Monday, June 30, 2008

Love in the Time of Cholera (Movie Review)

I've never watched the film based on a book so soon after reading the book itself — I did it intentionally this time around, as I figured that meant I'd be better able to retain the book rather than have the film tarnish my memory.

And while I didn't think this 2007 adaptation was awful — as countless critics have suggested — I agree with the majority that this book may very well be unfilmable. But unlike those Marquez sycophants out there, I empathize a bit more with the director in his plight: he actually did an OK job capturing the highlights of the plot, but in order to do that you have to drop all of the fluff in-between, and it's that fluff that actually contains the spark of Marquez's work. Without it, you're left with a Cliff Notes type of film — the basic elements devoid of any real spirit.

What you're left with in the film, then, are all of those things that almost made the book a disaster for me: unrealistic characters and scenes that border on comical (and are most likely even intended in jest) but just don't fit in with the characters — or even the overall tone of the work.

I also resented the director's main breach from the novel (really the only one worth noting, since it is otherwise true to the action): he's made this into a love story, and all but forgotten the irony of said "love." And it was this irony that made the book for me.

Or perhaps that's just me... I didn't read Love in the Time of Cholera as a love story that took place during an era whereby cholera was ravaging the planet; rather, I walked away thinking it was a story about life, whereby love (in all its forms) is as dangerous a threat as the plague itself.

Oh, wait, there's one more thing: Javier Bardem does a sufficient job as Florentino Ariza, with one big problem: Bardem is, by his very nature, masculine, whereas Florentino is described in effeminate terms.... smaller in stature, pristine, etc. (hence all of the rumors questioning his sexuality). So while Bardem did an OK job acting the part, he didn't all resemble it.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Eight is Enough

King of Kong
Now this is why documentaries exist: to pit good against evil in the pursuit of the much-coveted title, "King of Donkey Kong." Here two men stand off to outscore one another in one of the earliest arcade games: one as the reigning world champion with a score purported to be "unbreakable" (this guy is a real-life version of Ben Stiller's character in Dodge Ball), and the mild-mannered father of two who claims to have broken the record — and has a tape to prove it. But don't let the subject material bore you: the filmmakers sure don't, the end result being a documentary that's as humorous as it is insightful. FINAL GRADE: A

In the Company of Men
When a friend recommended this film to me by stating that it will, "really improve your opinion of the male persuasion," I assumed he meant that in jest. And having just watched it, I now know that for certain. Or if this gives you any idea: this film is rated "R" for language and EMOTIONAL ABUSE. I've never heard a film getting an "R" rating for emotional abuse, but, well.. it was certainly warranted. Not to mention, it shows a smooth-talking man (a real sweetheart to the ladies) as he is beneath the surface. A truly disturbing but nevertheless well-orchestrated film that aptly demonstrates just what men are capable of — and so pushed me one big step closer to voluntary spinsterhood. FINAL GRADE: A-

Incredible Hulk
If you want pure entertainment without having to think too much, Incredible Hulk really isn't too bad. Sure, a couple hokey lines really cracked me up for all of the wrong reasons ("HULK.... SMASH!!!") but I was otherwise entertained. I also thought they were so busy setting up a sequel at the end of this film, that they failed to aptly conclude this one. But then again, I wasn't really expecting too much and I wasn't disappointed. I also appreciate the homage-by-way-of-cameos to the original television series, which I vaguely recall from my days as a toddler. FINAL GRADE: B

Julien Donkey-Boy
Oh, I dunno. This film is purportedly about a schizophrenic teenage boy, with a series of grainy, shaky vignettes capturing the world as he sees it. But I'd say this is more so about a highly dysfunctional family than anything else (the father is abusive; the brother is obsessed with becoming a wrestling champion; and the sister is thrilled about a mysterious pregnancy). And for that matter, I'm not sure the boy (Julien) is so much schizophrenic (or at least, not only schizophrenic) as he is inflicted by other personality and/or learning disorders. This film certainly has its moments, with a Blue Velvet-esque creepiness that certainly got my attention. But it also tries a bit too hard to achieve an objective that remains nevertheless unclear. FINAL GRADE: C+

I queued this one up because my 6-year-old nephew was going to be visiting, and I wanted to make sure I had at least one genuine kids film in my apartment. But we wound up spending most of our time at museums and the like, only briefly watching parts of a film — in which case, he chose Harry Potter (atta boy!). But I tried watching Ratatouille — a computer animated film about a French street rat who has aspirations of becoming a chef — on my lonesome after he left and, well... let's just say it's interesting to look at but is otherwise pretty dern dull and most definitely a kid's film (unlike crossover films — like Shrek — that could equally entertain an adult audience) — never mind a couple double entendres and occasional fits of drunkenness. FINAL GRADE: N/A

Night at the Museum
Not as good as I'd hoped, but better than expected (particularly after hearing a series of very harsh reviews). It's about the Museum of Natural History and the tablet that brings all of the exhibits to life at night — and not to mention, the night watchman who's new to the shift. But the fact remains that this film had all of the ingredients for a great family film — and while it is certainly still the latter, it certainly falls short of its potential. FINAL GRADE: C+

It pains me to have thought so little of this film — most definitely not Will Ferrell's finest. Here he stars as Jackie Moon, one-hit-wonder turned basketball player/owner/coach. Though occasionally funny, I spent most of my time staring blankly at the screen, longing for entertainment. FINAL GRADE: C

Mama's Boy
This one stars Jon Heder — of Napoleon Dynamite fame — as the boy who refuses to grow up and leave home, in large part because of the trauma induced by his father's untimely death. Marketed as a dark comedy, it was rare that I found this film funny, more often irritated by Heder's character (he's cranky and curmudgeonly to all who cross his path). FINAL GRADE: C-

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Thoughts Concerning Love in the Time of Cholera

I was about 20 pages into this novel before I decided it was at least worth finishing; it was another 50 before I was interested in what was happening; and even by the end, I wasn't entirely buying any of the characters (I was apathetic towards most of them, at best) — and occasionally the story would lose me for a paragraph or two before it pulled me back in.

And yet: at some point, I was hooked. Even with all of those aspects I didn't care for in Love in the Time of Cholera (trans. 1988), there's no mistaking the end result: a beautifully crafted novel that explores all types of love (familial, platonic, physical, emotional, young, mature, etc.) over the course of more than half a century (from the last 1800s thru the 1930s).

And with love — time, death, and aging are also central motifs, all of which are occasionally described in such intriguing language that I can't help but wish I knew Spanish so that I could read the book in its original dialect (author Gabriel Garcia Marquez is Colombian).

But then again: at other points, I was rolling my eyes at the melodrama and wondering if people like that really ever existed — even on some unnamed Caribbean island at the turn of the century (about which I know next to nothing).

The emotion behind the actions and words, however, remains timeless — and so propels the suspense that kept me wondering if the man (Florentino Ariza) and the woman (Fermina Daza) at the novel's center would ever even talk to one another (never mind, engage in a relationship of any sort).

Marquez stitches the pages together by traveling back and forth through decades, exploring the perspectives of various characters on multiple occasions, thereby creating one cohesive storyline by the final page.

Overall: definitely worth the read. And, yeah, contrary to what I told people 50 pages in... I probably will try 100 Years of Solitude (perhaps Marquez's best-known work) one of these days.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Something to Laugh About — Period.

An Observation Regarding Human Nature

Many people just don't have what it takes to be good parents.

Unfortunately, those are generally the people who wind up with the most children.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Goldilocks: Brief Encounters of the Third Kind

Part I
One needn't be blond to suffer from Goldilocks Syndrome:

The indefatigable quest to find your niche (notch) in the world: to find a place where you fit in, where you are comfortable.

And I need that now more than ever — to feel that at least one fleeting aspect of my life is "just right."

And yet:

I am too liberal for conservatives; too conservative for liberals.

Too tall for petites; too short for regulars.

Too hippie for squares; too square for hippies.

Rich enough for expensive tastes; too poor to accommodate them.

Base enough for certain instincts; too moral (or uptight, depending on your interpretation) to act on them.

Full of words without the means to organize them.

Obsessed with photography without genuine ability.

Exhausted in the mornings; unable to sleep at night.

Too rural for the city, too urban for the country.

Part II
And I feel as though — no matter where I am, and no matter the crowd — I fail, and desperately so, to belong.

Like last night, sitting next to the only empty seat in the house: my presence noted by conspicuous absence, and so diminished when the show was over and I attempted to work my way through a crowd of people that never saw me coming.

"Excuse me," I would say. "Excuse me."

But I was invisible again — a blurred face among many — a reality which transformed my solitude into an ineffable queasiness in the pit of my stomach.

Once again, though, the train ride offered the mostly unlikely sort of contrast: my seat was "just right" until the car started to fill and a newcomer sat down beside me.

I shifted my bag and my book to give him ample room, but felt his eyes wandering to my pages as we shuffled on towards our many stops.

"What do you think of that book?" he asked, the alcohol on his breath and the redness of his eyes unmistakable signs of the evening.

From there we conversed, talking about literature and film — an oddly decent single-serve conversation — before he nudged my leg with the back of his hand and said, "Well, this is my stop."

In that instant I offered a hurried goodbye, marveling at how the only people who have seen me in the past two weeks would most assuredly not remember our encounter by morning.

And that, I suppose, is where I fit in.

Somewhere between the stops — the spaces. Somewhere between two chords in a piece of music, or the background to a painting noted for its foreground.

It is there, nestled between the gin and the tonic, that I reflect again on those words spoken to me by the man who sideswiped my vehicle earlier this month:

"I'm sorry," he said to me then. "I just didn't see you there."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

More Movie Matters

Keeping Mum
Add a murderous twist (and good writing) to Nanny McPhee or Mrs. Doubtfire, and you have Keeping Mum — a black British comedy that had me chuckling from beginning to end. It stars Maggie Smith... that's Professor McGonagall to my fellow Harry Potter fans — as a sweet elderly woman with a dark past who'll stop at nothing to ensure the happiness of the family she works for. FINAL GRADE: B+

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
I was more amused by this than most people I've talked to — but I'm also only a casual Indiana Jones fan who sought out the film to stay on top of my 6-year-old nephew's interests (for the record: I would NOT recommend taking a 6-year-old to see this, for one scene in particular). I've heard some say it's too campy (but wasn't it supposed to be, I ask); others, that it wasn't campy enough (which I can kind of see — at some points I worried the film wanted me to take it seriously... and I may have given it too much benefit of the doubt). But, whatever, it made me chuckle with all of its horrible hokeyness. FINAL GRADE: B-

Yeah, I know. This Bill Murray classic was made before I was born, so why do I care to watch it now? Because it's a Billy Murray classic. He stars as Tripper Harrison, the silly-but-loveable head counselor of a co-ed summer camp who challenges authority even when he doesn't need to, and shows a softer side in relating to teenage boy bullied by his cabin mates. And for the most part, I was entertained. But I was also immensely disturbed by one quasi-rape scene that was meant to be taken comically and yet changed my perception of the film altogether. So you can relate to teenage boys, and even if you really care about a girl it's still OK to threaten her physically so long as YOU know you're not going to do anything? That's just not funny. But, whatever, the rest of the film was OK. FINAL GRADE: C+

I rented this thinking I'd seen every other Todd Solondz film but this one — and then quickly realized that I'd seen this one before, too. Per the norm, it's disturbing and yet... real... and also quite possibly not very memorable, when you consider I only remembered the actions just seconds before they occurred (not to mention, I didn't really care about any of the characters). I like the idea of it though, with the movie split into two parts: "Fiction" (where a girl recaptures a horrific, personal experience in writing but can't get anyone to believe her) and "Nonfiction," where a hopeful documentarian edits his subject material to suit his personal aspirations. FINAL GRADE: C+

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Requiem for a Day Off

A Verbal Snapshot Regarding My
Neighborhood's Summer Festival

Boys making out with boys.

Girls making out with girls.

[And never the twain shall meet.]*

*I would like to add that this was actually billed as a "family event," though last I checked, copious amounts of tongue and fondling in public spaces -- regardless of orientation -- isn't exactly G-rated material. Which I suppose explains why no one with tots actually stuck around.**

**OK, so maybe I was just jealous.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Thoughts Concerning Slaughterhouse Five

I've decided that by the end of this summer, I'll have read (or at least attempted to read — I don't have the time for things that don't interest me) every work of fiction on my bookshelf previously untouched by me.

And if my current pace continues, it shouldn't take too long.

Now, granted, Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five is a relatively short novel, but it also helped to remind me that when you really get into a story you can't put it down — and before you know it, 48 hours have passed between the first and last page and you're so thoroughly emerged in someone else's universe that you can scarcely return to your own.

Which is fitting, given the subject material: a semi-autobiographical sketch of Vonnegut's time spent as an American prisoner of War at a German work camp (literally: a slaughterhouse) in Dresden (which would be destroyed in a controversial firebombing while Vonnegut was still prisoner there). And while he, himself, is a minor character in the book — occasionally shouting lines and expressions that the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, overhears — it is important to remember that Vonnegut was a science fiction writer, and this World War II story is no exception.

Rather, Pilgrim himself is a POW at the same camp... and not to mention, a time traveler (but in a way that borders on PTSD) who is captured by aliens sometime after the war. The resultant narration thus jumps back and forth in time, between the present (late 1960s), early childhood, early adulthood, the war and so much in-between.

In many ways the past, present and future overlap, with Pilgrim being taught by his alien captors that time is a construct — the brainchild of shortsighted humans who mourn death without appreciating life.

And as with Flaubert: it was easy for me to see why this had been (and continues to be) so well-regarded. Only one thing really bothered me — the constant repetition of "so it goes" after every story, description and side note regarding death and dying. I understood the point, but that didn't make it any less annoying.

Also of note: this book is subtitled, "The Children's Crusade." And for good reason — a good percentage of our military force was (and continues to be) kids straight out of high school.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Thoughts Concerning Madame Bovary

After 4 years of college and 2 more of grad school (both studying literature) — and five years spent learning the French language (and, no, I still can't really speak it) — I have finally read one of Gustave Flaubert's most notable works and can't for the life of me understand why it was never assigned.

I actually read the first chapter a dozen or so times over the past few months, unable to really submerge myself in anything other than Harry Potter and quick hits of poetry.

But I'm back, and reading with a vengeance.

And as for Madame Bovary: once I made it past the first chapter, I was hooked... marveling at Flaubert's understanding of the human psyche, and underlining passages and phrases as though I might be writing a research paper (and forming at thesis) at the end of the term.

The book chronicles the moral collapse of a provincial woman who becomes bored with her small-town doctor husband (who loves her dearly). Emma Bovary has big aspirations in life, and resents being held back by the limitations of her gender in 19th century French society... and not to mention, she could really use a little more disposable income.

But Emma is not entirely the "c you next Tuesday" I may have hitherto portrayed her as being: she is capable of great sympathy and remorse, even at those points when she is unable to control her emotions... and even as she acts out against her husband, who is completely undeserving of her biting remarks.

In fact, her mood fluctuations led me to believe that she might have been what we today term "bipolar" — at times very warm and kind; one moment, passionate and willing to give everything she owns to the world. And the next... spending everything on herself and slinking away into a deep depression.

What amazed me all the while was the third-person omniscient voice that speaks the thoughts and actions of so many characters, with Flaubert brilliantly tapping into the minds of countless personality types. I found his characters to be so believable — even though they are 150 years in the past — because I understood them in a way that pervades time and place.

It was easy for me to see, however, why Flaubert was charged with indecency for this novel; and it was easy for me to see how he was able to escape a conviction on the grounds that Emma — and her entire family — suffers greatly for her sins.

And that is where the novel loses me, for a bit. I could almost sense Flaubert methodically adding plot devices and morals to the closing chapters — all a means of validation, should the preceding pages get him into legal trouble.

That bothered me a bit, as it took a subtle message and made it shout like an impassioned courthouse rebuttal.

And yet: I couldn't help but think that Gustave was smiling wryly as he composed those pages, understanding better than most that no good deed goes unpunished.

Like That, Like That

And then there is this:

The feeling that those you care most about have let you down in irreconcilable ways, forcing you to confront a reality you'd prefer to go on denying.

Like being told, yes, we are going. Make sure you're ready!

And then waiting at the door, and still waiting, your six-year-old mind unable to fathom a let down so heavy, so thoughtless, so damaging.

And realizing — hours after your mother storms in and tells you it's your fault you're not going — that she never had the tickets in the first place.

There will be moments, I tell you, that your children will never forget. Little lies you tell; promises you make, believing that such a small mind couldn't possibly retain.

But they will, I promise you, and some night years later when they are trying to sleep — tossing and turning to a past doomed to repeat itself — they will recollect these moments with a nauseating clarity. They will come to understand the truth that we go on denying:

Everything is meaningless.

People you love will leave, and the heroes of your youth will haunt you with their future indifference. They will reach out from your past as such a stark contrast to your present that you will fear you never really knew them at all.

And so it goes. And so it goes.

Like that, times two — the disappointments simultaneous and mounting, almost too much to bear.

Almost, you think. Almost.

But there is your alarm, and you force your mind through the fog and begin the rituals of the day, closing — dear God, please turn off the circuits that remind me of them — your thoughts to your present decay.

I have become dispensable, you think, squeezing out the last of the toothpaste.

But then again: was there ever a point when you weren't?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Novel Idea

The rules:
bold = what you’ve read,
italics = books you started but couldn’t finish
crossed out = books you hated
* = you’ve read more than once
underline = books you own but haven’t read yourself... yet
( ) = You've seen the movie. (I added this one — go figure)

1 (The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide) by Douglas Adams
2 Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
3 (The Kite Runner) by Khaled Hosseini
4 Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
5 Life of Pi: a novel by Yann Martel
6 Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra
7 Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
8 One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
9 Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
10 The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
11 Ulysses by James Joyce
12 War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
13 Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
14 The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
15 Catch-22 a novel by Joseph Heller
16 Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte*
17 The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
18 Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle I) by Neal Stephenson
19 A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
20 The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
21 Middlemarch by George Eliot
22 Reading Lolita in Tehran : a Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi
23 The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
24 The Kor'an by Anonymous (I've read bits and pieces)
25 Moby Dick by Herman Melville
26 The Odyssey by Homer
27 The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
28 Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (it's next on my reading list)
29 The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
30 The Historian : a novel by Elizabeth Kostova
31 Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco
32 Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
33 The History of Tom Jones, a foundling by Henry Fielding
34 The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
35 (The Count of Monte Cristo) by Alexandre Dumas
36 The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner*
37 The Iliad by Homer
38 Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
39 Emma by Jane Austen
40 Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
41 Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
42 Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
43 The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
44 (Guns, Germs, and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies) by Jared Diamond
45 (Dracula) by Bram Stoker
46 Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence
47 A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
48 Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
49 The Once and Future King by T. H. White
50 Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
51 To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
52 Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
53 Oryx and Crake : a novel by Margaret Atwood
54 (Great Expectations) by Charles Dickens
55 Labyrinth by Kate Mosse
56 Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
57 Collapse : How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond
58 The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen*
59 Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
60 Underworld by Don DeLillo
61 Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
62 The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
63 ((Jane Eyre)) by Charlotte Bronte*
64 The Gormenghast trilogy by Mervyn Peake
65 The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells
66 Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
67 The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
68 Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
69 A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce*
70 A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain
71 The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
72 The Inferno by Dante Alighieri
73 Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
74 The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
75 Swann's Way by Marcel Proust
76 The Poisonwood Bible : a novel by Barbara Kingsolver
77 The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay : a novel by Michael Chabon
78 Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
79 The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
80 Silas Marner by George Eliot
81 The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde*
82 The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas
83 The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
84 The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
85 The Confusion by Neal Stephenson
86 (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) by Ken Kesey
87 Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
88 Bleak House by Charles Dickens
89 The System of the World by Neal Stephenson
90 The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and… by Brian Greene
91 Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
92 The Known World by Edward P. Jones
93 The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
94 The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
95 The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje*
96 Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon
97 Dubliners by James Joyce
98 Les misérables by Victor Hugo
99 The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan
100 Infinite Jest : a novel by David Foster Wallace
101 Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
102 Beloved: a novel by Toni Morrison
103 Persuasion by Jane Austen
104 (A Clockwork Orange) by Anthony Burgess
105 The Personal History of David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
106 Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

Very unimpressive, I know. And like the friends who've also participated in this meme, most (but not all) of those noted as owned and/or read above are a result of my studies... which isn't to say I didn't enjoy them all the same (particularly The English Patient — perhaps one of the most beautifully poetic novels I've ever been assigned).

Exceptions include The Corrections, Hitchhiker's Guide and Madame Bovary... the first two I read independently and loved; the last I'm reading now.

Also of note, I'm just OCD enough that when I was initially tagged for this meme, I went though and capitalized all of the book titles that were in need of it.

Yeah, I have problems.

That's Me in the Corner

I walked around and behind the United Center, exploring new territory before the sun faded and the concert began.

It was somewhere near the Blackhawks statue that I became remotely aware that someone else's eyes were exploring the image upon my shirt (or so I told myself), a sketch from Daniel Johnston with the ephemeral words, "Hi, how are you?" scrawled across the bottom.

I looked up to see this man's half-stoned eyes staring into mine, thus affirming that my suspicions were not entirely unwarranted.

Minutes (seconds really) seemed to pass as the eye contact continued and he said, filled with ironic conviction:

"I love you."

"Thank you," I responded, smiling weakly and walking past him, unconsciously aware that he had half-turned to watch as I continued on, peasant skirt swaying in the breeze.

And so began my first ever experience seeing R.E.M. (a favorite of mine since the early 90s) live. Or Modest Mouse (a favorite of mine since 2004), for that matter. Or, shoot, let us not forget The National, who I only just discovered in March of this year but labeled a "new favorite" immediately thereafter.

So when you see three favorites on a single ticket, you don't exactly let the opportunity pass you by.

And so I went, tucked into the far back row (and in the worst section) where altitude-related nosebleeds are more than a sardonic concern.

But, whatever, I was there (and with binoculars) and enjoyed the show all the same. Even though the acoustics weren't so great for either opening act (there was even occasional feedback when Modest Mouse took the stage, a horrible ear-screeching sound that had some people in my section taking unscheduled breaks). And even though the National had fewer than 1/3 of the seats full (and I assure you, they deserve better than that). And even though I could only understand about 1/2 of whatever Michael Stipe said when he was speaking on stage.

I was otherwise entirely entertained on countless fronts, and by all three bands.

But what I found most peculiar — particularly when you consider my adoration for the opening acts and the main event — was how the energy so undeniably changed when Stipe ran out onto the stage when it was his band's turn in the spotlight.

I saw him even without the binoculars, recognized him from miles away from his trademark hairline; his two-piece-suit and tie.

Forget singing for a moment.

That man can perform.
But allow me to backtrack to where fantasy meets reality and I struggle to discern the two.

Because, I swear, when I raised my binoculars to get a better look at Isaac Brock (lead singer for Modest Mouse), my first response was a single, muffled chuckle.

If the man who declared his love for me before the show wasn't Brock himself, he was a darn good facsimile.*

*I realize it was most likely the latter but, please, allow a lonely girl her fantasy.

And then there was the ride home; lost fans being told by police to take cabs and buses but to absolutely not walk to the nearest train station.

I had had no problems walking from the train during the daylight, and didn't see why the reverse trip should be any different.

And it wasn't, really, not until I was well beyond the "danger zone" of the area surrounding the United Center.

I was heading towards one of the city's more affluent neighborhoods, in fact, when the man (most likely batting for the "other" team, and most likely strung out on heroin — by his demeanor and the way he clutched his arm) next to me swayed in his seat, his eyes opening and closing, consciousness fading and reappearing just in time for him to pull himself from his seat and go to the door.

"Wrong stop," he'd say, sliding back to his seat.

They had rerouted our train; the red line was making brown line stops, which further compounded this man's misery.

"Where are we?" he said to anyone.

I explained what was happening. Told him that though we were making brown line stops, that'd probably change once we got to a transfer station.

I asked him where he was going; he told me. I told him when he could expect his stop.

He smiled — as best the muscles in his face could manage, anyway — and touched my hand.

"You're my friend," he said, rubbing my arm.

"You're my friend."

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Observations from the Days Passed

Man on Weight Machine [to his lifting buddies]: I only hire attractive women — I mean, I make sure they have a personality, too... but ugly chicks are bad for business.

His friends nod and grunt, a telltale sign of agreement.

On the Road
So I was out of town all last week, seeing 3000 miles worth of sights in 6 days before marking my return to the Midwest with a solitary flight. I will have pictures, and postings, as soon as I have time to sort through the mess of images from the road-trip portion.

Until then: suffice it to say the Tetons are lovely, and I was sad to return.
On the Road... Again
Upon my late Friday return, I promptly drove an additional 320 miles (round-trip) to visit family for the weekend. I managed this while also manning phone calls from my boss, asking for me to put together five intensive pieces of writing by Monday morning for an important meeting. I agreed to try my best, without expecting reward, but was then told I'd be getting two days of comp time for my off-the-clock efforts.

I was thrilled by the notion, as that meant I'd regain two vacation days for other upcoming travels.
Back to Work
The following morning — Monday — I was so amazingly exhausted that when I rose from bed for work, I was immediately daydreaming about returning home that afternoon and going promptly to sleep.

But the cosmos had other plans, and a man in an SUV entered my lane without checking to see whether or not it was occupied. He sideswiped my driver's side and forced my passenger side over a curb.
The Positive
Damage is minor, and almost entirely cosmetic. Injuries are limited to a slightly jammed left index finger, which I'm not fussing over. The man immediately accepted blame, kindly apologized, and has made it clear he'll pay for any and all repairs. In other words: he's a decent fellow, which should make the whole process easier.
The Negative
I've already used some of my comp time to have my car checked out for mechanical problems, and may have to take another full day to have the paint job done and the alignment checked.
I've been informed that my parents and nephew (the subject of this particular piece) will not be able to make it to the photography exhibit before it ends this Friday. I otherwise would have been entertaining guests today and had previously rather looked forward to seeing my nephew's response to seeing his image on a gallery wall.
Part One
In the past 24 hours, I fell while walking up the stairs at work, which wouldn't have phased me were it not for the co-worker walking down the stairs who witnessed the incident and asked profusely whether or not I was all right.

Part Two
Later at the gym when I went to engage my lock, my finger was sliced open by an imperfection in the locker's metal. I accept blame for the stair incident; the locker, however, was just pure, dumb luck. When I informed the gym of the incident, they taped off the locker for repairs.
The Lesson
God hates me.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Creep Fest: Movies of Brilliant Discomfort

There Will Be Blood
If this film has anything in common with P.T. Anderson's previous work (Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love), it's the creepiness factor — and I mean that in the best possible way. Based on Upton Sinclair's Oil, this film adaptation follows an oil tycoon in a small, western God-fearing town. Explores concepts of greed, religion, family and... errr... mental illness. Well-deserving of the critical acclaim it received. FINAL GRADE: A-

If anyone could adapt Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita for film and remain true to its spirit, it's Stanley Kubrick. He hardly breaches from the story at all, in fact, managing somehow to truly capture the loving hypocrisy of Humbert Humbert and the vixen-like attributes of his otherwise naive child-love, Lolita. It's funny and discomforting, just like that novel — which remains one of my favorites, despite the taboo subject material. FINAL GRADE: A-

If you've ever seen a Todd Solondz film (Happiness), then you know what to expect from this one: prepare to writhe in your seat with discomfort, all the while unable to pry yourself from the television screen. Solondz has once again managed to add a slather of comedy to some of humanity's darker life moments, exploring the life-cycle of a young girl, Aviva, in her quest to become a mother (along with the boys and men who take advantage of her maternal desire). In this "sort-of-sequel" to his Welcome to the Dollhouse (a personal favorite of mine), multiple actresses portray Aviva, thus demonstrating the universality (and the multi-faceted nature) of the character herself. FINAL GRADE: B+

The Talented Mr. Ripley
I was pleasantly surprised by this thriller, having previously had no desire to see it. Matt Damon stars as the title character, a lower middle class pianist/bathroom attendant who's sent to Italy to retrieve the ex patriot son of a wealthy ship builder. Here a different side of Ripley emerges, himself a master of deception (mimicking voices, forging signatures, lying, etc.). As he interacts with the upper classes it becomes increasingly clear that he doesn't fit in unless he pretends to be someone else — and so he does, creating a sympathetic devil who simultaneously loves and hates the people that cross his path. An interesting approach to class differences and multi-dimensional character, in The Talented Mr. Ripley you at once like Damon's character as much as you despise him — just as you sympathize with his otherwise ego-maniacal victims just before their collapse (with one exception... but I'm not about to give it away). FINAL GRADE: B+

Monday, June 02, 2008

It Takes a Big Gun to Shoot Down a Rising Star

I have no idea what this means, but it suddenly occurred to me and I felt like sharing.

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