Friday, April 25, 2008

Heffing and puffing

Turns out, though, that Squeakies love the background noise of Pooh's Heffalump Movie while they are happily playing with their baby-proof blocks on the padded mat in your sister's living room. And since reading about emissions standards, segregated schools, and low wages proves rather depressing, Pooh also provides a nice, short, family-friendly alternative to writing that infernal last paper of the school year...

I fully admit that the reason I added the movie to my Netflix queue was because, when it came out in theatres in 2005, I passed this promo poster and burst into embarrassingly unstoppable laughter:

(It was not one of the times when I'd had a few drinks before entering the movie complex... I've just always had a soft spot for all things Winnie the Pooh-related, since one of my childhood nicknames is Pooh Bear. Apparently as a toddler I resembled the silly old bear...)

At any rate, I kept falling asleep every couple of minutes while watching the film (and it's only about an hour long) -- not because of its content, but because the kiddo woke me up at 6am and after ditching the baby to go outlet shopping, I was exhausted.

What I saw of the movie (waking up every couple of minutes) I liked -- it's the standard "don't be xenophobic" / "we're more similar that different" / "that stranger could be your new best friend" sort of tale. The creatures of the Hundred Acre Wood set off like the village mob from Disney's Beauty and the Beast, intent on capturing a monster Heffalump. Meanwhile, Roo befriends a large, giggly creature.

The songs were terrible. But the message was cute. Or rather, the little I saw, I approve of, very heartily.

Of course, Mi Hermana and I did our traditional dissecting of films, pointing out that the Winnie the Pooh tales are devoid of female characters except Kanga, who provides the traditional nurturing mother role. But it's still a great film with a positive message. And there's Dora the Explorer to provide the positive "girl coolness" factor.

The three amigos

In an unfortunate turn of events (like grades being due at the registrar's), it turns out the Legal Reasoning paper is due Sunday evening, rather than late Monday night. The prof emailed everyone her apologies. So it's crunch time.

I've been waking up at 6am every morning when the cutest niece in the world starts screeching with morning-person delight, hitting up the Michigan outlet malls, and jogging around Ann Arbor. In the friggin' muggy, upper-70 degree weather! Yeesh. It's been fun. But the exam is due very soon. And as if to cruelly remind me of this fact, while I was perusing shoes at a department store and Mi Cuñado (the American Studies doctoral candidate who hails from the Golden State) was pushing his Michigander child in the stroller, the graduate student deities directed one of his colleagues to bump into us. The colleague was very nice, but repeatedly bemoaned the fact that any time spent not reading was well, time spent not reading. I had to flee to handbag aisles to escape my guilty conscience.

The fact that Mi Cuñado is from California and the cutest niece in the world was born in the Wolverine State is actually very relevant to the exam....

The three essays I have to write are on three separate cases that originated from California (emissions standards), Washington State (PICS v. Seattle), and Michigan (Detroit's living wage ordinance).

And the Squeaky thinks three adults working on their finals is a party happening without her, and refuses to go to sleep...

Fractals, fractals, everywhere

In between madly packing for a weeklong stay in Ann Arbor and ignoring one last Legal Reasoning paper, I managed to finish A Wine Miscellany (which I bought a few weeks ago while also procrastinating).

Frankly, I was disappointed. It's a simple trivia book about wine -- not colors and tastes and descriptions, but the business of wine. (So it counts as Econ, maybe, and not necessarily procrastinating...) The aggravating thing was, it had great stories -- stories about the oldest vines, the newest vines, the oldest labels, creatively named labels, the most expensive bottles, long-lost bottles, how Masters of Wine get their title in the UK, literary references... It had such potential! Unfortunately, though wittily written, it lacked a coherent thread to tie it all together. There was no flow, no recognizable order to the presentation. But even more frustrating for a history nerd, sometimes there were no years cited for some events (except for the ages of the wine), and no sources cited for some historical or cultural claims. It bugged me. I know a collection of trivialities shouldn't, but it did. Oh well.

So I watched State and Main while packing. A satire of the film industry and its glamorization of small towns, it was a decent movie. It also starred, like, everyone imaginable. The idea: a film company sets up camp in a tiny Vermont town to shoot a film. William H. Macy is the hilariously oblivious director, Alec Baldwin is the scuzzy film star, Philip Seymour Hoffman is the quasi-bumbling screenwriter everyone ignores, and Sarah Jessica Parker is the prudish and ditzy actress.

While the film pokes fun at Hollywood, the fetishization of small towns, and small towns, it never truly critiques it. For the apolitical, that's ideal. But for me, that's the film's only failure. Okay, the sarcasm and the stock typing and the overly-simplistic search for "purity" was kinda funny. The storylines wrapped up too neatly, good still easily conquered evil, and all was well in Mayberry at the end of the day.

Which made it a good movie to watch while packing...

Monday, April 21, 2008

A marathon and a movie

Last week, I was walking past the nearby indie theatre, when an old lady rushed out from the exit and told me that Under the Same Moon was the best movie she'd seen in years, that all the other movies she's gone to see lately have been crap compared to it. (She said "junk," actually, not "crap" -- my interpretative license...)

I have no idea why she singled me out, of all the people ambling past on the street. I would like to think it has nothing to do with being perpetually mistaken for Latina, and that the film is about a Mexican kid and his young, hot mother. Maybe I reminded her of the mother? Ahem. Then again, maybe I just happened to be the first person she saw, after seeing a really great movie.

At any rate, while pretending I don't have a Legal Reasoning final paper to work on, I decided to head over and catch today's matinee.

Turns out, the Boston Marathon ran right by, so I stopped and cheered for random runners for a while, then walked around, window shopped, and headed back to the theatre.

The lady was right. Under the Same Moon/La Misma Luna (weirdly, no "under" in the Spanish title) was one of the best films I've seen in theatres in a long time. It was also the kind of film where you hear people sniffling and blowing their noses and/or sobbing quietly in a near-empty venue.

The story is about a nine-year-old kid named Carlos, whose mother crosses the Rio Bravo/Grande to try and make enough money to give him a better life. After four years, he decides to try and find her, but the only thing he knows about where in East LA she lives is that she calls him from a corner with a pizzeria, laundromat, and a mural (which describes, like, every street corner in East LA).

You know the ending. It's a tearjerker. But the middle is even more tear-jerky. The kid has a million close scrapes with what the subtitles call the INS but has been ICE for the past several years. His journey from El Paso to LA has him almost sold to a druglord for possible prostitution (we can infer), picking tomatoes, washing dishes, sleeping on park benches, almost getting robbed and killed by thieves, hitchhiking... And if the viewer misses that overly-obvious symbolic range of immigrant experiences, the radios and TVs constantly in the background hammer it home with news stories about Governor Schwarzenegger vetoing bills to let undocumented immigrants drive, and song lyrics about Superman being an illegale. And meanwhile, his mother is cleaning houses and sewing dresses for a pittance.

Naturally, the blatant political statement made me very favorably inclined toward the film. But I've seen badly-executed films (and I mean badly) whose blatant politics I agreed with (A Day Without a Mexican, for instance). But Under the Same Moon made the story focus on Carlitos' journey to find his mother; and their tale, like that of everyone else in the world, can only happen as it does due to their particular circumstances. It was a perfectly bittersweet story, with literally every other character as tragically tangential. (Eugenio Derbez, for instance, was hilarious as Carlitos' reluctant travel companion.)

Upon exiting the theatre, I did not accost the first person I saw to rave about the film. But I felt like it!

Monday, April 14, 2008

The finals countdown

This weekend I avoided a policy paper like the plague by writing a paragraph, going to the gym, watching a movie, writing a paragraph, meeting friends for dinner, writing a paragraph, meeting friends for drinks, writing… ad nauseum. I finally finished the paper, on a bizarrely tech-wonky subject. But it took a while!

In another one of my procrastination swings, I was playing Prolific online, chatting with a few other players in Boston, and figured out that one other player and I were at Grendel’s Den (the coolest name for a pub, btw) at the same time just hours before. It’s a small world after all, it’s a small, smaaaaall woooorld…

Eddie Izzard in Glorious was hilarious, as usual. This was the third Eddie Izzard bit I’ve seen --I was trying to watch them in order, but I think I forgot about this earlier one. He's dependably intelligent and funny. One thing I’ve noticed, though: in every performance he seems to always have bits with references to biblical stories. They're uproarious, naturally, but makes me wonder if maybe he had to suffer the rigors of Catholic school, and has the subsequent baggage? I suppose I could look it up if I weren't pretending I have an Econ paper to write...

I’m Reed Fish got points for a few creative twists in the standard and very boring small-town-boy-deals-with-drama story. But the whole film played out more like a teen sitcom than a good coming-of-age movie. The basic plot is a kid named --guess what, Reed Fish, since the screenwriter didn't try to disguise his real identity-- who lives in a small town ... somewhere... and is engaged to poor Alexis Bledel, who seems trapped in that small-town girl-next-door role. Except here she wasn’t as sharp-witted as in the few episodes of The Gilmore Girls that I’ve seen. At any rate, an old ex comes home a few weeks before the wedding, and predictability ensues. There were some details that made the story unique, though, including dealing with the death of parents, and an unexpected college dropout. For those and the plot-within-a-plot device, it 's an okay film instead of a mediocre one.

First Monday in October was my attempt to pretend I was working, by watching a movie about the Supreme Court. Walter Matthau plays a liberal justice who clashes with the new first female SCOTUS justice. (It's unclear whether we’re supposed to pretend Sandra Day O’Connor wasn’t confirmed the same year the film was made.) Thankfully, the movie didn’t go the route of The American President or even Dave by making it a romance. I hate romantic comedies. Instead, the plot revolved around a Dharma and Greg-type happy unity that is supposed to represent the politically divided country as a whole. Unfortunately, the two main cases the Court hears in the movie are about free speech and corporate monopolies, and I have very strong ideas about both (though admittedly stronger about free speech), and it was agonizing to see Matthau’s character, who had my viewpoints, butcher his arguments. To be fair, Jill Clayburgh as the ultra-conservative justice didn’t argue her points well either. And weirdly for lawyers, there was no over-citing of precedents or cases to back up their legal arguments. In fact, there were no legal arguments made at all.

The ending was slightly confusing, as there’s a possible conflict of interest thrown in, and Clayburgh's character dramatically says she’ll resign. I don’t understand why recusing herself wasn’t an issue instead, but that’s another one of many minor quibbles. Overall, it was a decent film. It was made in 1981, and there are a lot of sexist attitudes on the part of both the male and female characters (the idea of a “woman’s touch” or an inherent “female” perspective isn’t critiqued very much, although the O'Connor wannabe did a good job addressing most but not all double standards). but hey, it was 1981. We’ve come a long way, baby…. right?

Well yeah, actually. At the end of this week, I'll have survived a year of grad school. =)

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Bad moon rising

With the news from Trivial Kate about a pub shooting in Seattle, a friend and I have now gone to karaoke at two bars where random violence has later erupted ... during karaoke. (The first incident was this past summer, at a place we'd only been to once. This latest one was pretty bad, involving gunshots. At a bar where we went with a lot of other friends many, many times.)


I'm a little disturbed.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Anatomy of a slightly less depressing weekend

So following on the heels of last weekend’s depressing themes, this week was supposed to be slightly happier. It was not.

This weekend I finally finished The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, the 12th-century personal correspondence between the abnormally educated nun and her theologian/logician ex-lover/husband, who seduced her while she was his student and whom her uncle had castrated because their secret marriage wasn’t made public after their son was born. (Yes, it all really happened. They were two of the most brilliant minds of their time.)

To recap briefly: I learned the story in high school French class (minus the torrid details revealed in their letters), and because it surfaced as a backstory in the Sharan Newman medieval mystery series I’m also reading, I decided to make use of my historian nerdiness and read the primary source itself. Or actually, technically secondary source, because the letters were translated….

At any rate, the letters are fascinating. They start off with both Abelard and Heloise espousing very self-pitying thoughts about the bizarre events of their lives. Heloise, however, is the only one to cling to notions of love. But because Abelard as abbot technically has jurisdiction over Heloise’s convent (he founded it), the roles are rather messed up. Abelard, understandably, had a very different thought process in coming to terms with their fates; his early letters are full of reiterations of how he reconciled “my mutilation” to some larger plan of God’s, and how he and Heloise need to adjust to their new roles as brother and sister in Christ. Unlike Heloise, he never mentions “love,” only “lust” and “sin.” Gradually Heloise gets the point, drops the “I still love you” sentiments, and communicates solely an administrator should to her regional director, asking for clarifications of rules and practices for the operation of her building. Abelard’s letters then get even longer, as he finds Biblical justification for how the nuns under Heloise’s care should live every detail of their lives.

Men telling women how to be “better” women (in either God’s or men’s eyes) always infuriate me. I had to stop reading for a while. Men telling women how to be “better” women (in either God’s or men’s eyes) do not usually depress me, though, so eventually I went back to reading it . . . .

Abelard, from his letters, has a hugely inflated ego. He was one of the most famous and intelligent debaters and logic instructors of his time, and he knew it (he says so repeatedly.) Logic and debate in the 12th century consisted mainly of theological questions -- in a weird parallel to my Legal Reasoning class, Abelard was kind of like a lawyer whose laws were anything recognized by the Church. So instead of citing cases and precedents and majority opinions, he referred to scriptures and papal writings and other religious documents and histories. At great length.

Both he and Heloise also had many classical references in their letters -- in one sentence they would frequently mention both a biblical allegory and one from Greek or Roman myth. To me, it illustrated how two obviously brilliant people were limited by the fields of knowledge and the political and religious structures of their time to convey their thoughts. Any two people in any time are, of course, but I thought The Letters of Abelard and Heloise illustrated it particularly poignantly. And sometimes agonizingly.

The letters did have their moments of hilarity, however. The two open their letters frequently with salutations like “You who were formerly dear to me in the flesh, now dear to me only in Christ.” The early letters especially had pretty scandalous references -- I couldn’t stop laughing at one paragraph in one of Abelard’s early letters where he tries to explain to Heloise that they deserved God’s wrath for all of their occasions of uncontrolled fornication, but especially for the one time “in a corner of the refectory.”

But once Heloise gets Abelard’s not-so-subtle hint to stop harping on her fond memories of their pre-castration activities, the majority of their correspondence focused on the role of women in the church. The letters do not end on a happy note -- they end on a rather somber and extremely lengthy reflection on why and exactly how nuns should deprive themselves of most of the comforts of life. So the plan for happy weekend did not get off to a good start….

The walk for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center went well, of course. But perusing BARCC’s Clothesline Project near the staging area wasn’t necessarily in keeping with the “happiness” theme, though I definitely support the project and think it's very empowering. The Clothesline Project, modeled after the AIDS quilt, lets rape/abuse survivors and the people who love them create a visual testimony to break socially-imposed silences; the 5K walk was a fundraiser to keep much-needed prevention programs and counseling services in operation.

Federal funding is, of course, repeatedly threatened by He Who Shall Not Be Named. Another not-so-happy reality.

After the walk, brunch at Sound Bites with a friend was excellent… and I thought The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert would be a happy continuation to the weekend. The story: three drag queens take off on a road trip in a bus across the Australian desert to do a show in a podunk town. They laugh and cry along the way, meet scary locals and interesting locals, and manage to make it to their destination despite the bus predictably dying.

My rationale for choosing to watch it was that the road trip genre is typically a happy one, full of friendship and bonding. And it was. But unlike its American pseudo-remake, however, Priscilla emphasized homophobia and potential violence a lot more. (And I won’t even get started on the Love-You-Longtime Asian dragon lady, one of the minor characters. That is not a happy place. I know because people tell me I froth at the mouth when ranting about stereotypes of Asian women.)

The film did end on an uplifting and hopeful note, though: the son of one of the characters thinks being gay is normal and doesn’t treat anybody differently based on their sexual orientation. Oh, children. They are the future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. . . .

But for now, however, all is gray and bleak. Bleak . . .

Like the weather.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

5, 4, 3, 2, 1...

A friend works for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, and today was their third annual 5K walk/run, which I fully intended to jog or speed-walk. But due to inclement weather, the "5K" part was revised and became "3 laps around the canal." Which ended up being shorter than my walk to the T stop.

I think I still get points for signing up for a 5K event, though! Believe it or not, that was the first "walking" event I've ever done that wasn't for either a specific piece of legislation, political protest, or political rally. It was just a fundraiser.

Of course, it was also for a good cause.... and I totally could have jogged the full 5K.