A few weeks ago, my roommate Jamie and I excitedly bought the first book in the Gossip Girl series by Cecily von Ziegesar, so we could get in touch with the roots of our favorite show on television. (Did I tell you I met the creator? Coolest moment in my life.) So, finals finally over, I read it. Ehh, I guess I don't have much positive to say. I liked it well enough being familiar with the characters as I know them from the show, but on its own, I do not really understand how this series took off. Maybe preteen girls like that they can read about sex and drugs and fashion (with real swear words!) without having to suffer the consequences personally? Maybe it's because I went to an all girls' school with a lot of rich girls, but I was disappointed by how unrealistic the book felt. Maybe it's not supposed to be relatable, or maybe it's an East Coast / West Coast thing, but I just don't see myself reading any more of the series any time soon. I like my Vanessa a skanky Puerto Rican, my Lil' J a flat-chested blonde, and my Rufus a sexy ex-rocker. Also, the show has a kickass soundtrack. Call me vapid, but TV > reading in this situation!
Somewhere along the way, after countless flights across oceans and continents, I lost the ability to stay awake with moderate comfort on a flight of any length. Just this summer, a simple trip from New York's JFK airport back to California, with just one quick stop in Dallas, and I was laid out with fatigue for a couple of days. When I was younger, one of my favorite things to do was stay up all alone on a redeye flight, my light the only one on in the cabin, gettin' my read on. On my latest flight, fourteen hours across the international dateline and the equator (costing me Christmas day and transporting me to summer in December - time travel no matter what anyone says), I struck the perfect balance, finally. I read a book, watched three movies, and slept almost a full night's sleep! Bow at my superiority, fellow travelers (communists too, I guess).
More on the entertainment stuff later, this blog is more about how my trip started. We got into Brisbane at about 8am, and by the time I'd settled in and showered, it was midday and I was ready to go walk about the city. Good thing I picked Boxing Day, Australia's own Black Friday, to do this. Walking around downtown Brisbane, full of sale-hungry shoppers, was just what I needed. I wandered about the city - far more bustling and built up than I remember from when I last stayed here almost eight years ago - until my legs were exhausted and I was ready to head back to the apartment. I cut across a swathe of the city's botanical gardens, walking through tropical florae and gawking at the numerous ibis who seemed not to care whether I was there or not.
The park spat me out back in the center of the packed pedestrian shopping mall, and the smell changed from flamingo-tropical to kebabs and noodle bars. I bought a boba tea (yum), and walked home through the warm summer rain. What better way to wrap up the perfect start to an Australian holiday? Salt and vinegar crisps and a stubby of VB. Mmm!
So, Australia is fantastic, as always. It's my last full day in Brisbane, so I'm not going to waste a bunch of time blogging right now. Just a note to remind myself what to write about when I do get a chance: Paris Je T'aime, Hairspray, Transformers, Gossip Girl, and Once once again. Currently reading V for Vendetta, and am already finding it harder to read graphic novels than I expected. I have to keep reminding myself to go back and look at the images, instead of just reading the text. I'm getting better though. Hopefully I can get a local SIM card for my phone, and have the chance to catch up sometime when in Sydney. Happy new year!
Well, because I'm the worst lit major ever, I think this may be the first time in the months since I started this blog that I'll be reviewing a book! In full disclosure, I've actually not quite finished it yet, but as I'm just a few pages to the end and leaving on a jet plane verrry soon, I'm going to go ahead and share my experience with Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country. This is one of the dozens of books I've been meaning to read for years now, and I'm glad I finally did.
I've been to Australia about a dozen times now, and I could never claim to "know it well." Many of the trips were made when I was young, and we often have gone just to Sydney. Bryson's books recounts his journeys around the Boomerang Coast (Adelaide, Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney, Surfers Paradise, Brisbane) which I'm familiar with (except for Adelaide), as well as his jaunts further north to Cairns, Darwin, and inland to Alice Springs. The book begins with his journey on the Indian Pacific railroad from Sydney to Perth, and later concludes with his journey north from Perth up to Darwin again. And that is basically all of - indeed, beyond - Australia that is Westernized. It's an enormous country with huge expanses of unlivable desert, and Bryson travels almost entirely around the perimeter (sometimes in fits and spurts, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends).
Except for his journey from Darwin to Alice Springs, and on to Uluru, Bryson does not venture into the great, arid unknown, and he could hardly be expected to! His travel diary is broken up with anecdotes gathered from the wealth of research Bryson has done about the continent, most focusing on the trials of the outback and the fascinating stories of those who have tried (occasionally successfully) to brave it. The book does a fantastic job of paying attention to the natural boon that is Australia (flora, fauna, climate, the Great Barrier Reef, etc.), in between pleasant stays in the country's few metropolises. Though he barely spends any time in Brisbane, and never really mentions Tasmania, the book is surprisingly complete, encompassing a country so vast, young, and unknown, in a way approachable to most readers.
By the midway point of the book, I must say Bryson's voice was grating on me. It has the sort of air of someone quite above average intelligence dumbing himself down for a grateful audience. He clearly possesses an encyclopaedic brain, but overuse of terms like "antipodean," "raffish," and "At [name of town], the only town worthy of the name..." kept my eyes rolling. Also, when my 9th grade english teacher told me not to use "you" in my writing, I thought it too stiff of a rule. I realize after reading Bryson, that it is in fact judicious to be conservative with it, at least. You know. Of course, I still kept wanting to turn the page to find out more of what Bryson could teach me, so really, who am I to complain?
I'd be interested to hear him talk more candidly about the actual Australian people, though. He studies the Aborigines with wonder, and honestly discusses the racial/social problems that do pertain, but only touches upon discussing them like people. It's clear he's not racist, and does sympathize with them, but I'm surprised he didn't just refer to them as "natives" sometimes. As to the rest of the Australians, he admires their "cuteness," which gets a little tired, though I can't say I disagree with the fact that a people characterized by a society halfway between England and the U.S.A. is quite charming.
All in all, I was impressed by Bryson's respect for the ancient wonder that the huge landmass is, and I'm looking forward to returning to the Boomerang Coast with the extra knowledge that I now have.
It seems that any midnight showing I've ever been to that didn't involve Tim Curry has involved Johnny Depp. It's not even that I'm a big fan - I'm not, really - but I think my girlfriends from high school have been sucked in to the "OMGZ new johnny depp movie must see it as early as possible" state of mind, and I've come along for the ride on more than one occasion. The most recent foray into midnight fandom was to see Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which contains quite a bit more cannibalism than The Rocky Horror Picture Show, surprising no one.
I don't know why I was so excited to see this movie - I'm not a Nightmare Before Christmas or Tim Burton fan, and I think Johnny Depp's face looks like a cat - but I really was. I've never seen Sweeney Todd onstage, but I saw some random clips of Angela Lansbury kicking ass as Mrs. Lovett on KCET once, and I'd wanted to see it ever since. The movie appealed to me as an apt substitution (note: Jersey Girl had very little influence on this decision, but yes, some). This is certainly the most impressed I've been by Tim Burton, and it is evident that Bonham-Carter brought much more than nepotism to her role.
She was convincing in her deranged adoration for Todd, as if Marla from Fight Club had grown up with a less traumatic childhood. Depp was a better singer than expected, and did well in the title role, though I think the character is a bit one-dimensional through no fault of his. He played the static character with restraint when appropriate and hasty violence otherwise, which entertained me and caused the baby that someone had brought to a midnight movie (of Sweeney Todd for crying out loud) to cry...out loud.
Supporting actors Sacha Baron Cohen and Alan Rickman amused me and creeped me out, respectively, and Timothy Spall was perfectly cast with his tendency toward caricature. Jamie Campbell Bower and Jayne Wisener, playing the young lovers Anthony and Johanna, had enough awkwardness in their appearances as to seem crafted for a Tim Burton musical. I was very impressed throughout by young Ed Sanders as Toby, who had an incredible singing voice for a preteen boy, and acted opposite the leads comfortably.
Stylistically, the washed-out, nearly black-and-white color scheme was perfectly, if obviously, crafted to offset the candy apple red blood that imbued most of the scenes in the film. Which brings me to violence - I have never been squeamish at movies, and I was delighted by the throat-slitting scenes that were never, ahem, cut away from (lolz) when a pandering director might have had them offscreen. That isn't to say that gore is always best, because I think in serious/dramatic instances, leaving sex and violence mostly up to the imagination of the audience can be more powerful. But here, the drip-drip-JUGULAR-splash of the syrupy bloodstuff lent itself well to the darkly comic tone of the film. In keeping with that tone, the "seaside" interlude was hilarious and a great foil for the rest of the movie.
I was actually surprised by the "gotcha" moment at the end of the movie, though in hindsight I can't believe how blind I was to the twist. The opening credits and the final scene were crafted with a clearly obsessive attention to detail, and bookended the film very nicely. The outcome of the young lovers' story is not wrapped up, but I didn't care enough about that B-romance anyway, so it didn't matter. Also, I hope I'm not the only one who couldn't stop thinking about the Pietà in regards to the composition of the final scene.
So, if you can dig on bloody movies and movie musicals, I hope you see Sweeney Todd on the big screen. Still, "if you only see one movie this Christmas season," my vote's gotta go to Juno.
So, as faithful readers of my blog will know (hi, dad), I take little mini-vacations from posting from time to time. This is another one of them. I went to the midnight showing of Sweeney Todd the other night, and I fully intend to write about it in the next day or two, but alas, I am back at my parents' house where I have exponentially less (does the word "exponentially" work in a diminutive sense, even figuartively?) access to internet time. Also, in a couple of days I will be leaving for a month-long vacation! I'm going to be heading back to the ol' stomping grounds of Sydney, and also visiting Brisbane and Melbourne. Screw you, winter! Lucky charmed me did get a pocket PC for Christmas (phone with internet), so I will be trying to update on the 2nd run movies I see on the plane, etc. Anyway, in case I don't, because I'm too busy, you know, impressing foxy Aussie lifeguards with my pale winter skin, while cuddling a koala and eating a meat pie, then you'll have to wait until January for some updates. Happy Christmas, folks!
I am so close to being done with this, the most work-intensive semester of my life, and there are only miles and miles of lit crit before I get there. Pulled an all-nighter last night to wrap up my final paper for my "Film and Literature" class. It was only a ten page affair, but it took me so damn long because I was writing about East of Eden. Not only am I a big Steinbeck fan, but there was so much interesting supplementary material that I would get swept up in it for an hour or so and forget to write my paper. Then, at 4am I started my 20 page final paper for my James Joyce class, which is due in just over 12 hours. I'm at page 8, which isn't bad. It's just that I'm writing about Joyce and cinema, and I'm worried that I've written too much contextual information about the infancy of cinema, the tendencies of modernist writers, and Joyce's biographical interest in the medium. It's like, the paper's almost halfway done, and I haven't mentioned a single textual example yet. Oops.
Anyway, things are shaping up for next semester. I'll be taking "Elementary Astronomy," the one science requirement I had yet to fulfill by graduation, "19th Century Russian Novel," and "Religion and Film." The Russian novel class is supposed to be excellent. I've had the prof before, and he was pretty good, but I'm told this class is his specialty. Religion and Film will be an experiment, because I've already taken "Celluloid Bible: Biblical Traces in Hollywood Film," but that was mostly a broad film theory class, so I want to see how this one is different. Then I'll be working an internship in L.A. two full days a week, and I just need to figure out exactly how that's going to gel with my schoolwork and the commute and everything. Some things are still in the air, but I'm moving forward, and that's always good!
I'm sorry it's been so long since I last posted, but after I finished my thesis, I chose to escape into a cocoon of down comforters and TV on DVD (particularly Veronica Mars, which is awesome). I have since reemerged to work on my heavy amounts of final paper-writing this week, figure out the details of getting an entertainment internship next semester, and prepare my final video project for the end-of-semester media studies screening.
On Tuesday, November 27th, I went to a free screening of Juno, which I had been looking forward to for months and months, and it took me quite a few days to sort out my thoughts about it. The film was truly everything I could have hoped for. Every element was finely crafted, and the excellent story and performances were augmented by a particularly impressive set design and soundtrack. I have still yet to see Hard Candy, so this was my first experience with Ellen Page in a starring role (though I'm sure she was cute as Kitty Pryde), and she blew me out of the water. Going in to this movie as an avid Michael Cera fan, I was surprised to see him take more of a background role, but incredibly glad that Page was always in the spotlight.
For those of you who have somehow managed to stumble onto my blog and yet do not know the premise of Juno, it takes us through the trials of accidentally pregnant high school junior Juno MacGuff as she prepares to give her baby to adoptive parents Mark and Vanessa Loring. At the same time, she is trying to reconcile her feelings for her best friend and babydaddy Paulie Bleeker, whom she is constantly awed by.
J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney, playing Juno's dad and stepmom, were very impressive. Janney played an alternate-universe version of her character Ms. Perky from 10 Things I Hate About You, but more realistic in her concern for the well-being of a teenager. Simmons, though, really stuck with me. Whenever he and Page were on screen together, I felt very emotionally connected to the scene, because it can be difficult to portray a loving father-daughter relationship realistically in movies sometimes.
Jennifer Garner as Vanessa was almost too simple, which really worked, especially in contrast to the complicated psyche of Mark. For the first time, I found myself annoyed by a Jason Bateman character - what can I say; I really liked Teen Wolf Too. I wasn't entirely sure to what extent Mark and Juno's relationship was supposed to be unsettling, but without giving away the end of the movie, I will say that it added a very unexpected wrench to the possibly overdone premise of the film.
Juno's friends Olive and Paulie give an interesting view of who Juno is, even though she says (in the trailer, even), "I'm not really sure what kind of girl I am." They're the sort of people I would have enjoyed spending time with if I were in high school, and they're really good people dealing with huge emotions...the basic emotional make-up of a high school student, I think. The romance between Juno and Paulie was incredibly heartfelt in its tempered anguish, and I felt fulfilled by it whenever Juno and Paulie were alone on screen together.
The final third of the film was surprisingly sweet and lofty, considering the sardonic, dry tone that the rest of the film uses. After watching the movie, I read Diablo Cody's screenplay, which was just a hair better than the resulting film. Just enough clever lines were cut to make the film PG13, but since I saw the movie first, I have to remember it as excellent as it was when I was trying to reign in my joy at watching it in the theater two weeks ago. I have since ordered a hamburger phone on eBay, and I can't wait to see the movie again.
When Did You Last See Your Father? (TBD) What is it about me that makes me crave British movies about sad families all the time? Unless maybe it's just Colin Firth luring me in. I don't know, this particular movie doesn't look any different than any other one about the same thing, but after having watched Distant Voices / Still Lives, it's nice to get back to convention. Anyway, it's directed by Anand Tucker, who made Shopgirl and Hilary and Jackie, two movies I really appreciate, and has a proven cast, so maybe there is something special here to be surprised by!
Saawariya (November 9) So, apparently this has already come out, but I only just heard of it. The first Bollywood film to be distributed by a Hollywood company, even the trailer gives this film a different look than most of the Bollywood films I've seen. My first thought was, "Baz Luhrmann, on sedatives, makes a Bollywood movie." Now, I just really want Baz Luhrmann to make a Bollywood movie. Actually, Saawariya is the latest adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's short story "White Nights." I'm sure I'll rent this one.
There Will Be Blood (December 26) Paul Thomas Anderson. Daniel Day Lewis. Paul Dano, of Lifetime Original Movie Too Young to Be a Dad fame. Adaptation of Upton Sinclair's novel Oil! I think the last time a collection of factoids about a movie made me this excited was when I heard, "Jake Gyllenhaal Heath Ledger gay cowboys" back at girls' school. And this time, I'm excited about the movie, not just the possible ramifications on the slash fan fiction market. It will be very interesting to see what PTA does with someone else's source material, for a change. I'm more than curious. Same goes with Wes Anderson's The Fantastic Mr. Fox, which looks like it's going to buck all of his conventions except for casting! You know I'm all over ensembles that stick together, as with these two directors and, say, Christopher Guest. So it's very exciting when they veer away from formula.
Cloverfield (January 18) So, buzz has been buzzing about this JJ Abrams project for some time now, and I must say that I thought the teaser trailer that came out a few months ago was quite a bit scarier than the extended one we have now, but I'm still looking forward to this. I'm generally into the apocalyptic type of horror film, and from what I've seen online, the monsters here are supposed to be particularly terrifying. I'm interested to see how a big budget and a reliance on "handheld-looking" camera work will play out, as I think we've moved far past the motion sick times of Blair Witch. Also, I hope the Smoke Monster gets a cameo.
Harold and Kumar 2 (April 25) A couple of months ago, needing something mindless to watch while sick in bed, I watched a really crappy bootleg of Harold and Kumar on TVLinks (RIP). I was expecting something awful, as I've never been a fan of those gross-out movies that teen boys love but are otherwise completely stupid, but ever since Grandma's Boy hit me like a ton of bricks, I thought I'd give it a chance. H&K was a lot funnier than I was expecting, and I don't know why no one had ever told me about the hilarious commentary on racial perceptions! There were plenty of pointless sequences in the movie, but I guess they had to suck in their target audience of stoner preteens somehow. The sequel looks like it will provide a lot more of what I enjoyed about the first one, and I just hope it can make fun of current events without reminding anyone of Delta Farce (having even referenced it makes me want to throw up).
Yesterday, my parents and I chose not to observe the holiest of American holidays (Black Friday), but instead went to see the movie Bella (trailer at bottom of post). I hadn't heard of it before, even though it won the People's Choice Award at the 2006 Toronto Film Festival, but my dad had seen producer and star Eduardo Verastegui interviewed on The O'Reilly Factor, and it made him very excited to take us to see it.
A lot of buzz about the film centers around the fact that it has a strong pro-life message, and that the Hollywood liberals won't give it a very good distribution. Maybe it's hard for me to look beyond my own beliefs on the matter, but I really don't understand how someone with any political association could view this film as detrimental. Bella absolutely is pro-life, and it is also pro-choice. It gives an honest portrayal of a couple of key characters, and does not judge them, in the end. In the film, Nina is fired from her waitressing job on the same day that she finds out she is pregnant. Her friend Jose, the chef at the restaurant where she had worked, spends the day with her so that she will feel less alone. (Spoilers below, not that it really matters...)
At the beginning, Nina feels that she has only one option, one choice, and that is abortion. She seems resigned to the fact that she could not possibly provide a good life for a child, having been conditioned to feel that way by the unsatisfying life she led with her distant mother after the death of her father when she was a child. Jose also seems to feel that his life is without options at the beginning of the film, as his happiness and innocence left him the day years ago when he killed a young girl with his car in a tragic accident, ending her life as well as his promising soccer career. Jose's brother Manny, who fires Nina, is stuck in a rut as well, taking people for granted and focusing only on the successes and failures in life - missing out on the joy of the world around him. Throughout the course of only two days, these three characters all experience profound change in their lives, and it is a beautiful sight to witness.
When Jose is able to show Nina that families can be happy, by introducing her to his own loving one, it opens up her eyes to the fact that lives change, and people can amount to so much. Jose's mother and father are immigrants who have been able to make an extraordinary life for themselves, and raised three successful sons. While Jose's mother explains to Nina that they adopted their first son, Manny, Jose himself comes to the realization that helping Nina bring her child into the world - even by asking her to let him adopt the child himself - is exactly what he needs to do in order to be whole again. Still haunted by the child whose life he took years earlier, Jose has come to deeply value human life, which is so precious, and can be so easily lost.
Realizing the change occurring in his brother, Manny is able to learn some of the same things that Nina does, which is that there is pleasure to be found every day as long as we open ourselves up to it. The transformation in all three characters is believable, and beautiful, and refreshingly affirming to see in an independent/foreign-ish film nowadays. In my opinion, the film is strongly pro-choice without being pro-abortion, and pro-life in the respect that we are wasting our valuable moments on earth if we do not take a moment to stop and appreciate all that we have. Cathartic scenes in a garden, on a beach, around a kitchen table, and on a street talking with a blind man all bolster this aspect of the story.
Despite Verastegui's Passionate Jesus-beard which he wears in all the non-flashback segments of the movie (and a shame, because he's way hot), I didn't find this movie to be too preachy or religious at all, something I am usually highly sensitive to in pop culture. The Puerto Rican / Mexican family of Jose and Manny prays before eating, which is about as churchy as the movie gets, and even less than a similar family would be in real life. I highly recommend this film to anyone older than a preteen, and I really feel that it will make you think a little more about how much time you spend worrying versus enjoying life.
Okay, so for some time now I had been wanting to see August Rush pretty badly, because I adore music, movies about music, and every once in awhile I just want a reason to get the warm fuzzies. So today, to escape the fact that my senior thesis is due in eight days and I have a 10 page paper to write (oh, and I think I'm supposed to be reading a light short story called Ulysses for my James Joyce class, too...), I decided to enjoy some alone time and take myself to the theater.
The Saturday after Thanksgiving, breezy T-shirt weather in Claremont, I took a leisurely half-hour stroll to the Laemmle in the new expansion of The Village. Walking along the plush carpet of kelly green grass that stretches across Pomona College, dry leaves crunching under my shoes, I absorbed the beautiful day around me, almost regretting my choice to go sit in a dark room for a couple of hours in the middle of the afternoon. But I also was getting in to the perfect mood to be watching a sweet story about a family that finds itself through the bonds of music.
I was kind of...really wrong. I think I'd have been better off enjoying a smoothie while sitting outside, or at least doing something productive if I was going to be indoors all afternoon. Something about this movie really rubbed me the wrong way, and it was a shame to be so disappointed by it. It is, of course, possible for a movie to be sweet and meaningful without being...boring; Keri Russel's last starring turn in Waitress proved this. Unfortunately, too much of August Rush is slow, unbelievable, or creepy to allow the sweet moments to shine through.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Keri Russell certainly were the most enjoyable people to watch in this film (not just because they're both insanely beautiful people), and even their scenes were sometimes so over-the-top treacle sweet that I expected Hector Elizondo to pop up out of nowhere. I was expecting that Terence Howard and Freddie Highmore might be given more of an opportunity to shine, as well, but instead, it was as if what their best scenes might have been had been edited out. Robin Williams was just creepy, and I kind of want to rent One Hour Photo and Insomnia just to see if this is just how he is onscreen nowadays.
I feel like this movie aimed way too high in trying to convey love of music to the audience, at the expense of believability in the characters and scenarios. Case in point: the first time the title character sees sheet music - ever - he masters the piano and the organ. My eyes rolled out of my head and had to be persuaded to jump back in their sockets after that. I guess this might be a good movie for kids, but otherwise, I think it can be avoided. If you want a touching movie, I would certainly recommend Waitress, which just came out on DVD, or the incredible What Dreams May Come, in which both Robin Williams and Cuba Gooding, Jr. are stellar (I know, right?).
Just wrapping up the last day at school before taking a short Thanksgiving break. I hope you all have an enjoyable few days, and I'll be back this weekend with a review of August Rush and some more thoughts about the strike, of course. For now, I've got to go drive a friend to the airport.
Have a great holiday, and be grateful for everything you have!
I just want to share a short I made for my video class called "Los Suenos del Deseo," which is a parody of a telenovela. When I compressed the file on Final Cut, the fonts and titles got all screwed up, but it doesn't really matter too much...
This morning I watched Thursday's episode of Grey's Anatomy online (sorry, no ad revenue for the writers...), and am very glad to say that it was as good of an episode as some of the better ones from seasons 1 and 2. Ever since about the second half of season 3, Grey's and I really lost the spark in our relationship, but this week's episode, "Forever Young," reminded me of the way that Grey's used to be tense, touching, and funny. And these last few episodes have brought back Dr. Hahn as a full-time cast member, which makes me SO happy. And now I'm listening to Rod Stewart all day.
I've been a big fan of actress Brooke Smith for years now, based solely upon her role in the excellent movie Series 7: The Contenders. I caught it randomly on iFC one day, and ever since, I have considered it to be one of the cleverest and funniest things I've ever experienced. It plays as a marathon of a season of a reality TV show in which the contestants (picked at random from a lottery of unwilling participants) are each given a gun, and the winner is the last one alive. Also, there's an incredible flashback to a music video two of the characters made in the '80s as goth teenagers to Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart," that might be the best parody-within-a-parody ever created. I can't go into much more detail than that, but I really hope anyone who ever hears of it gets a chance to see it. (Trailer at bottom of post)
Then, a couple of weeks ago, I had to watch Vanya on 42nd Street for my Film and Literature class, and was pleased to see Brooke Smith in another starring role. Everyone in the film is amazing (I always like Julianne Moore a lot more than I think I will, and Wallace Shawn is my favorite person in the entire world), and I am so glad I saw it, but Smith was just something else. She had this sweetness and temperance and humility that I would never have expected from my limited exposure to her work. One constant that I did expect from her performance was the passion she imbues into her characters, and I was not disappointed.
Of course, she is probably best known as Catherine Martin, the girl who puts the lotion in the basket in The Silence of the Lambs. I haven't seen that movie in forever, and I didn't remember that it was her, but I know I've seen Brooke Smith in other roles. Iron Jawed Angels, for example, or one of her many guest roles on TV. But I'm glad to have the chance to see her every week (for the next few weeks, at least) on Grey's, because I am a very big fan.
As far as this last episode of GA is concerned, it was nice to see the characters forced to own up to their all-too-controlling immaturities, and what better way than against the backdrop of a bus load of injured high-schoolers? The performance from Chandra Wilson was particularly impressive.
...Just because I don't think Norma Rae would be too impressed with, "How greedy can they get? They won't even share the net!" As for me, it just makes me think of Sandra Bullock getting her identity stolen.
Tuesday morning, Anderson Cooper came to speak at my school. The subject was about how we college students can move up in the world by "following our bliss," which was some advice his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, gave him when he was our age. That, and to wear vertical stripes, which are slimming (just like these here mom jeans). Taking this advice, I left Claremont immediately after his speech was over, and made it to the picket lines at Universal Studios with just an hour before the day's picketing was scheduled to be over at 2pm. At first, I guess I really didn't understand what the strike line experience was going to be like, as I had only seen the supermarket strikes of a few years ago. I was expecting that everyone would be mingling around networking, and I'd just fit right in. Though that didn't turn out to be the case, the actual experience of supporting the strike and being a demonstrator became what I found I wanted to do.
Now, watching news footage of the strike, or the WGA's YouTube channel can be a little bit unusual. There are guitar-strumming SAG members and rich folk chanting "Union Power!" which is a little disconcerting when the conventional archetype of a union member is a blue-collar laborer. That aside, there are Union issues at hand here, and I think the interconnectivity of the WGA, DGA, and SAG is very interesting to watch. Certainly, there is a rank-and-file in the WGA, as not everyone is a head writer for a successful primetime show or a screenwriter making millions and winning Oscars. Maybe Tuesday was a unique day to go to the strike, as "Picketing With the Stars" day happened to coincide with my one afternoon off, so there was a different sort of feeling on Lankershim Blvd. And a lot more media attention.
Though I did have the chance to meet a fewTVstars, I was particularly excited to meet Josh Schwartz, creator of what is quickly becoming one of my favorite shows of all time: Gossip Girl. I think I was a little obnoxious, actually, asking him about Rufus' backstory on the show...maybe it's because I look like I'm 14 that everyone I talked to was a little like, "why are you here?" but I think once I explained that I'm an aspiring writer who was there to support the WGA, I became a little less annoying. Also, I was walking around with my digital camera around my wrist, my borrowed camcorder in one hand, and my found picket sign in the other. Sometime in the next couple of days I should have finished editing the video I took of the strike (which includes a little Sarah Silverman, and a great moment in which Jack Black says simply, "Go. Writers." So sad I couldn't get the camera on quick enough to catch John Cho, too.
Oh, and does anyone know who this woman is? Ed Helms told me that she's a writer on The Office, and I have been racking my brain trying to think of her name! Speaking of The Office, it's a shame I missed out on Stanley and Creed's appearance earlier in the day, but that's life. I thought it was a great experience to meet the writers that I did, and really get a first-hand view of what this strike is really like. I would encourage any supporters of the WGA to make it down to the lines and help demonstrate, or to be one of the many people driving by, honking their horns in support.
Stay tuned sometime this weekend to see the video footage I got - it's pretty cool, if I do say so myself.
Every once in awhile, my life is as poetic and mimetic of art as I'd always like for it to be. How appropriate, then, that my quest to see Wristcutters: A Love Story, was just that - a quest! I wanted to see a movie about people on a mission so badly that of course a few obstacles had to get in my way. But, last Wednesday, I finally got a chance to see it!
Unfortunately, I missed the first couple of minutes (parking in Los Feliz was, as ever, a hassle). It's a good thing that I only missed a few, because the whole picture is only 88 minutes long! I wasn't just surprised at the end that it was over, either - there were times during the film when I found myself thinking, "an act break already?" Despite the rushed pace of the movie, I enjoyed myself about as much as I think the filmmakers expected me to. There were a few laughter-inducing scenes, but for the most part I sat absorbing the characters without really cracking a smile. The fact is, the characters aren't the most sympathetic, because they all killed themselves. It's not like I wanted to judge them or anything, but their post-death personalities weren't super approachable, either.
Though the film had a lot of moments that made fun of itself, which I appreciated, and I thought the premise was smart and funny, it still felt unfinished. I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more (and as much as the trailer led me to believe I would) if the filmmakers had had the budget or whatever it was that prevented them from fleshing out the second half of the movie. It's not necessarily that I wanted to know everything about Tom Waits' character and the People in Charge - after all, Defending Your Life withholds information about the diegesis without being unsatisfying. But the conflation of all the plotlines at the climax was just so rushed, and I felt like a lot of entertaining material might be sitting on the cutting room floor (or in the writer's head).
I like seeing Patrick Fugit coming into more adult roles, and this had just enough adolescence in it to be age-appropriate. Leslie Bibb, Will Arnett, Tom Waits, and Shea Whigham were all very entertaining, and Shannyn Sossamon wasn't as annoying as she...could have been, in this role. So, I can recommend this film, but I really wish that the filmmakers had sat on it long enough to complete it. And if anyone's looking to enjoy Tom Waits acting in another film, I highly recommend Short Cuts, Robert Altman's 1993 adaptation of some of Raymond Carver's short stories. It's got a great ensemble cast - why wouldn't it, it's Altman!
For a while now, I've been wanting to collect my thoughts about the writers' strike, but I haven't known exactly what to say. It's a tricky strike to talk about because, more than a lot of labor union strikes, it has the media attention necessary to get the whole country, and members of the international community forced to pay attention. Of course, I think that labor strikes do impact many aspects of society, but the writers' strike nearly cripples the entertainment industry, which almost every American integrates into their lives daily (whether intentionally or not).
I've done a little bit of research, and I think that what the WGA is demanding is entirely reasonable. Certainly, the deal struck between them and the AMPTP regarding residuals from the home video market in the '80s is in need of being retrofitted to the current situation in which DVDs (which are cheaper to make than VHS tapes) are one of the main ways in which audiences feed their hunger for TV shows and movies which they don't have the time to watch when first aired. As far as new media is concerned, I think it's very beneficial to the writers that they got their panties in a twist about it sooner rather than later. The studios were able to get away with the home video thing back in the 80s because they weren't sure where the market was going to be going, and now the writers want to make sure the same thing doesn't happen with online content. I understand, from the studios' perspective, that no one wants to set anything in stone with a medium that changes so quickly, but already advertising revenue and personal ownership sales are being lost to the people who make up the creative backbone of the industry.
Now, all of this aside, there is so much collateral damage caused by the shutdown of production that anyone in the industry - or in Los Angeles - has a vested interest in the strike lasting as short as possible. When the last strike, in 1988, lasted 22 weeks, it lost the industry so many jobs and so much money that I really hope they don't ever come any more frequently than every twenty years or so. Already, too many people have lost their jobs, too many local restaurants and businesses have lost their customers, and in a few weeks (less tragically), people will have run out of new episodes of the shows they're used to tuning in to.
Of course, I support the strike. As someone who hopes to be an employed guild member within the next couple of years, I am so glad that the picketers are trying to get better contracts for themselves that I, too, will be able to benefit from. Tomorrow I have the afternoon free, and I am looking forward to having the opportunity to visiting the picket lines and seeing it all happen firsthand. I know I'm not the only young writer aware of the networking possibilities of supporting the strike in person, but mostly I think this could be another invaluable learning experience. All of this is happening right now, when I am trying to break in to the business, and I want to see it with my own eyes. Jane Espenson, currently a writer for Battlestar Galactica, has written that she's glad to see aspiring writers showing their support, and with picket information readily available on Chad Gervich's blog Script Notes, affiliated with the WGA magazine Writer's Digest, I feel confident going down and talking to people.
So, if you're in Burbank tomorrow, at Warner Brothers, Disney, or Universal, sometime in the afternoon, look for a short-haired girl in glasses and a red shirt, armed with snacks and business cards!
I guess this will have to be considered my strongly worded letter...
First, I must apologize, because this post may be a bit stilted. I'm having some trouble organizing my thoughts about the last concert I went to, and am just trying to get them out, I guess. Last weekend, I went to the first night of Brand New's three-night engagement at the Wiltern. For some background, Brand New is my favorite band of all time. Now, I know this makes me incredibly, incredibly emo. But that's okay. When I was a lonely teenager at all girls' school, full of angst and pretension, emo was the right choice for me. Dashboard Confessional, of course, was my gateway band into the genre, and for that I am grateful, if not unique. But for as much as Chris Carrabba's music defined a generation of skinny adolescents with heavy bangs, Brand New was the band whose CDs I listened to over and over and over again, every night when I was trying too hard to get everything out into my journal to sleep.
When I was a sophomore in high school, I first heard "The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows." It, of course, blew my mind / changed my life / you name it. Ever since then, pretty much every track off of the band's first two albums, Your Favorite Weapon and Deja Entendu, have meant a lot to me. It's one of those things that's difficult to describe, but I know that most people have experienced this kind of love for music, so hopefully you get it. Last year I picked up their latest album, The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me, and was a little flummoxed. Of course, loving the band so much, I couldn't help but have exceedingly high expectations, but I really had a hard time getting into it. "Jesus" is one of the band's best songs, and represents a lot of the deepening introversion that has been evident as the band has aged, but it is one of only a couple of standouts on the album. Maybe it's because it didn't come along at the same crucial point in my musical development as the first two albums, but this third disc from the band just never resonated as much with me.
The last time that I had seen Brand New live was when they opened for Dashboard at the Universal Amphitheater in 2003. At the time, my friend and I were the only people around us in the audience who had heard of them, and it was an excellent performance. The stadium was barely filled, as most people were still not there for the next opening act, MxPx, but I still had a great time listening to Jesse Lacey & Co. So last weekend, I could barely contain my excitement to finally see them again. My friends Tiff and Esther had seen Lacey perform solo in February, and reported that he performed about equally from all three albums. My anticipation only mounted - finally the chance to be in an audience full of Brand New fans, listening to the songs we collectively adore. We got to the Wiltern an hour early so we could wait in line to get wristbands for the pit. mewithoutYou was a good opening act, and I really enjoyed Thrice, whom I'd never really listened to before (their guitarist, Teppei Teppanishi, is kind of the hottest man ever, too). Brand New came on. I was...floored. They were passionate, excellent performers. About a quarter of the way into their set, they played three of their older songs. Then, they kept playing. Every track off the new album. They left the stage. Tiff, Esther, and I stood with our mouths agape. The band came back for their encore. They had to play the crowd favorites from their older albums, right? Right?! They had a jam session.
We walked outside, silently, and drank our iced coffees, trying to figure out what had happened. Maybe it was because they didn't want to play all the same songs for every night of their engagement in L.A. Maybe they just...don't like the old songs anymore? Maybe they...hate me? I don't know. It was really, really disappointing. At this point, I continue to be at a loss for words. I just feel like those acne-faced boys standing in front of us, who were rocking out to the newer, blander music, while standing confused during the retro interlude. Except, you know, the opposite.
I don't know. I felt really bad. I still feel bad. It just would have been so helpful to be able to hear those amazing songs performed live again. And I know, it is just SO emo to be saying all this. Dare I say that the three of us cried a little bit on the drive home, listening to the old favorites on Esther's iPod? "They were better before their third album came out." "I liked them when they were underground." "They suck now that they sold out." "They don't care about their fans anymore." So, yeah...I get it. This whole post is pretty embarrassing. But goddammit I love that music. So much. And I just miss it, is all. So I'm going to keep listening to it until I feel better. Old school...
On Tuesday, October 30th, musical legend and humanitarian Bono, lead singer of U2, came to speak at my school about...something. I don't know, the environment, I guess, or aid to Africa. I think it was that last one. I wasn't there, because I had already bought tickets to see Regina Spektor live at the Wiltern! I went with my friend Ash, who had already seen her at Coachella, but for me it was the first time.
There is not much to say about Regina as a performer beyond what a great musician she is, and anyone who's listened to her music (her albums Begin to Hope or Soviet Kitsch, or watched an episode of Grey's Anatomy or seen a commercial on TV) already knows that, I hope. Her voice can sweep from the throaty depths reminiscent of her Soviet homeland, to the unbearable lightness of being in one phrase, and carries with it stories that are incredibly easy to relate to, even if tempered with sometimes nonsensical vocal trills.
The stage was set very simply, and it wasn't until later in the evening that I understood the visual implications of the lighting. Her beautiful grand piano was set up on stage left, with clusters of "twinkle lights" (is there a real name for those?) strewn around its legs. Hanging from the ceiling were exposed light bulbs on cords of different lengths. Three slightly larger ones descended directly above the piano while the rest mostly illuminated the back of the stage. Stage right had a lot of negative space, but Regina used it when she stood to sing a capella or play the electric guitar for some songs. Finally, sitting alone next to her piano was an abandoned disco ball. At first glance this setup looked like Regina had found herself an abandoned loft with various lighting equipment in it, and brought her piano there to have a private practice space. Later on, spotlit, and with the light bulbs and twinkle lights reflecting off the disco ball, she looked like she was playing her piano on a cloud in the night sky, the moon in the distance and the stars gathered to hear her play. It was quite lovely, and perfectly suited her personality.
I'd say she performed about evenly from both of the popular albums, with a couple of songs that I hadn't heard before, but the audience was highly receptive to each song she played. Actually, when she returned for her extra-long encore (about five songs - almost a mini set!), I think the screams in the Wiltern were the loudest I'd ever heard them. And speaking of the audience...boy, were they obnoxious. I understand the impulse to sing along at a concert, and I certainly have done so, but it's much more acceptable at a rock concert, or under your breath. I think it defeats the purpose of paying $40 to listen to a chanteuse playing and singing solo when the teenage girl behind you is trying to out-diva the woman on stage. Regina, though, was performing for herself, which was the lasting impression of the whole concert. She's not necessarily a great entertainer, but because she's such an amazing performer, I got the impression she'd be up there singing with or without us, and we had the good fortune to be able to listen in. Because she often changed up the length of notes held or times she repeated a syllable, audience divas mimicking the CDs had a little trouble keeping up. It was pretty funny from where I was standing, behind a too-tall frizzy ponytail.
I think the two most impressive stage shows I've seen at the Wiltern (one of the most beautiful places in LA, if you ask me, along with the Henry Fonda) were Death Cab for Cutie and Imogen Heap. Imogen's stage set up was similar to Regina's, but had a really incredible see-through piano, and of course a lot more equipment. But for simplicity, Regina really created a wonderful experience for me.
So, I'm going to have a couple new entries coming up in the next few days, but this past week has been seriously one of the busiest of my life. Good news, though: I finished the first draft of my screenplay! Anyway, tonight I was hoping to attend The Swell Season concert at the Wiltern. Unfortunately I found out too late about the chance to see Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova perform together, live. Saddest moment of my life. Anyway, tonight is the homecoming dance/party at school, so I will have something fun to do. Just wanted to spread the good news that Once is finally coming out on DVD on December 18th. Can't wait!
...Wes Anderson would have the gold medal. Ever since I was a freshman in high school, I have been a devoted Wes Anderson fan. My friend Elisa and I used to watch movie trailers on the computers at school when we were bored in class, and we both became obsessed with the one for The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). When I finally saw it in theaters, it was one of the first times that I was conscious of a film experience really affecting me. I distinctly remember emerging from the matinee in the wintry afternoon and the sunlight reflecting off of my world a little differently. At this point, I've seen that movie so many times that I don't even know if I can pinpoint what it is that makes it one of my favorites, but something about it really struck me.
For some reason I cannot remember, I didn't see another Wes Anderson movie until my freshman year of college, when I was really looking forward to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004). Unfortunately, I was terribly disappointed. Somehow it transformed all of the heartfelt charm I was expecting into silliness without meaning. It's highly possible that I need to watch it again, though. I wouldn't be surprised if I like it better upon a second viewing...as you'll see in just a moment.
Now, what I'm about to say will be considered anathema to most Wes Anderson fans, but I have to be honest. I didn't see Rushmore (1998) until a little over a year ago. And I hated it! You can imagine my surprise. It's just as Anderson in form as my beloved Royal Tenenbaums, it stars my soulmate Jason Schwartzman at the zenith of his quirky confidence, and I myself went to a weird prep school where I failed to exceed academically. Not to mention the fact that I became an avid Brand New fan years before knowing the title of "Sic Transit Gloria...Glory Fades" came from this movie. I was upset that the only thing I really enjoyed in the film were the theatrical adaptations by the Max Fischer Players. So, a few weeks ago I decided to re-watch the movie, and really give it my full attention. I don't know what was different, but I really enjoyed it this time. I still prefer The Royal Tenenbaums, perhaps because it was my first, but I now think I could happily watch Rushmore many more times.
In between watching Hotel Chevalier for the first time on iTunes and seeing The Darjeeling Limited in theaters, I rented Bottle Rocket (1996), which I was pleasantly surprised by. It made me notice Owen Wilson as an actor more than I'd really paid attention to him in other Anderson films (even though he's great in Royal, he's excellent here). I think it may have been more true to the intent of the film to place an even heavier emphasis on the Wilson brothers' characters though, because I found myself so drawn to the Inez subplot that I wasn't that interested in the crime capers the movie was actually about.
As a longtime devoted fan of Natalie Portman and Jason Schwartzman, I couldn't wait to see Hotel Chevalier, which, incidentally, contains Ms. Portman's first-ever nude scene! Now, I know that sounds pretty sensational to be focusing on, but I know that she's been very selective about nudity in previous films that have called for it, so I figured that if Wes Anderson could get her to take her clothes off in front of the camera, she must have found it a worthy film to make. So, I really enjoyed the movie - I know some people found it slow, but it worked especially well with Portman's character, and the stasis that Schwartzman's had fallen into in his life. The dialogue was very honest, and I thought that the composition of the shots was even more painterly than I'd usually expect from Anderson.
This set the scene for just how much I'd like The Darjeeling Limited. I don't know exactly how, since none of the characters are really that sympathetic, but the film totally managed to evoke my affective response. From the very beginning, when Adrien Brody outstrips Bill Murray as they're both running for the train, I was completely delighted. I was surprised by how well the Indian backdrop complemented the tried-and-true subject matter of these grown men acting like children, and when the sad moments in the story come along, it is very effective. I caught a case of the giggles throughout, certainly, but when the scene in the river took me by surprise, I was not the only one gasping in the theater. The interplay between the brothers' interactions in India and in New York, portrayed in the final third of the film, punctuated the story very nicely, and helped me to understand so many of its nuances. Finally, the film's closing set piece was a marvelous sort of bow to the audience, reminding us how much Anderson likes to stage his films as tableau pieces, putting curious characters on display for our inspection.
According to IMDb, Anderson's next project is The Fantastic Mr. Fox, an animated (I think) adaptation of Roald Dahl's book. I am very interested to see what he will do with another author's source material, and can't wait to re-watch Rushmore and The Life Aquatic, hoping only to increase my regard for his entire body of work.
So, since I was a freshman, I've written for one of my school's student-run newspapers, often writing their movie reviews. Recently I wrote a review of Once for them which was just posted on their website, and you can read it here. Enjoy!
I would be far from the first person to complain that "there are no new ideas in Hollywood," but it certainly seems that in a time when sequels and adaptations take up the bulk of the marquee, much of what audiences watch in theaters ends up being totally unmemorable. Studios can drum up a death rattle of buzz for their movies at DVD release time, but within a month or two of each film's opening audiences generally have forgotten what exactly made them want to go see it in the first place. As this year's blockbuster season blends into the romantic comedies of fall, there seems to be one movie that has made an indelible impression on movie audiences: John Carney's Once. For a film advertised largely through word-of-mouth since its premier at a few European film festivals in the summer of 2006, Once has stuck around surprisingly long.
So what has made Once so memorable? It is the simple story of a vacuum cleaner repairman (played by Glen Hansard, lead singer of Irish rock group The Frames) who spends his free time busking with his love-worn guitar on the streets of Dublin. While pouring his heart out into the empty night air, he meets a Czech girl (the lovely Markéta Irglová) selling flowers and other miscellany, and they begin a friendship. When he discovers what a talented pianist she is, they begin writing songs together which reveals a truly deep connection between the two.
The plot of Once takes place over the course of a few days, and for a film so imbued with emotion, it is refreshing to see the inexperienced actors convey such strong feelings with little explicitly laid out for the viewer: what other films portray through unnecessary sex scenes and unrealistic monologues, Once portrays more vividly with subtle glances between the two lovers. The love story is tempered by the complications of their realistic living situations - family, past infidelities, finances--which only adds to the charm. The film's philosophy on love is a refreshingly honest one. It reminds us of an indefinable gray area stretching across romance and friendship, and that true beauty can be found not in one's destination, but in one's journey.
The real heart of the film is its music. The relationship between the leads would be meaningless if not for the music that they play together. When they first play a duet shortly after meeting, it is possibly one of the most intimate love scenes ever captured on celluloid. Anyone who has ever understood how music can connect with the soul will revel in that scene long after the movie has ended.
Though the low budget direction and cinematography are warm and charming, I wonder if the soundtrack is enough of a footprint of the film that ardent fans will have no need to purchase the DVD once it is released. Since watching the movie in June, I have listened to the soundtrack almost daily, if only to remind myself of the awesome power of music and film.
So, I watched the entire first season of "Ugly Betty" on DVD in the last couple of weeks, and definitely fell in love with it. At first I thought it was campy and sweet, but that there wasn't enough there to keep viewers interested for much longer than the novelty would have lasted. Now, having completely caught up with all of the episodes, I have added it to my list of weekly must-see shows. The show strikes such a great balance between hyperbole and approachability, and I think that is incredibly difficult to do.
My favorite relationships on this show are the ones between Amanda and Marc, Hilda and Justin, and Daniel and Betty, in that order. Of course, as a devoted 'hag, I think that the catty back-and-forth between Amanda and Marc is just the sort of thing that my 'mo and I could aspire to have one day. Even though Justin is a pretty uninteresting caricature most of the time, it is very refreshing to see how his whole family treats him with respect, and Hilda portrays a very sympathetic mother character, which I don't think is really that present on primetime. The relationship between Daniel and Betty is flat at some points, but it seems like it may be one of the strongest ones on the show - despite everything Daniel does, Betty is there for him, and there are moments (like on tonight's episode), when Daniel notices Betty's lucky sweater and is a true friend to her at Mode. (Also in tonight's episode: the recurring appearance of John Cho!)
So, I know that critics have already heaped praise on this show's treatments of homosexuality, transsexual issues, body image / beauty, and race, and I am totally behind all of those accolades. But mostly I admire how the show creates incredible microcosms that fit really well together, and I am always entertained whether the plot has taken us from Mode to Queens to the green screens of New York. Also, the season 1 finale was so perfectly crafted...maybe I'm just a sucker for West Side Story, but the closing set piece was so good, I could only appreciate it with the knowledge that I could immediately go online and see what happened next! So I figured if my latest guilty pleasure Gossip Girl could get its own blog post, then this great show could too. Right now, I'm really looking forward to Marc's character growing up, as he has totally won my heart with all of his fabulous facets.
On a smaller side-note, I did want to say that I am glad The Office is back to its half-hour length - for the time being. I do think that it has the potential to be able to carry an hourlong time slot, as long as it doesn't sacrifice character continuity for sensational episode ideas. Kudos to last week's writer Paul Lieberstein (the incredible HR guy Toby), whose first time direction was magnificent. As for tonight's episode, it was heartfelt and simple like Office episodes of yore, and I think that had a lot to do with the episode's length. There was just enough material without distracting us. Other than the amazing musical stylings of Darryl (f. Creed, Kevin, Kelly, and Andy), I also want to point out the hot advertising guy with the beard...IMDb isn't giving me any clues as to who he is, and I'm curious!
Just a couple of things I found on Wikipedia and wanted to add to yesterday's discussion of Across the Universe:
1. Evan Rachel Wood and Across the Universe co-star, Jim Sturgess are reported to be involved in Spiderman the Musical, the upcoming Julie Taymor Broadway production. Music for the show will be composed and written by Bono and The Edge, of the band U2.
2. I did buy the soundtrack for the movie, and highly recommend it. It's a nice change from listening to the same versions of Beatles songs over and over. I do wish "With a Little Help From My Friends" and "Dear Prudence" were included on it, though.
The night before last I finally saw Across the Universe, because I had been worried it would leave theaters before I got the chance to see it on the big screen. Having had a couple of days to sort out my varied feelings about the film, I'm very glad that I was able to catch it before it closed. I'd had previous warning from a large number of sources that the story would be inescapably thin, but I followed my gut instinct which told me that the draw of the film would be its visuals, not its story. Thankfully, I was right.
From the trailer I could tell that there was an incredibly artistic vision at hand in this film, and also that the story rested its crucial Beatles tunes on a plot consisting of 1960s romance and the Vietnam war. Ehhh... Dave Calhoun of Time Out London wrote, "Taymor has mistaken a deeply clichéd view of the late ’60s for a radical slice of the zeitgeist. Let it be." This is pretty much the big problem that the story has. I think it's understandable that when crafting plotlines around the beloved and culturally relevant songs of The Beatles, there would be a strong impulse to focus on the political situation of the '60s. However, I think much of the beauty of the music is its emotional impact that transcends time frames. There is a beautiful scene set to "All You Need is Love," and I wish that the film had taken more of its cues from the lyrics to that song. Any number of stories could have better served the musical while giving it more of a storytelling appeal, and I even think that Movin' Out told the Vietnam story better with its "Goodnight Saigon" set piece alone...
That said, I still thought this was an excellent movie. How I managed to come to that conclusion was to check out of the storyline completely about ten minutes in. One of my friends, who left the theater calling it her "new favorite movie," referred to it as a string of amazing music videos. For anyone not looking to try too hard to figure out what's going on throughout, this is the best way to watch Across the Universe. There are too many lulls in the story to keep it feeling fresh and smooth from start to finish, yet almost every one of the songs is treated with beauty and grace.
Even someone like myself who is not necessarily fluent in the full discography of Beatles music was aware of stretches that the film made in order to incorporate song titles or lyrics into non sequitur pieces of dialogue. But even though the music didn't alllways fit with the storyline, there is one crucial aspect to this movie that I have yet to mention: the music is BEAUTIFUL! Of course, Beatles music is amazing as is, but the performances were at times so moving that I felt all I wanted to do was listen to that song for the rest of my life. T.V. Carpio's voice gave "I Want to Hold Your Hand" a raw, caramelized beauty that I had never heard in it before, and Jim Sturgess' "Strawberry Fields Forever" harmonized so well with the visuals onscreen that I was in awe of the visceral experience being projected in suspicious 2D a few yards in front of my face.
So, I must recommend that you see this movie in the next few days before it leaves theaters. I fully intend to buy the soundtrack and start listening to the original Beatles music I haven't played in a long time. I understand why the movie got a 51% at Rotten Tomatoes - some people love it and some people hate it. I would have to give the visual aspect and the musical performances a 100%, and the storyline a 25%...you know I can't resist a good love story, and this one is sweet if taken in small doses. As far as the performances are concerned in general, I enjoyed them all, for the most part. The actors did a good job in spite of the flaws in the screenplay. Cameos by Bono, Eddie Izzard, Salma Hayek, and especially Joe Cocker were delightful surprises, and the supporting actors all suited their roles very well.
Evan Rachel Wood managed to get under my skin, though, and not in a good way. I can't really tell how much of my current distaste for her comes from the Dita/Marilyn thing, or how much of it is my jealousy at her pin-straight golden hair and porcelain, patrician face. All in all, I just found her annoying. As for Jim Sturgess, I would like to officially welcome him to the club of "Katherine's Hollywood Heartthrobs." Honestly, I can't even remember the last time I saw an actor in a movie and immediately felt the heartstring flutters of teenage celebrity crushes. I know I was not the only girl in the audience who uttered a satisfied purr every time he sauntered onscreen, all British and pretty. Yum.
So...where was I? Anyway, great soundtrack and worth the price of the ticket, if you go in with the proper frame of mind. I'd love to see what Taymor could do with actual music videos, and if she could translate this movie into a better version of itself on the Broadway stage. Note to self: rent Titus.
A few days ago I posted a link to the YouTube site that my friend Esther and I use to host the videos we collaborate on for contests and stuff. Last night we uploaded a stop motion animation that we submitted to the Dashboard Confessional contest. It's a music video for their new single, "Thick as Thieves," and if it wins, it'll be the official video for the song! So please watch it at http://www.youtube.com/katandesther and vote, comment, tell me what you think!
My trailer reviews will never fall on the same day of the week, it seems...
Wristcutters: A Love Story (October 19) Sometimes I think the value of an independent film can be hinted at by the caliber of actors who consent to play bit parts. Tom Waits and Will Arnett both appear in small roles in this movie that I've barely heard of. Though I'm really not a fan of Shannyn Sossamon, when Patrick Fugit's onscreen I'm sure I will have nothing to complain about. He's toeing the line between hot and sexyugly, and I think I like it. He plays a man who's killed himself, and is searching for his ex-girlfriend who is also somewhere in the afterlife. So basically, it's Defending Your Life but more cynical. Awesome.
Southland Tales (November 9) I have no idea what's going on here, but Moviefone calls it an "ambitious fusion of comedy, drama, dystopian science fiction, and music." It's possible that Richard Kelly, after turning enough heads with the amazing Donnie Darko was told his next script would have a huge budget, and he just threw every crackpot idea he had at it. Hopefully, Kelly will follow Charlie Kaufman's school of crazy with this one. The Rock and Sean William Scott are involved. Good heavens.
I'm Not There (November 21) The way that this film uses a number of very different actors to play Bob Dylan is going to be very exciting, I think, and will probably diminish the romanticism of movies like Ray and Walk the Line. That's not to say it's trying to subvert those movies like Walk Hard is (see below), but that it will give some rawness to the film. The trailer doesn't reveal very much, but David Cross plays Allen Ginsberg, and I am pretty pumped to see that.
August Rush (Novermber 29) This movie looks like it has everything heartwarming I would want to see, except maybe an underdog sports team beating State against all odds. I'm a total sucker for Freddie Highmore, and this looks like it will be an inspiring, if unconventional, hero tale. Robin Williams' presence and appearance are a bit baffling, but if there's enough Terrence Howard then I won't care. Most importantly though, it completely makes my spirit soar when movies are able to convey the magic that comes from a love of music. It seems as though this film does place a heavy emphasis on what music can do to our souls. Lastly, I must reiterate that Keri Russell and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers are two of the most beautiful people in Hollywood.
Juno (December 14) This movie originally got some hype as the "closest we'll get to an Arrested Development reunion," but that is an entirely misguiding reason to want to see this movie. Of course, Michael Cera might just be my soulmate, so there is no question that I'd want to see this, but the trailer is particularly impressive. I still haven't seen Hard Candy, but from what I've seen, Ellen Page has a charming frankness that will play against Michael Cera really well. I've yet to see what the big deal is about Jennifer Garner, but it seems like her primary role is to temper Jason Bateman's pre-mid-life crisis. Can't wait. It's the hipster Knocked Up, with a splash of Junebug.
Walk Hard (December 21) I got to see about half an hour's worth of clips from this movie when Judd Apatow was on the Columbia panel at Comic Con, and it was gut-bustingly hilarious. Definitely over-the-top, and with a pretty broad sense of parody, but I trust Judd Apatow to do that without insulting the audience's intelligence too much. There's a whole panoply of cameos that look very promising, as well.
Be Kind, Rewind (January 25) Another trailer that I saw at Comic Con, and I am really hoping that my expectations are not too high for this film. After Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I was disappointed by The Science of Sleep, even though I felt that Gael Garcia-Bernal and Charlotte Gainsbourg are both impressive. Maybe the problem there is that I know Charlie Kaufman's writing will impress me, but Michel Gondry's directing is not always a hit. In the world of music video directors turned feature directors, though, Gondry is much more of a Spike Jonze than a ... McG. Anyway, I think Mos Def and Jack Black will have great chemistry, and the premise is very charming. As anyone who's ever reenacted something with their friends understands, most of the appeal of movies is what you share with people reminiscing about them.
I would just like to amend my earlier post about this fall's season premieres to say that I am now caught up on The CW's new series Gossip Girl. I never read the series of books that the show is based on, and I've never really been into the high school drama shows with age-inappropriate actors like Dawson's Creek or The OC, but this show did draw me in for two reasons. As an alumna of a very clique-y all girls' prep school, I think I'm craving more drama in my life, since this semester it has been spent entirely in a book, in front of a computer, or behind a camera. Also, it stars Blake Lively who was in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, one of my guiltier pleasures.
So far, it isn't the best show on TV, and even though it isn't that slowly paced, I am just not sure that enough happens in each episode. There's a lot of exposition, but not that much action. Of course, I'm not expecting it to be LOST or anything, but I think the show does have a lot of potential. Oh, and for the record: I was kind of on the fence about the show until there was a totally pointless a capella version of "Glamorous" performed in a church. Seriously.
I managed to catch up on the season's first three episodes when I accidentally noticed they were being replayed on MTV yesterday afternoon. I have a big gripe with MTV right now. Every commercial break starts with a clip of Rilo Kiley (one of my absolute favorite bands) performing, then the video transitions into an ad for one of their reality shows about rich girls or skateboarding teens. WHILE THE RILO KILEY MUSIC IS STILL PLAYING UNDERNEATH IT. I don't know why this bothers me so much, but it reeeeally does. Their new CD, "Under the Blacklight," is excellent, and I love hearing tracks "Silver Lining" or "The Moneymaker" every ten minutes when I'm watching MTV, but I'd rather not have to be distracted by some other show at the same time.
So, I don't often get too personal on this here film blog of mine. I mean, I mention goings-on in my life, and it's all about my opinions, but this isn't really an emotion-based blog like my xanga or MySpace of yore. However, I've been thinking a whole lot lately about my impending career in film and television. Unfortunately, I haven't really got much experience to speak of in the industry. The past two summers, since I realized that I wanted to work in Hollywood, I have had to sacrifice an internship in entertainment in order to take a paid job in a fairly unrelated field (public affairs, communications, and my school's alumni relations - all peripherally related to entertainment). So at this point, I'm looking for entry-level positions to begin in Fall of 2008, which require a B.A. and hopefully not too much experience. Yeesh.
Though my long-term goal is to be able to make a living as a writer for film and television, I am open to most kinds of entry-level positions in production. Though it's a bit early in the year to be actively submitting my resume, really, I have been scrolling through job listings as a new form of "productive procrastination" (cleaning my room, cooking, doing laundry, etc.). Primarily, I've been looking through the major production companies' and networks' job listings, and I did a more general search on Variety, but I still feel a bit lost about how exactly I should be job-searching. My school is primarily a government and economics school (though it is, nominally, a liberal arts college), and the career services center is in no way prepared to guide any student in how to search for jobs that aren't in consulting, accounting, or investment banking.
I am doing my best to take baby steps towards my goal though, including looking at other possible "ins" to The Industry than assistant jobs at studios. I sent my resume to the NBC Page Program in Burbank, but it was probably too early to do so. I've recently begun reading the blogs of Jane Espenson and Lisa Klink, and next semester I really want to start writing as many spec scripts as I can, even if I never send them to anyone, but just so I can get the hang of it. Of course the reason I have to wait until next semester to do this is because this semester I am writing my senior thesis, which is my first ever feature-length screenplay.
Also, there is the alumni connection. I have worked in alumni relations at my school ever since I was a freshman, and have found this to be my best resource that the school can offer. I am currently the student liaison for the fledgling Media Advisory Board, which is a great initiative working to get alumni in the entertainment industry able to enlighten interested students about the industry. Another recent happy accident is that the entertainment alumni from all five colleges in the Claremont University Consortium (Pitzer, Pomona, Scripps, Harvey Mudd, and my dear Claremont McKenna) have independently decided to get together and start creating a stronger network. Luckily, I get to be one of the two current students who will be attending the first mixer of the 5C entertainment alumni, and hopefully I can do a good job of networking there.
So, I am reaching out to the internet community at large, which my StatCounter informs me is, um... not yet obsessed en masse with my blog, to ask for advice. I realize that one avenue I should be looking into more actively is jobs at writers' agencies, but I have no idea how to find these agencies. When I did a preliminary Google, I couldn't tell which sites were reputable, and which I should bother sending resumes to. So if someone in the know comes across this appeal of mine, please comment with any thoughts you may have about good paths to take in this job hunt!
So, my friend Esther and I started collaborating on short films whenever we have the time, particularly with the intention of entering into the various short film contests we find on the internet and on YouTube. So, if you'd like to see the two pieces we submitted to the NBC Diversity Promo contest, you can check them out on our site. They make more sense if you watch Heroes. Also, there will be more videos added to our page in the coming weeks!
It is far past time for me to organize my thoughts about this season's new and returning offerings of primetime TV! So far, the one show that seems to have found itself on the cutting block is ANTM, which I just haven't been able to find the time for. The great thing about that show is that it has two "cycles" each season, so I don't have to wait a whole year to catch a new crop of skinny bitches. Also, I have to wait until February for more LOST, but at least there won't be a mid-season hiatus this time around.
Heroes Mondays at 9pm on NBC So far, I have been greatly impressed by the reintroduction to the Heroes-verse. Unfortunately, there was about a month last season when I really had trouble keeping interested in some of the show's many plotlines, so I feel like I keep missing out on some backstory now and again, but I feel like I'll catch up. As far as the Nakamura family is concerned, I'm sad to see George Takei go, but I am thrilled with the interaction between Hiro and Takezo Kensei. Not only does it reinforce how amazing of a hero Hiro really is, but it's nice to get a totally different perspective on the super powers. As far as Peter Petrelli is concerned, I like how much of a total badass he is, but I hope they just don't make him omnipotent and take the humanity out of him. That said, he looks a lot hotter this season. Claire is getting less annoying now that she's not a cheerleader any more, but I have to wonder how far they are going to take her abilities.
I Love New York 2 Mondays at 9pm on Vh1 So, my dear friend Evan and I became obsessed with Tiffany Patterson's search for love on the first season of I Love New York, and were sad to see that she didn't find it with Tango (personally, I think Mr. Boston would have been her best shot). So of course we more than eagerly tuned in to see the premiere of this second season. So far, it looks promising - plenty of fame-hungry 'mos looking for a shot to hook up with the living Bratz doll that has been on Flav. Now, don't get me wrong, I think Tiffany is great. I just think it's funny how these guys claim they've been in love with her ever since they tuned in to Flavor of Love for the first time. So far, no particular standout suitors, but I really hope Vh1's lawyers get Sister Patterson to stop being so hateful to self-named "Midget Mac."
Pushing Daisies Wednesdays at 8pm on ABC I'd heard good things about this show, which had gotten some buzz in recent months, but the advertising and word-of-mouth never really stuck with me. On a whim, I watched the pilot on abc.com last week, and became totally smitten! Lee Pace, from the late, great series Wonderfalls, and the beautiful Anna Friel (see The Land Girls if you ever get a chance) have extremely charming chemistry, made sweeter by the fact that they cannot touch. The character interactions are reminiscent of those on Dead Like Me, though there is less cynicism, and the show is so well-produced that it is like watching a high-budget movie fairy tale each week. Always a gem, Kristin Chenoweth is able to be physically comic and sing on the show, which I am very grateful for!
30 Rock Thursdays at 8:30pm on NBC The first two episodes of the season thus far have not been as hilarious as much of last season was, but I fully expect that the show will start delivering in a few weeks. It took me a few episodes to really get into the show when I started watching, and I'm sure it just needs to get back into the swing of things. That said, there have already been a couple of jokes which keep me giggling at inappropriate moments ("Oh no! Did a Korean person die?" and "Boys becoming men; men becoming wolves!"), and I just hope that the show doesn't start to rely on cameos and fat jokes for season two.
The Office Thursdays at 9pm on NBC With one major exception, I have been pleasantly surprised by everything that season four of this show has given its viewers. At first, I was really worried that a premature resolution of the Jim/Pam storyline would siphon all of the magic out of the show, but so far that hasn't happened. The Dwangela storyline seems to be filling its shoes quite nicely, and I look forward to Angela's character being given more room to breathe. The first four episodes of this season are hour-long, and so far that has worked sometimes, but last night's episode felt stretched too thin. The main problem I'm having with this season is that Michael's character has changed from a well-meaning idiot to a completely unrealistic buffoon. I can't really sympathize with him anymore because the things he does seem to be stupid for stupid's sake, like driving into a lake. It's almost Brentian. Hopefully things right themselves, because my impulse purchase of the first three seasons on DVD really made me fall even more in love with the show.
Grey's Anatomy Thursdays at 9pm on ABC Nah, not really. I hate to say it, but this show has really lost a lot of its charm. I couldn't justify spending the money on the season 3 DVDs because of the sour turn that the show took during the second half of the season, and so far season 4 has yet to draw me back in. I've decided that The Office gets my viewership on Thursday nights, and I will watch Grey's online when I have time, in the hopes that the writers can find a way to get back on the right track, but at this point I really don't even care what happens to the characters. I wish I could be as gung-ho about this show as I was for seasons 1 and 2, especially as a minority female hoping to become a writer someday, but it has gotten...boring. Characters making too many stupid mistakes and not getting out of their ruts is just...not doing it for me.
So, hopefully I'll have a chance to catch up on ANTM, Private Practice, and Gossip Girl (which I'm sure I'd love), but as I'm writing a first-semester thesis, that just doesn't seem too likely. Fingers crossed!
What does "Kat Ex Machina" mean? The blog's title, and my online moniker, is taken from the popular plot device in storytelling, Deus ex machina, which means "God from a machine." It comes from the ancient Greek theatre, in which actors representing God would swoop in to the action and save the characters from a seemingly unsolvable situation. It is still used frequently as a contrivance in film and television. Kat Ex Machina means Kat (me) from a machine, and as my blog entries on a computer are about the best way for me to broadcast my trivial thoughts, it seemed appropriate.