Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Write softly, but carry...

My "Please do not disturb" sign, which is printed on lavender cardstock, has been up on my office door frequently due to the frantic writing of one 64-page departure/handover memo and one 16-page departure-handover memo. (Both COMPLETED! Wootwoot...)

I've been using the same PDND signs, albeit sparingly, since the door was installed about a year and a half ago.

So now, in my last week, the E.D. discreetly tells my department director that the font on my signs seem harsh (they're something generic and sans serif), and that it would be great if I used a kinder, gentler font to convey my busy schedule.

It's so tragic, and yet hilarious....
I had to reprint them in something called "French Script." I couldn't find any more lavender cardstock (to go with the "French" of the font, stereotypes of non-aggression, and those happy fields in Provence...) , so they're on pumpkin-colored paper. Happiness and gaiety everywhere now!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Outrageous Misfortune

Slings and Arrows is a great show. A Canadian production, the show is the story of an already slightly mad actor/art director who oversees the Shakespeare festival at a local theatre, sees the ghost of his mentor/predecessor, has to work with his ex, and has to deal with corporatization of the arts. It's all great (and so... Canadian!), both hilarious and heartrending at the same time.

Each season of the show has the theatre focusing on a different Shakespeare play (Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear) and one other play; the story-within-a-story arc is great, with the casts of the different plays squaring off against each other, castmembers of the same play squaring off against each other, actors holding a thin gold line against management, and funders and board members trying to meddle with Art.

It's too bad the third season was the last. Each season was only six episodes, too, so it really was short-lived.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

'Round Nassau Sound

I have two more days left with my TV and DVD player before it too is transported to Casa de la Madre, so I'm trying to get as much use out of it as I can.

After the Sunset was a fun heist movie. Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek are great as a pair of jewel thieves who retire in the Bahamas but are tempted with one last theft opportunity. But the genius of the movie is Woody Harrelson, who is hilarious as the FBI agent after them. Don Cheadle is also fun as a weirdly philosophical crimelord. The plot is predictable, the characters are stock types, but the whole thing is good fun.

And the soundtrack is groovin'.

Life's a box of ...

I liked David Sedaris' Holidays on Ice; in fact I burst into uncontrollable laughter while reading it at a bus stop.

So one day a few weeks ago, with an hour to kill before karaoke, I bought Sedaris' Me Talk Pretty One Day in a used bookstore. It's a collection of funny, slightly embellished autobiographical stories from throughout the author's life.

The stories from his childhood are slightly funnier than the ones from adulthood, perhaps because the ones about being a kid are told through the eyes and thus lens of experience of the adult.
The book's stories, which I believe were published in various magazines before being collected for the book, progress slowly from ridiculous to quirky but sane. The stories from adulthood are more bittersweet than hilarious: Sedaris manages to find humor in dire and depressing situations, and the portraits of his family members are simultaneously loving and irreverent.

When I bought the book, I was pleasantly surprised to discover it was a collection of short stories, since I actually thought it was a novel. But no! The short story format fits my attention span, so all was good.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Task-oriented nerd speakout!

Perhaps my mood is influenced by several recent work-related meetings involving circular "visioning," but when my music player played John Mayer's "Waiting on the World to Change" on the bus home, I became really irritated.

(Yes, I have it on my music player. I also have bagpipes, Ella Fitzgerald, the Magnetic Fields, the New Pornographers, and Eiffel 65. I ain't a hater...)

At first the song seems like it's post-cynical and slightly jaded but still hopeful. But seriously, it's just lazy and passive and capitalizes on legitimate political frustrations, all to a happy tune. Why would you be content to just wait for change? Why not fight for it yourself?

I switched straight to Thalía after that nonsense...

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Deathly Hallows

It turns out the midnight rain didn't keep anyone away, and I had to stand in line for about an hour and fifteen minutes. But it was a good crowd, despite carloads of drunked frat boys driving past and yelling bad predictions.

The seventh book is good. It was a little weird reading a Harry Potter book that doesn't follow the school-year timeline, where he isn't taking classes at Hogwarts, and with no Quidditch. But such are all coming-of-age and -identity stories.

I hated the epilogue. The book would have been fine without it. I fully realize I am projecting here, as the only unmarried, unpregnant sister in one family, but seriously, does life really not go on or have no meaning unless you get married to your high school sweetheart, have kids, and send them off to your alma mater/boarding school? It was way too cheesy for me, and ruined the effect of the last chapter. It was great to show main characters decades later, when they're in their 30s and not eternally teenagers; and I realize the importance of family (and friends) is so central to the Harry Potter stories, but come on, leave something to the readers' imaginations! It would have been great if the readers' expectations of characters changed with their own lives in the coming decades. But it's all spelled out though; so marry, procreate, and follow the patterns of previous generations we must. It's tradition. It's safe. But it's the same narrative cop-out of "And then they got married and lived happily ever after." Gack.

Other than the epilogue, the book is great. I knew Snape wasn't evil! (But then, didn't everyone?) And while I was reading Book Six, it crossed my mind that Harry was a Horcrux, but I pushed it aside as ridiculous. There were points when I sniffled and had to reach for a tissue, but it wasn't the sob fest that Book Six was!

Friday, July 20, 2007

It was a dark and rainy night...

... in July. In Seattle.

As I walked home from the grocery store, the small indy bookstore a block away from me (where I will pick up my Harry Potter book when they re-open at midnight) already had a line forming outside.

Maybe the rain will keep the crowd relatively small.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Uno, dos, tres, cuatro cinco cinco seis

I expected Spanglish to be a cheesy romantic comedy, in the style of Fools Rush In. And there were definitely similarities, but for the most part Spanglish was a drama, not a comedy. I expected to dislike Spanglish, and instead I'm okay with it, despite its many shortcomings.

The plot isn't original. Adam Sandler isn't that great (he's kind of the same old same-old), but all the females were wonderful in their roles. Tea Leoni is superb as a neurotic suburban housewife, and so are Sarah Steele and Shelbie Bruce as, respectively, her daughter and the housekeeper's daughter. Cloris Leachman makes a great eccentric grandmother.

Again, the plot is terrible. Drop-dead gorgeous Mexican lady with bright young daughter gets job as housekeeper for couple with domestic problems. The two mothers in the film take to the other's daughter, in a touching but predictable role reversal. Flor, the housekeeper, encourages Bernice's self-esteem in a way that her mother doesn't; and Deb, the Tea Leoni character, treats Cristina, Flor's daughter, as the daughter she wished she had, going so far as to arrange a scholarship for her to a private school. And of course, Flor being the muy caliente stereotype of the passionate but demure Latina, there's the possibility of a thing between her and her Adam Sandler's all around good-guy prototype. The whole thing is narrated in Cristina's voice, as her entrance essay on her Princeton application. Because immigrant-child-makes-it-to-Ivy-league isn't already overdone.

The really unrealistic thing was how nice and unresentful and welcoming and understanding all the characters are. All the drama stems from the way the mothers treat their daughters and Adam Sandler; all the stuff that should cause more drama, like teen angst or sex or class differences or a language barrier, doesn't drive any huge part of the plot. Flor even miraculously learns English in like a month (i.e., once she moves out of the immigrant community and works really really hard to assimilate...)

Two scenes really stand out as insightful, though, mainly because they're so incredibly realistic. There's the scene in the beginning, where Deb can't pronounce Flor's name properly (she keeps saying "Floor.") And there's also the scene a few minutes in where Deb "surprises" her daughter Bernice by buying her a ton of new clothes that are several sizes too small, as an incentive for her to lose weight. However, these very true-to-life moments are brushed aside and not explored in any real depth. Because phew! After we roll our R's once, all significant cultural differences are out of the way, especially after Flor learns English. And the chubby girl, who "happens" to not do so well at school, can be ignored once the skinny girl, who "happens" to be smart, emerges. (For some odd reason, that scene made me want to foist Dan Savage's recent response to "BATL" on the whole world...)

Everything else about the movie was underwhelming, but those two scenes, along with the hilarious and endearing one where Cristina is translating an argument between her mother and Adam Sandler, are enough to redeem it for me.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Sans Frontières

Saw Michael Moore's new film Sicko yesterday. His films are ones I don't tend to initiate seeing on my own, but if someone suggests watching one I'll tag along. (I only saw Fahrenheit 9/11 because work had a fundraiser at a screening, Bowling for Columbine because someone brought it over to my place to watch, and The Big One because I got outvoted by my three male, fellow unemployed housemates when I suggested Ever After one bored night).

I knew nothing about the health care insurance scene going into Sicko. I know nothing coming out of it.

What I do know more about are experiences some people have had within the health care system. The heartbreaking thing about the film was, of course, the dozens of stories of people who had loved ones die as a result of being denied medical procedures, who had to make terrible decisions in their health care based on cost, and who went into debt just to get medicine they needed.

The problem is, Moore makes these great narrative statements, and then just doesn't back them up. Case in point: a little ways in, Moore asks the question "How did we arrive at this point?" (i.e., where millions of people are uninsured and/or insured but denied much-needed medical coverage). I thought, great! I'll get a crash course in the development of HMOs and the rise of health insurance companies. However, it didn't go there. I still have no idea when or how insurance companies became so central to health care in America.

Moore always has some slightly controversial and sensational ending to his movies. Here, he sails to Guantanamo with 9/11 rescue workers who need health care, and then takes them into Cuba when they're not allowed into the Gitmo detention center. It was pretty awesome. And also depressing.

does tend to over-glamorize the national health care systems in Canada, Britain, France, and Cuba. I realize the point was to show that it's doable, but the overly rosy portraits quickly became irritating. At least admit some of the problems or issues elsewhere; otherwise opponents of single-payer health care will do it for you and effectively take over the debating ground, thus further dichotomizing the issue.

There were a lot of gaps in the film. The pace of it was all right, it just had a lot of holes. Granted, Moore never purports to present a balanced analysis, so Sicko never explores, say, the problems in administering NHS or even suggestions for administering one the U.S.

Achieving universal health care isn't as easy as passing a bill that says everybody will have health coverage. As a policy wonk, this is the exciting part. How do we fund it? What infrastructure will we need to support it? What infrastructure won't we need to support it? Should states get block grants to determine their own implementation systems? And then there's the mobilizing and public education piece. How will the messaging change, depending on audience (doctors, parents, etc.)? There are no right or wrong answers, just answers. That's the cool thing! These are the questions I would have loved to see the film raise. I believe it's doable in the United States. I believe universal health care can be achieved in my lifetime. But I also realize there will be a hell of a lot of appropriations packages to work out, a hell of lot re-organizing and consolidating for administration, and a hell of a lot of public education work to do before any of it can be possible.

One minor quibble I had with the narrative involved a joke about Congress discussing the important of marshmallow peeps instead of passing health care reform. The typical Seattle middle-aged liberal audience laughed uproariously during this scene, but I found myself frowning. One, because as someone who has to read the friggin' congressional summaries on a regular basis, those kinds of frivolous moments on the floor of the House or Senate provide a much-needed brain break. They are infrequent and don't take up that much time. Second, because actually, in the mid-90s, Congress passed a hefty immigration reform package and the Lobbying Disclosure Act, among other huge, far-reaching things. They weren't exactly roasting peeps over a bonfire in the hopper. I understand the point about health care needing to be everyone's priority, but it misrepresents and kind of belittles all the other good and bad legislation that got passed during the same time period. But maybe that's just me getting fed up with Seattle's knee-jerk political audiences who laugh too loudly in all the predictable places.

Thought I might have issue with some of the ways Moore presents issues, I'm still glad he's out there raising them and keeping them in people's minds. Two things I love about his films: he always interviews an ethnically and socioeconomically diverse set of people. I think that always serves him well in illustrating how certain issues affect people across the board. The other thing I always like is how there's always a tie back to his hometown of Flint, MI. As a very proud Emerald City native who frequently raves about my own hometown (minor irritations with fellow residents aside), I totally respect others when they use theirs as a metaphor for American life.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


Bob Roberts is a scary, scary movie. A Common Man first told me about it, back in college. It's a faux documentary about a conservative folk singer who makes a Senate bid.

Made in 1994, it was just too eerily prescient. There's the stolen election;the right-wing appropriation of left-wing terminology; and issues like creationism in school, the liberal media bias and conservative alternative media, anti-1960s attitudes, savings and loan scandals, weapons of mass destruction, and a mob intent on committing hate crimes against Arabs.

Also, everyone --I swear, everyone-- makes a cameo appearance. Tim Robbins wrote, directed, and produced the film; everyone from Jack Black to John Cusack to Helen Hunt to Peter Gallagher are in it. It's a little funny to see them all in early-90s clothes.

The songs and music videos are the most hilarious part. The melodies and Robbins' vocals are great ... it's the lyrics themselves that make you frown, gape, laugh, and cry. In that order!

So Wet Hot American Summer was the perfect ridiculously inane, non-thinking movie to watch after Bob Roberts. Somebody suggested it to me at a recent house party, after hearing I went to school in Maine. And sure enough, the film supposedly takes place in Waterville! (Of course, the only indication of this are a couple of signs placed early on in the movie.)

Anyways, it's a comedy set in 1981 that parodies summer camp flicks and teen flicks in general. It's a little jarring that all the actors are in their 20s, 30s or 40s and are playing teenagers, and that most of the plot revolved around different sex scenarios, but that's kind of the nature of camp. Pun intended.

The most heartwarming scene in the film is when two secretly gay camp counselors are outed while having a commitment ceremony, and instead of the vaguely homophobic gay jokes the viewer anticipates, the other counselors buy them a chaise lounge as a gift.

Also, everyone is in this movie too. Christopher Meloni was great as a crazy cook, Paul Rudd must have had fun as a moody counselor, and David Hyde Pierce's 1980s shorts oddly befit his role as an astrophysicist.

Luckily, Wet Hot American Summer is only about 90 minutes long. Otherwise, I think it might have been a waste of time. But for an hour and a half --and to clear the mind of eerie political scenarios-- it served its purpose.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

123, 567

Last time I took a salsa class (i.e., for "wellness" credit in school), Torgo's wife was one of my dance partners because there were only a handful of "leads" in the class, and too many "follows." But I recently won a salsa class at a fundraiser, so I've been brushing up.

It's the second week, and halfway through the entire rotation of partners in a circle, two finally told me I wasn't following, I was trying to lead. Which was true, so I admire them for having the guts to actually verbalize it. (It's a comment I got often in college from a friend who was trained in ballroom dancing, and finally refused to dance with me altogether by the end of sophomore year.)

The salsa instructor (who is very cool, btw) explained it this way: "The 'leads' direct and control the dance, the 'follows' smile and make it all look good." All of course, as once said of Ginger Rogers, backwards and in heels.

Putting aside the inherent gender politics in formal dance, my challenge for the next four weeks is to learn the intermediate steps and moves, and learn how to follow.

Damn it, I can do this!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Agony and Apostasy

I've been in a comedy mood for a while, so The Crime of Padre Amaro waited on top of my DVD player for quite a while before I watched it.

The main plot is pretty predictable: young, hot, newly-ordained priest who thinks the clergy should not be forced to be celibate arrives in town, where the catechism teacher is young, hot, barely legal, and very devout. The obvious ensues.

It touched on pretty much every possible controversial issue facing Catholicism: celibacy of priests, liberation theology, the church's role in corrupt local politics, abortion....

The film also ended really abruptly. I guess I was expecting it to be a morality tale, and it wasn't per se. It just laid out a series of ironies and tragedies. The priests debate and argue a lot amongst themselves, behind cloistered walls, but nonetheless present the facade of unity when out in the community. Men tell women what to do half the time; and the old crazy Cassandra-esque woman who holds on to old practices is the one that sees everything as it really is, though no one listens.

But the other characters are what makes the movie interesting, like any collection of odd townspeople. When not viewed as a fairly hazy exposé of the Catholic Church but as a portrait of a small town with a lot of drama, the movie works a lot better.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

What good is sitting alone in your room?

I finally watched Cabaret. I've seen two different productions on stage, but had never seen the movie. It's very, very different from the play. In my opinion, the play is better. The movie even omits half the songs from the play, namely "Don't Tell Mama" -- how do you eliminate that one?! Plus they changed the characters around and added some songs.

Perhaps I'm harsh with Cabaret because it paled in comparison to the movie I just finished re-watching for the dozenth time: Chicago. Chicago far outdoes Cabaret with the songs as well as the choreography. Maybe the comparison is unfair, given the 30 years' difference in technology and audience expectations. Again, Cabaret was a good but I prefer the play version. Maybe it wasn't a good idea to watch the two musicals so close together.

But the two films are similar in that they flit from the scenes of real life to the scenes on the stage. Though one takes place in the 1920s and another in 1931, the general theme of both is debauchery against a backdrop of political turmoil and prevailing social mores. Chicago, of course, is a comedy that tries to highlight a love/hate relationship with notions of glamour and sensationalism, and ends appropriately. Cabaret has a continuous sad, dark undercurrent running through the whole thing; I just think it works better on the stage.

And both have fabulous songs that are perfect for karaoke.

I was watching Chicago with one of the smartest people I know because we were practicing duets for karaoke. Basically, all songs from Chicago are great for karaoke, and we recently found a karaoke place that kicks ass. So we rehearsed and rewound the DVD and rehearsed some more. If we kept the landlords or neighbors awake until the wee hours, at least it was melodious and on key. And took a hell of a lot of work to get the harmonies right!

Nerdy, but fun.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Primary colors

Saw Ocean's Thirteen yesterday. It rocked. I liked the first two movies, and liked the third.

For one, the colors were so fascinating to watch. Eleven, if I remember correctly, was red-toned everywhere. Twelve was ... blue? Maybe not blue, but I remember thinking when I watched it the first time that it had the similar color theme running throughout. At any rate, Thirteen is mainly yellow, with red and blue accents. It's fun to watch: the hotel in Vegas where the story takes place is mostly yellows and complimentary browns in the decor; a lot of the characters' wardrobes are, too, though again reds and blues factor in there too. There's one scene were George Clooney is wearing all blue tones and Don Cheadle is wearing reds, and they're standing next to each other. It was pretty striking.

I have no idea why the colors fascinated me more than anything. The rest of the movie is pretty great, too. The dialogue is good -- like the other two movies, it goes quickly and you have to pay attention. Casey Affleck seemed to be doing a pretty good job of speaking Spanish with a Mexican accent, in a hilarious subplot. There are also some cool gadgets that the team uses to pull of the film's heist.

The cast is excellent, and work so well together onscreen. And an added bonus: Olga Sosnovska, who played Fiona in MI-5/Spooks, was in it! Obviously, this was a film where girls don't get to kick any ass, but still. It made me look forward to whenever season 5 comes out on DVD.