09 December 2008

The Paradox of Employment

In light of my persistent unemployment and my friend T's polarly opposite dilemma, I am here posting. Again. By special request of T, who recently posted on my Facebook profile that she's bored and begs me to update. Thank you, T, for checking my blog. That makes ... two people this week. And yet, the site traffic monitor says nobody reads me. Take that, traffic monitor!

It's amazing to me that T has time to be, as she says, bored. No offense to T, because she's wonderful and brilliant and beautiful, but I just don't get how it's possible. I'm currently unemployed, and yet the things that seem to fill up my day stagger me. There's laundry. There are dishes. There's food to make. There's the never-ending trail of dog hair that needs vacuuming. Not to mention there's gift-wrapping, packing for the weekend trip to celebrate a friend's birthday out of town, and the soon-to-follow Christmas pilgrimage back to the house of my youth and all the glory therein. There are trips to the bank, and of course I still have to find a gift for my grandmother.

Grandmothers, actually. But that's beside the point.

The point is, there's just so much to do! The above list doesn't even include job hunting, but then again, with the economy the way it is, that usually takes less than five minutes out of the day. But there's still the trip to the bank, another to find eggs so I can make something that resembles food today. Because sustenance is good.

All these things fill up my day, and I barely have time to change my socks, let alone do all these things. And yet, T, who must face the same list of laundry, dishes, food (doubly so since she's working on a baking business), Christmas presents, and probably three times as many bills as I have at the present time.

The point is, so many people I know complain of boredom when their lives should be filled with, if nothing else, their jobs and all the things that people keep their jobs for. And yet here I sit, writing this blog article, and I can hardly keep my mind off of all the things that I'm putting off in order to write the above paragraphs.

Amazing how that happens, isn't it?

16 November 2008

It's Saturday Night!

Just taking a moment to say how happy I am that 'Saturday Night Live' is funny again. Granted, it has been for a few years now, but don't you remember those awful days of the '90s when America's oldest comedy skit show wasn't comedic? Hard times indeed.

Favorite clip of the night:

"This song reminds me of the time I got engaged. My girl came in and said, 'I'm pregnant.' I said, 'Great!' and then as soon as her back was turned, I ran out the back door. Then, a couple of weeks later, I decided to do the right thing by her, so I went back."

Friend: "What changed your mind?"

"Her mom got nominated to be Vice President of the United States."

Video will be added as soon as it's up on the NBC website.

What was less impressive, though, was Beyoncé as the musical guest. Not quite sure what happened there, but her performance fell about as flat as her shoes, well, weren't. The minor notes of 'If I Were A Boy' are a strain for her, out of place for her voice. This song was meant to be touching and ended up laughable when lost amid Beyoncé's poor screeching, her leg-stomping, and the wind machine blowing her hair out of control.

No, really. She had to fix it about four times.

And the dress seemed a total fashion disaster. Maybe it was just me, but as soon as I saw it I predicted another Nipplegate; by the time she was done singing, I began to believe I wasn’t alone in thinking so.

But at least Justin Timberlake showed up and saved the day. And if that isn't a sign of the apocalypse, I don't know what is.

23 October 2008

Grandmas Love Their Granddaughters

A few weeks ago, my friend's great-grandmother passed away. She lived with her, and with her grandmother (great grandma's daughter) and though it wasn't entirely surprising, it's still been a sensitive time for the family. As it is for any family that experiences a loss.

My friend E has been doing a lot with her own life lately as well, trying to balance her pending move to California to be with her husband, who is stationed there, and managing to send all of her things from Texas to the beautiful Sunshine State. And her family seems to be taking her move, and the passing of the family matriarch, in stride. Of course, it helps that the city clean-up is this weekend, and they want to get all of the great-grandmother's things out of the house in hopes of selling.

So E has inherited a nice little pile of things that formerly belonged to her great-grandmother. She told me, "So I have scarves, old books that I wanted, a purse she had when she was younger, et cetera.

"And a bottle of 500mg Naproxen pills that expired in November of last year."

We shared a nice little laugh when she said that somebody ought to tell Jeff Foxworthy about this, and then began discussing possible ways of getting rid of them. I suggested returning them to the doctor or pharmacy. E wanted to flush them, since they have a septic system.

Or, she said, she could sell them.

I don't think E understands that she's just become a deeper part of her own joke than she realizes.

22 October 2008


It was one week ago today that I realized the extent of my stupidity. And let me tell you, it's staggering.

The place: Slider's Bar & Grill, across the street from Camden Yards in Baltimore.
The time: Middle of the last presidential debates, approx. 9:45 p.m., Oct. 15.
The company: My good friend M and several of her law school friends.

I worked very hard with people of various ages and political persuasions in order to come up with this election year's Drinking Game for the debates. The rules were as follows:

Every time McCain touts to veterans or troops, you drink.
Every time Obama says “When I am President,” you drink.
Every time McCain refers to the Cold War, you drink.
Every time Obama says “change,” you drink.
Every time McCain sounds like a puppet of Bush (a la “We Both Reached For The Gun” from Chicago), you drink.
Every time Obama says “tax cut(s),” you drink.
Every time McCain says “maverick,” you drink.
Every time Obama says “John is right” or concedes a point to McCain, you drink.
Every time McCain talks about Gen. Petraeus, you drink.
Every time Obama starts a sentence with “Listen, …” you drink.

And in return for my gracious generosity in making an even number of rules for both McCain and Obama, here are the rules for the VP debates:
Every time Palin opens her mouth, you drink.

Naturally, like any good drinking game, the rules are subject to change as circumstances change. Obama's "tax cut(s)" and "Listen" rules went out the door in favor of things like mentioning his humbled background, or any mention of the now-infamous Joe the Plumber. And the rule about McCain mentioning the Cold War was nixed in order to make room for him talking about how great Sarah Palin is less than a week after a legislative committee determined that she abused her power in her well-publicized efforts to get her ex-brother-in-law fired.

Must be nice to get an ego boost like that. Globally broadcasted to boot.

About ten of us were watching the debates and enjoying our drinking game quite well when McCain started to talk about how wonderful Sarah Palin is and how proud he is of her. And then he said something that everyone else drank to, but that I couldn't make a joke out of.

McCain said, "She [Palin] also understands special-needs families. She understands that autism is on the rise, that we've got to find out what's causing it, and we've got to reach out to these families, and help them, and give them the help they need as they raise these very special needs children."

Some of my companions thought it was okay to drink at any mention of the remote possibility of Palin having a characteristic that might vaguely resemble a virtue. But as someone who grew up with, as McCain called her, a "special needs" friend, I cannot laugh at this. But something made me stop and think about my friend's family and Palin's. Is Sarah Palin like my friend's mother? Are the two of them comparable?

The only answer I could come up with was an unequivocal. They're not similar at all. They are both mothers of "special needs" children, but that is the end of their similarity. My friend's mother is the embodiment of unconditional maternal love. I'm not related to her by blood, and even I have felt that love from her over the years. Every member of my family has. It's impossible not to notice the enormous heart that she has, and the incredible combination that comes of having a sharp mind to go with it. And she loves her children, all of them. Unconditionally. Her daughter's "special needs" status has nothing to do with whether or not she loves her. She loves her kids because they're her kids. And never once have I seen her hold up her child as if to say to the world, "Look at what a great mother I am for loving this child, even though she's a special needs kid."

And that's when I realized what it was that bothered me so much about Sarah Palin. I always knew that her politics were about 100 years old and that her only concern for the environment was how much money she and other Alaskans could get for the systematic destruction of the earth for the sake of oil drilling. And that she was blissful in her ignorance of the world, suffering from the delusion that America exists in a vacuum. And that she paraded her oldest daughter's boyfriend around like a trophy - because every parent just hopes and prays that their teen will get pregnant or make another teen pregnant.

But I finally understood that what bothered me about Palin - what truly bothered me about her - was that she paraded her oldest daughter Bristol (the afore-referred to 17-year-old, now about to enter her seventh month of pregnancy) and youngest son (Trig, who has Down's Syndrome) around as if to reassure herself and show off to the nation what a good mother she was for loving her children in spite of their mistakes and handicaps. She makes a self-congratulatory show out of it, and you can almost see the sneer she sends to every other woman out there. "Don't you wish you were as good and humble as me?" she seems to say. And it's this condescension and blatant manipulation of her family, her back-handed "love" before the cameras, that bothers me so deeply. And I cannot believe it took me so long to figure it out.

The daughter of a U.S. state governor has plenty of options open to her. Such a ticket would be equivalent to carte blanche access to any college in the country, and possibly in the world. Bristol's future will have another path now, one that won't include a lot of the traditional experiences that many of her peers will have. What it will include is being turned into a pawn to further her mother's right-wing image and agenda. Palin will become the poster mother for the conservative side of any debate about abortion. And she'll hold her kids right up there with her, whether they want to be there or not. And that's why I doubt she'll ever be on any list of World's Greatest Moms. At least not one that I ever write up.

07 October 2008

McCain - A Born Politician

Don't you just love how McCain never, ever actually answers a question during these debates?

29 September 2008

Things Mothers Should Never Say

Me: God, I hate D.C. sometimes.

Mom: Why's that?

Me: Too small. And apparently there's something about me that attracts homeless and drunken men.

Mom: What?!

Me: Homeless men keep hitting on me on the subway! Today this guy came up to me and said, 'Hi, I was just wondering, would you like to have dinner with me sometime? About me: My name is Dan, I'm 43, and I've been clean for three months and thirteen days.'

Mom: Well, Laura, everybody has needs.

22 September 2008

The Perks of Being an Unemployed Loser

You might think that being unemployed is a lazy, lazy life.

You'd be wrong.

Today, for example: I have to move my car to avoid getting ticketed. I need to clean the house before my housemate gets home. Then I have a phone interview - my third interview for the same position in almost a month. And still no guarantee that it'll get any further than this. And then there's the unpacking and washing that must be done from my job-hunting trip, which I just returned from last night. Plus a run to the grocery store, do something to entertain the dog so he doesn't shit on the carpet again, and the compulsory daily check of Monster, Reed, CareerBuilder, and Craigslist to see if there are any new job listings that I can apply to.

And of course, if I manage to get a shower in, that's always good, too.

Meanwhile, the interest on my student loans accrues interest every month. And as we approach the first of October, marking my last month of my 24th year and the fourth month of my unemployment (in 2008, anyway), I have to admit that hope is fading fast.

15 September 2008

Random Thought of the Day

It's a little frightening to me that the safest method of travel - by airplane - is by far the most expensive.

It's almost as if the FAA, the government, and the airlines wanted us all to die. That's their gratitude for our keeping them in business for nearly 100 years. Not to mention, so many airlines (and airport staff) make traveling such a chore, such a burden, such a pain in the arse, that spending several days in a car, truck, trailor, cruise ship, or canoe to reach your destination is infinitely preferable.

Your tax money hard at work, ladies and gentlemen.

06 September 2008

A college mate of mine has gone missing from her apartment in New York City. Have you seen Hannah Upp? Reward for any information on the whereabouts of this 23-year-old Spanish teacher.

26 July 2008

Death To Remakes!

One year ago tomorrow, a film came out into wide release in the United States that, even then, I cringed at. The film was No Reservations, starring Aaron Eckhart (late of The Dark Knight where he plays the idealistic Harvey Dent who succumbs to his evil alter-ego, Two-Face) and Catherine Zeta-Jones, who hasn't needed much of an introduction since she burst onto the pop culture scene in 1998's The Mask of Zorro.

The reason I cringed then was because I knew, as few of my contemporaries did, that this film was based on a German film from 2002 called Bella Martha, better known to English-speaking audiences as Mostly Martha. During the summer of 2004 I went on a foreign film frenzy; I devoured almost three per week, and that few only because Netflix doesn't offer same-day delivery. A friend of mine got me started on this frenzy by lending me Babette's Feast and Mostly Martha. These films remain two of the finest films I've seen in the last ten years, and Mostly Martha in particular for its themes of grief, loss, and hope, all expressed and portrayed with such poetry and grace that I have rarely seen anything to rival it.

You might think, then, that the release of No Reservations would have excited me beyond belief. Many of my friends, when I told them about how wonderful Mostly Martha was, took it for granted that I would want to see this American remake. But experience has taught me that Hollywood remakes are more than often guaranteed to disappoint. And so it was with No Reservations. I finally buckled down and watched it today in honor of the (nearly) first anniversary of its release. Zeta-Jones and Eckhart demonstrate a great friendship on screen, but their sentiment fails to strike any deeper than that. At their first (and even second and third) kiss, I almost expect one of them to say, "So much for that," and get back to the business of the movie. They are too casual to be awkward, too warm to be aloof.

The film also stars Abigail Breslin, who tied with Tatum O'Neill for the youngest actress ever nominated for an Oscar in a competitive category (O'Neill won at age 10, while Breslin lost to Tilda Swinton in the Supporting Actress category; Shirley Temple won an honorary Oscar at age 6). While Breslin delivers (seemingly) real tears as a young girl orphaned when her mother dies in a car accident, she doesn't breathe any life into her lines, which weren't that stellar to begin with.

The film cannot decide whether to be about food, or family, or death, or female bonding (it tries for the latter with the compulsory pillow fight, complete with feathers flying all over the place). This adaptation of Sandra Nettelbeck's poignant Mostly Martha turned enchanting and genuine characters into caricatures of themselves, and the cast doesn't help sway the transformation at all.

Only in a few moments does this film tap into the original allure of Mostly Martha; but by the time those moments come along, you're so dejected and disappointed that you give no more thought to them than to a dead raccoon on the side of the highway.

People of the world, I implore you: don't tolerate lousy remakes and sloppy seconds. Hark ye the old adage: the original is the best. It's true about James Bond, Law & Order, and it's true about Mostly Martha. Do yourself a favor and give the original a shot.

25 July 2008

One Thing Mick Jagger Should Never have Started Up

It's said that there are two kinds of people in the world; the kind who, if their house was burning, would save their Beatles collection, and the kind who, if their house was burning, would save their Rolling Stones collection.

I've always been one of the former. I just never understood what people saw in the Stones. Sure, I've got a few Stones songs in my music collection - eleven or twelve, in fact - and you have to admit that, overplayed though they are, some of their songs are so emblematic that they embody not just a mood but an entire generation.

That, I get. What I don't get, what I've never gotten, is the thought that Mick Jagger is sexy or a god of rock n' roll. I remember watching some TV show about him when I was 12 or so that had all these famous women he'd slept with, swearing up and down that they'd never met any man who was sexier. They juxtaposed these confessional interviews with concert footage of Jagger doing what I guess is supposed to be a dance, but looks more like marching in place, bringing his knees up to waist level and moving his bent arms back and forth as he sang "Start Me Up." Right then and there, I knew that these women either had no taste, or that Jagger's sex appeal must be something that doesn't really come across on film.

In spite of this conclusion reached at a young age, I like to keep an open mind. So when I found the movie Ned Kelly on Netflix, starring Mick Jagger as the title character, I decided to give it a shot.

And my oh my, what a waste of two hours. I wonder how well this film performed at the box office in 1970, or if Mick Jagger's star power was even enough to carry it that far. Because from beginning to end, the acting was just plain bad, and not just by Jagger, who couldn't seem to decide if he should have an Irish accent (as Kelly was purported to have), an Australian one or a British one. So he opted for all three at different moments. The motley supporting cast, I'm sure, didn't help him in that regard, never mind that hardly any of them could act, either. Combined with the abysmal script, and the whole thing becomes a recipe for disaster, and not even Tony Richardson, the two-time Oscar winning director, can save the project.

It's sad but true. There is absolutely nothing redeeming about this film. The opening scene of Kelly's execution by hanging is utterly flat and emotionless, and from there the film segues into corny and overblown, devoid of charm, grace, or even that most elemental of filmic qualities, timing.

Though it does have some very pretty scenes of the Australian outback.

Then again, so does National Geographic. Minus all the bad acting.

18 July 2008

R.E.M. in the context of Private Equity

What follows is an article I submitted privately today that will never see publication anywhere else. My lawyers tell me I still have the rights to it, so I'm posting here just for fun. Because as soon as anyone thinks of fun, you just know the words "private equity" aren't far behind.


If private equity had to choose a theme song, R.E.M.’s ‘It’s the End of the World as We Know It’ would be a top contender.

Henry Kravis, founding partner of the firm Kohlberg, Kravis and Roberts (KKR) might have had that song running through his head yesterday. Protesters from MoveOn.org, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and political and economic activists gathered outside of KKR offices in New York, Menlo Park, Calif., Hong Kong and London to voice their objections to the tax breaks and loopholes that private equity firms use to make billions of dollars on buyouts.

Other protests, organized in 24 countries on six continents, according to the Global Day of Action website, included a rally outside the campaign headquarters of Senator John McCain, the conservative United States presidential candidate, in Washington, D.C.

Activists organized these demonstrations to raise awareness about pending legislation in the U.S. Senate that would close some of those tax loopholes and, according to the petition on the Global Day of Action website, will “generate almost $31 billion in much-needed revenue over the next ten years.”

If the legislation passes, KKR may face the troubles already experienced by many of its competitors. Private equity firms saw unmitigated growth in the early and mid years of this decade, with nine of the ten largest private equity buyouts announced within an 18-month period between 2006 and 2007 according to Robert J. Samuelson of the Washington Post. But since the latter part of 2007, the sector has slowed to a crawl. The depression of the credit and housing markets have made it increasingly difficult for small firms to borrow funds from banks, which are decidedly more cautious in money lending, and many have had to close their doors.

Even larger firms, such as the D.C.-based Carlyle Group, have invested their own money in their companies to keep afloat. For Carlyle, this embarrassing incident, reported by the Washington Post in September 2007, was further compounded in March of this year when shares of Carlyle Capital fell nearly 90 per cent.

Carlyle would have liked to mimic the success of a third major U.S. private equity firm, The Blackstone Group. Blackstone went public in June 2007 and has enjoyed great success, if its 80-page 2007 Annual Report can be believed. But the company’s performance on the stock market tells a different story; the shares are presently estimated at $17.02, according to BusinessWeek.com, only thirteen months after it ended its first day of trading at $35.06.

Elsewhere in the world, the future does not look so bleak. The Glasgow Herald reported earlier this month that while the number of private equity deals in Scotland fell for the second time since 2006, firms “carried on spending freely,” with monetary investments increasing more than £200 million in the same time frame. The Birmingham Post stated last month that the government of the United Kingdom would begin to encourage private equity firms to do business abroad, citing China as a particularly favourite location due to “political and economic tensions between Beijing and the White House.” Should they succeed, much of Southeast Asia could follow suit in favouring British firms, causing more small U.S. private equity companies to close up shop.

On Blackstone’s first day of public trading, June 22, 2006, the NYSE had an unusual visitor. Author Tom Wolfe said to CNBC from the stock floor just before trading opened on that day, “We may be witnessing the end of capitalism as we know it.”

R.E.M. could definitely write a rock song about that.

15 July 2008

Kick Ass Woman of the Day

Always remembering how important it is to learn more about women throughout history who have totally kicked ass, I present: Cleopatra VII of Egypt.

Yes, that Cleopatra.

Hollywood has (and will likely continue to) tried to show us through extremely exorbitant and ornate sets and costumes exactly how rich, glamorous, sexy, et cetera, Cleopatra was, but she was also someone who really couldn't bear to be outdone in anything. While entertaining Marc Antony and his officers on her royal barge outside of Tarsus (now in modern-day Turkey) Cleopatra made a bet with Antony that she could consume a fortune in a single meal. The next night she put on another lavish dinner, and at the end of it Antony declared himself the winner, saying that this meal, while very nice, wasn't any more expensive or impressive than the one they'd had yesterday.

To this, Cleopatra had a glass of vinegar brought to her. She took off one of her pearl earrings, estimated at "the value of fifteen countries" (this is just one earring of the pair, mind) and dropped it into the glass. When the vinegar had dissolved the pearl, she drank the vinegar.

Now that's determination. Because, seriously, have you ever tried to drink vinegar? Yech! Robitussin is like finely-aged merlot by comparison. No matter how many pearls you put in it.

So, here's to Cleopatra. The Kick Ass Woman of the Day.

17 June 2008

United, Please Fall

Once upon a time, in a strange city called Washington, a young woman wandered out on a sunny morning to catch a bus to an airport called Dulles.

Being a smart, careful woman with lots of common sense, she took her single suitcase, carry-on sized of course, and her laptop bag, and left more than three hours before her United flight was scheduled to take off. After all, she didn't want to be late.

So she waited for the bus, which was scheduled to come pick her up at 10:10

But the 10:10 bus never came.

The 10:30 bus never came.

The 10:55 bus came -- at 11:05.

The young woman began to worry when the bus didn't arrive at the airport until nearly noon.

It turned out that her fears were well-founded. The evil airline would not let her board her flight, even though she arrived half an hour in advance.

So she picked up the phone and talked to customer service, who told her there was nothing they could do and that she should call the booking agent.

So she called the booking agent, who told her there was nothing they could do and that she should talk to the airline's customer service desk.

Finally the young woman found an airline employee with an IQ higher than their shoe size, and got a seat on the 4:50 flight.

It meant nearly 5 hours in the airport, but our young heroine didn't mind. As long as she got home today.

Thunderstorms shook the region, and the flight was delayed until 5:30, then 6, then 6:30, then 6:45, and then canceled all together. The skies cleared and the sun came out by 6 p.m., but still the evil airline would not reinstate the flight.

The young woman ran to customer service again, but they told her that the next flight didn't leave until 10:10 that evening. Since she was supposed to be on the 12:33 flight earlier that afternoon, customer service told her that she would be at the bottom of the stand-by list since they had to give first priority to those who had originally purchased tickets for the 4:50 flight. The young woman knew this was bull, and probably invented so that the customer service agent didn't have to say the real reason. But she held her tongue and waited for the 10:10 flight.

The flight was delayed until 11:15, then 11:45, then 12:30 a.m., then 12:45. At 1 a.m., after being at the airport for 13 hours, the airline began boarding the flight and announcing the stand-by passengers who had a seat. But at the end of the fiasco, the young woman was the only person who didn't get a seat on the flight back home.

Having learned by now that "customer service" was a contradiction in terms to the employees at United, the woman steeled herself for yet another pleasant encounter.

They were unable, they said, to put her on stand-by for either the 7:15 or the 10:30 a.m. flights the next morning, but they were able to put her on stand-by for the 12:33 p.m. flight; a full 24 hours after her originally scheduled flight.

Meanwhile, they said, because the cancellation had been due to weather (even though the skies had cleared before 6 p.m.), they could not give her a hotel voucher or cab vouchers. It was not their policy to give vouchers for weather cancellations, since, they argued, the weather wasn’t their fault. They only gave vouchers for flights that had been overbooked or canceled for some other reason, not for weather.

The young woman tried to argue; after all, she was the only passenger for Syracuse who still didn’t have a flight. It was nearly two in the morning; she didn’t know anyone who could come pick her up or offer her a place to stay. She was alone, a bit afraid, in an airport by herself and who knew what might happen to her?

But her cries fell on deaf ears, and she was forced to spend the night in the airport. So she took a shuttle back to the C concourse (the evil airline had, in the course of the day, sent her to 5 different gates at 3 different concourses) and was shocked to discover that ... they'd sent her straight back to her original gate!

And so here now our heroine sits, in the vain hope that perhaps, maybe, if she's lucky, she'll get on a flight today.

But she doubts it.

The end.

16 June 2008

Vogue Designers, Vogue Photographers.

The June Vogue beautiful photographs of Sarah Jessica Parker and her silver screen beau Chris Noth, photographed by Annie Liebovitz in some of the most beautiful dresses I've seen in a long time. All photos from Vogue.

Look at that gold and black Lanvin silk dress. The way it folds and bends makes what could be a quite dull pattern of extremely wide stripes into something mysterious and elegant. And of course, the Louboutin pumps don't hurt, either.

The Louis Vuitton luggage could easily steal attention away from Parker's beautiful Chanel suit that looks as chic and posh as if it were Audrey Hepburn wearing it. But for some reason my eye keeps wandering to the sparkling silver of the Chrysler building in the background.

The blue-ish, sea green of that Nina Ricci dress is incandescent. I feel like I could drown in it!

Raquel Laneri mentioned on her blog the "bondage criss-crossing" on this dress, and while that certainly draws your eye, what I love about it is rather the reversal of gender roles in the postures here. If you look at photographs of women, from catalogs to fashion magazines, you'll notice that women typically don't face the camera directly. Either they look at the camera (or subject) while their faces and bodies are pointed at a different angle, or their bodies or face are aimed at the camera while their eyes look elsewhere. Men, on the other hand, are photographed straight on, looking at the camera (or subject) at eye-level, no embarrassment or shame in the gaze. It's FemGen 101: Men look, women are looked at. But if you notice in this photograph, SJP faces Noth straight on, while Noth's body is slumped, his hands in his pockets, his body turned towards the painting on the wall. So interesting ...

This photograph, by comparison, resembles more closely the norm of what you'll find. SJP shies away from Noth's gaze, which is reinforced by the use of that video camera.

If I had that Marchesa dress, I'd look back at anyone who was checking me out. Uh huh. That's right.

And then there's this stunning photograph taken at the Metropolitan Opera. Liebovitz likes to arrange the dresses in this flowing way, like an unfolded fan. This scene is eerily reminiscent of the scene in the SatC movie where Mr. Big properly proposes to Carrie while they're lounging in their couture outfits and Bradshaw's $525 shoes. The placement of the programs, forgotten on the stairs, is a nice extra touch that shows Liebovitz's attention to detail, and the lines of the stairs that form a nice contrast to the folds of the Versace dress make this my favorite picture from the collection.

10 June 2008

Musings on a Summer's Day

Summer is, was and will always be my favorite time of year. Something about the feel of the sun warming my hair just reaches down into my soul and makes me smile.

Yes. I have a smiling soul.

In California, summer can be measured in two ways - hot and hotter. There's 85 degrees hot, there's 95 degrees hot, and there's 105 degrees hot. Head out to Palm Springs or Lake Havasu, AZ, and you get 115 degrees hot.

Sunscreen is a necessity, but there's nothing like it. For me, it's almost like the feeling I get when I'm sitting with a cup of my mom's fresh hot chocolate in front of the fireplace, watching the orange and red flames in their glowing dance. But there's one big difference between the two. Feeling the fire warming my skin and hair makes me feel like an old soul; even when I was seven or eight years old, I felt as if I'd been sitting watching fires for a thousand years (in the most non-pyro way possible). Getting that same feeling from the sun, though, makes me feel unabashedly young. When I'm seventy or eighty, I imagine that I'll feel the sun warming the hair on my head, and the skin just below my eyes, and I'll close my eyes and imagine I'm seven again.

The east coast, though, has another way of measuring the heat - humidity. If you walked down the street with a gigantic fist closing in around you, it couldn't be more stifling than a day of 91 degree temperatures coupled with 98 humidity.

Today I walked around in D.C. from the Glover Park neighborhood down to Georgetown. Half an hour after I got to my sister's apartment, the skies turned gray and I expect any moment now the deluge that inevitably follows several days of sweltering humidity will begin. But it'll only last an hour or two. The clouds will fall away in time to go out and watch the sun set over Virginia.

And tomorrow, the sun will come out again.

08 June 2008

Moving House

I never realize exactly how settled I am in a place until I move from it.

Suddenly, the small things I've bought out of convenience - the tool kit, the set of dishes, the photo albums, the filing cabinet - suddenly I have to put it all into neat little boxes, label them and send them off to some other place.

It's only then that I realize that I have five sets of shelves than four feet high - for the kitchen, the laundry room, DVD and video storage, and two for books. This on top of the bookcase that's covered in books (six feet high, six feet long, one foot wide) and the small shelves that sit on top of my desk to provide extra storage space. It's only at this crucial moment that I actually realize exactly how many pairs of shoes I own. Only then that I see that buying endless picture frames from Ikea in an effort to get rid of the boxes of loose photos probably wasn't a very good idea, since the bubble wrap to pack them in will end up costing more than the frames themselves did. And it's only in this sad little moment that I stumble across a box of paints and brushes, bought during my college years as an intended mode of stress relief and forgotten almost as soon as the receipt was lost.

It's rather sad when I realize that my funds over the years can be summed up in a pile of junk large enough to fill an apartment, while my relaxation techniques fit into a box that could barely fit a loaf of bread.

02 June 2008

And Then There Was One

Confession time once again. I went with some friends to see the 'Sex and the City' movie on opening day. I am not ashamed.

I am, as ever, insanely jealous of the wardrobe and accessories those four women get to enjoy. And of course, I certainly am jealous of those hunky, hunky men.

Out of a crowd of about 30 at the 3:15 showing at the Carousel Center in Syracuse, a whopping three, by my count, were men.

When we left the theater, people were already lining up for the next showing. Easily 70 people, most of them women, and most of the women in their fancy cocktail dresses, with perfect hair and make-up, and of course, really beautiful shoes. Like out of a show from Fashion Week. This show was sold out.

The line trailed around the escalators and back to the ticket office - a good 50 yards at least. This show was clearly sold out.

Only one man was in the line. His girlfriend stood next to him, looking around to see if they would open up the theater soon. The man met my gaze as I walked out and turned red.

It was quite cute, actually.

30 May 2008

TV Lasts Forever...

Okay, I admit it. When I was a kid, I watched 'Saved By the Bell.' And I thought Zack Morris was highly date-able.

Then again, I was eight.

Sixteen years later, flipping between CNN and 'The Today Show', I run across the SbtB College Years series finale: the Zack/Kelly wedding!

This brings back numerous memories for me, from watching the show on Saturday afternoons to all the fan discussions I've had over the years. Like how Kelly treated Zack like crap. You know it's true - first she dumps him on the night of the big high school dance for a college boy, then in college she dumps him for ... a professor? Not even just any professor, but Patrick Fabian, the same guy who used to do the commercials for Ruby Tuesday's. Sounds like a girl who not only can't make up her mind, but also doesn't know a good thing when she sees it. Because in spite of everything, you know that Zack and Kelly were meant to be together. And how Kelly just disappeared after junior year and the writers brought in Tori and just hoped we wouldn't notice.

Amazing the thoughts that run through your head when you've just woken up and haven't had caffeine yet.

27 April 2008

Today's Thing

Today's thing is a poem by Robert Herrick.

To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

Gather ye rosebuds why ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the Sun,
The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he's to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, the worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time;
And while ye may, go merry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.

Robert Herrick was raised in the post-Shakespeare era. Shakespeare was born in 1564 and died in 1616; Herrick was born in 1591 and died in 1674. Their lives were surprisingly opposed; Shakespeare was born in the small village of Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, more than one hundred miles from London, and he used his talents to get to London and make a name for himself almost as quickly as possible. Herrick, by contrast, was born in Cheapside and worked under his uncle who was jeweler to the king; after taking orders, he took a post as vicar in Devonshire, over a hundred miles from London. You can see, though, some very strong Shakespearean influences in this poem. The last stanza in particular reminds me of the lyrics for a song Shakespeare put into 'Much Ado About Nothing':

Then sigh not so,
But let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into hey nonny nonny.

I love the message of this poem. Most people who recognize it probably know it from the film 'Dead Poet's Society.' I was lucky enough to have a high school English teacher who forced poetry down our throats. Most people in my class who couldn't stand Shakespeare loved this poem. Something about its message of not wasting time resonated with us then. "That age is best which is the first." When we were fifteen, we definitely agreed.

23 April 2008

Today's Thing

A quote regarding a statue of the Virgin Mary in a mountain side grotto:

"Did you know, no matter how bad the light is, no matter how long you stare at it, no matter how much drink you've taken, ..."

"Go on."

"That statue will not move a whisker."

Taken from Ballykissangel, Season 1 (though in the UK and Ireland they say Series 1) finale, "Missing You Already."

22 April 2008

Today's Thing

How do you imagine they did that?

21 April 2008

Today's Thing

A quote on the institution of divorce:

"You've got an old-fashioned idea that divorce is something that lasts forever. ''Till death do us part.' Why, divorce doesn't mean anything these days, Hildy. Just a few words mumbled over you by a judge."

- Taken from 'His Girl Friday', spoken by the incomparable Cary Grant.

Kind of puts things in a bit of perspective, doesn't it?

20 April 2008

Sweeney Todd

Tim Burton jaunts gaily along the fine line between genius and insanity in 'Sweeney Todd', and one must admire the way he makes you want to come along for the ride.

Adapted from the Broadway musical of the same name, Burton and actor Johnny Depp pair for their sixth film together, bringing the vengeance-driven barber of Fleet Street to DVD earlier this month. Just as delightful as Depp and Burton is the supporting cast of Alan Rickman as the villainous Judge Turpin and Helena Bonham-Carter as the frugal Mrs. Lovett, who turns Todd's victims into the best-selling meat pies in London.

Depp and company sing the music by Stephen Sondheim, who was a consultant on the project during filming. The score has left many other experienced professionals tripping over words and struggling to keep up, but Depp manages well enough in the role of Todd. He exhibits a mild range but an impressive emotive element blended with superb acting. Where some might focus too much on Sondheim's tongue-twisting lyrics or difficult tunes, Depp finds a happy equilibrium between both. Helena is not as lucky; her struggles with the score leave you cringing in front of your DVD player. Her priceless comedic comedic timing saves her more than once. She's not a singer, but she's a fine actress. Rickman is perfectly despicable in every way. If you don't love to hate him by his second scene, you should check your pulse.

Burton's color palette in the film disappoints in its similarity to 'Sleepy Hollow', his 1999 film also starring Depp. Both films are steeped in grays and blacks, even during the "sunny" scenes, with little variation or exception. What is new in 'Todd' is the use of blood. The bright reds and striking maroons flow and fly like living creatures, sometimes helped by the miracle of computer-generated images. Yet somehow in the middle of this bloodbath, Burton gets you to root for Todd to "have his revenge," even as you cringe at each thudding crack of bones from the bodies he sends down the chute into Lovett's baking room. And in this mad killing spree, Burton still finds moments of humor that fit in remarkably well with the ludicrous-yet-reasonable story line. Insanity never looked so appetizing.

Today's Thing

To make you all laugh: A pancake shaped (vaguely) like a foot.

Kind of reminds me of pictures of Chinese women who'd had their feet bound that I saw in my FemStudies class in college.

Photograph (and pancake) by Zunera Mirza.

19 April 2008

Today's Thing

A quote for you to ponder as we edge ever closer to the Pennsylvania primary:

"There are 340 billionaires in this country, and 40 million living below the poverty line. Wake up, 7-11. This is the third world."

-- taken from Season 2 of Weeds

16 April 2008

Peter Jackson

I appreciate artful film making. The clever shot, the subtle camera work, all these thing contribute to making a good movie. But sometimes even the most artistic director can go overboard. And in my opinion, no modern day film maker is guilty of this than Peter Jackson.

I understand that the Lord of the Ring books were extremely detailed, and that to overlook any of them was to risk alienating a portion of the movie-going audience. It's the same problem that any director responsible for adapting any staple of pop culture, be it book, video game, or anything. But like the 'Harry Potter' movies, sometimes you just have to bite the bullet in order to keep your movies watchable.

The Lord of the Ring movies were not horrible. They had great shots and a script that bore a remarkable resemblance to the original work. But they weren't perfect, and not especially deserving of the Oscars they were awarded. Each had their own particular problems, but the one they shared was length. Cutting even 30 minutes from each of the films would have sped up the pace and made the films more engaging, more exciting, more invigorating. Instead, the first one moved so slowly that I fell asleep in the middle of it, not once, not twice, but five times before a friend of mine had to jab me in the shoulder with a pencil to keep me awake.

'King Kong' kept my attention much better - at least, for the first hour and a half. It had some corny and often contradictory dialogue ("an island never before seen by man; the ruins of an ancient civilization." If it's the ruins of an ancient civilization, then obviously it was seen by man at some time or another.) In spite of that, I hardly noticed that so much time had gone by (the pairing of Jack Black and Colin Hanks just has that effect on me.) But then the film would go through spurts of indulgent special effects followed by empty lags that seemed to last forever. By the time you get to Kong on the top of the Empire State Building, a scene which Jackson said made him cry when he saw the original (made in 1933), you want to cry too - of boredom. By then, the film has ceased being about the plot at all, and is rather all about the special effects. The underlying theme of fearing and hating what we don't understand has taken a back seat to whatever magic Jackson can put on the screen. And the effects are certainly spectacular. But they're not enough to sustain a movie for three and a half hours.

Every time I hear Jackson is directing a new movie, my first impulse is to get excited. After all, the man is an artist who can make a camera shot look as picturesque as a Monet. But I always have to temper these thoughts with what Jackson has proven to me to be his fatal flaw; overindulgence. If any singe moment in the film can be overdone, stretched to the breaking point and drained of its feeling, Jackson is sure to do it. A part of me can't wait for 'The Lovely Bones' to come out (tentatively scheduled for March 13, 2009 release). Another part of me knows that seeing it might ruin the story for me forever.

26 March 2008

Bizarre Bazarre

For Spring Break this year, the Goldring program (minus a few) went to Ireland, hitting up Dublin and Galway in about eight days. I'm working on chronicling the trip, but a very particular part of the trip stood out to me that I wanted to share.

Before I went, a friend of mine at Newhouse told me about a friend of his who lives in Ireland. She's written travel books about Ireland and published a novel set in the place. Her name is Camille DeAngelis, and he gave me her email. Seeing as how this woman has pretty much accomplished everything I want to accomplish in life (substituting France for Ireland), I emailed her at once, and we had several wonderful conversations. She gave me tips for surviving in Ireland (including how to tip, and the general rule of thumb is, don't) and raved particularly about the shops on the island of Inishmore off of Galway Bay. Her travel book, Moon Ireland, further raved about the shops, saying, "The best is Sarah Flaherty's shop"; Sarah, who knitted her sweaters even as she visited and gossiped with the customers. Everything in her shop was hand-made, and all from materials to be found on the island.

I must confess here that I did the tourist thing, as discreetly as possible. While still on the coach I checked the name of the shop, and as I stepped off I asked the driver where Sarah Flaherty's shop was. He took my kindly by the arm and right into her store, saying, "Sarah, here's someone to see you." (Below, a picture of one of the shops near S.F.'s.) Sarah Flaherty was a short woman with gray hair and kind, sparkling blue eyes, and a way of talking that struck me as being half way between the Irish nuns who ran my primary school and the sort of grandmother who remains eternally forty years of age. She was energetic and friendly almost to the point of making me wonder what I had done to deserve such generous treatment. Ireland's reputation for welcoming must have sprung largely from County Galway.

In the course of discussion, I told Sarah that I had read about her shop from a woman who wrote about her in a travel book, and who recommended her personally to me most especially. "Do ye have the book here?" she asked me, and I told her I did. She asked to see it, and I gave it to her, marking for her the page that mentioned her shop. Straight off she asked if I would sell it to her! I have to admit I fumbled a bit - my mother had bought this book for me, and Camille and I were to meet that evening after I returned to the mainland and I would like to have the book with me. Sarah told me that she'd had people come into her shop before after having heard of her store through travel articles or books, and that after they'd left she wished she'd bought the items from them. She had no easy internet access on the island, and it was difficult and expensive to get books to ship from the States anyway. And it was true that I could replace the book quite easily, whereas Sarah might never see it again. So we made a trade - I bought one of her sweaters, and she marked the price of the book off of the price for the sweater.

I bought a hat as well, but sadly the town of Galway swallowed it up while I was watching the Saturday rugby game; I tried to look for it, but was unsuccessful. But I have the lovely sweater, which reminds me precisely of the sweaters worn by those same nuns I mentioned earlier. And at the end of it, I've got this great souvenir and wonderful story, and Sarah has the book and my card to remember me by. As they say, all's well that ends well.

23 March 2008

Romeo & Juliet at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin

The Abbey Theatre on Dublin's north side stands as an anchor of the Irish cultural experience. Founded in 1899 the Irish Literary Theatre by, among others. William Butler Yeats and Lady Augusta Gregory, the theatre has continued to perform new works as well as classic theatrical pieces, usually to great acclaim. One would think that a company with such a reputation, developed over decades, could put forth a masterful presentation of a guy playing the spoons.

Spoon players might have been more enjoyable than the current production of 'Romeo and Juliet', directed by Jason Byrne, which closed on 22 March 2008. At the very least there might have been more sincere feelings from spoon players than what came from some of the performers. Shakespeare's lines were rehearsed to the point of being mere recitation rather than performance - Mercutio's Queen Mab speech feels more like a wind-up toy than one of the greatest mysteries in Shakespearian plays - and the main direction seems to have been merely "talk faster." Only Friar Lawrence pauses enough to appreciate the gems and emotions within each line. The others tinker about in a storm of dialogue, starting their lines almost before their cues. More feeling comes from a turn of the head of Capulet's henchmen, behind his Joker-like make-up and wig, than in the entire balcony scene.

Shakespeare can trip up the most experienced of actors, but wrestling the words into submission was not the only problem. Tackling the sentiments behind the words seems to have been more difficult for this cast, largely because the timing was sped up so greatly that it was a mystery how the fellow players, let alone the audience, could keep up.

Modern productions of Shakespeare commonly set the plays in time periods other than Elizabethan England. Why not? After all, so many of his plays contain themes - filial disobedience in 'King Lear', jealousy in 'Othello', ambition in 'Macbeth', and most especially forbidden love in 'Romeo and Juliet' - that are applicable at any time and community in history. Byrne, though, must have had some difficulty choosing exactly when he wanted to set his production. Romeo dons a James Dean-esque costume of jeans, a white T-shirt and a black leather vest. Lady Capulet and Lady Montague wear 60's dresses with furs and jewels. Capulet looks and carries himself like an Italian mob boss, while Montague looks more like an aging Fred Astair in his suit and tie. And Juliet? Juliet looks like she could be out on a run to Target in her tunic tank top, skinney jeans and Mary Janes. The weaponry was likewise varied and included Japanese samurai swards, daggers, rapiers and broadswords. The set, designed by Jon Bausor (who also designed the costumes), is functional, though minimalist. Only the lighting designer, Paul Keogan, performed flawlessly, creating more atmosphere than almost any of those you see on stage.

18 March 2008

Anthony Minghella, Award Winning Director, Dead at 54

Anthony Minghella, British director, writer and producer, passed away today, March 18, at approximately 5 a.m. of a post-surgical hemorrhage. He was 54.

The BBC broke the news today. Their online article posted just before 2 p.m. GMT (10 a.m. EST) failed to include a Time Of Death, but the Associated Press, which posted the story at approximately 2 p.m. EST, reported that Minghella “was operated on last week for a growth in his neck”.

Minghella’s first film was 1990’s “Truly Madly Deeply”, for which Minghella won a BAFTA (the British equivalent of the Oscars) for Best Original Screenplay.

His other directing credits include “The English Patient”, for which Minghella won an Oscar for Best Director, “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, and “Cold Mountain”, all of which were nominated for at least one Oscar.

Filming on Minghella’s latest film, “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency”, finished in December 2007. The future of his other two uncompleted projects, “New York, I Love You” and “The Ninth Life of Louis Drax”, is uncertain.

Minghella is survived by his wife and two children.

27 February 2008

Little Nekkid Man ...

For those of you living under a rock this past Sunday, the 80th Annual Academy Awards aired on ABC. Though advertised as beginning at 8 p.m. EST, but it turned out this was just a ploy by ABC to get you to watch Regis Philbin for half an hour.

Anyway, here are the Oscar winners:

Best Picture:
'Michael Clayton'
'There Will Be Blood'
'No Country For Old Men'

Best Director:

Julian Schnabel for 'The Diving Bell & The Butterfly'
Jason Reitman for 'Juno'
Tony Gilroy for 'Michael Clayton' Joel and Ethan Coen for 'No Country for Old Men'
Paul Thomas Anderson for 'There Will Be Blood'

Anyone noticing some repition here?

Best Actor:
George Clooney for 'Michael Clayton'
Daniel Day-Lewis for 'There Will Be Blood'
Johnny Depp for 'Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street'
Tommy Lee Jones for 'In The Valley of Elah'
Viggo Mortensen for 'Eastern Promises'

Best Actress:
Cate Blanchett for 'Elizabeth: The Golden Age'
Julie Christie for 'Away From Her'
Marion Cotillard for 'La Vie En Rose'
Ellen Page for 'Juno'
Laura Linney for 'The Savages'

Best Supporting Actor:
Casey Affleck for 'The Assassination of Jesse James'
Javier Bordem for 'No Country for Old Men'
Philip Seymour Hoffman for 'Charlie Wilson's War'
Hal Holbrook for 'Into The Wild'
Tom Wilkinson for 'Michael Clayton'

Best Supporting Acress:
Ruby Dee for 'American Gangster'
Cate Blanchett for 'I'm Not There'
Amy Ryan for 'Gone Baby Gone'
Saoirse Ronan for 'Atonement'
Tilda Swinton for 'Michael Clayton'

Best Foreign Film:

Best Animated Feature:
'Surf's Up'

Best Original Screenplay:
'Lars and the Real Girl' by Nancy Oliver
'Ratatouille' by Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco, Brad Bird
'The Savages' by Tamara Jenkins
'Michael Clayton' by Tony Gilroy
'Juno' by Diablo Cody

Best Adapted Screenplay:
'No Country for Old Men' by Paul Thomas Anderson
'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly' by Ronald Harwood
'Away From Her' by Sarah Polley
'Atonement' by Christopher Hampton
No Country for Old Men' by Joel & Ethan Coen

Best Documentary:
'No End in Sight'
'Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience'
'Taxi to the Dark Side'

Best Original Score:
'Atonement' by Dario Marianelli
'The Kite Runner' by Alberto Iglesias
'Ratatouille' by Michael Giacchino
'3:10 to Yuma' by Marco Beltrami
'Michael Clayton' by James Newton Howard

Best Original Song:
'Happy Working Song' from 'Enchanted'
'So Close' from 'Enchanted'
'That's How You Know' from 'Enchanted'
'Raise It Up' from 'August Rush'
'Falling Slowly' from 'Once'

Best Film Editing:
'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly' by Juliette Welfing
'Into The Wild' by Jay Cassidy
'No Country for Old Men' by Roderick James
'The Bourne Ultimatum' by Chirstopher Rouse
'There Will Be Blood' by Dylan Tichenor

Best Documentary Short:
'Salim Baba' by Tim Sternberg & Francisco Bello
'La Corona (The Crown' by Amanda Micheli and Isabel Vega
'Freeheld' by Cynthia Wade & Vanessa Roth
'Sari's Mother' by James Longley

Best Cinematography:
'Atonement' by Seamus McGarvey
'The Assassination of Jesse James' by Roger Deakins
'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly' by Janusz Kaminski
'No Country for Old Men' by Roger Deakins
'There Will Be Blood' by Robert Elwit

Best Costume Design:
'Across The Universe' by Albert Wolsky
'Elizabeth: The Golden Age' by Alexandra Byrne
'La Vie En Rose' by Marit Allen
'Atonement' by Jacqueline Durran
'Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street' by Colleen Atwood

Best Sound Mixing:
'Transformers' by Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell, Peter J. Delvin
'3:10 to Yuma' by Paul Massey, David Giammarco, Jim Stuebe
'The Bourne Ultimatum' by Scott Millan, David Parker, Kirk Francis
'No Country for Old Men' by Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff, Peter Kurland
'Ratatouille' by Randy Thom, Michael Semanick, Doc Kane

Best Sound Editing:
'No Country for Old Men' by Skip Lievsay
'The Bourne Ultimatum' by Karen Baker Landers, Per Hallberg
'Ratatouille' by Randy Thom, Michael Silvers
'There Will Be Blood' by Matthew Wood
'Transformers' by Ethan Van der Ryn, Mike Hopkins

Best Live Action Short Film:
'Le Mozart des Pickpockets (The Mozart of Pickpockets)'
'Il Supplente (The Substitute)'
'At Night'
'Tanghi Argentini'
'The Tonto Woman'

Best Animated Short:
'Madame Tutli-Putli'
'Même les Pigeons vont au Paradis (Even Pigeons Go To Heaven)'
'Peter & the Wolf'
'My Love (Moya Lyubov)

Best Makeup:
'Norbit' by Rick Baker, Kazuhiro Tsuji
'La Vie En Rose' by Didier Lavergne, Jan Archibald
'Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End' by Ve Neill, Martin Samuel

Best Art Direction:
'There Will Be Blood' by Jack Fisk; Set Decoration by Jim Erickson
'Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street' by Dante Ferretti; Set Decoration: Francesca Lo Schiavo
'The Golden Compass' by David Gassner; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
'American Gangster' by Arthur Max; Set Decoration: Beth A. Rubino
'Atonement' by Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration; Katie Spencer

Best Visual Effects:
'The Golden Compass' by Michael Fink, Bill Westenhofer, Ben Morris, Trevor Wood
'Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End' by John Knoll, Hal Hickel, Charles Gibson, John Frazier
'Transformers' by Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Russell Earl, John Frazier

Lifetime Achievement Award:
Robert F. Boyle for Art Direction and Production Design

21 February 2008

Smile When You're Lying

Chuck Thompson promises in his book Smile When You’re Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer to dispense with the usual preaching that you find in books like Lonely Planet. Instead, he says, he wants to share “the most memorable experiences … [that editors say] always seem ‘too negative” to put into print. And for the first half of the book, he doesn’t disappoint. His stories about teaching English in Japan at 22, searching for coke in Alaska at 3 in the morning, helping a friend have “Korean sex” before getting married, all have a charm that’s so straightforward and honest that, though the material is rather frat-boyish with a healthy side of misogeny, it never occurs to you to hold it against him. After all, he's only reporting the reality of his experiences back to you. Rarely, if ever is he a willing, active participant.

You fall for his upfront candor, rejoicing in his successes and keenly feeling his failures. Not only that, but he writes so convincingly that you have to agree with everything he says. You begrudge Alaskans for selling their souls, and America’s “last frontier,” to the oil companies. You want to head to Ensenada and scour the docks for the Slayamahi II (or, by now, possibly III or IV), and ask Ernesto the owner for a ride. You want to meet Shanghai Bob, shake his hand and buy him a beer. And you definitely don’t want to visit the Caribbean again until the place starts to feel a little less like Disneyland on the beach. The whole first half of the book is as rewarding as being a Red Sox fan in 2007 – after years of peddling through the same old disappointments, you’ve finally gotten your money’s worth in gold.

Which is why the shift in the middle of the book comes as such a serious insult. Chapter Seven, promisingly entitled What Lazy Writers, Lonely Planet, and Your Favorite Travel Magazine Don’t Want You To Know, has a different tone than the rest of the book, one that you’re really not interested in after getting so many laughs and great scenes from the first six chapters. After traveling the world with Chuck, the reader now watches him pack up his bags and get ready for the excitement of what we already know will be the doomed venture of Travelocity magazine, operating out of that glorious location of … Dallas.

Up to that point, Thompson has pointed out several habits and tendencies of travel writers that, he says, annoy him to no end. Like putting the writer into the center of the story. He hates that. He does, however, make an exception when it comes to his own writing. You raise an eyebrow at his hypocrisy, but by the time he says it, a third of the way through the book, you have to forgive him. He’s just made it too agreeable for you already. Any page that doesn’t elicit a laugh is an oddity. But the one place where I wish he’d followed his own advice would be in Chapter Seven. Before Chapter Seven, you feel you’ve been traveling with Chuck, an arm around his shoulder as he confides in you all the secret stories he’s never confided in anyone before. Then, suddenly, you feel as if you’re being preached at by a minister on Sunday, reaming against the travel writing industry. He promises “a few highlights” of his manual on what to avoid in travel writing, and gives you ten pages. A few anecdotes bring a smile to your face, but for the most part you feel as if you’re watching a car wreck and you can’t possibly stop it. How can the Dallas branch of the Bible Belt compare to Bangkok pussy writing?

20 February 2008

What Won't They Say?

There's a commercial on television for Orajel, a gel that's meant to cure toothaches.

A woman sits in her living room talking about her tooth problem. She says, "It was worse than labor pains."

Already I don't believe her.

19 February 2008

New York Winters Make Me Dream of Mexican Food ...

It takes less than four hours to explore Los Angeles’ Olvera Street in its entirety. Most of it has disintegrated into tourist traps and specialty shops: Augusto’s Leather Shop, Catalina’s Imports, Rudy’s Gifts Imports, Ramon’s Imports, Mexican Imports, … you get the idea. Food peddlers sell the most interesting and (probably) most authentic items there. Taco stands fill the street selling bean and cheese burritos as big as your forearm and crunchy taquitos in spicy chile verde.

As you walk up and down the street surrounded by Mexican kitsch, your eyes – and nose – are automatically drawn to La Golondrina café situated about two-thirds of the way to Cesar Chavez Avenue. The patio sheltered by a wooden roof painted deep maroon, wagon wheel borders and Victorian wired chairs whispers to you of bygone times. It looks more like the stylish 19th century hacienda that it was built as in 1857 than the restaurant it was been converted into during the 1920’s. The second storey goes almost unnoticed from all the bustling activity on the patio, but if you take the trouble to look up you can
see the exposed brick at the windows and cream-white walls that complete the building’s romantic appearance. You can almost see, instead of business men in suits and yuppy moms with cell phones glued to their ears, dark-haired women with flowers in their hair wearing colorful layered skirts, and men with black suits and pristine, crisp white shirts with red ties.

Oh, wait, those are the waiters.

You’re drawn still closer by the waves of cheese and spices flowing at you from the kitchen, making the sad-looking $2 burrito from the taco stand across the way look about as exciting as Sunday night’s leftovers. Golondrina’s home-made tortillas, served in black stone dishes with fitted lids to keep them hot, taste earthy and moist. Dipping sauces range from various red salsas (all the locals will tell you – pico de gallo blows other salsas out of the water), salsa verde, guacamole seasoned with cilantro, garlic, onions and tomatoes, and mole. Make Your Own Burritos, or Burritos A Su Gusto, come with your choice of beef, chicken, pork, vegetables, chorizo (Spanish sausage that can be cooked either hot or sweet). Tacos, tostadas, fajitas and enchiladas come with sides of rice and melted cheese over everything, washed down with horchata, a sweet drink that tastes like a cinnamon milkshake.

Everything smells so delicious that you feel as if you could float up into the air from all the scents. As it is, you find that you’ve floated at least to the entrance of La Golondrina without meaning to. And you don’t even know you’ve done it until the host asks you if you’d like to be seated at a table. Then you realize that you’ve been staring at the plates of food on the patio tables, and you’re pretty much bound by everything your parents taught you about polite behavior to accept the offered table. But, you ask, is it possible to get a seat on the patio?

16 February 2008

Rogers & Hammerstein's 'South Pacific' was gloriously adapted from the Broadway play in 1958 with Mitzi Gaynor playing the role of Nelly Forbush the Nurse, which Mary Martin made famous on the stage. I remember watching the movie when I was growing up. I was utterly captivated by John Kerr as Lt. Joe Cable, Jaunita Hall as Bloody Mary (she's the girl I love! Now ain't that too damn bad?) and Rossano Brazzi as Emile de Becque. I still sing 'Dites-Moi' absently in the shower. The first fifteen minutes were enough to keep me watching for over two hours. How can you not love a group of horny sailors, led by a balding, tattooed Luther Billis and a 7-foot-tall baritone named Stewpot, singing:

There ain't a thing that's wrong with any man here
That can't be cured by putting him near
A girly, womanly, female, feminine dame!

Come on, you know you love it. They're just freaky enough to keep you watching. The perfect middle ground between 'An Officer and a Gentleman' and 'Rocky Horror.'

When I was perhaps fifteen, my father gave me the book by James Michener and I fell in love all over again, this time with a richer appreciation of all the characters, of the political and racial nuances of the time. And less than two years later, when I heard a remake was in production with Harry Connick Jr. as Cable and Rade Serbedzija as De Becque, I had to admit that I was curious. Connick had been making me swoon for years with his music, and so I already knew him to be a better singer than Kerr (though he was talented and charming, singing was not his strong suit). And you can't deny that he has a certain charisma that shines when he sings. I couldn't wait to hear him sing "Younger Than Springtime" and "You've Got To Be Taught". The Bosnian Serbedzija I knew from what few films he'd made to be released in America by 2001, which included 'The Saint', 'Mission: Impossible 2', and 'Snatch'. Usually he plays the Eastern European villain; though I doubted he'd be able to drop the accent convincingly, I was looking forward to seeing what he could do in a protagonist's role.

And then I heard the news: Glenn Close was playing Nelly the Nurse. The news was equivalent to jumping the shark, and the film hadn't even aired yet.

Though I'm as much of a Close fan as the next person, she was already over fifty when this new film was made. Nelly the Nurse, in Michener's book, is a young green "cock-eyed optimist" who hasn't yet lost all of her girlish innocence in her outlook of the world. Gaynor was only 27 when she made the original film, though with her hair and make-up she looks closer to 24. But no amount of make-up can keep Close from looking over forty. As soon as you see her, you know she's miscast just as certainly as you know the sun will rise in the morning. If she could have made the film around the time 'Fatal Attraction' was released, it might not have been so bad. But Close is better aged to play Nelly's socialite Little Rock mother than the young naive nurse. Not to mention she wouldn't last five minutes in front of Simon Cowell with that singing voice.

Lori Tann Chinn, in the role of Bloody Mary, suffers more at the hands of the director than anything else. She dives head-first into the charcter ("Grass skirt! Fo' dolla'!") but she's hardly used to her best advantage. In the pivotal scene where Mary first sees Cable, she's meant to be struck with the knowledge that this man will change her life forever. "You make trouble for me?" she says. Juanita Hall and Kerr, under director Joshua Logan in 1958, made your heart skip a beat. In 2001, Richard Pearce can't recapture that energy, despite Chinn and Connick's best efforts.

The Hallmark Channel has begun to air the 2001 film, and I have to wonder why they're having such a hard time finding movies that they must air this one again. It was hard enough to suffer through in 2001.

"French planter stenchy stinker." So is whoever decided this remake be a good idea.

10 February 2008

How Can You Take Anything Called "BAFTA" Seriously?

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts, also known as BAFTA, is the British equivalent of the Oscars, and tonight on BBC America their awards ceremony aired in the US. Delayed only by that nasty little time difference. Here are the winners:

Joe Wright - 'Atonement'
Paul Greengrass - 'The Bourne Ultimatum'
Florian Henckel von Donnersmark - 'The Lives of Others'
Joel & Ethan Coen - 'No Country for Old Men'
Paul Thomas Anderson - 'There Will Be Blood'

Diablo Cody - 'Juno'
Steven Zallian - 'American Gangster'
Florian Henckel von Donnersmark - 'The Lives of Others'
Shane Meadows - 'This Is England'
Tony Gilroy - 'Michael Clayton'

Paul Thomas Anderson - 'There Will Be Blood'
Joel & Ethan Coen - 'No Country for Old Men'
David Benioff - 'The Kite Runner'
Ronald Harwood - 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly'
Christopher Hampton - 'Atonement'

Alain Goldman & Olivier Dahan - 'La Vie En Rose'
Bill Kong, James Schamus, Ang Lee - 'Lust, Caution'
Quirin Berg, Max Wiedemann, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck - 'The Lives of Others'
William Horberg, Walter Parkes, Rebecca Yeldham, Marc Foster - 'The Kite Runner'
Kathleen Kennedy, Jon Kilik, Julian Schnabel - 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly'

Brad Bird - 'Ratatouille'
Chris Miller - 'Shrek the Third'
David Silverman - 'The Simpsons Movie'

Daniel Day-Lewis - 'There Will Be Blood'
James McAvoy - 'Atonement'
Viggo Mortenson - 'Eastern Promises'
George Clooney - 'Michael Clayton'
Ulrich Muhe - 'The Lives of Others'

Ellen Page - 'Juno'
Kiera Knightley - 'Atonement'
Marion Cotillard - 'La Vie En Rose' (was also a presenter of 'Best Supporting Actor')
Cate Blanchett - 'Elizabeth: The Golden Age'
Julie Christie - 'Away From Her'

Paul Dano - 'There Will Be Blood'
Tommy Lee Jones - 'No Country for Old Men'
Phillip Seymour Hoffman - 'Charlie Wilson's War'
Javier Bardem - 'No Country for Old Men'
Tom Wilkinson - 'Michael Clayton'

Cate Blanchett - 'I'm Not There'
Kelly MacDonald - 'No Country for Old Men'
Saoirse Ronan - 'Atonement'
Tilda Swinton - 'Michael Clayton'
Samantha Morton - 'Control'

Mark Streitenfeld - 'American Gangster'
Dario Marianelli - 'Atonement'
Jonny Greenwood - 'There Will Be Blood'
Christopher Gunning - 'La Vie En Rose'
Alberto Iglesias - 'The Kite Runner'

Robert Eswit - 'There Will Be Blood'
Roger Deakins - 'No Country for Old Men'
Oliver Wood - 'The Bourne Ultimatum'
Seamus McGarvey - 'Atonement
Harris Savides - 'American Gangster'

Pietro Scalia - 'American Gangster'
Roderick Javnes - 'No Country for Old Men'
John Gilroy - 'Michael Clayton'
Christoher Rouse - 'The Bourne Ultimatum'
Paul Tothill - 'Atonement'

Guy Hendrix Dyas & Richard Roberts - 'Elizabeth: The Golden Age'
Olivier Raoux & Stanislas Reydellet - 'La Vie En Rose'
Jack Fisk & Jim Erickson - 'There Will Be Blood'
Stuart Craig & Stephanie McMillan - 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix'
Sarah Greenwood & Katie Spencer - 'Atonement'

Jacqueline Durran - 'Atonement'
Alexandre Byrne - 'Elizabeth: The Golden Age'
Marit Allen - 'La Vie En Rose'
Colleen Atwood - 'Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street'
Pan Lai - 'Lust, Caution'

Kirk Francis, Scott Millan, David Parker, Karen Baker Landers, Per Hallberg - 'The Bourne Ultimatum'
Laurent Zeilig, Pascal Villard, Jean-Paul Hurier, Marc Doisne - 'La Vie En Rose'
Christopher Scarabosio, Matthew Wood, John Pritchett, Michael Semanick, Tom Johnson - 'There Will Be Blood'
Peter Kurland, Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff - 'No Country for Old Men'
Danny Hambrook, PAul Hamblin, Catherin Hodgson, Becki Ponting - 'Atonement'

Scott Stokdyk, Peter Nofz, John Frazier, Spencer Cook - 'Spider-Man 3'
John Knoll, Charles Gibson, Hal Hickel, John Frazier - 'Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End'
Time Burke, John Richardson, Emma Norton, Chris Shaw - 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix'
Michael Fink, Bill Westenhofer, Ben Morris, Trevor Wood - 'The Golden Compas'
Peter Chiang, Charlie Noble, Mattias Lindhal, Joss Williams - 'The Bourne Ultimatum'

Jan Archibald, Dider Lavergne - 'La Vie En Rose'
Ivana Primorac, Peter Owen - 'Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street'
Judi Cooper Sealy, Jordan Samuel - 'Hairspray'
Jenny Shircore - 'Elizabeth: The Golden Age'
Ivana Primorac - 'Atonement'

Pearse Moor & John McCloskey - 'The Crumblegiant'
Osbert Parker, Fiona Pitkin, Ian Gouldstone - 'Head Over Heels'
Jo Allen, Luis Cook - 'The Pearce Sisters'

Jane Hooks, Simon Ellis - 'SOFT'
Dan McColloch, Lia Williams, Frank McGuinness - 'The Stronger'
Julien Berlan, Michelle Eastwood, Virginia Gilbert - 'Hesitation'
Diarmid Scrimshaw, Paddy Considine - 'Doc Altogether'

THE ORANGE RISING STAR AWARD (voted by the public)
Sienna Miller
Ellen Page
Sam Riley
Tang Wei
Shia LaBeouf

THE CARL FOREMAN AWARD (for a first-time British writer, producer or director)
Chris Atkins(W/D) - 'Taking Liberties'
Mia Bays (P) - 'Scott Walker: 30 Century Man'
Sarah Gavron (D) - 'Brick Lane'

Matt Greenhalgh (W) - 'Control'
Andrew Piddington (W/D) - 'The Killing of John Lennon'

'Eastern Promises'
'This is England'
'The Bourne Ultimatum'

'American Gangster'
'No Country for Old Men'
'The Lives of Others'
'There Will Be Blood'

*Note: 'Atonement' won only one of the more prestigious categories, but Shia LaBeouf won the 'Rising Star' award. I'm not sure whether to be proud of our neighbors across the pond, or rather ashamed of them.

05 February 2008

Super Bowl - So Super!

I couldn't believe they'd pulled it off. After knocking on wood every time someone in the room said something that could tempt fate, after drowning my sorrows in beer and chicken wings, after holding my breath from the first seconds of the second quarter until three minutes from the end of the game, the Giants pulled it off and upset the favored Pats to win Super Bowl XLII, 17-14.

It was unbelievable. Especially after Eli Manning's throws kept going unreceived by any of his team mates. "Dude," I shouted at the other Giants, who were constantly about five feet away from where they needed to be, "Why can't you get there?!"

Okay, so I deleted some expletives.

And then, when it came time for that touchdown, oh man, they were close. They were so close. And yet it took them about three tries before they finally managed to score. And then that extra point, which, to the TV viewer, looked like it was only inches from not getting counted at all.

Eh, I could have lived with a 16-14 victory. But 17-14 is even better!

And not only that, but they managed to keep the Pats from getting anywhere near the goal line. Though New England attempted to pull off another touchdown before the end, the Giants just kept putting them down. Tackling the QB. Running them out of bounds. Bam, first down. Bam, second down. Bam, third down.

At about thirty seconds to go, I finally let myself believe that they were going to win it. I called up my dad enthusiastically.

Which was a mistake. No Southern California man can ever find it in himself to root for New York. Never.

(Luckily, I have no such compunction. In the last six years I've lived in Philadelphia, D.C., and New York state. In the words of Audrey Hepburn, "If I were a dog, I'd be a hell of a mess." As it is, it's probably better for my personal safety if I just root for wherever I happen to be at the time.)

When, with two seconds left to go, the Pats conceded, the only emotion was euphoria. Beautiful, beautiful euphoria. Go, Underdog! Go!

By the way, Eli Manning won MVP, which I think probably had more to do with the fact that his brother won it last year, and his father won it during his career. If Manning had really been that valuable, a few more of his throws might not have ended up on the ground or in the hands of the Pats.

I'm just saying.