Monday, August 29, 2011

D'oh!

I hate waiting. I'm impatient. I get bored easily. I like to zoom through life at the speed of a bumblebee, sometimes literally, since riding a bike downhill is faster than a bumblebee flies. I want to go zip-zip-zip from one thing to another. And for the most part, technology enables me: tabbed browsing, smart phones, portable gaming systems, etc are on hand to ensure that I'm always stimulated and raring to go.

One of the consequences of my preference for living life like a four-year-old on a steady diet of espresso beans and Coke is that I wreck things by not thinking anything through. When I was ten I broke my arm because I figured I only needed to see a new cartwheel technique once to master it. Wrong! When I was eighteen I thought I'd be faster at soccer on the beach if I had no shoes on. Right! Except my bare foot smashed into a gigantic German guy's rock-hard shin and my foot swelled to Donkey Kong size. When I was in a college summer program, I tested into a level of Japanese that I knew was too advanced for me, but accepted because all the fabulously gay men were in that level. D'oh! Homework took up to seven painful hours to do every night, and my brain melted. At my current job, I mindlessly accepted two overseas assignments that chipped away at my faith in humanity because of all the craziness and corruption.

The latest victim of my impatience is my external hard drive. To Boyfriend's dismay, I'd yanked the sucker out of my Mac without bothering to eject it properly. When I called him a couple days later to ask for help because my hard drive now kept shutting down my entire system, he speculated that my improperly pulling the cord caused it. At the time, I was like, "Nuh-uh, I've done it before and this never happened." But just now I plugged it into my Windows machine at work, which promptly informed me that I needed to run a disk check. ARGH!!! And at the rate it's going, it'll take the whole damn day! DOUBLE ARGH!!!

...Thank God for computer multitasking...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Movie Review: The Help (2011)

Originally posted on Rotten Tomatoes (http://www.rottentomatoes.com/user/780338/reviews/).

Someone get Viola Davis an Academy Award; it's long overdue. She created the most unforgettable scene in Doubt, a movie that also featured powerhouses Meryl Street and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Ms. Davis is the core of this movie, which celebrates the moral and emotional strength of people like her character, Aibileen. Octavia Spencer, as Minny, provides the comic counterbalance, her large, expressive eyes shooting sass before she ever opens her mouth. And speaking of giant eyes, Emma Stone and Allison Janney are brilliant as the aspiring writer who gives voice to the town's maids, and her acerbic yet caring mother. Bryce Dallas Howard is an effective antagonist, clueless and self-righteous; and Jessica Chastain is the very image (and high-pitched voice) of a blonde bombshell.

The other elements of the movie work well. The soundtrack is great, except for the cheesy ending song. The cinematography is solid and otherwise unremarkable. The make-up, costumes, and sets are pitch-perfect. Overall, an excellent production, and I hear it's a fairly faithful adaptation of the book. If that's true, then it was a damn good book. There are many hilarious one-liners (usually uttered by Minny or the luminous Sissy Spacek), and the heartbreaking scenes have equal or more impact, such as whenever Aibileen teaches her charge a mantra -- "I is kind, I is smart, I is important" -- or when Aibileen and Minny express their fears to each other after a race crime incident. The screenplay veered towards manipulative near the end of the film, but it can be overlooked for the movies' excellent delivery of its main message of courage and friendship. Thumbs up!

BONUS! Link to Bryce Dallas Howard's Chelsea Lately interview about sweating and gaining weight and eating tons of pie for the film: http://www.imdb.com/video/hulu/vi841194521/. You KNOW you wanna watch! 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

I will savage you,
you damn dirty human!
But intelligently!
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is great entertainment! It worked well because of the following components:

Acting: The best acting in this film is a team effort: Andy Serkis expresses Caesar's emotional state through his fantastic motion capture work, and the CGI guys handle his face, etc via key-frame animation. Caesar's development from precocious baby to rebel leader is believable all the way. John Lithgow is always a pleasure, and so are Brian Cox and Draco Malfoy, I mean Tom Felton. Freida Pinto is underutilized in her role as Girlfriend. As for James Franco, all the guy can do is squint and look good.

Cinematography: Great shots of the San Francisco skyline. Effective swoops and swivels during dramatic scenes. There's also a lot of vertical camera work that is perfect for the subject of this film. I'm still in awe of the scene with a low-angle camera shot showing apes with makeshift spears standing menacingly on the roof of a building. Mofos will kill you!

Score: Complemented all the scenes. Brilliant.

Story: Preposterous, but like I said, great entertainment. The flagrant disregard for laboratory protocols and corporate process requires suspension of disbelief.

Ending: The apes win. There, I spoiled it for you.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Happy Monday!

If you're a VAMPIRE!

Those of you who really know me know that I am a vampire (a modern one, not a bloodsucking one with too many clothes on). We vamps prey on the weak and vulnerable. We do it not for dramatic tension, but because we are too lazy intelligent to go after the ones who can fight back. For example, if your energy levels are down, you're in the perfect state for me to absorb what's left of your energy, making me extremely hyper and annoying. If you're unhappy, I become obscenely cheerful because I am sucking away your remaining happiness. If you've had a lucky streak, I will shove you face first in the mud and cackle vampirically.

These acts are usually enough to give meaning to my hollow life of mindless environmental conservation, cat adoration, eating, and ruthless old-school video game conquests. Yes, even today, when folks over in management are walking around with doom clouds over their heads and lightning flashing out of their eyes while you meekly try to solve their IT issues. Our current bosses are fabulous people: focused, intelligent, methodical, and ethical (!). We all thought they would take over from Evil Overlord, but alas! the problem with evil overlords is, they don't take not being all-powerful too well. Look for the details in a future post.

Now our entire staff is demoralized, which is where I step in as a well-meaning vampire. As the air-to-epidermis osmosis kicked in and I commenced my intake of office depression, my vampiric non-blood cells began to convert the negative energy into insightful thoughts, like: This is an opportunity to evaluate my career and what I ultimately want in life; and I am so blessed to have worked with these great people except for that one backstabber; and At least I got my childhood wish of having a job, an apartment, and a cat; and Nothing lasts forever; and Live the life that makes you proud; and Be kind.


I'm so glad the internet exists so you can also benefit from my hundreds of years (hummingbird time) of wisdom as a vampire. You're welcome. If you want more, you know where to find me... right behind you.

Mwa-ha-ha-haaaaa...

Friday, August 19, 2011

Book Review: The Hunger Games

Hello, true believers!

I've had a crazy week. The operative word here is "crazy." I would love to write about it, but it's way too soon. So let me just tell you about a sub-category of Crazy, i.e. Wild: Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games, a young adult book trilogy deemed interesting enough to transform into a film, starring current It girl Jennifer Lawrence. And because I'm too lazy to actually write paragraphs, I'll bullet form the whole thing for everyone's convenience:

Setting: A dystopian future on Earth. Humanity is confined to one country, Panem, which is composed of the ruling Capitol and 12 districts that provide specialized products (e.g. District 2: police forces; District 7: lumber; District 12: coal). In some districts, most people are usually a day away from total starvation.

Trivia: Panem in Latin means bread.

How You Know You're Not In Kansas: There are hovercrafts, mutant hybrids grown in labs, arena-sized force fields, and modern fashion means dyeing your entire body a solid color. The cover art is a Mockingjay, the unexpected result of the mating of manufactured birds and natural birds.

Main character: Katniss, a coal miner's daughter from District 12. She's 16 or 17. I totally forgot.

Why She's Cool: Katniss loves to hunt and is a crack shot with a bow and arrows. She's fiercely protective of her kid sister, proudly independent from her fragile mom, and sings so well that birds stop to listen. Katniss is like an angry Night Elf from Warcraft II combined with a classic Disney Princess: she will smile sweetly at you right before she shoots you in the eye. Also, with a team of Capitol stylists she's practically goddess-like in appearance.

Major Characters: Peeta, the baker's son; Haymitch, a middle-aged Hunger Games victor; and Gale, Katniss' hunting partner.

Why They're Cool: Peeta and Gale are total hotties who have the hots for Katniss. Haymitch is a drunken slob, but he sobers up enough to guide Katniss and Peeta through the Hunger Games.

What The Hunger Games Are: In the book, the Capitol "reaps" two annual tributes from each district, one boy and one girl, to compete in a fight to the death in its arena. These so-called Hunger Games are used to simultaneously punish the districts for rebelling against the Capitol so-and-so years ago and to demonstrate the Capitol's power.

The Fun Part: There's a lot of food and styling (!) descriptions in the book, once the characters get to the Capitol and have to be made camera-ready for the live audience waiting to see who wins this year's Games.

The Horrific Part: The tributes are aged 12 through 18. So 24 kids are put into a death-trap arena, must fight each other for their weapons and supplies, and then only one can survive. So Katniss spends a lot of her time plotting how to kill everyone including Peeta, who once gave her bread when her family was starving.

The Impressive Part: As narrator, Katniss is a joy. She's so dense that readers typically figure out what's happening long before she does, which makes us feel Smart. She is also deadly, ruthless, manipulative, and unfriendly, which makes us feel Nice About Ourselves (in comparison). Deep down, she has a noble and self-sacrificing streak. She's snarky and gets great one-liners. She also beats the odds, which fulfills all our narrative expectations.

The Twist(s): Like I'm going to tell you. But all of them are kinda predictable and really cool when they happen, so yay for execution, meh for twistiness. The contrivances that led to some of them made me snort with laughter.

Major Themes: Tyranny; freedom; growing up too fast; first romantic love; survival; the effects of murder on the murderer; shallow lifestyles; entertainment; power and symbolism; and more!

Why You Should Read It: You're bored? You don't have to. You can watch the movie, or you can have me tell you all about it. I assure you, my version will be more full of personality and analysis, and probably borderline incoherent.

Monday, August 15, 2011

All is Vanity

I read a lot of Ranma 1/2 fanfiction growing up. The manga series was slapstick martial arts hilarity with terrific representations of impossible fighting poses, horrified expressions, and cute animals. Its creator, Rumiko Takahashi, was revered for her zany creativity, and her protracted production schedule was similarly almost legendary. Every single issue of Ranma is a laugh-a-minute; every time you think characters are being serious, they do or say something utterly moronic, or are bashed over the head with a mallet.

Hello, Nabiki! Goodbye, wallet!
I had a special place in my heart for Nabiki Tendo, the most cunning character in the series. In a family of martial artists, Nabiki had zero fighting skills. However, she was excellent at exploiting people and situations, a skill she uses to extort or blackmail the other characters, usually Ranma. Nabiki is a sociopath (according to Takahashi), and the comedy of her character is that she keeps getting away with every single one of her cruel, black-hearted schemes. Again, played for laughs.

I adored the original series, and even more so when I discovered fanfiction. The ones that stood out were those that completely turned the series on its head: Ill Met by Starlight, where Ranma is a high-functioning psychotic murderer, and Relentless, where Ranma and gang are being pursued by an enemy that resurrects itself after every defeat. But the best one for me is Alan Harnum's Waters Under Earth, an epic Lovecraftian saga of ancient demons, even more ancient dragons, and the coming of the Lord of Waters. It was compelling because the writing is so good that you completely forget that Ranma is a goofy, socially awkward teenage boy, and that all of his friends are similarly sweet-natured, if prone to martial arts violence. Waters Under Earth makes these characters you know and love into different people who remain true to their core, to what Takahashi wrote and drew for years and years. The story takes readers from Japan to the remote mountains of the Phoenix Tribe in China, to the territory of the secret Musk Dynasty, and to the rivers under the earth, with its terrible and beautiful guardians.

By Charles Allan Gilbert, 1892.
Harnum's writing gets better as the series goes on, and the strongest chapter for me was "The Voice of the Rain," where I first encountered these lines: "Then said I in my heart, as it happens to the fool, so it happens even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this is also is vanity...Vanity of vanities; all was vanity."

And that's something to think about: vanity, and what it means to overcome it. So let's ruminate. Vanity is defined as "the excessive belief in one's own abilities or attractiveness to others" (wikipedia). These are the people who, for example, spend an inordinate amount of time gazing admiringly at themselves in the mirror. The character Ranma is vain: he knows he's easy on the eyes, and more importantly, that he's a brilliant martial artist. His vanity is what gets him in trouble with the ladies -- he never considers that martial arts has no defense against the feminine imagination. His fiancee, Akane, seems to constantly be having arguments with him in her head, so the first time he says something wrong she boots him through the roof (literally). His ardent admirer, Shampoo, resorts to underhanded tricks when she discovers she can't outfight him (which is the way to get a man, where she's from). His insane stalker, Kodachi "Black Rose" Kuno, goes straight for the date rape drugs. And Ranma falls for it every time, because he's so confident in his good looks and martial arts ability.

Ranma, male and female forms.
It's when Ranma sets aside his vanity that he improves his fighting skills (but not his social skills). Every time he's defeated by a new technique or a superior opponent, he doesn't whine about being the best and how could this happen. Nope. Ranma will put aside his pride and train like a crazy person and even forge alliances with rivals and enemies to get what he needs to win the next fight. For example, he lets his dad hurl nests of angry bees at him, for speed training (he had to catch all the bees before they stung him). And when he has to use acupressure on a female opponent, he overcomes his inability to fight girls by transforming into a girl (and naturally, it looked like he/she was groping the opponent). And then Ranma wins and it's back to being a clueless, vain bruiser.

Now, this lack of forward development in personality helped keep the series going. Real life doesn't work that way. In some ways, the process of being slowly crushed by a world composed mostly of indifferent people -- that is, they're indifferent to you because they don't know you, unless you're talking about a Boston driver, in which case they hate you because you exist and you're not walking/biking/driving properly/fast enough/in a way that suits them -- where was I? Oh yes, in my experience, the process of being slowly crushed by an unfeeling world tends to shave off vanity. Case in point 1: grad school in the humanities, where nothing you do is up to par, or even relevant to the outside world. Case in point 2: your job, where you're a replaceable cog (except me, obviously -- who else will update this blog if I'm not working here? Huh? Huh? Ooohh, lunch time).

So, dear readers, what I'm really trying to say is that all is not vanity; there is plenty of opportunity for you to be crushed by your fellow human beings, and molded into something different. Something better, perhaps. Vanity brings with it feelings of superiority and invincibility. Its opposite, humility, usually goes hand in hand with kindness and tolerance. The former was me in high school; the latter is what I'm going for at this point in my life. This means I will still mentally bitch-slap you if you say something retarded -- like, "My parents owe me money because they didn't raise me to earn $70,000 right out of college, how dare they." Because I am kind, I will just stare at you and acknowledge that there are some things reason can't fix, and that's self-delusion. Which, in its own way, is more dangerous than vanity. You have been warned.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Book Review: Cryptonomicon (1999)

I have finished Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon.

And no, no one gave me a cookie.

To fully appreciate the magnitude of my accomplishment, you have to understand my brain. It regulates everything I do -- sleeping, breathing, eating, making random comments, and writing snarky reviews. Like yours, my neurons number in the hundred billions and obediently transmit electrochemical signals. Like you, I have a reptilian brain that (perhaps unlike you) allows me to stare unblinkingly into people's eyes while I wrack my computer for inappropriate responses that will maximize the other person's confusion and my amusement, which are directly proportionate. Finally, like you, I have no idea where I am going with this paragraph.

Oh, I remember: math and my brain do not mix. And Cryptonomicon, which protagonizes* the Nerd, contains a metric ton of mathematics. Stephenson has two timelines and three main good guys/narrators: codebreaker Lawrence, his programmer grandson Randy, and the Marine Bobby Shaftoe. Lawrence and Bobby are in the WWII timeline, which alternates with Randy's present day (circa 1999) narrative. And, you guessed it, both time periods merge into a stunning and creamily delicious epilogue sure to satisfy your hunger for elegant thematic impact.

In the same way that the reverse timeline in Memento is a mind-blowing gimmick, the mathematics in Cryptonomicon indicate a severely impressive writing style. So much loving care and attention is devoted to the illustrations of how to break/create codes that you almost forget the basic plot: (a) Axis powers hide gold during WWII; (b) gold is found in present day. The beauty of the book is all the layers and storylines and characters and batshit crazy stuff that happens between Point A and Point B. Stephenson is a master of incredibly quirky descriptive language -- in one instance, a more prosaic writer would have just inserted, "Everyone was quiet," but Stephenson spends pages and pages describing the extremely organic and noisy makeup of the human body just to get the point across that the person speaking to the entire room in that scene is Very Important. And in the most hilarious chapter of all (Organ), Lawrence, a genius-level nerd, invents his very own code for social behavior and speech patterns for the noble goal of "f***ing Mary," his future wife. The second most hilarious chapter contains rapid calculations of speed, distance, and time that makes a point about obsessive male behavior involving females.

Speaking of females, it's nice that all of Stephenson's major women characters are either strong/dignified, strong/heavily armed, or strong/snarky. We only see them through the lens of the lead male characters, which makes the men more fully developed at the expense of the women. But that's okay; we need to be mysterious anyway. The easier to implement our secret plans for world domination! MWAHAHAHA!!! ...which I'll get to as soon as I finish waxing my legs. Also, I just saw something pink flutter by my peripheral vision; infiltrating male-dominated governments and multinationals will just have to wait until I hunt it down. I hope it's something I can wear.

Finally, let me say that if you're looking for a PG-13 reading experience, Cryptonomicon is not for you. All of the book's leads are horny as hell and it gets worse when their targeting devices home in on a desirable female. I now have unwelcome insights into the workings of the young-ish adult male, thank you very much. Poor, innocent me.

For further reading, here is a review of Cryptonomicon by someone who likes Atlas Shrugged, which I read and took seriously until I got to the part about the force field. Then I spent the rest of the book cracking up.

If anyone would like to reward me for reading Cryptonomicon, I also accept brownies. And dinner.

---
* protagonize, v., to turn into a protagonist (Nicole Super English Dictionary, 2011. Entry added into Dictionary following essay, "Antagonist is to Antagonize as Protagonist is to Nothing: Moralistic Subcultures and Why 'Protagonist' Also has the Right to be a Verb," Presumptuous Press, 2010)
---

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Movie Review: Crazy, Stupid, Love

I enthusiastically and wholeheartedly recommend this movie. Unlike your typical summer blockbuster experience, your intelligence will not be insulted, your wallet will not feel violated, and your brain will not try to crawl out through your ears. Here's my review, also up on Rotten Tomatoes:

This movie is adorable. Everything worked: the actors, the screenplay, the soundtrack, the cinematography. I would watch it again.

Plot: A wife asks her husband for a divorce; their son is in love with their babysitter who is in love with someone else; cuckolded husband gets some tips on how to regain his manhood by a handsome young lounge lizard; hilarity and drama ensue.

Every single character in this film is sympathetic, even Kevin Bacon's pseudo-antagonist accountant. Kudos to Steve Carrell for his heartbreaking portrayal of a lost man; Emma Stone for her usual fine comedic performance; Julianne Moore for elevating the film's dramatic moments; and to Ryan Gosling's smooth interpretation of an utter cad.

The writing is excellent -- the plot twists came as a genuine surprise, and my cries of "OMG!" and "Nooooo!" were echoed by other viewers. The dialogue is believable, and whenever a cliche occurs, the characters are savvy enough to point it out. Liza Lapira, playing Emma Stone's best friend, gets some of the best lines in the movie. I think what most girls will remember is her gesturing wildly at a boring lawyer and at Emma Stone and wailing, "Look at you! If you end up with that, what will I get?"

The music existed to complement the scenes, rather than manipulate the audience. A song would come on and I'd think, "Hey...nice." It's all very sweet.

This movie should be seen. This acting should be appreciated. This writing should be praised. This soundtrack should be downloaded. You will be the opposite of crazy and stupid if you do so.

Movie Review: Black Panther (2018)