Monday, February 23, 2009

The Visitor

Movie: The Visitor
Like/Don't Like: I liked it a lot.

I actually watched this movie weeks ago but forgot to post on it. And generally that would mean I would write something like, " was good." Except that I loved it and I remember why I loved it. It was very quiet. And I like quiet movies when they're well written and acted. This one was both. The acting was great, especially Richard Jenkins, who is one of those actors you've seen everywhere but never know his name. He plays an economic professor who finds two illegal immigrants living in his New York City apartment, and because of them he goes from being a lonely widower who barely knows how to live anymore to a man who suddenly has things to care about. He is lovely in it. The whole film is just very subtle and lovely.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

Book: Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
Author: David Sedaris
Like/Don't Like: Thoroughly enjoyable. And a little heartbreaking.

I sort of feel a little connection to David Sedaris because we both love a good story. Throughout this collection of his I could see that his mind worked the same way mine does: that if I happen to see something weird or fascinating or funny I can't wait to tell people about it. We both plot out how we're going to phrase it, how to lead into it, how many people can we tell. It made me feel slightly less needy knowing that there was someone else who does this. And it made me never want to meet him over hot chocolate because we would inevitably get into a game of story one-upping and I would lose. Because he has the craziest stories.

And he's way more talented. The guy can write. He has a gift for starting out with something small, like a talking parrot or a boy trying to bring his parents coffee at a hotel, and turning it into very funny, often heartbreaking, story about his relationships with family and friends. There were times when I found myself laughing as I was welling up, which is a good sign of great story-telling.

Monday, February 9, 2009

New in Town

Movie: New in Town
Like/Don't Like: Even with Renee Zellwegger's squishy face and awkward jogging, I still really liked it.

Did you know I use to work at a movie theater. I have the physical scars to prove it. I started out in the concession stand, burning my flesh on the popcorn popper and then I moved to the box office, where I attempted to not shove my hand through the little slot to throw unwound paperclips at people's heads. Because people who go to the movies are dumb. No, I really mean it. They are ludicrously dumb. At the concession stand people would go from one candy counter to the next, inspecting the identical displays, and then come up to the register and say, "I don't see any Jordan Almonds here but I'd like some so could you pull a box out from the back." To which I would reply, "I would like to not be wearing these polyester pants, so it seems like we're both going to be disappointed tonight." They were no better at the box office. People would spend 10 minutes in line waiting to buy their ticket and when they got up to the window they would still turn to their date and say, "What do you want to see?" "I don't know, what do you want to see?" And I would join in, "I bet the people behind you know what they want to see."

I'm telling you this because I feel it's important, as an active member of society, that when you get to the box office window you know exactly what you want. I know that it must be hard to live in a cave with no newspaper or Internet or phone or blackberry or TV and then you get the sudden urge to go to the movies and you have no idea what's playing. It's a tough world for spontaneous cave-dwellers. I understand. But people are standing behind you in line. In the rain. The freezing pouring rain. Waiting to watch a movie with Harry Connick Jr. Inside, where it's warm and dry. And they're standing in the rain because it's Southern California, where it doesn't rain very much, so builders of movie theaters don't really consider it fiscally responsible to build the box office indoors or even under an awning. And while you're standing at the box office, and you're asking the ticket girl to describe every movie playing at the 30-plex, including major plot lines and character development, as well as a brief critique on it, the group of girls behind you are getting very wet. And their hair is getting all damp and tragic and will no doubt resemble a tumbleweed when it dries, if they ever make it into the theater. Where it is not wet. And when you hear them say very loudly behind you, "Um...we're STANDING IN THE RAIN!" don't just stare at them and then turn back and ask the ticket girl what she thought of "He's Just Not That Into You." Buy your ticket and move. So they can get inside where it's not raining. If you're lucky, you'll be stuck behind a bunch of girls who thought it was actually quite hilarious and laughed about the whole thing. But no amount of laughter will stop their hair from tumbleweeding up.

Wasn't I do something? Oh right! I was telling you about the movie.

Funny. Really. Very funny. And here's what made it funny. The minor characters. Renee Zellwegger was her usual drunken squishy face self. And she had the added annoyance of having Very Severe Hair that I wanted to push out of her face. And the scenes with her jogging were extremely uncomfortable to watch. And Harry was adorable and charming but was the straight man mostly. But the supporting cast was hilarious. They were over the top caricatures of Minnesotans, and I image that some people would find that too much. But I thought they were great. And I laughed a lot. So did the other people in the theater. In fact, there were times that I laughed more at the people laughing than I did at the actual movie. I love it when that happens.

And, since we're all here, let's talk about Harry Connick Jr. in a beard for a sec. It was like Christmas morning for me. Hooray for Harry in a beard!!!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Ghost Town

Movie: Ghost Town
Like/Don't Like: Like. Ricky Gervais makes me giggle a lot. And squirm. He makes me squirm.

You know how sometimes you watch the Office and Michael Scott is just so embarrassing that you squirm a little? Well, he is nothing to Ricky Gervais in the original British version of the Office. Whenever I watch him I want to hide my head under a pillow because I know that something incredibly awkward is going to happen.

This is how I felt through about the first 30 minutes of this movie because just seeing Ricky Gervais gives me kind of a squirmy feeling. But I was pleasantly surprised that he was the funny, only slightly awkward version of himself, rather than the run from the room because you're so embarrassed for an entirely fictional character kind of awkward.

Maybe it was the anticipation of squirminess that made me feel it wasn't as hysterically funny as several people had told me it was. I did think it was funny, and I did laugh out loud quite a few times.* But I think I was expecting a romp. And it wasn't. It was actually quite touching at times. Which, I think in the end, I preferred.

*I'm more of a giggler in movies. It takes a lot to make me laugh out loud during one.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

Book: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
Author: Oliver Sacks
Like/Don't Like: Fascinating!

Oliver Sacks is clearly a genius. And not just any kind of genius but an All-Around Genius. He's smart in a lot of different ways. He's a world-renown neurologist, which automatically puts him up there on the smartypants scale. And reading his books gives you the sense that he knows everything about everything. This book is comprised of 20 or so of his most interesting case studies and in them he references movies, books, philosophers, music, art, and sports. He would kill on Jeopardy.

For me, though, his real genius is how he manages to write about these things in a way that isn't just understandable but is also compelling. He's an incredible story-teller. Especially for someone who is so knowledgeable about a subject that very few people even understand - that being neurological disorders so severe you wonder a little if he's making them all up. Because the title is true. He had a patient who literally could not tell the difference between his hat and his wife. He actually grabbed his wife's head when he meant to put his hat on. Dr. Sacks also writes about a woman who lost all awareness of herself except through sight. So if she closed her eyes for longer than a blink her brain would think that her body no longer existed and she would collapse. He writes about twins who can calculate prime numbers up to 20 digits and a woman who literally hears music in her head all the time. It has some crazy stuff in it.

But it's not necessarily the stories that grab you, it's the way he tells them. If these were just clinical records of unusual cases I would never have stuck with it. But mixed in with all the scientific explanations and references to previous studies by doctors you know nothing of are his experiences of getting to the bottom of problems that nearly everyone else had written off as impossible to solve. He's able to show the human aspect of every case and it's touching to see a doctor be both fascinated and excited by the challenge and compassionate towards those that are suffering. Particularly in the last section of the book where he writes about his work with the mentally disabled. It's very sweet.

In regards to that last section: the book was written in 1984, before political correctness took over, and he uses old school terminology for the mentally disabled. Terms like dullard and retardate and simpleton and freak. I actually found it to be kind of funny and refreshing because clearly he loves them and wants the best for them and would never say anything degrading or mean spirited. It just shows how times have changed in 25 years.

And if you're looking for something a little less scientifically taxing on your brain I will recommend his memoir, Uncle Tungsten. It's about his childhood in England during the war and his fascination with chemistry. It made me want to memorize the periodical chart of elements.