Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Princes: the Prizes and the Putzes

I decided to rank the dudes the Disney Princesses end up with because . . . I like ranking things. (Also: I decided to leave John Smith off the list because he and Pocahontas don't end up together. I could have included John Rolfe, whom Pocahontas married in real life and who appears in the direct-to-DVD Pocahontas sequel, but direct-to-DVD movies don't count. In any way, for anything.)

Eighth place:
Prince Charming #2 (Cinderella)
As I have noted before, this guy is entirely devoid of personality. And if does have any character trait at all, it's laziness. He apparently doesn't do anything besides hunting, he resents having to stay up late to meet the ladies his dad rounded up for him, and then when he finds Cindy's glass slipper (which he wouldn't have had to rely on if he'd run fast enough to catch up to a woman in full evening wear) he doesn't even go out and do the shoe try-ons himself! What a schmuck.

Seventh place:
Prince Ex-Beast (Beauty and the Beast)
Is there any bigger letdown than when Belle's love finally breaks the spell, and the Beast gets all levitate-y and shoots like, lasers out of his appendages and then . . . he's some be-pony-tailed wimp? The think the crux of the problem is Robbie Benson's voice. You get used to the electronically-deepened tough voice of the Beast (which goes along with the Beast's dominating presence and physical power). The wimpy little voice accentuates that most of the other stuff that made the Beast cool is just gone. Plus there's all the buildup. You wait the whole movie for him to turn into some cool prince and then you get that guy.


Even when I was eight, I thought that guy was a bummer.

Sixth place:
Prince Phillip (Sleeping Beauty)
Well, he's got a personality and I guess fights a dragon and whatnot, but when he first meets Sleeping Beauty/Aurora/Briar Rose/Whatever, she keeps trying to move away from him because hey, he's a stranger and she's all alone and undefended, while he keeps grabbing her by the wrists, pulling her back toward him. And I find that offensive. And creepy. Also, it's a terrible movie.

Fifth place:
Prince Charming #1 (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs)
We don't see much of this guy, but he seems pretty nice. Should maybe go a little easier on the lipstick, though.

Fourth place:
Prince Naveen (The Princess and the Frog)
As I mentioned, Naveen is (surprisingly) pretty funny. He'd also be pretty fun to have around--that guy is a party unto himself (until Tiana marries him and turns him into a hard-working busboy. Wait, why did he marry her?). He also has the capacity to be brave and self-sacrificing. That being said, he's kind of a moron. And by "kind of a moron," I mean that he's a moron. A dummy. He's not the sharpest crayon in the box. There's nothing in his head but hair. (Wait, why did she marry him?) He'd have placed lower but . . . he's pretty good-lookin'.

Third place:
Li Shang (Mulan, also, not a prince, but what are you gonna do?)
This guy has the whole tough/vulnerable contradiction going on, and that's pretty attractive. To wit: he's all strong and fit and hard-nosed and implacable in battle, but also he's eager to live up to his beloved father's expectations and, when he realizes he loves Mulan, gets all shy and awkward about telling her. Awwww.

Second place:
Aladdin (Aladdin)
Aladdin has an unfair advantage because the movie is about him, not Jasmine. Since we know him so well, we get what he's going through, where he's coming from, etc. Sure, he's technically a criminal and he carries on an elaborate long-term lie about being a prince, but he has a heart of gold! And he's a diamond in the rough! He only lies because of a powerful cocktail of love and insecurity! After all, he's clever and funny and caring, and Jasmine (as she knows from meeting a lot of uppity morons) could do a lot worse.

First place:
Prince Eric (The Little Mermaid)
Yep, this guy practically has it all. Clean-cut, yet roguishly handsome; high-born, yet most comfortable with working-class people. Dances a mean hornpipe; is a dog-lover if you're into that sort of thing. The worst thing you can say about him is that he gets confused about who he's in love with from time to time, but be fair--that one time he had just had a near-death experience. And that other time there was magic. In conclusion, he murders the villain with a boat. With a boat! That's pretty awesome.
Click here to read more . . .

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Princess and the Frog

Yesterday, I finally watched Disney's calculated strategy for merchandising princesses to little black girls, The Princess and the Frog.

OK, that was pretty cynical, but listen: I'm happy for little black girls that they get to have a princess to identify with more (hey, I identified with Belle more than I did any blonde princesses) and can pester their parents to buy them the associated princess merchandise with as much enthusiasm as anybody else. Also, if looking to increase the profit margin on princess merchandise was what it took to get Disney to animate something by hand again, so be it. The question is, was it any good?

The answer is both yes and no. Let's start with no: there are quite a few moments that reek of cold calculation. At some points, you can practically hear the writers thinking, "What other 'Disney-ey' things can we put into this movie?" There's an animal who wants to be human, just like in The Jungle Book. There are animals who accidentally kiss when trying to eat, like in Lady and the Tramp. (Although the frog version here is much grosser and dumber.)

And most of all, worst of all, there are the songs. This film does not have the soul of a musical. Instead of really building toward the songs, making the songs the high points of film, it feels like it makes room for some songs because it knows there are supposed to be some. (In this case, the writers are thinking, "Oh, we can fit one in here, can't we? Probably better fit on in here.") It doesn't help that they're not very good. The heroine (Tiana) has one big musical number toward the beginning--her theme song, if you will--and it's all right. But the only one I genuinely enjoyed was the villain's crazy evil voodoo entrapment-of-the-hero hootenanny. The rest were either irritating, cyncially by-the-numbers, or both. (Example: Our Heroes find themselves a good voodoo lady, and there is of course a big musical number with dancing Busby-Berkeley-esque flamingos and whatnot. Again, they were clearly trying as hard as possible to do something "Disney-ey.")

Finally, exactly when, how, and why did the male and female leads fall in love? I cannot answer those questions. Such information was not provided by the film.

Now for the movie's yeses. It looks beautiful. Sure, all-computer animation is cool and everything, but after awhile you just start to miss things that are lovely and hand-drawn.* To be sure, computer animation is art, but animation that at least starts with hand-drawn pictures is . . . well, it's an artier art. The two songs that were not lousy looked especially good; Tiana's song is very stylized and cool and the villain's song is vibrantly creepy.

I also, to my surprise, liked many of the characters. I thought the villain was pretty cool and creepy, although I was pre-disposed to like him because Keith David did his voice. (Gargoyles forever, man!)
Wait, out of context, this picture looks kind of . . . romantic? I promise, in the movie, the prince and the villain do not start making out.

Tiana is sympathetic and relatable (and best of all, has a distinctive enough character that she'll fit beautifully into my princess quiz. And come on, the quiz is the real reason I watched the movie anyway). I enjoyed Tiana's best friend--if my calculations are correct, the first non-animal best friend a Disney princess has ever had (Tiana also has a living mom, which is almost as unprecedented)--who's flighty and shallow and pretty over-the-top . . . but in a good way? I dunno; she's funny. I like her dad, too, but mostly because he's John Goodman. John Goodman is Goodtimes.

The biggest surprise was that I really liked the frog/prince. The movie's trailer and the cheesy accent had prepared me for some unbearable "comic" relief from that character, but he's genuinely funny. Part of it is the writing, which is a little on and offbeat in a good way, and part of it is the voice actor's line readings, which are occassionally hilarious. (Characters on the "no" side include the evil lackey, mostly because his character design is just the evil butler from The Aristocats** in the body of Mr. Smee from Peter Pan;

It's simple math; it must be true.

the alligator who plays the trumpet because . . what?; the Cajun hick semi-toothless firefly because it's really just too much; and the briefly seen Cajun hick frog-hunters because they're creepy, especially the aptly named "Two Fingers." Also, as you may have picked up on, this movie is unflattering to Cajuns.)

Overall, I'd say this movie had more good than bad; it was OK in the least perjorative sense. I wouldn't want to buy it or anything, but if it's a movie that my someday-future kids wanted to watch over and over, I probably won't have to fight the urge to hurl the DVD player into the street.

That's higher praise than it probably sounds like.

*Huge tangent: the place where I do not miss hand animation is television. I've got Animaniacs on DVD, and while the writing and voice acting are still sharp, the animation is just awful, to the point of distraction. And it wasn't an outlier. Children's cartoons in the 90s were, as a group, really ugly and sloppy. Nowadays, even the most cheaply made animation, because it's done by computer, at least looks nice and neat. Consider WordGirl! (I love Word Girl.) It's on PBS, so you know the budget can't be much, but the animation, while simplistic, looks good. Something else to consider: The Simpsons. When you see a re-run, you know that if it looks bad, it will be a good episode (because it's from the earlier seasons [exception: if it looks really bad, it's from the first or second season, and those are not good]); if it looks good, it will be a bad episode (because it's from a more recent season). I miss the writing The Simpsons used to have, but it's hard to pine for sloppy hand-animation.

**The Aristocats is a terrible, awful, horrible movie. I couldn't mention it without reminding everyone of that.

ETA: I just remembered! Tiana's not the first Disney princess to have a friend. Pocahontas also has a friend, although I don't remember her name. I'm pretty sure she was boring. But then, since she's a character in Pocahontas, that's a given.
Click here to read more . . .

Monday, April 19, 2010

Books and Books, Succinctly

Love the One You're With, by Emily Giffin

Shogun, by James Clavell
Longest book in the history of literature; no climactic battle; still pretty good.

The Spellmans Strike Again, by Lisa Lutz
Not nearly as funny as the first three, but I'm still sad it seems like it's the last one of the series.

Warriors: Into the Wild, by "Erin Hunter"
As good as you could expect for a company-written YA rip-off of Watership Down (except with cats).

(I checked this one out because all the pre-teen girls who come to my library read these things by the dozen. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.)

And in other book- and blog-related news, I've started using the website Goodreads (on ashpags' recommendation--thanks, ashpags!) to keep track of what I've read and get ideas for new books to read. And just today, I added a widget! (Over there on the right, under "blog archive.") Widgets are fun! (And so is Goodreads--you should join, too!)
Click here to read more . . .

Things I Found When Cleaning Out My Office Supplies Box

4 half-used rolls of Scotch Gift Wrap Tape

2 less-than-half-used rolls of double-stick tape

ninja star

2 lighters

5,000 pens (approximate)

miscellaneous nails

sunglasses (crooked)

empty envelope box

17 envelopes (from a purchase unrelated to the empty envelope box)

miscellaneous pushpins

paperclip box (contents: one paperclip)

egg-shaped device that tells time, has alarm clock function, gives current temperature (broken)

8 39-cent stamps (quilt-themed)

2 tiny bulldog clips

2 bottles of yellow acrylic paint (dried out)

bouncy ball
Click here to read more . . .

Sunday, April 18, 2010

This, That, Miscellany, Etc.

1. I had a checkup at the doctor the other day (and by "at the doctor" I mean "at the place where doctors are, but really I saw a nurse practitioner, which is just as good, because I just like nurse practitioners for some reason") and one of the questions I asked her was about vitamins. Specifically, my friends have told me that I ought to be taking grown-up vitamins, so are they correct? The answer is no, I can take Flintstone vitamins if I darn well please. And I do! (Make fun if you will, but here's the thing: I've given them a couple different shots, but I have gotten an upset stomach on 100% of the days I've taken vitamins aimed at adult women. That's just a fact.) So now I'm getting all of the folic acid I need as a Woman of Childbearing Age, but I'm getting it in tasty chewable form! Score one for Rachel.

1.5. Another vitamin note: my NP also told me that there are new recommendations for Vitamin D (because it turns out that people who live closer to the equator and therefore get more sunlight have lots less of most common terrible diseases). All multivitamins still have the old recommended amount, which is 400 International Units of D, but the new thinking is that you should get between 1000 and 2000 IU a day. (That's so much more! Also, I asked her how much you get from, say, a glass of milk, and it's only 50. So much for my "I drink so much milk, I've probably got everything covered" plan.) So! Even if you're taking a multivitamin, maybe you should also be taking a Vitamin D supplement. I know I am. (By the way, if this is all super-old news to you, I apologize. I'm just trying to help. You know I'm just looking out for you.)

2. All the cool kids at my work bring environmentally-, budgetarily-friendly metal canteens for their water. (You know what they say: library circulation desk work is thirsty work.) So I bought one, too. Unfortunately, I couldn't get over the metal taste; fortunately, Neal really likes the canteen for both work and home use, so it was still a few bucks well spent. However! I still needed some alternative to buying Gatorade every day (if I'm going to buy a bottle of something, it is not going to be water! Water is free!) besides taking a travel mug of tea, rinsing it out once the tea is gone, and filling it with drinking fountain water. It's getting too warm for tea every day. I therefore decided to give canteens another shot, this time purchasing a super-girly pink-with-flowered-pattern one to differentiate it from Neal's. What I did not realize was that Girl Canteen came with a lid with a little spout in it--now I can drink from plastic instead of straight from metal! That makes all the difference. Now I can be cool too!

3. I really sympathized with this post MacKenzie wrote because I know all too well the woes of being Bad at Plants. I can't even tell you how many plants I've killed. (I still mourn you, little cilantro plant from last summer. Poor little guy.) Yet I want to be Good at Plants (one day, when I've got a house with a yard, I want to have a garden in which I grow all the ingredients for salsa. That's going to be the most delicious garden ever). I keep hoping, and I keep trying. My latest effort is a little azalea that I bought at the grocery store. And here's the good news: it's been in my care for almost two weeks, and it's still alive! It's not even droopy! I think these are the keys: 1) I only let myself buy the azalea because the little plastic information spike said it shouldn't get too much sunlight. My apartment has barely any sunlight, which I still think is the reason my poor little cilantro plant died. But the azalea must be a good fit. 2) I solicited advice from one of my plant-growing coworkers, and she suggested watering it from the bottom up. So I've been setting the azalea in a bowl of water every other day, and that keeps the soil fairly moist (which the spike also advocated). I'll let you know if I continue to keep the azalea alive, and I'll try to overcome laziness enough to take and upload a picture of it, because it's purdy.
Click here to read more . . .

Thursday, April 15, 2010

I Think Too Hard about Commercials

If you're like me, you've seen this Chad "Ochocinco" Ochocinco commercial for Reebok 8,000 times.

If you're still like me, you have no idea how any of it makes sense, much less all put together. Here are some of my questions about it:

1. Reebok thinks Chad "Ochocinco" Ochocinco is a good investment as a pitchman?

2. Why would they pick a visual scheme that looks evil but then depict big silly cartoonish things with it?

3. Does the whole creepy-red-lines-against-a-background-of-infinite-inky-blackness remind anybody else of this hilariously old-fashioned Strong Bad video game?

4. Why, WHY, does he throw that giant hamburger? Giant hamburger?!?!

5. That song is for children, right? Doesn't it sound like a particularly high-quality Vacation Bible School song?

6. What are the words to the song, anyway? I can't understand them. (Are they, indeed, about Jesus?)

7. What does "the energy drink for your feet" mean? I mean . . . energy drinks . . . you drink them, and you get energy for your body . . . and your feet are part of your body . . . right? Aren't energy drinks the energy drinks for your feet?

8. Is that the ugliest shoe ever created, or just the ugliest shoe created in the last twenty years (because you never know when it comes to the 80s)?


I want to talk about another commercial that, very unfortunately, I can't find online. I'm counting on you to have seen it already, approximately 8,000 times. (The NCAA tournament had a frustratingly small pool of commercials, didn't it?)

It's a McDonald's commercial. There are two guys sitting in a booth at McDonald's; Guy #2 asks Guy #1 if he's heard that Sully (presumably a co-worked of theirs) has won Salesman of the Year. Guy #1 is clearly not that happy about the development, and (presumably jealously) scoffs that "that and a dollar will get you a cup of coffee." (Guy #2 seems to share, though to a lesser extent, the mild disgruntlement about Sully's success.) Guy #1 then gets distracted and starts listing all the great things that a dollar will get you at McDonald's. At the end of the commercial, Guy #3 comes up to the booth and cheerily asks if they've heard about Sully. Guy #1, brought back to his irritation, repeats "Have you heard about Sully?" in a mocking voice. End scene.

Here's what I think: this commercial is about racial tension in the workplace.

Guys 1 and 2, who aren't happy about Sully's success, are black. We never see Sully, but if his last name is Sullivan, we can probably assume he's of Irish descent. Guy #3 is definitely white, and when Guy #1 mocks him, he uses a super-nasal, making-fun-of-how-white-people-talk voice. Is there any other conclusion to reach here?

I just think it's interesting--and weird--to overlay a commercial about all the wonderful products you can purchase for a dollar at McDonald's! with this little vignette about a black man (complaining to his black work-friend) resenting the success of a white man (who has a white work-friend). Why would the commercial people do that? What is the point? Why do I always type "commerical" the first time through?

Click here to read more . . .

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Hey, Listen to This Song.

One day at the library, I was looking for something else and stumbled across the Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego soundtrack. How great is my job, right?! I finally got around to listening to it today and I tell you what--it isn't good. No indeed. So I was very surprised when BAM! out of nowhere, there was a song on it that actually made me cry:

If you stop listening before the weird bagpipe part kicks in, it's really good.
Click here to read more . . .

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Yet More Books and Books

Yes, I haven't been blogging very well/much, so here's a big ol' book entry! It helped that I took a trip to visit my family in Kansas, so there was bus time and airport time and airplane time in which to read. (I read two and half books on the trip back alone.) This batch has fewer recommendations and more dis-recommendations than previous incarnations; my book luck was pretty bad there for a week or so before it turned around. Anyway:

Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian
You may have heard of this from that Russell Crowe movie, although it's actually based on a later book in the series. I wasn't aware of it, but the series that Master and Commander begins is well known (and extensive. If I'd liked the first one more, it could have kept me busy for quite awhile). On the one hand, I enjoyed the way he wrote the characters. They were distinctive and engaging. On the other hand, there's just so much boat. I don't care about mizzens and prizes and whatnot. I just don't. I stopped reading maybe 2/3 of the way through, because my caring about the characters was finally overwhelmed by my not-caring about the boat.

My Life in France by Julia Child
Like most everyone else, I preferred the Julia Child parts of Julie and Julia, and since this is the book they were drawn from, I assumed I'd enjoy it, too. I was partially right. It's an extremely good-natured book; Julia Child's cheerfulness radiates from the page. However, it's also kind of boring. She loves France! She loves to cook! She loves her friends! After awhile, I had the feeling of "I get it already" and so I turned it back in to the library when I was about halfway through. Pleasant, but not super interesting.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
And here's another book that I didn't finish. I was intrigued because it had sort of a Harry-Potter-for-grownups feel. Magic exists in a world otherwise like our own; people are British. But it's over 1,000 pages long, and it takes its sweet time getting to anything good. I stuck it out long enough for a few cool magical things to finally happen, but I bailed out when I got annoyed that many of the magical events were of the people-experience-them-but-then-immediately-forget-about-them variety. (The device where a character has an adventure but then for some reason has to forget the adventure is one of my pet peeves, up there with "It was all a dream!") I was also annoyed that I had gotten a few hundred pages in and Jonathan Strange had barely been introduced yet. If he's in the title, why do I have to wait so long to meet him?!

No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (followed by Tears of the Giraffe, Morality for Beautiful Girls, The Kalahari Typing School for Men, The Full Cupboard of Life, In the Company of Cheeful Ladies, and Blue Shoes and Happiness) by Alexander McCall Smith
These books are about a lady detective who lives in Botswana. (Because "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" is a mouthful, I refer to them as "African lady detective" books, which is slightly less of a mouthful.) As my co-worker Nancie put it, they're very nice books. Niceness abounds. These are not books you can sink your teeth into; they're snack books. The first one is a little weightier, because it gets to give the lead character's backstory, but from there on out, each one just has a little bit of incident and not much character development, and if you were to ask me to describe what happened in each of the ones I've read, I'd probably fail. But when I want to read something that will reliably be pretty good and, you know, nice, I'll go back to these. (McCall Smith is ridiculously prolific--I've still got two African lady detective books to go, and he has two or three other series as well as some stand-alones. It's crazy.) One final note about these--Mma Ramotswe (the titular lady detective) is always drinking "bush tea," which is rooibos tea, so I often make myself a cup of rooibos when I settle in to read one of these.

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
I liked The Time Traveler's Wife very much, so it was given that I was going to read this. Like The Time Traveler's Wife, it sucks you in and reads really fast. The downside of that is that I was halfway through before I realized most of the characters were stupid. (Really stupid.) I was two-thirds through before I realized that the book itself was stupid. (Really stupid!) And since I'd gone that far, I felt obligated to finish. And it kept getting stupider. But I guess if you like way-too-cutesy twins (who sleep in the same bed and hold hands in public even though they're in their twenties), blindingly obvious plot twists (multiple), and pointless OCD subplots (although to be fair, Pointless OCD Guy was my favorite character), then you'd probably like this book better than I did.

The Greatest Knight: The Story of William Marshal by Elizabeth Chadwick
This was pretty good. I like that Elizabeth Chadwick likes William Marshal in sort of the same way I like Henry VII--it's a "Hey, this guy was totally awesome--why doesn't anybody else care?!" (And, admittedly, it's probably much easier to argue for William Marshal's awesomeness than Henry VII's.) However, I've started to realize that all of the books I've read by Ms. Chadwick start very strong but about halfway or two-thirds through, they feel like they start to meander. They begin to drag, I think, because she doesn't impose much of an overarching narrative structure onto the history. She'd rather tell a person's story, including all the best historical incidents, than force the story into an artificial beginning, middle, and end. While I think that is in some ways admirable, it also bogs me down when I read the books. I want to feel like the book is going somewhere; her books often feel like they're going somewhere, they get there, and then they keep going. Other than that, though, they're very good--vivid characters, exciting incidents, believable dialogue--all very strong.

Dead Until Dark (followed by Living Dead in Dallas, Club Dead, Dead to the World, Dead as a Doonail, Definitely Dead, All Together Dead, From Dead to Worse, and Dead and Gone) a.k.a. "The Southern Vampire Novels," "Sookie books," and "Those Ones True Blood is Based On" by Charlaine Harris
I've asserted before that certain book series ate my life for a few days/weeks; it happened again with these. I decided to check out the first books, expecting a trashy/guilty-pleasure sort of read. I was therefore surprised when it turned out to be really funny, endearing, and totally engrossing. There is a certain trashiness to these books--there's a lot of violence and some really dirty stuff (not as much dirty stuff as I thought there would be, but pretty dirty when it happens), but it's sort of a charming trashiness. I also find the protagonist, Sookie Stackhouse, really relatable. Not that I date vampires or am telepathic (thank goodness--although if anything, with my overly-expressive face [it's a real problem] I have the opposite problem Sookie does in that other people can tell what I'm thinking), but I know what it's like to be from a small town/buy most of your clothes at Walmart/not know what it's like to ride in an airplane. I feel like Harris writes "small town" really well. Also hanging out with vampires. She writes that well, too. These books are great. I think I'm going to buy them on Amazon.
Click here to read more . . .