Is it a Bird or a Plane? No, it’s Michael Keaton!

BirdmanThere’s no denying that Michael Keaton is at home in Birdman. The last movie I probably saw him in was Batman, way back when. He nails the grizzled, washed up actor on the head (and according to all the interviews I’ve seen, he’s a much happier person in real life, which is good to know). Similarly, Edward Norton is great as an egotistical, “serious” actor.

You’ve probably seen the picture of Norton in his underwear, or even a later incident of Keaton in his tighty whities. And I can’t help but think how a large part of this film is about masculinity. The women are nothing characters, played by good actresses, yes. But they are merely foils for uncomfortably aging men.

Keaton wears several wigs when on stage. To help highlight his character’s age and naturally receding hairline, a big point is made of him constantly taking off the wigs whenever he’s off stage. He also literally talks to a picture of his former self, Birdman. Depending on how you interpret the magic realism of the film (my grandmother, “He’s nuts.” or my aunt, “I liked that it was weird.”) probably reflects on how unhinged you believe Keaton’s character to be. I chose to see everything as existing in his own head, years of different substances taking their toll on his psyche, already weakened by lack of success as a “serious” actor.

Norton plays the actor Keaton’s character wishes he could be: respected and clearly gifted on stage. But it doesn’t take long for the audience to see the cracks in his persona as well, as he doesn’t even try to hide his preference to work while intoxicated. Emma Stone’s character might be a painfully thin, recovering drug addict fresh out of rehab, but she seems to be doing fairly OK compared to Norton and Keaton.

The movie’s subtitle is “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance” but it doesn’t seem like anyone in this movie is ignorant. They are all a bit too all knowing for me,  even if all they really know is about their personal failures. I could have used an extra dimension to any of the side characters to take away from the bitterness of the lead males. But then, there was a guy walking around in a ridiculous bird suit. I guess the director figured dashes of absurdity would lighten the mood. But it goes back to whether you think it’s all in Keaton’s head or not, if you think the ending is hopeful or traumatic. I’m clearly in the latter camp.

 

 

 

 

Adventures with Arepas

Let me start by saying that my version of arepas might not pass muster with a true Colombian or Venezuelan. My arepas tend to fall apart in the pan and seem more like pancakes with stuff in them. But they are still pretty darn tasty. And they are still made with my new best friend, masarepa:

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Now I did not just learn to make arepas overnight, my friends. No, I have a new cookbook in my life as well, Viva Vegan! by Terry Romero and she taught me the difference between all them confusing types of corn meal at the super market. Because there is a difference. I’ve cooked with masa harina before and it definitely tastes different than masarepa (see? it even has arepa in the name! genius). vivavegan1

While I eat dairy and eggs, I prefer using vegan cookbooks. I find too many cookbooks that cater to lacto-ovo veggies rely heavily on cheese in the recipes. Maybe it’s because I grew up in household where the secret ingredient to making everything taste better was cheese melted on top but I don’t think adding cheese to everything is that interesting. It may be tasty but it’s kinda boring. As the title says, I was looking for aventura.

I’m generally terrified of making tamales, they seem very laborious for something you can just buy at Trader Joe’s. I was worried arepas would be similar but based on Viva Vegan, I think I’m sold on the Colombian kind (they are much quicker and you don’t have to bake them in an oven). Many times when I cook, I want to eat whatever it is RIGHT NOW. And I know how to make pancakes, so actually arepas are very similar.

I also had some tempeh lying around the fridge so I started with a recipe Terry calls “Arepas de Avocado Pepiado” or Sexy Avocado Arepas.  Are they sexy? What do you think?

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As I prefer more instant arepasatisfaction (yea, I just went there), I ended up making a different type of arepa than the recipe called for ( i.e. I made the Col0mbian ones with corn and cheese…yes, I said cheese and by that I meant Daiya *holds up honorary vegan card*). Also, the recipe called for jicama and I wasn’t entirely sure what a jicama looks like. I know I’ve eaten them but not sure I ever bought a whole one, so since the dressing for the tempeh included vegan mayo, I substituted pre-shredded cabbage and carrots.  (I hate real mayo with a passion and the only kind of coleslaw I will eat is with vegan mayo, so it was an easy change of ingredients for me and one that I like)

I added in some sexy avocado and some pre-made peach mango salsa et voila! I had food even the cat wanted to eat. DSC00513

* And no, she was not allowed to eat my lunch.

Old Man of the Mountain

annapurnaI’ll admit when I saw that Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally were appearing a two-person play off Broadway, my first thought was “Ron Swanson and Tammy 2!” Like most Parks and Recreation devotees, I know the two are married in real life and it’s always a laugh seeing them play exes.

In Annapurna they play exes of a different sort. There is some comedic exchange between Ulysses, a poet who has retreated to a remote area of the Colorado Rockies, and his ex-wife, Emma, who left him 20 years ago with their son, without explanation. But underneath their banter and occasional reminiscing of the old days lies the real hurt of why Emma left, a truth Ulysses claims not to remember.

I saw the play 3 days after it opened in NYC at the Acorn Theater and it’s a nice, intimate theater. The play itself is about 90 minutes, so while at times the script seemed to meander, it always headed back to “that night”. Nick Offerman is great as a grizzled, jaded man who insists he just wants to be left alone. And Megan Mullally is equally entertaining as the woman who left him, trying to simultaneously mother him/fix his life and call him to task for his wrongs. It’s kind of a love story delayed but without a real resolution. The focus always goes back to their son, who never appears on stage, but is really what binds them together, however tenuously, after all these years.

Maybe Mullally and Offerman play the same characters they always do when they appear together but it is really fun to watch them argue, make up, and then start yelling at each other all over again.

 

Still Strangers

mistakenforstrangersMistaken for Strangers is an entertaining, if uneven film. If you are a fan of The National, than you already know the soundtrack is great. In fact, my first crticism is that there isn’t enough of their music in the film. There are plenty of snippets of live shows but the film makes a wrong turn (in my opinion) when it tries to find a narrative and that narrative settles on the lead singer of the band’s brother, also the director of the film.

Tom, the brother, is an interesting protagonist…sort of. It’s not hard for audience members, and no doubt un-famous fans of the band, to relate to the fact that Tom feels like a failure. His brother is super famous….and he lives at home with his parents in Ohio *cue ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ playing in the background*.

Whatever his circumstances are, whether he harbors dreams of hitting it rich and lives there by choice or because he circumstances have led him there, it’s not entirely clear. But as someone who is unemployed it’s easy to sympathize. Compared to his brother, Tom feels like a nothing. Like Tom, I do feel like a failure some days. Too bad I don’t have a famous brother I can follow around and make a film about!

You see what I just did there? I made this about me. And that is kind of my whole disappointment with Mistaken for Strangers. It’s not really about the band or even Tom and his brother Matt’s relationship. It’s about Tom. Who I’m sure is a nice guy, who is genuine about feeling adrift and lost in this life. So while after seeing this movie, I could probably now recognize members of the band on the street (and some live in my neighborhood!) I didn’t really get a full picture of the life of the band on tour. Yes, you might say, plenty of documentaries cover that. But I’m almost left wondering, what is that something that makes The National unique?

At one point the band manager says they need to make sure the film doesn’t show the band in a bad light and as a result, the film shows them in a bland light. Which goes back to my first criticism. If you like the band what makes them stand out is their music and I really would have rather seen more live footage of The National than footage of Tom and Matt’s mom taking how creative Tom was a child.

Bleeding Kansas

goodlordbird The Good Lord Bird by James McBride, read by Michael Boatman

This book won the National Book Award but I was still really unsure about the premise. There’s a boy who ends up living as a girl for several years? And he was at Harper’s Ferry during the John Brown raid? Okkkk….

But the author, no doubt realizing it sounds like a whopper, plays it off really well as a tall tale. Henry/Onion the kid at the center of the tale, always tells things like he sees it. John Brown believes he is liberating Onion, a young girl, from slavery but Henry just wants to get home to everything he knows. There are a lot of complicated relationships represented in this story and many sides of slavery. Or maybe there are no sides to slavery, just how people perceive it when they are enslaved and when they are free. It’s never portrayed as a good thing but we do see it as a familiar thing to some slaves, who just want to make it to next week, never mind making long term plans.

The Harper’s Ferry Raid is credited as a step on the march toward the Civil War and emancipation. McBride, and Boatman as narrator, bring John Brown to life as a slightly insane, fervently religious man who believes strongly that God has called on him to end slavery. There are groups of believers but more groups of detractors, which is ultimately why the Harper’s Ferry Raid was not the populist uprising Brown hoped it would be.

The raid is actually only a small part of The Good Lord Bird. Onion is born in Kansas Territory, which was itself at war over whether to be a free or slave state. There’s some interesting Wikipedia reading on “Bleeding Kansas”. The Kansas situation seems almost as complicated as America’s acceptance of slavery for so long. James McBride does an entertaining job of capturing a part of American history that’s part Western, part comedy, part freedom tale, and constantly makes you think, did he really just say that?

LBJ All the Way!

lbjI am young enough not to have been alive when Lyndon B. Johnson was president. In fact, being from Massachusetts, I always figured he was just the runner up to JFK and nothing more. (Certainly the Kennedys thought so!) So when I visited his childhood home in Texas a few years ago, I was impressed to learn that he actually had a very long and interesting political career. I had no idea he was so instrumental in passing Civil Rights laws, for example.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the basis of “All the Way”, so history nerd that I am, I really enjoyed all the politicking and back room talk. Bryan Cranston, wearing prosthetic ears that don’t really add or subtract from his performance but are a bit funny, embodies a politician who like most presidents has to try and sweet talk everyone into doing what he wants. A little compromising here, a little promise for the future that may not be true there, etc. You’re left wondering what politicians really believe in beyond their own success.

LBJ, in the play, is all for civil rights but he’s also a party man and doesn’t want to lose the Southern democrats. The play covers the space of a few months from JFK’s assassination to LBJ running for re-election (“LBJ all the way!” was his slogan), here’s what we get: There’s Martin Luther King Jr. and a variety of other black activists, some who don’t want to rock the boat and others who don’t think MLK is doing enough for the cause. Then randomly, it seems, there’s J. Edgar Hoover who doesn’t seem to really like LBJ that much but he loves surveillance, so he’ll just keep spying on citizens because. Even if nothing much happens from his spying during the play, other then to show that LBJ was complicit in monitoring MLK. Then there’s Lady Bird Johnson and an assistant who get a few lines here and there. This is really LBJ’s play and with Bryan Cranston carrying the show that’s a-ok.

At 3 hours, they probably could have cut some of the less interesting stories but though I heard some snoring around me (it was a matinee, so mostly people alive during LBJ, now retired…also apparently George Takei was there in the audience, though I didn’t see him), I actually found the second act more engaging than the first. I didn’t even look at my watch. The true test of how long a play is, right?

Audio Books I Have Loved

Lately, I’ve had some trouble finding an audio book that really grabs me. What I mean by that is one I can listen to while doing house work or just walking around, getting a little sunshine, a book that I will go out of my way to listen to. So here are some audio books I’ve enjoyed recently:

songofachilles The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, read by Frazier Douglas

From the Amazon page: “Mary Renault lives again!” declares Emma Donoghue, author of Room

I would beg to differ. I read a Mary Renault book for a book club years ago and it just felt really dense to me. This was not a book I chose with the expectation of liking it as much as I did. I’m pretty sure it just came up while I was browsing the Brooklyn Library’s downloadable audio books listings, which they do a pretty good job of categorizing by genre, I might add. But I’d heard good things about this book when it came out, so I figured, why not?

What I got was a surprisingly humanizing story about characters usually relegated to mythology they make you read in school. I mostly know the story of the Iliad from Troy. Yes, Troy. The movie where Brad Pitt plays Achilles and they totally made him straight, which I know was one of many criticisms of the film. Still, Brad Pitt is hot and Achilles is hot, so I don’t think he was a bad a face for the character but I digress.

This Song is told by Patroclus, the human lover of half-god Achilles. The author doesn’t shy away from the mythology, Achilles’ mother Thetis is a goddess and prophecies are real, everyone accepts that Achilles is this famed warrior even if no one has ever seen him fight. What made the story really work for me was the humanizing influence of Patroclus. He’s the bumbling human who everyone writes off, including his own father. He’s not a blood thirsty warrior but he still goes to war, partially because that’s what  men did in Ancient Greece but mostly because the only thing he really has is the love of Achilles. Despite the fact that the Iliad is a war story, it’s not about heroes who die in a blaze of the glory but what happens to humans.

tosaynothing To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis, read by Stephen Crossley

A book club was reading this and though I didn’t make it to the meeting, I still really enjoyed this book. I love the alternate reality, time travel stuff (note to self: need to catch up on my Thursday Next). There is a lot in this book that is completely trivial, which adds a bit to its charm. The whole reason for everything that happens in this book, including extensive time travel, which results in time travel side effects, is some absurd need to minutely recreate a cathedral because rich Lady Schrapnell wants to. (Could she have a more Wildean name?) There really is no other reason the characters are traipsing through history then because they are getting paid to. (OK maybe that isn’t such bad motivation after all…)

Along the way, we learn about what happens when when you inadvertently change history and then try to change it back (always fun, especially in this book because a cat is involved…and cats are oddly extinct in the modern age of this book). There’s also a nice reflection on how we interpret history. Everything is set into motion because of a note in Lady Schrapnell’s several great grandmother’s diary saying a piece of Victorian statuary changed her life. By the end of the book, we understand what she meant is not what Lady Schrapnell thought she meant and it has resulted in a lot of time travel laughs. I could use more audio books with time travel laughs, I think.

 

Binge Reading

I truly think the eReader was invented  for binge reading. It’s just so darn easy to carry around and you just put your series in et voila! On to the next one.

I have been binge reading Philippa Gregory’s “Cousins War” series. Previously, I listened to The White Queen and The Red Queen on audio book. While we’re not talking high brow literature here, these two titles were oddly abridged for audio. I mean the gist of any of Gregory’s books is: there are historical people, some women who may or may not dabble in magic, lots of people who will die, however much you, the reader, hope they will thwart history and not die, etc. What exactly did they need to abridge? (That said, I prefer Ken Follet’s audio books abridged but he writes door stopper sized books, we’re talking 10 vs 40 hours, Gregory’s books are not that long)

So even though I had read the books, sort of, when my book club decided to do The White Queen, I figured I’d flip through it again since I had time. But what actually ended up happening was not flipping bur rather I got hooked on Philippa Gregory. When I first lost my job, I listened to Emily Giffin’s Something Borrowed and Something Blue. They were like candy. I knew they weren’t good but I craved the contrived situations where women sleep with their friend’s fiances but everything kinda works out in the end…at least after two books it does. Philippa Gregory for me is chick lit in costumes. It has the backdrop of history but at the core the books are still about women in relationships.

What I really like about the “Cousins War” is that with each book she’s taken a part of the same story but then she tells it from a different point of view. So first we have Elizabeth Woodville, who some people thought used magic to get Edward IV to marry her. Then we have Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII who married Elizabeth Woodville’s daughter (who gets her own book that I haven’t read yet, The White Princess). The Kingmaker’s Daughter, compared to these powerful personalities, almost seems like a throwaway, it’s about Anne Neville but she almost doesn’t live long enough to seem to matter.

The book that I just finished is The Lady of the Rivers, which so far I think is the most interesting of the lot. This book is about Elizabeth Woodville’s mother Jacquetta of Luxembourg, who seems to be the most likeable of all her characters in the series so far. In fact, several times people tell her, “No one will hurt you! Everyone likes you!” Except during wartime in the Middle Ages that’s not as reassuring as it should be.

Now The Lady of the Rivers brings me to a point dear to my heart, book covers looking alike. I recently got Alison Weir’s The Captive Queen about Eleanor of Aquitaine and compared alongside the “Cousins War”, it’s kind of hilarious, to me at least, how much all these covers look alike. Women looking away from the cover? Check? Vaguely ethereal, long hair? Check. Some kind of crown? Check. But then you should never judge a book by it’s cover…right?

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Also great about historical fiction? Everything is Wikipedia-able! Also: Philippa Gregory has a wayyy better page than Alison Weir (who in her defense has published many actual historical non-fiction books…but is that any excuse for poor web design?) click on the books above to see what I mean.

Unemployment Bad, Blogging Good

Someone once said, “When one finds oneself unemployed, ’tis better to blog than sit idle.” I don’t know who but I’m sure they said it

I was going to categorize all the past blogs as “Old School” and I still might. But let’s get this party started!