Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Storage Wars

I honestly can't explain it to you, but if I find that there's an episode of this show on that I haven't seen, I can't make myself change the channel.

I know, most of us all want to think we're more "high brow" than that or something, but honestly, there's just something about Storage Wars that somehow manages to surpass most "guilty pleasure" reality tv stuff. Maybe it's all Barry's fault.

First, let me go ahead and get this out of the way: yes, I realize it's all pretty fake. Or at the very least they use a LOT of editing tricks in order to create a narrative that may not exist. I don't know if the producers actually put more interesting stuff in the lockers or not, but yeah, this isn't all that "real."

Which is fine, because you know, that's not really why I watch it. First, the opening credits are actually extremely well made, some of the best in the genre in my opinion. Most reality show opening credits are really terrible, and done with really cheap effects. But these work, and they give you a real sense of the characters and the show right off the bat. It's pretty impressive.

I recently was in a situation where I ended up chatting with the owner of a storage facility. We ended up talking about the show (he brought it up, but I admit I loved the chance to talk to him about it so I jumped on it). He said that on the one hand, he appreciates the show because their auctions were more heavily attended and bringing in higher dollar amounts now that everybody has this bug to buy old lockers. It means that he no longer has to pay to clean out unsold units because all of them go for something.

On the other hand, he said that everybody buys these units expecting to find something amazing and make a ton of money, which just flat out doesn't happen. It reminds me of when "flipping" homes became really popular and everybody thought that they would start buying properties for cheap, slap a coat of paint on them, and sell them at a profit. Without too many details, let's just say I know somebody who decided to go pretty heavily into that plan and it was pretty sketchy. Because the root of it is always a "money for nothing" kind of motivation. "I'll just buy this unit and sell off all the stuff and make a ton of money!"

Listen, here's my one tiny experience with that kind of thing. I was at an auction where the only rule was if you put something up for auction you couldn't set a reserve price. Ever item started at a dollar, no matter what. Someone I knew was in a bad spot and was selling his entire comic book collection, thousands of issues, as one lot. The bidding was ridiculously low, and I knew he needed the money so I tossed out a bid to try to help him out. The other two bidders owned comic book shops and I recognized them from the dealers room as people who sold comics at conventions.

I probably should have contemplated the situation and wondered what they knew that I didn't. But yes, you guessed it, I ended up with the comic books. What I discovered is that there's something to be said for the time and effort it takes to even just prepare things for sale. It took me days just to sort all the comics and list them in a database. And then because I wasn't careful about keeping my inventory updated, I ended up recently having to do it all over again because I wasn't sure what I had anymore.

On top of that, if you don't have an actual store, selling items isn't all that easy. It becomes a full time job just to list stuff on eBay or Craigslist, and even then you can end up paying fees without actually selling anything. At this point I've had these comics for seven years, and I'm still trying to sell them. Yes, I've made a profit off of them already. But has it been enough to make up for the time and effort? I don't know.

I imagine buying a storage unit when you don't own a thrift store is pretty much exactly the same thing. And on top of that, what they do on the show is a bit ridiculous because they just let the buyer talk about how much they think they can sell something for and consider that it's value. On Collection Intervention, they pointed out that there are different values to consider for every item. One is the price it would go for if you could just sit it on a shelf in a store and you're able to leave it there until it sells. Another is the price you'd get for it if you need to sell it now and find a willing buyer. But within that, there's probably two different price points because a re-seller and a collector will offer two different prices too because a re-seller needs to make a profit.

So when I see them declaring that a box of old random books is worth $100, I laugh. Because I've tried to sell old books before, and for the most part you can't even get a quarter for them unless you find one that's got a high demand, and those are few and far between. I'm not a thrift store owner, of course, but I've had enough yard sales and sold enough of my old stuff that I highly doubt almost any of the values they throw out are close to realistic. I guess part of it is location, maybe people just pay more for junk in California. I have always noticed they sell things for a lot more than I think they would on Clean House.

So if the show doesn't really represent reality in any way, why do I even watch it? I think at the end of the day it's all voyeurism. We want to look in other people's medicine cabinets. We want to know what other people do, and see what's behind the door. I want to know what other people put in their storage lockers. I want to know what they think is cool, and start making guesses about what kind of person would have that particular set of stuff. There's an episode of Castle where he ends up buying a locker and they try to solve the case and piece together information about the victim by going through the stuff inside and it pretty much lays it all out there. I just want to be a nosy parker and know what other people are up to.

Project Runway All Stars S2

I actually had ever intention of going back to doing my weekly recaps when this All Star season started. Why didn't I?

Because like last season, I was so bored. I know, how lame, the same excuse as last time! But I felt like I was watching the same show as last time so I was even MORE bored.

I don't know what it is. Could it be that part of the thrill of a season of reality tv is getting to know the new contestants? Because these people are already known to us, what drama are they bringing to the table? What are we learning about them? Aside from Ivy, I can't think of a single new piece of information/character development I got form anybody this season.

Maybe it's that the storyline is already obvious, partially because we know these people. I think everybody that watched any of the previous seasons knew exactly how most of the eliminations would shake out. Maybe you thought Ivy would go home before Laura Kathleen but really, what sort of surprise is there? Uli and Emilio were guaranteed final three, it's not even interesting anymore. I can't really come up with any "shocking" eliminations either.

There's also the small factor of the host. As I mentioned when I reviewed Hot Set, your host is going to make or break your show. And while I had no really specific problem with Carolyn Murphy, I just didn't really get into the personality she was presenting. Part of what makes Heidi a great host is that she's just a little bit wacky and always rather outspoken and silly. She brings a sense of levity to the show, and she makes you remember just how ridiculous the whole thing kind of is anyway. Murphy was being very respectful and professional, which would be fantastic in a lot of situations but doesn't really work for what I want Project Runway to be.

And let's face it, nobody else in the world is Tim Gunn and he's an absolutely vital piece to why Project Runway works. So any iteration of the show without him is lesser for it.

But yeah, to be honest I was so bored with this season of the show that I actually forgot to watch the finale and still haven't gotten around to it. I got spoiled for who the winner was accidentally and since it was so obvious and expected, I just haven't cared to figure out how they got there. Blah.

Then the new season of the regular show has already started again, and while I'm intrigued by a lot of the new designers, this team thing is not working for me so far. We'll see, I'll be trying to get back into doing my recaps again if life doesn't get in the way, but obviously I've already missed a week so I'll have to catch up.

Anyway, I really want the producers of All-Stars to sit back and think about the entire show before they produce another season. For one thing, Top Chef did one season that was an All-Stars season, not an entire new show. And it worked well, so maybe they need to think about that and just not do this anymore, but fold in an All-Stars season every five regular seasons or so.

Or just go back to doing spin-off shows. Can we get more Austin and Santino instead?

What NOT to do when you get engaged: become a "bride"

So I'm reading this list of "things to do as soon as you get engaged" because somebody somewhere linked to it (probably on Pinterest.

So, because I'm amused, how stupid this list is:

1. Get a manicure! Because you're now not a human being with a face or eyes, you are only a hand on which to display the ring. Listen, if you want to get a manicure, that's cool, I think having nice looking nails is a good thing. But the reasoning, which is basically "you're going to be showing your ring off and taking pictures of your hand A LOT" is just stupid because it's part of this ridiculous notion that an engagement is about the ring and not the two people becoming a family/partners and committing to help and support each other for the rest of their lives.

Which is what leads to the kind of stuff I talked about last week where a woman was saying her own mother was being rude to her and telling her she needs to force her fiance to buy her a better/bigger engagement ring.

Like almost all things, the answer is to just be yourself. If you like having nice nails/hands then do it! If you don't give a flip then don't! But seriously, you're a human being with a life and hobbies and activities, not a jewelry display case. You aren't your ring, and nobody should act like it including you.

2. Insure your ring! You know, this would be totally great advice except for the fact that it's completely dripping with the aforementioned assumption that a man's worth as a husband is tied up in the worth of the ring. My engagement ring cost less than $100, nobody is going to write an insurance policy for that.

But whatever, my point is that this isn't something that every single person should do when they get engaged because in my opinion, people need to stop being so tied up in super expensive gaudy engagement rings. Again, if you love expensive jewelry and it's within your means, I'm not telling you that you shouldn't.

I'm saying that going into debt to buy a pricey ring that you have to have insured seems a little stupid if you don't have the money to do it and/or you aren't the type of woman who wears a lot of jewelry regularly. If you have expensive possessions, you should insure them, absolutely.

But there's no requirement that you need a ring worth insuring.

3. Settle on a Budget: This is, in some ways, good advice, but not in others. Because the fact is before you can talk numbers or any of that, you need to talk expectations, ideas, and other generalities. You can't make a budget without knowing what you're budgeting. Were you wanting to invite a few close friends and he wants to invite the world? Are your parents going to insist that you have a catered dinner when you were thinking buffet? Yes, you probably have a general idea of how much money you can spend, but specific numbers? Not on your life. That's going to take part of the planning and research before you can do that. Unless you are a wedding planner, or just helped your friend get married or something then you don't really know what things cost when you get engaged.

Also, this line: "keep all familial relationships in tact by minding this budget down to the last red cent."

HA. The money and the budget is what STARTS almost all wedding arguments, and it's largely brides who are trying to "mind this budget down to the last red cent" that are the most screwed.

Seriously though, do a bit of research before you come to the table with whoever is footing the bill because otherwise you're just going to end up with bad estimates for everything and your budget will be messed up from day one. Honestly I would suggest coming up with ball park figures on your own after a discussion with your fiance about what type of wedding you both want. There's no use having a meeting without information.

4. Pick a date: Another thing that's good advice but not exactly once they elaborate. First, this should come before the budget because the season/month you get married in can change your budget immensely. This is exactly what I was talking about.

Second, their reasons? Because it will influence a lot of important decisions like "picking your gown, theme, bridesmaids dresses, etc." Okay, you know what all those things are? Things you should have in mind before you make your budget. They're also things that could be season specific if you want them to be, but depending on your venue, might not matter.

There was literally nothing about my actual ceremony that wouldn't work in any season, because it was inside a church. And because this whole "you can't do X at a winter wedding!" stuff is stupid. Plus, you should probably pick your venue before you can pick your date or season. Because what if you pick a date but the church is booked?

Your date will impact some things, but your venue is more important to picking your dress, bridesmaid's gowns, and probably also your "theme." And your venue also will affect your date. Pick a couple possible dates, in case you can't get the one you want.

5. Choose a diet plan and start it: The response I have to this advice is actually too vulgar for this particular blog. Let's just say it's a word that you're only allowed to say once in a PG-13 setting.

The fact that it's REQUIRED for bride's to try to lose weight and make themselves into something they aren't for their wedding day is a sign of a much, much greater problem with our entire society and I just don't have time to break that down.

If you aren't healthy and you want to be, great, it's always a good time to start being HEALTHY. But focusing on your weight and your perceived flaws is a really terrible way to start your life with your new spouse.

6. Sign up for Pinterest: Okay, yeah, that's probably a good idea but geeze do people go freakin' overboard with it all the time. First of all, roughly half the single/unmarried women I know already have wedding boards on Pinterest. Second, they pin EVERYTHING.

But it is just a technology advancement on what I did, which was go to the bookstore and buy a stack of wedding magazines and tear out the stuff I liked. Personally I still need the tactile aspect of physical pictures for that kind of thing, but yeah, Pinterest is probably going to be pretty helpful.

7. Pick a location: You know, if they had suggested this was a freeform list, maybe I'd still be on board. But the implication was that this was in order, and you're way past the time to pick a location. I mean, they're saying it's the most significant decision, but it's 7th? Then they say that you should consider the season, theme, and budget to pick a location, which seems completely backwards to me for the reasons I pointed out above. It is significant, because it will affect your season, theme, and budget not the other way around.

I mean, you could do it this way, but I don't see why you would. You certainly can't even begin to make a budget until you know about the venue, because you don't know if there will be a cost. And you can't get the cost for your venue until you know when it's available. And sometimes it'll be a lot cheaper in a certain season, so why pick a season until you know that?

8.Adopt better beauty habits: Okay, you are going to be in a lot of pictures and stuff, but seriously? Do we need yet another thing piling on to the "women-you don't look right no matter what you do so get to fixing yourself PRONTO" bandwagon?

One of the things I hate most about weddings is that they are all about becoming "a bride" instead of about the actual woman.

9. Hire a planner: Oh for Pete's sake. Hire a planner IF YOU NEED ONE. Also, IF YOU CAN AFFORD ONE. Planning a wedding is a bit stressful but it's actually kind of fun, and while I have the fuzziness of mine being seven years ago, I don't remember it being all that hard. It's certainly not nearly as difficult as a lot of the stuff I've done since. You try planning a film shoot, then a wedding feels like organizing a brunch date.

Not to mention the fact that this is one more thing that's telling you that you HAVE to do certain things and your wedding HAS to include this, that, and the other. You HAVE to be complicated. You HAVE to have place cards and favors and something quirky at the reception like Mad Libs or whatever. You HAVE to spend X amount of dollars. You HAVE to have a DJ and toasts, and dancing, and an open bar.

Listen, here's the most important rule of weddings and getting engaged: what you have to do is only governed by the laws of your municipality and your religion. Otherwise? It's all optional.


A wedding planner, 9 times out of 10, is probably going to try to make you have all the requirements. So if you want the straight up traditional exactly as everybody else experience, then sure, whatever, get a planner.

If you're a busy career woman who doesn't have time for the annoying aspects and the paperwork, then sure, have a helping hand.

But you don't NEED a wedding planner anymore than you NEED a wedding. Have the day you want to have. End of story.

10. Sign up for sale alerts: Again, good advice for the wrong reasons. This one is because the gown is apparently worth splurging for but the accessories are not.

Listen: you will not wear your gown again. It is a one time thing, and while you will likely see your pictures often so you should be happy with it, at the same time, your accessories can be paired with other things and worn for the rest of your life (except your veil, that really isn't going to work with anything else).

Yes, you should absolutely save money where you can, including on the gown. Sale alerts probably aren't a bad idea. But there are other ways to save on your gown, like, oh, not going with a designer label? Not spending $6,000 on it in the first place?

Again, this entire list was basically the "how to have a standard cookie cutter wedding 101." So here's my best advice for you for what to do as soon a you get engaged:

Take a deep breath. Think about yourself for a little while. Think about your fiance. Think about your lives together, both before and in the future. Think about who you are, outside the wedding, without the trappings.

And keep that in your mind, as clear as you can make it, through the whole process. Your wedding isn't about what other people think you have to have or what other people want. It's about two people standing together, not just for one day but forever.

Your wedding day is just the start of your marriage, and a milestone in your life up to that point. It's about you, and your fiance, and the two of you together. It's about celebrating a great moment in your life with the people you love most, and them wanting to wish you well and enjoy the moment with you. It's about families coming together, and creating a new family.

If you can keep that in mind, then the rest will fall into place and you'll enjoy every minute.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Get over your engagement ring

I've probably said this before, but I read a couple of advice columns pretty regularly.

Today, I read a Dear Prudence where the first letter was this particular problem, which I've heard before:

I recently got engaged to my boyfriend of two years. He is from a northern European country where engagement rings are usually simple gold band, worn by both the man and the woman. The big diamonds that American women expect are very rare, and considered rather vulgar by most. My engagement ring is a cultural compromise: A gold band set with a very small (1/6 of a carat) diamond. I love my ring, but back home in the U.S., many people seem personally offended by it. My mother is urging me to have my ring "upgraded" because a respectable American middle-class woman needs a bigger diamond. Other people have made comment along the lines of "That looks like a promise ring that a high schooler would give to his girlfriend" and "You should have held out for something nicer." To many American women, the size of the diamond engagement ring seems to be a symbol of their success and worth as women, and the message that I have failed at this goal comes across loud and clear. It stings a bit when they wave their giant rings in my face while making their little comments. What can I do to get them to stop?

Prudence is, of course, a lot more diplomatic than I would have been.

Because my answer would have been simple: anybody, including your mother, who says anything other than "that's lovely" when they see your ring should be told to shut up and stuff their opinions in their ears. Or something less diplomatic.

If they don't proceed to promptly stuff it and shut the heck up, then they should be crossed off the wedding invite list. Immediately, with no recourse or apologies, and that STILL includes the bride's mother.

Of course, there's also the fact that I sense an undertone in this letter that the bride herself is not happy with her ring, and sees it as a failing. And that's the actual problem at the root of all of this.

Because the thing is I know a number of women who had non-traditional engagement rings, myself included. Women with sapphires, emeralds, small stones, fake stones, and everything in between. My own engagement ring was just a sterling silver Celtic knot. The unifying factor with all of these women? These rings were exactly what they wanted, and were chosen because the women had specifically asked for them. I had shown my husband a handful of rings that I liked the style of, and gave him one specific rule: the price could not exceed three figures. If the ring was a diamond, or too expensive, then I would turn down the proposal because it would mean he was either not listening or too willing to cave to a societal expectation instead of doing what was best for me or us.

The other thing that unifies all of these women? None of us put up with any grief from ANYBODY about our rings. We had something we loved, and it was what we wanted, and if people didn't agree then that wasn't really our problem, was it? We already knew that we were bucking an expectation because we also knew the expectation existed for no real reason, and that was FINE. I get the feeling that this bride wanted the traditional ring, and that's why she's letting these people get to her, and why she doesn't know what to say in response. Because the response is really simple, "this is what I wanted and it's my ring."

There's also another thing at play here: this woman has bad friends. You should never, ever, ever comment on somebody else's engagement ring unless you're saying something nice. Maybe if it was your best friend and she confided in you that she was unhappy with his choice (and then you could suggest they try to pick out a ring together). But 99.9% of the time your opinion on someone else's engagement ring doesn't matter, and shouldn't matter, and should be kept to yourself. And if you don't know that, you are a bad person and you should probably figure out how to fix that about yourself.

As for telling your daughter that her fiance isn't worthy because he bought a ring that fits within his own culture instead of YOURS, that's a bit...xenophobic? I don't know the right word, other than self-centered.

All in all, the letter writer seems to have a lot of problems, but a fiance who doesn't love her or isn't really committed really isn't one of them.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Christmas TV Movies Special: Christmas Twister

So, over Christmas I was staying with my parents and they don't have cable, just an antenna. So there are only so many channels to watch.

Which is the best explanation I have for how we ended up watching two ION Television Christmas specials. I wish I had some better reason, but they were on and that was it.

And I like to review movies, so here you go.

Christmas Twister

It was 11 p.m. when we caught the first few minutes of this one, and I have to admit that it was at least compelling (or terrible) enough that we stayed up until 1 a.m. watching it because we had to finish it.

That's about the best thing I could say for it.

About halfway through the movie, we were still blissfully under the assumption that it was made in the early 2000's, maybe even the late 90's. The basic plot is that global warming (I'm pretty sure nobody used the term climate change) has created a new weather pattern, which is causing tornadoes to hit Texas outside of tornado season.

Our hero, Ethan (Casper Van Dien), is the only scientist who believes this is real, and he predicts that on this particular day in December they're going to get a series of deadly tornadoes. The cocky weatherman (Richard Burgi) is in climate change denial and isn't having it. He broadcasts a report that they're all clear and everybody can get back to whatever fun they're having.

Of course, Ethan's wife (Victoria Pratt) is the newscaster for the same station, and so he keeps trying to convince her to broadcast a warning to save people and you've got the standard Jaws "we don't want to create a panic over nothing/this is a business decision/this guy is just a crackpot who wants to be right" storyline going on as well.

All of this, especially the half-cocked global warming is going to kill us all/global warming isn't real conflict, would have been acceptable and maybe even a little forward thinking if the movie had been ten years old.

But no, it was brand new. We were watching one of the first airings. I'm certain it was rushed into production after the more damaging than normal tornado season in 2011. But everything about it was rushed and half-done, and there was a lot of inexplicable stuff in there. How does a girl so stupid she's never heard of the Fujita Scale (if not by name, at least having heard of an F3 or F5 tornado) but has an internship with a tornado expert and storm chaser like Ethan? I get that she's an audience surrogate character designed so that the experts can patronizingly explain what's going on, but couldn't they have done that with an intern at the news station instead of an intern at a science lab?

In addition, the second she asks the dumb question of "what about an F6" you know the climax of the movie is going to be an F6 tornado, and I don't feel like I'm spoiling anything by telling you that. I'll just also say that after they describe it as "like a nuclear bomb" the destruction that it causes makes no sense whatsoever.

Also, there's a point in the climax where everybody is freaking out that the tornado may turn and head for a major power plant. It does, and then nothing happens.

Who in the world thought this script was ready for production? There's a dog that wanders through the plot for no reason, the teenage daughter wants to have a redemption arc but doesn't manage because she wasn't that bad and doesn't really end up doing anything that good either. Some of the actors do the best with what they've got to work with, including Pratt and Burgi. Some of them are better left unmentioned and made me want to hurl the remote at the television.

The effects are mostly terrible, but par for the course with this kind of made for TV disaster movie. The logic and physics that they ignore are ridiculous, and not even so ridiculous that they're funny.

If you're a fan of laughing at bad movies, then you might want to give this one a shot. But I don't think it'll even live up to the standards of bad disaster movies. I have a hunch it's going to be largely forgotten, even by enthusiasts. It's value is mostly in a "I can't believe I watched that" kind of thing.

Since this was longer than I planned, I'll get to the next movie next week instead of combining the two. Something to look forward to! /sarcasm

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Doctor Who: The Snowmen

One of my new Christmas traditions is to sit down for Doctor Who on Christmas evening. When this first started, it was always very exciting and the episodes were fun and a bit epic and always ended the day on a great note.

But lately, ever so slowly, that sense of fun and satisfaction at the end of the Christmas special has started to fade. It's the popular thing to gripe about, but back in the years of David Tennant, the Christmas Special was one of the highlights of the season. It wasn't just another episode, it was actually special.

I haven't really felt that during the Matt Smith specials, if I'm being honest. A Christmas Carol was good, and probably one of the best episodes of that season, but I wouldn't put it near the level of Voyage of the Damned or The Next Doctor.

And it's really just been diminishing returns ever since. The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe was alright. It was at the level of a pretty good episode, but it just didn't do much for me. These days I have trouble even remembering much about it. Why weren't Amy and Rory around? Was that when the Doctor was dead? I really can't remember because it had that little impact on me.

So I went into watching The Snowmen in a weird place. On the one hand, so many years of enjoyable episodes made my expectations high. On the other, the previous year had been a let down so they were a bit low. Having a new companion appear made me excited for the possibilities, but after how much I enjoyed the first appearance of Oswin Oswald it didn't feel like much of an introduction, even if she wasn't the same exactly.

There are things I loved about The Snowmen. While they were vastly underused and underwritten, Madam Vastra, Jenny, and Strax are interesting additions to the pantheon of the Doctor's associates, though it was a bit confusing to have characters that previously had only been in one episode being treated like they were the Doctor's closest friends since that's where he retreated when he was "retiring."

I loved Jenna-Louise Coleman, I think the actress is really talented and I liked the way she took a few of the expected moments and turned them on their head. Once Matt Smith decided to stop moping and brooding, he was fun as usual. And there were plenty of quotable lines and moments that made great gifs on tumblr.

The problem really comes in a few ways. First, the moping and brooding. I don't know what it was about it, but I never understood The Doctor's relationship with Amy anyway. When Ten and Rose are separated at the end of the second series, my heart broke because I understood completely what they meant to each other. When Ten leaves Donna behind, I was furious at the writers, but I could completely see why he was so upset that he lost himself for a while and wanted to travel alone again. I understood his feelings over the loss of Astrid more than I really could get behind him deciding to give up everything he's been doing for a century because he couldn't see Amy anymore.

In the end, that was the problem for me. The Doctor has a long series of companions he's traveled with, sometimes only for hours, sometimes for years. They all leave eventually, one way or another. They walk away, he leaves them behind, they die, he erases their memories, they get stuck in an alternate universe. Sure, it happens a lot, and it's tragic every time, and that has to wear a guy out. But he just finished having this problem during the last set of specials before Matt Smith took over. Then, it was believable. Now? It comes across as pouting.

There were also too many loose ends and half finished threads in The Snowmen. It was just an hour that tried to pack three hours worth of content so they just chopped out anything that might have really gotten into any depth. What was the point of the father not being able to connect to his children? Why did it matter? What the heck was Clara's deal with being a bar maid and a governess and what does it actually say about her character? Why is Madam Vastra the gatekeeper for The Doctor anyway? Why does he even talk to her if he's so ticked off at her and again, WHY is he hiding out in this particular place if he's retiring? And why did he change the desktop theme in the TARDIS again if he's retiring? Almost everything he does only makes sense if you apply the "well, because it gets the plot going" band-aid.

And for the love of Gallifrey, why does the show think they need to actually have somebody say "Doctor Who?" in every episode? Seriously, stop it. Immediately.

The Snowmen themselves weren't threatening, and they felt like a villain that had been done before though I can't quite place where. The climax was not particularly interesting to me, and while the mystery that the episode sets up regarding Clara/Oswin is interesting, I'm almost in the mood for another companion that's actually a normal person. You know, a shop girl or a medical resident that was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or a temp that wants more out of life. That kind of thing.

In general, I will still watch Doctor Who and I still love it. But I'm just not excited about the new season anymore because The Snowmen just didn't do much of what it was supposed to do. It was alright, but it would have made a better mid-season filler episode than a Christmas Special.

Speaking in tongues

Sometimes I wonder if I'm actually speaking English.

But it's weird, because it's not like the people I'm talking to don't actually hear anything I say, it's like they only hear a few key words and the rest are something different.

So maybe I'm speaking English but I'm not actually using the words I hear myself using? I have no idea how that would work, but I'm not sure what other conclusion to draw some days.

For example, I spent a good five minutes explaining a particular issue I've been having with sleeping. I thought that I was being very exact about the problem, which was basically sleep paralysis and vivid dreams.

He seemed to understand, made a few notes, and then a few minutes later made an offhand comment that made me suspect that he actually thinks I'm sleep walking. What I was describing as dreams, where I thought I was very clear that these things weren't real I just thought they were, he took as me saying they were actually happening.

In a general context, this would be kind of funny. But half the time it happens to me when I'm dealing with medical issues, and the other half it's usually a problem at work. So while I normally would laugh it off if it happened with a friend, it's starting to really bug me.

Some days, like today, I think it's an issue that we're not really teaching communication skills in school anymore. Because nobody is being taught a set of rules or a certain way to behave in a professional context, everybody is just kind of making it up as they go along and then nobody understands each other perfectly.

Other days, I think it's that nobody wants to listen because they're too self absorbed anyway. Or maybe that they don't know what they're doing, so they ignore any indication that a problem is something outside their expertise so that they can fit it into what they know and deal with it, even if that means they're not actually dealing with the problem at all.

Personally, I've always been a big fan of trying to use the exact right word at the exact right time. I once spent twenty minutes arguing the difference between "can" and "may." So when I try so hard to carefully choose my words and then somebody doesn't really read or hear what I say, I don't really know what to do. I've already considered what I was going to say and sifted through my vocabulary for the best set of words, so how can I rephrase it?

Most of the time, if somebody is upset or offended and it was because they didn't really comprehend what I meant, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and try to figure out how we can communicate. But it's started to happen so often lately that I'm back to the original thought: am I not speaking English or something?

Because if I'm not and I think I am, I think it's a sign of something serious and I should probably tell somebody about that.

You know, if I could figure out how.

Monday, January 14, 2013

DVD Review: Cane Toads: An Unnatural History

I realize that of the audience I have attracted with this blog, most people wouldn't even realize that there was a movie about cane toads, let alone have been tempted to watch it. But I saw the first few minutes of this in film school years ago and I've been meaning to finish it ever since.

The trick was that it was actually a really hard movie to find there for a little while. I had to wait for Netflix to finally get a copy of it, which actually took years. But it is available now, especially because now there's a sequel, Cane Toads: The Conquest.

The basic story is one you may have heard of before: in an effort to control the can grub that has been destroying sugar cane crops in Australia, scientists introduced the cane toad. Except, spoiler alert, the cane toad doesn't actually eat the cane grub, and they're very good at reproducing and harming native wildlife.

Basically, the introduction of the cane toad to Australia was an unmitigated disaster for everybody except the cane toad. And apparently the handful of people that love them, because the film actually manages to present multiple sides of the issue by introducing people who keep the toads as pets and consider them friends.

The documentary is actually quite short, only 47 minutes. Which is as it should be, I actually can't imagine the film keeping it's interest up for longer than that. The topic is interesting but only so much. The filmmakers do a great job with making the topic visual, especially by using low angles and shots that personify the toads. It would have been easy to make the film entirely about how the cane toads are a menace and a threat, but they do manage to make you wonder if the toads themselves are to blame and deserve to be punished and killed.

I'm certain many of the people seen in the film would have a problem with that takeaway. Because the filmmakers also make sure to talk to a number of scientists who easily prove what a destructive problem they are ecologically. The only problem that I have in the end is that nobody seems to be proposing any usable solutions. Running over every toad you see with your car isn't really going to get you anywhere in the long run.

The subject matter is interesting, and the interviews are well done. The film suffers a bit from feeling very dated, with low quality technology of the time being used to make it. Even the cover you see for it at the top of this post makes it seem older than it is. It feels very much like a nature film from the 1980's, like something that most of us would have watched in school at some point. I can only imagine that people who are genuinely interested in the topic or who really enjoy nature documentaries would want to take the time to watch it.

It is a good film, for where and when it was made. It has some inventive techniques and while it's no surprise it was the director's first film, it does show a lot of promise and make me want to check out more things that he has made. But it isn't something that I think the average American will really be invested in or want to seek out.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Castle: Season Two

Read my review of Season One here.

The first season of Castle ends on a huge emotional cliffhanger, and I can't even imagine what it was like for audience members to have to deal with waiting for the next season to start. Luckily I was able to start the next disc right away.

Which may be why I found the first episode of season two a little more jarring, and not as satisfying a conclusion as I think they could have done. Season two sometimes felt like it was re-establishing the show's premise, like season one was a pilot season and this was when the real story starts.

Which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Going back over the list of episodes in this season, I see a lot of standouts that I really loved, and that helped move all of the characters along as the season progressed. There were a few that tread along well worn tropes- the bondage/S&M episode in particular has been done by CSI multiple times. But Castle did their take on it rather well, if they didn't break new ground with it. I am actually completely thrilled that the "backstage in the world of high fashion modeling" episode didn't shoehorn a reason for Beckett to have to walk the runway, like every other show does when this episode comes around.

The show very quickly went for a story about Detective Beckett's new celebrity status as the inspiration for Nikki Heat, in a two-parter that was as enjoyable for poking fun at other shows as it was a fine episode of this one. The show also starts to get a very fine parade of guest stars this season, which I think speaks to the high quality of the writing they have to work with.

I spent most of season two not sure where I was on the fence of a relationship between Castle and Beckett, but the character of Detective Demming really didn't help matters, since he was so obviously there simply to be a foil and had almost no character other than that. In a show where everyone else is so well rounded and interesting, he stood out like a sore thumb. He wasn't objectionable, he just wasn't particularly great either, and in a show where everybody is great...well, I was glad for him to go.

The highlight of the season is, of course, Sucker Punch. While you know that more developments in the case of Joanna Beckett's murder are coming, the way that this episode goes through it is gut wrenching. It reveals so much more character, even as it's answering questions and posing more problems. Everything about it is done to perfection, and the resolution of it could not have been more perfect.

The only fault I can really find with season two (Demming aside) is that the end of the season felt off somehow. The "we must separate them over the summer while the show is off the air so that they have to work to reconnect next season" isn't just old news, but it's something that a lot of shows will get into a habit of doing. And I was very worried that Castle would do that, over and over. Obviously I should have had more faith in the show, but it just wasn't as strong a note to end on as it could have been.

Sleep Studies

So, tonight I'm going in to get a sleep study done. It's actually something I've gone through before, so when I was reading the book Dreamland a few months ago and he describes it like this strange and other-worldly thing, it was kind of amusing.

It does seem weird when it's written out. You sleep in a random room in a lab, with a bunch of wires sticking out of your head, and monitors all over the place. But it wasn't all that strange the first time around for me, it felt like sleeping in a hotel. The part that was really weird, for me anyway, was that there was somebody watching on a monitor. Though they explained to me they only start watching when you're actually asleep, since they can tell the difference on all the other equipment.

What interests me though is that this has become such an industry. I think it means something greater that there are so many sleep clinics and doctors specializing in it, because so many people have problems. Technically, what most people are being tested for is sleep apnea (which is, incidentally, what I was being tested for and despite a negative result what I have to go in to prove again tonight). On the one hand, there's an increased awareness that leads to increased testing and diagnosis. It's not so much that the rates are rising but that we're figuring it out. This is true of a lot of diseases that are getting a lot of attention these days.

But at the same time, I think there's a large degree of this being a result of our cult of tiredness and caffeine that we've nurtured in the modern world. It's a point of pride how little sleep we've gotten, and how much coffee it takes to make us human. We have little competitions every day with co-workers about who is more exhausted, like it means something.

In our world, being more tired and needing more coffee is a sign of strength instead of weakness, when it should be the opposite. But we value work over sleep because it shows self-sacrifice and putting other things over our own comfort. People are addicted to caffeine in a way that would land them in rehab if it were any other substance, but instead we praise them and brag about how we need even more coffee than that. And what's worse is that our bosses expect this of us, and exhausting yourself is praised and rewarded on that level too.

It's a topic that I get angry about pretty often, but I think in general we'd all be healthier and happier if we just got eight hours of sleep a night. I get why people don't, because they're busy and there are only so many hours in the day. I have insomnia, I understand that part. But what I'm struggling with now is convincing myself to value eight hours asleep more than I do other things, to make it a priority over working, or writing, or reading, or watching something I want to see. I don't know how to do that, to make going to bed and sleeping more important than almost anything else.

But the way our society treats rest and sleep certainly isn't helping me, because I feel like everybody else would start judging me harshly if I started saying "I'm sorry, but I go to bed at 11 p.m. every night, even weekends, because it's important."

I know it's wishing for too much in wanting the world to change. But I can't help thinking we'd be healthier and happier if we did.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Heat Wave by Richard Castle

If you read my review of season one of Castle, then it's no surprise to you that I recently picked up the tie-in book, Heat Wave. I've found the writing on the show to be some of the best I've seen on television in a long time, and a great evolution of the police procedural format for a more modern and connected era.

When I heard that they actually are releasing the books written by Richard Castle in the series, I put the first one on reserve at my library immediately. First, I have to commend them for the sheer dedication to the fiction that they show with this book. Everything from the front cover to the dedication is exactly as seen on the show. The author quotes are, of course, from the member of Castle's mystery writer's poker club.

The author photo and bio are the same as the show, and in the end there are only one or two tiny nods to the idea that it isn't written by THE Richard Castle. I assumed that the real writer of the books would be an open secret, that the ghost writer would of course be generally known and have been long since found out by the Castle fandom. But it turns out that isn't the case. There are great theories, and I've read at least one blog article that breaks down their idea so convincingly that I'm pretty sure they are right. But at the end of the day, everybody seems almost happy not knowing, and that's actually also a little refreshing.

In the universe of the show, Castle is a NYT Best Selling Author multiple times over. Heat Wave sold so many copies he instantly was signed for a three book deal and the movie rights were picked up. While the show pokes a bit of fun at Castle's books being pulp novels and a bit cheesy, Castle himself is such a devoted fan of the art of the story and the written word that you imagine that he's actually a much better author than he's given credit for, and that it's just that he writes genre fiction so he gets insulted by the literary crowd.

At least, that's what I thought until I read Heat Wave. There's no mistake at all that this is a cheesy pulp novel. And if that's what you're looking for, then that's great. The mystery itself is pretty solid, and the twists and turns are worthy of the show itself. Since the novel is a barely disguised rip-off of the real people/tv show characters (on purpose) it does fit well into that universe in a lot of ways. The characters based on Ryan and Esposito, for example, are just as funny and just as charming.

It's Detective Heat and Jameson Rook where I run into trouble. Because everything else about the novel is so close to the show's characters, those two get a little hard to believe. Rook is so clearly Castle bragging about himself and acting conceited, which is a character trait that is balanced out in the show and he has largely grown out of so it's hard to read. It's almost like I'm getting embarrassed for the fictional writer who fictionally wrote this fictional version of his fictional self.

But Detective Heat is not really Detective Beckett at all. I get that she's not exactly supposed to be, she's not just inspired by Beckett, she's Castle's daydream of what he wants Beckett to be. And in Season One, that's going to be a very different girl than season five, which I'm watching now. First, because he had so much less information to work with, and second because he hadn't actually grown as much as a character. So Nikki Heat is just very stereotypical and not as much fun as Beckett.

I think that if I had read this book when I was in between seasons one and two, then I may have liked it a lot more. But I think as readers we're supposed to be picturing the characters, that's the reason for staying so in universe with it. And in universe, I just don't know that this book is everything that it should be or that the characters are as well crafted as Castle would write them. I'm hoping that as the books advance, the characters will grow in similar ways as they did in the show, and that this disconnect I feel between the two is just because I've gotten so much further than when the book was "written."

Thursday, January 03, 2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I feel like the internet has already written libraries worth of reviews and commentary about this movie before I even got a chance to see it. So I'm not entirely sure what I can add that hasn't been said.

First though, I should point out that I have not actually read The Hobbit and so this review is from the perspective of someone who has read none of the books, but did greatly enjoy the Lord of the Rings films. I'm not unfamiliar with Tolkien's world, the assistant manager at the bookstore where I worked when Fellowship came out was the "read every book every year" type. I would ask him questions about Middle-Earth and he would tell me all about it.

But I discovered that I had a lot more fun hearing Kyle tell me about the world than I did actually reading the books.

Also, I have a rule that is opposite most people: if I haven't read the book when they announce a film version I want to see, then I won't read it until after I've seen the movie. I've found that for me at least, it helps me to distinguish the two as different art forms and go into the movie with a more open mind. I almost always pick up the book afterwards if the movie is good or the storyline is interesting, but I wait so that I can judge the movie in it's own merits.

Which is why even though I've been told that The Hobbit is a more fun read than The Lord of the Rings, I haven't picked it up yet because I knew they'd get around to making a movie. Apparently this was the right choice, because a lot of people seem pretty upset about changes that were made. I can't analyze that, so this is how I felt going into this almost completely fresh:

Wow, that movie was beautiful and really, really long.

There's just nothing else you can come out of it thinking, really. Every frame is absolutely stunning (except perhaps a few of the effects that were somehow not as well made/rendered as the previous films). The acting is top notch, from every single actor. They are giving it their all, and that is a great achievement for them and for Peter Jackson as a director.

The set design is fabulous, the cinematography is gorgeous. There is a lot to like, and I did in fact like the movie. I did like it, this is not me saying I hated it.

But this is me saying that the script needed another draft and the editing was not particularly great. I'd be intrigued to see if fans are going to make an edit after it comes out on DVD, because I think if you gave me a couple days I could probably chop 30-45 minutes out of the movie without changing the story. The only thing that would change would be the pace, and with it the tone. If scenes didn't drag, then you'd feel more tense and anxious about the events. And if the movie didn't have twelve endings, maybe you'd feel worried for our heroes when they're cornered in the climax, rather than thinking "AGAIN? ALREADY?"

I get that it's an adventure story, but how poorly thought out was this quest that they're in mortal danger just trying to walk through a field? Sure, the world is dangerous. But there's not a pause anywhere in between the long and drawn out battles and danger. When you maintain a level of tension too long, it has the opposite effect of what you want, you get used to it and you get bored. Add on the fact that it felt like many of the shots were direct references to the earlier films, and you don't have as much excitement as you could.

I don't want this movie to be Lord of the Rings in tone or in story. But I do want it to be like those films in the fundamental ways that made them great. I wanted it to give us characters first, and action next. I wanted more interpersonal relationships. I mean come on, we all know Fili and Kili could have been more great than they were, the seeds were there, there just wasn't enough follow through.

I'm hoping that since the post-production hasn't been finished on the second two films that Jackson goes back to the cutting room and starts snipping. It wasn't even about scenes that were unneeded (though there were some of those) it was about how every scene went on a little too long. They just need to trim some heads and tails, and it would be so much better.

Like I said, I liked the movie, I'll be seeing the next two in theaters for sure. I just like my films a bit shorter.

TV Review: Hot Set on Syfy

I was ridiculously excited when Syfy started advertising Hot Set, their companion show for Face Off. Everything about it seemed like it was going to be fantastic, and the fact that it seemed similar to Face Off only added to the excitement.

Hot Set is a competition series focused on another movie behind-the-scenes craft that is often overlooked, set design. I'm already a sucker for reality shows that focus on a talent or a trade, and I love anything that is behind-the-scenes of filmmaking. Set designers are one of the heroes of modern filmmaking, and when you have good set design and art direction, everything else becomes so much more believable. When I was part of a group making a web series, the producer and director said that they were worried about our set design because that is one of the main ways to tell a student or amateur. production apart from a professional one.

I suppose it's probably inevitable that Hot Set didn't live up to my expectations. It wasn't that it wasn't a good show, it was. It was far better than most of what is on tv these days. But it just didn't pop the way that shows like Top Chef or Face Off do. And part of the reason for that was the format - instead of having a large group of contestants that get whittled down as the weeks go by, each which was a new pair of competitors. We didn't even begin to get to know anybody that was on the show and so we only had the most superficial of reasons to prefer one over the other. We need characters and people that we're invested in, even in a competition show, unless it's something where we can play along like Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune.

The "twists" for each show were also a little lackluster, and were revealed to the audience by the episode titles and previews so I'm really not sure why they bothered to keep it from the contestants for five minutes. Why not just give them all the information at once rather than have the fake dramatic reveal?

And I kind of hate to bring it up, but the host wasn't as engaging or interesting as most shows of this type. Project Runway All Stars has had two seasons of lackluster hosting to prove that Heidi Klum is part of what makes Project Runway work. Top Chef didn't really take off until they found Padma. While China Chow was sometimes hit or miss on Work of Art, she at least seemed to be enjoying herself. The host of Hot Set doesn't really seem to be getting comfortable in front of the camera, and doesn't seem to enjoy his job. McKenzie Westmore isn't always perfect either, but she always seems at ease and at least ready for the challenge of hosting Face Off, the live finale of season three aside (that was just kind of painful all around, I really hope they don't do it again).

Overall, I hope that Syfy brings back Hot Set for another season, because anything that celebrates the artisans that make movies is worthwhile. But I hope they consider a few format changes. At the end of the day, I'd almost rather see a documentary program about set designers on their regular jobs than see them thrown into competition, because then I could get to know them a little better and see what they're actually made of in different situations. It's a problem that I don't know how to fix, but I hope somebody is working on it so that we get an awesome season two.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

New Year's Program Recommendations

I took a bit of a hiatus from the blog during the week of Christmas, and then that sort of rolled right into New Year's and so I'm playing catch up. But only a little!

I used to be very much against this whole "new year, new you" kind of idea that we get hammered with right around now. But this year it's actually something that's working for me. I've got a lot of things I want to change about me, how I live, how I deal with the world, and how I accomplish goals. I've had plans for a lot of things, but there was always little stuff standing in my way. But after the week and a half of vacation that was the Christmas holiday this year, it's just turned out that New Year's was a really good time to get started.

It really has felt like a bit of a clean break with the past this time around. So I've got a million things going on. First and foremost, to keep up with this blog and try to not just update regularly but also grow my readership and try to get some interaction with my readers. So please, comment on posts if you have something to say!

I'm also trying a few new ways to keep myself organized, including working with Evernote. One thing I'm doing is using that to keep track of all the things I want to write about, which should help me with updating this on time. So far, I like it quite a bit. Especially because I can use it on both computers, my phone, and my Nook with all the same information synced up across all devices.

Along with blog updates, I'm also using it to keep track of the deep cleaning/organizing project that I'm doing around the house. Plus another similar notebook where I'm starting to list the bigger and more long term renovations that we'd like to do, like new shelving in the linen closet.

I'm also continuing to use Todoist and Toggl for my task manager and time-keeping. Both are great programs, and I highly recommend them. Todoist is especially nice because unlike all of the other popular task managers that people like to talk about, it allows you to set up recurring tasks in a number of different ways. So you can have something that occurs every day, every Tuesday, every third Monday, etc. It's been a lifesaver so far.

The biggest fault I have with ToDoist is that it's useless to try to use it on my phone in any way. The app only syncs once a day unless you pay for the premium service and I just don't have that in the budget right now. Plus the mobile browser version of the site doesn't sync properly even when it does sync. So it's really only useful for me in Chrome, but that's okay because that's primarily where I need it.

Of course, I also still use Google Calendar for scheduling day to day things, but I've also started trying to adapt to using a mix of digital and analog scheduling. I'm still experimenting to find the right mix of everything for me. But scheduling my day by the hour is actually really helping me with time management, so anybody that's a freelancer or a stay-at-home whatever should consider it.

All of my bills I'm starting to keep organized in a paper planner that stays on the desk, because I've realized that I don't really ever look at the month-long view in my Google Calendar so I don't see upcoming bills and paychecks as easily as I need to for our budgeting issues. The planner to the left is similar to the one I'm using, only I think mine is prettier (thanks Cyn!) and I love that it's got tabs to quickly flip to the different months.

Hopefully everyone else is having fun with trying to work out new ways to accomplish the goals that they've set for themselves. Don't overreach, but it's always worthwhile to try to make things a little easier on you, you deserve a break.