Do you suppose Glinda's sister, the elusive Locasta, Good Witch of the North, is in there? -- This amazing blue bubble is actually a Zubble, and they'll be available in stores next spring. Oh, I am so there.
Time to kick off the Holiday Ticket Stub season!

* Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire -- Director Mike Newell has done the impossible here: made a good movie out of J.K. Rowling's most overstuffed wizarding adventure. After skillfully stripping out the 5 or 6 least interesting subplots, Newell leaves us with an action-packed flick that zooms from adolescent angst to machinations of pure evil and back, with only a few bumpy patches along the way. He manages to convey a lot of atmosphere in short bursts, with compressed set pieces like the Quidditch World Cup and the Yule Ball making the most of vivid fx and snappy dialogue by the core trio of Harry, Ron & Hermione. The kids seem refreshed and re-engaged in their roles on the fourth go-round, a nice trend. The supporting adults are delightful, as usual, with Brendan Gleeson's hard-bitten crackpot, Mad-Eye Moody, providing some needed comic relief. The plot spirals downward in the third act as the supposed focus of the school year, the TriWizard Tournament, is shown to be just a ruse for Harry to be delivered to his nemesis, Lord Voldemort, embodied with lithe menace by a creepily disguised Ralph Fiennes. My heart was actually pounding during the climactic scene: the sense of epic evil whisking away the illusive comforts of childhood is the real turning point of Harry's saga, and his fans will look forward to the next few chapters with dread as well as anticipation, just like him. (B+)

* Walk The Line -- Oscar bait this may be, but if Joaquin Phoenix makes his way to the podium this winter the trip will be well-deserved. A standard, though not dully formulaic, biopic of Johnny Cash and his great love, June Carter, the film blends knockout musical performances with impassioned characterization by Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, who will never have to do a twerpy romantic comedy again. Phoenix inhabits Cash almost deferentially, never pushing the drawling voice or rueful face into caricature, and smoldering through the songs in a way that showcases Cash's beguiling (and sometimes highly calculated) simplicity. This understatement is what sets this movie apart from Ray, which I found a little overcooked, though the stories are oddly similar (check out Nat's comparison chart!). Witherspoon crackles as June, the seasoned performer and grounded realist who prods and waits for Cash to right himself before giving herself over. The pacing is a little saggy, and the "road to redemption" plot is clearly marked from the outset, but the performances draw you in. Watching Phoenix deliver tender lines about the beloved older brother who died young and tragically, whose memory haunts and drives Cash, was riveting -- I'm surprised more critics haven't picked up on that aspect. Whatever his motivation, Phoenix sells the legend of Johnny Cash as a man with convincing feet of clay. Extra points for Shooter Jennings' bit part portrayal of his own daddy, Waylon! (A)
Just to emphasize how out of it I've been all November, I just now discovered that Rob from Cockeyed.com made another award-winning mega-Halloween costume this year -- he was a giant vampire paper bag puppet, a la those Fandango.com ads. Genius!
"Oridnary, comforting, and more than a little predictable, you're the glue that holds everyone together." -- That's me, folks, I am mashed potatoes. Find out What Part Of Thanksgiving Are You? in time for the feast this week.
"When was the last time you met anyone who was ashamed because they didn't know something?" -- Very timely opinion piece on our "whatever" culture, where young people not only don't know things they probably should, but don't care too much about it either. Are the Internet and the global economy responsible, or just plain old devolution and laziness? Interesting note, the undergrads I teach had no idea what...wait for it...a FotoMat was! But that's just because most of them were born in 1985, not that FotoMat was some sort of cultural touchstone. Yes, that's right, I said 1985. I am teaching college students who were born when I was in fifth grade! Deep breath...remain calm...
"Only in the richest country on earth could regular guys spend tens of thousands of dollars building a pumpkin gun. " -- So, so true. The Economist muses over the Millsboro, DE annual tradition of Punkin Chunkin, that is, building large apparati to hurl pumpkins as fas as possible. Sweet!
Tap Tap Tap....Is This Thing On? -- Dear TAI readers, thanks for tuning in during our recent hiatus, brought on by a convergence of technical difficulties and, uh, labor relations issues. But enough about that, on with the show -- who couldn't use a good celebrity boast to kick off Monday morning? Bono is always good for that.


Hospital by Swedish artist Camilla Engman -- any day is a good day for a tiara, but especially Friday. Check out her other works, including crocheted friends.
A midweek Ticket Stub:

* Shopgirl -- Claire Danes, thy name is woman. This moody little film exposes her, literally and figuratively, as a marvel of expressiveness with more than just adolescent appeal. She plays Mirabelle, the titular sales associate, as equal parts dewy and wary, a cautiously blooming thing. She's lost in the alien universe of L.A., until she meets two men, both disastrously unsuited for her...or are they? First is Jason Schwartzman as Jeremy, a grubby goofball slacker she reluctantly booty calls. Then there's Steve Martin (I won't pretend he's playing a character here since he a) wrote the book the movie's based on and b) provides the voiceover narration, big mistake), a wealthy middle-aged loner who charms her a bit and treats her to the good life, no strings attached. But Mirabelle, like most women, would like to be strung, and as she works out her conflicted desires we see her grow and change in the most subtle ways. Danes manages to age a little from the first frame to the last, especially compared to the men around her who are still trying to grow up. I predict an Oscar tussle between Claire and Gwyneth (who in another life could have had this role) this year. Points off for the overheated score and some clunky establishing shots (The Space Needle...could we be in...Seattle??). But the clothes are great, an appropriately Hepburnish touch. (B+)
How to Make a Doormat Out of River Rocks -- this is very cool. Unfortunately I need a doormat inside the house for the winter, but I'll keep it in mind.
The Namesake himself suggested this cautionary tale, TAI readers -- beware the "anonymous" sperm donation in this age of genetic testing, inquisitive teenagers, and that damn internet. A boy in the UK tracked down his biological father using a DNA-genealogy website that, frankly, looks like something out of a movie set in the not too distant future, except it's for real.
''Do well by doing good" -- what a concept! My alma mater has received a $100million gift from two alumni, Pierre and Pam Omidyar, and why is this so exciting? It's not just going into the endowment -- half of this fund will be invested in microfinancing in the developing world. This makes me want to buy a bunch of junk from eBay, woohoo!


It's a brilliant fall day outside, a much nicer start to November than our weekend snowfall. Just want to commemorate it before the long grey days begin...viva el dia de los muertos!
"I'll have a Grande MochaAAAAAAGGHH!" -- Yesterday at Ritual Roasters indie coffeehouse in San Francisco, the baristas dressed up like zombies. That is to say, they donned bright green Starbucks aprons! Heh. And while we're on zombies, last night Nat & I watched Shaun of the Dead for the first time -- I shamefully admit I passed it over last year thinking, "Meh, how good could it be?" Oh how wrong I was. "The Batman soundtrack?" "Throw it." Hee hee!
"He might be a conservative, but at least he is a judge." -- Touche, Harriet! Opinions on the new SCOTUS nominee Samuel Alito are pouring in on both sides, uh, of the Atlantic, that is. This BBC forum has more than a few comments of the "why should I care, I'm British" variety ("Because we're fighting the Americans' war" is a popular response), and over at Slate, NPR, and of course the Fox News Channel there's a wide variety of American rhetoric on display. My favorite: "I don't trust this president anymore. I voted for him, I admit it. I was one of the many who was tricked into thinking he would bring respect and accountability back to the White House. He has done the exact opposite. I can't support any decision he makes. . .Alito would be another pawn in Bush's pocket." — Jenna (?!!)
"The Overpraised American" -- If the 70's were the Me Decade, then we're now living in the Me First, with American narcissism and neurosis reaching new heights. This article picks apart the current trends of outsourced, overindulged family life, where kids learn "to approach institutions such as schools and the workplace with a healthy sense of entitlement."

There's certainly plenty of evidence of this all around us, but by contrast every kid who came to our door last night trick-or-treating said "Happy Halloween!" and "thank you!" very sincerely when we doled out the candy. Arlington: an oasis of etiquette in a world gone mad? Or was it just the candy talking...?