Archive for August, 2010

Culture Club

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

My opinions are back:

1) Huge. I am just. So. In. Love. It could not be clearer that the writers have respect, compassion, and, well, love for every character they create. Which means despite whatever conflicts crop up, all very realistically portrayed and involving less-than-ideal behavior on the parts of the characters, the feeling I have after every episode is, well, love. I WANT TO HUG ALL OF THEM. Please let me hug these fictional people!

2) Autism: The Musical. A bit homegrown in terms of composition/production, but it doesn’t matter. The content is all there—a group of autistic kids working with a dynamic adviser/director to produce a musical while their supportive, exhausted, and worried parents attempt to see them through. Sigh. I wept my way through. It’s sad. Sad and happy, but lots of sad.

3) MilkMilkLemonade. When I heard that this play featured a gay 5th grader living on a farm whose best friend is a talking chicken, my path was clear. Opening night! We were there! And it did not disappoint, from its dance-number interludes to its probing, unflinching look at the relationship between the main character and the bully from down the road. (Excruciating—and then, not.)

About a third of the way in, there’s a scene in which the two boys play house which sort of blows the top off the play, structurally, thematically, spiritually—it makes the play so much bigger than it had been. That is the scene that won me over, and that is the scene that I would most like to see again. (In other news, the directing and acting are fantastic.)

4) A Visit from the Goon Squad. Can someone explain Jennifer Egan to me? As in, any fans out there want to tell me what I’m missing? Most of what I’ve read by her feels superficial, and this book is no exception. Plus, as loyal readers know, I am not a fan of the multi-narrative. (If you’re going to write a novel, write a novel; if you want to write a book of short stories, write a book of short stories.) I’ve actually given up only part-way through, so if this is a mistake, please let me know.

5) Letters to Sam. I was a little worried that this was another Tuesdays with Morrie, which was too pat and simplistic for my tastes (although, remembering back, I think I went in with expectations of contempt). But after hearing author Daniel Gottlieb on Fresh Air, I swallowed my elitist pride and put it on my wishlist. Gottlieb has had quadrapolegia for almost 40 years, and despite lifelong anxiety and many medical complications, past and current, his orientation toward his body and his life is gratitude. So.

And . . . the book is simple, though it’s meant to be; it’s written for Gottlieb’s autistic grandson. At times it’s even a little simplistic. But some of the letters are gems—spare and wise, nailed to the earth. I’d have asked him to go deeper in certain places and would have questioned his assertions here and there. But mostly I’m glad for his wisdom and his fortitude. Thanks and wow, Daniel Gottlieb. Wow and thanks.

The Kids Are All Right

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

What I expected was the sit-comification of a lesbian relationship. What I got was the sit-comification of a lesbian relationship, followed by a sobering and emotionally honest accounting of what happens when one partner in a marriage has an affair.

Hmm.

Given the wisdom and integrity of the second half, why is the first half so bad? Specifically, why does Annette Bening’s character have to be so stereotypically hard-ass? (She’s the rigid, overprotective, driven doctor-mom.) And why can’t Julianne Moore’s character be a mature and articulate adult? (She’s . . . no 50-year-old I’ve ever met.) And why are the jokes predictable and unfunny?

No one ever hires me to clean up her screenplay. Why? Total mystery.

In other news, I read this book. And my review is similar to the above, in that: a) After the dreadful first few chapters, b) the story is surprisingly heartfelt and moving, if never quite spiritually deep. (My mother-in-law*: “Does she get to the point that Victor Frankel discusses, where you look toward making an internal emotional shift in the face of an utter lack of control over your external circumstances?” Me: “Errrr . . . no.”)

I wish Kerman’s editor had helped her revamp her pre-prison story and perhaps shift it to later in the narrative, as a flashback or series of flashbacks. Instead, Kerman powers through her criminal activity without a breath, telescoping to a point of vagueness that feels evasive and rushed. BUT once she gets to prison everything slows down. And we see, of course, that even in a minimum-security prison with a reputation for leniency, life sucks. Abuse, humiliation, ridicule, favoritism, recrimination, etc.

I hate the prison system. I wish it would die and be reborn as a just, compassionate national program of rehabilitation and restitution.

*One of my three mothers-in-law, that is. And as of three weeks ago, they are all totally legal. Fabu!

Chetzi-Tushi

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Remember chetzi-PJ?

Welp, the other day, John was doing something, and he said he didn’t want to do it “chetzi-tush.”

M: What?

J: Chetzi-tush. Half-assed.

M: Oh my God. That’s genius.

J: Thank you.

M: Except it should be chetzi-tushi, pronounced chetzi-tooshi.

J: Okay.

M: You really have to get the “oo” in there. Spend some quality time with the “oo.”

J: Chetzi-toooshi.

M: Very good.

J: Thanks!

Later it occurred to me that if we want to do something whole-assed, we should say “meah achuz tushi,” which means “100% tush.”

Right? As in, “There’s no way I’m eating only one cupcake. I approach cupcake-eating with meah achuz tushi.”

I think it works.

3 Movies and a TV Show

Friday, August 6th, 2010

1. Have you ever given up on a movie 6 minutes in? Me neither, until Whatever Works. Actually I almost gave up when I saw the director credit, but instead I sat through Larry David’s horrific opening monologue.

Then I FF’ed to minute 7, in which David’s character is having an excruciating and possible-only-in-the-mind-of-Woody-Allen-and-nowhere-in-reality conversation with his wife.

Bloop-bloop! Back to Roku’s Home Menu.

2. Under the Tuscan Sun. I was too ashamed to see this movie in the theater or even on DVD, but Roku, my Roku, light of my life, fire of my loins, okay not really but still, you have changed everything. And I do  love the real estate porn.

However and except. UTS is not so much Real Estate Fantasy as Everything Fantasy, also known as  a heaping pile of horse dung, in which it is possible to mend your broken heart simply by making a bad investment in another country and in which every incident is so highly romanticized that it couldn’t happen to anyone—except, possibly, I realized when making this very assertion to John a couple of days ago, to my dear friend Sarah. (Hi, Sarah!)

Of course, I didn’t stop watching it. Curse you, buttery Tuscan light!

3. Paper Heart. Sweet, cute, and even a little pensive. More than I thought it would be, but still not terribly much. But something. Definitely something.

4. When I read about  BBC America’s series The Choir, I instantly pre-smiled in anticipation of all the tender and triumphant moments we would share. And protagonist Gareth Malone is indeed adorable.

But! He makes painful and arguably unnecessary cuts TWICE during the course of the year, he shames the tenors, and he guilts a kid who makes the seemingly adult decision to leave. No, Gareth, no. UNDO.

Seriously, he lost my trust. If I were a London parent of a public school child, I would not want him at my school, where students already discouraged by their class status (and in some cases poverty) might be further convinced they’re not “winners.” Yuck.

Media Highs/Lows

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

So much to review, so little time.

1) Is anyone else enjoying Huge? Great premise: Angry, rebellious, body-accepting teenage feminist refuses to endorse values at the weight-loss camp to which her parents have consigned her for the summer. And she’s played by Nikki Blonsky!

Before the show aired I worried that Blonsky’s character would be co-opted into a pro-dieting message, but not so far. So far the show has managed to present both Will (Blonsky) and the other kids, most of whom are there by choice (or “choice,” considering the cultural context), in an impressively nuanced way.

I’m loving the romantic tensions and sweet moments of vulnerability for kids whose lives are generally sucky. Plus, fat kids portrayed as attractive. Hallelujah!

Show! Don’t abandon me now!

2) In his weecap of Winter’s Bone in The New Yorker, David Denby writes that director Debra Granik “envelops us in mysteries that can never quite be solved.” Actually, all the mysteries in that movie are solvable. Guess Denby didn’t have smartypants John Diller by his side to explain.

3) You know, I’m kind of into memoirs of difficult childhoods, but I had to stop reading Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle about 50 pages in. (More accurately, I flipped to the final 20 pages to find out how she survived.)

Here’s why: a) The book is like a Steve Reich composition with a single, endlessly repeating note but none of the hypnotic and purposeful tonality; b) There’s no reflection to speak of, just the narration of events; and c) There’s no emotional depth in the telling. Why is this book popular? Is this book popular?

4) If you read a collection of essays by a sassy twentysomething humorist who was maybe trying a little too hard and whose tone felt  acidic and possibly slightly rancid with no clear reason why, would you read her second collection? That is the question I am forced to ask myself as I make my way through Sloane Crosley’s How Did You Get This Number?

I think what happened is that I mostly forgot what I thought of her first book, and also I am disproportionately interested in humorous essays about twentysomething experiences in New York involving crazy Craigslist roommates. Anyways, I’m not finding her funny or even likable, and now she has a series in development with HBO?

Universe! Don’t abandon me now!