Monday, January 31, 2011

Reflections on the Surreal

Darren Aronosfsky is known for his dark, surreal films that straddle the line between drama and horror. His latest is the much-discussed and much-lauded Black Swan. The film centers on Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), a dedicated ballerina who teeters on the edge of sanity after being given the coveted role of the Swan Queen in Swan Lake.

Nina is a perfectionist with flawless technique, but her emotional state is extremely fragile. Sheltered by her obsessive and manipulative mother, she is naïve, reserved, and often overlooked by the ballet director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel). After rumors circulate that the company’s principle dancer, Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder), is being forced to retire, Nina sees her chance to be cast as the lead in Leroy’s adaptation of Swan Lake. She auditions, but Leroy is hesitant to give her the part because she lacks the passion to dance the part of the evil and seductive Black Swan. Nina lands the role, but is dismayed to learn that newcomer Lily (Mila Kunis) will be her understudy. Nina’s already tentative self-confidence is shaken to the core and she becomes convinced that Lily is trying to destroy her and steal the part. She experiences strange and violent hallucinations that spiral her into a state of complete paranoia. She is determined to give a perfect performance, even if she loses her mind in the process.

From the beginning of the film, it is clear that Aronofsky’s theme focuses on mirrors and reflections. Throughout the movie, Nina and Lily are presented as reflections of one another, with Lily representing Nina’s darker side – the side she needs to embrace to become the Black Swan. Slowly, Nina’s own reflection takes on a life of its own as she becomes darker and more disturbed. As with many of his films, Aronofsky plays with reality, tricking both his main character and his audience with subtle shifting imagery. The climax brings all of the surreal imagery together, culminating in Nina’s breakdown. He also uses repeated sounds and dialogue layered under the film’s score in pivotal moments to heighten the audience’s sense of unease. The movie is skillfully crafted, down to the fluid way the camera moves with the dancers, throwing the audience in the middle of the action. I was very impressed with the CGI special effects. They could have easily been overdone, but Aronofsky uses them to enhance the more frightening scenes – never detracting from the actors’ performances.

Ultimately, the performances make this film what it is. Portman is exquisite in her portrayal of the fragile Nina. From the start of the film, we see she is in pain and her fall into paranoia and delusion is not only believable, but seems utterly inevitable. She is already on edge, and being cast as the lead pushes her over. Her personality changes never seem forced and her transformation into the Black Swan is compelling. Barbara Hershey gives a very strong performance as Nina’s overbearing mother and Cassel does an excellent job as the Svengali-like ballet director.

It is easy to see why Black Swan is so highly praised and I find it refreshing that it became a mainstream success, as many surreal films don’t experience that kind of popularity. The art direction and cinematography are gorgeous, as is the dancing, and I guarantee this film will haunt you. If you have the chance to see it in the theater, I highly recommend it, as the darkness and large screen definitely enhances the darker, more frightening scenes.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Speaking of Twitter . . .

If you're not using Twitter, you should, if only to follow some very funny/interesting people.  Here is my Top Ten list of best geeks to follow on Twitter:

10:  @BigBoyler (Chris O'Dowd from "The IT Crowd"):  O'Dowd's off-kilter non sequiturs are always good for a laugh.

9:  @michaeljnelson (Mike Nelson from "MST3K" and RiffTrax):  Nelson doesn't tweet as often as some, but when he does, it's always funny.  It's also worth it to follow his conversations with fellow riffers Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy.

8.  @kwmurphy (Kevin Murphy):  Murphy is funny and very in touch with his fans.  He and Corbett also have an awesome rapport, which makes it worth to follow him to keep up with their conversations.

7.  @BillCorbett (Bill Corbett):  Corbett is the most frequent tweeter of the "MST3K" guys and like Murphy, is responsive to his fans.  He's funny and manages to retweet funny things from his followers

6:  @ConanOBrien (Conan O'Brien):  O'Brien took to his Twitter account after his contentious departure from NBC prohibited him from immediately returning to television.  His tweets are always concise and funny, acting like a peek inside his very quirky brain.

5.  @donttrythis (Adam Savage from "Mythbusters"):  Savage tweets a balanced combination of anecdotes on his life, his work on the show, and funny non sequiturs.

4.  @nickjfrost (British comic actor Nick Frost, famous for his role as Ed in Shaun of the Dead):  Frost's irreverent tweets and frequent joshing with friend and costar Simon Pegg make following him feel like part of their inner circle.

3.  @simonpegg (star of Shaun of the Dead):  Pegg gives you an inside look at his life and his friendship with Frost.  He frequently tweets pictures, which increases the feel of familiarity.

2.  @thinkgeek (geektacular online store):  Clever employees (or "monkeys") of the awesome website tweet funny tidbits along with news about the site and upcoming deals.  Following @thinkgeek is a guaranteed reciprocal follow and they are very responsive to fans/customers.

1.  @wilw ("Star Trek" alum and founder of geek fest Wootstock Wil Wheaton):  Wheaton's tweets are equal parts anecdotes about his life, geeky musings, and spirited conversations with his followers.  My personal favorites are his amusing conversations with his perpetually apathetic cat.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Attention Netflix Users/"MST3K" Fans!

You probably already know that some of the guys (Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett) from "Mystery Science Theater 3000" have formed RiffTrax, producing downloadable riff commentaries for films that range from B-movies to recent releases.  What you may not know is that some of their most popular titles and collections of shorts are available on Netflix.  The guys are trying to start a campaign via Twitter (@BillCorbett, @kwmurphy, @michaeljnelson) to move these titles to the "Instant Play" catalogue - a move guaranteed to get them more hits, but Netflix says there has to be more demand for RiffTrax to make the move.  Support your favorite bots and add the RiffTrax titles to your queue.  I highly recommend Plan 9 From Outer Space, Night of the Living Dead, and any of the short collections.  (While you're there, you can add classic "MST3K" titles to your Instant queue!)

Meet My Cats

I talk about my cats a lot and they are my furry children, so I figured you should meet them:

Name:  Sullivan Mae

Age:  2 (almost 3)

Nickname:  Monkey

Fun Facts:  Sleeps in the sink, Meows at the mirror because she thinks it's another cat.

Likes:  sleeping, sitting on window sills, chewing power cords (much to our dismay), starting fights with her sister

Dislikes:  being woken up, when Darby uses the litter box first, closed doors

Name:  Darby Shea

Age:  2

Nicknames:  Darb, D'Arbtgnan

Fun Facts:  She is extra small and missing a foot

Likes:  sleeping, rolling on the floor, looking cute, stealing sips of beer

Dislikes:  having her nails clipped, putting her stump on the linoleum

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Geek of the Week: Maitland McDonagh

That's right, "Geek of the Week" is back! 

Girl geeks get very little love, so I'm pleased to present my "Geek of the Week": Maitland McDonagh.  McDonagh is a renown film critic who received degrees from prestigious Columbia University.  In addition to writing for several publications (including Film Comment, Film Quarterly, Premiere, Entertainment Weekly, and Fangoria), she has written several books on film and has appeared in numerous documentaries as a film expert.

McDonagh is a rare breed as far as critics go.  I discovered her while watching the Bravo miniseries "Scariest Movie Moments" and it was clear she knew her stuff.  Not only is McDonagh well-versed in the horror and sci-fi genres, she's a genuine fan.  Horror is one of her specialties (along with erotic films) and is heavily featured on her website/blog, Miss Flick Chick.  Her reviews are thoughtful and well written and she never pans a movie simply because it's geared for "low brow audiences".  Unlike most critics, she sees horror as an art form and dissects films of the genre as she would a highly stylized period piece.

Here's McDonagh, along with other women in the horror genre, discussing their affinity in a trailer for the Canadian documentary Pretty Bloody: The Women of Horror:

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Geek Love

As I flip through my most recent previous posts, I'm noticing a lot of touchy-feely introspection.  That's the benefit of having few readers - I can get sidetracked and no one is like, "Hey I thought this was supposed to be about geeky stuff!"  For those of you who are silently saying that, I promise a return to all that is geek. 

I've been dying to play with Polyvore for awhile and finally took the leap after admiring others' sets.  Submitted for your approval is my first (amaturish) Polyvore set - a Valentines' geek gift guide entitled "Geek Love".  Behold:

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Hits Keep Coming!

Fresh off of professing my love for Indy Grrrl comes my favorite name for a blog ever: The Drunken Severed Head.  This blog is for the horror/sci-fi/cult film lover and is both funny and full of information.  Lots of cool pictures, especially old movie posters, including this one, which I would love to have hanging on my wall.  The blog has a niche audience, but if you fall in that niche, it's a great read with lots of hidden treasures.

I also stumbled on this blog, which has amazing pictures.  Unreliable Girl and Indy Grrrl both make me want to take more pictures, but I don't know if that's a good idea, especially since that was my weakest unit in Journalism and I still can't take a good picture to save my life.  Practice does make perfect, though, so if you're willing to suffer through bad photography to get to the good, you'll see more photos here.

If you haven't already, drop me line with comments or suggestions about the new look.  Your opinions are much appreciated!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

I'm In Love With a Blog

Bored and looking for new reading material, I looked through the Blogs of Note archive and found this gem. As I read through a handful of the posts, I discovered a kindred spirit. Indy Grrrl is a fan of many of the same things I love - including (but not limited to): kitties, Target, fun socks, books, movies (especially horror, and best of all, cult/cheesy horror and sci-fi), Alice in Wonderland, Tarantino, and "Twilight Zone". She lives in Baltimore with her tattoo artist husband and a cavalcade of beautiful cats. Remember what I said about style? This girl has it - in spades (or possibly candy pink hearts). Color me Jello x 10.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Great 2011 Makeover

I'm going for a "less is more" approach. What do you guys think?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Making a Home From Rented House

Kris and I tend to differ about what our next move will be . . . literally. As much as he would love to buy a house, it's just not in the cards right now. His second choice would be to find another apartment, as he has had difficulty with our current apartment's managment company. Me? I'm pretty happy right here. I think our apartment looks awesome with the new modifications and our new living room furniture is the cherry on the sundae.

The best part is that I am excited to come home at the end of the day and proud to show our home off to guests. As great as it would be to own a house, for us and where we are right now, I can't imagine finding another rental property that would suit us better. I definitely feel like our home reflects both of our personalities, and that includes the apartment itself, as well as the furnishings and decor.

Small kitchen? Meh. Not a lot of room to entertain? Nobody seems to mind too much. One bathroom? One less bathroom to clean. I go through moments of wanting what others have, but the truth is, there isn't anywhere I'd rather be than home.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Matter of Style

Audrey Hepburn - a woman with definite style

I always envy people who have a distinct, individual style. You see those women walking down the street who are completely confident and look fabulous. Even if it's something I wouldn't wear - it just looks right on them. It looks like a part of them - like that piece of clothing was meant for them. I have honestly never felt that way about any of my clothes. The only thing that comes close is my small (but growing!) collection of quirky/cute earrings. The sad truth is, however, that you can wear all the quirky/cute earrings you want . . . and still be badly dressed. Hmph.

It's not like I haven't tried to have style. Maybe the problem is that I'm borrowing from other people. Styles I've seen and liked on others and a brief bout of rockabilly/50's clothes inspired by my gorgeous friend Lindsay who made it look so easy. It looked great on her, but on me - not so much. Like all the other styles I tried it felt like I was wearing a costume.

So now I've relegated myself to "cool" T-shirts with jeans and Chucks. I also purchased a leather jacket that I love (but probably looks ridiculous on me). Not exactly the way a girl who's three years shy of being thirty should be dressing. It's comfortable, but not exactly stylish. I can almost guarantee that no one envies me for my style.

Maybe it's too late. Being almost thirty, it's very possible that I've missed my window to have style. But maybe that's not such a bad thing. After all, if given the choice between this gorgeous dress (which I love, especially if it was paired with a bright red cardigan) and this - you probably know which one I would pick. Because I love me some zombies (and cookies).

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Welcome to 2011 . . .

Last year I was on top of things with a New Years resolution and big plans. I did pretty well (for me, anyway) and was able to follow through until the end of April - when things slowly fell apart, like a flan in a cupboard (eh, Eddie Izzard fans?). This year . . . not so much. I've been taking it easy - basically taking a vacation from my life. It's funny, because the times I seem to need to do that the most are usually the times when I am least busy. This is no exception. I'm not working, not going to school.

So, you're probably asking, "What are you doing, then?" At the moment - not much. But I do have a plan. The ideal would be to take a little break from working for awhile and focus on my writing. I'd like to have more time for book club meetings, watching movies with my cousin, and visiting with my mom and my friends, among other things.

I have some goals for this blog, as well:

1. A new header/design
2. More video game and tech reviews
3. A successful Geek Fright Fest 2011
4. Creating a 2011 Geek Christmas Gift Guide
5. Attending and covering more geeky events in the Colorado area