Saturday, October 31, 2009

"Mammoth" expectations

I'm a big fan of Swedish director Lukas Moodysson, so I was excited to discover that he has a new film coming out -- with Michelle Williams in a lead role, no less. It'll be great to see her continue to flex the acting muscles she showed off in Brokeback Mountain. Both Together and the devastating Lilja 4-ever demonstrated Moodysson's skillful touch with actors and mastery of tone, so I'm eager to see what he brings to a fairly ordinary-looking troubled-marriage story. Also anxious to see Andrew Bujalski's newest, Beeswax, at Northwest Film Forum this week. I've been following Bujalski's work ever since I reviewed his wonderful feature debut, Funny Ha Ha (scroll down after clicking to read my review), and I'm always interested to see what he's up to. Doesn't hurt that Beeswax has been getting raves from many a critic, including Kibbutz regular Leyna Krow. If that girl doesn't know about mumblecore, who does?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Now we're talking!

Helloooo, public option!

The mellifluous tones of academe

University of Chicago's "Make Your Own Academic Sentence" randomizer suggests that the school values self-deprecation at least as much as self-importance. Would that more major institutions of higher learning could laugh so heartily about their own ridiculousness. My first sentence, by the way, was this: "The eroticization of pop culture opens a space for the engendering of print culture." So true. (Hat tip to Steven for the link.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"Down to the Bone"

When we meet Irene, the working-class heroine of Debra Granik's stunning 2004 addiction saga, she's getting her kids ready for Halloween. This first scene expresses two of the film's main themes: the act of hiding behind a false face, and the attempts of a fundamentally good person to do the best with what she has in front of her. Irene's older son, dressed in a pretty good Houdini costume, doesn't really want to go trick-or-treating at all; her younger one, who didn't get the costume he wanted, seems equally unenthusiastic. Irene tries to get them excited about the holiday, but her show of excitement is forced and nervous. We soon realize why she's anxious: She's due for a snort of cocaine. When she retires to the bathroom to get it, her older son stands outside the door. He wants to know what's going on, but we sense that he's already all too aware.

Down to the Bone is set in upstate New York, in the bleak midwinter. The film looks grainy, which isn't artifice but a testament to its low budget. (It was produced with assistance from the Sundance Institute.) Vera Farmiga plays Irene, and she's as good as everyone says. I've been interested in Farmiga ever since I read Lynn Hirschberg's terrific New York Times Magazine article about the dearth of strong female roles in Hollywood films these days. Hirschberg portrays Farmiga as a case in point: She's an actress of prodigious talent who wishes she could be the next Meryl Streep, but the parts simply aren't there. She can toil in no-budget pictures of great artistic integrity that nearly no one sees, or she can try to keep her head high through trash like Orphan, one of 2009's most-ridiculed movies.

Of course there are roles in between -- her turn in Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning The Departed won deserved critical acclaim, and she does astounding things with a less-than-amazing part in Wayne Kramer's loopy action flick Running Scared -- but that isn't the point. The point is that in the '70s and '80s, an actress like Streep could make a career out of meaty roles with minimal slumming. As Hirschberg notes:
As recently as the 80’s, women were often the sole stars of mainstream studio movies like “Terms of Endearment,” “Moonstruck” and “Out of Africa.” For years before, from Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind” to Bette Davis or Katharine Hepburn in countless roles to Jane Fonda in “Klute” or Diane Keaton in “Annie Hall,” actresses carried films to box-office success. But today, women in mainstream films more often populate the margins as girlfriends, mothers and wives, often with stereotypical personalities.
Bone resembles SherryBaby (2006), which starred Maggie Gyllenhaal and also delved sensitively and intelligently into the life of a troubled young woman looking for a way out of her woes. Though the two films share both plot points and themes, Granik's feels even more real. She uses mundane settings to tremendous effect, familiarizing us with the minutiae of Irene's everyday life in a way that sticks with us long after the closing credits.

The movie depicts its secondary characters with great respect and even-handedness. Irene's beleaguered husband, Steve (Clint Jordan), is both out of touch with her needs and worthy of our compassion; the man she's got her eye on, Bob (Hugh Dillon), a struggling ex-addict, is a liar but also, ultimately, a good man in the same way that she's a good woman. Dillon deftly balances Bob's charm and deceptiveness, and Granik refuses to make him a villain. Because of this, his future and Irene's remain uncertain at the end of the film, which makes its depiction of drug dependency feel all the more accurate.

The song "Point of Disgust," by Low, plays over the end credits, and both lyrics and music -- spare, melancholy, faintly hopeful -- fit the movie so perfectly that they might have been written specifically for it (though, in fact, they weren't). It's worth mentioning as well that the young actors who play Irene's sons are both superbly cast and exceedingly well directed. Their utterly believable performances add to the film's emotional complexity. When one of Irene's rehab counselors asks her why she's trying to kick drugs, she says it's for her kids. His response reveals just how nuanced Granik's movie truly is.

Bone is riveting throughout because it contains not one wasted scene, and hardly a wasted word; it's compelling also because Farmiga gives a masterful performance without a shred of vanity. Here's hoping someone, sometime soon, writes another role she's truly worthy of.

Colbert at his best: bashing the anti-Ref. 71 campaign

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Happy second birthday, Red Blue Green!

I started this blog on October 17, 2007, so it's just over two years old. Though I foolishly cancelled my MySpace account without realizing that my MySpace blog, which I started in 2005, would disappear with it, I'll always think fondly of that blog, which documented my five months in New York in 2006 and helped me develop a consistent blogging voice and style.

Without further ado, I'll continue an anniversary tradition: embedding a video wherein Thom Yorke performs the beautiful song that gave Red Blue Green its name. Enjoy!

I'll also take a modified version of the survey I used to kick off the MySpace blog nearly four years ago:

Name:Neal Elliott Schindler
Birthday:February 9, 1979
Birthplace:Detroit, Michigan
Current Location:Seattle, Washington
Eye Color:Brown
Hair Color:Brown
Right Handed or Left Handed:Right
Your Heritage:German/Jewish
The Shoes You Wore Today:Brown Eccos, as always
Your Weakness:Pasta/noodles; Lost; petting animals even though I'm allergic
Your Fears:Not realizing my creative potential; remaining overweight for the rest of my life
Your Perfect Pizza:Every vegetable imaginable needs to be on there
Goal You Would Like To Achieve This Year:Handling the big new challenges that seem to be coming my way
Your Most Overused Phrase On an instant messenger:FYI
Thoughts First Waking Up:It's cold in my room!
Your Best Physical Feature:Eyes, I'm told
Your Bedtime:Midnight, these days
Your Most Missed Memory:College in general, Spain specifically
Pepsi or Coke:Neither
McDonalds or Burger King:Hell no
Single or Group Dates:Group
Lipton Ice Tea or Nestea:Neither
Chocolate or Vanilla:Vanilla
Cappuccino or Coffee:Mint tea
Do you Smoke:No
Do you Swear:Yes, too much
Do you Sing:Rarely
Do you Shower Daily:Yes!
Have you Been in Love:Absolutely
Do you want to go to College:I'm in college: community college
Do you want to get Married:For sure
Do you believe in yourself:More than I used to
Do you get Motion Sickness:Occasionally, when I read on the bus
Do you think you are Attractive:Sometimes
Are you a Health Freak:Not yet
Do you get along with your Parents:The remaining one, yes
Do you like Thunderstorms:I miss them
Do you play an Instrument:Not really
In the past month have you Drank Alcohol:Once or twice
In the past month have you Smoked:No
In the past month have you been on Drugs:No
In the past month have you gone on a Date:Yes
In the past month have you gone to a Mall:Yep
In the past month have you eaten a box of Oreos:No
In the past month have you eaten Sushi:I have, and it was wonderful
In the past month have you been on Stage:I walked on the stage at Kirkland Performance Center
In the past month have you been Dumped:No
In the past month have you gone Skinny Dipping:Sadly, no
In the past month have you Stolen Anything:No!
Ever been Drunk:Of course!
Ever been Beaten up:Yep
Ever Shoplifted:Not that I can recall
How do you want to Die:Peacefully, painlessly
What do you want to be when you Grow Up:A writer; a filmmaker; a counselor for people with eating disorders
What country would you most like to Visit:Thailand
Number of CDs I own:I have more than 10,000 iTunes
Number of Piercings:None
Number of Tattoos:None
Number of things in my Past I Regret:A few, for sure; I can think of four right now

Pugoween 2009

Made the annual pilgrimage with Kelly, who had never been. Recorded a short video, as usual:

My allergic reaction seemed worse than in past years. Still fighting through it. Pug owners as a group are very sweet but also quite kooky. Don't want to end up a crazy pet person, though I do love pugs and certain cats and can get pretty excited about them.

My life may be about to change dramatically, though I won't get into it now. More information as it's confirmed.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The song that's currently stuck in my head

Thanks a lot, New York, I Love You trailer.

The prettiest charts and graphs you've ever seen

Last night, Reed told me about Information Is Beautiful, which contains a truly magnificent amount of data organized into gorgeous visual representations. It's nerdbait, sure, but also a nice demonstration of how satisfying a solid site concept, well executed, can be.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Kelly carves a mean cat-o'-lantern

She and I turned our Jubilee Farm pumpkins into characters tonight. I went with the classic, albeit with a Sloth twist:

Whereas Kelly created a lovingly detailed portrait of her feline housemate, Maggie:

We also drank hot spiced cider and roasted the pumpkins seeds with olive oil and salt. They're delicious.

The power of "Mad World"

The venerable Tears for Fears song, famously covered by Gary Jules for the Donnie Darko soundtrack, has become the go-to recording for game and movie producers looking to imbue their cultural products with an extra level of gravitas or sensitivity you never knew was there (because it isn't). Darko's "Mad World" montage, which gives us a glimpse of nearly every character in the film, would be nowhere near as moving without Jules' cover:

His take on the song shimmers with the same kind of intelligence and sadness Darko conveys, which makes it something like a perfect match for the movie.

In contrast, the makers of Gears of War 2, a sequel to the extremely popular (and violent) combat game, went against conventional wisdom by scoring their trailer not with balls-out death metal, but with the deeply emotional strains of... yep, "Mad World":

Presumably, this was an attempt not only to suggest that the game had hidden emotional depths but also to attract a more adult audience than the game already had -- or simply to reassure adult Gears addicts that they'd chosen a genuinely sensitive, profound shoot-'em-up as the object of their addiction.

Finally, we come to the trailer for The Crazies, a 2010 remake of a 1973 George Romero horror film about a virus that turns people into zombies:

Et voilĂ ! A seemingly conventional splatter pic becomes a melancholy rumination on the human condition, the existential reality that we're all basically alone, etc. Or something like that. What's also interesting is that Darko, Gears, and Crazies all share decidedly apocalyptic themes. The whole thing reminds me of Mike Barthel's excellent paper on Jeff Buckley's cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," presented at the 2007 EMP Pop Conference. "Mad World" seems well on its way to "Hallelujah"-level pop-culture ubiquity and shorthand value.

McGinn changes tack on tunnel

The P-I has the story, and Crosscut's Knute Berger (my former boss at Seattle Weekly) offers a bit o' commentary. My ballot's in the mail, so there's not much I can do. I can't say I'm 100% surprised, given the City Council's unanimous show of support for deep-boring. Still, as one P-I commenter points out,
Actually, if the tunnel is a done deal, a vote for McGinn gets us better Transit in the form of expanded light rail and streetcars, which helps people who won't use the tunnel.
As Berger notes, McGinn's switch makes sense on one level:
The upside of the switch for McGinn is that it might win him votes, and observers (like the pro-McGinn folks at Publicola) think he looked at his polling numbers and realized he had less to lose by flip-flopping than by sticking to his guns. And it's true that McGinn was leaving a lot of votes on the table with his tunnel opposition.
But on the macro PR level, the idealist-vs.-corporate-realist level, it's a strange shift:
If Mike McGinn is a conviction candidate — as contrasted with Mallahan, who seems to be an avatar (or is it shill?) of Seattle's power establishment — he's undercutting his main strength, which is to take bold, challenging stands against the conventional wisdom. You can say this is smart politics, and I suppose it would be if he were running as a conventional politician, but everything about his campaign's appeal — the low budget, the accessibility of the candidate, the insurgent tactics, even the beard — have pointed in a different direction.
I have a feeling Mallahan will win, but I suppose we can't count McGinn out yet.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The simple life

A pumpkin patch, squash everywhere, hot apple cider, delicious corn on the cob, livestock, musicians, and hay rides -- that's the sort of wholesome fun Jubilee Farm in Carnation provides. Kelly and I visited earlier today, and I took this fabulous still life:

Friday, October 16, 2009

Amen, sister

My prolific blogger friend Sasha recently had the following to say:
People who are all like “I’m really passionate about fitness and health” can’t appreciate how hard it is to be fit and healthy when you are passionate about neither fitness nor health. Also: how do I not keep chocolate sauce in the house?
Don't I know it, except my "chocolate sauce" is non-whole-wheat pasta. Stuff is like crack/heroin/your favorite trivially invoked hardcore drug. In other vaguely nutrition-related news, here's Sasha's adorable dog Leo in a too-large banana costume:

Thursday, October 15, 2009

"The Toreador Song" as you've REALLY never heard it before

Astonishing and wonderful. Thanks to Limmie for posting the clip on Facebook.

C'mon, Hollywood remake factory

Is this really the best you can do? Sad to think they're recasting Johnny Depp's breakthrough role:

That said, I like that the extremely talented Jackie Earle Haley keeps getting hired. Clearly, Michael Bay and company cast him in Nightmare based on his work in Watchmen as a misanthropic crime fighter and in Little Children as a grown man who, like Freddy Krueger, just can't seem to leave the kids alone. Except that Children's Ronnie is a human being you can feel compassion for, while Freddy is a demented hell-monster who slays teens in their dreams.

Anti-Ref. 71 radio ad makes the TV ads look almost competent

Bad acting, poor logic, and a despicable message: This one's a real piece of work.

Creepy sadness for kids

My friend Jeni recently posted Andrew O'Hehir's list of 10 landmark "children's movies" that might not good choices for family film night after all. I have some issues with his logic: Sure, Spirited Away is sophisticated enough for adults, but many children can handle difficult themes earlier than we think they can. When O'Hehir cites the movie's "creepy-sad nuances -- like the recognition that one's parents do indeed die eventually" as a reason to keep the kiddies away, he's ignoring a long history of tales, fables, and bedtime stories that have dark edges, or even dark plot elements.

What makes a film suitable for children, I think, is a point of view that resonates with them, and material that isn't so troubling or confusing that it takes them out of the emotional and narrative experience. Bambi's mother dies in Bambi, and parents worldwide recognize that as an appropriate way to introduce their kids to the notion of mortality. Spirited Away may add an aspect of "creepiness" to its melancholy, but that doesn't mean children shouldn't or won't understand and love it. (See also: Maurice Sendak on whether Where the Wild Things Are is "too scary" for kids.) I will give O'Hehir major props, however, for making me want to see The Witches again; I'd honestly forgotten it existed.

Be still, my beating heart!

Spotted the cover of Bust magazine at PCC today. As if my crush on these ladies and the terrific movie they're in needed any more encouragement. <sigh>

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Pro-Ref. 71 ad pulls out the big guns

To wit: They've gone and found the most adorable lesbian couple the world has ever known. Okay, maybe that's a subjective statement, but these two have to be in the top five:

Was I the last person in Seattle to find out?

At Shabbat dinner tonight, someone told me that President Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. Despite working (for the moment) at a news-gathering organization, I may be the last Seattleite to have heard about this. I had to field several good-natured questions about the size of the rock I live under, etc. Holy mackerel.

Oh, and Rachel Maddow's take on the subject is wonderful:

Thanks to Nancy for posting it on Facebook.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Anti-Ref. 71 ad resembles a bad parody of itself

First I find out from NPR that a majority of Republicans in Congress consider the Matthew Shepard Act "unnecessary," and now this?

I try not to fan the flames of the so-called culture wars, but c'mon. Social conservatives are practically giving us bleeding-hearts a great big license to fan.

P.S. Among the voices in opposition to the Shepard Act, one is especially galling:
Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina has spoken against the bill, saying that it is unnecessary, that it violates the 14th Amendment, and that it would be a step closer to the prosecution of "thought crimes."
What happened to Matthew Shepard was hardly a "thought crime." Jesus.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"Whip It"

Drew Barrymore's directorial debut, a sweet, funny roller-derby saga, is tremendously good. I had no idea how good it would be. The casting, writing, and direction are whip-smart (no pun intended), and the movie makes very few wrong moves -- every moment entertains, and the emotional ones feel earned.

Ellen Page inhabits a Juno-like character, but her Bliss Cavendar isn't Juno. She's shyer, less sarcastic, more smart than clever. Her little-town blues get swept away by a fateful visit to Austin with her mother, Brooke (played beautifully -- no surprise -- by Marcia Gay Harden), during which a squad of rollergirls swing by, all confidence and tattoos and offhand athleticism. Soon, Bliss and her best friend, Pash (winningly played by Alia Shawkat), are sneaking back to Austin to catch a roller-derby bout, where Bliss falls head over heels in love with the rough-and-tumble sport. She tries out for the Hurl Scouts and, to her immense surprise, makes the team.

Then we find out why it wasn't harder: The Scouts are dead last in the league. Their coach, Razor (the immensely likable Andrew Wilson), tries to get the team to follow a playbook, but they seem perversely pleased to remain at the bottom of the heap. Barrymore playfully casts herself as a brawler, nicknamed Smashley Simpson. (The women's derby names, based on everything I've read and heard, are supremely authentic.) Juliette Lewis is memorable as quasi-villain Iron Maven, and SNL's Kristen Wiig is terrific as Maggie Mayhem, giving a grounded performance that replaces her usual zaniness with an earthier, dryer humor. (Comically speaking, Wiig appears capable of just about anything.) Even Jimmy Fallon, as the league's trackside announcer, nails his part. All of these roles were cast with loving care.

As other critics have noted, the plot isn't particularly surprising, but Whip It packs plenty of small surprises, and I won't give them away. This year hasn't been a great one for true feel-good movies; only Adventureland managed to elate me as much as Whip It. (And lest I forget: Daniel Stern, who hasn't exactly been in the spotlight lately, is excellent as Bliss's sympathetic but passive father. Barrymore and her casting director should take a bow for pulling him out of semi-obscurity.)

I'm especially impressed that Barrymore didn't choose some long, ponderous novel for her debut as a director. (It is, however, based on a novel, by Shauna Cross, who's spent time on skates herself.) As the outtakes during the closing credit sequence reveal, everyone involved had a fantastic time making the film, and that's almost certainly why it's such a joy to watch. I didn't want it to end, and I bet you won't, either. Almost certainly one of my top 10 movies of the year.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Stairs vs. elevator

NPR has the story (and that gorgeous, scene-stealing photo, displayed above). Here's a taste:
Over the years rabbis have approved various methods of automation, such as lights that run on timers, as permissible on the Sabbath.

But now some prominent rabbis have declared that Shabbat elevators must not be used. The rabbis say Shabbat elevators are a "severely prohibited" desecration of the Sabbath. Thus, the eternal debate about what an observant Jew may and may not do on the Sabbath has taken another turn.

"That's low, JDate. That's low."

Blogger Sasha Pasulka, aka Evil Beet, whom I've known since our teenage years, got attention from Gawker for this Yom Kippur-themed beauty:

As if there weren't already enough reasons to wonder about JDate. In other Sasha news, she gave a shout-out to the Kibbutz in her Yom Kippur post, where she links to this blog and my housemate Steven Blum's. It's always impressive when people as successful as Sasha remain so grounded and generous.

Friday, October 2, 2009


Ms. Palin's book is pre-selling faster than H1N1 vaccine inhalers. The title, Going Rogue, tells you pretty much all you need to know. The next time I quit an assignment halfway through just because I feel like it, I'm going to refer to it as "going rogue."

MADD about... boozeless party drinks?

Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which has courted controversy before by shifting its focus from combating drunk driving to fighting underage drinking, recently introduced a line of alcohol-free party beverages called, somewhat unfortunately, MADD Virgin Drinks. While I'm skeptical about the flavor of non-alky wine, I wonder even more about the drinks' real-world appeal. As Kelly noted, it's hard to imagine many adults wanting to be seen at parties holding mother-approved bottles of beer. McClatchy thinks it's pretty boneheaded, too. To wit:
MADD's national president, Laura Dean-Mooney, said the faux margaritas, mojitos, pina coladas, beer and wine will provide hosts the option to serve drinks with "the great taste needed to make guests feel like they are part of the party — but without alcohol."

Nothing like perpetuating the notion that to be part of the party, you either need to drink or to be seen as drinking.

Because the beverages are nonalcoholic, they may be legally consumed by teens. Nothing like acquiring a taste for the unleaded stuff before switching to high-test.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Godwin's Law: Alan Grayson edition

It's funny when apologies for imprudent speech end up causing even more controversy. What with LaRouche supporters drawing Hitler mustaches on Obama posters and Grayson using the loaded word "holocaust" to describe our health-care crisis, it seems Godwin's Law no longer applies exclusively to Usenet discussions.

Low-hanging fruit

Corporatespeak: It's the new strychnine -- for your soul.

An urban collective in Brooklyn

A recent New York Times article (sent my way by Joel) spotlights a community in New York that somewhat resembles the Kibbutz. Those pictures at the top, which make the residents seem like sitcom characters or reality-show contestants, tempt me to get professional photos taken of all 15 Kibbutzniks. If only I actually had the money for that...