Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2008, a year in fragments

What did this leap year bring me if not Rocky Mountain highs and 6-foot-deep lows? I did a lot this year, accomplished a lot - both good and bad. In going through my various journal entries and diaries and photo essays, I found things I never got to share with you, poppets. They may be a better “year in review” than my memory can recall.

It all began with wearing black silk for the first moments past midnight on January 1st. The fact that it was in pyjama form only serves to emphasise the kind of year it would be: contradictory. What was an attempt at being fancy and comfy at the same time only proved that it was not possible to marry opposites into a harmonious whole.

Another disturbing trend that resurfaced was sending and reading too many letters that just resulted in no good. However, sadly, not sending the letters I should have sent is what I'll remember most: "I believe it was in one of these self-flagellating moments that I broke down and laid bare to you all of my worst fears: poverty and mediocrity, living alone with no husband and no children, hungry and cold for the rest of my life. SUCH a drama queen. Your response, however, was something I didn’t know how to deal with or even interpret ('I could help you with 4, maybe 5, of those things') so I just ignored it." Why are we so scared to be honest? Because honesty, if coupled with vulnerability, leaves us far too exposed to the cruelties of truth.

Sitting in a cafeteria along the frozen shores of Hudson Bay, I had a small epiphany: when I could have been anyone I wanted, when my makeup was left in my bag and I wore the same black sweatshirt for days in a row, when all I had to rely on was my questionable charm and wit, I was most myself. And you know what? I hadn’t received more attention in all my life. What is it about trains and the romance of travelling on them? What is it about meeting new people in strange places that instantly bonds humans into quick camaraderie? What is it about being away from Toronto that suddenly makes everyone friendlier and cuter?

Cow Poetry (as found on the wall of Cowpuccino’s) ->

The first thing I brought into my brand-new, white-walled, condo? Toilet paper and hand soap. Those were the priorities. On subsequent trips, I brought in my favourite fridge magnet (“A very cute line monster saying “Come to the dark side. We have cookies!” while holding a platter of chocolate chip goodness), but was stumped by my non-magnetic stainless steel fridge. This did not bode well. Indeed, it was a precursor to a list a frustrations that seemed to be colluding to keep me from enjoying my new digs. Who’s laughing now?

With no great surprise, my official colours came back a split Gold-Green with a strong Orange streak and almost no Blue. What does all this mean? Golds are the nurturers: we take care of people and projects and pets because we feel we will do the best job of it; we remember to cater for the vegetarians and the diabetics at staff meetings and parties alike; we are very good at getting things done and following rules. Greens are the thinkers: we like puzzles and math problems and generally figuring out how things work; we thrive on logic and pattern and when things operate on feelings and not on fact, we feel disoriented, confused and generally lost; we are very good at starting projects but not very good at repeating them – repetitive tasks do not offer any comfort to us; we like to work alone with our own deadlines. What does this make me? A control freak with a strong sense of justice and fairness and a weak sense of people skills. That Orange streak probably accounts for my need to have a full social calendar; oranges are notoriously fickle. Blues are the feelers in the group and I have very little of that in my makeup. This means I am as loyal as they come (gold) and a great ally (green) but, while I love hanging out with you (orange) don’t ever expect me to understand if you cross me (lack of blue).

Christmas this year was really a downer. I usually love the season, only feeling a little blue when I remember all the people I’d have liked to still be able to spend time with but, for various reasons, cannot. This year, one lonely pot of poinsettias marked the occasion. I went through the motions – I baked and wrapped gifts and sang Christmas carols, but I just couldn’t feel it. Is this what getting old does? Robs me of the wonderment and magic that I always associate with this time of year?

A while back, I said I was getting back to writing. I finished a novella with which I’m fairly pleased. One of my favourite lines, as translated from a Hebraic lullabye: “… it's late and tomorrow we'll wake up and see how the day comes after every night …”

Monday, December 29, 2008

Now Playing: Doubt

I see where all the best acting accolades are coming from; Doubt is one of the best acted films I've seen in a long while. Thoroughly convincing, Streep, Hoffman and Adams just pulls you into their little world and simply never let go. And Viola Davis as the mother desperate to do right by her son? Fantastic. The one proper scene she gets is worth the price of admission. So, what's the movie all about? I guess the one word I would use is "power" - the power of suspicion, the power of threats, the power struggle between men and women, superiors and subordinates, the haves and the have-nots. I cannot promise happy endings... or even an ending, for that matter. What I can promise is a gripping little story that actually had me biting my nails at one point. If there ever was a movie that was tailor-made for the Academy, this would be it.

But there has to be a down side, no? Where the acting is superb, the pacing was a bit off - I mean, it wasn't slow enough in some parts and then there were other parts where entire spans of time pass and you have no idea what's happened. In fact, the resolution of the film is so quick, you almost missed it. I don't know, it just didn't sit very well, especially given the excellent of the rest of the film. I don't know whether to blame the director or the editing process.

Regardless, it's worth watching. 4 out of 5 stars.


On a related note, sitting around and chatting about movies in general with a friend and I had my most cogent thoughts about why I watch so many of these things (and spend so much money I just don't have). In many ways, it's really difficult to rate movies on a 5-star scale. I mean, how can I give Hellboy II and Slumdog Millionaire the same rating? How indeed... I suppose in many ways I go to watch movies for two very different reasons: entertainment or provocation. Often, a film will deliver on one but not the other. Entertainment is easy to explain - anything that has some serious kickassery or scary moments or excellent special effects is entertaining. Summer blockbusters are all about entertainment. And then, there are movies that simply provoke me - thoughtful films that leave much to be discussed and argued over, rather than just gushing over the "did-you-see-that" moments.

Truly, movies are rarely both. Rather, it is precisely those movies that do both which garner 5 stars, at least for me. I walked into I Am Legend expecting a zombie flick; instead, I got one of the most heart-wrenching moments on screen. I had expected car chases and things-blowing-up in the Dark Knight - I did not expect to be blown away by the performances. I went to see Benjamin Button because I'd heard about Blanchett; the excellent use of CGI started a whole other conversation. So yeah, I watch a lot of filler (and awards season never fails to remind me of just how much), but in the end, I watch it to be entertained.

The same conversation also had me answering what "kinds" of movies I like - and I had to honestly answer that I like the movies that don't have a "kind" at all. I like literary fiction instead of genre fiction (though, I have been known to read a romance or several hundred) and I like literary films instead of genre films (though, I have been known to watch an action movie or several hundred). I am most certainly entertained by the pulp fiction (whether it be in print or celluloid); but it's the movies that provoke that never make me regret the $14 price tag.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Now Playing: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Here's something I don't usually do - go on a movie date with my Mom. It was nice change of pace from watching movies with boys, let me tell you. We went to watch The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in a packed theatre on Boxing Day.

What's there to say about Button? It has all the makings of an award-worthy movie: A-list actors/acting (Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton and Brad Pitt, though it is Blanchett that steals the movie); an adapted screenplay based on an American literary master's work (F. Scott Fitzgerald happens to be one of my favourite modern writers); excellent directing (David Fincher in a departure from his Se7en and Fight Club days); a score, full of melancholy piano, that's to die for. Clocking in at 159 minutes, this isn't a movie for the easily bored. It has a slow unravelling and a sultry pace that's echoic of the New Orleans summer nights where the story seems to live, if not begin and end. And while everyone probably knows the plot before walking in, it isn't the plot that drives the movie - it's characters themselves. Fitzgerald is always very good at characters and Eric Roth is quite successful at capturing that.

The movie really is excellent; I guess my only concern is that it doesn't have anything sets it apart from from the rest of the pack. Besides the eponymous element upon which the entire story turns, I don't know if there's anything that's more or less outstanding than the rest of its Golden Globe company. I suppose I will have to consider the question again after watching the rest of the field. That being said, as a standalone review, Button was quite enjoyable and rewarding to watch. 4 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Now Playing: Slumdog Millionaire

When I was first told a synopsis for Slumdog Millionaire ("it's an Indian romance"), my gag reflex went into effect. I hate romantic movies to begin with but a romantic Indian movie? Complete with high-pitched heroines dancing behind trees with their unattractive love interests? Puh. Leeze. Then it got nominated for a Golden Globe, in the drama category no less, and I had to look it up for myself. Hmm… not so much a romance and directed by none other than Danny Boyle. All right - let's go. Before you read on, I should say that there may be what some people will classify as plot spoilers in the following paragraphs. I don't think so, but I am a more… observant movie-watcher than most.

First of all, the plot was very well done. Suspenseful and light-hearted in all the right places and paced so well, I almost didn't want the movie to end even while I was dying to know how it ended. The twists and revelations were beautiful little vignettes; the whole idea of fate and chance, of luck and destiny were presented in a way that actually had me believing. Boyle really does know how to engage his audience. A special kudos to A. R. Rahman, the music director - the choices were colourful and varied (from bangra to MIA, from haunting to a staccato chaos… just perfect). It should also be mentioned that this movie was co-directed by Loveleen Tandan, who must have been responsible for the ribbon of authenticity that flowed throughout the movie.

And then, there was the cast. Tandan worked a mini-miracle in getting actors that weren't related to look and act so alike that they made growing up appear as seamless as it happens in real life. Dev Patel and Madhur Mittal are very convincing as brothers, but it was little Jamal (Ayush Mahesh Khedekar) who stole the show. I just rooted for that little guy, from the moment he appeared covered in feces asking for Amitabh Bachan's autograph, hoping against hope that he would actually make it. His exuberance and unabashed goodness is easily counterbalanced by his brother, little Salim (Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail), whose utter selfishness and ghetto pragmatism serves as an excellent foil.

Yes, there are moments when reality is stretched… but isn't that the marker of every movie you've ever watched? And this movie is self-proclaimed fairy tale, so why not have a little fairy dust sprinkled throughout? I know, it's hard to believe in magic existing within such conditions - poverty so acute that professional beggar-children are maimed for higher profits, that squalor so deep that living on a refuse heap is acceptable. Boyle/Tandan don't try to make a World Vision moment out of the movie - they simply present reality as the backdrop for this decidedly fantastical movie. In real life: Latika would have had more than just a scar on her cheek, Jamal would have been blinded, Salim would probably have ended up in much the same place as he did. In Slumdog, as the first 30 seconds of the movie tells you, "Jamal Mallik becomes a millionaire." 4.5 out of 5 stars.

getting my Martha on

For a girl who has forsaken all things domestic, I sure did a lot of baking this past little while. And cleaning. And other domestically-inclined things like laundry, ironing, bill-paying, etc. When I was growing up, I always envisioned I'd have a magical personal assistant who would take care of all these details in my life. I mean Selina Kyle had one, why can't I? I had imagined dinners at nice restaurants, classical music at home while I read books and drank wine, power suits and tight chignons. Alas. Real life is so very disappointing. So instead of spending my mini-vacation doing all those pseudo-glam things, I made many dozens of various cookies, at least three cakes and bucket loads of nimkis and cheesestraws, followed by a day of cleaning the kitchen and bathroom. Not a stemmed glass in sight.

I don't know when it happened, but my life took a distinct turn for the quiet side. I hate that I spend more time watching Friends than I do watching all those movies I've missed, that I drink more Fresca than I do Amaretto Sours, that reading only seems to happen during commercials and oven timers.

This has led to Resolution #2: Be More Glamourous. This will include things like:
- attend a cultural event at least once a month (TSO, Stratford, ROM… I'm looking at you);
- wear mascara, like a grownup;
- learn how to mix a cosmopolitan;
- dress more appropriately, like a grownup;
- read more than my Book Club books.

BTW, for those who weren't there, Resolution #1: Be More Green. I've already taken steps towards this Christmas (e-cards instead of paper cards, wrapped gifts in reusable bags instead of wrapping paper) and will be continuing the trend in the New Year. Some ideas?
- changed all my bills to paperless/online
- full-on recycling everything at home
- shopping at Bulk Barn to reduce packaging (and save money!)
- using cloth/heavy-plastic bags;
- buying refills for things like hand soap and makeup (thank you Yves Rocher and MAC for making these things possible)

I wonder how long this list will get before '09 gets rung in.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Now Playing: The Day the Earth Stood Still

Is there anyone out there who can unact the way Keanu can? I doubt it. So, it doesn't come as any surprise at all that he gets cast as an alien sent to judge humanity's worth. Well, what's there to say... as a sci-fi movie, The Day The Earth Stood Still was all right. The au courant enviro-green theme was quite prominent, but it didn't feel as heavy-handed as The Happening. Jennifer Connelly wasn't as annoying as she usually is and a neat little appearance by John Cleese made me quite happy.

I think the best part about the movie was all the questions it brought up:
1) Would humans really shoot first at a UFO and ask questions later?
2) Is there anything an alien could do as "first contact" that wouldn't be interpreted as "hostile intentions"?
3) Why does GORT have a humanoid form, complete with 5 fingers?
4) Would Earth be the same without humans? Are we that insignificant in its life?
5) Is there a Keanu movie I wouldn't see?

Deep stuff indeed. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

being cool

Though I have some friends who will attest otherwise, I have always felt that I was never part of the "cool" crowd. All those typical avenues to being cool were totally not open to me (i.e. athletics, music, beauty). Having accepted this shortcoming early in life, I haven't felt the urge to fit in. It wasn't until Friday night that I finally understood why: I have always found a way to surround myself with people who enjoy the same things as myself. Whether it's Hybrid rock or board games or book club, I have people with whom I love hanging out who also like doing these things. Lately, I've been having some trouble juggling all these groups. There used to be a time when all fun things were ignored because I was working so many hours it was impossible to accommodate (though, I did manage to play board games while at work for a few years). Now, I'm finding it hard to fit it all in. I've begun amalgamating friends who like to do many things (Book Clubbers who also like board games? check), but this only leads to hanging out with the same people all the time. This can be good, but I like seeing lots of different people, you know? And I don't have that many dress-up clothes to allow for seeing the same person 4 days in a row socially. I think I finally understand what JC and Jadek mean about me being "cool" - I like people and I find ways to have them like me back. And I don't give a flying fig about who they're wearing or what they do.

Which brings me full circle to Friday night. Leanne (visiting from Cali) insists we dance as much as possible while she's here's, so Friday night finds us (and Nish and Matgician) at Tattoo Rock Parlour along with LilBro, his old friend Gis and his newly-ex-but-trying-to-be-friend DBo.
- First, the club: we were promised Hybrid - we got Pop Rocks; an overpriced $10 cover; hugely overpriced drinks (that I didn't buy, but had plenty bought for me); a way-too-crowded dance floor FULL of rock posers.
- Second, the peeps: the boys in the club were great - laid-back, fun and generous; the girls were trying too hard and were actually kind of bitchy… which is so unusual for rock clubs. I really miss the Funhaus crowd.
- Finally, the drama. LilBro and DBo were "dating" and decided to call it quits. But, at the pre-drinking session, they were getting all cozy. That's fine - DBo seems like a nice enough, if a little flaky. At the club, they get all close and start making out. LilBro goes for a smoke and DBo proceeds to make out with someone else. Of course, LilBro is decidedly unimpressed and I have to step in so he doesn't deck the other guy. This is when my judgemental personality rears her ugly head: I understand making out with complete strangers at clubs; I understand making out with your on-again-off-again at the club; I even understand making out with strangers and your on-again-off-again…what I don't understand is being confused when the on-again-off-again gets mad. What do you mean you don't know what's wrong? Anyway, DBo went home early - at least I think she did because she just disappeared without so much as letting one of us know that she was leaving.

And why did DBo do this? Here are the theories:
1) She was too drunk to know what she was doing;
2) She is stupid and didn't know the consequences of her actions;
3) She is a whore;
4) She was jealous of LilBro and Gis (which is stupid because a) they've been friends for over 15 years and b) Gis is gay).
…it doesn't really matter the reason, because I wasn't about to let her cause enough trouble to get us kicked out so I basically told her to step off. I just didn't care that I may have come off as a prude or a busybody or a killjoy - she was being, in my humble opinion, a total jerk.

I suppose it doesn't matter that it was a clearly uncool thing to do - according to LilBro's status, cool is dead anyway.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


The Golden Globe nominations were announced today. I was rather looking forward to it - it's a way for me to reinforce the idea that, yes, I am a cinephile. For the Globes, I really only focus on the Best Picture category (since there are way to many categories for me to keep straight. So here's the list:

Best Picture (Drama):
- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
- Frost/Nixon
- The Reader
- Revolutionary Road
- Slumdog Millionaire

Best Picture (Comedy or Musical):
- Burn After Reading
- Happy-Go-Lucky
- In Bruges
- Mamma Mia!
- Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Oh. My. God. I have seen ONE out of ten; even more shamefully, NONE of the Drama pics. I was shocked. What about all those movies I've devoured and rated? Surely I've watched something of consequence in the last 11 months? According to the Golden Globe people: no. So, with a heavy heart of disappointment in my own cinematic prowess, I began to look up the release dates for the movies. That's when I realised something: all these movies have December release dates; and those that have been already released are only in limited theatres. What the hell? There have been NO good movies all year? NONE? Do we only release award-calibre movies in December now? And what's with releasing movies on Christmas/Boxing Day? Most of us have families to entertain and malls to frequent.

Also, there are some conspicuous absentees: Traitor, The Dark Knight (drama) and Tropic Thunder (comedy) come to mind. Anyway, I've set up my alerts. Now I just need the company. So! Who wants to see Slumdog Millionaire? Better yet, who can find a local theatre that actually plays it?

Monday, December 08, 2008

falling off

I've been a bad, bad blogtress. I haven't updated in so long - and that too, they were reviews. So here's the Coles notes version of what's been happening lately.

1) ElizaPoppins is having a baby and it's very exciting! Baby Hannah is due in Feb; already I've decided that I will spoil her rotten. Kaylee organised a baby shower. This meant that I was let loose in Babies R Us to buy booties and towels and onesies. All repressed maternal instincts came bursting out, and I totally almost lost it. Everything is just so small and cute - as Nish says, baby socks are my krptonite. I couldn't believe the pile of things I'd amassed when I got to the checkout counter; it was like the beeping register was keeping time with my now-very-loudly-ticking biological clock. The shower itself took care of that: though the baby things made us all "aww" in squeaking levels only canines could register, the bad babies were enough to remind me about why I don't like children. Ahhh, other people's spawn… they are the perfect birth control.

2) Media is accumulating time in my life: on DVD there's Lost and Spaced and The Wire; on actual TV, there's Survivor and Smallville and Stewart/Colbert and (lately) The Hour. This means at least 10 hours are sucked out of my life… 10 hours I could really use. Movies will also be made more prominent soon, as Award Season starts up again. And WoW, of course, has become a personal challenge (ever since they introduced achievements, I feel like I -need- to play). *sigh* what if I had a real hobby? When would that get slotted in?

3) Social Life. There was a time I didn't have one. Then I finished school. Now, I'm back to having several different circles of friends. Not that I'm complaining - they're all wonderful in their own way and I would never give them up. But now, I have the Book Clubbers, the WoW guys, the Board Gamers, the Librarians, the FISees… not to forget my beloveds, Nish, Jadek, JC.. and of course my family… Christ. Something will have to go … but what? Probably Thursday night WoW so I can have one night to myself.

4) Work. Unlike being in Sciences, being at work is … well, work. I have to pay far more attention here than I did over there. I could spend four hours on a desk in Science and answer one question… not so much in Children's. Plus, I'm more involved here. I guess I should just let things go and stop taking on so many responsibilities; on the other hand, when I'm not busy, I'm bored. I have yet to strike a happy medium. What I'd like to do is work extended days and then get an extra day off in the week - that would make for better division between work and play. I always did work better with larger chunks of time.

5) House stuff. Everyday, I go home and feel like a failure. There are empty picture frames which I haven't had time to fill (or even sort through pictures and send to print, for that matter); drawers that aren't organised, things that have no home… I just hate when things aren't in place. I'm not one for change - once I get all homey, I keep things fairly static. But the getting there… I just haven't found the time I'd like to devote to it. Perhaps I need a vacation wherein in which I just stay home and get a project done a day. Like painting the bathroom spots that I missed the first time around or organising the sweaters in my closet or shopping for a bedroom storage bench and a hall chair or … god, there's just so much. I'm not going to think about it. I'm going to watch TV.

Now Playing: Punisher - War Zone

Before the glut of Oscar/Golden Globes offerings, there is this deadly boring lull in movies. If you were looking forward to Twilight, you had something... if you weren't, well, you were like me and ho-hummed your way through November.

Yesterday, I went to see the new Punisher, with Titus Pullo in the titular role. Joining him: McNulty, Rita and Newman. It was everything I was expecting: lots of violence, hardly any acting and thoroughly entertaining popcorn-muncher. Okay, I'm being overly critical: Ray Stevenson was actually a very good Frank Castle and Doug Hutchison was a perfect Loony Bin Jim. Julie Benz, however, was just rehashing Rita and Dominic West... oh, my god... where was his dialect coach? It was the most hammed-up Joyzey accent I've ever heard. And yes, I'm aware that this takes place in New Yawk. It was distracting, to say the least. If you're bored, rent it when it comes out: 3 out of 5 stars, for what it's trying to be.

I'm looking forward to quite a few movies which are trying to squeeze in before 2008 bids us all adieu: The Road, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Rachel Getting Married, Slumdog Millionaire, just to name a few. Of course, I'll be watching The Day The Earth Sood Still as soon as I can, because it has my beloved Keanu doing what he does best: unacting. December is always a crazy busy month (I'm thinking I will have to start saving more vacation dates for this, the last month of the year). I hope by this time next week, I'll be in a better position to keep up with my recently ignored inner-cinephile.