Sunday, November 30, 2014

Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 (2014)

The final chapter of Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games is here, and it's darker and more grown up, like the series' antihero protagonist Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). This time, it's war instead of games, the arena is the world of Panem, and there might not be a winner.

The film's main setting is District 13, thought to have been destroyed during the last war. In fact, the district's industries--graphite and nuclear technology--allowed its citizens the leverage to negotiate a detente with the Capitol. Now they live in a massive bunker below bedrock (rebels living underground, get it? I strike thee with the Allegory Bat), waiting for the chance to end the Capitol's tyranny.

Plutarch Heavensbee (RIP Philip Seymour Hoffman), formerly Gamemaker and now advisor to District 13's President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore EEEEEE), is determined to showcase Katniss as the Mockingjay, the unifying symbol of the rebellion. Initially reluctant and absolutely terrible at being scripted, Katniss eventually becomes the inspiration for violent acts of defiance across Panem against the reign of President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

The acting is terrific, but you already knew that, with the caliber of the cast involved. As usual, JLaw turns an unlikeable character into someone you root for, Gale (Liam Hemsworth) does puppy-dog eyes, and Prim (Willow Shields) is still the little sister you'd die/kill for. The biggest character change lies with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), which is a big part of Katniss' motivation this time around. Moore is terrific as the perpetually cool and "concise" rebel leader Coin, and watching Heavensbee is a sad reminder that we lost a great actor.

The dialogue is mostly somber. There are fewer moments of levity without the usual antics of show host Cesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), but Effie (Elizabeth Banks) steps in to fill that void. Katniss also has a great one-liner early in the film that had viewers roaring with laughter (hint: it involves Buttercup).

The cinematography is wrenching, especially in shots that underline the brutality of Snow's rule. There are scenes that contrast the president's words with his police's actions, and while it's not subtle, it's certainly not heavy-handed. Meanwhile, the soundtrack, especially Katniss' rendition of "The Hanging Tree" and the scene that follows, is spine-chilling.

The third act of the film involves the Capitol's move and the rebels' countermove, and this is where Mockingjay Part 1 is strongest. There's tension, action, and a crackling exchange between the hero and villain. The film ends with Katniss finally getting what she's wanted since the end of Catching Fire...but the Capitol might have the last laugh.

Having read the books, I think it's a great decision to split the finale into two parts. It allows the filmmakers to effectively interpret the wider scope and heavier themes of the last entry in the Hunger Games trilogy. Mockingjay Part 1 deals with character development, the power of propaganda, the strength of symbols, and the achievements made possible when fear is replaced by determination and unity. Part 2 is probably going to be about butt-kicking and the fallout. I can't wait.

TL; DR: A great movie that creates anticipation for the final chapter of Katniss' story. 

This post brought to you by water. Water: it always seeks the lowest point! 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Game Review: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PS3)

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves pits wisecracking demigod linguist Nathan Drake against bad guys in a race to acquire the wish-fulfilling Cintamani Stone of Buddhist legend. Doesn't hurt that it's supposed to be a raw sapphire the size of an exercise ball, either. In this adventure, Drake travels to Turkey, Borneo, Tibet, and Nepal, climbing, sneaking, and shooting as he goes. Bonus: he's accompanied by two awesome women, one of whom keeps [SPOILER DELETED]. Whatever, I was shipping them hard.

My first entry into the series was 2011's Uncharted: Golden Abyss on the Vita (here's my review), and despite being older, 2009's Among Thieves is only slightly less pretty to look at and is just as enjoyable to play. Honestly, everything about this game is a standout: the relentlessly fun combat system, the hilarious banter among the characters, the dead-easy puzzles, and the spectacular soundtrack. Sure, it's chock-full of tropes and contrivances, but that's part of what makes it wildly entertaining. Among Thieves won about a dozen awards after it came out, testament to the skill of the team that put this game together.

My single tiny complaint was the boss battle at the end, where I got killed at least six times, but that's probably my fault because I got complacent from breezing through all the previous shootouts. The developers probably wanted to speed up players' heart rates for this final showdown. If so, they succeeded. I was a ball of tension as I frantically ran around and shot at [SPOILER DELETED].

Apart from that, this is pretty much a perfect action/adventure game. It takes less than 10 hours to complete, and the disc offers multiplayer game modes as well, if that's your thing.

Next on my to-do list: Uncharted: Drake's Deception!

TL; DR: The Uncharted series can do no wrong. Recommended.

This post brought to you by bananas! Bananas: an excellent source of potassium and phallus jokes!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

This Is How Fast Babies Grow

Week 1: Baby is seven pounds and only slightly bigger than the doggy his dad got him when he turned one day old.

Week 9: Baby is pushing 14 pounds and keeps trying to eat doggy. (He also no longer fits in those pajamas.)

Other parents who see baby keep saying, "I miss that age!"

Yep, two months is pretty special. Fragrant Elephant Junior now has a range of sounds. He has a gurgling "ooOOo" and a loud, high-pitched "AH-ha!" to add to his existing repertoire of grunting like a hungry piglet, mouth-breathing like a serial killer, and "snoring like a happy clam," to quote his father.

Babies are LOUD, y'all.

This post brought to you by tap water. Tap water: safe to drink, depending on where you live! 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Movie Review: Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is such an effective documentary that it's ruined sushi for me. I can never eat sushi again without comparing it to Jiro's...and I've never even eaten there!

The film chronicles the extraordinary titular character, who is 85 years old at the time of filming. He runs a 10-seat, $300-minimum sushi restaurant in Tokyo that's been awarded three Michelin stars, meaning it's worth the trip if you live outside Japan. Everyone is crazy about his sushi, and a lot of people are intimidated by the intensity of Jiro and his staff. They are super serious about their work, especially Jiro, who watches customers' reactions to his creations after he serves them their sushi one at a time.

The film's editing is superb and underlines the main themes of craftsmanship/artistry, discipline, skill, family, and the ecosystem that sustains the sushi business. Jiro is a shokunin (職人), a craftsman/artist of sushi. (I initially thought it was 食人, or "food person." An understandable fail, I guess.) He's been doing sushi for decades but is always trying to be better at his job. He loves sushi so much that he dreams about it. He invented special techniques to maintain perfect rice temperature, the freshness of shrimp, the softness of octopus, and so on.

His training regimen is so strict that some apprentices only last one day. It takes 10 years to be good at making sushi, apparently. You start out squeezing too-hot towels before you're allowed to touch food ingredients. At one point, Jiro reflects on how he was a "bad kid," but learned that you can turn your life around, as evidenced by his exalted status as the sushi master.

Jiro is to be succeeded by his eldest son, who is already 50 years old and surprised that his dad is still working. In addition to highlighting the seafood suppliers, who are themselves experts and artists in their fields, Yoshikazu notes that sustainability needs to be a concern--finding good catches in sufficient quantities is becoming harder as the years pass. He points to overfishing as a culprit: even young tuna are caught, rather than given the chance to grow to their full size.

The soundtrack uses familiar classical masterpieces and original compositions (that sound like Philip Glass but aren't) that complement the crisp cinematography and candid interviews. In revealing to viewers the world of a sushi master, director David Gelb also shows us what can be accomplished by good filmmaking. Jiro Dreams of Sushi is not food porn; it's a story of love, sacrifice, and joy.

TL; DR: An impressive documentary about a man who loves sushi.

This post brought to you by gobs of baby spit up. Le sigh.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Day with a Seven-Week-Old Baby

Preamble  By six weeks, most babies have calmed down from the feeding and crying frenzy and can fall into a predictable pattern of eating, playing, and sleeping.

12:05 AM  Wake up to baby grunting in bassinet. Fall back asleep.
12:15 AM  Grunting now too loud to ignore. Nurse baby while lying down.
12:25 AM  Burp baby and change his diaper to wake him back up.
12:30 AM  Nurse baby on other side.
12:34 AM  Baby has fallen asleep. Re-swaddle and put back in bassinet.

02:55 AM  Wake up to baby grunting in bassinet. Fall back asleep.
03:15 AM  Wake up from dream of nursing baby. Blearily unswaddle baby for nursing.
03:20 AM  Baby has fallen asleep. Debate waking him up so he can nurse on the other boob. Fall asleep.

04:45 AM  Baby is hungry again!!! Should have nursed on other side an hour ago!!!

06:00 AM  Put UP band in "Awake" mode. The day has begun.

06:05 AM  Pump breast milk for freezing. Hope baby does not wake up and need to nurse.

06:20 AM  Finish pumping. Clean supplies.

06:21 AM  Baby wakes up and wants to nurse. Husband comes to rescue by clamping baby to hairy chest, knocking him out again. I can shower!

08:30 AM  Finish breakfast. Husband leaves for work.

08:31 AM  Nurse baby.

08:50 AM  Load laundry into washing machine.

09:00 AM  Go out for walk in stroller.

Keeping distance because geese are actually violent bastards.

10:00 AM  Return to apartment. Read about event in City Hall around noon. Vow to go and also pick up orange juice.

10:01 AM  Baby wakes up and stares vacantly at nothing wants to play.

11:00 AM  Nurse suddenly fussy baby. Put baby in cradle for nap.


11:30 AM  Hear wet sound from baby's butt area. Change poo-saturated diaper.

***End optional***

12:00 PM  Load laundry into dryer.

12:05 PM  Eat lunch while exchanging coos with baby to foster language development.

12:30 PM  Strap baby into soft carrier and march to City Hall.

12:40 PM  Realize City Hall is not the State House. March some more.

12:50 PM  The event is almost over. Wander back home.


2:15 PM  Nurse baby.

2:45 PM  Attempt to make hot chocolate on stovetop, then promptly forget about boiling pot. Make mess. Research internet for cleaning tips.

4:00 PM  Cleanup finished! Baby has been sleeping the whole time. Lay down and try to sleep while baby sleeps.

4:01 PM  Baby wakes up and wants to play.

4:30 PM   Have baby do tummy time while folding laundry.

5:00 PM  Grumpily start making dinner.

5:30 PM  Husband comes home. Immediately pass baby to him for THANK GOD I AM SO TIRED Daddy Time.

7:00 PM  Finish dinner. Catch up on shows on DVR.

7:30 PM  Husband puts baby to bed. Can now speak in normal, if hushed, tones.

8:30 PM  Get sent to bed after fading during conversation.

9:00 PM  Check in on baby. Feel heart swell with love at cuteness. Look forward to another day with the little guy.

9:05 PM  Remember that will wake up in a few hours to nurse. Pep self up by pretending it is video game and I am on quest to expand his health meter.

9:06 PM  Have brilliant idea of buying Link baby suits for baby. Resolve to ask husband to make little baby sword and cap in the morning. Fall asleep.

9:30 PM  Forgot to buy orange juice!!! ...Fall back asleep.


Rinse and repeat!

This post brought to you by too much coffee and the mid-term elections! Did you vote today?