Archive for the 'river of shadows' Category

getting a friday five in early

1. A recycled Twitter joke: I posted this last Tuesday and my friend Matthew asked whether the Kaiju were under water, so I said that they were, and that this picture was taken from Jeremy’s and my Jaeger, the Frock Advisory. Seriously, though, look at my beautiful city.

2. My big brother Alain arrived on Thursday and is now an essential member of the household and may not leave. We went out for margaritas with a bunch of folks on Saturday and all got thoroughly roaring and ordered Pizzahacker on the way home. Danny converted Al to the cult of Ingress and now he is part of the Resistance, firing energy weapons into interdimensional portals as he walks around the Mission. (It cracks me up that every technolibertarian and privacy activist I know is in thrall to this sinister surveillance weapon of a game.)

3. Nick-the-horse and I had a lesson with Colin in the Grand Prix arena and, in between very embarrassing refusals, jumped up to a meter ten. It’s the very lowest level of jumping that anyone takes remotely seriously, it’s my goal height and it scared the living crap out of me. But we jumped it. It turns out that my snuggly goober Nicky Boo Bear is an imported Dutch Warmblood from a stallion line that has produced (notoriously badly-behaved) Grand Prix horses in both jumping and dressage. A frog prince.

4. Jeremy and I went to NASA Ames to wait for the New Horizons spacecraft to phone home. That’s us in front of the beautiful Hangar One.

I love NASA as I love national parks and missile silos converted into marine mammal rescue centers, which is to say, immoderately. They kept describing the spacecraft as the size of a grand piano, so now that is how I picture it, a golden Steinway hurtling through the dwarf planet system, exploring strange new worlds, boldly going. A scientific instrument.

5. Ta-Nehisi’s new book is amazing.

 

friday five

1. Yeah so that happened and it was awful. I ordered flowers for Milton’s funeral which made me mad and sad, not that I grudged him the flowers but that I was so angry with him for being dead. I think I also wanted to be at the funeral so that I could be with other people who knew him and could understand what his death meant. Jeremy met him a few times but didn’t know him well and otherwise I was alone with it, which always sucks and is boring.

2. Otherwise and weirdly I am feeling much better, having shaken off the last of the horrible Chicago cold and consequent lingering bronchitis and what was evidently some kind of post-viral malaise that plunged me back into the worst days of having an undiagnosed anxiety disorder in my teens and 20s. I gotta give myself credit for spending the last dozen years taking meds and getting enough exercise and sleep and healthy food, because given the opportunity to directly compare my current and former emotional states, it’s clear that in spite of all the, you know, wrenching grief, my baseline mood is way better than it used to be.

3. I am finally reading (listening in the car to) And the Band Played On, Randy Shilts’ beautifully furious book about the early years of the AIDS epidemic; uneasy stuff when you are well, let alone when you are paranoid and sick. Excellent narrative history turns you into the Doctor visiting a Fixed Point In Time: it is 1980 and I am standing in the Ice Palace on Fire Island at 1am, looking at all the gorgeous men on the dance floor, knowing that there is nothing I or anyone else can do to save them. I am so, so sorry.

4. Speaking of beautiful fury, the new Mad Max movie is an exquisitely-researched and historically accurate documentary about my childhood and it gives me life. I got properly into the spirit of it too, getting rear-ended hard on the way to the cinema, jumping out of poor banged-up Mercy of Kalr in the middle of Van Ness and screaming at the other driver and kicking his license plate. He was at fault like San Andreas, of course, so his insurance covers everything including the rental on the piece-of-garbage Chevy Sonic I am driving around while Mercy is at the body shop. Her name is Lieutenant Seivarden, and she self-identifies as a small war rig.

5. Last night I dreamed I checked into a hotel where I was shown to a suite that I had to share with strangers who invaded my personal space, and when I complained to the staff they made fun of my accent and lost my favourite jacket, and when I realized that I was in a dramatization of my own mundane fears and insecurities I decided I was probably dreaming and that if I was, I might as well see Mum, so I turned around and there she was, wearing red and orange and gold and looking radiantly well and laughing. So I hugged her a lot.

small good things

  • Not getting up till eleven this morning because trapped by the cuteness of the cats sprawled on the end of the bed
  • We still have most of a panettone and about a third of a box of peppermint bark left
  • Seeing Big Hero 6 again and loving it just as much the second time and then unanimously agreeing that we needed teriyaki for lunch
  • Ending the year as I began it, actually mansplaining things to the mister
  • This year I reconnected with a couple of old friends I had thought I’d lost for good

the avengers

I am so not Hollywood’s demographic any more. A good way to annoy me is to pretend to blow up the Very Large Array and Grand Central Station and the New York Public Library. I’ve had enough explosions in Manhattan to last several lifetimes, thanks. But there was a fun ragtag-band-of-misfits story in there somewhere. Thor is adorable – I keep calling Jeremy to say in my best baritone “DO I LOOK TO BE IN A GAMING MOOD” – and I could have watched three hours of Tony/Bruce and Clint/Natasha casually invading one another’s personal space. To me there is more jeopardy in an exchange of looks than in a nuclear missile. I am so not Hollywood’s demographic any more.

watching avatar, the last airbender

Claire: In real life there would be tons more benders. There would be over a hundred benders.

Jeremy: Technically it’s using “element” in a different sense.

Rachel: No! I’m with Claire! I wanna be a uranium bender!

Jeremy: I’d be a tungsten bender.

funny america

As earthquakes and tsunamis and nuclear disaster and global financial crises and the breakdown of civil order pressed in upon us, Optimal Husband and I curled up on the couch and watched American sitcoms. What are you going to do? We started with Party Down, from much of the same team as my late lamented Veronica Mars whose melancholy and class-obsessed first season was a thing of beauty. Party Down was, I think, the first occasion on which I convinced Jeremy I actually do suffer from face-blindness and not merely lack of character, because even though we had just been talking about Veronica Mars and even though I knew I ought to recognize his face, I couldn’t place Enrico Colantoni until Jeremy said his name. And I *love* Enrico Colantoni.

Party Down is a sitcom to have a recession by; it follows out-of-work actors in a catering business. It’s very apparent that the cast was close-knit and had an insane, perhaps illegal amount of fun, and the terrible irony of the show is that it ended when its stars Jane Lynch and Adam Scott found work on other (more successful, maybe less funny?) shows. Jane Lynch became Sue Sylvester on Glee (which J tired of after the pilot, and I jettisoned in anger at the end of the first season.) Adam Scott went to Parks and Recreation, so we watched that next. The great Sady nailed what makes Parks and Rec so good: it is Leslie Knope, Sincere Person And Government Bureaucrat. Leslie is love. Leslie and her Ann narrowly beat out Nurse Jackie and O’Hara for my coveted All Time Best Women’s Friendships Ever Portrayed On Television Trophy. I kept having to call Salome to remind her that I love her.

After the Bechdel-busting Parks and Rec, it was difficult to get stuck into Community. The pilot does the show no favours, seeming to set it up as the story of a privileged white man with a very large forehead and his entourage of wacky secondary characters. I can’t even begin to tell you how brilliantly the subsequent episodes undermine that premise, or how dense the comedy is, or what a kind show it can be, at heart. It’s not perfect by any means – it deals poorly with its gay characters, and showrunner Dan Harmon himself admits that he can’t get inside the head of Shirley, the black Christian woman. But the long interview I’ve linked to there also reveals that the character he most identifies is not, as you’d expect, Mister Forehead: it’s Britta, the neurotic blonde woman. That’s as endearing to me as Kanye’s avatar in his Runaway video: a corps of ballerinas in black tutus. (I’m indebted to this very good Armond White piece for the insightful take on Kanye.) I am a sucker for androgynous self-images, having one myself.

The long interview is also one of the best things I’ve read all year on the creative process. Some of the episodes that Harmon is least satisfied with are episodes that made the Optimal Husband and I belly-laugh most; and belly-laugh in the aftermath of Jen’s death, and then Richard’s. No small feat. Authorial intention is for shit, is what I’m saying. The work is the work.

Community is linked back to Party Down by being at war with Glee. Spoiler: Community wins. The trouble with Glee-the-show is that you’re supposed to take its version of the Mister Forehead character without any grains of salt, when in fact he is a terrible teacher and an awful person. Community embraces the awfulness of the Forehead, which is hilarious. But the Yatima Organization prefers not to indulge in negative reviews when there’s so much good stuff around to talk about instead.

Such as for example! The delectable abovementioned Adam Scott, who was Henry in Party Down, is Ben in Parks and Rec (leading me to call him Benry), and he is a love interest for Leslie, but not until after Leslie has a brief but pleasant relationship with a sweet police officer played by Louis CK. Which led us to his new show, which is (as fab fan Ta-Nehisi Coates has pointed out) pretty much the scary-awesomest thing out there right now. The parts about Louis’s kids are so funny they hurt. After we’d wrestled our own ungrateful screamers into bed last night, we watched the show and laughed ourselves sick at his whining kid.

“WHY ARE WE EVEN WATCHING THIS!”

“THIS IS JUST OUR LIFE!”

So much for escapism. And in fact none of these shows is escapist in that way. Party Down requires you to take your own creative work seriously, even when you know it’s absurd. Parks and Rec and Community both require you to acknowledge the importance of public space and human connection. Louis requires radical honesty. They’re not just fucking funny. (Although they are that.)

rango

Chinatown retold with lizards, which is nice for those of us on permanent hiatus from Polanski. I admired this film for its commitment to its own deep weirdness.

ultra-recherche “hey it’s that guy”s in hogfather

Mister Teatime is Elton Pope from the Love & Monsters episode of Doctor Who.

Susan is Lady Mary Crawley from Downton Abbey.

You will not be tested on this.

downton abbey

This is the Big House story for beginners. Everyone Speaks In Topic Sentences, and the estate is entailed in default of heirs male. I am loving it to death.

save yourself

this is going in her permanent file

Andrew very kindly did a special screening of the 2008 Royal Ballet production of “The Nutcracker” for a certain small ballet-obsessed human of my acquaintance. The nice thing about having the entire cinema to yourself is that you can recline on floor cushions while said small human can join in the ballet. I watched her leaps in sillhouette against the screen.

Remember when Julia was a baby? That was, like, five minutes ago, right?

also how beautiful was the shark?

Not exactly a spoiler to say there’s a scene in the Doctor Who Christmas special (which I watched, not in the approved behind-the-sofa position, but on the edge of my seat hanging on every word, oblivious to the wet Boxing Day unfolding around me) in which Eleven discovers that there are fish flying around in the fog and says something like:

“Who invented boredom? Ridiculous. How is anyone ever bored?”

Reminds me of “So high, so low, so many things to know!” from Sherkaner, in A Deepness in the Sky. This universe! The attention to detail that went into it! Fantastic. Would choose to live again!

room and tangled

So Tangled, the movie, is frankly pretty adorable and – better still! – it has respectable worldbuilding! It always drives Claire mad when we stay to watch the credits (“MAMA! I want to LEAVE NOW!”), but people, there was a map! An accurate map, of the fairy kingdom! It was epically cool. Also the heroine getting a (spoiler!) cute short haircut was a key plot point. Also there was a charismatic horse. So I was mostly very happy.

Only mostly, though, because we saw it immediately after I read Emma Donoghue’s Booker-longlisted novel Room, which is based in part on the Fritzl and Dugard kidnappings. Donoghue’s first novel is the exquisite Hood, and I met her a million years ago in Dublin and she was very nice. Like me, she seems to have read every single thing published about Elisabeth Fritzl and Jaycee Dugard. Those kidnappings are at once your worst nightmare and weirdly compelling, because at least the bad man didn’t kill you, right? At least you escaped? But after how much suffering and loss. Here’s a thought to keep you up at night: how many more prisoners are there out there, that we haven’t rescued yet?

The book is beautifully written but I almost couldn’t read it, so fast was I turning the pages to make sure they escaped. It made me claustrophobic. My pulse is racing just thinking about it.

And so to Tangled, where Rapunzel is locked in a tower for eighteen years. My issues with this, where to begin. Note that the bad man has become a Goth woman! And that the kidnapping is not for sex but because of this woman’s vanity! Oh vain women, you are so totally worse than the patriarchy, Disney is kind enough to point out. Note also that Rapunzel’s mother and father never even get to speak, and that the only rescue strategy we see is them flying lanterns every year on her birthday – completely charming, even if appropriated from Thailand and Taiwan, but not exactly thorough.

Rapunzel’s mother and father do not, for example, take the kingdom apart stone by stone with their bare hands.

Dear Goddess in whom I only secretly believe, help me teach my daughters to tear down walls.

fear my gardening fu

I actually slept last night, because Julia didn’t wake at 1am or something and demand to sleep in my armpit as has been her wont. I lay in my warm bed this morning blinking wonderingly and snuggling my cat. Jeremy brought me hot tea.

Then Salome called so I dragged on some clothes and we ran to the farmers’ market for dried apples and apricots, pistachios, pink lady apples, broccolini, tangerines, bread, eggs, dandelion greens and a pot of live basil. Then home to weed the wilderness that our front patch and the jacaranda’s tree well had become over winter; then to Flowercraft for pansies and violets and petunias. I cut back the bougainvillea so that now it is possible to reach the faucet without being eaten by triffids. The Icelandic poppies survived, to my joy. We planted the annuals and the garden looks adorable.

Then to Crissy Field where the girls swam excellently, then home to eat Jeremy’s roast chicken with a caprese salad with the fresh basil on it, and last week’s bok choi revived in peanut and sesame oil and a lashing of soy sauce. Nom. Then greek yogurt and strawberries and blueberries for desert, drizzled with orange blossom honey. Om nom nom.

And then we crept out into the San Francisco twilight and released a tub of ladybirds into the garden to eat the aphids. One caught a ride in on my shoulder and is now buzzing around the back of the sofa while Jeremy exhorts the children to sleep.

Another bright jewel of a day, rounded out with this.

Nature by Numbers from Cristóbal Vila on Vimeo.

i’ll eat you up, i love you so

Decentish flight. The girls were awesome and Julia in particular completely won the heart of a 20something Turkish? Lebanese? guy sitting across from her. I watched Samson and Delilah, the first feature by an indigenous director to earn more than $1m. Wrenching, luminous. We emerged blinking into an overcast Sydney Christmas morning and I drove with great care to 7a. Julia flung herself into Janny’s arms. Claire was occupied in counting the stairs to the front door.

We had Christmas lunch at Lulworth. I barely recognized Ric. He has lost a lot of weight and is mostly in a wheelchair and hardly talks any more, although he did ask very characteristically “From where did their flight originate?” The children were buried in toys. After a brief recess we resumed festivities for Claire’s birthday and dinner and cake. If I woke at 6am on the 23rd and flew out at 11pm and the flight was 15 hours and then I was awake from 9am to 9pm, I think that makes about 54 hours of Christmas? In the event it was just about one hour too long. I retired to bed and slept for a year or so.

Woke to the sound of birdsong and rain. Called Kay and Thussy and arranged to see them; bundled up the kids and Jeremy and Jan and went to the lovely Randwick Ritz, a beautiful old Art Deco cinema palace, where we finally saw Where the Wild Things Are. Clearly, I am a boy pretending to be a wolf pretending to be a king; it all makes sense now. We went to one of the cafes on Bronte Beach for lunch and saw a hundred or so white sails against the grey sky as the yachts set out for Hobart.

watching old almodovar films

Me: “It’s not shocking that the nuns are doing heroin. What’s shocking is that they are proposing to share needles.”

Jeremy: “It was a simpler time.”

date night movies

We’ve had a run of really lovely date nights lately, mostly because Jeremy has been letting me pick the films.

Medicine for Melancholy

Oh how I loved this little film, shot in bleached-out near-black-and-white and set in my own dear darling San Francisco. Not tourist San Francisco, where stchoopid things like Monk and Robyn Williams movies are set in Rice-a-Roni cable cars. The real place. The main characters wake up after a party in Glen Park and hike over Billy Goat Hill to Cafe XO, three blocks from my house. After a day of wandering and biking the city, from the Marina to a downtown gallery near my office, to the Museum of the African Diaspora and the carousel in Yerba Buena, they go out drinking at the Knockout, my local bar. Then they get a burrito from the taco truck.

Oh, and there’s a talky interlude at a Housing Rights Committee meeting which arguably doesn’t work, except that Jeremy and I were utterly charmed to see a cameo from our sexy and righteous Alabama Street neighbour Ondine. (Our old neighbours were awesome: Ondine on one side and Parents for Public Schools powerhouse Eos de Feminis on the other. Of course, our new neighbours rock the known universe also. I love this town.)

Would it work for someone less hopelessly infatuated with the city than I am? I’m not sure. It’s a tender, abrasive film, a love story that doesn’t gloss over the basic difficulties of real life – race, money, class, gentrification, change, geopolitics, injustice, identity. Wyatt Cenac gives a brave and accurate performance. Tracey Heggins, as his foil, has a less fleshed-out character and is a bit of a cipher, but the camera loves her and so do I. It’s been months since we saw this and I still think of it, and of the atmosphere it evoked: clear-eyed, intelligent cynics still risking themselves for their ideals. Home.

Lost in the Fog

Another ultra-local film, this one a documentary. I’d walked past Harry Aleo’s Noe Valley storefront dozens of times when I was pregnant with Claire and our birth prep class was around the corner on Castro Street. Harry, the owner of Twin Peaks Properties and a die-hard Republican, advertised himself with hand-written signs as “an island of tradtional values in a sea of liberal loonies.” He owned racehorses – of course he did. Northern California is a racing backwater, down to one working-class track from two, but Harry did well enough, until he bought the aptly-named Lost in the Fog.

Every now and then in racing there’s a horse that transcends. Secretariat, who won the 1973 Belmont Stakes by a gobsmacking 31 lengths. You watch the race now and you still can’t believe it. Ruffian, the black filly that won every start in 1974 and 1975 until the match race with Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure that claimed her life. Barbaro, Smarty Jones, and – racing right now – two extraordinary fillies, Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra.

Lost in the Fog was one of these. From November 2004 to October 2005 he won every race. Local filmmaker and liberal loonie John Corey got interested and ended up quitting his job to make a movie about the crusty Aleo and his fabulous horse. And then the great Fog lost a race. He was given a break, and came back for a second and a win, and then he lost again, badly. He was trucked up to the great vet school at the University of California, Davis (where Ann Bowling, the brilliant geneticist, rewrote horse coat colour and Arabian and Mongolian horse genetics). Surgery revealed that Fog had a huge, rare and inoperable cancer. He had been carrying it for months. He had carried it when he won his last race. Corey got Aleo’s reaction to the news on film. It’s an amazing documentary.

Aleo himself died of cancer last year, and is much mourned by his liberal loonie neighbours.

Moon

Okay, Jeremy chose this one. I was very skeptical. It looked like there might be guns; it also looked like it might overlap with Leonard’s terrific “The Eyes of Ceres.” There are no guns, which, yay! (I have had it with movies with guns in them. They are mean and boring and rarely pass the Bechdel Test. See especially: all action films, everything by Michael Bay, In Bruges.) There’s some thematic overlap with The Eyes of Ceres but it works to the advantage of both. And Sam Rockwell hits it out of the park. It’s an incredibly sympathetic and authentic set of performances.

A gorgeous film to look at, too. There are a few nerdy oopses – gravity inside the base, but not outside it? Oh well. The plot is nonsense. And I have some problems with the use of the two female characters, who of course do not pass Bechdel and who are close to being In Refrigerators. But for beautiful, character-driven, cerebral hard SF, I will forgive a lot.

Easy Virtue

Jeremy picked this as well, mostly because I’d been feeling down and he wanted to cheer me up. This film was made for demographic: Rach. It has the divine Kristin Scott Thomas as a disapproving aristocratic mother-in-law. It gives great house and horse and frock. There are Mitford and Dorothy L. Sayers echoes galore, and the director is Stephan Elliott, whose Priscilla: Queen of the Desert remains a happy memory.

Unfortunately the film doesn’t quite hang together; is in fact, extremely silly. The foolish young man is too foolish, the American vamp too blonde and the increasingly insufferable Colin Firth is too schmoopy for words. Nevertheless I enjoyed every minute. And if I had to pick a favourite minute it would be the sight of Jessica Biel’s world-class ass tangoing in an ivory brocade sheath.

unhappy love stories, mostly

Kamikaze Heart

Longtime readers (there will be a test) may recall my delight in Sweet Can Productions’ marvellous show Habitat; Kamikaze Heart, from the performance arm of local urban circus school Acrosports, draws on many of the same traditions, including the brilliant and eye-popping art of aerial silks.

The plot of Kamikaze Heart is pretty much a wry tall tale on which to string a bunch of feats. My favourite bit was where the swan-who-was-the-ghost-of-the-beautiful-grantwriter was flying over the b-boy competition on her way back from Iraq (long story) and the performer did a dance with two bungees fixed to her hips from opposite sides above the stage.

As she bounced and swung the rhythm of the elastics really did seem like great wings, beating: a primal archetype for the harbingers of death, or birth. It reminded me of Grant’s description of the first production he saw of Tony Kushner’s Millennium Approaches, where the Angel came down from on a wire above the heads of the audience, screaming.

Where Acrosports won my heart for ever and always, though, was as we came out into the lobby. The whole cast was there, and the instant that Nancy Kate “Fancy Legs” Siefker, in full costume and makeup, laid her eyes on my Claire, she recognized her from Acrosports spring camp, went down on one knee and held out her arms: Claire flew into her embrace.

The Girlfriend Experience

I enjoyed this film as I was watching it. I like Steven Soderbergh’s laconic, respectful direction, his subdued palette and his attention to his actors, and his films have, for the most part, treated women as human – Sex, Lies and Videotape, Out of Sight, The Limey, Erin Brockovich, even the completely unnecessary remake of Solaris. I never bothered with the Oceans films because with few expections I find celebrities boring and the prospect of watching them have a circle-jerk is deeply unappealling.

The best thing about Girlfriend, by far, is Sasha Grey’s performance as the expensive escort. Grey’s a porn star looking to diversify, and she’s brilliant at showing how an escort needs to be a sort of social chameleon, giving every client what he thinks he needs, while keeping her important part locked away where no one can get at it. (She’s also rapturously, implausibly beautiful.)

But Girlfriend left a bad taste in my mouth. The script is from the same team that brought us the Oceans films and while it tries to satirize that clubby, rich-men atmosphere of Hollywood and Wall Street pre-crash and the kinds of people who use wildly expensive escort services, it’s a bit inescapably of that world itself.

Most damningly, the only sympathetic male character, David, a client who actually listens to the escort and who of course she falls for, is played by one of the writers. His name is, guess what, David. The character is a Mary Sue, a Mary Sue of a rich john, and that makes me feel ill.

As another character points out, the only reason anyone is shelling out thousands for the girlfriend experience is because this woman is so improbably gorgeous. No one would care about her inner life if she weren’t so radiant, and by the same token, it’s not really her inner life, her thoughts and feelings and desires and hopes, that everyone is trying to drag out of her. What her greedy clients (and by implication we as the voyeuristic audience) really want is to break down her defenses and possess her.

Yuck. And what if she were just ordinary-looking? I was teaching Julia Marxist chess the other day. “These are the pawns. The point of this game is that the pawns all die, and nobody cares.”

Marie Antoinette

Kirsten Dunst is adorable. I have a new theory about anachronistic period films like this one and A Knight’s Tale; the music is of our youth, and as we age it all gets wound up in generic yardage of Pastness imported fresh from the Past fields of darkest Past-landia. Our high school dances are so long ago now we might as well have been wearing corsets and bustles and have had absurd beehive hair. Winona is Spock’s mother! We are old.

blipverts

I’m seriously annoyed with President My Boyfriend for perpetuating the Bush Administrations self-serving position on state secrets. It’s bumming me out. Our first real fight. C’mon, big O, why you even got to do a thing?

I jumped Cassie on Sunday! It was like an eighteen inch crossbar, sure, but a Taste of Things to Come!

Claire’s been all up on stage lately. Last week it was her first wushu demonstration. I would be very surprised if there is anything on earth cuter than my six-year-old’s kicks and punches, except possibly the expression on her face while she’s doing them. “WE R SRS NNJAS.” In January she and her classmates sang “Chickadee” at the school music recital. That was beyond hilarious: crowded cafeteria; tuneless kindergarteners; doting parents; phone cameras aloft.

Speaking of that cafeteria I am pursuing funding for a new school building that would include a proper auditorium. Ideally we’d like solar energy, grey water reclamation, the whole shebang. I am having a ridiculous amount of fun finding clues on the Internet and brazenly calling people at their places of work with naive questions. Last Friday I discovered $3.6m earmarked for it in the SFUSD facilities budget and tonight I talked to the head of facilities. The plot thickens! It’s not going to be easy by any means, but it is actually possible! I bounced into Kappy’s office and said:

“I love research!”

“I’ve heard that about you,” she said.

More: I’m off Zoloft; everything seems a bit colder and brighter. I loved Thrumpton Hall, The Arrival, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, The First Part Last and Stories of Your Life. Frost/Nixon was pretty good too. Claire wanted to come with us, but when I said “Great idea! It’s the story of the confrontation of two huge mediated egos over foreign policy at the cusp of the electronic age!” she decided she’d rather hang with McKenze instead. Julia, and now this is going to astonish you, remains delightful.

a very borgesian date night

The boy and I went to see Tropic Thunder last night. Just before the trailers started he reminded me that there were fictional trailers. I promptly assumed that Role Models, Lakeview Terrace and Max Payne were parodies. I laughed my head off at how well they mimicked the pomposity of the trailer genre, and admired the artistry that had gone into their assembly. The Max Payne trailer starts “In a world…” which had me in stitches.

Everyone up to and including the boy looked at me oddly, at which point it finally dawned on me.

“Real, huh?”

“Real.”

“Okay then.”

The real fictional trailers were a bit of a letdown after that.

The film made me laugh. I do enjoy Ben Stiller as an actor. There’s a lovely generosity to his comedy, here and in Zoolander. He’s unafraid to make himself look like a gigantic twat in order to let the rest of the ensemble glow, and he’s always with the big ensemble, bless. Steve Coogan was great, he always is, as the pompous Brit director in a Union Jack t-shirt. Jack Black was wonderfully manic as a sweaty junkie. Matthew McConaughy was surprisingly sweet in his role as Ben Stiller’s asshole-agent-with-a-heart-of-TiVo. Everything looked and sounded fantastic – great rainy and sometimes explodey jungle and excellent choice of Vietnam-cliche 60s songs. The whole thing was a very affectionate sendup of the genre.

I liked a bunch of the cameos – Toby Maguire and Lance Bass especially – but the big one everyone’s talking about left me cold. To me the big-name actor in question is the opposite of Ben Stiller. He sucks the air out of the room. He thinks he’s in on the joke but it’s clear we muggles are the butt of his joke. His massive self-regard is palpable and repulsive. I can live without being sniggered at by gajillionaires.

So, race! Downey’s metamorphosis from Osiris to Lazarus was especially funny for me because Lazarus was supposed to be Australian, a thinly veiled caricature in fact of Russell Crowe. (And maybe poor old Heath.) So the rattling off of Aussie cliches – Crocodile Dundee, a dingo ate my baby – was tiresome to me in much the same way that the black cliches were to the black character, Brandon Jackson’s Alpa Chino. I gotta say, though, I fretted about the portrayal of the Burmese-or-Laotians. The film’s moral hierarchy of race goes: white Americans, black Americans, Australian butt-monkeys, Asian drug kingpins.

And surprise, the film utterly fails the Bechdel test. Of three speaking roles we counted for women, two were cameos and the third was a receptionist. Mustn’t distract from the flow of the story! Where “the story” is defined as “things of interest to the straight white male protagonist”. Hollywood, I hate you.

Of our last five movies, Jeremy chose this, The Dark Knight (which I walked out of in tears) and Get Smart (which we both promptly forgot). I chose the Herzog Antarctica film and Up the Yangtze. Our findings: Up the Yangtze is the only one that passes the Bechdel test. And Jeremy should always let me choose the film.