Thursday, August 27, 2009

In the criminal justice system...

...sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous. In New York City, the dedicated detectives who investigate these vicious felonies are members of an elite squad, known as the Special Victims Unit. These are their stories.

I could write a million words on Law & Order: SVU, but instead I'll post this list I just wrote up for my friends:

Things I have learned from L&O:SVU...
-Never be a student at Hudson University. You will get killed.
-Never have a bad breakup. Your ex will find a convoluted way to get you raped or killed.
-Do not have a disability. You will get killed.
-Do not be a runaway child. You will get indoctrinated into a fertility cult.
-If you go running with your dog in Central Park, you will find a dead body.
-If you are a child playing frisbee in Central Park, you will find a dead body.
-If you rummage in an alley, you will find a dead body (prostitute, sometimes undercover FBI agent, sometimes Asian girl).
-Never have a relationship with your coworker. Someone will get raped.
-If you are gay and use meth, someone with superAIDS will infect you on purpose. Hopefully Finn's gay son will be there to help you.
-If you are suspected of child molestation, Stabler will stare you down while talking quietly and then possibly hit you.
-B.D. Wong is always awesome.
-Every A.D.A. is the foxiest woman ever.
-If you are sketchy, like a shady journalist, or a former SVU suspect, there is a 100% chance that a female cop from the SVU will have sex with you.
-If you want a relationship with Olivia, she only wants sex.

-All Asian women are sex slaves who are recent illegal immigrants.
-If you are a Muslim, you will get honor killed, wrongly persecuted by the CIA, or kidnapped and locked in a dungeon.
-Women should never ever be alone. They will get raped.
-If you are in the closet (either the child of a radical homophobic Christian, or a black guy on the down low), your gayness will get you killed.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Operation Kino

Me: "Well, it was definitely different than I expected. But I guess I don't really know what I was expecting."
Dad: "I liked it."
Me: "Me too! It was less violent than I thought it'd be, though."
Dad: "Less violent?!"

I guess Quentin Tarantino is one of those auteurs from whom you're not supposed to expect anything, really, but you're just supposed to want to go see the movie. And I did! And $37 million worth of people did! Including women! What's that, Hollywood? You say women never go to the movies? Well, anyway.

After thinking about it all day, I guess I realize that my confused expectations came from an advertising campaign that didn't quite gel with the movie I saw. However, I quite enjoyed Tarantino's latest outing. I felt pretty sure from the beginning that history was going to be more than rewritten here, and (highlight for spoilers) seeing Hitler get shot to hell in the face was incredibly satisfying.

The film is much less about Brad Pitt's Aldo Raine and the Basterds he commands than the advertising intimates. An opening sequence focusing on Col. Hans Landa (played glouriously by Christoph Waltz) interrogating a French dairy farmer (another great performance, this by Denis Menochet) introduces the character of Shosanna, a Jewish orphan on the run from Landa's murderous clutches. Shosanna (the gorgeous and stoic Mélanie Laurent) and Landa take on leading roles from almost their first moments onscreen, reducing the Basterds' significance quite a bit. Their storyline and hers intersect unintentionally, but do not really impact each other.

Diane Kruger's* Bridget von Hammersmark brings another layer of tension and complication to the Basterds' storyline. Because to be honest, they really didn't have any. I think any other filmmaker would have dedicated the whole movie to explaining their back stories, and their motivations for joining the mercenary team. Motivations other than being Jewish, that is. But instead it's just cold hard assassinatin'. It was pretty great.

I'm no Tarantino scholar. I haven't even seen Reservoir Dogs [/dodges rotten fruit]. But I do think I know enough not to expect certain things from him. Like consistency in tone or natural pacing in dialogue, or even satisfying outcomes when it comes to who lives and who dies. So I didn't really feel gypped after the movie at all, but I think that if this were someone's first Tarantino movie, they might not be so positively inclined towards the denouement. How did you feel about it, readers?

*Those of you who have not seen Kruger in Joyeux Noël definitely must. It's a Christmas war movie and it is so heartwarming/breaking.

Monday, August 24, 2009

"There's other things we could do..."

Watch out! Mad Men spoilers for those who are not yet caught up! This means you Mom, Dad, and Jono!

I am certainly not alone in my joy at last night's Peggy-centric episode! After the skimming over she was given in the season premiere, I am so glad that we were given so much of her last night. Her arc was kind of a microcosmic version of what her character has been through for the entire run of the series so far. She started out expressing her opinion confidently and was immediately shut down by the men. She felt left out, unsure why she can't appeal to men like all the other women can, and ends up practicing flirtation in the mirror. Then she headed to a Brooklyn bar to test out her skills.

It was both sad and familiar watching Peggy turn into a completely different person when singing into her hairbrush, Ann Margaret-style. As Roger told her, she doesn't have "that dumb look" on her face like all the cutesy, simple women. But when she needed to, she could turn it on. I loved seeing her in the bar. Marched straight up to the counter, borrowed a line from Joan, and immediately got the boys' attention. It was a little frustrating that she felt she had to pretend to be a secretary to really impress the guy she was with, but she got to have a fun little tryst with him in the end, and responsibly at that.

Moving on to Joan, she is apparently Mrs. Harris now! I am confused, though. I thought she was getting married at Christmastime, and according to Margaret Sterling's wedding invite, it is not yet November. Am I confused or is this a script gaffe? Probably the former. Speaking of Margaret Sterling, it looks like her wedding day is set for November 23, 1963...the day after JFK's assassination! I can't wait to see what they do with that! Roger seems to be getting on everyone's bad side, even Don's. This is going to explode.

Don was hard to read in this episode. Not like he's ever an open book. But his decision to appease Betty by manipulating the situation so that her father would move in with them was strange. Did he just want to do something nice for Betty? Did he want to start caring about his family? I suspect this will not go well, as Betty's sister-in-law would probably have done better at caring for him than she will. Also, I fear for what trouble he may get into as his mental acuity comes and goes.

I've heard that next week's episode (which was accidentally leaked on iTunes) will continue to be Peggy-centric. Perhaps she's finally taking a foreground role? I think the ensemble really works for the show, but I do love my Peggy. When will Joan get a whole episode to herself?

Mad Men airs Sunday nights at 10pm on AMC.

"I am the God who comes!"

True Blood spoiler alert for those not caught up!

To be perfectly honest, even last night's exciting episode set back in Bon temps could not get me that excited about the Maryann storyline. The episode opened with Sookie's imagined macking on Eric though, which was kind of cool, and ended with Bill endeavoring to save the day. Allow me for a second to ruminate on this love triangle. Bill is only exciting in flashbacks, really, but seeing him work together with Sookeh to help Tara (more on that later) made me feel that I hope they are not pulled apart by forces out of their control. If they break up because they're both super boring, then fine, but if they're wrenched apart unnaturally, that would be pretty sad.

Sookeh's powers seem to be more than she or anyone around her would have expected, as she managed to throw fancy light at Maryann. Then when she and Bill worked to get into Tara's mind and free her from Maryann's hold, she was really strengthening her abilities. I wonder if they're going to take her down the path of another friend of Tara, Buffy's Willow, who got too deep into harnessing her special powers and it almost destroyed her - and everyone around her. Ideally though it just turns into Rogue: The Series and we can all be happy about that.

As for the Maryann of it all...I don't know, I think it will be exciting when Bill convinces The Queen to send a vampire army to save the humans that so fear them. But the black-eyed townies running around like idiots is getting tiring. Also, I don't know why Sam couldn't shapeshift into a fly at any point during the ordeal. Jason packing heat and trying to be a hero was great though.

As for Jessica and Hoyt and Hoyt's deranged momma -- I am interested in seeing if Jessica ate her, or is gonna get sick from her poisoned blood, or what. And how Hoyt will react! Lafayette was great as always, especially when giving that bitchy college girl what for. He's my favorite.

True Blood airs Sunday nights at 9pm on HBO.

Friday, August 21, 2009

"Don't give up on me..."

I finally saw District 9 last night at a free screening, and I am so glad I was able to go. I should have been watching this movie on opening day. In a perfect world where I went to Comic Con, I would have gone to every panel relating to it. The movie intrigued me from the first time I saw the trailer, and it actually exceeded my expectations. I'm going to do my best to write a spoiler-free review here, because I really think people should go see this movie. Even though all I really want to do is go "OH MAN did you see it when _______ picked up that ______ and _____ it at the _______ and BLEW HIM UP?!?! That was awesome."

There's a lot you can expect from District 9 just from the advertising, and from knowing what similar movies have done. It's got obvious apartheid and immigration allegory written all over it, and it's heavy-handed with the faux documentary style. It almost seems, as my friend Ash pointed out, reminiscent of 28 Days Later, where human nature is revealed by the intrusion of another kind of humanoid species. But then when you get to the theater, there's a lot more to it.

In bare terms, District 9 is the story of what happens 20 years after a beat-down group of aliens have stalled their ship over Johannesburg. The humans, led by the MNU organization, have placed them in a slum within city limits, and are testing their weapons and technology. The aliens only want to go home, but after two decades of not being able to, have devolved into criminals and slumdogs. Johannesburg residents are tired of the drain that District 9 has put onto their city, and MNU's response is to relocate the aliens ("prawns") to an even worse favela outside of city limits. Wikus van de Merwe is an MNU desk jockey appointed by his father-in-law to oversee the one-day eviction process. He is accidentally sprayed with a mysterious fluid in an alien capsule, and gets injured. Over the following days, as he gets sicker and sicker from the incident, his own government turns on him, and he must try to find a solution, with the help of a prawn named Christopher.

South African actor Sharlto Copley, who got the role of Wikus from his close friend, writer-director Neill Blomkamp, was really exceptional. In the film's first act, which is very handheld, documentary-style, Copley acts as a perfect caricature of an overeager bureaucrat with shellacked hair and a perfectly trimmed mustache. He's comic and hapless, quite like Rhys Darby's Murray on Flight of the Conchords. In the second act, while Wikus is trying to figure out what's happened to him, what's going to happen to him, and how he'll manage to reunite with his wife, Copley is fidgety and frightened and believably out of it. By the third act, it is almost unbelievable that the same man is onscreen. He's transformed into a scifi action star as grizzled and determined as any. Completely badass and surprisingly handsome.

There are a number of sociopolitical issues raised in the movie that deserve examination, but as I don't want to post any spoilers, I'll direct you to this interesting post at Racialicious. I don't quite agree with everything in that article (because it takes offense at the film's portrayal of "Hollywood's Africa" even though the film is made by South African filmmakers), but it's worth reading if you've seen the movie.

By the end of the movie, I had laughed, I had gotten nervous, I had been grossed out, and I had rooted for different characters. There were excellent special effects for any movie, especially impressive because of the $30million budget. Robots, imaginatively conceived weaponry, explosions, spaceships. The film gets exciting fast. The ending is satisfying on its own, but particularly tuned to a sequel or franchise. Personally, I can't wait for District 10, so here's hoping that enough people love this movie and make it happen!

Thank you, Lifetime, for making it work.

Last night, after many many long months, Project Runway finally returned to TV. I recently read a pretty interesting article about how Lifetime represents a very different lifestyle brand than Bravo, but their purchase of the show seemed more like fans wanting to see more of the show they love than a new force trying to change the show for a different audience.

While last night's episode was a tad disjointed, it had pretty much everything that fans of the show could want. Crazy contestants, both pretty and ugly runway dresses, Heidi Klum, and of course, like manna from heaven, Tim Gunn. Tim Gunn is wonderful. He is a balm on my spirit in these troubling times.

I once had to explain to my friend Evan that Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club is about what happens to a society of men raised entirely by women. It seems obvious to me now that in America we live in a society of women raised entirely by Tyra Banks. This is a frightening thought, but I feel like at least I can run away from Tyra into Uncle Tim Gunn's soothing presence.

This season is set in L.A., which I love, though I can't help feeling that Tim Gunn's fair skin and three-piece suits are not quite compatible with our lovely city. To commemorate the change of location, the runway challenge had to do with the red carpet, and I liked how that allowed the contestants to pick a red carpet event to suit their tastes and their garment. Also, for those of you who didn't know that L.A. has a Mood, it's on Pico and La Brea next to Pearl Art Supplies. I just discovered it last week!

The contestants. Qrystal has a dumb name, but is sweet and well-meaning and can design for women of different shapes, which will be an advantage for the inevitable "design a dress for a typical Lifetime viewer" challenge or whatever. Malvin is this season's Christian Siriano hair, and brought the pretentious "I don't want to deny anyone access to my art" explanation for his androgynous style. (Love it.) One of the dudes is a recovering meth addict, and cried almost as much as Ricky the Gay Sex Hat did from last season (two seasons ago? Lost track). Epperson is 49 and kind of awesome; just doing this for his family, &c. Also, fivehead + dreds. Ari's a mess. I wanted to like her, but she's as nutty as that Asian guy from last season who sent a shower curtain with rubber gloves down the runway. Spoiler alert: Ari also was the first to go home. Christopher looks ethnically Minnesotan and has a chinstrap, but he never went to fashion school and his sketches are straight from deviantart, and I just want him to do alright.

As for the clothes, I really liked Irina's champagne silk, even though it was so simple. It was one of the only truly red carpet-ready dresses of the evening:

Christopher's winning dress was so not my style, but I could absolutely see it on some Disney starlet at the Teen Choice Awards or something, so he did what he did perfectly:

Ari did this to the world:
I like the Mars/Venus thing growing out of the top of her head like a Teletubby's antenna, and also the legs made of crutches. I always feel bad for the model who gets paired with Insane McCrazy, trying to work it but knowing she's gotta go home.

Also, Lindsay Lohan was there. No one cared.

Project Runway airs Thursday nights at 10pm on Lifetime.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

It begins...

On Sunday, the new episode of Mad Men heralded the return of my fall season scripted shows. Last night on Bravo, the premiere of Top Chef: Las Vegas, did the same for "reality TV." I'm not as into Top Chef as I am Project Runway (returning tonight, at long last!), but I do enjoy it so, for reasons that mostly escape me. I am never that interested in the contestants, and watching people cook on TV is always a double-edged sword, creating hunger without satisfying it.

I like to think I've picked up a couple of ideas about interesting flavors to pair, or kitchen skills I should use, but for the most part this show is straight entertainment. It's not like I am often put in a position where I have to cook a quickfire challenge, or feed hors d'oeuvres to 150 teamsters on a boat or something.

But between Iron Chef, and Hell's Kitchen, and any of the other cooking challenge shows out there, Top Chef remains my favorite. Well, the original Iron Chef has its many charms, which I can't deny. I do watch those shows where they make gorgeous cakes out of fondant and building supplies though, I can't help it.

Anyway, Padma, Tom, and of course Gael, were all back in fine form last night. The season having just started, I am still a bit lost among the many contestants, and there was barely enough time for the judges, including guest Wolfgang Puck, to really go into detail about the dishes. The Las Vegas backdrop was introduced with some showgirls prancing around the kitchen, and a "high-stakes" quickfire which awarded a $15,000 chip to the victor. The cleverest move was using Vegas' most popular foods in the challenges. I hope to see a challenge where the contestants have to cook for an all-you-can-eat buffet. My boyfriend and I had an awesome time eating crab legs, root beer floats, and assorted meats at the MGM Grand for every meal one day in May.

There is only one standout* contestant so far, and that is Mattin.
He's French.

Anyway, the chick that went home last night stuffed a poblano chile with seitan, so in my opinion she should have been slapped across the face. And Gael dove into the bacon donuts with chocolate beer sauce with the same gusto I would have, cementing my opinion that she'd be such a cool gal to hang out with.

*He stands out because of the lolzworthy neckerchief and nothing else, for the record.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The End Times are upon us.

Early this morning, I heard the worst movie news in some time: Lionsgate is remaking its 1987 classic Dirty Dancing. Disgraceful, isn't it? New readers, you may want to revisit my earlier written praise of this awesome movie, so as to get a full appreciation of my feelings toward this news. I read the news this morning on The Tracking Board, and heard it confirmed on Ralph Garman's "showbiz beat" on the KROQ Kevin & Bean show. Rumor has it that the story will be updated to modern day, but I have yet to find that out conclusively.

There are a million problems with this. I hope that it is actually going to be set in the '60s, like the original. Not only would the cultural appreciation for Mad Men and its ilk make the story a little more marketable, but the central conflict between Baby and Johnny would actually make sense! I'm not so naïve that I think an upper-middle-class young woman fooling around with a summer resort dance instructor at least a few years her senior wouldn't still piss off her father in modern times. But we're talking about dirty dancing.

How many Save the Last Dance and Step Up iterations have to go by before filmmakers realize that a girl learning how to sway her hips, while potentially indicative of sexual awakening, is not quite the society-shaking protestacular that it might have been at Kellerman's in the early '60s.

I do wonder if this may be a remake of the stage musical based on the original, à la The Producers (failure) and Hairspray (success). Interestingly, both of those movies were set in the '60s too, but Hairspray had that awesome John Waters '80s vibe. This may be the most successful way to remake the movie. A modern take might incorporate krumping or something really awkward, and a straight retelling of the original movie would be a cheesy Psycho job.

This whole thing makes me feel very unsettled! In high school, when Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights came out, my friends and I came up with a few other potential sequels. The most popular remains Dirty Dancing 3: Tienanmen Square. Log line: He was a student revolutionary. She drove a tank. Through the art of traditional Chinese folk dance...can they find love?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Old news

So, we all know that I hate Twilight. But I was chatting with my awesome friend Neil today (whose blog Eggshellman I was going to link to, but the link won't work), and a spontaneous Twilight rehash happened. Enjoy.

Bella: I'm so clumsy! I can't do anything! I'm a girl!
Edward: YOU SMELL DELICIOUS Bella: Daddy issues!Edward: I WILL WATCH YOU SLEEP WITHOUT YOUR PERMISSION Bella: I like it when you take control Edward: YOU CAN'T DO ANYTHING WITHOUT RUNNING IT BY ME FIRST BECAUSE YOU ARE HELPLESS AND I WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU Bella: Kiss me! Edward: NO BECAUSE THEN I WILL WANT TO BONE YOU AND PREMARITAL SEX IS BAD Edward: ALSO I'M A VAMPIRE AND IF WE HAVE SEX I'LL PROBABLY KILL YOU Edward: 'CAUSE THAT'S WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU HAVE SEX OUT OF WEDLOCK Edward: twinkle Bella: I am so insecure! Every boy: She's gorgeous! Every girl: I wanna be her! The end. Neil: LOL, LOL, LOL me: i have only read the first book but i have an understanding of the other three Bella: Also I like a vampire! Jacob: I am a native American and also a werewolf Bella: You're sexy too Edward: ANGER! Bella: Edward, make me a vampire please! The thought of aging disgusts me! More insecurity issues for young female readers to have! Edward: NO I WILL NOT Bella: Please just touch my crotch a little bit. Edward: NO Edward: Okay fine but ONLY IF WE GET MARRIED Bella: Sex is a metaphor for turning into a vampire! (they get married) Edward: Okay, I will bone you now, but only after I turn you into a vampire or else the sex will kill you Bella: Nah, I like it rough, and also I want you to abuse me. Edward: 'kay. (they have sex, it almost kills her) Bella: I'm pregnant! Renesmee: I am your unborn 1/2 vampire baby! I will try to kill you from within your womb! (she gives birth literally a month later) Jacob: I AM IN LOVE WITH THAT BABY. (yes, this actually happens) Edward: BITE BITE BITE Bella: Wheee I'm a vampire now and I'm SO pretty! Edward: sparkle

Limit your exposure.

Attn: I am going to be recapping individual episodes of Mad Men each week, so anyone who isn't caught up should avoid these posts and the spoilers within. This means you, Dad.

Last night, the third season of everyone's favorite show, Mad Men, finally premiered. Their marketing in recent weeks, with a Mad Men Casting Call contest (brilliantly tied in to Banana Republic), a "Mad Men Yourself" avatar maker, and wonderful Don Draper drowning ads, has built the anticipation up perceptibly. I am a Mad Men latecomer, having watched the first two seasons on DVD this year, subsequently purchased them, and rewatched. I have a track record of getting into shows two seasons too late (Lost, House, HIMYM, Grey's Anatomy -- though Grey's and I broke up at the end of season 3), so I am familiar with the "good hurt"* of watching the third season premiere on television, ingesting the goods with commercials and weeklong breaks for the first time. This is never as bad as it was with Lost, and thankfully last night's Mad Men had limited advertising (ironically enough).

But enough of that. Let's talk content. The show's opening, in which Don imagines his birth, the birth of Dick Whitman. I love seeing scenes of Dick's cornpone youth, because it is so jarring when juxtaposed with the crisp, bespoke Don Draper's adult life. Betty is heavily pregnant, and mostly glossed over in this episode. I can't wait to see her given more screen time, though she was a focus of the end of season 2.

Peggy and Joan, everyone's favorite characters, were also mostly glossed over, but each revealed something interesting about recent months. Peggy's got her own secretary now, who is less enthused about respecting Peggy's status than even her male coworkers. And Joan mentioned that she is going to be "out of here" before too long. Did her rape last season, at the hands of her fiancé, crush the ambition and pride she once had in her job? Is she planning to become a housewife? Answers soon, please!

Things are still a little nebulous at Sterling Cooper, or at least I still don't quite have a grasp on who's who in the boardroom since the merger. There's definitely a British presence in the office, and strings are being pulled, but everything just seems generally in flux. Pete and Ken were both sneakily offered the job of Head of Accounts, and are going to have to share the title until one of them knocks the other off the pedestal (American Gladiator style, one hopes). Pete made a quick reference to Peggy, seeming very cold towards the mention of her name. I can only imagine that in the months since her confession to him last season, he has taken pains to avoid her whenever possible.

The most captivating arc in the episode was easily Don's and Sal's business trip to Baltimore. Accidentally in disguise, the two end up attracting the attention of some stewardesses and a pilot, with whom they share dinner. Predictably, Don and Shelly, the more "game" of the two girls, end up arm in arm upstairs. She hesitates briefly about their tryst, saying she's engaged, but he might be her "last chance." Don's reply, "I've been married a long time. You get plenty of chances," was kind of chilling. Don't you think if you were engaged, and some handsome guy you were considering riding dirty with said that, you'd get so skeeved out? And also intimidated at the onset of your own marital discord? He admits it's his birthday, and I suspect it really is -- Dick's, not Don's -- so they do end up in bed. Shelly's awkward prattle while undressing was uncomfortable to watch, as it represented the nervous insecurity of most women, standing nude in front of a stranger.

And then Sal -- Sal! -- finally had some screen time devoted to his biggest secret, the fascinating storyline hinted at since the pilot. We've heard whispers of Sal's homosexuality, and times when it was teased at but thwarted, but in general his suave je ne sais quoi, or as we call it today, his "sparkle," has been written off as Italianism. Last night a young bellman made the first move, kissing and undressing Sal who was too stunned to be more than a passive participant. Actor Bryan Batt did such a good job of portraying breathlessly exactly what was going on. It was his dream, his worst fear, and it was too good to be true. The confirmation of what he'd never admitted to himself.

Of course, a fire alarm interrupted the tryst before it could go very far, and Don caught a glimpse of Sal in flagrante delicto as he made his way down the fire escape. While viewers know enough about Don, his past, and his treatment of Peggy in her time of crisis, to know that he is unlikely to out him, Sal is palpably terrified of what Don's reaction will be. He says nothing until discussing their London Fog ad with him on the flight home, describing a woman in a trench coat revealing herself to a man (note that Shelly wore only a trenchcoat on her way downstairs during the fire alarm the night before). Don's copy: "Limit your exposure." A tad scolding, mostly sage advice to Sal in a time when neither his wife nor his coworkers would appreciate knowing what Sal doesn't want them to know. Kind of genius writing, Mad Men staff, well done. Interestingly, no sign of Kurt, last season's Gay-or-European (it's a trick, he's both!) around the office. Perhaps the new British bosses are not as tolerant of mock-turtleneck wearers?

Can't wait to tune in next week.
Mad Men, season 3, episode 1, "Out of Town." Sunday nights at 10pm on AMC.

*Taco Bell or some such has been using this term in radio ads to describe the sensation of eating spicy food. I think it's kind of gross, but also kind of fascinating (a lot like Lady GaGa), so I'm trying to figure out how best to reappropriate it.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The air went out...

...of my lungs approximately half a dozen times during the course of tonight's True Blood episode. The episode opened with Sookeh being coerced into sucking a wound on Eric's man-nipple, ostensibly to remove a piece of silver shrapnel embedded there during the suicide bombing from the end of last week's episode. Eric's predatory smile directly at the camera was so perversely awesome, it made the scene seem like a castoff from the cutting room floor of Lady GaGa's "Paparazzi" music video that Alexander Skarsgård guest-starred in.

This episode's main purpose was definitely to set up the love triangle between Eric, Bill, and Sookeh. Yawn! I mean, the episode was very enjoyable, and Sookeh's Eric-centric sex dream was funny and titillating, but I am just so bored by Sookeh and especially Bill now. I was never an Eric fan, until Godric came along and he suddenly became interesting. Okay that's a lie -- I think I started to like him when he worried about blood getting in the way of his dye job. I just think he could do better? I don't know, Sookeh was uncharacteristically exciting in her sex dream, so maybe Bill's dragging her down? We'll see. In any event, I enjoyed her scene with Jason, and I'm glad to see we can finally root for him.

Meanwhile, in Maryann-land, the story chugged along as slowly as usual. It's been kind of difficult for me to care at all about this storyline. I mean, I don't want Sam to die, but if he does I won't be too bothered. I hope Tara doesn't end up a casualty here though, as she's been likable in earlier episodes. Only three eps left in the season, and the mains are finally returning to Bon Temps, so I guess everything will start ramping up for the finale.

On to my favorite characters, Lafayette and Jessica. Lafayette had some excellent badass moments tonight, and I definitely want to see him end up saving the day at season end somehow. Jessica didn't get a whole lot of screen time, but Hoyt did finally introduce her to his momma, which raised a question about this show's vampire mythology which I have wondered about. Are the vampires on this show fertile? I would imagine not.

Alas, the show ended with Godric, a wonderfully written and acted character that I think we got far too little of. The final scene was very touching, of Godric accepting God and rising up in flames. It didn't make sense to me at first why Sookeh would want to be with Godric at his death, but after seeing him with Eric, and her with Eric, it began to make sense. Here's to Sookeh becoming likable, thanks to Eric.

True Blood season 2, episode 9, "I Will Rise Up." True Blood airs Sunday nights at 9pm on HBO.

Guest reviewer!

A special treat for you today! My dad saw Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince this weekend while in Mexico, and he wrote me a short review, which I told him I'd post on his behalf. So please enjoy the succinct stylings of my pops:

Dad: Can I write my one paragraph H. Potter review for you?
Kat: Yes please.
Dad: This movie was made to suck money out of persons who enjoyed the previous ones... It smelled like ass, looked like ass, and was ass! That's my review!
Kat: Really! Wow.
Dad: And you can quote my ass!
Kat: I will.
Dad: The last Harry Potter movie that I saw with subtitles was when I was with you in Prague and the subtitles were in Czech... It was great! The Spanish subtitles that were on the movie I saw last night in Monterrey, Mexico were more exciting than the movie! What a bore!

So there you have it folks. Hopefully my dad will do some more guest reviewing in the future.

"I'm not Forrest Gump, you know."

Yesterday afternoon I finally saw Adam, starring Hugh Dancy and Rose Byrne as awkward new lovers trying to undertake a relationship with the added burdens of her father's impending trial -- and Adam's struggles with Asberger's Syndrome. It is a very simple and believable story. Dancy is genuine in his portrayal of a lonely man who loves his beautiful new neighbor, but for whom love is something different than it is for her. And Byrne as Beth is gently sweet to him, sensitive to his needs without being patronizing, and bearing the crosses in her life as gracefully as she can.

The sweetest surprise about this movie is how much it resonates with almost every relationship people get into even without having social disorders. Adam and Beth can never quite tell what the other is thinking or feeling, and sometimes misinterpret each other's good intentions. But they are driven by wanting to feel loved and appreciated, and wanting to give love. The backdrop of Beth's family troubles is an appropriate foil to the journey our leads are going on.

Some scenes in the movie are difficult to watch, when Adam's struggles with the people around him lead to frustrated outbursts, so anyone who can't bear watching Arrested Development or Curb because of the awkwardness should definitely avoid this movie. Overall, it is an impressive little love story with a satisfying ending and even-handed storytelling. Plus, the leads are really attractive, and who doesn't like looking at pretty people?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Summer in the City, Pt. IV (Books)

One of the upsides to a long commute is that every day you have a couple of hours to yourself. No internet, no television, just you and the commute. In cities with comprehensive public transit, you can read on your commute, which I am jealous of daily. In L.A., the best I can do is audiobooks. I'd never read an audiobook before, and surprisingly it didn't take much getting used to. They are expensive though, so I think I'm going to have to start going to the library, which I always forget exists. If only the library worked like Netflix. So here's some books I've read recently -- some audio, some not:

No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
I bought this on a whim, because Me and You and Everyone We Know, the movie July wrote and starred in, was so interesting, that I wanted to see what she'd done in short stories. This one was an audiobook, and July's voice was surprisingly perfect for every character. Almost all of them melancholy, she transformed to suit different genders and age brackets and levels of sanity, without really putting on different voices. The stories are strange, some are a bit vulgar, and there is a sense of humor and hope even in the sad scenes she depicts.

Always Looking Up: Adventures of an Incurable Optimist by Michael J. Fox
I have loved Michael J. Fox for as long as I can remember. Family Ties, Teen Wolf, the Back to the Future trilogy. I had a crush on him before I knew what a crush was. In high school, I watched Spin City, and wept when he left the show to be replaced by Charlie Sheen. I read his first autobiography Lucky Man as if I were reading a loved one's diary. Always Looking Up is very different than Lucky Man, but a welcome sequel. It focuses primarily on Fox's advocacy for stem cell research and his work to find a cure for Parkinson's. It's an interesting look at his life's work, a calling clearly more fulfilling to him than acting. It's clear that celebrity is a big part of his life, but that he has completed the transition to who he will be remembered as, far more than an adorable Canadian teen actor. (Note: audiobook read by the author himself)

Blankets by Craig Thompson
A coworker recommended this graphic novel to me, and I really wish someone had told me about it when I was a few years younger. I definitely enjoyed Thomspon's skillfully illustrated memoir, and it would have really struck a chord with me when I was a teenager. As an autobiography, Thompson's story has been heard before. Lonely child grows up poor, in an oppressively religious home, and finds hope when he finds love as a teenager. But his salvation comes through his artwork, his break with Christianity, and his escape from Tinytown. But the drawings are so graceful, his pain and subsequent deliverance drip off the page.

Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson
To date, the only other Bryson book I've read is his Australian travelogue In a Sunburned Country, and as I am currently reading his Shakespeare biography, I am very eager to continue reading his ouevre. I've previously read and enjoyed Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World, and while Bryson's book covers much of the same information, it approaches it in a different way. Bryson opens the tome by explaining that while the world doesn't need another Shakespeare biography, his collection does. It's clear that Bryson is this curious genius, setting out to know what he can about our world and its history. And it's fun to have him explain what he's learned. Which in the world of Shakespeare, isn't much. The audiobook is read by Bryson himself, and it's like attending a teatime lecture by a friendly professor.

Next up, I've got Louisa May Alcott's classic Little Women on CD. I think for audiobooks, I'm going to be sticking to educational nonfiction and classics, as in all honesty, those would be the hardest for me to get through by reading the traditional method. Speaking of classics, I'm still reading Tolstoy's War and Peace which my boyfriend gave me for Christmas, and I am embarrassingly only about halfway through. I'm enjoying every bit of it, but it is simply not a page-turner.

Summer in the City, Pt. III (TV)

As many of you know, television has long been my beloved mistress, my perfect drug. Now with TiVo, and Netflix instant streaming, my TV consumption really has gotten out of hand. I've done a lot of catching up on older shows, and following summer shows, and I am kind of getting antsy waiting for the fall shows to premiere. As always, thoughts of the many months we must wait before the final season of Lost only serve to distress me. On to happier thoughts:

So You Think You Can Dance (Fox, Wednesdays at 8pm & Thursdays at 9pm)
I've been a fan of SYTYCD since season 2, and I love it no less now than I did then. The dancing is still spectacular, the variety of styles given exposure is admirable, and as a dancer, I just love how inspirational the show is to keep everyone moving to the music. That all said, this season was mostly a dud. Perhaps the show's creators and choreographers were overworked, preparing for the show's first fall season while filming their summer season, but there were not too many stand-out performances - or performers - this year. Mary Murphy is continually a thorn in my side, and the bizarre Katie Holmes interlude was (or maybe I'm just an SP). I am still looking forward to the fall season though. Can't go wrong with more dance.

True Blood (HBO, Sundays at 9pm)
Obsessed. I have a complicated relationship with the vampire genre of late, but this show is just so ridiculous, I can't get enough. It's a soft-core pornographic soap opera about vampires, created by Alan Ball. What more could anyone ask for? As per uzh, the main characters Bill and Sookie are pretty damn annoying, but the sheer awesomeness of Jessica, Lafayette, and Eric is just so worth it.

Mad Men (AMC, Sundays at 10pm)
This is a show that I have watched exclusively on DVD, so I am just over the moon about being all caught up before the next season premieres next Sunday. It's a wonderful show with a lot of women behind the scenes, and a lot of compelling women on screen as well. Peggy Olson is one of the most interesting characters I've seen in a long time, and I am so eager to see where everyone will pick up after hiatus.

Hung (HBO, Sundays at 10pm)
This one of the couple of shows each season that isn't particularly great, but isn't bad, and I just watch it because it's on. Like Penn & Teller's Bullshit which is just a timefiller. I think Anne Heche is doing a good job on the show, and I'm interested in seeing where Ray and Tanya's relationship goes. Tanya's a refreshing surprise in an otherwise unremarkable new show.

The Secret Life of the American Teenager (ABC Family, Mondays at 8pm)
This show is so, so bad. The acting is bad. The writing is bad. The acting - really, you have to see it. I can't get enough of this horrible horrible show. I have been catching up on DVD, and am one season behind. It is the greatest guilty pleasure of all time. Look at that picture. That bump is a more obvious indicator of farce than a drag queen's Adam's apple.

Summer in the City, Pt. II (Movies)

In all honesty, I haven't gone out to too many movies lately. I'll write about the last few I saw in theaters, and the next ones I'm anticipating, but this is by no means a comprehensive look at the movies of Summer 2009.

What can I say? I remain heartbroken. I saw this in 3D the weekend before starting my new job at an animation studio, and it just took the wind out of me. I loved Wall-E, and saw it twice in theaters, but where the large scope of that movie is what impressed me, it was the intimate poignancy of Up that was stunning. As with everyone else in the world, I was weeping after 10 minutes, and again at the end. I can't go into any details in case anyone hasn't seen it yet. But I will say that two weeks after seeing the movie, I was looking at a billboard for it while stopped at a red light, and I lost it. I cried for an hour. So brilliant.

Away We Go
I enjoyed this movie even more than I anticipated, and I had been looking forward to it quite eagerly. What seemed like a cute, romantic road trip movie was far more affective than I'd expected, and the movie stuck with me long after. The fears and dreams that the main characters had were portrayed so wonderfully in their tight performances, and I felt like I'd want to rewatch this movie when I'm pregnant with my first child, to make me feel better about what I'm sure must be a very scary time. I can't pick a favorite vignette out of the story, but I definitely was impressed by John Krasinski's character. It is so rare to see fatherhood portrayed so admirably in media these days, and I loved how excited he was to be a dad. It was a shock to see what a fulfilling movie Sam Mendes made after Revolutionary Road which was the ultimate suburban horror story.

(500) Days of Summer
While I definitely enjoyed this movie, in a packed cinema at the Arclight, I think I'd overhyped it in the weeks preceding. The music, the non-linear story, the sentiment, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt: all wonderful. Zooey Deschanel was good in her role, but the character of Summer left me ill at ease. I don't think she's a bad person at all, and I completely understand where she's coming from, but I think that Gordon-Levitt's Tom is just so earnest and dimpled and heartwarming that it's hard not to be saddened by the woman who eventually scorns him. Some of the narration was a little off, but the musical set piece, the unorthodox use of animation and split-screen, and the wonderful ode to my love, Los Angeles, all sat very well with me. I think I must be honest though that it was great seeing Cameron from 10 Things I Hate About You show through in some scenes. Charming!

The Hurt Locker
Romance, romance, romance, WAR MOVIE. I'm sure I've blogged previously about my love of war movies, like Three Kings, Black Hawk Down, and The Best Years of Our Lives (which is about what happens after you come home, but is still one of the best war movies I've ever seen). This became one of my dad's favorite movies of recent years, and I have to say I was sucked in from the opening shot, barely able to blink the whole time. The film runs the gamut, showing us how our three main soldiers interact with each other, how they interact with their work and duty, how they interact with the locals, and finally, with their families. The film perfectly sets up the right feeling of dread from the outset, and then slowly needles the tension throughout. I highly recommend this candid and fascinating movie.

Some movies I'm looking forward to seeing in the coming weeks are Julie & Julia, Adam, District 9, and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. I should be seeing the first two sometime this week, so I will let you know how I like them!

Summer in the City, Pt. I (Music)

So, as my first action back on the blog, I'm going to do a little catching up on what I've been enjoying this summer. The quickest for me to update you on will be music. For the last five years, I've complained at how lazy I've become with learning about new music. In high school I was obsessed, reading Q, the NME, Rolling Stone, Spin, and various online music publications. I used to stay up until early morning to watch the new, hip music videos on Fuse and MTV2. I'd go to record stores and pick up CDs I'd never heard of based on the employees' recommendations. I don't think a day went by when I was 14, 15, 16, that I didn't listen to some new music.

And then I went to college and this practically all stopped. I don't really know what happened. I was busier, yes, but I spent hours and hours screwing around on the internet, just not looking for new music. The wonderful radio station Indie 103.1 came and went, and I just waited for new music to come my way, on mixtapes by friends usually.

This summer I've found myself listening to a little more new music than I had been doing. Maybe it's because I have a commute that crosses all of L.A., so I stop at Amoeba with some frequency, and it inspires me. Anyway, here's a short list:

Regina Spektor, "Far"
I've loved Regina ever since hearing "Samson" performed a capella by a friend of mine a couple of years ago. I immediately bought everything of hers I could get my hands on. When I saw her perform live at the Wiltern a year or so ago, it was a really remarkable, ethereal show. This summer, her new album quickly became my favorite. Upon my first listen, I knew that it was immensely more enjoyable to me than "Soviet Kitsch" or "Begin to Hope," both of which I love. "The Calculation," "Eet," "Laughing With," and "One More Time With Feeling" instantly became my favorite tracks, and I had them memorized within days. I even called my boyfriend while I was driving home and made him listen to "Eet" with me. I'm going to be seeing her at the Greek Theatre in October, and I think that the kookiness of this album will be on great display at that venue. The religious tones of her work come back with a passion, and her as mesmerizing as ever.

She & Him, "Volume One"
My enjoyment of "country-fried indie rock" (as I once termed it in an article I wrote for school) came as a surprise to me in high school when the particular stylings of bands like Rilo Kiley and Limbeck were all I wanted to listen to. The lilting twang of Zooey Deschanel's voice fits in perfectly with that, and is left stripped bare with M. Ward's music. I don't like every track on this album, but there's something so desperate in the vocals that I can't seem to get enough. My friends and I even sat through Yes Man to hear Zooey singing. It was not worth it.

Here's a video of Elvis Costello, Jenny Lewis, and Zooey Deschanel on stage. It's like fantasy rock band for me!

The Temper Trap
Okay so I don't know too much about them, but thanks to Ash, I got to see them live at Space Land for free, and they were a really wonderful show. I think the last time I saw a really great small act in a small venue was Everybody Else at the Troubadour in 2005 or so, and they are two very different kinds of bands. The Temper Trap was energetic, and played cleanly, and definitely piqued my interest. They have a song, "Sweet Disposition" featured on the (500) Days of Summer soundtrack, so I'm excited to see what happens for them next.

Death Cab for Cutie at the Bowl
A few weeks ago I got a friend's extra ticket to see DCFC perform with the L.A. Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. It was a wonderful last minute surprise, though the performance was less impressive than expected. We got there while The New Pornographers were opening, which was a shame because I would have liked to see more of their set. They were quickly followed by Tegan & Sara, who were very talkative and charming, and played a good mix of older and newer music. Death Cab performed one short set solo, again with a good mix of old/new, and then one set backed by the L.A. Phil. Something was just missing though. The sound was off and consequently some of the horns drowned out the rest of the music, and some of the DCFC songs felt at odds with the horde of instruments and the huge venue. Plus, Ben Gibbard seemed to be phoning it in a bit. The general consensus among my friends seems to be that he's happy now that he's engaged to Zooey Deschanel, and can't really bring the angst to his music anymore. In 2004, DCFC performed at the Wiltern, and when they ended the show on "Transatlanticism," the stage filled with yellow light and fog, it felt like I was floating in the air, alone with the music. When they ended the Bowl show on the same note, there were fireworks in the air, and it became a spectacle. In the end, the best part about going to show was being at the Bowl, picnicking in the Hollywood hills and chatting with friends, as it always is.

Spamalot at the Ahmanson
Back in April, I waited in line at the Dorothy Chandler pavilion while Laker girls, wand'ring minstrels, and various Spam-themed games and activities carried on wildly around me. I was queuing up for discounted tickets to the preview shows of Monty Python's Spamalot, in town starring John O'Hurley. I know that the theatre doesn't quite count as "music," but I figured this was as good a place for it as any. Those of us familiar with the Pythons, and The Holy Grail, probably got more enjoyment out of the show than the unitiated. We knew which jokes to expect, but there was enough of a new take on the material to be freshly entertaining. My mom who has no Monty Python experience laughed wildly the whole time, and couldn't believe how crude some of the humor was, so maybe I'm wrong. There were a few little kinks to be worked out (it was in previews, after all), and the faux program in the Playbill was one of the funniest parts of the show, but overall I enjoyed it quite a bit.

That's all I can think of for now. Lately my car's CD player has been playing audiobooks mostly, as it helps more during a long commute than music sometimes does.

Where everybody knows your name...

Apologies are not enough to excuse my protracted absence from posting here. Blogging as Kat Ex Machina has been a very fun and rewarding activity for me over the past couple of years, and I have no answers as to why I stopped. I was doing traveling, going on job interviews, and kind of settling into a bit of a "real life" now that the post-college gap year has come and gone. I'mLink sure my lull in posting has been more of a disservice to myself than any of my reader(s) -- Hi, Dad! -- but I am going to be making a concerted effort to get back in the habit.

This comes at a time when I'm settled into my new job of two months, and I'm trying to start up again with my writing. Those who know me personally know I have worked on screenplays in the past, and hit a particularly brutal patch of writer's block while on walkabout in Sydney last year. I have picked up the metaphorical pen again, this time with a novel. I don't want to discuss it too much just yet, as it's in the very beginning stages, but it feels good to write again. And writing anything aids in prolificness, so I think the more I blog here, the more my creative juices will be flowing and I'll stick to working on my novel a bit every day.

So here we go again. I am back working in development at a major studio, so I promise to be as "insider" as I can be without spilling any beans I shouldn't. This mostly means I'll just up the self-important tone of my blogs. For the most part, I'm going back to my old format. Movie reviews, TV reviews, and various pop culture discussions pertaining to entertainment. I've changed the template of the blog, and am going to try a few new things to bring a fresh vibe to the place, and hopefully I'll be in a strong stride by the time the fall shows premiere.

Thanks for reading, and tell your friends!