An ABC Fantasy

I’ve had this big TV movie idea for awhile now and I’ve decided to pitch it to you today while progress (procrastination) continues on my movie and book reviews.
vanessawilliams

Vanessa Williams

Ever since the debut of Pushing Daisies (one of my new favorite shows!), I’ve been contemplating how awesome it would be if ABC filmed a movie-length television feature that brought together all of the fabulous Broadway stars in its shows. This network has a huge treasure trove of excellent singers with Tonys, albums, and whatnot. What a waste of talent for them to just be on TV and NOT break out into song every few minutes.

SaraRamirez

Sara Ramirez

A semi-brief list of good singers in ABC shows:

  • Grey’s Anatomy: Sara Ramirez joined Grey’s after doing Monty Python’s Spamalot, T.R. Knight (George) apparently also has some Broadway experience, and Chandra Wilson (Bailey) showed off her singing skills in a Grey’s episode where her character sings a lullaby to her baby boy over the phone. Also, Sandra Oh (Cristina) recently belted out “Like a Virgin” while doing an autopsy this season.
  • Private Practice: I can’t vouch for any of the other actors, but Audra McDonald has won FOUR Tony Awards (three of which she won before she was 28!).
  • Ugly Betty: Dude. Vanessa Williams. Seriously.
  • Desperate Housewives: Sadly, none of the housewives are musically gifted, but Andrea Bowen, who plays Susan’s daughter, was part of the original cast of a Sound of Music revival as Marta von Trapp.
  • Samantha Who?: Christina Applegate was nominated for a Tony Award for Sweet Charity.
  • Brothers & Sisters: Both Calista Flockhart and Ron Rifkin (Saul) have Broadway experience (Rifkin won a 1998 Tony for Cabaret).

    KristinChenoweth

    Kristin Chenoweth

  • Pushing Daisies: Last but not least, the jackpot. Kristin Chenoweth, whose character suffers from unrequited love with Ned, is well-known for her role as Glinda the good witch in Wicked. Swoosie Kurtz and Ellen Greene, who play Chuck’s aunts, are both Tony-winning/nominated (respectively) actresses. And all three already sing in random episodes of Pushing Daisies anyways!

 I’m sure I’ve missed some people who done more minor Broadway roles, but the point is there’s definitely enough people to do this musical.

 So here’s the big plan. We do a big crossover musical where all the characters from ABC primetime sing, dance, and cause big drama in one show. I’m still working on the plot, but it should go something like this:

CalistaFlockhart02

Calista Flockhart

Evil Wilhelmina Slater opens the film with a catchy tune about her conniving plans to conquer the Meade empire. She comes to Seattle Grace hospital because Christina, her baby-surrogate, is having complications with Bradford Meade’s baby. The Grey’s Anatomy doctors need help from Addison and her Private Practice gang (as they have yet to hire a new pre-natal surgeon) so she comes up from LA for a visit.

ChristinaApplegate

Christina Applegate

It just so happens that at the same time, Samantha Newly is getting a check-up by Derek Shepherd because her amnesia isn’t getting any better. She gets a flashback of bad Samantha being horribly mean to five housewives on Wisteria Lane and she leaves the hospital singing of her determination to make things up to them (out of hospital subplot).

Former presidential candidate Robert McCallister is also at Seattle Grace with his wife Kitty Walker, who desperately hopes to conceive (the rest of the Walker clan somehow find out, call each other in that big family gossipy kind of way, and tag along, Nora asks nagging motherly questions like usual, and maybe Sarah Walker has a fling with Alex Karev).

SwoosieKurtz

Swoosie Kurtz

Finally, Ned, Chuck, and Emerson Cod sneak into the hospital morgue to investigate the latest murder case and Olive Snook tries to follow them to see what they’re up to (perhaps she serenades Ned from afar). It turns out the cure to everyone’s medical problems is a therapeutic trip to watch Chuck’s aunts’ synchronized swimming act the Darling Mermaid Darlings (complete with a musical performance). Ned and company tag along and catch the murder culprit at the show and the movie ends with a big happy song where Dancing with the Stars contestants join the dance sequence.

Oh yeah, and the whole thing should be narrated by the Pushing Daisies narrator with the British accent who will say awesome things like “Wilhelmina Slater had been alive for exactly 46 years 22 days 11 hours 2 minutes and 51 seconds when she decided to supplant Daniel Meade as editor-in-chief of Mode Magazine.”

AudraMcDonald

Audra McDonald

What would make this movie even better would be if they did something like only sang Backstreet Boys songs the entire time. It’ll be like Scary Movie meets Mamma Mia!. But with better humor and better singing. It would blow High School Musical 3 right out of the water.  

To show you how well this proposal could work, the following is a clip of how musical-esque scenes are wonderfully integrated into Pushing Daisies episodes. Just imagine this video, except a lot longer and with more people. Enjoy!

(P.S. It sort of scares me that I know stuff about all these random shows. Too much TV for Sophia. Tsk Tsk.)

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More Than ‘Wanted’

I’ve been contemplating what to say about Wanted ever since I saw it two weeks ago. I realise that my procrastination has made this review a little irrelevant, especially given the cinematic resurrection of Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight this weekend. However, should people choose to care (or read), I’ll still give my two-cents worth.

Even when I don’t have time to read the whole issue, I always peruse the Current Cinema section of The New Yorker and I thought this description by Anthony Lane (full review here) just so perfectly encapsulated the style of the movie:

“What is it like being Timur Bekmambetov? No artist should be confused too closely with his creations, but anybody who sits through “Wanted,” Bekmambetov’s new movie, will be tempted to wonder if the life style of the characters might not reflect or rub off on that of the director. How, for example, does he make a cup of coffee? My best guess, based on the evidence of the film, is that he tosses a handful of beans toward the ceiling, shoots them individually into a fine powder, leaves it hanging in the air, runs downstairs, breaks open a fire hydrant with his head, carefully directs the jet of water through the window of his apartment, sets fire to the building, then stands patiently with his mug amid the blazing ruins to collect the precious percolated drops. Don’t even think about a cappuccino.”

There are only two reactions to this sort of thing: either amazement at how awesome that was or amazement at how incredibly stupid this whole thing seems. If you too would love to make your morning coffee in this way, this is your kind of movie. But if you require at least an ounce of realism in your movies, then you’ll probably find yourself rolling your eyes through the whole thing.

The problem with Wanted is that it refuses to acknowledge its own absurdity. Other superhero films contain protagonists with clearly superhuman powers and they are singled out by their costumes or weapons of choice. They revel in their realization of boyhood fantasies: flying, conquering over bullying villains, and blowing things up. Wanted, on the other hand, actually attempts to masquerade as something that could actually happen (its main character being powered by simple adrenaline and backed by a semi-typical group of assassins).

Other “possibly real” unrealistic things in Wanted: curved bullets (some people in the theatre actually seemed to believe this was possible if you swung your arm hard/fast enough… uhh no), and the  recovery bath of wax (clearly a poorly constructed plot device so that the characters can take more pummeling in a 2 hr time frame).

Of course, realism is not a necessary component of a good movie (see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). However, the other elements that hold together the vast exaggerations of Wanted are a bit threadbare. Given advances in technology, the amount of gore films can show has definitely increased and Bekmambetov capitalizes on this by not only adding more violence, but also painfully inserting slow-motion blows every single chance he gets. Some may say its stylistic, but by the 20th slowdown of a curved bullet’s path, it gets tiring. The narration throughout was mildly irritating and oddly placed, although the pay-off at the end may have been worth it. In fact, my general opinion is that the concluding remarks with its echo of the beginning sequence saves the film from being pointless, transforming it to satisfyingly triumphant.

The Loom of Fate (nice allusion to the Greek Fates, I’ll admit) and the ancient society of assassins are both key factors in the film that are never really explained. In the end you’re still left wondering: Who’s sending them these codes? Is this Fate synonymous to God? Or if the sender isn’t divine, aren’t they just as bad as Sloan (Morgan Freeman) who decides to kill other people to save his own skin? 

While Wesley (James McAvoy) is lauded for taking control of his own destiny, this message is complicated by Fox (Angelina Jolie)’s insistence on adhering to the decisions of the Loom/Fate as well as the demonization of Sloan who essentially also attempts to put his fate in his own hands. Early on, Sloan tells Wesley:

“It is a choice, Wesley, that each of us must face: to remain ordinary, pathetic, beat-down, coasting through a miserable existence, like sheep herded by Fate, or you can take control of your own destiny and join us, releasing the caged wolf you have inside. Our purpose is to maintain stability in an unstable world – kill one, save a thousand. Within the fabric of this world, every life hangs by a thread. We are that thread – a Fraternity of assassins with the weapons of Fate. This is the decision that lies before you know: the sheep, or the wolf. The choice is yours.”

It seems odd that Sloan claims the path he offers frees Wesley from Fate when the Fraternity is actually governed by the codes of an unseen weaver. Also, the mantra “kill one, save a thousand” definitely treads on some troubling moral grounds. After the initial embrace of and subsequent rebellion against the Fraternity and its values, the audience is left unsure of what the “take control of your fate” slogan of the film really refers to. 

Despite all this, Wanted (and James McAvoy) still manage to charm you into overlooking all these flaws. Against all reason and better judgment, you’ll find yourself swept into the action. Perhaps the lure of the summer action flick is its ability to make you forget all the logic, schoolwork, and reasoning that you acquired over the school year. You know you’re wasting your summer and that you have better things to do (or watch), but it’s summer, so what the hell.

An Iconography of Contagion

flyfeetdiseasenlm“Public health took a visual turn about 100 years ago. In an era of devastating epidemic and endemic infectious disease, health professionals began to organize coordinated campaigns that sought to mobilize public and government action through eye-catching posters, pamphlets, and motion pictures. Impressed by the images of mass media that increasingly saturated the world around them, health campaigners were inspired to present new figures of contagion, and recycle old ones.”

The National Academy of Sciences has a new exhibition that shows the evolving cultural representation of infectious disease in the US. A lot of these posters are part of the WPA (Works Progress Administration of the Depression-era) Poster Collection at the Library of Congress (view Newsweek gallery here – I think the “Beware the Cancer Quack” one is just hilarious).

“Pneumonia strikes like a man eating shark… led by its pilot fish the Common Cold!”

The fact that these images seem funny today is a testament to how public health awareness has really spread. I love looking at historical artifacts because it reminds me of how oftentimes change is the only thing that is constant. In my opinion, anyone with a strong grasp of history develops a skepticism towards current religious doctrine (particularly Catholicism since its institutional voice and interpretation of the Bible has changed so much through the centuries). At the same time, they also develop a skepticism towards science, which I find extremely positive. Sometimes I think people have such a faith in the power of science that they forget just how wrong or biased scientists have been in the past (refer to A Short History of Nearly Everything) and how a blind and absolute belief in anyone is dangerous. History provides perspective on our own views and the factors that went into creating them.

Historical government posters often seem to scream propaganda (“Uncle Sam wants YOU!”). For better or worse, this kind of art is always an exercise in psychological manipulation.There’s this WPA malaria poster (sorry couldn’t find image online) created during World War II that depicts a mosquito with a Japanese face, in an attempt to mobilize civilians against two common enemies. Yet the poster also seems to label an entire race as disease-ridden pests.

In the midst of other health warnings, I also found this poster troubling in its treatment of women. If you look through the WPA Poster Collection, several posters emerge that seem to accuse loose women and prostitutes of being spreaders of venereal disease while portraying the innocent soldier as the victim, the implication being that a certain gender is responsible and worthy of condemnation.

And yet, even my indignation over such racism and misogyny can be perhaps set aside given the context of history. I disagree with those who often condemn Dickens for anti-Semeticism or the Greeks for misogyny. They are creatures of their own times and it doesn’t make sense to impose our modern standards upon them.

color film copy slide LC-USZC2-5161color film copy slide

Last but not least, here’s some non-public health WPA posters that I thought were too funny not to share. Clearly, “Loose lips sink ships.”

On a random note: it’s a little disheartening to see that I’ve had 300+ hits but only had a few comments. It hurts my poor self-esteem terribly much. So.. please comment, dear reader. 🙂

Sophia Reveals Her Sciencey Side

Fact or Fiction? (Answers revealed at end.)

1. Waking Sleepwalkers May Kill Them.

2. Living People Outnumber the Dead.

3. Vodka Keeps Cut Flowers Fresh.

 

The war between science and the liberal arts, physics and philosophy, mathematics and religion, seems like a centuries-old feud between two apparently irreconciliable opposites. I constantly hear humanities majors complain about the rigidity and cold methodology of science while science/engineering majors rant about the futility and subjectivity involved in essay-writing.

My own beloved university, UCLA, has its battle lines physically drawn across campus via Bruin Walk. North Campus or South Campus? That is the question. Sometimes it feels like we’re all picking sides and after we finish GE requirements, there’s no reason to enter the other side of campus at all. Perhaps this geographic division fosters the psychological mentality that we must pick one or the other. We are either suited to write or calculate, to theorize or experiment.

But I think this type of isolation and the rejection of the “other” is unnecessary and even harmful. In the end, no matter what we learn, we are essentially all in pursuit of that Holy Grail that is knowledge, albeit in different ways.

Anyways, I mention this because sometimes I get the feeling that people think I am uninterested in science or simply do not have the brain power to understand, but I can assure you that this is a vast misunderstanding. There are things that I find boring, unbelievable, or difficult to comprehend, but these limitations are not representative of my scientific curiosity or interest. My biggest regret in life will probably be not getting a chance to learn/know everything. I want to know things, as long as someone will bother to tell me.

It may sound strange, but I think my relationship to science is very much like that of many people’s relationship to literature. The casual reader shies away from Pope, Coleridge, and the ever-so-daunting Milton, but enjoys the occasional Harry Potter series or Stephen King novel. In my case, I find that I love learning random, strange, probably unuseful sciencey facts (about gomphothere turd, human decay, and what not), but find it hard to swallow that unique concoction of labs, calculations, and scantron tests that an actual major would require.

Given the fact that I deal with fiction, poetry, and language all day long every single quarter, recently I find myself turning to science as my leisurely refuge. I’ve developed quite a taste for science non-fiction as my before-bedtime-casual-reading-companion. Whereas I can barely pick up a novel without itching for a pencil to annotate, my relationship with science non-fiction is easy and simple. There are no rings, wedding bells or children in the future for the two of us. He is my fling, my temporary relief when that dear old husband of mine gets on my nerves, as any loved one will from time to time. There is a sort of exoticism associated with meddling in a field that is not your own and this intrigues me. Besides, there is something exciting about surprising people who think you only know stuff about iambic pentameter.

stiff_largeAnyhow, I would love any science non-fiction book recommendations that you guys have! I do tend to lean towards biology/ecology although I can probably read anything that’s witty/funny and doesn’t have too much jargon. My personal favorite so far is Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. I’m currently tearing through Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (excellent, very funny book by the way – although it does make me cringe sometimes), which I shall attempt to finish and review by the end of next week. :]

 

Answers: 1.) Fiction (Waking a sleepwalker is more likely to save his or her life), 2.) Fiction (The number of people alive today is dwarfed by the number of people who have ever lived whether we begin counting from the first Homo Sapiens 50,000 years ago, the Egyptian agricultural revolution in 9000 BC, or the Roman rule in 1 AD), 3.) Fact (If small amounts are added, vodka works as a flower preservative by interfering with the plant’s ripening process.) 

— Courtesy of Scientific American

 

Coming soon: movie review for Wanted, common misconceptions about English majors, and more so… stay tuned!

Que Gordo!

Whenever I see Fernando Botero’s work, it just cracks me up so much. The man basically makes a living out of painting (and sculpting) fat people. If you want to get analytical, perhaps you could say that the corpulence of his subjects symbolizes the excesses of luxury and bourgeois living. Or you might say Botero intends to mock the classical conventions of art by using art icons, such as Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and fattening them up. But today, I shall not pontificate. I simply wanted to share with you the very odd painter whose art greeted me when I randomly decided to open my Pasajes – Literatura for the first time this summer.

Wall-E: a Bundle of Dystopian Cuteness

Note: will include spoilers, but personally, I think most G-rated movies are too predictable to be spoiled that badly.

Seeing Wall-E in a packed theatre last Saturday, I realized that the movie theatre climate has been drastically altered since I was a wee child. Just as the Harry Potter books invaded the New York Times bestsellers list, Pixar films have become a serious contender in the fight for opening weekend box office sales.

The difficulty of producing a meaningful children’s film (or novel) lies in balancing a message that shies away from both sentimentality and pedantry with an equally important need to entertain. Too often G-rated movies either sink into meaningless antics and gags or feature overly sappy scenes about the importance of family, love, and self-identity. Luckily for moviegoers, Wall-E makes neither of these fatal mistakes, never for too long anyways.

The thing that I found most intriguing about the film was its ability to tell a story with such sparse dialogue. The first half of the film, especially, reminded me of Charlie Chaplin and the wonders of silent film. Wall-E and his love interest Eve repeat their names countless times throughout the film and yet, each time it is said, it carries a different intonation and nuance. Wall-E really makes you think about the importance of body language and what aspects of expression are most integral to being human (for any character, whether robot or animal, only gains our sympathy through its human qualities). Visual effects have always been Pixar’s strong suit and they definitely show this in the detail they put into humanizing their robots.

Wall-E, a shy, lovestruck robot, would probably have been a nerd if he was a human being and his characterization seems to coincide with the current trend that lauds the beta male who is often paired with a stronger, more dominant female character. Given the success of Knocked Up, 40 Year Old Virgin, and a string of other movies promoting the less-than-handsome, slightly awkward hero who wins the heart of a hot girl, it’s interesting and telling that even children’s films are beginning to follow this formula. Dirt-ridden and weathered, Wall-E is not the ideal counterpart to Eve, who is far more technologically advanced and (scarily) armed, and yet this endearing little guy somehow manages to win over her and everyone else. Setting aside the classic male role for something a little less perfect, the film industry is moving towards a more realistic portrayal of the average Joe.

The unfolding of Wall-E’s love story with Eve was delightfully done and Pixar was smart enough to insert humor wherever the moment risked sappiness. The only scene that kind of made me cringe was when Eve holds hands with Wall-E to make him remember who she is; it seemed almost too precious given the repeated foreshadowing of this monumental event with the replaying of Hello, Dolly! on Wall-E’s tape. While we all care about Wall-E by the end, somehow the revival of a robot from the grips of death is far less poignant than, say, the death of Mufasa or the Beast’s resurrection as a prince, making the scene feel contrived as a not-so-subtle tying up of loose-ends.

The opening shots of the movie eerily depict a futuristic wasteland left behind by mankind when Earth became uninhabitable. Tall skyscrapers made entirely of trash fill the screen as advertisements for Buy N’ Large continue to play in the empty city. The view instantly recalls the pessimistic warnings against mass consumerism and the destruction of the environment that have risen to the forefront of today’s political debates. The eco-friendly, “green” agenda, exemplified in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, is clearly evident in Wall-E, showing the extent that environmentalism, once mocked as the cause of tree-hugging hippies, has pervaded American culture.

Even more so than the issue of environmentalism, the dehumanizing nature of technology and mass consumerism is ever present in the film. A spaceship full of obese people drinking their food from big plastic cups seems to echo the warnings of Fast Food Nation and Super Size Me while the isolation of human beings in individual hoverchairs and the trance-like state that the viewer finds the future generations of mankind in resembles the dystopias of Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451, where the problems of society are caused by self-induced ignorance and apathy. A particularly creepy part of the montage of life on the spaceship is that of the nursery where babies were being taught about Buy N’ Large products (“B is for Buy N’ Large, your very best friend”). Even the babies, it seems, are bombarded with propaganda. This indictment of modern life implicitly includes the role that technology plays in advancing such consequences. Ironically, it is a robot that seems most human in the film and ends up saving humanity.

Interestingly enough (and in my opinion, a little disappointingly), Wall-E fails to give a definite response to the problem of Big Government (as symbolized by Auto and the president, who refuse to deviate from the set course) and excessive consumerism. The obesity problem is written off as the accidental result of living so long in space (which, by the way, is scientifically inaccurate – people actually lose muscle mass/strength) rather than the fact that the people in the film never exercise and gorge on fast food. In fact, the image of a sea of chubby people rolling around when the spaceship tilts feels like a joke made at the expense of an opportunity to address a greater problem. In addition, the rebooting of life on Earth is overly simplistic, celebrated with the planting of a single sprout (also scientifically impossible given the lack of genetic variety in one plant to ensure species’ survival). In the struggle between dealing with the big issues and giving kids a happy ending, happy ending clearly wins. With Wall-E and Eve’s triumph over Auto, the previously dehumanized human beings return happily to Earth and fields of plants randomly start to grow as the movie comes to an end.

Perhaps such an ending is appropriate for the innocent expectations of children, but in a sense I feel like they got cheated out of a more meaningful message. The more pressing issues of today’s society take a back seat to robot romance and in the end, you are left unsure of what the movie actually thinks about the big problems that were brought up. Nevertheless, this may indeed be part of the nature of its genre and Wall-E cannot be entirely faulted.

 Wall-E does well despite the constraints and flaws of its genre and definitely deserves to be one of the major blockbusters of the summer. The cute-factor of Wall-E cannot be denied; however, my general opinion towards Pixar goes unchanged: while they always do a great job with animation, witty dialogue, and humor, the plot frequently lacks a little extra depth.

Bald Spots

Recently I started subscribing to Merriam-Webster’s “word of the day” in an attempt to slowly increase my vocabulary for my GREs. I did the same thing during my SATs with dictionary.com but I have to say Merriam-Webster’s format is much nicer. In addition to the definition, they give you an example sentence and an interesting fact about the word’s origin. If you’re looking for some fun words to learn, you should also check out the Oxford English Dictionary’s “word of the day” although I feel that its format can be too formal for my tastes.

Anyhow, this morning when I got up to check my email, I found this word in my mailbox:

Trichotillomania: an abnormal desire to pull out one’s hair

Ironically enough, this is exactly how I’ve been feeling recently with all the things going on with my family, studying, and the terrible planning out of the next ten years. Oh, the stresses of modern day life. No wonder this word arose in the 20th century in connection to OCD. The way we live and think apparently drives us insane.

On a side note: I have a few posts in progress, including a review of Wall-E, so check back soon! 🙂