Saturday, November 29, 2008

Chatham Tap

Scott and I stopped in at the Chatham Tap on Tuesday afternoon, whilst gallivanting about town getting some family Christmas shopping done for him (it seems as though his family is taking care of two holidays at once this weekend). I forget how long ago Chatham Tap opened, but I remember it being well thought of in its early reviews, one of downtown’s first of that new breed of eatery known as the “gastropub” - a type of pub that serves food that is of markedly higher quality than what one would ordinarily think of when conjuring the image of standard “bar food.” (Think the difference in food quality between Qdoba and Taco Bell.)

So anyway, the inside looked - to a guy who’s never been to an actual English pub - quite a bit like an actual English pub (mostly because of the soccer team flags and the European beer signs). The bar itself looked a bit like an altar, recessed in a huge niche behind the countertop that was flush with the wall. Since the rent is surely considerable along Mass Ave (especially for new establishments), they make effective use of space - the kitchen is downstairs. We were there after what would have been the lunch rush, but before that group had completely vacated the premises. The fellow serving us was quick to swoop in to ask for drinks and if we were ready to order, but a long time coming back around after we asked for a moment to actually look at the menu.

I opted for the reuben, which I tend to be a sucker for, and found the Chatham Tap version to be well worth the mere seven dollars they charge for it. Nothing fancy here - just corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and thousand island dressing on grilled marble rye - but the ingredients were well-proportioned, which you don’t always find. Too many places skimp on the sauerkraut and fail to grill the sandwich long enough to melt the cheese, though that was not the case here. It might be the second-best reuben in town - behind (of course) the blue-plate behemoth holding court down at Shapiro’s. Sandwiches come with house-made potato chips, cole slaw, or cottage cheese. I tried the cole slaw, which had an interesting twist - sour cream in the dressing. Sounds odd, I suppose, but it works.

Scott had the breaded garlic pork tenderloin sandwich and chips ($7.50) - and pronounced the sandwich worthy. It was a monster, as tenderloins in the midwest almost always are, though it looked to be quite a bit meatier than other tenderloins I’ve seen. Scott went with the house-made chips, fried dark golden and well seasoned. We also noshed on garlic and cheese chips for an appetizer - French fries with a creamy garlic-ranch sauce and cheddar cheese. These were as dark golden and nicely seasoned as Scott’s potato chips, and complemented well by the garlic-ranch sauce and cheese - though not drowning in either.

Pizzas and most of the appetizers are available on the late-night menu (until 3am), and their website claims that they have the best beer list in the city - so obviously they have never heard of Chumley’s in Broad Ripple. No around the world tours here - just a smattering of non-British European beers and the ubiquitous Corona to go along with the usual domestic suspects and a hefty selection of frosty brews from the British isles. (Not that the beer offerings aren’t any good - they just aren’t the best, and shouldn’t claim to be.) That said, though, Chatham Tap is a worthy addition to the gustatory offerings along the avenue.

719 Massachusetts Avenue
11am-3am daily

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Free Dr. Pepper

Probably everybody already knows about this, but on the off chance that you don’t, here’s your chance to get a free Dr. Pepper. Just click here and submit your information to the Dr. Pepper people, and they will send you a coupon for a free Dr. Pepper. But you have to act fast - the offer is only good for today!

Apparently this has something to do with the fact that has-been rock band Guns N’ Roses - which currently contains exactly one original member from back in the day - is finally releasing their new album, Chinese Democracy, today. I don’t know all the details behind it, but all the kids at work seem to have the 411, so I’m just redistributing the wealth, in case anyone misunderestimated the rumors.

The offer is for every person in America - although rumor has it that Slash and Buckethead are excluded - so it appears that those who can see Russia from their house are qualified for at least one thing.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Bouncer

This a little bit random. My buddy Scott - whose Random Thoughts blog (unfortunately), like quite a few of those listed in the Blog-O-Rama sidebar, appears to be cryogenically frozen (see what’s going to happen is, we’re going to find a cure for cancer and then we’re gonna thaw out the Duke and he’s gonna be pretty pissed off - you know why?) - is going to be in town (this town) for a few days this week because a turkey dinner apparently tastes better when you drive several hundred miles to eat it. No...I’m kidding. He’s coming home for Thanksgiving, but I have no idea if turkey tastes better if you spend a long time driving to go eat it.

And even though we almost never do this when Scott comes home for holidays, I thought it might be fun to go to the Slippery Noodle one of the nights he’s here - so I loaded up their website today and checked the band schedule to see if any of the bands playing while Scott will be in town are bands that we’ve listened to before and enjoyed. But then the really big print at the bottom of the page caught my eye:

11/25 • Roast of Mr. Marty Bacon (Leaving for LA after 16 years)

Well, now what are the chances, right? They have a roast for Marty, who will be saying fare thee well to the Noodle, the same week that Scott rolls into town? I'm not going to explain it any further, because it would just take too long and wouldn't be very interesting for most of you, anyway. I'll simply leave it at that and let the one person other than Scott and myself who might be amused by it - Steve - enjoy the nostalgia and the memories.

Oh, and it turns out that there will be some interesting music this week at the Noodle, apart from the usual suspects. Chris Shaffer - of The Why Store - is playing Monday night, with Benito DiBartoli, one of the other guys in the current version of The Why Store.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Synecdoche, New York

I’m probably not going to get this right, but I’m going to give it a shot. I watched Synecdoche, New York last Thursday night, and almost immediately got the impression that I would need to see it again to be able truly to absorb all of it and to say whether or not I liked it - altough that’s not entirely true. I know that I liked it; I’m just not sure that I can adequately explain why, and I’m positive that I will make errors if I attempt to explain too much of the story.

See...Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Caden Cotard, a director of plays who has been trying to be successful at staging plays for so long that he has let everything else in his life pass him by. Catherine Keener plays his wife Adele, a successful artist who has grown weary of treading water in her marriage and her life with Caden. Hazel (Samantha Morton) works the box office at the theatre where Caden stages his plays and pines - at first secretly, and then, later, not so much - for Caden. Claire (Michele Williams) is the female lead in Caden’s production of Arthur Miller’s Death Of A Salesman (I can’t make up my mind whether the symbolism here is just obvious or both obvious and heavy-handed) and appears to worship the ground on which Caden walks.

Or the whole thing might be an illustion. That’s part of the attraction of the pictures that Charlie Kaufman pens - Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich, the very excellent Adaptation - that reality is malleable and transitory. Synecdoche, New York is Kaufman’s first turn behind the camera, so I suppose it’s natural to expect that reality will be even more bendy here than in his previous work.

To wit: Early in the film, Hazel buys a house - a cute little bungalow with lots of space, the only downside to which is that it appears to be on fire. She tells her realtor that she likes the house, but that she’s afraid of dying in the fire. The realtor empathizes. The scene is played straight. Not strange enough? Okay. The house used to belong to the realtor’s mother, and her brother still lives in the basement and has no plans to move. More? Later in the film, Hazel briefly dates this person.

Adele, the successful artist? She paints postage-stamp-sized canvases that people look at with tiny magnifying glass eyewear at her shows - think very small opera glasses attached to the head by way of a headband-like device and a room full of people standing inches from the pictures hanging on the gallery walls. She has a show coming up in Germany and says that she would prefer to go without Caden and to take their daughter with her. While Adele is gone, Hazel ramps up her flirtation with Caden, and then points out to him after a year has passed that it’s apparent to everyone but Caden that Adele has left him.

So Caden cleans the house. (This is not a metaphor.) The MacGuffin comes in the form of a letter - Caden has won an important grant to mount a massive stage production that will showcase his talent to the betterment of himself and the audience and society at large. Utterly certain that he is equal to the task, Caden proposes to stage a production of his own life, and takes space in an enormous abandoned building (picture Conseco Fieldhouse if it had been part of the Site B project on Isla Sorna). Stagehands build sets that re-create Caden’s apartment. He hires Hazel to be his assistant. Later in the film, the production casts two characters to play Caden and Hazel, so the production set now contains a real Caden and real Hazel, and a fictional Caden and fictional Hazel.

Caden is in love with Hazel, but their first attempt at getting together is unsuccessful. Caden then takes up with Claire, but that doesn’t last for long, and she walks out on him during rehearsal and storms out of the fake version of their apartment on the set. She tells Caden that she wants him out of the apartment - the real one that they live in - and then looks around at the fake one she is about to storm out of and says, “You can keep this one.” The fake Caden gets into character so thoroughly that he starts to fall in love with the real Hazel.

And on and on.

By the time we get to the end, both roles and genders have been reversed and then - poof! - it’s over. As a character study, the film is unquestionably a masterpiece - perhaps not the “miracle movie” that one review calls it, but certainly a remarkable achievement. And if it feels maddening or incomprehensibe or never-ending, consider this - how suffers the artist who knows how to do the work but doesn’t know quite what he or she wants to say, nor quite how to say it? Must it not be maddening for the artist to have the building blocks at hand and yet be unable to make anything personally satisfying with them?

Synecdoche, New York is ultimately about coming to terms with one’s life and one’s limitations and how those two things impact one’s abilities. For the deeply conflicted, those can be difficult things to sort out. Kaufman approaches the story from this angle unflinchingly, never going for the easy out and certainly not for the happy ending. Does he goes a bit too far around the bend? I don’t think so, but it’s awfully close. At two hours and change, the movie feels long by fifteen to twenty minutes; but it’s satisfying - especially if you’re the kind of person who likes to keep thinking about a movie long after the credits have rolled.

Amici's Italian Restaurant

Amy offered to take me out for dinner for me birthday, and she also managed to arrange for her brother to watch Jackson so we could go out and actually enjoy our meal - so I set myself at work this afternoon to trying to come up with an interesting place to go. However...I had way more to do this particular Thursday afternoon than usual - and even ordinary Thursdays are busy for me, regardless of whether we are busy customer-wise or not - so I only spent about five minutes perusing restaurant listings online.

My first thought was Zing, a new small plates restaurant in the space formerly occupied by Payton’s Place on the northeast corner of Indiana Avenue and West Street; but because it’s relatively new and has been very well reviewed across the board, I was reluctant to try it for dinner at what would wind up being the peak dinner hour by the time I got home from work and we got downtown to the restaurant. The menu is a tapas-influenced mix of small plates and fusion cuisine and sounds awfully interesting - try wrapping your head around roasted beet salad with jicama, feta, green onion, and sherry vinaigrette - but strikes me as the kind of place I want to have a go at for the first time during an unassuming lunch hour on Sunday.

But I of the first places that came up in my online perusing was Amici’s, an indie Italian place in an old house on New York Street in Lockerbie Square - one of those places I have walked or driven past times without number and pointed to remarking, “We should try that sometime.”

Carpe diem. We rolled downtown and were just turning into the alley leading to their parking lot when I realized I had forgotten to bring my camera - so you’re going to have to use your imagination on this one, Steve! It probably would not have mattered if I had brought the camera, though, because the inside is dimly lit (this is not a bad thing, but it is no boon to photography, especially for amateur hacks like myself) and we were seated at a window table right below the bright red neon sign that indicated to the public at large that the establishment was open for business. Any pictures I had taken would have served only to make it appear as though we were dining in a darkroom.

There were a total of four other diners in the restaurant when we arrived, two of whom were nearly finished, so the service was quick and attentive and friendly, though not to the point of doting, which can be a problem when the ratio of customers to servers isn’t high enough. There was a small loaf of hot, homemade bread studded with sesame seeds to start, which was just to the right of crusty but nonetheless very hot and delicious. Often bread is brought to you warm, or perhaps room temperature - but it’s sort of rare that it’s brought to you when it’s actually hot. I thought that this probably portended good things.

Amy ordered chicken gorgonzola, a chicken breast baked with gorgonzola cheese on top and served with grilled vegetables and a side of linguine with marinara sauce, which turned out to be more than she could finish after the loaf of bread and the salad - mixed greens dotted with an olive, cherry tomato, and piquant pepper and dressed in a very light, homemade balsamic vinaigrette. The chicken was very tender and wonderfully seasoned, and the gorgonzola on top was rich and very sharp. The pasta was perfectly al dente, paired with a richly-flavored marinara sauce.

I had seafood penne, shrimp and scallops in a pink caper cream sauce with penne pasta, and this wound up being a really perfectly cooked meal, even if the briny, aromatic capers don’t quite work with seafood and cream sauce. (That might just be me - I’m not all that big on capers, but gave it a shot.) Even beneath the capers and the cream sauce, the shrimp tasted of the sea, firm and delicious. Even the scallops - medium-sized, but tasting more like (smaller) sweet bay scallops than the somewhat saltier (and much larger) sea scallops - were properly cooked. Too often, I think, scallops get short shrift under the broiler or on the grill, which makes them gummy and tends to keep the flavor from coming all the way through - not so at Amici’s.

The penne was also properly cooked, al dente, as was Amy’s linguine. If you must be forced to sup at one of those idiotic chain Italian places, you should avoid the pastas that are difficult to cook properly - like penne, and the even-harder-to-get-right farfalle - because they will almost always be overcooked. The true mark of an excellent Italian restaurant is how well they cook their pasta.

The only downside was that dessert - listed on the menu as either pastries or homemade ice cream (which, yes, is gelato) - did not include cannoli. Our server mentioned when I asked about it that she had been told that cannoli was not cost-effective to serve, but that people asked for it all the time. Ah, well. ‘Twas a minor quibble. Iaria’s is still the gold standard by which Italian restaurants in Indianapolis must be measured, but Amici’s is a viable option - and the view across New York Street of the historic houses in the Lockerbie Square neighborhood is certainly appealing. I imagine that dinner on the patio, some warm Sunday evening as the sun is starting to go down, would be at least as enjoyable - and perhaps more so - than eating on the roof or balcony at any of a number of better known eateries closer to the heart of downtown.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Suppose You're A New Guy - You Have Absolutely No Idea Where To Stick It

So listen...I’m curious about address labels. Do you get these things in the mail? Most of the time they come from organizations that hope hope hope to get a check from you. I just looked through all the ones I have, and I don’t remember where most of them came from - other than the ones that say Amnesty International. I know where those came from. I got some today from WFYI and from Greenpeace, though I let my WFYI membership lapse and have never donated to Greenpeace.

Do these things make you want to send a check to whichever organization sent them to you? Is this really the sweet in the deal that makes people send money? I’m just curious. I don’t really care either way. Yes, it’s nice not to have to write in a return address on every envelope when I’m paying the bills - but it’s not exactly as though life as I know it is going to grind to halt if I run out of address labels.

Or is it part of the larger conspiracy between non-profits and the postal service, to perpetuate the avalanche of direct mail that is, more or less, keeping the United States Postal Service from going broke? (I’m not really into conspiracy theories. That last part is almost entirely a joke. At least 75% joke.)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Turn The River

(This isn’t a proper review of this film - I just sort of jumped in with the first thought I had about it and cobbled together a few other thoughts. Also, I will be spoiling the ending, so if you haven’t seen it yet and want to, stop right here and move on to the next thing.)

I was going along just fine with Turn The River, probably because there is some part of me that identifies with pool halls and bars, those seedy, dimly-lit places where life is lived on the margins and all of the business is transacted with cash and nobody has a last name. I may have been a gangster in a previous life - or there may be the blood of la cosa nostra running in my own veins, I don’t know. (Such are the things one sometimes wonders when one’s forebears were born and raised in North Jersey.)

But anyway...I was zipping along just fine with this one, even if the dialogue was sort of sophomoric and the editing was choppy and there were way too many shots of Quinn (Rip Torn) looking sagely across the room like he knew strange things were afoot in his pool hall but also knew that he wasn’t about to make a move to alter the course of those events. Perhaps writer-director Chris Eigeman knew that his lines of dialogue were coming out flat, try though Famke Janssen and Rip Torn might to make them seem interesting; and perhaps Eigeman tried to use the camera in a more subtle fashion to show knowing glances or impart understanding. I would say that the results are mixed, and I would say further that that is being charitable. This movie appeals to the Bukowski-esque side of me, but that doesn’t mean it’s very good.

And that’s before we even get to the end. The penultimate scene, when the truck comes to rest against the parking light pole, should have been the last scene. It still would have been lame, but it would have been revisionist enough to have been mildly interesting. But no, there’s that last scene - one last shot of Gulley coming to the pool hall - Quinn, undoubtedly rousted from his old digs for aiding and abetting, has a new place - to get a letter from his mom that Quinn has for him.

Ugh. Really? In a lot of ways - sort of - this movie is like Frozen River. Both protagonists commit serious crimes and rationalize their actions by convincing themselves that they are helping their kids. Frozen River succeeds because Melissa Leo, playing the lead, shows the desperation that motivates her actions in her facial expressions, her voice, her body language. Janssen gives it the old college try in Turn The River, but doesn’t even come close to what Leo achieved.

On the whole, I think Eigeman misses the mark with Turn The River, even though I wanted to like it. There is nothing really bad about the movie, but there’s also nothing that’s really excellent, either; it’s a very okay movie that stumbles in the third act. It’s possible, I think, that it could have been more than it is, though there is only one somewhat striking example of a missed opportunity that comes to mind. After Kailey (Janssen) absconds with Gulley, there is a scene with Kailey’s ex-husband and his new wife in which he explains to her what Kailey told him to say - that Kailey would take better care of Gulley than they could. His wife, with phone in hand and about to call the police, asks him if Kailey is right, and then repeats the question when her husband doesn’t answer. You can tell that he almost confesses that Kailey would do a better job taking care of Gulley - and there is a sense of the dramatic tension that might have unfolded if Eigeman had, say, extended the confessional scene between husband and wife and mixed it with scenes of Kailey and Gulley making a successful getaway.

Eigeman and Janssen attended a screening of this film at this year’s Indianapolis International Film Festival and conducted a brief question and answer session after the screening, during which Eigeman said that Janssen had spent a not inconsiderable amount of time learning to play pool for the role. He also noted that all of the shots she made in the movie are shots she made on her own - no special effects required. Okay. One wonders, though, what might have resulted had as much care been taken with the story and the editing as was taken with teaching the lead to shoot pool.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Free Obama Sticker

To commemorate Barack Obama's sweeping victory in last Tuesday's election, MoveOn is offering a free Obama sticker to anyone who wants one. Like their other free sticker offers this year, you can get one for free and multi-packs for a small donation. Below is an illustration of what the sticker looks like - and you can click here to get one (or more).

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Kind Of Blue

It was just a couple of minutes ago that MSNBC called Indiana for Obama. Today was a good day electoralizationally, but the capper is finally getting to see Hillbillyana go blue for the first time since 1964, which was when the Civil Rights Act was passed and racists stopped voting for Democrats. Shades of that racism still exist in the south, which is one of the reasons - though, admittedly, probably not a major one (if it were a college football team it would be Boise State - and if you get that reference, I'm impressed) - that the GOP has been able to hold this country in a Jesus Christ pose (that's another quasi-esoteric reference) for better than a generation. I don't imagine the state of Indiana has completely shed its goofy conservative roots, but this is a good start. Still way too many red counties, but the ones where the smart people are - Marion, and pretty much pick a county where there's a major university - went for Obama. It's not often that I'm proud of Indiana for anything, but I'm mostly proud of Indiana tonight (okay, technically, it's this morning).

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Locality Of Politics: Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Drop-In

A few posts back, I mentioned that I could no longer support John Barnes for state representative because of the vile anti-immigration flyer that we got in the mail. That left me with one option in the race for state representative in my district - Chris Swatts. The initial problem with voting for Mr. Swatts - and it’s a big problem - is that he’s a Republican. And yet, I was prepared to give him some consideration.

And then I got another piece of mail, from a Virginia-based organization called the National League Of Taxpayers. The enclosed letter indicated that I should take immediate action and call on John Barnes to submit his questionnaire - solicited by this taxpayer organization - indicating where he stands on various tax issues. The letter, without using the word endorse, praised Mr. Swatts for returning his questionnaire with Yes answers straight across the board.

I decided to see if I could find these folks out there on the Interwebs. Sure enough, they have a “home page” (linked above). I clicked on About Us and found this sentence in the second paragraph:

“Since the group’s inception in 1994, hard-working Americans have been forced to hand over ever-increasing amounts of money from their pay checks to fund wasteful arts, humanities and social welfare programs.”

Hmm..."wasteful arts” programs. Now...racist anti-immigration flyers piss me off. But calling publicly-funded arts programs wasteful?! That’s around the bend and beyond the pale. We desperately need arts in this country - as much as we can get, from sea to shining sea - because this is a country in which High School Musical 3 is the top-grossing film two weeks in a row and has the best opening weekend of any musical ever. This is what happens when schools across the country slash arts from their curricula and cities slash funds for the arts from their budgets. Larry The Cable Guy gets to makes movies. This is the point to which our standards have fallen. John Grisham is the best-selling author on the planet, and that’s just sad. Meanwhile, really great novels by authors like Ron McLarty, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, and Richard Yates go unread.

Who? Précisement.

Anyway...arts as wasteful. That’s one of the more retarded things I’ve had the misfortune to endure reading. Now, since this wasn’t a mailing from Mr. Swatts, I decided that the only responsible thing to do, from a civic duty standpoint, was to put the question to the candidate himself. I sent an e-mail from his campaign web site on October 29th - a Sunday, giving Mr. Swatts the opportunity to repudiate the taxpayer group’s description of taxpayer-funded arts programs as “wasteful.” I got a response back a few hours later, and this is what he said:

“Yes, I took a stance to hold the line on any new taxes and increases. I very much support the Arts. I believe its important part of a child's education and building a better quality of life in a community. I actually was very involved in theater, drama and drawing during my younger years while in High School and College. I've always supported museums and local exhibits whether attending or through charitable donations. My difference, I believe it should be mainly funded by the businesses, non profits, and charities from the community. We as taxpayer's are forced everyday battling higher taxes to just meet some of our basic infrastructure needs and services for the city and the state. I don't want to exacerbate that with using additional taxpayer funds for arts.”

Not much in the way of repudiation there, eh? So what’s a voter in 89 to do, presuming they have more of a soul than, say, Voldemort? Answer: Engage in more civic duty.

I also had an e-mail out to the Barnes people, asking if the flyer represented Mr. Barnes’ true position on illegal immigration, and also asking about his position on taxpayer funding for the arts. I got an e-mail back from his campaign manager, asking for my phone number so Mr. Barnes could call me - because he “will want to talk to you about this as soon as possible.” Had I wanted to speak to him, I would have provided my phone number on the e-mail form. I’m not much for hob-nobbing, and networking, and all the rest of that crap. All I needed was a quick little e-mail back, saying yes this is me, no this isn’t me. I sent the message to the Barnes people the same day I sent an e-mail to the Swatts people. I got nothing back from the Barnes people until I got home from work last night and Amy told me that Mr. Barnes had just stopped by the house and would be coming back.

I was already in a bit of a tetchy mood at that point, but I gathered my wits about me and received the prospective state legislator. (About halfway through our talk, my mom and her brother, my uncle Steve, showed up, which made for quite the room full of people for little Jackson to look at.) Mr. Barnes had a copy of the hateful flyer in hand, and as he began talking, he tore the flyer in two, vertcally along the spine, creating two pages - one with the racist hate messages (the cover and inside front cover, which had the rhetoric about no gray area, no jobs, no amnesty, etc.), and one with the more modest proposals (the text of the inside back cover). He said that he had approved the text part, but not the cover part.

As with all of the other mailings we had received from the Barnes campaign, this one indicated that it had been paid for by the Indiana Democratic State Committee. Mr. Barnes indicated that he had received quite a lot more support from the caucus during this election cycle than he had during the previous election cycle - when he ran against entrenched Republican Larry Buell (who was at my polling place this morning - ugh). The caucus had approved the racist part of the flyer, and Mr. Barnes claimed that he had not been aware of it prior to seeing the finished flyer. He also said that I was not the first person who had called him out on it. The text part of the flyer is still a bit strongly worded, such as bits like, “John realizes that increased crime and drug trafficking are a major part of the illegal immigration problem.” That sentence has some truth to it, but in order for it to be wholly true, you have to remove the word “major.” It was good, though, to hear from the candidate himself that he does not line up with the kinds of people who vomit the racist garbage about no amnesty and no jobs and all the rest of it.

Mr. Barnes took responsibility himself for the flyer, calling it a “colossal mistake,” which was a pretty stand-up thing to do, since someone else drew it up. Do I buy the entire argument he made, standing there in my living room, that he knew about part of it and not about the other part? I don’t know. After all, he was a politician on the eve of an election, trying to win back a vote. I was mostly sold, though. The flyer of hate was so unlike anything else touting Barnes For State Rep that I was pretty sure from the moment I read it that the mayonnaise must have been left outdoors in the Copenhagen sun. I voted about four hours ago, and Mr. Barnes got my vote.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Rachel Getting Married

This isn’t going to be nearly the rambling odyssey of words that it started out to be Thursday night when I got back from watching Rachel Getting Married. I was afraid when I started writing that it was going to be too rambling, so I put in a bit about how I don’t outline (and how that might be one of the reasons that I have been such a spectacular failure as a writer), and then I got into a lengthy bit about how watching The Silence Of The Lambs over and over when I was in high school had the unintended effect of training my eyes to see things that Jonathan Demme does as a director that are very unique to him - including intimate close-up shots and tight point-of-view shots that let the viewer see through the eyes of the character as the character observes people or scenes that no one else is seeing in quite the same way.

And The Silence Of The Lambs begat Philadelphia, which Demme directed two years later - and which has so many stylistic similarities to Lambs that I realized just how much I had learned about watching movies from watching Lambs over and over again. Philadelphia also featured a lot of the same crew who had worked on Lambs, as well as something like seven or eight cast members who had minor roles in both films. Philadelphia isn’t as good as Lambs, but it works for me in ways that it probably doesn’t work for most other people - because of how much I enjoy the way Jonathan Demme makes movies.

And Philadelphia begat Rachel Getting Married, though there are a dozen or so pictures in between; and I got the idea from watching the trailer that this was going to be another one of those movies that feels like a Jonathan Demme movie - even though the production, casting, and photography were all handled by different players than the ones who worked on the previous two films. The story, of a girl who checks herself out of rehab to attend her sister’s wedding and the dysfunctional family issues they are forced to deal with over the course of a long weekend, sounded interesting, too; and there was the chatter that this role would earn a lead acting Oscar nomination for Anne Hathaway.

I became a bit concerned when Heather at work told me that it wasn’t as good as she had hoped it would be - and she, too, was looking forward to it in large part because it was a Jonathan Demme picture. Heather could stop watching movies today and I could keep going at my current pace and would not catch up to her if I lived long enough for the Elves to decide to take me along with them to the Grey Havens. I was just a little bit worried when I sat down to watch it that I had blown it up too much in my mind and that it just might fail to live up to my expectations.

Before I get any further along, I have to mention that there is a critical plot point that I can’t even get close to writing about in this review. I haven’t read any of the film’s reviews yet, so I don’t know if this plot point is being written about, or to what degree it is being written about if people are writing about it; but I don’t feel like I can write about it, because I think you have to come to it on your own. Its impact on the film is tremendous, and the way it is revealed demonstrates an excellence in screenwriting that I think I am going to hope will be rewarded when the Oscars roll around next year.

Kym (Hathaway) checks herself out of rehab so she can go home to suburban Connecticut for her sister Rachel’s (Rosemarie Dewitt) wedding. There’s a strong sisterly bond between Rachel and Kym, but there is also considerable tension - both of which are evident in their first scene together when Rachel is trying on her dress and Kym comes wandering into the house smoking a cigarette.

Why Kym is in rehab is the critical plot point that I cannot reveal, but what I will say about it is that it is the epicenter of all of the tension between Kym and the rest of her immediate family. She takes the selfish view that she can use this weekend and the occasion of her sister’s wedding to complete one of those fabled “steps” toward recovery - making amends to the ones she has hurt. In doing so, she not only comandeers nearly every scene she is in - she actually seems to infect those scenes.

Hathaway imbues the role with intensity and passion, and really understands the dichotomy between the angry and frustrated Kym who is obsessed with ripping open the wounds of the past and the tormented and broken Kym who desperately needs to reconnect with her family - though she says quite plainly (in a group session) that she believes her own existence now to be worthless.

It’s all very loud and awkward (and occasionally violent) - all the more pronounced because of Demme’s intimate style of direction, which almost always places the viewer within the scene as party to the action, rather than as detached observer looking in from without - but there is nothing else for Kym to do; her recovery is blocked by her self-loathing, and her recovery is all she has left, the only place from which the rest of her life can proceed. It’s not explicitly stated whether she chooses consciously or subconsciously to use the occasion of her sister’s wedding to effect this necessary confrontation - though Hathaway plays Kym with a deliberate determination and keen sense of self-awareness (as opposed to self-consciousness) that makes the viewer all but certain that Kym knows exactly what’s going to go down when she goes home for her sister’s wedding.

As Kym careens toward a climactic confrontation, on the eve of Rachel’s wedding, with her estranged mother Abby (Debra Winger), a sense of fatalism develops in concert with the tragic realization that some wounds simply will never heal. The film concludes with Rachel’s wedding, a beautiful and non-traditional ceremony full of love and smiles and music music music - and it doesn’t for one second feel a bit like a ham-handed symbol of redemption. If it were a ham-handed symbol of redemption, it would present Kym as having completed her recovery, which has not happened. She goes back to rehab as the film ends. Her recovery is not complete - but the obstacle to that recovery, her persistent self-loathing, is gone.

Rachel Getting Married is an absolute gem - a nearly perfect film. (Can we please dispense with handheld cameras - unless you’re making a movie about some kids trying to scare up a witch in the Maryland woods?) I think it might be a bit too edgy to have a really big night at the Oscars, but Hathaway is a lock for a Best Actress nomination - and I think at this point she has to be considered the favorite to win (bearing in mind that a number of other films with probable Best Actress roles - The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, The Reader, and Revolutionary Road - have yet to bow).

Saturday, November 01, 2008


While I was in Bloomington last Monday, I stopped at the Trojan Horse and picked up some cheesespa’rer - a spinach and feta cheese spread - to take home for Amy; and I grabbed a copy of something called Bloom magazine, which I had never seen before, and took that home, too. We flipped through the dining guide in the back of the magazine on the way to Bloomington on Friday, and got to thinking that we would try something new on this trip, instead of the old stand-bys.

We pondered some of the ethnic places on 4th Street, but never made it that far once we got into town. There were no curbside places to park on 4th Street, so we had to go up to 7th Street and find a block that was public parking and not residential only - and that meant that we had to walk through downtown to get to 4th Street. We decided to walk past a place called Falafels and take a look in the window and at the menu posted on the door - and we decided that we liked what we saw, so that was where we ate.

The place is located at Kirkwood and Dunn, in the ever-changing complex of businesses known as Dunkirk Square. Those who went to IU in the mid-90s may remember a record store that doubled as an espresso bar, which I seem to recall was named Roscoe’s - but I also seem to recall that Roscoe’s was on the second level, and this restaurant (and the record store and espresso bar it used to be) is not. It was two in the afternoon or so when we got there, and I think we were the only ones there, so we were seated pretty quickly. The interior was all wood tables and chairs painted in reds and greens and felt sort of like a plastic bazaar, if said bazaar had been picked up by a twister and deposited in the Shire.

The menu was straight Middle Eastern fare, with no particular emphasis on falafel (though it was on the menu) - it’s just a clever name! I had the Tastes of Jerusalem, a sampler that included falafel, hummus and pita, salad, and a choice of two other items. (Three of the choices were dolmas, which they called something else, babaganoush, and mamaganoush. My choices were the dolmas and babaganoush - but they were out of the babaganoush, so I had the mamaganoush, which was pieces of feta cheese wrapped in thin slices of roasted eggplant.) Amy had the falafel sandwich with a side of couscous.

You may get the idea from the picture that the hummus was served up on the plate rather like you might see a great mound of mashed potatoes and gravy served up at Thanksgiving dinner - and so it was. The stuff in the middle was plain old tahini, the sesame paste that is blended with garbanzo beans to create hummus. Most of the time, hummus has got other things going on in it - garlic and lemon juice are the usual suspects - but this version tasted like it was nothing more than the two main ingredients, and that was a somewhat surprisingly satisfying change of pace - there just didn’t need to be quite so much on the plate.

The dolmas, grape leaves stuffed with rice (and sometimes ground beef, but here only with rice), were a bit less satisfying. They were a little oily and squishy - there’s a fine line between marinating and soaking, and these were not on the happy side of that line. Mamaganoush, on the other hand, was interesting. I’ve never “gotten” eggplant - but this was a thin, roasted (and maybe smoked, too) slice, without any of the seedy goop from the eggplant’s middle, wrapped around a little rectangular hunk of feta cheese. Pleasant counterpoint between the sweet roasted flavor of the eggplant and the sharp sour taste of the feta.

The balls of falafel - ground garbanzo beans, mixed with parsley, garlic, and onions, and then deep-fried - were a little bit heavy on the deep-fried (they come close to exploding like little bombs when you cut them in half with a fork), but largely absent the filler that you sometimes get with bush league falafel, which lets the flavor of the garbanzo beans and parsley come through.

Oddly enough, it was that little mound of salad that was the highlight of this particular meal - at least for me. Nothing but field greens dressed lightly with an oil-and-lemon-juice combination that was mostly lemon juice and paired well with greens that were so fresh and earthy that they might well have been plucked from the ground that morning.

This one is well worth your time if you want to get your Mediterranean/Middle Eastern groove on and have been to Trojan Horse one too many times. It doesn’t hold a candle to the better Greek places in Indianapolis, but it works in Bloomington, where Mediterranean cuisine is actually a bit underrepresented.