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Appellate Judge Erick Harper's Blog
• Location: Tyler, MN
My trip through the wardrobe.
When I was in the 3rd grade, I discovered C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia books. I remember them to this day as the first books I had read that really made me feel as though I had been transported into their world; when I had to set them down to eat supper or go to bed, it seemed as though I had truly been in Narnia, and that time in the real world had stood still while I had been gone. I've loved them ever since, even though I had not read them in the ensuing 20+ years until recently. I did make a present of a boxed set of them a few years ago to a very bright little girl, the daughter of some close friends, a girl that my wife and I have come to love and enjoy almost as much as if she were our own daughter.
Well, yesterday being my 33rd birthday, and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe premiering the same day, it seemed only right to make a point of seeing the movie. I also needed a younger set of eyes to see it with, so naturally Alyssa (now age 12) and I made an evening of it, while Sarah went with Alyssa's parents to a Christmas program. (I would have taken my son, Caleb, but at 6 months of age, I'm not sure his observations would have been as useful.)
As proof that young Alyssa would make a good co-critic, when I mentioned that I had received the King Kong collector's tin from Sarah for my birthday, she replied that she had not seen it, but that she had heard that it was good, because "old movies generally are." (Sometimes I wonder if she isn't my daughter after all...)
We purchased tickets online and headed to the Century Theater in Sioux Falls, SD, where Alyssa and her family live. At this point I need to digress and say a few kind words about this theater. It's quite new, with stadium seating and all the rest, and very clean and well-kept. I appreciated very much that the 8:10 movie started at 8:10; the trailers, etc. all ran prior to that time, while the house lights stayed partly up to guide stragglers to their seats. I also appreciated the chain's slogan "If you want to see commercials, stay home and watch television."
Anyway, we got there and it was quite packed - we were lucky to find two seats together up in the stadium seats. (There were floor seats available, but if I'm going to pay $18 for two people to see a movie in stadium seating, I'm not sitting in the groundling section.) Lots of families, children, etc. had turned out to see this movie - not least because of the good publicity it has been getting on local Christian radio station KNWC FM, of which my wife's cousin Jeff is general manager. Perhaps it is just the Midwest, but everyone in the theater was extremely polite, the children were well-behaved, and everyone made a point of turning off their cell phones before the film started.
When it started, I was not disappointed. My medium popcorn and Diet Coke, as well as any other physical surroundings, were quickly forgotten as I was transported into the world of Narnia just as surely as the books had done when I was a kid. I enjoyed the movie immensely. The kids cast to play the four Pevensie children were spot-on. No too-cute-for-words magazine ad kids, they seemed like believable, ordinary British kids of the 1940s, or at least what I would expect ordinary British kids of the 1940s to be like, right down to the effects of British dentistry. I also enjoyed very much the performance of Tilda Swinton as the White Witch - fairly or not, I've always thought of Swinton as slightly eccentric ever since I had to review Conceiving Ada, and she certainly didn't disappoint here.
There were a few elements that didn't seem quite right, though. For one, as much as I admire Liam Neeson's talent, his voice is just a bit too smooth for Aslan. It just didn't seem right, not deep or forceful or resonant enough - I would have preferred someone along the lines of, say, Patrick Stewart or Ian McKellen. Also, as great as all the fantastical creatures look in this film, there are a few brief moments where the extensive CGI looks just a bit dodgy, almost unfinished. Still, these are minor quibbles.
All told, it was a wonderful adventure, and Alyssa agreed as well. There are a few scenes, such as the scary sacrifice scene at the Stone Table and the final battle setpiece, that may be a bit intense for younger children (probably pushing the boundaries between PG and PG-13); the battle at times reminded me of Braveheart without the blood or flying limbs and heads. We had a great time, however - a very wonderful, magical adventure.
Snow Day!! Woohoo!
No, not the movie. A real-life, actual snow day. When I was a kid, any time there was a hint of bad winter weather coming, we would all listen by the radio, eager to hear that announcement that "RTR Schools are 2 hours late," or better yet "RTR schools are closed for today." Now that my weird path through life has brought me back to teach at that same high school, I get the same sort of excitement that I did as a kid. Today we are due to get 4-8 inches of snow, on top of the rain we've been getting all night and all day yesterday. Temps have been hanging in at 31-33 degrees, kind of the Russian Roulette range for winter driving, etc. I used to be pretty fearless about that kind of thing, but after rolling my beloved '92 Bonneville in the aftermath of a storm a few years ago, I've gotten pretty gunshy.
My wife, who as an IT professional has the magical ability to work from home in situations like this, is skipping her 25 mile commute today as well. Caleb (now 6 months old) will stay home from daycare with us, so we will all be home. Really, there's nothing better - everyone safe and warm at home together during a winter storm. Some of my warmest childhood memories are of all being snowed in together and watching the blizzard rage outside our windows. Plus, it gives me a chance to get busy on grading the mountain of papers I neglected over the long holiday weekend. Who knows - if this keeps up as advertised, tomorrow might be another quasi-vacation day as well!
The Lure of the Dark Side
I confess - I had promised myself to go "Spoiler-free for Episode III." My resolve weakened when the first leaked pics started floating around the internet. Today, after reading Dan's blog, I ponied up the $4.75 and downloaded the illustrated script. I've made it through the first 1/4, roughly, and I've got to say my hopes are starting to rise about this movie. Sure, there's still some painfully bad dialogue to deal with, and I keep hearing Hayden Christensen's whine and Natalie Portman's monotone in my head as I read the lines given to their characters, but I think this thing shows some promise. I'm trying to tell myself that I'm going to stop now and not read any further, but seriously - who am I kidding? I'll have finished it by tomorrow evening, and probably imagined my own complete re-write by the weekend.
Curse you, Dan Mancini, for planting this vile temptation into my head!!
You know that scene in Ed Wood, the one where Bela Lugosi (as played by Martin Landau) is too tired to participate in the nighttime shoot, and sits in the car to rest until he is needed? He shoots up some illegal substance and reappears on set, yelling "OK Eddie! Let's shoot this ******!"
I had that kind of day today. I just started a long-term substitute teaching gig, teaching high school English until the end of April for sure, and possibly for the rest of the school year. For me, it's been like getting ready for the first day of school, except that it's April 1 instead of September 1, and I had a weekend to prepare, rather than a summer. I've been up late a lot of nights. This morning I nearly fell asleep driving to the nearby (relatively speaking) town where I am teaching. I pulled into a gas station and bought four 20 oz. bottles of Diet Code Red - you know, the cherry-flavored version of Mountain Dew. By first hour I was feeling like Bela in that scene - it was probably the most productive day of teaching I've had in the two weeks I've been at that school.
Coporate Speak Gone Mad
I know that in corporate circles it is trendy to refer to problems as "opportunities." When I was in the business world, I heard many a brown-nosed company hack use that term. It almost even makes sense to me; I like the idea of seeing problems as challenges that people can work together and overcome. However, it has gone too far. I recently drove through at my local (i.e., within 25 miles) McDonald's (yes, I still eat there on occasion, even after seeing Super Size Me) , and there is a sign, clearly visible in the drive-up service area, for the help to see. It reads, "We are having an opportunity with the number of condiments being given out with each order," and goes on to spell out the proper policy on such things. Some idiot has decided that "opportunity" is not just a clever way to refer to a problem, but an out and out synonym. Arrgh. The thing is, we can all just about picture the halfwit ex-cheerleader with a 10th-grade education who must have made that sign and put it up, too.
Mitch Hedberg - RIP
I don't know if anyone else loved this comic like I did, but I was sad to hear of his passing. 37 is too young, no matter who you are. Anyway, he had a peculiar talent and maybe his style wasn't for everyone, but I will certainly miss his brand of humor.
Love and Basketball
On a completely non-film-related note, my old high school won their second straight Minnesota Class 1-A (the small schools) State Championship in boys' basketball. The nice part for me is that I also just got done student teaching at that same school last semester, so I got to know most of the kids on the team pretty well. To me, that wasn't just the local small-town basketball team, it was my 2nd period American Lit class out there. They're a great bunch of kids, for the most part - they tend to avoid the cockiness that one would expect from kids in their position, and most of them are good people and good students as well. Grounded - that's the word. Level-headed, well-grounded kids. The kind that you wouldn't mind a bit if they dated your daughter. (Well, I'd feel that way if I had a daughter, which I don't, but you get the idea...)
Anyway, I'm not much of a sports nut. I don't even like basketball all that much, but I loved watching (on television, sadly not in person) the semi-finals yesterday and the championship game this afternoon, because I know these guys, I know what kind of character they have, and watching them play just makes me smile. They play because they love the game, and their heart and enthusiasm is infectious. So here's to the Russell-Tyler-Ruthton Knights and their back-to-back championships. Way to go, guys.
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