Archive for December, 2009

Believe it or not, it is December 24th. Christmas Eve. Seems impossible that it’s already here.

I hope you all have a very merry Christmas with your families and friends. I hope that any troubles going on can take a backseat for at least tomorrow and that you can enjoy some peace and good cheer. Let the rats take care of themselves, forget about the feet of snow outside, don’t worry about upcoming wedding plans or changes happening in the new year. Your job will still be there on January 4th.  For tonight and tomorrow, just relax and have a good time.

I’ll be back bright and early on December 30th from San Diego and I look forward to spending time with you all.

Till then, MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!

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Obviously there are spoilers in here but I’ll try not to give away the main things in case you want to read it.

I’m no literary scholar (obviously) but I do enjoy supernatural, fantasy stories particularly involving vampires. Well, this ain’t your teenager’s vampire story. Nor is it the lustful vampire tale you find on HBO. In the book The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, the vampires are actually dangerous, actually scary terrifying, and actually not the protagonists and that made me love it all the more.

The Historian is the story about the true Count Dracula, Vlad Tempes, who was a cruel leader in Wallachia, Romania, in the late 15th century. Nicknamed Vlad the Impaler, Drakula, which literally means “dragon”,  fought a lifelong battle against the invading Turkish armies and the sultan of the Ottoman Empire and is the historical figure Bram Stoker’s Dracula is based on – so says this book. When he died, he made sure that he would live forever by becoming a vampire and throughout the centuries created an army of vampire servants, incognito in the world, to do his bidding. We follow multiple historians over multiple time periods in the 20th century as they are first enlisted then resolved to find and kill the real Drakula they know to still be “alive.”

The story is told, in a very interesting way, through letters, recollections, and cultural myths from an assortment of characters. The primary part of the book is told through letters the main male protagonist, an historian named Paul, has left his teenage daughter which she discovers after he has disappeared. Through these letters, she attempts to find her missing father and in the course of doing so finds a whole lot else. Paul gets teamed up with Helen, a Romanian historian hell bent on exposing the Drakula myth. Along the way, they go through Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and a host of other places in their pursuit. Think Indiana Jones without a lot of action involved.

While there is romance in the book between a few of the characters, I wouldn’t even put that part of the story as second or third plot line. Furthermore, there is actually very little interaction with any vampire in the book, the creatures mostly being discussed in the abstract. The vampires are not romanticized as in Twilight or any of these other stories but truly loathsome creatures, unattractive and barely able to contain their lust for blood. In short, they are freaking terrifying.

Though it took me forever to read because I stopped for about a month to read something else, I thoroughly enjoyed the novel as I enjoy most historical fiction. I’d be very interested to know how much of it was true and how much made up for the intrigue of the story.

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Spoiler Alert: Don’t read if you haven’t seen the movie and this is one you all should want to see.

As a movie lover, sometimes I go into a film not knowing the slightest thing about it other than that everyone else who has seen it has raved about it. This was very much the case with the new movie An Education. All I knew was that it was about a student that falls in love with some guy. I didn’t even know it took place in London. As with so many other movies though, sometimes this is the best way to see something.

An Education is the story of 16 year old Jenny who is dilligently studying to pass exams for entrance into Oxford University in 1960s suburban London. Pressured by her strict but not unloving father to make something of herself, Jenny’s life is nothing but books and pleasureless cello concerts. One rainy day, her knight in shining armor comes to her rescue in the form of David, a 30-something Jewish…we don’t quite know what he does yet that offers to drive her home in the rain in the most charming way. Everything about David is charming. He’s funny, intellegent in the arts, handsome, and very smooth, even with Jenny’s parents. She’s taken with his spirited lifestyle and for the most part we think he is taken with her grace and youthfulness (apparently in London, legal age is 16).

But underneath their budding romance is a sinister current that runs throughout the entire character of David. It’s hard not to be smitten with his wry smile but you start to wonder what is the obviously older man doing seducing this obviously 16 year old girl? What does he do for a living that lets him go to the fancy restaurants and nightclubs of London and Paris? The subtle way in which the script weaves these feelings of doubt and uncertainty into the story make it all the much harder to face up to the truth right along with Jenny: this fairytale romance is too good to be true. David is SPOILER ALERT!!! married, has been for awhile. We then find out from Mrs. David that he has a young son, lives right around the corner from Jenny and this is not his first affair with a younger girl. Jenny is rightly heartbroken and devastated, having quit school in order to marry this guy with no subtle urging from her father. But in the end Jenny bounces back, gets accepted to Oxford and, we assume, goes on with her life having had a hands-on education in life and deceit. It’s a story more about a young girl trying to discover what she wants her life to be rather than a romance, about the loss of innocence and the eventual lesson most of us have learned that what you most want in life you have to work for.

Though the story is not an unexpected one, we’ve all seen movies in which a woman is seduced by a prince-turned-scumbag only to gain more knowledge of herself as a person. What makes An Education worth your time more than anything else is the superb acting by the entire cast but especially from Carey Mulligan as Jenny. This girl, who in real life is 22 so no pervy action going on there, has the old Hollywood look of an Audrey Hepburn with the acting chops of New Hollywood’s young crop of female stars like Anne Hathaway. She catches your eye in every scene, making you not want to miss a single expression or movement she makes as if you’ll miss some vital part of the story. Her Jenny is vulnerable yet strong in her values and she does elated and distressed equally well.

As a perfect compliment to Mulligan’s innocent portrayal is Peter Sarsgaard as David. I’ve been a longtime fan of Sarsgaard ever since the movie Shattered Glass (in fact, I’m quite upset with myself that I didn’t go to see him in The Seagull on Broadway). He’s one of the rare actors out there right now that can portray just about any type of character but still bring his own signature acting style to enhance whoever he’s playing. As David, you never get a firm grasp of who the man is which is exactly how the character has to be played for the ending betrayal to work. Sarsgaard doesn’t play David as a villian but as a deeply confused and tormented man always reaching for that next better thing. The last scene we see him in, he’s in the car outside Jenny’s home preparing himself for what we think will be his confession to her father. What’s he actually doing is realizing that this is yet another fantasy of his that has ended. Very nuanced piece of acting right there.But seriously, we need to get Sarsgaard into a nice guy role one of these days.

The film is filled out with a great supporting cast like Emma Thompson, Olivia Williams, Alfred Molina, Dominic Cooper and, my favorite of the bunch, Rosamund Pike as one of David’s friends.

All in all, the acting and the poignant storytelling of An Education reinforce my faith in the medium that you don’t need big special effects or Turner Classic Movies channel to see a sophisticated, elegant and memorable film these days. If  you can still find this one at the theaters, I know it’s been out for a long time, you really should go. If for nothing else, the movie is definitely in the awards races.

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SPOILER ALERT! If you have completely lost your mind and are still intending to see the new James Cameron film Avatar you probably shouldn’t read this because I’m about to piss all over it. If you don’t have any interest in seeing it, please read and enjoy me ripping it to shreds. 🙂

DISCLAIMER: As anyone who knows me will remember, I have no problem whatsoever in trashing a movie adored by critics and other viewers. Just because they liked it doesn’t mean I have to. We all remember The Dark Knight fiasco.

Should I start with a positive about this bloated misdirected film? The visuals, when not succumbing to an as-yet unrefined 3D technology, were impressive. I’m not going to go into the various sequences as I can’t describe them properly. I will say that big tree falling down was pretty awesome. That’s about it.

Once again, here we have a movie that had all the makings of a blockbuster that instead sacrificed any kind of coherent interesting or well-written story for big spectacle, expecting its audience to drink its Kool-Aid without stopping to think or care about what’s being flashed in front of them. Ironic that the movie was shown, at a whopping $14 per ticket, in 3D since all of the characters were, well, let’s say it’s a stretch to say that the characters were even one-dimensional.

The movie begins with our male protagonist Jake Sully burying his brother. He’s about to take his smarter brother’s place as an Avatar on the foreign planet of Pandora. The premise is that us bad, evil Americans came to this unpolluted yet populated planet to extract some kind of valuable mineral to sell back home. These specialists, like our guy Jake, inhabit factory made carbon copies of the local natives to infiltrate and pose an illusion of diplomacy as the evil suits rape the planet. It’s your basic alien-movie premise in reverse. Of course, Jake is one of only 5 people in this operation that have any sense of morality and quickly falls for the natives way of life, prompting an all-out war between the Na’vi and the stereotypical military general who gets off by shooting things and talks like Keifer Sutherland in Monsters vs. Aliens. To fill out this over-worn story, you have all of the clichés: Jake starts as a spy for the military then has a change of heart. The girl he falls in love with feels betrayed and she pushes him away just to be reunited with him 5 minutes later, there’s a warm-hearted scientist that dies, a geeky assistant that doesn’t and absolutely no black people allowed. The only minority in the whole movie, Lost’s Michelle Rodriguez gets to die heroically but without having done much of anything.

All of this even wouldn’t have so bad had the script not be cringe worthy. Filled with pat lines and tired jokes, the script was a joke in itself. The dialogue was horrid, worse than Twilight. There wasn’t enough humor, no wit or wisdom and nothing that we hadn’t heard before. The first 30 minutes of the film was nothing but exposition without actually managing to tell you why you should care about these blue creatures or where the technology had come from or anything that could anchor your emotions to the plot.

And that was the major misstep of the movie. When you have visuals that border on the magnificent, that only matters if you care about the creatures living in it. Would that stupid ship in Titanic have been as impressive when it went down if Kate and Leo hadn’t been on it? No. An epic movie is made of character relationships, not of computer technology, however awe-inspiring it might be. What could have saved the abysmal script, besides a person 10 years ago giving a second opinion to James Cameron’s pompous story, would have been good or charismatic acting. Think that had it?

Sigourney Weaver as the head scientist (if you will) was okay. She tried with the material she had but the hard-ass she started out as turned into a whimpering girl by the time she died. The real problem was the lead who played Jake Sully. His name is Sam Worthington and you never need to remember that name. It was very confusing. He was supposed to be a former U.S. marine but his voice kept slipping into an Australian accent for entire scenes. His voice did not have enough expression when he was the blue Avatar to make that character worth watching (which was, like, kinda the focal point of the whole thing). He wasn’t even cute. The only acting I thought was decent was Zoe Saldana (Star Trek) who played the lead Na’vi, Neytiri. They used motion capture to do the blue people so that the acting would come through the digital characters and hers was the best (though how much of that was added by CG you can’t know).

“But your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

That quote is not from Avatar but from a big, epic movie that actually succeeded in melding emotional attachments to big spectacle. But it also speaks to the overlying issue with Avatar. It seemed that James Cameron and his team of animators and CGI wizards got so excited with created a “new” way of filmmaking – which, btw, did not remotely look real but more like a deluxe video game – that they didn’t stop to think about what they were presenting. It’s a big shiny package with a lump of coal inside.

Bottom line, this movie could have rocked and I think that’s why I have such a strong reaction to it. Had more thought been put into a meaningful, poignant story and not just creating this admittedly beautiful imaginary world, this could have been the movie of the season and as big as some of Cameron’s other work. As it is, it just left me disgruntled and wanting to see something else.

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I think these two pictures might be my favorites of 2009:

🙂 Have a good day!

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  • Am I the only one thinking that all that wetness on the sidewalks right now is going to freeze into black ice when the sun goes down today?
  • I got into my office this morning and found out that the building’s heat hadn’t been turned on for the morning – or all weekend. It was freezing in here. My toes are just starting to regain feeling and that’s with keeping my warm snow boots on.
  • With my Borders gift card from my office holiday party, I went and got the Inglorious Basterds DVD and was watching it last night. That’s a truly great movie with a great script and great acting. I’ll do a best of/worst of list of movies for 2009 closer to New Year’s but I’d be surprised if anything beats this for #1 on my list. BTW, the few graphic scenes are just as awesome on my flat screen as they were in the theater. 🙂
  • Speaking of movies seen this year, we went to see Precious on Friday. Couple things on this (in white cause of spoilers):
  1. To say this is a depressing movie is to say Schindler’s List was a little dark. By the end of the movie, I was numb from the amount of crappery happening to the title character.
  2. Excellent acting, especially from Mo’nique and the lead girl.
  3. The more I think about this movie, the more mixed I get about it. When it first ended, I thought it was a very powerful and moving film with an important message to not let life knock you down no matter how hard it tries. But I keep thinking about it and the more I do, the more story I lose. Because of the dramatic, traumatic things that happen to Precious, you automatically feel pity for her character and are horrified at what she’s had to go through. But, and I hesitate to say this, I didn’t find much to relate to. The message – and it was clearly a message film – seemed too single-minded and narrowly focused. There’s not enough upswing to counteract the devastation Precious goes through and so there’s not a lot to take away from seeing the film other than to say “wow, that sucked for her.” Ultimately, I’m not sure I get what the point of the movie was other than to see how suicidally depressed it could make it’s viewing audience. It’s worth seeing if not just for the acting.
  • Very sad about Brittany Murphy. I think most people of our generation know her best from Clueless, a movie which I know by heart from countless middle school sleep-overs. I do hope some of this speculation that’s starting to creep around will fade soon so her family can mourn without this added scrutiny.

I did have more but apparently I’m supposed to be working. 🙂 Have a good one everybody!

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“Money, money, money”

Hi, my name is LesMizBall and I’m addicted to spending money. I wouldn’t call myself a shopaholic as in I have to always be going to stores and purchasing the most random things. I don’t think I do that.  What I can’t seem to stop doing is spending money on… just about everything.

I have two credit cards and up until this year I’ve been very conscious about leaving too much outstanding balance on them. Somehow this year got away from me, starting about June.  It’s true that I made several trips to New York over the summer – a few of them quite expensive – and it’s true that I’ve had some bigger things to spend on this fall such as plane tickets and visits.

But a financially responsible person would have balanced those larger ticket items with a cut down on everyday spending, such as cutting back on eating out and entertainment buying (DVDs, music, books). Instead, I’ve basically not denied myself anything. And as a person with their own apartment, awesome but expensive cable and looking to someday go back to school, this is not a good thing.

So where I stand now is just downright embarrassing, partly because I seem to have surrounded myself with people who are a lot smarter about saving than I have ever been. My two credit cards have a combined balance of over the what I have in my checking account. My savings are nothing to write home about, I wouldn’t even call what’s left in there a cushion should something happen. Unlike in the past where I could pay my cards in full but didn’t because I didn’t want to carry such a low balance in my checking, I now don’t have enough to pay them off. I can pay a portion and a sizable one at that. And what’s really awful is I’ve gotten unasked-for money from my family and I obviously have not put it to good use. If I ever got into real trouble, how could I go ask them for help after knowing it was my own stupid fault for getting into the mess in the first place?

What all this boils down to is that I’m somehow living beyond my means. I don’t think it’s my apartment situation, I should be able to afford that on my salary (especially when you consider I work a second job). Is it the trips to New York? Is it the shopping? Is it just being careless with money planning?

The smart part of me knows that a lot of this would be solved if I did exercise some self-control and stop buying so much stuff. But you know, I’ve tried that and failed. I’m not saying it wouldn’t work, I’m saying that I can’t make myself do it.  I refuse to stop having fun. I’m not going to stop seeing movies or going out to dinner with friends or even doing the occasional trips to NYC. I don’t regret any of those decisions.

So what’s the answer? What has to happen to make me finally come to my senses and be smart about this?  It’s frustrating and embarrassing. I’m sure others out there have money issues and worse than mine but it doesn’t make mine go away. Until I change some of these habits, I don’t see how this gets any better.

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