Friday, October 24, 2008

a very small grand tale

Against a pastiche of manicured lawns and devotional religious artwork, beautiful people with incredibly refined accents smoke hand-rolled cigarettes and steal illicit kisses in shadowy alcoves. Julian Jarrold's Brideshead Revisited is the ambitious and flawed story of three young people coming to terms with reality surrounded by mid-century interwar decadence.

As a first-year at Oxford, middle-class Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode) is drawn to the lifestyle and companionship of the foppish Lord Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whishaw), who takes a shine to him in turn. Sebastian is a fairly straightforward character, tortured by alcoholism, deeply conscious of his inadequacy in his mother's eyes, and fond of his stuffed bear Aloysius. When Charles visits Sebastian's home, the vast estate of Brideshead, he is intoxicated as much by the luxury and beauty as by the copious amounts of wine he and Sebastian guzzle. It's Pemberley Syndrome. Charles loves Sebastian, but they both know he will never return the romantic attraction Sebastian displays toward him. That doesn't make it sting any less when Sebastian catches his sister, the Louise Brooks-styled ingenue Julia (Hayley Atwell) kissing Charles.

Meanwhile (for there's always a "meanwhile"), the family matriarch Lady Marchmain (Emma Thompson) has ingrained herself in every aspect of her children's lives, as well as Charles'. Herein lies the story's major conflict. While Brideshead Revisited spans continents and years, and touches upon the subjects of class relations, terminal illness, war, infidelity, and filial piety, it is really nothing more than an illustration of Catholic guilt. According to Evelyn Waugh, the author of the novel on which the film is based, it is about "what is theologically termed 'the operation of Grace', that is to say, the unmerited and unilateral act of love by which God continually calls souls to Himself."† While both the novel and the film are told from Charles' perspective (though I've yet to read the novel, myself), the film takes a particularly unilateral view of events, and so favors Charles' staunch atheism over the Catholic persuasion of the family with which he has become entwined.

The film seemed as if it were perpetually on the edge of being a grand, sweeping epic, but there was really never any tension or drama beyond personal decisions or discussions of what it means to be a Catholic (pre- Vatican II, of course). I suppose this is fitting, given that the individual's relationship with faith can be considered the weightiest of all, but it gave the film a strangely unbalanced feeling. The impact of the characters' choices on others was deemphasized, the significance instead being placed on their adherence to the rules of Catholicism (personified by Lady Marchmain).

Waugh wrote the novel in 1945, so the setting of the film as a period piece is true to the source material. I would also imagine that the impact of the wars on the characters is more explicit in his version than in Jarrold's. But, I could easily have imagined the same story playing out in the early '80s in an urban setting, or a small film set in modern day. Of course, the structure of the bicurious love triangle is nothing new lately, so maybe that's why I'm getting that feeling. Or, it could have been the occasional use of shaky handheld camerawork, which is a trope of more modern cinema, and was literally jarring in the glossy and dated setting.

It was a decent watch, but unless you're a devotee of Emma Thompson (understandable), or enamored of Matthew Goode (very understandable), I'd reccomend renting Atonement instead. Better yet, I'd reccomend reading Ian McEwan's novel, Atonement, which should be required for anyone with an interest in the written word. I'll say it again: what McEwan is able to do with language, about language, is inspirational.

† Quotation taken from Wikipedia, so take that for what it's worth.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

< the sum of its parts

Last night I saw the Coen bros.' latest outing, Burn After Reading, which was a decent way to spend a couple of hours, but did not feel like a worthwhile way to spend $15 (even after a student discount!). Before I get into the movie itself, I have to digress briefly in re: the movie going experience.

I enjoy going to the movie theater solo. I don't know why some people view it as some sort of antisocial defeat, as seeing a movie is usually not a team exercise, except for those enhanced by audience reactions (The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Snakes on a Plane, or even comedies like Zoolander). The majority of movies that I see are able to be judged based on individual reactions, and are meant to stand alone without the help of callbacks and props. The theater I went to was very nice and clean, with big plush seats, little tables for drinks and snacks, and plenty of legroom. I often take for granted the fact that going to movie theaters in L.A. is a unique experience, except that my usual theater in Burbank has signs everywhere reading, "Where the People Who Make the Movies, See the Movies." The projections are clear, the screens are up-to-date, it's lovely. Also, in the U.S. we can sit wherever we want. Here in Australia (and in England and Thailand, I know for sure), the seats are assigned, which is so obnoxious to me. Honestly, it just seems like such a waste of effort. Anyway, I ended up sitting next to a woman who chewed with her mouth open, whose food smelled like a diaper bag, who leaned over to me 10 minutes in and said "Boy this movie's boring!" and then laughed continuously until the credits rolled, even when everyone else was silent. If I could have picked my own seat, I would have been able to avoid this! [/rant]

Onto the film itself. I had heard that the movie would be Seinfeldian, with a lot of slow plot movement punctuated by sudden bursts of energy, and I'm glad I knew to expect that since the trailers and ads made it seem far more rollicking than it was. I guess this was an experience in which I appreciated many small aspects of the movie, but I could not really discern the point of the movie at all. One thing in particular confused me — the music cues built up huge amounts of tension and then diffused for no reason, which led me to believe that the movie is a satirical send-up of the spy genre. J.K. Simmons' small role in particular confirmed this suspicion for me, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Coens' said that there was some other purpose to the movie.

The performances were somewhat cartoonish, but fit the tone of the film, and the cast roster would be impressive in everything. I loves me some crazy Tilda Swinton (who doesn't?) and John Malkovich (looking creepier and creepier as he ages) cursing a blue streak, as well as Frances McDormand, who I would watch opening a jar of pickles for entertainment. George Clooney was, for the first time in my opinion, good-looking and vibrant in his role. What can I say, he's got monkeyface (the beard helps though) and I always think of him as the handyman from The Facts of Life.

And Brad Pitt. I have had a hard time figuring out how I feel about him for a long time as he is the epitome of overrated in the looks department (king of monkeyface, f'real), and a lot of the time I feel like he's trying too hard to be taken seriously. But he is an excellent comedic actor, and I've always loved him in roles like this one. He really did a lot with small facial movements and vocal tics and was the standout actor to me, which is saying a whole lot given his castmates.

The violence was humorous, and somehow those scenes had more levity than the ones where a couple of characters were simply talking. The direction and camerawork was incredibly impressive, as everything seemed very static but was punctuated from time to time with quick pans in tight spaces or sudden cuts to dutch angles (signalling that something is amiss!). Since some of the scenes were pretty boring, I found myself marvelling at the great costuming and set design. For example, when Katie is meeting with her lawyer, her blouse is the same print as his pocket square! Probably the best gag throughout the movie (except for the obvious one of Clooney's character's sex life which felt silly and coke-fueled) is that the MacGuffin is actually pointless – very postmodern, "foregrounding the apparatus."

It's not really worth watching, but there's not too much else in theaters right now that I'm interested in, and I love going to the movies. For certain, it reminded me how much I love Richard Jenkins (Nathaniel Fisher, Sr. from Six Feet Under), and that I should see The Visitor as soon as it's on DVD. Most people ardently love or hate the Coens but I am somewhere in the middle. I think that Raising Arizona and Fargo are modern classics, and I quite enjoyed O Brother, Where Art Thou? but The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men, and this film were just...alright to me. I didn't love or hate them. I still think you have to be stoned to enjoy The Big Lebowski so maybe that's why I didn't get it or care for it much, but who knows. I do want to see The Hudsucker Proxy before long, so we'll see which category that one falls into.

I know this was a really ambivalent review. Sorry.

the passion of the adolescent

I finally finished Christopher Moore's novel Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. Sometimes when I'm reading a novel (and it kills me that I'm not the girl I used to be - always with a new one in tow) I take it with me everywhere I go and read it whenever my eyes are not needed for some other crucial task. I've nearly been hit by cars more than a couple of times because I was crossing the street with a book in front of my face. Lamb was one where I picked it up and put it down far too infrequently. I think it's a great book for teenagers, and I would have loved it more a few years ago, but I still thought it was a smart and enjoyable novel bringing a fun perspective to a worn-with-overuse story.

Obviously, I don't mean to be so critical of the story of Jesus' life as I think it's a wonderful collection of parables which should serve as a good influence on everyone's life. I think what Moore realizes is that the jumbled accounts of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have been sanitized after years of being pounded into us from all sides since childhood. With Lamb, he endeavors to provide a personality and a relatability to the young Son of Man, so that the climactic Good Friday is that much more affective. Lamb concludes before the Resurrection because it is about the young man Joshua, not the heavenly Jesus that we can learn about in the aforementioned Gospels.

Which brings up the novel's interesting format. The narrator is Levi who is called Biff, Joshua's best friend since infancy, who accompanies him (Him?) throughout the missing decade and a half of adolescence, travel, and study. Their buddy comedy plotlines are interrupted by brief glimpses of Biff in a modern-day hotel room, having been brought to life by the angel Raziel who has commanded him to write down his Gospel. Biff and Joshua travel throughout the East learning about philosophies which tie in very well to the teachings of Jesus that we know of today. Because the purity and capabilities of the young Savior make him a somewhat boring literary character, he is well balanced by the lusty loser Levi who is called Biff, and who is allowed to make all the mistakes that Joshua isn't.

The P&T in the story comes, as it always has, from Mary Magdalene, or Maggie, who is the object of both Biff's and Joshua's affections from childhood. Their love triangle is innocent, as Joshua does not intend to know women (if you know what I mean), and Biff and Maggie find comfort in each other from loving and losing their best friend. I found myself frustrated on behalf of Biff that Maggie would never love him exclusively, but I guess her character is an archetype for the ideal Christian, who will always love Jesus more than any person.

Lamb is a good read for anyone with an interest in Christianity as it pertains to culture and/or fiction, and is best for people who have a basic knowledge of the Bible. Some scenes were funny because I remembered the Biblical allusion, and others inspired me to revisit the source text and remind myself what the original story was. Though it wasn't an enthralling page-turner from the start, towards the end I remembered where the story was headed and felt a sadness for the supporting characters in Joshua's life, knowing that despite the Resurrection or their place with Him in eternity, they were losing their friend to a violent and painful death. The epilogue is a nicely crafted bow on the story, and left me satisfied.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"No it wasn't. It was my blood."

Today I saw a chilling film I have been anticipating, Alan Ball's Towelhead, the story of a teenage girl's sexual victimization through the paradigm of a Middle Eastern living in the suburban landscape of Texas during the Gulf War. The film is adapted from Alicia Erian's novel of the same name. Thirteen year-old Jasira (Summer Bishil) moves in with her Lebanese-American father (Peter Macdissi) after an incident with her mother's boyfriend. In her new life in Texas, Jasira's days are plagued with her father's indifference and constant judgment, racist epithets from her classmates, and inappropriate attention from her redneck neighbor Mr. Vuoso (Aaron Eckhart). In her confused search for affection and normalcy, Jasira befriends a concerned neighbor, the pregnant Melina (Toni Collette), and gets involved with an African-American classmate, Thomas (Eugene Jones III).

I grimaced and squirmed uncomfortably throughout the film, feeling the whole time as if anything bad that could happen, would, and worrying that there may be no redemption at the end. On a scale of how much dread I felt in the pit of my stomach, I would place Towelhead higher than Babel, but lower than Dancer in the Dark. For all the horrible things that happened to our female protagonist, I might have thought I was in fact watching a Lars von Trier film, but this film carried Ball's wry perspective on suburbia's seamy underbelly, and was reminiscent of Todd Solondz's Storytelling. More on that later.

The film gives us a look into the psyche of the neglected and sexualized Jasira, as well as the mind of her rapist Mr. Vuoso. In this, and its outsider's satire of middle America, the film aspires to Nabokov's Lolita, and of course Kubrick's iconic adaptation. While more menacing and less comedic than Lolita, Towelhead portrays Jasira as a nymphet exactly as Nabokov describes them. It makes the uncomfortable suggestion that the young girl a) possesses a powerful sexuality, b) knows how to use it, and c) is totally compliant with the urges of her "lover." When Nabokov's Humbert Humbert describes the nymphet, it reads like an insatiable man's description of the perfect meal. When Mr. Vuoso looks at Jasira, and when she looks at him, the same feeling is conveyed.

Bishil's performace is convincing, and would be heartbreaking enough if Jasira were only dealing with humiliation at school, the onset of her first period, and parents that just don't understand, but with the constant onslaught of abuse on a racial and sexual basis, it's that much more affective. Some things which she goes through aren't uncommon experiences for girls her age, though perhaps not frequently portrayed in the media. She discovers masturbation on accident while perusing pornographic magazines found by chance, and she endeavors to understand the new sexual feelings. She wants to wear makeup and shave her legs, but everyone else seems more aware of her particularly advanced body than she does, including her parents. These things could be aspects of a typical coming of age story, but in Jasira's life they are perverted by the ways that grownups treat her.

Jasira's parents, white American Gail (Maria Bello) and Lebanese-American Rifat, have been divorced for seven years, but are equally selfish and controlling. As happens so often in abusive situations, Gail blames her daughter when she is touched inappropriately by Gail's boyfriend, and later seeks closeness with Jasira simply to cure her loneliness. Rifat would rather spend time with his girlfriend Theno than offer Jasira a kind word, and hits her whenever she's done something he deems immoral. Both parents blame Jasira for everything bad that happens, and expect only blind obedience to their dicta, with no exceptions.

Throughout the film, the neighbor Melina is Jasira's only ally, but all she can do is offer support and the promise of a safe haven to Jasira until she is sure that there is an actual threat. As the only character with her head screwed on straight, I was convinced that something horrible was going to happen to her at any moment. Once again Toni Collette shines, as she is always able to bring depth to a simple character (see her role as Kitty in The Hours). Of course, Jasira often views Melina as intrusive, as she doesn't know if anyone should interfere with her relationship with Mr. Vuoso.

Jasira's relationship with Thomas is the most complicated one she has. Jasira is multiracial and her father dates a Greek woman throughout the film, but he forbids her from seeing a black boy. Thomas seems as though he must be older than Jasira, though it is unclear if what he knows about sex is anecdotal or a posteriori. He clearly cares for her, but at the same time his lust is his primary motivation, and he is unsettlingly possessive of her. At the end of the film, after the secret has come out about Mr. Vuoso's actions, Thomas acts as though he's been gypped of Jasira's virginal attachment to him. Jasira clearly enjoys sex with Thomas, and doesn't want to be denied a continued sexual relationship with him just because he's made uncomfortable by her experiences with Mr. Vuoso. It's a confusing situation because we know Jasira shouldn't be having sex at 13, but we don't want Thomas to control Jasira's sex life.

There is nothing wrong with a teenager coming to terms with her new feelings about her own body, and modern feminists champion an adult woman's confident control over her own sex life. However, seeing Jasira aspire to become a nude model after she's been prematurely sexualized against her will is difficult to watch. Particularly when Aaron Eckhart's portrayal of Mr. Vuoso is so animalistic and ravenous. There is a scene when Jasira is staying with Melina and her husband Gil that strikes quickly and is incredibly unsettling. There is a sequence of quick cuts between Gil's line of sight, Jasira's thigh as her skirt rides up, and an ambiguous look on his face. I must have groaned from discomfort at the skillful editing, until it is revealed that Gil's gaze is not sexual at all.

This particular feeling of discomfort is what reminded me of Storytelling. In the "Non-Fiction" segment of the film there is a pervasive theme of racism and classism portrayed between a young boy and his Hispanic housekeeper that was painful for me to watch. It struck me as particularly memorable because I was concurrently aware of how the relationship made me feel, as well as the fact that the filmmaker wanted to elicit strong vehement reactions. It was as though, as a student of film, I felt I should disregard my emotional reaction because I know that the film is actively trying to draw it out, but I was unable to. Compared to, say, the extreme reveal in Oldboy, which didn't bother me as much as the film wanted it to, because the film was less realistic. Apply this to the pedophilia in Towelhead, and this is what I struggled with during my viewing.

In the end, things are left mostly ambiguous. Jasira and her father seem to have reconciled, though there is no dialogue or action dedicated to an actual redemption on Rifat's part. Gail's reaction to the news about Jasira is left out, as well as a conclusion to the question of which parent Jasira would end up living with. Assumedly nothing is different in Jasira's school life, and she will continue a sexual relationship with the lascivious Thomas. Melina is apparently unscathed after a potentially critical accident, and has her baby. And all the while, Mr. Vuoso is out on bail and living at home with his family on the same cul de sac as Jasira. The tone seems uplifting when the credits roll, but I can't help but feel there is more pain in pipeline for Jasira.

I felt this film deserved a deeper exploration than I usually provide, because it brought up so many complicated responses and was very thought-provoking. It was certainly very well-made, though in the end not as important as some of its inspirations which have come before. It brought a new twist to the tropes in Lolita, American Beauty, and some aspects of Six Feet Under, but broke no new ground. Nonetheless, I think it is well worth a watch, thanks to the wonderful performances and the fact that it will certainly spark a discussion.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

there must be a reason...

...why Liam Neeson spent time and energy to be in Taken, the very silly action-drama I saw at Govinda's Indian restaurant & movie house last week. I'm guessing he had some serious gambling debts to pay off. In my last post, I discussed Neeson's Schindler's List costar Ralph Fiennes, who is as excellent an actor today as he was fifteen years ago. Neeson is too, of course, but I guess Taken is his Maid in Manhattan - enjoyable on some very broad levels, but altogether impossible to discern a raison d'être for. So, for those keeping score at home, Liam Neeson : Taken :: Ralph Fiennes : Maid in Manhattan. I love using SAT question format when inappropriate.

At dinner before going into the theater, someone who had heard of the movie (because I certainly hadn't) said "This is the kind of movie that Steven Segal should star in." As a film studies major (code: snob), I figured this guy had no idea what he was talking about, because only in an alternate universe would a role made for Steven Segal go to Liam Neeson. Well, hop on board the S.S. Heart of Gold with me, because this seems to have happened.†

Taken is the story of an ex- C.I.A. agent Bryan who has chosen to retire so that he can finally spend time with his 17 year old daughter Kim (the gorgeous Maggie Grace), who lives with her MILF Lenore (Famke Janssen) and wealthy stepfather. Then, Lenore finally breaks through the mental shield placed on her by Professor Charles Xavier when she was a child, and the newfound power to control matter overcomes her, transforming her from a beautiful and talented woman to a destructive being controlled by her mutation. Oh wait, I'm thinking of the wrong movie.

Basically, Kim and her friend Amanda go to Europe for the summer, telling Bryan that they will be in Paris going to museums and learning French. He lets her go on the condition that she call and check in frequently. Of course their real, devious, reason for the trip is to follow teen sensation U2 on their European tour. PLEASE. What two teenage girls are inspi(red) to buck their parents' authority and follow a rock band around that isn't even popular with their generation? They should be groupies for Fall Out Boy, or whoever the kids listen to nowadays.

OF COURSE, the moment they get to Paris they break every rule of common sense and tell the attractive stranger man exactly where they live, showing them how hot, rich, unaccompanied, and stupid they are. I mean, I know that people do this all the time, and I have cops for parents, but please. You'd have to be incredibly stupid to make all the mistakes that Kim and Amanda do within 30 seconds of leaving the CDG airport. Within minutes, they're kidnapped by Albanian sex traffickers, but a chance phone call from Kim to Bryan clues him in on the situation, and he's off to Paris to find her.

At this point it just gets silly. Having only heard one of the Albanians say "good luck" over the phone, Bryan and his C.I.A. contacts discover exactly who it was. The violence is slapstick, the portrayal of the sex trade smacks of Eyes Wide Shut, and the bizarre and unnecessary portrayal of a Christina Aguilera -type starlet reminded me of cinematic gem Music & Lyrics. Bryan's french connection (heh) is clearly going to betray him from the moment he's onscreen, and some of the writing is just laughable. To top it all off, Neeson's American accent is really unconvincing, which was just a letdown. It was kind of funny to watch because of how over-the-top it is (complete with cars flipping and then fireballs coming out of nowhere à la Fear Factor), but kind of disappointing because illegal sex trafficking is a real thing that a fantastic Liam Neeson movie could have been made about, inspiring people to take action against it.

No need to see this career misstep. It might make for a good drinking game, but even then there are better options.

†I realize that this has been a hastily written post, and nerdier than usual. Douglas Adams and X-Men references? I am awesome. Get used to it.

colin farrell looks way better in...

...glasses. A couple of weeks ago I finally saw Martin McDonagh's In Bruges, starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, and I can't believe I haven't reviewed it yet! It's been on DVD for a few months now in the US, but it's still on its last legs in theaters here in Australia, and I am so glad I finally saw it. And Farrell wears glasses in one scene and looks very dashing.


I knew going in that this movie was "sad," so around every corner I was wondering if/when/how one or both of the protagonists would die. I suppose I'm glad I knew what kind of mood to be in to watch the movie, but thankfully the film was engaging enough early on that I didn't miss any of the lead-up to the climactic set piece.

This is the first of Colin Farrell's performances that I've ever liked, and I was impressed with his vulnerability throughout. His character, Ray, had been through such a traumatic experience before the actions of the film that his pain shows through the cracks in every scene. Whether he's being a bored tourist or trying to impress local ingenue Chloë (previously Harry Potter's Fleur Delacour, Clémence Poésy is stunning whenever she's onscreen), Farrell makes it seem as if it would not be a surprise for Ray to break down at any moment.

Brendan Gleeson, as Ken, is a stalwart straight man to Ray's unpredictability. He's lived through enough trauma and bleak situations to harden any man, but he is still level-headed and has the ability to look at the world through optimistic eyes. His pleasure at experiencing Bruges as a tourist was very enjoyable, reminding me in some ways of the "14e arrondissement" sequence from Paris Je T'aime, starring Margo Martindale as lonely tourist Carol.

Jordan Prentice was excellent as Jimmy, the sex- and drug-fueled actor finding himself bored and disappointed by everything he does. Many of the humorous moments of the film had to do with Jimmy, but in such a way as to lampoon the trope of little-people-as-comedy-fodder. I thought that much of the film's comedy came from an exploration of the perceptions of different nationalities in a European context. Irish, English, American, Canadian, and Belgian characters are present and something is made of each of their nationalities. This is a subject I've always been interested in (and has always affected me), and it was portrayed very compellingly.

Then, in the last act, Ralph Fiennes' Harry finally comes onscreen. One of the many ways in which writer-director Martin McDonagh's theatre background comes through is the leak of exposure to Harry throughout the film until he joins Ray and Ken for the denouement. What more can I say about Ralph Fiennes that we don't all already know. He's incredible. His portrayal of a London crime boss is so much more entertaining than anything Guy Ritchie's ever created. And the cherry on top is that his wife is played by Elizabeth Berrington, Tim's pregnant desk-mate in the Christmas special of The Office (UK)!

I highly recommend this movie. I love it when a small film sticks in my craw for a while after I've seen it. It had just the right amount of action and violence, a very sharp sense of humor, and more than enough pathos to go around. The parallel between the two scenes of a "little boy" getting shot was chilling, and as the build-up to the second scene slowly burned down the fuse, I was tingling with anticipation. This one's definitely joining my collection, I can see picking up more and more upon repeat viewings.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

"just a typical white girl"

Second blog shout-out to my dear friend Arielle in one day! It's thanks to an offhand comment she made when we were g-chatting the other day that season 11 of America's Next Top Model is on YouTube! Last night I treated myself to the first 3 episodes (!), and today I caught up with episode 4 (Makeovers!) so I am up to date! Are you ready for a bold statement?

I think this is the best season of ANTM that we've seen so far.

I know, that's a big statement when we've been exposed to Shandi, Jade, Anchal & the twins! But there is so much good stuff that has been packed into the first four episodes of this season already that I feel comfortable saying it.

First of all, the girls are actually hot and/or pretty this season! Joslyn's um...not the prettiest, and I don't really get the appeal of a girl like Clark, but they are way hotter than some previous girls from the show. Okay, and I know that those girls aren't necessarily fugly, but this is top model! You gotta bring it! Elina, Marjorie, McKey, and Annaleigh are my favorites this season in terms of looks, but there are some great personalities too.

Elina is a hot mess. I'm so glad she didn't get all Jaeda when they changed her hair so drastically, because she could rock a lot of hairstyles. She's a little thick for a vegan, but I love how much of a teenage rebel she is. Too cool to be bi/lesbian, she's "very sexual and has had relationships with women...loves bringing them to her side," she has a tattoo on her uterus-protection fat (who does that? She looks kiiinda like Angelina Jolie but at least Angie is skeletal), and she talks about how she hates her mom. Aw, she probably smokes cloves!

Marjorie bleeds homeschooled. She's so nervous and cute, but I preferred her blonde hair. Maybe she looked too much like Agyness Deyn. Sheena is totally hoochie, and I love it. I'm so over hers and some of the other girls' wild exaggeration of Hannah's personality. Hannah said something pretty stupidly, but saying she's a "typical white girl" does not a racist make, and they're picking on her unfairly.

And then there's Isis. I think I'm more interested in how she was one of the homeless models from last season, than the fact that she's transgendered. I think she has an outstanding sense of self and has been totally cool so far. Some of the girls have been nice, some have been mean, but I can see why they're threatened that someone genetically male is in the running because of the advantages of height, bone structure, and leg muscles. Of course a lot of these things are going against Isis, too, as she is not far enough along in her transition to have breasts, a feminine waist/hips, or round cheeks. I don't think she will stay long enough to go abroad, but I think she has been doing remarkably well.

I think the most impressive aspect of this season is that...I don't hate Tyra anymore! How funny that in a premiere dedicated to robotics and the future, Tyra seems to finally have become self-aware! Mr. Jay and Ms. J have always been cool with their status as living caricatures, and Nigel and Paulina have seemed bemusedly along for the ride, but I think Tyra might finally have swung past being obnoxious to being charming. She's like a child performing horribly at a family reunion but everyone smiles because of her enthusiasm. Her wig sucks this season, but it's not the worst she's had.

Can't wait to see what happens!

you know you love me

For the first week while I was in Australia, I felt confident that I could wait until I come home in January to catch up on Gossip Girl. Then I decided to tide myself over by rewatching season 1 on DVD. What a masterpiece this show is! Watching season 1 over really opened my eyes to a lot about the show. For example, what had previously been a mild annoyance with Dan blossomed into full-fledged loathing when I saw him again. What a loser. Anyway:

My wonderful and awesome sister gave me an iTunes giftcard as a going away present which was perfect! I've kept up with GG every week and have been given the ability to pause and scrutinise each new episode as I watch them on my computer! So far, I'm really happy with season 2. I think the show's writers realized that Chuck and Blair are the heart, mind, and soul (and libido) of this show. I think that Jenny's character is moving in a good direction. She had to be put in her place after the lame shenanigans from the end of season 1, but now I think that she has the potential to really rise to the top once school starts. Serena and Dan - meh, whatever. If they get back together every episode I'll be so peeved. Lily's on honeymoon, but I look forward to her return and inevitable sparring/loooovemaking with Rufus, the hottest guy on the show. Vanessa's become slightly less annoying (but doesn't she have any other friends?), and I am over the moon that Nate is in a ridiculous situation as the potential future stepfather of Lord Marcus, Blair's boyfriend of the horrible accent.

Now I'd like to share with you the emails that I sent to my former roommate Jamie (and fellow GG addict - I turned her on to the show when she saw me watching it and asked, "Is [Serena] the gossip girl?" to which I replied "Gossip Girl is more like an entity."). As I watched the latest epsiode (S02 Ep03, "The Dark Night"), about a day after she had, I sent her a blow by blow email with my reactions. Enjoy.

Subject: OMFG
• First email sent 6 minutes in:
Okay, I'm only 6 minutes in to season 2 ep 3 of GG, but I had to share this moment of joy with you:
Blair sees via Gossip Girl that Serena and Dan are back together and goes "UGH I knew it."
SHE IS AMAZING BLAIR RULEZ DAN DROOLZ will email later with more updates, followed by skype call sometime soon!
• Second email sent 15 minutes in:
Theory: Gossip Girl is DOROTA. I have thoughts to back this up. Ask me about them when we talk.
• Third email sent 20 minutes in:
First of all, "You are not using Blair as sexual Drano!" I wish I could have that line as my ringtone. Also, Chuck is so amazing that his butler just says (verbatim), "A flight has arrived from Tokyo" and some random Asian stewardess just rolls up? WHO IS CHUCK Also this has to do with my Dorota theory.
• Fourth email sent 27 minutes in:
1) No one notices Chuck date raping Blair in the corner of the party even though she was obviously just talking to someone.
2) Chuck using sexuality as a weapon against vulnerable Blair brings out the best in both of them.
3) Chuck actually saying, "Have sex with me. Just once. It's all I need." HE'S CHUCK BASS.
• Fifth email sent 37 minutes in:
My eyes are rolling out of my face during every Nate/Vanessa scene. Also, still over Dan and Serena. PLEASE tell me that Blair is going to be waiting in the pitch black for Marcus to come do her but OOPSIE IT'S CHUCK BASS.
• Sixth email sent 42 minutes in:
OY. In the elevator:
S: "I can't change who I am."
D: "Neither can I."
No, LonelyBoy, you're missing the point. Serena can't change the fact that she's a rich, well-known, charming, albeit misguided young lady. She doesn't give a shit that you're poor and alternative, she gives a shit that you're a dick. That's what you can change, douchebag. And get your teeth fixed.
• Seventh email sent 53 minutes in (after the credits):
Okay, so they're probably gonna hook up again, but thank god Serena and Dan are split for now. As for Vanessa, I think she did the right thing. But now what? She can't date Dan, because then they're back at square 1 and have no Upper East Siders to interact with. Blair and Marcus are done - predictable, but I think they could have made it more scandalous for an episode or two. Can't wait to see what happens with her and Chuck. Mostly, I'm looking forward to school starting because I think Jenny has potential. She's made of stronger stuff now, and I think she has greatness in front of her if she plays her cards right. Lily and Bart need to get back from their honeymoon and Rufus needs a hotter chick to date. This one looked like Vanessa's aunt.
As for now, you know you love me, XOXO,
• Eighth email sent 55 minutes in:
P.S. Chuck's British accent!

I hope you enjoyed that play-by-play. I will likely have one every week between now and the end of the season since Jamie and I aren't able to watch GG together anymore. I know you're interested in hearing about my Dorota theory, and I promise: it's good! But it's quite in-depth so I think I'll devote a more detailed post to it later.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


I forgot to post about the other new shows in my life! Reposted from my other blog:

My good ol' buddy DGMacphee told me about Summer Heights High last year, but I didn't get to see any of it until my Qantas flight over here. It's a mockumentary series about life at a public school where the creator Chris Lilley plays drama coach Mr. G, troubled bully Jonah, and private school exchange student and rich bitch Ja'mie King. I've caught clips on YouTube, and have since watched every episode of Lilley's previous show, We Can Be Heroes, on the internet as well. Ja'mie features in that one too. SO FUNNY. I always forget how politically correct we are in the U.S. until I watch TV in another country.

wots on telly

So, I've been watching Aussie free TV, which is interesting because I come from a Candyland of digital cable and TiVo. Last week when my internal clock was set a few hours ahead of local time I found myself watching a lot of afternoon cooking shows, which I think are much more pleasant to watch than the high budget bright-lights-and-loud-noises cooking shows that are so popular in primetime.

The other fantastic offering of afternoon television is none other than The Bold and the Beautiful, which has gotten me instantly hooked. I'd never seen a soap opera before picking this one up last week, and now I understand why they're so successful. Firstly, the dialogue instantly fills you in on all of the backstory you need to know. Everything scripted seems to awkwardly overuse characters' names, for example, but with soaps it's like:
Jennifer: But Crush, how is Susan going to react to you impregnating another woman while she's recovering from her brain surgery?
Gee, thanks for filling us in! B&B currently has: a woman whose had her brother's heart implanted into her but she's rejecting it and she might kill herself but also she's in love with her brother-in-law so her sister has agreed to let her husband have sex with her sister on Catalina island (implied), AND a trophy wife with a mysterious hot young man in her home who is not her lover but is in fact her son (!) and she is afraid to tell her husband about her son so she's going to try to get him a job at her husband's company instead. Also the son is played by an actor actually named Texas Battle.

As I hinted at last night, 90210 premiered here a week after it did in the U.S. I notice that some American shows slip quietly into the programming schedule midseason, like Gossip Girl, but others are advertised primarily by how they're being "fast tracked" over here, like 90210. I was pleased with the throwbacks to the original series - Brenda and Kelly, and Joe E. Tata of course. The inclusion of Hannah Zuckerman-Vasquez was much more than I could have hoped for, but mostly it was weird for me to think of little my-druggie-brother-abandoned-me-at-the-playground Erin Silver to have grown up into...a brunette! I do like that Mel never changed his dastardly ways though.

The new teens are totally boring, even Hot Rich Guy and Drunkface from Nip/Tuck. Dixon's okay, except that I'd like to meet a black teenage lacrosse star...from Kansas. The star of the show, for me, is absolutely Jessica "Lucille Bluth" Walter, who plays drunk slut better than any of the skinny teens. Oh also, the stick-thinness of the teen girls is nothing new to TV, but it makes Kelly's eating disorder from season 3 or whatever seem totally irrelevant. Even the chick from Kansas ate only a side salad and a well-placed Diet Dr. Pepper for lunch.

As far as Australian TV goes, there's a new reality show called Taken Out, which has an interesting premise - 30 girls get to say yes or no to 1 guy, face-to-face, and tell him what they do or don't like about him. I wish I could be on the show so that men all over the country could hear me tell them upfront: "Stop having: soul patches, chin beards, popped collars, sleeveless shirts, etc. etc. etc." Also, I think it's cute how the stations are so proud of any Australian who's gotten some fame overseas, because there will be commercials for crappy American movies being aired that will say, "Tune in to Gone in 60 Seconds this Friday, starring Australia's own Jacob Smith as Passerby #2!"

Finally, the best thing I've experienced on Australian TV is the nightly recap of the Paralympic Games. I have always been passively interested in watching the Olympics, but the Paralympics are so much more exciting to me because I get the impression that the athletes - whether their extra challenge is something they were born with or something that happened later in life - are here to prove something to themselves, and to accomplish something that might not have seemed possible. With the regular Olympics, there's an odd mix of people handpicked by their government to be trained exclusively for the Olympics, rich kids who spent their whole life training for the Olympics and using it to get into college, and people from impoverished countries who have found their only escape is their sport. The Paralympics just appeal to me so much more, and it's a shame I've never watched them before.

Monday, September 8, 2008


I'm watching the new 90210 on TV here, and my first thoughts:

Jessica Walter: 100
Everyone else: ZERO


"Good morning, and buenos dias, this is Hannah Zuckerman-Vasquez..."


Saturday, August 30, 2008

what can i say?

I feel like my "sorry I haven't been posting" blogs get more and more frequent, but I really do think that this situation will be remedied before long. As some of you may know, today I am moving to Australia for a few months to live alone and focus on my writing. My personal travel blog can be found at though I endeavor to keep up this blog as well. Since I am committed to spending solid chunks of my days at my computer working, I hope my procrastination tendencies can be somewhat productive if used to blog.

A lot of summer movies have come and gone, and I have seen my share. Every time I think, "ooh got to remember to post my review of that movie I saw last month," it seems less and less likely, so basically, here's a list of what I've seen since I last posted: The Dark Knight, Hellboy 2, Mamma Mia!, Tropic Thunder, Pineapple Express, Hamlet 2, and The House Bunny. Good, good, decent, awesome, good, good, decent, basically.

I'll be posting next from Oceania!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

flux capacitor!

So, as usual, things are all kind of jumbled and up in the air right now. I finally turned 21, and celebrated with a Tuesday night bar-hopping in Old Town Pasadena, followed by a three-day weekend celebrating with friends in Vegas by letting sweaty/gay/married/all of the above guys grind at/on us. Needless to say, I think I'm done with Vegas for a little while. I also finished up my internship at Universal Pictures Production/Development, but I am still in the office this week filling in as an executive assistant. So, things are, as they say, in flux right now.

On August 30th, I will be flying out to Sydney, Australia, where I will be living for a little over four months. It is my long-anticipated opportunity to get away from L.A. on my own for a while, and have some time to focus on my writing and really grow up, post-college. I will continue to update this blog as my media intake will not diminish, but I will probably be seeing movies and TV after y'all in the U.S. do. Also, I will be keeping a blog at that will be a travel blog about living in Sydney.

Monday, July 7, 2008

"it's the cane from citizen kane!"

Happy 100th post, reader(s)! On this momentous occasion, I am going to review the "greatest film ever made," because a) that seems very symbolic and b) coincidentally I have recently viewed it thanks to Netflix.

A degree in film studies and with many years of movie-watching under my belt, I had managed to get to 2008 without having ever seen Citizen Kane. I've seen sequences of it in various classes about directing and narrative, but managed to never quite know what the movie was about. As the opening credits began, I thought about how strange it was that I knew what "rosebud" was, but not even what actors were in the movie (imagine my surprise at the end credits to learn that Welles was an actor, too! They never should have given me honors in film studies... [/backdoorbragging]).

Now, it's almost impossible to review a classic film at this late stage, so all I can really say is that if you haven't yet seen Citizen Kane, make sure to do so very soon. The acting is wonderful, the makeup on aging the actors was really impressive, and the directing talent of Orson Welles is unlike anything I've seen. You can open up any book about him, or classic cinema, or directing, and read about his style from people who know more about it than I do. I was just shocked at how excellent some of the shots were that he was in, but I've always been impressed by directors who are in their films (and do it well). Also, the inspired use of special effects was definitely monumental at the time, and still impressive to this day.

Sometime in the next few days, I'll be watching Touch of Evil and also The Third Man, to get a sort of "Orson Welles' greatest hits" experience. I'll let you know how that goes.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

hello, dolly!

If I had written my review of Wall-E right after I'd seen it on Friday night, I can pretty much guarantee that the whole thing would have read like "AwwwOooohCuuuuteSweeetSqueeee!~" so you can all be grateful that I gave myself a few days to absorb all of the animated awesomeness compounded in this Pixar treat. I have often wondered what it is about me that animated movies never seem to stick with me. Other than Dumbo and The Little Mermaid, I was not a Disney fanatic as a child like most little girls, and any of the ones that I've seen as an older viewer just haven't made much of an impression on me. But when I saw ten minutes of Wall-E roaming around the wasteland of Earth at Comic Con 2007, I was hooked.

The movie is more than I could have expected in every aspect. The animation was more ambitious than anything I've ever seen, the characters were more adorable and sympathetic than you'd think could have an impact on jaded grownups like yours truly, and the messages conveyed by the simple storytelling were both meaningful and impressively portrayed. I'll break it down into those categories from here on it, or else it will devolve into the oohs and aahs I'm trying to avoid.

As far as animation is concerned, there are people who know much more about the history and technology of animated films that will tell you how impressive this latest effort from Pixar is. As far as I am concerned, it looked as if each item had a team of experts working with the animation team to ensure accuracy. The starscapes and glimpses of the sky were incredibly rendered, reminiscent of the beautiful images of the ocean in Finding Nemo. The mechanics of the robots were smooth or clunky when required, and very impressive. Reflections off of EVE's curved surfaces, or the minute working parts in Wall-E's "house" were all very believable.

The characters were incredibly well fleshed-out, considering that most of them had no flesh to begin with. (chortle) Every small movement or action added to my understanding of who Wall-E has become in his years of solitude, and his actions which related to EVE were understandable without being pathetic. When he is on the space station, the way in which he compulsively introduces himself to everyone he meets, and indelibly affects their lives in doing so, really said a lot about the humanity of this small robot. The human characters were exceptionally well performed, and I liked how their inherent goodness cohesed with the underlying message of the movie. Even the Hal-inspired actions of Autopilot were terrifying while still being the product of a programmed command, instead of a personified computer villain. As for EVE, the moment when she got to watch the security footage of Wall-E tending to her was absolutely heartbreaking, and beautifully animated.

Certainly, the movie's message about conservation and what could happen to Earth and to humans if we let our consumption get out of hand, was strongly present throughout. Showing the Captain learning about what life was once life on Earth softened the edge of the cutting social criticism, because once any good person really thinks about working a little bit harder to do the right thing, the line, "I don't want to survive, I want to live!" really resonates. The only problem, I guess, would be the criticism of big corporations, coming from Disney and Apple, which is very reminiscent of this "biting" satire.

Please, please see Wall-E. It was a very exciting moment in movies and in animation, and I can't wait to see it again.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

você não gostaria de mim quando tenho fome

Recently, after being gypped out of attending a free screening of Marvel Enterprises and Universal Pictures' The Incredible Hulk, I decided that I wanted to see it enough to drive to the theater and pay for a ticket. Having been quite pleasantly surprised with Iron Man, and not as a critical a viewer of Ang Lee's Hulk from 2003, I figured that this movie would fall somewhere in between in terms of enjoyability. I felt that it was just as exciting as Iron Man, if not as "cool." And where Ang Lee's style was really great, everything was just much more vibrant in this latest iteration.

I'd like to expand upon my previous statement that The Incredible Hulk wasn't that "cool." There were some moments in the Brazilian favela, or when Stan Lee made a cameo, or whenever Tony Stark / Stark Industries was involved, that were shiver-inducingly cool. Even for someone like me who knows very little about the Marvel canon. But let's face it - Hulk is not a very sexy superhero. So I can see why the young male target demographic would be more into the "Hulk smash" aspect of things, which this movie had plenty of. The final battle between Hulk and Abomination was definitely exciting, and even cringeworthy at times (Hulk tears out Abomination's own arm bone and STABS HIM WITH IT).

As for the portion of the audience that I represent, I was very much taken with Ed Norton and Liv Tyler in their roles. Liv, as Betty, dripped with such compassion that I couldn't help but want to aid Bruce Banner in his quest for freedom. At the end of the movie, I was left unsure about how cognizant Bruce is when he's turned into the Hulk, because he seemed to be learning about who he is and what his relationships are with others as the story progressed.

Most importantly, The Incredible Hulk left me excited for the inevitable sequel. Tim Blake Nelson, as Samuel Sterns, is apparently going to be the next villain in the franchise, which I think would be incredible because he's got this great scary weirdness to him that would be really cool in a role like that. As far as other Marvel movies coming up, it will be interesting to see how this network of films will build up to a vehicle for the Avengers, which both The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man have been hinting towards.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

"god lives in my hometown"

I recently read the novel Seven Hill City, written by internet essayist B. Thompson Stroud. Having been a frequent visitor to B's website, Progressive Boink, and a fan of his writing since 2004, I realized that reading his novel was an activity long past due. Being familiar with his articles on P-Boi, which rely heavily on references to pop culture to contextualize his experiences as a young man finding his way into adulthood and a sense of self (including the self as it relates to alluring members of the fairer sex), I felt I had a sense of what to expect from his fiction. (Because there is almost always a little bit of the author in every character ever written.)

Seven Hill City deals with much broader issues than the appeal of wrestling and video games, though both play major roles in the characters' lives. The theme of death is at the forefront of what may seem like a simple tale of the protagonist's unrequited love for a beautiful girl spanning his adolescence. Said beautiful girl is the ethereal Aranea Cavatica, who mysteriously shows up in the life of Brooks White when he needs her the most - at the funerals of friends and relatives, and in the hallways of high school. As their friendship develops, Aranea's secret is slowly revealed to Brooks, and revealed to be part of a larger system in the world around him.

The world that Brooks lives in is Lynchburg, VA, a city notably at the heart of the vocal Christian segment of the American population. Stroud is a lifelong resident of Lynchburg, and his familiarity with the culture there provides a solid backdrop for the story. It might be difficult for readers without a similar level of exposure to evangelical Christians to understand the kind of things that Brooks has had to think about his entire life. Most people raised with religion as a strong presence in their young lives have faced the questions that come with maturity, and these are particularly prescient for Brooks.

As a reader with a strong interest in religion and its impact on our personal lives and identities, I was able to get a better sense of Brooks through his perception of religion. There are a lot of aspects of his life that I couldn't relate to, but this was one way in which he struck a chord with me. I felt that the final act of the novel became a bit too disjointed for my taste, but was brought together in a bittersweet ending that satisfied. I was generally more interested in secondary characters like Auburn and Solomon than the leads, throughout, but the novel's resolution was a satisfactory ending to a book that asked a lot of interesting questions.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

singular, indeed

Last Wednesday I got to see a wonderful performance of A Chorus Line at the Ahmanson Theatre, which was definitely a culturally enlightening experience for me. A Chorus Line ended up being one of those things which is packed full of things that have been referenced in pop culture, and finally seeing it allowed me to contextualize all of those references.

As a dancer, and someone who (like most of us) entertained a few stage fantasies as a child, I very much enjoyed the portrait of the young wannabes in search of a chance to share the spotlight. At first, knowing that no intermission was going to come to break up the narrative, I was unsure about what story would unfold over the course of the show. It seems simple enough of a setup: some of the dancers will get a part, and some won't. But as the musical numbers unfold, it becomes an exploration of the personality traits which unite dancers across talent levels and backgrounds.

"At the Ballet" and "Hello 12, Hello 13, Hello Love," in particular, were the two songs which I felt really dug into the passionate emptiness of the dancers. That isn't to say that I feel that all dancers are beset with body image problems and daddy issues, but that most dancers have experienced the healing qualities of dancing and performing. What unfurls as a real-time representation of a crowded Broadway tryout is packed with the thoughts and feelings of the dancers, sometimes masked by their on-stage personae, as they vacillate between opening up to the choreographer about themselves and expressing their inner monologues to the audience.

There were some numbers which definitely felt dated in the mid-1970s style of the original, which has definitely been a conscious choice made by the directors of every iteration of the musical since then, and by the second hour, the lack of an intermission was certainly having an impact on audience attention span. Though Cassie and Paul are both very interesting characters, their soliloquies contributed to a slump in the second half. Spreading out the highly energetic medleys and very amusing numbers like "Dance Ten, Looks Three," would have kept the feel of the musical more even, I think. However, by the glittering finale of "One (Reprise)," there is so much onstage to look at and be impressed by that I left the theatre with a definite spring in my step.

A Chorus Line will be at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles through July 6.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

what if your worst fear...

...was M. Night Shyamalan!

So, I'm catching up a bit with posting now, but I have had a lot of time to think about one of the latest movies I've seen. Despite all the naysaying leading up to opening day of The Happening, I was pretty excited to see it. I even avoided internet spoilers so that I could finally have an unspoiled Shyamalan experience. Violence, gore, Marky Mark's third nipple (which even though it's always covered, it's a comfort to know it's there, right?), Zooey's watery dinnerplate eyes - all of these things made me want to see a horror movie in theaters on Friday the 13th. I'm mostly ambivalent towards suspense movies, and haven't seen a scary movie in theaters since 28 Days Later (Land of the Dead doesn't count since it wasn't scary, and I Am Legend doesn't count because I was bored). So The Happening was working for me riiiight up until the trailers beforehand indicated what kind of a movie-going experience I was about to embark on.

You know how the tone of the trailers shown before a film give a hint about the distribution company and target audience? Well, before The Happening, there was a trailer for Mirrors, which basically took every horror movie trope that everyone got tired of 4 Japan-remakes ago, and jumbled them together into a movie with no villain. Creepy little boy? Check. Frightened mom? Check. Slowly revealing the distorted image of the expected? Check. Oh but guess what the premise is that your reflection is what kills you. The following paraphrased conversation brought to you by my friend Evan and I:
Evan: What if your worst fear...
Me (in scared mom voice): Why are you going upstairs, Billy?
Evan (as creepy Billy): But they told me to, mommy!
Me: Who? Who told you, Billy?
Seriously, anything could kill you in a movie that stupid. What if your worst fear was...your own hat! a doorknob! the existence of Disaster Movie! Okay, that last one is actually pretty scary... But I digress...

So anyway, The Happening was pure shit pretty much from moment one. I mean, some of the deaths were pretty cool, and I am definitely susceptible to the music and slow pans of suspense building, but just like in The Village or Signs, there was rarely any payoff. In the days since I watched it, I've been trying to decide if it was just bad, or if it veered over to "so bad it's good" territory, and I think I'm leaning towards the latter. Some of the cool deaths are gooey and entertaining (jumping off buildings, headbutting a house), and some are stupidly funny (feeding oneself to lions one limb at a time, throwing oneself in front of a lawnmower?). There are also a lot of unintentionally hilariously delivered lines that are very quotable ("Don't take her hand unless you mean it!" "Hot dogs get a bad rap. They have a fun shape, and they're full of protein!" "Why're you eyein' my lemon drink?!")

But for every nugget of comedy gold, there was a plodding twenty minutes worth of horrible directing. I will not fault Mark "Rock Star" Wahlberg, Zooey "The Happening" Deschanel, or even John "The Pest" Leguizamo for their wooden performances when I'm pretty much convinced that Shyamalan just demands the worst out of his actors. The story unfurled in the first third of the action, by which point everyone in the audience I saw it with had long since stopped caring. The relationship between the leads was unnaturally and unnecessarily tense, and primarily hinged on the color of Marky's clammy mood ring. When the two of them walked into the onslaught of neurotoxin dust that they were sure was going to kill them, I was convinced that they were going to start making out and then suicidally eating each other's faces off. Alas, this did not happen.

In the cheapest system of deus ex machina in practice these days, all explanation about the premise was revealed through news broadcasts, which is just such a coward's way out. *coughSIGNScough* As soon as the credits rolled, there was a lot of loud booing in the theater, so that should be a pretty good indicator that audience opinions were in line with mine, and all those reflected on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic.

Don't see The Happening. Or, get drunk with a huge group of friends and then sneak in to The Happening. That would probably be a fun evening. Drink every time the trees/plants/wind move menacingly. Drink every time the mood ring is mentioned/present. Drink every time you laugh nervously or earnestly at the movie. Get dialysis. Repeat.

i vaaahnt to suuuck your blooohd!

So, in "literary" news, I finished reading Stephenie Meyer's debut novel Twilight a couple of weeks ago. Published in 2005, it's the first in her series of books about teenager Isabella Swan, who is hopelessly in love with her classmate Edward Cullen. But oops guess what Edward is a vampire. Here's the twist: the book is almost impossible to read without one's eyes rolling so far out of one's head that they literally fall to the ground and roll away.

I may be reacting too harshly towards this novel. It is aimed towards young adults, and it was Meyer's first novel, but the writing style was just so laced with the aphrodisiac quality of teenage pheremones that I found it impossible to believe anything that was happening to the characters. I appreciate the high school setting of the classic vampire love story: he loves her, but can't get too close because he might hurt her; she loves him, and is afraid of being a mortal in love with an immortal. That said, the writing style was just so difficult to get through that I could hardly enjoy the story.

As someone who spent nine lonely years in all girls' school pining away for some boy to show any interest in me, I am very familiar with the genre of internet fan fiction. Very. Trust me. So believe me when I say that I have encountered Stephenie Meyer's style before, on message boards and web compendiums of fanfic written about every possible sort of thing that could ever be considered arousing. "And then Aragorn lightly traced his fingertips across Boromir's arrow-pierced chest. As a single tear slowly rolled down his chiseled face, Legolas chased it away with his smooth pink lips..." Oy. Twilight was not much better.

I couldn't help rolling my eyes each time Edward Cullen made Bella lose control of her senses, because their love was almost never explained. All of a sudden, after lusting after each other for five seconds, it is just evident that they should and will be 2gether 4eva. Now, I know this has been done before, famously, but even at all girls' school I didn't buy that Juliet wasn't just Romeo's Rosalind II. At least Shakespeare could write beautifully enough to make you not care about the stupid Tristan & Iseult rehash. And I know this was probably the point, but Edward seemed to love her only enough that he didn't try to kill her all the time. Every time he tried to explain his affection, it sounded like a dog professing his love for a steak. Edward was moody and boring and Bella was both petulant and impetuous, and none of those characteristics are appealing.

And finally, I must put forth my biggest problem with this whole thing. Sorry if it bothers you, but we're talking vampires here. Meyer establishes that a single drop of human blood from a papercut is enough to drive the vampires into a ravenous hunt, unable to control themselves. They are even driven wild by the smell of a human heartbeat. What the hell happens when women are on their period? I mean, really, Meyer has to have asked herself that. I know it's not the most appealing teen-novel fodder, but it's a valid question. If someone has an answer for me about how vampire fiction has dealt with this, if ever, I'd greatly appreciate it.

Anyway, here's the movie's teaser trailer, which looks slightly more entertaining than the book. Whatever. (Feck; I still can't embed videos for some reason! Bah!)

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Today's fire at Universal Studios backlot

Early this morning, a fire broke out in the New York section of the Universal Studios backlot. It has since been contained by the hundreds of firefighters who were at the scene, but areas of the studio lot have been destroyed. Thankfully, only three firefighters suffered minor injuries, and no one else has been hurt. Though authorities do not know what specifically caused the fire, it erupted during the filming of a commercial. More details about the blaze can be found here, here, and here.

This section of the lot has been affected by fire before, eighteen years ago. Some areas that were destroyed are quite familiar to the public, such as the King Kong segment of the theme park's studio tour. The tram tour also takes guests through the New York streets, where scenes from CBS' Ghost Whisperer are filmed, and which are now completely destroyed. Of the facades that were ruined, perhaps the most upsetting to me is the courthouse and courtyard square, which are indelibly set in my mind as the Hill Valley courthouse and clocktower from the Back to the Future franchise.

As a huge fan of the Back to the Future movies, it has been a great source of joy for me to visit this section of Hill Valley ever since I started working on the Universal Studios lot in January. I've taken my sack lunch to New York street more than a couple of times, enjoying the bizarre experience of sitting on a fake sidewalk in a fake city, eating a real bagel. When my friend and fellow intern took an hour to run around taking photos of each other on the backlot one day, we'd hoped to take one at the courthouse, but never got around to it. It's a shame that I never went back to visit it now that it's gone. I know this isn't really a tragedy, and mercifully there were no serious injuries, but still -- the area of the lot that was destroyed was indeed iconic.

The film vault, protected by steel and concrete, was not harmed, protecting irreplaceable negatives. There were tens of thousands of other videos and reels that were lost to the fire, however, though thankfully they are backed up in another location at the NBC studios in Burbank. It will be interesting to see how this setback will affect the company's plans to consolidate all Los Angeles NBC and Universal offices onto the lot at Universal City. It is a momentous change and occasion for the company, and may be pushed back by the damages.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

i'm a charriemanthda

Having swung from not interested in the movie at all, to having seen the trailer once and suddenly very interested, to having been overexposed to it and feeling on-the-fence, I ended up at the 10:10 showing of Sex and the City on opening night. My sister and I could barely find two seats together in the top row of the small, usually empty theater, because it was so congested with estrogen-rich moviegoers. (Sidenote: seeing SatC with my sister was awesome because she's a gal pal, a sister, and a gay all rolled into one!) There were about five guys in the theater, as expected, but one had the good humor to shout "Bradshaaaaw!" over the girly screams as the credits started to roll.

This movie absolutely exceeded my expectations. As much as I hate the character of Carrie, I thought that her most annoying tendencies weren't allowed to be expressed to the fullest. She was still very self-centered, but never really tried to diminish the importance of the events happening in her friends lives. The relationship between her and Big was believable as far as how their characters would be acting after all this time, and I actually felt for both of them when I've never been able to sympathize with either character before. Also, I was impressed that Sarah Jessica Parker, as depressed Carrie, had an extended scene wearing no makeup. It made the scene that much more sympathizing, since it's true that a woman would not bother putting her face on in that situation.

Samantha's life in Hollywood was a bit overdone, but the show's always portrayed L.A. that way, and it was cute. I was proud to see her stay faithful to Smith when tempted, especially in the light of how serious the film had to treat infidelity, because we'd seen her cheat on him before, and be terribly wounded by her own actions. Her treatment of their relationship, when she had to step back and evaluate her life, was mature and welcome. And I should hope so, at her age, and with her pragmatism and intelligence. Speaking of age, Kim Catrall lying naked and covered in sushi looked absolutely gorgeous. Entertainment Weekly was right: menopausal women are having the best year ever!

Miranda's storyline was very difficult for me to watch, eliciting a physical reaction from the moment that the ball dropped (Steve's one ball?). She always has gotten a bum deal, proving that powerful women will always have to make sacrifices if they want a family. I can understand some of the ways in which she may have contributed to the problems in her marriage, but that's no excuse for Steve's contribution. I think that after all she'd given up for him, the neat ending to their story was a difficult pill for me to swallow. (SPOILER!!!) And I'm sorry, but the fact that the gals are willing to donate time, money, and energy to clean up the mess of Carrie's life and hightail it to Mexico when she gets jilted by a man who's dragged her around the block enough times that she should be immune to it, but when hardworking mother Miranda gets her heart broken, they barely bat an eyelash at brunch, really pisses me off. Shades of Carrie's stupid "paper covers rock" comment when she thought her lame breakup with Berger was more interesting than Charlotte's engagement to the love of her life, whom she converted to Judaism for! Did Samantha fly out to New York to help Miranda move? Did anyone help babysit when Miranda needed to curl in bed and weep? Hmmph! (END SPOILER) In any event, Cynthia Nixon also looked wonderful with no clothes on, so good for her, too.

The real star of the movie, for me, was absolutely Kristin Davis. She has totally grown as a comedic actress, and also hasn't aged a day, ever. Her facial expressions during the Poughkeepsie-in-Mexico scene were priceless, and some of the funniest physical comedy I've seen in a while. When telling off Big the first time, her teary, outraged "NO! No!" followed by scurrying away in her tight dress, was heartbreaking, funny, and gratifying. When she confronted Big the second time around, it was painfully obvious what was about to happen, but exciting nonetheless. After all these years, Charlotte finally stole the show.

Other standouts for me were definitely Jennifer Hudson, who was a pleasant surprise as an actress. I mean, yeah, I know she's an Academy Award winner, but she was kicky and fun here, not devastated like in Dreamgirls. Overall, I was really surprised with how much I loved the fashions of the movie. All the girls looked great, each in their own way. Carrie only had a few vomit-inducing accessories (fishnet socks? the bridal hatrocity?), and I loved seeing her in the couture and daily wear she changed in and out of a few hundred times. Samantha's Mannequin-esque shoulder pads and bright colors were spectacular, and made me jealous of her ability to carry off styles previously dominated by Delta Burke. Miranda looked wonderful - stylish and sophisticated - finally having grown up stylistically. Louise was fashionable while still believable as a lower-rent version of the gals. And dear Charlotte in her '60s style maternity wear was just so adorable.

If you ever watched the show, I think you'll love the movie. I never even considered myself a SatC fan before, but I think I might be now.

Friday, May 30, 2008

am i the only person who didn't see that one coming?

I don't really know what to say about last night's season four finale of LOST, because it was such an excellent, complicated two hours of television that it's hard for me to string together a coherent discussion of one of the most divergent shows ever on TV. So, for the ease of muddling through all the thoughts that last night's episode - and this entire season, in fact - left me with, I'm going to break from tradition and write in bullet points today (storing up my energy for 2 and 1/2 hours of Sex and the City tonight).

Jin and Sun -- Oh man oh man, I was having quite a bit of trouble keeping it together for this whole section of the episode. First of all, I'd been holding out hope that Jin, despite not being one of the Oceanic 6, was still alive, ever since the ambiguous "tombstone" in the Ji Yeon episode. Somehow I still have hope that he survived the freighter explosion because a) it's LOST, and b) Jin is awesome. And Jack's a big douchebag. Yunjin Kim's acting was really spectacular, and totally sold the entire helicopter scene for me. I'm excited to see her start owning her grief and her destiny in her time after the island. She freakin' confronted Widmore himself!

Time travel -- Thankfully they've eased us into this being the true reality of the island, because if they'd just sprung it on us four seasons in, I think it would have fallen totally flat and nobody would have signed on. It would have been J.R. coming out of a dream sequence or something like that. I thought it was pretty bomb to see Ben turning the WHEEL OF TIME in the mysterious frozen core of the Earth, and another Dharma orientation video was long past-due. I can't wait for this to finally tie together the loose ends of Richard Alpert, polar bears, and four-toed statues. Also, I read a great theory online that the reason Widmore is trying so hard to find the island is because he moved it once himself and, like Ben said, the person who moves the island can't come back.

Desmond and Penny -- I was very surprised to see their reunion happen so early in the show's run. Considering the fact that Desmond was only introduced in season two, and the magnitude of their love story, I wasn't expecting resolution there until the final season. Of course, this just emphasizes the fact that their story is neither as interesting or as important as the raison d'etre of the island itself, and the conflicting groups who have found themselves there. It's a shame their union won't last forever. Come on, you know something bad has to happen there.

Ben and Locke -- Locke being groomed to become the new Ben was exciting, because it was finally a payoff to the strong connection he's had with the island. Locke being in the coffin at the end totally took me surprise (hence this blog entry's title), and opened up a lot of questions and possibilities for what could happen in upcoming seasons to fill the gap in Locke's life between last night's episode and his death. Ben had become my favorite character on the show long ago, and seeing what happened just before he landed in the Tunisian desert ("What year is it?") just made him even cooler in my book. Oh yeah, and he stabbed some dude in the neck a few times. Oh, and he is totally going to go after Penny now, and I'm sorry but Desmond is no match for Ben.

The "future" -- Okay, so now Jack, Kate, Aaron, Sun, Hurley, and Sayid have to go back to the island. And they have to bring back Locke's cold dead body. Does Ben get/have to go with them? Why doesn't Walt have to return? Or does he? How long (in TV time) is it going to take to get them back there? And how will Kate and Hurley be convinced? Will Jack ever stop being so insufferable?

The LOST Experience -- Another entry in the canon of LOST ARG-related websites. Did you catch the commercial for Octagon Global Recruiting? Watch it again at It's clearly something you can sign up to attend at COMIC CON 2008 because it says "San Diego" and "July 24-27." Yeah, even though I can't go to Comic Con this year, I still have the dates memorized. I can't wait to hear what they reveal!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

trailer park, part deux

More trailers for you guys to watch, but I'm still having trouble embedding the videos, so I had to post links again. Sorry, again.

Towelhead (Aug. 8)
This seems to have the same kind of unsettling quality that Little Children had, and it is not totally thematically different, with pedophilia and alienation coming to the fore. This seems like one of those movies that's good, and makes you think, but leaves you with a really unpleasant feeling in your stomach. But then, could we expect any less from director Alan Ball?

Tropic Thunder (Aug. 15)
War satire that isn't Delta Farce? Check. Steve Coogan? Check. Robert Downey, Jr. playing an Australian actor who undergoes a surgical procedure to look African-American, and then method acting as a black man for the entire film? Check. A movie exciting enough to prompt me to make the controversial statement that, other than Dodgeball, Ben Stiller hasn't been in a funny movie since The Royal Tenenbaums (appearances as Tony Wonder don't count)? Check. Making fun of Academy Award nominated Norbit? Check.
Red band:

Hamlet 2 (Aug. 22)
It's got Steve Coogan (again) and Catherine Keener, and centers on a high school rock opera with the song "Rock Me Sexy Jesus" as its hit. What more could I ask for?

The House Bunny (Aug. 22)
This one just looks stupid and funny enough to join the ranks of Grandma's Boy in my guiltiest guilty pleasures vault. When my roommate and I told her dad the premise of this movie, he countered with a story about how a few years before he went to college, the frat that he would eventually join had a live-in prostitute and her pimp serve jointly as their house mother. Touche.

Blindness (Sep. 19)
It's kind of tough for me to talk about this movie because I spent a few months out of my life lovingly adapting Jose Saramago's excellent book into my very first feature-length screenplay. I have a copy of the script that Fernando Meirelles used for his upcoming film, and I haven't been able to bring myself to read it yet. I can only say that Saramago's story is excellent, and so is Julianne Moore, so I'm sure this film will be winning every award from here to Texas. Sigh.

Australia (Nov. 14)
I have been looking forward to this movie for quite some time now, and as a devoted fan of Baz Luhrmann's Red Curtain trilogy, I'm really excited to see how he's going to apply his incredible talent and skill to a pastoral epic. I think that Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman are well matched, even if it was an interesting choice to cast her as a Brit (she'll be fine, it's still kind of interesting), and the trailer gives me shivers when they kiss. I think the style and the setting are going to make this movie old-school magical, and I have a feeling that it's going to be about 1,000 times better than Ron Howard's Tom-and-Nicole epic Far and Away, which I've seen like 3 times and is crazy entertaining for a horrible movie.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Dec. 19)
I hadn't been interested in this movie at all when I'd only heard Brad Pitt's name and the curious title together, but when I realized it was a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, my interest grew. Upon viewing the trailer, which does a lot with music and lack of dialogue, it has become one of my most eagerly-anticipated films of 2008. Brad Pitt can act quite well when he's not being totally boring-looking, and I think that this movie will be what Big Fish almost was, and reach just beyond the edge of imagination to give us something totally crazy to think about.
Low quality Spanish trailer:

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

trailer park, part une

In my recent returns to the movie theater, I have also been introduced to a few new movie trailers, and a handful of them look very promising. I also enjoyed combing through a bunch of trailers online, so I wanted to share some of the ones that I want to see. Enjoy!

(Okay, so for some reason blogger is not letting me embed video clips right now, so I'm afraid I had to post the links to the trailers on YouTube. Sorry, I hate to click a link when the video I want to see could be right there!)

The Foot Fist Way (May 30)
Okay, so I actually got an advance copy of this at work, and when I tried to watch it, I was busy doing other things, and ended up losing interest about halfway through. I'll watch it this week so that I can post a review the day it comes out, which is this Friday. I do love mockumentaries, and this looks like a deadpan comedy, which is probably a lot funnier than I was aware of when it was on TV next to me while I was writing a paper.

The Happening (June 13)
So, most people's opinions on M. Night Shyamalan's movies are mixed, and mine are too. Let's face it, the quality of his storytelling varies pretty widely from film to film, anyway. The Happening doesn't look to me like it's going to exceed The Sixth Sense, which is my favorite of his, but it also doesn't look like it's going to sink to The Village or Lady in the Water levels of boringness. Really though, just like Kathy Geiss, I'll show up to almost anything Mark Wahlberg is in. I don't know what it is about his pug-like face and his too-much-muscle body covered in horrible tattoos, but I am drawn to him. Sexy/ugly has never looked so good(?). Also, Zooey Deschanel is incredible, so I imagine the movie must be decent if she chose to be in it.
(NOTE: This is the red band trailer, which is pretty violent, so be careful:)

Quid Pro Quo (June 13)
Nick Stahl is a very underrated actor, if you ask me, and I am glad to see him in an interesting thriller as the protagonist. The concept of elective amputation is an unusual, and very thought-provoking one, having been explored in mainstream media on Nip/Tuck, and previously on sites such as (I won't post a link because I'm on a work computer and don't want to search around for the article I'm looking for, but it's a fascinating site from top to bottom, if you're interested in body modifications). This mystery/thriller genre as a vehicle to discuss the subject of bizarre body image (and body dysmorphic disorder?) is cool, and I hope I actually remember to watch this when it comes out in (assumedly) limited release.

Baghead (June 13)
I've actually seen Baghead already, and I definitely recommend it for the Laemmle-theatergoing crowd, especially if you're looking for a comedy at the independent movie theater which is typically full of high-quality downers like The Children of Huang Shi (which looks reeeally good, btw). It's neither the most memorable comedy I've seen - though few indie comedies are - nor the scariest horror flick I've seen, but I don't really think that's the point. Baghead pokes fun at the indie filmmaking process and community, and the actors are believable and funny throughout. The wallet-phone gag will stick with you for a while, too, so look out for that.

American Teen (July 25)
I've been reading lately about how the cinema verite approach to teens in media is becoming a growing trend, and American Teen is one of the primary examples of this that people are turning to. What can I say? It looks cute and touching, and like something that will appeal to teens, younger adults, and baby boomers, and people from small towns and big cities.

The Rocker (Aug. 1)
Oh, Rainn Wilson. No one's ever going to let you put down those horrible glasses from The Office ever again, are they? Just as I examined the posters of Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin, I looked at the poster for The Rocker with a critical eye. But all the pratfalls in the world (seriously, the trailer is like if Chevy Chase and Chris Farley had a child with vertigo) can't detract from the awesome cast. I'm hoping this will end up being funnier than Blades of Glory, as the story seems a lot cooler, and I think that Wilson is a better headliner any day than Will Ferrel or Jon Heder. Yeah, I said it.
Fun fact: Rainn Wilson practices Baha'i.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (Aug. 8)
Leave me alone. I kind of loved the first one.