Wednesday, April 30, 2008

i’m not sure if this is the message the filmmakers intended

Conversation after seeing Stop-Loss, an intense if not-so-well-written movie about soldiers on leave from Iraq:

AK: Do you want to stop at The York on the way home?

Me: It’s kind of late—

AK: It’s just that that scene where they were doing tequila shots made it look so appealing.

Me: I know. It was one of the best scenes.

AK: Oh well, there’s vodka in the freezer, right?

Me: Right.

Friday, April 25, 2008

the resurrection of the author

I’m listening to The Lovely Bones on CD right now (I know, sooo 2003, but whatever—books are timeless). Of the handful of books I’ve listened to during my purgatorious commute, this is the first that’s been read by the author rather than an actor.

I liked Judy Kaye’s interpretation of Sue Grafton (her voice was somehow both hardboiled and melodic), but I found Suzanne Toren’s reading of Jane Smiley’s Ten Days in the Hills far too actress-y. Maybe that quality was appropriate to the work, which was all about movie industry types lounging about in the Palisades, but it was way too easy to picture Toren backstage in furs, chanting, “Red leather, yellow leather.”

Alice Sebold is a bit of an anti-actress. As the author, she knows exactly how each word is supposed to be pronounced and which part of each sentence should be emphasized. This is appealing to my own inner control-freak author (although it can also be fun to hear how actors envision your characters). But she has a calm, flat, almost nerdy voice that makes me feel like I’m being read a bedtime story.

Oddly, this is the perfect voice to narrate a story about a murdered girl, a story that is both eerie and, well, lovely. Sebold’s voice also provides a counterbalance to prose that, while finely crafted, occasionally border on florid. I’m not 100 percent sure that I would love seeing all those pristine descriptions of snow and fields and flowers, all that hyper-eloquent dialogue, on the page. But I love hearing it.

The future of the printed word looks iffy at times, yet I’ve heard many people complain that they don’t like going to readings because that’s not how the author intended people to absorb his or her words (and sometimes I agree). So it’s nice to discover a perfect blend of new-ish technology and old-fashioned storytelling that can help a girl survive the 110 freeway.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

the outsiders

I love Jackie Harvey’s “The Outside Scoop” column in The Onion. It reminds me so much of working at Zap2it.com, where we never met a Variety story we didn’t want to inaccurately repost, or a Sabrina, the Teenage Witch cast member we didn’t want to fawn over.

And I, like Jackie, have woken up with this thought:

Why do I know the name Kim Kardashian? I woke up in the middle of the night and it took me a few minutes before I realized that she was in a sex tape and is now on a reality show. But really, so what? She is just taking up the space in my brain that good, honest celebrities like Gabreille Carteris should hold.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

three little words: chocolate covered matzoh

It was a busy weekend. The only logical way to break it down is by carb:

Saturday

  • Lime rickies (or “slutty ricks,” as Tania called them), jalapeƱo muffins, chocolate-covered cherries, various things made with a pastry tube: all handmade by domestic goddess Amy at her birthday/pool party, all eaten by me.
  • Red velvet cupcakes, chocolate cupcakes, frosting in a big gay rainbow of colors, chocolate chips, sprinkles, peanut M&Ms, lemonheads, orangeheads, cherryheads: assembled by craft goddess Jennifer at her birthday/cupcake-decorating party, all eaten by me.

Sunday

  • Cheese enchiladas, rice and beans, chips, watermelon, deliciously butter-centric dump cake: made by AK’s incredibly sweet mom as proof that my birthday is not just a day but a season, all eaten by me.
  • Veggie meatballs, the fluffiest mashed potatoes in the world, charoset (kind of like sangria after you’ve drunk all the wine out of it), Manishewitz (so wonderfully syrupy, so unlike all other wines), almond macaroons, chocolate-covered matzoh, leftover cupcakes (see above): made by Jody and Christine at their nontraditional Passover seder, which featured activist-feminist retellings of the plague story (think plagues inflicted by the U.S. government and a starring role for Miriam) and only one actual Jew, which meant Jody had to sing all the songs by himself while we joined in for occasional off-key “daiyenus.” All eaten by me.

I’d like to say that I’m done for a while, but there’s one more cupcake in our fridge with my name on it (and O.C.’s face—I made a Team Gato triptych, of which Ferdinand and T-Mec have already been eaten).

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

fetus cheese, jr. would be the worst name of all

I missed my chance to participate in a very cool blog fundraiser for RAINN last week, but luckily it’s not too late to raise a dollar for Tracy of Kaply, Inc. All I have to do is fill out this meme by Grant of Discombobulatingrant.

1. Describe yourself without the use of any vowels (treat “y” as a vowel).

__l_p_-rsstnt.

2. Write a short paragraph about a truly horrifying encounter you once had using the word “sippy-cup.”

When I was a very small child, I was not known for being generous or having a good understanding of pronouns (not that I’m known for these things as an adult either). When my parents handed me a toy or a piece of food, they would say, “Here, Cheryl, this is yours.” I would take it and repeat, “Yours.” So when it came time to fight for what was mine in various playgroups, I would grab stuff out of other kids’ hands and yell, “Yours! Yours!” They were confused. But not as confused as I was when my parents decided to show slides of their charming toddler to visiting friends (let this be a cautionary tale about slide shows). Suddenly, projected as high as our family room ceiling, was a giant little girl with curly hair, footy pajamas and my favorite yellow monkey sippy-cup. She had somehow stolen it and enlarged it! I ran to the wall and grabbed at the big flat girl’s big flat cup, screaming, “Yours! Yours!” Needless to say, things did not improve on the generosity/confusion front when, a year later, my sister arrived.

3. Which of the following is the worst baby name: Monkey Winkle, Fetus Cheese or Swaberpoo Deliciousness? Discuss.

Fetus Cheese. Besides winning points for bad mental imagery, children should not be saddled with the burdens of the past. In the same way that I’m not into naming kids So-and-so, Jr. because what if they don’t want to be anything like So-and-so, Sr., I also think they should not be reminded of their own previous existences as fetuses. What happens in the womb should stay in the womb. Except for, you know, the baby.

4. Complete the following word association: cookie, ladder, penis, regret….

Emergency room.

5. You move your weasel to sun level three. Your opponent counters with whimsy to caveworm seven. What is the best counter move?

Tell the AV Club that you have to go home to chat with some hot babes online?

undercover strippers! (but, like, in an arty way)

Nicole has a new 23-year-old French roommate named Boris, who wears blazers and jeans and likes meeting L.A. “hotties.” The first and only time I hung out with him, the three of us went to see Penelope, which I found to be a lovely, Tim Burton-esque feminist fairy tale, and which Boris gave a D-.

Nevertheless, Boris was kind enough to hook us up with passes to City of Lights, City of Angels, the Franco-American film festival running at the DGA this week. Last night Nicole, Jamie and I saw Female Agents, a World War II drama about four, well, female agents recruited for a secret mission in occupied France.

The plot is standard fare (evil Nazis and reluctant heroines who must occasionally go undercover as strippers), but, sacrebleu, what an intense movie! I haven’t seen enough French films to attribute its attributes to Frenchy-ness, but I nevertheless suspect that an American version of the same story would have had a few more explosions and chase scenes, and a few less deaths of main characters. Female Agents, on the other hand, opts for a steady canter that actually makes for far more intensity.

Afterward, I said, “Wow, that was intense. There was a lot of torture.” (Warning: Female Agents contains a lot of torture.)

“Really?” marveled Nicole, who had been lamenting, earlier, about how none of her friends liked horror movies. “I’ve seen way worse.”

“But when you have a medium amount of torture and a lot of good character development, it makes the torture harder to watch.”

So there you have it: If you want to see a solid World War II movie that puts a handful of beautiful, talented actresses through scenes that are wrenching yet not gratuitous (seriously—not even the undercover stripping scene, believe it or not, but maybe that’s just the power of vintage lingerie), and you want to find yourself pondering which of your friends would withstand torture to save you and which would sell you out, see Female Agents. It’ll be a rough night, but worth it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

sk8er girl

It’s no fun to jog to a slow song at the gym. But you know what’s less fun? Slamming into the moving treadmill after you try to twist around and mess with your iPod. My knees haven’t looked this Kerrigantastic since my one and only foray into skateboarding at age nine.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

normally i hate l.a. haters, but sometimes i hate l.a.

Things I could have done in the four-and-a-half hours it took me to take the train and bus to and from work yesterday:
  • driven to Vegas
  • flown to Chicago
  • put in a week’s worth of work on the novel
  • taken three yoga classes
  • watched two movies
  • earned enough money to pay for at least a small item of Ikea furniture
  • written to several representatives advocating for better environmental policies, which probably would have had more impact than the soupcon of greenhouse gases I avoided emitting
  • read 92 pages of Richard Powers’ The Echo Maker

Actually, I did do the last one while en route. Not everything about public transportation sucks.

Monday, April 07, 2008

hand on nose, drink in other hand, smile in heart

It was a good birthday. Seeing (almost) all my friends in one place always reminds me how much I like them. Like superheroes, they're even more impressive as a team.

Not to underestimate family. Cathy was there to remind me that the Kleins have lazy eyes in photos. Then, of course, she proceeded to look great, while I turned out like the Joker with Bell's palsy.

I took lazy eye picture after lazy eye picture. I was not even drunk when this photo was taken.

Amy tried to show me how to stare down the flash.

The martini shot: all hair, no eyes (plus a little Steven and Pedro in the background).

Me, myself and Meehan.

Jamie and Lee-Roy, looking sly.

Kimberly, Christine, Jody and one very funny joke that I didn't catch.

Afterward, we caught a ride home in JP's new-old truck. By now, the lazy eye could possibly have been blamed on alcohol.

Because it's from the '70s, the doors are heavy. Before slamming the passenger side door, JP commanded, "Hands on noses!" AK and I obeyed immediately. "We're rule followers," AK said.

But even rule followers sometimes have a few drinks and dress up the cat. Ferdinand was not amused, but we were like, "What are you going to do, Harry Potter? Cast a spell on us?"

footlosing it

The more drinks I had on Saturday night (thank you to all y’all who helped me celebrate—pictures coming soon!), the more I found myself talking about Freak Dance: The Forbidden Dirty Boogaloo.

If I were not so mature, maybe I would have been doing the forbidden dirty boogaloo on my birthday, but at the ripe old age of 31, I was happy to simply proselytize Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre’s brilliant and hilarious spoof of dance movies, which I shall now proceed to do on my blog as well:

Riffing on everything from Footloose to Save the Last Dance (with a little HMS Pinafore, Gypsy and West Side Story thrown in for old times’ sake), Boogaloo is populated with such archetypal favorites as The Rich Ballerina Who Wants To Dance Street and The Guy From The Barrio Who’s Dancing For His Dead Brother (which he reminds us of every five minutes before turning his head and saying he doesn’t like to talk about his dead brother).

The plot begins as pure parody: The good-but-poor kids at Fantaseez Dance Center must save their community center (which is plastered with “encouraging” posters all too recognizable to those in the nonprofit biz—my favorite was a photo of a wistful looking cat beneath the caption “Try Harder”) from an evil building inspector because, of course, Dancing Is Their Only Way Out. But the story takes a turn for the absurd when we learn more about the surefire steps that will win the Big Dance Contest—the Forbidden Dirty Boogaloo has been known to burn off boys’ penises (or “dance lumps” in the parlance of the show) and flat-out kill girls (talk about “What I Did For Love”).

Such a show could easily be a stage version of a Scary Movie-style spoof, a genre I mostly dislike (with the exception of Wet Hot American Summer). It didn’t help that most of the cast could not actually sing or dance all that well (with the exception of Angela Trimbur as Sassy, a sort of ghetto Jessica Simpson who, we learn in a Very Special moment, cannot read).

But Boogaloo succeeds big time because it’s both more ridiculous and more serious than most spoofs. Beneath the ‘80s breakdancing getups and the five-sock-big dance lumps, there’s an actual theme, which is: What is dancing about? This is a genuine critique of films that suggest dance has everything to do with poverty and passion and nothing to do with training or talent. The characters frequently remind us that dance is about all things good (“Reading is what dance is all about!” the kids tell Sassy) and nothing bad. Even the dirtiest dirty dancing is about love, not sex. Come on. Dance lumps are for balance, okay?

Highlighting the humor of the Fantaseez team are several interstitials by a crew of actual breakdancers. They’re good, they’re unassuming, they’re diverse, they’re not wearing legwarmers…and their performance offers an unspoken explanation of what dance actually is about.

See it for some straight-up good moves or see it for yo-mama jokes performed as Broadway showstoppers. But see it! (And it’s only $10, less than a movie ticket to Step Up 2: The Streets.)

Thursday, April 03, 2008

selfish bitches of the world, unite!

Today is my birthday (31 is the new 28, you know). Today is also the birthday of:

Alec Baldwin
Marlon Brando
Doris Day
Jennie Garth
Eddie Murphy
Wayne Newton
David Hyde Pierce
The Pony Express

I like to think that birthday is not destiny, because when I looked up April 3 in The Secret Language of Birthdays years ago, I remember being told I was more or less a selfish bitch.

Still, maybe the list above holds some kind of clue to my personality and/or future. In order to ensure the most fruitful 31st year possible, I took some notes on what I have in common with each of them:

Alec Baldwin: Remember that message he left on his daughter’s voicemail, calling her a little pig because she was never there when he called? I know I’m not supposed to feel sorry for people who verbally abuse their children, but I couldn’t help sympathizing with Alec and thinking his daughter might have been a giant brat. Most 11-year-olds are. And selfish April 3 bitches frequently raise selfish bitches.

Marlon Brando: We both like food a lot.

Doris Day: I know nothing about Doris Day (Amy, fill me in here), but one of my mom’s co-workers wrote a one-woman show about her in the mid-‘90s called Doris’ Day. I never saw it, but it seemed like a glamorous thing to do, and I was jealous because I’m a selfish bitch.

Jennie Garth: We both hated Donna. Well, one of us hated her unabashedly, and the other pretended to be her friend for 10 seasons. At least I’m not a selfish lying bitch.

Eddie Murphy: Jimmy got soul, Jimmy got soul, Jimmy got, Jimmy got, Jimmy got soul! I think I might also have some soul. In, like, a folk-infused kind of way.

Wayne Newton: When I think about Wayne Newton, the man that actually comes to mind is the printing press guy who sometimes visited the Daily Bruin office when I was in college. He looked and dressed like Wayne and, while I’ve never smelled the real Wayne, I swear this guy smelled like what Wayne would smell like. Perfuuuuumey! When you’ve smelled someone, you have an undeniable connection. It’s like you’ve fought in a war together. A flowery, musky war.

David Hyde Pierce: We are both middle-aged gay men (see Dreamgirls reference above).

The Pony Express: We both like horses and a strapping young Native guy named Buck, assuming the late ‘80s/early ‘90s TV show The Young Riders was historically accurate.

I hope my fellow April 3rd-ers are having a great day today, even the dead ones. But if they’re not, I’m not going to lose a lot of sleep over it, because you know what? None of those bitches even sent me a card.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

awesome

Overheard just now at Antigua, which is the new Starbucks (but with free internet and discount lattes on certain days of the week...but don't come here and take up all the seating, okay?):

Girl with stickers on her laptop to dykey poet girl in newsboy cap: "We're starting a collective about really awesome things that are happening. So if you're doing anything really awesome, here's my card, okay?"

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

too much paranoia, not enough park

When I heard Terry Gross interview David Cronenberg a few months ago, I couldn’t wait to see Eastern Promises. I loved the idea of Russian prison tattoos as a secret language—I imagined sort of a cinematic, Russian version of Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, in which a key to the main character’s self-identity lies in a slave story passed down as a children’s playground rhyme. In other words, I like a little mystery and subculture in my art-and-culture.

AK and I finally rented Eastern Promises Sunday night, but I fell asleep for a good hunk of the middle. This happens almost every time I start watching a movie after 10 p.m., so it doesn’t necessarily mean a movie is bad. But AK assured me, “You didn’t miss much.”

I went back and watched the middle last night, thinking the super fascinating stuff about tattoos and human trafficking would be in there, but it wasn’t. The movie was well written and acted—it just always seemed on the verge of becoming more interesting but never did.

I had a similar experience with Paranoid Park, another movie I’d been itching to see for similar reasons: a mythic skate park inhabited by marginal characters! Where mysterious things go down! But most of the drama was internal.

I know it sounds like I’m wishing for more plot—which my former writing group would no doubt find refreshing—but I’m actually wishing for more tone. It’s an intangible trait that transcends genre, medium and even quality. It’s a brush with the sublime—the sense that you’re peeking into another world that’s full of light and shadow and history.

Song of Solomon has it, as do John Henry Days by Colson Whitehead; the photographs of Graciela Iturbide and Jacob Riis; a book I read as a kid about a family that lives in a house built beneath a waterfall; and most ghost towns. So do Pirates of the Caribbean (the movie and the ride) and the first National Treasure.

It’s the thing that I would love, more than almost anything, to achieve with my own writing: I would like this Itchy Mystery Tone to be contagious to readers. But it’s so easy to get bogged down with things like character and plot. If David Cronenberg can’t pull it off, what makes me think I can? Then again, writing itself is an act of brushing against the sublime—of trying to translate the fire in your imagination into mundane and earthly words, as Michael Cunningham has put it—which is probably why I enjoy it so much.