Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Revenge or Why We Gave Up On This Show

Revenge was suggested to me by a lot of people. Being a big fan of tumblr, I saw a lot of gifs make their way around while the show was on the air. It looked interesting, so I thought I would watch it eventually.

Then I was searching for something to watch on the plane during that international flight I've mentioned a few times, and I didn't have time for another movie. They had the pilot, so I watched it.

The pilot really hooked me, I seriously wanted to know what happened. I feel like I've said this a lot lately, but for some reason I've been watching a lot of pilots. But this is a pilot that does what it's meant to do, it quickly establishes setting and character.

So my best friend and I decided to start watching the show together. It took us a while to get around to it. The thing is, for a while we were both still really interested in the story. I loved the way it was slowly revealing how corrupt and terrible the people in the Hamptons were. I liked watching this complicated plot come together.

To say that I "liked" the characters is a little odd. I found them interesting, I wanted to know more about them, but I thought they were despicable people. Obviously, that's what I'm supposed to think. Basically the only people I liked all that much were Nolan and Jack. But I found most of them interesting. They seemed to be multi-faceted and have really rich backstories.

But as we went on in the show, I just started to get grumpier. The thing that got me the most was that this was a show about super rich people, a world that I know absolutely nothing about and honestly don't care to. I can be a bit of a jerk like that, I don't like rich people very much when they carelessly spend money and are generally frivolous.

And a lot of the characters that I thought were multi-dimensional stopped really getting dimensions. Conrad? Stereotypical. Charlotte? Fitting more into a box every episode. So once they started a stupid pretend love triangle with Jack, Daniel, and Emily I was generally done. Nolan was still cool, but everything was getting so twisted and convoluted that I just started getting more cranky about it.

Then Tyler showed up and NEVER WENT AWAY. He was not a good addition to the story and he annoyed me more every episode. One of my big things is that if the plot of your story is hinged on a misunderstanding that could be cleared up in two seconds with a simple conversation. Not even an honest conversation! All of Tyler's plots rested on people not talking to each other, and then they did talk and then they never got around to shunning Tyler and telling him to go away since it was obvious he was playing some kind of game.

I was trying to watch the show without spoiling myself. It's rare for that to happen, so I thought I'd try. But Tyler pissed me off so much that I looked up to see when he went away. In doing that, I accidentally stumbled on a couple other things. I gave the show three more episodes after that, but I realized that I just didn't care anymore. I would rather read the episode summaries on Wikipedia than watch all these people make all these mistakes over and over again. I was done with them. This became one of those rare cases where I read a spoiler that made me so angry I was no longer invested in the journey to get there. So I switched to watching Supernatural, and I'll be writing longer reviews of that show instead, starting next week!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Men with your...sales.

I am ridiculously susceptible to sales pitches. Not online, so don't bother here. But in person, it's really hard for me to say no. I'm learning, and for the most part I no longer end up buying things from random kiosks at the mall even IF they manage to corner me.

Though for the most part my strategy is to just not let sales people talk to me. I'm just looking thanks. Nope, just browsing. No, really, I'm okay. Even if I can't find something I need, I will leave without it rather than talk to a sales person. Part of that is just being introverted in general. But part of it is because I'm afraid they'll try to upsell me.

I go through self-checkouts whenever possible to avoid the sales pitches at registers. Because I absolutely hate saying no, and I just want to make people happy and make them feel good and like their job doesn't suck so much. I want to believe they're being honest with me that this sale or that item is worth my hard earned cash.

But half the time, they're lying through their teeth. And my hard earned cash is stretched extremely thin these days. So I try to never go anywhere but the grocery store (which is bad enough).

I worked at a store that sold soap and body products for a while. I won't mention which one. I was there for two long holiday seasons, and in that time I usually spent half my paycheck in the store because I did actually love the product. But I started to slowly realize something from the sales pitches I was giving: the sales weren't actually any good. I was there long enough to start doing the math, start calculating average savings, what you had to spend to get the full value, etc. And I discovered that maybe once a year they had a sale that was actually worth it. I still like that stores products, and I'll go when I have a gift card or to buy presents for family. But I pay attention to the sales more now. I don't fall for it.

Of course, then today I went into a different store that sells the same kind of thing. It's a smaller store in this particular mall, and it's harder to avoid the sales people. But I had a coupon that had to be spent in the store and not online. Before I went in, I did research. I decided what I wanted to buy, I was going to search and destroy, pick up what I wanted and go.

But one of the sales people got me. And I didn't want to be rude, so I talked to her for a few minutes. I mean, the store was mostly empty and she was just chatting, right? Somehow I ended up getting talked into switching to a more expensive gift set, AND I decided to take advantage of the sale going on to get two other things I had been eyeing. And _then_ I even got the store loyalty card.

Now, I want to be clear, this salesperson didn't take advantage of me in any way. Actually, it was because she was knowledgeable and friendly that this worked. She listened to me explain my skin care problems and predicted what products she thought would work, why what I had picked out might be problematic, used examples from her own skin care routine, and her suggestions were good. I even checked with a friend who used to work for the store who said she told me the truth about everything and that those were the products I needed. And the loyalty card pays for itself every year because of the bonuses you automatically get from signing up.

I feel like I've lost my point...but I think what my point would be is that even for somebody like me who already has their guard up and knows every trick in the book (I worked retail for a decade, I know the script) you can still get a big sale out of us. This didn't happen because I'm an easy mark, it happened because the sales person was knowledgeable about the product and what it's used for (skin care), because it is a good product to begin with, because the store itself has a loyalty program that makes sense and pays for itself, and just because she was nice. Not pushy, not like a "sales" pitch, just nice.

So that's it in the end. If you're in sales of any kind, remember those things: make a good product, know what it's good for, and be nice. Then you don't even have to try that hard.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Babylon 5: River of Souls

I've been obsessed with Babylon 5 for many, many years. During the original run of it's third and fourth season, it was my favorite show on television (it's still one of my favorites of all time).

Like most people I don't actually like the fifth season of the show very much. It has amazing moments, and the way they wrap up the Narn and Centauri story lines is astonishingly good. There are few moments as poignant as The Fall of Centauri Prime.

Of course, there are large swathes of fifth season that I just don't enjoy in any way. One of those significant problems for me is Captain Elizabeth Lochley. I have problems with her on multiple levels, all directed at the writing.

Her character is almost always used as the one that asks the stupid questions so that somebody can remind the audience of things that happened before. She's also usually the one who repeats things back in a slightly different phrasing so that the point is clear. She's frequently the one they use to churn out the expository dialogue. The character is at a huge disadvantage because she's the new one in an established ensemble cast. She's taking the place of a very beloved character. For no reason they give her a plot twist that will set part of the audience against her (her relationship with Sheridan). And the writing didn't do her a single favor.

All of this is my way of explaining why I managed to be so in love with this show and say that I also had never seen River of Souls until we watched it during our rewatch. I knew it was a movie that featured Soul Hunters (not my favorite alien race) and Lochley, a character I find uninteresting.

While part of me was a little happy to have this new and fresh Babylon 5 experience, I also found all my suspicions confirmed. It was nice to have something I didn't know the end to, to be discovering the story as it went along. But Lochley's dialogue was exactly like what I described above. She explained a lot of things, and strategically asked questions so that people could explain things that we already knew so that new viewers wouldn't be lost.

I'm not saying Lochley's not still a better female character than most that you'll find on television. She gets a lot of crap just for not being Ivanova. And obviously she's just not the type of character that I tend to enjoy either.

This isn't supposed to be a review of Lochley, but of the film. But I find talking about Lochley more interesting. I have no idea how Martin Sheen ended up with this part, or what kind of direction he was given to chew the scenery quite this much. He's completely miscast and it gets awkward. Garibaldi is, as always, fun. Seeing Richard Biggs in his cameo was actually a little heartbreaking because of the context and how his life was cut so short only a few years later.

But all in all, it was a story that would fit in with the show, it just didn't feel special enough for it's own movie. It was really more of an episode that got stretched out and repetitive at times.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Babylon 5: Legend of the Rangers - To Live and Die in Starlight

Read my review of Babylon 5!

As part of my rewatch of Babylon 5, we've been watching the movies to wrap up everything now that we're done with the series. Tomorrow I'll be talking about River of Souls, but for today we've got a tv movie that was actually a pilot to a failed spin-off called Legend of the Rangers.

I remember when this first came out, I was super excited for it. I loved Babylon 5, and I really loved the Rangers. So to see more about the order and meet more Rangers? Great fun, sign me up.

I even remember liking it when it came on the first time. But I think it was probably largely because of expectations and how much I missed the original show, because there are some serious problems with the movie even though there's a gem of a great idea in there.

The basic plot line was great, and I've seen pilots for great series that were much worse than this one. It had a lot of the hallmarks that made Babylon 5 such a great show although "The Hand" left a little bit to be desired (it had a been there, done that kind of vibe. Felt like leftover Thirdspace ideas really).

The characters were okay to start off with, they needed more dimension. As a stand alone movie that would be a problem, as a pilot that's not that bad.

But the movie completely falls apart when it shows the tech for the ship. They make a huge deal out of this weapons system, you can tell the writers and producers thought that it was fantastic and really going to be a hallmark of the show. UGH. I honestly think that half the reason they didn't pick up a show based on this was because they kept going back to that weapons system.

For people who haven't seen it, the basic idea is that the person who is manning the weapons jumps into a virtual reality area with zero gravity. The VR projects the area around the ship and the ranger in charge PUNCHES AND KICKS to fire the weapons.

No, I am not making this up. And it looks as dumb as it sounds. In super tense moments and the middle of battles we kept going back to this. It breaks up all the tension.

One day, I would love to see somebody go back to The Rangers and create a show or a comic series. I don't know if I want JMS to do it because I think creatively he's on to new tracks and he's doing interesting stuff now. But it's a neat concept, it's a shame it wasn't done well right off the bat and we never got that series.

Once Upon a Time: Final Part!

Read Part One Here
Read Part Two Here
Read Part Three Here

Here's the last installment of my reviews of Once Upon a Time. Next week, I'll explain why I gave up on the show Revenge halfway through and switched to watching Supernatural.

Heart of Darkness: I was very happy with this episode, because it really started the plot moving somewhere and because the show was letting itself stay in that dark mood it had gotten into with Red-Handed. Everything in this episode is about building on the fact that Rumpelstiltskin has a very long plan in mind for everyone and he's been playing everybody at every moment from the beginning. Even if I wasn't already invested in seeing how Rumpel and Belle worked out, I'd be in it just to see what game he's playing. Sadly I knew it was probably too much to hope that the show continued on this theme.

Hat Trick: My best friend commented about this episode that the story was interesting and Jefferson was an interesting character but where the hell had he been all this time? I completely agree. This episode just proved over again that the show has no sense of it's own cannon and they're not even trying to make things make sense half the time. We're supposed to have this small, close-knit town that only has one cop and never bothers to hold elections for Mayor (yes, I know, part of the curse) but that there can be a mansion on the edge of town that is still close enough to town to see things through a telescope and nobody's mentioned it before?

Yeah, yeah, magic telescope. But land without magic, right? I just can't make it make sense. And because of this episode I started questioning every single logical inconsistency in the whole show. Like, how is Henry aging if time is stopped? How has he not noticed that he's growing and he's with a different group of school kids every year because they're still 8 years old and he's 9 now?

Anyway, I liked the way they bring in the Wonderland mythos, and I actually was okay with Regina in this episode because she was just being a general unstoppable bitch queen and that was cool by me.

Unfortunately, Emma is still doing her whole "Lalala, I'm not listening, I don't believe anything even when people who have nothing to do with this start to say the same things Henry is saying and there's mounting evidence blah blah THIS ISN'T REAL AREN'T YOU LISTENING TO ME??" *sigh* Getting old.

The Stable Boy: I finished watching this episode and all I could think was "you have GOT to be kidding me."

THAT is what's fueling Regina? She's killed countless people, her own father, cursed everyone, destroyed their entire world, because she's holding a grudge against a TEN YEAR OLD? A ten year old who was manipulated by her abusive mother? You blame SNOW instead of your HORRIBLE AND ABUSIVE MOTHER?

Screw Regina, she's one of the worst characters ever put on television. I can't even talk about this episode, it was so stupid.

The Return: Oh thank goodness they're back to Rumpelstiltskin and his story. Especially because this part deals with Bae and finally reveals to us what Rumpel's long game has been all this time. He's created every single step of all of this, creating the curse, convincing Regina to use it, bringing Snow and Charming together, everything has been to bring him back to Bae and we haven't even finished seeing what all he's going to do and I can't wait. Also, seeing Mr. Gold opening up to Archie was amazing and what a brilliant moment for two brilliant actors.

The Stranger: This episode was one of those where I think that it again is showing us that the writers didn't actually have a large plan from the beginning because the way they cover up the differences between the new story (August going through the cabinet) and the original pilot are a bit clunky at best.

Also, August does go about things the wrong freakin' way, but Emma, goodness. I'm so over her. I'm tired of her refusing to listen or even acknowledged anything. She's being stupid and I hate watching characters be stupid repeatedly just because the writers aren't sure how to have somebody gradually come to believe something and grown and change over the course of time. And I hate where they're going with how Emma is dealing with Regina and Henry.

An Apple Red as Blood: I'm just going to start ignoring the plot holes I kept finding in the show by watching it all in such quick succession. I'm glad we're finally to the kick-ass Snow White stuff again, and that Snow is finally told what went wrong to make Regina hate her.

I'm also glad that somebody is finally telling Emma that she's being stupid and not really dealing properly with this feud with Regina and how she's mishandling this if she wants to keep Henry around. Thank you Archie for always being the voice of reason. Also, the second that Regina brought that apple out, did ANYBODY actually think anything different was going to happen with it?

A Land Without Magic: If they had taken this plot and all the revelations and character development in it and stretched it out over five episodes, ditched a few stupid things earlier on, and still ended in the same place this show would have been so much more awesome than it was. But seriously, this is what happens when you don't plan ahead. Showrunners, you need to be Rumpel, not Regina.

Emma believes suddenly because of one throwaway comment that wasn't even all that unusual or strange (but is also completely inexplicable coming from a doctor). What a lame way to deal with that particular necessity. But the payoff for Rumpel's plan and how everything tied together in the end? Perfection. The resolution of his storyline was amazing.

There's a ton of great stuff in this ep. Please, could the second season be a-planned ahead and b-this good and c-focused on Rumpel and Belle with Regina being a side character?

So, my general feelings on this whole show! Basically it was a show that has a LOT of promise and the premise is strong. With Jane Espenson involved, I know that it will at least be strong enough for me to watch the second season. But I really want them to go in with a solid plan, this isn't a mythology and a story type that you can just make up as you go. Or at least, not the way they've been doing it. You either need to go full on Babylon 5 or just be early X-Files and go monster of the week. You can't have both, you know?

And I want to see them really step it up when it comes to the art direction. I realize that they're going for the Disney version of these fairy tales. But Belle and even Snow White show that you can do that but not make it cheesy and dumb. And since the show was a hit they can spend a little more money on getting some good wigs this time around I hope.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Once Upon a Time: Part Three

Read Part One Here
Read Part Two Here

Here's more of me going through each episode of Once Upon a Time with quick reviews of a few sentences each! I'll actually finish this week (probably tomorrow) and next week I'll be posting about the show Revenge.

Fruit of the Poisonous Tree: I hated this episode, to be honest. I feel like it was yet another failed attempt to give Regina some dimension and make me think she was as interesting or cool a villain as Rumpel. Sorry, it was just her harping on and on about "Emma, you need to think about RESPONSIBILITY with Henry!!" Shut up already Regina. Also, the fact that Emma falls for the Regina's plot in this ep just makes me want to shake her. I hate watching people do stupid things and embarrass themselves and that's what this entire episode was full of.

Also, the picture we get of the King in the Enchanted Forest doesn't really make him out to be particularly consistent. He shows up and he's this great and wise man who wants nothing more than the health and happiness of the people in his kingdom. But then he's a stupid oaf to his wife (well, kind of, he's just a bit dense really). When he thinks his wife loves somebody else, he goes all jealous and weird. Wait, how does that make any sense with anything we know about him? Yay, inconsistent characterizations!

Skin Deep: Okay, so at this point I'd gone through a lot of episodes that would have made me stop watching a show just to get to this one. I already knew pretty much the entire plot, and thanks to tumblr, I'd seen half of it too in gif form. So I was a little worried that it wouldn't live up to what I had built up in my head.

I was wrong, it was every bit as wonderful as I thought it would be. The acting in it is top notch, and I can even get over how silly it is for Rumpelstiltskin to be sparkly all the time because Robert Carlyle is just amazing. This is exactly what I want from stories like this, a villain with layers and dimensions, who still makes the wrong choices sometimes. Or are they even wrong? He has a reason for turning Belle away, we know him too well to think it's as simple as it seems. Not to mention that it is true, he doesn't believe he can be loved because he loathes himself so much. How powerful is that story?

Kudos to the show for really taking Beauty and the Beast and giving it a good twist and making it so much more interesting and fun to watch. The only problem I have is that we don't get any indication of a reason for Rumpel to believe Regina's story at the end. Why the hell would he take anything she says at face value? Did I miss something?

This is one of the rare cases where I was following the story in the real world as much as the Enchanted Forest. Rumpel's reactions to the theft of his cup were so perfect and so moving. His interactions with Regina made her interesting and made me care. It was just a perfect episode, and I hope that the show realizes this is it's best episode and strives to be like this more often.

What Happened To Frederick: I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen in this episode, as a counterpart to Skin Deep. I didn't have the faintest clue, and I'd never even looked up any spoilers for it. So it was all relatively new to me, which was fun. I quite enjoyed what they did with Abigail/Kathryn and I think it was the best way they could have treated that part of the story. It was a good resolution of a lot of different threads. I actually quite liked Snow's character here, because she has character. She has specific values and she's going to stick to them, despite how drawn she is to David. The only problem I have is the town's reaction to Mary Margaret, which I'll get into in a bit.

Dreamy: Holy cheese on toast on a cracker, talk about flipping things around. Normally I wish we could avoid the real world stories and focus on the fairy tales, and then this happened.

There's a lot about it I could have liked, but SERIOUSLY? First off, let's remind me all over again how stupid the fairy are in this world with their little twirly outfits, so sugar coated and silly that it undermines every single scene they are in. I was okay with the dwarves being hatched from eggs and all that, I could live with it. I even enjoyed Belle's cameo. But the pink sparkly duffle bag of fairy dust and everything else about this just made me roll my eyes repeatedly. It was trying so hard to be serious when it was so ridiculous.

Meanwhile in the real world, Grumpy is quickly becoming my favorite character. Yeah, he does some stupid stuff but it's all understandable. He's honest, he's a realist, but he's also just smitten with somebody and he sometimes says the wrong thing. His resolution to his problem is quite honestly perfect, and I actually cheered when it happened.

However, this episode was also the focus of the "everybody in town is slut shaming Mary Margaret" storyline. It was so stupid. First of all, there's not any indication in any episode that Mary Margaret and David actually did anything more than meet up and make out. They keep saying she had an affair, but it never seemed to me like they were sleeping together, just kissing a lot. Nobody in town even seemed to KNOW Kathryn before David woke up, and they knew Mary Margaret and liked her before this. So their extreme reaction was just painful to watch because it was so unrealistic. I was glad it was resolved quickly because it was stretching it's credibility.

Red-Handed: I knew going in that Red had something cool in her backstory, but I figured as much anyway because there's a wolf in that story and wolves tend to make things pretty cool (with a few notable exceptions). I admit I was about five minutes in before I figured out what the twist was, but I definitely didn't care. Red was awesome, Granny was amazing, and even Snow was pretty impressive. The episode went a lot of places I didn't expect it to go and was pretty gorey for this show. I was disappointed with Ruby's final decision, because I thought they could have gone somewhere more interesting with it. But in the end, it was another really strong episode, and I think it's like Skin Deep, if the show could just be like this all the time it would be really great.

Part Three Overview: This is when the show really won me over into being a fan, instead of being on the fence. But it was because of episodes like Skin Deep and Red-Handed. The side characters were starting to really make a difference and make me love them, but I still don't care about Regina and I still think that the art direction for The Enchanted Forest is designed to keep me from taking the show seriously, and is working against it.

Back in my day we could listen to music at all...

I read this article once that said that you eventually reach an age where you just aren't going to find more music that you like. Maybe some artists that are similar to things you already enjoy, but that you do have a threshold of how much music you'll really enjoy. Which is why whenever a new sound happens, all the old people walk around saying "Back in my day..."

It's probably relatively accurate. I definitely find that I still really enjoy silly pop songs from the 90's and early 2000's but that I don't really care about much of the new stuff coming out. I find a reasonable amount of new music that I enjoy, but I can't just listen to top 40 and expect to hear things I like anymore.

Which brings me to my problem: it's nearly impossible for me to listen to music anymore and that's kind of ridiculous. When I was a kid, I just left my tv on CMT or VH1 (sometimes MTV but they were already starting to get away from playing music). Or I could listen to a couple radio stations in my small town.

Of course, none of those stations play music videos regularly anymore. In the morning you can catch some, but it's hard to figure out when they're on and they're frequently interrupted. Last time I watched a top ten show on VH1 (which was admittedly five years ago) they didn't play the whole video for anything except number one.

I was driving for an hour one day a little while ago and through a set of randomness I had no choice but to listen to the radio. Where I live, you can cycle through the fifty stations around here during commuting hours and find nothing but people talking. DJs rambling and telling stupid jokes, talk radio shows, commercials, whatever you want of people talking but no music.

This is a huge problem in the car, where I basically can't listen to the radio anymore so I have to rely on a device. If I want to hear new music, I only have two choices - Pandora or Spotify. I'm trying to troubleshoot why Spotify isn't working on my phone, but I never got far because until recently I just listened to Pandora.

Pandora used to be the perfect solution to this, but it's really fallen from grace lately. The app on my phone just barely works at all, it's always locking up or dropping out. And when it does work, I've noticed it just plays the same dozen or so songs on each station. So I'm already sick of half of my stations. I'd love to get more variety and functionality out of it, because the idea behind Pandora is perfect. It's exactly what I want, but it doesn't give me new music anymore and it doesn't work half the time, so that's a bust.

Then there's satellite radio, which I used to have and love. But towards the end of my subscription they started adding DJs to the stations, and if I have a digital display telling me what song is playing, then I have no need for a DJ and I really don't want to hear them. I ended my subscription shortly after that, because I bought an MP3 player instead.

So this is my question: what has replaced the radio? How are we supposed to find new music that we might like these days? Since radio stations (even satellite) is more concerned with people yammering, and even Pandora is falling into the "let's just play thirty songs on rotation, nobody will notice" then what do I do when I don't want to just listen to my own music again but maybe hear something new? Is Spotify really the only choice for that these days?

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Descendants

It was pretty obvious when watching it why The Descendants was nominated for Best Picture. It's a slow movie that is largely about complicated family issues and had a lot of gorgeous cinematography.

That is not to say that it wasn't a good movie, I actually did like it. But it isn't one that I would recommend to just anyone. I think it would take a particular kind of mood to enjoy this movie, and a particular kind of person.

Part of the thing with this film is that nobody in it is really all that likable. George Clooney's character comes close, and his youngest daughter doesn't seem too off kilter. But his comatose wife comes across as a terrible person, his eldest daughter is a recovering drug addict (apparently, we only hear the aftermath of this). His cousins are all chomping at the bit to cut down a beautiful piece of untouched land in order to make a swanky resort for the uber-rich just so they can get rich from it.

One thing that bugs me about movies is that I can't remember the last time a film had a developer or the possibility of a development that was actually a good thing that would solve problems and help people. Development is always evil. Which is problematic when you're household is like mind and relies on development and new housing construction to pay the bills. Not to get rich, to survive. Development in and of itself isn't a terrible thing, and The Descendants walks this line relatively well. Mostly because they're clear about what will happen to the land: it won't be made into a public park, or low income housing. It will become a swanky resort that most people couldn't afford to look at, let alone enjoy.

But in the end, the struggle about the land is only a metaphor anyway, though a strong one. The story is about a dad struggling to figure out how to be a dad as his wife lies dying in a coma after a boating accident. Then, of course, he also has to figure out how to cope with discovering his dying wife was having an affair. How do you reconcile with a person who can't even respond to your anger?

For people who have lived through situations like these, there are parts of the film that are really hard to watch. And I think that became my problem, the movie was so realistic about some things that it was reminding me how much it hurt me when people I cared about lashed out and became defensive in order to cope with tragedy. It just hit too close to home I guess.

While the characters aren't completely likable, they are very real. There aren't really a lot of stereotypes to be found, and even the doofus of a boyfriend that joins the family on their outings isn't what he seems on the surface. Everybody is complicated, just like real people.

It is a good film, it deserved it's nomination for Best Picture. Just don't watch it if you're not ready to be a little upset at life in general.

Because sexism is sexism is sexism

I'm going to be the one millionth blogger to write about this, but I have opinions and that's the point of this blog.

Anyway, there's a meme graphic making the rounds:

I'm not going to pull any punches here: I find this graphic disgusting.

Why? Because for one thing, we're once again pitting women against women. Don't we have enough problems? Don't we have plenty of issues in our lives as women that we don't need to sit here and tear each other down? Talk about playing into other people's hands, we're dividing and conquering all on our own.

Listen, I wholeheartedly understand and support the sentiment behind this. I think that science-fiction provides more positive female role models than most other genres and especially more than pop culture does. Because characters in sci-fi tend to be more fleshed out and more three dimensional than we allow our celebrities to be. All the women on the bottom row are ones that I find inspiring and awesome, there is no doubt in my mind there. Yes, you should buy your daughter a ray gun if she wants a ray gun and introduce her to all these great shows, they're all shows that made my world better.

But let's talk about something else: Geek culture is as steeped in sexism as pop culture is, and often in a much more disgusting way because it pretends that it's not sexist.

This meme still shows how even in sci-fi we're creating a box that women have to fit in in order to be deemed acceptable. Look at the choices being represented.

From Farscape, you have Aeryn Sun, the soldier with a very big gun. She's the fighter. And that's great, but why did they choose her instead of Zhaan or Chiana? Because Zhaan was more spiritual? Because Chiana walked around in low cut outfits and slept with multiple people?

Firefly had three main women, Zoe (pictured in the meme) is again, the soldier. What's so wrong with Inara? Could it be that she's feminine and a prostitute? What about Kaylee, who is amazing with machinery and engines, but also more than comfortable with her own sexuality? Yes, Zoe is comfortable with her sexuality, but she's shown as a devoted wife. Her sexuality is contained within a marriage, Inara and Kaylee are happy to sleep with men they aren't emotionally attached to and that's a big difference.

Babylon 5 is probably the show on this list that has the best female characters, but they again pick Ivanova, the soldier. Delenn frequently stands up to entire armies of starships and tried to sacrifice her own life to stop a civil war on her planet. But she's also of the religious caste and spends more time meditating and being spiritual than fighting (though she'll fight when she has to).

Jadzie Dax represents Star Trek, because we can't admit that Troi is more than a tight suit and talking about our feelings. Uhura has a short skirt and that's not okay. And it's worth noting that Dax actually isn't exactly female either. The host to her symbiote is female, but the host has been male in the past. I didn't watch Deep Space 9 so somebody more versed in it than me can pull it apart.

Then we have Samantha Carter, another soldier. The bonus to Carter is that she's also a scientist, so she can fight but she's also a genius and a leader. But is there something wrong with Dr. Frasier? Or Vala? Or even Dr. Weir?

Listen, I get why these women were chosen, for the most part they're the most visible and accepted female character of their particular franchise. But think about that: WHY are they the most accepted and celebrated? Could it be because they're still in traditionally masculine roles and have masculine characteristics? More than likely that's your answer right there.

We're still saying women are their most valuable when they're acting like men. When they're fighting, when they're running around with big guns.

I'm not planning on having kids, but I would only buy my theoretical daughter a ray gun if she wanted a ray gun. If she wanted to become a fashion designer, then I'd let her do that. If she was quieter and more spiritual, I'd encourage that. If she wanted to wear pants or dresses, either is okay. Pink or purple or blue or green are all fine choices for favorite colors.

Stop telling women their personal choices aren't okay. End of story.

Edited to add: Just came across this image which sums up half of what I have to say on the topic. Thanks to Kazuls:

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Once Upon a Time: Part Two

Read Part One Here

I'm going through each episode of Once Upon a Time and writing quick one to two paragraph thoughts on them. Last week i did episodes 1-5. This week, 6-10!

The Shepherd:On the one hand, I really really loved Charming's backstory and how we see him get to the point where he and Snow met a few episodes back. As usual, the show is best when giving the fairy tale characters depth and history. He's not simply some handsome prince who has been coddled his entire life, he has a terrible history and of COURSE Rumpelstiltskin is involved. Meanwhile in the real world, I got the sense that this show is going to follow on of the love story paths that I can't stand, where people waffle around with the exact same decision over and over and over again. Granted, this episode gave it something extra but it seems like every single week the story is going to be "David decides between Mary Margaret and Kathryn." Boring.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter: WOW. I was really losing my faith in this show at this point, I was contemplating just watching the Enchanted Forest sections and skipping the real world stuff because it had gotten dull. Of course, that would just ruin half of it because the stories are starting to get really well intertwined as we see the same themes and relationships play out in the real world as the Enchanted Forest. But anyway, what a powerful episode, and one that actually starts to make Regina interesting too! I also secretly loved that we saw Snow before her transformation into confident and capable fighter, and we saw that even at her core at all times she was compassionate and caring.

Desperate Souls: Aaaand, we're back to the real world being more or less boring and dull unless Rumpelstiltskin is directly involved. This entire episode, if he wasn't in the scene, then it was just not that great. I think that's what's driving me the most nuts here, the real world has the potential and the Enchanted Forest proves the writers aren't terrible and that the cast has the chops to pull this off. But the entire "let's play politics" storyline...*sigh*. I don't even know what it is. I can't explain why it didn't work for me. Except to point out that Regina is back to being dull and not even an interesting villain. RESPONSIBILITY! YOU DON'T KNOW WHO I AM! Lather, rinse, repeat. Regina, honey, I don't care what you're capable of.

Meanwhile, learning Rumpelstiltskin's backstory? AMAZING. Even with it being rather predictable, it didn't matter. I cared every moment about his fate, and Bae. I wanted the outcome to be different even though I knew it wouldn't be. Robert Carlyle makes this show, you have to admit. He is hands down the best actor in the entire cast, and he would make me believe anything. But most of all, he makes me believe that he has depth and layers. He makes me think that he has a grand plan and we'll never know what it is until he's READY for us to know. Give that man all the awards.

True North: There were a few things I liked about this episode, but each one seemed to be balanced out by something I really couldn't stand. Regina is back to her exact. same. things. Get a new tune, please, I'm begging you. But Emma is really taking control and making changes throughout the town. Gretel is awesome, and I loved her. Hansel was a bit of a nitwit. There were shades of stories yet to come with the talk of Henry's father, which was great. But the fact that Emma lied to Henry is not only not called out (not really, he should have figured it out) it's never again revisited in the show so far. If it's not a major plot point early in Season Two I'll be really cranky. Regina's question to Gretel revealed something about her then doesn't do anything with it.

Emma's rants about the foster system to Mary Margaret were interesting on one level because she's talking to the mother who "abandoned" her. But nobody ever called Emma on her blatant bias and the fact that she's full of crap in these scenes. Nobody even questions her, which comes off as an endorsement of her ideals on foster care as truth, which people have justifiably called the show out for. It's fine for Emma to have these feelings based on her experiences, she's a character with a history and layers, etc. But it's that there is nothing to counter those views or even point out her biased views that it becomes a problem.

Last thing about this episode is that it's when it really hit home to me what one of my primary issues is: the art and costume design isn't really working for me at all, especially in the Enchanted Forest. Sometimes they have a home run, the blind witch was kind of awesome. Apparently I'm the only person in the world that absolutely hated Regina's look in this episode. But my problem is that it all comes across looking really cheap to me. The wigs are obviously wigs, they don't look remotely like real hair and most of them don't even seem to fit. Half the costumes look great, the other half look like their made out of the discount bin. Regina's spells almost always look like the cheapest CG possible, and all of these pulls me completely out of the story. Maybe this is all intentional and they want the Enchanted Forest to look fake, but it's really not helping me at all and it's making it hard for me to forgive the story when it bores me.

7:15 A.M.: And we're back to David can't make a decision. Yay! The Enchanted Forest story as we see Snow and Charming circle around each other continues to be interesting and make me love everything (even poor Stealthy). I'm reminded once again that Rumple is playing the long game and I still don't know exactly what he's up to but it's bound to be awesome. Charming has all the character depth and emotions that David is still lacking. I'll be honest, I didn't hate the real world parts of this story at all. In fact I was glad that it seemed like there was finally decision making, yay! David is becoming confident and dealing with his issues! He's growing and changing and raising the stakes and all the stuff characters are supposed to do! It's about time.

Part Two Overview: All in all, I had promised myself I would watch at least until Skin Deep (which I'll talk about next week) and there were points during this section that it was a good thing I had decided that because I would have just walked away from the show, looked up some spoilers, and been happy with my life. I wish the show could be consistent, and have the same sort of acting and character development they show off in the Enchanted Forest during the real world sections. And I wish the art design and costume design skills from the real world sections were being applied to the fairy tale ones. If the show could just balance that out, it could be really amazing.

Cindy Sherman at MoMA

Last weekend, my best friend and I went to New York City to go to see the current Cindy Sherman exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art.

I first learned who Cindy Sherman was in undergrad at Hollins University. I became an art history minor by accident (I realized my junior year that I had just taken enough of the right classes that I just needed one more to already have the minor completed). So, being a film and photography major with a minor in art history, it seems only natural that from the moment I first laid eyes on Untitled Film Still #21, I was completely and totally hooked.

Of course, I ended up doing a final project based on her work for my Modern Art class. It was a computer program/presentation where I took a selection of the Untitled Film Stills and the Centerfold series and broke them down into the archetypes they represented and compared them to specific films. It's probably the most elementary of ways you can look at Sherman's work, but I loved doing it and I'm still proud of it.

I missed out on seeing the entire Untitled Film Stills series when MoMA first exhibited it a few years ago, right after they acquired the complete set because I hadn't been exposed to Sherman's photography yet. I saw a few when I went on a trip to NYC in 2009, but I always regretted missing the entire thing. So when MoMA announced that they were doing an exhibit of Cindy Sherman's work that included the Film Stills and more pieces from her entire career, I really wanted to go. My best friend stepped up, and said we should go together and a plan was made.

The thing that I love most about Sherman's photography is that she plays with symbolism and archetypes so perfectly, and in a way that is mostly accessible to a large portion of the general public. This isn't like some artwork where you know it must mean something but you're completely lost as to what until you read a ten page artist's statement that explains what each individual piece represents to him. Sherman is using what we know, and she creates a commentary about it that is often equal parts celebration and critique.

The reason that the Film Stills series is so powerful is that we all know these pictures. We know these women, we know their histories and their stories. I would wager if you took one of them out into the streets of a city and asked people if they had seen the movie it was from, most would answer with "Yeah, I can't remember the title, but I've seen that one." Film is a visual medium, created using a short of shorthand language that we all know so that we understand things without being told. Tropes exist in film specifically so we don't have to spend a lot of time telling the audience things that we could convey with wardrobe choices, hairstyle, or even camera angle.

Sherman understands the vernacular and uses it to her advantage. There probably never has been as perfect a critique or exploration of women's film roles in that "Golden Age" of cinema. I've read entire books that were using pages upon pages of long winded sentences to try to explain what Sherman can say in a single image.

And the interesting thing is that those were some of her earliest works. She went on to examine many other types of popular culture and art, from Centerfolds to Renaissance painting to Hollywood Head Shots. And each time she's done it with the same skill and ability to speak the language of the art form and resonate with a wide audience.

If you're even remotely near NYC, you have to go check out the exhibit in the next few days while it's still up - through June 11th. MoMA is a fantastic museum anyway, and well worth a look when you're in town. But if nothing else, you should spend a few hours this week looking at the website for the exhibit or reading about Sherman, because she's an artist you really should know about.

The Pleasures of Cooking for One by Judith Jones

It's hard to review a cookbook, especially one that you haven't actually cooked anything from.

But what I can tell you is that this book was basically not at all what I was looking for and I was more than a little disappointed. Which isn't exactly the book's fault, because it was clear I was not at all the target for this particular cookbook.

See, I mostly do single serve meals for myself because my husband and I eat such very different things. Plus, I do about half of my work from home, so I can make my own lunch if I wanted. So I've been actively looking for recipes and cookbooks that focus on small portions and cooking for one or two people. This book seemed perfect.

Only the thing is that it's written by a woman with a fantastic food pedigree (she has one recipe that she designed specifically for a meal with Julia Child when she worked for her). Meanwhile, I only own a handful of pots and pans and barely know how to do much more than brown hamburger.

Most of the time, I can find a way to take very fancy recipes and adapt some of the flavors and techniques into things I can manage. At the least, I learn a bit about what goes well together for future reference. But in the end, I don't cook with a ton of spices and ingredients because it's expensive and an indulgence I don't need. If food was important to me, the way it seems to be for Jones, then that would probably be different. I would make it a priority.

But the thing people with money never seem to realize is that every single ingredient you add to a recipe is a much larger cost than you would think. First, there's just buying the item in the first place. Then, there's the fact that unless you're using it up in this recipe, you're going to have to store it. If you don't have a large kitchen, this is a huge problem.

Lastly, there's the problem of waste. Last time I made one of my favorite recipes, I had to spend twice as much per ounce on some of the ingredients because I bought the smallest sizes possible of things like horseradish that I just don't use before it goes bad (unless I'm making the same recipes nearly every day). I still ended up throwing away half the bottle. And I don't really believe in wasting food like that, I'm trying very hard to curb my food waste.

So when a recipe calls for something like cumin, then there's really not much for me to do because there's no way that I have the money, space, or need for an entire bottle of cumin. And the majority of people that I know are the same way. This cookbook was basically for a social and economic class of people that I don't belong to. Some of the food sounded pretty great, but the only recipe I really wanted to keep was the Hollandaise for One, because I love hollandaise and the only ingredients are butter, egg, lemon juice and salt. Although the last time I bought lemon juice I had to throw out almost the entire bottle of that, so who knows.