Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Tuesday Throwdown: Coraline vs. Paranorman

It's a double-header, ladies and gentlemen! For my inaugural post I thought I'd do movies that I know inside and out, both formidable films in their own right:

CORALINE (2008) vs. PARANORMAN (2012)

Before we get into the real meat of the showdown here, a little bit of backstory on our contenders:

CORALINE: Based on the Neil Gaiman book of the same name, wherein a  bored little girl moves to a drippy new town and a drippier apartment building with her drippy botanist parents and some weird, obnoxious neighbors, and discovers a door in one room of her building that leads to a fantastical alternate version of her life and all the people in it, where everything is made just for her and everyone wants to entertain and love her, and everything is orchestrated by the chipper and mysterious Other Mother. This can't possibly go wrong.

PARANORMAN: A lonely little boy who can talk to ghosts discovers that he might be the only one who can keep an evil witch's 300-year-old curse from obliterating his tourist-trap town (which, incidentally, is famous for the colonial-era hanging of the same witch), and discovers some ugly secrets about human nature.

Even outside of the obvious (both psychedelic stop-motion features produced by Laika), they're pretty similar, as
  • they're both about kids who feel pretty lonely and neglected, who have this other kinda sweet well-meaning kid following them around all the time trying to be pals
  • they both have well-written, well-designed villains that are ACTUALLY SCARY
  • they both have a compelling cast of secondary and tertiary characters, several of which (on both counts) do not actually exist
  • I saw both of them at least four times in theaters (6 for Paranorman), and bought both of them the day they were released on DVD
  • they're both NOT movies to take your small children to (seriously, every time I saw either at the theater, there were harried parents scrambling out of the theater clutching their screaming toddlers. PARENTS: "ANIMATED" DOES NOT AUTOMATICALLY MEAN "KID'S MOVIE". DO SOME RESEARCH IF YOU WANT YOUR KIDS TO STAY NIGHTMARE-FREE. JESUS.)
  • They're both completely gorgeous. Feasts for the eyes. 
But, even with this pretty long list of similarities, the movies themselves are wholly different animals, and they're raring to get this fight started, so without further ado, LET'S GET READY TO RUMBLE!

and the FINAL SHOWDOWN, where the scores will be tallied, other factors taken into consideration, and a WINNER decided!

CORALINE's titular character, Coraline Jones, is. . . well, kind of a shit, at least for most of the movie. Which is sort of great, because as we all know, kids around her age (I think she's around 11, the same age as Norman? It's never stated in-movie) are typically pretty self-absorbed, and she's being thrown into a whole new place, with new people she doesn't like and this weird slug-hugging kid who won't leave her alone, and her parents can't seem to be bothered with her. On the other hand, she's pretty unnecessarily mean to Wybie (whose full name, which he seems pretty embarrassed about, is "Wyborn"; she uses this to mock him just moments after meeting him, sneering, "Oh, I definitely heard someone calling you, Why-Were-You-Born"), and the refreshing novelty of seeing a realistically bratty kid in the role of protagonist doesn't really stop you from wanting to smack her, or cringing because you personally remember acting like that and it's something you'd really rather not think about.

She does get better, though, once she starts wising up (surprisingly fast) to the Other Mother's schemes, and she steps up when her parents are taken. Turns out when Coraline isn't putting all of her energy into raising her parents' blood pressure and making the neighborhood kids cry, she's actually pretty smart (dare I say wily?), and in the end she outwits the Other Mother, gets her parents back, sets free all the souls of previous kids taken in by the OthMoth (the souls, by the way, being the first indicator that this wasn't a kid's movie, with permanently horrified faces etched in a silent scream and of course the buttons for eyes), AND gets a new cat out of the deal while learning a pretty standard lesson about Appreciating What You Have and Being Careful What You Wish For. 

Points Breakdown:
+1 for realism (bratty, smart, but also not afraid to admit when she's scared)
+2 for smarts
+3 for buckling down and getting shit done when she needed to
-1 because oh my God Coraline the kid hates his name and you don't even know him what is your PROBLEM
Coraline's Score: 7

PARANORMAN's titular character, Norman Babcock, is a kid you really just want to hug. He's a sweet kid and a good kid, but not so impossibly good as to practically be a saint like most child protagonists. Which is, can I say? SO NICE. With a family that's well past the point of tactfulness about his "gifts" (the bit at the beginning where his dad, upon being told that Grandma wants the heat turned up, screams "HOW MANY TIMES DO WE HAVE TO TELL YOU, NORMAN? YOUR GRANDMOTHER IS DEAD!" in his son's face comes to mind), a dedicated school bully and a nonexistent social life, you'd expect him to be written as kind of an insufferable little asshole. But he isn't! He's lonely and mopey, sure, but he's also smart, and he cares about people's feelings, and he'd honestly rather not have this whole seeing-dead-people-and-also-animals thing to deal with if it's going to get him shit and cause everybody around him trouble.

When we meet Norman he's starting to see some weird stuff around town and at school (objectively weirder than the stuff he usually sees), and this creepy uncle he hasn't ever been allowed to see following him around and then dying and showing up as a ghost in the boys' room at school, yelling about destinies and the witch's curse and how Norman's the only one who can stop it, and any other kid would probably freak out and run, but Norman figures, hey, makes as much sense as anything else in my life, and he decides to go with it. He's terrified, but he doesn't ask for help, or expect it. He just gets shit done. And at the end he teaches himself a really nice (and pretty different from most "kids' movie" lessons) lesson about how it's okay, and easy, to be angry and hate people for treating you like crap, but there are good people and good things in the world too, and it's important to remember that.

Also, did I mention you just want to hug him? Because really.

Points Breakdown:
+1 for realism (sarcastic, mopey, but smart and endearing, and also not afraid to admit when he's scared)
+2 for not letting being scared stop him from doing what knows he has to do
+1 for being a sweetie
+3 for not only sympathizing with the big bad, but teaching her and himself a huge lesson
+1 for dealing with all the crap heaped on him and still being a well-adjusted, pretty optimistic individual
Norman's Score: 8


(Let it be known that I am a sucker for a sympathetic villain and good character design, and that both of these movies fully deliver.)

CORALINE: The "Other Mother" (or, the Beldam)
The Other Mother, unlike PARANORMAN's Agatha, is straight-up evil. Sure, you maybe feel a little bad for her, but that kinda gets balanced out by her being cunning, manipulative, and overall downright terrifying (and by that scene about 2/3s of the way through where you see the remains of her other victims, mentioned above). You're not sure where she comes from, who she is, if she's ever really existed, or if she even really exists now. Throughout the movie she warps from a spot-on replica of Coraline's sweet (if snippy) Real Mother, to a cracked, hunched, furious Black Widow; all of her illusions and affections are a means to an end (ie, Coraline coming to stay with the Other Mother forever, symbolized by sewing the iconic buttons into her eyes), and when her schemes begin unraveling, her ugly starts coming out. Not used to the competition, she flails farther and farther out in an attempt to win Coraline one way or the other.

Points Breakdown:
+3 for being legit terrifying
+1 for ambiguity (you're never sure if she wants Coraline as a companion or as, say, dinner)
+1 for being a formidable female villain with smarts and cunning
+2 for excellent character design/theme
Other Mother's Score: 7

PARANORMAN: Agatha Prenderghast (Aggie for short, or, The Witch)
I am also a sucker for a well done kid villain, and Aggie is probably my favorite movie villain ever. She's just so good. She gets a full origin story in the span of about thirty seconds, is sympathetic, and is also pretty damn scary. This is the first time in 300 years that she's gotten to wreak the mayhem and vengeance she promised her small town when they hanged her for "consorting with the dead" (oh, by the way? Agatha is related to Norman through his mom's side of the family, and shares aforementioned creepy uncle's last name), and she isn't going back in the ground without a fight. She spends most of the movie in the sky, as a swirling green-and-purple cloud in the shape of a stereotypical witch's face, but in the climax of the movie, she is a commanding presence: snarling, feral, hurling lightning at Norman and throwing him into trees, cracking the ground open and rearranging the world, splitting in twos and threes as she tries not to listen to him. Aggie, though only eleven, is a formidable villain in her own right. And even better, she gets redeemed at the end.

Points Breakdown:
+3 for, again, legit scary
+3 for impeccable character design
+1 for being a commanding female villain with smarts and cunning (plus a bonus point for only being eleven years old)
+2 for good backstory
+2 for kicking everybody's asses all over the place and actually making her aggressors the villains (the zombies, not discussed)
+1 for character redemption/moral
Aggie's Score: 13

(The supporting casts are fairly big on both counts and this is already a pretty long post, so this section will be [relatively] shorter.)

CORALINE: Supporting Cast
WYBIE: To be frank, Real Wybie kinda sucks. He's super into slugs and thinks Coraline is a witch when he first meets her (immediately after running her down on his motorbike while wearing an awful skull mask in the rain), and also doesn't believe Coraline when she tells him about the Other Mother and that whole business. Other Wybie is pretty cool though, as he talks a lot less (read: not at all) and tries to save her despite being created, and slowly destroyed, by the Other Mother.
CORALINE'S PARENTS: Coraline's Real Parents are pretty boring, at least by kid standards, but they are realistic parents. Her mom's moods range from "a little stressed but trying to compromise" to "oh my God I'm going to throw this kid out the window", and her dad is pretty chill. You find yourself liking them a lot. And it doesn't hurt that Coraline's dad is the guy from They Might Be Giants.
MS. SPINK and MS. FORCIBLE: SO COOL! Both versions! Real Spink and Forcible are retired actresses with a thing for Scottish terriers (living and dead) and showing each other up; Other Spink and Other Forcible are sassy young performers quoting Shakespeare as they leap through the air. Not much development, but they're fun. At least, until they turn into big screeching piles of saltwater taffy. Still! Fun!
MR. BOBINSKY: For a retired circus performer who spends his days teaching mice to play the TV, Mr B is surprisingly creepy! (/sarcasm) Other Mr. B is also creepy but at least wears a suit instead of a dirty singlet. He would get a pass if he didn't turn into an actual pile of rats later. (Not a kid's movie!)
THE CAT: Sarcastic cryptic cat voiced by Keith David! What else can I say. A+.

8 points for the supporting cast of CORALINE, some of whom suck but most of whom are great, or at least interesting to look at!

PARANORMAN: Supporting Cast
NEIL: Neil is great. He gets beat up probably just as much about Norman, but it doesn't really bug him. He sticks up for Norman a couple times, and stands by him when no one else will! He's a remarkably secure little boy who's pretty happy with his place in life; there's a scene where Norman is asking Neil why people pick on him so much, and Neil responds matter-of-factly, almost happily, with, "Because I'm fat, and my allergies make my eyes leak, and I sweat when I walk too fast, and I have a lunchbox with a kitten on it. Oh! And I have irritable bowl syndrome. I guess there's a whole bunch of stuff!" Neil is great.
MITCH and COURTNEY: Neil's older brother Mitch might be stupid, but he's sweet, and he's probably the only movie brother I've ever seen who is a jock AND treats his uncool little brother well. He's also gay, and not defined by it, so that's cool! Norman's older sister Courtney is, unfortunately, a dick, but she does love her little brother and steps up when it's needed.
NORMAN'S PARENTS: I like Mr. and Mrs. Babcock. They're stereotypically different (Norman's dad is kind of a "just your average guy" "man's man" kinda dad, while his mom is flaky and a vague sort of hippie) but it's believable, and while they both want the best for their kid, they want different things, and they're both kind of at their wit's end as to what to do about it.
NORMAN'S GRANDMA: The first ghost Norman talks to in the movie, Norman's paternal grandmother doesn't resent Norman for keeping her from the afterlife because he needs her. She gives him strength! And she's voiced by the lovely Elaine Stritch, queen of my heart.

10 points for the supporting cast of PARANORMAN, all of whom are great with no exceptions.

Score So Far: CORALINE, 22; PARANORMAN, 31

1 point for being visually stunning
2 points for not underestimating kids, and for treating them like real people
1 point for having rich casts of characters

2 points for inventing Wybie, who was not in the book, and receiving Neil Gaiman's blessing
-1 point for making up bad Michigander slang

1 point for a breakdancing bully
1 point for John Goodman (Norman's creepy uncle)
1 point for a lightning-themed villain
1 point because I just love this movie so so so much

Paranorman obviously wins, but don't let that stop you from seeing Coraline if you haven't already! They're both great movies, and both totally worth seeing.

I hope you all enjoyed my first post as an official movie blogger! I'll see you all Friday, when I break down Pretty In Pink from the perspective of James Spader.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

An Exciting and Extremely Important Announcement

Hello readers!

First off, I'd like to apologize for the sad state of my blog for the last, oh, two years. I've run out of stories, can't use my tablet until I get my own computer again, and just haven't really felt like I've had anything terribly interesting to say in general.

However that is all about to change, kind of, as I've decided to turn B&S into a MOVIE [/pop culturey things when it suits] BLOG!

(I mean it was like 70% of the way there before anyway, but now it's official.)

I want to keep writing, and the one big topic I find I never run out of things to say about is pop culture. This is good news because it means that:

-I will be updating more! Starting next week, I will be updating Tuesdays and Fridays. If I get into the swing of it soon enough I'll add a third day and probably some specials.
-I will never run out of topics, as my thirst for pop culture is as vast and boundless as the black reaches of space

So readers, if there are still any of you left, I will see you on Tuesday with a fresh new review (and possibly a new blog title and layout WE SHALL SEE).


Saturday, January 26, 2013

HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (or, Bodices Do Not Qualify As Activewear)

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD! (sort of? I mean like 70% of the plot is in the title)

HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS was, as I put it to Steve and Jon while we walked out of the theater, "a delightfully stupid romp". It's a silly mindless action flick that isn't terribly period- or region-faithful, but let's be honest here, you didn't buy a ticket for HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS because you wanted a movie for the ages. No, you wanted to watch Hawkeye shoot witches in the face with a comically oversized gun, wear leather pants, and say the word "fuck" a lot; because someone told you there was surprise!nudity; and because you want to watch Jean Grey (Famke Janssen, also of Abusive Ghost Husbands fame) explode heads with magic. Which are all fine, fine things, to be sure, and perfectly acceptable reasons to go see a movie.

There were a lot of things I liked about HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS. I liked that everyone at least attempted some sort of general European accent, except for the title characters. I liked that Hansel's entire weakness is that he has diabetes, and has to stop kicking ass every couple hours to give himself a shot. I liked the costume design, and that the witches all looked very unique, but not silly or cartoony. I liked the overwhelming Tarantino-ness (although let it be said that I am not a Tarantino fan) of all the kills (because apparently zapping someone with magic isn't ridiculous enough on its own, people need to actually explode like water balloons filled with red corn syrup). I liked the sheer cheesiness and half-assedness of the obligatory romantic plotline. For most of the movie I was barking out laughter and flapping my hands incredulously like a child. Generally speaking, I enjoyed this movie to the point of screamy, breathless giggles.

The only thing I didn't like, funnily enough, was Gretel. Or, you know, approximately 50% of HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS.

Okay, so I wasn't exactly expecting anything thoughtful or progressive from this movie, and I wasn't expecting to see "FEMINISM!" spelled out in fireworks in every frame. This is a movie that is ENTIRELY ABOUT SHOOTING WITCHES WITH A BIG STUPID GUN UNTIL THEY LITERALLY EXPLODE, it's not exactly a thinking man's film. I mean, the director didn't even care enough to give the role of Hansel to Jensen Ackles (Dean Winchester on Supernatural, who no offense to Jeremy Renner would have done way better and had way more fun with it).

He's still pretty upset about it.

But I at least expected Gretel to be able to hold her own. Apparently I was asking too much.

The first half hour (or so) gives you the standard fairytale; Hansel and Gretel get left in the woods (for some reason), come across a candy house, eat the candy house (because they're stupid kids who have never been told about paedophiles), get trapped by a witch, and commit their first witchicide by shoving the witch into her own oven. Then we get a very stylish and speedy montage explaining that HANSEL AND GRETEL have been totally bad-ass WITCH HUNTERS ever since.

We are then introduced to a nice little village full of Fachwerkhausen (which I squealed at, because I love Fachwerkhausen). The mayor of said village announces that he has hired HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS to hunt witches and bring back kidnapped children, not necessarily in that order. The sheriff, understandably, takes issue with this, and Gretel asserts her dominance.

 With her face.

Basically, we are given to understand that it's HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS, and not, say, HANSEL AND HIS LOVELY ASSISTANT GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS, or even perhaps HANSEL: WITCH HUNTER AND HIS ANNOYING KID SISTER GRETEL, ISN'T SHE ADORABLE. It's the two of them, it's always been the two of them, and we are assured that Gretel is perfectly self-sufficient and just as adept at this whole witch-hunting business as her brother.

Which turns out to be almost entirely untrue when you actually see Gretel fighting a witch. For having spent a full quarter (and then some) of the movie assuring you that she's more than qualified to handle herself, Gretel sure gets her ass handed to her a lot, by nearly every adversary she faces.

Let's take inventory here:

-She spends most of the movie either on the ground, screaming "HANSEL", getting hit/kicked in the face, unconscious, being held against her will, being choked, or some combination of the above.

-She lets herself get captured and thrown into a cage, which, aside from being total rookie mistakes for a seasoned witch hunter, puts her on the same vulnerability level as the frightened children in the other cages.

-Rather than try to escape, she just. . . stays in the cage. And cries.

-When a troll grabs her (and she has mentioned killing trolls before) and takes her somewhere, she just goes with him. And does what he asks. And doesn't try to escape.

-The whole reason Gretel even matters in this story is an accident of birth. She has something, that she can't control, which is necessary to the plot. That's it.

-When she gets attacked by a group of perfectly mortal men, she barely fights back.

-For the climax of the movie, she is chained to a rock (which she, AGAIN, LETS HAPPEN) shouting "HANSEL, HANSEL" until someone comes and unlocks one of her cuffs, and then she just kind of stands there, swings weakly, and gets punched a lot.

There's also this lovely little scene where Gretel gets knocked out, and a teenage boy takes her unconscious body to his room, and not only draws quite detailed pictures of her, but also gropes her chest. HAHA! HOW CHARMINGLY AWKWARD AND RELATABLE AND NOT AT ALL DISTURBING! TEENAGE BOYS, AM I RIGHT? And she CATCHES HIM DOING IT, and for some reason, he's still alive at the end of the movie. Whatever.

I don't get it. Why waste all this time assuring us what a capable, fiery powerhouse this chick is, if you're just going to immediately undo all of it? Why even bother? If you want to make a stupid action movie, what sense does it even make to turn your heroine into one of your weakest characters? Why not just leave her as she is? How does that make your movie any better? I really just don't get it.

Not to mention, IT'S BORING. The whole rescue-the-princess, feisty-girl-who-still-needs-a-man's-help-to-get-out-of-every-jam thing? It's been done to death, AND IT'S NOT EVEN RELEVANT ANYMORE! Even Disney knows better. It's OLD. We want something BETTER, something NEW, something we can ACTUALLY RELATE TO.

(Although, to be perfectly honest, I knew there was going to be a problem as soon as I saw she was wearing a leather bodice. Guess what? Bodices, particularly LEATHER ones, are not comfortable. You can't run in them, you can't fight in them, you certainly can't climb trees in them. In fact, you really can't do much of anything in them except sit quietly somewhere and try not to think about how much you resemble a tube steak.

You know who wouldn't wear a restricting leather bodice? Gretel. Who is also wearing pants (which was generally frowned upon at the time), and therefore obviously going with function over acceptable style, but apparently draws the line at a full range of torso motion. Meanwhile, Hansel's over here wearing chaps and a sleeveless vest so he can shoot better and he's still a lousy shot, what's the deal with that.

Male costume designers and directors of period action movies, take a note: BODICES AND CORSETS ARE NOT ACTIVEWEAR. Do not put your heroine in pants and also a bodice. I don't care if their boobs look better, just don't do it. Put them in a regular shirt. If you put your heroine in a bodice, you better put some petticoats and an overdress on her and call that girl a carriage, because she is not running anywhere anytime soon.)

I wanted to love Gretel. I was so excited that we were gonna finally have a sexy, bad-ass, don't-take-shit-from-anyone firecracker heroine who handled her business and didn't need a man to save her. Instead, what we got was the same tired old weepy, wimpy damsel-in-distress, who couldn't even break out of a cage without help from her beefy male counterpart. And I cannot help but feel personally insulted. I feel like I was tricked out of half of the movie, as well as ridiculed.

Look, okay, bottom line: if you want a silly action movie that doesn't have much plot, that doesn't make you any more thoughtful or any better of a person, but is still fun to watch with friends, I enthusiastically endorse this movie! It's good campy fun. Famke Janssen is great, Jeremy Renner is unintentionally hilarious. It's minimally scary, and the gore quotient is so unrealistic as to be laughable. This is just a fun movie, and I did really enjoy it. So if you haven't seen it yet, and it sounds like your thing, you really should.

Just don't expect to root for Gretel. At the end of the day, it would have been better as just HANSEL: WITCH HUNTER.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Say Anything, I'm disappointed in you.

I make no secret of my unconditional love and affection for the band Say Anything.

I mean, just look at them.

I've listened to all of their albums (with the exception of the newest, and in any case I'll be getting to that soon) at least thirty times each.
Max Bemis is the reason I found what is now one of my favorite albums (Razia's Shadow: A Musical; he plays Barayas the Spider, but I won't get into that right now).
I have two Say Anything tattoos:

I'm not fantastic with pain tolerance, as evidenced by the buggy eyes.

the second one of which is the name of the song they wrote specifically for me and a huge part of why I made it through my pregnancy/adoption at all.

It's not even close to an exaggeration to say that Say Anything is my favorite band.

There are a few reasons for this, the main one being that when I listen to music, I listen to the lyrics. The way Max Bemis writes is the way I think. He talks about all the same topics, but puts his own vulgar, eloquent, self-deprecating spin on them. It's not flowery; it's a bald, in-your-face statement that the darkest part of you instantly relates to. It hits and it hurts. It's obscene and poetic at the same time. (These, incidentally, are all the same reasons why I love Stephen King.)

And a big part of it, for me, is the self-deprecation. Every song is written in the tone of someone who is incredibly insecure, but doesn't want to come off as whiny. Every angry song has an equal hit at itself. It all measures out. That's what sets them apart from your stereotypical "emo" or alternative group. It's also what I want to talk about here.

The first SA album I got into was Is A Real Boy. There's a song on there (that was in my "Favorite Songs" rotation for a couple months) called "Admit It!" that discusses a specific brand of narcissist/sociopath that I was intimately familiar with.

The real reason I liked this song is that, following this lengthy diatribe against this group, Max turns the mic on himself:

Well let me tell you this: I am shamelessly self-involved.
I spend hours in front of the mirror making my hair elegantly disheveled.
I worry about how this album will sound, because I believe it will determine the amount of sex I will have in the future.
I self-medicate with drugs and alcohol to treat my extreme social anxiety.

and everything after that, is directed at himself as well as the people he hates. Everything is doled out in equal measure. There's no elitism in it; it plainly states, I hate this, but I'm no better, and I'm certainly not immune to it. It demonstrates a self-awareness most people don't have.

Their self-titled album (the latest one before Anarchy, My Dear, which came out in March) is my favorite. Favorite songs, favorite SA album, favorite album in general. It starts off with the usual piss and vinegar, but it's more humorous than actually angry. The 6th song, "Mara and Me", stops in the middle, and Max says,

Wait a second-- I can't write the same damn song over and over again.
I can't define myself through irony and self-deprecation.
I can't deny myself being alive through my alienation.

Immediately after that, the song picks up the pace and it becomes a completely different album. It's not upbeat, but it's not angry. It explores a lot and is wildly different from anything they did before.

So, after being so completely in love with their last album, you can imagine my excitement when I found out that a new one was coming out in just a few days. The day it went on sale, David and I drove to the mall, braved the Hot Topic, and bought it. I opened it on the way out to the parking lot, because I just wanted to look at it. A new Say Anything album, full of brand new songs I'd never heard before, in my hands, about to rain its undoubtedly lovely poetry upon my eager ears.

We put it in the CD player. . .

and were almost immediately disappointed.

Disclaimer: I really, really didn't want to write this post. I did not want to write this post SO MUCH that it has been sitting, unfinished, in my post drafts since early March. I tried to be forgiving and open-minded and I thought that maybe this new album needed time to grow on me. I wanted to give it a fair chance.

Well, after six months, I think what I've given it is much more than fair. So even though it hurts me immensely, I'm going to say it.

It sucks.

It's like everything Max learned during the last album was just suddenly forgotten. He's still bitter, but all that self-awareness and eloquence is gone, and all of that completely unwarranted bile is being launched directly at you, the listener, the person who bought this CD. It's forty-five minutes of being screamed at because you have a stupid haircut and wear stupid clothes and listen to Rihanna, probably.

Does that sound pleasant? If it does, I should probably go a little bit further here. The first song, "Burn A Miracle", is a five-minute vehicle for the phrase "burn a miracle" to turn into the phrase "burn America". No reasoning, no wittiness, just screaming "burn America" over and over again. There's a song called "Sheep", which I shouldn't even really need to explain. Most of the songs AT LEAST make mention of the fact that Max was made fun of/bullied/scorned as a kid, and at most are completely about it, and all of them are delivered with the charm and wit of a child in Target throwing a fit because they're all out of the Iron Man masks and he has to get a Captain America mask instead. The songs that aren't just spite-volcanos spewing out hate lava, because there are a couple, are wooden ballads with no emotion behind them. They're like me trying to write journals now; "I'm sad. Sometimes I'm not happy. This happened today."

It's just. . . awful. Angry, empty, awful. And entitled, Jesus is it entitled. And it's being directed at the listener.

What the hell happened, Say Anything? I thought we made a breakthrough last time. You had a song about a myth, for God's sake! There was a song about how cool Max's wife was, and how she makes him feel like a little kid but in a good way! Everything was wonderful and peachy and we were all having a good time, and then somebody got dumped, or got shit kicked on their shoes, or got cut off in traffic, I don't know, and you had to go and ruin everything by making this just awful, because I can't think of another word for it, awful fucking record with little to no redeemable qualities. Here's a tip, if you're screaming at someone for forty-five minutes, it should be because you have a point to make, because you love them.

Or in the case of this post, both, because I love you guys and GODDAMNIT YOU'RE BETTER THAN THIS.

Please don't do this again, Say Anything. I can forgive you because we've got history, but please don't hurt me like this again. I don't think my little heart can take it.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Foodin' Ain't Easy (or, Masochism In The Kitchen)

When I met David, he was a reclusive nerd who ate Wendy's almost every day of the week and only left his apartment for work. And he was far, far too thin. I love food (like, really, I don't think you understand how much I love food), so I saw David's eating habits as a sort of project.

With only a few months' tutelage, David was not only leaving his apartment more, but he was actually eating three meals a day, and had gained ten pounds. We became FoodNetwork aficionados. For Valentine's Day we made Rahmschnitzel (and again for his parents only three days later). Over the next year we made French onion soup, miso soup, scallop pot pie, turkey pot pie, cherry pie, blueberry pie, all kinds of pie, raclette*, and sushi.

I turned David into a foodie. It's the best.

We're pretty much obsessed with sushi, and we've recently gotten hooked on this thing they serve at sushi places called Tuna Tataki. It's seared tuna in (depending on where you get it) a ponzu sauce, or tataki sauce, or, like in the recipe we used, soy-ginger-lime sauce.


But it's (predictably) expensive at sushi restaurants, and in any case, they don't give you nearly enough. At least, not enough for people who eat like fat kids. So the other day, we decided to make it.

We bought a beautiful tuna steak, and while David was in class I was supposed to get the rest of the ingredients. I thought it would be boring to do alone, so I called Jon and asked if he wanted to go on a foodventure.

We went to Kroger and knocked off most of the ingredient list, even though it took forever because they hid the peanut oil and the sesame seeds. When we finally found both of them (after walking around the whole store twice saying "SOOO-SA-MEE SADS",) they were hella expensive. Jon talked me into buying the sesame seeds at the little Asian market across the street, because they would be less expensive and I'd get more of them.

Because who couldn't use more sesame seeds, am I right?

I had driven by [the store] a bunch of times, but never gone in. It really doesn't look like much; it's a really small storefront and the windows are covered by flattened boxes. "Dubious", is the word I was looking for. But I trusted Jon, so I followed him in.

[This store] is a small, badly lit, dingy, creepy place with only two shelves. The shelves are sparsely stocked with jars full of unidentifiable goos, and cardboard boxes labeled with permanent marker. There is no music, and there is only one person working there. The big bag of sesame seeds I got was indeed cheap, but it was covered in some weird sticky residue I'd rather not know the origin of. On the way out, Jon called my attention to a small green box labeled "Placenta soap". It didn't say where the placenta was from, but to be perfectly honest I don't think that detail would've swayed me much.

That pretty much did it for me.

I hustled our asses out the door, and once we were in the car, I spent a good ten minutes shouting at Jon (who thought it was extremely funny) about how I was never setting foot in that store again, and how ridiculous it was that I even had to explain to someone why I didn't want to patron a store that peddles placenta goods (of indeterminate or determinate origin, it really makes no difference to me).

In case any of you had any doubts as to the veracity of this claim.

I dropped Jon back at his house and went home to get started on the prep.

The first thing I had to do was mince a shallot. I had never touched or seen a shallot before, but I figured, they're just like, small onions, right? Can't be too difficult. Onions are my area of expertise, after all.

If you're not familiar with shallots, let me explain a shallot to you. You know how when you cut onions (and if you don't, you've seen it in pretty much every movie or show), you cry? It's because the smell that wafts out gets all up in your tear ducts and bites something fierce. Big onions are bad enough, but shallots are about six times the bite in about 1/3 of the package.

As if it wasn't bad enough to be sobbing and stinging over the counter, temporarily blind, with a very sharp knife in my hands, Mason, who loves to try and get involved in Mumma's cooking, came up and started meowling and trying to climb up me to get to what he was under the impression was some very tasty Krab (imitation crab, hence the K).


This went on for several minutes (because mincing takes a little while) with Mason becoming increasingly attentive and more devious in his attempts to get TASTY TASTY KWAB, alternately taking swipes at my hands and jumping up onto the counter, and at one point sinking all of his front claws into my bottom. I wasn't pleased about that.

Finally I let him smell it.

Once that was finished (and I had spent a good five minutes in the bathroom with a wet paper towel over my eyes), I turned to the ginger. Which, as it turns out, was not as easy as I thought it would be.

Have any of you ever seen a ginger root? I feel like I've heard it called "a hand of ginger", but that could also be completely wrong. This is what ginger root looks like:

Yes, there is a plant that grows that looks like a mangled Muppet hand. And we grind it up and eat it and put it in lotions. You're rubbing mangled Muppet on yourself. How does that make you feel?

It's not fantastically easy to peel, ginger root. You might not have guessed that; conversely, you might be a person with eyes. There are all these weird, frustrating knobblies that confound your standard vegetable peeler with an infuriating sort of indifference. You have to cut the knobblies off, and if you're feeling adventurous (like I was), you can cut those down and peel them too.

And there is the stringiness, which makes it harder. You know how with, say, a potato, when you see a brown spot under the meat, you can dig it out? Forget it. Ginger roots are nothing but sub-dermal colors.

Peeling ginger roots is like playing with your first pocketknife. You think you're really smart and you know exactly what you're doing, but you don't, and you're bound to get a lot of cuts and scratches in the process, and things are probably going to get thrown. Unintentionally.

If you're as lucky as me, you'll get to pour lime juice in those cuts and scratches later! Yay!

Ginger roots are fucking obnoxious, is the core theme of what I am getting at here.

Then I got to take all that peeled ginger, and grate it with a cheese grater, which made my fingers even worse. Then I got to pour lime juice all over my raw-meat fingers, and all over those little cuts and scratches from peeling ginger and my wonderful, annoying kitten! Yay! And I'd been standing for about two hours, so my heels, accustomed to being snugged up in a blanket or kicked up on a couch, felt completely flat, and my thighs and butt hurt, and I was just a very grumpy Kelli in general.

I'm going to start using this as a reaction to things.

And then, after all these really dumb things, David showed up, and made everything better, and we made delicious delicious tuna tataki, and then we ate that delicious delicious tuna tataki, and I had a much better night watching the worst season of Top Model ever, with my wonderful foodie boyfriend.

And that is the story of Kelli's Tuna Tataki Foodventure! Thank you all for reading. :]

*Remember when I said I was getting a raclette oven? WELL I GOT ONE. FOR CHRISTMAS. IT'S EVERYTHING I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Faith and Star Wars

**If religion is one of your "hot-button issues", I invite you to stay, but will certainly understand if you choose not to read further. I welcome comments!

I have never been an incredibly religious person. I grew up mostly Catholic but was born, and can't remember being, Baptist, and in middle school I started going to a Presbyterian church; but I have never identified closely with any particular sect. In high school I went through a phase where I was really into Christian rock, but that was about as deep as I got.

For a long time I was just kind of told that there was a God, that He was good and He cared about me, and all those other Sunday school cliches, and I accepted it without question. It didn't really do much to govern my life. I mean, Catholic school kids were just as bad as public school kids, only they got routine forgiveness checks. So even in a school where we started every morning with a prayer (and when we got a new principal, an assembly in the hall to hold hands and sing), God wasn't really as present as everyone tells you He is supposed to be. He just kind of floated in the background, a forgotten fact, but a fact nonetheless, at least to us kids.

I accepted it without question, up to a point in junior year when "some shit went down", as the kids say, and I went through what is routinely termed "a crisis of faith". I don't know that it was much of a crisis, but I asked all the usual questions:

Is there a God?
If there is, why does He let crappy things happen to me?
If God cares about everyone, why does everyone get hurt?
Does he get so caught up in worrying about other people's problems that He has to let some people slip through the cracks?

and one of my own:

Am I happy believing that God exists?

Because that seemed to be the biggest thing, to me. Everyone I knew who believed in God seemed to be really happy about it all the time. It made them more sure of themselves, and they emanated this happy glow when they thought about God, or talked about God. They seemed to know exactly what they were doing, and if they didn't, God would handle it. I'd never felt like that. And there were other people, who I didn't know so well, who I'd really only heard about, who were always angry, and thought that God hated everyone, and were always citing "the wrath of God". Believing in God seemed to only make these people really angry, and that just didn't hold with what I thought I knew, or felt, about God.

Whether they were happy or angry, they were stirred up about it. They were emotional; it rocked them. I never felt rocked. So maybe, by the transitive property or something, I didn't really believe in God.

I went to camp that summer feeling annoyed and disappointed, and my answer ended up finding me, in the form of my favorite camp counselor, David (total coincidence, not the same David). I told him I wasn't sure what to believe in anymore, and that I felt like kind of a faker at services, and he looked at me and said, very simply, "You don't have to believe any of this, you know. You can believe whatever you want, as long as it makes you happy and as long as it makes you a better person."

I left feeling lighter and happier. To this day, it is the best advice I have ever gotten about religion or faith or God.

Here's what I believe, at 22 and having dealt with, well, a lot of things:
1) I believe that there is a God.
2) I believe that it is more important to be a good person, or a happy person, than a godly one or even a remotely religious one; I believe that it is more important to do what is right by your own personal standards than to align yourself with any sort of side or sect or faction.
3) I believe that you should be tolerant and respectful of everyone.

My version of God, because I think everyone who thinks of God thinks of Him differently, is a lot like the Force (or that midichlorian biology BS, if you saw Phantom Menace first); it exists in everyone, if only even a tiny bit.

My views on religion, which are what I really wanted to focus on here, are related to that analogy:
Some people don't believe in the Force. Some do. Jedi and Sith are two sides of the same coin; the Force is strong in both of them and they are both given the same opportunities to use it, yet one turns out good and one turns out evil. It manifests in different ways depending on the person who uses it.

I'm not fantastic at dealing in theology (I am quite acquainted with the Bible, but somehow I never feel all that qualified to use it; not to mention, it always bothers me when people cite things rather than tell you what they're actually getting at), so I'll use another analogy here.

A few years ago, when I first started playing Dungeons and Dragons, my mom was worried. Her only experience with D&D was when my dad and his friends played it, and they got way too into it, to where it [at least looked like it] bordered on obsession.. My mom thought it was some sort of cult or Satan-worship thing, because her only point of reference wasn't a very good one. (My aunt and uncle, for the same exact reason, worried about Kirsten playing.) I talked to Mom about it, and told her it was basically just a bunch of friends sitting around a table to roll dice and eat chips (not to mention, Al's dad would be home the whole time, geez Mom), but she still worried, and didn't really understand, until we finally had a session at my house and she got to see it firsthand.

After that session I sat her down and kind of talked her through the game, and she got to see how it really worked, and why I had so much fun with it. I explained to her that D&D (like video games, or literature, or faith or religion) wasn't an inherently bad thing; it just depended on who was playing it and how they played it. It should be good, and it should be fun, but some people take it too far.

In other words, my whole piece here boils down to a very simple philosophy when it comes to religion: Hate the player, not the game.

Encyclopedia Kelli and the Problem With Boys

Most of my life I have been what my parents call (and I really hate this term, dear reader, so you better be happy) "boy-crazy".

My mother thinks that this is because my parents got divorced when I was four and my father moved to a different state when I was eight. (She likes to remind me of this particularly when something stupid happens in my love life. Which is all the time.) For the record, I do not agree with her. I think that has more to do with my narcissism than anything else.

But there's definitely a pattern, though I don't know if it's necessarily a "daddy issues" pattern (I suffered a mild form of hate-seizure from typing those words out), that's plagued me since I was first old enough to start liking boys; I start off liking/dating someone I think is a really nice guy, who over the course of our relationship is revealed to be completely screwed up.

This cycle has mercifully (seemingly) been broken by David. (I say "seemingly" because if David's going to turn out to be screwed up, having not known about it for a year is going to make it exponentially larger, like killing gardeners and keeping them in that room in his house with all the Christmas decorations (I'm sorry, sweetie, for the record, I don't think you kill gardeners, but one must be prepared for anything).)

Prior to David, this awful trend had been going on for about nine years. Exactly nine years, actually.

In eighth grade, I got my first boyfriend. He was a boy I met up at the library, which was a popular hangout for kids from my school, and he seemed perfectly nice. He even gave me my first kiss, and this really nice talking picture frame. Then I found out that he was a smoker (at thirteen years old, that's a dealbreaker), that he had failed out of ninth grade, and had an unhealthy fondness for starting fights with people. He also mooned three of the girls from my class.

(Kyle, I don't know if you read these; you're a cool guy, and I'm glad we're sort-of-friends, but you can't deny that all of the above is true.)

This continued into high school. My first high-school boyfriend (which has its own sort of significance, at least for girls) was a creepy goth kid who I didn't realize was creepy until about a month into dating, and may have actually been retarded. The one after that was George, a Korean violin player who punched trees when he was angry, who I "went out with" for a month, and who still, to this day, eight years later, pops up from time to time to ask me "where we went wrong".

After that things went downhill rather quickly.

There was Andrew, who I dated for a year and a half and turned out to be an incredibly aggressive porn addict (and who actuallywent to prison for two years long after we dated, but that's a story for. . . never, at least not on this blog).

Then there was Steve, the disappearing act,
then Ryan, the sociopath with rage issues,
then Steve (same Steve), the disappearing junkie,
then Justin, the emotionally unavailable bodybuilder,

and then Zack.
Zack doesn't need an explanation.

Like I said, this cycle has very recently been broken by a genuinely sweet guy (who turned out to be a genuinely sweet guy), but for the longest time this same story played out in front of me again, and again, and again. It was far past enough to make anyone want to throw up their hands and proclaim, "I'm done. No more dating for me."

And everyone around them would get it. They'd nod, and say, "Sure. I mean, if you don't want to get eaten by alligators, you don't dive into the alligator pit at the zoo. Makes sense."

So why, you might be asking yourself, did I keep trying? Why did I keep steadfastly convincing myself that this time would be better, this guy would be better, even after it turned out he was sleeping with my friends?

One word: normalcy.

Even as a very small child I got along better with boys than girls. I think this was because I spent what seemed like a lot of time at my dad's house, where he lived with his best friend until I was eight. I wore overalls and hung out with boys (well, men) on Tuesdays and the weekends, and even though I didn't understand much of what was going on (because I was six), I could see that maybe other little girls were different than me.

In second grade, before I moved to St. Valentine's, I had two best friends, Michael and Darnell. We had a club, and Michael was the president. He named me Secretary (my mother later told me, when I was much older, that this was because his father had had an affair with his secretary; as you can imagine, this BLEW MY MIND), and Darnell was Vice President. We felt very important, going about our club duties with an air of superiority. It was, after all, very special to have two friends on permanent reserve to help you pass out cupcakes on your birthday.

One day on the playground, another little girl in my class ran up to where I was playing under the monkey bars (under, never on: I was afraid of heights), patiently waiting for Michael and Darnell to return from being sternly lectured by a teacher about rubbing dirt on other students, and said, in a very presumptuous way, "You're friends with boys?"
"Yeah!" I said enthusiastically. I mean, we were in second grade. Surely we were all mature enough to be friends with the opposite gender. "Boys are fun."
Her nose wrinkled. "Do you like them?"
"Well, yeah. I guess." I was confused. You were supposed to like your friends, weren't you?
"No no NO," she shouted. "I mean do you want to MARRY one of them? Girls are supposed to want to get married!"
I thought about it for a minute. Marrying someone was a big deal in second grade. Almost all the girls in our class were married. It didn't really mean much except that you held hands sometimes, and gave each other your chocolate milk if you didn't want it. "Sure."
She waggled her finger in my face in a shame-on-you sort of way. "You gotta marry one of them!"
Then she ran away, and I went back to pulling up bunches of grass, thinking about what she'd said. Girls were supposed to get married to boys, and that made sense. Boys were fun. They had the coolest lunchboxes and the funnest toys. I thought very hard about which one of them had the best lunches to trade, and when Michael and Darnell came back to sit with me I said "Hey Darnell, do you want to get married?"
"Okay," he said, rubbing his nose on his sleeve.

It was so simple, so elegant, and it stuck with me when I moved to my next school. Girls were supposed to like boys. Girls were supposed to want to marry boys. As a weird, gawky little girl who preferred reading and Star Wars to makeup and dresses, it was very clear to me that if I wanted other kids to like me, I was going to have to be normal in SOME way. Boys were the obvious answer.

Most of my life, I have been operating under that idea. Even as I got older, and it got more pushed back in my head and became completely subconscious, it sort of governed the way I went about my relationships with people. If you were a girl, boys were supposed to like you; if boys didn't like you, and you didn't like boys ("or girls, or somebody, at least", as it became during high school), there was something wrong with you. You were weird.

So there you have it. It's really stupid, right? Under this cool, quirky facade has always beaten the heart of an eight-year-old girl who just didn't want people to think she was weird.

(If you made it to the end of this exceptionally long and drawn-out post, congratulations: you have won the title of **Bestest Reader Ever**, and you get a prize. Here is a picture of me in fourth grade.)

Nice, right?

**It is worth noting that Steve has cleaned up a lot and remains one of my very good friends.