Friday, February 27, 2009

Life imitates video game

This was actually a story that came up over dinner at a Christmas party last December, but I never got around to writing about it. Better late than never I suppose, though I have forgotten some of the details (namely, exactly where my friend's story takes place and why he was there... but these aren't so important).

My family has been friends with these two families, the Longs and the Smits, since I was about four years old. All three of our families have three kids, we roughly match age-wise, and we've grown up together so we see each other almost like cousins. Each year, when the "kids" are all home for Christmas (I say "kids" even though we're all over twenty by now), one of our families will throw a Christmas party and invite the other two families. This time we were at the Longs' house. The dinner was served buffet style, and the parents sat at the small table in the eat-in kitchen while the kids went to sit at the larger table in the dining room. At some point over dinner at the kids' table, the eldest Smit sibling, Ben, told a story about buying beer.

Ben was staying with a bunch of friends in a small town for some reason (I mentioned that I had forgotten these details, but work with me here). He was trying to find a place to buy some beer to take back to their motel room. Unfortunately, it being a tiny town in the middle of not very much, he discovered after some significant searching that there was no place in town where he could buy beer that late in the evening (and by late in the evening, I mean probably about 8:00). No place, that is, except for the bowling alley. Ben learned that the local bowling alley was still open and that they sold beer, so, as silly as it seemed, he headed over to the bowling alley with the sole purpose of buying beer. When he got there, though, the clerk at the cash register said the bowling alley rules dictated that he could only buy one six-pack per visit. That would never be enough. Ben turned to leave disappointed, until the clerk said, "Wait, I haven't told you what counts as a visit."

"What?" Ben asked.

"Each time you come in those doors from outside, it counts as another visit."

"So... all I have to do is buy some beer, walk out the doors, turn around, and come back in to buy more beer?"


So that's exactly what Ben did, walking in and out the bowling alley doors until he had bought enough beer for his friends.

As Ben finished his story, we all laughed and concurred that this was ridiculous and pretty funny. And then I commented, "It's just like a video game."

Pause. Then more laughter. "Yeah, it is like a video game! Haha."

You know what I mean: You need to stock up on potions or arrows or something, but the storekeeper only has five of whatever you want, so you repeatedly leave the area and return, or maybe just close and reinitiate the conversation, in order to get him to restock and sell you more. It always seems stupid and unrealistic. But Ben has proven that this kind of situation can be encountered in the Real World.

I found the conversation to be memorable not just because it was kind of funny, but also because the moment was somehow very touching. I said that we've all known each other for a long time, but the truth is that we haven't seen each other very often since the other two families moved away when I was about ten, and now that we've all grown up and gone off to college and have our own lives, we see even less of each other. My video game comment would not have flown in most social circles. The fact that they all appreciated my joke made me realize that, in spite of the distance, we were still a good old group of friends.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Watchmen premieres, Downey composes, Spidey gets a Broadway date, and more!

Recent entertainment news that caught my eye...

Watchmen premiered in London on Monday (IMDb). Thank goodness it finally made it. It seems several critics were impressed, recognizing it for being dark and thought-provoking, though at least one critic was unimpressed. I am relieved that the critics didn't all immediately dump on it--this is a good sign. I was worried, and still am somewhat, that as good a comic as Watchmen was, it might have been made into an embarrassing movie. Anyway, I like the quote from Britain's Guardian, which says that Watchmen "makes last year's famously brooding Batman sequel The Dark Knight look like Alvin and the Chipmunks." The film opens wide next Friday, March 6.

Robert Downey Jr. is writing a musical (IMDb). I like Robert Downey Jr. And I like musicals. What do I think of his project? Well... Downey recognizes, as one might expect him to, that it sounds kind of silly when a movie star says he wants to become a singer, but he says that he's always liked to compose, and he is not new to singing. I think he's a smart and talented guy. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt here. I hope his project goes well.

Speaking of musicals, one of the Broadway musicals I have been tracking has been given a premiere date. Spider-Man: The Musical is expected to premiere on February 18, 2010 at the Hilton Theater, with previews starting on January 16 (Variety). The musical has also been given a real title, "Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark". But for now, I'm just going to keep calling it Spider-Man: The Musical. This is a huge budget production to be directed by Julie Taymor, and while no casting has been confirmed, Evan Rachel Wood is expected to star as Mary Jane, and Jim Sturgess (who starred with Wood in Taymor's Across the Universe) is rumored to be considering Peter Parker. I'm looking forward to hearing more as this project progresses.

Michel Gondry, director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, has signed on to direct The Green Hornet (Variety). Seth Rogan, who co-wrote the script with Evan Goldberg, is starring. Stephen Chow was originally set to direct as well as star as Green Hornet's sidekick Kato, but though he stepped down as director, he still plans to play Kato.

Gore Verbinski has signed with Universal to produce and direct a movie based on Hasbro board game Clue (Variety). This is part of the same multi-picture deal between the studio and Hasbro that I've mentioned in a few previous posts, which has also put movies based on Candy Land, Battleship, Monopoly, and Ouija in the works. Unfortunately, this article also brings the first news I've heard of plans for the Stretch Armstrong movie I have been dreading. I can't quite put my finger on what it is that makes a Stretch Armstrong movie seem less acceptable to me than all the others, but somehow... I just really don't want to see it. Not much I can do though, other than hope that it gets lost in development hell. A movie based on Magic: The Gathering is still up for grabs...

Cate Blanchett has signed on to play Maid Marian in Universal's upcoming movie Nottingham (Variety). Except that it won't be called "Nottingham"--it's getting a new name, which has yet to be announced. Russell Crowe will star as Robin Hood, and Ridley Scott will direct as well as co-produce with Brian Grazer. The role of Maid Marian was left vacant when Sienna Miller stepped down last year. I think Cate Blanchett is a very classy actress; I hope the movie does her justice.

Warner Bros.' Sherlock Holmes movie, starring Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson, is scheduled for release on Christmas 2009 (Variety). That date will also see the release of Disney's new princess movie The Princess and the Frog as well as Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel (why oh why do such movies have to be made?). WB also announced that its Green Lantern movie will open on December 17, 2010, and they gave the final Harry Potter movie a release date: July 15, 2011. Save the date.

Lastly, I'd like to give a shout-out to the movie Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li which opens on Friday. It's almost certainly going to be awful--all previous movies based on video games have been, and I've seen no evidence to suggest this will break with that perfect trend, particularly since the studio is not screening the movie for critics (generally signifying a vote of no confidence). But I remember playing Street Fighter 2 on my old Sega Genesis way back when, and being a little girl, I of course favored Chun-Li. Okay, I only favored her in spirit; more often I could be found sweeping the playing field with sumo wrestler E. Honda's cheap rapid slap move (or whatever it was called). Anyway, I like Chun-Li, so I can't bash the movie, particularly because it stars two of my hot hapa gals--Kristin Kreuk and Moon Bloodgood. Even if I'm not willing to jump into the ticket line, I wish the movie success.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The 81st Annual Academy Awards

I am happy to report that I did not end up watching the Oscars show alone. I started out with about five other people watching it with me, though by the end there was just one other person who had lasted the > 3 hour ceremony.

The relevant results:
Slumdog Millionaire was the big winner of the night, taking home eight statues from its ten nominations, for best picture, director Danny Boyle, adapted screenplay, cinematography, editing, music, song, and sound (mixing). The only two nominations it lost were sound editing to The Dark Knight and best song to itself (it had two noms in the category). Benjamin Button, which had received the most nominations, was left to pick up Slumdog's scraps, in best art direction, makeup, and visual effects. Milk enjoyed two big wins for best actor Sean Penn and for original screenplay. Dark Knight, which had received eight nominations, won two for sound editing and best supporting actor; Heath Ledger's parents and sister accepted the award on behalf of his daughter Matilda. Wall-E, which had received 6 nominations, won only for best animated feature film. Kate Winslet won her first Oscar (it was her sixth nomination) for best actress in The Reader; Penelope Cruz won her first Oscar for best supporting actress in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. The Dutchess won for costumes. Doubt and Frost/Nixon both left empty-handed. Overall, the results lived up to the awards predictions. The only surprise of the night was the Best Foreign Language Film award, which went to Japan's Okuribito, not to either of the more recognized front-runners, Israel's Waltz with Bashir and France's The Class.

The production of the Oscar show:
The Academy Awards show itself was structured to tell the story of the process of making a movie. This was fine, though there were some categories--animated feature and short, feature and short documentaries, and foreign film--that didn't fit in with the story, and the supporting acting categories were sprinkled around as well, breaking with the overall structure. Plus, the best director award had to come near the end, which in the structure of the story seemed a bit contrived. The acting category presentations were very long. For each acting award, five previous winners would stand in a semi-circle on stage and make a little tribute speech for each of the five nominees, then welcome the winner as a new member of their fraternity/sorority. I suppose if you were one of the nominees it might have been sweet to have Sophia Loren flatter you or Alan Arkin mess up your name, but it took too long and was kind of boring. Luckily, the other categories were done fairly efficiently, particularly since several were grouped together with the same presenters.

The show had a bunch of montages, but I wasn't particularly interested by most of them. Romances from the past year's movies? Lame. I wonder if they managed to attract more young viewers by parading Robert Pattinson, Zac Efron, and Vanessa Hudgens across the stage. I also have to complain about the use of the random blue-tinted clips on a five-second loop that they used to fill in the gaps of the screen whenever it cut to show shrunken shots of nominees/presenters (they're hard to describe, but if you watched the show, you saw it many times). For the most part, I was not aware of the clips, which I think was the point (they shouldn't distract me from the presenter or nominee). But my friend and I both found the Kung Fu Panda clip very distracting. If I see Po catching that thing in his mouth one more time... Yeah, we were pretty sick of seeing that every five seconds throughout the show.

Hugh Jackman didn't have that much to do (I guess less host filler helps move the show along), though he did do two song and dance numbers. I really liked the opening medley about selected nominated movies--Anne Hathaway as Nixon in a Frost/Nixon romance was great, and the bit about The Reader ("I haven't seen The Reader") was hilarious. But I do tend to like musicals, so I'm not sure what other people's reactions will be. Presenter Ben Stiller took an easy jab at Joaquin Phoenix, gum and all. Freida Pinto had a really nice blue dress. Dev Patel is adorable, and he looked so excited and elated each time Slumdog won an award. And the little children got up on the stage at the end when it won Best Picture! So cute!

I thought it was a good show overall. Could have been better, and shorter, of course. And over the credits at the end, they showed some preview clips from upcoming 2009 films. Let the new Oscar race begin!

some of my frock; take what you're given

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Random thoughts on a rainy Sunday

Three little things on my mind at the moment.

The first is the news that The Dark Knight has passed the $1 billion mark in worldwide box office take (Variety, IMDb). It is the fourth film to do so, after Titanic, RotK, and the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Its re-release in IMAX following the Oscar nominations as well as new grosses in Ecuador helped it top $1 bil. Pretty impressive.

The second thing is the new Mass Effect 2 teaser. A teaser indeed. An unnecessarily cruel teaser. How long do we have to wait for this thing? Between this teaser, the far-off promise of Diablo III, and the delay of DAO to Q4 2009, I'm going out of my mind with anticipation. I need a new game right now to take my mind off of things. Now!

The third thing on my mind is the Academy Awards show tonight. Who will win? What beautiful dresses will we see? What horrendous dresses will we see? What is the deal with all these surprises the show organizers have hinted at? I'm excited to see Hugh Jackman and whoever else singing and dancing. I hope it won't be a letdown. We'll see what kind of an audience they get, but I'll certainly be watching tonight. If I liked to throw parties, I'd have thrown an Oscar party. But seeing as I'm way too lazy to do that, I'll put on some fancy clothes and watch the show with maybe one or two friends. If they're interested. Which they may not be. Oh well, whatever. It's not like it would be pathetic for me to sit alone in front of a TV for three hours wearing a fancy dress to watch an awards show to which I have no real relation. Right?

Addendum (Thoughts on what briefly turned into a snowy Sunday and then suddenly became a very sunny Sunday):
I have not blogged about the second episode of Dollhouse. I haven't really made a habit of blogging weekly about episodes of the dozen or so TV shows that I watch. But since the subject has come up... This week's Dollhouse put Echo into a "Most Dangerous Game" situation (spoiler: she doesn't die) and introduced what it seems will become a recurring plot involving an ex-Active called Alpha. Mysterious. In his review of the first episode of Dollhouse in Entertainment Weekly, Ken Tucker had expressed concern that, because each week Echo would be given a new personality, audiences would find themselves oddly detached with "no consistent hero to root for every week." I think with this second episode, we start to see what that's going to be like, and I think it's going to work. Eliza Dushku's new characters have been readily likable and interesting, but there is also clearly some element of her that isn't being totally erased, and we the audience can latch onto that part of her that is fighting to persist and to be recognized. We have also gained some insight into her relationship with her handler Langdon, which I think will be another consistency to keep us emotionally engaged with the show. Let's hope they can keep it up.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lost was at my grandparents' retirement home!

Holy crap. My grandparents just scored some MAJOR cool points with their granddaughter. Last night's episode of Lost, "316", has a scene where Jack visits his grandfather in a retirement home. That's my grandparents' retirement home!!! My grandparents were not among the extras (it appears they only wanted white people, no Asian-Americans, lest it look too much like they were shooting the scene in Honolulu), but still, I find this incredibly exciting. More exciting perhaps than the situation merits. Anyway, I tried to find some pictures to demonstrate this discovery of mine. I haven't exactly taken many pictures of the lobby of my grandparents' retirement home, but my cousin (who is currently getting her masters degree in voice) gave a concert there last summer, and I took some pictures then. Compare to the Lost screen shots...

Jack and his granddad:

My cousin (I've silhouetted her... focus on the scenery):

Jack (you can even see the piano in that corner):

My cousin's concert:

Jack's granddad at a magic show:

My grandparents and cousin (and friend) after the show:


> Update: Here's what my grandfather had to say when I asked him about the filming (it's impressive that my 88-year-old grandfather uses email on a regular basis, so we'll excuse the email etiquette violation of yelling in all caps):

Candy Land, GL, Nannerl, Nolan, and Dollhouse

Here it is, my not quite periodical post on the various entertainment news items that have caught my interest recently.

Universal Pictures is developing a live-action movie based on the Candy Land board game (Variety). I remember playing this game as a little kid, though I have played it as recently as last December (I was babysitting my boss's six-year-old son for some extra Christmas cash). I wonder what the movie will be like... I hope it'll have a dash of Tim Burton-esque weirdness to cut the sweet (as long as it doesn't turn out like Strawberry Shortcake...). Etan Cohen (Madagascar 2, Tropic Thunder) will write the script, and Kevin Lima (Enchanted) is set to direct. This is the latest confection to come out of last February's Universal-Hasbro deal to turn at least four of Hasbro's toy properties into movies (Variety). So far, I've heard that Monopoly, Battleship, and Ouija movies are also in the works, though luckily I've heard nothing about a Stretch Armstrong movie... yet.

Martin Campbell, who recently directed Casino Royale, is in negotiations to direct Warner Bros.' live-action Green Lantern movie (Variety). DC superhero movies have had trouble maintaining support in recent years (with one big exception), so we'll see if the current top DC movie projects--the other being Jonah Hex, which has Josh Brolin attached to star--can manage to get made. I'm not a particular GL fan, but I like the DC characters in general and would like to see more comic book movies.

A biopic about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's sister, Nannerl, will be made with Rene Feret set to direct (IMDb). This is mainly relevant to me because in my class's fourth grade play, I was Nannerl. This play was a kiddie musical called "Of Mice and Mozart", which tells the story of Mozart entirely in couplet rhymes (easy for kids to remember, annoying for parents to listen to), narrated by the mice who lived in the woodwork of Mozart's house. I took great pride in my role, mainly because I was one of two people in the whole fourth grade who did not have to wear either mouse ears or a goofy cotton ball wig for the play. I sang a handful of songs, but my only speaking lines were these:
Hello, everyone, Nannerl is my name.
Being Wolfgang's sister is my claim to fame.
I also love music and never get bored
For I spend hours playing my clavichord.
If you think it's odd that I remember that, ask me to recite my lines from my third-grade play. Anyway... yeah, it's about time Nannerl got a little respect with her own biopic.

After the astounding commercial and critical success of The Dark Knight, one might expect a sequel to be rushed to the head of Warner Bros.' slate. But Christopher Nolan has yet to commit--I would imagine he wants to make sure any sequel will be done right; Dark Knight is a tough act to follow. In the meantime, Warner Bros. has secured Nolan to direct his own script "Inception" (Variety). The studio describes it as contemporary sci-fi action. I'm certainly interested to learn more about Nolan's next project.

Joss Whedon's new show Dollhouse premiered last Friday with reasonable but not great audience numbers (Variety). The fact that it was the No. 1-downloaded TV show on iTunes on Monday doesn't mean much to the studios who make much more money from advertisers that want over-the-air viewers. I enjoyed last week's Dollhouse--I think it's smart, fun, and unique, and I hope that it will be able to continue its run. To do that, it needs the ratings. So watch Dollhouse tomorrow! On Fox Friday at 9/8c.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Free trip to Hawai'i, baby!

Congratulations, you've just won a FREE trip to the beautiful island of O'ahu in Hawai'i!

So I mentioned back in the fall that I was working on applications for grad schools. I ended up applying to three oceanography Ph.D. programs for next fall: MIT-WHOI, University of Maryland (MEES), and University of Hawaii. I haven't heard anything yet from the first two, but I just got a letter (an email, really) inviting me to visit the University of Hawaii next month--on the university's dime--to meet faculty and grad students, to learn about their program, and to be "[introduced] to life on the island"--i.e., they want to bribe me to attend their school with their gorgeous beaches and perfect weather and the friendly island atmosphere and... and waves on the shore... sun... warm breeze... flowers in my hair... aloha spirit... ahhh...

Sorry, I drifted off for a bit there. Hawai'i is amazing. As I mentioned in a post last summer, my grandparents live in Honolulu (my mom spent the second half of her childhood there), so I've visited a number of times, and it is a beautiful, special place. My grandparents would be thrilled to have me out there (all of their children live on the East Coast), especially since I would be there for grad school (bragging rights at the retirement home). But let's not get ahead of ourselves; I still have to hear back from the other schools, and I'll have to visit the ones that want me and see how I like them. But the exciting news of the day is that they are paying to send me to Hawai'i! Aloha, tropical paradise, here I come!

Picture from my last trip to Hawaii

Parents came, saw, didn't conquer

So maybe I was being a little melodramatic in my last post with the lament over my parents' impending visit. I had a very good time. I ate the best meal I've had since, well, since I was home at Christmas, saw some museums in the city that I hadn't seen in a really long time, and enjoyed their company. They were clearly very happy to see me and where I live, and it was nice to make them happy.

I am not recanting the sentiments of my earlier post. I am merely trying my best not to think about what I said before, as I know it would bother me and there's nothing I can do about it now, anyway. It's like something just at the edge of my peripheral vision, nagging me to look at it, but I know better and ignore it. At least my parents didn't make me take them into the office to meet my boss, and I didn't show them the cove trail where I like to walk. Some things shall remain obscured.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The parents are coming! The parents are coming!

My parents are coming to visit me this weekend. I have lived here a total of 22 months, and they have never visited me here. But now they are coming. And I don't want them to.

It was a very last minute plan. Here's a summary of our correspondence:

Dad: Hi, Mom has vacation next week [she's a schoolteacher, and in our school system, schools have a week off in February] and I have President's Day off, and she's feeling like she has nothing fun to do all week, so we thought we could come visit you. As long as you don't have any plans or anything...
Me: No, I don't have plans [I can't outright lie, and I definitely don't have plans]. But what would you do here? It's kind of cold and gray, and the only interesting things to do around here are in the summer--there's not even a good movie theater in town.
Dad: Well, we'll think about it.

Dad: Hi, we decided we won't come after all, it's just not the right time of year, and it's too last minute.
Me: [thinking Yay, I'm off the hook, but saying...] Oh, that's too bad, I was thinking if you did come, we could have gone into the city or something.

Dad: Mom's ears perked up when you mentioned the city, so now we've decided we will come down, after all. We'll probably get there tomorrow afternoon.
Me: Great...

Yes, when your parents invite themselves to visit, you start listing the reasons they shouldn't come. Once they decide not to come, then you can sound sad and tell them how nice it would have been if they had come. But be careful not to pile it on too thick, or they just might change their minds and come after all. And then you're stuck. I learned this the hard way.

Now don't get me wrong, I love my parents. I'm really lucky to have such great parents. When I think about it, it really doesn't make sense that I don't want them to come. Why am I being such a petulant teenager? Shouldn't I have grown out of this by age 23? Have I really not changed since high school?

It's true--by the end of high school, I was dying to get out of my parents' house. College was the best thing ever. Freedom. Freshman year, I would go back to school early at the end of each vacation, eager to get out of the house and back to my college friends. But by the end of college, I was more nostalgic about being home, and I looked forward to vacations and would stay home the whole time. I was finally mature enough to see how sweet my parents were, and how much they missed their little girl when I was away for a long time. Now that I'm out of college, and I see them even less often and am even more removed from the high school years living under their roof, I miss them and get a little homesick after a while. And I love to visit them--it's so relaxing, and they're always so nice and happy to see me. I was all teary-eyed when I drove away at the end of Christmas vacation last month. So I like to visit my parents. But how do I feel about them visiting me?

When my parents would visit me in college, it was fine. It usually involved them taking me and some of my friends to a nice restaurant, which my friends certainly liked, and I took pride in my parents getting to meet my nice, mature friends, and in my friends meeting my cool parents (well, cool as parents go). Besides, my parents had actually graduated from the same college, so they knew the campus, plus they helped me move in to my dorm room each year and were of course the ones paying for me to be there in the first place. It kind of felt like they belonged there when they visited. They were still entitled to a certain ownership.

But that is not the case here. I applied to this job without their knowledge, and I moved down here by myself. I live here entirely independently, supporting myself in every way. This is my place, a symbol of my independence, and a world separate from my parents. Their coming here is an encroachment on my turf. Plus, I'll have to do some cleaning before they arrive.

It will probably be a fun weekend, one more productive and memorable than if I'd done whatever it is I usually do on weekends. It will be nice to see my parents. And they'll love seeing me, and I'm a sweet daughter who likes making them happy. But I can't help but feel that the more of my world they see and know, the less of it is my own. It's like a delicate illusion that fades on touch. I guess I am not as confident and secure in my life in the Real World as I'd like to think.

My Romances - Real Life

I'm kind of pretty, and pretty damn smart
I like romantic things like music and art
And as you know I have a gigantic heart
So why... don't I have a boyfriend?
Fuck! It sucks to be me!
-Avenue Q

You said it, Kate Monster. Today is Valentine's Day, a day for couples to get romantic and for singles to feel sorry for themselves. I know, there are plenty of other single 23-year-olds out there, and we're still young, we have plenty of time, plus there are lots of good things about being single right now. So I have no business feeling sorry for myself, right? Well, what if I said that I have never had a boyfriend? (Or any significant other, for that matter--I don't go for girls, I'm just trying to cover all my bases.) Yes, I could have left this post which I've entitled "My Romances - Real Life" blank. It would have saved you and me both some time. But this is a blog--it's not supposed to save time.

Before you go jumping to conclusions about how unlikeable a person I must be, I'd like to make it clear that my lack of boyfriends is not for a lack of suitors. Here's the rundown of guys who have asked me out (note: I don't think all of them had broken hearts, but it makes for a catchy label):

Broken Heart #1, 7th grade: He wasn't exactly the coolest kid in the class (granted I wasn't either), so you have to give him credit for having the confidence to ask. And you have to give me credit for letting him down very nicely (one can usually expect insecurity and meanness from a 7th grader). But the story doesn't end there. Before Valentine's Day, a rumor spread like wildfire across the 7th grade: this boy had purchased me 40 red carnations from the student council fundraiser (that's $40--an unspeakable amount of money at age 12). It is my understanding that a friend of mine spoke to him and convinced him not to bother, so luckily, the flowers never came (and he saved his money). Follow-up facts: He was in the high school drama club, so when I joined the drama club sophomore year, as luck would have it, my role in the opening number of my first show placed me next to him and demanded that I kiss him (just a peck on the cheek, at least). The tiniest bit awkward, but he had grown into a really nice, funny kid, and being in drama we both ended up hanging out with the same crowd of friends through high school.

Broken Heart #2, freshman year in college: In my first semester at college, I quickly found a good group of friends, and I started to develop a crush on one of them. And he clearly was developing a crush on me. On the night before his birthday, he asked me out. Now, this is proof that something's not quite right with my brain: I said no. I was too worried about it making things weird in our new circle of friends. And by the time three days had passed, I was 100% over him, and couldn't imagine why I had a crush on him in the first place. We remained friends through college, and I still find him very easy to talk to.

Broken Heart #3, freshman year in college: He was an acquaintance of mine who first asked me out to coffee via email, but then realized how lame that was and asked me in person. The answer was the same, though. I wasn't interested.

Broken Heart #4, junior year in college: He was a good friend, and I'd been getting a vibe from him for a while, but I was not interested so I tried my best to send anti-vibes or something. Didn't work. He asked me out, I turned him down.

Broken Heart #5, senior year in college: He was a very good friend, we had a lot in common, and he was so sweet that junior year he had slipped an anonymous Valentine he'd made out of pink and red construction paper under my door (his identity would have remained a secret if another one of my friends hadn't happened to pass through my dorm courtyard at the same time he was there and mention to me offhand the next day that he'd seen him). But, yet again, I didn't return the guy's feelings. The worst thing--he's probably long since gotten over this, but I will never be able to think about it without having visions of putting a gun in my mouth--is that, in spite of knowing that he had a crush on me, I was totally unprepared when he asked me out. Him: "I was wondering if you'd like to go out with me." Me: "Not really..." I did follow it up with more thoughtful words, but the fact is that the first words out of my mouth were, irrevocably, "Not really." Excuse me while I go stab myself in the eye, I still can't believe myself...

Broken Heart #6, first year post-baccalaureate: A coworker of mine sent me an email asking me out to lunch. He was, at that moment, working in the same office room that I was in, about 40 feet from me. Not in direct eyeshot, but if he had moved his chair three feet to the right, I could have seen him. Yeah. I rejected him via email.

Now, lest ye think I'm just a cold heartbreaker, I will add that I too have had my little heart broken. Here's the most relevant story:

Heartbreaker #1: A month or so after Broken heart #2, I started crushing on another close friend. But this time, my flirting--perhaps not so subtle as I thought--made him uncomfortable and drove him away. We made up before long, since I'd finally taken the hint that he wasn't interested, but I didn't totally give up my crush until the next year when he got a girlfriend, whom he is still with and who may actually be a closer friend of mine now than he is. Our close friendship never fully recovered, though there were other factors involved, with him growing further apart from my group of friends as a whole.

So there's the full disclosure on my non-love life. Hope you don't think I'm totally pathetic now. Maybe I am. How did I wind up this way? Have I just had bad luck, or have I been responsible for sabotaging my own chances at romance? Being someone who makes a habit of self-psychoanalysis, one of the things I've decided about myself is that, in many types of situations, I am either blessed or cursed with abnormally strong inhibitions. In some cases this makes me a very sensible person. But in other cases, does it just make me a coward?

Conjecture about my predispositions aside, this is the situation in which I find myself. Devoid of romance. To a certain extent, there is something cool and admirable about being a single, independent woman. I don't need a man. I took pride in making it through high school without a boyfriend (I mean, really, what high school guy is worth any girl's time?). When I finished college, it was like I was a member of an exclusive club. Each year makes me an increasingly exotic breed. A part of me is proud to be such an independent woman. But as my 24th Valentine's Day rolls around and I still find myself perpetually date-less, another part of me can't help but ask, What's wrong with me?

Friday, February 13, 2009

My Romances - Part 5

My Computer Game Romances, Part 5: So this is what happens when the graphics get more sophisticated...
Mass Effect
Kaiden Alenko

Some big mid-game SPOILERS...

Lt. Alenko was stationed on the Normandy where I was XO on that fateful trip to Eden Prime. We arrived to find the planet under attack, and in the aftermath of the attack, we went to the Citadel space station to report our findings directly to the Council. Suddenly, I found myself swept up into Council politics, and I was granted the Normandy as my own ship and tasked to track down the Council's rogue agent Saren, who was responsible for the attack on Eden Prime. As often happens with companions on such a quest, Kaiden and I became close friends during our search for Saren. There was even some good-natured flirting, but I was his commanding officer, and anything more than that was off limits.

Then came Virmire. On that accursed planet, I was faced with a decision that no one ever wants to have to make. With enemies closing in on two fronts, and time running out before our nuclear bomb blew, I had to choose between saving either Kaiden or another member of my crew, Chief Ashley Williams. I'd like to say that I chose Kaiden because he was the superior officer, or because I thought that saving him was more tactically feasible, but the truth is I couldn't bear the thought of losing him. And now we have to live with the fact that Ashley is dead because of my feelings for one of my soldiers.

On Virmire, we had discovered that Saren was just a pawn, and the real threat to the galaxy was far more sinister than we ever could have imagined. But the Council foolishly refused to believe our story, and grounded me, my crew, and my ship at the Citadel. Desperate to stop the terrible plans already in motion, we hijacked the Normandy and raced off to Ilos to save the galaxy. While in transit, Kaiden came to talk with me in my quarters.
We couldn't allow our guilt over Virmire to consume us--Ashley would never have wanted it. We were headed for what seemed a hopeless showdown and certain death. And what was a fraternization charge when we had disobeyed a direct order from the Council, committed mutiny, and stolen a ship? With these justifications, Kaiden and I spent the night together in my quarters.

Miraculously, my crew and I were able to stop Saren, delaying the plans of those who had used him and saving the Council and the Citadel.
The Council owes me, and I think from now on they will heed what I say. I wonder if this newfound influence will let me get away with my affair with Kaiden.

The voice actor who did Kaiden was the same guy who did the voice of Carth. The two characters sound exactly the same. I guess Raphael Sbarge has cornered the market for BioWare sci-fi male romantic interests. My previous history with Carth meant I had an immediate interest in Kaiden, though when talking about Mass Effect, I do have a tendency to refer to Kaiden as Carth. I can tell them apart, but, I mean, their names even start with the same sound!

Now, Kaiden was just one of the two romance options for a female Commander Shepard (the player character). The other was Liara. This was not actually a lesbian relationship, since while Liara looked like a woman (with blue skin and a weirdly textured scalp instead of hair) and sounded like a woman, she belonged to a mono-gender species, able to basically mate psychically with any other being, whether male or female or of a different species (there may be some restrictions that the being be sentient and not synthetic, though that much detail was not given). Still, in my human closed-mindedness, I couldn't help but think of Liara as a female. I was curious enough to see where the romance would lead, but the moment Shepard said, "Don't worry, Liara, I'll protect you," I said, "Uh, no Liara, you can take care of yourself, thank you" and reloaded to a save before the initiation of the romance. It is pretty awkward and cute, though, how embarrassed Liara gets when Shepard turns down her advances. Poor girl.

After Mass Effect was released, there was a bit of controversy surrounding it because of the sex scene. The controversy was mostly caused by a bunch of people who really didn't know what they were talking about (and eventually admitted to that fact), but yes, there was a very short optional scene with partial nudity (the game did appropriately earn a Mature rating). The partial nudity was very tame, though, with a sideview lasting maybe five seconds, and it would probably have even been acceptable on primetime TV. Still, I will say that it was enough to make me blush. I guess this is what we can expect now that the technology has advanced enough to portray intimate scenes.

If you're curious, read about my real-life romantic experiences in my next post.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

My Romances - Part 4

My Computer Game Romances, Part 4: The Paladin and the Hagspawn
Neverwinter Nights 2: Original Campa
ign and Mask of the Betrayer
Casavir and Gannayev


I met Casavir battling orcs near Old Owl Well, and he agreed to join my party in the service of Neverwinter. I must admit that I did not take much notice of him at first, and most of the time I left him behind at the Sunken Flagon. As with all the members of my party, of course, I was interested in his story and made friendly conversation with him. But
I was a warlock, and he was a stuffy, boring paladin. I would never have expected there to be anything between us, and though he may have been dropping hints all along, I didn't pick any of them up.

Count on a succubus to play matchmaker. I happened to take Casavir along with me to Ammon Jerro's haven, where the imprisoned succubus Blooden spilled the beans as she taunted Casavir about his feelings for me. I was embarrassed, though not nearly as embarrassed as Casavir. But we had worse things to worry about in that lair, so we moved on. It was only after this encounter with the succubus that I started to realize that I had feelings for Casavir as well. On the calm night before the undead forces of the King of Shadows crashed upon Crossroad Keep, we laid in each other's arms, knowing that with the upcoming battle, it might be our only chance to be together. After defending the keep, we took the fight straight to the lair of the King of Shadows in the Mere of Dead Men. We succeeded in defeating him, but with his death the sanctum collapsed. I blacked out, and when I awoke, I was in Rasheman, thousands of miles from the Sword Coast and my friends, whose fates I had no way of knowing.

In this foreign land, I found I was plagued by a mysterious and terrible curse, and an army of spirits was out to kill me. The Rashemi witches left me to find companions on my own who were willing to face the spirits and my curse, and recommended that I look in the prisons for men desperate enough to help me. And that is where I met Gannayev, Gann-of-Dreams. Where most hagspawn are brutish and ugly, he was beautiful, with a smooth voice speaking honeyed words to melt even the coldest of hearts--and he knew it, too. His mischievous charm was a dangerous mix with his innate ability to touch people's dreams, and he had been jailed for what I understand was essentially preying upon farmers' daughters in their dreams.

During our quest to put an end to my curse, Gann faced the mother who had cast him out on his own as an infant, and she turned out to be the hag but not the monster he had always thought. This relieved him of his jaded outlook on life, softening his heart to realize that he had fallen for me. Meanwhile, I found one of my old companions from Neverwinter who delivered some tragic news: while some of my companions had escaped after our battle with the King of Shadows', Casavir had fallen, crushed as he held up a collapsing passageway so others could get to safety.

Gann admitted his feelings for me before our attack on the City of Judgment, but my heart was still profoundly wounded by the loss of Casavir. I could not return his love. He took this surprisingly well. Once the Betrayer's Curse was ended, we continued to travel together, eventually making our way back to the Sword Coast.

I thought Casavir was really quite a boring character. His history included some sort of secret that prompted him to leave his position as a knight of Neverwinter, but he never gave a satisfactory explanation of this and so mostly didn't make sense to me (I think a proper explanation was among the deleted content of the game). Anyway, I had no idea he was a romance character until that conversation with the succubus at the very end of Act II, which was pretty funny. I was totally weirded out by it at first (the noble paladin wants me? ew), but by the time the romance actually got started, I was willing to go with it.

Gann, in comparison, was attractive from the start, with his pretty face and witty words. Of course, this was tempered by the fact that he was pretty vain and a bit of a pervert, messing around in the dreams of women. But the events of the story changed him significantly, and by the end of the game, I was definitely crushing on him. And I do mean I; though I thought Gann was far more attractive than poor Casavir, because I had invested my character into that Casavir romance, I couldn't see her going for Gann so quickly after learning of the paladin's death (apparent death... there may be more in Storm of Zehir, which I haven't played). Here's where the role-playing comes into the role-playing game, showing that, just as in other media, one can differentiate oneself from one's character in a computer game romance.

Still, I should recognize that this is the only game I have played that allows the player character to have consecutive romances. And while I implied yesterday that Carth is the only romantic interest I've encountered that the player character doesn't sleep with over the course of the game, I believe that even if I had gone through with the Gann romance, there would have been no sex until after the end of the game (Gann and the PC apparently get married in the end story). Also, for those keeping score, I should note that Casavir was the first computer game character that I successfully romanced on my first try. I'm not totally hopeless in the (computer) game of love!

In my next post, find out whom I chose to romance in Mass Effect.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

My Romances - Part 3

My Computer Game Romances, Part 3: I should tell you - I got baggage too.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Carth Onasi

Some minor SPOILERS

I met Captain Carth Onasi when we both jumped in the last escape pod as the Sith blew the Endar Spire to pieces over Taris. He was a Republic war hero and star pilot, and I was just a new recruit, but as the only two soldiers who survived the attack, we had to work together to save the captured Jedi Bastila before the Sith got their hands on her. We did manage to save her, but then it got complicated. Before I knew it, I was a Jedi padawan, and we were flying with Bastila around the galaxy to stop Darth Malak from conquering the Republic.

It didn't take long for me to figure out that Carth had some serious baggage. Here's the story: Carth had a wife and son whom he adored on Telos, until Darth Malak ordered an attack on Telos that left the entire planet decimated and his wife and son dead (though it turned out that his son wasn't dead--he had just gone and joined the Sith!). The worst part? The man who carried out Malak's order was Carth's mentor and trusted friend, Saul Karath. So understandably, Carth had trust issues. B
ut o
ur many journeys on our quest to save the galaxy brought us close together, and he was finally starting to trust me. Then, everything blew up. Turns out I had baggage of my own to make his seem like nothing--and to destroy any trust I had earned from him.

It took some time, but as we both worked through our own issues, we came to see how much we cared for each other, and how much we needed each other. He couldn't fight Darth Malak with me in our final confrontation. But he could give me the resolve to triumph and a reason to live on afterwards.

The Carth romance isn't hard to get, though once again, I missed it on my first playthrough (does my failure with computer game guys say something about my real life?). You have to talk to him (though I think this game does give you reminders to talk to your NPCs; they clearly spent a lot of time writing and recording their dialogue, so it would be a shame if you missed it all), but the main trick is you can't finish the quests on all three planets of Tatooine, Kashyyyk, and Manaan before visiting Korriban--there's something you need to do there before you find three Star Maps. My mistake the first time through was saving Korriban for last.

Of all my computer game romances, Carth was probably my favorite. Maybe I'm just a sucker for good guys with baggage (paging Dr. Shephard...), and I'm destined for misery. But there was something about this romance that worked. Carth and the player character were together from the very start (well, not the very start, but the tutorial hardly counts), when they alone were left to pick up the mess on a hostile planet. They had the whole game to get to know each other, and KotOR certainly has a lot of long PC-NPC conversations. And Carth and the PC both had personal problems that they could help each other through. After the Leviathan bombshell, Carth was shocked and shaken by what seemed to be a new betrayal, but it was nothing compared to my character's own devastation. By the end, he accepted that fact, and he accepted her for who she was.

This was the only player character who never had "that night" in her romance. That is, there are never conversations before and after the characters sleep in which it is made entirely clear what happened in between. There's not even an awkward kiss. The romance is resolved sometime near the end of the game in a conversation. Carth recognizes that the PC helped him save his son and avenge his wife's death, but most importantly, she helped him find a purpose beyond his revenge. And he offers to do the same for her, with the words "I think I could love you, if you give me the chance." Simple, yes
, but something in that simplicity rings true.

Read about my two romances in NWN2 in my next post.

pc with bf on Manaan

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

My Romances - Part 2

My Computer Game Romances, Part 2: He has horns...
Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark
Valen Shadowbreath

Valen and I have been to hell and back together--literally. We met in the depths of the Underdark, where I was bound by a geas to kill the evil drow ruler, the Valsharess. As an ally of the Seer, whose goal was also to defeat the Valsharess, Valen joined me as I attempted to gather an army to face off against the Valsharess's forces. But it turned out that the Valsharess was not the worst of our enemies; the she had summoned the archdevil Mephistopheles, foolishly thinking that she could control him, but he killed her, banished Valen and me to a plane in Hell, and began carrying out his plans to demolish our world Toril. However, through perseverance and a lot of luck, we were able to escape from Hell and defeat Mephistopheles.

Being half tanar'ri, Valen was once conscripted to battle on the side of the demons in their never-ending Blood War against the devils. In the Blood War, he witnessed unspeakable horrors and saw the darkest side of himself; he doesn't just have demons--he is one. Though those memories will never go away or become untrue, he has reached a new chapter in his life, where he spurns his demonic urges and fights for good. With me.
Like many tieflings, Valen has horns and a long pointed tail, but I can't complain, since as a Red Dragon Disciple, I have two leathery wings! Besides, the horns and the tail are kind of a turn-on. And he sure is a master at using that flail of his. Hot!

Give me a moment to regain a modicum of self-respect.

In my first play through NWN: HotU, I did not pursue the Valen romance. Unlike my previous romantic experience in BG2, the HotU romance didn't pop up on its own. To get the Valen romance, I had to initiate the conversations with Valen myself, and there were no reminders that I should do this (in some games, you'll get a "[NPC] has seemed a little distant lately, maybe you should try talking to him" message). So this first playthrough, I was totally oblivious to the Valen romance, and the Knower of Names towards the end of the game told me that my one true love was the Sleeping Man. The bald green guy snoozing in Hell until his true love (apparently me) comes along to wake him. Now, granted, he does have pretty, fluffy white wings, and at the end of the game he took my character off to his heavenly home plane to live in pure bliss for all eternity. But there was no build up to that "romance", so it hardly counts.

My second playthrough, I did get the Valen romance. And I gotta say, I was a little put off by it. But it was an "it's not you, it's me" kind of situation; Valen's dialogue as things started to get romantic between him and my character uncomfortably mirrored the words of a friend of mine (in real life; "Broken Heart #2" in my Romances - Real Life post) who had recently asked me out and I had turned down (that's another story for another day). Silly real life tainting the in-game experience. What's with that?

Read about my favorite computer game romance in my next post.

Monday, February 9, 2009

My Romances - Part 1

My Computer Game Romances, Part 1: You're so vain
Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn, and expansion Throne of Bhaal
Anomen Delryn


I met Anomen at an inn called the Copper Coronet in the Slums district of Athkatla, the capital of Amn, shortly after I had been brought to the unfamiliar city against my will by the evil mage Irenicus and had escaped from his dungeon. I was in need of friends in that unfriendly city; I needed to amass a great deal of gold to save my childhood friend Imoen from the island prison run by Athkatla's Cowled Wizards, and to earn that gold, I needed a team to help me with lucrative adventurers' quests. My first impression of Anomen was that he was a pompous fool. Still, I needed another fighter and healer on my team, and I preferred the noble prick to the crazy, bloodthirsty dwarf in the room, so I welcomed Anomen into my party.

I must admit that I was initially more charmed by the sweet words of Haer'Dalis, our bard companion, than the boastful stories that Anomen liked to tell. But Haer'Dalis called me raven, while the elf Aerie was his dove, and over time I came to see that Anomen's bombastic manner was just a facade to hide his insecurities and his guilt. The adventuring profession, you see, is a magnet for troubled souls. It also naturally attracts trouble, and when Anomen received word that the sister he had left at home with his drunkard father had been murdered, it tore him apart, his thirst for vengeance nearly ruining his chances of becoming a knight. I was experiencing my own troubles around that time (oh, Irenicus just stole my soul), but through our love we were able to help each other overcome these obstacles.

After the defeat of Irenicus, our quest shifted to preventing the children of the late god of murder Bhaal from killing each other (particularly since the Bhaalspawn included Imoen and me), as well as the rest of the world that was in the way. During this time, my love for Anomen grew. He gave me a golden ring, and he promised that after it was all over, after we had stopped all the Bhaalspawn killings and the plots to resurrect a new god of murder, he would marry me. But in the end, I was forced to make the most tortuous choice of my life: I could either release the god essence collected from all the children of Bhaal so that no god would ever rise in his place, or take it as my own and become a god myself. While I wanted nothing more than to be done with the legacy of Bhaal and to marry Anomen and live a normal life with him until I died, I knew that fate never meant for me to live a simple, happy life. The world and all the planes needed me as another powerful force for good, so I traded my desires for the obligation of godhood. The decision tore Anomen and me apart, but he is strong and will endure. And I will always wear the gold ring he gave me, so that I might remember the love that I once shared with a mortal man.

Oh, god, is that some good, sappy soap opera material there. I actually completely missed out on the Anomen romance on my first playthrough of BG2. As I said, I was more interested in the charming Haer'Dalis and thought that Anomen was an obnoxious prick. I pretty sure what happened was that in the first "romance conversation" with Anomen, I told him to his face that he was very vain, and that was the end of that. If you know it's there, though, the Anomen romance isn't so hard. When he talks to you, with trumpets playing a sweet melody in the background, be nice to him. Don't trade him out of your party, and don't let him fall to the dark side--that is, don't let him kill Saerk out of vengeance. Do all those things and it's easy; he initiates the necessary conversations in due time.

As with most things in Baldur's Gate 2, this romance is better developed than the romances in the other games I have played. And while Anomen did not on the surface seem to be my ideal kind of man, my imagination was able to fill out enough of his character to make the romance make sense. Thanks to the great writers of BG2, this romance did not disappoint. I was, however, a little disappointed that they scrapped the Haer'Dalis romance (male player characters got three women to choose from to romance--not fair). Luckily, I got to have my tiefling fling in a later game...

Sunday, February 8, 2009

My Romances - Introduction

In celebration of Valentine's Day this week, I am going to spill all the juicy details about my romances. Computer game romances, that is.

Yes, many of the rpgs that I play incorporate romances into their stories. Some people who look on these games as outsiders tend to find these romances odd, geeky, and even sketchy. This may be so, but consider that most movies have romances, whether they are the main plot or just a "side quest". Even if a story is not explicitly a "romance", it is likely to have a number of well-developed, interesting characters, and it is only natural that in some cases, romances may bloom between them. And if the story is a good one, the audience will feel some connection to the romance, and have some stake in it. Does the movie Garden State not ask guys in the audience to fall a little bit in love with Sam? Does Pride and Prejudice not ask women in the audience to fall a little bit in love with Mr. Darcy? Well, the romances in computer games are a lot like the romances in any movie or book.

The main difference, of course, is that the main character of a computer game is a more direct representative of the player (that is, the computer game player, not... player player...) in the story's fictional world than the main character of a movie or book is of the audience. The player is in charge of the actions of her character, and it is thus her choice to pursue the romance. Does that make it sketchy? If you had to choose whether Andrew Largeman would fall for Sam, or if Elizabeth Bennet would fall for Mr. Darcy, wouldn't you choose in favor of the romance (assuming you don't have some unfounded aversion to my two examples)? Keep in mind that romances in a game are already written, just as in a book or movie. They are in fact harder to get, since they are not guaranteed; in the games I have played, the player has to make the right choices--in dialogue and in action--or the romance won't happen. I have definitely failed in a number of romances on my first play through a game, by either mistreating or neglecting the eligible wooer.

Hopefully this has given you some level of appreciation for video game romances, if you were not already one of the converted. If you still think I'm crazy, fine, laugh all you want. In my next five posts, I will bury my embarrassment to share my experiences with my computer game romances.

Part 1: Baldur's Gate 2 - "You're so vain"
Part 2: Neverwinter Nights - "He has horns..."
Part 3: Knights of the Old Republic - "I should tell you - I got baggage"
Part 4: Neverwinter Nights 2 - "The Paladin and the Hagspawn"
Part 5: Mass Effect - "So this is what happens when the graphics get more sophisticated"

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Push - my notes on the movie

I caught a matinee of Push today. Two and a half years or so after reading the original script, I finally got to see the movie. I've managed to avoid reading any reviews of the movie, though I couldn't help but notice that the commercial I saw on TV the other day only had quotes from one critic, and I hadn't heard of him.* Considering the genre and the release date, my sense is that Push is basically 2009's Jumper. I didn't see Jumper because of its bad reviews, but even Jumper had some notable fans--Stephen King himself wrote a blurb for it: "This movie rocks!" So here's my blurb for Push: "Push is totally awesome!"

I'm not really one to write a review of a movie; I'm not usually critical enough to be a critic. Besides, I admit that my opinion of the movie is largely based on the opinion that I originally formed about the script, and my discussion of the script is in a previous post. I loved almost everything about the movie. My only complaints are a number of things that were changed from how they were in the script that I read. Anyway, I jotted down some notes as I watched the movie in the theater--mainly these differences between the movie and the script. The following are my notes (they are mostly incomprehensible) and my post-movie discussion of what the notes mean.

SPOILERS (and anyway, these probably won't make much sense if you haven't seen it)

1. "D.F. voiceover": The voiceover at the beginning of the movie is Cassie, not Nick as it was in the script. That's fine. Doesn't make much of a difference to me.

2. "Beginning scene": They have added a whole scene where Nick's father is killed, rather than just a shot of him dying, as well as a whole scene of Kira getting the black injection and breaking out of the Division facility--in the script, she had merely described this event to Nick. I think this was a good choice, to show more and tell less.

3. "Nick got nerfed": In the dice scene at the beginning, Nick can't even turn the die to the right number. In the script I read, Nick had been taught how to properly use his telekinetic powers by his father, and while he may not have had the sheer strength that rival mover Victor had, he was perfectly capable. And that was cool. But throughout the movie, Nick recognizes that he's not very good with his powers, and whenever he does something well, he's kind of surprised. It's clear he has the talent, he just hasn't figured out how to use it. In a way, it was good to make Nick more of an underdog, but I was unconvinced. His father would have taught him how to defend himself. And he would have worked on honing his skills so he could keep his freedom. Here my bias from having read the script shows; I may have been skeptical of his lack of talent because I was already expecting him to be really good with his powers.

4. "New scene - dice": Speaking of the dice scene, the fact that Nick was strapped for cash was new to me. It doesn't make so much of a difference, really, but it added conflict--that Nick had potential trouble from the people he owed money to--that was kind of brushed aside and forgotten.

5. "Sniffing ew": The sniffs are really gross, walking around the room and getting their hands and noses on everything. I like it; it works.

6. "They're strangers": Cassie and Nick are strangers when they meet at the beginning of the movie. In the script, they knew each other; they'd been family friends when he was living back in the U.S. or something like that. I preferred it this way. They could establish a better rapport more quickly if they already knew each other, and it would make more sense that Cassie would seek Nick out if they're friends. It's easier for Nick to give Cassie a hard time about her bad habits when he already knows her and her mother, and she can give him a hard time about wanting to avoid trouble because she knows he "used to raise hell". I guess in the original script, it was a little unrealistic that all psychics seemed to know each other, and the movie helped to fix that.

7. "Bleeders cooler in script": I think when I wrote this note I was being unfair. The bleeders scream but don't themselves do much visually; they don't exactly need stunt doubles or anything. I think that's what prompted my comment, that they were just walking and screaming, walking and screaming. But the movie did a very good job using them. The Popboy bleeders' main scene was in the fish market with lots of water tanks full of fish exploding. And the sound effects for the bleeders were appropriately painful.

8. "Bathroom scene!": My favorite scene when I read the script was the one that, in the script, had introduced Kira. The bathroom scene, where she pushes the sniff through the crack in the door of the bathroom stall. And it was in the movie, much as I had pictured it. Kira is a badass. Very cool.

9. "Find on pier...": In the old script, Kira had been in Hong Kong (well, it was all in Beijing in the script, actually) to get a cure for her black blood medical problem. She had stolen $6 million from Las Vegas (from Cassie's mother, actually... but that's another story that was taken out of the movie) to pay for this cure, but the guy she was buying it from 1) didn't actually have the cure and 2) wiped her memory when she refused to tell him where the money was. In the movie, Kira was in Hong Kong to find Nick, and she got wiped on purpose because, um, it would keep her and the suitcase with the syringe of black stuff safer, I think. The script version had a bit of a "small world" issue--that she happened to be in the same city as Nick--though it was explained that a lot of psychics wound up in the city, making it somewhat less of a coincidence. There were advantages to the change for the movie, especially since the whole $6 million plot went away which streamlined everything (see note #10), but I thought it was better when she wasn't there specifically looking for Nick. It factored in to the plausibility of her not actually knowing Nick before the events of the movie (see note #14).

10. "$6 mil - gone?": As I just mentioned, the $6 million was taken out of the movie. The black suitcase held only the syringe of the black drug, while in the script it had both the drug and the cash. This had an important effect on the characters and the tone of the movie. In the script, they were more mercenary. Emily, Pinky, Hook--they were in it for the big payoff, not just because they wanted to help out and hurt Division. In the movie, the only one who seems to get a good payday is the wiper, who in the script I think only got $20 (at least, that's what he asked for; I'd need to reread the script to make sure he didn't get any more later). There's nothing wrong with the change; it's just a matter of taste. The characters being in it for the money helped to differentiate Push from the movies and TV shows it has been compared to. These people aren't heroes, they're just trying to make it in a dangerous world.

11. "Fuck Watch: patriotism": They cleaned up the movie. Like a lot of action movies, I think, the screenwriter writes it with an R in mind, but since it's usually easier to make money with a PG-13, it all gets toned down in the final script. The language was reduced to one "fuck" to ensure its PG-13 rating. How was this lone expletive spent? Carver: "Fuck patriotism."

12. "Toned down the drinking": Also cleaning up the movie was the fact that Cassie only got drunk once, and then promptly fell asleep. This sets a better example for kids, but it's not nearly as funny as having a drunk 13-year-old for most of the second half of the movie, as in the old script. I was disappointed by this.

13. "Drawing?": Speaking of disappointment with changes to Cassie's character, why must she draw the future? In the script, she had merely seen the future. The movie wasn't quite like Heroes, where the person who can see the future goes into a trance and uncontrollably draws something that they'd never have the talent to draw under normal circumstances, and once they're finished they have no memory of making the drawing and have to base their guesses about the future on the drawing alone. No, Cassie sees the future in flashes, has some measure of understanding about what she sees, but then draws it in her own hand, perhaps to help her remember it. And the Popgirl does the same thing. I guess this has a visual appeal, but I thought it was unnecessarily similar to Heroes.

14. "So clearly pushed": Now, back to this twist ending--the major SPOILER--where Kira admits to Nick that they just met yesterday, but she had pushed him into thinking they'd been lovers. And then at the end Nick gives Kira the photo of them together on Coney Island, and it's clear that Carver pushed Kira. Double twist! Maybe it was just because I knew about the twist, but I thought it was a LOT more obvious in the movie than the script that Kira was the one who had been pushed. As I've already mentioned, we knew that she went to Hong Kong looking specifically for Nick. Why, if they'd never met, would she seek out a random and incompetent mover to protect her? Also, the scene where Carver pushes Kira was much more subtly done in the script. In the script, Carver has Kira in his custody, and she tries to push him. His response: "Don't you try to push me, Kira. [He leans in - and both his pupils contract.] Or did you forget who trained you in the first place?" It is totally believable that they're just having a master vs. student push-off. In the movie, Carver has some story about how the drug they gave her made her confused, and he starts telling her about how she was an agent as his eyes go black. Clearly a push, without her pushing back. Since the plot twist is one of the really cool things about the movie, the lack of subtlety was disappointing.

15. "Kira envelope": In the original script, Nick didn't give an envelope to Kira until just before she got on the plane with Carver. In the movie, she got her envelope along with everyone else. This streamlined the movie, which is good, but it did take out Nick's cool line: "When you get on that plane, I want you to ask yourself just one question. Who pushed you?" A fair trade, I suppose.

16. "Kill him!": This leads me to the ending, which was different. In the script, Kira had gone off with Carver, and the final scene was of Cassie and Nick discussing how they were going to go break her mother out of the prison Division was holding her in. In the movie, the possibility of them saving the mother was certainly there, but they weren't planning to fly to the U.S. right then. And the very last scene was of Kira on the plane with Carver, opening the envelope to find the Coney Island photo. And--here's the kicker--Nick had written directions for her on the photo: Kill him. As the screen cut to black, Kira pushed Carver into shooting himself. He did not die in the original script that I read. It was a less satisfying ending in the script, but Kira was in a position where she needed Division to treat her sickness. I guess the new ending is fine, though, and it is possible that Carver doesn't die, since they didn't actually show it.

Looking back on this list, I should note that even though many of these seem to be complaints, there were plenty of things in the movie that weren't in the script that I really liked. I just didn't write as many notes about them. And I'm totally biased, because I liked that script, had two years to picture what it would all look like and feel like, and then did not see what I had expected. And that's fine. It's not unlike when I see a movie adapted from a book I've read, though there is less expectation in the case of an adapted book to see everything in the movie exactly as I'd pictured it, scene for scene.

Comments on the casting: For the most part, I approved. I liked Chris Evans and Dakota Fanning a lot (though I think she should have been drunk more). Djimon Hounsou as Carver was great. The supporting psychics--Emily, Stowe, Hook, Pinky, the two sniffs--were well cast. The Popgirl was appropriately annoying and creepy with her lollipop, and I have to admire the Popboy actors, whose roles consisted mainly of straining their faces in really freakish ways. The only problem I had with the casting was Kira. I didn't really like Camilla Belle as Kira. I thought she was way too bland. She wasn't strong, confident, smooth, or sexy enough. I didn't get anything from her. Reading the script, I thought she was really cool. In the movie, she was forgettable.

I really enjoyed the movie. The fight scenes were pretty awesome, and the movie's depictions of the various psychic powers were effective. The concept is cool and the plot is clever. The twists are gripping (though the pace could have been snappier towards the end). I realize that much of my post may not give this impression, but I have a great deal of affection for this film. I sign off with another blurb: "Push pushes all the right buttons. I loved this movie!!!"

* I still refuse to read any reviews of the movie, but I have seen a couple one-line quotes from critics about it. Is seems their main complaint is that they had no idea what was going on in the movie. The fact that I'd read the script helped me to avoid this issue, so it makes sense that my view of the movie is much more favorable.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

V, He-Man, Hyperion, Sea Kittens and more

Well, I've been saving up entertainment news stories that have interested me for a while now without making a post, so some of these aren't recent news anymore. But here are my thoughts on them anyway.

Emily Blunt is in talks to play Black Widow in Iron Man 2, with Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell also negotiating to play villains in the sequel (Variety). But Blunt is also committed to join Jason Segel and Jack Black in Gulliver's Travels (Variety), which may interfere with filming for the Black Widow role. Her representatives are trying to work out a way for her to be in both movies. I loved the first Iron Man movie (I just bought it on Amazon--boy am I a sucker for that "Spend $25 and get free super-saver shipping!" deal), so I am definitely interested to hear how the casting goes. All I've seen Emily Blunt in is Devil Wears Prada, but I think she's great, so I hope she can work out the scheduling conflicts.
>Update 2/16/09: Scarlett Johansson is reportedly in talks to take on the Black Widow role, as Blunt's commitment to Gulliver's Travels will cause her to miss out on the Iron Man 2 role (IMDb).

As of mid-January, there was still talk of a possible Pushing Daisies movie (IMDb). They're keeping my hope alive, at least. Lost and BSG are back on this season now, but I still miss my weekly fix of Pushing Daisies. I wonder if and when they're planning on showing the final un-aired episodes.

This isn't really entertainment news, but I did hear of it on a TV show. Thanks to Stephen Colbert, I now know about the delightful PETA campaign to get people to refer to fish as "sea kittens" in the hope that it will make people think twice before eating fish. Well, to paraphrase Colbert, I'll be happy to give up eating what PETA calls "sea kittens":

as long as I can start eating what I like to call "land fish":

Mmmmm. Now, the campaign did not work for me; for environmental purposes, I think it would be good to be a vegan, but I'm not at a place right now where I'm willing to give up meat, much less dairy. Still, I did go to PETA's sea kitten website, where I made myself a sea kitten:

Isn't she cute? (And do you get the reference?)

The Narnia movies are back on again. After Disney dropped the franchise due to the movies' big budgets and Prince Caspian's less impressive box office take, 20th Century Fox has agreed to develop Walden Media's next Narnia movie, Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Variety, IMDb). I still haven't seen Caspian, but I liked the first movie, and it's always good to know that fantasy movies are still alive. I hope this one will be able to impress at the box office, encouraging more.

ABC has greenlit a pilot for a reworking of 1980s sci-fi series V (Variety). The series is written by Scott Peters, who did The 4400, and tells the story of a seemingly friendly alien race that comes to Earth but turns out to have nefarious plans. I've never seen the original series or The 4400, so I don't really have much to say about the project, but I'm always interested to hear of new sci-fi series coming to network TV. Some new adaptations of old sci-fi series have worked (Battlestar Galactica), and some have not (Bionic Woman). We'll see where this one falls.

By the power of Grayskull! V isn't the only series from the '80s getting a reimagining; a new He-Man movie is in the works. Warner Bros. is financing Masters of the Universe, which will be directed by Kung Fu Panda co-director John Stevenson (Variety). Mattel's toy line will likely be getting a nice reboot as well. My brothers and I loved watching He-Man as kids; we had a bunch of episodes recorded on VHS and we certainly had a lot of He-Man toys. Being a girl, though, I of course preferred She-Ra. Maybe if He-Man is successful, they'll make a She-Ra movie, too. I don't know, though; it's hard to imagine He-Man not being campy (I mean, just the name is pretty silly).

Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, two sci-fi novels by Dan Simmons, are being adapted into one film, to be called "Hyperion Cantos", by Warner Bros. The screenplay is being written by Trevor Sands, who also adapted David Brin's Startide Rising into what may be an upcoming Paramount movie, and Scott Derrickson, director of the The Day the Earth Stood Still remake, is set to direct (Variety). I haven't read Dan Simmons, but as I've mentioned, I'm always interested to hear of sci-fi projects. That said, I hear the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still was awful, so I don't know if we should get our hopes up about this movie.

M. Night Shyamalan is making a movie called "The Last Airbender", which is apparently based on a Nickelodeon series (Variety). I don't know anything about such a series--I don't get Nickelodeon--but it sounds to me like Shyamalan is planning to make a kids movie. *Shiver.* Well, he has mostly disappointed of late, so maybe Airbender will be good for him. And Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) has just joined the cast. I saw him on a recent Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and I'm just a little bit in love with him. But, uh, he's 18. Legal, sure, but still too young for me not to be a little creepy. Anyway, uh, speaking of the Oscars...

Producers of the Academy Awards show have said that the Oscars are going to be full of surprises this year (IMDb, NY Times). Nominees were told they should "be prepared" (ooh, ominous) and that a lot of risks will be taken. One interesting twist is that they said there is actually going to be some kind of story line told in the awards show itself. The presenters of the awards are being kept secret, which is unusual, and audiences should expect host Hugh Jackman to sing a number directed by Baz Luhrmann. With ratings for the Oscars falling in recent years, and without a huge blockbuster presence in the big categories once again, the producers of the show are clearly trying to change things up to attract a larger audience. I'll be watching, at least. Time, and Nielsen, will tell how many other people tune in with me.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Chuck, Heroes turning into Lost

Is it just me, or are NBC's Monday shows turning into ABC's Lost?

Last night on Chuck at 8pm, we saw that former Drive Shaft rocker Charlie Pace has not only been reincarnated but also has reincarnated his rock career, now soloing as Tyler Martin. And all this in 3-D! A shadowy group of people want him dead, but I guess that's better than Desmond telling him that fate itself is out to get him.

Then, on Heroes at 9pm, a handful of our Heroes are on a plane that crashes. Peter apparently needs to touch people to absorb their powers, now; you gotta love it when they change things like that. Anyway, the preview for next week said that the lives of these plane crash survivors are about to change forever. Welcome to the Island, Heroes!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Push and the other February 6 theatrical releases

Last August, I devoted a post to the upcoming movie Push. It's hard to believe it, but nearly six months have passed, and we are almost to Push's release date on February 6. Now, this Push is not to be confused with recent Sundance hit Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire. That is very, very different. This is the sci-fi action thriller starring Chris Evans and Dakota Fanning, the screenplay of which I happened to read about two and a half years ago. The movie which has prompted many ignorant accusations of being a Heroes copycat (to summarize my refutation of these accusations, 1. Heroes is a blatant ripoff of other things which are likely not original themselves, 2. I read the script before Heroes premiered, and though I wish I could say I'm the last person on the list of people to send scripts to, I'm not even on the list, so the screenplay must have been around long before then, and 3. It's plenty different from Heroes anyway). I hope to see Push this weekend, though the lack of large movie theaters in my area may make it difficult. Also, convincing my sensible friends to see a sci-fi action thriller that is premiering in early February may be difficult, unless the reviews turn out to be favorable. But I probably won't read the reviews, for fear that they would taint my experience. I've never seen a movie for which I have read the original screenplay. It's kind of exciting. So whatever the obstacles are that stand in my way, I will find some way to get to this movie.

What is Push up against this weekend? There are four other movies opening on February 6 that I have found notable. First is Coraline, a creepy whimsical stop-motion animated movie by the director who brought you The Nightmare Before Christmas, based on a book by Neil Gaiman. It tells the story of a girl named Coraline who finds her way into an alternate version of her life that at first seems wonderful, but turns into a nightmare. The title character is voiced by none other than Dakota Fanning. I wonder if she is making the publicity rounds right now and, if so, which movie she is promoting. It is some coincidence that she is starring in two movies released the same weekend. I wonder how much crossover there is between the audiences for Push and Coraline. I would guess not very much (bad sci-fi action = teenage boys; imaginative stop-motion with girl lead = everyone but teenage boys?), though personally I would be happy to see both, so there appears to be some crossover.

Ensemble romantic comedy He's Just Not That Into You also opens this Friday, and I would definitely guess that the studios aren't worried about this movie stealing the Push audience. Of course, I'd be willing to see it as well if it got good reviews, and I'd probably have an easier time convincing my girl friends to come with me. He's Just Not That Into You appears to be a chick flick along the lines of Love Actually, in that it has multiple interconnecting romantic plots. Nine actors receive top billing: Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore, Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Connelly, Ginnifer Goodwin, Ben Affleck, Bradley Cooper, Justin Long, and Kevin Connelly. This movie will get most of the female and date-going audience.

Fanboys, which opens only in limited release, is a movie about a group of friends who go to steal a copy of Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace from Skywalker Ranch for a friend who is dying and probably won't make it to the movie's long-awaited theatrical release. It notably stars Kristen Bell, and a number of other famous faces make an appearance. I guess Fanboys is a movie about fanboys, whereas Push is a movie for fanboys. Seeing as Fanboys is just in limited release, though, it won't be in the same playing field as these other films.

Lastly, we have Pink Panther 2, the inexplicable sequel to the abysmal Pink Panther movie starring Steve Martin that came out in 2006. To be fair, I did not see the 2006 film, but I heard nothing but terrible things about it, and I am disheartened that this movie will probably beat Push at the box office (I have no idea what the analysts are predicting, I'm just guessing). I suppose that Push may turn out to be no better a movie than Pink Panther 2 (oh please, let it be better), but on principle, I support sci-fi, even stupid sci-fi, over stupid comedies.

Well, that's what's in store for this weekend. There are also holdovers, of course, including this past weekend's champ Taken, starring Liam Neeson, and what will be the fourth weekend of Paul Blart: Mall Cop which has also been doing inexplicably well at the box office (really, even the studio doesn't know what to think). I'm pulling for Push. I can't imagine it winning the weekend--it hasn't been getting much promotion, as I haven't actually seen a TV ad for it yet--but I hope it will at least do respectably. I have put some emotional stake in this movie's success, as ill-advised as that may be, and I'm rooting for it. I'll certainly be there to see how it turns out.