was that I was armed with a rental car. An extremely crappy rental car, but a car nonetheless.

Saturday morning I was pumped to head out to Chicago's "Household Chemicals and Computer Recycling Facility." This place is only open on the first Saturday of every month, so I was in luck. I loaded up about 25 old paint cans into the trunk and threw a bunch of cordless phones in as well for good measure, and then headed off.

An out-an-out miracle occurred when I arrived. I asked an attendant if they took cordless phones, and he said they did. So I gave him those, and then he instructed me to pull up to another door of the building to turn in the paint. I drove a small distance to the other receiving door, popped open the trunk, and before I knew it, two guys had unloaded all of the paint cans and had closed the trunk. The entire process took less than two minutes, I kid you not. I was absolutely astonished.

On a nerdy high from doing my part for the environment as well as selfishly being happy to have freed up a ton of room in my dining area where the paint cans had piled up (classy, I know), I headed out to the post office to FINALLY mail back a recyclable printer cartridge to its manufacturer (the box had been sitting in my closet for months). Then it was time for some fun... next stop: the grocery store Trader Joe's.

As some of you may remember from my post about Peapod home grocery delivery last summer, I typically order food online because of my no-car status. So when I go into a real live grocery store, I completely freak out. I've been to Whole Foods and local Chicago chains (Jewel, Dominick's, Treasure Island), but I'd never been to Traders Joe's. So rest assured, I almost had a melt-down in there, too. So many different types of foods that I had never seen before! I left with three grocery bags full of new dishes to try, and I'm pleased to say that I've been happy with what I've eaten so far. The best thing was that even though the store is fairly high-end compared to the normal chain stores, the prices were really cheap!?! It's too good to be true!

Next up... taking in a ton of batteries for recycling at my neighborhood library. Then transferring my gym membership from the place I've been going for over a decade to the new, fancy gym that is taking over right across the street (with my ultra-cheap rate locked in for a year, no less!). The day was topped off by picking up a half-dozen cupcakes for a dinner party we were going to that night.

On Sunday I continued checking things off of my errand list by heading to Borders to use a 30% off coupon I'd been waiting for (sign up for Borders rewards if you go there a lot, it's worth it!), choosing a gift for my neighbor at World Market for watching our dog while we were traveling, selecting a new lovely-smelling candle for myself (yes, gifts for myself are on my to-do list...), and then buying a paper shredder from Bed, Bath & Beyond (with their ever-present 20% off coupon).

On top of the errands I needed the car for, I also got a lot of filing, laundry and cleaning done in my condo.

And so, today I feel really good about myself. I still need to call the local clothing charity to come pick up some bags of clothes we're giving away, but other than that, I accomplished a lot. Therefore, next weekend I intend to do nothing but read magazines and eat bon-bons.

- e

Friday, June 06, 2008

It's Never Too Early to Get Hyped for HP 6...

My heart almost stopped when I saw this poster for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - due out this fall. This book was my second-favorite of the series, but I think it's going to be the best of all of the movies.

There are a whole bunch of lame fan-made trailers online, but I did manage to find this legit "sneak peek" video on the production set:

Let the count-down begin!

- e

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Imagine if, all of a sudden, you could no longer do anything but see out of one eye, hear, smell, and think. You couldn't move any part of your body, you couldn't speak, you had no way to communicate to those who were talking to you, and you had no idea how you came to be in this state. And then imagine that you learned you were going to remain in this condition for the rest of your life.

Think of all of the things you would've done, the places you would've gone, and the people you would've shared your feelings with if you knew those privileges were suddenly going to disappear.

Pretty scary, huh? Unfortunately, all of this actually happened to the editor-in-chief at Elle magazine, Jean-Dominique Bauby. He suffered a massive stroke at age 42, and it left him with the extremely rare "locked-in syndrome." Everything was paralyzed except for his left eyelid.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is Bauby's story, and it is nothing short of amazing. The movie is based on the book of the same name that he dictated to a nurse by blinking his left eye in a pattern that they had established for common letters. It will make you feel pretty guilty for ever laying around on a weekend and procrastinating, let me tell you!

The film is in French with subtitles, but I didn't find that to be distracting at all, as many of the scenes are extremely visual. It's definitely a unique film and at first I wasn't sure if I was going to like it, but it grew on me quickly and I would highly recommend seeing it, if for no other reason than I think it's good to be reminded of how lucky and blessed the vast majority of us are, and how we shouldn't take things for granted.

While some people could find this movie depressing, its intent was just the opposite. It's a story about the human spirit and the will to live. It's about learning who really has your back when bad things happen, and about putting things in perspective and remembering what is truly important in life. Between scenes of Bauby's rehabilitation and flashbacks of his high-flying life pre-stroke, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly pieces together one man's life while forcing us to reflect on our own.

I think that if you don't outright cry during this movie, or at least well up, you need to see a doctor and check to ensure you are human. That being said, I laughed as well, and I was by no means sad when the credits rolled. You can check out the trailer below which is about two minutes long and see what you think:

I'm not the only one who liked it... It's won about ten million awards! So if you're in the mood to be a bit reflective and contemplative, or just want to learn this man's amazing true story, then The Diving Bell and the Butterfly should be high on your list of movie rentals.

- e

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Fracture: Hannibal Lecter vs. That Wimp from "The Notebook"

Whenever I see actor Anthony Hopkins, I don't actually see Anthony Hopkins. I see Hannibal Lecter, the creepy murderer he made famous in The Silence of the Lambs. Despite the fact that I only watched the movie once--when it first came out nearly TWENTY YEARS ago, no less--I just can't get past that character when I see Mr. Hopkins. I dare say a lot of people might agree with my sentiments on this one.

As for Ryan Gosling, well, I've never seen him in anything before I watched the movie Fracture over Memorial Day weekend. I thought of him only as "that dude from that cheesy Notebook movie who dated Sandra Bullock and Rachel McAdams."

Therefore, because I was kind of iffy about Gosling as an actor, I had low expectations for Fracture. While I had read very positive reviews of film, it didn't make a huge splash when it was out in theaters.

The premise of the movie, which does not give anything away, is that Anthony Hopkins' character is this brilliant aeronautics guy who kills his wife. Gosling is a prosecuting District Attorney who takes on the case as his last hurrah before heading off to a cushy job at a private law firm. But the case isn't quite as cut and dry as he'd hoped.

My husband called what was going to happen about half-way through, but I'm not sure I would've figured out all of the twists on my own. What annoyed me was the utter uselessness of Gosling's "new boss" character, who seemed to be there for no other reason than to provide eye candy. Other than that, though, I did think it was a good film and I am actually somewhat of a Gosling fan now--he was excellent. And although Hopkins was basically still playing a kinder, gentler version of Hannibal the Cannibal, he was great as well.

If you like law and/or crime dramas with twists, or if you already are a fan of either of the two main actors, I would venture to guess that you'll like Fracture. I certainly think it's worth seeing, and the bonus is that there are no nightmare-inducing freaks holding victims captive in wells. Phew.

- e

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

My Boston Weekend

As many of my Long Live Locke readers know, I was in Boston this past Thursday through Sunday for my graduate school reunion. Since I have spent the majority of the past nine months at home with my dog every day, typing away in silence, I knew that I would go into some sort of shock if I attempted to participate in ALL of the reunion events for three days straight. I just simply can't be "on" that much anymore.

So instead, my husband and I spent the bulk of the weekend visiting our favorite spots in Boston and Cambridge--it was the first time we'd been back in five years. On Thursday night, we had time before the Lost finale to head over to the North End, which is the city's Italian area. Our favorite restaurant there is Villa Francesca. We are fanatics for their calamari, which is prepared the way they make it in Thailand--perhaps because the owner cooked for the cast of the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies in the Land of Smiles. (My husband and I spent about a month backpacking in Thailand in 2001, and I pretty much only ate calamari and ice cream--don't ask.)

I was very happy to be reunited with my beloved calamari dish, as you can see.

No visit to the North End would be complete without a stop at Mike's Pastry, one of the several dessert-only shops that line the main drag, Hanover Street. Diabetics, please do not even look at the pictures below, seriously. They contain 100% sugar!

I selected a huge slice of Oreo cake and a black/white cookie "to go" and was happy to walk with the famous Mike's Pastry white box back to the subway. These treats helped get me through the Lost finale... and kept me up all night with a sugar high.

The next day we walked around the rest of the city. The weather was gorgeous, so we decided to take the extremely slow "Swan boats" around the lake in the Public Garden. We got in line right before hundreds of small school kids showed up--phew.

Below is a close-up of one of the Swan boats, and then a wider view of the very pretty lake. I was all excited because not only did we see two real live swans, we also saw a ton of little baby ducklings and some turtles taking in the sun.

We walked around the Boston Common a bit more, and then made our way through Chinatown to find the lunch spot I'd been pining for since May of 2003--Shabu-Zen. If you have never eaten at a Shabu-shabu restaurant, you need to do so as soon as possible--the food is just incredible. Basically you cook your own meat and vegetables and noodles in a boiling pot that's encased in the table in front of you. It is delicious.

Here are a few shots of the counter and our meal, before we got to cooking...

Afterward we were full, but not TOO full, so we hiked over to Faneuil Hall for dessert.

Finally... you can't go to Boston without at least cruising by Cheers, right? So that's what we did.


- e