Saturday, May 30, 2009

"UP" Review

At the time of this writing, Disney-Pixar's Up has received a 98% rating at Rotten Tomatoes. That means that 98% of the nation's movie critics have given it the "thumbs up." Such a high rating almost never happens.

That said, any movie, no matter how great, can be over-hyped, which can ruin the experience. For example, Ratatouille received such acclaim that my initial viewing of it was met with dissapointment (though I appreciated it much, much more the second time around). So, in the interest of not raising the bar too high, I will simply say that Up continues Pixar's streak of excellence.

Combining poignant and profound themes with memorable characters and a contagious sense of adventure
is par for the course for the group that brought us Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, and Wall-E. What do all these films have in common? They effectively tap into our childlike sense of wonder while never insulting our intelligence or emotional maturity (or that of children, for that matter).

Likewise, Pixar makes the most visually stunning and sharply humorous films of anyone doing animation right now. In fact, they make some of the best films, period. Up is no exception, and it ranks particularly high on my Pixar list because it did something the others didn't. It made me cry. Twice. And I tell you, not with macho vanity, but merely to drive home the point: I don't cry in movies. It's not because I'm "too tough." I feel and get moved like anybody else. But I'm not a big cryer; when I do, it's because something is truly beautiful, and often bittersweet. States of Grace made me cry at the end. The Passion of the Christ made me cry when Mary runs to Jesus as a mother trying to comfort her son, only to, in turn, be comforted by Him. And now, Up got me going, with a pair of wordless moments (one towards the beginning, the other towards the end) that drive home how precious of a gift our lives are, as well as the people in them.

Don't worry, though, the movie is more of an adventure-comedy than a tearjerker. It simply has a beating heart, as the best adventures (and often the best comedies) do. It's thrilling. It's funny. For some reason I felt it dragged very slightly in the middle before kicking into high gear for the third act, but that's a minor complaint for something so thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. Oh, by the way, I wanted to take Doug (the dog) home with me. You will too. MY GRADE: A.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Hi there everyone! Been a long time, I know. I'll keep this brief and get you up to speed. I'm finishing up my Master's here at Auburn in marriage and family therapy. What next? Arizona, most likely, to be with family and begin my life as a professional. What follows are a series of photos of the past eight months of my life; just the highlights.

This is Kristy Malone, one of my closest friends in the world and the main reason I'm still sane after this straining year of graduate school. She's also an MFT student, and for you nosy types, no we are not dating. That said, I look forward to a lifelong friendship with one of my all-time favorite people. We've had a lot of fun together, like the above "Syrup Sopping Festival," haunted houses, the National Peanut Festival (way cooler than it sounds, with carnival rides, demolition derbies, petting zoos, and pig races!), the amazing Christmas lights at Calloway Gardens, and more.


I went as Captain Hammer, with my friends Michelle and Adam as Dr. Horrible and Penny, respectively. This ward party had it all: Fear Factor (including the eating of live crickets), Murder in the Dark set to scary movie music, and tons of food.


For the annual Conference of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, eight of the twelve student therapists went to Memphis for four days. We went to BB King's Bar and Grill and enjoyed live blues (and amazing barbeque), explored gorgeous local parks, and went to a Halloween party in addition to drinking from the deep well of knowledge at the conference.


I spent nearly two weeks at home (well, Utah and Arizona) for Thanksgiving for some much-needed R&R. That semester was the worst of my life. It was good to hang out with the fam (including my newly-acquired stepfamily!), enjoying games like the "Corn Bag Toss" as seen above.


Awesome branch Christmas party featured an "Ugly Sweater Contest," a gingerbread house competition, White Elephant gift exchange, and more. It was pretty sweet.

Went home again for Christmas and New Years. The "Originals" got together on December 22 for a dinner, sharing memories of Mom on the anniversary of her passing. It's been two difficult years, but we're making it!

2009 SO FAR...

I'm interning at the juvenile prison, doing rehabilitation for adolescents who have sexually offended, as well as therapy with their families. This was my first professional office! One can only move up.

Stake and regional Young Single Adult activities have been awesome (and usually include late-night runs to Waffle House). This one was bowling.

Took this one on my camera phone. I apologize if it's offensive, but...c'mon, that's funny.

Just down the street from the Stake Center is...this.

Coming back from a singles dance with my friends...yeah, I hit a turkey.

My car, same friends, different story. Prank wars around here sometimes escalate.

Kristy and I just had to get out of Auburn one day, so we drove 20 minutes away and found all sorts of stuff: 1) A gas station selling, literally, white dirt for pregnant women to eat, "for the minerals." As a local told me: "You know how white women eat ice? Black women eat dirt." Offensive? Yes. But, I'm discovering that there's truth to it. We also found creepy abandoned farms, strange animals, and this 1800's-era Church with an outdoor pavalion meetinghouse that had a very unsettling feeling about it. Given the time period it was constructed, in the South, and the undeniably evil feeling we got there, we both had the strong impression that African-Americans were hung there by the Klan.

In March, we had, in a 24-hour period: a hailstorm with a freaky TORNADO rip through the outskirts of the city (two miles from my apartment), a 75-degree paradise in the afternoon, and a 25-degree blizzard leaving four inches of snow.

Yeah, we have an awesome beach three hours away.

Lately, we've been playing a lot of Rock Band. I do have a band, named Shredder, made up of my buddies Jake and Thor. No, I'm NOT SWEATING! We played through a tornado warning, and I had ran in the rain/hail to get there, so I was soaked.

We've also been doing a lot of karaoke at this place called Bogey's. My stage name is White Chocolate. We get the place going! Our DJ is this awesome black lady in her 40's named Nelly.

SUMMER MOVIE REVIEWS: Wolverine, Star Trek, Earth, Angels and Demons, Terminator: Salvation.
Meh. I know my sisters loved it, so I won't bad mouth it too much here, but the whole thing felt undercooked to me; plus, the inconsistency of Sabretooth being Wolverine's intelligent brother, compared with the radically different conceptualization of the character in the same series, was jarring for me. It opens well (the first 20 minutes got my hopes up), but after that I thought the storyline was a rambling mess. Sorry. The motorcycle chase was cool, though. And if I graded the film on Hugh's torso, it'd be different. My grade: C.

Star Trek is the best movie of the summer so far. While I'm no Trekkie, I was able to appreciate the delicate balance between making an summer-adrenaline movie with an attractive young cast while staying true to spirit of the original series. J.J. Abrhams has, in effect, done for Star Trek what Christopher Nolan did for Batman: get rid of the cheesy elements that made the series a laughing-stock while drawing out the raw power of the core themes and characters. Just like Nolan, Abrams has allowed the nerds to say to the mainstream public: "See? That's why we're so into this!" The story is good and the jokes hit the mark about 80% of the time, but the cast is where it's at. Chris Pine is makes for an entertainingly arrogant Kirk, and Heroes' Zachary Quinto is fine as Spock, but I'm all about the supporting cast, especially Zoe Saldana's impossibly hot Uhura, Karl Urban's (The Lord of the Rings) suprisingly funny take on Bones McCoy, and the pies de resistance, Simon Pegg, underused but awesome, as Scotty. If you've seen Shaun of the Dead and/or Hot Fuzz, you know Simon Pegg is the shiz. The Leonard Nimoy cameo is perfect, the action thrilling. My grade: A

Stunning photography and the thrilling drama of nature. I'm not partial to documentaries, but this was phenomenally entertaining, moving, and yes, testimony-building. See my full review at: My grade: A-

This is being unfairly maligned by critics. This is at once more thrilling and more involving than The Da Vinci Code was, and Ron Howard's direction is more surefooted and fast-paced here. Visually gorgeous. By streamlining the novel's narrative, the film loses much (but not all) of the science vs. faith dichotomy that gave the book its weight. As it is, the film version of Angels and Demons makes for a very entertaining thriller. Some of the dialogue is poor, you have to suspend disbelief the way you would for a James Bond or Indiana Jones movie, and keep in mind that this is historical fiction (emphasis on fiction). If you can do that, this is a blast. Ewan McGregor rocks. Be warned, it is violent and intense, and pushes that PG-13 boundary. My grade: B+

I don't know how this movie would be for someone who hasn't seen any of the other ones. I think I'd be lost. As a thrill ride, Terminator Salvation delivers, with awesome spectacle and intense action, as well as some nice narrative tie-ins to the original trilogy (I especially liked young Kyle Reese). It effectively captures the post-apocalyptic world hinted at in the original three. That said, I feel that the Director's cut, said to contain 20 minutes of cut material, will do much to flesh out the story and characters and give the film more of the emotional weight that gave James Cameron's first two films such suprising punch. Christian Bale effectively makes an awesome G.I. Joe, but the character of John Conner has such dramatic potential that it's sad to see him so underwritten here. Bale is more than equal to the task as an actor if given the screenplay (forget Batman, if you want to see this man really act, watch his incredibly nuanced performance as the meek and humble rancher of quiet integrity in 3:10 to Yuma). Still, even with the plot holes and lost potential, this is a fun night at the movies. My grade: B.