Wednesday, February 15, 2012

50 Books // The Magicians // # 5

You know that post-Harry Potter depression you went through after you saw the last Harry Potter movie? 
I may have found a fix. The Magicians by Lev Grossman is like a mish mash of the worlds of Hogwarts, Narnia and Middle Earth. It's like postmodern fantasy novel with actual references from famous fantasy stories. 

It starts when our main character, Quentin, stumbles into a magical school and is forced to take a bizarre examination before being allowed entry. THe difference between Hogwarts and Brakebills is that in the latter, magic learning is extremely serious. I don't want to explain the whole process with how the magic works there but it's a lot more complicated than a simple swish and flick! It's more realistic and the entire novel examines the real psychological and emotional impact of being a wizard within the context of the real non-magical world.

Despite going to a magical college most of the characters are depressed and unsatisfied. I would recommend this to any undergraduate students because that feeling of having absolutely no idea what you're going to do with your life is probably the primary theme of the novel and it is so familiar. The thrill and anxiety of an unknown future ahead.

Unlike the Harry Potter books with a whole school year dedicated to one book. Grossman only uses half of the novel to narrate their entire magical education. It instead focuses on what happens after, which the Harry Potter books didn't. 

I'm reading the second novel now, The Magician King and I can't wait until he writes a third one.


Image edited by me from this original image. Second image from my Instagram @jesuevalle.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A ticket for one please

I just got back from seeing an incredible play called Midsummer and I went alone. 

The first time I ventured out alone in one of my cultural excursions (as my pretentious alter-ego would call it) it was at an art gallery. Then I started going to movies by myself, then to plays, writer's festivals, reading alone at coffee shops and so on. I have to admit at first it was kind of weird but then I just got used to it and now I actually prefer going to these things by myself. 

I like not having to worry about scheduling and then having that constant worry during the thing whether or not the other person is enjoying themselves. Plus, I get to choose when to go, where to sit and what to watch. Sometimes my friends (or mum) would insist on seeing the Katherine Heigl romcom when all I want to watch is the three hour french film. I'm not a very convincing person either (after a couple of minutes you'll get used to the subtitles you won't even know it's there, trust me). 

I made the mistake of introducing arthouse cinema to my friends by bringing them to a screening of a Michael Haneke film. Let's just say I don't think they trust my film choices anymore. I loved the film though. They, on the other hand, were traumatised by it.

I draw a line though. If it's a horror, or a big popcorn blockbuster I always go with others. Some things are still more enjoyable when you're with other people. I can't imagine seeing Paranormal Activity by myself. Who would I hold on to when I get frightened? Don't laugh. Then there are films like My Sister's Keeper in which I know I'm going to cry. And I did. And not just a single tear kind of cry or a mere sniffle, but the full waterworks. Bawling your eyes out alone in a movie theatre is just sad, and not in a good way. Plus, it's hilarious talking about it afterwards. I've never been to a concert or a music festival by myself primarily because I get drunk going to these things and I can't get wasted without my friends. It's just not fun.

Apart from that I much prefer going alone. If it's arts-fartsy, foreign, subtitled or if it's something I know none of the people I know are going to be interested in, I'm definitely just booking for one. It's actually quite fun and liberating and you end up meeting and chatting with random strangers which I normally wouldn't do if I was with other people. As much as I love my friends and family sometimes you just gotta do things solo. Try it if you haven't already.

Image edited. Original from here.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The best films of 2011

I'm two months late in compiling my favourite films of 2011 but because most films are released in Australia very late, I needed the time to get to see them first.

 I don't like arranging these in order of preference because I love them all the same so I'm just going to list them alphabetically. Without further ado here are my top ten favourite films released in 2011 (according to their American release):

Less than half of these got nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. How War Horse and Extremely Loud got nominated is beyond me. I think the Academy needs to do a yearly audit of its members and dismiss those with poor film taste. 

The Academy also needs to have the balls to recognise young, fresh talent and not just nominate the same people every single year. I'm still trying to figure out why Elizabeth Olsen wasn't nominated for Martha Marcy May Marlene or why Drive was snubbed. I feel really bad for Ryan Gosling too. He had two fantastic roles this year and he wasn't nominated for any. Let's not forget about Michael Fassbender. Argh! I could go on forever. I'm just going to stop right here.

Honourable Mentions:

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
The Descendants
Bill Cunningham New York
Certified Copy
Tucker and Dale vs Evil
Jane Eyre

Haven't seen but probably would have made it on the list:

A Separation
Take Shelter
A Dangerous Method
Young Adult
Le Havre
Another Earth

All images are screenshots from trailers or posters.

Monday, February 6, 2012

50 Books // The Bell Jar // # 4

Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar was written in the first person and it couldn't have been written in any other way. The immediacy  and urgency of the words allows the readers to feel exactly what she is feeling. Most books allows its readers to sympathise and relate to the characters they describe but this managed to make you feel like you are the character. So when she was descending into madness you felt like your mind was slowly eroding as well. When she doesn't sleep you suddenly felt lethargic. This is a dangerous book to read but it is well worth that risk.

The very first sentence mentions the Rosenbergs, a couple sentenced to death by electric chair for passing on sensitive information to the Soviets. It sets the scene perfectly. Historically, it reminded readers of the post-war ennui, the paranoia, the simmering panic brought upon a looming nuclear war. The image of the electric chair foreshadows the shock treatments Esther, the protagonist, undergoes. The execution, an untimely death, seems fitting for the story of a woman faced with the recourse of self-execution. 

The writing is what you would expect from a poet. Heavy use of imagery and emotive language but there is a plainness and frankness to it that made the prose complex without being overly rich. Plath's voice is strong and unique. I have not come across a narrator or a character like her but one thing that caught me by surprise was the humour she managed to inject into it. At times she was incredibly witty and darkly funny. Her sense of humour added another layer to her character I was not expecting and fortunately it did not disrupt the heavy, dire tone of the novel.

This is a hard book to recommend but it's one of those books everyone should read at least once in their life.


Top image was edited by me. Bottom image is owned by me.

Friday, February 3, 2012

200 Movies // One to Ten

No. 1 // The Iron Lady
Dir. Phyllida Lloyd

A biopic of Margaret 
Thatcher, the woman who 
changed British politics,
told in flashbacks.

I wasn't watching Meryl Streep play Thatcher. I was watching Thatcher. Unfortunately, the film doesn't quite support this stellar performance as well as it should. The entire structure of the film was annoying, the way it moves back and forth felt too jittery and restless for me. The ending is ridiculous and left a sour sentimental aftertaste instead of the complex piquancy that a biopic of a controversial political figure should inspire.

No. 2 // Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul

A dream-like journey
into the heart, soul
and mind of Thailand

Imagine yourself taking a nap on a hammock in the middle of the quiet, Thai countryside. As you enter your mid-afternoon dream you realise you're still in the same place. There are monkey ghosts in the distance with red eyes and you follow them. You're tour guide is Haruki Murakami and he narrates your journey as you follow these strange creatures and you discover the mysteries of life and beyond, of myths and local fables, and of ghosts and strange entities. When you decide to see this film, don't expect a story but instead, expect to fall into a hypnotic dream. One that will leave you scratching your head once the credits roll.

No. 3 // Meek's Cutoff
Dir. Kelly Reichardt

Set in Oregon in 1845,
a group of settlers find
themselves stranded in
the middle of the desert

This is one of those films I did not enjoy watching but I take full responsibility for my lack of pleasure. This is a well-made, well-acted, well-thought out film. Maybe I was just not in the right mood or I was not in the right mindset. It felt like I was watching a classic I couldn't decrypt just yet. This is going on my re-watch pile.

No. 4 // Badlands
Dir. Terrence Malick

A story of two people
on a killing spree seen
 through the beautiful gaze
of Malick

Kit and Holly are confusing people. What they say and do does not make any sense but somehow Malick makes us fall in love with them all the same. It might be the golden hour light that they are constantly bathed in or it may be because despite the unforgivable crimes they commit together they both project a sense of childishness. One half the innocence, the other half the rebellion. 

No. 5 // Waiting...
Dir. Rob McKittrick

Multiple coming-of-age
stories from the young
employees of a restaurant

A chance to turn off the brain after those first four films. The ensemble worked well together and I like anything with Anna Faris in it. If you have ever worked at a restaurant or anywhere customer service is involved a lot of the things here, though at times may feel cliched, will still feel hilariously familiar. Additionally, this film gives a very valuable lesson: don't mess with the people who handle your food.

No. 6 // Page One: Inside The New York Times
Dir. Andrew Rossi

Documentary about the New 
York Time's response
to the 'death of the

When I told people I was studying journalism their first response is always: why? Newspapers are dying. Newspapers aren't dying. The physical object maybe but journalism and news reporting will always exist. It's just at a moment of transition right now. Page One is a timely documentary about this moment of transition. The conflict between traditional and new media. It was interesting but there wasn't all that much I got from it. The people they followed around and interviewed weren't very interesting either and I think that's the biggest downfall of a documentary.

No. 7 // Snowtown
Dir. Justin Kurzel

Australian film about the
real life 'bodies in the 
barrel' murders

This Australian film felt like a slightly less intelligent Animal Kingdom. Snowtown is based on the real life 'bodies in the barrel' murders that occurred in Adelaide. While the scenes were clearly designed to shock and provoke, I felt nothing. Probably because the film felt unkind, like it was just there to make me feel bad. 

No. 8 // Kramer vs Kramer
Dir. Robert Benton

A just divorced man must learn 
to care for his son on his own, 
and then must fight in court 
to keep custody of him

The french toast scene at the end of the film broke my heart a little bit. It was like watching the end of a lovely ritual between two people. It was only one out of many beautifully rendered scenes in the film. It's amazing how the writers, actors and director were able to create subtle nuances in dialogue to show little details about their characters and how that offers us a glimpse into the gradations of their relationships.

No. 9 // The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Dir. David Fincher

A young hacker and a
journalist solve a 40-
year old murder mystery

I love what Ignatiy from Ebert Presents says about David Fincher's films. That he's interested in process and how one thing leads to another and leads to another. Think of the process of Facebook's creation in The Social Network and how that leads to lawsuits and broken friendships. How in Zodiac the processes of crime investigation and news reporting culminate to one man's obsession with finding the truth. Here in Dragon Tattoo we get a glimpse into the process of research and uncovering secrets. This may all sound boring but Fincher who is  well-known for his style he makes all these processes: programming, investigations, news reporting, and researching, seem really cool and cinematic. 

No. 10 // The Descendants
Dir. Alexander Payne

A father struggles to
look after his family
after his wife goes into
a coma

At the beginning of the film I felt most of the characters were portrayed in a stereotypical, banal way but each one of them have this really beautiful transformation and it was like someone turned on a light. They all became real. George Clooney was great but Shailene Woodley was a standout. I am still holding a grudge towards the Academy for not nominating her. 


About the 200 Movies Challenge

Films I've seen so far

Images edited by me from screenshots of the film

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Coloured my hair and it turned out ginger at first. Like Ron Weasley ginger (now it's dark brown). To celebrate this funny mishap, I'm wearing ginger pants. 

(Shirt from Jack London, Pants from Cheap Monday, Boots from Superdry and Watch from Fossil)

All images are owned by me


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