Sunday, December 30, 2007

New music discovery

New music discovery of the day: The 1900s (Thanks Matt!). I am completely in love with the song "When I Say Go." I can't download the full album from emusic 'till my downloads reset for January, but if the rest of the album is anywhere near as good as this song and the others on their Myspace page, it'll be getting an honorable mention on my albums-of-the-year list.

They're playing in New York next week, with Belle and Sebastian. How much would I love to be at that show? A whole, whole lot. That's how much.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Go see it!

The past few months I've started going to the movies quite frequently, after a long time of mostly boycotting -- 8+ bucks for a ticket is just ridiculous! Especially when so much of what was out there was just pure crap. But anyway, I've ended the boycott, and I've actually seen some really great stuff lately.

First, everyone must go see Juno immediately. Are you listening? Immediately! Definitely the best movie I've seen all year. Had me laughing pretty much straight through, which is rare. It seems like most comedies that make it to the theatre are fat-guy-falling-down humor, which just doesn't do it for me. This one was smart as hell, though, with just the right amount of seriousness. Every actor blew me away -- even Ms. dimples-the-size-of-the-Grand-Canyon, Jennifer Garner, who I normally find to be rather annoying Also, the music was spot-on. I've already gotten the soundtrack. In fact, I'm listening to it right now. I'd forgotten about Sonic Youth's amazing cover of the Carpenters' Superstar until it showed up in this movie!

Also saw Across the Universe over the Christmas holiday. It's a musical using all Beatles music. I thought that Jim Sturgess, who played the male lead, was fabulous. I really believed him when he was singing -- it felt like I was seeing inside his head, not like I was just listening to someone sing a song about their feelings. He hasn't been in much major stuff yet, but if the universe is just, he's going to make it big. Evan Rachel Wood, the female lead, was just . . . eh. She was better as an effed up teenager a few years ago in thirteen. And everytime I see her all I can think is that she's dating Marilyn Manson. Ewww. The thing I really liked about this movie was that it made songs that I've heard a million times sound completely new and fresh. I mean, when I first discovered the Beatles sometime in high school, I must have listened to Hey Jude on repeat dozens and dozens of times. But hearing it again in this movie was like hearing it for the first time -- I never really thought of it as a call-to-action. In the movie, though, it's totally the song which underlays the main character's decision to make this huge change in his life and go back after the woman he loves.

Then, I rented a couple flicks that I also really enjoyed: Hard Candy and Once. Hard Candy also stars Ellen Page, from Juno, and holy cow is she intense in the role. I usually don't sit still for movies at home -- I sort of half watch them while I futz around and clean and stuff. But once I started this movie, I was completely riveted. It's an indie film. The premise is that this 14 year old meets a 30 year old man on the internet and they meet. At first it seems like he's taking advantage of her, but then she turns the tables on him and I literally could NOT take my eyes off the screen.

Once was also really fabulous and unexpected. So sweet and romantic and unexpected. It was also a musical, sort of, but not at all in the usual way of the stars breaking into spontaneous song instead of speaking. Instead, the songs were much more integrated, since it was a love story of two musicians meeting. I haven't bought a video in ages, but I liked this one enough that I think I might go out and buy a copy. I could definitely see myself watching this one again and again. Also fabulous music -- Glen Hansard from The Frames is the lead in the movie, and the songs are all by him and the female lead, Marketa Iglova, a classical Czech pianist who has also done some performing with The Frames.

Also seen recently:

The Golden Compass. Nicole Kidman and the little girl who played Lyra were both really great. I liked it. My companion did not -- she'd read the book recently and it was quite different.

Blade Runner: The Directors Cut. Honestly, I just don't get this one. I went to see the re-release at the theatre because people talk about what a classic sci-fi flick this is. I mostly found it confusing and wow do the special effects look low-tech compared to what we're now used to.

Knocked Up. This one I rented, since I missed it in the theatre. It was fine. Funny enough, I guess. Didn't blow me away, though. A little too sappy perfect-ending. I found the whole premise difficult to believe -- WHY would Katherine Heigl's character decide to have the baby and then on top of that decide to have the schmuck-y father be a part of the whole thing? So not realistic in today's world.

Into the Wild. Liked this one more than I thought I would. I found the main character much more likeable in the film than he was in the book. Totally over-romanticized, though.

Atonement. Really enjoyed this book, and I liked the movie, too. Keira Knightly was typically strong and the male lead was even better. Can't remember his name at the moment. James McAvoy, I think. Just like with the book, I wasn't big on the ending. The visuals were lovely, though. (EDT: I just looked James McAvoy up on IMDB and it is him. And I figured out why I felt like I recognized him -- he was Mr. Tumnus in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Some sunshine on a gloomy day

It's a gloomy, rainy California winter day here, but this picture of a zinnia (?) from last summer brought some sunshine into my afternoon.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Best of 2007

I can't believe it's almost the end of the year already! In honor of the new year (and of me having internet at home again!), here are my top picks for the year:

Top Ten Albums of 2007:

I'm not usually really into listening to full albums. I'm more of a fall-in-love with individual songs kind of girl. But here are the full albums that I've listened to over and over again this year.

Josh Ritter – The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter

Not my favorite Josh Ritter album, but really great. It's more upbeat than a lot of his earlier stuff, which is fun. I don't think the lyrics on this album live up to his potential, but they're still good.

Pelle Carlberg – In a Nutshell

I might be a little premature in including this one, since I just discovered it a week ago, but it's been on constant rotation on my ipod ever since. Reminds me of Belle and Sebastian. Cheerful sounding, but with darker lyrics at times. His sense of humor also just cracks me up. Best song -- Middle Class Kid. Best Lyrics -- I love you, you imbecile. I think I want to have that song played at my wedding someday. Choice lyrics "I love the way you talk, I love the way you stalk me with your mobile phone. I love the way you smile, the way you're juvenile . . . " It's actually a very cute little song about loving someone in spite (or even because) their flaws.

The New Pornographers -- Challengers

Putting the New Pornographers on the CD player always makes me happy. What else can I really say about them?

Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Okay, so the title is dumb, but the music is classic Spoon. It really gets my blood pumping. Great for listening to in the car at full blast.

Okkervil River – The Stage Names

How can you not love a band that, in the middle of a song about the suicide of a famous poet, breaks into a cover of the Beach Boys' Sloop John B so melancholy you almost don't recognize it.

Bishop Allen – The Broken String

LOVE them. Fun, funny, cheerful. Great lyrics. The version of The News from Your Bed on this album is not as great as the original on last year's LP, but it's still one of my favorite songs of the year. And Rain has become one of my favorite songs to listen to on my way to work in the mornings. Best line -- "If things are every gonna get any better, they've got to get worse for a while."

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Some Loud Thunder

When I first got this album, I blasted it on the stereo for house cleaning and it was exactly perfect. I'm sure my landlord got tired of hearing it come through the walls. The song "Underwater you and me" is near the top of my favorite songs of the year, too.

Beruit – Postcards from Italy

Hard to even describe. It's like punk meets Polka. Just listen to it. Favorite song -- Elephant Gun

Rilo Kiley -- More Adventurous

Okay, so this one didn't actually come out in 2007, but it wins the award for CD most often in my car CD player this year, and I DID only discover it in March, so it's a 2007 album for me. Unfortunately, the album of theirs that did come out this year is not so good. I haven't been able to get into it at all.


Top Reads of 2007

These are not actually all books that came out this year, but they're books that I've read for the first time this year and really enjoyed. Most of them I've already written about on this Blog, so I'll skip the descriptions.

Kate Moses – Wintering
Jonathan Lethem – Motherless Brooklyn
Marcus Zuzak – The Book Thief
JK Rowling – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Gail Tsukiyama – The Samurai’s Garden
Mary Doria Russell -- The Sparrow
Elizabeth Gilbert -- Eat, Pray, Love
Ted Kooser -- Delight and Shadows (Poetry)

I'm not going to do a top movies list. I've seen some pretty good movies this year, but not enough to really do a full list, I think. And, really, I just don't get quite as excited about movies as I do about books and music. :-)

Friday, December 14, 2007

A rare occurance

It's rare for me to get a decent shot of either of the cats. Scout usually just tries to eat the camera and Violet hides pretty much as soon as I even think about pulling out the camera. (Kind of like some people I know, actually :-) Plus, their eyes always catch the flash oddly and look all demented-like. Which, come to think of it, is pretty fitting for their personalities. Anyway, I got this picture of Vi being all cute and cuddly a couple weeks ago and I thought I'd share. Enjoy the picture, mom. Vi is the closest thing you're getting to a grandbaby from me for at least a few more years!

What I've been Watching Lately

Since I haven't been reading much for the past week or so, I thought I'd write a little post about what I have been doing. My brain's been a little too full with work stress and other stuff, so I've been watching downloaded TV shows, instead. And I now have a new TV obsession -- Pushing Daisies. It's new this season on ABC, but produced by the same guy who did Wonderfalls a few years ago. That show only lasted a few episodes, and I was sad, sad, sad when it got cancelled. But PD has the same quirky, reality-meets-fantasy blend. I don't much go for sitcoms, so it's rare that TV makes me laugh so hard it hurts. This show does so constantly.

So the premise is that the main character, Ned can bring people back to life just by touching them. But once he brings someone back to life, if he touches them a second time, they die again, for good. And if he doesn't, within a minute, re-deadify (yep, that's a word. Really) the person he's brought back to life , someone else dies in their place. Sounds a bit silly, right? That's totally what I thought. But the show is done in this perfect, magical-realism kind of way that just gets in your head. It's whimsical, full of dry humor, the sets are all candy-colored Alice in Wonderland fancy, and the casting is dead on. Kristin Chenowith as Olive is freakin' hysterical and I have a I-want-her-to-be-my-best-friend crush on the character of Chuck (Charlotte), the childhood sweetheart that Ned brings back to life and keeps alive. In fact, pretty much every actor and character is fantastic. And it's gotten nominated for 3 Golden Globes now, so if you care about that stuff, there it is.

I've now watched every episode that's come out of the show, and there aren't any more till the writer's strike ends. In fact, this is the only show that has made me give a hoot about the writer's strike at all. Now that I've seen all the episodes, I guess I'm going to have to go back to reading :-)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Neahkahnie Mountain

Over the weekend, Dan and I went hiking on Neakahnie Mountain, near Manzanita, OR. Neah-Kah-Nie means "The place of the supreme diety," which gives it a mysterious feel in my head. And it felt sort of eerie climbing up, too. We were there on a crazy misty day, just a couple days after all the wild storms that hit the west coast last week, and we were the only ones on the trails. Everything was muffled and foggy, and we had to climb basically through the branches of some trees that had fallen across the trail and hadn't yet been cleared. The mountain is about 1600 feet above the beach. Even in the mist, it was still pretty spectacular. As we sat on the top of the mountain eating our lunch, the clouds would occasionally thin ever-so-slightly. When they did, we could just see the scallopped edge of the waves on the beach far below. I imagine on a clear day the view is mind-blowing. None of my pictures really turned out all that well. They're all either oddly bright blue or washed-out grey. I like this one, though -- Dan on the top of the mountain, which you get to by scrambling, billy-goat-like, up a slope of jagged rocks.

So freakin' cute!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Eerie forest

Taken in the woods somewhere near Manzanita, OR. My camera must have been set on some odd setting -- It was really, really misty up in the mountains, but I don't remember the air looking so blue. Still, it's a happy accident -- the photo totally captures that eerie hiking-in-the-fog feeling. :-)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Klickitat Street, here I come

This time tomorrow, I'll be in Portland. Hurray! In honor of the trip, here's a picture from the last time I was there. Those of you who were Beverly Cleary fans as a kid may remember that Ramona Quimby lived on Klickitat St. Imagine my delight when I was in Portland last year and discovered that it's a REAL STREET! Yes, I'm a good geek. Didn't you read the title of this blog? :-)

Monday, December 3, 2007

Reading Update 12-3

Over the weekend I finished a couple books:

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

This book wasn't bad, exactly, but I don't really get how it won a Printz award and the Guardian Children's Fiction prize. I found the narrator to be pretty damn annoying -- kind of like a Holden Caulfield wannabe. The premise is interesting -- bratty anorexic 15-year-old New Yorker is sent to live with cousins in near-future England. War breaks out, England is raided, and the story takes it from there as the narrator has to cope with her world being turned upside down. I don't know . . . the execution just didn't speak to me. And I though the way the whole anorexia thing was handled was just stupid -- it felt too tangential, like it was supposed to be this big, important thing, but it didn't really fit in with the rest of the story very well for me.

Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem.

I've been meaning to read this one for a while now. Lethem's The Fortress of Solitude has my favorite first page ever, so I was pre-disposed to like another book of his. This one has a premise that sounds ridiculous (The main character is a Tourrette's-afflicted small-time gangster investigating the death of his mob boss / father figure), but Lethem handles it incredibly skillfully. The book could have devolved into cheap laughs and gimmicks, but Lethem never treats his main character like he's laughable. Basically, he makes this ridiculous premise completely ordinary and heartbreaking all at the same time. I really enjoyed this one. It might even be one of my top reads of the year.

Big-ass tree

This picture of me was also taken on Thanksgiving, hiking in Muir Woods. As you can see in the photo, this redwood is absolutely massive. The thing that is a little harder to see is that the hole in it's belly goes straight through to the other side. Kind of like those old sequoias and redwoods that they used to make tunnels through for cars, only not quite so big. Photo taken by my friend Kathryn.
It has turned December-gloomy the past few days here in the Bay area, and I already miss the sun. No rain yet, though.