Friday, December 30, 2011

A Response to "Texting Makes U Stupid"

Today my dad handed me an article he had torn out of Newsweek in September and said, “This made me think of you, so I saved it.” As I read the title, I groaned. The article was written by a professor of history at Harvard (and yes, I deign to disagree with a Harvard professor), entitled “Texting Makes U Stupid.”

From the title alone, I had the article outlined in my head, point by point, before I read the rest of his words. Bring in stats about how much teenagers tweet. Make snide quips about the inanity of the text message (because nothing important or beautiful or poetic or smart could possibly fit into the format of a text message). Queue stats, mourning the loss of literacy in the United States. Boldly state at the end of the article that we should read more! Of course the author states this to an audience currently reading Newsweek, patting themselves on the back for dodging the scourge of the text message, understanding the value of reading, and being from a generation who understands the elusive “good ol’ days.”

It’s disconcerting that a professor from Harvard would write an article falling into post hoc fallacies and blaming something as complex as our illiteracy epidemic on the invention of the text message. When the novel itself first came to be (yes, it’s a fairly new invention that didn’t emerge until the Victorian period), people thought the same thing. A novel was thought to be a waste of time, an unintelligent hobby. And later, with the widespread popularity of television, people worried that the novel would die. And yet we have a professor of history crying that the sky is falling when teens are texting.

I do not think that falling literacy rates are great. What I do think is great: teens write more now every day than they ever have in the past. Kids write emails, text messages, tweets, and facebook statuses. Are they always spelled correctly? No, but it means that several times a day, they’re thinking about writing. They’re stringing words and sentences together and thinking about how to express ideas. They’re thinking about concision, clarity, and audience. They’re thinking about communication and its value. I don’t think any of these things are bad, and I don’t think that’s what’s to blame for a falling interest in reading. I think it’s an easy answer and a scapegoat.

It’s silly, unfair, and archaic to define reading a novel as the only kind of reading that merits worth. Teens and college students now have information, news, and updates at their fingertips, which adds up to quite a bit of reading. Is all of it good? No, but neither are all novels. Yes, teach our kids to be smart. Teach our kids to appreciate art and words and nuances of meaning. But don’t sit around telling kids that texting is bad or leading them to a disinterest of the world around them, because that just validates the phrase they’ll spout back at you, which is “you just don’t get it.”

Link to Newsweek article:

P.S. I teach Writing and Rhetoric to college freshmen. I’m very much concerned about the reading and writing habits of our youth. I just don’t agree with the leaps of cause and effect in this article.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Go see Drive. Like, now.

I sat in the theater, long after the credits had ended, long after several pubescent theater workers grumbled while shuffling around me. I had never been so shocked into silence after watching a film. I remained thoughtful and quiet walking out of the theater and to the car and throughout the car ride home (much to the worry of my boyfriend who was with me). Okay, I wasn’t completely silent. Right after the film ended I looked at my boyfriend and said, “Holy shit,” but that was it.

Drive is the kind of film that doesn’t come around often. It’s a film that reminds you of the potential artfulness of filmmaking. Actually, it’s a film that reminds you that humans are capable of making things that are so incredibly beautiful that they seem to transcend the physical space that they inhabit. As cheesy as it sounds, I left that theater with a renewed hope in the creative powers of man, and I don’t mean that as hyperbole. I don’t have a single negative thing to say about this film—and I can’t recall any other time in my life-long career as film critic (and critic of all things, in general) that I’ve uttered such a phrase.

This film was exceptional. The acting, writing, editing, cinematography, music, pacing—everything—was impeccable. That’s not to say it was safe. As Guillermo del Toro said of the film at Comic-Con, this is balls-to-the-wall filmmaking. It’s gutsy and experimental in the way it’s put together, and I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s rare to see something so fresh and new that actually works as a harmonious whole.

I now have an enormous amount of respect for Nicolas Winding Refn, who rightfully claimed best director at Cannes for the film, and also for Ryan Gosling (turns out he’s a total badass—could’ve fooled me). In fact, as I learned at a Comic-Con panel, it was Gosling who had the rights to the book Drive is based on, and it was Gosling who sought out Refn to be the director. After a horrible first meeting over lunch, the two bonded through an REO Speedwagon song in Gosling’s car and realized they shared the same vision for the film, as Refn broke down into sobs and they discussed their vision of a character who cannot feel real emotion unless he’s driving (and listening to '80s pop). Crazy, right? The stuff of fairy tales.

At Comic-Con, I was stunned by the footage that was shown, and I was equally stunned by Guillermo del Toro’s gushing over Refn, but being the cynic that I am, I worried that they had showed us the best scenes. How could every scene in the film live up to the scenes that they had shown us? Oh, my friends, how wrong I was. The scenes shown at Comic-Con were even better in the context of the film, and those scenes were not the exception to the rule. Every scene was phenomenal.

For those of you who were fooled by the marketing ploy and believe this to be Fast and Furious 6, it’s not. In fact, I heard many disappointed movie-goers leave the theater with complaints: “That was so slow and boring” and “That did not have enough action.” Yeah, I’m sorry you guys were tricked into seeing a brilliant film.

P.S. I bought the soundtrack. Of course, it’s awesome.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Comic-Con 2011: Saturday

Alien egg. This needs to be the centerpiece of my living room. 

"You think this A on my forehead stands for France?"

Daenerys from Game of Thrones

With Kato

Kid Robot

Doing some Kid Robot art on the spot.

Dr. Who Tardis

Pretty much the coolest Venom I've ever seen.

I ran into two of my pop culture idols on the floor: Whitney Matheson from Pop Candy and James Sime from Isotope Comics (who I met when I visited his awesome comic store in San Francisco earlier this month). Hung out with these peeps later at the Pop Candy party.

Leave it to Comic-Con to have the best street food, on top of everything else. Had a poached lobster and grilled cheese sandwich from the South Park food trailer park.

Comic-Con 2011: Friday

Conan O'Brien Lego Superhero

Adult Swim Party

Venture Brothers. Shortly after this photo was taken I rubbed shoulders with the creator of the show.

From a bar in downtown SD that was transformed into Fangtasia.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Comic-Con 2011: Thursday

A museum dedicated to the superhero awesomeness of Conan O'Brien.

Went to a party hosted by Robert Rodriguez. Hung out with Grant Morrison and Paul Shearer, and met some industry peeps. When we walked in, I could not stop freaking out. The place was garnished with original Frank Frazetta paintings. Unreal. Open bar. Fantastic catering. Best. Night. Ever.

Downtown SD

Making friends at Robert Rodriguez's party.

Biggest surprise of the day? Pee Wee Herman showed up and he was exceptionally charismatic and witty. He played with audience members and made me laugh pretty hard. One audience member said, "I'm a big fan of yours" and Pee Wee promptly responded, "Oh, congratulations!" Stuff like that made me like him.

Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried promoting In Time. Honestly, I couldn't tell much about the quality of this film from the footage that was shown. Looked like a mediocre sci-fi flick. Might be worth going to the theater for a bucket of popcorn. It takes place in the future and everyone has a set amount of time that they can live, and that time is kept track digitally on their arms. Yadda yadda yadda.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Monday, June 27, 2011

Isotope Comics: The Comics Lounge

Isotope Comics in San Francisco is one of the coolest comic shops I’ve ever visited. Actually, it’s called a comics lounge, and for good reason. Rather than having a neurotic owner breathing down your neck, making sure you’re not handling the merchandise too much, at Isotope Comics you’re encouraged to pull up a comfy chair, browse comics for hours, and talk shop with customers and staff.

When you walk in, you notice a few things: custom-made bright red couches that look like they would fit the décor of any hip LA club, a huge inventory of graphic novels that you can’t just find anywhere, the most impressive variety of independent comics you’ve ever seen, and lots of toilet seats mounted on the walls. Now, these aren’t ordinary toilet seats; these are toilet seats transformed into artwork and signed by various comic writers and artists: Mike Carey, Mark Millar, Rick Remember, Warren Ellis, James Callahan, and the list goes on and on. The best part is that the owner of the place, James, has a genuine love of comics that spills over, and he’s happy to give you an enthusiastic tour of his treasured toilet seats and to share a few funny stories about the writers/artists.

Not only does James give one fun, personable tour, but he knows his stuff. I’ve never talked to someone who knows so much about comics: new, old, independent, mainstream, manga, classics, horror… he seriously knows it all. He’s even served as a judge for the Eisner Award in comics.

If you’re in San Francisco, this place is a must-see. It was definitely one of the highlights of my trip. And if it’s your first time checking in there on Foursquare, you get 15% off your purchase. Beautiful interiors, huge selection, great staff, and tech savvy. What more could you want?

Visit their website and check out some of the awesome pics they have posted:

PS- Be sure to see the gorgeous original Frank Quitely panels that hang above the register.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Midnight in Paris: "There is no city like this in the world"

I'm just gonna forgo any pleasantries, along with any pretenses that I can look at this film in anything approaching an unbiased manner. I like Woody Allen. I like Paris. I like writing and I like art. I loved this film. Sure, it had its problems, but I was charmed by the main character, Gil, played by Owen Wilson (a blatant representation of Woody Allen) and his sincere (if sometimes sappy) dialogue. Some of my favorite lines that I've ever heard were in the film, like when Wilson insists that "No work of art can compare to a city." 

Although it's difficult to talk about a work of art in terms of feelings, I couldn't help but love the feel of this film. Yes, no work of art can do a city justice, but this film captured the feeling I had gallivanting about Paris. Some would say that the film romanticized Paris from a tourist's perspective, but I would disagree and toss in my lot with Allen. I think there are cities that can be appreciated as a work of art, regardless of whether you grew up there or whether you're visiting for the first time. And Gil's enthusiasm for Paris is contagious and understandable.

I don't want to give away too much about the plot, because I didn't know much about it, and I found myself giddy as certain events unfolded (I even slapped my viewing companion in the arm, grinned, and sat up straighter in my chair a few times in sheer excitement). That's not to say it had a perfect plot. In fact, I was disappointed that for such a creative premise, the film ended up making some pretty cliché moves, and I was surprised that the film had such an elementary take-home message. Despite its plot clumsiness, I loved the film and I would happily see it in theaters again, which is not an action I take lightly.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"I love this record baby but I can't see straight anymore"

As I walked into the packed room, I couldn’t help but notice all the girls around me were wearing enough makeup to frost a cake and all the women were wearing jeans with intricately Be-Dazzled™ designs on their butts. “Where the hell am I?” I thought to myself as the raunchy lyrics of Lady Gaga and Christina Aguilera pumped through the speakers and girls in various cuts of neon spandex took to the stage and started shimmying, gyrating, and thrusting. No, this was not a strip club. This wasn’t even an underground dance club. This was a horror show. Scantily clad elementary-school-aged children awkwardly keeping in step with choreographed pelvic thrusts set to the THUMP, THUMP, THUMP of deep bass-driven, sexually-charged pop music. God help me, this was my little nieces’ dance recital in the local high school auditorium, and the ages of said girls on stage ranged from six to twelve years old.

Let me get one thing clear: I’m not one of those crazy people who thinks women should only wear dresses buttoned up to their chin and girls shouldn’t be allowed to fraternize with boys. I’m not saying girls shouldn’t dance. In fact, there were two dance routines (out of 25) that proved that these girls could be taught graceful dance moves requiring talent and precision without the need for costumes made out of underwear or the sexualized movements. One was a hip-hop routine where the girls (and even a few boys) wore pants and t-shirts, and OMG, somehow they managed to move just fine in such restrictive clothing. Another dance showcased the miniature girls in a shirt and a skirt with longer shorts underneath while the girls leapt, twirled, and twisted in some impressive moves.

The other 23 dance numbers featured sexually suggestive convulsions from the tiny bodies that were repulsive and infuriating replications of oversexualized pop stars. The display was so hard to look at, I ended up spending a good amount of time looking into the faces of the parents in the audience and silently condemning them (and wondering if their butts hurt from sitting on all those faux jewels). How could a parent bear to see their little girls represented in such a way, especially at such a young, impressionable age? Didn’t they see that they were encouraging their children to find approval in all the wrong ways and in all the wrong places? Shame on these women, these mothers who perpetuate this cycle of abuse by condoning such a horrible practice. I couldn’t believe that I was sitting in what is considered to be a civilized society in the United States of America and that all those present were willingly participating in such an event. How can we demand equality for women and an end to sexual abuse when we willingly contribute to the perpetuation of the problem?

Am I saying all girls’ dance troupes are evil? Of course not. But I’m saying I’m astounded that there are dance teachers that think this is “cute” or appropriate in any way. I’m saying I’m frustrated with parents who don’t seem to understand the psychological damage that they’re inflicting upon their children. Damage that can’t be undone. I’m saying good-freaking-grief, we should not be putting up with this crap. We should not be watching 6-year-olds shaking their hips to songs about being a super model or getting drunk at a club and thinking this is okay. And I’m beyond horrified that all this has to be said and isn’t just taken as a given.

*Note: Neither of my nieces participated in the worst of the dances, and my brother and sister-in-law were just as surprised/upset with the program as I was.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

X-Men: First Class

I really enjoyed this film; I think we can safely agree that it’s the best X-Men film so far (which I guess isn't saying that much, but it was good, I swear). Above all, Magneto and Xavier were well cast. Michael Fassbender (Magneto) and James McAvoy (Xavier) pulled off some pretty cheesy lines with sincerity and depth, and it actually worked.
The thing that made this film great was that it was Magneto’s story, and you sympathized with and understood a more complex character than a mere villain. All the story development of Magneto’s character and past was interesting, evocative, and well developed. I even enjoyed watching his relationship unfold with Mystique, although I would have preferred that she had refrained from throwing herself at him… and that she was played by a different actress—I thought she was grossly miscast.
Speaking of miscasting, January Jones as Emma Frost drove me nuts. I was shocked that she delivered her lines like a mousy Betty Draper. Even as ‘60s Emma Frost, playing right-hand to Shaw and bending to his every whim, I could never imagine Frost as a soft-spoken submissive, and I didn’t think any of the other women in the film had this problem.
But back to the things I loved. There were a few choice cameos that made my day, but I’ll forgo the specifics. I highly recommend seeing this film in theater for some pretty awesome special effects and shots. Plus, I thought it was a much more interesting story than Thor.
Side notes: there's no extra scene after the credits. Also, upon seeing First Class, several people have asked me for X-Men comics recommendations, and my glowing recommendation is the first four trades of Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon. It's a self-contained story arch that features the likes of characters from First Class. Enjoy.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Scream 4: "One generation's tragedy is the next one's joke"

I know I haven’t blogged in forever, and this review is less than relevant, since the movie is no longer in theaters, but I feel it is my duty to make this report (and this is the last film I’ve seen in theaters that I’ve been truly impressed by... I'm looking at you, Bridesmaids and Hangover II... okay Thor was pretty good-- nobody kill me). I really enjoyed Scream 4 (and I don’t appreciate any pretentious eye-rolling at the suggestion that the third sequel in a horror franchise might have some artistic merit). This film echoed back to the self-aware genre witticisms of the first film, but this one took the meaning of meta to a whole new level, and I laughed out loud at a lot of jokes pointed at itself. This was the smartest horror film I’ve seen since Jennifer’s Body, and I urge you to not be turned off by the “4” in the title. It was well-paced and well-written, and I look forward to seeing it again, which is a rare thing for me to say in the horror genre. I dare say I will purchase the DVD, and I hope others will be motivated to give it a rent.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Whole Bloody Affair: A Roaring Rampage of Revenge

A couple of weeks ago I traveled to Los Angeles to see The Whole Bloody Affair in all its glory. There is a special place in my geek heart for Kill Bill. The cruel tutelage of Pai Mei. Kiddo’s slaughter of Yakuza minions. The Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique.  The films offer a cinematic feast of fun. I’ve watched each film more times than I can count, I can recite passages of dialogue before characters say them, and I own a replica of Kiddo’s yellow jumpsuit. So, I’m pretty serious about my devotion to this fun film.

Walking into the New Beverly Cinema was like rewinding the clock 50 years. The cinema had a brightly-lit vintage marquee out front, which on the night I went exclaimed happy birthday to our dear Quentin Tarantino. Walking inside, the foyer was tiny, the snack counter was barely existent (but had refreshingly reasonable prices), and the two restrooms combined would have fit into a small broom closet. The one theater housed about 200 seats and the screen was much smaller than most we see nowadays. In short, it was charming. I snagged a front-row seat, which was perfect for the screen distance and size.

Before the feature presentation, in typical Tarantino flair, several previews of coming attractions for ‘70s and ‘80s grindhouse genre films were shown, including Coffy, The Million Eyes of Sumuru, and Shogun Assasin (the film that BeBe watches with Beatrix at the end of Kill Bill volume 2). The pre-show reel also included an animated sing-along of dancing concessions urging us to get snacks and Dr. Pepper in retro style and a panther warning us that the film was Restricted. Then the glowing seal of the Cannes Film Festival appeared, affirming that this was the original, personal print from Tarantino’s first screening of this version of the film.

With the volume turned way up, the action sequences of Beatrix Kiddo’s roaring rampage of revenge physically reverberated in the audience. You could literally feel the tension. The cinematography looked beautifully visceral on a “big” screen.

Now, to answer the question everyone keeps asking me about the film: “So, what’s different?” Actually, several things, some small and others not-so-small. All the action sequences were a little longer and a little more satisfying (if that’s even possible). For example, in the famous scene where Beatrix harpoons the Crazy 88’s, the carnage radiates in technicolor instead of shifting to  muted censor-friendly black-and-white. This may not seem like a huge change until you see the difference in stunning color and detail, red blood splattering every frame. There were other differences in the Crazy 88 sequence. My favorite difference occurs after Beatrix plucks an unsuspecting warrior’s eye out; in this version, she promptly shoves the veiny eyeball into another guy’s mouth and he gulps it down in surprise. It can only be described as awesome.

Other small details include: a voiceover from Pai-Mei describing how Beatrix must suppress her emotions when she walks away from Vernita Green’s Pasadena home, a shot showing Beatrix does indeed cut off Sophie Fatale’s other arm (leaving her a sad, stumpy figure, perfect for taking a roll down the snowy slope to the hospital), and more blood and guts shown in the anime sequence of Oren-Ishii’s past.  I didn’t notice as many changes in the second half of the film after the intermission (what is known as Kill Bill volume 2) but watching the two films together made them feel more harmonious and less disjointed.

Perhaps the most significant difference was that in The Whole Bloody Affair, when Sophie tells Bill of Beatrix’s brutality, Bill does not ask Sophie about Beatrix’s daughter. This means that Tarantino’s original intent was to have the audience share in Beatrix’s surprise when she sees her daughter for the first time at the end of the film. In cutting the film into volumes 1 and 2, apparently the powers-that-be decided they needed a hook, and so they added the line about Beatrix’s daughter still being alive, eliminating the entire shockingly emotional reveal in the single film version.

Even though the film ran at 4 hours and 11 minutes (not including the lengthy previews), I would watch it again in a second, French subtitles and all.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Paul: "He's not dangerous. He's kinda rude."

Okay, I know I'm a total dork, but I really enjoyed this movie. This alien-comedy by Nick Frost and Simon Pegg (the blokes who brought you Shawn of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) was self-aware, self-referential, and packed full of geeky goodness. References to Star Wars, E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The X-Files, and Star Trek (and I'm sure many others that I missed) were plentiful and fun to spot, and believe it or not, they didn't feel trite. In fact, the writing was clever, simultaneously making fun of and paying homage to the genre stereotypes. The overall plot was simple, but it allowed for hilarious and endearing character development and interaction.

Although my geek goggles might be skewing my vision, I laughed heartily and obnoxiously throughout the film, and I give it a heartfelt recommendation.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Whole Bloody Affair

Today I bought a plane ticket to fly to LA to see The Whole Bloody Affair-- the Kill Bill movies edited into one glorious cinematic experience. And the cherry on top is that the screening takes place at Tarantino's theater, The New Beverly. I'll probably be so overwhelmed with happiness that I'll laugh and cry at the same time (kind of like Beatrix at the end of Kill Bill vol 2).

For those of you who aren't aware of my unabashed adoration of Master Quinten Tarantino, he's my favorite screenwriter and probably my favorite director. Let it be written. And while I love many of his films, I have a very special kind of love for the Kill Bill movies, which probably borders on rivaling Tarantino's love for feet. I've watched vol 1 and 2 so many times that I have them memorized, frame for frame, and I still enjoy watching them every time. So the thought of seeing these two films mashed together and edited as my love had originally intended is practically enough to make my head explode.

I will take note of every detail of my experience for future generations and fellow film freaks who will be unable to attend. (The week's worth of screenings sold out in a day.) The only question remaining: do I wear my Beatrix Kiddo jumpsuit?