Friday, March 16, 2007

Two more days.

Both J. and I slowed down on the movie madness yesterday, probably mostly due to our bad experience with Reign Over Me, but just as much because we were plain weary. My eyes are throbbing. J. stayed home all day. I went to see 368 Ways to Kill Castro, which I liked very much.

Our garden grows.

Someone's been enjoying our garden produce a little early. When I went out to the porch this morning with my coffee and newspaper, I noticed that one of the tomato plants had been chomped off down to the root. Whatever chewed it off didn't even eat it, just left it there limp and dead. And the one, single peanut that sprouted was gone too. There were canine footprints in the bed where it was planted, but I think it's more likely a bird ate it.

The sweet potatoes that I'm trying to root in a bowl of water are not doing much. I may give up on them and just let the watermelon vines take over the space I planned for sweet potatoes. The lima beans have not sprouted, which is perplexing. Maybe they just take a while. The watermelons may get that space too.

Everything else is thriving. The beans and snap peas are growing inches every day, the watermelons, cucumbers, and soybeans have sprouted. The herbs are a little tentative. They all look healthy and happy, but no new growth yet, except for the cilantro and parsley. And the flowers are all starting to come up. And we planted a little meyer lemon tree!

Thursday, March 15, 2007


I can't wait to see another movie today to get the foul taste out of my mouth left by Reign Over Me, the Mike Binder film with Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle. We saw the premiere last night at the Paramount. Yuck! Not only was it a terrible movie, it was misogynistic and homophobic and stupid. What an ugly, ugly film. Every frame had the writer's smudgy, hamfisted fingerprints on it.

For the first 20 minutes or so, I was right there with it. I love Don Cheadle and I've liked Adam Sandler. The photography was beautiful. A lot of it is downtown New York exteriors, and the city looked great. But once the setup was established and characters introduced, there wasn't one moment that didn't feel forced and false. And a great deal of it was completely implausible, especially Liv Tyler as the psychotherapist. And why did they make Adam Sandler up to look like Bob Dylan?

What really put me over the edge was an exchange between the two main characters. Don Cheadle is feeling dominated by his wife who is a control freak. Adam Sandler calls him a "faggot." Cheadle tells him not to use that word, that it's offensive. Sandler says something like, "To a gay guy it's offensive, but to you it's just a funny word." And they both laugh, and Sandler says faggot two or three more times. And later, the Cheadler character refers to a comic book character's costume as "faggoty." I understand that they are characters speaking lines, but they are the central sympathetic characters in the story. We're obviously meant to identify with them.

I know there are people who agree with the Sandler character's linguistic analysis. But, and this seems so obvious that I feel silly having to point it out, the word faggot is hurtful even though the person you call faggot is not homosexual. Of course it's not hurtful to that person; it's hurtful to everyone who has been made to feel less than worthy because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identification. When you call someone faggot, you're saying, "You're no better than a homosexual." How do you think that makes us feel?

I was in a bad mood the rest of the night.

J. and I were hungry after the movie, so we went to Starseeds, an open-all-night hipster greasy spoon near us. The crowd is entertaining, the staff super-cool, but the food is marginal. If you order right and get lucky, you'll get something edible and satisfying. But it's risky. We did okay -- we only had to move a couple of things that were put on the wrong plate and wait for one pancake that the cook forgot.

I forgot to shut my bedroom door while I was brushing my teeth. Suddenly I got a strong whiff of poop. I looked over my shoulder to see if there was fresh pile in the litter box, but it was clean. I knew right away what was up. J. has adopted one of our neighbors cats, Timmy, because he wasn't getting along with the other cats in their house. He was shitting in their bed, so they put him outside. This was when it got very cold in February. So J. took him in. He's a great cat, very sweet and easy-going. But the few times I've forgotten to shut my bedroom door, he's left me a present.

I was steaming mad. After I cleaned up, instead of going to bed, I sat on the porch and drank a beer. Then I read a chapter of Moby Dick before I finally went to sleep.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Movie blur.

I've seen so many movies in the last two days I don't even remember what I've seen. I think we saw three on Monday, but the only one I can recall right now is Smiley Face, the new Gregg Araki film. J. and I both loved it. It's about a woman who accidentally eats a dozen marijuana cupcakes and how she gets through her day. Really, really funny. Especially if you get stoned first.

Oh yeah, also Monday we saw two programs of shorts. One narrative, one experimental. I'm a little confused about what exactly constitutes experimental in this day and age, but I enjoyed most of the films and some of them a lot. One standout in the experimental program was The Lonely Nights, The Color of Lemons, which told a sweet, touching story with a traditional narrative arc.

Yesterday we saw Billy the Kid, nearly impossible to describe but my favorite so far, Zoo, a documentary about a group of men in Seattle who had sexual relationships with horses. Very highly aestheticized, sort of like Erroll Morris. Interesting, disorienting, beautiful, not exactly edifying. Most of the scenes were reenactments, which was fairly obvious, but I still had questions throughout the film about what I was actually watching. I felt in the end that to create so much confusion was irresponsible. J. I think disagreed.

And last night we saw Monkey Warfare, about a couple of former activists living underground, and a young radical they meet who shakes up their lives. I think it's what they would call a "small film." I liked it a lot.

Monday, March 12, 2007

What Would Jesus Buy?

We saw the premiere of What Would Jesus Buy?, a documentary produced by Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me), directed by Rob VanAlkemade, about Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping. We almost didn't.

I had suggested early on that we might pass on the big buzz films: why fight the crowds when those films will get distribution deals and we can see them when everyone else sees them? But we didn't get in to Little Bitty Titty Comittee at Alamo Downtown. We were near the front of the passholders line, but the badgeholders filled up the theater.

We drove over to Waterloo Icehouse for catfish, looked at the schedule, and decided that What Would Jesus Buy? was the only thing we really wanted to see in the 9:30-ish slot. When we got to the Paramount about an hour and half before the screening, the line was already fairly long, and we entertained ourselves with people-watching. Austin is always good for people-watching, but SXSW is a bonanza.

The documentary follows the tour of Rev. Billy and his choir, their performances in venues across the country as well as their guerrilla performances in malls, Wal-Marts, and Starbucks stores. The story counts down the shopping days to Christmas and climaxes with the holiday season. Along the way they have various setbacks, including getting rear-ended by an 18-wheeler. Their mission is to get people to think about what they're buying. To "Stop Shopping!" and they do it by means of full-on gospel preaching and singing. Rev. Billy in his bleach-blond pompadour and the choir in their red robes baptize a baby in a mall parking lot and perform an exorcism in front of Wal-Mart headquarters. Their guerrilla performances usually culminate with cops and security guards escorting them away, but they don't stop singing.

It was thrilling. I've never been so excited watching a movie. Seeing these talented performers doing political theater, often in front of surprised if not hostile audiences, with humor and total commitment was an inspiration.

Interspersed with the performances are talking head-style interviews with various experts and documentary footage illustrating factory conditions where American products are made, as well as interviews and footage of American families and their shopping habits. But this stuff is never dry. In fact it's very affecting, giving urgency to Rev. Billy's crusade.

Rev. Billy and the choir were in the house and, after the film and the long standing ovation, they performed their signature song, "Stop Shopping."

I hope this film is a huge hit. I can't think of a more urgent message, and this movie, just like Rev. Billy's performances, gets it across by disarming the audience with humor. People wonder what they can do to make a difference when there's so much suffering and injustice in the world, and this film says simply, "Stop shopping." Rampant, insane, American consumerism either causes or exacerbates all the big problems in the world.

I know it's impossible to be a completely clean consumer if you want to live in the modern world and interact with the culture. But that shouldn't be an excuse to ignore the whole thing. Be aware of what you buy, where it was made, who made it, and what it took to get it to you.

Earlier we saw Does Your Soul Have a Cold?, a documentary by the director of Thumbsucker. It was a verite-style doc about 5 Japanese people taking anti-depressants. I didn't feel like I ever got to know the people. It was beautifully shot, and I did get a very strong sense of the numbness of these people's lives, but the pace was slow and even throughout, not so much depressing as just dull.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


Our box from Johnson's Farm contained two beautiful small heads of romaine lettuce, spinach, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, 3 big beets with their greens, chard, mustard greens, 3 sweet potatoes, daikon and various other radishes.

This morning I scrambled eggs with some of the spinach, one of my favorite breakfasts. I set out to make spring rolls for lunch, but I realized I had the wrong type of wrappers -- I had the thick wheat ones instead of the very thin rice paper. I thought I could use them anyway, but I couldn't work with them, so we ate the filling as a salad and it was delicious: lettuce, cilantro, ginger, garlic, grated carrots and radishes, sesame oil, tamari, peanut butter, chopped peanuts, lime juice, rice vinegar, Sambal chili paste.

3 Films.

Today we saw Fall from Grace (a documentary about Rev. Fred Phelps), Annabelle and Elvis (a new feature narrative with Mary Steenburgen, among others), and Manufacturing Dissent (a sort of expose on Michael Moore).

Fall from Grace was engaging, if only because of a lot of mesmerizingly horrific footage, of Phelps and his congregation (which apparently is made up mostly of his family). But it was repetitive, maudlin, and shallow. The two phases of Phelps career are 1) picketing of the funerals of people who died from AIDS (the "God Hates Fags" phase), and 2) picketing of military funerals ("God Bless IEDs"). The more recent military funerals phase was given much greater emotional weight in the film (a good ten minutes of a sobbing teen bride of a soldier who was killed in Iraq), while the AIDS funeral protests were barely mentioned. It's a student film, which could explain its shortcomings. The film failed to connect Rev. Phelps with a larger cultural context, instead making it seem like Phelps and his family were just a bunch of lunatics on the side of the road holding signs.

Elvis and Annabelle was disappointing. The film was made partly by Burnt Orange Productions, which is the hybrid company in which U.T. film students work on professional indie films. It was beautifully photographed right here in Austin and central Texas. And the acting was good considering what they had to work with. I like Max Minghella (Art School Confidential), and he's appealing in this film. Joe Mantegna was wonderful, in a very moving and funny performance as a brain-damaged, hunchback mortician, a role that very easily could have been awful.

But the story was forced, obvious, dumb. I was giving it the benefit of the doubt (because it really was gorgeous to watch, and it was supposed to be sort of a fable, so I was forgiving the super-neat plot) till about the last 15 minutes when it all just started to fall apart. One of those films where you can see the writer at his desk saying, "Oh, and then this can happen!"

Manufacturing Dissent made up for any letdown we were experiencing from the previous two films. Both J. and I wondered if it was a bit long, but decided we probably felt that way because it was our third film in one day. I've never liked Michael Moore much, always thought he was smarmy and untrustworthy, and now I feel vindicated. I often agree with the stances he takes on issues, but he's a manipulative celebrity-hound who is willing to lie to make his point, and he's the wrong spokesperson for progressive causes because he is so easily discredited.

The film laid out point by point the instances in which Moore has either misrepresented context or chronology in his "documentary" films or, in at least one case, completely fabricated an event. And cases in which he's lied about past events in his own life. An eye-opener.