Thursday, December 31, 2009

Time, you are relentless in your forward pace

I have blatantly ripped off the title of this piece from one of my favourite webcomics and so I apologise if you're looking for the antics of Ethan, Lilah, Lucas and Zeke (come home, my robot future-overlord!) and you've stumbled here instead. You're welcome to stay, but I, uh, don't have any comics. So, umm, yeah. Coffee?

I feel compelled to write a year-end blog, though I have no expertise in anything. I couldn’t' even name 10 new songs, let alone pick 10 of my favourite. Perhaps I'll start with my myself, as narcissistic as that might be. In January, I resolved to do a few a things, so let's review:

1) Be (more) Green and Glamourous.
- Have recycled myself and have taught other to recycle as well, especially at work. I was most proud when this year's Christmas saw more gifts "wrapped" in reusable gift and felt bags than in paper and ribbons; those that were wrapped in paper had real cloth ribbons that were ironed and put away to be used again next year. Baby steps, people, baby steps.
- Also, this year, I bought two sets of heeled shoes for work, one pair of mary-janes and one pair of ankle boots. Both have been worn regularly and both have not resulted in sprained ankles.
…I consider this resolution a success!

2) Be less needy and needed.
- This was much more difficult than anticipated. Being less needed, okay, done. But I crave human companionship and so being less needy was really hard. By about June, I was in seriously withdrawal. My coping mechanism kicked in and I decided to spread my neediness around, so it didn't seem quite so desperate. The result is a standing cooking date, movie night, book club (x2), games night, West 50 half-price apps and WoW appointments. I feel better.
…I consider this a half-success.

3) Spend less money.
- I have done pretty well with this one. with one exception… we'll talk about that in a bit. I have taken to "renting" free library movies and books without a hitch. I've also borrowed TV series on DVDs from friends and asked for them for any special occasion. Thankfully, I have been able to give up cable and haven't felt it at all.
- On the Internet-front, I downgraded by Extreme high-speed to Express and also renewed my WoW account, so that all evened out. I also use my Internet more, to download things I would normally spend money on.
- Entertainment: I have taken to eating at home much more, have been diligently packing my lunches and trying not to eat out more than twice a week. I also discovered Cineplex movie coupons for half-price through CAA and made some smart choices about Empire coupons that should help save money here on in. Vacations were kept on the cheap (NYC for a grand? check!) and books to a minimum.
- Clothes: Oh, how I tried, but oh, how I love new clothes! I like trying it on, I like buying it, I like making room for it in my closet, I like throwing old stuff… I like it all! What does this mean, poppets? I have tallied my receipts and 2009 saw me spend almost $2000 on clothes/shoes/jewellery/purses. whew. Now, most of it was spent in one big lump-sum after I got my promotion so I could stock my clothes with the appropriate threads (you can't be a pseudo-manager in a sweatshirt, right, DK?)
…I think, in the grand scheme, I may have simply broken even. But I'm okay with that.

4) Make more lists: done! I mean, this blog is a list!

5) Write more: epic fail. I have blogged less, written creatively less… Hell, I've even shortened my reviews. Uncool.

Resolutions: I'm happy with them, overall.

As a year, 2009 was a roller coaster. I had such highs and such lows and barely any breathers in between. I've had friends move away and different friends move home; I've had family triumphs and family devastation; I've had it all. Was the year a complete disaster? No… but it wasn't a resounding success either. Here's to 2010 - may it bring more joy than sorrow, more wealth than debt and more good than bad. Cheers!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Now Playing: Sherlock Holmes

Yet another diversion for the quest... Sherlock Holmes. Oh come on! You can't judge me! Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law AND Rachel McAdams? Please. Besides, my coupons for Empire don't activate until January, so I can't watch the rest until then anyway. Take that.

On to the movie.

I was, as I'm sure many were/are, about the Guy Ritchie treatment of a literary classic. I mean, RDJ? Really? He's not even English! There's also the boxing and the love interest and the questionable personal hygiene. I decided to shelve my reservations until I watched the movie.

I needn't have worried. In a weird alignment-of-stars kind of way, Ritchie's gritty directing style really brought out the lowlights that made 19th-century London so distinct. The cast is very believable, especially Mr. Law as Dr. Hotson.. er, I mean, Watson, Dr. Watson and his fiancée, Mary, played capably by Kelly Reilly. There was suspense, sleight-of-hand, brushes with the supernatural… basically all the Holmes-ian hallmarks. And RDJ? Despite not being English, he was actually very good indeed. He may need to work on his "trademark" sarcasm, as I sometimes find it bleeds through all his characters and gives them an air of sameness; however, it wasn't too distracting or out-of-place, so I can forgive. A definite popcorn-muncher that's worth not only the price of admission but battling through the hordes of Avatar-watchers as well. 4 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Now Playing: It's Complicated

Rounding out the Musical/Comedy category: It's Complicated. You know my prejudices, poppets, so you know I did not expect much from this movie at all. I will admit to being mildly surprised. While still not a theatre indulgence, this is definitely a worthwhile rental. Streep and Baldwin are perfectly matched as the divorced Adlers; Martin (who seems to have gone a bit overboard in the Botox department) and Bell are good foils to their crazy.

I will admit: I laughed, I cringed, I talked back to the screen. Basically, the hallmarks of a good comedy. It was solidly acted and directed; I just cannot reconcile paying full movie-theatre prices for something just as easily enjoyed at home. At any rate: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Now Playing: Nine

Back on the quest! Next up: Nine.

I was actually quite looking forward to this movie (once I figured out that I hadn't already seen it). It wasn't just the sexy costumes, the singing and dancing, the Fosse-esque look of it all... no. It was primarily the great Daniel Day-Lewis. Is there anything this man cannot do? No. there isn't. He sells everything. It's hard to believe that it was less than two years ago that he chilled me to the bone and here he was again, warming me right back up. I think I may love him. Oh yeah: Judi Dench, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Penélope Cruz, Fergie, Sophia Loren and Kate Hudson co-star. They were all sexy, sophisticated, beautiful... all in all, one of those heart-pounding casts. Moulin who? Seriously - where the Rouge was campy and fun, Nine was passionate and full of prima donna, operatic drama. Sure, it's a musical. But it's a story first.

Now, let's talk a little about the singing and dancing, given the nomination. Holy moley. That Be Italian number was a show-stopper. I mean, my god, they even choreographed sand. Sand! I haven't seen anything like it. I haven't seen the Broadway version, but I'm sure I'd love it. Kidman, who usually does a passable signing job, was definitely out-sung by her counterparts, especially the buxom, vampish Fergie. We needed more of her.

All in all, a fabulously entertaining movie. I loved it. An enthusiastic 4 out of 5 stars.

Also watched this weekend: 500 Days of Summer. Ahh, romantic comedies… how I think they're such a waste of time. So, with that gross bias duly disclosed, let's talk about 5DoS: meh. Really. About the only good thing to come of it is Tom's (completely justifiable) breakdown where he yells "well, I get a say and I say we're a couple!". Although, why anyone would want to be in a couple with the aloof and cruel Summer Finn is beyond me. Sure, she has those creepy-huge blue eyes and is totally cute… but she's like an ice maiden, playing with poor Tom's heart and treating him like nothing more than a vibrator with a heartbeat all the while knowing how much he loves her. It's disgusting.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt's talent is wasted in this movie that will do nothing for his career; Zooey Deschanel plays the same part she plays in most of her movies (you know, shallow, unlikeable, etc.). Everything else isn't really worth commentary. 2 out of 5 stars.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Now Playing: Brothers

So, I get easily distracted from the quest... but it's not my fault! With five of the ten best movie noms not coming out until Christmas day (or later), I had to watch something. Enter, Brothers, an American remake of a Danish film. ...I may just watch the original.

I can see why the film doesn't get a nod, but the acting does; and while Tobey McGuire is definitely front and centre, I thought Jake Gyllenhaal and Natalie Portman were excellent as well. All very nuanced performances, with lots of wordless drama. Also, let's not discount the young, and very talented, Bailee Madison. Watch for Miss Madison in the future... there's this one scene at the dinner table, with Madison and McGuire staring at each other in a test wills was so tense, I started biting my nails. Literally. This little actress brings a maturity to this role that I haven't seen since a certain Miss Paquin stormed onto the movie scene.

I thought the ending let a LOT to be desired - I know life is open-ended and rarely do our stories end with neat little bows, but we should have gotten something else. Actually, now that I think about it, the whole movie felt as if something essential was missing: like ice cream with no salt, one can't really pinpoint what's wrong, except to say that something definitely is. A good rental, I think. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Now Playing: Avatar

Back on track with GG quest: Avatar. Clearly, this movie is technical wizardry. Clocking in at almost 150 minutes, it's all in 3D, has seamless CGI that actually made me forget that these weren't people in latex-makeup and was simply visually stunning. Movie of the Year? Hellz no.

This is the kind of movie that should have been released in the summer blockbuster season. It's an action movie, pure and simple. An amazingly beautiful action movie, but an action movie nonetheless. Lots of things go boom, the plot is thin and Michelle Rodriguez has a gun. See? Action movie.

And the plot is thin, cliché even. It's like every oppressor/oppressee movie ever made. Take a little Last Samurai, a little Dance with Wolves and a sprinkle of Blood Diamond, et voilà: Avatar. Movie of the Year? I repeat, hellz no.

What I wish had happened was that James Cameron had simply signed up to make the World of Warcraft movie. With only some minor tweaks (i.e. longer ears on the Navi, a different colour scheme for Pandora), this could have been night elves versus Terrans. Just look at the cover art for the game (left)! At the very least, I hope that the same tech team can be brought on board for WoW. I mean, if Avatar can get a MotY nod, then WoW, with its FAR superior plot and characters should be a shoe-in.

3.5 out of 5 stars.


Also watched two DVDs for the quest. I usually don't review DVDs, but these are special circumstances. So, brief reviews.

Hangover: really? I thought I Love You, Man was much funnier. There were only a few places I actually laughed out loud. The whole thing was totally over the top, relied on gross-out moments for humour and asked its audience to be as stupid as its characters (a hard feat). The revelatory moment was so silly (I kept asking why didn't he think of that in the first place? What new information has he gotten that triggers this brainwave?) The trailer was funnier. I wouldn't even rent it. 2 out of 5 stars.

Julie & Julia: I have been wanting to see this this it came out. I thought the way the movie bases itself on two books and manages to weave the two together into a cohesive whole was pretty compelling. Meryl Streep is genius... is there an accent that woman can't master? It was made all the more appropriate by the fact that I was doing my holiday baking while it was on. I liked it so much, I watched it twice. In the same night. 4 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Now Playing: Invictus

Slight detour from the Golden Globe quest. I wanted to see Invictus long before award season rolled around for a number of reasons: Nelson Mandela is one of my heroes; I like a good civil rights movie; I'm kinda in love with Morgan Freeman. Thus, this afternoon found me at one of my local theatres playing hooky from my own syllabus. It's not a total digression, though; Freeman is nominated in the Best Actor category.

You know what makes this movie so good? It's real. You know, real people, real wars, real history. It's no surprise that I think Mandela is one of the best humans. Ever. Francois says it best: "I'm thinking how a man can spend twenty-seven years in a cell and then come out ready to forgive the people who put him there." Yeah, that's kinda what makes his great. No wonder they let him have a say in casting himself.

But on to the movie. Having watched The Road and Precious, I feel like this year we're all dealing with the economy by watching (and needing?) feel-good movies that are all about triumph over adversity. Where The Road uses a could-still-happen post-apocalyptic world and Precious is all about a may-have-happened Harlem teenager, Invictus is about a really-did-happen sporting miracle that just happened to bind a wounded country together... if only for a moment. Freeman is his usual amazing self; yet, it's Damon's authentic performance that surprised me most. Add to it the plethora of smaller parts (from the township kids to Brenda to the security detail) that added tonnes of subtle layers without distracting from the central plot: winning the rugby World Cup. I may be biased, but I loved it. 4 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Now Playing: Precious

The road to Oscars begin with the Golden Globe nominations. When I took stock of how many movies I'd already seen that were nominated, I was pretty disappointed, in both the list and myself. I've only watched one, have nine to go and that doesn't include movies that are up for non-best-movie spots. Time to get started.

First up: Precious.

So, this isn't the feel-good movie of the year. Synopsis: barely literate sixteen-year-old, physically and emotionally abused by her mother, is suspended from school because she's pregnant for the second time by her father. I'll give you a moment to digest all that. ... okay? Precious, stoically played by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, is the kind of girl that breaks your heart. Like any sixteen-year-old, she too dreams of being rich and famous and in love and beloved. Her opening sequence, featuring a fairy godmother, grabbed me by throat and the film just didn't let go from there on in. I can't talk about the plot without saying that, like life, it has it ups and it has its downs. So, just when things look like they're getting better, they get worse; and just when you think you should just kill yourself, hope shines through.

Mo'Nique has a particularly standout performance (wait for Oscar nod and possible upset). I wouldn't necessarily say you have to run out and see this movie. But I will definitely recommend it for a rental. In fact, this movie may be best digested at home, without floodlights to break the stun lock that the film keeps you in. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

The Shadow of the Wind by Jorge Ruiz Zafón

I have taken far too long a time to finish The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.

Let's put all my cards on the table: I don't really read genre fiction or mysteries. TSoTW is like a fantasy mystery. So, yes, it took a while before I actually started reading it. Too bad for me. From the first line ("I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time" -p.5) to the last (Soon afterward, like figures made of steam, father and son disappear into the crowd of the Ramblas, their steps lost forever in the shadow of the wind - p.487), the novel basically drags you into "bewitched" Barcelona, and holds you captive, unable to look away from the grotesque story unfolding before you.

The story revolves around Daniel Sempere, a young boy who discovers that book at the tender age of ten. You know, that book: the one that makes you see the world in a whole new way, the one that you’ll hold every other books up to as a standard, the one that stays with you long after you’ve put it down. For Daniel, that book is The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax. In his quest to find every book that Carax has ever written, he stumbles upon a decades-old plot, sinister enough to involve the devil himself, which would see every last copy of Carax’s work incinerated. He is quickly pulled into a drama full of twists and turns, of clandestine meetings and dripping dark rooms, of love and betrayal and hatred.

Zafón’s writing simply oozes with heartbreak and longing. Reading it was like watching an intense Pasodoble full of passion and drama. This is the kind of book I wished I had saved for riding a train through the midnight countryside of Spain; helpfully, it includes a walking tour of all the places in the book, so when I do visit Barcelona, I feel, somehow, prepared for its tragically romantic façade.

Clocking in at just under five hundred pages, filled with dense writing, this is not a novel for the casual reader. It is, however, a novel that satisfies every appetite when finished. A high recommendation.

Now Playing: The Road

So, yesterday, in what seems to be a disturbing emerging Yuletide tradition, I inflicted The Road upon myself. Two years ago, almost to the day, I had finished the Cormac McCarthy's novel by the same name, and thought it would be a great movie. I hadn't realised it at the time, but the book would become my go to recommendation for reluctant male readers. Thus far, I have converted at least four non-readers and am satisfied with that stat.

On to the movie. Casting Viggo Mortensen was genius. I felt some trepidation when I read the rest of the cast; it was full of big names and I thought, "Uh oh, I hope this story doesn't become less about the Man and the Boy in order to accommodate all these egos." I shouldn't have worried. John Hillcoat focused his lens right where it needed to be: on Father and Son. But let's talk about those surprising, almost-cameo-like, appearances of familiar faces. Robert Duvall almost stole the movie as the Old Man (much like the Old Man in the novel almost stole the book); Charlize Theron did some of her best work in those abbreviated, often wordless, flashbacks; and I was thrilled to see Michael K. Williams, whom, as you know, I love and adore. Not to forget: Guy Pearce, Garrett Dillahunt, and (the wonderful) Molly Parker. The acting, suffice it to say, was stellar.

I am disappointed that it wasn't considered for a Golden Globe this year. This is one of the faithful adaptations to a novel I've seen in a long while, especially in terms of look and feel. Some scenes seemed to be plucked from my brain and splashed on to the screen. Out of necessity, there is much more dialogue in the movie than in the book; however, it certainly seems appropriate and well-done. The intensity of the novel is the one thing I really worried about: how would it translate? ...Boy, did it ever. I felt like I watching a horror movie (which, in many ways, is exactly what the book was like), complete with eye-and-ear-covering. It didn't help that I knew something bad was going to happen and that I just couldn't remember when. The scripting was great.

So I don't know what else you could want from a movie: good cast, good script, great cinematography... I recommend this one highly. 4 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

boom goes the dynamite

Save me from menopause!

Last night, like a dutiful daughter, I went to the 'rentals to continue the 29-year tradition of decorating on the first Saturday in December (and mark the twentieth anniversary of eating pizza while doing so). I showed up at 1930, arriving directly after the staff Children's party, with a change of clothes. I noticed that everything was basically done, with only a few tree trims and some rejigging of the North Pole (apparently, Dad did not remember the "story" and the elves were all just placed willy nilly!). So I did what I could to finish it off and at around 2145, the three of us sat down for pizza; LilBro had long fled the building. I have no idea how we got to this place in the conversation, but we were discussing trees when Mom says: "if it were up to me, I wouldn't even put up a tree!"
I say: "You mean, you wouldn't decorate for Christmas?"
She says: " I didn't say I wouldn't decorate; I said I wouldn't put up a tree."
I: "Why not? what's wrong with a tree?"
She: "A tree is for children. Everyone here is grown up now. There's no need for a tree."
I: "Where would you put the presents? and who just puts up decorations and no tree? I mean, you can put up a tree and no decorations, sure."
She: "oh, you've been to everyone's house? you know that no one ever puts up decorations with no tree?"
I: "No, but I've never seen a house decorated that had no tree. Besides, it's tradition. You might as well say we won't go to Midnight Mass anymore."
She: "Oh, so if we have no tree and presents then we don't go to Church? We can't just celebrate religiously?"
I: "I don't think Jesus would begrudge us a tree on his birthday. besides, it would be weird, to go to Midnight mass and then come home and just go to bed."
She: "So Midnight Mass isn't worth going to without gifts, is that it?"
I: "No, Midnight Mass and opening presents afterwards and calling family until 4am... that's tradition. That's what makes it special.
She: "Church is special on its own. I don't like that you think you go to Church just for the gifts."
I: "I didn't say that. I said that decorating and Midnight Mass and gifts and all that are all part of what makes Christmas special."
She: "Well, Christmas isn't about gifts!"

…What just happened? Christ, I don't care about gifts! I would rather spend the same money and buy myself stuff, but instead we do this whole exchange thing because it's tradition. And tradition is what binds families together. At least, our family. Honestly, I was pretty close to just going back to my own home after that stupid exchange. Why do we do anything, if not for tradition? Why do I go over to decorate a house I don't live in? Or bake cakes when I'm diabetic? If it wasn't for my Dad who just whispered, "Don't worry, your mom is a little cranky these days. Don't take it personally." I would have spent the night in the comfort of my own bed, TYVM.

God. Conversation with my mother has become like negotiating a minefield. Save me.

Friday, December 04, 2009


One day, a hundred or so years from now, someone will write a paper about the absurd statistics and anomalies that, with a century of hindsight, clearly paints a picture of what went wrong. Like how crime rates can be predicted by birth rates twenty years previous. On that day, in the twenty-second century, a studious little environmental ethics major (yes, they will have many of these, if we keep on our current course) will read an obscure report that says " home policy premiums have risen 5 to 20 per cent and that in 2009 almost 41 percent of the claims reported are water-related and that the cost of the average water-related claim is now almost $12,000 – up 25 per cent since 2007. Although not all claims made sought compensation, applying the $12,000 average claim cost to the 113 August 4th flooding claims results in a total cost of $1,356,000." They will read this and think "why didn't anyone see it? A rise in flood claims has got to mean a rise (even if minute) in water levels. Shouldn't they have thought of this as a harbinger of the much worse things to come? Shouldn't they have recognised this as a tipping point?" In a passionate outburst during her seminar, this student will express much of these observations and her colleagues will all shake their heads. Clearly, our ancestors were idiots, they'll think. And as they get ready to head to the pub to discuss ancient Marx theory and the Bush dictatorship, they'll don their masks as much for the oxygen as for the delightful side effect of covering the rank odour of sewage and algae that permeates the campus. After all, that's what happens when everything is at the new sea-level and old infrastructure now floats on top of stagnant sewage water. Yes, poppets, humans really are that dumb.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Now Playing: Ninja Assassin

I'm not sure what I expected from Ninja Assassin before I walked in. I knew the Wachowskis were involved, so I guess I expected some cool action (check). I had heard that the lead actor was all the rage in Korea, so I certainly expected some hotness (omg, check). With such a cheesy title, I definitely expected lots of blood (check check check). So, what do I rate a movie that meets (but does not exceed) my expectations? Hmm - a tough call this. It was a fun movie, for sure. The fight scenes were simply superb. AND a cameo by the keymaker didn't hurt. I guess it just wasn't revolutionary enough or philosophically mind-blowing enough or edge-of-your-seat enough to deserve any higher than a 3.5 out of 5 stars.