Friday, December 31, 2010

The Epicentre of American Culture. The Versailles of the New World.

First of all, this goes without saying, but just in case, I want anyone to please feel free to post comments on this blog disagreeing with anything I say. I know I said here that I'm confident my opinion on topics discussed on this blog are better thought-through than everyone else's but, you know, I could be wrong about that. If you post something, I'll be sure to answer you and hopefully we can get a little dialogue going. You should be able to comment anonymously too if you want. If not, please let me know as this blogging business is new to me. But bring it on! This is exactly what I'm hoping for.

With respect to the title of this post, I think you all know what I'm talking about. I'm talking about Disney World.

Now you may be asking yourselves why on earth I, being an adult with no children, would go to Disney World. I really can't answer that question. However, my very witty little brother did sum up the experience of going to Disney World, which I would like to share with you. As follows, the epicentre of American culture in a nutshell:

"There's this stupid little thing that you kind of want to do. But there's a four hour line to do it."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The King's Speech

I am really, really disappointed to say that this movie is not as good as I wanted it to be, because it could have done, and still does to some extent, a service to stutterers. And indeed, I feel I understand this problem a little better now than I did before, in that I can see that it's more psychological than physical, which is why stutterers find public speaking so much more difficult than private. Although to be honest, I guess I kind of knew that before, or could have guessed it.

Here's the story: The current Queen Elizabeth's father, King George VI (played by Colin Firth), suffered from this condition, which I didn't know. He apparently made little effort to correct it until fairly late in his life since, being the second-born son of King George V, he wasn't expected to ascend to the throne and didn't have to speak in public all that much, although when he did it went horribly. As it begins to seem as though his older brother would abdicate as king, which he eventually does, Colin's character is thrust into the spotlight and gives consistently disastrous speeches. So he employs the services of a speech therapist, played by Geoffrey Rush, who is ostensibly the first common person he has ever really spoken to. The movie culminates in a radio address Colin as king has to give at the outbreak of World War II, keeping his halting speech in check.

There is something about relationships, both romantic and friendly, between royalty and commoners that lend themselves to cheesy discourse, both in movies and gossip magazines, and The King's Speech happily jumps on board with that. Geoffrey Rush's speech therapist keeps on telling the king, "You could be a great man," as though that is a really profound statement coming from a commoner, and Colin Firth's king keeps pointing out the obvious, such as when he remarks, "I can't pass laws or levy taxes, and yet I'm the king. Why?" At which point we are all supposed to tell ourselves, probably, that it's because this king really is a great man. But it's a good question: why is he great? Because he's making a concerted effort to correct a speech problem? Because he's (just barely) tolerating the assistance of a common man? Because he's not married to a divorcee? Because his wife is banal?

Actually, that's an idea that historical dramas of this style often try to push: great men have banal wives, who also happen to be really, really supportive and extremely well-dressed. Remember A Beautiful Mind? Just because Russell Crowe's wife was the one to ask him out doesn't mean she wasn't banal, because she was.

Anyway, Colin's character seems to be a bit of a big baby in this movie, and I don't feel all that sorry for him despite his trouble. There was one kind of moving scene where, at Geoffrey's suggestion, he sings what he's trying to say to get it out more fluidly, and in general, he does a pretty good job mimicking the stutter. Besides that, though, his character is a little flat. I really want to like this actor, but he just demonstrates to me time and again that he is only good at playing Mr. Darcy.

Also, this movie is almost comedically predictable. I don't think I'm ruining anything for you by telling you that the king's final speech basically goes fine, because that's obvious from the first minute of the thing. But people go nuts for movies with this kind of overly serious tone, as evidenced by the 96 percent fresh rating of The King's Speech on Rotten Tomatoes. For a discussion of why this might be, click here.

I have to give a shout-out to Helena Bonham Carter as the future Queen Mother Elizabeth, because she is really beautiful and womanly and has perfect deportment and porcelain skin, much like the Queen Mother herself, and is honestly a delight to watch if only for those reasons. But as mentioned above, she is banal, and her relationship with the king is kind of stupidly loving, unlike the probably way more intriguing one between the abdicated King Edward and his divorcee Wallis Simpson, which sadly is depicted only in one all-too-brief scene. And Helena's Queen Mother is also vomitudinously cheesy. That's not a word but it describes how she was. There is one line, which she delivers, that kind of sums up the tone of the whole shebang, from beginning to end:

"Darling. I refused your first two marriage proposals not because I didn't love you, but because I couldn't bear the idea of a royal life that wouldn't be my own. But then I heard you stammer so beautifully and I thought, what a special person," or something like that.

Barf. See what I mean?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pasta from Scratch

I don't care what Jamie Oliver says. It is not possible to make pasta from scratch without a pasta machine. Now I know that the invention of pasta predates the invention of the pasta machine, but I think we all know that in past eras everyone apparently had just one thing they needed to accomplish each day, and I guess for some people making pasta from scratch was that thing, so they figured out some way to do it, probably by spending the entire day rolling it. So if that's what you want to do, hey, I won't stop you from trying.

If you are a regular modern person with a job or something, or you just don't want to spend the whole day making pasta from scratch, I am going to show you the absolute biggest and thinnest you will be able to get your pasta if you follow the recipe from Jamie Oliver's first cookbook, The Naked Chef. I'm pretty excited, because this is the first picture to appear on the blog. But I probably shouldn't be that excited, because it's kind of a lame picture. Here you go:



I guess you can't really tell how thin that is, but I am telling you that it's not very thin. The only kind of cool thing about it is that it's sort of in the shape of Canada, if only Hudson Bay didn't exist. If only.

Anyway, when you cut this up and boil it, it will literally be as thick and puffy as a Sbarro pizza crust, except it will also be kind of hard. Gross.

Obviously, it kind of sucks when any recipe doesn't work out the way it promised to. But I find it especially disappointing when a Jamie Oliver recipe doesn't work, because that guy is really handsome, and he actually wrote at the beginning of the recipe, "I really want you to make this," which I could just hear him saying in that fetching accent of his. So when it didn't work, I sort of felt as though a handsome Englishman had stood me up. Irrational as that is.

Monday, December 27, 2010

When Will the Christmas Music Stop?

I stupidly thought that now Christmas is over, it would be a full year before I had to hear those two assholes singing "Baby It's Cold Outside" again. But it's still playing everywhere! Just go home if you want to go home, lady. No need for another drink. At least, don't tell the whole world about it.

The title of this post is completely misleading, because I'm actually finished talking about that, and am going to talk about something else now. Specifically, I'm going to talk about the movie True Grit, because it's really pretty great. Whether you like westerns or not, you'll appreciate this one, which parodies the genre really well but is also completely true to it. Jeff Bridges is really funny, and there's this little girl in the movie too who totally nailed her role and is hilarious. There's this one part where Jeff is having some trouble rolling a cigarette so she just grabs the thing and does it for him, and then says, "Your makings are too dry." Ha! You tell him, sister.

The premise of this movie, which is a remake of an old one that starred John Wayne, is simple: a fourteen-year-old girl sets out to avenge her father's murder, employing a supremely grubby old marshall (Jeff in this one) whom she says has "true grit" to lead her into the wild west to find the murderer - but of course the joke, if you could call it that, is that she's the one with true grit. Matt Damon also shows up as a fellow with a totally inflated sense of pride at being a Texas ranger, and I have to tell you that there is sexual tension between him and the fourteen-year-old, and it's actually not even that creepy or weird. Which just goes to show that this movie is really well-made.

Like Black Swan, which I talked about yesterday, this movie has an imperfect ending, which is a real bummer, because an ending can take a movie from pretty good or even pretty shit to complete and total perfection. Take 500 Days of Summer, for instance. Had the ending been any different, it would have been a completely lame rom com. But because of the ending, it was ingeniously original in its gorgeous simplicity. That may sound melodramatic but it's totally true. And Two Lovers, which not that many people have seen for some reason, but would make an excellent rental, was saved by its ending too.

The Coen brothers are generally good filmmakers but they're not that great with endings. I know everyone likes or at least talks about the ending of No Country for Old Men but it's not that good. Neither is the ending of Burn After Reading, although a pitch-perfect ending would have saved that so-so movie. But True Grit is still way fucking better than Burn.

So go out and see this shit too. And thank me later.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Black Swan v. Inception

I recently saw Black Swan, and I have to say that is a truly intelligent movie, and we need more like it. Also, I have to admit that in spite of the fact that I try really hard to hate Natalie Portman since she's a Jewish girl who is far more successful in life than me, she really is excellent in that movie. There's this one scene in particular, where something goes right for her really small-personality, deadly quiet character, where she expresses her happiness so beautifully. She just looked so mousily excited that I almost cried a little. That is to say, I was genuinely happy for her.

Now I've posted something about this on Facebook already, but there is a huge difference between a movie like this and one like Inception, which has also been talked about a lot. Inception has a slightly-too-clever premise, and the characters have pseudo-trendy names like "Mal" and "Ariadne," so you know it's that kind of movie, and it's even got Michael Caine in his usual semi-pointless supporting role, taking but two or three scenes to speak the all-knowing truth. So because of all this, the whole thing is really contrived, but tons of people like it anyway because there are tons of people who don't entirely trust their own intelligence, so if something is presented in a thick guise of seriousness, they'll think it must be great. Lost in Translation and Atonement were like that too. Just show some sweeping scenes of high tech-looking Tokyo or have Keira Knightley make a super-serious pout, and everyone will think it's a work of genius they're watching.

Black Swan, on the other hand. An abstract idea that probably seemed on paper like it would never work. And indeed, it's not perfect. The ending isn't quite right and the music is a little too suspenseful right from the beginning, considering the buildup is so slow. But it's very, very good. All the characters, including Natalie's almost demonic-looking mother and her sexually aggressive ballet master, are real. And despite what I just said about the music, for the most part the slow pace is great. This is a true horror movie, genuinely terrifying, and not because bodies are dropping right from scene one.

Go out and see this shit. Now.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

It's Tough to be a Jew on Christmas

Being a Jew on Christmas is kind of like being grounded on prom night. But hey, I'm not bitter. Happy birthday, baby Jesus.

That actually isn't a very good comparison for me personally, because I would have loved to be grounded on prom night. Then I wouldn't have had to go to the prom, and could have gone to bed at 10 PM like I wanted to.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Hello!

I have decided to start a blog. That's a sort of unceremonious beginning, but hopefully I'll get the hang of this fast. And hopefully it'll look a little better once I get a picture in the header and stuff.

What will be the point of this blog? That's a question I keep asking myself, and it's a good one, since goodness knows everyone else needs a point to write a blog. In any case I think the point of this one is just that I'm a little antisocial but also love to talk, and a blog is the only way I can really think of to resolve this contradiction.

I'm sure I'll discuss a variety of topics on here, but will probably mostly stick with recipes and whether or not they work, movies and whether or not they suck, and fashion trends and whether or not they are hideous, because those are the subjects about which I am confident that my opinion is better thought-through than everyone else's.

To illustrate this point, a story about my opinion on something Important. The other day I was sitting around while various other people were discussing the Israelis and the Palestinians, as people are often wont to do. And I said that I didn't really think it was even worth talking about anymore since the fact of the matter is that tons of people will always hate Israel whether their army is too aggressive or not, because that's just how the world kind of is about Jews and maybe we should own it already instead of always being upset about it. I mean, we can't all be like the Irish and be beloved by all. We can't all have leprechauns and cool accents and lucky charms. But anyway, that hasn't stopped Israel from having a super sweet beach and great cuisine and lots of hot men, so maybe we should just enjoy those things and hope the conflict will resolve itself eventually.

Well, that didn't go over very well, for did you know that 1) that's not true that people will always hate Israel whether their army is too aggressive or not (camp A) and 2) I should care more about everyone's opinion of Israel, especially the president of Iran's, because that guy is developing nuclear weapons and who do I think they're for (camp B)?

And let's not forget the time I didn't look at a newspaper for an entire week, and that week happened to begin on the day that big tsunami happened five years ago or whenever it was, which resulted in my announcing the event to a table of people a week after it happened as though it was news. I know that's not an opinion, but you know what I mean. Nightmare.

So that's why you will not be reading anything like that on this blog. Recipes, movies, and fashion trends. My word on those matters is gospel. Just ask anyone.

But today, a little something different, because I am pleased to report that I have recently read a book, and it wasn't called Canadian Administrative Law (okay, who am I kidding, it wasn't called Admin Law Case Summaries 2006) and it had a picture on the cover that wasn't of an empty boardroom. This book that I have read has a quote in it that I rather like, so I am going to share it with you. The book is Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, and the quote is this:

"When you read Dickens you're reading a long ballad from a vanished world, where everything has to come together in the end like an equation."

That's simple but lovely and true, isn't it? I suppose it was just the style of literature from long ago to pretend the world was uncomplicated, but I wonder why, what the point was of pretending so long and so hard.

I leave you with that, until next time.