Taking advice from the media: How to make friends

I'm kind of a shy person, so I have to make myself make friends which is kind of an awkward process. But since tomorrow is the start of a new school year and my first year in my program, I decided to pick up some tips from movies and television. Here 9 ways I found to make friends:

1. Join a group activity like a sport. (Bend it Like Beckham)

2. Help out at a party. (Dirty Dancing)

3. Involve a stranger in an elaborate plan to impress a woman or a man. (How I Met Your Mother)

4. Find another socially awkward person to have fun with away from a large group of people. (Little Women)

5. Ask a person for help with something they do especially well, like sneaking contraband items into prison. (The Shawshank Redemption)

6. Work with someone on a mutually noble cause. (Casablanca)

7. Make fun of a classmate during lecture. (Kal Ho Naa Ho)

8. Force conversation on a seatmate while riding public transportation. (Sliding Doors)

9. Shock a new acquaintance into doing something outlandish and fun such as a three-legged race. (Anne of Green Gables)


The Audacity of Rock: Part 28

Let's hear it from the kids.

The addition of children into a song can either be creepy or endearing. Those are the only two results.

"Another Brick in the Wall Part 2" by Pink Floyd (1979)

Army of singing anarchist children: both awesome and terrifying.

"Count it Off" by the Saturday Knights (2009)

Kids singing the chorus of a horn-heavy rap song: adorable!


1. What are other songs that feature small children?
1. Muppet-like puppets: always great?
2. How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?


Speaking of 90s Disney Channel and FlashForward

The TV series Flash Forward starring Ben Foster and Jewel Staite.

I knew I was missing a pop culture connection somewhere.


FlashForward looks to be Lost's less awesome little brother. It's about the world after a global 2-minute blackout by every one sees the future in 6 months. It has a decent premise to build a mystery off of. Pilot episodes are usually a little rough, so if they up their dialogue from cliche-disaster-flick to people-with-personality from here on out, the show could be pretty good.

However, I'm willing to stick around for two reasons:

1. Joseph Fiennes. Look here and here for reasons I've already explained my love for him. Although he's working with an American accent in this, so it puts a little damper on my enthusiasm, especially since he's saying stuff like "I was drinking again. The anxiety, the shame, it was all back." Like I said, the dialogue needs to improve, so hopefully the writers got their expository wiggles out so Joe can work his magic.

2. LEE THOMPSON YOUNG. If you're all, "Who?" you did not grow up on late-90s Disney Channel. He played teen star Jett Jackson on The Famous Jett Jackson trying to live a normal life. This was time when Disney had some fairly low-key programming that didn't have laugh tracks or obnoxious girls named Lizzie McGuire. JONAS, The Suite Life with Zack and Cody, Sonny with a Chance* are pale comparisons of their more awesome predecessor.

Remember this, guys?

Anyway, he made an appearance on the pilot episode of FlashForward. He doesn't seem to be in the main cast, but I hope to see more of him on the show anyway. Because his eyes are still dreamy.


*I nanny a 4th grader, okay?


Some great beards 3

Because facial hair is always appreciated here:

1. Robert Redford in Jeremiah Johnson. His beard is in full-grizzled mode at this point.

2. John Corbett in Northern Exposure as Chris "in the morning" Stevens. He's waxing philosophical about Maggie's burned down house.
Thinking is hot.

3. Josh Radner rocking a break-up beard as Ted on How I Met Your Mother. There was no high-five reciprocation.

4. So Joseph Fiennes doesn't have a complete beard in Shakespeare in Love, but I'm saying it's scruffy enough to count.
Also, he is quite pretty, thoughtfully holding the quill like that.

5. A youngish (by which I mean a 43-year-old) Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Treves in The Elephant Man. Not a bad look, Mr. Hopkins. Not bad at all.


The Audacity of Rock: Part 27

Let me negate your great instrumentals with my voice.

Some people's voices inexplicably drive me crazy, as in make me want to drive a knitting needle through my tympanic membrane so I no longer have to listen to how much they're destroying a perfectly good song. While I realize a vocalist is a huge part of a band's identity, sometimes I can't help wondering if I would like a band better with a different lead singer.

"How Soon is Now" The Smiths (1984)

Morrissey sings so far back in his throat, he can only etch out some pansy, poorly enunciated drivel. In "How Soon is Now," the train-like sounds, distorted guitar lick, and heavy drums could be gritty and awesome, but instead get diluted by a limited vocalist.

Luckily, Love Spit Love took a crack at it in 1995 and brought some grit to the haunting melody.

This version was also the theme song for Charmed. This might explain the accompanying pictures.

"Cath..." Death Cab for Cutie (2008)

I cannot even express my disdain for Death Cab for Cutie. I actually don't mind their music...until Benjamin Gibbard's voice comes in. He's like the vocal equivalent to a wall lined with egg cartons: he just absorbs any resonance the music might have. His scoopy, barely singing style, with a muppet-like love of holding out the second half of a dipthong and/or the last consonant phoneme, cuts off any chance his voice will carry. It makes me so incredibly mad because it makes his bands' songs suck. AAARRRGGGH!

You know what makes me like this song? This dude named Shawn's 2008 cover on YouTube. A complete improvement because the vocals resonate. It's like he's actually singing or something:


1. Am I alone in my opinion of these bands?
2. Which vocalists ruin bands for you?


Coolest Old Man

Burt Munro, as played by Anthony Hopkins in The World's Fastest Indian (2005).
Motorcycle, New Zealand, drag queen, road trip, peeing on lemon trees, chutzpah.


Much Ado About Nothing

In recent years, I have taken to repeatedly viewing Kenneth Branagh's 1993 film adaptation Much Ado About Nothing. It's as close to romantic comedy perfection as possible. Taking place in Italy, a household containing the patriarch Leonato (Richard Briers), his innocent and lovely daughter Hero (Kate Beckinsale), Hero's maidservant Margaret (Imelda Saunton), and Hero's saucy and staunchly single cousin Beatrice (Emma Thompson). They are visited by some soldiers fresh from war, the prince Don Pedro (Denzel Washington), the young and lovelorn Claudio (Robert Sean Leonard), the joking and bachelorific Benedick (Kenneth Branagh), and Don Pedro's bastard brother (literally and figuratively) Don John (Keanu Reeves). So pretty much everyone ever is in this movie.

Anyway, the plot is that Claudio wins the love of Hero through the kindly Don Pedro (7th grade style). To kill time in the week interrum before they marry, Don Pedro proposes a plan to get Beatrice and Benedick together. Awesome hijinks ensue. But then Don John is still all bitter about his life situation and jealous about Claudio, so he plans to ruin the wedding. Things get real at the wedding (this is a romcom!), and eventually a death is faked (thanks, Shakespearean priest!). Michael Keaton plays the gross and tedious Dogberry who ends up clearing up the whole misunderstanding, and then there is a celebratory dance!

The overarching story line doesn't interest me so much as the fun Beatrice/Benedick plot. They start off bickering and disagreeing in a fun witty banter sort of way. They exchange insults, and don't hide their dislike for each other. At the masked party (of course), it's revealed that Beatrice and Benedick have some sort of past where Benedick didn't quite love Beatrice as much as she loved him. Apparently things have been hilariously antagonistic ever since. Anway, the rest of the gathering conspires to get them to fall in love. They do this by making sure they are overheard in turn by Benedick and Beatrice talking about how much the other loves them, but how they're too proud to reciprocate. B&B's responses are to prove the conspirators wrong be requiting the love.

How quickly Don Pedro bounces back from Beatrice's refusal. And how awesome his plan is.

As evidenced by his many cinematic forays into the Bard's works, Branagh is one of the few actors that give Shakespearean speech prosody and nuance that sounds familiar to modern audiences. It's really easy to start zoning out when actors start delivering lines in a lovely cadence that shows off the iambic meter, but tends to blur all the words together. But Mr. Branagh actually delivers the lines as if he's expressing the ideas rather than just the beauty of how they are expressed. And Thompson is a very close second in this adaptation, being so sassy with her words.

In fact, the whole cast does a nice job of expressing things in a more conversational way. And as ridiculous as it is to cast Keanu Reeves in Shakespeare, he does an adequate job, mostly in the form of keeping an angry face to match his angry beard. He gets the general ideas across, and does much better when he's not soliloquizing. But overall, the performances are a success.

I could keep extolling the virtues of this movie, including the vibrant lighting and romantic score, but I want to get to the last ShakespeaRe-told adaptation because it was a fabulous.

It starts out with a hint at the backstory between Beatrice and Benedick, with Beatrice (Sarah Parish) being stood up on a date while Benedick (Damian Lewis) hits the road out of town. The story then picks up 3 years later. Beatrice is a local news anchor. Here we meet fair Hero (Billie Piper) and Claude (Tom Ellis) and see their romance start up. But Beatrice's skeevy co-anchor has a bad fall, so Leonard (Martin Jarvis), the boss, decides to bring a former anchor, Benedick, back along with a former director, Peter (Michael Smiley). Also working at the studio is Don (Derek Riddell), a slightly pathetic man who's just been left by his wife and carries a large torch for Hero.

It's actually a fairly faithful adaptation, at least in feeling. Slight changes include the reason Beatrice and Benedick are fooled into loving each other (for the peace of mind of every one who has to work with the bickering pair), simplifying the plot to ruin Claude and Hero's wedding (it's just Don being jealous), cutting down the soldier/security guard parts, and making the ending choices by Hero more realistic and empowering to modern audiences.

When Beatrice "mistakes" Benedick for Claude at the welcome party (in fancy dress of course). Pretty great modern translation, no?

But in the end it's always about Beatrice and Benedick. Sarah Parish is wonderful, playing Beatrice as smart and biting; I do so enjoy seeing sassy women onscreen. And I got a huge kick out of seeing Captain Winters be a sort of sleazy flirt with bad facial hair. Seeing Damian Lewis say "I am horribly in love with her" whilst sliding against a wall makes my life. As made-for-tv contrived the romance is, it comes off well. There are good moments before they fall for each other (thanks to scheming coworkers) that show that they have some things in common, so their liking each other isn't completely out of nowhere. And I just adore a good hate-turned-to-love story.

Anyway, it's worth investigating if you love romantic-comedies as much as I do. Both the 1993 and 2005 version are on YouTube here and here. Enjoy. Watch them back-to-back. You won't regret it.

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Welcome back to unofficial Shakespeare week. Let's talk about A Midsummer Night's Dream. It's about 1000 kinds of ridiculous: fairies, broken hearts, love potion, a donkey-man, and a play within a play. But how does one make it more ridiculous?

1. Mismatch male and female costumes. Put the men in vaguely period attire and attach swords. But the women, they must sport 60s dresses with mid-thigh hems and a pair of boots. Also, they must also do nothing with their hair that would be anything but mod.

2. The fairies, let's make them dark green and mostly nude. Except for the children. They can have some clothes.

3. And fairies must move all magically...pray, let's speed up the film slightly and then proceed to record the speech in post-production, but obviously not quite match up the lips. In fact, let's do that to all the speech.

4. And you know what would give it that extra magical feel? Film it on location in a dark, dank forest with extra mud. That way, everything will be the same brown and dark green color.

5. And let's match this minuscule production design budget with world class actors of the Royal Shakespeare Company and get Peter Hall to direct it.

Thus came about the 1968 television adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream. It's mostly successful at being entertaining, seeing as how legit actors are delivering their lines like they know what they're saying. It also helps that much of the dialogue is spoken swiftly (one of the benefits of a Shakespeare comedy over a tragedy as they're not trying to make things important by how long it takes them to say something).

Plus, did I mention Judi Dench plays the mostly nude Queen of the Fairies and Helen Mirren is Hermia? Although I believe both of them are upstaged by the unsettling yet awesomely intense performance by Ian Richardson as Oberon the King of the Fairies. Honestly, it's like he was the inspiration for Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka, it is that weird/great.

I'm not sure I can say anything else about how incredible this production is. Do yourself a favor and just watch some highlights of Judi Dench (but look out for Ian Richardson's eyes and the psychedelic editing job):

I hope your brain didn't just explode because now I'm going to talk about the pretty awful (and not in a fun psychedelic way) ShakespeaRe-told version. It's something I would expect to see on ABC Family. I'm not even kidding when I tell you I would rather watch My Fake Fiance again because at least Melissa Joan Hart and Joey Lawerance know they're in a crappy made for TV movie and are fully embracing the tragedy that their respective careers have become (you can see it in their eyes).

The updated version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, however, fails to be whimsical and fun. It kind of loses the magic in all its modernity. The night takes place at a holiday camp in which an engagement is broken off and then lovers are mixed up by love juice (oh, Puck). One odd choice is having the fairies and the mortals interact. Well the father and Oberon do at least, which leads to a superfluous and dorky plot line about bringing the romance back into a long marriage that I guess replaces the play within a play at the end.

Let's all just admit that Oberon is the best part of any adaptation. This time Lennie James got to rock this role.

Helena (Michelle Bonnard) comes off the best in this adaptation because she's less desperate and more sympathetically in love with James (William Ash in the updated Demetrius role). Although taking Helena seriously makes things much more cheesy than outrageously funny. This version also allowed me to see my favorite mambo dancing footballer and mistaken identity brother to the screen (William Ash and Rupert Evans), neither of which are that great of actors, they're mostly just nice to look at. Also, having the donkey-ified dude (Johnny Vegas) do a bad imitation of David Brent's awful/awkard dance from season 2 episode 5 of The Office somehow got a laugh out of me, it was so meta.

Final word: Find the 1968 version on Netflix instant play now. If you're up for it, the Re-told version is on there, too, but I'd probably watch to find My Fake Fiance first. (Found here. You're welcome)



Watching a filmed stage productions is usually pretty boring (musicals being a pretty consistent exception). Rarely do the performances transcend the screen without the aid of editing, music, sets, anything cinematic. I might as well just listen to an audio recording; and in the case of Shakespeare, listening to a recording is almost just as good since settings and actions are usually vocalized anyway.

I braved such an adaption of Macbeth because I had never seen it and I wanted to watch it online. The 1983 version part of a "Tragedies of Shakespeare" series is okay in the sense that it gave me a good idea of the story (with the aid of sparknotes) and I got to hear all the oft repeated lines that are used so often for other things ("sound and fury"--cochlear implants? "Double, double, toil and trouble"--isn't that an Olsen twins movie? "the weird sisters"--magical Billy Idolesque rock?). Anyway, the Scottish play is pretty creepy, in a power-hungry-ill-gotten-gains-mystical sort of way, and I'm sure if I'd watched a more cinematic version I would have enjoyed it more.

But I loved the ShakespeaRe-told version because it visualized a lot of what Shakespeare revealed with long speeches. In other words, it was a more accessible version for film. And instead of the position as king being the incentive for murder, it's the chance to be the top chef at a 3 star restaurant. James MacAvoy plays Joe Macbeth, a chef whose hard work is overshadowed by his employer Duncan Docherty (who he only refers to as the Scottish Chef, haha). One night, Joe and his fellow chefriend Billy Banquo (Joseph Millson) encounter a trio of garbage men who predict Joe's success as head of the restaurant, but also Billy's son's eventual inheritance of it all.

After Joe recalls the experience to his wife Ella (Keeley Hawes), she ends up convincing Joe that the only way that he'll gain his success is by murdering Duncan (obvs) by using his practiced killing skills as a chef with a knife. Things spiral out of control from there.

But what really pulled things off (besides the presence of James MacAvoy and Richard Armitage(!) as Macduff) was the creepy visuals. Joe starts seeing blood everywhere, most disturbingly the water of his wife's shower. And his wife's guilt is shown in how she repeatedly washes her hands and the steadiness (or lack thereof) of her hand as she applies make-up. Somehow this all worked together. I was impressed by how dark a made for TV movie could be. I also thinks this is a great introduction to the story for anyone unfamiliar, although being able to catch some of the references makes it fun to watch even for those who know the play well.

You can find it on YouTube or Netflix instant play.


The Taming of the Shrew

The Taming of the Shrew is one of Shakespeare's most ridiculous plays. I read part of it when I was a in a history of performance class as part of this heinous dramaturgy project that later got aborted. I never finished it, mostly out of the laziness of my heart, but also because I find reading Shakespeare plays really boring. Seeing a good production, however, is fun.

But The Taming of the Shrew is probably best seen live. I've never had that pleasure, but the play just cries for an audience to goad on the cruelty of both Katherina and Petruchio.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton spar in the 1967 film version of The Taming of the Shrew sporting great cleavage and a great beard, respectively.

I'm all for mutual insults. In fact, that's the backbone of many great romantic comedies (see: It Happened One Night, When Harry Met Sally). However, The Shrew takes a much discussed misogynist turn in which Katherina is "tamed" by physical, mental, and emotional torture by Petruchio. I can see that maybe being entertaining if done in a very joking and brash way since Petruchio seems to get genuine amusement out of the whole situation.

Physical domination: eeeeh. Please also note Elizabeth Taylor's intense eye shadow.

However, in a more faithful adaptation of the play seems to require a sudden and unexplained submission to by Katherina to her somewhat lunatic husband Petruchio. In that way, I wasn't quite sure I found Franco Zeffirelli's 1967 film version that amusing so much as mildly disturbing. I think there needed to be a bit more farce for it to be enjoyable, which the oft cut framing device seems to provide.

Anyway, the moral of the story is that it's a fairly outdated play that has always been a little creepy. However, the updated version part of the BBC's ShakespeaRe-told* in 2005 gives enough motivation behind both Katherine and Petruchio.

I find myself attracted to Rufus Sewell in his BAFTA nominated role as Petruchio. Mostly when he says "I want you to have all my babies." But I'm also impressed by how well he wears those boots on his wedding day.

Katherine (the pocked sized Shirley Henderson) is a politician who's goals to move up the ranks are threatened by her frighteningly temper and shrill yelling. Petruchio (Rufus "I'm actually quite endearing" Sewell) seems to have genuine affection for Katherine (in addition to his gold digging which he's rather upfront about), and his lunatic antics seem to be his crazy way to win her over.

That's about a foot difference in height. I find that endearing.

Plus, the ending speech where a woman's duties to her husband are enumerated are also applied to a man to his wife, thus making things more whimsical and less sexist. Although it's still odd.

I think I may be in love with this adaptation. Here's a little taste when our lid finds his pot:

Right? It's just ludicrously cheesy, but made for TV in Britain seems so much classier, right?

End notes: I didn't mention the Bianca and her many suitors storyline, but that's mostly because it's rather dull. Who wants to hear about the popular girl? Not me, unless you make her likable, like in the teen adaptation 10 Things I Hate About You (also, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt being one of the suitors makes that plot more endearing exponentially).

And for the curious both the 1967 and 2005 versions are found on YouTube here and here. Enjoy.


Judging Amy

One of my favorite procedurals, Judging Amy, still isn't released on DVD. This makes me sad. I was possibly the only person in my high school who watched this show religiously when it was on, and I still love it. It's really a character based show at its heart, with family and coworker dynamics being a large focus of the show, not just the cases. Unfortunately, there aren't any channels showing reruns and there doesn't seem to be any plan to release DVDs any time soon.

My favorite moments in an episode are where Judge Gray and her CSO Bruce make eye contact when something crazy happens. It's an understated and fun way to show how much they relate to each other.

So if you're as desperate for your fix of a neurotic family with an awesome matriarch and large portions of the inadequacy of social services and the juvenile court system, here are places I've found episodes:

TNT "DramaVision," although they haven't uploaded new episodes in quite some. I must warn that the episodes that are on there right now feature heavily the character Stu, also known as the-dumbest-boyfriend-Amy-ever-had-although-maybe-not-as-bad-an-idea-as-that-Smallville-guy.

There's also YouTube user StarryMikage who's uploading episodes. The episodes start at season 3 episode 8, which is when cousin Kyle comes in after Vincent has left, and most recently downloaded is season 4 episode 6. Most of the episodes in between are there.

Here, I'll get you started with "Roses and Truth":


Medley of the Day: Prostitutes get the best songs edition

If you're going to bring in prostitutes, they better be the fun part of the musical.

"Le Val D'amour" from Notre Dame de Paris

The call and response between singer and (fake?) strings make this way more catchy than it should be. And yes, those are flesh colored leotards with weird attachments (Star Wars or All That Jazz?).

"Lovely Ladies" from Les Miserables

This one is actually pretty icky; so much detail about the smell of women. But the melody sure sounds fun!

"El Tango de Roxanne" from Moulin Rouge!

General awesomeness in the form of strained, gruff voices, jealousy, and the tango.

"Crossroads" from Perhaps Love

What was that? You want another depressing envy involving prostitutes song? Coming from the utterly confusing pastiche-heavy film that is Perhaps Love, here's "Crossroads." It sure looks and sounds gorgeous, in a dirty sort of way. Starts about 1:09.

"Come Together" from Across the Universe

The whole thing isn't about prostitutes, but they've got the sweetest harmonies out the other scenarios. Plus, Joe Cocker is a pimp.


Two Black-and-White Films from 1980

Raging Bull (1980) was nominated for many awards and is highly rated in many "best films ever" lists. It won Oscars for Robert De Niro's performance as the fallen boxing champion Jake La Motta and for best film editing by Thelma Schoonmaker. These are deserved awards. De Niro brings his A-game, ranging from a fit young scrapper to a fat has-been. And the boxing scenes are magical, combining classical music, quick editing, slow motion, and fog to an already legend-implying black-and-white film.

However, I did not care for this film. Never has Martin Scorsese's knack for capturing the male gaze been so apparent. Yes, the character La Motta is sexist, so having the film treat the women as mere objects of desire makes sense. But watching a man order a woman around as to how she can pleasure him is just sickening--if not tedious--to watch, not to mention the more blatant physical abuse. And even when the women in Raging Bull do fight back or divorce, it comes off as mere annoyance rather than a deeply emotional event. Again, this reemphasizes La Motta's perspective, but it sucks and I don't want to see it reemphasized in the film's overall perspective.

And besides my feminist rantings, Behind the Music and E! True Hollywood Story episodes have told the tale of the fallen star enough times that this film doesn't seem as fresh as it may have in 1980. I doesn't help either that I saw Casino before this, which has a similar De Niro/Pesci fighting about a blonde woman moments, just with less mafia and actual adultery.

In the end, I wish there was less sexist asshole and more boxing, for I could watch slow motion boxing set to Pietro Mascagni all day.

Opening scene from Raging Bull.

The Elephant Man, another heavily nominated film of 1980, appeals to my taste for the bizarre. The black-and-white filming in this case made the story of 19th century John Merrick, or the Elephant Man, seem more like an urban legend. Though an odd story about a highly deformed man, it's based on a true events (though the script sensationalizes some of the accounts found in The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences and The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity). It somehow walks a fine line between respecting the life of the Elephant Man and exploiting the fantastic elements in his life. It also managed to keep something that features sideshow freaks from getting campy and something so life-affirming from getting saccharine.

One of the most effective devices in showing John Merrick's journey from freak to full human is how the character is filmed. Certainly, Mr. Merrick's face has monstrous elements. The beginning of the film finds him being gawked at, first as part of a side show and later as part of Dr. Treves' anatomical lecture. David Lynch's decision to hide Merrick's face and body at the beginning borrows suspense-building techniques from horror films, keeping the audience in the same trepidation that the characters around him are. But as Dr. Treves' starts to bring out Merrick's humanness, mostly in the form of oral communication, he is finally shown on the screen as much as the other characters, no longer hidden behind is deformities.

The two main protagonists are played as good men without it coming off as sanctimonious. John Hurt, as John Merrick, manages to bring out genuine goodness and intelligence from behind the heavy makeup required for the role; Anthony Hopkins brings a clinical but kind air to his role as the anatomist Frederick Treves, with a healthy dose of conflicted feelings toward his treatment of Mr. Merrick. These two fit well into a film that in some ways almost feels like a Charles Dickens tale, with no good villains, dirty streets, and upper-class slumming.

But this is a David Lynch production, so it's not completely cheesy so much as vaguely surreal and somehow beautiful.

Opening scene from The Elephant Man.

Post script: Despite my obvious preference between the two films, I can't choose between these two gorgeous scores. Raging Bull makes violence beautiful with its use of Italian opera, while The Elephant Man finds beauty after a journey through strange and haunting circus themes. But they are both absolutely lovely soundtracks.

"Intermezzo" from Raging Bull composed by Pietro Mascagni (again, because I can't resist):

The romance of Italian opera.

"The Elephant Man Theme" from The Elephant Man composed by John Morris:

The horrors of circus music.

"John Merrick and Psalm" from The Elephant Man composed by John Morris:

The beauty of resolved dissonance.


The Audacity of Rock: Part 26

Stealing girls from guys.

It's a well documented fact that the presence of a guitar instantly makes a guy 7x more attractive than without. Apparently it's so attractive that women may leave their boyfriends for such talented guys. Level of talent needed to impress a girl: 3 chords, probably in the key of D.

"You're Gonna Lose that Girl" by The Beatles (1965)

Dude. It's the Help!-era Beatles. Of course your girl is going to leave you for one of them. Even Ringo. Just give up.

"Grand Theft Autumn/Where is Your Boy" by Fall Out Boy (2003)

If I had heard of them before summer 2005 when "Sugar, We're Going Down" was their breakout hit and my Cold Stone manager incessantly played "Grand Theft Autumn/Where is Your Boy" at closing time, I may have been a big fan. But alas, I was over the age of 15. But you have to admit that early Fall Out Boy was kind of adorable. No one was wearing eyeliner or casting their across their eyes. Plus, they're totally going to steal your girlfriend. Because they play guitar in a pop rock band.

Questions to ponder:

1. Is there really a good time besides a campfire to pull out your guitar in public?
2. What song makes you want to punch a guy in the face for playing?


A Bunch of Quick TV Reviews

I meant to write reviews as I finished watching a series this summer, but that only happened with Heroes. While my summer isn't done yet (3 weeks until school starts--something to do!), here are some shows I've completed.

Firefly. Since this is the first season of a Joss Whedon show, it was awesome. He manages to quickly establish a somewhat foreign world (sci-fi western) and make it work. Unfortunately, Whedon manages to ruin characters the longer his shows go on. I never finished watching Buffy or Angel because things got so weird. (And I can go with weird. I invested time in to multiple seasons of those shows.) But then Willow got addicted to black magic and Cordelia slept with Angel's son from the future and I couldn't care anymore.

Surprisingly, this cast pulls these costumes off. Good work.

Where was I? Oh yeah. The characters on Firefly are clever and fun and, most importantly, witty. I appreciate the diverse group of men and women--especially since the women are given so much respect on the show. Inara is an empowered prostitute, Zoe is a tough second in command and loving wife, Kaylee is a happy-go-lucky mechanic, and River is pretty cool when she's not all crazy.

Dear Joss Whedon,

You write good roles for women. Thanks.

People who like to see strong female characters on screen, even if it's only the small screen

But I also appreciate that the men are respected as well. Each character is given flaws and redeeming qualities, but are never easily dismissed as a stereotype.

And along with that, it's incredibly refreshing to see a married couple onscreen that isn't constantly bickering or reduced to sitcom tropes. While there's an episode that deals with the potential conflicts in the relationship (when Wash decides to be second in command for a day), they come out better in the end, and remain faithful and supportive of each other.

The Captain and Inara. I love it when production photos just give us what we want.

In fact, there's an episode that fleshes out almost every conceivable conflict: Wash and Zoe's marriage, Inara and Malcolm's attraction to each other, Jayne's mercenary tendencies, etc. That's why I don't feel short-changed by Firefly's brief stay on the air. I'm glad there was a film to tie up loose ends, but I couldn't have asked for too much more, because the next stop could have been a Buffybot.

Freaks and Geeks. I've been hearing about this show forever, so I finally netflixed it, and loved it. This is one of the few high school shows that really touches on being an in-between in high school. I was definitely more of a Lindsay Weir in high school, bouncing around social groups, not really fitting most of them, but finding a solid group of friends to hang out with.

P.S. Every person ever is on this show.

Just like Firefly, I felt like each character got their time to shine and explore their big issues in this season. No one was spared of doing stupid things, like dress in an uber-trendy jumpsuit or go out with some one even though they weren't really into it. But the awkwardness never made me uncomfortable (The Office-style) as much as sympathetic. Each lived through it and came out okay.

But Martin Starr's Bill Haverchuck captured my heart. After all, my freshman year of high school was spent watching VH1 countdowns and Iron Chef reruns. Let's just say I relate to his television habit. But any episode that featured his storyline was a favorite. He's so helplessly nerdy, yet is eternally optimistic. I feel like he'll turn out okay in life.

Lindsay's face is pretty much how I respond to most things in life. Also, Jason Segel, j'adore.

I'm kind of glad it only lasted one season, if only because I don't want to see how different the characters will be the next year. Each year of high school was drastically different for me, depending on who was in my classes or who graduated, so I'd rather just live through one season with these kids so I don't have to see them change too much.

The Vicar of Dibley. First airing in 1994, The Vicar of Dibley kept coming back for the next decade with short series and Christmas specials (IMDb tells me 24 episodes in all). It's one of those shows where a somewhat worldly professional goes to a crazy small town. In this case it's a female vicar Geraldine played by the hilarious Dawn French. I adore the mixture of pop culture and religious references throughout (I can relate). I never got sick of the perverted and tedious old men in the town, or the slightly stupid verger. In fact, the jokes at the end of each episode where Gerry tells her verger Alice a joke that Alice doesn't get are my favorite parts.

Although Alice does get this one...

Perhaps they brought the show back too many times over the years (later episodes have a lot of "When you first got to Dibley, I hated you" reminiscing), but it's worth watching every minute, if only for the last Christmas specials, which have my favorite melancholy cotton mill owner, Richard Armitage. Anyway, it's a funny little Britcom that I enjoyed immensely.

This really could have been made any year, considering the wardrobe.

P.S. Did I mention how much I love the theme music? Here's the full version of the song:

You should know I'm a choir nerd by now.


Gone With the Wind: The Movie!

Gone With the Wind (1939) is often hailed as one of the greatest films of all time. I have a hard time with that assessment after rereading the book, mostly because there is no possible way to do justice to the book. The 1939 Hollywood version certainly gives its all to bring the story to life, and it's surprisingly successful (not only for creating a semblance of the overall story, but because of the hell of even shooting the film). Here are scattered thoughts from my recent viewing.

Some great things the film does:

1. A TOTALLY EPIC MOVIE. Everything from the score, to the long tracking shots, to the detailed costumes screams cinema. From the opening overture, you know this is going to be melodrama at its finest.

2. Managed to economically fit in a lot of story. They cut out characters, create composite characters, got rid of some of Scarlett's children, used quick sweeping shots to create setting, and overall left out less pivotal moments to create a manageable plot. That's pretty impressive to cut an 1,000 page book to less than 4 hours.

Best proposal scene ever.

3. Showing cinematic smarts, the dialogue against the sacred cause of war is replaced by disturbing images of wounded and sick men. Multiple times, we're taken through a tracking shot of--even still--disturbing scenes of carnage without being overly gory. (Side question: how would this film had been made post WWII? Would the war be seen as more honorable and less cynical?)

This shot alone is more effective and more subtle commentary about the horrors of war and the honor we esteem it than the entirety of Saving Private Ryan.

4. Clark Gable as Rhett Butler kills. I usually feel like he's amused that he's even making a living through movies. He kind of walks through his roles based on machismo and dimples, but it's focused for the better in this film. Mr. Gable's sense of humor fits the role perfectly, and we even get to see him cry in this movie. He even manages to distract me from how much I hate the movie version of Scarlett. Win.

Rhett, I would give you a hug if I didn't think I would get syphilis from it.

5. Speaking of acting, I'm always impressed by older films when they use long takes instead of shot-reverse-shot for conversations to take place. Some of these scenes aren't easy since they, by necessity, contain mood changes. So a happy exchange can turn to bickering, or a crying scene can turn into a humorous one. The theatrical training of this group of actors is clearly shown in the film's long scenes.

7. Cheesy old movie dialogue. Oh and censorship! Heaven forbid that Rhett says that he wants Scarlett, you know, in a sexual way. No, let's just say he loves her. But then deny it. But then he really does. Hilarious.

This looks uncomfortable.

Some stuff that I wish the film did better:

1. Vivien Leigh does the best she can. Unfortunately, her stagy acting can only paint Scarlett in the broadest strokes possible, although I'm impressed that Leigh does as well as she does. It's really an impossible role since the book gets more into what Scarlett thinks of the world than how the world looks at her besides idle gossip. Not to mention the speaking out loud to get internal thoughts across. It just comes across as cheesy, and that just leads me to loathe Scarlett. It's a miracle that Margaret Mitchell made Scarlett so likable, or at least fascinating enough to humor, in the book considering how the bare facts of Scarlett's actions in the film come off as either idiotic or bitchy. I mean, they might be idiotic or bitchy things to do, but coming from the character's internal perspective, it makes sense.

Ultimate downfall of Vivien Leigh: her inability to smile with her eyes. Creepy.

2. The film certainly used Scarlett's biased view of Melanie in the film, and it makes her annoying. She's sanctimonious and ignorant instead of genuinely good. I always suspect Melanie knows more than she lets on when I read the book (you also get a little of her perspective by the end), and I wish that intelligence showed more in the film.

3. Ashley Wilkes is supposed to have a mustache. Film-Rhett is the obvious choice in the facial hair department, am I right?

Sorry, Leslie Howard, your barren face gave way to your ultimate fate.

4. I know they didn't really have time for it, but I wish there were more "aww shucks" moments between Rhett and Scarlett. I feel like most of their screen time is spent fighting. Let's just say they could've have slipped in a little more sexy financial talk, if you know what I mean.

Aww shucks!


Shockingly similar reactions

I finally got around to Zach Braff's Garden State (2004) and Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets (1973), and I got pretty bored with both films. This probably has less to do with the quality of the movies (they're not terrible as much as merely adequate) and more to do with their influence on films since they came out.

I tried to watch Garden State once before, but about a half hour in I was bored enough to just go to bed. This second time, I was wide awake, but still had to force myself to plow through the first chunk of the film where the protagonist is still unemotional and no one likable has even come into the film. As it gets going, however, more personality comes across as Braff and Peter Sarsgaard lose the loathesome behavior and really breathe life into an otherwise bipolarly boring/overly poignant script. And as much as I like Natalie Portman, she once again proves why I have no idea why I like her so much. She does better with smaller films since she's not a very big actress (neither physically or acting-wise), but she's still not that spectacular. I couldn't help but compare her crazy character to Kate Winslet's in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and see her coming extremely short in creating an interesting and attractive character out of weird behavior. I still like you, though, Natalie.

And like most folks my age, I have a copy of the Garden State soundtrack. It features of mix of new indie bands and mellow older songs that are the hallmark of quirky independent film lately (extra reading from the Culture Warrior). Unfortunately, the moments when this music shows up for 30 seconds are some of the best parts of the film if only to break up the silent, static shots of Zach Braff staring into the camera blankly. Sorry, but the brief soundtrack probably shouldn't be the best parts.

I think why I'm had so much trouble liking this movie is because it seems like it's everyone's favorite film ever. But like its hipster cousin Once (2006), I was merely whelmed* instead of inspired. I liked it okay, but the overly excited hype made me feel bad about not liking it more.

At the end of Roger Eberts retrospective on Mean Streets, he states, "In countless ways, right down to the detail of modern TV crime shows, Mean Streets is one of the source points of modern movies." I certainly saw that. But besides being an early example of the small scale crime drama, it gets a little boring. Perhaps because it was so pioneering, it feels cliche. But I think it's also evident that this is one of Scorsese's earlier films, since this feels a little like a less sleek and less fun Goodfellas, although with a healthy dose of remorse. (Oddly enough, one of my biggest complaints with Goodfellas was the lack of remorse.)

There are some good performances, with De Niro playing a dumb member of the mob who gets into money trouble. And the frequent fights set to upbeat pop or traditional sounding Italian music were the most entertaining parts for me (Scorsese classic contrast!). The fights looked sloppy like real fights actually look which brought more realism to the film than anything else. Although the ending violent shootout had some humorously bright colored blood spraying out of bodily orifices which made me laugh hysterically. Perhaps this wasn't the intended response. In fact, I don't think I really responded as strongly to any other part of the film as I did with this scene. I should probably seek out more spectacularly gory horror movies.

Anyway, the downfall of both films was that they both spent a lot of time on unlikable characters doing tedious things, which compels me find something else to do while watching the movies rather than give my full attention. However, both films had some intriguing, if inconsistent, performances and soundtracks that are awesome and carried me through the film when nothing else did.

All in all, I don't think I'll ever seek these movies out again. They just don't appeal to me. But don't worry. I feel bad about it.

P.S. Movie highlights: Garden State features Jim Parsons in a knight costume. Mean Streets features the same opening credits song as Dirty Dancing. Again, I think I was missing the point of both films. Oh well.



The Audacity of Rock: Part 25

I'll show you how I hard rock with my double bass pedal and screaming vocals.

Thrash metal reached its heyday in the early 90s, and yet its legacy still lives on, despite its waning mainstream popularity. But I'm always surprised at how ubiquitous hard and fast rock still is. This is not my style of music, being one who desires melodies and nuance, but if you're going to be angst-ridden and misanthropic, you might as well do it thoroughly and loudly instead of wallowing in self pity and poorly played instruments.

"Angel of Death" by Slayer (1986)

By this point, heavy metal like this is beyond cliche. I have a hard time imagining how edgy is must have been at the time, playing as fast and loud as possible because now it just seems ridiculous. Unfortunately, like repetitive soul music, more fun to move around to than to listen to. Seriously. This music is torture unless you're moshing yourself into oblivion.

"Blood on My Hands" by The Used (2009)

Screamo seems to be the contemporary incarnation of heavy metal. It's the kind of music a pair of roommates I had one year would listen to when they were particularly angsty/menstrual that day. It's got a sprinkling of emo, in that it's less about the Reaper than heavy metal of yore, but I can stomach it better since at least these people are angry which is way more fun than being whiny. Here's the Used's fairly radio friendly newest.

Questions to ponder:
1. What was/is your angry music?
2. What was the angry music of back in the day? Or did people not have time for it? Like Bach-era music? That's just too clinical to really get down to, amiright?