Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

I love Christmas. It is my favorite holiday! As we celebrate the birth of Jesus (yes, that is where Christmas originated: shocking!! :), I love spending time with family, eating a bunch of yummy treats, opening gifts, listening to holiday music, and seeing Christmas decor (which is seriously lacking in Los Angeles, especially Christmas lights).

The big news this Christmas is that my sister had her baby yesterday! I now have 11 (see above) nieces and nephews (and only one of those is from Sean's side of the family). I have never been in town when one of my sisters delivered, so I am very excited to say that I was in the room when Bennett Robert Gudalis was born. On Tuesday night is when part of my family was opening gifts, so we left food and gifts unwrapped to rush her to the hospital. Congrats to Brian and Jenna! He is adorable. Click here for some pics. (Forgive my greasy hair in this pic as I had just gotten rained on.)

Now for some of my favorite Christmas songs:

Mary Did You Know
by Michael English (this is my favorite version but PLEASE forgive the beginning of this video--I don't get it...)

Last Christmas by Wham

Light a Candle
by Avalon

All I Want for Christmas by Maria Carey

Unfortunately, the joy of Christmas does not always extend into holiday travel. The airport was packed, the weather was freezing (once I got to Louisville, it was 8 degrees...), and one of my bags didn't make it. So I wore the same jeans and socks for three days. I had two shirts with me so I've been trading off. How is it that all my underwear was in the missing bag and all Sean's was in the bag that made it without a problem? Good news: The bag with the gifts got here in time. All else can be remedied (but I should prepare for the fact that frightening photos were taken while my makeup bag was also in the missing luggage. I didn't see that bag for 3 full days after I landed.

In other news, what could make such air travel worth it? Celeb spotting at the airport, of course. I saw Ryan Gosling and knew it was him immediately. I never ask for photos but I was just standing there and a couple girls walked up to him. He was so nice. So when he walked right next to me, I had to ask for a photo. He was so gracious and sweet. He even asked me my name and said "nice to meet you." My husband took the picture so I think that knocks me down one point on the loser scale (as in, less loser-y).

So... MERRY MERRY CHRISTMAS! May you remember the reason for the season.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Book: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

Reading books that take place in India is certainly giving me some insight. However, I am not sure The White Tiger, while entertaining and educating, does much to prepare me for my trip. The reason is that it is about the castes, from which the poor can't really escape. It is a very interesting commentary on what it takes for a servant from a very poor family to rise up and find financial success and freedom.

The White Tiger (aka Balram Halwai) is so named because he is the type that comes along once in a lifetime. His story is presented via letters he writes to the President of China over the course of a week. He writes these letters to prepare the president for a trip to India, and to tell him how things really are.

Balram is a driver for a wealthy businessman, whose main job is bribing city and country officials. He reveals early in his letters that he is currently a successful Indian entrepreneur and that he progressed so far through committing murder and theft. The reader waits through the story to find out how the murder comes to be, and what steps lead Balram to such an act. He points out that the caste system is what he calls a Rooster Coop, meaning that the roosters could easily fly away instead of being killed, but they just stand and wait their turn. And the Indian servants just take all the poor treatment, poor pay, and complete disrespect without a word. Balram is so different from others because he decides not to settle for the status quo.

Unfortunately, I don't feel like Adiga made Balram very appealing as a protagonist. And his boss Ashok is not so horrible as the antagonist (aside from one really horrible thing he does to Balram). So I didn't necessarily find myself rooting for Balram. But the story is more just a commentary on the status of India, the caste system, the mistreatment of people, the corruption of the government, etc. And it was really interesting to read.

From reading other reviews, I am not sure I loved this as much as other readers did. Maybe I am not the target audience. But it was an enjoyable read, nonetheless.

Monday, December 15, 2008

NEW TRAILER: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

I have really been looking forward to the trailer and subsquent release of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The rest of the cast really only increased my interest. The first trailer hit the internet today. Watch it now!

This film should do well at the box office given the past success of the X-Men movies, the comic book following, and Hugh Jackman's recent naming as People's Sexiest Man Alive. I was excited to see a good portion of the trailer was devoted to Gambit (Taylor Kitsch) and Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber) and am looking foward to knowing a bit more about him, as well as the other supporing mutants (Ryan Reynolds, who I saw for a brief second, and Dominic Monaghan, who I don't think I saw at all). Can't wait till May for it!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fave TV Characters

I have recently been inspired to put together a list of my favorite current and recent television characters. I am allowing recent ones because a few of these are a couple of years old and still deserve to be discussed. Maybe after this I will try another "favorites" list because it is fun. Let's get started:

Tami Taylor, Friday Night Lights - I loved her from the moment she came on screen. She tells it like it is and it gets her places (she went from a stay-at-home-mom to high school principal in a couple of years, by way of school counselor and volleyball coach). She loves her husband and girls, but also really cares about her students and invests herself in them. I absolutely adore how she stands up for herself and others (when she tells off the college football recruiter in the grocery store when he is harassing Corinna Williams), and the things she says that "sound" nice but are actually quite rude, very often to Buddy Garrity. Plus, Connie Britton played the emotional mother of a newborn excellently.

Tim Riggins, Friday Night Lights - I couldn't resist a second FNL character on my list. And he is the complete opposite of Tami Taylor. I didn't like Tim all that much during the first season. He seemed like quite a loser, and not too lovable. He grew on me a lot and after re-watching seasons one and two, and getting part-way through season 3, I just love him. You can't help but feeling "poor Tim" just about every other episode. So much of his issues can be blamed on his situation, mainly the fact that he was abandoned by his father and raised by his irresponsible (but well-meaning) brother Billy. It also helps that Taylor Kitsch is just really pretty to look at.

Ned, Pushing Daisies - Like I need another reason to wax poetic about Lee Pace. Sigh. But he plays Ned so sweetly and innocently. And when he is upset (whether it is about his father or Chuck or something else), he seems to play it like a 10 year old with pouting and huffing and puffing. Or a puppy dog, but I hate to mix my comparisons. There is just something so dreamy about Lee Pace and so, therefore, about Ned. I will miss him when he is not on my TV every week.

Dr. Lance Sweets, Bones - I love the dynamic that Dr. Sweets adds to the Booth/Brennan relationship, along with all the other relationships in the Jeffersonian. John Francis Daley plays this character somewhat naive, slightly annoying, and a tad socially awkward. And I think it is perfect. The writers usually have to create (sometimes force, but I am not complaining) specific story lines for Sweets to be involved with the others. I also find it amusing how Booth & Bones will sit in his office and say nothing, seemingly lacking any respect for him whatsoever, but he is slowly becoming the go-to guy for everyone's problems.

Barney Stinson, How I Met Your Mother - Neil Patrick Harris was nominated yesterday for a Golden Globe for his portrayal as Barney. And while I don't think he will ever walk away with the statue, it isn't because he doesn't deserve it. It is because the voters are idiots. I don't know anyone who watches HIMYM that doesn't think that Barney is far and away the most entertaining character on the show. Whether he is suiting up, hooking up, wingmanning it up (just an excuse to continue with the use of "up"), he makes me laugh. And then that he can have serious moments is nice, but, fortunately, not lasting. It is a relief the writers haven't had him constantly pining for Robin this season, and instead have kept him the same lovable womanizing narcissistic jerk.

Dexter Morgan, Dexter - I won't get to watch season 3 of Dexter until it comes out on DVD later this year, so don't spoil anything for me! I wouldn't have thought the writers could make season 2 as good as season 1, but I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, they just might have made it better. Michael C. Hall plays the heck out of this character. It feels wrong to be rooting for a serial killer, but the fact that Hall and the writers can make me do that means he deserves to be on my list. Plus, he isn't too shabby to look at, especially in his "killing" clothes (snug thermal tops and cargo pants).

George Michael Bluth, Arrested Development - Darn that Michael Cera, he had to go off and find success in movies so that Arrested Development, The Movie won't really feel right. I will seriously be disappointed if George Michael isn't in the movie version, whenever it finally happens. But that is because his sweet, innocent, dorky, family-loving, Maeby-lusting self is my favorite character on the show (but it was a rather close four-way race). And let's face it. If Michael Cera hadn't had AD as a major spring board, we wouldn't be seeing him in movies much. He pretty much plays a version of George Michael on everything anyway. And he gets the distinction of being the character that says my favorite line from the whole series (also a close race, between about 1000 different quotes): "What a fun sexy time for you."

Veronica Mars, Veronica Mars - I originally missed the boat on this series. And if you didn't watch it, it seemed like it was probably some kind of cheesy Nancy Drew show on the WB. And I knew a lot of people who loved it fanatically. So I finally gave it a shot this last summer. My preconceptions were all wrong. It was extremely well-written and acted. Kristin Bell played the snarky Veronica to perfection. She had amazing one-liners and at times her vulnerabilities and fears were heartbreaking. It kills me when she is holding a gun to Beaver and says that line, "He killed my father!"

Maxxie, Skins - Skins is a BBC show that has been showing on BBC America recently. It puts other teen dramas like Gossip Girl and 90210 to shame. Maxxie (played by Mitch Hewer) is the least obnoxious to me of all the characters. What really makes me love him so much is how he helped Tony post-accident at the beginning of season 2 when no other friends (mainly Tony & Michelle) were around to help out. Also, he sings, he dances, he acts in school theater, he's adorable, he even has his own stalker. What isn't there to love?

Gaius Baltar, Battlestar Galactica - I don't know what my obsession with Baltar is. I just have one, OK? The fact that James Callis can make me despise this character so much and still care about him tells you how great of an actor his. I wish any of our great BSG actors could get some real recognition from the Emmys, but Callis is one that really seems robbed for being overlooked. His turn this last season as a philosophical/religious leader took him in a new direction, but the same sleazy insecure guy was underneath.

Desmond Hume, Lost - Being that I have recently mentioned that the Lost episode "The Constant" was my favorite TV episode of the year, it would probably come as no surprise that Desmond is my favorite character on the show. His story is still so much a mystery, so that is part of the intrigue, but I really enjoy the Penny/Desmond love story. I am also relieved that Desmond will continue to be part of the story and that we got some good Des/Penny interaction this season.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Time Top 10 Lists

Time Magazine announced its Top Ten Everything of 2008 lists this week. Several of the books, movies, TV, people, etc. are things I have discussed or want to discuss, so I thought I would write a post about it.

TV Episodes:
1) Lost, "The Constant"
2) The Shield, "Family Meeting"
3) The Wire, "Late Editions"
4) In Treatment, "Alex - Week Eight"
5) Breaking Bad, "Pilot"
6) Battlestar Galactica, "Revelations"
7) The Colbert Report, Jan. 22 Episode
8) 30 Rock, "Cooter"
9) Mad Men, "A Night to Remember"
10) You Suck at Photoshop, "Distort, Warp, and Layer Effects"

I decided to write this post upon seeing number one on the TV episodes list. And it was the first item in the first list I looked at. But I was so excited to see "The Constant" on there. It is my favorite episode of the season as well, and my favorite episode of Lost to date. It really made me think, it involved a love story, it was shocking. It was everything I needed to be entertained. Plus, I love me some Desmond.

I'm also happy to see BSG getting some more attention. While the Emmys seem completely blind to the amazingness that is Battlestar Galactica, the rest of the world has taken notice. This show deserves all the credit it gets, and more. And this episode was shocking and tragic. And left us all wondering, "What now?"

I only sort of regret giving up Mad Men halfway through the first season, based on all the hype it continually gets. Maybe I will watch it on DVD some time. In the meantime, my new TV addiction is 30 Rock, and while I haven't seen "Cooter," I think I will carve out sometime to do so, since it is on this list.

TV Series:
1) The Shield
2) Mad Men
3) The Presidential Election
4) Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog
5) The Wire
6) Breaking Bad
7) Lost
8) Battlestar Galactica
9) Architecture School
10) Chuck

Based on the TV Episodes list, I was not surprised to find Lost and Battlestar Galactica on the TV Shows list. Yea! But I was surprised by a couple of other goodies: Dr. Horrible and Chuck! Two of my current faves. Dr. Horrible has done amazingly well, especially given that it is really a web series and not a TV show. And Joss Whedon knows how to create something out of dire circumstances (since the web series was created and executed during the WGA strike). Chuck has been so great this season, and while it may not be getting the viewership it deserves, I am relieved to see it is at least getting some critical praise.

1) Kanye West, Love Lockdown
2) Pink, So What
3) Ida Maria, Oh My God
4) Lil Wayne, A Milli
5) Fleet Foxes, White Winter Hymnal
6) Jonas Brothers, Burnin' Up
7) Beyonce, Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)
8) MGMT, Time to Pretend
9) Duffy, Rockferry
10) Gnarls Barkley, Going On

I can't listen to "Single Ladies" without thinking of those 3 guys dancing to it on SNL. (Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh) But it made it memorable to me and now I kind of enjoy it. Sometimes I tell Sean that if he likes it he should have put a ring on it. He doesn't like it anymore...

I don't like Lil Wayne and haven't heard of a couple of these, but I am glad to see the Jonas Brothers, MGMT and Pink getting a shout out.

Fiction Books
1) 2666, Roberto Bolano
2) Lush Life, Richard Price
3) American Wife, Curtis Sittenfeld
4) Anathem, Neal Stephenson
5) Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri
6) Personal Days, Ed Park
7) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
8) When Will There Be Good News?, Kate Atkinson
9) The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
10) The Widows of Eastwick, John Updike

I've not read one of these books. But I have had American Wife sitting by my bed for months and hadn't thought anything of it. Now I feel motivated to read it. This list also interested me in The Graveyard Book and When Will There Be Good News? And if I decided to read Anathem, I won't order from like Stella.

2) Synecdoche, New York
3) My Winnipeg
4) 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days
5) Milk
6) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
7) Slumdog Millionaire
8) Iron Man
9) Speed Racer
10) Encounters at the End of the World

Is anyone else confused at seeing Speed Racer on this list? Didn't it pretty much get panned by critics and bomb at the box office? I don't know if I would call that the future of cinema. I am not surprised, however, at Iron Man and WALL-E making the list, and am ecstatic at seeing Slumdog MIllionaire continue to get attention. Go see Slumdog Millionaire!!

Best Performances:
1) Kate Winslet, Hannah Schmidtz, The Reader
2) Viola Davis, Mrs. Muller, Doubt
3) Dakota Fanning, Lily Owens, The Secret Life of Bees
4) Kimberly Rivers Roberts, Herself, Trouble the Water
5) Angelina Jolie, Fox, Wanted
1) Heath Ledger, The Joker, The Dark Knight
2) Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jean-Claude Van Damme, JCVD
3) Vlad Ivanov, Mr. Bebe, 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days
4) Brandon Walters, Nullah, Australia
5) Ben Burtt, WALL-E, WALL-E

When I heard Dakota Fanning would play Lily in The Secret Life of Bees, I was concerned. She is an excellent actress, but this was a more mature part than I had seen her play. I haven't caught the film yet myself, but looks like she did a great job. I teared up at one part just in the trailer.

Heath Ledger gets a spot, of course, as it is deserved. His performance as The Joker was disturbing in various ways. I need to see The Dark Knight again and see if he is as creepy in it the second time around. I'm also intrigued to see Jean-Claude Van Damme take on a different type of role, playing an odd version of himself in JCVD.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Book: Are You Experienced? by William Sutcliffe

This is the first book I have chosen to read that is related to my India trip. My sister recommended it as a quick and fun read. Are You Experienced? is a novel about a young English guy named Dave who feels compelled (by a girl named Liz) to spend the summer before University traveling around India. He really doesn't want to go but Liz convinces him (mainly because he wants to spend time with her). So he commits to three months, and discovers early on that he and Liz pretty much hate each other. Liz gets sucked into the Indian culture (but she is rather pretentious about it, going about in saris and doing what is called "intimate yoga" to find her "centre"). Dave is very cynical and it leads to fighting between them. Eventually, they part ways and Dave is left to travel the country that he despises so much alone.

As an inexperienced traveler, Dave does not know how to handle certain situations (the beggars, the bargaining), and also makes poor decisions (such as eating bad food and getting so sick he gets emaciated). And ultimately he spends a full two months of travelling, trying to get the right "India experience" before he realizes he has been going about it the wrong way. Eventually, he stops avoiding the Indians and begins talking to them and asking about their lives. Basically, he figures out that his adventures won't be what he preconceived, and then he can enjoy himself.

When Dave finally returns home, a place he is desperately excited to get to, he almost immediately realizes that he would like to go back for another visit.

Now I need to discuss how this contributes to my thoughts and considerations for my upcoming trip to India. When Dave starts his trip, he only seems to be enjoying himself when he is stoned. That doesn't bode well, but I figured he would require some time to get over culture shock. He basically gets off the train in Bombay, smells the stench in the air, and hops back on a train to elsewhere. I have heard some pretty bad things about the smell of the air and the smog. I have a few scarves I plan to wear over my nose and mouth in the city. I'll just have to get used to that. The only meal Dave eats that has meat in it makes him terribly sick so he sticks to vegetarian dishes mostly. I like meat! But I can manage. I can't say I wouldn't like to lose a few pounds, but not from dysentery!

That is all the bad stuff, but I also am getting used to city and region names. This helps me to figure out places I want to visit while I am there. I know I want to use the Lonely Planet India guide as it seems to be The Book. Also, now I know not to sit on the back of any buses as I will be sore from bouncing around. In addition, I am now looking forward to the beauty of the country, both lakeside and mountainside. And I plan to let the traveling be as fun as the destinations!

Next on my India reading list: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Quantum of Solace

I wasn't too keen on seeing the new Bond film as I had not heard great things. I happened to catch Casino Royale on TV over the holiday, and I was reminded of how much I enjoyed that movie AND how much I really like Daniel Craig as James Bond. He loses a level of cheesy that was very present with Pierce Brosnan (in my opinion, of course).

Quantum of Solace was a bit too much of a regular James Bond story for me. It wasn't as bad as I had heard. Apparently, some people had much higher expectations than I did. But it certainly didn't tug at the heartstrings like Casino Royale did. And the whole reason I loved that one so much was because it made him relatable. And then he kind of lost that quality in this one.

What I did enjoy was seeing Daniel Craig some more. I just really like him in this character. I was also happy to see Mathieu Amalric from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. I had been interested in seeing him in a different type of role.

Anyway, I say it is probably a renter, for anyone interested.

Monday, December 01, 2008

My Vampire Weekend: Twilight

Well, I did it. I went on opening night to see Twilight. I braved the crowds of screaming girls (again), waited in line for more than 45 minutes to get into the theater, sat with bated breath for the darned previews to finish up, and then felt giddy glee when, as the movie finally started, a high pitched group of screams sounded throughout the theater. We laughed heartily at the screams, and soon discovered that we would hear these screams EVERY time Edward appeared on screen. Or Jacob. Or Carlisle. Or the rest of the Cullens. Or James. Or even Charlie. Most surprising was that I didn't mind. It kind of made this a different movie-going experience and I genuinely felt like a 13 year old fangirl again.

So the experience of going to see this was fun and different, but how was the actual movie? That is the tricky part for me. I have read all of the Twilight series. I tend to have a hard time keeping books and movies based on them separate. I fill in too much of the story in my head. So I am not sure if this movie will be satisfying to many die-hard fans of the book. I am really not sure those who haven't read the book will like it. I can say it was fun to watch. But I don't know about the quality so much...

Kristin Stewart and Rob Pattinson were great and so perfectly cast. Except for a couple of actors, I was pretty happy with who was cast for each role. They could have toned down the cheesy coolness that is Emmett (I really hated when he was standing in the Jeep...). There were parts that could have been better (did anyone else think that Edward's sparkling in the meadow looked more like he was just really sweaty?).

OK, I confess that I went on a week's vacation for Thanksgiving in the very middle of writing my review and I have lost all my flow... So I will just say that I enjoyed this movie-going experience and seeing how Catherine Hardwick translated it to screen, but I was missing a few things too. I am curious to see how the movies progress, as each book brings in new complications, both story-wise and filming-wise...