Saturday, March 14, 2015

Movie Marathon

Last January, I decided to embark on a quest. It would take a lot of time, and it would take a LONG time.

I would watch all of my movies in alphabetical order.

Okay, so it wasn't learning a new language or anything. But I own over 200 movies, and I've never before attempted something like this. Sure, I'll decide to watch a movie here or there, but I realized I'd left some languishing on the shelf for years. It's not because I don't like them, but because I just don't often say, "I think I'll watch 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' today!" I don't think I've ever gone, "You know what my day needs? A little 'Curious Case of Benjamin Button.'" Both good movies, but not go-tos for me.

So it was decided. One at a time, from A to Z. Or rather, from '2 Days in Paris' to 'Zombieland.' 

Some of my movies.
A little background on my watching patterns: I have a television in my room, and I always have something playing on it (usually a TV show) while I get ready for work, fold clothes, get ready for bed, etc. I decided to instead use this time to chip away at my movie collection, and really take stock of the DVDs that I own.

I ended up getting rid of the very first movie that I watched: '2 Days in Paris.' I couldn't see myself watching it again, and I also couldn't imagine anyone wanting to borrow it. So congratulations, Goodwill! Another DVD for your illustrious collection.

From then on I kept plugging away, going through roughly one movie every two days. Sometimes I was away on vacation and didn't take any movies with me, other times I worked on a project in my room and watched more than one movie in a sitting.

One of the most entertaining aspects of this venture was that every so often my co-workers would want to play "Guess What Movie Valerie is Watching," and I'd give them different clues, leaving them to try to come up with what movie might come between.

Fourteen months and 227 movies later, I'm finally done! It was a sad moment when the credits for 'Zombieland' finally rolled – so much so that I immediately watched the entire movie again with commentary. 

In not-so-shocking news, I made several lists as I watched. Sometimes I forgot to write things down, so it's not as comprehensive as I'd like, but c'est la vie. ("La vie." –Woodchuck Todd, 'Easy A')

Standout Scenes (Or: Scenes to Make Your Soul Soar)

Almost Famous: Tiny Dancer
Big Fish: Daffodils
Casablanca: Marseilles
Finding Neverland: "That is Neverland"
Gone with the Wind: The End: Scarlett at Tara
Little Miss Sunshine: Olive puts her head on Duane's shoulder*
Return of the King: "You bow to no one"
Moulin Rouge: 'Come What May' Finale*
That Thing You Do: Good and kissed*
Up: House on Paradise Falls
Waitress: Dr. Pomatter Hugs Jenna
The Way Way Back: Owen shields Duncan from Trent**

*Terrible video quality, but it's all I could find, sadly. Still-- SO GOOD.
**I can't even find even a PICTURE of this moment, so here's a trailer instead.

Movies Better Than I Remembered 

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
First Knight
Gone With the Wind
Notting Hill

Movies Less Awesome Than I Remembered

The Phantom of the Opera

Movies I Own That Take Place in 1899

Moulin Rouge
The Prestige

Funniest Movies I Own

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Hot Fuzz
Waiting for Guffman

Favorite Teen Comedies

10 Things I Hate About You
Easy A
Mean Girls
Never Been Kissed
Can't Hardly Wait

Actors That Are In More Than Five Of My Movies

Tom Hanks
Kate Winslet
Joseph Gordon-Levitt

ZOMG This Is My Childhood

3 Ninjas
Charlotte's Web
The Chipmunk Adventure
Gulliver's Travels
The Last Unicorn
The Rescuers Down Under

I Just Really Want You To Watch These Movies

Blast from the Past
Return to Me
The Way, Way Back

My Top Five Favorites

Almost Famous
A League of Their Own
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Moulin Rouge
That Thing You Do

So there it is. The movie marathon that took over a year.

Roll credits.

Final note: Five is a lot of 'Twilight' movies to watch in a row.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

8th Annual Oscar Picks

It's the most wonderful time of the year! Oscar weekend! Let's predict some winners, shall we? And remember-- I am NEVER wrong. Ever.*

(Previously: 20142013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008.)

Best Picture: A few weeks ago, I would have said that "Boyhood" was a lock. Now I'm not quite so sure. "Birdman" has been climbing up the prediction charts, and they are a serious threat to Richard Linklater et al. However, I don't think you can ignore the scope of filming the same film over the course of TWELVE YEARS, plus the emotional punch it packs at the end. That's why I think that "Boyhood" will be the one to ultimately walk away with the gold.

Best Director: If "Boyhood" does indeed take home the big prize, Academy voters are going to need another way to honor "Birdman," and I believe it will be in the form of Best Director going to Alejandro González Iñárritu. However, I certainly wouldn't be mad if Richard Linklater won.

Best Actor: Man, this is a tough one. Even as I'm typing I just don't know how this paragraph is going to end. Either you give it to Michael Keaton, thereby rewarding a long career and a Hollywood veteran (not to mention a remarkable speech-maker), or you go with Eddie Redmayne, the rising star with a masterful turn in a critically lauded biopic. They've each won their share of awards this season, but the thing I keep coming back to is the fact that Eddie Redmayne is still so young, and probably has plenty of chances to win this award in the future. In the end I think voters will want to honor Michael Keaton and his go-for-broke performance in "Birdman."

The one thing that makes me nervous about that pick is the fact that Redmayne won the SAG Award, and for the last 10 years the winner of the SAG has gone on to win the Oscar. I may live to regret ignoring this indicator...

Best Actress: This category has basically been a lock for the past couple of years, and this year looks to be no different. Julianne Moore all but has this one in the bag, and it's about time! Her nomination for "Still Alice" is her FIFTH, so this one is a long time coming! Treat yo'self, Julianne Moore!

Best Supporting Actor: We're all thinking J.K. Simmons, right? J.K. Simmons? Cool, let's do it. J.K. Simmons!

Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette has been picking up every single award from the Golden Globe to the Critic's Choice, so come Sunday she'll have another one to throw on top of her pile!

Animated Feature: It's completely insane that "The Lego Movie" wasn't nominated, and it kills me that we don't know WHY it was passed over. However, that doesn't mean that "How to Train Your Dragon 2" or "Big Hero 6" are completely undeserving of the honor. I would be surprised if anything in this category wins over those two, and in the end I'm going with "How to Train Your Dragon 2."

Production Design: Wes Anderson does a lot of things very well, chief among them the creation of beautiful and meticulously created cinematic worlds. I can't imaging anything winning in this category over "The Grand Budapest Hotel."

Cinematography: They filmed Birdman in a style to look like it was all one continuous shot (much like Hitchcock's "Rope"). That creativity should be enough to allow Birdman's Emmanuel Lubezki to win this award for the second year in a row (he also won last year for "Gravity").

Costume Design: It's usually a safe bet to go with the movie that has the most corsets and giant historical dresses. This year we also have a lot of fantasy thrown in, with their own capes and giant dresses and horns to deal with. That makes this category a bit of a head-scratcher for me, and I'm down to either "The Grand Budapest Hotel" or "Into the Woods." Gosh I'm bad at this category. Okay, I'm going bellhop. Let's say "The Grand Budapest Hotel."

Film Editing: My go-to method for predicting this one is typically to choose the best picture winner, so why mess with something that's been working for me? I'll go with "Boyhood" here, not only because I think it will win best picture, but also because–can you IMAGINE how much footage they had to go through? Unreal.

Makeup and Hairstyling: Why do these things have to share a category? They are done by totally different people! This is dumb. Anyway, when I saw "Grand Budapest Hotel" on the ballot, I was only thinking about Saoirse Ronan's facial birth mark, and kept moving on to "Foxcatcher" and "Guardians of the Galaxy." Then I remembered TILDA SWINTON, HELLO. So this one also belongs to "The Grand Budapest Hotel."

Original Score: Gosh I loved Hans Zimmer's music for "Interstellar." Unfortunately all of the buzz in this category seems to be surrounding "The Theory of Everything," so I'm predicting a win for Jóhann Jóhannsson.

Original Song: This will probably be the only award of the night for "Selma."

Original Screenplay: On the other hand, it looks like this will end up being a pretty BIG night for "The Grand Budapest Hotel!"

Adapted Screenplay: There's a pretty interesting story on why "Whiplash" is listed in this category rather than Original Screenplay, which it is–even the Writer's Guild had it listed in their Original Screenplay category. Either way, I think it will still come out on top of its biggest competition, "The Imitation Game."

Sound Mixing: I think it's probably either "American Sniper" or "Interstellar," with "Whiplash" thrown in as a dark horse. Let's go with "American Sniper."

Sound Editing: Let's just say "American Sniper" again.

Visual Effects: What a packed category! All of these films have a tremendous amount of computer graphics, and it's hard to pick the best among the best. I think it will almost definitely be either "Interstellar" or "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," with "Interstellar" just eeking out a win.

Documentary Feature: It looks like "Citizenfour" is the front-runner here, and who I am to argue with popular knowledge?

Documentary Short: I first read this one as "Chris Hotline," rather than "Crisis Hotline." I don't know what a Chris Hotline would do. Maybe connect you with famous guys named Chris, like Evans, Pratt, and Pine? (Note to self: look into setting up a Chris Hotline.) ANYWAY. Winner: "Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1."

Foreign Language Film: Poland's "Ida" is not only nominated in this category, but also in cinematography. Along with being a well-reviewed picture, this double nomination for a foreign film is a good indicator that "Ida" will take this win.

Animated Short: "Feast" was so creative and adorable. I hope it wins. If it doesn't, look for "The Dam Keeper" to be the one to stage an upset.

Live-Action Short: Obviously I am an expert in this category. Despite the fact that that is absolutely not true, I think "The Phone Call" will win.

*Upon further review, it seems that I am, in fact, wrong quite a lot of the time.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Stitch Fix #3

Why post about trying on some clothes and shopping over the Interwebs?

So glad you asked.

This is my 3rd foray into utilizing an online personal stylist through Stitch Fix. When I first discovered Stitch Fix through social media, I was intrigued. I've never really liked shopping. I'm an impulsive shopper - as long as something marginally fits, I buy it, sometimes in three colors. The idea that someone else might do the hard work for me and stick it in the mail for me to discover on my doorstep sounded like Christmas. Mail on my doorstep always makes me smile!

For those of you who aren't familiar, here's the scoop on how to schedule a Fix.

1. Create your style profile.
2. Pay $20 styling fee toward your box. (You can use toward your final order – any of the 5 products you keep!)
3. Schedule your box.
4. Open you box and try on the clothes. Take awkward photos in the backyard (trying not to freeze in January) and send to your friends and family members. (Each item also comes with styling tips on how to best wear the products.)
5. Once the box arrives you have 3 days to decide what you are keeping and what you are returning. The returns are all free and super easy: drop the prepaid envelope in any USPS box.

I blogged about my first box over on my other website. Check out this link to see how my first box was a win and this one to read about fix number two.

I was pretty pleased with my box this go around. I scheduled my fix to come the week of my birthday. I had a credit that covered my styling fee and still left room for a little discount if I ended up keeping something. I was very careful to be detailed in my notes to my stylist this time. My husband and I are planning a beach trip to celebrate our 5th anniversary this year, so I was looking for a few fun items to take with us. My husband reassures me that I don't have to dress like a nun ALL of the time.

I opened my box and here's what I found.

1. The LINE BACKER SHIRT. In theory, this could have been a great selection. I also hinted to my stylist that I wanted some casual tops to wear with skinnies and ankle boots. The front is interesting enough on this shirt, but everyone agreed: this does nothing for my shoulders. RETURN.

2. The COLOR BLOCK TOP. I liked this one as soon as I put it on. My husband wasn't convinced, but everyone else in my life reassured me it was a keeper. So... I KEPT IT.

3. The SASSY SWEATER. When I opened the box my first thought was, "I am not going to like this shirt." But then I put it on. Although I would not ordinarily try on a pattern like this, I was glad to have a new perspective shopping in the future... if I ever do that again. (Tell me why I want to leave the house?) I was on the fence with this one but some angles in pictures made me look like I was pregnant. (That could have actually been my stomach but we are going to choose to blame the shirt.) RETURN.

4. The SECTIONAL DRESS. This one is cute and confusing. I liked the fabric of the skirt, but the material on the top just felt so cheap. This dress was NOT CHEAP, so why buy something that feels cheap? Although cute, I didn't think it did much for my coloring. RETURN.

5. THE RED DRESS. I think David was initially surprised when I wanted to keep it. (Surprised and thrilled.) I'm ordinarily so conservative with clothing, and I"m not about to go crazy here, but I just really liked this dress. I felt great it in it and I'm looking forward to celebrating a night out on our anniversary trip. I KEPT IT.

So why post about trying on some clothes and shopping over the Interwebs? 

Every time I post I share my referral number. If anyone uses my number to set up their first fix, I get a credit. So far I have been able to cover all of my styling fees through said credit. AWESOME. So pull through for me, Internet. I know that you, like me, wonder what a stylist might send in that little white box. You long for a little box of happy to show up on your doorstep, I know you do. ;)

Here's my referral code, make me proud.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

2014 Favorites

My Three Favorite Books of 2014

3. Better Nate Than Ever and 5, 6, 7, Nate, Tim Federle

Thirteen-year-old Nate Foster and I don't have a lot in common, save one very important thing: a love (LOVE) of Broadway musicals. The fact that these two books are classified as "junior fiction" does not mean that they aren't incredibly well-told, or that they aren't laugh-out-loud funny. Tim Federle (my favorite person to follow on Twitter) has spun such a clever, original, and hilarious story about Nate and his scheme to travel to New York City to audition for a new Broadway show. When Emily and I went to New York this summer, everywhere we looked there were real-life reminders of the books and it made the trip so much more fun! I just cannot stress how funny these books are. I kept wanting to highlight or underline huge chunks because I could not get over the creativity and hilarity. Read these books and maybe you too can laugh quietly aloud to yourself on a plane surrounded by strangers!

Imagine: pretzels sold on the street! It’s as if anything is possible. Do they also sell hopes on the street? Do they sell hugs and dreams and height-boosting vitamins? Or hot dogs? I bet you they do.”

2. Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line, Rob Thomas

If you like Veronica Mars the TV series, there's absolutely no reason you wouldn't love Veronica Mars the book. Rob Thomas, the creator and showrunner of VM, actually started out as an author, so this really is a return to form for him. The entire novel reads like an extra-long bonus episode of the show! The mystery is engrossing and compelling, the characters are as witty and charming as you remember them to be, and there are more than a few  twists and surprises that you won't see coming. Perhaps the best part of the experience for me was listening to the audiobook, as it was narrated by Veronica Mars herself, Kristen Bell. Bonus points to Bell for doing spot-on imitations of her cast-mates when she read their dialogue. Hilarious.

“She suddenly realized that this was Bri Lafond’s first lesson that people sucked. Veronica remembered that letdown, the way the world suddenly seemed stripped of bright colors, your beliefs toppled like dominoes.”

1. The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, Eva Rice

My friend (and the most voracious reader I know!) Katie counts this book among her favorites, so I've always intended to read it. Now I'm so glad I finally got around to it! It really is such a special book. Full of joy, sorrow, and champagne, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets tells the story of Penelope, an 18-year-old girl living in a post-World War II England, in a grand house that is crumbling around her and her small family due to lack of money. Enter the effervescent Charlotte, her hilarious Aunt Clare, and Clare's witty son Harry. (Full disclosure: I adore Harry. I found myself missing him when he wasn't on the page, and constantly grinning at his quips.) This remarkable trio of characters bring about a great deal of change to Penelope's life, in the best possible way. Check it out and get a chance to attend glamorous parties, spend a snowy New Year's at Milton Magna Hall, and maybe even fall for the strange and mysterious Harry Delancy.

"He looked at us almost pityingly, with a hint of a smirk on his face, his chaotic hair almost hiding his extraordinary eyes. Newfound knowledge of his skills as a magician seemed entirely appropriate; never before had I met someone who looked capable of turning men into frogs and frogs into princes."

Honorable Mention:

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, B.J. Novak
Super creative, very fun, and totally un-put-downable.
“If you love something, let it go. If you don't love something, definitely let it go. Basically, just drop everything, who cares.”  

I read several Agatha Christie mysteries this year (five in all), as I'm a big fan of hers and frequently say that she can do no wrong. But when I read Endless Night, I began doubting that opinion, because I just thought Christie was completely missing the mark. You should have seen my face when I got to the end of the book and realized that SHE TOTALLY GOT ME. For the entire duration of the book I was looking the wrong direction, and I never saw the twist coming. It was completely genius. You win again, Christie...

I also read some really good non-fiction as well, including Creativity Inc. (about Pixar) and Superfreakonomics/Think Like a Freak. I'd recommend checking any of those out if any of that sounds interesting to you! And if you're looking for a good memoir, Cary Elwes's As You Wish and Amy Poehler's Yes Please were both were quick and entertaining reads.

My Three Favorite Movies of 2014

3. The One I Love 
I watched this one on a whim the other day (it's streaming on Netflix) and I really, really enjoyed it. I had read only a little bit about this moviemostly about how no one could talk about the plot because saying anything would spoil it. So of course I was intrigued! The movie itself was fascinating; it was small and strange and incredibly compelling. It's just kind of weird and Twilight Zone-y, and if you like things that are weird and Twilight Zone-y, I think there's a good chance you'll like this.

2. Veronica Mars
The entire experience of seeing this movie was just SO MUCH FUN. First of all, I backed the movie on Kickstarter, so I got tons of insider information while they were making the movie and then leading up to the release. Second, I made the release of the movie an EVENT. I wore Veronica Mars t-shirts every day to work that week, and when the big day finally arrived, I drove to Dallas with my roommate (to the closest theater showing the movie) to see the midnight showing. We got a hotel so we could stay the night, and I took the following day off from work so we could sleep in. All of that awesomeness, plus the fact that the movie itself was amazing! It was like having a reunion with old friends, and Emily and I laughed, gasped, and squealed our way through the whole thing. A great mystery, all of our favorite characters, an IRA GLASS CAMEO, and Logan in a Navy uniform. I mean, what more could a VM fan want?

1. Guardians of the Galaxy
Did you ever have more fun in a movie theater? From the rockin' throwback soundtrack to the action and the non-stop humor, this movie was just golden. I saw it three times in the theater, again on the cruise ship, and I just got the DVD for Christmas. It's fantastic, and if you haven't seen it yet, I just don't even know what you're doing with your life. Also, let's please not forget that before he was Star Lord and even before he was Andy Dwyer, Chris Pratt was Che on "The OC."

Honorable Mention: Interstellar, Into the Woods, Chef, Captain America 2

My Three Favorite Events of 2014

3. Oh Hey, I'm Like a Speaker Now I Guess?
Theoretically, public speaking doesn't bother me. However, once I'm in front of a crowd, somehow I forget to breathe and my hands start shaking and WHAT IS HAPPENING. So when I was asked to speak at a Christian camping conference in February, I was obviously a bit hesitant to accept. The topic, social media, is something that I'm passionate about, but again: the shaking and not breathing thing. But I finally just decided that I wanted to say YES to more new things, and before I knew it I was giving a talk to a packed room of people in the camping industry actually there to hear ME talk about what I do! In addition, I was asked to give a talk on social media this summer to a group of our 8th and 9th grade campers. I spoke every other week about how awesome I think social media is, but about how we shouldn't give it too much power, and how our validation should come from Christ and not how many likes you get on Instagram. It was almost more unnerving to talk to 13-year-olds than it had been to talk to adults, but again, I'm glad (and kind of proud of myself!) that I decided to say yes.

2. Can't Stop Won't Stop Cruising
When my dad called me to ask if I'd like to go on a cruise in November, I said, "Are you crazy? A man in a really nice camper wants to put our song on the radio! Give me a pen, I'm signing, you're signing, we're all signing." Not really, but you get the sentiment! I had SUCH a blast aboard the Emerald Princess with my mom, dad, and brother, I can't even tell you. It was so relaxing, all of our ports were so packed full of fun things and warm sun, we ate amazing food (goat cheese souffle, I still dream about you!!), watched movies ON DECK, played games, went to cheesy trivia nights... It was just so, so great. I didn't want to leave the ship!

1. Broadway Times Four
Sometimes I still can't believe that when I went to New York this summer, I got to see "Newsies." And "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder." And "Matilda." AND "Les Miserables." Four shows in three days. It was so amazing, so magical, so unbelievable. You can check out the full story here. They were all fantastic, and I frequently look back on that trip with such wonder, asking myself "How did we get here, Skitch?"

Honorable Mention: Morby/Ciminello Family vacation in Galveston/Houston. Stand up paddle boarding, Top Golf, games, shuffleboard, Schlitterbahn, and LOTS of Norah time. (We just won't talk about that whole "everybody got sick and threw up all over the place" part.)