Thursday, February 23, 2006

Movie musings

I watched The Cider House Rules again tonight. The Newport Public Library has a copy of the DVD; I had taken it out about a month ago and really liked the movie, so when I saw it back on the shelf again today, I decided I needed to see it again.

Why do I like this movie? Hmmmm... Well, it's exactly the kind of thing I like best - intimate, personal, and poignant. I like John Irving's writing, and not only is his original novel a great book, but his own screen adaptation is just as brilliant. And of course what makes the movie intimate and personal is director Lasse Hellström, who has made a career out of that kind of movie. Hellström is also brilliant at casting, and the actors in this case fit Irving's characters like old, comfortable and well-used flannel shirts. I'd read the book years ago, and on watching the movie I just couldn't imagine any other actors fitting those roles. Michael Caine - well, what can you say about Michael Caine! When he says "Good night you princes of Maine, you kings of New England", you believe him. And Tobey Maguire's wide-eyed wonder as Homer Wells is just perfect. I hated him as Peter Parker/Spiderman, but he was born to play Homer Wells. Charlize Theron is also perfect as Candy, the girl who just isn't any good at being alone. And Delroy Lindo as Arthur Rose - that man is just so good! Remember him as West Indian Archie in Malcolm X? A brilliant actor.

But most of all this movie is good because of Lasse Hellström. I've gotten to be a real fan of his stuff - My Life As a Dog, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, The Shipping News, and An Unfinished Life (I haven't seen Casanova yet - I saw the trailers and a film clip; I suspect that like Chocolat this is going to be one of the few Hellström films I really don't like). Shipping News is my favorite, although I saw an Unfinished Life and am waiting for the DVD to come out so I can watch it a few more times and settle into it. What he and Morgan Freeman and Robert Redford did to create the relationship between those two old ranchers was probably the best work the three of them have created (although Freeman's role as Red in Shawshank Redemption with Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne and directed by Frank Darabont is pretty close to being just as close-knit, natural, and elegant).

But what Hellström did with Annie Proulx's novel The Shipping News, and especially the job he did with Kevin Spacey to create a character totally unlike anything Spacey has ever done before... I didn't like Cate Blanchette in that one, but then again her character was unsympathetic anyhow, so I guess she did a good job. But the real working ensemble was the Newfoundland cast, with Spacey and Julianne Moore and Judi Dench, and the job Hellström did with them to create three damaged characters healing and becoming whole was some of the most beautiful acting and filmmaking I've ever seen. Again, the man is brilliant at casting. Who would ever have seen Quoyle, the ultimate personality-less nebbish, in the acting Spacey had done to create his characteristic rash, devil-may-care characters? Moore and Dench had already created roles similar to the ones they played in Shipping News, but Kevin Spacey was a pleasant surprise. And Julianne Moore seems to be making a habit of playing serious, truly great theatrical roles. Remember her as Laura Brown in The Hours? Ahhhhhh! But that's Lasse Hellström's genius - he chooses just the right actors to fit the roles and creates the cinematic atmosphere in which they do their best work.

Oh, and one hilarious irony in Shipping News: I cracked up seeing both Cate Blanchette and Judi Dench in the cast; they both had played Queen Elizabeth I - Judi Dench in Shakespeare In Love (1998) and Cate Blanchette in Elizabeth (also in 1998).

And that's my musing for today. Be sure to check back here tomorrow night - I'm putting together a photo essay on my spiritual home. Until then, sleep well, live a good life, and enjoy every moment.

Monday, February 20, 2006

A walk by the pond

I walked down to the Big Pond this afternoon. There are usually a large number and variety of ducks who winter there, as well as a pair of Great Blue Herons. Unfortunately I haven't seen the herons lately, although the one who's wintering on Gooseneck Cove is still there. But the first thing to catch my eye while walking in the path on the dike around the pond was what the cold front that blew through this past weekend did. That photo to the left shows the effect of sub-freezing temperatures and high winds - the reeds along the shore were encased in ice.

Further down the path, in a part that was sheltered from the WNW wind that blew with the cold front was this (to the right) interesting sight. I'm still trying to figure out how that came to be. The main ice is flat around the reeds, and I suspect those knobs of ice came about when wave action pushed water up through the holes around the reeds. The knobs remind me of the old crystal doorknobs you'll find in some of the Victorian-era houses here in Newport.

There was a cormorant out on the pond today, which is definitely unusual. Cormorants migrate south in the fall, so the fact that there was one still here in February is odd to say the least. I wonder if there's a colony that decided not to go? I doubt it - this is the only cormorant I've seen all winter.

Around the same time I saw the cormorant I saw two hawks cruising for lunch; redtails as far as I could tell. They started out fairly low and easily visible, but as soon as they got wind of me they went way up and out of range of my camera.

There are lots of American coots on the pond this winter. Although coots spend a lot of time in the water their feet aren't webbed. They aren't related to ducks but rather to moorhens and partridges. I like the contrast between their charcoal gray bodies and their chalky white beaks.

Ducks absolutely amaze me; they tuck their heads under their wings and go right to sleep, but still they zip around, navigating around other birds and circling around each other, but they never lift a head to see where they're going. These three Ruddy ducks were sound asleep but bopping right along!

Then there was this female Hooded Merganser. This is the first time I've ever seen one on Big Pond; mostly they hang out in the south end of the island, on Gooseneck Cove and Almy Pond and Lily Pond. And where was Papa? Usually you see Hooded Mergansers as a tribe, with a male and his harem of five or six females. But this was just one lone female.

And that's the tale of today's walk.

I finished Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain this morning. I'd seen, and loved, the movie, so I figured it was time to read the book. It's a lot darker than Anthony Minghella's movie. Frazier takes a far dimmer view of human nature than Minghella does, and while the book like the movie is about the journey two seperated lovers take to get back together, unlike the movie it's not in the least romantic. It's not an easy book to read. Frazier writes in a 19th Century style rather than in the modern naturalistic style and it's often hard to tell where dialogue ends and narrative begins. But most of all his portrayal of everyday people in the rural South is brutal and unromantic. You often feel as if you're reading a 19th Century version of Deliverance; there are very many characters who are mentally unbalanced or retarded, and often just plain depraved. And although the book ends the same as the movie, with Ada and Ruby having a picnic with their families, Frazier's portrayal is far darker and more ambivalent than Minghella's bittersweet ending. Still, the book is worth reading.

Well, it's time for me to head for bed. As Dr. Wilbur Larch says in The Cider House Rules: "Good night you princes of Maine, you kings of New England." And to you queens and princesses as well.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Welcome to my world

This is my maiden voyage in the blogosphere. I live in Newport, RI. I hike a lot in my spare time, and there's always a camera along when I hike. I'm also something of a bird freak, so you're likely to see whoever I saw interesting on any given day posted here. For instance this Downy Woodpecker I came across in Ballard Park this afternoon:

I may also have things to say about current events, and muse about whatever might have caught in my mind that day.

And that's all for today!