Monday, May 30, 2005

Mad Hot Ballroom

This is one of those films that very quickly connects with the audience, and before you know it everyone is laughing, holding their collective breath, and bursting into applause at the moment of victory for - well, I won't tell you who, because that would ruin the suspense. "Mad Hot Ballroom" can only be described as "Spellbound" for dance competitions - and I know this because every single reviewer I checked out made that comparison. Well, yeah - documentary, kids from diverse backgrounds, competition, humor, compassion, championship, winner. Check, check, check, all there. It's a different kind of film, though, because it's solely about NYC school kids, albeit from 3 very different (economically and racially) areas: Washington Heights (poor, mostly Dominican), Tribeca (rich, mostly white), and Bensonhurst (middle class, half traditional Italian and - who knew? - half from the Asian population that has grown to dominate the neighborhood over the past five years, according to the film's website.) As much as the movie tells us about these fifth graders learning to ball room dance, it also gives glimpses into the thoughts and dreams of a pretty vocal group of pre-teens. Some of them are just amazing. And some of them can really dance!

It made me want to go home and put on a record and dance the merengue.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Almost summer

Even in a densely populated area of Brooklyn, the birds are singing in the sunshine this morning. With the windows open, and the light traffic for this time of day, I can almost imagine I am in a more wooded place... and then the light changes up the block and a garbage truck roars past.

This Memorial Day weekend is also the first sunny warm weekend in awhile; although not the first of the season, the intervening weekends have been cold or cloudy or outright rainy. I hope most people are flocking to beaches and weekend homes - I want to enjoy the city in relative peace.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Podcast Obsessed

I've become addicted to podcasts. I listen as I walk to and from work, as I work out at the gym, and if I'm traveling, on a train or plane. I've tried a bunch of them and found a handful that I enjoy, so they are on my regular subscription download list. Some of these people are seriously funny and entertaining - some not - but I've found enough quality ones to keep my iPod filled.

There is something a bit odd about having a voice in your ear that is essentially a guy sitting alone talking to his computer. It's very - intimate, I guess. Rather like blogging - there's this sense that he's just putting himself out there, in a very private yet very public way. Anyone can listen, and yet, maybe no one is. He can sit at his desk and say anything and the next day some woman in Australia can download it and listen as she rides her bike to work.

So it's easy, in much the same way as it is when reading blogs, to imagine that the person is talking just to you, that nobody else reads or listens. Today I listened to one of my favorite bloggers - Dan Klass from The Bitterest Pill apologize for being slow in getting a new podcast out and then for not having anything solid to say, but then simply said that he felt like he'd not called a friend in awhile and so just wanted to touch base and say hi. It was weird, because it felt like that - like he was just calling in to say, hey! how are you, I am fine, let's not let so much time pass next time.

Someone once told me I had an FM voice. And I think I have enough to talk about that I could actually fill the time. But I don't know - the shy person in me is terrified at the thought of it. And yet, here I am, putting words out there in another format? What is the difference, really?

Sunday, May 15, 2005

From the Capitol

I was in DC last week. Yes, at the same time a plane innocently flew in restricted airspace and sent the city - or at least the federal offices in the city - into a tailspin. (Local news on the hotel tv the next morning featured the mayor furious because he hadn't been informed of what was going on until after the fact.) I was stuck in the basement of a hotel a mile or so from the White House, ably manning a booth in an exhibit hall that seemed like a dungeon, but in retrospect is probably a safe place to be.

Anyhow. On the first day, I had several free hours and so wandered out to walk the city. You don't know how refreshing it is to be at a conference in a real city, surrounded by everyday people doing their everyday things in their everyday lives - as opposed to the resort hotels where the last two conferences were, where everyone you see is a fellow conference attendee, spouse of same, or a hotel/service worker. And there is nowhere to go outside of the resort, not that you especially need to since they give you so much there. But Washington, D.C. is a real city! And so I grabbed a map from the concierge and started walking, past cool bookstores and cafes and people, people, people!

I decided to head for the Washington Monument, out of nostalgia over my h.s. trip to DC, and after about a mile and a quarter made it to the White House. A large group of h.s. kids was standing at the fence in front, posing for pictures. You know the drill: there are 30 kids, so at least 30 cameras need to be used so everyone gets the picture, and the parents/teachers/chaperones were diligently juggling cameras at the edge of the sidewalk across from them. When you live in a city that attracts tourists, you learn to either barrel through these moments, photos be damned, or you pause and wait out of politeness. When it's that many cameras, it's harder to wait, so I decided to just slip behind the adults and move on. I didn't notice the curb was right there (since the street is closed to traffic, the line between sidewalk and street is somewhat figurative) and, once again, splat! This time my ankle held up, but I landed hard on my right knee, and just as hard on my left hand, which was holding my camera. Let me rephrase that - the camera slammed into the cement with my hand on top of it.

Two parents asked if I was okay, to which I answered, "I don't know yet," having learned from my ankle fall that an initial embarrassment-avoiding "I'm fine" isn't necessarily productive. But other than a large bloody scrape on my knee, it appeared I was fine. I hobbled over to a bench in the facing park and tested my camera. That, too, seemed to be working fine. (I was smart when I bought my digital camera, avoiding the trendy slim silver models because they seemed so flimsy, I chose a big boxy rubber-covered one that might be heavier, but is relatively indestructible.)

Now, as you know, the White House is surrounded by police, security offices, Secret Service, what have you. Two uniformed men stood about 200 feet from where I fell, leaning lazily on the hood of their car, watching. I would like to think that if I hadn't been able to stand up, but just lie there, they would have come over - even if not to offer assistance, at least to confirm I wasn't carrying a bomb or acting as a diversion so that someone else could scale the fence, etc. But no, no reaction. I imagine Secret Service sitting behind tv monitors laughing as I went down. I am pretty confident that if I had shouted, "Bush is a crook and a liar!" as I tumbled, they might have come over.

It's five days later, and my knee still hurts. The bruise is turning purple to yellow-green, and the scrape (roughly the size of a poker chip) hurts like mad when it is touched by water, bedsheets, or clothing.

Oh, and after that I didn't go to the Monument. I made my way to a Starbucks bathroom and washed up, then to a CVS to buy a box of large square band-aids. See what I mean about the comfort of being in a city? Never too far from a public restroom or a drug store.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Yup, it's me.

Wanna make your own South Park character? Check out this cool site!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Random Thought

I am on a business trip, staying at a Hilton hotel. Am I the only one who walks around the hotel thinking, are they embarrassed to be associated with Paris?

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Three Films and a Girl

I just finished another Netflix movie and realize I have fallen behind in my little critiques. Because you're just dying for my opinions, right? Trendsetter that I am - pinnacle of discriminating taste.

Tonight was "Finding Neverland," a film many people have told me was wonderful, a film I just had to see. I need to figure out who those people were and make a mental note not to listen to them again. I was really bored. I feel like it gave me nothing beyond the story I already knew - struggling playwright meets family with four boys, has fun with them, writes successful play. Yawn. Everything around that was just sentimental hooey. I hate sentimental hooey. I don't like sappy sickbed scenes and romantic deaths and profound little kids. The most interesting part of the movie for me was seeing Johnny Depp with Freddy Highmore and thinking, "Oh, yes, there they are, Willy Wonka and Charlie. That should be a good film." Maybe it would have been different if I'd seen it in a theater instead of my living room TV, so that the fantasy/play scenes would have been more magical. I don't know.

Last weekend I watched "The Big Lebowski," which I'd never seen, and while it was somewhat entertaining, its reputation was too big for it to live up to, I think. Or maybe you really have to be stoned to appreciate it.

Before that it was "At Home at the End of the World," which, I realized quickly, was the first film I'd seen Colin Farrell in other than "Minority Report," and I don't think of that as a Colin Farrell film. So I was surprised to find I liked him. Yeah, there was a bad wig for the first half of his role, but then Robin Wright Penn gave him a super-trendy (fit for 2005, though cut in the 80's - how prescient of her!) cut and he was very cute. I think I did the film a disservice by watching it in fits and starts, because my overall reaction was that it was somewhat disjointed. I think though it wasn't just because I didn't sit down and watch it start to finish. I think it is a much fuller novel that had its highlights lifted into film, hoping to capture the overall life of the book. That's how it felt to me, and I didn't even read the book first. I'm reading it now, though, because I want to know what was missing (because it really felt like so much was missing.) So far, I have been proven right - so much more has happened in the novel already. Not that you can't take a longer novel and trim it to a screenplay, but I think it's hard to be successful at it.

I was interested to see Robin Wright Penn, who might not be as old as her husband (see my sad commentary on his sudden agedness in "The Interpreter" in a previous post) but is still quite a bit older than the leading men in the film. She's supposed to be, of course; her character is just that much older so it was cast correctly. The problem is she doesn't look her age, so it wasn't really believable to me that she was an older woman with them.

I guess I liked it, or else I wouldn't bother reading the book after seeing the movie. There are moments in the film that haunt me, and I think that's Michael Cunningham's genius. I loved "The Hours" (well, except for boring Nicole Kidman's story) and I am incredibly drawn to his themes of parenthood and abandonment, of family and loss of family.

I need to get off my lazy ass and write more.

Podcasts, again

I'm still wandering around in Podcast land (well, literally in Podcast Alley) looking for podcasts that I like enough to subscribe to for regular downloads. I figured out that my problem with most of them is just that they're stupid-funny, not smart-funny, and I'm just spoiled. I listen to "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" on NPR every weekend, and I laugh constantly. Yeah, I get it, the difference between amateur and professional, but I think these podcasters consider themselves professional even if their offerings are free. Some are comics, writers, performers. But the simple fact that two relatively funny people sit around every day with a computer microphone doesn't automatically mean they can produce an hour worth listening to. The one show I do like okay is only done once a week, which I think is what makes the difference. They seem to have used their time to prepare. Rehearse, script, whatever - they seem to have it together and it shows.

I also wonder if having the freedom to swear gets in the way of being funny. You don't have to think too much about what to say if you are allowed to say absolutely anything that's in your brain. And maybe the problem is that I don't think that swearing or poop jokes are funny in and of themselves, so I'm missing half of the intended humor.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

WWGD (What Would Garner Do?)

What do you do when your new boss, the new head of marketing & communications, who has a background in public relations, says grammatically incorrect things like, "Between you and I..." Correct her? Look for another job? Cry? Laugh?

Sunday, May 01, 2005


I'm sure I'm not the only person who has felt that entire stories could be written using just the bits of conversation overheard on cell phones. But now I've discovered a website that's capturing some of the best tidbits (as well as non-cell conversations between people in public): Overheard in New York

It took me awhile to get used to people walking down the street talking on a hands-free headset; without the crooked arm and flash of silver at the ear, they just look like any other crazy person talking to themselves. Especially the ones who stare right at you as they talk. But what's scarier, now that I've gotten used to that, is when I pass an actual crazy person who is rambling on to himself, and I assume he's on a headset until I get closer and the little bit of natural fear and recoil comes rushing back.
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