Thursday, October 28, 2004

About this blog

I started this blog as a fun way to communicate with friends and family, and to record my progress on various projects. I decided it was a perfect way to share photos and observations about life in general as well. It has evolved, as all things do.

It is still a way to communicate with friends and family, but it is also a way to meet people who share the same interests. It has become a place where I can seek and give advice, a place where I can rant and rave, and a place where I can share my observations about life. I've also learned a lot about manipulating html and using widgets as a result of this blog. Since I began this blog, I've been through a lot, and it is all recorded in the archives so that I can look back on it anytime.

I love writing this blog every day, even when I don't have much to write about. It makes me feel connected, makes me feel like I'm leaving a mark on the world in some way. Thank you for visiting, and I hope you enjoy reading these posts as much as I enjoy writing them.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Photo Hunters BlogRoll

Saturday, October 09, 2004

An eye-opening near death experience

"My whole life just flashed before my eyes... I've gotta get me a life!"

- Xander Harris, from the show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," episode "Killed By Death"

Friday, October 08, 2004

The aliens have landed

The second season of the short-lived series "Roswell" came out on DVD this week. I purchased it the day after it was released. Priced at approximately $48, this package contains all season 2 episodes, including my favorite Roswell episode of all time, entitled "The End of the World."

If you are not familiar with the series, here's a crash course (pun intended!) The series followed a group of teenagers who live in Roswell, NM. At the beginning of the series, there are three alien teens who have lived as humans for as long as they can remember. They were "born" from pods that were in a spacecraft that crashed in Roswell. Remember the big coverup? They were hidden and so were not captured by the government.

So they came out of the pods as six year old human children. Two (Max and Isabel) were adopted by a good family and the other (Michael) was in foster care.

The series actually takes place while they are in high school, but back story is told through flashbacks and narrative. Season One shows how the aliens become emotionally involved with some human teens, complete with teenage relationship angst, which is made even more intense because of the alien factor. Max and Liz (a human girl that was shot in the first episode, but Max healed her with his powers) are the Romeo and Juliet of the show. The relationship goes through some terribly intense ups and downs through the entire series. If the relationship can be described as on again, off again.. season one is the on again stage and season two is the off again stage.

The whole series really focuses on the relationships between the aliens and humans, while also exploring the mysterious past the aliens have as they struggle for meaning and identity in their lives. They don't really know why they are on earth at first, which actually parallells the search most teenagers undergo in their lives.

Season Two is filled with the same emotion and drama as season one. While the packaging of the DVD set could be better (the disks come in those cheesy plastic boxes that are incredibly flimsy) the overall design is good. The cover art is beautiful, and the menus are sufficiently cool.

If you are a Roswell fan, or you want to experience a great series from the beginning, check out Roswell, seasons one and two on DVD. It's an out of this world experience!

Anita Havel

The Casual Critic

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Can't help getting "Lost"

Warning... this is a review (actually, more of a play-by-play with my observations thrown in just for fun!) of tonight's episode of "Lost." If you haven't seen it, don't read this!!

The episode's name is "Tabula Rasa," which means "clean slate." Interesting choice.

Previously, on "Lost"... Have you ever noticed that they always show the scenes that will impact the coming episode during the "previously on... " section? I've always found that interesting.

So tonight's episode opens with Jack (the doctor) finding out that Kate (his obvious love interest) is the one the handcuffs were intended for, and it's not something kinky! He finds a mug shot of her in the air marshal's pocket. During the rest of the episode, Kate's flashbacks show a car chase and the man who caught her. We never actually see the crime she committed or why the guy was after her.

On to another subject, the "hothead" Sawyer, is starting to really get on my nerves. He comes up with the most offensive nicknames and comments. But then there is something about him that makes you wonder if that's all just an act. But probably not.

Shortly after Sawyer's absurd nicknames, which include calling Sayid a couple of bigoted names such as "Abdul" and "Al-Jezeera" and calling Kate "Freckles," Hurley finds the mugshot of Kate. He says, "Dude."

The group that went up the mountain to see if the tranceiver would work decides to camp out for the night rather than going back through the jungle at night, and the gun that Sawyer shot the polar bear with becomes a hot subject again. They give the gun to Kate, not knowing she is the prisoner.

After they return to the beach and the rest of the survivors, Sayid takes charge, organizing the people into groups and giving them jobs. Kate pulls Jack aside and tells him about the French transmission they heard. Jack looks sufficiently shocked and then extremely daunted. Still cute, though. Jack asks Kate if there is anything else she wants to say, obviously waiting for her to out herself as the prisoner, but she doesn't. Instead, she pumps him for information about the condition of the ailing air marshal. Jack lies and says the marshal didn't say anything.

After the commercial break, Jack and Hurley have a conversation about Kate and the marshal. Jack confides that the marshal is not going to survive if he doesn't have stronger antibiotics, which he thinks he can get from the plane. Hurley turns green at the idea of going in there with all the dead bodies and Jack volunteers to go instead.

Inside the plane, Jack finds Sawyer. He's looting the plane. Oddly, my pick for quote of the episode comes from Sawyer, who tells Jack: "Brother, you've got to wake up and smell the gull crap here. Rescue ain't coming." He may be a massive jerk, but he makes a compelling point.

There's a cute scene with Charlie (the rock star) helping Claire with her luggage. They have a moment, which makes me wonder if something will be happening there. The winner for conversation of the episode is this one between them:

Charlie: So your husband, was he on the flight?

Claire: Oh, no, I'm not married.

Charlie: Oh.

Claire: I know, how very modern of me.

Charlie: Well, who needs men, right? Bloody useless. (they both laugh)

Now maybe I'm biased, but I think Charlie is just adorable. Of course, I'm a big Dom fan, so that might explain it.

So after that, there's a moment between Kate and Hurley, where she figures out that he knows she's the prisoner. Kate goes to the marshal's tent. He wakes up and tries to choke her. He's actually pretty spry for someone who is dying. Jack comes in an asks Kate what she did. He obviously doesn't believe that the guy just grabbed her. She asks him about relieving the marshal's suffering and Jack refuses. He confesses that he saw her mugshot.

The marshal moans and groans into the night, making everyone wish he wasn't suffering anymore. Sawyer talks to Kate about ending his suffering and reminds her that she's the only one with a gun.

Meanwhile, back in the marshal's tent, he keeps telling Jack not to trust Kate, and Jack keeps asking him what Kate did. The marshal wants to talk to Kate alone. I'm beginning to wish he had died a long time ago. There's only so much of the coughing and suffering that I can deal with, you know? He basically asks Kate to kill him, because he knows he's going to die. She doesn't kill him. The shot is fired by Sawyer, who actually shot him in the chest and didn't kill him. Ugh, now there's blood trickling from his mouth. Sawyer looks horrified that he didn't provide a quick and painless death for the marshal, but the noises coming from the tent sound like Jack smothered him or something.

After another commercial break, Locke is shown on the beach, facing the jungle. He is blowing a whistle that he made out of a reed or something. The dog that the little boy has been looking for comes out of the jungle. Locke goes to the father and tells him the dog is tied to a tree and that he should bring it back to his son.

There is a brief moment between Jack and Kate, also sitting on the beach. She says she wants to tell Jack what she did, but Jack says he doesn't want to know. He says they all died three days ago and that they should all be able to start over. Darn it! I wanted to know what she did. Maybe the will revisit that later.

A montage of scenes close out the episode, showing the passengers doing nice things for each other or bonding in some way. The dad brings the dog back to the kid, who hugs it. It's all very nice until they zoom in on Locke's face and very strange music plays in the background. What is the deal with that guy??? Now, I love Terry O'Quinn, even had the opportunity to meet him once on a movie shoot, and he was very nice, but this character is very strange. One minute he's perfectly normal, helping a father bond with his son, and the next minute, they are showing him with a strange look on his face and menacing music, which always means something is going on.

I really love this show! The writing is great, and there is so much drama! One other thing to mention is that I think the camera work is very cool. It helps add to the tension of the show and helps the audience feel just as lost as the characters. Of course, you would expect an awesome show from JJ Abrams, who created Alias.

So this ends my very, very lengthy post about tonight's episode of "Lost." I hope it wasn't too boring to read!

Anita Havel

The Casual Critic

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Housewives, survivors and doctors... oh my!

Since most of the fall shows have started now, I wanted to take a moment to talk about the shows I'm most excited about. This is only a very brief look at new and returning shows that I will be watching this fall. More detailed reviews will probably follow as the season progresses, especially for the new shows.


I had decided to hate "Desperate Housewives," which airs on Sunday nights on ABC, mostly because I hated the name, but also because it's in the time slot of the fabulous show Alias. However, I recently watched the pilot episode of "Desperate Housewives" and loved it! Seriously, check this show out! The humor is dark and funny with more than a dash of naughty thrown in for good measure. While I'm not entirely clear on the premise just yet, it appears to be following the lives of several somewhat bored housewives in their daily lives as they attempt to spice things up a bit, and possibly figure out the mystery involving the death of one of their friends. I haven't read anything about this show yet and have only seen one episode, so I don't know much about it, but I know I loved the first episode and will be back for the second.


The best new show on TV this fall by far is "Lost," also on ABC. There's something wrong with the world when ABC has the best new shows, isn't there? Now that the entire 2 hour pilot has been aired (new episode to air tomorrow night!) there is a lot of speculation on the 'Net about the mysterious nature of the island and the back stories of the 48 or so survivors. If you're going to watch a show about people stranded on an island, pass on "Survivor" and watch "Lost" instead. Why? Because reality TV stinks, for one thing, but also because with "Lost," you get great drama, excellent writing and they can do so much more in a scripted series than they can on a reality show. If you want to hear what fans are saying, go to and check out the community board for "Lost." The community is great and the theories are a blast to read! If you want to know what happens on each episode, tune back in to my blog because episode summaries are coming soon! "Lost" airs on Wednesday nights at 7 Central on ABC. Watch it... you won't regret it!


What can I say? After so many years, I'm still a fan of ER. The first episode of the season was exciting and interesting, so I will continue watching. However, the real hospital show to watch is Scrubs. With even more hilarity and fun than previous seasons, Scrubs is off to a great start.

So those are just a few of my picks for those "staying in" evenings, when you want good entertainment. Heck, don't just watch them when you stay in, tape or TiVo them when you go out and watch them later if you want. Just watch them!

Goodnight for now,

Anita Havel

The Casual Critic


Welcome to my brand new blog! Up until a few weeks ago, I was a weekly columnist in my college newspaper. The column was called The Casual Critic, and I wrote reviews of entertainment experiences from books to movies, from TV to music, and everything else that could be considered entertainment. Because I am no longer in school full-time, I no longer have that forum, so I decided to start a blog to continue the column. Expect weekly reviews of new movies, TV shows, and/or books. I may even do Web sites if I have time.

See you at the movies!

Anita E. Havel

The Casual Critic

Monday, March 08, 2004

Going from King to Cowboy

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

Life must be great for a certain man named Viggo Mortensen these days. "The Return of the King," the final film in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, is still raking in the cash at the box office, second only to "Titanic" for highest worldwide box office earnings of all time. Box office numbers continue to climb as more people see this film. Fans of the trilogy hope to see it surpass "Titanic" any day now.

But there is another reason Mortensen should be happy about life lately. His first post "Lord of the Rings" film, "Hidalgo'" opened Friday with the third highest daily gross, behind "The Passion of the Christ" and "Starsky and Hutch."

For this film, Mortensen traded his trusty steed Brego from "Lord of the Rings," for a spirited Mustang named Hidalgo. Instead of being a king of Middle Earth, he is a troubled cowboy of the Wild West who is haunted by images from his past.

Though the stories are quite different, one thing remains the same; Mortensen is a compelling and enchanting actor who looks great riding a horse!

While some critics have been a bit negative about this film, I tend to take a more, well, casual approach (hence the name, The Casual Critic!) I found this film to be worth my time and entirely enjoyable.

The story is inspired by the life of Frank Hopkins, a legendary horseman who participated in many horse races. The story centers around "The Ocean of Fire," a 3,000-mile endurance race across the desert. Hopkins pits his mixed-blood Mustang against purebred horses to prove that it is not blood, but strength of will that makes a horse a winner. Along the way, Hopkins meets several surprises, as does the audience. Though the end may be a bit predictable, it is still very satisfying, though a bit cheesy.

Mortensen uses this role to prove that, not only can he play a dramatic role, but he also has impeccable comedic timing and great chemistry with anyone who is on screen with him, even the beautiful "painted" horse, Hidalgo, his main co-star. Hidalgo was, in fact, played by five different horses, who were not actually Mustangs at all, due to the fact that Mustangs are not easy to train for camera work.

"Hidalgo" is a fun romp with enough action and adventure to keep the audience satisfied and is enhanced by a great soundtrack. Some of the visual effects could have been better, but the performances of the actors and the gorgeous horses more than made up for it.

The Casual Critic gives "Hidalgo" a B+ and advises fans of horses, adventures and Viggo Mortensen to gallop to the theaters to see this great adventure.

Monday, January 12, 2004

The Casual Critic's Top Movies of 2003

In this season of the Golden Globes, People's Choice Awards and Oscars, everyone is talking about their favorite movies from the past year. In days like these, when movies are easily forgotten after viewing them, it is important to pay tribute to those special films that have been able to have an effect on audiences. This year, The Casual Critic looks back on the five best films of 2003.

5. "Bend it Like Beckham" - This small movie has a great big heart! Centered around the adventures of two female soccer players in England, it explores the relationships between the girls and their families and how their love of soccer affects their lives. This film also has a wonderful soundtrack that will make anyone watching tap their feet.

4. "The Last Samurai" - Starring Tom Cruise, this film has all the action of a large scale epic, plus some very intimate and personal conflicts that reveal character depth and growth during the course of the film. The battle scenes are beautiful and absolutely huge, with fabulous special effects, but the ending is a bit drawn out. It could have ended quite a bit sooner. Overall, though, one of the best films of 2003.

3. "Cold Mountain" - Nicole Kidman may be the leading role, but it is Renee Zelwiger who makes this movie worth seeing. Well, her and the adorable Jude Law, who plays the love interest for Kidman's character. A Civil War drama by the director of "The English Patient," "Cold Mountain" is a haunting tale of love and loss. It is a perfect illustration of the saying "war is hell."

2. "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" - Disney scored box office millions with this swash-buckling adventure based on the popular ride. As a fan of Disney in general and a very big fan of the ride, I was excited about this movie. Of course, the fact that Orlando Bloom was in it helped a bit! Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow really stole the show and cemented a deal for "Pirates of the Caribbean 2." All principal actors have signed for this sequel, so we can expect Will Turner, Elizabeth Swann and Captain Jack Sparrow to sail the high seas once again in the near future!

1. "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" - So much can be said and has been said about this film. So many words can describe the experience: epic, fantasy, beautiful, moving, sweeping, awesome and deserving of as many Oscars as Peter Jackson and the gang can carry home! If anyone reading this column has not seen this movie, run to the theater and see it now! It begins with a bit of background and we see how Smegol became Gollum. From there, we are catapulted into the action with enough gorgeous scenery and moving moments to keep even the most hardened critic fascinated. Not only are audiences watching this film, they are experiencing it, living it, and feeling it deep in their hearts. This trilogy has made going to the movies an event, as it was in the first days of cinema, when going to movies was special. The journey may end with this film, but the characters will live on in the hearts of the many people who have been touched by them. Why did I choose The Return of the King as my #1 movie of 2003? After three viewings, I can still say it is a beautiful film and I am eager to see it again. That is the mark of a great film; that you can see it over and over and still be in awe.