Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A Surefire Crowd Pleaser

With its great musical numbers and terrific love story, Walk the Line is a surefire crowd pleaser. And, because the love story between Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash is a true one, this movie really touches your heart.

I am amazed at how well Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon capture the playful essence of Johnny and June as they banter back and forth on stage. Their voices may not be perfect, but sometimes the real performers also hit wrong notes and fans still cheered them on. It was their charisma that drew people in as much as their music. Happily, Phoenix and Witherspoon project that same quality.

When Phoenix sings, he reminds us of Cash reaching for those lower notes; Witherspoon imbues her songs with an upbeat attitude. Just like June, she comes across as perky, sassy and funny. Although both do a fine job in their solos, their duets are the numbers that shoot off musical fireworks.

I predict some Oscar nominations for this outstanding film, especially for Phoenix and Witherspoon. DO NOT MISS THIS ONE!

Read the full review at

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

No Longer Wild about Harry

It took all the patience I could muster to sit through Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire. Out of loyalty to Harry and J.K. Rowling, I endured the entire two and a half hours (maybe more), but it took nodding off a few times, continually crossing and uncrossing my legs, looking at my watch and daydreaming about how great the previous Harry Potter movies were.

In this fourth outing, gone are the sense of wonder, the comradarie of the three main characters, and time taken to let people who have not read the book in on what is happening. Even worse, the movie is dull both in its cinematic presentation and story. The videogame-like plot follows Harry as he competes in a wizard contest with three other students. Each participant must steal an egg from a dragon, engage in an underwater challenge and navigate a treacherous maze.

When not taking part in the three phases of the competition, Harry suffers the angst of most teenagers who start worrying about dating. He and his pals Hermione and Ron have to attend a Yule Ball, which is something similar to a high school prom, and the movie spends a lot of time on this event instead of the magical situations we expect from Potter films.

I realize Harry has to grow up, but does that movies about him need to lose their fascinating appeal? If I had a magic wand, I would make sure the next Harry Potter movie adventures returned to a more entertaining format.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Finding "Hidden Kitchens"

Those famed PBS Kitchen Sisters, Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, have written a tasty book called “Hidden Kitchens.” Known primarily for the popular radio show, “Lost & Found Sound,” Davia and Nikki present 12 stories, 100 color photographs, and 30 recipes from every corner of the United States in this unique publication from Rodale. “The Kitchen Sisters understand that food is more than just food,” writes Alice Waters (founder of Chez Panisse), “it’s about our connections to one another and our place in the world.”

Among the kitchens featured in “Hidden Kitchens” are: a midnight cabyard kitchen in San Francisco; makeshift kitchens in NASCAR racing pits; a secret civil rights kitchen in Montgomery, Alabama; and an unexpected kitchen of the homeless.

I think “Hidden Kitchens” would make a wonderful addition to your holiday gift list. For more information, go to

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Missing Alfred Hitchcock

Who do you call for help if you’re being blackmailed by a psychopath? Someone with a criminal record himself. Right? Well, okay, most people probably wouldn’t, but the character Clive Owen plays in “Derailed” seems lacking in both smarts and ethics, so that’s one of the mistakes he makes in this less-than-stellar revenge thriller.

Charles Schine (Owen), a husband and father, misbehaves with Lucinda Harris (Jennifer Aniston), a beautiful woman he meets on a commuter train. A ferocious villain named Laroche (Vincent Cassel) finds out and forces Charles into paying him a large amount of money from an account originally earmarked for medical help to treat Charles’ diabetic daughter (Addison Timlin).

Our hero gets in deeper and deeper instead of going to the police. Because he’s worried about protecting Lucinda and about being exposed to his wife as the jerk he is, Charles does practically everything Laroche tells him to at first. But when he finds out what’s really going on, revenge with a capital “R” takes over.

Although I usually enjoy thrillers and revenge movies, “Derailed” left me as cold as Jennifer Aniston’s performance (she’s much better in comedies). No character earned my sympathy (except the diabetic daughter, who has little screen time), and it’s difficult for me to work up interest in a movie with no central character to care about. Owen -- a fine British actor who should have been named the new James Bond -- adopts an American accent that makes him sound like someone with a mouthful of mush. In addition, there’s nothing intriguing about the cinematography; the plot twists are predictable; and the movie ends on a questionable moral note.

Watching “Derailed” made me miss Alfred Hitchcock more than ever.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Tiny Hero Saves the Day

One of the cutest cartoon characters ever created appears in "Chicken Little," Walt Disney’s first fully computer-animated feature film. You can’t help cheering for this small chick as he tries to improve his self image, win his father’s respect -- and finally, save the world from an alien invasion.

“My character is the ultimate underdog,” Zach Braff, who lends his voice to Chicken Little, explains. “He’s just tiny and really driven, and nothing ever goes right for him. Everyone can relate to being the underdog and feeling like everyone’s against you. He’s just trying to prove himself. I think a lot of kids especially will know the feeling of being an outcast.”

Chicken Little alarms the entire town of Oakey Oaks with his warning that the sky is falling. However, it turns out what hit him on the head was probably an acorn. Because of this mistake, the little guy is made fun of constantly – and even his own father (voiced by Garry Marshall), a former baseball player, is ashamed of him. When Chicken Little joins a baseball team in order to win over his dad, a big surprise is in store. He hits the winning run and things start looking up for him.

Just as he’s basking in all this glory with his best friends -- Abby Mallard (Joan Cusack), Fish Out of Water (Dan Molina) and Runt of the Litter (Steve Zahn) -- a space ship appears, and he must warn the town again. But will anyone believe him?

The look of the film is quite special, probably because of a new technology called, of all things, “Chicken Wire,” which prevents the characters from looking like puppets by bringing more elasticity to the facial expressions.

Because of its colorful characters and zippy animation, "Chicken Little" will probably gain many fans in the toddler set. However, the film doesn't contain enough jokes for older viewers, and some of the characters’ voices don’t come across well. For example, Steve Zahn is often barely understandable when speaking Runt of the Litter’s dialogue.

Still, who can resist that darling Chicken Little? As Braff declares, “You know the movie’s good when you’re an adult and you’re on the edge of your seat rooting for a little chicken to make it around the bases of a baseball field.”

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Praise for LSS Writing Classes

Denise Cassino, director of the Long Story Short School of Writing, reports that enthusiastic reviews are coming in from the first group of LSS online students. Below are examples of student comments about instructors and classes.

“I am taking Janet Wellington's "Pitch Perfect" class and loving it. She delivers oodles of necessary information and communicates well with her students. I highly recommend this class and teacher!”

"I had so much fun with The Reel Deal: Writing about Movies. The lessons were varied, never boring and helped me to look at movies in a different way. Betty Jo (Tucker) was awesome and I can only hope that she'll teach again. I'll take any course she offers! Only complaint: The class is too short! "

"I found Jane Bernard to be a very dedicated and caring instructor. I got great feedback in Write On! Re-Writing Your Own Work and would definitely take another course!"

"I really enjoyed Flash Fiction Workout. Jennifer (Mills Kerr) gave me great feedback, and I believe that I can revise all of the stories I wrote for submission. I will probably submit some of them to Long Story Short! I learned a lot and I'm very happy I took the course."

“I was very impressed with this class (Writing Fiction Express). Lea Schizas’ advice was concise and helpful. She gave honest, constructive criticism in an encouraging way. Particularly amazing to me was her ability to give help across various genres. Only complaint: the class was too short!”

To read the rest of the comments, go to and scroll to the bottom of the page. Director Cassino invites prospective students to check out the curriculum page also. “There’s no time like the present to advance your writing career!” she says. Classes begin weekly.