Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Controversy Train Keeps On Comin' ...

Update: Girl suggested that I repost this so it appears at the top of my blog today. Good idea, Girl.

Hey, kids!

We've talked about healthcare, we've talked about the Black Spinster (we can't call her a Black Widow because she'd have to get married first), so tonight, let's tackle ... gay marriage!

My cyberpal Steff wrote a bang-up post about gay acceptance this evening, and as I was posting a comment, I realized that I was well on my way to writing a post of my own. And here we are.

My mother's pastor once tried to convince me that gays were probably the victims of abuse in their youths and could be "cured" with counseling. Oh, how he tried. I finally just said, "Look, you're not going to win this one. I will never believe that all of my gay friends are 'choosing evil.' " Jesus. So to speak.

To believe that gays should have the right to marry, you have to believe that they're born, not made. They don't choose to be gay. They're just gay. Just like I was born female and white. I could have been born gay. I wasn't. Though I often think it might be time to play for that team, cuz this heterosexual lifestyle ain't gettin' me anywhere. I know lots of fabulous women. If we were all gay, oh the partners we'd have to choose from!

But seriously, the argument against gay marriage seems to be that allowing gays to marry will erode the sanctity of marriage.

The sanctity of marriage? Puh-leeze. My friends John and Dick, who have been together for, what?, 20 years, aren't allowed to get married because it might ruin the "sanctity of marriage" but Britney Spears can get married for 55 hours and say, "It was just a joke, y'all!" and that doesn't ruin the sanctity of marriage?

No one has been able to tell me how my gay friends having the right to get married in any way lessens the significance of marriage if I someday get married.

I wrote a post on this topic nearly two years ago, and for as long as I've been asking this question, of gays and straights alike, no one has been able to give me an answer.

You can't use procreation as the justification of marriage. What about couples who are infertile or those who simply choose not to have children? Should we revoke their marriage licenses?

A couple weeks ago in Chicago, a baby was discovered in a garbage bag in a closet. Despite being allowed to drop off babies at fire stations or emergency rooms, some still discard infants like so much garbage.

Around the world and close to home, there are millions of children who need to be adopted. But don't let gay couples adopt! Oh no! Gay people can't provide loving, stable homes, right?

Maybe you think, "Gay people just make me uneasy and if they're allowed to marry each other, maybe one of them will hit on me!" Is that why gays shouldn't be allowed to get married? What if your child was gay? Would you want them to experience a lifetime of being denied the same rights you enjoy?

Honestly, what's everyone so afraid of?

Addendum: My friend Henry just posted a comment that reminded me of a key point I meant to make: I'm not talking about marriage in the religious sense. If churches want to ban gay marriages on religious grounds, that's another disucssion altogether. I'm talking about marriage as the execution of a legal contract. Not that there's not love involved, but I fervently disagree with employees at City Hall refusing anyone a marriage license based on sexual orientation. Thanks for jogging my memory, Henry!

Meet Ellen Simpson ...

As Homer would say, "Woo hoo!"

You can make a Simpsons avatar of yourself here!

You can name yours anything you like, but I'd be happy to be a part of the eponymous family, though I'd like to think of myself as Bart, Lisa, and Maggie's aunt who comes to visit Springfield on occasion rather than someone who lives at 742 Evergreen Terrace. Because there's not enough room for me on the couch, and I hate to watch TV sitting on the floor.

My undying gratitude to Ali for the lead! As she says, it's the most fun you'll have all day. Unless you have sex, maybe. For me, it's the most fun I'll have all day.

Oh, Well That Just Pisses Me Off ...

(Note: The following post contains profanity - real-men profanity - to make a point.)



This dovetails nicely with the post I wrote last night.

As part of my morning blog reading, I checked Stacy's site (Stac, I always save you for last! You're my blog dessert!) and saw that her blog was rated NC-17 by a dating site. (I guess the logic is that some blogs would not make suitable date movies.)

NC-17 is not at all a surprising rating for Stacy's blog. Stacy is sweet as pie but her language is salty as a sailor. And we love her for it.

So I plugged in my blog's URL and, guess what? Yup, my blog is rated NC-17, too. And the first word cited for the rating is "gay."

What the fuck?! Seriously, that pisses me off. "Gay" is an offensive word?!

My other offenders are "crap," "hell," "shoot," "breast," and "ass."

What kind of Puritanical bullshit is this?! How about some context, people! Sure, I like to swear with the best of them. Sometimes, bad words are the only words to really convey what you mean or feel. But breast? Yeah, because I participate in the Breast Cancer 3-Day and I blog about it.

Hell? That's in the Bible, isn't it? I'm asking because I don't know. The closest I get to a Bible these days is if one is in the nightstand next to my bed in a hotel room, which, now that I think about it, is rather presumptious. Why aren't all the holy books available? How does the hotel know who's staying in that room? Maybe, for instance, somebody would like a copy of the Torah or the Qur'an.

Anyway, if you're under 17, you better leave now.

Please. And thank you.

: o )

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

This Post Is Not About Michael Moore ...

As Phoebe on Friends would say, "Back to happy! Back to happy!"

My post on SiCKO generated a lot of comments and I think that's fabulous. Really. Nothing like striking a chord with people, even if they're playing a different tune. Sometimes it seems like it's become taboo for us to talk to each other about anything of substance. There seems to be a big rift in this country, but Kumbaya, people! Kumbaya!

And a deep breath in ...

And a deep breath out ...

There now. Don't we all feel a little bit better? Go ahead, smile, just for the hell of it. Think of a warm puppy. Eat a gumdrop.

I bet you're wondering, "What exactly is this post about, Beth?" I have no idea. My day was boring. I sat at my desk all day and edited a document that should be torn into little bits and pressed into tablets of Ambien.

Then again, I did get a freelance assignment to write about decorating cookies for a holiday entertaining publication. You gotta love lead times. Cookies in July!

But maybe this post is about Anne Coultier. Yes, I know that's not the correct spelling, but I don't want my blog to come up in any searches for her name.

I was disgusted to see her on Good Morning America yesterday. I don't understand why a well-respected news organization would give that woman a forum.

Does she keep wearing the same dress or does she have a closet full of the same one?

I'm not suggesting that she doesn't have a right to spew her vitriol. I won't selectively apply the First Amendment, but nor do we need to give her outlets. She has her column (thankfully dropped by newspapers more and more) and she has her books (though I wonder why anyone buys them).

In a video on MSNBC, Elizabeth Edwards calls in during a segment with Coultier to ask her to please stop her hateful speech. Anne, not surprisingly, turns Edwards' words around and says, "Oh, you're asking me not to speak?" Edwards calmly reiterates, repeatedly, that she'd like Anne to stop the hate-filled speech and engage in useful discourse. As if a polite request will even register in that woman's brain.

(Thanks to j. marquis's blog for pointing me toward the video, which I watched against my "No Anne Ever" better judgment. The photo that accompanies the post is priceless.)

So here I am, talking about the big rift in this country and how we should be all Kumbaya, and I bring up Anne Coultier, surely a more polarizing figure than the man about whom this post is not.

Release the hounds!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Um, Nevermind ...

Call me Emily Litella.

Remember what I said about Peter O'Toole perhaps being gypped at this year's Oscars?

I just watched "The Last King of Scotland."

Yeah, there's no way anybody but Forest Whitaker should have won this year. For that matter, he should win again next year, for the same role.

Staggering performance.

Staggering.

'SiCKO' ...

"If you can spend money to kill people, you can spend money to help people."

That, my fellow Americans, is the sound bite for our times.

That quote isn't from Michael Moore. It's from a very urbane British gentleman, talking with Moore about England's healthcare system. See, England has been offering its citizens healthcare since 1948. On the heels of World War II, its cities in ruins, the decision was made to ensure that England's citizenry had access to medical care. Fifty-nine years later, they still do.

I went to an advance screening of "SiCKO" tonight, a sold-out advance screening. And even though I passed that adorable Nate Berkus in the theater concourse, the movie was the highlight of the evening.

Many of you might think that Michael Moore has an agenda. Damn right he has an agenda. An agenda to piss us off. To piss us off and rouse us out of our apolitical stupor. He's allowed to be biased. He's never claimed to be a journalist. (By the way, he has easily locked up his second Oscar, unless he removes this film from contention.) Say what you will about his films, this is one movie that must been seen. By everyone. Even if you're a card-carrying member of the NRA who hated Bowling for Columbine or a dyed-in-the-wool red stater who thought Fahrenheit 9/11 was a load of crap, there's no arguing with the sorry state of healthcare in this country. It's a unilateral issue. Even if you have coverage, you should be pissed off and heartbroken that insurance companies and hospitals are literally putting patients in cabs and instructing the drivers to drop them off on skid row.

Oh how I wish that I was making that up. But I'm not. Moore has the footage to prove it.

And even if you think it's an isolated incident, I say to you that treating even one person in such a despicable, inhuman manner is one person too many.

The Chicago chapter of Progressive Democrats of America was outside the theater after the screening, handing out flyers about its support for Rep. John Conyers' (D-Mich.) bill, H.R. 676, "which establishes streamlined, nonprofit national health insurance - enhanced Medicare for All - which would negotiate drug and treatment costs."

Remember, drug and insurance companies are for-profit businesses, and they're getting richer and richer on the backs of Americans who are driven into bankruptcy.

Onscreen, Moore visits France and sits down with a lovely middle-class couple. He's an engineer. She's an assistant (administrative, I presume). They reveal that their monthly income is about $8,000. Their mortgage is about $1,500.

"What other big expenses do you have?" Moore asks.

They shrug.

He asks again.

The woman thinks for a moment. "Fish," she says. "And vegetables. Yogurt," she says, showing him the contents of the fridge. "And holidays! Very important."

His point is, we've been warned about the downside of France's healthcare system: massive taxes. And yet, a middle-class couple with three children lives perfectly well, in a lovely home with a well-stocked refrigerator and takes vacations regularly, because in France, in addition to a 35-hour work week, even part-time workers receive a minimum of five weeks of vacation a year.

I don't want to go into more details about the film because I want everyone to experience it for themselves. But please see it. This isn't a Republican issue. This isn't a Democratic issue. This is an American issue.

The dapper British gent points out that when people are fearful and demoralized, it's easy to keep them in line. How many people stay in their jobs, no matter how unfulfilling, for the healthcare? Jobs that provide incomes they need in order to pay for the massive crush of debt they live under, say, from student loans? Know anyone like that? I do. And the funny thing is, they're doctors, doctors who are disgusted with the healthcare system in this country but who can't afford not to be doctors, because they owe a combined $300,000 in loans that paid for medical school. And fear? How long has our national alert level been at Orange? We're herded like cattle through airport security to ensure we're not carrying a four-ounce bottle of shampoo, but cargo is loaded into the holds without a single scan. How's that for psychology?

Meanwhile, this country has gotten apathetic to the point of unconsciousness. We get outraged over the ending of The Sopranos but voter turnout is abysmal.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of Sunday, June 24, 2007, our resident population will be 302,167,264. What if just one percent of the population showed up in Washington and demanded change? Three million people in one place is a lot to ignore. And what if we didn't leave? What if we didn't shut up? What if just one more one percent voted in the next election? Three million votes are three million messages. (And yes, I know not everyone in the population is old enough to vote or registered. Let's not split hairs, shall we?)

This is your country. See this movie. Get fired up. Get involved. Don't accept everything the government says at face value. Start asking questions. Make it your business to be informed.

Your life depends on it.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Tragedie Gastronomique ...

"No!"

I had just opened my weekly Dish, the weekly Chicago magazine e-newsletter of all things food, and read the third item of Things To Do:

3. Go to Allen’s New American Cafe (217 W. Huron St.; 312-587-9600), Allen Sternweiler’s River North favorite, before it closes for good on August 18th.

Allen's is, hands down, my favorite restaurant in Chicago. Last year, I hosted my birthday lunch there (recounted here in ridiculous detail) and wondered why I had ever hosted my lunch anywhere else. I made a vow that day to have my birthday lunch there annually henceforth. (You can peek inside our private room, the Board Room, here; click on the image for the virtual tour and then select Private Dining Room.)

Well, not anymore.

How could he leave me? I adore Allen. I adore Allen's food. His menus are works of art. Oh, foraged wild mushrooms sauteed with brandy and finished with herb butter, how can we part when we've only just met?

I needed an explanation. Luckily, Phil Vettel at the Tribune had the skinny. How could Chicago simply dump such news on me without elucidation? Has it no soul?

Allen will likely return to the Chicago restaurant scene, though not by November.

In the meantime, I must make one last visit to my beloved restaurant. I encourage you to do the same.

I'll see you there.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Fireflies And Other Flickering Lights ...

It is 9:27 and the sky to the west is not completely dark. I can still see the silhouette of the trees. But right outside my office window, fireflies are firing like flashes at a concert, a fraction of a second each, not the slow up-and-down glow of the fireflies of my youth. Did somebody spill some RedBull?

Today I watched Fast Food Nation and The Straight Story.

I read Fast Food Nation a month or so ago. It wasn't what I expected it to be, but I liked it. The movie, oddly, is a fictionalized account of the book. The author, Eric Schlosser, co-wrote the screenplay, so this isn't a case of signing away rights and seeing your work bastardized into a shell of itself. No, he was part of the bastardization. In one of the featurettes, which was nearly as long as the film, he mentioned that they decided to keep the title and the premise and set everything else aside.

Well, that was a bad idea.

I think this movie would have been much more successful as a documentary. Of course, as a documentary, the filmmakers probably woudn't have gotten clearance to shoot inside a meat-packing plant.

The making-of featurette is nearly as long as the movie, which tells me that, on some level, they all knew they should have made a documentary, because they spent a lot of time documenting how they made the movie.

The most compelling part of the film is the depiction of border crossings, smuggilng workers into this country. I have no doubt it goes down just as the film suggests. It's scary, what those people go through, what they're willing to risk for a better life, even if a "better" life means working the shittiest jobs.

In any event, I don't think I'll ever eat another hamburger.

But then I watched The Straight Story. Oh my. Eloquent, that movie. I think the script must have been about 12 pages long. The dialogue is sparse yet every word is perfect and important. As it should be. The cinematography is stunning. It is certainly the least David Lynch-y film of all of David Lynch's films. Completely charming, a brilliant recommendation from my friend Chris, who I met through my friend Chris. (Perhaps I'll start collecting Chrises like I collect Daves.)

If you haven't seen it, do yourself a favor and add it to your Netflix queue. I was really struck by the simplicity of it. In this superficial world we live in, amid all the drama and petty crap, as we go for weeks or months or years without seeing friends and family because we're too busy scrambling up a rickety corporate ladder, this movie is an exceptional reminder of what really matters. Humanity, simple kindness, honesty. It's not about the trappings, it's about the connections we make and the lives we touch along the way.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Bookish ...

Just got a comment from Anonymous. Not that Anonymous but another Anonymous. But in virtual print, all those Anonymi look alike.

Anyhoo, Anon du Jour wrote:

You read VOGUE (among "many magazines" you say you get), and you seem to watch an awful lot of movies. What about books? (Yes, that arcane art form -- novels, biographies, etc.)

I'm a recent visitor to your blog, but have been rather puzzled that a writer would cite so few books. I gather you're more "into" popular culture?


So. Books. Funny thing about me and books: Sometimes I'm on a book tear and I read and read and read. And other times, I'm like, "Eh. Books."

I always have a book on my bedside table. Sometimes, it's the same book for a long time. Other times, it changes frequently.

Currently, I have two books, both in various states of progress. The Measure of a Man by Sidney Poitier and The Assault on Reason by Al Gore. Both non-fiction, you'll note.

I like Sidney's book. I like his voice. I like that he uses profanity, not just because I'm a fan of profanity (sometimes, any other word just won't do) but because I love the unexpectedness of it coming from a man as refined as Mr. Poitier. And I also like that he's such a fan of the rhetorical question. He ends a lot of sentences with " ..., you see?" and "..., you know?"

I bought Al's book at Costco. I dove into it that very night. And I haven't picked it up since. It's not that I don't like his writing style. I think it might be a case of preaching to the choir. I am firmly in Al's camp. No need to convince me that our country's gone to hell in a handbasket. Sho 'nuff, Al. Things are fucked!

My cousin Patty works in publishing and now and again, a big box of books will show up at my door. You gotta love free books. I have built-in bookshelves in my TV room and they're filled, wall to wall, with books. I'm not one of those people who arranges objets d'art on my bookshelves amid a few pretentious art books stacked to serve as a pedestal. Hell no. I got books on my bookshelves. Lots of 'em. Most of 'em I've read. Some of 'em, waiting. When I feel like reading a new book, I wander over to the new-book section of my bookshelf and peruse the titles and pull one down and read the first page.

And then I pull another one down and read the first page.

And sometimes, none of the first pages interest me. Reading is a very personal pursuit and you have to find just the right book for just the right mood.

A couple summers ago, I read the sixth Harry Potter in 30 hours. I mean, I stopped to sleep and stuff, but from the time I cracked the cover to the moment I turned the last page, only 30 hours elapsed in my life. As you might know, it's a long-ass book. But it was hot out. So I stayed inside in the a/c and read.

Last September, I read The Corrections. My two-word review of that book was "self-congratulatory bloat." Holy crap, I hated that book.

But for those who are new to the blog, as Anon above, I'll repeat what I've said in the past about books: I almost never refuse to finish a book. I might not like the way a book begins, but I'll stick with it, presuming it will get better. Then, by the time I realize that it's not going to get better, I've read so many pages and invested so much time that it seems a shame not to finish.

I read all of The Corrections so I can say unequivocally that I hated it. I didn't hate part of it. I hated all of it. Not each individual word, but the overall experience of that book. The "payoff" was a total gyp. No, that's not the right description. The ending of The Ghost Writer was a gyp. The ending of The Corrections was asinine. Although the ending of The Ghost Writer was rather asinine, too. An asinine gyp.

I have all-time favorite books. Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver and The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay are two at the top of the list. I also love, love, love the curious Incident of the dog in the night-time. I started this blog to tell people about that book. Seriously. I also love The Tiny One by Eliza Minot.

I'm on a mailing list from an independent bookstore in Vermont. Patty used to do the marketing there and put me on the list. I received a catalog recently and thought, "I should tell them to take me off the list." But then I thought, "No, this is a good way to keep up with things I want to read." Entertainment Weekly has a Books section. Newspapers, sadly, are shedding their book sections left and right. Yup, that's a good idea. Because what newspapers need are populations that are less interested in reading. Good thinkin', guys.

I was just telling a friend that I need to make better use of my library. I can do some serious damage in a bookstore. If I had unlimited funds, I would go once a week and buy anything that interested me. Unfortunately, I do not have unlimited funds. But I do have a library card. And a portion of my property taxes support the library. Ergo, I should take advantage of the library more often. My trips to the library, like my reading habits, wax and wane. But I need to wax more.

So, Anon, yes, I read books. I own a lot of books. Sometimes, I foolishly loan them out. Water for Elephants was a Patty Recommendation from last summer. I loaned it to a guy I thought was going to be part of my life moving forward. He disappeared and took my book with him. Happily, L.A. Dave sent a replacement to me. He likes to do his part to make up for the shortcomings of other members of his gender. He's swell.

Tell me about your favorite books. We can trade recommendations.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Little Star ...

Today I remembered a little girl who passed away before she was born.

It has been a day of extraordinary grief.

There is too much emotion, too much sadness. I cried silently during the memorial service, tears rolling down my face quicker than I could dry them.

After, we filed out of the chapel slowly, everyone pausing to hug the mom and then the dad. The dad is a long-time friend. We hugged tightly. “I love you,” he said. “I love you, too,” I whispered. And then I turned to his dad, the grandfather of the lost little girl, and broke down.

“I’m so sorry,” I finally managed to say. He thought I was expressing my condolences. But I was apologizing for being overcome.

Some emotion won’t be contained.

The dad spoke at the service, telling us stories about his daughter. He is a very funny man, day to day. And he injected his comments with humor this morning, had us laughing through our tears. But when he first took the podium, he laughed nervously.

“No way I’m getting through this,” he said. And then his face contorted in such grief that I wanted to step onto the altar and hug him, to hold his hand while he spoke. Even in a chapel filled with family and friends, he looked painfully alone.

That’s the thing about grief: It grips you and there is no shortcut through the pain. Everyone copes in their own way, in their own time.

As I hugged him after the service, he said, “Thanks for coming. It helps. It really does.” Later, almost everyone headed to their home to be with them and there was a lot of laughter.

I held someone’s seven-month-old daughter. She is impossibly cute. She chewed on my fingers and my knuckles and screeched and flailed her chubby arms as though her hands were slapping water in a pool.

Life goes on, they say. And it does. But I wonder why such things happen. Why give this couple 8 1/2 months of expectation and joy, only to have it suddenly stripped away and replaced by unfathomable grief? What is the lesson?

The father’s best friend spoke briefly at the service, and his words resonated deep within me. Seize the day, he was saying, in his eloquent way. Follow your heart’s desire. Set aside fear. Live.

That is the lesson for me, the reminder. I will honor the memory of this little girl by living that inspiration. That inspiration is her gift to us.

As I stepped out of the cool, dim light of the chapel into the Chicago sunlight, a butterfly fluttered by. And I thought about her little soul being both a part of everything that surrounds us as well as part of each of us, ourselves. I thought about the power of love and its ability to touch the lives of those we’ve yet to know.

One of the readings today was from The Little Prince:

In one of the stars I will be living
In one of them I will be laughing
When you look at the stars at night ...
You – only you – will have stars that can laugh!
And when your sorrow is comforted,
You will be content that you have loved me
As I will be content for having loved you.
And we will always be together.


Her parents named her Faith.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

'Venus' ...

I have yet to see The Last King of Scotland, but from what I've seen of clips and trailers, Forest Whitaker seemed like a lock for the Oscar. You have to wonder what an actor taps into to convey that degree of rage onscreen.

But today I watched Venus, the film Peter O'Toole was counting on to make an honest man out of himself, to earn a real Oscar, to complete his set of Oscar bookends. Of course, he didn't go home with the gold, and I was left wondering if he wasn't a bit gypped.

Perhaps some voters thought it wasn't much of a stretch for an old man to play an old man, but his performance was so nuanced in places, so subtle, it's too bad that there wasn't a tie in that Best Actor envelope.

Once it was over, what really struck me was what making the film must have been like for Jodie Whittaker. From what I can glean from her IMDb page, this was her feature film debut. Can you imagine? Your first film and you're starring opposite Peter O'Toole?!

It's a film that's at once sweet and sad. It made me really think about the plight of the elderly, how lonely they feel, but it also set me to wondering what it's like to be an advanced age. (I hope to find out for myself someday.) I know that the older I get, the more I'm surprised by how I don't really feel older, so what must it be like to find yourself in your 70s or 80s in a body that's much less agile, in skin that's much less supple, with hair that's much more grey? Do older people feel as though their bodies have outrun their spirits? Do they still feel young inside?

Regardless, O'Toole doesn't seem to be slowing down. On his IMDb page, he has seven projects completed or in production since Venus. Maybe he'll earn that second Oscar after all.

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With Self-Improvement You Get Eggroll ...

I wrote this on Friday, May 11th, at 8:09 p.m., on a piece of paper, to key into my blog later. I just ran across it while sifting through piles of crap in my office.

This is auspicious. I am in a restaurant, by myself, and I am going to eat dinner. Did I mention that I'm by myself? I have never eaten in a restaurant by myself. Starbucks or some such, sure, but never in a restaurant with table service. Oh, unless you count Corner Bakery, but you can't, not really, because you order at the counter and then they bring the food to your table. But then they don't come back.

This is the baby-step method of taking the dining plunge. Because this is Mama's**, my favorite Chinese place. It's not really called Mama's, but every time I walk in, the owner, the cutest Chinese woman ever, asks, "How's your mama?" So it's not like I'm at some white tablecloth, flatware, and stemware joint. If this place wasn't clean, you'd call it a dive. Not much to look at, but when the food is this fabulous, really, who needs decor?

Eggroll down, steaming plate of chicken with peapod to go. I mean, to eat. Not to take with. Oh. My. God. What do they put in their food? Crack?

Oh, now business is picking up. Good thing. Mama says that business has really dropped off since she moved from Waveland, where we first met. I don't know how that's possible. These people know everybody, can chat with anyone who walks in.

Heaven on a plate, this stuff.

Of course, I'm cheating by writing this. I'm not just sitting here and eating. But I didn't plan on coming here - or anywhere, for that matter - so I didn't bring a book or a paper.

Hey, look at me: I'm growing. New experiences are good. Gotta stretch those boundaries. And I'll be going to Brandi Carlile by myself, too. But I've gone to concerts alone before.

My fortune in my cookie: You have a deep appreciation of music and arts.

I didn't end up going to Brandi. After driving around for a half hour, looking for a parking space anywhere near Schuba's, I gave up and went home. But Dave went, and said it was a great show. She's really fabulous. If you don't know her music, check her out.

**Mama's is really New Life Chinese Food on Irving Park Road, just east of Ashland. I highly recommend, well, everything. But Mama knows I always order the pork fried rice. Or the chicken with peapod. Or the chicken with almond. Really, you have to go. And if she ever has to close, I'll see you at the support group and we'll get over our addiction together.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

'Pan's Labyrinth' ...

Pa ha! I never paid attenton to the fact that "Pan's Labyrinth" is rated R.

From the trailers, it looked like a dark yet whimsical movie, Tim Burton-meets-C.S. Lewis. OK, maybe darker than Tim Burton, who's really not so dark.

But sheesh. I wasn't prepared for this movie, for the violence.

It's an amazing film, beautiful to look at (if you overlook all the blood), and the story is fascinating, and the effects are cool, but wow. Yeah. Dark.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Gotta Be ...

My friend Rob heard my "tunes in progress" recently and asked, in a comment, how I pick songs.

I wrote back to him and said, "As for how I pick material, it's mostly instinct. I just have a reaction to certain songs and feel like I should try them. Others are found through trial and error. Mostly, since we're recording with existing tracks, it comes down to finding tunes that are in a good key for me."

As I've mentioned before, I'm in love with the soundtrack from Good Night, and Good Luck. And Gotta Be This or That was the first song that I zeroed in on when I listened to the album the first time through. I've tried other cuts, recorded other cuts, but this was the one that started it all.

It's also the first one I recorded with Brian when we resumed our recording relationship last year and I was astonished at the playback. I asked him if he'd done anything to the vocal. "Nope," he said. "That's you."

Wild. The last time I was in the booth (a month ago today, actually), we polished up a few tracks, including this one. Brian, in addition to being a recording genius, is a very good director. I couldn't get the timing of one of the lines, and he could hear why.

"It's not 'It's gotta be,' " he said. "It's 'scottabe.' " Sure enough, the next time through, I sang "scottabe," and it fit perfectly.

There are still things I'd polish in this cut, notes where I could be stronger as I hold them, but some are fond of it the way it is. After hearing my four tracks, English Teacher Dave wrote to say this cut will be included on this year's anniversary CD for his wife, an annual gift, the 21st Century version of the mix tape. I'm tremendously touched to be part of her present.

And so, without further ado, I give you my cover of "Gotta Be This or That."


And if you need it, the direct URL is here.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

BLECH ...

OK, seriously, smokers, what's up with that habit?

I understand addiction, God knows. I've been addicted to food for almost my entire life. Every day, every moment requires that I make good decisions because the I have an addiction that I can't leave behind.

Smokers, ultimately, don't need to smoke. Alcoholics, ultimately, don't need to drink. Heroin addicts, ultimately, don't need to shoot up. But food addicts, ultimately, have to eat. Every. Single. Day. It's not an all-or nothing proposition for us. We need to call upon our willpower every day in a world full of temptation.

But smoking. We all know how horribly, horribly bad it is, not just for the smokers but for everyone breathing the same smoke-filled air.

Tonight I met up with work pals and while Chicago is banning smoking in bars and restaurants, the ban is being phased in while cigarettes and cigars are being phased out, so every so often, I would get, literally, a face full of smoke coming from the guy at the next table. Ugh.

"Can you handle it?" Kelley asked. I'd previously told her that I can't abide smoky places.

"Sure," I said. "I'll probably die of lung cancer tomorrow, but I'll get through tonight."

Now, home, my hair reeks, my clothes reek, my eyes still burn.

So tell me: What's the appeal of sucking hot smoke into your lungs, of methodically upping your odds, with every drag, that you're going to die from lung cancer?

I tried smoking when I was younger. I could never get the hang of it. I'd try to inhale and start coughing and gagging. I thought people who smoked looked cool. Now, I think they look ridiculous.

I have friends who smoke, friends who smoke who read this blog. And now they know how I feel. Yes, it's hard to kick an addiction, but it's not just you you're killing, it's all of us.

When I hear smokers whine about no-smoking restrictions, I scoff. Yep, you have a right to engage in self-destructive behavior, but you don't have a right to contaminate the air the rest of us breathe. You want to smoke? Fine. Smoke in your homes. Smoke in your cars. Leave me out of it.

Weird Dream, The First ...

I have plenty of weird dreams, but for the purposes of this blog, I'm starting the official category of Weird Dreams today, so this is the first of what I'm sure will be a long series.

I was in a classroom of sorts, with a counter along one wall with outlets meant for plugging in laptops. Our instructor for the day was a normal-looking guy, but in my dream, I'd had a bad prior experience with him and his unsuspecting smarmy ways, so College Boyfriend David took it upon himself to set up right next to the guy. The idea was that if the guy made any untoward comments to me, David could kick him.

To further defend my honor, David moved my computer to the end of the counter by the door, the furthest point from Mr. Smarmy.

Which is where I was sitting when Dennis Franz walked in and asked if he was in the right place. Yeah, Andy Sipowicz.

And as I write that, thinking, "Why the hell did I dream about Dennis Franz?," I remembered that yesterday, Angela and I were walking through an alley (not our usual m.o. in the city, but construction had a street blocked off and it was daytime and felt safe enough) and I said, "I feel like I'm on the set of 'NYPD Blue.' "

So, weird, but understandable.

But then, later, it was nighttime and my friend John was tooling down the street on a three-wheeled bike, getting up as much speed as he could muster before turning into my driveway, at which point, he toppled over. I helped him up and brushed off the back of his jacket. Then I was lying facedown on my front lawn, and noticed that there were hundreds of tiny turtles around me, each about the size of a quarter, and I was worried about standing up, because I didn't want to step on any of them.

Then again, maybe I was thinking about this story. John's daughter is featured in one of the photos.

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Sunday In The Park ...

So there I was, in the middle of Blues Fest, buying my overpriced food and beverage tickets, and wandering among the offerings. In honor of being at Blues Fest, I settled on, yep, pad thai.

It was mediocre, as pad thai goes, but what did I expect, eating out of a cardboard boat with a plastic fork?

Angela opted for something fried. She threw at least half of it away.

Between us, we had three tickets left. As we wandered toward Michigan Avenue, I stopped a guy wearing a The Who T-shirt and offered them to him. He thanked me in his British accent. Ah, I can pick 'em.

Later, we decided to flop down at a Starbucks for a spell. Angela ordered an orange creme Frappuccino. "It tastes like a Dreamsicle, right?" she asked the cashier.

Yup, we were told, it tastes like a Dreamsicle. Angela grabbed two straws so I could taste it. "Does it taste like a Dreamsicle?" she asked.

"Yup, it tastes like a Dreamsicle," I said. "Actually, it tastes like a St. Joseph's baby aspirin."

I stuck with my decaf coffee Frap. It tasted like a decaf coffee Frap.

It was a good day, wandering around the Printer's Row Book Fair and Blues Fest. Well, it was more fun wandering around the Book Fair. Blues Fest was just too, uh, festy. Too many people.

Waiting for Angela, noshing on my pad thai, a somewhat sweaty black guy sidled up to me, positioning his bike at the rack in front of us.

"You've got some height on you," he said. "How tall are you?"

Why, why, why do men think this is a good opening line? Hint, men: It's not a good opening line. Noticing that I'm tall is not the best way to astound me with your adroit powers of observation.

I gestured as if to say, "Chewing."

I swallowed and said, "Six three."

He stood up straight next to me, to see if we were the same height. We were.

"How tall is your boyfriend?"

"Six five," I lied.

"Damn," he said. "Why can't I find a single woman your height?"

"Women like men who are taller," I said. "You have lots of women to choose from."

"But I want someone my height. Why do you have to date guys who are taller than you?"

"I don't," I said. "I once dated a guy who's five nine."

Angela arrived then, with her cardboard boat of hot-sauced something. "Wanna head toward the stage?" I said.

I turned back to Mr. Biker Man: "Have a good day," I said. And off we went.

After we finished as much as we were going to finish of our overpriced food, we decided to make our way back behind the stage to see if I could spy Dave Specter, a guitarist I've known online off and on for quite some time. We'd never met live, and he was hosting a set today. I figured there was next to no chance that I'd run into him among the thousands of people. And then, there he was, on the sidewalk, a few feet from me.

"Excuse me," I said. He didn't hear me. I placed the flat of my hand gently on his upper arm. He turned to me. I introduced myself. He paused, thinking, no doubt, "Who the hell are you?"

"Oh, hi," he said. We chatted for about ten seconds, interrupted by a very strange moment with a stranger. "I go on at six," he said. "Stick around."

But we didn't. I'm sure his set was cool. I've sampled a lot of his work online. Blues isn't my scene, but I can appreciate the artistry of his music. I'd be lucky to learn how to strum a few chords. He produces amazing music with his guitars. Maybe I'll catch a set somewhere more sedate someday. Somewhere without several thousand people. Somewhere where beer isn't seven bucks. Not that I drink beer.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Ow! ...

Holy mother of God, I'm tired.

I don't know where they come from, these fits. These fits of productivity. There I was, this morning, finishing my coffee and bagel and watching Trading Spaces (Honestly, will someone please take the paint brush away from Frank? Enough with the cutesy painting, already; bring back Vern!) when I started thinking that today would be a good day to do yardwork.

OK, yardwork, sure. My brain was playing along, likely thinking, "Sure. She'll pull a few weeds and then she'll come inside to get a bottle of water and then she'll check her e-mail and end up in front of her computer for a couple hours. Sure, Beth, go do some yardwork. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. Say no more."

But then I got outside and started pulling weeds. (And believe you me, I have a lot of weeds to pull. I think my backyard is like the Amazon rainforest. There are probably untold medical cures back there.) And I kept pulling. And pulling. I headed to the garage for the pruners and pruned things, for God's sake. And then I went back to the garage for the weed puller-popper thing. The weed lever. For heavy-duty weeding.

It's oddly satisfying, pulling weeds. Because the next thing you know, you can see a patch of earth, and that inspires you to clear all the weeds, to reclaim the land, as it were.

Yeah, I'm not talking about pulling the errant dandelion from a sidewalk crack here. I'm talking about weeds - plants, really - that took over entire portions of what were once ornamental garden beds, because, hey, there were no ornamental plants using the real estate. Weeds are like squatters.

Besides, I was listening to my iPod. Music makes everything more fun.

And then, when my neighbors took off in their adorable red Jeep, I fired up the mower. I didn't want to mow while they were hanging out in their yard. So I mowed. Have I mentioned that I have a big yard? I have a big yard. And then, when I was done mowing, I decided to restake my claim to another patch of yard.

If I wanted a garden of thistle, I'd be in good shape. Sadly, I do not want a garden of thistle. So there I was, yanking thistle (how would a person with a lisp pronounce "thistle," I wonder ...) when the son of my neighbors said hello from the roof of his house. He was bored, so he was cleaning the gutters. That's the problem with workaholics: when they get some downtime, they don't know what to do with themselves. I, clearly, am not a workaholic.

Lucky for me, his work is landscaping, so we chatted about plants that I could put in my newly weeded patch, plants that would do well in shade. I know about a couple shade plants, but figured there must be lots more, that my knowledge is just really limited.

Nope, there aren't lots more. My options are as narrow as I thought.

He finished up on the roof and came into my yard, where we proceeded to walk around, swat at gnats, and talk about all the crap growing along the perimeter of my yard. Some of it, turns out, is actually stuff I want to keep. Much of it is not. He offered to come by in the fall with some super-duper landscaping cutter/mower kind of thing and just plow it all down. Then, in the spring, as stuff starts to come up, I can decide what I want and what I don't and we can edit from there.

Sounded like a plan to me. But fall is several months away.

So after walking around his yard (which is ready for a magazine shoot every second of every day, it's so pristine and beautiful) and chatting with him in the driveway for another half hour, I returned to pulling more weeds.

And then I hooked up my garden hose and turned on the water to the spiggot from in the basement where I shut it off for the winter and watered the plants I bought earlier this week.

And then I came in and sat down and had some dinner.

And then I tried to get up.

Ow.

My body seemed to be telling me to keep my ass on the couch.

But I figured the "Ow" would only get worse, so I went for a two-mile walk instead. With my iPod. Because music makes everything more fun.

We'll see if I'm able to move tomorrow morning.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Survey Says ...

As I've written about before, I subscribe to too many magazines. I can't help myself. And as I write this, I'm realizing that all my hideous vices are spilling out of me and onto the pages of my blog for all to gape at. Yes, yes, I watch chick flicks and read too many magazines. The shame of it all. I could be spending that time doing something much more productive, like, as Tom Hanks would say in You've Got Mail, "rolling bandages for Bosnian refugees." My God, even my similies are coming from chick flicks now. They're insidious, those 90-minute doses of fluff. They burrow into my brain like those creepy bugs in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Ah, that's better. Star Trek II is decidedly un-chick flick-ish, except for a girl with a professed crush on Ricardo Montalban. (I just looked at the IMDb entry for the movie. Hey, I never knew Khan's full name was Khan Noonien Singh. I always thought Khan was his last name. Ah, crap. It kinda takes some of the caché away from this movie, to know that when Kirk is screaming, "Khan!," he's screaming on a first-name basis. Good thing Khan's name wasn't, like, Lenny. "Lenny!" Try it. It's not the same.)

Wow. That was not where this post was originally going, at all.

My point was that Vogue is among the many magazines I get. (Right now, my friends are either doubled over laughing or staring blankly at their screens asking, "Why?") I am no fashion plate. I think fashiony fashion is stupid. It's often ugly and it's insanely overpriced. Yes, Kelley, the Ralph Lauren goat-suede pants might look fabulous on you, but it's ludicrous to spend $1,800 on an article of clothing. Especially when you know that, next season, goat suede is going to be so embarrassingly passé. (Note: Kelley did not actually buy the goat-suede pants, because Kelley is a smart woman.)

I get Vogue for two reasons: 1) Because I am relatively powerless to resist a magazine offer ("We'll send you 1,000 issues for only 12 cents!"), and 2) Because even though I am a smart person, I foolishly believe that my fashion handicap can be overcome by the mere act of looking at ridiculously posed, overly airbrushed photographs of Tootsie Pops wearing lipstick.

As a Vogue subscriber, then (OK, OK, fine, yes, I also receive Lucky. It was a 2-for offer. Yes, a magazine about shopping is the epitome of vapidity and capitalism and all that is wrong with this world. But there are stickers!), I was recently tapped, via e-mail, to participate in a Vogue survey.

Clearly, if Anna Wintour ever saw my closet, she'd immediately tear the latest issue out of my hands and being to weep, but if The Staff at Vogue really wanted my opinion, who was I to deprive them?

So I clicked the link and began the survey.

First, I was asked to reveal my age: 37.

Next, I was asked if I was male or female: Female.

Next, I was asked if I am a smoker: No.

"Thank you!"

Seriously? That's it? That's all Vogue wanted to know? Of course not. But clearly, I do not fit into the Vogue demographic.

Clearly, I am too old and too much a fan of my lungs for The Staff at Vogue to care any further about what I have to say.

Anna!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Moviepalooza! ...

I have love/hate relationships with Netflix and Blockbuster. I love the ease of Netflix. I love that it carries older and more-obscure titles, you know, like "Working Girl." Blockbuster doesn't carry "Working Girl" because, I'm told, there's not enough room. Because a DVD, in a case, on a shelf, takes up half an inch of space. Netflix comes right to my house, but profiles its users so certain people (that'd be me) don't get certain movies as quickly as newer users whom Netflix is trying to please. Blockbuster charges insane late fees and tried to play catch up with Netflix on the home-delivery front, but too little, too late, I say.

But Netflix is my devil of choice. It did, after all, bring me Idiocracy, one of the best movies in the history of cinema.

So charmed, in fact, was I with Idiocracy, I felt the need to buy it so I could watch it on the phone with L.A. Dave. We watch the Oscars on the phone, and the Oscars are way longer than a movie, and hey, we both have unlimited long distance.

Used movies is what Blockbuster is good for, and so off to Blockbuster I went. Oh, but there's danger inside. I walked into the store and saw a sign that read "4 for $20." Seriously? Four movies for $20? Five dollars each? Score. Idiocracy was part of that sale, which meant I needed to find three more. Now, five-dollar movies might very well be cinematic dregs, but no. I also nabbed Superman Returns (to add to my Kevin Spacey collection) and Miami Vice (to add to my Ciaran Hinds collection) and the 10th anniversary edition of Pretty Woman (because I was just thinking about it the other day, and for five bucks, why not?).

There was also a "3 for $20" sale. I immediately found four, which meant I needed to find two more. I had to buy in multiples of three, right? Notes on a Scandal (because oh my GOD, the performances, Little Miss Sunshine (because oh my GOD, the performances), The Holiday (Hello. Jude Law. 'Nuf said.), Stranger Than Fiction (annoyingly good writing), Casino Royale (Hello. Daniel Craig. 'Nuf said. Oh, and cool special effects.), and The Nativity Story (to add to my Ciaran collection; he's a badass as King Herod).

That's a whole lotta cinema for $6.36 a pop.

And my recent Netflix moments have included The Queen and The Good German. There's no question that Helen Mirren deserved the Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth. The resemblance was rather uncanny. I nearly turned off The Good German early on, but decided to stick with it, because George Clooney looked that good in an army uniform. And Cate Blanchett was exceptional. I think I need to call her the Meryl Streep of my generation. So I will: Cate Blanchett is the Meryl Streep of my generation.

Maybe I'll actually get back to my own movie one of these days. I had a brilliant idea yesterday for a line of dialogue. One line of dialogue. Maybe one of these days, I'll have a whole movie's worth. Right now, I've got about 50 pages. Many more pages to go. Have to remember to write that cameo for Hugh Laurie ...

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

California Dreamin' ...

Wouldn't it be cool if you could program your dreams? Like, before you turned off the light for the night, you could use your TiVo peanut and boop-boop-beboop around menus and lock in on your subconscious viewing for the evening.

As it is, I have to settle for thinking about something before I go to bed and hope that those thoughts stick around until some serious REM kicks in. But, often, the harder I try to hold onto a thought, the quicker it slips away. Thoughts are like mercury.

And so the stuff that turns up in my dreams might be stuff I was talking about earlier in the day or thinking about days ago or it might be stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with my waking life.

Take last night's dream. Here's the part that has nothing to do with my waking life: I was in a department store because I needed to buy Donna Karan pantyhose. And they were $48. But a sales clerk was kind enough to give me a coupon for $18. Even so, I was thinking, "I can't believe I'm about to pay $30 for a pair of pantyhose. These things better not run."

I can't remember the last time I wore pantyhose - thank GOD - and I've never bought Donna Karan pantyhose and I'm pretty sure they're not nearly $50. I once bought Donna Karan trouser socks at Bloomindales in New York. They did, for what it's worth, last a really long time.

But the predominant part of my dream, the part that seemed to last for almost as long as I was asleep (I love marathon dreams) was about meeting Hugh Laurie.

L.A. Dave is part of the Television Critics Association, so every summer, he goes to TCA and all the networks trot out stars from the fall shows and there are lots of sessions in which the TV people get to talk about how great their shows are and the journalists get to sit in the freezing darkness of the rooms (while the TV people are warmer, up on stage, under the lights) and try to ask questions that haven't been asked 100 times before. But the reward for all that is that each network throws a soiree later in the evening, and the TV people walk among the commonfolk. So L.A. Dave and I were talking about me coming out to L.A. for the Fox party so I could meet Hugh. Might never happen, but it's fun to think about.

In my dream, Hugh and I were somewhere yellow and cramped, perhaps backstage at a theater, and a group of us were sitting around chatting. He and I started talking about something banal and L.A. Dave appeared (he had probably been off in search of orange juice) and started to introduce us, but we'd already met each other. L.A. Dave then - poof! - vanished out of my dream. It was a dream cameo.

So, next, Hugh and I were in a home somewhere (whose, I have no idea) and we're sitting on an olive-green velvet couch and watching something on TV. It got rather cozy, curled up together on the couch. Kissing was involved.

Later, we were, inexplicably, in the family room of the house my mother's sister lived in when she was married to her second husband. I haven't been in that house in more than 25 years. Why did that house show up in my head? Dreams. Go figure. So Hugh and I were lying on the carpet and he was drinking wine. He asked me if I wanted some and I said I wanted to taste it first. So I kissed him. Why sip out of a glass when you can kiss the guy drinking it, right? I decided that yes, I would like some, so he put a bottle in front of me, except that the bottle was about four feet high and it was orange glass and it was shaped like a person. A very tall, thin person. Huh?

The dream progressed, moved into the kitchen, where some kids I didn't recognize were talking and, as kids are wont to do, making granola. The kids left. Hugh turned out the light. And I don't remember the dream from there.

Though I'd like to think I know what came next.

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Cram It ...

You know what bugs me? Well, lots of things bug me. But you know what bugs me for the purposes of this post?

Eating contests.

I saw footage on the news this morning of this guy, Joey "Jaws" Chestnut, who crammed 59 1/2 hot dogs (and buns) down his gullet in 12 minutes. Doesn't he look like he's having a swell time?

His prize? A free trip to New York (to abuse his body again stuffing it full of more hot dogs at Coney Island), a year's supply of hot dogs (cuz I bet he'll have a hankering for 'em any day now, or maybe they're intended for practice), and a $250 gift card to the Arizona Mills Mall in Tempe, the site of this remarkable display of human stupidity.

Seriously, guys, what's up with this? (You don't tend to see women at these things. Women are too paranoid about eating as it is, let alone to cram themselves full of meat by-products and buns devoid of any nutrients, not that nutrition is the point.)

First of all, your stomach is just a little bit bigger than your fist. Yeah, it stretches, but for the love of God, 59 1/2 hot dogs and buns?! What this story doesn't say, what these stories never say, is whether the guy leaned over a garbage can moments later and puked it all up. I gotta think that he did, because his body had to have been saying, "Dude, what the fuck?" I'm going to presume this assumtion is correct.

Which brings me to the "second of all": There are people all over this planet who die, every day, of starvation, but in this country, our idea of entertainment is to stuff our bodies full of more food than they can contain and then vomit into a trash can? Or maybe a bucket. Whatever. It's not only disgusting, it's damn near unforgivable.

I happened to flip on the TV earlier and land on Maury. (What a bastion of admirable journalism that guy is, eh?) Today's show was, "My Baby Is Nearly 100 Pounds." Yup, toddlers who weigh nearly triple digits. Nice. One mother blamed her son for his obesity. Yeah, that's right. Because two-year-olds tend to swipe mom's keys and debit card and drive to the store to stock up on ice cream and Pop-Tarts. Thankfully, another mother had enough synapses firing to admit that it was her fault that her daughter was so heavy.

Childhood obesity is rampant. Adult obesity is rampant. And we're glorifying a guy who crams 59 1/2 hot dogs into his stomach. And the media that's reporting on Jaws up there is the same media that drills it into all of our heads that if we're not unnaturally thin, we're inferior human beings.

My head hurts.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Confession ...

My life is pretty much an open book. There are a few pages that are stuck together. You can try to separate them, but the text will lift off of the opposite pages and you won't be able to read any of it. Of course, the part you can't read is the most interesting part of the story, but you get what you pay for, eh? Bloggers can't spill every detail of their lives. A little mystery keeps 'em coming back for more. And by " 'em," I mean "you."

However, we're close enough, you, me, and the rest of my gargantuan daily readership, that I'm willing to lay bare some very personal aspects of my life. And so I stand before you, our virtual chairs in a virtual circle in a virtual community center, and I say to you, "Hi, I'm Beth. And I watch chick flicks."

They're not my steady cinematic diet, mind you. I know the havoc they wreak on my liver so I try not to take in too many, but over the past couple days, Netflix has delivered the illicit substance to my mailbox.

First up was Catch and Release. Jennifer Garner is so damn adorable, I'd date her and I'm not gay. And besides, I miss Alias so I have to take my Jen fix where I can get it.

Juliette Lewis is in Catch, and I'm not a big fan of Juliette (part of it is jealousy over the fact that she got to kiss DeNiro in Cape Fear and part of it is that she can just be so damn annoying, like she was in Cape Fear), but she's perfectly cast in this movie.

Jen, as always, is adorable. The story? Eh. We all know how it's going to turn out. I once worked with a guy who created a romantic-comedy flowchart, cuz they're just that damn predictable.

But the architecture and the locations are pretty to look at. And the kid who played Juliette Lewis's son did a good job because at one point, I wanted to reach through my TV and smack him.

Next up, a day later, was Because I Said So. I know, I know. The critics weren't kind. I went in with low expectations. And they were met. Does Diane Keaton use the same black-and-white photo of herself in every film? Is that her answer to the Hitchcock cameo? I'm sure the photo I saw in this movie was in The Family Stone and now I feel compelled to go back to Annie Hall, as I have a suspicion that it shows up in that movie, too. I'll report back on my research. Maybe they're not the same, but each movie features a photograph of her. Hmm.

And who names their kid Lionel? Lionel is a train. Lionel is the cigar-chomping chauffer on Hart to Hart. Lionel is a former Commodore. Yes, I know Lionel Richie was once a child. Don't quibble. I'm feeling cheeky. Just keep reading.

As I was saying, BISS was pretty much what I expected it to be, based on the trailer and based on what I know of basic scriptwriting. I had one particular gripe: the singing. I know Mandy Moore is the co-star. I know she sings. But if singing doesn't move the story along, if you have to justify the singing scenes by making Mandy utter the dialogue, "I've always wanted to sing," singing doesn't belong in your movie. Leave the singing out. And here's another page from Beth's Movie-making Playbook: mishaps with cakes - dropping them, taking them in the face, etc. - are about as funny as a cute heroine falling or walking into a window. We all see it coming. When someone walks into a room carryng a cake and chaos ensues and yet the cake carrier does not set the cake down, we know what's going to happen. Therefore, when it happens, it is neither funny nor unexpected. It's hackneyed. Resist the hackneyed cake gag. But credit where it's due: There is one instance involving a cake that's rather funny, because it's done differently. Different is good.

Anyway, the point is, BISS is a rather large waste of talent. Lauren Graham deserves better. At least we'll always have Gilmore girls and Badder Santa.

A good gauge of how much I like a movie is whether I spend any time on the extras. Needless to say, both of these movies went right back into their mailer sleeves the minute the credits rolled.

Next up in my queue: The Queen and The Good German. I suspect neither movie will feature someone getting a cake in the face.

Friday, June 01, 2007

If There Could Be Only One ...

Between VHS and DVD, I own, oh, I dunno, a couple hundred movies.

DVDs are to VHS what CDs are to albums: Some you buy in the new format, others you don't.

I crack out some VHS tapes: The Disney tapes when there's a kiddle in my midst, and whenever I need my fix of absurdity, I reach for The Jerk. Cup O' Pizza, the Optigrab, The Thermos Song. Ah, that's good comedy.

Sometimes, I flip through my DVD collection and I don't find anything I want to watch. I tend to buy more drama than comedy, and some days, the last thing you want to watch is "Monster's Ball."

But if I had to choose only one movie to watch every day for the rest of my life, it would easily be, hands down, no question, "The Shawshank Redemption."

I love this movie. I love the performances. I love the script. I love the score. I love the way it's shot. I love the way it's lit. I love the way it's edited. I love the way it's mixed. In an early aerial shot, as the bus of new inmates is arriving at the prison, the camera sweeps past a flag and there's a sound effect of the cotton snapping in the breeze. I'm a sucker for attention to detail.

Stephen King, he writes a damn fine story.

So if you could only watch one movie for the rest of your life, what would it be?

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