Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thursday Top Threes: Next year

J: What are the top three things you are looking forward to in 2012?

1. Downton Abbey - Season 2 starts January 8 and runs for 7 glorious weeks!
2. Game of Thrones - I managed to snag a cable promotional deal that includes HBO so I'll be able to catch up with season 1 on demand and watch season 2 in the spring too. Also I read the first book this year and I bought the next three to read on my new Kindle Touch!
3. The Hunger Games - It better be good! Not so happy about the casting of Peeta but who knows, I could be surprised.

1. Switched at Birth: A surprise hit for all of us on this blog, it comes back early January! (It leads into Jane by Design, which I plan on checking out, too.)
2. The Hobbit: Of course, there's always that chance that it could get delayed from its December opening date and end up premiering in 2013... Hopefully not!
3. The Superbowl, cuz the Ravens will be playing in it! Short of that, I'd have to say the real number one for my list is also The Hunger Games but I'm trying not to get myself over-hyped about it!

Friday, December 23, 2011

J: Books of 2011

So I turned 28 this year and my 10-year high school reunion was this fall (I skipped it) but for some reason I read more young adult novels than ever. I'm not quite sure what this says about me? I think this was kind of the year of easy reading, so maybe next year my book-related resolution will be to actually read the classics that I own but have never finished, i.e. Atlas Shrugged, Anna Karenina, Middlemarch...

Favorite Book, overall
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Favorite "serious" novel
A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

Favorite Audiobook
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

Favorite Young Adult book
Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Favorite Fantasy book
The Magicians/The Magician King by Lev Grossman
A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

Favorite Non-fiction
Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

Check out my complete list (ordered by date finished) after the jump.

J: Music of 2011

Earlier this year, I read this really great article on NPR called The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We're All Going To Miss Almost Everything, which talks about how consumers of TV, books, music, and movies generally fall into two categories: people who cull, and people who surrender. People who cull are quick and decisive about which things are worth their time, while people who surrender realize that there's just too much out there that they want to read/see/listen to and will never get to it all. I'm definitely in the latter category, especially when it comes to music. There is just way too much music out there and more and more of it is coming out all the time. At the end of every year I peruse various best of lists and realize how much I've never even heard of! But I surrender. Here's some of what I've been enjoying this year (even if it wasn't released this year):

The Naked and Famous - Punching in a Dream
M83 - We Own the Sky
Crystal Castles feat. Robert Smith - Not in Love
La Roux - In For the Kill (Skream's Let's Get Ravey remix)
James Blake - The Wilhelm Scream 
Los Campesinos! - By Your Hand 
Noah and the Whale - Life is Life
Sufjan Stevens - Come On! Let's Boogey to the Elf Dance!
TV on the Radio - Will Do

Bon Iver - Bon Iver
Lykke Li - Youth Novels, Wounded Rhymes
M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
Bright Eyes - The People's Key
Death Cab for Cutie - Codes and Keys
Girl Talk - Feed the Animals, All Day
Freelance Whales - Weathervanes
Radiohead - The King of Limbs

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Thursday Top Threes: things i missed out on

M: Since Jenn has already started posting some 2011 in review posts, here's a top three question related -- what are 3 things you missed out on in 2011 that you hope to try out in the future?

1. 50/50: I really wanted to see this movie and even almost went to see it by myself while traveling overseas, but did not get around to. Even if it was a cancer movie attempting humor... 2011 New Years Resolution Fail #1.
2. Game of Thrones: Mainly the books, but somewhat the TV show as well.  I hear that it's supposed to be a complete series of 7, though, so I have figured I'll wait for the entire series to be published first before starting.
3. The Help: The movie came out this year with one of my favorite actresses of the year -- Emma Stone -- but I do want to read the book first. I heard both were great and I did really want to see the movie and had intended to, but as always did not get around to it. 2011 New Years Resolution Fail #2.

Jennifer: I ditto all of Mira's picks, but here are some other ones too.
1. Homeland: It kind of annoys me how many good shows are on premium cable these days. I love both Damian Lewis and Claire Danes so I really wanted to watch this but I'll have to wait for DVD I guess.
2. Drive: I don't even know what this is about but it got really good reviews and um, Ryan Gosling? Sold.
3. Breaking Bad: It's been on for a few years already but the critical acclaim is just as good, if not better, than it's ever been. If I ever re-activate my Netflix account it'll be to catch up.
Runner ups: Louie, Awkward (an MTV scripted series??)

J: Movies of 2011

Um, I watched so few movies this year that I can just rank them all!

Released this year:
1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2
2. Crazy, Stupid, Love 
3. Jane Eyre 
4. The Muppets
5. X-Men: First Class
6. Captain America: The First Avenger*
7. Thor*
8. Source Code
9. Limitless*
10. Transformers: Dark of the Moon (This was dreadful. Really really dreadful.)
*Watched on DVD/Blu-Ray

Movies I want to watch but who knows when I'll get to:
Cedar Rapids, Win Win, Water for Elephants, Bridesmaids, Midnight in Paris, The Tree of Life, Beginners, Winnie the Pooh, Friends with Benefits, Another Earth, The Help, The Inbetweeners Movie, One Day, The Debt, Drive, Moneyball, 50/50, Margaret, The Ides of March, Footloose, Margin Call, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Like Crazy, Melancholia, The Descendants, Hugo, The Artist, A Dangerous Method, Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy, The Adventures of Tintin, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Iron Lady

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Terra Nova

I was pleasantly surprised this season with Terra Nova. I thought it would be another cheesy scifi show with silly dinosaurs and a laughable plot. But it's actually a pretty well put together 1 hour sci-fi action drama that the whole family can watch. What really? Yes! It kinda reminds me of shows from way back when like Buck Rogers, Lost in Space, the orignal Battlestar and umm...Seaquest DSV. You wouldn't think they would make shows like that anymore... but surprisingly someone at Fox gave Terra Nova a chance.

The basic premise of the show is that Earth has gone to crap in the year 2149 and scientists have found a way to open a portal to another timeline in the pre-historic past where the Earth still is verdant and livable, and yes, filled with hungry dinos. A community called Terra Nova is created there...and of course there are baddies who just want to strip the place of all its resources to become rich in 2149.

The show is anchored by "Commander Taylor" played by Stephan Lang (recognizable as the bad military dude from the movie Avatar). But in Terra Nova he plays the strong, fatherly, leader of the Terra Nova community. The show centers around a family with a father who is a cop, a mom that's a doctor, a nerdy older sister, troublemaker brother and cutesy younger sister. Pretty standard family dynamics here, but the acting is pretty decent so it's watchable. The actress who plays the mom (Shelley Conn) is of Sri Lankan descent and is British, so that's kinda different. All in all a very likable cast.

The plot lines don't get too complicated but there was enough there to keep my interest. Which is saying a lot since I lose interest in shows very easily. Have no idea if they'll make another season but hope they do!

J: TV of 2011

So the Golden Globe nominations were announced about a week ago and I came to the possibly sad realization that despite the fact that I have a TV blog and my DVR spent most of the year over 80% full, I watch precious few of the nominated shows (only Modern Family and New Girl in the Comedy/musical category, and none of the dramas). I guess I can put most of it on the fact that I don't have premium cable...and the rest on the fact that the Golden Globes are just dumb! Here's the TV that I thought was worth watching this year!

1. Downton Abbey - SO addictive. On the surface it seems like just your run-of-the-mill British costume drama but actually it's on steroids. I'm so frickin excited for season 2 to start on PBS in January!
2. Friday Night Lights - Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose! I was so excited that the show was finally recognized by the Emmys also!
3. The Vampire Diaries - The craziness continues. I don't know how the writers manage to keep pumping out story at the pace that they do. I was initially worried about how big a role they were giving Klaus this season but I shouldn't have been -- the way they've tied Stefan and even Tyler in the storyline has been surprising and as always, a whole lot of fun.
4. Parks and Recreation - There's just so much here -- Ron Swanson of course, Andy and April's wedding, Leslie and Ben finally getting together and then breaking up and getting back together, Entertainment 720, Lil's smart and funny and maybe most importantly, really cheery and optimistic. Leslie Knope for America!
5. Community - Maybe one of the most daring and creative shows on TV because of the way it plays with structure. It doesn't always work -- sometimes it falls of the edge into complete wackadoo (I did not find Pierce's father to be funny in the least) -- but when it does, it's brilliant. They're still finding new and interesting dynamics among the characters (like the recently discovered shared past of Jeff and Shirley) and have found a good balance between all the weirdness and the sentimental stuff lying beneath the surface.
6. Justified - I still find it hard to explain why in the world I love this show about a US Marshal in Kentucky who wears a Stetson hat. But man was the show good this season. Mags Bennett was one of the freshest TV villains in years.
7.  Doctor Who - I finally caught up to the Eleventh Doctor this year and he might actually be my favorite. And I totally want to be Amy Pond!
8. Cougar Town - It hasn't returned this season yet but in the spring it was one of my favorites. It's so silly but with a good dose of heart.
9. Love in the Wild - Every once in awhile a reality show just totally hooks me. Thanks Mira! And the top two couples, Samantha & Mike and Heather & Miles are still together! Take that, The Bachelor/ette!
10. Greek - I'm so happy that the show got to have a proper ending. Most people probably saw the show as pretty inconsequential but I was always really impressed with its continuity and attention to detail and just all the really fun characters it produced like Cappie and Rebecca and Katherine and Dale...I wish my own college experience had been that fun!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thursday Top Threes: Live music!

J: Name your top three live music performances that you've seen!

1. Arcade Fire at Cornell University. I've mentioned this concert many times already. They were still an up-and-coming band at the time so they played this random "multipurpose" room in a crappy old dining hall/community center that's since been bulldozed. The stage was too small for them and all their instruments but they were AMAZING nonetheless. I was right off to the side and could practically touch RĂ©gine and Richard Reed Parry. So good!!
2. Modest Mouse at Central Park Summerstage. My original review!
3. Ted Leo + Pharmacists at Cornell (same place as the Arcade Fire show). There was this awesome club at Cornell called the Fanclub Collective that managed to get all these indie acts to play for really cheap. I wish I had known about them earlier and gone to more of their concerts! Ted Leo puts on such a great show. My friend and I even got a photo with him afterward!

1. Green Day at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD -- My original review.
2. Keane at State Theater in Michigan -- I enjoyed this concert so much that I blogged about it, went to see them again at Merriweather with The Killers, and blogged about that as well!
3. Madonna at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, NV -- Got complimentary tickets at the casino cuz my aunt used to gamble that much. This concert was probably the most expensive concert I have ever attended in terms of ticket face-value (I think it was $375/ticket), and given the amount of production that goes into her concerts, it's not a big surprise.  I'm not a huge Madonna fan but I've gotta admit that she put on a fabulous show.  Almost enough to make me consider going to a Lady Gaga concert. Haha. Almost.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

J: 2011 Resolutions - How Did I Do?

Once again, back in January, we made some blog-related New Year's resolutions. Now that it's almost the end of the year, let's see how I did!

1. Keep track of the books I finish reading. And try to finish more books in general. I have a terrible habit of borrowing too many books from the library at once and then returning most without finishing them. 
Well, I did keep track of all the books I read this year. (I used Goodreads.) I'll do another post with the complete list but I read 38 books this year and listened to 6 audiobooks (so far, there's still a few weeks left). As for the second part, given that I've never counted before, I don't know whether that's more or less than in the past...but I'm going to claim success on this anyway.

2. Start/catch up on at least some of the following TV shows: Doctor Who, Breaking Bad, The Pacific, The Wire, Treme. 
I totally caught up with Doctor Who! Well, I haven't yet finished the current season, but still. I didn't touch any of the others though. So I guess technically I can claim success on this but really I don't feel good about it.

3. Tackle Netflix queue. Carried over from last year. I'm hopefully going to get a Blu-Ray with Netflix streaming sometime soon so perhaps that will help. I'm at 338 and adding more all the time...
FAIL. But not completely my fault! When Netflix stupidly split up their DVD and streaming plans, I cancelled DVDs, and then recently I put streaming on hold too and subscribed to Hulu Plus instead because I can't even keep up with current TV, never mind old shows on streaming (see previous resolution). Sooooo yeah. I won't be repeating this one next year, I think it's just kind of hopeless...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Fall TV: Second looks, Part 2

Ok, so I started writing this blog like 2 months ago, but the problem was that I actually hadn't gotten around to giving some of these shows a second look, never mind writing about it. And um, I still haven't...and possibly won't.

Hart of Dixie - Predictable but cute. Lemon and Brick both grate but they have some moments of likability, especially around George. This doesn't seem like the type of show that will have them be antagonists forever but I am glad that Zoe is not a Rory Gilmore who instantly wins over everyone in town though. I'm sad that Nancy Travis had to leave the show (to go to Last Man Standing) though...she was a nice, sane grounding presence.
Status: Keeper.

Revenge - I know a lot of people (including my mom, of all people) are really loving this but I fell behind and just haven't really had the desire to catch up. The whole season is on Hulu Plus though, so I suppose if I'm ever bored...
Status: On the shelf.

Ringer - I tried, I really tried. The CW did give the show a full-season order but the few episodes I watched were just not good. Unless the buzz somehow becomes amazing, I think I'm done.
Status: Off the DVR.

Pan Am - I mean, I really genuinely liked the pilot. But then I just never watched another episode. And now apparently it's pretty much as good as cancelled so...yeah.
Status: Overcome by events.

Super Chefs vs. Top Chefs

For the longest time, if you asked me what my favorite food competitive reality show on TV was, I'd have said Top Chef, no question. But after a strong All-Stars season, returning to the traditional format has actually felt a little tired. There are still a ton of chefs left so I don't want to speak too soon but no one is really impressing me so far. And surprisingly, I might be enjoying another food show more right now: Next Iron Chef. I hadn't even watched the last couple of seasons (and I don't watch Iron Chef America regularly either, I might add) but the cast and the new format has just been really fun. Let's check in with both!

Top Chef
Bravo's motto seems to be that you can never have too much of a good thing so this season started off with two extra "audition" episodes. They started off with 29 chefs and had this odd bracketed elimination to narrow them down to the usual 16. I found this to be somewhat unfair...each of the three groups had different challenges and the judges handed out the chef coats as they went so the odds just seemed really stacked against the chefs in the last group. They also put a number of chefs "on the bubble" and put them through an additional challenge to fill the last few spots. I personally found these episodes to be pretty boring. Just too many chefs, too many dishes, and not a lot of reason to root for one chef over the other. 

Once we got into the "real" competition, it did feel very much like just classic Top Chef, but I don't think anyone has really distinguished themselves yet. One new interesting thing that I do like though, is this "secret" side web competition called Last Chance Kitchen. Each chef eliminated from the main competition goes head-to-head against the winner of the previous week's installment and supposedly the last one standing will get to return and compete in the actual finale. Tom Colicchio himself hosts and judges. I'm not sure how this will affect the outcome of the season, if at all, but it's a fun little extra nugget.

The Next Iron Chef:
This season was dubbed the season of the "Super Chefs" and for good reason...Food Network did a pretty awesome job getting together a cast of already very recognizable TV chefs. These chefs have their own cooking shows, have competed on or judged other food reality shows, and have been challengers in Kitchen Stadium. The only possible WTF contestant was Spike Mendelsohn of Top Chef fame...but he was eliminated first anyway.

I very much like the format changes they made. Each episode now starts with the regular "Chairman's Challenge" (the most ridiculous thing about this show is how everyone from Alton Brown to the judges and competitors all defer to the Chairman who's really just a hilariously over-the-top actor...) which have themes such as improvisation, storytelling, risk, etc. and then the bottom two in that challenge have to complete in the "Secret Ingredient Showdown" which is basically a mini Iron Chef challenge--30 minutes to make one dish with the secret ingredient. I'm definitely a fan of this two-stage elimination, especially since the chefs are all so strong.

There are four chefs left standing: Michael Chiarello, Geoffrey Zakarian, Elizabeth Falkner, and Alex Guarnaschelli. I think either Zakarian or Falkner would make the best Iron Chefs...they're both super creative and can really execute. Chiarello was surprisingly kind of a beast on Top Chef Masters but I don't think Iron Chef needs another Italian specialist and honestly I find Guarnaschelli to just be kind of annoying.

Actually Top Chef Masters is probably a better show to compare to this one just based on the caliber of the chefs -- and Next Iron Chef definitely wins out. Masters was somehow really boring, maybe because the stakes just weren't as high? That was just a title, whereas this is, well, another job and probably growing recognition?

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Thursday Top Threes: on stage

M: Jenn and I went to the theater today, which inspired me with this week's question!  What are your top three (non-Broadway-musical) stage productions that you've seen? 

1. New York City Ballet's The Nutcracker. Mira and I saw this together as kids! There's a reason this is such a holiday classic! I never did ballet but I was obsessed with this photo book A Very Young Dancer as a kid which was followed a young ballerina who had a part in the Nutcracker.
2. Cirque du Soleil. I've only seen two traveling shows (Ovo and Quidam) but the displays of human strength and flexibility and balance and skill is just incredible. I really want to see the permanent shows in Vegas -- I hear they're even better!
3. Mira and I just went to see a performance of Pride & Prejudice at the Round House Theatre here in Maryland tonight and it was so fun! There was this really cool rotating set piece that changed the scenes and so many of the actors were really spot on. They played up the humorous bits but kept all of the great quotes from the book.

1. Cirque du Soleil's O, in Vegas, is hands down the most incredible stage production I have ever seen.  If I hadn't been there watching it with my own eyes, I would never believe it possible to perform such stunts on stage!  The stage, which revolved, changed levels, went from solid ground to full water pool -- craziness!  Not even the drowsy music tempted me to sleep (I have fallen asleep during other stage productions... Cirque du Soleil Ka and Phantom of the Opera to name two), the acts were so amazing.
2. Jenn and I went to see Giselle at the Kennedy Center two years ago.  I wasn't expecting all that much other than it being a ballet and one of the more famous ones.  But what really impressed me was how through the movements and music I was able to follow and be immersed in a different kind of storytelling.  In many ways, I found it easier to watch than some musicals where I needed to pay attention to lyrics to follow the storyline. It was beautiful, simple, and elegant; and makes me excited to go watch more ballet!
3. (Jenn, this will amuse you...) Stuy Sing!  This was an annual production at Jenn's high school, Stuyvesant, where the different classes (senior, junior, sophomore/freshman) wrote, created, directed, acted, produced a play and competed with each other to win.  I went to at least two years of it while I was in high school (not at Stuy).  I remember the first year I went, when we were sophomores (I think), and the Junior class (I think) at the time won.  It was a really cute performance of two islands that were gender separated and brought in cleverly rewritten lyrics to songs such as Twisted Sister's "We're Not Going to Take It."  I thought it was a fun competition and I really enjoyed it; enough so that almost 13(ish?) years later I still remember it!

On a side note, stage productions I would love the opportunity to see: an opera, in particular Carmen; Shakespeare, in particular The Twelfth Night or Much Ado About Nothing.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Thursday Top Threes: Getting in the spirit

J: What are your top three songs that get you in the holiday spirit?

1. Silver Bells - New York City is the best during Christmastime! I don't really have a favorite version so here's a new one from She & Him.
2. Christmas Time is Here - Actually the whole Charlie Brown Christmas album is pretty great.
3. The Waitresses - Christmas Wrapping - Bah humbug!

Mira: Funny, I was walking around Baltimore singing "Silver Bells" today. :D
1. I like classics, such as "The First Noel."
2. But a more modern one that I like includes "Sleigh Ride."
3. And, cuz I love Pachelbel's Canon, "Christmas Canon" by Trans-Siberian Orchestra.