Thursday, January 31, 2013

Final Reflections on January 2013

My yearly reflection for 2012 was semi-popular, so I thought I’d try something new for 2013: an end-of-the-month reflection for each month.

2013 started off with more of a whimper than a bang. Things haven’t been especially exciting, but that’s okay. I haven’t been looking for a lot of excitement.

I had decided, as the new year rolled in, to buckle down on my writing. I had a hard time writing in December, due to the fact that I spent a lot of extra hours at work. So the plan for January was to start getting up early every morning to give myself extra time in the day. Therefore, I won’t have any excuses to slack off on writing (i.e. errands to run, etc.). Unfortunately, it took me until the end of the month to get off my slacker butt and implement this plan, but it’s in full swing now.

Once I got started, I found that it’s working quite well. I haven’t had any trouble getting up early. My goal was to write at least 500 words per day. So far, I’ve been exceeding that, hitting more like 1,000 – 2,000 words per day, split between two different novels. I’m feeling encouraged, and my mood has been a lot better.

I guess one of the big national news items this month has been the flu that’s been going around. Seems like everyone’s had it, even lots of folks who got the flu shot. It’s been a much bigger epidemic than either bird flu or swine flu were, that’s for sure. Sadly, the husband and I were not immune (the husband still claims that he never had the flu, that he came down with cedar fever from the weekend we were in Austin, but due to his illness’s persistent duration, I’m skeptical of the claim). I stayed on the couch for 4 days, missing 2 days of work, but steadily improved after that. I’m feeling much better now.

All in all, it wasn’t so bad. I’ve had worse flus.

The other big national news item this month seems to be gun control. I’m not going to express my views on gun control here, because I don’t want my blog to be a platform for those kinds of discussions. What I do want to express is my disappointment in people on both sides of the debate. People seem to just lose their damn minds over this issue. There are a lot of words being said, but, in my opinion, few genuine, reasonable solutions have been put forth.

I feel like there’s never any actual debate anymore. When two opposing sides meet, all they do is try to see who can out-shout the other. It’s tiresome.

Anyway, it’s January 2013 and that’s what’s been on my mind this month. If you’re stopping by to read, why don’t you tell me what’s been on yours?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Best Picture: "Rebecca," 1940

Movie Stats:
Released 1940 (USA)
American, in English (there’s a tiny bit of non-translated French)
Director – Alfred Hitchcock
Stars – Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine (who is Olivia de Havilland’s sister, which I never knew before!), and Judith Anderson

Plot Summary:
While working as a paid companion to an elderly woman in Monte Carlo, an innocent, naïve young woman (Fontaine) – she's never given a first name in the movie – meets a mysterious and handsome widower by the name of Maxim de Winter (Olivier). After a whirlwind romance, the two marry. Soon, Maxim moves his young bride back to his estate, Manderley, where his first wife, Rebecca, died. The new Mrs. de Winter strives to be “perfectly happy,” but the memory of Rebecca seems to cast a powerful shadow over Manderley, and secrets abound. Judith Anderson stars as the supremely creepy housekeeper Mrs. Danvers.

Bad Stuff:
The film moved really slowly. At the same time, everyone spoke very quickly, like they wanted to see how many words they could cram into one sentence. It was disorienting.

In a way, it didn’t really “feel” like a Hitchcock film. Perhaps this is because I’ve mostly seen his later films, which were more action-packed (i.e. “The Birds” and “North by Northwest”). This was less suspenseful and more baseline creepy.

Good Stuff:
Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers. She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. She should have won.

It does a great job of setting the tone right from the very beginning.

The Verdict:

On the one hand, I didn’t really like this movie. I thought it was boring.

On the other hand, the more I thought about it, the more I began to appreciate the mastery of it. At the beginning of the movie, I really disliked Maxim. I hated the way he treated the young woman. I hated the fact that the only reason he seemed to want her was because of her innocence. It felt like he was using her. It also made me dislike the young woman for being so stupid as to fall for someone who would mistreat her so.

However, as the tale grinds toward its end, you come to understand why Maxim is the way he is, and why it was important for him to find a wife like her. His intentions are not so nefarious as they seemed.  He is not, in fact, the villain. By the time you get to the big reveal of what was truly going on at Manderley before Rebecca died, it actually is kind of shocking.

The manipulation was subtle enough that I didn’t even get that it had manipulated me until long after the movie was over. I think that’s very impressive. So while I might not have liked it so much, I really respect it. It is that respect which leads me to giving this movie 3.25 stars.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Best Picture: "Gone with the Wind," 1939

Movie Stats:
Released 1940 (USA)
American, in English
Director – Victor Fleming
Stars – Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland, Leslie Howard, & Hattie McDaniel

Plot Summary:
I feel a little silly summarizing a movie that everyone already knows the plot of, but here goes. Spoiled, self-absorbed rich girl Scarlett O’Hara (Leigh) spends years and years pining after Ashley Wilkes (Howard). Although Ashley returns Scarlett’s feelings to some extent, he marries his own cousin, Melanie (de Havilland), instead. At the same time, Scarlett is pursued by known cad Rhett Butler (Gable). This is all set against the backdrop of the Civil War & subsequent Reconstruction. Hattie McDaniel plays Mammy, Scarlett’s loyal servant.

Bad Stuff:
It’s way too long. The library sent me the 2-disk, 70th anniversary edition. That’s about four hours worth of watching. I think it could have very easily been over at the close of the first disk, which ends on the iconic line “I’ll never be hungry again,” and I would’ve considered it an excellent movie. By the end of the second disk, I just wanted it to be over.

The portrayal of slaves as cowardly simpletons was uncomfortable at best. I know it’s how black people were portrayed in movies back in the day, but knowing that didn’t make me feel any better about it. Seriously cringe-inducing.

I never want to hear the words “Oh, Ashley!” again.

Good Stuff:
The whole thing was a lot more complex than I was expecting. I hadn’t realized that this movie was actually kind of deep. Rather than a piece that glorified the South and slavery, I got a commentary on the South’s hubris in getting involved in the war, and also on the fear & confusion that descended on the South after the end of the slavery era.

Most of the characters were also incredibly complex. Rhett shouldn’t really have been likable or sympathetic and yet he was. By the end of the movie, you’re almost desperate to hear him say that famous line (“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”). At the same time, you don’t want him to give up on Scarlett. You should hate her, but somehow it’s hard to do so because you can always sort of understand where she’s coming from. I absolutely loved her progression as a person. She grew up almost in spite of herself. That didn’t make her a good person. It didn’t turn her into a saint or a martyr, but the troubles she went through changed her in fundamental ways. I thought it was fascinating.

The version I watched was digitally re-mastered so it looked fantastic.

The Verdict:
I loved it. I honestly thought I would hate it. I’ve avoided this movie for years, assuming it was stupid fluff. What a pleasant surprise to discover that I was wrong! I get what the fuss has been about all this time. I would recommend this movie to absolutely anyone. If it had been shorter, I would’ve given it more stars. I have to dock it slightly for that, but not by much.

I give this movie 4.25 stars.

Monday, January 7, 2013

AIIW: The Adventures of Tintin

Movie Stats:
Released 2011 (USA)
American, in English
Director – Steven Spielberg
Stars – (voices only) Jamie Bell, Daniel Craig, Andy Serkis, Simon Pegg & Nick Frost

Plot Summary:
In case you’re unfamiliar with Tintin, I’ll tell you that this movie is based on a series of comic books written by the Belgian artist Georges Remi, who wrote under the penname Herge. The books are very popular in Europe (I was introduced to them when I lived in Germany). I’m unclear on how well the American audience knows them.

In this animated adaptation, young reporter Tintin (Bell) and his loyal companion Snowy (a dog) purchase a model ship at a flea market, ignorant of the ship’s secret: that it holds the key to finding a hidden treasure. This lands Tintin in hot water with the nefarious Sakharine (Craig), who abducts the young man and drags him along on his quest for the treasure. However, Tintin manages to get free and join forces with Captain Haddock (Serkis), who holds his own secrets, to beat Sakharine at his game. Simon Pegg & Nick Frost provide the voices of Thompson & Thomson, Tintin’s bumbling detective friends.

Bad Stuff:
As with Video Game High School, consider this section more along the lines of minor quibbles than hardcore complaints.

It was a bit too long & definitely dragged in some bits, especially the last third or so of it. This would be my biggest complaint.

The animal companions are too smart for me to suspend my disbelief. I know that’s kind of stupid, but it’s something that annoys me in movies, and it seems to be a bit of a trope with Spielberg.

I’m a little uncomfortable with how Haddock’s obvious drinking problem was addressed. It was made clear that Tintin was rightfully concerned about it. However, it was also used as the butt of several jokes. I guess I just don’t find alcoholism very funny.

Good Stuff:
The opening credits were absolutely fantastic.

I thought the story, if somewhat predictable, made a lot of sense. It’s a great adventure tale, full of action and derring-do. I’ve read some reviews where it’s compared to Indiana Jones, which I suppose makes sense, given the director. Also, the violence is fairly mild. I thought the bear in Brave was scarier, so I think it would be suitable for most children.

There’s great voice work from pretty much everyone. I thought Pegg & Frost in particular were excellent. I’ve seen practically everything the two of them have been in together, and I couldn’t tell which one voiced which Thompson/Thomson. Serkis was also particularly good; he didn’t sound at all like Gollum, which was a relief. Can I also say how much I enjoy Jamie Bell’s voice in general?

I’ve seen some criticism of the animation (not enough like Herge’s work), but I thought it looked beautiful. It was occasionally easy to forget that it wasn’t a live-action film.

The Verdict:
I have a soft spot in my heart for Tintin. I also try to watch pretty much everything Simon Pegg is in, so I was very excited when I heard this was coming out. However, it seemed to generate virtually no buzz. Somehow, I got the impression that it wasn’t very good.

So color me shocked when I finally watched it, only to discover that it’s actually quite good. Afterwards, I went online to several review sites and saw that it tends to get very solid reviews. I’m not sure where I got the impression that I wouldn’t like it.

I can’t say whether or not it sticks close to the books – it’s been too long since I’ve read them – but I thought this movie was delightful. It’s fun and sweet and full of remarkably little angst. It’s a nice way to spend a lazy couple of hours on a rainy afternoon.

I give this movie 4 stars.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Final Reflections on 2012

Those of you who know me well know that the last four and a half years or so have been a bit of a whirlwind. I got married. I schlepped through three major moves (and two minor ones). I’ve held four different jobs, one of which I was laid off from – the first time that’s ever happened to me. The husband and I faced complete financial disaster on at least three separate occasions that I can recall. We also lost both of our mothers, only a year and a half apart from one another.

It hasn’t been easy.

2012 looked promising from the start. We were living in Austin, a city we loved, and had made a lot of great friends. The husband was chasing his dream of starting his own video game company. Very early on in the year, I decided to quit the awful temp job I’d been working and throw my talents in on the video game company. We weren’t getting paid and everything was up in the air, but it was exciting to finally take a chance like that.

Unfortunately, it didn’t pay off. Turns out the guy in charge of our group was a charlatan and a liar who squandered every opportunity we might have had to take our company to the next level. Everything fell apart. When the dust finally settled, the husband and I were only months away from running out of money. After about a month or so, he landed his job in Dallas. So we packed up our things, said a bittersweet goodbye, and headed the three hours north to our future.

The good thing is that all this upheaval in my life has made me a more flexible person. Most people get set in their ways as they get older. I’ve learned to roll with the punches. That’s not to say that I wasn’t sad to leave Austin. There were tears. I still miss it all the time & hope that we can move back someday. For the most part, though, I took it in stride. This is a thing that happened, it was dealt with, and we moved on.

I decided to approach Dallas with an open mind. I knew it would be very different from anywhere else I’d lived. I didn’t want to go into it with the expectation that I’d hate it (as many told me that I would). And for the most part, it’s actually been really good here. We love our apartment, love our jobs, and have met a lot of cool people. I have no complaints about Dallas. In some ways, I think it’s been really good for us.

Maybe 2012, and my life in general, didn’t turn out the way I expected. I’m not even totally sure what’s going to happen from here. But I have to admit that I’m feeling pretty excited to see what the future holds. Will my writing go anywhere? Will we work our way out of debt? How will our budding friendships in this new city unfold? There are so many different ways that things can work out. Everyday life is a lot more adventurous than people give it credit for, I think.

So here’s to 2013, and all the possibilities it brings. May we always remember to enjoy life, even when times get tough.