4.29.05 sfiff, part v: revenge of the sfiff
Film: "Murderball" (dir. by Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro; U.S., 2005)
The scene: A big crowd, including many people in wheelchairs. The screening was held in a fully-wheelchair-accessible auditorium.
Post-festival prospects: Due for limited U.S. release on July 8
I loved "Murderball." I am giddy about "Murderball." You must promise me -- promise! -- that you will see "Murderball" if and when it comes to your town. I'm a big documentary film fan, and this is one of the best I've ever seen.
In "Murderball," things happen that are so incredible that you would dismiss them as farfetched if some Hollywood script writer had made them up. At the film's heart is the incredible rivalry between the U.S. and Canadian quad rugby teams; the Canadian team is coached by Joe Soares, a onetime American champion who defected when he was cut from the U.S. team. What is quad rugby? It's a brutal, action-packed sport played by quadriplegics in souped-up wheelchairs. They hurtle around a court, attempting to carry the ball across their goal line, and it involves lots of wheelchairs slamming into each other.
Most of the guys who play quad rugby are in their 20s, and many of them were athletes before the accidents that left them quadriplegics. (Most, but not all, of the players became paralyzed due to injuries; Soares contracted polio as a child, and one man on the U.S. team lost his legs and hands at the age of 9 due to a rare illness.) If you think this is going to be a heartwarming film about the disabled, guess again. These guys are tough, and have wicked senses of humor.
I don't want to give away too much about what happens in the movie, because you should just watch it all unfold and be amazed. "Murderball" has the potential to be a breakout film; it's certainly a crowd-pleaser, judging from last night's audience, which cheered like crazy when four of the players from the film took the stage after the screening to take questions. You will learn a lot about what it's like to be disabled by watching "Murderball," but mostly, this is a great sports movie and an extremely compelling story.
4.28.05 sfiff, part 4
Film: "Hawaii, Oslo" (dir. by Erik Poppe; Norway, 2004)
The scene: A surprisingly large crowd
Post-festival prospects: Scheduled to play at a handful of U.S. film festivals
A lot of directors want to be "the next Quentin Tarantino"; fewer want to emulate Paul Thomas Anderson. But "Hawaii, Oslo" is so similar to Anderson's "Magnolia" that it's almost distracting. The film contains numerous discrete storylines which occasionally intersect. There's a young couple whose newborn son faces a health crisis; a patient in a mental hospital celebrating his 25th birthday; two orphaned children whose father is about to be buried; and a woman attempting suicide. Other characters come and go, including one man who, it is hinted very early on in the movie, is an angel.
I will admit that I did get caught up in "Hawaii, Oslo," even though there was an impromptu 15-minute break about a half hour in when the film broke and had to be repaired. A lot of the intersections are very clever. Some of the things that happen in the film are never quite explained, or left ambiguous; I wonder if Poppe addressed them in the post-screening Q&A, which we decided to skip because it was 11:45 PM by the time the movie ended.
"Hawaii, Oslo" was the official Norwegian entry to the best foreign film category at the Oscars this year. I was looking for reviews of it online, and Googled my way to a Norwegian web site called Bare Prat. If I'm not mistaken, that means "just talk," but really, bare prat? Now that's funny. Yes, I'm 12.
4.27.05 sfiff, part 3
Film: "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room" (dir. by Alex Gibney; U.S., 2005)
The scene: I don't think it was quite sold out, but very, very close.
Post-festival prospects: Not only is it already showing in New York, but Roger already saw it on TV! I guess Brad Bird was right about the future of "small" films. It opens Friday in Bay Area theaters.
"Enron" is an exceedingly well-made documentary, in that after watching it, you will have a pretty good idea of what happened during one of the biggest scandals in U.S. corporate history. It's a complicated story, and Gibney spins it out in two fast-moving hours, frequently illustrating his points with visual and audio metaphors -- a big bag of money with "$" printed on it, songs like "That Old Black Magic" and "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)," footage of a free-falling skydiver, etc. An audience member took Gibney to task for this in the post-show Q&A, but let's face it, no one wants to see an endless parade of talking heads, even if they are as fetching as Fortune reporter Bethany McLean. The young and pretty McLean was the author of a February 2001 article called "Is Enron Overpriced?" that caused major freak-outs at the company. (McLean went on to co-write, with Peter Elkin, the book upon which this documentary is based.)
"Enron" isn't really a "fun" documentary in the tradition of "Super Size Me" and some of Michael Moore's work, but it has its occasional moments of humor, such as a real-life internal video in which CEO Jeffrey Skilling lampoons his company's creative financing. Overall, though, your reaction to the film is likely to be outrage -- especially when you hear the audio tapes of energy traders chatting on the phone during the California deregulation crisis of 2000. "Burn, baby, burn. That's a beautiful thing," said one trader as a massive wildfire shut down a major transmission line into California, cutting power supplies and raising prices. Another jokes about "all the money you guys stole from those poor grandmothers in California." (Gibney mentioned that you can hear more, much more, at the web site enrontapes.com).
Gibney tries to explain this immorality on a grand scale by including a section on the Stanley Milgram experiment; the clear implication is that Skilling and Enron CFO Andy Fastow were the authority figures who convinced their minions to (figuratively) deliver lethal electric shocks, or (literally) steal from "Grandma Millie" to make more money for the company. (In the film, Ken Lay is an omnipresent but somewhat shadowy figure whose main purpose seems to be to rally the troops and appear in financial magazines; I suppose it's conceivable that he was a pretty hands-off leader, but the film leaves no doubt that Skilling knew exactly what was going on.)
How can we stop it from happening again? Ironically, it goes back to the company's onetime advertising slogan, "Ask why." Writes one reviewer on the IMDB: "As a Houstonian, I admit that I, a supposedly sophisticated business professional, was intimidated by Enron's assertion in its glory days that the reason I didn't understand its business was just that I wasn't smart enough. My friends, managers and lawyers, some from Harvard themselves, also admit to the same intimidation." Greed and hubris will always be with us, but a lot of people, including major investment banks and Wall Street financial analysts, were all too willing to take Enron at their word, as long as their stock price kept going up and up and up.
4.26.05 sfiff, part 2
Film: None, actually; we went to the annual "State of the Cinema" address, which was given this year by "Incredibles" director Brad Bird.
The scene: A respectable turn-out, but there were plenty of seats available. Perhaps "The Incredibles" is too mainstream for the festival crowd; competing attractions included "Holy Lola" ("A French couple heads to Cambodia to adopt a child in Bertrand Tavernier's examination of the First World's childless and the Third World's children, and the histories of class, race and colonialism that come between the two") and the Colombian short film "Dos Hermanos" ("In this direct, expressive piece, two brothers give testimony, in song, about the massacre of their village").
Bird is just too adorable -- he's the quintessential film geek, and while he seemed a little stiff at first (he brought up the old chestnut that more people fear public speaking than death), he quickly warmed to his subject. He stated that "The State of the Cinema" was too lofty a title, and he was renaming his talk "A Bunch of Stuff I Think About Movies."
The points he made were largely about the making and marketing of big-budget movies, and how that's hurt the industry. Pretty much any "event" film, no matter how crummy, can make lots of money these days, because the studio markets the heck out of them and multiplexes have made "sold out" signs a thing of the past. (When I was a kid, if the movie you wanted to see was sold out, you had to come back in two or three hours; now, "XXX: State of the Union" is playing on so many screens at once that you barely even need to bother checking the showtimes before arriving at the theater.) These movies make zillions of dollars their first weekend, and even if attendance falls off sharply during the second weekend, the studio probably has the DVD ready to come out in three or four months. Oh, and for every DVD sold, the studio gets to keep 80% of the profits.
Bird feels it's inevitable that "smaller" films will eventually do most of their business on DVD or on TV, while improved technology will keep people interested in seeing blockbusters on the big screen -- he touted the new advances in 3-D, which George Lucas plans to use for "Star Wars" rereleases. In short, Bird loves giant single-screen movie palaces, Cinemascope, waiting in line to see a movie (it builds anticipation) and popcorn with real butter; he hates movie piracy, the tiny look-alike auditoriums in multiplexes, commercials shown before movies and "sequels to remakes" ("Dr. Doolittle 2" and its ilk). He seems like a very cool guy who definitely deserves his "incredible" success. And have you seen his earlier animated film, "The Iron Giant"? If not, you should.
4.25.05 san francisco international film festival (sfiff), part 1
Film: "5x2" (dir. by François Ozon; France, 2004)
The scene: Sold-out 10 PM screening at the Kabuki. Lots of people lined up outside, waiting for rush seats; festival ushers roamed the aisles until showtime, searching for empty chairs.
Post-festival prospects: Due for limited U.S. released on June 10
Obviously, a lot of people shared my curiosity about the latest film from the gifted young director of "8 Women," "Swimming Pool" and "Under the Sand." "5x2" begins with a couple (played by Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi and Stéphane Freiss) sitting in an office, where a judge is dispassionately reading their divorce agreement. This is the first of the movie's five episodes. However, it's also the last. This is a film that plays out in reverse chronological order. A lot of writers have used this technique (Gaspar Noe's "Irreversible" is a recent example), but Ozon gives it a fresh spin.
I didn't entirely appreciate the subtle genius of "5x2" until after the film, when I could stop and think about what happened between the episodes shown to us. We are only given part of the story; the rest of it is implied. Each new scene turns our expectations and preconceived notions around. At first, for instance, I thought the husband was a total jerk, but his behavior becomes more understandable as the film progresses.
If Ozon was an American director, every top actress in Hollywood would be clamoring to work with him. This is a guy who consistently writes juicy, complex roles for women, and the character of Marion is a veritable feast for Bruni-Tedeschi, who won the Best Actress award at the Venice Film Festival for her work in the film. Oh, and the movie has plenty of nudity, adultery, smoking and wine-drinking -- it is French, after all, c'est vrai.
4.22.05 what can brown do for me?
I pay a premium price for the 125 Records storage unit for two reasons. First, and most important, it prevents me from having to find room for thousands of CDs in our apartment (before renting the unit, I covered the boxes with tablecloths and attempted to make furniture of them). Secondly, I am able to get packages delivered there. Since CD orders tend to be rather bulky, this is extremely useful. After their arrival, I go over to the facility, unlock the door to my unit and voila -- there are all the boxes of our latest CD, stacked nice and neat.
I had been checking the tracking online, and was pleased to see that our latest batch of CDs was on the truck and out for delivery. (It's sort of a stealth release -- I haven't even put it on our web site yet. It's another Jill Tracy reissue, and we do the bulk of our JT biz via CDBaby and Amazon.com.) When they arrived, all I would have to do was go over and fetch a couple boxes of discs to send to our online distributors.
However, a disturbing call from the manager of the storage facility intruded upon my Thursday afternoon. The delivery truck had arrived, and my nine boxes of Jill Tracy CDs were aboard. The driver absolutely refused to take them to my unit, saying the company's policy regarding storage centers had changed. (I'm not going to name this company, but they are very closely associated with this color.) He would have to leave the boxes by the entrance. The facility's office is tiny, so there was no room for them in there.
The manager called the delivery firm's local office, and the person he spoke to there said the driver was wrong -- there was no such "new" policy. There was some back-and-forth with the driver, the upshot being that the guy went on his merry way, leaving my boxes just inside the gate.
I had no choice but to hoof it over to the storage facility (Joe had driven our car to work yesterday), borrow their cumbersome four-wheeled dolly (I usually bring my own, easier-to-maneuver two-wheeler when I drive there), and haul 250 pounds of Jill Tracy CDs all by my lonesome. The manager gave me the name and number of the guy he'd spoken with at the delivery company's office. When I got home, I rang him up and he confirmed that the driver was wrong and apologized for the inconvenience. There was really nothing more that could be done at that point; instead of crying, "Revenge, I want revenge!," I said OK and hung up.
On the up side, I suppose, all that walking and manual labor burned the calories I consumed Wednesday night at the ballpark -- yes, I finally succumbed to the lure of the garlic fries.
4.21.05 everything is relative
We went to see the Giants play the Arizona Diamondbacks last night, and the Giants lost, 2-1. It was the first time I have ever gone to a Giants game where the team has lost, so it was very disillusioning. I thought my very occasional presence at SBC Park served as some kind of a magic talisman for them. However, I blame the fact that Mike Matheny was catching instead of Yorvit (who did come in as a pinch runner in the bottom of the ninth -- too late, too late!).
Anyway, it was cold in the stadium. I was wearing a fleece-lined parka, hat and gloves, and I was still cold. The guy sitting next to me ducked out in the third inning and bought a stadium blanket. The concession stands must do great business selling blankets and sweatshirts. I'm surprised they don't offer balaclavas (hey, this one is even in the Giants' colors!). When I took my gloves off after the game, my fingertips were numb.
As I draped an extra sweatshirt over my legs (I always bring an entire canvas tote filled with warm clothing), Joe mused about the people who attend Green Bay Packers football games in the middle of winter. I realized at that moment that it was probably around 50 degrees in the ballpark (the city low yesterday was 48, according to the weather page in the morning paper). The record low for a December in Green Bay was 27 below zero, set on Dec. 19, 1983. I have no idea if that was a Sunday, but if it was, there's a good chance that people were sitting at Lambeau Field, watching the Packers.
I admit it -- those of us who live here are weather wimps. A citizen of Green Bay would probably have been kickin' back last night in shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go brew a mug of hot tea. It's chilly in my office today.
4.20.05 pyramids (not like the one pictured on this page)
I tried to find out how to make healthier food choices from the new government web site MyPyramid.gov: "For a quick estimate of what and how much you need to eat, enter your age, sex, and activity level in the MyPyramid Plan box." Unfortunately, after waiting and waiting for my personalized advice to show up, I finally got the following error message: "Gateway Timeout. The proxy server did not receive a timely response from the upstream server."
I thought the government would be here to help me! Oh well -- I guess this means it's OK to keep eating Pop Tarts, Cheetos and Ben & Jerry's until the Dept. of Agriculture gets some more servers up and running.
4.18.05 the merry-go-round of doom
Joe's dad lives within walking distance of the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto, which makes me incredibly envious. The Stanford is one of the most unusual, and delightful, movie palaces in America, and it's a real gift to the people of the Bay Area. It's owned by a nonprofit organization, the David and Lucille Packard Foundation. David Packard, an heir to the Hewlett-Packard fortune, is extremely active in the film preservation movement, and the Stanford is the place where his rare and restored gems are shown. The theater plays nothing but classic films -- for the most part, if it was made after 1965, it will never screen at the Stanford.
A beautifully restored, single-screen theater, the Stanford seats around 1,100 patrons. For a mere six bucks, you can enjoy a double feature, with live organ music before and after many of the films. Last night, following a visit with his dad, Joe and I went to see 1951's "Strangers on a Train," part of the theater's current Alfred Hitchcock festival. Unfortunately, since it was getting late, we had to forgo the second film on the bill, "Sabotage." I'd never managed to catch "Strangers" before -- I prefer not to watch movies on a TV set, so usually, I have to wait until something I want to see screens theatrically. (I saw "Some Like It Hot" for the first time at the Stanford a few years ago.)
There are plenty of elements in "Strangers" that seem odd to us in 2005 -- can you imagine the media circus that would ensue today if a popular tennis star was accused of killing his wife so that he could marry his mistress? -- but it's still a great film, particularly the merry-go-round set piece near the end. Robert Walker, who died at the age of 32 shortly after completing "Strangers," is marvelously creepy as spoiled momma's boy Bruno, and Hitchcock's daughter Patricia has a nice comic turn in the perky-kid-sis role of Barbara. Hey, David Packard, any chance your foundation would consider buying the late, lamented UC Theater in Berkeley...?
4.15.05 betty's page
The faux Life magazine ("Imitation of Life" -- har har) that comes with the paper every Friday today featured a gallery of Betty Crocker images. There was the original 1936 Betty, and all the subsequent Bettys -- the Eleanor Roosevelt model of 1955, Pat Nixon Betty from 1972, and 1986's Working Woman Betty, complete with one of those hideous big floppy bows on her blouse. However, the "new" Betty really gave me a start. I am now older than Betty Crocker.
Take a look at her -- doesn't she seem to be, at most, 32 or 33 years old? The original Betty was invented to answer women's questions about baking ("In 1921, managers decided that it would be more intimate to sign the responses personally; they combined the last name of a retired company executive, William Crocker, with the first name 'Betty,' which was thought of as 'warm and friendly.'"). Honestly, would you trust New Betty to solve your cooking problems? This Betty is no culinary expert; she's a soccer mom who whips up a batch of Cheesy Nacho Hamburger Helper on weeknights, and "spices things up" with Old El Paso tacos on weekends -- or, if she's really feeling ambitious, Lip-Smackin' Bar-B-Q Chicken Bake.
There are lots of questions and answers about food on the official Betty Crocker site, but New Betty seems to be more an asker than an answerer. She looks like the kind of gal who might call the company's 800 number to query, regarding Hamburger Helper, "Why isn't the sauce saucy enough?" (Answer: "You may not have added enough liquid. To measure the liquid, place a liquid measuring cup on your counter, pour in the liquid, bend down and check the amount at eye level.")
I prefer a culinary icon I can learn from, not one I'm supposed to identify with. Celeste, at least, looks like she could bake a pizza from scratch if necessary.
4.14.05 when francesco met sally
Imagine meeting a guy at a party and being bowled over by his wit and charm. Afterwards, you ask a friend, "Who was that? He's the funniest guy I've ever met!" Then she tells you that he's a gag writer for Carrot Top. Or that he co-authored some crummy Whoopi Goldberg movie you saw on a plane once.
That's sort of my experience with Francesco Marciuliano, who writes a hilarious web comic called Medium Large, and a gut-bustingly funny blog called Drink At Work. His links page shows him to be a fan of a number of my favorite performers, including the Arcade Fire, Demetri Martin and Patton Oswalt.
Here's the thing, though: Marciuliano is the guy who writes Sally Forth. I have always found that strip to be about as funny as a toothache. It's not in the lowest circle of funnies hell with The Lockhorns and B.C., but it has always bugged me, because (a) it has week-long story arcs, and the first panel of each day's strip always has to contain a recap of The Story So Far; and (b) the patented Sally Forth Sly Look at the end of every strip drives me nuts ("If you see someone giving their newspaper the finger, there is a good chance that it is directed at Ms. Forth's condescending half-closed eyes, and the clever quip that is inevitably attached," wrote one reader of The Comics Curmudgeon).
So it turns out that the original writer/artist of Sally Forth, a guy named Greg Howard, retired from the biz and sold the rights to his creation, then probably used the profits to buy a private island somewhere in the Pacific. Marciuliano was hired by the syndicate to carry on. It must be a tough job. But we do what we have to do to pay the bills. It's not like every web site I create is a work of deathless genius. And Marciuliano's links page does help explain why Ted Forth was wearing that Sonic Youth T-shirt in a story arc last year.
4.13.05 i confess
For some reason, my readership numbers have been way down recently. I need to make this blog hot again. I'm generally not the type of person who uses her blog as a forum for soul-baring -- if you're into that sort of thing, check out Ayelet Waldman, whose recent New York Times piece on how much she still loves getting it on with her hubby, novelist Michael Chabon, was the topic of much shocked & horrified discussion in my book group last week. But I realize that sometimes it's important to open oneself up. Confession is good for the soul. So here goes:
I'm addicted to the Michael Jackson trial coverage on E!
Yes, I realize that's shocking news. A trial dealing with the possible sexual exploitation of young boys by a serial pedophile is no laughing matter. But honestly, there's no guiltier pleasure on TV right now. See for yourself -- it airs every weeknight at 7:30 PM, with a one-hour wrap-up on Saturdays.
I was lured into the seamy world of this sensational trial when Joe and I were in Mexico last month. We retired early on Saturday night in preparation for our early Sunday departure to Chichen Itza. Joe was channel-surfing until I spotted an extraordinary image and made him stop. Michael Jackson was sitting behind a desk, watching impassively as a lawyer with a mane of long white hair cross-examined a young witness. Everything was, of course, subtitled in Spanish, which made it all the more surreal.
We had stumbled upon a marathon of "The Michael Jackson Trial: An E! News Presentation," a series which presents reenactments of the day's courtroom events (cameras are barred from the courtroom). The man in the courtroom wasn't really Michael, but an incredible simulation -- Jackson impersonator Edward Moss, a white guy who has what must be simultaneously the weirdest and dullest job in show biz. Every day, he has to get into full Jackson regalia, and then he just has to sit there. Unless Jackson himself takes the stand, Moss must restrict his "acting" to an occasional raised eyebrow or incredulous glance. His biggest moments came in mid-March, when Jackson arrived late to the trial, dressed in jammies; this called for Moss to look disoriented and groggy. A couple days later, Jackson actually broke down and wept in court, which Moss depicted by sobbing theatrically into a wad of Kleenex. Since then, though, he's been restricted to keeping a blank expression on his face, despite some fairly sordid testimony.
Guiding the viewer through the legal machinations are a panel of four attorneys. Two of them are out-and-out Jackson apologists: young and beautiful Shawn Chapman Holley, she of the ever-changing hairstyles and a member of the Johnnie Cochran Firm; and old and crotchety Howard L. Weitzman, who served on Jackson's legal team in the early 1990s. Rikki Klieman is the resident skeptic. My choice for the real breakout star of the trial coverage is James Curtis, the genial host, who seems to be the only person who realizes that the E! coverage is, let's face it, kind of campy and silly. He always has a twinkle in his eye, and while he probably doesn't write them himself, his transitions between the panel discussions and reenactments are frequently clever (sample: "The Jesus Juice apparently overfloweth on the return to Neverland").
So tonight, pour yourself some Jesus Juice (Jackson's term for a soda can filled with merlot) and tune into E! And keep your fingers crossed that the real Jacko will eventually give testimony, or at least do something, anything, in the courtroom. Otherwise, it's going to be a very long trial indeed for Edward Moss.
4.10.05 from thailand to italy
Yesterday, we traversed deserts, mountain ranges and frozen tundra until we finally reached the Balboa, where we saw Part II of "The Best of Youth." Before the show we ate at a restaurant across the street called Thai Nation, the sort of unpretentious neighborhood joint which serves up delicious food for extremely low prices (around $7 for an enormous plate of spicy wide noodles, tofu and vegetables). Thai food and a movie -- honestly, if this place was in my time zone, I'd be there all the time.
Anyway, I realize that a lot of Americans fear foreign films. But they don't all feature impenetrable plots, scary clowns and chess matches with the Grim Reaper. "Youth" plays like a good old-fashioned potboiler, featuring a pair of lovers so obviously meant to be together that when they finally kissed, approximately 5 hours and 58 minutes into the six-hour film, someone in the audience actually exclaimed, "Finally!"
For me, a person who has been glued to seven seasons of "The Amazing Race" due to the global travelogue aspect as much as the personalities involved, Part II of "Youth" played like a three-hour ad for the Italian Tourism Board. There is absolutely breathtaking scenery of Tuscany, Palermo, Rome and Florence in this film. Ciao bella Italia!
4.8.05 dammit, mamet, we love you
Who is the most popular playwright in the Bay Area? Despite his having died about 400 years ago, I'd have to say Willie the Shakes is still #1 with a bullet. We've got all-gal Shakespeare, Black Shakespeare, classic Shakespeare and modern Shakespeare. A couple years ago, we even had Simpsons-style Shakespeare. There's no escaping the Bard, baby!
Among the living, however, I'd declare a tie between Tom Stoppard and David Mamet. The witty and erudite Englishman and the blunt but eclectic American are both beloved by San Francisco audiences. In my five-plus years as an active theatergoer, I've been able to catch up with quite a few plays from each man's oeuvre.
Both men have deep attachments to this city. Several Stoppard plays have made their American debuts here. Mamet chose to premiere his "Dr. Faustus" here last year (to, putting it mildly, mixed reviews), and now he has adapted the Edwardian play "The Voysey Inheritance" for a current production at A.C.T. I've never seen the original "Voysey," which was written by Harley Granville-Barker, but apparently Mamet cut an hour from the running time, scrapped a character or two and added a new one, and placed all the action within one gorgeously appointed set.
"Voysey" deals with one of Mamet's favorite subjects, a swindle. Turns out Mr. Voysey isn't quite the pillar of society everyone thinks he is -- his firm, which provides legal & investment services to the very rich, is crooked; he's been embezzling from his clients' accounts for years. He's able to pay them their interest, but most of the principle is long gone. His son Edward, who has become a partner in the firm, is absolutely horrified when he discovers the ruse. When his father dies, he has to decide what to do: should he come clean, which will probably ruin his family and land him in jail to boot, or try to continue the deception?
A.C.T. favorite Anthony Fusco has a plum role in Edward, who is a bit prissy and ever so morally upright -- he reminded me a bit of "Frasier"'s Niles Crane. Edward's dysfunctional clan is counting on him to keep bringing in the dough. Compared to spending another holiday with this lot, perhaps jail doesn't seem so bad.
The play moves swiftly and ends satisfyingly. And if it's not quite Mametian enough to please the playwright's die-hard fans here, fear not; just as "Voysey" opened, A.C.T. announced its 2005-06 season of plays -- including Mamet's 1974 classic, "Sexual Perversity in Chicago"... and, for the Shakespeare aficionados, "King Lear." As for Stoppard, I'm sure one of his plays will pop up at a local theater sometime soon.
4.7.05 a genuine offer
I got a lovely note from Brian Copeland, who must have been Googling himself. I've written a couple of times about his wonderful show, "Not A Genuine Black Man." Anyway, Copeland wanted to invite me to come back and see the show again and meet him afterwards. Anyone out there wanna go with me? It's free! It's near BART! And it's an excellent show -- as accused serial pedophile Michael Jackson once sang, "It don't matter if you're black or white." Drop me a line if you're interested. (Joe has seen it already.)
I finally got a new cell phone. It's a tiny Motorola with a built-in camera. Unfortunately, I haven't figured out a way to send the photos from the phone to the computer without paying $50 for Motorola's Phone Tools software (for the record, that's more than twice what I paid for the phone), so for the time being, this blog will be free of tiny, blurry phonecam pictures.
4.4.05 the movie theater at the end of the continent
Quick takes on the weekend's entertainment:
Friday night: Giants-A's exhibition game. My favorite player hit a triple, the Giants won 4-3 in the 10th, and I once again managed to resist the lure of the garlic fries (considering that the smell of delicious garlic perfumes the stadium air, that is quite a feat). The only thing that could have made it better is if the game had actually counted. Fun thing to do early in the season: note how much prices have gone up. Eight bucks for a plastic cup of domestic beer? Five dollars for an ice-cream sandwich? It is an outrage! I'm sure my mom, a longtime foe of concession-stand rip-offs, will be proud to hear that I brought my own bottle of water and bag of pretzels.
Saturday: Those of you with long memories may recall that back in January, I lamented the fact that I hadn't attended this year's Film Noir Festival because the theater hosting it was so darn far away. On Saturday, we decided to make the long trek to that theater, the Balboa, to see the Italian epic "The Best of Youth." This is a six-hour film that looks at the history of modern Italy through the eyes of two brothers: one a policeman, the other a psychiatrist. "The Best of Youth" has been getting rave reviews. There was a huge throng of people there to see it, so I'm not sure why it's only playing at this one distant theater. How do you get to the Balboa? Drive west, and keep driving west, and drive and drive some more until you're almost, but not quite, at the ocean.
Anyway, because "The Best of Youth" is being shown in two parts, we are going to have to drive all the way back there again sometime this week to see Part II. "Youth" is very much a slice-of-life movie -- Part I introduces the characters and covers the period from 1966-1980. I have an inkling that Part II will be much more dramatic. I'm especially interested in the story of the psychiatrist's wife, a Daryl Hannah-in-"Blade Runner" lookalike who deserts her Rob Morrow lookalike husband and daughter to join the Red Brigade. "Youth" was originally made for Italian TV, so it should play well on DVD, just in case you don't want to commit yourself to spending six hours in a movie theater (yes, it is possible to see both parts in a single day, if you don't have a dog waiting for you at home). Because we were so close to the ocean, we followed the film with a brief visit to the Sutro Baths ruins so I could see the roiling waters of the Pacific up close and personal.
Sunday: Went to Potrero Hill's Thick House to see the Encore Theater Company production of "The Typographer's Dream." The play is set up as a panel discussion among three professionals: a typographer, a geographer and a stenographer. Overall, I found it all a bit too precious and mannered, but I loved the stenographer's riff on his high school typing class (I was the star pupil in my typing class, so I could identify!), and while all three actors were excellent, I especially enjoyed Jamie Jones' performance as the overbearing Canadian geographer. For the first hour or so, she is the consummate schoolmarmish lecturer, but then in a flashback, she shows quite a different side of herself. "The Typographer's Dream" closed yesterday, but its compact 75-minute running time and sparse set (one long table, three chairs) should make it popular with community and college theater groups.
First off, don't believe everything you read... especially on April 1, which is one of my favorite days of the year. I thought the deliberate misspelling ("proofred") was a big tip-off, but I'm glad I can still fool some of the people some of the time.
On Thursday, Joe and I went to Berkeley's Freight and Salvage to see Cheryl Wheeler. The Freight is a folk music club, and except for the folk music and tortuously hard chairs, it offers everything I love in a venue: 8 PM showtimes, a quick 10 minute drive from my home, and at least 25 different varieties of tea on tap. I should really become a bigger fan of folk music. Cheryl Wheeler is, technically, a folk musician, but that description seems somehow inadequate; it's like saying that Martha Stewart is kinda handy with a glue gun.
Cheryl Wheeler is an absolutely brilliant live performer. I happened to see her a few years ago, when I lived in Baltimore, and was blown away by her storytelling ability, both in her songs and between them. She can be screamingly funny and have the audience in stitches, and then play a song so heartbreaking that everyone will be rooting around for a Kleenex. One of the songs she performed is a love song she wrote for her partner called "Gandhi/Buddha"; the chorus goes:
I must've been Gandhi or Buddha or someone like that,
So we were all sitting there going "Awwww!" and squeezing our own partners' hands. Then Cheryl immediately played her self-deprecating "answer" song, which is supposedly written from her partner's point of view:
I must've been Hitler or Satan or someone like that
Seriously, if you have the opportunity to see her live, you won't regret it (heads up, people in Oregon, Washington, Texas and Maine!). I know Joe wasn't quite sure why I was dragging him to see a fiftysomething folk artist he'd never heard of, but he thoroughly enjoyed the evening. Cheryl's opening act/keyboard player, Kenny White, is outstanding as well.
4.1.05 see you in the funny pages
To my loyal readers:
As many of you know, I spent several years as a professional journalist before deciding to jump into the digital wonderland. Since I still enjoy writing, however, I started this blog to provide myself with an outlet. I honestly didn't think it would lead to anything bigger, but I just received this e-mail:
I am sure you are aware that the San Francisco Chronicle is always looking for fresh, young voices. Several of the editors here have been reading your blog, and we would like to offer you a position as a features columnist.
We are particularly interested in your perspective as a dog owner, since Jon Carroll has been writing about his cats for decades now. While the cat columns are still popular, San Francisco is one of the most dog-friendly cities in the U.S. Man's best friend needs more of a voice in the Chronicle!
Your blog entries are always very well written and proofred, which fits in with our cost-cutting mandate (copy editors are expensive). We need more columnists who are able to produce good, clean copy without a lot of editorial hand-holding.
We would like you to start writing two columns a week, effective immediately. If you are interested in this position, please call me at your earliest convenience.
Best regards, and I look forward to welcoming you to the Chronicle team!
Keep checking this page, and I'll be sure to let you know when my first column is due to appear! Unfortunately, this means I won't be able to do much blog writing from now on, but I'm sure you will understand. Frankly, I need the money. High quality dog food doesn't grow on trees, you know.
All content © 2004-05 by Sue Trowbridge.