Holiday Card, 2015

Happy Holidays, friends and lovers! How I’ve missed you. I hope the ups of your 2015 outpaced the downs, and that you didn’t have too many unbearable hangovers. 

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Merry Christmas from this girl, whose sweater is equal parts comfortable and insane.

Let’s catch up. As my (belated) Festivus gift to you I present: a letter full of hot recs!

PODCASTS

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If I had to distill the most important thing I took from 2015, it was Self Care. My life hashtag has been #notimeforscrubs for quite a while now, but I’ve expanded it to include more than just idiots from my dating life, past and future. #notimeforscrubs means no time for toxic friendships, negative self-talk, or events for pure obligation’s sake. It means more time for yoga, chiropractic appointments, and face masks. I started therapy this year, and I tried ear acupuncture. My 2016 resolution is to floss. I’m really trying to get it together. A huge influence for me in this realm has been the Buzzfeed podcast Another Round. Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu make a point to discuss the practicalities of taking care of yourself, and they ask each of their guests (including Hillary GD Clinton!) how they take care of themselves, too. Just as important, they are hilarious, and I wish they were my real-life friends.

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I don’t usually recommend people go back to the beginning of a podcast, unless they’re a freak completist like me. It’s overwhelming and time-consuming. But the best thing about Hello from the Magic Tavern is the fully formed fantasy world Arnie Niekamp, Matt Young, and Adal Rifai are building, and it’s worth it to get in on the ground floor. The backstory: Niekamp is a human who fell through a portal in Chicago to the magical land of Foon. He’s joined every episode by pals Usidore the Wizard (Young) and Chunt the shapeshifting badger (Rifai), and they have a roundtable chat with a local colorful character. Think Dungeons and Dragons meets Professor Blastoff (RIP). The most impressive feat the show pulls off is the continuity between episodes. Even one-off guests readily reference rules of the universe established in previous weeks. Usually fictional podcasts are not my bag, but this hits all the right notes of the most fun improv you’ll ever see except in audio form. Full disclosure: As of this posting, Adal coaches my improv team, but he will likely never read this, so NO I’M NOT SUCKING UP.

Elise mentioned Mystery Show in her summer postcard, but I’d like to reiterate how incredible that show is. Start with the “Belt Buckle” or “Source Code” episodes. Really, anything on the Gimlet podcast network is worth your time, if you’re looking for something new. Reply All is unmissable, too. Honestly, I will listen to anything Gimlet puts out; they’re doing good work.

TV

FX had a stellar year, upping the ante on a bunch of their shows. The Americans, You’re the Worst (yeah, yeah, technically FXX), and Fargo all blew their previous seasons out of the water.

I’ve also continued upon my inadvisable rewatch of original 90210. Unless you unapologetically like bad TV, like some people I know, you have better ways to spend your time.

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What is anyone wearing, ever

MOVIES

Well, what about a little indie gem called The Force Awakens? Truthfully, I’d like to just list it here ten times, but that feels lazy. I’ll just say it was the most fun I’ve had at the movies in literal years, and if you’re not a Star Wars person, I still think you’d like it. But I’m a little too close to the material to know for sure. I could seriously watch BB-8 give a thumbs-up on repeat for five hundred years.

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Spotlight is also great. It’s part procedural, part thriller, and covers the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, as brought to light by The Boston Globe. Though it dramatizes true events, it doesn’t add any extraneous nonsense to make the story more big-screen friendly. It’s just a bunch of 2000s journalists in hideous outfits doing their jobs really well. Pro tip: I spent the whole movie thinking Cardinal Law was some sort of catechism, but it is, in fact, a person’s name. So much for 13 years of Catholic school.

Sisters isn’t getting much love, which is sadly fair. But if you like Tina and Amy at all, their chemistry certainly justifies a rental. I will be plagiarizing many of my future sick burns from the script, including: “I respect your jumpsuit, but not its contents.”

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BOOKS

In October, I successfully completed my Goodreads challenge to read forty books this year and felt a powerful sense of accomplishment, because my self-worth is determined by To Do lists. Unsurprisingly, I have significantly slowed down since then. Currently I’m reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. It’s sad as fuck, guys. But so beautifully written. Now that I’ve finished my challenge, I am savoring the act of reading, instead of blowing through pages to cross another novel off the list.

MUSIC

My new music consumption is pathetic. As I edit this, I am listening to The Head and the Heart’s 2010 self-titled album, which I have heard approximately eleventy-bajillion times already. Sure, I bought Adele’s new album (and tickets to see her in concert, doi), and I have intensely lip-synced to it around my apartment. I like Leon Bridges’ album a whole lot, but usually when I put on Spotify, I head straight for the “Focus” section because I have work to do. I’ve written many jokes to the energizing instrumentals of the “Productive Morning” playlist. (And not always in the morning, either.)

I guess what I’m asking, dear reader, is what music should I be listening to? What were the albums you couldn’t live without this year? No aggressively dissonant music need apply, but I am otherwise open.

I’m trying to try, though. I even bought a record player this year! And my transformation to completely insufferable is now complete! Unfortunately, I had to replace my turntable within a month, and the new one was also non-functioning, so now I have about 15 records with no way to play them. Take pity on me and my virgin copy of Dolly Parton’s Greatest Hits.

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Thats it! Merry happy, everybody, and see you in 2016!
Alison

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Scared Stiff

I do not like scary movies. I was tricked into seeing The Ring at the tender age of fourteen. “Oh, it’s not very scary,” they said. “You’ll mostly laugh at it,” they said. Cut to me spending three quarters of the movie behind my jacket, and then creeping into my parents’ bedroom at 2 a.m. because I was too scared to even blink. And to this day, that’s how it goes when I watch movies that are even mildly suspenseful. As farfetched as a plot may seem, when I’m back home and the lights go out, I have trouble distinguishing fact from fiction. That family in Paranormal Activity didn’t think anything bad could happen to them, so why should I believe any different? Liam Neeson’s daughter in Taken was just a normal girl. I’M A NORMAL GIRL. Thus, I’m next in line to be human trafficked.

I’ve learned to stay away from horror. Occasionally, however, a mainstream movie blindsides me with elements of the terrifying. I found myself in such a position while watching Mad Max: Fury Road. I’d walked in mostly blind; my only previous knowledge was its 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And yes, the film is incredibly well done. The world is fully formed, despite minimal exposition. If you condensed the script down to dialogue, it couldn’t have filled more than thirty pages. Even as a newcomer to the Mad Max universe, I knew what was going on. The visuals were amazing, too. I was dazzled by the desolate beauty of the setting. The director George Miller used minimal CGI to create impressively complicated car chases—so, props, man! The film is masterful. But I did not enjoy my viewing experience; it was two hours of pure stress.

FullSizeRender Here are the basics—in a post-apocalyptic, waterless wasteland, Max (luscious-lipped Tom Hardy) and Furiosa (badass-beyond-belief Charlize Theron) find themselves hauling some precious cargo, while hunted by the tyrant Immortan Joe and a huge war party. Everyone has a bangin’ vehicle.

We open on the Citadel—essentially, this world’s version of the The Capitol in Hunger Games. Except no one is beautiful. Even the most powerful are grotesque, plagued with birth defects and sores and cartoonish gout. I was queasy from the start.

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Most of the film is adrenaline-fueled chase sequences, (scored by a heavy metal band who rides with the war party: most prominent is an electric-guitar-shredding humanoid, whose comical enthusiasm never failed to take me totally out of the movie). Miller jumps rapid-fire between shots, and he edited frames out of the final cut, so the business on screen is jittery and spastic. Your eyes zip around the frame, trying to track the action. I couldn’t keep up with what I was watching, and felt the stirrings of a panic attack.

Teetering on the edge after all this negative visual and auditory priming, the villains’ pure evil sent me right over. There is no nuanced exploration of humanity or shades of grey. These are Bad Guys, motivated solely by power. Their underlings, called War Boys, fight to achieve the beautiful afterlife they have been promised in exchange for dying in service to Immortan Joe—an obvious comparison to today’s violent religious fanatics. They pursue their quarries in a crazed frenzy, huffing silver paint before going in for a kill. It’s like watching a mob of fast zombies. They show no remorse or hesitation—the kind of antagonist with whom there is no reasoning. Several times while watching, I realized my arms were wrapped around myself, digging into my back.

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Still, I think the movie was incredible. The world is detailed and complete. Theron is perfection, and just as powerful as Hardy. There are some bitchin’ grannies. The body count is realistic-ish (SPOILER ALERT, some good guys are dispatched without sentimentality). It takes you on a real ride (ugh, no pun intended…get it?…RIDE??…Elise didn’t get it).

It’s been a long time since a film stayed with me, viscerally. Mad Max‘s parallels to modern religious extremism and violence against women were all too relevant. As with The Ring, it was hard for me to separate fact from fiction. But this time, it was the terror of our real world that gave me a pit in my stomach, not a malicious supernatural spirit. Long after I left the theater I was affected, but this time, it was about something real.

Alison

Who You Gonna Call?

feigThat’s my new favorite meme that I just created. Spread it around. Rejoice! Since the news of the Ghostbusters reboot casting made the rounds on the Internet, I’ve been as giddy as a little pup at the beach. Twitter occasionally sends me push notifications, and because I am not an avid user, it usually happens when several celebrities I follow like the same tweet. My phone alerted me to this captionless picture.

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I immediately recognized this announcement, and my reaction would be described most aptly as “violently positive.” MELISSA MCCARTHY, KRISTEN WIIG, KATE MCKINNON, LESLIE JONES I SERIOUSLY CANNOT BELIEVE THIS CAST WHERE CAN I WATCH THIS MOVIE RIGHT NAOWWW.

Please forgive my excessive all-caps, but it’s my truth.

Quite honestly, I don’t really remember the first Ghostbusters movies very well. Sry. This is not going to be a breakdown of the reasons why this casting is spot-on as compared to the original. I’m mostly pumped about the badass level of talent that’s about to come together, and need to shout it from the rooftops. Even if they were making Grown Ups 3, I’d still be dying to see these uteruses unite.

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Reboot director Paul Feig struck a sound balance with his four leads. McCarthy and Wiig have great box office appeal, and oh yeah, are fucking hilarious. They collaborated with Feig on The Heat and Bridesmaids, respectively. He also brought on The Heat’s writer, Katie Dippold, to punch up the script that had been floating around in development before the reboot with the original cast fell apart. The Heat had its flaws, but delivered a strong female-based action movie with distinct, well-rounded characterizations. We’re in good hands.

McKinnon and Jones are well known to current SNL devotees, but this is a big screen lead debut for both. McKinnon has been one of my favorites on SNL since she started in 2012, bringing commitment equal parts fierce and offbeat to all of her characters.

Jones transitioned from the writers’ room to a featured player this year, and despite her less-than-polished sketch work, she has a magnetic “cut loudly through the bullshit” quotient that will serve the film well. She’ll bring the oddballs back to earth.

I wouldn’t change this cast if you paid me (jk, I love money), but here are a couple other funny females whose names I hope were at least tossed around: Rebel Wilson, Ilana Glaser, Chelsea Peretti, Jenny Slate. They’re all loveable weirdoes that could have brought something great to the table. And please Lord, give Tig Notaro a cameo. Amen.

The movie will reportedly start filming this summer, but can we get it together sooner? I’m already camping outside the theater, and it’s freezing.

—Alison

Another Essay About Feminism

I wish I could read every book at once.  

–Text from Alison, December 5, 2014

Books are often far more than just books.

–Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist

I have been a reader for my entire life. I don’t remember when I fell in love with books. I know that my uncle once accused me of “skimming,” because I read so much, so fast (and for that I’ve still not forgiven him). I know that, at one point, I exhausted my Elementary School library’s supply of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, and tried Agatha Christie, per my mother’s suggestion. I guess she assumed all mystery novels are equal, in the eyes of a ten-year old? She was wrong. I was petrified, and didn’t sleep for weeks.

We moved a lot, abroad. My sister and my stories became my best, most reliable buddies. Once, I was hospitalized with a terrible infection, missed four weeks of school and worked my way through much of the Jane Austen canon (hating most every moment). When I returned to school, weak, dizzy and still “the new girl,” one chick eyed me nervously and said, you’re pretty, now that you’ve lost so much weight! I remember thinking, I’ve made a friend!

In her collection of essays, Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay writes, “Salvation is certainly among the reasons I read…Stories have given me a place in which to lose myself. They have allowed me to remember. They have allowed me to forget. They have allowed me to imagine different endings and better possible worlds.” To her, I would say: kindred spirit, I recognize you. Let’s talk about what you’re reading, right at this very moment.

Bad Feminist isn’t a novel, or a collection of fictionalized stories, so instead the reader “loses herself” inside Gay’s crazy-cool brain. Her essays are deeply personal, and explore topics ranging from Jerry Sandusky to The Hunger Games. Gay is an academic, and a critic—but she allows personal experience to inform every opinion. That’s why I like this book—her ideas are informed but also thoughtful, because she allows her humanity, with all of its biases and flaws and tics, to color each word.

It’s hard to speak about the essay collection as a whole, because so much is covered within each piece—but the unifying idea here is that human beings are flawed, and so are our ideologies. Feminism is an ideology, and also a way of being—therefore, it is as complex and problematic as the people who live by it. Feminism is easily misunderstood, and easily discounted. It is, above all, a human concept, and deals in an immensely human concern: equality.

(Feminism isn’t necessarily about women’s rights—it’s about the right of all people to be equal, feel equal, to love, respect and honor each other humanity-wide.)

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I no longer subscribe to the idea that there are books that everyone should read, in order to become a better person. A couple of years ago, I fell in love with Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman, and decided this was a book everyone needed in their lives. The book is hilarious, smart and makes really important observations about the insane, gendered world we live in.

Turns out, Gay read that book too—and devoted an entire essay to the ways in which How To Be A Woman actually fails, while acknowledging its strengths as a feminist tome. Gay applies the same standard to The Hunger Games, GIRLS and Amy Winehouse. And all of these things—some of which are my favorite things in the world—are now better, to me, for all of their shortcomings. I’m reminded not to worship at the altar of a text, simply because I enjoyed it. This is why I love to read: something like Bad Feminist comes along, and I discover that I’m still learning—about myself, and the things that move me. I’m still learning how to learn.

I’m sad for people who don’t read, or think they don’t have the time. I don’t mean that to sound condescending, even though it does. I imagine those folks are smarter and more informed than I am in lots of ways. I just can’t imagine a life without all the stories I’ve read, the characters I love—and this incredible means comfort, this vast store of knowledge, this way that I can make myself better.

So I keep reading.

–Elise

Coming To A Theater Near You

As part of what has become a family holiday tradition, I went to see the latest installment of The Hunger Games in theaters with my uncle and cousins.

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The movie was great! I love the books, and largely approve of their casting choices. I’m a sucker for quality on-screen adaptations of post-apocalyptic young adult fiction–which does not make  me special, but in fact fully mainstream. Don’t care, though. I was there first.

For better or for worse, Mockingjay was exactly what I wanted it to be, and nothing more. I’ll probably see it again, two to six times.

So, for what may be the first time ever, I don’t have a lot to say about a movie. Go see it! It’s fun! Archery is awesome, Team Peeta FOREVER, RIP Phillip Seymour Hoffman (sigh).

Instead, I want to talk about the previews.

First: a live-action Cinderella, from Disney.

Top takeaways: CGI does not make everything better. Why wish for a dress that is digitally doctored to look more alive than the actor inside it? Nobody needs that much glitter.

Annie

Top takeaways: Haven’t seen the original for years –and it turns out, the whimsical story I loved as a child is actually an abomination of child labor laws, making light of horrendous poverty and corruption within our adoption system. Thanks.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Top takeaways: Wait, this is still happening?

Night at the Museum 3: Secret of the Tomb

Top takeaways: RIP Robin Williams (sigh).

To all of these, I ask: why?

Sorry, I know why. These movies make money. Even Cate Blanchett misses her Elizabethan costumes every once in a while, and so decides to slum it as a tepidly-drawn but well-dressed Evil Stepmother. It’s a lucrative gig, I imagine.

But still–who is the audience they’re targeting here? We were all there to see The Hunger Games–a story that arguably launched a new kind of story in cinema, designed for kids AND grown-ups (can’t much say the same for Night at the Museum), with active, interesting female leads (sorry, Cinderella), and addresses some pretty hard stuff, head-on (come on, Annie).

So, I guess the question is not so much why, but–for who? We’re all used to sequels, re-makes and re-dos–but these are not answering any kind of demand that I can identify. It’s pure fluff, that doesn’t even look like much fun to watch. It’s just–taking up space.

We all like to watch gooey, kind-of-pointless things, especially during the holiday season. But, given what’s coming to theaters this year, may I make a suggestion? Troll your Netflix, channel guide and local Redbox for the good-bad-old stuff: A Little Princess, You’ve Got Mail, A Christmas Story. Maybe even the original Cinderella or Annie, or the first two installments of The Hunger Games! Just ’cause Cate is dipping down, doesn’t mean you have to.

–Elise

Don’t Let Your Dog Make Dinner

Elise: Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Food, family, drinks—and the beginning of an epic holiday season, filled with bizarre traditions and very important rituals, including hikes, an absurd amount of raw cookie dough, and many aggressive games of SORRY!

I know I’m not alone.

Alison: It’s true. To me, Thanksgiving is a national holiday of coziness. Everyone’s wearing nice sweaters and has had a little too much wine. I’ve stayed in the midwest for Thanksgiving for the last seven years, so the day has become a celebration of friends as family. And then I call both sides of my real family, and they pass the phone around and ask me how cold it is.

A very happy Thanksgiving to you all, as you move through your own holiday rituals with friends and family. Here, a few choice moments from one of our most treasured Thanksgiving activities, and a canonical piece of pop culture, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving: 

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Overeat, and be merry!

—Alison + Elise

Better Together

Are you following Serial?

Of course you are.

Heard Wrecking Ball, ever?

Of course you have.

For everyone alive and with ears, a very necessary Miley/Serial mashup, brought to our attention by friend of the blog and hilarious individual, Britta Rowings. We love it!

–Alison + Elise