Saturday, February 21, 2015

Catchy is as Catchy Does

So I shared this on my Facebook wall the other day, and the delightful Rachel McMillan has been complaining ever since that she's had the song stuck in her head.

I mean...there are worse things, because it's a legitimately good song. But since she's suffering, you know, I'm offering up some likewise solid yet ear-worm-y songs -

The Oscars Are Coming, and Other Sundry Things

Shiloh, snoozing against my computer.

THE OSCARS ARE THIS WEEKEND. I'm not even remotely ready, and more than that, I don't think I'm going to be able to do my annual coverage. I haven't followed the guild awards, and while I've managed to put together the blog in previous years even while driving across the country, this year I have to make a difficult choice: blog about the Oscars or write the book I've been hired to write.

I gotta go with option b. Which is deeply disappointing, I know, for the fifteen of you who enjoy the Oscar coverage (bless you, one and all). Rest assured I'll be live-tweeting through the Oscarcast, and rooting for Guardians of the Galaxy to win for Best Makeup. 

Also coming up: wrap-ups of Project Runway All Stars (oy).  Feeling very behind on everything, mostly because I am. Last month I had a dental cleaning, which lead to having fillings replaced, which turned into two root canals, which lead to one crown, and another a week later when the non-crowned tooth began to crack. 

Because I have the pain tolerance of a baby puppy (it's true), all but the cleaning were done under some form of sedation, with prescription painkillers in-between (not my favorite, but it was that or give myself facial frostbite with an ice-pack), and now that everything's FINE I feel rather like Rip Van Winkle, with an excessively long to-do list.

In other news: I read Lena Dunham's book for a book club, and was not a fan (reading it with jaw pain added insult to injury). I've started collecting potential titles for my own future memoir (don't worry - it won't be for another 30 years). My current favorite is "That Is a Very Bad Idea," but my sister's vote has gone to "For the Love of Joshua Harris, Please Stop," in reference to this article.

So that's me. What would you name your memoir? How do you handle book club picks that you hate? Which film (nominated or not) would you gift with a Best Picture Award? And what strange places do your pets choose to fall asleep? Let's chat.

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Table by the Window - the gorgeous new cover!

So a funny thing happened...

The original Reservations for Two cover used an image that the designers at WaterBrook love for a long time - it was in the running for book one, and when we went in a different for A Table by the Window, the team looped back to the first image for the second book.

So time passed, I wrote Reservations, heavily editing Reservations, we're chugging away, the book is about to go to print...

...and then it comes down the information pipeline that the photographer (who is French) never signed the release for that image, and then stopped returning calls. Because...*insert French shrug here*.

But I'm at peace with this. Why? Because a week before my baby went to print, the designer went and made this STUNNINGLY GORGEOUS new cover that I love even more than the first. Are ya ready?

Reservations for Two Hillary Manton Lodge A Table by the Window

In the words of Liz Lemon, I want to go to there. I want to step inside and read a book, paint a canvas, camp out forever in that cover (I'm sure there's room service). I want to take Danny and have a twirl on that cover, and then eat a croissant. With jam.

Read more about the book and pre-ordering options (truly, if you love an author, pre-order her books), as well as the Reservations for Two Pinterest board here!

What do you think? Where would you like to go this chilly Valentine's Day weekend? Leave a comment below!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Notes on Jupiter Ascending

The good:

1. It's better than Underworld: Awakenings, which was the measuring stick I armed myself with when we entered the theater.

2. It looks great - the art direction, even when it's crazy, is top-notch, and there's some real imagination here. The best part of the movie is the bureaucratic wrangling necessary for Jupiter (Mila Kunis) to claim her inheritance. It's like Gringotts on steroids.

3. Some of the costuming is really lovely (though some of the accessories look like they came from the formal section at Claire's).

4. Channing Tatum is fully committed to his role as a genetically modified part-wolf mercenary. He's all in, bless him.

Channing Tatum w/ ear prosthetics and guyliner

5. Sean Bean. His character doesn't die, you guys! How great is that?

6. The sweet peas outside of Sean Bean's home - a witty (rather than head-bashing) nod to the central theme.

The not so great:

1. The studio bumped the release date back to winter for re-editing, and while the film usually makes narrative sense, the second half in particular is a celebration of awkward editing.

2. EXPOSITION. It's sci-fi, I know. There's a lot of universe building to accomplish, I get it. But so much of the dialogue is telling us, without any sleight-of-hand, how the universe works and who the characters are. Sean Bean, in particular, is "the guy who explains Caine the Wolf Hybrid," both to Jupiter and to Caine himself.

3. Eddie Redmayne's...everything. Eddie's a great actor, but the "too evil to speak above a rasp" shtick felt like twenty flourishes too much. When he yelled, I laughed. I don't think that's the effect he was going for.

The unintentionally funny:

1. There's a freeze-frame scene in which Eddie Redmayne's character is analyzing how his plot could have been foiled, and the way that tableau is arranged is HILARIOUS. Expect memes.

2. Sean Bean's "follow your heart" speech.

3. Basically anything having to do with the "romance." (There is no chemistry between the leads. Nada. And the "romantic" dialogue is, um, not.)

4. The creature costumes, particularly the bird-people and the elephant-esque ship navigator.

5. Mila Kunis' black dinner dress, which looks concerningly like an homage to Natalie Portman's black dress in Star Wars Episode II.

Because that's what you wear to dinner with your genetic son.

The forehead slapping:

1. Jupiter: for the central and titular character, she's given very little to do and no skills with which to accomplish her tasks. She doesn't ascend so much as drift upward. Channing Tatum has to rescue her a lot, twice to keep her from signing things. She cannot help herself. At one point she rattles off some tax code cleverly, which might have worked better if we'd seen her at least reading said tax code.

I've written about active characters before: one of the key components of an active character is an element of the extraordinary. A superpower. Now, it doesn't have to be a literal superpower, but it does have to be a way for that character to be able to uniquely contribute.

The Wachowskis give us nothing, aside from Jupiter's affinity with bees. The bees might have been enough if they'd been available in space, but alas. She has no special courage, wit, smarts, or skills to contribute. She's soft-hearted and naive, in a way that puts her (and the universe) in danger more often than not.

2. Also, she's not allowed to kill. If you don't want any spoilers, skip past to the next bold text. In recent media, we've seen previously non-violent protagonists such as Sherlock (in the BBC take) and Superman (in Man of Steel) kill their antagonists for the greater good. The antagonists pose a real threat to their loved ones and the world as a whole, and rather than leave it to others (or an unfortunate meeting with gravity) to right the wrong, the protagonists kill the antagonists.

But when Jupiter is faced with the opportunity to kill Balem Abraxas (Eddie Redmayne), he laughs and tells her she's just like his mother and won't be able to do it. So she shoots him in the foot instead, and runs away. However, she runs, and he chases, and it's another five minutes of action sequence. Eddie attacks her again, naturally, and she barely escapes while he falls to his death like a Disney villain. (She's saved by Channing Tatum, shortly after. Again.) Is it because she's female? Kristen Stewart managed to dispatch Charlize Theron's evil queen in Snow White and the Huntsman. Katniss wouldn't have blinked. Heck, Trinity wouldn't have blinked. Don't get me wrong - I'm not against women being saved. But when it comes to the central plot, we need to see the protagonist defeat the antagonist herself, regardless of gender.

3. All that said, the film's gender politics are concerning. The most chilling moment, for me, was the sequence at the fertility clinic. To have a scene with a woman preyed upon while on a hospital bed, under anesthesia, feet in stirrups, anticipating an already ├╝ber-personal procedure such as egg extraction - it felt extremely tone-deaf. I've yet to see a movie in which a hero is attacked while undergoing a prostate exam, much less a sperm extraction.

I understand that the idea behind the egg-harvesting was yet another repeat of the genetics motif, but it didn't need to come at that expense. Being female is complicated enough.

Add the fact that title character, the one who's supposed to be ascending, has no skills and cannot actively contribute, and when she does try to do things, she must be saved from herself - we should be beyond this.

And in the end - I'll let you see that for yourself. Let's just say that I have questions about the aforementioned ascension.

Final Verdict: If you need a night out at the movies, you could do worse. Good on the Wachowksis for attempting something original and interesting, even if it didn't succeed. We had fun, I was glad we saw it.

However, while the film technically passes the Bechtel test, I'm still troubled by the film's treatment of the female lead. When we've got theaters full of Mockingjays and ice queens, astronauts and code-breakers, a queen of the universe should feel more transcendent.

What about you? What did you think about the movie? And if not, what films are you excited about instead?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Project Runway All Stars Recap 4.10: Always the Bridesmaid

Allison: Hey, y’all--so, this week, totally my fault with the late re-cap from last week’s episode. I had a heavy night of TV watching, what with American Idol, Parenthood AND Project Runway. Oh, what a night of tears and sadness. Bittersweet smiles, remembering better times. And then, the sweet, perfect demise of a once-beloved character who had lived in this world just long enough. I mean, after Project Runway, I had to watch Parenthood just to cheer myself up. 

Hillary here: it's not just Allison. I've been wrapping up last-minute book stuff, so forgot to get this one going.

I have to admit, I watched this episode prologue-style. Meaning, I watched the runway, all the while staring--unblinking--at my screen, wondering what sad set of circumstance brought about this tragedie de tristesse. Then I clicked “info” and looked at the program description. Bridesmaid dresses. (cue screeching violins) If kitten heels are the boiled carrots of footwear, then bridesmaid dresses are its less-impacting turnip cousin.

In defense of kitten heels: they’re nice for tall people and not as stressful on the knees. But I haven’t worn a pair in, like, ten years, so I might twist an ankle at this point.

And, yes. I know, I know--every bride out there thinks her bridesmaid dresses were perfect. Beautiful--that they were worn to luncheons and banquets and prom-chaperoning-adventures.

One of mine was worn to prom. Truth.

But really, those five little frocks I saw going down the runway on last week’s episode? I’ve seen most of them. In, like, Dillard’s. Or even JCPenney. How bad were they? I would buy them. Wear them, like to a luncheon or a banquet, or when I have to chaperone the Spring Formal at my Private Christian School in May. (except not the backless ones. I’d get fired)


So the episode opens up in Marchesa. But, to really appreciate where we are, you need to hear Dmitry say it. Marchesssssaaaaa.

Here Georgina is released from her chair and introduces to Marchesa co-founder Keren Craig. (True story: I have so many friends named Karen, I actually spell one’s name keren just to avoid awkward wrong numbers.) Keren looks like--you know how on the old sit-coms like I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched, Jeannie and Samantha put on dark wigs to play their own “dark” cousin? (or sister, whatever) That’s what’s going on with Keren and Georgina. Like, they have to be filmed with a split screen.

To the left: designers. To the right: (according to Michelle) Beautiful Sparkling Women. And Dana. Who is engaged to the “amazing” Peter. And who hasn’t decided on her bridesmaid dresses yet.

So, the challenge is a dress that can be worn on other occasions. (see paragraph above) The prize - Blingy-bling dishes, diamonds, seats at the Marchesa fashion show. Oh, and everybody in the cast is invited to the runway wedding, officiated by Alyssa, who became ordained just for this.

Moving on.

I’ll spare many details from the process, save to say that Dmitry touches Michelle’s boobs, after which she eats yogurt and lies to his back saying the dress is “pretty,” while telling the camera she thinks it’s hideous. Do not turn the workroom into a den of lies, Michelle. Sonjia has drawn a blank and is just going to drape and drape and drape until something works out. Then she cries in her salad.

I picture Dana crying into her salad someday, when she looks through her wedding album.

Fabio has chosen to work with silk organza, because apparently he’s never seen an episode of this show.

Helen’s cool.

Zannah comes in with Edward Chapman, Marchesa CEO and Georgina’s brother. Hubba, am I right, ladies? He strolls through, helping with the mentoring. Their pearls of wisdom:
“Simplicity always helps.” (Because Marchesa is ALL about the simplicity.)
“You need to take it from business to bridesmaid.”
“You have a very minimal taste level.”
“You have the master draper’s brother right here…”

The guest judge is Cat Deely. Who, I’m pretty sure is also Keren Craig.

The whole episode is basically a celebration of English Cheekbones.

The Runway! I’ll give you a quip from each designer as the models strutted the way only bridesmaids can…

“it’s beautiful and it’s flawless, but the back is really boring.” -- Helen

Helen: You used the matte and shiny?
Fabio: Yep.

“Oooh, yes, girrrl.” --Michelle

I know you’re shocked, but Michelle’s was my favorite - even with the fit issues. At least it was interesting. I think it’s the blandness (with bonus uber-formality) that makes so many bridesmaid dresses unwearable.

“I think if you put five bridemaids in this dresses, they’re going to look happy and beautiful.”

“I feel like bridesmaids are always so covered up and boring. Like--show a little skin.” -- Sonjia

How many weddings has she been to? Because there’s nothing like a bridesmaid’s dress to make a girl go looking for bra solutions. And Sonjia's dress is so...confused.

The winning designer is Helen! Which, I don’t really get, because I think her dress looks the least bridesmaids-y of them all. Like, it skipped the wedding and went straight to the corporate dinner.

Dmitry is safe.

Michelle and Fabio are on the bottom, and Fabio goes home. And I’m totally OK with that. He gets on his knees to give Alyssa a kiss, which was sweet, though. Thus ends another...

Oh--wait! It’s not over, there’s the wedding. The awkward, promotional wedding.

Right, the “wedding.” As in “sure, we will pretend to get married on cable television but we’ll do the real thing with family, in a building with architectural detail, and do these lights make me look sweaty? Because I feel sweaty.”

“Some say love is like fashion. It may have its ups and downs, but it never goes out of style.”
Really? Who are the some that say that? I kinda want to punch them in the throat with a Marchesa diamond.

Agreed. Go for it.

What did you think, readers?