Thursday, February 26, 2009

My, my, how can I resist you?

Why did nobody tell me Colin Firth was in Mamma Mia!???!!! I had a great shock finding it in La Madre's pile of DVDs, right next to Passion of the Christ and Babe: Pig in the City.

(Come to think of it, when I mentioned karaoke last summer, she might have mentioned going to see the movie with some coworkers.... And the storyline involves mothers and daughters and is full of song and dance numbers about children growing up, so it's something La Madre would buy.)

It was pure ABBA cheese, with a corny plot, but it was awesome. (I'm on vacation, everything is awesome.) I was only vaguely familiar with the plot of the play: bride-to-be invites three of her mother's ex-lovers to her wedding, hoping one of them's her father and can walk her down the aisle. Everybody breaks into ABBA songs every few minutes. The story takes place on a paradisical Greek island, and the locals are the (haha) Greek chorus/backup vocals. The ending credits are disco numbers. It is, indeed, one of the gayest things ever.

Amanda Seyfried, who plays the bride, looks 12 years old, which was really kind of disturbing and jarring, especially since her childhood friends are clearly decades older. But Meryl Streep was absolutely brilliant and clearly had fun in her role. Pierce Brosnan singing was, frankly, hilarious.

And it had Colin Firth! Happiness in a DVD box.

Monday, February 16, 2009

We seek him here, we seek him there...

Unexpectedly hungover on Valentine's Day due to unexpected drinking with a classmate on Friday the 13th, I thought reading the book she lent me was appropriate.

Having seen several film versions, the story of The Scarlet Pimpernel is all too familiar: mysterious Englishman rescues French aristocrats from the guillotine during the Reign of Terror. I didn't know the books were a series, so the movies I've seen must combine several plotlines. Otherwise, the Jane Seymour version (which I've seen the most, and really love) was pretty faithful to most of the book.

The part it wasn't faithful to was actually a relief. Something about having the "cleverest woman in Europe" "humbled" by walking miles, being captured and gagged by French spies, and sitting helpless in a useless attempt to try and save the man she loves (he's so clever, he doesn't need her help) from the harm she put him in in the first place just didn't sit well with me. I know, I know, it was written as a play in 1905 and takes place in 1792, not exactly eras strong on female autonomy and empowerment. (There's a lot of over-the-top, overly romantic pining and swooning going on, too.) Also, I guessed the "trick" of the daring escape at the end of the book, which is very different from the movies. That detracted a bit from the excitement of it all.

Other than that, it was a good adventure story.

Monday, February 09, 2009

What dreams may come

I think I'm almost done reading all of Connie Willis' books, an obsession going back a year and a half that kick-started the newfound appreciation for science fiction. There's one more novel that's hard to track down, but other than that, I've read most of her stories.

Note to self: do not read anything that might even tangentially address the death of loved ones in a hospital, the week before the anniversary of one.


The plot of Passage: hospital-based medical researchers interview patients who have had near-death experiences (NDEs), and then test drugs that replicate them and map brainwave patterns, in an effort to explain what neurological function NDEs serve. Their lab observations and hypotheses compete directly with a resident celebrity author who believes NDEs are communications with angels and dead loved ones, conveying messages and even conferring psychic powers from the Other Side. It taking place in a hospital, there are many, many references to death and dying. Two other main characters are an ER nurse surrounded by an increasingly dangerous and violent patient pattern and a little girl waiting for a heart transplant who is obsessed with learning about high-casualty historical disasters. Foreshadowing, anyone?

Though not as despairing as Doomsday Book, Passage is still one of Willis' more depressing novels. I finished it today, since Intellectual Property class was cancelled, and ending up tearing up through the last half of the book. Geez. It's well-written, of course, and in Willis' quirky but cool way is full of odd trivia -- famous people's last words, random facts about the Titanic, Hindenburg, and Hatfield Circus tragedies.

In a way, this one book of Willis' combined ideas from a lot of her others: the sham spiritualists of Inside Job, the factoids and laboratory setting of Bellwether, the examination of the subconscious from Lincoln's Dreams... Part of me is still not willing to classify her as a sci-fi writer, though she's won a ton of Nebula and Hugo awards in the field. I guess it's because the themes of her most of her books are "normal" enough to be set in everyday and anyday scenarios . . . and also because I'm still clinging to my own stereotypes about what constitutes science fiction. It is also cute that most of her stories are somehow tied to the Denver area, even the ones that take place in alternate histories. Kind of like how Michael Moore always, somehow, manages to connect his documentaries back to Flint. (I, for one, am always partial to the hometown tip-o'-the-hat.)

Good book, just wasn't expecting the heavy subject matter.

Makes trademark law seem so lighthearted!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Form and function

It sucks to have both the grad student version of senioritis and the busiest semester ever. The result is a sort of binge-and-purge of late nights reading exhausting case studies and afternoons goofing off online. Throughout the week, it's a mad scramble to read and write assignments, and review material for exam study group sessions. Also, it does not help that two classes are heavy on Supreme Court decisions, which can be unnecessarily verbose.

Gods and Monsters somehow ended up in my Netflix queue. I'm not the biggest horror film junkie or early-film buff, so I'd never heard of James Whale. Apparently the story was loosely based on the life of the early Frankenstein films' director, who was also openly gay.

The movie takes place in the '50s, with Ian McKellen as the aging legendary director and Brendan Fraser as his gardener who reluctantly agrees to pose for one of Whale's personal projects.

The beauty of the film lies in its patchwork of scenes -- there are flashbacks to Whale's childhood, his wartime experiences, the heights of his early career. Then there are the nightmarish scenes of shadowy figures, appropriate both for conveying the imaginative capabilities of a horror film director and for a film about confronting the horrors of the one's history, existence, and future. It's a beautiful, if depressing, tribute to the hazy mirror that films in general hold to the human experience.

To counter that heavy blow (and to avoid homework), I finally watched Wedding Crashers. The premise is well known: two commitment-phobic buddies crash weddings to pick up chicks; one of them eventually falls for a girl. Most of the movie had promise -- it was funny and had quirky, bizarre characters and situations. I was disappointed in the ending, though: it was too quickly wrapped up with the predictable dramatic scene of every romantic comedy. (One of the many, many reasons I hate romantic comedies, incidentally. Why does there always have to be a very public rejection and a very public reunion, one or both of which is frequently at a wedding? It's a little annoying.) At any rate, the movie is hilarious overall.

Finally, to pretend I was sort of getting work done, I read The Cheese Monkeys: A Novel in Two Semesters, which came to my attention while browsing the local indy bookstore's sale table.

I didn't love it. Didn't hate it either, it just didn't captivate me. I know Chip Kidd is supposed to be some kind of graphics design genius, but I wasn't impressed by his writing. There were sentences here and there that struck me as funny or unique, but ultimately not memorable.

The story itself is kind of crap, and fairly unoriginal: boy goes off to college, meets hot but disturbed alternative artist chick, and together they wisecrack their way through class with a professor intent on crushing their souls. But two things save the book: first, the tangents about the nature and role of graphics design in American culture. Those were succinctly but artistically-phrased insights into art as mediator, art as power, art as product. Unfortunately, there aren't enough of them, and there's way too much pontificating by the characters on artistic conventions and misplaceed fame. (How hip, to be un-hip. But I get bored with and easily annoyed by that kind of pretention....) I was also not a fan of the anachronisms; the story takes place in 1958, but there are product references that are out of place.

Lastly (and appropriately), the book cover itself is fun. The front cover is a rhebus; the title pages are chopped off at various points. And the sides of the book have phrases written on them that aren't readable until the book is opened. At first, I thought someone had written illegibly on the book, until I started reading and then happened to look at the sides; there are two different phrases superimposed, one read while holding the book properly and the other holding it upside down, which was why it looked like some stoned student had scribbled on the side.

It was pretty cool.

I can pretend I was doing homework by figuring out which parts of it are copyrightable, and where exactly the idea/expression dichotomony can be determined by statute....