Wednesday, November 28, 2007


A week ago, David and I went to see No Country for Old Men. I didn’t really want to see it. All I knew was that it was a Coen Brothers movie. Oh, and that people kept mentioning it in the same breath as Blood Simple, which David made me watch a long time ago and…the less said about that, the better. So, to put it mildly, I had misgivings.

Anyway, this is not going to be a review of the movie. Not a fair one, at least. I will not be providing evidence for my claims. It’s not that I don’t know how. I taught critical essay writing to college freshmen for five years. I know more than anyone should ever know about providing evidence for claims. Go ahead and give me a C-. I’m in no mood.

The movie opens with a super-creepy looking man in a Prince Valiant haircut getting arrested, then strangling his captor with his handcuffs for a very long time. Then there’s a shaggy dude with a rifle who chances upon an field full of dead and dying men in trucks, with lots of blood and flies. Shaggy finds a satchel of money in their midst, and takes it back to his trailer. Prince Valiant, now free and in possession of a police car, pulls over a total stranger and carefully places a cattle slaughtering machine against said stranger's head to create a perfect hole, then steals his car. (In fact, this is the only way Prince Valiant gets around the entire movie. He blows a hole in someone’s head and then takes their stuff. It’s also how he gets snacks and hotel rooms.) All this happens in the first ten minutes, by which time I had a fine little migraine brewing.

Meanwhile, the shaggy dude, unnecessarily named Llewelyn (what the hell?) brings the bag of money back to his trailer, but decides he needs to go back to the pit of festering bodies to bring someone a drink of water (I am not making this up) and since a bunch of people and dogs try to kill him while he’s there (by shooting, running over, more shooting and dismemberment respectively) he deduces that he and his wife should get the hell out of Dodge because someone will be stopping by in the morning to kill them.

And we’re off and running—literally. Already I’m thinking this Llewelyn fellow must be the stupidest protagonist in the history of movies. Sure, the bag has two million dollars in it, but about a dozen people are lying around it, dead. Does that sound like easy money? Second (and Anthony Lane of the New Yorker brought this up): has the man heard of airplanes? He couldn’t spare the dough for a couple of first-class seats to Moorea?

No, in order for there to be a movie, we have to watch him alternately drive around the state of Texas and cower in dark motel rooms while Prince Valiant (who turns out to be named Anton) hunts him down and attempts to blow his head off with nary a howdyadoo. This is pretty much the entire movie, except that along the way about a hundred people have the bad fortune to wander into the frame and get their heads blown off, too.

Here are some of the things that made me turn to David when he said, “What did you think?” afterwards and shout, “That’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen!” with actual passion.

The protagonist is not worth rooting for. And based on what happens, apparently the Coens (and writer Cormac McCarthy) don’t think so, either. There’s no redemption, no arc, no climax, no denouement. No one learns anything, gains anything, or changes in any way.

The villain is an opaque psychopath. We have no idea what motivates him--events suggest he doesn’t even care that much about the money. I’ve been told I’m supposed to achieve ironic distance from the toying banter he initiates with his soon-to-be victims, and find it funny. I don’t. I resent the idea that I’m supposed to find outright butchery ironically funny, even in a movie. This is not a fantasy. Some people have said, “Oh, you don’t like violent movies.” Guess what—I did part of my graduate work on SLASHER FILMS. Violence has a place in movies, and can be quite satisfying in its way. But there is no distance from this savagery. It’s relentless and realistic; it could happen to anyone. That’s the message—over and over—getting a clean, perfect hole through your skull is meaningless and random. It gave me a stomachache.

There’s no story. Nothing happens. Unless you count someone running with a bag of money while someone else chases them a plot. I don’t. It’s a lazy framework that just provides an excuse for all the shooting.

Everyone (including my own dear husband) keeps saying, “But it’s pretty to look at. The cinematography is amazing.” So freakin’ what? Sunsets are pretty to look at, but I don’t want to stare at one for 2 and a half hours. Am I supposed to be lulled into some coma of cinematic appreciation because someone shot the sky so beautifully? I’m too busy feeling sick about how they shot the heads. And don’t get me started on how there are no women in this movie, except lovely, doomed Carla Jean, who has the stupid luck to be married to Llewelyn and is swiftly shunted out of the way so the boys can play tag.

I could go on all day about how hideous an experience it was to watch this movie, and how much it galls me that the critics are having an orgy with it. I could tell you about how I had nightmares afterwards, and how in subsequent days I kept checking all the locks when I was at home (not that locks would help me—Anton uses the cow killer to blow out any lock.) But instead I’ll leave you with a quote from Andrew Sarris of The New York Observer, the lone dissenter amongst the critics, who came up with the word “nihilism” to describe these proceedings, which he says he “cannot look at…in any other way than as an exercise in cosmic futility” and likens to “a quick in-and-out visit to hell.” Maybe I’ll write him a fan letter and invite him to our Oscar party, and the two of us can stick our fingers in our ears and shout “LA LA LA!” over Nicole Kidman handing the Coens the Academy Award for Best Picture. Which will totally happen.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Review: “So You Think You Can Dance” Tour, San Diego Sports Arena, November 19

I agreed with the Entertainment Weekly review that called “SYTYCD” the only true talent competition on television. Except for the early auditions featuring the attention-starved angling for their 15 minutes (a lead-footed hothead who calls himself Sex?) these contestants are actually professional dancers, and they challenge themselves (and the viewers) by taking on styles they’ve never performed before (e.g., ballroom dancers tackling hip-hop, and b-boys performing lyrical contemporary.)

In a twist that Fox might not have predicted (but now gleefully capitalizes on,) the choreographers for the show have become celebrities in their own right. In particular, the quiet and enigmatic Wade Robson concocts routines that range from surreally haunting to silly-quirky (Neil and Lauren’s angel/devil number to “Night of the Dancing Flame” combines both) and his name often elicits cheers even before the dancers hit the stage.

While the touring show is sans judges and chirpy host, Cat Deeley, it retains the basic structure of the televised show, with most of the numbers performed by couples, interspersed with solos (not much to write home about) and a few show-stopping group numbers that don’t skimp on the feathers. This year’s “Top 10 Dancers” perform in various combinations, with the help of four alternates, Anya, Shauna, Hok and Jesus--all four more than hold their own with the viewer-chosen Top 10.

One odd addition is the “banter” between pairs of dancers who stroll out between numbers, as when Dominic (a fan favorite for his self-deprecating goofiness and eye-popping breaking) is challenged by Sara to perform popular scenes from Broadway musicals. It’s as strained as it sounds (clearly the bits had to be scripted in advance) and goes on forever. I mused to My Companion that they must be buying time for costume changes, but he suggests (I think correctly) that the television audience became attached to these charismatic young people for more than just their dancing, and craved a little face time as a perk of seeing the tour. Fair enough, but I could have done without it. Which is not to say that the show feels padded. It begins at 8:20 and doesn't end until nearly 11:00 (including one intermission) and considering each dance averages about 2 minutes, I run out of paper scraps to record the deluge.

This year’s winner, Sabra Johnson, is a bit of a Cinderella story because she’s only been dancing four years. Despite this amazing fact, there is no style that she doesn’t make look easy, from her quick step with Pasha to “Mr. Pin Stripe Suit” to her paso doble with Neil, which finishes with her coiled around his body, dropping like a hoop over a peg in a county fair ring toss. She also wows in a surprisingly sweet Shane Sparks hip hop routine with Dominic, her first partner on the show. The two of them have such chemistry that they elicit chills from a simple lift in which she entwines her legs around his torso and he slowly spins her above his head as they gaze into each other’s eyes. Sabra appears in several group numbers, too, but doesn’t receive any more stage time than the others just because she’s the winner. On the road, they’re all winners.

Sabra performs a solo routine, as they all do, but the only one of the ten to make me sit up and clap is—surprisingly—Dominic, who definitely has the least formal training of the group. His floor spins with his legs through a plastic garden chair show both his dexterity and his great sense of humor, and Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison” always puts me in the mood to boogie.

My Companion and I had wondered if some of the routines would suffer from their transplant from the screen, even though we have excellent seats on the floor and perfect sight lines in the first row of our section. Mostly, they don’t. True, routines with complicated floor detail are harder to see, since the stage is above us; one example is Pasha and Lauren’s hip-hop “Transformers” routine, because we miss some of their entwined robot moves at the beginning and end.

That Shane Sparks routine is a personal favorite, and in general I find myself marveling at the versatility of Pasha, the Russian ballroom dancer (there seems to be a hot one every season.) Unlike some of the other ballroom experts, he is able to jettison his smooth transitions for the sharp edges hip hop requires. He’s just as impressive in “Transformers” as when he sizzles through a hot cha-cha with Anya (another ballroom gal, who auditioned with him.)

One number that actually benefits from going live is Mia Michaels “Two Princes” routine with Danny and Neil to “Are You the One?” Young girls of every age swoon and scream as the two lithe and leggy men take the stage in royal garb, seated on velvet thrones. Choreography that I had found oddly jerky and incoherent in close-up gains gravity and power on the stage, and the height of their kicks and leaps has me agog. It’s one of just a few routines that actually gives me chills.

Another one is “Time” with Lacey and Neil, also by Mia Michaels, which no one can forget because the show (both televised and live) keeps harping on it. It’s the story of Mia meeting her father in heaven, amidst a field of colorful daisies. That sounds worse than it actually is, but David finds it cloying and negligible. I weep, but I wonder if the song itself has something to do with the tear-jerking. In any case, I have a problem with Mia Michaels because her choreography contains a preponderance of violent throws and apparently a directive to the men to let their shoulders and arms hang slack like meerkats, which I find disturbing and not pretty. This confession will be unpopular and probably makes me sound like a dance Philistine, but there you have it. I sort of have a love-hate thing with Mia.

Speaking of exciting, two highlights of the evening come courtesy of choreography by former contestants, Dmitri Chaplin and last season’s winner, Benji Schwimmer. Benji’s West Coast Swing to “Rockefeller Skank” for Pasha and Sara blows up in big bursts of spinning and twisting, as if the moves can barely ground the dancers from exploding right off the stage. Dmitri’s samba for Lacey and Danny combines three amazing elements with his sexy choreography: the best Latin dancer of the women, the man with the most gorgeous extensions, and probably my favorite song of the season, Club des Beluga’s “Hip Hip Chin Chin.” I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean, but I want more of it, baby. The place where the music crashes down in time to a righteous tushy bump from Lacey is like pure joy personified. The two of them slink and snap around each other so cleanly, it’s like watching them get turned into taffy.

Hok Konishi, as an alternate, doesn’t appear nearly enough in this show for my taste, but I’ve been partial to him since last season when he got ejected during the Vegas auditions for a problem with his work visa. I was hoping he’d be back, and while—as a breaker—he’s not very skilled at ballroom and contemporary in general, he blows me away in Wade Robson’s “The Hummingbird and the Flower.” He’s partnered by Jaimie Goodwin, a contemporary dancer, who left the show before her time as far as I’m concerned; she brings elegance and real passion to every move she makes. The two of them are gorgeously matched in this routine, performed to the heartbreaking “The Chairman’s Waltz” from the movie Memoirs of a Geisha. It’s amazing I like this routine for several reasons: it’s slow, the dancers are representing animals, the “story” is incomprehensible, and it’s danced to a song with no lyrics (I’m a word girl.) But the dance is a testament to all that is right with the show—a famous pop choreographer who surprises himself (and us) with a lyrical piece, two dancers on the margins who steal the show, and a dancer who triumphs over his training limitations in a performance that is truly mesmerizing.

In general, I enjoy the pairs more than the group numbers, not because the group numbers (which include great choreography from Wade Robson and Broadway expert Tyce Diorio) aren’t impressive, but because they appear cluttered on the stage, without the multiple camera angles to help me focus on individual contributions. One exception (and in fact the only number of its kind in the entire show) is “Mein Herr” from Cabaret, choreographed by Tyce Diorio, and featuring Danny, Neil, Lauren and Sabra. Watching just four dancers, I can admire the seamless interplay between them, combined with the combustible energy with which they tear around the stage.

The show leaves me exhausted but exhilarated, convinced that the tour is in no way a cringing shadow of the TV show, simply a way to cash in on its success. Make no mistake, though, the tour is cashing in—if you have any doubts, you can cover your ears to the screams of “I love you, Neil!” from the packed arena, or plunk down your $35 for a tour t-shirt. But in the immortal words of “Hip Hip Chin Chin,” “Tonight…let’s celebrate…the rhythm section!” I’ll bump to that.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Bouncin' and Behavin'

Jarrah had her first haircut today. Well, unless you count the (possibly more than one) head shavings before her first birthday. But this is the first time anyone's molested a hair on her head since February 6, 2006--that much I know.

Like going to the dentist, getting a haircut involved full-body drapery and sharp objects in one's immediate head space. Unlike the dentist, our lovely stylist, Corina, didn't diagnose anything more worrisome than split ends. She did prescribe hacking them off, however, so we compromised on layers.

The big event went down at a place called Little Locks in the neighborhood of Bird Rock. Yes, Readers, every bit as adorable as it sounds. I figured a splurge was in order for a "first time." As it happened, the total came to $15, and while I've got nothing to compare it to, that seemed pretty reasonable for the experience.

That experience included a choice of vehicles on which to perch (Jarrah chose the motorcycle--that's my girl), flat-screen Thomas and Wiggles for distraction, and a post-tonsorial lollipop (wahoo!) It did not include a shampoo or blow-dry, which is probably just as well (no one else was getting that, either.) The look on Jarrah's face was priceless each time Corina spritzed her down with the spray bottle.

Jarrah was calm, even nonchalant, throughout the cut. She had a tendency to follow the scissors with her eyes (and hence, her head) and had to be reminded gently to look up, but otherwise, she didn't even seem that interested in the proceedings. She did like playing with the train table, doll house, table-top sand box, and giant 3-D dinosaur book (the salon is also a toy store--somebody is smart!) while waiting, so perhaps she was already jaded by the time she reached the chair--whoops, I mean, the hog.

We forgot the camera, so that gives you an idea how sentimental we were feeling about the whole affair, but I did get a little misty when Corina gathered up the first snip, placed it in a tiny pouch, and tied it to a card reading "My First Haircut."

I must have been standing too close to the spray bottle. Yeah, that was it.

P.S. The photos are from David's cell phone!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Everyone fantasizes that their child is perfect (don't they?) so it's a resounding blow when they turn out to have flaws. In Jarrah's case, the flaws are hidden deep in her sparkling, white teeth.

You know, the teeth she's had for LESS THAN A YEAR. Hello! How can they get ruined so fast? Was it too many fruit leathers? Don't answer that.

We had Jarrah's first dentist appointment on Tuesday, and superficially, it went pretty well. She cried during the x-rays, but I don't blame her; I often want to cry when they wedge those hard little origami shapes into my soft palate, too. She was a docile lamb during the cleaning, and even seemed to dig sucking on the air tube. She even submitted without struggle to the dentist exam with the pokey thing.

It was during that exam that I sensed things going south. First of all, he was doing way too much talking, all about "buccal" and "pulp" and other words you don't want to hear. "Shiny" and "dazzling," yes. But please, spare us the pulp.

Turns out Jarrah has a whole mess of cavities. "Is it genetic?" I asked, wanting immediately to extricate myself from the hook. "That, and diet and dental care," the dentist said. He was young, and very handsome. He congratulated me for adopting. Enough said about that. Okay, one more thing. I wish I had asked him if he has children, and then exclaimed, "Congratulations for having sex! What a wonderful thing you did."

This doc doesn't mess around with toddler cavities. He offered two options, but only after Jarrah was discreetly led away to claim her balloon. ("Oh, so sorry. Thanks for playing! We have some nice parting gifts for you.") Both the options involved drugs, either oral or intraveneous. One of them involved strapping Jarrah down to something called a "papoose board." Yes, Readers, let your imaginations run wild with that. They won't end up anywhere good.

And then, as I'm sitting there gripped in a full-blown panic attack at the thought of my baby going to sleep and never waking up, or the alluring alternative of her being awake and trussed like a goose so she fears dentists the rest of her life, a nice lady presents me with the break-down of costs, none covered by insurance. As my eyebrows were disappearing into my hairline, I mused:

Oh my stars, kids are expensive. I knew that, but I hadn't realized how UNPREDICTABLY expensive.

We're still on the fence about what to do. I never imagined making this kind of decision so early in the game, but that's just silly, because...does anyone? You take it as it comes.

And because my morning had been a little too relaxing, I had to go to my own dentist in the afternoon, an emergency appointment for a broken filling. And because I've developed some kind of Dental Panic Disorder in the past five years, it took about a dozen freakin' shots to get me numb, and I was still yelping and waving my left arm like a drowning victim every time she so much as shadowed me with the drill. Three hours later, I had my new filling, and the left side of my head was frozen from neck to eyeball until bedtime.

Teeth, why must you torment us so?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

All in a Row

I went to the doctor today, and although I got an appointment on the spot when I called, and waited only five minutes at the office, it was a miserable experience.

See, I've had this cold thing for going on two weeks now, and I started thinking I could have a sinus infection, or bronchitis, or something, and that I should just get someone to listen to my chest already. But I got a more enthusiastic response than I bargained for.

He had me breathe into some Breathylizer-type unit, after which he shook his head and said, "Well, that doesn't look good." It doesn't? Apparently, he wanted 370, and got only 170. He left the room and came back with literally a buffet of sample meds, pills and potions and inhalers, and wanted me to take all of them and an aspirin and call him in two weeks. "Then we'll go from there," he said portentously. We will? So, I should medicate myself to the gills for two weeks in the hope of ruling something out? Or in?

I tried not to come unglued when he asked me my age twice with a 20-second gap in between, and asked Jarrah's name and occupation three times during our visit. But I really started to panic (interesting that I felt more panic than annoyance) when he started talking about her like she wasn't there. Now, Jarrah is almost three, and looks older by at least a year. So doesn't it stand to reason that she's a sentient being who's going to understand that someone is talking about her when they're standing 18 inches away?

"She Chinese?"

"Yes," I smiled.

"You go over to get her?"

"Yes, we did."

"My sister-in-law has two kids from China. What an amazing thing to see them bloom like little flowers once they got over here."


"So you went to the orphanage and everything?"

"Yes." (quieter now)

"And they had all these little girls just laid out in rows?"

"Mmm." (barely audible)

Jarrah had been vigorously scaling the furniture, but she turned around and observed us during this conversation. Mostly she watched me. I think she really wondered what her mommy was going to say about this business with blooming and rows. And her mommy kinda let her down, because I didn't say much. I sat there and had a conversation as clinical as the one I'd just had about my lungs. As if she wasn't my daughter, but someone I'd met on vacation and brought back here to see the sights. Or worse, not even a stranger, but someone not quite human. An acquisition. I had this same feeling during a very early doctor's visit with a key difference: Jarrah didn't speak English then. Not just because she was 14-months-old, but because she'd only heard it for a few weeks. So while I did burn with fury then for the insult to ME, this time I ached for my unacknowledged child.

"She's right behind you," I should have said. "Why don't you ask her where she's from?"

I will learn, I suppose. I'm a slow learner, but I get things eventually.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


It's all November-y out there, and it freaks me right out.

We've "fallen back," it's getting dark at 4:30, and there's a chill in the air that brings my shoulders up around my ears. ("Don't wear your ears as a necklace!" my beloved Iyengar teacher, Ken, used to say to the class. Miss you, Ken. Maybe Novembers are nicer in Kauai.)

And this is nothing. When I lived in Massachusetts, the darkness came even earlier, and it got way colder. A girl could get seriously depressed, and she did.

Sometimes, I'd come out of classes in November and hard bits of snow would find their way under my coat lapel, first stinging, then melting. Suddenly, in my mind I was bereft, friendless, unloved, knowing it wouldn't be warm again until May. It was a long way to my car in the dark.

When I first graduated from college, I worked as a temp at MIT. My boss was not a cheerful woman, but she had a good excuse; her 4-year-old son was dying of leukemia. She left early most days for his doctor appointments, and I intermittently watched the clock and read my grim English novels, in a windowless office that smelled, inexplicably, of menstrual blood. At 5:00, I'd walk to the subway with my scarf wrapped around the lower half of my head, eyes on the sidewalk, surrounded by other people who, apparently, worked for a living. I was 21, and I thought: If I have to do this for even one whole winter, I will kill myself.

Hey, I was 21. But even in balmy San Diego, November hits me hard. It doesn't help that the change nips at the heels of turning another year older, and rings in a season of forced consumption and gaiety that historically brings out my inner curmudgeon.

And isn't it crazy? Although I believe what I've written here to be true, the start of November, more than anything, triggers nostalgia, makes me yearn for a time when I reveled in my ennui, cozy in the poetry and romance of youth.

More Proof I Got the Daughter I Deserve

am enters living room, where Jarrah is ostensibly watching Finding Nemo. Sam notes with surprise that Jarrah is sitting cross-legged on the floor, with her back to the television.

Sam: Hello. What's up?

Jarrah: You're in big trouble!

Sam: I am?

Jarrah: Go to your room right now! You're in time out!

Sam: Um...okay.

Sam walks into office. A few seconds go by. Jarrah follows, standing in doorway.

Jarrah: You have something you want to say to me?

Sam: Hmmmm.

Jarrah: Okay, come with me. Sit on your bum and watch the movie.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


Last night was Halloween, and Jarrah went trick-or-treating for the second time. She was a bumble bee. I got the idea when we saw "Winnie the Pooh" at the Junior Theatre this summer, and Jarrah was mesmerized by the big production numbers with dancing bees around the perimeter. "I want to be bee!" she exclaimed, several times. I made a note of that. After a lengthy search for a costume that was neither too fluffy nor too sexy (what is UP with the sexy toddler costumes?) and did not cost as much as a Dior original, I hit the jackpot. See for yourself!

The daytime pics were from "Haunted Aquarium," an annual event that is supposed to take place at night, but got rescheduled due to the fires. I think it ended up being just as fun as the dark version last year. That's Joy, Olivia and Linda with Jarrah.

The nighttime pics are from Scot and Synthia's annual Halloween shindig, for which they provide a pizza dinner to friends and their assorted young ones, plus a cozy starting line for trick-or-treating in the form of their house, nestled in the historic neighborhood of Burlingame. It didn't occur to me until today how all the kids seem to be girls!

Jarrah enjoyed trick-or-treating last year, but somehow in a year she's become a total professional. She went up and down steps on her own, holding steady in the crowds of big kids, and remembered to say "Trick-or-Treat!" and "Thank you!" She didn't like any dilly-dallying between houses, and would command "Next house!" if we tried to wait for anyone. Considering how candy is like the nectar of the Gods to her, I was impressed how she respected my oft-repeated instructions not to eat anything enroute.

The one way that she is still my Halloween baby showed up in her fear of "scary" houses. At nearly every house, even if it simply had a porch light and a friendly old lady waving and calling "How cute!" she asked, "It's not a scary house?" "No, not scary," I'd say. "It's friend-y?" she'd persist. "Only friend-y monsters?"

And the houses that were actually trying to be scary, with the dry ice and spiders and witches and ghosts and mummies? Well, we stayed on the sidewalk for those. She wasn't taking any chances. At one house where she wasn't quite sure, she gripped my hand and we walked all the way up the steps towards the strobe lights, and then she suddenly thought better of it, spun on her heel and sprinted back down.

That's okay. There's always next year to work on that bravery.