Friday, February 27, 2015

The Quest for Forgiveness: The Tiny Phrase That Makes Me Crazy

(Quick note -- hey, gang! I know I haven't had a new blog up for a week. Between an unexpected bout of depression and a slightly-expected-but-still-kinda-last-minute visit with my family, life got a little crazy for me this past week. But now I am hopefully back on track and can update! We'll kick things off with some more Brianna. Oh goody.)

Last time, Brianna FINALLY went to the Motion Picture Awards and became an instant success. We fast forwarded four years into her future, which is where we pick up today.

After she gets famous, life suddenly gets way worse for Brianna. She's sad and guilty all the time, won't go to church, and eventually she "hit(s) rock-bottom." I mean, I'd have thought rock-bottom was when she was living on the streets selling sexual favors, but apparently this is going to be worse than that.
The photographers had cleverly discovered that they didn’t have to look for Brianna— they had to look for her bodyguards who were easy to spot.
I like that the paparazzi photographers have JUST figured this out, because of course Brianna is the first person in the history of the world to deal with paparazzi. But the bodyguards are just the smartest ever because they disguise themselves with "hats and glasses," because I'm SURE their recognizable eyes and haircuts were what were giving them away.

So Brianna and her gang go to Niagara Falls. Brianna cries, and everyone freaks out and tries to get her to tell them what's wrong.
Conrad confronted her with a barrage of questions. “Brianna, what’s going on? You haven’t been yourself for a while. What are those nightmares about? What is happening with you?”
Why, yes, that is DEFINITELY the best way to deal with someone who is crying. Way to be sensitive.

Brianna finally fiiiiinallllyyyy shares why she said Ethan abused her. A friend of hers in foster care said she reported her foster parents for child abuse all the time whenever she wanted to leave, so Brianna thought that'd be a great idea too.

As she tells the story, though, we come across the infamous phrase that I have used ever since I first read this book as an example of how bad the writing is, and I'm pretty sure I'm just going to have to spend the rest of this blog discussing it.

Brianna is describing how she got away with it all:
“I went into the girl’s restroom and slammed the door on my hips and legs, basically anywhere I could cause bruises. I was still sexually pure so I could not, would not, claim anything like that— besides, the thought of that was disgusting to me.”
Let's look at that phrase "I was still sexually pure."

The phrase "sexually pure" is very, very definitely religious lingo. Typically evangelical Christian, as they tend to put the biggest emphasis on sexual purity.

Brianna spent ages four through twelve in an evangelical Christian home. So it's certainly not unlikely that she heard the term. But they stopped going to church when she was ten, so it is unlikely that she heard a lot of purity sermons -- certainly not as many as most Christian youth group teens hear. Unless their church preached a lot about sexual purity in general, chances are that lingo wouldn't have been ingrained in Brianna's head if she left church as a child.

So she had eight years of childhood in which she apparently heard the term "sexually pure" enough that it became the word she used to describe that, instead of saying what the rest of the world would say: "I was a virgin."

Ten years later, it's still the term "sexually pure" that she sticks with, despite the fact that, according to the way she tells her story, it's really unlikely she's heard that term at all since then. Despite the fact that she's not really any religion right now and has no reason to particularly value sexual purity.

Granted, Brianna's never had any non-manipulative sexual experiences, since they all seem to revolve around that time in her teenage years when she sold her body, so maybe she's assumed that the impurity of the sex was what was wrong here rather than the degrading nature of the sex. Maybe she can only interpret the negative-ness of it through her evangelical lingo. Maybe even though she's no longer religious, she still connects impurity to sexuality, thinking it must be bad like she was told because when she did it she felt bad. There's some fascinating possible subtext that could be found here, and I'd love to believe it's on purpose. But I just can't.

Brianna doesn't talk like someone who spent all her teenage years either in abusive foster homes or on the run selling sex to get somewhere. She doesn't even really talk like someone who went to a public high school. She talks like someone who has only ever heard, or only chooses to use, church words for sex. The former is certainly not true, and the latter is bizarre given how far she's tried to run from her past.

If I grew up homeschooled and active in church and strongly believing in sexual purity my entire life, and I feel like "I was sexually pure" sounds stilted, is it likely that Brianna thinks it sounds natural?

This is one of the most frustrating problems in this series. Even if the stories were more coherent and the characters less obnoxious, it'd still be a terrible series because every character in all of these books talks the same. I suspect they all talk like Rothdiener. And that makes every single character ring false. Sometimes you can get away with something like that, but then your reader gets to tiny phrases like these, and everything comes to a screeching halt.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Talking About Theater

I had another post lined up for today, but I think I probably need to sit on it instead. Depression appears to have come back full force this week, and I'm not sure that what I wrote was constructive or useful in any way. So instead, I'll be answering one of the last few remaining questions from my last round of blog requests at!

This question is actually a whole series of questions about acting in plays, so let's dive on in and answer!

What was your favorite play you've ever acted in?

Well, let me say this first -- I definitely prefer directing to acting. I can act all right, but it's sometimes more stress and effort than it is rewarding. It's a very vulnerable task, and that can be difficult. So, honestly, I really enjoy being in the ensemble. It lets me be part of the cast and spread the joy without having as much pressure put on me directly. Plus, then if there are dancing numbers they can quietly put me in the back and my crappy dancing won't be so obvious. :-)

So I really loved being part of a busy ensemble in Beauty and the Beast and the Christmas revues we did at Huntington. Individual roles I liked playing were generally in smaller shows -- an overly melodramatic actress in the one-act play The Actor's Nightmare, an elderly man in the one-act play The Bear, a soap opera parody in one of my favorite NLDC skits.

First play you acted in?

The first one I remember that wasn't just made up by me and my siblings (I acted in those all the time) was a Christmas play at our church. One of those shows where every kid had a line. I don't remember my line, but I do remember that I also did some sort of square dance.

I played an angel at the very end of the show, when everyone was in some sort of nativity costume, but apparently I got bored singing all the Christmas carols I already knew. If you watch the video we have of the play, there's one part where I am making up my own hand motions and gestures to go along with the lyrics. The girl next to me turns to see what I'm doing and I immediately stop and just sing normally.

Play or role you wish you could act in some day?

Gosh. There are a lot of roles I'd love to play, but very few of those are parts I'd ever realistically get. But what the heck, I'll dream big. As far as musicals, I'd love to play Veronica in Heathers, Cathy in The Last Five Years, the wicked fairy in Sleeping Beauty Wakes, and Tracy in Hairspray. For straight plays, I'd choose Laura in The Glass Menagerie, Vivian in Wit, one of the aunts in Arsenic and Old Lace, and Agnes from Bug.

Would you ever act in a movie? 

If the opportunity came up, sure. I think acting in movies is way less scary than acting on stage (although also less interesting). I'd like being able to do it multiple times in the moment until I got it right. I'd probably never watch my own movie, though. Watching myself act is weird and uncomfortable.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Tune In Tuesday: Cinderella

Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella is easily my favorite show they did together. This song from today is the prince's mournful ballad "Loneliness of Evening," a song originally written for the R&H show South Pacific. The song was added to the 1965 TV version of the show and was also incorporated into the 2013 Broadway cast in a completely different part of the show. It's a very pretty little song, sung here by Stuart Damon of the 1965 cast.

(I'm also blogging today over at about the 2015 movie adaptation of The Last Five Years. Check it out here -- please comment or pass it on or both!)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Top 5, Bottom 5: Caper Movies

It's been a little while since we did a Top 5, Bottom 5 feature, and I just recently hit 21 movies watched on the "caper" filter on Flickchart. You can see the order of all 21 movies here, but in the meantime, here are my favorites and least favorites from the genre.

Top 5:
1. A Fish Called Wanda (1988, #98 on my chart). This movie grows on me every time I watch it. It's got such a marvelous cast, and they're all hilarious.
2. Inception (2010, #108). One of Christoper Nolan's most inventive movies, and my second favorite of his after Memento. It's a solid heist movie, but it's just fascinating to watch, period.
3. Muppets Most Wanted (2014, #353). Well, this heist is very silly, but I liked this Muppets movie a lot more than other people did, I think. Didn't hurt that it had a lot of great songs.
4. Ocean's Eleven (2001, #459). A good cool caper/heist movie that is really enjoyable to watch. George Clooney and Brad Pitt are excellent together.
5. Sneakers (1992, #473). A lighthearted caper with a good ensemble cast. I admittedly haven't seen it in a long time, but I remember having a good time with it.

Bottom 5:
5. Inside Man (2006, #2124 out of 2319). I don't remember a single thing about this movie other than that I found it boring.
4. Three Kings (1999, #2064). This is one I want to give a second chance to someday, as I was pretty young when I watched it and maybe just didn't get it yet.
3. The Italian Job (2003, #1842). Another entry that just didn't stick with me, and the few memories I have associated with it are not great.
2. Flawless (2007, #1826). This is probably ranked a little too low because I never though it was actively bad, just... nothing special.
1. Snatch. (2000, #1654). I tried so hard to appreciate this movie when I was assigned it for last year's movie challenge, but it just never caught my attention.

Top 5 Unseen:
1. Rififi (1955, #222 on the global charts)
2. The Red Circle (1970, #403)
3. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998, #409)
4. The Asphalt Jungle (1950, #450)
5. Thief (1981, #623)

What are your favorites and least favorites? Which of my top 5 unseen should I see first?

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Quest for Forgiveness: The Motion Picture Awards

Last time, Brianna and Sonya and Conrad had creepy bonding time at Sonya's house the night before the Motion Picture Awards.

As everyone gets up and ready, Conrad muses that Brianna can't hold her feelings inside forever. He's only known her for like two days but of course he already knows what's best for her better than she does herself. It's OK, though, it's not because he's a man. It's because he's a Christian. That's why Sonya also automatically knows what Brianna needs to do and not do, even though she's only known her for a week or two. It's a superpower we have.

Conrad realizes he's already become "emotional involved" with Brianna (and that's Rothdiener's typo, not mine). But apparently despite all his flirting with her, he still thinks maybe he thinks of her as just a sister or a close fried.

Sonya notices this and brings it up to him, though she helpfully points out that they're all surprisingly drawn to Brianna. He asks why.
“I’m not certain if it’s her physical appearance, her mysterious life, bubbling personality, or what. I just know that she captured me on the first day.”
I'm not sure I'd call Brianna's personality "bubbling." She's pretty guarded and reserved. She's hardly Skye. (Which is a good thing.)

However, I can tell you right now, Sonya: it's Brianna's physical appearance. Everyone gushes about it constantly as soon as they meet her. She has not yet had an encounter where someone introduced themselves to her with, "Wow, when they said you had a bubbling personality, they weren't kidding!"

So, yeah. There's your answer.

Conrad asks Sonya to tell him the secrets she's learned about Brianna's past. Sonya hems and haws for like a second, but caves almost immediately. She starts off by telling him that her real name is Janna Anderson. Conrad's response:
“I suspected that Brianna Bays was a made-up name.”
"What kind of dumb name is that anyway? It's not like it's something sensible like Skye Leontiou."

Sonya then cheerfully tells Conrad that Brianna's adoptive father is in jail for abusing her, but that she thinks Brianna's lying about it and feels guilty. Conrad makes some vague statements about knowing what she's been through because of foster care, but their bonding is cut short by Bruno showing up.

Then there are several paragraphs about Brianna getting ready for the awards ceremony. She spends hours on her own hair (which must be full but flowy enough that it can blow in the wind or something) but gets a make-up artist for her makeup, so I guess they couldn't afford a hair stylist.

When they get to the awards ceremony, people go bonkers and try to rip off Brianna's scarf, but her bodyguards beat them all up and they get inside. Conrad tells her to get ready, but she's already done all her hair and makeup and apparently has no plans of doing anything other than sitting in her dressing room for six hours, so I don't know what "getting ready" entails.

Conrad also hugs Brianna trying to comfort her, which makes Sonya think this:
It was unlike Conrad to act on emotion. No doubt, Brianna’s magic, her passion, had captured his attention.
No doubt indeed, since HE TOLD HER THAT THAT MORNING. Dumb Sonya and her five-second attention span...

Time goes by. We learn that apparently Brianna wanted to do her dance choreography with her guitar, which is... an unusual choice. Finally she compromised by agreeing to put down her guitar when she danced but she'll pick it back up when she's done dancing.

Now it's five minutes until Brianna goes onstage. Sonya tries to encourage her.
“You look gorgeous.” 
“Beauty is not what’s going to win this crowd.” 
“You’re right.” 

Brianna shows Sonya that she's ready to go onstage by singing the scale, and Sonya deems her ready. She leaves her dressing room, tells Bruno his German accent is sexy (this comment comes out of nowhere), and heads backstage.
The emcee made a tacky one-liner about the noise backstage. One insensitive attempt at humor was about a nobody taking the place of one of America’s hottest talents. “Well, ladies and gentlemen, I can tell by the commotion in the back that we are about to get a show. I’m not sure what to expect. I hear that the young girl, Brianna Bays... you may have heard about her on the news...” He paused until the laughter died down. “Apparently, she looks like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz—the cartoon that is.”
Is that dialogue showcasing his tacky one-liner and his insensitive attempt at humor? Because I don't get what's so offensive about that, unless it's just that he's daring to not worship at the feet of someone he doesn't know. Also... what is this Wizard of Oz cartoon? Do they mean the TV one that ran for like a year in 1990? In that case, the joke is that Brianna looks like this:

Which is not particularly mean-spirited. That girl looks normal. In fact, she looks pretty Judy Garland-esque. So I have no idea what this joke even means or why people are being offended by it or what makes it insensitive. Is it offensive to say people look like cartoon characters now and I just didn't know?

They announce the song Brianna's going to sing, mentioning that Judd Stevens originally recorded it. The crowd cheers for Judd and boos for Brianna (have people ever booed at the Oscars? Because that's what this event is clearly supposed to be, despite its slightly different name).

Anyway, Brianna takes a stage... and now, to tell you how it went, I present the follow words or phrases describing her performance and the audience's reaction:

  • voice of an angel
  • strong
  • clear
  • precision
  • hitting low notes and high notes "in one breath"
  • splendor
  • spellbound
  • spectacular
  • melodic
  • meaningful
  • heart wrenching
  • flawless
  • astounding
To Rothdiener's credit, he does focus on Brianna's performance more than on her looks, although that is all shattered as soon as she's done singing:

“Wow! You are a knockout!” The host put his arm around her shoulders. “You think she looks good from down there; you should see her up close.”
The host then goes on to rave about how she can sing and dance at the same time, which pop stars apparently cannot do. Someone should take him to a Beyonce concert. Or to a dance-heavy Broadway show. He will be blown away.

Brianna applauds her dancers, and the host is amazed that she's not bragging about herself. Which... again, indicates that he hasn't paid much attention to the world of performing arts. Most up-and-coming artists don't respond to a compliment like that with, "Yup, I'm a pretty awesome dancer" -- at least not in public. That doesn't typically happen until you reach Kanye levels of fame and narcissism.

A man and a woman who will be revealing the winner come to the stage, and the man makes a creepy joke about how he wanted to make Brianna give him a hug and the only thing stopping him was her bodyguards. They announce that Brianna won, and she gives a tiny thank-you speech, in which she only thanks Sonya.

Brianna looks at the audience and for some reason they all go completely silent, despite the fact that her speech appears to be over. She gives a cryptic speech about thanking Ethan and tells him she's sorry, and then she starts crying.
Wiping her tears, Sonya realized that the mysterious girl was one step closer to revealing her past.
Her star/friend/client is crying on live TV, and all Sonya can think about is, "YESSSSS, I almost know all her secrets!"

Then Brianna goes and cries in Conrad's arms.

We then zoom WAY ahead in time:
Over the next four years, Brianna Bays would consistently be on the top of the charts— the number one entertainer in the world.
She's also in movies, performs for the troops, performs at the White House, does a Super Bowl half-time show, and wins more awards. But she is still sad inside. And that is where this chapter ends. We made it through A WHOLE CHAPTER! I haven't done that in awhile.

55% of the way through the book, with 140 pages left to go.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Tune In Thursday: Seussical

Sometimes Seussical is thought of as just a kids' musical, but it's one of my favorites. It's got entertaining songs and a heartwarming story, tying together various Dr. Seuss stories perfectly. This song, "Biggest Blame Fool," is sung by the various creatures of the jungle after they discover Horton believes there are tiny people living on a speck of dust he found. It's a big soulful power number, and it's awfully fun to sing along with.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Anti-Love Mix 2015

Ah, that time of year when Valentine's Day happens... which, even for those of us who are married, sometimes is mostly exciting because it's almost time for cheap candy, whoo! Also, it's that time of year when I release my annual anti-love mix (previous editions here, here, and here), partly because there are so many great anti-love songs and partly as an ongoing tribute to my 15-year-old self who would compile these and listen to them for hours on end angsting her heart it. For anyone else who needs to angst a bit, may this mix take you on a journey of emotions and leave you feeling a little better. And for people who just like new music, there's that too.

Download link available at the bottom of the page.

1. Touching My Hand (Jason "SweetTooth" Williams and Lauren Marcus)
One of the many new discoveries from musical theater composer Joe Iconis. It's a live version, which I don't usually like to open my mixes with, but I also like to start with a cheerful and somewhat naive love song, and this is definitely that. It's very, very high school and very, very amusing to me.

2. Fight For Me (Heathers the Musical)
Well, I've written SO MANY BLOGS about Heathers in the past six months, but if you haven't taken all that prompting and actually listened to it, here's a quote from past blogs: "This is Veronica's first encounter with J.D., when he gets into a fist fight with one of the jerk jocks at school... and she's kind of into that and sings a whole song about it. This was also the first song from the musical I really fell in love with. It's such an unusual love song, and I think that's what really draws me to it."

3. Change of Heart (Love's Labour's Lost)
I really worked very, very hard to not just fill this entire list with songs from Love's Labour's Lost, since, well, there are a lot of love songs in it. I do have a few, though, beginning with this song, an "I swore to myself I wasn't going to fall in love" song. Sometimes it just happens, and all those lame cliches you laughed at before are... kind of a thing for you now. There's an entertaining little battle in this song between his annoyance at having fallen in love and his attitude of "What the hey, I'll just embrace these feelings."

4. Stop Your Heart (Love's Labour's Lost)
Another song from the show about falling in love against your better judgment, though this one is less caught up in the joy and more frustrated with the pitfalls that come along with love.

5. Somebody to You (The Vamps)
The first one on the list that's overtly about loving someone who doesn't love you back, though this one is still a pretty cheerful ones -- the depressing ones will come along in a bit. This song, like the last couple (have I found an unintentional theme?), deals with the idea of never thinking you were going to fall in love, only to find everything a little upside down once you do.

6. The Shadow in the Door (Bruce Robbins)
This song ended up being one of my favorites of the year. It's really cheesy, but this mix is nothing if not cheesy, so here's a song about what happens when past relationships move on with their lives and find someone else.

7. I Push Up My Glasses (Barrett Wilbert Weed)
A live concert song that I discovered this year while searching for random Barrett Wilbert Weed videos. It's an unrequited love song from a shy nerdy girl to a girl she works with, and it's so very, very reminiscent of the URLSCDs -- a perfect balance of hopeful and despairing.

8. Lisa (Katrina Rose Dideriksen)
I didn't mean to put both lesbian love songs together, but this is where the transition fell between "unrequited love song" and "dysfunctional relationship song." There's a guy version of this song too, but I prefer the performance in this one. While the Lisa being sung about clearly likes the main singer, the singer's crippling self-loathing and anxiety turns what could be a very sweet love song into a dark, unhappy song with lyrics like "I know if I were her, I'd hate me."

9. Lying There (Annie Simpson)
I couldn't tell you where I got this song came from, but this song just makes me so very sad. It's about someone in a relationship realizing that she may never be truly happy in her relationship. The song vacillates between proclaiming all the things she does love about him and confessing that she can't make herself love him as much as she feels like she's supposed to.

10. Shades of Cool (Lana del Rey)
I'm can't tell you exactly what's going on in this song -- there are plenty of theories, everything from mental illness to drug abuse -- but it's clear that this is about a relationship with plenty of distance and darkness surrounding it. It's incredibly melancholy and more than deserves its place on this list.

11. Barf Bag Breakup (Barrett Wilbert Weed)
A quiet, sad little breakup song that I discovered at the same time I discovered I Push Up My Glasses. There's something about the song's simplicity that really speaks to me.

12. Kindergarten Boyfriend (Heathers the Musical)
This is maybe THE anti-love song of the year. It's another song I've written multiple blogs about, so to steal from one of them: "Back when I was an especially emo high schooler who collected unrequited love showtunes and 'no one will ever love me' songs, I would have been all over this song. Even though I am less emo these days, I still empathize very, very strongly with this character, one of the unpopular kids who has been picked on for years and years and years."

Listening to it again as I put together these write-ups... and this lyric gets me every time: "Certain boys are just for kindergarten, certain girls are meant to be alone."

13. Love's a Gun (Love's Labour's Lost)
A dark-sounding song about how depressing and unpredictable love can be in general. This one isn't my favorite from the show, but it definitely grows on me the more I listen to it.

14. It All Fades Away (The Bridges of Madison County)
I haven't yet fallen in love with this cast recording, though it's Jason Robert Brown, so I'm sure it's just a matter of time... but in the meantime, here's this song I do love. This song is sung toward the end of the show, as the main character reminisces about the woman he loved and lost. At first glance, it's a more hopeful song than I sometimes include at this point in the mix, but I don't think it's about hope so much as... wistfulness.

15. You Haven't Seen the Last of Me (Burlesque)
I wrote about this a bit in my Best Songs of 2014 blog post, but it's definitely worthy of mentioning here. Maybe my favorite part of all the anti-love mixes and URLSCDs are the songs that have the message of "I'm going to be better, I'm going to power through this." Those always hit me hard in any kind of situation where I'm feeling sad or overwhelmed, and they remind me I'm gonna be OK.

16. Since We Broke Up (Bowling for Soup)
I'm finally getting around to listening to Bowling for Soup's last album, and I'm glad I am, as I discovered this time just in time to include it on the list. In very BFS style, it's a cheerful song about how awesome life is after breaking up with someone. It's like a snarkier "Since U Been Gone."

17. Dear Future Husband (Meghan Trainor)
All right, I do have some problems with this song -- never a fan of women treating physical affection as a reward for good behavior from their significant others, and agreeing that I'll buy someone groceries if they give me flowers on our anniversary seems like a very strange deal. But it's awfully cheerful, and I'm always in favor of "yeah, you're not gonna treat me like crap" songs. So it gets to be on here. But it doesn't get to close out this collection. That honor goes to...

18. You Can't Hurry Love (Phil Collins)
I've known this song forever, but for some reason I hadn't owned it until this year. But it seems like pretty much the perfect way to end the mix.

Download the full mix here... and Happy February.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Tune In Tuesday: The Beatles

As much love as The Beatles get, this is one of my favorites that doesn't get as much love: "Fool on the Hill." I actually first discovered it when it heard it in the opening credits of the movie Dinner for Schmucks. It was by far the best thing to come out of my time viewing that movie.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Whatever Is... Right

It's been two months since my last Whatever Is... post (maybe I should just assume I'm going to have one of these every two months until further notice), but I'm finally ready to jump into the next one! Today's word is "right."

"Right" is kind of a generic term, and when I went to look it up I got the following commentary:
díkaios (an adjective, derived from dike, "right, judicial approval") – properly, "approved by God"; righteous; "just in the eyes of God". "Righteous" relates to conformity to God's standard (justice).
A good chunk of the times this word is used in the Bible, it gets translated "justice." So in my search for movies that fit the "whatever is right" profile, I'm looking for movies where justice happens -- the oppressors are toppled, the good guys win out, people get what they truly deserve. So... don't expect a lot of film noir in this list.

It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). Truth be told, I could probably include quite a few of Frank Capra's movies in this list. Capra gets a lot of flak for being overly idealistic and sentimental, but, gosh, are his movies refreshing in the cynical 2000s. I couldn't decide between these two films, both starring Jimmy Stewart, so I'll be talking about both of them.

While the central conflict of It's a Wonderful Life is centered around the impact George Bailey has had on his world, that would be a slightly hollow answer if the movie didn't end positively. As the darker second half of the story unravels, the primary emotion (for me) is that this is unfair and unjust. George has spent his whole life helping people, often at his own expense, and now he's about to lose it all because of someone else's mistake. But because he has taken care of others, they are now willing to take care of him. Everything he poured into other people's lives is given back to him in his hour of need. This movie is all about celebrating the righteous triumphing in the face of despair and greed.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was the very first movie I thought of for this topic. I'm not sure there's anything my peers are more cynical about than politics. While this movie definitely shows a more devious, underhanded side to the political world than was popular in the 1930s (and the film got a lot of criticism for it), it's also a beautiful story of someone who stands up to that corruption and triumphs. Jefferson Smith doesn't have much political experience and frequently can't recognize his colleagues' manipulative tricks, but he knows what is the right thing to do and he doesn't back down from it. I find it fascinating to compare this to House of Cards, which is like watching this movie told by the antagonist, who wins every time. That may be closer to reality, but it's a far cry from justice.

Hairspray (2007). While the original 1980s version of this story is OK, it's much less wholeheartedly invested in the emotional aspect of story. The movie musical version, however, dives right on into an unapologetically optimistic celebration of good defeating evil, of love and acceptance defeating hatred and shame. Our main characters are underdogs with big hearts who just want to cheer everyone on. It's impossible not to root for Tracy, whose joy in life and love for everyone cannot be dampened by those who see her as a loser because of her size. In the end, she's able to use the little bit of power she has to make a positive change in her world. She wins not only a civil rights victory, but the heart of the popular boy -- not by being beautiful or especially smart or talented, but just by being a genuinely good person, and she makes me want to be a better person and fight injustice too.

Newsies (1992). This is widely regarded as not a great movie, but I like it a lot (that music!) and it's an interesting one for this week since, since it's based on a real story but was altered to give it a happier ending. It's about a group of newsies in the late 19th century who go on strike, demanding a lower cost for the newspapers they had to buy themselves to sell to their customers. In real life, the opposing groups found a compromise that would convince the newsies to return to work -- the companies didn't lower the price, but they did agree to buy back unsold newspapers so the newsies weren't consistently spending more money than they made to do the job. The movie version grants them everything they asked in a big dramatic scene. Inaccurate? Yes. Unrealistic? Probably. Satisfying? Absolutely. We like to see the underdogs rewarded for their hard work rather than taken advantage of, and that's exactly what happens here.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007). All right, I had to include a weird one in this list. This serves not to show us what justice looks like, but what happens when justice is perverted into vengeance. Vengeance is not about righting wrongs by liberating the oppressed, it is about punishing the wicked, which may not even happen at all in a story about justice. (As a side note, this is why I do not like Braveheart. It's a story about vengeance masquerading as a story about justice.)

Just as Memento demonstrates what happens when truth is rejected, Sweeney demonstrates what happens when justice is rejected. Sweeney is released from wrongful imprisonment determined to take his revenge on the corrupt judge who put him there. [spoilers] As he descends deeper and deeper into his obsession, he tells himself he's doing it all for his wife and daughter, only to inadvertently kill one of them in his quest and very nearly kill the other. He finds no redemption or release after killing the judge, he destroys and traumatizes the loved ones he claimed he was avenging, and he ultimately brings about his own demise. [/spoilers] It's a bleak, ugly story, but a fitting and just ending for Sweeney himself. Jesus said, "He who lives by the sword will die by the sword," and that's how the story of Sweeney plays out -- a life of violence and vengeance that not only consumed him but the people he loved.

Readers' Choice

Well, my list consisted entirely of Frank Capra movies and musicals (that was unintentional). Let's see what my readers suggested, starting with the longest response I got!

I connect right/just with the following ideas: a) having a just *society*, b) standing up for the rights of the oppressed (and therefore, courage), c) rule of law as opposed to just having compassion or getting revenge.

Casablanca is the quintessential right/just movie. It's about Rick having to decide how important it is for him to fight for justice, and deciding that it is not only worth risking a lot but also setting aside his own desires and dreams.

1776 focuses on the struggle to pass the declaration of independence, but at the heart of it is the fundamental question of what kind of government is just, and when it is right to revolt to bring about that kind of government (and even the compromises to justice that occur over the issue of slavery and the South.)

Dead Poets Society, Hairspray, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Mr. Roberts have in common a focus on an individual daring to be different in the face of widespread accepted injustice. Mr. Roberts and DPS, like 1776, focus on being willing to challenge authority to win justice, while Hairspray and Mr. Smith focus more on changing the system from within.

Matchstick Men, Mystic River, and High Noon are different from the others in that they each subvert a genre to ask the audience whether they themselves have bought into an ideal of justice which is flawed. In heist / con movies, the heroes deceive everyone with no consequences; in crime movies and westerns violence and vengeance without rule of law are glorified. These movies bring out the real price we pay if we take those flawed ideals seriously.

I deliberately left out The Dark Knight, which asks the same questions but which is in my opinion and anti-justice movie. It subverts the ideal of justice itself, by asking whether it can really be distinguished from vigilantism and answering (IMHO) "No". It keeps the idea of compassion and sacrifice, but not that of justice / rightness. --Kevin

Maybe a little outside of what you want, but Shawshank Redemption always makes me think of justice and rightness. --Randy

Training Day. For me, this movie exemplifies the struggle between what is right and what is easy. The two main characters are flip sides of justice, one taking the high hard road, and one taking the quick and profitable road. In the end, though the better man has been bruised and bloodied, he is still alive and his integrity inspires other wrong doers to spare him. --Joshua

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. I know I have more recent examples, but I'm blanking out. A few episodes of Doctor Who. --Kellie

I thought American Sniper did a pretty good job with justice. Dallas Buyers Club... Sought out to give what society has shunned for a chance to live just a little bit longer regardless of what they do. --Timothy

American History X did that I think. Edward Norton's character had a major change because of the justice handed down to him from the courts and in prison. He learned a lot about the negative affects of racism. In the end, his brother ended up a victim of street justice. Powerful movie, but very sad. --Jen

I was thinking Doubt. I think it's a great illustration of how sometimes "justice" and "rightness" is skewed by our personal experiences and making snap judgements based only on what we've personally perceived and nothing else. Also that sometimes rightness and justice are not the same thing. --Sarah

I like how Mr. Smith Goes to Washington ended up being three different people's choice. It must be the justice movie winner. Disagree with any of these choices (mine included)? Want to include your own? Let me know in the comments!

Next Month

Next month's theme is "whatever is pure." Here's what I found when I did some scouting around for its meaning:
hagnós (an adjective, which may be cognate with hágios, "holy") – properly, pure (to the core); virginal (chaste, unadultered); pure inside and out; holy because uncontaminated (undefiled from sin), i.e. without spoilation even within (even down to the center of one's being); not mixed with guilt or anything condemnable.
That's translated pretty much across the board as "pure," though one translation uses "holy." My goal is to get the next post up March 9, although given my timing track record so far, it could end up in April. If you have a movie that instantly jumps to mind and you want to be included in the readers' choice section, go ahead and leave it as a comment here or post it on my Facebook page! Hope to hear from you all soon.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Quest for Forgiveness: Is Brianna a Child or Not?

Last time, Brianna was lectured about Jesus for forever by her lawyer-turned-manager and her bodyguard, because being lectured about your faith is exactly what you need when you have a high-pressure performance coming up the next day.

Brianna's staying at Sonya's house, which is a six-bedroom six-bathroom mansion for herself and her three cats, who each get 1.6 bathrooms and bedrooms to themselves. Or maybe she takes up three of each and her cats only get one. Sucks to be them.

Sonya says Brianna will probably own a dozen houses like this all over the world someday, to which Brianna admirably says she'll have better things to do with her money, like help people. Brianna's bedroom the house apparently reminds her of her bedroom in Ethan's house, and she chases Sonya out so she can deal with the ghosts of her past.

That evening, they have dinner together, and Conrad prays for Brianna to find what she's looking for, and also for the troops.
Brianna was overwhelmed with his prayer.
Well, he's no Skye, but I guess it was all right.

After dinner, they all retire to... share the intimate secrets of their hearts, I guess, as Conrad reveals that he's still plagued with guilt over not being able to save his brother. Cathy and Jonathan are apparently super conservative Christians because they didn't kiss until their wedding, but then again, they have to be super conservative Christians, since they're good people. I had forgotten that in this book every good person is a Christian and every bad person is not.
Still, Brianna would never comment on certain parts of her life. Sonya wondered if she would ever be able to open up honestly about her past.
She needs to chill. It's been like... a month, MAYBE two.

Wait, no. Scratch that. I just checked -- it's been two weeks.

Do any of YOU open up about the most painful details of your past to people you met two weeks ago? Or even ONE day ago, in the case of all her bodyguards? Because I sure don't. Just because Conrad's comfortable sharing his darkest secrets with everyone he just met doesn't mean Brianna should be. Sonya needs to be patient. At least she just silently prays this time instead of asking Brianna in front everyone, "So, tell us about your stepfather."

Conrad muses about how fascinating Brianna is and how beautiful she is, but reminds himself to not get emotionally attached because of professional reasons. And while he doesn't mention this, I think he should also remember that she's also just barely seventeen, so it's a little creepy for him to be ogling her all the time. In fact, he does remember this, and maybe even thinks of her as a child ("Only seventeen, she had experienced much more life than any child should have") which makes the whole thing even creepier. "Well, I shouldn't get involved with a 17-year-old child. It's unprofessional."

Brianna plays the piano, and they all applaud. She then says she can play almost any stringed instrument, but she likes the violin best. That's an impressive amount of music to accomplish in six years (she moved into Ethan's house when she was six and moved out when she was twelve). In those six years, she learned to play the piano perfectly, the guitar perfectly, and apparently almost any stringed instrument, no doubt also perfectly. Did she have time for anything else?

That night, Brianna falls asleep playing her guitar, and Sonya goes into her room and whispers creepy things at her while she sleeps:
“I hope I can help you face your fears, and find what you are searching for. For your sake, I hope it’s worth it.” 
“I wonder if that beauty mark holds any secrets.”
“Sleep well, my child. Tomorrow is your big day.”
Finally Sonya leaves her alone, and the chapter ends with me worrying once again how Brianna is constantly portrayed in this book as both a lost child and a sex object to be desired. Sonya treats her like a child to her face but markets her physical beauty to help her succeed. Conrad pities her as a child who grew up too fast but simultaneously thinks of her as an adult woman he could be physically attracted to. A good book would explore this dichotomy and have great observations on it. This is not a good book.

I didn't have as much to write about the ending of that chapter as I thought I would, so let's leave it here for now and continue on to chapter nine next week.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Tune In Thursday: Lady Gaga

I do love Lady Gaga's stuff, and this song won't be new to anyone who's paid even a little bit of attention to new music in the last couple of years. It's "Born This Way," and it's a fun power anthem. I'm including the audio version instead of the music video because, um, the music video version is like seven minutes later, and I'm just seldom up for Gaga's lengthy artsy music videos. (Though I do think the video for "Bad Romance" is pretty brilliant.)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Cool People I Know: January Birthdays

I've wanted to do this series last year but never got around to it. But this year I'm going to do it. It started whenever I saw on Facebook that it was someone's birthday and thought, "Oh, that person is so cool." And I wanted to somehow, ultimately, pay tribute to the fact that I know some of the coolest, sweetest, wisest people around. So every month, as my friends' birthdays come up, I'll zoom on over to next month's unpublished edition of Cool People I Know and write a little blurb about how cool they are and why I like being friends with them. (Although writing this has made me realize I don't have nearly enough pictures of me with the cool people I know. I may have to start trying to fix that...)

Some of these friends may not have actual birthdays in the month they claim, but Facebook says they do, and Facebook is what reminds me to write about them in particular. So here are all the people whose birthdays I saw in January.

Jen. I first met Jen at our community college, where she and I were in Campus Crusade together for a little while. I loved hearing her thoughts and insights every time the group met together. She later ended up marrying someone from the church I went to, and they now have a family together. I sometimes feel like I "lose" my friends when they get married and have kids -- their lives get wrapped up in kids and cooking and decorating the house and all the things that I have just zero interest in, and our common interests fall to the side. But I genuinely enjoy reading Jen's posts about her family, and we've occasionally had conversations over Facebook about common interests we still share. Her posts are thoughtful, compassionate, and interesting. We don't get to see each other often in person, but she's someone I pay attention to whenever she pops up on my news feed.

Mary. Mary is in charge the costume shop for Huntington's theater program. Although I never worked in the costume shop while I was there, I took her costuming class and spent plenty of time searching together for the right outfit for each show. Mary is one of those people who instantly puts me at ease, whether I was figuring out the awkwardness of a costume that just didn't fit right or stumbling through what I'd missed in the first half of her class (due to some awkward scheduling, I ended up needing to take two overlapping classes and skipping the first half of most of Mary's classes). Sewing of any kind is... not my expertise, but even when I was hopelessly lost, she'd make sure and explain it all to me until I understood enough to get through the assignment. Most of the time I get to see her whenever I go back to see a show at the university, and even if it's just a few minutes of catching up, it's really nice.

Aaron. Aaron and I were in an acting class or two together back at my community college, and though we don't chat much these days, he did sign up for my 2014 movie challenge -- and his choices were great fun. Several musicals or movies based on plays, as well as the ridiculous-but-awesome "My Name Is Bruce." I'm definitely going to have to pay attention to anything he recommends on Facebook.

Kyle. I worked with Kyle on a couple different youth ministry teams at my church in Illinois. He was on the drama team for awhile (and was very good), and then when I headed up a video ministry team, he and a group of his friends from school were all on it. Kyle was awesome to work with -- very creative, lots of fun, but also willing to refocus whenever I realized we'd gone 30 minutes without coming up with anything useful. Most of all, though, he was really serious about God. We obviously always tried to make God a central part of the ministry teams, and frequently you'd get teens who were just sitting through the God stuff to get to the fun stuff, but Kyle was always interested in for sharing what God had been teaching him and praying for his peers and growing as a Christian. He was one of those students who was just a delight to work with. Now he's married and (I believe) graduated from college and even though we don't run into each other much anymore, I'm sure he's grown from a great teenager into a great adult, and I very much wish him well.

Jessica. Jessica joined the drama company at the same time as I did, although unfortunately I never got to travel with her. She rose up through the ranks quickly as a leader, thanks to her boldness, her love for others, and her strong morals. She was one of those rare people who are both extremely strong and yet extremely approachable. I never felt intimidated by her or worried she'd judge me or call me out on being too timid. We also shared a dark sense of humor which meant occasionally someone would tell a joke or watch a morbidly funny movie and we'd be the only two to laugh at it. Hopefully someday soon I'll get a chance to catch up with her.

Lucy. Lucy and I went to Huntington together. We were in the same graduating class, but she was a theater minor and... perhaps a PR major? It was something like that -- I knew her from theater stuff. She was a really funny, delightful person to be around, one of those very open people who would both happily discuss her own life and ask other people about theirs. In classes and rehearsals for shows she was focused, practical, and never afraid to ask questions if she didn't understand something. I follow along with her on Facebook and am always happy to hear things are going well for her.

Naomi. I first knew Naomi only as the younger sister of my online friend Sarah. But as the years went by, I got to know Naomi as her own person as well, and she's delightful. She's got a great sense of humor and very smart observations about culture. We share the same love for movies, TV, and musical theater, and I always enjoy having a discussion with her about any of them, because she has solid opinions but doesn't get defensive or snarky about them.

Elizabeth. I'm pretty slow to get to know people, so it took me awhile to get comfortable around Jacob's family, just because they were new to me. It's been wonderful getting to know his sister Elizabeth, or Bessie, as most of his family calls her. She's got a snarky sense of humor that reminds me of mine, which puts me very much at ease. Even though I feel like I'm still getting to know her, I feel very comfortable with her, and that's awesome.

Cassie. I was somehow placed in the extrovert party dorm my first year at Huntington, and so was Cassie. While she was more inclined to spend a lot of time with one or two close friends than I was, we were both frequently overwhelmed by the noise and chaos of our dorm, and during the second semester, when I had a room to myself, I offered my room to her as a respite where the two of us could just chill quietly with the door closed. Hiding away from the rest of the (very loud) world, we ended up bonding some and continued to be friends the rest of my time at school.

Gina. Gina and I haven't been close in awhile, but we were great friends back when I was 12-14 or so. We both were Christians who loved musicals and writing, and we had a very similar goofy sense of humor. I can't begin to count all the times we wrote stories together or gushed about our favorite shows. When AIM faded into obscurity, we kept in touch on Facebook but spoke less. I am, however, always inspired by her Facebook posts. She truly has the soul of a poet, always posting about the more thoughtful and beautiful parts of her faith, and every time she posts something, I think, "She's really a lovely person." She just recently got married, and I wish her all the happiness in the world.

Sarah. Sarah and I have been good friends ever since I first traveled with NLDC, and for a while there we even got to be roommates in South Carolina. I could not be more lucky to be her friend. She has strong opinions but is always willing to discuss them respectfully, and she really listens to what the other person is saying. She's one of the most encouraging people I know, and she goes out of her way to be available to offer words of encouragement to everyone. Through the last several years, she's been one of the people I've gone to when I was just feeling down, and she'd pray with me over text or send me "YOU CAN DO IT, YOU'RE AMAZING" messages. I'm so amazed by her and I know wherever she is and whatever she does, she'll be blessing people.

Christian. It took me a little while to be comfortable around Christian, just because I wasn't sure how to read him at first. But now that we're friends, I've come to realize he's an incredibly inclusive and warm person. He's one of those people who post videos on your Facebook of songs he thinks you'll like and ask your opinion on a video game out of the blue because he knows you game. It can be easy for more reserved introverts to feel unseen and unnoticed, and he's excellent at letting you know that he heard you.

Charles. His two sons both were heavily involved with NLDC, but he and his wife really went out of his way to be a parent to all of us travelers -- in fact, they were known among most of us simply as Mama and Papa. Whenever we were all at homebase, the two of them spent so much time pouring encouragement and prayer and wisdom into us, filling up our love tanks so that when we went back out on the road, we had more energy to love those in our path. Papa also paid attention to those who felt like they were on the sidelines, reaching out to them with quiet encouragement and letting them know that he saw their efforts and he saw their growth, even if they felt like no one else did.

Thank you to all you amazing people I know with January birthdays. :-) Now on to February!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

My Movie Challenge 2014: The Wrap-Up! (Part 2)

Yesterday we covered spots #46-24 on my movie challenge list from 2014. Today we cover those who managed to land in the top half!

#23: Aaron's week

Aaron and I took theater classes together, so he went theater-heavy with his week -- not a bad policy for getting into the top 23! He gave me Revengers Tragedy, About Last Night (the original 1986 version), Cannibal!: The Musical, My Name Is Bruce, and Love's Labour's Lost. While there were a couple I really liked and a couple I was meh on, the big surprise was that my favorite of the week wasn't a theater-centric one at all!

Best movie of his week: My Name Is Bruce
Worst movie of his week: About Last Night
Movie that made me laugh the hardest: Cannibal!: The Musical
Biggest letdown: Love's Labour's Lost

#22: Bethany-my-sister's week

Bethany inadvertently gave me all movies that began with B or C, and it was definitely a fun mix of classics and goofy: Born Yesterday, Ben-Hur, The Blind Side, Camp Rock, and Camp Rock 2. The Camp Rocks are not that odd a choice if you remember how thoroughly I enjoy all the High School Musicals. This was a very in-the-middle week for me, though. All her movies ended up within 300 spots of each other, ranging from #904 to #1178.

Best movie of her week: The Blind Side
Worst movie of her week: Ben-Hur
Movie I should have seen by now: Ben-Hur
Worst singing that was constantly praised in-movie as being perfect: Camp Rock
Sequel that was better than the original because everybody got better at singing: Camp Rock 2

#21: Erika's week

Erika didn't focus so much on giving me movies she thought I'd love or hate. She's said before that she respects my movie opinions pretty seriously, so she gave me a bunch of movies she wasn't sure how she felt about, jokingly tell me that I was going to tell her how to feel about them. Her choices were Swing Kids, Adam, Away We Go, Albert Nobbs, and I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK. I didn't fall in love with any of these, but they were all interesting to watch, definitely!

Best movie of her week: Away We Go
Worst movie of her week: Albert Nobbs
Weirdest movie of her week in mostly a good way: I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK
Best acting in a not-great movie: Albert Nobbs

#20: Elizabeth not-my-sister's week

At first, Elizabeth chose almost all westerns for my week. But after a few weeks of watching me not like westerns, she ended up swapping out a lot of her choices and left me with only two westerns. Her final choices were Cool Runnings, Quigley Down Under, The Joy Luck Club, Oscar, and Paint Your Wagon. I was frankly not sure how this week would go down, but there were a couple I really loved and the only ones that were really low on the list were, unsurprisingly, the westerns.

Best movie of her week: The Joy Luck Club
Worst movie of her week: Quigley Down Under
Most abrupt change in plot: Paint Your Wagon
Most enjoyable surprise: Oscar

#19: Naomi's week

All but one of Naomi's choices were about infidelity or perceived infidelity, which seems like an odd theme to pick, but she assures me that it was entirely accidental. She also sprinkled in a few pre-1960s movies, which were a nice change to the more recent selections I got so frequently. She assigned me Spanglish, Waitress, Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, To Be or Not to Be, and The Barkleys of Broadway. None of them jump out at me now thinking back on them, but I enjoyed most of them at the time, and I'd probably enjoy most of them on a rewatch as well.

Best movie of her week: Waitress
Worst movie of her week: Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus
Movies I keep getting mixed up because the main character are awfully similar: To Be or Not to Be and The Barkleys of Broadway
Movie I liked aside from Adam Sandler: Spanglish

#18: Elizabeth-my-sister's week

My sister Elizabeth is just as crazy into movies as I am, and she'll watch anything and everything. I was really intrigued to see what she would pick... and she gave me one Hitchcock movie I hadn't seen and then four romantic comedies from 2010: My Girlfriend's Boyfriend, Knight and Day, How Do You Know, The Switch, and Suspicion. That being said, I liked them all okay. She's a much bigger fan of rom coms than I am, but she did choose some pretty good ones for my week, even if the one she liked best was the one I liked least.

Best movie of her week: Knight and Day
Worst movie of her week: My Girlfriend's Boyfriend
Movies that landed within one spot of each other on my Flickchart: How Do You Know and The Switch
Most unsettling Cary Grant: Suspicion

#17: Dad's week

My dad's week didn't come right after Elizabeth-my-sister's in the challenge, but it would have been crazy if it had. While her week was light and fluffy, his was anything but. He gave me Inland Empire, Mulholland Dr., Flypaper, Hannah Arendt, and Koyaanisqatsi. Aside from Flypaper, which was a fluffy heist movie, he gave me two David Lynch films, a wordless documentary consisting of still images, and a thoughtful drama about a philosopher. So that's the kind of thought-provoking week I had thanks to my philosophy professor dad :-) But it was a good week, and he's a good person to discuss movies with, so I liked having some that really gave me an opportunity for that.

Best movie of his week: Hannah Arendt
Worst movie of his week; Mulholland Dr.
Movie that should have been harder for me to figure out than Mulholland but somehow wasn't: Inland Empire
Best score: Koyaanisqatsi

#16: Matt's week

My college friend Matt loaded me up with I-should-have-seen-this-by-now movies... and also very long movies. The majority of them were close to three hours long. But it was clearly a good week, because, look, here he is at #16! He chose Black Snake Moan, JFK, Watchmen, Muppet Treasure Island, and Gandhi. Incidentally, this was the first time I'd ever seen a Muppets movie. So that was a fun "never have I ever" to rectify.

Best movie of his week: Watchmen
Worst movie of his week: JFK
Movies I should have seen by now: ...all of them except Black Snake Moan
Most surprisingly soul-healing movie: Gandhi

#15: Jacob's week

While Jacob had an advantage in knowing my taste in movies really well, especially how well it works with his, he had a disadvantage in that I've already seen a lot of the movies he likes with him. So his list was a combination of favorites from his childhood he thought I probably wouldn't like, a couple he thought I might, and he even chanced an Adam Sandler movie. His final list was Bubba Ho-tep, Pom Poko, Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland, Highlander, and The Wedding Singer. The ones he thought I wouldn't like, I didn't, and the ones he thought I would, I did, and The Wedding Singer is the second movie in this wrap-up post to get a very specific award.

Best movie of his week: Pom Poko
Worst movie of his week: Little Nemo
Movie I liked aside from Adam Sandler: The Wedding Singer
Most awesomely ridiculous: Bubba Ho-tep

#14: Andrew's week

My uncle Andy is definitely a film fan. He likes a lot of older and foreign movies and pays less attention to loud blockbusters, so I knew I'd be getting different kinds of movies than I had before. His choices were Monsoon Wedding, Jean de Florette, Holy Motors, Frances Ha, and A Separation. Those five movies came from four different countries and, while most of them were pretty story-driven, he also went ahead and gave me one that was... definitely not. Unfortunately, that one ended up being one of my least favorites of the whole challenge. Something about the visuals were just really unpleasant for me. I really enjoyed the other four, though, and they scooted his average way up to #14.

Best movie of his week: Jean de Florette
Worst movie of his week: Holy Motors
Most ambivalent beforehand about whether I would like it or not: Frances Ha

#13: Andy's week

I'm, frankly, a little surprised that this is so high, as I only loved one of these and was not blown away by the rest. But as I look at the rankings, none of them dipped very low, and most of them were above average. So go for it, Andy, take your #13 win! He went with a theme: Tom Hanks movies I hadn't seen. I got Punchline, The Polar Express, Splash, Nothing in Common, and The 'Burbs. Most of these I knew very, very little about, so it was great to get to see them. My two favorites, actually, were two I'm not even sure I'd ever heard of.

Best movie of his week: Punchline
Worst movie of his week: The Polar Express
Most unexpected tone shift (that totally worked): Nothing in Common
Silliest ending: Splash

#12: Megan's week

Megan and I went to school together and though we never talked much about movies as much as we did about our education classes and student teaching experiences, turns out we might be closer in movie taste than I knew. Her choices were Kiki's Delivery Service, Om Shanti Om, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Now You See Me. These were definitely all fun, and there weren't any I really disliked. Whoo!

Best movie of her week: Om Shanti Om
Worst movie of her week: Fantastic Mr. Fox
My very first Bollywood movie: Om Shanti Om
Movie my sister Elizabeth got most excited about me watching: Now You See Me

#11: Jandy's week

I knew I'd get a lot of older movies in Jandy's week, as that's the type of movie she really loves. She chose almost all her movies by looking for movies I might like in genres I didn't love: The Women, Girl Shy, The Killing, The Double Life of Veronique, and Nights of Cabiria. Given that she landed at #11, it worked out pretty well -- though the one I liked most was one she chose just because she thought I'd like it.

Best movie of her week: Nights of Cabiria
Worst movie of her week: The Double Life of Veronique
Best comedy chase: Girl Shy

#10: Henry's week

Henry's a musical theater nerd like me, so, not surprisingly, I got three musicals. He assigned me Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Whisper of the Heart, Shaolin Soccer, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Reefer Madness: The Musical. Since I watched his movies, I've become much more interested in the music for Hedwig and the Angry Inch (especially from the Broadway cast with Neil Patrick Harris), and I'm not sure if that would've happened without watching the movie. So thank you!

Best movie of his week: Reefer Madness
Worst movie of his week: Whisper of the Heart
Most surprisingly hilarious: Shaolin Soccer
Movie with most ridiculous lyrics but awesome music: Jesus Christ Superstar

#9: Joseph's week

This was a really fun week. The line up was as follows: Phantom of the Paradise, You Can Count on Me, Nativity!, Nashville, and Laurence Anyways. Two thoughtful dramas, two ridiculous musicals, and one comedy/drama/ensemble/musical that didn't work so much for me. All but one of this movies landed above #1000 on my chart, making for a really solid week.

Best movie of his week: Nativity!
Worst movie of his week: Nashville
Most satisfying ending: Laurence Anyways
Movie where I realized Mark Ruffalo can act and be interesting: You Can Count On Me

#8: Nick's week

Like Andy's week, this one also seems a little higher than I expected, but it's almost certainly due to my favorite of his week, which landed at an impressive #246 on my chart. It was really, really, really good. The rest hover between #700 and #1100, which made them all enjoyable but not particularly memorable. But I didn't think Silent Hill was going to be memorable either, so who knows what will stick with me a year from now? His movies were Welcome to Dongmakgol, True Romance, Like Crazy, Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles, and Stage Fright (the 2014 musical)

Best movie of his week: Welcome to Dongmakgol
Worst movie of his week: True Romance
Best documentary I saw this year: Resurrect Dead

#7: Emil's week

Emil was one of the very earliest participants in my challenge -- the second, in fact, if I remember correctly, and for the first half of the year, he was one of only two in my top ten to not have a musical in their lineup. Now he's one of four, but that's still pretty impressive. He gave me Do the Right Thing, Crank, He Loves Me…He Loves Me Not, Show Me Love, and Repulsion.

Best movie of his week: Repulsion
Worst movie of his week: Crank
Most thought-provoking: Do the Right Thing
Most "don't read anything about this movie, just watch it": He Loves Me... He Loves Me NOt

#6: Paul's week

My friend Paul's movies, for the most part, focused on the LGBT community: Transamerica, Connie and Carla, Were the World Mine, Auntie Mame, and Milk. These movies had a pretty wide spread, going all the way from #335 down to #1263, but I really enjoyed nearly all of them. The one I liked least was actually the one most critically acclaimed, while I really liked a couple that were critically panned. So... I'm not sure what that says about me. But it was a good week.

Best movie of his week: Transamerica
Worst movie of his week: Milk
Most fun surprise: Connie and Carla

#5: Derek's week

I really didn't know Derek very well at all before watching his movie, but, man, he gave me some great choices. Three of them I'd just never heard of at all, which was always a fun occurrence. His week included What Maisie Knew, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, Bound, and Agora. With the exception of Bound, which I just couldn't ever get into, I really liked the rest of these and would happily recommend and rewatch them.

Best movie of his week: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Worst movie of his week: Bound
Most fascinating protagonist: Agora
Most surprised to learn it was based on an old book because it felt like a modern story: What Maisie Knew

#4: Ross' week

Ross gave me one of the most interesting combinations of movies, and I'm not surprise he ended up in the top 5, as there's not a single one of these I didn't like: The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, Ikiru, The Thief of Bagdad, The Red Violin, and The Return of Captain Invincible. He even managed to give me one of the most bizarre and entertaining musicals of the challenge. (Really, if you've never seen Christopher Lee sing a song full of ridiculous alcohol-related jokes, you're missing out.)

Best of his week: The Red Violin
Worst of his week: The Testament of Dr. Mabuse
Movie I should have seen by now: Ikiru
Best silent adventure I've ever seen: The Thief of Bagdad

#3: Ethan's week

Ethan found some more great choices for "movies I should have also seen," as well as giving me one of my new favorite movies. He selected Planet of the Apes (the original), Lost in America, Heathers, Don't Drink the Water, and Titanic, which made everyone on the group start saying, "WAIT, YOU HAVEN'T SEEN TITANIC?" No, I had not. But now I have. I'd just become completely obsessed with into the musical version of Heathers, and the original movie was almost as much fun. Overall, a really, really fun week.

Best movie of his week: Heathers
Worst movie of his week: Lost in America
Movies I should have seen by now: Planet of the Apes and Titanic

#2: Travis' week

Travis put in some serious effort to reach #1 for this challenge, and he did... until the very end of the year, when he was unseated. He quizzed me about what kinds of movies I liked, took note every time I said something like "I really love stories about dystopian futures," and eventually delivered a really solid collection of movies: The Matador, Lagaan, The Minus Man, Dick Tracy, and 9. His work paid off!

Best movie of his week: Dick Tracy
Worst movie of his week: The Matador
Best Owen Wilson: The Minus Man
Most interesting animated visuals: 9

#1: Nathan-not-my-brother's week

Toward the end of the year, Nathan's list came along and scooted everyone down one. He had a quasi-theme of love stories, but they were all interesting and unusual takes on love stories, and all but one of them really gelled with me. His list was So I Married an Axe Murderer, Secretary, Atonement, About Time, and Bicentennial Man. About Time got an initial ranking of #171, making it not only my top movie for the challenge, but my top movie for all of 2014, even above Frozen, which was my #1 up until that point. Really great selection of movies, and it totally worked for me. Congrats!

Best movie of his week: About Time
Worst movie of his week: So I Married an Axe Murderer
Movie that was better than the crowd told me: Bicentennial Man
Most unusual but somehow very sweet love story: Secretary

A few final stats:

Earliest movie of the challenge: Girl Shy and The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
2014 movies I watched: Stage Fright, Coriolanus, and Lust for Love

Jackie Chan movies watched: 4
Studio Ghibli movies watched: 4
Sequels watched: 4

Average score of Flickcharters: 747.35
In comparison, average score of everyone else: 1194.4

Top 10 for the entire challenge:
1. About Time (#172, Nathan-not-my-brother)
2. Reefer Madness (#245, Henry)
3. Welcome to Dongmakgol (#246, Nick)
4. Dick Tracy (#277, Travis)
5. Jean de Florette (#288, Andrew)
6. Heathers (#295, Ethan)
7. Transamerica (#335, Paul)
8. Agora (#355, Derek)
9. The Joy Luck Club (#384, Elizabeth-not-my-sister)
10. The Great Gatsby (#393, Abbie)

Bottom 10 for the entire challenge:
1. Gridiron Gang (#2165, Carolyn)
2. Courageous (#2155, Carolyn)
3. The Cowboys (#2084, Abbie)
4. Holy Motors (#2062, Andrew)
5. The Black Camel (#2058, Mom)
6. The Passion of Joan of Arc (#2057, Stephen)
7. The Last Airbender (#2046, Nathan-my-brother)
8. The Art of War (#1987, Rita)
9. The Good Son (#1984, LaToya)
10. Dragon Lee vs. Five Brothers (#1983, Ebenezer)

To everyone who participated, thank you so much! It was an adventurous year but an amazing one, and who knows? Maybe some day I'll do it again.

Monday, February 2, 2015

My Movie Challenge 2014: The Wrap-Up! (Part 1)

Holy cow, guys. I made it through. I MADE IT. With some alterations and a little bit late, but I made it.

In case you have no idea what I'm talking about, I spent 2014 doing a really intense movie challenge where every week I invited one of my friends to pick five new-to-me movies that I would watch that week. I watched them all, ranked them all on Flickchart, and then ended up figuring out their "average" Flickchart score from the five movies they gave me.

So whether you were following along with me in the Facebook group devoted to the challenge or whether this is the first you're hearing of it, here's how the year went down, from the worst-scoring week to the best-scoring week. There were a LOT of weeks so I'm posting half of this today and half of this tomorrow, replacing my regular Tune In Tuesday post.

#46: Billy's week

Billy assigned me Arlington Road, the original Dawn of the Dead, The Howling, Tombstone, and the Christian movie No Greater Love. Every movie but one scored below 1500 on my Flickchart in the end (out of 2300+ movies), and that one movie was Dawn of the Dead, which I liked OK (#870). When I announced that he'd placed at the bottom of my chart, he made some comments that hinted that maybe that was his goal. I told people they were welcome to just choose movies they thought I'd hate. His average Flickchart ranking was 1612, which is... yeah, really low.

Best movie of his week: Dawn of the Dead
Worst movie of his week: No Greater Love
Best special effects: The Howling
Movie I should have seen before now: Tombstone

#45: Ebenezer's week

I knew Eb's week was going to be tough, as it was all kung fu movies and that's not really my genre, though I was open to watching more and seeing if my mind changed. Until I recalculated the Flickchart scores based on what they were at the end of 2014, Ebenezer was at the bottom of the list. His movies were Ip Man, Fist of Legend, Muscle Heat, Dragon Lee vs. Five Brothers, and Bunraku, none of which made much of an impression on me. His final score was 1608.8.

Best movie of his week: Bunraku
Worst movie of his week: Dragon Lee vs. Five Brothers
Coolest visuals: Bunraku

#44: Carolyn's week

Carolyn was one of the very first people to jump into my challenge. She gave me Courageous, All Dogs Go to Heaven, Silent Movie, the original True Grit, and Gridiron Gang... and then I disliked most of them. A LOT. My favorite movie of the whole week was one she didn't like herself. For the rest of the challenge, we joked that if she liked a movie, I'd probably hate it, and vice versa -- and that turned out to be mostly accurate. Her final score was 1599.8.

Best movie of her week: Silent Movie
Worst movie of her week: Gridiron Gang, though Courageous was only 10 spots behind
Movie I should have seen before now: True Grit
Most fun live-tweet: All Dogs Go to Heaven
Most weirdly message-free Christian movie ever: Courageous

#43: LaToya's week

I haven't known LaToya very long, so I didn't know what kinds of movies she liked. Turns out she has a fondness for psychological thrillers, which I do sometimes too, but the only one I liked this week was the one that wasn't a psychological thriller. Her choices: The Lodger, Hush, Imitation of Life, The Good Son, and Premonition, and she got a final score of 1555.4.

Best movie of her week: Imitation of Life
Worst movie of her week: The Good Son
Most disappointing movie: Premonition

#42: Jennie's week

Jennie and I are very good friends, but as we learned this year, our movie tastes are very different. She gave me Mr. Nice Guy, 17 Miracles, The Watcher in the Woods, Enough, and War of the Buttons. Quite a few of them were from her childhood, but without the nostalgia factor they didn't do much for me. Her final score was 1532.6.

Best movie of her week: War of the Buttons
Worst movie of her week: Enough
Most confusing movie: Watcher in the Woods
The first of four Jackie Chan movies I watched this year: Mr. Nice Guy

#41: Timothy's week

Timothy's week was big on the modern blockbusters I'd missed out on: The Lone Ranger, Rambo, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Man of Steel, and Tears of the Sun. Turns out, most of them I hadn't missed much by skipping before. I did really like one of them, though, and that ended up raising his total score up to 1503.8.

Best movie of his week: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Worst movie of his week: Tears of the Sun
Most "whaaaaat?!" movie: The Lone Ranger
Most depressing visuals: Man of Steel

#40: Bruce's week

Bruce had been joking all year that he would push everybody out of the lowest spot, and while it's true I didn't love any of his picks, I only really disliked one of them. He went with a lot of B-movies and silly action flicks: Green Lantern, 2012, Metal Tornado, The Spy Next Door, and Shanghai Knights, and he ended up with a final score of 1471.4.

Best movie of his week: Shanghai Knights
Worst movie of his week: The Spy Next Door
Most pleasant surprise: 2012

#39: Mom's week

My mom gave me five movies she watched as a child and then, at the last minute, she swapped one of them out for a movie she watched randomly on a trip to Hawaii a month before. Turns out that was my favorite movie of the week, though, so that was a good plan. Her picks were Thermae Romae (the recent one), Stand Up and Cheer, The Black Camel, King of the Zombies, and Beach Party. This week certainly had a wide range, with the top-ranked landing at #530 and the lowest-ranked landing at #2058. She ended up with a final score of 1416.6.

Best movie of her week: Thermae Romae
Worst movie of her week: The Black Camel
Most surprising Oscar nominee: King of the Zombies, for music
Most confusing comedic routines: Stand Up and Cheer

#38: Alisha's week

Alisha went for nostalgic favorites and guilty pleasures, so I knew this could go anywhere. Her choices were Drive Me Crazy, The Cutting Edge, Deep Blue Sea, Center Stage, and Mannequin. This was another one with a huge range in how the movies fared on my Flickchart, ranging from #457 all the way down to #1915, so I think she did pretty OK for herself here!

Best movie of her week: Center Stage
Worst movie of her week: Deep Blue Sea
Most hilarious death scene: Deep Blue Sea
Weirdest James Spader: Mannequin

#37: Sarah's week

Sarah decided she should assign me movies I should have seen by now, and she correctly did just that -- and almost all of them happened to be from the 1980s: Flight of the Navigator, The Color Purple, The Searchers, Moonstruck, and Beaches. I don't really love any of them, and most of them clustered down in the lower half of my chart, but at least I finally watched them all! And that was partly the point of this challenge in the first place.

Best movie of her week: Flight of the Navigator
Worst movie of her week: The Searchers
Weirdest script by a writer who I usually like: Moonstruck

#36: Nathan-my-brother's week

The only duplicate names we had in the challenge were names of my siblings. We had two Nathans, two Bethanys, and two Elizabeths. My brother Nathan gave me Tekkonkinkreet, Rurouni Kenshin, Redline, Dragonball Evolution, and The Last Airbender -- all anime or anime/manga-inspired movies, including two of the worst adaptations of all time, knowing I'd hate them. Well, I did hate them, and I had a tough time with one of his other anime movies, but there were two others I liked a LOT, and that was a delightful surprise. And it didn't hurt his score either.

Best movie of his week: Tekkonkinkreet
Worst movie of his week: The Last Airbender
Most surprising: Rurouni Kenshin
Hardest movie to follow visually: Redline

#35: Randy's week

Frankly, I was not looking forward to Randy's week as soon as I saw his lineup: Smokin' Aces, The Boondock Saints, Swingers, Legend, and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. I didn't really anticipate liking any of them. But it wasn't so bad after all -- there were a couple I turned out to kind of like and none that I really loathed. So he did all right! Whoo!

Best movie of his week: The Boondock Saints
Worst movie of his week: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Movie that made the least sense: Legend

#34: Stephen's week

Stephen is Jennie's brother, and when she was talking about this movie challenge, he expressed an interest in joining in. So he did, and he assigned me the following movies: The Fall, The Passion of Joan of Arc, Mr. Hulot's Holiday, V for Vendetta, and Waking Ned Devine. It was definitely a mixed bag, with two I liked a lot, two I just didn't care for, and one that sat right in the middle. I mostly just felt bad that the one he was most excited about showing off was the one that I liked the least.

Best movie of his week: Waking Ned Devine
Worst movie of his week: The Passion of Joan of Arc
Most fascinating: The Fall
On my should-have-seen-it-by-now list: V for Vendetta

#33: Paige's week

Paige and I talked only occasionally before this, but she gave me a really fascinating selection of movies: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Willow, Blue Velvet, Where the Wild Things Are, and They Live. Nearly all of these were on my watchlist before this. In the end, though, only one of them really wowed me, but I'm really glad I saw them all.

Best movie of her week: They Live
Worst movie of her week: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
On my should-have-seen-it-by-now list: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
First movie I'd seen by a famous director: Blue Velvet

#32: Lisa's week

Lisa's one of my very best friends, and for this week she elected to give me some movies she herself had not seen, mixed in with some she had: Lust for Love, 10 Items or Less, Live-In Maid, Silent Hill, and Junebug. I believe the intention was to watch the unseen ones and discuss them with me, although that didn't really happen, but it was a cool idea. This group has the honor of having a movie that only made a mild impression on me when I watched it, but has stuck with me all the way up until now. And Lisa's week was pretty earlier in the year, so it was a good chunk of time. That movie was Silent Hill. Sitting on it for awhile helped fuzz away my concerns with the plot, leaving only the powerful atmosphere it created. Nice.

Best movie of her week: Junebug (even though I remember Silent Hill more)
Worst movie of her week: 10 Items or Less
Most Joss Whedon people in it: Lust for Love

#31: Rita's week

Rita's week was very evenly spread out. There were two I really liked, two I really disliked, and one that was somewhere in the middle. She assigned me The Crying Game, Eve's Bayou, Inkheart, The Art of War, and Vantage Point. Rita's week was also the first week where I got really far behind on my viewing, because when her week hit I was starting a road trip with my sisters and was gone for two weeks. I never quite caught up from that one.

Best movie of her week: Eve's Bayou
Worst movie of her week: The Art of War
Movie I should have seen before now: The Crying Game

#30: Abbie's week

Abbie was my very first participant in the challenge, and it was a great collection of movies: The Cowboys, The Librarian: Quest of the Spear, Dakota Skye, Crazy Heart, and The Great Gatsby. A nice blend of silly and serious, well-known and obscure. She stayed almost exactly in the middle of the challenge participants throughout the year, and then fell a little further once I retallied scores based on current Flickchart positions.

Best movie of her week: The Great Gatsby
Worst movie of her week: The Cowboys
First of many attempts to find a western I'd like: The Cowboys
Silliest movie of her week: The Librarian

#29: Josh's week

Josh is Lisa's husband, but they have pretty different tastes. He gave me Lucky Number Slevin, V/H/S, V/H/S/2, Star Wars Uncut, and Cropsey. I liked most of these a little bit only one of them a lot. I'm glad I got some horror movies assigned to me, though. I didn't get many of those throughout the challenge, and I'm not opposed to horror or anything. He was also one of VERY few people to assign me a documentary, and even though I ended up being disappointed by Cropsey, I'm glad he gave me that movie.

Best movie of his week: Lucky Number Slevin
Worst movie of his week: V/H/S
Most uneven movie: Star Wars Uncut

#28: Hayley's week

I'm, frankly, a little surprised to see this so high on the list, since there were quite a few this week I was just unenthused by. But the one movie I loved, I loved a LOT and it pulled up her average a bunch. So that's cool! Her movies for me were Keith, How to Deal, Take This Waltz, Double Jeopardy, and Ender's Game. I'd been meaning to watch Ender's Game since it came out, so that was a fun addition to the list.

Best movie of her week: Take This Waltz
Worst movie of her week: Keith
Most just-okay movie of her week: Ender's Game

#27: Christian's week

Three out of Christian's five movies were animated, and two of them topped my list! His choices were Princess Mononoke, Madagascar 3, The Forbidden Kingdom, Summer Wars, and Snatch. Snatch was one of those acclaimed movies I was pretty sure I wouldn't like (I was right), so I'd never gotten around to making myself watching. This challenge was good for that. :-) I'd also been meaning to watch Princess Mononoke for a long time and just somehow never did.

Best movie of his week: Summer Wars
Worst movie of his week: Snatch and Madagascar 3 landed within one spot of each other on my Flickchart, so they can duke it out.
First non-Ghibli anime movie I'd ever seen: Summer Wars

#26: Bethany not-my-sister's week

In my challenge, I had decided I'd refer to the people who shared names with my siblings with their last initials (Nathan C., Elizabeth S.) but then Bethany not-my-sister's last name also begins with M, so that is quite unhelpful. Anyway, Bethany gave me a really interesting group of movies; The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Coriolanus (the National Theater Live version from 2014 with Tom Hiddleston), The Last Unicorn, Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, and Baby Mama. There were definitely a couple pleasant surprises this week.

Best movie of her week: Coriolanus
Worst movie of her week: Baby Mama
Biggest surprise: The Last Unicorn
Movie that I had the toughest time deciding whether I liked or disliked but eventually settled on liked: Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium

#25: Jenneh's week

I knew very, very little of any of the movies Jenneh assigned me: The Ramen Girl, Killing Season, Syrup, American Outlaws, and Neverwas. While all year I was guessing my favorite and least favorite, I had zero idea what I was going to think of any of these. Overall, it was a pretty solid week though, with a few dips above the average and a few dips below but no extremes. It was also an interesting mix of genres, with a fantasy, a western, a satirical rom com, a psychological thriller, and a heartwarming comedy/drama.

Best movie of her week: American Outlaws
Worst movie of her week: Syrup
Best surprise: Killing Season
Western I liked but felt guilty about because it wasn't actually that good but I just liked it: American Outlaws
Most wasted potential: Neverwas

#24: John's week

John had to make a last-minute substitution when I couldn't find his movies, but his list ended up being full of movies I'd wanted to see for quite some time: Eat Pray Love, Running With Scissors, Burlesque, Memoirs of a Geisha, and August: Osage County. My favorite and least favorite, if I recall correctly, were the exact opposite of what I guessed they would be. Overall, this was a good spread of movies. Even the ones I didn't love were movies I very well could have loved.

Best movie of his week: Eat Pray Love
Worst movie of his week: Burlesque
Movie that featured Benedict Cumberbatch speaking and singing with a southern accent which was very strange to get used to: August: Osage County
Movie that I really needed to see exactly when I saw it because it made me feel better about everything: Eat Pray Love

Continuing with 23-1 tomorrow!