Saturday, August 28, 2010

Turn Off Fox Noise

So I got this e-mail from MoveOn, about their new campaign to get people to stop playing Fox News in public places. I’m far too pessimistic to think that the campaign will get through to many people, but I support anything that has the goal of getting more Republicans and conservatives to shut up - even if it’s just the symbolic shutting up of not playing a particular news channel in a particular setting. Plus, if you sign up, you get a free sticker! Click the link above and help exterminate conservative thinking for good.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ichabod's Sketchbook II

For some reason, I managed to let this one get past me without mentioning it. The launch party for the second issue of Ichabod’s Sketchbook took place at Bookmamas last Saturday evening, and the second issue of the journal is now available for purchase, both live and in person at Bookmamas and also by way of the Bookmamas website on the magic Internets. They are also accepting submissions for the next volume of the journal. Submission guidelines can be found here.

Friday, August 13, 2010

That's What I Love Aboutcha - Your Attention to Detail!

They’ve got machines for just about everything now, and some of those machines even make sense. Those bill counting machines that they have at banks and other places that process lots of cash? Yeah, that’s a good idea. You can run a stack of bills through the machine to double-check your count, and it’s handy for streamlining the process of strapping bills into packs of a certain value. This being America, of course, what they’re mostly good for is convincing us that we don’t need to bother with counting by hand anymore. There’s a machine for that! I’m sure the banks even have the really fancy ones that can identify the denomination and stop counting if they spy a five in amongst the singles, or whatever. I’m sure it saves money and increases shareholder value. It also lets things like this get through:

This bill came to us today in a change order that we got from the bank. I both received the change order from the armored car guy and unwrapped the strap of bills later in the day, which is how I know that this particular note came directly from the bank. Aren’t banks supposed to retire currency that is no longer fit for ciruclation? Many years ago, my brother’s car broke down on the highway and he had to pull over and walk to a gas station to call for a tow and a ride. Along the way, he spied a piece of money on the ground. It was a one hundred dollar bill, although it looked to him like it wasn’t quite cut to the right size, like maybe it was counterfeit. He took it to the bank and they verified its authenticity - and then they replaced it with a more normal looking note. His was a complete bill going in - how much do you figure is missing out of this one? That’s a solid chunk that seems to have been removed by means of a flame of some sort. Makes you feel good to know that the banks are taking care of the money, don’t it?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Deep Thoughts #40 - Special Topical Useless Buildings Edition, Part 2

We could demolish it after the stroke takes the Beck-ites to the tropic isle of Stupid-lon, but it would SO be worth the construction costs.

Deep Thoughts #39 - Special Topical Useless Buildings Edition, Part 1

If we built a mosque ON ground zero, would all the racist Americans have a massive, collective stroke and die, making we the people smarter?

Monday, August 09, 2010

Winter's Bone

This is the movie I get to be indignant about when Oscar season rolls around. It’s going to round up some awards from the critics circles when those start coming out, and it may well bring in a couple of token Oscar nominations; but it’s not going to win anything, and some watered-down, easily swallowed pill passing for art - or maybe not even that - will win the big awards. (I thought it had even helped me come to a better understanding of what the concept of “art film” really means to me; but it turned out, when I sat down to write about it, that it still wasn’t all that clear, and that the solid line of reasoning that was in my head on the drive home didn’t actually look all that good when I got it down on paper. But even having said all of that, I know for sure that this is a “real” art film, even if I can’t tell you exactly what I think that means.)

It’s the story of Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence, in a towering, star-making performance), a Missouri teenager who has to find her fugitive father or face losing the house where she lives and takes care of her two younger siblings and her mentally ill mother. Pops put up the house and their land as his bond in order to make bail after his most recent arrest for cooking meth in the Missouri Ozarks. When the law turns up on Ree's doorstep one day, she finds out about the bond, and that her father has disappeared, only days before he is due to appear in court. She doesn’t panic…doesn’t flip out and start screaming at the cop; instead, she just looks him squarely in the eye and says, “I’ll find him.”

Ree is neither prideful nor arrogant in making such a statement. She is simply responding to the latest crisis in the most pragmatic way, identifiying the solution to a problem and saying that she will take care of it - not because she wants to or because she thinks she can or because she knows how she’s going to do it, but because it is the only for her to do. Roger Ebert notes quite astutely in his review that it’s something of a wonder that a girl as seemingly well-adjusted, resourceful, intelligent, and drug-free could have survived seventeen years in this place and not been brought down by any of the myriad things that have ravaged the community where Ree lives.

Not a soul in this movie is what you would call cosmopolitan, and nearly all of them are moving from one bad decision to the next mostly because they don’t know any other way. Drugs are rampant, and there isn’t really any law. Sure, there’s a county sheriff, but reputation and honor carry more weight than a badge in this neck of the woods. For these people, life isn’t about being first in line to get the new iPhone - it’s about basic survival. It’s about learning to shoot a rifle at the age of six so that when you have to hunt squirrel in order to have something to eat for dinner, you can. After they skin the squirrels, they disembowel them and Ree’s little brother Sonny asks if they are going to eat the innards. Her answer is simple, honest, and - most of all - telling: “Not yet.”

Most of the other characters are frightening people, their reputations framed in the stories told about them by others. Every little thing left unsaid about each character allows the suspense to build organically as Ree’s search for her father drags her slowly into a web of secrets that everyone knows but no one will talk about. Characters described as dangerous are often not shown on screen until many scenes later, their power demonstrated through proxies - in many ways, not unlike the manner in which the Mafia operates. Here, though, there’s no kicking up to the captain, who kicks up to the boss; and there are no fur coats or diamond rings or extravagant dinner parties. Here, you keep a secret or you disappear.

Jennifer Lawrence is the one who will draw the most attention for this movie - both because she does a great job and because not nearly enough people are interested in writing for there to be much of a to-do over the adaptation of Daniel Woodrell’s novel here; and that’s too bad, because the adaptation is remarkable. The actors carry off the sometimes spare dialogue extremely well, which is to their credit as much as to that of the screenwriter; but there is so much about so many of the characters that is left unsaid that I kept thinking, throughout the film, that I absolutely had to read the novel the very minute the credits rolled and the house lights came up.

That hasn’t happened yet, though; and I still don’t know for sure how I would explain or define what a “real” art film is, nor whether or not it is worthwhile even to attempt to define the parameters of a “real” art film. That’s an essay for another time, if I can ever manage to write it. For now, I suppose it’s enough to say that Winter’s Bone is an incredible achievement - a nearly perfect film, and better than most of the other films I’ve watched this year combined. (In fact, after checking a list of films released in New York this year, it seems that I have seen a total of nine of them; and even the ones I had previously thought that I really liked paled in comparison to this one.)

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Red Eye Café

So the Red Eye Café is back in business, this time in Broad Ripple inside a former Pizza King about half a mile east of the village on Broad Ripple Avenue. It was previously located downtown, at the corner of Meridian and Louisiana, next to Union Station. I can’t say for sure why it closed up shop downtown and moved north, but I have some guesses. (Oddly, perhaps, I don’t think the recession had anything to do with it.) It opened quite a few years ago as a 24-hour diner-style place that served everything on the menu all day - both breakfast and dinner items. I heard that David Letterman even plugged it once on the Late Show.

For awhile, it was pretty solid - the food was excellent, and the service was somewhere between decent and unremarkable; but somewhere along the line, the service went to hell. The food remained excellent - particularly the omelettes and the burgers, which were made with chopped onion and garlic rolled into every hand-formed patty - but the service got way slow, and it also got to the point that they would forget something or get something wrong literally every time we ate there. Eventually they changed their hours and started closing Sunday through Thursday nights, though they remained 24-hours over the weekend. They closed down for good well over a year ago.

And now they’re back. The posted hours indicate that they are trying the 24-hour model again, except for Sundays, when they close early (like most non-chain places in this goofy Bible Belt backwater) at 2pm. They’re far enough outside the village that the weekend drunks would not automatically stumble into the place after the bars close, the way they stumble into La Bamba (or probably some other places too, but back when I used to stumble out of Landsharks or the Casba at three in the morning, La Bamba was the only choice) - so I don’t imagine that this 24-hour thing is going to last very long, especially since, on entering the place, you see at once what the big difference is between this one and the downtown version.

They have eliminated table service, which automatically elevates payroll to the top of the list of potential reasons that they vacated the downtown space. The dining area is also smaller (but more compact), which would indicate that rent was an issue downtown, too. You order at the counter from a one-sided paper menu that has some of the same offerings as the previous restaurant, though the focus here is on those omelettes and burgers - everything else has either been reduced or eliminated.

They brought the food out pretty quickly, but it’s hard to say if this was because they’ve gotten better at it or because we were the only ones there who were eating. We got there at 1:30, just half an hour before closing time, and the only other person in the restaurant had finished his meal and was taking advantage of what I assume is their free wi-fi. The downtown location had free wi-fi, too - you could even see the Airport base station hanging on the wall next to the soda machine.

Alas…it just ain’t the same. The veggie omelette (onion, green pepper, tomato, mushroom, topped with nearly melted cheese) was a little bit bland, and gooey in the middle. This may have been the tomato and onion giving off their water, but it tasted suspiciously like egg that wasn’t all the way cooked. Amy seemed pleased with her Denver omelette, though both of us got home fries (the only accompaniment to the omelettes) that looked like they had been cooked in a pan or on a griddle that had not been cleared of the carbon scoring from previous cookings. The potatoes themselves were not burned, but there were burned bits on the plate. At the previous location, you got hash browns and toast with your omelette - and the omelette was far more substantial than what is on offer now.

They seem to be most focused on the omelettes now; and while not necessarily a bad thing, it also means that they are lining themselves up to compete directly with Petite Chou and Three Sisters for the omelette crowd. And friends and neighbors, that’s just crazy talk. Petite Chou is a little expensive for my taste, and Three Sisters can be slow - accurate, and super friendly, but sometimes slow - but it’s well worth it at either place, because the omelettes are amazing. I prefer Three Sisters because it’s a bit less expensive and the rickety old house it’s situated in ratchets the atmosphere up to eleven. Either way, Red Eye Café, in its current incarnation, doesn’t even come close to competing with either of those other two places.

1904 Broad Ripple Avenue

Sunday, August 01, 2010

The Kids Are All Right

I’m vaguely tempted to say that this film might be just a little too affected, that it has a sort of surgical neatness to it that makes nearly every scene look like an advertisement for Pottery Barn or Food Network. The only dirt in the film seems to hover around Mark Ruffalo, a sperm donor-cum-father figure who could well be reprising his role in You Can Count On Me, if you take that character and cross him with Pig Pen from Peanuts and then add a strong hippie commune-slash-farmers market sensibility.

As a younger man, Paul was a sperm donor, for “sixty bucks a pop,” as he puts it. When asked why he donated, his reasons are, in order: because it was more fun than donating blood, and to help people who could not have kids of their own. He says the first because it’s true, and the second because he feels a certain pressure to give his actions - which resulted in two kids (one of whom poses the question) who want to contact him when they reach their late teens - a sense of nobility and purpose. He’s not quite honest enough to say that it was because he was broke, though we get the sense that this would be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

And quite frankly, it doesn’t really matter what his motivation was, because the story isn’t really about him. It involves him, but it is not about him. Joni and Laser are the two children that his sperm produced. Their moms are Jules and Nic, and the kids are technically half-brother and half-sister, since both Jules and Nic had one child apiece. But the couple raised both kids, and there was no contact with the sperm donor. Until now.

Laser wants to meet his dad because the only male influence on his life is his loser friend Clay and Clay’s loser father. For fun, Clay likes to skateboard off of rooftops and urinate on dogs. Laser understands, in a vague way, that his friend is a loser; but he doesn’t have any non-loser males with which to compare Clay, so he just sort of limps along on his own skateboard until Joni acquires her majority - and with it, the legal right to seek contact with cup-filler who sired her. And if she is only acting as Laser’s proxy when she initiates contact with Paul…well, that doesn’t really matter either. The story isn’t about their motivation for contacting their father.

In fact, the story isn’t really about anything at all. The characters are mostly fully formed as they are introduced, and none of them stray too far from their center as the film progresses. Paul is remarkably laid back for a restaurant owner and organic produce farmer, so it seems natural when he barely stumbles upon finding out that he is a father. He glides effortlessly into the space between responsible father and fun uncle, aided in no small part by Ruffalo’s boyish, “aw, shucks” demeanor. Joni and Laser respond to him more because he is fresh and new to them than because he is the other half of the biological cocktail that resulted in their being. After all, they already have a dad.

Sort of. One of their moms, Nic (Annette Bening), has a lot of stereotypical, though outdated, dad traits - she is the family breadwinner, she is stern and disapproving of a lot of things, she drinks too much. She married the cool, hippie, chronically unemployed longhair - Jules (Julianne Moore) - because Jules flirted with Nic when they first met, which was in some sort of supervisor-subordinate or teacher-student role some years ago. (I admit to journalistic ineptitude here both for having failed to take notes during the film and for having waited over a week to finish writing about it - a week ago, I probably would have remembered the circumstances of their meeting.) Actually, now I think about it, it may have been a doctor-patient situation.

So…opposites attract, strong women raise children, dad is absent but then shows up, and eventually there is drama. Director Lisa Cholodenko isn’t breaking any new ground here, but the point is not to break new ground. The point is to give interesting (if not, perhaps, original) characters a story, insert a conflict, and see how they deal with it - to watch the characters be the characters, to watch them change, to see life through someone else’s eyes. What makes this kind of film work is how the actors act, without the aid of computer-generated special effects, of suspense generated by negative space or a jarring score, or even of the kind of snappy writing that helped turn the trick for films like Juno and Little Miss Sunshine (or Away We Go, if you want to throw a bone to the distributor of The Kids Are All Right).

Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo are more than equal to the task. They have, between the three of them, simply a goofy aggregate of talent (not to mention seven Oscar nominations). I said at the top that I was tempted to say that this film has an overabundance of neatness to it, and I still think that’s true, even a week later; but that neatness allows the audience to see the subtlety of the acting at work, and that’s where this film really hits the mark.