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Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


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Roundup: Riverdale, Lala Land, Malcolm Gladwell, and more

I haven’t done anything major of late, but I’m still keeping busy with a number of minor items, such as…

Watching Riverdale

A very buzzy show right now, playing on CW in the US and on Netflix in Canada. Beforehand, I liked the idea of a dark, Twin Peaks-y take on Archie Comics, and I’ve been generally happy with the results. The tone is still somewhat uneven—sometimes exaggerated Gothic, sometimes gritty realism—and Jean does tend to roll his eyes at the drama, drama of some scenes. But we’re both pretty entertained by it, overall.

Doesn’t hurt that he took an instant shine to Betty, while I am seriously crushing on Jughead… On Jughead, yeah. This is not like the comics! Sure, Archie is handsome, but also a jock and a bit bland, and Kevin is cute, but not  in that Adam Lambert way. But Jughead is a writer, he’s sensitive, he’s moral, he’s troubled (poor and bullied; alcoholic father)—and also, so pretty!

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[SPOILERY] There’s been considerable Internet discussion about whether the Jughead character would be asexual / aromantic as in the comics, so I was curious how that would play out. I can’t say I’m personally disappointed with the decision, but it is certainly a missed opportunity to do something groundbreaking.

Finding a movie Jean likes

Back in December we went to see Office Christmas Party, an over-the-top, light comedy we both found kind of fun. But then we followed withe Loving and Moonlight. These are both quality films that I enjoyed. But they are also slow-paced, character-driven dramas, and Jean was somewhat bored by both. So I took a pass on going to Fences and Manchester by the Sea with him—I’ll catch up on those myself.

The Lego Batman Movie seemed like it should be a good bet, though, right? And while it was not quite as good as the original Lego Movie, I was still very entertained by it. But while Jean wasn’t exactly bored, he was just kind of meh on this one. He just didn’t catch all the digs at the Batman lore that made the movie so clever.

And Lala Land? (“Did you know this is a musical?” he asked, walking in. Umm…)

But hey Mikey, he liked it! (Me too. It’s fun, and beautifully filmed.)

Fretting about details of a party we’re hosting

Usually late at night, when I should be falling asleep.

“Huh,” said Jean, when I reported this. “I don’t think about that at all.”

But he definitely helps me work on whatever aspect I’m most recently fretting about.

I guess that makes us a good partnership. Though I do envy his ability to just assume that things will be fine and work out.

Learning from Malcolm Gladwell

Revisionist History is a podcast series, available on iTunes and Google Play.

Each week, over the course of 10 weeks, Revisionist History will go back and reinterpret something from the past. An event. A person. An idea. Something overlooked. Something misunderstood. Because sometimes the past deserves a second chance.

I’ve listened to 8 out of 10 so far, and find them all fascinating. Like:

  • The Lady Vanishes, on how one woman (or African-American, or gay person) achieving breakthrough success doesn’t necessarily pave the way for more.
  • Thanks to The Big Man Can’t Shoot, I now understand that my very disinterest in looking athletic (a hopeless endeavour, anyway; I am simply not athletic) made me a basketball free-throw champion. (It was literally the only thing I was ever better than anyone else at in gym class.)
  • Hallelujah explains the creative process and unlikely series of fortunate events that turned Leonard Cohen’s original un-listenable song into the iconic tune it is today. (Though I think KD Lang should also have earned a shout-out in this piece.) And as a bonus, introduced me to a new Elvis Costello tune.

Listening to women

I’ve always been a feminist, of course, but the US election has made it all feel more acute. My Twitter feed has been feeling gender unbalanced, so I’ve been seeking out more women’s voices:

  • @robyndoolittle, who’s been working on an important series for the Globe and Mail on how many sexual assault cases in Canada are labelled unfounded. (The first: Unfounded: Why police dismiss 1 in 5 sexual assault claims as baseless)
  • @AKimCampbell, first woman Prime Minister of Canada, and also a really hilarious person. (And very active retweeter, but I’ve learned you can follow a person’s tweets but not their retweets.)
  • @kashanacauley, humorist and now writer at The Daily Show.
  • @tagaq, wherein singer Tanya Tagaq provides an interesting, First Nations perspective on the day’s issues.

I’ve also been listening to more music by women. This has led Spotify, who previously recommended me a whole lot of dance club music (thanks to following Adam Lambert, and perhaps enforced by a bout of listening to show tunes) to conclude, well, maybe I would enjoy some Indigo Girls and Melissa Ethridge as well.

I kind of do like their music, though, so it’s all good. And also, the songs by these strong women:


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Movie reviews: Doris, Ricki, and Bathsheba

It struck me recently that all the movies I’ve seen recently have starred women—in two cases, women over 60.

Hello, My Name is Doris is the closest to a current release, and I did see it at the theatre. Doris, played by Sally Field, lives on Staten Island in the home of her recently deceased mother, whom she’d cared for many years. When she meets the handsome, newly hired art director at work, John (played by Max Greenfield), she develops an almost instant crush. Aided by the 13-year-old daughter of one her friends, she inches her way into his life, with an initially feigned by finally honest appreciation of the same music. Surely this can never be more than a friendship? But Doris can’t help hoping…

I appreciated this film’s rare recognition that an older woman can still have desires. And it is fun watching Doris and John’ friendship develop. Though courtship remains a long shot, Doris blossoms. She’s better able to cope with the other stresses in her life and ultimately get her life on a new trajectory. You can’t help rooting for this woman.

Hello, My Name is Doris trailer

By contrast, Ricki, from Meryl Streep’s Ricki and the Flash (2015), decided to pursue her dreams and passions long before the film’s start—even though this meant leaving a husband and three children. Her hopes of becoming a rock star were not realized, but she’s almost making a living performing in a house band, supplemented by cashier job at a health foods store.

Ricki returns to visit the family she hasn’t seen in years after her ex-husband (Kevin Kline) informs her that her daughter (Mamie Gummer, Streep’s daughter) has become suicidal over the collapse of  her marriage. The family has moved on to a different world than the one Ricki inhabits: upper class and straitlaced. The degree varies, but everyone in the family is a little hostile toward their absentee  mother.

I didn’t think this movie was quite as original or successful as Doris, but I still enjoyed it. That music played a prominent role didn’t hurt. The relative realism of the start is somewhat undermined by the determination to make this a feel-good movie. But it is nice to feel good. (And it was fun to see Rick Springfield as Ricki’s boyfriend / guitarist.)

Ricki and The Flash trailer

Far from the Madding Crowd (2015) is about a young woman in Victorian times, Bathsheba Everdeen (Cary Mulligan), who has a refreshing independent streak.  She has no need of a husband, she declares, and this proves true when she inherits her own farm. But this doesn’t men from trying to woo her—and from a modern perspective, it’s almost hilarious how marriage proposals are offered without much preamble, let alone anything like a first date.

At any rate, through the course of this film Bathsheba has three suitors. That she doesn’t always choose wisely among them is disappointing, but admittedly, pretty much necessary to create drama. This is a gorgeous-looking movie, with typically great British acting. I can’t compare it to either the Thomas Hardy novel or the earlier film version, having not read or seen either. But it certainly wasn’t bad viewing after a weekend of appalling current events.

Far from the Madding Crowd trailer


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Pretty Woman (talk a while)

I’m not one for analyzing my site stats, as that might interfere with my goal of being self-indulgent as to what I write about.

grid-cell-6661-1389547445-13But my husband, he likes to explore the numbers. And he was noticing that a surprising number of people were trying to access an old essay of mine about the movie Pretty Woman. And that this kept happening, week after week. Odd.

He got curious enough about it this weekend to dig into it more. He discovered that there’s a college in Buffalo whose curriculum (on film studies, I guess?) was linking to my old essay as an example of what students in the course would be expected to produce.

Interesting, and somewhat flattering, I guess.

I had a look at the essay again, and reproduced in on my newer site: Pretty Woman: A Fantasy Theme Analysis. (I also left the older page up. Those people are having trouble enough finding it as it is.) I had completely forgotten that it was actually an oral presentation, not a written paper, so it’s much more conversational than most of my academic writing.

I also marvelled at all the pop culture research I’d managed to do for it, in those pre-Internet days.

And noted that I was awfully judgmental about sex work. (And also that I called it prostitution instead of sex work.)

But, I did no latter-day revising. I just fixed a couple typos, and took advantage of the web’s existence to add some photos and a YouTube video.

(Bonus: 19 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Pretty Woman. My essay includes items 3 and 16. I wish I’d included something about item 4. But I was still years from seeing La Traviata…)


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Magic Mike marathon

When it comes to binge-watching, I’m a real lightweight. (I don’t really get how anyone watches TV for hours on end. Don’t you people have shit to do?) So this “binge” meant that I watched the first Magic Mike movie on Saturday night, and Magic Mike XXL on Sunday night. (In case wondering: Jean was otherwise occupied both nights, and therefore has no opinion on either film.)

Both movies are about male strippers. “Magic” Mike, played by Channing Tatum, stars in both.

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In the usual critical terms, the first Magic Mike is the better film (80% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes). It’s directed by Stephen Soderbergh (something I didn’t realize til I saw the credits at the end). And it’s fairly gritty, showing there’s a certain hollowness to selling your body for money—even if you’re a man. We see how Mike has trouble forging a real, committed relationship with a woman. How he dreams of running his own custom furniture business, but keeps getting distracted by the easy money of stripping—though his stockpiles of cash do nothing for his credit rating and loan eligibility. And how an 19-year-old who joins the troupe (The Kid, played by Alex Pettyfer) quickly and dangerously gets caught up in the drug trade.

The most fun parts of this movie are the dance performances. In terms of lighting, costumes, and effects—not to mention how very handsome this particular troupe of male strippers are—it’s probably not so realistic. But that’s also likely why the movie became the surprise hit it was.

This “Honest Trailer” for Magic Mike perfectly captures its sad story / hot dancing dichotomy

Magic Mike XXL is not directed by Stephen Soderbergh. And in the “usual critical terms,” it’s not that great a movie (62% on Rotten Tomatoes). The plot is super simple: It’s three years later! The guys are reuniting for one last big strip show! Road trip! Yet it nonetheless often doesn’t make much sense. Why are they stopping at this house? What is that girl from the beach doing there? What is the timeline of this movie?

And yet, and yet. In a world where so many movies are made for teenage boys, it’s hard not to have fondness for a movie so clearly made just for women. (Straight women, anyway.)

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The first movie focused mostly on Mike, The Kid, and MC Dallas (Matthew McConaughey). The Kid and Dallas aren’t in the sequel, so everyone else in the troupe gets more time, especially Matt Bomet as Ken and Joe Manganiello as Big Dick Richie. And what men they are: strong, gorgeous, masculine, but also sweet, sensitive, and funny. None of them have wives / girlfriends at the moment, so they are able to devote themselves to the goal of making women of the world happy.

And they’re very inclusive and non-judgmental about that goal. You kind of plain? That won’t stop Richie from doing a big dance number just to make you smile. Racial diversity comes in after they visit club whose clientele are mostly African-American women (and they pick up a couple African American men to join the group). A bit old to get out to strip clubs? No worries; the men will come to your house to show you “it’s still your time”. Larger-size women get the same worshipful on-stage treatment as their thinner counterparts—and nobody throws their back out. There’s even a scene in a gay club, just so it’s clear these guys don’t have a problem with that, either.

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Richie working the pop machine in a bid to entertain a grumpy shop girl

The stage performances are such a blatant attempt to appeal to women’s fantasies, it’s almost hilarious. Into rock stars? Here’s Ken, singing (nice voice, too), then stripping! Want to be married to a bad boy? He’s Richie in a tux with a big ring: but after the “wedding”, he’ll take off his clothes and throw you in a sling! Want to be painted? Have some guy lick whip cream off your thighs? Or just dance with a guy who looks like Tatum Channing? Done, done, and done!

So, you want a decent movie with a side of hot guys? Then Magic Mike could do the trick. But if you’d rather shut your brain off and enjoy a fantasy, just go for Magic Mike XXL.

Magic Mike XXL official trailer


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Oscar round-up

I expect I’ll tune in for Chris Rock’s opening monologue tonight, but can’t see me sitting there for the following 3+ hours watching it live, with commercials. Even though I do have some opinion about what I’d like to see happen (though mostly, it won’t).

Best picture / Directing

I rented Spotlight from iTunes last night. It is indeed a very good film. I was only vaguely familiar with the story—of the extent of the Catholic Church’s covering up pedophile priests in Boston—so I was along for the ride as the reporting team’s investigation uncovered more and more disturbing facts.

So I’ve now seen five of the eight Best Picture nominees, and three of five Directing. The Revenant I have no interest in ever seeing. Three hours of Leonard di Caprio going through horrible experiences in the bush. Yeah, no thanks. Bridge of Spies—I know nothing about that movie, really. Room—definitely want to see it. I was able to handle the book; should be able to handle the movie. (But Jean wasn’t so sure he could, so this wasn’t a theatre outing for us. Same as Spotlight.)

best-picture

But how to rank what I have seen?

If I went with my heart, it would definitely be Brooklyn. It was just so lovely, and the only one from a woman’s point of view.

With my head, maybe Spotlight with a slight edge over The Big Short?

Though for pure entertainment, hard to beat The Martian. So suspenseful. And overall liked it more than Mad Max: Fury Road, even though that one did manage to keep me interested in a big car chase, which is no mean feat.

And I really think Mad Max: Fury Road was the most impressive directing job of these.

Other film categories

Inside Out had better win Animated Feature Film, and I stick to that despite not having seen any others in this category. That was just one of the best pictures of last year, period. I note it’s up for Best Original Screenplay, too.

95114614770e1f8118804bc009d4ff88767d6ce8c81180cc618ab8f645ab4fe4-370x492I can’t be quite as categorical in the Documentary category, where again I’ve seen only one of the nominees: Amy. Will say that it is very good, though. Wasn’t particularly an Amy Winehouse fan walking in. Certainly was walking out.

Haven’t seen a single one of the Foreign language film nominees!

Acting

Here I’ve really missed a lot of these movies, though I hope to catch some eventually. And there are definite favorites for these, right? DiCaprio best actor; Brie Larson (Room) best actress; Sylvester Stallone (Creed) supporting actor, and Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) supporting actress.

At least on that last one, I can wholeheartedly support. She was amazing. See:

The Danish Girl movie clip: I want my husband

And I really liked Soairse Ronan in Brooklyn, though can’t compare her to Brie Larson.

Brooklyn movie clip: You don’t sound Irish

Best song

I only know three of them, and I think Lady Gaga’s “Til It Happens to You” might be the best of the bunch. Powerful.

Then all those other categories…

Sound mixing, animated short films, makeup and hairstyling, film production.. Lordie. This is why the Oscars go on 3+ boring hours.

 


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Heart and mind: Brooklyn and The Big Short

Bit late to point this out now, but Brooklyn would be a terrific movie to see on Valentine’s Day. It tells the story of Ellis Lacy (Saoirse Ronan) who immigrates from Ireland to New York City in the 1950s. At first she is crippled by homesickness, but then she meets a boy… And takes courses in bookkeeping. And generally comes to appreciate her new country.

A death in the family brings her back to Ireland for a visit. She sees her birth place in a new light. Turns out there are boys here, too. Should her “visit” be extended?

Official trailer for Brooklyn (YouTube)

Brooklyn is a gorgeous movie. Both Jean and I were struck by the lighting, of all things (and it wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar for that). And Ronan is excellent in the lead role, saying a lot with sometimes few lines. The plot is fairly simple; there are no explosions, special effects, car chases. It’s just the story of a bright young woman growing up and having to figure out what her heart wants.

It’s remarkably riveting to join in her journey.


So while that would have been an excellently romantic choice yesterday, since we’d already seen it a few weeks ago, we instead went to see The Big Short. Ying to Brooklyn‘s yang.

The Big Short looks at the few years before and up to the American housing stock market crash  of 2008, and specifically at the few in the financial market who saw it coming. The film has an interesting mix of protagonists (all male; that’s the industry, and the movie is based on fact): an autistic savant (Christian Bale) who works at a major investment firm; a group of cynical hedge fund managers, led by Marc Baum (Steve Carrell) who operate at arm’s length from a big bank; and two smart young guys who invest for themselves, with the assistance of a retired banker, Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt).

They all choose to short the system; that is, to invest in a way that bets against the conventional wisdom that the housing market is solid and could not possibly fail. And they all take a lot of grief for that position.

Understanding this movie means digging into the arcania of mortgage bonds and such. The films does this is an interesting way by literally stopping the story and cutting to someone such as Selena Gomez, to explain the concepts to us directly, using metaphors.

Official trailer for The Big Short (YouTube)

Jean found the film kind of depressing. I didn’t, because it was so interesting, and often funny. But I did feel conflicted about it. Not quite as much as when watching Margin Call, a movie that focuses on financial advisors at that moment that they realize the housing market and the bonds they are built are about to come crashing down, and they hurry to sell as much as they can, as fast they can, by lying to thousands of investors.

This movie’s mavericks aren’t quite as evil as that. For a time, they also are victimized by the fraudulent system that gives high ratings to what are actually high-risk bonds. They are hardly fans of the fraud, greed, and corruption that created this crisis—particularly Marc Baum and group, who hope this will lead to criminal convictions and banking reform. And while they are aware that this crash will cause a lot of economic hardship. it’s not clear how they could possibly have stopped it.

But it’s still a little uncomfortable that they instead profited, quite handsomely, from the crash. As a viewer,  you sort of want the crash to happen, to prove them right and the unpleasant, smug, venal financial experts wrong. But you also know that the crash means a lot of ordinary, innocent people are going to get hurt.

Brooklyn is good for your feels. The Big Short makes you think.


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The Force awakens a Martian and Danish girl (with vampires)

Now that would be a movie! In the meantime, one has to be content with viewing these separately.

The Martian

The Martian tells the story of astronaut Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, who is abandoned on the surface of Mars when his fellow astronauts believe he has died in a sandstorm. Only, not so much. He has to find a way to survive on a desert planet, without any means of communicating with NASA.

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This was a really engrossing film. Mark has to work through one challenge after another: water, food, heat, communication. He has success, but also dramatic and unexpected setbacks. You can never quite relax into this movie. As Jean put it: “I wasn’t bored!”

The Danish Girl

mv5bmja0nja4nje2nl5bml5banbnxkftztgwnzixnty2nje-_v1_sx214_al_Shifting gears completely, The Danish Girl is based on the true story of artist Einer Wegener, who comes to believe he is really a woman in the body of a man: A not commonly accepted idea back in 1926.

Eddie Redmayne has the flashy dual role of Einer and the woman he transitions to, Lili Elbe—and he’s very good. But this is the story of a marriage, and Alicia Vikander, is just luminous and amazing as Gerda Wegener. At the beginning of the movie, these two are truly in love. Gerda initially sees her husband’s explorations with the Lili persona as an amusing game. When she realizes how serious the “game” actually is, her desire to be supportive conflicts with the fact that means losing her beloved husband.

As Jean put it: “That was a very good film.”

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Just wanted to mention this one—that I saw on Netflix—because it was so different from what was expecting, which was a bit of campy fun. But it’s actually a fairly serious look at the life of Abraham Lincoln and the challenges of the Civil War—only, there are vampires. Involved in the slave trade.  Fighting for the south.

I wouldn’t call this a “must see” film, but it was certainly a whole lot better than Jean and I were expecting. Great effects, too.

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter trailer on YouTube

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Warning that this review is somewhat spoilery.

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