"When I got my first television set, I stopped caring so much about having close relationships." - Andy Warhol

Friday, August 24, 2012

What’s in a favorite?

Funnel cake. A favorite.
When filling out the “About Katie” section of this blog, I paused at the prompt to list my favorite movies. I enjoy a lot of movies, but what do I call a favorite?

I ultimately decided on a strange mix of titles, ranging from the Indiana Jones series to The Devil Wears Prada.

To me, a favorite movie is like a favorite meal – comforting, appealing, and always worth the time (or calories).

The hat, the whip, the legend

Oh, Indiana...
Given that the popularity of the Indiana Jones series spans decades, I don’t think I have to provide too much detail about why I love the series – Indiana’s on screen toughness and tenderness is both humorous and engaging, and the plot lines are always just the right balance of implausibility and adventure.

And unlike the characters in other action movies, who are often one-dimensional and motivated only by a desire for vengeance, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is a learned college professor whose adventures stem from his desire to preserve artifacts for the greater good.

You can’t go wrong with a handsomely rugged man who is just as bookish as he is brave.

When mean looks good

In contrast to Indiana’s archaeological adventures, The Devil Wears Prada gives viewers a glimpse into the cult-like mentality of the select few who keep the flywheel of the fashion industry spinning.

The protagonist, Andy (Anne Hathaway), struggles to adapt to the industry’s expectations without compromising her own values in a movie with an upbeat, appealing ambiance. At once, you’re seduced by the exciting, colorful world that produces wearable art, but repulsed by the demoralizing demands that are par for the course in the industry.

Just the moral takeaways from the movie – hard work pays off, be true to yourself, and don’t prejudge based on appearance alone – stand tall enough to make the movie a success, but the humanness of the characters is what I love the most.
Andy, just like her fashion sense, evolves from comfortable and complacent to edgy and elusive, before finally landing at sensible and confident. And her group of friends is believable to me. They’re not blindly supportive of Andy, and at times they’re downright selfish and greedy. I like that.

One of my favorite characters is Miranda Priestsly (Meryl Streep). At the risk of sounding cliche, she sparkles on screen and the reproachfulness she portrays makes you gasp in awe of her icy power (but you secretly want to be her, or at least be her best friend).

Digging too deep

Initech: The company that put TPS reports on the map.

As good as my favorites are - everything from Overboard to Office Space - I think the fact that they’re favorites exempts them from deep analysis about what makes them so beloved. Sometimes favorites are favorites just because they are.

You eat it or watch it - you feel good. ‘Nuff said.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Wanderlust: A blundering journey

I wanted to like you, George & Linda. Really.
When I saw Wanderlust in Redbox, I barely read the description before adding it to my cart.

I like both Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd, and as charming, well-paid actors, I trusted them to have discernible taste in choosing movie scripts.

When we started the movie, we were hopeful – the characters seemed real and the plot seemed plausible.

George Gergenblatt (Rudd) works in a nondescript office job, and Linda Gergenblatt (Aniston) embarks on various projects in an effort to find her niche. Fair enough.

A quick slide downhill

When the couple moves into a “micro-loft” in New York City, complete with a bed that pops out of the wall, you feel their elation at being property owners in the “world’s greatest city.”

Sadly for Linda and George, the elation is short-lived. And sadly for viewers, the movie’s plausibility is equally short-lived.

When George loses his job and Linda’s documentary on penguins with testicular cancer is poorly received, the couple is forced to sell their loft and head to Georgia, where Paul’s brother promises him work.

The story unravels pretty quickly from there.

Why my attention for Wanderlust began to wander:

  • How does a first-time documentary film maker get a meeting with HBO? I’m almost certain you need a reputation to get in the doors of such a sleek and sexy network. (This isn't that big of a deal as far as the plot is concerned, it just annoyed me.)
  • Eccentric characters that scorn killing flies and eat a vegan diet? That’s fine. I’ll even buy into the fact that they don’t have doors in their homes. But when the characters cross the line between free spirited and disgusting (e.g., the natural birth of Almond’s baby and the parents’ refusal to dispose of the afterbirth), the laughs stop coming and you’re left feeling downright uncomfortable. 
  • The intimate scenes between Linda and George in the beginning of the movie were sweet. But the scene that features George talking dirty to his reflection in the mirror before coming onto Eva? Bearable for the first ten seconds (although I’ll be hard-pressed to ever find him attractive again), making the subsequent 50 seconds incredibly awkward and embarrassing to watch.
Do I recommend this movie? Certainly not. But I’ve made my peace with the fact that I wasted 98 minutes (that felt much longer) watching this movie.

What I’m struggling to reconcile is my disappointment in Jen and Paul. I trusted them, and I feel a bit betrayed.

Even this picture is awesomely bad. Bad ass!

The difference between bad and awesomely bad

Samuel L. Jackson will live in infamy for starring in the awesomely bad 2006 action thriller, Snakes on a Plane.

Jen and Paul should be so lucky.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Creative aquatics

If I had a camera crew follow me around all day at work, they’d be bored. And if the camera men can’t keep their eyes open to film me sitting at my desk, talking on the phone, walking to the bathroom, and eating lunch at my desk (then, of course, struggling with a Tide to Go pen to remove the remnants of lunch from my shirt), I’m not optimistic that a network would be eager to share the footage with viewers.

I think few peoples’ day-to-day jobs have the makings of great reality TV. Even jobs that are featured on shows like Dirty Jobs would lose viewers if coverage about cleaning portable toilets and inseminating farm animals lasted beyond two minutes.

In spite of the low entertainment factor of most professions, my newest favorite reality TV show is all about life at work. The show? Tanked. The work? Making custom-made acrylic fish tanks.

Making underwater dreams come true

Fish capture the interest of a niche audience, no doubt, but the show doesn’t just attract die-hard fish fans.

The show appeals to the masses because it throws strong personalities, the dynamics of a family business, eccentric clients, and creativity into one “tank” and lets viewers watch what works, what gets rusty, and what floats to the top, belly-up.

“The General” oversees Acrylic Tank Manufacturing (ATM), a family owned business in Las Vegas. His son, Brett is involved in design and sales. Brett’s sister, Heather, is the company’s accountant and she’s married to Wayde, who works alongside Brett. “Redneck” is a marine technician and plumber.

ATM tackles unique projects like making an operational fish tank in a bar that’s constructed of ice (no joke, Minus 5 in Las Vegas is constructed of ice), designing and installing a 35-ft. fish tank “wall” for a casino in San Diego, and transforming an old bus into a mobile aquarium.

Details that make a splash

Look closely. He's wearing braces!
In spite of the impressive marine- and customer-related challenges ATM faces and conquers, what interests me most about the aquariums are the personal details the guys sneak into their creations. It’s one thing to build a custom shark tank in an orthodontist’s office, but it’s another thing altogether to troll the Internet for a plastic shark head and fit the shark with shiny braces to create a funny, fitting tank centerpiece.

My favorite tank to date started out as a brand new stainless steel refrigerator. When ATM was done with it, fish were swimming between the shelves, behind the operational water/ice dispenser, and around the “groceries” inside - a gallon of milk (labeled “Milk for Wayde’s Cookies”), dressing (complete with Heather’s picture, labeled “Heather’s Honey Dressing”), and fish-themed orange juice ketchup, and mustard. (View Plesser’s Appliance & Electronic’s live refrigerator fish tank webcam on their website).

Native New Yorkers who take the time to delight their customers by creating customized, waterproof props for a fish tank that looks like a refrigerator? It doesn’t get any better than that.

If wishes were fishes...

As interesting as it is to watch the guys figure out how they’ll make their customers’ wet and wild dreams come true, play pranks on each other, and figure out the logistics of tank construction and transportation, I like watching the show because it shows me that there is money to be made outside of corporate-issued, fabric-covered cubicle walls.

My professional adventures may never take me outside of the bland office environment I’m accustomed to, but for one hour a week, I can live vicariously.

And with our betta fish, Cubie, adding to the ambiance of our home office, I almost feel like one of ATM's eccentric customers. Almost.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Who said making friends is hard?

"Non-fat" yogurt, anyone?
I have certain shows that I always try to keep on my DVR. I listen to them while I do the dishes, give myself a pedicure, and fold laundry. Sometimes the shows provide background noise while I surf the Internet or play on my phone. Mainly, they keep me company.

Some shows – Seinfeld and Friends in particular – are so familiar to me that I feel like I know the characters almost as well as I know the people in my life.

My buddies

I respect Jerry and Monica's appreciation for cleanliness and identify with how they sometimes struggle to fight their compulsion to clean.

I get frustrated with how ditsy Phoebe and Joey can be, but at the same time, I value them for who they are - likable, entertaining people who march to the beat of their own drum.

When they say "I'll be there for you," I believe it.
I identify with George more than I’d like to admit (an under-the-desk nap area is a brilliant idea!), and I think Elaine and I have a lot in common (except I believe a cinnamon babka is at least equal to, if not better than, a chocolate babka).

Spending time together

My husband and I will joke about what "friends" we're going to watch at night. And although it is a joke, I’ll admit that I do feel an identifiable kinship with the characters in my favorite re-runs.

When I need a break from my own reality, I can power on our Panasonic and get lost in the minutia of other peoples' every day lives. Finding out what "ugly naked guy" is up to or uncovering the truth about frozen yogurt that's allegedly "non-fat" is markedly more enjoyable than doing the dishes or sorting through the mail.

With the press of a few buttons, my "friends" are there for me doing what friends do best - making me laugh, distracting me from my troubles, and showing me that they made it through difficult times and I can too!

You already said that...

Although I admittedly care about the characters in Seinfeld and Friends, I recognize the inherent limitations of investing in virtual relationships with fictional sitcom characters in syndicated re-runs.

Although they're always available, it's inevitable that eventually they’ll start repeating themselves.

And there is the matter of the the relationship being decidedly one-sided... I've heard Jerry talk about "Golden Boy" numerous times, but I'm SOL if I need to talk to somebody about Favorite Shorts.*

Yes, "Golden Boy" is Jerry's favorite t-shirt.
*As the name implies, "Favorite Shorts" are my favorite pair of denim shorts. They're patched and threadbare, and at this point, I think it's fair to say they're on borrowed time.

What is a friend?

I think my sanity is relatively in check since I can recognize the differences between my real-life friends and my televised “friends,” but I think the qualities that define the term "friend" can be fluid. If you can "friend" the dog walker of your plumber's mother-in-law on Facebook, is this really such a stretch?

When my flesh-and-blood friends aren't available, televised "friends" are a viable second option - a far second, but still an option all the same.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Ted is more than real

My childhood desk
Some kids have really outgoing personalities and tons of friends. Some kids are more imaginative than gregarious and have a closet full of stuffed animals. Do I have to specify which type of kid I was?

Me & my Puffalump
Thanks to a massive collection of plush toys and a Dad who wanted to make me smile (and wasn’t afraid to use a falsetto voice), my stuffed animals were anything but inanimate objects.

My formative years were enriched with the company of poly-filled “friends” whose huggability made up for their lack of opposable thumbs and cognitive capability.

Some things never change

As an adult, I still have a closet shelf full of stuffed animals. And *blush* I’d be lying if I said I haven’t named each of them.

I may be reticent to admit that I’m an (otherwise well-adjusted, I swear!) adult who still loves her stuffed animals, but I don’t think I’m alone in my unwillingness to completely outgrow teddy bears.

How can I be so sure? Ted.

Proceeding with caution

Because my stuffed animals have always been sweet and friendly creatures with no trace of malevolence lurking behind their button eyes, the very idea of an innocuous teddy bear spouting offensive remarks and engaging in irresponsible behavior didn’t appeal to me. It just seemed wrong.

So naturally, I braced myself before I saw this movie. After watching previews, I knew that Ted’s personality, in spite of his furry, innocent exterior, would probably resemble that of Seth Rogen or Zach Galifianakis more so than Corduroy or Winnie the Pooh.

Was I right? Yes.

Did I fall in love with Ted anyway? Absolutely.

I believe!

Yes, the bear has a beer.
The movie itself had a plot, and even though I’ve never seen a teddy bear as “real” as Ted myself, I’d have to say that the plot was plausible.

Yes, an action-packed chase scene between a teddy bear and a human kidnapper that ends in tragedy at Fenway Park is admittedly improbable. In fact, the mere existence of a walking, talking, swearing, sexually active teddy bear is pretty fantastic.

But in spite of this, the ingenious mix of acting, character development, and humor in Ted made me buy into it - chase scene and all - and laugh out loud from start to finish. (Okay, I didn’t just laugh. The quantity of tears I shed when Ted was completely torn in half rivaled my reaction to The Notebook, a notorious tearjerker).

Cut the bear some slack

Haven’t seen Ted yet? Go see it.

Should you be prepared to hear some potentially offensive dialogue? Yes.

Is the offensiveness of the dialogue mitigated by the fact that the offender is a teddy bear? I think so. (Even so, don't view the video below if you're easily offended - it contains "adult" language).

Ted may be rude and crude, but he’s still a teddy bear. And when it comes down to it, who couldn’t use a thunder buddy?