Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Old Year, New Year

I was unhappy in January.
I cried myself to sleep in February.
I was desperate in March.
I was numb in April, May and June.
I was desperate for diversion in July and August.
Then I was numb again in September and October.
I took a step back towards the world in November.
I relearned how to hope in December.

I don't know how your year was.
Regardless, I hope for the next one will be (even) better.

Maybe we can leave the shitty bits behind and take the good bits with us.

Maybe :)

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Stay Married For The Children

I got this one via Alas, A Blog.

So, "Children do better with parents together"? Well, duh.
Of course, children from happy and stable homes have a better chance of doing well than those from destructive, emotionally unstable backgrounds.

But that isn't what this billboard is about. Instead, it's about those awful, irresponsible parents who do terminal damage to their children's lives by getting divorced. Shame on them, etc, bla bla.

Except...Years ago (I can't remember when, exactly, but I was maybe seven years old, or younger) I found my mother crying in the bathroom. That alone was shocking enough for me at the time, because my mother never, ever cried. But then she looked at me and asked the Question: "What would you say if I told you that Mum and Dad were going to get a divorce?"

Divorce, as I understood it at the time, meant that my Dad would go away and I was never going to see him again. So, not surprisingly, I started to cry, and my mother didn't bring it up again.

My parents stayed together until I was almost sixteen years old. And you know what?
I spent at least the last five years of that time wishing they were divorced.
I'm pretty sure I would have "done better" without listening to the late-night fights in the kitchen, without the glacial silence and complete lack of closeness between my parents, without cleaning up my father's vomit after he had passed out drunk on the sofa.

But most of all, I would have done better without the crushing guilt of knowing that my mother went through that hell for years because I started to cry in the bathroom that day.

I don't think it's so much about whether a child grows up with parents who are married to each other. Rather, it's about the role models a child is given. It's about teaching by example, how to respect and love yourself and others, that good relationships mean that both sides' needs are met, and a million other things...That's what good parents should try to do for their children.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Movies A-Z

I got this one from kalafudra (no surprise there), and she in turn got it from Shefaly.

So, I'll try to write form one film I liked for each letter of the English alphabet.
NB: These are not necessarily my favourite films, because the ranking for those changes roughly 60 times per hour, but they are films I liked. I will try to avoid spoilers (but I fail at this...just ask kalafudra). I'll also try to avoid listing the same director twice.

I don't know if this counts, but the first one that came to mind was "Angels in America".
But if I have to restrict myself to theatrical releases, I'd go with "Atonement" - not only because the library scene is probably one of the best love scenes I've ever seen, but also because the moment when the guys come over that hill at Dunkirk was punch-in-the-gut brilliance. (As a side note: Damn you, Ian McEwan! Damn you!)

"Big Fish", because I had to include one film by Tim Burton, and this one is my absolute favourite. It's about giants and witches, and catching uncatchable fish, but most of all it's about fathers and sons, and about the importance of stories.

"Cidade de Deus"...A film that draws you in from the very beginning, and doesn't let you go, even if you want to distance yourself - and some of the scenes from the boys' childhood really made me want to.

"Death to Smoochy" - One of the most underrated films I've ever come across. Everything, from the cast to the script, is genius. And I dare anyone not to love a film that contains the insult "Illegitimate Teletubbie!".

"E.T." - This one is the first non-Disney film I remember watching. I'm still in love with it. Besides, the theme sparked my passion for movie scores.

"Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain" - I saw the first teaser trailer for this one while I was in France for the first time. I didn't stay long enough to see it there, so I had to wait and hope for about a year for the film to come to Austria. And it delivered. I don't know which is my favourite part - Amélie's campaign of revenge against the grocer Colignon, or the intrepid garden gnome.

"The Great Dictator" - I like Chaplin, but I couldn't have chosen among the Tramp films, so I picked something else. And no, I'm not just being pretentious. I genuinely love this film. The dance-scene with the globe is sublime, and his speech at the end makes me cry every time I see it. Knowing what happened after the film was made makes it all the more poignant.

"Her Majesty, Mrs Brown" (this is the UK title, which is where I saw it, and it starts with H, so I'm going with it. Bite me, Imdb!) - I love this one, because it's slow and quiet and utterly believable. Judy Dench is great in everything she does (except for a certain Vin Diesel craptastrophe that shall not be named), but this was the first time I saw Billy Connolly and didn't hate him.

"Iris" - Have I mentioned that Judy Dench is great in everything she does? The same goes for Jim Broadbent (who is from Lincoln and therefore entitled to special love from me). The film isn't as brutal with the physical truths of Alzheimer's as it could be, but the way in which they focus on the way her mind gradually slips away is more than enough to swallow.

"Jeux d'enfants" - Before her turn as Edith Piaf, Marion Cotillard was Sophie in this unconventional romantic story. I loved the way the protagonists' relationship progresses through their escalating dares. Besides, that little boy (Thibault Verhaeghe) was absolutely adorable.

"Kung Fu" - A martial arts comedy with elements of musicals and heavy influences from anime (and it's not about football, either) - what's not to love?

"El Laberinto del Fauno" - Because it is breathtaking, even though I basically have to leave the room whenever the Captain enters the frame (I watched that bottle scene once, I don't need to see it again. Ever.) It captures the spirit of Grimm's fairy tales in combining terror with awe, when most films take the easy way out and choose one of the two. Also, that melody haunts me for days whenever I hear it.

"The Matrix" - I remember coming across this one in a movie journal just before it opened. They devoted less than half a page to it, as opposed to four or even eight pages for the big blockbusters. Kalafudra and I went to see it only because I had a crush on Keanu Reeves and she indulged me. The rest is history.
Spoon Boy: Do not try to like the sequels. That's impossible. Instead...only realize the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Spoon Boy: There are no sequels.

"The Notebook" - I have yet to find a better schmaltzy film to cry to. I love it, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

"Once" - The great music, the wonderful story, the beauty of Dublin, and the bittersweetness of it all coming together...this film is a gem.

There is no way I can make my mind up on this one...
"Penelope" - Another one of those criminally underrated treasures, probably my favourite film of this year (and there has been some stiff competition, I assure you). Everything about this fairytale is beautiful, from the message all the way to the shutters in Penelope's room. Speaking of there any way I could get that room? Please??? Also, I would like to take this moment to present James McAvoy with a Special Award for Achievements in Screen Kissing, which I shall give him the moment my knees become solid again.
"Pirates of the Caribbean - Curse of the Black Pearl" - It's based on a ride in Disneyworld. It's got Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley creating a charismatic vacuum between them. It shouldn't have worked, but it did. And I love it.

"The Queen" - Helen Mirren is another one of those actresses who are always great. But in this film, she outdid herself. It is not so much a biopic as a brief glimpse into an important period of a life, and it's done with more care and respect than I would have thought was possible.

"Raiders of the Lost Ark" - Where would this list be without Indy? In the hands of all-powerful Nazis, that's where. Ha!

"Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi" - This is my favourite Miyazaki film, not only because it's the most engaging coming-of-age fairy tale I've ever come across, or because it is filled to the brim with magical creatures. It also takes true genius to make a film with witches, demons, curses, gods, and a dragon...and ground it all in one stunningly beautiful, completely serene train journey.

"The Thomas Crown Affair" - I saw the new one when it came out a few years ago, and it was alright, I guess, but nothing to write home about. But last summer I got up one night because I couldn't sleep, and the original version was on TV. Steve McQueen really sells the thrill-seeking billionaire, and the chemistry between him and Faye Dunaway was sizzling so much it kept me glued to my seat until 4am. That chess scene is one of the hottest sex-scenes-without-actual-sex ever.

"The Usual Suspects" - As gangster films from 1994 go, "L.A. Confidential" usually gets most of the credit. I never understood that. I enjoy what kalafudra describes as "mind-fuckery". And that ending, when Kevin Spacey leaves and the police officers turn around is one of my all time favourite scenes. (Is that a spoiler? I hope not...If yes, then I'm really, really sorry.)

"Volver" - For several reasons: Firstly, I didn't like "V for Vendetta" at all. Secondly, I haven't seen "Velvet Goldmine", yet. Thirdly, it was the only other film with V I could think of off the top of my head (because copying kalafudra two letters in a row wasn't an option, either). Fourthly, this film was not bad at all :)

"WALL-E" - Oh, where shall I start? Everything about this film, from that zoom in, with the tune from "Hello, Dolly" to the crash-course-in-art-history credit roll, the film was engaging, heartwarming, cute, romantic, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Way to set the bar sky-high, Pixar.

"X2" - Oh damn...I've done it. But I'm afraid it's Bryan Singer again or nothing. The first film was good, but the second one didn't have to bother with all that lengthy exposition and introduced a villain who more than held his own against the combined thespian superpowers of Stewart and McKellen (et al). Besides, we get to see more of the school. I love that school. Why didn't I go to that school? I could have been their affirmative action homo sapiens, or something...

"Ying Xiong" - This film completely blew me away. I had seen other films by Zhang Yimou. I had seen other Chinese martial arts films. But I was not prepared for what would happen when those two came together. The story is good, of course, and the acting is great (yes, even Ziyi Zhang...although it pains me to say that), but it's the look of it that truly sets it apart. And everything he did right with this one, Yimou proceeded to exaggerate and overdo with the film that followed...Pity.

"Zatôichi" - This isn't one of my favourite films, to be absolutely honest. It's too exhausting for my taste, but I will admit that it is a very good film, and well worth watching. It reminded me of a magnificent opera, making up for the lack of singing with the sheer quantity of missing limbs. It's also the only film with Z I have seen that seems worth mentioning (but there's a couple of them yet on my unofficial "To Watch-List").

Thursday, 18 December 2008

The Global Gag Rule

via Shakesville:

The Global Gag Rule has to go. Now.

A couple years ago I spent a week compiling a briefing paper about how the Gag Rule is a violation of Human Rights (not to mention state sovereignty).
This video makes the case a lot better than I ever did:

You can sign the petition here.

And in case you needed another argument on how repealing the Gag Rule and thus giving more people access to contraceptives would be an excellent idea, how about this? The idea that Coca Cola douches aren't a useful contraceptive shouldn't be news to anybody. In fact, a study on the matter was awarded the 2008 IgNobel Prize in chemistry. And yet...

...soft drink douches are apparently still used to prevent pregnancy in resource-poor settings.

The study goes on to mention that not only do Coke douches not prevent pregnancies, they may even be harmful to a woman's health. Lovely.
Now, if only there was a way to tell people this, to talk about methods of family planning that actually work, to provide them with contraceptives...

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Twilight OST

So, I've been feeling a bit left out by the "Twilight"-mania.
Some people love it, some people hate it.
I strongly suspect that I'd be with the "hate it"-crowd, but I can't really tell, since I haven't read the books, and I won't get a chance to see the movie until January.

But I did manage to get my hands on the official soundtrack.
I even listened to it, because there's some stuff I like on it, and because I wanted to find out whether cramming Debussy and Paramore on one album was inspired or insane.

As of the first few bars of the "Drinking Song" from La Traviata, I've made up my mind: insane.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Rom-Coms - They're Bad For You...

Rom-coms have been blamed by relationship experts at Heriot Watt University for promoting unrealistic expectations when it comes to love.

They found fans of films such as Runaway Bride and Notting Hill often fail to communicate with their partner.

Many held the view if someone is meant to be with you, then they should know what you want without you telling them.
Oh dear.

Students watching the romantic film were later found to be more likely to believe in fate and destiny. A further study found that fans of romantic comedies had a stronger belief in predestined love.
Oh dear.

So, the stereotypes are true. I will be unable to have a relationship with a person, because in my heart, I will always be holding out for Mr Right (TM) who calls me "Princess" and who had me at hello. Damn.

But shouldn't there be some mention of gender in this?
Could there be a difference between male and female participants?
Could it be, say, that more women than men love rom-coms?
Could it be that girls are fed stories about The Man For You pretty much from birth? You know the guy...he's the one worth waiting for, the prince who will always rescue you, the one who will be your husband, the one who will be right for you in every way, the one for the happily ever after without any trials or tribulations or arguments about who forgot to buy the milk.
Could there (and I'm going out on a massive limb on this one) be a correlation?

Also, if rom-coms are the only genre to promote unrealistic ideas about relationships, or anything else, for that matter, I will eat my (one and only, much beloved) hat.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Reviews and Other Disasters

I've been thinking about this discussion thread for several hours now, because it's interesting and because it beats the hell out of preparing basic grammar exercised for the poor souls whom I shall have at my mercy tomorrow.

The question was the following:
Which movie, generally regarded as an otherwise good film, has one or more messages that bug you so much that it's hard to enjoy the movie for its good points?
And while I was thinking about films and about the excellent points the other commenters were making, "Love and Other Disasters" popped into my head.
Frankly, I liked that film. It was just the adorable piece of fluff I needed for my Saturday afternoon. (And I don't think I ever liked Brittany Murphy better than I did in this one.)

Sure, they used every single cliché in the book, but I didn't care. The film wasn't so much a rom-com as a satire about rom-coms. And even if it had been all that shallow...
I like all those clichés, sometimes. I didn't watch "Con Air" for the intellectual stimulation, either.

Anyway, my biggest criticism of "Love and Other Disasters" was probably the fact that Jacks was always at least half naked when she was in her flat.
So what if you're Brittany Murphy and have worked hard to get that body, that is not an excuse. So what if your flatmate is gay, that is not an excuse.
No, not even reading a cookbook called "The Naked Chef" is an excuse.
You are not in some 3rd rate anime, so put some clothes on, dammit!

Anyway, I tried to figure out why this movie, of all things, should spark in my memory while I read the above thread. Was there a message in there I didn't like? (Apart from the gratuitous nudity that was so ridiculously overdone they couldn't have been serious about it.)
So I googled some reviews and stumbled over a review from Variety.

Needless to say, they didn't like it. They didn't like the clichés. They didn't get the fact that it was quite a clever satire.
Yes..."Love and Other Disasters" is the "Starship Troopers" of rom-coms. There, I've said it. Mock me at your leisure.

But the worst part of the review, by far, was this (emphasis mine):

Keshishian's script is sloppy in both setting up and sustaining the sexual identity confusion that fuels the comic engine. This hinges on tasty Argentine photographer's assistant Paolo (Santiago Cabrera), whom Jacks mistakenly thinks is gay, despite such giveaways as his disdain for the fashion world and passion for gritty photo-reportage.
Thank you so much for that illuminating piece of wisdom, Variety.
Congratulations - in a disdainful review about the over-use of cliché, that sentence is zen-like perfection.

I still haven't figured out why I came to think about "Love and Other Disasters" in the first place. But I have a strong need to not read any more of that stuff, so I'm going to be very OOC and just drop it.

Brace Yourself YouTube...

...Here I Come!!!

Bliss, thy name is Unlimited Wireless Broadband.

Oh, how I missed thee.
Let us never be parted again.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Trivial Thursday

(Actors Edition)

Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, was allergic to carrots. He was lucky that Bugs is a toon.

William B Davis, better known as Cigarette Smoking Man, was a non-smoker, so he had to smoke herbal cigarettes all the time while filming The X-Files - those things are vile.

Alexis Bledel, who played coffee-addict Rory Gilmore, can't stand coffee - so her cups were filled with coke.

A Cynicism Antidote

This is just what I needed today.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Trivial Thursday

I love trivia.
The more trivial, the better. The more useless, the better.

And since I can rarely keep anything to myself, I'm going to try and spread my love of useless and random knowledge by making Trivial Thursdays a regular feature.

So, buckle your seatbelts, here we go:

Contrary to popular belief, the Queen doesn't own every swan in Britain.
But she owns a small number of mute swans on the Thames. Apparently, swans were a delicacy in the 12th century, so the king made sure some of those yummy feasts-to-be were his personal property. Since then, those swans are actually counted every year, most probably to check whether anybody was dumb/suicidal enough to poach Thames swans (!!!) for food.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Yay !!!

Today, representatives of 107 countries got together in Oslo to sign a

...a legally binding international instrument that prohibits the use and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians and secure adequate provision of care and rehabilitation to survivors and clearance of contaminated areas.

Interestingly, Austrian state television didn't think this story was worth their notice.
I disagree, and I've been doing my personal happydance after spotting the report on Al Jazeera.

Unsurprisingly, the US, Russia, China, Israel, Pakistan and India have not signed this treaty.
The US, apparently "shares the concerns" ... but signing treaties, let alone binding ones, is un-American, or something. I suppose it interferes with their trying to be a "shining beacon of moral example". (Yes, I personally mangled this Obama quote. What can I say...I'm feeling even more cynical than normal.)

Also, there are "legitimate military uses" for cluster bombs...
...such as ruining entire crops or at least making it impossible for farmers to harvest what little might be left.
...or looking just like an interesting toy, so that children are more likely to pick it up:

Here are some more resources on this topic by people who are a lot more knowledgable than I am.