Friday, April 23, 2010

Raw Deal for Whom?

Not that he's had a lot to say in this vein lately, opting instead for more personal interest items, but I generally let Mike deal with the topic of towboaters on his blog. However, given MY personal interest in a recent news story and the related towboater tidbit Mike passed on to me, I cannot, in good conscience, sit idly by without comment.

Chances are, knowing the wonderful (if small) group of followers I have, you've heard about Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's recent legal entanglements. Accused of rape for the second time, of a 20-year-old intoxicated sorority girl in this particular instance, though he has a civil case pending for a 2008 incident, he boogied around to the Denial Shuffle for several days (hedge left, hedge right, kick, kick, turn) before finally admitting he'd acted irresponsibly, though obviously still insisting the sex (once he finally admitted to it) was consensual. And at first, all the NFL was going to do about it was suspend him for 2 games next season. TWO. That's one game missed for each currently pending rape accusation against you, in case you're keeping score. They've since amended that suspension, in light of the release of the 500-page report by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, to 6 games. Considering the NFL is in the habit of suspending players for 4 games when found in possession of drugs, I think it's a step in the right direction to place a slightly higher penalty on violent crime.

Now, the bigoted misogynists Mike works with are all Steelers fans. And their reaction to the 2-game suspension (not even the marginally more reasonable 6-game suspension) was that "Roethlisberger got hosed." That's right: hosed. As in, shamefully mistreated. Shafted. Cheated. Wronged. Roethlisberger got hosed.

I'm not sure if these neanderthals quite understand what "rape" means, but I think it's pretty freakin' clear that it's the 20-year-old girl, not Roethlisberger, who got hosed in this particular situation. Not only did she get assaulted (you can say allegedly if you want, but I've read several accounts and they all come back to her saying it's "not okay" and him saying it is, which equals assault in my book but, more to the point, makes it clear she BELIEVES she was assaulted), but the police officer who took her statement was discouraging and disbelieving and half the world is out there judging her (HER!) for what transpired.

I may not be able to tell you what exactly happened in that bar bathroom (which: gross), but I can say with certainty that the nature of rape leads the woman to feel responsible. She doesn't think she fought hard enough, or blames herself for flirting, or is ashamed how drunk she was, or any combination of those and other reasons. Not only is it a violation of her body, but it wreaks havoc on her state of mind, her self-esteem, and how she is seen by herself and how she believes others see her (whether it's true or not). And the worst part of it is, a lot of the time it IS true how others see her: like she asked for it, like she's exaggerating, like she's oversensitive, like she's out for fame and money. What kind of bullshit is that??

Tell me ONE WOMAN who got famous for being raped, who reveled in it and milked it for all it was worth and made the most of it to get every last second of her fifteen minutes. Seriously, the only thing a rape victim wants is for it to all go away. Why are there no charges against Roethlisberger? Well, the girl doesn't want to go to trial. She's already been dragged through the mud for the last month; imagine if it involves a trial that lasts a year or more. Rape victims want anonymity. They want to forget. They want the whole thing to go away. Most of all, they want to never ever ever ever think of it again. That's why rape is so under reported. That's why, when it IS reported, the victim needs to be protected and supported as much as possible.

And honestly, how many rape victims do you know who receive a big fat check when their rapist is convicted? There is no money to be had here. It's not like she accused him behind closed doors in hopes of a bribe, which no innocent man would pay anyway, she told her friends immediately, and they told the cops. Where's the money?? She's not doing appearances. She's not seeking any attention at all.

It's ludicrous, truly, to say that Ben fucking Roethlisberger, with his millions of supporters and fans and well-wishers and his hundreds of millions of dollars, is at all "hosed" by this suspension, when the real victim is THE VICTIM. Honestly, even if you believe Roethlisberger didn't "intend" to assault her, the girl was a college sophomore, under the legal drinking age, and by all accounts way too intoxicated to even give consent. She's the one who's been mistreated.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The "Twilight" Roundup

So, a few weeks back, over at MonkeySee, we had our week-long discussion of Twilight. And since it was so hilarious and awesome, I am linking to all the posts and live chat transcript here. In addition, I am providing a list of my tweets on the subject. I wanted to include some other tweets as well, but searches aren't bringing up older ones right now, so I can't. Anyway, you'll note that the #monkeyread hashtag allows us to keep track of the book clubbers' thoughts, but if you search it now you'll get a boat load (no pun intended) of Moby Dick, since that's our current selection. If you're that interested in the whole "Twilight Tweetfest", you'll need to go back several pages in your search, assuming they fix whatever problem they're currently having with it. Also, please keep in mind that these items may contain spoilers to the whole series. Enjoy!

Monkeysee posts:

Why you shouldn't be an author if you don't know what words mean.

Does Bella deserve to be the most hated girl in all of literature?

OMG Edward + Bella 4EVA!!!!!1!!!

Do teenagers matter?

What happens when Twilight lovers and haters all try to talk at once.

And here, my lovelies, are my tweets:

And yes, I did read New Moon. And Eclipse. And Breaking Dawn. I've also watched both movies about a dozen times. Each. It's ... mind-boggling, to say the least. However, I have amassed a ton of opinions on the series and will postulate on those in my next post. And then I'm done making you read about Twilight, I swear.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

One Woman Rails Against Maggie Rodriguez*

*As of the end of 2010, Maggie no longer graced the set of The Early Show, thereby saving me from countless morning screaming matches with my TV. CBS, the neighbors thank you.

Every morning as I get ready for work, I can be counted on to yell at my TV. More specifically, I can be counted on to yell at Maggie Rodriguez, co-host of The Early Show on CBS.

Now, I'm not in the hospital on bedrest, but I do watch The Early Show every weekday morning. I truly enjoy Harry Smith, live colonoscopy or no, and frankly I prefer our local affiliate's news team over any of the other networks, so CBS wins my viewership. Maggie Rodriguez, however, infuriates me so completely, you'd think I'd have the sense to not watch her. Clearly I don't, but I can at least vent my frustrations within the exceptionally narrow readership of this blog. (You know I love all 6 of you following along.)

1. Maggie Rodriguez is desperate to be a journalist. Desperate! Any time she is interviewing someone for what could be considered a "hard news story", she repeatedly and consistently interrupts her interviewee mid-sentence to angrily and assertively restate her question, even if the person is calmly and unevasively in the process of answering that exact question. She does this, no doubt, because she thinks this is what real journalists do. They go after the hard stories, they press their issues, and they never take no for an answer. So basically, Maggie Rodriguez is a journalist in a soap opera. Most people are visibly taken aback by this incredibly rude (not to mention obtuse) practice, but I have to admit I get a thrill on the few occasions someone has the balls to snap back at her. Like, seriously, give a person a minute to freaking answer, psycho.

2. Maggie Rodriguez has exactly zero objectivity. Make no mistake, she interrupts EVERYONE on those "hard news" items -- war, politics and social policy all qualify -- but if she happens to disagree with the basic philosophies (stated or assumed) of the person in question, her interruptions are even more obnoxious, almost always calling out the most lopsided, propaganda-filled point she can find. It's not that her opinions are wrong, per se, though it's fairly easy to discern that she and I don't lean the same way politically, it's just that she makes her opinions so painfully obvious to one and all. And, seemingly, in direct opposition with her desire to be taken seriously as a journalist. So now she's not merely a journalist in a soap opera, she's anchoring a FOX News clone on an episode of Law & Order.

3. Maggie Rodriguez lives for sensationalism. If there is outrage to be gleaned from a story, be it hard news, human interest or entertainment buzz, Maggie Rodriguez is there to exploit it. Even create it, sometimes. Erykah Badu in the nude at the Grassy Knoll? Maggie harps on the fact that there were CHILDREN present, as if the worst thing that could ever happen to a child in this world would be to see a woman's naked body, much less Erykah Badu's in the middle of some performance art. I'm neither defending nor supporting Badu, but it seems to me this is not the most important, or even the most interesting, aspect of the story. Or, hey, a killer whale tragically drowns a Sea World trainer? Every single one of Maggie's famed interruptions is about how that whale has ALREADY KILLED TWICE BEFORE, like we've got Shamu the Ripper on our hands. Nevermind that she has no information whatsoever on the first trainer's death and has chosen to ignore the fact that the second death was entirely the fault of the nimrod who broke into the killer whale aquarium. Nevermind the fact that all of these people died by drowning and not by being eaten (which, in case you were unaware, is how a killer whale would kill you if that's what it was out to do). Those stories are not nearly as interesting, as outrageous, as sensational as a serial murdering orca, let's face it, but when she puts her emphasis on something so clearly intended to rile people up, it completely undermines her as a reliable news source. It's like Stephen Colbert, but not funny.

4. Maggie Rodriguez has no idea what she's talking about. Literally, no idea. It goes in line with the sensationalism and the interruptions, in a way, because both those practices erupt from her not having a solid foundation on the topic at hand to start with, but it also extends far beyond the standard segment. Her interviews with celebrities on their latest projects are particularly amusing, especially if you have any knowledge whatsoever on the project because it is instantly clear that Maggie Rodriguez does not. Her questions are inane, irrelevant and consistently unoriginal. And she is not all too bright when discussing cooking or products or animals either. After one taped segment in which the focus was to discourage people from getting dogs unless they were ready for them, and to never get a dog that wouldn't fit your lifestyle, Maggie's first statement was that she thought everyone should go out and get a dog now. I'm not even kidding. Another time there was a feature on the push to get healthier food on the breakfast and lunch menus at schools, particularly in poverty districts, where the increase in childhood obesity is at its most severe. Maggie's question was whether it was even worth it to give them healthy food in school if they wouldn't have access to healthy options at home. What?!? Seriously, Mags, that doesn't even make sense. Now you're an SNL skit of Nancy Grace and Kathie Lee Gifford's unholy love child.

5. Maggie Rodriguez has a tin ear for social dynamics. I don't like it, but I understand these morning shows like to have manufactured schtick in place to make up for the lack of any real rapport among hosts. It's like how American Idol's schtick is that Randy boos Simon every single time he's introduced and Ryan picks on Simon for being gay and a bad dresser and Simon picks on Ryan for being gay and a bad host. I get it. It's stupid and annoying, but I get it. The Early Show's schtick is much less complex; in a nutshell, Dave Price, the weather guy, is a geek. That's it. Haha, Dave Price is a big ol' nerdbomber with no girlfriend. Or whatever. Like I said, it's stupid. The thing is, Maggie Rodriguez has no idea it's stupid. In fact, Maggie thinks it's funny. Not only does she think it's funny, Maggie thinks SHE'S funny when she plays it up. Even worse, Maggie Rodriguez thinks it's true. I'm pretty good at reading people (not as good as Edward, but then, I am not a mind-reading vampire (that you know of)), and I am here to tell you that when Maggie Rodriguez goes off the deep end about what a loser Dave Price is for being single and a big giant dork, not only does she think she is HILARIOUS, but she believes every word of it. In her mind, any grown adult who has never been married is, indeed, a total failure at life and anyone who likes theater and their dogs and science-y things like weather is a massive nerd, like it's a bad thing. Meanwhile, poor Dave Price is practically cringing on screen because while he gamely partakes in his role in the schtick and laughs most of it off, it is unavoidably obvious that Maggie hits a lot of nerves and makes him extremely uncomfortable when she gets into a rhythm and refuses to let up. Honestly, I would rather my CHILDREN see Erykah Badu walk naked down the street than to learn this is how people should treat and talk to each other, and I highly doubt I'm the only one.

Hey, Maggie, you know how you're the embodiment of a Nancy Grace SNL skit? Well, in the skit Nancy Grace is a Mean Girl.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The "Twilight" Experiment

A little more than a week ago, I had this great idea to have a group of like-minded, curious types to read Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (There were follow up books and some movies too. Perhaps you've heard?) simultaneously for the purpose of, basically, seeing what all the fuss was about. And also, to make fun of it, because that is the kind of like-minded we are. To fuel the discussion, we tweeted our thoughts in between reading. Tomorrow (or, I guess, it's today now) we're going to summarize our experiences and perceptions, and I really felt the need to organize my thoughts first. So here I am.

I am very conflicted about this book, I find. First, let me just state emphatically and without condition, it is not good. The writing is poor, often clunky and awkward, the pacing is erratic, the exposition, particularly through the first half, is interminable, the plot is uneven, the voice uncertain, and the structure is, at times, painfully distracting. In fact, and I have thought about this at great length, I'm positive these technical shortcomings are the reason Bella is so widely disliked, given that it's her point of view, her telling the story. The glaring problems with the basic framework of the writing can't be overcome by Meyer's fairly clear vision of who Bella is, a characterization that starts slowly but builds steadily throughout the book. It makes her sound old but not wise, overly self-aware but also unbelievably blind, philosophical but petulant and whiny. In a word, annoying. Why would Edward, with decades of life experience and knowledge under his belt, ever love this girl so completely? Because she smells good?? It's absurd. Better writing could have, I believe, given a little more definition to Bella's character, separating the stodgy narration from the much more lively person, and saving Bella's character from the bad reputation that, frankly, I think is undeserved.

Of course, this is not to say that Bella isn't fairly silly and overwrought, but then again so is Edward. Still, the characters themselves are well-drawn and compelling taken on their own accord, at least the main ones. In scenes where they interact, the words flow smoothly off the page. It's clear Meyer has a great admiration and interest for her vampires, for they are the most intriguing. And even Jacob, in his brief appearances, was interesting and likable. Meyer can definitely build characters, and at times I even found myself graced with a truly lovely piece of prose - a sentence here, a phrase there. At times.

The thing that really kills me, though, is how ingeniously commercial it is. Seriously, it's like Meyer found the exact right formula to create two ideal teen heartthrobs - extreme archetypes distilled into their purest form and given angelic good looks, patience, and subdued libidos: the bad boy, reformed but still undeniably dangerous, with the heart of gold, and in New Moon (which I started reading today once I mostly got over my embarrassment from wanting to) there's the uber good guy who is always righteous, even in violence. I'll tell you now, the first one is, has been, and always will be my type. God as my witness, I am firmly on Team Edward. But it's easy to see the allure of the other as well, and that's what makes this series so brilliant. Granted, the writing isn't great, but it's passable. And if Stephenie Meyer or anyone else has the time, dedication and persistence to publish something so simple yet so clever and get kids reading passionately, then I'm all for it.

Now I must go devour the rest of this book. I swear, I feel like a 15 year old fangirl, but if I don't get Edward back soon I might fall into Bella-style levels of despair.

Friday, March 5, 2010


I finally got some items out of draft mode and fully published, as you can see below. Hope you enjoy them.

Why "Titanic" deserved the Best Picture Oscar and "Avatar", emphatically, Does NOT

With the Oscars this weekend, I felt I had to address a very large elephant in the room, and that elephant's name is Avatar. Some people see significant parallels between Avatar and director James Cameron's last movie-making monstrosity, Titanic, and use those parallels as justification for their belief that Avatar is the best and most obvious choice to win the Academy's highest honor on Sunday. To wit, they are both massive, record-breaking blockbuster films with relatively (or, in the case of Avatar, not-so-relatively) weak scripts that nevertheless are so awe-inspiring and mind-blowing visually that you can't help but be amazed. I am here to discredit this belief, once and for all, for while I was very happy with the Titanic win and find it as deserving now and I found it then, Avatar simply doesn't measure up. Not against Titanic, and not against this year's other competitors.

First, in the interest of full disclosure, I will admit some things:

1. I saw Titanic 6 and a half times in the theater. Probably 3 or 4 of these instances occurred before the Oscars. One was a full 8.5 years later, during a summer movie series downtown. The half viewing happened when I walked out of Lost in Space and so desperately needed a palate cleanser I hopped in to the theater next door, then halfway through Titanic. Clearly, I love this movie. Love it as much as I positively loathed Avatar. This fact is irrelevant. Everyone has tastes and preferences and I can be just as objective, if not more so, than anyone else.

2. I am in love with Leonardo DiCaprio and have been since roughly forever. Something about him on Growing Pains all those years ago stuck with me. I don't know what it was or why, but I noticed him, I remembered him, and I grew to love him. And he grew to deserve my love because not only is he a great actor (seriously, What's Eating Gilbert Grape and The Basketball Diaries still haunt me with how brilliant he is), but that latest Esquire cover is HOTT. This fact is also irrelevant, because I will freely and readily admit this is my least favorite of his performances, one that I have found stiff and awkward (partly due to the script, which I will address momentarily) with only brief shades of charm and emotional heft.

That out of the way, let's get down to business.

The most prominent reason Avatar is sub-par, as a film, is its lack of story. There is literally nothing new or inventive or even interesting about this "conqueror comes to know the people he's conquering and leads them in overthrowing the other conquerors" tale. It's been done, and done, and done. And not only is it a tired and overused premise, it's an outdated and offensive concept. These poor tree huggers are going to wail and moan and sway beseechingly when their homes are destroyed, only bothering to stand up and defend themselves when this wiser, stronger outsider completely masters their culture inside of three months and incites them to fight back. With his help, they can prevail. How is this any more enlightened or empowering than literally calling them "savages" like Cliche' McCliche'erson, the assembly-line Corporate Weasel?

Even its attempts at story are inconsistent and confusing. Why would Neytiri spare Jake's life when given a sign that he's special by the sacred dandelion seed, only to have an adolescent mini tantrum when she's asked to train him? Why, if she's betrothed to the future chief dude, is there no hesitation on her part, nor any fallout whatsoever, from her mating (ew) with Jake? How are we supposed to care about this love story when it received all the time and nuance developing it as did Simba's advancement into adulthood (while traipsing across a log, singing "Hakuna Matata") in The Lion King?

And there are other, nitpicky things: Why is the science-y guy suddenly ragging on Jake about his lack of study and knowledge when he'd previously been hospitable and gracious towards him? Why was their school shut down? Why was Grace banished? How long have they been there that seemingly ever Na'vi alive knows English? Why the throwaway line about Jake going blind if he plays with his connector-hair? What does that mean? Is it significant? What the hell is this floating rock for anyway? What makes it so valuable? Is it seriously called "unobtanium", of all things, REALLY?? What takes that villainous army Colonel so long to die anyway? Is he just that badass??

These things are so overwrought and ridiculous, if it weren't for the effects this movie would be laughed out of theaters, I kid you not. But a movie is more than special effects. It doesn't have to be deep or complex. It doesn't have to involve tragedy or disease to be important, but it does have to be about something. A film that exists solely as a showcase for its amazing advancements in visual effects is nothing but an advertisement for new technologies. It's a two-and-a-half hour video billboard. It's a Powerpoint presentation.

Titanic is different; it has a heart. Given, Cameron was probably aided, story-wise, by the fact that the story of the Titanic is true, allowing him to cull from actual events and accounts to lend some authenticity to his otherwise admittedly thin writing abilities. But even though the ending of Titanic was known going in -- it is a matter of historical record, after all -- Cameron was able to make the film about the journey, the maiden (and final) voyage of a legendary ship. He even starts with the end, so to speak, in that the film begins in the present, at the actual wreckage, and our first introduction to Rose tells us that, at some point, she took Jack's name. So the film is more of a memory, a nostalgic look at a fascinating and terrifying event, that embraces and enthralls its audience with its story as much as its heart-dropping effects. Yes, as in Avatar, many of Titanic's characters are stereotypes -- Rose's mother, Cal, the wince-inducing Fabrizio -- but unlike Avatar, Titanic has an emotional center in its main character. Rose, the Kate Winslet memory and the Gloria Stuart present, is strong and scared. She's brave and hesitant. She's thoughtful and spontaneous. Introspective and flighty. She's disdainful of her position and entrenched in it. And ultimately, these are all the things that a person is, with different shades of personality that run the gamut of emotions. No one is just one thing -- like Avatar's laughably brash Grace, feisty Neytiri, soldier-boy Jake, or countless others. Winslet and Stuart gave us someone to care about in Titanic, which is why both received acting nominations, whereas I couldn't care less about anyone in Avatar because the whole thing was utterly disconnected from real human emotion. Clearly, given Avatar's grand total of zero acting noms, many Academy voters feel similarly. And how can you feel connected, really, to a character that is essentially a cartoon? A transformative, technological marvel of a cartoon, but a cartoon nonetheless. Not a Pixar cartoon, mind you, because those beings have souls, but a lifeless, soulless, action figure. A video game.

Dalton Ross said today on The Early Show that, while he thought The Hurt Locker would win Best Picture and Best Director, he felt Avatar and Cameron should win those categories. His argument, in a nutshell, is that Avatar was amazing to look at, and that Cameron did things nobody else has ever done before. My response, in a nutshell, is that's why the Academy has Scientific Achievement Awards. Best Picture and, by extension, Best Director, are about something more.

Look at the nominees that shared space with Titanic in 1997: As Good As It Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Hunting, L.A. Confidential. This is a varied and interesting group of films right here, each one of them outstanding because of its emotion. L.A. Confidential was gorgeous, but also heartbreaking. The Full Monty was hilariously fun, but also touching. Good Will Hunting was witty, but also insightful. As Good As It Gets was absurd, but also heartfelt. Titanic was stunning, but also devastating. Each one of these films made a really strong case for being in the running that year, and any of them would've been justified in taking home the statue. The fact that Titanic did may have been influenced by its box-office and its effects, but it wasn't exclusive of its story and characters. This year's nominees, an overwhelming and excessive list of ten, share a lot of those same characteristics. Up, Up in the Air, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, and The Hurt Locker all fall into line with the same kinds of qualities as the 1997 list. They are interesting, original, stunning, tense, gut-wrenching, tragic, and uplifting. Any one of them could walk away with the prize and get no argument from me, though my personal favorite was Inglourious Basterds, a captivating and thoroughly entertaining film. But even most of the people I know or have talked to who liked Avatar agree it shouldn't win Best Picture. It's a fluff piece -- the "World's Largest Cheeseburger" of the movie world. A technical achievement, sure, but in no way the best thing you've consumed all year.

It doesn't deserve to win.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Perfect Week

I've gotta tell you, generally if I take vacation at work, I want to be going somewhere. I want to have plans. I want things to be happening. Even if I'm not travelling per se, I usually have some fun event I'm attending. On the rare occasion I take time off to complete projects at home. But this last week off -- greatly needed thanks to my giant, stressful undertaking at work finally coming to completion -- was just about the best unplanned time ever.

Every day Mike and I would send the kids off to school and then hang out the rest of the day. Sometimes we napped, other times we worked out. We watched a lot of TV, laughed at the dog, and made love whenever we wanted. Sometimes we went out, either to run the odd errand or to grab a bite to eat. Other times we holed up and cuddled on the couch. We thought about going to the movies, but never quite got around to it. It didn't matter. We were together, enjoying each other, and it was perfect.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Valentine's Day Massacre

I hate Valentine's Day.

This is not one of those posts where the angry single girl vents her frustration at being alone -- for one thing, I am not single, nor am I exceptionally angry. Instead, this is a call to arms for all the couples out there to reject the false and manufactured romance that is built upon this questionable holiday.

Honestly, I support the theory -- the spirit -- of Valentine's Day. I agree with cynics and naysayers that you should cherish and appreciate your loved ones every day, that you should always seek out and attempt romance, and that by and large an unexpected gift or loving gesture is much more powerful than an anticipated one, but I also acknowledge that, for most people, life gets in the way. It's hard to be romantic when the kids are fighting and nobody made dinner and you've run out of milk and the toilet's backed up. Bills and work and responsibility almost always take precedence over snuggling on the to-do list. That's why it's nice to have a day or two set aside, some time already marked on the calendar when you're reminded to make sure your partner knows how much he or she means to you. But frankly, Valentine's Day has gotten too big for its britches.

Instead of a reminder, it's a judgment:
Did you make plans? Reservations at the swankiest, most expensive restaurant in town? I hope you bought your wife the newest, biggest, 3-stone diamond-heart-forever-joined pendant design. Don't forget the KY-Intense! Do you have a babysitter? What if your babysitter has a date? DO YOU EVEN HAVE A DATE??

How many movies and sitcom plots have been built around the premise of needing a date for Valentine's? It's ridiculous, is what it is, and no fun at all. So boycott Hallmark, avoid the jewelry stores, cook dinner at home, and don't even think about buying a purpley-pink fuzzy stuffed animal of any kind. Say I love you. Write it on a note. Tell them a thousand times. Do something thoughtful. Spend time alone. Go somewhere nice if you want. Just maybe do it on January 29.

Monday, February 8, 2010


I'm having a hard time coming up with subject matter lately.

Well, not really. I have lots of things on my mind but none of them are things I want to delve into on a public forum. Because that's what this is, readers or no.

For those of you out there, following along like the good support system you are, I haven't forgotten you. I'll think of something soon. Or, you know, send me a suggestion.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Happy Oscar Nomination Day!

There was a time when I was much more up on my movie-watching than I am this year. Still, the Oscars are quickly approaching and I have been a fan of the Academy's highest honor for something like twenty-five years. Holy smokes.

Anyway, today is Oscar Nomination Day and I typically take this time to mull over the contenders, acknowledge the snubs, and perhaps offer up some predictions. So let's get to it.

Supporting Actress
Penelope Cruz - Nine
Vera Farmiga - Up in the Air
Maggie Gyllenhaal - Crazy Heart
Anna Kendrick - Up in the Air
Mo'Nique - Precious

This is pretty simple, really, because there's no way anyone but Mo'Nique is taking this home. Farmiga and Kendrick are completely fabulous in their roles, but it would be hard for me to argue the merits of one over the other. Maggie Gyllenhaal will certainly get her due in time, but while Crazy Heart is the one film in this category I've yet to see (perhaps today), I'm confident saying this year will not be hers. And Penelope Cruz is loved by the Academy so much that her adequate performance in an uneven and poorly structured film gets a nomination over the likes of, say, Julianne Moore in A Single Man. Mo'Nique, on the other hand, gives a stark, raw, gritty performance in a film that tiptoes along the line between gut-wrenching power and emotional manipulation. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it's precisely Mo'Nique's fully realized menace and veiled desperation that keep the film on the right side of that line.

Supporting Actor
Matt Damon - Invictus
Woody Harrelson - The Messenger
Christopher Plummer - The Last Station
Stanley Tucci - The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz - Inglourious Basterds

God love Matt Damon, but the inclusion of Invictus in any of these awards programs feels like filler, as if suddenly the male acting categories are afflicted with the same lack of viable candidates that have been plaguing the female categories for years. The good news is now movie marketers around the world are one step closer to being able to tout "Academy Award Winner Matt Damon" as appearing in their film without having to sidestep the white elephantine caveat that Damon's previous win was for Original Screenplay. Closer, of course, but not quite there, because Damon is not winning. Neither is Woody Harrelson -- a wild card the Academy is fond of nominating but who will have to completely blow a role out of the water in a year with weaker contenders order to win -- or Stanley Tucci -- an amazing actor who might have half a chance if nominated for Julie & Julia, in which he was delightful, but, as the villainous child-killer in the mildly-received The Lovely Bones, will likely be overlooked. Christopher Plummer could be a surprise, since, unlike the Supporting Actress category, which likes to recognize ingenues, the Supporting Actor likes to recognize lifetime achievers. But my money's on Christoph Waltz, easily the most dynamic performance in a movie that was nothing if not dynamic, who has been raking in statues left and right.

Lead Actress
Sandra Bullock - The Blind Side
Helen Mirren - The Last Station
Carey Mulligan - An Education
Gabourey Sidibe - Precious
Meryl Streep - Julie & Julia

I'll get to The Blind Side in a bit, but with regard to just Sandra Bullock's work in the film, I can get behind the assertions that it's the best of her career. She is transformed and so strong in this she might have her own gravitational pull. There's been talk that this might be her "Erin Brockovich moment", and I can't really argue. Like Julia Roberts in that role, Sandra Bullock is a well-loved actress with enormous romantic comedy chops and popularity who has stepped into a true-life story and the shoes of a woman as bold, brassy and fearless as she is beautiful, but with a protective, nurturing instinct that saves her from being "too aggressive" and therefore unlikable in the still-narrow view Hollywood has of women. Given Bullock has already taken home the Screen Actors Guild award for this role, and considering the fact that actors are the largest voting block of the Academy, I'm going against the grain and saying Bullock is the favorite to win over Meryl Streep's positively perfect portrayal of Julia Child. Two weeks ago I never would've said that, but that's the nature of this business. Helen Mirren is always strong, but up against this year's powerhouse battle of Streep vs. Bullock, her chances are very slim indeed. Sidibe was a breakout star in a breakout movie, but in my opinion was overshadowed by her supporting actress, Mo'Nique, and will probably have to settle for the honor of being nominated. Same goes for Carey Mulligan, whose role and movie were not nearly as breakout, leaving her a much steeper hill to climb if she wants to take home the gold, which is why she won't.

Lead Actor
Jeff Bridges - Crazy Heart
George Clooney - Up in the Air
Colin Firth - A Single Man
Morgan Freeman - Invictus
Jeremy Renner - The Hurt Locker

Five strong performances here, or four strong performances and a default nod to Morgan Freeman playing Nelson Mandela because it's Morgan Freeman playing Nelson Mandela. Whichever. Colin Firth gets his first nod for what is, by all accounts, a quiet and nuanced work. While he is a sentimental favorite of mine and a well-loved actor, however, he probably doesn't have much of a chance here. The front-runners in this race are Jeff Bridges and George Clooney, with the edge going to Bridges since Clooney's character is a little too polished and perhaps a little too Clooney. Look out for dark horse Jeremy Renner, though, who is getting a lot of late buzz for his tense and electric turn in The Hurt Locker now that it's out on DVD. He could pull an Adrien Brody and beat out the better-known favorites.

Best Director
James Cameron - Avatar
Kathryn Bigelow - The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino - Inglourious Basterds
Lee Daniels - Precious
Jason Reitman - Up in the Air

I'm just going to go ahead and put all my eggs behind Kathryn Bigelow, because it's well past time for a woman to walk away with this award and Bigelow's movie has the strength and support to push her into the winner's circle. My personal favorite this year, though, was Inglourious Basterds, and a richly deserved Oscar going to Tarantino this year won't upset me at all. Lee Daniels and Jason Reitman both produced strong work, but neither of their movies have enough support in my opinion to secure a win for the director. That leaves Cameron's Avatar, and frankly I'm ready for some backlash in that department. Given the monstrosity of the Best Picture race this year, which I will address shortly, Avatar might just sneak through with a win, but I don't think Cameron gets the top prize as director. It might be wishful thinking, but I'm standing by that statement.

Best Picture
The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man
Up in the Air

Okay, so we all know this is a mess. Ten nominees is just unmanageable, truly. Where do I start? First and foremost, I'm confused as to how Up can land a Best Picture AND a Best Animated Feature nomination, because in years past the Academy has insisted on one or the other. I understand this year they wanted to open up the Best Picture nominees, but this is just ridiculous. It probably has the best chance outside the top 5 films, but I don't see it winning here when the Academy can award it as an Animated Feature. District 9, A Serious Man, and An Education hardly have widespread support, as evidenced by their overall lacking in other nominations (District 9 leads with four, in Screenplay, Editing and Visual Effects in addition to Picture, while An Education and A Serious Man have only Screenplay plus An Education's one acting nod.), which makes it hard to really stand by either film as a legitimate Best Picture hopeful. And The Blind Side, really?? Look, I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. Sandra Bullock was fabulous and could very well win an Oscar because of it. But this is not a Best Picture-caliber film, and everyone knows it. Aside from Bullock's nomination, it has exactly zero others to back up a Best Picture run and it doesn't deserve any. The writing is cliche at times and schmaltzy at others, the direction is heavy-handed, and the whole movie belongs to Sandra Bullock because the supporting ensemble is not strong at all. It's an enjoyable movie, without a doubt. I laughed and I cried and I had a great night out, but it's very simply not the best. Far from it.

So that leaves five. The five who would be here if this category were still limited to five nominees. Not knowing what would happen with the pool of ten nominees, I initially thought crazy amounts of vote-splitting could open the door for an Avatar victory, but given the split of nominations between five strong and five questionable, I no longer think it's all that likely. Avatar is a huge blockbuster, clearly, and it has a chance to win, but I don't think it's a runaway. Inglourious Basterds is getting a lot of renewed praise of late, as is The Hurt Locker. Meanwhile, the buzz on Up in the Air and Precious has largely waned, focusing almost exclusively on the performances instead of the films at large. So my thinking is that if the Academy goes the way of most of the critics' prizes and recognized Bigelow's directing, they'll recognize the film as well. If they don't and the rising love for Tarantino's Basterds continues, it takes home the gold. If neither of those things happen, then Avatar has taken over the world and we can all order our virtual reality headsets through Amazon in the coming weeks.

So those are my thoughts on the major races. Feel free to leave me yours in the comments. You can also view a full list of the 82nd Annual Academy Award Nominees here.

It's My Life

There was a lot I wanted to say yesterday -- quite possibly too much for this little blog. So I will sum it all up by saying that life is good. There are always things you wish were different, always things you want to improve. Try not to let yourself be overwhelmed with it all, and make the best of what you have. There is no need to dwell in the past when you can look to the future and all it has to offer. Change is possible if you want it, and people who love you are always willing to help.

So with that in mind, I will look to today ....

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Fridge ...

It's been nearly a month now that I've been consciously selecting my daily meals to meet certain nutritional goals (a month in which I've lost 12 pounds so far, thankyouverymuch), and I've noticed a startling change in my eating habits. Specifically, I'm no longer interested in the high-calorie, high-fat, high-sugar content foods that dominated my cravings as recently as December. For instance, I have had two mini boxes of the delectable candy-coated candy known as Nerds sitting on my desk for the past week and a half. Two! In October I'd practically down these things two at a time, if given the chance. I'll eat them eventually, I'm sure -- it's not like I've stopped loving their crackly dissolving sweetness -- but it'll be a box at a time, probably several days or weeks apart, when I've easily come under my calories for the day and want a little sugary treat. Totally doable.

Further evidence: I had a particularly stressful meeting today and hadn't eaten lunch yet (nor was I very well-hydrated) when I stopped at a colleague's desk and spotted her candy dish. Behold, an individually-wrapped Reese's peanut butter cup! I snatched it up instinctively, joyous at the prospect of such bliss. And then, nothing. I didn't open it, haven't eaten it, and haven't wanted to. It was so much of a pick-me-up to have it in my hand, I didn't need to put it in my mouth. Like the Nerds, I'll probably have it eventually, but I find it odd and somewhat reassuring that I'm not greedily scarfing it down.

I did have a bit of a treat today, though. When I did make it downstairs for lunch, I made up a salad -- another strange development in my eating habits, I must say, the way a salad can suddenly sound so good -- but because of somewhat meager offerings on the bar today it wasn't a very big one and I knew I would need more sustenance for the rest of my day. I browsed around a while and finally selected a container of rice pudding -- oh, how I love rice pudding. Really, 140 calories wasn't going to break the bank by any stretch and given I'd eaten exactly zero grams of fat all day, I kind of needed some. Balance, after all. The thing is, it was almost too sweet and too heavy. I didn't want that much of it, and what I did eat left a lingering taste in my mouth that was almost distracting in its artificiality. The pudding wasn't any different. I've had it many, many times before and I can attest to its perfect sameness. I suspect that it's me who is different, which is both an exhilarating and a worrisome prospect. After all, I want to live a healthier lifestyle and be more fit and provide a better example for my kids, but I also think I will miss the cookie-cutter ease of a fast food combo meal or a mid-afternoon vending-machine-candy-bar-boost, and I'm not sure I'm up for all that work involved in planning and preparing smarter options. My life is stressful enough as it is.

Then again, if I don't like those types of foods anymore, I guess it follows that I won't really miss them and that seeking out the foods that I do crave won't seem like such a chore.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Writing the Rest

Here's the thing: I'm kind of obsessive.

Not to sound full of myself or anything, but I have a talent for writing. It's been more than 20 years since I discovered that fact, hence I'm confident and free from guilt in saying so. But I am OBSESSIVE about getting it right. I edit and revise and cut and paste and start over several times mid-first-draft. Obviously this makes for slow-going in the finishing department. It's not the only reason I don't finish -- that's a psychological fishing expedition for another day, I'm afraid -- but it has a significant impact. How do I buck the trend, then?

It occurred to me today that I like a lot of songs purely for a particular line or turn of phrase, be it the hook of the chorus or a throwaway couplet in the second verse. Even if the rest of the song, the meat of the song, is mediocre or twee or downright nonsensical, a great lyric will endear it to me forever. This is what I want from my writing now: one great line, one sublime paragraph, or a perfect piece of dialog. That's what I'm striving for. If I can get one solidly great sentence out of every piece, it'll be worth it. The rest will come. It's a new year and a new decade, and I'm in the mood to let go.

This is me letting go.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What's in a Name?

So, my boyfriend has a blog and last night we were talking about his last post, in which he mentions me. Sort of. That is, he calls me Mistress Shilayla of the Forest, a name that originated when we were first getting to know each other more than three years ago. I assume he did this in part to preserve some privacy for us, which I appreciate, but I know he also did it because he loves that name. Loves. It.

It came about like this:

We were talking about his name, which is the same as his father's. His father, incidentally, goes by his middle name, Mike, which is also what my boyfriend has been called by his family since birth. However, as an act of rebellion some time during his school years, and almost certainly also because in an official capacity (for work and school and government offices) it's easier, he began using his first name. Now he practically has dual identities, where all his old classmates and co-workers call him by his first name and his whole family refers to him by Mike, his middle name. I assimilated to this situation pretty easily; all my mother's sisters go by their middle names at home, so it wasn't a new phenomenon to me. However, we agreed it's hardly the norm and so it would be odd for someone to assume a person goes by any name other than the one given on, say, a class roster or a job application. Which brings me to my point.

For whatever reason, people far and wide have trouble with my name. Granted, Jessica was just coming in to fashion around the time I was born, so I can understand it being odd or difficult to remember years and years ago. But today women named Jessica are EVERYWHERE, so to still be called Jennifer or Rebecca or (I'm not kidding) Esther, is sort of mind-boggling. I promise I am not that forgettable. Similarly, I have found myself in several instances in which someone (a college professor, a job interviewer, etc.) has asked me my name and then asked if that's what I go by. ...Seriously? I just don't know what kind of question this is. You've just asked my name, I've given it to you, and then you ask if that's what I want to be called. What else would I want to be called, if not my own name? How on earth does someone answer this question? "Yes, my name is Jessica but I would prefer it if you referred to me as Mistress Shilayla of the Forest."

And so it goes. He's never said so, but I strongly suspect that's the moment my boyfriend first fell in love with me.

What does this have to do with this blog, you ask? Nothing. Except that names carry a significance for me. I decided last night, during this conversation with my boyfriend regarding his own blog, that I should bite the bullet and start my own. I've done so before, time and time again, only to get off-track. Now is the time to change that pattern. I need to just write, dammit. And that is a perfect name for a blog. Not just to write, either, but to ALWAYS write. Every day. As much as possible.

I also like the clever wordplay. Because, as my dear friend Laurie can tell you, she knows everything, but I, on the other hand, am always right. Dammit.