Category Archives: Reviews

Jefflion.net Must-Reads

There’s a handy blog meme I’d like to use here. Tagged bloggers (or, self-tagged in my case) should identify and present posts on their blogs that fit certain types. I think the idea behind it is to promote your blogging and present some of the posts most of your visitors are unfamiliar with (be it because you wrote them a long time ago, or because they didn’t get the attention you feel they deserved).

It’s also a great way to think about your blogging in general, and see where you stand.

So, here’s where I stand: my early blogging (read: most of the things written in 2007, 2008 and, to a lesser extend, 2009) sucks. There’s no other way to put it. I had no idea what blogging was, or how to write a decent blog post – and it’s not because I’m untalented for writing. I guess I thought blogs were online diaries, and I was never good at writing a diary. Luckily, I realized blogging was different, and it made my posts better.

That’s why most of the posts presented in the meme are the newer ones, from 2010 and 2011.

Also, I’d like to use this opportunity to introduce some changes on the site. I added a new popular posts script, so you can find the most accurate and up to date list of most popular posts at the sidebar. Plus, I added the similar posts script that appears at the bottom of the each post, recommending you similar posts. Because it depends on the words I write, its choices might not be accurate, but so far I like the way it works, and I think it makes my posts more connected, which is a good thing. It can also make some of the older posts visible again. The only bad thing is that it also makes my early, random posts visible.

And now, the meme:

Most Beautiful Post

I think most of my reviews are beautiful, and I am quite proud of them. But I’d like to include another post here, because it is more personal than my usual posts.

Why I like(d) Disney movies

This post turned out to be more beautiful and more personal than I intended it to be. Who knew animated movies can have so much meaning, or to make you remember your childhood (and teenage years?)

I also thought the post might become controversial (because Disney movies deserve a lot of criticism), but that didn’t happen (not that I complain).

Most popular post

It’s definitely something about sex. Cliché or not, it does seem that sex and dating make very hot topics.

Women and casual sex

This is the most popular post on the site, and one of the few that get regular outside hits (which means search engines bring people here). The funny this is that it’s not a particularly good post: there are way too many things I mentioned here, but it’s not well structured and the thoughts are all over the place. I guess the main idea was that women often enjoy casual sex less than men not because their morality and sexuality are different, but because men don’t try to satisfy a woman they have a casual sex with.

Honourable mentions: A Long Penis Rant (once again, I wasn’t sure what was the main idea behind this post), Sunshine (my most commented post, though I’m not sure if it counts because half of it are pictures of Cillian Murphy and some heavy off topic discussion).

Most Helpful Post

Bad Writing Advice

I like this post because I’ve finally managed to formulate what I always found questionable about writing advice. I also discovered I love writing about writing (and my experience with it), so maybe I should consider doing more of those posts.

Honourable mentions: The best sites for bored people (check them out, especially tvtropes.org, which is probably one of my favourite sites on the whole net), Recover a (WordPress) site infected by a nasty iframe (this is an old entry. It worked back then; I am not sure if this advice is still applicable).

Post Whose Success Surprised Me

Things I don’t write about

I wrote this one to explain (mostly to myself) why I don’t like to write about certain sensitive/serious topics that I sometimes feel people expect me to write about. (Both in a blog and in novels). Some of these subjects include: Balkan wars and former Yugoslavia (or anything related to Easter Europe), my father’s death (and the problems I’ve had growing up without a father), etc. I don’t write about former because I am too sick of the subject, and I don’t feel any need to include it in my writing. I am aware that many people (both here and in the rest of the world) expect for someone in Serbia to deal with these issues in her writing (particularly when it comes to novels), but I just don’t find that topic inspiring. Same goes for my family. Some of the things I do find interesting and want to include, but the others aren’t something I want to write about.

I consider this to be a personal post, that wouldn’t make people interested. I was wrong. It turned out to be one of my most popular posts. I guess it’s because it’s more personal than the others. Some people said it made them learn more about me. I am glad, but I am still surprised this post gained such a popularity. (Plus, I had no idea my average reader didn’t have much chance to “meet” me or to learn anything about me and the type of a person I am).

Honourable mentions: Writing chapter titles (I wrote this for myself, to test what chapters of my novel “sound” in English. Who knew people were into that stuff), I’m a flexitarian (it was one of my first posts; it wasn’t much of a success, but it was my first post that got any sort of attention).

Most Controversial Post

The most controversial post I’ve ever written (American privilege) isn’t even on this site. I don’t think there are any controversial topics on Jefflion.net, but it’s not because I want to play it safe. I guess the blog isn’t popular enough to get many hits or commenters, because in order for something to be controversial, there have to be people who disagree with it or view things differently.

The only possibly controversial post is Kosovo independence, but it didn’t generate much buzz.

Post That Didn’t Get The Attention I Felt It Deserved

The Best Movies of the Decade I and The Best Movies of the Decade II

I really think it’s one of my best posts (and I find all of my review posts good). I’ve also taken some extra effort into making pictures to go with this post (and it was very time consuming to Google all the images, find the best ones, and then arrange everything in Photoshop). It’s not that I regret doing it, but I really wanted to discuss the best movies of the decade with my visitors, learn about their favourites and maybe get some good movie recommendations). (The offer is still good, btw).

Honourable mention: Writing Sex Scenes (I think this one is a very good post that deals with a legitimate problem in writing: how to make good, believable, non-cheesy/embarrassing/narmy/facepalm/wtf-was-the-writer-thinking sex scenes. I think it’s a well-written post, and people are usually interested in both sex and writing, so I was surprised it didn’t get much attention).

Post I’m Most Proud Of

A friend claims she’s proud of all of her posts (and I am happy for her), but I am sorry to say it doesn’t work the same for me. I am not proud of my blogging pre-2010 in general.

But there are some posts I am quite proud of. This goes, first and foremost, for my reviews (especially movie reviews). I link most of them at a separate page (Articles), along with some other stuff I’ve written (that I think deserve special attention).

Some other good posts:

Stereotypes About Americans

Women: How not to be seen as fully human

5 songs I like against all odds and 5 songs I dislike against all odds

Rules of a chick lit (and what can we learn from it)

PS- I’m supposed to tag five people to do this meme, but I think it’s too pushy. It’s better if people decide for themselves they want to do it. (And if you choose to do it, I’d love to see your list!)

Mozart and the Whale

“People with Asperger’s want contact with other people very much; we’re just pathetically clueless at it, that’s all”. (Donald Morton)

Mozart and the Whale is a 2005 film directed by Petter Næss and starring Josh Hartnett and Radha Mitchel. It’s based on a true story of two people with Asperger’s syndrome and their relationship.

Asperger’s syndrome is a form of a high-functional autism. It’s been somewhat popularized in media and pop culture in the last decade or so. Media image of the Asperger’s syndrome might easily lead to to the romanticisation or “othering” of people with Asperger’s. That’s why any film about characters with Asperger’s is dealing with a sensitive subject to say the least.

As a peace of art, Mozart and the Whale fails miserably. It’s a cross between a drama and a romantic comedy… and it doesn’t work that way. As if they tried their best to make this into a romantic comedy with quirky characters, but something went bad along the way. This is not just me: it’s been reported that there was some serious Executive Meddling, which resulted the director and the cast being quite unhappy with the final version. We can only hope to see the director’s cut.

Still, there are some excellent, brilliant things in Mozart and the Whale, which make you want to see the director’s cut even more badly. The characters are romanticized to an extend, but in a way, they are quite real, especially Donald Morton, an educated man with talent for numbers who works as a cab driver (it’s difficult, if not impossible, to find – and keep – a better paying job, and in first minutes of the film we learn it’s difficult for him to keep any job, period). He shares his apartment with 6 Cockatiel parrot. The flat is unkempt to say the least, because he never throws anything away, and moving things or cleaning the house makes him anxious. The finds comfort in numbers (to the exaggerated “magic ability” to instantly multiply and divide huge numbers).

He runs a small help-group for people with various mental conditions, and Isabelle is the new member. She has Asperger’s, too, but she is quite different than the shy, introverted Donald. She is loud, has obnoxious laugh, says inappropriate things (often involving sex) and can’t stand the sound of clinking metal.

So, they meet and their “getting to know each other” scenes provide most of the emotion in the film. After that, the film feels quite rushed (the film is too short to adequately portray the whole story arc: them moving in together, finding a decent job for Donald, their difficulties and fights, accepting each other – and themselves – the way they are). But there are so many sweet scenes that can be watched over and over again, so Mozart and the Whale is not a waste of time.

The best aspect of the film is, believe it or not, Josh Hartnett as Donald Morton. What he did with the character is unbelievable. It would be seen as a great performance for anybody, but for a pretty boy that didn’t seem more talented than Keanu Reeves on a bad day, it’s quite unbelievable. Josh Hartnett’s performance is far away from being perfect in technical sense, and it seems to be played on instinct more than careful preparation.

But it’s obvious he put a significant effort and dedication into this role, like no other before. Maybe the role just suited him, but he was so good you forget it’s him and it makes it seem you’re watching someone else… Or, in my case, that you’re watching yourself. There are as many ways Asperger’s syndrome can manifest itself as there are people with Asperger’s, but I could sure relate to this one (even though I don’t have the syndrome in strict sense of the word).

Sadly, the aforementioned executive meddling made Josh Hartnett refuse to promote the movie, which is a shame, because it’s worth a watch, and it’s a film in which he finally proves he’s not just a talentless heart throb, and that he can actually act. And be convincing. And everything that acting truly is.

I definitely recommend Mozart and the Whale, but I am not sure who’d love this film. Many people with Asperger’s seem to like it. But other than that, this isn’t light enough to be a romantic comedy, and is not too well structured to be taken seriously as a drama. So it makes Mozart and the Whale somewhat unfitting for anybody. But there are still good elements, great elements, so I truly recommend this movie. I know it made me feel good and it made me re-watch it, and it made me appreciate Josh Hartnett as an actor. And that’s not an easy thing to do.

Links:

Mozart and the Whale on IMDb
Review at WrongPlanet (online resource and community for Autism and Asperger’s)

The Virgin Suicides: A Masterpiece?

I admit, calling it “a masterpiece” might be an overstatement. But this book sure surprised me with its style, beauty and that ethereal feeling you get whenever you truly lose yourself in a book. And sadly, that doesn’t happen to me often. I guess a book needs to be truly special to make me feel that way.

I am, obviously, quite late to the party. “The Virgin Suicides” novel was popular a long time ago and I have no idea why I never bothered to read it. I guess the “suicide” in the title made it seem depressing. But my husband (who’s read a few passages) recommended it with the words: “this guy writes like you, the same style and all”.

Needless to say, it’s not true in strict sense of the words, but I understand why he said that. What I loved about the novel is not what Eugenides said, but how he said it. The book isn’t perfect technically, but in a way, it makes it even better. And Jeffrey Eugenides sure knows how to write.

The story about the Lisbon sisters, their suicides, the boys who were obsessed with them and changing of suburbia could have been told in numerous ways, but he chose the one that makes it seem not just original, but also the only possible way to tell it. And that speaks volumes about his writing.

What I find fascinating is the fact it’s written in freaking first person plural – and it doesn’t sound annoying, pretentious or confusing at all. It just fits. It fits perfectly. It fits perfectly because the book isn’t really about the Lisbon sisters, or why they killed themselves, but about the boys and their coming of age, and this suburban life that is slowly dying, never to be the same again. Some critics claim the boys serve as a Greek chorus, but I am not quite sure if I buy that. I’d rather say it’s one of the cases of a “hidden” main character, where protagonists are not the same as narrators. But at the end of the day, it is the book about the boys, and it sure makes you (well, me) understand teenage boys better.

And not to mention one of the most captivating characters in contemporary literature: Trip Fontaine. Ok, I might be biased here, because I am insanely jealous of Eugenides for creating this memorable character with so little words. The name itself is perfect; perfect name for such a character (how come I can’t think of something like that?) What is interesting to note is that Trip doesn’t appear in the book that much at all, but still feels like a prominent character. Many writers before Eugenides have written, and many will yet write, trying to give a mesmerizing portrayal of a teenage heartthrob, but people will still remember Trip Fontaine. Now, that’s writing.

The book is in no way perfect, but that’s a good thing. There are some technical “errors”, but they only make it seem less planned, like a real memory.

The movie

Naturally (?) after reading the book, I wanted to see the film. They say movies always disappoint, but I am usually prepared for it. Sofia Coppola’s movie didn’t disappoint, because I wasn’t expecting much. In a way, it is a sweet and poignant film. I didn’t find it to be slow or confusing, as some people claim.

Sofia Coppola took a great effort in keeping most of the little details that make book so striking: the bracelets, poking smoke rings, Lux’s underwear with “Trip” written on it, brown-and white saddle shoes, and so many others. That is something contemporary filmmakers rarely do and I respect her for that.

Still, she somehow managed to make a movie that has all the details, but completely missing the mood, feel and (dare to say) point of the novel. I have no idea how she’s done it, but that’s how it is. She gave us a visually beautiful film, but for some reason it never really felt like a good adaptation of the book.

I guess it’s because she chose to focus on the girls more than the boys. It’s not that I don’t understand this decision; I guess it’s difficult to tell the story from the boys’ POV. Still, focusing on the Lisbon sisters, and showing so many of their lives inside the house, with each other and their parents, killed much of the mystery about the sisters. We got to see them as nothing more but a regular teenagers with strict parents, and we are unable to understand boys’ obsession with them. I think it wasn’t the best move.

The casting was fairly good, despite the fact I – not sure how to put this gracefully – can’t stand Kirsten Dunst. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know. But I usually find her unwatchable. Needless to say, I didn’t find her to be a convincing Lux (I think she would make a good Bonnie, though), but she wasn’t bad. I sure didn’t imagine Mr and Mrs Lisbon as James Woods and Kathleen Turner, but they were good.

The only casting choice I am not so sure about is Josh Hartnett as Trip Fontaine. The problem with Trip is that he’s never described, so you can picture him anyway you want, and I sure didn’t picture him as Josh Hartnett. I mean… The guy can’t really act, can he? * Right. But I must reluctantly admit he made a good Trip Fontaine; you could imagine girls (and mothers?) falling for someone like him. And his performance was decent, so I wouldn’t say it was a bad casting choice.

* In Hatnett’s defense, he did give at least one good performance in his career. I’ve watched “Mozart and the Whale” recently, and he was quite good as a guy with Asperger’s. So maybe he’s not completely talentless after all. And now that he’s getting older (and less hot?) he might try to become a real actor and not a joke he used to be (*cough* Pearl Harbour *cough* – yes, I pretend that one never happened, too).

All in all, the movie was visually beautiful, but it didn’t impress me. I just don’t find it to be a good adaptation of the novel: it fails to capture its essence, while at the same time it’s way too dependent on the novel to stand on its own.

The Best Movies of the Decade (Part I)

It was a so-so decade in the film world. There were some really quality movies, but a lots of crap, too. Many endless franchises and sequels. But it was also a decade of films that became one of my favourites.

Hey! Where’s (insert a popular film)?

You’ll notice there are no some popular favourites on this list. “Dark Knight”, for example, didn’t make it even to honourable mentions; I was simply not that impressed with it (it was good, but not that good). Some others do not appear on this list because I haven’t seen them (and this especially goes for Mike Leigh’s “Another Year”, which sounds like something I’d really like). Also, I didn’t include those that were good, but didn’t make a personal impact on me. So like with any other list, this is more of “my favourites” of the decade: those that made a lasting impression or have a personal meaning to me.

The list

Quick statistics reveal most of these films are not American (but they are all western; I hate the fact I’m not really familliar with non-western cinematography :( ). Sorry to say, there are no movies with Gary Oldman (who I really like, but not most of his films), but there are two starring Clive Owen and Kelly Macdonald, and even three movies with Cillian Murphy. Some of the films on the list, sadly, suffer from hype backlash, but I still like them and believe they’re great.

10. Intermission (2003)

It’s one of those stories about life, told in a complex, humorous way. There are around 10 interweaving stories, including, but not limited to: a guy who regrets breaking up with his girlfriend, but is too stupid to say so, lonely young men and middle aged women, a girl with a moustache, a dirty cop and a wild kid who just enjoys throwing rocks at vehicles. And it all works beautifully and without much, if any, pretentiousness. Also, the opening scene kicks ass.
Personal story: There’s something about Irish movies (and, in lack of a better term, Irish mentality) that I really like. Life and people seem pretty similar to those in my culture, but here I’m not emotionally involved and I’m able to distant myself enough to truly enjoy and appreciate a work of art.

9. Children of Men (2006)

Arguably, one of the best directed and visually stunning films of the decade. The only reason it’s made to the ninth place only is the fact there’s no strong personal story behind it, if you don’t count intellectual factor. In so many ways, this film is perfectly shot, and the vision of the future (if it’s future at all) is memorable. The directing is perfect: everything seems so realistic. So many unforgettable scenes, with car chase and murder being one of them, but my favourite is the one in which they take the baby out of a building and for the moment, fight and gunshots stop, and everything is silent, only to be resumed in the next second. Such a powerful movie.
Personal story: Not much of it, except the fact I like good dystopian films. What I loved about this one is the lack of excessive pathos and the way it all seemed so realistic.

8. Atonement (2007)

This movie had an extremely difficult task: to be a decent adaptation of one of the best novels of the decade (Ian McEwan’s story is amazing beyond words). In a way, the novel is un-adoptable, because of the nature of the material. Still, it was a very good adaptation, and even Keira Knightley was decent. No matter what some people say, the adaptation was quite good; Joe Wright is one of those directors who know how to read the source material and see what’s the most important and the best way to tell it. Still not as good as the book, of course, but quite good.
Personal story: “Atonement” is one of my favourite books, and it’s not something that can easily be adapted for the screen (due to the fact it’s a book about writing). Still, I liked the way they did it. Also, the film is visually beautiful and the acting is quite good.

7. 28 Days Later (2002)

For many people, the best thing about this film is the fact it redefined the zombie genre. But it’s not something I care about. Zombies are irrelevant; it is a film about human nature. I like everything about it: the story, the characters, the sloppy, at times amateurish-looking editing, the music. It also has a few incredibly memorable scenes: the haunting beginning in the deserted London, and the mansion scene in which Jim goes batshit crazy in rage.
Personal story: Like I said, I’m a sucker for good dystipian films, but there’s more. What I loved about this film is the fact it appeared to be about zombies, but it’s in fact about something else (human nature). It’s the point in which it totally blew me away. I still prefer the alternative ending, though.

6. The Triplets of Belleville (2003)

This was a decade of great animated movies, particularly the Pixar ones (Ratatouille being my favourite). But the best animated film of the decade is, hands down, The Triplets of Belleville (I haven’t seen Spirited Away, though). It’s a masterpiece. And it’s not just about the story itself or the animation. It’s the incredible atmosphere, so nostalgic and unique. And how did they manage to make a movie with almost no dialogues not boring or slow? A truly amazing film.
Personal story: There is a personal story behind it, about my husband and I watching this film for the first time (in early 2005).

Part two: Click.

Honourable mentions

Into the Wild, Sunshine, In Bruges, Ratatouille, Juno, Pride and Prejudice. (And probably so many I forgot to mention at the moment!)

Inception: Overrated much?

Mild spoilers ahead

Say you have a really good concept. Say you also have a huge budget so you could build amazing CGI sets, massive action scenes and cast huge stars. You have all the good ingredients. But you fail to make the best out of it. All you get is an average action packed film that takes itself way too seriously. That’s Nolan’s “Inception”.

One of the main problems is the writing. Nolan had a great concept, but he failed to make a good story out of it. So the end result is this CGI & action heavy mess, a pretty shell with no real substance. It tries really hard to be deep and meaningful, but it’s quite banal.

… And predictable

I don’t know if Nolan himself is uneducated, or if he believes his audience is uneducated, but “Inception” was full of so-called Dan Brown or Paulo Coehlo moments. You know what I mean: something should be puzzling and with a deeper meaning, but it’s actually quite simple and obvious to anybody who is at least a bit educated.

Namely, what spoiled the movie for me was Ariadne. I have no idea why Nolan named the character this way, but it was a huge spoiler for any person who is familiar with the Greek myth (and I am sure there are many of us who are). Ariadne is introduced in the movie as the architect – but we know that Ariadne from the myth didn’t build the maze, Daedalus did. Ariadne was there to help the hero escape the maze and the Minotaur.

So basically, the whole Cobb subplot was quite predictable right from the start. The only question left in the first 20 minutes was: who’s Minotaur? But this became obvious pretty fast (my French sucks a big time, but I do understand bits – another Nolan’s mistake in naming a character).

So, I was more interested in Bobby Fisher’s story, but, alas, it was quite uninspiring and banal. I mean, when you think about it, the whole plot of the film is them messing with an innocent person’s mind (and his life) just for the lulz. Nobody ever explained why is, oh, so important and epic to destroy the Fisher company. So it was quite difficult to care about whether the Inception would work or even why is that so important in the first place. Fail.

At the (ambiguous) end, I didn’t bother to care whether it was all a dream or not.

Clumsy storytelling

I blame it all on the messy script. There were just too many things that didn’t work, script wise.

For example, exposition was forced down our throat, over and over again. Some things were obvious the first time we saw them – there was really no need to explain them again and again. It’s obvious right from the start that Cobb’s wife was dead. Or that Fisher wanted his father to care about him. We got it. Now please move on.

The time wasted on this could have been used to explore all those things that were shown, but never got any proper use in the film. Street/space bending, for example, was really interesting, but was never really shown later in the film. Same goes for totems and their importance.

Not to mention the main premise: Robert Fisher’s inception itself. Why was it so important? Why should we care about the mission? We don’t. There was really nothing important at stake: the world was not in danger, no lives were in danger, no epic story was going on, nothing. It was really difficult to invest emotionally or to care about the mission.

The whole movie failed to raise any important questions or issues. Which is fine for an action flick, but this one had an ambition to be much deeper. It wasn’t.

The good things

The corridor fight scene was pretty cool. And this comes from a person who generally hates action scenes. The main concept is pretty interesting (which is the saddest thing about this movie – the concept itself had a huge potential). Also, Tom Hardy was cute.

All in all

Am I saying this was a horrible flick? Not at all. It was watchable. But it’s main problem is the fact it takes itself WAY too seriously, while it’s pretty mediocre. With such a great concept, there were virtually hundreds of possible stories and plots, but they decided to focus on pretty banal ones.

Nolan is far from being a bad director, but he is not really a good writer. He has an imagination, but is not a particularly skillful storyteller.

Also, he tends to get lost in huge budgets, which is never a good thing. If you have all the money for huge explosions, star cast, massive action scenes, limitless CGI, you tend to forget about the basics: the story itself. I think “Inception” would be twice as good with its budget cut in half. It’s once again proven that, indeed, less is more.

Less is more, Nolan. Less is more.

PS- Just like any other massively popular icon, “Inception” has already generated its set of Internet memes. The most popular are the ones of Cobb and Robert Fisher Jr talking at the bar. Some of them are just plain stupid, others are horribly racist and/or sexist/homophobic. But there are some great ones that actually make the best thing about this film.

(Click to see the full sized image)

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