Friday, July 24, 2009

Cafe d'Soleil Review

Tucked away in a random Cypress strip mall are literally the best croissants in the world. Honestly, I've eaten croissants all across Europe, including quite a few in France, and none compare to the thick, buttery, mouth-watering tastiness of the delights at Cafe d'Soleil. And such variety! With many flavors everyday, if you ever get bored of their plain croissants (and in over ten years, I still haven't), you'll have a cornucopia of other choices. Croissants not your thing? Their large selection of coffees, sandwiches, smoothies, and other baked goods will leave your mouth satisfied no matter your tastes. So when you get that morning hankering for coffee and something sweet, let Cafe d'Soleil satisfy you because these croissants are worth the calories.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

OMG, A Good Harry Potter Movie!

I need to start this off with a disclaimer: I LOVE the Harry Potter books. I am a huge fan, and it is very difficult for me to see them from a non-fan perspective. That said, I am not much of a fan of the movies. Though I do refrain from complaining about every single detail that the filmmakers left out, I am fully convinced that movies will never come close to the awesomeness of the books, and I have been generally disappointed with the adaptations. Now, I just accept that they're not going to be great and try to enjoy what I can.

So when I went to see Half-Blood Prince at midnight, my expectations were not that high. I was amazed to discover that this movie is actually good! Not just good in comparison to the others or good enough considering the book is over 600 pages long, but good as in if I went to see it without reading Harry Potter, I probably would have liked it! Miracle!

Half-Blood Prince does things the other Harry Potter movies don't seem to have considered, like portraying the plot in a visual manner and including visualized details that make the books so exquisite. It sticks to the main plot and still captures the essence of the book while adapting the story to tell it visually.

The opening sequence is the epitome of the switch in filmmaking styles. Without anyone saying a word, Death Eaters fly through a gloomy London wreaking havoc on the muggle world without any of the normal humans realizing what's wrong. Now, Death Eaters don't fly, but showing that they have become powerful enough to affect not just the wizards but the normal people as well helps set the scene very well while still portraying the world cinematically. It differs greatly from the opening of the book, but it still gets the same point across, and for me, that is the sign of a great adaptation.

Apart from its relation to the books, this film is very well balanced between plot, details, and visuals. Without detracting from the story, the film has lots of great moments that help it to make the leap from decent to enjoyable. I loved Harry's ecstatic strut through Hogwarts after he's taken a luck potion. At the same time, the dark lighting and muted colors that pervade the film help show that Voldemort is out there and that evil is beginning to take over, not only setting the tone for this movie but also setting up the next two.

The acting in this film was much improved as well. I am not a fan of Daniel Radcliffe (who plays Harry), but he actually acted this time! It was incredible! All right, so he's been getting better in the last few films, but I actually enjoyed watching him grow from an awkward teen to a potential lover, and he played his part very well. It is always a pleasure to watch Alan Rickman as Snape and Tom Felton as Draco Malfory, and both of them truly embodied their characters in this film, Rickman being his usual sulkily brilliant self and Felton developing from nasty comic relief to a truly deep dark character.

There were parts of the movie that were less than fantastic. Blowing up the Weasley house seemed rather pointless, and the ending lacked excitement (where did the final battle go?!), but on the whole, I really enjoyed this film, and I can't wait to see it in IMAX!

Nothing but "Yes" on Prop 87

Voting “yes” on Prop 87 should be a no-brainer. We all know that we are (in a word) fucked unless we start finding new, efficient energy sources that will replace petroleum as a major source of energy. Prop 87 promises to cut petroleum consumption by a fourth by funding people to research alternative energy sources, more efficient alternative energy vehicles, and more efficient technology. It also provides money to educate and train those who want to help in this very important research.

Considering that it will not be long before the world begins to run out of petroleum, Prop 87 should be passed even if it meant higher gas prices. But it doesn’t. The proposition specifically states that the 1.5% to 6% tax on California oil producers used to fund Prop 87 cannot be passed on to consumers. That is, oil producers can’t raise gas prices just because they don’t want to lose money. So really, the only people hurt financially by Prop 87 are the big oil companies, and frankly, they are too filthy rich already to be bothered by the tax. I cannot bring myself to feel bad for a business that grossed $87 billion last year.

Our environment is much more important. Resources are running low, gas prices are running high, and we need a way to fuel our cars that neither hurts the environment nor makes drivers groan as they watch the price of a tank pass $40. So help the environment and yourselves, Vote Yes on Prop 87.

Should Angelides Terminate the Governator?

A year ago, the choice between California State Treasurer Phil Angelides and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger hardly would have been a question. Schwarzenegger was a disaster with one of the lowest approval ratings of any California governor in history. Though Californians liked him well enough just after recalling former governor Grey Davis, Schwarzenegger’s overhaul of worker’s compensation, opposition to same-sex marriage, vetoes of a minimum wage increase, lack of success in repaying our deficit, and utter failure to gain popular support for last year’s Special Election made his ratings plummet. His constant cutting of education funds and health care while propping up special interest groups did not help his popularity either. Most Californians thought that we would be better off without him.

However, since then, he has made some improvements. The people’s lack of support for the Special Election hit him hard, hard enough to make him change some of his policies. In the last few months, Governor Schwarzenegger has presented the face of a moderate, supporting measures that have alienated his fellow Republicans to a degree. Schwarzenegger has joined the effort to fight global warming by creating the Climate Action Board, showing a concern for the environment that one would not expect from a Republican. He also nearly abandoned the Republican party when he awarded funding to stem cell research and provided greater funding for primary and secondary education. Based solely on his actions since the Special Election, one might almost mistake him for a Democrat.

But all citizens who intend to vote on November 7 should be asking themselves a very important question: has Schwarzenegger changed his policy permanently or is he simply trying to get himself reelected? After all, when you live in a very Democratic state, you would be silly not to cater to the majority’s desires…at least until the election had passed. The only way to know for sure whether the governor’s change of heart is legitimate would be to reelect him, and I for one am not willing to risk another flip-flop of policy, especially when we have an alternative like Angelides.

Democratic candidate Phil Angelides presents a platform that, if successful, would help most Californians more effectively than Schwarzenegger’s. Sadly, most people do not seem to know much about Angelides. Therefore, I have made it my duty to fill you in.

First, the deficit: it’s big, it’s ugly, and it’s growing. Not long ago, Governor Schwarzenegger admitted that he did not have a plan to repay it. However, Treasurer Phil Angelides has a plan that supposedly will rid California of debt. His main source of funds would be a temporary tax increase (lasting three years) on the wealthiest 1% of Californians (that is, people who make more than $500,000 a year) so that they would pay about the same rate as the wealthiest during Reagan’s governorship. While the tax might not be particularly enjoyable for the elite, the revenue would be enough to pay off the debt while providing pre-Schwarzenegger funding to government programs like education and health care. In other words, Angelides’s plan helps 99% of Californians without being horribly unjust to the rest.

Angelides is very much an advocate of the common people, especially fiscally. He promises to cut taxes for families making $100,000 a year or less, removing quite a burden from low-income households. Also, Angelides would raise the minimum wage and make sure that it increases at the same rate as inflation. Thus, he would create a fair deal for those at the bottom of the financial hierarchy.

To further help Californians, Angelides intends to make health insurance more affordable, especially for children. By requiring corporations with over 200 employees to provide health insurance for their workers, hundreds of thousands of workers and their families would get coverage. He hopes to save people even more money by developing new, efficient technology to increase the quality of health care and by creating a website that allows us to compare drug prices online and pay the cheapest amount possible.

Both Schwarzenegger and Angelides present good plans to improve education, but Angelides’s is more extensive. While both nominees’ plans would improve primary and secondary education, Angelides intends to improve the quality of teachers and make college more affordable as well. He means to raise achievement levels in lower education by giving schools money to develop success strategies. Furthermore, he would give incentives for people to teach in low-income areas to try to improve struggling students’ performance levels. To give each student more attention, he would also decrease class sizes by hiring and training 40,000 new teachers. Angelides would give even more attention to each student by increasing the number of counselors at every high school in the hopes that this will help more students go on to college.
But the biggest education improvement for us at Cal is Angelides’s intention to give more money to state colleges. Anyone attending a University of California or California State University should vote for Angelides because he intends to return tuition and fees to where they were before Schwarzenegger took office, thereby saving us thousands of dollars. However, Angelides is going even farther by expanding state scholarships and creating a new fellowship program for undergrads studying science, math, or engineering. Not only that, but Angelides intends to give research grants to the University of California to expand technological improvement and allow grad students and professors to eat.

With all these programs to help the majority of Californians, we would think that Angelides’s plan has to have a downside, yet my only concern is how Angelides intends to pay for all of this while still getting rid of the deficit. However, he certainly seems confident that he can indeed do it all without raising taxes for anyone but the top one percent of Californians, and since he is the current state treasurer, I have to assume that he knows what he is doing with money and that his knowledge of the state financial situation helps him make educated decisions about our economy.

After looking at what the current governor has done and what the Democratic candidate intends to do, I have to conclude that the world would not come to an end if Schwarzenegger was reelected, but only if he continues to legislate the way he has in the past several months. However, if you want to improve the lives of the majority of Californians, Angelides is the man for the job. Angelides envisions a “…California of limitless possibilities and big dreams.” As long as he works to achieve that goal, he will make an excellent governor who will help California as much as possible.

A Cultural Bargain

Have you ever gone into an art gallery and seen that one painting that speaks to you…urging you to surrender half your bank account? If you’d like a nice piece of art, visit the Art Link where instead of dipping into the kids’ college fund, your purchase will contribute to another kid’s college savings. From impressionist views of Venetian canals to striking Hawaiian sunsets to the occasional modern piece to scenes from our very own Long Beach, this gallery’s paintings represent of all parts of the world. Even if paintings aren’t your style, you might fancy a wooden African mask, hand-painted glass wind chimes, mini metalwork statues, or another of the unique art pieces found here. But the best thing about this shop is that it gives back. Ninety percent of the artwork is done by students, five to twenty percent of which is done in Long Beach, allowing the art to be sold at reasonable prices while still keeping college students from starvation. The Art Link accepts student work from all over the world, covering all of Europe, parts of Asia, Mexico, Central America, and these here United States, and much of the artwork reflects its maker’s home country, giving you that student’s unique image of his or her nation. Artwork ranges from about $30 to $350 which is wonderful for what you’re getting. As owner Alain Clair says, “It makes people feel good to have a piece in their home,” and in this store, the average Joe can actually afford to bring a little sophistication into his living room. So if you find yourself glued to the window of an expensive art gallery, stop dreaming and pay the Art Link a visit.

429-J Shoreline Village Dr.
Long Beach, CA 90802
Shoreline Dr. and Shoreline Village Dr.

Jurassic Park

I’m not going to talk about Benjamin now because Jurassic Park is awesome in its own right and deserves its own post. Where to start? The seamless weaving of action sequences and chaos theory, the unity between sound, image, and message, “objects in mirror are closer than they appear”? I think I will concentrate on the scene in which Muldoon hunts the raptor. Over the course of the film, Muldoon has been one of the more cautious characters, repeatedly saying that the animals are smart and unpredictable and that they will never be safe. Nonetheless, in this sequence, Muldoon hunts the raptor, presumably thinking he can kill her. However, just as he is preparing to shoot, a raptor he had not seen comes at him from the side and eats him following Muldoon’s final words: “Clever girl.” This scene exemplifies the film’s use of organic unity and shows how the film combines many formal and thematic elements to produce the greatest effect in its audience. Because we know that Muldoon respects the raptors greatly from his previous comments on their intelligence and lethal power, we would expect him not to underestimate their abilities. However, when the raptors defeat him anyway by outsmarting him, the film emphasizes its main idea that no matter what, nature will “find a way” to remain unpredictable, and there is no safe way to deal with the dinosaurs because of this unpredictability. Though we know this by this point in the film, we still feel suspense as Muldoon hunts the raptor because we know that the animals are intelligent, and as he says, they are hunting him too. The suspense keeps the audience very involved in the film emotionally which keeps them interested and helps get the point across that these animals should not be messed with. Furthermore, the fact that the raptor attacks from the side while distracting from the front shows how well thought-out the plot is because it refers to Grant’s attempt to scare the kid at the dig, showing that no line or action in the film is wasted, everything is connected, which further supports chaos theory. Formally, the scene is effective because it is cross-cut with Sattler’s own encounter with a raptor which adds to the foreboding mood of the scene, helping to increase suspense. It is also effective that everything is quiet and all movements are slow, building suspense that we know will culminate in some confrontation. Once the raptor has jumped out of the bushes, it stops before attacking Muldoon, giving him time to say, “Clever girl,” before it eats him, showing us that even in the face of death, he respects the raptors’ intelligence and emphasizing that they will find a way to overcome all opposition, further supporting the idea that “life finds a way,” and there are no controlled environments. In all, this scene sums up the main ideas of the film while still maintaining suspense and showing the film’s unity.

Adventureland: The Real Deal

Adventureland is not the kind of movie I would normally go for. I'm not a huge fan of "the makers of Superbad" and movies that portray the lives of young people trying to make their way in life tend to bore me. So when I went to see Adventureland, I wasn't expecting much, and I was surprised to discover that Adventureland is quite a good film.

This movie is real--the characters, the plot, everything. As a film major about to enter the real world, I can tell you that trying to get a summer job with a useless degree and no work experience is quite the daunting task, and James's (Jesse Eisenberg) lack of skill at finding a job hit home (a little too well). I too have discussed why being a humanities major is useless. Frequently. In much the same manner as these ex-students. So for me, this world is very, very real.

A great thing about this film is that it's NOT over the top. James and his coworkers do drugs, but they're not addicts or total losers; they're just kids unwinding after work. The movie's "hot chick" is attractive, but she's no model. You can still see why she's working at a theme park instead of running off to Hollywood. And the relationships have conflict, and they're not perfect. But most of all, the stories are not cookie-cutter narratives. James and Em (Kristen Stewart) hang out and get to know each other before anything happens, and when it does, they're not automatically in love forever. The film feels real because it's not perfect or stereotypical: it just follows a few college-aged kids going through their summer.

At the same time, it's not boring. There's a loose plot, but it's not so loose that you're wondering when you walked into an avant-garde film. It keeps you interested while still being realistic. That's what impressed me most about the film. Too often films that strive for realism give up an intriguing story to portray life as it is, but Adventureland beautifully melds both into a film that is definitely worth seeing.

So if you have a penchant for young adult stories or you're wondering what to do with your life, Adventureland was made for you. But even if this isn't your kind of movie, you might want to see it just because it is one of the few movies out there that actually tries to show something real.