Hell Hath No Fury…

On Sunday night, thanks to an ICA membership and quick thinking by Dan, I got to see an advance screening of Sam Raimi’s new horror film Drag Me To Hell starring Justin Long and Alison Lohman. I have never been a huge fan of Raimi’s films, with the exception of enjoying the quick-paced, big budget fun that is Spiderman . It’s not that I’ve actively disliked films like Evil Dead but I’ve found that the gross, slap-stick factor outweighs the scariness with the result of constantly reminding me that I am watching a film. I’ve never been able to get lost in them.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Drag Me To Hell. The trailers make it look like a straight up horror film. I was pleased to find that it was much more than that.

The plot isn’t complicated. Christine (Alison Lohman) works at a bank and is looking to get a promotion. Her boss gives her the impression that she may not get it because of a perception that she is unable to make the hard decisions that are required in the position. One day a weird (disgusting) old woman comes in. She’s had two extensions on her loan and is asking for a third. If the request isn’t granted, she will be evicted from the home she’s lived in for decades.

Initially our girl tries to help her but then, acutely aware of her manager’s disapproval, she denies the woman the extension. The old woman gets down on her hands and knees and begs but Christine calls security and, feeling shamed, the old woman curses her. From that point on Alison Lohman’s character is trying to out run a very creepy curse, which will drag her to burn in hell for all eternity after three days of torment.

At first read, this might not sound funny but it really, really is! There is a fight scene towards the beginning of the film between Alison Lohman and the old woman that manages to jump between being full of scares that actually made me jolt in my seat to being completely ridiculous as the old woman keeps coming and coming, spewing all kinds of nasty body fluids in the process.

There were other, much more subtle moments that managed to move easily between terror and hilarity. In one scene a psychic advises her to make a blood sacrifice to the demon by killing an animal. Although she is initially horrified by this idea, after a particularly brutal (and scary) altercation, Raimi cuts to Lohman tip toeing through the house looking for her kitten, a butcher knife in hand calling out, “Here kitty, kitty!”

My favourite moment happened during a s̩ance when a possessed goat suddenly began talking in the voice of the demon Рa wicked expression on his face. Funny and horrible!

I don’t know how Raimi achieved this balance. The problem I had with Evil Dead is that the comedy yanked me from the horror and I couldn’t get back to a place of feeling afraid. In contrast, Drag Me To Hell felt like a roller coaster ride where I was thrown between being genuinely scared and laughing my ass off from one moment to the next. I felt outside of myself but still trapped inside my senses, which is really the most one can hope for when seeing a good film.

I won’t tell you what happened at the end because I genuinely hope you go and see it yourself. Even if you don’t like horror, even if you aren’t an Evil Dead fan boy, it’s a very fun way to spend an hour and a half. There were some minor moments of discontinuity in the story but they were small and this ride isn’t really about the plot anyway.

Following the screening we were treated to a Q&A with Raimi, Long and Lohman. Shallow though it may seem, I was immediately struck by how much better looking Long and Lohman were in person then in the film. Raimi and Long were easy, interesting and really funny and engaging to listen to. They had a natural rapport with the audience and like the film itself, didn’t take things too seriously. Lohman was just kind of there - a vacuum taking up space. She has always been one of those actresses who are a bit of a blur for me. I know I’ve seen her in films, but until now I couldn’t name one. She didn’t make much more of an impression in person.

The thing I will most remember about her from now on is all the disgusting goo Raimi poured on her (and in her) during the film.

Go and see it.

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Mother on the Tube (London)

She's the one in the middle of those other two happy looking people.

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Getting Banged

A few days ago I got a haircut. I've been debating whether or not to get bangs for awhile. This seems to be a lifelong philosophical issue that I grapple with off and on. I love the way they look on *some* people but:

1. I have cowlicks
2. I have a very round face and a big head
3. I neither resemble Keira Knightley, Kate Moss or Katie Holmes

Despite ALL of these things, I decided to go ahead and get the haircut on a whim at some painfully over priced salon in Soho. I do like it and occasionally feel like I am much more hip than I actually am. Still, it is more high maintenance than the whole brush and go thing I've been sporting lately. We'll see how long it takes for me to be pinning the thing back.

London Survival Tip: In the United Kingdom bangs are called fringes. If you walk into a hairdresser here and ask for a bang, expect some funny looks.

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Spotify and Metric

I'm assuming that you've all downloaded Spotify because I told you to a few days ago. If you haven't, quit being silly and go do it.

Here's a link (I think) to Metric's new album Fantasies. Listen to it now.

Fantasies on Spotify.

I love you. X

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dress that I would do all manner of unspeakable things for

As seen on Rachel Weiss at Cannes.

Seriously, don't you LOVE it?! The colour, the cut, the texture of the fabric... It is perfection.


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Yo Canadians!

Maybe things have changed, but when I was in Canada I had never heard of Spotify. We were all still downloading things on iTunes or, more often, illegally on Limewire. Everyone in the UK listens to music on Spotify.

You simply create a free account and download a bit of software, which allows you to search and then listen to full tracks of music on your computer. It's super fast, there's tonnes of music on there (even indie stuff), no risk of viruses and it is completely legal and supported by the occasional advertisement. Unlike Last FM, you can listen to tracks you like over and over again and even create play lists. It can also function as a radio station if you want your music selected for you based on some parameters about what you want to hear. Otherwise you are free to choose from their huge library of music and listen to whatever you want.

The only downside is that the music doesn't belong to you, so you can't download it or make Cd's for your friends (though you can share play lists) and you can't load it onto your iPod. You also need the internet to run it.

Go and set up your account and let me know so we can share music. Now!

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Emily Haines is a Goddess of Rock

Last night I saw Metric play at the Electric Ballroom in London's Camden Town. I didn't have high expectations because, in my limited experience, the sound at the Electric Ballroom is less than stellar but mostly because when I saw Metric a few years ago they were kind of shit. Things have changed. Not only do they now sound great, but Emily has clearly been taking some lessons in being a rock star or has been practicing a lot in front of the mirror. The girl has moves. My fellow Canadian danced her ass off for nearly an hour and a half and sang with a voice that moved easily between being sweet and pure to screechy and angry in the best possible ways. My only complaint is the few times she stopped to talk and kind of rambled about genius and the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and how Metric endeavours to be the best, most legendary band of our time... Blah... Blah... Holy cow Emily! Stop talking! Luckily it only happened a few times during the show and when the music started up again she was so good that it was easy to forgive her foibles.

To be fair, I think she was a bit (a lot) wasted, a fact that was confirmed when she began to take swigs straight from a bottle of champagne. Still, there was no puking or slurring and no one fell off the stage or anything. A good time had by all.

I am happy to say that the show last night was everything that Synecdoche wasn't - exuberant, energetic, colourful, fun... Basically it was everything a good rock show should be. I recommend checking out their new album Fantasies if you haven't already. It's on Spotify, Itunes and I think you can hear a good sample on their My Space page.

(Image via Boboroshi. You can vote for this image in JPG Magazing by following the link.)

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Sad, Sad Synecdoche

Last night Dan and I saw Charlie Kaufman’s newest film, Synecdoche New York . I had high hopes, mostly because I have found his other films (Being John Malcovich, Adaptation) to be playful and inventive while not feeling hollow.

Synecdoche started out OK. We are introduced to a strange, overweight, neurotic Caden Cotard, a theatre director who is afraid of life, afraid of death and seems completely stuck in his discontented, lonely life. There are some really nice moments towards the first quarter of the film between Cotard and his wife and daughter. My favourite is when they are all in the car together and Cotard explains how plumbing and pipes in houses work by comparing them to veins in the body, which are little tubes transporting blood. The little girl starts shrieking, “I don’t want blood! I don’t want blood! I don’t want blood!” The two adults in the car respond in a muddled way as they simultaneously try to calm her down without lying to her. When Cotard eventually gives in and tells her she doesn’t need to have blood if she doesn’t want to, his wife rebukes him for being dishonest. It’s a really nice and poignant moment.

There are speckles of these beautiful little pieces throughout the film. I love the miniature portraits Cotard’s wife paints (done by an artist called Alex Kanevsky). I love the strange, colourful house that is always on fire that one of the characters lives in (though I have no idea why it is on fire).

Unfortunately these beautiful snapshots feel like moments that don’t have much of a connection to what is going on in the film. That they are there at all is the film’s only saving grace, especially as the plot begins to meander into a dream-like and self-indulgent hallucination that Kaufmann can’t seem to shake off. He wanders off the path and though as an audience member I was rooting for him to find it again, sadly he never did.

The reviews I’ve read of the film today are surprisingly positive. The thing I find the most disturbing about them is that more than one says that to appreciate and ‘get’ the film it needs to watch two, even three times. I found one, two hour sitting to be excruciatingly painful as I inwardly rooted for Cotard to just die already so that I could get on with my own life. That is two hours I will never get back. I am pretty certain that there isn’t anything so brilliant about Synecdoche that it will make me throw good time after bad.

It’s hard to say what this film was about, but in terms of what happens, there is a director who is abandoned by his wife and child, wins a big grant, and in his desperate attempt to control and understand his life, he decides to stage a massive theatre production where he recreates New York and casts actors to play the characters of his life. This outline makes it sound much better then it actually is!

At times I felt like Kaufmann was being purposely elusive about what was going on. At times I wasn't sure he really understood things himself. For example, one character inhabited a burning house. It was a pretty and strange effect, but it was distracting as he gives no clues to why the house is burning and how it fits in with all the other incongruous scraps. Other times he slams his audience over the head with meaning. There were short bursts about mortality, the constant reminder that we are all going to die and that the human condition is essentially one of loneliness and loss. Sigh. This movie is like a hazy, foggy mess interspersed with moments that are supposed to feel like enlightenment. Instead, Synecdoche begins to feel like a muddy slog up a steep, wet slope through the fog wearing damp shoes, weighed down by something oppressive and heavy. Once can only hope that the summit is just around the bend, which in this case it isn’t. This film feels very long.

What critics seem to say most often in response to Synecdoche is that it is either a masterpiece of a massive miss. I think Kaufmann is a genius. But this film is not a masterpiece and is barely watchable. Just because it is by Kaufman (generally a great film maker), doesn’t mean we should give it the benefit of the doubt and watch it over and over again (surely a form of torture) until somehow its genius is revealed to us. It’s a pass, which is followed by a sincere hope that his next effort is better.

The Guardian has done a round up of what the most prominent critics have said about Synecdoche. In some cases, the critical response reminds me of the film’s character Claire (played by Michelle Williams) who is constantly in awe of Cotard, regardless of how stupid or self-involved he becomes. She is always there to look at him with wide, trusting doe eyes and to tell him he’s a genius. The saving grace is that she does eventually tire of it and leave him.
“Kaufman has outdone himself, for good or ill, with the strangest, saddest movie imaginable, a work suffused with almost evangelical zeal in the service of disillusion. It’s a film of mad Beckettian grandeur about the terrible twin truths of existence: list if disappointing and death inescapable. And it supplied a third insight: art is part of life and so doomed to failure in the same way.” (Peter Bradshaw from the Guardian)
“[It] is [Kaufman’s] most demanding and ambitious work. Afterwards you will feel not only that you have walked a mile in Charlie Kaufmann’s shoes, but that you have also plumped up his pillow, pilled back his dirty sheets and finally snuggled up inside his skull. For all Kaufmann’s intellectual brilliance, his films have great heart, and there is something enduring and moving about Caden Cotard’s fruitless struggle to memorialise his life as it is occurring.” (Matthew De Abaitua from Film4)
“I think you have to see Synecdoche twice. I watched it the first time and knew it was a great film and that I had not mastered it. The second time because I needed to. The third time because I will want to. It will open to confused audiences and live indefinitely.” (Roger Ebert from the Chicago Sun Times)
My last word: sad.

(Quotes taken from the Guardian.)

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Selfishness Rant

The other night I was out with an old friend and the topic of selfishness came up. We both had a few drinks and were probably less than coherent or measured. By the time we were through I'm sure we had wandered in circles around the topic without actually landing on it.

While our conversation revolved around specific issues involving people and occasions that I'll keep out of here, at one point he said, "I think that you are pretty out for yourself Amy but at least I know where you're coming from. You're honest about it."

At first I didn't think that this bothered me but as I've played the conversation over and over in my head, I realize that it does. And not because I essentially disagree with what he said, rather because of the implications he failed to consider when he said it. With very few exceptions, I believe that people are looking out for themselves and I don't think this is a bad thing. Yes, there are the Donald Trumps of the world who arguably aren't giving a lot back, but the average person who is making decisions with their own happiness and fulfillment at heart is often also doing a lot of good. I've yet to meet a martyr I like. But maybe I haven't been spending time in the right circles...

In the history of the Western world throughout most of recorded time, women in particular have not been allowed to look out for themselves, or their best interests. First they were the property of their fathers and then their husbands - their value little more (and in some cases probably less) than that of a farm animal. Throughout the 1900's this started to shift, but very slowly and slightly. It is still hard for women to get access to reliable contraceptives in certain parts of North America, never mind their ability to make safe decisions to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Our ability to be selfish about our own bodies is always up for question and debate.

My point is that I think as women we are still often made to feel guilty for choosing things that are right for us. For not putting others first at all times, which biologically we are probably at least partially conditioned to do from an evolutionary perspective as the primary, long-term caregivers of babies and children, we are still in some ways punished. The conversation my friend and I had was not about women or patriarchy or anything but the few examples that were brought up were examples of women being 'selfish', mainly due to thinking about their own happiness over that of a long term partner or husband.

It is true that I have made decisions in my life (like moving to the UK, ending relationships where I wasn't happy, choosing to travel) that were probably mostly if not completely for me. But aren't these the kinds of decisions that men have been allowed to make for centuries? Aren't these the fruits of making your way in the world? Isn't this what we've been talking about and fighting about for decades? Being self-directed does not mean not caring about the feelings of others, it just means that when considering which way to go, individuals need to at least consider what is best for them alongside the needs and desires of everyone else. I genuinely believe that people give more good to the world when they are happy and fulfilled then when they are feeling miserable and stuck.

And yet this old friend I was talking to, who in most things is very illuminated - a solid and good human being - still wants me to feel guilty for being 'out for myself' alongside other equally 'selfish' women who have dared to make their own (sometimes very unpopular) decisions.

Maybe he needs to get honest with himself. If he did, I wonder whether he would find that most of his decisions are sacrificial or are simply and innately the best thing for him?

(Image via Cupcake)

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I can't really justify my obsession with Blythe dolls, it is just there. Lately I've reignited my obsession with them and have been stalking the collector shops of London looking for one of my own. These ridiculously expensive little gals are nearly impossible to find outside of Japan. After about two dozen visits to this particular doll online, I've finally just accepted that some things cannot be overcome and I've splurged for her. I won't tell you how much she cost! Hopefully she'll be here within the next week.

Any suggestions for names?

The story of Blythe.

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It feels like summer in London today. I am in one of the most amazing cities in the world but all I can think about is hiding away in a cute little corner somewhere, water to swim in within walking distance, some good music on hand and a few good books. Oh, to be twelve again and heading into two months solid of a hot, lazy beach summer.

(images via Dream Smile Design)

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I'm on a posting roll

Via http://www.davidhorvitz.com/.

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Raindrop Melody Maker

I love this simple, beautiful little online tool, which allows even those (like me) who are not musically inclined to create pretty little lullabies.

I just wish there was a way of saving or sharing your creation.

Rainbow Melody Maker.

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I never imagined Italy would be sooo beautiful!

I just got a phone message from my mother who is currently somewhere in Tuscany with a tour group.
Amy, Italy is amazing. I never dreamed it would be this beautiful! You should see the view from my window!!
She sounded choked up and so happy. I can't imagine what it would mean to finally decide to see the world when you are nearly in your mid-fifties, but I am so proud of her. I hope this kicks off a lot more adventures. I really believe that travel is life-changing and life-affirming. It is one of those things that you will never really understand until you've tried hoisting yourself into a country where the language and food is different, where the streets aren't built the way you are used to and where the people require something of you that is outside of your comfort zone.

I am not one of those zen travelers who takes things as they come. In new, uncontrollable situations, I get stressed out. I like to have a plan, a schedule. I like to KNOW, within near certitude, what is going to happen. This is exactly why travel is so good for me. Try as I might, when I am in an unfamiliar place, I generally can't make everything go according to plan and it's taught me all kinds of things about myself and made me learn how to take a breath and relax a bit when I am at home. The world is so big and filled with so many wonderful and terrible things. And life is short. I am proud of my brave mother and can't wait to hear about her new adventures.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert was a big inspiration for a lot of women. When I first read it, I was in a relationship that wasn't particularly fulfilling, I'd settled into a mortgage payment and was weighed down with the responsibility of animals and a career. The summer before I read Eat, Pray, Love, I took my first trip to Europe to visit my friend Jackie in London. While over here, I also took a long weekend in Paris by myself. Although London was amazing, my four days wandering through Paris alone was life changing. I was much more afraid of going on my own then I'd let on to anyone, and getting on the Eurostar felt very much like jumping off a high diving board; by the time you are up there, looking down, it would be humiliating to walk back down because of fear. So even against your better judgment, you jump. And usually, as soon as your feet leave the board, you are filled with a feeling of freedom and elation and the minute you hit the water, you begin think about when you are going to get to make your next jump. That's what Paris was for me.

Despite this amazing discovery, coming home after London and Paris was grim. I remember being almost sick with the heaviness of feeling trapped and stuck - like there was absolutely no way out of the situation I had been so instrumental in creating for myself. To everyone existing in the world outside of my head, I had a lovely life. A very nice boyfriend, animals that loved me, a fine little house in a nice neighbourhood and a great job doing PR for the biggest and best gallery in the Province. But I was miserable and dejected and couldn't help but feel that after this transcendent experience of travel, my life was now over. Then I read Eat, Pray, Love and slowly, I began to believe that there was a way out if I was only brave enough to take it. At first I didn't know what life I wanted for myself, but instead of feeling hopeless, I knew that when I did make up my mind, I could choose to either stay safely where I was or seize an opportunity to move in another direction.

Now, two years later, my life is almost unrecognizable from what it was then. It is lovely and imperfect but very importantly to me, it is something I am choosing to move forward with every day. I am not just allowing myself to be washed forward on a wave of expectation and comfort. Sometimes it is uncomfortable and difficult and other times it is lovely and, as cheesy as it sounds, I feel like I am going to explode with gratitude, but I always, always feel that I own it. I am no longer stuck, and that is everything.

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Was lovely. View all the photos (including bit of our train and tube journey) here:

Click on any of the images above to be redirected to Flickr where you can see them in larger detail.

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Only In Wales

Mom is off to Italy after a whirlwind of time in London and Wales. She's back on Thursday for a few last days before heading back to Canada after the weekend. It's been fun having her here and great to see the UK again through the eyes of someone who is just discovering it. We've fit a lot into her time here:
  • A billion sheep (most viewed from the safety and comfort of Dan's mini)
  • 2 Welsh castles
  • 4 Welsh words I can now recognise and pronounce added to my vocabulary
  • One dinner at an Italian restaurant in Mumbles overlooking the sea (where my food was served on a plate shaped like a fish)
  • On afternoon in Tenby
  • 2 orders of fish and chips (one in Tenby and one in Holland Park)
  • 3 afternoons spent in London parks - Holland Park, Hyde Park and St James Park
  • 1 musical - Chicago (it was great!)
  • 1 trip on the London Eye
  • 1 boat ride down the Thames in London's south bank area
  • 2 markets - Borrough and Portobello
  • 1 amazing wild board sausage sandwich in Borough Market, 1 shot of wheatgrass and two cups of organic, freshly squeezed juice
  • Innumerable pints of beer and glasses of wine (including one bottle of Ice Wine, which I didn't really like)
  • 1 visit to a Chinese herbalist in London's Chinatown
  • At least 6 packed Tube journeys
  • 1 trip to Muswell Hill to visit Jackie and baby Hartley
  • 1 evening in Bath where Dan and I went to Bathcamp to participate in a pub quiz for geeks (our team won in spite of me) and mom spent a few hours in the Thermae Bath Spa
  • 4 train stations: Cardiff, Bath Spa, London Paddington and Victoria
  • Lots of walking around the packed areas of Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden and Westminster.
  • 1 visit to Buckingham Palace
  • 1 visit to a Primate Sanctuary in Wales
  • Lots of amazing food including Mestizo (our favourite Mexican with the best nachos in the word - located in Euston, London.
She only has a few days here after Italy and I think we are going to focus on having a tour of Westminster Abbey (which she seemed to really want to do after seeing it from the outside though we ran out of time to go in), shopping in Westfield Mall and maybe one more show.

I've got my flights to Canada booked for the end of June/early July and, as wonderful as it is over here, I am really looking forward to spending some time at home. Today I had a major hankering for a sundae either from Dairy Queen or the Milky Way. The other day it was Cheese Whiz (which I actually think I can get at Selfridges for eleven million dollars). It's funny. Home, though a drag in some ways, will always have a handful of things that I love. Not because they are particularly good, but just because they are familiar and comforting and have been with me for as long as I can remember.

I'm not quite to the point of tapping my ruby slippers together, but it is true that there really is no place like home. For better or worse. I am excited about showing Dan the Canadian prairies in the same way he's opened up so many experiences for me over here (albeit we tend to have quieter things where I'm from). He was an integral part of showing my mother around for the last week and a half. Let me tell you internets, putting up with mom and I in a tiny car while driving through the meandering roads of Wales and towing us through the congested streets of London is a feat that takes a fair amount of patience. He's pretty great.


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