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Tuesday, June 29, 2004

more harry-tastic news,1,14403,00.html

"Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince"

So, as it stands right now, I have a problem with my program at work, and I have been thinking about it for about three hours, and I am SICK OF IT, so I have judiciously decided to ignore it for a while while I blog. Aren't you lucky?

So, here's what got me wanting to blog:
"Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince"

Yup. You guessed it. That is the name of the sixth book in the series with a release date as yet unknown. It came straight from the almighty creator, by which I mean =)

So, now we must discuss! I mean, you can't just FIND OUT a tidbit like this and leave it be! Not when you are as obsessed as I am! So, I present to you: my ramblings on the new title and what I think it means.

OK, to start with, the delightful J.K. writes on her site that she considered "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince" for the title of Chamber of Secrets, but discarded it after the first draft, deciding that some of the tidbits that led to the title were better left to the sixth book. THE SIXTH! So, she REALLY didn't want us to know what was going on way back then, although she does say that Chamber of Secrets has a lot of important bits that won't come to light until the sixth book.

Then, she also revealed that the Half Blood Prince referred to in the title is neither Harry nor Voldemort. SO... The question becomes, who is he???

WELL. First I thought of Nevile. I quite like Nevile, and have ever since the first book, but especially much now that, in the fifth book, we discover that he could very easily have been "the boy who lived" if Voldemort had chosen differently. He grew such a spine in the fifth book! I was proud of him! My personal theory is that now that his wand -- which was his father's wand -- has been broken, he might be a lot better at magic. I also think he's going to play a big part in the last two books. But then I remembered that he's a pure blood. Strike Nevile from the list.

So then I started rotating through the other characters: not Ron, not Draco, probably not any of the other boys... We don't know much about Harry's dad's family, but I think that's a bit far fetched. I landed on Dumbledore, and quite liked that for a while, but then I came up with an EVEN BETTER IDEA.

What if the half blood referred to doesn't have to do with MAGIC, but with SPECIES? HAGRID!

What if Hagrid is the Half Blood Prince? Hmm... Prince of the Giants? It could work! And what has me even more convinced is that Hagrid -- or his history at least -- played a big roll in Chamber of Secrets! I'm thinking that Hagrid and Grawp find out that Hagrid is Prince of the Giants and his persuading them to be on the side of the wizards is the turning point in a HUGE battle between The Order and the Death Eaters.

(This is FUN! It feels like I'm talking in code...)

Now, just for the sake of playing the devil's advocate here, what other half bloods do we know about? The centaurs were talked about as being half bloods in the fifth book, and Lupin (because he's a werewolf). Maybe it's Firenze? I'd have an easier time seeing him as a prince than Lupin. But would the centaurs chuck out their prince? Hmm... Not sure.

Well, suffice to say, I am EXCITED about this and the fifth book cannot arrive quickly enough for me! I say J.K. should be working AROUND THE CLOCK to turn this puppy out, don't you? (If only so I would shut up and get back to work, I'm sure...)


Lost in Translation - A Review

Sophia Coppola is a quiet filmmaker. She doesn't rely on explosions, or vulgar comedy, or blatant sex, or other shock-value techniques to make her films, and this makes her films both intriguing and confusing, engaging, and slightly off-putting. But somehow they work. They move quietly along, whispering in our minds, leaving ideas and images that don't immediately resonate, but that begin to ring true with time. Her films tend to shake us from within, like a deep bell tone, or the lowest note played on a pipe organ: quiet, almost beyond hearing, yet deeply felt.

The average movie goer-might not immediately connect with Coppola or her work, for she isn't producing films for mass consumption to fit every palate. Her films have a slightly foreign quality to them, as if perhaps, something was lost in the translation. And yet, I find, if one pays close enough attention, her films are fulfilling in their very lack of fulfillment.

This may sound as though I'm contradicting myself, but I'm not. A painting fulfills expectations by showing us a scene; a good painting exceeds expectations by causing our imagination to travel beyond the frame to question the story behind the scene. The painting does not tell the whole story, because it does not have to; it is the wonder that makes it great.

I feel this way about Copola's films, especially her recent award winner, Lost in Translation. While film is very spare, using only the absolute minimum required dialog and back story to propel it along, it is somehow more powerful for leaving us to question it than it would have been had all our questions been answered. Few filmmakers could execute this successfully, but Coppola does so with inherent grace.

I would venture to say that this kind of quiet filmmaking is an almost impossibly delicate balance between the director's personal vision, which might not reach anyone but herself, and a vision suitable for the masses, which everyone can understand, but everyone has seen before. Coppola finds this balance expertly through, interestingly enough, her film's lack of concrete details. We do not know everything about Bob and Charlotte, but then, neither do they. As in life off the screen, it is enough that their creator knows them.

And therein lies the universality of Lost in Translation; it is an undeniable part of the human condition to be a seeker, to search for meaning, and to find oneself lost. There is a scene in the film when Bill Murray's character is sitting in a tub, talking to his wife on the phone, and he begins to rant about the ways in which he wants to change his life: taking better care of himself, eating better food, in short, a lifestyle overhaul. In that moment, he becomes an archetype -- not a hero, or an anti hero, but a human being, experiencing a moment of epiphany, of wanting something more for himself, for his life and being sure of the path to take.

Every human being has experienced moments like these, and it is these universal moments of quiet revelation that characterize us; it is not explosions, or unbelievable adventures, or life and death situations, but simple, quiet, universal moments that define our lives, and our existence as human. By tapping into these experiences, Coppola's Lost in Translation transcends traditional moviemaking, where the aim is simply to entertain, and enlightens it with the intention of quietly touching us, and making us think.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Hey! I got published on the Amateur Gourmet website!

Go take a look and leave a comment saying how much you love my writing!


Thursday, June 24, 2004

More love for Santa Fe

One of my favorite things to do while in Santa Fe is to pick up a copy of the Santa Fe Reporter -- the city's alternative newspaper -- and browse the classifieds (which offer everything from color therapy to diamonds to pet sitters), the personals (which aptly prove that the homosexual population of the city is out and proud) and the Free Will Astrology.

The Free Will Astrology column is my absolute favorite feature of the paper because the author expounds on his predictions with all the cultured grace of a well read philosopher and all the funky new age insight of an aging hippy just back from a week long trip. His weekly horoscopes never fail to please me, as I hope they will you.

Eddies in the flow of gastronomic space-time

In the world of food, there are regions. The American South, for example, is a region of food. France is a region of food with smaller regions, like Provence, contained therein. Every good amateur gourmet knows this. But I propose that there exist not only regions and sub-regions, but micro-regions, if you will. Eddies in the flow of gastronomic space-time that create pools of such intensely unique and delightful food experiences that their very existence seems to defy all logic and reason. I myself have experienced one of these eddies, and the locals call it Santa Fe.

New Mexico Mexican food is unlike any other of the sub-genres of Mexican food. I grew up in Texas eating Tex-Mex with cheddar cheese in the enchiladas smothered in Wolf Brand chili or green tomatillo sauce. I now live in California, and I have experienced Baja Mexican food with fish tacos in corn tortillas and anaheim chiles in abundance. But nothing -- let me repeat, NOTHING -- compares to the delights of a blue corn enchilada prepared with queso fresco and smothered in green chile that will leave your lips pleasantly burning and senseless.

I was back in New Mexico this past weekend, and I visited the restaurant La Choza. La Choza is located literally 10 feet from the railroad tracks of the Santa Fe rail line that still runs pleasure trips between Santa Fe and Lamy. It's in a largish house that's been converted into a restaurant and you park your car precariously close to the tracks in a dusty gravel strip between the house and the railroad. It's that kind of place. Inside, you find real adobe walls about a foot thick, and large rooms filled with simple tables and chairs with local art adorning the walls. (Santa Fe is, in its soul, an artist's town, and so any restaurant worth its scratch will have local art on the walls, usually for sale.)

The menu is deceptively simple. There is nothing on it that one wouldn't find in any small family run Mexican restaurant: enchiladas, tacos - soft or crispy, tamales, burritos, Frito pie, and margaritas. I order the combination plate of one cheese enchilada and one beef soft taco which comes with pinto beans and posole -- a distant cousin to hominy. One of my companions orders the same, the other, a vegetarian burrito plate. And then, the Official State Question: "red or green?"

In New Mexico, chile comes in two varieties: the green which are the young chiles picked green and then roasted to perfection, or the red which are the same type of chile, allowed to ripen, and traditionally dried in the blazing New Mexico sun on the roofs of adobe houses. The green is usually milder, but not always, and only in comparison to the scorching bitter heat of the red. At the top of the La Choza menu is a disclaimer, for the benefit of tourists, which reads 'We are not responsible for "too hot" chile!' Both kinds are traditionally cooked with pork and other ingredients to make the sauce for enchiladas but being in Santa Fe, the open minded kind of place it is, La Choza also caters to vegetarians. The only correct responses to the Official State Question are "red," "green," or "Christmas."

After we place our order, a large basket of fresh chips and fresh salsa arrives with our drinks. These chips are not the least bit greasy, but are crispy and full of corn flavor. In fact, they are so deliciously flavorful that they do not need salt. If all you've ever been exposed to in your life is Doritos and Tostitos, you have not tasted a true tortilla chip. The salsa is pleasantly piquant with flavors of roasted tomatoes, cilantro, and chile, with just enough heat to leave the back of your throat smoldering nicely. I call it "after burn" because you don't sense it until after the chip and salsa have left your mouth.

When the meals arrive only a few moments later, the aroma is overpoweringly delightful. The plates are scalding hot and brimming to the point of overflowing with green chile. When you order a burrito or a taco in Santa Fe, do not expect to be able to pick it up and eat it with your hands as you might do at Taco Bell, at least, not unless you want green chile up to your elbows. New Mexican food is meant to be eaten with fork and knife and spoon.

We dug into our meals, and I must tell you, it was a Zen experience. The green chile was delicious, yet didn't commit the ultimate faux pas of overpowering the smooth queso in the enchilada, nor the deliciously spiced meat in the taco, nor the full corn flavor of the blue corn tortillas. The beans tasted like they'd been cooked all day in my neighbor's crock pot (which is a GOOD thing) and the posole -- which I don't normally like because it’s sometimes chewy with a weird texture -- was tender and delicious. I found myself scraping the last dregs of chile off my plate with my spoon – I didn’t think it prudent to lick the plate in public.

Arriving with our meal was another basket, this time filled with three warm sopapillas. For anyone who doesn't know, a sopapilla is a square of fried dough that puffs up when cooked, leaving a warm soft pocket in the middle which one fills with honey to eat. Among my friends and relatives, there are differing opinions as to the proper method for eating sopapillas; some involve pouring the honey directly into the pocket then tilting it from one side to the other to fully coat the inside, others require that the honey be applied on the outside only, and still others opt to add their honey bit by bit and bite by bite to fully maximize the honey to sopapilla ratio. However you do it, it is, I believe, mandatory to come away with sticky fingers.

When we were finished, out stomachs were full, our minds floating on chile scented clouds of ecstasy. The price for this little slice of heaven? Thirty dollars for three dinners of outstanding quality and taste.

But the most amazing part of this long winded story is not that the chile was so perfect, nor that the restaurant was so cozy, nor that the price was so reasonable, nor that the art and ambiance were so distinctly "Santa Fe." No. The most amazing part is that this is just ONE of the dozens of exemplary restaurants that carry on happily in relative anonymity nestled in this small town at the foot of those majestic mountains. Every cuisine imaginable from New Mexican, to Thai, to pizza, to Indian and back again is represented, and each and every one is a culinary delight. If you've never found yourself lucky enough to stumble into a concentrated micro-region of cuisine, I honestly implore you to keep searching. They do exist. And if all else fails, I know the way to Santa Fe.

Monday, June 07, 2004

no wonder I'm blogging so much today

My horoscope for today:

You have a prime view of the workings of a vast, invisible continuum. You've been to the mountain and watched the gods pull the strings that move human events. For obvious reasons, you won't find a lot of takers for this story. Other people are unlikely to grasp the connections between things that are immediately obvious to you. Consider getting or giving a psychic reading. Maybe you'll make a lucky choice in the office sports pool or scratch off the numbers on a winning lottery ticket. Enjoy!

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - Review

Before I begin this review, I have to give you a brief disclaimer: as I write this, there is a Harry Potter coffee mug with the cold dregs of my morning tea sitting at my left hand. I own all 5 books in the Harry Potter series in hardcover (because I couldn't possibly wait for them to come out in paperback) and I have read all of them a minimum of two times, some as many as six times. Seriously. On top of the same bookshelf on which these books reside sits a Harry Potter trivia game (in the vein of Trivial Pursuit) and a Harry Potter chess set (from the first film). If you were to look at my DVD collection (which, for a film major like myself is surprisingly small), you would find both of the first two Harry Potter films. My point is, I am not your average adult Harry Potter fan; I have chronic Potter-mania at a level bordering on that of an 11 year old child. I will admit to you that I waited in a bookstore until midnight to be one of the first to get the fifth book when it came out. I was number 472 at my store. I know that because I kept the ticket. Such is the level of my mania.

That being said, (in far more words than was strictly necessary), I did not really love the first two Harry Potter movies. I went to both on they day they opened. I bought both of the DVDs as soon as they came out (the first before I even owned my own DVD player). Yes, it can safely be said that I like the first two movies quite a lot.

But I don't really love them.

Until Friday June 4th, I couldn't really have told you why. True, they weren't entirely faithful to the books, which I truly passionately love. True, some of the characters weren't entirely as I pictured them. True, some of the scenes that were cut left me asking why, as did some that were left in. But all of this is to be expected when a beloved book is made into a film. I'm a film student, for God's sake! I know better than anyone that it is impossible to fit a 200 page book into a few hours of screen time, especially a book as impossibly detailed as one of the Harry Potters. Cuts must be taken, sacrifices made. This is why they're called "adaptations."

But knowing all this didn't make that uneasy feeling go away. Something was wrong. Something was missing. What, I couldn't say.

Then, at 8:30 on Friday night, as that delightfully catchy John Williams theme began playing and the entire theater around me erupted into spontaneous excited applause, I began to find out.

I don't know who made the decision at Warner Brothers to hand the reigns of the Harry Potter franchise over to a new director. I suspect, from what I've read, that Chris Columbus wisely thought that the series would get stale if not reinvented periodically, but who actually decided to take that leap of faith and hire a new director, we may never know. But he should be awarded an honorary Oscar for saving the Harry Potter film franchise.

Cuaron is, in every way, the best thing that ever happened to the franchise, and I will tell you why. Cuaron envisions the world of Harry Potter and his friends and enemies as a real world. An existing world; not a figment of the imagination. Harry's muggle family no longer seem to live in a cast off section of EuroDisney entitled "Suburbia", but in the real, and infinitely more frightening and depressing world of cookie cutter suburbs and urban decay. The castle is no longer a pretty CGI fabrication of a pastorally run down building, but a truly ancient, magical, place with a sense of time and history to it. The children are no longer puppets moving through a technicolor set of brilliant backdrops, but real adolescents, with real problems, that just happen to also include magic. The difference between Cuaron's vision and Columbus', is that Columbus envisioned his films as fantasy, Cuaron envisioned his as drama.

Although one can tell from the opening frame that this version is going to be different, the true magic doesn't happen until the second hour of the film, when I finally finaly found myself reliving some of the page-turning anticipation and involvement that had kept me so glued to the books. Finally the pace, action, and acting all have come together to produce that tightly knit and masterfully woven exhilaration that Potter is famous for. Finally, I fell in love.

The most convincing evidence I can give you for this, is that my complaints about the original two films still hold true: I am still disappointed by some of the things that were left on the cutting room floor, or indeed, never even made it before the cameras. I am disgruntled that the crew didn't take a little more care in keeping continuity with the first two films (Professor Flitwick anyone??), as this film, no matter how different, is still intended to be a part of a whole. And I do challenge a few plot holes that would have left an uneducated viewer (ie: one who has not read all the books multiple times) scratching his head. The real difference is that this time, I don't care! None of these little shortcomings overshadows the overall successfulness of the film. THAT is the thing that truly sets this film apart from its predecessors.

I could go on and on about all the little things that I loved. I could praise the art direction and cinematography for days on end. I could extol the much more judiciously used effects until I am hoarse. I could talk about the delightful changes in all the young actors, their growing into their trade, and the impossibly wonderful cast of brilliant adult actors who nurture them into their roles. And I may do all that and more, at another time.

For now, I will finish with this simple statement of fact: I have already dusted off a space on my shelf for the third film in my DVD collection, and I am already trying to determine what would be a reasonable amount of time to wait before going to see the film in theaters a second time.

I love this film.

Shrek 2 - a review

When I saw the original Shrek, I immediately thought of a favorite childhood picture book of mine, The Paper Bag Princess. Both rely strongly on the theme that good looks don't get you everything you want, and that happily ever after isn't necessarily all you thought it would be. Apart from the eye candy of the animation of Shrek, this important message (so often undermined by movies of the Disney "Princess" ilk) was my favorite part.

I am happy to report that Shrek 2 remains true to its calling and reiterates that theme with mucho gusto. However, I didn't find the second as enchanting as the first. While still entertaining, Shrek 2 lacked some of the magic of the first; the newness was gone, as if I were viewing the same enjoyable film a second time.

This is not to say that Shrek 2 didn't have its good points: I really enjoyed a lot of the "in" jokes about Hollywood, and references to other films like Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, and the fairy god mother was "absolutely fabulous." I wasn't as enchanted with Antonio Banderas' Puss as many other people seem to have been. I kept waiting for the rest of his plot line; it seemed to me that the paid assassin changed his mind a little too quickly, and I kept hoping for a plot twist that would set him against Shrek at a pivotal moment... but it never came.

While the message of being true to yourself and looking for inner beauty was still there, I almost felt like it was played out. Other important messages were touched on, and then brushed aside, like the King's racism towards Shrek. It's not that I want to turn this touching children's tale into a politically charged public service announcement, I just felt the film was lacking some of the original's positive message and drive.

I enjoyed Shrek 2, but I feel like the film was made just for the sake of capitolizing off the first film's success. It lacks the inspiration and brilliance that made the first film such a departure from the mainstream. And while a good joke re-told is often just as entertaining as the original, it always seems to lose something in the translation.

Friday, June 04, 2004

film theory -- sequels

As a general rule, I don't have anything against sequels. As a matter of fact, when it comes to my tastes in reading materials, I love a good series. Three books or twenty, if the characters keep me involved in the story throughout the first book, then I'm more than happy to follow them to the ends of whatever earth they might inhabit in as many subsequent books as the author can possibly turn out. Quite frankly, I hate to let a good character go. I have made friends with him and we've become close, and I'm not readily going to let him just carry on with his life without me in it. But this relatively simple assertion hinges upon one very key fact: the sequel has to be at least as good as the first, or you can bet I won't make it to the third.

With books, one can quite frequently find series where each and every book is as good as -- if not better than -- the last. Take the Harry Potter series; in my humble opinion, the quality of the writing and the depth of the characters and plots have gotten consistently better as the series has progressed.

With movies, unfortunately, the opposite is frequently true, and I think there is a very simple reason for this: when an author sits down to write a book, she almost always has it in mind whether or not she would like to carry this set of characters and circumstances into a series of books. When a film gets made, it is almost always a one shot deal. Not until the film has been released and surprised everyone by becoming the sleeper hit of the season does the screenwriter/director/actor get signed for a sequel. In fact, many times the screenwriter/director or other key personnel have already accepted other projects and so are unavailable to do the sequel, putting it into the hands of person or persons unknown to the work. And therein lies the problem. Films are made to be encapsulated works of art. They are envisioned by a huge group of people, but all at one time, so that there is (hopefully) a coherence to the work, even if it spans centuries on the screen and hours in the theater. Once a new group of people is assembled, or for many other reasons, this coherence can be lost.

This is not to say that there aren't great film series. There are. Take the Godfather trilogy, for example, or the original three Star Wars films. These are great films, but they work because they form a cohesive whole. A series that doesn't work, like the Matrix, often fails because the films are conceived not as parts of a whole, but as individual pieces, and therefore, do not match up as well as they could. The first Matrix was an astounding feat of filmmaking; it accomplished the (almost) impossible by successfully marrying a stunning, effects driven, visual movie with a compelling plot. The following two films could have been equally effective, but they weren't. My personal theory is that the Wachowski brothers spent too much time (and money) on the visual aspects of the second two movies and not enough time on developing the actual plot. So there ended up not being one.

But I digress.

My point in all of this (and yes, I am coming to one) is that this summer, released mere days from one another, we as a filmgoing audience have the opportunity to see two new installments in two competing film series: Shrek 2, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The former has the dubious honor of being in the category of sequels which are not decided upon until after the first film is made. The latter has the equally uncertain footing of being not only part of a preconceived series of films, but an already successful series of books (which in no way guarantees the success of the film, by the way), yet it also has the distinction of incorporating a new man at the helm, director Cuaron.

My goal in the next two reviews will be to see how these two films stack up against my theory of sequels: will Shrek 2 be a flop because it wasn't conceived as a whole with its counterpart? Will Harry Potter live up to (and hopefully surpass) the first two films and its own hype? Will Harry Potter 3 form a cohesive whole with the first two installments while directed by an entirely new person with an entirely new take on the films? Will Lacy physically explode with excitement before making it to the theater tonight to see Harry Potter 3??

We shall see, my friends. We shall see...

lines from an anthem that I have stuck in my head

I see thy cross there
teach my heart to cling!
Oh let me seek thee
and oh let me find.

Teach me to love thee
as thy angels love.
One holy passion
filling all my frame.
The baptism of the
heaven descended dove:
my soul an altar
and thy love the flame.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

New Blog!

Well, I thought that since I blog about everything else, Brandon and I ought to have an easy way to spread the news about our wedding plans, so I have a new blog for that purpose here!

We'll be posting all the news that's fit to print about our wedding plans for everyone to read. As soon as I get around to it, there will be a link from our wedding web page to this new news blog, but for now, you can access it from the above link. =)

And, by the way, there's a comments section on THAT blog too, so be sure to leave me a note!