Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Movie Review: Into the Woods (2014)

Into the Woods is Disney's cinematic take on a Broadway musical from the eighties. It's a camp-tastic extravaganza with over-the-top performances that had me clapping like a sea lion. It starts out lighthearted and cheery and then transforms into a somber lesson about wishes, stories, and children. For the most part, it stays true to the original musical, although the movie is so laden with CGI that I wonder how a stage production managed all the story's explosive numbers.

The plot revolves around the Baker (James Corden) and the Baker's Wife (Emily Blunt), who are sent on a quest by The Witch (Meryl Streep) to lift their curse of childlessness. Their journey into the woods sends them on a collision course with the most popular Grimm fairy tale characters: Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), and Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy). Along the way, the characters screw each other over, learn lessons and change accordingly, and of course, sing all about it.

The songs are a joy to listen to--all the actors can sing, even Chris Pine (!), who absolutely crushed it as Prince Charming belting out "Agony," a shirt-ripping performance that is now the gold standard for all camp. Meanwhile, "Hello Little Girl" by the Big Bad Wolf (Johnny Depp) is creepy and disturbing, with shades of pedophilia as opposed to, y'know, the relationship between predator and prey. ...OH I GET IT NOW.

Meryl Streep classes up the joint and, as expected, steals the show with her booming vocals and her interpretation of the story's antagonist, alternating between crazed, imperious, and motherly. All her songs are wonderful, imbued with the character's complexities: "Stay With Me," an overprotective parent's plea to her child, is both sympathetic and terrifying, while "Witch's Lament" and "Last Midnight" show the character's fury and bitterness.

Anna Kendrick, who is my spirit animal, is an effective soprano; James Corden has a beautiful, gentle voice that perfectly complements his earnest character; and the two kids are great singers. All four are wonderful in "Your Fault" and "No One is Alone." Emily Blunt does a great job, especially with "Moments in the Woods," a metaphysical and metaphorical realization of what the woods mean and how they fit into life's journey. That was preceded by a duet with Chris Pine, "Any Moment," which had our group in hysterics.

The melodies are terrific, especially the final coda. I've been listening to the full soundtrack on repeat all day. Why didn't we do this musical in Zobel? I would've been smashing as a wicked stepsister, or the beloved cow.

Trivia: Emily Blunt was pregnant during filming, which I found out after watching, but during the film I did think to myself that she was wearing awfully frumpy clothes. The last Emily Blunt movie I'd seen was The Edge of Tomorrow, where she played The Full Metal Bitch and kept repeating the sexiest and most intimidating downward dog in the history of Akilyarepeatedly Yoga. So I was like, "Well, I guess she's a Baker's Wife, she doesn't need to be in fitted clothes." But now it all becomes clear! Incidentally, she claims Meryl Streep was looking out for her so she could go on bathroom breaks, which sounds like my dream.

And now for what sucks about Into the Woods: the Rapunzel thread. I shan't spoil anything (much), but the filmmaker's decision to stray from the events of the musical takes away from the impact of the second act. Also, the sound stage was practically its own character, it was so obvious. The woods in Maleficent were more believable.

And thus ends my bellyaching! If you don't watch this musical extravaganza, at least watch Blunt, Kendrick, and Streep being charming as hell on Ellen.

TL; DR: Thumbs up, and jazz hands, too!

This post brought to you by apples! One a day keeps the doctor away, and so does the discrepancy between Medicare payments to physicians and rising medical practice costs!

The more you know!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Ho Ho Ho! Happy Holidays!

That's totally me in the photo, yessiree!
Image credits: Corey Shuff,
and http://pokemontcgsjc.blogspot.com/

A toast to 2014, a year of firsts!

There's been a lot of terrible news this year--MH370, Ebola, Boko Haram, Ferguson, to name just a few--but I think there are also a lot of good people doing good work out there that balances it all out. Malala's still campaigning for girls' education, Obama is all "GREY HAIR, DON'T CARE", Tina and Amy are hosting the Golden Globes again, and Kosuke Fujishima finished his Oh! My Goddess (ああっ女神さまっ) series after only 26 years! Yes, it only took almost my entire lifetime for Keiichi and Belldandy to get married!

But back to the post opener...our little family got a tiny expansion this year, causing Fragrant Husband's beard to go even more salt-and-pepper. We are now parents to one of our own species, homo sapien nerdus, rather than to a pair of senior felis catus. The demands are...different.

As an older and wiser Fragrant Elephant, I can now pass on these lessons to the next generation:

1) Pregnancy is weird. Think about it. You grow another human inside you. It hiccups and bounces around in there, too. Then it you push it out--or have it cut out of you!--and it poops on you.

The upside, apart from the baby, is that you immediately bond with other women who have been through the experience. You will become part of a club of women who know. They know. We know.

2) Parenting requires special skills. Namely, the ability to plan out the intricate logistics of getting out the door with some semblance of punctuality, as well as the ability to clearly communicate to one's partner the exact steps required to achieve such a feat. To wit:

"Okay, going to a party! I'll change his diaper and put him in his new clothes while you pack up the appetizers."

"Got it. Done. Is he strapped in to his stroller now?"

"Yes, except he pooped again. Your turn to change him."

"Right. ...Finished, let's go! Wow, we're only 30 minutes behind schedule!"

"...We forgot the appetizers."


3) Choose your partner wisely. I cannot stress this enough. The right person will inspire you and help you grow, possibly horizontally, but also definitely as a person.

Step one: Know what works for you. Have standards. When I stumbled upon my now-husband, he passed my first set of criteria: he was Kind, Had a Job, and was As Smart As or Smarter Than Me.

Step two: Get to know your intended victim partner. Compatibility is key, and having similar interests helps enormously. My target owned a cat (+100 points), loved video games (+50 points), read a ton of books (+50 points), and was a great cook (+all the points).

Step three: Get to know each other's family. If all y'all can stand each other, you're golden. You'll know s/he's a keeper if a member of your family is a complete douchenozzle and your partner decides to marry you anyway.

Step four: Profit! (obligatory)

4) Sleep is precious. I just realized that I haven't slept more than 3-4 hours at a stretch since I went into labor. No wonder I can't remember things, like what is the point of this blog post.


Oh, yes! 2014 was a global shitshow, pardon my French, but it was a good year for the Fragrant Family. I know we're lucky and I'm thankful for that.

Dear readers, my warmest, most fragrant wishes for an AWESOME 2015 for you and yours!

Ho! Ho! Ho!

This post brought to you by Junior's 1 am, 3 am, 4 am, and 6 am wake up calls! (falls over)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Game Review: Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (PS3)

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception continues the adventures of wisecracking, ledge-jumping, bullet-absorbing Nathan Drake. This game reveals two keys to Drake's character: how he and his mentor Sully first meet, and the significance of the ring he always wears around his neck. The game begins in a pub in London, opening with a bang and also introducing newbies to the controls. As the story unfolds, players are taken to the streets of Colombia, a forest in France, a citadel in Syria, and the Rub' al Khali desert in the Arabian peninsula. The end of the journey is the "Atlantis of the Sands," a mystical city that holds a potential weapon sought by the game's villains.

Drake's Deception continues the many fine elements of the previous games. It's beautiful--easily the most visually stunning entry in the Uncharted series, with well-rendered character movements and locations. There are instances when the camera pulls back to show Drake as a tiny figure struggling in the backdrop of an enormous setting, and it's mighty impressive. Meanwhile, the music is as reliably good, the dialogue is as sparkling as ever, and the action scenes are fun, with plenty of running, slow-mo leaping, brawling, and shooting. There's maybe just a tad more difficulty in some fights with the sheer number of minor baddies and weapons. My heart rate went up during a few of the more protracted skirmishes.

The biggest improvement, apart from the visuals and combat system, is the character development. Drake's past and his motivations are revealed in this third outing, and it's clear that he cares very deeply about the two main supporting characters, Sully and Elena, now his estranged wife (Hah! Team Chloe!). And he's a good guy, as shown near the end of the game. But there's still one big mystery about him, which involves the title. I shan't spoil it here, but I hope they answer my question in the fourth game!

This review ain't all praises, though. My beef with this game is the plot. It's weaksauce, which is forgivable because Handsome Adventurer on Quest for Mystical Thing is a winning formula, BUT. The story got downright derivative at times. I felt like I was watching The Mummy during one part. Naughty Dog tried to distract me with an extremely enjoyable sequence involving horses and RPGs, but I was not diverted! How dare a game studio borrow a story element from a late 90's movie that itself took liberally from an 80's franchise! The temerity!!!

Also, the hallucination sequences gave me motion sickness. :(

But, as my father-in-law would say: whatever. This series is so awesome that I went to GameStop today to get Uncharted 1: Drake's Fortune. I can't wait! wheeeee

TL; DR: Among Thieves had a better story than Drake's Deception, but Drake's Deception is superior at everything else.

This post brought to you by Harpoon UFO Gingerland beer!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Movie Review: Snowpiercer (2013)

Strap yourselves in for a brutal ride! Snowpiercer is a gritty vision of dystopia by South Korean director Bong Joon-ho. The film opens with scientists launching a product in the air intended to stop global warming. Instead, earth freezes over. The last of humanity's survivors are now on a train that goes around the world, punching through accumulated ice and snow.

The train is segregated: the front cars have all the luxuries, the middle ones help run the train, and the overcrowded tail end houses castoffs. You can tell they're oppressed and angry because they look like they wandered off the set of Les Miserables. Curtis (Chris Evans) is planning a revolt, and his fellow sub-economy passengers are ready. Minister Mason (Tilda Swinton) and a small army stand in their way. What follows is a march/rampage forward through cars that showcase our species' absurdities, insanities, and cold calculations.

Snowpiercer is heavy on the allegories, with the bad guys repeatedly giving speeches about maintaining the hierarchy. But they're balanced by the great cinematography, intense action, and fantastic set designs. Inequality is the main theme here, with the train representing the system that keeps a select few in comfort while the rest are left to fend for themselves. Authoritarianism, indoctrination, decadence, and redemption are also handled as Curtis and his crew battle their way to the car that houses the "sacred engine" and its maker. The themes are so dominant that the cast members aren't playing characters--they're archetypes, acting out a narrative that we know, although in a way we haven't seen before.

And the end of the story, while predictable, blends bleakness and hope in a way that stays true to the film's dynamic. Snowpiercer is a unique take on an increasingly common type of fiction (post-apocalyptic), and it's well worth a look.

TL; DR: A thoughtful, thrilling sci-fi film.

This post to you by brownies. Brownies: heck yeah!