Sunday, January 28, 2007

Lady Marmalade

La Madre is busy brainstorming ways to baby-proof her house, while simultaneously getting excited about picking out her next mother-of-the-bride outfit.

Meanwhile, I watched Moulin Rouge.

The set was amazing -- the colors, the costumes, the choreography. I liked the intentionally anachronistic aspect of having rock songs and other pop culture references as part of the dialogue and musical sequences.

But the plot itself wasn't very original. The whole play-within-a-film with a plot that parallels the film's plot has been done before (The King and I leaps to mind, for instance.) The whole "true love wins out" thing has been done before. So has the rising-female-star-must-choose-between-rich-guy-and-poor-guy. Moulin Rouge was extremely predictable in terms of what was going to happen to the characters.

What fascinated me was the weird depiction of a subculture. Though it takes place in Paris circa 1899-1900, the movie seemed to draw on the legend that the 1960s has become. The scene in the beginning, with the absinthe and literal appearance of a green fairy? LSD. The bohemians? Hippies.

Actually, the whole boho aspect irritated me a little. In this movie, bohemians believe in Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Love (at one point, the bohemian "creed" is called a "dogma"). I'm pretty sure bohemians weren't (and aren't) an ideological or philosophical movement, just communities of artists from largely bourgeois backgrounds that imposed poverty on themselves for the creation of their art.

Then again, maybe I should find and read a history of Montmartre. Maybe I could glean inspiration for the bridesmaid dress...

Friday, January 26, 2007


My sister and bro-in-law are expecting a baby in September. This is the responsible sister, though, so it's all good.

This would, however, be the ideal time for the grad school acceptance letters from the Boston schools to come in, so I can escape all the comments I know are coming my way from the rest of the family.

Of course, it also means said sister will no longer be smuggling a whisky- or vodka-filled flask into the other sister's wedding with me. (Or she can, I'll just have to drink from it for her....)

And now I get to brainstorm English names that can be easily translatable into Spanish. It's kind of fun!

I get to be the Cool Aunt.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Shiver me timbers!

On my lists of "Firsts in 2006" I left out the minor eye surgery that required an eye patch for two hours. I only just now remembered because I finally watched both Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

Neither was really dazzling. The first was a vaguely fun, in a modern and ghoulish Treasure Island sort of way. Johnny Depp was great. Orlando Bloom wasn't.

The second movie was just crap. It's clearly only a transition vehicle for the third movie: nothing is resolved in the end. I appreciated that all the old characters from the first film were in it, but the flashing "To be continued..." message was the only thing missing.

Should you choose to accept it...

I escaped from the isolation ward a few times, mainly to get more tea and medicine, to check the mailbox for Netflix movies, and then stock up on DVDs at the video store . (Also, my sister briefly hijacked me on the way to the doctor's and forced me to drink her weird and very gross herbal concoction, but that's mere psychological trauma that the stack of movies quickly buried.) I could read, I suppose, but I rarely get to veg this much.

I really liked the first Mission Impossible. MI2 was okay. MI3 was okay, too. Nothing spectacular, and a little sketchy on some of the plot details.

In this one, Ethan gets married and isn't on active duty. Of course, he gets pulled back into the field for one last case, and then his wife gets kidnapped. Explosions and plot-hatching ensue. The fight scenes were decent, but not incredibly choreographed or anything. The coolest segment was breaking into the Vatican. But in the end, we don't even know what the "goods" were that were so critical to world security. They're not supposed to matter, though, because the main plot is really about Tom Cruise protecting his new white picket fence life.

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers was in it, that was a plus. Phillip Seymour Hoffman was good. And I like Ving Rhames' character in the M:I movies. Other than that, it was overrated.

So then I watched all of Season 4 of a better spy show, which was luckily available at the local independent video store. The clerk there was also a fan, so we gabbed for about 15 minutes about how good the show was.

I don't normally blog about TV shows, but MI-5 (aka Spooks) is too good not to mention. It has the best cliffhangers of any show I've ever watched. A friend introduced me to the show two years ago, and I've been addicted ever since.

It's a lot like 24 in that it's about a team of spies who work to foil terrorist attacks on domestic soil, so you're basically rooting for the agents of a government that is spying on citizens, breaking and entering, and trampling all over people's civil rights in the name of national security. But that's the nature of any spy flick. Unlike 24, it's not in "real time," and it's not a nuclear bomb threat every show. The characters are more complex, and there's no annoying duaghter who's the perpetual Pauline in peril. The only small quibble I have is that with all the American characters (feuds with American agents are an ongoing theme), the accents are so obviously, obviously fake. (The vowels are overdone.)

The problem with watching Season 4 is that I knew it wouldn't be out on DVD in the States for a while, so I read the episode synopses on the BBC's website and knew the big, horrible, drama-filled death-of-a-main-character in this season.

Still hugged the couch pillow while watching it, though.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Vegetative state

In the weird haze of being sick, sometimes you just veg out. So aside from watching episodes of TV shows on DVD, I also vegged out on movies.

Little Miss Sunshine was cute. It takes the American family vacation/road trip to a different level: the family drives to California from Albuquerque for little Olive's competition in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant. In the van are the corporate slogan-laden dad, the supportive mother, the suicidal uncle, the silent and sullen teenage brother, and the grandfather who doesn't give a fuck anymore. The road trip genre always has bad stuff happen that challenges the bond of The Family or The Friends, and the bad stuff in this one happens to each family member, one at a time. Each of them has some dream taken away. Except the mother, who keeps telling everyone to remember that they're above all, still a family.

The double standard of Olive's routine at the pageant had me irate. Why were all the beauty pageant mothers and judges all up in arms because a little girl did a dance to "Superfreak," for her family???? They were indignant, as if she'd crossed some line. As if the other JonBenet/Barbie girls weren't perpetuating horribly contrived beauty standards. I wanted Olive to win, to make a point. But then I don't think beauty pageants are like regimes or things you can infiltrate and topple from within.... To win, you have to buy into it at some level.

It weirdly reminded me of Lilo and Stitch, which I really loved (except for Hawaii Five-O, where else in popular culture are Hawaiians normalized?) And throughout Little Miss Sunshine, especially the moments where the characters automatically do stuff because they're family, and that's what they do, I had Stitch's little commentary running in my head: "This is my family.... It's little, and broken, but still good. Yeah, still good."

Ohana means...

Then, I fell off my pilates ball laughing at Ali G Indahouse. I'd seen the old BBC TV show, but nothing more recent than 8 years old.

The plethora of sex jokes got really old really quickly, but the overall premise was funny: local idiot with good heart is set up to humiliate old fogey politician, but ends up being popular. The irony of Ali G's "Keep It Real" ghetto campaign is that he's a kid from a middle-class suburb who pretends he's a tough guy in a Westside gang. I mentioned infiltrating before, and could argue that Sacha Baron Cohen does it here, in "ghettoface," which can often be blackface, except that here it has the added component of taking place in Britain with fantasy scenes and a soundtrack taken largely out of American hip hop videos (NWA's "Straight Outta Compton" opens it up). So there's the triple-cultural clash, and the lines between parody (of hip hop, but mainly of hip-hop wannabes and imitators), cultural appropriation, and cultural domination are pretty blurred. Personally, I think it's intentional. Here the "turf wars," central to any combat genre ranging from the western to the war film, are over West Staines, East Staines, Parliament, and the local community center is the battleground. (Why are these films are always about bringing art to the youth?) In its own weird and irreverent way, the film was about community.

Or maybe it's just the NyQuil.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Thanks to The Scot for posting this appropriate cartoon on MLK Day. I feel a little guilty about missing the local MLK activities this year, which happened to be the morning after The Scot's deep-fry party, scotch tasting, and ketchup tasting.

Have eaten only three items of food since Sunday night, and drinking lots of green and peppermint teas.


Sometimes, as you get off the bus and walk home after a really stressful day at work, the last song on your mp3 player inspires a karaoke-at-the-top-of-your-lungs session once you get home. Though the gender dynamic and the warrior imagery in the language is questionable, "Holding Out for a Hero" is just one of those songs.

It's very therapeutic. I recommend it.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Salad for the next few weeks

Because a friend recently acquired a deep fryer, it followed that a deep fry party would happen at some point. And another friend has always wanted to have a ketchup tasting. And a lot of people had scotch, so a scotch tasting was also necessary. People even flew in from NYC for the occasion.

Stuff that was deep fried: halibut, pot stickers, avocadoes, cheese curds, bacon-wrapped shrimp, potatoes, bacon-wrapped potatoes, plaintains, and then tater tots for the ketchup tasting.

Ketchups blind taste-tested: 6
Winner: Trader Joe's organic ketchup

Scotch whiskies blind taste-tested: 8
Winners (it was a tie): Balvennie and Lagavulin (though those two were among my least favorites).

More stuff that was deep fried: Mars bars, Twix, Oreos, Mint Oreos, cookie dough, bananas.

It was awesome. Awesome, awesome, awesome. But let's just say I will not be marching at the MLK event tomorrow.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Midnight in the garden ...

When I went to see Pan's Labyrinth, I actually didn't know it was going to be in Spanish with subtitles. I saw the preview a few months ago, and come to think of it, there were no speaking parts in the preview. None of the reviews I read mentioned it was subtitled either, so it was a bit of a pleasant surprise. Watching it underscored that I can understand Spanish Spanish better than other dialects. And by that I mean the few sentences I got on my own without reading the subtitles ("¡No!" being one of them.)

The film skillfully connected, and then switched between, two main stories. The main story is Ofelia, a little girl accompanying her pregnant mother to a remote outpost of Spain in 1944 to live with her stepfather, the captain of a unit that is squashing the anti-Franco resistance movement. (The stepfather, plainly and simply, is a bastard. A violent, condescending, smug bastard. Ofelia's life becomes hell living in the military outpost.) The other story, a fairy-tale one, involves a princess of the underworld who runs away to earth and whose soul must someday return. The quiet and lonely Ofelia stumbles upon a portal to this fairy underworld.

The religious metaphor is a little obvious (human experience is full of suffering, to the earth we will all return, one day there will be a homecoming to father the king in a different world, etc, etc).

Though it was disturbingly violent and macabre, I really liked Pan's Labyrinth. It was sheer brilliance. The story was really dark and really depressing, but the film was incredibly well done. The colors and the set were equally as dark and depressing, reinforcing the isolation and dreariness of the story.

I hope it wins more awards. And speaking of award-winning films...

Before being awed by Pan's Labyrinth at the theatre, I watched Breakfast at Tiffany's for the first time. I hate to say it, given that almost everyone I know loves this film, but I was ... underwhelmed. It reminded me a little too much of Butterfield 8, where the woman running from her dubious past meets a nice, boring guy who can redeem her if she is only willing to change her ways.

Not even going to start on the whole Mickey-Rooney-in-yellowface deal. (I yelled "Oh hell no!" in stupefied amazement at the TV in the first five minutes of the movie, so perhaps that colored my judgment for the rest of it.)

I'm sure the Truman Capote novella was good. I understand that this is one of the iconic films in American culture. And I do like Audrey Hepburn. Not saying there weren't some good scenes. The opening scene, for instance, was great: eating a pastry outside Tiffany's, early in the morning, on an empty Manhattan street. Symbolic of the character, brilliant scene in and of itself. I just didn't find the characters very compelling or the storyline very interesting.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Nerd alert! Nerd alert!

Thanks to Expat the enabler, I have now joined a Fantasy Congress league. This is so exciting.

I never really got the point of fantasy baseball or football or basketball leagues. I mean, I understood how they worked, and have friends who play. But this is just cooler! Instead of scoring points based on plays during an actual professional sports game, you score points based on legislation. Introduction of a bill gets a certain number of points, and so does getting a bill read in committee, getting a floor vote, etc. (It's a little unclear whether or not co-sponsorship counts for anything. It should.)

Making list. Can't draft yet, because it's apparently waiting for another version to come out, but still. I can prepare a draft list.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

It's out!

Yeeeeawwww. Season 4 of M-I 5, aka Spooks, has finally been released in the U.S. I already know some of the shockers from Season 4, because I looked it up on the BBC website in a panic when I realized the American DVDs were a year behind and I had no idea when I'd be able to continue my fix.

Netflix hasn't acquired it yet, but still. I will keep checking back, OCD-style, to see if they do.

This was the show that basically smacked 24 out of my viewing habits.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Warm Fuzzies

Geez. I know a lot of cool people who do good things. Aside from two friends running for Congress this year, two others are also helping with post-Katrina rebuilding. One friend went a few months ago and has been going back, involved in a language-access project to get translation devices for community groups. Another friend is spending a week rebuilding houses.

It warms the cockles of my heart.

Cleaning out the Inbox

I get “This Day in History” alerts from the History Channel, and there’s always one really cool in-depth feature article. From the alert on Christmas Eve (the day the KKK was founded in 1865), came an interesting summary of the history of the KKK.

Reconstruction has always been like the unfairly-named Dark Ages for me: a lot of violence and poverty and suffering, but important political developments. But for some odd reason, the article piqued my interest, and I’ve spent a good portion of my multitasking morning googling the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871. What I found fascinating was that the Act authorized military force to control the South; it was used to suspend habeus corpus and place parts of South Carolina under martial law. The Supreme Court struck down most of its provisions in 1882.

But really, I’m still not at all interested in Reconstruction, just the issues of federal/state jurisdiction and the role (and rule) of law it brings up. I think I only found it all fascinating because of the Military Commissions Act.

Twice a Maid of Honor, never a bridesmaid

Not attempting to learn Samoan for this speech.

Sister has decided on a salmon/coral color theme. Am trying to convince her that a pastel yellow or even gold would work better for a complementary color than her preferred red or maroon.

But geez. Women in our family are stubborn! And opinionated! And yell a lot! (According to my brother-in-law, the already-married sister got off the plane from LA, heard the ... glad tidings ... and yelled on the phone for the hour-long drive to Ann Arbor at the soon-to-be-married sister.)

Other sister and I have already pledged to smuggle flasks of vodka into the reception. Possibly the wedding itself, which is likely to be chem-free.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Lifestyles of the rich and famous

The state of vegetation continues! A goal for the long gray January is to get my money's worth out of Netflix.

Igby Goes Down tried a little too hard to be Catcher in the Rye. Kieran Culkin was great in the Holden Caulfield-esque title role. After being kicked out of a string of elite prep schools, Igby runs away from military school, hangs out in New York with artists, and hooks up with Claire Danes.

A lot of the dialogue is bitingly clever, with well-placed literary references about youthful angst (e.g. "Letters to a Young Poet"). But other than that, it didn't really seem to have a point, and Igby's ennui comes across at times as an over-privileged tantrum. Ryan Philippe was great as the uber-preppie older brother that Igby can't live up to. The movie also has a weird, macabre subplot that goes largely unaddressed by the characters. In the end, Igby breaks free from money-fueled hypocrisy and goes-west-young-man to California. Rugged individualism reigns red, white, and blue again.

Coffee and Cigarettes, a series of vignettes that all take place over (what else?) coffee and cigarettes, might have been a bad movie to watch on Day 42 of No Coffee. But now that the shakes and the morning stupid people have gone, it wasn't so bad.

I thought the "Twins" sketch, with 2 of Spike Lee's younger siblings, was great, mainly because of the insights into sibling interactions: bickering, taking each others' sides, bickering, ranting, getting protective of each other, bickering. It was great to watch. "Cousins," where Cate Blanchett plays herself and an imaginary cousin, is amusing if only for its oh-so-meta content. "Cousins?" touches on some of the same themes of relatives and issues of fame and class: two famous people, Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan, meet up and might be related, and engage in a passive-aggressive game of I'm-more-famous-than-you. "Jack Shows Meg His Tesla Coil," with the White Stripes duo, was intriguing because it was just plain bizarre.

But a lot of the rest of it bored me. I realize the role of art in both imitating and influencing life, and this film imitated it in all its awkward small talk quite well. In terms of art influencing reality, part of me wondered why I was watching semi-staged interactions and not meeting up with friends in a coffee shop or bar and making them. I appreciated the statement about the comfort derived from (and the obsession with) social rituals. I understood the repeated metaphor of Nikola Tesla's "earth as a conductor of acoustical resonance": similarities in conversations and social pitter-patter, echoing across different relationships, cafes, and cigarette smoke. It was all subtly brilliant.

But it's also January in the Northwest. The black-and-white film scarily resembled the weather outside. What I need are explosions, tear jerkers, and slap-your-knee hilarity.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Foot in Mouth, new and improved in 2007!

My other sister announced today that she will be getting married in 5 months. To a guy she's been dating for 5 months. Which may or may not be the issue. Except that this sister still lives at home, has never paid rent or utilies or for groceries, just recently started paying Mom back for her car and car insurance and Master's tuition, and started her first real job four months ago. (And Mom made the other sister wait at least a year between the engagement and wedding...)

I was doing the NYT crossword in the kitchen, like I do every Sunday early afternoon at my mom's house, when she got home from church and asked me to guess her surprise. I thought she might have a new scarf, but instead she held up the ring on her hand. I said "That's not funny," and went back to my crossword. She gasped and told me congratulations were in order. I looked over again and said "You're kidding, right? It's not funny."

Turns out she wasn't kidding. Oops.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Cups of Good Cheer

It's really really gray in Seattle, and January is usually the time the seasonal affective disorder takes hold on the entire region. While doing the dishes, my music player played an entirely appropriate song that I couldn't skip with wet, soapy hands.

Wintertime is usually when I try to watch comedies. Unfortunately, with the holidays, I forgot to reorder my Netflix queue, so the funny happiness hasn't arrive by mail yet.

Finally watched The Cider House Rules. I didn't read the book, so I have no idea how good it was in relation to that. The movie was pretty bleak, though, both in terms of the stories and the visual scapes. Maine landscape can be gorgeous (and the movie takes place almost perpetually in the autumn, so you'd think there'd be good scenery), but instead a lot of the movie focuses on shots of dreary trees and fields, isolated buildings (farmhouses, orphanage, etc), and empty roads.

I wasn't really impressed. I got the metaphor for the "cider house rules" early on, about rules being created by people who don't necessarily live the life they're intended to govern (the main issue obviously being abortion). I didn't think Charlize Theron conveyed the complexity her character required. Toby Maguire was a little too bumblingly happy. Michael Caine alone was great, but then he always is.

Watched Better Off Dead a few days ago. It was kind of wacky. But in a good way. The heroine was refreshingly unlike the Molly Ringwald-type girls who always seem to be in most '80s teen films. This heroine could fix cars! Anyways, it was a good movie for vegging after New Year.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Auld Lang Syne, my dear

Now that the world has stopped spinning on its whisky-fueled axis, it's possible to reflect on the past year, like I always try to do. 2006 definitely had its overabundance of drama, but I like to focus on the "firsts" and the new stuff.


A brother-in-law
And a fellow American Studies nerd at that! Now have a ranting buddy.

Pierced ears, a tattoo, and fishnet stockings
This may or may not be psychologically related to the event that got me the item above. Prediction for 2007: more leather. Yeeehawww, biker chick look!

A strip club
Also unrelated to the item above, but definitely happened because of the first-mentioned item. I learned that all items of clothing do not come off. And I learned by being TAKEN, not WORKING!

Driving in LA
This is not something I would wish on anyone else. On my '05 trip, I managed to stick to local freeways. This time, I managed on the huge web of interstates. I hate driving on freeways period, so I'm kind of proud that I managed the LAX-to-everywhere-else daily shuttles. Even if I hyperventilated every time.

A laptop
No more looking like a Luddite or a crossword dork in coffee shops.

A friend dying
Have dealt with the passing of a parent and grandparents, but never anyone close to my age.

With its highs and lows. First moose sighting also occurred on this trip.

Here's to 2007 and the new stuff (for better or worse) that it'll bring!