Friday, December 21, 2012

Warm Bodies: Movie review

I know, how did I get so lucky to see a movie that isn't out for more than a month? Just lucky, I guess.
This is the book cover, not the movie one sheet. I figure I am slightly less likely to get sued by using an image from Amazon -- thereby encouraging you to buy WARM BODIES, and improving the economic prospectus of said book -- than I am if I rip an image from the movie from online. LAW STUFF! (Do not follow my example on your own blog. Nothing I have said here constitutes legal advice.) Google for the movie poster.

Full disclosure: I have not read WARM BODIES,  but now I definitely want to. Everyone knows I love zombies, yes? And I know that zombies are approaching "vampire-levels" of pop culture saturation, but I don't care. As long as people can put a new twist on the zombie idea, I will keep lining up for more.

The film presented an interesting concept: R, a zombie in a post-apocalyptic world, is going through an existential crisis. He can't remember anything about his former life, not even his full name. He spends his days shuffling aimlessly through the airport and grunting at his only friend, M, wishing he were better able to communicate the thoughts that are running through his head. He explains that the reason zombies love brains so much is because when you eat a brain, you experience all your victim's memories and emotions, and for a moment you feel human again.

But when Z eats the brains of Percy, he falls in love with Percy's girlfriend, Julie.* He saves Julie from his fellow zombies, including M, and the two of them hide out in an abandoned 747 until R can take Julie back to her human compound.

The more time R spends with Julie, the more human (and less zombie) he becomes. The only trouble is, he got that way by killing her boyfriend.

Now, despite a great concept, this isn't a perfect movie. I mean, R's inner-dialogue is funny, but you are staring at R's expressionless face for most of the movie. There is an inherent limitation on an actor's abilities when the direction is literally, "Look sad, but zombie-sad. So not that sad. Maybe a little tired. Yeah, just look tired." Nicholas Hoult did the best he could, but really how much can you do when you're a zombie?

Perhaps that's why I felt like every actor's performance was (pardon the pun) a little lifeless.

Julie didn't seem quite sad enough to be a bereft girlfriend, or tough enough to be a zombie apocalypse survivor. She seemed a little dim, and very prone to making Dumb Blonde Movie Mistakes. On one hand, I like what that revealed about how lifeless existence had gotten even for the survivors, but doesn't make for super compelling cinema. Oh my, she's moping again. How fascinating.

John Malkovich (as Julie's dad and the human generalissimo) didn't seem Malkovichy enough. I mean, c'mon man, you're John Malkovich. Chew some scenery or move aside and let Pacino slum it up!

The best characters by far were Julie's friend Nora and R's friend M, mostly because they were appropriately absurd in (what I thought was supposed to be) an absurdist comedy.

So should you go see Warm Bodies? Yes if you love zombies and off-beat comedies. No if you're squeamish (the movie isn't terribly bloody, but there is one brain-eating scene you'd need a tough stomach to get through) or think $7 is too high a price to pay for a pretty weird comedy. If you're on the fence, I would give this one two-thumbs up for a RedBoxin.

* (Confession time: It took me almost until the end of the movie to realize R + Julie ... OH, I GOT IT, MOVIE GUYS!

To be fair, I think that's a lot easier to catch in a book. It's not like R refers to himself as R during his narration.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

City sidewalks, busy sidewalks

Does anyone else sometimes hear "Silver Bells" and feel a little depressed about their life choices?

I mean, I have never, not once, rushed home with my "treasures." I have, however, rushed home with stuff I feel relatively confident my friends and family will like, but could have easily could have purchased themselves. I've also rushed home with junk that will clearly be exchanged after Christmas, but I was too embarrassed to just buy a gift card.

Have you ever successfully purchased a "treasure" for someone else? I would genuinely like to hear about it, if so.

Good luck out there, it's a jungle down at the mall!

It's coming along ...

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Twenty-six acts of kindness

Go here if you want to know what I'm talking about.

Here's my list. I will add to it as I finish my acts of kindness. If you have any ideas or suggestions, I would love to hear them. (I may run out of ideas, so please make suggestions.)

And if you decide to do your own 26* acts of kindness, leave a comment and let me know! Or follow it on Twitter -- the hashtag is #26Acts or #20Acts.

1. Bought clothes for a little boy and little girl for Sub for Santa (12/17)
2. Donated a bag of groceries to Utah Food Bank (12/18)
3. Donated clothes to Deseret Industries (12/18)
4. Bought a flock of geese for a family in poverty (12/18) (See for more information)
5. Donated to the Human Rights Commission (12/19)
6. Delivered treats to neighbors (12/24)
7. Gave spare change to Salvation Army bell ringer (12/24)
8. Covered for a coworker (12/24)
9. Prepared Christmas dinner for a friend in need ("prepared" to be loosely interpreted) (12/25)

(* I've added 27, for Nancy Lanza. But since it's being called "Twenty-six Acts" online, I figured it was easier to just add one than try to rename it.)

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world." 
- Fred Rogers

Insert Title Here

Does anyone have a problem with titles?

I am a terrible titler. Which is actually sort of weird, since once upon a time I worked at a college newspaper, and one of my main jobs was to give columns their headlines. Humblebrag time: I am a bad titler, but an excellent headliner. I once managed to headline a column, "On the third day, God created the Remington bolt-action rifle" -- that took some tricky font action, I tell you what. NAME THAT MOVIE!)

When it comes to my second life as a writing bear, I often think of my skill set like the pain scale.

1- Dialogue
I am really good at writing dialogue. If you know me in real life, you probably already know that I am a sparkling conversationalist. (Not really.) Writing dialogue is completely pain-free, and generally quite enjoyable. Given the option, I will leave a bunch of XXX's where plot should go so I can move on to writing more banter.

2- Critiquing other people's work
I am also really good at critiquing for other people. I am a much faster reader than I am a writer, to a semi-freakish degree. I also have LAWYER POWERS, which means I analyze minor details for a living, and YES, I will catch that inconsistency you built into your plot! I will also provide you with a Power Point about your options to fix said inconsistency, because I am pushy and overly organized. But it makes my eyes tired, so it's a 2.

3- Grammar
Grammar is less enjoyable than dialogue and critiquing, and causes me about as much pain as a hangnail.  I don't actually know what a present participle is, because I always zoned out during that section in English class. But I am generally pretty good at following the rules of grammar, picking up on violations of the rules of grammar, and ignoring the rules of grammar (but only when I have an excellent reason to do so, like ending dialogue with prepositions because NO ONE REVERSES THE PREPOSITION IN REAL LIFE SPEECH.)

4- Beginnings
Beginnings are a vaguely throbbing headache. Unlike IDEAS!, which are a Negative-One on the pain scale (in that they are purely delightful), beginnings cause me a little anxiety, due to the fact that I have a hard time remembering, "Hey, this doesn't actually HAVE to be the beginning. It could always become something else later. It doesn't have to be that great at the moment." They are also difficult because starting one beginning means NOT starting another (at least not yet) -- which if you already have one time-consuming job means Idea 2 may never come to fruition. And that's a serious downer.

5- Endings
I actually couldn't quite decide whether endings or beginnings caused me more pain. I generally think of the ending first, but I tend to fiddle with it more. Endings are sort of like indigestion. Mostly they are no big deal, just some minor tummy rumbles. It's generally the "Am I going to throw up?" uncertainty that is the big problem.

6- Pacing
Pacing is like the last half mile of a jog for me. I know I can do it. My brain says I can, my muscles say I can, but my lungs say, "Oww, oww, no no no, let's stop and smell the roses, and oh, isn't Spencer tired? Shouldn't we stop and give Spencer a break? Look, there are ducks! Let's stop running, PLEASE, and let Spencer look at the ducks!" 
It sucks, but it's definitely not the worst.

7- Middles
This is a sprained ankle (terribly unpleasant, but not debilitating) -- or, if we keep the "working out" metaphor going, medicine ball squats as a Crossfit instructor yells, "YOU CAN DO FIVE MORE!" and it takes everything you have to finish those squats and not hurl the medicine ball at that muscle-bound freak with all the might your pathetic upper body strength can muster.

Ahem. Yes. That's what middles are like.

8- Back story/World building
This is heatstroke. You're sweaty and dizzy, and sort confused about what you're doing and why. You just know you've got to get back to air conditioning and water, and soon.

9- Queries
Have you ever barfed from pain? I have. That's what a query is like for me.
10- Titles

Anyway, I really went overboard with that pain scale thing, didn't I? But my point remains, titles are literally the worst part of everything. 

And the VERY worst part? It's generally acknowledged that if you do get published, your chosen title won't really matter anyway, because people who are good at titles will pick a new one!

Does anyone else have this problem? What's your 10 on the pain scale?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Why the law is (usually) better than X

(This blog post brought to you by simmering annoyance.)

I read a study once where researchers asked students applying to medical school and students applying to law school what appealed to them most about their respective choices. (Aside from "wanting to help people" -- mostly true -- and "buckets of money" -- DING DING DING!)

The future doctors replied, "It's the mystery."

The lawyers-to-be said, "It's the certainty."

In essence, the pre-meds thought that their future would be filled with researching symptoms and cures, testing hypothesis and eliminating failed propositions. Discovery! Curiosity! Cue the Dr. House music!

And on the flip side, the baby lawyers thought that they would be flipping through one of their many fine, leather-bound books and crying, "Aha! The legislature outlawed that in 1918! Case dismissed!"

Sadly, as it turns out, the opposite is true. (May explain why there are so many unhappy doctors and lawyers out there. Math skills aside, maybe they all should have swapped jobs?)

Doctors spend most of their time conclusively determining what is wrong with the person. The true medical mysteries are rare.

Lawyers, on the other hand, spend most of their time wading through the gray -- the area where truth is elusive, interpretations are many, and certainty is nowhere to be found. The slam dunk case? Just as rare as a medical mystery. When you have a slam dunk, you don't really even need a lawyer. You need a sheriff (if you're in the right) or a priest (if you're not.)

One of the great things about working in the law is grappling with complex ideas that may not have an answer. And when you're surrounded by bright, capable colleagues (as many of us are lucky to be), it's enough to make a lot of us nerd-types frankly giddy. LOOK AT ALL THE POSSIBLE OUTCOMES!

I think it is this particular legal background that makes it so frustrating for me to hear the words, "If you really understood."

If I really understood? Lawyers don't say that to each other. (Well, the good ones don't. The bad ones toss it around like there's no tomorrow. "Have a good day!" "You don't understand this!" "Oh, you're filing sanctions against me over this frivolous motion?" "You're honor, I'm really quite sorry." -- the natural progression of the terrible lawyer. Repeat until disbarment.)

Lawyers come to the table with a common denominator -- we all understand this. Understanding is rarely the problem. The problem is that I want it to mean A, Eduardo wants it to mean B, the other side will push for K, and who knows what the judge will think. If we do M, will that endanger the conclusion on P? What do we risk it we don't ask for M? Can we never ask for M again? And is it possible that U is the answer, and do we just hope that no one brings that up?

Oh, what was the answer? There is no answer! There are only probabilities about the future, based on what has happened in the past, and hoping that an appellate court does (or doesn't) concur.

It's like science fiction, it really is.

So what someone really means when they say the words, "You don't understand ... if you only understood ... people who really get this ..." is "Here is my A. I know you wanted B, but rather than debate you on the merits of B, I will simply undermine your position by implying you don't belong at the table."

And unless the subject actually is math, where (as long as you're not in crazy advanced math, which we won't even talk about) there is an answer and you can be conclusively wrong, that really isn't a way to approach a debate. Not in politics, not in theology, not even in house cleaning.

Now, a lot of people prefer to avoid this conundrum by resorting to the "I feels." (Thanks, Oprah.) Fine, you don't agree with my position, and you want to undermine it by claiming I don't have the intellectual capacity or background to deserve to have it. So what are we left with?

"Based on my personal experiences with A, I feel B is best."

Don't get me wrong, sometimes that is the way to go. If you have no ground left to stand on, jump aboard the USSR Emotion and take your battle to sea.

But man, if I don't feel that people resort to this option before they should. The answer to, "Well, you don't understand" is not, "Well, I feel." It is, "Of course I understand, Janie. You know I understand. I just draw a different conclusion than you do."

And unless Janie is Mother Russia, you keep that fight on the land.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Book recommendation: The Masque of the Red Death

Sweet cover, amiright?

Masque of the Red Death is a creepy dystopian-steampunk mashup. (For anyone who, like me, sometimes wonders what the hell "steampunk" even is, I think it's anything with corsets and a lot of contraptions.)

It's set 5-10 years after a plague has decimated the population, and the only people who are able to go out regularly are people wealthy enough to afford a special face mask that protects the wearer from the plague. Once you breathe into a mask, it will only work for you, which means the poor can't even steal them.

Gosh, do you think that the poor might lead some kind of revolution under these circumstances? (Answer: Yes.)

Araby Worth's father invented the life-saving masks, but his invention was quickly co-opted by the government as a means of controlling the population. Araby is semi-content to waste her life partying with other nihilists, until she is confronted with the underground rebellion that needs Araby's father's invention.

My biggest concerns with this book is that the main character, Araby, was sort of vague in my mind. She's a bit of a sadsack, but honestly, who wouldn't be? (I'm hoping she gets a little tougher in the sequel.)

But the ideas are creepy enough (in a good way) that I'd recommend this book to anyone looking for a Christmas present for a teenage reader. Go forth and enjoy!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I meant what I said, and I said what I meant

My friend Sandy, who is awesome, wrote a blog post for Feminist Mormon Housewives today. You can read it here. (Her regular blog here.)

Now, if you've read that, you may want to just skip what I have to say. Because it won't make you feel any better or worse about your position, if any, whatever it is.

Prepare for a long-winded, indecisive rant, friendos.

When some friends of mine online suggested that Mormon Feminists start doing some stuff to remind people that, much like those Whos of Whoville, we are here, I was all about it. As much as certain things about the LDS Church bug me sometimes, I suspect that if more people knew about them, more people would say, "Hey, that bugs me too! Let's fix that." PROGRESS FOR EVERYONE!

Then one of them suggested, "Hey, why don't we all wear pants to church one Sunday?" and my enthusiasm plummeted.

I know, I know. Why wouldn't I be supportive?

Do I think women should be "allowed" to wear pants to church? Of course. I'm not the fashion police -- and what's more, the LDS Church has said since the 1970s that there's no official church dress code for the ladies. Go forth and wear pants, friends!

Do I think that, given the standard of "Sunday best," I own dress pants that are nicer than some of the dresses and skirts I own? Absolutely. My job can sometimes require a fairly formal dress code, and I wear suits and dresses pretty interchangeably. I don't think that one outfit is particularly better than another just because the structures are different. I also think anyone who insists that an informal dress (or jersey maxi skirt, boots, and a Northface pullover, you know who you are ...) is more appropriate for church than a pair of nice wool slacks on the basis of "Well, it's a dress!" is just kidding themselves.

Part of it is just that I don't want to wear pants to church. Period. It's not social conditioning or peer pressure (at age 28, I'm sort of past that sort of thing). I just ... don't want to. The tomboy Ru of my childhood would probably be like, "YES! Pants to church!"

But adult Ru is like, "Well, I would be warmer ... but I just like a good reason to wear a dress. Sue me." I don't feel more or less reverent, more or less respectful, in a dress. I just like dresses. And by the end of a regular work week, a lot of times I am just kind of sick of slacks. And that seems like a good enough reason to wear a dress.

But that isn't the reason I feel squeamish. The real reason was simple: a big part of me just knew, "This is going to get misconstrued. By a lot of people."

Because I don't care about pants. And I can't stand that people still confuse concepts of "sameness" and "equality." Every enemy of feminism ever has attempted to equate the demand for equal rights to  the imaginary demand for breastfeeding men and women who can pee standing up. (STRAWMAN ARGUMENT ALERT.)

I don't want to be a man. I like being a woman. I just wanted to get treated as well as a man because there is no justifiable reason why I shouldn't be.

I want women to have equal say about church finances. I want the Young Women's program to be as well-funded as the Young Men's. I want non-priesthood church positions to be filled equally by men and women. I want to see a woman pray in General Conference. And heck, why not have a woman speaker at Priesthood session of conference? Men speak in the Relief Society general, and some of the men in the audience could probably use the reminder that sometimes women have authority, too. 

Newsflash: I don't even want the priesthood. I mean, it's cool if you do, but the things I want (women who have children at home to be eligible to be seminary teachers -- maybe we'd have a few less creepster seminary teachers out there, amiright?!) have more to do with the institutional structure of the church than anything.

I want so many things to be better about the LDS Church. Things that I think most people would agree with, if they weren't so convinced that feminists want to kidnap pregnant women off the street and force them to have abortions.

And people are going to see the word "pants" and think all I want are different genitals. Because let's be honest -- our society is not big on the "critical thought" thing.

So even though I supported the basic idea presented, I thought I wasn't going to participate. I didn't want to take away from the event, so I was just going to keep silent, but I didn't want to offer my support, either.

But then.

The "decline" responses to the facebook invitation started pouring in. The anti-pants crowd is, in a word, insane. I knew there would be some misunderstanding of the motives of the group, but seriously. Heaven forbid you ask an LDS woman to wear nice slacks and pearls instead of a frumpster denim jumper this Sunday, because she will throw down. Sweet spirits? Ha.

And then on the "accept" side, I saw so many things that I thought couldn't possibly be happening. One gentleman shared that an usher in a ward in Arizona actually TURNED HIS GRANDMOTHER AWAY because she wore a pantsuit after hip surgery on Easter Sunday.

(Let's all just pause for a moment to consider that. Grandmother ... hip surgery ... Easter. NO CHURCH FOR YOU, PANTSY.)

So what am I going to wear to church on Sunday? Beats me, honestly. On one hand, I want to support a group and a cause I care a lot about. On the other, I think this is not the best way to raise awareness of our concerns. Back to the other hand, I can't quite believe the level of cray that surrounding this whole thing, and the obstinate lawyer in me wants to jump to the side of the down-trodden.


But I love Horton Hears A Who!

In short, I am muddled, friends. So any thoughts you might able to offer, I would really appreciate.

Keeping in mind, of course, that in the end I might choose to declare this Sunday a mental health day and just stay home.

Yay feminism!

And yay (maybe) pants!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Skiing, Ru Style

Recently I took a day off work to go skiing. And my, what an adventure it was.

First of all, if you want to know how to have a cute skiing adventure, where you end up at the lodge in boot socks and perfectly flat-iron-curled hair under your knit cap ... this is not the post for you. I mean, I wish I could help you out there, but this is how I roll.

Tip 1: Do as much as you can for free. Lift tickets are outrageously expensive, so skimp where you can.

You know how some girls have fitted ski pants, so even through all that layering you can tell who has a cute butt up on the mountain? I am not one of those girls. I wear a men's medium ski pant, mostly because it was free. (Direct Diego quote: Why are your pants so big? Did you not know you're a little person?) (It's true. I come from a family of medium- to small-sized people.)

And you know how some people head back to the lodge for tasty warm burgers and hot chocolate? Not me. Carrot sticks and cold sandwiches back in the car.

When I was little and my parents took us skiing, I always wished my parents would let us eat lodge food, but instead we always met up at the Bronco and drink hot chocolate from a thermos and eat peanut butter and honey sandwiches. Ten-year-old Ru really resented them for that.

As an adult, I realize that my parents were, in fact, CRUSHING IT. You only have to pay $10 for one terrible basket of dry chicken fingers before you realize your parents really knew what they were doing. (WELL DONE, PARENTS!)

Some of us know we can't earn any style points up on the mountain, so we don't even try. I seriously recommend this option, if you're trying to engage in one of our most expensive hobbies in the cheapest way possible.

Tip 2: Try not to go from a near sedentary lifestyle to skiing a full day.

Look, I know. I lie to my doctor just like you do and pretend that I exercise regularly, when in fact I hit the gym once a week (if I'm lucky) and count walking my dog (around the block...) as cardio. If it's sort of true, then it's not a lie.

But the mountain is not your doctor. You cannot stretch the truth with the mountain. The mountain will say, "Oh, you eat right, do you? How are your quads feeling? Not so good? That's what I thought."

Excuse me while I go soak in a tub. And by "tub," I mean "take a quick shower before I run out of hot water."