Pop Culture
  • This is Where I Leave You and storytelling

    Matt and I have a terrible backlog of movies. We'll buy a movie, or have a movie given to us, and I kid you not, there's a 50/50 chance that it will sit on our shelves for a year before we get around to watching it. I don't know why, exactly. It's not that we don't like movies. We're just really bad at watching movies. 

    Not that you care about that.

    Anyway, I finally got around to watching This is Where I Leave You a couple weeks ago. I wasn't expecting much, because I got the dvd from my parents, who were both very meh about it. 

    But much to my surprise, I actually really enjoyed it. Then again, I really like movies that are snapshots of a character's life over a short period of time. Movies that have comedic moments, but on the whole aren't slapstick comedies. So this fit the bill for me.

    What really impressed me about this movie though (and has made me really eager to read the book at some point) is how the characters were handled. See, a while back, I had an epiphany of sorts, that we think of ourselves as the main characters in our story, and everyone else is a side character. But everyone has their own stories, their own problems, that we are often completely unaware of. 

    While Judd (Jason Bateman) is certainly the focal point of the movie, and the character that everyone else revolves around, each character has a pretty well thought out story arc. No one is a throwaway character in the move - something is happening to everyone. They may be all brought together by their father/husband's death, but Judd just split up from his cheating wife, Paul and his wife are trying (and struggling) to have a baby, Wendy is not only raising two kids with a man she is kind of apathetic about, but she has to deal with the regret of leaving an early love. 

    There's a lot going on. The movie gives touchstones where the characters come together to deal with one crisis or another, but everyone has their own problems to deal with. I love when a movie (or book) does this. Even side characters need backstories and problems. Too often they get swept under the rug for the sole purpose of being a plot point or sidekick to the main character's story. When it's clear that even the side characters have their own lives, I am impressed. 

    Another thing to note, is that the characters' personal baggage also affects how they interact with each other. Philip, the youngest, may be a charming playboy, but when it comes to his siblings, he is almost begging for their approval. There's a scene where Philip tells Wendy that she, not either of their parents, is the voice he hears in his head, because he feels that she raised him. It's a moment of vulnerability that wouldn't have played out between him and another character. Judd's desire for privacy keeps him from telling his family about his martial issues, keeping him aloof from the family for a good part of the movie. 

    Characters that are well fleshed out and interact with each other in a way that reflects their own neuroses and baggage is great to see. This movie is a wonderful example of that, so if you're looking for an example for your own work (or just something to appreciate), I recommend checking it out. Bonus: It took me so long to see this movie that no doubt the dvd is cheaper than it would have been a year and a half ago. 

  • An evening with Elton

    An evening with Elton

    Growing up, I remember my dad putting on cds and turning them up. The two artists I most closely associate with my dad are Elton John and Billy Joel. His love for them, and for music in general, definitely rubbed off on me.

    Back in November, I saw via our local news that Elton John was going to be in Roanoke in March. So I thought, wouldn't it be amazing to take my dad to see Elton John in concert? My dad has been to a lot of concerts, but I had no idea that he'd never seen Elton John! I mean, sometimes I feel like you can't turn on a 70's station without my dad saying, "Oh, I saw them in concert at ...." 

    So I was even more excited when tickets weren't prohibitively expensive. I gave them to him on Christmas (it's a miracle that I waited that long - I am terrible at waiting to give presents) as an early birthday present. 

    Friday was, finally, the day of the concert. Having had the tickets for so long, it felt like it was this nebulous thing that would supposedly happen, but not really. 

    I have to say, it was an amazing show. Elton John is an amazing pianist and musician. Sometimes I'll watch someone who is good at their craft and feel inspired to do it myself. Not so with Elton John. Watching him on the piano, I thought, no, he can rock the piano. I'll go be good at something else. 

    He played a great selection of songs - most of which I was familiar with, all of which my dad knew. He even included some songs that definitely weren't hits, but that my dad knew and loved. I won't lie, it made me feel like it was a concert tailored just for my dad. 

    My dad went to several concerts with me for my favorite bands when I was a teenager. I can't tell you how happy I am to have taken him to a concert for one of his favorite artists. Seriously, words escape me. That night is going to live long in my memory.

    Now, I just need to cross my fingers for Billy Joel to make his way over here.

  • A few of my favorite songs

    Who doesn't like some music recommendations? If it weren't for random people expressing their love of bands/songs, I know there are many things I never would have heard of. So I'm paying it forward and sharing some of my favorite songs lately. They may not be new, they may or may not be popular, but dog gone it, they're earworms to me.

    I love instrumental music, and as it turns out, I'm a real sucker for classical-type music blended with rock. Is that even how you describe it? I'm not a music linguist, that's Matt's job. I just either like things or I don't.

    Anyway. Lindsey Stirling. Amazing violin and rock music. Gorgeous.

     I also love oldies. Oh boy do I ever love oldies. This song, Opus 17, ties the record for most chromatic key changes in a rock or pop song. That's pretty neat, but really, if it wouldn't drive Matt crazy, I could probably listen to this song on repeat for an hour at a time.

     Okay, this next one is a treat. It's ... I can't remember what the genre is technically called. Goth Rock? Goth Metal? Either way, it's probably the most 'out there' thing I listen to. It's that whole classical influenced heavy rock sound that I mentioned earlier ... Except more so. I think they're Swedish? You'll either love it or think I'm nuts.

     Here's an oldie but goodie. I've always liked Elton John somewhat, but when Rocket Man was featured at the end of season 2 of Blacklist, that got me looking him up, and this song really clicked with me.

     Okay,,here's another oldie. I'm sitting here chuckling because I'm imagining my mom looking over this list and groaning, "You are SO MUCH LIKE YOUR FATHER." My dad loves Elton John, Billy Joel and Gary Puckett, among other things, so, I guess some of that rubbed off on me. Sorry, Mom. Sorry Matt, I know this drives you  nuts too.

     This next one I did for voice lessons a couple years back. I'd never heard the song until it was recommended to me as something that would fit well in my range. Now I adore the song. I rarely skip it when it comes up on my mp3 player.

     Finally, Taylor Swift. This song is a real earworm. I liked it even more when I figured out that she wasn't singing about starbucks lovers.

     My music taste is kind of all over the place. :)

  • Beauty from pain

    Music has to connect with me on one of two levels. Either it has to "sound good", in that inexplicable way that makes me feel like I'm bursting with life while listening to Beethoven's 9th Symphony...Or it has to connect with me lyrically.

    There's this old Superchick song that is the latter and something I still think of when things hurt more than I can comprehend.

    Some days, it's a motto to cling to like a life raft. There will be beauty from pain, because I can't bear the thought that this pain have no purpose, or continue forever.

    Other days, it's a more of a battle cry. There will be beauty from pain if I have to drive around the world and find it myself.

    This song popped up at a really rough time for me. In the space of about 18 months, I lost one of the most important people in my life to ALS, and all three of the animals I had grown up with. I know to some, the animals would be inconsequential. But they're what I had in lieu of siblings. I was also a teenager, so there was also the normal teenage heartache and drama that makes everything feel so very hard.

    I still appreciate this song.

    Here I am at the end of me
    Trying to hold to what I can't see
    I've forgot how to hope
    This night's been so long
    I cling to your promise
    There will be a dawn

    After all this has passed
    I still will remain
    After I've cried my last
    There will beauty from pain
    Though it won't be today
    Someday I'll hope again
    And there will be beauty from pain


  • Too much to do

    I remember even ten years ago, if you wanted to watch a show, you had to sit down at the time it aired and watch it. If you missed it, you had to comb tv guide later in the year to find the re-run. If you were dedicated, you set your VCR and recorded it.

    These days, there is only one show I bother trying to watch when it airs (The Blacklist, if you're wondering), and even then, if we miss it, we'll watch it on Hulu later in the week. If I miss an episode of something, there's hulu, the network's website, netflix, and if all else fails, the box set will be out eventually. In fact, with shows often taking several week breaks in the fall/winter before resuming, it's usually easier just to watch things later. Shows and movies can be watched at your leisure.

    It's funny, because as these things become more readily available, I find them more stressful. My netflix instant queue is huge, because there's so many shows that I'd love to try out, either because they came as friend recommendations, or they just looked interesting to me. And there's new shows, new seasons of shows I already like, coming out all the time. Never mind that at any time, I can get a million different movies from Netflix's disc catalog.

    It's just too much. There is just no way I can watch everything I'm interested in, let alone watch things, read books, play games ... and I should probably cook and clean periodically.

    So, what's the answer? Declaring that we're not going to try any new shows seems a little harsh. Besides, if we'd done that, we never would have tried Game of Thrones, and that's one of our favorites right now. Canceling Netflix (at least the streaming portion) isn't really an option right now, because it's a great treadmill motivator for Matt. Do we just stop caring?

    I want to be more mindful about what we watch/read/play, and only consume entertainment that feels worthwhile. But that still seems to leave us with a lot. Something to think about.

  • On Moffat's 'Who'

    Note: The following post may contain SPOILERS for Doctor Who, up to the middle of series six. If you choose to read this post, you are absolving me of any SPOILER liability, because you have been thoroughly warned that there may be SPOILERS.

    Matt and I have spent the last few months chugging through Doctor Who, and for the most part, we've had a lot of fun with it. But longer than we've been aware of who River Song is and why we shouldn't blink, we've been hearing about how Moffat is teh ruinous, terrible, let's-lynch-him-why-don't-we? writer to be wary of.

    Alas, as much as I wanted to blast through the Moffat series' and say that everyone was grossly exaggerating, I've found my enthusiasm for the show waning as we get further from Davies' vision of the Doctor, and further into Moffat's.

    In the Davies' series, the Doctor went around the universe with his companions, stumbling into problems, sometimes causing them, but always thinking that everyone he ran into was simply brilliant. Everyone had something to offer...the show was less about THE DOCTOR as it was about the Doctor and his companions and the brilliant tapestry of the universe.

    This 'new' Doctor seems to believe a lot less in the brilliance of his companions and those he stumbles across. From a character development standpoint, I can handwave it that after the pain of losing Rose and Donna, he may want to hold his companions a bit at arm's length. He doesn't seem to fully embrace them, less trusting, more quick to snap. A component of Eleven's personality? Perhaps.

    But the vibe of the show is also different. More of the stories are Doctor-centric - rather than dipping our toes into the vivid pool of the universe, we're pulling skeletons from the Doctor's closets. Whereas I thought the character development for Nine and Ten's companions was brilliant, I can't really say that I've seen much growth from Amy and Rory. They're decent characters, and certainly not as one-dimensional as I've seen them accused of being ... but if they were to walk off the Tardis in the next episode, I don't think their lives would be much different for having spent time with the Doctor.

    The themes in series five and six are blatant. We never saw Bad Wolf coming, though it was there all along - and who knew we were voting for Saxon? But Moffat takes every possible opportunity to remind us that there's a crack in Amy's room...and in case we've forgotten this fact, let's have another flashback. It feels like Moffat can't resist pointing out to the viewers when he feels he's done something clever, and he thinks everything is clever, to the point where the universe feels a lot smaller and less interesting than before.

    That's not to say that there haven't been enjoyable moments. I adore River Song, and the Van Gogh episode was a great one for me. But Moffat's direction has caused the show to lose some lustre for me - I certainly don't hate him with the passion that some do, but I'm not bouncing off the walls excited about watching it, either.

    I'm interested to see how they write the next doctor, and see whether at least a few of my hangups can be attributed to Eleven's personality. But honestly? If it's not, I might not bother keeping up with the series, since my time investment in the show at this point is still pretty minimal.

  • Book Binges!

    These days, I'm almost always reading two books. (Sometimes more, oops.) One is a good old paperback, or the occasional hardcover. But the other will be on my Nook tablet. Typically, I save the Nook reading for night, or on the go. I read -way- more as a result! Not having to fight with book lights or worry about keeping Matt awake at night makes things so much easier. (As does the ability to pick up the next book in a series without limiting myself to store hours - nice perk!)

    As of today, I've read at least 38 books this year, which isn't bad! (There's at least one book that goodreads isn't bringing up that I know I added and read) I'm reading pretty consistently, and trying out series I never would have touched if I had to commit the shelf space (or pick up at full price - I've tried a number of books thanks to $1.99 and $2.99 Nook sales.)

    So I thought I'd share a few of the highlights and duds that I've read this year. Maybe you'll find something worth reading, too.

    Divergent/Insurgent: This dystopian YA series is being made into movies, the first of which comes out in March. The final book in the series comes out sometime this fall, so I can only speak for the first two books. They're fun, and addictive. The romance between the two main characters is a little eye-rolling and cheezy, but the setting is interesting, and they're pretty quick to read. The books take place in a futuristic Chicago, in which society now divides people into factions based on traits and beliefs. Super interesting concept, and the second book throws a big curve ball. I'm looking forward to finishing the series. I feel like it's a bit cheezier than Hunger Games, but I've enjoyed it about as much.

    Eon: This YA novel will probably finish in my top ten of the year. Eon is a crippled young lady who is forced to pose as a boy and train to be a dragon apprentice. The setting is rich, the characters are compelling and complex, and the story gets progressively more nerve-wracking. I've got the second book (it's only two books total) on my shelf, and I really need to get around to it. Eon is completely worth reading.

    The Ashford Affair: This is Lauren Willig's first stand-alone novel, weaving between events in 1999 and the early 1900's. It's a beautiful story about love, family, broken trust, uncovered secrets, and what and who are important. I totally cried at various points in this book. Again - completely worth reading.

    The Selection/Elite: This series is Cinderella meets The Bachelor, and I can't really recommend the series. They are, without a doubt, a 'guilty pleasure' along the lines of Taylor Swift. The characters don't act in a logical manner, many characters are flat, and while the series is trying to ramp up the dystopian YA factor, I'm not sure anyone really cares about this conflict. We just want the Prince and our Cinderella character to end up together already, sheesh. It's totally a soap opera YA series. Again ... I can't recommend it. (But I am totally going to have to pick up the third one next year, because when you've invested two sleepless nights into these books, you have to see it through) Read these only if your cheez and syrup levels are SUPER low and you also want to feel the need to sit down your main character for a lecture every 40-50 pages.

    Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are: I like a good psychology book now and then. It doesn't make for great blog fodder, but if you do too, check it out. Spoiler alert: Friends are really good for us mentally, not just in childhood, but throughout our lives.

    The Other Tudors: Henry VIII's Mistresses and Bastards: Because I needed to read another book on the Tudors like I need another hole in my head. This book proposes that Henry actually had a lot more mistresses and illegitimate children than history records, based on evidence such as log books, family records, etc. I don't know whether it's likely, but it makes for a pretty interesting read. If you find this one in the bargain section (as I did) and it sounds interesting to you, give it a try.

    Right now? I'm making my way through the Fever series by Karen Moning - Paranormal isn't usually on my plate, and this series is full of mystery and has really got my attention. I'm also reading Stiff, a book on the science of cadavers, but that one is a bit slow going, because while interesting, I can't say that I'm always in the mood to read about cadavers before bed.