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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Latest movies

I saw a couple of terrific movies this weekend.

Friends with Benefits - not a perfect movie (I was actually a bit embarrassed by the explicit sex scenes), but I laughed a lot - so much of the comedy in rom-coms is stupid and even insulting, this movie was actually quite witty, so refreshing; and the couple were adorable (the sine qua non of rom-com is that you root for the couple to end up together!) I hope this raises the bar for the genre!!

Agora - this movie apparently wasn't marketed in the US, because I had never heard of it; I actually watched a bit on cable and liked it enough to get the video (guilty confession - I was most interested in seeing Max Minghella, who I adore, though Rachel Weisz almost carries the movie on the force of her wonderful performance); I really enjoyed everything about the movie - it's so intelligent and interesting, and everyone in it is terrific; set in Alexandria Egypt during the rise of Christianity, and fall of paganism (and scientific inquiry), around 370 A.D.; the movie focuses on a wonderful (real life) character, Hypatia, a famed mathematician who was murdered by Christian fanatics; in the Making Of video, the writer/director talks about wanting to do a story set during that time, and while doing research, found the story of Hypatia and realized that it covered everything they wanted to say; I'm a little obsessed now, and I read a bunch of stuff online about Hypatia and that era; I've enjoyed several movies set during this time period, very historically based, including the new King Arthur (2004) and Centurion (2010); it's a fascinating time (the fall of the Roman empire).


Friday, July 29, 2011

Goodreads disappoints

I've had my suspicions for awhile about this site - there are often a substantial number of overly gushing reviews for books, that look like they were all written by the author's mother and her friends, or by interns at the publisher's office (I first noticed this with the rhapsodic reviews for a book called Anna and the French Kiss, which is a apparently a transporting experience to read, despite the fluffy title).

I believe I've hit upon another example, with Die For Me by Amy Plum.  My friend Meredith recommended the book on audio because she said the reader was very good (she was), and I read some reviews to make sure it would be generally within my range of interest.  The reviews were largely positve, so I got the book at Audible.  It almost felt like work to finish it, because, frankly, it's such an inferior effort.  Certainly the reviewers are either very easy to entertain or they have another reason for writing what they did.  Of course there will always be a range of opinons on books, as there are on movies, as I have found on imdb.com.  But a quick trip to Amazon highlights several reviewers who immediately point out the book's obvious flaws, most notably that it's a carbon copy of Twilight (see below for an excellent example).

I feel frustrated, because I don't want to waste time on crap - I have so little time to read.  (I like love stories, but not love stories that are just a copy of another book!)  So I'm going to have to read reviews from a wider range of sites from now on, because I just don't trust Goodreads anymore.

Here's a terrific review, called "Dude, Twilight Much?" This covers exactly what I think as well~

We don't need to see the Edward/Bella romance over and over and over again. Seriously. We've already seen it. It was called Twilight. They even made a movie about it. We don't need to see Bella with fallen angels and we don't need to see Bella with zombies. Especially when the fallen angels and zombies are carbon copies of Edward.

Does Vincent have godlike good looks? Check. An aura of danger? Check. Is he a virgin immortal? Check. Has he lived without love for decades? Check. Does he fall in love with our heroine for no apparent reason? Check. Is he a stalker? Check. Doesn't sleep? Check. Has a "family" of other immortals, including a Manic Pixie Dream Girl who becomes the heroine's best friend (Alice/Charlotte), one who resents the heroine and isn't thrilled with their immortal existence (Rosalie/Charles), an older figure who mentors/protects (Carlisle/Jean-Baptiste), an irreverent extrovert (Emmett/Jules), and one who trains the others in battle techniques (Jasper/Gaspard)? Check.

Is Kate an introvert? Check. Has she moved away from home? Check. Does she fall in love with the hero because of his looks? Check. Does she rhapsodize constantly about how gorgeous he is? Check. Does she sound more like a forty year old woman than a sixteen year old girl? Check. Does she have any interests outside reading? In a wild fit of originality, the author does give Kate another hobby: sitting around in museums staring at paintings until she goes into an art trance. Luckily, since that hobby is a Mary Sue author intrusion (Amy Plum is an art historian) and in no way resembles something an actual teenager would do, Kate's still on track to grow up and be Bella.

Kate doesn't understand what Vincent sees in her. Sound familiar? This insecurity is based on the fact that he's the handsomest handsome of all the handsomes there are. Sound familiar? She has a "special" ability most humans don't have. Sound familiar? She fits in great with the immortal "family", most of whom adore her. Sound familiar? She and Vincent have chaste sleepovers. Sound familiar? He's all she thinks about. Sound familiar? He slows her down sexually. Sound familiar? Vincent thinks he should leave her alone for her own good, but is an empty shell without her. Sound familiar? The plot consists of Kate and Vincent falling in love, smooching, and talking endlessly about their relationship until a rushed and predictable action sequence at the very end. Sound familiar? The villain gets to Kate through a family member. Sound familiar?

He's sooooooo good-looking. Sound familiar? You wouldn't believe how good-looking he is. Sound familiar? That Vincent sure is one good-looking dude. Sound familiar? Vincent is perfect. Sound familiar?

Obsessive love. Obsessive love. Obsessive love. Sound familiar?

I'm making a plea to all the authors out there. Please do something original. Please. Is your creativity so MIA that you can't create a fresh love story, believably flawed characters, and a plot we haven't seen five thousand times before? Bonus points if you create a villain who's not a cartoon.

I'll say this about Stephenie Meyer: she explored the whole obsessive teen love thing THOROUGHLY. She used hundreds and hundreds of pages to do this trope, so YOU don't have to replicate it. Do your own thing. Give us a love story that surprises and delights.

Give us something we haven't seen before.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Latest movies

I haven't gotten to see all the movies I've wanted to in the theater the last couple of weeks, but I've seen a few on video.  These are sort of in order of how much I liked them, from least to best.

The Mummy (1999) - not quite what I had hoped; Brendan Fraser is always entertaining, and Rachel Weisz is always good, but this movie is a bit of a mess; I think National Treasure and even Sahara are better movies in this genre

The Mummy Returns (2001) - more sentimental than the first movie, because now Rick and Evy are married and have a young son who is an integral part of the story; watchable but not memorable

A Summer in Genoa (2008) - I actually never finished this video because it's not terribly interesting; Colin Firth is capable as a widow coping with his own grief and the very different reactions of his daughters, but the movie is too meandering really hold your interest, and kind of a waste of a great cast and potentially very moving situation

Nowhere Boy (2009) - well done biopic of John Lennon's teen years; excellent performances and of course an intriguing story - what formative experiences contribute to the development of a genius?  I was a bit surprised at what a jerk JL is - not much of his Give Peace A Chance persona is in evidence during his early life

Red Riding Hood (2010) - not bad, not amazing; they did a clever job of incorporating elements of the fairy tale into the movie (e.g., "what big eyes you have" was in a dream), and I was definitely kept guessing about who the wolf was (I was wrong!), but it wasn't as beautiful or meaningful or satifying as I had hoped

City Island (2009) - a bit of a gem; I watched this on cable after coming across it while flipping channels; a bit uneven, but offbeat fun, and charming, and lots of great people, including Andy Garcia, Julianna Margulies, and the always adorable Emily Mortimer; Ezra Miller, who plays the sardonic teenage son, is someone to watch

Horrible Bosses (2011) - Larry and I managed to dash out to see this; it's not a perfect movie, but we laughed a lot


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"Don't quit this day job"

Heard this topic discussed on NPR's Tell Me More, and was totally intrigued; I read both the original commentary by Karen Sibert, who strongly states the case that MDs should commit fully to their profession, and the rebuttal by Michelle Au.  I see both sides.  Karen is suggesting that women are too cavalier about their medical training and too concerned about their lifestyle comfort - she thinks that society basically subsidizes their training, so they owe us to fully engage once their training has ended, as opposed to working part-time or taking extensive time off to have kids.  Michelle Au notes, rather fairly, that Dr Sibert is applying a double standard.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Grind

I've been noticing lately what a grind it is to maintain a household and family.  It's always been true of course, but I think I notice it more in the summer for some reason.  Maybe because I think of summer as more of a relaxed time, but it's still 3 meals a day (plan and shop and prepare and clean up), and laundry, and managing the schedule, and getting people where they need to go, and clean up, clean up, endlessly CLEAN UP.  It's just every day, every day - get up, feed everyone, clean up after everyone, and then start all over again.  Not sure if there's any way to lessen that Sisyphyan feeling of these daily chores and activities.  The rock does indeed roll to the bottom each night and have to be hauled back up the next day.  Probably nothing to be done, except maybe to find a bit of relaxation between sessions of pushing.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Portion sizes

We stopped by Burger King tonight and I was rather shocked at the size of the medium soda.  The sizes seem to get bigger and bigger.  The other day, I took the kids to an ice cream parlor we had not been to before.  At virtually all of the places we go, they have a "kiddie" size cone, which is what I always get.  This new place only had hard scoop ice cream, and a "small" was actually 2 scoops (which I find has been typical for awhile).  I asked if I could get just one scoop and they said yes, but I had to pay the same price as a small.  I think that's so awful - what possible reason can they have for refusing to charge me a fair price for what is essentially a normal portion (which they don't offer). 

Here I am, trying to control my portion, my caloric intake, but businesses actually make it almost impossible to do so!  There's so much talk these days about obesity, and fast food, and all that, but businesses aren't doing anything to help the situation, whether they are major corporations, or mom and pop shops down the block.

Of course, I didn't get any ice cream at the shop, because I thought their policy was both unfair and foolish, and I didn't want to give them any of my money, let alone pay double for their product.  But what to do about this overall trend???


Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Weekend movies

Only watched a few videos, as we were busy swimming and watching fireworks all weekend!

Please Give (2010) - more interesting than I expected (I'm not a huge fan of Nicole Holofcener) with, of course, a terrific cast and lots of great performances (Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet were especially wonderful, and Thomas Ian Nicholas, best known for American Pie is totally adorable - he should do more romantic parts!).  I related to Kate's character - always trying to do some good, but never feeling like it's enough, but I don't feel as emotionally overwhelmed by it as she does.  I really hated the ending, though - Kate only finds peace when she turns her attention to her materialistic daughter and finally concedes to buy her the incredibly overpriced jeans she's been wanting.  What the hell is the message there?  Is NH being ironic or is that really her point?  Left me feeling rather annoyed.

After.Life (2009) - weird and fascinating mediatation on living life, wrapped up in a strange mystery; a great cast (Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson, Justin Long) and some wonderful visuals; thought-provoking and worth watching, but ultimately not a completely satisfying film.  Biggest complaint was the creepy child who started out as the film's moral center, but later appears to embrace the philosophy of offing anyone not living their life with sufficient verve - ick.  And my other complaint was the completely gratuitous nudity (Christina Ricci does an entire scene in the nude) - unnecessary and distracting as hell.

Faster (2010) - Cal picked out this Dwayne Johnson vehicle; it was passably entertaining, with some interesting moments (The Rocks cries, and he's good at it!), but ultimately predictable and cliched (some of the dialogue was particularly clunky).  A bright spot for me was that DJ's character does show some mercy at one point, so the revenge genre has evolved a bit since Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson were cranking out these films in the 1970s.


Sunday, July 03, 2011

Why read?

I've thought a lot about this question recently.  Partly because I've tried harder in the last year or two to read novels (as opposed to just news and magazines), and I've wondered why I feel so compelled to find the time in my overwhelming schedule.  And lately, I've pondered it even more because of comments others have made.  For example, one of the women who attended the latest meeting of the Syracuse Meetup Book Club said she doesn't generally read fiction (though why you would join a book club if you don't like fiction is sort of beyond me).  And of course Larry never reads fiction, and I have several friends who don't either.  In fact, I have lots of friends who don't really read at all.

Then I opened the latest issue of More magazine* to glance over a story on Best Summer Reads, and it begins with this quote from novelist Mira Bartok:

". . . the right book can grab hold of my breath at the very first line.  It's like falling in love . . . I can travel to the rim of the world, drink in forgetfulness and magic."

Wow, that exactly expresses the inchoate thoughts I've been having about why fiction reading is so irresistible and so satisfying.

Then, a couple days later, I was reading the Best Summer Reads in Time magazine, which included quotes and comments from various famous authors.  Here's what Jonathan Franzen said:

"I just finished a terrific novel . . . [that] left a little hole in my life the way a really good book will, after making room in my days for reading it - which is also what a really good book will do."

Also exactly describes my experience!

*I started getting More a few months ago, though I'm not sure why.  I think it may be a free promotional/preview subscription.  It's not really my cup of tea, and I've never done more than flip through it - too much fashion and makeup advice for my taste, though there's some good profiles and other articles as well.