Sidereal ramblings

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Best Movie of 2008 (so far)

Make that the best movie I've seen in 2008 so far. Actually, the only movie I've seen so far this year was Atonement, which I managed to see this weekend. It was terrific. I can't really tell you what it's about without spoiling at least some of the surprises in the film. It's almost two different movies in a way, although the connection is crystal clear. A very well made film. The cinematography is amazing -- surely deserving of an award. There's one shot that takes place on the beach in Dunkirk, with literally hundreds of extras, that lasts for several minutes (I didn't notice it when it started -- of course -- but partway into it, I realized what was happening.) The camera is in constant motion, the characters are in constant motion, and the camera switches between subjects several times. The logistics of this shot astound me. The storyline of the movie is fascinating, the acting is incredible. I pretty much loved everything about it.

And having Keira Knightley, quite possibly the most beautiful woman on earth, as a star didn't hurt any either.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Blogging Schmogging

I suppose I really should blog more. My daily routine on the internet involves checking out the blogs of no less than six of my friends and/or famous celebrities. I'm always disappointed when I discover that they haven't made any new entries. But then I realize that I haven't written anything new on here for 17 days, so I guess I really have no basis for my disappointment.

So, what have I been up to? One act practices are going well. We practice four nights a week, so that's been keeping me busy. I like the play a lot, but I just don't know if it's as good as it should be, and I don't know why. We perform for competition a week from today. It just doesn't seem like a winning play at this point, but what do I know? The couple of years where I thought we were phenomenal and should've won, we placed 3rd and 4th. So, maybe that bodes well for this year.

Other than that, the semester ended yesterday, so I've been spending a lot of time wrapping things up there, reading research papers and such. I actually finished grades for four out of my five classes as of yesterday, which puts me slightly ahead of the game. I should be spending more time preparing for next semester's classes, which begin on Tuesday, but I didn't really start thinking about it much until a few days ago. Mostly they're repeats of classes I've taught before, so it's okay, 'cause I don't change much. But I do have one brand new class, which I've never taught before, for which I'm totally unprepared. Not my fault, though. It's a college-level and college-credit lit course, and I've been waiting for some instruction, guidance, something from the college which is sponsoring it, and they've been really lax. Part of my plan for the weekend is to throw together a tentative syllabus for this class. A big problem is that we're still going to need to order materials -- you know, like books and things. Ah, well, this is a learning process for all of us (it's a new situation for our school entirely), so there's bound to be some bugs to work out, right?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Best of 2007 -- Comics

I read a lot of comics. Sometimes I think I'm the only thing keeping Jimmy Jams in business. But somehow trying to make a list of the best comics of 2007 was difficult. Partly I think comics have become kind of transitory for me lately. I remember storylines from month to month but I don't always remember details when my comics friends talk to me about them. Partly that's due -- I think -- to not having anyone to talk to comics about on a regular basis. Maybe it's that I read so many different titles. As I was looking through lists of comics I buy monthly, and looking through some actual comics from the past six months or so, I realized that I read -- and like -- a lot of stuff, but there's very little lately that makes a huge, lasting impression on me. That said, here's a couple of what I've found to be the best lately.

Best ongoing series: Justice Society of America. DC's ongoing tribute to the heroes of the '40s and the following generations. With a cast of literally dozens. As someone said in the latest issue, they're not so much a team as a society. Beautiful art by the vastly underrated Dale Eaglesham, too. Runners-up: Captain America. I've loved Ed Brubaker's work on this book since he began, though I do think it moves kinda slowly at times. But the book's been fascinating ever since they killed the title character. Catwoman. A hidden gem in the DC lineup. Runaways. Joss Whedon's picked up the ball left on the court by the always genius Brian Vaughan. Y: The Last Man. I'll be sad to see this one end next month.

Best new series: Scalped. Vertigo's crime drama set on a South Dakota Indian reservation. Gripping storylines and bad ass characters from the first issue on. Runners-up: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight. Joss Whedon's extension of his mythic and brilliant TV show. Criminal. Ed Brubaker's (the same names keep popping up) examination of the underside of society. Down, dirty, despicable, yet sympathetic characters.

Best mini-series: I couldn't find much for this, but I'm going to go with Countdown to Mystery. Only three issues published so far (out of eight), but the new Dr. Fate story is really cool.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Best of 2007 -- Movies

I saw only 30 movies in theatres this year. That might be six times the national average, but it's low for me. I mean, that's barely more than once a fortnight. Pathetic. Anyway, like the Academy Awards, I had to wait until the end of the year to see the best films. The two best movies I saw this year I saw on December 30th.

Best movie of the year: No Country for Old Men. Wow. Grim, but with touches of real humor. At times silent, at times filled with loud gunfire. Great dialogue. Great acting. Regular people caught up in things that spiral out of control. And a psychopath taking charge in a way that scared the crap out of me. Not for the squeamish, but highly recommended for the rest of us. I didn't really like the ending (I wish it had ended about four minutes sooner), but that's exactly the way the book ends.

Runner-up/Best comedy of the year: Juno. The best unintended pregnancy comedy of the year. Smartly (very much so) written, beautifully acted. Great music. Unpretentious. Wonderful.

Runner-up: American Gangster. For a long time, the best film I'd seen this year. Great story, made more poignant by the fact that it's "true." Everything about this film was well done; it just wasn't quite on a par with No Country.

Other good films of 2007: 300 -- gory, bloody, bombastic, but true to its source and very entertaining. Knocked Up -- gotta love something from the Apatow crowd, but not as true-to-life or touching as Juno by a long shot. Hairspray -- from someone who doesn't generally care for musicals, this movie was really a lot of fun. The Simpsons Movie -- one of only two movies I saw twice; still singing the "Spider-Pig" song. Stardust -- an adaptation of the Gaiman novel, starring Claire Danes, what's not to like? Well, except for the whole Robert DeNiro bit.

Best of 2007 -- Books

I read a lot of books in 2007, some for a grad class in World Lit, many (short ones) for a class in Childrens and Young Adult non-fiction, and some on my own. My progress of reading through all the books on the top 100 English language novels of the 20th century dragged on a bit this year. Number 43 on the list (that's where I'm at) is a series of novels by Anthony Powell called A Dance to the Music of Time. Twelve novels. I'm making some progress through them; I read books 4 through 9 this year, before and after my grad classes in the summer. None of those books will make my best of list.

My favorite book of the year is one I bought just before school started in the fall and read over the next couple of weeks: Territory by Emma Bull. This was Emma's first published novel in many, many years, but she wrote War for the Oaks, one of my favorite books of all time. Territory was very interesting, kind of an urban fantasy novel set in Tombstone, Arizona, around the time of the shootout at the O.K. corral, and featuring the Earp brothers as main characters. It's almost a straight-forward Western for the first third or half of the book, until you realize the magic that's underlying everything. Fascinating and beautifully written.

Other books of note: Cal by Bernard MacLaverty, which I re-read for my World Lit class. I liked it a lot the first time I read it a few years ago, and it hit me even harder this time around. Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa, about the fall of Dominican Republic dictator Trujillo. Could be a tough read with shifting perspectives of characters and time, but if you can figure your way through that, it's terrific and disturbing. Walking the Dog, a short story collection by Bernard MacLaverty. Irish throughout, even in stories set elsewhere. Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman is a collection of short stories, with a little poetry thrown in for good measure. Maybe not everything Gaiman touches is magic, but damn close. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini was a bit of a letdown, only due to the hype surrounding it gave me higher expectations than could be met. Still, it's an easy and straightforward read, a gripping adventure story, a look into another culture (Afghanistan), and a coming-of-age story all in one.