Friday, July 26, 2013

Warm Bodies

Warm Bodies is a different take on a zombie movie-- a romance told from the eyes of a zombie mixed with a little twist of parody. The story is narrated by the zombie "R" as he wanders around without real purpose, in search of, you guessed it, brains. It's set after the apocalypse, an event fuzzy in R's mind. All he knows is that most of the population are now mindless zombies, and there remain very few humans. The plot really begins when "R" spontaneously saves a human girl whose boyfriend he ate, and as he spends more time with her, he begins to warm up: he starts to turn back into a human. But the girl, Julie's, dad is the head of the human military force/ mayor? of the last human encampment, so can their love ever be?

I thought this movie was a cute summer flick. The story line was straightforward and pretty predictable, but R was relatable and you rooted for him. I didn't really like Julie's character, though. The movie was very obviously marketed to teens; R's inner dialogue speaks of angst and questioning purpose, individuality, feeling lost, etc. and he had complete hipster music tastes- I mean, he had a record player in his airplane compartment.

I enjoyed the movie ( I was half-passed out with heat exhaustion while watching it, so maybe I was less inclined to be critical) but there were some things that I thought could have been better. The main weakness, I felt, was that the movie had a lot of great ideas that the writers never really followed through on. In the beginning, the film is presented as a sort of mild parody of a zombie story- the lines sort of make fun of what's happening, and it has a little bit of a sarcastic edge that forces you to crack a smile. But I think the story got too involved as it went along, and lost a lot of the comedy. To be a parody, the narrative has to have a certain distance and sense of humor from the events in the story, which this lacked.

I was actually very interested in the way the whole zombiepocalypse was presented as a criticism about today's teens. (i.e. the main character and many of the zombies lived in an airport-- they were set up and in the position to go places and yet lacked the drive to. The zombies shuffle around with no purpose and lack communication skills. R is trying to define himself and remember who he is, but he can't quite.) R's journey is definitely one of self-discovery, but the commentary on teens began to fade as you got deeper into the story line, and towards the end it was really a stretch to relate what was happening to the original ideas.

It was only towards the end of the movie that I realized the love story of R and Julie was a nod to Romeo and Juliet ( I had this little epiphany only when I saw Julie perched on a balcony speaking down to R and I sarcastically remarked "Who are you, Juliet?" after which I quietly went "Oh." and then curled up in embarrassment.) I could understand this to an extent-- the zombies as the Montagues and the humans as the Capulets, Julie's overbearing father, etc. But I got a little too excited and jumped straight to thinking the whole story had understatedly been mimicking the events of Romeo and Juliet, which it didn't. I think that little detail was thrown in there simply for the cute factor, but I wished they had followed through with it more.

Overall, it was a light viewing and not memorable but didn't offend me in any way and was enjoyable to watch :)

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos

"It's 1949. Two young Cuban musicians make their way up from Havana to the grand stage of New York. It is the era of the mambo, and the Castillo brothers, workers by day, become by night stars of the dance halls, where their orchestra plays the lush, sensuous, pulsing music that earns them the title of Mambo Kings. This is their moment of youth-- a golden time that thirty years later will be remembered with nostalgia and deep affection. In The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, Oscar Hijuelos has created a rich and enthralling novel about passion and loss and memory and desire."

This book was a vivid portrayal of a certain era in a certain place through a certain man's eyes. Oscar Hijuelos took the idea that in your last moments your life flashes before you to heart, and created a wildly detailed and beautifully illustrated trip down the memory lane of one Cesar Castillo, a Cuban musician living out his days in a New York City pulsing with mambo and life. 
To be honest, this book took me quite awhile to get through. There isn't a driving plot line that makes you want to know what happens next; instead, each chapter presents an intricate vignette of actions, emotions, and thoughts, and the memories don't necessarily come in order. What I realized towards the end of the book, though, is why the scenes weren't shown chronologically. The book really only takes place in a couple hours of Cesar's life, as he's living out his last moments in a room in the Hotel Splendour, with a record player by his side spinning out the music of his youth. So when a song comes on, it's like opening a time capsule: everything this man experienced relating to that song comes rushing back as clearly as if it happened yesterday-- and the songs aren't chronological. It's a feeling I can personally relate to, as I think most people can. 
What I liked a lot about the book was that, even though Cesar is remembering certain things, the author provides you with information that Cesar may not know. So these characters Cesar interacts with, you know their story and their thoughts, and they become a rounded person. In terms of that, I thought there was amazing character development in the story. Something I also found interesting was how no one character would be good or bad, since their intentions were all laid bare to the reader. The author was very blatant about how people used eachother, not necessarily malevolently, but simply because that's what people do. Cesar himself was an interesting man to consider. He drank a lot, he smoked, he was a complete womanizer, and though yet given these  facts you would jump to the conclusion he was a bad man, or maybe emotionally closed off, as the stereotype is, Hijuelos gave him generosity, a love of family and music, redeeming qualities that in the end made him neither a good, nor a bad person-- because in real life, good and bad people don't exist. There are only good and bad qualities, and the balance therein. 
The reason I picked this book up in the first place was that it was about the music scene in the mid- twentieth century, particularly the Cuban music. I love books that work in history and real settings, because you learn so much while reading them, and understand even more because you have context. Reading this book, I learned an amazing amount about New York, mambo, Cuban immigrants, and more, and while I had heard about Fidel Castro in Cuba, this book taught me about the effect it had on Cubans and the different views they had- something I would never learn in history books. I liked how real people and places were worked in- the main characters met the likes of Perez Prado, Paquito di Rivera, and Desi Arnaz, and integrating such real-life names gave the book a sense of reality as well; it was interesting to be listening to the exact songs mentioned while reading about them. 
One of the few things I didn't necessarily enjoy about this book was how graphic it was. It made a point of questioning the difference/ boundary between lust and love, but I feel that it could have made that point with less imagery--I felt like it held up the story sometimes. However, it did round out that theme well in the end, giving no clear answer and leaving you questioning more than ever. 
There was no doubt this book was well- written, and although it wasn't a page-turner I enjoyed my time reading it- Hijuelos is a master of imagery and his sentences are beautiful in their own right, rich in color and emotion. I would recommend this book to music-lovers and history buffs and anyone looking for a little romance.

There was a movie adaptation made of this book in 1992 that I'm looking forward to watching now that I finished the book. Review to come!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Dog Days of Summer

It's hard to believe that summer is almost halfway over- I've been so busy that the days have just flown past. For my birthday I went on a weekend trip to Quebec, which was amazing! I got in a little of practice with my French, and got to experience some foreign culture. It was basically my first time being out of the country, and it was such a weird feeling to walk down the street and realize that all of these people just assumed that I was Quebecois- it wasn't as if they all knew I was from America. On another note, the food was delicious, and I probably had way too much of it- basically everything came in maple flavor, every restaurant had poutine, and wild meats were the name of the game. I also developed a fascination with streets and stairways, and after awhile I was prohibited from taking any more pictures of the ground. (Click here to see some of my pictures from the trip) Anyways, I'm basically booked with regattas-- I just came back from one today and I'm diving into another tomorrow-- so I thought I would check in with some of the stuff that's caught my attention this summer.


Putamayo Presents French Cafe
Found this little treasure of a CD on a cabinet shelf and it ended up being one of those albums where there isn't one song I dislike.

Fibre de Verre 

Mal o Mains 

Si La Photo Est Bonne

Requiem For Annie by Parov Stelar

Teen Idle by Marina and the Diamonds

Twisted Nerve by Bernard Herman from Kill Bill
--WARNING!-- if you listen to this song you won't be able to get it out of your head for about two weeks.

Every Man Gets His Wish by Lana Del Rey

Space by Magic Wands

The Best We Got by The Rubens

Collectors by Springtime Carnivore


I actually found this youtuber awhile ago but I literally cannot stop watching his videos. He's a dancer that does a dance style called "criming". I can't even describe it but it's addictive to watch- I'll admit I've marathonned his videos more than a couple of times. Plus he has amazing music taste- a lot of the songs above I found from watching his videos, and he also dances to a lot of Parov Stelar and Caravan Palace, which are my known favorites.

This video is definitely my new favorite- I think it's an interesting study in genders and the related dance styles/ what they enhance. When he's dancing as a girl he makes it look like he has curves just by the way he moves-- it's really well done. This video is good too but it won't display it so click here!


*What am I doing with my life*

This is a really interesting musical channel-- it's a group of musicians that take popular songs and re-do them according to an era.

I actually can't even pick a favorite video. It's basically two brothers who talk to eachother over Youtube about whatever is on their minds, but it's all very interesting and they both have great personalities.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Hannibal NBC Review

Hannibal is the latest creation of one of my favorite TV producers, Bryan Fuller. Now, I must admit I had my doubts about this show: could Bryan Fuller really pull off something as dark and intense as Hannibal Lecter? I mean, he had been known, at least in my mind, for adorable, bright-colored, quirky shows with light plots and pie-makers and talking inanimate objects. And besides, another police drama? *Groan* But after the fact, I can see how this show was perfect for Fuller. Although somewhat sugar-coated in all his shows, there is a theme of death and a certain amount of darkness--- I mean, Pushing Daisies is about a guy that can bring dead people back to life, but also kill them again. Take all the cute humor and primary-colored sets out of that and you have some pretty scary stuff. And don't Wonderfalls and Hannibal really address the same question; Am I going insane? Not to mention the interest in food shown in Pushing Daisies and well, obviously in Hannibal. 

So, to get to my point, I was completely wrong to doubt that Fuller could pull off Hannibal. So, so wrong. To be honest, I had to warm up to it, but by mid-season I think that the show caught it's stride and started to develop its own personality and really set itself apart from the other crime dramas on air.

If you haven't watched the show, in which case I have no idea what you're doing with your life, it focuses on the time period before Thomas Harris's books, following police consultant Will Graham. Will Graham has the power of complete empathy under his control; he can assume the point of view of murderers and see from their eyes the murders unfolding, thus gaining clues and insight into how the crime was committed. 
The problem with Will Graham is that this takes a toll on his psyche; he wakes up gasping from terrifying nightmares, and he starts losing his grasp on himself, slipping entirely into the minds of the killers. To help him cope, the police chief Jack Crawford brings in psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter, who watches Will's pursuit of the so-called "Chesapeake Ripper" with a bemused smile.

Bryan Fuller's Hannibal Lecter is played by the Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, who most may know from his role as the villain in one of the recent James Bond movies. I haven't actually seen any of the Hannibal movies, but I do know that Mads Mikkelsen portrays a very different kind of Hannibal; more restrained, refined, and of course, with a Danish accent. I personally thought that Mikkelsen's character was genius. 
From the start of the show, you know Hannibal is the murderer; the tension of the show isn't about figuring out who dun' it. But it's interesting how the show manipulates your feelings towards Hannibal. Yes, you know that he killed all these people, you know that's not pork he's serving up at his dinner table, and yet, you want to like him. You want to like him because he wears European suits and nice ties, he decorates with luxurious furniture, and his dinner parties are a work of art. You want to like him because he's a gentleman, and because of that, it's almost like the truth becomes tasteful.  Because the show leads you through this train of thought, you can understand why no one suspects him, and everybody likes him. But as the season progresses, you start to turn on him. "Wait, Hannibal, why would you do that?" At the beginning, you didn't know him too well; you could project what you wanted him to be onto him; he was understanding, a good friend, even merciful, in your eyes. You wanted him to be a human. But then you see more of him, of who he is and what he does, and you find it harder and harder to connect to him, you start to feel hatred towards him. I think how you, as the viewer, were led through this really made you understand the points of view of those surrounding him; you, too, were given the power of empathy, just like Will and Hannibal. 
I like that by the end of season one you still didn't really know too much about who Hannibal really was, only how people saw him. You never really saw through the "person-mask" he had on; only at the end did he let Will see his true self, when he smiled through the bars of the jail cell. It leaves you wanting more and keeps the interest on Hannibal, so there's always room to develop him as a character. 

Something I truly enjoyed about the show was how stylized it was, from the sets to the script to the lighting and costumes. This wasn't just a show that focused on a plot, this was an all-around production, where everything, even down to the smallest detail, was a work of art- in the true fashion of Hannibal Lecter.

The show was directed by David Slade, whose work I recognized from his movie Hard Candy. He incorporated his trademark flashes of red among mostly stark colors, blacks and whites and grays. This lent the show a very interesting atmosphere- surgical at times, moody at others. 

I loved the costume design in Hannibal. The outfit that Freddie Lounds (left) in the picture above has got to be one of my favorites in the whole show, but Hannibal himself was so impeccably dressed throughout the season. His signature was a three-piece plaid suit and a paisley tie; don't ask me how he pulled it off, but he did.

Something I didn't appreciate until after finishing the show was the cinematography, and the attention to detail that was put into it. I found a lot written by film students on the sets, colors, focus, and more, and realized that I hadn't really thought to look for those things while watching; I'd become so accustomed to watching shows that were plot-driven and didn't care to pay attention to those aspects of the production. But I love that this show did that- there's a layer beneath what is said that is created. Why are those colors saturated? Why is Will leaning towards Hannibal in this shot, but placed elsewhere in this one? Why is that curtain more open than in previous episodes? And answering all these questions gives you so much more understanding of the show.

Actually, that caption sums up the script writing a little too well. The first couple episodes of the show I wasn't sure how I felt about the script; I thought maybe Fuller's style didn't apply too well in the context. But then I realized something; the script wasn't trying to be realistic. In fact, it was completely self-indulgent, as if it had been written by a poet. Yet once I realized that, I enjoyed it so much- listening to the characters' dialogue turned into one of my favorite parts of the show, and added even more to it's moody and artistic feel. When I think of it, the script made me understand that the show wasn't trying to be realistic in any way- it was surreal and psychological, and you had to embrace that style to really enjoy watching it.
The moment I truly committed to the script, though, was when Hannibal says,"Killing must feel good to God, too. He does it all the time, and are we not created in his image?" I feel like that was the moment the show hit it's stride, veered off the road of normal police dramas, and turned into something far darker and more beautiful.

I have to give a shout-out to Bryan Fuller for bringing back the actors and actresses from his other shows. It was interesting to see some familiar faces, but set in a different light. Fingers crossed that Lee Pace makes a cameo!

I thought the music was done very well. It was a mix of creepy vibrations and classical music, but it fit together very well; the classical was a nice touch and added to the style of Hannibal Lecter.

The. Number. Of. Puns. In. This. Show. And every time Hannibal says one you just expect him to turn and wink at the camera. But I think there's something interesting in them, too, apart from the humor. For one thing, you get a little glimpse into how Hannibal views people; he equates them to sheep and pigs-- animals. But also, it's almost as if he wants to get caught. He says things that could very easily give him away, and yet no one recognizes them; he seems almost disappointed in people. I don't think it's even that he wants to get caught, necessarily. It's just that he wants people to recognize his art. You could see a bit of this in the episode where the police were giving credit to someone else for Hannibal's work, and, for the only time in the season, Hannibal gets mad- shown in a slight facial twitch, but you can see it. The psyche of Hannibal Lecter, the psychiatrist, is something that you only see glimpses into, and I hope you see more in the upcoming seasons.

I'll be honest, right here and now, and state NBC's Hannibal has become my favorite show, right on top of Sherlock. I was indecisive as to how to review this show; I was tempted to go episode by episode simply because there's so much detail and so much to talk about in each. I think what makes this show successful is that it's such an interesting plot line, and it'll appease the people that simply want to watch a show for entertainment. But that could be any show. What then sets it apart as quality is that there's a level beneath that, a level of details and inferences, ideas, themes, things to think about- there's a beauty and intricacy to the show that sets it above others. It's one of those shows where you learn more every time you talk about it. So I think that there's something in it for everyone (just not the faint-hearted) and I would recommend it. 5/5 stars!

Monday, July 1, 2013


Drew this awhile back when I was messing around with animation styles... the skin color came out wonky since I was too lazy to test it :/
Chihiro From Spirited Away

Search This Blog