Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Blog Update

Dear Friends,

Thanks for reading our pop culture ramblings on PopPen these past few weeks. We of course appreciate your support, to whatever extent it exists.

However, "real life" is about to kick in for all of us. We at PopPen believe in professional, wise-ass journalism at its best, but we also believe in passing our courses and appreciating college life to the fullest. Therefore, our posts may become far less frequent, particularly as our schedules become more hectic and we delve deeper into our classes and activities.

Until we've established new routines and worked out a new rotation, we will probably just end up writing whenever we feel like it... but do stick around for the occasional kicks and giggles.

Yours,
Saurus (& Dactyl, and Mari)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Wonderful Words

I was in England for two weeks this past summer. The only souvenirs I acquired (mostly because my study in Norway depleted my entire finances for the past two years... Way to go, $35 pizza) were some all-natural, locally milled soaps in Straford-Upon-Avon (I'm sure this is an obligatory tourist right of passage there, getting all wrapped up in the Tudor-ness) and this book on idioms and their origins.

I've always found etymology really interesting. Meanings change significantly over time, to the point that after a few hundred years an idiom's implied meaning overpowers what its original context was. Excellent example: "Start from scratch." We all know what the phrase means: to start something at the beginning, usually with no help or advantages. The original context, however, arises from the practice in some sports of handicapping the most skilled athletes to give the less-skilled an advantage. The starting point for the best players was called the "scratch." The phrase was apparently first used in the 1920's and in less than a hundred years has completely lost its original meaning. This is a minor change compared to what other aspects of language can do over time.

However, I feel that at this point I should be more engaging and less informative.

So I’m going to write about the English signs.

My conclusion is that everything that the English write sounds infinitely more polite, intellectual, and just outright awesome because of two words that American English has almost entirely forgone: “whilst” and “mind.”

The Tube in London is perhaps the most infernal area in the entire city. Way below the street level and devoid of natural light, fresh airflow, and indication of life, it is not a place I would ever want to use on a daily basis. However, I could certainly enjoy my time down there (marginally, mind you) by looking at the difference between a sign there and a sign in America. We would advise people to “Watch your step” while they announce “Mind your step” over PA systems. We have signs that say “Beware the gap” while theirs say “Mind the gap.” We would say “While in line please do not disturb your neighbors.” They say “Whilst in queue please mind your neighbors.”
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See what I mean?

Perhaps my favorite sign in all of England though was not something that was particularly polite or intellectual-sounding, but just something that satiated my inner nine year-old boy sensibility.

What we call speed bumps they call humps. Our pedestrian crossings are called “zebras” because of the white lines on black asphalt. This terminology is also used in Norway, where it was even more foreign to me. I did not understand when the house parents explained to cross the street only on the zebra. I was very disappointed to see no African animals anywhere near the UiO campus. So naturally, when there were speed bumps on a pedestrian crossing, they were called this:
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Of course my crass brain immediately gravitated to something between this and bestiality.

I apologize for adding a bit of innuendo to this otherwise upstanding blog.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Clowning Around 'The Office'

Dactyl informs me that she doesn't have time to enlighten the world with a post today, so I've decided to fill in with something short and sweet.

Yesterday, while searching for other pop culture blogs (similar in nature to PopPen), I came across OfficeTally, a fansite for the NBC comedy The Office. The video clip in this post made me laugh so I'm sharing it with all of you today.

Enjoy the shenanigans of Brian Baumgartner and Rainn Wilson!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Unlikely Female Friendship

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There really isn’t a term that serves as the female equivalent to the “bromance,” which I discussed in my first post. Perhaps that’s because women are usually assumed to have intimate female friends, so a close bond between women isn’t worth comment. That stereotype aside, it’s strange to think about how the media thinks female friendships are established.

Based on Sex and the City, it seems as though womankind’s “obsession” with attracting and retaining men is enough to sustain friendships between unlikely pairs. Although the show is generally praised for its depiction of strong female friendships, I never quite understood why Carrie’s friends were also best friends with each other, other than their mutual interest in Carrie herself. It's hard to believe that optimistic and perky Charlotte is so close with someone as dissimilar as the cynical Miranda, forget the unapologetically unromantic Samantha.

Similarly, I can’t help but marvel at the friendship of the four girls of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series. It’s odd enough to read about the opinionated rebel, the shy artist, the impulsive athlete, and the caring writer, but seeing them in the flesh on screen makes their differences even more painfully noticeable. It’s not as though radically different people can’t become friends, but as The Breakfast Club points out, it’s just not that plausible. In real life, those girls probably would’ve grown up and started hanging out with different people, whether they were soccer teammates or drawing classmates or fellow lovers of film. But then, such commonality isn’t just something to do together or someone to talk about- it’s some deeper connection based on goals, feelings, and/or values.

Call me close-minded but I’d say the media is a bit mistaken if it thinks that throwing completely differing women together in the same time and space will result in the creation of best friends forever. Appreciation? Sure. Mutual respect? Definitely. But best friends? Possible, sure, but not all that likely. That presumption undermines the complexity of women and even the pickiness which they employ to decide to whom they can speak in confidence- and with confidence. Ultimately, I tend to doubt the foundation on which TV friendship is based on, if it is simply locale or coincidence, but I would not doubt the strength of that bond if it were based on something sincere and true.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Emmy Fever!

Every year, I always bore my friends with award show predictions. From the Emmys in September to the Oscars in February, approximately 40 percent of my existence revolves around the presentation of these shiny gold statues. With the 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards coming up in less than a week, I have decided this year to share some of my predictions* on PopPen.

*Despite the obsessive nature of my relationship with awards shows, please note that my track record with divination is quite poor. I blame Professor Trelawney.

COMEDY

Best comedy series
Modern Family
30 Rock
Glee
The Office
The Big Bang Theory
Parks and Recreation

Winner: Modern Family, because it’s both hilarious and populist-hip. Parks and Rec is also hilarious and hip, but it’s too hipster-hip for older voters. Glee was super-hip last year but has been mediocre at best in Season 2. 30 Rock and The Office haven’t been hip since prehistoric times, and Big Bang is too mainstream.

Comedy actor
Steve Carell, The Office
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Jim Parsons, Big Bang Theory
Matt LeBlanc, Episodes
Louis C.K., Louie
Johnny Galecki, Big Bang Theory

Winner: Steve Carell for his final season as Michael Scott. Although the hipsters are clamoring for Louis C.K. (Alright, I’m going to stop using “hip” and “hipster” now.)

Comedy actress
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation
Laura Linney, The Big C
Martha Plimpton, Raising Hope
Melissa McCarthy, Mike & Molly

Winner: Probably Laura Linney for being a prestige actress in a Showtime dramedy, but I’d rather see Amy Poehler take this for actual comedic work in Parks and Rec.

Supporting comedy actor
Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family
Ed O’Neill, Modern Family
Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family
Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men
Chris Colfer, Glee

Winner: Ty Burrell? He’s the funniest of the Modern Family guys and would deserve it most. I’d also be okay with Ed O’Neill, who had some great heartfelt moments in Season 2. As a Gleek, I desperately want Chris Colfer to win this category sometime, but the “Grilled Cheesus” episode he submitted is kind of a downer.

Supporting comedy actress
Julie Bowen, Modern Family
Sofia Vergara, Modern Family
Jane Lynch, Glee
Betty White, Hot in Cleveland
Kristen Wiig, Saturday Night Live
Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock

Winner: Jane Lynch, who won last year and hosts this year’s ceremony. She was also the host for the SNL episode Kristen Wiig submitted. Barring a last-minute “We Love Betty White” movement, Jane Lynch looks good to repeat.

DRAMA
(I don’t actually watch a lot of drama on TV, but this is the internet, so I still qualify as an expert)

Best drama series
Boardwalk Empire
Friday Night Lights
Dexter
Game of Thrones
The Good Wife
Mad Men

Winner: Mad Men. I’ve just stopped picking against it.

Drama actress
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men
Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: SVU
Kathy Bates, Harry’s Law
Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights
Mireille Enos, The Killing

Winner: Julianna Marguiles, who should have won last year. Although some people say Elisabeth Moss was great in let’s face it, a super boring show Mad Men.

Drama actor
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire
Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights
Michael C. Hall, Dexter
Hugh Laurie, House
Timothy Olyphant, Justified

Winner: Jon Hamm is really hot though.

Supporting drama actor
Andre Braugher, Men of a Certain Age
John Slattery, Mad Men
Alan Cumming, The Good Wife
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
Josh Charles, The Good Wife
Walton Goggins, Justified

Winner: No one really stands out, but I like The Good Wife and I like Josh Charles. So there you go.

Supporting drama actress
Archie Panjabi, The Good Wife
Kelly Macdonald, Boardwalk Empire
Christine Baranski, The Good Wife
Michelle Forbes, The Killing
Margo Martindale, Justified
Christina Hendricks, Mad Men

Winner: Well, Archie Panjabi won last year out of nowhere, so this is anyone’s guess. I’ll go with Margo Martindale.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Power of the Pop Song

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I watched the movie Music and Lyrics again recently, and I was struck by a line that Hugh Grant says to Drew Barrymore’s character. They’re discussing the importance of books versus songs and he argues, 

"You can take all the novels in the world, and not one of them will make you feel as good as fast as "I've got sunshine on a cloudy day. When it's cold outside, I've got the month of May." That is real poetry." (Sound clip here.)

After mulling over his claim about the joy rendered by “My Girl,” I listened to it. I don’t often listen to The Temptations or ‘60s Motown music, as evidenced by the song's mere 2 (now 3) plays in my iTunes library. Still, I can’t argue with him- the song does make me smile.

The whole thing reminded me of this interesting website, Emotional Bag Check, which is hard to explain but basically combines the powers of PostSecret and music-sharing. It allows users to anonymously “leave baggage” or read someone else’s confession; then the one person who reads the post (anonymously) sends the writer a link to a song to help them through the pain. More than once, I’ve spent at least an hour or two at a time reading other people’s emotional baggage and responding with songs that I deem appropriate for their respective situations.

What songs do I pick? Well, I’ll be the first to admit- I’m no music expert like Mari, with her acid jazz and electronica, or Dactyl and her passion for all things pop, from 90s boy bands to whatever genre is Josh Groban's. (Easy listening? Adult contemporary?)

Even so, I have quite the arsenal of pick-me-up songs. To the heartbroken I send “Blue Skies,” by Noah and the Whale, because it’s a “song for anyone with a broken heart.” For those sick of waiting around for love, I send “Haven’t Met You Yet,” by Michael Buble, which I think is a slightly classier version of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” To those with nerves, I send “Something Good Can Work,” an incredibly fun and upbeat song by Two Door Cinema Club. (I’ve never seen the music video for it before so ignore the fact that those boys all have ridiculous emo hair.) For those in utter despair, I send “The Heart of Life,” by John Mayer, preferably the calming live version. And for other, wackier situations, I choose accordingly.

If you try out the site and get any of these songs, you’ve probably found me out. But I’m not ashamed to admit that I like to send out these songs, perhaps with a word of comfort or two. It makes me feel like a closet saint, spreading joy in this way. And it’s not even hard work- I just let the music do all the talking.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

I'll Be There for You

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I have wasted a colossal amount of time this week watching Friends reruns on Nick at Nite. The marathon reminded me of my favorite TV couple ever: Chandler and Monica. Affectionately deemed “Mondler” by fans, Monica and Chandler demonstrate a rare example of the stable relationship on television. They are the opposite of Ross and Rachel: As those two flitted between on-again and off-again every season, Mondler progressed beautifully from platonic friendship à flirtation à dating à engagement à marriage à kids. Their natural evolution from friends to lovers is the template for most successful relationships in real life, a concept most TV writers tend to forget when attempting to maintain “sexual tension” between couples.

Writers who toy with romantic relationships demonstrate a fundamental lack of faith in their audience. They automatically assume that viewers will lose interest in a happy couple, so they devise endless contrivances to keep characters apart. For the first season or two, this strategy can work well; the initial meet-and-banter always makes for good television. But in order to build long-term satisfaction, characters must continue to grow in the forward direction. Once-promising couples who kept making the same mistakes can become incredibly irritating for faithful viewers – think of Booth and Brennan on Bones, or Will and Emma on Glee, or Ryan and Marissa on The O.C., or any two characters on Grey’s Anatomy. At a certain point, these dysfunctional couples shifted from romantic to tedious.

It’s refreshing, then, to see Friends writers build a steady 10-year progress between Chandler and Monica. Somehow, their relationship just clicked. They never broke up, yet they maintained the “spark” that brings viewers back week after week. Their relationship was sweet, but never overpowering. Most importantly, both were hilarious, well-rounded characters more than capable of carrying storylines with or without the other.

Other successful TV couples, like Jim and Pam on The Office and Chuck and Sarah on Chuck, follow a similar structure. Like Mondler, these relationships appear honest and real – both people just do their best to make it work. The trust between them is implicit, based on genuine friendship. There’s no doubt: When the going gets rough and the rain starts to pour, they'll be there.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Beautiful British Voices and Disemboweling Twilight

For me, few things in the world are as enjoyable to hear as a British person's voice. Let us be honest here: with their lack of diphthongs, relaxed r's, and crisp intonation, your average Brit could recite the lyrics to "Black and Yellow" and make it sound like an e.e. cummings poem (Sorry, Saurus; I know you love him, but this is how potent their accent is).

This is probably why I am subscribed to so many British Youtubers.

Among my favorites is Alex Day, aka Nerimon. He is best friends/roommates with perhaps the most famous British Youtuber, the divinely adorable and nerdy Charlieissocoollike, and one of Alex's claims to fame is this glorious contribution to the online video sharing community:



What better way to spend 4 minutes in a video mercilessly picking apart every tragic aspect of Twilight's plot, characters, and delivery? As a former disciple of the United Church of Cullen (because I really had nothing better to do in 9th and 10th grade), I know the books front and back. I reread them each at least seven or eight times; I read about a chapter or two a day, on average, for an entire year until the fourth book came out and ruined the entire series for me. I then acquired a life, but that's a different story. As a stickler for grammar who willfully overlooked many of Stephenie Meyer's rather pitiful and awkward attempts at sentence structure ("Let's you and I not push poor Mike any further this week" reminds me of this meme), this video series was a godsend, all religious connotation intended.

Thank you, Alex Day, for helping me reclaim my soul and acquire a social life that did not include Cheetos and an abused paperback copy of a book that uses the word "dazzle" more than any Broadway score or drag queen memoir.

Hooray for wits, and hooray for Brits!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Audiobooks in the Afternoon

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For the past week or so, I’ve been reading "The Hunger Games" series by Suzanne Collins, quite voraciously. (Expect more HG-related posts to come.) Well, technically, I've been listening. I didn't search for the audiobooks in particular, but when I couldn’t find print copies in any library in town (okay, I tried two!) I turned to the library system's digital media collection.

The first book, The Hunger Games, is 374 pages long but required 11 hours and 11 minutes worth of recording. It was my first audiobook ever, so the sheer amount of time that it took surprised me. Reading the actual book probably would have taken me half the time, maybe a third. (I’m a bad estimator.)

The biggest advantage to audiobooks is obviously the convenience because it allows for multitasking, so long as that other task is mindless. I spent most of my 11 hours doing data entry for work, and the audiobook actually made that time enjoyable. My only troubles occurred when I went to check my email or skim articles- often, I’d realize that I was paying no attention to the words being fed to my ears and had to rewind a bit to take it all in again. Other than that, I can’t say that listening hampered my comprehension.

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Still, concentration is another matter. When you’re reading a book that is particularly engrossing (as books should be), it’s easy to tune out the rest of the world. But with audiobooks, it’s unlikely that you’re going to shut off your other streams of perception and close your eyes as you listen. That defeats its inherent functionality. And as any student of psychology knows, vision tends to overpower hearing in a normal person, so it’s challenging to “get in the zone” while listening to an audiobook.

Perhaps a bigger problem is with interpretation. As a form of oral storytelling, an audiobook requires a speaker, whose narration provides his or her own spin to the story. It’s inevitable and indelible- the pace; the pitch; the gender, age, and ethnicity of the speaker- all shape the listening experience. The narrator is arguably as much an architect of the story as the author. This can be a double-edged sword: a personal reading experience becomes a shared experience, or maybe an impersonal one. This is most apparent with poetry- the words on the page may be understood differently simply by its vocalization.

So, as you might have guessed, there are definite pros and cons to listening to audiobooks, but the aural experience is drastically different to that of the visual... in fact, it’s a whole different kind of storytelling.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

BBC, We Thank Thee for Great TV

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a young woman in possession of a good education, must be in love with Mr. Darcy. For centuries he has embodied the literary epitome of a romantic hero – handsome, wealthy, and aloof with an underlying sense of integrity and compassion. Consider every thinking woman’s wildest fantasies effectively fulfilled. Still, something was missing: Despite his supposed perfection, Mr. Darcy could be envisioned only in our collective imagination.

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All this changed with the 1995 BBC television miniseries of Pride and Prejudice. Sure, there had been previous films based on the novel, but this was the first version to visualize the book for modern audiences. Though some characters appeared slightly miscast (in particular, Susannah Harker as Jane), Jennifer Ehle gave a compelling lead performance as the strong, independent Elizabeth Bennet we had come to know so well. And when Colin Firth stepped onto screen as Mr. Darcy, hearts stopped around the English-speaking world. 1995’s Pride and Prejudice ushered in a new era of literary enjoyment – the age of the BBC adaptation.

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Since that widely celebrated series, the BBC has produced some truly great television programming for well-read fans. Another Jane Austen series that immediately comes to mind is 2009’s Emma, starring Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller. That version makes excellent use of the gorgeous English landscape, presenting a classic story in crystal-clear modern high definition.

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Even more modernized is the 2010 series Sherlock, which actually re-imagines Sherlock Holmes and John Watson in contemporary London. As the titular character, Benedict Cumberbatch utilizes logic and cell phones to solve crimes, while Martin Freeman’s John records the stories in his online blog. It is a credit to the quality of production that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle fans have embraced Sherlock – the series remains true to original characterizations and spirit despite its updated setting.

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But my favorite recent BBC adaptation is 2004’s North and South, a P&P-esque romance based on the Elizabeth Gaskell novel. As a young American who read only Dickens, Austen, and Brontë in school, I had never actually heard of Gaskell until I came across North and South on YouTube. The four-part series completely blew me away; its riveting plot and melancholy north-England atmosphere strike a deep emotional cord. Daniela Denby-Ashe brings an honest likability to the heroine Margaret, and Richard Armitage channels his inner Darcy as John Thornton, the mill-owner with whom Margaret inevitably falls in love. Although North and South may be less well-known than other staples of British literature, its television adaptation has become an instant classic with BBC viewers.

BBC, thank you for bringing our favorite books to life, for surprising us with creative dedication, for introducing a new generation to the magnificence of English literature, and – most importantly – for that wet shirt scene in Pride and Prejudice. May you continue to define classy entertainment for years to come.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Dancing Through Life

Every once in a while, if I feel down in the dumps or just simply bored, I’ll watch this clip of Gene Kelly in the film “Singin’ in the Rain,” performing the eponymous song.


In my humble opinion, it’s a surefire way to beat the doldrums. Kelly is a masterful performer, and according to folklore (i.e. IMDB trivia), he ad-libbed most of this dance in just one take- all while suffering from a fever of over 101.  As a dancer, he’s noted for the energy of his distinctive style and his muscular athleticism. For him, dancing is not just a form of art- it’s a sport.

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His contemporaries include the graceful Fred Astaire, the acrobatic Nicholas Brothers (their no-hands splits are INSANE), and female counterparts such as Cyd Charisse and Ginger Rogers. But who follows in their footsteps today?

On Broadway there are plenty, naturally- Monsieur Wolverine comes to mind- but you don’t see many singing, dancing, and acting sensations like that on the small or silver screens. There are certainly actors who can sing well, such as Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman, the leads of Moulin Rouge; or Neil Patrick Harris, star of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. There are actors who are pretty good dancers, as those in the movie Step Up and its sequels. There are also excellent singers who can dance quite well, who have dipped their toes into acting, including Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez. But I would argue that none of them have made their careers by doing all three in the same manner as Kelly or Astaire.

Even on a “musical comedy-drama” television show like Glee, the “kids” clearly have specific talents. Lea Michele and Amber Riley are the powerhouse wailers, while Harry Shum, Jr. and Heather Morris are the ones with the moves. Off Broadway, the most singing and dancing you’ll see in coexistence are in music videos, especially those of hip-hop and R&B. (I can’t exclude a link to Beyonce’s legendary “Single Ladies” video… or the SNL skit.)

Speaking of which, you see that bearded gentleman in the black leotard? That’s right, Justin Timberlake. Let me think: he sings, he acts, and clearly he dances (to some degree). He’s got those three crucial talents for triple threat magic. If you ask me, it’s time for JT to bring those elements together and… well, maybe not reinvent the musical, but at least make Gene Kelly proud.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Confessions of a Fan Fiction Fan

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In honor of Labor Day, I am musing on one of my favorite methods of procrastination – Fan Fiction. Though there exists a definite stigma against Fan Fiction fans (no doubt perpetrated by a few creepy slash lovers), the rich world of fan-told stories can offer plenty of solid entertainment for avid readers. In order to toe the line between “fun” and “weird”, I personally follow 6 basic rules:

1.      Stick to canon stories.* I know, I know, it limits the possibilities, but it also keeps you from turning into a psycho when thinking about the actual literary work.
2.      Characterization is key. If a writer can’t capture the original character’s voice, then forget it and move on.
3.      Be a grammar geek. Same goes for writers who don’t bother to capitalize and punctuate their taglines.
4.      Always check the reviews. Avoid stories with fewer than 25-30 reviews unless you’re familiar with the author’s previous work. Otherwise you might end up reading some 4th grader’s version of Twilight. (Not that the quality of writing would differ much from the original…)
5.      Good authors have good favorites. Once you’ve found a good writer, you’ll find that they probably value good writing.
6.      In the end, the original author still wins. Show me someone who writes with more humor and heart than J.K. Rowling, and I’ll show you a liar.
*Missing moments are always good, as are point-of-view shifts. I would even loosely interpret “canon” to include time period shifts (e.g. modern interpretations of Jane Austen).

These rules are by no means the “right” way to approach Fan Fiction; however, the tips may work well for casual readers. As for my personal favorites, I’m a definite Harry Potter fan, so I would recommend:
  • Dumbledore’s Army and the Year of Darkness by Thanfiction. An almost 250,000 word epic on the 7th year at Hogwarts, told from the perspective of Neville Longbottom. Can be slightly cheesy, but it’s grounded in that it seems to be inspired by military experiences of war.
  • Cauterize by Lady Altair. Another war-inspired story, this time about the aftermath. Short and poignant.
  • Six Foot of Ginger Idiot by Pinky Brown. Basically Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince written as Ron Weasley’s diary. Absolutely hilarious because the author completely nails Ron’s voice.
  • Better than a Superhero by Realmer06. Five moments between Ron and Bill Weasley. (Yes, okay, I like Ron. A lot.)
I also like modern interpretations of Jane Austen:

Disclaimer: Yes, I am aware that we could all read actual literature instead. And yes, none of these stories can truly compare to said literature. But sometimes we just need a break from serious thought, and Fan Fiction provides a fun way to put off important work. Happy reading!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

In Which I Gush About Anne Hathaway

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I am distraught and appalled that the first mention of the amazing and multi-talented Anne Hathaway on this blog was Dactyl’s off-hand remark, “Sure, Anne Hathaway’s faux-English accent in Becoming Jane irritated me,” in this post. Gaspeth! Now I must defend her honor... but where do I begin?

1. Since she's adept at both drama and comedy, I could start with the fact that she's a very talented and beloved actress- my favorite, in fact. She's at her angsty best as a self-absorbed addict named Kym in Rachel Getting Married (which was an Oscar-nominated role, mind you). 

2. We already know she can embody the perfect geek-turned-chic sweetheart, as nerdy Mia Thermopolis in The Princess Diaries or the-once-dowdy Andy in The Devil Wears Prada

3. Speaking of which.. can you believe The Princess Diaries was her film debut??! Not many actors or actresses can carry a commercial hit on their first try. I'm predicting a Julia Roberts-esque career in her future.

3. She's a legitimate triple threat- man can she sing! (Here at the Oscars with Hugh, from 4:00 to 5:45; here without.) Classically trained soprano, damn straight.

4. I could rave about how cheery and funny she seems in real life, not to mention very down-to-earth and honest about herself (see: recent 2011 interview that I enjoy). Let it be known that I mostly blame the 2011 Academy Awards hosting fiasco on the half-dead James Franco. Sorry, dude... I still think you're cool! (On an unrelated note, he's teaching a class at NYU this fall.. omg.)

5. And have you ever seen her in the tabloids? Oh wait, let me think... no. (except for that one scandal with her ex-boyfriend, which had nothing to do with her.) (Don't make me eat my words, Anne.) With all the Snookis and other bad role models in society today, we could use more respectable people like Anne Hathaway.

And there you have it- I've ended before I've even started. Now excuse me while I go retreat into a corner and have a spaz attack or something, as I continue to wait for my favorite actress to make a guest appearance on my favorite television show (i.e. Glee).

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Ron Weasley and the Loss of Innocence

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If you were to pit Harry Potter against Ron Weasley in a fan popularity contest, Ron would win in a heartbeat. Not that we don’t love Harry; he’s pretty cool too. But Ron’s the one we want to know in real life, the best friend whose crude jokes make us laugh just as easily as his loyalty makes us smile.

It’s jarring, then, to see Ron’s boyish charm disappear in this pivotal scene from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. The moment sees Ron at his breaking point: He’s frustrated, suspicious, homesick, angry, and ready to truly abandon Harry for the first time in the entire series. When Ron walks out, you get the sense that yeah, J.K. Rowling went there. The scene rattles the series to its core, questioning the very relationship on which it was so firmly built. Because our love for Harry Potter was never about Harry’s extraordinary battle to defeat Voldemort – it was about Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s ordinary journeys from innocent children to awkward adolescents to thoughtful adults. When the Golden Trio falls apart in Deathly Hallows, we feel a distinct loss of innocence.

The risk of separating Ron from Harry and Hermione ultimately pays off, of course, with a hugely rewarding reunion scene. Though he left as an insecure boy, Ron returns as a confident man; the scene represents his redemption of faith. Not that we ever doubted him – he only had to stop doubting himself.

On screen, Rupert Grint seamlessly shifts from comic relief to raw drama and back again, demonstrating remarkable finesse and growth as an actor. But it is of course Rowling who takes credit for the wonderfully flawed characterization of Ron Weasley. From the moment we read about the red-haired boy with dirt on his nose, we knew we had made a friend for life. Ron’s journey to his “tiny ball of light” is the most rewarding element of a masterful storytelling experience.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Finn Forever!

Dactyl just emailed me this Glee clip, from the Season 2 episode "Furt". It's one of my favorites- Finn serenading his new stepbrother Kurt at the wedding of their parents, Carole (née Hudson) and Burt Hummel. And it doesn't hurt that the song is Bruno Mars's heartfelt "Just the Way You Are."


Needless to say, we love Finn... a lot. Maybe too much for our own good.

To quote Dactyl,
"I like to watch old Glee clips in the middle of the night. So I realized: More than anyone else, I'm really really going to miss Cory Monteith if he leaves Glee next year. That tall-cute-boy-next-door-with-a-big-heart is going to be impossible to replace :(

Alright, I'll stop moping now and go to bed.
But really, can we start a Finn Forever petition?"

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Favorite Actor?

Ever since Batman Begins came out in 2005, I’ve been telling people that my favorite actor is Christian Bale. As a movie junkie, I needed to have a cool answer to this question, and he was the perfect embodiment of the “serious actor” – a brooding cult icon waiting to be devoured by mainstream audiences. (The recent memory of Bruce Wayne’s shirtless push-ups didn’t hurt either.) I even sat through the endlessly tedious Empire of the Sun in order to prove my devotion to Mr. Bale, marveling at his ability to handle a starring role in one of Spielberg’s lousiest films a Spielberg film at the tender age of 12.

This, of course, is complete bull. I admire Christian Bale as an actor, I really do. It takes a damn good performance to convince the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that you’re worthy of an Oscar, even more so when you have this hanging over your career. But Christian Bale is not really my favorite actor.

That distinction, I recently realized, belongs to James McAvoy.

Photo Credit
As a leading man, James McAvoy often plays the anti-Christian Bale – he is the affable, earnest hero to Bale’s dark, moody protagonists. But with a body of work that includes Atonement, The Last King of Scotland, The Last Station, and the widely-unseen-and-criminally-underrated Starter for 10, McAvoy has proven himself to be no less of an “actor” than Bale. Still, McAvoy could play the male lead in an endless series of Katherine Heigl chick flicks, and I’d still consider him my favorite actor. Because a favorite actor is not someone you have to admire, it’s someone you genuinely want to see on-screen. When I recently watched The Conspirator, I was completely riveted, even though that film is probably about as slow-paced as Empire of the Sun (and more dialogue-heavy to boot). A favorite actor is someone who can make a mediocre film good and a good film great. Sure, Anne Hathaway’s faux-English accent in Becoming Jane irritated me, but James McAvoy’s mere presence completely made up for that. And while this summer’s X-Men: First Class seemed like just another superhero movie, I saw it twice in theaters because James McAvoy (and the incredible Michael Fassbender, who will probably be mentioned many more times in subsequent posts) brought a sense of meaning and depth to a potentially hollow role.

Basically, James McAvoy is my favorite actor because I can’t help but root for him. Maybe it’s the big blue eyes, or the Scottish charm, or the short stature that naturally expresses “underdog.” Maybe it’s the clear bromance with the aforementioned Incredible Michael Fassbender. (As Saurus has so thoughtfully explained, never underestimate the power of a solid bromance.) Whatever the reason, he just comes off as a genuinely good guy – and in today’s golden age of crude comedies and Hollywood d-bags, this quality seems more and more difficult to find.