23 Feb 2009

Movie Madness: the Oscars!

So, apparently the Oscars were last night! Oops, so much for my getting my "Oscar" post written before the big event! :p

As a major movie fanatic, and having been raised within the sphere of western culture (and mostly US cinema, although my tastes have diversified/globalized in the past decade), the Oscars are usually a big deal for me. But this year, it's just "bof"... dunno, perhaps Oscar-fatigue from having followed the race so closely (read: obsessively) the past several years? Or is it because I haven't seen almost any of the movies involved? (this is the first time in a long time that I haven't seen most of the films up for awards! of the biggies have only seen The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button) Or is it realising I wasn't going to be able to watch the show (what with not having the right cable channel and it being on here from 3am onwards...)? Or is it just this damn head cold I seem to have been incubating over the weekend? Methinks it might be general fatigue, and busy, busy schedule. Plus seems like I overdosed on all the info available. My favourite Oscar-related blog - the fabulously funny NYTimes Carpetbagger - added a couple of writers to his staff and all of the sudden there was just too much to read, it felt like "work" keeping abreast of it all! And add to that the other 4 sites I used to frequent regularly (Awards Daily, In Contention, The Film Experience, Movie City News)... and I think I might have blown a fuse this year. Oh well. Ni modo as we used to say in Mexico. Perhaps next year! :p

I was really looking forward to some aspects of these awards though... such as seeing Hugh Jackman hosting it, finding out if Kate Winslett and Heath Ledger would finally be recognised for stellar work (I'm basing my appraisal of Kate on previous work, I haven't seen The Reader yet), hoping the magical Benjamin Button would be rewarded (although I had read enough around the net to realise all bets were on Slumdog Millionaire) and with fingers crossed to see a Spanish actress (Pe!) get an Oscar for the first time. It's nice to see a year with such great movies and performances that it really would have been hard to be disappointed by any particular win (unless Heath hadn't gotten his for his amazing turn as the Joker). I'm just upset the movies hit the screens in my neck of the woods so late in the game, and so close together! Other than Doubt and Revolutionary Road which have been out almost a month, all the others came out in the last couple of weeks! When you can only go on the weekend (and not always) it makes it hard to get to them!!! Damn! I had it easier living in Belgium... sigh!

So instead of a cheerful post before the ceremony, there's my Oscar-rant just after! Now I'll have to wait for the highlights to appear online so I can hopefully catch some funny moments. And take my sweet time getting around to and enjoying these excellent films! No need to hurry anymore, typically we get a couple of months with lame films after the awards season is over and before the summer blockbusters comme out en masse.

If any of you reading this saw the ceremony, what did you think?

Oscar 2009 winners (main categories I'm interested in, brown means I've seen it):
Best Picture - Slumdog Millionaire
Best Director - Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Leading Actor - Sean Penn (Milk)
Best Leading Actress - Kate Winslett (The Reader, FINALLY!!!)
Best Supporting Actor - Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight, YES!!!)
Best Supporting Actress - Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, BRAVO!!!)
Best Soundtrack - A.R. Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire, had better be damn good, I was rooting for Button!)
Best Foreign Language Film - Departures (Japan)
Best Documentary Film - Man on Wire (damn! I was hoping for Herzog's Antartic romp Encounters at the End of the World!)
Best Animated Feature - Wall*E (no surprise there!)

Full list of awards at the Oscar official website.

16 Feb 2009

Welcome to the Dollhouse!

also known as: JOSS WHEDON'S BACK ON TV!!! yaaaaaaaay!!!!!!

Ok, do I sound geeky enough? ;o)

It's just that I think the guy is more than a little bit crazy, but he comes up with these fabulous stories, filled with compelling characters, knows how to pick some damn fine actors to bring them to life, and then surrounds himself with writers who share his trademark quick-witted dialogue, fast paced stories that frequently (in disguise) are a comment for something that's a bit "off" in our society. So what's not to love? :p

This time around Joss plunges us head first into The Dollhouse, a somewhat zen and yet mysterious place where a group of people (who we're lead to believe either volunteered or were a bit coerced into a 5-year gig) known as "actives" live and are taken care of by others. The actives are like Dolls, a blank slate of consciousness, on whom can be imprinted the personality of oh so many different types of people (and sometimes a combination of people). With these "new" personalitites in place they head out on their assignment, with people who've paid a fortune for their services (wether that be a weekend of partying or a hostage negotiation).

Main character is Echo, played by Eliza Dushku, and the idea behind the series is that we're going to see her slowly becoming "aware" of the world around her. Becoming conscious. I guess we'll have to let some time pass to get a better idea of what Joss means by that. In the meantime it will be new characters on new assignments each week, with a lone FBI investigator - BSG's Tahmoh Penikett, yay!- looking into this urban legend that is the Dollhouse.
Just want to finish by saying I really liked the first episode, even though I found it a bit lacking in the usual witty banter I've learnt to love in the Whedonverse, but I'm sure more will sneak its way in. So for now I'm onboard with this crazy new adventure and hope enough people are as well for it to stay on the air long enough for Joss to take us on one heck of a fun ride! And let's hope the suits over at Fox give it a fair shake (unlike what they did to Firefly).

Oh, and love the "nod" to Battlestar Galactica's Edward James Olmos!!! (although my dad seems to think that based on the fact that I caught that reference -and what it implies- means I spend waaay too much time watching/reading/obsessing about certain TV series, and he's probably right!) :p

On a side note... for those lacking in previous Whedonverse experience, beware happy couples and happy people in general! Joss is known for feeling no qualms about dispatching a beloved character to the great beyond right when it will hurt the most!!! See link below for a list of examples:

15 Feb 2009

Movie Magic: Benjamin Button...

If you haven't seen The Curious Case of Benjamin Button yet... then what the hell are you waiting for?!?!?! If for no other reason than it's "the new David Fincher movie!" or "the new Brad Pitt movie!" or just because you enjoy good cinema, enchanting stories, good acting... just GO!It's probably not everyone's cup of tea. Some might find it too slow or too long (so go see an action flick!). But for me it definitely falls into my category of "Movie Magic", the kind of films that you just fall into and lose yourself in the beauty of the story, connected to the characters. It felt like poetry, had an air of a ballet... beautiful!!! So delightful. All helped by Alexandre Desplat's delicate score (I'll have to look for that cd! At the moment you can listen to it on Warner Brother's "for your consideration" website).

12 Feb 2009

Happy 200 Darwin!

It's nice to notice a big anniversary for a scientist instead of the usual musician, artist, politician etc... And as a biologist I couldn't let this one pass, even if I don't have the time at the moment to wax on and on about "the father of evolution".

Agence France-Presse — Getty Image

First, a confession. I probably don't know much more about Darwin than anyone else not into the field of evolutionary studies... It's amazing that his ideas, theories etc are still being discussed, confirmed, denied after so much time. Nevertheless, to me, for years, he's just been a name, another landmark (albeit a BIG one in biology) in the history of science (one of my favourite subjects), one of the many scientific explorers from the 19th century of whom I'm insanely jealous because they got to live in a time when everything still felt (and was) new, heading out on year-long expeditions to discover and describe new species, new environments (then I remember that my sex probably would have blocked me from participating in any such expeditions and I'm glad to be a child of the 20th-21st centuries!). Reading up on Darwin is one of those many projects that I've been meaning to get around to for years now... and just never seem to do so! :p Both The Voyage Of The Beagle and On The Origin Of Species have been collecting dust on my bookshelf for over 5 years now, waiting to be read. And having read various articles out these days due to the anniversary (the NY Times science section has some very interesting ones) I'm probably a bit more likely to pick one or both of those volumes up and dust them off (but once I'm done with my thesis, I have plenty of similar books on the Antarctic to read first). So many books... so little time! ;o)

8 Feb 2009



Virtuoso violonists taking the stage and running away with it... that's kind of what watching the show put together by Yllana and Ara Malikian feels like. Actually it's a bit of an understatement!

Yllana is a comedic theatre production company (specializing in slapstick and physical humour), that together with violonisit Ara Malikian and three other virtuosos (Thomas Potiron, Eduardo Ortega y Gartxot) have put together one hell of a show: PaGAGnini! It's quite a different take on your "usual" classical music concert. A way of introducing classical music to an audience who might otherwise avoid it... They take some well-known pieces (for example Pachelbel's Canon) and give them one hell of an original twist! Either speeding them up, slowing them down, changing the style and rythm to give them an air of rock'n'roll or blues... all the while acting out all over stage! Jumping up and down, somersaults and lots of other physical gags, and not skipping a beat!... including bringing in two members of the public to complete a sextet for a parody of "modern" music (they have one of them ringing a cow bell, the other with a squeaky toy!).

My face still hurts from the smiling, my eyes are red from the tears due to the laughing, and I'm so juiced up I have to idea how I'm ever going to fall asleep tonight!

So keep your eyes open, coming soon to a town near you (all over Spain and France the next 6 months)! A MUST see!!! ;o)

Introduction from their website, followed by two sequences from the concert, courtesy of Yllana's Youtube channel:
"PAGAGNINI combines classical music, the playing of virtuoso violinist Ara Malikian and Yllana’s slapstick humour all in one show. The result is an amusing and surprising “Des-Concierto” (a Dis-Concert), which reviews some of the pinnacle moments in the history of classical music by ingeniously combing them with more popular tunes.
This mixture of styles leads to the creation of a medley of emotions, a concert where the serious and solemness of music is combined wonderfully with moments of subtle humour. This quirky perspective of the world of concertos, added to the elegant and virtuoso interpretation of these four outstanding musicians, has proven capable of fascinating even the most erudite spectators, as well as exalting and inspiring audiences of all ages from around the world."

2 Feb 2009

A self-confessed bookworm...

I don't just spend a lot of my free time watching movies (or TV), I'm also a major bookworm! Have been since as far back as I can remember! Lots of people say they read before going to bed because it helps them sleep. Not me. Well, not me as in it doesn't help me sleep, but I do enjoy reading most nights at bedtime. It's just that picking up a book in bed can be hazardous to my health... because if I get too caught up in the story I am likely to stay awake reading until a rather indecent hour. On more than one occasion I've kept on until finishing the book around say... 6am? :p I rarely leave the house without a book or a magazine in my bag, particularly if I'm going to be travelling on public transportation or have a doctor's appointment (I hate waiting with nothing to do). I actually read less now than a couple of years ago because of more time in the car and less in buses and trains. Sigh!

Some months I read more, others less. It's not so much a question of available time as available material. It kind of depends on what books catch my eye, what I can get my hands on. Like movies I prefer everything to be in the original language it was written (but while thanks to subtitles I can afford to be that picky with movies, when it comes to litterature anything not written in English, French or Spanish I'm stuck with translations). I tend to prefer history (both fact and fictionalised versions, as well as biographies of interesting historical figures), some crime/detective novels (from time to time, usually based on someone's reccomendation), fantasy (which I've loved since I discovered fairy tales!) and some science fiction (I have a tendency to prefer it on the screen) as well as some all-out science (usually related to biology, the environment, the seas or the Antarctic) and some I wouldn't quite know how to categorize.

I'm a sucker for certain themes/series. I'll read just about anything revolving around Robin Hood or King Arthur (I've lost track of the number of different versions I've read on those old tales, starting with the original material). I've gotten absorbed into the Star Wars "extended universe" since I picked up Timothy Zahn's Heir of the Empire trilogy in the early '90s and as I read Han Solo just seemed to jump out of the page and I could hear Harrison Ford's voice and see his reactions in my mind's eye. There have been some damn good stories in that (never-ending) series, and some really lousy ones (with even worse writing) as well. Quality has been up since we switched milleniums, but I seem to be in an over-dose phase, there are just too many coming out! Might play catch-up in a few years...

I like stories that are well plotted and have compelling characters, but I have been known to let myself get dragged along in a compelling story just to find out what happens next, even while admitting that the writing in itself is crap (i.e. Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code and to some extent Ken Follet's The Pillars of the Earth). I try to avoid series, because I tend to get so caught up in them it feels like I'm devouring them, and the end result can be expensive! (I've avoided the Discworld novels for that reason...) If I like something I've just read from a previously undiscovered (by me) author I'm also likely to go out and get anything else they've written (you should see my Isabel Allende or Arturo Perez Reverte shelves!). I really enjoy 19th century and turn of the 20th century English, American and French authors. I haven't read much from the middle of the 20th century, I have a tendancy to stick to really old (i.e. >100yrs) or rather recent (within the last couple of decades). I'm also criminally lacking in a decent education of Spanish classics and haven't stuck my head too far into non-western litterary works (have read some from African authors writing in French).

I frequently re-read many of my favourites from childhood and adolescence. It's kind of like "emotional comfort food". Whenever I want some light, easy reading to help me get to sleep, to relax in a bath with, when things are very stressful or I've been doing a lot of brain-draining work, then I'll scan my bookshelves and re-read the Anne of Green Gables novels, The Chronicles of Narnia, Little Women and its successors, The Dark is Rising sequence, The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, an Agatha Christie novel (my favourites are those with Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, not a big Poirot fan).

Favourite authors include: Alexandre Dumas, Jules Verne, Isabel Allende, J.K. Rowling, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jane Austen, Walter Scott, Mark Twain, Emile Zola, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Arturo Perez Reverte, Louis L'Amour, Zane Grey, Tara K Harper, Frances Hogdon Burnett, Louisa May Alcott. I've recently discovered and enjoyed P.D. James, Patricia Cornwell, Stephanie Meyer and Witi Ihimaera.

I think I've waxed on long enough for one night. So I'm going to leave it at that for now, and pop in here from time to time and comment on my latest "liste de lecture". I'd appreciate any reading suggestions, at times I feel like my reading is a bit limited precisely because I'm so faithful to favourite authors and I have a hard time picking out a book just based on its cover or summary. I usually need someone to (enthusiastically) reccomend it to me.

1 Feb 2009

Tennis madness! The Australian Open Men's Final

It's Roger vs Rafa. Again! ;o)

We're 5-5 in the third set. They've got one set each. And this game is sizzling!!! (am watching this home alone, so feel the need to comment it with someone, even if just the internet ether)

at OzOpen Final, photo by Joe Castro/European Pressphoto Agency
training in Paris, photo by C.B.

What else would you expect when the world's top two tennis players meet for the first time in 6 months (since Nadal managed to pull an impressive win in a 5h -not counting rain delays- Wimbledon final last year)? The first time since Rafa took the #1 spot from Roger? With Rafa fighting for his first Australian Open title (and to be the first Spaniard to win it), confirming what he showed in Wimbledon and by winning Olympic Gold in Beijing, that he's more than the King of Clay? With Roger trying to equal Pete Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam titles?

1-1, 6-5 for Rafa, Roger serving to get a tie-break. Nice drop shot! Rafa ran but couldn't make it to the net on time! Another surprising light shot just on the other side of the net! A reminder that tennis isn't just about duking it out from the baseline, finesse and control play a bigger part. And these guys are giving us a "leçon magistral" in tennis. Alternating between textbook combinations, perfect shots... and then running all over the place reaching seemingly impossible balls and sending them back with an innovative and surprising shot of their own! Oooh! Break point (set point) for Rafa! oops, out. The tension keeps mounting. Whoever wins this set has a distinct advantage over the other (I'm hoping for a 4-set match). Ace! Roger just got himself a tiebreak! ;o) 6-6.
What an amazing exchange! And how on earth did Rafa manage that volley?!?!?! He just gave himself 3 set points!!! VAMOS RAFA!!! Unbelievable, Roger double-faulted?! :O THIRD SET FOR RAFA!!!

I didn't used to like tennis. In fact as a kid I pretty much hated it! :p That's what happens when you're 11 years old, your dad is a big tennis fan and wants you to join him on court to learn how to play, but since you're in the icky-sticky swealtering humid heat of Chiapas all you want to do is play in the pool with your sisters. ;o) And then (many years later) I came to Spain. And one Christmas I got a tennis racket. And I decided since I had access to a tennis court in our complex I might as well take lessons at the Uni. And then it turned out the second half of the '90s was really good for Spanish tennis, with stars like Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario constantly challenging Steffi Graf (amazing woman!) and among the men Carlos Moya (who's still playing), Albert Costa and Alex Corretja. Hearing the buzz on the news, having a chance to watch compelling French Open matches... and discovering that it's much easier to appreciate watching a sport when you play it yourself (however badly). Man, I can still remember the Roland Garros final in 1998 between Corretja and Moya (winner), with the Coupe des Mousquetaires being presented by Pelé (there for the World Cup), and watching the 3 of them kicking a football around center court for a while! :o)

And then I went to live in Belgium for 8 years... all it takes is to know a couple of people who like tennis and the subject becomes unavoidable thanks to their two main sources of national pride: Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin. Being able to watch just about any Roland Garros match you want on TV (with matches being shown on 3 channels), granted some extra time to watch them thanks to a few bus strikes that wouldn't let me get up to the University... :p I witnessed (on the small screen) Nadal's first Roland Garros victorious final in 2005 (which was a bit bland after the much more impressive semi-final vs Federer) and have been hooked ever since. Have seen as much as possible of the following 3 Roland Garros (including live in Paris in 2007, saw him train and then play the 1/4f against Moya, amazing energy in the stadium!), never missing a final (all against Federer), and catching his 3 Wimbledon finals also against Federer. Through him I discovered the impressive Roger as well (had been ignoring tennis for a few years so didn't know who he was), and I would truly love to see him achieve a career Grand Slam... just not this year, I want Rafa to be the first player to win 5 consecutive Roland Garros titles! ;o)

Damn! Roger has started off the 4th set by breaking Rafa! :o( Dudes I said I wanted a 4-set match!!! I can't take another day like the semi-final between Rafa and Verdasco, 5 sets, 5 hours... so close there was no way to predict who would win until that final break by Rafa at 5-4 when Verdasco double-faulted... Whew! Rafa just broke Roger back! :o) But as Roger started off serving in the set he's still ahead 2-1. They seem to have a really good crowd there today, well behaved (unlike at the US Open last year, or even worse the Davis Cup final in Argentina), respectful and quiet during exchanges, applauding every great shot, cheering on both one and the other...

HOLY SHIT!!! These guys are monsters on that court!!! Each just had the other rushing for the balls sent right along the line, each managing to send back an impressive shot of his own... and Rafa closing it off. We're at 2-2, Roger serving, 4th deuce! 5th break point for Rafa! Roger saves it again. A few more deuces and Roger pulls it off. 3-2 for Roger, Rafa serving. Dammit! Roger broke him!!! 4-2 for Roger... if Rafa doesn't pull of a break we're looking at that 5th set I was hoping to avoid... :p Rafa looks a bit more tired than usual... ditto Federer, but at least he didn't have a 5h marathon match ending at 1am 2 days ago... Love game! 5-2 :o( Rafa serving to stay in the match. Done! Oops, now Roger gets to serve for the set... Game and Set.

So much for wishful thinking! Set 5 about to begin (apparently the first 5-set Oz Open final in 21 years!). Rafa gets to serve first. VAMOS RAFA!!!!!! With no tiebreak available... please don't make this one of those "14-12" fifth sets, I have to be out of here in under an hour to go to lunch! Rafa holds his serve. He has the advantage by serving first. All he has to do is hold his serve until 5-whatever, and then get a break and he'll have won! Right... as if Roger is going to make that easy... sigh!!!

Although a small (teeny-tiny) part of me wouldn't mind Roger winning -he is considered by most to be the "all-time" best tennis player, and so I'd like seeing him beat Sampras' record someday (but maybe not today) and complete the Grand Slam by winning Roland Garros one year, plus it's Rafa's first final here and there will be more- but basically I'm 99% behind Rafa, this guy is so amazing on that court!
Man, I've been paying such close attention to tennis in the past several years, that I'm even recognising the referees (or is it chair umpire?)!!! Particularly today's! French Pascal Maria chaired the Wimbledon final last year, several Roland Garros finals, and I believe I saw him in a US Open semifinal and the Davis Cup finals last year... I like him. Inspires confidence in his arbitrating skills. Hmmm, and it's fun hearing him exchange comments in French with Federer. ;o)
photo during Oz Open Final by WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images

BREAK!!!! YAY!!!!!! Rafa did it!!! Now he has to confirm it and hold on to his serve for another 3 games.... VAMOS RAFA!!!! 3-1. Break confirmed! 4-1. :o) Wow, they just said it's past midnight in Melbourne! 5-2!!! Just one serve left to hold on to!

2 (break) MATCH POINTS!!! First one saved by Roger. Damn! Rafa sends a backhand into the doubles lane and we're up to deuce. MATCH POINT!!!

VICTORIAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!! Rafa Nadal A
ustralian Open Champion and #1!!!

Ohé! Ohé! Ohé! Ohéeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!

Sorry Roger (ouch, he really looks broken up this time), that 14th title will have to wait a bit, 'till after Paris at least! ;o)

Looking forward to the next episode of this "historic rivalry"! :o)
photo by Oliver Weiken/European Pressphoto Agency

Am going to stop here. Not going to comment the trophy ceremony, no time left! Except to say trophies to be presented by Australian Rod Laver, one of the few people to have won the Grand Slam (all 4 tournaments) in one year, once upon a time...

This was fun... :p Perhaps I'll do it again for Paris... ;o)