Sunday, October 26, 2014

Movie review: Gone Girl (2014)

Gone Girl is a twisted tale of a marriage gone bad. It's based on the novel by Gillian Flynn, who also wrote the excellent screenplay. The director is David Fincher (Fight Club, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), so of course things aren't what they seem, and the violence is efficient and purposeful.

The title's appropriateness becomes apparent midway through the movie -- this is the story of the "gone girl," or Amy Dunne. English actress Rosamund Pike (a Bond villainess!) shines as the "complicated" wife of Ben Affleck's Nick Dunne.

The movie begins with Nick musing, "What have we done to each other?" as he strokes Amy's hair. Then the story kicks into gear, as Nick comes home on the day of their fifth anniversary to find an apparent break-in and his wife missing. Lead detective Rhonda Boney (a fabulous Kim Dickens) begins to uncover clues that point to Nick's complicity. Meanwhile, Nick's twin sister (a similarly great Carrie Coon) begins to suspect that her brother is hiding something. As the media circus and personal attacks escalate, Nick hires lawyer Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), notorious for getting "wife killers" off the hook.

That's as much as I can say without spoiling the movie. I can say that the soundtrack is terrific.

Okay, fine, here's a little teaser: it's Chasing Amy but with [REDACTED] as the theme instead of sexuality and friendship. Just kidding, I've never seen Chasing Amy. But this movie could've taken that title if it didn't already exist as an Affleck movie.

Also, speaking of Benny, he is huge. His hulking shoulders are almost as distracting as his chin. His Batman and Henry Cavill's Superman are just gonna be flexing their muscles for the whole Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, aren't they.

TL; DR: An outstanding thriller. More fun to watch if married or thinking about getting married. Or divorced.

This post brought to you by the Patriots crushing the Bears.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Tribute to Mamala

Mamala 
noun 
1. A portmanteau of "Mama" and "Lola" (grandma)
2. The awesomest person who ever awesomed

The legend of Mamala is spoken of in hushed tones in the House of Fragrant. Her indefatigable spirit, boundless patience, and indescribable sense of humor remain the stuff of stories that we will pass on to our scion, Fragrant Infant.

The one word that defines Mamala is LOVE. She is the embodiment of this emotion, and could barely contain it within her tiny frame. We who were fortunate enough to be near her became the recipients of and witnesses to her love-power. She is basically Sailor Moon but with a lot more clothes on.

Here are the things Mamala loves, which all happen to start with the letter F:

FOOD
All the food is for her. Seriously.
"Did mom eat everything she wanted do?" my brother asked a couple of days before Mamala's departure date. It was an important question. As Fragrant Husband observed, Mamala has trained us to structure every trip around food. Her 8,400-mile journey across the ocean was no exception. She scoured the entire city of Boston for her heart's desires:

-lobster roll
-durian shake
-fancy $3 cupcakes
-diner pancakes and waffles
-dimsum
-golden kiwis
-OYSTERS, ALL THE OYSTERS
-and so much more!

Mamala loves food so much that she lingers over each meal longer than humanly possible, warping space-time itself so she can stretch out her enjoyment of whatever delicious, invariably smelly foodstuff caught her fancy.

The upside was, she cooked for us as well, which as any new mom will tell you, is grounds for nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. Many a morning would find her cackling over a cauldron of voodoo food stew or soup, apparently for good breastfeeding. Understandably, Husband politely opted out of some of the dishes.

FALL
Mamala is all about the trees, flowering plants, and basically anything that counts photosynthesis as its primary survival trait. The first time we went to the public gardens, she rocketed from tree to tree, reading up their names and saying hello to them, I am not joking.

She about lost her mind when the leaves started to change to their fall colors, and demanded a photo shoot with her grandson. Caveat: he had to wear his Patriots helmet. He somehow managed to sleep through the entire process, so everyone came away happy.

FASHION
Well...I mean Mamala Fashion, which is all about layering every possible article of clothing because it's sixty degrees outside and she will freeze, don't you know being cold makes you catch a cold? It's just medical science.

However, she is pretty spectacular at finding designer handbags at ridiculous bargains (e.g. a $12 Tommy Hilfiger whose release into my custody I successfully negotiated). Her multiple trips to Boomerang's in Cambridge depleted her Charlie Card, totally worth it.

FAMILY
As a Certified Baby Whisperer, Mamala would take my fussy, wailing baby and have him snoozing peacefully on her chest so I could take a nap. She was so enchanted with him that she wanted to hold him as soon as she got up in the mornings, and she took joy in changing his diapers. She thought his cries of distress, which had me in near-panic in the early weeks, were adorable. She encouraged him to cry more. That's pretty special.

She also spoon-fed me pieces of her precious kiwi when I didn't have my hands free because of my little barracuda. Instead of feeling like a kid again, I felt like I was starting to understand what motherhood is all about: sacrifice, patience, generosity, and luuuuurve.

***

Best Mamala saying this trip: "We're all part of the same teamwork!"

***

Big hugs from half the world away to the best Mamala ever! I can only aspire to her levels of motherhood and Mamala-hood.

This post brought to you by a dessert that looked like chicken nuggets but tasted like Fig Newtons.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Postpartum is Hell, or: How to Lose 20 Pounds of Pregnancy Weight in One Month!

Background

Women who have just given birth retain their pregnancy pooch because the uterus needs weeks to contract from the size of a watermelon to the size of a peach.

News flash: Process does not happen overnight.

To illustrate: when baby and I were discharged, a man in the hospital elevator asked me how old my baby was.

"Two days," I replied.

He glanced at my pooch. "And are you having another one?"

I rest my case. Also, he was a moron. Why, yes, I gave birth two days ago and immediately got pregnant again. ARGH.

***

Pregnancy books and articles usually say that it takes about nine months for your body to regain its pre-pregnancy size, given that it took nine months to get there.

In this post, I will share my amazing, unbelievable system for getting insta-sexy again. As an FYI, I was built like Scarlett Johansson before I got knocked up.

Shut up, I can dream.

***

Methodology

Follow these steps exactly and you'll lose your pooch in no time! Obviously that is the most important thing postpartum, forget your newborn, your own physical recovery, and your mental health!

Begin!

1. Establish baseline: Gain the recommended 35 pounds during pregnancy. Ideally, get that last 20 in the final three months. Eat everything in sight, every hour on the hour.

2. Be clueless: Come into motherhood utterly unprepared. Go through your entire life without ever having changed a diaper, heard of burp cloths, or debated breastfeeding versus formula.

3. Deliver baby: Assuming a seven-pounder, you'll immediately lose 9-10 lbs. when that screaming bundle of joy comes out along with his swimming pool of amniotic fluid, and your placenta.

4. Bleed profusely: For three weeks, as your bruised and torn ladyparts go "ow ow ow OW OW OW."

5. Hydrate!: This will help you flush out all the extra fluid that your pregnant body stored up. It will also help with breastfeeding, if you go that route. Speaking of...

6. Struggle with breastfeeding: Specifically, be uncertain why baby screams at your breast, bunches his legs up, turns bright red, and spits out your nipple.

6.a. Realize you are drowning baby: Let the internet tell you how to deal with your milk oversupply. Confirm with actual lactation consultant via ancient technology telephone.

7. Stop sleeping: Nurse baby every 1.5 hours, including during the night. Be incredibly pleased at having five hours of total sleep, broken up in chunks, in one 24-hour cycle.

7.a. Abandon hope: After weeks of this grueling schedule, lose ability to think positively. Wander the apartment in a cloud of gloom. Burst into tears when overwhelmed. Feed baby Sad Breast Milk, then feel even worse for doing so.

7.b. Replace sleep with light exercise: Bundle baby in stroller and walk outside for at least half an hour every day. Ask OB/GYN if can go running to release stress. OB/GYN will say, "Hale NO." Your body is still recovering!

7.c. Laugh: Especially when your well-meaning husband suggests leaving you the car so you can drive around with baby. Hysterical laughter is a great ab workout! When finished, remind husband that chronically sleep-deprived person + motor vehicle = bad. 

8. Stress out: About going back to work, pumping milk for day care, Mamala returning to Manila, scheduling a massage, the enterovirus, treating infantile seborrheic dermatitis, and really, everything. Just be constantly anxious and afraid, and you'll slim down in no time!

***

Simple, no? Do all of the above and you too can be a hot sexy momma!

(vomits)

SOON I CAN BE SCARJO'S BODY DOUBLE AGAIN,
SHUT UP, I'M NOT CRAZY FROM THE BABY, HORMONES, AND STRESS

***

I have two more weeks of standard postpartum recovery to go, but I wanted to get this post out before Nick gets another growth spurt and I only have time to shower, nurse him, and drink water.

This post brought to you by Fisher Price Calming Vibrations!

Monday, October 13, 2014

iPhone 6 Review

iPhone 6 (left) versus iPhone 5 (right)

I love the iPhone 6. I have named mine shinyface. It replaces the noble DroppedALot.

Details below:

Battery: Lasts twice as long as the iPhone 5 with my heavy use of a nursing app, Jawbone UP, Safari, WhatsApp, calendar, and text messaging.

Cost: $199 if you renew or sign up for a two-year wireless contract, or $600 if you just want the device. If you go with the contract, you can get it for free if you trade in your iPhone 5 (mine will go to family).

Camera: A vast improvement. Low light conditions will no longer stop you from snapping candid photos!

The late afternoon sunlight is good enough for the iPhone 6 camera!

Grip: I'd been advised to get a case for this phone, but so far I haven't dropped it yet, despite being chronically sleep-deprived and naturally clumsy. So a case would be for those who refuse to live on the edge. 

Keyboard: The new iOS has QuickText, an autofill feature that's actually pretty good. I use it regularly.

Native Apps: Reminders now has a spiffy notification system that lets you mark an item as completed or snooze it without interrupting your current activity; Compass works!; I don't know what Health does; no significant changes in other default apps. 

Screen: Gorgeous resolution, and the size is spectacular if you read online, text, watch videos, etc. Reader View is very helpful for sites with tiny font.

Security: You can choose to use Touch ID, the fingerprint authentication tech on the Home button, for ordinary use of the phone, purchasing apps, or signing in to third-party apps. It seems to work okay with slightly dry fingers.

Siri: She seems to be understanding me better! The only screwup so far has been "Duck Tour"--girlfriend just could not process, which I guess is understandable. 

Size: My miniature man-hands can operate this one-handed, so it's no biggie (get it? get it???). Also, it fits in pockets! It sticks out a bit, but I welcome that trade-off for the larger screen.

Weight: At 129 grams, it's a tad heavier than its predecessor's 112 grams. It doesn't matter.

***

TL; DR: The iPhone 6 is a terrific device for people constantly on their phones.

This post brought to you by Carter's baby sleep sacks!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Game Review: FFX HD Remaster (PS Vita)

Final Fantasy X is the story of Tidus, a young man lost in space and time, and Yuna, a young woman who has chosen to battle an undying monster. Yuna, a Summoner who can command mythical creatures (Aeons) in battle, is on a pilgrimage with her Guardians to obtain the Final Aeon to defeat the dreaded Sin. Tidus joins them in the hopes of making his way back home, to Zanarkand, the city that never sleeps.

FFX was so popular that it got reworked as a Playstation Vita game. The remaster boasts better graphics than the original, and the same wonderful soundtrack and absorbing gameplay. Unfortunately, the development team kept the crappy voice acting and the inability to skip cut scenes.

Below are the pros and cons of this game:

(+) Soundtrack--FFX has tons of excellent themes, from the haunting "To Zanarkand" to the earworm-y encounter theme. "Suteki da ne" is a beautiful love song, similar to FFVIII's "Eyes on Me." The only thing missing is an overworld theme, but that's because this game is linear (!) and doesn't let players wander to non plot-advancing locations.

(+) Gameplay--Two elements made the combat system stand out: the sphere grid and the ability to swap out characters in battle. The sphere grid lets players choose which attributes to raise for each character--more HP or MP, higher defense, new spells, etc. While the progression is straightforward, towards the end players can experiment with boosting stats or learning spells to make very specialized or extremely well-rounded characters.

(+) Graphics--Pretty good for the Vita, and much better than the original PS2 version. In particular, the main villain has plenty of opportunities to loom intimidatingly, always a bonus.

"Yo. I'm Sin."
(-) Voice acting--Alas, the two leads, the ones with the most lines, are awful to listen to. Tidus, the male protagonist, is a whiny brat. Yuna, his love interest, pauses at odd moments mid-speech, probably to sync with the animation/lip movements. Problem is, she sounds hella awkward. Everyone else is okay, especially Seymour, who hits the right mix of oily, untrustworthy, and insane.

(-) Plot--Hoo boy. It's...complicated, but the main mystery is how Tidus ended up on Spira, apparently 1,000 years into the future, where Zanarkand is a legend, Sin has to be defeated by a Summoner every 10 years, and humanity has been taught that technology is evil. The reveal at the end is convoluted and unsatisfying.

(-) Blitzball--This submerged water polo sport defines Tidus, who's a star player, but it's unappealing and not terribly fun to play in-game. And, despite the tech = evil message pounded into players' heads, there's wall-to-wall TV coverage of the damned competitions, which takes place in a giant water bubble dome. Presumably this all operates on technology. WTF.

That's not magic!
(-) Sidequests: These come late in the game, and without the joy of inadvertent discovery. Unless you know exactly what you're doing (e.g. via guides), you won't know how to get the bonus weapons and secret dungeons. Grrrr.

Overall, the good eclipses the bad, making FFX a strong entry in the Final Fantasy series. I may even play FFX2, where Yuna gets a skimpier outfit, because of course she does.

TL; DR: It's quick, easy, and a bit different from other games in the series--play the FFX HD Remaster if you missed the PS2 version.

This post brought to you by chronic lack of sleep.

Movie Review: Black Panther (2018)