Archive for the 'Watching' Category

Two Movies Based on Books: Why You Should See A Wrinkle in Time and Skip Ready Player One

Monday, April 2nd, 2018

I wish I had time to do a detailed reasoning of why I think you should see Ava DuVernay’s adaptation of Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and not bother with Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. But alas, life, and thus, I will make this quick and to the point. Also, spoilers.

I’ve read both books, multiple times, most recently reading Ready Player One aloud to my boys. Wrinkle in Time was one of my earliest favorite books. I strongly identified with auburn-haired, glasses-wearing, braces-sporting awkward angry Meg Murry. Only when I read the book as an adult and a friend of mine read it for the first time and commented on how annoying Meg was could I acknowledge that she’s not a well-developed character, and the plot is kind of wander-y. But the book Wrinkle in Time is still a solid one, for me. It’s an action adventure story with three kids helped by three mystical adults to save Meg’s father, themselves, and ultimately the universe. The book shoots for the stars, doesn’t reach them, but is fun in the trying.

Ready Player One, though, is a confection of a book. It’s boy wish fulfillment, about a geek boy named Wade who wants to live life in the virtual Oasis that’s been designed by his dead hero, who littered it with geeky Easter eggs from the 80’s and who after his death has Willy Wonka’d up a contest to win the candy factory. Oasis. Along the way Wade falls in love with a gamer girl whose tough woman warrior avatar is named Art3mis, but who is ashamed of her real life appearance because she has a large birthmark covering half of her face and she thinks she’s fat–at 165. Yes, I know it depends on how tall she is, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the book doesn’t have a progressive take on women’s body acceptance. In the end, she convinces Wade that he should care about what’s in the real world, and not just buying a mansion.

My family and I saw the movie for Ready Player One on the day it opened, at a matinee so not at full price. The movie makes a lot of departures from the book, which my 12yo, a literalist, took issue with. I didn’t. I was glad to swap the D & D module for the classic horror film for example. But it took out some of the horror of the book that would have grounded the story more, like a violent murder and the extent of the environmental damage. It gave Art3mis only a faint, small birthmark and she did not weigh anything like 165 pounds. Her avatar was girly, with big eyes that I don’t think a tough gamer chick would pick for herself. Glen Weldon, in his NPR review notes

She’s no Manic Pixie Dream Girl, thankfully, but she is only the latest of a growing number of similarly broad, similarly idealized female characters — the Flinty Badass Dream Girl? — to turn up in recent movies. That’s … akin to progress, I suppose. Progress-adjacent.

Sorry, but I don’t think it’s progress adjacent, though that phrase is hilarious and awesome. She’s a simplistic male fantasy, shown most obviously when she tells Wade he’s the superior egg hunter, and throws her support behind him without giving any reason.

The best part of the movie, to me, was the inclusion of Lena Waithe at Aech, with a hyper masculine avatar put forth by queer black woman. The queerness was only hinted at, which was a drag, and s/he was not in nearly enough of the movie, but Aech stood out as the most charismatic gunter of them all, and I would have loved to see more.

The whole movie is a nod to geek game culture, and while that’s fun, as with the character of Aech, I wanted more. I didn’t want just a boy fantasy where he gets the prize and the girl in the end. I wanted it to critique interacting online versus IRL, and how environmental collapse is leading us to scary places. So the movie adapts a flawed book, replicates its over-reliance on virtual reality, doesn’t critique gamer boy culture, got middling reviews, and yet won the box office.

Compare that to the movie A Wrinkle in Time, which also got middling reviews, but was savaged as a failure in more than one publication. This piece at Insider laid out why it was a failure, but I’m irritated that it was called a failure, when it made over $33 million and was second only to the juggernaut that is Black Panther. NOT A FAILURE.

Wrinkle in Time, as most of the reviews note (I like this one by A.O. Scott at the New York Times) all acknowledge that it was ambitious. But as Scott notes, there were great things about it, not just the diversity of the cast:

the diversity of its cast is both a welcome innovation and the declaration of a new norm. This is how movies should look from now on, which is to say how they should have looked all along.

Wrinkle in Time, unlike Ready Player One, handily passed the Bechdel test, and its variations with non-white players. But like Ready Player One, it took a flawed book, adapted it, made some good calls in the changes (the diverse cast, no IT as a pulsing brain) and some not so good ones (no Aunt Beast, Reese Witherspoon as a flying cabbage). Calvin was reduced to a Meg cheering section, which would have been unacceptable if their genders were reversed, and the plot had some big gaps.

Nonetheless, in the end, I felt more love and affection for Wrinkle than I did for Player. Wrinkle, the book and movie, shot BIG: it was about the struggle for good and evil in the world, and how each person can join and fight in it.

Player, was a boy adventure, set in the non-real world. Wrinkle went big, Player went small, and in the end, though they both were ambitious and expensive and missed the target, I recommend one and not the other.

Please, go see Wrinkle in Time. Lift up that box office. See Ready Player One if you must but I wouldn’t pay full price; it’s only OK. You can wait to rent it. But I’ll be buying the blu-ray of Wrinkle in Time when it comes out. We need more movies like Wrinkle in Time, and fewer Ready Player Ones. It’s that simple to me.

Talking Television

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

As I’ve gotten older and free time has gotten scarcer, I don’t obsess about new and returning fall television as I once did. That said, I still watch plenty of TV, and we haven’t talked TV in a while. Here’s what’s on the rotation currently, and why:

The Mindy Show: not hilarious, but charming and funny enough to keep going with
Happy Endings: bizarre and often hilarious
Arrow: comic-book geek guilty pleasure, heavier on the guilt
Nashville: soapy, woman-centered guilty pleasure, heavier on the pleasure
Modern Family: for now. Feeling very been-there, done-that.
Parks and Rec: Love this funny, sweet show. From season 3 on, this has been a consistent entertainment.
30 Rock: last season, and they’re pushing some interesting boundaries.

We tried Elementary (another woman-violent procedural), Last Resort (didn’t see the hype) and Ben and Kate (almost cute enough but not quite.), all just once.

Currently watching past seasons of Downton Abbey, Homeland, Friday Night Lights.

Looking forward to return of Breaking Bad and Mad Men.

I read all of Alan Sepinwalls reviews of my shows at Hitfix. He’s got a smart, informed commenting base, unlike Entertainment Weekly’s, which is regularly horrible and hateful.

What are you watching that’s worthwhile?

Family Movie Night

Monday, October 15th, 2012

We’ve had family movie night the last two Fridays. We broke one of my cardinal rules by eating home-made pizza and then ice cream in front of the TV to watch a movie we all agreed on.


Two Fridays ago, we watched The Avengers on Blu ray.


The boys loved it even more than they did when we saw it in the theater. They found the Hulk segments even more funny, especially “Target angry! Target angry!” G. Grod and I watched that entire 2.5 hour movie with them, then hustled them into bed so we could watch the extras and before the weekend was over had watched them all AND the movie with director Joss Whedon’s commentary. That’s how much we liked this movie.

Last Friday, we watched Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, which I consider his masterpiece.


Then again, saying that unfairly denigrates his other masterpieces, so best of the best? We tried to watch it a few years ago with the kids, but they were scared by some of the imagery. We watched it this time, and things seemed to go well. Both 9yo Drake and 6yo Guppy enjoyed it, as did G. Grod and I. But that was before bedtime.

After we tried to put the boys in bed, they got up again three times. Drake was disturbed by memories of the image of a monster from the movie that went on a rampage, ate several characters, and then vomited for a very long, long time. Interestingly, nothing from The Avengers the week before fazed him as this did. We finally got him into bed, and by the next day seemed happy to take our suggestion to remember the funny and cute and beautiful parts, like the return of soot sprites from My Neighbor Totoro, and adorable duck creatures, but still, Spirited Away was only a qualified success.


After pizza, dessert was my favorite combination of Ben & Jerry’s flavors, Chocolate Therapy and What a Cluster (formerly Clusterfluff).

Chocolate Therapy is chocolate ice cream with chocolate cookies & swirls of chocolate pudding ice cream, formerly only available in scoop shops.

What a Cluster is peanut butter ice cream with caramel cluster pieces, marshmallow swirls & peanut buttery swirls.

Chocolate Therapy on its own is quite something, but when combined with What a Cluster, well, something rather magical happens.

“As You Like It” by Shakespeare

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

I wrote last week about how I read a Shakespeare play, since I was about to see a production of As You Like It, and wanted to read the play in advance, to have a cushion of understanding to underpin my viewing experience, though a good production will make the Shakespearean prose accessible by the acting.

We saw a show by the group Ten Thousand Things, which we love for several reasons. They offer ticketed performances, but also offer free community shows for low-income, rehab, and prison populations. They feel Shakespeare and live drama shouldn’t be a privilege. Back in Shakespeare’s day there were cheap seats, but those are hard to come by today, and easy to see why in the audience, where my husband and I, 40 and 45 respectively, were in the tiny minority of “young” people.

Ten Thousand Things also performs in the round in a big room, so there’s a square of seats around the central play area, which was in a big room, not a “proper” theater. The lights are up, the actors regularly break the fourth wall, and the audience is not just up close, but often IN the performance. They also use a minimum of creative props, which really differentiates the experience from seeing a movie, urging me to use my imagination to bring closure to the settings.

So, the text of As You Like It, then. The play has a lot of similarities to other comedies, especially Twelfth Night: cross dressing, banished Duke, pastoral setting. And of course, a bunch of marriages at the end.

Here are the lines you already know that you might not remember came from THIS play:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players. (2.7.140-1)

Men have died from time to time and worms have eaten them, but not for love. (4.1.97-9)

An interesting exploration of women, and gender roles, plus it’s fun and funny to boot.

The Wire, Season 4

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

After taking more than a year off after Season 3 of The Wire, my husband and I watched Season 4 in a blaze. This is the one about the kids, the schools and the mayoral race, and I flat-out loved it. This is my favorite of the seasons thus far, and I think it was because of the kids. Like always, the series breaks my heart then builds it back up. It gives and it takes away. Phenomenal storytelling and characterizations. If you haven’t watched, you should. And winter re-run season is a great time. Go spend some time in Baltimore.

HOLY CATS, PEOPLE! The complete series is at amazon right now for $82. What are you waiting for?

Favorite Things!

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

Or, what I did instead of writing and napping.

Shopped at Barnes & Noble Galleria (but didn’t buy anything.)

Shopped at Half Price Books in St. Louis Park (um, did buy some stuff; book stack photo to come)

Lunch of mushroom stroganoff with tofu drizzled with Sriracha sauce at Noodles and Co.

Double of Clusterfluff (Peanut Butter Ice Cream with Caramel Cluster Pieces, Peanut Butter & Marshmallow Swirls) and Chocolate Therapy (Chocolate ice cream with chocolate cookies and swirls of chocolate pudding) at Ben & Jerry’s, plus they were having a 3-fer sale:


It’s not the hubby who’s going to get chubby around here, it’s me.

Some Other Days of Christmas

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

This year, with both boys off from school and G. Grod taking off most of the week after Christmas, and since we only set up our tree on Christmas Eve, I decided to embrace the entire 12 days of Christmas as the celebration.

I already wrote about the first day.

On the second day of Christmas, we ventured out in the snow to our grocery coop for necessary basics like yogurt and heavy cream. The streets were still bad from the Christmas storm, so we walked and took the sled, 3yo Guppy hitching a ride for most of a mile downhill. G shouldered the food on the way back up the hill, and both boys wanted to ride in the sled. I lasted about 2 blocks, then, sucking wind with thundering heart, told them to GET OUT! and WALK ALREADY! (The walk home is particularly steep, and challenging in the best of weathers.) I was in need of a nap when we got home.

After that, I had to convince the boys (what?) to watch Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. But the penguin, I insisted! Burgermeister Meisterburger! “Put one foot in front of the other…” Grudgingly, they allowed me to play my DVD, and not so grudgingly, they enjoyed it.

For bed, we read more of our Christmas library: Cranberry Christmas by Wende and Harry Devlin, The Mole Family’s Christmas by Russell Hoban, and The Night Before Christmas ill. by Jessie Willcox Smith (one of three different copies we have.) G and I very much enjoyed Bridget Jones’ Diary on dvd (which opens and closes at the holidays!) later that night.

On the third day of Christmas I went to yoga class while G. made biscuits and sausage gravy, then we met friends at the park for sledding. G and I geeked out and watched Part 1 of the David Tennant Dr. Who finale. Disappointing, but we were glad not to see any Daleks.

On the fourth day of Christmas the boys played with snap circuits and G. and I watched Death at a Funeral that night. It tried to be funny, but was instead mostly unpleasant. Alan Tudyk on hallucinogens saved it from being a total loss, I thought.

On the fifth day of Christmas we met at a friend’s house for a huge gathering of families. Great company, good coffee and snacks, but twenty two kids make rather a lot of noise. I finally got back to writing holiday cards. The boys watched Schoolhouse Rock, a gift from my aunt. That night, G and I watched It’s a Wonderful Life for the first time. I’d seen the Marlo Thomas remake several times as a child, (Orson Welles as Mr. Potter, Trapper John as her husband, Chloris Leachman as the angel and Christopher Guest as her brother!) yet somehow never the original. It’s good, but long and repetitively tragic before its happy ending. I prefer American Madness (which has some of the same banking/money details) or It Happened One Night as Capra films, and The Shop around the Corner as a Jimmy Stewart holiday film.

And on the sixth day of Christmas, I made oatmeal from Damn Good Food, a gift from my aunt. Then we read Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas by Russell Hoban, after which we took a family walk as the snow fell, fiercely and briefly, yet again.

More Christmas doings to come, I hope.

“Othello” Arden Shakespeare 3rd

Monday, November 30th, 2009

This fall the Twin Cities was host to TWO major stagings of Othello, both with some of our best local actors. When I pulled our Arden 2nd series copy off the shelf, I was repulsed by the cover, and annoyed, as it portrayed Othello as a boy, which he’s not. The copy, which was used, was filled with someone else’s notes and underlining, so I hied myself off to the bookstore, in flagrant dereliction of my latest book vow (WHY do I make those?) and picked up a lovely new copy of the 3rd edition of Arden Shakespeare’s Othello, edited by E. A. J. Honigmann and published by Methuen. (My dear friend Thalia introduced me to the Arden editions in 1995, and I’ve been with them ever since, even as they’ve gone through multiple editions and publishers. I can barely understand who publishes it now.)

About the text of the play: Othello, a successful military man, marries Desdemona, a young gentlewoman of Venice. He is dark, (whether African or Middle Eastern is a point of scholarly contention) and she is fair. Iago, Othello’s ancient (or ensign), is upset because he’s been passed over for promotion, and seeks revenge, or at least that’s what he says to begin. He persuades Othello that Desdemona and the new lieutenant, Cassio, are having an affair. Othello sinks quickly into jealousy, and bad things happen. Then worse things happen. It is a tragedy, after all, one whose themes of racism, jealousy, loyalty, deception and murder continue to play out in the world’s headlines today.

Iago: O beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on. (3.3.165-7)

About this edition: Honigmann’s editing is clear and helpful. Useful glosses are provided for difficult or archaic usage as well as helpful notes on understanding some of the repeated themes and phrases of the text. As with most introductions, I think it should be read after, not before, as it refers to minutely to the play that it is more helpful when the play details are fresh. I particularly like the section on the history of the play’s performance, and how actors have played the major roles.

Additionally, Honigmann lays out the evidence for some of the major questions about the play: was Iago in love with Othello, how does the play deal with the passage of time, what is the right tone for Iago, and most important to the editor: is Othello Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy? Honigmann says yes. While the text of Hamlet may excel in poetry and Lear in pathos, both are often criticized as too long in performance. In performance, Othello’s “extraordinary momentum and the audience response it generates place it, in these respects, ahead of its nearest rivals, Hamlet and King Lear.”

I saw both the recent Twin Cities’ productions, and hope to view the Lawrence Fishburne/Ken Branagh film soon. The Park Square Theater production (reviews from Twin Cities Daily Planet, Examiner, and Star Tribune) was very good and traditionally staged. But even though I sat in the second row, it had nowhere near the power of the intimate setting of the Ten Thousand Things production (reviews from TC Daily Planet, Star Tribune, and MinnPost), after which ending the room leapt to their feet in an outpouring of spontaneous admiration and applause. I was extremely fortunate (if financially poorer) for being able to see two professional productions in one week so I could compare and contrast them.

Among many points, I was interested to note that in both, Iago was portrayed as a villain for villainy’s sake, with little query or complexity given to his shifting reasons for destroying so many. One Desdemona went to her death meek, while the other fought fiercely. I continue to find I prefer the more simply staged, evocative performances to the traditionally staged ones. To my sensibilities, there is a creativity that shines on the smaller stage that highlights the play more than fancy backdrops and sound effects do.

Two Weeks of Summer Salads and Such

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

This summer is the first I’ve done a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share from a local farm, Foxtail Farm. Two thirds of the way through summer and I’m feeling burnt out on veg. Some of this is circumstantial: my 3 and 5yo boys will eat little of what arrives in our weekly box except carrots. Some of it is seasonal: summer is high growing season, so there’s a use-it-or-lose-it aspect for the increasing volume of fresh produce. Finally, though, it hits me in my week spots of anxiety and compulsion–I feel anxious about having to use up the veg, and compelled to use them in creative ways, which generally involved a lot of cooking or prep.

I’m not sure what the solution is. No CSA next year? Go down to a quarter share from a half weekly, or alternate weekly half shares with another family? Stop trying to be creative and just steam things in great batches? I love cooking in season with fresh local produce, supporting local farmers, and to a point I love the challenge of cooking what shows up, but I need to find a way that’s less exhausting to me. Fortunately, though, the prep pays off; most of what we make is quite tasty.

A trio of salads from last week, looking pale and rather yucky, hence the small photo. Trust me, they were delicious, and beautiful to look at when fresh:

salad trio

The red salad top left is from Mark Bittman’s 101 Salads for the Season, salad #1 tomato and watermelon with feta in a

Basil Vinaigrette from Cook’s Country:

3/4 cup olive oil
2 cups chopped fresh basil
1 shallot , peeled
1 clove garlic clove , peeled
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1. Heat 1/4 cup oil with 1 cup basil in medium saucepan over medium heat until basil turns bright green and small bubbles appear, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn off heat and steep 5 minutes.

2. Process shallot, garlic, vinegar, water, salt, pepper, and mustard in blender until garlic and shallot are finely chopped, about 15 seconds. With blender running, slowly add remaining oil and steeped basil oil and continue to process until dressing is smooth and emulsified, about 15 seconds. Pack remaining basil into blender and process until dressing is smooth, about 15 seconds. (Dressing can be refrigerated in airtight container for up to 3 days.)

At bottom is salad #39, corn, Yucatan-style sauteed in a skillet, then tossed with lime juice, feta, quartered cherry tomatoes, and cayenne.

On the right is corn again, this time with quinoa (the recipe calls for farro, I’ve also used pearled barley to good effect) with goat cheese and green beans. This recipe, from Epicurious, is delicious. My friend LH made it for our book group, and I’ve made it twice since.

Chicken, Green Bean, Corn, and Farro Salad
with Goat Cheese Bon Appétit | August 2009

Farro is a nutty-flavored grain that’s popular in Tuscany. It’s not as heavy as some other whole grains, but it’s still packed with protein, fiber, magnesium, and vitamins A, B, C, and E. Here, it’s the base for a satisfying summer salad. Yield: Makes 4 servings

1/2 cup semi-pearled farro* or spelt berries

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
8 ounces skinless boneless chicken breast halves
12 ounces green beans, trimmed, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups fresh yellow corn kernels (cut from 2 to 3 ears of corn)
3 green onions, thinly sliced (about 3/4 cup)
1 tablespoon minced fresh marjoram
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons minced shallot
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
4 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled (about 1 1/4 cups)

Cook farro in medium saucepan of boiling salted water until just tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain; cool.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in heavy medium skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Add chicken to skillet; cook until golden brown and cooked through, about 8 minutes per side. Cool, then cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch cubes. Cook green beans in large saucepan of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Drain. Rinse under cold water to cool; drain. Transfer beans to kitchen towel; pat dry.

Mix farro, chicken, and green beans in large bowl; add corn and green onions.

Combine remaining 2 tablespoons oil, marjoram, and 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt in small bowl. Press with back of spoon to release flavor. Whisk in vinegar, shallot, and mustard. Pour over salad in bowl; toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD: Salad can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Divide chilled or room-temperature salad among plates. Sprinkle with goat cheese.

* Available at specialty foods stores, natural foods stores, and Italian markets.

Something else the boys wouldn’t eat was zucchini bread, recipe from Cook’s Country:

zuke bread

Zucchini Bread

Cut large zucchini in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a spoon before shredding.

Makes one 9-inch loaf or 4 mini loaves
1 pound zucchini
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon lemon juice
6 tablespoons unsalted butter , melted and cooled

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Generously coat 9 by 5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray.

2. Shred zucchini on large holes of box grater, then place in clean dish towel and squeeze out as much moisture as you’re able. Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, allspice, and salt in large bowl. Whisk sugar, yogurt, eggs, lemon juice, and butter in bowl until combined.

3. Gently fold yogurt mixture and zucchini into flour mixture using spatula until just combined. Transfer batter to prepared pan.

4. Bake until golden brown and skewer inserted in center comes out with a few crumbs attached, 45 to 55 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack to cool at least 1 hour. (Bread can be wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature for 3 days.)

To sweeten the deal for the boys (and me) I made

Zesty Apricot Cream Cheese Spread

8 ounces cream cheese , at room temperature
1/3 cup apricot jam
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

With rubber spatula, combine cream cheese, apricot jam, confectioners’ sugar, and lemon zest in bowl until smooth.

The spatula left things unattractively lumpy, though it still tasted great. I’d use a food processor next time. And still, the boys refused this.

I used the rest of the basil vinaigrette with potatoes and a pickling cucumber, the latter was a great addition to the salad:

potato salad with basic vinaigrette and cuke

And then this is about a quarter share (I gave half of my half to a friend) from last Thursday, which felt much more manageable:

quarter share CSA

Corn, dill, zuke, onion, chard, carrots, green beans, cukes (hiding) and potatoes.

With it I made the corn and green bean salad from above, a chard frittata with dill, cucumbers in a dill yogurt sauce (that I served alongside poached Alaskan salmon), and one of my all time favorite potato recipes:

Roasted Potato Slices with Lime and Chili

Can be prepared in 45 minutes or less.
Yield: Serves 2
two 1/2-pound russet (baking) potatoes
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon chili powder

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Peel potatoes and halve lengthwise. Cut potatoes crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices and on a baking sheet toss with oil and salt and pepper to taste. Bake potatoes in one layer in middle of oven, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes, or until golden.

In a bowl stir together mayonnaise, lime juice, and chili powder. Add warm potatoes and combine well.

I recommend dividing the potatoes up before eating. Serious struggles have occurred when my husband G. Grod and I have tried to share the bowl. And we’re always disappointed at the end, in spite of having just devoured a whole pound of potatoes between us.

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 2″

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

My husband and I bought the Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 2 dvd set when it came out, watched a few episodes, then put it away. We had no idea where we’d ended, so we went back to the beginning, starting with Season 1, episode 1. Buffy is a fun show with a dark sense of humor and a way with theme and metaphor. Season 1 was Buffy finding her bearings in Sunnydale and battling the Master, an ancient vampire bent on, what else, releasing hell on earth.

Season 2, though, digs deeper and even darker. The series moves away from some of the sillier “monster of the week” episodes, and spends more of its time on the bad guys: Spike, Drusilla, and a friend turned foe. It still finds time for the funny, though.

Oz: Yeah. Hey, did everybody see that guy just turn to dust?
Willow: Uh, well, uh… sort of.
Xander: Yep. Vampires are real. A lot of them live in Sunnydale. Willow will fill you in.
Willow: I know it’s hard to accept at first.
Oz: Actually, it explains a *lot*.

Nasty stuff happens to characters we’ve come to love, and we get to see how it affects them over time. I found the two-parter in the middle, “Surprise” and “Innocence”, along with the season finale, wrenching stuff. The Amazon reviewer sums it up well, I think: “This is some of the best TV ever made, period.”

While the media is abuzz over a silly rumor about Buffy that will likely never come to pass, do yourself a favor: ignore the gossip and revisit the original series. It’s a perfect show for the summer season of reruns.

More Adventures in Parenting

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

5yo Drake and 3yo Guppy’s 8th-grade babysitter had one of the lead roles in her middle school’s production of West Side Story. Drake’s love of music runs deep, and he’s become enamored of musicals (Sound of Music) and music from Musicals (Mamma Mia! and “What a Piece of Work is Man” from Hair) so I thought I’d give it a shot.

It went well. Drake enjoyed the music, didn’t seem troubled that he couldn’t follow the story (a good thing in my book), and we sat behind the orchestra, so he got to see that as well. I gave him the option of leaving at intermission, but he wanted to stay. The kids in the play did a great job, and Drake sat through his first full-length musical. (Less winning were the grandparents behind me who talked at normal volume throughout and had to wrangle an 18mo toddler. But their other grandkid was in the play, and this was middle school, not the Guthrie, so I didn’t ask them to keep it down.)

Soon after, I saw a flyer for another local middle school’s production of Harry Allard and James Marshall’s Miss Nelson is Missing. Buoyed by my previous success, I thought it would be good for Drake and Guppy. The play itself would have been about an hour, which is what I expected. Alas, in the admirable spirit of including everybody who wants to participate, there were musical numbers between EVERY scene, so the show lasted two hours. At the end of the play, the last of its run, there were speeches, and thank yous. And more speeches. And more thanks yous. Finally I grabbed my kids and tried to make an exit.

Guppy was not on board with this plan. “I DON’T WANT TO LEAVE!” he screamed as I carried him out of the auditorium. He continued to scream, plus hit me, as we made our way through the school and outside. I put him down, he threw himself to the ground screaming and kicking. By this time the play was finally over. Playgoers streamed around us. I put him on his feet and dragged him resolutely to the car. He continued to cry and scream, and refused to get in his car seat. Mothers in the parking lot gave me sympathetic looks. Elderly people gave me dirty looks. Drake screamed because Guppy was screaming. I waited a few minutes, then wrestled Guppy into his seat. He screamed all the way home, where I handed him to G. Grod and said, “He needs a diaper. And he’s been crying for 30 minutes. I’m going to lie down.”

G got him quieted within minutes, so my frayed nerves and I could take a nap. But not before I swore off middle school musicals for a while.

Tivo Alerts

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Tomorrow, Wednesday 3/25/9 Great Performances on PBS features Ian McKellen as King Lear, for those like me who missed him in that role at the Guthrie Theater in 2007.

Sunday, 3/29/9 Masterpiece on PBS begins the new Andrew Davies adaptation of Dicken’s Little Dorrit.

Ambivalence over the Yucky Bits

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

At Salon, Rebecca Traister examines some recent women’s confessional articles in “Girlie Gross Out”, and wonders if it’s liberating or too much information:

Oversharing is in. And for a lot of people who are doing the sharing, or experiencing it, it’s not so much “too much information” as it is the next, necessary step in personal-is-political, enlightened honesty about the female body.

Traister doesn’t draw a conclusion, and I’m not sure there is one. I had an experience very similar to one of the several described in the article. I talked about it at the time, but rarely do anymore. It scared people, and that didn’t seem kind to do.

I’m reminded of the hubbub over breastfeeding photos on Facebook. I breastfed both my kids until they were at least a year old, often in public. But I always tried to be in a quiet place, and be discreet. It was something between my kid and me; I didn’t and don’t think it’s anyone else’s business. Yes, I fully support and encourage women to breastfeed in general, and their right to do so in public. Yet while I see how photographs of this support that right, they also bug me–they _are_ too much information. Mommy friends of mine breastfeed their kids around me all the time; that’s great. But they don’t deliberately solicit my attention to it, as do public photos, and the type of articles described at Salon.

My own conclusion then, if there is one, can be only about me. I try not to overshare about the messy bits, except to my OB/GYN. If somebody else does it, I appreciate that there are positive aspects, but part of me would also be fine if I didn’t know that. I support someone else’s desire and right to do it, but also my own right to be ambivalent, bothered by it, or avoid it.

Link from The Morning News.

“A Delicate Balance” Guthrie Theater

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

Earlier in the month, I got carried away by a special the Guthrie theater was offering, and bought tickets not only to the two plays I was interested in–Henry V and Two Gentlemen of Verona–but also to Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance. This last was a mistake.

A tale of tension and anxiety in WASPy suburbs of the mid-sixties, the play’s slow pace was worsened by two intermissions. The set was beautiful, though, and I especially liked the splatter painting at its center, a hint of the chaos that underlies the delicate balance of the title. The individual performances were uniformly good (though I found Candy Buckley as Claire looked distractingly like my sister Sydney), but were overwhelmed by the overlong play. It so lost its tension by the end that I wondered less about the characters than about why I’d spent time and money to watch them.

Other reviews: TCDaily, Examiner, Star Tribune

“Macbeth, Arden 2nd series, ed. Kenneth Muir

Saturday, November 8th, 2008

In preparation for seeing the Torch Theater production, I re-read Shakespeare’s Macbeth. As with Hamlet, I was struck by how many lines continue to be quoted (sometimes incorrectly) hundreds of years later. The plot is familiar to most, even those who have never read the play. The particulars, though, drew me through the story. I noted Macbeth’s vacillation, so like Hamlet’s in that earlier, and IMO better, tragedy. I appreciated the crowd-pleasing breather of the drunken porter scene, and was annoyed by my edition; it debates the provenance of almost every passage in “Macbeth”, but doesn’t bother to speculate on “nose painting.” Overall, though, I appreciated the notes detailing the centuries-long debate over what parts of the play Shakespeare wrote, what he didn’t, etc.

As for the story as a whole, I contrast Macbeth’s change over the play, from hero to doubter to outward embracer of his role as villain, with that of Lady Macbeth, who is constant from first learning of the prophecy, yet shatters on the interior from the stress of her misdeeds in the service of her ambition. Macbeth and his lady balance one another, even as they plunge down a slippery slope of morality to their demises.

Macbeth and Buffy the Vampire Slayer: I’ve noted some similarities of the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Shakespeare before, in my reading of Titus Andronicus. G. Grod and I were watching BtVS Season 2* on DVD while I read Macbeth. Creator Joss Whedon, in his commentary on the season’s (and perhaps the series’) pivotal two episodes, “Surprise” and “Innocence,” states his preference for psychology in the service of a tale. He wants to add realistic touches to supernatural elements to create a fantastic yet believable story. He offered as examples the star-crossed lovers Angel, the vampire with a soul, and Buffy, the slayer who’s in love with a vampire.

I find an echo in Whedon’s comments to those of Kenneth Muir in the Macbeth Introduction:

Shakespeare was not so much concerned with the creation of real human beings, but with theatrical or poetical effect. He was fascinated by the very difficulty of making the psychologically improbable, by sheer virtuosity, appear possible. Shakespeare made ‘the bold experiment of a character with a strongly marked mixture of qualities of which the one seems almost to preclude the other’–a brave warrior who is a moral coward, a brutal murderer who is racked by feelings of guilt, and so on. (Intro, xlvii)

Macbeth, Torch Theater, 1 November 2008
: The irony of seeing Macbeth on All Saints Day amused me. This production was on a small scale, but with two locally renowned actors, Stacia Rice and Sean Haberle, in the lead roles. The supporting roles were filled with actors of varying skill. Macduff was effective, I found, while Malcolm was not. Still, the power of the story combined with its strong actors made for an stirring show.** Star Tribune review here, City Pages review here.

For a geeky variation on “Macbeth”, see Theresa and Patrick Nielson-Hayden’s excellent blog Making Light.

*Query: is Buffy Season 2 one of the best seasons of TV ever? Discuss.

**My favorable impression of the play may have been enhanced by the kind usher who told me my outfit was really working for me (I wore these shoes), and because I was basking in the aftermath of a fabulous meal from Nick and Eddie’s.

“Twelfth Night”

Saturday, November 1st, 2008

In preparation for my viewing of Ten Thousand Things‘ all-female production, I re-read Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: Or, What You Will. The text of the play is mostly a delight, though there are a few toothsome things to mull over after the play is done. Its end of multiple marriages is seemingly tidy, but a few characters are left out in the cold, as acknowledged by the clown’s closing song:

But when I came to man’s estate,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
‘Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate,
For the rain it raineth every day. (V. i. 392-395)

Both Malvolio and Sir Andrew Aguecheek are fairly easily categorized as knaves. Yet I found Antonio the odd man out, literally. In this gender-bending comedy, the central character, Viola, spends most of her time dressed as a man. The happy couples at the end are she, united with her love Orsino, and her twin, Sebastian, married to Olivia. Olivia quickly abandoned her vow of mourning for her brother for Viola/Cesario. She even more quickly accepts male Sebastian in Cesario’s place. In the end, Orsino abandons his professed love for Olivia on learning his trusted “man” Cesario is in fact Viola. In my reading, Antonio, who saved Viola’s twin Sebastian after their shipwreck, is the only steadfast lover in the play. Orsino, not Antonio, is conveniently matched with Sebastian’s female counterpart once identities are revealed. Instead, his faithful and sincere speeches and acts of devotion to Sebastian:

I could not stay behind you: my desire
More sharp than filed steel, did spur me forth:
And not all love to see you (though so much
As might have drawn one to a longer voyage)
But jealousy what might befall your travel
Being skilless in these parts: which to a stranger
Unguided and unfriended, often prove
Rough and unhospitable. My willing love,
The rather by these arguments of fear,
Set forth in your pursuit. (III. iii. 4-13)

get swept away in the tumult of the closing scene, perhaps because his love doesn’t conform to the norms of sex and gender.

I enjoyed the TTT production a great deal, and would recommend it to seek out, but all seats are committed, and its run ends tomorrow. Kate Eifrig is a delight in her dual roles of Viola and Sebastian. Maggie Chestovich is a thoughtful and clever clown. Sally Wingert reprises the role of Maria that she played in the Guthrie’s past productions, and adds an entertaining turn as Orsino. Isabell Monk O’Connor is a boisterous Sir Toby, while Kimberly Richardson makes a suitably clownish Sir Andrew. Barbara Kingsley does an appropriately uptight and off-putting Malvolio, though the production chooses to dwell on his punishment overmuch.

I found this version’s practice of leaving the lights up, and having the actors interact with the audience both exciting and unnerving. A main moment of disappointment, though, was the poignant scene of Viola and Sebastian, necessarily difficult to stage with one actor playing both parts. Instead of inspiring quiet appreciation for the range of emotions experienced by the characters, it was received as comic by most of the audience.

For more on the TTT production: City Pages review, Strib review, and an interview with TTT director Michelle Hensley at TC Daily Planet.

I chose to reread the play in advance; I find Shakespeare easier to follow with preparation. In contrast, there are movies coming up–The Road and Reservation Road–for which I’m going to read the book after, to better evaluate if the movie stands on its own. I’m likely not a good judge of TTT’s Twelfth Night clarity of story, then, since my recent prior reading doubtless filled in any plot gaps the editing might have left, as the play finished within a quick two hours.

“Crime and Punishment,” the Musical

Monday, October 13th, 2008

Coming in April 2009, Raskol, a new musical, written by Kira Obolensky, a production of Ten Thousand Things, based on Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment! With a jazz score, the winner of TTT’s first Playwrighting Challenge will take a fresh look at Raskolnikov’s guilty struggles.

Directed by Michelle Hensley. Music by Peter Vitale. With Kris Nelson, Luverne Seifert, Craig Johnson, Karen Weise-Thompson, Lisa Clair, Tracey Maloney and Charles Schuminski.
April 23 - May 24, 2009

The Play’s the Thing

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

There are several promising plays here, or coming soon to, the Twin Cities of Minnesota. Distracted closes soon, and Twelfth Night tickets are going fast, so don’t dawdle.

, a play about ADHD, at the Mixed Blood Theatre through October 19, 2008.

A View from the Bridge, by Arthur Miller, at the Guthrie through November 8, 2008.

MacBeth, at the Torch Theater, starring Stacia Rice and Sean Haberle, whose chemistry in the Guthrie’s Jane Eyre earlier this year made it worth watching.

Twelfth Night, an all-female production from Ten Thousand Things, with performances at Open Book.

Frost/Nixon, Spring Awakening and other Broadway hits, playing in the Hennepin Theatre District

DVR Hell

Monday, September 15th, 2008

Mark Harris at Entertainment Weekly writes about what piles up on his DVR: quality programs he finds himself unable or unwilling to watch, instead turning to shorter, lighter fare.

The oldest movie on our Tivo is Guys and Dolls (1955)–three hours long, and recorded at least a year and a half ago during Oscar month at Turner Classic Movies. There never seems to be enough time, or the right mood, for a 3-hour 50’s musical.

As Harris notes, the same reluctance applies to books and music. I wonder, how many others besides me are feeling bad that they’d not yet read David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest? It’s been on my shelf for a decade.

How We Started the Long Weekend

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

As soon as he got home from work, my husband G. Grod, 5yo Drake, 2.5yo Guppy and I piled in the car and headed west of Minneapolis to where G and I first lived when we moved here ten years ago, St. Louis Park. First, we went to Half Price Books, and found a huge pile of delightful books and dvds, all an extra 20% off. Then we went to Noodles and Company for supper (I love the Mushroom Stroganoff with Sriracha sauce), and Ben & Jerry’s for ice cream (I never get anything else besides Chocolate Therapy). We took a walk around part of Lake Calhoun, then headed home to get the boys ready for bed, during which Guppy peed in the potty for the second time, ever. Then G. and I watched an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer from Season 2, “The Dark Age.”

It was a wonderful evening.