Monday, November 17, 2003

Love Actually is all around

Originally published in The Vanguard, the student newspaper of The University of South Alabama

To make a cake, you take a dozen separate ingredients, stir them together and add some heat. The result is a delicious treat everyone can enjoy. This is the recipe for the romantic comedy, "Love Actually." It takes several very different couples, (some romantic, some not so much) adds a lot of heat, and a delicious aroma of love fills the air. This holiday (cheese) cake should be served with Christmas dinner.

Starring a charming, winning cast of British and American performers, "Love Actually" proves that "love actually is all around," and you can find it in the most unusual places.

The story begins at Heathrow Airport, where people are greeting their loved ones during a voice-over by one of the characters. The audience does not know anything about the character, but it is unmistakably Hugh Grant's voice. He says the best place to find proof of love is the arrival gate at the airport.

He also says, "When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love."

This is the perfect way to set the tone for a movie about finding love in all situations.

It is later revealed that Hugh Grant is playing the new prime minister of England, who has an instant attraction to a member of his staff, who looks oddly like Monica Lewinsky but has the social "graces" of Bridget Jones. However, unlike the Lewinsky situation, the prime minister keeps professional distance and even moves her to a position of less proximity to him to remove the temptation.

Other notable relationships include Liam Neeson as a widowed man and his young stepson. He is trying to move through his own grief so he can help his stepson deal with the death of his mother. Of course, the stepson is also dealing with relationship problems, as he is experiencing love for the first time. He is desperately trying to catch the attention of a girl in his class, but the love is unrequited. Or is it?

One of the most amusing couples meet under rather unusual circumstances. They are stand-ins for the actors in a very racy movie. The scenes involving these two are quite hilarious, but are not for those offended by nudity.

The heartbreaking part of this movie is saved for its two most accomplished performers, Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson. Emma Thompson is perfect in the role of an older wife who fears her husband is cheating, and Alan Rickman is inspired as the lecherous husband who gives an expensive gift to a young, beautiful employee.

Perhaps the most romantic couple involves two people who cannot understand each other, literally. Colin Firth (Bridget Jones' Diary) plays Jamie, a writer who caught his wife cheating. He retreats to write his book and finds himself falling in love with his Portuguese housekeeper, who doesn't speak a word of English. The chemistry between them is undeniable and the climax of this story does not disappoint.
There are many other seemingly unconnected relationships going throughout the film, including a single British man who determines his soul mate lives in America because "they love [the British] accent over there," and a wonderful performance by Keira Knightly (Pirates of the Caribbean, Bend it Like Beckham) as a young bride who discovers something surprising about her new husband's best friend.

As the story progresses, the intricate connections between the couples are revealed, creating a somewhat confusing web of people. The confusion only lasts a moment, though because the interconnection is not the most important aspect of the film. The most important aspect, of course, is the presence of love in the most unlikely places. The film ends in just the right place, at the arrival gate of the airport with loved ones greeting each other.
The performances from all involved were charmingly sweet, making this an uplifting experience for moviegoers and a great holiday film. It is an entertaining bit of fluff from writer and director Richard Curtis, who also wrote the screenplays to "Notting Hill," "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Bridget Jones' Diary."

"Love Actually" is a film to see if you need to affirm that love actually is all around.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Revolutions Bytes: Unplug The Matrix

Originally published in The Vanguard, the student newspaper of The University of South Alabama

With a tagline like "Everything that has a beginning has an end" fans of "The Matrix" trilogy expected more from the final installment, starring Keanu Reeves and Carrie Anne Moss.

With an absolutely spectacular first installment ("The Matrix") and a less-than-stellar second ("Reloaded"), the trilogy had two directions it could go. "Revolutions" could either redeem the trilogy from the mess that was "Reloaded," or it could go spiraling down into a flaming pit of destruction. Unfortunately, it went the way of the pit.

"The Matrix" was a spectacular bit of filmmaking with technological advances no one had seen before its debut in 1999. Its bullet-time technology was introduced and became an industry standard. After realizing their awesome bit of technology was being used on everything from the latest "Charlie's Angels" movie to a (fabulous) episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" a couple of years ago, no doubt the Wachowski brothers decided to try for newer and more exciting technology.
This obviously meant more fight scenes and giving Neo more super powers, even in the real world. This is where the movie lost me. This whole time I was thinking the rules did not apply within the matrix because it was not the real world. So why could Neo do things in the real world that a normal person would not be able to do?

The messiah image was made even clearer in this film, and there is a moment when Neo is lying on the floor, arms stretched out and legs together in a familiar way. The fight for Zion was much too long and drawn out, as was the final confrontation with agent Smith and Neo. It was almost as if the filmmakers were screaming to the audience, "Look what I can do with my computers!"

To be fair, the special effects were great, but they just were not spectacular like the first Matrix. There were also some moments in the film when I actually laughed out loud, a response you wouldn't expect from a film such as this. Admittedly, one of these times was when the characters were trying to figure out how Neo seemed to be in the matrix when he wasn't plugged in and my friend leaned over and whispered, "He's gone wireless."

The ending was completely unsatisfactory and seemed to be leaving the story open for more. So, I guess everything that has a beginning doesn't have an end after all.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

One For the Money, Two For the Dough

Originally published in The Vanguard, the student newspaper of The University of South Alabama.

In the quest to find something interesting and fun to read, most people listen to the recommendations of others. A friend came to me not too long ago and told me to read a series by Janet Evanovich about a New Jersey girl named Stephanie Plum.

There are nine books so far, and Evanovich is contracted for several more. The first book, "One for the Money," establishes the basic premise of the series and introduces the heroine, Stephanie Plum, and several other vital characters.

The story begins in Trenton, N.J., with Stephanie and Joe Morelli, an older boy from the neighborhood.

The first several pages are dedicated to her relationship with Joe from childhood "games" to the time he charmed her pants off when she was a teenager, to a 19-year-old Stephanie running into the 21-year-old Joe with her dad's car.

Her reason? The reader can only assume it was because he never called.
The story flashes forward to Stephanie at age 30. A repo man sent to take her car is following her. She has lost her job as a lingerie buyer and is looking for a new job, but has had no luck so far. (Her mother keeps pushing her to get a job at the tampon factory.)

She makes a deal with the guy to give her one more night with the car and heads for her mom's house for dinner. She's broke, so dinner with her parents is a cheap way to get a good meal, even though spending time with her parents is a reasonable person's idea of hell.

After suffering through dinner, Stephanie decides to figure out what to do to pay the bills. She goes to her cousin Vinnie, a bail bondsman with "interesting" personal habits. She blackmails him into giving her a job as a bounty hunter even though she has no idea what the job entails.
What follows is a story with the most endearing heroine in print, going through the most hilarious adventures, with the most outrageous outcomes possible.

A great deal of the humor in the Stephanie Plum books comes from the fact that she is completely inadequate for the job, but still manages to solve all her cases.

Luck plays heavily into the equation, as does the sudden arrival of Joe Morelli every time she needs him. And she needs him almost daily, since she hates guns and likes to leave hers in the cookie jar in her tiny apartment, guarded only by her hamster, Rex.

There is also the dynamic of Ranger, a fellow bounty hunter who has a lot of secrets. Stephanie calls him a superhero and always refers to his unknown residence as the Batcave. In later books, the presence of Ranger starts a love triangle centered around Stephanie's obvious attraction to both men and her inability to decide between the intense heat she has with Joe and the intense mystery that surrounds Ranger.

Other characters of note in this series are her parents, her crazy grandmother and Lula, a prostitute-turned-secretary at Vinnie's bonds office.

In addition to "One for the Money," the Stephanie Plum series includes "Two for the Dough," "Three to get Deadly," "Four to Score," "High Five," "Hot Six," Seven Up," "Hard Eight" and the most recent book, "To the Nines," which was released this past July. There is no official word on the release date or title of the 10th book.

This series offers a great escape from reality and will make even the most indifferent readers laugh out loud at the exploits.

Note: The tenth book was fabulous, and fans of the series have just recently been treated to book 11. I am waiting until my next long flight to read book 11, but I may break down and start before then. All reviews so far say the most recent book is the best in the series so far. I can't wait to see if I agree!