Friday, March 19, 2010


I guess I take back what I said about the snow. It's quite crappy out now, and I had to have a friend drive me home from work because I am a wuss when it comes to 4 inches of slush over ice on the road...

I just realized...

that my brief synopsis of District 9 makes it sound like kind of a stupid movie. And it's totally not. So you should definitely see it.

Happy Friday! In my city, everyone was bunkering down last night in the belief that we were about to get hammered by a huge spring snowstorm; I think we were all afraid it was going to be like that one time in 2003 that 4 feet of heavy, wet snow actually shut the whole urban corridor down for three full days. And let me just tell you, this city does not shut down for snow. You are expected to be at work, and be at work on time, even if there's 14 inches of snow on the ground. Once we get past the 18-inch mark, we begin discussions of leaving work early and late starts the next morning and what have you. So it takes a major, major snow event to shut this place down. And that's what the weatherpeople were hyping earlier this week, well into the evening last night -- 10 to 15 inches, probably more, blizzard-like conditions, etc. etc.

Well. Perhaps that happened somewhere, probably two hours north of here. But here, it's just snowy and wet and gray. Life goes on as usual.

Damn weatherpeople and their vicious lies.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Movie Reviews: Best Picture Showcase 2010

Me and The Husband spent this past Saturday at day two of AMC Theatres' Best Picture Showcase 2010. Our new tradition for Oscar weekend... does it count as a "tradition" if we've only in fact done it twice? Well, whatever... here are some thoughts on the 5 movies we saw (we'd seen 8 of the 10 nominees for this year's Oscars. We heart movies.):

1). Up. OMG! This movie is amazing. Funny, touching, a little bit tear-jerky, visually awesome. Our only regret was that we didn't get to see it in 3D. The couple in the movie reminded us of... us. So awesome. Can totally see why it was nominated in the Best Picture category in addition to Best Animated Feature, and was thrilled when it won Best Animated Feature. Pixar rules.

2). A Serious Man. I felt really bad for the people sitting beside us because they thought they were about to see A Single Man... totally different movie. So this was the Coen brothers, which automatically means you're about to be taken on a weird ride, and you'll laugh along the way and often be a bit puzzled, but still love the ride. And sure enough, it delivered. It's about a Jewish family in 1960s Ohio who may or may not be cursed owing to the actions of a relative back in the shtetl. It is funny in that special way that only Jewish families can deliver. The ending was rather abrupt (a tornado about to level the town and several main characters, with several plotlines seemingly unresolved), and at first I was like, WTF? But then I thought about it, and realized it was to be expected. Given the curse. Or as per The Husband's point of view, the tornado was a larger symbol of the pointlessness of believing that God actually has any kind of plan for us.

My favorite moment was a youthful rabbi who reminded us of a good friend, who will henceforth be known as Rabbi Dicker. For the rest of all time.

3). The Hurt Locker. Really well done movie about bomb diffusion experts in Iraq in 2004. I'm a fan of brutally realistic war movies, and this one certainly didn't disappoint. Its accolades are well-deserved, and I'm thrilled that Kathryn Bigelow won Best Director. What's funny is that this movie made me realize how jaded I've become about brutally realistic war movies. Someone I know had been talking about how much this movie made her "think," and I didn't really pursue it at the time, because I hadn't seen it yet. But after I did, I felt like something was wrong with me because it really didn't make me think. It was everything I expected it to be, but it didn't keep me awake at night or anything. It only confirmed for me that war is horrible and brutal and perhaps too much for young men who are practically still children to deal with, and that the stress of combat sometimes causes people to do questionable things, and become people they might not have otherwise become. I guess if anything, it just reaffirms my belief that we need to take special care of our service people, both before and after they serve in combat.

4). An Education. Ah, a beautiful British coming of age film starring the oh-so-awesome Carey Mulligan -- Oscar nomination well-deserved for her, by the way. The whole movie is just lovely and lyrical, and I loved every second of it. In the hands of lesser actors and a worse director, it could have been sugarcoated and schlocky, but instead, it's both heartbreaking and hopeful, sad and funny. It's got a happy ending, luckily, but you find yourself thinking, Yikes -- that was a near miss. It's just a gorgeous, lovely movie. And?? The Husband loved it too!

5). District 9. An alien movie that kind of sneaks up on you, it's done as a faux-documentary, which I think really works. I love that this movie got a Best Picture nod, because it could have so easily been overlooked. An allegory about apartheid (and any other method the human race has devised to marginalize large groups of other humans), the premise is that an alien spaceship broke down in the skies over Johannesburg, South Africa 20 years ago, and the alien creatures were rescued, brought down from the ship, and put into a shantytown/craphole just outside the city. They are about to be moved to a new location because the humans hate having them there -- they think of them as vermin, basically. So the man chosen to lead the mission of notifying the aliens they're about to be relocated becomes infected with alien blood and begins turning into one of the aliens. He narrowly escapes becoming a governmental science project, and assists one of the real aliens in escaping and getting the spaceship running again; this alien takes his child and says he's going to go back to his home and bring back help for the rest of the stranded aliens. Since this movie doesn't take place in space or on a spacecraft, but rather on earth as we know it, it really humanizes the situation and gives you more things to ponder than the usual alien movie.

Honestly, in our couple of years of making sure we've seen all the Best Picture nominees before the Oscars air, we've come to realize that we don't envy the people that do have to make the choice. It's hard to pick a favorite out of ten really amazing movies. We had also seen Avatar, Up In the Air, and The Blind Side.

Honestly, if I had to choose, I would split my award between Up In the Air and An Education.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Book Review: Rich Again by Anna Maxted

Worst. Book. Ever.

I don't know -- I feel like I've maybe read worse, but can't think of anything off the top of my head. So Rich Again is the latest gem from Anna Maxted, a chick lit writer who I used to love but has let me down immensely before... her book Running In Heels was the one where, 200 pages in, the main character is suddenly anorexic, with no hints leading up to it. As I'm fond of saying, I should have known better. But I was taken in by the cute cover, and by the fact that I was buying a PD James mystery at the time, along with Drood and The Count of Monte Cristo (Unabridged), and knew I was going to need something light to go along with all that. So I gave Anna another chance. And let me assure you, she has failed, and thus her chances are all used up.

The book is about the fabulously wealthy Kent family of England -- the father was disgraced during the Lloyd's debacle of the early 1990s, but the stepmother had the foresight to move all of his hotel empire holdings into her own name several years before, thus ensuring the family held onto most of its fortune. There is a daughter of the father's first marriage named Claudia, and a daughter of the second marriage named Emily. Claudia is supposed to be the character we root for, because she is nice and was treated cruelly by the stepmother and has turned her back on the family to make her own way in the world as a journalist. However? Claudia is totally fucking boring. And that's why no one gives a shit about her.

And then there's Emily, who we see at age 14 on page 1, planning a huge party at her mummy's Hollywood mansion. Emily is a whore, yet still a virgin. She is a disgusting human being. She's smart, but utterly stupid at the same time. I suspect that we're supposed to have some sympathy for her, but since the writer clearly hates her, and writes every single line about her with poison positively dripping from her pen, there's no way we'll ever locate our sympathy. Late in the book, a few years down the road, Emily gets her children taken away from her by Social Services -- the whole thing supposedly engineered by the real villain. But the thing is, she totally deserved to get her kids taken away.

The dad Jack is emotionally unavailable to everyone in his life following the death of his first wife (Claudia's mother). The parts narrated in his voice just make him come off like a whiny douchebag. Like we're going to feel sorry for him. He marries Innocence, but he hates her. He's in Paris getting a hotel ready to open and falls in love with Maria, the housekeeping manager who turns out to be Claudia's birth mother. Yeah, by the way? Claudia's adopted. About 1/3 of the way through the book there's this scene that takes place in Italy somewhere and two people have just gotten married and are all swoony and happy but you're not supposed to know who these two people are. But it's TOTALLY fucking obvious that it's Jack and Maria, and that we'll eventually find out that his marriage to Innocence was never legal or some stupid shit like that.

Meanwhile, Claudia has fallen in love with an older guy at work, who turns out to be her birth father. Luckily her sister Emily figures this out before Claudia gives up her goodies, but the way Claudia goes about breaking things off with the guy is beyond ludicrous: she lets him catch her getting it from behind while bent over a desk from a slimy coworker that everyone hates, Claudia included. Instead of, oh, I don't know, telling her fiance that she's his long lost daughter, she gets all pissy about it and concocts this scenario in her head where he banged her birth mother and abandoned her, never knowing she was even pregnant. Of course we know from Maria that this scenario is far from the truth. But the record is never set straight, not in 734 pages. I hate that kind of shit.

And true to Anna Maxted's new style, I guess, on page 200 we are introduced to the real villain. Out of nowhere, we learn that Claudia's mom and Jack had adopted a baby boy named Nathan to "complete" their family, but Claudia's mom dies before the adoption is finalized and Jack, who has never bonded with the boy at all, turns him back over to family services or whatever. Because apparently in England you can't adopt a child without a mother in the home or some shit, or maybe it was just "back then." It's all very convoluted and contrived so that the author can create a villain with a vendetta against the family; what she failed to realize is that these people are all fucking assholes and "what goes around comes around" and eventually they would have screwed themselves -- she didn't need to add a real villain to get the job done.

So this kid grows up abused by the foster care system and turns into a psychopath who eventually murders his birth mother and then goes off to Hollywood and becomes this big huge Oscar-winning star, and all the while is masterminding the downfall of the entire Kent clan. We're supposed to not be sure when we meet Ethan Summers the movie star whether or not he's also Nathan the crazy psycho. But the writing is so shitty and the plot so thin that of course we know... unless we are a halfwit, I guess.

Eventually he kills Emily and somehow convinces Claudia to marry him even though the whole family hates him because they believe he's responsible for Emily's kids getting injured in his house and subsequently taken away by Social Services and placed in foster care. Sorry, but I just don't see Claudia falling for someone like him and agreeing to marry him. Also? There is a gaping plot hole where we're expected to believe he planned out the entire thing where Emily's kids get placed in foster care, but there's no way he could have possible known that Emily would end up with him and the kids be hanging around. Also, the amount of time he spent with the kids just wouldn't have happened -- he was a case study in despising other children growing up and I just don't think he would've been able to fake it that well. Not even as good an actor as he's supposed to be.

But whatever. He kills Emily, helps Claudia get the kids back, convinces her to marry him, and then moves in to kill her and the rest of the family on the wedding night. He has somehow managed to convince his former psychologist to be his personal and murdering assistant, by the way, and they manage to kidnap the kids and tie Claudia up and then the dad and stepmom come to the rescue. Except there's just no way a psychopath like this would've let everyone live as long as he does. Eventually he only kills Jack the dad as stepmother Innocence kills him and the crazy assistant. So Claudia and the children live happily ever after and she marries her old childhood friend Alfie, who she was in love with all along.

Does it sound stupid? Because it is. Better writing could have made it palatable. But I suspect Maxted was trying to write a thriller, and she doesn't have the proper skills -- mood setting, character building for many different types of people, etc. The villain character, for example, comes off like his backstory was copied rote from a sociology case file -- bad foster care, failure to bond, presto! Psycho. Which is both boring and annoying in a book.

I can't believe I spent 5 hours of my life reading this book, but since I did, I guess I can warn the rest of you not to follow suit.