Monday, March 30, 2009

A bump on the head

Oh yes, the veg-out continues. I've figured out I'm more productive if I alternate activities: Hulu, sort through Census data, Netflix, read one scholarly article, meet up with friends, research state policies, Boggle online, work on paper outline, Scrabble online, read about survey methods, meet up with friends, etc. . . .

I realize that The Squid and the Whale got rave reviews, but I found it boring. The portrait itself was believable and tragic -- a couple divorces, and their kids become part of the battle terrain as well as side-takers on it. All the snide, under-the-breath comments that people make about family members or exes were very real and depicted very succinctly. But the movie was just that: people being cruel to each other. There was no before or after, and very little sense of why else it was tragic.

We nev
er saw the family when it was supposedly happy, so I didn't find myself caring all that much when it became fractured. Jeff Daniels (though he looked uncannily like my father, with his beard) was great as the arrogant literature professor; but then again he was pretty arrogant, so I found it hard to empathize. Likewise with the eldest son, who is only just learning to navigate a relationship. Laura Linney was okay as an up-and-coming writer whose looming success threatens the ego of her famous ex-husband. But the youngest son was the only one of the family that evoked any sympathy from me: in trying to be fair to all of his loved ones, he ends up hiding his own suffering and acting out in various self-destructive ways.

Also, I'm kind of not a fan of films where the title has to be explained in a monologue towards the end of the film itself. It reads like a bad short story assigned for a high school class. ("In the story, what does the squid represent? The whale?") Most of the time, I think subtly is the best approach. It's better if viewers aren't smacked on the head with it.

Last weekend, Xtina found out that someone she knew was in Northeastern's production of The Vagina Monologues, and we managed to book it across Boston in a record 45 minutes to buy tickets and get seats. It's always a good show, and I hadn't seen it in a few years. It's also one of those shows that I think is best seen as a college or community theatre production (the last time I saw it was an all-Asian American cast). Somehow the subject matter, both raising awareness about violence against women and celebrating female sexuality, are more poignant and personal that way.

A coworker suggested Eat Drink Man Woman. I hadn't realized it's the same plot as Tortilla Soup (also in my queue): widower chef with three daughters deals with their problems as well as his own aging and loneliness. I got SO HUNGRY watching the endless scenes of Chinese food being prepared and served and eaten. The story itself was generally predictable but cute; it was obvious which men, if any, the sisters would marry or hook up with. And my coworker gave away who the father ends up remarrying, so that wasn't a surprise either. Still, it was cute. And unlike Squid, the food metaphors didn't have to be explained.

Lastly, Living in Oblivion. Films about the film industry always seem like inside jokes I'm not quite allowed to get. But this one worked! Steve Buscemi is an indy film director trying to make a movie on a shoestring budget. He is perpetually thwarted by vain or frustrated actors and the bizarre mishaps that arise from a cheap set.

I liked the dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream sequences. It lent another layer of dissection to the notion that the film industry is a "dream factory" where both our fantasies and fears are embodied.

And again, it didn' t smack the viewer over the head with anything.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Brave old worlds

In the ongoing state of denial about the economy and student debt, I figured a good "first" would be going to see a type of show I've never seen before, while supporting a friend. So I went to see one of The Common Man's old roomies in a figure skating exhibition. It featured all skill levels, and was intergenerational, free, and local. Plus I got to unabashedly sing along to the rockin' numbers during some of the routines. (It's MIT, I didn't look weird or socially awkward or out of place at all...)

Then, because Netflix Online Viewing is also free, I watched St. Elmo's Fire.
I tend to hate high school graduation coming-of-age tales, so I appreciated the fact that St. Elmo's Fire was not a teenybopper flick. And though it overly glorified "college days" to the point of extreme annoyance, overall I thought it did a good job of covering the emotional transition out of the sheltered, privileged life on a small liberal arts campus (or university, in this case, since the characters are all recent Georgetown alumni).

Problem was, I had problems sympathizing with the characters' quarterlife crises and coping with the "real world". Maybe nine years out it's just hard to relate!

The other fascinating thing was watching it twenty years later, when women have made significant (though as yet incomplete) strides in terms of careers and financial independence. The main struggles of the female characters
involve being valued for choosing to work and not get married. And there were relatively positive references to gays and being gay! For the mid-80s, I think both of those issues were big. Also, the movie scored points for having an open ending: normally it irritates me if there's no resolution, but I make exceptions for vaguely existential situations where the uncertainties of life are the resolution, not the particular scenarios of the film.

Switching saints . . . The Difficult Saint was Book Six of Sharan Newman's medieval mystery series to which I've become addicted. After returning from Scotland, our feisty, intelligent twelfth-century heroine travels to what would be present-day Germany, to prove her sister innocent of murder charges.

In Book Five, Newman shocked her readers (okay fine, just me) with a horribly violent ending. In Book Six, she kills off one sympathetic character and has yet another horrible thing happen to another main one.
She's also been slowly building up a scene for violent (and historical) anti-semitic riots, and in the sixth book it all finally explodes. In fair Trier, where we lay our scene. Between anti-semitic mobs, warring German barons, and scheming Church officials, there's a murder mystery to be solved.

Mysteries are always good escapist tools for avoiding digging through Census statistics! As are fairy tales, quite literally...

I read The Ordinary Princess back in middle school when I read all of M.M. Kaye's books. (This is her one children's story; the rest are murder mysteries or historical fiction.) Twenty years later, I still love it. It's a cute, short tale about a princess who is cursed by her fairy godmother to be "ordinary", and so goes largely unnoticed by her kingdom and potential suitors. She is, however, free to be herself.

It's no secret that I typically despise fairy tales because of their gender dynamics. This book isn't at all a feminist retelling; indeed, it does nothing to challenge either the classist or heteronormative assumptions about fairy tales, princesses, or marriage in general. But it's cute. Like the movie I started the weekend with, it had slightly daring ideas for its time.

Speaking of the times ... Census data are calling.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Systems analysis

A friend posted this (where else?) on Facebook. As I'm starting to dig through all the research for my final final final graduate paper ever (WOOT), which focuses on various economic disparities related to digital access, I found it hilarious.

(pictures for sad children -- more here)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

¡Fiesta Trio!

Neffy #2 arrived on Tuesday! He was 7 lbs, 9 oz and 20" long.

(Mi Hermana's C section itself went well, but she reacted badly to the morphine, apparently... and the new neffy had to spend his first few hours in the ICU. They're both fine now, and will leave the hospital tomorrow.)

As if the Ping├╝inita didn't already look like Dora the Explorer (as well as a penguin), now she has a baby brother to complete the cartoon portrait!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Remotely controlled

I spent the last week of spring break taking recuperative, narcotic-induced naps; in between, I sorted through La Madre's very eclectic DVD collection.

The Italian was a Russian film, a cute but rather sad tale about an orphan who discovers his birth mother is alive and runs away from his orphanage to find her. He is then chased by the orphanage directors and adoption agency representatives, who all want to make a lot of money by adopting him off to an Italian couple. Hence the title.

It probably sounds like a comedy. It is not. That's all I have to say about that. But it's cute, in its own depressing sort of way.

Then, because I knew not what I did and can probably legitimately blame it on the drugs, I watched Evan Almighty. To further unjustify my actions, I thought it was Bruce Almighty. (Took me fifteen minutes before realizing they were two totally different movies, though Evan is apparently the sequel to Bruce.)

It was cute. Ridiculous, but cute.
It would totally have made Sunday School fun twenty years ago (also, I have no doubt it is being shown in various houses of worship nationwide). Steve Carell is a modern Noah, a newly elected Congressman (coded as Republican) who is told by God (who else but Morgan Freeman?) to build an ark for a coming flood. His family and fellow politicians laugh at him, of course, and in typical Carell fashion there are bizarre antics. But the flood is actually (spoiler alert!) the result of greedy, irresponsible corporate actions condoned by greedy, irresponsible Washington Beltway insiders.

I liked the environmental stewardship message; I was vaguely uncomfortable with the message about religion and government overlapping so comfortably, especially at God's behest. Also, the flood scenes with no significant damage to DC buildings or human life were a little unbelievable. It's all in good fun, though. Great movie for kids!

The Pursuit of Happyness was painful to watch. Whatever true story it was based on is, of course, an amazing one. But the way it translated to the screen made it seem as if it could be everyone's story, too.

Will Smith plays a broke, struggling salesman who perseveres and by the sweat of his brow joins the ranks of the uber-successful. He starts out in dire straits as it is, then keeps shooting for a competitive internship at a prestigious investment firm, for a 1-in-20 chance of landing a high-paid position. Like Job, every bad thing imaginable happens to him along the way, but he never loses sight of his goal. His wife leaves, his landlord throws him out, he becomes homeless, his kid's child care provider turns out to be no good, he loses a shoe in one scene ... Complete with footage of Reagan speeches, the film also juxtaposes lines outside homeless shelters with the luxurious of investment bankers. Look! Will Smith works hard and makes it -- everybody else should, too! Ignore all the structural and moral problems with an economic and social policy based only on notions of complete self-reliance! This story can be the rule, not the exception!

It was enough to inspire me to wean myself from the highly addictive drug regimen so I could go outside and play and see peeps before I left. All I had to do was pull myself up by...

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A person's a person, no matter how small

Lesson learned the hard way #1763: hyperventilation is a scary, scary thing, especially when your hands and face go stiff and numb, and even if you can hear the fire department medics' sirens coming five blocks away from the very popular neighborhood farmers' market where you are having a very public anxiety attack.

Now heavily sedated after a trip to the ER, I am left with nothing to do but sleep and watch DVDs, get through a stack of books, and be a human jungle gym for the neffy.

Outpassage was very, very, very bad sci-fi. The only reason I finished reading it was because I held out hope it would get better. It didn't. It was so bad, I don't want to grant it any legitimacy by summarizing it. The idiot plot involving aliens as humans' religious salvation and a social revolution with no defined goals. Arrrgh. Anyways....

After much hype, The Queen was a bit of a disappointment. It was certainly good, and Helen Mirren was brilliant in her portrayal of the Queen in the week immediately following the death of Princess Diana. Michael Sheen was equally as good as the newly-elected Tony Blair (though I couldn't stop thinking of The Daily Show interview where Jon Stewart slammed the real Blair for supporting Bush in the Iraq war). James Cromwell was also a natural double for Prince Philip.

The film focused more on the role of the monarchy in modern Britain and the interplay between Blair and the Queen. Whether or not any of the conversations or relationships depicted in the film were real or accurate is left to the imagination and possibly state secrecy. As with many movies made about events during its audience's lifetime, I kept thinking "I remember that!" and it was a little weird having cinematic liberties intrude into my own memories. And the metaphor of the stag the Queen keeps encountering in the Highlands is a tad obvious. But overall, the movie is good.

From one royal family to another, Curse of the Golden Flower was a fictitious story about a scandalous coup inside the Royal Palace, involving a bizzare, almost Hamlet-esque, uh, fall of the house of Usher. If I may mix my literary references. It is kind of a disturbing tale of glorified domestic violence: Emperor and Empress plot against each other, three princes are rivals for the throne, and there are all kinds of unknown incestuous situations happening behind the veiled rooms of the Forbidden City.

The storyline isn't all that compelling. But like other Zhang Yimou films, this one had all the wonderfully vivid colors and visual contrasts, as well as the neat martial arts choreography and battle sequences. The golds, reds, blacks, greens, and blues were magnificent.

There was also a lot of cleavage in the ladies' costumes (I do not remember this from Hero or House of Flying Daggers... but it made the scenes at court somehow more distracting and reminiscent more of 18th-century France.)

Happier fare was very much needed after that bloodbath.

Horton Hears a Who used to be one of my favorite Dr. Seuss books.
Obviously, the 80-minute cartoon added greatly to a twenty-page book (there was also a weird anime breakdown midway through the film). I don't recall many of the specific details, but some of the subplots didn't ring a bell, though they fit in with the theme that "Everybody counts." Horton, our favorite elephant jungle resident, hears the small village of Who on a tiny clover plant, and goes to great lengths to get the rest of the jungle to believe him and not destroy the ecosystem -- I mean, the tiny world that exists.

Also, all of Whoville crying "We're here" to get Horton's cohorts to realize they exist couldn't help but be completed with "We're queer!" I had to do it, it was irresistible.

Qualifying exams? What qualifying exams?