Monday, January 28, 2008


The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

I've been sort of plodding through this book for a month or so. It's one of those novels that's been on every book club's list for the past couple of years - my copy even had a discussion guide in the back. Holy presumptuous!

Anyhoodle, so I didn't really love this book so much. The idea is really intriguing - the main character has a condition that causes him to jump around in time. He can't control the ability, or where or when he lands. His wife first meets him when she is six and he is 43. He meets her for the first time when he is 28 and she is 20. The book is about their twoo wuv and their various meetings and crazy life together.

The execution of this premise is not so strong. Niffenegger is SO in love with her characters and her ideas that she just can't stop herself. The book is too long by half. The dialogue is ridiculous at times. Neither main character is all that likable, to be honest.

However. A movie version is coming out in June, and I am really excited about it! Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana! Awesome. All the tedious stuff will be removed (hopefully), and the actors are charismatic enough to make me like the characters more than I liked them in the book. It's exactly the kind of story that is better on screen than on the page.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Cassandra’s Dream

Woody Allen’s movies have seemed to improve slightly lately, mainly because he’s veering away from the cringe-inducing comedies and towards the serious, murder-themed movies. I haven’t been super-excited about any of his recent movies in spite of their improved quality, even though they’re arguably entertaining and thought-provoking. I feel like maybe he’s such an old pro at making movies now, he’s kind of phoning it in a bit. His movies are too safe in a weird way, and definitely more cerebral than emotional. Most of the pivotal action in Cassandra’s Dream happens off-camera, and I’m not sure why. Anyway I won’t go into more detail because I’m sure you guys haven’t seen this movie yet…

One reason I wanted to see this film is of course the genius casting of two of the most gorgeous actors from the British Isles, Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell. It’s unusual to see two high-profile actors sharing screentime so evenly. I hate to say it, but Colin Farrell’s performance really overshadows McGregor’s. It’s partly the character - which is more fully realized, and also happens to be the only truly sympathetic character in the film. I’m not saying this just because Colin is my boy, either. In the second half of the movie he really knocks it out of the park – his character completely loses his shit, and he’s 100% believable. There are some really tense, white-knuckle moments, and Colin’s definitely the heart of the movie. Do people realize that he’s a good actor yet, or is it just me?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

HEY! I can read!

It’s been so long since I read for enjoyment, it’s really quite an amazing feeling. I can’t believe I went for so long without reading, but I didn’t really have much of a choice. Who knows how much more I’ll actually be able to read, since I have to study for the stupid board exams and write a stupid thesis paper. But I think I’ll be able to squeeze a little bit of reading in there… if not, only slightly more than 8 months of school to go!

I eased myself into the world of reading with an easy one, Steve Martin’s autobiography of his early forays into the entertainment industry, “Born Standing Up.” I love Steve Martin steadfastly, in spite of his increasing irrelevance and unfunniness (is that a word?) in movies. I should point out, of course, that his books are quite good, and he should probably stick to that in the near future. This was an easy and enjoyable read, fun not only because of the insights it gave into Martin’s early comedic process, but also because of the light is shines on the comedy industry in the 60s and 70s in general – something I rarely think about. I would probably only recommend this book to massive Steve Martin fans.

Next, I went on to a book that my friend at school recommended due to my recent successful out-of-body experience: The Art of Dreaming by Carlos Castaneda.

This book is awesomely mind-blowing. I haven’t read any of his other books, somehow, so of course I’ve got to read them all (although I’ve heard they kind of get repetitive). Give the man a break, he took massive quantities of hallucinogenic drugs. A lot of the book was impossibly wild, but since I’ve had numerous experiences along these lines (more mundance experiences, but then I’ve never been guided by a Mexican shaman), I read almost the entire book as a factual account.
The basic gist of the book is that the world we perceive is just one tiny ring in a never-ending expanse of other universes layered upon one another, and by shifting your viewpoint, you can enter other existences with either your energy body (i.e. lucid dreaming) or eventually gather your energy to move your physical body between existences. There is tons of other cool stuff in the book, like battles between humans and inorganic beings from other dimensions who want to steal our energy, etc. OK it sounds wacky, but trust me, it’s endlessly interesting. At least to me. Luckily I have about 8 more books of his to read, I can’t remember exactly how many, but it should keep me occupied.


Time for another pop song. I heard this particular song on the radio a few times and always thought, “Who is this? This sounds like the Scissor Sisters.” Obviously it wasn’t, but I was stumped. Of course the first time I even tried to figure it out, I did quite easily: Nelly Furtado. I knew nothing about her before (and still don’t) except that sometimes she looks really hot, and other times looks really terrible.

I didn’t realize until I saw the music video that she also owes a huge debt to Michael Jackson… or maybe it’s a tribute? Anyway the video is Thriller-Lite. But the song is good. You guys will probably hate it too, but imagine if you actually listened to the radio for an hour a day (I’ve done it many times while driving when my CD player doesn’t work)... A song like this gleams like a shiny quarter in the stank sewer ditch of popular music.

"Maneater" by Nelly Furtado

There’s also a cool Indian remix of this which I found while searching for the video: Maneater Remix
Isn’t every song better if it has an Indian or Latin beat?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bowie Song

I've never seen their show before, but this song is funny.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Hey, the good news is that I’ve already seen 6 movies in the first two weeks of 2008!

There’s more good news, this movie is really quite excellent. I knew almost nothing about it beforehand, which worked in its favor actually. Somehow I thought it was going to be an uplifting tale of a man learning how to be independent and live harmoniously with nature, on his own terms… The movie is kind of about that, but mostly about the opposite of that. I really don’t want to elaborate because I don’t think you guys have seen this movie yet. Suffice it to say that this movie is incredibly dark and quite bitterly depressing.
It’s amazing that I have such a high opinion of the film – it’s really long, and in spite of the amazing shots of breathtaking natural vistas, the pacing is kind of plodding and aimless. The main character is also difficult to sympathize with (or even like). That’s part of the point, however, and Sean Penn rolls it all up and somehow makes it perfect by the end of the movie. It’s really quite an experience, and I’m not sure I want to see it again very soon, because the painful bits are not painful in a fun and cathartic way… Anyway I would recommend this movie very strongly, although I think it’s already left the theaters, and a lot of people will (possibly) think it’s boring.


OK, this is a new category for me. I’m nowhere ready to post my favorite movies of 2007, so this should hold me in the meantime. First of all I want to say that I’m not even sure these songs are all from 2007 - they’re very possibly from 2006 but are still hanging around on the radios. I also probably can’t even pick 10 songs I like from 2007, so the list will be a little short.

The circumstances of my having opinions about pop music are that 1. My ipod committed suicide and 2. The CD player in my car is a temperamental bitch that only plays certain CDs. As a result I’ve been listening to a lot of radio (usually flipping between the American and Latino stations). The majority of pop music is a steaming pile of smelly poo poo. There are, however, a handful of songs that make me cheer whenever they’re played on the air. Since they’re the best pop songs, in my opinion, they are very rarely actually played.

I used to listen to radio all the time when I was a kid; I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing that I’m listening again. I also miss watching videos. One of the local Chicago stations would switch over to MTV after midnight (this was probably 4 years ago though; it doesn’t happen anymore). That was the last time I watched a lot of music videos. I do get MTV Tres right now, with extremely bad reception… as much as I like reggaeton music I don’t want to spend a lot of time watching reggaeton videos, which are basically borderline hardcore porn.
So I’m going to post the videos, in case you kids haven’t seen them. I feel like no one here listens to pop radio or watches the videos, so this can be a fun and learning experience. And NO I am not including any music that is remotely independent, artistic, or out-of-the-way. This is just for 100% pop, the same shit that the 10-year-olds listen to on their ipod shuffles (scarily enough).

Lovestoned on Youtube

The first song I’m posting is “Lovestoned” by Justin Timberlake. I had heard this song on the radio occasionally, and always thought, “Who the hell is this? It sounds like Justin Timberlake, but I’m not sure…” Finally about 3 months later I got less lazy and took 2 seconds to google the lyrics, just to discover that yes, it is Justin Timberlake. My sister and I once argued about this song while listening to it in my car. She said, “This song sucks! He’s just trying to sound like old Michael Jackson, this is a knockoff Michael Jackson!” I said, “This song rules, BECAUSE it sounds like old Michael Jackson! Even current MJ wishes he sounded like old MJ!” Basically an argument that can’t be won. For me it’s a great pop song (which means I’m not upset if it’s running through my head). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve washed dishes while humming, “She’s freaky, and she knows it…. She’s freaky, but I like it!” I’m sorry, but this song is cool, even though Timberlake is kind of a girl.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

End 2007/Begin 2008

Yes, it's the end of the year. That's the time when everyone wonders, "How many movies did Maya manage to see this year?" The disappointing answer is: Only 65! I couldn't even reach a measly 70 cinematic viewings in the grand year of 2007. Ah well, it's a new year, and time to aim for better things...

Ha ha, I didn’t post about this movie! I just told Sandy about it in an email!
Anyway, I thought the tone and pacing of this movie were superb, as well as Will Smith’s acting. As scared as I am of zombies, the baddies in this film were just too video-gamey to be really threatening, although the few scenes where they’re hinted at rather than really shown are pretty palpitation-inducing. CGI is better left to the backgrounds (the images of a devastated NYC devoid of people were really startling and 100% convincing) – living creatures/monsters still end up looking fakey in some strange way. Yes, this movie also made me cry, but I’m a baby (you’ll know which part I cried at if you see it).

Yes, Keira Knightley is striking, but she is SO DAMN SKINNY. Get that girl a burger. I’m not kidding, I find her skeletal frame distracting. As if any girl in that time era was that thin, seriously? Unless she were dying of TB or some other romantic disease of the times…
I haven’t read the book, so I feel like I should probably do that. The movie worked spectacularly in moments (like the often-talked-about long take moving over a wartime beach). Are unbroken long takes the new way to grovel for a cinematography Oscar nomination? I still feel like the one from Children of Men was more amazing, but this one is really quite breathtaking, and probably the best part of the movie.
Anyway, the artistic and unexpected moments are kind of neutered by the overly romanticized Hollywood cliché moments. This movie is definitely worth watching, especially for some surprising parts later in the running time, but there are probably other movies more worth your time.
James McAvoy is pretty dreamy for a teensy, pasty Brit, I have to admit.

Another good mood piece from Tim Burton. I’m not a fan of musicals, and this is a particularly tuneless one. Part of the fun of this movie was trying to recall the tunes and lyrics later – Andrea and I did a pretty good job of it, I thought. Great performances by Johnny, Sascha, and Helena. And who knew Johnny could sing?
Incidentally, I was sufficiently inspired by Helena Bonham-Carter’s style in this movie to make one of my New Year’s Resolutions be “have bigger hair.” I don’t want to go the whole goth route, I think I’m too old (and sane) for that, but I was impressed by her piles of crazy hair and ribbons, and decided that it’s time to take advantage of the volume that naturally curly hair gives you to work with.

Oh wow, this movie was really dark. I guess I knew the subject matter was twisted, but I was still surprised by how nihilistic the whole thing was. Great structure, and the tension was palpable throughout the entire film. All this, in spite of the moronic elderly man behind us who kept leaning over to his girlfriend and whispering loudly, “You’re going to have to explain this to me later!”
Phillip Seymour Hoffman pulls out all the stops here – his puffy, red face looks like it’s about to pop at any given second. Ethan Hawke also gives an impressive performance as his pussified younger brother, who inconveniently has more of a moral center. Definitely on my list of recommended movies, but not a warm fuzzy fun one.

As much as I try to stay away from children’s movies, I have to admit this one was pretty entertaining. It felt like they were skimming and cramming certain parts (even though I haven’t read the book). I mean, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to have a herd of witches swoop in to save the heroes, when the witches were previously unseen and only obliquely alluded to. Good performances, especially from the child leads, make this worth watching. I thought some of the violence was pretty cringe-inducing, so it wasn’t a total baby movie. It actually made me wish I had time to read children’s epic novels… oh well, someday…

I thought this movie would be too precious for my taste, but it actually worked out quite nicely. It probably wouldn’t have worked if the actors hadn’t been so fantastic – obviously the lead is great, but her father/step-mother were also cast perfectly, of course Jason Bateman is great (finally playing someone with a bit of a creepy edge, instead of the goofy-funny guy he always plays), Jennifer Garner scores big by playing a desperate wannabe mother in an incredibly sympathetic manner, and Michael Cera almost tops them all as the hapless impregnator. Can I just say that I was never a fan of Michael Cera in Arrested Development, but if a bandwagon drove by my house with a banner on it that said “Michael Cera,” I would jump right on! The scene where he’s talking about prom with Juno in the hallway was heartbreaking, and he does it all with his eyes. I love him! What a sweetheart! I usually don’t like guys that are kind of pussified, but whatever, I’ll make an exception for him.

Monday, January 07, 2008

I Can't Look at Close-Ups of People Shooting Up

American Gangster

Hasn't anyone else on this blog seen this yet? I liked it pretty well, but I don't think it's destined to win any big awards. It kind of plods along, like many cop+gangster movies tend to do. Denzel is totally channeling Pacino in a couple of parts. In fact, if this movie were an equation, it would be:

Serpico + The Godfather Pt. II / Sleepless in Seattle * heroin= American Gangster

I liked Russell Crowe's hair. Parted down the middle and feathery, just like Keith Partridge's. I hope that style comes back next. (The teenage boys are wearing their hair Leif Garrett style now, so it would stand to reason...)

Denzel hasn't aged in ten years!

This "review" is completely superficial. Sorry.

In honor of Julia

I wore these awesome shoes while puttering around the house, making soup and getting ready to go out for the evening. Julia - rest in peace.


I totally forgot that I forgot to tell you guys about my Anthony Bourdain encounter until you posted your book review, Sandy! It was such a major experience, akin to having a child, it seemed like everyone must already know about it.

Anyway. So the cocktail hour started at 7 and we were supposed to be seated for dinner at 8. That made me think we'd be stuck in some room "mingling" with people we didn't know at all for a full hour, so we showed up at 7:20, and the other 150 people were already there! The dinner was on the third floor of this bar/restaurant place, and when we got to the entrance, my brother informed us that Tony was behind the bar with the head chef, Tim McKee. There he was - 20 feet away! This was exciting enough, but then the elevator... When my brother said, "OK, I guess you can get on," I think Tony's exact words were, "Well, I don't know who YOU'RE here to see, but I'm here to eat Tim McKee's food. I can't wait for that!" Tim was on the elevator with us too, and he was all Aw Shucks about it. I thought it was a very gracious and sweet thing for Tony to say.

Our 30 seconds of shared air ended, and when we got into the dining area, there was a big line at the bar, and Tony just went up and started chatting with people. He was in a great mood, full of smiles. (By the way, he is taller, a little less skinny, and more attractive in person. I think I thought he would look more haggard, but honestly I think the cameras aren't that kind to him.)

Before we started eating, Tony took the podium and said, "I saw that line at the bar, and I see two glasses of wine at each seat, so I expect you to all get stinking drunk during dinner, because afterward we're going to have a Q&A, and I don't want any stupid bullshit questions. No 'what's the weirdest thing you've eaten?' OK? I want you to fucking get drunk, and think up some really interesting, sick, scandalous questions, and I promise to answer all of them."

After dinner, he got back up to the podium and said that one of his tablemates had asked him, "Are you just going to do the same fucking talk you give at every book signing?" and he said, "YES! I'm going to give that same fucking talk!" But instead he just decided to do all Q&A. I was instantly concerned, as both of you would be, given our experience with film festivals. Overall, people were OK. Some dumb questions clearly aimed at making Tony Bourdain think the asker was an amazing undiscovered comedic genius; some aimed at making Tony think the asker was MUCH more cosmopolitan than their humble Midwest surroundings make them appear; and one HELLA annoying woman who basically wanted a private conversation with Tony regarding her laziness about cooking real meals for her family. Otherwise, he was hilarious and vulgar and delightful. One comic genius asked who was more annoying, Rachael Ray or Gail Simmons (the judge from Top Chef), and he said that Gail was really very nice and smart and had a great pallate. His rant about Rachael got pretty heated and ended with him saying, "I mean, fuck that bitch." HA.

At the end, he signed books for everyone, and Bud and I had one of our books signed to our friend Nick who tried to see Tony the previous evening at a free event at a bar and was brutally rebuffed (along with about 150 other people who weren't among the lucky 500 who made it past the velvet rope). Tony told us that that had been a great event too. I thanked him for doing this and he looked saucily in my eyes and said, "Absolutely. I've had a great time." And then he leapt across the table and we made out! Just kidding.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

I saw these movies a long time ago

This is an entertaining, twisty-turny thriller. Some reviewers compared it unfavorably to Clint Eastwood’s most recent efforts, but I’ve always been put off by Eastwood’s overly simplistic, black-and-white morality, as well as his obvious emotional manipulation. I thought this movie was more nuanced. It’s a very strong directorial debut, and hopefully a sign of good things to come for Ben Affleck.

I was overall disappointed by this movie. I’ve been following the director, James Gray, ever since I saw Little Odessa, but none of his more recent films have lived up to the promise of that debut. Actually, the only other film he’s done besides this one is The Yards. Which is not to say that We Own the Night and The Yards are bad movies – far from it. They’re just not as good as I’d like them to be.
Somehow this movie ended up being boring and felt like it was dragging. That was unfortunate because it has some of the strongest stand-alone scenes I’ve seen in any film this year. There are a couple drug stakeout scenes that are insanely intense – the kind of scenes where it takes all your willpower to stop from shouting out, “Look behind you!!!!” There are also some really strong scenes between Joaquin Phoenix and his girlfriend, played by Eva Mendes, including the often-talked-about opening sex scene. But the pacing is wrong, or something, because the movie as a whole didn’t flow well.

I thought this movie was quite good, but far from the best movie of the year as so many people are proclaiming. As with everything the Coen Brothers do, it’s startling in its precision. I really won’t say much more about this movie, except that yeah, the haircut bothered me. I liked the period detail – I remember well those scratchy, horrible plaid couches (we still have one in our family room). I think this movie probably contains more than I can absorb in one viewing (as all their films do – I was even underwhelmed by The Big Lebowski on my first viewing, as hard as that is to believe). So I’ll hold off on further commentary until I see it again.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Reading is my new thing

Hey ya'all, I read another book. Sorry to be so boring. I also saw I AM LEGEND, but gin-stank-girl already posted about it, and anyway, what you see in the preview is pretty much what you get. Not much I can add... except that (MINOR SPOILER ALERT) never having heard of Bob Marley, even if you're Brazilian and it's 2012, is totally unbelievable.

So back to my book...

ALL SHE WAS WORTH by Miyuki Miyabe

In the spirit of Natsuo Kirino's OUT (one of my all-time favorite books, which I posted about sometime last year), this is a chilling thriller set in Tokyo. Though this was written several years before OUT, and is decidedly less gruesome, it treads in familiar thematic territory. It's about a police detective who--during a leave of absence from the force--is recruited by his distant relative to investigate the disappearance of said relative's fiancee. It's a really expertly paced mystery that keeps you turning the pages... in fact, I barely slept at all until I was able to finish it.

Has anyone else seen JUNO yet? It was cute... but it's not gonna be my #1 movie of 2007 after all.