Sunday, September 28, 2008

Movie Magic

Rest in peace, Paul Newman. He was a gorgeous man who lived a gorgeous life: he made brilliant movies, raced cars, loved his wife (here's a great photo of them), and donated over $200 million dollars to charity. Additionally, his limeade is one of my favorite beverages.

I watched two movies this weekend. The first was Burn After Reading, the new Coen brothers flick, in which they return to their typical more lighthearted fare after No Country For Old Men. Burn After Reading is a goofy caper film with a couple shockingly gruesome murders sprinkled in for kicks. The ensemble cast centers on a recently fired CIA agent, Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich), whose vendetta memoir ends up in the hands of two idiotic gym employees, Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) and Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand), whose feeble attempts at blackmail provide most of the plot. It's an entertaining movie but not one of the Coen's best- the tone is sort of a happy medium between Fargo's morbidity and O Brother Where Art Thou's silliness, but I think it would have worked better had they gone one way or the other instead of treading in middle ground. Nevertheless, it's worth the price of admission just to see Brad Pitt's performance. His absurd hairstyle, his spastic arm movements, and his "scared face" were absolutely hilarious, and I hope he starts making more comedies. The other talented actors are all good but not great in their roles, with the exception of J.K. Simmons as the CIA supervisor. His scenes were among the high points of the movie. In summary, I liked Burn After Reading, but not as much as I hoped that I would.

Secondly, I finally saw Boogie Nights, the 1997 film starring Mark Walhberg as a budding porn star Dirk Diggler. It's great! I can't believe I had never watched it before. Dirk is a teenager working as a busboy when he is discovered by porn producer Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds, nominated for a Oscar in the role) and he quickly becomes a star in the business. The story is set in southern California from the late 1970s to the early 1980s, and director Paul Thomas Anderson does an excellent job of capturing the music and style of the period without it coming across as a parody. The ensemble cast is one of the best I've ever seen- John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, etc. and they are all brilliant, especially Julianne Moore as the cokehead mother hen Amber Waves. Like an episode of VH1's Behind The Music, the characters in Boogie Nights go through a steep rise, followed by a drug and ego induced fall, and lastly, a redemption in which they reunite as a makeshift family. The most remarkable part of the film is how likeable and sympathetic the characters are, despite the fact that they're also, well, cokeheads and pornographers.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Vice Presidents in the News

I've been trying to keep mum about Sarah Palin, because I really wish that everyone would start focusing on the issues and the actual candidates for President, and maybe if I keep on ignoring her, she'll go away and leave the lower 48 in peace, but did you SEE that interview with Katie Couric? Two words: train wreck. One thing I've learned in graduate school is that when you don't know the answer to a question, the less you say, the better. The more Palin talks, the more frighteningly clueless she seems.

Meanwhile, the non-crazy VP candidate Joe Biden recounts a touching story about a nice gesture from the Pittsburgh Steelers.

not quite The Bad List

Last weekend, when we were all back at the house preparing for my sister's wedding, my mom pulled out this artifact, written by me at some point in my early childhood. I don't recall what Eri did to warrant her placement on the Pretty Good List, but my record keeping was rather brilliant, no?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Another airport misread

Those of you who read this blog may recall that a while back, I thought that the "Traveler, J" name on the standby list at the airport referred to an actual person who just so happened to be on my flight. Every single one of my flights.

Last time I was at an airport, I saw a sign in the bathroom.

"Automatic toilet. Push button for manual."

My first thought: What kind of idiot needs a manual to figure out how to flush a toilet?

My second thought: Oh wait...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Exclamation Point!

I've had a long, ambivalent relationship with exclamation points. As a youngster, I used them with gusto. A note passed during class might have read "It's early release day! Let's go to the mall ! I might get new earrings at Afterthoughts!" One fateful day, I read somewhere that using a exclamation point was like laughing at your own joke. (I just looked it up and it's a quote attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald.) I became immediately ashamed of my penchant for boisterous punctuation. They seemed to me like a mark of my own immaturity- the semicolon was a fine pinot noir, the exclamation point a cheap white zinfandel. I shunned the exclamation point for years.
Gradually, I began to warm up to my former punctuation pal. I've always been a letter writer, and one of my primary correspondents is my friend Buddah. When I was in Nicaragua with the Peace Corps, he was on deployment with the Navy, so both of us had limited telephone and email access and wrote letters frequently. Buddah has no qualms about using exclamation points, and I slowly began using them again. A letter from him might have a line like "The prostitutes in Thailand are hilarious!" where as my response would contain "I got giardia. Again!"

I've also found that occasionally the exclamation point can help convey tone in an email. Sometimes, I add them so my emails don't come across as harsher than intended.
For example:

Please bring the money you owe me to the game on Thursday. Thanks.


Please bring the money you owe me to the game on Thursday. Thanks!

See what I mean?

In summary, it's okay to use exclamation points, as long as you do so sparingly.
Besides, I do laugh at my own jokes.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Best Wedding Ever!

So, my little sister Eri and her longtime squeeze Ryan tied the knot. It was fantastic- a lovely ceremony, a beautiful day, and a wonderful reception filled with fun, family, and friends. I had a blast, and I'm so happy that my sister found such a great guy. Awwww...

Here are some pictures from the big day:

Friday, September 19, 2008

Somebody's Getting Married

My sister Eri and her fiance Ryan are getting hitched this weekend! For a little Muppet-themed inspiration, check this out.

Earlier this week, I took pictures at her hair trial and they totally look like bridal mug shots.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Reviews: two books and one movie

Book #1: Bee Season, by Myla Goldberg. The Naumann family members already have assigned roles: workaholic mom, friendly rabbi dad, favorite son, unremarkable daughter. However, when Eliza is revealed as a spelling whiz, the stable dynamic gets thrown off balance. At first, Bee Season struck me as yet another novel about upper middle class Jewish kids growing up in the suburbs (I feel like I've read several of these, most recently The Book of Love). But as the story progress, it grows darker and more interesting. The overlying theme seems to be that some people, despite the fact that they are related and live in the same house, can remain complete strangers to each other. Pretty sad, actually.

Book #2: Birds in Fall, by Brad Kessler. A plane crases off the Canadian coast and the family members of the passengers gather together at an inn on a small island, first, to await news, then, to grieve. I really enjoyed this book- the characters and storytelling are equally compelling, and in essence, it is sort of the antithesis of Bee Season: it chronicles how a group of strangers can become something akin to a family. Both the writing style and the premise (people with nothing in common united by circumstance) reminded me of Bel Canto, one of my favorite books. Birds if Fall is an enjoyable, beautifully written book that made me want to visit Nova Scotia and to read more books by Brad Kessler. I recommend it highly.

One movie: Saved!, the 2004 teen comedy that is essentially Mean Girls set in a fundamentalist Christian school. Mandy Moore plays Hilary Faye, who despite her fondness for Jesus, is still the same old vicious high school alpha female. The movie begins when the main character, Mary, learns that her boyfriend is gay. In order to save him from the firey pits of hell, she has sex with him, but her efforts fail. His parents find gay porno mags under his mattress and send him away to a treatment center, and Mary ends up pregnant. Uh-oh. Fed up with Hilary Faye's scene, she quits her singing group (The Christian Jewels) and befriends the school's two outcasts: Hilary Faye's sarcastic, wheelchair-bound brother (Macaulay Culkin does a great job- he's the most believable teenager of the bunch) and the only Jewish girl in school, the rebellious Cassandra (played by Eva Amurri, Susan Sarandon's daughter), who is also the only one savy enough to suspect why Mary has started wearing baggy sweatshirts to school. Overall, Saved is formulaic and its message of tolerance is doled out with a heavy hand, but I liked it. The young actors make the most of the material and it was fun to watch familiar faces in unfamiliar roles. Additionally, the notion that if you're a mean person and a hypocrite, you're not really a good Christian, is one that the moral values squad should pay a a little more attention to.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Aimee and Scott get married

This weekend, I made a quick trip down to Nags Head, North Carolina to attend the (second) wedding of my friends Aimee and Scott. Not second as in second marriage, they actually had two separate weddings- a traditional one in New Jersey for the families and a fun one on the Outer Banks for the friends. I went to the fun one, (obvs) and it was marvelous! The weather was perfect, the ceremony was beautiful, and the bride and groom both very attractive. Best of all, I got a much-needed dose of friend time: I really am fortunate to have such an amazing group of people in my life. We celebrated, we laughed, we danced, we drank, we drank more, and next thing you know, it's 3AM and you're standing in a pool in your dress as both a participant and a spectator of a belly-flopping contest, the highlight of which was Scott doing a simultaneous flop with his brother and sister. Here are some nice pictures:

Followed by a couple of goofy ones: Me feeding Jon and Heather's baby a bottle while Ern feeds me a beer (babysitting is fun!), and Buddah and I after we decided to swap outfits. Hmm, I wonder why I wasn't invited to the formal wedding?

I was hoping to post some belly flop pictures, but upon review, light colored, chiffon sundress + water + flash photography = unsuitable for public viewing.

I had such a great time and I'm glad I was there to watch two wonderful people get hitched in a style that was all their own- thoughtful, unique, and fun as hell. Congratulations, Aimee and Scott! (I know you're reading this, you lurkers, you.)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Friday Fun

So strange. So hilarious.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Oye como va...mis zapatos

It took me a while to find gold shoes for my sister's wedding. Some were too trampy. Some were too ridiculous. I finally found a pair that were just right:
The odd part is that they're made by Carlos Santana. I mean, I could see him coming out with a line of floppy hats or bandanas for men, but women's footwear strikes me as an unexpected choice for a classic rock guitarist.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lipstick on a pig = tempest in a teacup

If you follow the news, I'm sure you're aware of the whole lipstick on a pig brouhaha. First of all, I don't think the remark is sexist, but c'mon now, it's obviously a dig on Palin. The most memorable quote from the RNC involved Palin, lipstick, and animals, and we're supposed to think that another lipstick-animal combo is purely incidental? Nearly everything politicians say in public is carefully scripted, and I'm sure this remark was planned. And since when is "putting lipstick on a pig" a common phrase? Since never. Or maybe since John McCain said it in reference to a Clinton health plan. I kinda wish Obama had been all "Yeah, I meant it. Oink, oink, Palin!"

Anyways, if you're looking for real dirty politics, take a gander at this ad from McCain-Palin:

A new 30-second TV ad attacks Barack Obama's record on education, saying that Obama backed legislation to teach "'comprehensive sex education' to kindergartners." The announcer then says, "Learning about sex before learning to read? Barack Obama. Wrong on education. Wrong for your family."

Turns out that bill mandated age-appropriate education, and here's what the Obama camp had to say about it: “Barack Obama supports sensible, community-driven education for children because, among other things, he believes it could help protect them from pedophiles. A child’s knowledge of the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touching is crucial to keeping them safe from predators.” So the legislation wasn't about showing five year olds how to put a condom on a banana, it was about trying to protect kids from sexual abuse.

Barack Obama, wrong for your family? I don't think so. Trying to paint Obama as some sort of deviant trying to sex up kindergartners is both a ridiculous accusation and an obvious scare tactic. And way more offensive than a comment about makeup and our barnyard friends.

Priceline: Yay or nay?

Hello all!
I need to rent a car this weekend and am considering trying Priceline for the first time. I was planning to lowball them- like $15 a day. Or is that too low? The normal rate would be around $30 a day.

Has anyone used Priceline before, and was your experience good or bad? Basically, I am arriving to a small airport in Virginia on Friday night and really don't want to end up with A. no car or B. something freaky like "Here's your car you reserved on Priceline. And your passenger, too! Don't worry, Vince looks kind of surly but he's a great navigator."

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Secret Recipes

I thought that this article about the security surrounding Colonel Sanders' original handwritten KFC recipe was interesting. Pretty amazing that no one's figured out the 11 ingredients, isn't it?

The story reminded me of the Seinfeld episode in which Elaine finds the Soup Nazi's secret recipes in a used bureau, which was one of my favorites. But it also reminds me of the time I asked one of my sister's friends for a carrot cake recipe and she refused to give it to me, saying that it was a secret family recipe. I was annoyed- I mean, really, people actually do that? I like to cook, so if I'm at a party and someone brings a dish I like, I'll occasionally ask for the recipe. And no one has ever refused before. It's not like I was planning to go into the carrot cake baking industry and reap profits, and I find a scenario in which she and I are going head to head in a carrot cake baking contest highly unlikely, so what's the big deal? So, to summarze: corporate secret recipes good, sitcom secret recipes good, pot luck party secret recipes BAD.

Friday, September 05, 2008


This entry from indexed made me chuckle. Well, I'll say this about Sarah Palin: she surely has made this election interesting.

In other news, less daunting than the fate of our great nation, it's time for some FOOTBALL!

My college (Notre Dame), NFL (Patriots), and fantasy team (Randy's Moss) all kick off this weekend. Wooohoooo!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Muy Cansado back in Boston

My friend Chris' band Muy Cansado recently released a new album and have just returned from their big tour. They have two upcoming local shows: tonight at O'Brien's in Allston and next Thursday at the Plough and Stars in Cambridge.
Muy Cansado rocks, and I will be in attendance at both shows, so that's like an axis of awesome, right there.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Sarah Palin: Creationist

Okay, here's what I have to say about Sarah Palin. I don't care that she was a beauty queen, or that she has limited experience, or how many kids she has, or that her daughter is pregnant. She's a creationist. McCain's a gambling man and this pick may or may not work out for him, but don't kid yourself that he's trying to poach disgruntled Hillary supporters. He's not. He's giving the fundamentalist Christians a reason to vote for him. As an American scientist, I'll tell you this: our country has the best science in the world. The best. Why do you think people from all over the world come here to do research? Because we're the best. The best funding, the best facilities, the best people, making the best discoveries are all right here in the good old U.S. of A. The administration plays a significant role at the National Institutes of Health and in how much funding is directed towards researching treatments and cures for cancer, diabetes, and infectious disease. Do you really want someone who rejects the basic tenet of biology in charge of our country? I hope not. And I really hope her kids are vaccinated, because if not, I'm really gonna lose my shit.

And while we're on the subject of Vice Presidents, could we please retire the phrase "a heartbeat away from the presidency?" We get it. If the Pres dies, the VP takes over. No need to get overly dramatic about it. At least mix it up a bit; the other organs are getting jealous: "Two functioning kidneys away from the presidency."