сряда, 1 декември 2010 г.

It's All in the Little Things in "Mary and Max"

When a friend recommended Mary and Max to me and I saw the poster of the film - an obese, old man in black and white writing on a typewriter - the superficial part of me said "I don't want to watch a movie about ugly people! And it doesn't look like there's romance ANYWHERE in this one! I mean, that's the only way an animation for kids could be any kind of fun, right?". Yes, I am ashamed to admit that I can be a little judgmental and shallow when it comes to animated films. Add to that my overall distaste of claymation and you can pretty much already guess that I wasn’t thrilled about seeing this movie.

But I am so very glad I did.

But before I start explaining to you why, I should warn you: DON'T take your kids to see it! I mean, not until they're at least 12 or something. Don't get me wrong, I consider myself a very liberal person and I would have no qualms in letting my children watch a little bit of risqué material (and believe you me, the movie has quite a lot of that, as well) from time to time but this is NOT a movie for a child. It's simply too depressing for their innocent minds.

"Depressing, you say? Don't try to fool me, you clever evil female", I imagine you saying, "I saw the trailer, you can't convince me that with all that cheerful music and funny dialogue Mary and Max will make my kids sad!". Oh, I'm not saying that, my friends. I'm simply warning you that after watching it, YOU will be sad - no, you will be crying. In the shower. While eating chocolate.

Okay, maybe that's a little too harsh. But that's what happens when you're caught off-guard. Your emotions' powers double simply because you didn't see them coming. I saw the first 10 minutes of the film and I thought "Okay, this little 8-year-old girl writes to this 44-year-old man and they become friends thus discovering they're not alone in the world and that friendship keeps you going through life or some other crap like that.".

Boy, was I in for a treat.

Because party, yes, it is about that. But only kind of on the surface. Beneath that lie other issues like loneliness and heartache, but also hope and optimism. Because even though it's clear that these two lead incredibly sad and bleak lives, they never feel sorry for themselves, they just kind of go with the flow and make with what they can. Max, for example, struggles with Asperger's syndrome which makes it difficult for him to lead a normal life. Mary, on the other hand, lives in a loveless family with her alcoholic mother and inattentive father, which is why she quite well understands the feeling of isolation from the world that has taken a hold on Max's life.

Even though the letters the two characters constantly exchange are quite simple and straightforward, without much emotional confessions (with some exceptions, of course), they are the most important thing in these people's lives because they're the personal connection they’ve always longed for. Not only that, the stories they tell seem personal to us, too, and thus feel more real and emotionally engaging. We care because we can clearly see that these characters care. And they don't have to sing about their feelings or deliver long speeches about their dreams to make us do that. That's the genius of the movie and that's what most films (especially children's films) tend to lack - a little bit of subtlety. It is through the little things about these people's lives that we find out who they are. Much like in real life, the small aspects of their everyday routines tell us more about them as personalities and that makes us relate to them as we would to real people.

The movie has many funny moments, though, and did make me lol a couple of times. The humor was also quite diverse, ranging from black to ironic to childish. Not once did the producers use the ultimate cop-out that are pop-culture references - they much preferred to keep it simple and clean, relying only on good writing and wit.

I am utterly amazed that this movie exists. I don't know why the studio didn't demand a major re-write of the material so that it could appeal to a wider audience but I am delighted that it didn't. Because we need experiences like that. We need a film that challenges us emotionally. We need a film that's a little dark so that we could better appreciate the happy parts. And yes, I told you not to show it to a 6-year-old, but a slightly older child could handle it just fine and would probably even enjoy the hell out of it. Nowadays kid's movies tend to talk down to their audience, spelling out the morals of the story for them and giving them happy endings. This film takes another direction - it goes down a gloomier road, but one that eventually leads to a better understanding of the world and the people who inhabit it. And although I would wait a while before showing it to my kids, I would never deprive them of this amazing and unforgettable experience.

неделя, 28 ноември 2010 г.

Triple S: Sunday Song Suggestions

Whenever I find a song I really like, I immediately feel the need to share it with someone. It just feels so much more special when someone else enjoys it with you. I since I believe that the end of the week is a great time to kick back and listen to some great tunes, I'm starting a weekly rubric known as Triple S: Sunday Song Suggestions, wherein I will pass out a few recommendations and hope you feel just as strongly about those tracks as I do.

First we'll start with a classic:

Great song, thank you, Ruslan!

Then again, if you're not a jazz fan, another amazing 4 and a half minutes for the lovers of rock is this one:

... which features some simple, but amazing lyrics. Be sure to check them out!

And lastly, a very uplifting song by The Super Preachers:

It's interesting to me because it's so cheerful and energetic, yet the band members are sort of zombies in the music video. Is it symbolic? What does it mean? If you have any clue, I'd be glad to hear your suggestions.

Anyways, that's it for me this week. Tune in next week for some more site recommendations and other stuff I might feel like sharing with you :)

събота, 27 ноември 2010 г.

Keeping Gaming Simple

Hello, fellow readers and welcome to another installment of my blog!

That was really corny, I, I apologize.

It's just that I have spent the last several hours being extremely geeky and I guess it kind of affects me. It's just that when you spend your time watching Minecraft tutorials and reading Zork walkthroughs, you kinda forget what actual human interaction is like. I know you all think I am awesome as hell but it may surprise you that I very easily forget how to be cool after watching more than four Nostalgia Critic and Angry Video Game Nerd episodes.

Okay, so maybe it's time to explain the references. Minecraft is a game - an indie game to be exact (that's really awesome if you ask me, when I hear the term "indie" I never think of games but it kind of makes sense) that my brother introduced me to. It's a very simple and addictive waste of your time - kind of a sandbox world where your entire goal is to survive and build stuff. You can harvest all kinds of materials like dirt, wood, stone and iron and craft them into instruments and furniture, weapons and armor. And you better make those last two because you're going to need them come nightfall. It's the time all the monsters come out and shit gets real.

Anyway, as I said, it's a pretty addictive game despite its simple look; and by simple, I do mean simple - it's an 8-bit game so it's not for everybody, I guess. But personally, I find it comforting - like I'm a kid again, unable to get up from that chair and do something useful for a change. And then my brother comes in and tells me that it's been two hours already and it's his turn to play. Ah, yes, those were the times when we didn't have a computer for every flat surface in the house. But I digress.

Zork is also a game but one when you don't really do anything. You just have to read and type from time to time. Like remember those books that we borrowed from the library that were called gamebooks? Anyone? No..? Hm. Well, they were also called "choose your own adventure books" which allow you to participate in the story by making choices that affect the course of the narrative. According to Wikipedia they were popular in the US about 30 years ago but the 80s didn't come to my country until a decade later so they were all the rave when I was a kid. Zork gave me the opportunity to relive those times again - and let me tell you, it was awesome. It remind me of simpler times when logic was the best weapon and it was all one needed to be a hero. Maybe I should mention that as I'm writing this my brtoher is killing Nazi zombies with what I can only describe as a weapon which even The Hulk would have trouble lifting. But hey, to each his own, right?

I would tell you who the Nostalgia Critic and the Angry Video Game Nerd are but I really don't feel like it today. Besides, maybe the best strategy is to save them for an entirely different post - ah, and maybe they would read it and thank me with a comment saying that it would be great if I came for dinner sometimes... Cause in my fantasy they live together, you know.

So that's it for today. I hope you check out the games I recommended, post a comment if you already have and we can discuss Minecraft house designs.

Link of the Week: StereoMood.com

I don't know about you but I'm incredibly picky about the music I listen to. My playlist rarely consists of only one band or musician and while I would like to stick to a specific genre I prefer a little diversity in style. Besides I almost always have to listen to a song at least two or three times to really like it, so radio barely helps me discover new music.

What I find helpful, though, is this site called StereoMood.com which plays you not only really great songs by talented artists, but also arranges them into playlists according to your mood. So you have your general emotions like Happy, Dreamy, Sad, Nostalgic and so on; but then there are playlists for certain situations like Spring Cleaning, Party, Road Trip and many more.

If it were any other site, I would've tried it out, seen that it sucks and forgotten all about it. But, as I mentioned, the music over there is really great. And not only that, it really suits the playlist it's been put in. I've used more than half of these already for different situations and I've not regretted it yet. Another awesome thing about the site is that there are a lot of foreign songs included in the playlists, so you also have a little bit of exotic diversity there.

I hope you try this site out, I promise you won't be sorry. Invite a couple of friends to dinner and use it as a musical background if you like, there's a playlist for that, as well. Then just sit back, relax and wait for the compliments on your musical taste to rain on you.

Power, Love and Control in "Secretary"

When young couples ask me for a film recommendation, I often tend to blurt out at least 5 or 6 movie titles along with a 5 minute review of every each one. But ever since I first saw "Secretary" I will have only one movie to recommend to those who want to have a movie date. Because I just want to mess with them.

Imagine your friend has told you this great romantic comedy about a secretary falling in love in her boss. Sounds pretty standard and safe, right? Well, now imagine yourself snuggling with your date and seeing the first scene of this movie - a secretary bound in a big shackle-like device walks though an office doing regular secretary tasks. From then on you just know that this film isn't what you were told it would be.

But it is a great one nonetheless. Actually, it's great because of that.

What I like about "Secretary" isn't its original take on a topic most of us consider taboo but its surprisingly stylish and tasteful depiction of BDSM relationships. It tells the story of Lee (Maggie Gyllenhaal) - a mentally disturbed young woman with self-harming tendencies - and Mr. Grey (James Spader), her boss, an equally troubled paralegal. As they get to know each other, their professional relationship quickly turns into a sado-masochistic one.

To me, this is a great romance because, unlike many movies of the same genre, it offers us a new perspective on the sexual and emotional relationship between two people. Many of us would be disgusted and repulsed by the "kinkyness" of BDSM, saying it is offensive and humiliating, as well as mentally or physically unhealthy for one or both participants. But the truth is that most relationships have a streak of submission/dominance, which is equal to either taking or giving up control over certain aspects of one's life. I think most people are revolted by BDSM because they always associate it with sex and sexual diversions. But there's more to it than that - sometimes BDSM has nothing to do with sex, but with power and trust. Unfortunately this is something that not everyone can comprehend - they feel that if they don't find something like bondage sexy, it is "sick", "abusive" or "degrading".

"Secretary" does something very important. It shows us why BDSM lovers find it sexy to give or follow orders. And does so with a sweetness and humor that we are not accustomed to with S&M portrayal in popular culture. It also offers us a chance to take a deeper look into our own relationships and possibly understand something more about them. What I've come to find out is that power and control are two extremely important ingredients in a healthy relationship. Moreover, it is the variability in those two aspects that keeps the two together and makes them strong as a couple - where one of the two is strong, the other shows weakness; where one takes control, the other prefers to follow. "Secretary" shows us another interesting paradox - that sometimes strength lies in vulnerability. As the end of the movie shows us, a dominant has control and power on the surface but in most cases a submissive could lead the way on a deeper emotional level.

I heatedly recommend this movie to everyone who is tired of seeing the same formula for films of this genre but I feel obligated to warn you that it's not everyone's cup of tea. You don't have to be a BDSM fan to enjoy it, you just have to leave your prejudice at the door. As far as sex scenes go, there are surprisingly few of them and they serve a specific purpose to the plot, so if you're expecting porn, don't hold your breath. Although it deals with sadomasochism, it does so with an unwonted non-judgemental, gentle manner and it could charm you if you give it a chance.

Tutorial: Kick-Ass Speed Dial

Yes, you want that, don't you? Well, if you are a customization geek like me, you do. See, I'm obssessed with getting everything I regularly use on my laptop to look sleek, glossy and, above all, simple.

At first I was content with my Opera Speed Dial, and why wouldn't I be? When it first came along, there was nothing like it, so I was happy to get this much. But as time passed, I realized that I wanted something like a thumbnail, not a miniature of the site (which would be perfect for someone else, I admit). Besides, I was thinking of switching to Google Chrome and I wanted to combine those two goals and do it all at once.

So you can consider this a little tutorial for those who would like to have that simple speed dial without spending as much time as I did researching about it.

We'll do this the standard way, i.e. step by step:

1. Got another browser? Opera, Mozilla or, God forbid, Internet Explorer? Close it and forget about it. And I'm not telling you to delete it - in my opinion it's always useful to have a spare browser if your current one is giving you a hard time.

2. Now download Google Chrome. Oh, wait, you need your browser for that. See? You will need it sometimes. Okay, so type Google Chrome in Google and the first link is the one you will need. NOW forget about the previous browser.

3. Chrome doesn't take very long to install and once it's opened you'll notice you can add Speed Dial as an Extension. Which is great because it kind of resembles mine but not really. If you're curious you can add it and see if it suits your needs and if it does, you can stop at this step. But keep in mind that you'll have to undo this step later if you wish to make your Speed Dial kick-ass.

4. What we actually want to do is simple: we want Google to load the home page we've chosen when we click New Tab. The question is which site do we want to load? The answer is Myfav.es - an incredibly simple and pretty looking site which lets you choose the pages that appear on their speed dial without even asking you to sign up (which I think is pretty cool). So what we do is we copy the link of the site and we click the little wrench icon at the end of the adress bar --> Options --> Basics --> Home Page. Then choose the option that lets you set the New Tab page as your Home Page ("Use the New Tab Page").

5. Now most instructions tell you that this is enough and for some of you it probably is. But if your case is like mine you need to go a little further. To do that you need to install a different Extention - this one. Once it's installed, you'll notice there's a small field where you can type an adress. Type http://myfav.es

6. You should now have a kick-ass Speed Dial. If you wish to customize it or add a couple more sites, you can go to myfav.es and knock yourself out. As I said, there's no need for a registration but I would recommend one - it doesn't take more than 15 seconds since it connects with your Facebook, GMail or Twitter account and it could be useful if you're going to use it every day.

So there it is. That's just one of the things that you can do to make your laptop a little more user-friendly and pretty-looking. One step at a time, I say. When I figure out how to make my desktop awesome, I'll show you that. And someday we'll learn how to hack the government web pages of developing countries. With a Windows Vista - that should be a challenge.

A Little Bit of Me

I figured that the best way for my readers to get to know me was to show them a couple of the things that make me happy. I always thought that you can tell a lot about someone just by all the stuff he'she cares about.

A little sneak peak of those things are:

Chances are most of you have heard it but for those who haven't - LISTEN TO IT, it's amazing. It's a song that I can't get out of my head since I first heard it. I think it has some sort of sad/happy mixture of emotions to it, which to me seems pretty hard to do. Oddly enough, the first time I saw this music video was when I was looking for it to publish on the blog.

Another thing!

That picture over there made me laugh until I thought that there could be something wrong with it. Maybe that man is not Enligsh at all, why else would he not say "No, thank you"? Well, maybe that's also part of the anarchy. And also maybe that table cloth, I don't know.

Something that won't probably happen again is that I'm going to share a bit of personal information with you. Earlier today I went to a job interview because I wanted to start a part-time job. I had been to the first stage of the whole process, which was basically an English test, much like ones that I did back in the 9th grade. Today was the second part and they'll be calling me back to invite me to... the third interview? My God, really? I want to be a receptionist, not a CEO, there's surely no need to go through so much for that. But I guess the job market and the employment doesn't have to make sense as long as you're getting a paycheck at the end of the month.

So while that's going on I'm applying for an American scholarship, which basically means that, if I get it, I'll have the chance to spend one year at an American university which would be, like, the bestest thing that has ever happened to a shmuck like me. But, you know, whatever, I don't even care.

And since this is everything my ADD brain is capable of writing at once, I will leave you with all the other sites you're procrastinating with.

Welcome to the XX Paradox!

I'm going to share a secret with you: it really took me forever to think up an original title for this blog. And to admit that it sounds unbelievebly pretentious would be an incredibly hard thing for me to do. But there, I said it, so let's not adress it further. Let's just move on.

Well, welcome posts are always a drag, but they seem kind of obligatory for every new blog. I don't know what I'm going to do with it yet but I do promise I will try to keep posting regulargly on whatever topic seems interesting. And if you like the things I write about, then you can subscribe. It's pretty simple, actually.

So sit down, or keep sitting down, and keep reading if you wish to be cured from the condition the Cute Lepers tend to call Terminal Boredom.