Dec 31, 2009

New Year and All

This painting hangs on my wall. It was a Christmas present several years ago. The artist is my good friend Frank. He and his wife Michele are both very talented artists. I'd plug their web sites here, but the lazy slackers haven't updated them, like forever.

Apropos cats, my favorite restaurant in the whole wide world currently is Hungry Cat in Hollywood. They have such good food, and their cocktails are to die for. Yeah, I'm lush. Sue me. On both front they have staple fare and seasonal specials. Their eggnog was excellent, and I don't even like eggnog. Another good thing about Hungry Cat is that it's really close to Hollywood Arclight Cinemas and Amoeba Records - yeah a real record store at this day and age, I know!

Anyway, I'm just rambling. Happy New Year, and all that.

Dec 22, 2009

Christmas and Stuff

Yay! We are almost at the finishing line! A few more days, and the season of Peace on Earth will be over, and we can have some real peace. I can barely wait till the grocery stores go back to playing their usual crappy music. Meanwhile, let's mock other people's holiday miseries.

Nothing says Holiday Cheer like stuffing the youngins into uncomfortable miniature suits. Also, nice buzz-cut, dad.

These guys look miserable. I would too in front of that wood paneling. Auntie Marge looks happy enough, but I suspect that's booze smiling.

Dec 13, 2009

Square America: Winter - Part 1

Time for some goofy old pictures!

Most of the photos I find are of white people, so the group of ski trip photos of this Asian family was a uncommon discovery. I think it's the same family. It would be a strange coincidence if the pictures of two different Asian families were mixed together. Although the one above seems out of sync with the others. Oh well.

Judging from the dates on the photos, there were several trips.
I'm rubbish with races; I have no clue where this young gentleman would be tracing his ancestry. No matter, he is in California now. We are all transplants here. (Rumors of people born here have been unconfirmed.)

I'm shamed to admit, I'm not into skiing. Or winter sports. Or snow. Ok, a fresh blanket of snow has an aesthetic appeal - for about five minutes. Then it's all snow shovels, salt, slush, frozen slush, bulky clothing, the car doing a 360˚ at 25 mph on a thankfully deserted Indiana road. I've been traumatized by winter, can you tell?

Dec 3, 2009

Movies You Haven't Seen

December is my least favorite month of the year. Oh, what am I saying? I hate it to bits. It's the month when you can't even buy a pint of milk without getting your brain liquified by the most saccharine holiday music. The streets are filled with people madly scrambling from shop to shop, mall to mall. The Season of Stress.

This is also the season of cold and flu, and apparently swine-flu related e-mail phishing scams. (Yeah, like I'm really going to believe that the CDC is sending me an e-mail to "register" my vaccination status.) This is the month where I'd like to go to hibernate under a rock. Paint me green and call me a Grinch - I don't care.

What one needs at this time of year is distraction. Unfortunately it's also the time when television programming spirals down into new depths of hell. Dante's Inferno has a ring dedicated to Christmas Specials. Fortunately for you, My Dear Reader, there is a solution: Movie rentals! And I have a list of films that have escaped the attention of most viewers.

When I first saw Lone Star (1996 dir. John Sayles) it completely bowled me over with the way its story unfolds, unrolls. It takes place in a small Texas border town, where the discovery of a skeleton along with a sheriff's badge sets things in motion. There are multiple plot lines, some based in the present, others stretching back a generation, but they all end up connecting at one point or other. It's storytelling at its best. The lead character, Sam Deeds, the current sheriff of the town, is played by the talented Chris Cooper, who mostly known as a character actor from such movies as American Beauty or Adaptation. Also worth noting the interesting visual device dealing with the frequent flashbacks.

Brick (2005 dir. Rian Johnson) is a classic film noir of the best Raymond Chandler, Dashiel Hammett tradition - played out in current day Southern California suburbia by high schoolers. It is not played for laughs however. There is death, drama, double cross, dangerous dames, dangerous games; the whole nine yard of the hard boiled detective genre. Brick is the quintessential indie movie, made on a small budget, by a bunch of talented young people who love the movies. It's also a brilliant update of a tried and true genre.

The Painted Veil (2006 dir. John Curran) was a love project of actor Edward Norton who also plays the lead along with Naomi Watts. It is based on a novel of the same title by W. Somerset Maugham, and in my opinion an improvement over the novel. It's the story of bacteriologist Walter Fane who takes a government job in 1920's China, and takes his wife Kitty with him. It is very much a character driven story played out in front of the background of the politics of the colonialist era and the beautiful Chinese landscape. The script is first rate and the acting matches. Aside from Norton and Watts, Liev Schriber and Toby Jones turn out masterly performances.

Liev Schriber was the director of Everything is Illuminated (2005). The film is about a young Jewish man, Johnathan Foer - played by Elijah Wood - who travels to Ukraine to find a woman who is said to have saved his grandfather's life during WWII. At this point the viewer along with Jonathan experiences a farcical culture shock. His tour guide is Alex who becomes the narrator, and whose textbook English is the cause for the movie's title. Their driver is Alex' grandfather who in an absurdist turn believes himself to be blind. They are accompanied with Sammy Davies Jr. Jr., the "seeing eye bitch". The four of them take off to the country in a trabant looking for a town that's not on the map any more. The film is fine balance of humor, dreaminess, and poignancy.

The Interpreter (2005) was the last film directed by the great Sidney Pollack, who also plays a small role in it. By genre, this is a political thriller, but more importantly it is a film that rests on smart, very well written script, strong characters and great acting. Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman give taut, edgy performances. There is the UN, a possible assassination plot, murder, plenty of suspense, but to me some of the most riveting parts are the dialog. Carefully chosen words make my spine tingly. This is the movie that probably fits the least with the others, since it had a pretty decent run in the theaters - yet I managed to miss it completely at the time.

I saw Mystery Train (1989 dir. Jim Jarmusch) during my first year in the US, and I felt like Jarmusch read my soul. At that time I was free-floating, lost, and slightly bewildered - not unlike the characters of this film. There isn't much plot I can recall, just a quirky mélange of characters, including two teenage japanese tourists and the ghost of Elvis, who all converge in a run-down Memphis motel. Watching the movie at the time made me realize the part of the culture shock I was not expecting: Not the skyscrapers and the fancy things, but the banality of a crumbling urban landscape.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead (2009 dir. Jordan Galland) is not to be confused with the Tom Stoppard play and film - although they get a mention within the film. It is an indipendent film of the tongue in cheek variety; a delicious romp about aimless youth, Hamlet, and vampires. This film actually not out on DVD yet, but it has not yet had a wide theatrical release. I got to see it during the Hollywood Film Festival. If it comes to your neighborhood, don't miss it.

I have plugged Moon (2009 dir. Duncan Jones) before, but I will again. It is a small, but finely crafted science fiction film. It starts maybe just a touch slow, but then maintains suspense without any fancy special effects. The DVD will be out in January.

Siesta (1987 dir. Mary Lambert) is a film nobody has ever seen despite of the fact it's chock full of stars like Elen Barkin, Jody Foster, Isabella Rosselini, Martin Sheen, Gabriel Byrne. At the beginning of the story, Claire, an American, wakes up in a field behind a runway, wearing just a red dress, covered in blood, and no memories of how she got there. It sounds like a mystery-thriller, but it is that as much as Antonioni's Blow Up is: not at all. It's a hard to describe film, slightly surreal, haunting like its Miles Davis - Marcus Miller score. When I first watched this movie at the end I realized that I was watching a completely different story then I originally thought.

I'm going to throw in few foreign films, and that's a bit of cheating, since they rarely ever get wide distribution in the US, but it's my blog, I do what I want.

Until the End of the World (1991 dir. Wim Wenders, German) is an international road movie with science fiction undertones. Claire (Solveig Dommartin) bumps into Sam (William Hurt) and spends the first part of the movie chasing him around the globe, till they all end up in the Australian outback - at which point practically a new movie starts. Oh never mind the plot, it's a good ride, hop on. There is a 5 hour "director's cut", but unfortunately it's not available in the US.

Knotroll (2003 dir. Nimród Antal, Hungarian) is a sometimes dark, sometimes humorous, always suspenseful tale of Hungarian subway ticket inspectors. Yeah, you've read that right. There is a killer haunting the subways, there is conflict with a rival group of ticket inspectors, various passengers trying to get away with not buying tickets. It's a thriller with a rough East European finish, with touch of fairy tales, Freud, and Greek Mythology.

Tell No One (2006 dir. Guillaume Canet, French) is a straight mystery-thriller. It's about a doctor, Alex (François Cluzet) whose wife was murdered years before. He is putting his life back together when something happens (I'm not telling you what), and well, shit hits the fan - to use the technical turn. There are chases, murders, secrets being uncovered, and all the good stuff you'd expect from a film of this genre. The pacing is just right, the characters are engaging, and the suspense is non-stop. If you like a good thriller - and don't mind reading subtitles - this is the movie for you.

Nov 26, 2009

Obligatory Poultry

This is the day not to be a turkey. This is also the day when pre-Christmas crazies officially start. I'll spend the next month and a half avoiding the mall (even more than usual) and pretty much all stores in general. Yeah, I'm a grinch.

Nov 20, 2009

Vanilla Bean Pots de Créme (Minty)

I collect cookbooks. Not on purpose. I'm just a sucker for food porn. I look at those beautiful photos and my head is filled with lofty visions of me cooking fine meals. Unfortunately, I'm also lazy, and the books end up collecting dust on the shelf. Not that I don't cook ever, just not that often.

I could call myself a Foodie, for my ability to appreciate (consume) fine food, but that would be pretentious. I'm more of an Eatie.

Costco is evil, in a good way. Or good in an evil way. Where else could you buy a dvd copy of The Young Frankenstein for 5 bucks? Recently they had two large, hardcover books for sale, Bouchon and The French Laundry Cookbook - for almost half price! Now, if you are 'in the know' (i.e. food snob) you know that those two are The Cookbooks to have. I could not resist.

Out of guilt I made one of the recipes: Vanilla Bean Pots de Créme. Bouchon, page 268. It's a custardi thing, consisting of milk, cream (lots), sugar, egg yolks, vanilla bean. It has downtime of cooling and chilling, but otherwise very easy to make. There are also for flavoring options offered: chocolate, cinnamon, almonds and mint. I did mint. It's very nice, rich, creamy, yum.

Nov 17, 2009


I started hiking in June. I'm not keen on most popular forms of workout, gyms bore me to death, but I always liked walking and the outdoors. I most often hike in Griffith Park, because I live close by, so it's incredibly convenient - especially at this time of year.

For those who are not from around LA: Griffith Park is five times as big as New York's Central Park, but also much more rugged, wild. It's also full of hiking trails of all sorts. The biggest elevation difference between the lowest and highest point must be around 12-1400 ft.

There is a considerable amount of wildlife around. Coyotes are a common sight, but deer, rabbit, lizards, bats, an wide variety of birds can be observed. At one point during the summer a large rattle snake was taking up residence in Amir's Garden, but I didn't actually see it.

Another common sight in the park is film crews. These pictures are caps from a music video parts of which were shot at the 'view point', aka heli spot. In the background is the Observatory. That spot provides a great view of half of LA. When you are up there it really looks like just the picture: The city bellow is laid out like a shimmering carpet.

Nov 6, 2009

Strange and Goofy

I've been slacking off lately. I've been distracted, scattered even; feeling a strange sense of unreality at times. So perhaps digging up some of my wackier finds is in order.

I love this family; the gangly, goofball father, the different expressions of the older son and the mother have gazing at him. I most of all love the discombobulated look of the younger child - the severity of being born into this family of crazies must have just hit him. (I might be projecting.)

I understand the compulsion of taking a picture of Elsie the calf, but why in the living room?

This one is more of a disturbing one.

I saw
Where the Wild Things Are recently - a movie about an angry, frustrated boy. It's not a children's movie. It doesn't really have a plot either. It's scary and disturbing at many spots, yet I found it compelling.

Oct 9, 2009


I like the way the camera of the iPhone 3Gs lets you chose the image area to take light reading from. It allows for some interesting visual effects.

I'm less crazy about the incredibly wide angle lens, though that's pretty much a feature with all point-and-shoots. It also can create interesting effects, especially if the warped horizon lines are your thing, but not very good for portraiture.

It's also pretty grainy in low-light situations, but that is to be expected.

I hope the next version will have an option for setting white balance.

Sep 28, 2009

Square America: Hunter and Hunted

I couldn't meet Dive's 500 Word Challenge two weeks ago, but oddly I have some found photos that relate.

The Quote was about Dall Sheep Hunting. Is this a Dall Sheep? I couldn't say. It's a sheep of some kind.

Maybe this one?

Well, at least I'm sure this is not a sheep.

By the way, Dive has a new challenge up. I started a new blogger page for my fiction, since my newest one didn't quite seem to fit here. It's awfully presumptuous of me of course, since it implies that there will be more. We shall see. Meanwhile I had guilty satisfaction of turning an Edith people-not-having-sex Wharton quote into a bawdy little fluff. Go me!

Sep 22, 2009

Unknown California

I've been to the End of the World and it is called Slab City, California.

Slab City is a former marine base, current RV squatter frontier land, 60 miles from Palm Springs, 30 miles from the Mexican border, within view of the beautiful, but toxic Salton Sea, just a fence an irrigation channel across from an active bombing range.

There is no electricity, water, or any municipal services whatsoever, but there is a golf course (no greens, only browns), pet cemetery, a library that is always open and operates on the honor system. There is also a stage that hosts a talent show every Saturday.

The locals also call the place "Check Republic" because most of the residents persist on government checks. The norm is extreme poverty. Yet in the winter months the "snow birds" arrive, from as far as Canada, often in hundred thousand dollar campers.

It would be easy to write this place off as a bizarre Mad Max style site, but like most things in life, it's more complicated. I barely got a glimpse under the surface, and I will not make any attempt to pontificate about it. It would not be my place.

Just outside of Slab City is Salvation Mountain. The creator of this artwork is Leonard Knight whose car broke down at this spot decades ago. He stayed and built/painted his message at the side of the mountain.

In 2001 it was declared as a National Folk Art Site by the The Folk Art Society of America, and in 2002 it was entered in the Congressional Record as a national treasure.

Leonard is 78 years old, but he still lives at the site and works on it every day. He welcomes visitors who drop by any time of the day, he loves showing them around. He often gives the visitors gifts; postcards, puzzles featuring his mountain.