Saturday, August 27, 2005

A Fine Summer Of Movies

Well, that's it, dear readers. I've completed my last shift at the movie theatre!

It was a good job. It didn't pay very well, but I had a good time and made lots of friends.
It didn't hate theatre customers as much as I hated the customers at McDonald's. I think part of that was because they were going to movies, something that I loved doing, and so I could relate to them more than a couple of truckers who want the onions on their Big Macs sliced extra thin.
There were a few idiots, of course. Later on, I will make a post about my pet peeves about theatre customers, but for now, this is a special review post. With every paycheque from the theatre, handed out every two weeks, was an employee pass for a free movie with a friend. That, along with the passes I won from the Butter Contest, allowed me to see more movies this summer than three summers combined. Allow me to list and briefly review them for your reading pleasure: (in no particular order)

1. Batman Begins
Starring: Christian Bale, Katie Holmes, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy.
Review: This is my pick for Best Action/Drama film of the summer. I actually got to see it twice - once with a friend of mine from the Anime club, and the other time with my sister and her friend-who-is-a-boy-but-might-as-well-be-her-boyfriend-for-all-the-time-they-spend-together. It was brilliantly done - it was intelligent, and layered, and intricate, with some excellent special effects as well, and it all made a very convincing story about how the Batman came to be. It is now on my list as one of My Favourite Superhero Movies of all Time, next to Spider-Man 1 and 2, and Unbreakable. It even had a little humour - the scene where Bruce Wayne buys an entire hotel on a whim, so that his girlfriends can swim in the pool, is very entertaining. Christian Bale was excellent, I loved his Batman voice, and Cillian Murphy as the Scarecrow was, as the internet fangirls like to say, TEH HAWTNESS (very good looking).

2. Stealth
Starring: Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel, Jamie Foxx.
Review: I saw this with my dad, who loves military and army movies, particularly ones about army equipment, like tanks and boats and subs, and airplanes. In this one, it's about a trio of stealth fighter pilots assigned to kick terrorist ass who have to put up with a robot-controlled airplane who becomes dangerously self-aware after being struck by lightning. You can tell the robot becomes self-aware, because he starts playing rock music really loud in his cockpit, and by showing attitude towards authority figures. I was a Teenage Robot Stealth Pilot might have been a better title. It was entertaining enough, but highly unrealistic. Jessica Biel's character's shot from her plane after a mission in Russia and just happens to land in North Korea? And the pilots swerve all around the world and only have to refuel once? Please. At least they kept the sex scenes out of it.

3. War of the Worlds
Starring: Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Miranda Otto.
Review: This was an extremely entertaining movie to watch on the big screen with surround sound. The explosions, the approach of the aliens, the overturning cars and vaporizing humans - it was breathtaking, and made me feel very involved. Considering the sort of deus ex machina way the aliens are defeated - in the film, and apparently the novel as well - to my thinking, it was very appropriate to have the main characters be normal, middle-class people with no ties whatsoever to any authority figures who might have more information about why the aliens are indulging in endless slaughter - questions are not answered, but the audience no longer really expects them too. Tom Cruise was very convincing as a sleazy dad suddenly forced to become very, very responsible, and Dakota Fanning was flawless, as usual. Something has to be wrong with that kid. At her age, she can't really rely on Method. However, I'm not sure that the movie might be so entertaining when translated to the smaller screen of DVD.

4. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Starring: Johnny Depp, Christopher Lee, Helena Bonham Carter, Deep Roy.
Review: This was an excellent, and to my mind, superior adaptation of Roald Dahl's novel. However, while they're both based on the same written work, and while they both more or less cover the same events (one of the kids being shrunk by a television, another turning into a blueberry, etc.), they are different enough in tone, theme, and style that you could watch both and not feel like you're watching the same thing, just with different people in it. The Gene Wilder version focused more on the contest itself - the movie ends with Charlie and Willy in the glass elevator, after Charlie's already won. Also, Gene's Wonka performed like an inscrutable, all-wise God-like character who was entirely in control of the entire situation. However, in Tim Burton's Wonka, the focus is not so much on the contest as on Willy Wonka himself, a man Johnny Depp interprets as, rather, a highly unstable, antisocial, fragile genius balanced on the cusp of sanity. The story does not end in the glass elevator, instead it continues onward as Charlie helps the damaged chocolatier to find some sort of redemption. In this version, meanwhile, the Oompa-Loompas are all played by the same seemingly inexhaustible actor (Indian performer Deep Roy), multiplied a hundred times by movie magic. On top of all that, while the Oompa-Loompas do sing, they perform toe-tapping, darkly humourous numbers composed by Danny Elfman (the music man behind The Nightmare Before Christmas's "What's This?").

5. The Island
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Djimon Hounsou.
Review: It had an entertaining premise, but was a little too long for my taste, and was a bit inconsistant. Basically, Ewan and Scarlett play Lincoln Six-Echo and Jordan Two-Delta, clones raised in a sparkly-white, meticulously-organized commune, believing themselves and the other clones to be the only survivors of a vast, world-wide plague. Lotteries are held every once in a while to determine which lucky survivor is shipped off to 'The Island', a place they believe to be the world's last uncontaminated area where they can begin to repopulate the world. Of course, the riskily curious Lincoln eventually discovers that lotteries are only held when a wealthy sponser on the outside needs an extra heart, liver, or child carrier. The film consists of an odd tone formed out of dark action bits and ethical arguments (is it right to grow humans only as spare parts?) crudely stirred with off-key moments of childish humour (the clones are left completely oblivious to sex and pop culture - Scarlett's character, after escaping with Lincoln, enters a bar, is offered a beer 'straight up', and looks towards the ceiling - ha ha.) In the end, it was pretty campy - who knows, it might be considered a cult hit later on.

6. Sky High
Starring: Kurt Russell, Kelly Preston, Dave Foley.
Review: As one of the only recent movies aimed at younger audiences that doesn't indulge in fart and poo humour, it already ranks as one of the better films just for that fact alone. It's no Incredibles, but it is still wholesome, occasionally clever, and entertaining. Sky High is, just so you know, a floating, secret high school exclusively for the progeny of famous superheros. Will Stronghold is the son of the super-strong Commander (Russell) and the flight-capable Jetstream (Preston), but on his first day is labeled a Sidekick when he is initially unable to prove he has any powers at all. It's all very campy and wink-wink nudge-nudge, and all of the various tropes of teen-school movies are paraded for show (the bully with a past, the lifelong friend who discovers she's fallen in love with the boy she's grown up with, the trauma-drama-rama of cafeteria seating, impromptu parties and high school dances), but the super-hero aspect does manage to spin a bit of the dust off some of these old hats.

7. Wedding Crashers
Starring: Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Christopher Walken.
Review: A raunchy sex-comedy, it came with a lot of hype, but was somewhat disappointing. Owen and Vince play John and Jeremy, two divorce mediators who consider wedding season better than Christmas, resorting to a bag full of clever tricks to scheme their way into every wedding they can (regardless of religion or race - a montage at the start of the movie shows them crashing Jewish, Indian, and Chinese weddings with flawless charm). They find a hitch in their well-worn routine when John falls for the sister of the bride (Rachel McAdams) at the wedding of the daughter of the Secretary of the Treasury (Walken), and Jeremy finds that bedding the bride's other sister has some dangerous side effects. There are plenty of funny bits, and Owen and Vince provide a consistant screen chemistry, but the movie could have dealt with some serious editing. There are dozens of loose ends, and many scenes that make no sense at all (one in particular - where the Secretary's unfaithful wife played by Jane Seymore forces John to grope her breasts, only to call him a pervert and perform no other lines - is an especial head-scratcher).

8. The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Starring: Steve Carell, Catherine Keener, Paul Rudd.
Review: As this season's other sex comedy, this was the funniest film I saw all year. I kid you not. Wedding Crashers desperately wishes in its shallow, resentful little heart that it could be as funny, as dirty, and as sweet as Virgin. Crashers had a 14A rating, Virgin got slapped with 18A, mainly for some clips from porn, and a scene where an Indian man describes some truly obscene sex terms. Other than that...Andy (a brilliant Steve Carell) is a sweet-natured but desperately antisocial virgin who works at an electronics store. During a poker game with his co-workers, it becomes hilariously apparent that Andy has never experienced the female body (the giveaway was when he described touching a breast as "like holding a bag of sand"), and his co-workers immediately make it their solemn duty to get him laid. What sounds like a one-note premise expands into a hilarious study of sex itself. While Andy's inexperience is the focus, it also deals with the way sex has affected the people around him, from his over-solicitous boss (Jane Lynch), to the salesman David (Paul Rudd) who remains obsessed with a brief affair he had two years ago.

Despite the sexual plotline, the movie never gives in totally to hedonism. While his friends encourage him to have sex with whomever he can, however he can, as soon as he possibly can, Andy holds out for a special lady (Catherine Keener), and in the end he finds himself paid in full for that investment. This, along with Batman, was my favourite movie of the summer.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Dangerous Nuts

I finally got off my lazy ass and went to my allergy doctor's appointment. For a few years now, certain nuts (cashews, pistachios, hazelnuts, and pecans) have made my throat feel all swelled-up and awful, and have given me nausea. No shortness of breath or hives or anything--thank God--but allergies all the same. This worried my parents. They can start out with small reactions, they warned me, But often they can escalate into fatal ones. So I went to the doctor.
While saying that it was astounding that a person with food allergies was not subject to hay fever (yay me!), he actually asked me what I'd like to be tested for. I chose nuts, shellfish (allergy-foods that I don't have very often), but I forgot to get tested for bee stings.

Anyhoo, they put drops of the nut-allergy- and seafood-allergy-proteins on my skin, wrote the names of the foods in pen beneath them, and then the nurse pricked the drops (and my skin) with a sharp little needle. With my arms itching furiously, I went to lie down.

When the doctor came to check on me, peanuts and almonds (as I have always suspected) ellicited little to no reaction, along with most seafoods (I'm mildly allergic to shrimp, to my horror). However, the cashew drop caused a hive the size of a strawberry to develop, and pistachio only slightly smaller. The doctor said that judging by the severity of the reaction, cashews and pistachios were fatal to me, and that I needed an epipen. Fatal. As in, if I ate them, I would choke on my own blood and die.

I'd eaten cashews and pistachios before. Not recently. I'd eaten pistachios once when I was little, but felt sick eating them (go figure), and never touched it since. Cashews I once had in a bowl of mixed nuts, and let me tell you, that made for a very unpleasant Christmas party. I went to a mall after the appointment (although shopping for clothes was now out of the question with hives up and down my arms), looked into the window of a Ben&Jerry's, and saw my favourite icecream flavour sitting next to a tub of pistachio ice cream. It was like I was no longer looking at food, but a man with a gun. Sure, it wasn't pointed at me, but it was still a present and lethal threat.

Hazelnuts got the third-largest reaction, although it was still small in comparison to the pistachio reaction, so mum's banned Nutella from the house. I had reactions to brazilian nuts and pecans, but not to walnuts or coconuts. So I still can't eat snowballs, and Mum's told the relatives who like to make snowballs to have Mum and Dad eat at THEIR house, instead of here. Mum and Dad have decided to have an allergy-free zone. No one is to bring any of those nuts into the house. At all.

Now, on to other news--I've given my two weeks notice to my job, which, if I'm lucky, will leave me with an empty two weeks to have fun and to write before I have to go back to University. I've made a fair amount of money, or at least more so than McDonald's, but now that the end is coming, I'm horribly impatient, to the point where I'm tempted to call in sick before every shift. Not that I do so (I tried it, when I was actually, really sick, and was forced to come in anyways because we had two preview screenings and it was raining outside--a sure sign people will come to movies).

Also, I'm now addicted to Shojo Beat, a manga periodical, much like the girl's version of Shonen Jump. I'd bought issues #1 and #2 at Animethon, and soon subscribed, but found out that issue #3 is now out, and, frightened that my subscription might start after #3, I've gone out to find it. So far, nobody has it. Shonen Jump is everywhere from Chapters to Comic King, but Shojo Beat is not. It's a new magazine (started in July), so the bookstores that carry Shonen Jump either haven't yet subscribed to Shojo Beat, or have sold out. Gah! If I don't get #3 I'm missing out on the stories!

I've mentioned several times, to you readers, just how much of a waste of money I consider manga to be. I've said that it's expensive (15$-20$ a book), and it doesn't take that long to read. Well, you have no idea how interesting and economical Shojo Beat can be. Every month, I'll get a thick volume that contains one chapter from 6 different mangas. They all started at the same time, and every month they show the next chapter. I like all the mangas in Shojo Beat right now (especially Absolute Boyfriend), and, at 8$ a volume (shelf price), it's a great deal less expensive than a book, even though you're getting the same amount of material.

When I go to the University today to transfer onto the LRT to get to my job, first I'm going to check out the convenience stores at the University, just to make sure they have (or don't have) it.

Saturday, August 13, 2005


Fantasy & Science Fiction mailed back my manuscript yesterday, undamaged, unmarked, and unaccepted. They sent a slip from the Associate Editor who said that he passed on my story, because it didn't catch his interest. It didn't look like a form letter - it was printed, but they mentioned the actual title of my story. But maybe they just do that with all lousy stories.
My mother is so proud. "You've received your first rejection slip! You're a professional writer now!" She's also adviced me to keep a file of all my rejections, and I think it's a good idea. It'll be hilarious to flaunt them when I actually get published and establish some "writer's cred".
The good news is, I've already found two potential magazines to send "My Brother's Own Words" to instead, and I'm saving on paper because F&SF sent it back in pristine condition. Also, I'm already working on a new short story, tentatively titled "Career Day". "The Screaming Chicken Wing" is on hiatus, I ran out of steam on that one, and I figured it'd be better to actually write something (even something new) then spend hours looking a screen and having nothing come out.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Doogie Howser, Animethon, and a Lack of General Supervision

Apologies for the lack of updates, dear readers!

As you can probably tell, my writing has become horribly slack. I haven't had any time at all to write, or at least, I've convinced myself that I haven't had any time to write. Still no word from Fantasy and Science Fiction, I'm working on three short stories, one of which is actually getting written ("Get Them While They're Spicy-Hot!" is the tentative title), with the other two in the Idea Phase ("Magic Doesn't Grow On Trees" and "Daughter of the Moon's Companion").
I've begun to have serious thoughts about giving up on my novel, The Shining Empress. After reading books like The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing a Novel, I've managed to convince myself that I've done so many things wrong with Empress that there is simply no hope of rewriting the whole thing. Of course, by then, I get the little voice in my head that says "What?! You're going to give up on your novel again? How are you going to write good novels if you can't finish bad ones?" Then, of course, there is another little voice in my head that says, "Well, you've already finished the first draft! That's an accomplishment! Don't throw it away, just stick it in a drawer and forget about it until you're ready to fix it again."

On the other hand, everytime I actually set down to write Empress, I can't help but believe that what I've written is brilliant, and that (at the very least) I have to finish my second draft and have my mother read it before I make any more novels. But I'm getting impatient. There are so many more ideas for novels waiting in the wings, but that I haven't been going very far on, due to the fact that I haven't finished working on Empress. I think I'm still going to work on the second draft, which may take a while with all my procrastinating.

In other news, a celebrity visited the theatre a few weeks ago. Our Canadian city was holding a Big Important Event, and several stars who happened to be working on films in our province at the time all decided to come and have a look-see. Well, one of them came to our theatre (on a night when I wasn't working. Damn!) and went to see Batman Begins. My manager recalled him as familiar from the get go, but couldn't remember his name. Suddenly, he did recognize the man, but all he could think of was Doogie Howser! Yes! Neil Patrick Harris (also of Undercover Brother and Spider-Man: The New Animated Series fame) came to visit our theatre, and complain about how our sound sucked! Of course, the manager couldn't say anything, because all he remembered was Doogie, and he was sure he would get punched in the mouth if he called Mr. Harris by a name he hadn't adopted since 1993.

Moving on, Animethon 12 was...well, alright. I didn't get to see much anime this time, actually, because I spent a great deal of time waiting in line for large events like the Anime Music Video Contest, and the Cosplay. As a result of that waiting, I got good seats for everything, but the events themselves were rather boring. The AMVs did not get a good crop this year, not enough that was interesting, and too many "sentimental" videos done to gooey Top 40 soft-rock. The only one that was really funny was a video called "The Importance of Scenery" by Doki Doki productions that made use of The Arrogant Worm's song "Rocks and Trees" ("we've got rocks and trees and trees and rocks, and rocks and trees....and water....").

Cosplay was a drag (literally in some cases) as well. Not a lot that was particularly impressive. According to a friend of mine who was working at the Artist's Alley, the very last cosplayer (who had an astounding costume that had to be helped onto the stage by a large number of volunteers) found out belatedly that she, as a member of the staff, wasn't supposed to be cosplaying, at least not to win. She was never told, and neither was the new cosplay director, so no one was really at fault, but the girl admitted to me in the line the next day that she was disappointed, because she's a very competitive cosplayer who never wears the same costume twice and never does the same skit twice, and she hadn't wanted to waste it on a competition she wasn't supposed to win.

I did, however, spend the vast, vast majority of my money, something I was not trying to do but ended up doing anyways. The good news is, I didn't waste the money on a series I'd never seen on a whim, or buy crappy merchandise like Hello Kitty make-up mirrors and FullMetal Alchemist stuffed dolls.

Moving onward again (I should update more often), my parents and Sister #2 are gone for the week, relaxing in B.C., leaving Sister #1 and I alone at home for the first time with no parents. Well, I bungled up that situation pretty badly already by forgetting to lock the front door at night, but I hope I can make up with Sister #1 early enough to go and waste all our parents' money with her doing something fun.