OfficeLOL, vote early and often! -- What with the Hollywood writer's strike and my own ongoing subemployed state, you'd think I'd have more time for blogging, not less. Well, what little time I do have has lately been spent over at Office Tally, where fellow bereft fans of the greatest of all comedy shows are turning their talents into hilarity. Not sure why mine didn't make the final cut...
w00t! -- That's Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year, people. Plus, they seem to think it's an acronym...? It's just a plain old onomatopoeic ejaculation, if you ask me.
Sometimes a tampon is not just a tampon -- and sometimes a TV commercial is worth rewinding the TiVo for! This morning I caught a blip of an ad for Tampax's Protecting Futures campaign. They are working with the UN Association's HERO program to help provide menstrual supplies, clean water, and puberty education to girls in Southern Africa. Apparently, many girls miss days of school during their periods, which they find hard to manage without access to pads, reliable bathing water, and other basics we take for granted. Now I feel a mite less guilty for buying that variety pack o' tampons...but I'll hold off on the "Use Your Period For Good" t-shirt. Eeep.


The holidays mean more moviegoing at our house -- here's my Good, Better, Best Edition of TicketStub:

* Dan In Real Life -- Sometimes you've got tinder and sparks but the flame just doesn't catch. That's the problem, literally and figuratively, with this movie. Written and directed by Peter Hedges, he of the superb indie family dramas What's Eating Gilbert Grape? and Pieces of April, this one promised a fresh take on a time-worn premise (the aspirational, multigenerational family vacation house movie) starring the talented and conveniently white-hot Steve Carrell. All the elements are there: sad-eyed widower father, check. Spunky teenage daughters, check. Wry grandparents (in the form of John Mahoney and Diane Wiest, oy), smartass younger brother (in the form of Dane Cook, double oy!), foxy interloper (Juliette Binoche), check. Why doesn't this succeed? Tepid writing, an overall lack of subtlety, and one too many forced setpieces -- I think you can either sneak off for romantic twosome bowling or put on a family talent show art-directed by Martha Stewart, not both, in one of these movies. Whoops, I forgot the expository, girls-against-the-boys team crossword puzzle contest! See what I mean? Maybe this subgenre has run its course, maybe they forgot to give Steve Carrell some meaningful character development, or maybe I'm just too old and jaded...come to think of it, the worst thing I can say about this movie is that if I were still 15 I would have loved it. Yikes. Extra points for Dane Cook, actually, for his surprising underplaying of the cuckolded brother, and Emily Blunt for making a meal of a bit part. Copious points off for the entirely unnecessary nuptial finale. (C-)

* The Mist -- What's more satisfying than Hollywood finally getting around to adapting your favorite Stephen King story? When the movie itself is awesome! Frank Darabont, the man who left me cold with The Shawshank Redemption, makes good here with a note-perfect visualization of this classic creepfest. A summer storm unleashes a mysterious mist on a small Maine town, and our hero, the smart and strapping Thomas Jane, is trapped in the local supermarket with his young son, ornery neighbor, and sundry local folk, who start to squabble, subdivide, and eventually turn on each other. This is unsettling enough, but then...monsters come! And the monsters look exactly as I imagined them, although one takes the form of Marcia Gay Harden. The story is more Lord of the Flies than The Blob, though, and Darabont takes a huge gamble by tacking on a dark and disturbing ending -- far darker than the original, if you can believe that. Personally, I appreciated it, while Nat was appalled. I think the film can be read as an allegory of America's misadventures abroad and the high price we pay for sacrifices made in the heat of the moment, or the miasma of uncertainty. But don't worry about all that -- monsters, people! Big creepy crawly ones! Judicious special effects make the difference here, though some of the best thrills come from simple sounds, shadows, and a length of clothesline stained crimson with blood. Eeek! (A)

* I'm Not There -- A rambling ride through the life and times of a great American self-inventor, Bob Dylan. Lovingly staged and lushly shot, the film shuffles together a half dozen characterizations, from hobo dreamer to Jesus freak to pretentious aesthete, and everyone in between. Cate Blanchett is the clear standout -- now that I've seen her, I cannot imagine what other actor could possibly have pulled off the prickly, wired, louche genius of the "goes electric" period...maybe Peter Lorre? I kid, I kid. Heath Ledger adds an interesting twist as a bona fide hunk, for the "failed family man" segment, and Marcus Franklin as a young black runaway/blues prodigy is a wonderful blend of innocence and gravity. I was less impressed with Richard Gere (The Hermit) and Christian Bale (The Firebrand), but they balance out some of the tumult. I also thought Julianne Moore misfired as a faux-Joan Baez, which is odd...maybe she can only do anachronistic drama, not comedy? The unevenness adds to the impressionistic feel: it's like watching an old-fashioned zoetrope strip with some of the images missing. You get a feel for the story even though it's choppy and unfinished. A bit overlong and at times painfully overdone: I was loving the rapidfire sequence leading up to Dylan taking the stage in Newport, right until the "assassin" metaphor went totally over the top. But overall it's enjoyably shaggy and reasonably authentic, just like the subject. Many extra points for Charlotte Gainsbourg as his long-suffering wife "Claire," making an impossible role (for if we don't know the real Bob Dylan we certainly don't know what really happened within his infamously rocky first marriage) a compelling portrayal of individual artistry squandered in the Feminine Mystique era. Oh, and the music is great. (A)
"Many of our nation's idiosyncrasies—both good and bad—can be observed the moment you step inside its hallowed halls: our preoccupation with jaw-gaping enormity, our irrepressible capitalist spirit, our cultural diversity, our insistence on wearing jorts even in mid-November." -- And they sell plenty of jorts at the Mall of America, for your convenience! I've been there and ridden the rollercoaster, but I don't think I could live there for a week. One guy did...that's a lot of cheese curd lunches.


A couple random, back to back Roadside Sightings today:

1. A bright red panel truck zipping along Rt.3A with a large anthropomorphized lightbulb character on the side, wearing a cap and holding a stopwatch in one hand and a lightning bolt (!) in the other. His name? Mr. Sparky. His business? Being "America's On-Time Electrician." Around here, he is also the Vulcan best friend of a certain Enterprise captain...get it??

2. Inside a nondescript office in Burlington, I'm sitting next to a nondescript faux ficus plant in the waiting area. I look absently at the pot it's "planted" in, and there are several silk leaves gently scattered over the "soil," just where they would fall if the ficus were real -- and if you've ever had a real ficus, you know there are a lot of fallen leaves. I looked at the branches -- no bare plastic tips. So, did the fake ficus come with an extra packet of fake leaves to scatter around its trunk for extra realism? I can only leave you with this thought.
"If the writers want diamond-crusted laptops, give it to them!" -- Proof that the creative impulse shall survive the WGA strike...of course, it would be nice for these two entrepreneurial scribes to have decent profit-sharing when they inevitably get a network deal...


This year my moviegoing has slowed down considerably, yet my movie reviewing is even slower! Nevertheless, it's time for the Auteur, Auteur Edition of TicketStub:

* The Darjeeling Limited -- Toot toot, all aboard the Tweeville Express! Yes, I am a total sucker for Wes Anderson, and no, I don't care if you think he's boring, pretentious, repetitive, racist, whatever. Despite my bias, I think this is his strongest film since Rushmore, maybe because it has such a simple premise: 3 brothers + 1 train across India + their mommy issues = hilarity/poignancy. The ensemble is freshened by Adrian Brody, whose inner weariness makes him less of a caricature than Old Flipflop Wilson, and less of a cad than Jason Schwartzman, who admittedly makes the most of his handsy Lothario part. Anjelica Huston swans in at the end, but by then the whole thing has taken on an intriguingly strange, nonsequential tone. The main character here is really the Indian landscape: does it have any intrinsic meaning, or is it just a wacky backdrop for our three pilgrims? Its compelling beauty and inscrutability point to the former. By the end, we just want the boys to go home already -- India will do just fine without them and their mountain of baggage. (B+)

* Gone Baby Gone -- Hooray for Ben Affleck, he's back from the dead! A confident, well-paced drama set among the seamy degenerates and/or police brass of Boston, the film delves uncomfortably deep into our national obsession with child abduction. Casey Affleck makes an appealing, regular guy lead as a green P.I. who tries to outgame the bad guys, only to find the good guys far more slippery. Over on the grizzled end of the spectrum we have Ed Harris (sporting a menacing titanium brushcut) and Morgan Freeman, who is just a little too trustworthy to pull off the last dark plot twist, but makes it look good. I guess once you've played God it's hard to "play god" on screen. In any event, all the men are outshone by Amy Ryan as the missing girl's messy, crafty mother, who turns from aggrieved to loathsome on a dime. Up against all this, Michelle Monahan has nothing to do in an underwritten part as Casey's partner, but Amy Madigan chews on a nice hunk of Boston accent as the put-upon aunt. Great bit parts, careful editing, and some truly suspenseful sequences...bring on the next project, Ben! One point off for setting a final soliloquy on the exact same Southie rooftop as in The Departed. (A)

* No Country For Old Men -- Yes, I'm the one person who didn't like this all that much. It's well paced, perfectly cast, and beautifully shot, not to mention adapted very faithfully from the original story. Maybe the totally awesome trailer ruined it for me? I frankly felt like I'd seen it all before, and recently: pitiless, sadistic sociopath evading capture (Zodiac), sweeping prairie wasteland that tests men's souls (3:10 To Yuma, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada), a muscular, bloody cat-and-mouse chase (The Bourne Ultimatum, Grindhouse), blah blah blah. I felt like there was almost nothing distinctly "Coen Brothers" about this movie, maybe because it's too thematically similar to Blood Simple and Miller's Crossing. The movie's too good to be just an exercise, but it's not fresh enough to be more than their "amoral carnage" shtick, without any levity. We saw this in Cambridge and a guy actually leapt up and shouted "That sucked!" at the end. I won't go that far....just, meh. Tommy Lee Jones alone puts it above average. (C+)
"Will Write For Food...Won't Write For Free!" -- No wonder they get paid to write dialogue for "The Unit"! Check out some of the clever signage at Day 5 of the WGA strike in Hollywood.


"We’re talking about story-telling, the most basic human need. Food? That’s an animal need. Shelter? That’s a luxury item that leads to social grouping, which leads directly to fancy scarves." -- Joss Whedon is on strike and on a tear! On his personal blog, he waxes on about the WGA strike and why writing is hard and important, not just funtime for fops. Some of my favorite "content creators" (and yes, that is sarcasm) are on the picket lines this week, like the awesome Tina Fey and pretty much everyone at "The Office," which shut down today because Steve Carrell won't cross the picket line. He told NBC he had a case of "enlarged balls," tee hee. Check out some of the "hypenate" writer-actor-producer folk from "The Office" in this video they made from the front lines. Si! Se puede! Viva decent television!
"I saw the girl of my dreams on the subway tonight..." -- Ahh, internet + doofus = love....? Maybe. He's like the Emo Mahir. And she (yes, he found her) is like a real-life "Leggy Blonde"! Thank god for hipster jackasses...
"She got too close for comfort, on the verge of working Triple-A baseball, which was too close to the big leagues for baseball brass to handle." -- Not talking about Annie Savoy here, folks, but an actual real-live female umpire, who was released from baseball this week after nine years in the minor leagues. Will a lady ump ever break through the grass ceiling? Hmmm.


Stay classy, Boston! -- I think Jonathan Papelbon speaks for us all when he dances around with a cigar and scuba goggles whilst pouring the finest Bud Lite over the American League Championship Series trophy. All that's missing is his victory jig...aha!

Baseball is unique in many ways. It's the only professional sport which requires you to wear a leather belt, openly allows you to use addictive carcinogens during play, and is sometimes so dull (or televised so goddamn late) it puts the most ardent fans to sleep. It's slow and unsexy and numerical, hard to love casually, which makes it practically un-American. Yet it takes so much stamina, pure talent, and blind optimism to play that it could only be American too. Plus, it features knuckleheads like this...what's not to love? GO SOX!!

UPDATE: The Sox did, indeed, go, and all the way, too! :) Here's my brief shining moment of regaling thousands along the victory parade route, as Queen of Red Sox Nation for a day! King Budbox, my consort, also enjoyed adulation...nothing makes professional ballplayers laugh and point like crafty costumes!


It Ain't No Library Thing -- So in the realm of nerdliness, I can doubtless hold my own. But as we are in the media-declared Season of the Nerd, I thought I'd take things up a notch. Enter my BIL, Jon, who annotated the LibraryThing Top 106 Books People Own But Have Not Read list on his LJ. I hear the Nerd Klaxon in the air, I must obey! :D The italics mean it's still sitting on my shelf, the bold names are the ones I have actually read. 42...yikes.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina

Crime And Punishment
One Hundred Years Of Solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life Of Pi: A Novel -- read first chapter, gave up
The Name Of The Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride And Prejudice

Jane Eyre
A Tale Of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, And Steel: The Fates Of Human Societies
War And Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler's Wife
The Iliad
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations -- I'm hanging on to Bleak House instead.
American Gods
A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita In Tehran: A Memoir In Books
Memoirs Of A Geisha -- see Life of Pi, above.
Middlesex -- One of the best American novels ever written, IMHO.
Wicked: The Life And Times Of The Wicked Witch Of The West
The Canterbury Tales

The Historian: A Novel
A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man
Love In The Time Of Cholera
Brave New World

The Fountainhead
Foucault's Pendulum
The Count Of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once And Future King
The Grapes Of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel -- I've almost purchased this book about 5 times. Hmmm.
Angels & Demons
The Inferno
The Satanic Verses -- Read a few chapters in high schol, gave up.
Sense And Sensibility
The Picture Of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
To The Lighthouse
Tess Of The D'Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
Gulliver's Travels
Les Misérables
The Corrections -- An entertaining, juicy novel written by a complete ass.
The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier And Clay
The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time
The Prince
The Sound And The Fury
Angela's Ashes : A Memoir
The God Of Small Things
A People's History Of The United States: 1492-Present
A Confederacy Of Dunces
A Short History Of Nearly Everything
The Unbearable Lightness Of Being
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach To Punctuation
The Mists Of Avalon
Oryx And Crake: A Novel
Collapse: How Societies Choose To Fail Or Succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher In The Rye
On The Road -- Like so many other great things, turning 50 this year.
The Hunchback Of Notre Dame
Freakonomics -- So many people pressed this on me I now have Reverse Hype Refusal.
Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance
The Aeneid
Watership Down -- See The Satanic Verses, above.
Gravity's Rainbow
The Hobbit -- My secret shame!
In Cold Blood
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers


Tastes great, Jonathan Papelbon! -- Yes, that is the Red Sox fireball closer, cavorting on the Fenway infield, with an empty Bud Light box on his head. I think he made the eye-holes himself. Folks, this sums up my whole weekend: crazy fun times capped off with the Red Sox clinching the ALDS. WOOOO!


As the movie season turns from summer fun to fall serious, it's time for a Ladies and Gentlemen Ticket Stub:

* Becoming Jane -- What would Jane Austen make of the cottage industry devoted to her in today's Hollywood? Now that's a screenplay I'd like to read...and this little biopic makes a pleasant diversion in the meantime. Based on her life and embellished with entertaining but unlikely details, the movie peeks into Jane's struggle to choose between work and love. Will she be able to "live by her pen," or should she follow her nudgy mother's advice and settle for money? Better yet, will she elope with the dashing, witty law student, like one of her minor characters, or make the hard choice and follow the rules, like one of her heroines? Pale and pouty Anne Hathaway does a creditable accent and a fine job bringing Jane's prickly persona to life -- part Elizabeth Bennett, sure, but part Miss Bates and plenty of Anne Elliott too. It's a sign of success that we consider the greater tragedy the possibility that Jane might never have written her novels if she hadn't been so disappointed in love. Extra points for James Cromwell and Julie Walters as Mr. and Mrs. Austen, as mellow and squabbly as the Weasleys. (B+)

UPDATE: * The Jane Austen Book Club -- I must confess, I disliked the book. But sometimes surprising things happen in life -- the movie was quite good, and that's one of it's themes, too. Lifted well beyond its simplistic plot by great casting, it manages to make talking about books (which most of the audience haven't read, even in Cambridge) as interesting as the characters' various personal dramas. That's where the chickflickery comes in: infidelity, divorce, mother issues, death, bed death, spinsterhood, romance, and crafty young lesbians all enter the scene! The delicious Emily Blunt is spot-on as a repressed young French teacher who has a carefully scheduled dalliance with one of her students (he's 18, and they don't get hot and heavy until the end of the school year...but still!). Maria Bello pops as the prickly single dog-breeder; and Amy Brenneman hold her own against a cheatin' Jimmy Smits. The young pup, Hugh Dancy, is winning, and Kathy Baker steals every scene as the artsy boomer dame. Mercifully free from a crutch-pop soundtrack but with an oddly unsatisfying ending, it's a story Jane herself would appreciate...though certainly improve on. One extra point for a cameo by the long-lost Nancy Travis! (B)

* 3:10 To Yuma -- It's Maximus vs. Batman! Christian Bale and Russell Crowe play perfectly to type as hero and antihero in the classic Western remake, complete with lonesome prairie and twanging guitar soundtrack. I think director James Mangold does best with a color-by-numbers outline to work with -- the film is thankfully unimaginative and delivers exactly what's promised, without anachronistic jokes, needless subplots, or a bloated score. Bale plays a limping Civil War vet about to lose his ranch and his last ounce of self-respect; Crowe is the sly outlaw who's been captured, possibly by his own boredom, and must be delivered by Bale's half-assed posse to the titular train. He wears velvet and sweet-talks everyone while racking up a considerable body count; Bale is gaunt and desperate, and so ethical he won't take a swing at the local mercenaries driving him off his land. Who is the real man between them, and who's just a dreamer? There's a lot of talking in between the gun battles, and both leads are strong enough to make the picture work as a drama, not just a gritty Western. Delicious bit parts by Peter Fonda as the tough bastard Pinkerton security guard, Alan Tudyk as the put-upon veterinarian, and Ben Foster as the hothead sidekick round everything out nicely. Bale gets the hero's finale, but Crowe gets the last laugh -- what's not to like? (A)


God help me, I shall blog again! -- I've got a nasty bronchitis, folks, what can I say? I do have a good Ticket Stub brewing, though, stay tuned. So much less time for blogging now that I don't have a job...weird.


The Buddha of Savings -- Just a note to the good design people at Target, who decided to offer this ceramic Buddha head in their "Global Home" collection, in the "Sculptures + Figurines" department, originally priced at $24.99 and marked down to a mere $6.24, and available with 4 identical Buddha heads on an endcap in the Reading store: when can we look forward to the bargain ceramic moai, pietas, and Flying Spaghetti Monsters? You know, for parity.


Gonzales Resigns! -- The good/bad news just keeps on coming, folks! Yes, we can savor the departure of TortureBoy for a while, and look forward to the White House flailing around for a replacement of equal repellence and spinelessness. But the downside is, these jokers still have 15+ months in office, and I doubt Congress can get it together to open the right size can of Indictment WhoopAss in time.

And just to harsh your Monday a little more, check out this long piece from Rolling Stone,"The Great Iraq Swindle," on the complete fraud of government contracting in Iraq: "According to the most reliable ­estimates, we have doled out more than $500 billion for the war, as well as $44 billion for the Iraqi reconstruction effort. And what did America's contractors give us for that money? They built big steaming shit piles, set brand-new trucks on fire, drove back and forth across the desert for no reason at all and dumped bags of nails in ditches. For the most part, nobody at home cared, because war on some level is always a waste." Yikes.


"We are effectively hamstrung because realities on the ground require measures we will always refuse—namely, the widespread use of lethal and brutal force." -- It's the silly season, so you may not have noticed this incendiary NYT op-ed piece, "The War As We Saw It." Written by 7 active-duty junior officers, it points out the complexity and probable futility of the Iraq war, calling out the Administration for its "surreal" cheerfulness in the face of grim reality. Could this force a tipping point, 2 weeks ahead of the Petraeus Report? Doubtful, with the White House and the media in nap mode for a few weeks...or longer, depending on your perspective.


"There’s a 20 percent chance we’re living in a computer simulation." -- Meaning, you and me, like in The Matrix, except for realsies. Prepare for your "whoa" moment reading this NYT article on Oxford "transhumanist" Nick Bostrom.


"One of the ways my sons are showing support for our nation is helping me get elected because they think I'd be a great president." -- Instead of serving in the military, which is such a drag. Please don't do us any more favors, Romney boys! This takes the cake for boneheaded candidate quote du jour...check out Salon's comments thereon, the first one might be the best.


Smile, baby! -- Celebrating new life is the best reason in the world for a lengthy blog absence, right? Well, regardless, that's my excuse -- my new niece was born, huzzah! On Saturday night, while I was sleeping in a tent on an island in the middle of Boston Harbor, which is why I'm not in this picture (sigh...) with my brother, Papa Josh, and Auntie Becca and Auntie Sara, and most especially with Lily Catherine herself! She shares her birthday with luminaries like Dag Hammarskjold, Ken Burns, Alexis de Tocqueville, Peter Jennings, Theda Bara, Diana Vreeland, Patti Scialfa, Wil Wheaton, Clara Bow, Captain Lou Albano, and uh, Benito Mussolini. It's also the feast day of Saint Serafina and Saint Martha, which tickles me no end.

We are headed to NJ this weekend to say hello...welcome, baby girl. May your life be long and happy and filled with adventures, as well as the heady thrills of being The Older Sister someday, tee hee hee... :)
July carried me along in a whirl of travel, visits, getaways, and many many forms of media -- what better way to commemorate all this sabbatical fun that with a trip to ReviewZapalooza?

* Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - As an aperitif before the release of Book 7, this hit the spot. I am a fan of this book, although many think it's dull or (in the case of the author herself!) poorly edited. I'll grant that the action is a little slow, but I just love the fascist repression of Dolores Umbridge and the gloominess of the whole thing. That, of course, doesn't translate well to the screen, at least in a PG-13 way, so here onscreen we see a lot more rebellion than repression. The kids are all great, and I love the idea of watching these young actors continue to evolve along with their characters. The adults get short shrift -- Gary Oldman, Emma Thompson, Maggie Smith, and even the villains Imelda Staunton and Alan Rickman are lucky to string 5 lines of dialogue together, sigh. There are also some painfully awkward transitions between scenes, and the Harry-Cho romance is all but dropped. But the boffo opening and awesome finale sort of make up for it...and anyway, this is just a taste of what's to come, right? Extra points for Luna Lovegood! (B+)

* Sicko - I went to see this at the behest of my sister, who is a social worker in a strapped regional hospital working with mostly geriatric Medicare patients. We sat in the suburban NJ theater surrounded by a curiously homogenous audience -- lots of couple in their late 50's, the wives coiffed, the husbands tanned and bespectacled, tenting their fingers and frowning at the screen. Yup, it was full of doctors! Ah, the irony. Michael Moore's latest is a step up from his usual play-dumb screed, and the reason is simple: what kind of counter-argument in favor of the US healthcare system could one possibly make? It's an awful mess, and everybody knows it: hard to find partisan rancor on that point. Moore studiously interviews a number of hapless Americans caught in the wheels of BigMed/BigPharm/BigInsurance, yet allows the cruelty and greed of the system to speak for itself rather than hammering it home with questions and badgering. The stories are sad enough on their own. Or, once he starts globetrotting to various national health systems abroad, sunny enough -- we hear average folks not quite singing the unalloyed praises of, but acknowledging the advantages of socialized medicine in Canada, Britain, France, and Cuba (!). Sure, Moore tends to allude to points that he never explores -- he sets up a query about the high French tax rate that supports their mindbogglingly comprehensive social services, from ER housecalls to state-subsidized nannies, but then never actually asks the sample couple how much they are taxed; apparently we are to infer from their comfy apartment that 60% is not all that painful a pinch. He also willfully sidesteps the possibility that his entire experience in Cuba, accompanied by ailing rescue workers from the WTC site, was staged for his benefit. But in the end, even his hammy impulses can't obscure the raw deal at the heart of our system -- it's just about money, not health or care. Sick, indeed. Extra points for the low-key socialist rebuke delivered by the London physician who points out that he can make a reasonably deluxe living with the NHS, while in the US doctors "who might want 3 or 4 nice cars, and a 5 or 6 bedroom house" are really part of the problem. Touche! (A-)

* Evening - And what an evening it was: I wound up seeing this movie off the cuff, accompanied by my mom and a young visiting Marianist brother from India, on his first trip abroad! He was game, even though we told him it was a chick flick...and boy, was it a chick flick. Despite the drippy reviews, I was willing to take a chance on some good performances, and was half-rewarded. Adapted by the same dude who inflicted The Hours on the world, the story flicks back and forth in time, as Vanessa Redgrave's addled mind drifts back to her youth as she lies dying. In the past, she was Claire Danes, and oh what times she had! I enjoyed that whole thread very much -- Danes and Mamie Gummer (aka Meryl Streep's daughter) had a winning energy as college friends, one bohemian, the other about to marry into WASP oblivion. Hunky Patrick Wilson plays the lost love, or maybe cad, and the whole thing just had a nice Gatsbyish feel. The present day, however, was best ignored -- Natasha Richardson and an unusually grating Toni Collette play Redgrave's quarrelling daughters, and they seemed trapped in a filmed rehearsal, tinny and unpleasant. Meryl herself appears and mercifully drowns them out for a moment, playing Gummer all grown up, and what a marvel to see her actually playing not just the character, but playing her daughter playing the character -- she subtly held her mouth and body as her daughter does, which, although their family resemblance is striking, is different enough to matter. But casting can't make up for everything...in the end, this is just a slightly fancier version of The Notebook. Not that there's anything wrong with that. A few extra points for Eileen Atkins as the Kushner-esque Night Nurse. (C+)

* Spring Awakening - I almost can't believe it, but I liked this show more than RENT. And I was an original RENT-head back in the day, believe me. The two Broadway sensations share some basic DNA (adolescent yearning set to a pulsing pop-rock score) and both deserve their many accolades. But RENT is a little coy, since it's essentially a cover of La Boheme. Spring Awakening is more like a revival, but with a Frankensteinian twist -- what if we exhumed and electrified the corpse of a 19th century German morality play, and to our surprise it cried real tears and sang like, well, Duncan Sheik? Wait, that doesn't sound right. I'll admit that for the first 10 minutes or so, I was skeptical -- the stage is bare, the band sits upstage in jeans and black tshirts, several rows of audience members sit mixed in with the cast in the wings, and there are multicolor neon tubes and various ephemera hanging all over the theater. The cast kids tromp on in dour grey pinafores and knickers, and everyone is named Herr Schtiffel and Frau Grabbetz and so forth. But then...then! It all clicks. The music pushes the story out in front of the costumes and wacky, downtown staging (like the deflowering scene set on a suspended wooden platform). Teenagers weren't invented alongside American Idol, David Cassidy, Frank Sinatra, Romeo, Juliet, or even Nefertiti -- their solipsistic desires and nubile, naive hopes, twere always thus. The kids in the story are up against the 1890's German version of the "wah-WAH-WAH-wah" adults of Peanuts, just more emotionally repressive -- no sex, no drugs, no rock n' roll, just Latin drills and vague yearnings, caught up in an onrush of hormones and idealism. The songs are meant to be interior monologues -- none are sung to another cast member, but instead out into the audience. This gives the show great frankness, and it's hard to look away as the youngsters give into their urges, and then live to regret it. What can I say -- it blew me away! (A)

* Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - All's well that ends well, right? :) I am still crushed that Hedwig had to die...sigh. But what a wild, brilliant ride. Surmounting inhuman expectations, JKR delivered a lasting, satisfying ending...bravo! Extra points for Hermione saving everyone's bacon many times over, before getting her man. (A+)

* A Midsummer Night's Dream - This year's free Shakespeare production on the Boston Common was plagued by scandal before it even opened. They should've waited to see the costumes. Imagine if the drag show at the end of Priscilla Queen of the Desert had a Midsummer theme...and a blinding dayglo color scheme. Never was the comic relief of Bottom and his players so sorely needed: neither the fairies' frippery or the dull young lovers held our interest, but the Pyramus and Thisbee was amusing. Let's hope for bigger budgets and smaller egos next summer. (C)

* The Simpsons Movie - I know it sounds negative to say it was just like a 90-minute-long episode of the show, but with The Simpsons that's a good thing! I can honestly say I laughed pretty much throughout the whole frickin' thing -- the writers were on their A game, although sorely lacking musical inspiration this time (no "Monorail"-level tunes, alas). The plot had a message yet had time for plenty of Simpsonian visual puns, surreal meanderings, and what everyone's been waiting for, hard core nudity! Highlights included Green Day playing down the Titanic, Bart's fancy cocoa, Maggie leading the way through the sinkhole, and Boob Lady. Can't wait for the rerun...er, DVD release. (A+)


Things have been slow around TAI, I know -- but I'm just back from a week in NJ and I have a slew of reviews and other goodies to post, stay tuned...
"Maraschino cherries? Why bother?" -- Why indeed! They NYT dining section tackles my favorite guilty, corrupted-fruit treat, including a recipe for making them at home! Minus the toxic dye and corn syrup, no less. Mmmmmm, maraschino...


"This is neither normal government conduct nor 'politics as usual,' but a national disgrace of a magnitude unseen since the days of Watergate - which, in fact, I believe it eclipses." -- John Koppel, a Justice Dept. lawyer for nearly 30 years, writes this OpEd in the Denver Post today, entitled "Bush Justice Is A National Disgrace." It's hard to disagree. It's also getting hard to disagree with those folks asking rhetorically, "Do we even live in a democracy anymore?" We're in the middle of a constitutional crisis, and when even Washington lifers are saying so you know it's pretty bad.


Now that my "Sabbatical" Summer has begun, I have time to catch up on my Big Summer Movie TicketStubs. This pair has the distinction of being refreshingly atypical, a cut or two above the usual summer fare, and surprisingly deserving of their critical acclaim, but for very different reasons. Read on, dear friends --

* Knocked Up -- Neither knocked nor up: discuss. That is to say, this movie is an angsty psychodrama masquerading as a cheeky sex comedy. If Woody Allen had directed a fourth American Pie, this would be the result. The performances are good, and the concept of refreshing the 70's sitcom-ish shotgun wedding cliche is a winner. Seth Rogen is appealingly schlubby as the goodhearted slacker who accidentally impregnates Katherine Heigl, an attractive blonde workaholic who's more girl-next-door than ice queen. And so they give it a go and try to stay together for the kid. The movie ends on a blithely optimistic note (after the PBS-level birthing scene) and thank god for that, because pretty much everything in between is a dark, searing meditation on communication breakdown and lack of trust in modern American marriage. Paul Rudd stands in for writer-director Judd Apatow here, opposite the real-life Mrs. Apatow, aka Leslie Mann, as the married parents who are struggling to stay together against the nearly insurmountable force of his immaturity and her self-absorption. Sounds like Edward Albee or Henrik Ibsen, right? Except with lots of vagina jokes. Rudd is a depressive record producer who can't understand why his kids are so happy and lies to his wife about sneaking out to his fantasy baseball league -- a rogue nerd! Mann is a grotesquely neurotic L.A. mom-bot who whines about her spent youth until you just want to shake her. The film winds up condemning their upwardly mobile, self-involved, traditionally successful lifestyle in favor of the low-rent struggles of Rogen and his gang of dipshit friends, who spend their time staging half-assed drunken American Gladiator battles in their scummy backyard pool in the Valley. The stoner friends are the ones who actually rally around the expectant couple, where Mann just criticizes and Rudd checks out (in a hilarious hallucinogenic Vegas sequence). I read in an interview with Apatow that he wanted to make the Rogen-Heigl relationship believable, to the point where you don't really know whether they will stay together after they drive off into the sunset. That was true, but even more blatant is the question, why are Rudd and Mann staying together, when they obviously loathe each other and themselves? Are the kids and the nice big house really worth it? Apparently the answer is yes...so get yourself knocked up today! Major extra points for the usual cavalcade of smart aleck comedy cameos along the Apatow - Carrell - McKay axis. It's 20+ minutes too long, and not as good as 40 Y.O. Virgin, but a good bet. Oh, except, they don't even give the baby a name at the end. I smell a hasty re-shoot. Boo. (B+)

* Ratatouille
-- Hands-down the best movie of the year so far! Don't believe the kooky trailer that makes it look all slapstick -- this is a thoughtful story about creativity wrapped up in a delicious edible comedy bow. Remy the rat longs to savor gourmet tidbits instead of garbage -- who doesn't? Will he make his dream come true, or be held back by insecurity, family ties and prejudice in the workplace? He is a rat, after all. This is the most beautiful Pixar movie yet (it makes Toy Story look like that Soviet-era episode of Itchy & Scratchy), and it's also the most high-concept -- French cuisine, artistic visions, the cultural function of aesthetic criticism? What is this movie, for grown-ups? Based on the audience I saw it with, it's for everyone -- it's laugh aloud funny, surprising, touching, and well told. Peter O'Toole, Ian Holm, and Brian Dennehy add great heft to the voices, though the main two (of Remy and his hapless human helper, Linguini) are intriguingly average. The whole things is fresh and tasty, like a good special at the top of the menu. Aside from a couple of weird sermonizing moments about evolving into your true self, or something equally Randian, it scoots along at breakneck speed and while you're laughing you're literally gasping at the perfectly rendered grey light of Paris, the shine on the copper kettles, the rich red velvet dining room, and each of Remy's trembling whiskers. A masterpiece! Although our viewing was marred by a gang of roving Cantabridgian enfants terribles, it's worth seeing on the big screen. Bon appetit! (A)


And speaking of time flying... --Today was my last day at work! For eight weeks! Maybe more, maybe less, but no more work! Five years was long enough, time for new adventures . . .


Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like bananas. -- For some reason, I really like the idea of this flat grandfather clock. It's like applied Warhol home design.
You know that line in Ferris Bueller's Day Off when Mr. Bueller is trying to convince a client at his business lunch to boost his ad budget: "Dave, if you wanna sell, you have to spend"? I can understand that, to a point. And I can understand that when companies grow, they incur expenses to create that growth. OK, sure. But my company just got a bill from our law firm for $1.5 million dollars in fees...for one month of working on an upcoming deal! They spent $35,000 on photocopying, in a month! How is it even possible to spend over a grand per day -- that's like 200 reams of paper, just on one of the many matters they handle for us. Not to mention the entries where a partner "reviews" a document or composes an email for 15 minutes, then charges $140 for it. I am getting out of this world next week, possibly for good, and I can't wait...this is just Wrong.


"Truly, we lived in an age of giants. With giant hair. And really tight pants. Who wanted you to catch their disease." -- The inimitable Fussy continues her archaeological survey of 70's detritus from her childhood home in Denver, posted online in glorious living-time-capsule color. Today's installment -- movie listings from January 6, 1978!


I've got the Hoboken Wishbone Blues -- or more precisely, the Do We Jettison The Aging Jetta Angst, since Nat's trusty red '99 konked out in our driveway yesterday, after a delightful weekend toting us and our bikes and camping gear all over Cape Cod. Sigh...why don't they make a "Big Expenditure Magic 8-Ball" to help with decisions like this? "It Is Decidedly The Right Time to Trade It In" would be helpful right about now. In the meantime, I'm having schadenfreude fun reading through the hundreds of car break-in stories accumulated in Dooce's comments...well, OK, not schadenfreude. Is there a German word for, "It could be a whole lot worse"? Hmmm...wait, is that instant karma?

UPDATE: After crunching the numbers this way and that, we are getting a Fit. Huzzah!


LOLCats + 19th century photography + Sushiesque = teh awesom.
"The babies will be named Bailey Elizabeth, Savannah Jane, Molli Grace, Cole Robert, Blake Nickolas and Grant Williams, but Masche and his wife, Jenny, had yet to decide who gets which." -- Two sets of sextuplets were born over the weekend, in Arizona and Minnesota. Both sets of parents used follicle-stimulating drugs to enhance fertility, and when a higher order multiple pregnancy resulted they chose not to selectively terminate. First of all, congratulations to all 12 new babies and their brave parents. But while I hope they have a happy, healthy life together, I'm finding it difficult to reconcile my pro-choice stance with my immediate reaction of scorn and disbelief. If I believe in reproductive choice for all women, why does their choice seem so wrong to me? Is it the influence of religion, the use of medical resources, the financial angle, or just the thought of those names being handed out like popsicle flavors...except all those things bother me about childbirth generally. It's just writ large here. Something to ponder...
"One distasteful but completely non-lethal example would be strong aphrodisiacs, especially if the chemical also caused homosexual behavior." -- Yes, it's true. An Air Force lab in Ohio considered building a big gay bomb. As in, let's spray the enemy with pheromones until they just drop their RPG's and go at it. Wow. Next up, a cootie-injecting bayonet, and a wet willie brigade! My question is, why isn't it just a "horny bomb," a "bicurious bomb," or at the very least a "situationally gay bomb"? And why not just rain down Viagra tablets and drink pitchers on them? Sheesh.


Let a knitting project be your umbrella -- Yes, of course, just when I think I could maybe try something more complicated than a scarf, I find something on Knitty.com like this hand-knitted parasol. Dear god.


As summer blooms and vacation looms -- not to mention my forthcoming "sabbatical" from the workplace -- I've slacked way off on my reviews. This year Nat and I are trying to choose our theatrical expenditures more wisely, which means no more automatic matinees every weekend. What with ticket prices so high and quality so, let's just say, unreliable, it's working out pretty well. I'll most likely see either Knocked Up or Ocean's Thirteen this weekend in NJ with my family, but I don't know what the next movie after that will be...and I don't care! Well, OK, there's Harry Potter #5, but that's a date night for sure.

In the meantime, here's a two-fer for ya -- another Big Movie Little Movie Ticket Stub:

* Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End -- The twenty minutes or so of this rollicking, epic mess I could actually remember the next day are totally worth the price of admission. Especially if, like me, you see it at a crumbling retro theater, unchanged since you saw Ghost there in 1990, complete with muddy projection, sticky chairs, and mildewed gym sock aroma. Ahhh! Anyway, this third installment is so completely overstuffed that it makes the second one seem taut, and the first one seem classically brilliant, by comparison. Every single speaking part from the first two is shoehorned into a plot maze so overgrown that about 15 minutes in everyone, including the audience, just gives up. Luckily, that's when one of the gem sequences appears, a wacky Munchausian trip to Davy Jones' locker. That and the continuing spunkiness of Kiera Knightley are worth seeing, and every move Johnny Depp makes, of course. Some good characterizations by the bit players are dulled by the sheer number of quadruple-crosses between them. Everything else is a wash. Massive points off for awful dick jokes, general incomprehensibility, and Orlando Bloom. (C+)

* Waitress -- Another fantastic small movie! It's stuff like this that gives me hope for American culture. Of course, the terrible irony here is that the film's writer/director/co-star, Adrienne Shelley, was killed just before the movie made it to Sundance...sigh, hope snuffed. At least the movie stands on its own -- a delightful study of ambivalence and motherhood, in that order. Shelley serves up some deep insights in the guise of lightly fried Southern drollery, centered on a trio of waitresses at a pie diner (yes, they're real, I've been to one and it's awesome). Keri Russell breaks through as the prickly, put-upon, pregnant Jenna, saddled with a creep husband and a rash affair with her hunky new obstetrician. Nathan Fillion as said hunk is dorkily endearing, but is outshone by none other than Andy Griffith, letting his inner codger show. Not quite as funny as Little Miss Sunshine, but warmer, just as poignant, and way less self-consciously indie. Extra points for gastronomically alluring closeups of pie. See it! (A)

And another thing I've neglected here at TAI is recording all my non-movie ticket stubs. Here's a roundup of 2007 thus far...turns out I'm secretly a culture maven:

* Boston Symphony Orchestra -- Nat and I subscribed and saw 5 wonderful shows, including the US premiere of an Asteroid for Orchestra, wicked cool. (A+)
* Grizzly Bear @ the MFA -- Bedheaded hipsters, unite! Rainy night of experimental pop with Mandy & George, who along with us made up nearly all the over-30's in the room. (A)
* Orson's Shadow @ New Rep -- Brilliant concept executed reasonably well in Watertown: aging lions Orson Welles and Laurence Olivier stagger around Ionesco's Rhinoceros. (B-)
* What Would Jesus Buy? @ SXSW -- OK, this one is a movie, the Supersize Me of 2007. (A+)
* Well @ Huntington Theater Co. -- A comically deconstructed one-woman show on wellness, mothers and daughters, and social neuroses, with Kim. (A)
* Fat Pig @ SpeakEasy Stage -- An exercise in cruelty from Neil LaBute, for whom people seem not to ever mature past Lord of the Flies age. (B+)
* Surviving The Nian @ The Theater Offensive -- A funky, ambitious, unfinished, family drama musical about culture shock, coming out, and all that good stuff, and a Jonathan Larson Foundation grant winner. (A-)
* Ben Gibbard @ The Somerville Theater -- Another hipster coven! Excellent acoustic set of thinky pop from Gibbard's various projects, unfortunately we sat in the volcanically overheated balcony. Included the best rendition of "All Apologies" ever, including the original, and I always hated that song. (A)
* No Brawl @ Symphony Hall -- Sigh. Through a series of miscommunications, Nat and I showed up 85 minutes late for opening night of the Boston Pops, featuring our beloved Ben Folds and the much-discussed fracas in the rafters. Grrrr. Oh well, we get a mulligan in a few weeks for Oscar & Tony night... (F)
* Parade @ Speakeasy Stage -- A stirring and surprisingly coherent musical exploration of race, religion, capitalism, crime, and marriage in 1900's Atlanta, based on a real case. (A-)
* Present Laughter @ Huntington Theater Co. -- Dizzy, dazzling comedy the way they don't make 'em anymore, starring Victor Garber as Noel Coward's onstage persona. (A+)
* The Light In The Piazza @ The Colonial Theater -- Superbly scored and romantic to the core, yet uniquely weird in an operatic way. The touring company came to town and thanks to Miss Laura we got a backstage view!

Whew -- I need a nap.


I’ve had children come into my classroom, and they’ve never even lost at Candy Land.” -- So says one kindergarten teacher of her rapidly "graying" class -- that is, where kids are "redshirted" (or as we used to say, kept back) by their parents for another K year so they are older, taller, and more ready (for standardized testing, of course). Blech. My recent experience grading some similarly cushioned college students with the first B's of their lives was as just as unpleasant, I imagine, as that first devastating Candyland blowout.


"Ron + Hermione: Isn't It Obvious?" -- That was emblazoned on a t-shirt at the Phoenix Rising Harry Potter Convention in New Orleans last week, and Salon's Rebecca Traister gives an insider's view of the serious fans at play. As the Summer of Harry kicks off today (only fortyish days left!) I think we could all use a good relaxing charm...accio sangria!
"The capital of Red Sox Nation, where schadenfreude is flowing like World Series champagne." -- That's Boston this weekend, gang, as the limping Yankees come to Fenway for a series that may not include the usual bench-clearing brawl, but guarantees creative heckling. Play ball!


"I celebrate the man's entire catalog." -- I think $35 is a bit steep, but who doesn't want a little recognition at work? Note that this is currently out of stock at ThinkGeek...hmmmmm.
Bollywood "Thriller" Video. -- What more needs to be said?
"Thanks for the superfluous visual aid, random cowboy dipshit!" -- Watch out for corporate website stock photography, you might learn something.
Defenestrate it? Dip it in a koi pond? Smash it with a hammer? -- What's the best way to totally destroy data on a hard drive? Watch and see. Thank goodness for the BBC.
"America finds itself married to a guy who has turned out to be a complete dud." -- That's President Dud to you, bub. Gary Kamiya muses on why Americans can't seem to divorce W. even though he's a disaster. His theory? The Dem-controlled Congress won't move to impeach because the quickly sinking Bush-Titanic is taking the whole GOP down with it, so why throw him an anchor? Um...lots of reasons?

Also, in case you're wondering what I mean by "disaster," check out Slate's handy Illustrated Guide to Republican Scandals and follow along!


Is 2007 the new 1974? -- What in the hell does that mean, anyway? Boston.com threw me for a real loop with this fluff piece, pointing out that it's been a third of a century since 1974. Um, I was born in 1974, so like, that can't be right.


"Too much boob exposed? WTF! I see more boob that that on the red carpet." -- Right on! Check out the commotion at Celebrity Baby Blog -- they posted a paparazzi pic of Maggie Gyllenhaal breastfeeding her daugher on a park bench, while she was out for a stroll and dinner with friends and their baby. Let the naysayers and breast-barers have at it! I think it's way cool -- I would much rather see this than Britney Spears dropping her kid on his head, let alone all the TMI decolletage on Law & Order.


Sweet Fancy Moses! -- My prayers have been answered, people. Not only did I find a fried avocado recipe, I already have all the ingredients at home right now. Mmmmm, friedocado. It has definitely been a friedocado week around here...


"Women are invisible in this decision as they are invisible in the writings of recent -- and not so recent -- popes." -- Former president of Catholics for a Free Choice Frances Kissling excoriates the all-Catholic Supreme Court majority that decided the recent Gonzales v. Carhart (aka "partial birth" abortion) case. This is the first time in history there are 5 Catholics on the court, and Kissling makes the explicit claim that their religious orthodoxy is what swung the court over to this regressive, misogynistic, anti-choice opinion. God, please save us from your old school, non-evangelical followers too.


What's red and green and rides through the South? -- The Lone Kool-Aid Pickle! If it's in the NYT Dining Section, it must be a trend, so hop to it, pickle/candy lovers. Here's Miss Issippi's recipe: "Dump out half of the brine in the pickle jar and refill it with your favorite flavor of Kool-Aid (preferably Jamaica, because it makes them nice and red). Wait a few days. Enjoy. I did." I am more of a half-sour girl, maybe that would pair well with Arctic Green Apple flavor? Mmmm...
As the summer blockbuster season revs up, it's time for a Big Movie/Little Movie Ticket Stub:

* Year of the Dog -- A perfect small movie: well-drawn characters, straightforward premise, and a thoughtful afterglow. Writer-director Mike White is, as far as I'm concerned, the man to save American independent cinema from its post-Grindhouse hangover, the culmination of a decade of indulgence and exploitation by the major studios. He's as incisive as Stephen Soderbergh, but takes himself much less seriously than his characters, so his stories fly on their own, undimmed by the shadow of his ego (do I even need to explain how this cripples every Tarantino flick?). Anyway, YOTD is a simple tale of grief and growth in the life of single gal Peggy, a tentatively perfect Molly Shannon. She works as a secretary for, lends a friendly ear to, and is the long-suffering auntie to, a bunch of average selfish jerks. Only her beagle Pencil loves her unconditionally, and then, well, he dies. Peggy is devastated, but nobody really cares -- except maybe Newt, the asexual ASPCA guy (Peter Sarsgaard) who reaches out and turns her on to veganism and animal rights. Peggy's path veers through all the stages of grief, including larceny and vandalism (of her snooty sister-in-law's fur collection!), before her life changes for the better. Extra points for a vibrant supporting cast (Regina King, Laura Dern, John C. Reilly), down to the dogs. (A)

* Spiderman 3 -- A pretty good big movie: our friendly neighborhood Spiderman & friends return, with one too many villains in the mix, but flawless fx and some nice goofy Sam Raimi touches. The reviews are mixed overall, but I'm not sure why -- it's a frickin' Spiderman movie, what is the big deal? It made X-Men 3 look like a SciFi Channel in-house creature feature, and that's enough for me. Tobey Maguire gets to walk on the wild side a bit here, after a meteorite filled with goo turns Spidey into an emo jackass with long dark bangs, alienating the affections of the lovely Mary Jane. Dunst is once again a hundred times better than the movie deserves, though pitifully underutilized in the awesome fight sequences. James Franco acquits himself well after a bump on the head erases Harry's misguided hatred for his best friend, which of course sentences him to a heroic martyr's demise. And the villains just keep on coming, which is entertaining enough. The be-goo'ed Spidey winds up giving into the dark side just enough to make it interesting. Moreover, I love how these movies are so NYC-centric -- the cops all look like real cops, just like on Law & Order; Peter's apartment remains realistically sub-standard; and Mary Jane seems to actually live and work somewhere in the grubby wilds of Ninth Avenue. I like this New York story better than the gadgetry and inner turmoil...who wouldn't? Oh, fanboys. Major points off for the unresolved smack-up of MJ, and that ludicrous Particulator Vortex underground command center somewhere in the marshes of...Queens? (B+)


"He swore off beer, had to put the pricey organic bananas back on the supermarket shelf and squeezed four meals out of a single chicken, all in the name of reducing hunger. And this is not even an election year." -- The governor of Oregon spent a week on a "food stamp diet," spending only $21 per person on all meals, which is the average for OR stamp recipients. Unsurprisingly, it was a bit meager.

On a related note, this weekend is the Walk For Hunger in Boston, folks -- donate today so Nat and Amy can go out on the road and raise a ton of dough!


One Word Ticket Stub -- On Friday night, I accompanied Nat to his second viewing (in the same theater, after eating dinner at the same restaurant while the Red Sox were again playing the Yankees) of the ludicrously awesome Brit-cop comedy HOT FUZZ. Making up for our foolish failure to see Shaun of the Dead on the big screen, we were pleasantly doubled over at the nonstop onslaught of quippery, explosions, and homages to American action classics. The entire A+ experience can be summed up thusly: "SWAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!"


"If the facts weren’t so horrible, there might be something touching in the Governor’s deeply American belief that “healing” can take place magically, without the intervening practice called “treating.”" -- Following my policy of only posting once about enormous and/or tragic news events, here's Adam Gopnik's bitter commentary from The New Yorker, addressing the outrageously persistent American question, Whither gun control?


The cleverness and geekery, it burns! -- Only three months to go until Pottermania kicks off this July, so until then feast your eyes on this customized HP-themed chess set. Yes, that's Snape as the Black Knight. LEGO wizard Miss Mary Potter has more fun at her Flickr page. Accio awesomeness!
Cheesus Saves! -- Nice, dry, snappy NYT piece on the latest internet fadsite, Cheddarvision: "Seeing the film is a poignant reminder of the ravages of time, similar in effect to watching, say, all the movies of Robert Redford or Nick Nolte in quick chronological succession." Ouch.


It's a rainy Patriot's Day here -- the reenacted battle o' Lexington & Concord has been cancelled, yet the marathoners run on. While the schoolchildren and office workers and academics of Boston lounge around at home in their pajamas....grrrrr.....I sit in my cube and contemplate...a nice long meme:

1.What are your initials? I was EKD, now I go with just EW.
2. What is your favorite thing to wear? Black yoga pants...is that so wrong?
3. Last thing you ate? Breakfast: honey puffed rice cereal and a banana
4. Nastiest thing you've ever eaten? I bit into a moldy grape tomato recently...hurk.
5. I say 'Shotgun,' you say? Knock yourself out.
6. Last person you hugged? The Hubster!
7. How many U.S states have you been to? 32. Wow!
8. What state did you dislike the most? I don't think I'd ever move to Connecticut.
9. How many of the U.S states have you lived in? For more than a couple weeks, 4.
10. Does anyone you know wanna date you? Let's hope it's just my husband. :)
11. Name something you like physically about yourself. Being tall, it rocks.
12. What is your favorite romance movie? The English Patient -- "I hope you're watching the clothes, Elaine..."
13. Who is your best friend? I always hated this notion. I'll say, myself.
14. Why are you still up? It's not naptime at the office yet.
15. Who/What made you angry today? My ineffectual umbrella and raincoat.
16. Favorite type of Food? I could eat Thai or Korean food anytime, or a good dumpling of any origin.
17. Favorite holidays? I love Halloween. I just wish we had more than 6 holiday days a year at work!
18. Do you download music? Indeed -- I bought a Decemberists compilation from iTunes, and my frail elderly mind could barely keep up with the speed and the variety, oh my!
19. Do you care if your socks are dirty? Not as much as, say, my shirt. I tend to ignore my feet.
20. What age did you start noticing the opposite sex? I'd say around 4th grade. In 1st and 2nd my best buddy was a kid named Donald, and neither of us thought it was weird (although our moms and teachers made constant jokes about it, nice). By 4th grade Valentine's Day, though, I had a "secret" crush, and left him a chocolate heart in his desk!
21. Have you ever cheated on a test? Honestly, I don't think so.
22. Has anyone ever sang or played for you personally? Nope...and I always harbored a fantasy that John Cusack would show up in a skinny white blazer and bust out a sax solo...
23. Do you love anyone? Absolutely!
24. Do you like Bush? Oh dear.
25. Have you ever bungee jumped? Nyet.
26. Have you ever gone white-water rafting? I have been canoeing and tubing through Class 1 rapids, which is to say, no.
27. Has anyone ten years older than you ever hit on you? Unfortunately, yes.
28. How much money ya got in ya pocket? US$20.86, AU$0.20.
29. Have you met a real redneck? Hell yeah.
30. How is the weather right now? Ridiculous.
31. What are you listening to right now? "Like A Prayer" is playing very softly in the next cube.
32. What is your current favorite song? I like the latest Shins song.
33. What was the last movie you watched? Shaun of the Dead with commentary = brilliant.
34. Do you wear contacts? Yup.
35. Where was the last place you went besides your house? To the fabric store! Also Whole Foods, and on a driveby of some houses for sale in Lowell, MA.
36. What are you afraid of? Getting into a car accident.
37. How many piercings have you had? A dull set of 4 on the earlobes.
38. How many pets do you have? One large and awesome cat, MAX.
39. What's one thing you've learned? Don't waste time feeling insecure or self-conscious -- people are far more self-absorbed than you think.
40. What do you usually order from Starbucks? A TAZO tea -- I am not a coffee person.
41. What's your favorite book? Please. I am on a P.D. James kick lately, and just started this, so far so good.
42. Have you ever fired a gun? Nope.
43. Are you missing someone? In a way.
44. Favorite TV show? Now that Extras is over, I am back to The Office. Gervais hardcore!!
45. Do you have an iPod? No, despite their sometime siren call.
46. Has anyone ever said you looked like a celeb? Yes, the "celeb" herself.
47. If you had a daughter, what would you name her? I like Margaret, Caroline, or...Clementine! Or maybe Daisy?
48. Who would you like to see right now? How about Eric Bana with a glass of wine and a folding massage table? ;P
49. Favorite movie of all time? I could watch Raiders of the Lost Ark repeatedly, ad infinitum.
50. Do you find yourself loved? Yes!
51. Have you ever been caught doing something you weren't supposed to? Oh my, yes.
52. Favorite flower? I like hydrangeas, the really dark blue ones.
53. Butter, plain, or salted popcorn? Mmmmm, melted Olivio + paprika + salt.
54. What magazines are you reading? God help me, Rachael Ray!
55. Have you ever ridden in a limo? A couple times, for funerals. On my wedding day, I rode in my own car, my dad's Element, and a rented white Pontiac Grand Prix, sweet!
56. Has anyone you were really close to passed away recently? Not recently, no.
57. Have you ever been on stage? Indeed! I made my debut as Gretl Von Trapp in the 1979 production of The Sound of Music at St. Patrick High School.
58. What's something that really bugs you? Traffic jams -- I get unreasonably huffy about the wasted time. Yes, I am a control freak!
59. Do you prefer scary movies or comedies? I guess overall comedies, although I like both to be smart.
60. Do you like Michael Jackson? He puzzles me. The hits hold up, though.
61. What's your favorite smell? Sourdough, woodsmoke, lavender, the spring wind, and onions cooking in chicken fat. Seriously.
62. Favorite baseball team? Whither Varitek goest...
63. Favorite cereal? Mixed Berry Cheerios...boring!
64. Have you ever milked a cow? Nope, not even at the MN State Fair!
65. What's the longest time you've gone without sleep? I think only about 20 hours, I become insensible quick.
66. Last time you went bowling? Too long ago! Though my all-time high score is like 60.
67. Where is the weirdest place you have slept? I used to fall asleep floating on a big raft in the pool, does that count?
68. Have you ever cut your own hair? NO.
69. Last time you were at work? Uh...moments ago?
70. What is the closest orange object to you? A Crayola marker and a Post-It.
"The fire would have been just under your buttocks." -- That's not what you want to hear from your toilet manufacturer's customer service rep.
Maryland rejects the Electoral College -- and Mass. might be next. State legislatures are taking up bills to end-run around the E.C. by giving the states electoral votes automatically to the winner of the national popular vote. Innnnteresting....


"Conservative credentials rose, while prior experience in civil rights law and the average ranking of the law school attended by the applicant dropped." -- Just substitute "government" for "civil rights law" and cross out the word "law" from "law school," and you've described President "C Average" and his whole cadre of monumentally mediocre flunkies. This Globe article on the politicization of the Justice Dept. -- that is, how the doors were flung wide by the Bushies to conservadrones from the nation's weakest law school, the one where they talk about "sin" in ConLaw class -- makes the J.D. in me burn with irritation. It's Delay and Abramoff and Brownie all over again -- all this administration cares about is loyalty, not competence. Nobody's driving the bus, folks.

UPDATE: Bill Maher provides the zinger of the year with his take on this whole mess -- "It's not just that this president has surrounded himself with a Texas echo chamber of war criminals and religious fanatics. It's that they're sooooo mediocre. This is America. We should be getting robbed and fucked over by the best." Hear hear!


"And to them I say, nobody can eat fifty Creme Eggs." -- Ugh, one is enough for me, and frozen, please. Check out this cautionary tale from Salon, and have an eggy Easter weekend...


It's a lovely April day, raw, grey, 40 degrees, with sleet in the forecast -- so while you're hunched over your mug of tea, check out the underwater photgraphy of David Doubilet. Feeling the sand on your toes yet?
For a chiffon-wisp of a movie, we have a whisper of a TicketStub:

* Blades of Glory -- Rounding out Will Ferrell's Anchorman/Talladega "trilogy of humbled arrogance" is this gentler, sillier comedy on ice. Without the raunch factor of the first two, this movie made us feel a little old for it, which was enhanced by the 95% teenage audience. But come on, two dudes in sequined Lycra? Comedy gold! Cleverer than it deserved to be, yet deftly skirting homophobia in favor of timeless nut gags, it's an 85-minute prescription for the end of a long workweek. Then again, I'd pay to watch Will Ferrell reading the phone book. (B)
"And it's why they can't stand McCain even though his views are actually more doctrinally 'conservative' than Giuliani's -- because McCain doesn't seem to hate liberals viscerally enough and seems to believe in some (very minimal) limits and restraints on what the Leader can do." -- Read Glenn Greenwald's essay on Rudy Giuliani's recent musings on Presidential authority, and then ask me why I'd rather have Mitt Romney in the Oval Office any day. This one's for you, Michelle! :)