No Strings Attached

In search of mindless entertainment last weekend, we decided to watch No Strings Attached.

It was way better than it had any right to be. I mean, friends with benefits romcom starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher? Sure, it’s going to be pretty to look at. We weren’t expecting it to also be charming and slightly witty.

It had its problems, to be sure; the characters were one-dimensional at best – Emma self-destructively flawed, Adam the bumbling saint. Everyone else… well they didn’t even rise to the level of “characters” – they were archetypes in support of the main characters.

But it was entertaining if you were willing to turn off your brain. And pretty to look at.

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The Muppets

“I just can’t seem to wipe the smile off my face.”

That’s what the kiddo came out of The Muppets saying. She also cried both scared and happy tears over the course of the movie. Of course, our house had been all-Muppets, all-the-time for the six weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, so it’s not all that surprising that she loved it. But the adults loved it, too. Sure, there’s not a hell of a lot of plot, but it’s really not necessary. It’s all about reveling in the Muppet-ness of it. What plot there wasn’t was made up for by the music… I especially enjoyed “Pictures in My Head” and the kiddo has been singing “Life’s a Happy Song” at the top of her lungs at least three times a day for the past week.

The cameos were Muppetly fantastic, too. M and I looked at each other when the Moopets first appeared and made the “Is that really Dave Grohl?” face. Jim Parsons as Human Walter was also particularly brilliant casting. Because I’m me, I was sad that NPH didn’t at least have a real line or two.

How to Train Your Dragon

I really wanted to see How To Train Your Dragon when it came out and even toyed with taking the kiddo to see it. But that never happened, and I finally watched it On Demand on the in-laws ENORMOUS television over Thanksgiving weekend.

It’s a damn good thing I didn’t try to see it with the kid… she wouldn’t have lasted five minutes before being scared out of her mind. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire thing; the animation was beautiful, the story was moderately predictable but at the same time had enough twists and deviations from the obvious to keep me interested. It definitely would have been awesome (and probably I wouldn’t have watched half of the flying scenes) in 3D.

Precious

I’m teaching Race and Ethnicity again this semester, and I’m having my classes read Eugene Robinson’s Disintegration. In his chapter on the “abandoned”, he discusses Precious at some length. I had been wanting to watch the movie for a very long time and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

It was… extremely powerful. And very different from what I was expecting. Ironic as this will sound, I expected it to be darker. Or maybe I should say I expected it to be much more graphic than it was. I appreciated that I didn’t have to worry about showing it in class (I’m confident that my college students can handle the F word; I’m less comfortable showing sexually explicit material in a classroom setting – never mind that I’m the person who’s used The People vs Larry Flynt and Brokeback Mountain as educational material). But Precious as a narrator was amazing, and compelling, and just… amazing. Gaby Sidebe was just… I don’t have words for how blown away I was by her performance, and by Mo’Nique’s. Mo’Nique earned the hell out of her Best Supporting Actress Oscar, that’s for sure. The penultimate scene, in the counselor’s office? I almost couldn’t take it.

So. Required viewing. Amazing. But be prepared to be uncomfortable.

Snakes on a Plane!

Just kidding… Movies on a plane!

Last month I made my first solo long-haul flight in I don’t know how long. (No, I take that back… I know exactly when my last one was, I just prefer not to think about it.). Anyway, I slept basically the whole way from Detroit to Amsterdam so I didn’t watch anything then, but on the way back I got to indulge in some airline movie-viewing.

Avatar was stunning, even on the 6″ screen. Stunning and engrossing and even though you knew how it was going to end, the getting there was very entertaining. If I ever find myself teaching a course that has a big section on colonialism, I’m going to show Avatar.

Also completely predictable in how it’s going to end: The Backup Plan. Total brain-candy, and not something I would have watched unless I was on a plane.

Sad that I fell asleep half an hour from the end: Toy Story 3. It did NOT make me cry, and I thoroughly enjoyed what I was awake to see. Sadly, when I woke up, it was the very end of the flight so I couldn’t rewind to the last thing I remembered seeing. We’ll have to rent it sometime.

It’s not that I haven’t been reading and watching…

… I just haven’t been writing about it.

I read devoured Stieg Larsson‘s Millenium Trilogy over the summer and loved it.  Twists and turns worthy of Neal Stephenson, but without the multitude of interlocking plotlines.  I can’t even really review it adequately for fear of spoiling it for people who haven’t read it yet.  My one piece of advice is this: don’t start reading The Girl Who Played with Fire until you have a copy of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest handy, because you will want to proceed directly from one to the other without passing go or collecting $200.  I’m sad every time I think about the fact that Larsson died before he could write any more books about Lisbeth and Mikael.

Lucky for us, our local Red Box had the movie version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo right around the time I finished the trilogy.  It’s a powerful, powerful movie, upsetting and engrossing in all the same ways that the book is.  Matthew and I disagreed a bit about the casting.  I thought Noomi Rapace was perfect as Lisbeth; he thought she looked too old.

Then I moved on to Neal Stephenson‘s Anathem, which I loved.  It’s different than most of his previous fiction in that it doesn’t feature 5 or more plot lines intertwining and then ending up tied in a relatively pretty bow at the end of the book.  It completely blew my mind about 75% of the way through (the perils of readin e-books: page numbers, chapter numbers… all become meaningless) by exposing assumptions that I had made without even being aware that I was making them.  I thought the ending was too abrupt and tidy for how the rest of the book went.

Now I’m finally reading the Baroque Cycle.  Thus far I don’t love it nearly as much as Stephenson’s other fiction, but I do love the re-appearance of Enoch Root.  Perhaps I’ll make an effort to retrieve our copy of Cryptonomicon (or just replace it with an ebook version) to re-read next.

Up

Finally FINALLY saw Up this weekend.  The first 5 minutes of it would have DESTROYED me (the bit in the doctor’s office – really – heart-wrenching) if I hadn’t had a five year old’s constant prattling questions coming at me a mile a minute.

Pixar really do know how to tell stories.  I’m on the fence about whether Up was better in terms of story than WallE, but it’s very close.  The visuals are stunning and you of course forget that you’re watching an animated movie.  The choice of villain was SQUIRREL! perfect.

I definitely need to see it again, minus pint-sized interrogations.  Probably with commentary.