Thursday, February 4, 2010

Movie Reviews V

Up In the Air (2009)
A professional downsizer (George Clooney), flies all over the country to fire people whose managers/bosses don’t have the banungas to do it themselves. When a young employee wielding new technology threatens his beloved lifestyle, he takes her on a firing spree to show her what it means to crush people. Along the way, his fear of commitment/settling down starts to waver after he meets a likeminded female road warrior (air warrior?) and…I won’t spoil it. I really liked this one. For me, it was somewhere between Lost in Translation and a traditional beginning-middle-end romantic comedy-ish movie. It has a similar sort of ambiguous feeling as Lost in Translation, but I think it’s a bit more mainstream in how it presents that ambiguity.

It’s Complicated (2009)
A divorced mother of three grown children (Meryl Streep) finds herself in a tricky situation – she’s exploring the possibility of a relationship with the pleasant and interesting architect in charge of her home remodeling (Steve Martin), but she’s also having an affair with her remarried ex-husband (Alec Baldwin). I wasn’t sure how I would feel about this one – more specifically I was concerned about whether or not I would connect to the material, seeing as I’m closer to the experiences of the secondary characters (the children) than to the main characters (the parents). I was pleasantly surprised to find myself interested in and intrigued by the main characters’ actions and motivations. I think the movie strikes a delicate balance between conveying the complicated (and not necessarily complicated in a funny way) emotions of the characters and keeping the overall feeling light and comedic. Also, Alec Baldwin makes me uncomfortable. Perhaps because I associate him with roles like what he plays in this movie – charming in a sort of slimy/sleazy way that makes me immediately wary and/or makes me check my purse for my pepper spray.

Invictus (2009)
The story of Nelson Mandela’s attempt to begin racial and cultural healing in South Africa by encouraging nationwide support of the country’s rugby team, which was heavily associated with apartheid. Nelson Mandela is played by Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon plays François Pienaar, captain of the rugby team. The overarching feeling is that of a typical feel-good sports movie, but the backdrop of seemingly irreparable tension and cultural division in South Africa in the early 1990s lends quite a bit of weight to the story, enough to take it beyond the sappy, cheesy, underdog-fighting-for-a-chance territory. My sister enjoyed the movie but thought that certain aspects, particularly the ending sequences, were a little too heavy in implying that a few rugby games solved all the country’s problems. I didn’t necessarily get that impression, but I could see how she came away with that opinion. I personally took it as more of a suggestion that uniting over a common interest, in this case a sports team, was the first step and the first indication that it might actually be possible to bridge the gap.

Julie and Julia (2009)
Julie and Julia is based on the true stories of Julie and Julia (imagine that). The former is a modern young woman (played by Amy Adams and set in 2002), struggling through career confusion and those moments in life where you start to feel like everyone but you has figured out the answers and has it together and you’re just drifting along trying to keep on top of buying wedding gifts, housewarming gifts, baby shower gifts, you’re-so-much-more-successful-than-I-am-so-here’s-a-gift gifts and you don’t have a 5-month plan, let alone a 5-year plan and…what? I’m not personalizing… Anyway, Julie’s hit a rough patch in life and turns to one of her comforting hobbies to help her through the tough times – cooking. She grabs her copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and sets out to cook at least one recipe each day for one year, all the while blogging about her experience. Interspersed with Julie’s story is the story of the master herself, Julia Child (Meryl Streep). Set mostly in Paris in 1949, we see how Julia came to become the culinary giant that she was. I think by now you should know how I feel about Meryl Streep. She doesn’t disappoint as Julia, but that doesn’t mean I loved the movie. I actually liked it a lot, until about the last 10 minutes. At which point I was a little disappointed. I can’t blame the writers for sticking to what really happened, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Soundtrack to My Life

Do you ever wish you had a soundtrack to accompany you through life?

I know many people wish they had a song that would play whenever they enter a room (I think I actually belong to the facebook group of that name). I have it on good authority that my song would be either "Eye of the Tiger" (but everyone chooses that one), "Lowrider" (a longtime personal favorite), or "Flight of the Bumblebee" (no comment).

But what about an extended soundtrack to your life?

The other day I went shopping with a friend and couldn’t help but notice that everywhere we went I kept hearing songs I love. It was like I finally had my own soundtrack. And it. Was. Glorious.

My soundtrack (the ones I remember at least) started at the mall and then continued at California Pizza Kitchen (it's only four songs but I still think it's impressive that I heard them all within a 3-ish hour time frame):

Depeche Mode “Just Can’t Get Enough”
New Order “Bizarre Love Triangle” side note: I am not ashamed to admit that I own the extended dance mix version of this song, and I definitely do some extended dancing whenever it’s on in my car. Just ask Angela.
Tears for Fears “Break It Down Again”
Peter Gabriel “Sledgehammer"

Yes, my life soundtrack would be predominantly new wave and 80s synthpop. Don't act like you're surprised.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Did You Have a Merry Christmas? Well? Did Ya, Punk?

My holiday break had a Clint Eastwood theme. I didn’t plan for it to be that way, that’s just how it turned out. I watched Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino, Dirty Harry, Unforgiven, In the Line of Fire, and Invictus.

It worked out well, because I’m taking a class about westerns this semester. Even though only one of those movies is a western, the inherent Clint Eastwood badassery in the others still helped to stoke my previously non-existent interest in westerns.

Other movies that I remember seeing over break (with my ratings out of 5 because I know that your hopes and dreams are hinging on what I think of specific movies):

Julie and Julia (2.5/5)
Up In the Air (4/5)
It’s Complicated (3.5/5)
Man on Wire (4/5)
Ordinary People [new favorite] (5/5)
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian [new worst. movie. ever.] (1/5, and that's being generous because I like Ben Stiller and Hank Azaria)

I also saw about 30% of Bladerunner. During the other 70% I was in a stupor. You know the one, the barely-coherent-after-spending-all-night-vomiting stupor. I’d like to revisit the movie on a non-stupor day.

What I saw of Bladerunner: 3.5/5
Vomit-induced stupor: -873/5

What else is going on…well, it’s been raining here. A lot. And I’m starting to believe that I’m responsible for the weather. Two days after I landed back east, we got 20” of snow. It proceeded to be ridiculously cold (for me at least) while I was home. Even my dad, whose favorite comment is that a cold winter day in Maryland is like a pleasant spring day in Minnesota, thought it was cold. When I left the east coast, the temperature went up about 20 degrees. I got to L.A. just in time for some of the worst weather SoCal has had in years (decades? hard to tell what’s exaggeration around here when it comes to rain).

My Californian roommates are not familiar with rain terminology. But then again, why should they be? One of my roommates came in today and I asked if it was raining. She said that it wasn’t “raining raining” but it was…*insert that look people get when looking for the right word.* She struggled in vain to describe the water falling from the sky. I asked: is it misting? Drizzling? Sprinkling? Spritzing? Spitting? She could only respond by making a noise demonstrating the rhythm of the rain on her car. Based on that, I think it was sprinkling.

On a completely unrelated note: seeing as I’m sort of [<--understatement] in love with Conan O’Brien, let it be known that I am heartbroken over the recent late-night nonsense. That is all.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Do You Ever Wonder...

...what name Europeans would have given the indigenous peoples of the North American continent if Christopher Columbus had not incorrectly deduced that he had landed in India?

I do.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

1 Day. 15 People. 25 Pounds of Turkey.

Of obvious note: I changed the layout a bit. I needed to search for a specific label just now but couldn’t because I never bothered to add my labels list to the page. When I went to do that, the template I was using only allowed me to add the list to the right side of the page. I am unnaturally (and possibly even disturbingly) particular about what side things go on. OCD? Probably. Psychotic? Maybe. Easier to find labels now? Definitely.

Moving on.

I just realized that I completely and totally failed to do any sort of Thanksgiving update. Hell, I failed to even mention Thanksgiving more than once (label searching!).

I made decent progress on my research paper today, so I suppose I have a few moments to give an update about my Thanksgiving week, which featured 3 visitors, frozen yogurt, and a 25 lb. turkey. Plus a bunch of other stuff, obviously.

Two of my sisters flew in the Sunday before Thanksgiving. I immediately took them to be baptized into the world of In-N-Out Burger, which is conveniently located between the airport and my apartment. First stop after that was Venice Beach. We saw more old men in Speedos than I have ever seen before. We walked around for a little bit, then decided that a grocery store run would be a good idea. Stocked up on beer, chocolate, and guacamole (family essentials), we were ready for a movie night with a few of my friends. I suggested (/insisted) that we watch When Harry Met Sally. Never a bad choice.

I had class on Monday and Tuesday, so my sisters were on their own. As luck would have it, one of my younger sister’s friends from back home was also in L.A. visiting someone. The friend’s someone had to work all day Monday and Tuesday, so the friend was available to show my sisters around Hollywood. My older sister’s friend also flew in on Monday night to spend a few days with us.

Tuesday night, I drove up to the hotel right after class. I found my sisters+friend boozin’ it up in the lounge. Well, one sister was boozin’ it up, the others were watching her booze it up.

Wednesday we drove up to Burbank to take a tour of NBC Studios. Interesting tour…mostly centered around Days of Our Lives…but I did get to see Nancy O’Dell’s parking space. And the parking space where Jay Leno used to park his car. Which is really not that exciting. From there, we made a beeline for Santa Monica. By “made a beeline,” I mean that we sat in traffic for about an hour. I would never let my sisters miss out on that little piece of L.A. living.

We finally made it to Santa Monica, tired and starving. We immediately found somewhere to eat on the 3rd Street Promenade, at which point I thought it would be a good idea to eat a whole individual (8 slices) barbeque chicken pizza by myself. Best idea I’ve ever had. Seriously.

As we walked down to the water, I realized that we were there at prime sunset time. It was gorgeous. I couldn’t have picked a better view for out-of-towners to see!

We took a little jaunt down the pier before heading back up to the Promenade for frozen yogurt. They have this frozen yogurt place out here called Pinkberry, and apparently I just missed the initial craze by a few months or so. I’ve had more than one person describe the growth of the chain by telling me the expansion (in SoCal at least) was similar to that of Starbucks. Yikes…that’s a lot of frozen yogurt. Basically, you choose your yogurt flavor (original, coconut, pomegranate, or passionfruit) then you pick your choice of unlimited toppings, among them a million chopped fresh fruits, different kinds of chocolate, nuts, granola, mochi, and if I remember correctly, Fruity Pebbles and Cinnamon Toast Crunch (pardon me, “cinnamon squares”). I had an original with raspberries, mango, pomegranate seeds, and mochi. I’m not usually a big frozen yogurt eater, but it was quite amazing.

And then it was Thursday…

Since many of the first-year students in my program weren’t going home for break, we decided to have a big potluck dinner. We were anticipating somewhere between 15 and 20 people, so the guy who volunteered to do the turkey got a 25 lb. bird. I got up on Thursday morning and did some documentation of the events – the turkey cooking, the boys in the host apartment doing last minute cleaning, etc. I drove up to the hotel, retrieved my sisters+friend, and came back to do my part – green bean casserole. The friend had to fly out that afternoon, so when I got home from taking her to the airport, we were mostly ready to get started with dinner! We had all the classics – turkey (duh), stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, potatoes au gratin, green bean casserole, baked mac’n’cheese, corn pudding, and cranberry sauce. The Chinese guy made something called double eggs, which was like a little casserole made with chicken eggs and duck eggs, and it was really good! It was his first American Thanksgiving, so it was fun to see him experiencing all the food. Add in the many bottles (and boxes) of wine, and of course pumpkin, pecan, and apple pies for dessert, and it was a great meal.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Oooh Shiny!!!

Something is bugging me.

Let me start by saying that I am not an über-feminist. I don't rant endlessly about inequality, I don't try to convince people that 'women' should be spelled 'womyn', I'm not offended by the genre designation "chick flicks," and I wear a bra on a regular basis.

But do I think that women have achieved equality? No, not yet. There are probably many factors that could be used to measure equality, but let’s not kid ourselves – money matters. Say what you will about women attaining positions of power equal to or even greater than men across the country – the fact is that we still don’t make as much money (somewhere around 79% of what men make, last I checked). Women put in the same amount of work (probably even more work in some situations) but receive smaller paychecks. That’s not equality.

That being said, I am not the type to cry foul at every little thing that could possibly be construed as sexism. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt in those situations – if women are treated equally, that means more than just an equal paycheck. It means equal pressure to succeed and equal criticism if we screw up. I’m not going to whine and cry about unfair treatment and inequality, I’m going to work my ass off and give you no choice but to acknowledge my equality.

When I was growing up, I was never told that I couldn’t do something because I’m a girl. I was never told that life might be harder for me because I’m a girl. I don’t know what my parents thought about my earliest career aspirations, but I don’t remember them ever laughing or saying it wouldn’t happen when I told them I wanted to be the first woman to play Major League Baseball.

When I was in the fourth grade, I played basketball with a group of boys every day at recess. One day, they decided that they didn’t want a girl to play with them anymore. My friend and I went to the teacher with this outrageous development and our teacher ended up moderating a big debate in class. I don’t remember exactly what the boys’ arguments were. My argument was simple and I didn't hesitate to tell everyone what the problem was - they didn't want me to play because I was better than them.

When I was in middle school, my church youth group went on an annual retreat with youth groups from across the state. Some of us spent every last second of every single free-time period on the basketball court. For three straight years, when we lined up to choose teams for the first game, I was the only girl who wanted to play. And I was picked last every year. In that first game, they never even bothered to guard me for a while. I was usually wide open and calling for the ball, but I never got a pass for the first few plays. Finally, someone would pass me the ball and I would knock down a jumper and get patronizing high fives and “nice shot” calls from my teammates. It’d be a while before I got the ball back but when I did, maybe I’d make a lay-up on the fast-break, cross someone over, make a nice backdoor pass. The passes came more often, the high fives weren’t patronizing anymore, and by the end of the weekend the only people picked ahead of me were the tall kids (rare commodities at that age, can’t argue with that decision).

I was never mad about being picked last at those games. In fact, I liked it. Maybe I even loved it. I loved it that they didn’t guard me – I felt like I was teaching them an important lesson about underestimating people. Also it was fun to hear the other team yelling at each other about who was supposed to be guarding me. It’s a feeling I came to really love – the feeling of hearing the opposing team’s frustrated coach shouting “who’s guarding number 10?!” Nothing like it.

What’s that? You want to know what I was talking about several shamelessly immodest paragraphs back when I said that something was bugging me ?

What I’m trying to say is, I don’t think women are equal yet, but we’re making strides. I’m also trying to say that I don’t typically call things out as sexist or unfair to women. What does catch my attention and bug the crap out of me though, is when women are portrayed as being weak, especially in ridiculous situations.

In a nutshell – jewelry commercials. Yes, women like jewelry. We get it. But I really hope that it’s more than just me who’s slightly offended by the insinuation that a shiny piece of silver will turn any woman into a useless puddle of goo and/or a sex slave. There’s one commercial out right now that irks me a little, and another that makes me want to rip out my ovaries in an act of pure shame.

The first commercial is a man and a woman ice-skating. The man is a horrible skater, falling all over the place and making a fool of himself while the woman glides around gracefully. He manages to pull himself up as she skates over to him and takes him by the arm to steady him. At that point, he pulls a little ring box out of his pocket and voilà, their roles are reversed and he has to steady her because she’s gone weak in the knees. How do we know she’s gone weak in the knees? Because the camera literally shows us her knees buckling. Not as bad as it could be, but not exactly furthering the gender.

The other commercial, the ovary-ripping-out blot upon my pride as a woman, is just downright ridiculous. A man and a woman stand at a large picture window as a storm rages outside. There's a big clap of thunder and the woman turns like a frightened chipmunk to be comforted and protected by the man, who holds her close and magically produces a necklace or a bracelet or something and then says something lame. Apparently…the woman is no longer afraid because the man has distracted her with something shiny? I’m hazy on the particulars because my mind always shuts off to protect my sanity from further offense right about the time that a grown woman is depicted as being afraid of thunder.

These are the types of things that bug me, the things that bring out that little bit of feminist in me. Maybe because I know that kids are watching this and its just perpetuating stereotypes. Think of the children! Oh won’t somebody think of the children?!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Movie Reviews IV

As is my grand tradition around this time of year, I'm doing anything and everything other than what I'm supposed to be doing. I filmed my final production project yesterday and everything went well as far as I can tell from the rough cut I put together today. As for my expanded narrative of my screenplay and my research paper...I'll get back to you. Now, on to reviews of the many movies I watched last week.

Talk to Her/Hable Con Ella (2002) (class assignment)
Two men hold vigil over the women they’re in love with, who are both in a coma. Marco watches over his girlfriend Lydia, a matador who was gored by a bull. Benigno works at the hospital facility and watches over Alicia, the woman he was in love with from afar but only actually met once. Marco and Benigno become good friends, but things take an interesting turn when Marco gets some bad news and Benigno gets himself into trouble. I liked this movie, it was interesting. It takes an interesting twist at the end…except I wouldn’t really call it a twist, because it’s much more gradual than that. Very much like life.

The Double Life of Veronique/La Double Vie de Vèronique (1991) (class assignment)
Two women are cosmically connected to each other, unbeknownst to them. When Weronika dies suddenly, Véronique begins experiencing strange feelings of loneliness. At least I think that’s what was going on. This one was ok. It felt somehow disjointed to me. Like the story points never really connected. I guess I just thought it was a really interesting concept, but it fell short of my expectations. I think my professor wanted me to watch it more for the camera work. There was one shot where my friend and I both started to comment on the nice camera angle, when the old man on screen suddenly and randomly flashed himself. Awesome. In addition to wanting us to see interesting camera work, we also think our professor just likes to think of us squirming while we watch these movies.

Downhill Racer (1969) (someone else's class assignment)
A cocky downhill skier (Robert Redford) with hopes of making the U.S. Olympic ski team spends four years trying to prove himself to his coach (Gene Hackman) and his teammates. Again, I think this one was assigned to my friend so he could see some different camera work. And I imagine this camera work was very new and interesting in 1969. The movie was ok, but to me it felt like it ends very abruptly. They set it up as following his professional skiing career and some aspects of his personal life, but they only really resolve the skiing storyline without any mention of the other plot lines. But Robert Redford’s pretty awesome.

A Christmas Carol (2009) (personal time)
I love Christmas. I love A Christmas Carol in almost all of its incarnations. And I love Jim Carrey. You do the math. There’s really not much more they can do with the story itself, so it would seem that Robert Zemeckis just made the decision to make the visuals amazing. Win. And I saw it in IMAX 3D, so the visual aspect really was amazing. Jim Carrey was great as Scrooge and as all three ghosts. They made him look different enough as the ghosts that, even though you knew it was Jim Carrey, it wasn’t distracting. I will admit that whipping through 3-dimensional Victorian London at high speeds made me a little motion sick at times, but that’s just the price we pay to be able to see 3D pimples on young Scrooge’s face. The other thing of note is that parts of the movie are actually a bit scary, in a ghosts-and-skeletons-jumping-out-at-you sort of way. Which was good, I think, because the story is actually a little frightening when you think about it. Get in the holiday spirit and go see it. Perhaps avoid 3D if you're prone to motion sickness.

Young Frankenstein (1974) (personal time)
If I had to pick a favorite movie, this would almost certainly be my pick. It was written by Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks…and I could end my review right there. But I won’t. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder), the grandson of the infamous Dr. Frankenstein, cannot deny his familial destiny to reanimate the dead. With the help of his trusty sidekick Igor (Marty Feldmen) and beautiful lab assistant Inga (Teri Garr), Frederick is able to bring a man back from the dead (Peter Boyle as The Monster). The Monster of course runs amok and hilarity of course ensues. Also featuring Madelaine Kahn, Cloris Leachman, Kenneth Mars, and a cameo by Gene Hackman. Also also featuring my undying love. Well, it doesn’t really feature that, it just gets that. From me. Forever.

The River Wild (1994) (personal time)
I think we’ve discussed this before, but just in case you forgot – I love Meryl Streep. Now that we’re all caught up, Meryl Streep plays Gail, mother of two and wife of workaholic Tom (David Strathairn). Gail’s an outdoorsy type from Montana who now lives in Boston with her bookish architect husband. Gail wants to take her son Roarke (the annoying kid from Jurassic Park) rafting in Montana and Tom reluctantly comes along. They meet up with some suspicious folks, namely Kevin Bacon and Michael C. Reilly. Things get rough, threats are made, hostages are taken, Meryl Streep waits for the exact right moment then kicks some serious ass, etc. etc. Overall, it’s a decent thriller. You know exactly what’s going to happen, but the gorgeous scenery and the unique action make it worth a watch if you’ve got a free afternoon.