30 January 2007

a gradual process

I've already posted images of this in my LiveJournal, but then today I realized I'd never updated blogger with any of it. So this morning's entry is a backtrack of last week's plush endeavors.

The body fabric is a natural-tone muslin, the eyes and mouth are black thread. This week I'm in the process of making a nicer version of the body out of velour fabric. I cut all the pieces on Sunday night with a few minor differences from the original (thumbs on the hands, a slightly different dart for the front of the head), sewed and stuffed the body yesterday, and today I'll hopefully finish the head.

Well, maybe finish the head. I'm thinking of purchasing some flat-black buttons for the eyes rather than messing around with the satin-stitch again; because it was hard enough to make an even satin-stitch on muslin, never mind piled fabric.

I also still need to make ears (the first prototype didn't have any). And, for this particular plushie, ears will be necessary, since a major part of his defining accessories is wearing funky earrings.

After I'm done with the body, the real tricky part will begin--hair, clothing, accessories. My experience with making doll clothes is so limited, it could be written on the back of a postage stamp in its entirety.

And Strife's clothes are kind of detail-oriented: the boots and gauntlets, fingerless gloves (good thing the new plushie has thumbs), and a nonsensically pieced-together [leather or pleather?] jump-suit with tiny metal rings and belts and such. For a better explanation of what I mean, I include photos:

Yeah, he's a skinny god. I don't care. He's going to make an adorable plushie.

But I get the sinking feeling I'll be hand-sewing Strife into his complicated getup.

Turn the page ...

29 January 2007

pure morning

Oh, this past weekend ... ~_~

And now for a more-detailed account of the weekend's events, adventures in Providence, and terrorists on skis.

Friday afternoon I left work and headed inbound, stopping at Park Street to browse through the Borders at Downtown Crossing (and apparently there's another Borders on Boylston St. now, too?). I was looking for books on doll-making (big surprise, that is) and drawing super-deformed characters (chibi!), since the human dolls I'm interested in making are of the chibi/SD variety. All around, that was a very discouraging stop, since there was really nothing I could use in stock.

Art dolls are ... interesting, but they give me the creeps. I'm not talking about sock creatures or weird animals or patch-work creations--but rather dolls like this. I recognize their art value; I can even understand why some people would want to collect and create them; but I wouldn't deal well with having one in my room. I would have Puppet Master nightmares (except that the nightmares would actually be scary rather than stupidly funny, like those movies).

From Park Street, I went to Harvard Square to visit Tokyo Kid, looking to see if they had any plushies in a discount bin; because, at a cheap enough price, I wouldn't mind buying one just to take it apart. Yes, I should've known better, really. Nothing is ever cheap at that store. Plushies of the type I was interested in were starting at $14. Yeah. No. Not for a UFO-catcher doll. Not when I've seen them on eBay for $6.

They did have how-to guides for drawing manga characters, but they weren't really what I wanted (and $20 besides); so I left without buying anything and continued on to The Coop. They were also a no-go for doll-making books, but they did have a very nice selection of manga-drawing books on the lowest shelf in their Art section. I might've bought one, but when I looked at the neverending line for the cashier, I lost my verve and opted to just go home. It was easy to do, really, since I knew I'd be spending money on Saturday. And since I went to Amazon.com, and ordered this.

And, check, spent money on Saturday. Melissa picked me up at the train station and we drove 'round to The Fabric Place and A.C. Moore. At The Fabric Place (where my head spun around and exploded upon entering--no, not really, but yikes, it's overwhelming) I bought velour in white and light gray, an evergreen suede, and a book on the basics of making soft toys. A.C. Moore had beanie babies for $4 ... yes, ashamed to say it, but I bought two: a skunk and an owl who have joined Jiji on the top of my television set. Oh! and some fat quarters in red, black, purple, and blue with different and interesting patterns.

Really, I wasn't as bad as I'd expected. The grand total could've been much worse.

After that, we went back to Melissa's to pick up Erich so we could all go to lunch. We went to The Texas Roadhouse. It's awesome. Yeah, the music is country-western, and we could all live without that, but the food ... The food is really just to-die-for. I haven't had steak in ... forever; and this was the perfect reunion for me and steak. And I ate alllll my food--and didn't really notice how full I was until it was time to get up and leave. And Mel very graciously spotted me the money for dinner again, so I really must buy her and Erich dinner next time around. I feel like a free-loader! TT_TT

Then we went back to the house for stitching and season two of Doctor Who. The six-minute segue between the end of season one and "The Christmas Invasion" (that I'd never seen before) really helps the Christmas special make more sense (so far as Rose accepting the Doctor's body-change, and how they crash). And holy crap, I love the outtakes so much. It makes me want to dress up as a cyberman and run around the Common, chasing squirrels and pigeons. Mmm. David Tennant.

And I was being productive too! I cut new arms (as I was less than pleased with my first attempt), hand-stitched them, and hand-sewed them into the torso seam, all ready to be stuffed when I got home. That doesn't seem like very much when typed out, but it took me a while to do all that. I think the biggest headache was in figuring out the placement of the arms in seams; because I wanted the seams to be perpendicular, not lined up (I like making life difficult for myself). But after they were pinned into place, it wasn't too bad.

After the Doctor Who outtakes, Mel drove me home--which was super-nice of her. And I, of course, stayed awake to stuff the doll's arms and torso, and attach the head. This was all while half-heartedly watching Icebreaker. I didn't know what the hell was happening in that movie by the time I'd finished crafting and was actually paying attention ... so I started the DVD over again from the beginning. And promptly fell asleep.

I tried to watch it again on Sunday morning. It's a really bad movie, Bruce Campbell and Sean Astin notwithstanding. A concise description of the plot idea would be "Die Hard with skis." If you think that sounds dumb, you don't know the half of it. I swear it was written by somebody (probably a former member of ski patrol) who was working at a ski resort and got bored. I can just see it:

"Oh, what if terrorists showed up?" [for no bloody reason at all] "Hmm. Yes. They need a reason to be here, don't they? ... Uhh, they've lost their nuclear weapons from Russia in a plane crash on the mountain! And the only way to get them back is to take the ski lodge hostage!" [never mind that Russia is small beans anymore, but they can't just sneak up there and get their nuclear stuff back without anybody noticing?] "No! We want this to be like Die Hard! And, instead of a cop, what if a member of the ski patrol had to save the day?" [because, you never know, it could happen] "And we can have terrorists on skis, chasing the hero down the black diamond trail!" [the terrorists know how to ski?] "Yes." [and snowboard?] "Yes!" [and shoot guns at the same time?] "YES!" [how do all the terrorists know how to ski?] "Because they do!" [and, yes, losing me ...]

You know that's how it went. Sean Astin should've known to stay away from terrorist movies after Toy Soldiers. Oh, well. In spite of its being a really dumb movie (actually, maybe because it's a really dumb movie), I did kind of enjoy it. But then I enjoyed Toy Soldiers too, and that's equally absurd.

Oh, yeah. A little after ten o'clock the doorbell rang. It was the USPS carrier. On Sunday. My package from Aranzi Aronzo had arrived--less than a week after ordering it. From Japan. And on a Sunday. The EMS packaging boasts: "fastest International delivery." I think they've earned that boast. I really didn't expect it to arrive that fast.

The book is beautiful and chock full of visual instructions that make it really easy to follow along. And the fact that I can read katakana helps a bit too.

On the invoice somebody wrote a small note in very neat (and somewhat broken) English. But it was just so nice. And personalized. And it definitely made me go: "Awwwwww!"

It might be a generalization of their culture, but it's a good one--and so, hopefully, forgiveable--but ... Japanese people are so damn nice.

Turn the page ...

24 January 2007

for my next trick

I think I'm going to make an owl. There's a very simple pattern for one that I copied from Craftster that has very few pieces, and I don't think it should take me too long to put it all together.

More of a long-term goal is come up with my own concept for a general plushie form (kind of like the UFO-catcher plushies, but probably not anime characters).

My feeling is that the head is going to be the biggest nightmare to figure out, since I want it to have more than the two-dimensional shape that two sides sewn together would provide. I want there to be a definite point where the nose is located, and I want the back of the head to have some dimension too. Suffice to say, I think that this is going to involve a lot of trial and error (and, during those trials, the cheapest broadcloth I can find).

Once I have a plushie design that I like, I'm going to make a Strife plushie (and break some sort of commandment in which I don't really believe, I'm sure). No, not Cloud Strife. Strife-Strife. My LiveJournal icon's Strife. Leather metal-ringed costume and all (though, more likely to be pleather). I'd like to make him a little cloak too, just for the hell of it.

Other idea--a Captain Jack Harkness plushie, complete with great coat, vest, and bracers.

You can see I'm really warming up to this concept.

Turn the page ...

23 January 2007

nuigurumi, continued

I finished making Farsil the Cat last night.

I'm not sure what I'll turn out next, but I really like making plushies, so probably another one of those (though, not likely to be another cat--not for a while anyway).

Turn the page ...

22 January 2007

tableware you know you want to use

The title, you'll soon understand, is sarcastic.

I was browsing Aranzi.net, a Japanese store featuring products with different animal characters (and some that aren't animals at all), and found these in the Tableware category:

"Poisoned drink" and "poisoned food" (respectively). It's like Hello Kitty from Hell. Awesome.

Turn the page ...


This past weekend I rewarded the leaps and bounds I had made in organizing my desk by finally pulling out my sewing machine and using it (after a hibernation period of how long?), temporarily relocating the laptop to my bed. I also cleared out a nook for the sewing machine on one of the lower shelves of the desk for when I'm not using it; having it there will make it easier to take out whenever I want.

Friday afternoon, I had found a fairly simple pattern for a stuffed cat on Craftster, and on Saturday morning I decided to give it a try. My first attempts were, I now see, doomed. The pattern was too small for the fabric I had chosen (remember the black faux fur-like remnant from The Children's Museum? no, I hadn't either--until I found it lumped in with my other sewing odds and ends); it was shedding and thick and pretty impossible stuff to work with, and not at all a good idea for a "first stab" at a stuffed animal.

So I took a break for lunch, popped a couple ibuprofen, and began to watch the third season of Arrested Development, which had just arrived in the mail. And at some point during the show, I started sorting through the other kinds of fabric--they were still spread out on my bed since I'd not put them away. I decided to make life simpler, enlarged the pattern, chose two kinds of cotton (from the various fat quarters I've collected over the years), and started afresh.

It should be noted that this particular pattern is in Japanese. I don't know Japanese (well, not entirely true--I know very little, and cannot read kanji), so I basically followed my intuition with the process. Most of it worked out well; some of it could've gone better. Like the arms. I stuffed the arms before machine-sewing them into the seam of the torso. And if I ever do that again, I'll probably sew them with their seams perpendicular, rather than parallel. Because they're kind of floppy, in a way that would be arm-breaking on a real creature.

I think I had just finished the machine-sewing part when the first disc of Arrested Development ended. I plugged the iPod into the television to watched The Illusionist (which is kind of weird to watch after Gob's magic nonsense on AD), and stuffed the separate body parts (head, body, and tail) with destroyed pieces of the black fur material (because what else am I going to do with that stuff?).

Some of the way through the stuffing process, I realized that I had no hand-sewing needles. I rummaged through my disorganized bags of sewing stuff, and no. Nothing with which to sew the pieces together.

So, Saturday night concluded with my project looking like this:

Sunday I took the trip from South Station out to Framingham. I had about half an hour to wait for my train, so I stopped at one of the food stalls in the station for a sandwich. There's a new one called Cosi, and I recommend it to anyone who happens to wind up in South Station. Their melts are awesome.

My purpose of the day was to visit The Fabric Place and get whatever I needed to finish my project--and browse too, since it is, according to their advertisements, the biggest Fabric Place in New England. I bought more than I needed to: a 50-pack of hand-sewing needles, more fat quarters from the quilting department, felt squares, poly-fill (no more lumpy stuffed creatures), and poly pellets (no more top-heavy stuffed creatures either).

I arrived home around twilight, and finished sewing the cat's pieces together before dinner arrived while watching the second (and last) disc of Arrested Development, season three. He still needs a face (as I'm using pins to mark where I'm thinking it should go), but this is what he looks like now:

Somewhere between Framingham and South Station, on the trip home from The Fabric Place, I decided that his name is Farsil Redleaf. The "Redleaf" part is fairly understandable (the maple pattern fabric that makes up his front, tail, and inner-ears); but don't ask me about "Farsil," because I don't know or remember why I arrived at that. I was always bad at naming pets. I'm equally bad at naming stuffed animals.

Other changes I would consider making to the process:

1. Perhaps determine a more stable way of attaching the head to the body (or, indeed, a way of attaching all pieces to the body before stuffing). I just feel like the hand-sewing bits were the least uniform, and maybe the whole design could be machine sewn if slightly altered. Maybe the tail, like the arms, could be pre-stuffed and sewn into the seam.

* In lieu of that, do some trial-stitching on spare fabric and try to recall that old secret of "the hidden stitch."

2. Stitch the face (with whatever) before sewing the head together, because I can already tell that any attempt at satin-stitching the face is going to be rather difficult.

3. Make use of the poly-pellets in the bottom (and maybe the feet too) so that it's not so top-heavy. Otherwise, it really can't sit up by itself.

Turn the page ...

18 January 2007

Tarzan, much?

There are certain notions that I would tend to immediately dismiss as fiction. This was one of them:

'Wild Cambodia jungle-girl' found

A Cambodian girl who disappeared aged eight has been found after reportedly living wild in the jungle for 19 years.

So this girl is 27, has been surviving in the jungle for almost two decades, and speaks no discernible language? I call that a movie plot waiting to happen.

Honestly, it's like The Jungle Book or Tarzan or George of the Jungle. Crazy.

Turn the page ...

pride cometh before ...

I've got a memory like an elephant... that's lost its memory.

- Mrs. Letitia Cropley (Liz Smith), The Vicar of Dibley

... a nasty fall up the front steps in the freezing cold. Or something to that effect. I could blame it on pride or my over-large slippers that I happened to be wearing at the time, and in which I have a hard enough time while walking on level surfaces, never mind brick stairs.

The pride being due to the happiness I was feeling from the completion (or near-completion) of various chores around the flat. I'd done my laundry, all the little scraps of useless paper from my desk-side bookshelf had been thrown into empty shopping bags, and the trash-full shopping bags had been placed in trash bags.

And before cracking down on the havoc that is my desk, I decided to take out the two full trash bags I'd already assembled. On my way back in, I was thinking of vacuuming my floor as well.

Zeal is randomly punished.

I misstepped and fell up the brick stairs that lead to the vistibule of our apartment, managing to smash both left knee and left ankle. It's been a while since my clumsiness has led me to fall up the stairs (or down the stairs, for that matter), and I'd forgotten how falling on my knee seems to drain the energy out of the rest of me, my arms especially.

Hobbling back inside, I collapsed on my bed for a minute to groan and let the wave of nausea pass. Then, after a few minutes I shuffled to the kitchen, emptied what was left of an ice tray into a ziploc bag, shuffled back to my room, and crumbled again--only, this time, with a bag of ice to transfer from my knee to ankle and back again.

Thus was my work ethic was fairly well squashed for the evening. After an hour or so of icing my knee-cap I decided to have a shower. I spent it wondering how and when the other shoe is going to drop; clumsiness for me isn't a case of "a little here and there." No, it comes in batches, and there's bound to be something else around the corner.

Natalie Dee knows my pain.

In the end, I managed to put brooding aside by way of entertainment, and fell asleep watching more Netflix deliveries: Series Three of The Vicar of Dibley.


On another note completely, I wonder if an ibrik is entirely necessary to the physics involved in the creation of Turkish coffee--or if, indeed, a small pan would do the job just as well. I get the feeling that the almost Erlenmeyer shape serves a particular purpose, and probably something to do with restricting the surface area of the brew exposed to air.

I was reading several tutorials yesterday about coffee, and came upon instructions for brewing Turkish coffee, a process that involves pulverizing coffee beans beyond even the fine-grind typical of espresso. You also apparently require an ibrik (a very small pan, the shape of which reminds me of an Erlenmeyer flask). The whole business sounds easy enough in theory--though I've been reading the several possibilities of disaster--and I kind of want to try it myself.

What is Turkish coffee like? I've only ever had it once, to be honest. I could say it's like espresso, but that's really not doing it justice, because its flavour is much stronger than any espresso. I suppose it would be like finding an espresso concentrate in a syrup-like form and drinking that straight, hot, and usually with sugar.

Turn the page ...

16 January 2007


I was just checking on weather.com, and read this:

I know it seems like nothing if you don't live in the Boston area, but we've not had proper snow since ... November? December? And even then it wasn't anything that actually stuck to horizontal surfaces.

It's been a sad, sad winter season for Boston.

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digging for the truth

It's a slogan that The History Channel has pasted all over the MBTA Green Line trains (I can't speak for the other lines, as I don't see them very often). It's a sentiment that would seem to express serious scholastic interest, but none of the accompanying images really match up.

"Digging for the truth" apparently means taking part in adventure sport--hang-gliding over lost civilizations that bear a striking resemblance to scenery from King Kong and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, rock-climbing the face of large old statues (that, amazingly, aren't so old that they crumble or self-destruct under the stress and pressure of human weight), and base-jumping (or perhaps sky-diving, I couldn't tell) out of helicopters. ... But no actual "digging," no, not as such.

I had a lot of time to contemplate these advertisements over the three-day weekend (because I work at a university, and Martin Luther King Jr. received his doctorate here--if we didn't celebrate Martin Luther King Day as a proper holiday, what would people think?).

Saturday I spent indoors, watching DVDs from Netflix and some episodes of Psych that I had downloaded from iTunes. I also began to rearrange and tidy up my book-shelves, trying to give the madness a recognizable method--important since there are things I can't find that I really wish I could.

Like my sketch books or my votive candles. I had a whole bag of votives, and now I have no idea where they are. I really hope they're not in my closet (a whole other barrel of worms--yes, a barrel), but the fact that I dread even attempting to search there probably means that that's exactly where they are.

But speaking of Psych, the long mid-season pause (a pause of several months, as the last new episode was back in August) is nearly over; there's going to be a new episode airing this Friday. I'm looking forward to the continuation and hope that the series is picked up for another season. Blasphemy, but I like it better than Monk.

I nearly stayed indoors again on Sunday, but outside forces were at work that would change my mind midway through the day. Numerous instant messages overnight from my mother guilted me into inspired me to call my parents. My mother was happy to find that I'd been making use of the iTunes gift card they'd given me for Christmas (those television episodes). She also wanted to know my extended weekend plans, which had basically been put on the shelf due to inclement weather, and I said as much.

Then my father got on the phone and gave me a pep-talk--you know the kind. Don't let bad weather discourage you, get out there with an umbrella and enjoy the time, etc. It's a very easy pep-talk to give when your own weather is not shit (they live in North Carolina, and enjoyed a sunny and mild weekend). So I said in a very noncommittal way that I would get out of my apartment, and he seemed nonetheless satisfied with that unenthusiastic response.

They rung off, and I surprised even myself by actually doing what I said I would. I ate a quick lunch and left the house, North Station my destination--and arrived there at about 1:45 PM. I bought a round-trip ticket at the booth, and took the Rockport train out of Boston at 2:15 PM, which is how I ended up spending a rainy afternoon in Salem, MA.

While there, I [finally] bought Christmas presents for my flat-mates at a shop on Derby St. called Witch Ways: a sun-and-moon themed wind-chime for Michelle and an opalescent "witch ball" for Stephanie (they call it that because it's meant to protect a home from malevolent forces, but to me it looks like a pretty glass-blown Christmas ornament). After that, I went farther down to Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie, the oldest candy company in America (open since 1806), and bought truffles--because I really like their truffles and thought they would be nice to accompany the gifts.

Christmas crises over with, I walked back toward Pickering Wharf, and stopped in at Cafe Jaho for a cappuccino and some writing--and, though I hadn't really expected much of myself, I got a fair amount of writing done. It needs editing, as the characterization of my main character is a little off for the scene (though I haven't dealt with him in 50,000 words, so that's not very surprising); but I like what I've done with the secondary character, so it wasn't a wasted or fruitless effort.

I didn't leave Salem until nearly 6:00 PM, and walked around taking pictures in the dark until the next inbound train was due to arrive.

Some of them turned out better than others.

Yesterday morning, as I was getting ready to go out into the rain again, the doorbell rang. It was the postman with my purchases from Amazon.co.uk--the three new books based on the Torchwood series. I unwrapped them, enjoyed the sight of them for a few minutes (when you line up the three separate book spines they make a picture of the whole team), and put Another Life in my bag for T reading material.

I spent the afternoon at the CambridgeSide Galleria, and bought a new protective case for my iPod (a black and red leather folio that I saw at the Apple Store in Raleigh, NC over Christmas break and had been coveting ever since, regardless of the U2-connection).

Shopping confession two, I feel, requires preamble to justify the purchase--one that the majority of my friends will still feel is not an adequate justification; but if they're really my friends they'll forgive the rather "preppy" vanity involved. I don't generally shop at Abercrombie & Fitch; it's usually out of my price range, and, quite frankly, most of the clothing is poorly crafted and overpriced for its quality (or lack thereof). I've only shopped their clearance, because that's when I feel that the clothing is actual worth what you're paying.

All that being said, I really like the way Abercrombie & Fitch clothing smells--you know, before the first time you wash it. And, while looking for clothing deals with my mother in the post-Christmas madness, we went into an Abercrombie & Fitch. I ended up buying a sweater and a pair of greenish-gray khakis; and again, I was struck by the fragrance on all of the clothes.

Waiting in line, there was a table beside the check-out counter with bottles of multiple scents, and I picked up the test-bottle of "Classic" on a hunch and spritzed it on a test-strip. Sure enough, "Classic" is what all their clothes smell like. And I wanted it, but I didn't buy it; it seemed like overkill at the time (and I'm sure still seems like overkill to you, dear readers, now).

With that long introduction to the fact, the shorter story is that I went and bought a bottle yesterday at the Galleria. Because I was there, and alone, and had no one in tow to give me judgmental glares about the silliness of such a purchase (you know who you are--yes, all of you, most likely). No, I'm only leaving myself open to criticism after the fact by mentioning it in my blog; but at least this way no one can attempt to talk me out of it.

Turn the page ...

12 January 2007

stick that in your Liberty Bell and ring it

Jack of All Trades - President Thomas Jefferson dispatches spy Jack Stiles (Bruce Campbell) to the tiny isle of Palau-Palau to block the advance of Napoleon Bonaparte (aptly played by Verne Troyer) in this offbeat adventure series. Masquerading as a manservant, Jack and his partner -- winsome British agent Emilia Rothschild (Angela Dotchin) -- aim to thwart Napoleon while also combating the corrupt colonial governor (Stuart Devenie).

I'd forgotten about the introduction to Jack of All Trades. It's ... special. But then, so is the show. On one hand, I don't think the half-hour time frame was right for it--didn't give the opportunity for much character development from episode to episode. On the other hand, how many punny would-be patriotic quips and back-biting between American Jack Styles and English Emilia Rothschild can you take in one sitting? Actually, it's not even "would-be" patriotism; it's tongue-in-cheek patriotism.

I think my favourite episodes are the four including Napoleon (Verne Troyer). Yes. Mini-me as Napoleon. But that's the level of silliness, and why even what might be an annoying display of patriotism can be taken in stride.

Also, there seems to be some online contention about whether Palau-Palau (the island on which the series is meant to occur) is supposed to be in the South Pacific or the Caribbean. I'll just say that they would be better off on deeming it the South Pacific (though, historically, the West Indies would probably make more sense). The "natives" are all either Maori (because it was filmed in New Zealand) or South East Asians--no Africans or Central- or South Americans among them, a fact that just doesn't jive with the Caribbean idea.

Typical to Bruce, it's fun and cheesy and probably only to be appreciated by his crazy fans (of which I am one).

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11 January 2007

could be more sonic

I start where nightmares end.

- The Damned "Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde"

Today I mistook Brueghel's "Triumph of Death" for something by Bosch ... I mean, they may have differing philosophies about life, death, and religion; but their painting styles feel very similar. Very "Where's Waldo" actually.

Seriously, though. Find the man wearing red pants, a blue shirt, and a white girdle thing.

You can do the same thing with any panel of Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights". In the center panel find the owl.

I think I'm predisposed to prefer Brueghel over Bosch, mostly because it was featured in the second part of Monty Python's "Spanish Inquisition" sketch.


The Harvard AMC is a good theatre so far as the non-stadium-seating variety go; however, the lack of indoor waiting room leaves something to be desired when there's a wind-chill in the 20s. I left my apartment at around 5 PM, and arrived at the Harvard T station at around 6 PM, surfacing at Church St. to find that the cinema had the line for the free preview of Pan's Labyrinth waiting along the outer wall of the building. Nicole was already in line, and only a few people from the front; so when they finally began to let the audience in, we basically had our choice of seats. And, really, had we been farther back in the line, I doubt it would've made a great difference. The theatre didn't fill up, and most of the right and left wings of the audience area were still empty by the time the lights began to dim.

Surprised? Not really. It never did strike me as something main-stream; it's in a foreign language, not an epic, nor does it have the kind of history and age to draw the kind of crowd that Lord of the Rings achieved. All that being said, it is a fairy tale for adults.

El Laberinto del Fauno (Pan's Labyrinth) - In this fairy tale for adults, 10-year-old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) stumbles on a decaying labyrinth guarded by Pan (Doug Jones), an ancient satyr who claims to know her destiny. With a new home, a new stepfather (Sergi Lopez) -- a Fascist officer in the pro-Franco army -- and a new sibling on the way, nothing is familiar to Ofelia in this Independent Spirit Award-nominated tale set in 1944 Spain from director Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Blade 2).

Entering into it, and perhaps for the first half, one might think that the "adult" nature comes from the modern setting and vaguely period-based events that take place beside the fantasy; but even the fantastic elements possess an adult quality that I wouldn't recommend for children. Getting beyond the ambiguous Pan, there is the Pale Man (both acted by Doug Jones), a deformed monstrosity with cannibalistic tendencies. The story and rating allow for the gore of proper tales der Brüder Grimm (though, of course, this is entirely del Toro's product).

I do wish there had been more to tell about the step-father; there was a hint of dimension in the bare inclusion of his father's death as a topic in one conversation, but mostly we're left to a two-dimensional aspect of his character. He's cruel to Ofelia from the start; he doesn't especially care about his wife; and he only cares about his coming son insofar as the child represents a continuation of the Captain himself, a legacy of blood.

The point is, the man is a monster--as much as (or perhaps more-so than) the Pale Man. At least when Ofelia sees the Pale Man, she knows he's a dangerous creature. The Captain, however, takes the guise of humanity--and from Ofelia's point of view, there ought to be something more than a monster there. There really isn't. He's the Spanish equivalent of Hitler, and he seems to enjoy personally getting his hands dirty (versus the usual stink of association) with graphic acts of torture.

The ending, without giving anything away, is fittingly bitter-sweet. One is left wondering if what we see is real or a last fragmented imagining. Physical things accomplished and witnessed throughout the film, sometimes by more people than Ofelia (the root-baby screaming in the fire, the "doors" drawn in chalk when Ofelia is locked in her room), lead to the conclusion that it isn't all in her head. So maybe we're meant to think that there is something to the fairy tale.

Turn the page ...

10 January 2007

... entertain us

I'm glad that the next few DVDs in the Netflix line-up are comedies. Last night, watching Vicar of Dibley and Arrested Development, I laughed more within the span of a few hours than I usually do in a whole day.

The Vicar of Dibley - The 100-something vicar of the small English village of Dibley has passed on. A new vicar has been requested for a replacement. What they get is Geraldine Granger (Dawn French), a non-traditional, chocolate loving, rock n' roll playing vicar. That is not what gets the citizens of Dibley in an uproar though. It's because she is a woman. Still, that doesn't stop Geraldine from proving her worthiness to the village. After time, the villagers (with the exception of influential David Horton [Gary Waldhorn]) accept Geraldine as the vicar of Dibley.

I moved the first "season" to the top of my Netflix queue after watching the New Year's special on my laptop--"Vicar in White," stated as the final episode, and one in which Geraldine gets married.

Who's the lucky guy? Richard Armitage (who also happens to play Guy of Gisborne in the newer BBC television series Robin Hood). I have to say that I like him much better when he's playing a good guy--which is rare, since my preference tends to go the other way around. As Guy, Armitage is more than a little unhinged, and not in a sexy way, but in an he-might-really-be-crazy and he's-definitely-a-murderer way. I also don't approve of the eye-liner (or mascara or whatever else) they used on him; it adds no depth of color and just makes his eyes look beadier than they really are.

The final episode of the series is a cute one, chronicling the endeavors of the people of Dibley to take full responsibility for the vicar's wedding ceremony out of her hands. Bridal gown, bride's maid's dresses, music, flowers, etc. And, as you might expect, it's absolutely insane. And perfect. I think my favourite touch was Alice (Emma Chambers) dressing up as maid of honour, wearing a full replica of the Doctor Who suit--the David Tennant suit, of course--with all the bride's maids behind her dressed as Daleks.

Anyway, after I'd finished watching it, I remembered that the available seasons were sitting in my neverending queue--so I bumped them all to the top of the queue. I received "season" one yesterday afternoon; and I qualify "season" with quotation marks, because it only consists of nine episodes. And the other "seasons" are even shorter, so each one only takes up a single disc--which is, to a certain extent, economical, but it brings back my old complaint about the brevity of most television series produced in the United Kingdom.

I know. I've just been spoiled by the lengthiness of State-side productions. Oh, well.

Fully aware that actual vicars don't behave the way Dawn French portrays Geraldine, I still have to think that, had I been raised in the Anglican Church, I might have a better opinion of Christianity. Most sects of Christianity are not designed for change (*cough*Catholicism*cough*), but the Church of England seems fairly flexible.

It might just be a case of the grass seeming greener. I know that change hasn't come easily for them either, and that most other branches of Christianity consider Anglicans the wishy-washy cousin--but, for them, change does seem to happen. That sort of elasticity seems go along with survival of, well, everything, and religion is probably not the exception to the rule.

On the agenda for this evening? Well, the second disc of Arrested Development's second season is supposed to arrive; but I have other entertainment plans.

I'll be going to the Harvard AMC for a free preview of El Laberinto del Fauno (a.k.a. Pan's Labyrinth). I've already watched it without translation, so I'm looking forward to the more complete experience of viewing with subtitles--and on a much larger screen. Also being a big fan of the soundtrack by Javier Navarrete, I can't wait to hear it in surround sound.

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09 January 2007

on the wampage

Sometimes you find the best things accidentally.

When I arrived home yesterday, Maddigan's Quest was waiting for me in the vestibule. I watched all thirteen episodes last night--my attention divided between watching the television, eating my dinner, and cleaning my room. And speaking of cleaning my room, I'm quite proud of the progress I've made in ridding the floor and surfaces of clutter. My desk and book-shelves require the most attention at present, but all else is reasonably clutter-free.

On Maddigan's Quest again, conveniently the series finished at around 10 PM when I was ready to go to sleep.

Maddigan's Quest - Set in a post-apocalyptic future, Maddigan’s Quest follows the circus troop ‘Maddigan’s Fantasia’, who come from the only remaining city, Solis. Each year, the Fantasia leave Solis to perform and earn a living, but this year is different: they have been set the task of obtaining a new Solar Converter to replace the existing converter – the only power source in Solis – which is failing. At the centre is 14-year-old Garland (Rose McIver) – the final Maddigan. However, as the Fantasia are attacked on their quest, two mysterious boys, Timon (Jordan Metcalfe) and Eden (Zac Fox), appear with their baby sister Jewel. They claim to be from the future, from Solis, where the Fantasia have failed in their quest and the evil, revolting Nennog (Ross Duncan) has taken power. They have come back with a Talisman which appears to give Eden extraordinary powers, to help the Fantasia succeed in their quest. But they also bring danger, in the form of Ozul (Peter Daube) and Maska (Michael Hurst), two men who will stop at nothing to capture the boys. Can the Fantasia protect Timon and Eden, and succeed in their quest to obtain a new solar converter for Solis Maddigan’s Quest is a vivid tale of magic, adventure and time-travel, from the internationally renowned children’s author Margaret Mahy.

I'm determined to watch the series again before I make any great statements about the whole, but I will say that I have two favourite performances from this show--Michael Hurst (Maska) and Jordan Metcalfe (Timon).

Maska is a robot--well, a human head with a metal body--and a sort of underling to Ozul (Peter Daube), but I get the impression that he is the more thoughtful and sensible of the two. Michael Hurst plays the character dead-pan and ruthless, and he devotedly disappears into the role (as he does with every character he plays). The snarking between Maska and Ozul usually winds down to Maska having the last word, and they're always excellently cutting last words.

Timon is a morally ambiguous character; though, at the beginning of the series, he feels very down-to-earth, a conscientious boy-next-door, the would-be hero. That's why he becomes far more interesting when he falters and founders into the villain; it also enables Jordan Metcalfe to exhibit his acting chops. Metcalfe physically looks very young--early teenager, one might expect. However, in the last few episodes of the series, Timon's body is overtaken by a blood-virus that turns him into a reptilian insect creature with evil intent. Basically Metcalfe goes from being would-be hero to Machiavellian villain, and the transition is amazing to watch. It's a slow initial onset that leaves the viewer uncertain about what exactly is happening to him, but the final change is very abrupt and physical.

It was while observing this change that I thought, He can't be a teenager. No way. And he isn't, but it would be easy to make the mistake. He's baby-faced, shorter than average, and his voice is a tenor--but he's twenty-one. Considering what the character has to eventually become, it was a wise choice for the casting director to make.


And now for something completely different (no, not Monty Python's Flying Circus). I was looking for images of Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) of Torchwood--no special reason, I just felt like it--and one of my searches led me to a blog with this:

Consequently, the blog had this too, which also pleased me (since it was what I was looking for in the first place):

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08 January 2007

moral courage?

Trust has nothing to do with moral courage. It occurs when we have nowhere else to turn, when we reach the end of our need to control.

- Rodney Smith, "Lessons from the Dying"

I think our eyes occasionally read and interpret what we expect to read, rather than what is actually there. For example, this quote--for me--makes trust look like a last resort. When I first read the second sentence, my mind definitely saw, It occurs when we have nowhere else to run, when we reach the end of our rope. I apparently link trust with desperation. And words beginning with the letter 'r'.

That notion really has nothing to do with the rest of my entry; it was just a personal conclusion based on a muddled morning contemplation. However, this act of contemplation took place post-tea and post-coffee; so it cannot be entirely debunked.


I received three movies on Friday afternoon and enjoyed them all to varying degrees.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang - Petty thief Harry Lockart (Robert Downey Jr.) gets caught up in a murder investigation in this action-packed comedy. Posing as an actor, Harry heads to Los Angeles for an unlikely audition and finds an authentic acting coach in detective Perry Van Shrike (Val Kilmer). But the bright lights of Hollywood fade when a murder takes place and Harry, Perry and Harry's high school dream girl (Michelle Monaghan) become part of the investigation.

Robert Downey Jr. seems very much at home in this role--and it's kind of the way I'd imagine him being in reality. That could be entirely off the mark, but his lines just felt direct from the source and, well, right. That being said, and given the understanding that Robert Downey Jr. is damn near perfect in this part, I honestly think that Val Kilmer manages to steal the show as "Gay Perry"--a fact that shouldn't surprise me after his audience-winning performance in Tombstone--since they have given him some of the best lines in the movie.

Perry: Why in pluperfect hell did you pee on the corpse?

And, then ...

Perry: Look up idiot in the dictionary. You know what you'll find?
Harry: A picture of me?
Perry: No! The definition of idiot. Which you fucking are!

And then there was this:

Perry: Go. Sleep badly. Any questions, hesitate to call.
Harry: Bad.
Perry: Excuse me?
Harry: Sleep bad. Otherwise it makes it seem like the mechanism that allows you to sleep...
Perry: What, fuckhead? Badly's an adverb. Who taught you grammar? Get out. Vanish.

Character Perry is so intelligent and snarky, he's almost immediately endeared to me above the rest; it helps that he's being played by Val Kilmer, but it's really just a bonus. Suffice to say, this film has some excellent dialog, and the plot is wonderfully winding. It has to be one of the more satisfying movies I've watched in a while, probably partly because a lot of the conversations remind me of things I or friends have said before. If you haven't seen it, you should. *****

Key Largo - As a hurricane wreaks havoc outside, Army veteran Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart), Nora Temple (Lauren Bacall) and her invalid father-in-law face a worse storm inside the Temples' tumbledown Florida hotel. Frank stopped by merely to pay his respects to war-widow Nora, only to find the hotel commandeered by exiled gangster Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) and his band of goons. Will the war-weary Frank step up to the plate to save the Temples?

Yes, of course, he will. When Bogart is the good guy, he's terribly self-sacrificing. The only thing I was unclear about with this film was whether his character would live or die in the end. A big to-do is made about McCloud's friendship with Temple's son, and Temple's bravery and self-sacrifice in the war--all leading up to McCloud's need to put out his own neck. So I wondered if this, too, would lead to death.

The acting is very good, on all accounts; but having seen so many films along this bent, the story feels lacking. I expected more violence, or at least more tension; but I'm not sure what the rules of censorship were like in 1948, so perhaps this was as far as they could take anything. Or maybe the writer or the director placed their own censorship on what they felt they should show.

Rocco is supposed to be domestically violent with his mistress, but the most the audience ever actually sees is some verbal abuse--verbal abuse that probably wouldn't mean as much to the woman, were she sober enough to brush it off. Granted, the audience does see Rocco shoot a policeman; but there's very little blood, and the camera doesn't dwell on the body for long. Rocco is slimy, yes, and brutal; I just don't think we get enough visual impressions about the fact.

At the time of its cinematic release, I'm sure that parents would not have felt okay in bringing their young along to see this movie, but by modern standards it's fairly family-friendly and, yes, predictable. Were it not for the quality of the actors involved, I would give it a lower score. ***

Impromptu - Nineteenth century feminist author George Sand (Judy Davis), as famous for her cigar-smoking and pants-wearing as she was for her writing, is at the center of this literary drama. Although she's fallen for composer Frederic Chopin (Hugh Grant), a number of obstacles stand in their way -- rivals, former lovers … even duels! This film was nominated for a New York Film Critics Circle Award and an Independent Spirit Award.

I think I added this to my queue based on the involvement of Julian Sands, but he's not a major character; actually, all characters play second fiddle to George Sand (Judy Davis)--even Frederic Chopin (Hugh Grant).

Foolishly longing for art's influence in her circle, the Duchess D'Antan (Emma Thompson) invites a group of artists to her estate for a fortnight, and Sand invites herself along in hopes of trailing after Chopin--not that the Duchess seems to mind, finding the impertinence more amusing than troubling. It's a recipe for battling eccentricities--and trouble--that eventually turns on the Duchess in an evening's entertainment produced by Alfred De Musset (Mandy Patinkin), the sole purpose of which is to ridicule the host and hostess.

Franz Liszt: [as God] Hurry, Noah, to the Ark, and fill it with two each of the creatures of land, sea, and air.
George Sand: [as Noëtte] Lord, we have no need for animals - art alone will save the world. Let's see, we'll need two of everything: two poets, two painters, two musicians...
Franz Liszt: [as God] Impossible, they will not come. Your conversation is not witty and you have no ideals.
George Sand: [as Noëtte] Ha ha, true, but we shall also give them free food and lodging for forty days and forty nights. Now, we shall also need two playwrights, two composers, two makers of velvet flowers...

Chopin, responsible for composing and playing its music, stops the play once he realizes its nature; for though the Duchess is generally vapid, it is fairly nasty payback for her generosity. As one of the other characters remarks at some point, Chopin is the girl of the relationship between him and Sand--kinder, frailer, better-mannered.

The cast is superb and the relationships feel possible and true--and truth is one of the more difficult things to get at in a period drama. ****

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05 January 2007

in your frequency

I bought it over break, and have been listening to Placebo's Meds album a lot lately; and I've found a weird video for the title-track.

"Meds" - Placebo

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Christmas, continued

I have more pictures of presents from my friends.

Pirate playing-cards, a seriously heavy replica of a doubloon, all inside a pirate box--from my flat-mate Michelle.

An origami box that is too nice to part with and a bar of lavender-vanilla-scented soap--from Melly.

Likely, more pictures will follow, as there are still some things I've not yet captured.

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