Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Razhumikin (sp) Razzmatazz Guide to Enjoying Movies

It has come to my attention that I watch movies. And I am, in my opinion, better at watching movies than most people. And the reason is that I watch them with an agenda. I watch them with questions in mind that help me to evaluate the successes of the film. I'd like to share these questions with you, so you, too, can watch movies and enjoy them.

A caveat: It almost goes without saying if you've seen an overly crass or gory movie with me that I very often dislike movies that I consider "gross"-- if a movie is overly crass or gory, I probably will not enjoy it and will very, very likely stop watching it before the ending credits, so this guide does not apply to those movies.


Does the movie appear to have a populist theme? I appreciate movies with populist themes because it's so ironic. Yeah, we're a big movie company, but it's the little people who matter! Especially since little people watch so many movies!

Does the movie have Neil Patrick Harris? Extra points if it's Doogie Howser-era, a la the TV production of Cold Sassy Tree.

Neil Patrick Harris can't redeem all of his movies, but if you're stuck in class watching Starship Troopers... well, you're stuck in class watching Starship Troopers, and every little bit helps.

Does the movie invite the invention of new catchphrases, either by possessing a memorable script or inspiring its audience to yell at the screen? For example, my vocabulary has been vastly different since I saw Peter Pan in French. And I'm working on turning Northanger Abbey into the new and improved Rocky Horror Motion Picture Show.

Can you analyze the movie's philosophy and religious themes for hours? It has been my experience that talking about a movie for hours makes it more fun. And I don't have to agree with its philosophy. For me, the movie's perspective can be drastically different from my own outlook. As long as it promotes deep thoughts and not crazy ones, I'm fine with antiheroes or funky theology. Carousel is a really good example. I love the music and dance of the movie. However, Julie seems to be a-ok with domestic abuse. I am not a-ok with domestic abuse, but I can still watch most of the movie. It also seems to suggest that you can give people stars after you're dead. This is not my view of the afterlife at all. This invites instant debate, because my sister doesn't agree. And there you have it! Stimulating discussion!

Can you turn the movie into a rock opera? The answer is always yes, so turning a movie into rock opera fodder is a foolproof method of enjoying many films.

Is there something unique about this film that you can appreciate and/or make fun of? The answer is not always yes. Example: most movies with Pauly Shore do enough making fun of themselves without including anything to appreciate. Once the environmental science club at my school showed Bio-Dome. I left before it was over... I just couldn't appreciate its "uniqueness" (see caveat about overly crass movies.)

Can you crochet/knit/sort socks while watching this movie? The answer is mostly yes. Crocheting is the reason I watch so many movies now. I just can't bear to just crochet.

I will readily admit that many movies are intolerably stupid. But many movies are also entertaining. Several movies that I've seen recently have been particularly good to crochet to. I have liked Lives of a Bengal Lancer (in which--catchphrase--"Gary Cooper goes postal"), Stalag 17, Mr Deeds Goes to Town (ok, I have not seen it recently, but it is one of my favorite movies of all time, and Gary Cooper goes a little bit postal)... and I haven't watched Witness for the Prosecution yet but I can tell you that I will like it because I will crochet to it, Billy Wilder directed it, and it would make a killer rock opera. Now if we could just find someone for the Charles Laughton part....

Because I can tell you right now that my brother's approach to watching movies differs widely from my own (since he doesn't watch girly movies) I would love to invite comments. How do you know if you're going to enjoy a movie or not? Is it imperative that the movie supports your worldview? Did you like Napoleon Dynamite? More importantly, would you like it if it was a rock opera?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Developmental Disorders in Literature

(Boy, wouldn't something like that be a terribly interesting course?)

I am fascinated by the autism spectrum. I'm intrigued by the attention it's gotten in recent years and the vaccination controversy. I'm shocked by its recent growth. I'm bemused by its spurts of publicity: it's almost like sometimes it's the chic life-complicating disorder, coming with weird social quirks and superhuman powers.*

It's like the attitude is sometimes... Peter Tork has Asperger syndrome! Peter Tork is my favorite Monkee! Craig Nicholls of the Vines has Asperger's! Einstein was socially awkward! I wonder about Andy Warhol? Autism autism prodigies vaccines JENNY MCCARTHY!

*I'm exaggerating. Autism spectrum is far more complex than a set of habits and sensory perceptions and it looks different every time. And do you know what? Individuals are more important than diagnostics. Each human being--all of us--are created with neuroses and gifts, advantages and disadvantages to growing up in society.

So it's always super interesting for me to see characters with autism spectrum disorders depicted in books or TV or movies. I've read far more autobiographies of individuals and their experiences growing up with varying social disorders than I have seen fictional characters with similar disorders.

I think most of this is that a lot of so-called "retarded" people in comedies make me sick and that kind of initially turns me off of movies and literature that feature any kind of character with special needs. I hate it when disorders are exploited so somebody else can laugh. But anyway, I'm all for art involving every kind of people, and I've tried to write plays with characters that come from a variety of perspectives and I know first-hand how challenging it is to write someone who doesn't speak or looks at ceiling fans for an entire act.

I just read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and that was duly super interesting. The narrator and hero of the book, Christopher, is a fifteen year old boy. He is never labeled in the narrative as having a specific condition, but he goes to a "special" school. He also has one habit that I immediately recognized: he tells the truth as he sees it.

He has the chic tics of most fictional autistic characters: he's got the mathematical genius, acute sensitivity to touch, and weird obsessions with certain little things.

So in a way it left me a little nonplussed. It didn't seem to me that Christopher was as terribly original as the quoted praises on the back of the book would have me believe.

But at the same time, fiction doesn't work unless it's true. Christopher sounds unreal, because he is unreal. And at the same time, I recognize familiar things in Christopher's character, because I see them in real life.

The other major success of the book was that Christopher wasn't alone in his quirkiness. You find that the other characters have serious flaws in their coping mechanisms, that Christopher isn't the only one who doesn't always make sense.

All things considered, I thought the plot flimsy and uninteresting. Don't get me wrong. That's a big deal. I hate stories that don't really hold up. But I will say that, in this book, the plot isn't what sticks with you. It's Christopher, who is far more intricate and harder to decipher than a so-called curious incident.

But really, Peter Tork is my favorite Monkee. John is my favorite brother. I wouldn't have either of them any other way.

And now I want to read The Sound and the Fury. It's time to for me to spread out to other developmentally delayed narrators, and Benjy's probably the original.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Movies I've Seen

Do I like populist, corny Christmas movies as much as the next person? Of course I do. But sometimes It's a Wonderful Life gets a little old... not stale, just overly familiar.

I have decided that, this year at least, my favorite Capra Christmas movie is Meet John Doe, a flawed but nonetheless insightful movie, with more darkness than Wonderful Life. It concerns a young journalist who creates a "John Doe" to protest inhumanity by writing letters to the editor and planning to commit suicide by jumping off City Hall on Christmas Eve. Amid cries of shenanigans from the opposing town paper, she casts a vagrant as John Doe. Eventually, the saccharine odes to American small-town society conflict with monopolizing corporations and political corruption. The movie's mistakes lie in its Icaruslike ambition and spotty (long) script. And I don't like the ending.

I purchased my copy of Meet John Doe at the Dollar Tree. This might tell you something about the state of civilization.

To me, Meet John Doe is a parable painted in shades of gray. Everyone makes an unexpected choice and reveals his or herself as greater or less than what they appear. It functions as a really interesting allegory; it is exquisitely, beautifully directed; Barbara Stanwyck, Gary Cooper, and James Gleason give amazing performances.

Also, I just saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on ABC. It was so much less scary than Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory! I am not entirely opposed to books or movies aimed at children that are a little bit creepy, especially if you wait until you are a twenty-something child before you watch them.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

the incarnation

Religions are weird.

I was sitting in church, and as we were singing about Emmanuel, I just thought about how weird the doctrine of the incarnation is and how weird it is to believe in something like the incarnation.

Emmanuel means God with us. This represents one of the fairly important (I think) tenets of mainstream, canonical Christianity, which basically says that God could be (and was) born and lived.

That's a pretty big, strange belief. And it's fairly pervasive. It's not just a fundamentalist thing to believe that God could become a person. It's not a belief that only a few people in big, scary churches espouse. A lot of people believe in the incarnation, and still more sing about it every December without really thinking about what it means.

It's one of the things that makes the beliefs of this kind of Christianity unique. It's not like God appeared as avatar Jesus, showing us what a human should look like without necessarily being one.

I wrote a play once about a trading card with a holographic image of Jesus on it. I was inspired by real life events, I might add. It's really unfinished, but the gist is a bunch of people interacting with the same trading card that they keep finding and passing on. I always think of avatars as being a little bit holographic. That's really my only tie-in.

It'd take a really big God to be born, to allow yourself to be that limited and constricted. You don't see lots of other myths where that happens. Lots of religions pretty much content themselves with holographic images that kind of flirt with human qualities.

But in orthodox Christianity, it's pretty important that God can be born and can die. (A bunch of dudes debated this constantly in the proto-orthodox days in these cool things called "councils" and ended up with "creeds." It seems like a long, drawn-out process, and I hope somebody made refreshments.)

And, by strict standards, it's kind of like Jesus didn't play fair. Satan can't become a human. If you're not human, according to canonical Christianity, you're pretty much staying not human.

And then you get into atonement theology and all sorts of messy issues! Yay humanity!

Like I said, the incarnation is weird and either you believe it or you don't. But either way, it's kind of shoved in your face at Christmas.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

negative space

I have never been good at not including negative space, even white space, in my artwork. For one thing, I like the clean edge left by emphasizing the negative space around an object rather than imposing an outline on the subject. That's my adulthood answer.

My childhood answer is that my art teacher through school, who, I might add, was on par with Mother Teresa and Bernadette Peters, always said, "Color in all the white!" And I tried. However, paper is big, so it was ultimately very difficult and traumatic.

I've even won awards for paintings that consisted of about fifty percent negative space, simply because I got tired of painting the subject and just washed the whole thing with dark blue or something.

Now that I'm a little more philosophical, I have grown to appreciate what negative space says. I think it's why I like Sudoku. Now, the easiest few levels of Sudoku I usually solve number by number, mentally highlighting rows and columns and putting the number in the space left. However, in the harder Sudoku puzzles, I have to use information I don't have to solve the puzzle, which is far more interesting. The logic is still there--I'm not guessing--but I have to think in combinations and possibilities and in numbers I don't have yet.

I wonder what this means.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Things I'm LOVING Right Now

My sister informed me yesterday that FreeRice has branched out, subjectwise. Not only can you test your vocabulary, but you can also quiz yourself on grammar, famous paintings, four languages (including French AND German), math, chemistry and geography. I have found my new nerd hobby. In the past twenty minutes, I have donated 1760 grains of rice simply by knowing der Beispiel, Vincent Van Gogh, schnell, and l'ordinateur.

Really, I am really ignorant when it comes to film scorers. And I haven't branched out at all. My brother constantly scoffs at this. But John Williams makes it so easy to, well, just listen to soundtracks by John Williams. My current favorite soundtrack themes to listen to are from Harry Potter and E.T. What can I say? I like tinkly, evocative melodic noise.

Although, I will say that I am not at all opposed to Danny Elfman from what I have heard of the Batmans and Edward Scissorhands.

And, really, music is one of my very favorite things about being home. I am simply amazed by how much my brother continues to grow as a pianist, and I'm so thankful that I like cinematic music with as much enthusiasm as he does, even though he's much more musically erudite than any of us and is, therefore, kind of a snob. (Example of this: I ask, "Is that DAD playing jazz piano?" Bro responds, "Yes." I say, "Wow..." Bro says, "I know, doesn't it sound sort of... childish?" I say, "I mean, I was kind of amazed.")

(Dad, I tell this anecdote because I think it's cute. Both John and I think you're definitely improving, and, like I said, I thought it was quite good.)

This is the series I crochet to. It's kind of flimsy--come on, I can solve all the crimes and I'm not a detective--and I much prefer Poirot--and David Suchet--but I love, love, love the very Eighties take on 1920's design. It's very extravagant, true to the Beresfords, and clothes get changed all the time.

Although I will say that I am getting very tired of someone making a very revealing but enigmatic statement right before they die in mystery novels, like "She wasn't there!" in A Murder is Announced or "Why didn't they ask Evans?"

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas Break... By the Numbers

SIX crocheted stockings. Giant socks are my favorite holiday decorations, a testament to the accumulation of candy and to big feet.

SIXTY-THREE-THIRTY might undergo a name change. Hmm.

TWO dreams in German. One of those dreams also involved a purple dinosaur. (Barney.)

I blame Barney on babysitting last night. My two charges were bent on stabbing a small, stuffed Barney with forks. I must have saved poor Barn (and the forks) (and bare feet) at least three times.

NINE days until Christmas. Believe it or not, I'm looking forward to the day and giving my family cute stuff. My family calls me a humbug because I don't believe in expensive indoor trees with "memories" as decorations (excuse me, but an eleven-year-old, eroding craft is not a memory.) However, the fact is that I like retro Christmas music like Bing Crosby stuff and anything that Harry Connick, Jr. sings... and giant socks. I like big, rogue socks. And, this year, I'm really liking warmer weather in winter solstices.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Listen... bitte noch einmal.

a. Here is a quote from one of my English professors. He wrote this sentence on our midterm.

"Part V. Sometimes I wonder if I divide this document into sections only because I enjoy the pointy nature of Roman numerals."

Now, this sounds like something my broface would say. Also, I identify with idiosyncratic tastes in document composition. I cannot use serif fonts. They really, really annoy me.

b. Mom, I found the defect in my 2.50$ sleep pants from the Peace Frog outlet store that we shopped in forever. One leg is significantly longer than the other. I can deal.

c. I learned something about myself this week, and that is that I will fixate on absolutely any possible conundrum if it keeps me from studying. Example: When I was a small child, I owned this video about this boy who gets sucked into a board game. Or maybe I checked it out multiple times from Trinity Church Library. In hindsight, that is also very possible.

It started out as live action, and then when he got sucked into the game, everything was claymation. Cool, huh? (John, were you around for this? Do you remember it?) It was also mildy creepy at times because the boy strayed off the path and almost didn't make it out of the board game.

Well, I found out that I will look online for about a half hour, trying to find out the name of this movie, rather than write essays.

Incidentally, I found out the name of the movie. Rockin'. It's actually based on the book of Proverbs. Oh, Christian movie business, you are weird.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Well, I'm relaxing with a cup of dee-licious caramel truffle coffee (thanks, Bets! And, because I'm a bit of a communist with coffee, my suite thanks you, too.) I'm working up the energy to put the finishing touches on my Schroeder paper. I write a sentence or so about every five minutes and I already have five pages... I should be good, eh?

But the real deal is that I'm going to list how I feel about some things...

1) Pens. My pen philosophy is this: pens are essential, pencils are for wimps who secondguess themselves. In Anne of Windy Poplars, Anne Shirley says something about how she cannot write love letters with a scratchy pen. Now, I know quite a few classy ladies who'd say cantankerous pen be hanged, I'm writing Gilbert Blythe a love letter. I mean, am I right or am I right, classy ladies?

But I think that I pretty much agree with Anne, and quality pens are devoutly to be wished for.

Right now I am a huge, giant fan of the Sharpie pen. I got sucked in by the clever advertising--have you seen the spread with David Beckham and the teeny Sharpie writing?

So far, it's really been a fantastic felt-tip pen that doesn't bleed onto the chisel tip of my highlighters. I guess it could be a love letter pen, but I think it's probably more of a poetry pen, and it adds quite a bit of urbanity to my class notes. Call it good marketing (word up, Bethany) but I feel so cool when I write with a Sharpie pen. I haven't even lost one yet.

2) Best purchase of the past two days? 2$ Disney Princess scented markers from Big Lots, an eight-pack, I think. I might be high as a kite... but... they smell so good. I'm writing all of my German flash cards in Strawberry. P.S. My other philosophy is this: markers are essential, colored pencils/crayons are for weenies who don't believe in vibrancy.

3) Christmas trees. I don't like them. They are messy and a pain and they get lost every year somewhere in the theatre. I'm glad my ideal apartment is too small for them.

4) You know, every day I thank God for my family. I just wouldn't be as interesting without them (not to mention that they are all awesome people and the best family in the world. My dad just gets more cool with age and my mom doesn't age at all. And meine Geschwister are both fascinating and funnier than any sitcom on network television.)

My brother has recently been psychoanalyzing the heck out of Through the Looking Glass and wrote about ten posts on my facebook wall about it. I came home from the holiday party hoping he'd written on my wall, and lo and behold! I love that there are multiple critics in my family. I'm appreciating my family so much that I'm a little sick of it and I'm going to ruin the sentimental moment right now: Mom, I want a coffee maker for Christmas. Also, I will still be blonde.

Suckas. I'm SO back on normal terms with my family.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Songs of Water

A shoutout. Songs of Water is perfect pre-finals week music. Perfect.

What is Songs of Water, you might ask, if you're not from the Piedmont area?

I could talk about the people in the band and how they're the epitome of cool local artists. But instead I'll say that it's a joyful noise with hammered dulcimers and schruti boxes and yes, Jeff, a djembe, I'm pretty sure. It does for my ears kind of what visiting the Roanoke area does for my soul. If the Blue Ridge mountains and faraway friends had a soundtrack, Songs of Water would be on it. It's even global enough for Jesse, I promise.

Because I am not a tease, I have provided snippets of it on my playlist for you to sample and I encourage you to look Songs of Water up on myspace or facebook or download the self-titled album (at least, I think it's self-titled) from iTunes.

Oh, by the way. I'm done with classes this semester. Four finals and I'll be back home for the holidays.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving. Joyce-style.

woke up the punk rocker in a cold hard bed that was a sofa. God bless you you thank God you eat muffins. When do we live? We live as soon as we're ready to go. Stop before you're out the door step over the dog lose the dog chase the dog put the dog away.

In the car the pillows kiss our little heads the blond the really blond and the brown. we try to live the broadest way immarginable... she's not smart enough to be original here isn't it enough that we write in second person polar? plural? she's not smart enough to be original here isn't it enough that we question?

fastforward several centuries of mayan history of greek history of the fall of rome and we're there.

fastforward several bodies of water of petersburgs and richmonds and getting lost and gloucester like the movie "The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!" And we're there.

pumpkinpie and pumpkinpie and pumpkinpie and we spilt it and you're so blond and it's good to see you and love and one more pumpkinpie. (because grandma's not making not one this year. )

the dog coughs and I cough, they cough, you cough, we cough, I conjugate, she, he, it conjugates et cetera et cetera etc etc ftw.

it's good to see you again and love and pumpkin pie and I'm drinking all of your coffee because I am so tired, almost as tired as you are generous with your coffee and everything else.

there are umpteen pairs of big blue eyes umpteen hairs of different colors umpteen people who really all act almost exactly the same. pop still has his moustache... it's charming and white like an upper lip polar bear.

Is it hubris to say that my family is almost as interesting as college football day?