Sunday, August 30, 2009

My childhood shul rules

I think this is a great campaign, both from an advertising perspective and in terms of the principle involved. (West Seattle's Kol HaNeshamah is similarly inclusive, which I've always appreciated.) Well done, T'chiyah!

How (not) to raise a(n) (un)healthy eater

Michelle pointed out this excellent Times piece about the dilemmas modern parents face when it comes to teaching (and modeling) smart eating patterns. The following bit, about everyday disordered eating that lies outside the realm of diagnosable conditions, is especially sharp:
Neither of these children, with whom I interact occasionally, comes close to being a statistic or case study. He isn’t obese; she isn’t anorexic.

But they represent a larger group of young people between those widely publicized (and much more complicated) extremes. And they speak to a subtler parental challenge: how to coach children away from unhealthy eating without sowing panic; how to make them conscious of their intake without making them too self-conscious about its consequences.
See also: "I Was a Baby Bulimic."

What normal looks like, according to "Glamour"

As recommended by Jill, the heartwarming story of a magazine model who isn't a size zero -- or even in the single digits.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Nerdy Nintendo humor

Kelly brought a few choice Super Mario Brothers spoofs to my attention yesterday. "Luigi Finally Snaps" is among the best, as are these:

In defense of Julie

Quite a few people I know detested the "Julie" half of Julie & Julia. I saw the movie yesterday afternoon, and I have to wonder why the parts of the film set in 2002, in the Queens apartment of an appealing young couple, have attracted such raw hatred from so many. A fair portion of the haters' ire has settled on the character of Julie Powell, who is described as self-absorbed, irritating, and utterly unlikable. Some folks have floated the idea that putting Amy Adams, who plays Powell, up against Meryl Streep as Julia Child made for an unfair fight. But Adams has plenty of acting chops, as she demonstrated in her Oscar-nominated performance in Junebug, so that's not the problem. Perhaps, as Michael suggested, the movie's version of Powell is written as such an annoying brat that Adams can't do anything but channel pure brattiness?

I'd argue that Julie Powell is one of Nora Ephron's realest characters in a good long while. When Harry Met Sally..., the 1989 romantic comedy that Ephron wrote but didn't direct, presented two very human people: Harry, who acted like a bit of a jerk sometimes but could never completely conceal his soft heart; and Sally, whose neurotic restaurant ordering and insistence on organization ran the very definite risk of annoying even the most sentimental viewer. Actually, the movie introduced us to two more people who were extremely real and flawed: the smug marrieds, played by Carrie Fisher and the late Bruno Kirby, who lay in bed thanking their lucky stars that they'd never have to date again. (Is that what marriage is for? The film dramatizes our desperate desire to escape the horrors of dating more nimbly than most others I've seen.)

The lovers-to-be in Sleepless in Seattle were less messed up, and those in You've Got Mail led charmed enough lives to be entirely less relatable. Julie Powell is selfish sometimes, isn't as committed as she should be to her job at a call center for family members of 9/11 victims, and occasionally throws a hissy fit that she herself recognizes as small-child behavior. Yet her husband, Eric (the always wonderful Chris Messina), loves her, presumably because she's quirky and has a restless mind and a big heart. When she presents him and a table full of friends with her latest creation from Child's epic tome Mastering the Art of French Cooking, you can see why he sticks with her through the tantrums and self-absorption.

Julie is a free spirit in a modest apartment that feels to her like a cage, and her repeated insistence that she's not a writer because she hasn't been published is something that rings too true for all of us writers who have been published but still have trouble seeing ourselves as writers. What Julie endures in the film is a quarterlife crisis, and while it isn't always pretty to watch, it was never less than interesting for me, because I'm just now trying to come out the other end of my own. (One assumes that the publication of Powell's blog-turned-book, in which she wrote about preparing French Cooking's 524 recipes in a year, has gone a long way toward resolving her angst about turning 30 with little to show for it.)

Watching the Julia scenes is a joy because a Streep performance is nearly always a joy. She elevates the material in a way that recalls her work in The Devil Wears Prada, which wouldn't have been a quarter as good without her contribution. (Stanley Tucci, as Julia's husband, Paul, is also a pleasure to watch, as always.) But we already know the story of the first real celebrity chef, who introduced ordinary Americans to a marvelous new way of cooking. Powell's story looked messier on the screen -- literally, in certain cases, when a dish didn't turn out as planned -- but was easier for me to connect with.

A fellow Kibbutznik who saw the movie complained that when Powell's husband temporarily leaves her, it's unclear why, and that it's equally unclear what his motives are for returning. Nothing could be further from the truth. Powell begins to overfocus on her blog project halfway through the film, and her husband needs space; she's turning into Cookzilla, and he wants a break from the drama. He comes back because he reads her indirect apology to him on her blog, which goes to show that emotional wrecks can sometimes pick themselves up and act like reasonably normal humans via the power of writing, a phenomenon to which I can also relate.

I suspect that I liked Powell's character more than some of my peers because I'm more self-absorbed than some of them, and thus more like her. I also wonder whether the bloggers and oddballs among her critics took out the sharp knives because they saw too much of themselves, and their own Internet solipsism, in Julie. Whatever the case may be, Julie & Julia is a small gem of satisfying light comedy, and I recommend it -- especially to those who've recently seen The Hurt Locker and need a counterbalance.

On going back to school

I told someone recently that I'm trying to decide between the Master of Science in Nutrition and Clinical Health Psychology program at Bastyr University and the Film and Video Communications program at Seattle Central Community College. She responded: "Wow, you sure have a wide range of interests!" I said: "If someone gave you a course catalogue and told you price wasn't an object, you could take anything you want, you'd have a hard time deciding." The truth is, we all have a wide range of interests; the tricky part is figuring out which ones to pursue academically, which professionally, and which avocationally.

I worry that studying film theory, for example, might negatively impact my love of film. I studied creative writing and Spanish in college, and by the time I had my B.A., I was ready to take a break from both. I never really came back to either area, even though I was obsessed with Spanish in high school and wrote poetry and fiction fairly regularly back then, too. I'm also not sure academic analysis is the way I want to look at film; I enjoyed being a film critic for the Weekly largely because I got to choose the level of diction and analysis for each movie, and because popular criticism seems more accessible (and, frankly, enjoyable) than academic articles and books. For me, the idea of becoming a film studies professor isn't beyond the pale, but it doesn't feel like one of my best options, either.

Seattle Central's filmmaking program includes some theory, but its emphasis is on production. I attended an info session last week that laid out the two-year curriculum and included talks by two of the program's main professors. One is a documentarian whose film Sweet Crude played at SIFF this year; the other didn't mention his body of work, but I liked his no-nonsense personality and his sense of humor. Both teachers stressed how challenging the program is, and that it's a great deal, financially speaking: $7,800 or so for six quarters of quality instruction. Renting equipment and studio space for a single day, one of the professors pointed out, might easily cost $1,300, the price of one quarter in the program. We watched a short film made by members of a previous year's class; the acting was surprisingly good, the writing was decent, and the cinematography and editing were impressive.

We also talked about the logistics of finding work after graduation. Both teachers admitted that graduates have to work hard to find jobs, and many of them are freelance gigs. But they balanced this sentiment with the notion that there's always some work, somewhere, for a highly skilled production person. I was dazzled by the info session, as I imagine many of the other people in the room were; the session was packed with the most diverse group of people I've been around in a long time. The program takes a team-oriented approach, placing students in small groups to work on production projects. Finding ways to work well with virtual strangers, we were told, is a common challenge in the industry, and the program tries to recreate that challenge from the start.

If I want to enter this program, fall of 2010 is my first chance. Students can only enter it in the fall, and no spaces remain for this year. (There's quite a waiting list in case anyone drops out; I decided not to bother including my name on it.) It's a full-time program, which means holding down a full-time job in addition isn't an option. (One of the professors said that even working 20 hours a week while in the program is a tough row to hoe.)

The Bastyr program is a horse of a very different color. Fall of 2010 won't work because of all the prerequisites I need to take before applying; 2011 is more like it. I'll need nutrition, chemistry, psychology, anatomy, and biochemistry, all but the last of which I can take at either Seattle Central or North Seattle Community College. (Biochem isn't offered at the community colleges, so I'd probably have to attend a proper university for it.) I just paid for two classes for fall quarter: nutrition and a general prep class for chemistry. The former will give me a small taste of what I'd be getting myself into if I decided to pursue the MSNCHP; the latter will enable me to take the required chemistry series, if I end up so desiring.

My decision to go back to school was the pretty direct result of a realization achieved in therapy: I keep waiting for something external to tell me which direction to go professionally, but it's impossible to know what will suit me and what won't without trying something. I can't try everything, varied interests or not, but I can try something. And two community college classes are a whole lot cheaper than a year of grad school. Might as well try a subject that interests me on for size.

Some people who don't know me well, or haven't known me long, are surprised by my interest in nutrition counseling. The fact is, I've knowingly struggled with eating and body image issues for 15 years. Even after my bout with anorexia nominally ended, I veered back and forth between overeating and self-starvation. Only in 2006, in Brooklyn, was I able to achieve a level of mindfulness (thanks to daily meditation) that allowed me to understand what healthy eating habits might look like for me. And only now, a year after joining the food-intensive Kibbutz community, am I able to recognize that I'm heavier than I want to be without completely melting down about it. (I credit meditation, life wisdom, and Lexapro for that.)

In the proverbial perfect world, I'd study nutrition, counseling, and filmmaking and would win an Oscar for a groundbreaking documentary on disordered eating. For the moment, I'm excited to be a month away from starting classes. Studying algebra and pre-calculus to take the community college math placement test was more fun than grueling, thanks to the lessons that 12th grade calculus class apparently branded on my brain. I think relearning chemistry as an adult, from a competent teacher (my 10th grade chem teacher wasn't), might be a great experience. And I expect to really like nutrition class. My sense of how the body uses food, and what foods help or hurt us in which ways, is shaky at best. While mindfulness is definitely a part of the healthy-eating equation, information is also key, and no matter what I choose to do in the coming years, I won't regret having taken either class.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Finally, a Joust clone that's truly superior

If you're nerdy like me and love retro video games, and if you have a particular thing for Joust -- the early-'80s sci-fi classic in which you endeavor to ride a space ostrich to victory -- then you'll love Glypha III, which changes the visuals and music (in awesome ways, I'd argue) but remains incredibly loyal to the way the characters move. Now all I need to find is a decent Mario Bros. clone, and maybe an Asteroids replica, and I'll be a happy man.

Update, 1:32 a.m.: Here's that Asteroids clone I was looking for.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hilton Als on Michael Jackson

I know, I know, you're over the MJ postmortems. But Steven says this one is special, and I believe him, having skimmed it. I should read the whole thing sometime soon.

The songs that are currently stuck in my head

Thanks to Steven and KEXP's Cheryl Waters, respectively. The first one is especially addictive.

Update, Aug. 26: "Jerk It Out" by the Caesars is now also stuck in my head.

R.I.P., Ted

You'll be missed.

An explanation

I jest, of course. But not about being unemployed again. If anybody knows of anything remunerative that I might enjoy doing, or not hate doing, please don't be shy about bringing it to my attention. (Unless you want it for yourself, that is.)

High-concept doll designers: You've gone too far

Zelda Lily reports on a doll that breastfeeds. Next, I suppose, we need one that develops colic. Or maybe one with a taste for human blood.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Lost in Translation Party

Among Web sites destined to waste at least five minutes of your time, it's way up there. One of my recent "parties" proved particularly successful. I wish I had the money to put it on a T-shirt.

"The Hurt Locker"

Kathryn Bigelow's unusual, masterful war movie will almost certainly end up on my list of this year's top 10 films. (The others so far: Adventureland, Up, and Humpday.) From the opening scene, in which the director shows us simply and memorably how a military bomb disabler does his job, to an exquisitely rendered duel between snipers -- American and Iraqi -- across a barren desert landscape, The Hurt Locker is a film in total control of its tone. It's a stripped-down vision of war that communicates familiar messages (we and the enemy aren't so different; behind the stoic mask of a soldier lies untold psychological tumult) in ways that seem utterly fresh.

Take that sniper duel. A soldier played by Anthony Mackie is taking aim at an Iraqi shooter a long, long way away. Both men have partial cover and are partially exposed. Either could hit the other, but neither has an easy shot. As each man prepares his weapon, we see a fly climb down to the eyelashes of the Iraqi fighter before he shoos it away. A moment later, we see another fly do the same to Mackie. This is a film that treats Americans and Iraqis, adults and children, with a fundamental respect that can be hard to find in war films. Its main character, Staff Sergeant William James (played with Oscar-worthy integrity by Jeremy Renner), is a man doing his job; it just so happens that it's one of the most dangerous jobs imaginable. At one point in the film, a superior asks him how many bombs he's disabled. His answer: 837, including today's.

Starting with an opening quote from journalist Chris Hedges, this is a film that sees war as a drug, and it soon becomes evident that it's James' drug of choice. The first half of The Hurt Locker is a fairly methodical depiction of James' work life that's riveting in its documentary-like realism. In the second half, the screenplay by journalist Mark Boal (whose writing inspired Paul Haggis' underrated In the Valley of Elah) starts taking risks, exposing layers of James' character that we didn't think existed. We already know he takes unnecessary risks, but when he lets emotion cloud his usually excellent judgment, he emerges as a truly three-dimensional protagonist -- something not enough war movies have provided.

The film avoids clichés without being showy about it. My friend Reed observed that after the sniper duel, we get to see something few other movies have shown us: the slow, unsettling period of waiting, waiting, to see if the fight is really over. Most films about combat end the scene when the bad guys have been eliminated; this one stays with the American soldiers as they wonder if anybody else will emerge to take a shot at them. Eventually, as sunset approaches, James calls it. Cut to a scene of the three main characters back at the barracks, roughhousing in what seems like typical tough-guy style. But even this scene plays out in an understated way. As a result, we're forced to examine its elements rather than being spoon-fed a message about what war can do to men.

Throughout the film, Boal and Bigelow keep the interpersonal drama low-key; their focus is on the everyday tussles that can put all involved at greater risk during combat. I've rarely seen a movie about war that so devastatingly communicates its toll on a soldier's mind. The film's workmanlike ethic recalls last year's The Wrestler -- another superb character study with a bare-bones, quasi-documentary aesthetic. The Hurt Locker isn't the easiest movie to sit through, but it's captivating, and its use of violence is the opposite of gratuitous. Roger Ebert called it "the best American film of the summer," which might end up being an understatement. Even if you don't like most war movies, I urge you to see it.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A reunion about nothing

Who knew? Everyone but me, apparently. The Seinfeld cast reunion on Curb Your Enthusiasm might actually get me to watch that show. Once it's on DVD, that is.

Friday, August 21, 2009

On reading my mother's memoir

Just wrote a piece for about reading Re(vision) of a Life, my mother's loving and impassioned account of my grandmother's Holocaust story. Anyone interested in reading it can do so at the Kibbutz (it's only about 120 pages long), or it can be checked out, library-style. It's a good read, even for people who aren't members of my family (so says Kelly). The picture above is of my grandmother at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Craving fame

Seattle chef Robin Leventhal, whose late, great restaurant Crave I was the first to review, is a contender on Top Chef this season. I only hope that if she emerges victorious, I get to meet Padma. A boy can dream, can't he?

A different world

The trailer for James Cameron's Avatar, his first feature since 1997's Titanic, debuted online today. I kind of wish the preview hadn't revealed what the aliens look like, but I guess an enigmatic, Cloverfield-style campaign was too much to hope for. The animation looks excessively like a video game or a cartoon for my taste (think Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within grafted onto typical Cameron sci-fi action), but I'll almost certainly see it -- in 3-D, since I don't share Roger Ebert's disdain for the format.

Can I hear an "Amen"?

Ads for freelance writing gigs on Craig's List vary greatly. Some are dull, while others -- like a recent ad from a wannabe Mafia memoirist seeking a ghostwriter -- are anything but. And then there's "Editor for Messianic work," which includes the following passage:
Must be open to new truth if that truth is truly from God (which I assure [it] is) and is provable scripturally. Must not be locked into traditions received from the established church, if these traditions can be proven false in the scriptures. These new truths are from the Lord, and will shake things up in the religious world, and will be very powerful in the Messianic movement and in preparing the Church as the bride of the Jewish Messiah.
Presumably, Tom Hanks' Da Vinci Code character has already been notified.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Vote for Joel!

Joel Rothschild, co-founder and unofficial leader of the Ravenna Kibbutz, has been nominated for a "Jewish Community Heroes" award that would mean a bunch of funding for the very entity he's poured so much of his heart into during the past two years.

Please vote early and often -- you can do it every 12 hours, according to the rules, so bookmark the page and vote daily, if not twice daily. Apart from the financial incentive, Joel certainly deserves the recognition, and it would be great additional publicity for the Kibbutz as well.

This is also a good opportunity for me to thank everyone who has passionately supported the Kibbutz since its inception in October of 2007. Without you, we wouldn't be the thriving, exciting, unique community hub we are today. Toda raba!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Still waters run scary

Seattle Times writer Nancy Leson recently tweeted about a startling report on Fiji Water in Mother Jones, and it's really worth a read. Here's an excerpt:
I sat down and sent out a few emails—filling friends in on my visit to the Fiji Water bottling plant, forwarding a story about foreign journalists being kicked off the island. Then my connection died. "It will just be a few minutes," one of the clerks said.

Moments later, a pair of police officers walked in. They headed for a woman at another terminal; I turned to my screen to compose a note about how cops were even showing up in the Internet cafés. Then I saw them coming toward me. "We're going to take you in for questioning about the emails you've been writing," they said.

What followed, in a windowless room at the main police station, felt like a bad cop movie. "Who are you really?" the bespectacled inspector wearing a khaki uniform and a smug grin asked me over and over, as if my passport, press credentials, and stacks of notes about Fiji Water weren't sufficient clues to my identity. (My iPod, he surmised tensely, was "good for transmitting information.") I asked him to call my editors, even a UN official who could vouch for me. "Shut up!" he snapped. He rifled through my bags, read my notebooks and emails. "I'd hate to see a young lady like you go into a jail full of men," he averred, smiling grimly. "You know what happened to women during the 2000 coup, don't you?"

Monday, August 17, 2009

And introducing...

Kate has hit upon a chunk of pop-culture gold: YouTube's "thatlookslike" channel. She highlighted the Jack Black clip, but I went straight for Zooey Deschanel, as is my way.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sad news for fans of Scandy food reports that Olsen’s Scandinavian Foods is closing its doors. Another sign of Ballard's changing face, the reality of which truly began to hit home with last year's Sunset Bowl closure.

Hot critic-on-critic action

Yesterday Roger Ebert retracted his defense of New York Press film critic Armond White's negative review of District 9, the new Peter Jackson-produced sci-fi film that functions as an allegory for apartheid. Ebert seems to have been influenced in part by White's positive take on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which Ebert has spent weeks (though it feels like months) disparaging -- presumably with good reason, though I haven't seen it and won't.

Whatever you may think of the alien-robot flick, there's little doubt that if someone were to write a thesis on it, the writing would sound like this excerpt from White's review:
Based on the original 1980s Transformer toys by Hasbro and subsequent TV cartoons and comic books, the Transformer movies expound on this cultural plenitude. Their fascination with technology—the way common objects rearrange, expand or shrink as if having a benevolent or malicious life of their own—drives the stories.

Bay is an ideal director to realize this peculiar genre, which remakes the surfeit of adolescent commercial media as a means of multimedia gratification.These cars, trucks, motorcycles and planes—both human-friendly Autobots and dastardly Decepticons—metamorphose fast, but their transfiguration is like the mechanical toy descriptions in E.T.A. Hoffman: fantastic and uncanny.
Both White and Ebert address the real usefulness of the popular backlash against White's takedown of District 9. The incident makes it clear that Rotten Tomatoes -- which listed White's review, for a time, as the only negative one in existence -- can cultivate critical groupthink, such that dissenters are seen as willful contrarians or simply humorless grouches.

As someone whose taste is more predictable than White's, I appreciate dissent but am not always confident that calling a writer-director-producer like Jackson "intellectually juvenile," as White does, is the right way to go. Though if that's what you think, more power to you. I'm just saying ad hominem can get old for the reader, unless the reader likes the smell of blood in the air. Yet the whole mini-scandal helps Rotten Tomatoes addicts think more critically about the site, and about whether the big percentage at the top is worth paying so much attention to. And that's a good thing.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Angel with an AK

I thought 2012 looked ridiculous, but Legion has it beat. (Watch the trailer; you'll see what I mean.) Evil shape-shifting angels who bite people and light cars on fire? Archangel Gabriel as a supervillain? Nice job, Hollywood. Way to give the Religious Right more ammo in their war against the entertainment industry. Now it's that much easier to dismiss it as a heathenish, amoral wasteland.

Seriously, though: The old lady zombie angel? Who crawls on the ceiling? I feel like I've seen that in 20 other thriller previews.

I want a Jewish equivalent in which Moses comes back for revenge after being denied entrance to the Promised Land: Exodus II: Moses Strikes Back. Trailer ends with him turning a bazooka on God. Robert Downey, Jr., stars in full Tropic Thunder mode.

Michael Bay directs.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Time to lick your screen

I'm making this for Friday night's Mad Men-themed Shabbat dinner:

Mmmm. You know you want some. Be there or be meatloaf-less. And bring some retro-style food when you come. Think early '60s.

Update, Aug. 15: It was delicious.

Evening at Bastyr

I'm going, along with Kelly. Should be informative.

Nice round number

Weren't the six-point-whatever figures getting irritating? Thank goodness we're closing in on a number that's so much easier to remember.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Palin's iPod

I'm pretty much done writing about Sarah Palin, but I felt the urge to post one of her last tweets as Alaska's governor, an abbreviated account of a recent road-trip soundtrack:
RdTrip7 hrs wKid Rock/Martina McBride/Big&Rich/Grtchn Wilson/Billy Currngtn/Hank/Toby/VanP/Blk I P's/Greenwd/Straight/etc&USO artists=heaven
Proof positive that one person's heaven is another's hell. Have fun in "retirement," Sarah.

Hillary: I'm not Bill


The American way

Coke, a white picket fence, and a miniscule dog. Does anything say "U.S. of A." more than that? (Additional photos here; thanks to Sheri for the tip-off.)

Newish local film blog

Publicola's FilmNerd covers a nice mix of high-profile stuff (Inglourious Basterds, John Hughes' death) and under-the-radar stuff (local writer-director David Russo's The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle, which I reviewed during SIFF).

Monday, August 10, 2009

Who's counting

Yesterday, for the first time in its recorded statistical history, Red Blue Green received 100 page loads in one day. That may seem like peanuts compared to runaway successes like Evil Beet, but for me it's a satisfying achievement. Thanks to StatCounter, I also found out the other day that two Iranians had visited my blog. As Kelly noted earlier today, it's easy to become a total blog-stats geek within days of installing any of the online counter tools (Google Analytics is another good one). Thanks to everyone who visits Red Blue Green, especially those who have supported it from the beginning. Let's see if I can break 200 by year's end...

Thinkin' about it

Bastyr University's Master of Science in Nutrition and Clinical Health Psychology would require me to take a whole damn bunch of prereqs before I got started (probably at Seattle Central and/or North Seattle Community College), but if I want to counsel people with eating disorders, it might make a lot of sense to have. Plus, think of all the incredible stuff I'd learn along the way!

Tiny deer

Whenever an even smaller version of an already adorable animal is discovered, I perk up. (As, I'm sure, does Kelly.) I still prefer the pudú, however, not only because the Woodland Park Zoo has some but also because the Southern Pudú's Latin name is Pudu puda, which is funny when you say it out loud.

Clinton's comeback

Nice piece on it in the Times yesterday.

Baker vs. Kindle

Novelist (and novel addict) Nicholson Baker took a good, hard look at Amazon's e-reader last week in The New Yorker, and ended up recommending... the iPod Touch or iPhone. Ouch.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The female Michael Bay?

Coming soon to a mall multiplex near you: Yet another Nancy Meyers movie that's sure to suck. Mr. Bay has been getting razzed like crazy for the atrocity that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen apparently is, but Meyers -- the woman behind the unbelievably insipid The Holiday -- also deserves some brickbats for putting actors as talented as Streep, Baldwin, and Martin in what looks like stone-dumb dreck. Every joke in the trailer is unfunny; every time the script tries to be even remotely hip, it fails miserably. As a writer, Meyers has a tin ear; as a director, she's bad with comic timing. Like Bay's, her oeuvre represents the worst of Hollywood product: unimaginative, unoriginal, and virtually unwatchable.

Chai anxiety

That's the Hebrew word chai, which means "life," not the peppery Indian tea.

When I was in middle and/or high school, my friend Jordan wore a necklace with a chai. My grandmother would see it around his neck and comment on it. "Jordan wears a chai," she'd say. "Don't you want to wear one, too?" Then she'd offer to get one for me. This was sweet, of course, but I wasn't into it.

Just the other day, weirdly, I had a desire to wear a chai around my neck. I've lived at the Kibbutz for almost a full year now, and my sense of Jewish identity has never been more solid, but that's not to say it is solid. It's just not as utterly plagued by ambivalence and self-loathing as it used to be. I see many a member of the Kibbutz community wearing a hamsa, and maybe it's rubbed off on me. I don't want to wear a mystical symbol, though, and something about the star of David doesn't sit too well with me, either.

But chai simply means life, and that seems okay. I already donate to charity and give gifts in multiples of $18, which is the Jewish numerological equivalent of chai; I learned to do that from my parents. Surely chai has some importance for me. Maybe I envy my fellow community members who proudly display their Jewishness by wearing yarmulkas on the street, but I'm not prepared to use such a distinctly religious symbol. Chai is spare, elegant, and linguistic, which makes it a good fit for my language-oriented mind. So I'll swing by Tree of Life Judaica, which is a few blocks from the Kibbutz, and see what they're charging for chai necklaces these days. Can't hurt to look.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A film fest with legs

Roger Ebert recently linked to a cool piece about Tilda Swinton's "perambulating film festival." Especially love the picture.

Wit and wisdom

Great piece in the New York Times Magazine about Obama's sense of humor. I particularly like this passage:
But perhaps the more jarring if overlooked moment in Obama’s answer came just before that, when he endeavored to cast himself in the place of his friend Henry Louis Gates Jr., whose trouble began when he needed to break into his own home. “I mean, if I was trying to jigger into — well, I guess this is my house now, so it probably wouldn’t happen,” the president said. Then he flashed a mischievous grin and added, “Here I’d get shot.”
And this one:
What makes Obama’s humor more combustible isn’t just its spontaneity but also its distinctly postmodern, Seinfeldian premise. There’s an absurdist quality to the president’s less serious side, a sense that he woke up this morning to find himself occupying this singularly bizarre place in American life and that he has just now become aware that he’s the only sane guy in the room.

¡Justicia Sotomayor!

Even though she was a shoo-in, it's exciting to see. Especially great that Franken got to announce.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

"The Lovely Bones" and "Paris" trailers

I've read Alice Sebold's novel twice and still have considerable affection for it; based on the trailer for Peter Jackson's movie version, I'm afraid he's lost Sebold's delicate tone. Not surprising, just disappointing. The new Cédric Klapisch film, Paris, looks like more of the same from the talented French writer-director, but I loved L'Auberge Espagnole and liked Russian Dolls, so I'll go. Wish Kate and Angela were in town to see it with me.

Beware of app

Facebook application developers, you've gone too far.

R.I.P., John

Man, the '80s have been hurting lately. Another of the decade's icons is dead.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

God's chosen people: godless?

According to The Washington Post, we're a whole lot more secular than the average American. (Thanks to Bob Goldfarb for the tip-off.)

Extreme makeover

Slate's Farhad Manjoo has a modest proposal for Facebook. I particularly like this:
Facebook's home page is divided into two main sections. In the center, there's a quick-moving list of real-time updates. On the right, there's a stream that updates more slowly, labeled "Highlights." The trouble is, it isn't clear how Facebook decides which items deserve to be called highlights. For instance, yesterday someone I barely knew in college posted pictures from her friends' recent trip to California. Because those friends—who aren't my friends—posted several comments on one of the photos, Facebook assumed that the picture was a hot item. Now it's in my Highlights section—but I don't know anyone in the photo.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What were they thinking?

Josh Horowitz's The Mind of the Modern Moviemaker, which I recently checked out of the library, is a great read for film buffs, and one of the more accessible books I've found on the art and technique of filmmaking.

The author keeps things interesting by including Q&As with unapologetically commercial directors (like McG of Charlie's Angels fame) as well as the expected indie filmmakers (Monster's Patty Jenkins is a standout) and the occasional director who followed up a small first feature with a big-budget sophomore effort. (Best example: Karyn Kusama, who debuted with Girlfight and then made the critically panned Aeon Flux. She's coming back strong, hopefully, with this year's Diablo Cody-written horror-comedy flick, Jennifer's Body.)

Horowitz makes each filmmaker go through a final questionnaire; some answer it straightforwardly, while others mock it. (Sample question: "Who's your favorite living actor or actress?") The book's main strength is that it spotlights many different paths to cinematic success; it also reveals certain directors, like Donnie Darko's Richard Kelly, to be jerks -- talented jerks, yes, but jerks all the same. (Incidentally, Kelly's upcoming thriller The Box might redeem him after the wildly unsuccessful Southland Tales.)

What not to eat

Steven recently told me about This Is Why You're Fat, a mean-sounding blog that actually caters (no pun intended) to my love of the absurd and the edible. Some of what readers submit is truly surreal; it's basically the OINY of eats.

Mayuri will make you glad to be alive

My friend Huma's surprise going-away party (she's moving soon to Washington, D.C.) happened this past Sunday at Mayuri Cafe, part of the Mayuri family's small empire of Indian restaurants, food stores, and video rental places in Redmond. Huma recommended the samosa chat, which consists of a samosa broken into pieces, smothered in spicy and delicious sauces, and accompanied by chick peas and vegetables. It's out of this world, it's a filling plate of food, and it costs $3.99.

There's plenty of other good stuff on the menu, but Huma swears by the chat options, which replicate typical Indian street food. (My previous favorite local Indian eatery, Capitol Hill's Travelers, now has some stiff competition.) Mayuri's desserts are splendid as well; the mango cake, which Dinesh ordered, was just one of many tempting treats.

The nearby food store is a marvel, too, as it carries everything from cricket bats and lentils in bulk to an authentic Indian mouth-freshening concoction called mitha pan. I didn't even make it into the Bollywood-heavy video store, but I know there'll be a next time, so I'll just have to stop in then. In the meantime, anyone looking for a great meal, a few gift items, and a three-hour Hindi-language musical now knows exactly where to go.

"Juno" + "Night of the Demons" =

Screenwriter Diablo Cody's follow-up to her semi-iconic portrait of teen pregnancy angst is a horror-comedy flick that looks both fierce and fun. I may not be able to resist. The casting of Transformers star Megan Fox is particularly clever, in light of countless male fans' open, unrelenting lust for her. This, apparently, is what you get, boys.

Update, Aug. 6: Here's ye olde red-band trailer -- which, despite the note from "Karyn, Diablo, and Jason," isn't better than the green-band one, and actually seems a bit worse.

Shatner reads Palin

Yes, I'm the last person on earth one to see this major water-cooler phenomenon. So sue me.

Spoiler heaven

I was delighted to discover that Orphan, the second movie in which Vera Farmiga battles an evil child (the first one, Joshua, was actually supposed to be decent), has perhaps the year's most ridiculous twist, as reported by Knox Road and many other blogs. For my money, this is the best high-concept misfire since last year's Seven Pounds.

One in ten

My reaction to recent growth in antidepressant use differs from Philip Dawdy's. He declares: "Yes, America is one doped-up nation"; I think that's awfully glib. I actually found comfort in the news that slightly more than 10% of Americans are using some form of antidepressant, because while Lexapro has hardly been a panacea since I began taking it last October, it's certainly helped me battle a sense of hopelessness that was keeping me in bed, in the house, and unemployed for a bit too long. It's reassuring to me that an increasing number of people see medication as an option, even if it's a flawed one.

Dawdy points to a particular doctor as a voice of reason in the debate over antidepressants. Here's the excerpt from Reuters:
Dr. Eric Caine of the University of Rochester in New York said he was concerned by the findings. "Antidepressants are only moderately effective on population level," he said in a telephone interview.

Caine, who was not involved in the research, noted that several studies show therapy is as effective as, if not more effective than, drug use alone.

"There are no data to say that the population is healthier. Indeed, the suicide rate in the middle years of life has been climbing," he said.
Moderate effectiveness isn't the same as scant effectiveness or ineffectiveness, and it's well known that drug use alone isn't nearly as helpful as medication combined with therapy (which is what I'm doing). Finally, a lack of data doesn't prove or disprove the population's increased health, and who can say why more middle-aged people are committing suicide? Dawdy notes that it's nice to see his opinions echoed by a professional, but I find Dr. Caine's points pretty unconvincing.


A short while ago I wrote several 100- to 200-word blurbs about some of my favorite Seattle things, past and present. They didn't run where I hoped they would, so I've decided to publish them here.

Empire Ice Cream
Got a hankering for some beet sorbet? How about a little saffron ice cream? Part of Seattle’s artisanal ice cream trend, Empire, like its similarly adored competitor Molly Moon’s, is anything but plain vanilla. Several friendly guys and gals from the little company’s Queen Anne headquarters travel each week to the Ballard and University District farmers markets to hawk their delectable wares. Can’t make it to market? Queen Anne’s Paragon Restaurant & Bar has Empire’s stuff on the menu, and the neighborhood’s Eat Local food store carries it, too.

Café Razor
Stylist Mallory Fry liked working at Rudy’s University District salon, but this year she decided to strike out on her own. Razor’s punny name – it’s in the back of the U District club Café Racer, a hidden gem in its own right – reflects Fry’s playful attitude toward her work. So does the art on the walls, which evokes a bohemian French painter’s studio, or maybe just an out-of-the-way Pioneer Square gallery. The tiny salon’s sole chair offers a view of Racer’s stage, and Fry’s late weekend hours – she cuts until 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday – allow customers to take in a show while they get a trim. (Featured musical acts have included everything from New York psychedelic rock to homegrown old-timey folk.) Fry is charming and chatty, so you don’t have to sit in awkward silence. And, lest we forget, she’s excellent with hair – women’s and men’s alike. Her work at Rudy’s familiarized her with a wide variety of heads, so whether you’re yearning for a radical new look or simply maintaining an old favorite, she’s up to the task. 5828 Roosevelt Way NE, 206.428.8372.

Washington Ensemble Theatre
This is fringe theater as it was meant to be. Founded by a pack of University of Washington alums, WET has made its reputation as a place that debuts new works by up-and-coming playwrights. But it’s also a theater devoted to the strength of the ensemble, which currently includes the prodigiously talented Elise Hunt and (co-founder) Michael Place. In addition, the QTET program (Queer Teen Ensemble Theatre) gives local LGBT youth a chance to create original plays. A recent production, Titus, was a new adaptation of Shakespeare’s gory drama, with an emphasis on the play’s timely themes of political prisoners, betrayal, and torture. Even when it comes to the Bard, WET puts fresh ideas onstage.

Denny Blaine Park
Madison Beach Park is a fun summer spot, but it can get pretty crowded. If you want cool water, soft sand, and a mellower atmosphere, Madison’s little sister, Denny Blaine, might be the place for you. A small, semi-secluded Lake Washington beach tucked beside a grassy park, this underrated oasis attracts a diverse crowd: kids, couples, retirees, and tourists. It doesn’t offer the glamour of the upscale Madison Park neighborhood within stumbling distance, but sometimes all you need on a hot July afternoon is a place to take a dip and sunbathe your cares away.

Ravenna Alehouse
The “RavTav,” as it’s known among locals, used to be called the Ravenna Tavern, and folks say it was a genuine dive, seedy as they come. The Alehouse, on the other hand, is the kind of dive you actually want to go back to. It’s remarkably unpretentious for Seattle’s tony North End. Sure, there’s a digital jukebox, but there’s also pool, Taco Tuesdays, good local beer (among many other choices), and a clientele that’s always ready for a good time. And did we mention that the cook’s name is Cookie? 2258 NE 65th St, 206.729.9083.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Greetings from Big Sky Country

After arriving yesterday afternoon at Helena Regional Airport, I quickly noticed that Montanans are friendlier than Seattleites. By a wide margin. They strike up conversations simply because they're in the same space as you. They offer you fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies when you check into their hotels. They share taxis with you, to be friendly but also because there's only one taxi company in town, and sometimes the next cab won't be coming for an hour. We asked our driver how long she'd lived in Helena -- she was born around here -- and she said: "Too long." I shared the car with a nice couple visiting from Alaska. They had a satisfyingly negative view of Sarah Palin and Ted Stevens; the wife was in town to help lead a yoga retreat.

Last night, the groom's male friends, myself included, threw him an impromptu "bachelor party" that was really just a brief bar-hopping spree. We met some locals, discussed marriage and relationships, and got to bed by 1 a.m. Today I had a crepe for breakfast and read The New Yorker, got my Facebook fix, and had a fantastic veggie burger for lunch at an (ostensibly) Irish pub. Now I'm about to go swimming in the hotel's heated pool. The ceremony isn't until four o'clock. (Did I mention I'm in town for the wedding of my Oberlin friends Jesse Groman and Abby Person?)

The rehearsal dinner last night was splendid, and just the way I want mine to be someday: relaxed, fun, and full of nice people and delicious food. And random dogs. And homemade lemon sorbet for dessert, served in emptied-out lemon halves. This mini-vacation I'm on was sorely needed, and I hope to take more weekend trips in the near-ish future. Sometimes a change of scenery can be incredibly refreshing. (By the way, the picture above is of Helena's downtown cathedral, which I hope to see before I leave town tomorrow afternoon.)