Wednesday, January 31, 2007

N is for Neville

I have a simple explanation for my depression: frustration. All forms of it: sexual, intellectual, interpersonal...I suck at most of all of the above in the sense that while I know how to deal with them when they show up, I never learnt how to turn them into sustainable sources of happiness. Essentially, I've been incapable of turning any of the above fleeting connections into meaningful ones.

To this point, my cure for depression has been to push myself to work harder to achieve the superficial satisfaction I've often mistaken for true happiness. To get to the point where I can get these superficial joys the instant I crave them..a kind of thrill-on-demand.

Which might be the very definition of a thankless task.

I'm cursed with the gift of getting every single thing I wish for. It takes time, but I usually end up getting it: I wanted money, I got it. I wanted to live abroad, I got that. I wanted to know a vast number of women on a very intimate level, check. I wanted

It's God's idea of a practical joke that by giving me what I believe I want and yet removing the endless delights it promised to deliver (or maybe it was never there to begin with), I find myself no better off than I was before.

Except with one more thing stricken from my list, because it failed to make me happy. That list is rapidly dwindling down to nothing.

I think happiness is doing what you know you like with people you know you adore, satisfied in the knowledge that what you don't have truly lacks the capacity to give you any real satisfaction.

This better be a woman

The Better Sex Diet

Need to spice up your sex life? All the ingredients you need may be found at your local grocery store.

Like many aspects of health, our sex drive is affected by what we put into our bodies. Certain foods affect the body in different ways. Depending on what you consume, wining and dining a date can induce more sleep than romance. A big, fancy dinner, a bottle of wine and fine chocolates may sound sweet--but such meals are actually little more than empty calories.

To really get your blood going, consider circulation-enhancing dishes. Food that's high in Omega-3 fatty acids such as mackerel, salmon and wild salmon are best. "Omega-3 makes your nervous system function better," says Dr. Barbara Bartlik, assistant professor of psychiatry and sex therapist with the Human Sexuality Program at Weill Cornell Medical Center. "Sex is really about circuitry." Multivitamins and minerals will help, too. Both improve neurological function, which contributes to good circulation.

Improved circulation results in greater erectile response. To accomplish that, go for food rich in L-Arginine, such as granola, oatmeal, peanuts, cashews, walnuts, dairy, green vegetables, root vegetables, garlic, ginseng, soybeans, chickpeas and seeds. Studies show that L-Arginine is helpful for improving sexual function in men. There haven't been studies done on women--but remember, erectile response isn't just a guy thing. "Women have erections too: in their clitoris and the tissue surrounding the vulva," says Bartlik.

Humans have sought ways to enhance or improve their sex lives for millennia--and have never been reluctant to spend money to make themselves better lovers. The ancient Romans were said to prefer such exotic aphrodisiacs as hippo snouts and hyena eyeballs. Traditional Chinese medicine espoused the use of such rare delicacies as rhino horn. Modern lovers are no less extravagant. In 2005, for example, according to Amsterdam-based health care information company Wulters Kluwer, Americans spent just under $1.4 billion to treat male sexual dysfunction disorders alone.

Of that amount, Viagra rang up $1.2 billion in sales for Pfizer (nyse: PFE - news - people ), or 60% of the total market. Among the other drugs trying to find their way into American's bedside tables and back pockets are Levitra, which is made by Bayer (nyse: BAY - news - people ) but marketed in the U.S. by GlaxoSmithKline (nyse: GSK - news - people ) and Schering-Plough (nyse: SGP - news - people ), and Cialis, which was jointly developed by Eli Lilly (nyse: LLY - news - people )and ICOS (nasdaq: ICOS - news - people ).

Aphrodisiacs, for the most part, have been shown to be ineffective. Named for Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sex and beauty, these include an array of herbs, foods and other "agents" that are said to awaken and heighten sexual desire. But the 5,000-year tradition of using them is based more on folklore than real science. "There is no data and no scientific evidence," says Leonore Tiefer, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. "Product pushers are very eager to capitalize on myths," she says.

Most libido-enhancing products offer short term benefit at best, according to Dr. John Mulhall, director of the Sexual Medicine Program at New York Presbyterian and associate professor of urology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University. Mulhall, who also sits on the Nutraceuticals Committee of the Sexual Medicine Society of North America, says, "Every year, we review the literature on these compounds--these nutraceuticals like nitric oxide and ginseng--and there are none that have really been shown to be more than a placebo."

When it comes to sexual function, the placebo effect probably accounts for 30% of improvements in men and around 50% in women, he says. That means there are a lot of people out there who believe a pill they are taking or a food they are eating is doing a lot of good for them sexually. In reality, their mind is doing all the work.

So, besides renting The Story of O and opening a bottle of red wine, what can people do to kick-start their sex life?

One thing they can do is change their diet. Soy, for example, binds estrogen receptors, which helps the vaginal area remain lubricated and combats symptoms of menopause--particularly hot flashes. Studies have shown that soy is also beneficial to the prostate, a crucial male sex organ. However, it's important to note that women who have a history of breast cancer should not eat large amounts of soy, because the binding of estrogen receptors actually increases the risk of reoccurrence.

Foods that promote weight loss also hold libido-boosting potential. "There has been very solid research showing that obesity is a risk factor for erectile dysfunction and low testosterone," says Dr. Ridwan Shabsigh, director of the New York Center for Human Sexuality and associate professor of urology at Columbia University's medical school. "Reducing weight," he says, "results in an increase of testosterone, and thus an increase in sexual function."

"From an erection standpoint, anything that's good for your heart is good for your penis," says Dr. Mulhall. Too much saturated fat can, over time, clog arteries and, in doing so, prevent an adequate flow of blood from reaching the genital region. This not only interferes with the ability to perform, but also with sexual pleasure. Too little fat, on the other hand, is also bad.

"You need fat to produce your hormones," says Beverly Whipple, professor emerita at Rutgers University and president of the World Association for Sexology. "Cholesterol is metabolized in the liver, and you get your testosterone and estrogen, which you need for your sex drive," she says. Olive oil, salmon and nuts are optimal sources of the "good" kinds of fats--monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.

According to Dr. Judith Reichman, author of I'm Not in the Mood: What Every Woman Should Known about Improving Her Libido, medical and hormonal problems are major contributors to sexual dysfunction and a low libido--but so are too much stress, relationship difficulties and psychological issues. Antidepressants, such as Prozac by GlaxoSmithKline and Paxil by Eli Lilly, can negatively affect sex drive as well.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Fatness

It's no use. The weight won't come off.

I've tried exercise. I've tried eating healthy.

I've even tried skipping meals altogether.

Not me. Mimi.



She has a gut, love handles and everything! I'm actually embarrassed to be seen in public with her.

I mean, I'm fat but being a big guy, I can carry it reasonably well. But Mimi is tiny and FAT. And it reflects badly on me because everyone can see that it's all my fault!

She's gained TWELVE pounds, which is roughly half her weight before the weight gain. That would be like me packing on 120 pounds. It's seriously a problem. I've cut her food down in half and plan to start walking her for twenty minutes every day. Otherwise, she won't make it past Memorial Day.

Everything I touch turns to shit as usual..

Cat Massages Dog

There's hope for world peace:)

Monday, January 29, 2007

Hot Chicks with Douchebags

DiClerico's new favorite website. Hot chicks with douchebags.

Funniest Egyptian Ad Ever?

Waleed's right, it is the funniest.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Take Me Back To Your House

The cossacks in this video are dancing up a storm..if I could dance like that, my life would be great!

Everyone else has had more sex than me

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Trailer

You either get it or you don't.

Mrs. Pauls Fish Sticks Commercial

Love this ad!

Daft Punk - Around The World

The funniest commercial ever

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Le Roi, Michel Platini

Friday, January 26, 2007

Beyond the Multiplex (Part 4)

Rae (Christina Ricci) and Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) in "Black Snake Moan"

By Andrew O'Hehir

Jan. 26, 2007 | PARK CITY, Utah -- Samuel L. Jackson and Justin Timberlake both promised the audience they're not giving up their day jobs (or swapping careers). Christina Ricci's comments were more of the gosh, gee-whiz, glad-to-be-here variety, but she looked smashing in a form-fitting Audrey Hepburn-style gray sweater-dress. That's about twice as much clothing as she wears at any point in writer-director Craig Brewer's richly lurid Southern melodrama, "Black Snake Moan," which premiered here on Wednesday night before a packed, ecstatic house of 1,200 people in the Eccles Theatre.

Tickets for the "Black Snake Moan" premiere were commodities much sought after and bargained over this week at Sundance. It's difficult to calculate a film's merits while enveloped in celebrity endorphins and the clicking of a thousand camera phones, but let's just say the audience turned up determined to have a good time and was not disappointed. Given its cast, its title and its outrageous premise, Brewer's movie would have had little trouble garnering media attention with or without Sundance, but his breakthrough hit "Hustle & Flow" was launched here two years ago, and he seemed genuinely thrilled to be back.

Before we got to all the multiracial, good-natured Memphis joshing and gushing sincerity of the onstage Q&A session ("Justin, what challenges do you face in making the transition from singer to actor?"), we all sat attentively through a two-hour movie. It was pretty damn good! A memorable work of art? Well, I'm not so sure about that. It's more an ingenious and stylish entertainment, "Pulp Fiction" with a Southern accent and a heart of gold, driven by both love of the Lord and a certain affection for the other fella. Any movie in which Jackson plays a guy who keeps the town slut chained to his radiator, wearing nothing but a Rebel flag T-shirt and a pair of panties, has got a different tradition than "art" in view.

Like everybody else here, I couldn't help thinking about the instructive similarities -- and even more instructive differences -- between this film and the much-derided "Hounddog," Sundance's biggest stink bomb to date. Both pictures are drawing from the same deep well, trying to create something new from the mythic materials of the rural South: race, sex, sin, redemption and the blues. But "Hounddog" gets stuck in a depressive poker-faced realism (that never actually feels real), while "Black Snake Moan," through sheer pulpy outrageousness, through its reverence for both the sacred and the profane, is more powerful, more dangerous and, paradoxically, closer to real life.

Let's get back to those chains. Yes, it's true that Lazarus (Jackson), an embittered sharecropper and semiretired bluesman whose wife has run off with his brother, keeps Rae (Ricci), a girl known throughout the county for her generosity, chained up and padlocked in his house for much of the film. It isn't quite what you think. The key to melodrama is to invent outlandish situations and play them straight, giving the characters as much dignity and integrity as you can. Lazarus has the purest of intentions toward Rae -- better than any other guy in town, anyway -- and when he finally unlocks her, it's not clear how much she wants to leave.

As the cloudy-hearted Lazarus, Jackson has all the gravity and darkness you expect from him, but "Black Snake Moan" really belongs to Ricci. Rae moves through the movie like a weather system or a small but angry wild animal, spitting bile and invective wherever she goes. During and after the opening credits, she gives a trucker the finger and invites a street heckler to "kiss my Rebel coochie, faggot." She's playing a compulsive nymphomaniac and is nearly naked for most of the film, but the extraordinary thing about Ricci's performance is how non-exploitative and unprurient it is.

Some viewers will doubtless disagree, but I see no misogyny at the heart of "Black Snake Moan." It depicts a misogynist society, one that has beaten, shamed and victimized Rae all her life. But if that society has warped Rae's self-image, it has not vanquished her spirit. Both she and Lazarus may be trapped in dime-novel situations, separately and together, but they nonetheless are complicated, fleshed-out characters, marred by self-hatred and stiffened by pride.

Rae's fiancé, Ronnie (Timberlake, who gives a straightforward, unaffected performance), has gone off to the Army and presumably to Iraq. Rae loves him, but when it comes to other guys she literally can't help herself. She seems to be overcome by physical seizures of lust, desires she doesn't welcome but can't control.

Rae and Lazarus find each other at a point when both badly need someone. They're haunted by bad memories and bent on self-destruction. She assumes he just wants what every man wants from her; he believes God has made him the instrument of her salvation. They're both partly right and partly wrong, but let's not go any deeper than that. Except to point out that Jackson sings and plays a couple of convincing and truly evil blues numbers, including the title song, performed during a lightning storm as Ricci's Rae clings to his knee, wide-eyed.

I don't know whether "Black Snake Moan" is really an independent film, or even what that question means at this point. But it's a true rarity, a picture made for grown-ups that combines vibrant, color-drenched cinematography (by Amelia Vincent), grand narrative ambitions and a desire to thrill. There are a few undercooked characters (Timberlake's among them) and some bits of canned dirty-South color. Then again, this isn't meant to be a gravy-stained depiction of life below the Mason-Dixon exactly as it is today. Instead, it's a blast of energy, an exhilarating pop culture moment that combines (as Brewer says) a drive-in aesthetic and deep mythological roots. Hell, yeah.

To switch gears drastically, there are a couple of powerful and demanding documentaries here I'd be remiss not to mention. Timeliest of these is Charles Ferguson's "No End in Sight," a systematic and rigorous history of the Iraq war to date. An MIT Ph.D. and onetime Silicon Valley pioneer (he wrote the Internet start-up memoir "High Stakes, No Prisoners"), Ferguson has no previous experience as a filmmaker. But this piercing and unbiased account of all the stupidity, venality and small-mindedness that created our nation's latest foreign policy disaster combines hardheaded journalism and a tragic sensibility.

This is no left-wing screed; Ferguson himself says he was initially optimistic about America's foray into Iraq. His interviewees include former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, retired Gen. Jay Garner (the first coalition governor of Iraq) and the principal author of the 2004 National Intelligence Estimate, which tried to warn the Bush administration about the bottomless, nightmarish money pit that lay ahead. That was the document described by George W. Bush as "guesswork," even though (its authors say) the president had not read it or even seen it.

Ferguson synthesizes existing footage and his own interviews and original research -- he spent several weeks in Iraq, working under armed guard -- to create a portrait of an ideologically driven administration that conducted a war with disastrous incompetence, in which every bad decision was followed by another one. In dissolving the Iraqi military, firing most of the Baathist bureaucracy and allowing public buildings to be looted to the bare walls, Ferguson suggests, the Americans set themselves on a course toward inevitable humiliation. This is the film those stubborn Bush supporters in your family need to see.

Possibly even tougher to watch (though it's a close race) is Steven Okazaki's "White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki," which will be shown on HBO in August and may also get a theatrical release. Of course we know about the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in August 1945 -- perhaps the defining event of the 20th century -- but this humbling, shocking film reminds us that we don't really know enough.

Okazaki interviews 14 survivors of the two bombings -- which killed about 210,000 people directly and led to the deaths of some 150,000 more from radiation-related illness -- along with four Americans involved in building and delivering the bombs. He also includes rarely seen footage of the two cities in the immediate aftermath of the devastation, shot first by Japanese news cameras and later by American occupation forces. No warning can really prepare you for these images of ashen corpses, maimed survivors and apocalyptic destruction, but in an age of renewed nuclear tension, there can be no question as to their relevance.

Okazaki, a Japanese-American whose father fought in the U.S. Army during World War II, ducks the question of whether the A-bomb attacks were moral or justifiable. As he put it in remarks after the screening I attended, that debate is now pointless, and often becomes a way of avoiding what actually happened, what it looked like and what those who lived through it can still tell us. (It's a disappearing generation; even the youngest of those who can remember the bombings clearly are now close to 70.)

As Okazaki demonstrates in the film's first scene, both of the nations involved in the catastrophe are in danger of forgetting it. While the A-bomb defined postwar Japan's identity in a certain sense, it also became a shameful subject surrounded by silence. (Survivors and their descendants face discrimination to this day.) When he stops eight random strangers on the street in Tokyo and asks them what historical event occurred on Aug. 6, 1945, none of them know.

During my last hours in Park City, I resisted sleep and crept into a late-night screening of "Once," a lovely musical romance from Irish writer-director John Carney that might be this festival's ultimate sleeper hit. A heartbroken Dublin street musician (played by Glen Hansard, of the Irish band the Frames), who busks for shoppers all day but sings his original folk-rock material at night, meets a classically trained Czech pianist (Markéta Irglová) who's now selling flowers.

They fit together wonderfully, both as musicians and as guy 'n' gal, but there remains a slightly mysterious distance between them. His songs -- neither character is named -- are all written to a missing girlfriend, and she has a 2-year-old daughter whose dad is still in the Czech Republic. They drift through Dublin, separately and together, in a mellow haze of music and infatuation. But Carney has measured the bitter and the sweet in precise proportions in "Once"; this is a romance for everyone who has ever fallen in love when you weren't really free to do so. A wistful and delightful little film, just the thing to send me on a jet plane homeward with an Irish song in my heart.

Extolling the virtues of Queens Cuisine

Queens Now Has Less Feta, More Jellyfish

Published: January 26, 2007
LIKE most New York immigrant stories, mine started with a long trip, a small apartment in a humble neighborhood and hope for a better life. Sure enough, I graduated from the little apartment to a bigger one, and then a house. I got a better job and a better life. But 27 years later, the neighborhood remains the same: Astoria, Queens.

Try as I might, I cannot think of a good reason to leave. From the Manhattan perspective, Astoria makes some sense because it is, after all, only a few short subway stops from Bloomingdale’s. If you cannot afford Manhattan, well, Astoria — like Park Slope, Sunnyside, Cobble Hill and all the rest of the runner-up darlings of the real-estate pages — qualifies as a fallback position.

But that’s not how I see it. For me, Astoria is not a satellite of Manhattan, it’s the gateway to Queens, a jumping-off point for the borough that, when it comes to ethnic diversity, knows no equal. For me this is not an abstract demographic issue. It is as real as the food on my plate.

As Astoria has changed, and along with it the rest of Queens, my feeding habits have too, never more so than in the last couple of years. Three years ago I stepped down as The Times’s restaurant critic and re-entered civilian life. Gone were the days of lavish Manhattan meals paid for by my employer. I rediscovered my own kitchen and, at the same time, my own neighborhood. The parasitic life of being fed by others was over. My wife, Nancy, and I were hunter-gatherers again. But the terrain had changed.

In 1980, when my rent was $250 a month, Astoria was heavily Greek and Italian. Broadway, my nearest shopping street, abounded in Italian delicatessens and Greek butchers who hung hairy goat carcasses and fuzzy rabbits in the window. Their number has dwindled with the years. A Swiss butcher named René operated a truly anomalous store, a French-style boucherie. His ancient, white-haired mother sat at the cash register and took the money. René, who looked like an enormous slab of meat, took my orders for, say, noisette of pork, without raising an eyebrow. Alas, René is long gone, as is Walken’s Bakery a few doors away, owned by the family of the actor Christopher Walken.

Other ethnic surprises survive. Although the original owner has retired, Astoria Meat Products continues to sell Eastern European sausages, breads and jams. Big chunks of double-smoked bacon and plump, garlicky kielbasa hang from steel rods overhead. On weekends, when the mood strikes, I still drop by and pick up half a smoked, glazed ham.

The Italians are almost all gone, and many of the Greeks have moved on too. The demise of my favorite Greek deli had one fortunate consequence, though. It led me to Titan Foods, a supermarket that draws Greek shoppers from miles around. This is the place for olives — nearly 20 varieties displayed in big steel cylinders — and for feta cheese in every gradation, from crumbly, salty Greek styles to smoother, milder fetas from Bulgaria. It is almost shocking to report that the French make feta too, the creamiest of all.

The real prize in the deli case at Titan is home-made yogurt, thick, tangy and rich, a different species entirely from the standard grocery store brands. Titan sells the standard Greek pastries from a bakery counter, but I go either to Omonia Cafe, on Broadway, where the phyllo-topped custard is so good that I finally asked the woman behind the counter to pronounce it for me so I could order it by name. It’s: galaktoboreko (guh-lock-tuh-BORE-ee-ko). The baklava is also first-rate — packed with finely chopped nuts, well-seasoned and not too goopy — but there’s an even better version at a hole-in-the-wall on 31st Avenue: Thessalikon Pastry Shop, a caterer that sells its wares, often grudgingly, by the tray.

Let us not romanticize the Greek restaurants of Astoria. For some reason, many a food writer, charmed by the neighborhood, has gone weak in the knees over steam-table moussaka, rubbery fried calamari and greasy lamb shanks. Greek cuisine does not, even at its best, ascend to great heights. For a time, Elias Corner on 31st Street enjoyed a cult reputation that utterly mystified me. It is an estiatorio, a type of restaurant in which customers approach a fish counter, point to their choice and pay by the pound. The fish is painted with some olive oil, strewn with a few herbs and grilled. That’s it.

For some reason, this formula besotted New York for several years, even though rank amateurs could produce the same results at home. I much prefer the five-year-old Agnanti, at the upper end of the neighborhood near Astoria Park, which offers unusual regional dishes like ntaka, a Cretan bread salad, and mustard-dipped shrimp kataifi.

Astoria without Greeks is unthinkable. It is the home not only of Socrates Sculpture Park but also of Socrates Realty and Athena’s nail salon. But in my end of the neighborhood, near the 36th Avenue el stop, the ethnic swirl has brought Bangladeshis, Colombians, Brazilians and Mexicans.

On summer nights, unpredictably, a Bangladeshi vegetable vendor occasionally turns up, his cart heaped high with Asian vegetables sold by no one else. Asian sari shops, sweet shops and grocery stores now line 36th Avenue, along with a video store that brightens the street with its showings of Bollywood musicals on a flat-screen television. On Broadway, one stop north on the N Line, Mexican taquerias flank the off-track betting parlor.

At the far end of the neighborhood, immigrants from Egypt and North Africa have remade a desolate stretch of Steinway Street into a lively boulevard lined with restaurants, hookah cafes and bakeries.

So much for home base. Queens is vast. Over the decades, my explorer’s compass has pointed in wildly different directions. For a while, a Gujarati restaurant in Elmhurst had my full attention, until it burned down. Ping’s and Joe’s Shanghai in Elmhurst also enjoyed my favor. In Woodside, La Flor Bakery and Cafe sells sublime $4 fruit tarts that require two diners to finish them off. My thoughts often turn to them in idle hours.

But Flushing is now my north star. Over the years, an area once in sorry decline has evolved into a pulsating Chinese and Korean neighborhood and a food-lover’s paradise. This is not new news, but it took me a while to catch up. My culinary life has been transformed by the Gold City Supermarket on Kissena Boulevard, a huge, high-energy store, half of it devoted to a dazzling selection of imported sauces, condiments and dried and frozen foods, the other half to produce and meat departments that boggle the mind.

It pays to do some homework before visiting. Although prices are posted, all signs are in Chinese characters. Bruce Cost’s classic “Asian Ingredients” (Morrow Cookbooks) or Huang Su-Huei’s well-illustrated “Chinese Cuisine” (Wei-Chuan) can serve as guides to the aisles stacked with exotic barbecue sauces, light and dark Chinese soy sauces and small treasures like pickled mustard cabbage.

The fish counter is dramatic. I once saw an eel make a break for freedom, slithering across the produce-department floor. Customers like to pick out a live fish, which an impassive fishmonger holds aloft, flopping in a net. A quick whack from a wooden mallet, and the performance is over.

The post-shopping reward is just a few doors away, at the Fay Da Bakery. This is a chain with two outlets in Chinatown and six others scattered across the city. Patrons take a tray, grab a pair of tongs and load up on steamed and fried buns, both savory and sweet. Some are both at once, like a chewy, sticky-rice bun that looks like a honey-dip doughnut outside but inside contains pork bits swimming in a rich gravy.

Then it’s on to downtown Flushing and the J&L Mall. Flushing abounds in monster Chinese restaurants that do a bonanza dim-sum business. But hidden in nooks and corners are tiny stands that offer outstanding bargains. My consigliere in these matters is Harley Spiller, a relentless Chinese-food detective who occasionally sends out field reports to his friends. The “mall” is nothing more than a corridor on Main Street lined by rows of snack stands and lunch counters. Little or no English is spoken, so non-Chinese customers adapt. Finger pointing and basic business terms like “two” or “three” work fine. The stall owners, in my experience, are friendly, accommodating and intrigued to see a non-Chinese customer.

Halfway down the aisle, on the left, a bun stall turns out a variety of large steamed and baked buns at a dollar or two apiece. The best is a crepelike envelope of soft dough encasing chopped chives, egg and glass noodles. A close cousin, which came hot from the oven on my most recent visit, was a big ball of pillowy steamed bread dough filled with egg, glass noodle, chopped Chinese leeks and tiny dried shrimp.

At the entrance of the mall, to the right, the buns come three for a dollar. The staple items are small steamed buns with beef or pork filling, but you can also find sweet fried doughnuts accented with scallion, or sticky rice snacks with a meat and mushroom center. These are steamed in a bamboo leaf and then tied up in a neat package.

At the back of the mall, spicy Szechuan vegetable dishes are sold from a counter by weight. There are about a dozen choices. I picked four at random on my last visit: long strands of pickled seaweed; cabbage and peppercorns in a fragrant, winey pickling broth; cubes of amber, firm tofu with peanuts and sesame seed; and pickled long beans, chopped into tiny slices and tossed with red-pepper flakes.

Flushing may occupy me for a while. There’s another mall just a couple of blocks down Main Street, the Golden Shopping Mall, that merits investigation. And even more seductive is the strangely named Waterfront International Enterprises, a restaurant specializing in the cuisine of northeastern China. It’s cold-weather food, heavily reliant on hearty soups and stews. Grilled whole jellyfish, evidently, is the traditional way to start the meal. Count me in.

Creepy Synthetic Coke Ad from 80s


Halo 3 is coming

The Simple Life

I love that they said 'Space Aliens' to distinguish it from Illegals.

Well, it's week 3 of 2007 and I continue to try and steady the good ship (or bad ship, I don't care) Basil as best I can. The key so far has been in keeping everything simple. No social excursions, no big plans of any sort and no, repeat no thinking of the past or the future in any evaluative or speculative capacity.

I'm someone who's used to letting his mind wander and allowing my whims to suggest things for me to do, in order to amuse myself and others around me. No more of that. I can't handle the deluge of sound and light and words and motives that are floating around me. For the sake of my sanity, I need as small and quiet a world as possible.

Today, I saw a woman on the train. Reading. A menu.

Today and yesterday have been kind of shitty. As usual, my sleep problems persist bringing with them bouts of extended consciousness that continue to gnaw on my already fragile psyche. Everything rolls around in my head until I'm dizzy looking at past scenes of futility and missed opportunities. I want it to stop but it's like my brain doesn't have an off switch. If you've ever had a computer (stupid question unless you're reading this blog because it's been serialized by the New York Times), you'll be familiar with moments when the fan in some of the older PCs starts whirring loudly, enough to alarm you into backing up all your data because you think the hard drive's going to have a meltdown. That's exactly how I feel

My hard drive is fine but the CPU doesn't agree and raises false alarm signals like putting the fan on overdrive. Manifesting itself in crazy symtpoms like constant anxiety, nervous tics, a total absence of energy and an inability to continue with any single train of thought. I'm a mess most of the time, these days and all I can do is go home, sit in my couch and sip Chinese Hot and Sour soup.

This year hasn't been as bad as previous years (last year was particularly awful) so I guess there's that to be thankful about. And whereas in the past, I've gotten angry with myself for being weak and succumbing to my own anxieties, I'm now just resigned and bemused by the whole thing. I am what I am (or is what I is, which sounds better) and I've accepted my inability to drag myself to a better place. All I can do is tread water and hope that the tide will lead me to a hospitable land.

Just so tired. It sucks that all this time is being wasted while I wait for basic normalcy to resume so I can do something productive with my life. Always with the knowledge that at any time, I could have a meltdown and go scurrying back to my dingy little apartment in Queens, far from the piercing gaze of a relentless world.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Wire Season 4 Intro

Great song...haunts my dreams, like none other. "Gotta keep the devil...DOWN in the hole!"

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

American Idle

I hate American Idol. I've never watched it before because talent shows ain't my thing. And that's all it is: a glorified, self-important, over-hyped talent show.

Well, I tuned it today by accident, at 9:48pm and endured 12 minutes of a cringe-worthy mix of self-adulation and self-delusion. I mean, how desperate are people for a spotlight? I was very uncomfortable.

Probably speaks to a level of discomfort with myself (fine) and an inability to chill out (granted) but does it matter what the underlying reasons are for not liking this show? All I know for sure is I hated every second it was on.

I need to get out of here. It's not natural to hate every waking second of your day.

Sundance Part Three

Dakota Fanning in "Hounddog," Jared Leto in "Chapter 27" and John Cusack in "Grace Is Gone."

By Andrew O'Hehir

Jan. 24, 2007 | PARK CITY, Utah -- Sundance 2007 finally has a bomb. Every festival needs one. In recent days Deborah Kampmeier's film "Hounddog" has become the object of national curiosity based on reports that it featured a rape scene involving actress Dakota Fanning, who is 12 years old. The Catholic League even called for a federal investigation to determine if any child pornography laws were broken during the making of the film. No one there or anywhere had seen the film, of course. But it's every American's God-given right to hold a firmly fixed opinion about a cultural work he knows nothing about.

Naturally this attack on free expression aroused the interest (and prurient interest) of the media, which is why a passel of folks, yours truly included, packed into an overheated screening room here on Tuesday afternoon to watch that rape scene, and the other 97 and a half minutes of "Hounddog," for ourselves. The rape lasts 30 seconds or so, possibly less. If you nod off (a realistic possibility with this picture), you'll miss it. But it turns out the defenders of my ancestral faith are correct, if only by accident: "Hounddog" should be boycotted. Not because it depicts the sexual exploitation of children but because it's a turgid, overripe mess.

Fanning gives a brave performance under the circumstances, but she can't escape this hilariously bad late-'50s Southern Gothic, which vomits up huge chunks of undigested Tennessee Williams preserved in swamp gas. Every hackneyed symbol of Suthin' living is dredged up one more time: We've got magnolias and kudzu, we've got cicadas squeaking so loudly you can barely hear the dialogue. (Turn 'em up!) We've got oh-so-wise black folks singin' the blues and dispensin' folk wisdom. We've got Piper Laurie, dressed like a walking sofa, as the horror-show grandma with electrified hair, Bible in one hand and whiskey bottle in the other. We've got Robin Wright Penn (an actress I admire) drifting through the movie in her sexy-battered-vulnerable mode, wearing just a slip, a grimace and a shiner.

Then there are the snakes. My land, does this movie have snakes. Snakes in the river, snakes in the garden, snakes in the grass. We get it! Snakes coming through the windows. Snakes writhing all over the bed, at least in the dreams of Lewellen, the precocious young Elvis fan and would-be singer played by Fanning. We get it, already! Uncle! Snakes bite the wicked and the good alike; some survive and some do not. As Charles (Afemo Omilami), Lewellen's Wise Negro Protector, assures her, she's possessed of snake magic, which is the rarest and most difficult kind.

Lewellen's drunken and abusive dad (David Morse) is struck by lightning and rendered an idiot. (OK, he was an idiot before, but of a different kind.) She lives part of the time with him, part of the time with the aforementioned sofa-esque grandmother and occasionally with Ellen (played by Penn), whose relationship to her is obscure. Aunt? Mother? Stepmother? Adult sister? Some picturesque Southern combination of all four? I suppose Kempmeier thinks all this heavy-handed symbolism and bayou atmospherics is Faulknerian, even biblical. I can think of other words beginning with "F" and "B" that would be more fitting.

In fairness, Fanning comes through reasonably unscathed. She has an odd but appealing tomboyish luminescence about her that can carry some of the less ludicrous scenes. Even a sophisticated 12-year-old cannot be expected to understand how caricatured the film's presentation of place and time is. Despite spending much of the film in her underwear, she is never presented in a remotely sexualized manner. The rape scene is entirely nonexplicit; you see her face, her hands, her feet. Her teenage assailant is little more than a shadow in the darkness.

My real sympathy is reserved for Omilami. However benignly presented, Charles is just another in a long, dreary litany of singin', dancin', happy-go-lucky African-Americans with mysterious midnight juju, whose only agenda in life seems to be tending to the spiritual welfare of white folks. Even beyond that issue, the lines he must deliver are so execrable, the whole thing inches toward becoming a "Second City TV" sketch. He's constantly telling Lewellen that she must fill the hole inside herself. I kid you not. "Little missy, you got to fill that emptiness inside you with something besides Elvis!"

Which is just silly. I mean, isn't Elvis sufficient to fill the void inside all of us?

Seriously, I'm astonished that anybody would try to pass this movie off as artistically or socially meaningful in 2007. Did Sundance programmers actually watch it, or were they just swept up in a moonshine-sippin', guitar-pickin', cicada-chirpin', snake-slitherin' miasma?

After the hissing, cackling and general incredulity of the "Hounddog" press screening had died down, many of us stumbled across the street for a late-night preview of "Chapter 27," another much-discussed title. This is the film in which Jared Leto plays Mark David Chapman, and it's focused entirely on the three days Chapman spent in New York in December 1980 before the murder of John Lennon. I can't say that the reception for this film was a whole lot warmer than for "Hounddog," but that might have been hangover and accumulated Sundance fatigue at work.

There's virtually no context provided here, about Lennon or the Beatles or New York or Chapman himself. To put it another way, the film's entire context is Chapman, a tormented consciousness obsessed by Lennon and the Beatles, and most of all by Holden Caulfield and "Catcher in the Rye." (No, he wasn't interested in Jodie Foster; that was the guy who shot Reagan.) Leto narrates much of the picture in a sort of enraged mutter, and sometimes in competing streams of enraged mutter. It's easy to crack jokes about actors who undergo "Raging Bull"-style physical metamorphosis -- Leto packed on more than 60 pounds to play the paunchy Chapman -- but this is a highly compelling performance on many levels.

Leto has to carry the picture by himself, and pretty much does so. The only major supporting part belongs to Lindsay Lohan, as a girl Chapman briefly befriends on the sidewalk outside the Dakota, and she's pretty good -- a ray of light in the rapidly darkening gloom of his world. Of course we know what's going to happen, so the drama and pathos of "Chapter 27" concern how Chapman is going to get there, and whether things might have been different.

Writer-director J.P. Schaefer's script is based on the interviews with Chapman in crime reporter Jack Jones' 1992 book, "Let Me Take You Down." That book enraged some Lennon fans, and there's already a tepid Internet boycott of the film. But I don't see how acknowledging Chapman's humanity, or presenting his psychological struggle in a compassionate manner, equates to excusing his actions or dishonoring the memory of his victim.

Leto's portrayal of this hunched, pudgy, unhappy man is both merciless and sympathetic. His Chapman seems almost like a garden-variety suburban fanboy, with his own autodidact theories about the world -- and one area of total derangement. There's no way to explain why Chapman's intense identification with the hero of J.D. Salinger's novel led him to believe he had to kill Lennon, because it's a pathway paved by a profoundly disordered mind. But as Chapman veers from paranoid arrogance to painful flashes of reality, channeling bits of Salinger into his own internal monologue -- and nearly convincing himself, after meeting Lennon briefly, to take his autographed copy of "Double Fantasy" and go home -- Leto almost makes you feel how it happened.

Some viewers may well find "Chapter 27" sleazy or distasteful, and I won't argue the point. But Schaefer's movie creates its own highly compelling world, which is pretty much the prime directive in filmmaking. On Tuesday I also caught up with James C. Strouse's "Grace Is Gone," one of the most celebrated films at Sundance this year (and the festival's highest-priced acquisition to date, I believe). Its subject is far nobler -- an uncommunicative American dad has to figure out how to tell his daughters that their mom isn't coming home from Iraq -- and its emotional appeal is pretty universal. What it lacks is precisely the cinematic vitality, propulsive force and even darkness that drive "Chapter 27."

I understand that "Grace Is Gone" is a movie about grief, but I wish it didn't fall so thoroughly into the pathetic fallacy. John Cusack plays Stan, the home-supply-store manager and military vet who abruptly takes his daughters, ages 12 and 8, on a mysterious Florida road trip. It's another physical-transformation role; Stan's a bulky, limping, ex-jock who greets his sales team in football-style huddles and treads pretty heavily in the world as in his family life. His young female costars are nearly as strong, and the forced hilarity of their road trip is often acutely painful. But all three sometimes just disappear into the affectless, low-energy drift of "Grace Is Gone." They stare at carpets, curl up on motel room beds, sit on sidewalks, gaze at the featureless American landscape.

Out in the audience, we have to rely on our own snuffles -- our own identification, as a nation and as individuals, with Stan's grief and loss -- to carry us through. I won't claim I didn't shed some tears, but I longed for some window-smashing, lamp-throwing, fuck-all-you-bastards catharsis. There's no question about the film's integrity and good intentions, and Harvey Weinstein has now bet millions of dollars that its grave, understated approach will appeal to a mass audience. He understands these things better than I do.

After the screening I attended, Cusack got up and spoke forcefully for a few minutes in response to questions from the audience. "There's almost a feeling of impotence or powerlessness" in the country right now, he said. "We're just being lied to about this war repeatedly, and it's so frustrating. There's not much we can do about it sometimes, so making a film about grief felt like something tangible. I'm outspoken in my views, but I'm not a politician or an expert or an activist. Maybe I can give people 90 minutes of something -- of silence, of grief -- and then we can find a way to really talk about it. That's what I can do."

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Where would I be without the Manic Street Preachers?

Neocon Buzzword Bingo

How to play:

1. Tune into CSPAN, PBS, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, the Fascist News Netw...errr, FOX, or even one of the traditional three networks.
2. Wait for a NeoCon or proxy to appear at a speaking engagement, press conference, interview, or talking head confrontation.
3. Mark off squares as buzzwords are used.
4. Celebrate any 5 in a row by shouting "I am not a terrorist" loudly enough that the perfectly legal wiretaps can pick it up.

Sundance Part Two

Clockwise from top left: "Red Road," "Away From Her," "The Great World of Sound" "Year of the Dog" and "Smiley Face."

By Andrew O'Hehir

Jan. 23, 2007 | PARK CITY, Utah -- Sundance is where you might run into Bono and Steve Buscemi one minute, and then get stuck in line at the supermarket behind a woman in high-heeled designer snow boots buying a single can of Red Bull and, in front of her, a Mexican couple laboriously paying for infant formula with WIC vouchers. OK, I'm exaggerating for effect. I didn't run into Bono at all. I only talked to people who did. And Bono and Buscemi were not together. (The latter was buying some coffee at the only decent place in town that isn't Starbucks.) If I could somehow have brought Bono, Steve, the sexy Red Bull lady and the young Latino couple together -- well, that sounds like an independent film to me.

But would it be a narrative feature or a documentary? It's the question of the hour up here. At roughly the halfway point of Sundance 2007, with only a few major premieres still ahead of us, conventional wisdom seems to be clustering around the idea that it's a great year for risky and ambitious documentaries -- I've already covered "Chicago 10," "Zoo," "The Future Is Unwritten" and "For the Bible Tells Me So," and there are more to come -- while the fiction films look tidy, safe and a bit lackluster.

Even the narrative features so far anointed as hits at Robert Redford's suburb-in-the-sky are more like variations on time-honored indie themes than grand statements or aesthetic breakthroughs. No one will say a bad word about "The Savages," Tamara Jenkins' long-awaited follow-up to "The Slums of Beverly Hills." I haven't seen it yet, but the recipe sounds familiar: Take two high-integrity actors (Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman), thrust them into a high-anxiety family situation (parental illness) and let the tears and laughs fall as they may.

In the biggest acquisition of this year's festival so far, the Weinstein Co. just paid $4 million for the rights to James C. Strouse's "Grace Is Gone," in which John Cusack plays a patriotic dad who spends the whole day with his daughters at an amusement park, trying to summon the courage to tell them their mother has been killed in Iraq. Harvey Weinstein has apparently been telling anyone who will listen that he smells a 2007 Oscar for Cusack in this role, but does anyone in the country want to see a movie that's about Iraq, even peripherally? Don't we go to movies to stop thinking about stuff like that?

I have yet to catch Zoe Cassavetes' romantic comedy "Broken English" (with Parker Posey and French heartthrob Melvil Poupaud), and eagerly anticipated American features such as Craig Brewer's "Black Snake Moan," Deborah Kempmeier's "Hounddog" and Nelson George's "Life Support" still lie ahead of us. Here are five noteworthy narrative features that premiered in the past few days and really stuck with me. There's not much connective tissue -- they range from Scotland to rural Ontario to Charlotte, N.C., and Burbank, Calif. -- but there are some coincidences. Four of the five directors are first-time filmmakers, and four of the five films feature commanding actresses in memorable leading roles. I might also observe that my favorite narrative film and favorite documentary so far are both British, in a festival predominantly focused on American film. But let's open that can of worms some other time.

It's almost cheating to start with "Red Road," the debut feature from English director Andrea Arnold (who has actually won an Oscar, for her 2003 short film "Wasp"). This neo-noir thriller has been bouncing around the filmfest world since premiering last May at Cannes, and should finally reach U.S. theaters this spring. But it's still dynamite, the kind of sexy, paranoid, creepily atmospheric picture that invades all your senses at once.

Set in and around an especially dire Glasgow public-housing tower, from which the film gets its title, "Red Road" focuses on Jackie (impressively played by Kate Dickie), who works in a security center manning the closed-circuit cameras situated throughout the central city. She spots a guy she knows, a ginger-haired roustabout named Clyde, while monitoring the Red Road tower -- and she's not happy to see him.

To give away more than that would be unfair, but this is the first thriller I've ever seen with a female protagonist in the prototypical noir hero role of pursuer and sexual aggressor. Like the heroes of countless tough-guy films, Jackie is a wounded loner with a secret, who sleeps with somebody she shouldn't and must face the consequences. "Red Road" is economically crafted and full of startling moments. Arnold's evocation of the ruined, post-"1984" surveillance culture of inner-city Britain is nothing short of terrifying.

Sarah Polley's debut feature, "Away From Her," does not possess the sex appeal or seductive genre lure of "Red Road," but it might be an even braver and more surprising work. To put it mildly, this isn't the movie you expect a 28-year-old actress to make: As pale and lovely as a Canadian winter sunrise, "Away From Her" is a story of love, sex and disease whose major characters are all over 60. And don't think you can just snuggle up to it; Polley's adaptation of Alice Munro's story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" is loaded with icy switchbacks and spiky surprises.

On the surface, "Away From Her" is about a happily married, elegantly aging couple, Fiona (the amazing Julie Christie) and Grant (Gordon Pinsent), facing the tragic dissolution of their life together. Although physically vigorous, Fiona is growing confused and disoriented, and her doctors suspect Alzheimer's. Insisting on going out with dignity, she checks herself into a nursing home and many tears are shed. But that's only the starting point of "Away From Her."

Almost imperceptibly, the tone of the film shifts and you begin to realize how finely and supremely controlled it is. Polley captures the brisk, cheerful fascism of nursing-home existence with merciless clarity; if you've visited a parent or grandparent in one of those places, you may want to laugh and cry in the same moment. Grant and Fiona's separation, rather than allowing them to sink gracefully into the sunset, dredges up all the buried secrets and lies of their long marriage. Why, after all, should human relationships suddenly become simple just because we grow older?

Gregg Araki's latest foray into the slacker underbelly of suburban L.A., "Smiley Face," has a wonderful performance by Anna Faris and one of the all-time great stoner monologues in movie history. (In which Jane, the semi-unemployed and perennially overconfident actress played by Faris, determines that she should hang a portrait of President James Garfield in her apartment to signify her love of lasagne. I think you have to be there.) But is this episodic pothead odyssey, in the end, the classic cannabis comedy it sets out to be?

I'll leave that question for another occasion. But when Jane, already baked at 10 a.m., scarfs all her sci-fi-geek roommate's pot cupcakes on a day when she already needs to pay the electricity bill and go to an audition, a chain of events is launched that will leave her riding a Ferris wheel while clutching a first-edition copy of "The Communist Manifesto" and talking to the voice of Roscoe Lee Browne. Along the way, she visits a sausage factory, a dentist's office and the home of a former professor. The song "Lady" by Styx is played on the soundtrack. It's just that kind of movie.

Another damn debut film! Mike White has been around the movie biz for some years as a screenwriter ("Orange County," "The School of Rock," "Nacho Libre") and oddball character actor, but "Year of the Dog" is actually his first film as a director. It has the daffy, off-kilter protagonist you'd expect from White, this one realized with almost agonizing perfection by Molly Shannon. Peggy is a prim, bony secretary with a big, toothy grin that's equal parts hilarity and misery. Awkward around all forms of human life, Peggy halfway holds together an acceptable social persona with the help of her office pal Layla (Regina King) and her only real friend, a cute little beagle named Pencil.

When Pencil dies, Peggy comes totally unglued, lurching from one semipathetic situation to another. She goes on a date with her boorish neighbor (John C. Reilly), before concluding that he may have poisoned Pencil. She adopts every available dog at the pound. She becomes an obsessive animal-rights activist. She embarks on a quasi relationship with a guy (Peter Sarsgaard) who is clearly not interested in her or any other woman.

Like Araki's "Smiley Face," "Year of the Dog" is an enjoyable, patchy, rambling affair, a series of bittersweet comic sketches strung together with thin wire. Both directors have created quirky, fascinating female protagonists and then retreated, allowing them to stand or fall or keep making the same dumb mistakes, as they will. If you're expecting conventional female-oriented comedies with conventional resolutions -- Mr. Right, a fulfilling career, a house in the suburbs -- you've come to the wrong store. Stoner chicks and nutty dog ladies, it seems, don't need saving.

One of the best narrative features I've seen here is also one of the smallest (and one of the least likely to find a large audience). Craig Zobel's "The Great World of Sound" is an intimate character study of two guys clinging to the gritty underside of capitalism. Martin (Pat Healy) is a 30ish white slacker who's befriended by Clarence (Kene Holliday), a middle-aged black man, on their first day as trainees at a shady "record company."

Working their unlikely chemistry in motel rooms in cities across the South, the two become Great World of Sound's biggest producers, auditioning aspiring musicians by the dozen and signing them to pay-as-you-go contracts. But as this quiet, funny, warmly acted story unfolds, its cruel ironies deepen. In order to keep their friendship and business partnership intact, Clarence and Martin have to ignore the increasingly obvious fact that they're running a vicious con game, squeezing money out of other people's unlikely hopes and dreams.

Morally ambiguous, subtly crafted, resolutely free of cliché and made with almost no money, "The Great World of Sound" is under-the-radar independent filmmaking in the Jarmusch-Cassavetes mode, both noble and ruthless in spirit. Clarence and Martin never seem like types, or symbols of working-class struggle. Indeed, the larger point of this engrossing little picture may be that to make our way in the world we all make choices almost as unsavory as theirs.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Movie Trailer

This is why I love Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Sheer unabashed silliness posing as more silliness. I near pissed myself.

Shut Up, Hooker!

I love the tag at the end:

"Nice must not have a life."

Sunshine Trailer

Danny Boyle is a superb director, but he lives and dies by his material...and his choices have been a little patchy: A Life Less Ordinary, The Beach, Millions. Still, this does look awesome.

Little Miss Bullshit (reprise)

Finally, someone talking a little sense about this movie. It is mind-bendingly 'look at me and how delightfully quirky I am'. This movie sucks balls that a seal would have a hard time balancing. I hated this movie, I hated this movie, I hated myself after I watched this movie. And now it's being nominated for an academy award.

I hate my life.

There's something annoyingly self-congratulatory about the Academy's nomination of "Little Miss Sunshine," as if its members were enormously pleased with themselves for daring to recognize an indie picture. Of course, four of last year's five best picture nominees were indie pictures (at least in the broad sense, given that the lines become more and more blurred each year). But this year, "Little Miss Sunshine" is the sole indie picture among the best picture nominations, which gives the movie more weight than it deserves -- or can possibly carry. Somehow, despite the fact that it was practically hurled like a cannonball out of last year's Sundance, and then marketed more aggressively than most action pictures are, "Sunshine" has achieved Little Indie That Could status. Audiences were supposed to feel good about having stumbled onto this allegedly charming weensy treasure, even though avoiding it would have taken a hell of a lot more work. And now the Academy members follow suit, proving, perhaps, that they're even more susceptible to marketing pitches than we are. Maybe that's comforting, a little like those old Hair Club for Men ads in which the smiling, well-coiffed Sy Sperling would announce, "I'm not just the Hair Club president -- I'm also a customer!" Or maybe it just means that the members of the Academy don't get out of the house enough.


Monday, January 22, 2007

La Tristesse Durera

Life has been unfaithful
And it all promised so so much
I am a relic
I am just a petrified cry
Wheeled out once a year, a cenotaph souvenir
The applause nails down my silence

La tristesse durera
Scream to a sigh, to a sigh
La tristesse durera
Scream to a sigh, to a sigh

And they grasp at me
But I'm just a fashion accessory
People send postcards
They hope I'm feeling well
But that's as far as they'll go
Maybe it's just as well

La tristesse durera
Scream to a sigh, to a sigh
La tristesse durera
Scream to a sigh, to a sigh

La tristesse durera
Scream to a sigh, to a sigh
La tristesse durera
Scream to a sigh, to a sigh

I sold my medal
It paid a bill
It sells at market stalls
Parades Milan catwalks
Oh, the sadness will never go
Will never go away
Baby it's here to stay
La tristesse durera
Scream to a sigh, to a sigh

Sundance's Finest

Clockwise from top left: "Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten," "Teeth," "For the Bible Tells Me So" and "Zoo"

By Andrew O'Hehir

Jan. 22, 2007 | PARK CITY, Utah -- You can start out a weekend at Sundance, as I did, irritated by all the minor inconveniences of this place and end it, as I also did, sitting in a roomful of strangers weeping at an impromptu late-night speech delivered live by Dick Gephardt. In between came a lot of other things: a grisly horror movie about a girl blessed with a unique ability to repel sexual advances, a lyrical documentary about men who love horses (in a manner illegal in most jurisdictions), a faux-documentary about the growing population of zombies (aka the "non-living community") in Los Angeles. My favorite film of the festival so far, beyond a doubt, is a documentary about a dead '80s rock musician that I almost didn't show up for.

No question about it, Sundance can be a pain. Sometimes, as you're trudging through the icy muck from one distant venue to another, or waiting in the bone-numbing wind, while your extremities turn exquisite shades of crimson and ivory, for a shuttle bus that will putter along so incrementally you'd be better off just trudging through the icy muck, thoughts occur to you. Thoughts like: Whose idea was it to wedge a major film festival into a ski resort at the peak of snow season, when it's freezing cold, insanely expensive and plagued with blond people recklessly driving SUVs and recklessly wearing headbands?

Oh, that's right. It was Robert Redford's idea. Make sport of Bob if you will, but he's probably done more to further independent filmmaking as an art and a business model than anybody else on the planet. One can have mixed feelings about the way all that has played out in recent years, but still. If he wants to invite all these people to a party in his backyard -- in January, when the temperature might break 20 degrees on a nice day -- I guess he's entitled to.

As the list of movies above might suggest, there's a strange current of change -- mutation or adaptation, perhaps -- running through the 2007 Sundance Film Festival at the close of the first weekend. Documentary filmmakers are experimenting, stretching the form, defying conventions and blurring the customary boundaries between truth and fiction. Narrative filmmakers, in contrast, seem like the sober materialists of the movie world, focused on hard social and political reality.

OK, that's too simple. You can't describe an entire film festival in glib phrases, and it's not like there aren't earnest talking-head documentaries and winsome relationship indies among the movies being trotted out this week. But it does seem as if Sundance is itself mutating, struggling to adapt to its own bigness and self-importance, to adjust to the fact that it long ago stopped being an outsider institution and now plays a central role in the movie world's political economy. This year's batch of films is more diverse, cosmopolitan and formally ambitious than we usually see at Sundance. There are more overtly political, ripped-from-the-headlines films. There are definitely more zombies. And for some reason I cannot explain, there are two movies with the number 27 in the title. (Those would be "Girl 27" and "Chapter 27.")

Brett Morgen's documentary "Chicago 10," which opened the festival, set the tone with its inventive blend of period footage and motion-capture animation (you can't make a self-respecting documentary without animation these days), and also with its obvious desire to strike a rebellious spark. If I wanted to set somebody afire with the potential of aesthetic and political revolution, though, I'd take them to see Julien Temple's rich and exhilarating documentary "Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten," which premiered here on Saturday.

Temple's film is much more than a biopic of the late Clash frontman, and still less a hagiography. Like the director's outstanding Sex Pistols doc "The Filth and the Fury," it's a portrait of the peculiar convulsions of British society in the late 1970s and the exciting and often self-destructive pop culture it produced. "Joe Strummer" has all the energy, passion and high style of Temple's many music videos, but the sheer complexity of the subject makes it his best film by a fair stretch.

Strummer came from an atypical background for a punk hero; he was middle-class, attended boarding school and had traveled all over the world. He was a hippie R&B musician before he was a punk, and was pushing 30 when he got his crack at stardom. He'd had lots of time to reflect on how not to become a cliché rock star -- rich, famous, stoned and out of touch -- so the fact that he did anyway is one of pop culture's great cautionary tales.

Temple gathers Strummer's friends, former friends and ex-bandmates around a series of outdoor campfires, which lends his interviews an intimate, ritualistic quality the subject himself would have appreciated. For a film that directly addresses aging, mortality, depression and betrayal, among other salubrious subjects, "Joe Strummer" is an incandescent experience. It celebrates Strummer's fecundity and self-invention and honors his reticence and private despair, reminding us along the way what a contradictory and amazing affair a single human life is.

Speaking of human life (of the undead variety), my second-favorite Park City film, so far, is Grace Lee's self-mocking comedy "American Zombie," which purports to tell the story of how Lee (director of "The Grace Lee Project") began working with another filmmaker named John Solomon, on a documentary about the untold story of Los Angeles' zombie population. Zombies are among us, as an L.A. County health official reluctantly admits. Yes, occasionally they have been known to be aggressive, and yes, there are scattered reports of flesh eating. But the zombies we meet in Lee and Solomon's film are pretty ordinary folks, albeit troubled by maggots and rotting patches of skin: They work low-wage jobs, keep scrapbooks with pictures of cute guys, do flower arrangements for funerals (other people's).

"American Zombie" is actually in the Slamdance festival, Sundance's multiply pierced little sister, and I suppose some of its in jokes might be lost on a broader audience. But it sure is funny, in its bone-dry way. Lee skewers her own self-involvement, the pretensions of cinéma vérité and the stupidity of investigative TV documentary at the same time. (Her partner Solomon keeps trying to get into zombies' fridges, in search of possible human flesh.) Then again, the "Live Dead" festival, a desert party of undead citizens fashioned after Burning Man, does prove to be a troubling experience.

I won't say with any confidence that "American Zombie" is an allegory about Muslims or undocumented immigrants or anything else specific. It might just be a goof on the silliness of contemporary media that gets a little broader and darker as it goes along. But the mere fact that Lee can make both a media satire and, in the end, a creepy horror flick, while at least alluding to bigger social issues, suggests the breadth of her wit and intelligence.

That may not be an adequate segue into "Teeth," the debut feature from writer-director Mitchell Lichtenstein, but maybe nothing would be. A lurid suburban satire that feels evenly appropriated from David Cronenberg and John Waters, "Teeth" is the saga of Dawn (Jess Weixler), a perky Christian teen who's the leading chastity cheerleader at her high school. For about the first hour it's a finely balanced if never subtle picture, with an intriguingly cool visual aesthetic, but after Dawn comes to understand her remarkable genital gift, it's pretty much one can-you-top-this gross-out scene after another.

Sure, I guess Lichtenstein is trying to single-handedly revive the grade-Z shock-comedy tradition of the '70s and '80s (word here is that the Weinstein Co. is likely to acquire "Teeth" and release it unrated) and it's not like I have some huge problem with that genre. But Lichtenstein is clearly a director with vision and ambition, and I think he ends up selling himself a little short. This is going to be a notorious film that young audiences will be daring themselves to see, but it's actually funnier, darker and more troubling before it turns into a carnival of repeated dismemberment.

There's already a media mini-flurry around "Zoo," the quiet, sensitive, resolutely unsensational documentary about virtually the most sensational subject you can imagine. OK, no, it's not about vagina dentata. But it is about a small community of men in rural Washington state who used to get together on a ranch to have carnal relations with animals. Specifically, with horses. That is, with stallions. One of these men was dumped at an emergency room in July 2005, where he died of a perforated colon. A subsequent investigation of the ranch he had been visiting uncovered many hours of videos of men enjoying similar activities.

Much about this case remains shrouded in mystery. It's amazing that director Robinson Devor got any of these guys to talk to him at all. None of them reveals his real name, and several won't appear on camera. The dead man, purportedly a midlevel U.S. intelligence officer in an unspecified agency, is identified only as "Mr. Hands." Since there's no archival footage to work with (the ranch tapes remain under wraps, unsurprisingly), most of Devor's film consists of re-creations, using actors on substitute locations, narrated in voice-over.

It would be ludicrous to claim that "Zoo" dispels prejudice against people who have sex with animals; these men themselves understand that their practices are not socially acceptable. (They refer to themselves as "zoo," short for zoophile or zoophilia. They say, "I'm zoo," as other people might say they were gay or straight.) But at some level this film will confuse and surprise you. For the most part these guys seem like gentle, lonely and odd people, poorly socialized to human life. They insist that their love for their horses is genuine, and make clear that for the activities they have in mind, no coercion -- and not much persuasion -- was required.

To Bible-believing fundamentalists, of course, there isn't much difference between the activities presented in "Zoo" and ordinary, garden-variety homosexuality. My Dick Gephardt moment arrived at the end of a powerful documentary exploring exactly that issue. It's easily the most conventionally structured film I've seen all week (even if it does have a goofy animated sequence). It's also almost guaranteed to find a devoted audience; the crowd for the Sunday night premiere was at the edge of tears almost the whole time.

"For the Bible Tells Me So" explores the stories of five religious Christian families dealing with a gay or lesbian adult child. Two of the families are relatively well known -- the Gephardts, whose daughter Chrissy is a lesbian, and the family of the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the gay Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire -- while the others are not. Daniel Karslake (a director and producer for the gay-oriented TV news magazine "In the Life") approaches these families forthrightly, without a hint of judgment over the questions of faith and morality they're wrestling with. For the Gephardt family, as for Robinson's parents (conservative Christian Kentuckians) and for a Lutheran family from Minnesota, the story has been one of love, reconciliation, even joyful acceptance. The film's other two family histories are more painful, and one ends in tragedy.

After the film ended, Karslake and some of the family members present stood up to take questions. Someone asked Gephardt whether it had been painful to learn that Chrissy was gay. He got up and spoke briefly and movingly, and said it had not. "I was brought up to believe that you were supposed to love other people more than yourself; that was the principal commandment," he said. "I was only worried about Chrissy. I was worried that she would suffer discrimination and hatred, and to some extent she has. There are so many millions of people with gay sons and lesbian daughters -- so many! -- that need to see this movie. We need to get off the path of hatred and onto the path of love."

Along the way, "For the Bible Tells Me So" tries to wrestle with the theological controversy over homosexuality, which is too complicated and divisive to be summarized in a few sound bites. Like the rest of the movie, it's a brave and noble (and perhaps doomed) effort to heal a gaping wound in our society. And getting to see a bland career Washingtonian like Dick Gephardt overcome by basic, mawkish fatherly love, and open his heart to a group of strangers late on a frozen night, made for a perfect Sundance moment. There wasn't a dry eye in the house.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Ninth Gate

Say what you will about Roman Polanski, he's a friggin' genius. And Johnny Depp isn't too shabby, either.

Army Brash

I'm still seething at the postcard sent to me by the US army, asking me if I want to be an army translator. This is from the same people who kept me waiting seven months for my citizenship, while they conducted a background check, the same country where people mysteriously put up a barrier upon finding out you're middle eastern, the same government that admits it's mistaken in Iraq but responds to that mistake by sending more troops. What a joke.

So if I join the army and translate, I get an expedited citizenship. And when I do my citizenship the right way, they DELAY me while they conduct a background check.


Saturday, January 20, 2007

Amazing how a light gym schedule and a few tattoos have totally transformed me..

What you get free, costs too much

As usual, I ponder my choices in this life with a mixture of regret and surrender. Should I have fought harder against my parents and not allowed them to pressure me into studying business? Should I have left home immediately after college? Should I have refused to go to Saudi to work? Should I have tried harder with Billy and married her? Should I have fought harder to stay in the UK in 95? Should I have stuck at it harder with some of the quality girls I was with? Rasha? Suzy? Deborah?

Second-guessing myself is a constant in my life, despite knowing on a cerebral level that when faced with any dilema, my choice is always made after much careful consideration. The problem arises because when I get depressed (usually, for no reason at all) and my sinking mood forces me to question my choices. I mean, if I made the right choices for me and I'm this unhappy, how can I be sure they were the right choices? And if they were the right choices and I'm still unhappy, maybe the truth is that I was destined to be miserable and unhappy.

The only thing I can do is wait. I know (though, I have trouble believing) that I make good choices based on my own strengths and limitations. Time bears that out. I know I play smart and decent with a passion and compassion that not many people appreciate about me, which means that I may not always get the support I look for. The support I crave, as a matter of fact.

Yep, I crave support. Along with companionship and affection and friendship. The fact that it's in short supply at this moment in my life (as well as many other moments) is more an indication of my refusal to put up with a situation that doesn't satisfy me. A situation that isn't right for me. Despite the very real possibility that my instincts as to what constitutes things that are right for me, might be damaged beyond any hope of repair.

I don't know if I make the correct decisions for me. But I do know that I make the ones that are right for me. And even if things don't work out for me in the end, I did what I could with what I had.

I'm not happy but I don't see how things could have turned any other way. I have to keep doing what I'm doing and trust there'll be something there for me at the end of it.



'Pleasure Marriages' making comeback in Iraq

Temporary 'Enjoyment Marriages' In Vogue Again With Some Iraqis
By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 20, 2007; Page A01

BAGHDAD -- Fatima Ali was a 24-year-old divorcee with no high school diploma and no job. Shawket al-Rubae was a 34-year-old Shiite sheik with a pregnant wife who, he said, could not have sex with him.

Ali wanted someone to take care of her. Rubae wanted a companion.

Saddam Hussein was hanged Dec. 30, 2006, after an Iraqi tribunal found him guilty of crimes against humanity. Get background, photos and video about Hussein's rise to power and ultimate fall.

They met one afternoon in May at the house he shares with his wife, in the room where he accepts visitors seeking his religious counsel. He had a proposal. Would Ali be his temporary wife? He would pay her 5,000 Iraqi dinars upfront -- about $4 -- in addition to her monthly expenses. About twice a week over the next eight months, he would summon her to a house he would rent.

The negotiations took an hour and ended with an unwritten agreement, the couple recalled. Thus began their "mutaa," or enjoyment marriage, a temporary union believed by Shiite Muslims to be sanctioned by Islamic law.

The Shiite practice began 1,400 years ago, in what is now Iraq and other parts of the region, as a way to provide for war widows. Banned by President Saddam Hussein's Sunni-led government, it has regained popularity since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq brought the majority Shiites to power, said clerics, women's rights activists and mutaa spouses.

"During Saddam's time, there was no religious freedom," said Faris al-Shareef, a sheik who lives in the mainly Shiite city of Hilla.

Opponents of mutaa, most of them Sunni Arabs, say it is less about religious freedom and more about economic exploitation. Thousands of men are dying in the sectarian violence that has followed the invasion, leaving behind widows who must fend for themselves. Many young men are out of work and prefer temporary over permanent wives who require long-term financial commitments. In a mutaa arrangement, the woman is entitled to payment only for the duration of the marriage.

"It's a cover for prostitution," said Um Akram, a women's rights activist in Baghdad. "Some women, because they don't want to be prostitutes, they think that this is legal because it's got some kind of religious cover. But it is wrong, and they're still prostitutes from the society's point of view." Um Akram, like the mutaa spouses interviewed, asked that only parts of her name be published.

Many intellectuals consider ancient traditions such as these an obstacle to Iraq's effort to become a more modern, democratic society. In recent years, extremist religious groups have gained more power in Iraq.

"These steps are taking the whole country backwards and are definitely hurdles to the advancement of the country," said Hamdia Ahmed, a former member of parliament and a women's rights activist in Baghdad. "The only solution is to separate Islam from politics."

Shiite clerics and others who practice mutaa say such marriages are keeping young women from having unwed sex and widowed or divorced women from resorting to prostitution to make money.

They say a mutaa marriage is not much different from a traditional marriage in which the husband pays the wife's family a dowry and provides for her financially.

"It was designed as a humanitarian help for women," said Mahdi al-Shog, a Shiite cleric.

According to Shiite religious law, a mutaa relationship can last for a few minutes or several years. A man can have an unlimited number of mutaa wives and a permanent wife at the same time. A woman can have only one husband at a time, permanent or temporary. No written contract or official ceremony is required in a mutaa. When the time limit ends, the man and woman go their separate ways with none of the messiness of a regular divorce.

Although the temporary arrangements are becoming more common, they are still controversial, and people usually conduct them secretly.

Ali had a normal marriage once. It lasted only three months because the couple did not get along. Her chances for another permanent marriage, she said, were slim. Men often prefer virgins over widows and divorced women, she said.

She welcomed Rubae's proposal because he was a well-known sheik in her neighborhood. Her family was fond of him. "He was a good guy, and he was a religious man," she said.

Rubae had been in 15 mutaa marriages before. A year ago he entered into a permanent marriage with a woman who had been his mutaa wife for a day. When she became pregnant eight months ago, she suggested he take a temporary wife but asked him not to tell her if he did. She does not know about his involvement with Ali.

"As a pregnant woman, she cannot give me my needs," Rubae said. "She treats me real good and she wants me to be happy."

He chose Ali partly because her blond hair, light brown eyes and petite figure had always attracted him. "When she puts makeup on, it destroys her beauty," he said.

He also liked that she was religiously devout, and he said he wanted to keep her from a relationship outside of marriage.

Ali didn't think of him in a romantic way at first. "After we got married, I started loving him," she said.

The money he gave her helped. Her father owns a bakery but money has always been tight, so much so that she had to end her education after elementary school. But money wasn't her only reason for entering the enjoyment marriage. "I have needs just like any other woman," she said.

Both Shiite and Sunni Muslims allow men to have more than one permanent wife, but they disagree over mutaa.

Most Shiites believe that the prophet Muhammad encouraged the practice as a way to give widows an income. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric, has sanctioned it and offers advice on his Web site.

Um Ahmed, a 28-year-old woman from Najaf, lost her husband in 2005 when he was caught in the crossfire of a fight between two Shiite militias.

Soon after his death, she had her first mutaa relationship, with a man who was in a permanent marriage. He paid her 50,000 Iraqi dinars upfront -- or $38 -- and gave her money whenever she needed it during their six-month relationship.

She said she needed it often. She is a tailor and the only one in her family of 10 who works.

"When a human being needs money, the need will make a person do anything," she said. "It's better than doing the wrong things. This is religiously accepted."

Many Sunnis believe that the practice is outdated and ripe for abuse. They also see it as more evidence of Iranian influence on Iraqi life. Mutaa is widespread in Iran's Shiite theocratic state.

"It is a big insult to women," said Ibtsam Z. Alsha, a Sunni lawyer and the head of the organization Women for the Common Good of Women.

Women's rights activists also bemoan what they say is an increase in mutaa on college campuses. Some female students do it for money. Others do it for love when their parents forbid them to marry a man from another sect.

Amani, a 22-year-old Baghdad University engineering student, said she is a Sunni but agreed to enter into a mutaa relationship with her Shiite boyfriend because her parents disapproved of him. "I hated my family because they did not allow this marriage," she said. "I did this to spite my family."

Still, she has not told them about the relationship. "If they find out, it will be my end," she said.

A woman cannot terminate a temporary marriage before it expires unless the man agrees, said four sheiks interviewed for this article.

Once the marriage is over, she has to wait at least two menstrual cycles before she can have another relationship so that paternity can be easily determined if she becomes pregnant, they said.

Most mutaa contracts stipulate that no children be produced. If a woman were to become pregnant anyway, Islamic law would require the man to support the child, the sheiks said. But the clerics disagreed over how much power they have to impose that rule.

Rubae said the man who refuses his child would be whipped or even killed. "We as the sheiks should be sure this thing will stay legitimate," he said.

Shareef, the sheik from Hilla, said some men take advantage of their rights under religious law but refuse to accept their responsibility when a child is born. In some of those cases, he said, a sharia court, using Islamic law, is not as effective as a secular court in enforcing the rules.

"I am supporting the idea of the government regulating mutaa marriages, just like the permanent marriages, so these man cannot run away," he said. "Otherwise the women are losing their rights."

Um Akram, the women's rights activist in Baghdad, said more women are asking her organization for help in getting national identification cards for children born of mutaa relationships. Parents must present a marriage certificate to obtain the identification cards, which are required by schools and employers.

Um Akram said some single women have given up their children for adoption to married couples who can use their marriage certificates to register them.

"The men just hit and run, and they don't want to have a family," she said. "The children are paying the price."

Ali and Rubae agreed not to have children. They simply wanted to enjoy each other.

On the days he could see her, he gave her flowers, perfume, clothing and a watch. They had meals together. Sometimes he could spend the whole day with her. Other times, just five or six hours.

Ali said she cried when the marriage ended early last week. "It's just like a permanent marriage," she said. "When he leaves, I become sad."

Her sorrow did not last long. Rubae said Jan. 12 that he had decided to marry her again. This time, he said, he would marry her for a year, enough time for his wife to fully recover from childbirth.