Monday, January 14, 2008
Celebrity-spotting in Silicon Valley
I am very happy with my choice of community, but whenever we go down to Palo Alto to visit Joe's dad, I can't help feeling a little envious. Palo Alto has to be one of the nicest places to live in the Bay Area, not to mention one of the priciest, which is why living there really isn't an option for us. You have the beautiful Stanford campus, and pedestrian-friendly University Avenue, which is chock-full of upscale shops and wonderful restaurants, not to mention the Stanford Theater, perhaps the best place in the country to see old movies. (Unfortunately, it's closed this month, but will hopefully be open again soon with a full calendar of classics.)

We were dining at Cafe Rosso & Bianco when Joe spotted Apple Computers honcho Steve Jobs across the room. Can you get any more Silicon Valley glamorous than that? With Macworld starting today, we joked that we should go over and ask him what the big announcement will be (there's always a big announcement at Macworld). Seriously though, I would never think of going up to any celebrity in a restaurant, but a couple of young women dared to ask him for an autograph, which he provided. (The restaurant, by the way, is quite reasonably priced, and the food is delicious. Next time you're in Palo Alto, you can afford to eat where the gazillionaires do. Try the gnocchi!)

A few doors down from the restaurant is a bustling Apple Store -- no telling if Steve ever drops in to check how things are going. I was checking out the new iPod Nanos, which were quite reasonably priced ($149 for the 4 Gb version) and debating whether or not to buy one. I tend to be the type of person who will make do with something until it completely falls apart, which is why I've held onto my old iPod mini for so long, even though it's getting progressively more ornery. My father-in-law kindly offered to let me borrow his Nano for a while to try it out. I remember when the iPod mini was considered soooo tiny, and now look at it next to the nano, which is about the size of half a Hershey bar:

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I use my iPod all the time, mainly to listen to podcasts while I'm exercising or doing chores around the house, but the new Nano also plays videos. And when I play, say, the Marketplace podcast, it displays the show's logo, which just happens to be a pile of hundred-dollar bills... such an appropriate motif when you're strolling around Silicon Valley.
posted by 125records @ 8:34 PM   9 comments
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Copycats
It all started with Freakonomics:

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Why did the book sell so well? It must have been because it featured an image of food underneath bold text on a stark white background. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner sure have been flattered a lot lately. Every time I go into a bookstore, I see another book that looks exactly like Freakonomics.

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posted by 125records @ 10:15 PM   3 comments
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Sweding the movies
As I write this, voters are still casting ballots in New Hampshire, but a bunch of polls make it sound like it's Obama's race to lose. Things are less clear-cut over on the GOP side. California's primary isn't for another month, but I've already received two phone calls from young-sounding, enthusiastic Obama volunteers. I have no idea how they got our new phone number -- it wasn't a random call, since they asked for "Susanne." I'm on every do-not-call list known to man, and have never donated to a political candidate. Is it magic? Somehow, I don't have the heart to ask the Obama Girls to remove my number from their database; they don't want anything from me, they just want to tell me how great they think their candidate is. It's kind of cool that the Youth Vote actually seems to be coming out this year, and an Obama/McCain race would certainly be one with clear-cut generational differences. Idea for McCain -- find a young veep candidate, maybe someone like 38-year-old Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt, and vow to serve only one term if elected. That would make people less uneasy about the age factor, and wouldn't it be cool to have a president who didn't need to worry about reelection? (I must admit here that I don't really know anything about Gov. Blunt besides the fact that he's young and Republican. Hopefully he has a bit more gravitas than, say, Dan Quayle.)

But enough about politics. Last night, we went to an early, early screening of Michel Gondry's new film, "Be Kind Rewind." It doesn't open until Feb. 22, although it will be screened at the Sundance Festival later this month. Gondry has directed zillions of great music videos, most notably for Bjork, and also co-wrote and directed the brilliantly loopy "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," so expectations were running high.

The trailer and posters for the film make it seem like kind of a wacky mainstream comedy, but of course Gondry throws in a few surprises. The movie's main characters are Mike (Mos Def), who works at a run-down video store in Passaic, N.J. (so downmarket it only rents video cassettes -- no DVDs), and his friend Jerry (Jack Black), a loudmouthed conspiracy theorist who wreaks havoc whenever he goes. When the genial owner of the store (Danny Glover) takes a week off, Mike is left in charge, with only one order: Keep Jerry out of the store. Naturally, Jerry comes in, and he manages to demagnetize the store's entire stock of tapes (long story). A customer comes in wanting to rent "Ghostbusters," so Mike and Jerry decide to use the now-blank tape and an old video camera to shoot their own version of the film. All of a sudden, the guys' homemade videos -- "Robocop," "Rush Hour 2," "Driving Miss Daisy" and more -- are the hottest thing in town. They start referring to their creations as "Sweded videos"; they can justify the steeper rental price because they're allegedly from far-off Sweden.

Anyone with a low tolerance for Jack Black may find this movie a bit too Jack-heavy for their tastes -- he's definitely in your face here. Both Mike and Jerry are a bit dim, but have an essential sweetness. At heart, this is a movie about the importance of community and creating your own art, a message hammered home perhaps a bit too heavily in the film's last 20 minutes or so. "Be Kind Rewind" definitely isn't on the level of an "Eternal Sunshine"; it's more of a pleasant diversion. The sequences where Mike and Jerry make their movies are undeniably funny, though, and I'm sure Gondry would be happy if it inspired some audience members to pick up a camera and "Swede" some movies of their own -- or, even better, create something entirely new.
posted by 125records @ 12:04 PM   2 comments
Sunday, January 06, 2008
The hills are still alive
Joe and I watched "The Sound of Music" last night -- he'd never seen it, I've seen it probably a dozen times, and I just feel it's one of those movies everyone should watch at least once. "The Sound of Music" was one of my favorite films as a child. It aired on TV every year, and in that pre-VCR/DVD era, that was the only chance I had to watch it. I also saw it with my grandparents during a theatrical rerelease in the 1970s, which was instructive, since there were parts of the movie that were cut (horrors!) to make it fit in a TV time slot. The things we had to put up with back in those days!

Since my fondness for "TSoM," which has been derided for decades by critics as one of the most saccharine movies ever made, seems contrary to everything I am today -- cynical, disillusioned, etc. -- I was wondering if I could pinpoint its curious appeal. Most importantly, I think, the film is undeniably entertaining. Despite its nearly three-hour running time, every time I see it, I am struck by how quickly the time passes. It's packed with storyline, and the songs are terrific. I still find the ending, where the Von Trapps are hiding from the Nazis in the convent, suspenseful, even though I know exactly what's going to happen.

But if I hadn't encountered the movie until I was an adult, I don't think I would have enjoyed it nearly as much. Because at its heart, "TSoM" is a film about the importance -- indeed, the primacy -- of children. Even though Julie Andrews was almost 30 years of age at the time of the filming, she almost looks like she could be in her late teens or early 20s; with her tomboy-short hair and fresh face, she fits right in with the eldest Von Trapp children. Maria's childishness becomes even more glaringly apparent when Captain Von Trapp brings home his pals from Vienna, Max Detweiler and Baroness Elsa Schraeder. The trio's witty banter seems like it belongs in a different movie. The Captain, we are told, makes frequent, lengthy trips to Vienna, where he has fallen in love with the sophisticated, wealthy Baroness; her trip to Salzburg is her first encounter with Von Trapp's brood of seven kids. To say they don't hit it off is an understatement. She tells Max that as soon as she and the Captain are married, she plans to send them to boarding school (obviously, this woman is a villain!).

Next to the elegant Baroness, Maria, in her simple home-sewn frocks, looks dowdy as well as young. Why, then, does the Captain fall so hard for her? It's possible that perhaps Maria reminds him of his late wife, who was apparently a music lover (her death so traumatized him that he banned all music from his home). His children found him neglectful -- witness those month-long sojourns to Vienna -- so Maria's bonding with the offspring seems not to have been a factor. To my adult eyes, their romance isn't realistic. Indeed, the real-life Georg Von Trapp was reportedly nothing like the character in the film; he was "a gentle, warmhearted parent who enjoyed musical activities with his family," according to this account. Now, that sounds like the kind of man who would have fallen in love with Maria.
posted by 125records @ 7:42 PM   1 comments
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
A novel idea
NaJuReMoNoMoIt's time again for National Just Read More Novels Month, the creation of blogger yellojkt. It's not really necessary for me to vow to read more novels, since I read them all year 'round, but I like the idea, and anything that gets people reading more is A-OK with me, so I'm hoping his meme catches on.

Every year, I set a goal for myself to read 52 books. Usually, I manage to just make it; in 2006, I managed 53. In 2007, I read 59. The higher total can be attributed to two things: my vacation in Jamaica earlier this year, which left me ample time to read; and the writer's strike, which began in early November. My normal weeknight routine is to spend the hour between 11 PM and midnight watching "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report." Without those shows, I found myself heading upstairs an hour early to crack open a book. Since I knew the shows wouldn't be airing, I sometimes went up at 10 or 10:30 instead. Even that extra 4-6 hours a week made a big difference. Therefore, anyone who claims that they "don't have time" to read should scrutinize their TV watching habits. The only people who can legitimately make the "no time" excuse are people like my friend Neal who don't own TVs!

I should add here that "TDS" and "TCR" are returning next week (albeit without their writers), and yes, I will be watching them. Also, one of the books I read last month was "I Am America (And So Can You)" by Stephen Colbert.

Twenty-one of the books I read were for my book group, which meets weekly approximately 8 months out of the year. If that sounds crazy, several members of my group form a second weekly group during the summer, and at least a couple of them belong to more than one group. Personally, I always look forward to taking the summer off to read selections of my own choosing.

Some of the best books I read in 2007. Any of them would make a great choice for NaJuReMoNoMo!

Alison Bechdel, Fun Home - The only graphic novel I read in '07, but it was a good one.
T.C. Boyle, The Inner Circle - I'm convinced that Boyle is one of the best American novelists working today. This book, a fictionalized version of the life of Alfred Kinsey, was another fine piece of work.
William Kent Krueger, Thunder Bay - Kent is one of my clients and I usually try to refrain from commenting on my clients' work so it doesn't look like I'm playing favorites, but I can't help it -- this is such a beautifully written, absorbing book, I devoured it in one day.
Beth Lisick, Helping Me Help Myself - I managed to score an advance copy of this 2008 release (available now!) by the hilarious, insightful Berkeley writer and her surprising adventures in the world of self-help.
Megan Abbott, Die a Little - Abbott is a rising star in crime fiction and justifiably so; she is perhaps the most original prose stylist in the field since Ken Bruen. I can't wait to read her other books; if you love film noir, you've gotta check her out.
Robert Goddard, In Pale Battalions - Family secrets come to light after World War I in this cunningly plotted saga. This type of discovery -- I must admit I'd never heard of Goddard, a prolific British author -- is part of the reason I stay in my book group, even when the "workload" is challenging.

Speaking of blog memes, here is one which I will assuredly not be participating in: Blog365. My blog will continue to be updated at my current pace, which is "whenever I feel like it."
posted by 125records @ 3:55 PM   3 comments
About Me
Name: Sue
Home: San Francisco Bay Area, California, United States
About Me: Email me: talk at interbridge dot com
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