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I might not always know where I'm going, but I never get lost.

Just the adventures/goals/life of a girl in a big city.

31: On New Things

March 10, 2013

Dear friends,

I’ve created a new blog! Yes, please, stop laughing, I know I’m quite terrible at updating this one. Poor Cookies and Research is often neglected because I dread posting. The problem is, I wanted a blog that is both a personal journal (remember, I grew up in the age of GreatestJournal and LiveJournal) but also has a sophisticated Theme you could tell Important People about. I realized too late that I can’t do both.

So tadaa! Welcome to The Completist, a blog where I talk about the only things I do with real consistency: marathon TV shows and crochet.

I’m hoping that by splitting C&R into two blogs, I’ll be able to organize my thoughts better, writing in this journal with fewer inhibitions and putting all my focused, useful thoughts into the new one. There is one post there so far, and a terrible stock photo at the top. I’m going to work on finding a better layout.

On the subject of other new things, I’m getting pet rats today! I have yet to decide on names – if it’s two males, I’m leaning towards Oxford and Webster (truly names picked out of the dictionary). If it’s two females, I have no idea. I am open to suggestions from the void.

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30: On Music In Movies

February 18, 2013

Day to day, the music we listen to evolves. Dubstep-flavored pop has replaced the overproduced boy and girl bands of the late 90s, which similarly replaced the synth beats and hair bands of the 80s. It stands to reason that as we undergo yearly cultural shifts in terms of the music we consume, we should see that reflected through movies soundtracks as well.

I’m talking specifically about a recent trend in film scoring that opts to use industrial beats, found sounds, and unconventional electronic rhythms. Think David Fincher’s The Social Network and the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (both scored by Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails), Dredd (Paul Leonard-Morgan), Looper (Nathan Johnson), Drive (Cliff Martinez), Tron Legacy (Daft Punk), and Fight Club (The Dust Brothers), among others.

All of these are examples of exceptional movies (or at least, movies I really like), averaging 82% on Rotten Tomatoes. Tron Legacy was the lowest rated with a 51% critic approval. In 2011, the Academy recognized Trent Reznor with an Oscar for his work on The Social Network score. So are these movies truly better than movies scored by the John Williamses and Hans Zimmers of the world? And second, will they stand the test of time? I took a look at the genres that use primarily electronic soundtracks.

Of the movies I listed, three take place in dystopian futures (I’m including Tron Legacy in that definition). So this industrial sound, the sound of pipes and whines and static as music is supposed to also signify the breakdown of society by indicating the breakdown of the traditional orchestra. Synth replaces strings. “I wanted to create a sound which fitted a future set in 100 years time, so traditional orchestra was out of the question. . . I was looking to create a timeless score which couldn’t be placed in any particular era. So it’s ended up being a cross between a modern dance track and evocative soundscapes,” said Paul Leonard-Morgan of his work on the score for Dredd. Similarly, the film Looper, which takes place in 2042, uses found sounds like slamming doors and the click of a revolver to emphasize a future world where music has evolved. Composer Nathan Johnson and even built his own set of percussion instruments. It took him over a year to complete the score. Of the scores I will talk about, it also uses the most traditional instruments.

Tron is an interesting comparison study. The original score was composed by Wendy Carols, with pop themes by Journey. While still a cult classic, searching YouTube for any scenes or videos of the original film with music was unfruitful. Aside from the title songs by Journey, the score was less than iconic.

And the new:

This fight scene even includes a cameo by composers Daft Punk, as they play the DJs in the soundbooth.

Other movies that characteristically use electronic scores tend to portray a violent or brutal world – a sort of dystopian present. The 1999 cult hit Fight Club, scored by The Dust Brothers, is one of the earliest examples of mainstream electronic-industrial scoring. While I’ve chosen not to cover in depth earlier movies that feature synthesized music, some of the examples are Blade, Highlander, and Run Lola Run. While these movies pioneered the acceptability of unconventional soundtracks, the scoring is in a way their downfall because the style of 80s synth/house makes the films comically dated. In Fight Club, the score is a dark, creeping undertone to the world, using slow, synthesized beats.

While Fight Club as a film and a score still holds up well, the way the drum machine is used still places it squarely in the late 90s music scene.

Drive and Girl With The Dragon Tattoo also fit into the category of vicious dystopian present. They have in common with Fight Club, Dredd, and Looper their use of brutal violence. Their scores exist to set the tone of the world, immersing us because the music feels like an extension of the landscape.

The Social Network is an outlier. It fits into neither of these categories. When I asked my boyfriend why he thought it had the score it did, he said maybe it was because it was about the internet. But that seems like a shallow reason. Whatever your feelings on the film, David Fincher is a very thoughtful director, and there was a deeper logic behind his decision. I admit, I will always be a die-hard Nine Inch Nails fan, and I bought the soundtrack the day it came out. I watched The Social Network for the first time yesterday, in preparation for this blog. The score is minimalist, the use of a solo, haunting, somewhat out of tune piano a trademark of Trent Reznor’s musical stylings. It’s meant to convey the constant undertone of Zuckerberg’s thoughts, building the character instead of the world.

We end with a dilemma. Directors who choose to use complex electronic-industrial scores today likely succeed because the concept is still fairly innovative, and isn’t a decision made lightly. As I’ve noted, there is barely more than a handful of these films, and I have no doubt that this style of scoring will remain a largely independent film phenomenon. Could the drawback be that, like the synth soundtracks of 80s movies, the electro-industrial score will seem dated in 10 or 20 years? The other potential drawback is that electronic scores, while evocative, do more to build the atmosphere of the world, and don’t produce iconic melodies the way Star Wars and other orchestral scores might.

My worst fear is that directors will attempt to create an innovative score to cover up a lackluster movie. But, as we stand, today’s use of electro-industrial soundtracks, when paired with the right films, creates some of the richest settings on the silver screen.

29: On Discoveries

February 17, 2013

Things I have discovered this weekend:

Bugs like medicine cabinets.

My iPhone is the reason that sometimes my computer will overheat sometimes when I’m watching Netflix. Technology is weird.

There is a laundry thief in my building.

I like most YA novels more than novels for people my age.

28: On Wizards

January 17, 2013

The Slice of Sci-Fi podcast recently put out a call for book recommendations that would make good genre movies. Listeners were encouraged to call in to the show and talk about the book, what actors they’d choose to play the main characters, who would direct it, etc. It got me thinking. There’s this trend, basically pioneered by the Harry Potter films, of producing books based on Young Adult novels. Now that the Harry Potter film series is over and Twilight is done, we have renewed our quest for the story that’s appealing to kids but mature enough to captivate the adults taking them to the theater. I immediately thought of Diane Duane’s “Young Wizards” series, the first book of which, So You Want To Be A Wizard?, would be perfect to fill the niche. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s a movie that ready to be made.

The story follows Nita Callahan, a bookish but brave middle school student who gets picked on by the other kids because they think it’s cool to beat on the geek. But a strange, slim book in the children’s section of the library finds her one day, and changes her life. The book, for which the novel is named, seems like a kid’s career book at first, but is filled with strange writing, words like “Temporospatial Claudications,” “Aphthonic Interventions” and an Oath Nita reads, promising that “in Life’s name and for Life’s sake” she will use the Art for nothing but the service of that Life. Overnight, Nita becomes a wizard. Shortly after, she meets Christopher “Kit” Rodriguez, a boy her age who found his strange book in a New York thrift store. Together, they take on their first mission in a dark, alternate universe Manhattan, and fight to save the world from the Lone Power who created Death. 

Now let’s be clear. This is not “swish-and-flick” wizardry. What makes the Young Wizards series fascinating is how closely tied magic is to science, right down to the books Nita and Kit use to reference their spells. They’re not called tomes, volumes, or Books of Shadows, but Manuals. Wizards may bend the laws of physics, but cannot break them. They can travel to space, to galaxies far beyond our own, but still have to draw spell diagrams that calculate how many cubic feet of air will be needed to breathe for an hour on the moon, or what thickness of an atmospheric shield spell will protect against the x-rays of a quasar. And most importantly, the energy to make a spell work has to come from somewhere, and must be paid in full. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. 

A wizard’s first duty to slow entropy – the eventual death of the universe. This gives the YW stories an interesting moral angle. In each book, Nita, Kit, and their friends, face off against an enemy that they will never truly defeat. Death, and the one who offers it as a gift at the creation of Life.

The nine books in the series are amazing stories that explore the meaning of death, evil, and how the two are not intrinsically one and the same. Without giving anything away, these books take us from exploring what death means for a planetary system, to what it means for a single family – how some death must be stopped, and other death allowed to take its course. How the Lone One must not be destroyed, but given the choice to change and redeem Itself. 

Again, I return to the question posed by the folks at Slice of Sci-Fi.

No. These books can’t be made into movies. Not yet. They would be beautiful if they were, though. They could be gritty and dark, and J.J. Abrams could direct them and put lots of lens flare in the scenes on Mars. I even have a vague image in my minds eye of how the spellcasting would look.

They can’t be movies because we as an audience not ready to offer undefeatable evil the chance for redemption. Nita and Kit may walk away at the end of the first book having defeated the Lone One, but It exists in all time and all space. It must be offered redemption again, and again. I don’t think we’re a society that values redemption of what we perceive to be evil.

The books are great. The first book of the series was originally published in 1983, and is still going strong, with the tenth book scheduled to be published next year. I’m not ashamed to admit I still follow it. Recently, Miss Diane Duane announced she would be releasing the “New Millennium” editions of the first four books, which have been updated to be consistent with the timeline of the later books in the series, and take place in 2008 rather than 1984. Her reasoning was, primarily, that the books were getting dated and were less accessible to the iGeneration. I completely agree. The third book of the series is especially difficult to read if you have only a vague idea of how a 1980s Macintosh functions.

I first read So You Want To Be A Wizard? ten years ago, and these books still hold up to modern scrutiny. It’s a series that deals with mature concepts, and a natural blend of sci-fi and fantasy. And honestly, it almost got me to like math.

27: On Weekends

December 16, 2012

In keeping with last weeks theme of productivity, I want to go over what I’ve done with my weekend so far. You know, just want to make sure I’m using my time well.

Yesterday I went grocery and essentials shopping in Maryland with my friend Olga. We had a very successful trip to the Russian food store! Later that night, I went to CRDF Global’s holiday party, which felt more like a wedding reception than a party, but I felt like I got to know my coworkers a lot better, and that was kinda nice.

Today was quiet. Waking up early to an empty apartment, lounging in pajamas. I finished making the first of two socks I had originally planned to give my mom for Christmas, but honestly they didn’t turn out so well. I might just keep it for myself. I watched a lot of Buffy, and then three Studio Ghibli movies from the bootleg DVD set I got this week. I continued work on a stalled afghan, having bought more yarn yesterday from the craft store.

We’re doing a christmas cookie exchange at work on Monday, so I made something close to 70 dark chocolate chip coconut cookies (and ate a fair amount of cookie dough, which might explain why I haven’t been hungry since breakfast, and why I felt the bloated urge to do yoga just now.)

It might also be a good time to start planning out my weekends in advance. I want to do things, go places, explore.

Maybe I’ll visit H Mart in Maryland tomorrow. Though not quite an exploration, I do have a craving for Miso soup and red bean pastries.

26: On Time

December 10, 2012

Three weeks until I get to see my boyfriend!

Or two weeks until the world ends.

25: On Productivity

December 10, 2012

It’s become increasingly apparent to me that I have to be productive all the time. The biggest testament to my love (read: obsession) of productivity is my inability to watch TV – which may sound odd to people who know me and/or my Netflix habits. Many people can sit down in front of a television and eat, or sit, or calmly fold their hands and watch an episode of something or other. I can’t. I fidget. I get up, I walk around, I tidy, I straighten things that don’t need to be straightened, etc, and in the process miss about half of what I should be watching. So the natural solution was to find something to do with my hands.

It started with sewing, back when I lived with my parents. After I finished high school, and started taking classes at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, I picked up a habit of sewing things – particularly handbags – to pass the time while I watched TV.

This turned into recycled basket-weaving, when one summer I marathoned the entire series of West Wing, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Supernatural.

It’s finally come to crochet.

Of all the things I told myself I wouldn’t do, making things with needles and hooks and loads of yarn was one of them. Partly because I thought it would make me feel like I’d completely fallen into the land of old ladies and knitting circles. I tell myself it’s practical, because while I love my sewing machine, it’s not exactly portable. But now, I’ve become That Girl on the Metro who everyone watches because she’s knitting and that’s new and interesting. I’ve become the person with the homemade scarves and hats. I’ve become the person who orders bulk lots of yarn off Ebay, or commute an hour and a half to JoAnn Fabrics.

Are these good things? Maybe. Do I need more hats and scarves than what I currently possess? Most definitely not.

But does this allow me to rewatch all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls without feeling unproductive?

My new hat speaks for itself.