Friday, 27 February 2015

The Matrix + The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy = Jupiter Ascending

I'm not ashamed to say I enjoyed watching Jupiter Ascending, but I'm not proud either. Discussing why it was fun but it wasn't such a great movie, I had this conversation:

Me: I liked it but it wasn't great.
Be: Yes, but not all pictures are artsy-fancy like The Pianist.
Me: I'm not comparing it to The Pianist, I'm comparing it to The Matrix.
Be: Fair enough.

And I wouldn't go as far as with the case of Avatar, in which case the movie was blatantly unoriginal (just a remake of Pocahontas in Space, but that's another story). They didn't just went and made The Matrix in space, but the Wachowskis did recycle a lot, and with all the fancy dresses and shiny lights, many people didn't notice.

But there is also another movie from which they took a few elements, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, in case you don't remember it was a sci-fi film from 2005 (kind of The Guardians of the Galaxy of this year, at least to me: unexpected, funny and different).

So, now I want to talk about the elements they took from each... Besides this point, there will be spoilers...

From The Matrix

The Chosen One: Both start working meaningless jobs in the big city, in The Matrix is Neo, in Jupiter Ascending it's Jup. Points on originality for her background story, which I'm sure would make a great Regina Spektor song (Russian immigrant with a thing for telescopes that becomes the queen of Earth).

The edgy love interest: Trinity is all cool in black letter, and Caine Wise is all cool in black leather. They are attractive ass kickers that break the news to "The Chosen One" and then fall in love with them.

The validator: Call her Oracle or honeybee-man Stinger. Once "The Chosen One" is brought to them, they proceed to give their seal of approval and validate them as the real thing. Both live in a modest house and look ordinary, but they are so much more...

The human harvesting: What's with the Wachowskis and this? Machine or Royalty, in both cases, this was the key for their system to work efficiently.

The peasant-hating villain: Both Agent Smith and Balem Abrasax have a disdain for common people (well, disdain is an understatement), they could easily be talking about some type of annoying but profitable crop, like gluten free oats. And they both get to make a speech about it before proceeding to the final fight.

From  Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
They didn't take as much as from The Matrix, but still both movies share a few details that really reminded me of that film.

The abrupt end of the world: Even though it doesn't actually happens in Jupiter Ascending, in both movies life on Earth is about to go off. And in both cases is for the benefit of a more advanced crew (in Hitchhikers it was to make way for an hyperspace bypass, whatever that might be).

The Space bureaucracy: Not even in a galaxy far far away you can have a document stamped without having to deal with this slow, bitter, jaded administrative staff. They will make you queue and queue and tell you you got the wrong form. But if you want something important done, you'll have to go through this. In both films.

Colorful Sci-Fi: Not all sci-fi has to be darkness and neon green and binary code raining from computers. In this vibe Jupiter is closer to Hitchhiker, from the boring looking offices to the fantasy landscapes and the shots at glossy planets floating in the wide space.

Again, as I said, I'm not saying there wasn't anything original, but I agree with the people that called the film a big, bold, beautiful mess; it was like trying to eat a pancake with an ice cream scoop on top with chocolate dipped bacon as topping, and a strawberry milkshake to accompany it.
Sounds horrible? Not completely.
Could you sit and eat it non stop for 127 minutes? With difficulty.
Would you enjoy it? Perhaps, but you won't feel proud about it.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Random Nominations and Awards you Won't See at the Oscars 2015

The Oscars are coming, and with them, the last chance for predictions on the winners and last minute nominee-movie-watching. I'm going to take the chance to do my own little movie awards, but don't expect the usual categories...

Best Unexpectedly Good Movie: Maybe an obscure comic, an 80's toy or the sequel of a cop comedy... You couldn't really ask for much, and yet, they were some of the funniest stuff of the year.

The nominees:
Guardians of the Galaxy: I was expecting a Marvel filler to keep the cash flowing while working on another Avengers, turned out to be great fun.
Lego Movie: Seemed like a kiddie film that the dads would love, but everything was awesome.
Paddington: Another kiddie film that had more laughs than most of this year's comedies.
22 Jump Street: So many funny moments, I never expect much from sequels, but this one was at least as good as the original. 
The winner: Guardians of the Galaxy. Marvel, thank you so much for not taking yourself so seriously and actually have fun.

That actor/actress that was everywhere: For some reason, his/her face kept popping up every time you went to the cinema this year... How do they do it?

The nominees:
Rosamund Pike: 4 Movies (A Long Way Down / Hector and the Search of Happiness / What we did on our Holiday / Gone Girl).
Owen Wilson: 5 Movies (The Grand Budapest Hotel / She's Funny that Way / The Hero of Color City [voice] / Inherent Vice / Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb).
Anna Kendrick: 6 Movies (The Voices / Life after Beth / Happy Christmas / The Last Five Years / Cake / Into the Woods).
Liam Neeson: 7 Movies (The Nut Job [Voice] / Non Stop / The Lego Movie [Voice] / A Million Ways to Die in the West / Kahlil Gilbran's The Prophet [Voice] / A Walk among Tombstones / Taken 3). Plus 3 TV episodes and a short film.
The winner: Liam Neeson. It's like he makes a movie while waiting for the bread to come up from the toaster.

Best Baker: Yes, colleagues, colleagues everywhere. Well, not everywhere, but this was a good year for fictional bakers and pastry chefs in the big screen.

The nominees:
Peeta Mellark: The PR genius from The Hunger Games maybe out of the kitchen, but he'll always be the baker boy from District 12.
Agatha: The girl with a birthmark in the shape of Mexico, the ability to make amazing pastries and the courage to save the day.
The Bakers: The young but childless couple from Into the Woods, whose last name matched their trade (not so unusual in fairy tale times).
The winner: Agatha. Not just because her cakes are the best, but because she became one of my favorite characters ever.

Best Method of Teenage Oppression: The year of the YA novel adaptations left us with a few ideas of what won't work to keep the kids from starting a revolution.

The nominees:
Dividing them into "Factions": Divergent was all about making kids choose at very young age what they would do for the rest of their life, and then watching how everything becomes a mess... sounds familiar?
Propaganda: If making them fight to death on TV for The Hunger Games is no longer an option, maybe a good old fashioned brainwashing will do.
Sending them to a wasteland: The kids from The Maze Runner had it awful: lack of basic care, anarchy, bullying, memory lost... and then it gets worse.
Ultra Censorship: An ignorant kid is a happy kid, at least according to The Giver, where everyone's seem to be under some type of collective forced thinking of happy thoughts.
The winner: Propaganda. The Hunger Games hit first and hit hardest with the rebel theme and the evil elite trying to stay on top.

Most Bipolar Film: This has nothing to do with the characters... This movie had double personality itself, and for some that made them brilliantly balanced, for others, they were just non committed to any side.
The nominees:
Interstellar: A mix of very dense scientific content, with a father/daughter drama that for some, gave humanity to the story, for others, just got in the way.
Maleficent: This is the kind of fantasy movie you see on TV years after it was premiered. She's good, then she's bad, broken heart, broken wings (this sounds like my 14 year old self's awful poetry).
A Million Ways to Die in the West: It tried to mix comedy, romance and action... it wasn't funny, romantic or exciting. Just all over the place. 
Muppets Most Wanted: Muppets are best when they do their Muppet thing, but this time they were in some type of Russian conspiracy parody with evil look alikes and terrible accents.
The winner: Interestellar. It was too scientific to be a "power of family love" story, and to sappy to please hardcore sci-fi fans, but at least was a decent movie with impressive moments.

Best Movie Poster: I'm going to get help with this one from the Internet Movie Poster Awards, a website that's been choosing a winner for this category for years.

The nominees:
The Book of Life: Lots of life and color, a very unique style and a just a few hints on the plot of the movie.
Interstellar: Dreamy, simple and eye catching, also, a great tag line for the movie.
Big Eyes: The expression of the characters and the picture-ception tell a lot about the movie and express its feeling very well.
The Interview: Great parody of propaganda posters (and great propaganda poster itself, some might say), it's over the top, silly and just plain funny.
The Grand Budapest Hotel: This poster reminds me the "Guess Who" board game (the characters surely make for an especial edition of the game), makes you curious about that weird group of people.
The winner: The Book of Life. The Dia de los Muertos theme of the film looks beautiful in the poster, I think the best part from this movie was the colors.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

The pros and cons of 10 common tables you serve as a waitress

I'm not going to say I'm a total expert, but after a few months experience (if they ask, 2 years) as a waitress I was seeing the same 10 tables over and over again. The good part about this is, is that it was easy to know what to expect, regarding the group behavior and some times, the tips.
So here are the 10 most common ones, their best, and their worst.

10. College students: A group of early twenty somethings, usually around 6 people, and they NEVER have a reservation. 
Their best: Usually friendly, patient and relaxed.
Their worst: They stay until you start moping the floor around them, if you let them.
Their orders: Something to share, chips, and the cheapest alcoholic drink available.

9. The lonely gourmand: They don't see anything wrong with dinning alone, and why should they? They are here for the food, and sometimes the wine. Sometimes they bring a book or laptop, to have something to do while they wait.

Their best: They are passionate about food and are among the few ones that really "get it".
Their worst: They feel really entitled to especial treatment, and if they are into social media, even to free stuff.
Their order: They might ask for the chef's special, the best seller of the place or the most difficult dish to make in the menu.

8. Wall Street wannabees: A group of middle aged business men, fans of the three-martini lunch, that gather to do some small talk and maybe close a deal.

Their best: They make reservations, show on time, and spend a lot of money.
Their worst: They leave unsurprisingly ungenerous tips, are condescending, and sometimes blatantly arrogant. 
Their order: Steaks and lobster. They ask for the wine list and order an expensive red or whiskey.

7. Tourists: They are the only ones not taking pictures only of food or themselves but also of everything else. They expect that you recommend them the best local attractions (even if it's your second week in the country), and are eager to try some local dish (even if the place is an Italian restaurant).

Their best: They are friendly and sometimes reward you with a good review.
Their worst: They are a tip roller-coaster (Americans and Scandinavians tend to tip on the generous side, Mediterraneans on the nonexistent side). 
Their order: The "local favorite" or, in an opposite note, their safe choice (something well-done with no raw vegetables or ingredients that might ruin their trip if it's slightly unwashed).

6. Office lunch pack: They are arrive hungry at 12:30 pm, and their only need is to leave the place full at 1:00 pm. Usually they don't book ahead, but call just before going to see if you have a table for 12 ready.

Their best: They order the easiest and fastest stuff from the menu. Sometimes even pre-order on the phone.
Their worst: They have ZERO patience. Many see themselves as Wall Street wannabees and behave as such.
Their order: Soup, sandwich and Light Coke.

5. The first daters: Awkwardly overdressed, they use their choice of food and their treatment of the restaurant staff as a way to make an statement about who they are.

Their best: They normally avoid making odd requests of being particularly annoying.
Their worst: With them, you are on thin ice, and if you make a mistake, it's the end of the world and they can turn into bitter jerks.
Their order: Prosecco, a main that is clean easy to eat (no bolognese near his new white shirt) and chocolate cake for dessert.

4. Girls night out: They look like they are going to a party, but then stay in the restaurant. Too shy to say "let's go to a bar", but not to chug a bottle of wine with dessert (each).

Their best: They are hilarious by the time of dessert and if they leave happy, they tip nicely.
Their worst: They make very irritating requests, and if the waiter is a cute guy, they will annoy him to death.
Their order: Salads or appetizers instead of mains, and then dessert. And a LOT of white wine, usually something fruity and inexpensive. 

3. The ones with the toddler: I understand that moms and dads need to have date night too, but the kid? They didn't have anyone to leave it with, and though no one would care if they bring him/her along.
Their best: They feel guilty all the time so, if you play nice, expect to be rewarded.
Their worst: If they kid is well behaved, they are fine, but sometimes their child is just so annoying that no matter how good their tip is, it won't compensate they rest of the unhappy tables.
Their order: No stater, just main, and something for the baby to throw in the floor. Plus apple juice.

2. The fighting couple: If you think you are on thin ice with the first daters, you'll envy the stability of an ice road trucker with this ones. He's frustrated and she is crying. Then they talk in whispers but it's too late. The best thing you can do is to avoid eye contact and don't approach the table, just wait to be called.

Their best: They eat fast and leave early.
Their worst: They make everyone around them feel awkward and can be very very rude to the staff.
Their order: It doesn't matter, they'll say it was horrible.

1. The regulars: They come often and have tried all the menu. Maybe friends with the owner or the chef, maybe they live nearby or their office is in the same building. Sometimes they even call you by name.

Their best: They tend to be on the friendly side and leave a decent tip.
Their worst: They hate change (that's why they always go to the same restaurant!) so if their favorite table is taken or the dish they like is no longer available they will get visibly upset. At you. Also, they will feel they have the right to make odd requests. If you are the type of person that doesn't like small talk, you'll hate them.
Their order: The set lunch option during the day, their favorite dish during the night. One time they might try other stuff, but they always go back to the same choice.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

My 7 favorite types of Oscar Best Picture nominee

I love watching the Oscars, and in the countdown to the big night, I have been thinking a lot about movies. It is true that this year's nominees have a common topic, but also, when you think about it, a few of the candidates over the years tend to share a few traits between each other.
And not every dog jumps through the same ring, so I m going to separate them in 7 types of movies, taking into account nominees from the past 10 years. And just to keep things personal, they are organized starting to my least favorite to my favorite types.

7. The obscure indie/foreign film that could: You probably didn't see it; maybe it wasn't released in your nearest cinema, maybe it's in French or maybe it was made on a budget that would equal the one for the extra's sandwiches in other films. But somehow, it did it, it got nominated, and now everyone says they want to watch it (or pretend they did). If it's lucky enough to win, it will automatically leave the category.
The nominees: Whiplash (2014), Nebraska (2013), Amour (2012), Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011), Winter's Bone (2010), An Education (2009), Slumdog Millionaire (2008).
The winner: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011). I haven't met a person in real life that can tell me they watched this.

6. The modern day issues dark tale: After watching this, you will want to move to a farm and forage for
Well, at least keep it a bit more simple, I guess.
The point is that this movie shows a darker side of contemporary life; how lonely, fake, dangerous, tense and superficial it can be.
The nominees: Birdman (2014), Her (2013), Silver Linings Playbook (2012), The Social Network (2010), Up in the Air (2009), Babel (2006).
The winner: The Social Network (2010). Rivalry, betrayal, lies, money, resentfulness... and now we are all part of it! (please share).

5. The intense man biopic: Centered in a specific part of his life, maybe it's about his rise to power, about how he dealt with a very important decision that made history, or maybe it's about how he overcame all difficulties to follow his dream.
The thing is that it's about a real man, and it's safe to expect intensity, and a Best Actor nomination.
The nominees: The Theory of Everything (2014) [well, nearly half movies this year to be honest], The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), Lincoln (2012), The Fighter (2011), Milk (2008), Capote (2005).
The winner: The Fighter (2011), but only because it's level of intensity.

4. The isolation survival: This is a movie that manages to upset agoraphobic and claustrophobic people at the same time: one person, alone in the immensity of the ocean/space/desert but at the same time, confined to a little space risking death if they make the wrong move.
If the modern day dark tale makes you want to move to a tropical island, this film will make you want to be in a big city with a smart phone on each hand, and  surrounded by people.
And with insurance, don't forget insurance.
The nominees: Gravity (2013), Life of Pi (2012), 127 Hours (2011).
The winner: Life of Pi (2012), although Castaway deserves a special mention, just because of Wilson.

3. The american black history drama: A very particular type of historical drama, usually set in the mid-20th Century or late XIX America.
Expect a touching speech, very racist villains, and a victory with a there's-still-so-much-to-do-about-this feeling to it.
Not to be confused with modern day stories with black main characters, such as Precious or Crash, they also tend to score a nomination, but I prefer the historic ones.
The nominees: Selma (2014), 12 Years a Slave (2013), Django Unchained (2012), The Help (2011).
The winner: 12 Years a Slave (2013).

2. The 3 hour war drama: Well, at least 2 hours and then some more.
This movie is long, makes you feel sad, and shows the worst of people. And yet, you keep watching. Probably this is the biggest and most universal source of drama, so it makes sense that there is almost always one war film in the run.
The nominees: American Sniper (2014, 132 min.), Zero Dark Thirty (2012, 157 min.), War Horse (2011, 146 min.), Inglorious Basterds (2010, 152 min.),  Letters from Iwo Jima (2006, 141 min.).
The winner: Inglorious Basterds (2010, 152 min.), unique, to say the least.

1. The quirky drama-comedy: The one I like the most; it's funny enough to make you laugh, but sad enough not to be snubbed by critics (do they hate happiness?).
Just add an unexpected main character with an unusual problem, and a best friend/parent/love interest that will help him/her overcome stuff.
The nominees: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), American Hustle (2013), The King's Speech (2010), Up (2009), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), Juno (2007), Little Miss Sunshine (2006).
The winner: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), there is something about Wes Anderson's movies that makes me want to smile and go to a farmers' market.

There are other "categories" out there such as "The Big Blockbuster that got included so people who only watch summer films can root for something, but everyone knows it has no real chance to win Best Movie and it's going to get all the technical awards" (ie. Avatar), the "Action thriller with a twist" (ie. The Departed), "The one where wealthy people just talk for 2 hours" (ie. The Descendants), and the "Terrorist/Guerrilla drama" (ie. Captain Phillips). I just didn't include them in the top because they are not within my favorites, but they can be fun to watch too (except for the one about people just having conversations and realizing stuff).

Thursday, 5 February 2015

The 2015 Best Picture Nominees are all about Men Finding their Place

I love the Oscars, try to watch them every year and feel like there is always a little vibe shared within the nominations or at least most of them. I'm not gonna go as far as say there's a shared topic among them, but if you look at them from a certain angle, the group of films nominated for Best Picture, tend to have some connecting idea.

For example, the nominees for the 84th (2012) Awards: The Artist (winner) / The Descendants / Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close / The Help / Hugo / Midnight in Paris / The Tree of Life / War Horse. So, what would this group of film may have in common? Nostalgia.
For the old days of cinema (The Artist, Hugo), for better days in the past (The Descendants, Midnight in Paris), for a beloved family member now gone (The Tree of Life, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), or maybe just a romanticized look to a slice of the 20th Century (War Horse, The Help, Moneyball).
So, as Gil (Owen Wilson's character in Midnight in Paris) said *Spoiler Alert* "Adriana, if you stay here though, and this becomes your present then pretty soon you'll start imagining another time was (...) really the golden time. Yeah, that's what the present is. It's a little unsatisfying because life's a little unsatisfying".

The following year, the 85th (2013) Awards had this nominees: Argo (The Winner) / Amour / Beasts of the Southern Wild / Django Unchained / Les Miserables / Life of Pi / Lincoln / Silver Linings Playbook / Zero Dark Thirty. Again, remember that such a different group of things can only share a very wide concept as constant theme, so I will go and say Isolation.
Whether it was as obvious as with the guy on the middle of the ocean (Life of Pi) or with classic old kidnapping (Argo), or as subtle as people struggling with mental health (Amour, Silver Linings Playbook) or poverty (Les Miserables, Beasts of the Southern Wild); as painful as the loneliness of fighting for freedom during times of slavery (Django Unchained and Lincoln), or as alienating as obsessing over finding one of the most remotely hidden and wanted criminals (Zero Dark Thirty).

Then we have the 86th (2014) Awards nominees for Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave (The Winner) / American Hustle / Captain Phillips / Dallas Buyers Club / Gravity / Her / Nebraska / Philomena / The Wolf of Wall Street. An this time was all about Denial.
The good type of it, like when people refuse be OK with injustice (12  Years a Slave) or decide to keep living after a terrifying diagnosis (Dallas Buyers Club), or they just won't accept "NO" for an answer when searching for truth (Philomena); to the type that you use to spare some one's feelings, maybe an old relative (Nebraska) or your own (Her, Gravity); or the one where you pretend to be someone you are not, someone richer, particularly, in hopes to become your lie (American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street); or finally, the lie that you tell yourself to justify doing the wrong thing (Captain Phillips).

And now we got to the 87th Awards. So far it was a bit difficult to find a common point between some pictures, but this year they made it really easy. So, you have: American Sniper / Birdman / Boyhood / The Grand Budapest Hotel / The Imitation Game / Selma / The Theory of Everything / Whiplash. There's no winner yet, but I find that they share the idea of Men finding their place.
Maybe is a rodeo cowboy becoming a reluctant war legend and then trying to readjust to civilian life (American Sniper), a has-been star trying to reinvent himself through theater (Birdman), a kid becoming an adult (Boyhood), a young refugee following the steps of his role model (The Grand Budapest Hotel), a scientist struggling to keep working (The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game), an activist with a famous dream (Selma) or  a musician's search for validation and respect (Whiplash).

I don't who is going to win, but my favorite is The Grand Budapest Hotel, by far. And now that I think about it, that movie mixes the four topics I've been talking about: Nostalgia (for the Hotel's glory days), Isolation (that feeling that you were born in the wrong time and that your personality and values belong to the past), Denial (you just have to keep the illusion, for as long as you can) and Men finding their place (already commented before).

Am I splitting hairs here? Probably. But I feel like the Best Picture nominees of a year are, in a certain way, a reflex of their moment, and maybe there is something that connect those movies to each other, maybe there is a vibe

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Some random advice about living in Dublin that I haven't seen anywhere else

No worries, this is not going to become another "A whatever-country-you're-from in Ireland" blog. But today I would like to share just a few tips that I found very helpful and that I never saw in any blog or list or guide about arriving to Dublin.

Get a copy of the Find Your Way in Dublin directory: They give this book for free at the Citizen's Information office, and you can also download it in many languages. This book has numbers and addresses of anything important like hospitals, places to look for jobs, cultural groups and many other things. Having it around made life easier for me.

Get a Leap CardIf you use the bus frequently, this will save you a lot of money. I've found that the 30-days unlimited is the best value if you use it for at least two trips a day. This way you never need cash, and even with the simpler plans, you still pay less and don't have to wait in line, just go inside the bus and scan your card (saving two seconds under heavy rain makes a difference).

Free loo in City Centre: I love how the word "loo" allows you to say bathroom and not sound so tacky. Well, many times you have to pay in shopping centres just to enter, and it's frustrating. Go to the Ilac Centre, Eason and Clerys for free instead.

Learn HACCP (for free): In case you're wondering, it means Hazard Analisys and Critical Control Point. Basically, higiene y manipulaciĆ³n de alimentos. This is something that will be needed for you to work in any restaurant/cafe/deli or food related business. At the FSAI they will give you all the information you need, it's free and it's in City Centre.

Be wary of job adds in the lines of "No experience? No problem?": I'm not gonna go as far as suggesting that you might end up in a plot similar to the Taken movie (which is always a possibility but not the one I'm warning you about now). When you are looking for jobs, you'll find quite often adds that say stuff like "New in Ireland? Want a career on Marketing?" or "Do you have a great personality? Are you good at sales?" if you say yes to any of these questions, and really need a job; you can apply to those adds, just take into consideration that you are probably not going to be hired to work in a Mad Men style office, but most likely in some type of kicking-the-street-to-sale-stuff-while-people-avoid-making-eye-contact-with-you type of job. It's not as bad as ending up in a container, but I'd rather pay for a barista class and work indoors. The same goes for job hunting in pages like Gumtree or Craigslist Ireland.

Check the Dublin Event Guide (for free events): If you are looking for things to do and don't want to spend money, this is the place to see. You'll find a lot of exhibitions, concerts, cultural plans, markets and some quirky stuff to see and do.

Get an Irish reference
Whether you need it for a job, for renting a flat or simply to babysit. A reference written by a local person gives you credibility with, well, local people. Maybe a teacher, a member of your host family or a friend's friend. It really helps.

Well, if you have any advice feel free to add it in the comments. Remember, always be constructive, and when possible, funny.