Archive for January, 2011

Quick Hits

Monday, January 31st, 2011

A zip through four recently seen movies, worst to best:

1) The Proposal. They were selling this one pretty hard on “Watch Now” over at Ye Olde Netflix. And it was Watching-Stupid-Stuff-Now-Night with my friend Carey. So, we did our duty and watched stupid stuff. In bed. With burritos and chocolate cake.

No arguments there.

My favorite thing about Netflix is that immediately after enduring something as execrable as The Proposal, you can click “Hated It” and feel that your voice was heard. Somebody knows. (Yeah, it’s a computer.)

2) Persuasion (2007 BBC version). If you’re at all a Jane Austen fan, this version is seriously a WTF. Because it’s all darkness and gloom and hand-held camera and suspense, whereas Austen is a comedic satirist whose books are light and hilarious. BBC, you’re thinking of the Brontës! (And you should know. You’re the BBC!)

Also, I strongly object to the final scene, which was rewritten to have Wentworth present Anne with Kellynch, the family manor, as a wedding gift. Would. Not. Happen! And doesn’t, anyway, in the book.

3) Client 9. The filmmaking is both sensationalist and bizarro, with voiceover than ventures into the laughable. But the content is riveting, especially the interview with Spitzer, who is humbled (though not entirely) and whip-smart (though not quite wise). Plus, the giggly twentysomething co-CEO of the “escort” service he used is NOT to be believed.

Plus PLUS, the degree to which Spitzer was all up in Wall Street’s business for malfeasance (and, frankly, crime) way before the crash is heartbreaking and maddening. As in, we could have used many, many more Spitzers to yank the system back onto working tracks. Although arguably he alienated enough people to undermine his cause even without the prostitutes. Sigh.

4) L’Illusioniste. Another beauty from Triplets of Belleville director Sylvain Chomet, based on a Jacques Tati script. I think of this type of work not so much as animation as animated art. Clever, rich, sweet and deeply sad.

Dishes, Chez Nous

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

In our house, the dishes policy is basically 50-50. If we eat together, we wash together. If we eat apart, it’s DYI.

There’s some leeway, naturally. If John leaves a few breakfast dishes before dashing off to work, I throw them in with my lunch pile. And because I don’t much like washing plastic bags, he does more than his share of those.

Good, right?

It is good. But once in a while, my obsessive need to calibrate accounts results in discomfort. Witness:

Yesterday, mid-afternoon. I’m washing John’s breakfast dishes, his lunch dishes from work, and my own pile. PLUS he’s left various cleaned-and-dried things out from the night before (to avoid waking me with the clattering noise of putting them away, I later learn). PLUS there’s a pile of plastic bags that he hasn’t addressed for a couple of days.* So I’m feeling grumbly and put-upon, especially when I get down to the bags.

*Through no fault of his own, really. The man has been out of the house from 7:30 – 9:30 (or later) every day.

So I’m beginning to rinse the bags, thinking, “This sucks,” “I hate this,” “Why why why why?” and “You know what I should do? I should just put these with his stuff,” when I get a really good idea. I should just put them with his stuff! And the reason I know it’s a good idea is that John has actually suggested it in the past. So I bundle the bags together, grab a Post-It, and label them “Anti-Resentment Campaign.”

And when we get home from Teatro ZinZanni last night (at 11:24), he finds the bag and loves it.

“Good plan, Sweetie!” he says.

I know, I know. He’s awesome.

Flash-forward to this morning. Because Teatro ZinZanni was a post-holiday celebratory event with John’s office (thanks, John’s office!), John’s allowed to show up to work late. So we’re both home, making breakfast, showering, etc. And as per usual, I leave my dishes in the kitchen for later, because I owe it to my adoring public to be at the computer as soon as humanly possible, lest you suffer from extreme wanting.

And all of a sudden John charges out of the bedroom, iPod in pocket, ear buds in ears, a man on a mission. And I know what mission that is! It is the Dishes Mission!

M: Sweetie, I’m planning to do my dishes.

J: No, I’m planning to do your dishes.

M: I’m going to counter that with a No, I’m planning to do my dishes.

J: I don’t mind.

M: No, but it isn’t right. I haven’t done enough of yours.

J: But what about the anti-resentment campaign?

M: That was just the bags. And it was just one day.

J: It was . . . yesterday.

M: But you haven’t built up enough undone dishes to do as many dishes as I just left in the kitchen!

J: But that . . . what?

M: It’s too much! You’re tipping the scales! Too much!

J: [Laughing.]

M: Seriously! It’s upsetting! Don’t overdo! Do. Not. Overdooooo!

J: [Quickly calibrating how best to set me at ease.] But I like to do a lot of dishes at once. It makes me feel like I’m not wasting water.

M: Oh. Well, that’s . . . good.

J: So it’s fine.

M: Okay. Okay, I guess.

J: [Looking at the dessert-of-breakfast yogurt bowl in my hands.] I’ll do that dish, too. When you’re finished.

M: [Cupping bowl protectively.] Okay, fine. Jesus.

Three minutes later, John passes back through my office and swipes the bowl from my desk.

J: Got the bowl!

M: Oh, fine, fine. But I feel bad.

J: [Charging back into the kitchen.] It’s really okay.

M: Wait!

J: What?

M: Here, you forgot my napkin. Can you put it back in the drawer?

J: [Laughing.] What?

M: I feel bad. But not that bad.

Kitchen Sink

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

The Beauty of Blogging #32: Random thoughts in list form are not merely acceptable but genre-defining.

1) As usual, the Academy Award noms are crap. Sigh. Can we put the French in charge? Or at least me?

2) Please see The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, Mike Daisey’s latest show (in repertory with The Last Cargo Cult at The Berkeley Rep). Fascinating, hilarious, and deeply distressing. We’ve seen . . . 6? of Daisey’s shows now, and they’re always worth it. He comes out swinging, and his obsessive intellect is well worth following down any number of rabbit holes. In this case, though, major, major FUCK: labor conditions in China. We are all complicit. And it is truly horrific.

3) Mumblecore. I feel like I was there in the beginning, having reviewed Andrew Bujalski’s Funny Ha-Ha in early 2003 and the Duplass brothers’ Puffy Chair in 2006, two foundations of the subgenre. Plus, I’ll never forget one of my favorite moviegoing moments in recent years: About an hour into the verrrry slow and intentionally flaccid Mutual Appreciation, John bursts into laughter, suddenly GETTING IT big, and then we can’t stop, and it’s massively awesome.

Last night I watched yet another installment, Hannah Takes the Stairs, and . . . maybe we need to be finished with the subgenre. Or take it somewhere else. Because  listless twentysomethings falling in and out of non-relationship relationships are not so interesting when they can’t even articulate their particular brand of pain. Also, why does it feel like Bujalski casts conventionally beautiful women as romantic others so he can kiss them on-screen? Is that just projection? It’s kind of creepy.

4) While I watched the movie, Melanie rooted around in my fleece jacket, burrowing into the sleeves as rats are wont to do. By the last twenty minutes, she was peeking out of the neck, and finally she hopped out and began exploring the bed. This is good news! in the sense that it demonstrates decreasing fear. It’s not as good news in that before long, she’ll be exploring everything else, and the true challenge of rat ownership—i.e., keeping the little smartypantses from boredom—will begin.

Culture + Rodents

Friday, January 21st, 2011

Two movies, a book, and baby rats!


Blue Valentine had been billed as a gorgeous movie about a relationship beyond saving, which if you’re trying to get me into the theater is one of the more compelling pitches you can make. (Another: “It’s a dysfunctional family dramedy.”) Relationship dynamics is a beloved topic, and I’m always interested to see whether I can imagine a way forward for a vexed couple. Plus, I love to compare notes with John.

(This is how I pitched the movie to him: “The reviewer from the Chron says that you feel for both of them but can’t imagine how to help them. But I have a feeling we’ll know.”) (Please insert humility.)

It is a beautiful movie, raw and gritty and real, and unflinching in the best way. I was blown away by its bravery in the face of abortion, among other things. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams’ acting is mind-blowingly open—they’re practically flayed, here—and the present/past scene splicing allows the story to unfold in full emotional bloom. (Richard Brody, you and I are in diametric opposition on this point, grrr.) As a whole, the film is an indelible aesthetic experience, not easily forgotten, and I was grateful to Derek Cianfrance for laboring to get his vision on the screen.

One gripe: If the point is that love can tragically crumble in the face of regular life, Gosling’s character should not become an alcoholic. Because the obvious problem is that he can’t stop drinking, and there shouldn’t be an obvious problem. There’s a moment late in the film when Dean says to Cindy, “Tell me what to do. Just tell me what to do.” And John and I almost said it out loud, in harmony: “Stop drinking.” John’s argument was that presumably she’s already told him, and he can’t, but in that case, alcoholism is still the culprit in a movie that doesn’t need, or want, a culprit.

By the way, that would have been the way forward for these two: 1) Deal with the alcoholism and 2) Deal with the accrued feelings beneath. That’s pretty much always our prescription, so I’ll spare you the NorCal details (couple’s therapy, bodywork, etc.). But just in case you were wondering.

And then there’s Somewhere, a movie whose trailer promises so much more than the film delivers. Oh, Sophia Coppola, why can’t you make another Lost in Translation? She’s certainly working the same theme—alienation/disaffection of a movie star—but in this case, we’re imprisoned in a dead consciousness, forced to spend 90 listless minutes with a man who has emptied out. Elle Fanning should have been in every scene! But I suppose that would have made it another Lost in Translation, or something so close to it that Coppola would worried about repeating herself. Sigh.


I’m nearly finished with Persuasion, which I’m reading as part of my anti-poverty-via-Kindle campaign. (I also downloaded some Dickens, but . . . oy.) Did Jane Austen invent the romantic comedy? Because the whole thing is like one big Sandra Bullock movie, wherein the plot is constructed to keep the lovers apart until the last possible moment, except for short, highly charged, and fleeting moments designed to string us along. I’m 77% finished and have taken to yelling “Just kiss already!” at the screen.

Also, is it horrible that I am only now realizing that I’ve probably read it before? I’d thought that Pride and Prejudice was the only Austen novel I’d read, but as I’ve made my way through Persuasion I’ve had a vague sense memory of previously having underlined every occurrence of the verb “to persuade” in the text, and of having felt pree-ty smart for doing so, as though nobody else in the history of literary criticism would have noticed Austen’s very intentional use of the word.  Heh. Youth. (Except probably I was at least 20.)


At long last, the baby rats are here—Melanie and Michelle. I’m embarrassed that their names are so similar to mine, but it’s not as though I chose them. They just obviously were Melanie and Michelle, and I had no choice but to acknowledge as much. They’re hooded, i.e., black-headed, with black stripes down the back and white everything else, including bellies. I love a white fur belly! Yes I do!

So far, they’re still settling in, figuring out their ginormous cage, and getting braver by the day. Last night my friend Judy and I (hi, Judy!) had them out for quite a while, and Melanie gained enough courage to leave the safety of my fleece jacket for the hills and valleys of the couch! (Michelle snuggled down into Judy’s hood and went to sleep.)

I’m sure we’ll find our rhythm as we go. But it’s already clear that they’re going to need heaps of intellectual stimulation, as predicted, so I’m scheduling play dates for anyone who wants them. Got kids? Want some warm ratty snuggles? Bay Area peeps, make yourselves known!

(More and Less) Likable Lad Lit

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

At long last, I’ve returned from our saga-length holiday sojourn. (But I’m still ramping up! So don’t expect much! She says defensively!)

Among my Chanukah spoils was the new Kindle (thanks, Mom!), which I sorely needed, as my first had been tossed in the giveaway heap. Turns out our  location in North Berkles is the deadest of dead zones for any kind of cell phonish network, so downloading anything at all, even a free sample, was an hours-long proposition.

I gave up.

Now I’m back on board with WiFi and in danger of bankruptcy via Kindle, so I have a resolution: For every 3 paid downloads, I’ll try a free classic. I’m thinking of starting with Dickens. I’ve read David Copperfield and Nicholas Nickleby. What’s next—Bleak House or Martin Chuzzlewit? Or maybe Tale of Two Cities? Great Expectations? Those last two are tainted by botched middle school attempts, but that’s probably reason enough to revisit.

For whatever reason—I blame vacation indolence—my first three downloads fell into the Lad Lit category. I started with Nick Hornby and Juliet, Naked, which delivered the typical Nick Hornby experience: skepticism, glimmer of hope, flicker of interest, lack of fulfillment, annoyance. Why do I always fall for the promise of what he never delivers? From there I searched my own wishlist and, upon finding Jonathan Tropper compared favorably to  Hornby, bought This Is Where I Leave You.

It’s smart, funny, emotionally present, and pretty much a start-to-finish joyride, enough so that I forgave the plot’s ultimate descent into bonkersville and immediately downloaded another of his, How To Talk to a Widower. Which is in many ways the exact same book, although no less enjoyable for it.

At first I wondered why Tropper was grouped with Lad Lit, but after a second helping it could not have been more clear: sex, sex, sex, and fights, fights, fights. (Who lives in that world? Lads?) Also, we have the shiftless but mostly socially progressive boy-man hero who apologizes for his laddish ways while not actually doing much to overcome them (until, of course of course, le fin).  Whatever. It’s fun.

Although I need a break for a while. Dickens?