Archive for July, 2010

Netflixin’ Bounty

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Me + Netflix streaming = movies movies movies. It’s so much better than television! Unless by television you mean Top Chef and Say Yes to the Dress, of which I pretty much can’t get enough.

1) Mira Nair made a movie of a Jhumpa Lahiri novel and I didn’t hear about it? That was my first thought when the The Namesake popped up in my Watch Now options. And then I Watched Nowed it. And, well, yeah.

It’s actually very similar to the novel in that there is nothing wrong with the individual scenes; everything is neatly composed and working fine. But as a whole it’s lifeless. Why?

I couldn’t really figure it out about the novel, either. I think possibly it’s that she’s trying to cover too much ground and should have hewed mainly to one or two characters and time periods. But . . . Tolstoy?

But don’t you think the central metaphor just never really registers the way it should? There’s supposed to be all this sturm und drang around Gogol’s name, which is supposed to stand in for the identity struggle, but he never seems very exercised about it to me.

2) Love Story. I know. But it was “free.” Here’s my question. Was this movie pure  redonkulousness when it came out in 1970, or did people take it seriously? And did Ali McGraw become famous after this role, or was she famous before? Because her performance is kind of shockingly tone-deaf. Or, again, 1970? I’m so confused.

One thing I will say: Boston looks really depressing to me. Sorry, Boston friends. I know it has its charms. But it’s so brown. (I know: It’s not like I personally created Northern California. I’ll shut up now.)

3) The Business of Being Born. Holy f’ing ess. If you’re pregnant or know someone who is or might be at some point, I think you want to see this movie. Because my guess is that pretty much everyone assumes that the hospital model of birth makes sense and is based on science and, you know, health care, as in, caring about health. And it isn’t.

I’ll spare you the rant to which I subjected a very patient but tired John last night. Maybe you could just see the movie, and then together we could lament the state of “health” “care” in our country. However, I don’t recommend immediately thereafter reading the latest Atul Gawande piece in The New Yorker about end-of-life care, because it could prompt a total loss of faith in hospitals entirely.


All right then.

Carry on!

Birthday Bonanza!

Monday, July 19th, 2010

If you were me (I, technically, but that’s pretentious), what would be your first two choices for birthday gifts from your husband?

I’ll tell you what:

1) Removal of all caches and secret caches from home.

He did it! He threw himself into it! He drove around Berkeley and Oakland depositing things to their respective recycle-and-reuse-friendly locales!

Massive happy.

2) Purchase and installation of a miraculous black box that streams Netflix videos directly to my television.

This means I have “free” movies (welp, $8.99/month, but I’m already paying that) AT MY PERSONAL BECK AND CALL.

More specifically, this means I watched both Broken Flowers and The Edge of Seventeen last night, just ’cause. I had seen both before, which in both cases I didn’t realize until the opening scenes (I am aging), but I went ahead anyway.

Why? Because with Broken Flowers, I couldn’t remember boo, and with The Edge of Seventeen, I was enjoying one of the only emotionally authentic (not to mention very sweet) movies I’ve seen about teenage gaydom.

Wheeee! Johnny D., you are now and forever making my world a happy, hilarious, cuddly, sproingy, and better-than-Nutella place to live. I am in mad Monday* love with you.

*Monday also to include all other days of the week.

Btw, my actual birthday is 7/26, so the rest of you still have time to purchase gifts/compose odes of praise.

Creepy Movie Week

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

Last week was, indubitably, creepy movie week. After Winter’s Bone (gah, gah, and more gah) we saw Cyrus, which I wish I’d known in advance was the Duplass brothers, since that would have given me at least a minimal heads up. (Back when I was doing that sort of thing for shekels, I reviewed their first movie.)

Cyrus! Very creepy! My love for Jonah Hill has been compromised by the skin-crawling creepiness of the character he plays!

And then, as if that weren’t enough creep for one week, I Netflixed Match Point, even though I am in general against everything Woody Allen has done since the late ’80s. And, wouldn’t you know it, more creepity creep!

I don’t understand where Allen gets his ideas about sexuality (the only word is “creepy”), and I also don’t understand how we’re supposed to believe that a basically regular person, albeit it overly serious and calculating, could plan and execute a double murder.

Also, can Scarlett Johansson act? I used to think so, but she’s pretty awkward in this movie. Maybe she does bored and sultry but nothing else. Her attempts at hysteria were not ringing true for me.

In other news (most excellent), a favorite Santa Cruz restaurant of ours just opened in Berkeley. Saturn Cafe! Space-age vegetarian diner! We welcome and love you. We will be seeing you frequently.

And, hey: John noticed that downtown Berkeley now has a Venus, a Saturn, and a Jupiter. Pretty fitting, no? Berkeley = alien-friendly.

2 x 2

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Two movies, two books.

1) Winter’s Bone. Gaaaaah! If I had seen the preview, which is super-creepy, I’d never have seen the movie. But I didn’t see the preview! I merely read the first few words of several trusted reviews, all of which said things like “This remarkable independent film” and “This spectacular work of cinema.”

Dutifully, I went.

Yes, it is a remarkable work of film, literary and beautifully crafted. It is also a FREAKING HORROR SHOW.

2) The Visitor. Poor John. In 2008 when this film came out, I mocked him for wanting to see such a formulaic comedy—i.e., straight-laced, soul-dead white guy is brought back to life (Aside: Do you think those last four words justify the use of the single-but-pretentious word “revivified”?) by musical immigrant with brown skin. But the film is far more sensitive than that, and hey! Not a comedy! Good film. Sad. Recommended.

3) Born to Run. I usually steer away from anything even remotely redolent of machismo, but in this case I was interested. I like counter-culture ideas, particularly involving the body, and this book makes an excellent case for barefoot, long-distance running as the natural form of movement for the human body. Along  the way, there are plenty of interesting ideas about evolution, physiology, and the benefits of compassion and joy.

However: Author Christoper McDougall, who writes for Esquire and Men’s Health,  jacks up pretty much every sentence with super-pumped cliffhanger hype. Do men like that? Men, do you like that?

4) Was This Man a Genius? I own this book and had read it maybe a decade ago. But the other day I saw it on the shelf and thought, “Why not? I can’t remember a word of it anyway.” Of course, it came back as I read. And . . . Was Andy Kaufman a genius? Or a madman? Both? I will never know.

In related news, I think I am the only person I know who likes Julie Hecht. Readers? I used to teach stories from her first collection, Do the Windows Open?, and my students were baffled. “What’s the problem with this narrator?” they would ask. “She just needs a hug,” I would answer. Recently I checked online and discovered that Hecht has published a couple more books in the last decade! Entirely without my having noticed!

They’re on my Amazon wishlist. And my birthday is July 26. I predict a happy ending here.


Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

Every morning as John heads out the door, he stops at my desk to say goodbye. Today he reported that he had a song stuck in his head:

J: If I had a hamster, I’d hamster in the morning . . .

(This was a reference to a hilarious and underappreciated Facebook status I posted a week ago.)

Then, together, we sang:

If I had a hamster, I’d hamster in the morning, I’d hamster in the evening, all over this la-and. I’d hamster out danger! I’d hamster out warning! I’d hamster out love, between, my brothers and my sisters, a-all over this la-a-and . . .

It wasn’t, shall we say, the most melodic of duets.

J: Clearly we have different notes associated with that song.

M: [Hysterical laughter.]

J: What?

M: [Tears of hilarity.]

J: What?

M: That’s not how it works! You don’t associate notes with a song. There are notes in a song, and you try to sing them!

J: [Chuckling.] Huh.

M: Seriously. You’re doin’ it wrong.

J: [Same chuckle, no admission of error.]

M: Your world is so loose and fancy-free. I don’t understand how anything ever comes together.

J: [Thinking.] Volume.

M: Oh, my God.

J: [Adorably self-satisfied smile.]

M: That was genius.

J: Thank you.

[Hugs and kisses. John heads out the door. I turn to the computer.]

[A moment later, he charges back through the door and heads to the bedroom.]

J: My face is too dry!

M: I’m blogging this entire thing. Right now.

Good Hair

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

Funny, sad, funny, alarming, funny. Pretty much everything I hoped it would be.


Friday, July 2nd, 2010

I remember Gregory Orr from his visit to the Young Writers’ Workshop at the University of Virginia, where I was lucky enough to spend a couple of summers during high school. He was (still is) a professor there, and he joined us for an evening, reading his poetry and (I think?) leading a discussion of the writing process.

I don’t remember his poetry. I don’t even really remember his presence, which—I now imagine, having just finished his gorgeous and shocking and deeply moving memoir—must have been considerable. (Fifteen: The age at which you don’t know a good thing when you see it.) I’ve simply remembered his name all these years, occasionally finding his work in The New Yorker.

The Blessing was published in 2002, but I didn’t discover it until a few weeks ago, when a friend posted about it on Facebook. It’s a remarkable work, spare and breathtaking, honest and harrowing. Orr opens with what appears to be the punchline—that he killed his brother, by accident, when he was 12—and then steps back to paint a portrait of his family that transforms the killing into something different, something actually almost explicable, given the terms.

And then a whole lotta of shit rains down.

The delivery is so grounded and matter-of-fact, even when presenting shocking news, that it risks flying below the radar. But the content is so emotionally honest that we never lose Orr, or his experience, even when he loses himself.

CRAZY-good memoir. Highly recommended.