Saturday, December 29, 2007

xoxo, "you know you love me..."

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!

travelin' (wo)man

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!

Friday, December 28, 2007

crikey, etc.

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!

Monday, December 24, 2007

kookaburras and wombats and cassowaries, oh my!

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.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

gotta sing! gotta dance! gotta kill!

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.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

holiday in the sun

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!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

obligatory procrastinatory personal blog

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!

Monday, December 10, 2007


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.