Book lists

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Books I've read recently:
The Red Tent
The Bonesetter's Daughter
Janet Frame's autobiography

Books I have waiting to be read:
The Nanny Diaries
A Moveable Feast
When We Were the Mulvaneys
The Hours
Backlash
Susan Brownmiller's book on rape
Death Comes for the Archbishop
Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them
You Got to Dance with Them What Brung You

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Christmas again

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Mark comes back tomorrow! Mark comes back tomorrow!

I'm so excited I can hardly sit still. I have a bunch of presents and stuffed stockings waiting, so we can have our Christmas just as soon as he gets here (well, maybe a bit after he gets here). I'm also really excited for unmentionable reasons...it's amazing the things that two weeks apart will bring out...

I went on a total buying spree today, getting presents for Mark and Chancey. It was BAD. I spent like $200 or something. But it made me really happy, and now Christmas shopping is officially over and I can get back on budget. The pile of presents in the living room makes me smile every time I walk by. It's worth it. I can always say I spent my suit money from Nana (and my digital camera money from Dad, too, I guess). I don't really need to buy a suit now anyway, since Target bailed me out. And she'll never know the difference.

The cup of coffee I drank a bit ago is not sitting so well in my tummy. I wonder why sometimes it doesn't bother me at all and sometimes it just makes me feel like I am going to retch?

I suppose I should be thinking New Year's resolutions...I kind of already made mine (getting in shape, losing weight, watching what I eat, etc.). I've fallen off the wagon a little bit in the past week, but I think I can get back into it now that I'm home. I don't officially want to call that a New Year's resolution, though, because then I'll NEVER do it. Regaining financial control would be another good resolution...

Damn resolutions that require self discipline. What I can't I resolve to sleep less and have more sex?

Speaking of sleeping less, I have slept SO poorly the past few nights. Hopefully it will be better tonight. I have no idea what is keeping me awake. It might just be because Mark is gone, but that didn't really bother my sleeping patterns last time he was away.

Or it may be the coffee. Does coffee have more caffeine than Pepsi?

Sadly, my blogging does not seem to have improved since yesterday...

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Neglect

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My poor blog, neglected for so long!

I am back home now, and I picked Chancey up from the kennel this morning. He seems to have faired very well there, which is wonderful. Now maybe we won't have to worry so much about leaving him next time we go away.

I have a list of about a million things to do today, but so far it's pretty slow going. I am about to head out to Target to pick up a few things--hopefully I'll have the skills to install towel racks on the back of our bathroom door when I get back. Nothing hugely ambitious. I'm still getting used to how quiet it is here, compared to in Elkton. Enjoying some much-needed time alone, too.

Mom's surgery went well, draining as it was. We are hoping for the best as far as results, but it's too early to really be able to tell. She seems pretty optimistic, though.

It felt like I wasn't in Elkton for long enough. Anxious as I was to get back home and especially to pick up Chance, I wasn't really ready to leave. Strange how that works. I think Mark is ready to come home, though, even though he's only been in Minnesota a few days. I talked to him a bit ago and he didn't sound particularly as if he was having a good time.

Blah. I am obviously out of the blogging habit. I'm sure I will get back into it. Until then, though, my apologies to any reader who has made it this far.

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Going to Graceland

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Today is the big day. In a few hours I get on a plane and head home for ten days. I feel mixed about it--excited, yet uneasy. I have no idea why I'm so uneasy. I'm not afraid to fly in the least. Going home is just stressful, I guess. Prepare yourself, o gentle reader, for daily updates on how I'm biting my tongue (or not) and the kind of uncomfortable self-reflection only your family can inspire.

It will be good. I'll get some rest, I'll hang out with my mom, I'll help my mom out. I'll get some reading done. Hopefully I'll study calculus, but realistically I won't. It will be a nice ten days.

Repeat five times and take a deep breath...

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Election

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On the blog I post on with my group of college friends, we've begun to talk elections. The more I post and read their posts, the more concrete my position seems. I am still working it all out in my head, but the bottom line is that I don't really support the Democrats. That isn't exactly big news--I haven't been registered Dem for years--but I *really* don't support them. I'm not sure we'd be in a much better position than we are now if Gore had taken office three years ago. I'm not sure we'll be in a much better position a few years from now if Dean somehow manages to win. I'm not sure there is much difference whatsoever between the animated corpses on the "right" and those on the "left."

I sound so stupid when I get started on this, but sometimes I think we're on our way to the revolution, and the only way we're going to get there is with four or eight or twelve or sixteen more years of bad conservative government. We're so fat and lazy, so apathetic and uninformed, it is no wonder we are in this position. The question is what will it take to shake us out of it? What will it take before the people demand real choices, before we demand a return to our civil liberties, before we demand that this country become what it could be?

In some ways, I hope that things *will* get worse, so that they can get better. This particular equilibrium is just not OK with me.

But then I wonder how much worse, and I get scared just like everyone else. I wonder how willing I am to fight if things do get bad. If abortion is outlawed, will I work on the underground? Will the line I draw between peaceful protest and actual organized resistance blur? When? How can I call for revolution when I'm not sure that I myself am willing to come out of my complacency and help it happen? Given how complacent I am, why don't I just shut up and register Dem and vote the-lesser-of-two-evils like everyone else?

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Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

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Master and Commander movie posterThis movie was surprisingly better than I expected it to be. It's a big-budget Hollywood epic, there is no doubt about that, but the acting and dialogue aren't as bad as they could be (note that I am *not* saying they are good, just that they aren't as bad as they could be) and the special effects are great. When they sail through bad weather, you get sick to your stomach. Plus there is just something inherently cool about big old boats.

It also manages to meet most of my criteria for a decent period film. The cast never really looks clean, and they wear the same clothes over and over. They also keep fake accents to a minimum and don't try to overdo the "period speak" (althought they do a fairly irritating job of calling each other "Mr. Lastname" instead of by first name, which I don't quite buy). The medicine is grisly (if fairly unbelievable). The ships quarters seem larger than I would expect, but I guess you have to sacrifice some accuracy in the name of cinema.

I have never pretended to like Russell Crowe. I make no bones about it, I think he's a pompous ass and I don't think he has any acting chops whatsoever. That being said, he didn't irritate me half as much in this film as he did in Gladiator (and yes, I think Gladiator is one of the worst movies every made). And Joaquin Phoenix isn't in this either, so that helps. Billy Boyd, the guy who plays Merry in LOTR, has a smallish part, though, and he's awesome. I also liked Paul Bettany as Crowe's doctor friend, which isn't surprising since I got such a kick out of him in The Knight's Tale (which is, nonetheless, a truly terrible film).

This film has no women in it. It's hard to tell the minor characters apart because everyone is grubby and dressed the same and talks the same and nobody has a first name. It's l-o-n-g. All in all, though, it's one of those things that is worth $8 to see on the big screen, if you get the chance. If you don't, don't bother renting it.

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Elephant

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Elephant movie posterSo foul and fair a day I have not seen.

I've been reading exisiting review's of Gus Van Sant's "Elephant" all morning, and I'm shocked to say that it seems almost everyone got it at least partially right. From Roger Ebert to Indiewire, I agree with at least part of all of the reviews. The truly amazing thing about the movie is highlighed by Ebert--Van Sant doesn't offer an answer. He doesn't offer an explanation. As the Indiewire review pointed out, the film depicts all of the every day battles and humiliations of high school in such a way that you aren't really left wondering why Columbine happened, you are left wondering why it doesn't happen more often.

Which is exactly what I've been saying about this school shootings for years. Why is everyone so fucking surprised? Don't you REMEMBER high school? Had the conflation of circumstances been a little bit different, I might have shot up my school as well, and I think, if you can be honest with yourself, you'll admit that you would have to.

Which is not to say that it has nothing to do with violent media, nothing to do with bad parenting, nothing to do with guns--those are all mechanisms, I think, that make these massacres possible. But whenever I think about it I come down to the problem really being high school. A prefabricated two-dimension wasteland in which it is so difficult to conceptualize anything or anyone as mattering enough to not deserve a good killing, especially in a culture where we don't understand what killing means.

My pontifications aside, "Elephant" is a stunning film. I can't compare it to other films, because it's nothing like other films. The only ones I'd compare it to would be "Kids" (it's way way better) or maybe "Welcome To The Dollhouse" and "Happiness" (it's way different, but accomplishes some of the same things, I think). The decision to use mostly untrained teen actors was a good one--they weren't ackward enough to be real teens, but they were a hell of a lot more ackward than the latest culled-from-Dawson's Creek bunch would have been. And they were more real than even the accepted teeny-bopper indie actors would have been. I felt like I knew some of them, like I'd gone to school with them myself, even if they did have slightly better grooming and wardrobe than the kids I remember. Strangely, I was especially pulled not towards the cool artistic kids, but towards the popular couple. Watching them, I was taken back to my own high school days almost immediately. And I didn't hate them enough to kill them, but I did hate them.

Another really striking thing about the film is the monotony, the flat, washed-out, bored way it's filmed. Every time someone pushes open the door to go outside the school (which seems to happen several times), I got the same feeling of what it's like to do that, how the entire color scheme of outside seems to be more vibrant than the one inside the school. And the sound editing was also amazing--the choice not to use contemporary music was a wise one, I think, and the way the whole film sounded sort of hollow was both haunting and subtle.

All in all, I was captured by it. It was the best thing to date I've seen about these killings. I'm sure Van Sant is drawing criticism for not taking a stand, not having a theory as to why this shit happens, but I think that's the true brilliance of the film. The whole situation is why it happens. Not just the kid having spitballs thrown at him in chemistry, but the hollow sound of the hall, the regimented look of the cafeteria food. This shit happens (in part) because high school steals your soul and without it you have no reason not to kill people. And that's a pretty dangerous statement.

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Kitty update

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I've been asked for a kitty update:

She stayed here for a couple of days, but then followed us on our walk one evening and didn't follow us home. I was really worried about her, but hoped someone else had taken her in. Then, on Sunday, we were walking Chance and we ran into Laura, a wonderful young Japanese woman who lives in our neighborhood with a beautiful and very well-trained Bernese Mountain Dog, Mokie. We stopped and chatted with Laura and Mokie for a few minutes, and lo and behold, that silly cat started darting out and teasing the dogs. I was so excited to see her, but I was even moreexcited when Laura told us that she has taken her in and that the cat and Mokie are tolerating each other fine. Laura was obviously really excited to have a cat, and she's able to let the cat inside and everything, so it seems meant to be. I hope she comes and visits again. She's obviously really independant. However, even if she doesn't, I couldn't wish for a better owner for her.

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The Station Agent

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Station Agent movie posterPut simply, The Station Agent is the most moving film I have seen in quite some time. It's a beautiful story about friendship, told beautifully, without any trace of sappiness. It has both a subtle humor and a subtle darkness that leave you feeling both bittersweet and renewed. The filmmaking is simple but flawless and the score (by genius Steven Trask) underplays every seen beautifully.

The story is about Fin (Peter Dinklage), who moves to a rural New Jersey train station after his friend and boss suddenly dies and wills it to him. Fin is quiet and it is clear that he moves to the station in search of solitude. Fin is also a dwarf, which is both what the story is about and not what the story is about. Fin's dwarfism is not ignored in the film, but it's not put on display, either--it comes up, but sometimes it doesn't come up. I have no idea what it's like to be a dwarf, but I think this way of treating differences (or even what some people consider "handicaps") in general is completely effective. There were times I forgot all about Fin's being small, but most of the time it was in my mind, it simply wasn't relevant, or was one of many relevant factors.

Fin's quest for solitude is in vain, as he is befriended in spite of himself by Joe, a hot dog vendor with a dying father (Bobby Cannavale), and Olivia, an artist suffering a great loss of her own (Patricia Clarkson, who should be on everyone's "one to watch" list after her performances here and in Pieces of April. The story runs along in peaks and wanes of their friendship, with no real climax, but an ending feeling of comfort and of finally being comfortable not being alone.

Honestly, I think this movie is a must-see for anyone suffering a recent loss, and really for the rest of us as well. It left my feeling uplifted, but in a realistic way, not a saccharine-high way. The characters are all good people who live, who makes mistakes, and who fall apart and then come back together again.

I'd really like to see Peter Dinklage get an Oscar nod for this performance, and I think Patricia Clarkson deserves one as well. Doubt that will happen, because this just doesn't seem an Oscar kind of film, but one can hope. In the meantime, I am going to be looking for both of them, as well as Bobby Cannavale, in other roles. The acting in this film is outshone only by the amazing writing, a real boon for the first-time writer/director. I'm generally disappointed in movies these days, particularly ones that focus on teh story rather than the sound effects, and it's nice to finally seen an exception.

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