Thursday, December 29, 2011

Fabric of our lives.

Yes, I usually look that hunched and furtive when I'm shopping.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Taking it a little too far.

So I have a cold.

Let me back up a bit here. First of all, after having denied it for years, I am compelled to finally admit that I am a hypochondriac. But I am a particularly unique subset of hypochondriac, to wit, the type of hypochondriac who is simultaneously convinced that they have a disease, preferably a terrible, exotic, and/or incurable disease, and yet will not go to the doctor.

It is incredibly hard to get me to go to the doctor. A few years ago I got a pretty awful sore throat and attempted to home-medicate myself with ginger (natural antibacterial!) and pineapple. The combination chased the infection away from my throat, it's true, but sent it right up into my ear and resulted in an ear infection so severe that it required two courses of horse pill antibiotics and left me deaf and off-balance for over a month.

Oh, and I also coughed up a golf-ball sized glob of..I don't even know what to call it. Satan incarnate? Pure, concentrated evil? Anyway, it decided to evacuate my sinuses while I was driving sixty miles an hour down the parkway towards work. Since I'm not really very sure exactly how my skull is fabricated, I can only assume that there is a massive cavity somewhere behind my nasal bridge but in front of my brain, located in such a way that I can simultaneously snort/cough up said glob of completely horrifying stuff.

Seriously. This was like something that you'd find feeding off of the crew in a movie whose synopsis starts with "On a routine salvage mission..."

See where I'm going with this? I will lie on the couch and emit a nonstop, high-frequency wail of sadness for myself whilst simultaneously texting everyone with the latest thing I've diagnosed myself with in an attempt to garner more pity. But I won't actually go see a doctor.

So. I'm pretty sure it's just a cold, and I haven't used a neti pot lately, so it's probably not brain-destroying amoebas. But I'm chewing down Halls vitamin C drops, and while I appreciate their misguided attempt to make me feel better, I completely do not understand what they're trying to do with their "pep talk in every drop" (trademarked!) spiel here.

Here's a sample: "Inspire envy!"

Really? My nose is red and scaly from constantly wiping it, I'm leaving behind a trail of snot like a giant snail, and I can't breathe without either a high-pitched nasal whistle or leaving my mouth hanging open. "Flex your can-do muscle!" Are you serious, Halls?! My can-do muscle is fully occupied can-doingly handing me Kleenex and renuking the same cup of tea three or four times, which could probably be used to culture another biological weapon.

"Get back in the game!" If by game you mean the ability to sleep with my mouth closed so I don't leave a puddle of drool on the pillow, then yes, I am totally all about getting back in the mouth-closed-sleeping-game. "You've survived tougher!" Yes, that's true, but I bought these overpriced fortified candies because I was feeling sorry for myself, not because I wanted a drill sergeant to motivate me to get off the couch and change into something other than snot-encrusted, kitty-cat printed pajamas whose cuffs I've been using as an alternative Kleenex when the effort of getting another box of tissues proves too arduous.

I know you probably have a high-paid team of advertising gurus coming up with this stuff, but let me suggest a new, kinder, gentler Halls: "Poor baby. This is totally the worst cold anyone has had, ever." "It is totally acceptable to periodically call your parents and boyfriend and whine over the phone about how bad you're feeling." "Definitely eat that entire carton of ice cream. It probably has healing properties." "It's totally okay to wipe your nose on your T-shirt. It's softer than your tissues, anyway."

Thanks, Halls. I feel better already.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Or, why I don't work in advertising.

Seriously, who goes to the farmer's market that early. Other than me.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Adults only

For those of you expecting Diablo Cody's latest to be all clever catchphrases and indie music like Juno or Jennifer's Body, you are either going to be very delighted or very disappointed. Although the trailer plays up the movie's darkly comic bits and pairs them with a bouncy indie song, Young Adult is a viscerally disturbing, squirm inducing movie.

Zee Germans, in fact, have a word for this: fremdschaemen, which describes the feeling you get when you're vicariously embarrassed for someone else. Well, Young Adult is about ninety minutes of unrelenting fremdschaemen.

Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), a ghost-writer for a Sweet Valley High-esque young adult series lives a hollow, booze-soaked life in a bland high-rise in Minneapolis with her Pomeranian, Dolce, until she gets invited to her high school sweetheart's first child's naming ceremony. Mavis was a queen bee in high school, but it's been downhill for her since then.

Convinced that she and former beau Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) are meant to be together, Mavis packs up her dog and her hair extensions and heads back to Mercury, Minnesota to get Buddy back. Brittle Mavis has persuaded herself that everyone she's left behind is miserable - and sometimes she's right - but affable Buddy and his wife seem genuinely happy, which throws a wrench in Mavis' plan. Mavis has much more in common with Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), a former classmate who was badly beaten in high school.

Theron's trichotillomaniac Mavis absolutely carries this movie. She's a vile, mean-tempered alcoholic barely masking a pit of desperation and bitterness, but she's also weirdly endearing, especially in scenes with the excellent Oswalt, with whom she really has much more in common with than Buddy.

This movie really isn't very funny, and the humor that is there is very, very dark. But it's impossible to look away as Mavis slowly implodes on the screen as her layers of denial start to flake away, in an awful, squirming, watching-through-your-fingers kind of way.

Friday, December 16, 2011


When last month's copy of Vogue with Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe came in the mail, I was skeptical - Williams doesn't particularly resemble Monroe, and definitely not as much as Scarlett Johanssen, who was rumored to be one of the contenders for the role.

Of course, the idea of playing Marilyn should be a terrifying one - she's the quintessential American actress, a symbol, a shorthand for so many other things. Playing her without resorting to the wiggling, giggling caricature of herself she turned into would be a huge challenge.

As it turns out, Williams is the strongest part of the film. Sure, black eyeliner and baby-blonde hair coloring certainly help (as do the hip pads she donned to fill out Marilyn's famous curves) but her Marilyn is a lovely, shimmering, frustrating creature. When Williams is on screen, it's hard to look at anything else.

My Week is based on The Prince, The Showgirl, and Me and My Week With Marilyn, two books by Colin Clark (played by Eddie Redmayne, all freckles and massive blue eyes) about his work as a third assistant director - really a glorified go-fer - on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl, which Marilyn filmed with Laurence Olivier in 1957.

Marilyn is, of course, in the middle of a crisis when she arrives in London for filming. Her marriage to Arthur Miller is already falling apart, she's debilitated by stage fright, and she infuriates Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) with both her Method acting and her shaky work ethic. And, of course, she's downing enough pills to choke a horse.

Marilyn makes something of a pet of Colin, a rich Etonian with connections at Buckingham whose decision to work in films is regarded with barbed bemusement by his aristocratic parents. Of course, when the glowing Marilyn alights, who could blame him? When Miller leave Marilyn in London and her relationship with the other actors disintegrates, she leans on Colin as a sort of kid-brother, mock-boyfriend replacement. It's easy to see Colin's appeal (Redmayne's freckly good looks and plummy accent certainly help).

My Week is visually gorgeous, from Marilyn's shimmering set costumes to the reproduction of late 1950s London. The film's script is probably the weakest point, setting Colin up in a desultory romance with wardrobe girl Lucy (Emma Watson, wasted here, although with some yummy dresses) with no explanation, other than to present her brunette blandness as a foil for the platinum Marilyn. Dame Judi Dench turns up, projecting her Denchness as Sybil Thorndike (really, Dench could improve any movie. Her appearance in The Chronicles of Riddick, misguided though it was - was her agent drunk? - was the only watchable part of that monstrosity) and Dominic Cooper plays Marilyn's agent, Milton Greene.

What makes Williams' performance as Marilyn so fitting is that it's impossible not to love her - Clark, Greene, Miller, and even Olivier, drowning in stage makeup and despair at his inability to translate himself to the screen - all love her, even if it's not, and never will be, enough. Of course, watching My Week knowing that Marilyn is a mere six years away from death lends the movie automatic poignancy - a scene where Marilyn's acting coach Paula Strasberg cooes that she's still young, with her life ahead of her, is particularly sad. Despite the movie's thin script, William's Marilyn sucks all the light from the screen, and that's enough.

Fast times

Seriously, guys, I was awkward.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The meat of it.

I'm glad I picked up Gabrielle Hamilton's Blood, Bones, and Butter at the library last week. To be honest, I'm kind of burnt out on the whole celebrity-chef-memoir genre (next, Not Without My Crocs: The Mario Batali Story.).

However! Even if you do feel similarly, Hamilton's memoir is definitely worth reading, because even though she is a chef, she's also a writer - and it shows in her unusually well-crafted book.

Does every cook have that moment when the clouds part, the angels sing, and they realize their life's calling is to wear unattractive footwear, do copious amounts of drugs, and make dubious life choices while hanging over a six-burner?

For Anthony Bourdain, it was summers in France. For Ruth Reichl, it was learning to pound schnitzel paper-thin from her family's housekeeper. If anyone asked me why I learned to cook, I'd have to trace it back to being fed things like incinerated fish and bleeding meatloaf. I come from a long line of women who cannot cook, and by cannot cook I don't mean things like, they're not really into cooking but you are probably not going to die from eating their food. I mean things like, you are going to be served a combination of raw and/or carbonized food (sometimes in the same dish!) that even the dogs are not going to want.

I can understand not liking to cook or not being particularly creative in the kitchen. That's why I like baking - there's less room for error, and as long as you have a dependable recipe, you're golden. But there really isn't an excuse for not being able to figure out, after several decades of cooking, how to cook a potato so it isn't still crunchy when it hits the plate.

Hamilton opens her memoir in rural Pennsylvania, where she lived in a disintegrating mill with a slew of siblings, her charming raconteur artist father, and her chic French mother, Madeleine. Madeleine is a superb cook, and Hamilton recalls the family's annual lamb roasts and Madeleine's genius in the kitchen in shimmering and tangible prose.

Hamilton's parents divorced as she hit adolescence, and neither parent seemed overly concerned about how their children were fending. Hamilton lies about her age and takes a series of waitressing jobs in local restaurants, then heads for New York City at sixteen, where she becomes a waitress at the fabled Lone Star Cafe. Hamilton falls into job after job in the restaurant industry, always the most unglamorous (catering companies, cooking for a children's summer camp) before finding the abandoned French bistro that would become her tiny and famous restaurant, Prune.

Hamilton's memoir is interspersed with a number of sometimes-rants about the restaurant industry and, in the age of reality shows and Top Chef, the cult of the chef-as-celebrity. I found Blood extremely refreshing - unlike Bourdain, who purported to strip the pretension and glamour from cooking and instead became enamoured with his own bad-boy image (yes, we get it. You did coke. Congratulations.), Hamilton appears to really, truly believe in working hard, making good food, and not asking your staff to do anything you wouldn't do yourself - which leads to a dry-heave inducing encounter with a maggoty rat.

Blood slows down once Hamilton opens Prune, lingering lovingly over the tiny restaurant's menu, interior, and the workings of the staff, but Hamilton is still searching for home, to recapture the security of the summer lamb roasts, which leads her to Apulia and her Italian husband's family before her marriage dissolves.

Blood can sometimes frustrate. Hamilton explains her improbable marriage as a sort of cheeky joke, and she writes about her strained relationship with her mother with the same opacity. The reader must remember that Hamilton, with her MFA in fiction, is probably more skillful at manipulating the narrative than your average hash-slinger, and I sense that much is glossed over or left out.

But Hamilton's skill as a writer is undeniable - tactile, often disgusting, quite frequently superb.