Thursday, April 29, 2010

Slight Departure from the usual: New Soundings Dispatches!

Wanted to give some props to my other life, staff writer for Soundings Magazine. Our newest e-newsletter features a daring rescue, a new boat feature and a hurricane story written by moi...what more could you ask for? And best of all, it's FREE!

To read my story click here:

Sign up for the e-newsletter here:

It's Toby-approved!

Monday, April 19, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon: Like Avatar, but shorter and less pretentious

This image has been downloaded from and is courtesy of Dreamworks Pictures.

I apologize for the massive lag in updating - the last two weeks were probably one of the toughest I've ever faced in my relatively short time on this planet.

How To Train Your Dragon was, in a word, beautiful. Wonderfully timed at an exhilarating hour and 38 minutes, it's just enough to keep the kiddies entertained and the adults captivated.

The story focuses around a young Viking named Hiccup, who is voiced by Jay Baruchel, bringing a perfect balance of nasal and flat-toned vocals to the pint-sized unlikely hero who cowers in the shadow of his father, Stoick the Vast. (The name alone brought quite a few chuckles to the audience.)Stoick is voiced in the gruff Scottish brogue of Gerard Butler, who can't understand why his son can't get started on a beard long enough to braid more importantly (though not by much) start slinging axes at the dragons that plague the craggy mountainous somewhere in the Arctic circle that they call home. As Hiccup says, "Old village, lots of new houses" just as a dragon torches a neatly constructed thatched cottage.

The dragons themselves just happen to be cute as buttons, despite the fact they are such terrible pests. So when Hiccup manages to down one of the most vicious of all, the Night Fury, he is determined to do his Dad proud and bring home its heart. But looking deep into the dragon's amber eyes, he realizes he just can't do it. And seeing as the dragon reminded me way too much of my own cat Toby, I'd have trouble doing him in too.

What follows is a tender tale of tolerance (how's that for a tongue-twister)for both Hiccup and Toothless, who the Night Fury becomes known as. Not only does the tale provide lush visual effects in the form of misty forests and sweeping landscapes, but it also shows the consequences as well as the benefits of doing what's right.

Perhaps the only sad part of the film is we don't get to find out too much about the backgrounds of the dragons. Hiccup says at one point that everything they know about dragons is wrong, but what we do find out about them - beyond the fact they are rather amiable creatures whose pillaged food from the village, as it turns out, is not for them - is precious little.

But perhaps it will give an excuse for an equally well-developed sequel. I wouldn't mind seeing more of the growls and warblings of Toothless, who looks extraordinarily like Stitch from the wonderful 2002 Disney feature Lilo & Stitch. No surprise considering the co-director of that film Dean DeBlois was the author of the screenplay for How To Train Your Dragon. I would be remiss not to mention Hiccup's cohorts, which includes Astrid, the beautiful Viking gal who despite her snotty demeanor is entertaining as a fiercesome warrioress, and Fishlegs, the good-hearted geek who makes some very funny Dungeons and Dragons quips throughout the film.

When you do see it, be sure to go 3D. The high-flying areal sequences alone are worth it.

So what are you waiting for? It won't be in theaters much longer! Go! Go!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

DVD spotlight: Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day proves all that glitters isn't gold

Image courtesy of Focus Features

Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day is a charming way to pass an hour and a half if its pouring rain outside or dismally cold. Unfortunately the day I viewed this film it was neither.

Based on the 1939 novel by Winifred Watson which follows the whirlwind adventure of a rather plain, sour-on-life, and unbelievably poor woman who gets swept up in the socialite London of the pre-WWII glittering 1930s, the film stars Frances McDormand as the title role of Guinevere Pettigrew and an overly giddy Amy Adams as Delysia Lafosse, the would-be man-eating starlet that comes to depend on Miss Pettigrew to clean up her messes.

Delysia is presented as a free-spirited woman who dangles men on the end of a string in order to get ahead in life - somewhat shocking stuff to be writing about in the 1930s. In fact, Miss Pettigrew quickly discovers the apartment Delysia is residing in doesn't even belong to her, but rather a strong-nosed man by the name of Nick Calderelli (Mark Strong) who allows her to sing in a club that he owns. Then there's the good-guy pianist Michael Pardue (Lee Pace) who wants nothing more but for Delysia to realize he is the one for her and spend the rest of his life accompanying her on the keyboard. Finally, there's the young and silly Phil Goldman (Tom Payne) who it seems will cast whatever girl will give him the best sex in the lead role of his new West End play. All of these men, sad to say, are rather boring.

McDormand does an admirable job as playing the Ugly Duckling role while maintaining her rigid personality and morals - and it is indeed pleasant to see her be rewarded for being simply herself, just in better clothes. Adams, however, seems to be on giddy autopilot throughout the film, giving little to no variety from her virginal turn as the wide-eyed innocent in Disney's Enchanted. It's hard for me to even buy that her character has slept with all these men, like Adams is trying to apologize for Delysia's loose behavior by amping up the heart-of-gold aspect to her personality. She bounces through the honey-colored lens of the camera, but as a viewer I wasn't convinced she was having all the fun that she seemed to be having. A little more devil in the details would have spiced up her vanilla performance quite a bit.

However, the budding late-stage romance that forms between Pettigrew and Joe Blomfield (CiarĂ¡n Hinds) could be the only real thing that escapes from this overpuffed cream pie of a film. A quiet gentleman who just happens to run one of the most successful lingerie companies in England, his slow smile and gently persisting courtship of Pettigrew despite his engagement to the much younger and delightfully poisonous Edith (Shirley Henderson) make him loveable and endearing. I found myself unexpectedly falling for him in much the same way Pettigrew does.

The whole film could have easily been scaled down to a stage play. Most of the action takes place in Nick's apartment, and while there are overtones to the impending World War about to take place, all darkness is quickly brushed aside in the glitter of high society. The film goes down with the ease of a fine glass of white wine, but leaves an eager mind on an empty stomach.