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Movie Review: Soylent Green (1973)

November 30, 2010 2 comments

People being fed into a chipper with a man in front running away.Summary:
In the then moderately distant future of 2022, the world has turned to being a congested chaos due to overpopulation and global warming.  People survive on various colors of food-like paste sold by Soylent, the favorite of which is Soylent Green.  When a police man is called in to investigate the murder of an unusually wealthy man, he realizes it all has to do with the Soylent Corporation and makes a sinister discovery.

Review:
Obviously I came at this movie knowing the “spoiler” that Soylent Green is people.  What scifi nerd hasn’t heard that quote?  Still, even coming in knowing the big secret, I was expecting more from this film.  By far the most enjoyable portion takes place in the wealthy man’s condo where we learn women have come to be attached to condo’s as part of the “furniture” and are passed along with the condo from owner to owner.  In return for being the lady of the house, they get safety, security, and food.  A whole other story could be told with what is essentially a return to the caveman way of doing things.  Unfortunately, this gets glossed over for the supposedly more interesting plot line.

The story is told like a 1970s futuristic version of a film noir.  We have the detective fighting all odds to get to the nitty gritty truth of the story.  Of course, this is the 1970s version of a future dystopia.  As such, the wealthy dwellings look straight out of a 1970s porno, and the unfortunate dystopic surroundings of the poor look eerily similar to a hot and sweaty version of communist Russia.  It’s an odd dichotomy that doesn’t quite work.

I was waiting for the film to move from setting up the dystopia to slowly building the horror up, but it never happened.  Honestly, given the intensely overpopulated surroundings these people live in and severe lack of food, I actually came away thinking that recycling the dead almost seemed logical, and being a vegetarian, that’s quite the leap for me to make!  Clearly the film missed its mark somehow.  When the policeman rants about the humans being treated as cattle, all I could think was how earlier in the film both he and a friend drooled over a slab of beef.  Why should I be horrified that he feels as if he’s being treated like cattle when he would willingly treat cattle exactly the same way?  I was left with no sympathy for him, only for the women who get passed along as furniture with the condo’s in this future.

Overall, Soylent Green had the potential to tell an interesting story of a future where women revert back to their old subservient roles as a survival tactic.  Instead, it unfortunately veers off toward a storyline I find unsympathetic and that rings as falsely horrifying given the general set-up of the movie.  There are far better 1970s horror films out there, as well as better dystopias.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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Book Review: S by John Updike

November 29, 2010 2 comments

Giant red letter S on a green background.Summary:
Letters, both hand-written and recorded onto tapes, tell the story of Sarah, a North Shore housewife of a wealthy Massachusetts General Hospital doctor who one day in 1986 decides to go and join a commune in the Arizona desert.  Gradually through the letters both her past and her experiences in the commune are revealed.

Review:
I was intrigued by this book for multiple reasons.  I’ve always enjoyed epistolary novels.  I found Updike’s more famous novel, The Three Witches of Eastwick, endlessly entertaining.  Also, I’ve always been fascinated by communes and cults.  This book certainly contains all three elements.  Sarah’s letters compel the reader to get through them as quickly as possible.  Whether she’s discussing the commune or her past life on the North Shore, the letters are truly fascinating.  Perhaps this is partly because there’s a Stepford-wife like quality to Sarah’s past life, and her current life is so over the top from anything most modern Americans experience.  It provides a fascinating contrast.

The book therefore starts out strong, but falters more and more the further toward the end it gets.  The more about Sarah is revealed, the less sympathetic she becomes.  Additionally, due to the nature of the epistolary novel, some of her actions are not entirely revealed, thus leaving the ending a bit confusing.  Frankly, the ending simultaneously surprised and disappointed me.  I was left wondering what on earth Updike’s point had been.  Was it a feminist stance?  Was it misogynistic?  Was it just a portrait of a person?  The great variety between all these possibilities should demonstrate how confusing the ending is.

It’s interesting to note that Sarah is depicted as a descendant of Hester Prynne of The Scarlet Letter.  I’m sure this plays into the interpretation of the book a great deal, although personally, I am not sure how.

Overall, this epistolary novel starts out strong and engaging, but the ending leaves the reader a bit confused and let down.  If you’re a big Updike or epistolary novel fan, you will still enjoy the book enough to make it worth your while to read, but all others should probably give it a pass.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Swap.com

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Friday Fun! (Fondue and Seitan)

November 26, 2010 2 comments

Hello my lovely readers!  This has been a busy week for me, although I suspect not as busy as for those of you who actually traveled for the holiday.  Last weekend I hosted my first ever fondue party.  You guys, it was awesome.  I think this is something from the 70s that we need to make have a come-back.   Anyway, I made a beer cheese fondue in my crock pot.  It was *so* delicious!  We had crostini, broccoli, veggie sausage, pretzels, and more for dipping.  Also, one of my guests brought a chocolate fondue, and it was *to die* for.

There were no classes this week because of Thanksgiving, so with the extra time I had I was able to go to a meditation lesson for the first time.  I was kind of surprised at how much easier it is to meditate for an extended length of time when you’re in a room with other people meditating instead of doing it by yourself.  It was a lot of fun and surprisingly relaxing.  I think I’ll try out a few more centers before I decide on one to go to periodically, but I definitely think periodic group meditation is gonna be sticking around my schedule now.  Albeit, not weekly.  Maybe monthly.

Since I have to work today, I didn’t go anywhere for Thanksgiving yesterday.  I spent the day hanging out at home, reading, watching tv, and cooking.  I tried making seitan for the first time ever, and you guys.  It came out so good!  It was surprisingly simple, very filling, and gave me a lot of energy.  One batch makes plenty for a week, so I suspect this is now going to be in my rotation of yummy veg foods.

My other big project this week is incorporating some dishes some friends gave me into my kitchen.  I realized this is going to mean rearranging my tiny tiny kitchen to try to fit everything in.  I think I may wind up using nails to hang various mugs and pots and pans from the walls.  I have very little cabinet space.

I hope my American readers are enjoying their holiday weekends, and I hope the rest of you enjoy your regularly-sized ones.  Cheers!

Movie Review: Original vs. Remake Comparison: The Last House on the Left (1972 vs. 2009)

November 25, 2010 4 comments

Woman with bloody hand clamped over her mouth.Summary:
1972:
Mary is a sweet-tempered, girl-next-door that every boy in the neighborhood has the hots for, but she has a best friend from the wrong side of the tracks.  They frolic in the woods together and drink alcohol kept cool in the river.  Mary’s parents do not approve.  Mary and her friend go to NYC for a concert, but when her friend tries to score some weed, their night goes horribly awry.  Suddenly they find themselves at the mercy of two escape convicts, a son of one of the convicts who does their beck and call for his heroin hits, and a malicious, nympho woman.

2009:
Mary is vacationing in the lakes with her doctor father and lovely mother.  She goes into town to hang out with her old friend, and the two of them go back to a hotel room to get high with a teenage boy.  But that boy’s father, uncle, and the uncle’s girlfriend come back, and the dad is an escaped con.  He decides he can’t let the girls go and kidnaps them, finishing them off in the woods.  They wind up car-wrecked and must seek help at a nearby cabin that just so happens to be Mary’s parents’.  When they figure out the mystery, all hell breaks loose.

Review:
1972:
This is a classically 70s film featuring everything from feathered hair to 70s music to background music oddly upbeat for the dark tone.  The opening shot is essentially of Mary’s Woman standing in front of a lake.boobs.  This was the era of really stretching the boundaries.  Everything semi-pornographic and disgusting that they could get away with, they did get away with.  There is one, rather controversial, scene in which Mary and her friend are forced to have sex with each other–and need I remind you her friend is female?  There is a lot of rape, a lot of blood, and these killers really do kill just for fun.  Not to make it sound like this is slasher porn, though.  There’s nothing at all remotely sexy about the violence.  It’s meant to be disturbing, and it is.  There’s one scene in particular that will have all male viewers crossing their legs and quivering in their boots.  All that said, this movie definitely reads as campy due to some unfortunate scenes featuring upbeat music and bumbling policemen that feel like they belong more in an episode of Andy Griffith than a horror movie.  I’m really  not sure what Craven was thinking sticking those scenes in there.  There of course also is the enduring problem of the victims being truly, incredibly stupid.  Horror is the most horrifying when it feels as if the victims did everything smart, but still got caught.  The element of unsuspected revenge is what saves the movie, though.

2009:
This movie is quite creative for a modern horror.  It takes a fairly sympathetic main character and has her a make a rather impulsive, but not completely stupid decision.  Mary and her friend take far more agency trying to get away.  They are far more modern female victims.  They fight back physically and not with words and pleading.  The cinematography is dark and intense.  The convict’s son becomes a far more sympathetic character, and Mary’s parents much more believable as a vindictive pair.  The whole plot moves at the perfect pace, and the ending is surprising.

1972 vs. 2009:
I have to say, 2009 wins for horror movie quality.  It is put together more smoothly without the odd side-story of the police with the humorous background music.  The story is more cohesive.  However, surprisingly, 1972 is far more gory and feels more like a slasher.  The violence, both sexual and physical, is surprising, and the villains are far more evil.  If you’re out for the chills of a good horror, movie, go with the 2009 version.  If you’re after sheer blood and violence, go for the 1972 version.

1972: 3.5 out of 5 stars

2009: 4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

1972: Buy It

2009: Buy It

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 25, 2010 2 comments

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers!!  I hope you all have had blessed falls and are enjoying glorious foods today.  As for myself, I’ll be spending the day reading and trying out new recipes, as I have to work tomorrow and so couldn’t travel anywhere.  But I am truly grateful for all that I have.  Including the wonderful sense of community on this blog.

Shopping Love: Excessively Diverting on Etsy

November 24, 2010 Leave a comment

One of my fairly long-term online friends, Lisa, aka @pnkrcklibrarian, recently announced that she was opening her own store on one of my favorite handmade/vintage websites: Etsy.  Her shop is Excessively Diverting, and I must say, when I went to check it out, I was quite blown away at my friend’s artistic ability!

Now, I know a bunch of my readers are Jane Austen fans.  So is Lisa, and that is reflected everywhere in her items that are available so far.

Jane Austen pin

From pins featuring Austen quotes

Jane Austen ornament.

To Christmas decorations featuring entire chapters of Pride and Prejudice

Best of all, Lisa is offering a special deal available only to my readers.  Just enter the code “OOW20″ in the new coupon code box on Etsy before proceeding to PayPal, and you’ll receive 20% off!  Plus, all shipping is free until December 16th.

So, all you lovely, Jane Austen fans, be sure to check Excessively Diverting out.  It comes with my highest recommendations!

Book Review: The Buddha and the Borderline: My Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder through Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Buddhism, and Online Dating by Kiera Van Gelder

November 23, 2010 6 comments

Woman holding buddhist mala beads.Summary:
Kiera here recounts her struggle with mental illness, first undiagnosed and indescribable, marked by episodes of self-harming, frantic attempts to avoid abandonment (such as writing a boy a letter in her own blood), alcohol and narcotic abuse, among other things.  Then she recounts how she was finally diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (definition) and her struggles to recover from this difficult mental illness usually caused by a combination of brain chemistry and trauma in childhood.  Kiera recounts her experience with the most effective treatment for BPD–Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).  She honestly discusses her struggles to encounter and interact with the world and establish relationships, often utilizing online dating websites.  Finally she brings us to her final step in the recovery process, her embracing of Buddhism, which much of DBT’s therapy techniques are based upon.

Review:
Many memoirs talk about events in a person’s life, but the thing about mental illness, is the person writing the memoir must somehow be able to show her audience what it is to be inside that head.  Inside that person who perceives the world in her own unique, albeit messed-up,way.  It takes a certain level of brutal honesty with yourself to be able to do so.  Kiera achieves this with flying colors here.

BPD is an illness that, unless you have encountered it in your own life either by having it yourself or caring deeply for someone who does, is often difficult to clearly describe in a sympathetic manner.  Popular culture wants us to believe that these, by and large female, sufferers are akin to the femme fatale or the main character in Fatal Attraction.  But people with BPD aren’t bunny boilers.  They are individuals who experience emotions much more extremely than everyday people do.  A visual Kiera uses throughout the book that I believe is quite apt is that a person with BPD is like a person with third degree burns all over their body.  A touch that wouldn’t hurt a non-injured person makes the burned person cry.  That’s what emotions are like for people with BPD.

Kiera depicts what it feels to suffer from BPD with eloquent passages such as these:

I am always on the verge of drowning, no matter how hard I work to keep myself afloat.   (Location 236-240)

In an instant, I shift from a woman to a wild-haired girl kicking furniture to a balled-up weeping child on the bed, begging for a touch.  (Location 258-263)

Similarly Kiera addresses topics that non-mentally ill people have a difficult time understanding at all, such as self-injury, with simultaneously beautiful and frightening passages.

I grew more mindful as the slow rhythm of bloodletting rinsed me with clarity.  It wasn’t dramatic; it was familiar and reassuring.  I was all business, making sure not to press too deep. (Location 779-783)

But of course it isn’t all dark and full of despair.  If it was, this wouldn’t be the beautiful memoir that it is.  Kiera’s writing not only brings understanding to those who don’t have BPD and a familiar voice to those who do, but also a sense of hope.  I cheerleader who made it and is now rooting for you.  Kiera speaks directly to fellow Borderlines in the book, and as she proceeds throug her recovery, she repeatedly stops and offers a hand back to those who are behind her, still in the depths of despair.  Having BPD isn’t all bad.  People with BPD are highly artistic, have a great capacity for love.

I become determined to fight–for my survival, and for my borderline brothers and sisters.  We do not deserve to be trapped in hell.  It isn’t our fault.  (Location 1672-1676)

So while it’s undeniable that BPD destroys people, it can also open us to an entirely new way of relating to ourselves and the world–both for those of us who have it, and for those who know us. (Location 5030-5033)

Ironically, the word “borderline” has become the most perfect expression  of my experience–the experience of being in two places at once: disordered and perfect.  The Buddha and the borderline are not separate–without one, the other could not emerge. (Location 5051-5060)

Combine the insight for people without BPD to have into BPD with the sense of connection and relating for people with BPD reading this memoir, and it becomes abundantly clear how powerful it is.  Add in the intensely loving encouragement Kiera speaks to her fellow Borderlines, and it enters the category of amazing.  I rarely cry in books.  I cried throughout this one, but particularly in the final chapter.

This is without a doubt the best memoir I have read.  I highly recommend it to everyone, but particularly to anyone who has BPD, knows someone with BPD, or works with the mentally ill.  It humanizes and empathizes a mental illness that is far too often demonized.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: The Android’s Dream by John Scalzi

November 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Android dreaming of sheep.Summary:
People think Harry Creed is squandering his talents, but he actually quite enjoys his job working for the UNE breaking bad news to various sentient alien races residing on Earth.  Still, he doesn’t mind doing a favor for his old friend, Ben Javna, who calls up saying the lizard race, the Nidu, need a specific breed of sheep for the coronation ceremony, and it’s vital in keeping the peace between the two planets that Earth help provide one.  Creed doesn’t think this will be much of a challenge, but he soon finds up he’s signed up for more than he bargained for, running into everything from The Church of the Evolved Lamb, to a Nagch who digests his victims alive, to other computer geniuses, to scandal within the UNE.

Review:
This is one of those scifi political intrigue books crossed with Douglas Adams style humor.  I don’t usually do political intrigue in scifi, since I avoid politics like the plague in real life, but the Douglas Adam style humor manages to make it all actually interesting and intriguing.

It’s impossible not to enjoy all of the very strongly developed characters, whether they’re a villain or not.  Frankly, that’s a good thing, as it’s rather hard to tell half the time who’s the villain and who isn’t (with the exception of Creek of course).  The alien sentient species imagined are rather traditional in appearance, but not so much in behavior, which keeps them interesting.  For instance, the Nidu are able to communicate through smell in addition to speech, and this tends to lead to problems on Earth.  Even very minor characters who are only in the story for a few pages are so crisply described, that it is impossible not to imagine them as clearly as if it was a film.  In fact, the whole book reads rather like a scifi action film in the style of The Fifth Element.

The action sequences are universally stunning.  There is one shoot-out scene in a mall, in particular, that also incorporates equipment from a futuristic game, reminiscent of Ender’s Game that left me grinning with joy at the sheer awesomeness of it.  The social commentary in the form of The Church of the Evolved Lamb is also fun.  This is a religion that knows that its founder was a fraud, but has decided to attempt to make his prophecies come true anyway.  It makes for some really wild moments.

That said, sometimes the political intrigue itself was a bit hard to follow.  I’m still rather confused as to what exactly was going on, politically, in the middle of the book.  I think I’d have to re-read it to figure that out, exactly.  I think the fact that I didn’t get confused at all in The Dark Tower series, but did here says something.  Still though, the humor and action sequences kept the plot moving enough that the political intrigue didn’t really matter that much anyway.

Overall, if you enjoy humorous scifi in the style of Douglas Adams, you will definitely enjoy this book.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Harvard Coop

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Friday Fun! (In Which I Become Part Cyborg)

November 19, 2010 6 comments

I have always been accident-prone.  It’s a running joke in my family, in fact.  I shattered more dinner dishes than I’d care to mention.  I was assured that walking into walls would go away with the end of my growth spurts.  It did not.  In fact, I’m currently sporting a bruise from walking into a wall last week.  I also managed to snap my leg in half on a swing-set when I was 11 years old.  Odd accidents are nothing new for me.  So it should come as no surprise that I managed to knock out one of my two front teeth this weekend.

The short version of the story is that it was Sunday afternoon/evening.  I had just mopped my kitchen floor.  I walk/jogged from the bedroom area of my apartment to the kitchen area in my bare feet, forgetting momentarily that I had just mopped.  And I managed to face-plant on the kitchen tiles.  Goodbye front tooth.

Now, when I was growing up the vast majority of the time we didn’t have health insurance.  Emergency care, therefore, is ingrained in my head as only for “real” emergencies.  Thus, in spite of multiple friends’ pleadings for me to go to the ER that night, I declined and said I would wait for the dentist’s office to open in the morning.  After friends helped me get cleaned up and tucked in, I popped some tylenols and went to sleep.

I probably should mention at this point in time that I had an exposed nerve.  Yet I was unconvinced this was an emergency.  I woke up Monday morning, waited until 8:30, which is when I believe doctor’s offices should open, and called my dentist.  The phone informed me he wasn’t opening until 10am.  Ok.  At this point I was in pretty bad pain, so I called the emergency number and left an incredibly apologetic voicemail explaining that I wasn’t certain if it was an emergency, but could he please call me back so we could discuss it.

My super-sweet dentist, who speaks with a lilting Arabic accent, called me back about 20 minutes later.  I lispingly told him one of my front teeth was gone, but the root was still intact so maybe it wasn’t an emergency.  I then started to half-laugh, half-cry at how much like a hillbilly I looked.  My dentist calmed me down and promised me he could fix my smile, this definitely was an emergency, and please come as soon as possible.

My wonderful friend Nina drove me to the dentist’s where I was greeted with shocked looks from everyone in the office.  To sum up all their comments, “Sweetheart, this is so bad!  You must be in so much pain!”  To which I responded, “Well, I’m a tough broad.”  The first thing they did was to numb my mouth, part of which included putting novocaine directly into the exposed nerve.  That is the only point at which during any of these procedures I cried.  They then drilled around, did things to the infection, and put a temporary tooth on.  They explained to me that the infection needed to go away before they could do the next step, so I walked out with prescriptions for codeine and antibiotics.  Let me tell you, that codeine has come in handy.

The next step was on Wednesday, and for the entire procedure I felt like I was suddenly in a scifi movie.  They popped off the temporary tooth and drilled around some more.  Then they informed me that today they were putting in the post and the cap, taking the molds for the new tooth, and then putting on another temporary tooth.  Post? I thought.  What the heck is a post? The next thing I know, the dentist is shoving a metal rod into my jaw.  He pauses for a moment, and the rod is literally extending from my upper jaw all the way down to my lower lip.  My immediate thought?  Haha, Ah’m a vahmpiiiire! Then they pulled it back out, put another one in, and it was suddenly miraculously tooth-length.  Then suddenly I hear the dentist asking the hygeniest  for the torch.  Say what now?! Yup, she had a torch that glowed blue flame, and he placed the tip of one of his tools into it and proceeded to burn part of my gum/teeth.  I was truly horrified/terrified and wide awake.  Also the smell of your own skin burning off at high temperatures is one I doubt I will ever forget.  At around this point in time they took the mold for my new tooth.  The gunk in the mold reminded me remarkably of what I’ve always imagined biting into flesh would taste like.  Haha, now I’m a zombie. Braiiiins I thought.  Then the dentist got this thing that looked like a glue gun, but actually shot out tooth-colored putty.  He applied this to my tooth area, and then the hygeniest used a laser–ya, a motherfucking LASER–to solidify it into my new temporary tooth.  Then the dentist checked the color of my teeth against a chart for the color of my new tooth.  He sweetly informed me that it’s going to be very awesome and ready in 2.5 to 3 weeks.

All I could think while I was walking out of the office was that my mouth now has a metal rod in it, and lasers were used on me, and when my new tooth comes in, I’m totally gonna be part cyborg.

 

Friday Fun! (Open Studios, Boston Symphony Orchestra)

November 12, 2010 2 comments

Hello my lovely readers!  I finally got an entire weeks’ worth of review posts up!  Yay for being back in the swing of things.

This has been a really busy week, but that is quickly becoming the norm for me.  Last Saturday I went to some artists’ open studios with Nina, her dad, and our friend E.  The studios were totally gorgeous.  Some of them were also the artists’ homes, and they were essentially loft style apartments.  I was insanely jealous.  At one of the studios I picked up a little piece of $10 found art.  I think it’s quite feminist as it features some empty birth control packs, etc…, and I plan on hanging it in my bedroom area.  Once I figure out how.  Nina’s dad took us all out for Thai food, and it was amazingly good!  Our waiter was this fabulous gay Asian guy, and he is now officially one of my favorite waiters ever.  That night I hung out with E.  We had a few drinks and watched a double-feature of The Last House on the Left–the original and the remake.  Be expecting a review comparing the two next week!

Also this week I went to the Boston Symphony Orchestra with Nina.  It was my first time ever at a symphony, and I really enjoyed it.  I discovered that classical music relaxes me.  I might have to acquire a cd of some to fall asleep to.  The conductor did two of the movements playing the piano and conducting simultaneously.  It was pretty amazing.  Plus, it’s always fun to have a night to get all dressed up for an actual reason.

Things are crazy busy right now with the final projects coming up in grad school, and my general refusal to slow down my socializing and taking in of the events in Boston.  It’ll be a busy weekend for me!  I hope you all are enjoying your falls.  :-)

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