Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tis the season...movies and more movies

I apparently spent part of the past week contributing to the success of the two biggest money-making films of the weekend. Which means either that my tastes have gotten way more mainstream lately, or that my sometimes quirky taste in movies is spreading.

Although, it truth, I didn’t choose either movie, relying on friends to make the choices. As it turns out, both choices were very, very good.

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, we went to see the newest Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I’ve seen the previous films in the series, but I’m not nearly as big a fan as the friends I went to the movie with, and this is the first of the films I’ve seen in a theater since the first one came out several years ago. I went in expecting to like the film, but not to like it as much as I did.

The main actors are growing into adults, and into really good performers. The effects were very nice, and the story was involving (with the exception of the first of J. Rowling’s novels, I have not yet read the books, so I did not go in knowing already what was going to happen). I think the franchise went in the right direction with this film after a couple of missteps with earlier episodes. While the subject matter in the films keeps getting darker and darker, for example, the photography in this most recent film is significantly lighter than in the previous one, which was so dark sometimes that there was nearly nothing visible on-screen. I don’t like films that I can’t actually see. There were also more outdoor scenes in this film, which (possible spoiler alert, but only for those who don‘t know much of anything about the films) has Harry, Ron and Hermione on the run from You-Know-Who, which helped with the lighting issue. And even in the indoor scenes, the film seemed considerably more open than the previous films, which took place largely at Hogwarts School.

Then, on Thanksgiving Day, some of us went to see Tangled. Tangled is a Disney animated film (according to a card at the beginning of the film, the 50th animated film from the studio), targeted squarely at a younger audience, that retells the story of Rapunzel with some significant twists. Those of us who went to see the film ranged in age from 30 to 54, much older than the intended audience. But you know what? We all liked the film a lot. For one thing, it continues the new tradition of Disney heroines who find their power rather than just being traditionally submissive women. That is all to the good. Yes, there is a love story, and a fairly syrupy ending that will not, in the end, leave the kiddies traumatized…although Mother Gothel, the character who has locked Rapunzel in her tower, is farily scary, and I expect her to take her place in the pantheon of Disney villains. Still in all, Rapunzel does not have to sell out her newfound power and confidence in order to get her happy ending.

A very good indication of how good Tangled is, is the fact that in an audience made up largely of kids below the age of ten, there was no talking, no running about. There were essentially none of the usual signs that there were a lot of children in the theater. The film held their attention for the entire 92 minute running time of the film, a significant achievement in a time when kids’ attention spans seem to get shorter and shorter with each passing year.

Just a word about the animation in Tangled: This is not traditional Disney animation. I expected that to bother me, because I love traditional animation. Instead, this animation is in a sort of 3-D, in that it rounds characters and landscape out rather than being a series of moving flat drawings. But it isn’t the kind of 3-D that throws things out of the screen at the audience, nor does it require any kind of glasses to view correctly. And it works quite nicely. Although I really wouldn’t like to see Disney abandon traditional animation completely.

Anyway, for those of you who are interested in such things, the preliminary reports for the weekend box office at US theatres reports that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came in in first place, earning an estimated $50.3 million dollars over the weekend, while Tangled came in a close second at $49.1 million. In third place, another animated film, Megamind, took in an estimated $12.9 million. Cher’s new film, Burlesque, came fourth with estimated earnings of $11.8 million, and Unstoppable (about which I know absolutely nothing), made around $11.75 million.

In sixth through tenth place, Love & Other Drugs made $9.9 million, Faster took in around $8.7 million, Due Date made $7.3 million, The Next Three Days took in $4.8 million, and Morning Glory made an estimated $4 million.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

My weird edition, including mishies and Christmas carols

It’s been kind of a weird week around here.

First, I haven’t been feeling completely up to par. Nothing serious, I think, just a combination of lingering allergies, the change in the weather, and my internal clock trying to catch up to the time change.

Maybe the weirdest thing that happened during the week was having the Mormon missionaries come knocking on my door at 7:30 (pretty much on the dot) the other night. First of all, what are they doing knocking on people’s doors after dark? Where I come from, that’s kind of rude. And then they seemed to be bothered by the fact that I didn’t just open the door wide at their knock, but left it closed and asked who was there. I don’t live in the worst neighborhood in town, but it isn’t exactly the best, either.

When they answered that it was the missionaries. Not, I might add, what kind of missionaries, just “The Missionaries”. I don’t live in the Corridor (that would be the Mormon Corridor of Utah, Idaho and parts of Arizona, for my non-Mormon readers), and so I thought that more of an explanation might have been in order.

Of course, when I answered (still before opening the door) that I wasn’t interested, that didn’t stop them for even a second. The conversation through the door continued and I said I wasn’t interested several more time before they revealed that they had my name. Yes, folks, they had tracked me down. I moved house in February and didn’t let anyone Mormon know where I was going, hoping they’d just leave me alone. But I received a letter from Salt Lake City a couple of months ago asking me if I was who I am, so that they could direct my records accordingly.

I didn’t answer the letter, hoping they’d take that hint. But they apparently sent my records along to the ward (congregation) that goes along with the address they had for me. Because, you know, Mormons can’t just go to any Mormon church they’d like to. They must attend the one they are assigned based on their residence.

Anyway, when I heard that they had my name, I did open the door. Just a crack. Just so they could see my face when I told them, once again, that I wasn’t interested. I expanded that to explain that I had long ago asked for no contact from the church, that I was no longer a member. Not exactly true, from their point of view, since I haven’t ever sent a letter in asking for my name to be removed from the church’s membership rolls. But it’s close enough, since I don’t believe that I have to ask them for their permission to quit. I quit, I’m out, and they don’t have anything to say about it. That is the way most Christian religious organizations work, anyway.

Well, they explained, the bishop (leader of the ward) had sent them out to check to see if I really didn’t want to be contacted. Which made me roll my eyes, because by that time I was wondering what part of “no contact” they didn’t understand. I assured them that I did not want any contact from the church, at which point they asked me if I was “all right” and if there was anything they could do for me. I was very polite and didn’t scream “Yes. Leave me the hell alone.” I said, no, I was fine, that I didn’t need anything, and that I really, really, really mean by “no contact” that I don’t want any contact from the church.

I guess I kind of made the missionary closest to the door angry at me when I would not shake his hand as they were leaving. Which kind of almost made me feel bad for them. They were actually quite polite, and I don’t blame them, really, for coming to my door. They were just doing what they were told to do. But still, no contact means no contact. It doesn’t mean, keep asking every few months if I really mean it. If I were ever to change my mind, which will happen only when pigs grow wings and fly off into the sunset and when the sun rises in the west and sets in the north, I know how to find a church.

I guess I’m going to have to finish that letter and send it off to Salt Lake after all. Just to make the bean counters happy.

The good news about all of this is that, when the next weird thing happened, it didn’t seem so very weird at all. That was when my roommate and I were going out the door on Friday night to take some DVDs back to the Red Box and make a Taco Bell run, only to discover that the gentleman who lives in the front apartment, along with his son, were putting up their Christmas lights. The first hint I had, as I was out the door last, was hearing my roommate say something about, “…because Santa Claus hasn’t gone by Macy’s yet.” When I got out there, the lights were mostly up and already on, in all their glory.

They’re pretty lights, really. But it isn’t Thanksgiving yet. I don’t do Christmas until the Thanksgiving turkey is consumed and there is no more pumpkin pie and whipped topping left.

Which begs the question: Why, at our SCA Barony’s pre-Thanksgiving feast last night (which was very, very good, by the way, and did not involve turkey at all), I didn’t mind when the host and hostess’s little boy started asking for Christmas songs, and some of us sang a few.


Saturday, November 06, 2010

Review: "The First Human", by Ann Gibbons

The First Human, by Ann Gibbons (Doubleday, 2006; 306 pages) is a well-written, interesting review of the race (and, make no mistake, that’s how some of the participants regard it) to find evidence of the last common ancestor between humans and apes.

Gibbons outlines the march forward in time and backward in history from early discoveries of fossils of various human ancestors by pioneers like Louis S.B. Leakey and his wife, Mary in Olduvai Gorge; Eugene Dubois in Indonesia; Davidson Black in China and Raymond Dart and Robert Broom in South Africa to more recent discoveries that go back further in time by Richard Leakey and his wife, Meave (Louis and Mary’s son and daughter-in-law); Donald Johanson, Tim White and many others.

But Gibbons doesn’t just talk about the fossils. She also explores the personalities of the (mostly) men who look for the fossils, the arguments they get into over the interpretations of their finds and, sometimes, even the tactics some of them have stooped to, to make sure they and not their competitors get access to the best sites and the oldest fossils. She also looks at the controversial subject of determining the pace and direction of human evolution using DNA markers instead of, or in concert with, the fossils.

For someone like myself, who is fascinated by the history of paleoanthropology as well as the information that the study of human and prehuman fossils reveals, this book is a must-read by the head writer on human evolution for the journal Science. She has access to the people who have participated in the search for and study of the fossils, and she interviewed pretty much every actor in the drama who is still living. She tells the story of the past few decades of research with frankness but without an overabundance of finger-pointing, in a manner that is readable for those who already know something about paleoanthropology and for those who don’t know anything about the subject.

Gibbons’ book proves that while the fossils that have been found and studied might be dry and dead, the information they carry and the people who search for and analyze them are anything but.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010


It's Election Day in the United States.

If you've voted already, congratulations. You have your license to complain until the next election.

If you haven't voted yet, go do it.

It doesn't matter who you vote for, or whether or not you support the same candidates and issues I do. What does matter, if you are eligible to vote, that you go out there and be a good citizen and exercise the franchise.

That is all. :D