Saturday, March 27, 2010

A dream is a wish your inner-geek makes

Had a series of truly bizarre dreams last night. These are the ones I remember:

1) Waking up in the middle of the night because our microwave (which is from the 1800s and doesn't work) was giving off sparks. I ran to the bedroom, (because in my dreams I'm a complete spaz, apparently) and tried to wake up MrFig. He wouldn't budge and I had to freak out and yell "FIRE!" in his ear to wake him up. Finally he did. He marched into the kitchen and unplugged the microwave.

Conclusion: dream me is an idiot in panicky situations. Also, too much King of the Hill. You know, that one episode where they're volunteer firemen and they set the building on fire with a busted beer sign? That one.

2) There was some kind of evil institution that was kidnapping girls and turning them into idiots. By sucking out their brain power or something. So myself and a crack team of heroes (I think I remember my sister and one of my former students) decided to bust in and rescue the dumb damsels. To identify each other as 'smarties' we cut up a big day-glo sheet and glued bits of it to our hands. I remember it glowed. So then we went in, but the institution staff came in and we had to pretend to be dumb girls. An orderly came in to the room that I had run to and tried to read me a book. I had to pretend I couldn't understand anything and couldn't, for some reason, talk. Then he said "I'll make you a hologram!" and he tore a strip of paper from the book, folded it in half and said "TA-DA!"

Conclusion: too many Shutter Island trailers. Also, what the fuck.

3) There was a big dance/singing competition in this basement theater. There were some girls I knew from college there. So people went up to the stage in groups or by themselves, and they started singing and dancing. I remember one group of girls went up and lip-synched to a Beatles song I'd never heard but somehow recognized in my dream. I clapped.

Conclusion: I blame Jezebel. Harlot.

4) Went shopping at Macy's at the mall. There had been some gigantic sale, apparently, and almost all the shelves (in the 'Home' area) were empty. There were only a few shelves full of Christmas stuff, and some Easter things as well. I remember I fought my way through the crowd and picked up a sparkly, round Christmas ornament. It was expensive, but I remember thinking that I would convince MrFig that it was somehow vital that I have this. I went down the escalator but found myself at the baby section. OH NO. There was a table with a registry for a baptism, and I thought of how ridiculous that was before I got on the escalator going up.

Conclusion: the hell?


I think that's it. I can conclude that I watch way too much TV, too many ads, and that my brain is a moron when I sleep.

At least I get to wake up laughing?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Sometimes I crack myself up

This was my response to this:

If I were an actor at the end of a junket I'd start answering questions in the most insane manner possible. Just to fuck around with the last-tier journalists.

“Which member of “The A-Team” do you most closely identify with?”

The van. Because it got rode hard and dirty, knowadaimean?

“‘Dynasty’: Krystle or Alexis?”


“You’re not even slightly sentimental for the 80s? “
The Tiki God in all of us demands a sacrifice to the great spirit of wine and coconuts. I, for one, will choose a small cockatiel and tie it to the strings of the wind and release it into a rainbow of pure mineral spirits and song.



Yes, sometimes I like to save my own witty comments so I can reread them and feel pleased with myself. I am hugging myself right now, because I'm the funniest person I know. Plus, since I run the EE I can't really pick my comment for it, can I. I mean, I could, but...don't want to start a revolt, ya know? So I want to save it here and show it to you all like a plaque on my desk.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Book Review: "Contact" by Carl Sagan

How would we react if some day, out of the blue, we received some sort of intelligent message from outer space? How would the world change with the realization that there really are other intelligent beings in the universe? Would it change our politics, our social structure, our religion?

That's the question at the very heart of Contact. Ellie Arroway, a brilliant radio astronomer (she uses telescopes to listen for radio emissions from outer space) one day stumbles on a repeated signal coming from the vicinity of the star Vega. Through the use of SCIENCE! and complicated MATH, she and other scientists discover that it's a coded message to build a machine. What the machine will do, no one has any idea, and a lot of time is spent in trying to figure out if this machine should even be built in the first place.

That's the larger plot in a nutshell, but it's really a backdrop to the real meat of the story. Sagan introduces a lot of characters, each from very different backgrounds and nationalities, the better to try and give us as many perspectives regarding the message as possible. What he really wants to do is try and explore how different people would react to something like this. We have Ellie, who is a scientist but also somewhat of a romantic, so she takes the facts as they are while letting her imagination go wild about aliens and other worlds. We have a Palmer Joss, a pastor who argues with Ellie about God and religion, and how the message affects the view that God created and is constantly watching over the Earth. The great thing about these arguments is that they're not the cheap "you're wrong, and I'm right" bullshit that gets thrown around in most arguments of this sort. Sagan makes both characters equally intelligent and passionate, and it's pretty great to read. We also see the perspective of the President of the USA, her military adviser, and their counterparts from other countries around the world. The book is full of dialogue and argument, all of it changing as new levels to the message appear. There's really not a lot of action, and there are spaces that cover years as people argue about the wisdom of building the machine, who should go on it, what it will do, what will happen to the world, etc.

It gets a bit slow in parts, but I was rarely bored by it. The parts that I felt drag dealt with very complicated science and mathematics, the kind of stuff that makes me cross-eyed and I can't even begin to understand. Thankfully, though, these are pretty rare in the book and I didn't feel too bad about, well, skipping large paragraphs of what was gobbledygook to me. But other than that the book is pretty exciting, and the final chapters are just brilliantly done and unexpected. The only other problem with the book, though it's really not Sagan's fault at all, is that it was written in 1984, and some things might feel a little dated. But it's a testament to how strong the book is in that it still holds up well today.

The best thing about the book, to me, is how strong Sagan's female characters. After years and years of reading about vapid, largely stupid women protagonists (most written by women), it was refreshing to get a character like Ellie Arroway. She's brilliant and she knows it, and she's had to fight her way into being accepted by the scientific community. She's strong and imaginative, and doesn't take any bullshit. I loved her. Sagan also makes the President of the USA a woman, but it's just a fact he throws out, and it's never made into a big deal. It's just so rare to see not one, but two strong female characters in one book, and I was very happy about it.

So don't expect a lot of action or craziness with this book. It's thoughtful and takes its time. And it's a brilliant look at humanity and how we each react to different things, how we look at the world and our place in it. I recommend it if you want a more ponderous read than usual. And don't worry, it's nothing like the movie (which I liked, but I know a lot of people hated).

Monday, March 8, 2010

I suck at predictions, and some more thoughts.

Movie -- right! 1/1

Director --right! 2/2

Actor -- right! 3/3

Sup. Actor -- right! 4/4

Actress -- wrong! 4/5 (ARRRRGH DAMN YOU BULLOCK)

Sup. Actress -- right! 5/6

Animated -- right! 6/7

Art Direction -- right! 7/8

Cinematography -- right! 8/9

Costume Design -- right! 9/10 (knew it)

Doc. Feature -- wrong! 9/11 (should've known dolphins > Burma)

Doc. Short -- wrong! 9/12 (eh)

Editing -- wrong! 9/13 (I'm glad I was wrong)

Foreign Film -- wrong! 9/14 (honestly surprised)

Make-Up -- right! 10/15 (heh. though really not deserving)

Music -- RIGHT! 11/16 (yay Up!)

Song -- wrong! 11/17 (stupid Avatar)

Short Film Animated -- wrong ! 11/18 (stupid French)

Short Film Live -- wrong! 11/19

Visual Effects -- right! 12/20 (obviously)

Sound Editing/Mixing -- wrong! 12/22 (glad I was wrong)

Adapted Screenplay -- wrong! 12/23 (hmmph)

Original Screenplay -- wrong! 12/24

Sheesh. 50% right. This is what I get for not believing in The Hurt Locker enough, though I blame lingering bad memories of Titanic winning everything. I thought the Academy would suck up to Cameron again, but I'm very glad it didn't.


Some more thoughts on last night:

- WHY did they line up the nominees at the start of the show? They looked like cattle, and it was completely pointless. And THEN you give us 10 minutes of each getting their asses kisses by peers? STOP IT.

-Maybe it was the booze, but I really thought Ben Stiller was funny. It was probably the booze.

-The winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award must feel insulted that they took it out of the show. In favor of an interpretative dance montage.

-Good on them for honoring John Hughes, but they should have done it while he was, you know, alive.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A gut reaction to the Oscars.

Some very quick notes on the Oscars:

1. Katherine Bigelow RULES.

2. For all this 'most successful movie of all time' bullshit (and it IS bullshit, for many reasons), Avatar took what, 2 Oscars? Just because a movie is pretty and makes money does not make it a good movie.

3. Sandra Bullock winning for a mediocre performance in a mediocre movie is just plain WRONG. I like her, and I like her movies, but come ON. That was ridiculous. Five seconds of any of the other actresses' performances looked better than her entire role in that movie. She shouldn't have won for this. What probably happened was that the vote was split between all of the others and Bullock managed to eke out a win by a slim margin. Still, very wrong. And she looked completely surprised by it, something about her body language said she didn't think she deserved it. And she was probably right.

4. Gabourey Sibide was hands-down the best dressed woman there. Loved her so much.

5. Good lord, but I hate Oprah Winfrey.

6. Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin were terrible. TERRIBLE. Their entire schtick at the start was painful and far, far too long. It had no life, no chemistry, no humor in it. It was cheap, is what it was. So low for these two actors. And Baldwin looks massively uncomfortable up there. Goes to show that just because a guy is hilarious at presenting awards and receiving them, doesn't mean that he will be good handling a crowd this size for so long. He looked angry and awkward. I'm going to start a rumor that they had a huge fight before the show and that made Baldwin pissed at Martin. Maybe the fight was about how terrible the writing was. Because, dude, that was terrible.

7. Speaking of Dudes, I'm so glad Jeff Bridges won. I love him and his entire family.

8. That thing where they have random people talk about the nominees for Best Actor and Actress? THAT NEEDS TO GO AWAY. Everyone looks so awkward, and the nominees look uncomfortable and that just needs to stop NOW.

9. Really, I did NOT expect Hurt Locker to win so much. It makes me happy. I love that a woman FINALLY won Best Director, and I love that this one quiet, thoughtful movie took home the award.

10. Interpretative dance needs to DIE. That was painful to watch.

11. I really, really need to watch Inglorious Basterds. Whoever is hogging it on Netflix needs to GIVE IT UP.

12. The Academy's sad attempt to draw in the young ones by bringing in the Twilight morons and She Who Shall Not Be Named Who Sounds Looks Like a Chipmunk was excruciating. Taylor Lautner can't speak a word without looking like an idiot and Kirsten Stewart always looks pained and angry. Keep them on MTV.

13. I still hold to my view that 2010 was a terrible year for movies. Really, if they had to draw from the likes of The Blind Side, you know they were in trouble.

14. Most of the dresses were gorgeous this year. There were a lot of the big, flashy, impressive dresses that I love to watch. But there were also some hideous things out there, the top 3 Most Hideous Looks Going to Charlize Theron (lovely color, creepy things grabbing her breasts), Jennifer Lopez (looked like the mesh people used in the last Project Runway challenge), and the absolute worst being Sarah Jessica Parker (bad hair, bad makeup, horrible shapeless dress with horrible accessory plopped in the middle). Runners up were Vera Fermiga (in a dress that would've looked better on someone else, and with different makeup) and Miley Cyrus, who just looked out of place as usual). Most WHAT IS THAT look goes to Zoe Saldana, no discussion.

15. People need to stop kissing George Clooney's ass so much. Yes, he's charming, but it's been done before. Just let it go, people.

Overall an OK show. The truth is that I feel there weren't enough great movies or performances to get excited about this year. Not enough flash, too much of the quiet stuff that no one saw. I hope 2010 is better.

Oscar Predictions 2010

There's really no reason for me to do this, as I've seen a grand total of 3 of the 10 Best Picture nominees, and even fewer from the other films nominated for stuff. But, I want to, just based on word-of-mouth and other people's predictions. So, here goes:

Best Picture:
I really want The Hurt Locker to win, if only so it'll make James Cameron shut up (I can dream). I think it will, because the Academy loves to be all holier-than-thou and really doesn't like awarding fantasy films. To be completely honest, I liked, but not loved The Hurt Locker. It was good, but not THAT good. But I hope it wins, just because I want a woman to get top honors. The only others I've watched are District 9, which was amazing but has no chance of winning, and Up will win Best Animated Feature, so it's out of the running here.

Best Director:
Kathryn Bigelow is my pick. But James Cameron might snatch it away, because of what he did with Avatar. Whoever wins this won't win Best Picture, I think. That almost never happens.

Best Actor:
I've only seen Jeremy Renner's movie. I don't think he'll win. I'll give this to Jeff Bridges just because he's awesome and it's about time he won something. I wouldn't be surprised if Clooney won, though, because apparently he's great in that movie, but I want The Dude to get it.

Actor in a Supporting Role:
I have seen NONE of the nominees here, but from everything I hear anyone except Christoph Waltz shouldn't even show up. I love Stanley Tucci, but I don't even want to watch The Lovely Bones.

Actress in a Leading Role:
Oh! I actually saw Julie and Julia! It was pretty much a terrible movie, but I did love Meryl Streep in it. Carey Mulligan will win though, because that's what I've been hearing. I'd LOVE for Gabourey Sidibe to win, because she's a fount of joy and I love her, but maybe she's too new to win such a big prize. Then again, I've never heard of Carey Mulligan, so who knows. Helen Mirren already won. Sandra Bullock's nomination is almost insulting.

Actress in a Supporting Role:
From what I hear, no one but Mo'nique should win this, even if I hate her apostrophe. She's a pretty cool chick though, so I hope she wins. I really want to watch Precious (screw it, I'm not writing that whole stupid title), but I'm also scared to. The dark horse here could be Anna Kendrick, though she bugs the hell out of me for two reasons: 1) she was in Twilight and 2) she was in Rocket Science, which I loathed. It's not fair because she's a good actress, but there you go. Gut reaction.

Animated Film:
I'm 90% sure Up will get it. It was a great movie, not my favorite from Pixar but it was another solid flick. I would love for Coraline to take it though, because it has some of the most gorgeous animation I've seen in years, and I love stop-motion stuff. Haven't seen any of the others, but I'm dying to see The Secret of Kells.

Art Direction:
I saw Sherlock Holmes and wasn't really impressed. I think Avatar will take this one pretty easily.

Avatar will take almost all the technical categories, I'm sure. Like Titanic did--none for acting or screenplay, plenty of technical ones. Looks like it deserves them, too. I saw two of these! yay Harry Potter.

Costume Design:
Sherlock Holmes should've been nominated. Hmm. Based solely on how the Oscars usually work, The Young Victoria will win. They love them some period pieces.

Documentary Feature:
uuuh...any holocaust movies? No, really, they always win. I don't see any, though. So we'll go with the Burma movie because it's the best subject. What the hell do I know?

Documentary Short:
Um. Let's go with the China one. For no reason other than it's first on the list?

Film Editing:
Avatar, though I loved what they did on The Hurt Locker. It was so incredibly tense all the time, and the editing was brilliant.

Foreign Language Film:
A Prophet, because it looks fantastic.

I have no idea what El Divo is. Let's go with Star Trek because I really liked the makeup on people and I actually saw it.

I want Up to win because of how sweet the score was. But I think Avatar will take it.

Original Song:
I haven't heard any of these. Let's go with one of the Princess and the Frog songs, because Disney almost always wins these. Though I'd love for the dude named T-Bone to win.

Short Film Animated:
Wallace and Gromit are awesome, so let's go with that.

Short Film Live Action:
Uh. I have no idea. Let's go with The Door just because.

Sound Editing and Sound Mixing:
Avatar. I have no idea what the difference between these categories is.

Visual Effects:
Avatar. Star Trek had way too many damn sun flares.

Adapted Screenplay:
An Education because NICK HORNBY. YES.

Original Screenplay:
Give it to Tarantino. Just because the idea was awesome.

That's it! Stay tuned to see how right or wrong I was.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Book Review: "Rhett Butler's People" by Donald McCaig

Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind is my favorite book of all time. Tolkien's work follows closely, but doesn't come close to my utter adoration for the story of Scarlett O'Hara. It was one of the first books I ever read in English, back when I was in the 8th grade, and I will always remember Mrs Carter fondly for giving it to me to read. I've read it at least once a year since then, have the movie memorized almost line for line, and it never gets old. To sum up how deep my love really is, I will confess that I have read the insultingly bad "sequel", Scarlett, by Alexandra Ripley, almost three times in my life.

Let's get this out of the way: Scarlett was an abomination. It was a treacly, poorly written follow-up that butchered continuity and completely changed the characters into laughably caricatures. Worse: it turned Scarlett O'Hara into a childish idiot. While I won't deny that the Scarlett of Gone With the Wind was a massive fool when it came to men, she was never dumb. Alexandra Ripley destroyed one of the greatest stories of all time.

And yet, I read it repeatedly. And made myself forget that it was supposed to be part of the same saga. It just happened to have characters named Scarlett and Rhett. Then it wasn't so bad. But oh, every time I finished reading I wished desperately that someone else had written the sequel. I wished it had never been written. How could you follow up on it? And yet, I wanted the story to continue. It's not the sort of story you want to end. I have always resented Alexandra Ripley.

All this is a very long-winded way to say that I was really terrified of reading Rhett Butler's People. Would it be another heartbreak? Would I be completely disappointed again?

The answer is both yes and no. It's complicated.

Let's start with the good. The absolute best thing about McCaig's book is that it completely obliterates any traces of Scarlett. For that alone it should have a statue built in its honor.

The story begins long before the events of Gone With the Wind, and it's all about the inimitable Rhett Butler. We learn who he was before he met Scarlett and was doomed. We meet his family; his tyrant father, his almost-invisible mother, and his sister Rosemary. We meet his friends; both aristocrats and former slaves. It follows Rhett as he goes to war, and those chapters are beautifully told.

It's a great story, finally helping us figure out what made Rhett the way he is. The story follows every character and their stories, and what's best, it connects everything beautifully to the events in Gone With the Wind. It's so exciting for a fangirl like me to recognize places and characters from the original story, and to see how they were connected to Scarlett and Rhett throughout their lives. Even better is to read passages between the two characters that were never in Gone With the Wind--it's sort of like a 'deleted scenes' version of the book at times.

It's a well-written, well-researched and thoroughly entertaining story, even when it isn't focusing on Rhett. In fact, I almost enjoyed reading the story of Rosemary more than that of Rhett. McCaig fleshes out the characters and makes every story interesting. Well, almost every story. And here's where we come to the negative parts of the review.

For all that this is the story of Rhett Butler, this isn't the Rhett Butler we all know. He's a softer, much nicer version of the romantic anti-hero from the original book. And that means he's a lot less fun. Rhett's scathing sense of humor is almost completely gone, replaced by someone who broods entirely too much and who needs to stop whining already. Scarlett is also transformed. Not dumbed down as Ripley did, but...when did Scarlett become so mature? This is where the fangirl in me yelled "SHE NEVER CALLED HIM CAPTAIN BUTLER WHAT THE HELL?" at the book. Because I yell at books. There were more than a few instances where Scarlett and Rhett acted so much against character that I almost put the book down, and it didn't matter how much I had been enjoying the rest of the story.

The problem, as much as I can figure it out, is in tone. Gone With the Wind was a flawlessly written book, full of excitement and passion, with characters and plot turns that kept you engrossed and excited. And most importantly, it had a sense of humor. It was emotional: funny, tragic, frustrating, exciting, etc. It had lighthearted moments followed by deep tragedies, and the chemistry and energy between the characters always kept things interesting.

McCaig's book, I think, takes itself too seriously. It's a very Serious book. Rhett's humor is gone, Scarlett's insane logic is gone, the excitement is gone. It's a book about war, and loss, and it's very good at that, but I would've liked something else. It's a good book, and a decent sequel, but it could've been so much better.

Maybe I'm not being fair. I know I have ridiculously high expectations. But in the end, I have to say I was pretty happy with the book, while also somewhat disappointed. I liked the start, loved some of the middle, and absolutely loved the ending, because it's the right one. It wasn't great when it was following Rhett and Scarlett for the reasons mentioned above, but it was great when it followed the other characters. It changed Rhett and Scarlett too much for my liking, but it was good to hear from them again. It does a beautiful job with continuity and follows up on things I'd been wanting to read about for ages. But it also made me outright angry in parts.

As I said, mixed feelings.

In the end, I'd recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of the original. Because, if nothing else, you will never, ever have to read Scarlett again. And for that alone, I'm eternally grateful to Donald McCaig.