Thursday, August 28, 2008

Ancestors, Cut Girls

On Monday I had planned a vacation day but I had to work in the morning. I planned on being there all day, but then about noon, having accomplished the major necessities, I simply shut down my computer and took off.

It felt like playing hooky. And it felt great.

I wound up at a computer store where I bought a new version of family tree software. My genealogy bug has been reawakened after a woman with a similar last name contacted me on Facebook to see if we're related. I've done a great deal of research in the past, mostly before the internet made it easy (and if you think I feel superior about that, you are right - I have the hours logged into the state library reading microfiche to give me real cred.)

Anyhow, last night I was overjoyed to find that my existing files easily imported into the new software, and even better, that the new program has direct links to the internet so as you navigate to a person on your family tree a note pops up telling you if information on that person has been found. Just last night I found my grandfather's military record and my great-great grandfather's passport application.

But before I came home, I took my bag of goodies (also including ink jet cartridges and a laptop cooling pad) and went to a movie. Yes! On a Monday afternoon! I saw "A Girl Cut In Two" ("La Fille Coupee en Deux"), a, you guessed it, French film, and an interesting companion piece to "Elegy." Both center on an older literary man involved with a much younger and beautiful woman. But "Girl," tells the story from the girl's point of view, and the man is clearly not as emotionally savaged by the relationship as Ben Kingsley's professor in "Elegy." There's also a rival for the Girl's heart in a young self-centered playboy who pursues her relentlessly, until one of the three is driven to murder.

"A Girl Cut In Two" is less solemn than "Elegy" with characters that are somewhat farcical. I found that there is a strange old-fashioned rhythm to the movie, for example, in the way scenes end abruptly after something happens.

The female star, Ludivine Sagnier, was in "Swimming Pool," a great mystery from a few years back, but now she strikes me mostly as an eerie doppelganger of Blake Lively's ("Gossip Girl.")

I've since learned the film is a French variation on "The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing," a 1955 film starring Joan Crawford which I've yet to see, based on a true story about the man who designed the arch in NYC's Washington Square Park. (Yes, that film is now in my Netflix queue.)

The reviews all take note of the age of the director (Claude Chabrol), who is nearing 80. If I were a better film student, I'd understand his being described as a master of the "nouvelle vague" (French New Wave) movement, but the dirty truth is I'm just someone who goes to movies and doesn't know as much about them as she pretends to.

The most ridiculous thing

Yesterday I received a check for $366, a refund from the gas company. So today, not understanding the reasoning for this, I called. According to the customer service person, I made an extra payment of $366 on the gas account for my old apartment recently, so they are sending me back the money.

Really? Isn't this something I'd remember doing?

My regular gas bill is about $25, every other month. I had an invoice for an 11 cent adjustment recently for the old apartment (I believe because the new tenant moved in and they did a physical meter read) but there is no way I overpaid that by $366, as the customer service rep suggested. But I also can't imagine that a new tenant would be stupid enough to make a payment of $366 to them upon first moving in.

He told me that maybe I should think of it as an early Christmas present.

Yes. Basically, he told me that it's mine to keep.

I don't think that's true - if even a year from now, they wake up and notice that the $366 payment was erroneously credited to my account, they are going to come after me for it.

Yet I can't help but feel this is karma payback for all of the stress the other utilities companies put me through when I moved in.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


My last post was my 1,000th. Let that sink in for a bit...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Count to date

I keep forgetting to update the movie list in the right column. But I'm now up to 35 films so far this year. On track to beat last year's record of 65 (my "year" is the Oscar year, so roughly late February to late February - most of January and February is me catching up on films released in the prior year that I didn't want to see until they garnered nominations.)

So, yeah, Elegy.

I've left comments about this movie on a few other blogs already this morning, and feel like I've said all I need to. Bottom line is I really wanted to like "Elegy," and for much of the time I did. It's beautifully shot and acting is very good: Ben Kingsley, Dennis Hopper, Peter Saarsgaard*, Patricia Clarkson, Penelope Cruz. This could easily have fallen onto less accomplished shoulders and been a true disaster.

But, I would have been okay with it if it had ended, oh, about 20 minutes earlier than it did. The ending was painful - cliched, maudlin, dull. It annoyed me and made me want to bail.

There is a moment just before it goes south when Kingsley's character drops a racquet ball and it rolls to rest against the wall. I held my breath for a second then, thinking, could this be the ending? A quiet ending that left us with the characters' lives as unresolved and messy as they were when the film started? Now that would have been a movie I'd wanted to have seen, but sadly, it kept going.

Oddly, I thought the stronger love story was between Kingsley's and Hopper's characters. Their final scene together was raw and complex and beautiful.

* Yes, I know I have one too many "a's" in there, but ever since he's been with Maggie Gyllenhaaaaal I can't help it. I love him, although his trademark sleepy expression is in full force here - has their daughter still not yet learned to sleep through the night?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Workin' and the movies...

I am stuck working this weekend. At home, in intermittent bursts, but still working. My time and schedule is not my own. At first, when I was asked to help with a project late yesterday, I felt the familiar annoyance and stress, but then let go. It's part of the job. I just got promoted, just found out what my new salary and bonus will be, and I have to accept that these rare occasions of giving up personal time are necessary.

So far, hasn't been too bad. An hour of computer time, and soon an hour conference call. In between I managed to get to the gym, do laundry, and eat lunch.

And I slipped in a movie yesterday - a summer Friday afternoon escape that is becoming habit. Yesterday it was "Hamlet 2," the comedy starring Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener, Amy Poehler, and Elizabeth Shue (as Elizabeth Shue.)

I love Steve Coogan ("A Cock and Bull Story" and all the Alan Partridge material especially) and at least this gives him more screen time than his abbreviated role in the other opening film ("Tropic Thunder.") The reviews seem to be mixed, and my reaction is as well: when it's funny, "Hamlet 2" can be hilarious, but the humor and the pacing is uneven, and the overall result is a mishmash. Is it meant to be slapstick? The repeated bonking on the head of a young high school girl and the "hilarious" sight of Coogan's character drunkenly attempting to enter a liquor store on roller blades seem to pint that way. But other times, it's smartly funny (hard not to be smart when your leading ladies are Keener and Poehler.) Elizabeth Shue as Elizabeth Shue - not quite as fun as Neil Patrick Harris as Neil Patrick Harris in the Harold and Kumar movies, but not terribly distracting either.

Last weekend I saw both "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and "Tropic Thunder." "Vicky" was pretty good, with a divine comedic performance by Penelope Cruz, and a strong role for the relatively unknown Rebecca Hall, whose role eclipsed Scarlett Johannsen's quite neatly. (I know that Johannsen is supposedly Woody Allen's current muse, but she still seems to channel him a bit too strongly. It's not as bad here as in "Snoop" but there are moments when she starts her whining that you just want to sigh.) Javier Bardem as a smooth Barcelona lover/artist? Brilliant.

"Tropic Thunder?" Okay, I liked it a lot. A bit gory gross for my taste, but it's about a war movie, so it's very cartoonish. My biggest criticism is that there were several scenes where I couldn't understand what Robert Downey Jr. was saying, and missed some of the laughs. (Either his "accent" was hard to decipher, or I am losing my hearing. Or getting lazy with my hearing - I often use subtitles these days with both DVD and cable, and maybe that makes me lazy in paying attention in the same way that relying on spell check makes me a lackadaisical speller?) All in all, though, good stuff.

Monday, August 18, 2008

First Bank of Medusa

I have a very strong, and uncommon, sense of loyalty to the banks I do business with. I know this is because I have worked for banks in the past, and have done my banking with my employer, so the sense of "my" bank has been very real. Not everyone feels this way, I understand. But when people talk about how their mortgage has been sold to a different bank several times, I get a strong sense of unease, even though I know it will likely happen to me at some point. But my underlying thought is, why would they sell me? I've been a loyal customer.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Oh, and I figured out the Dannon secret

One store happened to have a few older containers on the shelf next to the newer ones. The old proclaimed 0 fat, no added sugars, and 60 calories. The new: 0 fat, 80 calories. Hello, fructose.


I don't watch the Olympics.

I'm not at all interested in it, and I won't bore you with all the reasons why.

But it has been on the big TV screens at the gym all week, and it seems that it's always on beach volleyball. I have to say: beach volleyball is an Olympic sport? For real? I would have thought it was the reckless cousin of actual volleyball, in the way that, oh, ultimate Frisbee is the stoner sibling of actual football.

But I guess, in thinking about it, the sand gives it a very different vibe, since you would take chances you wouldn't if your body were aiming at the polished floor of a gym. So maybe beach volleyball is the serious sport, and inside volleyball is just junior high gym torture.

I still don't get the outfits. A teeny-weeny bikini bottom and a sports bra? really? Wouldn't, I dunno, a pair of comfy loose shorts be better?

Friday, August 15, 2008


Dannon's Light & Fit fat free yogurts have gone from 60 calories to 80 calories per container, each of which proclaims a "great new taste." Wow, I was perfectly happy with the old taste. What is different? I emailed them and am waiting for a response.

Twenty calories may sound like nothing, but it adds up if you have one a day (as I do), and if it's the "fructose" listed in their ingredients label, then no, thank you. See, here's the thing: although I pretend to be this healthy organic foods eater, I have a hidden dark secret, and that is artificial sweetener. Okay, so not so hidden - I am an out Diet Coke addict - but I have long rejected Stonyfield yogurt because its fat free version has twice as many calories as Dannon's, all because it doesn't rely on artificial sweeteners for taste.

So I sit here contemplating "punishing" Dannon for changing their recipes by switching brands, even though the alternate choice will result in an additional 420 calories a week. Is that smart? Is it smarter to continue my reliance on a chemical substance which almost everyone agrees is not good for you? (Latest report that has stuck with me is that cutting out artificial sweeteners can lessen the chance of diabetes for those, like me, who are genetically pre-disposed.)

Good thing is that now an apple will have fewer calories than a yogurt, so fresh fruit is always an option. Just need to replace the protein...


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Have I mentioned this?

The apartment that I'd previously made an offer on, where the coop board turned me down, was subsequently listed with a different broker, and a few months later was marked as "in contract." But now, abruptly, it's back on the market under a third broker. So seems the poor fool who tried to buy it after I did was also turned down. Are the owners blaming the brokers? Seems like they should be pretty pissed at the board.

But it still makes me feel pretty happy to see it still unresolved. Almost as happy as knowing that without that mess, I never would have lucked upon this place, and been as happy as I now am.

Monday, August 11, 2008

I finished "In the Woods"

And, I don't know...
  • maybe I rushed too quickly near the end?
  • maybe I let the knowledge that it was ending, and that I was being forced to let go of it, color my response to its ending?
  • maybe I simply wanted a different ending? (of course that happens, especially with mysteries)
Don't get me wrong. I think it is a great read, and a well-written book. But somewhere around the point where the narrator loses his shit, it fell from a book I was in love with to a book I was enjoying reading. Clearly, the narrator's voice can make or break your reading experience, so maybe it was that shift in tone that shifted my perception of it.

I still really liked it, only not as much as I did in the first half. I still read the last line and flipped the page to find the publisher had included the first chapter of Tana French's second novel (now out in paperback, and narrated by one of the other main characters in this one) and of course I devoured it. I am in the process of reminding myself of how many other books I have yet to read - and how, by the time I finish with them, her second novel will be out in paperback. I can wait.

Or go to the library!

Oh, Canada

I saw two films this weekend, both of which filled their respective screens with snow and ice, one of which was very, very good, and one of which wasn't. (I wonder, is it easier to release icy films in the summer, so that the moviegoer isn't tormented by thoughts of what awaits them outside after the credits roll? Does the excess a/c of summer theaters add to the experience of watching characters take white puffy breaths on screen?)


I can't put my finger on what went wrong with the "X Files" movie (I know it has a title, but I'll be damned if I'm going to muster the energy to remember it or research it), but it just didn't work. I like the idea of a stand-alone, non-mythology-related mystery, but this particular one was not much more than a retread of multiple horror film plots (with a dash of "Futurama" thrown in for good measure.) Add an exceedingly boring secondary plot about a child patient of Scully's and you have your two hours (although I am convinced that the second plot had more screen time than the main one - or did it just seem like it dragged on forever?) Something was off throughout, and it wasn't just a misplaced nostalgia for the old days. When Scully accused Mulder of still being hung up on finding his sister, I became really annoyed - wasn't that already covered? Over and over? But it didn't matter, as it was a throwaway moment that meant nothing to the plot of a throwaway film. Sigh.

But before I was asked to believe that Canada could pass for West Virginia, I spent a couple of hours watching a truly wrenching story set on the border of Canada and upstate NY. "Frozen River" is a film about two women whose paths cross one night just before Christmas; one, a mother of two with a runaway gambler husband and a balloon payment due on a double-wide mobile home she is doomed to lose, and the other, a young Mohawk woman with a dead husband and an obsessive need to continue his illegal alien smuggling operation in order to give money to the mother-in-law who has stolen her baby son. These two women have more chemistry than any two long-suffering FBI agents, and the bitter dark nights they spend crossing a frozen river on the border are more haunting than any moment Mulder is seen stumbling, bloodied, through the snow.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


I had great fun in Williams Sonoma this weekend putting a recently received gift card to use. A new LeCrueset lasagna pan, an electronic timer (on sale!), a set of stainless steel measuring spoons. And a copy of a Martha Stewart cookbook, also on sale. I'm hesitant to buy cookbooks, as I too often wind up with one that has pretty pictures that inspire me to purchase it, but on closer inspection, has no recipes I would actually cook. So I skimmed the index and saw several interesting recipes.

Home, though, having put away the rest of my goodies, I cracked open the book only to discover that none of the recipes that had caught my eye were in the book. For some unfathomable reason, the publisher created an index for both the book it was contained in and a previous book of Stewart's. The entries for the other book are in blue, but the color code key is not easily found, so how was I to know? And it's not like these are Volume 1 and Volume 2; they are the "New Classics" and the "Original Classics" but since there "Original" wasn't in the Williams Sonoma store, it wasn't at all obvious that they were meant to be a set.


Friday, August 08, 2008

Book 'em

I am finally (!) reading a book I don't want to put down, and even better, one that caught my attention from the very first pages. Not surprisingly, it is a mystery, which have a natural tendency to elevate the pacing and intricacy of plot, but there are many, many, mediocre mysteries out there and this, happily, isn't one of them. "In the Woods" by Tana French is well-written and smart, the story of a detective in Ireland investigating the murder of a 12 year old girl in the very same woods where he, decades earlier, was found bloodied and nearly comatose, without any memory of what had happened to him or where his two missing pre-teen friends had gone.

Of course I have to finish it in order to really know if it will continue to be as engrossing, but I have high hopes.

I also finally thinned out my "To Read" pile of books and set some of the least likely to grab my attention on the front stoop last weekend. I might do more this weekend. Most of the ones I don't know that I'll ever actually read are books I picked up on other neighborhood stoops, which makes me wonder how many homes some of these have wandered in and out of.

I remember finding a book once with a stamp inside for a website, where you could report where you found the book and trace its journey. You were then supposed to leave it in another public space. I need to find that site again.

Monday, August 04, 2008

my current lame pet peeve

Along the West Side Highway by my office, there is construction, which necessitates closing off parts of the roadway as well as the pedestrian/bike lanes. Since the latter are forced to share a narrow walkway, there are big fluorescent orange signs at either end of the affected section: "Bicyclists MUST dismount and walk their bikes."

Number of times I have seen a cyclist walking his or her bike in said area? 0.
Number of times I have been nearly struck down by a cyclist whooshing past me from behind? 312.

The problem is I get aggravated about it every single evening on the way home. It's a little thing and I shouldn't care, but sometimes at the end of a really tiring day I'll call "asshole" in the general direction of the person who just missed slamming into me by inches.

* * *

My "f" key appears to be sticking. I am stumbling over every "of" I type. I type "of" many, many times.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

M*A*S*H, bad writing, and long-lost friends

Yesterday I saw a teenage girl lugging around a big shiny black covered book, and I realized, oh, it was the publication day of the next (last?) in the "Twilight" series. Somehow this didn't strike me as cute as when a girl walked past me reading aloud the first few pages of the latest "Harry Potter" by the light of the streetlights, shortly after its midnight release.

I am not going to read any more of the "Twilight" series. I have decided it's less about the lameness of the poor-helpless-girl geting saved by insanely-handsome dead guy (although that's a sore spot for many other detractors) than it is, simply, the quality of the writing. I can't get past the inconsistencies of the plot and character in the first book. It's hard to believe that the manuscript passed through the eyes of readers and editors and nobody questioned some of the continuity errors. In my writing group, this would not happen - we're all over any lapses in logic, if nothing else.

(Oh, we're on top of plenty else. I am selling us short.)

* * *

Today I went to see "M*A*S*H" as part of the Elliott Gould film month at BAM. It was strange to see something so familiar on the small screen on the big one, although despite BAM's press release about a new print, it was scratchy and jumpy and missing at least one scene. (I know this because I came home and popped in my DVD and listened to Robert Altman's commentary. It seemed fitting.)

In the commentary, Altman is extremely dismissive of the TV series, which I'd heard, but he actually says it starred "Alan Albert or something." I grew up on the TV show, and didn't see the movie for a few years after it came out. But I remember it being so much racier, so much more adult. I remember when my best friend and I were 12, our sleepovers involved shared fantasies of being nurses at the 4077th and getting into all kinds of escapades with the doctors (I always had Hawkeye, she had Trapper John.) It was scandalous.

* * *

A colleague invited me to be his friend on Facebook. I hadn't paid much attention to it since my brother somehow convinced me to join, so when this co-worker reached out to me I had only 4 friends, 2 of whom share my last name. Lame. So I started inviting everyone I could think of, and in the process, stumbled upon a couple of people I've been out of touch with for years. They have not yet responded to me. I am both afraid they won't, and afraid they will.

One of the people who accepted my friend request is the husband of a friend - that very same friend who played MASH with me over three decades ago. She is not on Facebook. He is overseas, in the military, in a volatile place. It was weird to see his picture online, weirder still to get his response almost immediately, even more weird to see how often he updates his profile or gets messages from friends. I know it's not like the 50's or even the 70's anymore, and I know that my friend has long IM conversations with him almost daily, and that all this communication doesn't mean she isn't still suffering without him, just as much as a long-ago spouse who only had infrequent airmail letters. I'm not discounting her missing him, worrying about him. Maybe it was easier back then, when days and weeks went by without connecting?

Still weird to be thinking so recently of lying in sleeping bags in a pup tent in her backyard, whispering about Trapper and Hawkeye.

* * *

I also saw "Boy A" this weekend, but will write about it later.
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